The possible demise of the ‘Naughty Corner;’ could it see the end of opposition?

During this term of the Assembly there has been a growing number of independent and minor party MLAs who sit just behind the Alliance party in the chamber.

They range from Steven Agnew on the left to Jim Allister on the right, from moderate Unionists like John McCallister to more middle of the road folks like Basil McCrea.

In total there are six of them and they sit in what has now become known as the “Naughty Corner.”

Basil McCrea, Jim Allister, Steven Agnew, John McCallister, Claire Sugden and David McNarry sit alongside each other in this corner of the Assembly chamber.

They are rarely quiet and not afraid to stand up to the two major parties in the Assembly over big issues such as Welfare Reform, opposition and SpADs.

It is worth remembering that in this most recent term it has been some of these MLAs that have led on issues, Jim Allister successfully got his SpAD bill passed and provoked a lot criticism to be directed towards the two major parties with the failure of his second bill.

John McCallister has led on the creation of an official opposition and modernising the assembly; however with the Fresh Start agreement this might end up going nowhere.

Then, Steven Agnew’s Children’s Bill recently passed in the chamber and during the welfare reform debate; he was along his other colleagues in the corner of the chamber, leading debates against attempts to rush pieces of legislation through without proper scrutiny.

Whilst almost always defeated in the chamber, they have effectively served as Northern Ireland’s opposition to the Executive.

Whilst the UUP have exited the Executive, they have not yet gotten into the rhythm of opposition and there is speculation that they could be returning to the Executive after the next election.

What is even more worrying is that the Naughty Corner could be much smaller after the next election as MLAs like John McCallister, David McNarry, Basil McCrea and Claire Sugden under threat at the next election.

From my own look at the constituencies, the only person I can see joining the corner is Gerry Carroll.

We could see a situation were just Agnew, Allister and Carroll remain as the leading opposition forces in the Assembly.

I suppose the question is will the SDLP, UUP or Alliance parties be tempted to join them?

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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