Party Leaders reflect on two years without Stormont

Two years ago today, Martin McGuinness announced his resignation as Deputy First Minister and the rest is history as they say.

Fast forward and the various party leaders have been reflecting on the collapse of Stormont. Had the Assembly continued it would have been in the third year of its mandate.

Michelle O’Neill from Sinn Fein;

Through all the political breakdown and rancour of the past two years, it can be tempting to believe that the prospects of restoring the Assembly and the Executive in the North are as remote as ever.

But I believe there is hope for optimism.

It is imperative that we arrest the political drift that we are currently in and stop the attempts to unravel the Good Friday Agreement and its political institutions before it becomes unsalvageable.

The most frustrating thing about the last two years is that all these issues can and should have been addressed long before now.

The fact they haven’t been is due to the ongoing refusal of the DUP to face the reality that they are on the wrong side of the popular and political will on the issues of rights, equality and Brexit.

They are blocking progress from a minority stance and that is not a sustainable position in the longer term.

They have been facilitated in this by a British Government which has been robbed of any pretence of impartiality due to its Confidence and Supply arrangement with the DUP at Westminster.

However, the wholly unreasonable, unrepresentative DUP position must be confronted and challenged because the public deserve to have functioning Government and one which they can have confidence in. As co-guarantors of our peace and political process, both the Dublin and London governments have a responsibility to ensure that happens.

The denial of rights must be ended. The equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement must be embraced.

The disrespect to Irish national identity and culture must be consigned to the past and the prejudice felt by Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities must be eradicated.

The RHI Inquiry has also exposed the crucial need for reform of how the Assembly and Executive operates in future. Never ever again can we see scandals like Red Sky, NAMA and RHI.

None of this is impossible, providing the political will exists. Sinn Féin wants an Assembly which operates differently from what went before. We want to usher in a new kind of politics, which is progressive, respectful, and has integrity.

UUP Leader, Robin Swann;

“The second anniversary of Stormont`s collapse marks two wasted years with a total abdication of political responsibility by both Sinn Fein and the DUP. Where the Assembly could – and should – have been working to deliver jobs, delivering for our health service and delivering for our children’s education, instead we have seen the DUP and Sinn Fein engaged in a zero sum game, where the people of Northern Ireland are the losers.

“The only way to get this place up and running again is for five party talks to take place. For the negotiations surrounding the Belfast Agreement, parties were invited to take part. Those who wanted to be involved, were involved and those who didn`t, self-excluded. The Secretary of State knows what needs to happen and she should have done something about it by now. Instead she seems obsessed with making sure that the DUP and Sinn Fein are satisfied with everything before they get round the table. That approach simply won`t work.

“In the absence of devolution, the Secretary of State should be bringing in direct rule. The people of Northern Ireland deserve government and they deserve accountable and responsible politicians. If that’s not going to be from Stormont, then it`s going to have to be from Westminster.

SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood;

All of our public services are suffering because we have no government. Our health service is in urgent need of intervention, our schools are starved of funds and our economy is barely growing at all.
 
“We are also in the bizarre situation where the EU is representing our interests in the Brexit negotiations and the only Northern Ireland party in a position to influence that process is the DUP.
 
“The SDLP have been consistently calling for Karen Bradley to kick start a talks process that is inclusive and transparent. This message has not changed. We are living in politically unprecedented times. The price of political stalemate, though always high, is right now incalculable. We can wait no longer.
Alliance Party Leader, Naomi Long;

“If this was any other January, MLAs would be coming back to prepare for the Assembly term ahead – taking part in committees and preparing legislation. Instead, we are now two years into the current suspension and there seems to be little or no focus on ending it,” she said.

“Yesterday, several Alliance MLAs took part in the We Deserve Better march to Stormont. It conveyed public frustration at the lack of any progress towards restoration. My colleagues and I share that frustration and are increasingly angry at the opportunities for Northern Ireland being wasted during this impasse.

“We need devolution functioning with a focus on resolving not just the current political disputes, but also the massive challenges facing our public services and hitting our constituents hard.

“Continuing with this malaise is just not sustainable. Alliance has put solutions on the table – our Next Steps Forward document – almost a year ago. We outlined constructive suggestions to re-establish devolution and get MLAs back to doing their full job.

“The onus is on the Secretary of State to either act on those proposals or come forward with better ones. Continued drift is not acceptable either to MLAs or, more importantly, the public we serve.”