Nesbitt Opposition Statement Fails to Pass the Test

“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.

Mike Nesbitt reminds Arlene Foster of her five point plan

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.

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  • NotNowJohnny

    Perhaps Mike’s point is that it shouldn’t take until the end of the year to produce a programme for government and that there is no reason why it can’t be produced within a ‘mere two week undertaking’, irrespective of whether he was aware of the proposed timetable or not. Do we in fact have anything more than the word of a NICVA article to confirm that consultation took place with the UUP? The article refers to the current FIVE Executive parties but it is worth noting that unless (surely an unlikely scenario) this consultation took place prior to 1 September 2015, there were actually only FOUR parties in the Executive and the UUP wasn’t one of them. If you actually look at the ofmdfm presentation it states clearly that engagement took place with ‘political parties on the Executive’ but makes no reference to which parties or how many. Do we really know if the UUP was engaged with on this? And even if it was, is Mike’s point about the proposed pfg timeframe not still a valid one? Surely the new Executive doesn’t have to be bound by a timetable drawn up by a previous government.

  • Pasty2012

    Does anyone know if there is a rule in Stormont that says the “Opposition” must sit on the opposite side of the gallery to the Executive the way it would in other Governing Assembly’s ?
    If this is the case then it will see a complete reshuffle and will mean SF next to the DUP.

  • Nevin

    NNJ, perhaps this observation from John Manley [May 11] is pertinent:

    A proposed policy blueprint drafted over recent months by the DUP and Sinn Féin was shared on Tuesday with the three smaller parties who can potentially join the government.

    Initial reaction from the Ulster Unionists and SDLP was muted. ..

    The parties are expected to make a formal response to the first draft plan tomorrow ahead of more negotiations next Tuesday.

    SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said significant changes would be needed before his party would sign up.

    “We are a long, long way off,” he said.

    “We need to work very hard and intensively over the next weeks to make sure we have a substantial programme for government that we can all sign up to – we will only sign up to one that actually meets the needs of the people who have been left behind.”

    This doesn’t suggest any great degree of ‘consultation’ by the two big beasts and their officials!

  • Pasty2012

    If the UUP and the SDLP don’t take any of the Departments then clearly it is tactical in that it will not only free them to Criticise those running the Departments but will also free them from any blame for the cuts to services and benefits. The DUP are unlikely to want to take the new Department for Communities as this is the Department that will see the biggest cuts and the cuts which are felt by directly by people in their pockets. The DUP will likely leave the DfC for SF as the fallout from the introduction of the cuts may well then be seen at future elections – it maybe that the DUP with such a move could Smash Sinn Fein by using the DfC as their Trojan Horse ?

  • Nevin

    There’s likely to be confusion over the terminology: we have ‘draft programme for government’, ‘draft programme for government framework’ and ‘programme for government’. Arlene today: “I believe in the coming days we can agree a Programme for Government that can deliver for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

  • @davidcmoore1

    Tonight on the View it was confirmed that a consultation was planned. If NICVA had the foresight to find out the details, then surely the party should also. Whether the consultation is worth having is a different question but perhaps had the party stayed in the negotiations, it could have been altered.

  • chrisjones2

    A government that spends the first year (after months of talk before the election and clearly coordinated manifestos with the same plans and targets ) is incapable of governing

    Now is the time to hold them to account at the Assembly and expose the lies, cronyism and incompetence

  • chrisjones2

    The UUP should seize those seats immediately and refuse to move . SF can sit beside the DUP. They are in bed together

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Just like Skinner did in Westminster !

  • Stephen Wilson

    Firstly, there is no provision within our current system of Government for an “Opposition”. Our Government is built (like it or not and I don’t) upon an all inclusive ideal. After parties have obtained as many seats in the Assembly as possible then they are entitled to a proportionate number of seats around the executive table, unless of course they decide not to take up that opportunity or have not secured enough seats in the Assembly.

    Secondly, an opposition will not work within the Stormont model of government. Why? Because all decisions are based upon a cross community agreement. Simply this means those outside of the Executive can huff and puff all they like but if there is a cross community majority, i.e., DUP + SF then the motion succeeds.

    Unlike the Westminster system where the majority party holds power or a Government consisting of a voluntary coalition forms the Cabinet and the rest are the official opposition we have forced upon us a mandatory coalition which much include all eligible parties and no one can form an opposition or “shadow executive”.

    In essence, the UUP, through the leadership of Mike Nesbitt have washed their hands of any possible flack from the public if things don’t go according to plan. They can now sit on the sidelines and snipe. They have distanced themselves from the hard decisions which others will have to make whilst in Government and will no longer have influence at the Executive table which makes them almost irrelevant. The other difficulty Nesbitt has of course is apart from himself there are no other personalities within his Stormont team jumping out at us who have the capability of fronting up to the media or on the floor of the chamber to put forth an opposition voice. He has a very weak team. This was evidenced during the election canvassing period when his voice was the only one we heard from on television / radio broadcasts. Did he not trust his candidates to publicly speak out on behalf of the party?

    As I indicated earlier I am not a fan of mandatory coalition, I would much prefer a voluntary coalition setup with an official opposition, but we have what we have and our politicians must make the most of it.

    So what can we expect from Mike Nesbitt now? He can now sit back comfortably and apportion blame on everyone else. The danger for him however is being assigned in the eyes of the public to the Stormont naughty corner. If this were to happen then the public will view the UUP for years to come as a party not worth the effort.