Belfast Telegraph

No agreement on Stormont opposition

No agreement has been reached to introduce an opposition at Stormont after Sinn Fein disputed the need for one, it was revealed.

A five-party coalition holds power at Northern Ireland's ministerial Executive and an influential committee of MLAs failed to reach consensus on creating a formal opposition like at Westminster.

The legislature's Assembly Executive and Review Committee (AERC) also said there was no agreement on replacing the system of allocation of ministerial positions according to party strengths.

"The committee concluded that there is no consensus at present to move to a formal government and opposition model, such as exists in Westminster," the report said.

It also concluded that "there is no consensus to move from the current opt-out model, whereby parties can exercise their right to opt out of taking up their ministerial post or withdraw from the Executive, based on existing Assembly provisions."

The committee's report was published after a former Northern Ireland secretary launched a consultation on improving the operation of the 108-member Assembly, which was re-established in May 2007 following suspension.

Senior Ulster Unionists, who have regularly branded the Executive a "carve up" of power between largest parties the DUP and Sinn Fein, at one point advocated a referendum on the creation of a Stormont opposition.

The committee's conclusions said there was no consensus on ceasing to use/replacing the current D'Hondt system as the mechanism for allocating ministerial positions or committee chairperson/deputy chairperson.

DUP MLA Gregory Campbell said Sinn Fein had hesitantly distanced itself from its "terrorist, murderous past". But he conceded that differences between his pro-union party and its republican power-sharing partner were among the reasons why wider consensus could not be reached.

"However slow the learners are, we will keep working at it, however long it takes," he added.

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