Speaker utterly compromised: Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long has said she is “dumbfounded” after it was revealed Assembly Speaker Robin Newton blocked the release of information to this newspaper.

The News Letter submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Assembly asking for all material relating to decisions about the handling of urgent oral questions.

Some information was released. However, on Friday the Assembly responded to say that additional information which it holds will not be released because Mr Newton had personally decided that the issue was not in the public interest.

It comes after the Speaker apologised to the Assembly last year, when he refused to accept an urgent oral question about Executive funding for Charter NI.

Mr Newton did not declare an interest in the matter, despite subsequent revelations of his extensive involvement with Charter NI.

At the time, Mr Newton said that he had accepted “procedural advice” when making the decision.

Speaking at the weekend, ahead of today’s vote of no confidence in Mr Newton’s position, Mrs Long said the Speaker was “utterly compromised”.

She added: “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.”

Mrs Long accused the Speaker of “ persistent failure to defend the role of the Assembly in holding the Executive to account”.

She added: “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.”