When’s a point of order not a point of order?

As Fair Deal notes below, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie was given a telling off by the Speaker today for her remarks about Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey in a debate on Environmental Improvement Schemes in the Markets Area of Belfast last week. Ritchie said: “When I see the proposer of this motion, Mr Alex Maskey, in the context of the Markets, I think of only one thing — the events surrounding the cruel murder of Robert McCartney.” The Speaker ruled upon Ritchie’s comments saying that they were not concerned with the topic of the debate and he had received a number of complaints. The Speaker did say that although the comments weren’t ‘unparliamentary’ – thus Ritchie avoided receiving a similar fat that was given to Iris Robinson who was banned from the Chamber for a day for unparliamentary remarks about the Health Minister which she refused to withdraw – the Speaker did however advise Ritchie to read Hansard and reflect on her remarks.

Extract from the original debate is below (I am paraphrasing the Speaker’s ruling today – direct quotes could be taken from Hansard when published tomorrow). NOw the thing that strikes me is that the Speaker seems to have ruled on the basis of ‘a number of complaints’ made privately to his office. And yet, the Deputy Speaker does not, from reading the original transcript, appear to have accepted Mr Maskey’s original intervention as a Point of Order:

The Minister for Social Development: When I see the proposer of this motion, Mr Alex Maskey, in the context of the Markets, I think of only one thing — the events surrounding the cruel murder of Robert McCartney. I think of Mr Maskey’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of that event —

Mr A Maskey: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

First, it is very regrettable that the Minister wants to introduce the tragic murder —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Is this a point of order?

Mr A Maskey: Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a point of order. Just let me finish.

If the Minister is in any way trying to align me with what was a brutal murder that I have repeatedly condemned, then she will very soon be listening to my lawyers. It is a shambles and a disgrace that the Minister is seeking to divert attention from the issue of an environmental scheme in a small residential area at a cost of less than £2 million, which she is partly to blame for delaying —

Mr Deputy Speaker: What is your point of order?

Mr A Maskey: My point of order is that —

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member will sit down for a moment. I must hear the point of order.

Mr A Maskey: The point of order is that the Minister, in trying to deflect what does not amount to even mild criticism of her handling of this scheme — I could go much further, and criticise the Minister for her failure to look after the Markets community — has sought to associate me with a brutal murder which I am on record as repeatedly condemning.

I am advising the Minister to choose her words very carefully, because my lawyers will be scrutinising the Hansard report. The Minister will not run off at the mouth at my expense. That is my point of order.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Carry on, Minister.

The Minister for Social Development: I think of Mr Maskey’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of that event, and his stance in relation to the violence that greeted the police conducting their follow-up investigations in the Markets. More than that, I think of Robert McCartney’s partner and his two sons, now exiled in England, and of his brave sisters who were forced from their homes and who are still denied justice. I think of the so-called republicans who saw nothing that night.

I met Mr Maskey a few months ago to discuss housing in the Markets. I will meet him again soon, and I have written to him recently — a fact that appears to have escaped him. We will talk about housing. However, when he walks into my room next month all that I will see is the image of Robert McCartney holding his two young sons.

Ms Ní Chuilín: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to put on record my disgust at the Minister’s remarks. This is a debate about a motion on environmental improvement schemes for the Markets area. What the Minister said was completely out of order.

I commend Alex Maskey for moving the motion. It is the prerogative of Members to raise in the Assembly any issue that is relevant to their constituents.

If private complaints are to be given the same status as a Point of Order in the Chamber, Mr Speaker may find himself in a position where “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world Assembly?”

  • fair_deal

    Who was the Deputy Speaker in the chair during the debate?

  • Mark McGregor

    FD,

    I assume you know already but for the benefit of others it was Dallat in the chair.

  • Half Pint

    Mick,
    I’m sure you could see many of mine if you looked through the treads but typo – “thus Ritchie avoided receiving a similar fat”

  • “private complaints”?

    What was private about how Maskey was smeared? I’m no Shinner but the ball was in no way played there.

  • fair_deal

    MM

    I didn’t on this occasion and didn’t have time to check.

    Overall is this the speaker messing up?trying to make up for a deputy messing up? Both?

  • longshotkickdabucket

    Ritchie has been a good minister but she badly misjudged this one.

    The Environmental Improvement scheme in the area has been badly handled from start to finish. In an area of massive demand for housing, any scheme that demolishes homes without replacing them is entitled to be criticised.

