Wednesday 12 December 2012

How can Hay retain confidence?

The announcement from another MLA that he is going to join the street protests against the removal of the Union Flag, when both the leader of the Unionist leaders have called for a suspension of such protests, is upsetting.

The fact that the MLA is question also serves as Speaker of the Assembly is a matter of confidence. Not only does that mean that he is going against the expressed desire of the leader of the party he was elected under but his position as speaker in which he has to act as the neutral voice concerning the chamber and behaviour of the MLAs is now thrown into doubt.

William Hay in action as Speaker
The decision of William Hay to announce that he will be attending these protests from now may actually throw the entire Assembly and devolution into jeopardy. Indeed it does throw into the ring the possibility that the DUP are actually setting the Assembly and a shared future up to fail at the moment. It isn't just Hay who is defying Peter Robinson and joining the street protests, some of which are peaceful, but it is the others which are not that is the concern.

As someone who is trained in street preaching I know that you can set up anywhere on the Queen's highway as long as you do not cause an obstruction. The irony of a lot of these street protests is that they do obstruct the Queen's highways night in night out. They are affecting businesses and charities not just here in Northern Ireland but further afield. We learnt last night that the volunteers coming into Childline for one were less than normal affecting the ability of that charity to answer the calls of needy children. There are other charities that have volunteer phone operators in the city centre who must also be suffering in this way.

But Hay himself is stepping into the controversy. There will now be doubts that he can adjudicate over any debate into this issue or any other contentious issue going forward. With his utterances this morning he has lost the confidence of a great many people that his is capable of serving as speaker, especially at a time such as this when tensions are running high.

Here is what the Assembly's website says about the role of the speaker:

"Members must be confident of the impartiality of the Speaker and this is achieved through the operation of a number of conventions. He does not participate or vote in any debates in the Assembly, he does not become involved in party politics, nor does he comment on Northern Ireland political matters or on issues of Government policy. When speaking on behalf of the Assembly, the Speaker confines himself to matters relating to the operation of the Assembly. Similarly, he will only make statements to the press on factual or procedural matters relating to the Assembly."
 Judge for yourself if William Hay can maintain that confidence.

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