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Naomi Long: DUP deal with Tories has undermined British government impartiality

Naomi Long said the British government had 'one hand tied behind its back' during the Stormont talks. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

The British government’s ability to act impartially in the Stormont negotiations was undermined by its close relationship with the DUP, Alliance leader Naomi Long has claimed.

The East Belfast MLA said the Tories’ confidence and supply deal with Arlene Foster’s party led to a sense that the British government “had one hand tied behind their back” during the recent talks process.

“And so the tone for a long and frustrating year of political stagnation was set – government unwilling or unable to reconfigure the talks to enhance the possibility of success; the number of parties around the table getting fewer and fewer; the scope for agreement becoming narrower and narrower; the points of disagreement becoming increasingly intractable; and the likelihood of success becoming more and more remote with each successive attempt,” she said.

Mrs Long was speaking to around 250 Alliance delegates and elected representatives at the party’s annual conference on Saturday in east Belfast’s Stormont Hotel.

The Alliance leader sought to invoke the “sense of possibility” created by the Good Friday Agreement in an effort to counter the deep political malaise that exists 20 years after the signing of the accord.

“We now find ourselves in a very different context: where not just agreement but hope itself – the very sense of possibility – seems to be in short supply,” she said.

“Yet we need both, if we are to find a way through our current difficulties to realise the full potential of that agreement.”

Last week, Alliance tabled a series of proposals it believes provide a path back to devolution.

The ‘Next Steps Forward' paper includes proposals for Westminster to legislate on contentious issues such as same-sex marriage and for MPs to reform of the petition of concern – the Stormont assembly veto that was often used to block legislative changes.

“Since the collapse of the most recent talks, there has been no indication of how the government intends to move forward and get parties around the table again – there has been a complete lack of forward momentum,” she said.

Mrs Long said the “current drift is simply unsustainable”.

“Alliance remains convinced only fully inclusive multi-party talks, chaired by an independent facilitator, can re-establish trust between the parties and hold them to account, privately and publicly, for their actions,” she said.

“They also provide the only prospect of delivering an inclusive executive.”

She again voiced her opposition to a shadow or interim assembly with no legislative power, saying Alliance wanted “no part in any talking shop”.

“We do not need yet another arena in which MLAs cut lumps out of each other for sport – we need to start taking back responsibility,” she said.

She said the UK’s decision to leave the EU was “unpicking the political, social and economic relationships on which we have come to rely”.

“Increasing protectionism and nativism in politics and growing insularity, bordering at times on xenophobia, is in stark contrast to the focus on globalism, multi-culturalism and interdependence in the 1990s,” she said.

“Supporters will argue that Brexit is about being more open and more engaged – independently, confidently – with the big, wide world beyond Europe; however, it’s hard to take that entirely seriously when the very same people were in a state of near apoplexy this week at news their beloved navy blue passports would be imported from France.”

Mrs Long said the Brexiteers’ “ourselves alone” approach was “not a recipe for economic success in any language”.

The Alliance leader welcomed the ending of secrecy around political donations but was critical of the secretary of state’s decision not to backdate the measure to January 2014, in accordance with an amendment the then East Belfast MP included in the bill.

“This isn’t about what local parties want; it’s about the right of local voters to know who the major donors are and decide for themselves who pulls the strings,” she said.

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