THE UUP’s former vice chairman has said that the debate on the need for a Stormont Opposition is gaining momentum and called for the party to enter ‘virtual Opposition’.
Terry Wright, who resigned last year in protest at the then health minister Michael McGimpsey’s decision not to build a cancer centre in Londonderry, said the party should be a constructive Opposition to the Executive — but not necessarily quit the Executive.
The DUP has described the UUP’s past attempts at criticising the Stormont coalition as “sniping from the sidelines” and accused the party of wanting to have both the benefits of being at the Executive table but also act as if the party is not a part of the Executive.
Three months ago Mike Nesbitt was overwhelmingly elected UUP leader on a platform which ruled out any possibility of entering Opposition until, at the earliest, after the next Assembly election, which may not be until 2016.
However, some proponents of a more sudden decision by the UUP to go it alone at Stormont have seen the party’s decision last week to leave an all-party Assembly working group on sectarianism as a step towards leaving the Executive, though Mr Nesbitt – who is on holiday – has given no such indication. Last Thursday Secretary of State Owen Paterson fuelled such talk when he said that both he and the Prime Minister want to see a Stormont Opposition.
However, Mr Paterson has said that he will only legislate for a formal Opposition if the local parties agree, something which Sinn Fein has made clear it will not do.
Writing in today’s News Letter, Mr Wright, who is chairman of the UUP’s Foyle Association, says: “As long as Stormont operates on the whim of the Sinn Fein and DUP coalition the debate on the need for a formal Opposition is not going to go away.
“The debate is gaining momentum due to the shut-out tactics of the two main parties which betray the ethics of an Agreement which was meant to unify.”
He claimed that Stormont’s two main parties were engaging in “sectarian trade-off and populist policies” and said that while the old foes had “occasional outbreaks of adversarial venom”, their relationship was mostly marked by “their willingness to now tolerate and mutually benefit each other to the exclusion of everyone else”.
He said that review of the peace process agreement is “overdue” and added that the UUP should embrace “virtual Opposition” to improve the Assembly’s performance.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Conservatives’ chairman Irwin Armstrong said of Mr Paterson’s Dublin speech: “Owen Paterson has made a major step forward by underlining the enduring close relationships in these isles, which are so important to us all, and at the same time emphasising the need to move on from the peace process to delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.
“The need to revisit the Good Friday Agreement has become urgent if we are to take advantage of the opportunities available to Northern Ireland.
“We fully support any move towards normal politics and as I stated at our recent launch we regard the introduction of an Opposition as a priority; as is a meaningful shared future strategy.”