11 May 2018

 

Minister Flanagan sets out his concerns about Brexit

Gives an insight into his Department’s Brexit work

Speaks as guest of honour at the Irish Law Awards

 

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has outlined his concerns about possible consequences of the UK withdrawal from the EU and has also provided an insight into just some of the steps his Department has been taking as it prepares for Brexit.

 

Attending the 2018 Irish Law Awards as guest of honour, he congratulated awardees, acknowledged the contribution of the legal profession to wider society, spoke about how the Government’s Legal Services Regulation Act, 2015 will present new opportunities in the way services can be provided, and then brought his audience up to date with Brexit.

 

Making the point that lawyers need to negotiate many deals, including commercial and sometimes divorce ones, the Minister referred to Brexit as a negotiation which involved both, and gave his audience some insights into the considerable background work which has been undertaken.

 

“You probably are not aware that my Department has gone through 700 EU instruments and selected the key issues.  We’ve gathered information through the Taoiseach’s Department, Foreign Affairs, direct talks with the Home Office, our people in Brussels, industry bodies and others to prepare an analysis of the situation as it impacts on the Department of Justice and Equality.” 

 

Minister Flanagan set out how his Department’s major concerns had been addressed in phase one of the Brexit talks and outlined his concerns about the future.

 

He said that following the UK referendum outcome, the first priority for the Department of Justice was to protect the Common Travel Area.  The Minister explained his officials had carried out an extensive period of research going back to the 1920s to establish the basis of the Common Travel Area and delineate the legal and administrative arrangements associated with it

 

“We, as part of team led by the Taoiseach’s Department and Foreign Affairs, had to present our case to the Commission negotiating team and show them that it was a valid pre-existing bilateral arrangement that did not conflict with EU law.  Fortunately, the UK from the outset made clear their intent to maintain the Common Travel Area and the Commission were conscious of its importance in the context of Northern Ireland.  The Common Travel Area was part of the first phase of negotiations and we are happy with the progress made there.”

 

Outlining his concerns for the future, Minister Flanagan stated:

 

“A broader set of justice issues will need to be addressed as part of the next phase of the negotiations dealing with the future relationship between the EU and the UK.  In particular, I want to ensure that the efficiencies introduced by the European Arrest Warrant can remain. I am very concerned about the potential fall out if the EU and the UK had to revert to the previous Extradition Convention.

 

“Other key instruments where continued cooperation with the UK on criminal justice matters is essential include Mutual Legal Assistance, EUROPOL, Prum for checking fingerprints, DNA and car registration and the Passenger Name Record Directive.

 

“Similarly, the need to avoid operational gaps for law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities in the UK and the EU is also essential to ensuring the continuation of the very effective co-operation we currently enjoy.

 

“Of course, while we have continually stressed to the UK and the Commission negotiating team how important instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant are, and my officials are in the room when Northern Ireland issues are negotiated in an observer capacity, we are in the in the hands of the UK and the EU.”

 

Minister Flanagan warned: “There are huge challenges ahead for all of us in ensuring that the post-Brexit landscape does not adversely affect our relationships with Northern Ireland, with the rest of the UK or with our EU partners. This is particularly important in the criminal justice area, where so much progress has been made to enhance co-operation in recent years.

 

But he reassured his audience, stating our national response to the impact of Brexit is unrelenting.”

 

Speaking about the broader issue, the Minister outlined the work which has been going into building alliances and he referred too, to recent poll findings which show Irish people to be strong supporters of EU membership.

