The Speaker’s role is to protect the Assembly from the Executive…

There’s a couple of things worth stating at the outset of what I’m about to say. Firstly, Willie Hay has long been seen on ‘all sides of the house’ as a decent and honorable man. Two, these are early days for the Assembly and the Executive, not least for the second which finds itself directed by a much stronger alliance between the two major parties than was the case last time out. But last week’s events, as pointed out by Mark Durkan, raise serious questions about the capacity of Assembly to scrutinise that potentially much stronger government. In breaking an Assembly in session in response to a questionable point of order from the Minister for Finance, Mr Hay stated that he was seeking advice in order to protect the Assembly. From what he did not state, but in taking that query from one minister whilst another was speaking, he breached several rules of the Blue Book, which sets out the protocols of the house.

In fact one of the Speaker’s primary roles is to protect the Assembly from undue interference from the Executive. In all devolved matters the Executive is the government. This is more important than it sounds, because it is the Assembly’s job to represent the people in watching exactly what government is up to on their behalf.

This is already problematic in Northern Ireland, since the Assembly contains no Opposition. Nevertheless the Assembly, both in plenary and committee, is the only means of running the necessary checks and balances on the conduct of that government, before it passes legislation.

As I have said on a previous thread, people should not forget that governments can grind particularly hard when they move to action. Probity within the relationship between the Executive and the Assembly is ultimately crucial to establishing and maintaining the authenticity and authority of the Executive and its actions.

But there is already a sense that Ministers are treating the Assembly as a bit of a joke, by ignoring motions passed there and going ahead and doing their own departmental thing.

If the Assembly cannot lay Ministers open to scrutiny then how are the electorate to know whether they have done what they said they would? In theory, Ministers should come with some trepidation into the Chamber. In fact, some of them have come close to treating it with contempt.

Which brings us back to last week’s events. Mr Robinson’s point of order was knocked back after nearly 40 minutes of a hiatus. In that time, Mr Hay consulted with the head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland, and is reported to have gone into a huddle with members of his own party.

There is good reason why he should have done neither such thing: one, the need to rigourously re-inforce a clear red line between the legislature and the government; the need for the Speaker to be seen to keep himself above party loyalties.

Whomever you blame for last week’s debacle, the fault lay somewhere within the Executive for not getting its business properly sorted out before entering the Chamber. In such circumstances the Speaker is the Assembly’s last line of defence. The best that can be said, is that the defences fully failed at this first time of asking.

Mr Hay, for all that he is an honourable man, needs to admit a certain coldness into his relations with party colleagues. It will be an immeasurable aid to him the next time the interests of the Executive so obviously clash with the interests of the Assembly he has been charged, ultimately by the whole electorate, to protect.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Ahem

    The Assembly deserves to be soundly laughed at because of course it is a joke. Or rather, the very large majority of its members are jokes. Inasmuch as inadequate, deadweight numpties can best be found amusing, as opposed to them being taken anywhere near as seriously as they take themselves. Consider only the way the PSF muppets reacted [sic] when Ritchie wrong-footed them and their photocopied notes of instruction. Of all the arguments against devolution of any sort, the evident and utter absence of sufficient local talent to sustain it was always the most compelling. The *entire* cadre of the Northern Irish political class does not contain enough ability to adequately man the Executive, let alone full up the blue benches. All you can expect from this lot is more and worse.

  • Rapunsel

    Some one I recall had previously posted that Willie Hay should only have consulted with the chief clerk to the assembly. Should the clerk not have been more proactive to guide him form consulting the head of the civil service and his party colleagues?

  • DC

    It is important too that the people of Northern Ireland keep their brains alert and memories sharper because the DUP are now beginning to make Eileen Bell look hot in the chair.

    The DUP gave Eileen Bell a bumpy ride and of themselves were quick to cause trouble and flex their chauvinistic prowess in front of her, like they knew it all.

    Now are we to pull out our tissues to wipe the drivel from Will Hay’s mouth, pat him on the head and say ‘there there Willie, sure forget about you’re only new, we forgive you’?

    Sick, sore and tired of watching over the years the tumultous DUP with its torrents of trouble for people in positions that they wanted; so, it is clear that they cocked up and have shown incompetence in the chair.

    The cold approach from Willie Hay is sure sign of this continuing chauvinistic attitude, but the prowess is finished with.

