The current 2011-2016 Assembly mandate is over and now we are getting into election mode.
However, before we get into thinking about the next Assembly, I wanted to pause for a moment to reflect on the one that has just passed and some of the people departing from it.
Out of the current 108 MLAs, 16 are standing down at this election. That doesn’t include MLAs like Pat Ramsey, Conall McDevitt, Joe Byrne, Neil Somerville and Sue Ramsay who all stepped down throughout this mandate.
Party stalwarts like Alban Maginness and John Dallat, who have been involved in politics for decades will be departing the stage. Alban Maginness made history in 1997, when he became the first Nationalist Mayor of Belfast and was the standard bearer for the SDLP in North Belfast for decades. Likewise, John Dallat has been a superb Deputy Speaker in the chamber and someone who very few MLAs have a bad word for.
Other notable departures include Mitchel McLaughlin, who has maintained the tradition of fairness in the Speakers Office and has tried to improve the tone of debate in the chamber. Sometimes tough, but always fair, he has in a short time as Speaker earned the respect of many colleagues outside of his Sinn Fein base.
Basil McCrea, love his politics or hate them, he did actually attempt to try something new in Northern Ireland politics. Taking the decision to leave the UUP and then setting up a new political party cannot have been easy, but he still tried. For a time he did contribute something different to our politics and bring in some new faces who felt disengaged. This is no small achievement and he deserves recognition for being brave enough to do this.
Anna Lo, who broke new ground with her election in 2007, has always been ready to stand up for her values and never back down in the face of criticism. She was one of the few MLAs to take a very liberal position on reproductive rights and she weathered the issue of her support for a United Ireland in 2014 with very good grace. Her presence in the Assembly added to our debates about the environment and race relations in Northern Ireland.
Michael McGimpsey, another stalwart of the UUP, who is renowned for his brusk style and regular complaints about the lack of funding in our Health service. Serving as the Minister of Health is what some might call “licensed insanity,” but he did this largely in good stead and always batted for his beliefs in this role.
Peter Robinson, who was the brains behind the rise of the DUP and led Northern Ireland through its longest period of devolved rule since the 1960’s. Robinson helped shift the party from being a protest movement into a party of government and was a key figure in bringing in the younger talent who are now in charge of the party.
Those named above are just some examples of those who are departing the Assembly, but others like Dominic Bradley, Judith Cochrane, David McNarry, Kieran McCarthy, Leslie Cree, Sam Gardiner, Stephen Moutray and Bronwyn McGahan have all served their communities.
On this site we do give MLAs a hard time and rightly so in many instances, but as this term closes and some of our MLAs leave the stage, it is always good to remember what former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt;
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.