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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Mar 1976

Vol. 83 No. 16

Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Bill, 1975: Report and Final Stages.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are related. It is proposed that they be debated together.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 15, line 28, to delete "£40" and to substitute "£50".

During the debate on Committee Stage there was a discussion on the question of the District Court in regard to its jurisdiction in maintenance and affiliation proceedings and there is an amendment in the name of Senator Robinson with which many Members of the House were in sympathy. Indeed I was in sympathy with the spirit of it myself. The amendment was to provide that, by ministerial orders, the jurisdiction of the District Court could from time to time be raised, subject to the power of either House of the Oireachtas to annul any order.

I indicated to the House at that stage that my advice was that there might be constitutional difficulties about the court's jurisdiction. I have gone into this matter again and my advice is still the same—that there could be a constitutional problem in this area. Consequently, I am unable to accede to the amendment in the terms proposed by Senator Robinson. I think it would be wrong to accept an amendment that might inspire a challenge to the legislation at an early stage. In an effort to meet what was in the minds of Senators, I am proposing these amendments raising the maximum amounts in the District Court from £40 to £50 per week in the case of a spouse and from £10 to £15 per week in the case of a child, including, of course, an illegitimate child. For a spouse with four children, the amount that the District Court could order would be £110 a week. I think that should take care of practically all cases that are likely to arise in the foreseeable future. This should go a long way towards meeting the problem that was worrying the House.

I am thankful to the Minister for coming some of the way to meet the point of view which was expressed by Senator Robinson and myself on Committee Stage. Depending on inflation being reasonably corralled, the Minister's amendments meet the point that was expressed by us, not to be having recurrent legislation on this aspect but rather to introduce a regulation procedure. I appreciate the Minister's point in regard to the Constitution although I still think it is the better way to do this sort of thing but the Minister has gone some of the way to meet us by increasing the limits which— as he said himself—should meet the situation, at any rate in the foreseeable future. I think I am speaking for all sides of the House in saying that I am grateful to the Minister for coming that distance within the restraints of the Constitution to meet the point that was expressed.

I also would like to thank the Minister for coming some of the way. It may not be as far as what we wanted but at least it is a step in the direction we sought. I can appreciate also that there may be constitutional difficulties although I was under the impression that if you reversed the procedure and had both Houses of the Oireachtas to decide it first, that difficulty could have been overcome. I thank the Minister for coming some of the way.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 15, line 29, to delete "£10" and to substitute "£15".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 19, lines 5 and 27, to delete "£10" and to substitute "£15".
Amendment agreed to.

I should mention one other point that was raised on Committee Stage. It concerns the question of attachment of income other than earnings. This is a matter that some Senators raised. They were anxious to have the attachment proceedings extended to income other than income paid by way of wages or salary. I have again considered this matter and I am still of opinion that there would be very formidable difficulties in devising adequate machinery. It is not that I am against the idea. Anything that would improve the enforcement of District Court orders in this or in any other sphere is something to be welcomed. However, the machinery to deal with enforcement would have to be carefully examined. There are difficulties and complications. Enforcement in this area has to be examined on a broad basis. I think that there is a fair amount of dissatisfaction with regard to the effectiveness of our present system of enforcing court orders. Some people consider it a slow and tedious process. The attachment of earnings procedure proposed in this Bill in respect of persons in employment will overcome many of the present difficulties. There will, of course, still be difficulties in the case of a self-employed person, although there are a number of remedies under the existing enforcement law. The remedies are there but how effectively they are implemented or operated is a matter for the particular parties involved and will depend on how well they use the existing machinery.

I have not been able to do anything with regard to that point because there are real difficulties. It may be a matter which would be competent to the Law Reform Commission, to look at the entire law relating to the enforcement of court proceedings. It was Senator Halligan who raised it. Extending the definition of "earnings" by itself would not be enough; there would have to be machinery to attach incomes of self-employed people. To get such machinery operating would, at the moment, be well nigh impossible. It can be looked at again in the general context of review of the law relating to enforcement of court proceedings.

Finally, I want to thank all sides of the House for their reception of the Bill and for their co-operation in dealing with the various amendments.

Bill reported with amendments, received for final consideration and passed.