Northern Ireland news

MLA hits out at delay in accepting Stormont questions in Irish

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone. Picture by Mark Marlow
Brendan Hughes

AN IRISH-speaking MLA has hit out at delays in the assembly determining whether to accept questions being tabled as Gaeilge.

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone submitted in Irish two assembly questions back in May, but was told by officials they can only be tabled in English.

He raised the issue with the office of the Speaker, Alex Maskey, and assembly staff prepared a submission which was sent to the Sinn Féin MLA in late June.

However, there have been no developments since then.

Mr McGlone described it as "frustrating and deeply troubling".

The Mid Ulster MLA said: "I sought an urgent ruling from the Speaker on this matter but regrettably, there has been no further update.

"For a party that talks often of the Irish language, it is frustrating and deeply troubling that the Assembly Speaker, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, has repeatedly stalled on this matter.

"If Mr Maskey refuses to accommodate me conducting assembly business as Gaeilge, it begs the question, are Sinn Féin serious about promotion of the Irish language or just paying lip service?"

In an email to Mr McGlone in May, officials said a long-standing Speaker's ruling from 2007 requires assembly questions to be tabled in English.

They said advice was prepared and on June 29, confirmed that a "submission has been sent to the Speaker on this issue".

Provisions for the Irish language, amid calls for an Irish language act, were a key part of the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored devolved government in January.

However, the issue and many other pledges in the deal have since been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

An assembly spokeswoman said the focus has been on managing assembly business amid Covid-19, but the Speaker hopes to progress this Irish-language query "as soon as possible".

"The Speaker is fully aware of the importance of implementing the 'New Decade, New Approach' agreement," she said.

"The provisions relating to the conduct of assembly business in other languages are not an issue for the Speaker alone and require the involvement of a number of stakeholders to ensure that all of the decisions, procedures and resources are in place.

"Throughout recent months, priority has been given to managing assembly business in the context of Covid-19 as agreed with all parties.

"However, with the assembly beginning to return to normal business this month, the Speaker has again had discussions with officials on this matter in recent weeks and further discussions are planned to seek to make progress as soon as possible."

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