Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 23
Question again proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

I said at the end of Second Stage that I thought it had been an excellent debate, and it was. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the way in which Committee Stage has been dealt with has not done the Senate any service. I do not have to point the fingers in that respect.

I am implacably opposed to the deletion of this section for the simple reason that to do so would be discriminatory. It is purporting to create a situation whereby a registrar fails or refuses to give a form and does not suffer any sanction other than the disciplinary procedures that might be normal for any public servant.

Senator Hanafin and others asked why we should have a criminal sanction if it is not used. The criminal sanction has already been on the Statute Book since 2004 in respect of other offences and whether it has been used, the fact that it is there is a clear statement by the Oireachtas to those people who might, without reasonable cause, fail to do something they are required to do. It is clearly a dereliction of their duty and the Oireachtas should send a strong signal that this is not something that can only be dealt with by a disciplinary tribunal or whatever. It must be dealt with if it is a very serious offence. As Senator Ross said, this is not a victimless crime.

Section 69 of the 2004 Act lists the offences a registrar might commit by not acting in accordance with the Act. It also includes a non-registrar, in other words, an ordinary person. A person who gives to the registrar particulars or information which he or she knows to be false or misleading is guilty of an offence. All of those offences are punishable, on summary conviction under section 70, by up to six months and a fine of up to €2,000, while there are much more serious penalties for conviction on indictment. All of those section 69 offences are punishable by that criminal sanction. What is being proposed here is clearly discriminatory in respect of a failure to give a form concerning civil partnership. The people who are proposing the deletion of this section are effectively proposing that in that instance, there should be no criminal sanction. I disagree because it is clearly discriminatory.

The term "without reasonable cause" is there as a defence if the person has good reason not to fulfil what he is required to do under the section. It is entirely up to that person to prove it in a defence of any prosecution that takes place. Therefore, there is an "out" in that respect. However, what is proposed is discriminatory because it is making a difference in the sanction purely and simply because it refers to a civil partnership registration.

We always welcome the Minister's response. It is quite clear there are different views on this Bill and the Minister has to provide us with a focused view that we believe will enable us to endorse the legislation that is being brought forward. I spoke three times today and I do not think any of my contributions exceeded three minutes. I kept things very brief because I had hoped that throughout the debate, we would be able to categorise each argument, each point of view and each question for clarification.

If there was filibustering here — it has been suggested there was — there could be reasons for it, but I will not point fingers at any person. However, everyone will agree there were more people in favour of the Bill in its totality than those opposed to elements of it. For that reason, there will be many more voices being put forward.

We are on section 23.

I do not think we could have a guillotine this evening only for the fact there is near unanimity within the House. It is a black mark on us and I know the Leader will be very hurt about this because he has a very proud record. It means that instead of using Standing Orders to control the debate, we now find a big question mark in the public arena that because there were only a few who wanted to question this legislation, the only message that goes out is that for the first time in the life of this Seanad, we brought in a guillotine because we had near unanimity to do that. As a democrat, I am sorry to say that.

I accept the ruling and when the Bill is passed, I will accept that. However, we should make up our minds that whatever happens in the future, we may still come back and express our views. If others do not agree with those views, which we expect to happen, we should still be entitled to put them and those opposed should do likewise. It is sad day for me personally and I am sorry it has ended in that manner.

I believe there was a dangerous ambiguity.

I had proposed that we adjourn from 4.30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

I am in the Chair and I am watching the clock and it is not 4.30 p.m.

I apologise to the Cathaoirleach.

There is to be a sos at 4.30 p.m. I am obliged to call the next speaker when there is time available.

There was a dangerous ambiguity in what the Minister said a few moments ago. He said there is no need to point the finger in regard to filibustering. I have already said that I certainly was not filibustering but I make no apologies——

(Interruptions).

When Senator Regan said that——

As it is now 4.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the amended order of the Seanad of this day: "That section 23 is hereby agreed to in committee, that in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, that the section is hereby agreed to in committee, that the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to in committee, and that Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment."

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.