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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 17 January 2000 (continued)

Mr Boyd:

I rise to support the motion put forward by the DUP's two North Antrim Assembly Members, Dr Paisley and Mr Paisley Jnr. It is scandalous that the Sinn Féin/IRA Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety refused to allow the Union flag to be flown over Castle Buildings on Christmas Day. I have a list here of days that the Union flag must be flown on Government buildings under well-established practice, and 25 December is one such date. There was no need for the matter to be discussed.

The Sinn Féin Health Minister's actions were deliberately provocative and appalling. This was an attack on Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom.

The Minister acted outside her authority and must be utterly condemned in this House. She has insulted the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. At a time of deep crisis for the National Health Service the Sinn Féin Health Minister was more interested in cheap, political stunts than in the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. Why, for example, did she not investigate and publicly condemn, during the same period, the intimidation by a Republican mob of two health workers for attending a police liaison committee in Carrickmore? We were told that the Minister had no comment to make.

For a Minister of this fundamentally flawed Executive to refuse to allow our country's flag to be flown is disgraceful and an insult to the people of Northern Ireland. It just shows that the Belfast Agreement offers nothing for Unionists, despite David Trimble's and the UUP's utterances that it copperfastens the Union. If preventing the flying of the flag on Castle Buildings, a Government building, is copperfastening the Union, I wonder what the UUP would think was weakening the Union.

The SDLP's amendment says that there should be mutual respect. We have had 30 years of bombs and bullets. Where was the mutual respect for the Unionist community? We hear about the Union flags and the red, white and blue kerbstones. What about Garvaghy Road, where we see tricolors, and green, white and gold kerbstones? Will the UUP clarify whether if, under the Belfast Agreement, Nationalists object to the Union flag, it can no longer be flown on Government buildings? That is what the SDLP is telling us today.

The Union flag is flown permanently at Westminster - except when the Queen is present and the Royal Standard is flown - and it is flown permanently on the building of the Welsh Assembly. It is also flown on occasion on the Scottish Parliament Buildings and Government offices. The Union flag, and only the Union flag, should be flown permanently on Parliament Buildings, Stormont and on all Government buildings to bring us in line with what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is scandalous that a Northern Ireland Office spokesman should say that this is a matter for the parties to sort out and agree among themselves. That attitude is totally unacceptable, and I am calling for a full investigation by the House into the comments made by that faceless civil servant, who must be brought to task for them. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom - this has been demonstrated in election after election - yet our British culture and identity continue to be attacked. The list is endless - parades, the oath of allegiance, the RUC and portraits of Her Majesty. Just today the Duchess of Abercorn was blocked from visiting St Mary's Primary School in Pomeroy, County Tyrone, by Sinn Féin/IRA, and that visit was to promote a cross-community writing competition.

Sinn Féin/IRA wants to destroy our British culture and identity. However, in spite of ongoing attacks by the pan-Nationalist front on that British culture and identity - and that includes utterances by Sinn Féin/IRA's Gerry Adams about a united Ireland by the year 2016 - there are still enough Unionists in Northern Ireland to ensure that we will always be living under the Union flag, and the Union flag only.

I support the motion.

Mr McCartney:

Undoubtedly there is confusion, on both sides, about the purpose of the national flag. There has been much talk about culture and cultural differences. The flag of the United Kingdom is being used as a political weapon. Coming from Ms Gildernew, this view is amusing, since the Irish language and culture have been used as bludgeons by Sinn Féin, and to a lesser degree by the SDLP, to further the Nationalist aspiration for a united Ireland. This is understandable in a political party, but the purpose of a national flag is political rather than cultural. The flag of the United States, the Stars and Stripes, covers a multitude of different cultures and ethnic groups, but it signifies the overall and over-arching the national identity of the United States, as does the national flag in Northern Ireland.

The First Minister has correctly pointed out that if parties here accept the Belfast Agreement, and if, as is repeatedly stated, the Belfast Agreement is founded upon the principle of consent, that principle of consent says that Northern Ireland will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom until such times as the majority should decide otherwise. Therefore, since Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom, the flag which represents it is the Union flag, and therefore it is appropriate that that flag be flown on all state occasions.

The First Minister has outlined in some detail the circumstances in which the flag should be flown under those conditions. I, for one, object to flags, language and culture being used as weapons in political battles and against what Robert Graves once described as "the jelly belly flag flappers", who encouraged young people to enlist in armies, including the British Army. I object to a lot of the facets of nationalism, some of which have destroyed the true meaning of the Olympic Games and turned them into some sort of nationalist competition.

