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'Many people say things will never change, but they can ... the power to make change is in all our hands'

By Naomi Long

The recent collapse of the Assembly is, at one level, farcical, but, at another, profoundly frustrating and it is understandable why, for so many people, things appear bleak and uncertain. Again, we are left without a working government. It happened time and time again under the SDLP and UUP and now again under the DUP and Sinn Fein.

It's happening at a time when we need a functioning Executive more than ever - to set a budget, to address the crisis in our health service and school budgets, to provide job security to many public and community sector workers and to deliver a coherent plan to address the challenges posed by Brexit.

But, while most of us didn't choose to be here, it does provide an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland. It is a chance to make change. For good. Many people feel disillusioned and even angry with the Assembly and with politics and don't believe anything will ever change. But it absolutely can and the power to make it change is in each of our hands.

This election is a chance for you to take a stand against the scandals we have seen emerge under the DUP and Sinn Fein - RHI, Nama, Red Sky, Research Services Ireland and giving public money to paramilitaries. It is a chance for you to say enough is enough to the even bigger scandal of division which holds us all back and costs us much more than all of the other scandals put together.

That division won't go away if we keep voting along Orange and Green lines, driven by fear, manipulated by those who gain from division. This is our chance to change that pattern once and for all.

Alliance is not just standing against what has gone before, but we stand for a positive and progressive change in our government and community. An Alliance vote isn't just an empty protest vote - it's a vote for positive transformation, one that can deliver real change for good in every constituency and in the Assembly.

That positivity contrasts sharply with some others in this campaign, who use divisive, fear-filled rhetoric, which seeks to play on people's fear and raise tension, rather than show real leadership to address concerns and build hope and confidence. Others use the politics of deflection to try to disguise the fact they don't see themselves as accountable to the public - whether it's refusing to answer questions from journalists, abusing the petition of concern to avoid criticism in the Assembly, or failing repeatedly to deliver on promises to reveal their major donors - something Alliance has done for years voluntarily.

There is nothing stopping others doing the same - and doing it now. Thanks to legislation I changed at Westminster, parties are already instructed to advise donors any donation received since January 2014 will be published at some future date. Other parties talk before elections about donor transparency, but their actions post-election do not match their pledges.

The UUP has recently talked about revealing its large donors, yet only last month, its councillors on Belfast City Council voted against doing just that. The DUP first committed to end donor secrecy in May 2014, restated it in their manifesto last May, yet they still refuse to do so. The SDLP likewise talk about being in favour of transparency, yet fail to follow through and publish, while Sinn Fein claim to be transparent, yet include no link to their returns on their website.

Only the Green Party and Alliance actually make it simple for the public to see who our large donors are. You deserve better. More transparent, more accountable government. You should have confidence we work for your best interests and not the interests of those with fat wallets and deep pockets.

That's why you need to question candidates seeking your vote if they support full donor transparency and, if so, why their party hasn't done anything practical to deliver it. We need government with a coherent vision for society and a focus on restoring not only your trust in politics, but also in building trust between people and communities in a diverse and rapidly changing society.

That message from Alliance is clearly connecting with people across Northern Ireland. When I became leader, I promised to build Alliance beyond greater Belfast. Even at this early stage, we are recruiting new members and activists across the country at an unprecedented rate. Our candidates are rooted in their constituencies and have the skills and the vision to provide quality representation for their constituencies at Stormont, but also to represent Alliance in those areas.

I'm proud to stand with them and know every vote cast for Alliance will matter. In every constituency not only do you have an opportunity to elect Alliance MLAs to represent you, but by giving us your first preference vote you can send out the strongest possible message about the type of society you want to see - a progressive, liberal and vibrant community which celebrates diversity as a strength rather than exploiting difference as a weakness.

If we use this opportunity wisely, we can truly transform our broken politics so the people who got us into this mess cannot do it again. It is your opportunity - perhaps the best and maybe the only one we'll get for a generation - to change our politics into something honest, open, responsible, respectful and hard-working.

Good public services that deliver for you and everyone - transforming healthcare, integrating education and delivering a safer, more inclusive community. Good prospects, with more and better opportunities and the education and skills to give our young people a future here.

Good relations, which embrace and celebrate the richness of living in Northern Ireland, a place where we can be British, Irish, both, or neither, and still work together to realise our full potential as a community. Good government that's open, honest, accountable and progressive. No more corruption, no more cronyism, no more incompetence. Just good leadership.

This is a golden opportunity to turn things around. But you need to grasp this opportunity. On March 2, vote Alliance. Together, we can change things. For good.

  • Naomi Long is Alliance Party leader and an East Belfast candidate

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