I have a series of amendments to propose to this Section, as well as to other Sections. My amendments to this Section are:—
In Sub-section (1), line 36, to delete the words "less than two pounds nor."
In Sub-section (2), line 48, to delete the words "less than two pounds nor."
Indeed, there is a long string of amendments in my name, and as it is now five minutes to eight, I do not propose to trouble the Dáil with divisions on every one of these amendments. The same principle is involved in every one of them. It is that we should not insert in this Bill a clause which would provide for a minimum penalty on the offender. The matter was discussed on the Second Reading Stage, and it was pointed out that under the provisions of the Bill the magistrate was obliged to sentence offenders to certain minimum penalties. The offence of taking a salmon or trout from any river is to be punishable on summary conviction by a fine of not less than £2 and not more than £25, together with a fine of £2 for every salmon so taken. So that no matter what the conditions under which this offence had been committed, no matter what circumstances might mitigate the guiltiness of the offender, the magistrate would be obliged to fine not less than £2 or £4, if two fish were taken in addition to the forfeiture of the net or instruments. The objection that I have is to the principle of imposing a minimum penalty and putting it upon the magistrate the duty of seeing that he will be obliged to punish by a minimum penalty, no matter what the circumstances may be. This obligation simply tells the magistrates that they do not know their business and that they are liable to be influenced by local considerations, or friendliness to the culprits. You are practically telling the magistrates, who were raised to the level of Judges and hold very important offices of State, that they cannot be trusted to impose a penalty or to take into account the circumstances. In certain other clauses it deals with periods of imprisonment, but the same principle is involved in every case, and I submit it is not a good policy to tell a magistrate or Judge, for that is what you are doing, that no matter what the circumstances might be, he must impose a fine or a certain period of imprisonment on the culprit.
It is contended that he may submit case for consideration to the Minister for Justice or he may plead with the Governor-General for leniency, and request him to exercise certain prerogatives, but I think that is a very undesirable course to adopt. I move the amendment, and I will accept the decision of the Dáil on it as applying to the other amendments in my name which seek to remove this minimum penalty from the Bill.