Remarks by President McAleese at the Irish Centre for European Law 20th anniversary conference, Royal Irish Academy, Monday 17th November 2008

Céad míle fáilte romhaibh go léir. Tá áthas mór orm bheith libh inniu.

Good morning everybody and thank you for your warm welcome. Let me first thank Andrew Beck, Director of the Centre for his invitation to open this Conference and for this chance to join you in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the Irish Centre for European Law, a farseeing initiative of then law lecturer and subsequently President of Ireland, Dr. Mary Robinson. It is great to have her here with us today to address the conference. It is also great for us to have this chance to acknowledge her considerable contribution to awareness of European law and scholarly interest in it in Ireland.

It was Mary and her husband Nick who, with little in the way of resources, got the Centre launched. Since then its core professional staff have been greatly helped by a litany of volunteers from among Ireland’s best European law experts including the current chairman, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly. Since then too not only has the European Union grown significantly, European law has grown to gargantuan proportions with new courts, new languages, new specialisms and areas of expertise generating vast libraries of papers, books and judgments. Its growth is so vast that back in the day there were some lawyers who thought they could avoid it all by hiding in the groves of conveyancing or criminal law. I even heard one Northern lawyer ask a senior EU official why a lawyer like him with a mainly farming clientele should bother with all this EU stuff anyway when it hadn’t much to do with them. That was then this is now. Many a person who thought they could escape the reach of European law has been chastened since. Many lawyers, trained before we joined the then EEC, had to get rapidly up to speed. Every lawyer trained since we joined has had to invest considerably in their ongoing legal education for, in the race to keep up with the pace of developments in European law, even the intellectually fittest lawyer, never to mention secular citizen, is challenged. That is precisely why the Centre was so necessary.

Over the past 20 years, the Irish Centre for European Law has provided an important forum for debate and discussion on major developments in the area of EU law. It has been the link between legal practitioners, academics and representatives of the wide range of sectors affected by European Law. It has brought into their orbit expert EU officials. It has introduced experts from other member states into our own national discussions broadening and strengthening the focus of our discussions on so many things of national and Union importance. The centres huge range of topical and timely conferences and publications have helped many a citizen and lawyer to navigate their way more confidently around what is a very complex legal space.

For sole practitioners it has been an absolutely invaluable companion. For the bigger law firms it has been a very welcome and accessible resource. The centre’s work of education and of scholarly research has ensured that Ireland can make its fullest contribution to the development of European law from a position of formidable intimacy with its legendary intricacy.

The subject of this conference, the Impact of European Law on the Corporate World, could not have been better chosen for the moment we are in, both nationally and internationally. This very unsettling period of great economic flux, of dwindling confidence in financial systems and institutions has cast a harsh spotlight on the corporate world. It has raised fairly stringent questions about how the partners around the European Union table can chart a way forward. I don’t plan to get into that debate but I will be very interested to read of your deliberations as you bring your collective, distilled wisdom and scholarly curiosity to bear on so many things of importance at this testing moment in European and global economic history.

That we have this invaluable conference at this time is thanks to that decision taken twenty years ago to create an Irish Centre for European Law and to all those who have invested in its development and its dynamism ever since. Enjoy the conference and enjoy the celebration.

I wish you every success in your discussions and I wish the centre every success in the next twenty years.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.