The Marriage, Civil Partnership and Civil Registration (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022: Prayer of Annulment

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 15th March 2022.

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Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 4:00 pm, 15th March 2022

I beg to move

That the Marriage, Civil Partnership and Civil Registration (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022 (S.R. 2022/48) be annulled.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Business Committee has agreed to allow one hour for the debate, with five minutes for all contributions.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Two matters have prompted the prayer of annulment. The two matters on which to focus attention are the unnecessary squander and the process followed in respect of this particular statutory instrument, which provides the facility for someone to record their marriage details in Irish.

To start with the process, astoundingly, when the Finance Committee looked at the statutory instrument and called evidence on it, we discovered that, before the statutory instrument was ever brought to the Committee, and before it was ever made, the Department of Finance had decided to spend £261,000 to upgrade an IT system to facilitate that, and presumed — that is the point about process — the support of the Committee and the Assembly to put in place retrospectively that upon which it had already spent £261,000. That amount of money would employ eight nurses for a year, but the registrar thought that it was appropriate to spend that extravagant amount of money on the IT upgrade before ever bringing any proposal next or near the Committee.

That prompted the next important question of the registrar: what was the demonstrable demand for the facility? Here, the story gets even more astounding, because the answer was, "We have had one or two calls a month" — one or two calls a month from people asking for the facility. The average of that might be 18 people a year asking for the facility to record marriage details in Irish. In response to that, it was thought to be appropriate to spend over a quarter of a million pounds.

Today, at lunchtime, I attended, with others, the cancer project meeting. There is a worthy cause that is crying out for funds, but the House and the Department think that it is more important to squander £261,000 to meet the needs of 18 people a year.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. I was at the same Finance Committee meeting. Does he agree with me that, while the witness herself may have referred to 18 people, there was no correspondence from her to the Committee on how many people wanted that? She tried to explain that that money was spent on forward planning, and not just on Irish language but to update that which was written in English.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

With respect, that is incorrect: she said that it was to facilitate the Irish aspect. However, she did, importantly, say that, yes, there was no other evidence of demand. Eighteen people, on average, was the sum total of demand. This is for one selected group alone; it is only for Irish speakers. Tens of thousands of people in this Province speak Polish as their first and native language; there is no such facility for them. We have thousands of people who speak Lithuanian and all sorts of Eastern European languages, and we might, shortly, have a lot of people who speak Ukrainian, but the regulations apply only to the special ones: only to those who speak Irish. Of course, I am quite sure that the greater number of them already speak English. That is the context in which Mr Wells and I brought the matter to the House so that it could have the focus of public attention.

It is not that I suspect that the House will be in the least bit worried about squandering £261,000; it has poured a lot more than that down the drain over the years. It is about putting a focus on wanton squander — unnecessary, selective for one community and one community only — when there are crying-out needs in this community for expenditure on real needs, not pet-project needs or ego-stroking needs but real needs. That is the point of this prayer.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

I thank the proposer of the motion for setting out the background to his objection to the statutory rule, which relates to marriage, civil partnership and civil registration. The Committee considered the rule on 17 November 2021 and again on 23 February 2022. The Committee divided on both occasions and, following those Divisions, agreed to support the rule.

Members were advised that the rule flows from previous political agreements around the option to register future key life events in Irish or in Irish and English.

I think that Members were a bit surprised that the necessary software changes had been undertaken — I repeat, had been undertaken — apparently prior to the rule being laid in the Assembly. Members were also surprised at the cost, which was given as £261,000, as the previous Member said. My understanding is that there was no related ministerial direction and that officials undertook the change under their own authority in contemplation of the legislation.

I expect there to be a Division on the motion. I hope that, in his response — sorry, in her response; I apologise to the Minister — she might clarify whether it is usual for officials to undertake changes that require legislation prior to the passage of that legislation. Perhaps she might also comment on the costs related to it.

I will now speak as a member of the DUP and a member of the Finance Committee. I and my party share concerns about the timing and framing of the regulations. Currently, registrations of births and deaths can take place only in English for the headings and the content. We must remember that the full cultural package, as agreed in New Decade, New Approach, has not been published, let alone been subject to democratic scrutiny.

