I welcome the Minister of State to the House.
Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Stanton as bheith anseo inniu. Is mór an onóir dom ar son Fhianna Fáil, agus Seanadóir Diarmuid Wilson, Seanadóir Paul Daly agus Seanadóir Robbie Gallagher, an bille tábhachtach seo a chur chun tosaigh sa Seanad anocht. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le mo pháirtí Fianna Fáil agus ár seanadóirí go léir. Go háirithe ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt do mo chomhgleacaí, an Teachta Pat Casey, Teachta Jim O’Callaghan agus Teachta Dara Calleary, leis an tacaíocht leis an mBille seo. Freisin, fuair mé go leor tacaíochta leis an mBille ó roinnt comhairleoirí. Mar a duirt mé, is mór an onóir dom An Bille um Threalamh Tarrthála Beatha a chur chun tosaigh sa Seanad.
I welcome John Fitzgerald to the Visitors Gallery. As co-chair of Community First Responders Ireland, he has attended Leinster House on a few occasions to give demonstrations and presentations to Oireachtas Members on hitting home the importance of bystander CPR. He can attest to the importance of a Bill such as this one. This is a very simple Bill that seeks to introduce a new specific offence of interfering with life-saving equipment. The genesis of this Bill was December 2016 when we witnessed the incomprehensible acts of thuggery with the theft and destruction of a defibrillator on Abbey Street in Arklow, County Wicklow. I was struck by the comments from the chairperson of Arklow Community First Responders, Mr. John Summers, about the "mindless, senseless and savage attack."
The Arklow Community First Responders had put that defibrillator in place through community fundraising. John Summers said:
I can't accurately describe my feelings at finding it but it was a mixture of anger, disgust, sadness, nausea and probably a lot more emotions that I can't find the words for right now. I just can't comprehend how someone can destroy a piece of very expensive lifesaving equipment paid for by the generosity of the local community.
The idea for the legislation came from CFR Ireland, the organisation representing community first responders, when in the wake of the incident in Arklow it called for stiffer penalties and custodial sentences to tackle the problem. It was then that I started this campaign, which has culminated in the legislation before us. I got to work when I saw its comments in the media. Working initially with my Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Pat Casey, from Wicklow and then with party justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, we got a Bill published and thankfully it has the full support of CFR Ireland and Irish Water Safety.
Much of the media focus in recent years has been on the destruction of or damage to defibrillators or automatic emergency defibrillators, AEDs, but this legislation covers items such as lifebuoys. Since starting to campaign on this issue, I have become even more convinced that the real heroes in Ireland are the ordinary women and men of our country, because their interest in and passion for their communities as well as the welfare of the vulnerable marks Ireland out as a great place. Volunteers who go out and patrol the riverbanks and bridges such as Wexford Marine Watch, or volunteers such as the mountain rescue teams, Civil Defence, the community first responders and the water rescue units are the people who give me great hope for Ireland. This legislation is for them because despite our problems, Ireland is a great place to live and it is a place where I want my young children to grow up.
That spirit of voluntarism is something that inspires me; it is the concept of the meitheal. Cuireann sé i gcuimhne dom an seanfhocal Gaeilge, "Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. This is loosely translated as "Under the shelter of each other, people survive." Perhaps it is only in times of tragedy in Ireland that we fully recognise the million small acts of kindness and volunteerism that make us who we are as a people.
For me, volunteers reflect a nation's compassion. I often ask myself the following questions. What motivates a community first responder to rush to the scene of a medical emergency? What motivates a member of a mountain rescue team to leave their bed and join others on a misty morning, to go in search of an injured climber? What motivates a member of a river rescue team, which more often than not has the challenge of bringing a body home?
What motivated the sub-aqua teams from all over Ireland to come to north-west Mayo to help search for the missing crew members of Rescue 116 last year? What motivated the local fishermen in Blacksod to spend up to six weeks at sea, searching, hoping for a sighting, assisting the naval service and the Garda divers? What motivated a small group of women and men in Ionad Deirbhile in Aughleam to open up Halla Naomh Bhreandáin to ensure that hundreds of personnel involved in the search and rescue operations around Blacksod were catered for?
