A man who shouted an Irish republican slogan outside a fast-food restaurant was convicted yesterday of disorderly behaviour.
James Taggart’s lawyer argued that using the phrase ‘Tiocfaidh ar la’, which translates as ‘our day will come’, was covered by his freedom of expression rights.
But a judge at Belfast Magistrates’ Court ruled that his words met the criminal test of annoying members of the public.
With Taggart having failed to turn up for his hearing a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The 40-year-old, of Beech Grove, Dunmurry, was arrested and charged with disorderly behaviour over an early morning incident in the city centre on March 23.
He was standing outside McDonald’s on Donegall Place and shouted ‘Tiocfadh ar la’ towards police in the area.
The slogan has been used throughout the Troubles by republicans declaring their belief in a future united Ireland.
A police officer at the scene interpreted his remark as foul language, the court heard.
But defence solicitor Feargal MacElhatton argued there was nothing offensive about the phrase.
He insisted Taggart was entitled to make the comments under freedom of expression entitlements within human rights legislation.
The defendant’s non-appearance meant his motivation could not be examined.
But District Judge Fiona Bagnall said: “I do note he was saying this in a loud voice in an area which is a public space in the city centre and where members of the community are likely to be.”
She pointed to a legal definition of the offence which covers words which would give annoyance to members of the public, including police officers, and attract attention meriting intervention.
It does not have to be proved that anyone was actually annoyed.
“I’m satisfied that it does meet that definition and in the circumstances I have convicted him,” Judge Bagnall confirmed.
Noting Taggart has a previous record for similar offences, she issued a warrant for him to be arrested and brought to court for sentencing.