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 Header Item Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Referral to Select Committee

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 892 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] Those are the key provisions in this legislation.

  A number of my colleagues have mentioned the SME sector. On the broader issue of SMEs, coming up to the budget next Tuesday, it is important for society that the Government supports small businesses. They have had a rough couple of years but they are now beginning to re-emerge and are hoping to develop their various businesses and take on people. We should therefore all encourage them and come up with some sensible proposals to help the small business sector. Recently, I had a successful public meeting with my colleague Senator Feargal Quinn in Dublin Bay North. We listened to a group of small business representatives from across my constituency and had an interesting meeting with them. In recent weeks, I have put many of the proposals raised at that meeting to the Minister. We need to examine such proposals.

  My colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, spoke of the need to break out of the current mindset and push for an all-Ireland economy in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. These are sensible proposals because an Ireland that is united on economic and social issues makes for a strong country.

  The legislation before us states that the EU will apply the Hague Convention to insurance contracts in the following cases:

where the contract is a reinsurance contract; where the choice of court agreement is entered into after the dispute has arisen; where the choice of court agreement relates to a contract of insurance which covers one or more of the following risks considered to be large risks: any loss or damage arising from perils which relate to their use for commercial purposes, of, or to: seagoing ships, installations situated offshore or on the high seas or river, canal and lake vessels; aircraft; railway rolling stock; any loss of or damage to goods in transit or baggage other than passengers' baggage, irrespective of the form of transport.

While we are discussing transported goods and passengers, it is opportune to reflect on the crisis facing the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming out of Syria at the moment due to the horrific conflict there. I strongly believe that Ireland can play its part in assisting these people. There should be no fudge on this operation. Of course, neighbouring countries in that region also have responsibilities but, as a small nation, we can play our part as well. Last week, we had an interesting discussion on this matter at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, where there was cross-party support for helping those refugees. We can act in a humanitarian manner not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because of our history. Many of us have relations in America, Australia, England and elsewhere who emigrated over the years, so we know what it is like to be emigrants. We should not breed fear, as some are doing in Irish society. Young immigrant children are some of the most dedicated students one could ever meet in primary schools. Some immigrants who arrive with no money in their pockets can often become very successful people in their own right. They, in turn, will make a contribution to the Irish economy. It was interesting to note the other day that when the Tory Government in England was having a go at immigrants and refugees, and coming out with very dangerous policies, the first people to criticise the government were in the business sector. They stood up and said that the immigrants' contribution to the economy should not be ignored.

  Overall, I welcome the debate on this legislation. I think the Bill is a sensible one and I will be supporting it.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I am delighted to hear that Deputy Finian McGrath has relations in Argentina. If they are handy footballers he might pass on their details, seeing as we have lost out on Jack Grealish. We also lost out on José Luis Brown, who scored the first goal in the 1986 World Cup final for Argentina. I believe he had an Irish background. We could probably do with a few such players this evening.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Absolutely. We will need them tonight.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I would like to thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate for the observations they made. I appreciate the welcoming and open atmosphere in which the discussions of this somewhat technical Bill have taken place. This reflects the fact that the legislation we are dealing with is not especially controversial in character, which is probably the reason I am speaking pretty much to myself in the Chamber.

Notwithstanding its technical nature, this Bill has a part to play in promoting and supporting Ireland as a successful trading nation. The development and maintenance of trade relations are, of course, important at any time but they are of particular importance to Ireland and the European Union as we emerge from past economic difficulties. As I said in my earlier intervention, legal certainty and predictability can contribute towards the progressive elimination of barriers to trade and can enable business and commercial relationships to flourish both within the EU and outside it. Commercial bodies need to be certain that they can readily enforce contracts and secure enforcement of judgments for what can be, in some cases, quite significant sums of money. In a small way, this Bill and the convention it implements can help to protect and promote Irish business interests abroad. Deputies will appreciate the fact that Ireland is a trade-dependent nation. The Choice of Court Convention creates legal certainty and predictability by establishing a framework for upholding choice of court agreements in cases that end up before the courts of countries bound by this convention. The guarantees offered by this framework should allow parties to trade with greater confidence than heretofore. While the legislation we are considering is mandated by our membership of the European Union, it is very much in our own interest to legislate in a progressive fashion in this area.

As Deputies may not be very familiar with the work of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, perhaps I could say a few words about that body. The Hague Conference is a body of long standing. It held its first meeting in 1893 and became a permanent intergovernmental organisation in 1955. Its 80 members are representative of all continents. In addition to the 28 member states of the European Union, and the European Union itself, its membership includes countries as diverse as China, Japan, Russia, Peru, Egypt, Monaco, South Africa and the United States of America. A melting pot of different legal traditions, it develops and provides support services for multilateral legal instruments which respond to global needs. An increasing number of non-member states are also becoming parties to the various Hague conventions and, as a result, the work of the conference encompasses more than 145 countries around the world. In addition to the type of commercial relationships encompassed by the Choice of Court Convention, personal and family disputes in more than one country are commonplace in the modern world. Faced with disputes which have an international element, courts will apply their private international law rules, and these rules may differ from country to country. The statutory mission of the Hague Conference is to work for the progressive unification of these rules. This involves finding internationally agreed approaches to issues such as jurisdiction of the courts, applicable law, and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in a wide range of areas, from commercial law and banking law to international civil procedure and from child protection to matters of marriage and personal status. Ireland is bound by eight Hague conventions and a protocol associated with one of those conventions, which cover areas as diverse as the civil aspects of international child abduction, protection of children and co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption, and the service abroad of judicial and extra-judicial documents in civil and commercial matters.

In conclusion, I would like to make the following points about the Choice of Court Convention and the regime which it applies. It is mainly intended as an optional worldwide judicial alternative to the existing arbitration system, which is also widely used by commercial parties. Its approval by the EU should reduce legal uncertainty for EU companies trading outside the EU by ensuring that choice of court agreements included in their international trading contracts are respected, and that judgments issued by the courts designated in such agreements will be eligible for recognition in the other countries that are contracting parties to the convention. The convention fills a void in the current international legal framework, as virtually no treaty relationships exist in this area between the individual member states and the EU's main trading partners. In this context, an impact assessment prepared by the Commission suggests that uncertainty regarding which court would resolve disputes was a factor taken into account when reaching significant business decisions, and the legal uncertainty in this area was identified as a potential barrier to trade. That assessment also noted that the vast majority of commercial contracts contain provisions which deal with dispute resolution and that a significant percentage of such contracts include an exclusive choice of court clause.

As I said at the outset, this Bill is largely an exercise in the promotion of legal certainty. There will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to explore these matters further. Once again, I would like to thank Members for their contributions to our discussions today.

  Question put and agreed to.

Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Referral to Select Committee

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality pursuant to Standing Order 82A(3)(a) and 126(1) of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business and paragraph (8) of the Orders of Reference of Select Committees.

  Question put and agreed to.


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