Who is the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly? What does he do and what role does he play? These are just some of the questions that visitors to the Assembly often ask.
The current Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly is William Hay MLA. He was elected, with cross-party support, on 8 May 2007. The Speaker is also known as the Presiding Officer and is assisted by three Deputy Speakers, John Dallat MLA, David McClarty MLA and Francie Molloy MLA.
The Speaker has three roles: Procedural, Corporate and Representational.
ProceduralThe Speaker performs a range of procedural duties in the Assembly Chamber when he chairs meetings of the Assembly. For example, keeping order, calling MLAs to speak, resolving points of order (disputes) if and when an MLA suggests that a standing order (rules) may have been broken. He also gives permission for certain issues to be raised in the Chamber, decides on the selection of amendments to motions, and chairs meetings of the Business Committee which decides what is to be discussed in plenary sessions . The Speaker also has a critical role in ensuring that the official process of making laws is followed in the Assembly. This includes ensuring that all Bills introduced in the Assembly are within the remit of the Assembly and are compatible with law on human rights
The Speaker is politically impartial. Once elected, he does not participate or vote in any debates in the Assembly, nor does he comment on political matters or on issues of Government policy.
During the 2009-10 session the Speaker chaired more than 70 plenary sessions, including the historic passing of the Justice Bill and the subsequent appointment of David Ford MLA as Minister for Justice, the first such Minister appointed in Northern Ireland for more than 40 years.
CorporateThe Speaker has a corporate role as the Chair of the Assembly Commission. The Commission is the corporate body responsible for ensuring that the Assembly has the property, staff and services it needs to carry out its work.
RepresentationalThe Speaker also performs an important representational role and has hosted many important visitors, including Heads of State, Ambassadors and senior political figures from across the world. During the 2009-2010 session, among others, he received the American Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, Mr James Tanis, President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Papua New Guinea and delegates to a Peace Building Conference held in Parliament Buildings.
The Speaker also works to develop links with other devolved and national legislatures. For example, this year he launched an Assembly All Party USA Group during St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington DC. The Group aims to develop links between the Northern Ireland Assembly and legislatures in the USA. He also hosted a meeting of the Presiding Officers from the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales during which they discussed matters of mutual benefit and interest.
The Speaker’s role in the Assembly and as a leading political figure is varied and challenging as he plays a significant role in the new democratic system in Northern Ireland today.