Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill, 2001: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection (1)(a)(ii), line 19, after “weapons” to insert “or other disabling agents”.
I am concerned that the definition of weapons in this section will not cover other agents which could be used to disable the crew or passengers of another ship, a warship of another state or a ship owned or operated by another state and used only on non-commercial service by its Government on which a mutiny takes place. Chemical agents which could be inhaled, ingested or given by injection could be used in such circumstances and they would not be covered by the legislation. We must take account of the fact that this method of hijacking may become much more common than that involving the use of guns, knives or box cutters. I accept the Minister's statement on Second Stage that he is advised that such agents would be covered under the legislation and that they would be considered to be weapons. However, I am always anxious that legislation should be as obvious as possible so that it does not take too erudite a person to realise that these agents are also covered.
I tabled amendment No. 6 in respect of section 5(7) because the term "or other disabling agents" might be sufficient in aiding those trying to subdue those involved in an act of piracy. People committing these crimes might not need to take guns, box cutters and knives with them. In that context, what is the position with regard to tear gas? Is it considered a weapon? I thought the section should be usable by those boarding a ship. Perhaps the Minister believes the amendments are unnecessary but they may prove useful in terms of providing clarification.
In respect of section 1(1)(a)(ii), I am prepared to accept an amendment which uses a term such as “or anything capable of being used as a weapon”. The parliamentary counsel is preparing an accurate wording, which I propose to include on Report Stage. I accept the thrust of the Senator's amendment and will define a weapon as “anything capable of being used as a weapon” rather than “other disabling agents.”
There is no need to be more specific in section 3(7) because whatever force is required by the authorised officer is covered and I am satisfied that would include tear gas or any other weapons to assist the officers in the exercise of their pow ers. I do not accept there is a need to amend this subsection, but I am happy to table an amendment to section 3(1)(a)(ii) to cover the point made by Senator Henry.
Section 3(5) is satisfactory because the authorised officers will be able to use everything. Sometimes the more minimal the weapon the better because fire is returned by fire generally. I am anxious to agree with the Minister regarding amendment No. 1, but I am concerned about the word "weapon". Can something which disables a person always be described as a weapon? If one uses something which cannot be described as a weapon, would it be covered by the legislation?
A chair, for example.
A chair could be used as a violent weapon. I am more anxious about sedatives, anaesthetics and so on being described as weapons. Could they slip outside the net and not be described as weapons?
That is the reason we are prepared to insert wording such as "anything capable of being used as a weapon". If any other agent, such as those described by the Senator, is used aggressively, it can be described as a weapon because it is capable of being used as a weapon. We do not want to go into detail on this for that reason. If one is more specific, anything could be described as a weapon, including a chair.
Senator Henry referred to the use of wording where everything would not simply be described as a weapon. Wording such as "any disabling agent capable of being used as a weapon" could be used. The use of the word "weapon" might not be broad enough to cover the mechanism used. It may not be a weapon, but it could have the effect of disabling somebody. Perhaps some time needs to be spent deliberating on this.
To what agents does the Senator refer?
Tablets, chloroform or chemical disabling agents.
Chemical weapons are not weapons in the traditional sense. Our legal people are satisfied they are covered adequately in the definition, which will be strengthened by the amendment we are prepared to accept which provides for "anything capable of being used as a weapon". Any chemical weapon is adequately covered.
This is a nice semantic argument. There is no difference between what the Minister and the Senators wish to achieve. It is a matter of taking more time, as Senator Costello said. Perhaps it would be useful to get away from the concept of a weapon per se and think instead of the condition one wants to avoid, which is where somebody is overcome by force or being terrorised into doing something. The Minister might wish to try to concentrate on that aspect of the definition.
