Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 26 October 1998


Presiding Officer’s Business

Assembly: Standing Orders

Assembly: Unparliamentary Language

Statements by First Minister (Designate) and Deputy

Hill-top Observation Posts (South Armagh)

Misuse of Fireworks


Education Needs (Strangford)

European Union: Surplus Food

Drug Abuse and Education

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (The Initial Presiding Officer (The Lord Alderdice of Knock) in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.


Presiding Officer’s Business


The Initial Presiding Officer:

This is the first meeting of the Assembly since the announcement that two of its Members have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I wish to offer my heartiest congratulations to the First Minister (Designate), Mr David Trimble, and the Leader of the SDLP, Mr John Hume. This very high honour is a joint reward for both Members’ considerable efforts for peace, and it brings great distinction upon them and, indeed, upon their families, their colleagues and the Assembly. This award from the world community is an extraordinary achievement.

The Deputy First Minister (Designate) (Mr Mallon): It is my great pleasure and privilege, on behalf of the SDLP and, I believe, the entire Assembly and all the people of Northern Ireland, to offer congratulations to the two Nobel laureates. Both recipients have shown, by their political acumen, courage and tenacity, that we have to translate the concept of this thing called peace into something very precise.

This is a signal honour, not just for the two men but for all of us and for the entire community that we represent, and an indication of the international concern and goodwill that there is for the position of the North of Ireland. It is, I believe, a recognition that the terrible days of turmoil, strife and violence are over and that we are now entering a new era.

I congratulate both men very heartily and wish them well. They have brought honour to themselves and to all of us, and in doing so they have contributed even more to the prestige that goes with that honour. All Assembly Members should take great pleasure from the fact that two of our colleagues have been honoured in this way.

I take particular pleasure, as Deputy First Minister (Designate) and as Deputy Leader of the SDLP, in serving with two Nobel laureates. This is something of a track record and something, I think, that will prove to be unequalled. I congratulate them, I wish them well and I thank them for a job well done.

Mr Empey:

I endorse what has just been said by the Deputy First Minister (Designate). I offer congratulations on behalf of the UUP to both the First Minister (Designate) and Mr Hume.

Over the years, international involvement in our affairs has been received with a mixture of pleasure and concern. I know from a Unionist perspective that we have often found international involvement a negative influence. However, it has to be said that we have all underestimated the extent to which the eyes of the rest of the world have focused on Northern Ireland.

It is hard to understand why so many millions of people all over the world feel that events here have relevance to them. In that context, the recent tours that both Ministers have undertaken on our behalf in North America, of which we will hear more later, are perhaps an indication of some of the long-lasting benefits that can come to the people of Northern Ireland as a result of this honour.

At a personal level, it must be hard for both recipients to grasp what has happened. We must remember their families, for they have endured the strain of work over many years, and this honour is a tribute to teamwork. On behalf of UUP Members, I wish Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon every success. We are delighted at what has happened, and I have no doubt that, with the international interest that has been generated by the award and the endorsement that it brings, not only the two recipients but all the people will benefit from it.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

The Minister of State—

Mr Adams rose.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Mr Adams. [Laughter]

Let it be understood that I am not connecting "Minister of State" with "Mr Adams".

Mr Adams:

That is just slightly premature for me. Mo chomhghairdeachas fosta leis an bheirt fhear. Tá mé sásta go leor go bhfuil an bronntanas seo ag teacht go hÉirinn. Is rud iontach é sin.

I also offer my congratulations to the First Minister (Designate) and to Mr Hume. It is good that this award is coming to Ireland and that the work in the process so far is being recognised. I have particular regard for what Mr Hume has done over a long period, and I wish him and Mr Trimble well. On behalf of Sinn Fein, I extend best wishes to their families. I hope that the award will be a catalyst for the movement that is required for a democratic peace settlement. Well done, and good luck.

Mr Neeson:

On behalf of the Alliance Party, I heartily endorse the remarks of other Members. This prestigious award is a great tribute not only to Mr Hume and the First Minister (Designate) but to the people of Northern Ireland, who can be proud that it has come to the province. The peace process is about taking risks, and all Members who have been prepared to take risks to move it forward can take great pleasure in the award. We all appreciate the difficulties. We have taken risks in the past, and the award should be a spur to future risks to ensure the establishment of a fully democratic Assembly for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

The Minister of State, Mr Murphy, has written advising me that, in accordance with paragraph 10(1) of the schedule to the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998, the Secretary of State has determined two additional Standing Orders which deal with essential preliminaries to the formation of an Executive.

The first of these additional Standing Orders relates to party lists and nominating officers. It incorporates changes that have been proposed by the Committee on Standing Orders, which are designed to reflect Government amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill.

The second additional Standing Order also reflects amendments and proposed amendments to that Bill. It is designed to ensure that any proposals regarding ministerial portfolios (designate) during the shadow phase are presented and handled in a way that will be consistent with the provisions of the Bill.

I have arranged for copies of this letter to be placed in Members’ pigeonholes, and I shall be writing tomorrow to nominating officers on the question of party lists.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Some of us received a letter late last week, and we have had no opportunity to comment on it. The DUP entirely disagrees with the Joint Chairmen of the Committee, who told us in the letter that they did not intend to call a meeting to discuss matters. In their opinion, the letter reflected the view of the Committee, and not the views of the DUP or those of some other parties that are represented on the Committee.

