The role of the Opposition

Whilst I had suggested, when noting the consultation on the draft allocation of resources, that

It’s almost as if we, the public, are being tasked with the job of being the absent opposition to the Administration because our representatives in the Assembly can’t take on that role themselves.

I didn’t expect to hear a member of the Northern Ireland Executive, albeit a member of the Ulster Unionist Party who will be discussing the issue this weekend, to openly call on the public, and specific interested groups, to do just that

“What we have right now is a draft budget for consultation with the Assembly and the general public,” [the Health Minister] said. “So I am anxious to hear from the health service, from the sector and particularly from the patients about what they feel about health service spending because our spend is currently way below what it should be if it was going to match England.”

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  • joeCanuck

    Repost from a previous thread:

    I agree that the absence of a proper opposition at Stormont is a serious drawback to the functioning of a normal assembly.
    Both the UUP and the SDLP should withdraw from the Executive. Apart from anything else, if they are effective, it can only enhance their electoral potential down the road.
    I was supportive of the unusual parliamentary arrangement at first, but as time goes on, I think we all acquiesced in the creation of an unworkable monstrosity and mockery of democracy.

  • Frank Sinistra


    The consultation culture is getting ridiculous, not only do ‘stakeholder groups’ get a consultation notification on every procedural change – staffing procedures in the Inland Revenue! wtf. But now Government Departments are sending out timetables on likely consultations in the coming year so you can plan your consultation diary.

    If they actually considered the opinions they seek rather than just noting them and putting them on a website then doing what they originally wanted……….

  • Pete Baker


    While true, I’d suggest that this particular example points to a more specific problem than the ‘consultation culture’.

  • Frank Sinistra


    Kinda agree but parliamentary politics has been ,imo, reduced to consultation politics elsewhere also. It’s theatre in Westminster and Leinster House. the opposition has no real impact, debate is staged and irrelevant to outcome. Once the decision is made it is about managing debate, in our case by pointless consultations, in London and Dublin by soundbites in the chamber.

    We have just found a creative way of ignoring opposing views.

    Governments tend to govern and ignore, ours just does it with a shit load more pointless paper. (though of course it ain’t a government)

  • Pete Baker


    As Churchill said – “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    The problem here, and why it’s only a diversion to try to use any other example, is that we don’t have a democracy – hence the post title’s focus on the role of the Opposition.

  • fair_deal

    I would concur with FS’s comments on the consultation culture and the fact it gets ignored adding to the pointlessness.

    1. On the spending on health, there is a distinct lack of detail in McGimpsey’s statement. I remember how the Tories used to use NI as an example of how more money didn’t mean a better health service as spending was higher here than in England. Has this differential ceased/reversed? When did it cease/get reversed? What is the present/future differential in spending?
    2. The health department gets almost half of the entire budget. How much does the Minister of Health want? Where does he think it should come from – which other areas get cut, does the regional rate rise, should water charges be introduced now to produce a saving?
    3. One of the decisions he has made was not to cut back on health bureaucracy, perhaps he could reconsider that seeking more money from other budgets.

  • David Ford

    Under the GFA arrangements, it is entirely possible that every MLA would be in an Executive party. eg, had the nine members of the United Community group been members of a single party and a single seat changed hands between UUP and DUP, only the PUP would not have been entitled to an Executive seat this year.

    This is a nonsense in terms of providing good governance, and one of the reasons why Alliance wants to see a voluntary coalition commanding a weighted majority.

    Assembly procedures compound this, by giving the largest parties the lion’s share of speaking time – and the first opportunities. On the Programme for Government statement, first question went to Danny Kennedy (UU Chair of OFMDFM committee), followed by backbenchers from DUP and SF (neither of whom was exactly Paxman in their questioning) before Mark Durkan (SDLP) and I (Alliance/UCG) got a chance.

    There is no recognition of the role of Opposition. There is as much likelihood that the dominant parties would agree as there is that their Ministers would answer questions.

  • Turgon

    I would agree entirely. I am extremely dubious that McGimpsey understands the health service adequately to make major changes and I very much doubt he would have the political courage to implement some of the changes which probably do need to be made such as closing hospitals. In reality though I am most dubious that any of our politicians would.

    I had some hopes that Iris Robinson had a proper understanding and might have done some things. I must admit I was extremely disappointed that your party did not take health and give it to her as she seemed to be by far the best candidate for it.

  • Nevin

    “It’s almost as if we, the public, are being tasked with the job of being the absent opposition”

    If some of our politicians are reluctant to take the initiative then individuals and groups can use blogs and other means to take problems that are not being dealt with – large or small – to the heart of government, with the aid of sympathetic politicians and journalists.

    The recent row about the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre has seen an interesting interaction between different forms of media: television, radio, newspaper and blog. I understand Slugger is being closely monitored!!

    Following on from the recent BBC NI Spotlight investigation we have the curious matter of what appears to be a rates exempt office at 142a Main Street, Bushmills, Moyle, being used by an MLA and a Councillor for political purposes. So much for a ‘fruitless‘ Google search – and the Grapevine.

  • joeCanuck


    Has anyone ever given an explanation for that barbed/razor wire?

  • Nevin

    I’ve not heard one, Joe.

    The building could have been made secure much more simply and the fishermen could get to their usual place via the traditional path in relative safety. Now they have to scramble over the often slippery rocks – and avoid the discharge from the nearby leaking sewer pipe.

  • barneben

    The problem here is that Unionism went to such extraordinary lengths, right from the creation of the statelet, to prove that it is incapable of governing alone. The current arrangement is utterly ridiculous because it is specifically designed to cope with a Unionist compulsion to lord it over the natives. It’s a six county solution to a sick county problem. The only known alternatives are direct rule by Dublin and/or London.
    It’s very easy to point out the failings of the Assembly but does anybody have a better idea?

  • Truth & Justice

    I feel it would be very foolish with the executive only up and running for five months at this stage, it suited the UUP when they were the largest party, i feel with the hard questions such as water charges it was the UUP that broke the link between water and the rates to get us into the problems we have on the issue, so to go into opposition at this stage would appear foolish as the electorate wont forget so easly and it would appear they are trying to pass the buck. It is far too soon and would be better in the long term when everything has beded down in several years, its also worth looking at if the UUP gave up their two ministerial seats would they go to the DUP or to others?

  • Nevin

    T&J, it looks as if the past is coming back to haunt the DUP. Paisley, the farmer’s friend, was also Paisley, a developer’s friend:

    Ballintoy, Knocksoghey and the Blackside – pt 1.

  • __________

    I thought Shilliday would have put up something on the UUP conference by now.

    By the accounts I have had it was actually quite interesting.

  • Animus

    It would be totally sensible for the UUP and SDLP to form a credible opposition, particularly since the DUP and Sinn Fein have showed that many of their campaign promises were well-intentioned fibs. If parties were actually to come good on all the promises they made, they would bankrupt the state. They need to learn how to grow up as politicians and learn how to prioritise spending in a way that offers long-term sustainability.

    I have responded to a number of budgets over the years, and have yet to see a real change as a result of consultation. The fact is that many organisations are constantly lobbying politicians and civil servants throughout the year to influence spending. If we couldn’t convince them by July (when bids are being drawn up by civil servants), then we probably don’t have a hope in hell in influencing them in November. That’s not about the public helping out, it’s about politicians skilling up to make hard decisions and to understand the impact – social and economic – of those decisions.