Naomi Long: Secretary of state guilty of ‘appalling dereliction of duty’

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has accused the secretary of state of an appalling dereliction of duty over Stormont’s power-sharing crisis.

Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 10:01 am
Updated Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 3:00 pm
Party leader Naomi Long speaking at the Alliance Party's spring conference. Picture By; Arthur Allison.

Addressing her party conference two years on from the implosion of the devolved institutions, Mrs Long was scathing of Karen Bradley’s handling of efforts to restore the Assembly.

Restating her demand for the appointment of an independent mediator to chair talks to revive the process, Mrs Long said people had become accustomed to the failure of the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein to strike a their own deal to re-enter government.

She said the public had also become accustomed to the “equally appalling dereliction of duty by the Secretary of State, who has made no concerted effort to end this interminable drift despite it allegedly being her top priority”.

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“I haven’t seen Karen Bradley’s to do list, but if restoration of the devolved institutions is indeed her number one issue, heaven help those who find their concerns further down the list,” she added.

“Her claim to the House of Commons that she has approached resolving the impasse with ‘laser-like focus’ is evidence only that we can now add lasers to the list of things the Secretary of State knows nothing about.”

It is over two years since the last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.

The wrangle over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, the region’s ban on same sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

A number of attempts to find a negotiated deal to restore the institutions have ended in failure.

The cross community Alliance party is the smallest of the five main Stormont parties. It does not have the electoral strength to enter a new powersharing executive by right - though it was invited to take up the sensitive justice portfolio in a previous incarnation of the executive.

Along with the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance has been involved in various failed initiatives, involving the UK and Irish governments, to restore the institutions in the last two years.

Taking to the stage at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast to the Elvis song A little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Mrs Long reiterated her call for MLAs’ pay to be cut completely if powersharing is not restored in the short term.

Noting examples of bad governance highlighted by a public inquiry into the RHI scheme, the Alliance leader told party faithful devolution could only survive in the long term if there were major structural reforms.

“Talks to do so must start now,” she said.

“We need an independent chair to convene them - someone with the impartiality to command respect, with the focus to drive the process and with the authority to call it if parties fail to agree or engage seriously.

“And, if parties refuse to come, then they should not be paid. And if it becomes clear that there is no will to restore the Assembly, then it needs to be shelved and alternative arrangements put in place to make decisions as we cannot continue in a state of suspended animation forever.”

On Brexit, Mrs Long said if the current Withdrawal Agreement could not gain parliamentary support, another referendum had to be called.

“Our membership of the EU is a racehorse, which we are trading for the promise of a unicorn and so whatever donkey Theresa May brings home from Brussels will never and can never satisfy the expectations either of those who voted for a unicorn or those who were happy with the racehorse,” she said.

“We have been clear from the outset - there can be no good Brexit, but if this is going to happen, a no-deal Brexit would be the worst possible outcome.

“Parliament has failed over the last two-and-a-half years to articulate clearly what it wants. Another 21 months of an extension to this process would merely prolong the damaging and paralysing uncertainty.

“If, as the votes suggest, a majority of MPs actually oppose no deal - then they need to back the Withdrawal Agreement which is the only basis for a deal.

“And if Parliament are not up to the task then put it to the people. Let’s have a People’s Vote - but this time one based on the real choice between the donkey and the racehorse not the unicorn Brexit which never existed.”