Political news

Irish spoken in House of Commons debate 'for first time since partition'

A packed House of Commons

IRISH has been spoken during a House of Commons debate for the first time since partition.

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts spoke a sentence in Irish during yesterday's debate on a Northern Ireland bill which will give the parties up to 10 months to restore power-sharing.

The MP called on the British government to introduce an Irish language act if the devolved institutions are not restored within six months.

"Language rights are human rights and the Irish speaking community are entitled to equality," she said in Irish.

The MP said she understood it was the first time Irish had been spoken in the chamber.

Historian and Irish News columnist Dr Éamon Phoenix said the language had not been heard in the commons for around a century.

"Some nationalist MPs would have spoken Irish for propaganda reasons during the early 1900s," he said.

"Thomas O'Donnell, a nationalist MP for West Kerry, spoke Irish in the chamber during the Gaelic Revival.

"But certainly this is the first time Irish has been spoken since partition (in 1921)."

Mr O'Donnell began his 1901 maiden speech in Irish but was ruled out of order.

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts spoke Irish in the House of Commons yesterday

Dr Phoenix said many nationalist MPs, including John Redmond, John Dillon and Joe Devlin, were supporters of the language but did not speak it in the commons.

He said it was intriguing that a nationalist MP from outside Ireland was advocating for the Irish language.

"Nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland have tended to focus on their own issues," he said.

Dr Phoenix pointed out it was a native Welsh speaker, former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who was one of the architects of partition.

In 2010, teenager Connor Morgan, from Maghera, Co Derry, spoke Irish during a meeting of the UK Youth Parliament sitting in the commons chamber. The 18-year-old was also the first Sinn Féin member to speak in the commons.

SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell told the commons in 2017 he was tempted to make a speech "as Gaeilge" but decided not to because few people in the chamber would understand him.

Dr Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, said Ms Saville Roberts had spoken to the body about Irish language rights.

"Considering there already exists legislation in Wales and in Scotland, elements of which were both introduced under former Conservative governments, we see no reason why the British government would not act and fulfil their 2006 St Andrews promise through the implementation of an Irish Language Act based on the Welsh and Irish experiences," he said.

:: Historian Jim McDermott is giving a talk on nationalist MP and former Irish News chairman Joe Devlin at Clifton House in north Belfast on October 25. For further details contact 028 90 997022.

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