The remarks by Miriam Walsh, a District Court judge, have been described as “reckless and unhelpful” by the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR), which said they underlined the need for specialist training for members of the judiciary.
They came in a case in which a foreign national living in Ireland for the past five years sought the assistance of an interpreter when he appeared in court on assault charges.
The 24-year-old man had pleaded guilty to assaulting two people in a takeaway restaurant and threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour while drunk.
Judge Walsh noted that interpreter costs were funded by the taxpayer and said: “They have no need for an interpreter when they go to buy their hooch. They don’t need assistance when they’re signing on for social welfare.”
She continued: “While he might have very little recollection of what happened, his two victims have.
“He’s been living in Ireland for the past five years and he wants an interpreter.
“He didn’t need an interpreter with him when he went to buy his drink, or when he goes shopping. They know more English than we know ourselves.
“I’m sick to the back teeth of people hiding behind interpreters. He beat the sugar out of two people who were just doing their job that night.”
Judge Walsh made the comments during a recent sitting of Portlaoise District Court.
INAR, an umbrella group for 170 organisations committed to combating racism and discrimination, condemned the judge’s remarks.
“A basic principle of justice is that all are equal before the law. That means being able to have equal access and understanding of legal proceedings,” said INAR director Shane O Curry.
“This really underlines the points made by many anti-racism advocates that there should be mandatory anti-racism training for all members of the judiciary and that interpreters should be provided automatically and should not have to be requested through the court. They should be provided as a right.”
Judge Walsh did not respond to a request for comment.
The court heard the defendant went behind the takeaway counter and punched a staff member several times in the face. Then he punched another man who tried to help the staff member. Sentencing in the case was adjourned.
A former solicitor, Judge Walsh was appointed to the bench in 2015 and made headlines within months when she was punched and kicked by a man who disagreed with a ruling she gave in a family law case in Dublin.
Her remarks came against the backdrop of increasing demand for interpreters after a drop-off during the pandemic.
Courts received 9,216 requests for interpreters last year compared to 7,513 in 2020. Court interpreters cost €1.5m in 2021 and €1m in 2020.
Interpretation costs were considerably higher during the Celtic Tiger years, reaching €3.6m just as the economy crashed in 2008.
In the past two years the most common languages for which an interpreter was required were Polish (1,962), Romanian (1,519), Lithuanian (1,005), Russian (808), Portuguese (353), Latvian (235), Arabic (199), Mandarin Chinese (166), Hungarian (131) and Georgian (116).