Belfast Telegraph

New rules to improve MLA conduct

New rules are being introduced to stop debates in the Northern Ireland Assembly degenerating into childish mud-slinging.

Stormont Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said standards had slipped and warned that sanctions would be imposed on MLAs who failed to show respect .

Mr McLaughlin said: "From today my focus will be on members showing respect to one another in this chamber; creating a space that allows members to express themselves; probe others and hear answers without it degenerating into school yard name-calling and grubby attacks on personal integrity."

In recent weeks MLAs have tried to shout down opponents; engaged in finger pointing or talked loudly to demonstrate they were not prepared to listen, the Speaker said.

"The members of this chamber represent a diverse society of views and cultures," he added.

"If we do not treat each other with respect in here what example are we giving to wider society?"

The move follows a re-examination of controversial remarks made by the DUP's Gregory Campbell during a discussion last week.

There was outrage after he claimed Jim Allister had "persuaded" a terminally ill MLA David McClarty to swap his place on the Assembly committee investigating a former DUP minister.

Mr Campbell said the TUV leader prevailed upon "the dying Mr McClarty" to let him take his Department of Social Development committee seat to enable him to play a role in the inquiry into Nelson McCausland's handling of social housing maintenance contracts.

Although the words were carefully chosen, their tone and nature fell below expected standards of courtesy, good temper and moderation, the Speaker found.

Mr McLaughlin said: " Mr Campbell crossed the line by referring to decisions made by a deceased member who obviously can no longer speak for himself.

"Deliberately or inadvertently he ignored other members' reaction and even when given the opportunity he failed to clarify his remarks to make them more acceptable to the House."

Last November Mr Campbell was barred from addressing the Assembly after he failed to apologise for an Irish language parody.

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