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Opposition must abandon coalition system, Allister tells TUV conference

By Noel McAdam

Jim Allister has challenged the Assembly's opposition leaders to end Stormont's system of mandatory coalition government.

The TUV leader warned that even if Ulster Unionists and the SDLP swept to victory at the next election, the DUP and Sinn Fein would still be in the Executive.

He told his party's annual conference at the weekend that unless the UUP and nationalist party leaders "take the next step" they are "largely wasting their time".

"This is the rubicon Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood have yet to cross. But they need to come to terms with the reality that abandoning mandatory coalition is essential to allowing an Opposition to become an alternative government," Mr Allister said.

"Because, as things stand, if the UUP and SDLP did so well in Opposition that they became the two biggest parties in 2021, those they had defeated could, and would, still cling to office.

"Only by embracing voluntary coalition as the sole means of forming an administration can Opposition parties and democrats obtain their objective of forming a government.

"So, I urge Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood to complete their journey on the only route to providing Northern Ireland with good and stable government."

Afterwards Mr Allister admitted that major changes to the mandatory coalition system would be a matter for Westminster, but argued the UUP and SDLP could at least start the ball rolling on demands for change.

In a typically barn-storming performance, he launched a lengthy attack on First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the Executive overall.

In particular he attacked their use of special Royal Prerogative powers to appoint new Executive press secretary David Gordon, the former editor of the BBC NI Stephen Nolan radio show, as a "super spin doctor".

And he quipped that the first task they had given him was to "get a bigger carpet" to sweep more of the "dirty business" of Stormont under it. That, he said, included the Nama property scandal, the botched Renewable Heat Energy scheme likely to cost Stormont hundreds of millions of pounds, and the murder last summer of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan.

He said: "Let's be very, very clear. This is an Executive in the business of sweeping murder under the carpet. Kevin McGuigan was murdered by the IRA, by no-one else, by the IRA. PSNI have said it. The government panel has said it. And yet today, where is the investigation? Where are the consequences? They're under the carpet."

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme would cost the public purse £500-600m over the next few years because there was no proper ministerial control and no cap on the amount of money which could be claimed. "But who was the minister asleep at the wheel? Arlene Foster, who shamefully did not exercise the ministerial control and oversight that ministers are there to exercise," he said. On Brexit, he said the suggestion of special status for Northern Ireland is a "nonsense". "There can be no status that keeps Northern Ireland half in and half out. We joined as one nation, we leave as one nation."

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