SF to oppose Assembly reform bill – but SDLP will not veto it

Stormont
Stormont

Sinn Fein will vote against every single aspect of John McCallister’s bill to create a Stormont Opposition and make other reforms of Stormont – but the SDLP is refusing to join Sinn Fein to kill off the legislation.

Mr McCallister’s bill faces its stiffest test to date when it comes before the Assembly on Tuesday for further consideration stage.

The South Down MLA’s bill would set a minimum threshold in terms of speaking time for the Opposition in the Assembly and would force parties with fewer than 18 seats into Opposition.

It would also make the Speaker more independent from his political party, would stop Executive departments suing each other, and would allow independent and smaller parties to form a ‘technical group’, as happens in the Dail, allowing them representation on the committee which sets Assembly business.

Sinn Fein has now formally tabled its opposition to every single aspect of the bill by tabling 24 notices stating that it will oppose all 24 clauses of the bill.

Sinn Fein’s opposition to the bill is such that it is even opposing clause 20, which would rename the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister as the Office of the First Ministers – despite the fact that Martin McGuinness has called for the posts to renamed as the ‘joint first ministers’.

However, Sinn Fein on its own cannot block the legislation in the Executive as it is a private member’s bill.

And the SDLP made clear that it will not sign a petition of concern to kill the bill.

An SDLP spokeswoman told the News Letter: “The SDLP has amendments on the bill. The party will not be signing a petition of concern.”

The DUP has also tabled numerous amendments and the UUP has tabled an amendment.

An upbeat Mr McCallister said that all parties – even Sinn Fein – had engaged well with him on the bill, realising the significance of the proposed legislation.

He said: “Eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, we cannot go through another five-year mandate like the one we’ve just had or the one before that.

“I have been really encouraged by the way that colleagues on the committee, academics and others have engaged in this entire process.

“The bill set a very ambitious programme of reform and I always knew I was unlikely to get everything I wanted but it has started a huge conversation about what we want our Assembly and Executive to look like.”

Mr McCallister said that the fundamental principle of the bill was that “it is good to have an opposition keeping the government honest and giving an alternative to vote for”.

When asked about the blanket opposition of Sinn Fein to his bill, the South Down independent said that “to be absolutely fair to Sinn Fein”, the party had made clear to him at a meeting in November that it would oppose the bill.

He added: “While they’re opposing much of the bill, they have bought into at least the concept that things need to change in the Assembly.”

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