Mountains and molehills

Bairbre de Brun is trying to build up a head of steam over criminal proceedings against an Irish-medium teacher, Maire Nic an Bhaird. She has issued two statements, the first made the dodgy claim that the arrest was “for speaking Irish” and in the second she makes questionable claims about the Language Charter and Criminal Justice Review to support the accused’s demand for “all proceedings should now be in Irish”. (Hat tip to El Blogador)The second statement seems to involve some back pedalling from the original claim:
“Regardless of the details of this case the deciding factor in whether or not this young woman found herself before the courts appears to be that she is an Irish speaker.”

On the issue of proceedings in Irish, the MEP claims that:
“As a result of the British government’s ratification of Part III of the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, of the Good Friday Agreement and of the Criminal Justice Review the legal proceedings should now be provided in Irish.”

However, either Ms de Brun is unaware of what the Part III ratification and Review have to say on the issue or she is making a deliberately false claim. The Criminal Justice Review was produced before the ratification of the Council of Europe Charter and on the use of Irish said the following:
“In the Belfast Agreement the Government gave a commitment to promote the use of Irish in public life. Since the Agreement the Government has announced its intention to sign the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In specifying Irish under the Charter the Government has undertaken to eliminate any unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger the maintenance of it. Under Part III of the Charter specific measures are proposed to promote the use of Irish in public life. We recommend that consideration of the use of the Irish language in courts be taken forward in the wider context of the development of policy on the use of Irish in public life generally.”
Subsequent Review reports have only mentioned the issue was being examined but no firm recommendations

When a government ratifies the language charter is specifies which languages are covered, which form of recognition (Part II and Part III) and select from the 65 paragraphs of Part III which ones they intend to apply for each language. In Part III Article 9 deals with judicial authorities. When the government ratified the Charter for Irish language it adopted Paragraph 3 of Article 9. This commits authorities to:
“…undertake to make available in the regional or minority languages the most important national statutory texts and those relating particularly to users of these languages, unless they are otherwise provided.”
So no commitment in either the Review or under the Charter to hold court proceedings in Irish.

de Brun also claims this case “shows the need for an Irish language act.” but does it? Leaving aside whether spending resources on this is the best way to promote a minority language or not, Article 9 Paragraph 1 of the Charter provides for the use of a minority language in court cases so no need for some new piece of legislation with yet another Commissioner to oversee its enforcement, the Foreign Office contacting the Council of Europe adding the paragraph should do it.

  • Garibaldy

    A shameless abuse of the language issue. I don’t really care about the details of the case, but I do care when I see people trying to make turn this vital issue into petty political point scoring.

    Having said that, does anyone know what the position is on using Scottish and Welsh in the Crown’s Court? If one can demand all details in those languages, then there is a clearer case to be made here.


    What’s the position in the Irish Republic?

  • na

    “What’s the position in the Irish Republic?”

    I don’t think we’ve ever tried to make the English speaking accused speak Irish, ever.

    (does that make us better than youse or us stupid?)

  • fair_deal


    In Scotland Article 9 Paragraph 1 b iii applies
    1 b in civil proceedings:
    iii) to allow documents and evidence to be produced in the regional or minority languages,

    In Wales the following applies
    Paragraphs 1a (ii) 1a (iii) 1b (ii) 1b (iii) 1c (ii) 1c (iii) 1d 2b
    1 a) in criminal proceedings:
    ii) to guarantee the accused the right to use his/her regional or minority language;
    iii) and/or to provide that requests and evidence, whether written or oral, shall not be considered inadmissible solely because they are formulated in a regional or minority language; and/or
    1 b) in civil proceedings:
    ii) to allow, whenever a litigant has to appear in person before a court, that he or she may use his or her regional or minority language without thereby incurring additional expense;
    iii) to allow documents and evidence to be produced in the regional or minority languages,
    1 c) in proceedings before courts concerning administrative matters:
    ii) to allow, whenever a litigant has to appear in person before a court, that he or she may use his or her regional or minority language without thereby incurring additional expense;
    iii) and/or to allow documents and evidence to be produced in the regional or minority languages,
    1 d) to take steps to ensure that the application of sub-paragraphs i and iii of paragraphs b and c above and any necessary use of interpreters and translations does not involve extra expense for the persons concerned.
    2 b)not to deny the validity, as between the parties, of legal documents drawn up within the country solely because they are drafted in a regional or minority language, and to provide that they can be invoked against interested third parties who are not users of these languages on condition that the contents of the document are made known to them by the person(s) who invoke(s) it; or

    IMPORTANT NOTE: All Paragraph 1 measures have 3 limitations, numbers of speakers in the district, the particular circumstances of the language and its usage not hampering the administration of justice.

  • The interesting point I came across was the fact that initially de Brún was focussing on the claim that the woman was “arrested for speaking Irish”, but then it changed to focussing on demands for the court proceedings to be held in Irish- both completely separate issues.

