Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Bill, 1992: Report and Final Stages.

We will start with amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Harney. I observe that amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 form a composite proposal. I observe also that if amendment No. 1 is negatived, amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 29, to delete "judge" and substitute "person".

I was disappointed in the amendments circulated by the Minister of State as he did not take on board the suggestions made in the long debate on Committee Stage on this issue. It is not appropriate that the person who will supervise the implementation of his important legislation should be a serving judge of the High Court. On Committee Stage I outlined a number of reasons why it is inappropriate. The judge in question may be involved in trials at a subsequent date.

The Minister of State said he has had a letter from the Bar Council to the effect that a serving judge who would supervise the implementation of this legislation will not subsequently be involved in criminal trials, but that is not good enough. There are long delays in our courts. We do not have enough judges and we should not remove one judge from hearing criminal trials for the purposes of this legislation. I presume a judge will be appointed for a number of years. It is not enough to have an assurance from the Bar Council. I do not question the integrity of that body but the Bar is not regulated by statute, unlike the Incorporated Law Society. This House should make the appropriate regulations to implement this legislation.

It is a widely held view that judges are not the only people who are fair and impartial. We should not confine independent referees to members of the Judiciary. One of my amendments seeks to put into place the committee set up under the 1974 Act, to establish the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution. It comprises a number of people, including a representative of the Bar Council and the Secretary to the Government who meet with the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court and so on for the purpose of deciding who should be the Director of Public Prosecutions. Such a committee would be the appropriate body to select the person to oversee the implementation of this legislation. I am not satisfied that the Minister of State has taken on board to any degree any of the suggestions made in the long debate on Committee Stage.

This good legislation was prepared when my party was in Government. Indeed, we insisted on it because of the unsatisfactory arrangements that were in place for the interception of telecommunications packages and so on. We all know of the appalling interference in the early 1980s for political motives. I did not table many amendments to the Bill but the points I am making in relation to a serving judge are not unreasonable. Had the Minister of State proposed a retired judge I would have accepted that. To insist that the person who will supervise the implementation of this legislation should be a High Court judge is wrong. It is a mistake which will tie up one member of the High Court who cannot be involved — if the Minister of State and the Bar Council are correct — in criminal work. We have too few judges and long delays, particularly with regard to civil cases. The last thing we need is to clog up our already cumbersome and slow court hearing procedure any further.

In this amendment I did not refer to "his" so that it would not be sexist in any sense. Deputy Gilmore drew my attention to that. Last night I talked to some people who were involved in the Commission on the Status of Women and they made this point very forcefully. The Commission recommended that the Interpretation Act should be changed so that we would have legislation that was not sexist or would imply that a Minister was automatically a man which is normally the case in legislation which comes before this House. This is not particularly relevant to this legislation but I hope the Minister, coming from a Department which I hope will introduce many law reform proposals on the criminal side, will take this view on board when framing legislation.

If amendment No. 1 falls, the others, which are consequential to a large extent, will not be relevant. If the designated person is to be a judge of the High Court the subsequent amendments will not make sense. I do not intend to repeat the remarks I made as we move through the Bill, but I am very disappointed that the Minister of State has prepared so few amendments and that he has taken on board very few of our suggestions. Other than changing the Army representative to a Chief of Staff, the Minister of State's amendments are very poor. I am disappointed because there was a great deal of co-operation, goodwill and consensus when dealing with this legislation. The Minister of State could have gone a little further but, perhaps, his hands were tied. However, if we are to have effective debates on legislation here or in the new select committees, we need to have a more realistic response from the Government. No valid reasons were put forward for not taking these suggestions on board. It seems to be sheer doggedness on the part of the Minister of State and the Government which puts us into a situation where we will just move our amendments to no great effect. I hope that will not be the trend for the future in relation to Bills from the Department of Justice.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I thought the Minister was quite reasonable in accepting two amendments which I moved. Considering the stone-walling that goes on in so many Departments I compliment the Minister on accepting those two amendments. Perhaps Deputy Harney is right that the Minister of State is under pressure from the Department not to accept other reasonable amendments but at least to have two amendments accepted is an improvement. I hope it will be the start of a new trend, that the Opposition may be credited with having some intelligence and that their proposal will be acceptable to some Departments.

Having said that, I support Deputy Harney's contention that the Bill would be improved if the reference to "judge" was removed. I should say that in the beginning I thought that a judge would have been the ideal person, but I now support those who argue that a judge could be tied up because of involvement in a case. There is a shortage of judges and there are long delays in having cases heard. Therefore because of his involvement in a case where he sanctioned a phone tap or made inquiries, a judge may have to step down.

Having regard to the wonderful work done by the Ombudsman, I would have no fear about stepping into the unknown or be worried that a lay person would not be able to handle the matter. I ask the Minister of State to consider accepting the amendment because it would be of help.

I too support the amendment and I lean more towards Deputy Harney's view of the Minister of State's willingness to accept amendments than to Deputy Browne's. Given the absence of ministerial amendments dealing with the issues which have been raised and the responses of the Minister of State, it would seem that the reasonable points made in respect of a number of amendments have not been taken on board. This is most disappointing.

I agree with Deputy Harney's point in relation to the Interpretation Act. I recall that shortly after I entered this House, when I tabled my first batch of amendments, I used the form "he/she", but when they appeared on the list of amendments only the word "he" was used. When I queried this I was told about this obscure legislation, the Interpretation Act. I asked the then Taoiseach if he would consider amending that legislation to give recognition, in the description of gender in legislation, to 50 per cent of the population. He expressed a willingness to do so and stated in response to my question that he would consider introducing legislation to amend the Interpretation Act. That is almost four years ago and I very much regret that this has not happened to date. It is a very simple matter and could be dealt with quickly. It would be warmly welcomed both inside and outside the House and bring to an end the archaic procedure whereby in almost all legislation 50 per cent of the population is insulted.

On the question of whether the person who will conduct the review of the operation of this Bill should be somebody other than a judge, I expressed my support on Committee Stage for the case put forward by Deputy Harney that it should be somebody other than a judge. We tend to have a fascination with judges and have a tendency to elevate members of the Judiciary to positions they were never intended to hold. There is no reason the review should not be conducted by somebody other than a judge particularly, as Deputy Harney has pointed out, since the Judiciary already have a full agenda. It would be wasteful to divert High Court judges away from the work that they should normally process, particularly when there are so many eminent people who could carry out the functions specified in this legislation. Therefore I support the amendment that somebody other than a judge should carry out the review.

First, I take Deputy Harney's point about the Interpretation Act. I have asked my officials to check what the up-to-date position is and I will communicate in writing with the Deputy. I understand that there was a Private Members' Bill on the Seanad Order Paper during last session; I do not know what has happened since. The Deputy mentioned that I had been given an assurance from the Bar Council, but this was given by the Chief Justice.

The essential feature of these amendments is to replace the term "designated judge" as the person who will review the legislation with "designated person". I can assure the House that I have given this matter very careful thought in view of the arguments made on Committee Stage. I wish to assure the House that my decision not to accept the amendment was not a knee jerk reaction or a reactionary response but was made after I had given the matter careful thought. I would like to explain the reasons I made this decision.

The provisions of section 8 of the Bill, relating to the review of the operation of the Bill by a judge of the High Court, have to be understood in the context of the entire scheme introduced in the Bill. The Convention on Human Rights requires that a person whose rights are affected by the system of authorised interception should have adequate guarantees against abuses and an effective remedy if such abuses occur. It is essential therefore to have some form of review of the operation of the system and redress. In the normal way a person whose rights are violated by administrative action, or who alleges that their rights have been violated by administrative action, can have such action reviewed in the courts. But because of the inherently secret nature of the interception system it is necessary to restrict access to the courts and so it is necessary to establish an alternative forum which can ensure that the system is being operated properly. When I talk about the need to restrict access to the courts because of the inherently secret nature of the system, I refer the Deputies to section 10, under which access to the courts will be restricted.

A reasonable solution is to entrust this duty to an independent judicial person who, by his training and experience, is well qualified to scrutinise and report impartially on the operation of the system. The office of designated judge, along with the complaints referee, is fundamental to securing and maintaining the balance between the needs of society and the rights of individuals. It introduces an independent element into the system of authorised interceptions and is thus crucial in ensuring that the system will enjoy public confidence. The confidence can best be secured from the outset if the public know that the continuing review of the Bill will be undertaken by a person who holds high judicial office. The work of the designated judge could not necessarily be performed by just any person, no matter how eminent that person might be. The work we are talking about is the continuing review of the exercise of ministerial functions and all of the associated administrative procedures. The judge will be able to go where he likes, see what material he likes and talk to whoever he likes. It is a role for somebody who commands public confidence, who is absolutely independent, who has an experienced legal mind and who can act independently and decisively.

