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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 May 1958

Vol. 49 No. 5

Greyhound Industry Bill, 1957—Report and Final Stages.

Bill received for final consideration.
Agreed to take remaining stages to-day.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Before the Bill passes, there are a few observations I wish to make. On the Second Reading, I called the attention of the House to the fact that a decision was reached in the Supreme Court which had a direct bearing on many provisions in this Bill. The Minister for Health in reply to the debate on the Second Reading, referred to the points which I had raised and made some observations which, I think, should be commented upon. I do not think this Bill, which, in its Long Title, is expressed to be a Bill for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry and for the better control of greyhound race tracks and coursing grounds, will achieve that purpose. I had hoped the Minister would consider it more seriously than he did, for, in my view, the Bill will lead to confusion.

It seems to me that the Oireachtas has only such powers as are given to it under the Constitution. The Constitution is the Constitution which the people have given themselves, and in that Constitution it has been ordained, as I said, very specifically what the powers of the Oireachtas are in regard to legislating. I do not think it would be easy to find a more positive obligation in the whole of the Constitution than that which is laid on the Oireachtas in Article 15, paragraph 4, which states:—

"The Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to this Constitution or any provision thereof."

However, the Minister for Health adopts the view that the Oireachtas can legislate in any way it likes.

General legislation is not under consideration.

I feel it is a matter arising out of the Bill itself.

Matters contained in the Bill itself?

Yes. This relates to the Bill. The Bill provides certain matters which are in conflict with the Constitution and it is proposed, therefore, that this Bill should be considered in the light of the provisions in the Constitution, and, in particular on this occasion, in the light of the provisions of the Article to which I have referred. I do not think it is any answer to say that there is a procedure by which defects and deficiencies in a Bill can be remedied. On the basis of that argument, if I took the Minister's car, I could say to him: "I can do that all right, but you have a remedy. You can go to the courts and prosecute me for larceny." That is the attitude that has been adopted by the Minister. He says: "It is unconstitutional. That is all right. There is a procedure provided in the Constitution to remedy that."

This Bill will give rise to a great deal of confusion in the greyhound industry. I have considered whether it was possible to amend it on Committee Stage, but it is so honeycombed with unconstitutional provisions that I found it would be quite impossible to put down any amendments to it. I regret that the Minister for Health did not adopt the course of revising the Bill in the light of the constitutional requirements to which I have referred. I think that, far from improving the greyhound racing industry, a stage will be reached when there will be utter chaos and confusion among those associated with that industry.

I think we have listened to a rather unusual pronouncement. We are told that certain provisions of this Bill are repugnant to the Constitution. We are told that by a member of the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas has nothing to do with the interpretation of legislation. We have the right to legislate and, naturally, we must legislate with due regard to the provisions of the Constitution, but we are not entitled and we are not expected as judges to interpret the provisions of the Constitution or to limit our legislation by what we, as individuals, may think is or is not repugnant to the Constitution.

Surely we are entitled to argue that something is repugnant to the Constitution? That is what is being done.

That is not what is being done. There was no argument. We were told that this Bill was honeycombed with unconstitutional provisions. There was no attempt to argue what particular provision was repugnant to the Constitution.

On a point of information. On the Second Stage I pointed out the provisions of the Bill which, in my opinion, were unconstitutional.

If we are going to accept what Senator O'Quigley may say as if he were the judge in this matter, then of course Senator O'Quigley can dominate the whole Legislature. He can say what is or what is not repugnant to the Constitution. He can determine for himself what this House or both Houses of the Oireachtas will or will not do, and even what the President will not do. That is not the conception of the relations between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary which is embodied in the Constitution.

That is fantastic.

Of course, it is fantastic.

Is the Minister really in earnest?

Am I in earnest? At least I did not burn the midnight oil preparing my speech. I am dealing with the point raised with Senator O'Quigley. He thinks that the Bill is repugnant to the Constitution. That is his opinion. I am saying: "Very well; that is no reason why this House should be bound by the opinion of Senator O'Quigley." Now we have got to this stage.

Nor by the Minister's opinion, either.

No. If there is a difference of opinion between the Minister and the majority of Dáil Éireann and perhaps the majority in this House on the one hand and Senator O'Quigley, on the other—I do not know about the majority in this House; I cannot speak for the majority of this House but I can speak for the majority of Dáil Éireann—if there is a difference of opinion about the provisions of this Bill, the difference as to repugnancy cannot be settled in this House. The Constitution provides a tribunal which can settle this matter. In spite of what Senator O'Quigley has said about the Bill being honeycombed with unconstitutional provisions, after all there is the Supreme Court to decide the question and I have legal advisers to advise me in regard to it. I am sure they are just as competent to interpret the law and construe the provisions of a statute as Senator O'Quigley. They have advised me that there is nothing in this Bill which is repugnant to the Constitution. I am not saying they are infallible, but they are certainly less likely to be wrong, having regard to their knowledge of the law and their background of legal training, than a member of the Oireachtas is, no matter how august he may be. On that basis, there is no point in the argument which has been raised here. There has not been any other objection to the Bill, except that one point. I do not think there is any reason why the Seanad should hesitate to pass the Bill in the form in which it is now before it. If it should happen that any of the provisions are repugnant to the Constitution, I am perfectly certain that those affected by the Bill will be in a position to bring their case to the Constitution Tribunal and have their doubts resolved there.

Question put and agreed to.