“That’s how we do things and that’s our big opportunity.”
“It’s the first opportunity I have had in the political world to see how Ireland is pitching itself internationally, promoting itself...the huge effort and commitment that goes into that with the strategic nature of it. And as a small open economy, a country that’s trying to drive employment growth and the tax revenue that comes with that and all of the ancillary benefits that come with that, I’m so delighted to have the opportunity to contribute positively to that”.
The minister said in the “next number of weeks, we have plans, committed plans, in London, Paris, Madrid. I think we are going to go to Brussels and that’s all before we even begin the St. Patrick’s Day programme.”
“So before St. Patrick’s Day, we will have been in all of those places, specially on this work and related work about promoting financial services in Ireland, about promoting Ireland as broadly as we possibly can in a range of different ways. I’m ready to rock”.
Asked how the programme fits in with the overall FDI drive of the Government, and what factors are currently the most important attractions of Ireland as an FDI location the minister identified five key attributes, besides taxation, as key to Ireland’s attractions from an FDI perspective, namely, stability – notably legal, in addition to political, stability, the quality of the regulatory regime, under the Central Bank et al, the fact that it is an English speaking country, the Common Law nature of the legal system, and, the quality of its workforce, evidenced by a very highly educated workforce.
Tax, she said, while also important, was not something she would be emphasising – it wasn’t necessary, she said, following the sterling work of her ministerial colleagues in the Department in delivering an internationally agreed and respected position in regards to the BEPS process and corporation tax in the past three years.
The new programme has evolved further compared with the approach that applied in the pre Brexit years, when, for example, the emphasis was on developing Ireland as an adjunct, almost, to London, the premier capital centre of the EU. Now, it is, in the minister’s words, the only pure common law jurisdiction within the EU.
We have to continue to proactively get out and promote at every opportunity, because this is how Ireland pays for our services, the state’s wealth creation, through employment creation, the stability that provides. I mean that’s how we do things and that’s our big opportunity.
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU of course was regretted by Ireland”, and, she says, she will continue to foster close relationships with her counterparts in the UK in relation to the deep relationships that exist between the two jurisdictions at a financial services and legal level.
However, she says that Brexit has opened up new financial services opportunities for Ireland.
“You need to recognise that Brexit has had important industrial implications for Ireland in that we have been available to pick up some of the investment opportunities that continue to be available.
“I think that’s an important part. We have to be realistic: Brexit was 2016, it’s 2023; we have to be cognisant of the realities of changes to the industrial environment.”
Elaborating on the FDI message about political stability and legal stability in particular as a backdrop to that, the minister said the country’s English speaking common law system provided a completely predictable framework for the enforcement of contracts.
“That element of predictability, political predictability, stability, but crucially legal predictability in how the Courts are likely to work, the quality of that process, and being able to access the courts quickly is crucial.
“The developments within the Commercial Court for example and the continued refinement of process to be able to enforce contracts quickly and predictably, all contribute to a very, very stable investment environment for people making decisions. And obviously a very highly educated work force as well. I don’t think we should underestimate that”.
Elaborating further on the unique advantages of the Irish common law legal system the minister said: “I think stability is vital and investors want to be able to go somewhere where they can confidently say that contracts can be enforced and regulated.
“The stability of the Irish legal system, the common law, the English language, but crucially the predictability with which you can access the Courts and enforce your contracts. If you can’t do that, you are having to finance and risk into your investment in a way that you don’t have to do in the Irish legal system.
“I think that’s hugely important. And that’s why the Ireland for Law initiative is so important. Perhaps I’m over projecting on it, because I have a legal background”.
Asked whether that might be because of her experiences as a lawyer, indeed as a practicing solicitor, she agrees.
“I do understand it. And I recall after Brexit those groups being established and trying to make the point particularly in the United States where there is so much commonality in addition to that predictability. If you look back from then across to how Ireland has done that in other respects, for example in the quality of regulation being delivered by the Central Bank, and setting ourselves up really as a well regulated place to be, a place that you want to be, a place that you can be proud to be.