In our view, for us to press ahead with the reforms is not in keeping with the spirit of what was agreed in New Decade, New Approach. It is wrong that unionism should be expected to comply with the language demands of Sinn Féin. We cannot facilitate a cherry-picking of the agreement when elements that are precious to my community have, largely, fallen by the wayside.

Sinn Féin's disrespect agenda should not be ignored or rewarded in the House. It could not tolerate a commemorative stone at Parliament Buildings or the planting of a rose bush to mark the first 100 years of Northern Ireland. The Minister for Communities provided no funding to mark the centenary, and Sinn Féin blocked the lighting up of Parliament Buildings and City Hall to mark the centenary.

The same party had to be forced into a major U-turn on punitive decisions relating to subregional stadia funding. It also had to be forced to have a modest plan to mark Her Majesty The Queen's platinum jubilee.

There is an important distinction between allowing individuals to register life events through Irish and in Irish. New Decade, New Approach does not bind the Assembly to facilitating the content of registrations to be published in Irish or bilingual formats. That must continue to be in English. Checks and balances must be included in legislation to ensure that the principle is respected and any revision restricted to the headings of the relevant forms.

In that context, it is notable that new registration forms contained in the regulations do not seem to explicitly state that data must be entered in English. That raises the question of whether there will need to be a dedicated translation or interpretation function in registry offices. If that is the case, there has already been confusion around the financial implications of the changes.

The explanatory memorandum talks about "no, or negligible, costs", but the Committee received separate evidence of, at least, a one-off capital bill of £261,000. Therefore, I and my party support the prayer of annulment.

Photo of Aisling Reilly Aisling Reilly Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 15th March 2022

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt inniu, ach caithfidh mé a rá gur mór an náire go gcaithfidh mé seasamh anseo sa bhliain 2022 le labhairt ar chearta teanga agus go háirithe ar chearta teanga Gaeilgeoirí. I welcome the opportunity to speak today, but I have to say that it is an absolute disgrace that I must stand in this Assembly in 2022 to defend basic rights for Irish language speakers against the type of prejudice, intolerance and disrespect that is an unfortunate feature of the contributions from a small and unrepresentative number of Members.

In a week when the entire world is celebrating the rich Irish culture, language and heritage for Lá Fhéile Pádraig — St Patrick's Day — here we are witnessing the backward, uninformed and disgraceful anti-Irish attitudes of some Members. I am an Irish speaker and proud of it. I was raised with Irish, the native language of this country, as my first language. I was educated entirely through Irish-medium education. I and other Irish speakers are fully entitled to use our language and to equality of treatment in doing just that.

In a few days from now —

Photo of Aisling Reilly Aisling Reilly Sinn Féin

You have had your time. I do not think that you need to be given the stage for any more.

In a few days from now, the clocks go forward. Hopefully, the two Jims will take that on board and reset their clocks from 1690, 1921 or whatever unionist heyday in which they still bizarrely want us all to live. The days of Gaeilgeoirs and others being treated as second-class citizens are gone forever. There will be no return to the failures, disrespect and abuses of the past. Society is moving on. Try to keep up.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Matthew O'Toole.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I do not often start my remarks in the Chamber as Gaeilge, but I do it today for obvious and important reasons that I will set out.

I cannot believe that we are debating this motion today, or perhaps I can. Perhaps it is all too believable that, in 2022, we are debating a motion as preposterous and disgraceful as this one. Next year, unfortunately, I am going to turn 40, so I am now or very soon will be a middle-aged man. I was barely in my teenage years when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. That was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and it enshrined in law the importance of Irish language and culture, and, indeed, of Ulster Scots.

For that reason, I have genuinely found it impossible to believe that, 25 years on, we are still having debates such as this one, not about an Irish language Act, which we should be debating, but about a very small, modest piece of regulation: the Marriage, Civil Partnership and Civil Registration (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022. The regulations went through the Finance Committee, which I sit on with the two Jims, the Statler and Waldorf of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who tabled today's motion.

