Irish language teacher in Belfast guilty of disorderly behaviour

An Irish language teacher was convicted today of hurling abuse in Irish at police officers during a night out in Belfast.

Maire Nic An Bhaird, 25, had denied shouting “Tiocfaidh Ar La” – our day will come – a declaration regularly used by republicans as part of their struggle for a united Ireland, during a confrontation in the city last May.

She claimed police held her in custody, demanding she spoke in English before they let her go.

But after hearing both sides a magistrate ruled against Nic An Bhaird and ordered her to pay a £100 (€150) fine.

The decision outraged the teacher who vowed outside court to fight the ruling all the way to Europe if necessary.

She said: “I’m appalled and disgusted. After listening to the police evidence I didn’t think there was any way I would be found guilty.”

The case had provoked earlier protests outside Belfast Magistrates Court by Irish language activists supporting Ms Nic An Bhaird.

At one stage her defence team applied to have all proceedings heard in Irish.

She was arrested after leaving a bar on the Malone Road in south Belfast with friends.

But while those with her walked on ahead, Nic An Bhaird became embroiled in a confrontation with police officers.

During the contest she gave evidence insisting what she had actually said at the time was Tiocfaidh Bhur La, which translates as you’ll have your chance.–

But in her ruling Magistrate Fiona Bagnall said the defendant had taken a substantial amount of alcohol on the night.

She accepted that Nic An Bharid shouting in Irish was not a reason in itself to be arrested for disorderly behaviour.

And even though the magistrate said defence witnesses appeared to have given truthful accounts she added that the accuracy of their recollection may have been distorted because of their distance from the defendant.

All police witnesses have been consistent in their accounts of what happened, Ms Bagnall told the court.

She said: “I’m satisfied that the defendant continued to address police officers in a loud and aggressive manner. I therefore find her guilty of disorderly behaviour.”

Lawyers for Nic An Bhaird, of Woodside Walk, Dunmurry on the outskirts of west Belfast where she teaches, confirmed that their client planned to appeal the ruling.

Outside court Nic An Bhaird added : “The way I was treated in the police station was like something from the dark ages. If I have to go to the European Court of Human Rights I will go there.

“I don’t care how many years it takes until justice is done. I have no confidence in the British justice system.”

She was backed by the Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun who was in court to hear the outcome.

Ms de Brun who taught the defendant during her Irish schooling, said: “I’m both astonished and angry at the judgment.

“The feeling right across this island is that this case has become a symbol of official hostility to the Irish language and to Irish speakers by the authorities here in the North.”

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