Because of the particular duties imposed on the designated judge there will be no question of such a judge taking part in any criminal trial or in any appeal from a criminal trial. That is one of the reasons the original draft of the Bill was changed so that the invitation to the High Court judge to undertake the duties specified in section 8 will come from the President of the High Court. That has regard to the duties of the President of the High Court in the allocation of business among the Judiciary. The fact that the invitation will come from the President of the High Court, while not the purpose of the change, will further reassure the public about the office of designated judge. There would also be no problem in civil cases, because if a case arose in which a judge considered he should not take part he could exclude himself from the trial and be replaced by another judge without anyone being aware of it.

The second part of the amendment refers to the use of the committee for the purposes of section 2 of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, for the selection of a person for appointment to be the designated person. That committee was set up under the 1974 Act to select candidates for appointment to the office of Director of Public Prosecutions. The committee draw up a list of suitable candidates and the Government makes the appointment. While the position of designated judge is a very important one and the fact that the Bill specifies that that person must be a High Court judge indicates the importance of the position, it is effectively a part-time position and could not be compared with that of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In any case not just any person can be appointed Director of Public Prosecutions. The committee established under the provisions of the 1974 Act do not have a completely free hand in its selection. The 1974 Act specifies that the Director of Public Prosecutions be a practising barrister or solicitor of at least ten years' standing. If the Act is to be reviewed by a judge of the High Court, the arrangements in section 8 are the most appropriate to be invoked for his appointment, that is that he be invited to undertake the duties specified in that section by the President of the High Court and then designated for that purpose by the Government rather than selected by a committee.

I have given these amendments quite a lot of thought since Committee Stage. I am happy that the present arrangement, while not perfect, strikes the right balance. For those reasons I cannot accept this amendment.

I am very disappointed with the response of the Minister of State. I welcome the fact that he will review the provisions of the Interpretation Act. However, I noted, when he spoke about a High Court judge, that it was always "he". Therefore, am I to presume that the designated judge will be male? I know that at present there is one female judge only of the High Court and I look forward to the day when there will be many more. There are approximately 15 High Court judges and what we are proposing to do here is to exclude him or her from criminal work. Indeed conflicts of interest may arise in relation to civil actions. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that somebody who feels that their telecommunications messages were interfered with unfairly or intercepted could take a civil action. It does not necessarily follow that it would always be a criminal trial whenever conflicts of interest might arise in relation to these matters. For example, the judge in question could be involved in circumstances in which a person would be involved in civil litigation to claim damages against the State. Indeed the case taken by a former Member, Geraldine Kennedy and journalist Bruce Arnold was a civil constitutional case which was taken to the Supreme Court.

All the arguments of the Minister of State apply equally to a retired judge in assuming independence, clarity, understanding of the law and so on. That applies equally to a retired judge and to one of the District Court, Circuit Court or the Supreme Court. Why do we single out the High Court?

I am asking the Minister of State to substitute "designated person" for "designated judge" which would give us scope to appoint perhaps a judge of the High Court, a retired judge, the Ombudsman or a retired public servant. There are quite a number of options but we are closing every option except that of a High Court judge. That is a mistake and a lost opportunity.

As I said earlier, there are long delays in civil litigation here; two, three or four years being the norm in which to have a case heard. While that does not happen in all cases, it is mainly because we do not have sufficient numbers of judges at all levels, at Circuit and High Court levels in particular, or indeed at District Court level. It is an awful shame that — for the sake of the present 40 authorisations about which the Minister of State informed us recently — if the number is 15 High Court judges, we propose taking one-fifteenth of our resource; in other words, taking that person out of the system, away from hearing criminal cases altogether, clogging the litigation system further.

The Ombudsman is regarded as an independent person. He is not a person with legal expertise. Sometimes people who do not have legal expertise have much more understanding of the effect of different provisions on individuals, and, equally, can have the requisite clarity of mind, independence of thought and so on.

The Minister of State, in responding in regard to the committee appointed under the provisions of the 1974 Act, for sending forward candidates to be appointed as Director of Public Prosecutions, said that all they do is to forward names to the Government. I know that is all they do but it is a safeguard, a screening mechanism. We cannot computerise the selection of individuals, somebody has to take the decisions, but it is important that the process of selection is independent. I believe it is; it is successful and commands respect because of that. It is a much better system than the Government picking out someone and appointing him or her as Director of Public Prosecutions because of the ten years' experience as a lawyer at the Bar, or as a solicitor. Of course, any such appointee needs that experience to be a Director of Public Prosecutions. Somebody who did not have legal training would not be in a position to do the job.

We had a long debate about this on Second and Committee Stages, it has been aired here this morning, but the Minister's response is very disappointing. Let me give this warning to the Department of Justice: in so far as we want to find independent persons for the future I hope this will have been the last time we shall have presumed that the only independent person we could find was a serving member of the Judiciary, in particular a judge of the High Court. That is an insult to many people and, as I said, will tie down one-fifteenth of our very small resource.

It is not good enough for the Minister of State to say that he has the assurance of the Chief Justice that this appointee will not be involved in criminal trials. I do not question the integrity of the Chief Justice, or what he said, but that is not good enough. We are enacting law; the law should insist that the appointee will not be involved in criminal trials. After all, as I said, somebody could take a civil action for damages, when there would be nothing — in law — to prevent the judge in question from presiding. I presume the person would be honourable and would not preside, nonetheless, we should not leave it to the honour of individuals; we should ensure, when enacting the law, that we avoid loopholes of this kind, especially when drawn to our attention. We can make mistakes sometimes because things are not drawn to our attention, but this is being drawn to our attention. We are making a mistake in not writing that into the legislation but simply relying on the word of the Chief Justice of the day.

Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?

Question put: "That the word proposed to be deleted stand".
The Dáil divided: Tá, 82; Níl, 45.

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahren, Dermot.
  • Ahren, Michael.
  • Ahren, Noel.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajee.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Bruton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Eamon.

Níl

  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Cox, Pat.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Dempsey and Ferris; Níl, Deputies Keogh and O'Donnell.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following;

"(c) the nominated officer shall maintain a record of any authorisations given under paragraph (b).".

This amendment arises out of a Committee Stage amendment from Deputy Gilmore which sought to remove the power of the Minister to grant oral authorisations. That amendment was unacceptable on policy grounds but I undertook to have another look at the procedures to see if I could do anything to futher assure Deputies that the system for granting oral authorisations could not be abused. The amendment I am now proposing will place an obligation on the nominated officer to maintain a record of any oral authorisation given by the Minister. During Committee Stage comments were made which suggested to me that the provisions relating to oral authorisation might not be fully appreciated. Therefore, I would like to explain briefly how the system works and in what circumstances an oral authorisation might be sought.

The fundamental point is that all the provisions relating to applications for authorisation, such as the conditions to be fulfilled, apply equally regardless of whether the authorisation will be given in writing or, in the first instance, given orally. It is the authorisation that may be given orally — an application cannot be made orally. Therefore, there could be no question of the Commissioner approaching the Minister at a function with a request for an oral authorisation. There can be no cutting of corners just because something may be urgent. The request must be made by the Commissioner in the usual way in writing to the nominated officer. The nominated officer will consider the applications in the same way whether the authorisation will be written or oral — indeed, at that point the nominated officer may not know whether the authorisation will be written or oral. Again, in the case of every application the nominated officer must make a written submission to the Minister with his opinion on whether the specified conditions stand fulfilled. At that point if, say, the Minister is away from the office for the day, it may be undesirable to await the return because of the urgency of the application. In those circumstances the nominated officer could contact the Minister and if she is satisfied that the case is one of exceptional urgency, she can give an oral authorisation. Under this amendment the nominated officer will at that point record the fact of the authorisation.

I am very impressed with the Minister's use of the word "she".

There is no real scope for abuse in the present system. However, I recognise there is concern among some Deputies that there could be abuse, so to allay that concern I am proposing this additional safeguard which I recommend to the House.

There is one final point I would make about section 2 (2) (b). Where the Minister gives an oral authorisation it must be confirmed in writing "as soon as may be". Those words "as soon as may be" gave rise to some comment on Committee Stage. The draftsman was consulted and he said they meant no more and no less than "as soon as possible". It is simply a question of drafting style which phrase is used. However, he has advised against amending the words to "as soon as possible" as to do so could rise in some people's minds the possibility that the phrases had different meanings and that could have consequences for other legislation. I commend the amendment to the House.

I am reminded by the Minister's last remarks of a parish priest who when he received requests for anniversary masses announced that the masses would be held as soon as possible. This gave rise to considerable concern and anger on the part of the parishioners, particularly the relatives of the deceased, who wished to have a date identified on which the mass would be said. I am not sure that by defining "as soon as may be" as meaning "as soon as possible" will give us a great deal of joy.