It is the duty of the Joint Chairmen, irrespective of their private and personal opinions, to refer such matters to the Committee. I do not propose to say anything further now, but I look forward to a meeting of the Committee at which my party and others of a similar view will be able to voice their opinions. However, the Government are using the Bill that is going through the Lords and the Commons to make changes which will copper-fasten their idea of how the Assembly should work. The amendments that have been made and those that are proposed are intended to curb the authority and the strength of the Assembly.

10.45 am

Mr Foster:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. In this week’s ‘Observer’ Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien referred to a green, white and orange tint in the UKUP. Have you received notice to the effect that the UKUP has changed its name to the United Ireland Party?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

That is a most ingenious point of order.

Assembly: Standing Orders


Mr Cobain:

I beg to move

That the Assembly takes note of the progress report prepared by the Committee on Standing Orders.

The Committee has now built substantially on its interim report of 14 September, and it falls to me, as co-Chairman, to present this report.

I thank Mr Denis Haughey for his hard work, dedication, co-operation and skill as co-Chairman. I thank the other members of the Committee for their great application to, and appetite for, the subject. Our appreciation is due also to those Members of the Assembly who acted as substitute members from time to time.

Almost one third of the Members of the House have served at one time or another on the Standing Orders Committee. Contributions to our work, and support for it, have been extensive. A full list of those involved appears in our report, and I would like to thank all who contributed — there was never a shortage of opinion. We are also indebted to Mr Murray Barnes and Mr Denis Arnold for their hard work, dedication and patience in the preparation of this report.

The Committee’s terms of reference were to assist the Assembly in its consideration of Standing Orders and to make a report. We presented an interim report on 14 September and undertook to provide the Assembly with a more substantial report by today.

The Committee has a maximum membership of 19, and this has become our working membership, as we have had an excellent attendance record. When we last reported, our membership was 18, but at the Committee’s behest the Secretary of State changed the Initial Standing Orders so that the United Unionist Assembly Party could be given a seat. The Assembly brought the change into effect following formal recognition of the United Unionist Assembly Party. The Committee’s structure is otherwise the same as was outlined by Mr Haughey in his introduction to the debate on 14 September.

This is not our final report — there are so many imponderables. Most of those relate to the ever-changing Bill, although there are other issues on which we have yet to agree. Our work is unfinished, and circumstances dictate that it cannot be finished for some time. We have identified 15 areas to be revisited. These are listed at Appendix C. We are aware that some of what we have done will require further consideration and attention. However, we have made substantial progress, and many of the Standing Orders in this report could reasonably be adopted now, regardless of the final shape of the Bill. We have agreed almost 40 Standing Orders covering a wide span of Assembly operations and business.

We have written to the Whips on the matter of the order in which Members should be called to speak. We have had two replies, for which I am grateful. We keenly await the others. Members will note in our report the positive response from Mr Murphy to our suggestions on the additional Initial Standing Orders.

A number of problems have arisen because of the diversity of source material, as was inevitable.

Issues such as the order of Rules and the cross-referencing and inconsistencies in them will all be taken care of in due course. Indeed, problems and inconsistencies may have existed in some of the source material itself. For example, we will be returning to areas such as the categories and functions of Committees; decisions on the utility of material where a choice has to be made between options (for example, draft 33); the consideration of construction, grammar, et cetera; and the need for more precise definition (for example, in relation to references to the Assembly, which in some cases may mean the Chamber, and in other cases may include the precincts beyond it).

The report before us is a progress report. It is the product of much hard work, and I commend it to the Assembly as a major step forward in the process of finalising a comprehensive volume of Standing Orders.

I look forward to any constructive comments or points Members may wish to make. We will consult where necessary to quality proof what we have done and what we have yet to do, as we do it.

Ms Rodgers:

I want to refer to the Standing Order which says that Members may speak in the language of their choice. The equality section of the Agreement, which we all signed up to, makes it very clear that diversity of language is a right and that the Government are committed to facilitating and encouraging the use of Irish and Ullans as minority languages in Northern Ireland. In addition to that the Government are committed to signing up to the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Therefore there is a requirement to facilitate those who wish to speak in either Ullans or Gaelic in this Chamber.

It is not within the remit of the Standing Orders Committee to make the necessary arrangement, save to have a Standing Order which states clearly that Members may speak in the language of their choice. In order to marry that to the commitment in the Agreement, it will be necessary for instantaneous translation to be made available. Otherwise using the language of his or her choice will disadvantage the Member who is speaking. [Interruption]

Some Members opposite should have some respect for the point of view of a person who was reared in an Irish-speaking area, who spoke Irish as her first language and of whom the language is a very important part. Indeed, that applies to many people in Northern Ireland who did not have the advantage of learning the language early in life but who have gone to the trouble of learning it since. It means a lot to them as part of their heritage and should be respected by all Members. Indeed, the same applies to the Ullans language.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

It is amazing that the Leader of the SDLP sits in the European Parliament and has never mentioned this matter, for Irish is not a working language of that body.

