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We need official opposition in Assembly: MLAs

By Noel McAdam

Senior Ulster Unionist and SDLP figures have put the prospect of a Stormont opposition back on the agenda as the Assembly summer recess ends.

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt said: “We would be better with an official opposition,” while the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt said it was time the issue was “seriously talked about”.

With their two parties now holding fewer Assembly seats than before the May election, the question of what role forming an opposition could play in their electoral recovery is being raised.

UUP chief Tom Elliott will prepare to mark the end of his first year in office later this month, with SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie already facing an autumn challenge to her leadership.

Meanwhile, MLAs will begin to gather for a number of scrutiny committee sessions next week and the first full plenary meeting of the new session on September 12.

Mr Nesbitt said: “The problem with the current system is that no one is exercising the challenge function you would expect of an official opposition.”

With now only one minister on the 12-strong Executive — Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy — the Strangford MLA said: “The difficulty is though you only have control of less than 10% of government, you can’t really criticise the other 90% without being accused of of being both in and out of government.”

The two MLAs gave their views to BBC Radio Four’s Beyond Westminster. On the programme, former Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly said: “If they want to become the opposition, let them do it. They need to put up or shut up. They only argued for it when they became the underdogs.”

Background

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott (below) earlier this year called for an end to the mandatory coalition at Stormont. The mandatory system was a key plank of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, ensuring power is shared between unionist and nationalist blocs. Sinn Fein remains opposed to any change, believing it could be excluded.

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