It is with much regret that I advise the House that Sir John Gorman has decided to step down as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. He will, of course, continue to serve the Assembly in his capacity as an Ulster Unionist Assembly Member for North Down. I would like to take this opportunity to pay my own tribute to Sir John and to convey to him my gratitude for his assistance to me as Speaker.
For almost two years, Sir John has made his own distinguished contribution to the Chair of the Assembly. His dignity, patience and good humour, as well as his firmness when required, have added considerably to the conduct of debate in the Chamber. I know that I speak also for the other Deputy Speakers, Mr Donovan McClelland and Ms Jane Morrice, when I say that he has been to all of us a most congenial, thoughtful and supportive Colleague.
Sir John had wide practical experience of chairmanship, which equipped him well for his role as a Deputy Speaker. From 1996 to 1998 Sir John was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue, which was established as part of the negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement. However, that was merely the most recent and perhaps the most public of his many roles of public service, which extend right back to his front line and highly decorated military service in the Irish Guards during the second world war.
Sir John’s first experience of this House was when his father brought him to its opening in 1932. Many Members will be aware that Sir John is now the Father of the House. That is a particularly fitting title for him. He is the Father of the House not only in age, but, more importantly, in dignity and distinction. He has earned the respect of Members from all sides and, in his capacity as Deputy Speaker, has entertained many guests from overseas and represented the Assembly, most notably, perhaps, at the historic Tynwald ceremony in the Isle of Man. Sir John has been a splendid ambassador for the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am most grateful to him for his help and support and for his friendship, which I value greatly.
Sir John, I thank you, and I wish you all that is good.
I associate myself and my Colleagues with all the Speaker’s comments about Sir John — his service, his character and the manner in which he discharged his duties here.
Six years ago, when several of my Colleagues and I approached Sir John with a view to his developing a political career, he had a distinguished record in public service, the army, the police, aviation and the Housing Executive. He was replete with honours and age. Nonetheless, he was prepared to start an entirely new venture by coming forward as an Ulster Unionist elected representative in the Forum. He found himself pitched immediately into the deep end in the Chair, where, I have the temerity to suggest, he had even less experience than you, Mr Speaker, when you found yourself in a similar situation. Despite that, he conducted himself admirably, won the respect of all those who participated in the Forum and did an extremely good job.
He continued that service as Deputy Speaker in a way that has earned him the good opinion of all Members. I would be surprised if any Member did not have a warm feeling for him and did not, rightly, regard him as a friend.
Members understand the circumstances that have led Sir John Gorman to stand down as Deputy Speaker. He is to have a minor operation in the not-too-distant future, for which the House conveys its best wishes to Sir John. The Assembly looks forward to his return to continue the excellent service that he has given to the House and to the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Speaker, you spoke in a fitting and effective way, on behalf of the House, in paying tribute to the enormous contribution that Sir John Gorman has made to the Assembly. It is just one further instalment in his distinguished contribution to public life, both to the Assembly and to the people of Northern Ireland. Sir John brought colour and humour to the Chair. He is a man with no sides to him — he deals with everyone in a straightforward manner. He is a man of honour in his dealings with all parties and with all Members of the House.
I shall miss him in the Chair. I have missed him in the Chair in the past, especially when he has been asking me questions from the Floor. He will be missed in the future. Members understand and appreciate the circumstances that force him to concentrate more on looking after himself and his constituents than on looking after all of us in the Chamber. We appreciate Sir John’s distinctive contribution. We look forward to continuing to work with him and to enjoying his full membership of the House.
I wish to associate myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, and those of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It is a long time since I first met Sir John in the famous town of Ballymena, which he knew very well. He was a distinguished police officer there. However, he never had the privilege of arresting me.
I knew him well. I remember when he was chairman of the Housing Executive. He visited a certain housing estate. Many of his co-religionists lived on that housing estate. We had an interesting time. Many times, we have exchanged some of the wonderful things that were said to him as chairman of the Housing Executive and some of the more wonderful things that were said about me as Member of Parliament for the area. That was an interesting time.
I sat under his chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue with great pleasure. I remember the day when he told us that, in his time as a police officer, he always liked to have the sun shining into the eyes of those whom he was questioning. He looked down at the DUP side of the House and said that the sun is shining in the eyes of those men today. I never forgot that.
Sir John did extremely well as Chairman of the Forum. The DUP had its differences with him, as it has had in his time as a Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. However, there has never been any personal friction between us. We have had a warm, personal relationship. The House will be thinking of him and praying for him in the near future. I hope that, as Father of the House, he will be in the Chamber in the coming days to speak a fatherly word to us. The scriptures say that the Father chasteneth thee. Sir John did not chasten us too often. We respected the hand that wielded the cane.
I endorse the comments that have been expressed to Sir John and wish him well on behalf of Sinn Féin. The party expresses its gratitude for the sense of duty with which Sir John Gorman has carried out his work in the Chamber and in the Assembly since its inception. I agree with the Speaker’s comments that when Sir John Gorman has met people from outside the Building, such as visitors from overseas, he has always represented the entire Assembly with aplomb, dignity, balance and not without a little style of his own. I share in the sentiments that wish him well in the near future. We are disappointed that he is unable to finish this session as Deputy Speaker. He has done the job to the very best of his ability and has treated everyone here with the respect that they all deserve as elected representatives. I hope that he will be able to spend a little more time as an elected representative and, of course, with his family.
