Belfast Telegraph

Alderdice: Newton should have stepped down as Speaker by now

By Staff Reporter

A former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly said last night that the position of DUP MLA Robin Newton as Speaker of the Assembly was "not tenable" - and that he should already have resigned from the post.

Lord Alderdice, who in 1998 became the first Speaker in the Assembly, made his call in the wake of a hard-hitting BBC Spotlight report which probed the controversial Social Investment Fund, and explored links between East Belfast MLA Robin Newton and the controversial Charter NI group, whose chief executive is UDA figure Dee Stitt.

The programme claimed Mr Newton had acted as an adviser to the Charter NI organisation, producing documents to support the claim, and alleged the DUP MLA had misled the Assembly when he denied that he had such a role.

Mr Newton rejected the BBC Spotlight claims. His position has been supported by the DUP.

Following the BBC programme, a complaint was also made to the police that the Speaker did not declare his interests, as required by Assembly regulations. Last night, the former Alliance Party leader, who is now a member of the House of Lords, told BBC's Inside Politics programme it was long past the time when Mr Newton should have voluntarily stepped down.

"If he were an ordinary MLA it would an invidious enough position, because it seems he has misled the Assembly," he told the programme.

"To be Speaker and to find that the vast majority of the parties don't want you there because they don't trust you, or they don't respect you or they don't believe that you're going to act in a fair and proper way to maintain the Assembly - that's not a tenable position for a Speaker to be in. It's not a personal thing.

"It's very important for people to understand that when they become Speaker, they have to leave their own politics, their own party, their own attitudes to the side.

"Robin hasn't realised that, hasn't realised that this is something that goes beyond him, and it's very damaging for the Assembly, particularly at a time when it's not meeting. The Speaker should be there to give a morale-boost to the staff and to help them to have things ready for devolution coming back."

The DUP defended Mr Newton, saying that he continued to do "good work" for the party.

"Robin Newton has said he did not mislead the Northern Ireland Assembly and has announced he will not be seeking re-election as Speaker," a DUP spokeswoman said.

"The Party supports this decision. Robin continues to do good work as an MLA in East Belfast and he is a valued part of our DUP team."

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