Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3a are related. Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 3a may be discussed together by agreement.
Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 5, before "a”, where it firstly occurs, to insert “subject to section 4(2),”.
I am taking the place of Deputy Gilmore for a short period. Unfortunately he has been delayed on other business in the House.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, which were tabled on Committee Stage and submitted on Report Stage were discussed at considerable length. The definition of "indoor event" as set out in section 2, when taken together with the prescribed classes of indoor event requiring a licence under section 5(1) which will be prescribed in the proposed regulations, will clearly identify those indoor events which fall within the scope of the licensing system. I have serious concerns that the amendments will both restrict the type of event to be regulated and lead to the Minister being approached by promoters seeking exemptions to narrow the scope of the regulations further.
As public safety is paramount there can be little justification in removing certain performances prior to setting number thresholds for such events for which powers are provided under section 5, which will, of itself, rule out many performances. The original purpose of the definition of "other events" in line 9 is to enable the Minister to prescribe other classes of events, such as large scale indoor sporting events, seminars, conferences or exhibitions such as the young scientists exhibition or ideal homes exhibitions. The amendments proposed would result in the licensing system being restricted only to musical, singing or dancing performances as given in the definition of indoor events.
Parliamentary counsel has stressed that the entire structuring of the licensing Bill and regulations has been focused on providing for the prescribing of certain classes of indoor events which will require a licence and to provide for a licensing system for large scale indoor events. The system is not designed to exclude individual events, as safety considerations must apply to all such events. To try to include this amendment could lead to serious difficulties with the legal basis and structure of the Bill as drafted or could lead to the Minister being approached on a regular basis to amend the regulations to facilitate the exemption of certain events from the requirements of the licensing system. This was not the intention of the Bill.
The note circulated to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government on the proposed regulations has clarified the thresholds of 1,000 plus for adult audiences and 750 plus for child audiences. While all such events will require a licence, fees will only apply to events being held for profit or gain and may be waived or reduced at the discretion of the fire authority. Accordingly, the new licensing obligations are not so onerous or costly as to require the removal of some events from the licensing requirements designed for all such events to ensure public safety. For those reasons, I am unable to accept amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3a.
As I am not moving the amendments I have tabled, I believe I should merely speak to the Bill. Is that correct?
You should speak to the Bill at this stage, Deputy.
Thank you for that clarification. I welcome this Bill. It is a move in the right direction and is overdue. Nevertheless, some aspects need to be amended. This is particularly true with regard to amendment No. 2a, which deals with the costs incurred in administering the measures of the Bill. The Bill requires that the administration be paid out of money provided by the Oireachtas. I fail to see why the hard-pressed taxpayer should subsidise events featuring multi-millionaire performers such as Paul McCartney or U2, or equally wealthy promoters such as Wonderland or MCD. This amendment provides for levies to be applied to such wealthy promoters and not to the beleaguered taxpayer. I thought this a reasonable proposal and hoped the amendment would be accepted. I trust that multi-millionaire promoters are not in the same category as the stud farm owners of Kildare. Perhaps the Minister will demonstrate this by accepting this amendment so that these very wealthy people will bear the cost of administering this Bill when enacted. We can see from their lifestyles that they are not short of a few bob and could pay the levy, especially as they are making millions from Irish citizens every year.
Amendment No. 3a places the responsibility for providing a safe environment on the managers of the facilities in which events are held and on their security personnel. We know from ongoing court actions that individual bouncers have been wayward on occasion. I am aware that regulation to deal with this problem is on its way but this amendment seeks to include as many of the salient issues as possible together in one Act and in doing so make it easier for promoters, entertainers and facility management to understand their responsibilities.
Amendment No. 3a also deals with the rights of customers and audiences. People are entitled to have a clear understanding of the responsibilities of the promoters, facility management and security personnel. That is the primary aim of these amendments.
The amendments also propose a small number of technical changes. I hope the Minister will consider the thinking behind these amendments. They do not claim ownership of the Bill. My purpose is to spread the burden evenly and fairly among those who can most afford it.
I seek clarification from the Minister of State on a couple of small points relevant to the amendments we are discussing. The Minister of State referred to "a performance which takes place wholly or mainly in a building and comprises music, singing, dancing and displays of entertainment or any similar activity in respect of which members of the public may or may not attend". Would the performance include any or all of those activities or must it consist of a combination of all of them?
In Galway city, for example, a novena is held in the cathedral every year. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people attend each session, of which there are several every day and there is music and singing at each session, although very little dancing. Would this event require a licence and would it be subject to a fee? A collection is taken up at the novena but it is not a money-making event. Would the organisers of the novena be subject to the licensing system?
I am also concerned about the timescale of getting a licence. What happens when events have to be arranged very quickly? What if, for example, the Dáil collapsed and candidate selection conventions had to be arranged suddenly? There are several areas where 1,000 people might attend a convention. What would happen in such a case? How is the time limit to be overcome if an event has to be organised at very short notice? Would such an event be subject to a licence fee?
I understood, a Cheann Comhairle, that amendment No. 3a was ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 3a was ruled out of order as it would impose a cost on the Exchequer. Deputy Morgan spoke to the amendment but it will not be put to the House.
The provision set out in amendment 3a by Deputy Morgan has been specified in a more powerful manner in the Bill. I refer Deputy Morgan to section 10 of the primary legislation. This area does not rely on regulation under the Bill. The protection of attendees, their health, safety and welfare at indoor events is embedded in the procedures of the licensing system under the application procedures for the licence and the statutory duties of care of the event organiser, which is set out, as I already said, in section 10.
The licensing system we have developed in this Bill creates a culture for the protection of those attending indoor events. The purpose of the licensing system set out in the Bill is to ensure the safety of crowds of people who attend indoor events to be licensed under the Bill and to provide for a safe environment for attendees. There is also a statutory duty on the licensor – the fire authorities – in considering applications for licensing to ensure that these issues are provided for in the applications.
In regard to the expenses, this section is a standard provision dealing with expenses that might be incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill as in section 7 of the Fire Services Act 1981 or section 242 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. It is not expected that the Minister will incur any significant expenses in regard to the Bill or the regulations to be made under it. The licensing system that is proposed will be self-financing with both application fees for licences provided for in section 5(9)(d) of the Bill and fines payable under the penalty provisions of the Bill provided for in sections 18(1) and (2) being payable to the fire authorities. On summary conviction, fines of up to €3,000 and on conviction on indictment fines of up to €1.3 million are provided for. Some administrative expenses will arise for the Minister and the Department in regard to the organisation or information seminars and workshops for fire authority personnel on the regulations of the new licensing system. Some costs will also be involved in the preparation and publishing of information and guidance for fire authorities on the provisions of the Bill, any new codes of practice developed under section 27 of the Bill and the operation of the licensing system under regulations.
I regret that I am unable to accept any of the amendments. In regard to Deputy McCormack's point about one or more event, I refer him to section 5(6)(a) of the Bill, which states that the fire authority may:
grant the licence authorising the holding, in a specified building on a specified date or dates, of an indoor event or a specified number of indoor events and may attach one or more conditions to the licence as the fire authority thinks fit.
It can be one or more event. In regard to the question about conventions, I hope we will not be thinking of that for a number of years.
The local elections are coming up.
Perhaps Deputy McCormack is thinking of the European Parliament convention.
I have no interest.
On a serious note, the limit for conventions will be 2,000. There will be no licence fee because, as I indicated in my response to the earlier amendments, there will not be a fee for a non-profit making event and conventions are covered under this provision.
What is the timescale for getting the licence for an event that has to be called quickly?
We set the limit for conventions at 2,000. There are few events—
Fine Gael would expect more than that at its convention.
—that could be called quickly. We considered this point because it was raised on Committee Stage but it was felt that this figure would be adequate for conventions or exhibitions.