For weeks they provided an incredible compassionate, yet practical, response to the tragedy in Mayo, providing hundreds of meals around the clock, providing a focal point for the families and friends of the missing crew. Last week it was announced that this group of volunteers, Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile, won the 2018 meitheal of the year award at the Mayo Association Dublin awards. With Fr. Kevin Hegarty I was immensely proud to nominate them for that award.
Volunteers and voluntarism are the social capital that holds our communities and society together. That is why acts of thuggery like the destruction of a defibrillator or a lifebuoy are an affront to the spirit of voluntarism across the country, something that as a people we are so good at. It is part of our natural psyche and perhaps that is why almost 18,000 people have signed my petition, urging the Government to support this law.
This legislation rightly recognises the emergency services, but it also recognises the emergency volunteers who regularly put their lives at risk without giving it a second thought. In my mind, this legislation is to honour the hundreds of volunteers from all over Ireland who took part in the rescue efforts off Blacksod for Rescue 116. It is also for every person in every parish, village, town and city who have donated or fundraised to put a defibrillator in place.
I have previously spoken about how a stolen lifebuoy is a stolen life. We have seen reports during the year that, for example, Cork City Council had to replace 300 lifebuoys in one year because of theft or damage. This is why I believe that a strong message needs to be delivered to individuals contemplating such irresponsible thoughtless acts of vandalism. Damaging or stealing a piece of life-saving equipment is not ordinary vandalism, such as graffiti or stealing a street sign. These acts directly impact on whether a real person survives an incident in their most critical hour of need.
As a doctor, I know that the availability of an AED can be the difference between someone surviving a cardiac arrest or not. The majority of these devices are put in place through fundraising by voluntary community and sports organisations. Other organisations such as the GAA have been extremely proactive in this area, including the establishment of the Cormac Trust, which was set up after the sudden death of Tyrone GAA star, Cormac McAnallen in March 2004.
I will now outline the sections of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard section, setting out the various definitions used in the Bill.
There are two parts to section 2. This is the central part of the Bill as it sets out the details of a new offence of interfering with life-saving equipment. It shall be an offence to interfere with, cause damage to, alter, remove or modify a defibrillator or an automatic external defibrillator. In the second part I give notice of my intention to introduce amendments to the categories of items that are covered under the Bill.
There are two short parts to section 3. They both set out the financial and custodial penalties under the Bill, whether for summary conviction and conviction on indictment. The Bill proposes that the upper limits will not exceed a €50,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both. As I said earlier, these financial and custodial penalties are designed to signal how seriously the Oireachtas views the destruction or damage of life-saving equipment. It is no longer tenable to deal with these types of crimes under the Criminal Damage Act 1991. Section 2 of that Act covers the intentional damaging of property and it also provides that a person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally damages any property or is reckless as to whether any property would be damaged and who intends by that damage to endanger the life of another, or is reckless to such endangerment, is guilty of an offence.
On legal advice and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders I decided that the Bill needed to introduce a specific offence of damaging life-saving equipment. There can be no comparison between graffiti, damage to a park bench or kicking over a bin, and the wilful damage of or inference with a life-saving device.
Section 4 relates to attachment orders and has been introduced in order to ensure that any financial penalties by the courts are fully paid, or linked with future earnings. Section 5 deals with the Title and commencement.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's thoughts on the issues the Bill raises and engaging fully with other Senators throughout this debate.
I commend Senator Swanick on bringing the Bill to the House. I congratulate him on his initiative. This is very important legislation. While I do not want to pre-empt what the Minister of State may say in his remarks, there may be aspects of the Bill that need to be tightened. I am happy the Government will support the Bill. It is important to have a conversation about the voluntarism, commitment and patriotism of our community first responders. We also need to look at the case of Cork City Council, which, as Senator Swanick said, has had to replace numerous lifebuoys.
It is important that the content of the Bill goes beyond the debate today.