Ms Rodgers:

Dr Paisley should remember that the first motion that the Leader of the SDLP put before the European Parliament was about the need to protect minority languages. That led to the setting up of the ARFE Committee, which, in turn, led to the signing of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which is about to be accepted by the British Government. The Leader of the SDLP made it very clear from the beginning that he recognised the importance of language as part of our heritage and was committed to doing something about it.

To allow us to operate under the Standing Order without disadvantaging those who want to speak in Irish simultaneous translation is required. Without this, those who speak in Irish will have to use part of their 10 minutes to translate or else leave those who do not understand Irish in ignorance of what they are saying. And therein lies the disadvantage.

Those on the other side of the Chamber who are crying, "Hear, hear" are indicating that they are not interested in knowing what people are saying. Perhaps that has shown over the years. If people would develop not just an ability to listen but a willingness to listen to others, this community would be much further on.

Ms de Brún:

Tá mé iontach mí-shásta nach bhfuil mise ábalta nó nach bhfuil an Teachta seo ábalta labhairt ar an ábhar seo, ábhar a bhfuil tábhacht iontach ag baint leis mar atá scríofa sa Chomhaontú, nach bhfuil muid ábalta labhairt ar an ábhar seo gan chur isteach mí-mhúinte ón taobh eile seo. Tá sé go hiomlán as ord agus ní thig liom glacadh go bhfuil daoine sásta ligint dó seo dul ar aghaidh. Deir sé sa Chomhaontú nach mbeidh bac curtha i slí dhaoine atá ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge. [Interruption]

Mr Maskey:

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you should be exercising your responsibility and calling for order for those who are trying to speak. I am very dissatisfied with the way you are chairing this sitting.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I have two things to say. First, I have indeed called for order. I fear that there is disrespect at times both for the Chair and for each other. Secondly, I reproved a Member who intervened during a previous sitting, not so much because he made an intervention as because he was in effect making a speech. When a Member intervenes there should be respect for the Member who is speaking as well as for the convention of the intervention. It is not an opportunity for a full speech.

Mr McCartney:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is the question of instantaneous translations of Irish and English not a matter entirely for the Commission dealing with the fabric and facilities in the House rather than for the Standing Orders Committee? It is the report from the Standing Orders Committee which is the subject of this debate, not matters that are within the remit of the Commission.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is entirely in order for the Standing Orders Committee to consider this matter, and it would be quite in order for that Committee to establish a Standing Order on it or on any similar matter. But if it were to do so, the question of where the funding would come from would arise.

At this juncture, funding would not come from the Assembly Commission, for it is only a Shadow Commission. It would have to come from the Secretary of State. If the Assembly wanted to proceed along those lines, there would have to be a Standing Order to deal with the matter. That would be entirely proper. But even if there were no Standing Order, there is nothing to prevent facilities from being provided by the State. That is not a matter that I can rule upon. I can only rule within the Standing Orders to the best of my ability, and I have already done that.

Mr Dodds:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The Member keeps referring to a Standing Order on languages, yet she intimated earlier that she could not find it. Perhaps the reason is that there is no Standing Order in either the Initial Standing Orders or this report which deals with the subject of languages.

The only reference to languages was that made by yourself at the first sitting of the New Assembly. Therefore you should make a ruling about the contents of this Member’s speech, which are not relevant to the Standing Orders being debated or to the Initial Standing Orders.

11.00 am

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Mr Cobain’s introductory remarks referred to the series of issues which have not yet been completed and have to be discussed further. Having read the Committee’s minutes, I understand that language is one of these issues. Therefore it is not improper for the question to be discussed at this point. It could be of help to the Committee to know the mind of the Assembly as it continues to consider the matter.

Mr Fee:

It is mentioned on page 62 at Annex C and is listed as one of those matters to be dealt with by the Standing Orders Committee.

Mr Dodds:

The point is that it has been referred to as a Standing Order. However, there is no such Standing Order, nor is there any such draft Standing Order.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Let me repeat my earlier ruling. It is part of the Committee’s business and the members have discussed it. While there is currently no Standing Order, it is entirely proper that the matter should be raised and debated.

Mr Hussey:

Will Members be made aware of the cost of installing simultaneous translation facilities?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

This is not a point of order.

Mr Hussey:

I am seeking information.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I must ask Ms Rodgers, who has been unable to speak because of repeated interventions, to continue. Should Mr Hussey wish to intervene he must ask her permission.

Ms Rodgers:

I will certainly seek to address the Member’s question if it is genuine.

Mr Hussey:

I have already asked my first question. Secondly, I understand that Irish language experts have difficulty understanding some of the statements made in Irish. How is that to be overcome?

Ms Rodgers:

I failed to get the drift of Mr Hussey’s second question because of the noise coming from the other side of the Chamber. In response to his first question I can say that the matter is being looked into. At this stage we understand that a simultaneous interpretation facility would not require any significant rewiring of the Assembly Chamber. The latest equipment operates by infra-red beam disseminated by a number of electronic plates. What is said is picked up by a small battery-driven unit. It would therefore not be costly.

The commitment made to this in the Agreement is important, and should some small extra expenditure be required, there should be no quibbling about it. We either signed the whole Agreement or we did not, and those of us who did must be committed to it.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Will the Member give way?

Ms Rodgers:

I will not give way again.

