General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020: Discussion (Resumed)

This part of the meeting has been convened in the context of the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny on the online safety and media regulation Bill, and the integration of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 with that Bill. From the broadcasting and media division of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, joining us remotely from committee room 3 on Microsoft Teams, I welcome Ms Tríona Quill, principal officer, and her colleague, Mr. Ciarán Shanley, senior policy analyst.

I ask colleagues and guests to bear with me as I go through some housekeeping matters for the benefit of the witnesses who have joined us for this part of the meeting. The format of the meeting is such that I will invite the officials attending on the behalf of the Department to make their opening statement, followed by questions from members of the committee. As they are probably aware, the committee may publish the opening statement on its website following the meeting. Before I invite our guests to deliver their opening statement, which will be limited to three minutes, I advise them of the following in respect of parliamentary privilege.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If, therefore, their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of any identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue. As our guests are attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, they should note there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a physically present witness.

I invite Ms Quill to make her opening statement on behalf of the Department.

Ms Tríona Quill

I thank the committee for the invitation to participate in this meeting and for its work thus far in conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the online safety and media regulation Bill. I hope today's engagement will be of further assistance.

On 18 May, the Government decided to integrate the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 into the proposed online safety and media regulation Bill, with the addition of three further heads. I apologise for the delay in communicating the intention of the Government in this regard and for any interruption it may have caused to the work of the committee. The heads of the 2019 Bill were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the relevant Oireachtas joint committee in 2017 and its report was laid before the Oireachtas on 8 March 2018.

It is important to note that the integration of the Bills will entail no substantial policy changes regarding the provisions of the 2019 Bill. The majority of the substantive provisions of the 2019 Bill, that is, sections 4 to 10, inclusive, will simply be folded into the online safety and media regulation Bill. Sections 1, 2 and 11 will not be carried over, as these are technical provisions that already exist in the online safety and media regulation Bill.

The policy intentions behind section 3 will be carried over through the draft section based on head 40 of the general scheme of the online safety and media regulation Bill, given that both concern industry levies. These policy intentions are, first, that the broadcasting regulation functions of the media commission may be part-funded from TV licence moneys and, second, that all community broadcasters will be completely exempt from the industry levy. This is the only significant difference from the 2019 Bill, which had instead provided that community broadcasters would be exempt from paying the industry levy only if they fell below an income threshold of €250,000.

Two of the additional heads were drafted to be Committee Stage amendments to the 2019 Bill in order to remove the requirement for RTÉ to operate Aertel, which is outdated, and to remove the hourly limits for advertising minutage on commercial radio stations while retaining an overall limit of 15% of daily broadcasting time.

This was called for by the independent commercial sector and will offer greater flexibility. The third head relates to the prominence of public service content. This head transposes one of the optional provisions of the revised audiovisual media services directive, AVMSD, namely Article 7A. It is intended to ensure that public service content and channels are easily findable and discoverable for Irish audiences as technology changes. To conclude, I reiterate my hope that today’s meeting will assist in the committee’s scrutiny. I look forward to answering its questions.

I thank Ms Quill. I will go to our witnesses. Does Mr. Shanley have a statement to make?

Mr. Ciarán Shanley

I have nothing to add to Ms Quill’s statement.

Thank you. We will go to our members next. Deputy Munster has three minutes.

In 2019, the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, indicated that he would be putting the licence fee out to tender. Can Ms Quill explain what became of that proposal? Has it made it into the Bill? Is it now completely off the table?

Ms Tríona Quill

What happened to that proposal was the establishment of the Future of Media Commission. It was considered that because the commission would be looking at funding models for broadcasting going forward, it did not make sense at this stage to make provision for a specific channel or route to go. It is therefore not included in this Bill.

We had correspondence from the Minister about the Bill at the earlier part of our meeting. It said that the Bill would hopefully be published by the end of July. Can Ms Quill confirm if it is due to be published by the end of July?

Ms Tríona Quill

It is on the Government's priority legislation list for this session, which ends in July. Therefore, that is the Government's intention at present.

I wonder how this will be possible if the committee has not published a report on its prelegislative scrutiny. What is the timeline for the report?

