I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share my time with a number of Deputies.
Vol. 703 No. 4
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share my time with a number of Deputies.
Is it agreed that Deputy Billy Timmins has 15 minutes and Deputies Bannon, Tom Hayes, O'Mahony, Perry and Breen have five minutes each? Agreed.
Just over four years ago I brought the Good Samaritan Bill 2005 before the House and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred it to the Law Reform Commission for consideration. In the intervening period, the Law Reform Commission has published two reports, both recommending the concept and need for this legislation. I revert to the House tonight to pursue my desire to have this Bill enacted.
I will be straight about my motivation for this Bill. I firmly believe it will save lives and further promote active citizenship. In 2003 I became aware of the necessity for a community first responders scheme when the concept of publicly available defibrillators was still in its infancy. The Bill does not just cover such activities but casts a wider net and proposes to protect people from any civil proceedings for damage caused to another person, if they aided a person in good faith in an emergency.
This is a simple and practical Bill requiring no funding or resources. In 2005, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, recognised the need for and concept of good Samaritan legislation; hence the referral to the Law Reform Commission. I hope that tonight the current Government will recognise the importance of this Bill and accept it in its entirety.
The purpose of this Bill is to protect from liability those who go to the assistance of others who may be ill or injured as a result of an accident or other emergency. This legislation will ensure that those who intervene to give help to others and who offer this assistance in good faith cannot be penalised or held liable as a result of their intervention unless there is a case of gross negligence.
Section 1 deals with the title of the Bill and the timeframe in which the Act should be implemented, which is one month in this case. Section 2 sets out the necessary definitions in the legislation and Section 3 states that the good Samaritan shall not be held liable in any civil proceedings for damage caused to another person where assistance, advice or care was provided to the person who has been injured in an accident or circumstances of serious or imminent danger. The exception to this is in the case of gross negligence.
Section 4 refers to the circumstances in which volunteers are not liable and to the circumstances in which they are; this again refers to cases of gross negligence. Section 5 deals with bodies formed for the purpose of giving assistance for the benefit of the community. Such bodies are liable in cases where damage is caused by the failure to take such care as is it is reasonable to expect.
The main advantage in passing this Bill is that it will be easily accessible and ready for immediate use, especially when there is no case law. It will also be authoritative, having been passed by the Legislature.
One may ask if there has never been a case concerning this issue, why bring forward an unnecessary solution? I remain firmly of the view that the absence of such legislation is prohibiting the involvement of volunteers in some projects and the further roll-out of defibrillators in the community. Many reports of the Government have highlighted the fear of litigation as a deterrent to voluntary work.
In this country there is no existing duty, for example, between an employer and an employee and the general principle is that there is no liability for a mere omission to act. There is no legal obligation to warn someone who is about to walk into a trap or to rescue him from a dangerous position when he has done so. However, if one intervenes and adds to the damage, we do not yet know in Ireland if there is liability. The result of all this may be that the good Samaritan who tries to help may find himself or herself involved in damages while the priest and the Levite who pass by on the other side can go on their merry way.
This Bill can give protection and has been shown to do so in case law in the United States, and many countries have similar good Samaritan legislation. During the debate on the issue in 2005 I referred to various instances of case law. One case, Boccasilev. Cajun Music Limited 1997, involved a man suffering an allergic reaction to food he consumed at a music festival. Another case is Pemberton v. Dharmani, a malpractice case in Michigan in 1994.
There is a legal maxim ofvolenti nonfit injuria, roughly construed to mean no injury is done to one who consents. It has its origin in the process by which Roman law validated the act of a free citizen selling himself into slavery. In the 19th century it found its way into the law of tort. The principle is that a person may not sue in tort if he or she had given an express or implied consent to the act complained of. In many of the situations I envisage where this legislation may be of use, consent may not be possible due to the condition of the injured party. Even knowledge may not be possible, and knowledge in itself is not consent.
The biblical parable of the priest, the Levite and the good Samaritan is often used to teach the virtue of helping someone in need. There is a desire in virtually all of us to help a person whom we perceive to be in immediate danger. This can range from saving a person from drowning to helping to change a car tyre. However, with the evolution of society this desire takes other issues into consideration. How often have we heard about someone who stopped on a road to assist and ended up as the victim of a mugging?
The good Samaritan issue is not a concept that has been discussed widely in Ireland, mainly because it has not arisen in any tangible form. The claim, often made, that the door was closed after the horse had bolted cannot be made in this case as Fine Gael, by bringing forward this Bill, intends to assist in the development of volunteerism.
The issue has arisen in other countries. As a general principle, common law does not require a bystander to help someone in danger. This legislation does not make this a requirement either; the priest and the Levite would not be liable for failing to assist the stranger. However, a bystander is safe as long as he or she does absolutely nothing. It is my firm belief that some time in the future we will see in our legal system a claim for damages where a person chooses to intervene and adds to the injury. Our courts have a strong tendency to ensure that someone picks up the cost for injury to a person, and passing this Bill should lessen the chances of the willing helper being that someone.
It is not uncommon to have statutory modifications to the common law. In Quebec, Canada, the law imposes a duty on everyone to help a person in peril. The duty to assist a person in danger is evolving in France and Belgium, and we all remember the photographers in the Princess Diana case.
My primary motivation for this Bill is to assist in encouraging the availability of defibrillators in the community through sporting clubs, commercial outlets, schools and any location where large crowds are likely to gather. Since the Bill was originally published in 2005, I acknowledge the great strides that have been made by the HSE ambulance service in rolling out defibrillators and the first responders scheme. However, I am aware that the fear of litigation, whether justified or not, has acted as a barrier to encouraging more people to volunteer. This simple legislation can address this problem and we need to ensure the virtue of the good Samaritan concept carries over to our legal system.
Cardiac Self Help Wicklow, now Wicklow Community First Responders, is a voluntary group established in autumn 2003 with a view to making defibrillators available in the wider community. Every year, several thousand people die in Ireland from sudden cardiac arrest. There are many causes, such as genetics, illness, heart attack, environmental conditions and even physical contact. Thanks to the ambulance service working with voluntary groups across the country, first responders schemes are up and running in many areas. Many communities are in the process of setting up a scheme and it is our intention, with the co-operation of communities, to extend this service throughout the country.
In addition, local groups and schools can privately purchase a defibrillator and have it available in their immediate area. This is known as targeted defibrillation. The scheme in Wicklow went into operation in spring 2005 and now has more than 500 active members, representing almost 30 areas. Similar schemes exist in Roscommon, Cork and other parts of the country.
To assist with targeted defibrillation, legislation will be necessary to deal with the concerns of volunteers who fear litigation. This is such a Bill. The Government has repeatedly called for ideas from this side of the House and the implementation of this one will greatly improve our health service at virtually zero cost.
