Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Honeymoon over as ex-boxer in the chair signals that Assembly sparring has begun

Christopher Stalford
Christopher Stalford
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It didn't take long for the gloss to wear off New Decade, New Approach on the floor of the Assembly.

The SDLP's Irish speaking MLA Patsy McGlone had been tipped as the new Speaker in what would have been a historic and symbolic move.

But the DUP supported Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey instead, who showed yesterday that he'll be a spunkier Speaker than his predecessor Robin Newton.

Just half-an-hour into yesterday's plenary session the former boxer was verbally jabbing at the SDLP's Colin McGrath.

Mr Maskey said that the South Down MLA had insulted him. "l will not tolerate yourself, Member McGrath, or anybody else coming up to the back of this podium insulting the Speaker in the middle of a plenary debate," he said.

"In future I will take action. Order! Order! I want people to take note of that. That's twice in two days that has happened from the Member.

"That's why I'm taking this unusual step. I will not allow that behaviour to continue."

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There was no shortage of sparring in the chamber over the appointment of DUP Assemblyman Christopher Stalford to the position of principal deputy Speaker.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon objected to him being elevated above the two other deputy speakers - Mr McGlone and the Ulster Unionists' Roy Beggs - as the trio hold equal status.

Jim Allister was scathing. "This is a non-post," he declared. "It's a post sheerly for vanity purposes to emphasise the carve-up between the two main parties."

The TUV leader stressed that being principal deputy Speaker carried "no powers, no rights, no authority, no standing" above the other two deputy Speakers. "It is a title which is a nonsense in itself," he said.

"Mr Stalford, I'm sure, will carry it off with great aplomb.

"It may not have been the title he was hoping for - he may have been hoping for the title of junior minister in The Executive Office, but I suppose the crumbs are better he might think than nothing.

"Though I would tell him that nothing is a very good place to be in respect of this House."

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