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Speaker row: some are saying this might herald Assembly's last shout

All this talking - and no Speaker.

The Assembly may not have a Speaker - and rumoured to be the only legislature in the western world without one - but don't expect silence any time soon.

In fact the failure to make good on long-established promises in our seat of government yesterday could, in time, come to be seen as the Assembly's last 'shout'. For while yesterday may have been all about the Speaker, or lack of one, but doesn't augur well for the forthcoming, er, talks.

Very few were speaking about the issue early yesterday – at least in public.

Instead the parties were chattering amongst themselves and it slowly became evident that Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin, having just been given the full authority of the office because former Speaker William Hay is ill, was about to have it taken away again.

Trust is already in very short supply between the two main parties – and it is now at rock bottom.

"It could only take one more issue to topple this place," a senior official said, "and this could be it." Sinn Fein is not minded to walk away from the Assembly, however, particularly in the mouth of the multi-party negotiations being organised by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers – and that may have been Peter Robinson's calculation.

Francie Molloy, the senior SF figure who had been destined to be the first Republican speaker before being selected to replace Martin McGuinness as Mid-Ulster MP, looked on from the public gallery. It was a full turn-out but the mood was gloomy and sombre. Mr McLaughlin buried his chin in his hands and looked helplessly towards Mr McGuinness.

Only NI21 leader Basil McCrea was missing for the first half hour, and then came into the chamber, leaving 10 minutes later.

Perhaps he thought someone might call on him as a compromise candidate.

Belfast Telegraph