The leader of the Alliance Party has used her keynote speech at her party’s annual conference to denounce the idea of any fresh elections as a pointless “vanity project”.
Naomi Long, who took over from former party helmsman David Ford about six months ago, told an audience at Stormont Hotel that the business of governing the Province is being neglected, at a particularly crucial time.
The East Belfast MLA was speaking as hopes were diminishing for a deal to be done to resurrect the Stormont Assembly by the time of the deadline at 4pm today.
However, it was not until late on Sunday – a day after her speech – that Sinn Fein effectively scuppered all hope of such a deal by announcing that it does not intend to nominate a first or deputy first minister.
It has long been warned that fresh elections were one of the likely scenarios if politicians failed to come to an agreement to govern Northern Ireland within the three-week window after the last election.
The Alliance Party had emerged strongly from the March 2 election; whilst the Assembly decreased in size from 108 members to 90, the party managed to hold on to its eight seats, and even increased its share of first-preference votes.
Mrs Long hailed the results as “remarkable” – particularly since they were achieved on what she termed a “shoestring budget”.
She said that “in many constituencies our vote doubled or tripled from the last election only eight months ago”.
But she also went on to tell the conference in east Belfast: “Bertie Ahern this week described the prospect of another election as “pointless time wasting” which it undoubtedly is.
“We will return to Stormont as we have after this month’s election with mostly the same parties, the same people and the same problems.
“However, it is more serious than just a waste of time.
“We are days away from the end of the financial year yet we have no budget.
“We are days away from the triggering of Brexit yet we have no Brexit plan.
“We are already overdue the Assembly vote needed to set next year’s regional rate yet we have no Assembly.
“We have no Programme for Government – in fact we have no government at all.
“This is no time for any parties to indulge themselves in the vanity project that is another election.”
She added: “We owe it to those who rely on those services and to those who deliver them, to get a functioning Executive established now and get back to doing the job that we were elected to do.”