No longer quiet on the debt front

Cross-border debt recovery – is there a peace dividend for Irish lawyers?

Over the past 25 years, Irish lawyers, both north and south of the border, have tended to continue with their day-to-day business without a great deal of interaction.

The two business communities have tended to cater for their own and, with a few notable exceptions, have tended to regard the people on the other side of the border with some misgivings.

The border itself was a physical barrier and many people in the South were afraid to go North to do business because they believed they could become targets for violence as 'southerners'. And the same can probably be said of Northern Irish business people.

However, for some little time prior to the advent of the cease-fires, there was a tangible change. People on both sides began to re-examine their attitudes.

For some in the South, making contact with northern colleagues became a more regular occurrence and in this respect cross-border debt problems tend to crop up more frequently than, say, commercial or general litigation.

It is acknowledged that the recovery procedures in the two different jurisdictions are different, and the requirement to consult a northern lawyer is becoming essential as trade opens up between the two.

Previously, we would have handled only a trickle of debt recovery matters for lawyers based in the North, mostly in haulage or shipping.

At present, there is a great deal more general trade debt work being referred in both directions.

It is also clear that Northern Irish lawyers have strong ties with their Scottish colleagues and a number of interesting Scottish referrals have been routed our way through lawyers in the North.

Of course, it is early days, but mutual trust is growing daily. I have been to the North on a number of occasions in the last 12 months visiting colleagues, and we are keen to increase the amount of dialogue and business.

We all know that debt recovery referrals can lead to bigger things. Is there a peace dividend for Irish lawyers? Yes, definitely.

Colman Curran is head of commercial recoveries at Mason Hayes & Curran, Dublin.