CLAIM: The first time the Irish language was spoken in the House of Commons was 24 October 2018.
CONCLUSION: False. There is an official record (Hansard) of Irish spoken in the House of Commons, by Thomas O’Donnell MP, on 19 February 1901. Also, Mark Durkan MP spoke Irish in the House as recently as 17 January 2017.
Before asking her question to Karen Bradley MP (Conservative), about the introduction of an Irish language Act , Welsh MP Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru) spoke a sentence in Irish language during the debate about the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill on 24 October 2018:
“Is cearta daonna iad cearta teanga agus tá cothrom na féinne tuilte ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge.”
Roberts provided an interpretation to the House at the time:
“Language rights are human rights and the Irish speakers of Ireland deserve fair play.”
Roberts tweeted that she understood that “this is the first time the Irish language has been spoken in the @HouseofCommons chamber.”
Thomas O’Donnell MP
During O’Donnell’s speech, the Speaker interrupted and told him that he “cannot allow him to address the House in any other language but English”. There did not exist any precedent concerning language in parliament, but according to the Speaker no speeches had been given in a language other than English before. He then declared it as a rule of the House. He stated you can use words and quotations in another language in the course of a speech, but not the speech itself.
Later that year, on 21 May, O’Donnell read out loud a letter in the Irish language in parliament.
Mark Durkan MP
Much more recently, former MP Mark Durkan (SDLP) spoke the Irish language on a couple occasions in the House of Commons.
On 21 July 2015, he gave Scottish parliamentarian Angus Brendan MacNeil MP (SNP) his birthday wishes in Irish:
“… May I say to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) breithlá sona dó? Go maire sé on lá.” MacNeil on his turn thanked him, in Irish as well as Scots Gaelic (“Thank you very much”): “Go raibh míle maith agat agus mòran taing.”
(This reference was provided by FactCheckNI to the SDLP press office and was subsequently reflected in amended version of the above Irish Times article.)
On 17 January 2017, Durkan spoke the Irish language when expressing his condolences (video) after the death of the former Foreign Affairs secretary general Dermot Gallagher (“May his soul be on the right hand of God.”/”God rest his soul.”): “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”
Ulster-Scots in the House
Apart from the Irish language, the 1999 North/South Co-operation Order calls for the promotion of Ulster-Scots in Northern Ireland. This language too had been spoken in the House of Commons. Jim Shannon MP (DUP) spoke Ulster-Scots during his maiden speech on 8 June 2010:
“Thaur is monies a guid thang at A cud sae aboot tha fowk o mi Baille-Wick bot yince an firmaist A coont it a muckle oaner tae spake oot oan thair ahauf in tha Hoose O Commons. Tha Strengfird fowk ir tha satt o tha grun, an in thenkin thaim fer thair support A wud promis thaim at A’ll wrocht an dae fer thaim aa at A caun.”
Shannon provided the House with an interpretation:
“There are many good things that I could say about the people of my constituency, and first of all is that it is a great honour to speak on their behalf in the House of Commons. The Strangford people are the salt of the earth and in thanking them for their support, I also assure them that I shall work and do for them the best I can.”
While English is “the language of the House”, other languages have been spoken in the House of Commons, whether as a few words or sentences as well as in quoting others. The Irish language has been spoken in the House of Commons since 1901, indeed within the last two years by Mark Durkan MP. Likewise, Northern Ireland MP Jim Shannon spoke Ulster-Scots in the House in 2010.
Featured image source: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/46040f11-6f61-4a99-b9a5-43874a1298e0?in=13:22:17