‘Slap in the face’: Taoiseach confronts Poland on judicial interference

Ireland breaks with likeminded countries to accuse Poland of going ‘too far’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that Ireland is "extremely disappointed" over a recent court ruling in Poland stating that the Polish constitution trumps EU law, adding that Ireland "believes in the primacy" of European law. Video: EU Commission

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Ireland has confronted Poland over the erosion of the independence of its judiciary and an ensuing challenge to the authority of European Union law that has raised fears of a threat to the union’s legal order.

“I do believe Poland has gone too far,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin told journalists ahead of the summit in some of the strongest comments from an Irish leader on the issue. “It’s not just a legal issue, I think it’s a political issue.”

A letter from Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to EU leaders this week showed Warsaw was “doubling down” on its challenge, the Taoiseach said. He noted that Poland is set to be one of the largest beneficiaries of a €750 billion Covid-19 recovery fund, which Ireland supported despite expecting to ultimately emerge as a net contributor to the pot.

“Many reluctant states heretofore would never have signed up for that, and it really is a slap in the face to those countries... [that] positions like this are taken by a member state that will benefit significantly,” Mr Martin said.

Ireland has long been in a camp of liberal-leaning member states with misgivings on democratic backsliding within the EU, but has not previously taken the lead in expressing its concerns.

The comments were in contrast to like-minded countries like the Netherlands and Luxembourg, who sounded a more cautious note and stressed the need for dialogue, to avoid a conflict that could further feed Mr Morawiecki’s political base in Poland while stoking division within the EU on a contentious legal area.

Mr Martin set out Ireland’s position as the 27 leaders debated the issue. The discussion was held without notes being taken to avoid deepening a row that has pitted Poland and its ally Hungary, also the subject of concerns about democratic backsliding, against many of the EU’s older member states.

In the background, the European Commission is preparing options to respond, including a new tool with the potential to ultimately cut off Poland’s access to EU funds if deployed.

It’s not the first time Ireland has stood out on the issue. The High Court was an early mover in expressing concerns in 2018 when it asked the European Court of Justice whether it should agree to an extradition request, or refuse because the undermining of the judiciary by Poland’s right-wing government meant the defendant could not be sure of a fair trial.