N. Ireland Politics

NI Assembly: UUP move to opposition 'a sign of confidence', says David Trimble

Former UUP leader Lord Trimble
Image caption Lord Trimble said the UUP's move was a "bold" one that he hoped would be "rewarded"

An Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) move to form the Northern Ireland Assembly's first ever opposition is a "sign of confidence", its former leader David Trimble has said.

Current leader Mike Nesbitt announced the party's decision in Thursday's first sitting of the new assembly.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said the step was "an act of desperation" that went against Lord Trimble's approach.

But Lord Trimble said he saw "leadership" in the UUP's "bold move".

Long-run

The former Northern Ireland first minister led the UUP through peace talks that paved the way to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the creation of a power-sharing executive at Stormont.

He said the arrangements put in place in the 1998 agreement "were going to evolve".

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Media captionUUP leader Mike Nesbitt announced his party will form an opposition at Stormont

"In the initial stages we wanted everyone in there working together, but there is actually, in the long-run, a need for an opposition," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"It is a bold move but it's a move which I think reflects what was always going to be the case.

"I think bold moves have to be taken now and again and people have to offer leadership.

"I recognise that in what Mike's doing and I salute him for it."

Negative

A bill to allow for the creation of an official opposition at Stormont was passed towards the end of the last assembly term.

Lord Trimble said criticism of the UUP's move by Sinn Féin was therefore ironic.

"Mr McGuinness and Sinn Féin were party to putting those arrangements [to create an opposition] in place, so it's a bit silly to turn round and complain that it's happened," he said.

Image caption Martin McGuinness said the UUP's decision would be seen as a "lack of leadership"

"Rather than throwing these negative comments at it, what others parties should be doing is saying: 'OK, let's see if this works.'"

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) also criticised Mr Nesbitt for the move, saying it had been his response to a poor result for the party in last week's assembly election.

Lord Trimble disagreed with that assessment.

"I saw a very positive result and I saw growth there, too," he said.

"I see this as a sign of confidence and I hope it's rewarded."

Flounce

Northern Ireland's main political parties entered negotiations over a programme for government - a plan of priorities and action - for the new Northern Ireland Executive this week.

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Image caption David Ford said Mr Nesbitt "flounced out" of talks over the programme for government

David Ford, the Alliance Party leader, said the Ulster Unionists had been premature in deciding to move into opposition, and accused Mr Nesbitt of "grandstanding".

"The opportunity was there to discuss and negotiate over two weeks, and Mike Nesbitt didn't even last two speeches before he flounced out," Mr Ford said.

He said his party has been offered the justice ministry, which it held in the previous executive, but it has yet to decide on whether it will accept the position.

"It's not an issue of being offered something," he said.

"It's an issue of whether being in government or not being in government is a better way for delivering what we believe is essential for the people of Northern Ireland."

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