It is to be regretted that there are Members who see the important issue of the Irish language as something to be used as a political tool. The Irish language is an important part of all of our cultures. Indeed, many of the Members who are so vociferous in denigrating it have surnames which are derived from that very language. For instance, McCrea is probably one, and Maginnis — who is not a Member here — would be another. Furthermore, many place names are Gaelic, irrespective of our political persuasion.

The Shankill Road is, of course, the most obvious one. Another is the townland of Drumnahuncheon in Armagh. Irish names are part of our heritage, and it is regrettable that some people see Irish as something to mock at and be derisory about. [Interruption]

I am waiting for a little silence so that I can continue my speech.

It is important that we all recognise the things that are important to each other and respect those things. One thing which is important to the Nationalist community and, indeed, to sections of the Unionist community is the Irish language. That language is not the exclusive property of the Nationalist community. Irish is an important part of the heritage of both communities. There is a commitment to it in the Agreement, and if we have a Standing Order which allows us to address one another in the language of our choice without disadvantage, instantaneous translation facilities will have to be made available.

Mr Close:

I commend the progress report from the Standing Orders Committee. The job is not yet complete, but that is not the fault of the Committee, which has worked constructively and positively over the weeks. Until the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament we cannot complete the task in front of us.

I commend the constructive and positive work of the joint Chairmen — Mr Haughey and Mr Cobain — and all the other members. In the past few minutes there has been some rankle over the Irish language and some hope expressed that there will be simultaneous translation facilities. This issue did not raise the hackles of the Committee, so I am tempted to say that there are Members here who are playing to the gallery. It is sad that Members should find the matter of language emotive and be prepared to abuse a language for political gain.

The progress report shows what progress the Committee has made. By 14 September we had looked at 11 Standing Orders, and agreement had been reached on seven. Now we have agreement on 38 Standing Orders, and I hope agreement will soon be reached on the remaining 15.

With regard to progress, I would remind Members of the Standing Order that referred to designation, the Standing Order that enabled people to change their designation by giving seven days’ notice. Members will recall that various phrases were used to describe this Order, such as its being "liable to bring the House into disrepute". Members will be pleased to note that that has now been changed. If someone wishes to change his or her designation, that will still be possible, but only once. This will demonstrate that the Member is not playing political games that could bring the House into disrepute.

We look forward to the completion of the passage of the Bill which will enable us to complete our task and present the House with a final report.

Mr Adams:

I too want to note this progress report and deal specifically with the issue of a simultaneous translation system. I welcome your remark, Sir, that it is appropriate for the Standing Orders Committee to make a ruling on this issue, as on any other.

I am concerned not so much by the attitude of the Democratic Unionist Party — they are opposed to the Agreement — as by the stance taken by the Ulster Unionist Party Member who spoke in disparaging terms about this matter. The Good Friday Agreement clearly recognises

"the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity".

It calls upon and commits us, in relation to the Irish language, to

"take resolute action to promote the language;"

"facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand",

and so on.

There is clearly appropriate demand in this Assembly. Last week, I was in the Parliament of Canada, where there is a simultaneous translation system — they speak in both French and English — and it works very well. I want to place my views on record, and I hope that members of the Democratic Unionist Party will change their minds on this issue. That may be a forlorn hope, but I go forward on hope. The UUP, which supports the Good Friday Agreement, cannot but support the provision of a simultaneous translation service in terms of moving this process forward.

When Ms Rodgers and Ms de Brún were speaking they were met with a barrage of noise. I am at least being given a modicum of respect. Is it because these two Members are women that they were faced with this bad-mannered, discourteous and totally ignorant display? I make that point in passing.

I support the Standing Orders Committee’s view that a simultaneous translation system should be provided, and those parties who support the Agreement should also take that view.

Ms Morrice:

I want to commend the work done by the joint Chairs of the Standing Orders Committee — in particular, the delicate and diplomatic way in which they steered it through its business. I also want to congratulate my fellow Committee members for the constructive way in which they carried out their work.

One of this document’s most important elements is not its contents but the way it has been put together. It is very important to let the press, the media and the public know that — despite issues, such as language, which divide us — this report is proof positive that the Assembly is working. Representatives from all parties took part in the Committee.

Unfortunately the public cannot see how well we can work together and how we are moving forward. What they see is this Chamber in disarray, and that disappoints me, because behind closed doors, in Committee sessions, people from all parties are working shoulder to shoulder. Tomorrow’s papers should carry the headline "All-party agreement on lion’s share of Assembly rules". However, they will not carry that headline because agreement is not newsworthy — disagreement is.

The Good Friday Agreement made news because it was historic, even though not all parties signed up to it. This report has no glossy cover, nor has it received an international fanfare — but it is something which all parties have agreed to and we should not allow it to slip by unnoticed; it is something we can build on. I am not pretending that everything was plain sailing. Several issues had to be revisited and there is the question of the seven-day notice that Mr Close referred to. There is a lot more work to be done.

The Women’s Coalition believes that it is far more valuable to focus on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us. We contributed to specific areas of the Standing Orders and perhaps it will change the mood of this debate if I inform Members that we introduced family-friendly working hours to the Standing Orders. The plenary sessions will end at six o’clock, putting us a step ahead of those Parliaments that are trying to modernise themselves and which have not yet come to terms with the importance and value of family life, even for Members of Parliament.