It is said that Ireland is becoming a more litigious society. These days, how do we ensure that our legal system does not act as a disincentive to people to get involved in voluntary work to the benefit of their communities and society as a whole? How do we ensure that a person who gives of their time to assist with a volunteer cardiac response unit is not left without legal protection? Over the past ten years, many reports have highlighted the need for legislation to cover those who act as a good Samaritan or volunteer in administering fist aid or other emergency procedures. The Government published a white paper in 2000 on supporting voluntary activity. The document noted that:
The Irish Constitution recognises the right to associate. Overall, however, there is an underdeveloped legal and policy framework in Ireland for the support of voluntary work and the contexts in which it takes place.
In 2005, the European Volunteer Centre published a country report on the legal status of volunteers in Ireland and noted there is no specific legislation relating to volunteers here. In 2006, the taskforce on active citizenship was established and its terms of reference requested it to make recommendations which "could be taken as part of public policy to facilitate and encourage a greater degree of engagement by citizens in all aspects of Irish life, and the growth and development of voluntary organisations as part of a strong civic culture". In its 2007 report to the Taoiseach, it stated that "the fear of litigation has become a growing barrier for many community and voluntary groups".
The 2006 report of the national task force on sudden cardiac death syndrome, Reducing the Risk: A Strategic Approach, stated that Ireland has no good samaritan law to protect members of the public who go to the aid of another person. The HSE's 2008 cardiac first response guide also reiterated the views of that report, stating that "one of the main stumbling blocks to communities purchasing defibrillators and developing programmes has been a concern over legal indemnity".
One of the phrases used repeatedly by this Fianna Fáil-led Government is "social capital". The decline in what is referred to as social capital is frequently lamented by the Government and is a phenomenon witnessed by all of us in the new Ireland of the 21st century. While speaking of the importance of promoting social capital, the Government is not taking concrete action to match those words. The final recommendations of the task force on active citizenship lie unimplemented.
Fine Gael brought forward this Bill in 2005 and the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated it was flawed legislation. This was untrue but he put that construction on the Bill for his own benefit. However, he proposed at the time that the concept be sent to the Law Reform Commission. We welcomed that. We have had two reports since from the Law Reform Commission, the first of which went out for general discussion. The strong recommendation from many of the groups that made contact with the commission was to bring in good samaritan legislation. The commission published its report last year and published a draft Bill which was virtually a replica of the Fine Gael Bill, with just two slight differences. The first was the issue of a professional person going to assist somebody and the second was the extension in the commission's Bill to cover an organisation that was represented by a volunteer. We published that Bill in its entirety as we are anxious that legislation be brought in. It was a replica of the Fine Gael Bill and we have listened to the Minister tell us he wants to hear proposals from the Opposition. We have brought forward proposals and I am outraged that the Government has tabled an amendment kicking this to touch.
I had given consideration earlier today to withdrawing this Bill, because the Government has treated this proposal with disdain. It speaks of active citizenship and volunteers, yet it administers a kick in the teeth to those same volunteers because it does not want to acknowledge the role of a progressive and positive Opposition. It puts its own self-serving agenda ahead of the people. I could have spent the last few months lobbying these voluntary groups. We will not see a story about good samaritan legislation on the front page ofThe Irish Times or the Irish Independent, and it will not be mentioned among the chattering classes. However, it is a major issue under the surface and those groups will discover over the next few days that the Government has turned down progressive legislation for no reason other than that it does not have the magnanimity, virtue, compassion or interest in Irish people to bring forward legislation that quite simply costs nothing.
The Government amendment mentions a civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill, but the heads of that Bill have been published and there is no reference to good samaritan legislation. This story will not end up on the "Nine O'Clock News", but it is a very sad day for this House. The Minister knows what this Bill is about, and although his colleagues in the Cabinet do not, they will over the next few weeks. Many voluntary groups realise what the Government has done. Every report, including reports commissioned by the Minister's Government, have recommended this legislation, but the Government simply did not have the good grace to give a little bit of credit to the Opposition.
I thank Deputies Billy Timmins and Charles Flanagan for bringing this important legislation before the House. This Bill is basically about protecting the good samaritans in our society. These are the people who selflessly risk life and limb to save others, whether as members of voluntary organisations or individually. They currently do so knowing that in our litigious society, they are leaving themselves wide open to being sued for their trouble.
This Bill has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission in a recent report. Two significant developments have occurred to make the issue particularly relevant, namely, the rollout of defibrillators in public places and sporting venues and the promotion of active citizenship by the task force on active citizenship. There are more than 5,000 sudden cardiac deaths on average in this country every year, so it makes sense that defibrillators can be used to attempt to save lives without fear of prosecution. More than 500,000 people volunteer in the Republic, which is a third of the active adult population, providing the equivalent of 96,450 full-time workers. Their selfless work deserves to be free from fear of litigation.
This matter was previously examined in a Private Members' Bill, the Good Samaritan Bill 2005, which was followed in 2007 by a consultation paper and a seminar last May, leading to the publication of the final recommendations of the Law Reform Commission. I welcome the fact this Bill does not force ordinary people, under the provision of duty, to go to the aid of someone in danger. However, professionals such as gardaí and members of the Defence Forces should have the necessary training to provide a duty of care to the general population.
Cases such as that in Wigan, England on 3 May 2007, in which a young boy drowned because two police support officers made no attempt to rescue him, have never occurred in this country as far as I know. However, a lack of training and a lack of obligation to attempt a rescue could result in a similar situation. Surely there is a strong case to be made between the duty of a professional and non-professional person. I would be shocked to think that a member of any police force should be able to stand by while someone's life was at stake and still be immune to prosecution.
On the other hand, there was a recent case in the UK where a postman attempted to sue the woman who had come to his aid after he slipped on the snow, calling an ambulance and administering first aid. She subsequently rang the hospital to inquire about his condition. What did the postman do in return? He attempted to sue his rescuer, but dropped the claim when he discovered the issue would not be handled through insurers. This is just the sort of situation the Bill seeks to prevent. Fear of litigation should not be allowed to prevent people doing what is essentially their moral, if not legal duty to aid someone in distress. What has gone wrong with society when our first response to a cry for help is, "this is not my problem"?
People all over the world have become hardened to the distress of others, due to the "survival of the fittest" societies in which we live. This Bill is a chance to rectify some of the fears of litigation that people have been forced to endure. While the Bill goes a long way to alleviate those fears, the fact that rescuers are exempt from civil liability unless there is gross negligence means that unless one has specific training in first aid, life-saving procedures and so on, one's natural instinct to help could still by default lead to prosecution.
The Government's amendment shows its determination to sideline this Bill, as it did in 2005, replacing it with the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill. This will negate the need for the Bill before the House to be read a second time in September. It will also ensure the Government will not be obliged to vote against the very necessary measures contained in this legislation. Shame on the Minister for allowing this to happen. I thought he had adopted a hands-on approach in his portfolio but it seems he has not done so. I hope the Taoiseach, when he reshuffles the Cabinet next week, will take the necessary action in respect of the Minister.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill and commend Deputies Billy Timmins and Charles Flanagan on its introduction.
