Expert group to update Irish consumer law


The Government has established an expert group to examine and update key elements of Irish consumer law, some of which date from the 19th century.

The move was prompted by the publication in October of an EU directive aimed at enhancing cross-border consumer rights which, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Mary Coughlan said would have lead to “profound, long-term” changes for Irish consumers.

The group, to be chaired by Professor Robert Clark of UCD, will examine legislation governing the sale of goods and supply of services which provide the framework for regulating business-to-consumer and business-to-business contracts.

In a statement the Minister, who is in Dubai on a trade mission with Enterprise Ireland, said the new directive would “have a profound long-term effect on consumer rights and law in Ireland”.

The proposed directive brings together four existing EU directives dealing with contracts for the sale of goods and services from businesses to consumers. They cover unfair contract terms, sales and guarantees, distance selling and doorstep selling.

It aims to establish a common EU-wide set of rules so consumers can shop with confidence across the Union and traders can offer goods for sale on a cross-border basis without the impediment of a host of different national regulations.

The statutes under review include the Sale of Goods Act 1893 and the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 along with secondary legislation which came out of previous EU Directives.

The multiple legislative strands “have made it difficult for consumers and businesses to understand their rights and obligations,” Ms Coughlan said. “There is clearly a need for modernisation and consolidation of the law.”

She said that while the Sale of Goods Act 1893 was “a pioneering piece of legislation in its day” it no longer provided “an adequate legislative basis for commercial transactions in the twenty first century”.

In addition to Professor Clark, the other group members are Tony Burke, from Mason, Hayes and Curran Solicitors; Caterina Gardiner lecturer in law at NUI Galway, the vice-chairman of the Consumer Association of Ireland, Michael Kilcoyne, Roderick Maguire of the Bar Council, the legal adviser to the National Consumer Agency Sean Murphy, the chairman of Arnotts Richard Nesbitt, solicitor Kevin O’Higgins, barrister Nathan Reilly and Fidelma White, a senior lecturer in Law at University College Cork.

It will hold its first meeting tomorrow and is not expected to complete its work until  mid-2010.