UUP & SDLP unite to attack clamp down on opposition speaking rights

Alex Attwood and Robin Swann conducted the first act of co-ordination between the UUP and SDLP as the official opposition in the Assembly today over the DUP and Sinn Fein’s attempts to change rules around when the opposition can lead debates.

Speaking jointly both MLAs said;

In key votes on Assembly business, the DUP and Sinn Féin have shown both their arrogance and their fear, with a slap in the face for our democracy.

“In March, the five parties on the Business Committee of the Assembly unanimously agreed there would be provision for debates led by the opposition, if a party or parties chose not to go into the Executive. Now after only two opposition debates, the DUP and Sinn Féin today railroaded through a change, replacing opposition motions every second week with opposition days every so often.

“It was a calculated attempt to close down the voice of opposition. In refusing at the Business Committee to offer any good argument for the decision, the DUP and Sinn Féin proved it was all about their weight of numbers not about the health of our democracy.

“These actions show both their arrogance and their fear. Both Sinn Féin and the DUP look and sound rattled. The proof is that two opposition debates over two days was two too many for them.

“It is not the first time that the DUP and Sinn Féin have been at their work. When we proposed two weeks ago to give the Green Party and People Before Profit earlier speaking rights in the Assembly, the DUP and Sinn Féin rushed in and pushed the smaller parties to the back of the queue.

“They also refused to allow the opposition parties to take up their seats in the Chamber facing the Executive as many expected would be the case, yet afforded the new Justice Minister a move onto the front bench.

“The DUP and Sinn Féin say they won the election. Their antics demonstrate that in playing fast and loose with good decisions and on democracy, how rattled they are. Democracy is much bigger than those who so clearly fear opposition and scrutiny.”

Odd move by the DUP and Sinn Fein, since we were constantly told how inept and ineffective the new opposition would be, surely they would have wanted more speaking time in the chamber for them to demonstrate this.  Anyway, looks like the new politics, is not that much different from the old and that our new official opposition will more than likely have to find more ways outside of the Assembly Chamber to hold the DUP/Sinn Fein Executive to account for their actions.

, , , ,

  • murdockp

    in the short term dup / SF will silence their critics by abuse of power.

    the the longer term failure to deliver meaningful change that benefits the broader community will be their downfall.

    as the job losses mount, as the economic growth falters and our towns go to ruin and they waste money on pet projects that wider society does not want of need. watch the other parties start to benefit from thier joint incompetence.

  • chrisjones2

    The Opposition need to up their game and make it a battle a day

  • Heather Richardson

    I wish I could believe that, but the evidence of the past couple of elections suggests that voters will keep re-electing them regardless of their failure to deliver anything meaningful.

  • murdockp

    I guess I should have added that I don’t think the power will transfer to UUP / SDLP who have major issues themselves selves that they may never overcome.

    the time is drawing closer for a new party….hopefully….

  • Toaster

    Sinn Fein is about delivering positive change and advancing the equality agenda. Other parties who’ve decided not to take part in this process seem to wish to pick petty arguments about their chairs and the question time they selfishly demand. Sinn Fein shall rise above such childish rants and continue to focus on delivering for all the people of Ireland.

  • mjh

    This is a strategic error by DUP/SF.

    The clever course would have been to encourage discord between the fledgling Opposition. Give the UUP and SDLP time and space to disagree amongst themselves – while using the government’s agenda setting powers to focus the spotlight on a steady stream of issues on which the two biggest opposition parties would be likely to disagree.

    Instead DUP/SF are trying to stifle a united Opposition at birth. That pressure could be just what the UUP and SDLP need to create a common sense of purpose throughout both parties. There is nothing like the threat of a common enemy to create a united front.

  • notimetoshine

    Your party political purity is admirable, but surely Sinn Fein is all about democracy these days? In which case stifling opposition speaking rights seems churlish at best, down right sleazy least at worst.

    What are they and the DUP afraid of? Being called out and held to account? Because their record so far would tends to suggest a need for their ‘governing’ to be held to account.

  • notimetoshine

    I fear you may be right, depressing as that is.

  • Declan Doyle

    The SDLP and UUP could have been in governement but they opted out, there is no reason why Sinn Dup should keep a clear road for their opposition.

  • Declan Doyle

    It sees Mike Nesbitt has got the battle he wanted.

