Belfast Telegraph

McLaughlin accepts CPA presidency

The republican Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly has said it is his "absolute duty" to lead a Commonwealth group at Stormont.

Mitchel McLaughlin said it had been an easy decision to accept a post as President of the Assembly's Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

But, he did not tell all of his Sinn Fein party colleagues, the South Antrim MLA has revealed.

Mr McLaughlin said: "It was not difficult. It is how I see the Speaker should behave. I am not a Sinn Fein Speaker. I am a Speaker for every MLA in this house."

The 69-year-old from the Bogside in Londonderry was elected Speaker seven weeks ago after securing a cross community vote.

He took over from the DUP's William Hay who stood down last October due to ill health.

Although involvement with the Commonwealth committee is a departure from his natural politics, it is hoped the move will help promote respect among MLAs.

"In my case I am now entirely non party political," added Mr McLaughlin.

"Because this is an issue that is of some significance and importance to some of the MLAs here (at Stormont) and the communities they represent, then, as the Speaker of the Assembly I have an absolute duty to reflect that."

The decision by Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to meet the Queen in June 2012 has also helped pave the way, according to the Speaker.

His first duties will include hosting a Commonwealth Day celebration event for young people at Parliament Buildings next week.

He said: "I look forward to hosting next week's event to mark Commonwealth Day and its theme of encouraging youth participation in our democratic system."

The CPA is a global association of parliamentarians that aims to promote the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance and build an informed parliamentary community.

Mr McLaughlin has requested a change of rules so a chairman can be appointed to oversee the day-to-day running of the CPA group.

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