Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate.
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Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics.
The delay, fudge and waffle at Stormont needs to stop.
Just one of the messages the Alliance leader David Ford
delivered at his party's annual conference this weekend.
But, with the Assembly election creeping closer, the mood was all about building on
the party's recent success at the polls.
There are potentially half a dozen gains, a number of constituencies where we already hold seats,
where we're looking for extra seats
and seats that we haven't been representing for some time.
Places like North Belfast and East Londonderry where there could be opportunities, as well.
We'll hear the thoughts of the party's deputy leader Naomi Long.
Plus, they've been making their minds up on the EU for the last two weeks.
We'll hear from the Ulster Unionist leader on why he believes we're
better off in Europe than out.
And making sense of all of that and more are my guests of the day,
Professor Deirdre Heenan and columnist Newton Emerson.
Three of Alliance's eight MLAs won't run for the Assembly again,
so the party used its annual conference to put some of its newer
faces in the spotlight.
But the election campaign will also see the return of an Alliance
politician who needs no introduction.
Our Political Correspondent Chris Page was at the conference.
His report contains some flash photography.
She looks glad to be back. Naomi Long is in the political
Last year, she won the biggest ever vote by an Alliance candidate
in a Westminster election, but it wasn't
enough to keep her East Belfast seat.
12 months on, she's eyeing up a return to the Assembly.
Her leader is enthusiastic about the prospect.
Let's just say this - I am looking forward
to the Assembly election.
At the start of another five long years, more long service.
In his speech, Mr Ford talked about the economy,
legacy issues and the EU referendum.
He said Alliance were the only party working for everyone.
David Ford is a leader who's always had his party fully behind him.
In his 15 years in charge, Alliance have had their first elected MP
and increased their Stormont seats.
They may have lost the Westminster seat last year, but this
conference has been about laying plans to try to take more ground in the Assembly elections.
There are potentially half a dozen gains, a number of constituencies
where we already hold seats, where we're looking for extra seats.
Also seats that we haven't been representing in some time,
like North Belfast and East Londonderry, where there could be opportunities, as well.
Three of the eight current Alliance MLAs won't be standing this time.
Anna Lo is one of them. Will you miss it?
I will miss it, yes. We have a very strong team of candidates.
We have women, young men and I think it's a wonderful team of candidates
to serve Northern Ireland to a better future.
The new candidates were raising their profile at this conference.
I come as a typical Alliance person from a mixed marriage
with a child in integrated education.
Alliance fitted me well and when I joined them, I felt I had come home.
They were people who were not judging me for who I was and where I came from.
I'm offering a new alternative in North Belfast.
I'm positive and that's what Naomi did last year -
a positive election campaign.
She moved forward, despite negative voices.
Her positivity showed that her votes grew. Even though we did lose,
her votes did grow, and that's what I'm going to do in North Belfast -
just positive and show the electorate
what I can offer and what Alliance can offer them.
Change is in the air otherwise, too.
Mr Ford is standing down as Justice Minister in May.
The department of Alliance's other minister
is being abolished, so would he fancy a different portfolio?
Alliance is not simply interested in powers for power's sake
or responsibility for responsibility's sake.
What we're looking to do is advance an agenda.
There are different ways we can do that.
We'll make our judgements after the election and see what is the best way we can do that.
And as for whether the leader might be going into his last election,
Mr Ford is not giving much away, either.
Over 14 years ago, when I became the leader of the party,
I said, "When you want me to go, don't get the men in the grey suits - just tell me."
Nobody's told me yet.
And joining me now is the Alliance Party's deputy leader
Naomi Long. Thanks for joining us.
What are the chances I'll be introducing you this time next year as the party leader?
I think that's a way off and I don't think it's something
I want to be speculating about.
David has said no-one's told him to go and that's right,
and no-one is going to either.
We are very satisfied. He's the most successful leader the party has ever
had and he's a leader we want to hold on to.
