Pictured at the unveiling ceremony is former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin and his granddaughter Saorlaith.Pictured at the unveiling ceremony is former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin and his granddaughter Saorlaith.
Pictured at the unveiling ceremony is former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin and his granddaughter Saorlaith.

First nationalist Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin and family chuffed with stunning new portrait

Mitchel McLaughlin has said his family are extremely pleased with a stunning portrait of the former Assembly Speaker painted by Catherine Creaney and unveiled this week at Stormont.

Mr. McLaughlin, who became the first ever nationalist speaker when appointed to the role in 2015, visited his former stomping ground to view the impressive artwork.

“​It went very well. I had the family up. We were well looked after and very pleased with the portrait,” he said.

The oil-on-canvas of the Derry politician will join those of his predecessors, which are on public display in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings.

Mr. McLaughlin explained how process took a bit of time. He was given a number of potential artists and opted for the award-winning Creaney.

"They give you about a dozen portfolios of various artists and a couple of months to mull them over and make a choice.

“We picked out Catherine Creaney from Coalisland. She is an outstanding artist.

"With very little knowledge of the ins and outs and intricacies of that kind of artistic endeavour I was delighted with the outcome and the amount of detail she managed to get into the painting.

“She operates on a whole series of photographs she takes while you are sitting in a fairly relaxed way with a cup of coffee. She is snapping away catching you in different moods and in different lights I suppose. She puts it together from that.”

Remarkably his visit to ‘the house-on-the-hill’ was only his second time up there since he stepped down as Speaker and retired from front-line politics. The last time he was up was for the unveiling of a painting of his late friend Martin McGuinness in 2018.

“This was the first time I'd been up since leaving the Assembly apart from the unveiling of Martin's portrait. I knew this was probably in the pipeline,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin admits returning to Stormont was bit surreal after almost a decade since he made history.

"The significance of my term was that I was the first nationalist to have ever been Speaker,” he notes.

The painting was officially unveiled by the current Speaker Edwin Poots, who said: “Having served as a Member when Speaker McLaughlin was in the Chair, I have a very high regard for how he carried out his role, he had great authority and was utterly fair to Members across the House.”

The ‘Journal’ asked Mr. McLaughlin for his assessment of Mr. Poots.

"From what I can see he is doing alright. The role demands equality and scrupulous impartiality and that is what they watch out for. If you ever slip from that standard it will be pointed out.

"I'd say Poots will turn out to be a good speaker as did Willie Hay,” he says.

Intriguingly Mr. McLaughlin once had a premonition the South Belfast MLA would ultimately preside from the Speaker’s bench.

“He came up to the table during one of the sessions I was chairing once and asked, 'do you enjoy this role?' It sparked a wee thought in my head that he might be interested in this at some stage and that is how it turned out!”

Mr. Poots, during the unveiling ceremony, said: “His time as a negotiator on behalf of his party meant he was well placed to work with Members of all parties and navigate the politics of the time.

“Underpinning his time as Speaker was his commitment to the value of ‘respect’ and his willingness to use opportunities to ensure different groups across society were acknowledged and respected by the Assembly.”

The Speaker continued: “Assembly reform was also important for Speaker McLaughlin and he gave great support as Speaker to increasing the number of women represented in the Assembly and since his time, the Speaker’s Office has continued to hold an annual event to mark International Women’s Day.”

The Speaker concluded: “The artwork on display in the Great Hall and elsewhere in Parliament Buildings records the parliamentary history of the building across all traditions.

"We know that visitors to Parliament Buildings really enjoy this part of the overall experience and I am pleased that this stunning piece by Catherine Creaney will go on public display from today.”