End of Mandate

Speaker's Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 22nd March 2022.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 10:30 am, 22nd March 2022

Members, as this is the last normal sitting day of the mandate, I would like to take the opportunity to make some brief remarks to mark the end of the Assembly mandate. After I have made a contribution, I will give nominated representatives from each of the parties and other Members who wish to speak an opportunity to do so for up to three minutes. It is my intention to give priority to those Members who will not be seeking re-election. Members should indicate their wish to speak by rising in their places and continuing to do so. I do not intend for this item to last for more than one hour, but I will exercise some discretion on the time limit in order to try to include as many Members as possible. I remind Members that I will not take points of order on this or any other matter until the item of business has finished.

Although another plenary session is scheduled this week, today's sitting is the last standard sitting of this Assembly mandate. When the Executive were appointed on 11 January 2020, the core challenge was getting the Assembly re-established after the three-year absence. It is to the credit of Assembly staff, despite their being called back from other parts of the public sector at short notice, that the resumption of Assembly business appeared seamless. However, within two months, we were dealing with the challenges that were presented by the pandemic. It was vital that the Assembly remained able to function. We changed many of our procedures, often in an extremely short time. Creative solutions were developed, such as proxy voting and remote attendance. The creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 Response was another measure that was adopted that allowed the Assembly to be much more flexible. I believe that many of changes that have been made have highlighted that the Assembly should not be afraid of modernisation and reform. I encourage that for the future. Let me today make one last appeal to consider electronic voting, bearing in mind the time that has been spent on voting alone in the past number of months.

Given the pressures that the shortened mandate and the pandemic created, it is remarkable that we have managed to consider so much draft legislation since 2020.

In the five years of the 2011-2016 mandate, some 78 Bills were introduced. In the past two years, 56 have been introduced. That has only happened with much planning, coordination and discipline.

The provision of greater support for private Members' Bills was another new feature of the mandate. We have undoubtedly learned from that experience, but it is an important area to build on for the future. I have always said that the clue is in our title: 'Members of the Legislative Assembly'.

During this post-Brexit period, I have received and engaged with many diplomats and delegations from across the globe on your behalf, and I have been very struck by the level of goodwill towards and interest in this place. If I could be so bold as to give advice to the next Assembly, it is that we should increase our strategic engagement to build on opportunities from that goodwill.

One of my frustrations over the past two years has been that the closure of Parliament Buildings hindered a lot of the engagement activity that might otherwise have been possible. I am particularly pleased at the number of initiatives that we have undertaken that have sought to make the Assembly inclusive of the community that it represents. Those have included the long-awaited creation of the Youth Assembly, the pilot to have live signing of our proceedings and the agreement to review the items on display in Parliament Buildings, which will be launched tomorrow evening. We have also had the Women's Parliament and the Disabled People's Parliament.

It has been a privilege to be involved in all the issues that I have mentioned, but the Speaker cannot achieve those things on their own. I want to record my appreciation to the Deputy Speakers, the Business Committee, the party Whips and members of the Assembly Commission for the very open and cooperative relationships that we have had in the past two years. The level of positive support that they have given me personally and in my role has made dealing with many of the challenges much more possible.

I particularly want to highlight the efforts of Assembly Commission staff. I have been a Member here since 1998, but, over the past two years, it has been an honour to work with the officials who are, quite simply, the engine room of this place. If Members do not mind indulging me, I want to pay a special thanks to the staff in the Speaker's Office: Robin, Frances, Emma, Sophie and, previously, Paul and Lauren. On behalf of the whole Assembly, I thank all our staff and contractors, who have done so much to support us over the past two years. I cannot praise their professionalism and commitment enough.

Although I am not standing for re-election as a Member, I will be back in the Chamber to preside over the election of my successor. Personally, I hope that that occurs at an early point in May. A number of Members will make their last contributions in the Assembly this week. Political service comes with many privileges but also unique pressures and, often, a heavy burden of responsibility that is, understandably and rightly, accompanied by scrutiny and, sometimes, criticism. I acknowledge the service that those Members who are stepping down have given and the sacrifices that they and their families have made for the wider community. It has been an honour for me to have been in the Assembly since 1998 and to have worked with a range of political figures since then. I will take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to the Members and former Members who have passed away in the past two years: John Dallat, Gordon Dunne, Christopher Stalford, John Hume and Seamus Mallon.

