The leader of Green Party Northern Ireland said it will be “standing more candidates than we have ever stood before” in upcoming elections.
With Northern Ireland without an Executive, councillor Malachi O’Hara also used his first party conference as leader to criticise the North’s “dysfunctional politics”.
He said: “The hope that we all had of moving to more normalised politics from 1998 onward has not materialised.”
Addressing party members in Belfast, Mr O’Hara said when he heard the term ‘Stormont brake’, it felt like a “foreshadowing for the next crisis”.
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He criticised “stop-and-start politics” and called on the DUP to return to Stormont “immediately”.
“They should end their wrong-headed boycott and get to work on setting multiyear budgets, supporting people during the cost-of-greed crisis and reform and invest in public services,” he said.
Mr O’Hara said reform of Stormont should be done through “the people” rather than political parties with vested interests.
“We should use Citizen’s Assemblies to review and reform our institutions,” he said.
He said Northern Ireland has a housing crisis and the health and social care service is “on the brink of collapse”.
“The much-promised reform and investment has never materialised. That’s after it carried us all through the pandemic. Yet this Government refuses to give them the payrise they deserve,” he said.
Mr O’Hara said the Green Party is “the party of the environment”.
“We must connect a just transition to people living in poorly insulated homes, being gouged by big energy and being dependent on the planet destroying fossil fuels controlled by dictators and despots,” he said.
“If we invest in community-owned energy then we can prevent the most vulnerable from falling into fuel poverty, because communities will produce, control and manage their own energy.”
Mr O’Hara said this would also create jobs and apprenticeships.
Separately, he said he was “exceptionally proud” of the party for moving to a drugs decriminalisation policy.
“We moved that forward by getting Belfast council to support an overdose prevention centre with no votes against,” he said.
Mr O’Hara also addressed the loss of two Green MLAs in elections last year.
“That was a bitter blow. The inclusivity and spirit of bringing as many voices to the table as possible seems to instead be turning into a three-party system,” he said.
“A system that was not designed to work in that way,” he added.
He called for support of Green candidates in an election in the coming weeks.
“Ebbs and flows are a part of politics but we are turning the tide,” he said.
“This is our comeback. A comeback against greed, self interest, boycott and stagnation.
“Let’s get out there and create a greener, cleaner, fairer Northern Ireland.” – PA