N. Ireland Politics

NI Assembly: DUP's Arlene Foster rejects Ulster Unionists' opposition seats plan

Mike Nesbitt
Image caption Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said it was up to other parties to 'make their minds up' on whether they wanted to join the UUP in opposition

Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, has called for seating arrangements in the Northern Ireland assembly chamber to change to reflect his party's decision to go into opposition.

However, the DUP leader and first minister Arlene Foster has said it will not happen.

Mrs Foster said: "I will sit where I sit, I'm sure Sinn Féin will continue to sit where they sit and there will be no change.

"I won the election."

She said Stormont was not Westminster and added that "unionism was with her on these matters, in terms of having a good strong stable, government for Northern Ireland".

Sinn Féin also said that they were against any change to where MLAs sit in the assembly.

"As far as Sinn Féin is concerned there will be no change in the seating arrangements in the assembly chamber," said Michelle O'Neill.

"If this is the best suggestion Mike Nesbitt can come up with as his first act in opposition it shows how much of a political irrelevance he and his party have become."

Partners

At Stormont, the DUP and Sinn Féin face each other across the chamber even though they are in government together.

In Westminster, the government is on one side of the House of Commons, with the opposition on the other.

"If they [DUP and Sinn Féin] don't want to sit side by side, why are they sitting side by side as partners in government," Mr Nesbitt said.

Image caption DUP leader Arlene Foster said there would be no change in seating arrangements

"And I think if they don't agree to changing the seating arrangements, if they have a sort of embarrassment or reluctance to sit together in the chamber then I don't think we are in for a very progressive five years."

Mr Nesbitt told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme he had been tempted by the thought of taking ministerial office, but there was "no doubt" in his mind and the minds of the UUP MLAs' group "that the right thing to do was to go for opposition".

He said it was up to the other parties to "make their minds up" on whether they wanted to join the UUP in opposition.

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

Mr 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 told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme he saw "leadership" in the UUP's "bold move".

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.

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