Tory MP arguing for Irish language bill says he’s missing part of his identity as he wasn’t taught in Welsh
A Conservative MP arguing for an Irish language bill has said that he is missing part of his identity as he wasn’t taught in Welsh.
Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, appealed to the DUP to halt their criticism of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill.
He said that suggestions that ministers awere “kowtowing” to a “Sinn Fein agenda” were wrong, and that protecting the Irish language in Northern Ireland was a non-partisan issue.
“I am a Welshman who attended a Welsh high school, but at a time when South Glamorgan County Council said that Welsh was a dying language,” the North Dorset MP said. “We learned it for a year and it was dropped.
“When I return to Wales, which has seen a renaissance of the Welsh language, I feel I wish I could take part in those conversations. I feel like a piece of my cultural jigsaw is missing. We don’t have to be, if you are a unionist, uniform.
“Part of the great strength of our United Kingdom are the cultures, the language, the music, the literature, the poetry, all of those things which makes us such a strong and attractive geopolitical force in the world.”
He added: “I have suffered those sorts of brickbats from some of the opposite benches over the time I have chaired the committee: unfair and untrue.
“I just say very politely to [Jim Shannon] it has got to stop. This is the New Decade, New Approach. We are trying to move things forward. The Government is trying to move things forward with fairness and equity, respect and support.”
The DUP had urged the Government to think again on the Bill, and called on ministers to back its amendment aimed at giving more powers to the proposed Ulster Scots commissioner.
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) told the Commons: “It is plain to see that the Ulster British commissioner will make far less demands for its community and be of far less value for its community that the Irish language commissioner.
“In context for this Government, it will seek to make things even more unequal by not even requiring public authorities to have regard to the Ulster Scots commissioner. It really does beggar belief.
“I don’t know what the minister is going to say at the end, but I tell you something: it is going to have to be something pretty good.”
He added: “What has Northern Ireland’s unionism done to so upset this Government that it sees fit to treat us this way?
“First, we have a prime minister – well, the prime minister has changed – who comes to Northern Ireland and promises there will be no border down the Irish Sea and then goes home and imposes a border down the Irish Sea.
“Then the way they have treated us through the Ulster Scots commissioner. I conclude with this, it is very hard not to draw very painful conclusions here today. I say that with great sadness in my heart… but the legislation today is here to punish us.”
Intervening during Mr Shannon’s speech, DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said: “It’s unfortunate that when ministers are appointed to Northern Ireland, they seem to accept the default position of the Northern Ireland Office, which seems to be an extension of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Ireland and the default voice for Sinn Fein.”
Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker rejected the claim, saying: “I just want to reassure them on a slightly lighter note that while they’re accusing us of being a wing of Sinn Fein, I can absolutely assure them that Sinn Fein are perfectly content to tell me that we pander too much to the DUP.
“I’m grateful to the honourable gentleman (Colum Eastwood) at the back of the chamber saying yes, we do pander too much to the DUP.
“So I suspect that what this Government is actually doing, (what) it does at the moment, is a job that’s about right, doing as we are something which seems to offend all quarters.”
The SDLP wants to place legislation on a “rights-based” footing because in Northern Ireland there are people who “may be hostile to the cultural expression of others”.
Speaking in support of her party’s amendments to the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill, Claire Hanna, MP for Belfast South, said they would “bring the legislation into line with international human rights standards and the drafted legislation that was worked on between the parties prior to New Decade, New Approach”.
She added: “Unfortunately, we know in Northern Ireland there are people of various political hues who may be hostile to the cultural expression of others.
“And this seeks to place it on a rights-based footing because, in the same way as there isn’t a right not to be offended, there isn’t really a right not to have other people speak a language that you don’t support around you.”
DUP MP Carla Lockhart however suggested the Bill could be a “foundation for division, for mistrust and agitation”.
The MP for Upper Bann said: “As this Bill stands unamended, this Bill will be rejected by the unionist community. We will do so because the Bill places their Ulster British and Ulster Scots identity on a plinth that sits below that on which Irish language is placed.
“That is not the basis for successful consensus legislation. Instead, it is the foundation for division, for mistrust and agitation.
“The minister must grasp that if the Government is not faithful to its commitments in NDNA (New Decade, New Approach) then this party sees NDNA as dead. He will understand all too well what that means for the restoration of devolved government.
“Our amendments can remedy such a situation ensuing.”
She said the Ulster Scots commissioner role as proposed would be a “toothless tiger” and urged the Government to make the legislation “consistent with NDNA”.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.