Another point raised by Deputy McCormack, which was also raised on Committee Stage, was in regard to religious service events. This could be an issue as a great number of people could be accommodated in Galway cathedral, for instance. I will repeat the definition of "indoor event" as it appears in the Bill. It is defined as:
(a) a performance which takes place wholly or mainly in a building and comprises music, singing, dancing, displays of entertainment or any similar activity and in respect of which members of the public may or may not attend, or
(b) an event which takes place wholly or mainly in a building and is prescribed under section 4 (2),
other than an event to which Part XVI of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, applies.
It is the view of the Department and that of the Parliamentary Counsel that religious-type services do not fall within the definition of "indoor event" in section 2. Religious services do not fall within the definition as a performance, nor is it the intention to prescribe them by way of regulation. I wish to give that assurance to the Deputy and the House. If the Minister considers at some future date that such services should be licensed, he may prescribe in regulation that religious services above a particular threshold shall require a licence but we do not foresee that arising.
I welcome the Minister of State's assurances.
After Fine Gael's recruitment campaign we expect to have more than 2,000 at our convention. I would worry that this Bill might affect us. Some Ard-Fheiseanna have song and dance elements. They make a song and dance out of their so-called achievements.
It is exactly 14 years ago since the Hillsborough disaster, following which, Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton was asked to inquire into all aspects of crowd safety and crowd control. His group first met in May 1989 and its terms of reference were to look at all events where crowds would gather such as major sporting events, open-air and indoor concerts, indoor events and major race meetings. It was to look at over-crowding, fire safety and prevention, structural standards and the physical layout of the venue. The Hamilton report made 73 key recommendations, many of which were related to indoor events such as pop concerts where the anticipated attendance would exceed 2,000, which was one of the parameters of the inquiry. He recommended that all such events be licensed on an individual basis by the District Court and that a minimum of two months notice be given.
Despite the fact that the committee reported in February 1990, it was October 1996 before any action was taken on that report when the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, addressed the issue and set up a working group chaired by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The code of practice prepared by that group was published in 1998 and came under 13 headings. I cannot understand why it has taken a further five years for the legislation to reach this point. It is hard to credit the snail's pace at which such an important issue with implications for public safety was conducted.
We are dealing with amendments. The Deputy has wandered a bit away from amendments Nos. 1 to 3a.
I dealt with the amendments in detail on Committee Stage. Having delayed so much over the years I will not be delaying the passage of this legislation much further. The only amendments which are worth talking about are those where I am concerned about the fines that would be imposed.
I would prefer to deal with amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 3a.
I thought you said we could speak on the Bill in general, a Cheann Comhairle.
The very opposite. I said I did not want you speaking on the Bill in general, Deputy, and you have drifted away from the amendments under discussion.
All I wanted to point out was the long delay between reports of incidents, problems and tragedies, on the one hand, and implementation and translation into legislative change, on the other.
I am still concerned that this legislation is overly cumbersome, bureaucratic and difficult to implement in practice. Notwithstanding the Opposition's amendments to the Bill, we are creating a very difficult layer of bureaucratic regulation to implement in practice. We already have a planning process and a building control process whereby one needs a fire certificate for a building and must comply with the rest of the building regulations. This Bill adds yet another layer to the system of permits needed to occupy a building. I am not convinced that we should proceed with this Bill, and I ask why we are introducing another layer of bureaucracy when we cannot even implement the rules and regulations already in place. The level of planning enforcement is abysmal—
These comments may be more appropriate to Fifth Stage.
I would like to take this matter up again on Fifth Stage.
Have we moved yet to amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7?
No, we are still dealing with amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 3a.
I impress upon the Minister of State that we are dealing here with something of a very serious nature, and the amendments tabled by Deputy Gilmore were designed to improve the Bill and ensure that it is specific. They were not put down simply as a mechanism to oppose the Government or because we are in Opposition. The Bill already is specific, but the amendments are designed to achieve clarity, to avoid the degree of over-regulation about which Deputy Cuffe spoke and to ensure the safety of people at events, whether they are there as performers or consumers. It is regrettable that the Minister of State is not prepared to take any of the amendments on board, although I accept that Amendment No. 2a is out of order.
Is it Amendment No. 2a that is out of order?
Yes, because it involves a potential charge on the public purse.
That is what I seek clarification on. The Bill says explicitly that moneys will be made available by the Minister for Finance, but it does not state who sets the levies. Is it local authorities or the Minister? Are the levies collected by local authorities or by an officer acting on behalf of the Minister? I tabled this amendment as I would appreciate clarification from the Minister of State.
The Bill states that it is possible to submit an application for a multi-licence for a premises. If a licence had to be applied for in the case of every event, the cost would be astronomical and prohibitive, so the multi-licence will cover events such as conventions. The fire authorities have 28 days in which to issue a decision after the receipt of a valid application. Section 6(1) provides, however, that such decisions will be taken as soon as practicable. Decisions will be issued as soon as an evaluation has been made.
Some Deputies have suggested that the Bill creates another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. I do not agree. These matters may appear to be covered by a plethora of existing legislative provisions, such as the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2001, the Fire Services Act 1981, the Building Control Act 1990 and the Public Dance Halls Act 1935. I agree with Deputy Allen, however, that this Bill has been around for a long time, and I appreciate the cross-party support to ensure that the Bill is enacted and put into effect as quickly as possible. The Bill arises from the need to implement an outstanding recommendation of the Hamilton committee on crowd control at indoor concerts dating back to 1991. The development of the 1998 code of practice for safety at indoor events and The Review of Public Safety Order 2000 indicated that existing licensing systems governing such events did not adequately cater for matters such as public safety. We all would agree that public safety, crowd management and regulatory support for the codes of practice are absolutely essential. We must ensure that this Bill is enacted as quickly as possible.
To answer Deputy Morgan's question, the new arrangements will be self financing. We will go into the issue of fees later. I gave an assurance to Deputies on Committee Stage that we would offer a very clear indication of what the thresholds and application fees would be. Section 5(10)(d) provides for the prescription of charges. There was reference to a charge on the Minister, and that is common practice and is provided for in all Bills. We do not foresee any major cost implications and are pleased to provide whatever little is necessary for seminars and provision of information by way of pamphlets and leaflets. Apart from that there will be no other charge on the Exchequer.
I move amendment No. 3a:
In page 7, line 6, to delete "event." and substitute the following:
(d) the event attendees rights to enjoy a concert in a safe environment, to be treated with respect by facility management, event security, entertainers and promoters.”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, to delete lines 15 to 21 and substitute the following:
"(7) Regulations under this Act may not be made unless a draft has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and after the expiry of a period of 3 months for consideration thereof, resolutions of both such Houses are passed approving such a draft.".
This is no more than a technical amendment but is a very relevant one. This Bill is very light and has very little in it. All of the detail will be in the regulations. It is not unreasonable to ask that they be laid before the House for a three month period so that they may be considered. We are talking about life and death situations. It would not be an imposition on the Department or on any of the statutory agencies which would have to deal with the regulations when they are enforced. It is not unreasonable to ask that this amendment be accepted.
It is not unreasonable that a three month period be allowed to discuss the regulations in relation to this Bill because the detail will be in the regulations. The regulations will be the enabling instruments to ensure events, as defined in the Bill, are policed and dealt with in a satisfactory way. As I already stated, we could be talking about life and death situations. Although not on a regular basis, we have seen major events turn into major tragedies. This House should be given the time to discuss regulations when they are laid before it.
