ColumnistsRichard Sullivan

The big boys will keep opposing any opposition

Mike Nesbitt
Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt’s crusade for an official opposition is as paper thin as the notion of power sharing.

We call it power sharing, but little is shared, or achieved, at Stormont. 

In lifting the ball and leaving the pitch the UUP has simply underlined the chasm between our political parties reflected in our communities.

To pluck the notion of an official opposition, that somehow parties will be able to keep the Sinn Fein/DUP bandwagon in check, is misleading, opportunistic and ignores – not for the first time – what is really wrong with this place.  

To be fair this is not something Nesbitt has pulled out of the hat.  

When running as a candidate for the UUP leadership three years  ago he called for a referendum on political reform and in particular the introduction of an official opposition.

As a model it has hard to argue down, but the sad reality is we are not mature enough to handle a system of government that enshrines an official opposition.

Sad to say,  17 years after the signing of the  Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland is as culturally and religiously divided as it ever was.

The current system is far from perfect and because of the electoral strength of Sinn Fein and the DUP it is effectively a two party state.

The smaller parties in the Executive could hardly be described as `opposition’ and while they try to make life as difficult as possible for the big boys their voices are, inevitably, drowned out.

Our ruling parties bitterly disagree on almost every issue with unionists on the red white and blue side of the fault-line and nationalists on the green.

Our elections are single issue contests – green or orange – every issue the country faces is boiled down to the national question and religious intolerance.

Even the impasse on welfare cuts  has been reduced to a sectarian squabble- unionists to the right and nationalists to the left, their opposition at least partly borne out of a history of economic oppression .

No one will break cover for fear of being accused of treachery. Chances are slim  that an economically right wing catholic will vote DUP or an economically left win protestant would vote for Sinn Fein.

Our failure and that of the politicians to break free from this mind-set prevents us  from properly addressing unemployment, inequality and poverty, all of which perpetuate division.

And it lets the parties off the hook.  Sectarian voting guarantees them electoral success without having to make the compromises necessary to build bridges.

For an opposition to work we first have to strengthen the ties between our  separated communities and in a country  blighted by 48 `peace walls’  that’s going to be hard to do.

So, no Mike, an Opposition at Stormont is as workable as an ashtray on a motorbike.