SDLP MAN TIPPED TO RE­PLACE EM­BAT­TLED NEW­TON AS SPEAKER

McGLONE IS FRONT RUNNER FOR JOB AF­TER DUP MAN STEPS DOWN FOSTER BLASTS RI­VAL UNION­ISTS FOR TALKS ‘SCAREMONGERING’

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUZANNE BREEN PO­LIT­I­CAL EDI­TOR

AN Ir­ish-speak­ing na­tion­al­ist politi­cian is likely to be­come the As­sem­bly’s new Speaker if Sinn Fein and the DUP reach a deal to re­store power-shar­ing.

In what would be a his­toric and sym­bolic move for Stor­mont, po­lit­i­cal sources are tip­ping SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone to re­place the DUP’s Robin New­ton.

Ul­ster Union­ist MLA Roy Beggs Jr is also un­der­stood to be a pos­si­ble con­tender — but Mr McGlone is the firm favourite.

With Ir­ish lan­guage leg­is­la­tion a key part of any agree­ment between the DUP and Sinn Fein to bring back the po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, Mr McGlone’s ap­point­ment would be highly sig­nif­i­cant.

He is one of the few flu­ent Ir­ish speak­ers in the cham­ber and is a for­mer mem­ber of Fo­ras na Gaeilge, the pub­lic body re­spon­si­ble for the pro­mo­tion of the lan­guage across the is­land of Ire­land.

Be­fore Stor­mont col­lapsed in Jan­uary the SDLP MLA was bring­ing for­ward a pri­vate mem­ber’s Ir­ish Lan­guage Bill in the As­sem­bly.

Mr McGlone is the cur­rent Deputy Speaker, and Mr Beggs held the same po­si­tion in the 2011-2016 As­sem­bly.

Stor­mont sources said they ex­pected both men would be run for the po­si­tion but that the re­cent prac­tice of ro­tat­ing it between a union­ist and na­tion­al­ist MLA meant that Mr McGlone would likely re­place Mr New­ton.

The As­sem­bly’s first Speaker was Al­liance’s Dr John Alderdice, who was suc­ceeded by party col­league Eileen Bell.

The North Down Al­liance MLA was fol­lowed by the DUP’s Wil­liam Hay, who held the po­si­tion for seven years.

Sinn Fein’s Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin be­came Speaker in 2015 but he was in the job just 16 months. Mr New­ton be­came Speaker in May 2016.

For­mer Al­liance leader David Ford, who has been seen by some as the ideal can­di­date to suc­ceed Mr New­ton, last night said that in the in­ter­ests of democ­racy the po­si­tion should go to a na­tion­al­ist in the next As­sem­bly.

“A na­tion­al­ist MLA has been As­sem­bly Speaker for just one year in 19 years since de­vo­lu­tion was es­tab­lished in 1998. So it seems both log­i­cal and fair that the next Speaker be a na­tion­al­ist,” he said.

Ear­lier this week Mr Beggs said that the elec­tion of a new Speaker should “no longer be sub­ject to a carve-up between the two largest par­ties”.

He re­peated the UUP’s po­si­tion that the job should be filled af­ter a se­cret bal­lot of MLAs.

How­ever, Stor­mont sources said this was a non-runner and the new Speaker would be agreed as part of any over­all deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Mr McGlone (58) has been an MLA for 14 years.

He lives in Ballinderry just out­side Cook­stown. He is on the SDLP’s ‘green wing’ and has de­scribed him­self as a “con­sti­tu­tional re­pub­li­can”.

Four years ago he was posted a bul­let in­side a sym­pa­thy card, which was in­ter­cepted by Royal Mail.

“It wasn’t a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for my­self or my fam­ily but it won’t stop me do­ing my job,” he said.

In 2011 an elec­tion worker’s car was petrol bombed by loy­al­ists in Coagh. A for­mer SDLP deputy leader, Mr McGlone was passed over for min­is­te­rial of­fice by then SDLP leader Mar­garet Ritchie six years ago when she chose his col­league, Alex Attwood, for the En­vi­ron­ment port­fo­lio.

Mr McGlone re­fused her of­fer of a Stor­mont com­mit­tee chair­man­ship and went on to chal­lenge her for the lead­er­ship.

Dr Alas­dair McDon­nell won that four-way lead­er­ship con­test.

A na­tion­al­ist has been Speaker for just one year in 19 since de­vo­lu­tion was es­tab­lished in 1998

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