Stormont Holds Its First Ever Opposition Day

Stormont Today will be worth a watch to see a little bit of history. The Assembly held its first ever opposition day which meant that for around four hours MLAs debated topics selected by the opposition namely rural bank closures, public confidence after the NAMA revelations and Impact on Women of Changes to the State Pension.

Often critiqued for a lack of cooperation, the SDLP and UUP released a joint statement on the latter topic;

The first Opposition Day saw a petition presented to the Speaker on behalf of Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign and a debate on the floor of the Assembly calling on the Government to rethink their position.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Jenny Palmer said:

“There are few things so clearly deserved as the state pension. The promise – that if you work hard throughout your working life, the state will take care of you in your old age is an ideal which has underpinned our society for more than 70 years. The way in which the women’s state pension age has been increased by the Government has left post-retirement planning in tatters for many.

“The Government have substantially moved the goalposts, without giving those affected appropriate notice. It is therefore no surprise that the women negatively impacted by the changes are frustrated, and are calling on Her Majesty’s Government to address this unfairness.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to raise their concerns both in the Assembly and at Westminster, to force the Government to re-examine this issue.”

SDLP MLA, Colin McGrath said:

“Because of the introduction of these changes and the fact that it wasn’t done in a more incremental and timely way, some women who are born just three years apart are now having to work for an extra six years.

“Deprived of pension payments on one hand, forced to contribute on the other, the majority of those impacted are now in their 60s. The way these changes were introduced cruelly impacts on the lives of older women.

“To add insult to injury, in some cases, the WASPI Women were given a mere one year’s notice of such a devastating blow to their life plans.

“Some women who have not been working in later years and were expecting an income from the State Pension are now at age 60, 61 and 62 and are turning to job seekers allowance and zero hour contracts just to make ends meet.

“The huge numbers of women treated unfairly in this way means that we all know someone affected. Mothers, grandmothers and aunts, it’s not good enough that they find themselves having to work zero hour contracts just to survive. That is why the SDLP are presenting this petition to the Speaker today and why we will be speaking in favour of the motion this afternoon.”

However, Naomi Long wasn’t impressed arguing;

The matters debated today are worthy of debate as a regular Backbench Motion – indeed, I participated in debates in Westminster in my previous role as MP on motions concerning pension injustices facing women in particular.

“However, neither of these issues fall within the remit of the Executive. It begs the question as to why, on a much-vaunted first Opposition Day, the UUP and SDLP would bring motions which put the Executive under no pressure whatsoever.

“Opposition Days and Opposition itself is vital in the functioning of a democracy, holding to account those who make decisions on everyone’s behalf. By wasting opportunities to do that robustly today, the UUP and SDLP have fallen at the first hurdle.

“I am sure if this is the level of scrutiny they are capable of exerting over the Executive, none of the Executive Ministers will be quaking in their boots this evening. Thankfully, Alliance will continue to provide robust scrutiny of the Executive and to do so effectively.”

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