Promoters and venues should post advisory notices in regard to certain issues. Will the regulations cover venue rules and polices? Will they cover entrance and exit locations, first aid rooms and door openings? Will promoters and venues post notices in regard to special needs for the disabled, the elderly and children who may attend? Will they post details about prohibited items, crowd activities and penalties? To the amusement of some, I went into the detail of those during the Second Stage debate. Will there be advice on updates and performance schedule changes if changes are made? Will it be obligatory to give information and maps in regard to emergency situations? Will there be regulations covering sound and noise levels inside the concert site? Will the promoters have to report first aid data and arrest information so that music fans, if it is a music event, parents, medical professionals, crowd safety consultants, safety and law enforcement officials and legislators will be able to better judge the safety of events in their communities? Will the regulations drafted help the event organisers, artists and contract staff to offer a safe environment?
As we know, much of the concert scene is greatly influenced by international trends. Will there be ongoing monitoring of the international concert industry in terms of new trends in music performance and musical acts? What assurance do we have that the regulations will keep up to date with the inevitable changing tastes in music and in crowd behaviour? I am seeking an assurance that the codes of practice and the regulations stemming from this legislation will recognise the international influence and the changes which will result from that influence on performances, performers, organisers and audiences.
This is a common sense amendment not only in relation to this Bill but to many others. I am always very conscious of ministerial regulations, no matter who is the Minister or what party he or she is from. When we pass legislation, which is our duty as legislators, we seem to have no control over ministerial regulations which may be introduced as a result of a Bill being passed. Where the Minister intends to bring forward regulations even if they meet with the approval of everybody, it is important that they are brought before the House for a certain period of time so that Members could familiarise themselves with them. Sometimes when regulations are introduced by a Minister, members of the public think they are part of a Bill which Members of the Oireachtas have passed. Although we may give a Minister the authority to introduce regulations by passing a Bill, we have no say when they those regulations are introduced.
This would be a common sense approach to adopt in that the amendment states that regulations may not be made unless a draft has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas after an expiry period of three months. I do not know whether three months is the right period of time – perhaps a shorter period, a month or two months, might do. It is important that Members of the House have an opportunity to digest and investigate any proposed ministerial regulations before they are made.
I am sure the Minister and his staff will find somebody to take on the onerous task of deciding on the emerging tastes in music and look forward to their publication in Iris Oifigiúil. On a more serious note, I am concerned at the web of bureaucracy being added to permitting events to take place. This Kafka-esque web will strangle initiative and will require a layer of bureaucracy which will impose an undue burden on us all. If the Minister sincerely believes this Bill is a good one, he would at least repeal some of the rather primitive legislation on the Statute Book – for example, the public dancing and singing Acts which date back to the 1930s. Surely, if we are trying to bring in a new Bill, we should at least get rid of some of the detritus which still imposes a burden on concert promoters and on us as concert goers. If we are reviewing this area, I would like to see a much more comprehensive review.
The planning system, which has an adjunct licensing system, has recently been reviewed. We have a building control system which has a very specific system of fire control. We also have the liquor licensing legislation. My worry about all these layers of legislation is that there is very little attempt to bring them together. Most of the civil servants implementing the legislation are not looking to see what the other branches of a particular body are doing. I know from my experience on Dublin City Council as a councillor for ten years that there is not enough liaison between the different branches implementing the law. A simple requirement, which is in place abroad, is that the maximum capacity of a venue is displayed on the wall of the venue. That would go a long way towards improving safety at indoor events. If people knew the maximum capacity when walking into a pub, concert or church and to whom to make a complaint, the public safety at indoor events would increase. I am concerned about this and think a few common sense proposals would go a long way.
I am also concerned about the exemption with regard to religious events. This is either a good Bill or it is not and to allow a significant dispensation for religious events is not a good thing. From my limited experience of religious events, a huge number of candles are used at some services causing a significant threat to public safety. We must have a comprehensive system of regulation that does not favour or discriminate against particular ceremonies. I am nervous of the way in which this legislation is drafted, giving various exemptions to political and religious organisations.
Good amendments have been put forward but I query the nature of the Bill. We should reconsider some of the elderly statutes on the books rather than adding another layer to an already complex system of legislation, regulations, and standards.
This amendment, originally tabled by Deputy Gilmore, is ostensibly about the three month period versus 21 days. When this amendment was debated on Committee Stage, Deputies requested that a briefing note be circulated to the members of the select committee prior to Report Stage to inform them of what the Minister proposes to include in the regulations. I agreed that this would be arranged. The briefing note was circulated and provides information on the draft regulations dealing with the main issues of concern to Deputies and is intended to clarify the Minister's intentions, particularly with regard to setting the threshold numbers for the licensing requirement for indoor events and the proposed licence application fees to be set in the regulations.
To deal with thresholds, the regulations will provide that a licence will be required under section 5 of the Act for an indoor event as defined in section 2(1)(a) of the Act, which will be prescribed under section 5(2), and at which the audience exceeds 1,000 people where the audience profile is mainly adult, or at which the audience exceeds 750 people where the audience profile is mainly children under 16 years of age. A licence will also be required for an indoor event which takes place wholly or mainly in a building and is prescribed under section 4(2) of the Act by the Minister as follows: indoor sports events where the audience exceeds 1,000 people, conferences, conventions, seminars, exhibitions, trade shows and fairs where the audience exceeds 2,000 people.
With regard to licence application fees, which were discussed at length, the proposed one-off application fee in respect of an indoor event being held mainly for profit or gain is €1,000. Many events will attract multi-licence applications and that has been taken into consideration. The proposed application fee in respect of a multi-licence for any number of similar events in a year for profit is €1,500. In addition, the fire authority will also have absolute discretion to refund all or part of the fee payable in respect of a particular application where it is satisfied that the payment in full of the fee would not be appropriate and I have made explicit provision for varying the fee under amendment No. 10 which I propose to move later in this debate. This decision will be taken with regard to the nature, extent or purpose of the event.
The scale of application fees has been set in consultation with fire authorities to ensure that they will be self-financing while not being levied on charitable events, school concerts or similar events. The fee provisions are similar to those included in the Planning and Development (Licensing of Outdoor Events) Regulations, 2001. The Minister will also issue guidance to the fire authorities on the interpretation and application of the regulations.
Indoor events with an audience below the threshold number specified in the regulations as requiring a licence will continue to be regulated under relevant legislative provisions such as the Planning and Development Act, 2000, the Fire Services Act, 1981 and related codes of practice, the Building Control Act, 1990 and building regulations, and any other licensing controls which apply such as an annual dance licence, liquor licence or music and singing licence.
As I pointed out on Committee Stage, if this amendment was to be accepted, instead of dealing with what may be immediate public safety issues with possible consequences for large numbers attending events, a period of three months would have to pass and Dáil and Seanad time be given before the matters could be dealt with in regulations or such regulations be amended. The Bill proposes a standard provision of regulations laid before the House for a period of 21 days and Deputies are still afforded an opportunity within that 21 days to annul any proposed regulation. A period of 21 days is, by and large, the norm and should be sufficient to give an opportunity for the House to annul such a provision. The existing range of legislation and regulation, which under section 7 also applies to such events, should reassure Deputies that positive regulation by the Houses would not be required in this case.
Deputy Allen referred to posting of notices and the general information that should be made available in section 5(7). This is to ensure that information about the licence is displayed by the holder of an indoor event to persons attending the event. It will also assist the authorised officer when inspecting an event. These notices will be in a format required by the fire authority and will be displayed at each entrance to the indoor event. Anyone attending the event will be able to see at a glance that a licence exists as well as the important details pertaining to the licence such as the maximum attendance, the layout of the building, emergency assistance information and public liability insurance. Any authorised officer visiting the building will be aware from his or her records that a licence exists, but having the notice displayed will assist the officer in giving instant access to details which he or she can inspect on the spot.