  • Ahem,

    I was trying to make a serious point. The point is that MLAs have four years to prove their credentials and everyone is on a steep learning curve. They won’t get on that curve if the house is not taken seriously.

    The point is the corporate position of the Assembly is what’s important. It has to be clearly understood by all MLAs, the Speaker and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

    The events of last week would suggest it is only dimly understood.

  • Hogan

    Hay was designed to be a Chairman/Mayor of a district council. Nothing more/nothing less. The DUPs have landed us with a speaker who is clearly out of his depth.

    they should have known better!

  • Hogan, that is a purely ad hominem remark, which obscures the fact of what he actually got wrong. If it continues, then we may have a problem. But in the meantime, the expectation should be that he is now in a better position to make sure such breaches do not arise again.

    If it repeats however, that would certainly be another matter.

  • BonaLaw

    not wishing to repeat Hogans’ ad hominem attack, I think it is in order to ask how many MLAs are best suited to district council level. Could I suggest that the answer is the vast bulk of them?

    Am I the only one who feels having an assembly of 108 members leaves parties scraping their barrels for candidates? Would an assembly of 90 or 72 with an executive of 6/7 improve the quality?

  • I think it’s totally fair to point out that Willie Hay is totally out of his depth. I have no qualification to be Speaker either but I’ve watched enough of Bernard Weatherill and Betty Boothroyd to know that any Speaker cannot be seen to fraternise with members of his old party. As for Bonar Law’s point, yes, most of NI’s Political Class are utterly inadequate individuals. But then the same could be said for Holyrood.

    A total joke but with worse to follow.

  • Hogan

    Apologies if i offended Mick?

    I was going to put my remarks in context of what i have been asserting on this board consistently over the last number of hay-related threads but i admit i was too lazy on that occasion.

    As i have hinted at earlier on this board:-

    1: I am willing (for the time being) to accept this stuff of ‘Hay is a decent spud’ ‘respected by all parties’.
    2: His actions were not a DELIBERATE attempt to take part in the DUP/NIO stich-up of Ritchie.
    3: He got caught up in it by Robinson aided by Hamilton
    4: He believed his glorious deputy leader would not lead him so far out of the trenches that he would have to look back with a telescope never mind binocolurs.
    5: He did not understand the basics of western democracy and the divisions of the arms of government.
    6: He denied Durkan the right to explore salient points because points 1-5 above would have been exposed.

    I have to admit that i’m no latin scholar but i hope that falls on the right side of the lines this time?

  • I do not think it is in anyway to dispute Hay’s effectiveness. I also would dispute Mick’s claim that Hay’s is “an honourable man.” He may or may not be honourable but not everyone is a fan of the Speaker and so to characterise him as if he were some sort of plastered saint is silly.

  • BL:

    That’s a fair suggestion, but surely the House has to assert it has any value within the legislative process, before we start cutting sheep from goats.

    If it buckles under the slightest pressure from government with 109, what’s it going to be like with those lower figures?

  • DV,

    ‘plastered saint’

    You mocking my religion? 😉

  • Mick,

    I crave your forgiveness! lol

  • The Raven

    I crave to get plastered like whatever saint we’re talking about… >:-/

  • BonarLaw


    what legislative process- apart from pointless motions and adjournment debates what have the Members of the Legislative Assembly actually legislated for?

    That aside I suspect that with fewer numbers the competition for selection would be greater and the quality improved accordingly. With a better calliber of MLA the sheep-like lobby fodder that characterises the current crop might become a thing of the past- especially if the Executive was a leaner, meaner body as well.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BonarLaw, look at the calibre of some of the people we’ve had elected as MPs, never mind MLAs. William McCrea anyone ? Or William Ross ?

    Fact is, people here vote for a tribe, not a personality.

    Regarding the situation with Hay, it looks to me as if he is not qualified for the job. The ups and downs of whether he’s a nice guy or not, or whether he has sufficient background or not, or indeed whether he is sufficiently experienced or not, are neither here nor there. The business Tuesday a week ago was a total farce and the Speaker lost control. Then he compounded on that by failing to concede his error.

    As for party partisan behaviour, I remember several cases where Alderdice silenced Alliance MLAs mid-sentence. To be Speaker you have to be prepared to act scrupulously without party bias.

  • DC

    “The Speaker’s role is to protect the Assembly from the Executive…” and he didn’t so resign?