There is a concern that people think of a weapon as an artefact or physical object. People can use mock weapons and impose their will through terror or threat. The Minister could import that notion into the definition by using wording such as "any other object which could be used for the purpose of securing control". I do not have a handy form of words and the Minister will have to consult a legal lexicon, but I am encouraged that he is prepared to re-examine the definition and with a little goodwill an omnibus phrase could be found to address the issue. There is a danger in stepping outside the frame of defining a "weapon" that one could extend the definition endlessly because, as the Minister said, almost anything can be weapon. We must think in terms of what we are trying to prevent, which is people taking control through violence, threat or otherwise.
It is important that Senator Henry has raised these issues, but the Minister has met her concerns. I agree with him that we should not go into too much detail because when one goes into more detail, things are excluded. The word "weapon," as Senator Hayes said, does not refer exclusively to a military object. Courts have ruled, for instance, that the arms of a karate expert could be viewed as weapons. Weapons are used widely and the definition of "weapon" in Collins Dictionary must take up pages. Parts of the body, including male genitalia, have regularly been referred to as weapons. The issue is best dealt with through the Minister's proposal.
That last point proves my point that we have gone far enough.
Senator Hayes has made a useful contribution. People could be terrorised into doing something. I will withdraw my amendment and await the framing of a definition by the Minister along the lines he has suggested.
I am still unhappy with the definition of "piracy" and how it would relate to the concerns raised about the transport of nuclear fuel or reprocessed fuel such as the mixed oxide fuel that has been commissioned at Sellafield. There is no reference to hijacking or the boarding of another vessel. Section 3(1)(a) states: “any unlawful act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends [whatever that means] by members of the crew or passengers on board a private ship and directed against another ship, or against persons or property”. The section is loosely worded. If we accept that it means a hijacking by those on board a ship going on to another ship, what do we mean by “private ship”? How wide is the definition? A ship is defined as including “any description of vessel used in navigation . . . . . (other than a boat propelled by oars)”. It could not be an airplane, a glider, a dinghy, a canoe or a raft. A hijacking can happen with all the other navigable vessels, but it is not an act of piracy.
Section 3(1)(a) does not cover many of the concerns we expressed about the new acts of terrorism which may be committed in the Irish Sea. This legislation is a mishmash which deals with piracy on the high seas on the one hand, but on the other hand, the Minister has grafted on protection for the Irish fishing fleet. If we want to do that, we should graft on protection for the people to deal with the danger of piracy in the Irish Sea, particularly in relation to reprocessed fuel which would be suitable for nuclear weapons.
What is the Senator's definition of piracy?
I am trying to explain what I regard as the flaws in the Minister's definition. I could have said I did not want to take all Stages of this Bill today, but I have reluctantly agreed to do so. I would come up with a formula if I had time. There are inadequacies in the Minister's definition and he should respond to the concerns expressed here. I am not asking him to do that today because we will not have the opportunity to tease out the legislation properly. The concerns expressed should be incorporated before the legislation is taken in the other House.
Senator Costello's criticism of the Bill was trenchant, unfair and unreasonable. As I said in my opening speech, considerable effort was put into the preparation of this Bill. The definition in section 3(1)(a) is the UNCLOS definition. The Senator's definition of piracy is based on the experience we all had of pirates on television when we were young. The section states: “any unlawful act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by members of the crew or passengers on board a private ship and directed against another ship”. That will cover any type of terrorism on any ship directed against another ship. It cannot be more clear than that.
There is one aspect of the points raised by Senator Costello which the Minister might address. I am trying to consider a situation where a ship is moored at a pier or jetty and where the act is committed by someone who is not a passenger or a member of another crew. I am seeking the Minister's guidance on this issue. Section 3(1)(a) states: “any unlawful act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by members of the crew or passengers”. They could be trespassers. It may not be passengers of the private ship or the crew of another ship who assault the ship from a dock, jetty or wharf. I am trying to envisage the type of situation mentioned by Senator Costello. If people who were not the crew of another ship or passengers on the ship tried to make a point about the nuclear issue, for example, and rather than take the ship while it was afloat at sea they came on board before it left the port, that would clearly be an act of piracy. I do not see how that is covered in the interpretation in section 3(1)(a).
