06/03/2016 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


06/03/2016

Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate.


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Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics.

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The delay, fudge and waffle at Stormont needs to stop.

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Just one of the messages the Alliance leader David Ford

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delivered at his party's annual conference this weekend.

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But, with the Assembly election creeping closer, the mood was all about building on

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the party's recent success at the polls.

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There are potentially half a dozen gains, a number of constituencies where we already hold seats,

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where we're looking for extra seats

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and seats that we haven't been representing for some time.

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Places like North Belfast and East Londonderry where there could be opportunities, as well.

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We'll hear the thoughts of the party's deputy leader Naomi Long.

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Plus, they've been making their minds up on the EU for the last two weeks.

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We'll hear from the Ulster Unionist leader on why he believes we're

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better off in Europe than out.

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And making sense of all of that and more are my guests of the day,

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Professor Deirdre Heenan and columnist Newton Emerson.

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Three of Alliance's eight MLAs won't run for the Assembly again,

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so the party used its annual conference to put some of its newer

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faces in the spotlight.

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But the election campaign will also see the return of an Alliance

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politician who needs no introduction.

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Our Political Correspondent Chris Page was at the conference.

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His report contains some flash photography.

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She looks glad to be back. Naomi Long is in the political

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picture again.

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Last year, she won the biggest ever vote by an Alliance candidate

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in a Westminster election, but it wasn't

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enough to keep her East Belfast seat.

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12 months on, she's eyeing up a return to the Assembly.

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Her leader is enthusiastic about the prospect.

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Let's just say this - I am looking forward

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to the Assembly election.

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At the start of another five long years, more long service.

2:34:462:34:51

APPLAUSE

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In his speech, Mr Ford talked about the economy,

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legacy issues and the EU referendum.

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He said Alliance were the only party working for everyone.

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David Ford is a leader who's always had his party fully behind him.

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In his 15 years in charge, Alliance have had their first elected MP

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and increased their Stormont seats.

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They may have lost the Westminster seat last year, but this

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conference has been about laying plans to try to take more ground in the Assembly elections.

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There are potentially half a dozen gains, a number of constituencies

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where we already hold seats, where we're looking for extra seats.

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Also seats that we haven't been representing in some time,

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like North Belfast and East Londonderry, where there could be opportunities, as well.

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Three of the eight current Alliance MLAs won't be standing this time.

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Anna Lo is one of them. Will you miss it?

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I will miss it, yes. We have a very strong team of candidates.

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We have women, young men and I think it's a wonderful team of candidates

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to serve Northern Ireland to a better future.

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The new candidates were raising their profile at this conference.

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I come as a typical Alliance person from a mixed marriage

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with a child in integrated education.

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Alliance fitted me well and when I joined them, I felt I had come home.

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They were people who were not judging me for who I was and where I came from.

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I'm offering a new alternative in North Belfast.

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I'm positive and that's what Naomi did last year -

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a positive election campaign.

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She moved forward, despite negative voices.

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Her positivity showed that her votes grew. Even though we did lose,

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her votes did grow, and that's what I'm going to do in North Belfast -

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just positive and show the electorate

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what I can offer and what Alliance can offer them.

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Change is in the air otherwise, too.

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Mr Ford is standing down as Justice Minister in May.

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The department of Alliance's other minister

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is being abolished, so would he fancy a different portfolio?

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Alliance is not simply interested in powers for power's sake

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or responsibility for responsibility's sake.

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What we're looking to do is advance an agenda.

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There are different ways we can do that.

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We'll make our judgements after the election and see what is the best way we can do that.

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And as for whether the leader might be going into his last election,

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Mr Ford is not giving much away, either.

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Over 14 years ago, when I became the leader of the party,

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I said, "When you want me to go, don't get the men in the grey suits - just tell me."

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Nobody's told me yet.

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And joining me now is the Alliance Party's deputy leader

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Naomi Long. Thanks for joining us.

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What are the chances I'll be introducing you this time next year as the party leader?

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I think that's a way off and I don't think it's something

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I want to be speculating about.