Ms Tríona Quill

What is the timeline for the report of the committee?

Yes. If the Minister now says that the Bill will be published towards the end of July, and if the committee has not published a report on its prelegislative scrutiny by then, will we have a situation where prelegislative scrutiny is completely pointless, if the Minister and the Government are going to publish the Bill without taking the committee's views into account?

Ms Tríona Quill

The Deputy will appreciate that the publication of the Bill is a political decision. As a general point, it is worth noting that as was the case with the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019, changes can also be made on Committee Stage, when it can be decided to add in legislative provisions. However, I cannot comment on the specific issue that the Deputy has raised. It is a matter for the Minister.

It might be no harm for the committee to get confirmation from the Minister that our report on our prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill will be taken into consideration before the Bill is published. Otherwise, this whole exercise will be a total waste of time.

I have a final question. Did the Department liaise with stakeholders and interest groups around the changes that are being made to the Bill itself? Can Ms Quill comment on that?

Ms Tríona Quill

We did. There are relatively few changes to the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill in terms of what we are bringing into the online safety and media regulation Bill. One change relates to community broadcasters. We were in touch with Craol, the representative group, about that. It is an improvement for that sector. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill provided that there would be no levy charged on community broadcasters with an income below €250,000, but we are getting rid of this threshold and making it an absolute point that there will be no levy for community broadcasters. Craol was happy with that. It is also worth noting that some of the provisions around levies were already included in the online safety and media regulation Bill. We are bringing in provisions to provide that the regulator can be part-funded by TV licence fees or, indeed, by Exchequer funding.

I support the idea of a letter to the Minister. We do not want to make the weeks of witnesses coming in here to give their statements, and our scrutiny, futile. It would make no sense. We will do that and it is a good suggestion. Moving on, I call Senator Cassells.

The points that have just been raised by Deputy Munster and the Chair go to the heart of what we have been doing in recent months. If there is no correlation with the timelines, I propose that we might as well stop today and quit because it makes a mockery of what we have doing in terms of the breadth and depth of what has been teased out over recent months. I refer to the impact of the testimony we have garnered from the social media and tech giants, and from the children's rapporteurs who have touched on deficiencies and the need to address areas such as the definitions of online harm, online content, financial content and financial harm. There is another aspect to this as well. Is there a timeline for the publication of the report of the Future of Media Commission report, representatives of which we have just had on the line? We will need to reflect on the content of that report and the recommendations in it. We need synergy between our prelegislative scrutiny, the work of the Department and the work of the Future of Media Commission. Getting that clarified is a huge part of what needs to be done.

Ms Tríona Quill

Is there a question there?

Without being disingenuous, the question is in the statement. I am trying to ascertain how the work of this committee is going to be respected. The key point is respect for the committee's work, which has been quite arduous and intensive over a number of hours. We need to make sure the Department and this committee work together. When the report of the Future of Media Commission is published, it will have huge ramifications for everyone concerned.

Ms Tríona Quill

There are infringement proceedings under way at present from the European Commission in relation to the transposition of the AVMSD, which the online safety and media regulation Bill will transpose. For that reason, and in order to address that issue, the Government is aware of the urgency of getting the legislation enacted as soon as possible. The Department has been working closely with the Future of Media Commission secretariat in relation to supporting the work of the commission. There have been close synergies there. As I mentioned when I was-----

Not to cut across Ms Quill, but we have just been hearing from the chairman of the body and several of its members. They would basically tell us nothing. They said that they do not want to divulge anything. How close is the commission's report to being finalised? Has it given the Department a draft copy of its work to be able to look at it?

Ms Tríona Quill

I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that.

That angers me greatly in terms of respect for this committee and the significance of what this committee has been doing. We have listened to the voices of the public and to practitioners across a whole range of areas. What is the relevance of that work when it comes to dealing with this legislation?

Ms Tríona Quill

When I was with the committee previously, I mentioned it is likely that additional legislation will be needed to implement the work of the Future of Media Commission because its report will be extensive and thorough.

