Mitchel makes history as first Republican Speaker

New Speaker of the Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin.
New Speaker of the Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin.

Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin has made history by becoming the first Republican speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr McLaughlin will now replace fellow former Foyle representative Willie Hay in the Speaker’s chair at Stormont.

His nomination was endorsed by the DUP after First Minister Peter Robinson said he would honour a previous agreement made between the two parties that they would share the role over the life-span of the current Assembly term.

However confirmation of a Sinn Fein successor remained uncertain for a time during a stand-off over the Welfare Reform proposals.

DUP Foyle MLA Willie Hay stood down from his role as Speaker back in October, citing ill health as the reason. He is expected to be installed in the House of Lords tomorrow (Tuesday).

Mr Hay meanwhile is expected to be installed in the House of Lords tomorrow (Tuesday).

Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney was among the first to welcome Mitchel McLaughlin’s appointment on Monday afternoon.

Mr McCartney said: “Mitchel McLaughlin has a long record in politics going back to the Civil Rights era and I am sure he will bring all his experience to his new role.

“This is an historic day in that it’s the first time that a Nationalist or Republican has held the role since the formation of the state.

“As Principal Deputy Speaker Mitchel secured the trust of the Assembly in debates and in his other duties by the fair and even-handed manner in which he carried out his duties.

“I also welcome the fact the DUP has now honoured its agreement on the election of the speaker. I hope this will be a new beginning in the relationships between the parties in going forward.

“It was disappointing however, that the SDLP refused to support his nomination.

“It is important the Assembly delivers for the electorate and I hope today’s vote signals that the political will is now there to implement remaining commitments in the agreed Programme for Government.”

There were two other candidates in the running for the Speaker role, SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat was nominated by his party, while the Ulster Unionists put forward Roy Beggs.