John McCallister’s generous plans for some kind of Opposition in Stormont…

Sam McBride has a good overview of John McCallister’s proposals for new arrangements for an Opposition at Stormont:

Once an Opposition is formed, all MLAs not in the Executive are immediately classed as members of the Opposition.

The Opposition will be led by a leader and deputy leader, who would be chosen by Opposition MLAs and who would get the first questions to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at Assembly question time, moving the Assembly slightly closer to what happens in Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Opposition would have the right to a minimum of 15 days a year for business in the Assembly, would get to chair the powerful Public Accounts Committee (as happens at Westminster) and would be represented on the Assembly’s Business Committee, which decides on the Assembly’s Order Paper each week.

Opposition parties would be entitled to financial assistance, including salaries for Opposition office holders.

A Budget Committee would be created to scrutinise the Executive’s draft budget.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister would be renamed as the Office of the First Ministers.

Interesting detail is the provision to make all departments “a single legal entity, making it impossible for ministers to sue each other in the courts”. Yep, that matters because, yes, a minister has sued another minister just to force them to do their job properly.

And it also shows demonstrates that frustrations within government has nowhere to go if you cannot viably ditch your government status. But therein lies the weakness of these provisions (though in selling it to nationalists it could prove a strength).

You still not cannot get rid of someone who insists on clinging to office come what may (no matter how bad or unreliable they prove to be)… But it could be the starting opportunity for a viable resistance…

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  • It is like putting a coat of paint on the ugly scaffold. Brighter, but creates its own problems. ‘the opposition’ would be many and varied in approach. No more cohesive than the parties in the Exec, just as silo’d.

    In huge favour of an opposition as a democratic counter to government, but this seems to be a way to extract money for the process and really it just creates fault lines for opposition mirroring those of the NI Exec.

    Full marks for doing ‘something’, but hard to see this as a solution to something gone wrong (because fundamentally the ugly structure remains).

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Don’t disagree with the post Dissenter but at least John has put something on the table we await others proposals ? IF THEY HAVE ANY ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m going to take a rant at Mick for the last three paragraphs here…

    Paragraph 1. Making all departments a single legal entity is a no brainer … the legal action was completely counterproductive and completely selfish. The action wasn’t going to force anyone to do anything and was pretty much thrown out of court on that basis.

    Paragraph 2.

    You’re second paragraph says that frustrations within government has nowhere to go unless you get out of government. I think what he might be trying to sell people here is the idea that the natural response to frustrating things should be avoidance.

    The Sheer hypocrisy on Slugger O’Toole here:

    One minute it attacks ministers who quit because they’re arguing with co-ministers and frustrating circumstances, the next it calls for collective responsibility as long as that responsibility isn’t frustrating, which bread and butter politics here is going to be here for generations.

    Mick manages to defend good opposition and bad government in the one sentence.

    “frustrations within government has nowhere to go if you cannot viably ditch your government status”

    How about sucking it up and doing a job like most other people who aren’t self-employed?

    If everyone jumps into opposition at the first sign of trouble, there would be no government … direct rule has no mandate here, it doesn’t even have any candidates here with the guts to defend it.

    Paragraph 3:

    I have no clue what pronouns “You” is referring to, who should have the power to unilaterally dismiss ministers in a voluntary coalition … OFMDFM? The Assembly? Random Little Napoleans in the Press or the Naughty Corner?

    Apart from the Executive, the Electorate and the Law of the Land … who else should executive ministers be accountable to in their work as a minister?

    The Assembly… Don’t we have no confidence motions? It’s a reflection on the Executive if they don’t act on them.

    Who else?

    Why do I feel “You” in this sentence as well as “We” in the “We don’t have the right to change the government” … is not the electorate as a whole, but a special interest group who wants to rule from the minority position.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Kev Any chance of doing your own version of John’s Ideas ? and throwing it up for debate ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    My own suggested amendments …

    1. I’d keep d’Hondt allocation in Government Executive, Official Opposition and Committee positions. I’d take maths over carved up side deals any day. Reshuffles ensure the numbers allocated to a party remain in place throughout the term, but allow portfolios to be swapped between parties.

    2. Review of Department of Justice selection process, even allowing the role to be party independent, like that of the Speaker. The Official Opposition minister for Justice could be held on a rotational cross community basis, or by D’Hondt like mayoral positions in Belfast if no “Other” Candidate is available and the Official Opposition isn’t mono-community as is the case now.

    3. Shadow First Ministers will be primarily responsible for the Strand 2 and Strand 3 roles of Shadow Executive and to the Northern Ireland Office mirroring OFMDFM, but other shadow ministers should have rights of correspondence with politicians in Dublin and London, and possibly even devolved administrations and crown dependency parliaments too, on matters relevant to their briefs.