Senator O'Toole is misunderstanding the definition of piracy, which is one ship against another. It does not apply to an attack on a ship which is moored in a dock or harbour. We are talking about the law of the sea. That point has been misinterpreted by the Senators. The definition of piracy, as I stated, is clear. It is the UNCLOS definition under which we are operating. That is why the Senators are misunderstanding what we are trying to achieve. We are not dealing with terrorism. As Senators are aware, we have a considerable amount of legislation to introduce before Christmas to deal with acts of terrorism at sea, in the air and on land.
The Minister's advisers pointed out the problem which Senator O'Toole raised. It is important to tease out legislation. I am not relying on stories such as Mutiny on the Bounty or on Bluebeard and the bottle of rum. I want to know how the Minister's definition covers all eventualities, which are not remote in terms of piracy and what might happen if reprocessed fuel gets into the wrong hands because most of the transportation will take place by sea, whether it is to Germany or Japan.
The Senator is dealing with an area which is not within the Bill's remit. That issue must be dealt with in the terrorism legislation, which is the subject of a special new division in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that must deal with all acts of international terrorism. That is not the issue today.
I agree with the Minister that is probably the way out of the matter, but I pointed out that this Bill is not a satisfactory way to deal with the repression of piracy and the protection of our fishing fleet. The protection of our fishing fleet could have been dealt with in a separate Bill. The Government may introduce ten or 11 Bills to deal with terrorism and they might cover all these issues, but why is there a definition of a ship if the definition of piracy is that it must be an illegal act by one ship against another, such as an attack, an assault or a hijacking?
Why is a boat propelled by oars excluded from the definition of a ship? If we are talking about a ship being a vessel which can be used for navigation, then it covers a boat that uses oars, such as a canoe, dinghy or raft. Surely a ship can be boarded from any of these and hijacked. All the depredations can equally take place from a boat, whether it is propelled by an outboard motor or oars. Within the narrow confines of what we are dealing with here, would it not be better to omit the portion that is excluded, in page 4, line 11, which states: "other than a boat propelled by oars"? In that way, the section would extend to all boats, whether they are motorised vessels or manually propelled.
From what the Minister said I understood that part of section 3 is directly taken from a description of piracy in, I presume, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Will the Minister state exactly which part of section 3 is from that convention, or am I wrong in my understanding of what he said?
I dealt comprehensively with that matter in my speech on Second Stage. I have clearly outlined that this is based on the provisions of the UNCLOS.
I am aware of that from the Minister's speech, but I wonder if any parts of section 3 are direct quotes from anything else.
The definition is taken from the UNCLOS definition.
Is the whole of section 3 taken from that definition?
The appendix, Article 101, definition of "piracy," is taken from the UNCLOS definition.
I am trying to find out if all of section 3 is a total quote from Article 101, or is some of it not from that article?
All of (a), (b) and (c) are taken from the definition, and (1), (2), (3) and (4) are examples of the kinds of incidents that could take place as a result.
I thank the Minister.
With respect to Senator Costello's question, the definition of "ship" is that generally used under merchant shipping legislation. It would be most unusual to find a boat propelled by oars out on the high seas.
We are not only dealing with the high seas, we are dealing with territorial waters. It could, therefore, be very close to the shore. The Irish Sea is not exactly the high seas. The legislation is broader than that. Under the cover of darkness people can row a considerable distance out to a ship to board it. I do not know what the situation is relating to a submarine either; a dinghy could be taken off such a vessel. Is that covered in the definition? We are not able to come to grips with this adequately. The definition is extremely important, but it does not seem to be terribly well worded. Even though the Minister says most of it has been taken from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, some of it obviously has not been because the reference to aircraft has been deleted.