The regulations went through in November. Now, days away from the end of this mandate, we are debating their annulment. Let us look at the background. The regulations do not mandate that people can go through all the processes that they want as Gaeilge. All that they mean is that forms for registering a marriage, civil partnership, birth or death can be produced in English, in English and Irish, or in the Irish language. Mind you, the original forms themselves that have to be filled out still have to be filled out in English. It just means that they can be produced in Irish and that people who are Irish speakers or who treasure the Irish language can have those forms, which is a very modest step forward in this place.

I will refer to the explanatory memorandum. Whatever has been said about the cost, which is a relatively modest cost, let us be honest, for the software, the Department is quite clear about the operation —

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will not give way, because you had long enough, I am afraid, Mr Buchanan.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

[Inaudible.]

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Give me one second. I hear one of the signatories to the motion heckling from behind me.

The explanatory memorandum states that there are no additional costs associated with operation of this rule: no additional costs. This is a modest step forward, but the two Jims, with whom I have sat on the Finance Committee for the past two years, decided days away from an election to make hay with it. In many ways, it is sad, because, as I said, I have sat with Jim Allister and Jim Wells on the Finance Committee for the past two years, and, although I share very little in common with them politically, we have often worked together constructively.

They are both intelligent, shrewd men. They know what they are doing. Often, we interrogated the Finance Department on spending in this place in a constructive way together, but it really is sad that two serious, intelligent men have, for decades now, devoted their politics to this kind of stuff: the politics of division.

It is a Paisleyite provocation to try to divide us. Do you know what? The Irish language is for all of us. It is for everyone on this island and everyone in Northern Ireland, whatever our background. I say that as someone who did not do enough Irish in school. I finished early. I want to rediscover the Irish language, but I cannot claim to be a fluent Gaeilgeoir at all. However, the motion matters to me.

Looking forward, those of us who have a constitutional aspiration in this place are going to have to get real about the offer that we make. Those of us who aspire to a united or new Ireland will have to explain to people not just how our new constitutional proposition will tolerate Britishness in our new Ireland, particularly the Britishness of this part of the island of Ireland, but how we will treasure and celebrate it. Those who want to make an argument

[Interruption]

— a couple of them are heckling behind me — for Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom is a perfectly legitimate and noble aim to argue for, but those who want to argue that will have to demonstrate how they will treasure Irishness in this jurisdiction. I am afraid that did not always happen in the past. I hope that some of those across the Chamber who take a slightly more constructive approach to making those arguments will see this motion for what it is: an attempt to divide people and drag us down into a dark past.

I represent South Belfast, a gloriously diverse constituency

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

— I am drawing my remarks to a close — but I come from Downpatrick. It is the week of lá fhéile Pádraig, and St Patrick is buried in the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Downpatrick. It is a Protestant cathedral, and that kind of diversity is what makes this place special. It is what makes this island special.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Richness and diversity does not take away from us, it adds to us. I only wish that the Members who proposed the motion —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

The Member for South Belfast has teed me up rightly. I am going to bring a slightly different tone to this debate. To be fair to Mr Allister, he has been consistent for many years in his scrutiny of these items, whether it is the Irish language or finance. I cannot say the same for the party to the left of me. When we discussed NDNA in talks, two parties discussed and designed the culture and languages Act, which we did not get to see. They seem to equivocate when —

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

No, it is OK; I will not bother. I will go through in the manner that we have been doing and not take interventions.

We will not support the annulment today. However, I say to Sinn Féin — the Member for West Belfast talked about it — you might have hijacked the language, as some people say, but what we have seen over the St Patrick's Day celebrations in America makes me deeply uneasy. I see Sinn Féin trying to hijack what should be one of the most important days for all of us on this island, whether you are from Northern Ireland or Ireland. The politicisation of St Patrick's Day absolutely makes me cold.

