Alliance blueprint to solve Stormont deadlock
The Alliance Party is today publishing proposals to break the political deadlock at Stormont that include the suggestion that Westminster legislates for same-sex marriage and the Irish language.
The party said such a move would take the pressure off the DUP and Sinn Fein and increase the chances of a deal to restore power-sharing.
It said the re-established Stormont institutions could then work to address the crisis in the NHS and education system rather than becoming bogged down in contentious issues which currently appear intractable.
Alliance is also proposing a "transitional Assembly" which would run in parallel with a fresh round of negotiations. Such an Assembly would not be "a talking shop" but would bring forward legislation in co-ordination with the civil service.
Stormont committees could scrutinise budgets and offer advice on key policy areas.
The Alliance blueprint 'Next Steps Forward' has already been given to DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill. It is being released ahead of the party's annual conference in Belfast on Saturday.
On same-sex marriage and the Irish language, it says: "The Secretary of State could choose to legislate for some or all of those elements at Westminster. This would take pressure off the parties to deliver their constituencies in support of those issues, and allow a shift in the baseline position before returning to talks, increasing the prospect of agreement to form an Executive."
Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "This would not only remove the hurdles to a deal but it would prevent a situation where the first job facing fragile restored institutions was dealing with the toughest and most sensitive issues placing the Executive and Assembly under immense pressure from the outset."
Mrs Long said any Irish language legislation at Westminster should "not go beyond what the two parties were willing to consider in the last round of Stormont talks". Alliance wants the public consultation launched on legacy issues.
The party is repeating its call for an independent talks chair and argues that the bickering following the collapse of negotiations last month proves the need for the involvement of an outsider who could restore "confidence internally and externally in any process".
Mrs Long said the situation must not be allowed to drift and a fresh round of talks should be convened after Easter.
Her party believes the British-Irish intergovernmental conference should be convened "as a formal consultation mechanism with the Irish government".
Alliance is calling for the re-establishment of the Policing Board with political nominees from the party leaders appointed without delay. It is suggesting a cross-party Brexit committee is formed so Northern Ireland's voice is heard in negotiations. Mrs Long said her party was not proposing a shadow Assembly which would be "a talking shop with the parties tearing lumps out of each other in debates every week".
Rather, a transitional Assembly would "allow MLAs and parties to re-engage on issues of substance and take on some responsibility in return for their salary".
Mrs Long said her party's plan was in keeping with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
"The two political choices being currently presented are full fat direct rule or a British-Irish intergovernmental conference with some sort of joint authority," she said.
"But 20 years ago the Good Friday Agreement recognised that the way forward was for the people of Northern Ireland to work together, not to outsource our problems to London or to London and Dublin. We believe that still holds true."