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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Dec 1981

Vol. 96 No. 16

Merchant Shipping Bill, 1981: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

I am not sure if I am on the right section, but I am going to ask the question anyway. The Minister said that no government would be bound to accept or implement any amendment to which it objects. But did the Minister put a prefix to it or did he say that therefore there is no question at any time of loss of national sovereignty?

I am not sure what the Senator's worry is. It is a bit difficult to bring this in under section 3. There is no suggestion that anything in this Bill or our adherence to these international conventions or protocols is going to diminish our sovereignty. The absolute freedom of every person is diminished only in the sense of having to live within an ordered society; we have to obey the rules. But, so far as our freedom to go into it or stay out of it is concerned, we have total freedom.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

In regard to subsection (6), perhaps the Minister might explain the thinking behind it. I can imagine why it might be felt necessary. This is where one is taking an action against somebody because he has contravened a section of the Act. It states:

It shall be a defence in proceedings for an offence under this section to prove that at the time of the alleged offence—

(a) in case the ship concerned is not registered in the State, the said ship was obtaining shelter;

In other words, in respect of ships which are not registered in the State and which happen to be in the State only to get shelter, we appear to be satisfied with a different set of criteria; we do not expect them to conform with our regulations. This, obviously, should apply to any ship coming into our waters, irrespective of how it came in or for what reason it came in. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that.

There is a certain apparent contradiction within the spirit of the Bill and this exemption. But it was designed to avoid hardship and not to avoid inhibiting mariners in coming into our territorial waters in circumstances where the safety of the ship required that they come in. If we had a very strict regime and they knew they were in some technical breach they might be tempted to stand off in dangerous conditions. I understand that this is a standard provision in international maritime conventions. I recognise that there is a slight contradiction between it and the purpose of the Bill, but on balance this is apparently what the industry feel it should be provided for.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

In regard to sections 7, 8 and 9, is this something new in field of the Garda? Is this a new role for them?

It is not new in the sense that the Garda will be enforcing the law.

But it is a new branch of law for them to enforce.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister will see from the copy of the Bill before him that section 15 (3) cites the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1979. There are five or six different Acts which are involved in this. There is the Act of 1966, Convention of 1974, the Act of 1952, the Act of 1966, and this new Act now. Would the Minister give some consideration in due course to having a consolidating measure with regard to the Merchant Shipping Acts? It makes pursuance by the legal profession very difficult when the whole question of our legislation is now being spread over nearly 100 years. Effectively, our legislation starts in about 1880. In respect of this and many other measures which are a lot worse, there are five or six Acts and there are items constantly being put into them and it is very hard to get a real idea of what the law is at any time. Very often people have actually been charged with things under the wrong Act just because nobody knew that it had been subsequently amended. Cross-referencing is quite poor on occasion. Would the Minister consider having a look at whether it would be possible to have a consolidating measure? I am only using this as an opportunity to get a general point across to the Minister.

I take the point. It would, of course, be desirable to do as the Senator suggests with regard to all these Acts stretching back over such a long period. But that is quite a formidable task for an over-pressed section in the Attorney General's office. It is going on in regard to some areas. The latest one was the consolidation of the social welfare legisaltion. One year afterwards part of it is out on its head straight away. So, in this area, where there would not be such frequent changes, it would be desirable and it would be a great ease to lawyers, particularly those who might only occasionally do marine law. Those who are doing it all the time would know their way very thoroughly through this maze.

In relation to consolidation, may I suggest to the Minister that it would be a great pity if in any process of consolidation the excellent language and drafting of that 1894 Act were gobbled up, because it belongs to the high-water mark of legal drafting?

I sympathise with the Senator. We like to keep the King James version of the statute.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.