SDLP should leave Executive says former minister Brid Rodgers

Brid Rodgers
Image caption Brid Rodgers has said the SDLP should leave the NI Executive

Former SDLP Minister Brid Rodgers has said her party should leave the Executive because it is not doing enough to bring people together.

She told BBC Northern Ireland's The View on Thursday that the SDLP should become part of the opposition.

It is a move that is contrary to party policy.

But Ms Rodgers, who was agriculture minister from 1999 - 2002, thinks her party's sole minister Alex Atwood should leave the Executive.

"I think we would be better to be in real opposition," she said.

"I know it wouldn't be an official opposition, but it would be an opposition which would give us the freedom to become, in a sense, a real opposition. "

It is not the first time the idea of embracing opposition politics has been mooted in SDLP circles. At last year's SDLP conference, deputy leader Dolores Kelly said the party should be thinking about going into opposition at Stormont.

She also said the SDLP would "lose a few jobs by leaving government but could lose its soul" if it stayed.

Ms Rodgers' comments come as the debate about establishing an official opposition at Stormont has moved up the political agenda.

The Westminster-based Northern Ireland Affairs committee visited Stormont this week and took evidence from MLAs about the idea of creating an opposition.

The committee was taking evidence on the Northern Ireland Office's draft bill on changes to the political system.

The creation of an opposition would require legislation and the idea for an opposition is not included in the Northern Ireland Bill because there is not a political consensus at Stormont.

The idea for creating an opposition is also the central plank of a new party being formed by former Ulster Unionists Basil McCrea and John McCallister.

Mr McCallister told The View: "An opposition isn't about wrecking Stormont, it isn't about bringing down the whole institution. It's about having a viable credible alternative and a structure that holds the government to account."

Mr McCallister is supported by the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Jim Allister who has championed the establishment of an opposition for some time.

He said: "What we have here is a blot on the democratic landscape. You expect in North Korea, but not in Northern Ireland, that you would be banned from having an opposition and I think it's a shameful indictment of these institutions that they're so ordered."

The idea of establishing an opposition in the long term at Stormont is supported by the DUP and the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance Party.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have concerns that any changes to the political system at Stormont could undermine the principles of inclusion and power sharing contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

It is understood that a Private Members Bill seeking to establish an opposition at Stormont will be presented to MLAs shortly.

You can see The View on Thursday on BBC One at 10:35 GMT.

Follow Stephen Walker on Twitter @StepWalkTV