Flags should be reserved for their purpose: to represent the current political status of the territory governed and forming part of an integral, sovereign state. That is the purpose of a state flag, and that is what we should use it for. If, as Mr Adams suggests, there is a united Ireland in 16 years' time, will the tricolour be quartered or even halved to include part of the Union flag as a gesture towards the tradition in Northern Ireland? This would not be tolerated because Northern Ireland, if such should come about, would be an integral part of a united Irish Republic, whose flag is the tricolour.

Until such times occur we should adhere to the fundamental political principle that a flag is the symbol of the state as constituted at the time it is flown. If both the SDLP and Sinn Féin accept the principle of consent, they must accept the natural and usual conditions that are attached to that. This issue is perhaps relatively peripheral given the social, health and other problems that we should be dealing with.

It is sad that the Minister of Health should have utilised her functions to denigrate the principle of consent and to give rise to the sort of divisions which this body is supposed to be in the process of healing.

I support the motion.

Mr Gibson:

I have listened with some interest to the debate. The fact that the flag was not flown at Christmas was most negative and, indeed, the greatest denial of our Christian traditions that could possibly have occurred. The Union flag is the ensign of the United Kingdom; it incorporates St Patrick's flag - the central cross that represents the saint who brought Christianity to this part of the world - the flag of St Andrew, who is associated with Scotland, and the flag of St George, who is associated with England. After the birth of Christ the three saints followed, and the most negative thing that could happen - and I heard a Member use that word "negative" about my party - was that we would deny the birth of our Lord by not acknowledging His birthday.

The First Minister talked about a royal command. He said that this was our sovereign flag, our legitimate flag. That is obvious, and it is taken for granted by those who have any regard for constitutional law. But what did the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and a Minister in the Executive do? They denied the very agreement that they had agreed to by refusing to honour the command of the sovereign - they disobeyed that command. That was not just negative; it was an insult to the very thing that they had agreed to.

People who use the word "negative" to condemn others should be very careful. There has been a clamour of late, as part of the recent Mitchell agreement, for certain people to be allowed to get into the Palace of Westminster where the Union flag flies constantly. Will they disagree with the flying of the flag there? They used every lever and got the consent of the First Minister to get into the Palace of Westminster. That was part of the Mitchell agreement. Sinn Féin/IRA's reward was to get into Westminster where the Union flag flies constantly. The negativity, the condemnations and the rejections are not from this part of the House; the rejections are from those in the House who say that they are for the agreement. They are the people who have disobeyed; they are the people who have disregarded the sovereign's command.

If these people are so loyal they should obey the commands of the Queen. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister had a command, a responsibility to respect the sovereignty of the country in which they operate. But what did they do? They abandoned their responsibility, and they work in the same building as the Minister who made the original decision. They abandoned their responsibility and left a secretary to carry the can. That was not just negativity or condemnation; it was abandonment of responsibility.

Is this how the Executive is going to run, with intolerance, bigotry and, above all, a great lack of responsibility.

4.45 pm

Mr Dallat:

A book entitled 'Lost Lives' was referred to earlier. I have it with me because I wish to use it. The first three names in it are John Scullion, Peter Ward and Matilda Gould. Those were the first three people to die in what are known as the present troubles. Older Members will know the circumstances. There was a row about a flag in Divis Street, and a certain Mr Paisley felt offended. It caused embarrassment to the Unionist Government of the day, who sent in the police, and now, 30 years later, we have a book this thick.

The same old arguments are continuing today - it is a case of déjà vu. We have been here before -obsessed with flags, forgetting and learning nothing. No one can deny that flags have played a major role in this senseless war waged against ordinary people for no good. I hope that the final chapter in this book has been written and that the number of 3,630 is indeed the final number. I hope that the Assembly will start to behave sensibly and work for the people who depend on it, rather than waste time in this senseless argument about flags.

Is it too much to expect that the same mistakes are not repeated? I do not need to tell the House that a divided community that is recovering slowly from the divisions of the past is the perfect place in which to exploit flags and create fear and suspicion. It does not matter whether those flags are on Government buildings, nailed to telegraph poles or painted on kerbstones. They serve only one purpose - to further sectarianism and polarisation. They cannot unite people. Indeed, it was certainly not the intention of the Paisley faction to unite people. Its intention was to cause embarrassment to Ulster Unionists.

