Only one non-Executive MLA allowed to speak in Stormont budget debate

The Stormont Assembly yesterday demonstrated why it needs radically reformed, an MLA has said, after just one MLA from a non-Executive party was allowed to ask a question about the draft budget.

Five non-Executive MLAs were present for the budget debate — Steven Agnew of the Greens, UKIP’s David McNarry, NI21’s Basil McCrea and independents Claire Sugden and John McCallister — while the TUV leader Jim Allister is part-way through a month-long ban from speaking in the Stormont chamber due to a row with UUP deputy Speaker Roy Beggs last month.

The only one of those MLAs called to speak by UUP deputy speaker Roy Beggs was Ms Sugden.

South Down MLA John McCallister, who is working on a bill to reform Stormont and create an Opposition, said: “Out of all the questions that he took, Claire Sugden was the only one from outside the government parties.

“So effectively, it was the Executive scrutinising itself.

“This is an issue which has been debated in public for a full week, yet when it came to the Assembly the debate consisted of the five Executive parties asking questions of the finance minister.

“That’s not how this should work and it’s why Assembly and Executive reform is so necessary because you want an Opposition to have the ability to scrutinise what the Executive is doing.”

Although Mr Allister was not allowed to speak in the chamber, he got his view across in a press release where he said that the “cobbled-together budget” was simply the result of “the shared DUP/Sinn Fein desire to cling to power”.

The North Antrim MLA added: “The same desire causes the minor executive parties to allow themselves to be used as mere doormats, instead of following the logic of their supposed dissatisfaction over the budget by heading for the exit and forcing the issue of an Opposition. Parties that do not agree with something as fundamental as the budget should be in Opposition, not government.”

And in a post-budget statement UKIP’s David McNarry alluded to Peter Robinson’s recent claim that the Executive is dysfunctional, asking: “Are Simon Hamilton and his party colleagues now telling us that the five-party executive is fit to govern?”

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