Unparliamentary Language: Irish Edition (Sweet Focal)

Image: mikeywally / flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s that most wonderful time of the year with the usual outpourings of peace and goodwill to all (wo)men – no more so than those noble elected representatives of the Irish houses of parliament. Yesterday saw some choice usage of the terms ‘harpies’ and ‘hemorrhoids’ within the Irish Senate, something which met with an uproarious reception. The Irish houses of parliament are no stranger to ‘unparliamentary language’, but the real juicy stuff is perhaps not that well known. And so, for the season that’s in it, I hereby present: Unparliamentary Language (Irish Style) – Part One: Sweet Fuck All – a whistle stop tour of the use of strong language(s) within the official records of the Houses of the Oireachtasi.e Dáil Éireann (Lower Parliament) and Seanad Éireann (The Senate).

Note: Ceann Comhairle, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach are official Irish titles for ‘speaker/deputy speaker’ i.e. the chairperson.

First up, a wonderful and gingerly tentative use of the mild term ‘feck’, which was not uttered as an insult, but rather within a particularly interesting report to a committee concerning the extent to which the people behind a new postcode system were going to in order to avoid any rude words:

Mr. Liam Duggan: We have gone through an exercise to take out rude or offensive and real names. Senator Eamonn Coghlan spoke about the backlash when we launched. With 25 characters in the second block – the unique identifier – the potential number of combinations, when 25 is multiplied by 25 by 25 and by 25, comes to 390,625. Members can believe me when I say that. We have taken out more than 90,000 potentially offensive and rude words, real names and so on. As an exercise, we bought online Scrabble. We looked at all four and three letter words and so on. We had our people based in Maynooth visually go through what was left and some unexpected things showed up when one was looking for words. If there is a “V” beside another, it looks like a “W” and thus can create something else.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: What about something like “IRA”?

Mr. Liam Duggan: That would not be included. There are other things also. I will give an example and ask the Deputy to excuse the example used. If there is an “F” with anything in the next field followed by the letters “CK”, it looks like a word. Therefore, the word “Feck” will not be included. We have engaged in that exercise.

Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Debate – National Postcode System: Discussion (Resumed) – Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Image: erokism / Flickr (CC BY)


Of course, sometimes ‘feck’ is used as a substitute for something stronger, which can then be used to great effect when one is urged not to use it…

Mr. Gogarty: We need a more co-ordinated approach to tourism. If the Minister is watching the monitor or listening or reading the “blacks”, I say to him that our long-term future as a premium tourist destination is being irreparably damaged because of a lack of co-ordination between Departments. I will give some examples. I recently raised the issue of access to land throughout the country. In certain parts of Connacht, the Dingle peninsula, the Gap of Dunloe and other parts of Ireland, locals and tourists are being told to “feck off” by farmers or land owners. I apologise for using that word. I do not know if it is allowed under Standing Orders.

An Ceann Comhairle: I would prefer if the Deputy did not use words he knows are not allowed.

Mr. Gogarty: To “fuck off”. I apologise. [Note: Record actually uses: “f. . . . off”]

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy not to use such derogatory words.

Mr. Gogarty: Certainly. I was just quoting directly from a person in County Kerry who told me what a farmer said to him.

National Tourism Development Authority Bill, 2002 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed). Wednesday, 12 February 2003

Image: infomatique / flickr (CC BY-SA)


The word ‘Feck’ can sometimes be used with reference to popular usage within a certain Irish themed TV programme

Senator Liam Twomey: When listening yesterday to the Budget Statement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, an image came to mind of Frank Kelly who played Fr. Jack in the comedy series “Father Ted”. He was known for using only three words during the course of the programme —“feck,”“arse” and “drink.” This budget should be called the Fr. Jack budget.