It will take time to put that into legislation. A more likely scenario is there will be an additional Bill to address the many issues the Future of Media Commission will bring forward. While the online safety and media regulation Bill amends the Broadcasting Act, it only deals with some elements of that Act. There are many areas not addressed in the online safety and media regulation Bill that will need to be considered separately. The work of the Future of Media Commission will set the template for that.

What is the anticipated timeline we are looking at?

Ms Tríona Quill

In terms of this legislation?

Ms Tríona Quill

It is included in the Government’s priority list for publication in July. Our hope is that it would be enacted by the end of the year to allow for the establishment of the media commission at an early date.

Ms Quill is indicating it will be introduced before the summer recess and move forward in the autumn period.

Ms Tríona Quill

Its publication before the summer recess is what is required where a Bill is included on the Government’s propriety legislation list.

I thank the Chair.

Is Senator Carrigy online? Perhaps not as he was not earlier. If he is, he might indicate or I can bring him in later. Is Deputy Mattie McGrath online? I call Senator Malcolm Byrne.

I thank Ms Quill and Mr. Shanley for their work on this to date. They can understand the frustration of my colleagues. I would worry if this Bill were to come before the Oireachtas before we have concluded our prelegislative scrutiny. Many of the key issues we are debating will end up being debated on the floor of the Dáil and Seanad. There are still a number of fundamental issues we have to resolve. As Senator Cassells said, part of what is crucial for us is the question of the timetable. I appreciate the point Ms Quill made about the urgency with respect to infringement proceedings. It begs the question, and I am not saying I am in favour of this, of whether there should have been two items of legislation, one to transpose the directive and a broader item of legislation. We are setting up a new regulatory agency, which has the potential to be one of the most powerful regulatory agencies in the State. I have no doubt that after we do it, we will be constantly introducing amending legislation as technology develops and as the digital services Act and the digital markets Act at EU level are considered. It is important to have a discussion on that and on the timeframe. I ask Ms Quill to bring that back to the Minister.

Some of the key questions in a number of the big debates on the directive are on the content levy. The witnesses have been tuned into the debates we have had. Has the Department formed a view based on our discussions on the Bill that will be presented to us? Where will the content levy feature as part of that? What kind of model may be proposed in the legislation?

A second aspect is the big element with respect to the establishment of the media commission. We have had a debate on the appointment of an online safety commissioner. As the witnesses will be aware, a number of us have suggested the appointment of an online safety commissioner on a non-statutory basis to get the office up and running. We are all concerned about addressing the online harm issues. What is the view of the Department in that regard? The officials will have listened to our discussions to date. If the Department is proposing to bring forward a Bill, they will be aware of some of the concerns and issues that we as a committee have not even settled. For instance, has a view been formed on the establishment of an individual complaints mechanism and on what threshold will be used in those circumstances? If it is proposed to bring forward a Bill when we as a committee have not even formulated the recommendations we will make, can Ms Quill outline what is likely to appear in that Bill with regard to those issues?

Ms Tríona Quill

I thank the Senator for those questions. There is very little in the online safety and media regulation Bill that is not required to implement the AVMSD. In order to implement it, it could not be done through the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland because it does not have the statutory powers regarding on-demand services and online safety aspects. We needed to make statutory provision for a regulator with wider powers in that regard.

The other point to note is the AVMSD is quite high level in some of its provisions and they need to be teased out in more detail. I entirely appreciate the points the Senator made but we attempted, insofar as it was possible, to keep the online safety and media regulation Bill focused on the implementation of the directive. That is why we did not address other areas of the Broadcasting Act that are now being considered by the Future of Media Commission. Nevertheless, quite a range of issues are addressed in the Bill.

Regarding the model and getting the office up and running, we have prepared a business case. We have been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and have strongly asserted to it not only that we believe the commission needs substantial resources but also that we would like to get recruitment going before the commission is formally established so that it has a chance to hit the ground running once it receives formal establishment. Those discussions are still ongoing.

In terms of a content levy, there is provision in the Bill for a content production levy but it is recognised that potential impacts from introducing a levy for citizens and for others need to be teased out. The levy will not be commenced until the commission has been established, has considered and researched the issues involved and has brought forward the detailed provisions in a levy order.

Can Ms Quill clarify why that research cannot be done? Why must we wait until the commission is established before that research can be carried out?

