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David Ford MLA

Assumed office 
Preceded by Séan Neeson

Assumed office 
25 June 1998
Preceded by New Creation

Born 24 February 1951 (1951-02-24) (age 59)
Political party Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Spouse(s) Anne Ford
Alma mater Queen's University Belfast
Religion Presbyterian

David Ford is a politician who is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and has been leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland since 2001.

He was born on 24 February 1951 to mixed Northern Irish and Welsh parents and grew up in Orpington, Kent, England. Ford was educated at Warren Road Primary School, Orpington and Dulwich College, London. He spent summer holidays on his uncle's farm in Gortin, County Tyrone, and moved to Northern Ireland permanently in 1969 when he went to study Economics at the Queen's University of Belfast. There he joined the Queen's Alliance. After University, he took a year out to work as a volunteer at the ecumenical Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, County Antrim, before starting work as a social worker in 1973.

Ford stood unsuccessfully for Antrim Borough Council in 1989, and entered politics full-time when be became general secretary of the Alliance Party. In that rôle, he was best known as a strong supporter of then leader John Alderdice and an advocate of better political organisation and community politics. He was elected to Antrim Borough Council in 1993, 1997 and - after leaving the Council in 2001 to concentrate on Assembly business - again in 2005. In 1996, he stood unsuccessfully for election to the Northern Ireland Forum in South Antrim, but was a key member of Alliance's team to the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement. In 1997, he obtained 12% of the vote in the British General Election in South Antrim, and in 1998 was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the same constituency. He fought South Antrim again in the 2000 by-election and the 2001 and 2005 general elections.

In 2001, Séan Neeson resigned from the Party leadership following poor election results, and David Ford won the leadership election on 6 October by 86 votes to 45, ahead of Eileen Bell. Ford was identified with the more consciously Liberal, internationalist wing of Alliance, while Bell was a more traditionalist, bridge-building, candidate. Notably, Ford was, at the time, the only Alliance MLA to be also a member of the Liberal Democrats

Ford outlined his internationalist view point in his speech at the leadership selection when he said:

I am keen to co-operate with other non-sectarian groups in Northern Ireland, including political parties that will stand against the tribal divide. Our links to the South are not as good as they should be, either with the PDs or with Fine Gael, where we have many natural allies. We must also recognise that Northern Ireland is not unique in the world. Our stand is not different in substance from those who work for peace and reconciliation in Cyprus, Palestine or Bosnia. We should learn from friends abroad. To suggest that 'our wee province' is unique is to do a disservice. There is little more objectionable than the sight of the political begging bowl being dragged out by sectional politicians.

Ford gave Alliance a stability which it had lacked since the departure of John Alderdice, but the Party had declined seriously in the late 1990s and all Ford could do was stabilise the situation. Within a month of taking over the leadership, however, Ford had a chance to establish Alliance's relevancy in the post-Good Friday Agreement environment - on 6 November 2001, the Northern Ireland Executive was to be re-established. However, due to defections within his own Ulster Unionist Party, First Minister David Trimble, had insufficient support within the Unionist bloc in the Assembly to be re-elected to his post. Ford and two of his five colleagues re-designated as Unionist, for just 22 minutes, in order to secure Trimble's position, and thereby enabled the devolved institutions to operate for another year. However, Alliance failed to make any political gains from their move, and the UUP and Sinn Féin failed to reach agreement on the decommissioning issue, ensuring that the institutions collapsed again in October 2002.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections of 2003, Ford's seat in the Assembly was perceived to be under severe threat from Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan, with many commentators expecting him to lose it. However, Ford's expertise in nuts and bolts electioneering stood him in good stead. Although Alliance's vote almost halved, Ford's own vote in South Antrim increased from 8.6% to 9.1%. Meehan's vote increased dramatically, from 7.3% to 11.5%, and he started the election count ahead. However Ford had much greater transfer appeal and finished 180 votes ahead of Meehan at the end of a dramatic three-way fight for the last two seats, with the SDLP's Thomas Burns just 14 votes ahead of Ford. Despite the dramatic fall in vote, Alliance, almost miraculously, held on to its six seats in the Assembly, which remained suspended.[1]

In 2004, Ford made good his leadership election pledge to work with other parties, as Alliance joined with the Workers' Party, Northern Ireland Conservatives and elements of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition to support Independent candidate John Gilliland[2] in the European elections, achieving the best result for the centre ground for 25 years.

Ford's greatest triumph came in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election, when the party achieved its highest vote share since Alderdice's departure and picked up a seat in what was an otherwise poor election for the moderates. Despite media predictions once again of his demise, Ford himself was elected third in South Antrim, with over 13% of the poll. Ford's ability to lead the party to build further on this outcome will be the true test of his party leadership.

David Ford is married to Anne, has four grown-up children and lives in rural County Antrim. He is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

See also


External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Eileen Bell
General Secretary of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Richard Good
Preceded by
Sean Neeson
Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Northern Ireland Assembly
Preceded by
New creation
MLA for Antrim South
1998 -
Succeeded by

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