I am pleased the Minister has come back with this amendment which goes part of the way at least to addressing the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. The reasoning given by the Minister to allay our fears about any possible abuse of the oral method of giving authorisations seems to contradict entirely the case he made on the last occasion for the need for oral authorisations. On that occasion he presented scenarios of circumstances that were of such great urgency that the Minister could not possibly give authorisation in writing, even to the extent that the Minister travelling in her car could not stop at a place where she would have access to a Fax machine to give the authorisation in that way.

I am glad the Minister has stated that the procedures that will have to be followed in respect of an oral authorisation will be similar to those that must be followed for a written authorisation — in other words, that the application as well as the supporting case for the authorisation will have to be in writing. It seems that it will take some time for the designated officer to prepare that material and if time has to be taken in making the application it is not unreasonable that the authorisation be given in writing. There is a degree of contradiction between the case made by the Minister on the last occasion for oral authorisations in terms of the urgency involved and the inconvenience and delay that might occur in the event of the Minister being required to give the authorisation in writing.

However, some progress is being made here in that the procedures that will have to be followed in the case of oral authorisations will be similar to those followed in the case of written authorisations. There is at least a requirement that a record will have to be kept by the nominated officer of all authorisations which are given orally. That minimises the possibility of abuse for the use of oral authorisations. While it does not go the whole way to meet the concerns I raised on Committee Stage it is progress. Given the Minister's reluctance to accept other amendments I can only express my thanks to him for having gone that far at least.

I welcome this amendment which is a further safeguard. Obviously, the intention is that this procedure would only come into play in cases of exceptional urgency. I raised this matter on Committee Stage and having read again the provision it is not clear what information will be available to the Minister when making this decision. The Minister of State told me on the previous day that the Minister would have all the information he or she would have if they were signing this authorisation as opposed to giving an oral permission. Will the Minister clarify that issue?

The Minister of State said that where the Minister gives an oral authorisation it must be confirmed in writing "as soon as may be" and so on. I will not dispute that because we could spend all day arguing about nothing. Generally, the phrase used in legislation is, "as soon as is practicable". When I occupied a similar post as the Minister of State the draftspersons office told me that if something was to happen as fast as was possible that was the phrase that was to be used. Will the Minister clarify that? I will not argue about the words as they are not that relevant.

Is it the case that some of these words are more legally binding than others? If that is the case we are all aware of the great joy lawyers derive from litigation about the meaning of words which earns many of them very good salaries for a considerable length of time. This is the kind of language we need to standardise in our legislation because if one Bill uses the words "as soon as is practicable" and other Bills use the words "as soon as may be" I can foresee different judges, or, perhaps, the same judge, interpreting both phrases differently, even though the intention may be to achieve the same objective. I raise that issue in the context of legislation generally with a view to standardising words so that we all have a clear view of what exactly we are talking about.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): My question may or not be important. Should the word “written” be inserted before the word “record” in the Minister's amendment No. 2? I know the authorisation should normally be in writing but here we are dealing with oral permissions. Is it necessary to include the word “written”?

I do not think it is necessary to insert the word "written". A record is a record.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Would a tape constitute a record?

I will have to inquire about that question. I am informed that the draftsman is happy about it but, perhaps, we can change it to a "a record in writing".

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The draftsmen are always happy with their own work.

Obviously, what we want to achieve, arising from Deputy Gilmore's point on the previous day, is that a record be maintained in writing. I shall give the Deputy's request some thought. I agree with Deputy Harney's point in regard to standardising phrases such as "as soon as may be", "as soon as practicable" and "as soon as possible." I am informed that when we want to get something done quickly it depends on what phraseology is used by the draftsman.

I reject Deputy Gilmore's assertion that what I am saying contradicts what I said on the last occasion. I should explain, in response to Deputy Harney's question, how this will operate in the event of an emergency. A written submission has to be made by the Commission, e.g. the Garda Commissioner — for the authorised officer. The authorised officer must then prepare a case in writing for the Minister. The Minister does not necessarily have to see the submission from the nominated officer but in practically every case she will see it and note that it is signed by the nominated officer. The nominated officer will proceed on the information given to him by the Commissioner and he can make his own inquiries. He can also bring to bear his own knowledge. What we envisaged in the case of an emergency is that the Minister may be away in which case the nominated officer will contact the Minister and read to her over the telephone the written submission he is making in favour of the granting of the authorisation. The Minister will then give the authorisation orally. The nominated officer will make a record of that and when the Minister returns to her office she will see the written submission from the nominated officer. The substantive information the Minister will have in relation to the granting of an oral application will be the same as if she has granted a written authorisation. While the information from the nominated officer will be in writing it will be read to her over the telephone. I commend the amendment to the House.

This Bill was initiated in the Seanad and I do not know what the mechanism is for amending it at this stage. We cannot consider it and report back. The draftsman is happy with it and I do not think there is any question of people making many tapes; all we need is a record we can all see and have access to.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 3 is in the name of the Minister. Amendment No. 4 is consequential on amendment No. 3. Therefore, I suggest we discuss amendments Nos. 3 and 4 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, to delete lines 16 to 19, and substitute the following:

"(II) the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces,".

I accepted on Committee Stage the substance of amendments from Deputies Mitchell, Browne and Harney concerning the Chief of Staff and undertook to request the draftsman to draft for Report Stage amendments covering the point. Amendment No. 3 will ensure that all applicants from the Defence Forces for authorisations will be made in writing by the Chief of Staff. This will be consistent with the position in the Garda Síochána where all such applications are made by the Commissioner. The amendment does not affect the existing requirement that any application from the Defence Forces be accompanied by a recommendation from the Minister for Defence. That was the position when it had to be an officer not below the rank of colonel. It will be the same even though the Chief of Staff is now making the application.

The draftsman has used the words "the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces" rather than the words "the Chief of Staff of the Permanent Defence Force". The wording he used is in line with the definition of "the Chief of Staff" in the Defence Act, 1954. The same wording is used in the consequential amendment to section 7.

Also, the 1954 Act defines "Officer" as being a officer of the Permanent Defence Force. That is why that expression was used in the original draft of the section which we are now amending. I am accepting the substance of the amendment but I am not using the terminology "the Chief of Staff of the Permanent Defence Forces" because that is in line with the explanation of that position in the Defence Act, 1954.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I welcome the amendment and I have no objection to the deletion of the word “Permanent” from the title of the Chief of Staff. We know who the Chief of Staff of the Army is and we talk about the Army more than the Defence Forces.

I too welcome this amendment. I tabled a similar amendment on Committee Stage. However, I have to take issue with the Minister about dropping the word "permanent", although I will not press it. Before I tabled my amendment I telephoned the press office at the Department of Defence and, indeed, the Army press office to ask the exact title of the Chief of Staff which I took down word for word. This is a small thing to ask. Perhaps the Minister could not justify not taking on our amendment so he had to leave out something. I will not argue about it. However, it seems strange that the officer is to be an officer of the Permanent Defence Forces, but the Chief of Staff is of the Defence Forces. The Minister had some explanation but I did not quite understand it.

I am delighted that the Army person will be at the same level as the equivalent person from the Garda Síochána and will be the highest serving officer, that is, the Commissioner in the case of the Garda Síochána and the Chief of Staff in the case of the Defence Forces. It is appropriate and correct that the people responsible for initiating authorisations for the interception of telephone messages should be most senior officer from either the Army or the Garda Síochána. Certainly, if the Chief of Staff is not aware of the necessity to intercept somebody's telephone message then either he is not doing his work or the necessity does not arise at all. Anybody who is a security risk to the State will obviously be known to the Chief of Staff. Therefore the argument on the last occasion that the Chief of Staff might not necessarily know, because it would be an officer below him who would be handling matters of this kind, does not stand up. I am delighted that the Minister has accepted the amendment.

The reason the officer in the original legislation is defined as an officer of the Permanent Defence Forces and the Chief of Staff is defined as the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces is that we are following the Defence Act, 1954, and that is how they are defined in that Act.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, lines 1 and 2, to delete "the person for the time being standing designated under section 6 (1) of this Act" and substitute "the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces".

This amendment has already been discussed.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

"8.—At the end of the six month period following the enactment of this Act and at the expiration of every subsequent six month period the Minister shall publish or cause to have published inIris Oifigiúil a report which shall include the following details in respect of the period in question:

(a) the number of warrants issued for the interception of postal packages; the number of addresses in respect of which such warrants were issued; and the number of postal packets intercepted,

(b) the number of warrants issued for the interception of telecommunications messages; the number of addresses or mobile units in respect of which such warrants were issued; and the number of telecommunications messages intercepted.".