    Should the political opposition not push him to resign? Anyone with a backbone and a sense of leadership among the other parties not concerned? A united front on this one, both for his incompetence and in turn for his arrogance?

    I don’t see why other parties should roll over in the face of this incident and accept Mr Hay’s “wont” talk about it approach; democracy isn’t easy in terms of rallying round an issue together, but in this case certain parties should and they should press for removal.

    Because, as stated before, the DUP have previously be known to, and would continue to, stick the knife in your back to then pull it out and turn around to face its cohorts and lick the blood off the blade with glee.

    Get it together Alliance, SDLP and dare I say, the spineless of them all, UUP (DUP blunder – hello??)

  • Aquifer

    “Am I the only one who feels having an assembly of 108 members leaves parties scraping their barrels for candidates? Would an assembly of 90 or 72 with an executive of 6/7 improve the quality”

    Many of the 108 got elected by wrapping flags around their bellies. There were more capable candidates from other parties who got less votes, so why change the rules when the flags have dropped, showing the flab?

    The executive might prefer an assembly of 10, but they should never get it.

    Add ten grand to MLAs’ wages each election until we get fed up paying sectarian slapstick artists so much and vote for someone who can do the job.

  • DC

    It is important to notice that Mr Robinson, Mr Efficiency, was no doubt part of the decisive bandwagon when the MLAs got a salary increase.

    Even more important was the fact that when the Assembly got up and going last time, all 108 MLAs, together couldn’t manage their own work load on committees and had to spawn out sub-committees.

    In fairness it was all fresh back then but even still you would wonder how much was to do with the party complications and loyalities leading to a lack of respected leadership within the chain of command; or, perhaps, given the recent showing of the Speaker, it was ignorance of protocols re committee functions leading to poor administration.

    So it’s easy to press for reductions but will they be able to manage the workload if it happens any time soon and will we then see an increase in salaries bloating the fat cats further?

  • Frank Sinistra

    To be honest the only one I see as punching above their weight and my expectations is Basil McCrea.

    He seems to have found a good mix of populism, politics and naked ambition.

    The rest of them, you could have written their contributions in advance and it seems someone does.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Get it together Alliance, SDLP and dare I say, the spineless of them all, UUP (DUP blunder – hello??)

    UUP and SDLP are not the opposition. They are part of the government. Technically, there is no opposition, apart from whatever speaking time Alliance and the independents can muster up.

  • DC

    Yeah of course but I’m thinking in broader terms as in SDLP – ‘vote for us to stop the DUP’ (lol) and the UUP (the spineless intra-opposition).

    Without these players unfortunately it’s a case of ‘as you were Governor Hay, at ease Assembly’.

  • The Dubliner

    So the Speaker’s cock-up in suspending the Assembly at Robinson’s point of order aimed at frustrating Ms Ritchie’s opposition to UDA funding in order to confer with the civil servant who had earlier attempted to frustrate Ms Ritchie’s opposition to UDA funding by attempting to physically restrain Ms Ritchie from entering the Assembly chamber to announce a decision that was just in opposition to the British and Irish governments support for UDA funding was just coincidental incompetence and not at all related to cartel’s attempt to frustrate Ms Ritchie’s opposition to UDA funding. That’s okay then. I guess it’s not a puppet administration after all. Carry on up the colon(ial).

  • veritas

    The office of speaker is meant to be above party politics.It has also been protocol to vote -if a casting vote is needed with the government.Although Betty Bootroyd was a Labour MP on one occasion when the vote was tied she voted with the Major Government.Miss Ritchie was making a statement as a government minister -although mr Robinson was on the front bench at the time he was supposedly speaking as a private member-this being the case protocol would dictate that he should not have taken the alleged point of order.At least Alderdice used to refer to the book of rules ( Erskine May).instead of even his own clerk he wrongly went to the head of the same civil service who had alledgedly being advising Peter Robinson.poor decision making,nay absolute shite decision however even if he gets things badly wrong He is still the Speaker and there is close to bugger all anyone can do about it.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    If what Mick’s saying about Hay confering with the DUP is true, then that is pretty incredible. It is simply not on. At all. The Speaker has to be seen to be above party politics, and for all his faults Alderdice was never seen in the company of an Alliance MLA from the day he took up the position (not that many of them were speaking to him by that point, but that’s by the by…)

    If Hay consulted DUP colleagues, it adds to the appearance of a stitch-up. Essentially, a Speaker is banned from fraternising with party colleagues. To consult them on a serious matter in the middle of a major kerfuffle is, frankly, unheard of and well outside normal protocol.