The core challenge for the Assembly remains trying to find a way to manage our political differences while making progress on other issues of importance to the community. It is not easy but it is essential and very doable, as we have shown in recent times. I will end by wishing Members who are not seeking re-election all the very best for the next challenge in their personal lives, and by wishing those who are hitting the campaign trail good luck.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

A Cheann Comhairle, as you said, back in January 2020, the political institutions were restored on the basis of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement. It was ambitious to form a five-party coalition Executive, but it was achieved and got us back to genuine, inclusive power-sharing — and thankfully so, because while everyone knew that there would be challenges ahead, no one could have predicted that, in only a matter of weeks, we would be dealing with a global pandemic that would have such a devastating impact on every part of society, community and people's lives and livelihoods.

It is to the credit of all Ministers from across the five parties that they responded and have worked with a unity of purpose and leadership for the past two years, and I thank them all. Over £2·8 billion was delivered to support the health service, businesses, workers, families and vulnerable people, but no money could have paid for the contribution of our health workers and other essential workers during that period.

They stood strong and delivered a service to the entire community, and that is to their huge credit.

On the politicians' role in that, the public expect us to work together. They expect cooperation and delivery. At odds with that have been the belligerent and short-sighted actions of the DUP to walk out of government, leaving Ministers powerless to set a Budget or spend the £300 million that families so desperately need at this time.

Against the political lows, however, there have been political highs, when MLAs came together regardless, on a cross-party basis, to introduce scores of laws that will make a real difference to people's lives: the Autism (Amendment) Bill, the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill, the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, the Integrated Education Bill and the scrapping of the cruel, Tory bedroom tax, to name but a few. That demonstrates that real change is possible.

In three weeks' time, we will mark the 24th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will be defending that agreement, not renegotiating it now or in the time ahead. To those who hanker for the past, hell-bent on disrupting the present and threatening our future, you need to realise that there is no going back, there is only going forward.

Ceann Comhairle, I wish to thank you for your leadership and civility in the Chamber, not only over the last couple of years but in your presence in the Chamber since 1998. You have been one of the steady voices in the Chamber to call for and ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions were delivered. As Speaker, you ensured, despite the best efforts of some, including me at times, that the Chamber was respectful, that we had courteous debate and that we delivered the change that was possible.

I want to end by thanking the officers and staff of the Assembly for their work over the last couple of years. The work that they have done to ensure that this institution delivered has been remarkable and is a credit to them. So, go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Member for that. I call Paula Bradley.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try my very best to get through these three minutes without tears in my eyes, though I doubt that that is going to happen.

I will begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker. You were one my first Chairpersons in Committee, back in the old days of the Department for Social Development — those five years when we had Mr Allister, Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell, Fra McCann and Mickey Brady. It was a turbulent time. You were a really excellent Chair, and that most definitely prepared you for this role. So, thank you so much for your service.

I want to say a few thank-yous. First, I want to thank the people of North Belfast who, on three occasions, placed their trust in me to represent them in the Assembly. I thank them for their support, especially over the last week, with the phone calls, emails, cards and flowers, but, most of all, for allowing me to be part of their lives, sometimes at the most difficult times. Secondly, I want to thank my party, of which I have been a member for 20 years. I have had the privilege of representing it electorally for the last 17 years. I was given opportunities that I never would have thought possible and formed steadfast friendships that I will cherish forever.

To my office staff, especially Linda and Samantha, who are here today, thank you. You have always been there, advising me, supporting me and, generally, holding it all together over the years. I have formed many friendships across the Chamber and beyond, some from the unlikeliest of quarters. I am especially grateful to all the women who, especially in my first mandate here, were a constant support and encouragement to me as a new MLA. Nothing ever prepares you for this role, but many inside and outside this Building are the glue that holds it all together.

This has been the strangest of mandates because of the pandemic, and I pay tribute to all those who have held our country together.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the most important people in my life, my family. They are the people who really do make the sacrifices to allow us to do the job that we do. My children were in their early teens when I was first elected, and they found it really difficult. I also thank my parents. One Sunday in church, the pastor was giving a message, and he said, "Behind every great man is his wife". He went on to say, "Behind every great woman", and my mum piped up from the congregation, "Is her mother".

[Laughter.]

Behind this woman, maybe not so great at times, has been her mother, and I thank her for that.

I also thank all my friends here — you are friends — for the support that you have given me. I wish you all the very best for the future.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 10:45 am, 22nd March 2022

I welcome the opportunity to speak on what has been a mandate like no other.

