Alex Maskey says it has been 'honour' to serve as assembly member
Veteran Sinn Féin politician and Stormont speaker Alex Maskey has said it has been "honour" to serve as an assembly member.
The Irish News revealed yesterday that the 69-year-old does not intend to contest next year's assembly elections.
During his career he has served as an assembly member for west and south Belfast and is one of just seven MLAs to remain at Stormont since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
In a letter to assembly members the 69-year-old said it was an "honour over the last 23 years to represent the constituencies of West Belfast and South Belfast and to serve as a chief whip, a member of the Policing Board, a committee chair and a member of the Assembly Commission amongst other things".
"I am especially grateful for the opportunity the assembly has given me to serve as speaker," he said.
"I have said many times that the Assembly has to prove itself and it is important to me that the Assembly is seen to work as an institution."
Mr Maskey said there have been challenges since the return of Stormont institutions last year.
"Since January 2020, there have been many issues to deal with including assisting the resumption of Assembly business and ensuring the Assembly could continue to function during the pandemic," he said.
"Despite these challenges, it has also been possible to introduce a number of positive new developments including the expansion of support for private members’ bills and the establishment of our first Youth Assembly."
The MLA said he "appreciated" the support of "members, party leaders, party whips and Assembly Commission Members" during his work at the assembly.
"In particular, I want to recognise that it has been a pleasure over the last eighteen months to work closely with assembly officials who have given me tremendous support," he said.
The senior Sinn Féin man added that work remains to be done before he steps down next year.
"However, I have already been in contact with party whips this week in relation to the challenges that await us in September as the assembly has limited time to deal with a heavy programme of legislation coming from the executive alongside a record number of private members’ bills," he wrote.
"Therefore, there is a lot of work left to do before the next assembly election and that is where my focus will be until then."
Mr Maskey is Sinn Féin's longest serving representative and has been involved with the republican movement for around half a century.
Interned twice in the 1970s, he is originally from north Belfast and previously worked as a barman and docker.
He was the first republican to be elected to Belfast City Council in 1983 and broke new ground when he became the first Sinn Féin Lord Mayor in 2002.
In 1987 he escaped death after being shot and seriously injured at his west Belfast home.
The house was also raked with gunfire a year later.
In 1993 his friend Alan Lundy was shot dead outside his house by the UDA.