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Irish language breaks 287-year-old tradition

Is it time for Belfast’s courts to embrace linguistic diversity and overturn an age-old convention?
Irish language breaks 287-year-old tradition
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In a ground-breaking moment for Belfast’s Irish-speaking community, witnesses have officially used the Irish language in court proceedings, a practice prohibited since the enactment of the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737.

This long-standing legislation strictly requires the use of English in court settings to prevent any potential confusion, with a £20 fine handed out to any rule-breakers.

Legal interpretation

Prominent Irish language advocacy group, Conradh na Gaeilge,  expanded on former Attorney General John Larkin’s interpretation.

Larkin asserted that the regulation does not extend to spoken language, thereby allowing the verbal use of Irish in courts. Meanwhile, the written use of Irish is still prohibited.

The current case

The recent dispute concerns the display of Irish language signage at the Olympia Leisure Centre, which is situated in a predominantly loyalist area of south Belfast.

The conflict was ignited by a Sinn Fein proposal for bilingual signs, which was initially approved by a council committee.

Nevertheless, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) challenged this decision, triggering a review that concluded with concerns about potential adverse community impact. Conradh na Gaeilge is currently looking into information that led to the decision.

In a powerful display of unity, several members of the Irish-speaking community introduced themselves in Irish during a tribunal hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Advocating for change

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, along with Conradh na Gaeilge, are fervently lobbying for the repeal of the 1737 Act, which also restricts the use of Ulster-Scots within legal settings.

Dr Padraig O Tiarnaigh has also publicly criticised the British government for its slow response to the issue

In a rapidly evolving cultural landscape, Belfast’s courts face a pivotal moment. The resurgence of the Irish language in court proceedings signals a shift towards embracing linguistic diversity, while legal battles continue to challenge the age-old conventions.

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