 

“While one of the impacts of Brexit is that we lose a natural ally in the EU, we’ve been working hard to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones to maximise our effectiveness as a small country at the EU table. This is important for the negotiations on the departure of Britain, but is essential if Ireland is to be properly represented in a future EU where we will be the leading common law country.  We work on a daily basis to make sure that our EU relationships are constructive and supportive, so it is heartening to see the Red C poll released this week which showed that, for the first time, Ireland remaining in the EU has jumped to over 90%, with 92% of those surveyed agreeing that Ireland should remain as part of the EU.  There are huge challenges ahead for all of us in ensuring that the post-Brexit landscape does not adversely affect our relationships with Northern Ireland, with the rest of the UK, or with our EU partners. This is particularly important in the criminal justice area, where so much progress has been made to enhance co-operation in recent years. “

 

The Minister concluded his address by thanking the industry for their assistance in Brexit preparations so far, noting

 

“I know that we have common cause in aiming to exploit every competitive advantage that can accrue to Ireland, its legal services sector and its renowned justice system as an English-speaking, EU Member State, in a post-Brexit setting”. 

 

Ends

 

 

Note to editors:

 

The Irish Law Awards, which are now in their eighth year, commend excellence in the Irish legal profession, whilst also recognising and honouring the outstanding achievements of individual lawyers and firms throughout Ireland. Over 500 legal professionals from around Ireland attend the ceremony.

 

Among the categories presented on the evening are; The Lifetime Achievement Award, which in 2017 went to The Hon. Mr. Justice Ronan Keane and was presented to him by the Hon. Ms. Justice Susan Denham, and Law Firm of the Year which went to Ronan Daly Jermyn.

 

Award recipients are selected following a stringent judging process. Solicitor and Notary Public, Dr Eamonn G Hall chairs the judging panel, which consists of experts drawn from the legal sector throughout the country.

 

The awards have a long standing relationship with our charity partners, The Peter McVerry Trust and the Barristers' Benevolent Society and the Solicitors' Benevolent Society. To date over €44,000 has been raised from ticket sales and donations at the awards for these charities.

 

Since the awards inception, media partnerships with the Sunday Business Post, The Financial Times and Kantar Media have helped to raise the profile of the awards.

 

 

 

 

Check Against Delivery

 

Speech by Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan

 

Irish Law Awards, Friday May 11 2018

 

It gives me great pleasure to participate in this year’s Irish Law Awards Ceremony. 

The Awards have become an established annual event and a recognised standard-bearer for the legal professions, so I am delighted to be here and I would first of all like to acknowledge those of you who have supported it - whether as sponsors, judges or participants.

 

Having enjoyed the recent Law Society Gala, which Miriam O’Callaghan also splendidly hosted, I want to acknowledge your charity partners in the Benevolent Society of the Bar of Ireland and the Solicitors’ Benevolent Association. As Minister for Justice and Equality, and a former practitioner, I am aware of the wider contribution that the legal profession makes to the community. This combines your more obvious engagement with the judicial system, and your less obvious provision of support at pro bono level. It also includes your submissions to Government consultations on matters of legal and policy reform, which go far beyond narrow professional interest, and are a valuable part of our deliberative processes.

 

Even a brief perusal of this evening’s nominees for the various categories of award shows the range of talented people who shape and deliver legal services locally, nationally and internationally. 

 

The focus of a number of this evening’s awards on the client services side of our work is particularly welcome. We now operate in a world with a much more empowered and informed community of consumers, facilitated by new business technologies and social media.  As you will be aware, part of the Government’s response to changes in the broader legal services environment is found in the Legal Services Regulation Act of 2015. This has led to the establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which is independent in the performance of its functions. It has just published its first Strategic Plan for the years 2018-2020, which I have laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Plan sets out the Authority’s key priorities and objectives for the next three years, including indicative timelines for the coming into operation of its remaining functions.

 

As well as providing a more independent regulatory regime for lawyers in the State, the Act presents new opportunities in the way legal services can be provided. Along with officials of my Department, I will continue to work closely with the Authority to enable it to come into substantive regulatory mode at the earliest opportunity. I will continue to place particular emphasis on the roll-out of the public complaints functions, the new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, and on the early introduction of Legal Partnerships and of Limited Liability Partnerships. I wish to commend the Law Society, and the Bar of Ireland for their ongoing constructive engagement on these matters.

