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MLA John McCallister introduces bill to form official opposition

Published 11/09/2015

Stormont has been plunged into crisis in a row over the IRA
Stormont has been plunged into crisis in a row over the IRA

A Northern Ireland Assembly member is to introduce draft legislation to form an official opposition as one of the threatened institution's first items of business on Monday.

Intensive talks are expected take place at the same time outside the building aimed at saving the devolved administration in Belfast.

Because the power-sharing Executive was established as a mandatory coalition as part of peace accords, there are little formal entitlements like special speaking time at Stormont, as in Westminster.

The private member John McCallister's Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill is scheduled to be tabled on Monday as one of the first items of business at the Assembly while political negotiations aimed at tackling the fallout from the murder of Kevin McGuigan by alleged members of the IRA and dissident republicans continue.

The DUP failed in a bid to adjourn or suspend the Assembly to allow public representatives to focus on the discussions about paramilitarism and welfare reform - part of the stalled Stormont House Agreement (SHA). As a result, First Minister Peter Robinson stepped aside.

Under the all-party SHA deal struck late last year but not implemented, arrangements were to have been introduced by now for parties entitled to a ministerial position who did not take it up to be recognised as an official opposition. That entailed extra money and speaking rights.

Moving from the cross-party coalition established during the peace process has been a key demand of unionists but has been delayed by political wrangling.

Nationalists are uneasy about the move after decades before the Troubles when unionists dominated Stormont and Northern Ireland's government.

Sinn Fein has said there is a busy programme of legislation to be passed before the end of this Assembly term next year. Unionists have said no business should be done until the issue of paramilitaries is addressed.

Meanwhile, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister's proposed legislation reducing the number of special advisers at the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is also due to receive its first reading on Monday.

Sinn Fein and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) have proposed debates on deprivation in rural areas and increasing the amount of free childcare available to bolster the economy.

Deprivation facing Assembly members was on the agenda on Thursday. A committee took a vote on whether they wanted to receive free tea and coffee during meetings.

Social Development Committee members voted in favour of free beverages except for Mr Allister, who was the sole member voting against.

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