Where to begin? People have been delivered a mandate that I can describe only as a failure to launch, which was bookended by the collapse of a DUP/Sinn Féin-led Executive. We had a mandate that was supposed to last for five years, but we sat for less than half of that. To put it bluntly, the period has been a missed opportunity and one that disintegrated from chaotic into outright chaos.

Nevertheless, quite a bit has been crammed into the two years of a working Executive that we were afforded. In the past few months in particular, we have witnessed a flurry of activity that brought forward positive and progressive legislation. As welcome as that was, much of it, sadly, was too little, too late. Imagine what could have been achieved had Members been provided with the opportunity to put their nose to the grindstone in 2017.

Northern Ireland was not delivered a plan for NI under the DUP, nor was it given better by Sinn Féin. Instead, people got the same old stop-start, pantomime politics. Three years were lost. For three years, the two biggest parties sat in their corners and allowed the North and our public services to descend into despair.

Things are worse now than when the mandate began, and the COVID pandemic cannot be used as a scapegoat. Look at our waiting lists for health and housing. How can we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done when the situation has become significantly worse? Northern Ireland was set at a disadvantage long before March 2020, when we were told to batten down the hatches and manage as best we could in the face of a global pandemic. We now have a cost-of-living crisis. People were left completely unequipped and sent into battle already wounded.

The mandate was marred not just by political failure but by personal loss. The SDLP lost giants of the peace process, with the deaths of John and Pat Hume, Séamus Mallon and our beloved colleague John Dallat. Other parties also suffered the loss of friends and colleagues, with the deaths of Martin McGuinness, Gordon Dunne and, tragically and most recently, Christopher Stalford.

Loss has been a constant bedfellow over the past two years, and a palpable sense of collective grief has emerged. No family here has been left untouched by the impact of COVID. People suffered the tragic passing of loved ones in harrowing circumstances and were unable to grieve for them properly. The public and our key workers put people first and showed what real leadership looked like. How have they been repaid?

As fuel and food costs soar and every household is battered by the rising cost of living, it is utterly shameful that we do not have an Executive to make vital interventions. The public deserve stable government. We have days left. We should use every minute of those remaining days to try to help people.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

It really is a privilege to speak at the very end of the mandate. I thank the people of Lagan Valley for putting their trust in me as their Ulster Unionist representative.

I go back to the absolute start of the mandate in 2017 — my first mandate started in 2016, while my second election was in 2017 — and I agree with Mr Durkan about the dysfunctionality of this place. Although it was good to get back here in 2020, the only reason that we did was because the people of Northern Ireland told all our politicians across the country, "Get back to work and represent us". We sat down, put our shoulder to the wheel and created NDNA. If anybody takes full credit for that, it again does a disservice to the people of Northern Ireland, who told us to get on with our work.

To the politicians in the Chamber, I say this: this is where the work needs to happen. After the election, I urge my colleagues not to take a leaf out of Sinn Féin's book — Sinn Féin kept us out of government for three years — but to get back in here.

If you want to boycott something, boycott Westminster. Have the MPs boycott Westminster until we see the change to the protocol that we need to see.

When we did come back, we could not have envisaged that COVID would come, and that is something that this generation and our children's generation will live with for many, many years. What did we learn? We learned about the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland. We learned about their ability to withstand the greatest pressures that the world can bring on them, and I pay tribute particularly to those in the health service, as Mr O'Dowd did. Indeed, I pay tribute to our teachers, who battled through, looked after our children and tried their best to educate them and give them as stable a place to be as they could, when they could. They utilised online technologies, as we have all learned to do. We have all got used to hearing, "You are muted, Robbie. You are muted".

We spent a bit of time paying tribute to Members who have passed. Sadly, at that time, we did not know that we were yet to lose some serving Members. I would just like to read their names into the record once more: Christopher Stalford, Gordon Dunne and John Dallat. We lost John Hume, Seamus Mallon and, from Lagan Valley, Ivan Davis, Billy Bell, Cecil Calvert and Seamus Close. They were incredible politicians, and there is something that we can learn from each of those people. We remember their families, who still grieve to this day.

I thank my party staff and the staff in the Speaker's Office, who have been fantastic. I have really enjoyed working with you, Mr Speaker. I never envisaged that, outside politics, I would sit in the same room as you and work with you, and it has been an absolute pleasure. We thank the Business Office and Committee staff for their work, and we thank all those who work to keep this place going. Being Chief Whip afforded me an opportunity to work with some people from across all the parties, and it has been an absolute pleasure. It has been really good to do what people do not see us doing.

