Monday 15 May 2006

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).

Assembly Business

Madam Speaker: Members, please take your seats.

In accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 2006, the Secretary of State has directed that the Assembly should sit on Monday 15 May 2006 at 10.30 am to consider business as it appears in the Order Paper.

Before we proceed, I wish to read into the record some letters of appointment.

First, in a letter to me dated 9 May 2006, the Secretary of State said:

“By virtue of my powers under Paragraph 3(1)(a) of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 2006, I hereby appoint you as Presiding Officer of the Assembly. Your appointment shall take effect from today’s date.”

Secondly, in a letter dated 11 May 2006, the Secretary of State said the following:

“I am writing to formally notify you that I have today appointed Jim Wells MLA of the Democratic Unionist Party and Francie Molloy MLA of Sinn Fein as Deputy Presiding Officers of the Assembly and have placed a Written Ministerial Statement before Parliament to this effect.”

I offer my congratulations to my two colleagues and look forward to working with them both.

Finally, Members, in a letter of intent to me dated 12 May 2006, the Secretary of State said the following:

“You will have received my letter of 11 May setting out the matters which I am referring for the first week of Assembly business.

I know from our discussions that you are fully aware of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and I have every hope that you will be able to oversee the rapid transition of the Assembly to full devolution. There will, of course, be obstacles to overcome and they must be overcome if MLAs are not to stand accused of perpetuating the democratic deficit which Northern Ireland has seen in recent years. But, given the bitter history of Northern Ireland, it is important that we recognise and understand the difficulties for all sides in what the Assembly is now being asked to do. No-one underestimates the challenges ahead and the divisions which remain.

If we are to heal those divisions then this must be a time to focus on what unites us. All the political parties, the British and Irish Governments and, most importantly, the people of Northern Ireland, are united in their belief that devolution and power-sharing are the only way to establish an enduring, stable future. That is why the Assembly has been recalled with the express purpose of electing a First and Deputy First Minister and forming an Executive, with the opportunity to consider issues of vital importance for their constituents. Now is the time for Northern Ireland’s politicians to shoulder this responsibility for their people’s future, as they have been elected to do; it is time to open a new chapter of stability, opportunity and restored devolution in Northern Ireland.

As I have said before, the decisions which will have to be taken are not easy ones, but history has presented us all with a decisive opportunity to move forward in the coming weeks. The tragic events of recent days have once again shown how desperately the people of Northern Ireland need a new vision for a truly shared society. I know that the promise of a better future for the young people of Northern Ireland will be uppermost in the minds of all MLAs as they approach the days ahead in a spirit of partnership and generosity.”

I have placed copies of these letters in the Assembly Library.

Silent Reflection

Madam Speaker: Members will have noted that, as is the custom at the first sitting, we do not have Prayers on our Order Paper. I am, however, conscious, as we meet this morning, of the tragic death, on Monday last, of Michael McIlveen.

In recent days, I have heard expressions of sympathy made publicly and privately by Members on all sides of the House. With that in mind, I ask Members to stand and join me in observing one minute’s silent reflection.

Members observed one minutes silence.

Assembly Business

Roll of Membership

Madam Speaker: The next item of business on the Order Paper is the Roll of Membership. As required by Standing Order 3(a), a Member shall be regarded as having taken his or her seat only when he or she has signed the Roll of Membership. I do not therefore propose to take any points of order until after the Roll has been signed by all Members present.

I shall now explain the procedures that will be followed for the signing of the Roll. These have been discussed and agreed at meetings of the Business Committee.

In order to avoid the Chair being vacated, I will sign the Roll at the Speaker’s Table, after which the Roll will be placed on the table in front of me. I shall then invite Members of the Assembly to come forward in their party groupings to sign the Roll. I will call the parties in alphabetical order by name of the party. Independent Members will be called in alphabetical order at the end.

When your party name is called, I ask Members of that party to rise in their places and proceed through the Aye Lobby on my right. Members should then come forward to sign one of the two Roll pages placed on the table in front of the Speaker’s Table.

Members should enter today’s date, print and sign their name, and may enter a designation of identity. I draw Members’ attention to the provisions of Standing Order 3(e), regarding the designation of “Nationalist, Unionist or Other”. A Member who does not register a designation of identity will be deemed to be designated “Other” for the purposes of the Standing Orders.

The process of signing the Roll will take some time, and I ask Members for their patience during this procedure.

