The Irish Times view on the latest Law Reform Commission study: guilt by association

The commission’s examination of the legal position of unincorporated associations is important, not least for thousands of community bodies around the country

The Law Reform Commission’s decision to examine the law on unincorporated associations arises in part from complications thrown up when people take historical sexual abuse cases against religious orders, which are almost all unincorporated associations. Because they don’t have a separate legal identity, the orders cannot be sued directly or sue others themselves. If an order does not put someone forward to act as a nominee, then a plaintiff is forced to sue all the organisation’s members, who can be found vicariously liable for the wrongdoing if the case succeeds. Taking such a case can be complex, drawn out and expensive. This is one of the issues that the commission will make proposals about to the Oireachtas.

The commission’s project also has a much broader canvas. Most members of sports clubs, residents’ associations, non-government organisations, political parties, community improvement groups, etc are members of unincorporated associations and have cause to take an interest in the topic the commission is examining. There are, at least, two particularly good reasons for doing so.

One is money. Say you are a member of a residents’ association and some of its members arrange – contrary to the terms of the insurance cover – that the association pays for a Halloween bonfire, where someone sustains an injury. If a successful case is taken against the association, all of its members could find themselves liable for the resulting damages. The commission is expected to make proposals for how the law in this area might be changed .

The second reason is a more cheerful one. Every day, in every community across the Republic, people run unincorporated associations that improve the quality of our lives in many different ways. The commission is keen not to recommend changes that will unnecessarily complicate the work of such groups – in fact, it wants to help them where possible. Anyone who would like to contribute to its consultation process on this important issue should definitely do so.