I thank Deputy Timmins for tabling the Bill. I am sure he has already stated that we are all suffering from a littledéjà vu as this is the second time the Bill has been brought before the House. On the first occasion, the Minister who dealt with it was Michael McDowell who was treated with complete derision. I read the transcript of that debate and the comments of the former Minister were typical of the man in so far as he dismissed with a degree of arrogance any notion that people engaged in providing assistance to those in distress would need any form of protection. At the time, we made a case, which I continue to make, for such protection with regard to volunteerism or stopping to assist someone in distress from a car accident, a heart attack or some such misadventure, which are what first comes to mind when one thinks about it, but it is not about such situations only.
Recently, an individual was stabbed to death after going to the assistance of his neighbours during a row. I am not certain whether this good Samaritan legislation would have been any help to the individual involved but this event was not as unique or as unusual as we may imagine. In Ireland, our first instinct is to assist someone in a time of need. That time of need may very well involve domestic violence, a parent being over-exuberant in chastising a child, a car crash, a heart attack or any such issue.
Now that the recession has hit so badly and people have far more time on their hands we will probably return to the type of community we had in the past. That was a very giving community which was only too willing to go to the assistance of people who found themselves in distress. However, people in our society have become extraordinarily well-versed in what are their rights and whether they have a right to sue in the event of someone not being careful enough in rendering assistance. We need to ensure those rendering assistance are protected from litigation when all they wished to do was give assistance to someone in his or her hour of need.
To contribute to the debate I did some research, and the natural situations that spring to mind involve someone who has had a heart attack or who has been involved in an accident. However, these are not the only situations involved. I came across information on a group of people who stood back while someone was being mugged and gave no assistance; they did not even telephone the Garda Síochána. This also comes under the legislation. We need to protect a person who intervenes in such a situation. We need the State to acknowledge that a person gave assistance in a good Samaritan fashion and that he or she is covered and cannot be sued because of it.
People get involved in areas they should not. In Italy, all a person is expected to do is to call an ambulance or the police; one is not expected to get involved no matter what the circumstances. That is not a bad policy. People jump in to give medical assistance and no doubt they feel they have the competence to assist people. I would not do so; I would not feel competent enough to do so. However, some people have the capacity to help people in the case of accident or serious illness, such as care workers, off-duty nurses or doctors. Assistance is provided regularly as fortunately in this county we intervene and come to people's assistance. However, it is only a matter of time before a person decides he or she would have been better off if that person had not intervened and sues him or her. Word spreads very quickly and we need to protect people.
The former Taoiseach made a huge play of encouraging people to become volunteers. The entire country was going to volunteer for something or other under his plan. Yet there was no protection in place for those who volunteer. We all know of cases where people in a volunteer capacity in communities, be it through a meals on wheels service or other community association, have lost their position in the voluntary organisation and have been reprimanded for going beyond what was expected of them as a volunteer, albeit that no criteria have been set down as to what that is.
We might believe that a person would never get sued for trying to help someone, but we cannot say that because people have been sued in the most peculiar fashion. Once a person is sued, one can forget about anyone coming to a person's assistance if anything should happen. The legislation is good but it might need tweaking. Deputy Timmins is capable of amending the Bill. On the previous occasion we dealt with this legislation he was very open about it. As the legislation is not major that should be easy enough to do. However, we should put in place a mechanism to ensure that on the one hand people will not be afraid, for fear of being sued, to intervene where a person needs help, and on the other hand if we are to encourage people to give assistance we must ensure that protections are in place. It is not just about accidents and ill health, it is about child abuse, domestic violence and so on. We need to ensure people who intervene with the best of intentions are protected.
In commending Deputy Timmins on bringing forward his Bill again I am pleased the Minister now dealing with it is not as abrasive as the previous Minister who dealt with it. I hope the Government will do as promised and bring forward a Bill. When Deputy Rabbitte introduced the Whistleblowers Protection Bill a number of years ago it was accepted by the Government. Given what has transpired since, if we ever needed legislation it is that piece of legislation. Somehow, it got sucked in by the Government. It was referred to the select committee but it never was to see the light of day again. I hope that will not happen in this case. When the concept of the legislation is taken on board by the Government, I hope it will do something about it rather than it being a mechanism for stymieing a piece of legislation. That does not help the Opposition. Equally, those of us who have ideas about legislation are reluctant to bring them forward because if it is good enough the Government will not object to it but the Bill will then vanish. I hope that will not happen in this instance. We need to put protections in place on the basis that there are well-intentioned people who will come to people's aid. We should encourage that type of action and not put up barriers to it. It is not rocket science. It would not cost a fortune but it would ensure the State would give a degree of protection to people who like to participate.