Assembly Business

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 28th April 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 10:30 am, 28th April 2020

I wish to advise Members that we will suspend the sitting at 10:50 am to make preparations to observe a minute's silence in the Chamber in honour of those front-line workers who have lost their life in their efforts to save others during this pandemic.

Before we commence business, I also wish to advise Members that the Speaker has asked me to record that he has written to extend condolences to our former colleagues, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Oliver McMullan, who have both experienced close family bereavements this week. The Speaker has also given me leave to say a few words about the passing of Mr Charlie Poots.

Charlie Poots was born in 1929 and reared in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Although a farmer, he did not come from the landed interest and had to work very hard for everything that he ever owned. He stood for the old Northern Ireland Parliament in 1969 and was elected to Stormont in 1973 and 1975. Charlie faithfully served the people of Lisburn for 24 years on Lisburn council and rose to the office of deputy mayor.

Speaking as a DUP Assembly Member, I can say truthfully that but for the vision of people such as Charlie Poots and Ian Paisley, I would not be here. I wish to take this opportunity to extend my deepest sympathy to Angela and Joy, and to the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Mr Edwin Poots, on the passing of his father.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you for the opportunity to reply briefly. First, I extend my sympathies to my friend and colleague Jeffrey Donaldson on the loss of his father and to Oliver McMullan, whose daughter has passed away. It is hugely tragic when a young person loses their life. I know that all our sympathies are with Oliver at this time in going through the trauma that his family are going through.

I thank God for my mother and father and for the start that they gave me in life. It was not always easy and we did not always have lots of money or anything like that, but I had a really good start in life because I had good parents. As you indicated, he did not come from a big-house unionist background. He was a conviction politician, although he was a farmer first.

You can be thankful that you have me to deal with, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, and not him, because he could be a little more fiery than me. I know that, on at least one occasion, he used unparliamentary language. On another occasion, Michael Heseltine was not the first to grab a mace. That was done by Professor Kennedy Lindsay, who leapt onto the Table that used to be in the centre of this room, and a mass brawl broke out between the Members. I know that dad was front, middle and centre of that, on that occasion. Dr Paisley always related a particular story about how he lost a button in the fray, and he got my sister to sew the button on. He had found it on the floor. Then my mother wondered why there was an odd button on his coat, so it was somebody else's button that had been found, and Dr Paisley always took great heart in telling that story.

One thing that I have often thought as I pass through the Lobby and see the death plates that are up there in memory of murdered colleagues is that dad could have been one of those, because, in 1976, the INLA attempted to murder him as he left Allam's market. The bullet hit the door of the car — the front, driver's door — and he narrowly avoided being murdered. I have to say that, as a young lad of 11, at that stage, I was quite bitter about that for many years. I watched my dad as he mixed and mingled with many people from the Roman Catholic community, which I had a personal bitterness about, as I was blaming an entire community for the foolish actions of a small number of individuals, and how he dealt with that in such a gracious way. He worked very closely with people and held no bitterness, and that enabled me to overcome the bitterness that was in my heart that should not have been there in the first place. I will say this: bitterness burns up the individuals who are bitter, but it does not do any harm to the people whom they are bitter about. There is a lesson to be learned there for all of us.

Dad lived a long life. Although his health was not so good in his latter years, he had a good life. He had a prosperous life, one that was successful in so many areas. I thank God for him, and I thank you for your acknowledgement of him this morning, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.