We all agree that vandalism is putting lives at risk and we cannot tolerate that. As I walked in Cork city yesterday, I noted a number of life buoys on the quay walls and there were defibrillators on some of the streets. We assume they are there and ready for use in the case of an emergency. As Senator Swanick said, Cork City Council had to replace lifebuoys last year. A defibrillator on Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork city had to be replaced by the council.
Members of the community in Ballinora, a community on the outskirts of Cork city, fundraised to buy a defibrillator and then volunteered for training in how to use it. As Senator Swanick said, that is the epitome of community spirit and all that is good in Ireland. I welcome the guests in the Visitors Gallery and thank them for the work they do on behalf of all of us.
It is not about having a carrot or a stick, as some people may say. Keyboard warriors on social media will give out about the Bill and say it is a case of Big Brother trying to become more involved in people's lives. We must explore new ways of deterring people from acts of vandalism, as Senator Swanick said. He referenced the Criminal Damage Act 1991. It deals with criminal damage to property generally, which includes life-saving equipment. The Act carries penalties including fines of up to €22,000 and imprisonment for ten years. This debate is about the endangerment of life and how we can ensure vital equipment and infrastructure are not damaged or are not replaced. I make no apology for supporting the Bill because it is about ensuring that people who interfere with and damage defibrillators, lifebuoys or marine safety devices are prosecuted.
Weather alerts are issued at certain times of the year. People who go out on our seas, into the air or out on the roads are taking risks when trying to find people. Senator Swanick referred to mountain rescue teams in many parts of the country who go out in very arduous conditions. The Bill is about ensuring that there is a specific commensurate offence in respect of the act which has taken place. We owe these people a debt of gratitude. One of the ways in which we can ensure there is respect for their work and the work being done by bodies such as Cork City Council, which has put in place defibrillators and lifebuoys, is to ensure that life-saving equipment is available.
Laws must be more explicit. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will be complimentary of us in his remarks in terms of what Senator Swanick is trying to achieve. The Bill is about ensuring that there is within our communities a mindset whereby we can educate and change behaviour in order to augment the significant work being done by volunteers. As part of the debate, we should reflect on the need for the Bill. The Title refers to life-saving equipment. The Bill will support the personnel who bravely go out to assist others.
The Minister of State has an interest in EpiPens and how we can have a community response. As Chair of the health committee, I worked on legislation involving universities and colleges which would have enabled those in need of life-saving EpiPens to have them administered. It is something we need to consider. This is about volunteers in our community and ensuring that we not just applaud their work in a pyrrhic sense but also support them with legislation. It is about sending a strong message and ensuring that criminal damage cannot be tolerated or condoned.
As I said, this is not about having a big stick or imposing the maximum fine or prison sentence. That is not what we are trying to do. That is not what I understand Senator Swanick and I are trying to do. I want to educate people, but I want to do so in a manner which involves them.
I commend Senator Swanick and thank him for his work on the Bill. I join him, as I did on the Order of Business, in commending the people of Blacksod and the first responders who won awards in Mayo at the weekend. I thank those all over the country who respond and save people's lives. That is why we have safety awards and need legislation in tandem with other good acts. It is welcome that the Government will support the passage of the Bill to the next stage. I again thank Senator Swanwick.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as a bheith linn. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir Swanick as an Bhille seo a leagadh os ár gcomhair. Is Bille thar a bheith tábhachtach é a bhfuil deis aige difear suntasach dearfach a dheánamh, ní hamháin fá choinne an cháis seo. Táim cinnte go mbeidh teaghlaigh iad siúd uilig atá caillte mar gheall nach raibh a leithéid d'áiseanna ar fáil ag tacú agus ag leanúint an Bhille seo agus é ag dul ar aghaidh.
I echo the commendation of Senator Swanick for bringing this Bill before us. It is important proposed legislation. I agree with the Leader, Senator Buttimer, that there will of course be opportunities for us to discuss, tease out and amend the Bill as, it is to be hoped, it progresses through the Oireachtas. From our perspective, there are aspects of the five-year sentence which we can amend, given all the reasons laid out by Senator Buttimer.
