Derry politician Mitchel McLaughlin is set to become the next Speaker of the Assembly at Stormont, the ‘Journal’ has learned.
The former Foyle MLA, who now represents the South Antrim constituency, will be the first Sinn Féin representative to hold the post at Stormont.
Mr McLaughlin will assume the role of Principal Deputy Speaker in the Assembly in the coming months before becoming Speaker next year. The current Principal Deputy Speaker, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, is due to step down to contest the by-election in that constituency caused by the resignation of Martin McGuinness from Westminster.
The by-election is likely to be held on February 28 or March 7 and Mr McLaughlin is expected to step into his new role shortly afterwards.
A senior Sinn Féin source told the ‘Journal’; “In the event that Francie is successful in winning the seat, he will be replaced as MLA, and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA will take on the role of Principal Deputy Speaker in the Assembly.
“The Speaker position in the Assembly is due to transfer from the DUP to Sinn Féin in May 2014 at which time it is expected that Mitchel will be nominated by the party to take over from Willie Hay MLA.”
It is understood an agreement exists between the DUP and Sinn Féin to share the position of Speaker during the current Assembly term.
The Speaker chairs plenary sessions of the Assembly, has responsibility for maintaining order during debates, and makes rulings on disputes within the Chamber.
The Speaker also chairs the Assembly Commission at Stormont.
Upon election, the Speaker must relinquish party political affiliation and remain neutral during debates.
67 year-old Mr McLaughlin is a former national secretary and general secretary of Sinn Féin and was first elected to the Assemby in 1998.