Willie Hay inspires Dáil

Speaker of the Assembly, William Hay MLA. (0612MM01)
Speaker of the Assembly, William Hay MLA. (0612MM01)

The Speaker of the Assembly, Willie Hay, has welcomed praise from Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, Sean Barrett, on how business is conducted at Stormont.

Mr Barrett said he intends to introduce a tough new regime in the Dáil in the year ahead, inspired by the North’s Assembly at Stormont.

The Ceann Comhairle was particularly impressed by the 108 MLAs at Stormont’s adherence to the dress code, something which he thinks some TDs have not been paying attention to recently.

Wrangles over dress codes are nothing new to Foyle MLA Willie Hay, Speaker of the Assembly, who has dealt with the issue in the past. However, he did not have to deal with exactly the same set of concerns of his southern counterpart, who has been irked by deputies turning up for debates wearing jeans.

Instead, in the summer of 2007 Mr Hay faced queries from Assembly members on whether they could take off their jackets in the chamber because of the heat.

In fact, fellow Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey raised a point of order in June 2007 about the issue.

At Stormont, the Speaker can make a ruling at the start of the summer to announce that members are allowed to take their jackets off.

It seems that such problems are not unique to the Assembly, as Mr Barret has found out since the last general election in the south, when a large number of independent TDs, many with little political experience, were elected.

He has announced plans to introduce new rules on dress code for deputies, as well as guidelines on the language that can be used during parliamentary debates and has looked North to Stormont as a model of best practise.

“In most parliaments there is a certain dress code and it is accepted. If you look at the Assembly in Northern Ireland, they have the dress code - everybody abides by it,” he said.

In the Assembly, male MLAs are expected to wear ties but it is not believed the Dáil will follow suit. Mr Barrett will not expect deputies to wear ties but they will have to wear jackets and shirts with collars.

He has also set his sights on what he regards as unparliamentary language and plans to introduce similar rules to those employed by Mr Hay in the Assembly.

The move has come after independent TD Mattie McGrath used the word ‘sh**e’ in a Dáil debate on septic tanks.

Dealing with ‘unparliamentary’ language has been part and parcel of Mr Hay’s tenure as Speaker of the Assembly. He has had to deal with numerous outbursts from MLAs and, on occasion, has had to suspend members from the chamber, including members of his own party.

Mr Hay has won praise from all parties in the Assembly for his stewardship of debates.

The Foyle MLA has also praised MLAs for the way they conduct themselves during debates, particularly those on divisive issues.

“I think we have generally a well behaved assembly. There is always going to be heated debate around issues.

“We have no problem with that as long as members show respect to the Standing Orders and the integrity of the assembly.

“It is all about showing that wee bit of respect to the assembly,” he said.

Mr Hay also said that he has not had to face the problems around dress code that Mr Barret has experienced in the Dáil. “It is an unwritten rule that members present themselves like they do,” he said.

“Mr Barrett has spoken to me about this. He was impressed that the assembly does adhere to the dress code. I think elected members should set an example and they all do so in a very mature manner.”