He gave you a great puff in his speech yesterday, but he is uncertain
that he will continue as leader in the medium to long-term.
The fact that this issue is now up for public discussion
suggests he doesn't see it as a long-term job.
With all due respect, it's up for public discussion
because people keep asking me the question.
When I said I was coming back to politics,
it was one of the first things people asked me.
The reality is it's not for discussion in the party,
it's not where our focus is - that is on getting a strong team
in the Assembly so we can make a difference to the people
of Northern Ireland.
It's not about the leadership because we're happy with the leadership.
I'm part of that leadership.
Stephen, David and I work together in a collegiate way to make sure that the party has
the most success we can bring.
That is what the party should be about and we're not focused
on leadership, but unfortunately, I think other people outside perhaps are.
You won't be tapping him on the shoulder and suggesting he moves on?
Although he might get a call from David Cameron saying,
"You've done a good job for 15 years, you've been Justice Minister for six,
"how about a seat in the House of Lords?" That'd take it out of your hands.
It wouldn't, because you can sit in the House of Lords, as Maurice Morrow does,
and still sit in the Assembly, so it would make no difference.
David has been on record about his view of going into the Lords
for a long time, so I don't think he'll be getting too many taps on the shoulder at all.
In the short-term, his leadership depends on the party's performance
in May's Assembly election - what is the best you can hope for?
It's not about the best we can hope for. What we want to do is build
a team that is strong in the Assembly, we want a mandate
so we can make a choice about going into
government and then we will be in a position to use the influence
that we are given by the people of Northern Ireland to make progress
on their behalf, either in government or outside of government,
because both of those options will be open to us beyond May.
It is about growing your numbers in Stormont.
You have six at the moment. You're losing three well-known faces.
David Ford, in that report, talked about the possibility of six more seats on offer.
That would bring you to 14. Is that the target you're looking for?
I have no limit in terms of the ambition of what we want to do.
We have seen in other cases where we have surprised people -
not just with the Westminster seat, but in places
like South Down, where people told us we couldn't make any inroads
and we had two councillors elected.
There are surprise results in elections and I'm
not writing off any constituency at this point in time.
Ultimately, elections are the only time when the voters can really make
a difference and it doesn't matter where they are in Northern Ireland -
if they vote Alliance, it can count towards the Assembly, and more than that,
even if they don't elect an Assembly member, it can
make a difference in terms of our mandate to be in the executive.
Stephen Farry is a minister not because of the number of seats we have,
but because of the number of votes we polled.
Every vote in this election counts.
You are limited by what is realistically achievable
and you have had some success.
You won East Belfast and then lost it again.
You went from six MLAs 1998 to eight today, an increase in share in Assembly
from 6.5% to 7.7. It's not seismic growth - it's modest.
It'd be fair to say we did that in one of the most difficult
conditions that a party would have to fight elections,
with flag protests and other things going on.
There was a real pressure on us and we managed to grow our vote, so we need to be realistic,
but I'm not going to be pessimistic.
I sat in many studios in 2009 and was told
I couldn't possibly be the MP for East Belfast,
that that wasn't being realistic, but that was wrong.
I was told after 2010 we'd reached a high water mark, but we got 4,000
more votes in East Belfast last year.
It wasn't enough to take the seat, but what it does show is that it's not a flash in the pan,
that we were actually making a difference and the people in that constituency are making
a choice for change.
What we do know about David Ford's future, because he has been clear
about this, is he will not be the Justice Minister
again if that falls to the Alliance Party.
Do you think your party should put itself up for that ministry
again after May?
I have to look back at why we took it in the first place.
It was an opportunity to see devolution sustained
and brought forward. It was an opportunity to see real progress in Northern Ireland
and to do reform.
If we are going to talk about that - and we haven't been offered the post yet,
so we're not a position to accept
or decline because it hasn't been offered -
but if we're going to do that again, it would have to be on the same
basis that we believe that there will be progress possible,
that the executive will be delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.
