DESPITE Dr McDonnell feeling that his party was treated abysmally by its larger coalition partners, he dismisses any chance of the party leaving the Executive.
“There’s no place called Opposition; there’s no space within the system for Opposition,” he says when asked if he seriously thought about Opposition as an alternative to ‘suffering the dictat’.
Echoing arguments from UUP leader Mike Nesbitt against leaving the Executive, he says that to do so would only be effective if those parties who wished to constructively critique the Executive were given resources for research and support as in other legislatures.
“By opting out, by talking about Opposition in a context where there is no role for the Opposition, you may as well walk down the road.
“I’m sorry, I mean that’s my view. If 10 years down the road somebody reviews the situation and changes the structure, and it will have to be done by agreement, then there may be space for Opposition.”
So would he like to see those structures put in place to at least allow a party to decide that it wishes to leave the Executive and oppose it from within the Assembly?
He says that he would like those structures “in due course” but that “we still have a bit to go”.
Is there not a danger that if the SDLP remains in the Executive, regardless of how it is treated and if it cannot implement its policies, the party looks impotent?
Dr McDonnell sounds somewhat resigned when he says: “We are where we are. I mean I don’t think you can take it in isolation. The SDLP is working.
“We have very dynamic initiatives going in places like Strabane and Dungannon at the moment built round new, fresh, young representatives . . . people do not judge things on one day or one isolated incident.
“Yes, we would like to be more powerful. But people are more sympathetic to the position we find ourselves in because they know it was the SDLP that engineered the peace and the Agreement.”
He says that there has been a “peace process” but now there needs to be a “prosperity process” and adds that there are “gross inefficiencies in the current system”.
What sort of inefficiencies does he have in mind?
“Well, the thing is not working.”
Anything in particular?
“Nothing specific, but our government is not efficient or effective and in a broader sense, even when things were going well here our productivity was only around 85 per cent.
“In the broad sense, what I’m talking about in terms of inefficiencies, you know it takes 20 people to change a lightbulb if I could paraphrase it in a lot of things.”