Significantly more than half a million pounds has been spent since 2009 on translation and interpretation services – mostly into Irish and Ulster Scots. Yet there are precious few people in Northern Ireland who speak Irish who cannot also speak English and surely everyone who speaks the Ulster Scots dialect can understand English.
Can this cost really represent value for money when the health service, schools and the roads service all complain about lack of funds, when welfare benefits are being cut and care homes closed? Where do our priorities lie? Just think what £500,000 could do – actually teach a lot of children to speak Irish, for example.
In fact, MLAs seem to pay too little regard to value for money. Social housing costs more than twice the amount per home in Northern Ireland than it does in England. And our education spending is a sick joke – we have about 85,000 vacant school places, while a third of our post-primary schools would be rated in England as sub-standard.
If our politicians were serious about value for money they would surely get to grips – quickly – with the burden of high costs and poor outcomes. Closing underperforming schools with low school rolls could both cut costs and improve education standards. And transferring Housing Executive homes to housing associations could cut costs, while attracting high levels of private finance for new home building that would boost the economy.
So spending on translations that few people use is just part of a wider problem. Spending taxpayers’ money carefully is not, it seems, MLAs’ major concern.
In truth, translating and interpreting English into Irish and Ulster Scots is less about meeting a need than creating a sense of wider inclusivity in our society. Yet there are, surely, better ways of achieving that. Greater support for shared housing and integrated education would affect far more people and have a much bigger impact than translating a few leaflets and interpreting some Assembly sessions.
It seems, though, that few people in Stormont are willing to listen to the evidence – whichever language it is presented in.