Stormont Holds Its First Ever Opposition Day

Stormont Today will be worth a watch to see a little bit of history. The Assembly held its first ever opposition day which meant that for around four hours MLAs debated topics selected by the opposition namely rural bank closures, public confidence after the NAMA revelations and Impact on Women of Changes to the State Pension.

Often critiqued for a lack of cooperation, the SDLP and UUP released a joint statement on the latter topic;

The first Opposition Day saw a petition presented to the Speaker on behalf of Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign and a debate on the floor of the Assembly calling on the Government to rethink their position.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Jenny Palmer said:

“There are few things so clearly deserved as the state pension. The promise – that if you work hard throughout your working life, the state will take care of you in your old age is an ideal which has underpinned our society for more than 70 years. The way in which the women’s state pension age has been increased by the Government has left post-retirement planning in tatters for many.

“The Government have substantially moved the goalposts, without giving those affected appropriate notice. It is therefore no surprise that the women negatively impacted by the changes are frustrated, and are calling on Her Majesty’s Government to address this unfairness.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to raise their concerns both in the Assembly and at Westminster, to force the Government to re-examine this issue.”

SDLP MLA, Colin McGrath said:

“Because of the introduction of these changes and the fact that it wasn’t done in a more incremental and timely way, some women who are born just three years apart are now having to work for an extra six years.

“Deprived of pension payments on one hand, forced to contribute on the other, the majority of those impacted are now in their 60s. The way these changes were introduced cruelly impacts on the lives of older women.

“To add insult to injury, in some cases, the WASPI Women were given a mere one year’s notice of such a devastating blow to their life plans.

“Some women who have not been working in later years and were expecting an income from the State Pension are now at age 60, 61 and 62 and are turning to job seekers allowance and zero hour contracts just to make ends meet.

“The huge numbers of women treated unfairly in this way means that we all know someone affected. Mothers, grandmothers and aunts, it’s not good enough that they find themselves having to work zero hour contracts just to survive. That is why the SDLP are presenting this petition to the Speaker today and why we will be speaking in favour of the motion this afternoon.”

However, Naomi Long wasn’t impressed arguing;

The matters debated today are worthy of debate as a regular Backbench Motion – indeed, I participated in debates in Westminster in my previous role as MP on motions concerning pension injustices facing women in particular.

“However, neither of these issues fall within the remit of the Executive. It begs the question as to why, on a much-vaunted first Opposition Day, the UUP and SDLP would bring motions which put the Executive under no pressure whatsoever.

“Opposition Days and Opposition itself is vital in the functioning of a democracy, holding to account those who make decisions on everyone’s behalf. By wasting opportunities to do that robustly today, the UUP and SDLP have fallen at the first hurdle.

“I am sure if this is the level of scrutiny they are capable of exerting over the Executive, none of the Executive Ministers will be quaking in their boots this evening. Thankfully, Alliance will continue to provide robust scrutiny of the Executive and to do so effectively.”

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  • Gopher

    Too much pathos, too much hubris, too much not invented here syndrome. Long for Alliance and Clarke from the DUP summed up that damp squib. Unless the UUP, SDLP and Alliance can form a coherent incisive front they are assuring the DUP and SF look thoroughly competent. Agnew and Allister are still the only worthwhile opposition.

  • aquifer

    An agreed position on one topic aimed straight at the aging DUP vote. The opposition do not have to agree on everything to grind down the incumbents. Politics at last, and without Nesbitt trying to out-Orange the DUP. This may get very interesting.

    People may begin to wonder why parties who did so much to promote and sustain sectarian conflict should be in government at all when they have another viable choice that owes nothing to paramilitarism.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s been plenty of motions put forward by the Executive over the years, and by the Alliance Party, (every other party as well) that fall outside the jurisdiction of the Stormont government.

    Alliance for example did call for actions on payday loans, I cannot imagine that falling under their own Department of Justice role.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I love how you praised an Alliance person and then even dismiss them as an opposition contributor.

  • Skibo

    The Opposition stated they were there to hold the Executive to account. They picked two out of three subjects which were out of the control of the Executive. Hardly an Opposition holding anyone to account, rather parties using precious time for a bit of electioneering with no election in sight.
    Not a great sign of things to come.

  • Skibo

    Had a look at the photo of the chamber during the Opposition debate and could only see 4 DUP and possibly 8 SF. Are the Executive parties not giving the discussion a fair wind? While they did not attend the discussion, they seemed to be able to control the voting.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    The Leader of the SDLP was apparently channelling his opposition from Liverpool. If a leader of the Opposition isn’t bothered to turn up why should others be bothered?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I get Naomi Long’s point and she’s right on one level, but I think she misses the big picture with the tone of her comments. I’d prefer to see something constructive from her in terms of this being, potentially, a watershed moment in the move towards a more normal local politics. I don’t want centrist politicians to be cynical about the move towards an ‘opposition system’, I want them to be giving it every chance to work. Hopefully that is what Long wants. Also, opposition is also about taking opportunities to set the political agenda – it’s not just about a reactive critique of government, important though that is.