I want to use my time to reflect on the broader sentiment of the Bill and life-saving equipment. A family had to undertake a long-standing campaign in my home city of Belfast. I was the Lord Mayor of Belfast when Joby Murphy, who was on his way home from a concert in the Odyssey Arena, fell from the Lagan Weir and drowned in the River Lagan. His family, in particular his father, campaigned extensively in the city. Joby was missing for what felt like months, given the agonising wait for his family for his body to be recovered from the Lagan. The family undertook a campaign in the city, and more broadly, in the immediate aftermath to locate life-saving equipment around the Lagan Weir and the river.
Given the tragic loss of Joby and the agony his family had to go through for his body to be recovered, it was bad enough that there was no life-saving equipment in place that might have made a difference. We do not know whether it would have but it might have done had circumstances been different. Can one imagine the circumstances if equipment such as a lifebuoy were missing or damaged so it could not be used when trying to save someone in the river? It has already been said that a piece of this equipment stolen is potentially a life stolen. A piece of this equipment damaged could be the difference between life and death for someone. Therefore, I believe there should be legal repercussions for people who deliberately, consciously or knowingly interfere with, vandalise or damage life-saving equipment.
I reflected on the contributions that have been made. Senator Swanick mentioned the loss of Cormac McAnallen and the absolutely sterling work undertaken by his family with the GAA and society more generally to ensure access to defibrillators and that we become conscious of the health issues faced by sportspeople. In this regard, can one imagine a scenario similar to the one I mentioned regarding Joby Murphy. Imagine if a defibrillator in a GAA club were found smashed up or stolen when needed. One can only imagine the horror. It is depraved to consciously and knowingly smash or steal such equipment. There is merit in ensuring legal repercussions for anyone who would deliberately seek to do so.
I join colleagues who paid tribute to the emergency services and volunteers in community organisations, sports clubs and any number of other organisations who undertake training to ensure the necessary awareness prevails right across society and that the issues are fully and broadly understood. The equipment has made a difference and can do so in the future but we need to ensure it is in place and protected. We must educate and inform people and raise awareness of the importance of the equipment. My colleagues, party and I believe that when informed people deliberately destroy or vandalise pieces of life-saving equipment, or obstruct their use, they should face the necessary and appropriate legal repercussions.
I commend Senator Swanick on bringing this legislation before the House. I have a significant interest in this area having been a lifeguard for five years, employed by Waterford County Council. I am aware of the work done around the country by the voluntary bodies, such as Irish Water Safety, and the first responders and Waterford City River Rescue, among many others. Considerable effort and hours are devoted to this work. Those concerned are very conscientious in protecting life. At times, they put their own lives at risk in order to protect people who get into trouble in rivers or seas.
I recognise the importance of there being consequences if someone damages life-saving equipment. There has to be a consequence. There are organisations that are spending time providing education in schools and advertising. Even in the cinemas this year, there were advertisements drawing attention to the importance of taking care of life-saving equipment.
What I particularly like about this legislation is section 2. It refers not only to lifebuoys but also to life preservers, throw rings, lifeboats, lines, ladders and safety harnesses. That is an extensive list and it has to be included. The use of the word "alter" is significant. It is not only the lifebuoys or life rings that can be thrown to the beach in a criminal act of disregard but also the ropes attached to them.
As someone who spends a lot of time walking the beach in Tramore, I very often find a lifebuoy has been thrown on it. I was talking earlier to a friend of mine, Mr. "Buddy" Cuddihy, who is on the executive of Irish Water Safety. He told me that although an individual or member of a voluntary group might find lifebuoys in place when walking the length of the beach at a certain time, they might be gone a few hours later. In the morning, all might be well and good but in the course of the day someone could vandalise a lifebuoy or throw it out on the tide line. Sure enough, the tide would come in and take it out to sea, meaning the equipment would not be in place in the event of a rescue.