When the Good Samaritan Bill was debated in 2005, a number of issues arose and the then Attorney General, Mr. Rory Brady, senior counsel, referred them to the Law Reform Commission, LRC, for clarification. The LRC published its final report last May and recommended that in order to give protection to those who were concerned that they might face litigation if they intervened and assisted as a good samaritan, rules should be clearly set out in statute. It also proposed that the legislation should provide a full defence against civil liability unless there was gross negligence. The Bill before the House would provide such assurances and also give solace to people who offer assistance in good faith that they would not be held liable as a result of their action.
Good samaritans are born, not raised. We have all witnessed the heroism that is displayed on a daily basis when in an emergency one person comes to the aid of another simply as an act of kindness. If someone is involved in a car accident, if he or she is seriously injured and if the car bursts into flames, moving him or her could save his or her life. However, the law must reflect this.
Other jurisdictions have been obliged to introduce legislation in this area as a result of court decisions. For example, the decision in the Van Hornv. Watson case in California led to the introduction of three items of legislation. The court in California held that non-medical good samaritans were not entitled to liability protection when there was an injury as a result of their actions. In this case, Lisa Torti moved Alexa Van Horn out of a car in the belief it was going to explode and that the latter would be burned. Alexa Van Horn alleged that the movement caused her subsequent paralysis.
In Canada the position on good samaritan acts varies from province to province. In Quebec people have a general duty to respond in an emergency. In British Columbia they have a duty to respond only where a child is endangered.
As Deputy Timmins indicated, when Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris, the focus was placed on the paparazzi who had taken pictures of her following the accident. Under French law, the photographers involved could have been accused of a criminal offence for failing to provide assistance for a person in need. Ultimately, three photographers were each fined a symbolic €1 by the French appeals court for taking pictures of her and that was the end of the case.
The law should not discourage people who arrive on the scene of an accident from offering the best help possible. Sadly, in an emergency members of the general public can be deterred from assisting others. This is because they are afraid they will be sued.
Irish people are renowned for giving help during a crisis. During the worst of the recent flooding and also the cold snap ordinary men and women rose to the challenge and assisted the emergency services. I saw evidence of this in my constituency in County Clare where people filled sand bags, provided assistance for their neighbours, gritted roads and helped individuals being evacuated from their homes. When the crisis was at its height, an elderly man went out to feed his cattle. On failing to return, a major search got under way. The Garda, Civil Defence and local volunteers found him and he was rescued by the Irish Coast Guard helicopter.
The increase in the number of sudden cardiac deaths among young people has resulted in the availability of a greater number of publicly accessible defibrillators. However, the HSE's 2008 guide for cardiac first responders notes that civil liability is a stumbling block for some communities. If we are to encourage these communities to use defibrillators, legislation to provide for legal indemnity must be put in place.
Ireland has a history of voluntarism. Over 30,000 volunteers assisted in the Special Olympic Games in 2003. According to the 2006 census, 553,000 people are involved in voluntary activity of some form or other. We must ensure we continue to support and encourage voluntarism. The Bill before the House would provide a legal framework for volunteers to continue to lend a hand in our communities. It would also provide protection for good samaritans, without whose actions many lives would be lost. There is no reason for the Government to fail to support the Bill. It is letting the people down in this regard. I, therefore, ask the Minister to reconsider the position.
Like previous speakers, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I commend Deputies Billy Timmins and Charles Flanagan on its introduction.
When the Good Samaritan Bill was introduced in 2005, it was referred to the Law Reform Commission which I understand has given itsimprimatur to that legislation.
In the light of the history of the Bill and the fact that it is necessary, non-contentious and would not involve a cost, I am disappointed that the Government has tabled an amendment and intends to hide its provisions away in a Bill which will be introduced later in the year. I appeal to it to reconsider its position prior to the end of Private Members' business tomorrow night.
There has always been a need for legislation of this nature. Its passing at this time would be appropriate, particularly as voluntarism and active citizenship are required now more than ever. We witnessed the appetite for voluntarism during the flooding that occurred prior to Christmas and also during the recent cold snap. People could not do enough to assist their neighbours or those who were isolated or in danger.
I have worked as a volunteer in my community, both as a sports coach and as a teacher, for all of my adult life. I also benefited from the services of volunteers during my time as a player. In the good old days people were prepared to become involved because they were not concerned about litigation or anything else. However, the position has changed to a major degree. I am aware of many people who would love to assist sports clubs or community organisations but who are afraid to become involved. It is not worth the hassle if there is a threat of litigation. During the cold snap shopkeepers were afraid to clear snow and ice away from the front of their premises for fear that they would be taken to court in the event that something untoward happened. Clarification was provided in respect of such circumstances but that which I have outlined is an example of the fear among people and highlights why the Bill is necessary.
When I worked as a teacher, I took charge of numerous sports teams and witnessed at first hand the need for legislation of this kind. This is particularly the case in the light of the cutbacks in education funding in recent years. Previously, a couple of teachers would accompany school teams to matches at other schools' grounds. That is no longer possible. In addition, one teacher would look after the team if the other was obliged to take an injured player to hospital. Again, this is no longer possible. As a result, trainers face a dilemma if a serious injury occurs. The individuals concerned must decide whether they should remain with the team or accompany the player who has been seriously injured to hospital. I was placed in such a position during a match and obliged to ask someone in attendance to bring an injured student to hospital. However, the individual in question was afraid to do so owing to concerns about what might happen on the way to the hospital. Such situations could be avoided if legislation such as that before the House was on the Statute Book.
Deputy Timmins referred to defibrillators. A few years ago everyone was touched by the death of Cormac McAnallen. That was a tragedy which could have been prevented. I am not stating legislation such as that before the House would resolve everything but it would certainly help us to avoid tragedies such as that which befell Cormac McAnallen.
Everyone knows the importance of encouraging community spirit. At a time when many thousands are in a position to give of their time and expertise, they should be allowed to do so. The Bill is non-contentious and would not involve a cost. It should be above politics. It would reflect well on politicians and all parties in the House if the Bill were accepted. I appeal to the Minister to consider this fact before the matter is pressed to a vote tomorrow evening.
I congratulate and commend Deputies Timmins and Charles Flanagan on bringing this Bill before the House. If anything can send out a good signal of proper work and thought in this House, it is support of this Bill. Like Deputy Timmins, I was extremely surprised that the Government tabled an amendment to prevent us from passing the Bill through the House. We need to send out a message of support for the very many voluntary organisations and groups. It would reflect well on the body politic and would show that we are genuine about doing what people want us to do.
