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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jul 2009

Vol. 196 No. 8

Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.

On a point of order, I would like to query the change to the Order of Business, which was not discussed with the Opposition. We were not given any notice of this until the Leader of the House came in. It could create a difficulty.

The Leader of the House proposed an amendment to the Order of Business and it was agreed by the House.

It is very bad practice to change the order of Bills without any notice to Members of the Opposition, in terms of getting speakers here and being prepared for the Bills that are coming before the House. It is all part of rushing this legislation through and it is not good practice. I ask the Leader not to do it again in the coming days, when there is so much legislation coming before the House.

I take the Senator's point.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed groupings in the House. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

The Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 was initiated in this House on 9 June and we had a very good discussion on it. All Stages were passed here, with some amendments, on 16 June. It subsequently passed all Stages in Dáil Éireann last night, with two further amendments. These amendments arose from similar amendments that were tabled on Seanad Report Stage by Labour Party Senators and were supported by the Fine Gael spokesperson. I was not in a position at that time to accept the amendments. I said I would reflect on the issues involved before the Bill was debated in the Dáil, with a view to tabling amendments if I thought it was necessary. Having considered the matters in the meantime, I tabled two amendments on Dáil Committee Stage last night. They addressed the concerns voiced by Senators and Deputies.

As this is a report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad, I want to explain the purpose of those amendments. Amendment No. 1 is an amendment to section 5 and states:

In page 8, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following subsection:

"(7) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting a preclearance officer to be in possession of a weapon in the performance of his or her functions under this Act.".

When the matter was originally raised in this House, and again in Dáil Éireann, I explained that preclearance officers would not be allowed to carry any weapons in the preclearance areas. The use of any type of weapons by preclearance officers was entirely rejected by the Irish negotiating team during the preclearance discussions that led to the intergovernmental agreement. It was made clear beyond doubt that security within the preclearance areas would be provided only by the Garda Síochána, as in every other part of the State. However, I accepted there was an argument it should be made explicit in the legislation that US officers will not be allowed to possess weapons in the course of exercising any function under the Act. Accordingly, following further examination on this issue, I proposed this amendment to the Bill in the Dáil and it was passed last night. The amendment makes it clear beyond any doubt that preclearance officers will not be permitted to be in possession of a weapon in the performance of their functions under the Act.

I thank the Minister for the manner in which he has treated the House during the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas. It is a welcome development that such a number of Bills, including this one, have commenced in this House. It is only fair to give credit to the Leader for his efforts in this regard.

The Minister accepted a number of amendments put forward by the Labour Party on Committee Stage and on Report Stage agreed to accept the spirit of a couple of other amendments and to look at the possibilities for amendment during the Bill's passage through the Dáil. True to his word, the Minister did that and has come back with amendments with which I am reasonably happy and will accept on behalf of the Labour Party. I believe they address our concerns and considerably improve the legislation. Working with the Minister on this Bill has been a positive experience for me and demonstrates the value of constructive opposition and that the Minister was willing to respond positively to bring about improvements in legislation.

I look forward to the implementation of the legislation and the realisation of the potential benefits to our citizens and our economy. I thank the Minister and his officials.

I will begin with the positive points and echo what Senator Ryan has just said. It is continually the case with this Minister and his Department that if Senators put forward amendments and put a strong case for them, he is willing to consider them or will act on the intent of the amendments.

I have had the same experience as Senator Ryan in this regard in the case of the Harbours (Amendment) Act and the Dublin Transport Authority enabling legislation last year. I acknowledge again that I have always found a constructive approach on amendments is reciprocated by the Minister. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work done by Senator Brendan Ryan with regard to the amendments he proposed that were accepted and how they improved the legislation.

However, I must point out that the manner in which this legislation has been brought for discussion now is unacceptable. The legislation was due to be discussed later this evening. When I arrived into the House and asked for a copy of the amendments that had been made, they were not available. If it was not for the courtesy and co-operation of the officials in informing what was going on, I would have arrived into the Chamber to discuss amendments I had not even seen. This is unacceptable. It is not acceptable to change the Order of Business without the consent of the full House.

We are moving into a week packed with legislation such as this, and to find the order of important legislation being changed without the wholehearted consent of the House is hugely disappointing. I want to set down a marker for Fine Gael that this is something we will not accept.

The Senator is moving away from the issue of amendment No. 1.

With respect, I am making the point that the Minister and his officials have been nothing less than superb with regard to responding to and acting on the points we have raised on this legislation and because of that, this is a better Bill than it otherwise would have been. That is what the Oireachtas is here to do. However, we have been let down by the way in which the legislation has been treated at this point of the process. I would not be doing my job if I did not emphasise that here. I stress that Fine Gael will not accept such an attitude for the remainder of this term.

