NORTH Down MP Stephen Farry has challenged political rival Alex Easton to be ‘transparent’ on where he stands on the DUP’s ongoing ‘boycott’ of the NI Assembly and Executive.

The Alliance Party deputy leader claimed the poll-topping Independent MLA had ‘voted alongside other unionists to block the election of the Assembly Speaker over the past 18 months’ leaving the country in political limbo.

Battle lines are clearly being drawn in the run up to the forthcoming Westminster election, as Mr Easton hit back at Mr Farry, saying he was ‘surprised’ by the MP’s ‘attack’ and accused him of ‘double standards, hypocrisy and a very short memory’.

Mr Easton instead called on the parliamentarian to focus his energies on issues affecting local people such as the closure of Ards and Bangor Minor Injury Units and proposed water charges.

Just last week the Spectator revealed there were ongoing negotiations amongst several political parties to select a single Unionist candidate to contest the North Down seat. Mr Easton is tipped to be the frontrunner in a bid to win back the seat from Mr Farry.

Playing his political cards close to his chest, Mr Easton said he had not ‘indicated one way or another’ if he was going to stand in the forthcoming election which could be as early as April next year.

However Mr Farry challenged Mr Easton to come out and make his views on the restoration of the Assembly and Executive known as this was an ‘essential first step to begin addressing the mounting social and economic challenges facing Northern Ireland’. 

“The collapse of the institutions by the DUP in February 2022, and prior to that by Sinn Fein, was never justified,” said Mr Farry. 

“Patience has long since run out with those who are blocking the resumption of Northern Ireland governance. Hopefully, we are at long last at decision time, and on the brink of a restoration.”

Mr Farry said over the past 18 months Mr Easton has consistently voted alongside the DUP and TUV against even the election of a Speaker of the Assembly.

“This small step would have allowed committees to be established and some limited business,” said the MP.  

“Given the speculation that Alex intends to run in the forthcoming General Election, people have a right to know where he stands on this crucial issue of the Assembly and Executive. Does he support an immediate restoration, or does he support a continued boycott alongside unionist hardliners?”

However, Mr Easton accused the Alliance politician of ‘panicking’ based on mere speculation about a possible joint candidate. 

He said: “If Stephen wishes to go down that avenue then I would challenge him to a debate on the issues affecting the people of North Down such as the proposed water charges which he supports, the issue of the closure of the Ards and Bangor Minor Injury Units which he supports and the issue of restricting our use of the recycling centres which the Alliance Party supports.

“We would all love to see a functioning stable Assembly back within the United Kingdom, with all the outstanding financial and constitutional issues resolved so that we are not in the same position again further down the road.

“Perhaps he should explain his own record when the Assembly was brought down for three years by Sinn Féin, when the election of the speaker was scheduled on the Order Papers for March 27, 2017, June 29, 2017 and October 21, 2019. There was no nomination for the role of speaker by the Alliance Party.

“Why didn’t the Alliance Party nominate a speaker then, and in his own words ‘this small step would have allowed committees to be established and some limited business’.”

Mr Easton said it is ‘a pity’ that Alliance’s pity didn’t ‘run out’ with Sinn Fein during that three year Assembly break.

“Stephen’s statement is one of double standards, hypocrisy and a very short memory,” claimed Mr Easton.

“So if Stephen doesn’t mind I have work to do and I would suggest Stephen stops panicking and stops listening to speculation and actually do something for the constituents he reports to represent, and stops pandering to the extreme hard left wing of politics.”