Alliance-Building in the European Union: Discussion

We will now be holding a discussion on alliance-building to strengthen the European Union. I welcome The Wheel's European programmes manager, Ms Deirdre Finlay, and its director of public policy, Mr. Ivan Cooper. From the Law Society of Ireland I welcome Mr. Ken Murphy, director general, and Cormac O Culáin, public affairs manager.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for attending.

The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, was meant to be represented today. It was very ably represented yesterday during an emergency briefing with Members of the Oireachtas on the proposed Mercosur trade agreement. Unfortunately, the IFA representatives who should have attended today had to travel abroad for other meetings. We fully understand that and I apologise on their behalf. They were adamant that they wished to be here but one cannot be in two places at the same time. Their apologies should be noted. They would like to be here and the IFA is always very forthcoming and engages with the committee on all matters.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I ask Mr. Cooper to make his opening statement on behalf of The Wheel. He will be followed by Mr. Murphy from the Law Society of Ireland. I will then open the floor to questions and comments from members.

Mr. Ivan Cooper

Our presentation will be split between Ms Finlay and me. I thank the Chair and the members of the committee for the invitation to speak today on the topic of alliance-building to strengthen the European Union. As The Wheel's director of public policy, I am delighted to have the opportunity to present our position and thoughts on the subject. As indicated, I am joined today by our European programmes manager, Ms Deirdre Finlay.

The Wheel is Ireland’s national association of community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises. We have almost 1,600 member organisations and this year we proudly celebrate our 20th anniversary. I will provide a little background information on the organisation. It may come as a surprise to members that Ireland's community and voluntary sector is very large. More than 29,000 community, voluntary and charitable organisations work day in, day out in every community in the country. They support people in living independent lives, support people with disabilities and medical conditions and help older people, children and young people to realise their potential. Much of this is new information. The Charities Regulator estimates that the community and voluntary sector turns over €14 billion per annum, about half of which comes from Government sources for the provision of services. The rest is raised by organisations themselves. The sector employs 150,000 people as well as benefitting from the voluntary work of more than 50,000 volunteer board members and more than 500,000 operational volunteers. These people form the backbone of the ethos of volunteerism and social good that we pride ourselves on in Ireland. These numbers are relevant to the case we will put forward this afternoon on alliance-building across Europe.

While many community and voluntary organisations participate in European programmes such as Horizon 2020, INTERREG, PEACE and Erasmus+, our experience is that there is huge unrealised potential in the voluntary sector for greater participation in European programmes. Moreover, this increased potential would greatly increase Ireland's share of European programme funding to the benefit of everyone. It would also greatly aid alliance-building and strengthen the European Union. This is the core of the position we will articulate. To do that I will yield to my colleague, Ms Deirdre Finlay, European programmes manager with The Wheel.

Ms Deirdre Finlay

By way of background, I note that The Wheel runs a European programme of work. Since 2015, we have been the national contact point for one of the European Commission's programmes, namely, Europe for Citizens, which promotes European citizenship. Our role is to promote applications and increase the funding directed to Ireland under this programme. Happily, we have increased the funding since becoming the contact point, meaning that more organisations have travelled through transnational work.

The Wheel's European work also promotes awareness of Europe. Since 2013, we have operated several projects funded by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Communication promoting awareness of European values and institutions. As I am sure committee members will be aware, the Government undertook a wide-ranging consultation in 2018 to frame Ireland’s position on the future of Europe. As part of this work, The Wheel hosted citizens' dialogues on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which were particularly targeted at our sector and members of The Wheel.

This year we also facilitated citizens' dialogues around the country where we invited candidates for the European election to engage with our members to deepen public awareness of Europe and to encourage participation in the European elections. Additionally, for the last two years The Wheel has received funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Communicating Europe initiative. In this work we have been promoting our members' participation in European projects and raising awareness among Irish civil society organisations of the value of working in Europe.

From our discussions with civil society and citizens themselves on how to increase participation in European policymaking and policy implementation, we have learned that members of The Wheel are generally very pro-Europe. They wish to engage more in European affairs and build alliances but we find this is easier said than done. Participation in EU-funded programmes is one of the key ways in which our sector can engage with counterparts and organisations in other member states. We see this as the people-to-people dimension of building a stronger and ever closer union. Unfortunately, our activity in the field of European affairs in the past four years has led us to conclude that many Irish civil society organisations do not participate as actively in certain programmes as those of other member states.

In order to enable increased participation in EU-funded programmes we operated a pilot project in 2018 called Access Europe. The results of this project provided solid evidence that a support service and point of EU technical expertise for Irish civil society organisations is necessary and works. Access Europe ran for three years, North and South, and involved an investment of €387,150. Through the technical expertise granted to non-profit organisations, it helped to yield more than €22.5 million of funding for these organisations. This was achieved by supporting the filing of applications, with 74 applications filed.