That will depend on the programme for government.
We want a mandate to be in those negotiations, to use our
influence to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, but we will not commit
ourselves to take any post in an executive beyond these
elections unless we are satisfied that
that executive will deliver real progress.
You are saying there is a place called opposition for the Alliance Party.
When I was in the Assembly, we were in opposition and I was part of that opposition.
-It's more formalised this time.
Nevertheless, what we want to do is use our influence to its maximum benefit.
If we believe we can do that in government, then that's where we want to be.
If we believe we can do that outside of government, we'll not be afraid to do it.
As Steven said, this is not about power for power's sake.
This is about using your influence to be
able to deliver for people.
That is what it has to be about if politics is to engage the public.
You've had difficulties with policy goals that have not been delivered
because they've been blocked by other parties - for example,
the St Mary's College issue, the issue about fatal foetal abnormality.
There have been tensions between the Alliance Party and other parties.
Doesn't that suggest that you might be better in an oppositional role, calling other parties to account?
We have to balance that against what we have been able to achieve in terms of our agenda.
We have seen peace walls removed, too, in North Belfast.
Removed under a Justice Minister that Alliance was able to provide and he gave that leadership.
We have been able to look at what Steven has been able to do in terms of developing further education -
changing it from being a Cinderella sector into something that people value.
We have to balance what we weren't able to do against what we have been
able to achieve and that's the decision we'll need to make in the next five years.
Are we better placed to deliver in the executive, or outside of it?
But first we need a mandate to be there and that is what we're focused on right now.
We will watch with interest. Naomi Long, thank you for joining us.
Let's have a word with my guests of the day, Deirdre Heenan and Newton Emerson.
Deirdre, your thoughts on the journey ahead for Alliance.
I think Naomi is right. The next five years are crucial for the Alliance Party.
Remembering that their best votes were in the early '70s.
I think they have a number of key decisions to make. In the short-term,
they need to get votes, seats, power and that
should be the short-term objective, but long-term, they need to think,
are they going to be a party for Northern Ireland?
So they're saying it's largely irrelevant in the west, because they don't have candidates
in many constituencies, but they have broken through that
idea that they're just for the middle classes.
They are making gains in North Belfast, in East Belfast.
Another big questions for them is are they just there to prop up a dysfunctional executive?
To take jobs that the grand coalitions can't agree on?
Or are they going to be in opposition and able to say, "We don't agree with
"this government, we are making clear blue water between us and them"? Very difficult.
Newton, on the issue of potential leadership in the future,
it's understandable that Naomi Long doesn't want to be drawn on that,
that people should want to draw her on that and she accepts that.
Where do you stand?
Is it inevitable that David Ford will continue to lead the party
in the short-term but not the long-term?
Once this conversation starts in public, it's obvious the ground
is being laid for some kind of succession.
I think you can assume that will happen in the medium-term.
Sparing the blushes of Naomi Long, will it be inevitable that she will be his successor?
She is his anointed successor, having given a speech where he talked
about five long years - whether that comes to pass we can't
say, but, yes, that is part of the ground that is obviously being laid.
Yesterday at conference, it was obvious the ground was being laid.
What is clear is Naomi wants to have a mandate before she becomes leader.
It is difficult to be leader sitting in Westminster.
There was a chance she would lose the seat - she did.
In a year's time, when she has a mandate, she will be the leader.
Newton, on the issue of taking a position or positions in the new executive
after May, or having an oppositional role,
what do you think the call might be?
I think if you look at the last mandate while justice was worth taking
on its own to deliver devolution, nothing really was extracted from that, in fact.
Quite apart from the cohesion sharing and integration strategy
that the Alliance had been promised, we ended up with shared education.
I know the nuclear option of pulling down the executive is not
Alliance's cup of tea, but they didn't use the leverage they had.
OK. We'll talk to you both a bit later. For now, thank you very much.
Let's pause for a look back at the political week in 60 seconds
with Chris Page.
