SDLP’s Eastwood accuses Sinn Fein of breaking agreement over Assembly Speaker

SDLP's Eastwood accuses Sinn Fein of breaking agreement over Assembly Speaker

The new Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey MLA (PA)

Gareth Cross

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has claimed Sinn Fein back tracked on an agreement for Patsy McGlone to be the new Assembly Speaker.

Sinn Fein, however, hit back, saying there was no agreement of any kind.

The party’s West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey was elected to the position on Saturday with the endorsement of the DUP.

Mr Eastwood said originally it had been intended the position would go to his party for the first time with Mr McGlone in the chair but Sinn Fein changed their mind an hour before the election.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said that she understood Mr McGlone would be the new Speaker, but no agreement was made on the matter in the latest round of Stormont talks.

SDLP leader Mr Eastwood told BBC Radio Foyle: “The way that the Speaker role was divvied up wasn’t the best start.”

“We had never had the Speaker’s position, we felt that it was right that someone from the SDLP had it this time and that was the understanding for the last couple of years.”

The Foyle MP said it was “widely understood” Mr McGlone would be given the position.

“An hour out we were told that Sinn Fein would be putting someone forward and of course the DUP supported them.

“That’s fine, but I just thought it was a missed opportunity.”

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone

Mr Eastwood said there was a “loose agreement” in place going back “a couple of years” and all parties were aware of it.

“I don’t think it was a good start, but it’s a minor issue compared to what this Government has to do,” he said.

“Let’s see, we’ve gone in here with our eyes open, we have issues with this deal, we don’t think it goes far enough in some areas and maybe too far in others.”

Sinn Fein responded to Mr Eastwood’s comments, saying there was no agreement in place.

“There was no ‘loose’ or any other agreement that Patsy McGlone would be Assembly Speaker,” a party spokesperson said.

The UUP nominated Roy Beggs for the position.

Naomi Long said in previous rounds of talks it was understood the position of Speaker would be “rotated” by the main parties.

“It would have been appropriate in those circumstances for Patsy McGlone to have the opportunity to serve as Speaker,” the Alliance leader told the Nolan Show.

“He had the experience, as did Roy Beggs and it would have been our understanding that would be the case.

“There was no agreement in these talks, it wasn’t actually debated or discussed during these talks. I was working off the basis of previous discussions that had been had some time ago.”

The SDLP leader revealed the issue while discussing his party’s decision not to take the position of health minister.

Mr Eastwood said that his party did not want the role without also controlling the finance ministry as they felt the roles should be closely linked.

He said without holding the two departments it lead to another party denying funding for political reasons to health.

The SDLP nominated North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon as Infrastructure Minister.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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