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Alliance Party leader: Cost of division in NI is real government scandal

The £800 million annual cost of a segregated society is the "real scandal" of Northern Ireland's government, the Alliance Party leader has said.

Naomi Long said the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme - which is approximately £490m over budget - is a "scandal", but added that the "real scandal" is the cost of division within the region.

She said: "RHI is a scandal not to be sniffed at, but £800 million a year on the cost of division, serving a segregated society, is the real scandal which any executive post this election needs to be able to challenge."

Mrs Long was referring to a report produced last year by Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre for the Department of Finance which said public services incur additional annual costs of up to £833 million in which division may be a factor.

Speaking at the launch of the party's manifesto - How To Change Northern Ireland For Good - the East Belfast Assembly candidate said that Alliance celebrates "diversity as a strength, rather than exploit differences as a weakness".

"That is in stark contrast to the fear-filled rhetoric we have heard from many others in this campaign," she added.

Referring to "the scourge of paramilitarism" in Northern Ireland, Mrs Long said that a "cohesive, coherent plan" is needed from the executive to tackle the threat.

She also raised concern over the lack of clarity from the DUP in relation to a major donation received by the party for its Brexit campaign.

More than a quarter of a million pounds is believed to have been donated to the party to promote its Leave Europe message.

Currently donations to political parties in Northern Ireland are kept confidential for fear of identifying donors.

However, Mrs Long insisted that clarity is needed around political donations.

She added that "£250,000 of a donation was made to a party, possibly the largest (donation) in Northern Ireland's political history, and yet no one in Northern Ireland can know from whom that donation was received".

Making a joke in reference to DUP leader Arlene Foster, Mrs Long said that she had "the lurgy" but would still be taking questions.

On Monday Mrs Foster did not take questions from the media after the launch of the DUP manifesto.

She said she had "man flu" and a DUP spokesman said she was "too ill" to take questions.

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