Clerk, if I may now sign the Roll.

Madam Speaker signed the Roll of Membership as follows:

Bell, Eileen                                              Other

Madam Speaker: Members of the Assembly, I should like to make a brief personal statement before others sign the Roll.

I consider it a great privilege to have been appointed to hold the office of Speaker of this Assembly. In any elected body, the office of Speaker draws much of its authority and dignity from the respect and co-operation of the Members, particularly in their relationship with the Chair. I hope that I can rely on your support as I try to uphold the values of the tradition. For my part, I will do my utmost to maintain your respect for the office of Speaker, and I trust that I can count on your co-operation.

Like each of you, I have been elected to serve my constituents and, in whatever role I can play in this place, to work for the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. I regard that as a greater privilege, and I commit myself to assisting you to perform that task on behalf of your own constituents and the wider community.

This Assembly has been established to make preparations for the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland and a fully restored Assembly. How we conduct ourselves in this Chamber, and particularly in regard to each other, will contribute to our electorate’s view of our entitlement to hold office in that Assembly. That stands as both a challenge and a standard against which each one of us will be measured.

For my part, I want simply to state to you that I stand before you as a servant of the Assembly. I intend to follow the established precedent of not making political comment to the media; I intend to stand aside from party politics and to offer myself as a spokes­person for the Assembly, its collective will and particularly its secretariat, which has served us all so well.

I look forward to whatever time I will have in this position. I am indebted to you for your patience as I strive to serve you all.

We shall now proceed.

I invite Members of the Alliance Party to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Members signed the Roll of Membership:

Close, Seamus                               Other
Ford, David                                      Other
Long, Naomi                                    Other
McCarthy, Kieran                            Other
Neeson, Sean                                  Other

10.45 am

Madam Speaker: I invite Members of the Democratic Unionist Party to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Members signed the Roll of Membership:

Beare, Norah                                     Unionist
Buchanan, Thomas                          Unionist
Campbell, Gregory                           Unionist
Clyde, Wilson                                    Unionist
Dawson, George                                Unionist
Dodds, Diane                                     Unionist
Dodds, Nigel                                      Unionist
Donaldson, Jeffrey                            Unionist
Easton, Alex                                       Unionist
Ennis, George                                    Unionist
Foster, Arlene                                     Unionist
Girvan, Paul                                        Unionist
Hay, William                                       Unionist
Hilditch, David                                    Unionist
McCausland, Nelson                        Unionist
McCrea, William                                Unionist
Morrow, Maurice                                Unionist
Moutray, Stephen                              Unionist
Newton, Robin                                    Unionist
Paisley, Ian                                         Unionist
Paisley, Ian Jnr                                   Unionist
Poots, Edwin                                       Unionist
Robinson, George                              Unionist
Robinson, Iris                                      Unionist
Robinson, Mark                                  Unionist
Robinson, Peter                                  Unionist
Shannon, Jim                                      Unionist
Simpson, David                                  Unionist
Storey, Mervyn                                    Unionist
Weir, Peter                                           Unionist
Wells, Jim                                             Unionist
Wilson, Sammy                                   Unionist

11.00 am

Madam Speaker: I invite Members of Sinn Féin to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Members signed the Roll of Membership:

Adams, Gerry                                      Nationalist
Brolly, Francie                                     Nationalist
Clarke, Willie                                       Nationalist
Doherty, Pat                                         Nationalist
Dougan, Geraldine                             Nationalist
Ferguson, Michael                             Nationalist
Gildernew, Michelle                            Nationalist
Hyland, Davy                                       Nationalist
Kelly, Gerry                                          Nationalist
McCann, Fra                                        Nationalist
McCartney, Raymond                        Nationalist
McElduff, Barry                                    Nationalist
McGuigan, Philip                                Nationalist
McGuinness, Martin                           Nationalist
McLaughlin, Mitchel                           Nationalist
Maskey, Alex                                       Nationalist
Molloy, Francie                                   Nationalist
Murphy, Conor                                    Nationalist
O’Dowd, John                                      Nationalist
O’Rawe, Pat                                         Nationalist
O’Reilly, Thomas                                Nationalist
Ramsey, Sue                                      Nationalist
Ruane, Caitríona                                Nationalist
Stanton, Kathy                                    Nationalist

Madam Speaker: I invite Members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Members signed the Roll of Membership:

