This is a major change in the Bill. If the Minister wants modern law, there is a section on our Statute Book which says that anyone who imports arms without a licence shall be guilty of an offence. That is an absolute offence. The importation of arms is absolutely prohibited and if a person imports arms, thinking he has a permit from the Minister for Justice, discovering later that it had been forged, that person has committed an offence although he had no mens rea, no guilty intention, no malice. That is what is known as an absolute offence. These absolute offences are not known to the common law but they are known to our statute law. Far too frequently in this House, ill-advised from time to time—I do not say by the present Minister, but certainly by some Ministers—Deputies are asked to pass Draconian sections, sections imposing absolute prohibitions on a course of conduct and things that people might do, irrespective of what they intend. Section 2 of this Bill was just such a section. The section read:
A person who forcibly enters land ... shall be guilty of an offence unless
(a) he is the owner of the land....
I am saying "Thank you for nothing". It is a good thing to know that I can go back into my house, that despite the fact that a number of people might be able to resist me, and though I had to use force to get back into it, under the concession from the Minister, I did not commit an offence because I wanted to rejoin my family.
The section was:
(b) if he is not the owner, he does not interfere with the use and enjoyment of the land... by the owner and, if requested to leave, he does so with all reasonable speed and in a peaceable manner.
As that section stood, it did not matter a thrawneen that the motives of the person were perfectly peaceful, perfectly legitimate, and absolutely, as he believed, in pursuance of his legal right. He may have felt he was the lawful owner of the house; he may have felt he was the lawful tenant of the house. His intentions may have been along those lines but, under this absolute prohibition, that was no defence.
The Minister says he is advised to the contrary. I do not respect, I am sorry to have to say it, the advice tendered to the Minister and I do not think the Minister thinks very highly of it either because the Minister has declared that he is prepared to accept this fundamental amendment. That is, I think, a good thing for the Minister to do. His having done it, let us be thankful for it, but let no one think that this amendment is being accepted by the House on the basis that it is unnecessary. This is a very essential amendment to this Bill. In my view it clearly changes in a very drastic way the provisions of section 2 and the credit for the Minister's acceptance is due to Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Cooney for pointing out this clear omission from the Bill.