The national Brexit debate came to Northern Ireland.
David Cameron and Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail.
Basil McCrea vowed to rebuild his political career -
a Stormont watchdog cleared him of allegations
of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.
The values and principles of what NI21 stood for
I think resonated with the people and will still resonate.
I stand having been totally vindicated by a review
of the commissioner and my peers.
Labour members here called on the party's ruling body to allow
candidates to run in elections.
The Culture Minister left the committee investigating safety issues at Casement Park.
She questioned why she been asked to take an oath
when other witnesses hadn't.
-Could you please sit down?
-I've made clear, I am not coming back
to answer questions unless you clarify the decision for an oath.
And the last of the double jobbers left the Stormont stage.
Gregory Campbell chose to remain an MP.
Chris Page reporting.
So the Ulster Unionist Party has decided that remaining
in the European Union is better for Northern Ireland than leaving it.
But the party says it respects that individual members may vote to leave in the June referendum.
We'll hear from party leader Mike Nesbitt in a moment,
but first the Go roadshow came to Belfast on Friday night.
Politicians from across the political spectrum campaigning
to leave the EU gathered in the Titanic Quarter.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he wants to talk to ordinary people.
The remarkable thing about Grassroots Out is we're bringing people together
from across the political spectrum - people in the centre, the right,
people on the left - this is the most inclusive attempt
that's ever been made in British politics.
The fact that quite a large group of Conservatives don't want to come
with us - although some of them are here - that is a shame, but, look,
it's the same for the other side.
This question of the European Union, whether we
should be brave enough to take back our independence,
it is bigger than party politics. This isn't about left and right,
it's about right and wrong as far as I'm concerned,
so, actually, this will divide political parties,
it'll divide families all over the United Kingdom.
It is an issue that excites genuine passion.
We will talk to ordinary people for whom,
probably, politics isn't a big part of their lives, but they're facing
the biggest decision that they've got to make in their lifetimes
and I want to say to them, all the scare stories they've heard over the last couple of weeks,
from David Cameron downwards, are rubbish.
All we're saying is we want to get back to be a normal self-governing
nation that makes its own laws and crucially controls its own borders.
Nigel Farage. And the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is with me.
Hello. What persuaded you in the end that it's better to remain than to leave?
The three big areas are the money, the border and the future
of the United Kingdom and it's clear that
Nicola Sturgeon sees a Brexit vote
as an opportunity to press a button
for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
It may not be the only opportunity she sees, but it's the obvious one
and, as a Unionist leader, I'm not putting my fingerprints on that button.
In terms of the border, it was clear when we spoke to the Prime Minister
there won't be a hard border in this island -
nobody's going to build a Donald Trump-like wall, but there will have to be
a hard border and it will take us back to the '70s.
It'll be at Stranraer and Cairnryan and Gatwick and Heathrow.
We will become, to a certain extent, internal exiles.
And on the money...
I offered anybody in the room yesterday a pen
and said, "If you can financially underwrite and guarantee no farmer
"will lose out, no voluntary or community sector worker will lose
"their job because of the end of European money,
"sign that form and that will influence my thinking."
Nobody was prepared to take the pen.
I wonder, does that mean you will play your part
in what Boris Johnson calls Project Fear? I suspect that people who take
a different view to yours, having listened to what you just said,
would say you're playing the fear card.
We had a very intense debate yesterday - over
three hours. What pleased me was the quality of the debate.
-Was it unanimous, the decision?
One dissenting voice out of around 100, and some people spoke
passionately about Brexit - the reasons why we should come out
and we dealt with each and every one of them.
Jim Nicholson, your MEP, does he have a vote?
-He's for staying?
Yes, there were about 100 people in the room.
I thought one person coughed. We checked - one person was against.
Do you know who that was?
-Yes, I do.
-You're not going to tell me?
I don't want the media tents parked on his lawn.
-Was that an elected representative?
