Published Saturday, 02 March 2013
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Speaking at the party's annual conference on Saturday, Mr Ford also said those who raised the flag issue must accept responsibility for the disorder that followed.
Protests across Northern Ireland began in December, following a Belfast City Council decision to change the number of days when the Union flag is flown. The alteration went through on an amendment proposed by the Alliance Party.
The demonstrations have caused months of unrest and businesses in Belfast city centre say they have lost millions due to a lack of footfall.
Mr Ford said there was was a "deliberate campaign [...] to go after the Alliance Party and its elected representatives, especially Naomi Long who wasn't even involved in the debate, in order to win votes".
In Belfast there was a deliberate, pre-meditated campaign to whip up tensions, to generate fears over loss of identity among those who perceive themselves as having little left to give.
"That's the long and short of it. All of this has been about votes."
The office of Naomi Long, Alliance MP for East Belfast, was targeted by demonstrators, and a constituency office in Carrickfergus was also attacked. Other Alliance councillors' homes were damaged.
Mr Ford welcomed his party members who "suffered intimidation, threats and attacks in recent weeks because you did what was right".
But he said Unionist parties need to recognise the consequences of stoking tensions in a divided society, "when you encourage protest without knowing where it will lead and cannot even bring yourselves to call an end to illegality without any ambiguity".
Around 150 police officers have been injured in the recent disorder and a special team has been set up, Operation Dulcet, to investigate incidents linked to protests.
In January it was revealed that officers from the Metropolitan police who had dealt with the London riots in July 2011, were assisting the PSNI in their inquiries.
I hope that there will be a united political voice in support of the PSNI as they seek to deal with protests
Mr Ford, who sits in the Executive as the Justice Minister, said the disorder has put enormous pressure on the police.
"I sincerely hope that those who have taken part in illegal protests will now recognise the damage they are doing and call off those protests," he said.
Mr Ford said the disorder was a clear demonstration of the need for a shared future, but criticised the DUP and Sinn Féin for failing to deliver and said NI is at "something of an impasse".
He also criticised UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who he said was elected because of "his perceived ability to communicate a distinct identity and purpose for the UUP".
"Well from what I've seen, Mr Nesbitt has undoubtedly much experience of reading from an autocue, but it's Peter Robinson who is writing his script," he commented.