At a time of an emergency in the country — we saw it during this winter in particular — with the roads, storms or bad frost, people are extremely concerned about doing volunteer work such as clearing snow from footpaths, which was done and to which reference has been made. During a particular 48-hour period, nobody would go near the footpaths or roads outside their houses simply because they were extremely worried. If this Bill did nothing else except send out a signal that we will protect those people who make genuine efforts to help others in their local communities, it would be important. I have seen at first hand in Clonmel, which has been flooded in recent years, the number of volunteers who turn up and help people flooded out of their homes. The Bill will give such people protection if anything happens.
A total of 553,000 people are involved in volunteerism, whether in their local communities or at national level. They may be involved in point-to-points, race meetings or in the GAA. They are involved in the basic things of life. We are living in times of severe economic hardship. Local authorities are not able to cope with some of the issues confronting them. Many volunteers are willing and anxious to help in a crisis. If this House does nothing to protect them, then as a country and as a Government we are not looking after them. The technicalities of the Bill were dealt with by other speakers but I wanted to contribute because it sends out a signal to the huge number of volunteers.
The most critical issue is that of defibrillators. They are used and available in every village and town throughout the country. As we close down our hospitals we will have more need for defibrillators. The Government should give this consideration. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is a practical man. He should reconsider what he is doing here because of the message it will send out. We need a clear signal that volunteers are protected. That is the main thrust of the Bill, which I support. The Minister should give very serious consideration to supporting what Deputies Timmins and Flanagan have proposed.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this important Bill introduced by my colleagues, Deputies Billy Timmins and Charles Flanagan.
The purpose of the Bill is to protect from liability those who go to the assistance of others who may be ill or injured as a result of an accident or other emergency. The Bill is an important and necessary addition to the legal protection available to those who volunteer to assist others in need or in emergencies. It fits into the general framework of legislation covering the relationship of responsibility between the conscientious citizen and society. People have a responsibility to raise genuine concerns about dangers to public safety, fraud or other serious malpractice.
Under certain legislation, there is now a specified duty on persons to report concerns. Typically, these persons have a duty of confidentiality, but they also have an overriding duty, in the public interest, to report misconduct to the authorities. Typical areas covered include accounting fraud, tax evasion, insolvency, bankruptcy, financial services for money laundering and proceeds of drug trafficking, child protection and mandatory reporting of suspected abuse. In all of these cases there is a legal requirement to act and to disclose. Contrast that with the legal protection available to those who volunteer to assist others in need or in emergencies. There is no legal obligation or positive duty on citizens to intervene to assist an injured person or someone who takes ill suddenly. Neither is there any specific statutory protection where persons act in the public interest to assist an injured person or someone who takes ill suddenly.
We have a classic situation of having a legal requirement to talk to the relevant authorities about particular financial services and child protection situations and full legal protection for those who talk, where the communication with authorities is made in good faith. The contrast with someone in an emergency situation, injured or ill could not be greater. The concerned citizen can talk elegantly about what should or should not be done. He may or may not call emergency services. If he or she does not call the emergency services there will, in all probability, be no legal consequence. However, if the concerned citizen, out of a sense of common humanity and good citizenship, volunteers to provide practical emergency assistance to the person in need, the legal protection available to that good Samaritan enters a grey area.
This Bill is designed to provide certainty this legal grey area. A person who volunteers to assist others in need or in emergencies should have clear and specific legal protection. Society must send a clear message to those who choose to act in an emergency and this Bill provides that message. It must be safer and more rewarding to act in emergency situations than to do nothing. The law must send a clear signal that persons who act responsibly in emergencies will receive statutory protection. This Bill provides that safety net to good Samaritans and it is very important legislation.
Deputy Timmins has been working on this legislation for a number of years and raised it in the previous administration. This issue has gone on for far too long. As Deputy O'Mahony stated, people are very litigious and it is amazing what happens after people fall and someone comes to their assistance. Legal entities can take over and it can become a matter for litigation.
I applaud the availability of defibrillators. We have a very large voluntary sector which acts very correctly. They are very positively-minded. The Order of Malta and other organisations give of their time voluntarily. Having the legal protection that would be provided in the Bill makes much sense.
The Minister is very practical and considers matters in a sensible manner. Taking on board this Bill would be the intelligent thing to do. It would send a very clear message to those in the voluntary sector. I have no doubt people act very responsibly in emergencies and do not consider or size up the legal risks. However, accepting the Bill would reassure civic-minded people and give them the confidence to participate on voluntary defibrillator courses. They are now in almost every sporting club and I applaud those who raise money to have defibrillators readily available. It is very important.
I compliment Deputy Timmins. He has campaigned vigorously for the introduction of the Bill and I congratulate him on it. I hope the Minister will acknowledge his efforts and enact the Bill as quickly as possible.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
noting the commitment in the Government Legislation Programme published on 19 January 2010 to publish a Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the current session;
supporting the inclusion of provisions in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to provide more adequately for the civil liability of good samaritans and volunteers;
noting that drafting of that Bill is at an advanced stage,
resolves that the Civil Liability (Good Samaritans and Volunteers) Bill 2009 be deemed to be read a second time on 2nd September 2010.".
The Government proposal is that the House defers for six months the second reading of the Private Members' Civil Liability (Good Samaritans and Volunteers) Bill 2009. The Government does not oppose the Private Members' Bill as such. We thank Deputy Timmins and his colleagues for promoting the principle of what is involved, with which I agree entirely. However, the Government is in the final stages of preparing its own legislation which, it believes, will address the matter more adequately and more quickly.
The Government legislation will also set out to protect from liability those who, acting with good intentions, go to the assistance of those who are injured or ill as a consequence of an accident or emergency. The Bill's purpose also will be to ensure that a well-intentioned person who helps someone who is ill or hurt in an emergency need not fear being sued as a result of his or her intervention.
The Government recognises that fear of civil liability can hamper volunteerism and may prevent individuals and groups from providing assistance and services to others. Without greater legal certainty in this area, the concern is that the perception may continue that there is a risk of civil liability to those who provide assistance or services on anex gratia basis. That potentially discourages volunteerism and may raise insurance premia for volunteer groups. Changes in society, the pace of life, and working patterns mean that volunteerism is under stress from many angles and greater clarity in the law would encourage volunteerism to the benefit of the State and society as a whole.
When Deputy Timmins brought forward his earlier Bill on this subject in June 2005, his stated primary motivation was to specifically smooth the path for the introduction and use of defibrillators in the community, by removing the fear of litigation if the intervention did not go as far as intended. The Deputy's entirely commendable intention was to remove perceived obstacles in terms of vulnerability to litigation from the emergency use by volunteers of defibrillators at sporting events, in schools, in shopping centres and in other locations and circumstances where people might suffer sudden cardiac arrest. Such legislative proposals have wider implications for the volunteer community in general, and are not limited to situations requiring cardiac resuscitation.
