European Court rejects prisoner’s challenge

A republican prisoner has lost his European Court challenge over the right to wear an Easter lily in memory of the 1916 Irish Rising.

Christopher Donaldson, a prisoner in the republican wing at Maghaberry jail, County Antrim, took the case to Strasbourg’s Court of Human Rights.

He acted after he was punished for wearing an Easter lily in 2008.

The British authorities rule prisoners are not allowed to wear such emblems outside cells.

Exceptions are made for St Patrick’s Day shamrocks and Remembrance Day poppies which are deemed to be “non-political and non-sectarian” if worn at the appropriate time.

On Easter Sunday, 23 March 2008, Mr Donaldson wore an Easter lily, refused to remove it and was confined to his cell for three days as punishment.

He challenged the policy in the Six-County court system, but the High Court ruled that the policy was proportionate to “maintaining good order” in prison and claimed it was not discriminatory. Donaldson’s subsequent judicial review was dismissed.

In the European Court, seven judges ruled the prison’s rule had a legitimate aim, namely the prevention of possible disorder arising from prison warders taking offence at the sight of the Easter lily.

The judges said that the fact that the wing in the Donaldson case was segregated -- with only republican prisoners permitted in that section of the prison -- did not change their ruling.

Prison warders also had the right to avoid ‘threatening’ republican symbols, they ruled.

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