    Hay is broadly well-regarded and should not jeopardise his position by sullying it.

  • PeaceandJustice

    If the procedures were not followed then everyone should learn from it. But let’s not make too much of it. Willie Hay in general does a good job. Compare this with the OFMDFM who can’t fill the Victims’ post (with the DFM having created many of the victims in the first place).

  • ‘In general’ is fine. That’s why I don’t believe the world should collapse around his ears at this stage.

    Willie Hay retains the position for two years when Francie Molloy takes over for the second two (IIRC). Mr Molloy has a record of standing against a party whip. But it is just not good enough to do it when the going is relatively easy.

    When the chips are down you have be prepared to face down senior party colleagues in the Executive if the needs of the Assembly require it.

    Both men have a much higher degree of difficulty in achieving independent status than either Alderdice or Bell did, since the latter had no party associates inthe Executive. Hay and Molloy on the other hand must live it down and be seen at all times to side with the Assembly.

    The accusation of cronyism is a relatively easy one for opponents to make stick, which means to avoid it they must strive to put themselves and their conduct of business far beyond reproach.

    And for their part, the parties must understand that having a Speaker cowp under pressure is neither good for business, nor credibility.

  • Frank Sinistra

    I find this weird, Hay is the one with questions to answer and Mick slots Francie in the mix as if his credibility has been questioned. I’d have a wee think on bias, presentation and facts Mr Fealty.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Suggest you read that fourth sentence again.

  • “Essentially, a Speaker is banned from fraternising with party colleagues. To consult them on a serious matter in the middle of a major kerfuffle is, frankly, unheard of and well outside normal protocol.”

    Gorbals Mick (not our one BTW) has been criticised for hanging out in the Commons tearooms with his old muckers. For Hay to go one step further is just unbelievable.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think you missed something there. Having a Speaker from a party who is not in the Executive generally means this problem doesn’t arise.

    Molloy at least has the opportunity to learn from Hay’s mistakes, and he starts with a reputation for standing against an agreed party line. But that’s something that can and will be tested over and over in this role.

    Bottom line, is that in the absence of an official Opposition the Speaker must hold the line against the government. If s/he doesn’t, MLAs might be better off returning to their advice centres and letting the Executive get on with it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Frank, I read Mick’s point on Molly as a very subtle suggestion that Molloy might do the job better, given his record. I don’t see any criticism.

    Chuckies seem to see bias around every corner.

  • Rubicon

    If DUP’s gathered around Hay then they showed an arrogance that Hay will need to check. It’s all too believable and offends the duty of the Speaker to be impartial AND be SEEN to be impartial. Hay will need to scatter them the next time they attempt their bully-boy tactics. Of greater concern was Hay’s mishandling of the baseless point of order and his returning to the chamber with advice from the head of the civil service.

    I’m with Mick on this one – it was an error that Hay shouldn’t repeat. Whether Hay learns from this I’m not so optimistic about since his stone-walling of Durkan’s requests for an explanation does not bode well. Time will tell – the error wasn’t enough to base a no-confidence vote in the Speaker – yet.

  • Ben

    I’ve had a number of lengthy conversations with Willie Hay over the years, and learned that either a) he catches on with time, b) he’s a crafty fellow who plays according to his own time clock c) he’s a politician, and works according to a political calculus, or d) all of the above. Since he’s not going to be deposed at the minute we can hope that he catches on and does the right thing. He’s certainly managed to work the politics of Derry to some extent for a couple of decades, at that can’t be an easy bit. Along with that, I too think that Willie is an honorable guy, and in these waters that’s not a commodity to disregard lightly. All in all, this flap isn’t about Willie, so keep the venom for where it’s warranted. Cheers, Ben

    N.B. Willie’s office back home is about 100 meters from the UPRG office, and just around the corner from Bond Street. In today’s Derry Journal he says “I am a bread and butter politician and my first loyalty is to my constituency and the people I represent.” Perhaps if/when he resigns from the Derry City Council he won’t have the Waterside neighbours playing with his politics.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Wasn’t the deal that Molloy would take over in the next assembly, not half way through this?

