Non-indigenous Languages

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 am on 11th June 2007.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance 3:45 am, 11th June 2007

13. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans he had to expand the consultation relating to the Irish language to deal with the needs of users of the principal non-indigenous languages in Northern Ireland.          (AQO 15/07)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The consultation on draft clauses for Irish language legislation arose from a commitment by the British Government in the St Andrews Agreement to introduce an Irish language Act.

My Department’s current remit with regard to considering language legislation in Northern Ireland is, therefore, specifically in relation to Irish.

The policy regarding non-indigenous languages in Northern Ireland is being taken forward by the race forum, lead by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. My Department is chairing the race forum’s thematic group on language. That group is currently preparing a report on how to reduce the inequalities faced by the users of minority ethnic languages in Northern Ireland when accessing public services.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he recognise that the users of the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages are essentially seeking to have their cultural aspirations protected through legislation? Will he also recognise that there are a large number of people in Northern Ireland who are speaking non-indigenous languages and have difficulty in accessing services through limited language skills, and who would benefit from having legislation in place to ensure that all public bodies, including those that do have good practice and those who do not, have a consistent approach to ensure that all sections of the community can access services, and that they are not denied them because of limited language skills?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Legislation does not have to be introduced to identify priorities and difficulties. In that respect, my Department has spent over £1·1 million on language translation in 2005-06. Of that £1·1 million, around £70,000 was spent on Ulster Scots and Irish, and the rest was spent on minority ethnic languages. There is a strong indication that there is a far greater demand for translation from the ethnic communities than there is from the indigenous languages.

Photo of Iris Robinson Iris Robinson DUP

Does the Minister have any evidence from his Department’s consultation on the Irish language legislation to show that there is cross-community support?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My officials are currently analysing the responses to that consultation. I understand that there is a strong diversity in the responses, and it may be difficult to establish cross-community support.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Ms Anna Lo and Mr Thomas Burns are not in the Chamber. I call Mr Francie Brolly.