First, let me be clear that the UUP is not against the provision of documentation for marriage, civil partnerships and civil registration certificates in Irish or, indeed, any of the predominant languages in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party wishes that all certificates could be available in Ulster Scots, Irish or any of the many languages that we have in Northern Ireland. That would reflect a welcoming diverse and vibrant multi-ethnic community. All certificates should, of course, be bilingual with English to aid identification and access to services across our nation, be that nationally at United Kingdom level or, indeed, in Scotland, Wales or England. The availability of English will also aid travel and identity documentation, especially in places like North America and many other western countries.

However, a worrying development occurred during the gathering of evidence on the rule. It transpired that an IT system for the translation of documents has been purchased for the sum of £261,000. That should, rightly, be a matter of concern, especially as it is hard to see how that represents good value for money. Members may consider that the Audit Office, as a matter of urgency, should investigate how a contract for £261,000 was let to British Telecom for that service before the legislation was even discussed, never mind passed, and whether that represents good value for money, if any. It must be a matter of considerable concern for the Assembly that sums like that have been spent without adequate scrutiny, or indeed, in view of the controversy that BT has been involved in on a number of occasions, without informing the Finance Committee.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I do not intend to give this ludicrous attempt to overturn perfectly sensible regulations more time than it is due, and that is very little. To those who somehow feel threatened by other people simply placing the headings of their marriage or civil registration in the Irish language, or in Irish and English, I simply have to say that you are embarrassing yourselves.

Last week, I spoke at a Queen's University event on the Irish language, along with Pat Sheehan.

At that event, I said that I do not speak a word of Irish but cherish the language. The Member for North Antrim knows full well why we would prioritise Irish over the likes of Polish and Lithuanian: the Irish language is indigenous to this island.

I am delighted with any step that enables people to see and sense that their culture, heritage and language are reflected in the options that are available to them, especially in public services. Far from threatening anyone, that is a perfectly normal means of managing and respecting a diverse society. I like living in such a diverse society. It is for others to explain what they are trying to achieve by intentionally stepping into other people's business. Members should remember that that is what they are doing, for the sole purpose of promoting bitterness and rancour.

I say this of the Members who tabled the motion: of all the motions that they could have tabled in the face of a huge cost-of-living crisis and an ongoing pandemic and with a health service in desperate need of reform, they chose this one. They need to reconsider their priorities and to ask themselves —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Does the Member not think that no time is more apt to complain about squander than when vital public money is needed for so many more deserving causes?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

The Member for Lagan Valley addressed fairly what the money was spent on. It was broader than what today's motion would imply.

[Interruption.]

The two Members who tabled the motion need to reconsider their priorities and to ask themselves what they are trying to achieve in a society in which we are all now minorities.

I cherish the diversity of Northern Ireland. We should all cherish it. I am here to help that diverse society to grow stronger. We have serious work to be getting on with. In that context, the motion is nothing but an utter embarrassment.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

With my colleague Aisling Reilly, I will vote against this ridiculous motion.

I do not sit on the Finance Committee, so when I saw the motion in the Order Paper, I looked at the recording of the Committee meeting. I was not shocked at the behaviour of the two Jims. They have been described as two characters from 'The Muppet Show', but anybody who watched that Committee session will have seen their faux outrage about £261,000. Where was the outrage when the Department for the Economy incentivised people financially to burn public money?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Was there outrage then?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order. I ask the Member to make her comments through the Chair, so that the microphone picks everything up.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

OK. Was there outrage then?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Nobody was more vigorous in exposing and opposing the renewable heat incentive (RHI) matter than I was in the House and elsewhere. I invite the Member to reflect on her slur in that regard.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Thank you for the extra minute.

I watched the Committee meeting and saw that every other Committee member was completely appalled at what they were seeing and hearing. It was very clear that an official with the status of being able to write business cases and make decisions made a decision in line with NDNA. That is completely in keeping with the job of anyone at that grade. That is a completely appropriate use of public money.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

No. Oh, sorry. Yes. Sorry, Pat.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way.

[Interruption.]

At that Committee —

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

At that Committee meeting, the official stated that it was within her capacity to spend that money. I say that to reinforce what the Member for North Belfast stated. I thank her for giving way. I wanted to clarify that point.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Thank you, Pat, and sorry for confusing you with Jim Wells.

