Belfast Telegraph

Speaker humbled by his elevation to House of Lords

By Noel McAdam

The first Stormont Speaker since devolution was restored seven years ago has been elevated to the House of Lords.

DUP MLA William Hay is expected to hand over the Assembly chair to Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin – the first republican to hold the Speaker's position.

The change is expected to take place next month.

Tributes were paid across the political spectrum to Mr Hay, who has earned a reputation for being tough but fair in an often acrimonious and poisoned political environment within the Assembly chamber.

And while he has had heated exchanges with many MLAs – both in public and private – the Foyle MLA is said to have managed never to fall out with individuals.

The SDLP's John Dallat, who has been one of Mr Hay's deputy Speakers, said yesterday: "Willie, I feel sure, had more spats with individual members of the DUP whom he felt were discourteous and badly behaved while in the debating chamber.

"He took no prisoners, but was always conciliatory towards Members who were out of order and subsequently acknowledged their wrongdoing.

"He was courteous, cultivated, had no airs or graces and was down to earth.

"His guest list at functions at Christmas and on Saint Patrick's nights reflected his concern for ordinary people, particularly those with physical and learning disability."

Mr Dallat, the longest-serving deputy Speaker, also had a word of warning for Mr McLaughlin, who takes the position after Sinn Fein's former deputy Speaker, the veteran Francie Molloy, left the Assembly to become MP for Mid Ulster when Martin McGuinness stood down from the seat.

"There is a serious challenge to his successor to ensure that the Office of Speaker remains above from the quagmire of petty party politics, which is responsible for much of our current difficulties," he said.

Immediately following the announcement from Downing Street of the peerage, Mr Hay's party leader Peter Robinson said: "I am delighted for William and congratulate him.

"He has been an excellent public representative for the people of Londonderry for over 30 years."

Mr Hay himself said he was "humbled" but delighted, and was looking forward to working with the DUP's team of peers.

"When I first entered politics in Londonderry I would never have imagined that I would have had the opportunities which have been presented to me, particularly in recent years," he said.

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