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David has said no-one's told him to go and that's right,

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and no-one is going to either.

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We are very satisfied. He's the most successful leader the party has ever

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had and he's a leader we want to hold on to.

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He gave you a great puff in his speech yesterday, but he is uncertain

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that he will continue as leader in the medium to long-term.

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The fact that this issue is now up for public discussion

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suggests he doesn't see it as a long-term job.

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With all due respect, it's up for public discussion

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because people keep asking me the question.

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When I said I was coming back to politics,

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it was one of the first things people asked me.

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The reality is it's not for discussion in the party,

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it's not where our focus is - that is on getting a strong team

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in the Assembly so we can make a difference to the people

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of Northern Ireland.

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It's not about the leadership because we're happy with the leadership.

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I'm part of that leadership.

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Stephen, David and I work together in a collegiate way to make sure that the party has

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the most success we can bring.

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That is what the party should be about and we're not focused

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on leadership, but unfortunately, I think other people outside perhaps are.

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You won't be tapping him on the shoulder and suggesting he moves on?

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Absolutely not.

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Although he might get a call from David Cameron saying,

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"You've done a good job for 15 years, you've been Justice Minister for six,

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"how about a seat in the House of Lords?" That'd take it out of your hands.

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It wouldn't, because you can sit in the House of Lords, as Maurice Morrow does,

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and still sit in the Assembly, so it would make no difference.

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David has been on record about his view of going into the Lords

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for a long time, so I don't think he'll be getting too many taps on the shoulder at all.

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In the short-term, his leadership depends on the party's performance

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in May's Assembly election - what is the best you can hope for?

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It's not about the best we can hope for. What we want to do is build

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a team that is strong in the Assembly, we want a mandate

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so we can make a choice about going into

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government and then we will be in a position to use the influence

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that we are given by the people of Northern Ireland to make progress

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on their behalf, either in government or outside of government,

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because both of those options will be open to us beyond May.

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It is about growing your numbers in Stormont.

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You have six at the moment. You're losing three well-known faces.

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David Ford, in that report, talked about the possibility of six more seats on offer.

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That would bring you to 14. Is that the target you're looking for?

2:39:352:39:38

I have no limit in terms of the ambition of what we want to do.

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We have seen in other cases where we have surprised people -

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not just with the Westminster seat, but in places

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like South Down, where people told us we couldn't make any inroads

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and we had two councillors elected.

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There are surprise results in elections and I'm

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not writing off any constituency at this point in time.

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Ultimately, elections are the only time when the voters can really make

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a difference and it doesn't matter where they are in Northern Ireland -

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if they vote Alliance, it can count towards the Assembly, and more than that,

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even if they don't elect an Assembly member, it can

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make a difference in terms of our mandate to be in the executive.

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Stephen Farry is a minister not because of the number of seats we have,

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but because of the number of votes we polled.

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Every vote in this election counts.

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You are limited by what is realistically achievable

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and you have had some success.

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You won East Belfast and then lost it again.

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You went from six MLAs 1998 to eight today, an increase in share in Assembly

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from 6.5% to 7.7. It's not seismic growth - it's modest.

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It'd be fair to say we did that in one of the most difficult

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conditions that a party would have to fight elections,

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with flag protests and other things going on.

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There was a real pressure on us and we managed to grow our vote, so we need to be realistic,

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but I'm not going to be pessimistic.

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I sat in many studios in 2009 and was told

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I couldn't possibly be the MP for East Belfast,

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that that wasn't being realistic, but that was wrong.

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I was told after 2010 we'd reached a high water mark, but we got 4,000

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more votes in East Belfast last year.

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It wasn't enough to take the seat, but what it does show is that it's not a flash in the pan,

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that we were actually making a difference and the people in that constituency are making

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a choice for change.

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What we do know about David Ford's future, because he has been clear

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about this, is he will not be the Justice Minister

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again if that falls to the Alliance Party.

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Do you think your party should put itself up for that ministry

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again after May?

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I have to look back at why we took it in the first place.

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It was an opportunity to see devolution sustained

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and brought forward. It was an opportunity to see real progress in Northern Ireland

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and to do reform.