At that time, the Government considered the objective of the 2005 Bill to be entirely worthy, but the Bill failed in several respects to adequately address the complexities of the law in this area and the matter was referred in January 2006 to the Law Reform Commission for an in-depth review. The Law Reform Commission published its Report on the Civil Liability of "Good Samaritans" and Volunteers in May 2009. I note that the Bill replicates precisely the draft provided by the commission in that report. In December 2009 the Government agreed to include the relevant provisions on good samaritans into the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill we are now bringing forward.
The key recommendations by the Law Reform Commission were the following. First, to maintain the position in common law not to impose a general duty on any category of persons to intervene for the purpose of effecting a rescue or assisting an injured person or a person at risk of injury. Second, that the range of individuals that constitutes good samaritans and volunteers and the types of intervention they may make should be set out in statute. The actors envisaged are those who act "voluntarily and without expectation of payment or other reward". Third, that legislation should set a standard of care for good samaritans and volunteers, which is above the threshold of gross negligence, an understanding of which should also be addressed. Fourth, that legislation should set out an ordinary standard of care for volunteer organisations or undertakings and that account should be taken of the benefits which have accrued to society because of the organisation's work in determining whether it is just and reasonable to impose liability.
The recommendations of the Law Reform Commission were fully accepted by the Government. The Government subsequently approved my proposals for the drafting of provisions to legislate for good samaritans in the proposed Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. That Bill is in the course of being drafted for publication in this session in accordance with the Government legislation programme announced by the Chief Whip on 19 January 2010. The Government's legislative proposals will incorporate the commission's recommendations and some additional provisions to ensure that the law is as comprehensive as possible.
In examining the commission's recommended Bill, my Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General has identified issues requiring attention. These issues are not addressed in the Private Members' Bill nor in the Bill proposed by the Law Reform Commission, and their omission would result in a text that would fall somewhat short of the ideal.
The Private Members' Bill leaves unresolved important policy and drafting matters. Greater clarity is required around the kinds of scenario that might give rise to protection from civil liability. For example, should the advice, assistance or care given by a good samaritan or volunteer be restricted to the scene of an accident or should it include transportation to a hospital or other medical care facility? How far into the future from the time of the accident or emergency ought the protection from liability stretch; until the injured person receives medical attention for the first time or beyond that? Other points of clarification include whether a person who caused the accident or emergency in question in the first place could be categorised as a good samaritan thereafter, depending on his or her behaviour. We would not want to exclude such a person from protection under this legislation as long as he or she behaves with the requisite reasonableness and care expected when helping those who have been injured. That issue is not addressed in the Private Members' Bill before the House.
The Government's proposed legislation will also seek to ensure that persons who merely appear to be injured are included within the scope of the legislation alongside those who are actually injured. It would not make sense to protect a good samaritan from liability for coming to the aid of someone with, let us say, a broken leg, but not to provide protection from liability if he or she attempted to assist an essentially uninjured but intoxicated person. There are legislative provisions along these lines in other common law jurisdictions.
The Private Members' Bill protects certain persons from liability for damage, which could include death or personal injury. I propose to ensure that damage to property falls within the scope of this definition. There are many situations where damage to property would be a natural consequence of coming to a person's rescue. For example, it might be necessary to do damage to a person's vehicle when extracting him or her following an accident. Another issue that arises is who is envisaged as the potential plaintiff. This may be limited to the person directly affected by damage at the hands of the would-be good samaritan or volunteer or may include a dependant of such a person.
Technical drafting issues also require to be clarified, particularly around the appropriateness or otherwise of defining in statute certain core concepts including, for example, "gross negligence". That concept has heretofore not been defined in a comprehensive or satisfactory way, either in national or relevant international law. The most relevant Irish case law, according to the Law Reform Commission report, dates back to 1948. Therefore, we must tread carefully to ensure the necessary complexity and subtlety is captured. To establish negligence there must be: a duty of care — in other words the existence of a legally recognised obligation which requires a defendant to conform to a certain standard of behaviour to protect persons from harm; a breach of the standard of care; actual loss or damage to the interests of the plaintiff; and a close causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury caused to the plaintiff.
The duty of care is broadly speaking a duty that one must not injure one's neighbour. In other words, one's actions must not cause injury to others or put others into harm's way. Our courts fashion the duty of care and specify its scope with the simple aim of accomplishing social goals. What must be remembered is that very different factual situations arise in particular cases and each situation must be carefully examined before it can be determined whether a duty of care exists and the scope of that duty. The Law Reform Commission recommended that the law should not be amended to impose any general legal duty to intervene to rescue people in danger over and above what exists in the law already, for example, the duty on employers to provide first aid assistance to employees under the safety and health at work legislation.
Many civil law states with code-based systems, including those of continental Europe, have imposed positive legal duties to intervene to rescue. However, the position that there should not be a general legal duty to intervene is deeply rooted in the common law for both philosophical and practical reasons. That is reflected in numerous cases in this jurisdiction and in comparable international jurisdictions. Common law in this area has long emphasised the concept of proximity to one's neighbour before a duty of care arises, and draws a distinction between that which is morally desirable and that which is legally required. While inaction or, for example, a failure to attempt a rescue may lead to injury or death just as much as careless action, it is only where there already exists a clear duty of care that civil liability could arise. While a high standard of care, including a positive duty to act, is set for parents in respect of their children, for instance, strangers are held to a lower general standard not to act in a way that would harm or injure another.
The Law Reform Commission correctly concluded that it was unlikely that a general duty to intervene would promote volunteering or active citizenship. Moreover, the commission was informed by the groups it consulted that imposing such a duty might have the opposite effect. With a view to legislating properly and comprehensively on this matter, the Government's preference is to proceed, as announced in our legislative programme, with the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill as the vehicle. The Government is taking on board the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission by incorporating the principles of the commission's draft Bill into its own Bill. In light of this, my proposal is to defer the Second Reading of the Private Members' Bill for six months. The effect of the Government's amendment is to retain the Bill on the Order Paper so it may be progressed through the House in the unlikely event that the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill is not enacted quickly in the meantime.
The civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill covers several areas including, as was agreed in December, provisions relating to good samaritans and volunteers. The Government has given priority status to the drafting of this Bill because it includes other provisions which must be passed before 31 July. As such, I can offer a guarantee that the Bill, including the provisions relating to good samaritans and volunteers, will pass before the summer recess.
I compliment Deputies on the other side of the House on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. I also compliment the Law Reform Commission which spent considerable time in bringing forward its report and the legislation that flowed from it. As I said, there are several defects in the Private Members' Bill. I do not say that in order to be critical of the Deputy who brought forward the Bill or of the Law Reform Commission.
The Minister knows there are no defects in the Bill. He is playing politics.
I have indicated there are several defects. I do not want to go into them again.
The Minister has raised spurious objections.
No, I have not.
He is the same as his predecessor.
Deputy Timmins must allow the Minister to speak.
I make these points respectfully, although I have been subject to political criticism from the other side of the House. I hope the House will not divide tomorrow night on this important issue.
