UPDATED 3.20PM / 3.27pm / 5.22pm
:: The Chairperson of the Irish Polish Society has said that she is outraged at comments made by a District Court Judge about Polish people.
The judge, a Sligo woman, yesterday apologised over a remark she made in court suggesting that social welfare was a Polish charity.
Judge Mary Devins, wife of former Fianna Fáil Junior Minister and Sligo TD Dr Jimmy Devins, yesterday issued a statement through the Courts Service to clarify a comment made at Castlebar court last Friday.
The judge made the remark while hearing the case of a trainee plumber over a public order offence in which the man had called an Irish security guard a “fat Polish fucker” and a "fat Polish prick".
In a previous hearing, Judge Conall Gibbons had described the term as "quasi-racist". The bouncer was in fact Irish.
Enda Moylette, of Derrycoorane, Islandeady, Castlebar, had pleaded guilty when his case was heard several months previously by Judge Conal Gibbons.
Judge Gibbons had adjourned it to a sitting on Friday last after he ordered the man to save up and pay €1,000 to a Polish charity in lieu of a conviction and a fine.
The case returned before Judge Mary Devins last Friday.
When the question arose at Friday’s court hearing over whether there was a Polish charity in Ireland, Judge Devins remarked: “A Polish charity? There is. It’s called the social welfare.”
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."Unacceptable, Inappropriate and Disgraceful"
"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".
Judge Devins issued a statement yesterday, through The Courts Service, after the remarks were reported in some Co Mayo newspapers.
She said that the “recent comment in court was made in the context of – and alluding to – another recent, violent, alcohol-fuelled incident”.
The incident had involved “several defendants of Polish origin who were all recipients of social welfare payments”, she said.
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”, she said.
“If insult was taken from my comment I apologise for same,” she added in an all too familiar political-type statement.
Judge Devins’s remarks have provoked many comments on social media and online discussion forums in support of the growing Polish community in Ireland.
For the first time there are more Polish nationals living in the State than UK citizens, figures from the 2011 census found.
Chairperson of the Irish Polish Society, Anna Szewc, said that comments like these, do nothing to help people from other countries integrate with the Irish.
The number of Polish nationals in Ireland has grown by 94 per cent since 2006. Polish – with 119,526 speakers – was the foreign language most spoken in the home, the census found.
It is understood that the judge refused to sanction a Polish charity as the recipient of the €1,000.
When it was suggested to her that the Polish Chaplaincy in Ireland could be a suitable charity Judge Devins said she would prefer a local charity to benefit.
She added she had a difficulty in granting the payment and referred it back before Judge Gibbons.
Update 15.20hrs (3.20pm)
Sligo Judge Mary Devins will most likely be questioned and could be arrested as a formal complaint is being lodged this afternoon with gardaí over comments by her comparing social welfare to a Polish charity.
The Integration Centre said remarks by Judge Mary Devins were disgraceful and bigoted, and her apology rambling, contrived and spurious.
The Irish Polish Society has accepted the apology, in which the judge said her comment 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.
However, Killian Forde, of the Integration Centre, will lodge a complaint at Pearse Street Garda Station under the Garda Racist Reporting Mechanism, which allows any person to report a racist incident even if they have not been the actual victim.
"Given that there is no mechanism to discipline or even to make a formal complaint about judges we feel obliged to take this action in response to Judge Devins' remark and her opportune and irrelevant so-called apology," he said.
"The Polish community in Ireland are now the biggest minority in the country and her remarks are, at best, grossly insulting to the tens of thousands of hard-working Poles.
"We could only imagine the horror if a British judge insulted the Irish community in Britain this way."
Anna Szewc, of the Irish Polish Society, accepted the apology, but warned that people in the judge's position need to be more careful.
"If it happened again maybe there should be some consequences from that, but you know sometimes people get emotions, you can always explain that with something else," she said.
The Court Service issued a statement on behalf of the judge which said: "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."
But Mr Forde said the apology inflamed the insult. "Her apology seeks to blame those offended by her remark for the insult they took," he added.
"She needed to give an unequivocal apology to Polish people. This she did not."15.27hrs (3.27pm)
New Apology from Judge
Judge Mary Devins has this afternoon offered a new apology 'unreservedly and without qualification' following her recent comments about social welfare.
"In response to my clarification and apology of yesterday regarding my recent comments I would like to add the following," read a statement from Judge Devins.
"I unreservedly and without qualification apologise for my off the cuff comments at a recent court case.
"I understand and accept the hurt these comments caused to members of the Polish community. This was never my intention and I express my sorrow for same.
"My previous clarification was an attempt to provide a context and was not intended in any way to dilute my apology for such unwarranted comments." See SligoToday.ie 3/8/12
The Integration Centre have stated that in light of the second apology issued today by Judge Devins they will now not lodge a complaint with the gardaí.
Chief Executive of the Integration Centre Killian Forde said he would, however, be writing to the President of the District Court to note the group's concern with the comments.
"We were due to go to the gardaí at 3pm but at 2.30pm a new statement came out from Judge Mary Devins in which she made the apology she should have orginally made," he said.
"... She apologised to the Polish community, takes responsibility for what was said, accepts (the comments) were insulting and has promised not to say them again.
We will write to the President of the District Court to note our concern."