Ex-DUP man: ‘Great deal’ of unhappiness in party when Arlene Foster signed up to Irish translation clause

An MLA who quit the DUP last year has said there was “a great deal of unhappiness” within the party when it agreed to a string of Irish langauge provisions in 2020.

By Adam Kula
Monday, 16th May 2022, 5:02 pm
Alex Easton and Aisling Reilly
Alex Easton and Aisling Reilly

Alex Easton, now an independent MLA for North Down after quitting in protest over 2021’s leadership wrangling, was speaking just as the Stormont Translation Hub begins to come into its own.

The hub was used last week to provide a live translation via headphones of an Irish language speech in the Assembly.

Previously, all MLAs speaking Irish (or Ulster Scots) were required to provide their own translation; now it is done as standard by the Assembly.

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The idea of the hub stems from the New Decade New Approach deal.

It was struck in January 2020 as a way to end the three-year-long Sinn Fein boycott of the Assembly, and get the party back into government with the DUP.

Among a number of provisions (including the creation of an Irish language commissioner) the deal said: “The Assembly’s Standing Orders will also be amended to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly committee through Irish or Ulster Scots.

“A simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage.”

Arlene Foster was the DUP leader at the time of the New Decade New Approach deal, and Mr Easton recalled that “certainly at the time I’d have sensed there was a great deal of unhappiness – there certainly was unease within the ranks as it were”.

He told the News Letter: “People couldn’t understand why it was needed, because everybody speaks English – and that’s not being rude to people who speak the Irish language... but the party decided it was the way to go.

“I just think it’s going to be one terrible big waste of money.

“I’d rather money go on health, education, roads, cost of living.”

The firmest figure the News Letter could find relating to the ongoing cost of the hub is in last December’s draft Executive’s 2022-25 budget, which stated that it was going to be funded to the tune of about £300,000 per year via the Department for Communities.

The hub was apparently brought into being sometime last summer, but has now hit the headlines thanks to a Stormont debate last week.

On Friday new West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Aisling Reilly delivered an address in Irish – believed to be the first time a full-length speech had been delivered solely in that language in the Assembly.

Assembly speaker Alex Maskey told MLAs: “From here on in, people should expect Miss Reilly in particular to speak often in the Irish language. It will be her choice, of course, when she does that.

“That requires respect from others who do not have an understanding of the Irish language or, indeed, Ulster Scots, and they should use the headphones if they want instantaneous interpretation.”

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