Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill 2007: Report and Final Stages.

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Deputies Brian O'Shea and Pat Rabbitte arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 and 7 are cognate and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, line 23, to delete "ensure that" and substitute "encourage an outcome whereby".

The reason the Labour Party has tabled this amendment is that the use of the word "ensure" in section 1(2) of the Bill causes us concern. It states,"The Council shall have regard to Government policy on bilingualism". This refers to the council of the Honourable Society of King's Inns. The provision of having regard to the status of the Irish language as the first official language was brought in by way of amendment by the Minister on Committee Stage. The phrase that had been there earlier was the Government policy on bilingualism. I pointed out to the Minister on Second Stage that Government policy should in that instance be public policy so there were a couple of issues. However, the major issue here is that the council should in so far as is reasonable for it to do so, seek to ensure that an adequate number of barristers are competent in the Irish language so as to be able to practise law through the Irish language as well as through the English language.

Amendment No. 7 is identical but it relates to the Law Society of Ireland and to solicitors and is the same principle.

I wish to make the point that "ensure" is mandatory language which is very much at odds with the voluntarist thrust of the Bill. The Competition Authority which looked at this issue recommended that this course should be voluntary. We are concerned that this could lead to a wrong interpretation and certainly with regard to people with a fundamentalist view about compulsory Irish there could be problems arising in the future. The formula of words which the Labour Party proposes encourages an outcome whereby we say this is very much in line with the whole spirit of this Bill and the spirit of what is happening here. I await the Minister of State's response to this specific issue, that the words, "ensure that" be deleted and be replaced by "encourage an outcome whereby", in the context of an adequate number of solicitors and barristers available to conduct court cases through Irish.

Bhí plé fada ag an Aire ar leasuithe Uimhreacha 1 agus 7 ar Chéim an Choiste. An pointe lárnach a dhein sé ansin ná gurbh éifeacht na leasuithe ná go bhfágfaidís gur Bille neamh-bhríoch a bheadh ann. Dá mba rud é nár dheineamar ach, iachall a chur ar Ostaí an Rí agus ar an Dlí-Chumann "toradh a spreagadh" a d'fhágfadh go mbeadh líon dóthanach abhcóidí agus aturnaetha ann a bheadh inniúil ar an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge, mar atá á mholadh ag an dTeachta ina leasuithe, gheobhaimis réidh ar fad le haon tuiscint go raibh dualgas dlíthiúil ann.

The Bill provides that the two bodies I mention should seek to ensure that an adequate number of legal practitioners are competent in Irish and this is a reasonable requirement for them. Given that it is a policy of the State to promote bilingualism and that citizens are entitled to transact their business before the courts in Irish, it is reasonable to require the legal professions to ensure that an adequate number of practitioners are available to assist them in that regard. The amendments remove the primary objective of the Bill to place on the King's Inns and the Law Society an obligation so far as is reasonable, to seek to ensure there is an adequate number of barristers and solicitors competent to practise through the Irish language. This is not an absolute duty but it is stronger than obliging the King's Inns and the Law Society to seek to encourage this outcome as the amendments propose.

The statutory duty placed on the King's Inns and the Law Society promotes as far as possible the Irish language. It will do this by requiring King's Inns and the Law Society to hold courses in Irish legal terminology and the understanding of legal text in Irish for all persons undertaking their professional training courses, establish an advanced course on the practice of law through the Irish language as optional subjects in their professional training courses, hold examinations in the practice of law through Irish at least once a year for those persons who have undertaken the advanced course and publish registers containing the names and contact details of barristers and solicitors who have passed the examinations. In light of those reasons, the amendments are not accepted.

An bhfuil an Teachta ag brú an leasú? Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

Tá sé soiléir nach bhfuil an tAire Stáit nó an tAire sásta glacadh leis na leasuithe seo. Cuireann sin díomá orm. Go dtí an lá atá inniu ann tá córas againn faoi reachtaíocht ó 1929 nach bhfuil ag éirí leis. I Daonáireamh 2006, cuireadh an cheist ar 10,000 abhcóidí agus aturnaetha an raibh siad in ann Gaeilge a labhairt. Dúirt 68% díobh go raibh siad in ann í a labhairt, ach ní ciallaíonn sin aon rud mar sin tuairim an duine faoin a chumas féin. Theip ar an riachtanas éigeantach a bhí againn go dtí seo. An rud atá ag goilliúnt orainne i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre ná go leanfar leis an éigeantacht faoin reachtaíocht seo mar atá sé. Tá sé soileír, áfach, nach bhfuil an tAire sásta glacadh leis an leasú. Mar sin féin, tá mé chun é a bhrú.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Leasú Uimh. 2 arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, and 8 to 11, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, line 27, after "a" to insert "bilingual".

