In the last mandate David Ford liked to boast that the Alliance party was unique because they had been finally chosen to occupy the Justice department by the whole Assembly rather than selected by the mechanism of D’Hondt. Because of their status they are more essential to the formation of the Executive than the SDLP despite their fewer numbers. So what’s changed? A bit of bargaining is ok at a time of maximum leverage but the brinkmanship should end soon. Prolonging it risks crossing a line and repeating the deplorable game of bluff that only ended in Fresh Start and would further damage the Assembly’s precarious reputation.
The delights of opposition are uncertain as Newton Emerson points out and the Ulster Unionists may soon discover. There is no need to believe that Alliance will become the prisoner of the DUP and Sinn Fein after they take up the post. Leverage in a different form continues. In this system parties may govern and oppose at the same time effectively if they know what they stand for. Call it open government if it works, or chaos if it doesn’t. The overriding priority very soon is to form a stable Executive with or without the SDLP. You’ve made your point guys, now get on with it.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London