Belfast Telegraph

Ford calls for Stormont reforms

A voluntary coalition government with collective responsibility should be established in Northern Ireland to break the cycle of crises at Stormont, the justice minister has said.

Greater cooperation between ministers must be enshrined in law, David Ford added, calling for an opposition and reforms to the "abused" system for contentious votes.

The DUP and UUP walked out of all-party talks on flags last week in protest at Parades Commission restrictions on the march through Ardoyne on July 12 and ministers did not hold scheduled meetings with Irish counterparts.

Mr Ford said: "For too long now public services and the entire community have been held back as a result of the almost complete failure of leadership over crucial issues and the breakdown of functioning relationships between the two main political parties.

"It is clear to me that things must be done differently at Stormont."

Flags, parades and dealing with the toxic legacy of past violence have overshadowed powersharing arrangements for months.

The Parades Commission has imposed restrictions on the July 12 loyal order parade through Ardoyne, prompting further coordinated action from unionists as part of what they warn is a "graduated" response.

Decisions like welfare reform or what to do with the site of the former Maze prison have been delayed, although the OFMDFM has published racial equality proposals and government jobs creation agency Invest NI has attracted thousands of foreign investment posts in recent months.

Mr Ford claimed the public should no longer accept the status quo.

The Alliance Party leader said: "A lack of commitment and ability to work professionally is stifling social cohesion, damaging communities and the prospects of our young people and impacting on economic success. Politics must work for the entire community. Stormont needs a reboot."

He accused the DUP and UUP of creating a crisis over parading.

"And this is not the only crisis that Stormont is facing. There is a failure to agree a way forward on welfare reform which if not addressed will have dire financial consequences across all public services.

"The parties have failed to address the key problems facing our schools. We have handed money back to Europe over the Maze peace and reconciliation centre and the Narrow Water Bridge.

"The policy to build a united community remains incomplete and half-hearted. Their dysfunction is costing Northern Ireland dearly and will seriously impact on the future of all of us."

Mr Ford suggested reforms including:

:: Creating a coalition which is decided through voluntary negotiation between parties and subject to a vote in the assembly. Collective responsibility would apply;

:: Replacing the petition of concern system for allowing a nationalist or unionist veto over controversial votes with a qualified majority system;

:: Allowing an opposition, free from the voluntary government, with the opportunity to properly hold the government to account;

:: Agreeing greater levels of co-operation between ministers requiring them to work together under law.

Mr Ford said all public investment should support an open, peaceful and united society rather than continuing division.

He called for an end to sectarian designations in the assembly and increased transparency over donations to political parties.

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