Belfast Telegraph

Alliance chief Long slams Government for continued Stormont talks impasse

By Suzanne Breen

Alliance leader Naomi Long has called for inclusive multi-party talks with an independent chair to begin after Easter in a renewed attempt to re-establish power-sharing.

Addressing her party's annual conference in Belfast on Saturday, Mrs Long hit out at the Government for giving no indication of how it intended to get the parties around the table again.

"There has been a complete lack of forward momentum," she said. "We have spent the last 14 months in 'care and maintenance' - the big decisions about the reforms required to deliver high quality sustainable health, education, infrastructure, economic development are simply not being taken.

"That cannot continue. The people of Northern Ireland deserve, they need, a functioning government. The current drift is simply unsustainable."

The Alliance leader said the Government's dependence on DUP votes at Westminster led to the impression that it "permanently had one hand tied behind (its) back during negotiations with no ability to exert any pressure to get a deal done".

Mrs Long said Northern Ireland faced a vital decision as the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approached.

She told delegates in Belfast's Stormont Hotel: "We all have a choice to make: do we stand still, squander the progress made and watch new opportunities pass us by? Or do we step forward, together and start to build that more equitable and just future, at peace with ourselves and with our neighbour, in which everyone has a stake?

"Do we allow fear and mistrust to hold us back, divide and weaken our community, limit us to living smaller lives? Or do we step forward together in hope to shape a future filled with possibility and opportunity where we create vibrant communities in which all of us can flourish?"

Mrs Long said her party was committed to playing a positive pro-active role in efforts to restore devolution.

It would not "simply stand on the side-lines wringing our hands, or worse, add to the problems by pointing the finger".

She said: "Alliance remains convinced only fully inclusive multi-party talks, chaired by an independent facilitator, can re-establish trust between the parties and hold them to account, privately and publicly, for their actions. They also provide the only prospect of delivering an inclusive executive."

Mrs Long urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to embrace Next Steps Forward - her party's proposals to break the deadlock - which it launched last week.

Alliance is suggesting Westminster legislates for same-sex marriage and the Irish language to bypass the impasse between Northern Ireland's two big parties. It 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 would scrutinise budgets and offer advice on key policy areas.

"By reconstituting Assembly committees, MLAs can start to do the job we were elected to do," Mrs Long said.

Alliance believes the British-Irish intergovernmental conference should be convened "as a formal consultation mechanism with the Irish government".

The party is also 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: "I remain as convinced as ever that a positive vision, bold ideas and strong leadership is the only way to move Northern Ireland forward and realise the full potential of this society."

In his speech, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry called for a second Brexit referendum. It would be "better and easier" if the UK was to "reconsider" the original vote, he claimed.

If this didn't happen, the UK should "enter into a fresh customs union with the EU", he said.

Dr Farry praised the Dublin government for its "commitment to avoiding hard borders and protecting the Good Friday Agreement".

Belfast Telegraph

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