[Laughter.]

I want to put that on the record.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

OK. Tá brón orm faoi sin.

The Member for North Antrim might be right about what he described as "vigorous". That is fine. The public record is the public record. However, the public record in this place from the Members opposite is nothing but disgraceful when it comes to the Irish language. It is absolutely nothing but disgraceful. It is sectarian, racist and bigoted. Sin é. That is what it is. Do not try to twist this concern around —

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

No.

— £261,000.

Robbie, tá náire ort. You need to be embarrassed for trying to blame Sinn Féin for what other people may do thousands of miles across the Atlantic.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

No, I will not give way. I normally would give way to you, but I have heard enough.

The issue at hand is tóg é agus tiocfaidh siad. You build it and they will come. I heard Jim Wells talk about burning public money. I did not hear anything about the cost to each Department resulting from the fact that there is no Executive to make a decision on £300 million. Not one word. We did not hear one word about hospital waiting lists or the £184 million that will not be spent on the cancer strategy. Nothing. Not one word about the growing mental health crisis, let alone the cost-of-living crisis. There was not one word from the Members who brought this prayer of annulment, which, by the way, they are perfectly entitled to do.

[Interruption.]

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order. Again, I ask the Member to address the Chair and not address individual Members. Through the Chair, please.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Had they brought a prayer of annulment on an issue that caused an inequality, as Chris and Sinead spoke about during the debate on the FETO Bill, I could have appreciated that, but, no, they want to try to ensure that anyone who is a Gaeilgeoir and who, as a ratepayer, wants use to public services will be discriminated against and will be offended. This is nothing short of sectarianism. It is racist and bigoted, and anybody who votes for this today is bigoted. Sin é. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Labharfaidh mé idir Ghaeilge agus Bhéarla, muna miste leat. I will speak both in Irish and English. I am really, really shocked to be here today talking about this. Is Gaeilgeoir mé go smior. Cosúil le hAisling ansin, is breá liom labhairt as Gaeilge, téann sí i mo chroí, ritheann sí liom, agus fosclaíonn sí na súile do dhaoine. I really love speaking Irish, and I say to those who do not have any Irish: try it. It opens a brand-new world to you. It explains the environment that you live in, the place names and people's history, and it brings one thing: understanding — tuigbheáil. Labharfaidh mé ar chúpla rud eile. Tá cóimheas ann. What does "cóimheas" mean? Mutual respect. Iolrachas cultúir? Cultural diversity. I cannot understand how anybody could seriously stand up and oppose those two things in a society in which we are coming together after a very bad period of time, when people were being slaughtered on our streets. Muna bhfuil meas agat ar do chomharsa, níl aon rud tuigthe agat. If you do not have respect for your neighbour, you have learned nothing and understood nothing.

I want to see a society where people of a British background are accommodated. Equally, as an Irish person, I want to see my identity accommodated and recognised formally. Sin an fáth a bhfuil Acht na Gaeilge de dhíobháil. That is why an Irish language Act is needed. If we are to truly work our way forward to a society that is open, rich, diverse, accommodates one with the other and in which people truly respect each other's identities in the diversity that that brings in a very positive and enriching way, this sort of stuff is not the way to go, guys. If you want to make progress, you do not do it by driving a car and looking in the rear-view mirror. Nah, that will not work out, because, eventually, we will come to a day when we will be looking at a new Ireland, and, in that new Ireland, I will surely be the first to champion my Irish identity and, equally, to champion measures being introduced to accommodate people of a British identity. Sin cóimheas. Sin iolrachas cultúir. That is mutual respect. That is cultural diversity. I seriously cannot get why people are so opposed to people getting married and getting that certified as Gaeilge más mian leo é — if they so wish. I really do not get it. Seriously, guys, get a grip. Think of the future, not of the past that you are harking back to, because that ain't going to go anywhere.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I was not going to speak, but I think that I have to. It is pretty absurd to be speaking on this issue, to be frank. We are discussing it in the context of a cost-of-living crisis and workers' wages being cut. Seriously, will people be asking why the Assembly spent whatever the amount was? Yet we are talking about this prayer of annulment.