Deputy Cuffe referred to religious events, and that issue, I hope, was adequately dealt with in the debate. I hope Deputy Lynch will consider withdrawing the amendment. A period of 21 days is more than adequate and is the norm.
I note the Minister is concerned with the public safety aspect of not accepting this amendment in that a regulation might have to be quickly introduced. I seek further clarification on the meaning of the 21 day period. Can the House annul a regulation the Minister would propose to introduce? This Bill is slightly different in that public safety is at issue and a quick decision might have to be made with regard to a regulation. I am concerned that a Minister can make a regulation, where it is provided for in the legislation, without the Members of the House having an ample opportunity to examine or discuss it. I am sorry Deputy Cuffe has left the House.
He has gone to a novena.
He acknowledged that he does not have a great deal of experience of religious events. I am aware, from my experience of such events, that they are extremely well-stewarded and that those who attend them are extremely well-behaved – it is not as if they jump around the place. I welcome the Minister's assurance that religious events, such as the novena in Galway, will not be affected by the licensing provisions of this Bill. This legislation will not mean that they have to get a licence.
There is a certain merit in this amendment. I would like the Minister to consider the case for bringing these matters before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I would like to press this amendment.
Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Breen, James.
Brennan, Seamus.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Cassidy, Donie.Collins, Michael. Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.Cregan, John.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Fleming, Seán.Fox, Mildred.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Glennon, Jim.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Hoctor, Máire.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Seamus.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDowell, Michael.
McEllistrim, Thomas.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Nolan, M.J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Peter.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wilkinson, Ollie.
Allen, Bernard.Boyle, Dan.Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, Richard.Burton, Joan.Connaughton, Paul.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Cuffe, Ciarán.Deasy, John.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Enright, Olwyn.Gilmore, Eamon.Gormley, John.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Kehoe, Paul.Kenny, Enda.Lynch, Kathleen.McCormack, Padraic.McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Finian.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Murphy, Gerard.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Twomey, Liam.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, line 24, to delete "holding" and substitute "any place in which it is proposed from time to time to hold".
Before speaking to the amendment, I record my gratitude to Deputy Lynch who stood in for me at short notice. I had anticipated that the normal timetable of the House would obtain with consideration of this Bill beginning at 5.30 p.m. I am sure Deputy Ring will sympathise with my difficulty in being caught up in the vicissitudes of the dual mandate.
I bet the Deputy was doing far more important business than he will do here.
My amendment proposes the substitution of the word "holding" with the phrase "any place in which it is proposed from time to time to hold". It seeks to attach the licence to the location rather than to the event. There was extensive discussion of this on Committee Stage and it is not my intention to repeat ad nauseam the argument that was made then. We had a long discussion on this on Committee Stage and I do not want to repeat ad nauseam the entire argument that was made at that stage. Essentially the Bill proposes the licensing of events, which means that each individual event or each class of event will have to be licensed, and the duration of the licence will be 12 months. Venues such as the Point Theatre or the RDS would have to apply separately to the fire authority for a licence for each individual event or each class of event held at those venues. That seems quite unnecessary. If the venue itself is found to be suitable from the point of view of fire or crowd control, the location of the exits and all of the various items which would be examined by a fire officer for a particular type of event, then it should not be necessary to apply separately for each individual event. It should be possible to attach the licence to the venue. Obviously there would need to be regulations and restrictions on that. For example, a venue might be licensed to hold 750 for events targeted at people under 16, 1,000 for music events or concerts, and 2,000 for conferences. Given those parameters, it should be possible to licence a venue for those events with those conditions attached to the licence, rather than requiring a separate application for each individual event, taking up the time and resources of the fire authority in having to licence each event and having to renew those licences every year. The mechanism I propose would ensure the same degree of attention was given to public safety and the issues attaching thereto, while reducing the amount of bureaucracy and time, and reducing the commitment of resources which would be necessary. It would also enable event organisers to plan better on a longer term basis. I will come back to an argument I made on Committee Stage that the requirement to apply each year for a licence means that events which have to be arranged more than a year in advance would be somewhat at risk or certainly in some doubt if they have to renew the licence after the one year period.
There is great merit in this amendment because if a venue is licensed it has to meet the standard required for safety. If a licence on a venue has to be renewed every year, the venue will have to be examined every year. If the venue meets the fire and other safety regulations in terms of emergency doors, lighting and whatever else is required to obtain the necessary certificate of safety, it would make sense to eliminate the tremendous amount of bureaucracy attached to having to apply separately for a licence for events at a venue that is meeting all the safety requirements just as this venue does; every time there is an event here, every time the Dáil comes back we do not have to get a new licence. If several events are held during the year in a venue, provided the venue meets the required standard of safety it should be satisfactory to have one licence rather than having a licence for every class of event that takes place in that venue. I would like the Minister to consider this amendment, which is a very reasonable one. I can see no loopholes in it. The only exception would be if there was an extraordinary change in the type of event taking place at the venue. If, for example, it was proposed to have a football match in a concert hall, that would be something entirely different. However, once the same type of use is envisaged for the period of the licence it should not be necessary to have a licence for each and every event in a venue that meets all the necessary safety requirements.
The Licensing Bill is designed to licence an indoor event in relation to the safety and crowd control issues surrounding the event. The system has been developed to implement the Hamilton committee report recommendation in relation to crowd control and safety issues at large-scale indoor events at which 2,000 or more people are in attendance. The Bill arises from the need to implement the outstanding recommendation of the Hamilton report.
As I pointed out during the debate on Committee Stage, on these amendments the Bill is concerned only with crowd control and safety issues surrounding the holding of such large-scale indoor events. It is considered that venues would already have planning permission to carry out indoor events and would only require a licence when an event of the scale requiring a licence is being processed. Venues are already covered by a multiplicity of laws, including the Fire Services Act, the Building Control Act and other legislative requirements such as the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935 and the Hamilton committee considered that the smaller events and venues were already well regulated.
The aim of this Bill is to ensure in respect of the larger type of indoor event that the promoter is made responsible in law for the safe running of the proposed event. In order to satisfy the fire authority that the proposed indoor event could take place safely, the operator would in any event have to supply documents, including lay-out plans and safety management plans, in order that the fire authority can be assured that the operator could run the proposed event safely. This is what the licensing system requires, and for the fire authority to make a judgment call on the safe holding of any proposed event in the absence of the licensing process would in our view be unacceptable where public safety is at stake. It would also leave the fire authority open to approaches from both well-meaning charity fund raisers and unscrupulous promoters to approve events, and if a tragedy were to occur at such an event permitted by the fire authority, the authority would be in an extremely vulnerable position. It would involve a fundamental shift of responsibility from the promoter or the operator onto the fire authority. The net effect would be to delay the licensing procedure.
The Minister proposes to provide in regulation that the fire authority would have discretion to refund all or part of the fee, as appropriate, while checking out the event's safety under the licensing procedure. There is general acceptance of the principle of this Bill. We are all concerned with the safety and crowd control management plan, not the venue. I take Deputy Gilmore's point about having to apply for different types of events. In terms of the Point Theatre, for example, the application is for similar types of events. We do not envisage it having to apply for each individual one. Deputy Gilmore raised this on Committee Stage. He wanted some indication of the regulations and these were circulated to members of the select committee. We have given a very clear indication of what the regulations will be. From the financial perspective, it will cost €1,000 for a single application. The fee for a multiple application for venues such as The Point and others will be €1,500. We can deal with the two year application when discussing amendment No. 9 which was tabled by the Deputy. I accept that Deputy Gilmore's amendment was tabled in all good faith in an effort to reduce the bureaucratic system and to lessen pressure on the fire authorities but much of the information required will already be available. This Bill is to deal with crowd control and not necessarily to legislate for the buildings.
