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Introducing an Irish Language Act would lead to deadlock and confusion in the justice system

Letter of the day: legislation debate

I understand the proposed Irish language Act is estimated to cost some £19m. Many of us here would wonder whether this is a wise expenditure, since our block grant has already been reduced by  the RHI scandal.

Rather more concerning however is what this Act might eventually lead to if it were ever enacted, i.e. the use of Irish in legal cases. To illustrate the impracticality of using the Irish language in a legal case, I take as an example the well cited Maicin v Eire case from 2014 in the Republic of Ireland.

In this case, the defendant insisted on having his case heard in Irish. After the High Court in Dublin found he was not entitled to have his case heard and decided by a judge and bilingual jury without assistance of a translator, he appealed to the Supreme Court.

He subsequently lost by a four to one majority his Supreme Court bid to have a bilingual jury, drawn from a specially designated area of Connemara where most people speak Irish, decide his case without the use of an interpreter.

All five judges agreed the case raised important constitutional issues involving balancing language rights against the duty of the State to prosecute crimes before representative juries. The majority court noted Mr O Maicin had a constitutional right to conduct official business fully in Irish and was entitled to have his trial conducted in Irish and heard by a jury aided by an interpreter.

However, the right to conduct official business fully in Irish was not absolute, four of the five judges found. In some circumstances, because significant numbers of people even in Gaeltacht areas would not be sufficiently competent in Irish, that right must give way to the need to respect the rights of others to use English as an official language and the competing constitutional imperative that juries be "truly representative", Mr Justice Frank Clarke said. 

In other words, if Irish is not fully understood in the general population in the Republic of Ireland, how could it possibly be understood during legal cases in Northern Ireland?

Maxwell Fyffe

Saintfield

Belfast Telegraph

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