We are becoming bogged down over the definition of "ship". No one can tell me that a raft or a dinghy is a ship. In the next section we can see what type of craft is to be used in an act of piracy, and that definition covers everything. It states: "A ship is considered a pirate ship if it is intended by the persons in dominant control of it to be used for the purpose of committing an act of piracy." Whether one goes out in a barrel or a ship, if one is going out to commit an act of piracy, it does not make any difference what type of vessel it is.
It does not.
It does so. The Minister has just told us what it is; it has to be one ship against another.
Section 3 states, "A ship is considered a pirate ship. . . " Senator Costello is trying to tell us that a raft or a rowing boat is not covered. They are covered by the fact that any vessel that is able to float is considered to be a pirate ship when it commits an act of piracy.
I have no further comment to make.
I will not pursue this any further. It needs to be teased out a little more. Perhaps the Minister will examine it before the Bill goes to the Dáil.
Amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1a, and amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related to amendment No. 2. Therefore, amendments Nos. 1a, 2, 7 and 8 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1a:
In page 6, lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraph (a).
In line with what I said on Second Stage, any attempt to interfere with people or ships on the high seas, or in territorial waters for that matter, is always fraught with danger. Serious injury or death can result from the actions of those who go out with intent to commit such crimes. In that context the option of summary conviction should not be available. Traditionally, legislation has allowed for minor incidents, thus leaving a loophole by which a summary conviction can be made. I note that Senator O'Toole has tabled a related amendment, whereby the penalty would be entirely removed. If we leave that option open, I can envisage the possibility of a criminal, with a good solicitor, ending up with a £10 fine from some district justice. My proposal is to remove the option of summary conviction and deal with this particular crime as a serious issue often resulting in injury or death. The penalty should be commensurate with the intentions.
I agree with much that Senator Caffrey had to say. On Second Stage I stated that I would prefer to delete section 4(2)(a) entirely. However, my amendment proposes that a person guilty of the offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. This proposal relates to the definition of piracy in section 3(1). Section 3(1)(a)(iv) states that an act of piracy would include, “intentionally proceeding at excessive speed in close proximity to another ship in a manner calculated to endanger or cause an emergency on board that other ship,”. However, such an act could be carried out in a fit of steam where someone would use the wash from his or her boat to create a minor emergency for someone else, but there would be no loss of life. Such an incident could happen quickly and might be best dealt with on summary conviction.
I agree with Senator Caffrey's comments on major incidents such as those involving firearms and so on. However, acts such as those defined in section 3(1)(a)(iv) and (v), the latter of which refers to the deliberate towing away of fishing gear – it could be a small amount of gear – could be minor incidents. That is why I propose leaving an option to pursue such incidents by way of summary conviction which would allow for the imposition of a fine.
By not specifying the amount of the fine it would be open to the judge to go up to the allowed limit. As I understand it, a summary conviction would be dealt with in the District Court which can impose a maximum fine of, I think, about £15,000 or perhaps it is up to £30,000. My proposal would allow for such an option. That is not to disagree with Senator Caffrey with whom I agree in general terms. However, the types of acts defined in section 3(1)(a)(iv) and (v) happen regularly. One often hears of complaints about ships passing too closely, a practice about which there are rules and regulations. One also hears about the deliberate towing away of fishing gear. Such incidents could arise due to an argument and should not be construed in the same context as more serious incidents.
For the reasons I have outlined I am of the view that the level of the fine in the legislation, as drafted, is too low. My amendment proposes to delete the maximum fine as it restricts judges. Removing the level of the fine would remove such restrictions. No one will get away with a £10 fine no matter what lawyer he or she has. However, inserting the €3,000 fine will constrain judges and that was never the intention of the Bill. I listened to the Minister's reply, but he gave no significant reason we should restrict the fine to that amount.
