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Anger at Assembly reform snub

By Noel McAdam

Alliance has voiced shock over the failure of most major parties to put their money where their mouth is on reducing the number of Assembly Members and axing departments.

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last week, only Ulster Unionists and Alliance formally responded to the committee examining the reform of Stormont by the deadline of last Friday.

And yesterday hardline unionist Jim Allister disclosed he also made a submission, even though his Traditional Unionist Voice group was not asked to do so.

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC), chaired by Stephen Moutray of the DUP, had told the parties a new Northern Ireland Bill was to be the only opportunity to make institutional changes prior to the next Assembly election.

In a letter to party leaders, he made clear that Secretary of State Owen Paterson is seeking Assembly-agreed changes “before the summer recess of 2012”.

Stewart Dickson, the Alliance representative on AERC, said: “I am shocked at the failure of three of the five parties on the committee to respond to this letter.

“We are already an eighth of the way through the current Assembly term, so I am disappointed in the lack of importance that these parties are treating such important issues.

“We have a big opportunity to improve the Assembly and the Executive following four-and-a-half years of political stability.”

Among Alliance’s priorities for the committee to examine are demands for reform in four main areas:

e A review of the ‘sectarian’ designation system for MLAs.

e How ‘petitions of concern’ are being misused.

e Increased ‘joined-up’ Government by the Executive.

e A probe of the number of MLAs and departments.

“Alliance has always called for a shared future to be developed but in the Assembly we have institutional sectarianism where MLAs have to designate themselves as unionist, nationalist or ‘other’. I do not believe that we still need to have this type of system in the 21st century. Surely we have moved forward,” he said.

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