Message to Dáil

As the Bill has now completed Committee Stage it is recommended that members submit Report Stage amendments to the Bills Office without delay as Report Stage may be tabled at short notice.

I thought that was just a great way to wind it up.

If I could have moment before we adjourn.

The Minister may because I have to do a formal declaration at the end.

I acknowledge the importance of the debate and, indeed, the length of the debate over five sessions. I thank members for their contributions. We have had a very in-depth discussion over a number of meetings, and it is clear that members have highlighted differing views on a number of important aspects of the Bill. The committee has amended certain components, sections and parts of the Bill in a significant way.

Arising from our deliberations, and I am sure this will come as no surprise to the Chairman, we still have much work to do on a number of elements of the Bill in the context of looking at approaches, acknowledging amendments we have made and taking stock as to how best we might approach matters prior to and on Report Stage. During the course of the debate, I made a number of commitments that I would, on behalf of the Government, come back with some amendments, which I will do. Of course, I am very keen to give adequate notice, in the circumstances of the Bill, unlike in the normal course of events, having been altered quite significantly.

Given the fact that what may likely transpire to be an additional complement of membership on the board of the commission, we need to do some more work on the matter of the specifications for membership, in light of the changes which have been approved by the committee and on how the lay members of the commission are recruited. I acknowledge on my part and that of my officials, that further consideration must be given to the reformulation of aspects of the Bill to determine the best approach. On whether, on the matter of recruitment, it will be entirely a matter for the Public Appointments Service or whether we can have a nomination arrangement to the satisfaction of the Deputies as debated, I need to see how that might be designed to meet the disposition and clear wishes of the committee. I must consider whether we have a mix of people, some chosen by the Public Appointments Service and some nominated to the commission by specified nominating bodies. Against the background in which the committee structure has been removed, I want to examine the balance between having a manageable number of persons on the commission and ensuring there is an appropriate contribution of all court presidents, having regard to the various strands of appointment.

I invite members of the committee to agree with me on the following point.

Our objective must be to have a structure with a balance between having a commission that is not so large as to be unworkable or unwieldy while holding fast to the initial design of the Bill. Specifically, the central principles of the Bill are a lay majority on the commission and an independent chairperson. Those must be reconciled with the importance of ensuring that we have the appropriate inputs of all court precedents, including the presence of the District Court and of the Circuit Court. That is not quite clear now under the Bill as has passed Committee Stage. I want to give the Chairman notice of my intention to table an amendment to address a technical issue concerning advances of funds to the commission. I am sure that will be welcome. Likewise, depending on what the Parliamentary Counsel has to say, we may need to look at tabling further drafting amendments consequential to those that have already been made, particularly in Part 4 regarding the removal of relevant committees as was originally intended, to ensure that there is no unintended impact on other aspects of the Bill. Even looking at the Long Title, although we have agreed it, we all consequently agreed that it would not be the final word on that.

In light of the fact that we have made a large number of amendments, I am mindful of the need to proof where we are going to ensure that the contents are legally and constitutionally acceptable and that the drafting is fully in order. There will not be an imminent or sudden tabling of Report Stage amendments. I have acknowledged that some work needs to be done and that will take some time. I would be happy to keep the Chairman fully informed of developments. If any members of the committee wish to engage with me or my officials bilaterally, I would not only be open to that but would be keen to engage in such a discussion but we will have to take our time. Ultimately, the Bill can only benefit from the opportunity that it now presents, which is a form of breathing space between now and Report Stage. I also thank the Chairman for the efficient way in which he managed to steer us through almost 200 amendments.

I will cherish those words of commendation from the Minister.

I would not take it too seriously.

I will hold those words tight. I thank the Minister and both his officials for their contribution and endurance over these five meetings. I will say to all members that we can be very proud of the work we do. It is great to have two Bills conclude Committee Stage here in one day. It does not always happen for us but it has been worthwhile.

I have a final request, if the Chair does not mind my intervention. From time to time in the course of the parliamentary session, the media engages in the production of a league table of Members of Dáil Éireann and the number of times they have voted. I suggest that a record is taken of the number of times we have voted in this committee to ensure that we are well up there as the most active group of parliamentarians.

I recommend to the Minister that he stop giving a damn about the media since they are not worth worrying about.

There is probably another record. I do not think a Government has suffered so many five-three defeats at one meeting of a committee.

I leave that to members. There is no question that the positions represented by the decisions taken are sincerely held by all who participated. I thank committee members. The select committee is adjourned sine die but I advise members that the joint committee will meet next Wednesday, 21 February, to conduct detailed scrutiny of the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017. We are launching the wards of court report at 10.30 a.m. in the AV room and I appeal to members to attend.

In accordance with Standing Order 90, the following message will be sent to the Dáil:

The Select Committee on Justice and Equality has completed its consideration of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 and has made amendments thereto.

The select committee adjourned at 3.35 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Thursday, 22 March 2018.