Judge apologises for 'coloured people' remarks in court

A Longford judge who made controversial remarks about two non-national defendants before him in court has apologised for his comments.

Judge John Neilan made the apology in a statement issued today by the Courts Service in relation to reported comments by him in Longford District Court earlier this week.

The move made the judge the second to issue an apology for speaking out about foreigners from the bench in less than 12 hours.

Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Harvey Kenny apologised to a woman for a comment he made to her in his court in Castlebar Co Mayo, last month.

He called in defendant Burry Abebanjo to say: “When you were before my court on the January 14, 2003 with two separate appeals against convictions for no insurance, I made what I now realise was an improper comment about Nigerians driving around without proper insurance, and saying that you were lucky in not going to jail.

“I wish, now, to withdraw the remark and apologise to you for the offence such remark caused.”

District Judge Neilan was said to have warned that what he termed “coloured people” could be subjected to a ban of access to the majority local shopping centres “if this type of behaviour” did not stop.

Judge Neilan made the remarks when two women, understood to be from the Ivory Coast, appeared before him on shoplifting charges.

In the Courts Service statement, the judge said he was appalled to think that anything he said could cause such offence to so many people and if it did offend - he apologised unreservedly.

The statement said: “Judge Neilan is appalled to think that anything he said could cause such offence to so many people, and if it did offend, he would want to apologise – and he does so unreservedly.”

Judge Neilan’s remarks yesterday generated a storm of political protest – and calls for a training system for judges.

Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O'Caolain said the comments were “disgraceful” and would lead to increased racist attacks.

He told the Daíl there was an “urgent need for a system of proper training and accountability for judges, especially in the area of race relations and equal status“.

Fine Gael justice spokesman John Deasy said there must be no place in Irish society for racism, declaring: “Most people in Ireland welcome the growing multiculturalism and ethnic mixing of our communities.

“However, there is an ugliness creeping into Irish society in the form of racism. This cannot be tolerated.

“Those in authority – in the courts, in Government, the schools, workplaces and communities at large – have an obligation not to fuel racism by ill-considered words or actions.”

Judge Neilan’s apology follows these remarks reported in Longford court: “There are people in this State who have worked all of their lives and they don’t, in their old-age pension, have the benefits these ladies have.

“The majority of shopping centres in this District Court area will be putting a ban of access to coloured people if this type of behaviour does not stop.

“We give them dignity and respect, and the first thing they do is engage in criminal activity. All you are asked to do is conduct yourselves as any other citizen in this State.

“You have let your countrymen and women down, and it’s just a pity that a few like you can malign so many.”

A spokesman for the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism led calls on the judge to apologise.

Aisling Reidy, director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, said there was a need for a board to be set up to look over the conduct of judges.

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