Long left dumbfounded by Speaker decision to block information

Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has said she is “dumbfounded” after it was revealed Assembly Speaker Robin Newton has blocked the release of procedural advice which he claims led to him refusing an urgent oral question relating to Executive funding of the Charter NI organisation prior to Christmas.

The move came after the News Letter submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for all material relating to decisions about the handling of urgent oral questions to be released.

However, the Assembly has stated the Speaker “personally blocked” the information, as he believed it to not be in the public interest. This is despite him previously having to apologise to the Assembly for his handling of the matter, for having not declared an interest in Charter NI and his assurance to MLAs he would recuse himself from all further decisions involving the organisation.

“For the Speaker to take such a decision, particularly the day before a vote of no confidence in his position, leaves me absolutely dumbfounded,” said Mrs Long.

“Robin Newton specifically told the chamber he would recuse himself from any future decisions involving Charter NI. Not only has he not done so, but in fact he has done the exact opposite, taking a decision to keep secret the papers relating to his original ruling on the matter.

“This goes to the heart of why the majority of MLAs have no confidence in the current Speaker. It is not simply about the fiasco over which he presided on December 19 but rather his persistent failure to defend the role of the Assembly in holding the Executive to account and his complete lack of judgement when it comes to the decisions in which he is involved.

“The Speaker’s rulings are normally not open to scrutiny or challenge, but given his lack of open disclosure, the persistent perception of bias and of placing of self-interest above public interest which has marked his tenure, there are good grounds why transparency is necessary. At the very least, he ought not to have taken any part in this decision at all. That he did so has left him utterly compromised.

“If he had a shred of dignity, he would have resigned ahead of tomorrow’s debate, however, having written at length to MLAs to try to justify the chaotic scenes over which he presided at the last sitting of the Assembly, in an attempt to cling to the trappings of office, he has now further insulted MLAs on the eve of the vote by this breach of his promise. Even at this late stage, I would encourage him to resign before the Office of Speaker is further damaged.”

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