IN an ongoing case of two local Sinn Féin activists charged with selling Easter lilies without a permit, a highly technical legal debate took place in the Magistrates Court this week regarding the archaic legislation governing the charge.
West Tyrone MLA, Declan McAleer (39), of Loughmacrory Road and Kevin Barry McColgan (39) from Barony Heights were observed by police officers as they distributed Easter lilies outside Healy Park GAA ground in Omagh last Easter as the crowd made there way to the National League game between Tyrone and Monaghan.
They are charged with carrying out an unlawful street collection when a permit had not been obtained which comes under legislation dating back to the formation of the ‘Northern Ireland state’ in 1922.
Barrister Joe McCann, instructed by Michael Fahy, stated that it was not appropriate to lay the charges against the two defendants claiming that the law governing the alleged offences was null and void. Mr McCann said the regulation covering the charge, which was later updated in 1927, was not written properly and is inappropriate for 2013.
The discussion between District Judge Bernie Kelly, Mr McCann and a lawyer from the Public Prosecution Service sought to clarify the wording and whether it was still legally applicable.
During part of the debate, Judge Kelly stated that many records were destroyed in the fire at Dublin GPO during the 1916 uprising. The act that brought the particular legislation into effect was first drawn up in 1916 when the entire island of Ireland was under the control of the British Government.
There was laughter in the courtroom when Judge Kelly pointed out that according to the legislation the monetary penalty for the offence is 40 shillings. The old currency was disposed of in 1971 when 20 shillings equated to one pound. Judge Kelly said if the letter of the law was to be followed, in the event of a conviction the men would pay a monetary penalty of £2 each.
However, both are strenuously denying the offence.
The judge asked the lawyers for the defence and prosecution to go and further research the law archives both locally and in Dublin regarding the lifting of a street collection without a permit.
They will return to the Magistrates Court on February 12 for further legal discussion.