Speaker ignores standing orders and sparks an Assembly walk out…

This morning the dFM withheld his consent for the First Minister to make a statement on behalf of the joint office of the Executive (the artist formerly known as OFMdFM).

As Mike Nesbitt raised in a point of order just after the start, this changed the terms on which the Assembly had been summoned. Extraordinarily, the Speaker at first refused to accept Nesbitt’s point of order and then was forced to take a 20-minute adjournment.

Restart brought a flurry of points of order seeking clarification on how the session should proceed: including a very explicit question from Stephen Farry asking whether the minister was making the statement on her own behalf?

The tradition is that there are no follow-up questions to a personal statement to the house (see Adams’ statement to the Dail), but the Speaker refused to say how the session was to proceed. In the absence of clarity from Newton, there was a walk-out in the chamber.

It’s not the first time the Speaker has limited the rights of the house, so this sort of ruling by omission appears to have become a permanently available wrench in the Speaker’s toolbox. Yet, it hardly accords with the principles laid out on the Assembly website:

Members must be confident of the impartiality of the Speaker and this is achieved through the operation of a number of conventions. He does not participate or vote in any debates in the Assembly, he does not become involved in party politics, nor does he comment on Northern Ireland political matters or on issues of Government policy.

The Speaker could have met the legitimate inquiries from members of the Legislative Assembly by suspending Standing Orders, and explaining why. Instead, he has chosen to ignore those queries and then went on to treat the FM’s statement as official, letting MLAs ask questions.

The FM was heard in revered silence by MLAs and only took questions from her own MLAs. The house was adjourned at 12 and restarts at 1 to debate an opposition motion to have the FM excluded from office.

Passing it requires cross-community consent (meaning it won’t need a Petition of Consent). So, without the DUP’s participation, it will fall.

Effectively we’ve seen the government fall apart over a simple heating scheme. Not to mention the ferocious heat of Stephen Nolan’s blow torch.

Still, grab a sandwich quick, and bring the popcorn

, , ,

  • Gingray

    You forgot to mention the round of applause that Arlene got at the end of her speech …

  • mickfealty

    I’d zoned out by then (going through the Castro length speech now on paper). Key point is that the Speaker should serve the interests of the Assembly.

    Telling the Assembly that it’s the Executive’s responsibility to sort out their own mess (which of course it is) rather than acting on the authority of the Assembly to either tell them to go and sort themselves out and not waste assembly time, or point out that he was suspending SOs to make sure the House gets to hear the FM’s case.

  • Gingray

    Indeed, I agree 100%, its a problem with the NI system, with the Speaker remaining part of a political party. Needs to be independent.

  • Declan Doyle

    Oh Lordy, talk about downward spirals, this is calamatous. The speaker obviously didnt have his weetabix this morning.

  • Declan Doyle

    “Effectively we’ve seen the government fall apart over a simple heating scheme….”

    This should go down as one of the most innacurate statements of 2016.

  • Redstar

    Has anyone got a spare set of you know what’s to lend SF?

  • Simian Droog

    Seems my comments on Arlene’s exercise in “ad hominem” attacks was deleted. How strange.

  • Skibo

    Redstar, what do you suggest, stepping down and bringing forward another election. No thanks if you are asking me. Electioneered out Lad.
    Don’t think even the opposition want an election at this time or rather do not want to be seen to be demanding one.
    Why did the SF amendment not go forward?

  • Skibo

    I noticed that too! “aggressive, arrogant, horrible”, hardly far from the mark

  • Simian Droog

    Happens quite often with nary a remark as to why. My comments weren’t even as bad as what she said about her colleagues. NornIronic

  • Gingray

    Redstar, is there a name for the condition you have? Ya know the one that means you bring everything back to SF?

  • GEF

    “Assembly Walk Out” Is this a repeat of “Trimble walks out” back 14 years ago? talks”https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/dec/19/northernireland.northernireland
    Is this the third lead up to DIRECT RULE. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_rule

  • mickfealty

    Nope.

  • Skibo

    I believe this was merely a technical issue that Arlene could not address the house as FM as she did not have an statement agreed with the DFM. It is ties like this that we can see that both posts are symbiotic.
    That said, if she was not addressing the assembly as FM, should the speaker have allowed her to address the house at all?
    The action of the DUP speaker-of-the-house acting impartial was coming into question.
    This is not the first time that the impartiality of the Speaker has been brought to the fore!

  • Granni Trixie

    I haven’t a clue what you mean to say, can you explain?

  • Granni Trixie

    I think that DUP MLas have lost the run of themselves. They seem to think that rules applying to others do not apply to them. IN this case Robin Newtown seems to have given up being anything other than a DUP lackey.

  • Granni Trixie

    Am I wrong but surely until now it seemed to be a point of honour with Speakers from all parties that they demonstrated independence from their party’s interests. They did so by keeping to the rules laid down for the role and guidance applied to various scenarios. TIme to go, Newton.

  • Skibo

    I think we have been spoiled by previous holders of the position. Have we went through all the impartial thinkers in the DUP already?

  • Gingray

    In theory thats the way it is meant to work, and I think we have decent people in the role before (and technical issues have been less of an problem).

    But ultimately, as each MLA needs the support of their party to get reelected, ultimate loyalty is to that organisation rather than fair play.

  • In the Westminster parliament, the convention that big parties do not oppose the speaker at elections protects his/her independence.

  • Skibo

    I don’t believe you could say the same in the Dail. Impartiality of the speaker was severely questioned in the last Dail. Not so sure about this one.

  • Gingray

    I think its legislated for in the south – the Ceann Comhairle does not need to seek re-election, they are automatically reselected.

  • Skibo

    I would not hold up the previous Ceann Comhairle up as an impartial voice. One thing I think speakers should do is rule if the answer is an actual answer to the question or merely waffle.

  • mickfealty

    It’s just the #SluggerRule: https://goo.gl/ozEVND.

    Counter to the norm, we’re not interested what you feel about Arlene, Gerry et al. But we are very interested in what you think about what she says.

    It’s the equivalent of being ticked off in a pub for boring the other customers. Like a merchant seaman who used to drink in the da’s pub for the whole three months of his shore leave. 😉

  • AntrimGael

    The Speaker gives the impression that either he is out of his depth and doesn’t know what he is doing or that he is merely doing the bidding of his party. The job seems to be beyond him but that is the mark of Stormont. MOST of the MLA’s there don’t have much ability, intelligence, knowledge or competence.

  • Simian Droog

    I think you’ll find that I thought her speech was “arrogant, aggressive and horrible” whereas you seemed feel that that was inappropriate, but I’ll bow down to your greater experience of boring people in pubs. Now sing us one about unrequited love would you?