Is there any hope of a shared future?

Protesters make their point in Glengormley on Friday night. INNT 03-035-FP
Protesters make their point in Glengormley on Friday night. INNT 03-035-FP

THE Alliance Party has come under sustained attack since Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days it flies the Union flag at City Hall.

Death threats have been made against MP Naomi Long as well as continued protests held outside her east Belfast office. A number of councillors’ homes have been attacked and at a protest on Friday evening in Glengormley a banner was displayed saying ‘Ballyduff says smash the Alliance Party’, echoing similar statements made by unionist parties against Sinn Fein in the past.

Here writing in the Newtownabbey Times, Alliance leader, South Antrim MLA and Justice Minister David Ford says the intimidation of his party will not stop it working towards a shared future....

‘There have now been over 40 days and 40 nights of protests and violence on the streets since Belfast council democratically and legitimately decided to support the Alliance policy of flying the Union flag on designated days. On that night, unionists failed to acknowledge that Sinn Fein recognised the Union flag as the flag of this country and Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK.

The violence that we have seen since that night is the end of a line that began last summer with open defiance of Parade’s Commission rulings and the distribution by the DUP and UUP of 40,000 inflammatory leaflets spreading misinformation that stirred tensions.

This tension then turned into attacks on the offices and homes of my party colleagues.

There were also threats, again aimed at the Alliance Party and at the elected representatives of other parties. This was nothing short of an attack on democracy.

I am saddened that protesters in Glengormley waved a flag threatening to ‘smash the Alliance Party’. This is a deliberate attempt to intimidate my Party, to prevent us from progressing the vision of a safe and shared community for all, based on diversity, tolerance and the respect of cultural symbols.

Alliance will not be deterred from its commitment to providing a shared future for Northern Ireland, moving beyond the ugly scenes of recent weeks.

The DUP and UUP deliberately stoked tensions and maliciously targeted Alliance for their own electoral ambitions in east Belfast, resulting in violence and direct attacks on the Alliance Party.

Northern Ireland does not need behaviour like this: it needs responsible leadership that provides a safe and prosperous future for all.

This violence was not just aimed at politicians but also at the police with around 100 officers being injured since this trouble began. My thoughts and concerns with all the officers who suffered countless nights of attacks while they just carried out their work to protect all sides of the community.

I have given the police my full support, but yet there are those who have criticised policing operations. This only legitimises the attacks on the police and could be seen to justify the violence.

The public have now had to deal with over six weeks of disruption due to protests and violence. Traders have lost business, people have had to change their social and work plans, and potential investors may have been deterred from bringing jobs here that could improve our economic stability.

There are genuine problems that many protesters have highlighted, but these affect people from all backgrounds. We have seen political parties attempting to exploit the tensions that currently exist for their own electoral benefit rather than work to benefit the community.

All sides must tone down the language they are using. We have already seen too many comments inflaming the situation.

Many of these issues are bred from division and so can only be solved with shared solutions. What we need to see is a genuine shared future strategy with challenging targets to resolve issues including flags, identity, parades, the legacy of the past and shared education and housing.

Politicians must work together on a cross-community basis to resolve our problems. We will not resolve this situation by retreating into tribal positions.

We don’t need the politics that feeds fear, that throws us back years. We need the politics of inspiration that moves Northern Ireland forward, improving our economy and creating jobs.’