I do not think any of us are in disagreement about the necessity to ensure that indoor events are properly run and regulated and that fire regulations and so on are in place. I repeat a concern I have expressed earlier in the debate. I see some of the same issues arising in proposals relating to the abuse of alcohol among young people and I think we are in great danger of regulating fun, enjoyment and entertainment out of existence. This is a pretty grim country for a teenager to grow up in. There is not much organised entertainment activity that can take place. We are regulating it all out of existence. Nobody in his or her right mind would organise a youth club now with the number of regulations which must be observed and with matters such as insurance, fear of litigation and in loco parentis to deal with. Under this legislation anyone organising a concert or a big event will have to pay €1,000 for a licence followed by insurance costs and all the legal obligations which attend such an event.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
Deputy Ring has indicated that he wishes to make a contribution.
I will give way to Deputy Ring.
I thank Deputy Gilmore for allowing me to intervene. He took the words out of my mouth. We are regulating business out of existence. We are becoming a police state. It is a case of more jobs for the boys and girls and more expense for the business sector or for anybody organising any kind of event. Deputy Gilmore is correct: the day has come when nobody wants to organise anything any more. If a shopkeeper puts a sign outside his shop, he will be visited by the health inspector, the council and every agent of the State including the Revenue Commissioners.
Our legislation is helping to create more civil servants and more jobs for the boys and the girls who are not answerable to anybody. When somebody wants to create a venue for enjoyment every obstacle possible is put in his way by the State. I agree that safety procedures and regulations should be in place.
I know of small public houses who are visited by the fire officer and they are put out of business within six months as a result. The people are getting angry and they are sick and tired of being regulated. Rules and regulations are being introduced but there is nobody to implement them.
I challenge any Minister or any civil servant to ring any State agency or council office or office of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. They will be answered by an answering machine. Yesterday I got through by telephone to the health board and I was speaking to a young woman who could not get rid of me fast enough. There was nobody in authority to speak to me – he was probably out playing golf and was not answerable to anybody—
He or she.
He or she was probably out playing golf. This country is over regulated and I am sick and tired of it.
The Minister of State has been abroad in a place called Europe and I say the regulations coming from Europe are daft. We are rubber-stamping everything that comes from Europe. The people of this country are marching against war, and rightly marching for BreastCheck clinics and I foresee the business community closing down for about six months in order to bring the Government to its senses. It is impossible to operate a business. We are a police state being regulated by health boards, councils and civil servants. Most of them never provided a job for anyone else in their lives and never worked outside the public sector. Their pay cheques are always there every Friday. I remember when Deputy John Bruton was Minister for Education and the teachers took over his office because their salaries were not paid on time.
I was self-employed for 25 years. I did not know what I would earn from one week to the next. I was asked what I liked most about being a Member of the Dáil and I replied that I love the first of every month because the cheque comes in the post. Self-employed people never know what they will earn or what problems they will encounter. This proposed legislation will create more problems for the business sector.
I thank Deputy Ring for his supportive contribution. I have a different perspective to Deputy Ring on the Bill. I am thinking of the potential customer, the person who will attend an event. I make the case that indoor entertainment aimed at young people is virtually non-existent outside of public houses. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has spoken about legislation coming before the House dealing with age limits and identity cards. If we are serious about allowing for entertainment activity, fun and enjoyment for young people outside of the environment of a public house in an alcohol-free environment then we must ease up on the restrictions that are being placed on the organisation of events.
I referred to this example on Committee Stage. Student unions in the universities and institutes of technology are some of the biggest organisers of musical entertainment. They are often events organised at short notice, for instance, the lunch time concert on campus. Those events can very easily attract an audience of more than 1,000 adults, as defined in this legislation, and for which a licence would now have to be applied for in each case.
That is a ludicrous regulation. It ought to be possible to have a regime whereby a place of education such as a university or an institute of technology would simply apply to be licensed for events which would then take place on an impromptu basis. I do not see why it should involve so much red tape and bureaucracy.
This legislation will give rise to either of two scenarios. People will either not bother organising events, and there will be a further reduction in indoor entertainment, particularly for young people, or, they will simply bypass the law. It will make the situation worse because events will be organised outside the loop altogether. There used to be a big ballyhoo about rave parties organised on beaches and so on. They emerged because there was no alternative. If there is not a reasonable regime for organising and running indoor entertainment, events will either sprout up illegally, probably in a much more dangerous environment, or those who would otherwise be involved in organising events in a regulated and safe way will not organise them.
We could unwittingly encourage a type of black market for entertainment events, which will be much less safe than events which we now consider to be unsafe in the mainstream entertainment industry. Events could also be made more expensive. A regime which costs €1,000 for a licence, including insurance and various costs, will consolidate entertainment events into more expensive and commercial type events which will be less accessible.
Perhaps one way of dealing with the matter would be to licence the venue rather than the event. From a safety point of view, it would achieve the same outcome but from the point of view of freeing up the regulatory environment, it would make it less difficult to organise indoor entertainment events.
I appreciate what the Deputy said in regard to impromptu college events. While all such events will require a licence if the figures exceed 1,000 adults and 750 up to the age of 16, a fee will only apply to events being held for profit. College events may not be held for profit, therefore the question of a fee would not arise. I do not think anyone is opposed to what we are trying to do. That is a sensible aspect of the Bill. The cost may be waived at the discretion of the fire authority. Deputy Gilmore's concerns may be overcome if a college event is held impromptu. He said too much regulation and bureaucracy could have an effect on the future. This has not happened in regard to the licensing of outdoor events. Promoters and audiences have indicated that such events are better organised when licensed.
What we are licensing is crowd safety control and crowd dynamics at particular events. Each event will require different crowd control levels, depending on whether they are rave parties, discos or whatever. These issues are not covered by issuing a general licence to a venue because there are different types of events. The fact that a fee will only be charged where an event is held for profit might allay some of Deputy Gilmore's fears. Multi-licence applications will cost an additional €500. To repeat what I said on Committee Stage, this measure will be self-financing and there will be no question of charging exorbitant fees. The Department and the experts, including the fire chiefs, believe the level the Minister will set down by way of regulation will ensure the measure is self-financing. The fire authorities may waive in its entirety the fee or part of the fee.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 7, to delete lines 42 to 47 and substitute the following:
"(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2), a prescription of a class of indoor event may restrict the class to an event to which more than a specified number of persons or particular class of persons are proposed to be admitted and different classes of indoor event may be prescribed by reference to different numbers of such persons or different classes of such persons.”.
This is a technical amendment on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure there is clarity and express provision made in the Bill to enable the Minister to make provision for all the variations required and to prescribe classes of events requiring a licence under the regulation. It does not change the intention of the Bill in regard to the nature and type of event, or the attendance thresholds to be covered, in the regulation. It seeks to ensure that the Minister is empowered under the section to do what is required.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, line 20, to delete "one year" and substitute "two years".
This relates to the duration of the licence. The Bill proposes that a licence should last for one year. I propose that it should be valid for two years. The reason for this is that some of the larger events would probably need more than one year of a lead-in. One will not be able to book a big act one year in advance. These people arrange their schedules much further in advance. It is unreasonable to expect promoters to commit themselves to booking acts two years in advance if they can only get a licence which is valid for a year. They do not have certainty that the event can proceed within that time frame. The fear I expressed on Committee Stage, which I again repeat, is that if the validity of the licence is for just one year, the danger is that we may lose the type of event which would otherwise be part of a schedule which might be arranged more than a year in advance. For example, the tour of a major international act might need to be scheduled more than a year in advance.
If the promoter can only get a licence that lasts for a year, how does he make a commitment to engaging an act with the certainty that an event can proceed? I seek flexibility in this area. The amendment proposes that the period should be extended to two years. The Minister of State indicated on Committee Stage that this would be considered before Report Stage.
