Molaim an rún. I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the provision in paragraph 5.21.2 of 'New Decade, New Approach', to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots; further notes that a simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage; and, as provided for in section 40(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, directs the Assembly Commission to provide a simultaneous and passive system for interpretation in the Assembly that is capable of supporting one meeting at any one time; and calls on the Assembly Commission to make any other arrangements as may be necessary for the operation of such a system.
The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 15 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate.
I am pleased to bring this motion to the House today, on behalf of the Committee on Procedures. It proposes to introduce simultaneous interpretation of Assembly business in Irish and Ulster Scots, as set out in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement. Amongst other things, NDNA addressed a range of rights, language and identity issues. It provided that the First Minister and deputy First Minister, supported by junior Ministers in the Executive Office, would sponsor and oversee a new framework, recognising and celebrating the North's diversity of identities and culture and accommodating cultural difference. It said that the 1998 Act would be amended and that three Bills would be introduced in order to make legislative provision for a range of rights relating to language and identity.
Paragraph 5.21.2 in 'New Decade, New Approach' makes specific provision in respect of the Assembly. It says:
"the Assembly's Standing Orders will be amended to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots. A simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage."
The Committee on Procedures initially took the view that it would consider the matter in the context of the planned progress of the three Bills. The Committee wrote to the First Minister and deputy First Minister, in 2020 and again in 2021, seeking clarification about when the Bills would be introduced. However, the Committee has still not been provided with a time frame for the introduction of those Bills.
The Committee is satisfied that it is not necessary to await the Executive's legislation before it addresses the matters set out in paragraph 5.21.2. In deciding to take that approach, the Committee is conscious that any further delay in looking at this issue could leave insufficient time to have agreed arrangements in place for the start of the next mandate.
I note the amendment that has been proposed. For the purposes of clarity, I say that the Committee on Procedures did not have an opportunity to consider the amendment, and, therefore, it has no agreed position on it. The Committee noted that 'NDNA' cites:
"Standing Orders will ... be amended to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots."
However, Members will know that Standing Order 78 already provides:
"Members may speak in the language of their choice."
That, of course, includes Irish or Ulster Scots. The Committee is therefore satisfied that it is unnecessary to amend Standing Orders in order to enable a Member to speak in Irish or Ulster Scots in either plenary or Committee proceedings. The introduction of a system of simultaneous interpretation, as envisaged by NDNA, would mean that the practice of Members having to provide a consecutive interpretation would no longer be necessary when speaking in Irish or Ulster Scots. The Committee has therefore agreed that Members should be able to speak in Irish or Ulster Scots in Assembly proceedings without the need to provide a consecutive interpretation, and that, as set out in NDNA, a simultaneous interpretation system should therefore be made available in the Assembly:
"to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage."
I will now cover some of the Committee's considerations on the issue. During its consideration, the Committee sought and received a briefing from Assembly Commission officials on a wide range of issues, including the practical, logistical and financial implications associated with introducing simultaneous translation and interpretation into the Assembly. I provided further details from those briefings to Members in my correspondence prior to the debate.
In addition, the Committee heard about the difference between passive and active interpretation. In essence, a passive service at the Assembly would be one in which any Irish or Ulster Scots that was spoken was interpreted in English, whereas an active service would be one in which business that was conducted in English was also interpreted in Irish and Ulster Scots. The Committee noted that the interpretation that is currently provided at both Houses of the Oireachtas and in the Welsh Parliament is passive. Broadly speaking, active interpretation requires twice as many interpreters and, consequently, more financial and staffing resource. Having considered those issues, the Committee is therefore satisfied that the provision of a passive service is most appropriate for the Assembly.
Furthermore, the Committee also noted that the Assembly has never placed a requirement on Members to provide advance notice or seek permission to use a language other than English. The Houses of the Oireachtas and the Welsh Parliament are the same in that regard. The Committee noted that this has obvious resource advantages, but essentially takes away from Members the freedom to speak in the language of their choice when they choose. Consequently, as far as plenary business is concerned, the Committee is satisfied that Members who wish to speak in Irish or Ulster Scots, and whose contributions will be interpreted simultaneously, do not need to provide advance notice of their intention to do so.
In respect of the scale of the provision, the Committee recognises the importance of ensuring value for money, and consequently gave careful consideration to the advice provided on the costs of simultaneous interpretation in various scenarios. These included options that were associated with active versus passive interpretation and options that were associated with providing simultaneous interpretation at one, two or four meetings at any one time.
Finally, given that the Assembly Commission is responsible for providing the Assembly with the property, staff and services that are required for its purposes, the Committee's motion directs the Assembly Commission to provide the simultaneous interpretation system. The purpose of the motion is therefore both to confirm that the Assembly requires a simultaneous interpretation system and to provide clarity to the Commission on the type of system that is required. The Committee appreciates, however, that the Assembly Commission will need to make whatever other arrangements may be necessary for the operation of such a system, including the recruitment of interpreters and installation of the required infrastructure. The motion provides for the Assembly Commission to do that. However, should any procedural issues arise in the making of those other arrangements, the Committee is clear that it will be for the Commission to revert to the Committee for clarification and/or direction.
Officials advised the Committee of some difficulties that had been experienced a number of years ago in respect of the availability of suitably skilled people to provide interpretation, particularly in Ulster Scots.
The Committee recognises that there may be challenges for the Commission in undertaking that recruitment and that it will be necessary to test the market to establish that. The Committee will seek updates from the Assembly Commission in order to ensure that the proposed arrangements can be implemented as intended.
The position that the Committee arrived at is reflected in the motion and is set out in my correspondence. It was arrived at following a Division, the outcome of which was five votes in favour of the measure and four against it. Therefore, on behalf of the Committee on Procedures, I commend the motion to the House.
A lot has been said about the Irish language in recent years both inside and outside the Chamber. On the one hand, there are those who are passionate advocates of the Irish language from an historical, cultural and linguistic perspective; on the other hand, there are those who feel that their cultural identity has been squeezed by what they feel has been the politicisation of the language. That conversation has, in many instances, become divisive and fractious, and, frankly, it has not been terribly productive.
Mr Deputy Speaker, if you permit me, I will make a quick foray into French. Do not worry, I am not going to start doing an impression of a character from ''Allo 'Allo!', but there is a wonderful French phrase, "dialogue de sourds", which literally means "dialogue of the deaf". The phrase is used idiomatically to characterise when two people are talking past each other without listening to what the other is saying. I am sure that all Members can easily see how our conversations on Irish and Ulster Scots have been in that context: a dialogue of the deaf.
