I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I congratulate Deputy Charles Flanagan on his appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. I thank him for his co-operation while Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I had a few difficult issues trying to get passports and a few matters over the line and thank the Minister and his office for what he was able to do for me at the time. I wish him well in his new appointment because it is a challenging role.
If I might be so bold, this legislation might not be one of the Minister's priorities. My party has looked at it - Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, our spokesperson, has gone through it in great detail - and formed the opinion that it is unnecessary at this time to spend time debating this legislation. If one looks at various aspects of the legislation and the reasons it is before the House, all one can see is that it is an ego trip and that it is not necessary. If I reflect what the people of Cork North-West are saying to me on a daily basis, it is about neither the appointment of the judges, nor how members of the Judiciary have been appointed since independence in the 1920s.
The Judiciary has stood the test of time. The method of appointment of members of the Judiciary in the past 22 years has involved a selection process. Following the debacle of the appointment of a High Court judge in 1994, there was new legislation. That legislation, no more than the system that was there in terms of Government appointment, involved the Executive having the sole responsibility for appointing judges. If one examines that through the decades, there have been many fine persons appointed.
The language being used suggests there was some kind of cosy cartel between the politicians and the legal profession out of which judges were appointed. However, given the system of appointment, the reality is that the court system has served the country extremely well.
Let us consider any comparison throughout the European Union, the developed world or any system that has measured our judicial appointments or the system that has led from the appointments of the Judiciary. They have been well received throughout the world. We have been seen as having appointed excellent judges.
Many people have served on the Bench and have made difficult and controversial decisions on a raft of issues, but they have always taken the letter of the law. They have taken what we have presented to them as the Oireachtas or by way of referendum. They have taken the law and conscientiously gone through it. It is peculiar to think that we are now debating at length this legislation because there is somehow some flaw in the way our judicial appointments are made. When I talk to the ordinary person on the street I sense the utmost respect for the judges.
Many facets or aspects of Irish society in the past 20, 25 or 30 years have definitely been challenged. The establishment and some aspects of church and State that had been held on a pedestal for many decades have been challenged. However, the one that has served us throughout is the judicial system. When we see people challenging the judicial system, they are always challenging judgments that went against them. It is by far the better way that judicial appointments have been made. Therefore, we have appointed singularly capable people to the Benches of all the courts.
We are now left with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I respectfully suggest there are far more important issues that need to be debated on the floor of the House before we head into the summer recess. Such issues are pressing on the minds of people. We had a debate in the House earlier on respite care in County Louth. The way the respite care system for people with disabilities or the elderly has been run could be extended to the entire country. Over the weekend many parents expressed considerable concern on the matter. Such bread-and-butter issues are affecting every family throughout the country, yet they are not jazzed-up enough, sexy enough or controversial enough to bring to the floor of Dáil Éireann. They are seen as mundane issues. However, these are not mundane issues for families at the receiving end of these services. People ask me at my clinic on a Friday, Saturday or Monday to raise these issues. Then, I say the whole week is given over to judicial appointments. The people concerned have the same reverence for the judges.
The judges in turn go through the legislation that they are charged with and they ensure they give judgments. We have seen many cases, although I have no wish to comment on any individual case - that is not my remit as a Member of the Oireachtas. We have seen many cases with commentary. As a case is going on, it is reported in the media. Judgments are made in terms of how a case is going to conclude and whether persons are going to be found guilty of the offence or found not guilty of the offence. There is debate on the length of time that is going through it.
We see the judicial system works in the way the jury is appointed and the way advice is given by the judges to the jury. They always ensure they are implementing the law properly. The Houses of the Oireachtas should applaud the system in place. We should applaud the way that the judges have been appointed and how they have administered, by and large, the courts system. Of course there needs to be further change as time passes. We can go back to the 1937 Constitution since the provisions were first put into the Constitution. We should look at how better to do it.
This Bill is unnecessary at this time. There are some words in it. It is completely and absolutely unnecessary at this time.
From the crash in 2008 right through to now, many fine people have spoken ad nauseam on radio and television and in the Houses of the Oireachtas about quangos, the number of quangos, the cost to the State of these quangos and the number of people appointed to these quangos. There was discussion on how to reduce and minimise the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy had created a major cost to industry and to society whether in the services sector or elsewhere. "Quangos" was the buzz-word. The front of the Sunday newspapers ran stories on how more quangos must be reduced, scrapped or done away with. The 2011 election was to be a reforming election that was going to turn the world on its head. The first thing that was going to be done by the most reforming of candidates was the getting rid of quangos. There was no longer going to be toleration in society of quangos. Let us suppose we wanted to press that issue or go through the commentary on that issue. What quangos would we get rid of or cut? An bord snip nua was looking at quangos with a view to getting rid of them in 2008 and 2009 after the crash. What are we doing here and now with this legislation? We are creating another quango. We find fault in how judges have been appointed. We find fault with how the letter of the law and the legislation has been applied to the nth degree since 1995. How do with find fault with it? We create another quango.
Other issues arise and I want to develop them also. One of the main issues that people have in society was discussed here earlier. It relates to the insurance industry and how the cost of insurance has quadrupled or doubled in recent months. Today, we learned of various investigations by the European Commission into how insurance and the cost of insurance is being applied. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was put in place 20 years ago or more to try to reduce the cost of insurance. We were to look at other jurisdictions and we were supposed to mirror the legislation on the basis of what people were advising. Reference was made to Scotland and some other parts of the British Isles and Europe. However, we are not looking at best practice there in respect of our insurance industry. We are not looking at how to minimise cost or how the cost can be minimised for the general public.
