SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has pledged to challenge Stormont’s biggest political parties and their “stagnant strategies”.
Just a day after his deputy Dolores Kelly suggested the party should leave the executive and go into opposition, Mr McDonnell said its role was to hold others to account.
“Since the Assembly reconvened in September the SDLP has already made a marked difference,” said Mr McDonnell at the SDLP conference.
“When the DUP and Sinn Fein get it wrong, we will challenge them. We will challenge their stagnant strategies on the floor of the Assembly.”
Mr McDonnell also accused Stormont’s biggest parties of false set-ups, phoney fights and mock arguments, as he closed the SDLP’s two-day conference in Armagh.
He accused First Minister Peter Robinson of tricking voters into thinking a return to a Unionist domination under the DUP was in their best interests.
“The First Minister uses honeyed words about normalising Stormont and moving out of orange-and-green politics to left-and-right,” he said.
Mr McDonnell added: “That isn’t innovation. That’s just sectarianism with a fresh lick of paint.”
The SDLP leader also highlighted job creation as a top priority for the party, and said improving relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic would result in more prosperity both north and south of the border.
Deputy leader Ms Kelly told the conference yesterday the party should consider moving into opposition because it was in danger of losing its soul.
She said while a move should not happen overnight, the party needed to consider its future.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said the SDLP could not have its cake and eat it.
“It cannot expect to claim credit for all the good work coming out of the Executive while refusing to do any of the heavy lifting,” said Mr Murphy.
He said the party had voted against the last two budgets and opposed the devolution of policing and justice.
Mr Murphy added that Mr McDonnell’s speech highlighted how deluded the party was about its position, saying it had become increasingly irrelevant.
Alliance Party chief whip Stewart Dickson also criticised Mr McDonnell and his address at the conference.
He said the party was in a worse position than it was last year and that his “generalistic and basic speech” was an example to the electorate that the SDLP will not offer change.