Rights NGOs, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and Conradh na Gaelige, have today welcomed the decision by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards, Dr Melissa McCullough, to investigate a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct by Junior Minister Gordon Lyons MLA. The complaint relates to the failure of Mr Lyons to attend a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council’s thematic Language Body in March 2021.
The complaint constitutes the first time the Standards Commissioner has investigated a Minister rather than an MLA. The remit of the Standards Commissioner was extended to cover breaches of the Ministerial Code as a result of the recent private members bill from Jim Allister MLA.
The complaint was lodged on 16 April 2021. The Commissioner for Standards’ decision to investigate was communicated on 14 June 2021 to the Assembly Committee on Standards and Privileges, and the complainants.
The meeting of the Language Body was to have taken place on 31 March 2021 between Mr Lyons; the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA; and the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Jack Chambers TD. In the absence of the Junior Minister, the meeting was cancelled. A second meeting was also later cancelled for the same reason.
Daniel Holder, of CAJ said: “We welcome the decision by the Standards commissioner to investigate this matter. The North South Ministerial Council Language Body meetings are an important forum to progress the language rights of Irish and Ulster Scots speakers.
“I understand the DUP may be unhappy with the consequences of Brexit, but it is clearly unfair to stifle progress for Irish and Ulster Scots speakers on an unrelated issue, there are clear duties under the law and Ministerial Code to participate in the language body.”
Conchúr Ó Muadaigh of Conradh na Gaeilge said, “North-South language sectoral meetings play a significant and central role regarding Foras na Gaeilge, the statutory body tasked with promoting and developing the language. The DUP decision not to attend two of the most recent language sectoral meetings are not only disrespectful to the Irish language community but create further obstacles to the promotion of Irish. This is unacceptable. We now welcome the decision by the Standards Commissioner to investigate our complaint.”
Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator on email@example.com or 075 1994 1203. Conchúr Ó Muadaigh from Conradh na Gaeilge is available for interview.
Notes for editors:
- CAJ is an is an independent human rights organisation with cross community membership, established in 1981, that works to ensure compliance with obligations under international human rights law.
- Conradh na Gaeilge, founded in 1893, is an Irish language non-governmental organisation with extensive links to the community and a core interest in the protection and the promotion of the Irish language.
- The North South Ministerial Council’s Language Body was established further to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Council meets in the language sector in order to take decisions on policies and action to be implemented by the North/South Language Body with its two agencies – Foras na Gaeilge and Tha Boord O Ulstèr-Scotch.
- The Ministerial Code is binding and requires participation in the North-South Ministerial Council meetings with the provision (cb) of the Pledge of Office, committing Ministers to “participate fully…. In the North South Ministerial Council.”
- The remit of the NI Assembly Standards Commissioner was extended by the commencement on the 22 March 2021, (shortly before the cancelled meeting) of provisions in the Section 5 of Functioning of Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2021- a private members bill from Jim Allister MLA which amending s17 Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 to extend the remit of the Commissioner to cover complaints of breach of the Ministerial Code
- The Assembly Committee on Standards and Privileges issued a Direction that came into force on the 14 June 2021 setting out the procedures the Commissioner should follow in such complaints against Ministers (“Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (General Procedures) Direction 2021.”)