Appointment of a First Minister and deputy First Minister

Assembly Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:00 pm, 16th January 2017

The deputy First Minister's resignation took effect at 5.00 pm on Monday 9 January 2017. The First Minister also ceased to hold office at that time. If the vacancies are not filled by 5.00 pm today, in accordance with section 16B(8) of the Act, no person can take up office as First Minister or deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State must propose a date for the poll for the election of the next Assembly in accordance with section 32(3)(b) of the Act.

I will conduct the process of filling the offices in accordance with the procedures set out in section 16B(4) to (7) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Standing Order 44(1). That means that the person nominated must affirm the terms of the Pledge of Office and take up the office within 15 minutes of the nomination unless the Assembly approves an extension.

I will begin by asking the nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation to nominate a Member of the Assembly to be the First Minister. I will then ask the nominating officer of the largest political party of the second largest political designation to nominate a Member of the Assembly to be the deputy First Minister.

As the persons nominated to fill the vacancies shall not take up office until each of them has affirmed the terms of the Pledge of Office contained in schedule 4 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I will ask each of the persons nominated whether they accept the nomination and to affirm the terms of the Pledge of Office.

Before we proceed, Members may find it helpful if the Pledge of Office is read into the record:

"To pledge: (a) to discharge in good faith all the duties of office; (b) commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; (c) to serve all the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the general obligations on government to promote equality and prevent discrimination; (ca) to promote the interests of the whole community represented in the the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the goal of a shared future; (cb) to participate fully in the Executive Committee, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council; (cc) to observe the joint nature of the offices of First Minister and deputy First Minister; (cd) to uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement; (ce) to support the rule of law unequivocally in word and deed and to support all efforts to uphold it; (cf) to work collectively with the other members of the Executive Committee to achieve a society free of paramilitarism; (cg) to challenge all paramilitary activity and associated criminality; (ch) to call for, and to work together with the other members of the Executive Committee to achieve, the disbandment of all paramilitary organisations and their structures; (ci) to challenge paramilitary attempts to control communities; (cj) to support those who are determined to make the transition away from paramilitarism; (ck) to accept no authority, direction or control on my political activities other than my democratic mandate alongside my own personal and party judgment; (d) to participate with colleagues in the preparation of a programme for government; (e) to operate within the framework of that programme when agreed within the Executive Committee and endorsed by the Assembly; (f) to support, and to act in accordance with, all decisions of the Executive Committee and Assembly; (g) to comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement says: “We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.”"

The Pledge of Office has been read into the record of proceedings and I will proceed with the nomination process.

In accordance with section 16C(1) of the Act, I have received notification from the nominating officer of the Democratic Unionist Party, advising me that Lord Morrow will serve as nominating officer for the party today. I call Lord Morrow to nominate a Member of the Assembly to be the First Minister.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Following the May election, which was just eight months ago, I had the honour and pleasure of nominating the DUP party leader, Arlene Foster. Everyone in this House will be acutely aware that the people spoke very clearly at that election in May. They said that they wanted Arlene Foster to be the leader, and in particular the leader of unionism. That was demonstrated very, very clearly. Not only was she elected, she was elected with the highest personal vote of any Member. That was not the decision of this House; it was the decision of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. However, ever from that day, it seems that there has been an array of attempts to take Arlene Foster down, and they have not always come from nationalists and republicans.

Ulster Unionists have indulged in that also, and today they should be ashamed of themselves.

I am nominating Arlene Foster to be the First Minister. It is her rightful position, not alone because the DUP says it but because 202,000 people in the country say it. We as the Democratic Unionist Party will decide who the leader of our party is, not someone else sitting in the Chamber. We do not dictate to others who should be their leader, and no one is going to dictate to us today who will be the leader of our party, who it transpires is the leader of unionism in Northern Ireland. Mr Speaker, I very readily and with some degree of pleasure nominate Arlene Foster to be the First Minister.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Mrs Foster, are you willing to take up the office of First Minister and to affirm the Pledge of Office?

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

In accordance with section 16C(1) of the Act, I have received a letter from the nominating officer of Sinn Féin advising me that Mrs Michelle O'Neill will serve as nominating officer for the party for this business. I call Mrs Michelle O'Neill to nominate a Member of the Assembly to be the deputy First Minister.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I start by paying tribute to my friend Martin McGuinness. For over 10 years as deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness has worked tirelessly to make these institutions work and to make sure that they deliver for all our people: unionist, nationalist and everyone else in our society. He took a leadership role to promote equality, respect and reconciliation. His record, his commitment and the limitless energy that he brought to this process is beyond question. During that time, he has faced threats, a lack of respect and a failure by the DUP to reciprocate his Trojan efforts. He persevered because it was the right thing to do. The DUP has again treated these institutions and sections of the community with contempt and with arrogance. It has displayed disrespect towards women, the LGBT community, ethnic minorities, the Irish language and Irish identity. That has diminished the credibility of these institutions.

The renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal was created by the former First Minister when she was in the Economy Department. Her refusal to step aside shows a total disregard for the concerns and outrage of the public. Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister because that was the right thing to do. We will not tolerate the arrogance of and disrespect from the DUP. Sinn Féin and the public will not tolerate financial scandal, incompetence or waste of public money. The institutions can function only with the support of the people and can operate only on the basis of equality and respect. Sinn Féin will only be part of institutions that work and deliver for all in our community. There can be no return to the status quo. If something is broken, you stop and fix it. That is the Sinn Féin approach.

Today, Sinn Féin will not renominate for the position of deputy First Minister. Sinn Féin has honoured all agreements. We have striven to make these institutions work. Martin McGuinness has acted at all times with integrity, with dignity and with respect. He has taken personal and political risks to build a process of reconciliation. If we are to return to this Chamber, there must be real, meaningful change. There must be respect and equality for all sections of our society. The institutions must operate to the highest standard, with no place for arrogance or malpractice. It is now over to the people to have their say.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Northern Ireland Act requires that nominations be made by the nominating officers of both the largest political party from the largest political designation and the largest political party from the second largest designation and that the persons nominated shall not take up office until each of them has affirmed the terms of the Pledge of Office. Those requirements have not been satisfied today, and the offices of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister must remain vacant. Let us move on.