  • BonarLaw

    “Wasn’t the deal that Molloy would take over in the next assembly”

    Won’t that be a little odd if Hay is still an MLA? Shouldn’t the Speaker remain speaker until he/ she ceases to be an MLA?

  • Michael Shilliday

    A point that has never been tested. What kind of campaign would the speaker run is he was still the speaker?

  • BonarLaw

    Of course, in Westminster FPTP elections the Speaker in not challenged. I suppose the 1998 Act could be ammended to allow the constituency of the Speaker to elect 5 MLAs and deem him/her elected as the sixth. It sounds stupid but perhaps not as stupid as having a former speaker as a backbencher…

  • Michael Shilliday

    Would be interesting though, in that case would there be enough first preference votes out there to elect two Unionists in Foyle (given that one would be returned automatically)? If so, would that effect d’Hondt if Hay were to return to the back benches?

  • BonarLaw

    I suppose it would be an incentive to select a Speaker from constituencies where your tribe only has one and a bit quotas.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Which would clearly be an abuse.

  • Rubicon

    The re-election (or not) of the Speaker is worth considering. There are no provisions at present and perhaps those wanting the Speaker to exercise a non-partisan engagement should think about that – particularly in the light of the DUP/.SF agreed exchange.

    If you want an impartial Speaker – what have you done to enable it? (I use the “you” as a general challenge to MLAs – but also to those that bitched about Hay on this site to the point they demanded his removal – or strongly suggested it). Not yet discussed is what we all know – the Speaker position was agreed by DUP/SF as a job-share to transcend mandates. You just can’t get more a more arrogant presumption on future votes than that – but SF agreed it.

    I’ve no problem with Francie being the next Speaker but it may be that the electorate change their votes next time. The DUP put their Speaker forward on their current mandate – fair enough. But – he can’t be “their Speaker”. I hope they don’t seek to undermine Hay again – or Hay sees to it that they don’t.

    Having said that – Hay hasn’t done much wrong. He called a halt to proceedings following Robinson’s point of order. He returned rejecting Robinson’s point. Yes – he allowed Robinson raise the point and he referred to Hamilton when he returned. Yet, his decision was correct. The questioning of Ms. Ritchie continued and the DUP distanced itself from its electorate.

    Why do the SDLP have a beef? Durkan raised good points but – where did his knowledge of them come from? Hay didn’t answer Durkan’s points and could be in trouble if he seeks to make procedure on the hoof. But – the proceedings don’t give sufficient evidence – yet. Now – Durkan meanwhile has become an expert in the history of Assembly proceedings. He wasn’t before – but – OK – let’s accept he’s a new star student. And – I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with Hay’s project to examine the competence of Assembly staff.

    Yet … with senior staff in the Assembly now exposed to scrutiny – could it be that recent events have more to do with something else?

  • veritas

    I contend that speaker or not Willie will still be dup through and through -this could raise issues about impartiallity-but he isn’t always in the chair-just the times when it suits.would David McClarty or John Dallat or Francie Molloy have taken Robinsons point of order?

  • BonarLaw

    Having read Rubicons’ excellent post I am convinced that the only way to ensure that the role of speaker is perceived as impartial is to guarantee the return of the incumbant at subsequent elections. I understand that the speaker of the House of Commons appears on the ballot paper without party designation and only “Speaker” beside his/ her name.

    If security of tenure is considered crucial to guaranteeing judicial independence surely the same can be said of the role of Stormont Speaker? I wonder if the (Donaldson) review committee has considered this?

  • DC

    “If you want an impartial Speaker – what have you done to enable it? what have you done to enable it? (I use the “you” as a general challenge to MLAs – but also to those that bitched about Hay on this site to the point they demanded his removal – or strongly suggested it”

    Firstly, when taking the role of the speaker on there are certain rules and procedures needing to be followed, if they are ignored then we all would expect repercussions.

    Can Willie Hay’s statement of “wont” talk about it mean that all scrutiny into such failings are therefore blocked?

    Secondly, as most people do in their own workplace we would expect people in positions to operate in line with the job description, if they don’t there should be consequences and measures taken to ensure that the Speaker in the chair is competent.

    Finally, Willie Hay isn’t competent.

    So if he is so honourable as suggested why hasn’t he tendered his resignation in light of this serious gross misconduct that stems from his lack of knowledge in operating a position which requires a person to obey the stipulated rules.

