Polish right-wingers focus ire on ‘Irish lesbian judge’

Mainstream media praises Aileen Donnelly’s referral of extradition case to Europe

Conservative media in Poland have stepped up their attack on High Court Justice Aileen Donnelly for suspending the extradition of a Polish man there and seeking clarity from Europe's highest court.

Two days after her decision, conservative newspaper Dziennik Narodowy and website wpolityce.pl saw a link between her decision and her sexual orientation.

"Irish lesbian judge suspends the extradition of a Polish criminal because she is concerned about the rule of law in our country," wrote the Dziennik Narowdny daily in a headline.

In its report it described Justice Donnelly as “the first openly homosexual person working at the High Court” and noted her work between 1996 and 2002 for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).


The Polish government has attacked as “incomprehensible” the High Court decision to seek a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg before deciding on the request to hand over a suspected drug trafficker.

Deputy justice minister Marcin Warchol said the decision was based on "general, abstract deliberations, projections and speculation". He described the man at the centre of the case, Artur Celmer as a "criminal sought in the whole of Europe".

Widespread coverage in Poland on the Irish case has now focused in some quarters on the woman behind the decision.

On the website wpolityce.pl, columnist Stanislaw Janecki noted Justice Donnelly was the “first lesbian” in the High Court and to “expect similar actions from progressive judges in other countries … and Aileen Donnelly will go into the world encouraging lawyers to cite her precedent”.

Another website said it “sincerely hopes that … the majority of Polish criminals will flee to Ireland because the courts are so kind to the degenerates”.

Poland’s mainstream independent media has been more positive.

Ms Ewa Siedlacka, a commentator at weekly magazine Polityka, described the Irish decision as "a huge shame but also a moral boost for those who are attached to the standards of the rule of law, to the independence of the courts and the independence of the judges".

‘Brought to heel’

The case has been applauded by Polish lawyers critical of the judicial reforms of the national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, and who see a common pattern in all 13 laws affecting the entire structure of the justice system.

“They have brought to heel the constitutional tribunal by weaponising the constitutional review against the opposition and limiting the court to rubber-stamping all legislative projects of the majority,” said Prof Tomasz Konciewicz, a Polish law professor teaching at Princeton University in the US.

He said Justice Donnelly’s referral “sends a clear signal that something very serious is happening”.

“The stakes could not be higher,” he said.

Mr Ruairi O’Neill, a Belfast-born lecturer in English and European Law at the University of Warsaw, agreed huge consequences loom if the ECJ declares Polish judges are no longer capable of exercising independent judgment.

“The European Commission will have the power, even the obligation, to freeze the transfer of EU funds to Poland if the Court declares that there is no independent dispute resolution mechanism in Poland to ensure compliance with EU funding rules,” he said.

Such a ruling would end the principle of mutual trust between Polish courts and those in the rest of the EU.

“That means all EU mutual recognition provisions - ranging from debt enforcement to cross-border issues on child custody and maintenance - can be suspended,” he said, “until the court reforms in Poland are reversed, and the EU institutions are satisfied that judicial independence has been restored.”

Leading ex-constitutional justices in Poland have applauded the Irish decision,with one telling The Irish Times: "We should send a letter of thanks to Justice Donnelly."

The Irish Times contacted the judge, the Courts Service and the Association of Judges for comment. None was forthcoming.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin