10/04/2006

Hain appoints NI Assembly Speaker

Former Alliance party deputy leader Eileen Bell has today been announced as the new speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it resumes on May 15.

She will be the first female speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and will succeed former Alliance Party leader Lord Alderdice, who retired from the post in February 2004 stating that his role on the Independent Monitoring Commission was too demanding to enable him to continue the role.

Mrs Bell became deputy leader of the cross community Alliance Party in June 2001 and only recently gave up the position to make way for East Belfast MLA Naomi Long.

She was a member of the last Assembly and has represented North Down at Stormont since 1998.

The MLA announced in December 2005 that she would not stand in the next assembly.

Speaking earlier, Mrs Bell said that she was looking forward to her new position.

She said: "I was delighted to be asked by the Secretary of State to take up the post of presiding officer of the assembly.

"I am honoured to accept this post and I look forward to the challenges when the assembly meets on 15 May."

The announcement on Mrs Bell's appointment was made today by Secretary of State Peter Hain who is currently undertaking a trade mission in India.

Speaking earlier, the Secretary of State said: “I am delighted that Eileen has agreed to take up the post.

“Eileen is hugely respected across the political and community divide in Northern Ireland. She gets on with everyone and brings a wealth of experience to the post."

Mr Hain added: “I am very pleased that she has agreed to take up this important post of Presiding Officer and I am sure that she will do a great job.

“Today is the eighth anniversary of the Agreement and this is a crucial period for Northern Ireland’s politicians.

“They must decide if they want to work in a democratically elected and accountable Assembly, or do they want to remain outside, unable to make decisions on behalf of those people who they represent.”

The local assembly was suspended in October 2002 following allegations of a republican spy ring at the Northern Ireland Office.

(EF/SP)

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