Belfast Telegraph

Assembly election must be called if Stormont talks fail, says Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long Liam McBurney/PA)
Alliance leader Naomi Long Liam McBurney/PA)

An election must be called if no agreement is struck to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alliance leader Naomi Long has said.

Talks to restore the Assembly are to begin on Monday following Friday's General Election.

Mrs Long said the crises in public services meant the return of an Executive was "vital to society".

"Every day this impasse continues, the public is suffering – people are losing their jobs, budgets are being slashed, organisations are going to the wall," the MEP said.

"The health service is currently facing a major crisis but that is likely to be followed in the near future by other crises in areas such as education and infrastructure, as well as the impending welfare mitigations cliff edge, and doing our best to protect Northern Ireland from Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

“It’s clear that cannot go on. Alliance will be there on Monday and we will play a constructive role in trying to restore the institutions. But it is clear this is the last opportunity to do so because this paralysing of our politics cannot go on. If there is no successful resolution, the Secretary of State must call fresh elections and then it is over to the public to elect those who want to get on with the job of delivering for everyone."

Ahead of the talks DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Sinn Fein of holding "the rest of Northern Ireland to ransom."

"We will be attending the Talks on Monday," she said.

"People want decisions made about welfare, hospitals and schools. That was the clear message of the election.  Northern Ireland has been deprived of local Ministerial led government for three years. "

"Central to the Talks must be the sustainability of the institutions so never again can one party hold the rest of Northern Ireland to ransom.  Sinn Fein has barred everyone from Government for three years despite other parties willing to take their seats."

Mrs Foster  called for all the parties to "step up to the plate".

"For my part, we will not be found wanting.  Northern Ireland can only move forward when we are prepared to work together.”

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said she wants to see the political institutions restored on a "credible and sustainable basis".

“We will work towards securing agreement on outstanding issues, including an Irish Language Act, reform of the Petition of Concern, the legacy of the past and integrity in government," she said.

“I believe they can be resolved if there is the political will to do so.

“We need a new kind of politics, a new Assembly and a new Executive."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said political parties are entering into "last-chance talks".

“The scale of the challenge we face is immense," the Foyle MP said.

"Our Health Service is in crisis - waiting lists are spiralling out of control and hardworking healthcare staff demand and deserve pay parity with their counterparts across these islands. Our schools are on the verge of a full blown resource catastrophe if urgent action isn’t taken. And critical investment across the North is being delayed by a failure of political leadership. It has to stop now."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said:"The operation of the Executive, accountability mechanisms for Ministers and their Special Advisors, as well as the Petition of Concern must all be subject to major reform.

"Each Party must be able to return to the devolved institutions with confidence that things will not be as they were before.

“If we do not deal with the core issues that undermined devolution previously then we will simply be setting ourselves up for further failure."

Mr Aiken added that he will be asking the British government to take back powers over health until devolution is restored in order to tackle the health crisis .

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith spoke with all five party leaders on Sunday morning and later tweeted: "Good calls with all five party leaders this morning. Look forward to starting positive process tomorrow to get Stormont back up and running."

The NI Assembly has been absent for more than 1,000 days due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

The stalemate is seen as a major reason behind the decline in vote share for both parties in the General Election.

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