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MLAs clock in for 45 minutes then promptly head off home

By Noel McAdam

The Members of Northern Ireland’s new Assembly signed in yesterday — but that was the extent of their work.

The 90 MLAs gave an undertaking to support the rule of law and signed the membership roll in the first piece of business since the March 2 election.

It was a short session of only 45 minutes.

The recent poll saw an end to the unionist majority at Stormont, with Sinn Fein now holding one seat fewer in the Assembly than the DUP.

If no agreement is reached on forming a new Executive by March 27, Northern Ireland faces another election.

The stalemate means MLAs were unable to transact any business yesterday, when a Speaker would normally be elected.

DUP MLA Robin Newton continues as Speaker until a replacement is chosen — even though most of the other parties denounced him after he allowed then First Minister Arlene Foster to address the last Assembly in its closing hours without the required permission from former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. 

Mr Newton spoke only to reaffirm that the nature of the meeting meant MLAs would not be able to raise points of order, and any concerns could be brought up with his office outside the chamber.

Then, by party group, starting with Alliance, the MLAs first signed the undertaking of office, which includes working for the disbandment of all paramilitary structures and supporting the rule of law.

They then, one by one, signed the register.

That began a countdown to 5pm on the last Monday of this month, when Secretary of State James Brokenshire will announce whether another election will take place, although he is only required to do so “in a reasonable time period”.

Mr Brokenshire was absent from the talks yesterday to vote  on Brexit in the House of Commons, but Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan was present.

After he held a number of  meetings, he said: “There is a positive disposition on the part of all parties who are now currently in the Assembly.

“It is important that the urgency of the situation be fully acknowledged and I detect an acknowledgement in that regard.

“We have two weeks within which to form an Executive in accordance with the wishes of the people in the recent election.”

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