By James Ward, PA
The emergence of the Alliance Party as one of the largest in the North has raised questions over powersharing structures, leader Naomi Long has said.
Alliance were placed level with the DUP as the second popular most party in the region, with 16 per cent, in a LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph this weekend.
Ms Long said the results “challenge the structures of the Assembly”, which reserves the Deputy and First Minister roles for the largest nationalist and unionist parties.
It very much challenges the structures of the Assembly, that say if you don't designate as a Unionist or a Nationalist, you're in some way not entitled to represent the people who vote for you, in the same way as other parties
Key decisions are based on the need to secure majority of both nationalists and unionists, a system which could be undermined if Alliance emerge from the next election as one of the largest parties.
Ms Long said: “Crucially, Alliance continues to be snapping at the heels of the DUP, to be the second-largest party in Northern Ireland.
“That is an interesting prospect because it very much challenges the structures of the Assembly, that say if you don’t designate as a Unionist or a Nationalist, you’re in some way not entitled to represent the people who vote for you, in the same way as other parties.
“It could affect, for example, the first Deputy and First Minister posts, but it will also affect things like cross-community voting.
“So, I think the designation system at the Assembly has never been under more scrutiny than it is now, given the progress that Alliance has made.
“For me, that is the response that the Government need to look out in terms of how they accommodate a much larger section of the community that don’t designate as Unionist or Nationalist, in a way that is fully democratic and fair.”
Ms Long also questioned plans by the incoming leader of the DUP, Edwin Poots, not to take up the role of First Minister.
She warned it could make the First Minister post appear secondary to the role of Agriculture Minister, held by Mr Poots.
She told Sunday Politics on BBC: “I do think it’s a slightly odd situation where you can have someone in the First Minister’s seat, having to make those key decisions, having to speak on behalf of the Executive, and yet having to defer to someone else around the Executive table.
“I think it makes the First Minister post seem slightly secondary, potentially, to the Agriculture Minister post.
“You’re going to require the sign-off of the Agriculture Minister on every issue, as opposed to the First Minister acting on behalf of the party.
“I think that’s quite a difficult divide to manage, but that would be for the DUP to manage, and it’s up to them to make sure that it works.
“Because the rest of us certainly don’t want to be impeded or impacted by any internal issues that the DUP may have.”