We have also included in the Standing Orders a new language which is very important and very rare in parliamentary parlance. Members talk about the language, meaning Irish or Ulster-Scots, but here we have a totally new language — the language of gender neutrality. It is very important and it is in the Standing Orders. It is a language which not many people have recognised to date but it is now included. A woman reading these rules or listening to the debates can now relate to them because they refer to "her" as well as to "him."

There is no doubt, as this debate has shown, that much remains to be done. I am confident, having seen the Committees at work, that parties can work together and that there will be a successful outcome.

11.15 am

Mr McCartney:

On the language issue, everyone was agreed that Members should be entitled to speak in the language of their choice. The only issue that arose was if a Member chose to speak in a language which possibly 95 per cent of the Assembly could not understand, then he should have to make time in his available 10 minutes to explain what he meant in terms understood by all.

It is alleged, therefore, that this was in some way unfair or unequal and that having chosen to use a language that was an unsuitable vehicle for communication in the Assembly, Members should have double time in order to translate into a language which everyone could understand.

No one objected to the use of the language. No one objected to the fact that it could not be understood by most of the Members present. They objected to the fact that the Assembly’s time would be taken up if Members were allowed 10 minutes to speak in an unintelligible language and a further 10 minutes to speak in a language which everyone understood.

It was accepted by all that this impasse could be resolved if there was an instantaneous translation, so that Members could speak for 10 minutes in the language of their choice and it could be instantly translated into a language which was intelligible by everyone else in the Chamber. However, it was accepted by the Committee that this was really a matter for the Commission to handle. There was no objection in principle, as I understood it, to the installation of instantaneous translation.

The point has been made by Dr Paisley, and it should be emphasised, that the reason for there being 13 official languages is that there is in the European Parliament a mass of people who have no common language. I am quite certain that if there were a common language, there would be no need for instant translation into 13 languages. It is accepted that your language does not become an official language if it is spoken only by a small number of people.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

There is a difference in Europe between an official language and a working language. The Irish language is an official language, but it is not a working language.

Mr McCartney:

I accept entirely what Dr Paisley has said. Of course the Irish language is officially recognised as a language in Europe, but for the purpose of conducting business, which means finding a common basis that everyone will understand, it is not one of the 13 working languages.

Ms Rodgers:

I understand perfectly what the situation is in Europe; however, we are dealing with a unique situation in Northern Ireland where we are divided on the basis of our traditions, our culture and our political ethos, and the Agreement allows for that unique situation — which is different from the situation in Europe — to be recognised.

Mr McCartney:

Everyone is entitled to an expression of his culture, but there is not a single person in this Assembly at this moment who does not understand, in terms of language, exactly what I am saying. If, however, I were to speak in Irish, almost certainly 95 per cent of the people here, or at least an overwhelming majority, including many from the Nationalist ranks —

Mr Adams:

Would the Member accept that the vast majority of people in the European Parliament could communicate through one language or another and that the reason they have simultaneous translation services is that each of them upholds the right of others to use the language of their choice?

Mr McCartney:

I do not accept in its entirety what the last Member has said. In Northern Ireland we have publications like ‘An Phoblacht’, which is aimed at those espousing a very strong Nationalist position, and about 85 per cent of the text is in English. The ‘Irish Times’ and the ‘Irish Independent’, which are, allegedly, major newspapers in the Republic of Ireland, print 95 per cent of their text in the English language because that is what the overwhelming majority of the population understand.

I have absolutely no objection to the use of the Irish language in any way. I have no objection whatever to Members speaking here in the language of their choice, but I have every objection to the unreal situation in which people are demanding to speak in a language which, perhaps, 90 per cent of the people they are addressing do not understand and, furthermore, insisting that they should have an equal amount of time in which to address the Assembly once again in the language which everyone can understand. I hope this matter can be resolved by the Commission’s making available sufficient funds for instant translation to obviate the difficulty.

Finally in relation to Mr Foster’s opening point of order, I am well aware of the association between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but I did not think it extended to Monday morning.

Mr J Kelly:

I understood we had agreed, following our debate on Standing Orders, that there would be short instantaneous translations. Is that your understanding, Mr Initial Presiding Officer?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I am not clear as to what you are saying.

Mr J Kelly:

We understood from Standing Orders that there would be a resolution on the question of instantaneous translations from Irish into English. Do I understand that this matter is under consideration by the Secretary of State?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

No, that is not what I said. I said that it would be appropriate for the Standing Orders Committee to consider this question and to construct a Standing Order on the use of language. Equally, it might choose not to do so.

Responsibility for the provision of funding for all aspects of the Assembly currently lies with the Secretary of State. I have no knowledge as to whether or not this matter is under consideration; I am merely saying that until the Assembly Commission assumes responsibility for deciding how to use whatever moneys are voted to it, the Secretary of State makes the decisions on funding.

Mr ONeill:

I am a little hesitant to get to my feet. Members will be aware that I am not a member of the Standing Orders Committee. However, I was privileged to deputise on a number of occasions, so I am able to say something about the Committee’s work and comment on the report.

It is very important that we place on record the amount of hard work that all Committee members put in to this report – I say all members because I was impressed by the degree of harmony and goodwill that was evident in their working relationships. Proceedings there were very positive — not at all reflective of the tenor of this morning’s debate. That positive side, as other members have indicated, is the side that should receive the greatest emphasis during press coverage, but it will not.

