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Robin Newton must resign as speaker

The position of speaker in any government is an office of considerable importance, the integrity of which is regarded as paramount.

In Northern Ireland, the speaker is selected on a cross community basis with the chief characteristics of the office described as `authority and impartiality.'

There are special rules that recognise the authority of the position.

MLAs are not allowed to stand when the Speaker is standing while any rulings must be heard in silence.

Furthermore, comments on the character or the actions of the Speaker `may be punished as breaches of privilege.'

The post-holder has a range of duties, including receiving heads of state and other dignitaries and representing the assembly at events involving international legislatures.

So, it is not a minor role but one that goes to the heart of a fully functioning administration which pays proper regard to the standards expected in high office.

Clearly, anyone who does not uphold those standards undermines not only the office of speaker but also public trust in the wider political structures.

Given the overwhelming evidence, it is difficult to see how Robin Newton can continue to cling on to his position as speaker.

The DUP MLA has been under pressure before over his links to Charter NI, headed by alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt.

When controversy was raging over this organisation in October last year, Mr Newton rejected a request for an urgent question on the issue.

This was a serious error by the speaker, who sat on a steering group that awarded a £1.7 million contract to Charter NI.

He subsequently apologised and told the assembly that while he had provided advice to the charity he had never held an official position as adviser.

However, documents uncovered by BBC Spotlight indicated Mr Newton was a key adviser to Charter NI, going well beyond the occasional word of advice.

The MLA has denied misleading the assembly but has announced he will not stand for the position of speaker again.

That is simply not good enough.

The integrity of this office must be protected. Mr Newton's position is untenable.

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