It is a pleasure to bring the Statute Law Revision Bill to the House. Its purpose is to repeal spent and obsolete public general Acts passed between 1922 and 1950. As the first comprehensive review of Acts passed by the Oireachtas, the Bill will result in a significant reduction in the size of the Statute Book for this period. In total, some 297 Acts, accounting for 42% of the 707 enforced Acts passed between 1922 and 1950, are proposed for repeal.
The Bill is the latest in a series of measures to be enacted to overhaul the Statute Book. Previous Statute Law Revision Bills were brought before this House in which they received cross-party support.
The statute law revision programme was initiated in 2003. It formerly operated within the auspices of the Office of the Attorney General and is now contained in the government reform unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Its purpose is to enhance public accessibility to the Statute Book. There has been a particular need for such revision in Ireland because our unique legislative past has left us with a complex stock of legislation with enactments from the Parliaments of Ireland, England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, as well as the Oireachtas.
The statute law revision programme is already responsible for five distinct but complementary Statute Law Revision Acts between 2005 and 2015. These have successfully repealed all obsolete primary legislation enacted prior to Independence and, in addition, have revoked all obsolete secondary legislation made up to 1 January 1821. To date, over 60,000 items of legislation have been either expressly or implicitly repealed under the programme. This Bill, when enacted, together with the five previous Statute Law Revision Acts, will collectively be the most extensive set of repealing measures in the history of the State and the most extensive set of statute law revision measures ever enacted anywhere in the world.
The benefits of statute law revision are well documented. These include the creation of certainty as to which laws remain in force; the modernisation of the Statute Book; the enhancement of public accessibility to the Statute Book; and the codification or consolidation of the statute law of the State. It is in the public interest to proceed with this Bill in that these proposals will assist in reducing the regulatory burden for business, industry and citizens by simplifying the complex stock of legislation on the Statute Book, as well as helping to provide legal clarity to the area. The importance of simplifying this complex stock was noted with approval by the OECD review of better regulation in Ireland 2010, which reported that initiatives, such as the Statute Law Revision Acts, were impressive efforts to address the challenge and improve accessibility. In addition, the programme is a specific element of the public service reform plan 2014 to 2016 and feeds into broader public governance initiatives such as Ireland's participation in the global open government partnership.
The Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 repeals 297 public general Acts, which, following detailed examination and consultation, have been determined to be spent and obsolete. The identification and examination of primary legislation has proceeded chronologically and this Bill deals with Acts enacted by the Oireachtas between 1922 and 1950.
As our decade of centenaries moves closer to the anniversary of the foundation of the State, it is particularly appropriate we are examining and removing some of its earliest legislation that has long since served its purpose. In doing so, we pave the way for the next 100 years of legislative growth. The legislation of this period shows our nation in its infancy developing its own legislative framework. It follows the transition from the Irish Free State to the fully independent Republic of today, while capturing several of the birth pangs felt along the way. The obsolete Acts listed for repeal include the Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Act 1923, enacted following the outbreak of the Civil War, which granted far-reaching powers and additional offences aimed at ensuring public safety. It included the imposition of the death penalty or penal servitude for anyone found guilty of an armed revolt against the Government of Saorstát Éireann or certain associated offences.
Several Acts are repealed, which amended the now defunct 1922 Constitution of Saorstát Éireann, including the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Act 1933, which repealed Article 22 of the Free State Constitution, which required Members of the Oireachtas to take an oath declaring their faithfulness to His Majesty, King George V, and his heirs and successors. The Constitution (Amendment No. 24) Act 1936, which abolished the Senate of Saorstát Éireann is also repealed. A new Seanad was, of course, established by the 1937 Constitution.
Other Acts to be repealed include the League of Nations (Guarantee) Act 1923, which provided for Ireland to join the League of Nations; the Telephone Capital Acts 1924 to 1938, which authorised expenditure of funds to develop the telephone system of Saorstát Éireann; and the Emergency Powers Act 1939, which granted wide-ranging powers at the outbreak of Second World War, including the power to suspend the operation of any law.
The Bill has been accompanied by a process of consultation, which included the publication of a draft list of Acts to be repealed on the website of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. All Departments and relevant local authorities were consulted and advised on Acts of relevance to them, as well as given an opportunity to provide observations on the proposed approach to those Acts.
