The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has expressed concern at the impact future Brexit arrangements may have on criminal justice arrangments between Ireland north and south, Britain and the EU.
Mr Flanagan made the comments as he outlined the wider 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 said 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.
“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.
The Minister concluded his address by thanking the industry for their assistance in Brexit preparations so far.
“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”.