Six-County Assembly begins new term
Six-County Assembly begins new term

Sinn Féin has struck a deal with the DUP to share the post of Stormont Assembly speaker following last Thursday’s elections.

The outgoing speaker, William Hay of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), was unanimously re-elected to the position during the first session of the new term at Stormont Parliament Buildings outside Belfast today [Thursday].

Under the deal, he will occupy the speaker’s chair until 2014, when a Sinn Fein member will be appointed to the post.

DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness were also renominated and reappointed as first minister and deputy first minister respectively.

However, a dispute over how the rest of the Six-County ministries will be allocated does not yet appear to have been resolved. The ministers are due to be appointed on Monday.

In counting over the weekend, Sinn Fein and the DUP emerged with two extra Assembly seats each, the SDLP and the UUP lost two, while Alliance gained one. As a result, the small Alliance party will be entitled to a ministry under the d’Hondt proportional system of apportioning ministries for the first time. Alliance not only will be due a department, but it is also believed that in a separate cross-community Assembly vote, Alliance leader David Ford will be returned as minister of justice for at least another year.

The DUP with 38 seats will be entitled to four ministries, excluding the first minister post and a junior ministry, which it will also take. Sinn Féin with 29 seats will have three ministries plus the deputy first minister post and a junior ministry.

The UUP and SDLP, who have at least twice the representation of the Alliance Party in the Assembly, have expressed frustration at securing only one department apiece -- one less than Alliance -- and are understood to be protesting the situation.


Questions are also being raised within both parties about the leaderships of Tom Elliott and Margaret Ritchie, but so far no senior party member has called for either to resign.

A former SDLP assembly member said the party “should go into opposition”. No opposition currently exists at Stormont, as all the parties are guaranteed a seat on the Executive under the Good Friday Agreement.

Tommy Gallagher said the nationalist party needed to “take a clear step out of government” and also called for its leadership to be “looked at”. He was speaking days after he lost the seat he had held since 1998 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Meanwhile, Tom Elliott has largely maintained his defiance over his description of Sinn Fein as “scum” following the Fermanagh/South Tyrone count, but expressed “regret” to those “good nationalists” who had been offended.

Earlier, he offered a ‘clarification’ of his remark as well as his denunciation of the presence of an Irish tricolour at the count centre

“I said it in the context of saying that these people have murdered our citizens for generations and that is the context.

“I’m a bit peeved off with all this one-sided stuff.

“Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly can go to Easter commemorations and praise ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘comrades’ and talk of these ‘men of great vision’ and the great people they were.

“There is no antagonism towards them, yet when I say something, all hell breaks loose.”

Mr Elliott’s views came after the constituency elected three Sinn Fein assembly members for the first time on the 30th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands.

Senior unionists claimed Elliott, a former member of the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), had reacted to “heckling” from a crowd as well as the presence of former IRA Volunteer, Sean Lynch, who was newly elected as a Sinn Fein Assembly member.

Mr Kelly said of Mr Elliott’s defence that he agreed with him on the issue of victims.

“But what he has to remember, and I presume he would agree, is that victims go right across the board. He is an ex-UDR man, as I understand it, and he is quite proud of that - that’s up to him,” he said.

Mr Kelly added that the UDR, British Army, RUC and loyalists were all involved in collusion which resulted in the deaths of many.

Addressing the flags issue once again, an exasperated Mr Kelly said: “I am Irish - it is my flag. I live here - I am elected here.”

Mr Elliott retorted to the Mr Kelly’s comments by describing him as “a jail-breaker”, a reference to his role in the 1981 escape from Long Kesh.

“I think it’s very rich coming from Gerry Kelly - someone who was a prisoner - a jail-breaker within the IRA and was part of that team who murdered a prison officer and was responsible for bombings.”

He described the jeering and waving of the tricolour at the Omagh count centre as “provocative.”

Alliance leader David Ford said the comments “could act as the political obituary of Tom Elliott.”

Mr Ford said: “These were despicable comments that should be treated with the contempt they deserve by everyone.

“These remarks seriously call into question the judgement of Tom Elliott and shatter any last vestige of credibility the UUP might have on the issue of community relations.”

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