Standards and Privilege

Part of Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:15 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 8:15 pm, 9th March 1999

Go raibh agat a Chathaoirligh. I would like to speak against amendment 87 and in favour of retaining Standing Order 70, which states

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

Drafting this particular Standing Order was a long-drawn-out process. We put forward various different wordings, but they were not acceptable to the Committee. We would prefer to have had the Irish language mentioned. One of our proposals was that English, Irish and Ulster-Scots be listed. Instead we have Members being able to speak in whichever language they choose. Tonight we have been treated to several different languages. It adds to the character of the Assembly.

If we were to adopt the amendment proposed by Mr C Wilson, we would not have that choice. It is not a matter of his being able to say that he does not want to stop anybody from speaking the Irish, or that he does not want to stop anyone from speaking in whatever other language. By not having that choice we would be stopping people from speaking in the language of their choice. There was a lot of debate about this over the months in the Standing Orders Committee, and we did reach a compromise which recognises the diversity of the Committee itself and of the languages.

In the other devolved Administrations that we have talked about, Scotland and Wales, provision has been made for their languages, and I think that Westminster makes provision for English. We have variations in all these establishments, and it would be sad in this part of the country if we were to make exclusions, and that is the problem with this amendment, by leaving out Standing Order 70 and inserting a new Standing Order making the language of this Assembly English. That would exclude people from speaking in a language of their choice.

I hope that we can move to a new situation. The logic of the argument is in keeping with the agreement, and we do have in the Agreement, and several people have referred to this, including Mr Wilson, provision for the use of other languages. I ask people not to be hostile to the language. The language itself cannot do us any harm. It will not endanger any of us. People should not get too uptight about it and hostile to it.

Referring to Standing Order 71, I agree with Mr Fee that we should vote against increasing the membership of the Commission to 11. The Commission has worked very well over the last months. It has taken many decisions. The two votes referred to by Mr Robinson resulted in decisions being made, but many decisions have been taken with no vote at all.

The very fact that those two votes were taken is an indication of the amount of work that went on. We did have two days in London at Westminster, but we were working on the budgets as well, and we had quite a good working relationship while doing that with the staff of all the different agencies. The Assembly Commission has worked well in its short time in shadow form. It would be unfortunate now if we were to throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to keep in line on this matter.