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King addresses Senedd to mark anniversary of devolution

11 Jul 2024 8 minute read
King Charles III is greeted by the First Minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething, and Llywydd of the Senedd, Elin Jones, upon his arrival at the Senedd in Cardiff to mark its 25th anniversary. Image: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Chris Haines ICNN Senedd reporter

King Charles III addressed the Welsh Parliament on a visit to celebrate 25 years since the then-National Assembly for Wales was established in 1999.

His Majesty said: “I’m so delighted to join you today as we mark this significant milestone in our history – the 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution.

“It is a milestone on a journey which it has been my privilege, all my life, to share with you during times that have seen great change, profound sorrow and tremendous achievement.

“Through it all my respect and affection for the people of this ancient land have deepened with every passing year.”

Speaking in Welsh, which he learned at Aberystwyth University ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales, he said: “It is a privilege to share your love for this very special nation.”

‘Distinct voice’

The King said it has given him great pleasure to see the bond continue, with the Prince returning to Ynys Mon this week – “a place which I know means so much to him”.

He told the debating chamber or Siambr: “It is with countless special memories and particular pride that I join you as we reflect on the past quarter century of the history we have shared, which you in your work in this Senedd have the great responsibility of making.

“In 1999, when the National Assembly was established, we could not know what lay ahead but we trusted that the common desire for the welfare of the people of Wales would be the surest guide for those who would create, shape and develop this new national institution.”

King Charles III and Queen Camilla at the Senedd. Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

“Looking back … I hope you can feel a real sense of pride in the respect that has been earned and in the contribution that has been made to the lives of so many.

“Welsh minds have indeed been directed to Welsh matters and the distinct voice of Wales is heard with clarity and purpose.

“We look back at the journey so far and we look forward to the journey yet to come.”

‘Unique mosaic’

Looking to the Plaid Cymru benches in the Siambr, the Kind said: “Now, of course, a parliament would not be worthy of the name were there not differences of opinion.

“But it is a tribute to that spirit of community – so evident to all who love Wales, as we do – that this has been managed with an inclusivity the very shape of this chamber symbolises.”

His Majesty described Wales as a “unique mosaic of places, landscapes and cultures”.

Turning back to Welsh, he said: “It is wonderful to see that the Senedd uses the Welsh language so often – not just as a symbolic act but as its foundation.

“The greatest honour is its use.”

The 25th anniversary coincides with the passing of a law which will see the Senedd expanded from 60 to 96 members elected under a new voting system from 2026.

‘Threatened’

King Charles said the Senedd has become more than a symbol over the past 25 years: “It has become essential to the life of Wales.

“And as we look back … I offer you heartfelt congratulations on all you have achieved.

“We now look forward to the tasks that we face in the next quarter century – not least the challenge we all share as inhabitants of this threatened planet.

“A challenge which I know you are seeking to meet with energy and determination.

“A great milestone has been reached: there are many more ahead: but you do not travel alone. The strength, resilience and aspiration of the Welsh people will help to sustain you.

“You take with you the goodwill and support of all who have the interests of Wales at heart – they will be equal to any task.

“With those interests in mind, I pray that in the years to come you will achieve even more – overcome even more challenges and find even more causes for celebration.

‘Pioneering’

Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, is one of a few remaining members of “class of ‘99” who have served for the full 25 years since the then-National Assembly was set up.

Ms Jones said: “We’d come to build Wales and change the world but, as with life, we were soon deflated by the mundane and sometimes bizarre – nothing more so than our annual scrutiny of the potatoes originating in Egypt regulations.

“Those early years demonstrated the inadequacy of our powers and the aspiration to do more. The people of Wales in 2011, by referendum, supported granting primary law-making powers to the Senedd.

“And we have been pioneering and ambitious in the use of those powers…. we’ve been innovative in how we do our politics, with coalitions, co-operation and joint working.”

The speaker quoted Steffan Lewis – her Plaid Cymru colleague who died in 2019 – who urged Senedd members to “always say what you believe and believe what you say”.

In closing, Ms Jones said. “The class of ’99 and the class of today will come and go.

“In our time of service we are merely custodians, as this Senedd is in the permanent and precious ownership of the people of Wales.”

‘Welsh minds’

Vaughan Gething told the Senedd 1999 feels like a lifetime ago and he was still a student about to graduate from Aberystwyth University.

King Charles III is greeted by members of the public after his visit to the Senedd in Cardiff to mark its 25th anniversary. Image: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Wales’ first minister said: “While I was sitting my final exams, another former student of that great Welsh university – another former resident of Pantycelyn hall of residence – was addressing the first National Assembly.

“Your majesty told members: in the Assembly the voice of Wales will have its authentic and vigorous expression, in ways not possible before Welsh minds will be directed to Welsh matters. Indeed, this was the very aim of devolution then as it is now.”

Mr Gething said devolution has evolved into an established part of the constitutional fabric of the UK over the past quarter of a century.

The first minister said Queen Elizabeth told the Senedd in 2003 that it is vital to the health – both of the UK and Wales – that democratic institutions flourish and adapt.

‘What next’

“And adapt we have,” said Mr Gething, pointing to the move to law-making powers and the introduction of the first Welsh taxes in 800 years as examples.

First Minister Vaughan Gething at a recycling centre

Looking to the future, he said: “Yma o hyd [still here] is not enough. Beth nesa and what is next must always be our mission.”

Europe’s first black leader told the Siambr part of the challenge is to ensure institutions reflect and represent all the communities of Wales.

He said: “As a black person and leader of my country, I know the responsibility I have to open doors for people who look like me to have the same opportunity to serve.”

In closing, the former lawyer said: “As we move to the next chapter in the history of devolution, I hope those of us here today will continue … to discharge our responsibility to improve the lives that it is our privilege to serve.

‘Beating heart’

Andrew RT Davies, leader of Conservative opposition, said the Senedd has grown into a mature and developed parliament that the people of Wales are proud of.

Mr Davies told the chamber: “Ultimately, this institution over the past 25 years, has endeared itself to the fabric and make-up of Wales.”

He said: “It is a huge privilege for me to stand here as leader of the Conservative group.

“25 years ago I was milking cows – 27 years ago when the referendum took place, I did not vote for the establishment of this place because I was not interested in politics at that time.

“But I fully agree that this institution, this parliament is now where the beating heart of Welsh democracy lies … let’s develop a democracy here in Wales we can all be proud of.”

‘Electrifying’

Rhun ap Iorwerth echoed the King’s words on the opening of the National Assembly in 1999: “This body is the modern expression of the spirit of Wales which has flourished through the centuries like a grand and sturdy tree.”

The Plaid Cymru leader, who was a political journalist at the time, described the the spirit of hope and sense of confidence in 1999 as electrifying

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “We must always sow new ideas and harvest change that makes a positive difference and genuine difference to the lives of our citizens.”

“In two years’ time this will become an even stronger, fairer parliament – more representative and more able to meet our citizens’ aspirations for the future.

“As we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond, I hope we can all resolve to pursue those aspirations and continue to nurture our Senedd – our democracy – in a way that is truly worthy of the people of Wales.”


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2 days ago

Gething says devolution feels like a lifetime away! It was 25 years is a generation of children born then are now taxpayers but we are still waiting for independence that was the idea back then, there’s no rush just stay as we are for the next 25 years.

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