Irish Ferries has suffered a setback in its legal challenge to avoid paying compensation to thousands of passengers whose trips were cancelled on sailings between Ireland and France in the summer of 2018.
The ferry company contends that a decision by the National Transport Authority requiring it to pay compensation to many of the 20,000-plus passengers who had to change their travel plans is invalid, irrational, disproportionate and in breach of its rights under the Constitution and EU law.
However, a legal opinion issued by the Court of Justice of the EU on Thursday ruled that the EU regulations providing that compensation is payable to sea passengers affected by cancelled sailings applied to the Irish Ferries case.
It also found that Irish Ferries should pay any additional costs incurred by passengers who availed of re-routing options.
Although the legal opinion is not binding on the CJEU, its recommendation is followed in the vast majority of cases.
Irish Ferries was forced to cancel its 2018 summer sailings on the Dublin-Cherbourg route due to the delay in the delivery of a new €144m vessel, the W B Yeats, from a Germany shipyard.
The case was referred to the CJEU by the High Court in Dublin to determine if the NTA had correctly applied EU regulations governing the rights of sea passengers.
Irish Ferries cancelled all sailings between Dublin and Cherbourg in two tranches after delivery of the W B Yeats, which was scheduled for May/June 2018, ultimately did not take place until December 12, 2018 – 200 days behind its original due date.
The company was unable to charter a replacement vessel and had to offer and arrange alternative sailings on its other ship, the Oscar Wilde, between Ireland and France or re-routing via Britain.
In January 2019, the NTA declared that Irish Ferries had failed to comply with its obligations to reimburse any additional costs incurred by re-routed passengers.
It directed the company to pay compensation to passengers impacted by the cancellations who had to travel from either Rosslare or Roscoff instead of Dublin or Cherbourg and faced delays to their original travel plans as a result of the re-routing.
The NTA also required Irish Ferries to pay compensation to impacted passengers who had requested compensation.
Figures show 82% of passengers took up the option of alternative sailings between Ireland and France with 3% using the landbridge option via Britain, while 15% opted for a full reimbursement.
All passengers were also offered a €150 voucher for sailings with Irish Ferries in 2019.
Irish Ferries disputes the EU regulation on the rights of sea passengers to compensation applies where cancellations are announced some weeks before the scheduled sailings.
It claims the legislation only applies to passengers affected by imminent sailings who are at or en route to a port.
The CJEU’s legal opinion disagreed with the company’s claims that the delayed delivery of the W B Yeats constituted “extraordinary circumstances” under EU legislation which would exempt it from an obligation to pay compensation to passengers.
Irish Ferries has argued that not all passengers incurred additional costs in having to travel via Rosslare or Roscoff as they would have been closer to those ports than either Dublin or Cherbourg.
In High Court documents referring the case to the Luxembourg court and seeking answers to ten questions, Mr Justice Robert Haughton observed that there was a lack of definition of key words and phrases in the EU legislation.