Fury over judge’s Polish slur

There has been a furious reaction from the Polish community to a Mayo judge’s comment, made in court, that the social welfare system is a “Polish charity”.

Judge Mary Devins made the remark in the case of a man who pleaded guilty to calling a bouncer at a nightclub a “fat Polish fucker”.

In a previous hearing, Judge Conall Gibbons had described the term as “quasi-racist”. The bouncer was in fact Irish.

During his hearing of the case against Enda Moylette, of Derrycoorane, Island-eady, Castlebar, Co Mayo, for public order offences, Judge Gibbons said that such views had to be stopped in their tracks. He adjourned the case to last Friday, ordering Moylette to pay €1,000 to a Polish charity in lieu of a conviction and a fine.

Judge Devins was presiding over last Friday’s court. When the question arose of whether there is a Polish charity in Ireland, she said: “A Polish charity? There is. It’s called the social welfare.”

Last night, the judge sought to excuse the comment by saying it was made “in the context of and alluding to” an incident that involved Polish defendants who were recipients of social welfare payments.

However, Barnaba Dorda, a Siptu trade union official and member of the steering board of the Polish Forum in Ireland, said the judge’s comments made his “blood boil”. “That is a very unfair comment,” he said, adding that he had never heard such a remark from someone in a position of authority.

“We are working very hard in Ireland, as do Irish people,” said Mr Dorda. “We pay taxes, the universal social charge and so forth, so we are perfectly entitled to it [social welfare] if someone has trouble and loses their job and if they have paid the appropriate contributions to the social welfare. There should not be such a comment on that.

“There are strict rules, and if someone is entitled, they can get some support from the country because of the specific legislation. Such a comment is inappropriate and totally unacceptable. When I hear what this judge has said, a person in such a high position and who I presume is respected, the blood is boiling.”

Therese Ruane of the Mayo Intercultural Action group said the comments were “unacceptable, inappropriate and disgraceful”.

She said the Polish people her group works with are industrious, hardworking and “making a huge contribution to our community”.

A statement was sent out from the Courts Service last night which said: “Judge Mary Devins has clarified a comment contained in reports in the Mayo media relating to Polish charities as follows: ‘My recent comment in court was made in the context of, and alluding to, another recent, violent, alcohol-fuelled incident involving several defendants of Polish origin who were all recipients of social welfare payments. The comment was intended to be specific to that incident and occurrence and was never intended to offend any community, or members of any community. If insult was taken from my comment, I apologise for same.’”

Summing up

Judge Mary Devins has made her feelings on a number of issues clear in her court sittings:

* Earlier this year, she threatened a man with jail unless he cleared up large amounts of rubbish, including soiled nappies, in his garden. She told the man, whose family were in receipt of social welfare: “The Government is giving you money hand over fist. Why don’t you get up and do some work?”

* In 2009, Judge Devins banned a Mayo farmer from driving for one year, calling him “arrogant” for failing to pull over for traffic. “You don’t have the right to force other people to drive at 15mph,” she said.

* In February, she hit out at slow drivers in the case of a man who crashed into a car as he was overtaking it and two others. “Exceptionally slow drivers” can cause as many accidents as fast drivers, she said.

* Also this year, in the case of a man accused of undertaking three cars, she told the court she couldn’t understand how some cars drive at only 40mph when it “is the best road in the county”.

She said she wished gardaí would come out after the lead car.

* Away from motoring offences, Judge Devins said anti-prostitution campaigning group Ruhama “was doing excellent work but could be exploited” after sentencing a Nigerian woman, who gardaí said was a sex worker but who claimed to be a human trafficking victim, to four months in prison.

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