Official Report: Monday 22 June 2015
The Assembly met at 12:00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.
Mr Poots: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On exiting the Building last week after the debate on collusion, I was berated, as were other Members of the Assembly, by members of the public. I witnessed Mr Maginness being berated quite badly. I was berated. I went on about my business and did not respond, and then was told to rot in hell. Subsequently, other Members had to actually leave the Great Hall because of the hostility that was being demonstrated towards them, including members of my party and members of the SDLP. I note that, when people are given temporary passes to enter the Building, they are supposed to adhere to a behavioural code. I ask that those matters are looked at and addressed because, when I asked the security folks to look at it, they indicated that this was a public part of the Building and that they had no authority to deal with it.
I do not think that it is acceptable for any Member of the Assembly, whether nationalist, republican, unionist or whatever, to be attacked in the way in which Members were attacked last week. I want to avoid that situation or circumstance happening again. I can identify two of the individuals who were involved. I personally witnessed Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice being particularly aggressive. It was a lady who launched the assault on me, and I could quite easily identify her were the opportunity to arise. Frankly, it is unacceptable that Members of the Assembly should be treated in that way by members of the public, and we need to have a system in place that deals with that. At this moment, it does not appear that that is the case.
Mr Speaker: My initial response is that that is not actually a point of order because it does not refer to issues in the Chamber, but I take seriously the point that you made. I have addressed the significance and importance of Members in this Chamber treating each other with respect because I think that behaviour occasionally oversteps the mark and sets a very poor example indeed. I will refer the matter for investigation to see whether there is anything that we can do, but I will take the opportunity on the issue that you have addressed to remind Members that we can give a lead. We can choose not to, but, in our discourse, discussion and debates, we should act with a considerable sense of responsibility for the image and message that we send from this Chamber. That may or may not be an onus that Members want to take on, but I can tell you that I will address it as Speaker because I take it very seriously indeed.
Mr Allister: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, you have said that you do not think that it is a point of order because it did not happen in the House, but surely this House should examine the question of whether or not it could amount to a breach of the privilege of this House. That is a matter that I would have thought very much falls within your ambit for reference to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
Mr Speaker: I have already said that I will refer the matter for consideration. I think that will suffice for now. If necessary, I will come back to the House with any findings.
Mr Speaker: Before we proceed with today's business, I have some announcements to make. The nominating officer of the Ulster Unionist Party has informed me that Mr Roy Beggs has replaced Mr Danny Kinahan as Chairperson of the Audit Committee with effect from 15 June 2015, and that Mrs Sandra Overend has replaced Mr Danny Kinahan as Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Education, also with effect from 15 June 2015. I am satisfied that the requirements of Standing Orders have been met.
Mr Speaker: Mr Martin McGuinness has been given leave to make a statement on the tragic events in Berkeley, California, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members called will have up to three minutes to speak. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order on this or any other matter until this item of business is finished.
Mr M McGuinness: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Thank you very much for accepting the matter of the day on what was a shocking, heartbreaking and catastrophic accident in Berkeley, California, which resulted in the tragic deaths of six Irish students and very serious injuries to many others.
Ireland and the United States of America have enjoyed an unbreakable bond going back many centuries, and Ireland and Berkeley enjoy a special bond as the city is named after the Anglo-Irish Bishop of Cloyne, George Berkeley, who was also, for a period, the Dean of Derry.
Our hearts, thoughts, prayers, condolences and sympathy go out to the families of Olivia Burke, her cousin Ashley Donohoe, who lived in California, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller and Eimear Walsh. It has been a shocking experience for their families, and there is deep sadness all over the island of Ireland at the loss of those beautiful young people. Of course, we also send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Clodagh Cogley, Aoife Beary, Niall Murray, Hannah Waters, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn. They are all aged between 20 and 22 and are all from Dublin, with the exception of one student, who is from Donegal.
The Taoiseach summed it up correctly when he said that, when we look at the photographs of those young people, it is like looking at photographs of our own children. That is how raw this is for all of us on the island of Ireland. I think that it is important to let the families know that all of us, in every part of Ireland, are thinking about them at this time as they are about to lay to rest their children.
It is also important to record our deep appreciation and gratitude for the leadership shown by the Mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates, all the emergency services and the citizens of Berkeley. I was very pleased to see that, during the M