Our member surveys and discussion groups have pointed to several issues which act as barriers to full engagement with European Union programmes among our members. Members cite the costs associated with preparing applications and implementing European projects. Ireland's geographical distance from other member states also acts as a barrier to entry.

Match-funding is another issue. Many of our members do not have the kind of core funding required to match European Commission funding. We propose the establishment of a special national fund to serve as a matching source for organisations that are successful in their applications. This would put them on par with publicly funded bodies such as universities, some State agencies, local authorities, etc. Ring-fencing is also an option. Given the inherent disadvantages our members often face due to their small scale and limited resources, ring-fencing a share of some European programme funds for our sector would help.

I know that the issue of simplification has come up in this committee before. Navigating the complexity of European funding applications and paperwork continues to discourage Irish applicants. We urge programme developers at the European Commission to continue to simplify the application process and the required paperwork.

With regard to partnership development, our members often lack opportunities to attend European brokerage events or travel to Brussels to engage with relevant platforms. While we know they should be doing that for policy and influencing purposes, they often do not have the necessary resources. Some support is required to help them to build those partnerships and alliances. With the departure of the UK from the European Union, Ireland will be seen by other member states as a valuable source of partners and expertise in building future European partnerships.

This is because of Ireland's long experience of EU membership, English-language capability and reputation for efficiency and innovation in managing EU funds over the past 45 years. The issues we have identified will need to be addressed if we are to maximise participation, which is arguably a crucial national objective as Brexit approaches rapidly.

Mr. Ivan Cooper

The Wheel sees it as crucial that Irish civil society organisations are at the centre of European alliance-building, especially in light of their proximity to the people. Building alliances across the 27 member states must be led by citizens as much as it is led by governments. This is one of the key challenges. Real partnership and mutual understanding can be achieved through our member organisations, which are at the heart of the relationship-building dialogue. The Irish civil society sector, which represents diverse and often unheard voices, should have a forum where it can engage regularly with politicians and senior public servants on key European issues that affect the community and voluntary sector. Such a forum could convene twice a year, once at senior official level and once at political level. This would be a major step in recognising the need for this sector to be able to avail of a more active input and feedback mechanism with regard to EU affairs. I thank the Chairman and the members of the joint committee again for the opportunity to make this presentation. We look forward to engaging in a dialogue shortly.

I thank Mr. Cooper and Ms Finlay. I call Mr. Ken Murphy of the Law Society of Ireland.

Mr. Ken Murphy

I thank the Chair. It is a great pleasure for me and my colleague from the Law Society of Ireland, Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin, to be here today. As the committee will be aware, lawyers and politicians have one thing in common, which is that we love to talk. We can talk for as long or as short as the committee likes. Maybe the Chairman can give me some guidance with regard to how long my opening remarks should last.

Mr. Murphy should feel free to relax.

Mr. Ken Murphy


We can interact.

Mr. Ken Murphy

Of course.

There is no set time.

Mr. Ken Murphy

I will be happy to move to the question and answer stage after I make a few opening remarks. The commitment of the Law Society of Ireland to the European Union is unstinting. My colleague, Mr. Ó Culáin, acts as the secretary to the Irish delegation to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which is known as the CCBE. He works to support the Irish delegation at the CCBE, which I will describe in more detail in a moment. My background is in European law and competition law practice. Thirty years ago, I lived and worked in Brussels for approximately four years when I was a partner in an Irish commercial law firm, A & L Goodbody. This was my area of practice. My personal commitment to matters relating to the EU goes back many decades. The context for this whole discussion is Brexit. It seems likely that within a short number of months, the UK will have withdrawn from the EU and the consequences of that will have to be faced in Ireland.

I would like to say a little about the solicitor profession in Ireland, which the Law Society of Ireland represents and in large measure still regulates. There are almost 20,000 names on the roll of solicitors in Ireland. Approximately 11,350 solicitors have an Irish practising certificate, which is the annual licence granted by the society and required by law in order to deliver legal services in the State. I will give a breakdown of the body of practising solicitors. Approximately 52% of them are women. This change in the composition of the profession may surprise people. Almost half of them are under 40 years of age. The profession is continuing to expand. Solicitors in general practice offer legal services in every community, town and village in the country where firms of solicitors offer services to the public and provide access to justice. We often say that access to justice in Ireland is through the doors of solicitors' offices. The majority of practitioners in the profession are concentrated in the greater Dublin area. The profile of the profession in the city is characterised by large commercial law firms with an international orientation. My former firm opened an office in Brussels over 30 years and had an office in New York ten years before that. There is a very international orientation in support of the international businesses that operate from and into Ireland. Those solicitors' firms play a role in foreign direct investment, for example.

