Standards and Privilege

Part of Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:00 pm on 9th March 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 8:00 pm, 9th March 1999

I will answer that in due course.

I want to refer to the Good Friday Agreement, which talks about resolute action to promote the Irish language and to facilitate its use in both speech and writing. And, very importantly, the latter half of paragraph 4 of the section on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity says

"encourage the parties to secure agreement that this commitment will be sustained by a new Assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community."

Standing Orders should reflect equal status for Irish and English in practical ways. The written record, for example, is required for the benefit of the burgeoning Irish language media which are ever present in this Building, particularly during plenary sittings. Teilifís na Gaeilge, Radio na Gaeltachta agus rudaí eile. They will no longer be disadvantaged by having to translate as well as report.

There is an added difficulty. I am disappointed that some Members fear to refer to the Irish language by name. Why do some Members remain in denial of the Gaelic language, afraid to speak its name, with a kind of begrudging tolerance, at best, and outright hostility, at worst?

Members may speak in the language of their choice. In my opinion, this is inadequate. We should be looking at Welsh as a closer model. I have a document here headed ‘Agenda for the National Assembly of Wales, All for Welsh, Welsh for All’, and I think that that is a better bilingual example to follow than that which is being proposed here.

Mr C Wilson said earlier that he is afraid that we may want to go the whole way and push for a simultaneous translation system, and he is absolutely right. We will be pushing for a simultaneous translation system for all 108 Members, and not just for the Clerks and the Initial Presiding Officer.

Go raibh maith agat – mar dhea-ar an ábhar sin.

Nigel Dodds asserted yesterday that Irish is a foreign language. The use of the word foreign is a calculated insult to the Nationalist people, and to all those in the Nationalist and Unionist communities who are interested in Irish. Such references may register highly on the clapometer at junior DUP rallies in Portadown or Blossom Hill, or in parts of north Belfast to which Nigel Dodds feels close, but they are patently untrue. Irish is not a foreign language, although it may be good for Nigel Dodds’s popularity ratings in the DUP to say that. I remind people who make such statements that Gaelic Irish is the ancient language of Ireland. It is the birthright and the heritage of everyone who lives on the island of Ireland, and we are not sectional about that at all.

Since the late 1800s, consistent efforts have been made to revive Irish in everyday use throughout the country following its almost fatal decline in the wake of An Gorta Mór, and a history of outlawing and repressing it. Some people doubt the demand for the language. We do not all speak Irish today because in addition to being repressed and outlawed, it was made a language to be ashamed of to those who were willing to bend the knee. This part of Ireland has a state history of neglect and hostility to the Irish language.

The 1991 census is out of date because there has been considerable growth in Irish since then. It stated that in the six north-eastern counties, 79,012 people had a command of spoken and written Irish. More than 142,000 have some ability in either the written or spoken word. The numbers continue to grow. Brid Rodgers rightly drew attention to the success, the growth, the momentum and the dynamic in the Irish education movement and, in particular, in the Gaelscoileanna.

It is a mistake for Standing Orders not to make specific reference to the Irish language. Gaelgóirí expect and deserve better in a spirit of inclusivity. So, Le críochnú, ba mhaith linn go gcuirfí an Ghaeilge chun cinn ar dhóigh oscailte, dhearfach neamhbhagrach. Is linn uilig an Ghaeilge; is cuma cén dearcadh polaitúil, cén cúlra nó cén creideamh atá againn. Cé h-é nó cé h-í a bhfuil imní air/uirthi roimh an Ghaeilge?