MLAs consider spending £150,000 a year to translate themselves from Irish and Ulster Scots – but Ulster Scots hasn’t been spoken there in years

The Assembly is considering the expenditure of about £150,000 a year to provide live translation of Irish and Ulster Scots words spoken by MLAs – even though no one has spoken Ulster Scots there for years.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 8:21 am
Translating MLAs’ Irish or Ulster Scots will come with a hefty bill. Photo: Kelvin Boyes/ Pool/Getty

Yesterday Simon Burrowes, the Hansard editor of debates, told the Assembly’s committee on procedures that the salaries for interpreters to provide the service could be in the region of £150,000 a year.

However, if a fancier form of translation is wanted by MLAs – whereby every word spoken in the Assembly is translated live into Irish and Ulster Scots – that could cost taxpayers half a million pounds a year, he said.

Mr Burrowes explained that  simultaneous translation means the “interpreter speaks at much the same time as the person talking in the meeting”.

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Until now, MLAs who speak Irish or Ulster Scots must provide their own immediate translation in the chamber.

MLAs must decide whether every word spoken in the chamber – whether in English, Irish or Ulster Scots – is translated into the other languages, or just whether words in Irish or Ulster Scots are translated into English.

He said that the Dail and Welsh Assembly decide “pointless spending extra money translating English into [Irish or] Welsh because everyone can understand English”.

He said last time the Assembly had tried to recruit someone for Ulster Scots translation was 12 years ago and “it wasn’t satisfactory – we didn’t get anybody”.

MLAs are examining the issue because of a commitment made in last January’s New Decade, New Approach agreement, the deal which saw devolution restored.

It 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.”

The Assembly’s head of communications, Susie Brown, said that the infrastructure costs for the project would be about £43,000.

That, she said, did not include the cost of headsets for MLAs, something she said would involve a “relatively low” sum.

Mr Burrowes said: “Ulster Scots has not been spoken in the Assembly since Jim Shannon left, frankly, except for the odd expression”.

Mr Shannon left the Assembly 11 years ago.

Mr Burrowes added that although staff were required to provide interpretation at present, “one day this service will be provided by a machine - make no mistake about it”.

The New Decade, New Approach deal also states that a ‘central translation hub’ is to be established in the Department of Finance “in order to provide language translation services for the nine Executive departments, arm’s length bodies, local government and public bodies.

The Irish language act which was at the heart of last January’s deal to restore Stormont has still not been delivered. Two months ago Arlene Foster used two words of Irish – “sin é” (that’s it) t0 signal that the legislation was coming, but it has still not appeared.

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