108 to choose from party leaders, Ministers, Speakers, humble backbenchers, they come in all shapes and sizes. Attendance matters, but more important to the voter, probably, is delivery. This flagship award recognises the MLA felt to have had made an impressive impact on the NI Assembly and more widely, who has changed something, challenged an orthodoxy or simply been a good representative for the people who elected them. And the winner is…Winner: Naomi Long.
One of the top considerations, although not the only one, was speech craft and the capacity not simply to speak without notes but to contribute fluently and combatively (if required) on the floor of the Assembly. Naomi is one of the outstanding speakers in the house, and has used her presence there to great effect in breaking what might be considered an almost impenetrable ‘sound barrier’ for one of the smallest parties in the Assembly. But she has also managed to consolidate the Alliance vote in her East Belfast constituency.
Commended: Margaret Ritchie
One of the few ministers to make it to the short list, Margaret has made a huge impact in a very short time, both in terms of how she handled her Ministerial brief and in making strong and cogent representations to the Assembly. She showed considerable personal courage in facing down the Executive over the cutting of CTI funding. She has also picked up an number of key social issues in her brief as DSD minister and run with it.
Commended: John O’Dowd.
John came into the Assembly in the November 2003 election and was considered a relative outsider. He quickly became leader of Sinn Fein in the Assembly, but only really began to shine in public when he defended his party’s controversial Education policy with a number of highly adept performances on the media. He’s battled well in difficult circumstances and is probably one of the big discoveries of talent in 2007/8 parliamentary season.