RHI scandal: Trimble says speaker should consider his position

Lord Trimble, pictured at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, said Speaker Robin Newton had clearly lost the confidence of MLAs
Lord Trimble, pictured at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, said Speaker Robin Newton had clearly lost the confidence of MLAs

One of the key figures behind the setting up of the Province’s parliament has said its current speaker should consider his position, after facing ferocious criticism all throughout last week.

David Trimble said Robin Newton has plainly lost the confidence of MLAs after he oversaw a chaotic sitting of the Stormont Assembly on Monday December 19, when politicians had been called back off their Christmas breaks with the promise of hearing a statement from the first and deputy first ministers about the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Once it had become clear that Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had refused to endorse what DUP First Minister Arlene Foster wanted to say, Mr Newton nevertheless allowed her to deliver her statement alone.

The move prompted furious accusations that the whole nature of the first and deputy first minister’s office – which is supposed to stick to the principles of joint responsibility and power-sharing – was being “undermined”.

Mr Newton (a DUP MLA whose role as speaker obliges him to act neutrally) has faced a groundswell of calls for him to quit ever since, coming from right across the political divide.

As UUP leader at the time the Good Friday Agreement was struck, Lord Trimble had been a key player in shaping how Northern Ireland’s power-sharing institutions were supposed to function.

He told the News Letter that Mr Newton “has to consider his position very carefully”, adding that he had “clearly lost the confidence” of MLAs, whom he is supposed to oversee.

Lord Trimble said “that to proceed as he did in the face of the protests from the house produced a situation where so many people are now calling on him to consider his position; I think he should do so”.

As to claims that the speaker had undermined the power-sharing nature of the Province’s government, Lord Trimble said: “Undermine is too strong a word to use.

“The institutions will continue. They’re robust enough to withstand that.

“But this is someone operating within those institutions that’s clearly lost the confidence of many people in the Assembly.”

The UUP leader MIke Nesbitt was the first to make an explicit call for Mr Newton to quit.

The Assembly, on Mr Newton’s behalf, said: “The speaker intends to reply directly to Mr Nesbitt in the New Year.”

The SDLP then also demanded his resignation, whilst the Alliance Party said he should “reflect” on his position. Sinn Fein, meanwhile, said his position was “untenable”.

Mr Newton offered no further comment in the wake of these subsequent calls.

The DUP, meanwhile, hit out at the other big parties, saying that they “appear to have little other to offer than resignation calls”, and that the public wants “stability”.