David Ford calls for Stormont reform to pave way for Naomi Long to be deputy first minister
FORMER Alliance leader David Ford has called for reform of the system that prevents his successor, Naomi Long, from becoming deputy first minister.
With opinion polls showing that Alliance could potentially become the second largest party in the assembly, Mr Ford argues that the current Stormont designation system is "simply not working effectively".
He said arrangements agreed after the Good Friday Agreement and later amended at St Andrews, at the DUP's behest, to ensure the first minister would be drawn from the largest party, made it "significantly worse".
A LucidTalk poll recently put support for Alliance at 18 per cent – just one percentage point behind the DUP – with Sinn Féin on 24 per cent and on target to take the first minister's post.
Currently unionists are the largest designation bloc in the assembly with 40 MLAs, while nationalists total 39 and 'others' 11.
However, while an MLA who designates as 'other' in the assembly – as opposed to 'unionist' or 'nationalist' – could potentially become first minister if they come from the assembly's largest party, the current rules mean in that situation the deputy first minister would be drawn from the largest party of the largest designation.
Even if Alliance performed beyond its greatest expectations in next year's Stormont election, it is still highly unlikely that 'others' would become the second largest bloc in the assembly.
Mr Ford said changing voting patterns make the need for reform of the system, including scrapping designations, "more urgent".
Alliance advocates that an executive be formed on the basis of a weighted majority of around two-thirds.
"What was understandable at Good Friday 1998 doesn't work any longer," he said.
"And the situation was made significantly worse at St Andrews with the changes to how the first minister was chosen."
Mr Ford said the recent opinion poll indicated "we are effectively a 40-40-20 society".
"This would suggest that it's possible to get a 65 per cent majority without sticking people into boxes," he said.
"I think Secretary of State Brandon Lewis should be seriously looking at the Westminster legislation that deals with this in light of the changes in society."
The former just minister said the LucidTalk poll was "not a flash in the pan".
"Over the last four to five years there has been a consistent and continued growth for Alliance and the centre ground now constitutes around 20 per cent of the electorate," he said.
"The current arrangements work technically but I don't think anyone would argue that they produce good governance."