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If we are going to talk about that - and we haven't been offered the post yet,

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so we're not a position to accept

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or decline because it hasn't been offered -

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but if we're going to do that again, it would have to be on the same

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basis that we believe that there will be progress possible,

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that the executive will be delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

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That will depend on the programme for government.

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We want a mandate to be in those negotiations, to use our

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influence to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, but we will not commit

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ourselves to take any post in an executive beyond these

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elections unless we are satisfied that

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that executive will deliver real progress.

2:42:212:42:23

You are saying there is a place called opposition for the Alliance Party.

2:42:232:42:27

When I was in the Assembly, we were in opposition and I was part of that opposition.

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-It's more formalised this time.

-Of course.

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Nevertheless, what we want to do is use our influence to its maximum benefit.

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If we believe we can do that in government, then that's where we want to be.

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If we believe we can do that outside of government, we'll not be afraid to do it.

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As Steven said, this is not about power for power's sake.

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This is about using your influence to be

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able to deliver for people.

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That is what it has to be about if politics is to engage the public.

2:42:562:43:00

You've had difficulties with policy goals that have not been delivered

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because they've been blocked by other parties - for example,

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the St Mary's College issue, the issue about fatal foetal abnormality.

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There have been tensions between the Alliance Party and other parties.

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Doesn't that suggest that you might be better in an oppositional role, calling other parties to account?

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We have to balance that against what we have been able to achieve in terms of our agenda.

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We have seen peace walls removed, too, in North Belfast.

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Removed under a Justice Minister that Alliance was able to provide and he gave that leadership.

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We have been able to look at what Steven has been able to do in terms of developing further education -

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changing it from being a Cinderella sector into something that people value.

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We have to balance what we weren't able to do against what we have been

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able to achieve and that's the decision we'll need to make in the next five years.

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Are we better placed to deliver in the executive, or outside of it?

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But first we need a mandate to be there and that is what we're focused on right now.

2:43:552:43:59

We will watch with interest. Naomi Long, thank you for joining us.

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Let's have a word with my guests of the day, Deirdre Heenan and Newton Emerson.

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Deirdre, your thoughts on the journey ahead for Alliance.

2:44:102:44:13

I think Naomi is right. The next five years are crucial for the Alliance Party.

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Remembering that their best votes were in the early '70s.

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I think they have a number of key decisions to make. In the short-term,

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they need to get votes, seats, power and that

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should be the short-term objective, but long-term, they need to think,

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are they going to be a party for Northern Ireland?

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So they're saying it's largely irrelevant in the west, because they don't have candidates

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in many constituencies, but they have broken through that

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idea that they're just for the middle classes.

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They are making gains in North Belfast, in East Belfast.

2:44:432:44:47

Another big questions for them is are they just there to prop up a dysfunctional executive?

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To take jobs that the grand coalitions can't agree on?

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Or are they going to be in opposition and able to say, "We don't agree with

2:44:552:44:58

"this government, we are making clear blue water between us and them"? Very difficult.

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Newton, on the issue of potential leadership in the future,

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it's understandable that Naomi Long doesn't want to be drawn on that,

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that people should want to draw her on that and she accepts that.

2:45:102:45:14

Where do you stand?

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Is it inevitable that David Ford will continue to lead the party

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in the short-term but not the long-term?

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Once this conversation starts in public, it's obvious the ground

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is being laid for some kind of succession.

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I think you can assume that will happen in the medium-term.

2:45:272:45:30

Sparing the blushes of Naomi Long, will it be inevitable that she will be his successor?

2:45:302:45:35

She is his anointed successor, having given a speech where he talked

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about five long years - whether that comes to pass we can't

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say, but, yes, that is part of the ground that is obviously being laid.

2:45:432:45:47

Yesterday at conference, it was obvious the ground was being laid.

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What is clear is Naomi wants to have a mandate before she becomes leader.

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It is difficult to be leader sitting in Westminster.

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There was a chance she would lose the seat - she did.

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In a year's time, when she has a mandate, she will be the leader.