We must get our Standing Orders worked out correctly, but there are a number of issues listed at Appendix C that the Committee still has to resolve, including the use of the Irish language, the matter we have just been debating. Whenever Members are debating such contentious issues they must find a way of dealing with them without the constant disruption and unseemly conduct that we have witnessed this morning. The large number of people who voted for the Agreement must feel very disheartened and disillusioned when they listen to this kind of corner-boy commenting. If the Standing Orders Committee can deal with these issues and make things as clear and as workable as possible, a lot of this unnecessary and unseemly behaviour could be removed from this Chamber. The hopes of too many people are pinned on the success of this Assembly, and we must not fail them. The Standing Orders Committee has a difficult job ahead.

Indeed, many people are wearing poppies to commemorate the dead of two world wars. Those people died to ensure democracy and freedom of speech. How sincere are some people about the emblems they wear?

We should encourage the Standing Orders Committee to reflect on the necessity for a little bit more speed and coherence in its work. I know from my attendance in Committee that that could easily and properly be done. Members will appreciate that many matters need to be covered in Standing Orders, and that that will take time. The report is tremendously fair, and the Members of the Committee have tried to deal with many matters.

I join other Members in paying tribute to the joint Chairmen. Their impressive skills contributed much to the Committee’s success and to the more than 90% agreement.

11.30 am

Mr Dodds:

I should like to deal with some of the issues that were raised in the debate. The introduction of the language issue by Ms Rodgers was a deliberate attempt to inject a political element into the report. Most of the Standing Orders were agreed after some considerable debate. We are to return to the issue of language, which is not yet the subject of a draft Standing Order. Ms Rodgers felt that it was right to introduce the topic now. If some Members on this side had introduced a subject that causes division and difficulty, they would have been accused of deliberately introducing divisive subjects. There are no such accusations when such topics are raised on the other side.

As Mr McCartney said, there was general agreement in Committee that people should be able to use whatever language they choose, whether it be English, Irish, Ulster-Scots, French, German, Chinese or any other. However, if they choose to use a language other than English and to have it translated, that must be done within the period of time that is allotted to them for their speeches.

Mr Farren:

Could the Member direct me to a Standing Order which states that the time allotted for a speech must be divided to provide a translation?

Mr Dodds:

I have said that there is no draft Standing Order on this subject. It would be better to await the Committee’s deliberations before debating the matter in the House. That is better than having this divisive debate, which has been introduced by the SDLP.

Members have spoken about simultaneous translations. Do we seriously envisage simultaneous translation for those who speak in a language other than English just because people may have the right to speak in whatever language they choose? The expense of that relates not to the technical aspect that Ms Rodgers raised, but to the employment of a host of translators who will be redundant except when people choose to indulge themselves by speaking a foreign language. As I understand it, the Committee has made no decision in principle on the issue.

Ms Rodgers:

Some of us do not have as much parliamentary experience as others, but the House will have to make allowances for that. The Member referred to foreign languages. Irish is not a foreign language in Northern Ireland.

Mr Dodds:

I am grateful for that wonderful piece of information. I will know better next time. I make it absolutely clear that the DUP did not agree in Committee to the provision of simultaneous translation. Some people may see difficulties in principle, but in terms of practicalities one swiftly concludes that is simply not on in the context of cost. We shall return to the subject, and to a host of others that are outlined on page 62 of the report. I wish that Members who are so keen to raise these issues would wait until we have debated the detail in Committee rather than be divisive in the Assembly.

Mr McElduff:

A Cheann Chomhairle, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mhéid atá ráite ag an Uasal McCartney ar an ábhar seo go dtí seo. I welcome Mr McCartney’s general sentiments and helpful attitude with regard to the issue of Irish being spoken in the Chamber and the córas áistriúcháin, the translation system. This matter should be moved along speedily because we should be at the stage where companies are tendering for a simultaneous translation system here.

Much reference has been made to "language of their choice". Members need not be afraid to specify the Irish language. We need look no further than the Agreement, which deals with this subject in paragraphs 3 and 4 under the heading "Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity". It is written all over the document that resolute action must be taken to promote the Irish language. We can not ignore that.

I am prepared to listen to Members from either side speaking Ulster-Scots and, if they feel that that is important to them, I will not object.

Mr McCartney:

First, I have no objection in principle, but we would have to know the cost of the whole system. Secondly, the principles that I advanced about the intelligibility of Gaelic, equally apply to Ullans. I would have the same objections in principle to a Member addressing me in Ullans, Urdu, Swahili, Irish or any other language which I did not understand.

Mr McElduff:

The comparison is disingenuous. The Irish language is spoken throughout Ireland and the six counties. The growth of naíscoileanna (nursery schools), unscoileanna (primary schools), and meánscoileanna (secondary schools), the length and breadth of this country is evident. The figures provided by groups such as Gaeloiliúint acknowledge the extensive use of the Irish language. In my community there is vibrant discussion on a weekly basis about the importance of the Irish language and about how, in this new era, we must move speedily to acknowledge that in a proper way. Sin an méid atá le rá agam. I ask for a little patience on the Irish language front. This should not be an issue of party political division. Aontaím leis an Bhean Rodgers nuair a dúirt sí gur linn uilig an teanga.

