Ireland vs. UK: international court moves aside, European Commission pushes to settle the Sellafield row

WISE-Paris, 30 June 2003, updated 3 July 2003

[Posted 02/07/2003]

The Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration decided on 23 June 2003, (1) that none of the new provisional measures requested by Ireland was needed in the “MOX plant case”, opposing Ireland to the UK on Sellafield nuclear plant. (2) The Tribunal decided to postpone further proceedings until December 2003, waiting to know if the case should rather fall within the competence of the European Union, through the European Court of Justice. (3)

The Irish government, by chosing to take the case before two jurisdictions of the United Nations – the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, ITLOS, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA –, could escape the potential risk of internal pressures inside the institutions of the European Union.

But the European Commission has opposed the Irish actions against the UK before international tribunals, claiming the row should stay internal to the European institutions. In the Commission view, Ireland is bypassing the European law. According to The Independent, the Commission has threatened, in a letter sent in May 2003 to the Irish government, (4) to sue Ireland if it should pursue its action against Sellafield before international courts.

The final award issued on 2 July 2003 in the first trial (“OSPAR” Arbitration) opposing Ireland to the UK before the PCA (5) does not clarify the situation. The small PCA Tribunal (three judges) in charge of this case decided at the majority (two to one decision) to reject the Irish claim accusing the UK of withholding information about the operation of the Sellafield nuclear plant, under OSPAR convention. (6) However, the Tribunal also decided, unanimously, that it had jurisdiction over the dispute, and that the Irish claim was perfectly admissible in the framework of this international Tribunal.

Despite the rejection of the Irish request of further cooperation with the UK, the Irish Ministry of Environment, Mr Cullen, expressed satisfaction: “We’re stronger today than we were yesterday. The tribunal rejected Britain’s view it had no right to hear the case. (…) The bottom line for Ireland now, and I believe internationally, is the ending of the discharges into the Irish Sea.” (7) The PCA decision over OSPAR is undoubtedly a drawback in the European Commission efforts to take the case before the European Court of Justice only.


  1. Formal decision of the PCA (“Order n°3”), 25 June 2003
  2. “Ireland takes UK to court again on Sellafield”, Plutonium Investigation, Our News, WISE-Paris, 11 June 2003
  3. “Ireland vs. UK on Sellafield: suspension of further proceedings”, Plutonium Investigation, Our News, WISE-Paris, 18 June 2003
  4. “Ireland threatened over Sellafield row”, The Independant, 29 June 2003, WISE-Paris Other’s News
  5. Final award of the « OSPAR case », 2 July 2003
  6. Short for OSlo and PARis, as it replaces Oslo and Paris Conventions. OSPAR Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) has been ratified by Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK) and entered into force on 25 March 1998. OSPAR convention specifies that has to be made public all “information [...] on the state of the maritime area, on activities or measures adversely affecting or likely to affect it” (OSPAR Convention, article 9(2)). See OSPAR website:
  7. “Cullen optimistic over UN court ruling on Sellafield”, Irish Examiner, 3 July 2003