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Allister Highlights DUP Irrationality in Principal Deputy Speaker Debate

15 June 2011

Below is the text of Mr Allister’s speech in the Assembly yesterday.

We have now debated this issue twice and had four sessions on it in the Procedures Committee, and we arrive at the end of this process with not one individual in the House or the Committee able to articulate a reason why we need a Principal Deputy Speaker. The challenge was laid down at every meeting of the Committee. Someone who is anxious today to raise points of order to shut down debate had the opportunity — namely, Mr Clarke — but was never once able to articulate to the Committee why we need a Principal Deputy Speaker.

Mr T Clarke: For slow learners, let me say that the amendment is clear. The Committee was charged to look at the process of changing Standing Orders. The Committee was not charged to give reasons behind the change of function. It was charged to change Standing Orders to reflect the decision taken by the Assembly. If Mr Allister does not understand that, we can perhaps get it in larger print for him.

Mr Allister: If the Member’s approach to politics is that you do something because someone else tells you to do it, you have no idea why, and you cannot think for yourself what the “why” might be, you just do it, then he is the classic example of Lobby fodder. He comes to this House without an idea in his head about why he is going to vote for a Principal Deputy Speaker and is incapable of articulating a reason as to why we need one. The Member condemns himself out of his own mouth in the manner in which he deals with this issue.

No need for the post has been established; we have no function for it; and we have no argument made for it. It is little wonder that there is such embarrassment in the House during this debate on the two main Benches.

No Member who occupies those Benches has the capacity to tell us why we need a Principal Deputy Speaker. There is nothing there to give. That is why those Members want this debate over and swept under the carpet. This is not an appointment by reason or dint of need, or by dint of anything proved to be absent or deficient hitherto. It is an appointment by dint of a sordid deal between the two main parties, whereby, in order to keep the seat of the present Speaker warm for another three years for Sinn Féin, a deal is done that a Sinn Féin Principal Deputy Speaker will be appointed.

Let me come to the distracting hypocrisy of the suggestion that someone is supporting something against his principles. I know that it might be difficult for some to comprehend nuance. Let me give an example. The party that sits to my left purportedly takes a stand on abortion — a proper stand of opposition to it. When abortion was debated in the House of Commons, what did that party do? It tried to make the best of a bad job by voting to reduce the limit from 24 weeks to 20 or 18 weeks.

When debating something that, on principle, you do not want at all, just as the DUP in the House of Commons tried to diminish the impact of abortion by voting to make the best of a bad job, in this House, I am faced with the steamroller, the juggernaut of the irrational, the inability to articulate the “why”, from the two parties by virtue of the political cabal and deal they have reached, and it behoves those in the House who want to think about issues to try to make the best of a bad job.

However, in this case, the DUP position seems to be that it wants a Sinn Féin Principal Deputy Speaker for three years, and it rejects the possibility of diminishing that to one year because it is so tied in, inextricably and inexplicably, to the party that sits to my right.

Mr Givan: Perhaps the Member could clarify: if he takes such a 100% principled position on the issue with regard to Sinn Féin, surely it should not even be one year for the Member, it should be never? He has signed up to say that Sinn Féin should have it for one year.

Mr Allister: If the Member is willing to join me, as he was not three or four weeks ago, in making sure that it is never, he will not be without company in that, I assure him. However, the honourable Member’s embarrassment comes from the fact that it appears that his members on Committee could not make up their minds on rotation because they had not received their riding instructions, and they abstained in the vote in the Committee. Presumably they have received their riding instructions by now and have been pulled into line to vote with Sinn Féin against rotation, to give the post to Sinn Féin for three years and vote down any proposition that would diminish the level of Sinn Féin occupancy of the post. That is the real position that the honourable Member wishes to cover. That is why he seeks to be so voluble in trying to distract attention from his position.

What of Sinn Féin? I thought that Sinn Féin was a party that pontificated about a classless society. Well, maybe old habits die hard. Maybe it likes titles like “quartermaster” and “commander”, which are not that different from “principal”. Recently, we have seen that Sinn Féin does like titles. We now have the Baron of somewhere or other — Northstead — or the Steward of Northstead. Now, to add to that quota, we are to have the prized possession of a position without function, rhyme or reason, that of Principal Deputy Speaker. Those who are in cahoots with Sinn Féin will vote it through because that is the deal that they made. That is the reality of this debate.

I always thought that the members of the Alliance Party were the veritable paragons of equality; they were the cheerleaders of power sharing, rotation and sharing. It is a surprising shame on the Alliance Party that today it eschews its own principles and leaves it to lesser mortals like me to dare to raise the standard for equality in the House. The Alliance Party: how the have mighty fallen when it has come to this. I implore them that the sense of equality that I exude might imbue them — they sit close enough — and that they might vote in accordance with those principles.

Someone said that there was an argument against democracy in the amendment. It really beggars belief that you should elevate someone to a position because you have done a deal about it that means nothing in terms of function, that has no definable role, yet that one day might be paid. Someone pointed out that it could not be paid; that is not true. That is under the aegis of the independent review body.

The independent review body could well decide, shamefully and wrongfully thanks to the votes of those who create the post, that it may be a paid position even though it may not have a function. Perhaps that is part of the demand; part of the deal. We have not seen the whole deal, the whole shoddy arrangement that brought this about. Perhaps part of the deal is that it is passed to the independent assessors through sleight of hand, so that some Members can say that they washed their hands of it, but they know the full extent of the deal they have done. They want to conceal anything that would reveal that to the House, and they want to be careful that nothing derails it.

The challenge to those who have been unable to articulate a reason, need, or purpose in making this appointment is why, if there is neither function, purpose nor need for it, they want to gift it to their partner, Sinn Féin. Have they so lost the run of themselves that all they are prepared to do in this House is whatever it takes to keep Sinn Féin happy? If they vote against this amendment that will be a demonstration of that, because they will be saying that they want to have a Sinn Féin Deputy Speaker for three years. Is anyone in the House capable of rising above the designation of mere Lobby fodder? We will see in a moment or two.

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