We had quite a lengthy discussion on this amendment on Committee Stage. The purpose of the amendment is to require the publication at six monthly intervals of the number of warrants issued for interceptions of both telecommunications messages and postal packages. I argued that it was in the public interest to know not the identity of those whose telephones are being tapped or whose letters are being intercepted but the overall number of interceptions being authorised. It is important that that information be in the public domain to prevent any abuse of the powers given to the Minister for Justice in this legislation.

The Minister of State generously informed the House on Committee Stage that the current number of interceptions in respect of telephones was 44. It is not excessive and I would not regard that as an abuse of the powers. The Minister also indicated that he would bring in an amendment on Report Stage to require the High Court judge who will be carrying out the periodical review of the legislation and the operation of the Act to include in his report the number of authorisations given. He further accepted an amendment from Deputy Browne that the maximum period within which such a review would be undertaken would be reduced from two years to 12 months. I am disappointed that the Minister has not tabled an amendment which would require the High Court judge to include the numbers in his report. The publication of the number of authorisations is still at the discretion of the Minister or, ultimately, of the Taoiseach. I put it to the Minister that there is a necessity to build into the legislation a requirement that the numbers be published from time to time. I appeal to him to accept the amendment that I have tabled, or at the very least to assure the House that the information I am seeking to have made public will be given by way of response to parliamentary questions tabled here from time to time. One way or another it is important that this information be made public.

I say that because there has been concern in the past about the abuse of the power to issue such authorisations. On 13 September 1993The Sunday Business Post published what it described as transcripts of telephone conversations involving a number of senior personnel in the Fine Gael Party. I certainly do not support or in any way condone the taping of telephone conversations and it is clear that such taping in that particular case was highly illegal. That was a gross invasion of privacy irrespective of whether it was a private citizen or somebody in public life. I find it equally distasteful that such conversations should be published. However, I know the Minister of State has a certain enthusiasm for the publication of taped telephone calls irrespective of whether they are true or not.

No, I have not.

I know the Minister will not mind me referring to it.

I do mind.

There are two issues which arise——

On a point of order, if Deputy Gilmore wants to make remarks about me at least let him make accurate remarks. I have already explained in detail the situation with regard to the publication the Deputy refers to.

I do not want to go on about it, but the Minister of State knows what I am referring to.

Acting Chairman

If the comment is untrue, perhaps the Deputy would withdraw it.

The Minister of State wrote a letter to a Sunday newspaper congratulating them on a scoop. The scoop turned out to be a story based on tapped telephone conversations.

On a point of order, I must object to this. I wrote the letter without knowing how the information was received and I made that clear publicly, as I am sure Deputy Gilmore knows.

I do not want to prolong discussion of this issue. I will accept what the Minister of State says. The reported conversation between Deputy Bruton and Deputy Noonan in the report inThe Sunday Business Post on 13 September 1993 raised two issues which the Minister needs to address in the context of this amendment. The first is the reported widespread use of telephone tapping described, which, it says here, goes back to the time of Deputy O'Malley. There was a reference to the fact that if the information was made public it could be embarrassing. That raises the question as to whether it was the widespread practice of Ministers for Justice in the past to authorise the tapping of telephones. It raises also the possibility that there might be similar abuse in the future.

I accept, for reasons of tackling crime and protecting the security of the State, it is not possible or desirable that the identity of the persons whose telephones are being tapped should be made known. However, to prevent abuse and to allay public concern, it is important that the number of telephone taps should be made known to the public from time to time. The Minister provided us with the current number of telephone taps and the House appreciates that, but it would be useful to know the number of telephone taps and the number of persons whose telephones were tapped. Such information should be in the public domain.

The second issue which arises from the reported conversation is a disturbing reference to a former Minister for Justice having taken transcripts of conversation from the Department of Justice when he left office. A newspaper article stated: "when Doherty left office he took stuff with him out of the Department of Justice". A later reference in the same——

Acting Chairman

Is that relevant to the amendment?

Yes, it is relevant to making information regarding the tapping of telephones known to the public and that is what I seek in my amendment.

Acting Chairman

Does that necessitate naming people?

I am quoting from a newspaper article. My amendment seeks to have built into the legislation a formal procedure for making known publicly the number of telephone taps authorised by Ministers for Justice. I am doing that to prevent any possible abuse in the future by Ministers for Justice in relation to the authorisation of telephone taps. In supporting that I am quoting an article in a newspaper which said there had been widespread use of telephone taps in the past, to the extent that at least one former Minister for Justice thought that if such information became public it would be embarrassing, which suggests that there may have been abuse on the part of somebody. That article also stated that a former Minister for Justice took with him out of the Department of Justice information regarding the extent of telephone tapping and, more disturbingly, took the transcripts of the conversations concerned. It is important that the Minister of State should use this opportunity to tell the House what inquiries have been made arising from the publication of that article. I do not wish to go over the number of telephones tapped in the past; that is history and this Bill attempts to prevent such abuse in the future. However, I am concerned about this report which claims that a former Minister for Justice may have taken transcripts of tapped telephone conversations out of the Department of Justice. The Minister of State should set the record straight in regard to whether that has been inquired into, whether it is true and what will be done about it. I am seeking to put into legislation some mechanism whereby information can be made known formally to the public about the extent of telephone tapping. My amendment proposes that the number of telephone taps should be published every six months. If, for some reason, the Minister persists with the decision he took on Committee Stage in not accepting my amendment, I invite him to confirm his willingness to provide that information in response to parliamentary questions. The information I seek to make public in the amendment should at least be made available in response to parliamentary questions. If the Minister is at least prepared to go that far we might be able to make progress.

I support Deputy Gilmore's amendment which seeks to elicit information. On Committee Stage the Minister of State accepted a reduction to one year in the time limit in which a High Court judge will have to report, but the information he or she must report is vague. This amendment seeks to give the public basic statistical information and getting basic information here is virtually impossible, particularly from the Department of Justice. State Departments in general are paranoid about secrecy in regard to information. As a Minister of State I regularly saw files which were marked "secret" yet contained nothing which could have been regarded as secret. They merely contained basic statisical information. There is an arrogance on the part of the State in withholding information to which individuals are entitled.

Various persons, including the former Taoiseach, gave commitments about a freedom of information Bill but if sensible amendments such as this are opposed what would be the point in having such a Bill? We were required to implement a directive on the freedom of access to environmental information by the end of last December. Subject to restrictions in regard to security and trade secrets, State and public authorities are required to make available to the public information regarding the environment. That directive has not yet been implemented here despite the fact that the necessary legislation is in place. The provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency Act allow us to implement that directive. Regulations can also be made under that Act but there is a reluctance to do so.

I was pleased that the Minister of State recently gave statistics in relation to the number of authorisations in force at present, it got extensive media coverage because it related to statistics, about which we get very little information. Last week a question was tabled to the Minister in regard to whether any public representative's telephone was tapped. She said no Member of the Oireachtas has had his or her telephone tapped which, presumably, means that other public representative's telephones are tapped. I do not disagree with that. If the security of the State or the investigation of serious crime requires the tapping of a telephone of a public representative, a journalist or anyone else, we must have the powers to do so. We must not act with our hands tied behind our backs because we are afraid of the person.

Under the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, it is a criminal offence to intercept telephone messages or postal packages and to make the contents known to others. Have any prosecutions been brought under that Act? I am not aware of any. Has the person responsible for getting the information from Deputy Bruton's mobile telephone been prosecuted under that Act? Transcripts of telephone conversations I made on a mobile telephone were circulated to individuals about a year ago. I did not take any action in regard to that because, as many people said, mobile telephones are not secure and it is easy to intercept conversations on mobile telephone. I do not have to worry about the telephone conversations I have with others. However, everyone is entitled to their privacy and private telephone conversations with one's grandmother, grandfather or whoever should be private. Other people should not be entitled to hear those conversations or publish transcripts of them.

Despite our reluctance about issuing statistical information, which this amendment seeks, we are paranoia about interfering with individuals' privacy. If journalists get a "scoop", they are not concerned about the effect it might have on an individual or a family. The "scoop" comes first and the family come very much behind that and that is regrettable. That does not relate just to Bishop Casey. People's private sexual affairs are their own business and the media do not have a right to publish details about people's private lives regardless of who they are unless it interferes with the public policy stand they might take. If an individual's telephone conversation is recorded unknown to that person it is highly improper for that conversation to be transcribed and published for the world at large. We must protect the privacy of individuals.