    4. Scrap junior ministries & ban shadow junior ministries.

    5. Scrap the nonsense St Andrew rules that First Ministers, or Shadow First ministers have to be from the largest parties within them, If the largest parties want to voluntarily give up these roles as is the case in Belgium then these rules are merely red tape.

    6. To situation proof John’s Bill, in the event of a government coalition party split, the remaining members of that party cannot be removed from government involuntarily during the term before another government can be formally voted through the assembly with a 60% super-majority or an expiration clause that brings the government down within a three week period.

    7. Official Titles as do titles there’s going to be a semantic issue … my choice:

    First Minister for the Department of the Executive
    (unofficially First Minister or Joint First Minister)

    First Minister for the Opposition
    (unofficially Shadow First Minister, or Joint Shadow Minister)

    with equal recognition of the terms in Irish and Ulster Scots

    Another reform I’d suggest:

    As well as the SOS, a full time Northern Irish Office liaison should be appointed and accountable to Stormont. The liaison will either be accountable to a “Question Time Format” on a monthly basis or a statutory committee. The liaison role will only be to answer inquiries made by the Assembly, but has the right to observe the Assembly in session at any time. Issues the NIO liaison might be accountable will be mainly advisory matters and could include … Flags, Parades, Victims, Legacy Issues, British-Irish Co-operation, Peace-building, Europe and Constitutional Reform.

  • Martin Keegan

    Runnymede for slow learners

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Quick Response Kev as I am being rushed to go for a beer but:

    1. Agree
    2. Alliance Party will not be Happy !
    3. Agree
    4. Undecided – How do you get experience ?
    5. Agree – But may require new legislation to amend St Andrews.
    6. Difficult – Further discussion needed across the board (people on the streets decide) who is in government.
    7. No Probs ! but FFS please keep something in English Language “It is all I know”
    Last paragraph seems fair enough but without internal agreement may have to accept the (NIO) referee decision as final.
    PS The above referee has sent me off the playing field on numerous occasions.

    Thanks Kev for another angle to look at ! Well Done

  • Zig70

    I’m not sold on opposition. We can vote the government out if the other parties get more votes. Holding the government to account is mute because nobody thinks they are doing a good job anyway. The problem is the other parties have their own issues. Really opposition can’t work within tribal factions with no incentive to get any agreement. The SDLP would have to prove that they can stand up to the UUP and the resulting chest beating would be cringe worthy. You have to laugh at Jim calling for opposition when he isn’t a team player and I’d fall over if he got anyone to include him in their gang, especially nats. Giving them additional wages also, why would you bother. If you want to play with the big boys then step up your game.

  • Kevin Breslin

    2. Making the DOJ non-party may help the Alliance Party, it would allow the rest of the party to go into opposition, or semi-opposition.

    4. What has Jonathan Bell’s experience given him that Simon Hamilton doesn’t have?

    It’s not like you need a licence to be a minister and if you do who’s going to give it to you? Mark H Durkan

    6. The whole purpose of this deals with a government that loses it super-majority because one party splinters or more likely one party leaves.

    A minister would be able to keep his place in government without his/her former party’s backing or if his/her party splits as long as he/she maintains collective responsibility.

    It may also allow Alliance to leave the government, while having a justice minister from their party in it.

    Since a new government and a new Program for government needs 60% backing, under John’s proposal.

    My proposal would be that if a fractured government falls below 60% or even 50% that the government can continue on even in minority government for three weeks before a new government can be formed. They’d still need majority support to make legislation, but they can operate as any minority government could.

    The option for “alternative” government is still open (The FF/Labour to Rainbow Coalition switch) after these three weeks (or other period of best practice), but a government of some type would have to be formed that has the 60% support threshold.

    Even a minority government with confidence and supply arrangements with small parties.

  • Sprite

    I’d vote for that Kevin

  • Kevin Breslin

    Fair point that the public can be just as cynical about an opposition as they can be about a government.

    On the SDLP/UUP thing, I don’t think there is any shortness of areas where they have commonly disagreed with the methodology of Sinn Féin and the DUP. Tribal factions work together in Belgium, heck they work better in Bosnia-Herzegovina than they do here and that society is divided three ways.

    There are some issues that might be orange/green but a lot of issues are not whether that’s Jo Anne Dobson’s Transplant Bill or Dominic Bradley’s Autism Act that both parties can act upon. The UUP has to do Strand Two and the the SDLP has to do Strand Three.

    As for the “Short Money” … I don’t see why oppositions get funded in London and Dublin, and resourced in Scotland and Wales why Governments should get a financial advantage and Oppositions would not have any resources to really scrutinize them.

  • absolutely. That’s why “Full marks for doing ‘something'”. A starter for change, but bigger and more fundamental required. Think this would end up just a stir of the dogs dinner.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Maybe the ingredients for the dogs dinner can be altered ? Thanks for the opinion Dissenter – Don’t disagree with your sentiment !

  • Kevin Breslin

    Oh dear God, I’ve made the Your/You’re mistake here.