Just last week, I was walking by the River Tolka in Dublin and saw a lifebuoy in the river. I contacted a friend who told me there is a website, lifebuoy.ie, on which one can notify those concerned. If anyone sees a lifebuoy thrown in the river, he or she can contact the authorities or notify them through the website rather than put his or her own life in danger by trying to retrieve it. In any case, there are ways to inform the authorities if one sees a piece of life-saving equipment that has been thrown around.
The legislation is more than timely. There have to be consequences. What would happen in the event of a minor discarding life-saving equipment?
There are so many voluntary groups around the coast, lakes and ponds and along the rivers who are giving of their time voluntarily to safeguard life and ensure equipment is in place. It is absolutely disgraceful that some chancer or someone with no respect for the equipment or life could vandalise that equipment. Therefore, there has to be a mechanism and a charge. The proposed legislation is to be welcomed. I support it entirely. My party, the Green Party, supports it, as does the Civil Engagement group. Once again, I compliment Senator Swanick and all the volunteers around the coast of Ireland who are giving of their time to protect people's lives.
Like previous speakers, I commend Senator Swanick on this very sensible and long-overdue Bill. Effectively, I live beside the sea. I live between Ennistymon and Lahinch in County Clare. I walk the beach at any opportunity I get. I was on the beach yesterday evening because I had some spare time. I know as well as anybody in this House the challenges faced regarding equipment for emergencies, such as lifebuoys. Deputy Grace O'Sullivan is absolutely correct.
I have been to Tramore where the beach is similar to beaches in my area.
I estimate that more than 50% of defibrillators are purchased using money raised by voluntary groups. These groups go to the effort of collecting money to ensure defibrillators are available to save lives. They are placed at GAA clubs and other locations in communities. For example, there is one on the beach in Lahinch. The people who target them are more than chancers; they are thugs. The Bill will fill a gap in terms of dealing with those who behave in this way.
An intensive educational programme is needed to deal with minors who engage in this activity. Transition year in secondary schools could be put to good use by educating young people for life. By the time they leave school, all young persons should have been given an opportunity to learn how to swim. They should also be taught what responsibilities they have in respect of equipment that is available for use when people get into trouble. Some volunteers and colleagues have spoken about incidents that have taken place. I forget the name of the young gentleman from Belfast who drowned. A good friend from my locality, Catríona Lucas, lost her life two years ago while on a search and recovery mission. The Doolin rescue centre, which was built by the Irish Coast Guard in 2014, is now named after Ms Lucas. The Taoiseach visited Ennistymon on Saturday to open my constituency office. I must credit him for ensuring the Doolin Coast Guard secured the new centre with the best equipment available to allow it to respond rapidly and save lives.
I am pleased to support the legislation and I hope that in due course Senator Swanick will be able to support a Bill I am working on to make it a criminal offence to disregard the instructions of the emergency services when a red weather alert is in place. During Storm Ophelia in October 2017, it was scandalous that people went wind surfing and seeking adventure with a hurricane alert in place. In addition to putting their own lives in danger, these individuals also put at risk the lives of those who must go out and save the lives of others when they are in danger. It is appropriate that some form of deterrent and punishment should be in place to deal with those who wilfully ignore a red weather alert by taking to the roads or waterways or generally disregarding and disrespecting the instructions of the emergency services who try to save lives, including the Civil Defence. The carry-on along the coastline during Storm Ophelia and similar storms was not acceptable. People took photographs on their phones of waves crashing over houses. This type of thrill seeking needs to stop as it shows a blatant disregard for those who risk their lives to save the lives of others.
The Seanad is the ideal forum for raising these types of issues. In the cold light of day, when we are not in the middle of an emergency, we can discuss and debate legislation and ensure it covers all angles. Senator Swanick has done a great job in covering the relevant issues. I am sure colleagues will be able to strengthen the Bill on Committee Stage by suggesting amendments that address angles that the Senator may not have considered. I look forward to engaging with Senators to ensure the Bill is enacted and ultimately results in lives being saved.