 

Tonight’s awards are an opportunity to salute the excellence of the legal profession and to recognise and honour the outstanding achievements of individual lawyers and firms.  It also provides the opportunity to reflect on the range of talents a legal practitioner needs to excel in this ever-changing environment.  In addition to keeping abreast of current developments in the field, every one of you demonstrate every day your skills as good communicators, good listeners, and good negotiators, whether negotiating commercial deals with potential consequences for the economy, or fair deals for those preparing to divorce. I am currently working on a negotiation that you could say has commercial and divorce aspects – Brexit.  The late Stephen Hawking has been quoted as saying that he deals with tough mathematical questions every day but please don’t ask him to help with Brexit, so I thought you might be interested in hearing tonight about the preparations that are underway in my Department for this complex, multi-dimensional negotiation.

 

From Ireland’s perspective, at all times since the Brexit vote, we have made our headline priorities clear:

 

-     Minimising the impact of Brexit on trade and the economy

-     Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process

-     Maintaining the Common Travel Area

-     Influencing the future development of the European Union. 

 

Of course, the first difficulty in preparing for this negotiation was that it is the first divorce in the EU family.  When the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on 29 March 2017, the basis in the EU Treaties for withdrawal within 2 years had never been used before.  In May 2017 the European Council authorised the commencement of negotiations and adopted the EU negotiating Directive. The negotiations have been phased to focus on the divorce aspects – the financial settlement, the treatment of people and  -at our behest – issues relating to Northern Ireland, before movement to discuss the future relationship between the UK and the EU, including a free trade arrangement. Ireland’s goal is to negotiate effectively as part of the EU27, with the objective of reaching an agreement that sees the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, while also ensuring a strong and well-functioning EU.  We did not wish to see the UK leaving the EU, and we are intent on keeping good relationships with both the EU and the UK, so a fair and transparent process is important for everyone involved.  We will want the future relationship to be close, comprehensive and ambitious.

 

That Northern Ireland has been a priority from the outset; that agreement has been reached on a backstop agreement in the absence of other solutions; the public recognition by both Governments of the continued application of the Common Travel Area  - these are the result of continuous work behind the scenes. The fact that the Common Travel Area and the Good Friday Agreement have featured so prominently in phase one of the discussions is testament to the efforts of Irish Ministers, politicians and civil servants to emphasise their importance.

 

To give you an example of the kind of work that my Department progressed on the  Common Travel Area, the starting point was to research the Common Travel Area to establish its basis and delineate the legal and administrative arrangements associated with it. This meant research going back to the 1920s as it derives from the fact that under British law we remained subjects of the Crown up to 1948. It extended beyond the scope of this Department, so we chaired a working group with six other Government Departments. The Common Travel area is mentioned in Protocol 20 to the Treaties and we had to explore the legal implications of that with the Attorney General’s office and friends in the Council Legal Service.  We, as part of team led by the Taoiseach’s Department and Foreign Affairs, then had to present our case to the Commission negotiating team and show them that it was a valid pre-existing bilateral arrangement that did not conflict with EU law.  Fortunately, the UK from the outset made clear their intent to maintain the Common Travel Area and the Commission were conscious of its importance in the context of Northern Ireland.  The Common Travel Area was part of the first phase of negotiations and we are happy with the progress made there.

 

Irish Government officials in Dublin and Brussels –including officials of my Department, have been informing and guiding the negotiations so that there is a full understanding by all involved of the situation with regard to Northern Ireland. North South co-operation –supported by a shared EU regulatory framework –has flourished in areas covered by the Good Friday Agreement, such as agriculture and environment and in other areas like energy, telecommunications and broadcasting.  For peace and prosperity the invisible border must remain so –and we were pleased that the EU-UK agreement in December noted that the avoidance of a hard border as an overarching requirement. The legal backstop subsequently agreed is not the UK’s first preference or ours – our first preference remains for the UK to seek and agree a future relationship so close and comprehensive that no other solution to maintain an invisible border is needed – but all negotiations need a fall-back position.  And a contingency plan for the possibility of negotiations failing –and we’ve been working on that too.

