Watch the video replay of Irish Legal and Social Issues on St. Patrick's Day.
SLD International Senior Lawyers Committee, chaired by Bob Lutz and Aaron Schildhaus, organized a conversation on St Patrick’s Day featuring prominent lawyers discussing Irish legal and social issues related to BREXIT, the COVID-19 virus crisis, IP, and how the Irish celebrate the day. Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are facing challenging times under BREXIT as well as the COVID-19 crisis, while at the same time new opportunities for European trade, investment, and European politics are developing.
The program was moderated by Michael Burke, Partner with Arnall, Golden & Gregory (D.C.) and former Chair of the ABA's International Law Section. It featured Jeanne Kelly, a Partner with LK Shields in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, and Lorraine Keown, Associated Director at Cleaver Fulton Rankin Ltd. in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Mike opened the program with a discussion of COVID-19 and its impact on Ireland. Lorraine noted St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Northern Ireland. She and her firm, headquartered in Belfast, have been closed since March 2020 with attorneys and staff working from home since then. Most firms are also closed. Courts are having hearings mostly online, and after some transition problems, they seem to be operating smoothly with some in-person. For those without Internet access, courts have tried to adjust. The vaccine is being rolled out efficiently in Ireland. The economy seems to be adjusting with financial support for businesses about to start again. Support will be available to the service sector and manufacturers.
Jeanne described the situation in Dublin. She had never previously worked from home but has found people adapted pretty well. The firm has tried to assist. New attorneys may be working from apartments with roommates all of whom are online and stressing their Internet access. One advantage of working from home and conducting meetings online is that attorneys get to know colleagues, their pets, and kids. Some transition back to less involved may be coming after the pandemic. Her firm may reopen in a few weeks. At present, there are police checkpoints to limit people in public, with one near her home. Her firm never fully reopened its offices, but was about to do so last summer just before new lockdown rules were adopted by the government. The lockdown was quite strict in winter. Lawyers are essential services but encouraged to work from home, for that reason, it looks bad to be on a call from a downtown office. Digital use in the courts is similar to Northern Ireland.
Turning to BREXIT, Mike reminded the audience that Northern Ireland is no longer a part of the EU, but Ireland is. He also noted that “Great Britain” does not include Northern Ireland, but the UK does.
Mike asked how the transition is in both areas since the North also wanted to stay in the EU, but now finds itself in a hybrid situation. Northern Ireland, now out of the EU, is still subject to protocols, resulting in no checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland, meaning there is no hard border. While Northern Ireland is still in the single EU market for landed goods, Northern Ireland and Great Britain have a sea border now. He explained that Northern Ireland wants Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, so either government can suspend import/export duties if they cause economic harm. Unionists want to implement the agreement. The 3-month grace period for goods coming from Great Britain was extended by Boris Johnson unilaterally. There will be no vote on the protocol and current trade agreement for 4 years.
Jeanne discussed BREXIT from the Irish perspective. After BREXIT, many firms in Ireland were concerned with data privacy rules and the ability to send information to offices in London. Now, a working arrangement has been established that permits the exchange of such information since the UK was party to BREXIT and its laws are deemed to be in conformity. At present, there are 1,500 US companies in Ireland. They seem to be staying and are likely to increase their presence in the Republic of Ireland. A lot of financial service companies in the UK were able to send management and others to Ireland and retain registration in the EU. The issue for retail clients selling online is that it’s more difficult to buy from someone in the UK since one must pay duties. Some companies are bringing in fulfillment centers to Ireland. They must calculate if it’s enough business to justify service centers in Ireland.
Many parties in Scotland are very upset with this. In response to a question whether Scotland could separate from the UK, she felt it was an increasing issue, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises who are beginning to realize they must take control over their corporate lives.
St. Patrick’s Day
Lorraine shifted to how St Pat’s Day is observed in Northern Ireland. Although it is a public holiday, it is less of an Irish day than a global green day. There will be over 650 events recognized by the Irish Tourist Bureau, including parades in Belfast and Dublin which went online this year. She and most Irish go to mass on St. Patrick’s Day. It is a good time for the family being together since everyone is on holiday. Many people took off Thursday and Friday this year since St. Patrick’s day was Wednesday.
She also noted many employees work flex hours at home since parents are home schooling their children. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to only work in their home office when at home.
Jeanne showed shamrocks she had picked up to celebrate the day. She said the younger family members went to parades. When she was younger, she can remember cleaning farm equipment and driving it in the parade. St Patrick’s Festival got support from TiKTok who is trying to recruit employees from Google’s Irish operations. TiKTok expects to have 1,000 employees this year.
The arrival of multinationals has led to increased racial diversity in Ireland. She feels the world is getting smaller and larger. On the one hand, most Irish do not speak Irish among each other, although online meetings allow people time to practice it.
COVID-19 is also changing the Irish world. Over the past year, many local pubs, which are an important part of Irish communities, have closed. There is some talk of the communities themselves acquiring and reopening them.
Jeanne reported that corned beef is not really a part of Ireland’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Bacon and cabbage are more normal. Lamb stew is another favorite, although with the globalization of the country, people are just as likely to have tacos. Lorraine is more traditional, reflecting her upbringing in a small town along the border. For her, a normal meal on the day would be bacon, cabbage, and soda bread. If the weather is cold, families might have stew. She has never had corned beef. Families observing Lent might allow sweets. Mike pointed out that if St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday, families could eat meat. It is also possible to see porridge dyed green as more celebrations are taking on a Western commercial approach.
Bob asked if there is any movement to unify Ireland and Northern Ireland. According to Lorraine, this is a census year in Northern Ireland. BREXIT is influencing voters in NI, or as she said, “BREXIT has moved the line and the line is moving to exit[ing the UK].” Additionally, voters feel that Westminster no longer cares. Unionists (those favoring union with the United Kingdom) are feeling deserted. Among the 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland, 51% support referendum in 5 years to decide whether to unite with the Republic of Ireland. Present projections are that 40% will support united Ireland in 10 years. Farmers in Northern Ireland who lost a lot of EU grants are particularly in favor. If Scotland leaves, the number of unification supporters is likely to increase. Mike pointed out a vote on a united Ireland would require a vote by both sides. One factor that may encourage those in Northern Ireland to oppose the union is their loss of the National Health Service provided by the United Kingdom. It was also mentioned that hotels may be converting due to the loss of tourism.
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