In closing, we are going to lose some fantastic people, including you, Mr Speaker, Chris Lyttle, Paula Bradley and Sinéad Bradley. If I could have picked somebody from your parties to go, it would not have been you guys. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for being back in the House today. You and I have both come out of COVID to be back here today, but it is a privilege to stand on behalf of Alliance at the end of the mandate. I first came to the House in 2016, the same as Mr Butler, but little did any of us know that we would face an election less than a year later. Then we had a three-year collapse and, more recently, the walkout by the First Minister. I wonder whether future politics classes and history books will consider this mandate as a wasted opportunity. Only time will tell.

During this mandate, we have had the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and we have lost 3,265 people to this cruel virus. I thank our health service and our wider community, which showed a spirit throughout the pandemic that we really need in this House. This was also a mandate that saw a significant change. The Assembly was reduced from 108 Members to 90 Members in March 2017.

Alliance has also had a number of changes during the mandate, with Dr Stephen Farry becoming an MP and moving to Westminster. For a short time, our Alliance leader, Naomi Long, was a Member of the European Parliament. Her shoes were filled during that time by the gracious and dedicated stateswoman Máire Hendron. I wish Trevor Lunn well as he ends his political career. Although Trevor has decided to move on from the Alliance Party, he is still part of our family, and we wish him and his family well in his retirement. We also had the retirement of former Justice Minister David Ford, who, I have to say, is having far, far too much joy and fun in his life with his wife Anne and his family. David achieved something that only a few people get to do: leaving politics on a high.

That leads me to another gentleman who is soon to leave this House: my dear colleague Chris Lyttle MLA. I am not going to cry. As we all know, Chris has served most recently as the Chair of the Education Committee during the mandate. His commitment to fairness in that role extends to his Bill that is about to pass Final Stage this week, which will extend fair employment to all schoolteachers. Chris has been a champion for children, and we will all be poorer for his absence in this House, although I look forward to not listening to him talk about football any more.

A lot of work has been undertaken, and many Members have mentioned the Bills. I pay tribute and say thanks to Naomi Long, our current Justice Minister, who made her priority the safety of women and girls and who stepped forward to make sure that the Troubles victims' pension would be paid. I also thank all the parties in the House for working with me and my colleagues in Alliance, particularly on my Integrated Education Bill. That was a lot of hard work. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and those who sit beside you — including the Clerk/Chief Executive — and all the staff, from the Doorkeepers, the cleaners and the catering staff to the entire secretariat — the Bill Office, the Library, the Events Office and the Education Service. In particular, I thank Frances from your office, Mr Speaker, who, we know, will be leaving this place shortly. She is a lovely lady who we will all miss. When we go to your office and see Frances, we always know that we will see a smiling face.

The challenge for those of us who return to the Assembly will be to build the public services that our people want — ensuring that we get across all the public services in this place — and to really start to build a united community. For now, Mr Speaker, it has been a privilege: it has been a privilege to work with some who will be leaving us; and I hope that it will be a privilege when the Assembly comes back after the May election.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

This has been my first experience of being an MLA — as it has been for my party colleague Rachel Woods — and of getting to know what a mandate looks like from the inside. In 2016, when I was first elected by the people of South Belfast as their first Green Party MLA, Alex Kane stood by his promise, donned a dress and danced for me, out the front, on the steps of the Building.

[Laughter.]

He stood by his pledge.

It has been the greatest privilege of my lifetime to have been given the honour of being an MLA. There have been many fun times, but the tough times cannot be ignored. It has been filled with challenges and events that no one could have predicted. Following the elections in 2016 — my mandate goes back to then, albeit we had elections in 2017 — June 2016 brought the Brexit referendum; January 2017 brought the collapse of the Executive, when Sinn Féin resigned from the deputy First Minister post; 2019 saw Westminster step in and legislate for marriage equality and the decriminalisation of abortion; and, in January 2020, an Executive was re-established under New Decade, New Approach, which pledged and promised many things. Some of those commitments have been delivered, but some, such as a sexual orientation strategy, an Irish language Act, sign language legislation and an independent environmental protection agency, are still outstanding and yet to be delivered. Then the pandemic hit. That exposed the inability of the five-party Executive system to deal with crises. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) statistics tell us that over 4,000 people have died in Northern Ireland due to COVID, but unlike GB, and the Scottish Government, in particular, we do not have a commitment to an independent inquiry into the Northern Ireland Executive's response to the pandemic. The promised Climate Change Bill only came about following the introduction of a cross-party private Member's Bill, which was laid by the Green Party. We have also brought the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill, which I began working on in 2016, and which is due for its Final Stage today, and Rachel Woods's Domestic Abuse (Safe Leave) Bill is set to become law. Now, we have no functioning Executive, due to the resignation of the DUP First Minister.

