Once in a while, I like to have a scan over Hansard, to see how our MLAs are occupying themselves. And, of course, to get a little sample of their wit and wisdom:
Mr Hamilton: Looking at the sparsity of the Chamber, obviously it was not clear enough before the lunch break that I would be speaking —
Mr Deputy Speaker: It was clear.
Mr Hamilton: Oh dear. I am happy to delay, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you want to let in all of the screaming hordes who want to hear my contribution, but I will ably go on.
Mr K Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it possible for the proceedings to continue given the lack of Members in the Chamber? Do we have a quorum?
Mr Deputy Speaker: If, Mr Robinson, you are drawing my attention to the fact that there is not a quorum, I inform you that we can proceed with the business after the bell has been rung to notify other Members that a quorum is required.
We now have a quorum, so Mr Hamilton should proceed.
Mr Hamilton: Ken Robinson’s cunning plan did not work.
Mr Deputy Speaker: It was Baldrick’s plan. [Laughter.]
Mr Hamilton: His attempt to try to silence me has failed.
I am pleased to be able to speak during the Second Stage of the Budget (No. 2) Bill. Coming, as it usually does, a day after a debate on the Supply resolution, there is always some level of difficulty in saying something new or original. However, as you can testify, Mr Deputy Speaker, that has been no impediment to me speaking in the past, and it will not be so today.
Mr Weir: Hear, hear.
Ooh, my aching sides. Move over, Morecambe and Wise.
But what I wanted to take a brief look at was how our multilingual policy works, and this Tuesday last the Assembly provided us with an example or two. Here is an exchange between education minister Caitríona Ruane (PSF, South Down) and Tom Elliott (UCUNF, Fermanagh-South Tyrone):
Mr Elliott asked the Minister of Education what percentage of (a) grammar; and (b) non-grammar schools offer separate sciences (triple award) at GCSE.
The Minister of Education: Sa bhliain acadúil 2007-08 bhí cásanna de dhaltaí i mbliain 12 cláraithe do GCSE sna trí heolaíochtaí leithleacha i 73% de scoileanna gramadaí agus i 2% de scoileanna neamh-ghramadaí. Mar sin de, d’fhéadfaí a rá go bhfuil teastas triarach san eolaíocht á theagasc ag GCSE acu. In 2007-08, 73% of grammar schools and 2% of non-grammar schools had year-12 enrolments in all three separate sciences and, therefore, could be classed as offering triple-award science at GCSE. The data on which my answer is based relates to year-12 pupils who were enrolled in science examination courses. That data did not include any cases in which a school offered a science subject for study but no pupils took up the subject.
And there was rather a lot more of that answer, so let’s skip to the supplementary:
Mr Elliott: That was a very comprehensive reply, although quite a bit of it was in some foreign language that I did not understand. To tell the truth, at times, the Minister makes almost as much sense speaking a language that I do not understand as one that I do.
Is it the Minister’s assessment that grammar schools play a positive role in the strategically important objective of STEM subjects throughout GCSE level?
The Minister of Education: I spoke in two languages: Irish and English. I translated the Irish that I spoke.
As Caitríona is one of the Assembly’s few fluent Gaeilgeoirí, one can perhaps excuse her tetchiness. Especially when even moderate unionists seem to get rubbed up the wrong way by a few words of Irish.
But never mind that. Later on the same day, in a debate on housing, we had a contribution from Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford), who is not a man to be outdone in the linguistic stakes:
Hooiniver, efter thon, hoosin schemes athwart the Province saen waark done bit bae bit tae bring hooses ap tae a guid stannart an’ thon waarked weill ‘til 12 Decemmer 2008 quhan the Hoosin Executive toul the fower contractors at thair wudnae bae onie stairts i Janwerry or Februrie 2009. Es A’hm shair ithers amang ye at waark oan the grun wur, I wus gat oantae bae contractors an’ toul’ quhat wus gaein oan, an’ A wus scunnered at fundin’ wud bae tuk fae a scheme at wus daein the business sae weill.
However, after that, housing estates throughout the Province saw work done in phases to bring homes to a decent standard. That was working well until 12 December 2008, when the Housing Executive notified the four contractors that there would be no new starts in January or February 2009. I was contacted by contractors who told me what was happening, as I am sure were other Members, and I was dismayed that funding was to be taken away from a scheme that is doing the business so effectively.
I take my hat off to that man. Wha’s like us, indeed.