One of our country's strong marks is our written Constitution under which individuals have basic fundamental rights which have been liberally interpreted by the courts in the past. The courts have given us most of our rights in relation to certain matters. The right to privacy is fundamental and it should only be interfered with when the security of the State or the investigation of serious crime is involved. Notes or recordings of overheard telephone conversations should not be taken and circulated just because the people involved may be well known. That is wrong. We must institute proceedings against such individuals and make an example of them. In regard to Deputy Bruton's case I understand the Garda were successful in their investigations but I would be interested to know if there will be a prosecution.

Deputy Gilmore's referred to a former Minister for Justice who took documents from the Department of Justice. If that is the case — I read something about that many years ago — the Minister of State and his Department, should speak to the person concerned and request that the documents be returned to the Department. That is not to say that the individual would not have photocopies of the documents. Those documents should be returned as they are the property of the Department and not the individual. As the Minister of State is aware many reasons were given on that occasion to tap the telephones of journalists and, perhaps, of colleagues. The reason given for the latter was that colleagues were supposed to be subverting the State. Telephones were tapped then for political reasons and not for the investigation of subversive activity of other crimes. The privacy of individuals was grossly interfered with, not just of journalists but of colleagues.

Deputy Gilmore referred also to other former Ministers for Justice such as Deputy O'Malley. Deputy O'Malley was Minister for Justice when he was about 30 years of age in 1970-71 at a time when the troubles in Northern Ireland began violence broke out during the period 1969 to 1971. It was a difficult time for this country when the terrorist organisations, who have bedevilled us since, came into being in a powerful and important way. They caused all the havoc and difficulties we have had since. Deputy O'Malley was a young and courageous Minister. He could never stay more than two nights at any address for security reasons. It is fashionable now to stand up to the Provisional IRA, one is not ridiculed for doing so. However, in the 1970s it was not so fashionable and many accusations were made about the infringement of civil liberties and so on. It was the start of a very dangerous period and the approximate 2,500 deaths in Northern Ireland since, may have changed many people's minds or perhaps, the public perception has helped to change their minds. It was not fashionable then to face up to the terrorists and Deputy O'Malley was an extremely brave Minister. He suffered a great deal, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware. His family suffered also. They had to be evacuated from their home in Limerick on many occasions for security reasons. His mother-in-law's public house was blown up in Northern Ireland. Deputy Gilmore's remarks should be made in that context. I have no doubt that any telephone taps authorised by the former Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, during these years were at the behest of the Garda Síochána and the security forces. He did not authorise this course of action off his own bat, he acted on the advice and at the request of the authorities in order to help the investigation of serious crime.

It is approximately four years since the last report on the prison service was published by the Department of Justice and it is about the same length of time, 1989, or so, since a report on the probation service was published. Those reports contain information useful to policy makers, and others interested in those areas, for example, students of criminology, the prison service, the Garda Síochána and so on. It is difficult to obtain this information and such reports should be published annually as a matter of form.

We should not have to wait three to five years for those reports. When the reports are finally published the information contained in them is out of date and, therefore, is not so useful. If statistical information is not provided at the time it is somewhat irrelevant. Given how difficult it is to obtain such reports we must write into this legislation the requirement, as suggested by Deputy Gilmore, that every six months basic information will be furnished regarding the number of authorisations issued for the interception of telephone messages or postal packages. If we do not do this we will get a skimpy report and that is not good enough. It is not in keeping with the ethos in regard to openness in our society. Unlike most European countries, Ireland and Britain are conscious of secrecy and denying individuals their right to information.

This is a good amendment. The Minister has given no valid reason for refusing to accept it. If access to information, the broadening of democracy, more openness and the objectives contained in the Programme for Government are to mean anything in regard to change, this amendment should be accepted. We should not vote against it.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): We could discuss the past when some shady deals did occur but this Bill represents a change and seeks to bring everything into the open. The Minister will be advised by the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Commissioner in these matters. Everything is legal and above board and because we live in a democracy there will be no embarrassment in publishing numbers. A great deal of information could not be published because it would be helpful to those we are trying to keep under control but the number of legitimate telephone taps and other such information should not be concealed. The number of authorisations given should be made available every six months. This will not affect the security of the State or democracy, rather it will help democracy and keep the public informed. I support the amendment. It is a logical one because it legitimises actions taken for the protection of the State.

Reference has been made to illegal telephone tapping and interception of telephone calls. That will not be covered by this Bill but I would be sympathetic to individuals who innocently turn a knob on a radio receiver set and pick up messages accidentally. There should be a clear onus on radio and television stations and newspapers not to relay or print conversations picked up in that way. I would be much more interested in seeing people who illegally intercept telephone conversations punished for making such conversations available to the media. I hope that the people listening to me in the Public Gallery will not find themselves put in jail at any stage. The transcripts of private conversations should not be made public. It should be remembered that the printed word can make off-the-cuff comments seem twice as bad. For example, a person could say jokingly during the course of a telephone conversation that he will have the other person shot in the morning. If this comment is printed in the newspapers it gives a different impression of what was actually said. We should ensure that all people who tap phones illegally are punished severely. I have no qualms about people listening to phone conversations if they come across them by chance, but people who deliberately tap another person's phone in the hope of making money from selling the conversation to the media should be severely punished.

I again wish to reject the implications in Deputy Gilmore's earlier intervention in which he referred to a recent letter I wrote.

I accept the Minister's bona fides in the matter.

I am most disappointed that Deputy Gilmore should choose to bring the debate down to that level. I do not believe that one should refer to tapped private telephone conversations in the public domain. I do not agree with this practice. In fairness to him, I do not think the editor of the newspaper in question agrees with this practice either. Both he and I have apologised; neither of us knew at the time how the information had been got. The matter should be left at that.

I accept the points made by Deputy Harney about Deputy O'Malley and why he did what he did at the time. As the House will be aware, the security and safety of the State were in danger not just from the Provisional IRA, for whom I have no brief, but also from the Official IRA. I do not intend to rake up the past. If other people stay away from the past I will do the same. However, if they want to reduce this debate to a certain level they will find me a very worthy protagonist — I have plenty of ammunition, if Deputies will excuse the pun.

Deputy Gilmore asked for various information. I do not have this information to hand. He asked me to guarantee that the information would be forthcoming if he put down a question. I cannot give the Deputy that guarantee. All I can do is advise him to put down a question and I will see what can be done.

Deputy Gilmore also said he wanted his amendment accepted in order to prevent abuses. I was under the impression that the whole reason for the legislation was to prevent abuses. We are putting on a statutory basis what was previously done in an administrative way. We are also building very fundamental safeguards into the Bill. As a matter of fact, I can compare this legislation to the requirements set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and the requirements set out in the Malone judgment. We are providing more safeguards in this legislation than the European Court of Human Rights asked us to give in the Malone judgment; we are going further than the European Convention on Human Rights in terms of the safeguards built into the legislation. Therefore, I do not think anyone can reasonably argue for the acceptance of any amendment on the basis that it will prevent abuses and introduce safeguards. That is precisely the operation in which we are engaged.

Reference was made to Deputy Bruton's case. Deputy Harney raised some questions on this matter. The tapping of Deputy Bruton's phone was a criminal offence. The matter has been investigated and the file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decides in the case of an indictable offence whether or not a prosecution should be taken. With regard to Deputy Harney's other questions, I have been told that prosecutions have been taken under the 1983 legislation in relation to the interception of or interference with postal packets. I am not aware of any other prosecution for interception of a telecommunications phone message, but I have asked my officials to make inquiries as to the number, if any, of prosecutions taken. This information will be communicated to Deputy Harney.

With regard to the general thrust of the amendment, I opposed this amendment on Committee Stage because I considered that it would cut across the functions of the designated judge. I have listened carefully to the arguments which have been advanced since then but I have not been persuaded that there is any reason to change the opinion I expressed on Committee Stage. However, I think I have gone some way towards meeting one of the objects of the amendment — and this has been acknowledged by Deputies on all sides of the House — by reducing the possible interval between the designated judge's report to the Taoiseach under section 8 (2) (a) from two years to 12 months. I did this as a result of a suggestion put forward by Deputy Browne.

I appreciate the rationale of this amendment and my decision to oppose it is not taken lightly. There is not much I can add to what I said on Committee Stage other than to say that the Bill will introduce a self-contained scheme for the regulation of the grant of authorisations for interceptions by the Minister for Justice. The new safeguards are an integral part of that scheme and the offices of both the designated judge and the complaints referee are an important and central part of the scheme. Their functions and duties have been carefully thought out and it is very important that they are not only independent in the performance of those functions and duties but are also seen to be independent. It would not be appropriate for the Minister to retain for himself or herself any functions that might parallel or conflict with the functions assigned to the designated judge or complaints referee. That would be the case if the amendment became part of the Bill.

