Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:30 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Prof Monica McWilliams Prof Monica McWilliams NIWC 4:30 pm, 9th March 1999

I am glad that you clarified that last point. A number of us were almost taking it on trust that we would be going to look at Standing Orders again. However, you told us before, and you have told us again now, that if we vote this amendment through, it stands. I am opposing these amendments.

Although there was a lengthy debate in the Standing Orders Committee and consensus at the end of that debate, today we find that that consensus has gone out of the window, as is often the case in Northern Ireland. On this issue it is extremely important. A number of points have been made, and Mr Denis Haughey actually said that here in Northern Ireland we would probably have the most inclusive form of government. We may indeed have the most inclusive form of government, but we certainly will not have the most inclusive form of Opposition to that Government if this currently stands.

The second point I want to make is that attempts were made in that committee to understand the need for inclusion, the need for different voices. Sir Reg Empey rightly said that there is concern in parties such as his that sometimes the Back-Benchers do not get a fair chance to make their speeches on the Assembly Floor. He is now concerned that that might also be the case in the committees.

Clearly, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you have had to address this issue from time to time and have tried to balance that in whatever way possible. That is exactly what the Standing Orders Committee attempted to do — to balance this — and it came up with a fair compromise. We, as one of the smaller parties, agreed with that compromise. We agreed that it would not necessarily be the case that we would be able to sit on all these Statutory Committees, but that there would be a choice of other committees. Now that has been foreclosed and I am saying to you that —