-A party member, but not an elected representative.
Will elected representatives be expected to campaign for the UK to remain,
or will they be allowed to campaign to leave?
Yes, but I didn't sense any MLA, of the MPs or the MEP, being for Brexit,
so there may be some elected councillors who will be for Brexit
and they're perfectly entitled to take their view.
You wouldn't expect them to follow the party line in public, as elected representatives?
-Everybody is free to do their own thing.
-Is that wise?
-There was incredible consensus.
When I took the party leadership, people said to me, the two things that will spit the executive,
are in and out of the executive and in and out of Europe.
We were unanimous about coming out of the Northern Ireland executive
and we got to 99-point-something percent on Europe.
I like my sporting analogies - that was a four-try bonus win.
OK. What about being on the opposite side of the fence to the DUP and the TUV?
-Unionism is divided on this issue.
-It is divided.
There was very little chat over the course of the 3, 3½ hours
about the fact that this positions us differently from other parties
and what it means in terms of the election.
It was a really mature debate we had about doing the right thing for Northern Ireland.
What do you say to those who claim that if the UK Exchequer
was to be spared having to pay huge amounts of money
into the EU's coffers, that money could be spent
without all of the downside of EU red tape on the difficult issues
-we have here in Northern Ireland? That's the argument they put onto the table.
-Two quick points.
Take a look at the electoral map of the United Kingdom.
David Cameron is a head of a Conservative Party,
which is a South-of-England party, so if you think the realpolitik is the money coming back
from Brussels will come to Northern Ireland, think again.
If we do come out, do you really think the 27 members who remain will sit down and say,
"Let's give the United Kingdom more favourable trading conditions than we have for ourselves"?
-It would be worse?
-It would be worse.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next 3½ months. Thanks very much indeed.
Let's hear a final few thoughts from Newton and Deirdre.
Does that decision on the part of the UUP surprise you, or was that as you expected?
I'm surprised by how decisive the decision has been.
But once you take a decision in politics,
you have to jump in with both feet, you don't want to look like a waiver.
Whether you regard it as right or wrong, backing it to the hilt is the correct thing to do.
Whether you regard it as right or wrong, Mike Nesbitt is very clear that that is the decision
and he is making that case today.
He is, and I think it's a smart political move.
Not entirely unexpected. The DUP are uncomfortable,
they are setting their face against their natural allies and business, ignoring the evidence.
To date, the Brexit debate in Northern Ireland has been
a prolonged exercise in missing the point.
A get-out-of-jail-free card, we're told - we can keep all the things we like and all those pesky
bureaucrats in Brussels will leave us alone. We know that to be nonsense.
The reality is the European Union is part of the warp and weave of political life in Northern Ireland.
It's not just about the money, it's about the culture and the broader issues.
How much, Newton, do you think this is about the Ulster Unionist putting
clear water between themselves on this issue and the DUP?
Well, as the DUP has not established clear water itself, it is a clever move.
It is campaigning to leave.
It is, but it is not... It is taking a position of leaving, but will not actively campaign for it.
It has tried to nuance its position.
It's clear that some big beasts within the DUP are going to campaign to leave.
Which is why the leadership is not going to agitate around an opposite
position, but they are quite clearly trying to keep a lid on it,
so to take any position by the UUP effectively needles the DUP.
It's good that it has moved away from the orange and green of politics,
we're not having blocks in both areas.
There is a debate within Unionism about where we are best and what is best for Northern Ireland.
It will be fascinating.
It is, but I find myself as someone who is a wavering
voter that nobody is coming up with arguments that I find persuasive on either side.
That's what makes it all so interesting.
Thank you, both, very much indeed. Thanks to Mike Nesbitt.
That's it for Sunday Politics for this week.
Join me for Stormont Today - that's on BBC Two at 11.15 tomorrow night,
but for now, from everyone on the team, thanks for watching. Bye-bye.
Mark Carruthers looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy makers on the key issues.