Northern Ireland

NI Assembly: SDLP to go into opposition

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Media captionSDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said the party had made a "bold decision"

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has announced that the party will go into opposition in Northern Ireland.

They are the second party to announce that they will not join the DUP and Sinn Féin in the Stormont executive.

Last week the UUP said they would do the same.

Earlier, the First and Deputy First Minister accused the SDLP of being "dishonest" during Stormont's programme for government negotiations.

'Constructive opposition'

It followed Mr Eastwood saying he was "very disappointed" over the talks.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption UUP leader Mike Nesbitt promptly welcomed the SDLP to opposition

Making his announcement on Thursday, Mr Eastwood said: "It is clear that the DUP and Sinn Féin are determined to put forward a framework that includes no action, nothing that they can be held accountable for or to."

Analysis by BBC Ireland Correspondent Chris Buckler

Stormont has just become a much more open political battleground.

With the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists both choosing to go into opposition rather than government the assembly is a very different place.

Up to now, most rows have been within the family of the all-encompassing power-sharing government. Which is not to say that at times the disputes weren't bitter. Then again most in-fighting within families is.

Image caption Colum Eastwood said "this will be a positive and constructive opposition, not opposition for opposition's sake."

But now there will be big parties openly heckling and challenging decisions from the outside.

That is a major change and some commentators will claim that it could lead to better politics and policy being more aggressively tested.

However, that all depends on getting the executive working again and the Alliance Party's decision to turn down the justice ministry is a problem.

The DUP and Sinn Fein need to find a mutually acceptable candidate to take up the politically sensitive post.

In Northern Ireland which politician takes responsibility for policing and prisons is important.

The fact that the first and deputy first ministers have had conversations with an independent MLA and the Green Party indicates they are looking at every option.

He said the SDLP would work with anyone who was happy to work with them but "this will be a positive and constructive opposition, not opposition for opposition's sake."

In a statement, UUP Leader, Mike Nesbitt, said he was "delighted" that the SDLP had chosen to go into opposition.

He said: "I am confident it will lead to new beginnings and possibilities for devolved government.

'Walked away'

"We have been heartened by the extraordinary level of support which we received since we made our decision last Thursday and I am sure the SDLP will receive similar praise and encouragement."

Sinn Féin MLA, Conor Murphy, said the SDLP had "walked away" from its responsibility to the electorate and had been led by the UUP into opposition.

"By walking away from the executive, it is clear the SDLP has abandoned its responsibility to the electorate," he said.

"On the back of yet another poor election, the SDLP has now turned its back on the Good Friday Agreement.

"Their excuse that they did not understand the Programme for Government process is both dishonest and contradicted by their engagement in that process since December."

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted following the news that the SDLP would be going into opposition

DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said the smaller parties were searching for "relevance" following the election on 5 May.

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