Northern Ireland

Secretary of State challenged to take part in ‘heavy lifting’ to reform Stormont

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said if Chris Heaton-Harris does not participate in reform, he’ll share the blame if it collapses again.

Justice Minister Naomi Long approved the appointment of the new KCs .
Stormont Assembly Justice Minister Naomi Long approved the appointment of the new KCs . (Niall Carson/PA)

The Northern Ireland Secretary has been challenged to take part in the “heavy lifting” of Stormont reform, or risk sharing the blame if the institutions collapse again.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said she wants to approach the recently reformed devolved government with optimism but warned against complacency.

Addressing her party’s annual conference at the Stormont Hotel in east Belfast, Ms Long called for “action to implement real and tangible progress towards actual reform”.



She described her party as “the only consistent and unequivocal champion of reform of the institutions”.

The Assembly Chamber at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast
Stormont Assembly The Assembly Chamber at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Devolution was restored in January following two years of disruption after the resignation of then First Minister Paul Givan (DUP) in February 2022.

Prior to that, the institutions effectively collapsed for three years following the resignation of then-deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) in 2017.

Alliance welcomed the Irish deputy premier and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin to the conference dinner on Friday night.

In a speech, the Tanaiste said there is an “opportunity to begin a meaningful conversation about reform” at Stormont, referring to “two extended periods of years of one party and then another blocking the formation of the Executive”.

“We just cannot have another such period,” he added.

“I don’t think any party wants that and I am certain that the public would have zero tolerance for another cycle of suspension, disenfranchisement and political torpor.”

Addressing the conference on Saturday, Ms Long said she was “encouraged by the thoughtful and considered manner” in which she said he addressed the issue of reform, “and the need for the process of delivery to include all parties and both Governments”.

Ms Long said she has seen “no such commitment” from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

Referring to his hobby of weightlifting, Ms Long said: “Chris, I’m calling on you to step up and do some seriously heavy lifting on reform of the institutions, sooner rather than later, unless you want to be permanently burdened with a large share of the blame of any future collapse.”

Ms Long told Alliance members that “ransom politics is unacceptable”.

“I want to approach this new mandate with optimism. To have confidence that the last collapse was the last collapse. To believe that we will see sustained and sustainable government,” she said.

“But it is a warning against complacency that neither the First or Deputy First Minister would give a firm commitment when called upon to do so that they would not use the power to collapse the Executive again.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been asked to step up to prevent any future collapse
Stormont Assembly Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been asked to step up to prevent any future collapse (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

“The only possible reason for those parties to argue that they should retain the power to collapse the institution is if they intend to either use that power or use the threat of using it to control the Executive.

“Both are a form of ransom politics. Neither is democratic or acceptable.

“I can see the true cost of this political nihilism: in our obscene health waiting lists, in our failure to deliver capital investment and economic growth, and in our creaking education system.

“Our public sector workers can see it in their pay packets, as their salaries have failed to keep pace with others across these islands.”

Ms Long said they need to see “action to implement real and tangible progress towards actual reform”.

She said it is their job to make the institutions “as stable as they can be from within, whilst continuing to make the case for reform to those who have the power to deliver it”.

“Above all, that is the two governments, the joint guarantors of the (Belfast) Agreement,” she said.