The motion is not about respecting the Union flag. If it were, that would have happened a long time ago, and then, perhaps, history might have been different. Perhaps this book would never have been written. As we know from the contributions, this is not about furthering working relationships between the different political traditions in the Assembly. Some things never change, but I am sure that there is a difference. Today people have the experience of knowing what is in this book. They know what happens when politicians exploit people. They can read the book and know what happened to ordinary, decent families who were exploited, used for political ends by politicians who were not prepared to face reality and sit down and work with people from other traditions rather than exploit the differences.

I accept that flags are important to some people, but once they are used for the express purpose of imposing their significance on others with quite different views, they cease to serve any healthy purpose, and they certainly cease to command respect. That is true irrespective of what flag we are talking about; I do not confine it to just one.

Government buildings should be neutral venues for all people to turn to for whatever services are on offer to the public. That is their purpose; they should not become places for rows about flags. Perhaps at some time in the future we can discuss the issue of flags and emblems and agree on symbols that reflect a community that is not divided but united and determined to put the horrors of the past behind it.

For God's sake, give us a chance to map out a new future that is not based on notional territorial claims but on unity between all the people. Then, and only then, can we seriously discuss the flying of flags. I am sure it is everyone's hope that the last chapter of 'Lost Lives' has been written, that lessons have been learned and that everyone will give a commitment that neither by word nor deed will anything be done to jeopardise the peace process that we are currently enjoying.

Mr Foster:

This is a big issue about which I feel very strongly. As an Ulster Unionist, I feel as strongly as Mr Paisley about the Union flag. I served in Her Majesty's forces. Did he?

I raised the flag issue at Christmas, when it was established that the Union flag was not flown on some Government buildings. Such action by the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is most offensive and an attempt to deny the jurisdiction of Her Majesty in this part of her realm.

I contend that Ministers in the Assembly are acting on behalf of Her Majesty, yet here we have a Minister - maybe Ministers - failing to accept their responsibility. There are obvious double standards. Whom are they attempting to deceive - their own supporters, or the pro-British people? This action by the Minister was blatant hypocrisy and crass political deceit - a denial of what she agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement.

Let me refer to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to emphasise these points. Section 1(1) states

"It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1."

I emphasise that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom, not just a piece of it here and a piece of it there.

Section 23(1) says

"The executive power in Northern Ireland shall continue to be vested in Her Majesty."

Subsection (2) states

"As respects transferred matters, the prerogative and other executive powers of Her Majesty in relation to Northern Ireland shall ... be exercisable on Her Majesty's behalf by any Minister or Northern Ireland department."

Section 5(2) says

"A Bill shall become an Act when it has been passed by the Assembly and has received Royal Assent."

Her Majesty's sovereignty prevails under the agreement; we cannot deny that. Mr Alban Maginness referred to a "neutral symbol", but this is about the sovereignty of this state. It is not offensive, nor is it meant to be. There can be only one sovereignty in a state.

I repeat that this action by the Minister is most offensive, and it is not in keeping with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is an attack on the sovereignty of Her Majesty in this part of her jurisdiction. I want the Union flag to be flown only on designated days or when the Assembly is sitting, and that is something that we will have to think about. I want the Union flag to be flown with dignity and with responsibility - not as a taunt to anyone but with great respect for what it stands for. The flag is the embodiment not of sentiment alone but of history. It should be given the respectful place to which it is entitled in this jurisdiction.

The jurisdiction issue was determined in the Good Friday Agreement and accepted by the majority in the Province and the vast majority of the people of the Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Féin must realise that it is not joint sovereignty which is expected or required, it is real citizenship. Its members must learn what they signed up to and what they must accept under the terms of the agreement. Their recent actions and words suggest that they are out to wreck the co-operation required to benefit all the people of Northern Ireland. Such offensive action by Ms de Brún is very devious, subtle and totally reprehensible. The Union flag should have been flown, as has been the practice and the correct procedure over the years.

I reject the Minister's action and express concern. Under the terms of the agreement the flying of the Union flag and the sovereignty of the Queen have to be acknowledged. Ms de Brún has failed to acknowledge that in this instance, and I contend that she exceeded her authority. We cannot move the agreement's goalposts, one which is the principle of consent. I support the motion.

Mr A Maginness:

In many ways this has been a useful debate, in spite of the negativity of Mr Paisley and his party.