I assure you that we in the Ulster Unionist Party are not deaf and that we have heard all that has been said from all quarters on the issue. We have heard the fears and the concerns, and we have heard the impassioned pleas. We have heard the calls for respect, and I do not just mean in recent years. We heard the same voices and arguments over 23 years ago when we won the Good Friday Agreement. I do not need to give Members a history lesson, but the Good Friday Agreement was a shining moment in our history when we showed not just the world but, more importantly, each other that, when we put our minds to it, we can unite and build a house together in which we can all live. Respect for each other's culture and language was integral to that agreement.
I know that it is hard to believe, as Members might think I am too young, but I signed up for the Good Friday Agreement 23 years ago, and I would sign up for it again today. I signed up for the ideals of respect, understanding and tolerance, particularly when it comes to each other's culture, language and heritage. Anyone who knows me will know that I believe strongly in building a union of people, and that means all the people of Northern Ireland. I assure Members that I am not merely navel-gazing or virtue signalling: I am serious. However, if we are going to go down this road, we have to be serious about implementing the changes, and we have a duty to ensure that we do it right.
As MLAs, we are custodians of the public purse. We have a fiscal and moral obligation to make sure that we can stand over every penny of our spending commitment. We must ensure that we are satisfied with the value for money on every penny that we spend, particularly as we are still in economic recovery mode as we come out of the pandemic. The motion needs the amendment in order to ensure that we have agreed mechanisms and controls in place to provide assurance for all of us that the costs are proportionate and meet the demand appropriately.
We do not have to cast our minds back too far to see instances when Irish and Ulster Scots were provided for significantly in excess of demand and at significant cost. I draw Members' attention to the shockingly low usage of the Irish and Ulster-Scots voicemail services administered by the Department for Communities over the past 16 years, with call numbers so low that the statistics were no longer recorded. I say that not to be dismissive but to be practical. Any simultaneous translation service must be sized and staffed in reaction to demand for the service. If the demand is minimal, a minimal translation service is required. Equally, if the demand is significant, a larger service is proportionate and appropriate. We need to be able to measure the usage of any new service as a safeguard to ensure value for money.
A formal review in six months' time is the appropriate mechanism to ensure that the usage of the service is commensurate with the associated financial and staffing implications.
I am intrigued by the words in the amendment "where there is appropriate demand". How is that quantified? Does that mean that, if no one can speak Ulster Scots, you simply liquidate that part of the package? Does it mean that, if only half a dozen people occasionally want to hold forth in Irish, you do not have the service? How do you quantify it?
The Member raises a good point and raises it well, to be fair. That is exactly the point that I am trying to get at. If the Commission, if charged with commissioning the services, has the mechanisms in place to ensure value for money, it is imperative that we look not just at the value in relation to culture and being confident and gracious but at the fiscal responsibility on us, given the pressures that we are face, no less so than in our health service.
As I said, I believe that a formal review in six months' time is the appropriate mechanism to ensure that the usage of the service is commensurate with the associated financial and staffing implications. Furthermore, a review would allow us to ensure that there is no adverse impact on the business in this Chamber from engaging with or using the service.
Our amendment is a small but necessary measure that will ensure that safeguards are in place from the start. This is not party political, guys; this is simply good governance. We should not write a blank cheque for any new service without any indication of the scope of the service provision required. We need to be intelligent about this. If we get this right, I have no doubt that, after six months of fine-tuning, we will have a translation service proportionate to the appropriate demand. I am sure that is something that every one of us could stand over.
As I said at the outset, I hope that this is not just another dialogue de sourds. I hope that my words have not fallen on deaf ears. I have done my best to listen to what the Chair of the Committee has said. Traditionally, I may have been on a different side of the argument, but I am willing to move, and I hope that others have the courage to similarly move and support the amendment. If we do this, we need to do it right. Let us test it, be evidence-led and seek to refine and review as we go forward.
First of all, I want to point out that, while this is a Committee motion, it did not receive the unanimous support of the Committee; in fact, the Committee was split right down the middle, with the motion receiving 50% plus 1 of a majority. That was not because it had anything to do with culture or language but simply because of the current situation that we find ourselves in and the many financial pressures that the House faces.
In Committee, we sought consensus by pressing for this to be taken to the party leaders' forum. It was unfortunate that the Sinn Féin members on the Committee, along with others, decided to vote that down and to bring this motion to the House. We have a motion that is reflective of only one political perspective. I want to say to the party opposite: if we are serious about NDNA delivering, we must see that it delivers on all commitments as a collective package and not just those that satisfy individual perspectives.
At the Committee, enquiries were made about the provision of sign language. Sign language is also a commitment in NDNA. The Minister for Communities came back with a letter to the Committee in which she said that nothing had been done with regard to sign language and that legislation for that would not be coming forward until the next mandate. There, we have a community in social isolation as far as communication is concerned, yet the Minister had nothing done on it and said that legislation would not be introduced until the next mandate. Yet, while that was placed on the back-burner, we have this coming before the House today.
I know that, for many in the House, cultural issues are important. The Ulster-Scots culture is just as important to me as the Irish culture is to the folks sitting on the other side of the Chamber.
Anyone who comes to West Tyrone and to the communities there will know that I am heavily involved in Ulster-Scots culture. However, as we stand in the House this evening, we all have a duty and responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland in the decisions that we make and the wider public climate.
The motion requires the House to spend £344,000 on interpreters to provide simultaneous interpretation for those who wish to speak Irish, plus an estimated £43,000 for logistical work to accommodate the broadcasting. We are talking about somewhere between £400,000 and £500,000 for a service that exists: there is no blockage in the House to anyone standing up and speaking in whatever language they wish. I hope that he does not mind my referring to him by name, but Patsy McGlone is the only man in the House I know who can speak fluent Irish. I have not heard it from anyone else. Maybe I have been out of the Chamber when it has been spoken, but I have not heard it. Yet, we are looking at spending up on half a million pounds — a cost that will continue to increase — on a service in the House to facilitate the people in the House, but it is not of any benefit to our communities. It is time for the House to stop —
I note the Member's rising costs, which have no bearing on reality. Does he recognise these words:
"I have ensured at all times that I have committed to fulfilling NDNA, because that's how we got back to the Assembly, and therefore we cannot afford to move away from NDNA"?
The Member may think that those are my words, but they are the words of the leader of his party, Edwin Poots. Are you committed to NDNA or not?
I thank the Member for his intervention. He knows well where the DUP stands on that: we are committed to NDNA and its delivery as a complete package. We cannot cherry-pick bits here and there just to satisfy our political ideology. If we are serious, we must see NDNA delivered in all of its aspects as one package.