“Additionally, the quality of the work force and the geographical juxtaposition that is so important between the United States, and Ireland, between a huge market that is the EU. And also we are right next to the United Kingdom. It’s a massive opportunity for the island of Ireland and one that we have to continue to proactively get out and promote at every opportunity, because this is how Ireland pays for our services, the state’s wealth creation, through employment creation, and the stability that that provides. That’s how we do things and that’s our big opportunity.
Asked to detail the immediate plans for international promotion in the “Ireland for Law” context she says: “We are going to Madrid as part of that programme at the end of February. And I think that this is one of the opportunities worth highlighting from the other conversations that are happening across financial services.
Financial services doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it is part of a broader eco system of legal decisions, accounting decisions, auditing decisions. All of those industries sit I think very much beside the financial services companies themselves. And they are informing each other all of the time.
“And so, I suppose what we would be hoping through engagement with the legal community overseas, is that those conversations are being fed back into the decision makers to highlight how Ireland is the spot to be for all the following reasons, and why they can have total confidence in Ireland as a legal jurisdiction. And, Ireland needs to engage in every industry, in every conversation where people are going to make ultimately investment decisions about being here or not being here, whether that’s the location of a pharmaceutical company or whether that’s the location of a financial services entity, whatever it happens to be. So this is just different strands to the same project that is about trying to promote Ireland and position it as a place for investment.”
Sometimes I think financial services is as though it operates in a vacuum. Of course it doesn’t, it operates in a broader eco system of legal decisions, accounting decisions, auditing decisions. All of those industries sit, I think, very much beside the financial services companies themselves. And they are informing each other all of the time.
Asked about the role of the Judiciary in backing the Ireland for Law agenda going forward, the minister expressed full confidence that that would be forthcoming, citing ‘a very positive meeting’ before Christmas on the subject with the new President of the High Court Justice David Barniville. That is also linked through Government policy through the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, the Bar Council and bodies such as Arbitration Ireland. It’s being incredibly well coordinated - Madrid is just the first, Brussels is going to be another, and Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Chicago and San Francisco are on the agenda.
“In fact I think David Barniville who is now President of the High Court was one of the original progenitors of the ‘Ireland for Law’ project, immediately after Brexit. He’s been engaged with that right the way through.
There have of course been doubts expressed, ever since Brexit, that Ireland, a small jurisdiction in the context of the EU 27, where there are only two other, even smaller jurisdictions with something resembling a common law might have difficulty fulfilling the shoes of the departed UK when arguing the common law position in jurisprudence at an ECJ level or indeed at all federal legal law making levels.
The minister was asked whether there is any doubt about her firm belief that this would and should constitute a problem, she said she believes that we have to be very careful that when the European legislation is being drafted and proposed, that it takes account of the common law system because that can run into difficulties very quickly if the common law perspective is not properly reflected in European legislation. “I think the Attorney General himself in the past has been very keen that that is something that we make the case for consistently at European level”.
But is there a threat of the Common Law perspective being undermined in the EU by not properly being reflected in European legislation going forward?
“I don’t think so, I don’t believe so. The European Union thrives on diversity. It thrives on this fact.
“We have been members of the EU or European Union with the common law system for 50 years and it is well understood. And I think what’s important is really as you are developing European policy, European legislation, that the common law application of that is understood rather than it being a threat necessarily. That the fact that we have different legal processes, the fact that we have a chancery system for example, an equity system that it’s alongside our statutory system.
“It is just something additional that I think Irish officials have to do and to constantly remind European lawmakers of the Common law system and its requirements in Ireland. It is important therefore that the common law application and our report system application is just accounted for, and managed.
“But then, we have been doing that successfully now for 50 years and that shouldn’t change. It’s just an additional thing to manage and to do. But we are very committed to that because the advantages to our common law system are obvious.”