To pick this issue, highlight it and have a debate on it is a blatant attempt to shift politics generally and the election to the right. Disgracefully, with the DUP's response, the Member may have got what he wanted here today. We are talking about an amendment to a form. What an embarrassment that people have caused so much outrage and bluster on that basic point. I say more Irish language — gach áit — all over the place. My response to those who claim to have concerns about the ghettoisation of a language is that we can see how ridiculous that comment is. Despite this being open to everybody to use, there is still opposition to it.

In my view, people should not be asked to keep their head down or keep their Irish ciúin. As I said, there should be more of it. Níl mé líofa; tá mé a foghlaim le cúpla bliain. My son was born four months ago, and I would have liked the option to register him in Irish. He has an Irish name, and I hope that his céad teanga will be Irish: that is my aim and that of his mother.

The fact that, in reality, there is an attempt to stir up hatred around this issue is disgraceful and despicable. It does not fill me with despair; it fills me with anger. It should be robustly challenged and called out. I will vote against this disgraceful prayer of annulment today.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, who will respond on behalf of the Minister of Finance. The Minister will have five minutes.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to respond to Members' comments on the Marriage, Civil Partnership and Civil Registration (Amendment) Regulations on behalf of my ministerial colleague Conor Murphy.

Members will be aware that the New Decade, New Approach deal included a commitment to make any necessary statutory provisions for births, marriages and deaths to be registrable in Irish. The option for registration in Irish has also been taken forward to include stillbirths, civil partnerships and the conversion of civil partnerships to marriages, and vice versa. The regulations are a first step in a phased approach towards taking the NDNA commitment forward and in enabling people to access public services through their chosen language, whether that be English, Irish or both.

At present, under the existing legislation, it is possible only for certificates to be produced in English, although the content can include Irish names or street addresses. The new regulations are aimed at providing the public with more choice in the registration of a life event. They will enable certificates that are produced from a new registration to contain headings in English, Irish or bilingually. Since the introduction of the legislation on 11 March, a person attending to register a life event has been provided with a language choice. They can select English, Irish or both, and that has enabled certificates to be produced with headings in the selected language. Once a registration has completed, all certificates from that date onwards are produced with headings in the language selected at the point of registration, and that cannot be changed.

I ask Members to support the introduction of the legislation, which introduces choice. At the point of registration, it will allow individuals or couples to choose whether their certificate is in English, in Irish or is bilingual. It will enable them to obtain a certificate with the headings in Irish, English or a combination of the two, with a bilingual English and Irish version. It does not change the current position for members of society who wish to continue to obtain a life event certificate in English, because this is primarily about choice for individuals in our communities.

It is important to address the whole issue of cost. There was some mention of the ongoing cost of the introduction of the regulations.

The initial cost was to put the necessary system in place to produce the certificates. There will be no additional costs for the production of the certificates, but the legislation will very much bring huge social value and impact for Irish language speakers, particularly those who would like to record the events in Irish or through bilingual means.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Will the Minister advise the House of the limit of the amount of expenditure that a civil servant, such as the lady involved here, can approve of their own volition? We did not get that information at Committee.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Minister has an extra minute.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I do not know what the fixation is with an individual staff member not just here but at the Committee, and I find it a bit concerning. The reality is that the measure is a New Decade, New Approach commitment. Officials got to work to take forward that commitment, which got the institutions re-established. In the last two days of applications being opened, the number of people who wish to have their certificates and life events registered in Irish or bilingually has exceeded the figures that the Member gave.

As I reflect on that, I find that this is of interest to me, because I cover languages in my Department. I sat with representatives from the Irish language and Ulster Scots communities a few weeks ago to progress the expert panel reports and to develop strategies. I was also a councillor on Belfast City Council, where people go to register life events, and, indeed, the council made moves a number of years ago to have bilingual Christmas signage on the front of that building. The same arguments were used then about cost and dissatisfaction. The signs went up, and guess what: nobody batted an eyelid. The sky did not fall in. People got on with their business and continued to use that building on a daily basis for the business that they needed to engage in with the council.