It is time, therefore, for the House to stop and take stock of where we are. I have no call to tell the people in the House that we are coming out of a pandemic and that there are financial issues. Our health service is in financial crisis, and we heard the Health Minister today talking about the difficulties that the health service faces with 335,000 people on waiting lists. I have no doubt that, if we went round the Chamber tonight, every Member would be able to give many examples of constituents for whom they are working who have been on waiting lists for long periods and cannot get the service that they require. We have childcare issues, with single parents and working —
— families who cannot get back into full-time employment because of issues with childcare. Let us get our priorities right and look at the issues that we need to look at and deliver on for the people —
I thank the Chair of the Committee on Procedures for placing on record a detailed explanation of the events as they unravelled and the deliberations of the Committee.
I will refer to some of the comments that have been made about New Decade, New Approach and the commitment to delivering on all its aspects. I have worked well with Committees across the House, including the Procedures Committee, and, if it were within the gift of the Procedures Committee to deliver on all of NDNA, it would not be for want of trying, but, sadly, it is not and we are very limited. That is where we started. After three years of there being no Executive and no Procedures Committee, one of the first tasks with which we were charged was to look not only over legacy reports but at what had brought us back to the table: New Decade, New Approach. As part of that work, we had to scan and scope — I thank the officials for doing that — to identify what in the 'New Decade, New Approach' document was within the gift of the Procedures Committee and what warranted being on our agenda for discussion.
The Procedures Committee was not and is not a place to renegotiate or to discuss how those negotiations went or how the agreement came about. We were tasked merely with putting into operation the agreement that had been made.
We identified quite a few items that were within our scope, and one of those, rightly, was simultaneous translation. The agreement on that in New Decade, New Approach is, it has to be said, probably the one with the greatest clarity. There is little room for ambiguity. When you read the motion, you see that it is very exact in what it states. It requires that Standing Orders be amended. It is as simple and as black and white as that. That cannot be said for many parts of the agreement, where you could come into the Chamber and have different interpretations or views of what might have been said or agreed. The big question in many of those agreements is around where the funding is coming from. However, it must be stated, and the point cannot be made clearly enough, that this part of New Decade, New Approach is absolutely clear, and there was no confusion on the Procedures Committee about what the task in front of us was.
The Committee's starting point was to look at the current procedure and at the rulings that were made. It was quickly established that it was by convention that Members could speak in the language of their choice, but, of course, the right is not there for them to speak entirely in that language. That right is limited by the fact that Members have to surrender time for translation at the end of their contribution. It was noted that, whilst the Standing Orders were not required to be changed to allow a Member to speak in their language of choice, there would be a requirement to unravel the piece that would allow Members to speak entirely in that language while not disadvantaging any other Member in the Chamber.
We listened to the information that had been gathered from similar translation services in other Houses, be it the Houses of the Oireachtas or the Welsh Parliament. It was refreshing to see that other Houses have simply embraced language and see it in all its richness. Many will put the charge of, "Who speaks that language?", but, unfortunately, when you live in a society where language is suppressed or politicised and not valued or recognised for the beauty that it holds, fewer people will speak it. That is an inevitable outcome, so it is a circular argument. It is worth making that point because bringing language to the fore and not fearing or politicising it is what a normal society would do.
I am conscious that my time is running out, and there are quite a few other points that I would like to raise. The really important point, and the principle that I want to drive home —.
The Member's point about the visibility of the language is very important. Does she agree that removing obstacles would, hopefully, encourage more people to speak the language and address Mr Buchanan's point about not enough Members speaking it in the Chamber?
I thank the Member for the intervention, and I agree entirely.
I put to Members that we all know how difficult it can be to reach a deal. We all know that, but at what point is a deal a deal? At what point is it OK to hang labels, tags or limitations on a deal that has been made? The one thing that the House has to come behind is recognising that, when a deal is made, we all honour it. It is not OK to add conditions, to unpick it or to say that we will go forward with that deal —
I can confirm that New Decade, New Approach provided the commitment and agreement:
"to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots."
That is a direct lift from 'New Decade, New Approach', and all five parties in the current Executive agreed to it.
I see absolutely no threat from anyone being able to speak another language; in fact, I am very jealous, because I am dreadful at other languages. It is beautiful to hear someone being fluent in another language, and I look forward to hearing Irish and Ulster Scots spoken in the Chamber more often. Sadly, I will need an Irish translation, as I cannot speak Irish. I expect that I will be able to understand Ulster Scots, having lived down the Ards peninsula all my life, with a grandmother who, I think, was speaking Ulster Scots. I know that most of her words could not be found in an English dictionary. She lived outside Portavogie, so I can only assume that it was Ulster Scots. I know that the word "oxter" was used often.
Alliance joined the Executive on the basis of New Decade, New Approach. That agreement was a compromise that all the Executive parties had the opportunity to feed into. The wording of the motion — I am sure that the Chair of the Committee can confirm it — is a direct lift from 'New Decade, New Approach'. Of course we will support the motion brought forward by the Committee on Procedures, because we had agreed it already, when we went into the Executive.
Alliance will also support the Ulster Unionist amendment. We will do so because it is always financially prudent to review things later. Unlike others who think that, when you review something, you take something away, I think that, if we have more people using another language, we have the opportunity to add to it and to add to the investment at that stage.
I thank the Member for giving way and for the Alliance Party's support for our amendment. Does it make any sense to the Member to see in the amendment anything other than fiscal responsibility? The Member for South Down said that bells and things were being hung on to it, but the amendment is straightforward and simple: it is about public expenditure and protecting money. Does the Member agree that that is simply what the amendment does?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not think that it is exactly what it does. It depends on how many people are using the language as well, so there is an element of testing in there. To be honest, I am not scared of having a review. As government, it is prudent that we should do so. We learned that after the renewable heat incentive (RHI) inquiry.
To confirm, there are many areas in New Decade, New Approach that need to be progressed. It will send out a clear message to all in the House and to the public, if the compromise agreement contents can be delivered. I will highlight something that Mr Buchanan mentioned: an unintended consequence of the Committee on Procedures motion is that it will be good for those of us who have limited hearing. I will have access to subtitles, so, if you vote against this, you are voting against a member of the deaf community who sits in the House. Subtitles would be very helpful for me, no matter what language anyone is speaking. Not everyone who is deaf uses subtitles. A sign language Bill is a New Decade, New Approach commitment. It is one of the areas that should be taken forward, but, instead of being progressed, that vital legislation will not happen in this mandate, as has been said.
There are other areas of New Decade, New Approach on which we compromised. I am not a huge fan of what is in New Decade, New Approach on the petition of concern. If it came to the House, I would vote to amend it. I therefore absolutely respect the Ulster Unionist Party for tabling an amendment asking for a review.
I thank the Committee on Procedures for tabling the motion. Alliance will, of course, support the motion and the review, as outlined in the amendment. Let us get on with delivery. As the leader of the Alliance Party said:
"The test now is to deliver on the promises in NDNA and ensure the remainder of this mandate is focused on making progress for everyone."
