Our multilingual Assembly


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.


  1. ejh said,

    June 25, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Daein the business should surely be translated as some phrase such as “carrying out its work” rather than the literalism “doing the business” which is rather too demotic for a formal occasion. I mean no criticism, for no doubt the gentleman is more comfortable employing his native tongue than he is speaking English.

  2. Phil said,

    June 25, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    “some foreign language that I did not understand” – what wags they are, to be sure. Quhat whags they urr, tae be shurr (will this do?)

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 25, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    A think yis are takin the haun.

  4. Liam said,

    June 25, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Has anyone had the grace to admit to being ashamed to be part of this circus?

  5. jamie said,

    June 25, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    No nade be sneeped mar mate, sir dunner werrit. May, ar lark a birra deealect. Ar could dow eet ow dee.

  6. skidmarx said,

    June 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    The scheme done good,Brian.

  7. Brigada Flores Magon said,

    June 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Scots is fairly frequently used at Holyrood [the SNP Culture Minister speaks Gaelic, his wife being from the Western Isles and he having learned it as a result]. It’s also used on BBC Radio Scotland. Some years back one of their presenters on a news programme was discussing with the BBC’s Westminster reporter the likely future [nil, as it seemed] of Geoff Hoon. The Westminster guy was bringing out all sorts of reasons for Hoon’s survival when the lassie said ‘But surely his jacket’s on a shoogly nail?’ Silence ensued.

  8. June 30, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    reminds me of a debate in the German Bundestag (~ 1992) about the protection of the Low German (which probably around 5-15% of the MPs understood), many Northern German MPs spoke at least partly Low German in this session; than Angela Stachowa of the PDS gave a speach in her native Language … nearly nobody understood what she said but she got much more applause than normally an MP of the PDS got

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