  • Rubicon

    DC – don’t you think you’re making too much out of this? From what I know the following seems to be the case:

    a. Robinson raised a point of order at a time when past precedent would have suggested he shouldn’t have been allowed to. The Speaker took the point, considered it and rejected it. The Speaker did take a longer time to reach his decision than one might expect but he did reach the correct decision. His decision to temporarily suspend proceedings is open to interpretation – not all interpretations are partisan; e.g., he may have wished to diffuse a heated debate.
    b. The Speaker referred to advice he had received from the Head of the Civil Service. This was unwise – but it doesn’t mean he sought that advice nor does it mean that it was the only advice given him or sought by him – or even that he sought the advice given by Hamilton.
    c. He refused to offer further explanation to Durkan regarding the details of a conversation he was perfectly entitled to keep private and he refused to explain his reasoning for ‘a’ above.

    In addition to the above there is the allegation that DUP MLA’s descended on him. I’ll weigh the greater responsibility there to lie with the MLA’s concerned but – as I’ve already said – the Speaker will need to deal with MLA hordes more firmly in future.

    All the above is far from a hanging offence. There are grounds for concern but I think most fair minded people will be quite prepared to ‘watch this space’ to see how matters are handled by the Speaker in the future.

  • DC

    DUP told us rollover-ism is dead so no, sorry, the lying down days are over.

    Do your job right, or apologise for the mistake made and assure the house of steps taken to improve impartiality THEN move on together.

    Not this ignorance, of “wont” talk about it.

    Why wont you Willie?

    For those of us watching it just seems arrogant, Im sorry but it does. And this in itself will hardly be conducive to good working relationships between the Speaker and other Assembly members because they will be concious of wont and cant attitude in the face of his own wrongdoing.

  • Rubicon

    The “Blue Book” or the ‘The Northern Ireland Assembly Companion’ referred to by Durkan does not have any statutory status. It guides Members as to procedural rulings and these were largely influenced by Erskine May that Alderdice put great trust in. Erskine May is a guide – it isn’t statute.

    I accept that the Speaker should provide reason for departure from the “Blue Book” – he did so. His statement (recorded in Hansard) states, “Last Tuesday was a difficult time in the House. I sought to protect the House, which I believe I have done, and to calm people down, which I think also happened. Those were my only interests. When Mr Robinson raised the point of order, my interest was in making absolutely clear that this House was protected legally. I believe that it was, and I ruled accordingly when I returned to the House. Therefore, I am taking no further points of order on this particular issue, and I am going to move on to the next item of business.”

    You may not find that explanation adequate, I have my own concerns about it but the making of precedent didn’t stop with Alderdice’s passing.

    As for providing Members details of conversations and correspondence as Durkan requested when he asked, “Will you tell the House whether the head of the Civil Service contacted you during that break in proceedings or whether you contacted him?” the Speaker was entitled to refuse to discuss the matter, he was right to refuse and his decision was in keeping with past Speaker rulings – you may check Hansard for the last debate of the first mandate when the Speaker ruled, “The Member will understand that it is not normally my practice to describe discussions that have, or have not, taken place”.

    As for Durkan’s point, “There is a further issue in that the point of order that was raised was not a point of order: no Standing Order was cited.”

    But Mr. Durkan knows that many – if not nearly all – points of order do not explicitly refer to a SO at the time of asking. He was correct in saying it wasn’t a point of order – the Speaker agreed and ruled accordingly.

    So – we’re left with whether the Speaker should have adjourned proceedings. Standing Order 60.(6) states, “In the case of grave disorder arising in the Assembly, the Speaker may, if he/she thinks it necessary, adjourn the Assembly without question put or suspend any sitting for one hour.”. I believe Standing Orders are a statutory instrument and Hay does not appear to have acted outside of this instrument.

    You’re making too much of this DC – or I can’t see the basis for your view. Since your remedy appears to be on weak grounds while suggesting draconian remedy I have to wonder whether you’ve another motive.

    Is a Speaker from a unionist background unacceptable to you?

  • DC

    The only motive here is to ensure impartiality of the Speaker.

    Personally, he didn’t have reason to protect the House legally and if you are now saying that belatedly the speaker knows what his job is by seeking counsel with those who shouldn’t be sought then fair enough.

    We all know he didn’t operate calmly and was swayed by a Robinson outburst of pure annoyance.

    We need only look at the PPS14 outcome which stipulates that the then Environment Minister Rooker initiated it beyond his power.

