The Alliance is keen to test the legitimacy of Stormont’s electoral system, warns Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long has warned her party is keen to test the legality of Stormon’s “biased” voting structures.

Addressing her party’s conference in Belfast, Ms Long expressed her disappointment that the UK and Irish governments had not moved to reform devolution institutions to free them from the unionist/nationalist “straitjacket” created since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Last year, the cross-community party proposed changes to voting systems in both Stormont’s House of Assembly and the executive table to ensure the votes of MLAs who consider themselves neither unionists nor nationalists carry the same weight as others.

It is understood the party has sought legal advice on whether existing arrangements comply with human rights. Party officials sought the advice to see if legal action could be taken in the courts.

To sit in the room and listen to others wax lyrical about being treated like second-class citizens when their votes count more than ours is frankly an affront to democracy.

Naomi Long

The Alliance also proposed ending the ability of any Stormont party to veto cabinet formation.

The DUP is currently vetoing it in protest at the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol – meaning the Assembly cannot carry out business and a cabinet cannot function.

Sinn Fein previously used its veto to bring down the executive in 2017.

The UK government has cut MLAs’ pay by 27.5% amid the current impasse. Ms Long said while MLAs were not expected to be paid in full when Stormont collapsed, she said the Government should go further and cut the entire salary of MLAs who belong to the party that is blocking the restoration of institutions.

The Alliance Party, which does not align itself as either unionist or nationalist, has been boosted by a string of successful recent elections. In last May’s Assembly poll, it emerged as the third largest party with 17 seats – more than doubling its representation in the devolved legislature.

Ms Long told conference delegates at the Stormont Hotel that power-sharing was at risk of “death by a thousand collapses”.

The former justice minister said it was time to implement her party’s reform proposals.

“Whether or not the DUP decide it’s in their own party political interests to return to Stormont – because we know that’s all they care about – the current system of stop-go, up-down, ransom politics must end ». he said.

“This is in Northern Ireland’s best interests and that must be the priority.

“I am tired of successive governments telling us we have won the intellectual argument for reform – this is not a debating club or an academic exercise. It’s not about being right, it’s about offering solutions.

“We don’t want to be patronized and patted on the head. We want our mandate, our votes and the votes of our constituents to be treated as equals to everyone else. We want the people who vote for us to have a stable, functioning government. No more excuses. No more delays.

“Failure to act is ruining people’s lives and putting the Good Friday Agreement itself at risk.

“By responding to those who overturn institutions, meeting their demands every time, rather than ending their ability to do so, they condemn decentralization to death by a thousand collapses.”

The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement saw the creation of a system that required the largest unionist political bloc to share power with the largest nationalist bloc in a binding coalition.

Currently, an administration cannot be formed unless the largest trade union party and the largest nationalist party agree to join it.

The Alliance wants to change this compulsory coalition system, thereby removing the ability of any major party to prevent the creation of an executive.

The party also wants to reform the community naming system at Stormont, which effectively gives blocs of unionists or nationalists a veto on contested votes in both the Assembly and the Executive.

The controversial method means parties, such as the Alliance, which define as neither can influence votes where the results are determined by how many unionists and nationalists support or reject a proposal.

The Alliance insists that this system is no longer fit for purpose, as a growing number of MLAs in the Assembly are labeled as “others” and cannot have a say in contentious decisions.

It favors an alternative method whereby controversial votes require a weighted majority to pass.

“To sit in the Chamber and hear others wax lyrical about being treated like second-class citizens when their votes count more than ours is frankly an affront to democracy,” Ms Long said.

“Not only is it not acceptable, it may well be illegal and, at the conference, we are willing to try it if necessary.

“Because this is not just about us as a political party and how our votes are cast and our voters count less. It’s about how ransom politics is hurting everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Ms Long insisted she always envisioned the Good Friday Agreement arrangements could be adjusted as politics in Northern Ireland developed.

“The Good Friday Agreement was always designed to be a foundation upon which we could build a better, more shared and prosperous future for all our people – it was never and should never be the ceiling of our aspirations for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Our reform proposals enshrine the right of parties to be in government based on the strength of their electoral mandate. However, they remove the right of any party to deny the people of Northern Ireland a government.

“They allow those who wish to continue the work of government to do so and those who refuse to sit unless they choose – no one is excluded, unlike today’s absurdity where everyone is.

“And, congress, I doubt that either of the two main parties would actually walk out of government if they thought for a second that it would go on without them.”

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