    There may be little Stormont can do directly on pensions but it is surely an issue of huge public interest locally we’d want our assembly to be giving attention to, if only to register, for the ears of national policy-makers, NI sentiment on the issue.

  • Roger

    Stormont executive.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Correct me if I’m wrong here but wasn’t the deputy leader of the executive there too?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I guess what you are saying is that she’s at risk for falling into the trap she’s complaining about.

    Which does bring me to a key issue about “Oppositionalism” … It’s never going to change how much money is in the budget, or how much fiscal powers the Assembly has, or stop the need for the Assembly to make difficult decisions.

    People will want the Executive to spend more and invest more, but regardless of who gets in the role of the government will be fiscally conservative and with limited to no ability to gain extra procurement short of more privatizations or charges for services.

    There is a narrow space of constrained optimization for both governments and oppositions to work in with Stormont. The whole Labour/Conservative/Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael intervening to “normalize” politics … will not turn a regional government into the sort of national parliament ding-dong yahboo politics that you see in Westminster, if indeed that is what the people want here.

    In Wales there is already a movement to scrap the Welsh Assembly.

    These are issues that barely get any attention in the media and on this site.

    There are too much in the proliferation of the political debate, who simultaneously want to stop the “flags, parades and past” cake, while simultaneously offering ways to segway it into the discussion on rather different political issues.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If you can have Local Government, you can have Stormont Government … that’s where I stand and I’m not for changing my ways.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Most of the people of Northern Ireland knew a lot of these issues.

    Many of the Leave supporters wanted to use it to kick Cameron and the Tories /Irish Nationalists /Mike Nesbitt /Guardian Readers/ Ethnics … or someone else other than the EU. Ergo Lexit, Irexit, British nationalists and some hark back to imperialism types voted for it.

    Some Leave supporters actually did some cost/benefits hypothesis and considered it the lesser of two evils but actually still worry about how Brexit is implemented.

    Some Leave libertarians really didn’t care if Stormont, the EU, Westminster or Leinster House were hit with losses, in the belief that the private sector adapt and bring out prosperity and increased globalization from the nadir of statism and isolationism.

    This report was going to be brushed off by Vote Leave and their DUP evangelists as Scaremongering anyway.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Yes he was.

    Stormont held its “first ever Opposition Day”. I think you’ll find the clue is in the title. DFM is not in Opposition, the SDLP is supposed to be.

    Does that clear things up for you?

  • Gopher

    I also praised a DUP mans comments. Alliance have had a good couple of weeks. Lunn, Farry, Ford and Long have spoke well but that is not enough they have to start landing punches. I picked out Agnew and Allister on purpose to demonstrate how two diverse characters can get along and work together in the assembly. SDLP and UUP should take heed.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Name one thing Agnew and Allister actually agreed on that…

    1) fell under the remit of the Assembly
    2) didn’t involved laying the boot into the DUP and/or Sinn Féin on corruption.
    3) wasn’t some motherhood & apple pie measure the entire Assembly would agree on anyway.

  • Nevin

    I posted a link to it from The Detail, Ciaran. Sam McBride passed comment on it in the Newsletter.

    Added: “This analysis paper was not sent to Ministers for consideration following its completion.” .. source

  • Nevin

    Sam McBride was not impressed by the performances of the UUP and SDLP:

    The danger for both the UUP and the SDLP is that either Jim Allister, Eamonn McCann or BBC Spotlight look more effective than them at scrutinising the Executive. A really successful opposition will be one which forces the Assembly to be relevant as the forum for holding the Executive to account. As in Westminster, where the speaker hauls ministers – right up to the Prime Minister – into the chamber to answer urgent questions, there is the potential for the Assembly to be a place of public accountability. But that will require Opposition parties which are far sharper and more strategic than at present.

  • Gopher

    I believe Agnew said each give way to the other when something in their sphere comes up.

    There is the difference. Agnew and Allister actually put the boot in. Long is not bad but I’m not sure a future leader should constantly be your only attack dog. Alliance need sharper teeth they also need some personality. That’s why I no longer vote Alliance they are too soft they need a couple of moderates who will fix bayonets for the middle ground and get stuck in.

  • murdockp

    For me it hits on a wider issue specifically the patronising view NI politician’s have of people is condescending.
    They talk about people using language as if people are on the scrap heap. what sort of language is ‘devastating blow to their life plans’ and ‘protecting the most vulnerable in society’. I have friends who are disabled who take it as a personal insult to be categorised into a vulnerable group without their consent and I have older friends who are insulted at the suggestion they must retire. Of course there are vulnerable people that need even greater support than the state currently provides, but our politicians keep making sweeping statements in which it is they who predetermine that because you are of a certain age or belong to a certain group you need their help, this is not the case at all.
    The same goes for areas like prescription charges, I am happy to pay but the politicians know better and insist I should have prescriptions for free completely ignoring my personal circumstances.

