Assembly Speaker should make public advice he was given on SIF question, says Long

Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has called on the Assembly Speaker to make public the procedural advice he was given when rejecting an urgent question on a community group to which he has been linked.

Speaker Robin Newton apologised to the chamber today (Monday) for not declaring a link to the Charter NI group, which has been a recipient of money from the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF). Charter labelled Mr Newton an ‘advisor’, although he denied holding any position with the group.

He stated he had taken the decision to reject the request for an urgent oral question around Charter NI on October 24 due to “time pressures” but in future would delegate any requests on this issue to one of his deputies.

“The Assembly Speaker is in a privileged position, where he is above scrutiny for the decisions he takes. Therefore, he has a particular duty to ensure he is fully open and transparent, and effectively above reproach. The Speaker took a decision on a question relating to SIF but at the same time, said there could be a perceived conflict of interest, and therefore recused himself from future decisions on the issue.

“The question is why he took that decision. To say time pressures is not good enough – there are three deputy Speakers who could have stepped in and taken responsibility to rule on it. I welcome the Speaker’s unreserved apology, however, it would be helpful in terms of restoring confidence for him to publicise the procedural advice he was given in relation to this matter.

“By doing so, MLAs and the public could see the advice and therefore be clear the basis on which the Speaker made the decision to refuse the question on October 24, and ensure they can have confidence the decision was indeed impartial.”

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