Talks process must be a fresh approach, says Long

Any talks process cannot simply be more of the same, Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has said, after the UK and Irish Governments announced a new talks process on Friday afternoon.

Aimed at restoring devolution, the joint statement from Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar revealed talks would start again soon after next Thursday’s local government poll.

“While this initiative is long overdue, it is welcome as long as it is not simply more of the same failed processes of the past,” said Mrs Long.

“The key to any talks process being successful is to ensure all-party, sustained engagement and the appointment of an independent facilitator is crucial to that. While no-one has been announced today, I’m heartened to see the language of all those who have been so against something Alliance first proposed two years ago soften and would again urge this to be made a serious priority.

“That role needs filled as soon as possible so the person appointed can hit the ground running, not coming in half way through when the already shaky process has allowed to rumble on for a few weeks.

“While Brexit and the European Election complicate matters, Brexit must not be allowed to further delay this process: it is vital we get devolution restored as soon as possible, so we should no-one should be going into this thinking it can be strung out to see how political events elsewhere unfold. Public services are struggling, opportunities are being lost and our economy is stagnating. That cannot go on.

“The urgency attached to restoration must be matched by a determination to ensure any restored Assembly will be sustainable in the long term. We cannot just kick the can down the road on key issues, only to be derailed again in future.

“The UK Government needs to legislate to reform the Petition of Concern, which is the key to unlocking not just the current blocks to restoration but any future disputes, and to ensuring that any restored Assembly is fit for purpose and can deliver better for people.

“We need to reconvene talks, reform the institutions and restore the Assembly: any party that will not engage in good faith should have their MLA salaries stopped. No further delay is acceptable, either to Alliance MLAs or to those who elected us.”