Tuesday 15 January 2019

Judge criticised for 'offensive' and 'inappropriate' comments about Travelling community

District Court Judge Kevin Kilrane
District Court Judge Kevin Kilrane
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A Judge has been criticised after he claimed that there is a “culture of savagery” that breaks out at Traveller funerals.

Judge Kevin Kilrane told Sligo District Court on Thursday April 20 that at every funeral amongst the community it had to be “littered with gardaí.”

“It’s an absolute scandal and I don’t know where it comes from,” said Judge Kilrane who asked a prominent member of the Travelling community, Patrick Sweeney (67) why violence was such a part of Traveller births, weddings and funerals.

Several members of the Travelling community were before the court charged with assault arising out of an incident at a mass at the Dominican Friary on February 4, 2017.

Judge Kilrane asked Patrick Sweeney, a native of Sligo now living in Hollymount, County Mayo who had been charged with two counts of assault himself arising from the occasion, on Michael and Kate Sweeney, why such vicious rows broke out.

“What is in the culture that causes those problems? Is it cultural or alcohol? Why do vendettas emerge at funerals?

“Why is there need for one hundred gardaí at a funeral?” asked the Judge. “I can’t answer that,” replied Patrick Sweeney.

Judge Kilrane said this was nonsense.

“You were born into it, you know it, the culture,” said Judge Kilrane.

“Why is there need for that kind of savagery? Can you help me in that. Why is it a know feature of Traveller births, deaths and marriages? I do not understand where this violence comes from,” he said.

The defendant said he could only speak for his family and that any funeral they’ve ever held was respectful. He said he had grown up in Sligo, played darts for the county and was a boxing referee.

The judge's comments were criticised by Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre who said that they were "offensive" and "inappropriate".

“These comments by District Court Judge Kevin Kilrane are offensive, inappropriate and unacceptable from anyone – but particularly a judge, given their status in society. Such comments legitimise and give licence to others to express similar statements," said Martin Collins, Co-Director, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.

"These comments stereotype Travellers as inherently violent which is completely unfair as there are many events that take place in the Traveller community where there is no violence.   

"Judge Kilrane asks about the numbers of gardaí that sometimes attend Traveller funerals and I would suggest that this is done on the assumption that there will be violence – which is prejudice in itself."

Mr Collins said that Judge Kilrane's remarks show the need for more education around the Travelling community.

"These comments also highlight the need for anti-racism training for judges which would include the fact that a person’s ethnicity is not relevant in court proceedings. No ethnic group is immune to criminal activity.

"We welcome the fact that the Judicial Council Bill is going through the Oireachtas at the moment – whereby there would be a complaints procedure in terms of judges. In the meantime we will be writing a letter of complaint to the Association of Judges in Ireland.”

In court, the case had been adjourned for ten minutes to allow the parties consult their solicitors and in turn speak with the Inspector.

On resumption, the defendants gave undertakings not to interfere with the complainants or cause anyone else to either in person or through social media.

Judge Kilrane had probed a number of the defendants about taunting on social media and if they were aware of this going on.

Inspector Kilcoyne indicated he was happy for the matters to be adjourned for 12 months if undertakings were given.

However, he wished to have liberty to re-enter the matters immediately if there was any further trouble.

Patrick Sweeney told the Judge that his family were the “condemned party” and that the Inspector had “heard the other side.”

“I want to explain a bit of our story to the Inspector,” he said before outlining that there had been a problem with the headstone with two female family members wanting a bigger one than the four foot high one allowed at Sligo Cemetery.

There was friction as a result.

The defendant was the first to give the undertaking followed by Thomas Conroy (44) of 23 Ard Rua, Claremorris who was charged with assaulting Michael and Nora Sweeney; Michael Sweeney (38), Brookfield, Ballinode who was charged with assaulting Michael Sweeney; Tom Sweeney (40) of Kilmore Heights, Kilkelly who was charged with assaulting Michael Sweeney; Edward Sweeney (30) of Hollymount who was charged with assaulting Michael Sweeney; Martin Sweeney (37) 3 Mulberry Park, Ballinode who was charged with assaulting Kate Sweeney; Patrick Sweeney (30), Hollymount who was charged with assaulting Michael Sweeney.

The court heard that another defendant, Martin Ard Rua Conroy (23) of 23 Ard Rua, Claremorris who is charged with assaulting Michael Sweeney was in hospital and his case was adjourned for a week.

The other cases were put back to April 25 2019.

*With additional reporting from the Sligo Champion

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News