    The minister would have been better off asking hard questions of the Housing Executive instead of embarking on an ill-judged rant that demeans her previously good record of work.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    What was Maskey’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of McCartneys murder?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m afraid that I have to agree with the other comments here. Ritchie’s comments were not illegal but they were not appropriate in the context of the debate. This isn’t the way to counter SF.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange
  • Henry94

    For a Minister in the Assembly to hide behind the grief of the McCartney family rather than answer for her area of responsibility like she is paid to do is a low-point in the working of the institutions.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Longshot
    Margaret said she was not minded to approve any scheme that demolished housing in the area,the delays are being blamed on road service,Conor Murphy’s dept.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Henry94
    In all declarations of human rights,the right to live is first, all else is irrelevant if this is not respected.Magennis Bar must have the biggest toilets of any Irish pub and all the shinners must have synchronised bladders,as they all seemed to be at the toilet when Robert was being brutally murdered.

  • Billy

    Danny

    Whatever way you dress this up, Ritchie made a big mistake here.

    Over the years both SF + the SDLP have been very vocal about Unionists using the cowardly cloak of ‘Parliamentary Privilege’ to make unfounded accusations.

    I totally agree with this criticism. If you want to accuse someone, then do it in public and produce any evidence that you may have.

    If you use ‘Parliamentary Privilege’, then you clearly have no evidence and are afraid of being sued. It is a coward’s tactic.

    Ritchie has no evidence and I have no doubt that, if she had the guts to repeat these accusations in public, Alex Maskey would sue her for slander and/or defamation of character in a heartbeat.

    It’s a pity because she had shown real promise as a Minister especially with her actions against UDA linked groups.

    Yet another example of the SDLP taking a small step forward and a massive one backwards.

    I can assure you that many Nationalists, icluding those like myself who are not Sinn Fein supporters, are disgusted to see a Nationalist representative using a cowardly tactic usually assiciated with ‘loyalists’.

    Sinn Fein certainly make a lot of mistakes but, with the SDLP keeping Durkan as ‘leader’ and adopting ‘tactics’ such as this, Sinn Fein will most certainly continue to easily outpoll the SDLP within the Nationalist community.

    The SDLP have effectively no appeal for young Nationalists. I think the fact that they are running Alban McGuinness for Europe sums up their youth situation.

    The SDLP of John Hume and Seamus Mallon would quite possibly have been able to take advantage of Sinn Fein’s current difficulties. However, the current shambles that is the SDLP has no prospect of doing that.

    The way that the SDLP are currently behaving, it’s little wonder that they have major problems with both membership and finances.

    I’m not surprised they were so desperate for a merger with FF (and equally unsurprised that FF back pedalled away from it).

    Unless the SDLP succeed with such a merger, the real surprise will be if they still exist in 5 years.

  • longshotkickdabucket

    ‘Margaret said she was not minded to approve any scheme that demolished housing in the area,the delays are being blamed on road service,Conor Murphy’s dept’

    Danny, disingenuous to blame Roads Service. The issue is that the Housing Executive in their wisdom has decided to demolish 2 blocks of Flats in the middle of the Markets, without seeking a Housing Association to replace these. Ritchie’s department has also dismally failed to secure any vacant local sites for social new-build even in the face of a private sector that is at its lowest ebb.

    Ritchie would be better ‘being minded’ to resolve the chronic housing situation in the Market rather than tainting the people of the area with McCartney’s murder by smearing the elected MLA who most represents the area. Maskey at least represents the area whilst a sighting in the Markets of the local MP , Alisdair McDonnell, is as infrequent as a housing allocation.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If you use ‘Parliamentary Privilege’, then you clearly have no evidence and are afraid of being sued. It is a coward’s tactic.

    Billy, parliamentary privilege exists for very good reasons throughout the UK and Ireland.

    I agree though, it would be better of Ritchie repeated the allegations outside. Sinn Fein have threatened many times to take people to court over allegations concerning what other activities they may have been involved in during their lives, and they never have. I’d love to see Sinn Fein politicians get their private lives raked over in the witness stand, and I’m glad you agree with me on that.

    The SDLP of John Hume and Seamus Mallon would quite possibly have been able to take advantage of Sinn Fein’s current difficulties. However, the current shambles that is the SDLP has no prospect of doing that.

    The SDLP of Hume and Mallon created the present difficulties for the party, and then they ran away before the chickens came home to roost.

  • spiritof07

    The issue of parlimaentary privilege is irrelevant here. Margaret made no allegations aganst SF and Alex Maskey in particular which have not been made outside the chamber – namely that Alex criticised the police actions and that SF didn’t actually give a toss about Robert McCartney and his family’s search for justice. The SDLP view on all of that is well known.

    What disppointed me was Margaret using a stand alone debate on another matter to raise the issue again. It was crass, blunt and nasty.

    She has a habit of letting SF ‘get’ to her in the Assembly and hopefully that is something she will learn to get over.

    You’ve got to learn to live with what you cant rise above.

  • GoldenOldie

    Billy,

    “I think the fact that they are running Alban McGuinness for Europe sums up their youth situation.”

    Alban Maginness is 57 I think compared to de Brún who is 54, Jim Allister who is 55 and Jim Nicholson who is 63, so I think your arguement got a bit lost in the facts.