Ms Tríona Quill

The media commission is the body that will be implementing the levy. As an independent regulator it is appropriate it has a role in teasing out all the impacts involved and ensuring there are no unintended side effects.

I appreciate the commission will have a role in its implementation but I do not see any reason the research could not be done. We have heard considerable evidence and some of it is competing. Other countries have made a decision. I do not accept the argument that we have to wait until the media commission is established before a content levy can be established. I appreciate there are political decisions about the form of levy and all of that, but I am not clear on why we have to wait for the commission to be established. Why can we not have the research carried out, design the model and so on and put it in place? The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has designed schemes previously. I am not clear as to the rationale.

Ms Tríona Quill

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland does not have the authority to bring in a levy. There has to be a statutory basis for it. It cannot at this stage bring forward a levy.

I appreciate that but Ms Quill's point on the research was that the commission would need to be established. I accept there has to be a statutory basis for it to come in but we can have all the research and everything done so that almost on day one the button can be pressed.

Ms Tríona Quill

Considerable work has been done by some of the stakeholders and on foot of commissioning the Indecon report, but that research was very much focused on the interests and concerns of the independent audiovisual sector. This work is valid and important, but it considers these matters only from that perspective.

There are also impacts for citizens. There are risks because it is not possible to have a levy focused only on international entities that target Ireland. RTÉ and Virgin Media Ireland would also have to be targeted by the levy. There are potential downsides depending on how the levy is structured and introduced. It is important that the media commission, which will have responsibility for implementing the levy, will have an opportunity to review that and to be satisfied that, in the model that is brought forward, all of those impacts are considered and teased through.

I do not accept this. Other member states have faced the same challenge and have introduced different models. We have been asking what the most effective content levying model is. I cannot figure out why we are under pressure to get something done quickly in one area, yet in another area we have to wait until the commission is set up. I appreciate that but this is an issue that we may need to raise with the Minister. I am not happy that we have to wait until the commission is set up before we make a decision on this issue.

I imagine that Senator Byrne's thoughts and feelings would be reflected by most members of the committee.

Coming into this meeting, I thought it would be a continuation of the committee's engagement on the prelegislative scrutiny of the online safety and media regulation Bill. Will Ms Quill and Mr. Shanley clarify what has changed for this committee with regard to our work? Have the goalposts moved for what the Department is doing compared with the public consultations with a number of key stakeholders which we have been engaged in over recent months?

The aim of the establishment of the Future of Media Commission was to produce a report to submit to the Government in July as mandated. It was expected that the Government would publish this report once it had an opportunity to consider it. Where will that sit and will this committee get an opportunity to review that?

Ms Tríona Quill

As I said, the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill was a relatively small Bill. It primarily related to the levy function of the BAI. We are integrating that into the online safety Bill. There are no substantive changes involved. The only real one is to make things a little easier for community broadcasters with regard to the levy. The other provisions of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill that were thoroughly teased out through stakeholder consultation and separate prelegislative scrutiny are integrated into the online safety and media regulation Bill. I would not say that the work for the committee has been substantially altered by the integration of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill.

Has this been communicated to the Future of Media Commission?

Ms Tríona Quill

Yes.

Was that done before the Oireachtas committee was informed of this change?

Ms Tríona Quill

I cannot remember the precise date but I have engaged with the Future of Media Commission and the committee secretariat to keep them apprised of the integration of the Bills, so they are aware of this.

I would certainly write to the Minister regarding the comments from members of this committee. The lack of consultation and the fact that we are being presented with this detail in public session is disappointing.

I concur with Deputy Dillon's comments.

I agree with Deputy Dillon and Senator Cassells. There were three head changes beforehand which we were not made aware of by the Minister. She apologised for the disruption to the committee. I would say that every member was at least mildly embarrassed.

I am glad that community radio stations will be exempt from the levy. I am concerned about medium-sized radio stations such as in Wexford. They have possibly between 30 and 35 people employed. The witnesses say that the turnover would have to be €250,000. With average of €700 a week, wages alone would cost €100,000, without including insurance, the building and so on, so €250,000 is low. There are 20 to 40 people in those areas. What way will the levy work? How did the Department come to the figure of €250,000? Is that turnover or what is it? What is the difference between hourly limits and the overall limit of 15%? Why was that brought in?

