The Secretary of State’s recognition of “the need for a formal Opposition at Stormont and the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland exactly as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom” has been welcomed by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.
Referring to her keynote speech in Belfast, he said: “With regards to parades and protests, flags and dealing with the past, I have previously stated that bundling the three issues together was over-ambitious.
“I believe that we should de-couple them and focus on making a concerted effort to resolve parades and protests in advance of the summer months. With regard to the flag, we need to find a way to encourage nationalists and republicans to separate sovereignty and identity.
“They are most emphatically not the same thing and should not be confused.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also welcomed news “that the Secretary of State now recognises the imperative of an Opposition, but she needs to do something about it”.
He said it is “for the Secretary of State to initiate the change”.
“TUV has long identified the lack of Opposition as a key blight of Stormont,” he said. “If the Secretary of State really believes in democratising Stormont, then she needs to lead and get on with it.”
SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly criticised the Secretary of State’s comments, branding her speech as “a lecture lacking credibility”.
The Upper Bann MLA said her comments were “a bit rich, given the hands-off approach of the British Government as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Peace Agreement”, and described the speech as “nothing more than a pass the buck exercise”.
However, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said “the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, had unashamedly jumped onto a unionist agenda on the issue of the past, on policing and on welfare cuts”.
Justice Minister David Ford, responding to comments made by Mr Kelly highlighting concerns over accountability about the extension of the role of the National Crime Agency to support the policing effort, said: “Let me be clear about the proposals on the table.
“There could be no criminal investigations by the NCA in the devolved arena without the agreement of the Chief Constable. That would be enshrined in legislation.
“In addition, the Chief Constable and the Director General of the NCA would be accountable to the Policing Board and, indeed, the Police Ombudsman.”