Amendment No. 1 improves the legislation and it is great to see the Minister acted on it. However, it would be remiss of me not to emphasise that we should be dealing with the Bill in a different way, later this evening with everybody being aware of what is happening and having a copy of the amendments in their hands before coming to the Chamber.

I compliment the Minister and also Senator Ryan on putting forward his worthwhile amendments. Their work shows the importance of Seanad Éireann and demonstrates that under my stewardship as Leader every section of every Bill is discussed. There is no guillotine in this House and there is no rushing ahead with legislation. Every line of a Bill is discussed in the House. We have often sat here until the early hours of the morning under the stewardship of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach and former Cathaoirleach. Legislation is not rushed in this House.

I thank the Minister, who has always been understanding when good amendments have been proposed. I thank Members for this Bill having been initiated in this House. It was initiated here and was not rushed on any Stage. However, I regret that anybody would try to make an issue on account of us trying to facilitate a Minister at 9 p.m. on a sitting evening. That is not how we have done business down through the years. I understand some Members are here for the first time, but they must learn that we respect Ministers when they come to the House. That is how I have always done business. I have always consulted the party leaders, although this has not always done by my predecessors. I consult, communicate and negotiate. Anybody who tries to put a spin of any other shape on the situation knows he or she is not talking about me as Leader.

The Leader is moving away from the amendments. We are on group 1.

I have shown no disrespect to the Minister.

To return to the legislation, I am grateful for how appreciative all colleagues are that amendments have been accepted in the Seanad.

I wish to join my colleagues in congratulating the Minister on his approach to the work of the Seanad. This is something that could be copied by other Ministers. He is somewhat unique in his approach, although there may be one other Minister with a similar approach. I want to reiterate the point that listening to the arguments made here during the course of a debate and being willing to come back with amendments is to be commended. The Seanad should do more of that kind of work. It is very good to see a more constructive approach to Opposition amendments and I commend the Minister on that. I commend him in particular on his dealing with the issue of US officials and the carrying of arms. It is important he has made that statement on behalf of the Government and that he has brought in an amendment to that effect.

I do not want to involve the Minister in the procedural point we were making. Our spokesperson on this legislation could have missed it. We do not need a patronising lecture on how the House is run. We all co-operate in the running of the House. I want to make the point clear that we want our spokespersons to be present when important amendments are being considered. Changing the order puts that at risk. This is the basic point we want to make.

I welcome these valuable amendments and the approach the Minister has taken in the House.

Before dealing with group 2, I thank Senators for their positive comments. When bringing forward legislation, in particular complicated legislation that requires significant attention, I try to bring it to the Seanad first, because of my positive experience with one of the longest pieces of legislation outside of a Finance Bill, namely, the Planning and Development Act 2000. The contributions made in this House to that Bill greatly enhanced and strengthened the legislation.

With regard to the nature of business in general, whether in this House or the other, there is always political cut and thrust and business is often adversarial in nature. I do not believe this is necessarily the best way to deal with legislation. On many different occasions, even on simple issues, such as those pointed out by Senator Ryan in the course of this Bill with regard to wrong dates or wrong citations in legislation, as well as on much more complicated issues, it is useful to hear the views of others and to try to act on them. I will always try to do this and I thank Senators for recognising it.

Amendment No. 2 is a good case in point. At least three of the Senators present, one from Fine Gael, one from the Labour Party and my colleague, Senator John Ellis, discussed this aspect of amendment No. 2 that I am proposing. The amendment proposes that in page 9, subsection (1)(i)(II), line 7, after “expedient” to insert “in the interests of the person being searched”. The amendment concerns the functions of Irish law enforcement officers. Having teased out the issues and the use of the words “or is otherwise expedient”, this gave rise to a good debate and a questioning as to whether the interests of the traveller or anybody else were being looked after.

The point was well made by the Senators opposite that while the purpose of the phrase "or is otherwise expedient" was to provide an appropriate level of protection for the individual, it could be interpreted that it was being inserted for expedient purposes other than those of the traveller. I gave an example of what we intended which was meant to clarify the position and, while Senators opposite accepted that as a clarification, I knew they were still concerned. I appreciated the concern that the words might be used against the interests of the passenger or the person being searched.

At that stage, I was not in a position to respond immediately to the Labour Party Senators on the amendment but I said I would reconsider it. Having examined the legal position and taken legal advice in order to avoid any doubt as to what the words are to mean, I brought forward this amendment to the Dáil and it was passed last night. It clarifies the position and ensures the wording we are now explicitly putting into the legislation makes it very clear that in the phrase "or is otherwise expedient", the expediency relates to the person being searched — the passenger, in other words, not the pre-clearance officer.

This amendment enhances and clarifies the Bill. I thank Senators for raising the matter initially and for improving the Bill in this manner.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.