“Point of Order Mister Speaker”

Fascinating short exchange this morning between Declan O’Loan (SDLP North Antrim), the Speaker and latterly Mervyn Storey (DUP North Antrim). O’Loan interjects a point of order asking the Speaker for a ruling on whether Mitchel McLoughlin (SF South Antrim) is permitted to make party political points whilst speaking as Chair of the Finance Committee. He had referenced the superior nature of Peter Robinson’s funding from Whitehall to the monies secured by ‘David Trimble and Mark Durkan’. This was followed by a point of order from Storey who accused the SDLP of hypocrisy when Patsy McGlone (SDLP Mid Ulster) had referenced the travails of Ian Paisley Junior in an earlier feedback to the Assembly plenary. The Speaker ruled since the MLA had flagged up he was going to be making remarks both in a formal and party political capacity he would sustain him. He also indicated that there was a problem of elision on this point. That MLAs have a tendency to over run the latitude he allowed them. It’s an interesting point, to which I cannot find a ready answer in Standing Orders. Should a Chair of a legislative committee stick strictly to feeding back the opinions of his/her committee, or is some latitude desirable? If the latter, how much?

  • An Lochlannach

    Fascinating short exchange this morning…

    I think ‘fascinating’ is pushing it a bit.

  • joeCanuck

    The Speaker ruled since the MLA had flagged up he was going to be making remarks both in a formal and party political capacity he would sustain him.

    The Speaker should have ruled him out of order at that point and told him that he could speak as an MLA in any ensuing discussion.
    A Chairperson should report factually on decisions of the Committee.
    Separately, rather than naming people he should have said “the previous Government”.

  • shankly’s socialism

    Mick I think it depends on the reason they get to their feet and if they are being given a bump up in the speaking list due to being a committee chair.

    Committee chairs i think are given some degree of priority in the speaking list, therefore it would be inappropriate to use that opportunity to talk to a party political point…although it is unrealistic to assume that anyone could stick to this rigidly or not have more than one point to make – It would be impractical to have to add your name to the speaking list twice once as a committee chair and once as a member….hence the ‘latitude’ of the speaker.

    Basically like much of his other jobs, it is up to Willy Hay to stop people taking the piss….not a job I would take 🙂

  • Michael Shilliday

    Personally I think this idea of a member taking off one hat and putting on another in the assembly, be it a minister, chairman of a committee or whatever it is, is nonsense. A minister remains a minister at all times, and cannot speak “as” anything else. Trying to say that they can is just daft.

    Onm this specific, all that needs to be done is lay down what can be said the speech given by a committee chair in response to a ministerial action. I can see nothing wrong with party political points being made, as this is the clossest thing we have to the opposition spokesman on….giving a response.

  • shankly’s socialism

    @ Michael

    As an example:- say Mitchel McLaughlin wants to wants to speak about a PPP/PFI issue with the relevant minister.

    On behalf of committee he is to ask that the minister ensures they consult with all relevant parties and make a committment to engage fully with the committee.

    But

    He also, purely as an individual member wants to make the point that PPP/PFI stinks and brings with it only debt to the taxpayer.

    What should happen bearing in mind that he may have been bumped up the speaking list ahead of all sorts of DUP/UUP ordinary members who wish to say how PPP/PFI is great and hugely productive?

    This is a fictional example as while SF oppose PPP/PFI in policy, in practice their ministers have used it in this and the last assembly.

  • David Ford

    The usual convention is that MLAs who are called as a committee chair read a speech prepared in line with agreed committee policy. They are ‘bumped up’ on questions on a Ministerial statement, but not generally in debates. Some then say “I wish to add some personal comments”.

    In the case of Mitchel McLaughlin on the Budget, he made his attack on Trimble and Durkan during his remarks as Chair, and later – belatedly perhaps – said he wanted to make some personal comments, mostly complaining about PPP/PFIs.

    To add to the irony, he had Martin McGuiness, who was the principal proponent of PPPs when Education Minister sitting beside him.