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High Court challenge over Irish language ban fails

A legal challenge against a 270-year-old ban on the use of the Irish language in court proceedings in Northern Ireland has been dismissed in the High Court in Belfast.

An Irish language speaker, Caoimhin Mac Giolla Cathain, a member of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht in west Belfast, took the case after he was informed that his application in Irish for an occasional drinks licence could not be considered.

Court staff said the reason was that the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737 stipulated that “all proceedings in courts of justice within this kingdom shall be in the English language”.

The drinks licence was sought in connection with a musical concert in the Culturlann, Falls Road, Belfast, said to be the foremost provider of Irish language events in the area and where Irish is generally spoken.

The case was heard last October when Michael Lavery, QC, argued: “Key to this case is if you are going to afford them (Irish speakers) the dignity of being Irish or going to pay lip service to it and trammel it or impede it with unnecessary restrictions.”

Yesterday Mr Justice Treacy dismissed Mr Cathain's contention that the 1737 Act was incompatible with the European Charter for Regional and Minorities Language and secondly that the Act was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Afterwards solicitor Michael Flanagan said an appeal was being considered and added: “We find it difficult to accept that legislation created in 1773 is still fit for purpose in a modern and diverse society and especially so in the light of the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to promoting minority and regional languages.”

Janet Muller, CEO of pobal, which supported Mr Cathain's legal application, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised.” Today's decision proves the urgent need for an Irish Language Act to properly protect the rights of Irish speakers..

In his reserved judgement yesterday Mr Justice Treacy referred to a report obtained from historian Dr Eamon Phoenix who concluded: “The 1737 Act... can be viewed as a piece of discriminatory legislation directed at the mother tongue of the mass of the Irish population at that time.

“It is therefore the cultural equivalent of the penal laws.”

But there was a contrary opinion from Dr McBride, King's College, London, who stated: “I cannot find any evidence to suggest that the Act was ever regarded as part of the 'penal laws,' that it was intended as (an) anti-Catholic measure, or that it was intended to weaken the position of the Irish language in Ireland.”

Mr Justice Treacy said he was expressing no view as to the correctness or otherwise of the widely differing analyses offered by the two distinguished historians.

“Such a resolution, even if possible, is not required by the legal issues exposed by this judicial review,” he said.

The judge dismissed Mr Cathain's contention that the 1737 Act was incompatible with the European Charter for Regional and Minorities Language and secondly that the Act was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Afterwards solicitor Michael Flanagan said an appeal was being considered and added: “We find it difficult to accept that legislation created in 1773 is still fit for purpose in a modern and diverse society and especially so in the light of the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to promoting minority and regional languages.”

Janet Muller, CEO of pobal, which supported Mr Cathain's application, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised. Today's decision proves the urgent need for an Irish Language Act to properly protect the rights of Irish speakers..

“In Wales, Welsh speakers have had the right to use Welsh in courts since 1942. In Scotland, there are courts where Gaidhlig can be heard every day.

“This case shows that the British Government is once more guilty of operating a double standard in its treatment of the users of different languages on these islands.” ends.

Belfast Telegraph

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