Assembly defends actions around debate over Charter NI funding
A SPOKESPERSON for the Northern Ireland Assembly has defended the office of the speaker against allegations that debate surrounding a £1.7 million windfall to a loyalist linked community group was being stifled.
SDLP communities spokesperson Nichola Mallon said speaker Robin Newton had refused two urgent questions tabled about funding to Charter NI, headed up by self confessed UDA north Down commander Dee Stitt.
She claimed the Executive Office has closed ranks to stop any scrutiny of the funding after the leading loyalist made controversial comments in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.
However, a spokesperson for the Assembly said: "The speaker takes decisions on urgent questions on the basis of procedural advice. Standing orders and parliamentary conventions are clear that speaker’s decisions are final.
"The speaker therefore does not give reasons for them and it is procedurally out of order for members to challenge them.
"Urgent oral questions are in addition to, not instead of, our standard procedures and that is important in relation to long running issues. A number of other members have demonstrated in recent weeks that they have had opportunity in debate and questions to ministers to raise issues around Charter NI and the Social Investment Fund on the floor of the house on a number of occasions.
"The First Minister answered topical questions on Monday of this week at which time such questions could have been asked. In addition, parties have the option of selecting for debate a motion on this issue. There has therefore been no lack of opportunities in recent weeks for members to raise issues which they have felt important.
"The speaker is very supportive of members pursuing important issues through the appropriate procedural mechanisms, and he has recently raised with the committee on procedures and party leaders the merit of reviewing how existing provisions might better enable the Assembly agenda to respond to topical issues", the spokesperson added.