The mooted lifting of a ban on Irish in Northern Ireland courts would be a retrograde step that would hinder the delivery of justice, TUV leader Jim Allister has warned.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has claimed that, as part of her party’s alleged deal with the DUP to restore devolution, the repeal of a centuries-old ban on using Irish in courts was to be legislated for.
But North Antrim MLA and barrister Mr Allister QC has declared that such a move would be a “phenomenal waste of money” and could also “grossly inhibit” justice in the Province.
He told the News Letter: “Legislation stating that English is to be the language used in our courtrooms dates back to 1737, and it is there for good reason.
“The giving of evidence, particularly in a criminal trial, is about more than what a witness says, it is also about how it is said.
“A jury weighing up this evidence will not just look at the words used, but also the tone of those words and other nuances.
“Much of that would be lost in translation.
“Currently, a translator is provided only when it is required when a witness cannot speak and understand English.
“So it is a nonsense to suggest that a witness who can speak English perfectly well should have their evidence translated from Irish.”
Mrs McDonald also claimed that Sinn Fein and the DUP had also agreed that the Stormont Executive’s sensitive justice ministry would start to be allocated in a conventional manner from 2022, rather than being a jointly agreed DUP/Sinn Fein nomination.
Mr Allister said such a move would amount to a “dramatic climb down” on the part of the DUP, adding: “If the Sinn Fein claim that the DUP had agreed to an arrangement whereby we could have a Sinn Fein Justice minister in 2022, then, another long-standing DUP pledge was in the throes of being shredded.
“The idea of a former terrorist, or someone who is a supporter of terrorism, serving as justice minister would be an absolute travesty.”
The mooted deal, according to Mrs McDonald, also provided for the creation of an Irish language commissioner.
Mr Allister warned that this would mean, “as in Wales”, there would be “an aggressive enforcer committed to ever tightening the noose in favour of the Irish language becoming all pervasive”.
He told the News Letter: “The Welsh language commissioner recently issued at 46-page directive to government with 176 points to address regarding the provision of the Welsh language.
“That is the sort of territory we would be getting into here if such a post was created in Northern Ireland.”
The DUP has denied that any draft agreement was in place.
Arlene Foster insisted there had been no offer to Sinn Fein for an Irish language act to be implemented.
“I regret that we didn’t reach an agreement because they were insisting on having this free-standing Irish language act,” the DUP said.