Northern Ireland news

All-party talks needed to discuss reform of Stormont institutions – Long

Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long has called for talks to discuss the reform of Stormont (Mark Marlow/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

All-party talks should take place immediately to discuss the reform of the Stormont powersharing institutions and the return of the Assembly, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said.

It is approaching a year since the DUP's Paul Givan resigned as first minister as part of his party's protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, plunging the devolved institutions into chaos.

In May, Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party in Stormont elections, but the DUP has refused to back the election of speaker, which prevents the Assembly from sitting.

Mrs Long said a roundtable discussion between all parties on the issue could build on a “previous desire expressed by them all to reform the institutions so they could better deliver for people here”.

She said: “There is no doubt the lack of an Executive has exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis and problems in our health service.

“It is welcome to see some other parties have come onboard with the realisation reform of the institutions is key to not only restoring the Assembly and Executive but securing their long-term viability.

“All of the main parties have talked about the need for reform of the institutions, with some even including it in recent manifestos.

“Despite some differences over the nature of that, I am keen to see us working together to firstly restore and then improve how the Assembly and Executive deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

“A roundtable discussion on reform can be the next step in that process. The deadlock we are witnessing serves nobody at all.”

Mrs Long added: “As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is shameful the institutions are not currently functioning.

“We need to preserve and protect the spirit of the agreement by reforming it, and stopping the constant cycle of ransom politics, so it can deliver for the next 25 years as well.”

The DUP has made clear it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes to the protocol are delivered.

Talks remain ongoing between the UK and the EU over the protocol, part of the post-Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland aligned with some EU trade rules, effectively placing a trade border in the Irish Sea.

Many unionists are fiercely opposed to the treaty which they claim has weakened the region's place within the union.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has previously organised roundtable talks involving the main parties to discuss the political stalemate.

However, Sinn Fein refused to attend the last round of talks, in which Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also participated, after party leader Mary Lou McDonald was not invited.