Ms Tríona Quill

The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill previously provided an exemption from the levy for community broadcasters but only if their income and turnover was below €250,000. There is now no threshold. We are just saying that all community broadcasters will be exempt from the levy.

On the 15% limit, it was previously the case that the commercial radio sector could have no more than ten minutes of advertising in an hour and no more than 15% of broadcasting time in any 24-hour period could be used for advertising. We are keeping the overall limit and saying that advertising cannot be more than 15% of total broadcasting time, but we are abolishing the hourly limit. That provides more flexibility to broadcasters so that if something is on which attracts a big audience, they have more leeway to shore up their revenue through advertising. That echoes some additional flexibility for advertising on television that the AVMSD introduces. That is being transposed by the online safety and media regulation Bill.

In addition to the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill provisions, two of the three additional heads that were integrated were intended to be integrated on Committee Stage. One relates to abolishing the requirement for RTÉ to continue to maintain a teletext service, Aertel. The second is about the independent radio sector's advertising limits. The final one is to introduce a provision regarding the prominence of public service media. This was an option under Article 7 of the AVMSD. We listened to the views brought forward by the European regulators group, RTÉ and TG4, and we propose to include a provision in the online safety and media regulation Bill related to that, given the importance of public service media in an increasingly fragmented market and rapid technological changes that mean that media content on those stations that was previously easily found might not be so easy to find in future.

How did the Department reach the figure of €250,000? As I said, most smaller radio stations have 30 to 40 people working at them. That seems to be low.

Ms Tríona Quill

The Deputy is absolutely right. The vast majority of community stations are below the €250,000 limit but when the various sources of revenue, including various grants and community employment and so on, of a couple of stations were added up, their income exceeded €250,000 so they would not have been exempt from the levy. The €250,000 threshold was initially put forward in the hope that it would exempt all community broadcasters but then it was found that it might not exempt a couple of them, so we are now proposing that there will not be a threshold.

I thank Ms Quill and Mr. Shanley. I was going to ask them about the early limits. The changes are news to me. Reference was made to the AVMSD changes in terms of television advertising. Are changes in the minutes for television coming down the track or did I pick that up wrong?

Ms Tríona Quill

The online safety and media regulation Bill reflects provisions that are in the AVMSD, so it gives a bit more flexibility in terms of how advertising is put in place. It does not change the overall limits but it establishes a greater level of flexibility in that regard.

I understand that radio broadcasters are competing against Spotify and everything else and that they should have some flexibility. I would be a little cautious on this issue. It is a very American approach to drive down the size of the television hour and the amount of advertising allowed within that hour. A quick look at the commissioning site of TG4 informed me that it commissions for 50-minute shows. I would be cautious about opening the door in that regard. Under these rules, would a radio station be allowed to air almost a full hour of advertisements, which would not make sense from their perspective? On paper, would they be allowed basically the full hour of advertisements at prime time or during a match?

Ms Tríona Quill

An independent radio station would be of the view that nobody would listen to an excessive amount of advertising. The intention will not be to have endless advertising; it is to give a little more flexibility to radio stations such that they are not absolutely held in each hour to the ten-minute limit. It recognises the commercial-----

Could a station air 30 minutes of advertising in an hour?

Ms Tríona Quill

I do not foresee anything of that kind because no one would listen to 30 minutes of advertising.

Ms Tríona Quill

The stations will listen to their audiences. It is just to recognise some of the pressure they are under. We are trying to be fair to radio as well as television in terms of the sort of flexibilities that are offered.

I make the point again that their competitors are Spotify and such platforms. I appreciate from where Ms Quill is coming on the 15%.

On the issue of findability, is it difficult to legislate for that in order to ensure public service broadcasters have that prominence? What will that findability look like when I turn on Apple TV, a Samsung television or a Sky box?

