Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 14:
In page 40, to delete lines 10 to 35.
—(Senator David Cullinane).

Níl mórán Gaeilge agam. Is féidir linn labhairt as Gaeilge. I wish I could converse sufficiently effectively to be able to put forward my points of view, but that is my weakness. I have always admired Senators on all sides of the House who have been able to speak in our first language. They might ask why I do not go out and learn it, but that is another matter.

Like Senator Keane, I would like to establish what the thinking behind this aspect of the legislation is. The Minister may have thought he would have a rough ride in his first few months in office. I assure him that all Ministers feel the ire of people in the Irish language movement when any attempt of this kind is made. Someone in the Department of Justice and Equality has landed him with a hot potato. When the Minister got up this morning, I am sure the last thing on his mind was that he would have an argument about whether texts should be published as Gaeilge or as Béarla.

It is interesting that there has been a focus on the publication of Acts on the Internet. There is a facility whereby Google, which is one of the most popular search engines, can be accessed as Gaeilge. As Senator Mac Conghail indicated, Gaeilge is the first language of many people. If such people want to acquaint themselves with this legislation, they will be unable to do so if they are using the Irish language version of Google.

I take the point made by Senator Keane about the likelihood of people rushing to the Government stationery office to pay a few euro to look at legislation. It is worth noting that nine separate Acts, some of them going back to the 1950s, are being changed by the legislation before the House. The use in the Bill of the phrase "other enactments" indicates that other Acts might be amended as well.

For reasons of curiosity, if nothing else, people who examine this Bill may inquire into what it is all about. It is rather unique in the sense that we do not often have consolidating Bills that cover such a wide sweep of matters. The Minister mentioned on Second Stage that one of the Acts being amended relates to mining, which is far removed from some of the other issues we have discussed.

Like Senator Keane, I am curious to know what the thinking in the Department was when it was decided to include this provision in the Bill. It does not strike me as something that would save any money because it is about the click of a switch. We need to bear in mind that a strong campaign, supported by all sides in this House and the other House, was fought before Irish attained its status as an official language of the European Union. Having supported that actively, it is somewhat disappointing to learn that this important legislation will not be given the due right it should be given by being printed in the Irish language.

I remind the Minister that I do not get up to scream about the Irish language every day of the week. I take Senator Mac Conghail's sensible point about the Official Languages Act 2003. It was wise of the head of the language organisation to acknowledge that there are flaws in the 2003 Act. I have often wondered whether it is absolutely essential for every piece of legislation to be printed in both languages. That is a matter for another day. We are talking about the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011. I await with great interest the Minister's thinking on this amendment.

I agree wholeheartedly with most of what Senator Byrne has said. He made an interesting point about the constitutionality of this provision. I would welcome the Minister's commentary in that regard. I would regret any movement away from the publication of legislation in both languages. The spirit of the requirement that legislation be translated into Irish is central to our existence as a people. I have concerns about the manner in which it has been imposed through the Official Languages Act 2003, however.

I agree with what other speakers said about the commitment in the programme for Government to review the 2003 Act. I hope we can have a national debate on it. As Senator Mac Conghail and others have said, it is a complete waste of public money to produce a county development plan as Gaeilge at a cost of €40,000 or €50,000, only for it to be bought by just one person. It is not engaging with the spirit of the Irish language to require that to be done.

When I listen to people like Senators Keane, Ó Clochartaigh and Mullen speaking, it strikes me that Connemara Irish is absolutely beautiful. We have received e-mail correspondence advising us that Irish classes are being organised. I look forward to participating in them. The whole notion of the Irish language is such a strong part of our existence that we should never, if at all possible, move away from the principle of producing documents in our native language in the first instance and, obviously, as Béarla as well. The constitutional point that was made was very interesting. I await the Minister's commentary in that regard.

Ba bhreá liom tacú leis na leasuithe atá os ár gcomhair. Glacaim leis go bhfuil Sinn Féin sásta cúlú lena leasú sa chás go mbeimid in ann leasaithe eile a chur chun vóta. Measaim gur fiú é sin a dhéanamh. I remind Senator Byrne not to be too quick to encourage Senators on the other side of the House not to defy the party Whip.

I would not like to ask them to do anything I would not do.

The possibility of doing so should always be on the agenda. We live in hope. The issue at stake here is clear. Anything related to the Irish language raises profound sensitivities in many people and for good reason. Regardless of their level of competence in the language, many people very much cherish it and insist on it being shown respect. Respect for the language and the perception that there is respect for it is a critical part of promoting it.

Senators Cullinane and Byrne set out the constitutional issues very well. The significance of the place of Irish as the first language in the Constitution should give us the key to how to resolve this matter. When we deal with legislation we are dealing with the front of the national house. This is not simply a matter of the publication of different types of documents, annual reports and such like but the publication of national legislation. Anything that gives the impression that the Irish language is notde facto the first official language but some kind of an optional extra would be very much to be regretted.

Tá sé ráite ag Conradh na Gaeilge go bhfuil athbhreithniú ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 geallta i gclár an Rialtais. Why not wait until the review of the Official Languages Act, on which people may be consulted, has been completed before introducing such a radical change? Chomh maith leis sin, d'fhéadfaimís a rá go bhfuil sé íorónta go bhfuil an leasú seo sa dá theanga.

Normally we only receive amendments to legislation in the second language, namely, English, notwithstanding that the Bill will have already been published in the Irish language. The question arises as to whether it is possible to have legislation published bilingually in Irish and English at Bill stage. This would lessen any possible delays that may arise from the eventual translation of the legislation.