The motivation for the motion is clear. The real motivation of those whose argument attempts to pit some rights against others is to deny rights. The clear reality is that this is the first step in meeting a New Decade, New Approach commitment that parties agreed to in re-establishing the institutions. It helps to fulfil our responsibilities under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and, importantly, it is a step towards equality for all our citizens.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Jim Wells to make a winding-up speech on the motion. The Member has five minutes.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

There has been much reference to the 'New Decade, New Approach' document, which was signed over two years ago. What unionists note is that various Departments are dipping into the 50-odd recommendations, picking out those that are obviously cherished by nationalists, implementing them and quietly forgetting the recommendations —.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I certainly will.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Which recommendations are you suggesting are being ignored?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Where are the extra PSNI officers that were promised as part of that deal?

[Interruption.]

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Where are the efforts to deal with —?

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

Does the Member recognise that it is not just nationalists who support and stand for Irish language rights but liberals, those in the centre ground, socialists and people on the left? Will you take that point on board?

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Is that why 99·3% of those who attend Irish-medium schools are from the nationalist community? That is how cross-community that is.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

No, I have been very generous, and I do not particularly like the honourable Member, so no thanks.

[Interruption.]

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, Members. I ask Members to simmer down and to get back to the debate. Mr Wells, you have the Floor.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

We do not have the extra police. Where are the efforts to address the educational underachievement of Protestant working-class communities in Northern Ireland? Yet an official from the Department of Finance took it upon herself to dip into that agreement and pull out a cherry for republicans called the "Marriage, Civil Partnership and" —.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin 4:45 pm, 15th March 2022

On a point of order, it is hugely inappropriate for a Member to target a civil servant and staff from a Department. There are rights under employment law for the staff who work in a Department and who are implementing a legally binding agreement on behalf of the Minister in said Department. Those comments need to be withdrawn.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The honourable Member will have a long wait.

[Interruption.]

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I think that he needs to be called out by the —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order.

[Long pause.]

I do not believe that that is a point of order. However, I say to all Members that it is not in order to make offensive remarks about one another. I ask Members to continue with a civilised debate.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

A senior civil servant dipped into New Decade, New Approach and produced a rabbit out of the hat to assuage nationalism. Meanwhile, many of the demands of unionism in that balanced package have been totally ignored.

The other issue that has not been addressed this afternoon is the expenditure of £261,000 —

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I wish that I could, but I have only five minutes.

That was so that a very small number of Irish language zealots could go in and register their marriage or civil partnership in Irish or in dual language: £261,000. Did anybody stop to think about whether there was a more cost-effective way of doing that? Would it not have been cheaper to hire a member of staff to come in once a month to manually type out the certificates for the tiny number of people who wanted that to happen. £261,000. Was there any form of procurement or tender exercise? Or was the company — we all know which company it is — just told, "Think of a figure, go in there and spend whatever you like to produce that particular change in registration"? It just does not bear sense. As the honourable Member for North Antrim said, that is the price of eight nurses. Today, we attended an event here about the need for cancer nurses. There is a need for 100 extra cancer nurses.

A Member:

[Inaudible.]

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, Members. It is not in order to comment from a sedentary position.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I will give way to Ms Bailey.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Thank you. I want to go back to Mr Allister's opening statement in which he called the £261,000 that was spent "unnecessary squander". Surely, if you are calling for us to annul the SR now, are you not calling for further squander? If it is the case that just 18 people have registered, let me tell you this: I do not speak Irish, but when I went to an integrated school, I did Irish and learnt that my name in Irish is Clár Ní Bháille, so if you want the numbers to go up, I am more than willing, after listening to the debate, to go down to Belfast City Hall, where I was registered, and register myself in Irish. That would make the number 19, and I am sure that there would be queues of people who were willing to do the same.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The Member has made the point for me. The official who came to the Committee made it absolutely clear that £261,000 had been spent already. It was farcical to bring that before either the Finance Committee or the Assembly, because the money had been spent and the processes had been set up. If we are going to have any meaningful scrutiny role in the Assembly, we cannot have a situation where we are handed a done deal on a plate and told, "We've spent the money. You have to accept it."