The motion before us is the result of extensive discussions in the Procedures Committee. As my colleague Mr Tom Buchanan said, Committee members were not unanimous on the motion, but I put on record our thanks to the Clerk for the information that was brought forward, to the staff and to the Chair of the Committee for the way in which discussions were conducted.
Members across the House will know that colleagues and I raised concerns in Committee at every stage about how this issue was brought forward. Like those in the majority of parties in the Chamber, I and others came back to this place on the basis of the New Decade, New Approach agreement.
There is a lot in it that I did not particularly like and there are many things in it that I did like, but the consensus was that we needed devolution back for our health service, our economy, our infrastructure and many other areas. That is why we felt that it was important to agree it.
We have made very little progress on a lot of the necessary reforms that are in New Decade, New Approach. Obviously, COVID-19 had a significant impact in that regard. There are many aspects of NDNA that I would like to see being progressed, such as the expansion of Magee university. We would like to see an increase in the number of police officers. We want to see investment in our health service. Just today, a colleague received a response that stated that the Health Department requires an additional £536 million to see through commitments in New Decade, New Approach. I want to see those things happening, but the reality is that we have to ensure that, when we do those things, we prioritise and put money in where it is required.
On the cultural aspects of NDNA, we made it clear in the Committee that it is important that we do not cherry-pick elements of the agreement because it was a balance that was based on consensus. We want to see New Decade, New Approach being delivered, but we cannot allow it to be cherry-picked.
I thank the Member for that. She will know — the Chair articulated this fact — that, initially, when this was brought forward, it was to come as a package. There would be three Bills, from which the relevant services would flow. That was the initial position, but that changed. We want to see that collective package being dealt with. There are pieces that, as I said, may be difficult or uncomfortable, but that was the basis on which we agreed it. We requested at the Committee that it go to the party leaders' forum, but that was rejected. We appreciate that that was the Committee's decision. We have tried to get consensus on this and go forward in mutual respect.
We talk about respect and NDNA. The Northern Ireland centenary celebrations were also part of NDNA. Others put forward a proposal for a Northern Ireland centenary stone at no cost to the taxpayer, but that could not be tolerated. There was a proposal to plant a Northern Ireland centenary rose on the grounds of Stormont, but that could not be tolerated. However, it is now proposed that we spend almost £500,000 for ourselves in the Chamber and we are expected to just get on with it. No, if we are to do this respectfully — I am up for doing that on NDNA — we need to be serious about ensuring that there is respect both ways. That is the only way in which we will move forward. If we continue to poke one another in the eye and we cannot get over the likes of planting a flower, there is not much hope for the rest of this place.
The practical and financial implications cannot be dismissed. The reality is that we are talking about, potentially, £500,000 per annum. It will be £344,000; you have the broadcasting cost on top of that, but that is the minimum. Again, that is money that would be spent here in the Chamber. The public would not benefit from that one bit. I recognise that it is part of NDNA, but it needs to be brought forward in a package. We need to ensure, given the current climate, that we can justify the actions that we take. I do not have to go too far in my constituency to know that we could be doing with £500,000 to ensure that our crisis intervention service can continue. We could be doing with £500,000 to make our education system better. Let us have the conversation, but let us do it respectfully. We are up for NDNA, but we need to do it collectively, together and through dialogue.
Tá mé ag éirí chun tacú leis an rún. I rise to support the motion and oppose the amendment. The motion is about the implementation of New Decade, New Approach, which was the basis for the restoration of these institutions. If we want the public to have faith and confidence in the institutions, we need to be able to demonstrate that agreements that have been made will be honoured.
NDNA was clear that the Assembly's Standing Orders will be amended to allow business to be conducted through Irish or Ulster Scots and that a simultaneous translation system will be made available to ensure that those without Irish or Ulster Scots will not be placed at a disadvantage. That has also been agreed by the Committee, which has aligned its proposals with best practice elsewhere — as mentioned by other Members — including the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Seanad, and the Welsh Parliament, which uses a passive translation service. Given that this is a matter of equality, the current practice whereby Members are expected to provide their own translation, which, in effect, requires two contributions within their allotted time, is not justifiable.
We are also satisfied that, in the interests of equality, Members who wish to speak in Irish or Ulster Scots should not need to provide advance notice of their intention to do so in order for their contribution in plenary sittings to be translated. However, the Committee proposals also mean that, on average, four Committee meetings a week could make use of the service. For instance, any Committee that knew in advance that simultaneous interpretation would be required for a meeting, either for the benefit of members or witnesses, could provide prior notice in order to secure the service.
Taking all that in the round, Sinn Féin is satisfied that the provision of a passive service for simultaneous translation to Members, as proposed by the Committee, is the most appropriate for the Assembly. It is significantly less resource-intensive than some other options and strikes an appropriate balance between language rights and costs. However, work must begin now, because any delays will leave insufficient time to have the necessary measures in place at the start of the next mandate.
Language equality and, particularly, respect for language rights have become touchstone issues for many people in this society. They are a barometer of whether these institutions can deliver genuine equality for all the citizens whom they represent. The Assembly needs to demonstrate a real intent to treat all citizens with respect and to build a genuinely shared society.
Irish is regularly spoken in the Assembly, despite what the Member on the opposite Benches said. Members will also know that the recognition of the Irish language by these institutions has become a particular issue of respect and equality for many people. The party on the opposite Benches has insulted and dismissed the Irish language to such an extent in the past that campaigners have felt the need to repeatedly protest outside this Building. Those people were promised an end to that discrimination as part of NDNA and now is the time to deliver on that promise.
It is worth noting that Ulster Scots is not, to my knowledge, spoken by any Members in the Assembly, so the extent of the demand for simultaneous interpretation of Ulster Scots is not clear at the moment. However, the relevant provisions that are envisaged by NDNA apply equally to Irish and Ulster Scots and need to be implemented in respect of both. It is for those who argue for Ulster-Scots services to justify the expense that will be incurred. It is, however, beyond question that the Irish language is regularly spoken in the Assembly. The service will facilitate the increased use of Irish and, perhaps, Ulster Scots and will, importantly, provide respect and recognition for those who speak our native language.
I support the amendment to the motion, based on cost and need at this particular time, while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. I agreed with the full implementation of all aspects of the New Decade, New Approach agreement with the collective consent of all: not a piecemeal implementation of the bits that we like or want but in its entirety, including sign language, which affects a large section of our community, as was mentioned by the Member on the opposite Benches. That is an important piece of legislation that seems to have dropped off the radar, but it is no less important than any other aspect of NDNA. I attach no blame to the Minister for Communities for that failure to legislate for sign language, given the time constraints that her Department faced.