2:45:592:46:02

Newton, on the issue of taking a position or positions in the new executive

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after May, or having an oppositional role,

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what do you think the call might be?

2:46:102:46:13

I think if you look at the last mandate while justice was worth taking

2:46:132:46:17

on its own to deliver devolution, nothing really was extracted from that, in fact.

2:46:172:46:22

Quite apart from the cohesion sharing and integration strategy

2:46:222:46:25

that the Alliance had been promised, we ended up with shared education.

2:46:252:46:29

I know the nuclear option of pulling down the executive is not

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Alliance's cup of tea, but they didn't use the leverage they had.

2:46:322:46:36

OK. We'll talk to you both a bit later. For now, thank you very much.

2:46:362:46:39

Let's pause for a look back at the political week in 60 seconds

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with Chris Page.

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The national Brexit debate came to Northern Ireland.

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David Cameron and Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail.

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Basil McCrea vowed to rebuild his political career -

2:46:572:47:00

a Stormont watchdog cleared him of allegations

2:47:002:47:02

of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

2:47:022:47:05

The values and principles of what NI21 stood for

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I think resonated with the people and will still resonate.

2:47:082:47:12

I stand having been totally vindicated by a review

2:47:122:47:17

of the commissioner and my peers.

2:47:172:47:19

Labour members here called on the party's ruling body to allow

2:47:192:47:23

candidates to run in elections.

2:47:232:47:25

The Culture Minister left the committee investigating safety issues at Casement Park.

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She questioned why she been asked to take an oath

2:47:312:47:33

when other witnesses hadn't.

2:47:332:47:35

-Could you please sit down?

-I've made clear, I am not coming back

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to answer questions unless you clarify the decision for an oath.

2:47:392:47:42

Thank you.

2:47:422:47:43

And the last of the double jobbers left the Stormont stage.

2:47:432:47:46

Gregory Campbell chose to remain an MP.

2:47:462:47:50

Chris Page reporting.

2:47:562:47:58

So the Ulster Unionist Party has decided that remaining

2:47:582:48:01

in the European Union is better for Northern Ireland than leaving it.

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But the party says it respects that individual members may vote to leave in the June referendum.

2:48:042:48:09

We'll hear from party leader Mike Nesbitt in a moment,

2:48:092:48:11

but first the Go roadshow came to Belfast on Friday night.

2:48:112:48:14

Politicians from across the political spectrum campaigning

2:48:142:48:17

to leave the EU gathered in the Titanic Quarter.

2:48:172:48:20

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he wants to talk to ordinary people.

2:48:202:48:24

The remarkable thing about Grassroots Out is we're bringing people together

2:48:242:48:27

from across the political spectrum - people in the centre, the right,

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people on the left - this is the most inclusive attempt

2:48:312:48:34

that's ever been made in British politics.

2:48:342:48:37

The fact that quite a large group of Conservatives don't want to come

2:48:372:48:41

with us - although some of them are here - that is a shame, but, look,

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it's the same for the other side.

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This question of the European Union, whether we

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should be brave enough to take back our independence,

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it is bigger than party politics. This isn't about left and right,

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it's about right and wrong as far as I'm concerned,

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so, actually, this will divide political parties,

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it'll divide families all over the United Kingdom.

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It is an issue that excites genuine passion.

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We will talk to ordinary people for whom,

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probably, politics isn't a big part of their lives, but they're facing

2:49:122:49:16

the biggest decision that they've got to make in their lifetimes

2:49:162:49:19

and I want to say to them, all the scare stories they've heard over the last couple of weeks,

2:49:192:49:23

from David Cameron downwards, are rubbish.

2:49:232:49:25

All we're saying is we want to get back to be a normal self-governing

2:49:252:49:30

nation that makes its own laws and crucially controls its own borders.

2:49:302:49:35

Nigel Farage. And the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is with me.

2:49:352:49:39

Hello. What persuaded you in the end that it's better to remain than to leave?

