Republican prisoner says lack of Irish classes ‘breaches Good Friday Agreement’

Maghaberry Prison outsources prison learning to further education colleges
Maghaberry Prison outsources prison learning to further education colleges

The denial of Irish classes to a republican prisoner in Maghaberry is in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement, it has been claimed.

The comments come after lawyers acting for a republican prisoner began a legal action after an Irish language teacher was not replaced.

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, advocacy manager with Irish language organisation, Conradh na Gaeilge, said the removal of Irish classes would be in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement and other international treaties ratified by the UK in relation to the Irish language.

“At a time when a record number of adults are engaging with the language and attending classes the prison authorities should ensure that the prisoner’s request for Irish classes is met as they do for a broad suite of classes and courses to its prisoners,” he said. A job advert for the position has now been updated, he added.

But DUP justice spokesman Paul Frew, who visits the prison, saw it differently.

“It is perhaps testament to the significant progress made at Maghaberry that the greatest problem facing prisoners there is the delay in appointing two Irish language teachers,” he said.

He added: “Many people will struggle to see how a delay in appointing these teachers constitutes a breach of the Belfast Agreement but it is unsurprising that a lawyer will argue any case.”

He queried whether the case was being brought under legal aid and challenged Conradh na Gaeilge to say it contacted justice and education authorities prior to engaging legal action.

The Department of Justice said prison learning is outsourced to Belfast Metropolitan College and North West Regional College, who are “actively seeking to recruit teachers” to provide Irish classes.