Standards and Privilege

Part of Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:30 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP 7:30 pm, 9th March 1999

The treaty that was signed in Dublin this week by the Secretary of State and the Dublin authorities makes it clear, in the section on language, that the British Government will facilitate and encourage Irish in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand.

My contention is that there is not an appropriate demand for the use of an alternative language — particularly the Irish language — in this Chamber. There will be a cost implication if Members endorse Standing Order 70 which states

"Members may speak in the language of their choice."

As sure as day follows night, I am certain that if the proposal that allows Members to speak in any language is adopted, it will be only a short time until the Assembly is faced with having to provide simultaneous translations. It will have to employ additional people, and there has already been a public outcry at the prospect of spending a large sum of money employing four people to translate the comments of those Nationalists who have been using the Irish language into the transcripts of the proceedings.

There is a possibility that there will be a greater cost. We could be writing a blank cheque by endorsing proposals that allow Members to speak in the language of their choice. In future, there may be a demand on the Assembly — and it may not be possible to resist such a demand — to use languages other than English on all documents and official forms. I am certain that Sinn Féin will stick to their guns — [Laughter] and insist on that. The European Courts may even decide that the language they chose to use in the Chamber is legitimate, and, therefore, all the Assembly’s business would have to be translated, as is the case in Wales.

I flag this up as a genuine concern. Members should exercise caution on this matter.