In the Newsletter, Alex Kane argues in favour of the UUP and SDLP forming an opposition to the DUP/SF bloc – even if it’s not an Official Opposition. Timely, given that the Assembly today debated, and I use the term advisedly, the Executive’s legislative programme. Stormont Live, video below, caught some of Alliance Party leader David Ford’s amendment speech and it would appear that there might be some indicators of an emerging oppositional approach – at least by back-benchers. Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd clearly thinks so.. and he doesn’t seem too happy about it.. Btw, I’ve not seen the full list of that legislative programme.. but I have seen some of those proposed Bills before – Charity Reform – Legislation on Taxis – and, with the relatives of those adbucted, murdered, and secretly buried by the Provisional IRA in mind, Legislation on Death Certificates.
From Alex Kane’s article
The task of creating an Official Opposition is going to be a difficult one, not least because neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein is keen on the idea. Jeffrey Donaldson has hinted that the DUP is looking at ways of securing a “voluntary coalition government at Stormont”, but it seems unlikely that much will happen. Indeed, it looks like a cosmetic exercise designed to keep internal and external critics at bay.
Meanwhile, the existing arrangements encourage incompetence and poor government. The trouble is, it really is impossible to pinpoint and punish the weakest links in the system. And oddly enough, that’s the one issue the DUP seems most reluctant to address.
It is true, of course, that if the UUP and SDLP, singly or together, withdrew from the Executive in the near future, they would be leaping into a no man’s land. The mere act of describing yourself as the Opposition won’t allow you to be the Opposition. Yet it is equally true that the ongoing lack of an Official Opposition will undermine democracy and ensure a form of government which will, in fact and in effect, be less accountable and less relevant than Direct Rule. Is that what we waited 35 years for?
Update In the comments zone, David Ford adds
Let us have a quick look through the 18 Bills that make up the legislative programme. Issues such as 1-libraries, 2-education structures and 3-reform of public authorities have been floating around in the review of public administration for several years. Legislation on 4-diseases of animals could easily have been introduced under direct rule. The issue of 5-taxis was being discussed before the Assembly was suspended in autumn 2002, and 6-road freight licensing legislation has been delayed for nearly as long. There are two 7,8-Budget Bills: well, we all know that nothing is more certain than taxes, and that those Bills will happen.
The Department of Finance and Personnel has produced three tidying-up Bills dealing with 9-presumption of death, 10-building regulations and 11-civil registration. The 12-Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is a modest undertaking. The 13-Children (Emergency Protection Orders) Bill, which we have just passed, complies with obligations under human rights, and the 14-Public Health (Amendment) Bill complies with the requirements of the World Health Organisation.
The tidying-up of 15-charities legislation, though welcome, has been floating around for ages and is long overdue. Legislation on 16-pensions, 17-mesothelioma and 18-child maintenance is being introduced simply to achieve parity with the relevant law in Great Britain. Therefore, to suggest that their programme is one of significance and substance rather stretches the imagination, given what we have come to expect from the Executive.