I undertook on Committee Stage to examine the possibility of introducing a compromise amendment on Report Stage. I have done this. For example, I considered whether the Bill should specify that the report of the designated judge should contain information as to the number of warrants granted during the period covered by the report. I have given this matter a great deal of thought and have finally come to the considered conclusion that such an amendment would not be justified on its merits. Because of his independent role, I think it would be much better to leave it up to the judge to decide what information he will or will not disclose in his reports to the Taoiseach.

I cannot, of course, say today that the designated judge definitely will include information in his reports as to the number of warrants issued in any particular period. I cannot say either that he might not include much more information than envisaged in the amendment and that the amendment might have, unintentionally, a constraining effect. I will come back to this matter later. The designated judge will, as I said, be wholly independent; he or she will not be beholden to anybody. I do not believe that any High Court judge would be content to continue in the office of designated judge if a Taoiseach censored a report because it contained matters which it would be inconvenient for the Government to publish, as opposed to matters which it would genuinely be prejudicial to the prevention or detection of crime to or to the security of the State to disclose.

I have been looking at a fairly recent report of the British commissioner, who performs broadly similar functions to those envisaged for the designated judge. If Deputies Gilmore, Harney and Browne wish, I will make a copy of the report available to them. I note that the British commissioner includes quite a lot of statistical information in his report. For example, he specified the number of warrants in force on 31 December 1989 and the number of warrants issued during the course of that year. I am referring to Lord Justice Lloyd's report issued in 1990, the latest report I can get my hands on. He further divides the number of warrants into those issued in relation to interception of telecommunications and interception of letters; and he also distinguishes between those granted by the Home Secretary and those granted by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Obviously that does not apply in this country. He also gives some general information on the type of crime for which warrants have been issued. By far the largest number in the year under review was for serious crime. He disclosed that 60 per cent of all warrants issued at the request of the police were concerned with large scale importation or distribution of drugs and 24 per cent were concerned with armed robbery. The remaining 16 per cent covered fraud, large scale receiving and other serious crime. Just under 50 per cent of all warrants issued at the request of the police resulted, directly or indirectly, in arrests and in some cases also the recovery of property.

The British Act has a provision similar to that in our Bill concerning the exclusion of any material which would be prejudicial to national security or the prevention or detection of serious crime and, in the case of Britain, to the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom. The power to exclude any part of the report is greater under the British legislation than under our proposed legislation. The report to which I referred had a note attached to it pointing out that a confidential appendix had been excluded from the report in accordance with the appropriate provisions of the British Interception of Communications Act, 1985.

While not wishing to draw any conclusions from what I have just said, I think it is clear that in England at least the amount of statistical information given in the report of their commissioner is greater than that envisaged in the Deputy's amendment or any amendment I could propose. Rather than trying to commit the designated judge to providing some statistics, as I had suggested as a possible compromise amendment, I think it is far more appropriate to let him decide himself on what statistics he will disclose and how he might wish to present those statistics. Accordingly, I came to the conclusion that any amendment would be neither necessary nor desirable.

I oppose Deputy Gilmore's amendment for the reasons I outlined and I have also decided not to propose my compromise amendment for the same reasons. The British legislation is worded in the same way as ours except that one can refer to economic interests as an excuse for keeping material out. This is what the designated person under the British legislation has decided to disclose. Anybody who engages in debate in legislation here or who has had any legal training will know that Irish legislation, which is similar to British legislation, will be interpreted by the Irish Judiciary by looking at how similar legislation is interpreted in the neighbouring jurisdiction. The British have interpreted legislation similar to this in a way which will give considerably more information than would be given by virtue of Deputy Gilmore's amendment. The draftsman fears that if either Deputy Gilmore's amendment or my amendment was taken on board it would be restrictive and ensure that the judge does not have a free hand. In the interests of giving greater access to information, I cannot accept the amendment.

I regret the Minister's rejection of this amendment. In relation to his remarks about the standard of the debate, it is a great pity that he has not chosen to apply to my acceptance of his earlier intervention in relation to the letter he wrote to theSunday Independent the same standard that he quite clearly expects from everybody else in relation to his acknowledgement of his having written the letter in the first place. The Minister is no stranger to the side swipe and if he intended by some of his earlier remarks to have a side swipe at me, he will have to think again. If his remarks about raking over the past were intended as some kind of menacing threat to me, I assure him that I have no worries about raking over the past.

In relation to the issues before us, this legislation arises directly from abuse in the past by at least one Minister for Justice, if not more, of the procedures that existed for the tapping of telephone calls. Telephone calls and letters are private and should remain private. Telephone conversations should not be eavesdropped or mail opened by people other than by those for whom they were intended. I accept that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the investigation of crime and to the battle against subversion where it is necessary for the State to intercept telephone calls or mail. I accept that this legislation is intended to establish the procedures for doing that on a statutory basis and that we also have to build into that legislation safeguards from the point of view of the general public and the individual citizen to ensure that there is not abuse in the future.

When I referred to the past it was to demonstrate that there is evidence that there was abuse in the past. My concern is to ensure that that abuse would be discontinued in the future. One of the ways to prevent abuse is by giving the public information. I am seeking in my amendment to give the public information about the extent of the use of the exceptional powers provided in this legislation so that the public have some idea of the extent to which telephone tapping or the interception of mail is being used. I do not want access to that kind of information to be continuously on the basis of a report of an illegally tapped conversation between Members of this House, in which they refer to the use of telephone tapping in the past or to the leaking of documents which former Ministers for Justice may have taken out of the Department of Justice.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State did not use the opportunity to respond to the concern I expressed about the report that a former Minister for Justice took documents out of the Department and that those documents may have contained transcripts of taped conversations which arose from telephone taps irrespective of whether those telephone taps were justified or part of the abuse that has given rise to this legislation. I regret that the Minister has not responded to that and, quite clearly, I will have to pursue it in some other way because there is an issue of public concern that information available to a Minister for Justice by virtue of his position and available to him on a confidential basis in his official capacity should remain in his possession. That gives rise to a nightmare scenario. In the public interest that aspect needs to be addressed. I regret that the Minister of State has not taken the opportunity to do so here today. I hope that at some future stage either he or the Minister for Justice will deal with this matter.

I have no alternative but to press my amendment which I argued for on Committee Stage and again today. To argue, as the Minister of State has done, that by putting a requirement into the legislation that the statistical information would be published, would be seen as limiting the information that might be made available publicly is disingenuous, particularly when on the last occasion he argued that, to combat crime, there might be a case for not releasing that information.

I do not accept that this matter should be left to the discretion of the High Court judge reviewing the legislation. It is a matter for this House. It is a matter for the Legislature to decide the type of information that should be made available publicly. That is all my amendment seeks to do. We should decide the type of information which should be made available publicly. It is placing an unreasonable demand on the High Court judge who will be reviewing the operation of the Act to say that it is up to him to decide what information should be made available, when the Minister is not prepared to accept what information should be made available, when he is suggesting that the House should duck that issue and should not make a decision on the extent of the information that should be made available. What is sought in my amendment is minimal. Indeed, the Minister in arguing his point drew attention to the fact that all I am seeking is minimal information. It is important for public information and public confidence that we do not have a situation in the future where a Minister for Justice could become so arrogant in office as to believe he has the right to engage in the excessive tapping of telephone calls.

We have had much abuse of power in this country and it was an abuse of power which gave rise to this legislation in the first instance. We must stop the abuse of power and one of the ways to do this is to let the public know what is being done in their name. I have no problem with telephones being tapped or letters being intercepted where that is required to tackle crime or subversion. I have said that on a number of occasions in this House. However, safeguards must be built into the legislation that protect the public interest, the individual citizen and society in general against the kind of abuse that has taken place in the past. I intend to press my amendment.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 80.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Cox, Pat.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajee.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Seáamus.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Morely, P. J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihil, John.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • ÓCuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Whillie.
  • O'Dongohue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Sean.
  • Quinn, Ruairi.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brndan.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies McManus and E. Kenny; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Ferris.
Amendment declared lost.

In view of the decision made earlier to negative amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Harney, amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 cannot be moved, as I indicated earlier.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 14, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(1) The Act of 1983 is hereby amended by—

(a) the insertion of the following definitions in section 2:

‘"communication" means a postal packet or a telecommunication message including a message reproduced by electro-magnetic radiation including fibre-optics, microwave or radio;

"interception" means an act that consists of the opening, attempted opening or use of technology to establish the contents of a postal packet addressed to any person or the delaying or detaining of any such postal packet or the doing of anything to prevent its due delivery or the authorising, suffering or permitting of another person (who is not the person to whom the postal packet is addressed) to do so;', and

(b) the insertion in section 84 (1) (a) after ‘attempts to open' of ‘or uses any technology to establish the contents of'.".

