One of the favourites to fill the position of Assembly speaker has ruled himself out – and called for a radical overhaul of the office.
Former Alliance leader David Ford, who is one of the Assembly’s most experienced MLAs, told the News Letter that he would “definitely not” allow his name to be put forward for the post in two weeks’ time.
And he said that Alliance would not be putting any of its other MLAs forward either.
The speaker is a prestigious post but filling it this time could be tricky, given the tight arithmetic between unionism and nationalism.
The DUP is likely to be reluctant to give up one of its MLAs, something which would make it even harder for it to trigger a petition of concern.
In the early Assemblies the Alliance party was seen as the least controversial party from which to select a speaker but it became frustrated that as a small party it lost an MLA as part of such an arrangement.
Mr Ford said that the current arrangements had to be revisited and suggested a proposal similar to that put forward by the former MLA John McCallister two years ago whereby the speaker would cut all ties with their party which would then be able to co-opt a replacement into the Assembly. The speaker would then sit as an extra, but entirely independent, MLA.
Mr Ford said that the current system was flawed and that there is “probably a case for considering either moving to the system in the Dail where the outgoing Ceann Comhairle (speaker) is automatically returned if he wishes, or else create an extra position that takes the speaker out of being a constituency MLA and they are replaced by a substitute so that we would have 91 MLAs rather than 90.”