O Muilleoir wants to end 279-year-old ban on Irish in courts in Northern Ireland

Posted By: December 19, 2016

Allan Preston. Belfast Telegraph. Friday, December 16, 2016

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has called for the overturning of a centuries-old ban on the use of the Irish language in the courts.

A British penal law enacted in 1737 that requires court proceedings to be in English remains in force in Northern Ireland.
Similar Acts in England, Scotland and Wales were repealed in 1863.
On Wednesday Mr O Muilleoir met with legal professionals to discuss their views on the matter.

However, TUV leader Jim Allister, who is a barrister, said such a move would waste money and create confusion in legal proceedings.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr O Muilleoir said: “As the minister with policy responsibility for the regulation of members of the legal profession, I would like to see the rights of Irish speaking lawyers and those who wish to use Irish in the courts protected, and today I am hearing first-hand from some legal practitioners on the use of Irish in court.

“This type of legislation is not in use anywhere else in these islands. I have raised this issue with the Justice Minister and will continue to consult with Irish language and legal groups to consider the best way forward on the issue.”

Mr Allister said he was not convinced lawyers here should address judges with “Go raibh maith agat (thank you in Irish), your honour”.

“One would have thought that the Finance Minister in an Executive, which is literally sending millions in taxpayers’ money up in smoke, would have more pressing concerns,” he said.

“But let’s look at the practical ramifications of removing the 1737 Act. Obviously everyone will ask what expenditure the Northern Ireland Courts Service would have to undertake to accommodate the provision of Irish translation services.

“However, an even more profound issue is the fact that the administration of justice will actually be hindered by court hearings being multilingual. Often evidence is judged not just by what is said but how it is said. How much of that will be lost when a translator comes between a witness and those hearing their evidence?

“There are sound reasons for insisting that only English is used in our courts, and removing that requirement will be a retrograde step, in terms of the delivery of justice as well as the obvious cost implications.”

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff added his support for Irish to be used in court.

He said: “More and more people are living their lives every day through the medium of Irish and they should be supported in doing so. That includes accessing all aspects of the legal service in Irish.”