I tabled a similar amendment on Committee Stage when the Minister of State said that there was no need to include a definition of "communication" or a wider. He felt that all the matters raised were covered. However, I am not satisfied that that is the case. The Minister of State was vague and stated "I understand that these matters are covered in the main Act of 1983", but that Act does not contain a definition of "communication". This is a mistake. Neither does it contain a definition of "telecommunication", if memory serves me correctly.

In so far as it is possible to do so — I know that this is not an easy thing to do — we should seek to include definitions in all legislation. Even when reference is made to a main Act, it would be no harm to repeat definitions at the beginning of new legislation. In the first instance, this would be good practice and, second, it would help to clarify what we are talking about. Because I did not read it in conjunction with the 1983 Act, which is quite lengthy, the Bill did not make much sense when I read it first.

I do not intend to go on at great length because we had a good debate on Committee Stage. I took the definition of "interception" from an amendment which was tabled by Deputies Costello and Upton, then Senators, in the Seanad, where here was a good debate on this Bill. It was very comprehensive. I should say that the Labour Party tabled excellent amendments and I am astonished that on the last occasion the Bill was discussed, apart from Deputy Gallagher, no other Labour Party Member bothered to contribute. He put forward amendments but they were later withdrawn. It is strange that the Labour Party has not got involved in this debate, given that some of its Members were very much involved in the Seanad and many of the changes they advocated have not been made. In the context of the partnership, they have not used their clout to have made to the Bill any of the changes they considered important a matter of months ago. That is a matter for them. However, having read their contributions and amendments, I did offer them the opportunity, by tabling their amendments, word for word, and told them I was doing so — I hope I was not infringing on any copyright laws — but I did give them the opportunity of coming in to speak on them, if not to vote for them, but they chose not to exercise that option.

We have more than aired the substance of what I am endeavouring to do here, which is to clarify exactly what we are talking about, in particular, the matter of the attempted opening. I do not believe that is sufficient. As I understand it, there is equipment available to scan postal packages without opening them to ascertain their contents but the provisions of this Bill do not adequately address that matter.

I might add in passing — and I should like to hear the comments of the Minister of State on this — I was interested to note from the Principal Act of 1983 which I had not read before, since until now I had not had a great interest in telecommunications matters, that it is an offence to delay the delivery of a postal package, a provision which, I am sure, is not widely known to the general public. I have had the experience of letters sent to me from this House which seemed to take an enormous amount of time to reach my home. I had a recent experience of a notification of the first meeting of the Select Committee on Legislation and Security which was posted here on a Friday but did not reach my home in Dublin until the following Tuesday. Of course, I did not receive it until Tuesday evening, as I had left home that morning before the post arrived; yet that meeting took place on that Tuesday morning. I wonder whether people responsible for postal delivery take Oireachtas envelopes seriously. Do they regard them as merely unimportant circulars? I know that letters for friends of mine living in the Dublin mountains are delivered only when the postman has a couple of letters for other houses in the area. If, say, it arrives on a Monday, if there is no letter for anybody else in the area on that day — and I accept there are not many houses there — it might not be delivered until the following Thursday or Friday. I am not saying that is necessarily bad, my constituents are not making a big issue of it because, as they say themselves, generally speaking they will be bills which, if delayed, is all to the good. However, if the provisions of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, were implemented, that could not happen. Indeed one of my colleagues, within the context of the recent general election — unfortunately, a failed candidate — is still fighting a case with the postal authorities in relation to his election address, part of which was not delivered to some of his constituents and another part delivered when the election was over. Apparently some people took it upon themselves to decide not to bother delivering it; I do not know whether they did not like the particular individual but it is unsatisfactory.

Since we have such provisions in the Principal Act I should like to think they will be implemented. This matter is more appropriate to the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Cowen, and the authorities in respect of which he is responsible, the semi-State bodies under his control, certainly I have never heard of people being prosecuted under the provisions of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, and those provisions have not been implemented for periods of the year in some regions. If such legislative provisions exist and require letters and/or packages to be delivered in a particular order, those deliveries should be effected in accordance with the legislation; otherwise we should amend the legislation. To a large extent perhaps it is not practicable, a word we used earlier, to have deliveries to every single home nationwide every morning. It is expensive, which I accept; perhaps deliveries every two or three days would be acceptable. I am not necessarily saying that it should be an offence but, if it is, laws not enforced become laws disregarded and not respected. If we have laws certainly we should implement them and if not implemented, action should be taken against those who do not implement them.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I support Deputy Harney's amendment. When introducing legislation we should do so in a manner that will not lead to our being caught out later by modern technology. We should remember we are talking about fibreoptics, being able to ascertain the contents of an envelope without opening it by way of modern technology. We should cover the eventuality of future inventions so that interference with mail will still be prevented.

I take the points made by Deputies Harney and Browne about future inventions, to which I shall revert in a moment. Deputy Harney is right in saying that these amendments were tabled in the Seanad where they received fairly extensive airing and they were discussed again at some length here on Committee Stage. Because of the persuasive arguments put forward, I undertook to make various inquiries. Basically this legislation is authorising legislation only, relating to circumstances in which actions which would otherwise be illegal will be authorised, so that the Garda Commissioner will be able to take such action on the authorisation of the Minister for Justice.

The basic legislation Deputy Harney seeks to amend — and I accept it can be amended here — is the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, which is primarily a matter for the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. That is why I must obtain their consent and talk to them in regard to how they feel about amending their legislation. There have been extensive discussions, not only with the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications but with An Post and Telecom Éireann. I am glad we engaged in such discussions because I learned a few things I had not known previously.

There are two main elements to this amendment with which I will deal separately. First, there is the definition of "communications" which also includes a definition of "telecommunications". On Committee Stage I explained in some detail the origin and evolution of "telecommunications". Much store has been put on the fact that "telecommunications" is not defined and owes its meaning to case law going back over many years. The legal advice from the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications is that this is a good argument for not defining the term, that any word whose meaning has evolved over so long a period, which has withstood all technical inventions in the telecommunications area in the course of those years, would be interfered with at our peril. It is an adaptable word that not only has comprehended all appropriate technical advances to date but can also comprehend future technology. That is the way it has been interpreted. I quoted last time, I think, fromHalsbury's Laws of England.

It is not merely a question of saying that the amendment is unnecessary, although it is not a basis for good legislation to accept amendments which are unnecessary but otherwise would do no harm. In this case, any amendments which would define "telecommunications" to have any effect or meaning would have to be contained in the provisions of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983. I have already explained fully that the provisions of that Act are the responsibility of the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. Indeed their legal people have informed me that it is not just a question of the amendment being unnecessary but that it could be positively harmful in that it could import an element of uncertainty into an area in which there is certainty at present, or as much certainty as one can reasonably expect. As I said, "telecommunications" includes all modern means of telecommunications, such as mobile telephones, which nobody could have foreseen in years gone by. There is absolutely no reason to believe that it will not also comprehend future technological advances.

I might make one final point on this element of the amendment. The 1983 Act is very long with extensive Schedules but, from a cursory examination, I could find no use of the word "communications" in the context in which it is defined in the amendment. For example, in section 63 (7) of the 1983 Act "communication" clearly is restricted to the expression "postal packet".

I oppose the amendment to the definition of the interception of a postal packet for different reasons, which is what I learned from having investigated the matter. On the face of it, on Committee Stage, this appeared a good amendment. Accordingly, meetings took place with the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and with An Post with a view to getting agreement to its acceptance. Before giving the reason for being unable to accept this amendment I should like to explain that An Post has informed me it has no equipment which can read the contents of a postal package or a letter. The same can be said of the Garda although that is irrelevant to this amendment because the Garda, with or without a warrant, do not have any power to intercept a postal package. I do not know whether such equipment exists. All I know is that neither the Garda nor An Post has ever heard of it. An Post has a machine which, by X-raying a postal package, will show in outline whether it contains a gun or explosives; it shows in outline the contents of a packet. In the normal way, under section 19 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1925, An Post may detain and examine and if necessary open any postal packet, known or suspected of containing a firearm or prohibited weapon or any ammunition.

However, An Post may not wish to open a particular postal packet, for example, when they have been warned by the Garda that there are letter bombs in the post. Apart from not wishing to open every packet, it could in any case be dangerous to open them. In those circumstances the packet will be taken aside and X-rayed, that is the use of technology to establish the contents of a postal package. Any change to section 84 of the 1983 Act along the lines of the amendment would mean that An Post would no longer have the power to take aside a packet that it suspects may contain explosives and X-ray it. That would be an unacceptable position for An Post and for the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and, accordingly, I could not agree to the amendment. The definition of "interception" in the amendment is unacceptable because it includes the words that I have explained are unacceptable. In any case it is unnecessary to define "interception" in the 1983 Act as its meaning is covered by section 84. The first part of the definition of interception in relation to postal packages in the Bill is simply a reiteration of section 84 (1) of the 1983 Act.