Mar an gcéanna leis an leasú deireanach a bhí againn, baineann leasú Uimh. 2 le hOstaí an Rí agus leasú Uimh. 7 leis an Dlí-Chumann. An prionsabal céanna atá i gceist sa dhá leasú.

Amendment No. 2 proposes to insert the word "bilingual" or "dátheangach" before the word "course". As I pointed out on Committee Stage, the course provided by the King's Inns is delivered solely through Irish. This may cause difficulties for students with a poor grasp of the Irish language. In this context, I refer to an extract fromRialtas na hÉireann: Ráiteas i Leith na Gaeilge 2006. In setting forth the “modern-day context of the Irish language”, it states: “Ireland is a bilingual state in which Irish is the first official language according to Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland.” It is not acceptable that this course should be delivered solely through Irish and that a student seeking an explanation in English should find that no such explanation is forthcoming. That is my concern in putting forward this amendment.

For the course to be useful to students, it should be provided in Irish and English. Both the Minister of State and I are former national school teachers and, as such, former teachers of the Irish language. It was my experience that a bilingual approach was often the most helpful, particularly in the case of children who were experiencing difficulties with the Irish language. While I strongly support the rationale for this particular course, it does not represent the best way forward for it to be delivered only in the Irish language. Students with a poor standard of Irish would do better if a bilingual approach were taken. Instead of delivering an exclusive Irish-only course, a bilingual delivery would serve to improve the proficiency in Irish of all students, particularly those with a weak grasp of the language.

Labhróidh mé ar dtús mar gheall ar leasuithe Uimh. 2 agus 8. Fágann ailt 1 agus 2 den Bhille faoi Óstaí an Rí agus an Dlí-Chumann a chinneadh conas a gcúrsaí i dtéarmaíocht dhlíthiúil na Gaeilge agus i dtuiscint téacsanna dlíthiúla Gaeilge a sholáthar. Deputy O'Shea argued strongly on Committee Stage that the course should be delivered bilingually. He may well be right that this is the best approach to take, but the King's Inns and the Law Society are the professional training and education providers for barristers and solicitors and, as such, they are best placed to decide the manner of delivery of their Irish courses. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, does not agree that we should prescribe in legislation how this should be done. Therefore, I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 2 and 8.

I listened carefully to the points made by Deputy O'Shea and we discussed this issue at length on Committee Stage. The Minister of State's argument that the legislation should not be as prescriptive as would be the case if Deputy O'Shea's amendment were accepted makes sense. The objective of the course in question is to train students to be proficient in Irish legal terminology and to foster the use of the Irish language in court cases. I am not sure how many people engaging in the course would be likely to have absolutely no knowledge of the Irish language. I expect most participants would have some degree of knowledge which, if improved upon, would allow them to participate in future in legal proceedings conducted through Irish.

On balance, the Minister of State has opted for a commonsensical approach in arguing that we should not set down detailed legislative requirements as to the delivery of this course. If there are practical difficulties of the type adverted to by Deputy O'Shea, I am sure they can be accommodated within the current training procedures. If there are students who require certain aspects of the course to be explained in the English language, I am sure that can be arranged. Incorporating prescriptions in the legislation in this regard seems unnecessary and may give rise to undue difficulties in respect of the organisation of the course. I accept the Minister of State's point and urge that consensus be reached between him and Deputy O'Shea to avoid a division of the House.

Under the provisions of the 1921 Act, this course is delivered exclusively through Irish. This has certainly discommoded students. The conduct of the course will undoubtedly remain in the hands of the examiner, as has been the practice heretofore. My argument is that the fundamentalist mentality of an individual should not be reflected in how the course is delivered and administered. I do not seek to undermine in any way the freedom of operation of the King's Inns or the Law Society. However, even students with a reasonable grasp of Irish could have certain difficulties with Irish legal terminology and may need English language definitions and explanations. Any student who wants to ask a question in English to clarity a particular point should be able to do so. It would be a failure on our part if we neglected to ensure this is the case.

Can I assume that the Minister of State does not want to see any students of this course being discommoded as a consequence of its delivery solely through Irish with the result that they may not have the opportunity to seek clarification and information through the English language?

Deputy Flanagan's suggestion seems to represent the best way forward. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has reflected carefully on this matter and has concluded that the approach we have taken will provide the best outcome for trainee barristers and solicitors.

The same issues arise in regard to amendments Nos. 5 and 11. The duration of the course and the attendance requirements are entirely a matter for the King's Inns and the Law Society to regulate. It would be inappropriate to make detailed provisions for such matters in legislation. Therefore, the Minister does not accept amendments Nos. 5 and 11. However, our amendments Nos. 3 and 9 deal with part of Deputy O'Shea's proposals. Deputy O'Shea will recall that the Minister undertook to consider his Committee Stage amendments which were intended to make clear that the legal terminology courses would not be subject to examination. The Minister is in agreement with the Deputy that the Bill needs to be clear on this point and amendments Nos. 3 and 9 provide the necessary clarity.

