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SF speaker in farewell rally cry to keep moving forward

By Noel McAdam

Outgoing Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin has urged all MLAs from every party to play a role in moving Northern Ireland forward.

His call came as the Assembly yesterday dissolved to allow for the cut-and-thrust of party politics in a pre-election battle.

In an end-of-term address as he stands down from office, the first republican to hold the Stormont post said the next batch of elected politicians must work constructively to improve the Assembly. "Despite what at times is very hostile and negative reportage... many people in our community are deeply invested in this institution," he said.

It was the last plenary session of the Assembly for a number of senior figures including Alban Maginness and John Dallat of the SDLP, Anna Lo, Kieran McCarthy and Judith Cochrane of Alliance and veteran DUP man Gregory Campbell.

Among a series of farewell speeches, former Belfast Lord Mayor Mr Maginness said the political fires of the past are now far fewer in number. "People used to ask me what I did. I said that I was a fireman - a political fireman who put out political fires," he said "I have become redundant, or semi-redundant, in relation to putting out political fires. I do that only on a part-time basis now because the political fires are much fewer than they were in the past."

Mr Campbell, who is quitting the Assembly for the House of Commons, said: "Those who caused our bloody and deceitful past will not be allowed to erase their part in it. Battles must still be fought... that campaign must and will be waged until it is won."

But Mr McLaughlin intervened when TUV leader Jim Allister -among those who is standing for election again - said: "The truth is that these institutions... defy the basic dynamics of democracy and deny the people the right to change their Government and have a proper opposition."

To laughter, the Speaker said: "Thank you for those warm and generous comments."

In his own remarks, he also said: "The Assembly is, of course, imperfect, and the issues that it deals with are very challenging and difficult. Those of us who played some part in getting us this far are looking to all of you who are hoping to come back to work constructively to continue to improve it."

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