Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 13:57 UK

Profile: David Ford

Alliance Party leader David Ford is Northern Ireland's new Justice Minister, following a deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Politics Show presenter Jim Fitzpatrick profiles the man known as a straight political operator.

David Ford
David Ford was run a department with a 1.5bn budget

Mr Ford has led his cross-community party during difficult times, as the political dynamic of bringing the DUP and Sinn Fein together has proved difficult terrain for the centre ground party.

He took on the leadership in 2001 after Sean Neeson, who succeeded Lord Alderdice, resigned in the face of poor election results.

He managed to steady nerves and the party had a pretty decent outing at the assembly elections in 2003 - saving all six of its assembly seats.

On his home turf of South Antrim, Mr Ford fought off a challenge from Sinn Fein's Martin Meehan.

In the 2007 assembly elections, Mr Ford was again elected in South Antrim. The party also gained a seat with the election of Anna Lo, the first person from an ethnic minority background to stand in the elections.

'Pantomime horse'

Despite his no-nonsense approach to politics, David Ford has had a habit of getting caught up in political theatre.

Last month he met the families of Bloody Sunday victims to apologise after he was criticised for calling the Saville Inquiry "pointless".

Mr Ford made the comment last November in a briefing note which was leaked to the BBC.

"It's clear in that e-mail I used a clumsy and inappropriate phrase which caused significant offence," he said.

"I have told the families that I regret I caused offence."

He saved the former executive in 2001 by re-designating as a unionist with two colleagues for 22 minutes.

At the time he said he would never again allow himself to be the "back-end of a pantomime horse".

This allowed the UK Unionist leader Bob McCartney to later refer to Mr Ford as a "self-confessed horse's ass".

He became embroiled in the police investigation into "loans for peerages" when he revealed that former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble had once offered him the option of a peerage, which he declined.

And it was David Ford who was on his feet in the Stormont Assembly denouncing the "farcical" proceedings, whenever loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone stormed into Parliament Buildings and mayhem ensued.

David Ford
David Ford pictured at Stormont

But despite this inadvertent knack for comedy, he is recognised as a serious political thinker.

The government has adopted a number of Alliance proposals in recent years and Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, was known to have been impressed by Mr Ford.

In the past couple of years, as talks over the devolution of policing and justice powers continued, Mr Ford's name became linked to the role of any future justice minister.

However, in December 2009, the party said it would not put forward any names for consideration as minister of justice without agreement on other key issues first, specifically a community relation strategy.

Mr Ford was born 58 years ago in Kent. With a Welsh father and Northern Irish mother he grew up and was educated in England, but spent summer holidays on his uncle's farm in Gortin, County Tyrone.

Ironically he moved to Northern Ireland permanently in 1969, just as the Troubles began.

He studied economics at Queen's.

His political sympathies were clear from the start - he joined Alliance at university and spent a year as a volunteer at the ecumenical centre, Corrymeela, before starting work as a social worker in 1973.

But it wasn't until 1990 that he entered full-time politics as the party's general secretary.

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

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