This is a good Bill. Senator Swanick has a background in general practice and is bringing the skillset he acquired before his election to the Seanad to this legislation. I represent Limerick city where, at the start of this year, a defibrillator was vandalised and broken. It has been purchased with funds raised by the South City Residents Association which is based in the O'Connell Avenue area. Criminal sanctions are needed to deal with these types of cases. While general legislation is available, it is something of a maze to navigate. It makes sense, therefore, to introduce specific legislation to deal with this type of vandalism.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, on working on the Bill. This spirit of co-operation is one of the positive aspects of new politics. While it may be necessary to ensure there are no inconsistencies in the Bill, the main focus should be to define a specific criminal act, ensure the provisions can be fully enforced and make people aware of them.
Previous speakers referred to young people. Education on this issue should be built into the transition year curriculum. There is also a strong argument in favour of adding first aid to the curriculum to make young people aware of and develop respect for the benefits of defibrillators, lifebuoys and other safety related terms. Education is needed to inform people that destroying a defibrillator or throwing away a lifebuoy could cost lives. People need to realise the consequences of such actions, including potentially for their brothers, sisters, fathers or mothers.
The Bill is to be commended and I welcome the decision of the Government to allow it to pass Second Stage. As we all know, the devil is in the detail and changes will be made on Committee Stage. I hope we will all make a productive contribution to it.
Legislation must have a number of features. First, it must have an overriding principle which, in this case, is to introduce criminal sanctions for destroying life-saving equipment. Second, it must also have practical import, in other words, it must be possible to implement it easily and in a straightforward manner. Third, it must have an educational dimension. Too often, we get bogged down in the technicalities of legislation when we need to consider the practicalities.
On Second Stage, we discuss general principles and we will discuss the details of the Bill on Committee Stage. It is not lengthy legislation and we must ensure it can be implemented. On Report Stage, we will have a second bite of the cherry, as it were, when we will be able to introduce elements that may have been discussed on Committee Stage. This is a fine Bill.
I am taking this Private Members' Bill on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who, unfortunately, must be in the Dáil at this time. I thank Senator Swanick and the other proposing Senators for bringing the Bill before the Seanad and highlighting the consequences that can result from vandalism to life-saving equipment.
Having listened to previous contributions, I agree with colleagues that this is important legislation and it is even more important that we are debating it. I wonder about the mindset of people who vandalise and damage life-saving equipment.
I wonder whether it is a case that they do not care, they do not know or perhaps they know but are doing it on purpose. Whatever the reason, this is extraordinarily serious. This is why the debate is so important.
As Senators have pointed out, the purpose of the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 is to introduce a specific offence of interfering with, causing damage to, altering, removing or modifying life-saving equipment such as defibrillators and marine safety devices. The Bill proposes to introduce a custodial sentence, for conviction on indictment, of up to five years for such an offence with a financial penalty of up to €50,000. The spirit and intention behind the Senator's Private Members' Bill is clear, namely, to send a clear message to individuals contemplating thoughtless acts of vandalism. Perhaps it is a thoughtless act of vandalism. If it is a planned act of vandalism that is even worse. If people were to realise that by damaging this equipment and putting it beyond use they could be contributing to a person's death, it would demonstrate the seriousness of their actions.
I join Members who have mentioned the various voluntary services, and Senator Swanick mentioned Rescue 116 and what happened after the event. The volunteers in bodies such as the RNLI, mountain rescue, Civil Defence and first responders take their lives in their hands to save others as do the staff in the Naval Service, An Garda Síochána, the Air Corps, the Irish Coast Guard, lifeguards and so on. They are working to save lives and one can see the effort they put into it.
In my own area, members of the east Cork rapid response medical group very often risk their own lives to save others. It beggars belief that somebody would damage equipment on purpose. I cannot comprehend that anyone would damage equipment on purpose. I join colleagues who speak of the need to change the mindset and the importance of education programmes in that regard. I commend Deputy Swanick for bringing this Bill before us. This debate is important as it may help to change the mindset of those who either mindlessly or on purpose damage this equipment. I notice some of the media have taken on this issue as well, which is welcome.