Next week we will debate Report and Final Stages of legislation predominately. That has been the tradition since I came to the House. Legislation is developed over a period and then it comes to the final week. It is brought in to ensure it is passed on Report and Final Stages such that it can be sent to the Seanad before the summer recess. We are now in the second last week of the session and we are debating legislation that has been put into three or four periods of Government time. This legislation will not be enacted before the summer.
We need to look at what is being proposed and ask whether there is such urgency about it. What is being proposed is not going to help our cause as Ireland Inc. The most important question that we should ask as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas with every tranche of legislation is whether in five or ten years it is going to improve the livelihoods of ourselves or our citizens. Ultimately, as Members of the Oireachtas, we are sent to the Dáil as Teachtaí Dála, as messengers of the Dáil. Our job is to ensure we serve the people, whether they live in Cork North-West, Dublin, Donegal or Laois, and that we bring the basic message in respect of what people want. As in any republic, we are here at the behest of the people to represent the people. We are here to represent them to the best of our ability.
What is to be gained by adding further layers of bureaucracy? Let us go back over the years and consider any assessment of legislation that was taken in this House. There is one thread running through all of it: rushed or hurried legislation or legislation taken because of a specific issue, a political issue or because of someone's vanity ends up being poor legislation, by and large. Legislation should be teased out. People should make honest contributions every time in terms of how they want to proceed and how they want to see the best for society. What we are trying to do as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, no more than in ordinary life, is ensure the Ireland we leave after us is better for the next generation and the generation after that.
As we spend three or four days discussing this legislation far more important issues in the education and health sectors are being sidelined to put through this vanity project.
Fianna Fáil is opposed to the Bill because we believe it is unnecessary at this point. In the past week or ten days, many fine commentators have reviewed this legislation. By and large, the view is that judicial appointments are at the behest of politicians and that only persons connected to senior politicians can hope to be appointed to the Judiciary. When one forensically examines the system, one finds that since the foundation of the State all of the very fine appointees to the Judiciary, by all of the political parties, including Cearhball Ó Dálaigh, excelled as court judges and they served the State well. In terms of this legislation, we will no longer be allowed to appoint people to the Judiciary because it might be tainted if the appointees are in some way associated with politics. The Executive appoints the Judiciary. That is sacrosanct in the Constitution. It is the methodology of appointments that is in question. There has been a rush to denigrate appointments made in the past, despite the fact that those appointed have been excellent judges. They took the oath and they have carried out their roles responsibly, whether in the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court or any other court to which they were appointed.
Politics and politicians are held in poor regard throughout the country. Truth be told, there are many people who wish with the strike of one match they could do away with the Members of this House and all others who practise politics, be that on local authorities or in the Seanad. Democracy is praiseworthy. It is the best form of government to ensure that people are held accountable. We are all aware of the many dictatorships across the world and of the poverty and suffering therein of men, women and children. Two years ago, when a picture of a child in one dictatorship was shown on the front page of the newspapers there was outrage. We do not cherish democracy in this country. We should praise people who have been appointed to the Judiciary because they have not been challenged in terms of the decisions they have made. They have made very fine decisions and issued fine judgments. I refer members to the cases of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six across the water. We did not have similar cases here because our judges were thorough in terms of how they implemented and practised the law. It is a disservice to us as politicians and a disservice to democracy and the Judiciary to say there is a need to take the grubby hand of politicians away from the appointment of judges because such appointments would be tainted and so on. We should be firm in our praise of judges.
In regard to free legal aid, there has been outcry in regard to the manner in which it is granted. The free legal aid system was established to assist the many people who were involved in family disputes or needed to defend themselves from scurrilous accusations and so on but were unable to access the courts because of the cost of legal proceedings. There are people who are questioning the availability of free legal aid. Rather than putting in place another quango, as provided for in this legislation, we should be discussing legislation to ensure a fairer distribution of free legal aid and greater transparency around that process. We do not need more quangos. There is no necessity for this quango which is proposed by the same people who, in articles in the public press in 2008, 2009 and 2010, said that this country was being run by quangos and that the decisions being made by quangos were not implemented by politicians being held accountable and so forth. Over the next number of days, as we did last week, we will be debating legislation that seeks to establish another quango that will cost multiples of the cost of the current system of appointment of judges. Perhaps somebody will point me to the flaw in the current system and why it is necessary to make this change. Is this a vanity project, an ego trip or is it genuinely needed by the people to ensure that we have more rather than less respect for the Judiciary?
While places such as Kanturk or Charleville or anywhere else are faced with many challenges, top of their list is not appointments to the Judiciary or the practices of the Judiciary. This is far from their minds. We in this House are duty bound to reflect on the concerns of citizens and to act accordingly by introducing legislation, such as legislation to ensure people receive proper respite care and so on. I know of families who have not received respite care for three or four years. Is that not as important or more important than the legislation we are discussing tonight? It is more important, as is the lack of roll-out of broadband across rural communities. I could speak here for the next 40 minutes about all of the issues we should be debating rather than this unnecessary legislation.