Ms Tríona Quill

The provisions in the legislation will provide guidance to the media commission in terms of making detailed rules in this regard. Some of the detail is not set out in the legislation but there are ways of doing it. It might relate to the search functionality or it might be an allocating requirement for an icon relating to public service media on a home page or something of that kind. It is about recognising that people now search more by voice than was previously the case. The detail of it will be set out by the media commission in rules that can be amended to reflect changing technology over time, but it is about recognising that the days of the electronic programme guide that just had all of the channels listed are drawing to a close. We have tried to have similar provisions to those being pursued by other EU member states.

I thank Ms Quill and Mr. Shanley for being here today to inform the committee. The information we got at the outset was quite shocking. I refer to the Minister's decision, or hope, to bring forward this legislation before the committee has completed its prelegislative scrutiny work. That makes absolutely no sense to me. I have to concur with Senator Cassells that we might as well not have done the work we have been carrying out for the past five or six months. Members have committed to hours upon hours of work each week, as have the witnesses coming before the committee to give their views on this very important legislation. I say that not to reprimand the officials, but perhaps they can carry the message back to the Minister and the Government. The decision reflects very poorly in terms of the regard of the Minister and the Government for this committee and the work we have been doing for several months.

I am also mindful of the fact that the committee became aware on 18 May that elements of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 are to be integrated into the proposed online safety and media regulation Bill. Today is 16 June, only four weeks later, and we are now hearing that this legislation will be brought before the Houses in July, before prelegislative scrutiny is complete and likely before the Future of Media Commission completes its work. Can Ms Quill throw any light on why the Minister did not seek a waiver? We all appreciate there is an urgency in terms of infringement proceedings. We discussed that as a committee at the beginning of the process, as Deputy Munster will remember because she was the one to say it was important that we did this work correctly, robustly and transparently rather than just rush it through for the sake of saving a couple of weeks. We need to finish it correctly and properly.

Does Ms Quill have any idea why the Minister did not seek a waiver of prelegislative scrutiny by the committee on the Bill if it was her ambition to push it through in July? I note Ms Quill eloquently described the relationship between the Department and the Future of Media Commission in terms of discussions, close contact and work. Has the Department had a similar relationship with this committee? If it had, I do not think the revelation today would have been so surprising for the committee. I would have assumed that as part of the work of the Department, it would have been liaising with the secretariat of this committee, just as it does with the Future of Media Commission. If that were the case, members of the committee would have been much more aware that this was the intention of the Minister. Two questions arise in this context. Why did the Minister not seek the waiver of prelegislative scrutiny, as she could have done through the Business Committee? Will Ms Quill comment on the working relationship of the Department with the secretariat of this committee in terms of liaising with it, given that the Department obviously has a very good and active relationship with the Future of Media Commission

Ms Tríona Quill

I thank the Chairman. The heads of the Bill were first brought forward in January 2020. Through a series of circumstances, including the general election, the Government formation talks, the transfer of functions to a new Department and the establishment of the new committees following the formation of the Government, the committee was not established until October. The Minister brought the additional heads of Bill to the Government in December 2020. At that stage, prelegislative scrutiny was sought in recognition of the importance of some of the issues arising in the Bill.

That is the why prelegislative scrutiny was sought, namely, to recognise that these are key issues. We appreciate there is much in the Bill for the committee to examine but, at the risk of repeating myself, infringement proceedings are under way as well. Therefore, there are tensions between a few different objectives.

Regarding the integration of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, it was not considered by the Government until 18 May. I am not sure what we should have said to the committee in advance of that. I have already apologised to the committee for any inconvenience arising as a result of that. We got a briefing to the committee secretariat as soon as we could after that to support it in its work in briefing the committee regarding the integration of the two Bills. We have a good working relationship with the committee secretariat and I hope that will continue.

Can I tease this out further? Why would the secretariat of this committee not also be aware the prelegislative scrutiny was going to run way past when the Government and the Department intended to present the legislation?

Ms Tríona Quill

The Government's priority legislation list is published. It is in the public domain. The urgency attached to the Bill arises because of the infringement proceedings and because many stakeholders would like to see the media commission established at an early date.

To finish on that point, is there a particular reason the Minister did not seek the waiver that was available to her?