The debate has been useful in that it addressed the issue of flags and emblems, but this is an issue which will not be concluded today. It will continue to trouble us unless it is addressed imaginatively and creatively under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Flags and emblems should promote harmony and mutual respect in our society, not division. That is the fundamental approach that we should all take when addressing this issue. The debate has been constructive, but the argument will continue. We must work patiently, diligently and harmoniously to try to resolve the issue.

Far from being vague, as Ms Gildernew has said, the amendment is quite precise. It places the issue where it should be - at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. If we address this issue in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement we can ultimately resolve it. I accept that these are difficult and deeply emotive issues, and I understand the fears and worries, particularly of Unionists. But one must also realise that those fears and worries are shared by people in the Nationalist community. It is up to us, as democratic politicians attempting to create an inclusive democracy, to try to reach an amicable compromise.

Mr Speaker:

I call Mr Ian Paisley Jnr and advise the House that I shall put the Question on the hour.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I have listened with interest to all the contributions. Mr Alban Maginness failed to explain how Sinn Féin is not in breach of the Belfast Agreement. I am surprised that the bare-chested defenders of the Belfast Agreement have not been kicking up a stink about the way in which Sinn Féin has polluted it. The SDLP has run away from Sinn Féin on this issue. The issue remains contentious because the SDLP will not deal with it in Nationalist areas.

The First Minister, in his usual red-faced and bombastic way, attacked the messenger and not the message. He said that this is not the proper place in which to debate this issue. If he has striven so hard to create the Assembly, where is the proper place to have this debate, and when will be the proper time? The First Minister does not want to have this debate, for it embarrasses him. He ought to face that reality. The Ulster Unionists have failed to accept the legitimacy of this issue and to attack Sinn Féin on it both inside and outside the Cabinet.

I remind Mr Sam Foster that the national flag is not the exclusive property of members, serving and past, of Her Majesty's Forces - it is the flag of all of the people in the United Kingdom. Mr Dallat's trite and irresponsible comments were nothing short of codswallop. He was trying to justify that two wrongs as making a right. But two wrongs do not make a right.

I was handed a written response to a question that I put to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. I asked her to condemn the IRA violence that has resulted in the hospitalisation of people in Northern Ireland, but she refused. Should she not be concentrating on condemning violence and dealing with its effects, instead of running around tearing down the country's national flag? I regret her approach.

5.00 pm

Question put That the amendment be made.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 24; Noes 63.


Alex Attwood, Eileen Bell, P J Bradley, Seamus Close, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, John Fee, David Ford, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Joe Hendron, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Kieran McCarthy, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Eddie McGrady, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Sean Neeson, Danny O'Connor, Eamonn ONeill, Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.


Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alex Maskey, Robert McCartney, David McClarty, William McCrea, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Pat McNamee, Francie Molloy, Maurice Morrow, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Sue Ramsey, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Question accordingly negatived.

5.15 pm

Main Question put.

The Assembly proceeded to a Division.


Mr Speaker:

Order. A Member has obviously left his phone unattended. Phones are not to be left switched on in the Chamber.

The Assembly having divided: Ayes 51; Noes 32.


Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Robert McCartney, David McClarty, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.


Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, John Dallat, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Danny O'Connor, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.

Question accordingly agreed to.


This House condemns the refusal of the Health Minister to grant permission for the flying of the national flag on appropriate Government property on the designated period over the Christmas holidays, in flagrant breach of settled policy.


Assembly Business


Mr Speaker:

Many Members have asked to speak on the third motion, but the Business Committee's decision means that we cannot continue beyond 5.59 pm, when we shall move to the vote - and there will be only one vote, as there is no amendment. That is the limit to which things can go, except by leave of the House, and I have no indication of whether that would be forthcoming.

Mr McCartney:

May I ask that the House give that leave. Whether we like this or not, whether some are opposed to the motion or in favour of it, this is a matter of grave public interest, and I ask the House, in these circumstances, to grant its leave.

Mr Speaker:

The request has been made that leave of the House be given. As Members are aware, leave of the House requires unanimity, and I require an indication of whether leave will be given. It would be helpful to have that indication now. I certainly need it before 6.00 pm.

Mr Maskey:

A Chathaoirligh. May I remind Members that the Business Committee - made up of representatives from all of the parties here - agreed to have the three motions on the Order Paper. Everyone was concerned that there should be ample opportunity for all parties to raise whatever they want for discussion during Assembly hours. With the three motions on the Order Paper and an Adjournment debate scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, the Business Committee therefore agreed that we would allow as much time as possible - three hours - for the motions to be dealt with. The spirit of the discussion was to the effect that if the DUP accepted that its motions were on the Order Paper - and this was put to the DUP - the motions would be dealt with in the free time available.