Attwood, Alex                                     Nationalist
Bradley, Dominic                              Nationalist
Bradley, Mary                                    Nationalist
Bradley, P J                                       Nationalist
Burns, Thomas                                 Nationalist
Dallat, John                                       Nationalist
Durkan, Mark                                     Nationalist
Farren, Seán                                      Nationalist
Gallagher, Tommy                            Nationalist
Hanna, Carmel                                  Nationalist
Kelly, Dolores                                    Nationalist
Lewsley, Patricia                                Nationalist
McDonnell, Alasdair                         Nationalist
McGlone, Patsy                                 Nationalist
McMenamin, Eugene                       Nationalist
Maginness, Alban                             Nationalist
Ramsey, Pat                                      Nationalist
Ritchie, Margaret                              Nationalist

11.15 am

Madam Speaker: I invite Members of the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Members signed the Roll of Membership:

Armstrong, Billy                                  Unionist
Beggs, Roy                                          Unionist
Bell, Billy                                              Unionist
Birnie, Esmond                                    Unionist
Burnside, David                                   Unionist
Cobain, Fred                                        Unionist
Copeland, Michael                              Unionist
Coulter, Robert                                    Unionist
Cree, Leslie                                          Unionist
Elliott, Tom                                           Unionist
Empey, Reg                                         Unionist
Ervine, David                                        Unionist
Gardiner, Samuel                                 Unionist
Hillis, Norman                                       Unionist
Hussey, Derek                                      Unionist
Kennedy, Danny                                   Unionist
Kilclooney, The Lord                            Unionist
McClarty, David                                    Unionist
McFarland, Alan                                    Unionist
McGimpsey, Michael                            Unionist
McNarry, David                                      Unionist
Nesbitt, Dermot                                      Unionist
Robinson, Ken                                       Unionist
Trimble, David                                        Unionist
Wilson, Jim                                             Unionist

Madam Speaker: I invite the Member from the United Kingdom Unionist Party to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Member signed the Roll of Membership:

McCartney, Robert                                Unionist

Madam Speaker: I invite the Independent Unionist Member, Mr Paul Berry, to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Member signed the Roll of Membership:

Berry, Paul                                              Unionist

Madam Speaker: I invite the Independent Member, Dr Kieran Deeny, to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

The following Member signed the Roll of Membership:

Deeny, Kieran                                           Other

Madam Speaker: Finally, I invite any Member present who has not already done so to come forward to sign the Roll of Membership.

11.30 am

I thank Members for their co-operation and patience during the signing of the Roll of Membership. The Roll will be located in the Chamber during sitting days to enable any Member who has not been able to sign the Roll to do so.

Standing Order 3(a) states that my decision as to whether a Member has taken his or her seat in accordance with the Standing Order is final. I can make that decision only after scrutinising all of the entries on the Roll. I intend to make an announcement on this matter at the start of the next meeting of the Assembly.

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. One of the other duties that you and your staff are expected to perform today is to publish a list of Members of each of the parties. Standing Orders are clear on the matter and refer to the:

“list of seats in the Assembly held by members of each party”.

They do not refer to a group or to those who are taking the whip of a particular party but to members of the party itself.

There are public indications that the Ulster Unionist Party intends that a Member for East Belfast, Mr Ervine, be a member of its group. Will you clarify the situation, either now or after you have taken counsel’s opinion? There are political implications — perhaps long into the future — with this matter and as to whether it falls within the interpretation of the Standing Order that deals with being a member of a party. I understand from the constitution rules of the Ulster Unionist Party that, in order to be a member of that political party, a person cannot be a member of any other political party.

Madam Speaker: I thank Mr Robinson for his point of order. It is a serious matter and has to be looked at very carefully. I will be taking counsel and I will, hopefully, be making a ruling at tomorrow’s sitting.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you explain why you took the decision today to allow another Member to be incorporated under the Official Unionist banner?

Madam Speaker: I was provided with the information about party membership in accordance with Standing Order 3, and that information has been set out accurately in the published list.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The list that we received showed:

“Progressive Unionist Party

Members (1):

Mr David Ervine”.

Madam Speaker: That list was from Thursday. An updated list was issued after we received the list from the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group. That list should now be in your possession.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: We never saw that list.

Madam Speaker: It was circulated this morning before 9.30 am, which is in line with convention. However, as I said to your colleague, it is a serious matter that will be looked at.

Adjourned at 11.34 am.

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