Ms Tríona Quill

As I said, the Minister recognised the important issues contained in this Bill and would have considered it appropriate for prelegislative scrutiny. It was December 2020 when she referred-----

Am I right in saying the prelegislative scrutiny is pointless if the legislation is going to come forward before the prelegislative scrutiny is finished?

Ms Tríona Quill

I can only explain what happened. As I said, the legislation is on the Government’s priority list for publication in this session. That is where we currently are with it.

I reiterate that I appreciate the work Ms Quinn and Mr. Shanley have done. I do not want to be shooting the messenger in any shape or form. However, I am deeply frustrated to hear what we have heard today. I note Deputy Munster is indicating. Does she want to come back in?

Could we seek clarification on whether the option of seeking a waiver is still available at this point to the Minister?

Ms Tríona Quill

It was provided for in a Government decision. I would have to bring that back to the Department for consideration.

Does Ms Quinn think it would still be available?

Ms Tríona Quill

I could not answer that off the top of my head. That would need discussion.

Who would confirm whether that was the case?

Ms Tríona Quill

I will go back and discuss it within the Department and I am sure we can communicate.

Ms Quill said she would discuss it within the Department but who within the Department would make that decision?

Ms Tríona Quill

Ultimately, it would be a matter for the Minister.

The Minister can decide whether to extend the waiver for the prelegislative scrutiny.

Ms Tríona Quill

It would be for the Minister to decide whether it is appropriate to seek a waiver. I am not sure of the exact procedure that would be attached to that - whether the Minister could do that or would need to revert to the Government.

Could I make a suggestion? I am sure the Chair would not disagree with it at this stage, given what has come to pass today. In the letter that I am proposing we write to the Minister, I suggest we insist that she seeks a waiver to allow for prelegislative scrutiny in order not to be so bluntly dismissive of the work of this committee and of all the stakeholders who took time to make submissions and come before this committee to share with us their concerns or add whatever they thought would benefit the legislation in terms of their ideas, etc. It would be totally dismissive and nothing short of sheer arrogance not to do so. Could we write to the Minister asking her to seek that waiver to allow for the prelegislative scrutiny? Otherwise, it might as well be the Minister’s Bill, with no involvement of this committee and no taking on board of what stakeholders have said. She would find it very hard to get support for that Bill in such circumstances.

The Deputy has raised an important point. If this is to continue in this vein we will find the Bill will get buried in committee with amendments if the prelegislative scrutiny does not have the input and the effect we had hoped it would have. Are there any other members online who would like to comment on that or support Deputy Munster’s suggestion?

I am sensing unanimous agreement for that approach to the correspondence.

I also agree with that.

I thank the Deputy for that.

It is disappointing to hear the news today but something has to be done about it. The Minister has a responsibility to this committee.

Like all members, I appreciate the urgency in terms of the infringement proceedings. It is something we talked about at length at the beginning of this process but we made a conscious decision as a committee that it was more important we did it robustly, transparently and as thoroughly and comprehensively as possible. That is why we have spent week and after week bringing in various witnesses to give them that voice and platform, and considering our own position on all of the elements that affect this Bill. We will have to leave it there. It is not the meeting we expected it to be.

I thank the officials for coming before the committee and giving us this information. It has been very useful if not alarming. I thank the members for their contributions, suggestions and ideas. We will follow up with the secretariat on the suggestions made with respect to the Minister. I suggest we will have to meet in private session as a matter of urgency before our next meeting, which would ordinarily take place next Wednesday. There is a need for a meeting to discuss this matter in private session before our meeting next Wednesday. I would ask members to make provision for that. I am sure Ms Laura Pathe from our secretariat will be in touch to organise that.

To conclude, I thank Ms Tríona Quill and Mr. Ciarán Shanley for being with us. I also thank the members for their participation. We will meet in private session. The next meeting on 23 June is confirmed, but we will meet before that regarding the revelations from today's meeting. Our next public meeting will be at 3.30 p.m. on 23 June with the executive vice president of the European Commission, Commissioner Vestager, to discuss the subject of making Europe fit for the digital age. That will be a very important meeting for us as a committee in terms of the work we are doing. We do not want that to become futile. I thank everybody for their participation.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.29 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 June 2021.