15 April 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Prison wrong to restrict Irish language: judge

By David Gordon
15 April 2005

A judge has ruled that a republican prisoner's human rights were breached by a restriction on the use of the Irish language in jail craft works.

Maghaberry Prison inmate Conor Casey launched his High Court judicial review battle after some of his drawings were confiscated at the high security jail near Lisburn.

His legal team argued that Prison Service rules on craft works contravened the European Convention of Human Rights.

The guidelines on crafts made in cells state that the "use of any language other than English will be restricted to a simple readily understood inscription".

They also warn that items which do not comply with this restriction "may not be allowed out of the prison".

High Court judge Mr Justice Deeny concluded that this rule was unlawful, as it breached the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention.

Paramilitary inmates at Maghaberry are permitted, as a jail privilege, to produce craftworks in their own cells, for circulation by supporters in the outside world.

Materials required for the artistic work may be supplied by the Governor or purchased from the prison tuck shop.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Deeny referred to evidence given by a prison governor, Ian Johnston.

Mr Johnston stated that the jail employs one or more persons who can translate Irish.

This showed that the prison was in a position to translate more than a "simple readily understood inscription" within its own "reasonable resources", the judge said.

The governor also stated in his evidence that he would not have confiscated two items that were taken from inmate Conor Casey - drawings of the General Post Office in Dublin during the 1916 Rising and the emblem of the County Tyrone Gaelic Athletic Association, which included a few words in Irish.

The judge said Mr Johnston's acknowledgement "does appear to indicate that at times the policy is either ambiguous or is misinterpreted by some prison officers".

Mr Justice Deeny concluded his ruling by suggesting that the rules should state: "The use of language which cannot readily be understood by the application of the prison's current resources will not be permitted."

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