Brexit and EU matters are of great importance and relevance to us. Every solicitor is required to have a very high level of knowledge of EU law as a subject before he or she can go on the roll as a solicitor. In our engagement with Europe, we see ourselves as part of Europe and we do not see Europe as something that is "over there". The professional bodies - the Law Society of Ireland and the Bar of Ireland, which represents barristers - engage primarily at European level through the CCBE, which has been in existence since 1960. The CCBE is recognised by the all of the European institutions - the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and the European courts - as the voice of the legal profession in Europe. That is the manner in which the entire legal profession in Europe - according to some calculations, there are more than 1 million lawyers across the Union - interacts with the European institutions. The countries from which the CCBE draws its membership are wider than the member states of the EU. Norway, Switzerland and other non-EU countries participate in the CCBE. In a few years' time, the current third vice-president of the CCBE, James McGuill from Dundalk, will be the second Irish solicitor to become president of the CCBE. The manner in which the CCBE operates through its various committees mirrors the various activities of the committees of the European Parliament and the Council. The CCBE monitors, participates in and makes submissions on everything on which the legal profession has a valued submission to make. This highly active organisation, which is based in Brussels, has its own professional secretariat. Through that forum, the legal profession throughout Europe engages directly with the European political and legal institutions.

As I said, the context for this entire debate is the pending withdrawal of the UK from its membership of the EU. There has been a mutual recognition of qualifications regime between the different jurisdictions in these islands on the basis of a number of EU directives, including the services directive and the establishment directive. The regulations made under the 1989 mutual recognition of qualifications directive have facilitated ease of transfer whereby a solicitor who is qualified in this jurisdiction can very easily, through an administrative process, become a solicitor on the roll in England and Wales. Equally, solicitors in England and Wales can transfer onto the roll in this jurisdiction. The same applies in the case of Northern Ireland. There is a difference in the case of Scotland, which is a separate legal jurisdiction with a civil law background. The same regime does not exactly apply in the case of Scotland. Since the mutual recognition of qualifications regime was put in place in the early 1990s, many hundreds of Irish solicitors - we do not have an exact number - have transferred and taken out an additional membership on the roll of solicitors in England and Wales. I am on the roll of solicitors in England and Wales and the roll of solicitors in Northern Ireland. It is quite easily done. In the days of recession and bad economic times in Ireland, this ability to transfer to England and Wales was something of a safety valve to avoid unemployment of Irish solicitors. We view Ireland as a net exporter of solicitors. Irish solicitors are highly qualified, highly regarded and welcomed. Many of them work in large commercial law firms in London.

Since 23 June 2016, we have seen a different phenomenon. We have seen a flow of exchange across the Irish Sea from east to west. This was never really anticipated. By our standards, an astonishing number of solicitors from England and Wales have transferred onto the roll in this jurisdiction. They are perfectly legally entitled to do so. Indeed, they are welcome to do so. Up to 2015, an average of approximately 50 solicitors who were qualified to work in England and Wales transferred onto the roll here each year. Since that time, more than 3,000 solicitors in this category have transferred to the Irish roll of solicitors. As a result, approximately 15% of all the solicitors whose names are on the roll of solicitors in this jurisdiction are solicitors who are qualified to work in England and Wales and whose names have been entered onto the Irish roll since 1 January 2016.

Most of them represent very large global commercial law firms and they are concerned about EU practice possibilities post Brexit. What this will mean for them and whether they will have rights of audience in the Court of Justice of the European Union or enjoy legal privilege in EU investigations and so on remains to be seen. That is just a strange phenomenon that we have seen in recent years.

What I am signalling here is that we have a very integrated and internationally oriented legal profession in this jurisdiction with a particular focus on the European Union. The disruption Brexit will cause and its true consequences cannot yet be known. I refer to one other thing in terms of the fallout from Brexit on which the Bar Council and the Law Society engaged with the Government. It is the promotion of Ireland as a centre for international legal services. There is a possibility that there are opportunities to be gained by Ireland, the economy and the Irish legal process as a result of Brexit. London is one of the great legal centres of the world. London and New York are probably the two great centres for international legal work. One of them is on our doorstep. From 31 October next or possibly some date very soon thereafter, it appears that the United Kingdom will no longer be a member state of the European Union. That will leave Ireland as the only English-speaking common law country in the EU. It will actually be the only common law country in the EU while the law of international business is the common law, not the civil law system. Following Brexit and certainly in a no-deal scenario, the implementation or enforcement of judgments obtained in England and Wales in the rest of the EU will be open to doubt to say the very least. If even a small sliver of the legal and dispute resolution activity in particular that occurs in London were to be capable of being transferred to this jurisdiction, it could have a beneficial effect. It might be one of the few beneficial effects of Brexit for the Irish economy.