I am in favour of retaining the option of a summary conviction. The fine on summary conviction should not be lower than that allowed in the District Court. I am also in favour of the option of summary conviction because it allows for a term of imprisonment. On the basis of how these matters operate, it will be for the Attorney General to decide whether a case will be processed in a higher court or on summary conviction. That is why my amendment proposes to delete the words "not exceeding €3,000". If accepted, section 4(2)(b) would provide that a person would be liable “on summary conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.”
We would all agree with the objective of Senator Caffrey's amendment because of the substantial criminal activities which could be involved in various acts of piracy defined in the Bill. However, Senator O'Toole made a persuasive argument that some of these incidents may be of a minor nature and that it would be a mistake to delete the reference to a summary conviction as cases would then have to be dealt with on conviction on indictment which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. I agree with Senator O'Toole that the best course of action is not to cap the fine at €3,000 as that is a small sum of money given some of the offences which could take place.
I support Senator O'Toole's amendment which proposes to delete any reference to the level of the fine. However, the Minister should go further and consider the six months term of imprisonment. Summary conviction refers to a conviction in the District Court. The Minister will be aware that the maximum sentence which can be imposed by the District Court is two years. One could deal with a number of offences in the District Court. However, limiting the prison sentence to six months will constrain the number of offences outlined in section 3(1). There is no reason to do so because a case can be dealt with promptly in the District Court as it does not require the elaborate process involved in processing an indictable offence in the higher courts. The Minister should consider this issue before the Bill proceeds to the Dáil with a view to doubling the sentence to one year or, preferably, increasing it to the maximum allowed in the District Court. This would provide greater flexibility to the courts, the Garda, the Defence Forces and others who are given powers of arrest under the Bill when dealing with these matters. I suggest that the term of imprisonment should be the maximum allowed in the District Court and the cap on fines should be eliminated.
We should return to the main objective of the Bill. The legislation was prepared in response to concerns about the harassment and intimidation of fishermen going about their business. On Second Stage I pointed out that between 1994 and 1999, 50 such incidents were reported to my Department. The main reason for this legislation is the growing number of incidents of intimidation of the Irish fishing fleet at sea, particularly outside our territorial waters where the law is inadequate to deal with these indiscretions.
It is often the case that these incidents involve larger European fishing fleets intimidating smaller Irish fleets because of the need to exploit good fishing grounds. This may involve the destruction of nets, more serious incidents such as the ramming of a ship or general intimidation. That is why it is necessary to allow for summary offences as well as more serious offences. It is often the case that the intimidation may involve no more than trying to drive a fishing vessel away from a fishing ground. I hope Senator Caffrey will accept that such offences occur and that we do not have the ability to deal with them. Consequently, there is a need to deal with the range of incidents from less serious offences to more serious offences which will be dealt with on indictable conviction.
It will be for the Attorney General's office as the prosecuting authority to decide whether an offence is a summary or indictable offence. Senator O'Toole has pointed out that it would be incorrect to remove from the legislation reference to a summary offence. I asked the same question as Senator O'Toole in terms of the fine not exceeding €3,000. It did seem to be a very low level of fine. It is at that level because a summary conviction has to have a fine specified and the fine specified for summary offences by the Attorney General is €3,000. In fact, it was only increased this year from £1,500. That is the reason we are governed by the specified amount that applies to summary offences generally. I agree with Senator O'Toole. It would perhaps be the Government's desire to have a much higher level of fine, but we are governed by this general principle regarding fines for summary convictions. It is set generally by the Attorney General at €3,000. With the double edged sword of a summary conviction or indictment on conviction, we have the whole range of incidents covered, whether those are minor or serious. The Attorney General's office has the discretion to decide on the level at which the offence will be charged.