However, Members opposite will recall that we agreed in December to include provisions relating to good samaritans and volunteers in the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill. Moreover, it is the view of Government, on the advice of the Attorney General, that the Law Reform Commission report and the Bill it produced, which Fine Gael has replicated verbatim, is not complete. As I said in my speech, it is important that we do this properly. The original advice from my Department was that we should oppose the Bill, but I consider it better to prioritise the passing of the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill and adjourn the Fine Gael Bill for six months to ensure we give precedence to the Government Bill, which is in the final stages of drafting. As a result of provisions in the Government's Bill which must be passed before 31 July, namely, those relating to the granting of an intoxicating liquor licence for the national conference centre, the Bill will pass as a matter of priority. Therefore, I can assure Members that the provisions we are including in that Bill in respect of good samaritans will also become law before the summer.
It is encouraging and positive to see Private Members' time being taken up with proposed legislation, albeit legislation devised by the Law Reform Commission. It is fitting that Private Members' time should be used in this way given that we are primarily a legislative body. While motions have their uses from time to time, this is the best use of Private Members' time.
Deputy Timmins observed in his introduction that the legislation he is proposing is not to address any specific problems that have arisen but rather to avoid such problems in the future. It is a stitch in time saves nine approach. That type of anticipatory legislation is to be welcomed. On the other hand, it is also the case that we have time to get this right. We should not stand on ceremony and demand that it is my way or no way. The Law Reform Commission was asked by the Government to look at the considerations that must be borne in mind in the preparation of legislation, and it has done that. As the Minister outlined, there is a specific time pressure in terms of getting the relevant Government legislation, the civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill, onto the Statute Book.
I do not wish to give advice to Deputy Timmins, who is an experienced parliamentarian, but it is an achievement for any Opposition Deputy to have legislation he or she has brought forward, or the principle of that legislation, accepted by the Government.
That is particularly true in the case of this Government.
That is to the Deputy's credit. This has been a collaborative effort between the Government and the Opposition. The public is crying out for that type of co-operation rather than the usual Punch and Judy stuff that goes on. We may pretend we are vicious fighting factions but the truth is far from that. We work best when we work together. In this case there has been a commonality of views on the issues that are arising in the course of the debate.
The amended motion from the Government side urges a postponement of the Second Reading of the Private Members' Bill given that drafting of the Government's civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill is already at an advanced stage. The principle of the Private Members' Bill is already provided for in the Government's legislation. Both Government and Opposition share the same objectives in this matter, namely, to protect from liability those who, acting with good intentions, go to the assistance of those who are injured or ill as a consequence of an accident or emergency, and to ensure that persons who volunteer to provide care, advice or assistance to others for the greater good of society have some clear protection in law.
There is an unfortunate perception among some members of the public that to come to a person's aid in an emergency or to volunteer for work in the community will leave them exposed to being sued in the event that some mishap or injury occurs as a result of their actions, no matter how ordinary or reasonable those actions may be. However, many decades of case law both in this jurisdiction and in comparable common law jurisdictions emphatically contradict that perception. The Law Reform Commission's 2009 report on this subject made the point clearly. In layman's terms, all that is expected in law of the average person is that he or she act reasonably in all circumstances and not behave in a grossly negligent way towards others.
However, because of the perception that one is vulnerable to suit if one participates in a rescue or in voluntary work in the community, there has been a call from voluntary groups and organisations for the Government to provide clarity and certainty in statute as to what is expected from those wishing to participate in various aspects of volunteerism. That said, Ireland has a long and continuing tradition of volunteering and active citizenship both at home and abroad. This Government has long been to the forefront in encouraging greater participation by its citizens in community life. Voluntary activity is central to developing civic-minded, responsible citizens who are committed to making a positive difference in the communities in which they live and work. Active citizenship is not just for other people; it is for each of us individually, as well as for the Government, business, the media, unions and various other organisations, to decide how we can engage with each other and create together a set of shared values for a better society.
The Government's focus over the past number of years, in terms of citizen engagement, has been to put in place measures to encourage greater participation by everyone in the issues that affect their daily lives. The issue of concern being addressed in the proposed legislation is one of ensuring that barriers to civic engagement, whether real or perceived, are minimised to the greatest extent possible. Where there may be fears of litigation against individuals genuinely acting as good citizens, one must alleviate such fears and provide a legal basis on which to protect such individuals who act for the common good.
During the consultation process conducted by the Law Reform Commission on this issue, Ms Mary Davis, who chaired the task force on active citizenship, was invited to share her experiences of volunteering in respect of the concerns of people who wished to get involved in voluntary activity. She outlined how the fear of litigation is a concern and is reflected in the difficulties that many organisations face in obtaining affordable public liability insurance. The extension of the group insurance scheme through the Irish National Community and Voluntary Forum was one of the recommendations of the task force, and this has been implemented through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Significantly, the nationwide consultation and research that was completed by the task force in 2007 found an overwhelming willingness to participate despite the barriers that many experienced which hindered or prevented them from contributing time to community activity. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that capacity-building supports provided to citizens are of increasing importance in enabling them to influence in a positive way the decisions that affect them in their daily lives and which make it easier for them to become involved.
I believe the Government's efforts have helped to increase levels of community involvement and to generate a renewed willingness in Irish society to become involved and to help others. Some of these measures include supporting capacity development among community and voluntary organisations, particularly in the area of training; extending the number of volunteer centres to provide a link between organisations and volunteers throughout the country; completing an audit of community, sports and arts facilities to inform the Government on the provision of facilities and to identify opportunities for getting the best use of recreational facilities nationwide; strengthening local civic participation through legislation on local government reform; encouraging schools to make their premises available for the use of community and other groups after school hours; and developing a syllabus for a full optional exam subject called "Politics and Society" as an extension of the current civic, social and political education subject in the junior cycle, which at present gives students practical experience of active citizenship.
I also should note that as Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, it falls to me to discharge the Government's responsibility to ensure that the voice of children is heard in matters that affect them and to ensure that children try to take a more active part in citizenship. This is achieved through a number of measures, including the Dáil na nÓg process, which will meet in plenary session in Croke Park on Friday of this week and at which, together with other policymakers and civil servants, I will be obliged to face a rigorous cross-examination by representatives of comhairlí na nóg from all over the country over the course of the day and at which various propositions will be voted upon. This provides an opportunity to young people to genuinely influence policymakers on issues that affect them. Moreover, tomorrow I will attend the Young Social Innovators Speak Out forum at Griffith College, at which young people again will have an opportunity to share their experiences of various issues and to put together their views in this regard. Through such measures, the Government gives real effect to its obligations under the United Nations and the national children's strategy and to its intention to ensure that young people become involved in volunteerism and active citizenship.
