The leader of the centre ground Alliance Party in Northern Ireland has said there is an urgent need to reform the voting system within Stormont to stop any one party being able to collapse power sharing in future.

Naomi Long told her party's annual conference in Belfast that failure to reform would be "condemning devolution to death by a thousand collapses".

She said "the current system of stop-go, up-down, ransom politics needs to end".

Alliance won 17 seats in the Assembly election in May last year, up from eight in the previous election in 2017.

But none of them have yet been able to take part in a functioning devolved government as the DUP is boycotting power sharing as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party has been able to block the appointment of a new First and Deputy First Minister because that requires a cross-community vote with a majority of both nationalists and unionists.

Sinn Féin was similarly able to collapse Stormont for three years from 2017 - 2020 because it would not back the appointment of a First and First Minister.

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The Alliance Party is the third largest at Stormont but does not designate as either nationalist or unionist, so its votes do not count in key votes that require cross community consent.

"Our proposals for reform enshrine the right of parties to be in government based on the strength of their electoral mandate; however, they remove the right of any one party to deny the people of Northern Ireland a government."

Naomi Long said reform of the system is needed to bring stability.

"Failure to act is ruining people's lives and jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement itself. By responding to those who up-end the institutions by pandering to their demands time after time, rather than ending their ability to do so, they are condemning devolution to death by a thousand collapses," she said.

"Our proposals for reform enshrine the right of parties to be in government based on the strength of their electoral mandate; however, they remove the right of any one party to deny the people of Northern Ireland a government.

"They allow those who wish to get on with the work of government to do so and those who don’t to sit it out if they choose - no-one is being excluded, unlike the current nonsense where everyone is."

She added: "Our proposals ensure that we end reliance on parallel consent votes to measure cross-community consent – ironically, the least cross-community votes of any in the Assembly, in that the votes of genuine cross-community parties count for less than others.

"Instead, they would be replaced with weighted majority voting, which would incentivise cooperation in a way that mutually reinforced vetoes have not and cannot."

Ms Long also criticised the fact that the party’s Assembly members elected last May have not been able to sit and work in a functioning power-sharing administration.

She said it would be better to remove all of the salary from members of the party blocking the restoration of power sharing than to reduce the pay of all.

"All of our MLAs and particularly those new MLAs have been elected to do a role that they are being denied the opportunity to perform in full," she said.

"They’ve been robbed of that opportunity not through their own actions or inactions, but because of the actions of another party. That isn’t fair on them, and it isn’t fair on the people who elected them."

She paid tribute to Patricia O’Lynn, who was elected in North Antrim last May, but has announced that she is leaving politics to take up a job with Queen’s University because of the uncertainty about the future of Stormont

"This is part of the price we all pay for the failure of the institutions: people with real talent, ability and ambition across all parties are either reluctant to get involved in the Assembly at all or reach a point where continuing becomes untenable," she said.

"If we want the Assembly to attract the kind of MLAs we need and retain them, the best of what Northern Ireland has to offer, then it needs to function. It needs to work."