08/01/2019

Alliance Call For Intervention To Restore Devolved Gov't

Tomorrow marks two years since the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed on 09 January 2017, and the Alliance party leader has called on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to prioritise talks aimed at restoring devolution, ahead of the significant anniversary.

Power-sharing at Stormont collapsed when Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister due to the handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, which emerged in November 2016 and was signed off by First Minister and DUP leader, Arlene Foster.

Leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, said the onus is on the Secretary, who succeeded James Brokenshire in January 2018, to inject urgency into the process of restoring the Northern Ireland Executive.

"If this was any other January, MLAs would be coming back to prepare for the Assembly term ahead - taking part in committees and preparing legislation. Instead, we are now two years into the current suspension and there seems to be little or no focus on ending it," the east Belfast MLA said.

Repeated rounds of negotiations aimed at re-establishing power-sharing have failed over the past two years.

Calls for an Irish Language act and equal marriage rights for same-sex couples have risen to the fore as key sticking points that Northern Ireland's two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have failed to agree on.

Mrs Long continued: "Yesterday, several Alliance MLAs took part in the We Deserve Better march to Stormont. It conveyed public frustration at the lack of any progress towards restoration. My colleagues and I share that frustration and are increasingly angry at the opportunities for Northern Ireland being wasted during this impasse."

Earlier this week, a dance teacher from County Fermanagh completed a 90-mile trek to Stormont from his home in Enniskillen in a bid to put pressure on politicians in Northern Ireland with the biggest mandates to return to government as the country enters its third year without a functioning executive.

Dylan Quinn completed the trek in protest at the lack of representation for the people of the region, and ended it with a passionate plea outside the Parliament Buildings in which he accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of robbing an entire generation.
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The Alliance leader continued: "We need devolution functioning with a focus on resolving not just the current political disputes, but also the massive challenges facing our public services and hitting our constituents hard.

"Continuing with this malaise is just not sustainable. Alliance has put solutions on the table, our Next Steps Forward document, almost a year ago. We outlined constructive suggestions to re-establish devolution and get MLAs back to doing their full job.

"The onus is on the Secretary of State to either act on those proposals or come forward with better ones. Continued drift is not acceptable either to MLAs or, more importantly, the public we serve."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, also speaking ahead of the two year anniversary, echoed Mrs Long's call for intervention from the Secretary of State as public services suffer and the UK hurtles towards its exit of the European Union.

"The impact of the political vacuum over the last two years has been well documented," the Foyle MLA said.

"The freezing of the legislative and decision making process has meant that the North is being left behind. All of our public services are suffering because we have no government.

"Our health service is in urgent need of intervention, our schools are starved of funds and our economy is barely growing at all.

"We are also in the bizarre situation where the EU is representing our interests in the Brexit negotiations and the only Northern Ireland party in a position to influence that process is the DUP.

"The SDLP have been consistently calling for Karen Bradley to kick start a talks process that is inclusive and transparent. This message has not changed. We are living in politically unprecedented times. The price of political stalemate, though always high, is right now incalculable. We can wait no longer."

Meanwhile, Amnesty International UK has hit out at the two-year deadlock which has left human rights "trapped in political limbo".

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

"The absence of a sitting Assembly has blocked advancement on key human rights issues, leaving Northern Ireland far behind the rest of the UK.

"In Northern Ireland, same-sex couples still cannot legally marry, and women are subject to some of the most draconian and outdated abortion laws in the world.

"The UK Government has the power and authority to legislate for change on these urgent human rights issues and cannot keep blaming the Stormont deadlock for inaction. Two years is already far too long. Our rights cannot be sacrificed any longer."



(JG/CM)

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