First meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly following recent elections is interrupted by protests from a coalition of loyalists.
The first meeting of the Assembly in Stormont’s Great Hall did not get off to an auspicious start.
In the course of proceedings, William Craig, leader of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUUP), proposed to nominate William Beatty for the role of presiding officer, in opposition to Nat Minford, who had been nominated by Brian Faulkner of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
Protests and interruptions followed, and some members of the Assembly ignored the sitting presiding officer’s announcement that the House had been adjourned.
The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), defends the coalition’s actions, and maintains that they have legal standing,
We haven’t got a parliament of Northern Ireland, but what it does mean is that we had a legal meeting of the Assembly...We are legal, and any attempt to upset this, we will fight, and we will fight by every legal weapon that we have.
The Reverend William Beatty, who was elected as acting presiding officer following the adjournment of the Assembly, also believes that the Westminster parliament will take them seriously,
We believe that we have them on a point of law, and indeed as far as the Assembly was concerned, whenever Mr Minford left the chair, he left it without notice and as far as the Assembly would be concerned, and as far as Westminster would be concerned, if they’re going to uphold procedure at all, he left it illegally.
Former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner criticises the actions of those involved,
I see it as an utter gimmick, and one in very bad taste, and one that is not calculated to work for the benefit of anybody in Northern Ireland.
Gerry Fitt of the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) expresses his concerns about the language used in the directive issued from the Secretary of State's office regarding, among other things, the election of a new presiding officer. Those concerns aside, he believes that it is a sad day for democracy in Northern Ireland,
I would think that if the people of Northern Ireland had the opportunity, each and every one of them, to see what went on in there this afternoon they would be sadly disillusioned.
Leader of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party William Craig denied that he and his party deliberately tried to obstruct and delay proceedings,
We’re simply indicating that we don’t intend to rubber stamp these proposals and that we are in fact going to use the Assembly for the purpose we said as a platform to propound our views and to bring about a conference that will restore to Northern Ireland a proper parliament with parliamentary government.
Bob Cooper of the Alliance Party was not entirely surprised by what went on in Stormont today,
There are a lot of people who haven’t had the opportunity to let off steam in a democratic assembly for quite a long period of time, and they’re quite determined to do so.
Cooper believes that there are indeed people who want to want to make the Assembly work, and that those who don't want it to work made their presence felt today.
Because I think the bitterness has come entirely from the section from the members of the Assembly whom we knew were out to try and wreck the Assembly anyway. I don’t think there’s been any great degree of bitterness at all between those elements whom one would hope would try and make the Assembly work.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 31 July 1973.