Behind all that, I have seen, clearly, that all parties and this institution can work very well together and deliver for people when there is the political will to do so. As we face the next Assembly election on 5 May, I urge all parties to listen to people when they say that we cannot afford to face the years ahead without an Executive and a functioning Assembly. They are telling us that it is time to keep delivering.

We remember the towering political figures whom we have lost during this mandate and acknowledge their legacy. I say to everyone who is standing as a candidate, and those who have the privilege of being elected, on 5 May, to a new mandate, that it will be their responsibility to step up and fill the shoes of those people and to continue building on their legacy. That responsibility passes to each and every one of them, and there is much more to do.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 11:00 am, 22nd March 2022

I join in the thanks and appreciation to the Assembly staff for their dedicated service throughout the mandate. I also wish every future happiness and success to those who are retiring. Now that Paula Bradley, Sinéad Bradley and Chris Lyttle are obtaining their early release, I trust that they will enjoy the rest of their lives.

In respect of the House, the mandate started with no Executive, and it finishes with no Executive. It started in deadlock, and it finishes in deadlock. Does that not tell us something? Surely it tells us that this system of government is unsustainable and unworkable and that mandatory coalition is a recipe for such failure because it is built on the sand of not having to be agreed about anything in order to be in government. Hence the manifestations throughout the mandate of deadlock, failure and squabble. It should be no surprise to anyone that we look back on another mandate of failure and deadlock: the system guarantees that.

Now we go into an election in which the most fundamental of democratic rights — the right to change their Government and the right to vote a party out of government — is denied to the people of Northern Ireland. Because of the absurdity of mandatory coalition, where any party with a handful of MLAs is entitled as of right to be in government, the electorate can never vote a party out of government or change their Government. Under this system, there is simply more of the same deadlock, squabble and failure. That is what mandatory coalition offers.

Now, of course, we add to that toxic mix the poison of the protocol, which has made any prospect of these institutions working on any viable basis simply beyond reach because it undermines the very ethos of what is supposed to exist here: consent to the process by which we are governed. There are boasts of the number of Bills that have been passed in the House, but, during the mandate, the House and the people of Northern Ireland became subject, courtesy of the protocol, to 300 EU laws that we cannot change and would not make. During this very year, according to the House of Lords Committee, there is the prospect of 29 changes affecting Northern Ireland's legislation about which we will never be asked and that we cannot change but to which we will become slavish rule takers. It is not sustainable for the future of a legislative Assembly if the legislation that governs so much, touching on the manufacture of our goods and on trade, is not made in Belfast or in London but in a foreign jurisdiction over which we have no control. That is a further poison to this system, which guarantees that it is doomed, and so it should be.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

To those of you who will not be standing for election again, I wish you well. I have enjoyed getting to know you all and have really enjoyed working with you. Some of you are in the House today, and others are at home. There are lots of reasons that you will not be standing, but I will miss you, and, as I say, I have enjoyed working with you. I also want to remember those who departed from us early. I wish you well too, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I, too, begin by thanking the staff in the Building, who have facilitated not just me but my party colleagues and all Members of the House during the mandate. I will also take a step back and thank all those who elected me to the House on two occasions. It has been one of the greatest privileges ever.

I also want to take a moment to thank the people who assisted me in getting elected. I will take a moment, Mr Speaker, as you did, to thank people by name. I thank Roisin McCrink, Sean O’Hare, Seamus Doyle, Uncle Liam, Paddy McCoy and the whole team. They gave me unwavering support during all of my election campaigns.

During the mandate, I championed the fight against loneliness and was driven by trying to get the Narrow Water bridge back online. I thank my party leader, Colum Eastwood, for hearing my calls, understanding the importance of the Narrow Water bridge and making sure that it was included in the New Decade, New Approach agreement. I also thank Minister Mallon for stepping in and bringing the project back to where it should have been, because I was concerned that the previous Minister had entertained notions of a cycle bridge or walking bridge, which really would have failed to recognise what was trying to be achieved. Narrow Water bridge is very much back online, and the work with an Taoiseach’s office and the Irish Government has got it to a point of no return, about which I feel very content.

