Friday, 20 January 2012

Electing to Remain Silent

The Blether Region can reveal that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission is in the process of agreeing a language policy that does little more than copperfasten its existing discriminatory arrangements. Regular readers will know that Stormont already pays for simultaneous translation for the benefit of the Speaker but refuses to extend the service to ordinary MLAs at the cost of a pair of headsets. The result has been that elected representatives exercising their right to use Irish in the Chamber have only half the time available to English-speaking colleagues — the rest being required for a wholly superfluous consecutive translation.

Commenting on the draft, SDLP spokesman Dominic Bradley complained that "The Assembly Commission's policy totally ignores the fact that Irish is the second most frequently used language in the Assembly chamber and shows little vision around the development of services through the Irish language. In the view of the SDLP the policy falls below the standards flowing from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Belfast Agreement 1998, the St Andrews Agreement 2006, and Human Rights legislation."

Last year Mr. Bradley was himself ejected from the Chamber for perceived tardiness in furnishing just such a pointless translation.

In October 2011 Holywood Irish Society submitted a Freedom of Information request asking whether the Office of the Speaker had "considered the potential for indirect discrimination against groups listed in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 of requiring Members to translate what they have just said".

That query has yet to receive an answer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

National Bankruptcy

Further to the ongoing controversy regarding the requirement that Stormont MLAs provide a consecutive translation of what they say in Irish despite the employment of a full-time Assembly interpreter, it appears that the issue is exercising DUP former Culture Minister Gregory Campbell.

"Mr Campbell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a number of occasions, I understand, issues have been raised with you regarding the use of language in the Chamber. On this occasion, I ask you to review the use of language in statements by Ministers. The protocol has been well enough established by the Assembly regarding the use of a language other than English: if another language is used, whether it be Irish, German, Spanish, Portuguese or the language of any other bankrupt nation, what is said should be translated into English. However, the statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that will be heard shortly and is already in tabulated form for Members, uses Irish at its start and end but with no English translation provided.

Mr Speaker: Order. The Member is quite right to say that Members have raised the matter with me on a number of occasions. I have continually said to all Members, especially to those who have raised the issue with me, and I say again now to Mr Campbell that, irrespective of the language that Members choose to use, even in ministerial statements, it is important that they then translate into English. I have continually said that, because it is important that it be done. I am not saying that Members should not speak in whatever language they want; it is understandable for them to do that. However, please understand, whether it be ministerial statements or any Member speaking in the House, Members should, as far as possible, then translate into English. That has always been very clear to me as Speaker and, hopefully, to the whole House as well.

Mr McCarthy: Further to that point of order, this is our first day here in the new year, and I am absolutely disgusted to hear that that is all that Gregory Campbell, a man of long experience, has to worry about: which language we speak. That is a disgrace —

Mr Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. Members know that this is a sensitive issue. [Interruption.] Order. It is a sensitive issue, and I allow Members to raise issues that are sensitive to them and to the House. I think that it is very simple: Members should just translate whatever they say in another language into English. That would be simpler for everybody. Let us move on, please."

Interestingly, when the Minister got as far as reading out her statement, it transpired that the only Irish used was "Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá fáilte romhaibh.", followed by its English equivalent "Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome Members to the House". Did Ms O'Neill bow to Unionist pressure and cut the Irish, or was Mr. Campbell, who apparently believes that Germany is a "bankrupt nation", attempting to make a general political statement in less than relevant circumstances?