Northern Ireland

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir challenges 280-year-old law banning Irish in court

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Image caption Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, from Sinn Féin, said similar bans in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland had been repealed many years ago

Northern Ireland's Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has launched a legal challenge to a 280-year-old law that bans the Irish language in courts.

The Sinn Féin MLA said he instructed lawyers to challenge the 1737 Act which "makes it a criminal offence to use any language other than English" in court.

Disagreements over the official use of Irish have contributed to the current rift between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

But the UUP questioned the minister's "priorities" in a political crisis.

Stormont's power-sharing government is set to collapse next week if there is no resolution over an investigation into botched green energy scheme, which is set to run £490m over budget.

'Electioneering'

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott said: "Is this really where the Executive's priorities lie right now?

"We have still to get any answers on the Renewable Heat Incentive, which is costing us £85,000 a day. Hospital waiting lists are spiralling out of control. Yet the DUP and Sinn Féin's biggest priority seems to be how many times they can poke each other in the eye."

He accused Sinn Féin and the DUP of trying to "ignite a culture war".

"Instead of electioneering, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir's time would be better spent trying to stop the continued haemorrhaging of public money due to RHI," Mr Elliott added.

The finance minister said: "Last month I met with legal professionals to discuss the ban on using the Irish language in courts.

"My ministerial portfolio includes responsibility for the regulation of members of the legal profession, and I would like to protect the rights of Irish speaking lawyers and all those who wish to use Irish in the courts.

"This type of legislation is not in use anywhere else in these islands and building on the work of the former DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, it is my intention to litigate against it."

When Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister last week, he cited a recent decision by DUP minister Paul Givan to end funding for Irish language bursaries as among "critical issues" for his party.

On Thursday, Mr Givan said he had "identified the necessary funding" to restore the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme.

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