Culture in a divided society is crucial, and it is crucial that culture — all culture — is celebrated with respect, consent and mutual understanding. I have absolutely no issue with supporting that. I take exception to what the Member opposite said about people on this side of the House having disrespected the Irish language. I have never disrespected the Irish language or anything to do with it at any time in my life. I take a wee bit of exception to that, but I will not hold him to it.
In his statement to the House today, the Health Minister provided shocking figures: 330,000 patients waiting for their first outpatient consultation; 110,000 waiting for inpatient or day-case treatment; and a further 130,000 patients waiting for a diagnostic test. That is not to mention the thousands suffering in pain while waiting for an assessment or surgical procedure. Many will not survive that. That is a sobering thought. Is this motion really a priority at this moment in time, in comparison with that? Do political parties in the Chamber want to prioritise spending outside of where it needs to be allocated: in health, education, infrastructure, communities and the economy? I repeat that I want to see all aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal implemented — all of it. That is what was agreed, and that was what the DUP and all parties in the Executive committed to. The motion should be coming here as part of a holistic deal to implement what was agreed earlier — the entire deal. The Health Minister alone needs a commitment of £700 million over five years. There is a lack of infrastructure that has stopped communities growing. I do not intend to go on, as my colleagues and I who sit on the Procedures Committee have voiced our concerns and voted against the motion's coming before the House during debate in the Committee. We lost on a vote of 50% plus one.
Many other points that I have written down have been covered by my colleagues, so I will not repeat them. This country faces myriad threats. Once again, a crisis has been created out of nothing, and there are threats of not nominating a deputy First Minister. So be it; if that is what happens, that is what happens. The electorate are tired and weary of this place and of us who sit here. This is a crisis in the middle of a pandemic. The people of Northern Ireland will not thank us for pulling this place down in the midst of an economic emergency, a health crisis and the uncertainty over the Northern Ireland protocol and its implementation of a border on the island of Ireland that is enforced at our ports. If it comes down, it comes down, but forget about elections; it is direct rule. Who wants to come back to a place like this, which is dysfunctional and does not make decisions based on what is best for all its constituents but only for a particular part? I support the amendment.
It is a universal principle that agreements made should be agreements honoured. The motion is about the implementation of one small part of the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which was clear:
The refusal of the DUP to commit to any Irish language provisions is the context for this debate, and it is a cause of huge concern. The refusal of the DUP to honour its time-bound commitment to deliver on commitments, including Irish language legislation, given as part of the New Decade, New Approach deal to restore the institutions can lead only to greater instability in the institutions.
Let us not forget why we needed that deal in the first place. Let us not forget that the institutions collapsed under the weight of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal and of DUP disrespect, typified by the vindictive decision of the aspiring First Minister to cut Líofa funding for disadvantaged children to go to the Gaeltacht and learn Irish.
For three years, we were without a functioning Government until New Decade, New Approach was agreed in January last year after prolonged negotiations between the five Assembly parties and the two Governments. The parties and the two Governments all signed up to the 80 commitments in NDNA to deliver on issues including nurses' pay, hospital waiting lists, the establishment of a medical school and the expansion of Magee university, social housing and, of course, a package on language, culture and identity. New Decade, New Approach committed the parties that formed the Executive to delivering not just on translation services but on the entire language, culture and identity package and to do so within three months of the political institutions being restored.
With the unexpected onset of the global health crisis, the Executive rightly prioritised their response to the fightback and to saving lives and livelihoods. However, we are now out of time. We need to see delivery, not more broken promises and hollow commitments. However, despite our party leadership meeting the leader of the DUP on a number of occasions over recent weeks, he has made it clear that he does not intend to honour his commitments during this mandate. That is not surprising. Unionist opposition to progressive change has always been a feature of our peace process, so it is now necessary for the Governments to deliver equality and rights to citizens. There is no reason why the rights of Irish language speakers cannot be recognised at the same time as waiting lists are dealt with and a new university is created in Derry. We can walk and chew gum. All those issues are dealt with by Governments all over the world: it is what is known as "multitasking".
Society can no longer be held back by the anti-rights faction of one party. This is about delivering an explicit NDNA commitment. The motion gives that commitment, but the amendment departs from it. This is a straight choice for unionism: if you give your word, keep it and honour your commitments. We face instability because we are fed up listening to unionists giving commitments, saying they will honour those commitments and then reneging on them. I support the motion.
Ba mhaith liom a rá go n-aontaím leis an rún. Dearbhaíonn na páirtithe an díth le saoirse do gach aon duine i dTuaisceart Éireann lena n-ionannas, idir náisiúnta agus chultúrtha, a raoghnú, a dheimhniú, a chaomhnú, a choinneáil, a fhorbairt agus an fhéiniúlacht sin a cheiliúradh ar dhóigh a gcuireann san áireamh tuiscint agus íogaireacht orthu siúd as ionannas idir náisiúnta agus chultúrtha éagsúlacht eile, agus sin a dhéanamh le meas agus faoi stiúir an dlí.
Cruthaíonn siad an gá le hathmhuintearas, caoinfhulaingt agus comhrá fiúntach eathrú siúd as féiniúlachtaí éagsúla idir náisiúnta agus chultúrtha i dTuaisceart Éireann agus cothromaíocht measa, cóimheas, tuigbheáil agus comhoibriú. Cruth na bpriosabal sin le bheith i reachtaíocht. Sin é — Deich mBliana Úr, Cur Chuige Úr.
The parties affirm:
"the need to respect the freedoms of all persons in Northern Ireland to choose, affirm, maintain and develop their national and cultural identity and to celebrate and express their identity in a manner which takes into account the sensitivities of those with different national or cultural identities and respects the rule of law".
They also affirm:
"the need to encourage and promote reconciliation, tolerance and meaningful dialogue between those different national and cultural identities in Northern Ireland with a view to promoting parity of esteem, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation."
Those principles are to be reflected in legislation. As part of that, as referred to:
"the Assembly's Standing Orders will be amended to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots. A simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage."
Those are New Decade, New Approach commitments, and all the parties here concurred with them. The motion calls for the implementation of one aspect of it that affects our daily business in the Chamber. I support that because I have been an advocate for the Irish language, as have others in the Chamber, for many years. We have done quite a bit of work through private Member's Bills etc to attain and achieve that official recognition in the Chamber. I know that others here are from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but I trust that, when we come into the Chamber, it is with one aim: the betterment of our community.
The betterment of our community has many facets: where we come from, who we are, what our environment is, what our education was and, indeed, our identity. A key element of that is that we, I hope, come to this destination with one aim in mind, and that is to represent our community and where we come from with respect. We might travel different pathways to get here, but we must do that with respect. New Decade, New Approach was worked through and was overseen by both Governments to make sure that we would at least be stimulated to arrive at that point. That is why I support the motion.
