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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 3 July, 2020

'Go raibh maith agat': New Alliance MP makes first remarks to the House of Commons in Irish

Stephen Farry said he wanted to “reflect the shared heritage of the language across all the traditions in Northern Ireland”.


THE NEW ALLIANCE MP for North Down used the Irish language as he addressed the House of Commons for the first time today.

Stephen Farry thanked the deputy-speaker as he began his speech during a debate on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

“Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle,” he began.

“Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wanted my first formal comments in this Chamber to be in Irish to reflect the shared heritage of the language across all the traditions in Northern Ireland.”

It’s understood to be the first time a new MP used the language in their opening Commons speech since February 1901.

On that occasion, West Kerry MP Thomas O’Donnell used the language during a provocative speech in which he is understood to have asserted his right to speak in Irish.

According to the transcript from that debate, the speaker rebuked the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for speaking in Irish.

“The honourable Member is proposing to address the House in a language with which I am not familiar, but which I presume is Irish, and he will not be in order in doing so,” the speaker said. “It is an unknown practice in this House, and I must ask the hon. ​ Member to address the House in English.”

Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond then interjected on O’Donnell’s behalf, but the speaker did not give in. 

The Irish language was also used last year by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts as she called on Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley to implement an Irish Language Act.

She urged Bradley to introduce the act if the Northern Ireland executive is not restored within six months, following the collapse of the power-sharing government at Stormont in January 2017.

“Is cearta daonna iad cearta teanga agus tá cothrom na féinne tuilte ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge [Language rights are human rights and the Irish-speaking community are entitled to equality],” she said.

Farry was elected in last week’s general election, winning out over the DUP candidate by a majority of almost 3,000.

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Sean Murray

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