The Government has been open to this idea and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has embraced it so much so that it is Government policy as of January 2019. I attended with other Law Society and Bar Council representatives, the Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe SC, and Chief Justice Frank Clarke in Washington DC as part of the Taoiseach's wider entourage around St. Patrick's Day this year. We sought to engage with the legal profession in the United States from which so much foreign direct investment emanates to begin a process of encouraging big businesses internationally to put dispute resolution clauses for Ireland rather than England and Wales in the relevant sections of their international contracts and agreements. This is a signal of the fact that the Law Society and legal profession in Ireland and the Government are not being passive in the face of Brexit. We see the possibility of opportunities for international legal practice to be gained although of course nobody knows what the consequences will be. Anyone who says that he or she knows for sure what the consequences of Brexit will be is likely to be misleading himself or herself and others. In setting this out, I have wanted to signal to the committee our positive engagement and continuing engagement over decades with the European Union. We are enthusiastic members of the European Union and the legal profession in Ireland stands ready to meet any opportunities as well as face any risks that may emerge from Brexit.

Before calling Deputy Durkan, I note that the committee has been working over recent years on looking at any positive aspects of Brexit and what we can attain and achieve out of it for our greater good. We have taken great note of what has been happening in the legal profession. The members have been aware of this development over time. Movement took place slowly at the beginning but it appears to be gathering pace. No small part of the extra business activity going on in Dublin involves people from the legal profession coming over here as well as all other types of business. Many businessmen in Kerry who operate in London and around England are relocating some of their businesses which can be operated from Ireland. They are coming to Dublin first, but we would like to see them spread out a little. We would welcome them to Kerry at all times, speaking for myself.

We will take questions from the members now and proceed informally with a back-and-forth approach.

I welcome our guests, some of them for the second time today, and wish them well in their endeavours. On the voluntary and charities sector, I note the reference to access to the European institutions. They may be easier to access than the witnesses think. It might be no harm to send someone over for a week to investigate and meet MEPs and Commissioners who know the ropes and who can be helpful in directing people in the right direction. That can have a benefit in how they raise money and how responsibility is divided between the voluntary sector and the State or European sectors as the case may be. To have the backing of the European institutions is very important, just as it is important to have the backing of national institutions in voluntary sector endeavours. It is also important for keeping standards up in line with what applies here and across Europe. That is not to suggest for a moment that the standards of the charities here need to be kept up. It is just that in all our dealings with the European institutions, it is of tremendous importance to recognise that we are equals in that field. To be equal, we have to be equal in every sense and equally meet our responsibilities.

While I am not sure I am competent to advise our legal friends on what they might do, a couple of things come to mind. Over the years of my public life, I have had occasion to attend courts in the United Kingdom, including in some famous locations such as the Old Bailey. There are some legal professionals who are competent to practise both here and in the UK. To what extent can that continue after Brexit or will there be any change? Do we know at this stage? I hate to ask the following and the witnesses do not have to answer it if they do not want to. The European institutions have been critical of legal costs in this country. I have been talking about the Single Market for many years. The Single Market has two aspects. We have the benefits of the Single Market and the competition of the Single Market. That means equality. We have to be equal in every aspect of our dealings and we have to have equal access. We must have equal participation and be able to purchase our medicines equally with our colleagues throughout the European Union at a competitive price and not at a price that reflects our distance from the centre of Europe. That is not a runner at all. The Single Market is the Single Market and it extends like a cloud right across the European Union. Everyone under that cloud is entitled to equal treatment. If the witnesses want to answer that question, they can. It is just one of the things we get preoccupied with here. It is a matter that is wider than the legal profession. In fact, it covers every profession.

Some time ago, I discovered that some products manufactured in a member state and available for export tariff free throughout the European Union do not necessarily come directly to each member state. Some member states have franchises, for example, in the distribution of motor cars. Cars are imported into one member state and then exported to others. That applies to the UK insofar as Ireland is concerned with some car marques. Will that apply after Brexit? I sincerely hope not. It would be extraordinary if a former member state now outside the European Union were to have a franchise controlling the free movement of goods and services. That applies to financial services and legal services also. I apologise to the Chairman for that convoluted approach.

I thank the two organisations for coming to the committee and for their contributions. It is great to get a grassroots organisational view from The Wheel of these matters and of the European Union in general. I thank the representatives for the work they do in increasing awareness of the European Union in this regard.

