26/02/2004

Lord Alderdice retires as NI Assembly Speaker

Lord Alderdice has confirmed his retirement as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly due to his commitments as a member of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC).

He confirmed his retirement from the £48,000-a-year post in a letter to the Secretary of State.

In a letter of reply to Lord Alderdice, Secretary of State Paul Murphy commended Lord Alderdice for his "distinguished service to the Northern Ireland Assembly and for the skill and commitment he and other members are already bringing to the important role of the IMC".

Mr Murphy wrote: "I do of course fully understand the reasons that lead you to take this step now, and so bring an end to the very distinguished service that you have given to the Northern Ireland Assembly. That the Assembly was established so soundly, and that it operated with so great a measure of co-operation among all the parties, even when emotions ran high, owes, I believe, an enormous amount to your leadership. The calm authority with which you managed the most difficult debates was very widely admired, not only by those present, but many others who watched the proceedings from outside.

"You have left a legacy of great value to the Assembly, and, like you, I hope that it can once again be drawn on as the Assembly resumes its functions, in the context of stable devolved government in a Northern Ireland entirely free from paramilitary activity.

"You will in your new role, of course, have a contribution of great importance to make to securing that objective. I am very grateful for the skill and commitment that you and your colleagues are already bringing to the establishment of the Commission."

Lord Alderdice, the former leader of the Alliance Party will join the four-strong Independent Monitoring Commission that is charged with reporting on the status of paramilitary activities and ceasefires.

The IMC's first reporting date was brought forward following the alleged abduction of a dissident republican activist Bobby Tohill in Belfast at the weekend. Four men were subsequently charged in connection with the incident.

(SP)

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