The arrest of an Irish language school teacher in Belfast for speaking Irish “brings us back to the days of the penal laws”, said Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun.

Ms de Brun made her comments before she was due to attend a protest along with Irish language activists at the Belfast court where the woman’s case was heard.

Language activists picketed the yesterday in protest at charges of disorderly behaviour being brought against Maire Nic an Bhaird, from Dunmurry on the outskirts of west Belfast.

Ms Nic an Bhaird she was arrested only for speaking Irish and will plead not guilty.

She is also taking a case against the PSNI police, which she has accused of breaching her human rights.

In the magistrates’ court yesterday, the 24-year-old’s defence team applied to have the court proceedings in Irish. The case was adjourned until September 6.

Ms Nic an Bhaird was remanded on continuing bail.

Earlier in the day, around 50 Irish speakers gathered outside the court in support of the teacher. Among them was Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun.

Ms de Brun, who taught Ms Nic an Bhaird Irish, said the treatment of her former pupil by the PSNI belonged in penal times.

She said: “This sort of behaviour by the PSNI is a throwback to the penal days. Irish-language speakers will not be denied our basic right to speak our own language on our own streets by the PSNI or anyone else. That is the clear message coming from this case.”

Ms Nic an Bhaird was arrested on May 25 outside a nightclub on south Belfast’s Malone Road.

She said a police officer had approached her and ordered her to stop speaking Irish to her friends. She was arrested when she refused and taken to Musgrave Street barracks.

The teacher was charged with disorderly behaviour and detained for more than 12 hours before being released.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News