Assembly votes to reject SDLP’s opposition day motion to reform Stormont and prevent future collapses

The SDLP had their first official opposition day today - they tried to get reassurances that there would no further collapses of Stormont - but Sinn Fein and the DUP voted against the motion.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had their first opposition day at the Assembly today.

Their motion titled “Executive Reform” aimed to reform the Assembly so that no party or minister could collapse power-sharing. The SDLP called for a specific commitment from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to include reform in the Programme for Government. Neither were present in the Assembly during the motion, which Matthew O’Toole, leader of the opposition, said was an “insult to the chamber”.

The SDLP’s motion was supported by Alliance and the Ulster Unionists, along with independent unionist Claire Sugden.

However, it failed to pass through the Assembly as Sinn Fein, the DUP, and TUV all voted to reject the motion by 46 votes to 32.

The other SDLP motion that called for the ‘establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee to consider legislation to prevent the suspension of the devolved institutions’ was also rejected by 51 votes to 24.

The SDLP and Alliance voted for, whilst Sinn Fein, the DUP, UUP, and TUV voted against.

What did the parties say during the motion?

Speaking in the Assembly, Sinn Fein‘s Deirdre Hargey said: “What I find bizarre in the motion is that, while it mentions the impact on our public services and the cause and effects of that, there is no mention of the British Tory Government and their regressive policies.”

“The Executive have protected people by mitigating the worst excesses of Tory cuts. Challenging those cuts must remain our priority. We need appropriate funds to address that need, particularly as we are, as was stated, in a post-conflict society. That commitment was given by all Executive parties and the Opposition on 4 February in a joint letter to the British Treasury, which was signed by Sinn Féin, the DUP, Alliance, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP.”

Miss Hargey was the only Sinn Fein MLA to speak during the motion.

DUP MLA for Upper Bann, Jonathan Buckley said: “Happy Opposition day to all Members across the House. Given the immediate media attention that there has been on the topic, we should define what the Opposition is: it is the party that lost the election. The SDLP has a significant record in that regard: it has gone from being the largest nationalist party in this place to the second largest. Given recent polling regarding the Alliance Party, perhaps the SDLP is now the third largest nationalist party in the Chamber.”

“Consensus politics is the only way in which we can stave off instability. The political arrangements in Northern Ireland must be capable of commanding the broad support of all traditions across our Province. The motion before the House simply implies that devolution could still operate and succeed outside those parameters. That is fanciful to say the least. Cross-community consent has been essential to achieving progress in the Province, and it should be viewed as the solution not the problem.”

Alliance‘s Paula Bradshaw said: “[We] are delighted that this is the first topic chosen for debate on Opposition day, as it reflects an Alliance Party policy and priority of long-standing. We will, of course, support the motion. I welcome the Opposition to this discussion. To emphasise just how long-standing our party’s position on meaningful reform is, I have here a document called ‘Agenda for Democracy’ that we, in the Alliance Party, published 20 years ago today. It is remarkable how prophetic that was, given that it was published even before the St Andrews Agreement.”

Leader of the UUP, Doug Beattie said: “I support the motion. I fully understand that it is worded as it is because Members are trying to get the maximum support possible. However, I cannot stand here and give cover to those who caused suspension over five of the past 10 years.”

He continued, “It is important that we say it as it is. We had three years of a boycott by Sinn Féin over a financial issue. Are we better off after that boycott? Are we likely to have another renewable heat incentive (RHI) situation? The reality is that it could be just around the corner. In fact, the rot in our public services set in during those three years. There were then two years of boycott by the DUP over the Northern Ireland protocol. That boycott achieved nothing whatsoever of substance. The Irish Sea border is still there, the European Union still has input into what happens in Northern Ireland, checks of goods arriving into Northern Ireland still take place, and the custom posts are still there.”

You can read remarks from all of those who spoke during the motion on the Assembly website.

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