Former republican MP and civil rights leader Bernadette McAliskey has said the Stormont Assembly has failed to protect human rights and should be “bulldozed”.
Ms McAliskey was addressing a conference marking the first civil rights march in the north of Ireland, 50 years ago.
“We are on a hiding to nothing changing racism and sectarianism,” she said.
“I run out of patience with that ‘house on the hill’. We deserve better and we should bulldoze the place.”
In the 1960s, Ms McAliskey (nee Devlin) was a leading figure in the student civil rights movement, which drew inspiration from similar action in the US.
The North’s Civil Rights Association highlighted discrimination against Catholics over issues like jobs and housing and sought voting rights for all.
She became the youngest ever MP in Mid-Ulster in 1969 and has devoted much of her later life to combating exclusion and helping minorities in her native County Tyrone.
Ms McAliskey said racism and sectarianism were once again spreading rapidly.
“If you take your eye off them in any time or place or generation they will reassert themselves, every single day,” she said.
People do not understand racism in the way they do sectarianism, she added.
“We are the victims of sectarianism, the whole community, and we are the beneficiaries of racism.
“We have to change how we view the past, not simply how we view the present or the future, or we don’t understand the need to fundamentally change.”
The Stormont Assembly has been mothballed for the last 18 months due to the failure to restore a power-sharing Executive. This week it set a record for the longest period of suspension of a sitting legislature, surpassing the record set by the Belgium parliament in 2011.
Although an election would normally be held within six weeks, Assembly members have continued to be paid their salaries by the British government, which is operating full direct rule from London in all but name.
Claims that the DUP was prepared to reach out to nationalists to end major disagreements over equality issues were undermined last week when the party was unable to find a single representative to attend the visit to Dublin this weekend by Pope Francis.
In 1988, the former DUP leader, the late Rev Ian Paisley, famously denounced Pope John Paul II as ‘the Antichrist’. Anti-Catholic bigotry remains a major factor among the party’s grassroots support and is thought to have influenced its decision to snub Pope Francis.
Speaking after a phone call with British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley, Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill also blamed the ongoing pact between the DUP and the Tories at the Westminster parliament, which she described as “toxic”.
Ms O’Neill said it was abundantly clear that the British government’s plan is to “do nothing” to help restore the political institutions in the north.
“The Tory government has no regard for the people of the north and the price of its toxic pact with the DUP is no Assembly and no Executive,” she said.
“They continue to put their own selfish party political interests above the need to have political institutions which can deliver front-line public services and equality for all our citizens.
“The British government continues to facilitate the DUP’s denial of rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else on these islands
“The denial of marriage rights, language rights, women’s rights and the right to a coroner’s inquest would not be tolerated in Britain and is unacceptable in the north.”