The Irish Times | 20 May 2022
Canada trade deal ruling could further erode Government’s majority
by Harry McGee, Cormac McQuinn
The Government’s majority in the Dáil could come under further pressure in the autumn with a Supreme Court judgment on Green Party TD Patrick Costello’s legal challenge to the EU-Canada trade deal expected soon.
The court began hearing an appeal brought by the Dublin South Central deputy, who was on Wednesday suspended from the parliamentary party, over the constitutionality of aspects of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) trade deal in late March.
The court is due to hold a second hearing on the constitutional issues raised on June 16th, and legal sources say a final judgment could come as early as July.
The issue has been contentious in the Green Party, and the outcome could raise the possibility of more party members voting against the Government on it in the autumn.
If the court rejects the appeal, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar could potentially bring the Ceta deal back to the Oireachtas for ratification during the autumn session. The agreement needs to be individually ratified by all 27 EU member states.
The Green Party sanctioned Mr Costello and Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan this week after they defied a Government whip and voted in favour of a Sinn Féin motion calling for State ownership of the site for the new National Maternity Hospital. They were suspended from the parliamentary party for six months as a consequence.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the party suspended Mr Costello and Ms Hourigan “with regret” but that the sanction was necessary.
“They have strong views and they are entitled to that, but we manage it in our way,” he said. “Our parliamentary party yesterday showed real consensus. We have strength. And this is part of our tradition in terms of how we work collectively, including applying sanctions. I think we did that in a way that was totally appropriate.”
Mr Ryan said he was confident that the two TDs would support the Government during their suspensions, noting that both had done so in subsequent votes on Wednesday evening.
The two TDs have also been consistent critics of Ceta, warning in December 2020 when it came before the Dáil for ratification that they were opposed primarily to the role played by the investor tribunals in settling disputes. Their intervention caused the Government to defer a vote on the deal.
The Oireachtas committee on EU affairs subsequently examined Ceta but could not make a conclusion ion favour or against the agreement, as its members split seven against seven. Green Party Senator Vincent P Martin voted against the agreement at committee.
Mr Costello’s case has revolved around the so-called investment court system aimed at resolving disputes between investors and EU member states. He has claimed that the ability of the tribunals to decide on complaints by Canadians who invest in the State involves an unconstitutional transfer of sovereignty and national judicial power.
Should the Supreme Court rule against Mr Costello’s challenge, the Green Party is likely to seek to delay the ratification on the basis that there is no real urgency, given that only 15 member states have done so to date.
There is a concern within the party that a second divisive vote – and any associated defections – could have an impact on the cohesion of the party and affect the stability of the Coalition.
A spokeswoman for Mr Varadkar said the Government would consider the next steps in the ratification process for the Ceta agreement once the Supreme Court has delivered its judgment.
A Green Party source said that because the Greens are in such a strong position in Germany, the Ceta issue was likely to slide down the priority list at a European level.
“It is hard to see why Ireland would want to push it through in that context. I wonder how adamant Leo Varadkar is about it and will he really want to get it across the line before he leaves the department to become Taoiseach [in December],” said the source.