MLAs unable to agree new Speaker

MLAs were unable to agree the appointment of a new Speaker for the Assembly, on 13 October 2014.

Three candidates were proposed – Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin, the SDLP’s John Dallat and Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs, but none received the necessary cross-community support.

Another vote will take place “at a later date”, to be agreed by the Business Committee.

Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness called on the DUP to “honour the commitment” made by their late, former leader Dr Ian Paisley, that Mitchel McLaughlin would succeed William Hay as Speaker.

He said it was “time for someone of the Republican tradition” to take up the role and described Mitchel McLaughlin as “well qualified to do so” as a “man of high intellect, always civil, always courteous “.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said his party and Sinn Fein had agreed a “package that supported all our interests”, encompassing welfare reform and the election of a Speaker and that his party would “honour our existing agreement on both matters”.

He said these subjects would be discussed in upcoming talks, presided over by Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers.

Mr Robinson said he had sought, unsuccessfully, to defer the vote but hoped after the negotiations, MLAs could “come back here, perhaps in a week or two and go through the lobbies on both these matters”.

He said the issues of welfare reform and the election of a Speaker and minister will be “front-loaded” in the upcoming talks, presided over by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party, said “the commitment should be honoured” and cautioned MLAs against using the “blocking mechanism which blocks, on so many occasions, movement forward”.

“If we’re going to move forward, if we’re going to de-politicise the Speaker, if we’re going to ensure that we get more workable structure for the future, we should accept a deal made after the last election is a deal and should stand,” he said.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said it was “in the interests of building trust and confidence” in the Assembly that a nationalist member would become speaker.

He praised John Dallat for his “leadership, impartiality and integrity” as well as his “long and dedicated service, which has given him “wide and comprehensive experience” for the role.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt described his party colleague Roy Beggs as “the right man at the right time”.

He said he had “served as a deputy speaker with distinction” and commended him for the role as someone with “the attributes, the experience, and the commitment” necessary.

The TUV’s Jim Allister noted the 30th anniversary of the Brighton bomb and said, “today we have a proposition that a member from a party, Sinn Fein, which has not repudiated or condemned, but has venerated that bomber, should take the role of speaker – not in my name.”

“I trust this house would never stoop that low,” he said.

Green MLA Steven Agnew said the election of a new speaker “should be a formality” and not “thrown in as a negotiating tool by two parties in disagreement”.

He said, “for as long as we continue to insist on putting so much weight on symbols, we’ll be forever dogged by what and whose symbols get precedence”.

Independent Unionist John McCallister said the DUP “should probably follow through with their commitment” as, while he disagreed with Sinn Fein’s policy on welfare reform, it should not become a quid pro quo – “that should not be part of the scramble to get election for the Speaker’s office”.

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