I heard Mr Butler, who is gone, provide a quote earlier. There is a quote that I encountered, and it has stuck with me:
"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."
We have an opportunity here to start celebrating our differences and to recognise our differences in a respectful way. We need to seize that opportunity.
I support the motion. As my party colleague Kellie Armstrong stated, we will also support the amendment, and I wish to speak specifically about that later. Before I move on, I want to put on record how exhausted I am from hearing the circular arguments in the Chamber. Mr Middleton said that he wanted to see the three parts of the package coming forward. That is on him and his party as much as anybody else. The DUP has the First Minister, a junior Minister and a number of special advisers, and Sinn Féin, likewise, has those. A year on from New Decade, New Approach, I am disappointed but not surprised that we have not seen that full package come forward. We, in the Alliance Party, are very keen —.
I will finish this point, and then I will let you in.
We, in the Alliance Party, would like to see the Commission on Flags, Identity and Tradition (FICT) report published and the recommendations taken forward, because that means a lot to our voters in particular. It is very disappointing that we keep going around in circles and make very little progress.
I thank the Member for giving way. The Member makes a point, and I take that point. However, the Member has not mentioned the fact that we have been dealing with a global pandemic. Our priorities have changed since we came into this place in January 2020. I think that our constituents would recognise that those priorities have changed. The Assembly sometimes distances itself from reality, and we need to deal with reality.
Thank you. I and, I think, some Members in the Chamber today sat on the two working groups as part of the two talks processes, and the reality is that the vast majority of that work is done; it just needs to be brought forward. I totally agree with you. I sit on the Health Committee, and we have been through a pandemic; none of us can deny that. However, the work has been done, so all that we need to do is bring forward the legislation.
I will move on to the substance of my speech. As noted in the motion, there is a commitment in New Decade, New Approach, and, indeed, that emerges from the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It has been pointed out that simultaneous interpretation facilities are usual in other legislatures. I recognise that they are most common where different languages are well established as first languages in the home rather than as a means of language development or revival. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that this step will be welcomed by all those who cherish the Irish language and that any future review will merely confirm that.
It should imminently be accompanied by legislation on the rights of Irish speakers as part of that overall culture package that I referenced, and all should be aimed at promoting the language in a way that is meaningful to those who cherish it while causing no disadvantage to those who do not.
Given what is in the Northern Ireland Act, New Decade, New Approach and, indeed, the 1998 and 2006 agreements, it is inevitable that Ulster Scots be included in such a proposal. However, there is a legitimate question as to whether it assists the revival, development and promotion of Ulster Scots. It is on that basis that we support the amendment. We have to get away from treating Ulster Scots as a mirror image of Irish. In 1998, the agreement was open about there being two communities in Northern Ireland, and, as a result, we constantly lined up along green and orange lines. In 2021, that is outdated. Many people are coming to cherish all aspects of our cultural and linguistic heritage in Northern Ireland and to recognise that they all belong to all of us, without specifying any community to which they supposedly belong. In any case, it was never appropriate for Irish and Ulster Scots, which are two markedly different languages with different promotional needs and at different stages of development, to be constantly put up against each other rather than promoted on their own merits.
There is a reason for Irish having part III status in the Council of Europe charter and Ulster Scots having part II status. That reflects their respective levels of development. There is nothing discriminatory about recognising different needs. Swiss German, for example, which is similar to Ulster Scots in that it is close to the standard language, has arguably been the most successful case in expanding the use of a minority language in post-war Europe. Swiss German is now so widely used that it is used on TV chat shows and radio discussions as a matter of course, but it is not used in formal writing or, notably, in the federal Parliament, where standard German still takes precedence. That is why there is a legitimate question over whether we are getting this the wrong way round with regard to the linguistic development of Ulster Scots. Simultaneous interpretation is a specific skill, and we have to be realistic about how many people are likely to be qualified to do it for Ulster Scots. I think that Carál Ní Chuilín referenced that. That is in itself a reminder that we need to implement the more comprehensive legislative framework agreed in New Decade, New Approach but not yet put in place.
We are in favour of carrying out every aspect of New Decade, New Approach, because that is the basis of why we are here. No one got everything that they wanted, but we must be faithful to it as a compromise. That is why we support the motion and the amendment.
I support the motion but not the amendment. Gan ionracas agus macántacht níl rud ar bith againn. Without honesty and integrity, you have nothing. I look around this place and think of the honesty, the integrity, the heavy lifting and the resolute, unyielding determination that brought these institutions into being with the Good Friday Agreement. I think of the Séamus Mallons, the John Humes, the Brid Rodgerses, the David Trimbles of this world and the work that they put into making this place work. I think of their unyielding determination, their integrity and their honesty. They did not have to put their values on posters; their values were at the core of their being.
Simultaneous translation is no great weapon of war. It will not advance Irish unity, of which I am a passionate believer and supporter, and nor will it threaten the Union, but it will send out a loud signal to everyone who walks the halls of this place and those who are not in this place that their cultural identity, their cultural expression and their native tongue — the native tongue of this land — can be used in this place and will be respected and cherished. An interpretation service will enrich this place and the lives of everyone associated with it. It will broaden the thinking of everyone here, and, by God, could we do with some broad thinking? Fundamentally, it was agreed in New Decade, New Approach.
I second the view of my colleague Sinéad Bradley: since when was a deal not a deal? Commitments on Irish language legislation must be honoured in full — no ifs no buts.
My colleague Mr Butler used a bit of French earlier, and I will finish with a bit as Gaeilge. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine. The literal translation is, "In each other's shadows, people exist." We rely on each other for shelter from the storm. More broadly, that phrase evokes the sense of community that comes from interdependence. Everyone in this place would do well to live by embracing that philosophy and wisdom a little bit more.
This morning, the Assembly began an early part of its business by discussing the appalling waiting lists in our community. Right across the House, people paid lip service to the urgency and the top priority of addressing the fact that over half a million people in our community are on waiting lists and that some have been on those waiting lists for years. Tonight, however, the Assembly will end its business by declaring that it has a greater priority. It wants to take precious resources, which could make some small contribution towards tackling those waiting lists, and prioritise its spend on Irish language provision in the House. It is not the case that any Member of the House is prohibited from speaking Irish. Standing Orders guarantee that. It is not that there are Members of the House who do not speak and understand English, or who are inhibited in their participation in the House because of their lack of a grasp of English. Everyone in the House speaks and understands English, and yet we have this farce of squandering precious resources by pouring them into the unnecessary provision of simultaneous translation. We then say that we really care about the health service.