Mr Molloy:

Some members of the Standing Orders Committee seem to have forgotten the debate on the need for a Standing Order to be written into this document — even if it were only a temporary provision — until we had fully considered this issue. This issue is bigger than the one that we are debating this morning. The part of the Good Friday Agreement under "Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity" which the UUP and other parties have signed, enshrines the rights of Nationalists and all others to speak the language of their choice. They must also have their overall rights safeguarded. The document puts great emphasis on the need to ensure that the Irish language — not Swahili, German, French or any other language, but the Irish language — is protected and promoted.

We must ensure that recognition is given to that section of this community that wants to speak in its first language — Irish.

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, there seems to be a slight problem with order in the Chamber.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

If Members wish to converse, it is entirely proper for them to do so, but outside the Chamber.

Mr Molloy:

The Committee did record, as Mr McCartney recognised earlier, that people should have the right to speak in Irish. The Committee resolved that the Assembly Shadow Commission should introduce simultaneous translation if it was considered feasible. We have to make sure that this is feasible.

There is simultaneous translation not only in modern Assemblies but also in conference centres throughout the world. This facility would remove the problem of what people consider as the Irish language being used as a vehicle to delay the progress of a motion or to increase speaking time on a motion. But until such a facility is available, it should be the right of those who want to speak Irish to have the same amount of time in which to translate what they have said for the benefit of everyone in the Chamber.

It is up to the Assembly to put a simultaneous translation system in place so that we do not have this ongoing debate over the use of Irish. There are a lot of other issues which need to be discussed, but the use of Irish, though a very small part of Standing Orders, is a major issue that concerns recognition of the rights of the Nationalist community, and it is important to look at this issue as an integral part of the overall document.

All the parties here are represented on the Standing Orders Committee, and each has participated in every other way. The entire document is now being threatened by the UUP and the DUP who seem intent on bringing the Assembly and the whole Good Friday Agreement down by the end of this month. The UUP is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, by its failure to implement it fully. This is what we need to debate, not just the Irish language aspect of it.

Mr Beggs:

I would like to place on record my congratulations to the Committee on Standing Orders on the work it has carried out to date and the constructive attitude adopted by its Members.

With regard to simultaneous translation facilities for Irish, it is important not only to consider the initial cost of the equipment but the ongoing maintenance costs as well. In the European Parliament translation has a practical purpose because not all MEPs can understand all the other languages. I would ask any Committee considering this matter to find out how many Members cannot speak English.

There is, of course, one word that it is very important to have translated, and that is the word "decommissioning."

It is vital that the Assembly be seen to conduct itself in an efficient and effective way, and I would not want to waste funds on simultaneous translation - I would prefer to employ more nurses and teachers.

11.45 am

Ms de Brún:

Ba mhaith liomsa teacht ar ais chuig ceist na teanga arís. Aontaím leis an mhéid a dúirt na hUasail McElduff agus Molloy, mar aon leis na pointí a d'ardaigh an Bhean Rodgers níos luaithe.

Tá sé iontach soiléir ón Chairt Eorpach nach leor cead a thabhairt do dhuine teanga a úsáid, muna gcuirtear ar fáil, don duine sin, seans an teanga a úsáid sa ghnáthobair, nó má chuirtear bac i slí an duine sin agus í ag úsáid na teanga sin. B'fhéidir nach bhfeicimid cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá an cheist seo sa Tionól ag an am seo nuair nach bhfuil sé ag teacht le chéile go rialta. Ach, má thagaimid a fhad le gnáthobair an Tionóil seo, abair go bhfuil Teachta éigin ag cur ceiste ar Aire, is ábhar buartha a bheas ann ag an phointe sin má chaithfidh an tAire socrú cé acu leathfhreagra a thabhairt, nó freagra iomlán a thabhairt sa teanga ina bhfuil sé ag labhairt nó freagra a thabhairt sa teanga ina gcuireadh an cheist. Mar sin, tá an cheist seo tábhachtach agus caithfimid í a phlé.

I want to come back to the question of the use of the language. I concur with the remarks made by Mr McElduff, Mr Molloy and Ms Rodgers.

The European Charter makes it clear that it is not enough to give someone the right - or to say that someone has the right - to use a language if that person is not given the opportunity to use that language in the course of his or her ordinary work and dealings with others. It is not enough to say "Yes, you have the right to use a language, but I will place barriers in the way of your using it".

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Members should try to observe the courtesy of listening whilst others are speaking.

Mrs de Brún:

The impact of this issue on the work of the Assembly may not yet have become clear, as the Assembly has not met very often, but it will when the Assembly gets down to what everybody sees as its everyday work. For example, if a member asks a Minister a question, the Minister will have the difficult task of deciding whether to give half an answer because there is not enough time to do otherwise, or to give a complete answer because the facilities are available to do so.

There are points that we need to be clear about now; we need to see that this is a serious issue. It is not simply a matter of saying "You may speak in the language of your choice, but if that impacts badly on the business of the Assembly, then that is your problem. It is not the Assembly's problem, and we do not have to deal with it". We need to be very aware of this.