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I cannot. I wish that I had an hour.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The Members on this side of the House have to ask themselves why the unionist community is so suspicious of the Irish language. Why do we have a problem with the Irish language?

[Interruption.]

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, Members.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

We are all perfectly happy with a genuine expression of people's culture. That is fine. However, when the language is so cynically used by militant republicanism, unionism has difficulties. Why, for instance, is there no translation into Irish of the words, "United Kingdom", "Londonderry", "Northern Ireland" or "Her Majesty The Queen"? Why oh why, however, are there Irish translations of the "occupied Six Counties", "the North" and the "British state"? It is because the language is being abused.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

On a point of order, to correct Mr Wells, it is Ríocht Aontaithe. Do you want to practise saying it?

[Laughter.]

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

If I knew what the honourable Member was saying.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Clearly, the Member knew that that was not a point of order, but his view is on the record.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

If they want the unionist community to accept the Irish language as a genuine cultural expression, they should get rid of the political baggage and extremism, and stop using the Irish language as a political weapon to try to subjugate unionism. Only when that happens, and only when the Irish language fraternity totally disassociates itself from militant republicanism, will unionists accept the Irish language as a genuine cultural expression.

Question put.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Clear the Lobbies. I think that we are going to have a vote. The Question will be put again in three minutes. I remind Members that we should continue to uphold social distancing, and Members who have proxy voting arrangements in place should not come into the Chamber.

Question put a second time.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly currently 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 Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place and that they should maintain a 1-metre gap between themselves and others when moving around in the Chamber or Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies. Please be patient.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 29; Noes 58

AYES

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, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Rankin, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Allister, Mr Wells

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, 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 Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Ní Chuilín

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I will call Carál Ní Chuilín first.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

This was sort of raised previously, but I ask the Speaker's Office to look at the Hansard report of today's debate. It is completely inappropriate for a Member of the legislative Assembly to accuse the Senior Civil Service of dipping into a budget. That has specific connotations.

I have a second point of order about the Member's comments. It is inappropriate to say what you feel all the time. Calling someone names in that context was not only churlish but unbefitting. I ask that those two points of order be looked at after the publication of today's Hansard report.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I will take this opportunity to draw the attention of all Members to the Assembly publication, 'Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House', particularly paragraph 14, which covers standards of debate. We have all been here for some time now and are coming to the end of this Assembly mandate, so you ought to know the standards of debate. Paragraph 14 states:

"The Assembly does not observe the concept of some expressions being deemed ‘unparliamentary’. Instead, the Chair requires Members to show each other respect in the Chamber, whether they are on their feet or seated. At all times, you must avoid making personalised remarks about other Members. The Speaker’s full ruling of 18 May 2015, which sets out the standards that are expected, is available from the Business Office."

Obviously, there are issues for Members to learn. A number of remarks were made during the debate, and I am sure that the Speaker will be reviewing the content to see whether he wishes to take any further action.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. My point of order is the same as that of the Member for North Belfast. Can you advise whether or not it was in order for Mr Wells, a signatory to the motion, to impugn the motives of a serving civil servant who cannot be here to address that? It is something similar, but I think that it needs to be answered.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

We are a scrutinising Assembly, and it is in order, in my opinion, to question decisions that are made. That is why we scrutinise. Obviously, we should avoid personalising as we do so, but, nevertheless, it is in order to question decisions that are made.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I listened intently to all the contributions in the debate, and I have to say that there was a fair degree of hypocrisy in some of the things that I listened to. I will not get involved in the comments about the civil servant and whatever, but Members across the Chamber from us on these Benches have complained about Members calling people names, yet Mr Wells and Mr Allister were called Statler and Waldorf, and another Member referred to them as muppets. Ironically, that Member has raised a point of order. I think that that inconsistency is exposed to the House.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, Members. If you listened carefully to my remarks, you will know that I said that there were a number of comments made during the debate that I am sure that the Speaker will want to review. Can we move forward, Members? Please take your ease before the next item of business.