Northern Ireland

Reaction: Parties call for speaker Newton to quit

Robin Newton
Image caption Mr Newton has been Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly since May 2016

Politicians from four of Northern Ireland's main parties have called for the resignation of the Democratic Unionist Party Assembly speaker Robin Newton.

Mr Newton, MLA for East Belfast, has rejected claims that he misled the Assembly about the true nature of his role with a community organisation linked to the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association.

The claims were made in a BBC Spotlight programme on Tuesday night.

Here are a selection of responses to the programme.


Sinn Féin

Carál Ní Chuilín MLA said Mr Newton should resign immediately.

"Robin Newton's position as speaker is completely untenable in light of the serious allegations in a BBC Spotlight programme," she said, adding that a refusal to do so had "eroded public confidence" in the Stormont institutions.

Ms Ní Chuilín said Mr Newton had "totally compromised the neutrality of that office" through his previous performance in the Assembly.

"The speaker should be above reproach and independently accountable to the political institutions," the former culture minister said.


Ulster Unionist Party

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs also called for Mr Newton's immediate resignation as speaker.

"This issue goes to the heart of public confidence in politics in Northern Ireland at a time when the credibility of Stormont and local politics is already at an all-time low," he said.

Mr Beggs called for "a radical investigation into the Social Investment Fund".

He said his party believed the speaker should be elected by MLAs in a secret ballot, and the position should no longer be a "carve-up" between the DUP and Sinn Féin.


SDLP

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the allegations made in the Spotlight programme could not be swept under the carpet, and called for the speaker to resign.

Referring to the statement Mr Newton made to the Assembly last October about his involvement with Charter NI, Mr Eastwood said: "Mr Newton has been misleading the assembly and the public since last year when the SDLP deputy leader, Nichola Mallon, first asked him to clarify his relationship with Charter NI."

Mr Eastwood also criticised Sinn Féin for its role in the Social Investment Fund (SIF).

"As a party they were jointly responsible for the SIF funds and for every other decision which went through the Executive Office," he said.

"They were jointly responsible for the channelling of funds to groups linked to the UDA."


Alliance

Alliance MLA David Ford said Mr Newton should resign from the role of speaker with immediate effect.

He noted that the DUP MLA would continue receiving the speaker's salary - £87,500 a year - until the Assembly sat again and he was replaced.

"We would also seek to refer Mr Newton to the commissioner for standards, once there is a new person elected to that role," said the former justice minister.

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