Tomorrow morning, when I do one of my weekly advice centres, I am quite sure that, as happens most weeks, one of the people waiting to see me will say, "Mr Allister, I have been on a waiting list for three years. I can't get seen". What am I to say to that person? Am I to say, "The Assembly that I belong to cares more about a vanity project of interpretation into Irish than it does about the fact that you are on a Zimmer, in increasing pain, not getting to sleep and not able to cope with the pain. It cares more about translating into Irish than it does about putting money into alleviating your situation"?
I think I will take my direction from the Chair. I am not denigrating it; I am stating the reality. This is the prioritisation of something that is more important to the Member who just spoke, by virtue of the vote that he will deliver tonight, than the situation of his constituents. If we really cared about the pain and suffering of our constituents, we would not be wasting money; we would be channelling every last penny into addressing those needs.
He could certainly count on my support if the amendment referenced financial matters, but it does not. It has the vague, opaque phrase "appropriate demand". There is no linkage to the financial cost. None whatsoever. If the Member wanted to address that, he should have made that clear in his amendment, but, amended or unamended, the motion is unacceptable to me. I will vote against it, amended or otherwise, because there is something more important to me than squandering money in that fashion. We should be genuinely addressing the real, abiding, painful needs in our society rather than ticking a box so that Sinn Féin can say, "Ha! We got another one over on the wretched unionists". That is really what this is all about.
Mr McNulty told us, "Here are deals. Here are agreements". Let me remind the House that the all-precious-to-some Belfast Agreement provided for how language issues were to be dealt with. It delivered a settlement in that regard. It was not any of this, but, of course, as ever, there is an insatiable dimension to all of this, and the same approach ever persists: pocket what you can and go on to demand more. We are seeing that day and daily —
I am happy to speak in support of the motion. The least that the House can do is to allow for more visibility and support for those who want to speak and live their life through the medium of Irish. I will hopefully avail myself of the services in a while after I brush up on my limited Irish.
There has seemed to be no issue during the debate, and certainly not on the Committee, with Ulster Scots. The opposition appears to be to Irish. It is ironic that, for many years, some waxed about the need to equate Ulster Scots with the Irish language, yet one of their reasons not to support the motion today is because there is limited support in the House for speaking Ulster Scots. It is a bizarre and ironic reason for opposing it. To be honest, it does not bode well for any sign of Irish language legislation coming to the House if the party opposite — the DUP — is trying to block translation services. People are hardly demanding the earth with those. In my view and that of others, this is about promotion and visibility of a growing language. It is growing in my community, and that is a wonderful and important thing, with Gaelscoileanna bursting at the seams. It is ironic that the Deputy Chair talked about not cherry-picking from NDNA, which his party signed up to, but then proceeded to cherry-pick.
I appreciate the Member's giving way and that he has framed language in a very positive context. I recently learned a very quirky word in the English language: "smellfungus". It is a person who can find only the negative in everything and refuses to see the beauty and richness in language. I put that on the record, because there may be a few amongst us.
Carál has got it there. I hope that Hansard can pick that up.
I hope that, if passed, the motion can be part of tackling the monolinguistic approach that dominates in this place. This is probably the only political Chamber, or one of the only, that is, for the most part, dominated by one language. More than 90% of the time, English is spoken. Although some people may not want to see the day, I hope that, by passing the motion, the change to Standing Orders can result in more Irish being spoken in the Chamber. That is something that would be widely accepted amongst society.
I find it ironic that a party that was central to gutting our public services and voting through another Budget that starved the health service of much-needed funding is talking about resources being thin or not being there. That is quite ironic indeed. It still does not support the call for a COVID wealth tax. Its new party leader has been silent on that matter.
I thank the Member for giving way. Would he agree with me that Irish language speakers did not cause the crisis in our health service and that it was caused by years of Tory austerity and cuts? Would he also agree that the constant framing of language rights as some sort of Sophie's choice with Health is wrong and disingenuous and that those who persist with that line are, frankly, at it?
Yes, I agree with the Member about Tory austerity. Unfortunately, that passed through the Executive as well, but, yes, that is where it originated. We can have both. We can have a health service, which needs to be funded to the tune of hundreds of millions or, probably, billions of pounds, and we can have Irish language legislation, rights and facilities.
I will end with a quote from the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes. I hope that I pronounced his name correctly. He stated:
"the respect of the language principles of individuals ... flows from a fundamental right and is not some special concession"
— people should remember that —
"or privileged treatment. Simply put, it is the right to be treated equally without discrimination, to which everyone is entitled ".
The motion goes some way towards that, and I am happy to support it.
I am looking at the debate as defining how we, as individuals and parties, view our society. Are we divided, with all the associated negativity, or are we a diverse society, with all the potential for positivity to come out of that? Do we realise that, in five, 10 or 15 years, there will still be Irish nationalists and republicans, British loyalists and unionists and people who describe themselves as "none of the above" sharing this little postage stamp on the world map, which none of us owns and where none of us is in a majority, and that we need to get along?
There are some principles or considerations to be applied to the proposal. The first is that culture is not like some of the other issues that we debate in the Chamber on a daily basis. It is not like health, housing, infrastructure or the economy. What I mean by that is that you do not horse-trade culture. You can horse-trade the others, particularly in a coalition Government. I get that. A unionist can sit down and say, "Carál or Patsy, if you support me on x, I will put my hand up when you propose y". That is the day and daily business of the Executive, but not on culture. Culture is part of our identity, who we are, where we come from and where we want to go. We have to respect each other's culture. Some people think that they are a pure Gael and others that they are a pure Brit. I think that I am a hybrid — Northern Irish, Irish, British and European — and, as John Hewitt said, "Deny me any part of that, and you diminish who I am". Am I out to diminish anybody's identity or culture in the Chamber? Absolutely not.
There is another consideration, and it is the one that has basically provoked and inspired our amendment: we have a responsibility to deliver value for money. In fact, the Department of Finance has published a document that is fundamental to how we do business. It is called 'Managing Public Money Northern Ireland'. In it, there is a section on the Assembly — section 1.3 — that makes it clear that we approve "Requests for Resources", which is exactly what we are debating. It goes on:
"the Assembly may examine particular policies or delivery of Services ... the Public Accounts Committee ... has a special role in examining financial accounts and scrutinising value for money."
Indeed, "value for money" is mentioned no fewer than 36 times in 'Managing Public Money Northern Ireland'.
The amendment is not intended to create some sort of new obstacle or hurdle to leap. It is intended to be faithful and true to the obligations that we have accepted from the Department of Finance in 'Managing Public Money Northern Ireland'.
No problem. Thank you for giving way and for your explanation of the amendment. We in the Greens decided that we could not support the amendment simply because it did not refer to the fiscal responsibilities but "appropriate demand".
If you are talking about rights and culture, they should never be measured by "appropriate demand".
I thank the Member for her intervention. If she checks the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998, she will see that that is the exact language. She is arguing against words that are in the agreement that she supports.