We have noted what the witnesses have said about participation in EU-funded programmes and the many other suggestions that were made in the presentations. The committee should follow up on those suggestions. Very often witnesses come in who are experts and professional people, some of whom may be part of the elite, but it is terribly important to get a grassroots view of Europe and to ensure that the EU is close to its citizens. Again, I thank The Wheel representatives for the work they do.

I found the Law Society of Ireland presentation very interesting. It was good to learn about the Council of Bar and Law Societies of Europe, CCBE, which I had not heard of before. This is an important organisation within the European Union framework. I also note the representatives' comments on promoting Ireland as a leading centre for international legal services. This is something the committee would heartily support and throw its weight behind.

My question to the Law Society of Ireland witnesses relates to the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement is back in the news again and centre stage as the Brexit deadline of 31 October approaches, specifically around the legality of that and how the agreement is threatened by Brexit. Has the Law Society of Ireland, or groups affiliated with the society, conducted any investigation or research into the Good Friday Agreement, how Brexit may affect it, and the legality and seriousness of the situation? Has the Law Society of Ireland or any of its members prepared any papers on this? I am interested to hear what the witnesses have to say on this and on the threats to the Good Friday Agreement arising from Brexit. It is a very legal document so I presume they have an opinion on this.

I welcome our guests Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin, public affairs manager, and Mr. Ken Murphy, director general, from the Law Society of Ireland, and Ms Deirdre Finlay, European programmes manager, and Mr. Ivan Cooper, director of public policy, from The Wheel. The representatives' presentations are going out live which gives the other Members in the Houses the opportunity to listen and the wider audience because this meeting is broadcast on the Oireachtas platform.

I have learned more about The Wheel today just by the fact of the witnesses being here, and I have been looking at its website too, which is very impressive and comprehensive. I note that our former colleague, Member and Minister of State, Áine Brady, is a member of The Wheel's board. The organisation is doing tremendous work and probably does not get the recognition it deserves at times. Perhaps it is getting it here today, which is good. As my colleague, Deputy Haughey, has said, the points made by The Wheel representatives will be listened to and heard, it is hoped, by the Ministers who are looking in at the moment. I fully support it.

I acknowledge the point the witnesses have made on getting funding from the European Union. Matching funding is very hard for some organisations. If there was a fund that could be tapped into, it would mean the money could be released. It sounds like a logical point of view and I would recommend the organisation pursue it, either with the Department of the Minister, Deputy Ring, or perhaps it would be sections in Department responsible for family affairs or for social affairs. I am not sure who is responsible. It would perhaps depend on what type of application is involved. The principle is very good. Some organisations are losing money by not having matching funds.

As the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, we should take the points on board. The work being done in the EU by The Wheel is vitally important. It is the conduit between the European Union and funding. This can be a mystery area for many people and for smaller organisations. The Wheel has the backup of excellent, very qualified staff who know their way around Brussels. This is very important because there are a number of different projects there that can be tapped into, provided one knows what is there.

I was on the Council of Europe for ten years. The Council of Europe also has projects that can be looked at in the context of communities and community awards. It may not be massive funding but the facility is there to work with the Council of Europe. There are 47 countries in the Council of Europe, which is more than in the European Union. All EU members states are members of the Council of Europe and there are also members from abroad, including Canada. There are the links there with the different organisations. It is a very good idea. The secretariat and the Chairman agreed that the witnesses would come here today, but it is a very worthwhile exercise.

I see the work that Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin is doing with public affairs and the Law Society of Ireland with regard to Brexit. He has put together a very useful document that is available to the society's members. It is useful because there is so much dialogue going on and so many publications all over Europe, but Mr. Ó Culáin has pulled it together into a comprehensive document. The Law Society of Ireland is an enormous organisation, and especially now with our colleagues in the United Kingdom. Brexit will come and Brexit will go, but the links between the United Kingdom and Ireland will continue after Brexit. It is the end of one relationship with the European Union, but it is a continuation of our relationship, which has thrived in the past. This link is very important to keep the Irish flag flying. The Law Society of Ireland is in a good position and its members can practise in both jurisdictions. The number of people who have applied for membership is very impressive. These people will be very influential for us where jobs are concerned.

The work being done by Mr. Ó Culáin is vitally important in the EU context because it is networking Ireland's position with its colleagues in Europe. The society has a very broad church. It has United Kingdom links with the law society there, which will continue, and it has the continuation of Ireland's membership of the European Union and the links there. The Law Society of Ireland is doing very important work and it is good that the witnesses are highlighting it here today, which was the whole point of the Chairman and our secretariat asking the witnesses here. It is about networking and, let us be honest, Ireland is pretty good at it. The witnesses' colleagues in the Law Society are good at it also. I say "Well done" and we are very glad to have the representatives here today.

