SDLP entering opposition “not an easy decision, but the right one”: McNulty

May 23, 2016

SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh Justin Mc Nulty says the decision taken by his party to quit the power-sharing administration and go into official opposition in Stormont is the right one.

Stating that he firmly believes the correct decision has been made, Mr Mc Nulty said: “We a made a clear promise to the public that we would enter into negotiations on the Programme for Government and, if we were not happy that that Programme would deliver, we would consider opposition.

“We have tried to negotiate a progressive programme for change on their behalf. Over the last two weeks, we have put in the hard yards by putting in the hard work. We have not rushed to judgement.  After a long two weeks, despite our best efforts, it has become clear that our ambition for a full Programme for Government which meets the needs of our people will not be matched by the document currently constructed by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

“We fear that its inherent vagueness will fall far short of what is required.”

Mr McNulty says his party’s ambition was to seek to implement specific policies which were designed to stop the continuing tide of emigration, to invest in young people and their education, to protect elderly, to spread wealth and opportunity across the whole region and to build a modern, prosperous economy.

“A new and refreshed SDLP team, which I am delighted to be part of, will now tirelessly hold this government to account. We will offer constructive criticism and offer a progressive alternative to government,” he promised.

“Entering into opposition is not an easy decision to make, particularly for a Nationalist party in the North. Since partition, our community was long denied power in this very building and therefore we have long been in opposition. That memory runs deep but those were different days and this is a different Ireland.  Equality provisions and protections for both communities are now enshrined and guaranteed by international treaties and by two governments. Power sharing between Unionism and Nationalism remains locked in. The days of sectarian majority rule are now gone and will never return,” Mr McNulty continued.

“Our new reality asks that we do things differently. We have listened to the public. People are now demanding that we mature beyond the bare essentials of just peace and political stability. They are rightly demanding that our politics delivers more.”

“The decision to go into opposition was a difficult and courageous decision for the SDLP as a party,” he revealed. “As the architects and builders of the institutions in all three strands of the Agreement, we have until now found ourselves reluctant to leave the responsibilities of government solely to the parties who fought their establishment and hindered their operation.  That was a natural reluctance. It was a reluctance to give the keys of the house to those who had very little part to play in laying that house’s foundation, never mind in actually building it, brick by brick.

“For the good of our politics, the SDLP is now breaking free from that past reluctance.  The Good Friday Agreement was always intended to be a living document. It was never meant to be a document frozen in time. The evolution of our political structures is not a vice. A new opposition at Stormont is one such evolution.”

Mr Mc Nulty said those who oppose such change will find themselves pushing against an ocean of opinion and positioned on the wrong side of history.

“The SDLP will be an unrelenting force in the life of the next Assembly, protecting the interests of those who delivered that power and tirelessly holding those who wield it to account,” he added.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has accused the SDLP of shirking its responsibility to the electorate following its decision to go into official opposition.

“By walking away from the Executive it is clear the SDLP has abandoned its responsibility to the electorate,” Mr Murphy said.

“On the back of yet another poor election, the SDLP has now turned its back on the Good Friday Agreement.  Their excuse that they did not understand the Programme for Government process is both dishonest and contradicted by their engagement in that process since December.  The SDLP has shown once again a lack of political leadership and direction by allowing a UUP stunt to lead them out of the Executive into political irrelevancy,” he added.