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Assembly Speaker McLaughlin wants successor to be from small party

By Noel McAdam

Published 21/03/2016

Speaker: Mitchel McLaughlin
Speaker: Mitchel McLaughlin

Stormont's first republican Speaker has suggested his successor should come from one of the smaller parties.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said giving the position to the Ulster Unionists, SDLP or Alliance would show the office can be accessed by anyone.

A deal in the last mandate between Sinn Fein and the DUP saw William Hay give way to Mr McLaughlin just over 15 months ago. But his succession was delayed by a year when it became caught up in the stalemate between Stormont's two largest parties over welfare reform.

As he prepares to stand down, Mr McLaughlin (70), who replaced Francie Molloy as Sinn Fein's choice to make history, also hinted he would like the next Speaker and their deputy to be women.

Greater participation of women in the Assembly - only a fifth of the 108 MLAs are female - has been a particular focus of his period of office.

Mr McLaughlin will preside over the first full plenary session of the next Assembly to be elected on May 5, but revealed he had wanted to retire nine years ago.

"I originally intended to retire out of Foyle but I was persuaded about the challenge of fighting South Antrim and then to contest it again to consolidate the seat, and that was before the office of Speaker came up and principal Deputy Speaker before that. So I have actually postponed retirement by nine years."

The father of three sons also admitted some republicans would still view his decision to become speaker of the Assembly as a betrayal.

"I have been awakened at 3am by my house being petrol-bombed, my car has been attacked and vandalised, so of course there are people out there who do think like that and something like that can be quite dangerous, but I have never had any doubt that I was doing the right thing," he said.

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