AFTER all the counting and nail-bitting, Stormont had a real first day of term feel on Monday. While a group of primary school children were being shown around the Great Hall, the newly elected MLAs arriving for the first time at Parliament Buildings were also taking in their new surroundings.
Twenty-nine of the 108 MLAs are new to the assembly, including two from Fermanagh South Tyrone, Rosemary Barton of the UUP and the SDLP’s Richie McPhillips. While tomorrow (Thursday) is the first official day back, for first-timers, Monday was a day of passes being issued, photographs taken, individual party meetings, tours, and the allocation of car parking spaces and offices.
Mr McPhillips told the Herald that he was “bursting with pride” as he arrived in Belfast earlier this week.
“Stormont is a very vast building with a lot of activity going on and staff. I’d say it will take months to find my way about.
“Monday’s session was an induction for new members and it was basically an information gathering, but it was an information overload in many respects. We heard and saw that much there is a brain block on at the moment.
“As soon as I went in, I saw Rosemary was there in front of me and I met with Arlene Foster just before lunch,” he said.
For former teacher Ms Barton, it was like a first day at school.
“It was a quite a surreal experience as you take it all in. Getting used to the protocols and layout will take time.”
The former councillor admitted she will miss her colleagues on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
“They were a great bunch to be with. While we had very serious moments, we also had fun ones too. I’ll still be keeping a close on proceedings in the council from Stormont.”
Sinn Fein’s newly elected MLAs would have found the surroundings a little more familiar. Back for his second term is Sean Lynch while his constituency colleague Michelle Gildernew returns to Stormont this week after four years.
Ms Barton and Ms Gildernew are among the record-breaking number of female MLAs returned to the Assembly – 30 compared to just 20 in the 2011 poll.
Meanwhile, the DUP leader Arlene Foster and her running mate Maurice Morrow were in confident mood as they posed for photos with party members outside Parliament Buildings.
The fresh batch of MLAs will officially sign on in front of family, friends and supporters on Thursday. They will also be called upon to elect a new speaker at their first formal meeting in the assembly chamber and re-appoint Ms Foster and Martin McGuinness as First and Deputy First Ministers.
Once appointed there will be a two-week deadline to agree a new programme for government and appoint ministers.
Posted: 8:30 am May 10, 2016