    The case could easily be made of both the then SoS and DSD Minister Hanson in relation to funding of the UDA project that may have been undertaken without necessarily targeting social need appropriately.

    Perhaps Ritchie should have frozen the funding until such times as the UDA was viewed as in transformation mode but with the recent violence and attempted murder, the position to stop funding is understandable.

    A legal challenge would have been the least of everyone’s worries, particularly given the fact the DUP have already had their own failed legal challenge before over the operations of the Assembly, which the tax payer had to fund.

  • Rubicon

    18. Statements

    (1) A Member of the Executive Committee shall make statements to the Assembly on matters for which the Executive Committee is responsible. He/she shall where possible make a written copy available to Members as early as possible before delivering the statement in the Assembly. Where this has not been possible he/she should state to the Assembly the reason or reasons.

    (2) No copies of such Ministerial statements, embargoed or otherwise, shall be given to the press before they are made available to all Members.

    (3) Notice of such statements shall be given to the Speaker not less than 2½ hours before they are due to be made and the Speaker shall communicate such information to Members as early as is practicable.

    I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure Members didn’t have a written copy of her statement before she made it. Did the Speaker know 2 and half hours before? Hansard does not record Margaret explaining the reason for a lack of a written statement being copied to Members.

    I assume MLAs must have had a copy of her statement but if Willie knew 2 and a half hours earlier he hardly communicated it to Robinson who was clearly caught short making a groundless point of order – and – frankly, making a fool of himself that the Speaker hardly saved him from.

    Did the MLA’s have a written copy? I wonder if anyone out there knows. If not, it would certainly put SDLP indignation at the Speaker’s alleged procedural irregularity in context.

  • veritas

    Anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge should know that ministerial statements are made by the minister,they are not circulated before the event,a simoultaneous press release is often issued .The respective statement is not vetted by the speaker-it just doesn’t happen,a minister informs the speaker that they wish to make a statement to the assembly on eg foot and mouth disease, the speaker then makes an allocation of time- normally about 1 hour.A minister may if they so wish make a statement on any important issue,but,protocol dictates that out of respect for the assembly members hear it first.the point is that all this is a distraction-did the speaker allow party loyalty to taint the neutrality and integrity of the speaker’s office.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Rubicon, there may be grounds for believing that Robinson essentially signalled Hay to suspend the House while he figured out what to do.

    A minor error over dealing with a point of order can be overlooked on grounds of inexperience. The Speaker conferring with his party, on the other hand, is the part that I’m having a hard time with.

    I can see no reason for adjourning the sitting. Your quotation of standing order 60(c) cites “grave disorder”, but there was no grave disorder in the chamber, to suggest there was is an abuse. There were no legal issues for the assembly in the statement, so no need to suspend it for that reason either. The internal business of the executive should have nothing to do with the operation of the assembly.

    Personally the other thing I’m outraged about is the interference by certain civil servants in the affair. Civil servants are there to implement policy; clearly some of the examples in Northern Ireland think that they are there to dictate policy to elected representatives. Heads need to roll if this seriously misplaced attitude does not change quickly.

  • Rubicon

    Thanks for the clarification veritas – the Standing Order doesn’t seem to require the Minister to give the actual content of a statement to the Speaker. I guess simply informing the Speaker of the issue would suffice. I remain a little confused as to compliance with Standing Order 18(1). It seems pretty specific. I checked Hansard and I couldn’t find a statement from Margaret Ritchie explaining why a written statement was not supplied to MLAs (assuming she didn’t provide one).

    If you’re correct, has the Assembly decided to not operate Standing Order 18(1)?

    As for you question, “did the speaker allow party loyalty to taint the neutrality and integrity of the speaker’s office.”? I don’t believe he did – but the events of that day could have been handled better.

    Comrade – if the Speaker conferred with DUP MLAs there is nothing to prevent him from doing that. Don’t MLAs often seek audiences with the Speaker? I agree it paints a poor impression if he conferred with only one party.

    I agree SO 60(c) was stretched but the Speaker’s interpretation of Robinson’s point was that it threatened the legality of the House continuing business. It could be argued that he thought that threat to meet the condition of “grave disorder”. Had he a better knowledge of procedure he would have immediately known that Robinson’s point had no basis. As it turned out it took him 30 or so more minutes to reach that decision.

    On your last point – 100% agree.