Belfast Telegraph

Pressure mounts on Assembly Speaker Newton to immediately quit £87k role

BBC Spotlight claims Speaker 'misled' Assembly

By Jonathan Bell

Pressure has increased on Assembly Speaker Robin Newton to immediately quit his position.

The DUP MLA has been at the centre of a political storm after a BBC Spotlight programme alleged he had misled the Assembley over his connections to the UDA-linked Charter NI.

The programme claimed Charter NI board minutes indicate he was, in fact, a key adviser to the charity, something the politician outright rejected.

On Wednesday morning he issued a statement saying he would not seek re-election to the position as Speaker at the next sitting of the Assembly.

However, given the ongoing power-sharing crisis at Stormont, it is still not clear whether it will reconvene in the short term.

As Speaker, Mr Newton is paid a salary of £87,500. Throughout the day there have been mounting calls from Sinn Fein, the UUP, SDLP, Alliance and Greens for him to immediately quit.

Robin Newton’s position as Speaker is completely untenable. Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein said his position was "completely untenable" saying he had "compromised the neutrality of his office".

“The public demand integrity in government," said Caral Ni Chuilin.

“The Speaker should be above reproach and independently accountable to the political institutions."

This issue goes to the heart of public confidence in politics. UUP

The UUP's Roy Beggs, a former Deputy Speaker in Assembly, said the allegations struck a blow to public confidence in Northern Ireland politics and a future election of the Speaker should be through a secret ballot.

“The office of Speaker should be above reproach and rather than resign after he chairs the election of a new Speaker, Robin Newton should simply go now. He should have resigned back in December when he showed a lack of impartiality.

"What we need now is a radical investigation into the Social Investment Fund (SIF), its operation and in particular the role of Special Advisers in its formulation. It needs to get to the heart of how the SIF funds were used by the DUP and Sinn Fein. 

The serious allegations on the BBC’s Spotlight programme cannot be swept under the carpet. SDLP

Also calling for an immediate resignation was SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood. He said both Sinn Fein and the DUP had serious questions to answer over the Spotlight revelations as they had put the SIF together.

"The Spotlight programme also contains huge questions for Sinn Fein – they cannot wash their hands of their role in all of this," he said.

"As a party they were jointly responsible for the SIF funds and for every other decision which went through the Executive Office. They were jointly responsible for the channelling of funds to groups linked to the UDA.

"Therefore, they are jointly responsible for the corruption of Northern Ireland’s politics.  This was their status quo and they were up to their necks in it."

We have serious concerns about the lack of fairness and effective use of resources being directed towards certain groups. Alliance

Alliance said the Mr Newton's actions should be investigated by the new Assembly Commissioner for Standards.

“Alliance recognises people with a paramilitary past can play a positive and constructive role in society. But when people with a paramilitary present are doing so, there is a problem. That is the situation with some individuals in Charter NI," said David Ford.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said Mr Newton had serious questions to answer.

“The entire issue of the distribution of the Social Investment Fund and Robin Newton’s association with Charter NI has further eroded public trust and confidence in our institutions," he said.

“There are further serious questions for both the DUP and Sinn Fein around the management of the Social Investment Fund (SIF).

“SIF money is public money. The same public money that our schools and hospitals are being told to make do with less of.”

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