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UUP and SDLP rule out suggestions of forming opposition

(William Scholes, Irish News)

Suggestions that the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP could play formal opposition roles in the next assembly were scotched last night.

Reelected South Antrim assembly member David Burnside, surveying a disastrous set of results for his party, said the Ulster Unionists should not take up any seats – or seat – it might be entitled to in a future executive.

Instead, Mr Burnside said, the UUP should cast itself as an opposition party.

His Fermanagh and South Tyrone colleague Tom Elliott also called for a debate on what role the party should play in the next assembly.

Some commentators suggested that the SDLP, very much the second nationalist party, should also consider playing an opposition role.

However, sources at both parties last night dismissed the speculation.

Such a stance would be at odds with both parties' manifesto pledges and longstanding commitment to power sharing.

However, it could have the strategic advantage of allowing the UUP and SDLP to capitalise if Sinn Féin and the DUP fail to operate effective power sharing and devolution collapses again.

The argument goes that the UUP and SDLP would then be well placed to harness the support of disenchanted voters who had thrown their weight behind the DUP and Sinn Féin.

It is perhaps an unlikely scenario but one that the UUP in particular, with a humiliating collapse in its support, might want to consider.

Opposition could also hold some appeal for the SDLP.

In the 1999 assembly executive, the first after the Good Friday Agreement, the SDLP and UUP claimed four seats each, including the coveted first and deputy first minister posts.

They are likely to share just three seats – with the UUP probably taking two – once this week's results shake out.

March 12, 2007

This article appeared first in the March 10, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

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