Political news

Draft powersharing deal is best unionism can get, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

Michael McHugh, Press Association

A draft deal to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland is the best unionism can get, the Alliance Party leader has said.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are at loggerheads over whether there ever was a proposed agreement.

Broadcaster Eamonn Mallie has published a 13-page draft document on his website which confirms proposals for Irish and Ulster Scots language commissioners and a central translation unit at Stormont.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "Sadly, unionism has made compromise a dirty word. It's history repeating itself.

"That means we know there'll never be a better deal for unionism than this.

"Problem is, when you spend years circling the wagons, you're not able to move forward without major realignment."

Mr Mallie has said the document was sent by DUP negotiators to Sinn Féin on February 9, days before the negotiations collapsed in acrimony.

Its contents included:

  • Extending the period before the Assembly folds following the resignation of a first of deputy first minister from one week to 24;
  • A review of the use of the Petition of Concern which is used to block controversial measures from becoming law;
  • Reforming the health system and addressing the implications of Brexit as a priority;
  • Electing the justice minister in the same fashion as the rest of the Stormont ministers.

A section on respecting languages and culture was surrounded by brackets, meaning it was still up for discussion.

It outlined plans for three separate Bills, dealing with Irish, Ulster Scots and the importance of respect and tolerance.

An Irish Language Bill bestowed official recognition and provided for an Irish Language Commissioner to promote and facilitate its use throughout the whole of Government.

Ulster Scots would also enjoy official recognition and a Commissioner would be established.

A central translation hub would be established in the Department of Finance to provide services across government.

The document said the parties would establish a committee to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights.

Differences on same-sex marriage were noted and it was anticipated that the issue would be fully considered in the form of an Assembly Private Member's Bill.

The DUP's Edwin Poots said the party entered the talks to reach a fair and balanced deal but that was not achieved, hence there was no agreement.

He added: "We hope to pick up the process in the future. Therefore, the DUP will not be publishing any of the talks papers as it would be an act of bad faith.

"If others wish to publish elements of the talks that's a matter for them.

"Such a publication will not undermine anything that the DUP has said in public or private."

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