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19 June 1997 Edition

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Boy arrested for speaking Irish

At the very moment RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan was telling a Donegal Summer School that the need for an understanding of cultural diversity was built into all RUC training courses, the RUC in Derry were arresting a 12 year old Irish-speaking child for giving his name in Irish.

Gearóid O Dochartaigh from the Little Diamond area has been brought up and educated through the medium of Irish. He has never been called by any other name. Last Saturday afternoon he was playing with two friends in the Westland Street area when an RUC Land Rover stopped and asked all three boys their names and addresses. They all gave their names. The RUC went back to the Land Rover and returned to tell Gearóid that if he didn't give his name in English, he would be arrested.

His mother, Betty Doherty, said, ``This really upset him. Passers-by came over to see what was happening. Eventually his cousin came by and a young mother told Gearóid to give his name in the same way he always gave it. The RUC insisted on arresting Gearóid, even though his cousin said he only lived 150 yards away and she could go get me. They slung him in the Land Rover without me.

``Ironically, one of the RUC men in the Land Rover was a fluent Irish speaker, and spoke to him in Irish on the way to the barracks.''

His mother is horrified at her son's experience. ``My son was traumatised simply for speaking his native language. I have two others in the house, both fluent Irish speakers. There's 300 at the Irish school. The community is full of these children. Irish is their first language. Do they all face arrest?

``Terrorising children like this is anti-Irish racism and abuse of my son's human rights. Ronnie Flanagan boasted to that Summer School in Donegal that `When police officers have an understanding of the differences they will better be able to respect the diverse cultures of the people they serve.'

``If this is how they respect cultures, I would hate to see how they disrespect them.''

When Betty Doherty finally saw her son in the Strand Road RUC Barracks the RUC Custody Officer told her, ``My officers have done nothing wrong,'' and said that ``the whole incident has been blown out of proportion.''

``I am very angry at the horrific experience my son endured. He was told in the Barracks that because he was bilingual he should answer in English, `because the law was written in English.' They added that if a Frenchman gave his name in French, they would arrest him, too!

``Are they expecting me to believe this? Or that every time they stop (SF Councillor) Gearóid O hEára in the street and his gives his name in Irish, they arrest him?''

Six County Chairperson Gearóid O hEára described the arrest as `blatant racism' and noted that the RUC acted illegally in stopping and questioning a juvenile in the absence of his parents. ``To arrest a 12 year old boy - who as an Irish speaker is entitled to use his native language - highlights the naked racism which is part of the ethos of this sectarian force.''
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