Northern Ireland

Lord Kilclooney: Ulster Unionists should form opposition

Image caption Lord Kilclooney said the Ulster Unionists and SDLP were being squeezed by remaining in the executive

The former deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has said the party should leave the Stormont Executive and go into opposition.

Lord Kilclooney said both the Ulster Unionists and SDLP were being squeezed by remaining in the executive.

He said they should leave and present themselves as an alternative government.

The peer spent decades within the UUP before he stood down as an MP and is no longer a party member.

Lord Kilclooney told BBC One's The View that both the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were "losing ground politically".

He said: "I think the unionists (UUP) and the SDLP would benefit if they went into official opposition".

Lord Kilclooney also said the "real opposition at Stormont was provided by Jim Allister".

He added that the creation of an opposition "would create more normal democratic procedures".

He said if the UUP and the SDLP first went into opposition, they could ultimately become "the new government of Northern Ireland".

The idea of setting up an opposition was contained in the Stormont House Agreement in December Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The idea of setting up an opposition was contained in the Stormont House Agreement negotiated in December

The idea of setting up an opposition was contained in the Stormont House Agreement in December and a private members bill is currently being drafted by independent unionist MLA John McCallister.

He said this week's political fallout from the budget illustrated why one was needed.

The South Down MLA said the sight of government ministers voting against the budget made their presence in the executive look like "a vanity project".

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the creation of an official opposition involved a whole series of issues and more discussions were needed between the parties.

Last week, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness claimed that even if the option of opposition was open to some parties they would not take it.

In response, Mr Nesbitt told the BBC: "We will not dance to Martin McGuinness's tune. If we ever decide to go into opposition it will be on our terms and our timing".

The idea that the UUP and the SDLP should co-operate in either government or opposition is an issue that Dolores Kelly has heard many times.

The SDLP MLA says constituents often ask her if both parties "could not work together." She says both parties co-operated to help create the Good Friday Agreement and devise the political structures currently in place at Stormont.

Former speaker Eileen Bell, who was an Alliance MLA, said the smaller parties in the executive would soon have to make their minds up.

She said: "If they really want an opposition they should leave the executive".

One suggestion is that in the future executive positions would be linked to the number of assembly seats.

Mr McCallister is proposing that in a 108-seat assembly, those parties that do not reach 18 seats would not be able to sit in the executive.

He said: "Let us set a limit on it and if you do not reach that limit you do not qualify for government".

The issue of an opposition poses a whole series of questions. For example, what speaking rights would an opposition have

How would committee chairs be allocated? How would potential opposition parties work together and how would an opposition be resourced?

Many politicians at Stormont want to know what rights opposition parties would have.

The answer to some of those questions may be known in the weeks ahead as the parties consider the establishment of an official opposition. Proposals are expected to be ready by March.

You can see The View on BBC One NI on Thursday at 20:35 GMT.

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