The Minister has asked me to set out the law on criminal damage and theft. The offences which the Bill seeks to create are already provided for in legislation which deals with criminal damage and theft in a general way. The Criminal Damage Act 1991, referred to by Senator Swanick, deals with criminal damage to property generally, providing for a range of offences with significant penalties and this would include not only the life-saving equipment to which the Bill refers, but all life-saving equipment. Under the 1991 Act it is an offence to damage, threaten to damage or possess anything with intent to damage property. "Property" is defined in the broadest terms as meaning "property of a tangible nature, whether real or personal, that is capable of being stolen". The term "to damage" is also broadly defined as meaning "to destroy, deface, dismantle or, whether temporarily or otherwise, render inoperable or unfit for use or prevent or impair the operation of" the property concerned.
Section 2 of the 1991 Act provides that a person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally damages any property belonging to another or is reckless as to whether any such property would be damaged, is guilty of an offence. It also provides that a person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally damages any property or is reckless as to whether any property would be damaged and who intends by that damage to endanger the life of another or is reckless to such endangerment, is guilty of an offence. This latter provision has particular relevance in the context of damage to life-saving equipment. The commission of serious offences under the 1991 Act could, on conviction on indictment, result in a fine of €22,220 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or even life imprisonment where endangerment of life is concerned.
As to the theft of property, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 provides, in section 4, for a broad offence of theft which would include not only the life-saving equipment provided for in the Bill but all life-saving equipment. The Act states: "A person is guilty of theft if he or she dishonestly appropriates property without the consent of its owner and with the intention of depriving its owner of it." It is important to note that deprivation includes temporary deprivation. The penalty for conviction on indictment is an unlimited fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years. Senators will agree that there is already in place legislation of a general nature which would enable prosecution of those who would seek to vandalise life-saving equipment as provided for in this Bill.
This Private Members' Bill would put in place specific offences regarding defibrillators and marine safety devices. If the Bill, as drafted, were enacted, it would mean that persons interfering with or damaging defibrillators or marine safety devices would be prosecuted for those specific offences and could potentially receive substantially lower penalties than would apply under current law. I know that is not the intention of the Bill. It has been mentioned by Members that these issues can be examined further on Committee Stage.
It is clear that the Senator's Bill arises from concerns that lives could be lost due to the interference with or damage to the life-saving equipment provided for in the Bill and that such acts should not go unpunished. In this regard, this House can have no doubt of the Senator's sincere motivation in bringing forward his Bill. Again, I thank the Senators for bringing it forward.
I will now turn to the provisions of the Bill. As Senators have outlined, section 1 of the Bill defines the terms used in the Bill. Section 2 provides for offences of interfering with, causing damage to, altering, removing or modifying a defibrillator or any marine safety device, except in the performance of routine testing or maintenance or during an identifiable medical emergency which has been notified to the emergency services. Section 3 sets out the penalties for such offences of a fine not exceeding €50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both, for conviction on indictment.
Section 4 applies section 14, an attachment order, and related sections of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 to any person found guilty of an offence under this Bill. However, the Minister believes this provision to be unnecessary. The provisions of the fines Act apply in circumstances where a fined person fails to pay a fine imposed by the due date for payment. In such cases, the fined person will be brought before the court again and the court will either make a recovery order, an attachment order, a community service order or, and as a last resort, commit the person to prison.
There are also some drafting difficulties with the Bill. The offences the Bill proposes regarding interfering with life-saving equipment are subject to the exception that the offences would not apply in the performance of routine testing, or maintenance of the equipment, or during an identifiable medical emergency which has been notified to the emergency services. This would mean that a person who, for example, throws a lifebuoy to a person without that person or some other person first notifying the incident to the emergency services would be guilty of an offence. That said, these are drafting issues and drafting issues can always be resolved. I just point this out to be helpful.