I also want to take a moment to thank my constituency office staff, Frances, Brenda and Deirdre, who have been exceptional. They have delivered a professional service at all times of which I am very proud. My thanks to them could never be enough.

There was never a bigger champion of the Narrow Water bridge than my father, P J Bradley, a previous Member of the House. My role was merely to usher the work that he had previously brought to the House. The day on which I was elected was the day on which I laid him to rest. Tomorrow, during my final week, I will lay to rest one of the nicest people whom I have ever known: my Auntie Nora, his sister. That seems quite poignant. They were two very, very good people. They made quite an impression, and I think that everybody could learn something from them. There is nothing like the loss of a loved one to make all of us reflect on our priorities. For me, that reflection has meant that I will not seek re-election on this occasion.

Of course, my family — my husband, John, and my son, Peadar — have paid a big price for me being here. Members will know exactly what I am referring to when I make that statement. I place my thanks to them on the record.

If I may, I will give one final word of thanks to my mother. It was her endless support, endless love, endless care and endless supply of dinners when I was not at home that allowed me to be here. Frankly, I think that that speaks to the experience of a lot of women in politics. There is a woman behind them who enables them to be here, and there comes a time when those women are entitled to be looked after. I put on record my thanks to Leontia.

I wish everybody in the House well as they run or do not run for election. I trust that those coming forward will see the value of the work that was achieved at the end of this mandate and that they will bring vigour to, hopefully, a new Executive.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

The emotion and the commitment in the Assembly this morning clearly demonstrate just how much every MLA puts their heart and soul into the job. I thank every one of them for the opportunity to work with them.

I will respond to one Member's comments about what the record of this mandate shows with regard to the challenges that we faced: it tells us that peace and prosperity take hard work. It tells us that they take perseverance and compromise. I certainly hope that the upcoming election will return MLAs who are committed to bringing all of those to bear in the Chamber for the people of Northern Ireland.

For me, it is the end not only of the mandate but of over a decade of service as a Member of the Assembly. As a kid from Garnerville Gardens who spent his Saturday afternoons in Ashmount Park with his granny Betty, who worked in Ashfield Girls' High School, whose dad worked in Shorts from the age of 16 and whose mum worked with a company on the Newtownards Road, it has been the privilege of my life to serve as an Alliance Party MLA on behalf of the people of my home constituency of East Belfast and as Chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee for everyone in Northern Ireland.

I would like to say thank you to the people of East Belfast for giving me the immense privilege of serving as your MLA, to my family who inspire me every single day and to all the people who make that service possible. There are far too many for me to even start to try to thank them today. It would not be possible without such a team of people supporting of us in these roles.

These have been challenging times for many people. We have seen great loss. We remember everyone who has been bereaved during the brutal COVID pandemic. They have also been times of great sacrifice and great resilience. We thank all those health, education and key workers who have given so much for our community. In return, we owe them fair pay and conditions at the very least.

I am encouraged by the Alliance values of fairness and equality, the aim of peace and prosperity and the leadership of Naomi Long, all of which are giving hope to many people across Northern Ireland in these challenging times. Those values, aims and leadership drove the Alliance Party work during the New Decade, New Approach talks process to restore the Assembly. They also guided our efforts to deliver better for the people of Northern Ireland during this short two-year mandate and, indeed, on our return, to prioritise education, which resulted in the independent review of education; advocating financing for schools; a new approach to special educational needs; access to affordable, quality childcare; and children learning together. I pay tribute to my colleague Kellie Armstrong for the delivery of the Integrated Education Bill. As has been mentioned, I hope that I will be able to, with the huge cooperation and support of everyone in the Assembly, pass the Fair Employment (School Teachers) Bill.

Those are also values that have guided the Alliance Justice Minister to deliver five pieces of legislation that will contribute to a more safe and shared Northern Ireland for all. Compromise and leadership are needed now more than ever in order to deliver better for the people of Northern Ireland. The restoration of the Executive and the Assembly must be a priority. We set the example in this place. We must show leadership. Indeed, we must make good on the words of C S Lewis that are displayed at the entrance of the Assembly, which promise:

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

The Alliance Party is committed to working with everyone to achieve that aim.