On Committee Stage I advised Deputy Gilmore that the legislation seeks to achieve a balance. I did not consider that a one year validity period for a licence would pose any difficulty, but I agreed to consider the matter further before Report Stage. The advisory committee established to assist with the preparation of the licensing of indoor events regulations was consulted further and advised that a one year period would not pose any difficulty.
The licence relates to public safety and crowd control issues for events. It is, therefore, only appropriate that it should be applied on an annual basis so that any problems arising at previous events can be identified and addressed at subsequent renewal applications. This is the norm for other licensing systems, including the outdoor events licensing, to which I referred.
On Committee Stage, some Deputies expressed concern that the one year period of validity for the licence might cause problems for events booked in a venue for some years in advance. That happens, especially where tickets go on sale some time in advance of events. However, the application can be made up to 28 days in advance of an event and, if granted, will be valid for a one year period. We envisage that the bigger venues, such as the Point Depot or the RDS, will get a multi-licence to cover similar types of gigs or events. Such multi-licences, obtained at the beginning of the year, will ensure that events will take place without difficulty. It would not be unusual for acts to be booked over a longer advance period, subject to licence. In many cases that is the norm in terms of booking a venue and ticket sales.
The same situation would apply to large conference centres and hotels which host a number of seminars during a year. They would also probably apply for a multi-licence at the beginning of the year to cover a number of similar events. I understand this is the norm with regard to other licensing systems.
I appreciate the Deputy's concerns, but events can be arranged within a 12 month period subject to licence. We have received no representations nor have we encountered major problems with the outdoor events system. The holding of indoor events should be similar. The advisory committee has recommended that we should adhere rigidly to the one year norm.
Our duty in Opposition is to challenge the role of the Executive with regard to legislation and point to anticipated difficulties. We have done that with this amendment. If the Minister of State's professional advice is that the one year period is sufficient to meet all circumstances, I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 8, line 33, after "licence," to insert "including different fees for different classes of indoor event, for exemption from the payment of fees in specified circumstances and for the waiver, remission and refund (in whole or in part) of fees in specified circumstances for different classes of indoor event,".
This amendment introduces to the Bill a standard provision on the making of regulations regarding fees by bringing them into line with outdoor events licensing provisions for fees under section 246 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The inclusion of the amendment is considered necessary to ensure that fire authorities will have explicit powers to exempt, refund, waive or remit all or part of the fee payable in respect of an application when it is satisfied that the payment in full of the fee would not be just. I referred to this earlier when Deputy Gilmore referred to events in colleges.
Will the Minister of State be more specific? For some time I have been concerned about the cost to the public of attending some indoor events, such as pop concerts involving international stars. Prices quoted are often as high as €65 or €75 per concert. However, the foreign media often advertises similar concerts in foreign arenas for less than half the price.
Young people in this country are hugely exploited in this area. The prices of concerts involving international pop stars are unjust. Some of the promoters must be multi-millionaires. Not only must young people pay the huge cost in terms of admission charges, they must also pay credit card and handling charges. Some years ago Members in this House called for an investigation into the overall cost of these tickets.
I have little sympathy for promoters or arena owners who seek licences for such events because of the serious exploitation of young people in terms of the charges they must pay. Will the Minister of State be more specific in advising how the concessions provided for by the amendment are to be applied?
The amendment allows for exemption from the payment of fees in specified circumstances for different classes of indoor event. Will the circumstances be specified before the legislation is enacted? For example, would the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races qualify for exemption?
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that fire authorities can waive fees. It may pertain to political party events if they are non-profit making.
No event is more profit-making than the one to which I referred.
If events are profit making, the cost should be absorbed. I would like to think my party can organise events that would attract more than 1,000 participants. We would not be anxious to regulate this aspect of fund raising or community events. The fire authorities should be given discretionary powers to allow for exemptions or refunds. For example, if an application is submitted but will not qualify, it would be wrong for a fire authority to retain the application fee in full, although it may be necessary to retain some part of it, depending on what stage the application has reached.
This is a sensible amendment as it allows the fire authorities to use their discretionary powers in this area. It would be wrong to regulate it. I hope good sense will prevail and that it will not be for the politicians but the fire authorities, the manager and his advisers to decide.
Deputy Allen's point about cost is another aspect. There are exorbitant costs for many people from peripheral areas travelling to events in Dublin or other areas. These costs include travel, admission and an overnight stay. I hope those who run these events for profit absorb the cost in question. In case the impression is given that each event that is held will result in an additional euro being charged to each person, I hope that many centres will integrate this on a multi-annual basis and that, per capita, it would be a much lower figure. We will have no control over the cost charged by promoters but perhaps they would incorporate this cost in their initial charge rather than making it an additional charge on those attending the events.
Amendment No. 25 is cognate on amendment No. 11 and both may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 10, line 30, to delete "3" and substitute "6".
Amendment No. 11 concerns the appeal to the District Court. Where an authority refuses to grant a licence or where there are conditions with which an applicant is unhappy, the Bill proposes a three week period within which that person can appeal to the District Court. Three weeks is a short period. I am thinking more in terms of organisers who would not necessarily be professional or commercial promoters. Someone organising an event could make an application to the fire authority and go on holidays, during which the decision of the authority could be made and the person may not return before the three weeks have elapsed. It should be borne in mind that, during that three week period, that person will presumably have to consult legal people, legal documentation will have to be prepared and the appeal made to the District Court.
I propose that this period should be extended to six weeks. While it is reasonable that it should not be open-ended, six weeks is not an unreasonable extension. While some applications must be decided upon within 28 days and in time for an event to take place, there should be some latitude that allows a reasonable period for an appeal to be made. The effect of limiting it to three weeks will result in people being prevented from appealing to the District Court either because they were away when the decision was made or did not have sufficient time to consult legal people, get the paperwork and so on in order and submit the appeal.
The Minister of State should accept the amendment. Even though we have a responsibility to challenge legislation, we have been reasonably lenient in dealing with the Bill. I am concerned that bureaucratic impediments are being placed in the path of people who deal with the authorities. This three week period is another, and the argument put forward by Deputy Gilmore is reasonable. There are situations where people may not have the resources or ability to deal with a negative decision. They may, as Deputy Gilmore said, be on holidays when a decision is made. This time period is another example of a bureaucratic impediment being put in the paths of ordinary people.
An Bord Pleanála is an example in this regard. Even the most intelligent and clued in people are often fooled by the vagueness of documentation from the board on planning appeals. A recent example in Cork where a decision was made by a local authority involved professional people lodging separate appeals against that decision which were deemed invalid because of the vagueness of the terminology used by An Bord Pleanála. The appellants were informed that their appeals were ruled out on a basic technicality. No leeway was given nor was any flexibility shown. The heavy hand of bureaucracy came down on ordinary people attempting to defend their rights as citizens and property owners.
This three week period is another example. It is too short. I have not heard a convincing argument from the Minister of State against Deputy Gilmore's proposal and I am sure this is an issue on which we would take a stand. We appeal to the Minister of State to compromise on this issue for the reasons stated.
Can the Minister explain if there is a valid reason the period is only three weeks? What is the thinking behind that and what would be wrong with a longer period? It would not affect anyone except the applicant and it is reasonable to seek a longer period. Unless there is a valid and compelling reason, I cannot figure out why a period of only three weeks would be allowed in such cases. Sometimes people must have their appeals professionally prepared and that is not easily done within a short period. What is the reason for the inclusion of the three week period in the Bill?
The period of three weeks provided in the Bill is longer than the 14 day period permitted for an appeal against the fire safety notice to the District Court under section 20 of the Fire Services Act. The District Court can, in any event, extend the period, if required. As a gesture of goodwill and an appreciation of the contributions of all parties in the House, especially those Members directly involved in debating the legislation, perhaps they might accept an extension to four weeks, bearing in mind that the District Court can, in any event, extend that period if required.
