Northern Ireland

Naomi Long defends decision to remain as justice minister during general election campaign

The Alliance leader said cabinet ministers and her counterparts in other devolved administrations would be remaining in post while campaigning

Justice Minister Naomi Long told the Assembly of her concern over the allegations
Justice Minister Naomi Long. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

Naomi Long has defended her decision to continue as Stormont’s justice minister during the Westminster election campaign.

The Alliance leader confirmed on Monday that she will stand as a candidate in East Belfast on July 4.

Her executive colleague Robin Swann’s commitment to stand down as health minister once the election date was revealed prompted speculation that Mrs Long would follow suit.

Health Minister Robin Swann voted against the budget last month, claiming it would result in dangerous cutbacks in health service delivery
Robin Swann plans to resign as health minister. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA

Mr Swann, who hopes to unseat the DUP’s Paul Girvan in South Antrim, will resign as a minister at midnight on Wednesday, after he has voted against the Stormont budget.

He expected to be replaced by Mike Nesbitt.

Mrs Long, whose decision to run in East Belfast against DUP incumbent Gavin Robinson came after weeks of speculation, said cabinet ministers and those in the devolved institutions would be among the candidates in the forthcoming election.

“It’s absolutely possible to run an election campaign and be a minister – I’ve done it before, so I know that’s possible,” she told the BBC.

The justice minister said the Ulster Unionists had “got themselves tied in knots”.

“On one hand, they say they’re standing down because of the election while on the other they’re saying they’re standing down because of the budget,” she said.

“It does seem to be that they just want to stand down and they’re looking for the right escape hatch.”

Mrs Long, who famously unseated the then DUP leader Peter Robinson in East Belfast 14 years ago, said that as Alliance leader she would be “intimately involved in this election campaign”.

“So I’m confident that I can balance those responsibilities and that I can do it properly,” she said.

“If I had any doubt about that I would step down but I don’t.”

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister has dismissed speculation that he too will run in East Belfast.

The North Antrim MLA, who has yet to reveal if he’s stand in July’s election, said while his party would be running in the constituency, he had never given any consideration to being the candidate.

In relation to Mrs Long’s decision to remain in post during the election campaign, the TUV leader claimed it was because the assembly would have to elect a new justice minister and that if unsuccessful in the Westminster election then the Alliance leader “could only return if replacement obliged by resigning, which might not happen”.