The Irish language has been spoken in the home of the British government for the first time in more than 100 years – and it was a British politician who came out with the ‘cupla focal’.
Liz Saville-Roberts is Member of Parliament for the Welsh party Plaid Cymru. She was speaking in the House of Commons on the need for an Irish Language Act.
The issue is important because the failure of leading parties to agree on the introduction of the Act is one of the main reasons for the political stalemate in Northern Ireland and the deadlock in its Stormont assembly.
Ms Saville-Roberts began her speech in Irish. “Is cearta daonna iad cearta teanga agus tá cothrom na féinne tuilte ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge.”
She then added this translation: “Language rights are human rights and the Irish speaking community are entitled to equality.”
The speech was directed at the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, urging her to uphold the government’s commitment to introduce the Act and support the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
She said: “The British government pledged to introduce an Irish language act based on the experiences of Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
“Will the minister uphold this commitment by introducing an Irish language act if power sharing institutions are not restored within six months?”
Ms Bradley said she supported “statutory underpinning” for other indigenous languages, but beyond that it was a matter for the Stormont Assembly.
Her reluctance to give any greater commitment may have something to do with her admission in September that she didn’t know much about Northern Ireland when she was appointed earlier this year.
She said: “I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland.”
“I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa. So, the parties fight for election within their own community.
“Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities.”
Ms Saville-Roberts was the first person to speak Irish in the British parliament since before independence in 1901, when Ireland sent MPs to the House of Commons. West Kerry MP Thomas O’Donnell used Irish in his maiden speech. It did not go down well with his English colleagues who booed and berated him.
Called on the UK Government to uphold its commitment to introduce an Irish Language Act if power-sharing institutions are not restored within six months.
— Liz Saville Roberts AS/MP (@LSRPlaid) October 24, 2018