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DUP Leader Edwin Poots has said the Stormont party leaders’ forum can provide an important opportunity for all parties to focus on the most important issues facing the people of Northern Ireland.

The forum was established as part of the New Decade, New Approach agreement and is due to meet tomorrow (Thursday) at 4pm.

He said, “With an Executive comprised of five parties it is vital there is dialogue and a common purpose to work together in the interests of everyone. This meeting can provide a useful opportunity to ensure there is a smooth transition to changes within the Executive team and also to ensure our focus is on the matters of most importance to the people we all represent.

It is an opportunity for us to affirm the commitments in New Decade, New Approach to operate the political institutions on the basis of “good faith, trust and mutual respect and reaffirm our commitment to the principles of power-sharing and cross community protection as contained in the Belfast Agreement.”

Over the last fifteen months the Executive placed lives and livelihoods at the top of its priorities. As the threat from Covid-19 recedes we must not move away from those twin priorities. Whilst there are 20 Covid-19 inpatients in our hospitals compared to nearly 900 in mid-January it does not mean that pressures our Health Service have disappeared. There are nearly 200,000 more people on waiting lists today than in 2014. The Health Service and its fantastic staff have climbed a mountain through the Covid pandemic, but the challenge is far from over. Indeed, we have only passed the first stage. The true goal must be to reform our health service and tackle the huge pressures that have been stored up as a necessary result of prioritising Covid. That will continue to require dedication and full support from right across the Executive to put patients first.

Equally, the £5billion of additional funding provided to Northern Ireland from the Treasury during the pandemic has been a lifeline for businesses and employees here. The economic challenge will continue for some time to come however as we seek to fully recover and rebuild the economy.

Too much time was lost at the start of this Assembly term when no decisions could be made. In the time which remains there must be a step-change in delivering good governance for all the people of Northern Ireland and taking through the ambitious legislative programme that has already been outlined. Whether on issues such as climate change, licencing laws or protection from stalking these are all major areas which can deliver real benefits for our citizens.”