I, too, was critical of the size of fines. Am I correct in saying that fishery offences are dealt with exclusively by the Attorney General's office and that it has nothing to do, in any shape or form, with the DPP? In this case, the legislation was obviously drawn up under the aegis of the Attorney General who looked at it in a very strong way. The Attorney General is probably the person who knows more about fishery offences than any legal or professional person on this island. I accept what the Minister said on the reasons for the fines as laid down, but it is a matter for the House keeping in mind that the Attorney General is the person with responsibility, not the DPP.
I am flabbergasted, to tell the truth. Our job is to legislate and that is what we are doing. A fine of €3,000 is too low, as all of us, including the Minister, agree. I know what the Attorney General said. What is the impact if we say on summary conviction of a crime without specifying a fine? Suppose my amendment is accepted, what is the impact on the operation of the law when it comes to court? That is really what I want to know.
While the Minister is thinking about a reply to that question, I want to say that as far as I understand, the Attorney General is responsible for advising the Minister in relation to the law and that it is the DPP's responsibility to advise on implementation in terms of prosecution.
Not on fishery offences, and there is a reason for that if the Senator checks it out.
That would be new because the DPP, not the Attorney General, is the person who decides whether to prosecute regarding all criminal activity.
I am talking about fishery offences. There is a very interesting history as to the reason the Attorney General has fishery offences under his scope.
The Minister will, no doubt, clarify it for us. I am in total agreement with Senator O'Toole. The Attorney General has decided that it should be pitched as low as €3,000, which is £2,362.69. The Minister said it was £1,500 before this. It is not even double what it was and I do not know how long it has been like that. The responsibility of the Attorney General is not to legislate, but to advise the Minister. It is probably not desirable to have it pitched that low because it could limit dealing with the range of offences that could be dealt with in this summary fashion in the District Court. In the same way, if the figure of six months imprisonment had been pitched at a higher level, a greater range of offences could have been dealt with, including those of a serious nature, in the District Court without considering the expense to the State and a lot of time being wasted. If we are not happy with this, it does not matter what the Attorney General thinks. It is our responsibility to let the Minister know in no uncertain terms that there should be a change in the section.
It is up to the Attorney General to decide whether it is a summary offence or an indictment. In the case of an indictment, if it is serious enough, he can decide on an unlimited fine and a prison term of up to 20 years. The Attorney General has full discretion. Summary offences are minor offences for which he would seek a summary conviction. He would seek a conviction on indictment if it was a more serious offence, presenting the possibility of an unlimited fine and prison term of up to 20 years. I really do not understand where the problem is.
I would appreciate if the Minister would address the questions that I raised. This amount of money would not pay for the batteries on a boat or the boys holding up the fishing gear. If my amendment is accepted and simply writes the words without declaring the fine to be "not exceeding. . . ," what is the impact in court? Does it have an impact in court? I really think we will be bringing ourselves into disrepute by including that fine, we would just be laughed at.
We could not do that because then it would not be a summary offence.
That is definitely not correct. If it is dealt with as a summary conviction in the District Court, then it is a summary conviction. That is the reality. That is not the question. If we do not restrict the district justice, does that impact on the law? I think I know the answer anyway, that does not seem to weaken the law or make it in any way unconstitutional, inoperable or ultra vires to the normal rules of court procedure. In other words, if we simply take away the level of the fine, we have stronger legislation that does not create any difficulty and which reflects the Minister's own intuitive response, and the response of every Member here. I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. We can then move on.
A summary conviction carries a maximum fine of €3,000. If one wants it to be something other than a summary conviction, then change what is being proposed. We do not propose to do so.
Is it essential to write in the level of the fine in the legislation?
A summary conviction determines the level of the fine, up to €3,000.
Is there some rule which states the level of the fine must be included in the legislation? Is there a rule which states that if legislation relating to summary conviction is brought before the House, we must state the level of the fine?
One has to be specific for summary convictions in legislation.
There is a rule. Which one?
We are into a different area from what we are discussing in the Bill. For summary convictions the legislation must be specific. I am sure we will be able to have that confirmed entirely for the Members, but trust me, for summary convictions legislation must be specific. The maximum fine is €3,000.
