Northern Ireland news

Assembly Speaker Robin Newton warns MLAs against abusing procedures

Assembly speaker Robin Newton warned representatives about breaking rules

MLAs have been given a stern warning over challenging the authority of the Stormont speaker following a series of clashes both in and outside the chamber.

Speaker Robin Newton said he would not tolerate any abuse of procedures and would adopt an unsympathetic line with any representatives who breached the assembly's rules.

His remarks on Monday came after criticism was levelled at Mr Newton and separately at deputy speaker Caitríona Ruane.

Last week, SDLP communities spokeswoman Nichola Mallon accused the speaker of stifling debate around a controversial £1.7 million windfall to a loyalist linked community group.

The North Belfast MLA said Mr Newton had refused two urgent questions tabled about funding to Charter NI, the group headed up by self-confessed UDA north Down commander Dee Stitt.

The speaker was also criticised on social media by Alliance's Chris Lyttle, who last week voiced concern that his urgent oral question request, which allows matters of public importance to be discussed at short notice, was turned down.

He wrote on Twitter: "At total loss how assembly speaker ruled teacher strike does not merit an urgent oral question response from Ed Min (education minister)."

In another incident, Nelson McCausland clashed with Ms Ruane last week after the deputy speaker interrupted the DUP MLA several times as he prepared to ask a question about Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

The assembly speaker has also been accused of blocking debates on a number of controversial issues including the Nama property scandal and appointment of a new executive press secretary.

It is understood Mr Newton has written to a number of MLAs, outlining his concerns about their recent behaviour. In the assembly yesterday he voiced similar sentiments.

"It has been disappointing that members, of late, have been frequently breaching our procedures by challenging standard procedural decisions and challenging the authority of both myself and the deputy speakers both inside and outside the chamber," he said.

"Indeed, we have had occasion to write to two members who have been challenging the authority of the chair following last week's business."

He said there were many issues being raised with the speaker's office at the minute.

"But I warn members we will be proactive in relation to any abuse of procedures towards the chair," he said.

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