Opposition Days: What do they look like?

23 September 2016 - by Claire Flynn

All eyes will be on the formal Opposition on Monday as we see the first of this Assembly session’s opposition days.

The proceedings, as set out below, show that the UUP and SDLP have thrashed out a few issues and are showing some sort of a united front (see below for Order of Business).  The UUP’s Mike Nesbitt will assume a lead role, playing to the gallery, as no doubt there will be media and (some) public interest into how the Opposition will take this first public opportunity to prove that they can capably provide scrutiny and public opposition to the various departmental ministers.

 Expect business to go on for up to four hours as the Opposition challenges the government with the UUP and SDLP taking turns to introduce motions on the issues of Nama, rural bank closures and the impact on women of the changes to the State pension.  Also expect many references to the Executive’s draft Programme for Government as we await the publication of the first draft of the action plans.

The proceedings will be much the same as normal Assembly business and includes Question Time where the ministers for the Economy and Communities will be up for questioning.  The only possible unscheduled business will arise from ‘Questions for urgent oral answer’ and ‘Matters of the Day’, where urgent issues of significant concern are discussed.  Whether these will make it onto the Order of Business will be at the discretion of the Chair of the Business Committee and Speaker of the House, Robin Newton MLA. 

Future opposition days can take place on a Monday or Tuesday as is the case with Executive plenary business.  The Business Committee, which arranges the business of the plenary sessions, will confirm which days will be taken as opposition days four weeks in advance. We will likely see another two opposition days before the Christmas recess with at least 10 taking place before June 2017.

Speaker Newton, whose job it is to remain politically impartial in these matters, also has a say into the scheduling of Adjournment Debates which is an opportunity for MLAs to raise an issue (usually a constituency issue) and receive a response from a Minister in the last half hour slot of the day.  We won’t see any on Monday but Adjournment Debates may make an appearance in future opposition days.

As well as the plenary sessions, the Opposition will be planning on scrutinising the work of the Executive through their party Chief Whips on the Business Committee as well as chairing the all-important Public Accounts Committee.  Robin Swann from the UUP chairs the Public Accounts Committee with the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan acting as his deputy.  We are yet to see how impactful they will be but perhaps one of the first issues they will look into is Minister Simon Hamilton’s decision to save the United Airlines Belfast-Newark route by providing a £9m ‘rescue package’, against the advice of his departmental advisors.

Then of course we still have the unofficial opposition who will be present on Monday; made up of the Alliance Party, Greens, TUV and People Before Profit, who due to their low numbers don’t make the cut for the formal Opposition (not that all of them would want to join) but expect to hear a lot of noise on Monday as the parties of government are challenged from all sides of the House.

For more information on the Opposition, check out Stratagem’s earlier piece ‘Opposition: what does it mean?’









The Speaker


12.00 – 12.02


Campaign against the harsh introduction of equal state pension requirements

Mr C McGrath

  12.02 – 12.05 


Motion: Public Confidence after NAMA Revelations

Mr M Nesbitt
Mr R Swann
Mr P Smith

 Up to 1 hour 45 mins

12.05 – 1.50

Motion: Rural Bank Closures

Mr R McPhillips
Mr P McGlone
Mr D McCrossan
Mr C McGrath

Up to 1 hour 30 mins 

1.50 – 2.00


1. Communities

2. Economy



2.00 – 3.30


Motion: Rural Bank Closures (cont’d)

Mr R McPhillips
Mr P McGlone
Mr D McCrossan
Mr C McGrath

Up to 1 hour 30 mins 

3.30 – 4.50

Motion: Impact on Women of Changes to the State Pension

Mr A Allen
Mrs R Barton
Mrs J Dobson
Mrs J Palmer

Up to 1 hour  4.50 – 5.50 




 The Speaker   5.50 


The above Indicative Timings have been taken from the NI Assembly website.