“We have now set sail down the path of opposition.” The words of Mike Nesbitt.
Words not spoken today but eight months ago, as the Ulster Unionist Party first took the plunge into opposition.
Eight months may have passed but little has changed, despite an election and a number of new faces taking to the blue benches of Stormont’s chamber.
The murders of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan, the latter sparking the party’s initial exit from the Executive, remain unsolved while the DUP and Sinn Féin have been returned to power.
Before the election Nesbitt presented two tests for the party’s decision to join the Executive, requiring a ‘progressive’ Programme for Government (PfG) and a ‘collective will’ for delivery. Clearly, creative ambiguity did not disappear with its principal exponent, Tony Blair.
Today, just two days into a fortnight of negotiations on a PfG, Nesbitt said the two tests had been failed and regarding the first, said:
“On Tuesday, it became clear the Programme for Government will not be finalised until the end of the year, seven months away. On that basis, our primary test of whether it is a progressive Programme for Government, has failed.”
Yet, for anyone paying attention, particularly those with such an important stake in such matters, the PfG was never a mere two week undertaking.
On Monday 18th April, NICVA held an information session on the Budget Process and the 2016 PfG with Joe Reynolds, Head of the Programme for Government and Delivering Social Change Division in OFMdFM.
A full report on the event is available here.
The report confirms that all five of the Executive parties, including Mr Nesbitt’s UUP, had been consulted on the proposed framework for the PfG.
A period of consultation to allow the public to scrutinise the new PfG had been written into the timetable and surely the UUP leader is not suggesting that the voice of the people should be silenced?
As evidenced by the following graphic, Nesbitt’s surprise that the PfG would not be finalised until the end of the year, is nonsensical.
One can only surmise that the Ulster Unionists were asleep at the wheel on the details.
It is impossible to predict what impact the decision to leave the Executive will have but the flaws in the party’s transition are evident.
The gap between the withdrawal of Danny Kennedy and the election denied the party any electoral boost from its previous excursion, while the latest move has of course come too late to affect the Assembly election.
Not a promising start for a party that must be careful to avoid gaining a reputation for sniping from the sidelines without a handle on the small print.