This is the first I have heard of €3,000 being the maximum fine on summary conviction. Does that apply across the board or does it just relate to this?
Across the board.
I seek clarification before we complete Report Stage. The Minister should remember that in recent years, when dealing with legislation concerning the courts, we have been expanding the function of the court of first instance, the District Court, to allow it to deal with as many cases as possible. There are many reasons for this, in particular, because they can deal with summary offences promptly and inexpensively. If we cap both the fine and the sentence, we limit the number of cases the Attorney General can refer to the District Court. Why should the Attorney General want to tie his hands in that fashion? If we set the sentence at two years or raise the level of the fine, obviously a greater number of the more serious of these offences can be brought before the District Court. Given the cap on the length of sentence in the District Court is two years, why did the Attorney General opt for six months in this case when it ties his hands?
We seem to be wasting a lot of time. We are going around in circles.
I am amazed at the Senators.
The courts have ground rules on fines. I do not know what the position is in the High Court, but the District Court and the Circuit Court have them. One cannot bring a claim, for example, a personal injuries claim, exceeding £30,000 before the Circuit Court. My reason for trying to remove this summary conviction was to circumvent that position. Having regard to some mechanism to deal with minor offences in relation to transgressions outlined in the Bill, I will have to accept the need for summary conviction. For that reason, I will not press the amendment. On reflection, especially after listening to Senator O'Toole, I accept the need for dealing with minor offences. However, we should reflect our anxiety about the nature of these offences and the Judiciary should take that anxiety on board when dealing with them.
I am seeking additional advice for the Senators' satisfaction. However, my advice is that for summary offences, limits must be specified in legislation. That is a general position which applies across the board. For this reason, the old limit was set at £1,500. It has now been increased to €3,000. We will seek clarification, but unless my advice is wrong that remains the position.
This reflects badly on all of us, including the Minister. We all have the same view on this matter. Intuitively, we know this figure makes a joke of the importance of the legislation. It would be wrong to accept the figure and we should make clear that the House opposes it because it does not meet what is needed. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.
I have rarely experienced the attitude I have witnessed today, either in the Dáil or the Seanad, in my 20 years in politics. It is clear the Senators misunderstand the matter with which we are dealing. Every week of the year the Attorney General brings prosecutions in the fishing industry. They are all indictable offences brought before the Circuit Court for much higher levels of fine. There is no problem here. I, therefore, fail to understand the reason we are wasting time.
In my time here I have never seen a Minister take so long to achieve so little. Let me bring some balance to the argument. I have asked simple questions which the Minister is still unable to answer. He has sent people out to get an answer. If he knew his brief, we would not be wasting time. He should not come to this House and accuse us of a lack of understanding. We have a clear understanding of where we are. We have accepted we may be factually incorrect on this matter, but we would expect the Minister to put us right on it, not lecture us about wasting his time. My time is also being wasted. I would prefer to be eating in the restaurant. I will not be lectured by the Minister. We are serious about our business. The Minister may never have seen this attitude before, but I wish he knew his brief and could answer our questions clearly. I do not accept this information as correct. The problem is either at the Attorney General's office or the Minister's office. I do not know which, but it is unacceptable.
I explained in my answer while the Senator was out—
I listened to it.
—and have twice explained it since. On the Senator's specific point that he cannot understand the reason a fine for a summary offence cannot be higher than €3,000, I have explained on a number of occasions that the Attorney General has the option of making it an indictable offence and has unlimited fines avail able to him, which he can and does apply every day in the fishing industry. Consequently, as I am trying to explain, there is no need to worry that the fine for a summary offence is confined to €3,000. Every day in this jurisdiction, under fishery offences, the Attorney General brings fishing boats into harbour. They are indictable offences brought to the Circuit Court. The Senator obviously has a major misunderstanding of that fact—
I asked a question which the Minister has not answered.
