Belfast Telegraph

Stormont opposition plans outlined to parties and could be put in place as early as March 2015

Plans for a Stormont opposition could be put in place as soon as March 2015, according to a government paper given to parties.

The BBC reports that the paper proposes that parties "which would be entitled to ministerial positions in the executive, but choose not to take them up ' should be' recognised as an official opposition".

As a result they would receive financial and research assistance which would be taken from the existing assembly budget.

In the assembly chamber, the opposition would also get "designated speaking rights including the opportunity to ask questions and table business."

The move towards an opposition is one of a number of institutional changes suggested in the Heads of Agreement paper circulated by the UK and Irish governments the night before David Cameron and Enda Kenny left the Stormont House summit.

Talks on the political future of Northern Ireland have been going on in Stormont House since October 16.

They are covering toxic issues such as flags; parades; the legacy of the past; reform of the Assembly; and the Executive's serious budget crisis.

On Friday December 12,  Prime Minister David Cameron left Belfast after a failed bid to resolve a series of major disputes he had hoped for when he arrived to join cross-party talks on Thursday.

During a long night of negotiations at Stormont House, Mr Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny tabled a range of proposed solutions on the vexed wrangles.

The Prime Minister offered Northern Ireland what he described as £1 billion of increased spending power over six years, conditional on an agreement being struck on the swathe of logjams destabilising the administration.

Ministers in Belfast have already had to ask for an emergency £100 million loan from the Treasury to balance their books this financial year, and if a deal on welfare reform is not agreed they will face about £200 million of Government penalties for non-implementation.

As it is unlikely the five-party administration would be able to absorb such a financial burden, the future of the Executive effectively depends on a resolution to the welfare reform issue.

Many of the politicians have conceded that Christmas is an effective deadline for resolution, as positions will undoubtedly harden as the UK General Election looms in the New Year.

Mr Cameron insisted the financial package on offer would give new "financial firepower" to the Executive.

Further reading

Opposition could lift the malaise at sterile Stormont The SDLP can stand out from crowd and move to Stormont opposition Mike Nesbitt urges joint Stormont talks over forming of an opposition

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