Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist Party to form first official Northern Ireland Assembly opposition

Mike Nesbitt told the Assembly chamber: 'Let battle commence'

The Ulster Unionist Party is to form the first official Opposition within the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Party Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, announced the decision to the Assembly as it sat for the first time since the elections on May 5 where they returned 16 MLAs.

It came moments after DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein veteran Martin McGuinness were re-appointed First and Deputy First Minister respectivelly.

Mr Nesbitt said the party would take up the recently established option of entering formal opposition to the coalition executive.

While smaller parties and independents have sat outside the mandatory coalition government in past mandates, they have not been afforded the recognition, funding and key Assembly positions of an official opposition.

A new law now enable parties with the electoral strength to enter the executive to instead form an opposition.

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Mr Nesbitt said in a statement: “We asked for a mandate to enter the talks on the next Programme for Government, promising that if either of our two tests were not met, we would form an Official Opposition.

“Those tests were whether it was a progressive Programme and secondly, whether we sensed a will from the DUP and Sinn Fein to lead collective delivery.

“On Tuesday, it became clear the Programme for Government will not be finalised until the end of the year, seven months away. On that basis, our primary test of whether it is a progressive Programme for Government, has failed.

“Our second test was whether we sensed a will to collectively deliver the Programme and that has also failed, as it is clear the DUP and Sinn Fein will retain joint ownership of the Programme for Government.

“Given the evidence that little is about to change, and we face another five years of DUP / Sinn Féin carve up and mutual veto, we are convinced the right thing to do for the country is to forego our entitlements in government and establish an Official Opposition, to both scrutinise the work of the next Executive and offer the electorate something different next time around.

“The decision to go into Opposition was taken unanimously by the Ulster Unionist Assembly Group earlier today.

“This heralds a new era for devolved politics at Stormont, and a big, bold step forward to normal democracy for Northern Ireland.”

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