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UUP may lead 12 committees at Stormont

Party could opt for Stormont scrutiny role if it goes into opposition

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionists may look to secure the chairs of all Stormont scrutiny committees if the party goes into opposition.

As the UUP said it wants to enter talks with other parties on the issue, the move to head up all 12 departmental committees and others emerged as the potential price of agreeing to relinquish its sole seat on the Executive.

The plan is one of a number of scenarios which could play out over the coming months in the run-up to the anticipated reappointment of a Justice Minister, with Alliance leader David Ford expected to remain in the position.

The process will involve a re-run of the procedure used to share out the 12 ministries - known as the D'Hondt mechanism - which could provide the trigger for the UUP to signal it will form an opposition.

A party statement yesterday said it was 'pleased' with the Belfast Telegraph survey of grassroots opinion, which showed 90 % of those questioned believe the party would be better off in opposition.

A marginally higher figure (94%) said legislation should be enacted to provide for an opposition at Stormont, which could hold the multi-party Executive to account. The official response to our survey said the UUP believes that there should be an official opposition in place by 2015 - a position made clear in its own submission to the programme for government and election manifesto.

But leader Tom Elliott is coming under pressure to consider an even earlier move. "This is a basic democratic principle," he said.

"It operates perfectly well in any other legislature that purports to govern democratically. It certainly operates in every other part of the British Isles, whether in sovereign parliaments such as London and Dublin, or devolved legislatures such as Edinburgh and Cardiff."

While it seems unlikely the underpinning legislation could be agreed and put in place in the short term, however, Elliott's challenger in last year's leadership election, Basil McCrea, has argued it is now a question of when - not if - the UUP forms an opposition.

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