Costello ‘will consider’ Greens’ reservations about court action on Ceta

Party discusses TD’s challenge to Government plan to ratify trade agreement

A Green Party TD who has taken a High Court challenge to a trade agreement between Canada and the EU has told party colleagues he will consider the reservations they have expressed about the move.

Patrick Costello met the party's TDs and Senators on Thursday to explain the rationale behind his action, which came as a "bolt out of the blue" to most of his colleagues.

The action has caused tension internally in the Green Party and also with its two Coalition partners, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said last week it was a more serious action than a TD voting against his or her own government.

Mr Costello had said he took the challenge on foot of legal advice that ratifying the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) may give rise to constitutional issues.

The agreement had been scheduled to be ratified by the Oireachtas last December but the vote was postponed when it became clear a small number of Green TDs, including Mr Costello, were not prepared to back it.

At issue in particular is the investor court system. Those who oppose Ceta claim it will operate outside the normal judicial system and will allow private entities to override legislation enacted by sovereign states.

In recent days the all-party European Affairs Committee has confirmed it will scrutinise the complex agreement, with particular emphasis on the investor court system.

The Dublin South-Central TD faced criticism last week from colleagues for the unilateral action and for not consulting party colleagues.

Party chairman Brian Leddin siad Mr Costello had graciously agreed to a special meeting where he could set out his rationale.

“It was not an easy discussion and people were honest with their views,” said Mr Leddin, of the meeting on Thursday.

“Nobody would take from him his right as a citizen to take an action. We must also recognise that this is political and it is a Government TD taking an action against the Government.”

Mr Leddin said Mr Costello was very open to considering what was being said and was also very open to a further discussion. He did not indicate, however, he would withdraw the action.

Mr Costello could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Senator Róisín Garvey said she was disappointed Mr Costello had not consulted colleagues before setting out on the action and was also concerned the action might disrupt the passage of the Climate Action Bill, which is the single most important piece of legislation for the Greens in government.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore has been one of the leading voices opposing the ratification of Ceta.

"Once we vote on this, we are essentially saying that Ireland is okay with the establishment of an investor court system that operates outside our own judicial system," she said.

“It requires all member states to agree to it before it begins, and only 16 have done so far. So the question is ‘why the rush?’

“If this is such a good thing for Ireland, why not allow a full and thorough debate?”

However, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll-MacNeill said that the Court of Justice in Europe said Ceta was compatible with EU law.

“Canada is not a repressive state. It is a modern liberal democracy with sophisticated dispute resolution mechanisms such as ours.

“I have no difficulty with Ceta going through more scrutiny in the Oireachtas. In the post-Brexit world, it is an advantage to us to adopt it early. At some point a decision will have to be made,” she said.