Seanad Éireann Debate, Budget 2010 Statements – Thursday, 10 December 2009

Image: jeffdjevdet / Flickr (CC BY)


Speaking of Irish stereotypes…

Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister referred to the deserted wife’s allowance and made an interesting proposal which is worth pursuing. Where a spouse defaults on maintenance the Department would pay the wife — I hope also the husband if it is a case of a deserted husband — and pursue the other spouse for the money. Something should be done about the own volition rule. As things stand the deserted wife has to prove the husband left of his own accord, in other words that she did not tell him to feck off, that she was not going to put up with him any more, that she had enough beatings and enough of his alcoholism or whatever.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I appreciate the verbatim expression but I am not sure if I have already heard it here. I suppose we could say “tell him to get lost”.

Proinsias De Rossa: Perhaps the Chair is right. I do not know. I take the Chair’s word for it. It is not what I have heard expressed. In fact I have expressed it very mildly.

Social Welfare Bill, 1987: Second Stage – Thursday, 2 April 1987

Image: Andrew Huff / Flickr (CC BY-NC)


Of course, when it comes to the strong stuff, the Irish parliament sometimes resembles a classroom with petulant kids trying to get one up on the teacher…

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Is the Minister not deeply concerned that the European Parliament has passed a motion calling for increased military expenditure across Europe, specifically to back a military build-up in the Black Sea? This has been done against a background in which the United States assistant secretary of state for eastern European affairs, Victoria Nuland, used the immortal words “Fuck the EU” in an eavesdropped communication. She was involved in manipulating—-

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, do not use that language.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I was quoting Ms Nuland’s words.

An Ceann Comhairle: I do not care where you quoted from. You are in Parliament and you should behave as if you are in Parliament. That is outrageous language to use in Parliament.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: My apologies.

An Ceann Comhairle: You are not impressing anybody.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I was simply quoting the US assistant secretary of state for eastern Europe.

Foreign Conflicts (Continued) – Dáil Éireann Debate – Thursday, 25 June 2015

Image: Rakka / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)


When it comes to verbatim quotes, the Irish Speaker of the House is certainly not amused…even if it takes him a while to realize what he’s just heard…

Senator Liam Twomey: I was very interested in what Senator O’Donovan said about the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, which has probably done more harm to the fishing industry than any individual enterprise in this country. This view is not a case of making political capital. There was a story in The Irish Skipper which described a number of fishing boats pulling into Dingle Harbour. When the Irish fishing vessels arrived, seven State individuals — five sea fisheries protection officers and two gardaí— went towards them to count practically every fish brought in on those vessels. At the same time three Spanish boats pulled into Dingle, with each boat unloading two articulated truck loads of fish while the officers were standing on the quay. The editor of The Irish Skipper approached the officials and asked if they were going to check the Spanish boats. To quote the editor, he was told: “Fuck off and mind your own business.” That is the quote from our officials when asked if they were going to check the Spanish boats.

(A Little later…)

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Twomey used a word that is unparliamentary and I would appreciate if he would withdraw it.

Senator Liam Twomey: I will withdraw it but that is the word actually used. It is disgraceful that such a word was directed at what appeared to be private citizens making inquiries.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator will withdraw that word.

Senator Liam Twomey: I will withdraw it absolutely. I am sorry.

Fishing Industry: Statements – Seanad Éireann Debate – Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Image: Δpple bed / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)


Indeed, it seems that as long as one immediately withdraws it afterwards, one can say whatever one fucking well likes and get away with it…

Deputy Paul Gogarty: It is necessary because of the wrongdoing of others, wrongdoing I bear no responsibility for.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: What about the big players? What about the wealthy paying their share? Does Deputy Gogarty not think they should pay their share?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Michael Kennedy): I ask Deputy Shortall to please desist.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Bleating and blather.

Deputy Paul Gogarty: I respected the Deputy’s sincerity and I ask him to respect mine.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: The Deputy does not seem very sincere from what he has been saying.

Acting Chairman: Deputy Stagg will have his opportunity in a few minutes.

Deputy Paul Gogarty: With all due respect, in the most unparliamentary language, fuck you Deputy Stagg. Fuck you.

Acting Chairman: Hey. Excuse me, Deputy Gogarty, that is most unparliamentary language.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Excuse me?

Deputy Paul Gogarty: I apologise now for my use of unparliamentary language.

Deputy Róisín Shortal: How dare he.

Acting Chairman: Could the Deputy please withdraw that?