I thank the Senator. At its heart, alliance building is about understanding each other. The organisations here today are both completely different types of organisations, but if they had to quantify it, how well do the witnesses think their members understand the issues of their peers in other countries? How well do the witnesses believe their peers in other member states understand the issues, problems and difficulties we have to deal with in Ireland? Do the representatives have any thoughts on which member states are or could be our strongest partners? Are there any particular countries that The Wheel or the Law Society of Ireland might look to first, especially with their vast experience over the years? Would the witnesses have any advice for others on increasing engagements with EU peers from their own line of work? What is the groups' reaction to that?

With regard to time, it may look as though we are short on members today and I must apologise. Sometimes committee members are at other meetings. One of our members was speaking in the Dáil a while ago. He was here earlier but he had to leave to prepare for that. Members do, however, get to see and hear all of the reports and the discussions that have taken place. It is all a matter of public record. I ask that witnesses keep their responses concise because we have an agenda also for our private session.

Ms Deirdre Finlay

I will respond first to Deputy Durkan's comments. I thank the Deputy. I would agree with him when he says that the European institutions are easier to access than we think.

There is a sort of mystery around this European world that we have worked hard to demystify since we began our European programme in 2015.

We do that in various different ways, including through capacity-building of our members to understand European institutions work to outlining to them the funds and the opportunities that exist. We have also worked hard to build a strong relationship with the European Commission representation here in Ireland on Mount Street. They funded a study trip to Brussels last year for our members, where 25 travelled. This did not happen before and it was a great opportunity for us. The representation is hoping to do this again in 2020. When one talks about getting out there and meeting them, it is one thing for me to meet them but the expertise needs to be cascaded down to our membership. While we wish to build expertise within our own organisation, we must always try to cascade learning and build capacity amongst the membership, especially suitable organisations. We also run numerous projects funded by the Directorate General for Communication that raise awareness of the value of the European Parliament. Those projects have offered opportunities for our members, that is, non-profit organisations and civil society groups both large and small to meet Members of the European Parliament and to ask them direct questions on subjects like what they do, how they work and how our members' organisations can benefit from them. We found that to be very successful with great results.

In highlighting the expertise, I noted previously that a small investment in an organisation like ours or an intermediary to build the capacity of Irish non-profit organisations to access European funding is highly worthwhile. We know that high-needs support, hand-holding, strong capacity building, reviewing applications and giving advice can yield good results and in turn can build those European alliances that we are talking about. In addition, the sort of discussion we are having here could be continued in the forum we mentioned previously and we think that could be useful.

On Deputy Haughey's point about citizens and elitism, our kind of work and organisation is citizens-led. Our organisations are working with people. In some cases they are some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups. We have seen projects that have been hugely successful. They have brought those voices to Europe and to the fore for policymakers. We wish to see this kind of ever-closer union. The Deputy may be aware that in his keynote address to the European Parliament in 2018, the Taoiseach stated the EU needs to engage citizens more and we use these kinds of pointers in our programming.

Mr. Ivan Cooper

I will add to some of Ms Finlay's points and to pick up on the Chairman's point at the start of this contribution, it is fundamentally about bringing people together. That is what these thousands of community and voluntary organisations do. On functioning at the European level, some of the committee's questions concern the level of awareness of matters Irish and mutual understandings on such issues. There is a certain part of Ireland and of Irish civil society that are well connected into European networks with long-established pathways and people who are, so to speak, in the system. It requires a major investment of time, energy, effort and commitment over time, however, to maintain that kind of a capability and most community and voluntary organisations do not have the wherewithal to do that.

There are many networks, such as the European Economic and Social Committee and other forums where civil society can participate in European policymaking. Some organisations that participate have good networks out there but it is the sustaining of that engagement at local and community level, in the day-to-day work communities do, which is the nut we have to crack. We somehow must get beyond what can become rarefied networks and make the European experience something that is understood as being more relevant in people's and communities' day-to-day lives. That is a big challenge for us. Let us not forget that when we talk about Brexit, it is not that long ago when we had our own referendums here in Ireland on the deepening of involvement in Europe. As we know the challenges that this posed, we cannot take anything for granted and we have to keep on challenging some of these populist sentiments that exist.

I will conclude with three points. Everybody in this room will acknowledge we face huge global challenges on climate change, sustainable energy and food production, the use of plastics and so on. These require transnational, European and global solutions. It is more important than ever that we go the extra mile to engage communities in European policymaking at that level.

