Wednesday, June 07, 2006

There'll be some Euro-bashing in Ireland...

In 2001 the Irish government sued the United Kingdom under Article 287 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, complaining that Sellafield was polluting the Irish sea. It has long been believed in Ireland that nuclear waste contamination emanating from Sellafield has been responsible for unusually high clusters of childhood leukemia on various parts of the East coast.

In addition to defending the case, the UK government convinced the European Commission to launch a procedural action against Ireland to hamper the Irish case. The gist of the action was that the Irish government were using the wrong procedures in complaining to the UN about the UK. Last week the European Court of Justice agreed with the Commission (and the UK). They said Ireland should have brought the case to the ECJ and not the UN tribunal.

"the act of submitting a dispute of this nature to a judicial forum such as the Arbitral Tribunal involves the risk that a judicial forum other than the Court will rule on the scope of obligations imposed on the Member States pursuant to Community law"(para. 174 of the decision).

The families of victims of childhood cancers in Ireland campaigned for a long time to get the Irish government to pursue the issues surrounding Sellafield. I remember the controversy back as far as the 1970s. No doubt there will have been a lot of Euro-bashing in my homeland about the decision. But the ECJ can't really be blamed for confirming EU rules thereby leading to five further wasted years in this saga. The UK government and the Irish government are the real culprits, though the Commission could have found a more worthy use of the funds spent in this case too. The UK government quite naturally and self-interestedly used every possible form of defence. For the Irish government, which is after all the master manipulator of EU regulations, to get caught out on procedural grounds will be seen in the corridors of power over there as something of an own goal.

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