A Stormont opposition will be a key move towards normality

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The progress of devolution since 1998 has been turbulent.

Several times it has been suspended, including a period of almost five years between late 2002 and mid 2007.

It seemed for a while that the institutions might collapse last year after Sinn Fein suddenly reneged on the Stormont House Agreement, citing the provisions over welfare reform.

But the show was somehow put back on the road. And slowly the Assembly is edging towards being a more normal parliament that passes legislation.

A permanent, mandatory governing coalition involving almost every group in the chamber for all time was plainly unsustainable. The TUV leader Jim Allister was the man who always said so, but most politicians accepted his assessment.

Now John McCallister, the independent unionist MLA, has achieved some success in his long-running plan to introduce an opposition at Stormont. Nationalists were opposed to such a measure, seeming to rely on the tired excuse of possible domination. But now the SDLP backs the idea in outline.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are in the habit of joining forces to defeat things that they do not want (ie the organs bill), and they are raising specific objections to Mr McCallister’s plans. But the DUP also has expressed support in principle, and Sinn Fein has at least engaged with the South Down MLA.

The former Ulster Unionist and NI21 representative is plugging away at a crucial idea. Government at Stormont has often been a free-for-all in which different parties do their own thing within the departments they run.

In a ludicrous mockery of good governance and the notion of collective responsibility, some ministers have sued other departments. Mr McCallister is right to seek to end this.

An opposition could yet yield surprising results. The day may even come when tribal parties combine across the old religious divide and non tribal ones join forces to become their key political rivals.