It is almost expected, when talking about politics in Northern Ireland, for people to say that they just want politicians and their parties to focus on important issues such as health, education, employment etc. This is usually followed by the well used mantra that the people have had enough of tribal politics and want a shared society. Such talk is prolific and, understandably, is music to the ears of the Alliance Party and why wouldn't it be? It fits their ideology perfectly and they offer that type of politics to the people more so than any of the other parties.
I however, don't buy a word of it.
Yes, there are clearly some who actually mean what they say and back it up by joining Alliance or voting for them, but as we can see, they are far outnumbered by those who feel that first and foremost they are Nationalists or Unionists. There are exceptions of course; there will be some who have carefully considered the individual policies put forward and voted accordingly but they are in the minority. The fact remains that when going to the polls, the majority of this country vote along Unionist or Nationalist lines and while Alliance ignore the evidence they will remain a small party.
No doubt, they have made some gains, but I fear they have overestimated just how much of those successes are down to Alliance and not other factors. Naomi Long's victory in East Belfast can be directly attributed to the Robinson's turmoil. I don't doubt Alliances claim that Naomi was popular in East Belfast or that she was an effective and well known MLA. These things didn't win her the seat, they just meant that she was the first choice for an anti Robinson protest vote.
David Ford is Justice Minister and that is indeed a great result for Alliance but again, it had little to do with any specific Alliance achievements; he was simply the only option that everyone could agree on because of the nature of the role. These two 'successes' have been, and will continue to be, portrayed as Alliance growing and providing a threat to the other parties but I think they are sorely misguided and after the election may have to concede that, for all the talk and all the hype, the electorate haven't fully bought into the Alliance message of society free from division.