Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

3:00 pm

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

The recent European Court of Justice decision is about where the dispute between Ireland and the United Kingdom concerning Sellafield should be litigated. It does not deal with the merits of the dispute itself. In 2001, the Government instituted legal proceedings against the United Kingdom before the tribunal provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The advice available to the Government at that time indicated that the dispute resolution procedures provided under the convention were an appropriate avenue for the litigation of the issues raised for Ireland by the continued operation of Sellafield. This advice was based on the best analysis as to the state of Community and international law at the time. The action in going to UNCLOS was widely welcomed politically in this House.

The European Commission contested Ireland's right to take proceedings under UNCLOS procedures. Ireland considered that national competence operated in this area and that, consequently, the duty to co-operate with and consult the Commission on the dispute proceedings with the UK did not arise. It is interesting to note that in discussions between Ireland's legal team and the legal service of the Commission, it was recognised that these issues were not the subject of settled law at the time.

The court judgment on 30 May, inter alia, declared that Ireland, by instituting proceedings against the UK under UNCLOS, failed to fulfil its obligations under Community law. The judgment also established that certain provisions of UNCLOS form part of the Community legal order and that the European Court of Justice has jurisdiction to determine disputes on their interpretation and application. Therefore, the judgment represents a significant development and clarification of Community law. It means that the resolution of disputes between member states on a wide range of international agreements, especially in the environmental field, comes within the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

The judgment presents member states, such as Ireland, with new mechanisms for holding other member states to account on their transboundary environmental obligations. These and other issues consequent on the judgment are being examined in detail by Ireland's international legal team, led by the Attorney General. Ireland's strategy in pursuit of the objectives of this case will be considered and determined by Government based on this examination and analysis.

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