Gregory Campbell spends day of Assembly ban at Westminster

A senior MLA has been reprimanded for allegedly undermining the dignity of the Assembly with a “humourless” parody of the Irish language.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell was barred from addressing Assembly for the day after failing to apologise for controversial remarks made yesterday.

However, the censorship has had little impact as Mr Campbell, who is also an MP, was at Westminster yesterday so would not have been at Stormont anyway.

The one-day ban contrasts to a month-long ban handed down to the TUV leader Jim Allister last month after he clashed with deputy speaker Roy Beggs over inquests into the Kingsmills Massacre.

The latest row erupted when Mr Campbell began a question in the chamber with: “Curry my yoghurt can coca coal yer.”

The Irish sentence “go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” translates as “thank you, Speaker” and is used by many nationalist MLAs in the chamber.

The Assembly’s principal speaker, Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin, said Mr Campbell’s conduct “fell well short” of the expected standards for MLAs. Mr McLaughlin said: “The spirit of mockery was blatant and reflects badly on this house.

“The deputy speakers and I are not prepared to allow such a breach of standards to pass without consequence.

“I am in no doubt, if humour was in the member’s intention, it failed miserably.”

He added: “Had this been a parody of any other language, there would rightly have been objections from a number of quarters. In practice and in the Hansard report his comments came across as ridiculous and clearly undermined the dignity of this House.”

Yesterday, Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the DUP MLA had shown “pure ignorance” and refused to answer the question which followed the remarks.

Ms Ni Chuilin made an official complaint to the Speaker’s office and Sinn Fein also referred Mr Campbell’s remarks to the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission claiming they bordered on being racist.

Mr Campbell said he had raised the issue because he believed Sinn Fein used the Irish language for political reasons. He told the BBC: ”Why do they feel on every occasion, on every topic, that they have to start in Irish. Why?” he asked. “That’s why I did what I did.” He added: “I have nothing to apologise for and I won’t be apologising.”

Yesterday there was a marked increase in the use of Irish at Stormont. Several Sinn Fein MLAs spoke at length in Irish and immediately provided a translation into English, as required under Assembly rules.

And the DUP Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster, raised eyebrows when, less than a day after Mr Campbell’s comment, she ended her appearance before the Enterprise Committee with the Irish words “sin é”, which mean ‘that’s it’.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: “I don’t speak Irish to make a political point or to offend members of the DUP. I speak Irish because I can and because I love the language.

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