    In today’s Irish News, there were further details on what the defendant claims happened on the evening in question- if true, the allegations were very serious. However, even if they are, it will most likely be overshadowed by the drama which has surrounded it.

    We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in court.

  • Pete Baker

    Well, you might as well link the two statements you’ve referred to Fair Deal.

    Here’s the first statement.. and I’ll just extract one highly spurious claim.

    “This sort of behaviour by the PSNI is a throwback to the penal days.”

    And the second statement.. with an equally bizarre claim..

    “Regardless of the details of this case the deciding factor in whether or not this young woman found herself before the courts appears to be that she is an Irish speaker.

    Regardless of the details of this case?

    A case in which the defendent faces a charge of disorderly conduct?

    On the actually issue, I’ll say this, the facility of the court proceedings to be conducted in another language, any other language, should – for reasons of time, availability of suitable interpreters, and costs – only be in circumstances whereby to do otherwise could result in the defendent not fully understanding the proceedings themselves.

    The defence solicitor clearly understands this, hence the emphasis in his reported comments

    Defence solicitor Michael Crawford told the court his client was a native Irish speaker and her whole environment was Irish.

    He said that as all legal consultations had been conducted in Irish he had written to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) asking that all the papers in the case should be in Irish.

    Although I’ll note the Bairbre de Brun is also reported to have taught the defendent Irish.

    To repeat, if a defendent risks not understanding the court proceedings then those proceedings should be conducted in a suitable language to avoid any potential miscarriage of justice. Not for any other reason.

    Just imagine if/when Lord Laird faces court on a non-payment of a speeding ticket… *shudder*

  • Miss Fitz

    I was looking at this earlier, and I found that Maire Nic an Bhaird was being tried for Disorderly Conduct.

    I dont think anyone has picked up on that above, but sorry if they have.

    As it hasnt been tried yet, I left it alone. The issue seemed to be about having the trial as Gaeilge.

  • Miss Fitz

    Sorry Pete, just see you had mentioned it was about dis conduct.

    Shoulda known


    I’m still waiting for an answer to my question.

    Are Irish court proceedings usually in Irish or English?, and if they are usually in English, are there procedures in place for people who request a hearing in Irish?

  • Miss Fitz

    I thought there were Taf, but better wait until an expert can tell you

  • pith

    The greasy till defender of the Irish language squawks again. Save Irish – give it back to the Presbyterians.

  • fair_deal


    From the RoI Offical Languages Act 2003

    8.—(1) A person may use either of the official languages in, or in any pleading in or document issuing from, any court.
    (2) Every court has, in any proceedings before it, the duty to 10 ensure that any person appearing in or giving evidence before it may be heard in the official language of his or her choice, and that in being so heard the person will not be placed at a disadvantage by not being heard in the other official language.
    (3) For the purpose of ensuring that no person is placed at a disadvantage as aforesaid, the court may cause facilities to be made available for the simultaneous translation of proceedings in court from one official language into the other.
    (4) Where the State or a public body is a party to civil proceedings before a court
    (a) the State or the public body shall use in the proceedings, the official language chosen by the other party, and
    (b) if two or more persons (other than the State or a public body) are party to the proceedings and they fail to choose or agree on the official language to be used in the proceedings, the State or, as appropriate, the public body
    shall use in the proceedings such official language as appears to it to be reasonable, having regard to the circumstances.
    (5) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a person shall not be compelled to use a particular official language in any proceedings.
    (6) In choosing to use a particular official language in any proceedings before a court, a person shall not be put to any inconvenience
    or expense over and above that which would have been 35 incurred had he or she chosen to use the other official language.

  • laol


    What did you think happens to native Irish speakers during court cases?

    You didn’t seriously think..? you did, didn’t you….


  • Pete Baker

    That’s ok, Miss Fitz.

    “Shoulda known”

    Indeed :o)

  • Fuiseog

    Dia daoibh

    In December 2005 a colleague of mine was arrested under section 14 of the 2000 PTA legislation, taken to Antrim Serious Crime Suite and intensely questioned about republican subversive activities.

    During the first interview this person spoke to his solicitor ‘As Gaeilge’ (in Irish) upon which the interrogating detectives present were appalled and strenuously objected to this turn of events whereupon one of them wrongly and bitterly referred Teanga na hÉireann as a dialect. Then went so far as to threaten the solicitor with a complaint to the Law society. They stated this behaviour was unfair, unlawful, contrary to the goodwill of the process and was seriously detrimental to the flow of the interviews. That particular ‘interview’ was suspended.

    My colleague made a complaint to the custody Sergeant and told him they would be writing to the Chief Constable about the issue which was amusingly ironic given the fact they were being interrogated about trying to assasinate Mr Orde with a remote control bomb at the 2005 Belfast marathon. In the event my colleague was released unconditionally and without charge after 40 hours.

