The EU Supreme Court has issued a ruling requiring Irish courts to take remedial action to ensure that veterinary products sold in Ireland are labeled in Irish.
In its first full judgment on an Irish-language case, the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that national courts do not disregard the obligations of EU Member States to ensure that EU law is correctly transposed into their own country’s law can leave.
Although it has been possible since 1973 to bring a case to the ECJ in Irish as one of the EU’s 24 official languages, this has never happened before.
The verdict is a huge victory for an Irish-speaking activist, Peadar MacFhlannchadha of Moycullen, Co Galway, who brought the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Navy to court in 2016.
The case was referred to the Luxembourg-based court by the Dublin High Court after Mr MacFhlannchadha sought a statement from the court that the Department had failed to correctly transpose an EU directive on the labeling of veterinary medicinal products into Irish law.
The department had argued that Mr. MacFhlannchadha had no authority to initiate such a process, claiming that the problem could have profound implications for the entire agricultural sector, the economy as a whole, and indeed human and animal health.
It was vital that an adequate supply and supply of veterinary medicines continued to be available in Ireland.
The division warned that suppliers of veterinary medicines would likely withdraw completely from the Irish market if they were required to provide labeling in both Irish and English.
The High Court agreed with Mr MacFhlannchadha that the Irish legal instrument transposing the EU Directive is incompatible with EU law as there is no requirement to label such products in both Irish and English
The Irish regulation means that no medicinal product sold in Ireland is labeled in Irish.
However, the High Court postponed the order because Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh found that a new EU regulation due to come into force in January 2022 would challenge Mr MacFhlannchadha’s point.
She asked for guidance on whether to refuse the declaration requested by Mr MacFhlannchadha on the grounds that it would be reversed by the entry into force of the new regulation.
This will give EU Member States a discretion in the languages required for veterinary medicinal products, making the existing Irish legal instrument fully applicable under EU law.
However, the ECJ’s decision on Wednesday stated that courts in EU member states must exercise their powers to take remedial action to address national laws that incorrectly implement EU law.
The ECJ stated that the provisions of the existing directive will remain binding until they are repealed and replaced by the new one next year.
The ruling is also surprising as it reverses the legal opinion of an Advocate General for the ECJ, published in January, which recommended that the Irish courts postpone the statement requested by Mr MacFhlannchadha
A spokesman for the ECJ said it was “a strange, happy coincidence” that the court’s first trial in Irish took place on St. Patrick’s Day in nearly 50 years.