Around £18,000 is spent each year translating MLAs’ contributions in chamber for the speaker, as well as translating the small sections in Hansard, the official report of Assembly proceedings, from Irish into English.
That figure fell to just under £10,000 for the 2016/17 financial year due to the collapse of the Assembly in January.
The Assembly Commission also spent £1,387 translating a leaflet relating to tours of Stormont in 2014/15 into 11 languages, including Polish, Lithuanian, Irish, Portuguese, Slovak, Mandarin, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Ulster-Scots.
A spokesperson for the Assembly told the News Letter that the costs related to a “limited interpretation service” provided to the speaker and clerks, as well as for Hansard.
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The revelation emerged following an Assembly Question asked by Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen, who branded the service a “complete waste of taxpayers’ money”.
He told the News Letter: “While I acknowledge that £18,000 a year is not a vast amount of money in the grand scheme of things, the reality is that this is money that is being spent for the sake of it, when it could be channelled elsewhere.
“I have the utmost respect for MLAs who chose to speak and use Irish in their daily lives, but this is a matter of cost effectiveness.
“The overwhelming majority of MLAs cannot speak or read Irish. So would this money not be much better spent on ways that would benefit a much wider section of society?
“People are struggling to eat and having benefits taken off them. We are always hearing that people should live within their means, and we as elected representatives have a responsibility to constantly evaluate how we are spending public money.”
An Assembly spokesperson said the translation service is provided by one permanent member of staff and one agency worker, adding:“The permanent member of staff is not employed full-time on interpreting/translation and reporting services, and is employed mainly on other functions. The agency worker is engaged only to provide services in respect of interpreting/translating and reporting Irish.”
SDLP MLA John Dallat, has defended the costs involved in the translation service.
He said: “It is a paltry sum of money when you look at the bigger picture and it is an important service, which some of my party colleagues make use of.
“The Assembly was set up to respect the language and culture of two communities in Northern Ireland.
“I am disappointed by the remarks of Mr Allen. Unionists need to learn from the mistakes some of them made in the past in terms of disrespecting the Irish language.”
In 2014, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell was barred from speaking in the Assembly for one day after he mocked the Irish language by starting his address with: “Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer.”