Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Real opposition at Stormont overdue

There is little surprise that a majority of Ulster Unionists would back the party in quitting the Stormont Executive and setting up an opposition party.

A snap Belfast Telegraph survey taken at the UUP annual conference at the weekend revealed that some 90% of the party faithful would back such a move.

There was an even higher figure of 94% supporting new legislation to allow the formation of an official opposition at Stormont. Such a move is long overdue. The survival of a Stormont administration is vital for the peace process, but this comes at a price. The checks and balances are complex in this uneasy coalition. This system works against the basic concept of a traditional democracy which depends on a strong and healthy opposition.

The UUP has lost much of its former power and influence, and it is clearly frustrated by the stranglehold of coalition politics where major moves are made by the big two parties - the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is difficult for either of the smaller parties to make their voice heard, even though they still have ministerial representatives. Some important decisions are taken and pushed through by the power blocks, irrespective of the wishes of the minority parties.

At the moment there is a one-man opposition in the person of Jim Allister whose lone and 'Traditional Ulster' voice is often more entertaining than politically effective, but there is no way that a one-person opposition can work.

The idea of forming an opposition party has been mooted for some time, and there is no argument for further delay, but it will require decisive leadership. This has not been, by any means, the hallmark of the UUP of late, but Tom Elliott was also given a strong endorsement in our snap poll with more than 80% support.

He now has an opportunity to move forward, and to give his party a clear and potentially significant role in Stormont's deliberations. The whole stultifying process would benefit from some rugged and honest opposition.

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