Section 1 is the central feature of the Bill, providing for the repeal of the 297 Acts listed in the Schedule.
It includes a small number of Acts that were listed for repeal in previous Bills, but the repeal, for a variety of reasons, was never commenced. Following consultation with officials in the relevant Departments, it was confirmed that these Acts were suitable for repeal and will now be repealed in this Bill.
The provisions of section 1 depart from the approach that has been taken in the previous four Statute Law Revision Acts. These earlier Acts would have provided for all statutes within the category of legislation under consideration to be repealed with the exception of the statutes listed in the Schedule to the Act. This approach was taken for reasons of clarity; these earlier Acts repealed thousands of pieces of legislation, leaving only a handful of statutes in force. It was reasonable, therefore, to list only the legislation that was being retained on the Statute Book. In this case, it is more reasonable to list the spent and obsolete Acts in the Schedule and provide for their repeal in the Bill, and that is what we have done in this section.
Section 2 provides a number of savings clauses. Section 2(3) provides that the inclusion of an Act in the Schedule shall not be construed as meaning that the Act, or any provision of it, was of full force and effect immediately before the passing of this Act. Section 3 provides for a Short Title for this Bill when enacted and collective citation for all the Statute Law Revision Acts to date.
The Schedule lists the specific Acts identified in the course of the review as appropriate for repeal because they have ceased to be relevant or have become unnecessary.
I wish to outline an amendment to this Bill, which I intend to introduce on Committee Stage. The old Irish Parliament passed a public Act in 1800 entitled, "An Act for Incorporating the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion". This association was formed as a voluntary society in 1792. The Act provided for the incorporation of the association, conferring its rights to purchase and own property, to sue and be sued, to have a common seal as well as other key provisions governing the association, including the right to make by-laws in respect of its internal governance. This Act was repealed in its entirety by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007.
It has since come to our attention that this association is still in existence and continues to function. The association is registered as a charity under the name of the Association for Promoting Christian Knowledge, APCK. It supports the publication and distribution of religious educational material and provides religious educational support for the Church of Ireland. We have confirmed that the APCK is one and the same association as the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge of the Christian Religion. It appears that the organisation has used both names interchangeably throughout the years. However, the name of the association was not officially changed. This change of name may explain why there was no connection made between the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge of the Christian Religion and the APCK in the consideration of the repeal for the purposes of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, despite a widespread campaign of consultation and advertisement in the national press at the time.
The effect of the repeal is to abolish the association's existence leaving no body or persons who can deal with its affairs or property. The individual members of the association still exist but they do not have the power to act on behalf of the abolished association to organise its affairs. It is not clear with whom the former association's rights and obligations, including its property rights, vest.
It is clear, therefore, that the Act establishing the association was repealed in error by the Oireachtas because the association is, in fact, alive and continues to function. Had we been aware that this was the case, the Act would never have been repealed. The legal limbo in which the repeal leaves the association is an unfair and unconstitutional interference in the property rights of the association. The association is entitled to remain in being according to its 1800 form and, in the circumstances, the association should be reinstated by statute.
It is proposed, therefore, that the best way to put the association back in the position in which it was prior to the enactment of the 2007 Act would be to repeal the repeal effected by the 2007 Act and to deem it never to have taken effect. This will ensure that there was no interruption in the life of the association and things done by it between the enactment of the 2007 Act and the new legislation would thus have been validly done. The Attorney General is satisfied that such a retroactive provision would not be constitutionally objectionable because the Oireachtas would not be declaring any act to be an infringement of the law. The wording of the proposed amendment to reinstate the association will be tabled on Committee Stage in the Seanad.
Since the publication of the Bill, we have identified a further four Acts that are suitable for repeal. It is proposed to add these to the Schedule on Committee Stage.
The Bill is a rather technical piece of legislation but an important and necessary one. It represents another step in the journey we are on to tidy up and simplify the Irish Statute Book. The enactment of the legislation will deliver benefits in facilitating the process of public governance reform and in reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and citizens. It will also ensure that our Statute Book is significantly more modem and will enhance public accessibility to the laws that govern our people as they go about their business in their daily lives. I commend the Bill to the House.