Ireland is also fortunate to have such a long tradition of neighbourliness and volunteerism, which is not lost on the majority of people in today's fast-changing world. The traditional spirit of meitheal still thrives in this country, albeit in a different form, whereby the strongest communities are those which work together to deal with the many challenges of modern living. This was borne out in a report by the Central Statistics Office last July entitled, Community Involvement and Social Networks in Ireland 2006, which showed that almost two thirds of people regularly take part in voluntary or community activities. The Government's role is to continue to foster those higher values of neighbourliness, of caring and to facilitate citizens within and across communities who are committed to enhancing their local areas or to working to find solutions to local issues together.
Good samaritan legislation is one element in the broader policy area of volunteering and active citizenship that will assist in encouraging greater levels of civic engagement. I acknowledge that while progress has been made regarding many of the recommendations of the taskforce, in respect of policy changes that could enable greater levels of participation by young and old, the global economic downturn will inevitably adversely affect or delay the implementation process as Departments and Government agencies grapple with the difficult task of finding savings to alleviate pressure on the public finances. Ironically, an article published inThe Irish Times in recent months reported a huge increase in the number of highly-skilled people engaging in volunteerism but noted the apparent link between this increase and the unfortunate rise in unemployment. Nevertheless, there is clearly a good base on which to encourage even greater citizen participation through the statutory copperfastening of legal protection from civil liability, within reasonable limits, for good samaritans, volunteers and voluntary organisations.
I thank Deputies Timmins and Charles Flanagan for their work in furthering this agenda. In commending the amended motion to the House, I re-emphasise that the introduction of this Bill by the Deputies was worthwhile because the Minister has made a commitment to the effect that it will find its way onto the Statute Book by the middle of this year. This is on foot both of the work of the Law Reform Commission and the work carried out in 2005 when Deputy Timmins originally introduced the Bill. I commend the amended motion to the House.
I wish to share time with Deputy Charles Flanagan.
First, I compliment Deputy Timmins for introducing this legislation in Private Members' time. I also compliment him on his tenacity in seeking to secure its passage of this legislation. I note that in the less than five years since he last introduced it, no action has been taken by the Government in the meantime. Moreover, I can imagine the response he then received from the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, which I am sure was not terribly positive. I hope the present Minister will do as he promised, which is to ensure that his proposed legislation, namely, the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, will be enacted this year. I had not realised that the national conference centre required a liquor licence and that this needed to be done in the context of its opening. As I had thought it was going to open much earlier, that is, next month, perhaps it will be obliged to operate for some time without the liquor licence. However, were the Minister to deliver on this commitment this year, it would be very welcome. I also commend Deputy Timmins on keeping this matter on the agenda and ensuring that it is being addressed in a serious manner.
As other Members have noted, the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that those who assist and take steps to help others and who do so in good faith will not be held liable for any unforeseen adverse circumstances that might occur as a result of their actions. Citizens who volunteer their services to help others should, I believe, be cherished and protected from any negative unintended consequences of their activities. This should be established and clarified in a formal, certain, statutory fashion as is proposed in the Bill because the last thing one needs is for the present confusion to continue to reign. Where there is doubt, all such doubt should be removed and this should be done once and for all.
The reason is that enormous numbers of people, more than 550,000 adults in Ireland, provide volunteer services. They are the unsung heroes who volunteer their time and skills and who expect nothing in return. They make a significant contribution to the quality of our society. Volunteers and good samaritans provide the cement that binds human relationships, promotes team spirit, develops social networking, gives the impetus to the positive human development and social values and principles which enhance our humanity and underpin our society. These are extraordinarily important matters that in the main are provided by volunteers.
The Government has been active in this respect. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was a strong promoter of volunteerism and active citizenship. If we as a country go down that road, surely we must put a framework in place that does not endanger those who provide their services for free or allow them to become liable due to an act of negligence by those of us in this House. We have a responsibility to ensure that they do not incur a liability when they act in good faith. This is the important issue. Although there may not have been too many instances of such liability being incurred, it is important for us to make that assertion clear in a robust and formal legislative format. How can we invite and persuade people to volunteer and become involved in active citizenship unless we do our bit to ensure that they can do so without incurring any liability?
Deputy Timmins had a particular concern regarding defibrillators. I have a particular concern, in that there has been profligate waste. This issue can be addressed. Every day in every town, supermarkets, grocery stores and bakeries dispose of food that has reached or passed its sell-by date. Every day and night, there are skip-loads of it. Supermarkets must dispose of it in such a fashion that it cannot be used. They will not allow it to go to night shelters or to be used by the homeless or any agency where it might be consumed by humans. They cannot do this because they fear liability, namely, that they could be prosecuted for making available foodstuffs that have passed their sell-by date and, therefore, might cause illness.
Tens of thousands of tonnes of food are lost in this fashion. It must be possible to find a mechanism whereby the sell-by date could be brought forward a little or the issue of liability in this respect could be negotiated. There are many night shelters and food centres that provide meals. The Capuchin Day Centre in my constituency provides more than 400 meals to the homeless daily. The centre finds getting enough money to pay for that food difficult, yet there are skiploads of food that, if made available one or two days earlier, would have been perfectly good. Perhaps that food is perfectly good as it is, since there must be a margin of error. Due to the liability, however, the food cannot be used. This means that supermarkets must ensure there is dye in the food or it is disposed of in such a way as to make it inaccessible for human consumption. I would like this matter to be addressed, particularly in an era in which making ends meet and finding enough food for everyone who is in desperate need of it is proving difficult.
Different countries have different approaches. In some countries, it is impossible for a citizen to provide aid. One must go to the emergency service. In Italy, for example, one must call an ambulance. One cannot approach a person and provide first aid because doing so is against the law. We should get our act together and, instead of putting a negative factor into the equation, make the situation as positive as possible. If someone goes to the aid of another person and does so in good faith and in a reasonable fashion, no liability should be incurred. This basis can be easily established in terms of legislation.
Regarding the situations that can arise, first aid and 999 services are not far away in an urban setting. In rural settings, however, the issue is more complicated. Therefore, there are variations in terms of the isolation in which the good samaritan or volunteer provides his or her services. These situations must be addressed in the legislation. It is a complex matter.
Today's newspaper carries statistics in respect of Childline. That there has been an increase of 200,000 in the number of calls, bringing the total to 800,000, is incredible, as is the fact that 300,000 of those calls have not been responded to because there were not enough volunteers and resources. One can only respond to calls if there are lines. The cost of providing these services is expensive, but this is a matter of great importance.
Volunteerism is considerably important. The figure of 550,000 people involved on a regular basis is colossal. All of us know the football teams that are trained and coached every weekend and the amount of time given to under-six, under-seven, under-eight, under-nine and other under-age teams. All of it is provided by volunteers. In such situations, there are no doctors. If one attends a match at Croke Park, there will be a doctor, as there will at a boxing tournament in the National Stadium. If one attends a concert, the Order of Malta will probably be there, as will the Civil Defence. They all have specific skills. However, every day in Clonshaugh where so much of the training in question takes place, St. Anne's Park in Dublin or the Bogies in St. John Paul Park, hundreds of young lads and so on are in situations in which first aid might be a priority. These issues must also be addressed.
