Assembly Business

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 14th May 2001.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker 12:00 pm, 14th May 2001

Order. During Question Time on Tuesday 8 May, the Deputy Speaker, Mr McClelland, was asked to rule on whether Standing Order 19(2)(b) had been breached during a supplementary question by Mr McGrady to the Minister for Social Development. I have read Hansard Volume 11 No 1, pages 21 and 24, and I am satisfied that Mr McGrady was asserting variability of quality in the work of housing associations. The Member’s remark was not, in itself, an allegation of malpractice, and I do not believe that a breach of that Standing Order occurred.

Later that day, during the debate on the motion of no confidence in the Minister of Education, I was asked to rule on an allegation that Rev Dr Ian Paisley had made unparliamentary remarks from a sedentary position. I remind Members of my previous ruling of 4 December 2000, recorded on page 425 of Hansard, that unparliamentary remarks made from a sedentary position are no more acceptable than those made from a standing position.

I have examined Hansard and found some ambiguity over whether Dr Paisley was referring to Mr Adams, the Member speaking at the time, or to the person being quoted by Mr Adams. Mr Peter Robinson made clear his view of to whom Dr Paisley was referring, but I have also previously ruled that no Member may make an interpretation of what another Member said. I therefore call on Dr Paisley to say to whom he was referring and to clarify his remark.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Page 40 of Hansard clearly shows that what I said was in relation to the letter and to the accusation made in it.

I was not referring to the Member. I was referring to the man whom he quoted as having made the very serious statement that I was trying to set up Roman Catholic people, probably to be murdered.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

A remark can be unparliamentary only if it refers to other Members. If, as Dr Paisley has clarified, he was referring not to Mr Adams but to the man whom Mr Adams was quoting, then the remark cannot be deemed to be unparliamentary.

Dr Paisley also rose on a point of order, contending that the remarks were not true and that they were an incorrect quotation of him. That in itself would be unparliamentary. Therefore, I ask Mr Adams whether he accepts Dr Paisley’s contention that the remarks that he quoted were not remarks that Dr Paisley had made.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

I accept your ruling on the matter but draw your attention to when Dr Paisley made his interruption. I had said that

"Dr Paisley asked the people of the Shankill what was wrong with them, because there were papists living at 425 Shankill Road, 56 Aden Street and 38 Crimea Street. I forgive the Rev Dr Ian Paisley for these remarks."

Then he interrupted to say "Liar".

Secondly, I believe that what I read is an accurate reflection of a report of remarks made by Dr Paisley at that time.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

The Member has said that, at that point, he was not quoting from the person from whom he had earlier been quoting but was speaking in his own right. That is a clarification of Hansard. However, Dr Paisley’s point is that the report was not factually correct and that that is not what he said. That is what the Member maintains. To quote a Member as having said something that he or she did not say is unparliamentary. Dr Paisley has said "This is not what I said." It may be that someone else put it in a newspaper, but I have often said that newspapers are not entirely reliable in some of these matters. Does Mr Adams accept Dr Paisley’s contention that he, Dr Paisley, did not say the things that he was quoted as having said?

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

I do not accept his contention. I note what Dr Paisley has said, but I only have his assertion about this. I believe fundamentally that he addressed the word "liar" to me and not to anyone else.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I will have to give further consideration to the matter, because when a Member says quite clearly that the report that another Member is quoting from is not true, it is normal practice to accept that. The Member is saying that he does not accept the contention that the Member makes and that it is not a true report. It may be a report that was given in all good faith — indeed, if it were not, that would be unparliamentary — but that is not the question. The question is whether the Member now accepts Dr Paisley’s contention that he did not say these things and that they are not true.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

I do not accept his contention, but I have noted what he has to say. In fairness to him, I will check the report, and if it is then my view that I am wrong, of course I will come back and make that clear.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I will make two points, and the Member will be given an opportunity to respond.

Whether it is a correct quotation of a newspaper report is not actually the point, because the newspaper report may not be true. That would be the reporting of an untruth, if one accepts what Dr Paisley has said.

