ALLIANCE has pledged to reform the Stormont institutions with a switch to voluntary coalition overseen by two joint first ministers.
The far-reaching review of the devolved structures, which would also include the ending of the ‘nationalist’, ‘unionist’ and ‘other’ designations for MLAs, is among a series of policy promises outlined in the party’s assembly election manifesto, launched yesterday in Belfast.
In what appears to be the most weighty of the Stormont parties’ manifestos to date, Alliance proffers a range of policies addressing climate change, health and social care, finance and the cost of living.
However, top billing is reserved for the party’s proposals on a ‘shared future, equality and human rights’, which includes pledges on driving forward “cohesion, sharing and integration”, a single, all-encompassing equality act and a Bill of Rights.
While the Alliance policies are heavy on detail there’s less focus on costings. Notably though, the manifesto includes a section on its long-held assertion about the financial cost of division.
The party proposes the continued promotion of integrated education, alongside ending the “use of academic criteria for post-primary transfer” and an “affordable” childcare scheme with “fully funded hours paid directly to providers”.
Justice, for which Alliance leader Naomi Long remains the party’s sole minister, figures prominently, with key policies listed including the strengthening of hate crime legislation, tackling paramilitarism and increasing the age of criminal responsibility.
The manifesto pledges to create “at least 50,000 sustainable jobs” through a Green New Deal, to establish a new Department for Energy and Climate Change, and to deliver “improved” legislation for tackling the climate crisis.
Measures for combatting the cost of living crisis include a home heating support scheme and a £20 a week child payment for low income households, but the pledges do not feature as prominently as they did in the corresponding documents from Alliance’s nationalist rivals.
Notably, there is no promise to give every household a one-off payment, with Mrs Long insisting people want “sustainable solutions rather than handouts”.
Elsewhere, the party calls for the implementation of the Bengoa recommendations for health service reform, a comprehensive set of agreements on the Northern Ireland protocol, and the development of an all-Ireland rail network.
On Stormont reform, the party advocates the adoption of a weighted majority in the assembly to replace the current designation structure and the renaming of the roles of first and deputy first minister to reflect their equal status. The party also plans to extend voting rights to 16-year-olds in all elections and referenda.
Mrs Long said that around 15 per cent of assembly members were non-aligned but the current structures meant their votes “still count for less”.
“I don’t believe that has ever been acceptable but as that number grows it becomes less and less acceptable and more and more in need of reform,” she said.
“We are arguing very clearly now that we need to deal with the inequality at the heart of our assembly – we cannot say that our community are all equal if within the heart of the institutions which govern this place there is inequality and disrespect for people’s rights.”
The Alliance leader described the wrangling over who claimed the first minister’s title as a “pantomime” that needed to end.
“It is a co-equal office, with co-equal partners in government. It is time that was reflected in the title,” she said.
Mrs Long said questions remained about whether there would be a devolved government after next week’s election and she called on all parties to commit to “doing all that we can to deliver in the next five years”.
“It is not just a lost opportunity but a shameful waste if we do not commit to making the assembly and the executive work and function at a time when people desperately need leadership,” she said.
“Political instability and repeated collapse of the institutions have wasted time and energy away from what we should be concentrating on.”
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