—and he is arguing a point which is totally irrelevant. I have answered the Senator's point—
No, the Minister has not.
—and I am very surprised at him.
The Minister should not be surprised at me. He should concentrate on his brief and we can be surprised at each other down in the bar.
I am fully aware of my brief. It is quite clear from the tenor of this debate so far that the Senator is mixing up legislation designed to do a particular job for the fishing industry with some other issue which has nothing to do with today's debate.
I wish to do nothing more than ask a simple question which has nothing to do with indictment. If we accept this amendment, does it make the court system inoperable?
I, too, asked that question and still have not received an answer. Senator Costello explained earlier the reason we felt this area was important. Regardless of the number of cases dealt with by the court of first instance, the District Court is of great importance to the State. I am dismayed that the Attorney General always take cases to the Circuit Court which costs much more than taking them to the District Court. We are anxious to know if the removal of references to the level of fine from the legislation would encourage the Attorney General to go before the District Court or if he would continue to take the more expensive route and go to the Circuit Court. This is important. It would be helpful to know if there is a rule which states that one must fix the level of the fine in the legislation because if there is no such rule, I see no reason to reject Senator O'Toole's amendment.
I confirm there is such a rule, the amount must be specified.
I wish to confirm what I said earlier, that is, all fishery offences, regardless of their nature, are the direct responsibility of the Attorney General while all other offences are the responsibility of the DPP. Perhaps I should not say this, but I attended a court recently, which was held at night, at which an error was made by local gardaí. Because they had brought down the DPP, the fishermen involved could have walked out the door. It was an incorrect summons. The case had nothing to do with the DPP, but was a matter for the Attorney General. I know as well as any adviser here that every single fishery offence has to be dealt with by the Attorney General. It is the only area dealt with specifically by the Attorney General. Four Dingle fishermen were up for offences. The judge said that in accordance with the plea made by the State solicitor, these offences were too grave and would be referred to the Circuit Court.
I am amazed to find that it is solely the Attorney General who deals with fishery offences. I always thought that the role of the DPP was to deal with all criminal offences. What we are dealing with here is a separate matter entirely. The Attorney General has given his advice as to what the fines and prison sentences should be. We are telling the Minister what we believe they should be pitched at, and that differs from the Attorney General's advice. The Minister has clarified the matter as to whether a specific fine has to be mentioned at the summary court – a fine must be mentioned. However the Minister has not clarified how that fine was pitched at €3,000. Surely we could raise the threshold to the level that we think is appropriate as long as it is a reasonable amount in terms of a summary offence.
We can do exactly the same in relation to the prison sentence, we can raise it to the level of the jurisdiction of the District Court. If we feel that is appropriate, considering the seriousness of many of the offences listed here, that is our function and it does not matter what the Attorney General thinks is appropriate. We must do our best to ensure that the Attorney General does not go to the Circuit Court and spend the State's money on expensive briefs dealing with matters which can be dealt with in the District Court. That is our function and we are not time wasting when we ensure that it is dealt with in a manner that we think is appropriate.
Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Glennon, Jim.Hayes, Maurice.Kett, Tony.Leonard, Ann.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.
Caffrey, Ernie.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.
Manning, Maurice.O'Toole, Joe.Ross, Shane.
Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
When is it proposed to take the next Stage?
I ask the Acting Leader to propose a sos for ten minutes as there are amendments to be dealt with.
I propose a sos for ten minutes.
Will we leave Report Stage for another day?
To give more time to everyone, the Minister has suggested coming back to the House another day. It is intended to take Report Stage next Wednesday.
When is it proposed to sit again?
On Wednesday, 17 October 2001 at 2.30 p.m.
I propose a sos of 15 minutes.
We will agree to suspend the sitting as there was a change at the last minute in relation to taking Report Stage of the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill to be fair to both the Minister and the Member who tabled this matter on the Adjournment.