I have mentioned the obstacles that exist and they have been heard loud and clear as they relate to the costs, the matching funding, the ring-fencing, the simplification of processes and the forum we are proposing. This would greatly help us in The Wheel and civil society to coalesce and build on the strong relationships with MEPs, with the European Parliament and the institutions generally. Again, fantastic work is being done in the Council of Europe but the point is we must somehow find a way to energise the thousands of organisations in the community and voluntary sectors and connect them directly to such work in a more practical fashion. If we could do that it would be truly revolutionary.

I thank Mr. Cooper for that contribution. I call Mr. Murphy now.

Mr. Ken Murphy

I would like to respond to the queries raised by the Senators and Deputies opposite and I will then invite my colleague, Mr. Ó Culáin, to reply to the very interesting question raised by the Chairman, because it is Mr. Ó Culáin, rather than me personally, whose is regularly in Brussels and attending the meetings of the representative of the Bars and law societies of Europe.

Responding to Deputy Durkan's question on the issue of practice in the UK and Ireland, as both are common law jurisdictions and so close in history and in legal experience, with such similarity in law - notwithstanding some degree of divergence - where the EU itself has been a basis for consolidating the similarity of law between the two jurisdictions, there is a very powerful connection. On the capacity question, we have had a few London-based or headquartered international law firms open offices in Dublin in the wake of Brexit. Many Irish firms have offices in London. Cross-frontier work will not be a difficulty. On this day last week, I was in London in the Law Society of England and Wales. Our relations with the Law Society of England and Wales are very close and Brexit is a matter of great and equal regret at senior political level, with a small "p", within both of these law societies. We view it as something to be put no further than to be deeply regretted but we have to move on from that. There is no difficulty in the continued collaboration between the legal professional bodies on either side of the Irish Sea.

On the issue of legal costs, as the Deputy might expect, I have an answer and am quite prepared to give it but I do not believe the Chairman will allow the amount of time required to fully explain the basis of that. Legal costs in individual matters, however, are a matter for negotiation and agreement between clients and their solicitors in the context of a highly competitive market for legal services in Ireland. There are 2,400 individual practices, all in competition with each other, and the legal costs reflect the market for legal services.

On litigation matters, I acknowledge it was one of the issues on the troika's agenda, not at the top, and in implementation of legislation agreed, a number of measures have been put in place now by the Oireachtas under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, which are being worked through in that regard. They will have the effect they will have. I am quite happy to talk about legal costs when we have more time to do that.

On Deputy Haughey's particular question on the Good Friday Agreement and the closeness of the relationship between the Law Society of Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland, I am heavily involved in the International Bar Association and am a senior officer in the world association of legal professional bodies. I am not aware of any two neighbouring jurisdictions where the legal bodies are as close as they are between the Law Society of Northern Ireland and of Ireland. For historical reasons, five representatives of the Law Society of Northern Ireland sit as full council members of the Law Society of Ireland, which is a pre-partition hangover. We have the very closest and warmest of relations. We are all conscious of the consequences of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and hopeful that they will not be as bad as some of the darker predictions would have it. We are not in control of that.

I mentioned that there are Irish law firms which have offices in London, New York and California, and so on.

There are a number of Dublin-based law firms that also have offices in Belfast and there are one or two Belfast law firms that have offices in Dublin. There is a very fruitful, co-operative and positive relationship.

I thank Senator Leyden for his compliments on the work Cormac Ó Culáin has done. I think Cormac had a very good teacher before he joined the Law Society of Ireland in terms of how to lobby.

If I was to leave one message, it would be about what this committee could do to encourage and promote Ireland as a centre for international dispute resolution. If Ireland became a centre for international dispute resolution, it could have real and positive benefits that could trickle down into the economy as a whole. In the future, it would have advantages, in terms of common law and EU membership, over England, which it does not have now. Government is aware of our view that there needs to be investment in the courts system. We need to invest in the commercial court and in the courts generally. Unfortunately when the economic crisis hit, investment in the courts and Government funding of the courts dropped considerably, by up to 40% according to some estimates. Therefore investment is required in technology in the courts, in the number of chambers, in the number of judges and in the staff support needed to hold Ireland out as a credible alternative to London. We are encouraging everybody, professional politicians everywhere, to see the value of that and possibly participate in supporting it, as we think should happen.

I would like to bring in Mr. Ó Culáin with his particular experience of working within the CCBE to answer questions.

Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin

The question the Chairman asked was in terms of how there is a better understanding between peers across the block. I suppose the best way to answer that is that there are common challenges. No more than in any other sector, technology is disrupting legal services and is disrupting consumer behaviour and consumer demand, so issues such as that unify law societies across the block. Another issue is the resourcing of the legal system and Government agencies. We have to understand that many legal frameworks have their birth in the European order, so, for example, the application of data protection, anti-money laundering and so forth have a common beginning but they might have different application across the block and that is where the interaction arises.

