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Monday, June 29, 1998 Published at 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK

Alderdice to be Assembly's first Speaker

Lord Alderdice: swaps jobs

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

Lord Alderdice is set to become the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly just hours after he quit as leader of the Alliance Party after 11 years in the job.

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam announced the appointment saying Lord Alderdice's "political and parliamentary experience mean that he is well suited to carry out this role".

He will be known officially as the Presiding Officer in the new body which meets for the first time on Wednesday.

One of the first tasks of the Assembly will be to decide if they want Lord Alderdice to take on the position on a permanent basis.


Lord Alderdice, who spearheaded the fight against sectarian politics, said he had been considering his position since his party's "disappointing" result in the Assembly elections.

BBC Ireland correspondent Denis Murray: 'Middle ground is disappearing'
His group, which had been hoping for a good showing in the poll, won only six of the 108 seats in the new body.

It suffered from the sensational success of the SDLP, which polled more votes than any other party, and was squeezed by the battles within nationalism and unionism.

Failed bid

Announcing his resignation, which will take effect on Tuesday, Lord Alderdice said: "I have led the Alliance Party for almost 11 years and have been privileged to play some small part with my colleagues in the Belfast Agreement."

But he said the election result had meant he had failed in his bid to become a member of the new Assembly's cabinet which will have Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble as its First Minister and SDLP head John Hume as deputy.

As a result it was now time for him to stand down for a new leader who should: "Carry on the task of "building a fair, just, peaceful and prosperous society free from sectarian divisions," he said.

It was clear Lord Alderdice, who has a long history as a tireless worker for peace and unity in Northern Ireland, felt personally disappointed by the result.

Alliance split

There had also been reports of a split within the Alliance's ranks over whether it should abandon its independence and elect to sit with either the nationalists or unionists in the Assembly.

The Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, whose party is closely linked to the Alliance, said he had been a "magnificent" leader of the party who had made an "immeasurable" contribution to peace.

"His part in negotiating the Good Friday agreement will, I am sure, have been valued by all sides of the community."

Lord Alderdice was made a peer by John Major in 1996 for his work for peace in the province.

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