I thank Senator Swanick and the other proposing Senators once again, on behalf of the Minister, for their continuing work and interest in criminal justice matters. While the wide-ranging nature of the existing legislative provisions include life-saving equipment, the Minister and I believe it is worth considering whether the law should be more explicit and focused in this regard or whether different penalties should apply where life-saving equipment is concerned. The Minister does not, therefore, propose to oppose the Bill but will explore options to give effect to the principle underlying the Private Members' Bill and will seek to work with Senator Swanick and the other proposing Senators in that regard. We want to see what we can do to progress the ideas that Senator Swanick and the other proposing Senators have outlined in the Bill to see how we can improve it. The over-riding concern is that we ensure we change the mindset of people.
The difficulty is providing proof because very often people interfere with equipment when there is nobody around to see it. Senator Grace O'Sullivan said that when one walks out in the morning everything is fine but when one walks back in the evening the damage has been done. I call on people who see somebody damaging equipment to please notify the authorities. It is incumbent on everybody to let it be known to the authorities if they can identify the person damaging the equipment. By doing that, one is saving lives. Senator Grace O'Sullivan mentioned ringbuoys.ie in her contribution and I was very taken by what seems like a very interesting website. I think we should look at it further.
I thank Senators Jerry Buttimer, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Keith Swanick, Grace O'Sullivan, Martin Conway and Kieran O'Donnell who contributed. We are all of the same mind. The intention behind the Bill is good, but it needs to be worked on. I thank the Senators for bringing this Bill forward.
I thank the Minister of State.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and all Senators for their contributions. I am delighted with the support I have received from around the House. This Bill needs to be enacted. It is the result of Members thinking of our volunteers, the people who put their lives at risk for others.
I take on board the sentiments expressed by the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and look forward to working with him and all other Senators on Committee and Remaining Stages. The Minister of State has said it can sometimes be quite hard to prove the offence. It is important when volunteer groups are placing defibrillators in certain locations that they be in view of a CCTV camera.
I welcome Senator Jerry Buttimer's contribution and agree with what he said about the merit in providing EpiPens across the country. They are emergency devices and such an approach could work well in conjunction with the provision of adequate training in schools, third level institutions and community settings.
I thank Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile for relating the personal story of Joby Murphy and the Lagan Weir. Could one imagine the situation if lifebuoys were put in place and then stolen? It would increase the trauma for a family, for whom the grieving process would be prolonged.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan has first-hand experience of being a lifeguard. I have mentioned that I intend to introduce amendments to section 2. At the time I liaised a lot with Mr. John Leech, CEO of Irish Water Safety. I am open to an input by any Senator on marine safety devices. Reference was made to lifebuoys, life ladders and life rings, but I will be happy to take other ideas on board.
I totally agree with Senator Martin Conway in his comments on the provision of education for minors, especially in transition year. With reference to what Senator Grace O'Sullivan said, I will look more specifically at the issue of minors and get back to her directly on it.
I thank Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile for agreeing with me that we need specific legislation and the rolling out of more first aid training courses across the country. I am delighted with the raft of support and messages I have received from Members of this House and Deputies on all sides. If we are serious about dealing with the issue, we must move forward quickly with the legislation. I accept that the Bill might require improvements and changes to be made and will be happy to work with everybody to that end. There is no reason for the Bill not to move quickly based on what has been outlined in the debate.
I thank everyone who spoke in the debate. I also thank Senators Paul Daly, Robbie Gallagher and Diarmuid Wilson who kindly co-signed the Bill. I am delighted that Mr. John Fitzgerald, co-chair of Community First Responders Ireland, has joined us in the Visitors Gallery. CFR Ireland has played an important role in helping me to have this legislation drafted.
I wish to mention a young man from Athlone, Cathal Joyce, who is 27 years old. He is a survivor of sudden cardiac arrest and was one of the guests at a briefing I held on the Bill in July. He has been a great supporter of the Bill which he has promoted on social media. He collapsed in Cusack Park in Mullingar before a GAA football match between Athlone and Rosemount. He survived because of CPR and the fact that there was a defibrillator to hand. He is an excellent representative. Earlier I asked the question of what it was that inspired a volunteer. Perhaps it is the spirt of the great Jim Larkin who said: "An injury to one is the concern of all." That is a matter to be debated on another day.
I thank the Senator for legislation that has been well received.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.