Second quarter of 2003

Ireland vs. UK on Sellafield : suspension of further proceedings

The dispute could be transferred to the European level, as the UK and the European Union asked.

WISE-Paris, 18 June 2003

[Posted 19/06/2003]

After only a few days of hearings in the “Ireland vs. UK” case on Sellafield nuclear facilities, (1) the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) decided surprisingly on 13 June 2003 to suspend proceedings until the 1 December 2003 at the latest.

The PCA Tribunal announced that it considers to have jurisdiction only on a few international law points regarding the dispute. Some other questions raised by Ireland refer to other legal instruments and will not be taken into account by the Tribunal.

Concerning the European Union (EU) law points, the Tribunal said the European Commission is examining if the dispute could fall within its competence, and if the European Court of Justice could have jurisdiction to hear the action. The EU has always been opposed to Ireland's legal action at UN tribunal level, asserting it should adjudicate on the dispute. But Ireland is reluctant to this transfer, maybe, amongst other things, because of the political pressure that could occur at EU level.

The Tribunal is then waiting for a clarification at EU level, saying that it “would not be helpful to the resolution of this international dispute” to have “two conflicting decisions on the same issue”. (2) Ireland filed a request for provisional measures (3) with the Tribunal on 16 June 2003, and the Tribunal began hearing the Parties’ arguments regarding Ireland’s request on 17 June 2003. Hearings are expected to continue through 23 June 2003, after which a formal decision will be issued.

To keep the case at an international level, the Irish Environment Minister Mr Cullen plans to meet the Norwegian government soon. (4) Norway has always backed Ireland against Sellafield, (5) without taking action against the UK yet; having Norway involved in this dispute would increase the pressure on UK. The Irish authorities will keep pushing the case in any possible way. Mr Cullen called the situation “outrageous”, claiming “the core issue is the fact these discharges are continuing” into the Irish Sea with “no moral, environmental or economic justification”. (6)


  1. For more details, see WISE-Paris, Our News: “Ireland takes UK to court again on Sellafield”, 11 June 2003
  2. Statement of the the President of the Tribunal, 13 June 2003
  3. See the document filed to the PCA, “Ireland's Request for Provisional Measures
  4. Treacy Hogan, “Cullen fury over suspension of Sellafield court fight”, The Irish Independent, 16 June 2003
  5. Norway is especially criticizing Sellafield discharge of Tc-99 in the sea; see Jason Nissé, “Double blow rains down on nuclear energy”, The Independent, 1 June 2003
  6. The Irish Independent, op. cit.