New PM must change Stormont cross-community voting system, says Alliance party leader

The new prime minister should reform Stormont and change the inter-community voting system to allow for the formation of an executive, says Naomi Long.

The Alliance leader said the Assembly’s return should be the “priority issue” for either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, after the winner of the Conservative Party leadership race was announced on Monday.

Bookmakers and pollsters currently have Ms Truss as the favorite in the race, with hopes she will become the UK’s 56th Prime Minister.

The East Belfast MP said restoring Stormont would help people cope with the cost of living crisis and pointed to the ‘fast approaching’ 24-week deadline for the formation of an executive after the elections.

The DUP walked out of the executive earlier this year in protest at Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit protocol.

The party continued its boycott of the institutions until the Protocol Bill had fully advanced through the House of Lords and was signed into law.

On Friday, Secretary of State Shailesh Vara said he would have to call Assembly elections at the end of October if the parties failed to agree on the return of devolved institutions to Stormont.

“Alliance has already written to the UK and Irish Governments, outlining a range of proposals, including the right to appoint a First or Deputy First Minister moving to the next largest party if a party fails to nominate, as well as the introduction of a weighted majority vote for ‘cross-community’ votes in the Assembly,” Ms. Long said.

“Our advice has unfortunately not been followed to date and we are unfortunately in the second long-term stalemate in five years.

“However, the new occupant of Number 10 has a clean slate and a chance to restore decentralization and for good.

“If parties are going to exercise veto rights, we need to find a solution, otherwise people here will continue to be held hostage by ransom politics, in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis in generations.

“Under the current circumstances, people in Northern Ireland are facing a long and harsh winter without a government taking action to help them. Services are struggling, businesses face rising bills and people worry about heating their homes and feeding their families.

“Reforming institutions to allow them to come back will help. The case is incontrovertible and uncontroversial, restoring public confidence, without altering the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking to the British-Irish Association in Oxford last week, Mr Vara said it was the duty of political parties in Northern Ireland to form a devolved government to spend money to help people people struggling with the cost of living crisis.

“Let’s be clear, if the parties don’t make full use of this time to seriously commit to restoring a fully functioning executive, then I will have to call an election at the end of October,” he added.

“It’s not something the people of Northern Ireland want or need, especially given the current economic circumstances.”