 

Effective negotiations depend on the quality of relationships, and we’ve had steadfast support from the EU 27.  We’ve worked hard at political and official level to not to take this support for granted; to visit EU capitals; to maintain open lines of communication, to identify issues arising before they emerge in the talks; to build an understanding of the Northern Ireland issue and the ingredients of peace which we are trying to protect. While one of the impacts of Brexit is that we lose a natural ally in the EU, we’ve been working hard to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones to maximise our effectiveness as a small country at the EU table. This is important for the negotiations on the departure of Britain, but is essential if Ireland is to be properly represented in a future EU where we will be the leading common law country.  We work on a daily basis to make sure that our EU relationships are constructive and supportive, so it is heartening to see the Red C poll released this week which showed that, for the first time, Ireland remaining in the EU has jumped to over 90%, with 92% of those surveyed agreeing that Ireland should remain as part of the EU.  The survey also indicates growing support for Irish involvement in increased EU defence and security co-operation.

 

And we’ve done our homework in advance of the negotiations.  You probably are not aware that my Department has gone through 700 EU instruments and selected the key issues.  We’ve gathered information through the Taoiseach’s Department, Foreign Affairs, direct talks with the Home Office, our people in Brussels, industry bodies and others to prepare an analysis of the situation as it impacts on the Department of Justice and Equality. 

 

A broader set of justice issues will need to be addressed as part of the next phase of the negotiations dealing with the future relationship between the EU and the UK.  In particular, I want to ensure that the efficiencies introduced by the European Arrest Warrant can remain. I am very concerned about the potential fall out if the EU and the UK had to revert to the previous Extradition Convention.

 

Other key instruments where continued cooperation with the UK on criminal justice matters is essential include Mutual Legal Assistance, EUROPOL, Prum for checking fingerprints, DNA and car registration and the Passenger Name Record Directive.

 

Similarly, the need to avoid operational gaps for law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities in the UK and the EU is also essential to ensuring the continuation of the very effective co-operation we currently enjoy.

 

Of course, while we have continually stressed to the UK and the Commission negotiating team how important instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant are, and my officials are in the room when Northern Ireland issues are negotiated in an observer capacity, we are in the in the hands of the UK and the EU.

 

But our national response to the impact of Brexit is unrelenting. 

 

There are huge challenges ahead for all of us in ensuring that the post-Brexit landscape does not adversely affect our relationships with Northern Ireland, with the rest of the UK or with our EU partners. This is particularly important in the criminal justice area, where so much progress has been made to enhance co-operation in recent years.

 

In terms of the current state of play, significantly more progress is needed on the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that there is no major change before the end of December 2020. October remains the cut-off date for an overall agreement, to allow the EU Member States to review the deal through their Parliamentary processes before the European Parliament elections in 2019. In the worst-case scenario, it also allows preparations to commence on alternatives to an agreement being reached, although this is not a position that any of the parties to the negotiation wishes to be in or is aiming for.

 

I hope my presentation tonight has given you a flavour that much more is going on behind closed doors on justice issues in the Brexit context that you might realise. I want to acknowledge the work being done by the Law Society, and the Council of the Bar of Ireland towards meeting the challenges of Brexit. I will continue to look to the people in this room –Ireland’s finest legal talents –to assist myself and my Department to come up with solutions to some of the difficult issues which may still arise during the course of this most important work. I know that we have common cause in aiming to exploit every competitive advantage that can accrue to Ireland, its legal services sector and its renowned justice system as an English-speaking, EU Member State, in a post-Brexit setting. 

 

I wish to offer my congratulations to those whose achievements will be recognised tonight and to wish you all a most enjoyable evening.