Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Court urged to overturn Irish ban

High Court Belfast

The Court of Appeal has been urged to overturn a ban on the use of Irish in the courts in Northern Ireland.

Caoimhin Mac Giolla Cathain is challenging the dismissal of a legal case he took after being informed his application in Irish for an occasional drinks licence could not be considered.

Under the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737, all proceedings in NI courts must be in English.

The appeal was adjourned until Tuesday.

Mr Mac Giolla Cathain was seeking a liquor licence in connection with a musical concert in the Culturlann arts centre on the Falls Road in west Belfast.

Last summer, a High Court judge rejected his contention that the 1737 Act was incompatible with the European Charter for Regional and Minorities Language and secondly that the Act contravened his human rights.

His lawyers argued on Monday the legislation has already been repealed in Scotland and Wales.

Michael Lavery QC told a three-judge appeal panel headed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan that the government's attitude had been "evasive and avoiding the issue".

'Translation facilities'

Paul Maguire QC, for the Secretary of State, said Mr Mac Giolla Cathain's ability to speak English was not in question.

"If this was a case of necessity it is highly likely, certainly in the criminal sphere and possibly also in the civil sphere, arrangements would have to be made to ensure proceedings were conducted in English but with the assistance of translation facilities," he said.

"What distinguishes this case is this is not a case of language of necessity.

"In essence what the applicant seeks to do is express a preference to go to the courts and conduct the proceedings in the Irish language."

A spokeswoman for Pobal, the umbrella group for Irish speakers, said the case is a litmus test for the Hillsborough Agreement.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Chief Executive Janet Muller said the continued use of the "outdated law" was a key issue in light of an agreement over policing and justice.

"There is no excuse for keeping this discriminatory blanket ban and the decision of the court will give a clear indication of what priority equality for Irish speakers has within the current political climate," Ms Muller said.

"Pobal has raised the issue of the 1737 Act with the Council of Europe, following meetings between the organisation and the committee overseeing the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

"The committee has been highly critical in the past about the 1737 Act and we expect that they will make further comments in their next report, due out in April," Ms Muller added.

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