I also associate my party and myself with the sentiments expressed by you, Mr Speaker, and by other Members. It is unnecessary to repeat all that has been said about Sir John to endorse the tributes that others have paid. His work as a Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, which follows on from his work in the Forum, was a cap to a distinguished career of public service, a career that has been outlined in considerable detail.
Members of the Alliance Party opposition awkward squad on these Benches created certain difficulties for Sir John, as indeed they did for others in the Chair at times. Unfailingly, he responded to us with the courtesy, good humour and good manners that we know to be Sir John. I trust that he never took it personally — he certainly never gave the impression that he did. He always gave the impression that he could deal with whatever brickbats were thrown at him in a way utterly befitting of any Deputy Speaker of any body.
On behalf of the Alliance Party, I add our good wishes to Sir John for the future. We shall miss him in the Chair, but we shall enjoy his contributions from the Back Benches.
On behalf of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, I identify with the comments that have been made about Sir John on his retirement as Deputy Speaker. I got to know Sir John at the Forum. Indeed, my lasting memory of him was on a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We had the pleasure of accompanying him on the coach from the airport to Strasbourg. Sir John gave a running commentary about his wartime exploits, when the Germans were routed from the city of Strasbourg during the second world war, to which he made an amazing contribution. It was a memorable trip and coloured my view of the calibre and stature of Sir John Gorman. I wish him a quiet time on the Back Benches and all the very best for his future in the Assembly.
I concur with everything that has been said. It seems to me that Sir John Gorman’s heart is good. It is not that long ago that I met him in politics. His dignity and integrity are absolute. I consider him, if he will allow me the luxury, not only to be a Colleague, but a friend. In many of the comments that I have heard, whether in public or in private, he is eminently a man of reconciliation.
I am not about to commiserate his passing from the Deputy Speaker’s Chair, other than to celebrate that I have known him as a Colleague, and I know that he will be on the Back Benches. As the Father of the House, he may have some advice for us all.
On behalf of the Women’s Coalition, I voice our appreciation for Sir John’s role as Deputy Speaker. He brought dignity and honour to the Chair, and he will be sorely missed. While we appreciate him for his work, we welcome him to the Back Benches, both as Father of the House and as a friend. The most fitting tribute to him is that there are absolutely no back doors in Sir John.
I join with others who have expressed good wishes for Sir John. I first made his acquaintance many years ago, perhaps as many as 55 years ago — when I did not know really who Sir John was — as a reader of a boys’ magazine called ‘The Champion’. The magazine had little vignettes of people who had done very special things in the war, and one of them featured John Gorman. I am not sure whether he was Captain or Lieutenant John Gorman, but he was certainly in charge of a tank. He came to the conclusion that his tank was not quite as well armed as the German Tiger tank and if he stood off he would not have been here in any other form. So, according to the account in ‘The Champion’, he ran his tank forward, jammed the gun of the much heavier tank so that it could not revolve and blow him to smithereens, and thus escaped to enjoy longevity and a period as Deputy Speaker of this House.
Having escaped from the Axis powers into another — some people might say — nest of vipers — [Interruption].
Well, some people are more viperous than others. [Laughter].
Having survived all that, he has entertained us with his companionship and, I have to say, a certain degree of eccentricity from time to time, but all of it has been in good part, and we shall certainly miss him in his role as Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt, however, that he will continue to puzzle many of us from the Back Benches, and we wish him everything of good fortune in the future.
Mr Speaker and leaders of all the parties here, I cannot tell you how much all this means to me. I sometimes wonder, when I listen to all these things, who it is that you are talking about. Some of you have used a little more hyperbole than I deserve.
I am particularly pleased today that I have my dear wife with me — she is up in the Gallery — because she has had to suffer an awful lot of inconvenience, irritation and possibly boredom in listening to my tales of all of you when I got home. I promise you that, generally speaking, you all came out of it pretty well, and I am sure that she will think of you all now as the rather backward, bashful but affectionate crowd that you really are — and you really are, as far as I am concerned.
I think that you should know that today I met the surgeon who is going to do the great job on me, and — could you believe it — he has the splendid name of Gladstone. I asked him about home rule, and he looked a bit abashed because he is an Englishman — but he was pretty bullish about my chances, and I hope that I will be able to be back with you all in a matter of possibly eight or nine weeks.
I really feel that nothing that I could say would be appropriate at all to end my little thank you to you, other than to say how very happy I have been in the Ulster Unionist Party and how much I have been given support and attention by all its members, in particular by its leader, and to say also of the Speaker that we are very lucky indeed to have such a man at our head in conducting our affairs. Every one of you has been a friend as well as a Colleague to me, and I thank you. As Betty Boothroyd said a little time ago — and I am not going to quite say it — "time is up". Thank you. [Applause].