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Nesbitt says UUP may form Opposition after May election

By Deborah McAleese

The Ulster Unionists have threatened to form an official Opposition after the Stormont election.

Two weeks of cross-party talks after the May 5 poll will involve hammering out a draft Programme for Government for Executive ministers.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt told his party's spring conference it should be capable of improving people's lives and called for power to be devolved from Stormont downwards to councils, communities and families.

"We will not automatically rejoin the Northern Ireland Executive after the 5th of May," he said.

"We are not motivated by ministerial salaries, chauffeur-driven cars and the rest. This is not about getting our noses in the trough."

He said the blueprint for government should be progressive and enjoy collective support.

"If the answer to either question is 'No', we will form the official Opposition," he added.

The UUP quit the Executive during the political crisis after the killing of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan snr by members of the Provisional IRA last year. Danny Kennedy resigned as Regional Development Minister.

At the time Mr Nesbitt labelled the Executive a "busted flush" and said Sinn Fein's denial that the IRA existed made it impossible to do business with republicans.

Sinn Fein accused the Ulster Unionists of abdicating their responsibility to voters.

Mr Nesbitt told the conference fewer Executive departments made sense.

He said cutting the number of Assembly Members would help create effective and efficient government.

But he maintained the game-changer would be a shift in attitudes, transforming bureaucracy into a proper democracy.

"We need a cultural shift that puts the focus on outcomes and is mature enough to realise Stormont cannot and should not try to do everything.

"The power to deliver would be devolved from Stormont, through the councils, into communities and as near to the family unit as possible, because that is where you effect real change - in the family unit.

"Surrendering power does not come easily to the current big parties of the Executive. But it's the right thing to do for Northern Ireland."

David Cameron has been a strong supporter of devolving government and promised further transfer of responsibilities after Scotland voted against independence.

The Ulster Unionists had a brief alliance with the Conservatives, but the parties separated after an unsuccessful 2010 general election.

By Michael McHugh, Press Association

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