Northern Ireland news

Alliance manifesto targets costly 'scandal' of division

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry fans leader Naomi Long with during the party's manifesto launch. Picture by Mal McCann

SERVICING the cost of division in the north rather than the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is Stormont's "real scandal", according to Alliance leader Naomi Long.

Launching her party's manifesto in Belfast yesterday, Mrs Long said the £800 million a year spent on sustaining a divided society dwarfed the £490m that the botched green energy scheme is predicted to cost the north over the next two decades.

The Alliance leader began her address to the party's election candidates by pointing out that in common with Arlene Foster she too had a heavy cold.

"Can I first say there is a lurgy going round and I think I have it, however, I will be taking questions and I can assure you of that," Mrs Long said in reference to the DUP leader's refusal to take questions at her party's manifesto launch on Monday due to "man flu".

The former East Belfast MP said the Alliance manifesto - How To Change Northern Ireland For Good - was "broadly the same as it was last May".

"It's driven by our vision of an open, welcoming, vibrant society where we celebrate diversity as a strength rather than exploit difference as a weakness," she said.

"That is in stark contrast to the fear-filled rhetoric we have heard from many others in this campaign."

She said the party' had "five clear steps to make progress for Northern Ireland".

"This manifesto highlights Alliance's desire for good government, good relations, good prospects, good services and good leadership, steps which we believe need to happen to help move Northern Ireland forward," she said.

Mrs Long claimed there was "evidence of a change in mood for many people".

"The public are sick and tired of corruption, cronyism and incompetence, and want the reforms necessary to create a health service that delivers, an education service that works and an economy that benefits everyone," she said.

"But a vote for Alliance is not simply a protest vote - as this manifesto shows, instead it is a vote for a party offering something positive, with a proven track record of leadership."

She said the election was brought about not by the RHI scandal but by a "breakdown of respect between partners in government".

However, while the cost of the RHI was "not to be sniffed at", the Alliance leader the real drain on the north's resources was £800m a year spent servicing a divided society.

Mrs Long was referring to a report produced last year by Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre for the Department of Finance which said public services incur additional annual costs of up to £833 million in which division may be a factor.

Referring to "the scourge of paramilitarism" in Northern Ireland, she said a "cohesive, coherent plan" was needed from the executive to tackle the threat.

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