The Deputy is calmer in his post-break intervention than he was beforehand. We were making very considerable progress on a consensual basis. I always try, in as far as is practicable, to be open and amenable to Opposition amendments. I have never worked on the basis that this side of the House has all knowledge and wisdom. In that context, I was taken aback by some of the things the Deputy said in advocating his amendments on this issue because we had made progress on 40 amendments prior to that.
I have a few general points to make. The Deputy's tone belies the fact that at least three times he voted against whistleblower legislation in the last Administration. I introduced such legislation twice and Deputy Rabbitte also introduced it. This is important. The Deputy made two net points and I tried my best to address each point that was made on Committee Stage, as I said I would, and I did not vote them down on the basis that I would come back to the Deputy and try to deal with them. On the issue of "if" the Ombudsman Commission is prescribed, I gave a firm commitment that it would be prescribed. I have come back now with a clear indication that this will happen. Now the Deputy has moved his focus away from the "if" to a different section of the Bill, namely, section 7, which deals with the general powers of prescription. Of course, the Minister "may" by order, prescribe such people or bodies as the appropriate recipients. This is a general provision for all time and does not only relate to An Garda Síochána. It relates to everybody so it is necessary to have that general prescription. Any order made by a Minister under that section has to be laid before the House and can be annulled by the House, if Members so determine. It remains in the command of the House to ensure that those prescribed to be the recipients are both appropriate and competent. I have said that I want the regime that applies to An Garda Síochána to be the general regime. Short of challenging my bona fides on this, I am giving the Deputy a commitment that GSOC is the organisation that will be prescribed as the appropriate body to receive disclosures of this nature.
On the second point, we had a long presentation of the facts before the break on the issue of "may". I have indicated that "may" is used because GSOC is an independent organisation. It is a statutory, independent body which, only yesterday, the Deputy was very robust in defending. Today, he seems to be saying that he has no confidence in the same body. He has no confidence in GSOC to do what is right. The Deputy cannot have it both ways.
Let us examine what we are amending here, namely, section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act of 2005, an Act which was introduced by Deputy Fleming's party. It gave that same concession throughout. It is a "may" rather than a "shall" provision. Section 102, subsection (4) reads as follows:
The Ombudsman Commission may, if it appears to it desirable in the public interest to do so and without receiving a complaint, investigate any matter that appears to indicate that a member of the Garda Síochána may have—
(a) committed an offence, or
(b) behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings
That is the Act as it currently stands. Does the Deputy want to go back and alter every provision of that Act, which his party authored and supported in Government? Perhaps the Deputy has had a change of heart on these matters. When I was my party's justice spokesperson a very long time ago, in the early part of the 2000s, I introduced both a Garda ombudsman Bill and a Garda authority Bill, both of which were completely rejected, resisted and defeated by Fianna Fáil in Government at that stage. Let us bring some element of reality to bear on this. It is both ground breaking and important to have overarching whistleblower legislation. The fixed view for a decade of previous Administrations prior to this was that we should do this in a piecemeal way. I am saying now that we need to have overarching legislation and I am delighted that An Garda Síochána will be incorporated into the mainstream of this.
The Deputy's final point, made in a contrarian way, was that somehow this Government does not sign off on legislation that has been passed. Deputy Fleming tabled a parliamentary question to that effect and I replied that there were two Acts for which my Department is responsible whose enactment has been delayed. One is the Construction Contracts Act and I explained that we are currently working with the industry stakeholders to finalise the modality of it. As I explained in my reply last week, we have just distributed the latest guidelines on that. Of course, none of that is relevant to Deputy Fleming. There is legislation which has not been enacted going back a long way. For example, a referendum was passed to broaden the franchise for votes in the Seanad decades ago but legislation has never been enacted.
The other Act which is relevant is the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2013. I also explained why that was not immediately enacted. Within five days of the President signing that particular Bill, I wrote to the leader of Deputy Fleming's party to explain that I was not going to commence the legislation until July because I wanted to give time to the Independent Members to prepare for the quite onerous accounting mechanisms that would apply, at their request. I heard diddly squat back from them, in complaint about that, by the way. Let us not try to cheapen what is a very important and good debate with partisan political points which are distracting from the bones of what we want to do.
I believe that the two issues that the Deputy poses are well and properly met. First, I am giving a commitment that GSOC will be the recipient body that will be prescribed by me. That is the way it is going to be.
I have already indicated that I want to commence the legislation as quickly as possible following enactment. Obviously, technical drafting will be required when both Houses have passed the Bill. It was already passed by the Seanad but I will need to return to the latter in order to have it accept the amendments we have passed in this House. It would be my desire that all matters relating to the legislation will be done and dusted during the current session, hopefully before the end of this month. I would like to move as quickly as possible to bring it into force thereafter. As I informed Deputy McDonald, a communication exercise will be required as a result of the fact that what we are dealing with here is new and ground-breaking. Work is under way with IBEC and ICTU in preparing guidelines - in simple, readable language - for workers and employers in order that the provisions of the legislation can be implemented in an efficient, effective and user-friendly way and as expeditiously as possible.