The Member will, of course, have an opportunity to reflect, as will I, and to review Hansard. I emphasise the view about what would constitute unparliamentary language. Whether a report is true is another matter.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I do not need the forgiveness of a man of the ilk of the Member for West Belfast. I never made any such statement, and if he was so keen to search for and get one, why did he not bring the proof? Other matters were mentioned, and we now have Hansard to refer to. I will be making a personal statement to the House about other matters that are incorrect and untrue.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I ask Members to reflect on what they have said and what has been said. I will be reflecting upon the matter, studying Hansard and taking a view on what Members subsequently say. I hope that I have made the position clear. If any Members are in doubt, they should consult ‘Erskine May’.

During the same debate on 8 May, my attention was drawn to an allegation that a Member made gestures across the Chamber. These were not observed by the Speaker. I asked for the videotape of the proceedings to be viewed, but no gestures were recorded.

There are some circumstances where gestures between Members would be a return to a more primitive form of communication. Sometimes it may be the only direct form of communication between Members, and in such circumstances it may be interpreted as an advance. I have consulted ‘Erskine May’, and there is no indication of what may constitute unparliamentary gestures. They do not seem to have needed to rule on this matter in other Chambers. It is difficult enough to identify unparliamentary words, without trying to identify unparliamentary gestures. One could understand that there would be some gestures that would not only be unparliamentary but would also be extremely rude. I hope that such behaviour would not become practice in the Chamber.

On page 389 of the current edition of ‘Erskine May’, the Speaker rules on the question of Members using diagrams to elucidate their statements. The Speaker has said that

"Members should be sufficiently articulate to express what they want to say without diagrams."

I trust that I may refer to this as a precedent for gestures or hand signals. I emphasise that Members should communicate only through the Speaker — and in words.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

Tá mé buíoch díot ar son na hoibre a rinne tú faoi mo ghearán. Ach ar chuir tú aon cheist ar an Uasal McCartney? I appreciate the work you have carried out in investigating my complaint. Did you ask the Member, Bob McCartney, about the gesture he made?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I did meet with Mr McCartney; I always try to be in touch with any Members on whom a ruling is going to be made in order that they can be in the Chamber if possible.

It is not always possible actually to speak with such a Member, but I do try to make contact with him or his representative. However, I was able to make contact with Mr McCartney and meet him.

The Member and the House know that it is not appropriate for me to divulge what happens or is said between a Member and the Speaker. I treat such meetings less as time in the confessional and more like appointments I would have had during my previous professional practice. However, as a result of that meeting, I am satisfied that no untoward intent was meant by any of the gestures or gesticulations made in any part of the Chamber at that time — I am content about that, and I think that I have followed the matter up with some due diligence.

I trust this is of some reassurance to the Member — although perhaps not a full reassurance. Members from all parties often have conversations with me, and it would be wrong to divulge those conversations other than as I have done.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin 12:15 pm, 14th May 2001

Further to that point of order. It may be appropriate for you, as a former psychiatrist, to use those rules. I welcome your ruling about hand signals or gestures. However, my Colleague gestured towards me as if pointing a gun and pulling the trigger, and I want that on the record.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

As Mr McCartney has been referred to, I will give him an opportunity to respond.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I find it ironic — almost a macabre joke — that the president of a party inextricably linked with an organisation reeking with blood should suggest —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. An accusation has been made. If the Member wishes to respond to the specifics of that — to whether the accusation is true — he may do so briefly in context. However, this is not an opportunity for a speech on the matter.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

I accept that.

The Member suggested that I made a gesture as if pointing a gun, and that needs explanation. After a particularly unctuous speech by the Member, in which he talked about cleansing streams flowing under bridges, he sat down, looked across the Chamber at me and put up his hands as if in resignation or supplication — looking hard at me. I indicated to him by gesture — because I do not converse with the representatives of terror — the following: shaking my head, which meant "No", and making a gesture with my hand, which meant "guns". I will have discussions at any time with any representative of a political party, whatever his previous background, when he no longer fronts organisations armed and dedicated to terror, whether Republican or Loyalist. That explains entirely my response by gesture to the good Mr Adams, who had just made this horribly unctuous address.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. I trust that the House can see my dilemma. There appears to have been no direct communication through the Chair on this occasion, and what communication there was was by way of hand signals. I am hesitant to intrude upon that. I call on the House to communicate through the Chair and to do so in words, since I cannot hope to convey the meaning of gestures.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

I want to welcome what is obviously a big advance in communication for the Member. However, I reject entirely his explanation.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. Sadly we must bring this matter to a close and give the Minister an opportunity to communicate to us on the very serious matter of foot-and- mouth disease.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)