Former Northern Ireland Assembly Speakers

Mitchell McLaughlin ( Sinn Féin ) (2015-2016)

Political career

Mitchel McLaughlin’s political career began with his election as a Sinn Féin representative to Derry City Council in 1985, and was a member of the council for almost 20 years. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 representing the Foyle constituency and in 2007 he switched from the constituency to contest South Antrim. He was successful and continued to represent the constituency until his retirement in 2016.

Mitchel was appointed Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee during the 2007-11 mandate and was Party Spokesperson on the Economy. Following the 2011 Assembly elections, he was appointed Assembly Private Secretary to the Minister of Education.

Speaker tenure

On 15 April 2013 Mitchel McLaughlin was elected as Principal Deputy Speaker by cross community vote of the Assembly replacing Deputy Speaker Francie Molloy who resigned his Assembly seat after being elected as MP for Mid Ulster.

Following the retirement of former Speaker Hay, Mitchel McLaughlin was elected as the first Nationalist Speaker of the Assembly on 12 January 2015 by cross community vote.

During his time as Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin promoted a Respect agenda with three priorities including: Respect for the Assembly and in political discourse; Respect for all parts of the community; and Respect for history and remembrance. In addition to his Respect agenda Mitchel McLaughlin also encouraged greater female participation in the Assembly and in public service.

William Hay (Democratic Unionist Party) (2007-2014)

Political career

William Hay’s political career began with his election as a DUP representative to Derry City Council in 1981, serving as Deputy Mayor in 1992 and Mayor of the City of Londonderry in 1993. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly upon its establishment in 1998, representing the Foyle Constituency, and was returned to the Assembly at each election since until his resignation in 2014.  His family was well known in political circles in the North West for many years, both his sister and mother serving on Derry City Council.

Mr Hay served on a range of bodies in the statutory and voluntary sector, including the Western Education & Library Board, the Northern Ireland Housing Council, the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commission and the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Speaker tenure

Following agreement between the two largest parties after the election in March 2007, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, to enter a power-sharing government together, full powers were finally devolved back to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 8 May 2007. 

At the first sitting of the Assembly on 7 May 2007, William Hay was elected unanimously as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the first time that a Speaker had been elected by a vote in the House, the two previous Speakers having been appointed by the Secretary of State. 

The third assembly mandate (2007-2011) was dissolved on 24 March 2011 in preparation for the elections to be held on Thursday 5 May 2011, this being the first assembly mandate since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement to complete a full term. 

The fourth assembly mandate convened on 12 May 2011 when he was again elected unanimously as Speaker.  William Hay announced his resignation, both as Speaker and as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to take effect on 13 October 2014.

Eileen Bell (Alliance Party) (2006-07)

Political career

In 1986 Eileen Bell became General Secretary of the Alliance Party and in 1993 she won election to North Down Borough Council. She was later elected as one of two "top-up" members of the 1996 Northern Ireland Peace Forum and in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly elections won a seat in North Down.  In June 2001 Eileen Bell was appointed Deputy Leader of the Alliance and in the 2003 Assembly elections she retained her seat.

Speaker tenure

The first Assembly mandate was formally dissolved on 28 April 2003 in anticipation of an election in May 2003. The Secretary of State decided to postpone the election and it eventually took place on 26 November 2003.  The second Assembly mandate was restored to a state of suspension following the November 2003 election after which the political parties engaged in discussions aimed at restoring the devolved institutions. 

Those elected in 2003 were directed by the Secretary of State, Peter Hain MP, to meet in Parliament Buildings on 15 May 2006 in an “Assembly” provided for by the Northern Ireland Act 2006.  In advance of this meeting, Eileen Bell was appointed by the Secretary of State to act as Speaker of the Assembly in April 2006.  The Assembly was called for the purpose of electing a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and to choose the members of an Executive before 25 November 2006, as a preliminary to the restoration of devolved government.

Talks between the political parties were successfully concluded by the signing of the St. Andrews Agreement in November 2006.  The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 repealed the Northern Ireland Act 2006 and thus disbanded "the Assembly".  The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 provided for a "Transitional Assembly" (or fully "the Transitional Assembly established under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006") to take part in preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.  There were no new elections to the “Transitional Assembly”, instead those who have been elected to the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly were also a member of the Transitional Assembly.   Eileen Bell continued as Speaker of the Transitional Assembly which first met on 24 November 2006.  The “Transitional Assembly” (and second Assembly mandate 2003-2007) was dissolved on 30 January 2007 and elections were held for the Northern Ireland Assembly on 7 March 2007.  Eileen Bell did not stand in these elections although she remained as Speaker until her replacement was appointed at the first sitting of the third mandate of the Assembly.

Lord Alderdice (Alliance Party) (1998-2004)

Political career

Lord Alderdice joined the Alliance Party in 1978 and was elected Party Leader in October 1987.  In June 1989 he was elected to Belfast City Council and in 1996, to the new Northern Ireland Forum.  He led the Alliance delegation there and in the Multi-party Talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell.  Raised to the peerage in October 1996, he took his seat on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords on 5 November that year.  Lord Alderdice played a significant role in the Peace Process, being one of the key negotiators of the Belfast Agreement signed on Good Friday 1998. 

Speaker tenure

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement paved the way for elections to the ‘New NI Assembly’ on 25 June 1998 with 108 members and Lord Alderdice was elected as a member for Belfast East.  The Northern Ireland Act 1998 stated that the Assembly would be known as the “New Northern Ireland Assembly” in the pre-devolution, or “shadow” period and that, at the date of devolution, it would be called the “Northern Ireland Assembly”.  The Assembly operated in “shadow” form until powers were devolved to it by the UK Government in December 1999. 

The New Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time on 1 July 1998 in Castle Buildings on the Stormont Estate.  The then Secretary of State the Rt Hon Dr Mo Mowlam MP, appointed Lord Alderdice as Presiding Officer for the first sitting of the Assembly, with the intention that the Assembly would then elect a Presiding Officer.  In the event, no election for a Presiding Officer was held and on the date of devolution, as provided for in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Lord Alderdice as the incumbent, was confirmed in office.  The Standing Orders of the Assembly which took effect from the date of devolution, provided for the Presiding Officer to be addressed as “Speaker”.

The first mandate of the Assembly was suspended on four occasions, the last time on 14 October 2002.  It remained in suspension until powers were devolved back to the Assembly in May 2007.  Lord Alderdice retired as Speaker on 29 February 2004.

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