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Thank you, Mr acting Speaker. I read carefully the letter that the Speaker sent to all MLAs recently explaining his course of action and decision-making in relation to the pre-Christmas sitting. It is quite clear. I accept that the Assembly was recalled on the basis of instruction from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister and that, similarly, he required both Ministers to instruct not to recall the Assembly. I do not think that anyone has an issue with the fact that the Speaker did not have the authority to countermand the order to recall the Assembly. However, it was made very clear to him publicly and privately to the Speaker's Office that the statement that was to be made and the purpose of the recall of the Assembly was not, in fact, then being made on behalf of the Executive Office, because the deputy First Minister had withdrawn his authority for that statement to be made. That meant that the statement that the then First Minister came forward with was clearly a personal statement on her own behalf and not for the purpose for which the House had been recalled. Bear it in mind that other business had been tabled for that day and it was not the sole purpose for which the House had been recalled. Clearly, the original intended purpose was gone. The Speaker should not have allowed the First Minister to make a statement claiming it to be on behalf of the Executive Office when, clearly, it was not and she did not have the authority of that office to do so.
Following that decision, it was clear — the actions on the day reaffirmed it — not only that the Speaker was challenged very vigorously on the Standing Orders on which he was conducting his business — most of us were bemused by some of his explanations — but also that he had, with the exception of his party colleagues, lost the confidence of virtually every MLA in the House. I suggest that he still does not have the confidence, with the exception of his party Members, of virtually every MLA in the House.
We come today to debate confidence in the Speaker, which is a normal motion, given the circumstances that we found ourselves in in that sitting before Christmas and the behaviour that led to the First Minister making a statement on behalf of that office when she clearly did not have the authority to do so, yet we find ourselves hamstrung by a petition of concern. The DUP has deployed petitions of concern over 80 times in the Assembly — 82 of those as a party on its own. The irony is that the petition of concern was built into the Good Friday Agreement to protect the rights of minorities and to protect citizens from larger parties trampling over their rights and entitlements, yet the DUP, as the largest party in the Assembly, has used it 82 times without support from any other MLA. On a number of those occasions, it has used it to protect its Members from censure in the Assembly. It does so again on this occasion.
Mr Weir might find that amusing, but the DUP has yet to learn that there is public outcry not just about this scheme and the Speaker's handling of some of the issues but about the DUP's absolute refusal to recognise the damage that it is doing to public confidence in the institutions. It continued to do that to this very moment when it deployed the petition of concern. The use of petitions of concern to protect the interests of its Members is a corruption of what the petition of concern was intended to do.