Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Critics didn't fancy Francie Molloy, but Speaker's seat awaits

Francie Molloy

The current Assembly Speaker William Hay enjoys the support of all the main parties and the respect of almost every individual MLA.

But his successor-in-waiting, Francie Molloy of Sinn Fein, cannot lay claim to the same approval rating.

Three of the bigger parties, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance, this week voted against the appointment of Mr Molloy as Principal Deputy Speaker.

He will take over the Stormont hotseat at some point during 2013 to become the first nationalist Speaker in the history of Parliament Buildings.

Mr Molloy's elevation is a sea-change in how Stormont Speakers will work.

He will straddle both this Assembly and the next one after a Stormont election which may not take place until 2016.

Then, during the middle of the next Assembly session, perhaps as far away as 2018-19, a unionist will probably reassume the hotseat. So from now on, in the spirit of the 'shared future' blueprint, the senior position will be divided up each and every mandate.

For Alliance, opposition to Mr Molloy's spanking new title was all about the post itself.

MLA Chris Lyttle said his party had endeavoured to be co-operative but "in the final analysis" saw no demonstrable need for the change in title and new position, and would therefore vote against Mr Molloy's nomination.

For Ulster Unionists and lone Traditional Unionist MLA Jim Allister, however, it was much more personal.

Last week UUP leader Tom Elliott had a serious clash with Mr Molloy at the First Ministers' scrutiny committee (of which Mr Elliott is chair) which resulted in Mr Molloy leaving the said meeting.

Mr Elliott suspended the meeting after Mr Molloy repeatedly failed to obey his request to stop speaking.

How, the UUP chief said, would Mr Molloy acting as Speaker like it if an MLA treated him with the same contempt?

"He totally disregarded the ruling of the Chair. That is why I believe that Mr Molloy is unfit to hold the position of Principal Deputy Speaker," Mr Elliott told MLAs.

Voicing surprise that Sinn Fein would accept the "jobs for the boys" position, the UUP leader reminded MLAs that Mr Molloy was also suspended by his own party several years ago for failing to back its policy on the review of public administration.

But in the end it was the votes of 27 of the Assembly's 36 DUP members, including First Minister Peter Robinson, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and chairman Lord Morrow, which secured cross-community approval for the new position for Mr Molloy.

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