With regard to amendments Nos. 4 and 10, the Minister is opposed to making voluntary the legal terminology courses for the King's Inns and Law Society students, as proposed by the Deputy. The Government considers it to be of some importance that all persons seeking to become legal practitioners should be able to understand legal terminology in the Irish language. All practitioners should be enabled by their training to examine legal documentation in Irish to identify the nature of the service being sought and where appropriate to facilitate a referral to a practitioner competent to provide a service through Irish. For this reason, the courses should be compulsory and the Minister rejects amendments Nos. 4 and 10.

I welcome amendment No. 3, which effectively addresses a major part of the issue I raised on Committee Stage. The only outstanding matter remaining is with regard to amendment No. 5 as we are moving from a compulsory examination to compulsory attendance at a course. The Labour Party is concerned about how this will be interpreted. Must one attend every lecture or 75% of the lectures? Will a roll-call take place or is another method to monitor attendance envisaged?

Attendance is a vague concept. What exactly constitutes attendance at this course? It is no longer voluntary. We have gone from a compulsory examination to compulsory attendance. Unfortunately, the legislation does not provide any indication as to what attendance means. The terminology in the Bill is "undertaking" a course.

The fact that an examination cannot be introduced under any guise is to be welcomed. However, we are concerned as to how the interpretation of attendance might be used as a means of putting a substantial obstacle in the way of students either at the King's Inns or the Law Society. As the Minister pointed out, the Law Society is somewhat different because the examination must be completed before one may enter for training as a solicitor. However, with regard to training as a barrister it comes at the end of the course.

As the Minister stated, the duration of the courses and attendance requirements are entirely for the King's Inns and the Law Society to regulate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, line 30, after "course" where it secondly occurs to insert "shall not be subject to examination and".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, line 30, to delete "shall" and substitute "may voluntarily".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Amendment No. 6 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments No. 6 and 12 are cognate and amendment No. 15 is related. Amendments Nos. 6, 12 and 15 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, line 3, after "with" to insert the following:

", or attended a course of instruction or sat an examination for the purposes of seeking to comply with,".

This deals with an issue I raised on Committee Stage. In the context of the powers he will have when the Bill is commenced, the Minister indicated he will have flexibility to deal with this issue of students in the pipeline, which is of concern to us.

We are not sure when the Bill will be enacted as it must go through the Seanad after we finish with it here. Let us say it will be signed into law in May. If a person passed an Irish examination in January this year but is not notified of this until June, technically that person has not complied with section 3 of the 1929 Act prior to the passing of this Bill. Alternatively, under section 1(3)(b) of the Bill a person who attends the Irish course in 2008 to 2009 but fails the exam is required to attend Irish lectures for a second time because he or she did not pass an exam even though an exam will not exist. The students in 2008 to 2009 could be prevented from passing because they did not pass an Irish exam which will not exist after this legislation is enacted.

Later in the Committee Stage debate, the Minister stated that because he has flexibility with regard to the enactment dates he can deal with these issues. If the Minister of State can give this assurance, I am happy not to proceed with these amendments.

I thank Deputy O'Shea and as he stated, the Minister indicated on Committee Stage that he accepted the Bill must resolve the position of a small number of persons who have completed their training without meeting the current statutory Irish language requirements and who have not been admitted to practise. The solution he is considering will also deal with whatever transitional arrangements are necessary to facilitate the changeover to the new arrangements. This may include amending the commencement provisions to provide that the new scheme will commence upon enactment.

The Minister is in the process of consulting with the various interests on the best way to resolve these issues and I and the Minister urge Deputies not to press these amendments. The necessary amendments will be moved by the Minister in the Seanad and brought back to this House.

On the basis of what the Minister of State said, and I take it that he referred to students in the pipeline at present and those who have come through the system but either did not take or failed the Irish examination, in good faith I accept what he proposes.

This is the position.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 6a, 12a and 12b are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6a:

In page 10, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(c) As soon as practicable after the Council furnishes a report under paragraph (a), the Minister shall lay a copy of it before each House of the Oireachtas.”.

In response to Deputy O'Shea on Committee Stage, the Minister undertook to consider the possibility of publishing the annual reports which the King's Inns and the Law Society will be required to furnish to him following the enactment of this Bill as provided for in sections 1(13) and 2(m). The Minister is in agreement with Deputy O’Shea that it is important that the Oireachtas be kept informed as to the operation of the new arrangements and thus amendments Nos. 6a, 12a and 12b provide for the laying of the reports before the House.

