Northern Ireland’s Assembly election is not just about how Northern Ireland will be governed, but whether it will be governed at all, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said.
Launching the party’s election manifesto in east Belfast, Mrs Long also called for reform of Stormont so MLAs are no longer designated as nationalist or unionist.
The manifesto also pledges to fully implement the Bengoa Review recommendations into Northern Ireland’s health service as well as calling for more integrated housing and education and a “Green New Deal” for the economy.
The party also proposes a home-heating grant voucher scheme for low-income households and a £20-a-week child payment scheme for families affected by poverty to address the cost-of-living crisis.
This is not just an election about who will be in government, but about whether or not we will have a governmentNaomi Long
But Mrs Long told party members and the media that the Stormont powersharing executive, which collapsed earlier this year when the DUP quit in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, must first be re-established.
She said: “This is not just an election about who will be in government, but about whether or not we will have a government.
“I think it is incumbent on all of us who are standing for election to commit ourselves to doing all that we can to deliver in the next five years for the people of Northern Ireland.
“It is not just a lost opportunity but a shameful waste if we do not commit to making the Assembly and the Executive work and function at a time when people desperately need leadership.
“Political instability and repeated collapse of the institutions have wasted time and energy away from what we should be concentrating on.
“Instead of fixing our health service, ensuring people can heat their homes and healing division, other parties have focused on political stunts, games and brinkmanship.”
Together we can build a positive, progressive Northern Ireland. One where politicians are focused on delivery not division.— Alliance Party (@allianceparty) April 27, 2022
Read our #AE22 manifesto here- https://t.co/D5jqAabgYl#TogetherWeCan pic.twitter.com/zxvUeOgXVO
The DUP has said it will not re-enter the Executive until the British government acts to restore Northern Ireland’s status within the UK internal market.
The DUP and UUP have also refused to confirm they would nominate for the role of deputy first minister if Sinn Fein emerged from the election as the largest party and was entitled to nominate for first minister.
Mrs Long said: “These are essentially job applications. We are going through an employment process, but there are people going around the doors seeking to be employed as MLAs, and what are they saying to their employer? ‘Well, we might not want to do the job, it depends who else works in the office’.
“We have got to treat this with the seriousness that it deserves.
“If people are not willing to commit to respect the democratic outcome of this election, if they are not willing to commit to do the job that they are seeking a mandate to do, then they should step aside and let those of us who are committed to doing the hard work get on with it.”
Mrs Long also said her party would push for change to the Stormont system where MLAs are designated as unionist, nationalist or other.
She said: “Around 15% of MLAs currently are non-aligned in the Assembly, yet we they still count for less in votes on key issues.
“I don’t believe that has ever been acceptable, but as that number grows it becomes less and less acceptable and more and more in need of reform.
“We are arguing very clearly now that we need to deal with the inequality at the heart of our Assembly.
“We cannot say that our community are all equal if within the heart of the institutions which govern this place there is inequality and disrespect for people’s rights.
“I believe that the days of designations are over.
“The Good Friday Agreement allowed us an opportunity to manage our divisions, but surely as a society that cannot be the ceiling of our ambitions.”
The Alliance leader also said the titles of the first and deputy first minister offices should be changed.
“It is time that this pantomime around the first and deputy first minister office was brought to an end.
“It is a co-equal office, with co-equal partners in government. It is time that was reflected in the title.”