The three hours available run to 6.00 pm. Half an hour gives ample opportunity for discussing this motion. It has been discussed before, and, no doubt, it will be discussed again. I ask the party concerned to respect the Business Committee's decision - a decision to which it agreed - to wind up at 6.00 pm. After all, the other parties could have taken a different approach to the three motions.

5.30 pm

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that the Business Committee would recognise and have respect for the general view of the Assembly. If you were right when you indicated that a substantial number of Members want to take part in the debate, perhaps the Business Committee did not properly reflect the amount of time that would be appropriate. Some of us are quite prepared, if the House is agreeable, to come back tomorrow and deal with this issue. Tomorrow is a sitting day, so there is absolutely no reason why the Assembly could not deal with a substantial matter in a substantial way.

Mr Speaker:

As it is important that I should not misrepresent myself, I must say that a substantial number of Members wish to speak. I am not saying that there are necessarily many on all sides, but there is a substantial number on one side. It is the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure that the various opinions are put, and not that everybody gets an opportunity to speak. But in any case, in respect of Standing Orders, it is absolutely clear that it is a question of by leave of the House, and I am assuming at this point that I do not have such leave. If we do not continue fairly quickly on the motion now there will be no time for it, and we will simply have to move to the vote, if it is quite clear that there is no leave of the House.

I propose that we move to it. I ask Mr Dodds, in opening, to restrict himself to about five minutes, and I will try to ensure that as many other Members as possible are able to speak, although I will have to ask them to restrict themselves to about two minutes in order to do so.

Mr Dodds:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a substantial issue of extreme public importance, in spite of what certain newspapers might think of it, even though they cover it in some detail virtually daily. A substantial number of Members have indicated that they wish to speak to the motion, and, provided that we can be assured that it will be on next Monday's Order Paper, my party will agree to withdraw it today. That might be a practicable way out of this difficulty, and we would have more time for debate than the half hour that is available to us this evening. It is important that Members have an opportunity to say something on this if they so wish.

Mr Speaker:

There is no way that I can give such an undertaking. Mr Dodds must be aware of how the Business Committee would view such a proposition. I doubt very much if an undertaking could be given for a debate next week and for a particular amount of time to be allocated to it. Of course, it is entirely open to the Member who is proposing the motion to withdraw it and resubmit it to the Business Committee; which would then give its view on when the motion might come forward and how much time should be allocated. It would be quite out of order for me to give any undertakings in that regard. I do not think that in practical terms we could consult on the matter either. I am in the Member's hands. Is he indicating that he wishes to withdraw the motion and resubmit it?

Mr Dodds:

Is it possible, Mr Speaker, to find out what other parties, such as the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, think about this? I think that would be helpful for the House.

Mr Speaker:

That could be formally ascertained only if we were to take a five-minute recess. I think it would be unfair and inappropriate for me to require Members to respond to that, but if Members wish to give such an indication, then I am happy for that to be so.

Mr McGrady:

The Business Committee, in considering these three motions from the same party, received an undertaking from that party's representatives that we would devote three hours to the three motions, and you allocated approximately one hour to each. DUP Members have taken up a preponderance of the time today on their own motions. I have no problem with that. However, it is they who have cut short the time. In spite of that, I have to say, on behalf of my party, that we are prepared to accept a 30-minute extension today in order to debate this third motion.

Mr Morrow:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I find it alarming that Mr McGrady has such knowledge of this subject despite the fact that he was not at the meeting. It was clearly agreed and understood that there would be a minimum of one hour set aside for each debate. We are not in that position: we have only 25 minutes left.

Dr McDonnell:

I told Mr McGrady exactly what had happened at the meeting.

Mr Speaker:

It is quite inappropriate for the conduct of meetings to be brought out and argued back and forth. I mentioned earlier the understanding about the time available. Time continues to tick away, and it will not be increased except by leave of the Assembly.

Mr Maskey:

May I reiterate the point, Mr Speaker. Some people may want to remain until 6.30 pm, but my party would prefer the motion to be withdrawn today and put on the agenda for next week. The DUP Whip Mr Morrow accepted the proposal that three hours should be taken up today on the three motions, on the basis that the Business Committee could have decided to adopt one motion from that party, or two, or three, as the case turned out. There was a clear commitment from the DUP to use those three hours to the best of everybody's ability, and we would try to allow one hour per motion.However, a lot of time was taken up this afternoon by the voting procedure. That wasted time. However, it is nobody's fault. The DUP gave a clear commitment at last week's Business Committee meeting that if they were given the maximum time today for their motions they would respect that and wind up the business at 6.00 pm.