Deputy Paul Gogarty: It is most unparliamentary language and I now withdraw it and apologise for it but I am outraged that someone dares question my sincerity on this issue.

Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages. Friday, 11 December 2009


My favorite example though, is when two languages meet across the centuries…

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: If one gambles, as speculators did for many years, and loses, it is hard luck in most cases. For the hundreds of thousands of people, including me, who gambled by purchasing Eircom shares and suffered the consequences, it was a case of hard luck. I did not cry out for the Government to bail me out at the current market value, which was worth fuck-all at the time.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: The long-term economic value.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: However, the long term economic value——

Deputy Paul Gogarty: (In Irish) An “focal ar bith” a dúirt an Teachta? (‘Did the deputy just say any word’?)

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: (In Irish) Tá brón orm. D’úsáid mé téarma parlaiminte mícheart. (‘I’m sorry. I used an incorrect parliamentary term’).

Deputy Arthur Morgan: The heat of battle.

Deputy Terence Flanagan: (in Irish) Aon fhocal. (‘One word’)

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: (in Irish) Aon fhocal eile. (‘Any other word’)

National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage – Thursday, 5 November 2009

If you don’t understand Irish then you will not appreciate the sheer brilliance at play in that last one. Its both a metaphorical and literal play on ‘words’ across two languages and a cultural reference to a popular local song to boot. You see, the Irish word focal means ‘word’ and is pronounced ‘fuckle’, or perhaps even ‘fuck all’.

Which essentially means that, in the Irish parliament, you can’t say ‘fuck all’ if you’re talking English – but you can say ‘fuck all’ if you mean it in Irish.  And if you focal doodle do, there’s pretty much sweet fuck all anyone can do about it.


Edit: the end of the above exchange takes on a wonderfully subversive subtext as a result. Having been mildly chastised for saying ‘fuck all’ in English, the comments in Irish could also been ‘interpreted’ as follows:

Deputy Paul Gogarty: (In Irish) An “focal ar bith” a dúirt an Teachta? (‘Did the deputy just say any ‘fuck-all’?)

Deputy Terence Flanagan: (in Irish) Aon fhocal. (‘One Fuck-all’)

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: (in Irish) Aon fhocal eile. (‘One more Fuck-all’)


7 thoughts on “Unparliamentary Language: Irish Edition (Sweet Focal)

  1. banivani December 11, 2015 / 12:18 pm

    The Unparliamentary Language series is one of the best things on the internet. 😀 This one was particularly good!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Cowan December 11, 2015 / 2:22 pm

    These instant withdrawals of unparliamentary language remind me of the Jewish habit of saying “May you [have something bad happen to you] — God forbid!” all in one breath. It’s particularly absurd, however, that unparliamentary language cannot be even quoted, particularly in a context that makes it clear that the speaker disapproves of the person they are quoting. Ah well, rigid internal codes entirely rule computers and robots (and Speakers).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pat The Plant December 12, 2015 / 8:08 pm

    The Irish are finally getting postcodes? Well bugger me sideways with a porcupine.

    I am not sure if the UK post office thought to check for risqué postcodes, there being only two pairs of letters at most, except for London. However I do remember a KYx xBJ in Kirkcaldy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • vox hiberionacum December 13, 2015 / 11:52 pm

      Excellent. Considering the UK did all this prior to modern day txtspk and internet abbreviations, its a wonder there isn’t more by accident.

      Yes, Ireland has got postcodes recently. But in traditional Irish fashion, having cost tens of millions of euro and going against European best practice – it is not mandatory and actually costs companies to use. Also, few websites and companies even accept them online.


    • John Cowan December 27, 2015 / 7:19 pm

      From what I understand, they are afraid the people who know exactly where all the 60,679 townlands in Ireland are (including the North), and who can direct mail based on what looks like grossly insufficient addresses, will die off and the entire system will be banjaxed forever. But instead of trying to get that information into an expert system, they are messing about with ridiculous and un-mnemonic codes, hoping that everyone will learn them somehow. (As a simple example, the necessary and sufficient address for a friend of my father’s was “[name], the Strawberry Beds, Dublin, Ireland”.)


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