The Alliance MP was speaking after a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson responded to her request to the Secretary of State to initiate an inquiry, saying that Executive Ministers already had powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 to hold inquiries into devolved matters and that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers’ approval was only required when Direct Rule is in effect or if the Assembly was suspended.
However, East Belfast MP Mrs Long said the Inquiries Act legislation meant Ms Villiers was able to establish an inquiry, and the real question was whether she was willing to take onboard the views of the Assembly, in which a majority of MLAs backed a motion expressing concern at the issue earlier this week.
“Our advice is that Ms Villiers does indeed have the power to initiate such an inquiry. She would be required to consult with the Executive in doing so, but they could not prevent her doing it. As Secretary of State, she has a duty to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure openness and transparency, to address the corrosive effect of the current allegations on confidence in the political process and structures, and to ensure the highest standards of governance in relation to UK public funds.
“I would ask Ms Villiers to confirm that the ability to set up an inquiry is in her remit and crucially, whether she intends on doing so.
“The use of the petition of concern to block the Assembly motion has undermined public confidence further, in a way which is corrosive to politics and political participation. A full and independent inquiry into these allegations needs to be established as soon as possible.”