We will be happy to support Mr Dodds's withdrawal of the motion and its postponement to next week. People may not be just so willing in future to allow three motions to be dealt with in a day. We are trying to be fair.

Mr McCartney:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Maskey made a point about the time taken up for voting. One has to take into account that a considerable amount of time was taken up voting on amendments which were not, as I understand it, the subject of the Business Committee's decisions about the amount of time that would be allotted to the motions.

Mr Speaker:

With regard to that matter, amendments are not a question for the Business Committee. It is for the Business Committee to indicate how business arrangements will be made. Members may have voted for Standing Orders that set down certain requirements, but perhaps they have not factored in voting times and, indeed, how quickly they move through the Lobbies.

Before lunchtime today - when Members were demanding that there should be more time for speaking because we were going to be here to a certain time - I was aware there was no way we would be finished at that time. There were votes to be cast, and I knew that Members would take some time over that. The Member is absolutely right when he says that voting takes time. This fact needs to be factored into people's thinking.

Mr C Wilson:

Mr Speaker, can you explain the thinking of the Business Committee when it provided for a sitting on Monday 17 January and, if necessary, Tuesday 18 January? Surely -

Mr Speaker:

Order. One must be somewhat wary about my explaining the rationale for the Business Committee's doing something. I can give the Member a piece of information about procedure which may help to explain matters to him.Ministers have the right to make a statement on an issue of importance. If they give the requisite notice, then business will be interrupted in order for that to be the case. One possibility would be for Ministers to produce statements and then subsequently face a series of questions on the statements which would throw askew agreements about motions and the time available for them. That is the reason for that particular note on the Order Paper, but the understanding about how long would be available for these motions was, in fact, pretty clear, as I explained earlier.

I do not think I can take any more points of order until we get clarity about this question of whether this motion can be withdrawn. I do not know whether anyone wishes to respond to that.

Mr J Wilson:

I have no difficulty lending support to the Democratic Unionist Party's withdrawing the motion now, but I cannot be associated with the condition that might be attached that I would support a proposal to bring it forward at a subsequent Business Committee meeting.

Mr Speaker:

At the moment we have a series of responses that people may or may not make, but none of them guarantees anything in respect of the Member.

Mr Ervine:

It seems to me that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with. There would be wisdom in the Assembly's giving leave to accept this business for tomorrow. It is perfectly legitimate for me to request that leave of the Assembly. Since Mondays and Tuesdays are designated as sitting days, Members should not find it difficult for the Assembly to sit tomorrow.

Mr Speaker:

There are many reasons for the Assembly's not sitting tomorrow. It is clear that they doubt that a further decision will be made in respect of this business. The decision is made not by the Assembly on the Floor but by the Business Committee, and there is a series of other issues arising. Standing Orders state that if we move to Tuesday we are required to have an Adjournment debate of three hours. I have no doubt that the DUP would be content with that - it was the only party with motions for debate that would last for three hours, on top of the three motions that were already down.

Members will understand the nature of the agreement reached among the parties in respect of the Business Committee. There was more to it than appears on the surface. It is not possible for the Assembly, by leave, to agree as the Member suggests. It is possible for the Assembly, by leave, to continue on into the evening or for the DUP to withdraw the motion. It could then be brought before the Business Committee, which might agree it for next week or for a subsequent week. I cannot give that undertaking, and we have no further undertakings. I must ask the Member whether he wishes to move the motion now, with the possibility of a limited debate.

Mr Dodds:

It is amazing that, by leave, we can continue beyond 6.00 pm, but we cannot carry the business over until tomorrow. Tuesday is a designated sitting day, and there is no other business. This issue is important to the communities we represent, and it deserves proper time and consideration. We want to make points about the sacrifice of RUC members over the years and the way in which they have been treated by the Patten Report, and it would be remiss and wrong of the House to debate this matter in the 15 minutes that are left. Therefore, out of respect for the RUC, I ask leave to withdraw the motion.I give notice that we will be resubmitting the matter and seeking an opportunity to come back to it early next week. This issue will not go away. It deserves to be addressed by the Assembly at an early date, before it is addressed in the House of Commons. It is essential that Members' views be expressed, whether they are for or against the motion. It should be debated, and such is the purpose of the Assembly.Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Adjourned at 5.44 pm.