    True to their word the solicitor wrote for clarification to the Chief Constable at The PSNI headquarters at Knock. I understand that letter stated that should there be no reply within 21 days they would seek a declaration in the high court that it is lawful for a solicitor and a client to converse in whatever language they see fit to do so.

    In January 2006 a letter came back stating there was nothing unlawful for a client and his legal representative conversing in Irish during police interviews. That the services of an interpreter may be required during the interview and as long as the conversation was pertinent to the issues at hand.

    Satisfied with this outcome my justifiably publicity shy colleague strongly felt this was a victory for common sense, that their identity and national language was recognised and respected and felt no further action was necessary.

    I suspect if this personal victory for my colleague is truly reflective of the leadership of the PSNI’s policy towards the Irish language then today’s proceedings in court may well have similar favourable outcome for other Irish Language Activists.

    Ádh duit a Mhaire, is mise le meas, Fuiseog


    So the lesson is – Should you too ever be wrongly arrested and interogated by the PSNI and want to annoy CID and put them on the back foot, then throw a few words other than English at them and sit back and watch as the ignorant neanderthals take head staggers (ha, ha)

  • Garibaldy

    If there is a right to use Scottish and Welsh, then it’s hard to see a case for denying the right to use Irish. Although there could well be one regarding the speedy administration of cases. If all documents have to be translated then this would slow up the courts, which already often take too long. But then that logic should be applied to Wales and Scotland too.

    If there is a whole raft of Irish translators employed, will they be viewed by some as legitmate targets, vital cogs in the British judicial system? Would the provisionals’ offshoots view them as they do the DPP’s? An interesting question.

  • Mark Mc


    I know a few Republicans. I am sure none of them are inclined to threaten Irish translators within the court service.

    You are really concerned about this? Or just dicking around?

  • Loyalist

    Let her have it in irish, she can pay for the costs if she loses.


    What did you think happens to native Irish speakers during court cases?

    I didn’t know, but thought that it was strange to see people refer to practice in mainland UK courts, when they should have perhaps referred to practice in the 26 counties.

    You didn’t seriously think..? you did, didn’t you….

    Oh do fuck off, I’m too tired to deal with trolls.

  • Garibaldy


    The logic these people apply could quite easily stretch to court translators. It might prove unpopularm but then so is throwing (petrol sometimes) bombs at the houses of nationalist members of the DPPs. I was slightly dicking around but who knows with these people.

  • irishinuk

    This situation is horrible; abusing the Irish language for political gain.Almost as bad as 80 years of Irish govs. pretending to give a sh1t about it, whilst they watch it die before their eyes. They (FF/FG) couldn’t give a sh1t about the reality of the state of the Irish language,quite happy to see it die, once it’s beiing tought’like latin/greek was’ our hands are clean.

    Sorry for the rant, a little druck and reeling from memorys of “lum,leat,lies..” etc. without ever being told what any of it means. F*ck peg sayaers!!!

  • páid


    To repeat, if a defendent risks not understanding the court proceedings then those proceedings should be conducted in a suitable language to avoid any potential miscarriage of justice. Not for any other reason.

    This is a slightly longwinded way of saying,is it not, that if you can understand English then the proceedings should be in English.

    Which, linguistically penalising bilingual people aside, is a stronger line than is taken in Wales.

    Wouldn’t go down well in a lot of countries.

  • interested

    What exactly was this woman up in court for in the first place?

  • spice girl

    what happens if a pole is in court? or any other minority that can;t speak english?

  • Pete Baker

    Spice girl

    I seem to recall recently that just such an example occured.. it may have been in connection with the cocaine seized at Belfast airport [don’t quote me on that].

    Again, according to my notoriously unreliable memory, a translator was/is provided to ensure that the defendent was/is able to address the court.. and that they were also able to understand, and follow, the court proceedings – in keeping with my previous comment.

  • fair_deal


    They get translation services ie a murder case involving a chinese defendent had such. However, the situation is not comparabale as one is effectively mono-lingual while in this case the person is fully funcytioning bi-lingual. Its not a justice issue but a preference issue.

  • T.Ruth

    Cases like this emphasise the need to agree on a common European langage. Imagine the cost and bureaucracy and wasted time if,with increased mobility of people across the EU countries, everybody insisted on the right to have the entirety of any legal or other bureaucratic matter conducted in their own language, while in a country other than that of their birth.
    People cannot have endless amounts of taxpayers money spent to feed their personal eccentriciies and promote their own agendas. What is important is that, when it is necessary, people have the appropriate support to understand the situation and to respond.The key consideration is the protection of their fundamental rights whatever language is used.
    Ulster Scots and Gaelic as spoken in various areas, will become more attractive and interesting to a wider audience when they cease to be part of a political agenda or used as a mechanism to create division.The events of the weekend in relation to the match Ireland vs.England were very encouraging.We should be looking to support things which can unite us as a Community of the Isles rather than maintain division.