RHI scandal: Speaker ‘lost control’ in Assembly

Robin Newton faced a barrage of points of order from MLAs on Monday
Robin Newton faced a barrage of points of order from MLAs on Monday

A former deputy speaker of the Assembly has said that current Speaker Robin Newton “lost control” in the Assembly on Monday and this should be a concern for every party – including the DUP, of which Mr Newton remains a member.

John Dallat, a former SDLP MLA who served as a deputy speaker for 10 years, said that Mr Newton was the “big loser” of Monday’s Assembly sitting.

In unprecedented scenes, Mr Newton faced a barrage of points of order over a 20-minute period at the start of business.

MLAs openly challenged him, with one MLA virtually shouting at the speaker who was accused of failing to understand the Assembly’s rule book, Standing Orders.

Mr Dallat told the News Letter: “Four times he was seriously challenged by members – twice by Alex Atwood. In any democracy, those members could be thrown out but the speaker’s authority was seriously undermined after he had to apologise [last month] for not allowing questions on Charter NI and hadn’t disclosed his association with this organisation run by Dee Stitt.

“On Monday he was not in control.”

Mr Dallat added: “He has caused serious damage to the institution which ordinary people from across the political divide are supposed to have confidence in.

“This is not just a concern for the DUP but for all the parties and particularly Sinn Fein who cultivated this post for the two big parties by creating a ‘principal deputy speaker’ and rotating the post of speaker.”

Mr Newton wrote to all MLAs on Monday night to defend his handling of proceedings, insisting that he had acted in line with standing orders.