Northern Ireland news

Public has had enough of 'political soap operas' Naomi Long tells Alliance conference

Alliance leader Naomi Long. Picture by Neil Harrison Photography/PA Wire

THE PUBLIC has had enough of the “political soap operas” at Stormont that have led to the suspension of the executive just two years after it was restored, Alliance leader Naomi Long has said.

Speaking at her party’s conference on Saturday, the justice minister said it appeared “some politicians are addicted to crisis and conflict, and simply not up to the job of governing”.

Mrs Long told around 300 delegates at Belfast’s Crowne Plaza hotel that the May 5 assembly election would determine “how politics works for the next five years” and that a bigger Alliance team at Stormont would seek reform of the assembly and “move away from binary politics”.

It was Alliance’s first conference for two years and its leader’s first for three, the East Belfast MLA having contracted Covid in March 2020 and missed the last gathering. MLAs John Blair and Stewart Dickson were both absent on Saturday due to coronavirus.

With the assembly poll falling exactly two months from Saturday, Mrs Long used her speech as a rallying cry, stressing how Alliance had the “passion needed to build a truly progressive, inclusive and prosperous future”.

She said the delay in apologising to victims of historical institutional abuse, the suspension of plans for a three-year budget and the associated hold-up in health reforms were due to the absence of an executive.

“And whilst the health service is the main concern, the mounting cost of living crisis runs it a close second. Rapidly rising gas and fuel costs – including an eye watering 39 per cent gas price hike yesterday – is making it difficult for families to make ends meet,” she said.

She said that with so much “important work” to work to do, it was difficult to fathom how there was no executive in place so soon after its restoration in January 2020.

“It seems that some politicians are addicted to crisis and conflict, and simply not up to the job of actually governing,” she said.

“People have had enough of the constant dramas and the political soap operas. They want politicians who don’t just identify more problems – or worse still, add to them – but who are focused on finding solutions, on making things better.”

Mrs Long said her deputy Stephen Farry’s success in the 2019 Westminster election, alongside increased vote share in other constituencies, had ensured Alliance representation at every level of government.

“It also served as a wake-up call for other parties – it was a reminder that they couldn’t simply take the public or their votes for granted,” she said.

“The prospect of another battering at the polls in an Assembly election created the conditions which led to the NDNA (New Decade New Approach) agreement and got them back to work.”

Turning her attention to international affairs and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mrs Long said her party supported humanitarian aid but she also called on the British government to “open legal routes for refugees to reach safety here”.

“We must play a role in assisting with the now over one million people who have fled Ukraine since the war began – ordinary people facing extraordinary hardship,” she said.

The Alliance leader said her party also supported “stronger, swifter economic sanctions against Russia and in particular the oligarchs who support the Putin’s regime”.

“Whilst welcoming what the UK and other countries have done thus far, we need to act faster and more decisively to strip this kleptocracy of its source of power – its wealth,” she said.

“That also mean seeking alternatives to reliance on Russian oil and gas.”

She said Brexit was continuing to destabilise EU-UK relations and that it was a “painful irony” that those who most avidly pursued the hardest possible Brexit, were “refusing every possible alternative to the protocol”.

“What never fails to surprise is the eternal willingness of some to put their faith in a man (Boris Johnson) and a party which with such consistency throws them under the bus,” she said.

“Indeed, some parties have spent so much time under the bus over the last few years, you would be forgiven for mistaking them for Translink mechanics.”

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