It is preferable for the fire authority to know within a reasonable time – I would have thought three weeks sufficient but other Members think it should be six weeks – if an appeal is to be lodged. If a four week period, as opposed to the three weeks suggested by me or the six weeks suggested by the Opposition, can be facilitated, I would not have a difficulty with that.
The Minister of State is being reasonable in moving in our direction and I thank him for it. I am prepared to agree to his proposal and thank my Fine Gael colleagues for their support for my amendment.
I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 11:
To delete "6" and substitute "4".
Amendment No. 26 is cognate on amendment No. 12 and both may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 11, to delete lines 11 and 12. This amendment proposes to delete section 8(4) which reads "No appeal shall lie to the Circuit Court from a decision of the District Court under this section."
In other words we will have a regime where the application for the licence goes into the fire authority, the fire authority makes a decision, there is a right of appeal to the District Court but there is no right of appeal from the District Court to the Circuit Court.
None of us is interested in prolonging legal processes but it is a dangerous principle to enshrine in legislation restrictions on the rights of citizens to use the courts. There may well be some issue which arises at the District Court where an applicant feels that he or she has received an unfair hearing, or some legal issue or circumstance may arise which an applicant might feel justifies a hearing at a higher court. People should be entitled to exercise that right and the legislation should not restrict that. It should be left to the discretion of the people concerned. If they want to use the courts, let them use them.
There is a right of appeal to the District Court. The legislation should be silent on the question of the use of the courts thereafter. That is something, obviously, that the people concerned speak to their lawyers about and, if they have sufficient grounds they proceed and justice takes its course. For the Bill itself to prohibit going to the Circuit Court in any circumstances is wrong and should not be part of the legislation.
I support this amendment on the principle that there should be no boundaries or limits to the principle of justice. An individual should have the right to take an appeal as far as he or she wishes to go. In recent times we have seen examples of daft decisions and utterances from certain District Court judges. The legislation would mean that the appellant in this case would not have the right to appeal an unjust or wrong decision by a District Court judge.
This is an important principle which, admittedly, I overlooked in my amendments. I fully support Deputy Gilmore on this amendment. We cannot speak strongly enough in its support especially in view of recent examples of inconsistent or utterly wrong decisions in some cases at District Court level.
First, may I briefly acknowledge the move the Minister made on the last amendment in making that concession. It occurred to me to say it should go to the statutory four weeks but I knew if I did he would certainly not go that far. Fair play to him for moving on it.
I support this amendment. I am still relatively new at the business of processing legislation but I have not seen to date, nor am I aware of, much legislation where access to the courts is prohibited. I am curious as to why it is included here. Is there a particular reason for it?
At this stage I am sure the Deputies take the view that I am being totally unreasonable with them but I am not setting a precedent here today. This provision does not set a precedent. The amendments proposed by Deputy Gilmore would delete the subsection which states that no appeal will lie to the Circuit Court from a decision of the District Court.
The intention here is to provide a right of appeal to an applicant as is right and proper. This is not a third party appeal scenario. The promoter in amendment No. 12 will be further appealing a decision taken in the first instance by the fire authority as an expert licensing authority, and subsequent to that to the District Court, all in the interests of public safety. As I said at the outset this does not set a precedent.
I draw the Deputies' attention to section 21(7) of the Fire Services Act 1981 which allows no further appeal to the Circuit Court following service and confirmation of a fire safety notice. The provision in this Bill is identical to that section of the Fire Services Act 1981. One might ask why we cannot change that. It has served us well and has created no difficulties in the past.
Under amendment No. 26, if the fire authority makes a decision regarding the withdrawal of a fire safety notice, and the District Court independently confirms and accepts the fire authority decision, there is no good reason to permit a further appeal to the Circuit Court. If this were to be permitted, I believe it would lead to fire authority personnel spending lengthy periods preparing court papers and appearing in court cases. The provision already exists in respect of section 21 (7) of the Fire Services Act 1981 which allows no further appeal to the Circuit Court following service and or confirmation of a fire safety notice.
I regret that I am unable to accept either of these amendments.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 12, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
11.–Sections 36 and 37 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 shall apply to the service by a fire authority of improvement or prohibition orders with any necessary modifications.".
This is an amendment which I understand had been recommended to the Minister by the Chief Fire Officers' Association. Basically, the problem here is that the legislation as it is drafted really applies to circumstances where licences have been granted but where conditions attached to the licences are not being complied with. The authorised officer will have the power under the legislation to go in and inspect the event. If something is not in order, the authorised officer has the power to order that the event cease under the notice of cessation in section 11.
The arrangement which applies, as I understand it, in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act is that where the authorised officer sees something wrong, for example a fire escape door that should be unlocked, he can simply go in and order that it be opened rather than have the event closed down. What I am looking for in the legislation is something similar to that. In other words, if there is a condition of the event licence that is not being complied with the authorised officer can go in, find the organiser or whoever is in charge and simply ask him to comply with the regulation. For example, if there was a large public meeting or entertainment event which required that the participants be seated, the authorised officer might go in and find that there is a group of people standing up around the walls. The sensible solution is to instruct the owner to go out into the adjoining ballroom or whatever and bring in the extra chairs required and seat the people concerned, but the authorised officer will not have the power to do that. The only thing the authorised officer will have the power to do is to create the circumstances for a riot and to go in and say he has to close down the event and everybody must go home.
It would be much more sensible to give the authorised officer in these circumstances the same type of power as already exists in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act. The officers should simply correct what needs to be corrected rather than order the organiser to draw the curtain on the event and send everybody home.
If this amendment is not accepted the authorised officer would have no option but to close down an event. Particularly when dealing with issues of safety and crowd control the authorised officer would be bound, even against his own judgment, to order the closure or ending of an event if it did not comply with the Act, even in regard to minor matters, such as some of those suggested by Deputy Gilmore. If this amendment is accepted, the authorised officer would have the option of using his common sense to take either the ultimate step of closing down the venue or correcting whatever fault he found in his inspection or visit to the function. The Bill, as drafted, leaves the authorised officer with no option in the matter. That is very restrictive. It would be restrictive to the point where the outcome of closing a venue down might be worse than the offence. If, for example, 2,000 people, young or old, are interested in and enjoying a particular event and suddenly an authorised officer enters and says that because the organiser is in breach of X, Y or Z the venue has to be closed down, that could have serious consequences. The authorised officer who would be working under his superior's orders would have no option in the matter. Where everything is not in order but can reasonably be put in order, the authorised officers should be allowed some discretion.
I have considered the proposed amendment in some detail in consultation with departmental fire advisory staff and senior fire officers of local authorities. I am still satisfied that improvement orders or notices will not be relevant to decisions under the licensing parts of the Bill, Parts 1 and 2, having regard to the timeframe of 28 days for decisions to be made by the fire authority. The improvement or prohibition orders, referred to by the Deputy, have lengthy and complicated appeal and court procedures and are not suitable for application in the licensing system proposed here. In this Bill we are dealing with an application for a licence to hold a large scale event safely from a crowd control point of view and a public safety perspective and the fire authority has roughly 28 days to determine the application.
When dealing with the application the fire authority will have to examine plans, layout documents and a safety management plan for the event. If the fire authority's authorised officer considers that the venue cannot safely accommodate the event applied for because some improvement works need to be carried out, there is no problem if the works can be done within the timeframe before the event takes place. It is open to the fire authority to attach a condition to the licence that such improvement works can be carried out. If, however, the improvement works are substantial and could not possibly be addressed prior to the event, the fire authority has no option but to refuse the licence for the event. It must be remembered that the licensing system proposed in the Bill focuses on the safe running of the event and not on the venue. I am satisfied that under the Bill, authorised officers have sufficient powers of inspection, including a special warrant card, which will identify them clearly to the promoter as being empowered under the Bill by the fire authority to enter a premises, seek information and request that licence requirements are adhered to. The officer has substantial powers and can request that any matter he or she considers to be in breach of the licence and posing a threat to public safety be addressed. Promoters will also be aware if they are in breach of any aspect of their licence, whether a minor or a major breach, that records will be kept by the fire authorities and details sought at any subsequent application made for licences which would affect any future applications made by that person.
