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Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Could two Mayo publicans have exposed a gaping hole in Ireland's legal system?

Two Claremorris publicans escaped punishment for having punters on their premises after hours. But how?

TWO MAYO PUBLICANS may have exposed a gaping hole in the Irish justice system, after escaping prosecution for keeping their pubs open after hours – because the appropriate laws don’t exist in Irish.

The Mayo Advertiser reports how Claremorris publicans Dick Byrne, of PJ Byrne’s pub on Main Street, and Patrick Coleman of Pajo’s Bar on Mount Street, each escaped numerous charges relating to after-hours serving of alcohol.

Solicitors for each of the publicans provided letters from the Office of Public Works, who confirmed that the Intoxicating Liquor Acts of 2000, 2003 and 2004 had not been translated into Irish, which under the Constitution is the official language of Ireland.

As a result, Judge Mary Devins of Claremorris District Court was unable to hear any charges against either of the two publicans – and, expressing amazement that Acts passed 11 years ago still hadn’t been translated, dismissed all charges.

The proceedings have exposed a fundamental problem in the running of the justice system in this country – because dozens of laws passed by the Oireachtas in recent years have not yet been sent for translation into Irish.

This could potentially prove problematic in cases where a person wishes to take their legal case through Irish.

The Official Languages Act of 2003, which requires that all enacted laws be published concurrently in both Irish and English, only came into effect in July 2006 – with a significant number of laws from before that date, including the Intoxicating Liquor Acts, published only in English.

An Oireachtas spokesman said that the official translations department, which is working through the backlog of translations, would produce a translation of any Act as a matter of priority if it was needed for court proceedings.

In the cases of the two Claremorris publicans, however, the spokesman said no official translation of the liquor acts had been requested.

Among the laws yet to be translated, according to the Acts published on the Oireachtas website, are:

  • The Finance and Social Welfare Acts giving legal effect to every Budget for the years 2000 through 2004
  • A series of amendments to Irish electoral law
  • The law which changed references in other laws from Punts to Euro
  • The law creating the position of Ombudsman for Children
  • The law creating the National Pension Reserve Fund
  • Laws allowing for the establishment of Commissions of Investigation
  • Laws allowing for compensation for people accidentally infected by Hepatitis C
  • Criminal Justice Acts relating to EU-wide investigations and to insanity, and a 2002 law on domestic violence
  • An update to citizenship law dating from 2004
  • The Equality Act of 2004

Successive Supreme Court decisions found that the State must make Acts of the Oireachtas available through Irish as soon as is practicable, or within a reasonable period, of the Act being published in English.

The High Court found in 2008 that the State was not required to provide documents in criminal cases in both languages – but in other cases, courts could find that laws may not be applicable because an Irish language translation has yet to be produced. This could be particularly problematic if the court proceedings were to be brought as Gaeilge.

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