Eileen Bell

A rare post about Northern Ireland politics from me. In contrast to the pathetic begrudging comments elsewhere in the blogosphere, I was rather glad to hear the news that Eileen Bell has been appointed interim presiding officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly (suspended since a year before the November 2003 election). To appoint a well-known moderate Catholic woman to chair the Assembly’s first meeting on 15 May is well within the Secretary of State’s powers. If the Assembly decides that it wants someone else to be the Speaker thereafter, that is its members’ business.

More particularly, it makes the recall of the Assembly on 15 May look that bit more realistic. The arithmetic decrees that the only actors whose agreement is needed to get devolution up and running again are the British government, the DUP and Sinn Féin, with a walk-on role for the Irish government and the smaller political parties. Hain, as Northern Ireland secretary, has been setting up the machinery for the Assembly at least to function. While Eileen does not have the gravitas that John Alderdice brought to the job (I regard him as one of the most exceptional political figures I have worked with), she is entirely capable of chairing meetings; and anyway, now that the DUP are on the winning side, the assembly’s inaugural meeting is unlikely to be as chaotic as, say, 1973.

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