There are other ways of addressing this issue. There is a second Rannóg an Aistriúcháin. Surely if the two translation departments were re-organised, we would be able to ensure that, once passed, legislation would be published in both languages within an acceptable timeframe.

We also need to keep in mind the European context. It is ironic that having achieved status for Irish as an official language of the European Union, a measure is being proposed to downgrade its status in its usage in a legislative context and in the eyes of members of the public.

The Minister may choose to inform the House that certain mischief needs to be avoided and certain problems will arise if legislation is not available within a short period of being passed. If that is the case, will he consider introducing a note of exceptionality? If he really believes this subsection should not operate to prohibit the publication on the Internet of an Act of the Oireachtas in one official language, could he not provide for the publication of legislation in one official language only in exceptional cases? If he were to introduce such a notion, it would at least show that he does not consider it desirable that people would become casual about the Irish language.

The comments of Senators on the growing importance of the electronic media are especially significant. If the mentality on display here had prevailed in the past we would still have An Gúm but we would not have TG4. Books and the written word are important but, by heavens, the electronic word is extremely important. The late availability of published or past legislation in Irish in electronic format would send out an extraordinarily negative message. I ask the Minister to take into account the concerns expressed by Senators, including the suppressed concerns of Seanadóirí on his side of the House, and have them reflected in some form of change to what has been proposed.

Has Senator Jim Walsh crossed the floor?

Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil mórán ama fágtha don díospóireacht seo, ach ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuilim i bhfábhar an leasaithe atá á phlé againn agus go n-aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid atá ráite ag na Seanadóirí eile. An rud is tábhachtaí ná go bhfuil athbhreithniú ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla geallta i gclár an Rialtais. Mar sin, bheadh sé i bhfad níos fearr dá gcuirfeadh muid an t-alt seo ar ábhar na Gaeilge ar leataobh go dtí go mbeidh an t-athbhreithniú sin críochnaithe. Tá an méid a bhí le rá ag an Taoiseach san olltoghchán sna bunscoileanna suimiúil freisin.

This is not an appropriate Bill for making such a significant amendment. It should be possible, when the Bill is being prepared, for both language versions to be done at the same time. There is a lead in time as the Bill goes through the House. All that would be required when the Bill is passed is for the amendments to be included and changes to be made in the text. I have difficulty in accepting this proposal, which I hope is not another part of a move to abandon compulsory Irish. I urge the Minister to take on board the good arguments that have been made by many speakers.

I thank Senators for their comments and assure them that there is no evil plan attached to this. I should inform the Senators from Fianna Fáil who contributed that the previous Government made a decision that it was necessary to introduce a similar provision in the law. One was being prepared to be included in the somewhat smaller Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that my predecessor published.

Senator Mooney referred to the number of Acts that the legislation before us addresses. It addresses 40 different Acts in the context of the reforms it introduces. I reiterate that this is not about in any way undervaluing the Irish language or not regarding or recognising its constitutional importance. It is important to note that section 7 of the Official Languages Act 2003, which came into force in July 2006, provides for the printing and publication of Acts of the Oireachtas in both languages simultaneously. This provision was introduced in the context of a Supreme Court judgment which was delivered in 2001. Another judgment on statutory instruments issued in 2010 reinforced the constitutional obligation to make both Irish and English language versions of legislation available "within a reasonable time or as soon as may be practicable", in other words, not instantly. The previous Attorney General was concerned about the difficulties that could arise when new laws have come into force but are not accessible to those affected, particularly in the case of new criminal law. Following consultations with the Oireachtas commission, the then Attorney General recommended an amendment be made to the Official Languages Act to the effect that nothing in the Act should prevent the publishing of an electronic copy of a new Act on the Oireachtas and departmental websites following the passage of the legislation. This, as I stated, was agreed by the previous Government.

This amendment, which is technical in nature, would simply allow publication in electronic form of legislation as soon as it has been signed by the President in order that there is instant accessibility to what the legislation contains. It does not in any way prevent publication in both languages. Formal publication will thereafter have to take place in both languages.

I draw specific attention to what is in the Bill before us. It provides additional protection for victims of domestic violence and a new mechanism to enable the enforcement of maintenance orders for unsupported spouses and children. The Bill gives example of the reason it is necessary, as soon it is signed, that it be available in final form and published on the Internet. Some weeks later, in the normal way, the legislation will be formally printed and published in both languages. It is not fair to individuals when legislation is not printed and made available in its final form for a period because, for some, even a few days can make a difference to their lives. If one is a victim of domestic violence and new protections are available, one needs to know this, as do lawyers and the Judiciary. It is not a luxury. That is why the issue is important.

On a point of order, why did the Minister not have the courage to use the words "in the English language", rather than "in one official language"?

That is not a point of order.

The Bill deliberately reads, "in one official language". It may be possible to deal with things differently in the future. The reality is that legislation is enacted in the English language and that amendments are furnished in English. The legislation we are dealing with is in English and when it goes to the Dáil it will be in English. The final print will be instantly available in English. Often crucial amendments are made to legislation on Report Stage and within a day or two the President may sign the legislation. It is not possible on technical legislation such as this, which deals with 40 Acts, to provide for instant translation.

Can the translation not be done when the Bill is published?

We were acting on the advice of the Attorney General and the previous Attorney General, neither of whom believed there was a constitutional difficulty of any nature.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 15.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

As it is now past 6.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That the Bill, as amended, is hereby received for final consideration and that the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 12.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.