The third test is this: does it do harm? If a Member stands up and speaks in Irish for five or 10 minutes, it does not do me any harm. I might not understand it, but, if they can deliver it as lyrically as Michael D Higgins does, I will enjoy it. That is no slight on you, Mr McGlone, because your style is pretty agreeable too.
We need to do this, but we need to do it sensibly. That is why we propose the amendment.
Mr Buchanan said that anybody can speak in any language that they want: yes, they can, but, if it is time-limited to five minutes, by offering their own translation, they get only two and a half minutes. You could say, "Well, we will have longer sittings", but what is the cost implication on longer-sitting days for the staff, the security, the restaurant staff or the work-life balance that Sinéad Bradley mentioned?
I was in a Portakabin that was the UTV studio outside Castle Buildings on the day that we heard that, if there was going to be an Assembly, Members would be able to speak in any language of their choice. As we went into a commercial break, I said, "Un momento, por favor".
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. First, I will say a few words as Chair of the Committee on Procedures. I will make it clear when I step out of that role.
I welcome the debate on the simultaneous interpretation of Assembly business. I thank Members, even those with whom I fundamentally do not agree, for their contributions. That is exactly what the Chamber is for.
A number of Members referred to the costs of introducing simultaneous interpretation. I want to be clear: in proposing the motion, the Committee recognised the importance of ensuring value for money and, consequently, gave careful consideration to advice that was provided on many different scenarios. That included options associated with active versus passive interpretation. The estimated costs were provided to us, and they have been set out in correspondence from the Committee to all Members.
Simultaneous interpretation can be provided on an active or passive basis. As I said, we decided to go for passive interpretation. We also considered the issue of how many meetings simultaneous interpretation could be provided for at any one time. There are occasions when four Committees meet at the same time. We need to look at costs as we go along to ensure that we are able to provide simultaneous interpretation at all meetings in those circumstances.
No, we did not do a survey. I will address some of the Member's concerns at the end of my comments, if he does not mind. The direct answer to his question is, "No, we did not".
Other Members have spoken about the need for Ulster Scots. To be fair, the Committee noted that position. We were very respectful about the difference in its development, but, in considering demand, we have to consider not only our requirements as Members but those of Committee witnesses.
The Committee therefore recognises that there will be challenges for the Commission. In undertaking the recruitment, it will be necessary to test the market. That is a prudent way to go.
I want to depart from the Committee's position and say a few words on my own behalf in response to some of the commentary. I am making that clear in case some of the things that I say offend people. I will address Mr Allister's point at the end. When we look at section 75, do we ask how many gay people are in the Assembly before we provide equality for them? No, we absolutely do not. Anyone who asks questions like that needs to be put out of the Chamber. OK? In relation to the amendment, a Robbie, go díreach cúpla focal le rá ar dtús: tóg é agus tiocfaidh siad. Build it, and they will come. That is what we need to do, because tá mé ag foghlaim na Gaeilge. Tá mo chlann líofa sa Ghaeilge; níl mé líofa go fóill. I am not fluent yet, but I hope to be, and my kids and grandkids are fluent. We need to appeal not only to people outside this Chamber but to representatives who, hopefully, will be here in the future.
I thank the Member for those words. I fail to see how my amendment does not support what she is doing. We are in the midst of a pandemic. We need to account for every penny. What I suggest is that, when the need is there, let us ensure that it is there. However, when it is not there, we cannot be tied to something that is going to be a financial burden on taxpayers, who speak both English and Irish, by the way.
I appreciate that the Member is sincere. I do not think there is an offensive bone in his body; I want to make that clear. However, when it comes to the Irish language, everybody knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. That needs to stop in this House. We all absolutely need to be cognisant of value for money, but the value that we, as Members of this legislative Assembly, place on something that has caused great difficulty and, indeed, great offence and hurt will go a long way. See that? You can never put a cost on that.
Everyone has been completely passionate, compassionate and, indeed, fair in their assumptions and contributions. Gaeilgeoirí are taxpayers, too. They are on waiting lists. They are waiting on educational statementing processes for their children. Some of us have two or three jobs, but we contribute to this community. We know the value of money. We are also grandparents and parents. Some of us do not have any children at all. As a society, we need to try to go beyond some of the sentiments that have caused us great difficulty, even this week. It has been said that when you make agreements, you need to stick to them. There are parts of NDNA that some of us like and parts of it that some of us do not like, but we put our big girl and big boy pants on and came back to this place to try to do our best. On that basis, we need to continue to do so.
Patsy, Pat, Seán, Tom: there are a couple of us here who do our best to speak in Irish. I would like to think that I may learn Ulster Scots one day. I am not being flippant about that. I have realised that lots of words that I use in English originate from Ulster Scots. I am quite happy about that. Simultaneous translation, Mike, does not mean that I speak for two and a half minutes in Irish. It means that as I speak in Irish, and hopefully I will be able to speak in Irish fluently, the translation happens alongside that. It is about more employment and better services, and it will make this place more inclusive.
In conclusion, I will step back into my position as Chair. NDNA provided for Assembly business to be conducted through Irish or Ulster Scots and for a simultaneous interpretation system. It must be made available. On that basis, the Committee on Procedures tabled today's motion, which I urge the Assembly to support. I thank everyone sincerely for their contributions.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Question will be put again in three minutes. I remind Members that we should continue to uphold social distancing and that Members who have proxy voting arrangements in place should not come into the Chamber.
Before I put the Question, I remind Members that, if possible, it would be preferable to avoid a Division.
Question put a second time.
Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place. I ask you to ensure that you maintain a gap of at least 2 metres between you and others when moving around in the Chamber or Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies. Please be patient at all times, observe the signage and follow the instructions of the Lobby Clerks.
The Assembly divided:
Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Ms Armstrong, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mr Dickson, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs Long, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Muir, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann, Mr Weir
Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Armstrong, Mr Nesbitt
Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Ms Bailey, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Miss Woods
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Lynch, Mr Sheehan
Question accordingly agreed to.
I again remind Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place. Please ensure that you maintain a gap of at least 2 metres between yourself and other people when moving around the Chamber, the Rotunda and especially the Lobbies.
The Assembly divided:
Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann, Miss Woods
Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Ennis, Mr Sheehan
Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir
Tellers for the Noes: Mr T Buchanan, Mr Clarke
Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly notes the provision in paragraph 5.21.2 of 'New Decade, New Approach', to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots; further notes that a simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage; and, as provided for in section 40(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, directs the Assembly Commission, where there is appropriate demand and subject to review after six months, to provide a simultaneous and passive system for interpretation in the Assembly that is capable of supporting one meeting at any one time; and calls on the Assembly Commission to make any other arrangements as may be necessary for the operation of such a system.
Adjourned at 6.42 pm.