    Surely language that gives people choice is more appropriate rather than these sweeping generalisations.

    60 is not a big age in 2016 and many people have no intention of retiring, Hilary Clinton is seeking election to the most difficult job in the world at 68.

    In the UK this attitude is changing . I think these patronising attitudes from our politicians needs to change to reflect society and they have to stop prejudging everyone. Too many of them get pensioned off early as civil servants which is why they feel everyone else should be too.

    There should be more consideration given to personal choices and circumstance in Stormont.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Giving way to one another is basic courtesy…

    You basically talk about two completely different politicians actually working together, but all I see from your argument is two politicians with matching vendettas.

    There have been no Petitions of Concerns signed by Agnew and Allister and there have been no Private Members bills signed by Agnew and Allister.

    There have been PoCs and PMBs with UUP and SDLP signatures on them.

    Indeed, Agnew voted against the only Private Member’s Bill that Allister brought to the table. I do not know if Allister retaliated on the Children’s Bill, he probably didn’t, but it’s hardly a major partnership if he did vote for this matter.

    I simply do not understand why you think Agnew and Allister are a functioning opposition that work together effectively.

    They are simply two members of the “naughty-corner” and effectively the fact that they are in that corner rather than in the front row like Naomi Long is, is perhaps the only thing that connects them.

    The only thing that really unites them that isn’t coincidental is … Proximity.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I agree entirely.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And the opposition is more than the Official Opposition leaders.

    There have been several times that OFMDFM/DOE questions have been taken by junior ministers or substitutes.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    You keep informing me of rather obvious facts. I do know (surprisingly it would seem to you) that the Opposition is more than its leaders.

    I’m also aware that Junior Ministers can, and do, take questions.

    However this was the FIRST Opposition Day. You obviously think that that is of no importance, certainly not to the extent of the Leader of the SDLP deigning to take the time to attend.

    Rather he thought it more appropriate to leave the island and sit on the sidelines of one of the ‘Invaders’political parties.

    Fine with me I suppose. Yet if Colin felt it ok to leave it in Mike’s hands who am I to argue? Perhaps it does signal some political maturity on Mr Eastwood’s part? An acceptance perhaps that he feels not up to the job in tackling DUPSF!

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think it was a sign of political maturity to go to the Labour Party conference to discuss the impact Brexit would have on the border like Martin McGuinness did.

    Indeed Arlene Foster was out of the office in America, and so was David Ford as far as I’m aware.

    Also the media were complaining we weren’t seeing enough of Ritchie McPhillips and Colin McGrath and I think both of them had a key role in that debate.

  • Roger

    Reasonable stance.

    If I recall correctly I believe the Scots dropped executive for government without any statutory basis at the time.

  • Gopher

    Forgive me, I prefer the “arme Blanche” of Agnew and Allister and think thus far it has been more effective than Alliance, SDLP and UUP who collaborated in the farce of government for far too long. Granted Alliance are now demonstrably superior to the SDLP and UUP but the bar is very low in that respect. With PBP beginning to show unless Alliance learn to put the boot in, the limelight will be well and truly stolen.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Yea ok then if that’s the fig leaf of choice go for it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Okay in the current mandate what has been the outstanding outspoken moment for either of them? They are getting barely any attention.

    They are no less obscure than say Gerry Mullan or Rosemary Barton, never mind Colum Eastwood or Mike Nesbitt. Allister has been put in his place in this mandate, and Agnew has been rather quiet this term so far.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think those who mock the lack of political choice the most are the ones that are most unlikely to ever have made one.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    In the context of the Leader of the SDLP, and a leader of the Stormont Opposition, showing the same lack of interest as McGuinness, Foster and Ford (none of whom are part of the Opposition, and therefore it is perhaps no surprise that they didn’t bother) and doing a runner from the FIRST set piece OPPOSITION Day, what on Earth has a comment about “political choice” got to do with it?

    Look I get it that you’re smarting because someone remarked on the big SDLP Leader sized hole at Stormont. But really? This is very much a time when the old ‘stop digging….’ cliche might be good advice to follow.

  • Kevin Breslin

    On the contrary, it is my opinion that the implications of the UK referendum result requires a lot more than what Stormont can provide. I think it right that Colum chooses to meet with his PES partners in Liverpool and that McGuinness is there also, I think it’s right that Arlene is over in the United States trying to get some mitigating foreign direct investment. I think it’s right that Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is down in Dublin in the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement Committee.