  • notimetoshine

    Well in the interests of democratic process, one should imagine that the DUP and SF would encourage opposition. Granted for SF this is a relatively new concept, opposition to Republican policy often ending in the need for orthopaedic surgery or the care of a competent mortician but still.

    And considering the appallingly poor quality of policy and implementation in the last assembly surely a larger and more organised opposition can challenge poor performance, the naughty corner writ large so to speak. Or should the DUP and SFf get a free ride in the interests of peace?

  • Declan Doyle

    Unionism takes time to adjust too, in the past it would either be redraw boundaries , have the mob burn out the unwanted, or get the RUC to lock them up out of the way. So it is a learning curve all round. No government wants to give any opposition oxygen if they can help it.

  • notimetoshine

    True, looks like none of our political forces are especially democratically minded.

    But the fact is they must permit robust and serious challenge, which means ensuring a strong opposition. Though I’m sure that the SDLP and UUP could come up with some sort of legal challenge.

  • Declan Doyle

    Stop blaming the voters for the failure of other parties to get elected.

  • Declan Doyle

    maybe you would be better off having a word with the torys, it is they who are forcing austerity.

  • chrisjones2

    “Sinn Fein is about delivering positive change and advancing the equality agenda. ”

    Is that the weaponized equality agenda or the other one? What do you understand by ‘weaponized”

    “Other parties who’ve decided not to take part in this process seem to wish to pick petty arguments about their chairs and the question time they selfishly demand.”

    How dare they demand the right to represent those who elected them. It is shocking that they selfishly wish to speak. By the way how does restring that right to speak square with equality? Or advance change?

    And why are SF afraid to answer questions?

    “Sinn Fein shall rise above such childish rants and continue to focus on delivering for all the people of Ireland.”

    Yeah …like it has done in the last 2 Assemblies

  • chrisjones2

    “surely Sinn Fein is all about democracy these days? ”

    Its the way you tell them

  • chrisjones2

    …and no reason why they shouldn’t harry and expose your twinned parties at every opportunity

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Why shouldn’t we blame those voters? By and large their choice is pure tribal protectionism as I see it so it’s not exercising sound judgement nor does it recognise that “Democracy is much bigger than …”, take your pick!
    While I agree with your point that ‘other parties’ fail to get elected there is definitely a democratic malaise as well as a democratic deficit. It’s these 2 parties that exploit the fear and suspicion of large parts of the electorate at the expense of transparent and accountable democracy. Transparent and accountable democracy seems to be seen as small price to pay in the paralysed pursuit of democratic immaturity and stagnation. In short we’re incapable of standing back to see the bigger picture.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Both these parties are facilitated in opposition in other places, both within the European Parliament where they are in de facto opposition, and in terms of the DUP Westminster, and in terms of Sinn Féin Leinster House.

    Reasonable provision for opposition is a rational alternative to the sort of street opposition that we have seen in the past. If Sinn Féin and the DUP are so sure that none of their members or voters are going to defect to opposition parties they should have no fears about reasonable levels of opposition speaking rights.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Totally agree that these measures are counterproductive from the Stormont Executive.

  • chrisjones2

    ..and SF have accepted it havent they

  • chrisjones2

    or the failure of SF to sustain its own vote?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think the DUP and SF forget their own histories if they think trying to stymie dissent is going to grow or protect their support levels.

  • Jollyraj

    “Sinn Fein shall rise above such childish rants”

    Does seem to be very much how they view anybody who disagrees with them.

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes, ‘unite around common enemy’ might do it – but I think it will take them to work out what ‘common cause’ they have to do it ….if anything can.

  • chrisjones2

    Next will be that all opposition MLAs are

    1 drunks

    2 mentally ill

    3 fundamentally, opponents of the Peace Process (TM)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “And onwards to Mars…….”

    How does the equality agenda work out with a leader whose record on woman’s issues is, to say the very least, extremely questionable? It’s not simply a matter of having such precepts in a manifesto to attract votes, they must be underpinned by credible people presenting and enacting them, and some sense that the party understands this.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Exactly, Ben!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Abel Gance’s brilliant “Napoleon” silent of 1929, scene: “the future Emperor on the tossing seas, light breaks through a cloud, and his ‘Eagle of Destiny” settles on the masthead……..”


    Seriously, though, we really need something outside of the parties whose programmes suggest a hundred years of déjà vu……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    This is what I’ve called “voting by standing order” elsewhere on Slugger.