'Niceties and small talk left at Stormont's rotating door for US visitors'

US delegation visits Stormont.

"How long have you been speaker?" asked the 79th Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly. "Mmm three years... three years," responded the 5th Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This was a short snippet of the small talk overheard on the steps of Stormont between Robin Vos, one of the visiting US state legislators at Stormont yesterday and Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey.

Mr Maskey was not overheard telling his guest that he should have retired last year as attempts to elect a new speaker since the last Assembly election have failed because the DUP are boycotting the chamber over the Windsor Framework. Two hundred US state legislators from 44 different states spent the day at Parliament Buildings yesterday. Robin Vos, the President of the National Conference of State Legislators said they were there to 'listen and learn' about the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Before a lunch in the Long Gallery, the large group were welcomed into the Great Hall to listen and take part in a panel discussion between representatives of the five main political parties. They heard Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy describe the DUP's decision to collapse the assembly in protest over the Windsor Framework as a 'failed strategy'. They heard the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly explain that her party wanted the visiting Americans to 'better understand unionism' and to 'recognise that as long as the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to, they will remain part of the UK'. But the line of the day was arguably delivered by Kellie Armstrong from the Alliance Party. She described the Stormont stalemate as the 'political equivalent of the seven circles of hell'. The niceties and small talk were left at Stormont's rotating door. The challenges, disagreements and ongoing problems between the parties were set out very publicly for the guests.

Some of the US visitors' final questions to the panel expressed confusion why the parties could sit together then, but not in the Assembly chamber in government. The guests also heard from some business leaders before leaving Stormont on luxury coaches headed for Dublin. Their day at Stormont no doubt gave the visitors plenty to talk about on the journey.

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