Top jobs should go to the willing, says Long

The first and deputy first minister posts should be able to be filled by the willing, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said.

The Stormont Executive is unable to function fully following the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan as part of the DUP action against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Ms Givan’s resignation also removed Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from the joint office.

Mrs Long told a pre-election event, hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, entitled Five Leaders; Five Days, that it is not simply an election about how or who will govern for the next five years, but whether we will have an Assembly and Executive at all.

Alliance Leader Naomi Long

“It’s hard to believe, given the challenges we face – our beleaguered health service, challenging budget settlement, a cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy costs, the need for social and economic recovery from the pandemic, the climate crisis and war unfolding on our doorstep, that there is even a question mark over whether a new Executive can be formed,” she said.

With polls suggesting Sinn Fein may emerge as the largest party following the Assembly election, and be entitled to nominate a first minister, unionist parties have appeared unwilling to say they will nominate a deputy first minister.

According to the Assembly rules the top ministers must be nominated by the largest political parties in each of the two largest community designations.

Mrs Long said her party is the only one which has openly committed to nominating a deputy first minister to serve alongside a Sinn Fein first minister.

However, she said her party cannot nominate a deputy first minister under the existing rules.

“If you don’t want to be in the Executive and you happen to be one of the largest two parties, that should be an option,” she said.

“If you decide that after the election you have an entitlement to be first or deputy first minister and you want to turn it down, that should be OK but it should then move on to someone else who is willing to do the job.”

She added: “There is something wrong with the system where the willing can’t work and the unwilling can hold everything back.”