To sum up, all the elements of this amendment have been thoroughly examined and, indeed, dissected and discussed in great detail between the Department of Justice, the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, An Post and Bord Telecom Éireann. Because the Department which is mainly responsible, the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, does not wish to have an amendment to that effect in the legislation, I regret I cannot accept the amendments. I would be acting contrary to its wishes by using this Bill as a vehicle to make amendments in its legislation.

The Minister says he is delighted he consulted widely and that he has learned a great deal, of which he would make us aware. Without wishing to be offensive, I have not learnt anything new and I did no hear anything that I had not heard on the last occasion. I was interested to hear the Minister say that An Post does not have any machinery or technology that can read the contents of a letter. While it is true that it does not have it now, that is not to say that such technology will not exist tomorrow, next month or next year.

Recently, when the Minister for Justice was opposing public order legislation that I proposed, she said it was a replica of British legislation which was introduced to deal with riots and since we did not have problems with riots we did not need it. Presumably the argument was that until we have riots we do not need to introduce legislation, we will never act in advance and that we will react rather than anticipate what might or might not happen. There seems to be a reluctance to anticipate.

The Minister of State gave three reasons for not accepting the amendment. He said it was a matter for the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and not a matter for the Department of Justice as the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications would not take too kindly to changes in its legislation. Of course, it is not a matter for either Department; it is a matter for this House to make the law. I understand the conflicts, the difficulties and the fine lines of demarcation that exist between Ministers and I am not trying to ignore them, but at the end of the day legislation is a matter for this House and the chances of having an opportunity in the lifetime of this Dáil to amend the Telecommunications Act, 1983, are remote. I am not aware of any commitment in the Programme for Government to change that Act nor am I aware of any great effort on the part of any Member to have other sections of the Act changed.

My amendment seeks to improve the main Act by including definitions. These definitions may not be the ideal. The Minister said that a definition had evolved with practice and if that is the case perhaps we should have taken the evolved definition and made it the definition. If we seek to clarify something and we have no definition, we end up with a confused situation and, perhaps, end up restricting the purpose of the legislation. That certainly would not be my wish.

I do not see any break in the attitude of the Minister of State and I will therefore not delay the House. I tabled this amendment again to give us an opportunity to discuss this issue. It is disappointing that we do not introduce definitions of what we are talking about. There seems to be a reluctance to introduce clarity because the argument is that clarity will in some way restrict what may or may not be the consequences of legislation and will lead to confusion. That is very poor argument.

The Minister of State undertook to make inquiries about a requirement under the 1983 Act to prosecute those who have in any way delayed the delivery of a postal package.

This happens every day of the week. I did not specify any technology in my amendment as in paragraph (b). I used the phrase "or uses any technology". That allows for future developments and I cannot see how that could be restrictive. I am not restricting it to the matters referred to under the definition of "communication". I suggest that any technology to intercept, or to discover the contents of a postal package should be covered by this legislation. The fact that it will be covered because definitions and interpretations evolve is not good enough. It is disappointing.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 12 is consequential on No. 11 and, subject to agreement, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 14, line 36, to delete "subsection is" and substitute "subsections are".

As these are the last amendments we will be discussing I take the opportunity to respond to a point raised earlier by Deputy Browne. I have consulted with the parliamentary draftsman on the term "record" and he is happy that "record" means a record in writing.

Amendment No. 12 arises out of an amendment put down by Deputy Gallagher on Committee Stage. Its purpose is to ensure that any request to Telecom Éireann from the Garda Síochána for metering information will be in writing and signed by a member not below the rank of chief superintendent. It will also ensure that any request for such information from the Defence Forces will be in writing and signed by an officer of at least the rank of colonel.

I will explain briefly the background to these amendments. Metering information is essentialy information about the use of the telecommunications services. It can, for example, refer to the number of calls made from a particular telephone or the telephone numbers dialed. This information has, in the past, been given on request to members of the Garda Síochána by Telecom employees for the purpose of prevention or detection of crime or in the interests of State security. The information given to the Garda does not disclose any part of the contents of the telephone calls and, therefore, does not require a warrant. However, the decision of the European Court in the Malone case requires that requests for metering information be placed on a statutory basis and that is the purpose of section 13 (2).

In theory, any member of the Garda Síochána could request a Telecom employee to disclose metering information to him without reference to a senior Garda officer in accordance with the provisions now being put on a statutory basis. In practice, those requests are signed by a senior Garda officer of at least the rank of chief superintendent. The purpose of the amendment is to put that practice on a statutory basis. It means that no member of the Garda Síochána below the rank of chief superintendent and no member of the Defence Forces below the rank of colonel will be able to approach a Telecom employee directly for metering information unless he has a signed authorisation as provided in the amendment. This provides an additional safeguard by formalising the system for obtaining metering information. That is in everybody's interests particularly those of Telecom employees who provide the information and the general public who will be further assured that the system cannot be abused. For those reasons I commend the amendment to the House.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Will the Minister clarify the wording of the amendment as we are deleting the word “disclosure” and then substituting it.

We are simply deleting disclosure in one place and inserting it in another and then continuing with subsections (2B) and (2C).

We are simply changing the position of the word. I welcome these amendments. It is always acceptable to put existing powers on a statutory basis, thereby introducing greater clarity. The Minister said that this measure will apply to metering information and not to the contents of calls. I would like to know whether the Garda Síochána or the Defence Force will have to pay for this information. In a debate that is taking place in Private Members' time the question arose whereby members of the public who request a breakdown of telephone calls made from their own house are charged for that information, and that is unacceptable. People sending bills should be required to specify details of what the charge is made for as is the system in most countries, rather than giving a global figure.

I was in London about two weeks ago and a friend showed me her telephone bill which detailed not only the number called but also the time and duration of the call. Therefore if one made a five minute call to Dublin and was charged £10 one could query that charge. That is a good system. A similar system operates in the United States, although people do not have to pay for local calls within a specific region. The telecommunications companies there give specific details of calls. Similar details to those given on credit call bills, for example, should be given on telephone bills. It is unacceptable that one has to pay for information relating to telephone calls and that there is no breakdown of local calls. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that matter.

If the telecommunications company has information which it gives to the Garda Síochána or the Defence Force for security or crime related reasons surely it can give it to the users of their service. As I understand it, the company does not have a breakdown of local calls. I know this matter is outside the scope of this Bill and is a matter for another Minister, but as we are talking about metering information I am using the opportunity to see if the Minister has this information — if not, I will understand. If such information is available it should be given to the consumer so as to ensure their bills are correct. Most of us probably do not realise how long we spend on the telephone, and itemised bills would be welcome. This amendment is an important one. I always support measures that put existing powers on a statutory basis.

On Deputy Harney's main point about whether the Garda have to pay for this information, my information to date is that the Garda is in discussions with Telecom Éireann about this matter. My view is that the Garda should pay in the same way as do other consumers. However I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the discussions that are taking place.

I have no official information on the matter raised by Deputy Harney of the breakdown of local calls. I am constantly approached by constituents with complaints about telephone bills. My information from Telecom Éireann is that it does not provide a breakdown of local calls. I fully endorse Deputy Harney's remarks; it is my wish that the company provides such a breakdown so that people can tailor their telephone calls to take account of their financial resources. Telecom Éireann has informed me it will introduce such a system which, as Deputy Harney said, operates in Britain. In view of the changes recently announced by my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, it is vital that such a system be introduced as soon as possible. I have no official information on this matter but I add my voice to that of Deputy Harney and others who are calling for a more detailed breakdown of calls. It is important that people are told what they are paying for.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 15, line 8, to delete "disclosure.'." and substitute the following.

"disclosure.

(2B) A request by a member of the Garda Síochána to a person employed by the company to make a disclosure in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2A) shall be in writing and be signed by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of chief superintendent.

(2C) A request by an officer of the Defence Forces to a person employed by the company to make a disclosure in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2A) shall be in writing and be signed by an officer of the Permanent Defence Force who holds an army rank not below that of colonel.'.".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

I move: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their constructive contributions to this debate. Admittedly, I did not accept all amendments put forward but every amendment was cosidered on its merits. The amendments that were accepted at the behest of the Opposition certainly have improved the Bill. The input of Deputies from all parties has resulted in better legislation and I hope that trend will be continued and developed to a greater extent. Members of the Opposition can rest assured that I have no objection to accepting amendments just because they come from the Opposition side. If legislation that I bring before this House can be improved by amendments they will be welcome and accepted.

Question put and agreed to.