With regard to Deputy Gilmore's suggestion of prohibition notices, as explained on Committee Stage I consider that the cessation notice proposed in the Bill is a more appropriate mechanism for dealing with an indoor event which poses a serious risk to the safety and welfare of persons attending the particular event. Other powers exist under sections 18 and 20 of the Fire Services Act 1981, as amended by this Bill, to deal with the improvement or prohibitions required at any venue at any time, quite separately from the licensing process. This issue was debated at length and a number of examples were outlined. If a venue was to accommodate only 900, it would not require a licence. If it was to accommodate 1,100 and there were only 950 seats and if the extra seats could be provided at short notice before the event commenced, I have no doubt the authorised officer would exercise discretion.
This is a matter of transferring responsibility from the promoters. The responsibility for crowd control and public safety is with the promoters. It is not a matter of transferring this responsibility to the authorised officer. The authorised officer can easily say, "if I were you, this is what I would do" but it is a matter for the promoters to control the crowds and ensure public safety. For those reasons, I do not propose to accept the amendment. If simple matters can be dealt with on the spot prior to the event, they should be dealt with by the promoter.
Of course minor matters could be dealt with prior to the event. Suppose the authorised officer attends shortly after the event commences or, perhaps, when the crowd is gathering and there is a shortage of seats which could be provided, has he or she discretion at that stage? That is the important question. An hour or a day before the event the authorised officer would not know whether people would be standing at the wall, whether the door would be closed, whether the floor would be wet or whether something would be contrary to the regulations or the licence. What authority has the authorised officer any time after the event commences?
The authorised officer has very little authority after the event commences. It would be highly irresponsible of us to suggest that the authorised officer should have discretion after the event has commenced. This discretion should be exercised prior to the event. The provision in the Bill states that the authorised person may issue or serve a cessation notice. It does not require him to do this. We are dealing with a breach of a licence at an event in progress and that is too late for improvement works. The improvement works should be carried out prior to the commencement. The improvement works procedure is too lengthy for a licensing scenario when the event is taking place.
In the course of this exchange, we have unearthed two additional problems with the legislation. I take issue with the Minister painting a picture that the authorised officers can only take action before the event commences. If the authorised officer looks at a venue and discovers something is wrong and informs the owner, he will point out that unless it is corrected a cessation notice can be served. If he inspects it the following day and it has not been dealt with, he can serve a cessation notice saying the owner cannot proceed with an event to be held on the following Friday night. That is fair enough and I understand it. The legislation provides for the authorised officer to take action while the event is taking place. The Minister of State is saying that he does not envisage events being inspected at all while they are taking place. If that is the case, we are passing legislation which the Minister has no intention of enforcing. We are passing legislation about licensing conditions, but what the Minister has in mind is that the fire authority will not send anyone to the venue on a Friday night, for example, when an event is taking place. The fire authority may, if it gets around to it, send someone on the Wednesday or Thursday beforehand but there appears to be no serious intent to carry out inspections while the event is taking place. We are passing legislation which is not going to be enforced.
When I tabled this amendment on Committee Stage I thought we were dealing with a situation where there were going to be inspections of events as they took place. I was concerned that a fire officer would find himself in a ludicrous position of being at an event, seeing something wrong and being unable to do anything other than close the event down. It was to remedy that defect that I tabled the amendment.
We raised the question on Commitee Stage of what resources would be available to local authorities to enable them to administer and enforce this legislation. It is clear that the Government is bringing in legislation for the optics. The Hamilton committee's report must be implemented and we must pretend to the public that we are doing something about making indoor events safer but there is no serious intent to have fire officers inspect them. If there were such an intent, we would be dealing with matters in the way I suggest in the amendment.
The Minister of State's response to the amendment makes it clear that there will be no departmental guidelines for fire officers. The reverse will, in fact, be encouraged. The legislation will discourage inspection. If fire officers know that the only thing the legislation allows them to do if they visit an event is to close it down, they will hardly be encouraged to do so. Unless a fire officer happens to be particularly brave he will not be encouraged to carry out inspections.
We have stumbled on another case of the Government legislating for the optics with no serious intent whatever to enforce or implement legislation in practice.
Of course there is a serious intent behind this legislation. I draw the Deputy's attention to section 11 which states:
Where a fire authority is of the opinion that an indoor event in respect of which a licence is required under section 5 is taking place or is likely to take place (a) without a licence, or (b) in contravention of a condition attached to or the terms of a licence, the fire authority may serve a notice of cessation on the owner.
Of course there will be spot checks where necessary and authorised officers will inspect venues. That will be essential. There would be no point in enacting such a Bill if there was no intention to carry out inspections prior to and during such events. While the inspection is being carried out, if the event is without a licence or is in contravention of a condition attached to the terms of the licence, the fire authority, or the authorised officer, may serve a notice of cessation on the owner or occupier of the building concerned or on any person who, in the opinion of the fire officer, is holding, organising or is otherwise materially involved in the organisation of the indoor event. A notice of cessation may require all or any of the three requirements set out in section 11(2) (a), (b)and (c) of the Bill.
If the impression was given that fire officers would only visit prior to and at the commencement of events, that was a wrong impression. It is clear from the Bill that authorised officers, who will be appointed by the fire authority within the local authority, will have the power to inspect prior to and during events. It is the intention that they will do that.
I see no point in proceeding with a Report Stage debate which is going nowhere. The Government has no intention of implementing this legislation. I withdraw this amendment. In fact, I withdraw all of my remaining amendments. The Government is clearly intent on introducing legislation which it has no serious intent of implementing.
I have been here since half past four. At the outset I referred to the legislation having arisen from a disaster which happened in Hillsborough in 1989 and a subsequent tragic accident in the 1990s. Nothing happened between 1989 and 1996 even though Mr. Justice Hamilton issued his report. In 1996 the Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, set up a working party which reported in 1998. Now, five years after the publication of that working party's report and 14 years after the tragedy in Hillsborough we are presented with legislation which we are being asked to nod through.
I have been here since half past four and I have submitted a series of amendments. One might say they are minor amendments but one of them is particularly vital to me. We are being told we have to terminate the debate.
The guillotine was withdrawn this morning.
On the understanding that we would finish on time.
We do not have to finish.
That is good to hear. In that case, I will leave my amendments to another day.
I would like clarification on one point. I welcome the Minister of State's assurance that it is intended that the authorised officer will attend functions after they have commenced. On a point of clarification, has the authorised officer any option but to close the venue and walk out? It appears he has no option to do otherwise.
Deputy Gilmore has indicated his intention to withdraw this and other amendments.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 12, line 17, after "authority" to insert ", through its Chief Fire Officer or Inspection Officer,".
During the discussion on the last amendment a serious issue arose when the Minister of State indicated that it would be foolish for an authorised officer to terminate an activity that was going on. Section 11 proposes, in very vague terminology, that where a fire authority is of the opinion that an indoor event in respect of which a licence is required under section 5 is taking place or is likely to take place, a notice of cessation may require all or any of the following: the immediate cessation of an indoor event or the discontinuation or alteration of any preparations for it. We should add the words, "through its chief fire officer or inspection officer". Any decision made by an officer of insufficient rank or experience could be tested successfully and the fire authority would be open to challenge.