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Restoration of Northern Ireland Executive may prove difficult, predicts Alliance chief Long

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland could be plunged into a prolonged period without devolved government, Alliance has warned.

Launching the party's manifesto, leader Naomi Long said her assessment was that it could prove "incredibly difficult" to restore the Executive on the far side of the election.

Mrs Long said the two main parties - DUP and Sinn Fein - had positioned themselves in ways which will make negotiations "very difficult".

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill says her party will not take part in talks if Arlene Foster is representing the DUP. The former First Minister has confirmed she will be involved in the discussions.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said Northern Ireland had effectively been left "in the lurch" with no future Budget and a period of uncertainty.

He said: "That is a real shame and an outrage, whether it is because of other parties' intransigence or arrogance."

Facing her first election since taking over as leader from David Ford, Mrs Long produced a new document called How To Change Northern Ireland For Good.

She said it showcased the need "to change things and make our politics work better".

She added that holding onto the party's previous eight seats in an Assembly that was being reduced from 108 to 90 Members would be a "good result".

She said she detected evidence of an increasing mood "for change".

"While we didn't plan to be here, it actually provides people with an opportunity to vote for change - for good," she added.

"The public are tired of corruption, cronyism and incompetence, and want the reforms necessary to create a health service that delivers, an education service that works and an economy that benefits everyone."

Mrs Long said she wanted to see the Assembly's blocking mechanism, the petition of concern - which requires majorities of both unionists and nationalists - brought back to its original intention of protecting minorities. Its policy priorities would include legislation on same-sex marriage, a climate change strategy for Northern Ireland and a regulatory system for flying flags from lampposts.

And she said the DUP-Sinn Fein-led Executive's latest blueprint for tackling the scourge of paramilitaries was insufficient, with no targets or timetables.

Referring to the recent controversy over the loyalist Charter 21 group in east Belfast, where she is standing, Mrs Long said: "It is very clear that these people cannot be bought off - and those who try simply strengthen them."

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