Mr P Robinson:

The Assembly should be indebted to the Committee for the vast range of topics - 38 - covered in this report.

The Committee has been put in a very difficult position. This Assembly must be the first elected body that has been asked to draft its Standing Orders before the underpinning legislation has been made. We are in the unique situation of having to hold back and wait for the legislation to pass through the House of Lords and back to the House of Commons before our own Standing Orders can be finalised. Nonetheless, a number of other issues need to be dealt with.

I am sure that many Members will be seeking to have embedded in Standing Orders a recognition that is observed in every elected body, namely that the national flag is flown on the building in which the elected body meets when it is in session. That provision should be in Standing Orders, and I am sure it will be top of the Joint Chairmen's agenda.

As far as this morning's debate is concerned, and on the foot of comments made by Ms Rodgers, Members may choose to speak whatever language they wish, but if one can speak a language that everybody in the Chamber can understand I think it is something of a discourtesy to choose to speak a different one. However it will be up to the Assembly to decide whether to use its funds to employ a dozen or so translators to translate the many different languages that could be used in this Chamber.

It is a political issue. It is a show language, and Nationalists believe that they have to beat their chests and show that they are putting forward this aspect of their culture. These people do not use the Irish language in Committees, it is only when they come under the public gaze that they decide to use it.

Mr McElduff:

It is used in Committee.

Mr P Robinson:

I do not give way to Sinn Fein.

I am a member of two Committees and Irish has never been used in either of them. My colleagues have never heard it used in other Committees. People use Irish only when they are under the gaze of the television cameras or the press. It is not needed, so why should we spend money on facilitating it.

Mr C Wilson:

I agree with Mr Robinson. At the first meeting of the Assembly in this building, I said that the issue of the Irish language was cosmetic and that providing for it would be a costly exercise and the bill would have to be picked up by the taxpayers.

The comments by Alderman Robinson that this is purely for the Press are absolutely true. It is an attempt by Mr Adams and his cohorts in Sinn Fein to steady the nerve of those in the Republican family who have great difficulty with the concept of the Leader of IRA/Sinn Fein, Mr Adams, being in this building.

This was confirmed in a recent programme in which many Republicans said that Mr Adams and those with whom he associates and apologises for within the Sinn Fein/IRA movement, bombed, mutilated and murdered many thousands of people in this province simply to take up their seats in an Administration at Stormont.

That is why the Irish language is being used as a political football. It is being abused, not by the Unionist community who have no difficulty with people speaking it for genuine reasons, but by those who use it in this Chamber simply to emphasise the fact that Sinn Fein/IRA intend to make other Members feel uncomfortable.

I do not care how long Mr Adams and his cohorts wish to use the Irish language. I object to the waste of public money and the waste of the Assembly's time. The issue poses serious questions for the Assembly, and for the Committee. If a translation service has to be provided for the Chamber, will it also have to be provided for Committees and for all the transitional programmes that are being organised in relation to the work of the Assembly? As Alderman Robinson has said, that would be farcical.

I have never heard any member of Sinn Fein speak in Irish in any of the Committees upon which I have served, or in any of the transitional programmes that we have held throughout the province. Sinn Fein is attempting to bring a political matter into this Chamber, and it is a disgrace that we are wasting time on this issue when the real issue of the exclusion of gunmen and gangsters from the Chamber should be before the House.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I do not presume to tell you how to conduct Assembly business, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, because you are most competent at that, but I must protest in the strongest terms about the conduct of some of the male Members. It is nothing less than disorderly. I presume that there is provision within the Standing Orders to deal with disorderly conduct by Members. There has not been proper debate or comment, but there has been sexist abuse of female Members.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. When did you allow disorderly conduct and sexist attacks? If you allowed such conduct, you would be out of order.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

That would be correct, Dr Paisley. There has been some robust debate, although in some of the other places I have attended, debate has been a great deal more robust and was not considered out of order. However, I remind the House that on a number of occasions I called for more courtesy and respect. I hope that Members will take that seriously.

Mrs Nelis:

A Chathaoirligh, you are being careful with your words, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, if you call what happened in this Chamber "robust debate". I reiterate that it was nothing short of abuse.

The Good Friday Agreement, for those who have obviously not read it, pledges parties to affirm mutual respect and equal rights and the right of full and equal political participation to women. That includes the right to speak, the right to be listened to and the right to express opinions. We have seen and heard in the debate Members who do not understand the principle of mutual respect. The Good Friday Agreement is specific on this issue of rights. It affirms respect for the identity and ethos of Members, and equality of treatment. [Interruption]

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Order. Members should not hold conversations in the Chamber. They should be conducted behind the Chair or in the corridors, as is the practice elsewhere.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. Women Members are not afforded equality of treatment during debate and I acknowledge, a Chathaoirligh, that you tried several times to bring unruly Members to order. You have an obligation, under the terms of the Agreement under Standing Orders, to ensure equality in the Chamber.

During this morning's business, the young people in the Strangers' Gallery will not have been impressed by the disorderly conduct and downright bad manners of the male Members of the Democratic Unionist Party. They should apologise to Assembly Members Bairbre de Brún and Bríd Rodgers for such boorish and sexist behaviour. Such conduct demeans the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and the authority of yourself a Chathaoirligh. Go raibh míle maith agat.


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