Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin was elected as the new principal deputy speaker …

Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin was elected as the new principal deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, on 15 April 2013.

A vote to elect him as deputy speaker was endorsed after the DUP first minister asked him to clarify his support for policing.

Peter Robinson expressed concern after reading a Belfast Telegraph poll which suggested a quarter of Sinn Fein delegates to the Ard Fheis (party conference) still felt violence was justified.

A second vote on allowing Mr McLaughlin to act as principal deputy speaker passed but was opposed by independent, UUP, TUV and SDLP members.

Mr McLaughlin replaces his party colleague Francie Molloy who recently succeeded Martin McGuinness as MP for the Mid-Ulster constituency.

Mr Molloy has been replaced as MLA by former prisoner Ian Patrick Milne.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness proposed Mr McLaughlin for the role of deputy speaker and thanked Mr Molloy for his “positive and constructive contribution”.

Mr McLaughlin said he was disappointed by the attitude of Mr Robinson. He said he had been a part of the Assembly for many years and said his “personal legacy” involved helping bring about the Good Friday Agreement and a new start to policing.

Former Ulster Unionist John McAllister proposed Basil McCrea for the role of deputy speaker – a nomination which was supported by the TUV’s Jim Allister.

Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea resigned from the UUP in February after the party agreed to a single unionist candidate to contest the Mid Ulster by-election.

Mr McCallister said there should be a deputy speaker who represented independents, who sat outside the Executive and was prepared to challenge it.

Mr McCrea said anyone who had observed him on committees would accept he was “fair and impartial in chairing debates”. He added he was “totally committed to the rule of law”.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell questioned if Mr McCrea would have the time to dedicate to this role if he would be setting up a new party.

Mr McLaughlin’s nomination as principal deputy speaker was successfully voted through on a cross-community basis. Mr McCallister said it created a hierarchy and Mr Allister described it as an “utterly needless post”.

Mr McLaughlin will assist Speaker William Hay, alongside John Dallat of the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs.

A public petition asking to stop the closure of Crossmaglen Jobs and Benefits Office was also presented to the speaker by Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon.

The Tobacco Retailers Bill 2013 also passed its first stage. It aimed to make it more difficult for young people to start smoking.

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