2:49:392:49:43

The three big areas are the money, the border and the future

2:49:432:49:47

of the United Kingdom and it's clear that

2:49:472:49:50

Nicola Sturgeon sees a Brexit vote

2:49:502:49:52

as an opportunity to press a button

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for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

2:49:542:49:56

It may not be the only opportunity she sees, but it's the obvious one

2:49:562:50:00

and, as a Unionist leader, I'm not putting my fingerprints on that button.

2:50:002:50:04

In terms of the border, it was clear when we spoke to the Prime Minister

2:50:042:50:07

there won't be a hard border in this island -

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nobody's going to build a Donald Trump-like wall, but there will have to be

2:50:102:50:13

a hard border and it will take us back to the '70s.

2:50:132:50:16

It'll be at Stranraer and Cairnryan and Gatwick and Heathrow.

2:50:162:50:19

We will become, to a certain extent, internal exiles.

2:50:192:50:23

And on the money...

2:50:232:50:25

I offered anybody in the room yesterday a pen

2:50:252:50:27

and said, "If you can financially underwrite and guarantee no farmer

2:50:272:50:31

"will lose out, no voluntary or community sector worker will lose

2:50:312:50:34

"their job because of the end of European money,

2:50:342:50:37

"sign that form and that will influence my thinking."

2:50:372:50:41

Nobody was prepared to take the pen.

2:50:412:50:43

I wonder, does that mean you will play your part

2:50:432:50:45

in what Boris Johnson calls Project Fear? I suspect that people who take

2:50:452:50:49

a different view to yours, having listened to what you just said,

2:50:492:50:53

would say you're playing the fear card.

2:50:532:50:55

We had a very intense debate yesterday - over

2:50:552:50:57

three hours. What pleased me was the quality of the debate.

2:50:572:51:00

-Was it unanimous, the decision?

-99%.

2:51:002:51:03

One dissenting voice out of around 100, and some people spoke

2:51:032:51:08

passionately about Brexit - the reasons why we should come out

2:51:082:51:12

and we dealt with each and every one of them.

2:51:122:51:15

Jim Nicholson, your MEP, does he have a vote?

2:51:152:51:18

-Yes.

-He's for staying?

2:51:182:51:22

Yes, there were about 100 people in the room.

2:51:222:51:25

I thought one person coughed. We checked - one person was against.

2:51:252:51:29

Do you know who that was?

2:51:292:51:30

-Yes, I do.

-You're not going to tell me?

2:51:302:51:34

I don't want the media tents parked on his lawn.

2:51:342:51:37

-Was that an elected representative?

-No.

-A party member, but not an elected representative.

2:51:372:51:43

Will elected representatives be expected to campaign for the UK to remain,

2:51:432:51:51

or will they be allowed to campaign to leave?

2:51:512:51:53

Yes, but I didn't sense any MLA, of the MPs or the MEP, being for Brexit,

2:51:532:52:00

so there may be some elected councillors who will be for Brexit

2:52:002:52:03

and they're perfectly entitled to take their view.

2:52:032:52:06

You wouldn't expect them to follow the party line in public, as elected representatives?

2:52:062:52:10

-Everybody is free to do their own thing.

-Is that wise?

-There was incredible consensus.

2:52:102:52:14

When I took the party leadership, people said to me, the two things that will spit the executive,

2:52:142:52:19

are in and out of the executive and in and out of Europe.

2:52:192:52:21

We were unanimous about coming out of the Northern Ireland executive

2:52:212:52:25

and we got to 99-point-something percent on Europe.

2:52:252:52:27

I like my sporting analogies - that was a four-try bonus win.

2:52:272:52:32

OK. What about being on the opposite side of the fence to the DUP and the TUV?

2:52:322:52:36

-Unionism is divided on this issue.

-It is divided.

2:52:362:52:39

There was very little chat over the course of the 3, 3½ hours

2:52:392:52:43

about the fact that this positions us differently from other parties

2:52:432:52:46

and what it means in terms of the election.

2:52:462:52:49

It was a really mature debate we had about doing the right thing for Northern Ireland.