I welcome these amendments and I thank the Minister of State for dealing with the concerns raised on Committee Stage. This will also help in the context of the concern I expressed earlier with regard to it being an all-Irish delivered course. If the reports come to the Oireachtas, Members of the Oireachtas can pursue any concerns from a point of knowledge and having regular reports and understanding exactly what is happening.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, line 36, after "course" to insert "shall not be subject to examination and".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 12a :

In page 14, line 24, to delete "request.", and substitute "request.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12b :

In page 14, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

"(n) As soon as practicable after the Society furnishes a report under paragraph (m)(i), the Minister shall lay a copy of it before each House of the Oireachtas.”,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 13 arises out of Committee proceedings while amendment No. 14 is related so both amendments may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 14, after line 42, to insert the following:

4.—The Solicitors Act 1954 is further amended as follows:

(a) by deleting section 40(6);

(b) by the insertion of the following after section 40—

"40A.—Regulations under the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2008 may not prescribe any examination in connection with the Irish language other than the voluntary examination referred to in theLegal Practitioners (Irish Language) Act 2008.”;

(c) by the deletion in section 43(2)(a) (as substituted by section 51 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994) of “and (if obligatory on him) the second examination in the Irish language which is referred to in the said section 40”;

(d) by the deletion in section 43(2)(c) (as substituted by section 51 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994) of “and (if obligatory on him) the second examination in the Irish language”;

(e) by the deletion of section 43(4) (as substituted by section 51 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994).

This amendment seeks to tidy up references to the Solicitors Acts and to ensure an Irish examination cannot be introduced through the back door by way of regulation. The Minister's previous amendment addresses the second issue.

The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that the tidying up aspects were covered by his amendment No. 19. Given the Minister's assurance that the necessary tidying up of references to previous legislation is being addressed, I do not propose to press this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.

Tagann leasú Uimh. 15, in ainm an Teachta O'Shea, as an díospóireacht ar Chéim an Choiste. Bhí díospóireacht againn ar an leasú nuair a bhíomar ag caint mar gheall ar leasú Uimh. 6.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 16, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

5.—(1) The Chief Justice shall not refuse to admit any person to practice as a barrister-at-law in the courts of Ireland on the ground of the person's lack of a competent knowledge of the Irish language.

(2) Where prior to the passing of this Act any person was refused admission to, or did not apply for admission to, practice as a barrister-at-law on the ground of failing to satisfy the Chief Justice as to the person's competent knowledge of the Irish language, pursuant to the Legal Practitioners (Qualification) Act 1929, the person may apply to the Chief Justice for admission to practice as a barrister-at-law and the Chief Justice shall admit such person to practice as a barrister-at-law if the person is otherwise qualified for such admission.

(3) The Law Society of Ireland shall not refuse to admit any person to practice as a solicitor in the courts of Ireland on the ground of the person's lack of a competent knowledge of the Irish language.

(4) Where prior to the passing of this Act any person was refused admission to practice as a solicitor on the ground of failing to satisfy the Law Society of Ireland as to the person's competent knowledge of the Irish language, the person may apply to the Law Society of Ireland for admission to practice as a solicitor and the Law Society of Ireland shall admit such person to practice as a solicitor if the person is otherwise qualified for such admission.

The Minister gave an undertaking on Committee Stage to address the issue of people denied their livelihood because of the compulsory regime that existed. The Minister of State has indicated that the Minister will introduce amendments in this regard on Committee Stage in the Seanad and that these amendments will be outlined in this House. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.

I acknowledge Deputy O'Shea has indicated he is withdrawing his amendment. However, as this is the final amendment, perhaps I might clarify a matter with the Minister of State. A difficulty may arise in regard to people currently in the system. The Minister of State referred to this issue in the context of an earlier amendment.

With particular reference to the King's Inns, there are people who may have failed the examination and are required to resit it whose position can be contrasted with persons who may have practised in Northern Ireland for three years, may be Irish citizens from the Republic and may have a competency in Irish, but are not required to sit the examination. There may be only a small number of people, perhaps a handful, who have not reached the degree of competency to pass the examination but are still required under the manner in which they entered the school to complete the examination. I hope these people are not caught.

Deputy O'Shea raised this issue on Committee Stage and the Minister said he would take a look at it. The Minister of State has also indicated that he will take a look at it. It is an important issue. The Department may wish to contact the educational authorities to ensure fair play obtains and that people, because of the wording of this legislation, are not discommoded or caught out.

I reiterate what I said earlier, namely, that the Minister is in consultation with the various interests to address the matters which have arisen. The Minister for Education and Science — I do not know if this addresses the matter raised by Deputy Flanagan — is in the process of making new regulations to transpose certain directives on qualifications into Irish law.

I understand that this legislation will bring about a situation whereby the Department of Education and Science will no longer have a role in respect of these courses.

The Deputy is correct.

The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, entered the Chamber just as her name was mentioned.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration and passed.