Ireland’s Supreme Court, Rights Of Irish-Speaking Citizens Are Conditional

Ireland in chains
Éire in chains

Several writers and activists have protested at my recent characterisation of Irish-speakers in Ireland as second-class citizens with second-class rights. They say that the description goes too far and misrepresents the true situation for Hibernophones in this country. So, in answer, from a report today by RTÉ:

“A native Irish speaker who is due to go on trial for assault has lost his Supreme Court bid to have his case heard by a bilingual jury.

Mr Ó Maicín had claimed he was entitled to present his defence in Irish and to have his case heard by a jury who were sufficiently competent in Irish to hear the case without the assistance of a translator.

He lost his case in the High Court and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled against him by a four to one majority.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said that Mr Ó Maicín enjoyed a constitutional right to conduct official business fully in Irish.

But he said that right was not absolute and may have to give way to other considerations.”

Yet again the courts have ruled that an Irish-speaker in Ireland is not entitled to a trial entirely through the medium of Irish but must perforce except trial and judgement by those who cannot speak his or her native language. It implicitly elevates the rights of English-speaking citizens above those of Irish-speaking citizens while making the latter “foreigners” in their own nation. For only in Ireland can you be arrested and detained for speaking in your own mother tongue.

However not everyone agrees with this discriminatory grading of constitutional rights.

“In a dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman made a declaration that Mr Ó Maicín was entitled to be tried before a jury who would understand evidence given in Irish directly, without the assistance of an interpreter.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Hardiman said the State and organs of Government had cast the entire burden of promoting the use of the Irish language on successive generations of school children.

He said apart from that, the actions of the State in relation to the Irish language had been uniformly minimalist and grudging.

The judge also said he did not believe there was any other country in the world in which a citizen would not be entitled to conduct his business before a court in the national and first official language and to be understood directly by such court in that language.”

So, critics of An Sionnach Fionn, do you still believe that full equality under the law exists between the two language communities that share this island nation? Or are you content with, at best, a form of conditional equality?

Update: A report in the Irish Times on the above case has confirmed information supplied to me earlier today. Ireland’s court service has in fact been using for some time an unofficial system of tests to screen out jurors who it is believed have an insufficient grasp of the English language. So English-speaking citizens are guaranteed English-speaking juries by the courts and government while Irish-speaking citizens are denied Irish-speaking juries?

“While the State had instituted an informal screening system to ensure jurors in Dublin have an adequate command of English, it had argued it would be unlawful to operate such a screening system in the interests of producing a jury with an adequate understanding of Irish…”

Am I the only one absolutely astonished by this utterly hypocritical double-standard in the administration of justice in Ireland? It is beyond satire…

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4 comments

        1. In Ireland? To get your name in Irish?
          That’s not true, just evidence of over two years of use of Irish name. Most people born in even Gaeltacht areas of Ireland have the birth certs in English because the registrar would write the Anglicised version of the name given by the parents.
          If you can prove you have been using your name as Gaeilge for more than two years there’s no problem. After the first passport, you just hand in your old one and there’s even less of a problem.

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