2:52:492:52:53

What do you say to those who claim that if the UK Exchequer

2:52:532:52:56

was to be spared having to pay huge amounts of money

2:52:562:53:01

into the EU's coffers, that money could be spent

2:53:012:53:05

without all of the downside of EU red tape on the difficult issues

2:53:052:53:08

-we have here in Northern Ireland? That's the argument they put onto the table.

-Two quick points.

2:53:082:53:14

Take a look at the electoral map of the United Kingdom.

2:53:142:53:16

David Cameron is a head of a Conservative Party,

2:53:162:53:19

which is a South-of-England party, so if you think the realpolitik is the money coming back

2:53:192:53:24

from Brussels will come to Northern Ireland, think again.

2:53:242:53:26

If we do come out, do you really think the 27 members who remain will sit down and say,

2:53:262:53:30

"Let's give the United Kingdom more favourable trading conditions than we have for ourselves"?

2:53:302:53:35

-It would be worse?

-It would be worse.

-OK.

2:53:352:53:37

It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next 3½ months. Thanks very much indeed.

2:53:372:53:42

Let's hear a final few thoughts from Newton and Deirdre.

2:53:422:53:45

Does that decision on the part of the UUP surprise you, or was that as you expected?

2:53:452:53:50

I'm surprised by how decisive the decision has been.

2:53:502:53:54

But once you take a decision in politics,

2:53:542:53:57

you have to jump in with both feet, you don't want to look like a waiver.

2:53:572:54:01

Whether you regard it as right or wrong, backing it to the hilt is the correct thing to do.

2:54:012:54:05

Whether you regard it as right or wrong, Mike Nesbitt is very clear that that is the decision

2:54:052:54:09

and he is making that case today.

2:54:092:54:10

He is, and I think it's a smart political move.

2:54:102:54:13

Not entirely unexpected. The DUP are uncomfortable,

2:54:132:54:16

they are setting their face against their natural allies and business, ignoring the evidence.

2:54:162:54:21

To date, the Brexit debate in Northern Ireland has been

2:54:212:54:24

a prolonged exercise in missing the point.

2:54:242:54:26

A get-out-of-jail-free card, we're told - we can keep all the things we like and all those pesky

2:54:262:54:31

bureaucrats in Brussels will leave us alone. We know that to be nonsense.

2:54:312:54:36

The reality is the European Union is part of the warp and weave of political life in Northern Ireland.

2:54:362:54:40

It's not just about the money, it's about the culture and the broader issues.

2:54:402:54:44

How much, Newton, do you think this is about the Ulster Unionist putting

2:54:442:54:48

clear water between themselves on this issue and the DUP?

2:54:482:54:52

Well, as the DUP has not established clear water itself, it is a clever move.

2:54:522:54:58

It is campaigning to leave.

2:54:582:55:00

It is, but it is not... It is taking a position of leaving, but will not actively campaign for it.

2:55:002:55:06

It has tried to nuance its position.

2:55:062:55:08

It's clear that some big beasts within the DUP are going to campaign to leave.

2:55:082:55:12

Which is why the leadership is not going to agitate around an opposite

2:55:122:55:18

position, but they are quite clearly trying to keep a lid on it,

2:55:182:55:21

so to take any position by the UUP effectively needles the DUP.

2:55:212:55:25

It's good that it has moved away from the orange and green of politics,

2:55:252:55:28

we're not having blocks in both areas.

2:55:282:55:31

There is a debate within Unionism about where we are best and what is best for Northern Ireland.

2:55:312:55:36

It will be fascinating.

2:55:362:55:38

It is, but I find myself as someone who is a wavering

2:55:382:55:43

voter that nobody is coming up with arguments that I find persuasive on either side.

2:55:432:55:47

That's what makes it all so interesting.

2:55:472:55:50

Thank you, both, very much indeed. Thanks to Mike Nesbitt.

2:55:502:55:53

That's it for Sunday Politics for this week.

2:55:532:55:55

Join me for Stormont Today - that's on BBC Two at 11.15 tomorrow night,

2:55:552:55:58

but for now, from everyone on the team, thanks for watching. Bye-bye.

2:55:582:56:01

Mark Carruthers looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy makers on the key issues.


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