In the context of the CCBE, I should say that it is not just about plenary meetings, important work is done at committee level, no more than in any structure similar to the Parliament. For example, we have an access to justice committee, a migration committee and a competition law committee and this is where the rubber hits the road. We have fantastic representatives not only from the Law Society of Ireland but from the Bar of Ireland working together with peers across the block in feeding into important and defining consultations at European level.

Senator Leyden mentioned the Council of Europe. We should remember that it is distinct from the other European Union institutions. The Law Society is actively involved with the human rights in business programme, which has its genesis in the Council of Europe. We also fed into, and endorsed, the CCBE position on reforming the European Court of Human Rights. These are really valuable well-researched pragmatic pieces of research and convincing positions that Europe is taking very much with an Irish influence.

The Chairman mentioned the solicitor practice in County Kerry. I know it is not European but nonetheless we are all European as well as our firms in County Kerry. The society recently launched a small practice support unit which is underlying the viability and importance of a sustainable legal services market outside the main urban areas and that, of course, includes counties Kerry, Roscommon, Kildare and Dublin.

Mr. Murphy missed one of my points. I queried the ability of an individual who does not have offices in both jurisdictions and their right to practise and take cases in the Irish courts and the UK courts. I think Mr. Mansfield QC was a person who came to mind and who had that particular qualification. How does that stand now?

Mr. Ken Murphy

Under EU services legislation, there is a right for individuals who are not established, as it is called to what is known as fly in, fly out, FIFO, to come in on individual cases and to be brought in. There is an establishment directive for the legal profession. In some of these very high profile and human rights cases, Mr. Mansfield QC did that. The fact of the matter is that the law of individual EU jurisdictions is different. Although much of it has its origins in the EU, most of the law, the national laws in jurisdictions, tends to be different and the practice and procedures in the courts can be a bit different. There is a general view that people are best advised to have a lawyer qualified in the member state in respect of whose court they are appearing rather than someone from elsewhere, in terms of their knowledge of the courts and knowledge of practice and procedure in the courts, but there are exceptional people, such as Mr. Mansfield QC.

The Venice Commission actually advised the Council of Europe and member applicant states. I know that barristers and former judges are involved. Would the Law Society of Ireland, through the work in Europe, have any interaction with the Venice Commission?

Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin

I am going to say not directly but I know through the CCBE and some of the committees we would be interacting with the Council of Europe, but I am happy to dig deeper into that and get the information.

The Venice Commission is more into constitutional law, but we are represented by the former DPP. I think that the expertise of CCBE has an importance too, and could liaise with it.

Mr. Cormac Ó Culáin

Absolutely, I am recalling that at one of the meetings we had the head of the fundamental rights agency give a talk at the CCBE. I think his name is David O'Flaherty, a Galway man. It is fantastic organisation, not dissimilar to the Council of Europe in drawing attention to really important developments and responses to developments. Again, if I could recommend somebody for the Oireachtas to invite to a meeting, he would be one of them.

I thank the representatives from the Wheel and the Law Society of Ireland for being here today and having a good engagement. Sessions such as this are important. It is important to recognise the good work these organisations are doing. We appreciate it fully, as a committee, because on a weekly and monthly basis we are bringing in different sectors from all walks of life and we believe it to be very worthwhile and very important, especially in the light of the ever-changing Europe we are going to be facing. We really like to concentrate, as a committee, on the positives and on the problems we can overcome and not dwell on the negativity that can surround it. People are worn to death from hearing about the bad sides. We are politicians and people from different walks of life, like the witnesses and each one of us has a role to fulfil and that is doing the best for the organisations or the people we represent. We want to do that. I think the presence of the witnesses has been very beneficial. We thank them for their engagement and for their time. We appreciate the witnesses are very busy and it takes a lot out of their schedule to appear before the committee but it is very worthwhile.

Mr. Ivan Cooper

It occurred to me, given where we are, to encourage the members of the committee to brief themselves and have themselves briefed on the current situation and the future thinking with regard to the Northern Irish PEACE programme and the INTERREG VA programme between the Republic, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is a very significant European funding programme in respect of supporting communities and services in the context of the Border communities, Ireland as a whole and Northern Ireland specifically. While there have been positive signals emanating from the UK Government and the Irish Government, it would be important for this committee in particular, given its European brief, to use its good offices to the greatest extent possible to get clarity on future thinking in regard to those programmes and where it might be going.

I have to admit that we are ahead of Mr. Cooper on that.

We have been doing that. I thank the witnesses again. We will suspend briefly before going into private session.

Sitting suspended at 3.50 p.m. and resumed in private session at 3.55 p.m.
The joint committee adjourned at 4.05 p.m. sine die.