The essence of volunteerism is people who will provide a service free of charge and go to the assistance of someone who, for one reason or another, requires assistance. This is where the action should be and where we should ensure that we give a positive message. We should assert that people acting in that capacity should not incur liability. For this reason, legislation is important.
It may well be the case that liability is unlikely to be regularly incurred despite our litigious society. Nevertheless, let us make strong and robust our message that we, as policy makers, want to encourage good and active citizenship, volunteerism and the concept of the good samaritan and to provide the legislative framework to make that possible.
I am delighted to be associated with this Bill in the name of my colleague, Deputy Timmins. The Bill reflects the twin objectives of reforming a harsh rule of law and recognising and protecting the good work of active citizens.
I am disappointed by the response to the Bill by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his junior colleague. It is clear that the only reason this Private Members' Bill will be voted down tomorrow night is that it does not come from the Government side. I regret having to say this once again during Private Members' time. I listened with intent to the Minister, but there is no reason this Bill could not be granted a Second Stage reading tomorrow evening and brought before the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Having regard to the reservations and technical points made by the Minister and the Minister of State, there is every reason the Bill could be perfected and tailored to suit their needs during a couple of hours of debate. There is no other reason than that it did not have the Fianna Fáil stamp and logo. Once again, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is playing the narrow, partisan, political card in a Dáil debate.
The fig leaf of the ministerial response is underlined by his assertion that Deputy Timmins's Bill will be incorporated in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is No. 14 on the pink list, as announced by the Government in its legislative programme on 19 January. In the foreword to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill it is described as a Bill, "to establish a Courts' funds office to replace the accountant's office and assume other cash management and accounting functions, to make provision for an intoxicating liquor licence for the National Conference Centre and to provide for some miscellaneous matters". Nowhere is there a reference to the Civil Liability (Good Samaritans and Volunteers) Bill. Obviously, the Minister and his junior colleague had to engage in some panic measure today and yesterday and decided that this fig leaf would wash with members of the Opposition. It is a sad day for Parliament when Ministers must continually revert to the narrow partisan political agenda.
The reason for the Bill is obvious. Law students in a tort or criminal law lecture are generally advised, "Do not to rush to help somebody in trouble because if you do you will become liable for their welfare". The message from the Irish State is, "Do not help those in distress. It is more trouble than it is worth". That is a selfish and cynical message, particularly against the background of what the former Leader of the Government, Deputy Bertie Ahern, has prided himself on doing in the name of active citizenship. The cynical message of "Mind your own business, move on, turn the other cheek, turn the other eye" does not foster a sense of community, generosity, kindness or good neighbourliness. The State appears to suggest that citizens should look after themselves, step over people injured on the pavement, not rush to the aid of someone who has collapsed, turn the other cheek, look the other way and move on. I'm all right Jack.
Fine Gael saw the need for legal reform some time ago and Deputy Timmins, to whom great credit is due, introduced a Private Members' Bill in 2005. The Fianna Fáil-led Government, with typical intransigence, shot the Bill down. However, the Bill struck a chord with a significant number of people. The Law Reform Commission took up the baton and subsequently published a consultation document, followed by a full report with recommendations. The report, by and large, reflects the concerns of Deputy Timmins and of Fine Gael. As is customary, the Law Reform Commission included a draft Bill with its report, which is similar to Deputy Timmins's Private Members' Bill. There is ample evidence that the approach of Fine Gael and Deputy Timmins makes good sense. However, for reasons I have outlined and which, I regret, have become the hallmark of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Government drags its heels and refuses to take action. The Fine Gael Private Members' Bill was introduced in 2005 but there was no response from the Government in 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009. Now, in 2010, hey presto, we are informed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the measure will be included in the provision for an intoxicating liquor licence for the National Conference Centre. It is most regrettable that progress on this matter ground to a halt, prompting Deputy Timmins to push reform in the Bill before the House tonight.
In 2007, two years after Fine Gael's Good Samaritan Bill was defeated by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, set up a task force on active citizenship. He claimed he was concerned that active citizenship had gone into decline, something I heard echoed by the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and his Minister earlier this evening. Is it any wonder that so-called active citizens are getting thin on the ground when helping a person in medical distress could land one in court, liable for considerable damages and in serious trouble? Many people have become afraid to reach out to help others. Simply administrating first aid could leave one responsible for the subsequent welfare of the person being helped. These fears, undoubtedly, led to the reduction in civic mindedness referred to by Deputy Ahern in his active citizens endeavour. The fear of consequential injury or illness militated against people performing good samaritan acts.
At the same time there was a rise in sudden cardiac death syndrome, with a large number of people, many of them young people, dying each year. There was, consequently, a need for defibrillators, as outlined by Deputy Timmins. Voluntary campaigns throughout the country have seen the provision of defibrillators, particularly in sporting clubs. We even have one in the visitors' waiting room in Leinster House. These days, most community and voluntary groups have a defibrillator at hand. This is a wonderful and positive development.
There is still a missing piece of the jigsaw, and this was addressed by Deputy Timmins. Civil liability law needs to be reformed to ensure that good samaritans and those rushing to the aid of someone in need are not punished for their good works. Defibrillators have become commonplace because they are a vital tool in the saving of lives. A rapid response is crucial in the event of cardiac arrest. The Law Reform Commission notes, in its report, that when a person who has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest is defibrillated within five minutes his chance of survival is approximately 50%, and potentially higher in a younger patient. When defibrillation is delayed for ten minutes or more, there is virtually no chance of survival without cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR, while the chance of survival increases to between 10% and 20% if CPR is used. Therefore, a speedy and effective response is required if the chances of survival are to be increased. Training is essential for those who operate defibrillators and now almost every voluntary group has a person trained in their use.
A 2006 report by the national task force on sudden cardiac death syndrome, which the Law Reform Commission referenced, noted that Ireland has no good samaritan law to protect members of the public who go to the aid of another person. This legal difficulty has been noted time and time again. It is regrettable that the Government failed to act, in spite of the Private Members' initiative in 2005. The Law Reform Commission makes a number of recommendations which, by and large, reflect the provisions of the Fine Gael Bill before the House. It notes that parliaments in Australia, Canada and in many states of the United States recognise the importance of fostering civic mindedness by protecting good samaritans from civil liability.
Playing the narrow political card does this House no service. I know, from speaking to Fianna Fáil backbenchers, that they support this legislation and from speaking to Members in every party I know there is no opposition to this legislation, except for the fact that it does not contain the Fianna Fáil Party logo. I hope colleagues on the opposite benches will support the concept of volunteerism as championed in words by former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Let us follow up in deeds. One positive deed we can undertake is to pass into law Deputy Timmins's legislation at the earliest opportunity and four years after it was unnecessarily and without justification shot down by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.