SDLP 'to form an Opposition' after the election in May
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has indicated his party should set up an official Opposition at Stormont after the Assembly election.
In a radical departure from his predecessor Alasdair McDonnell, Mr Eastwood said the time had come to set up proper structures, which would mean the SDLP quitting the Executive.
Although the Ulster Unionists have already withdrawn their sole minister Danny Kennedy from the Executive, there is no provision in the present Stormont set-up for an Opposition.
Mr Eastwood yesterday said the May 5 vote should be the last election in which there was no official Opposition.
The SDLP leader's call came as he brought his campaign against Sinn Fein to the heart of west Belfast. The Foyle MLA used a signature building on the Falls Road, An Culturlann, to unveil his new team more than two months after he replaced Mr McDonnell, who was not present.
In an attack on Sinn Fein, he said his party would no longer leave governance and responsibility to those who had opposed their establishment in the past.
"We have been reluctant to leave the keys to the house to those who have taken no part in building the foundations of the house," he added. "We must now break free from that past reluctance.
"The SDLP are running for government, but we are also clear that this is the last Assembly mandate in which there will be no Opposition at Stormont.
"Power-sharing structures where the Executive is held properly accountable is the only way we can ensure effective government. It is the only way that we can put an end to the arrogance, cynicism and cronyism which has become a permanent feature of politics here."
His team is the first to mirror the revamped Stormont departments, meaning the SDLP has spokespeople for departments that do not yet exist.
One of them, former Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon, challenged the name of the new Department of Communities. "It should be the Department for the Community, because we have looked at ourselves as communities for too long," she said.
Newcomers such as Daniel McCrossan MLA, who blasted the A5 and A6 roads projects as "fairy tale promises from a fantasy budget", were joined by veterans like Brid Rodgers and outgoing MLA Alban Maginness.