Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Private Security Authority

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

6. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of his proposed legislation regarding regulation of private security personnel that fall outside the remit of the Private Security Authority. [20943/19]

In early April, in response to a point I had been raising for a period of time, the Minister announced his intention to bring those involved in the enforcement of court orders relating to evictions under the Private Security Authority and the relevant legislation. I ask the Minister for the latest position and to outline where the proposal stands at present.

I secured Government approval last month to bring the regulation of private security personnel, employed to assist in enforcing court orders, within the remit of the Private Security Authority. The proposals for this measure and related matters are contained in the report of an interdepartmental working group, which was published on my Department’s website on 9 April 2019. The key recommendation of the report is that the Private Security Services Act 2004 be amended to bring security personnel assisting in enforcing court orders within the remit of the security services licensable by the Private Security Authority. This means that such persons will require a licence to operate in this area and will have to meet the standards and qualifications set by the authority. The Act will be amended to include enforcement guard as a new category of security service to be licensed by the Private Security Authority.  An enforcement guard will be defined as a person performing the following functions: removing persons from a premises or place in order to take legal possession of the premises or place; controlling, supervising, regulating or restricting entry to a premises or place in order to take legal possession of the premises or place; and seizing property or goods in lieu of an outstanding debt.

My proposals also include amendments to other legislation in this area, such as repealing a provision in relation to the display of court messengers' names and places of residence in court houses, in the interests of the safety of such personnel.  I also propose to amend section 33 of the Private Security Services Act 2004, as amended, to allow the register of licences to be available on the Internet as well as the authority’s offices. My Department is working with the Office of the Attorney General to bring forward the necessary legislative provisions and we will keep the Deputy informed.

I raised this issue previously in the context, first, of the issues involved in the Frederick Street incident and, second, regarding the Strokestown incident where some of the security personnel's behaviour was appalling. That happened because of a lack of regulation. There was nobody to hold them to account. On foot of those incidents, I complained to the Private Security Authority and was informed that it has no remit in this regard. That is plainly wrong. The Private Security Services Act contains any number of provisions which cover licensing, regulation, a complaints procedure and ensuring that people are of good character when they are employed in these professions. If we expect people who are engaged in security work on our high streets and at the doors of pubs to meet these standards, we should surely expect those people who are involved in what is potentially the most intrusive and hard-edged form of security work to be covered by regulation.

I have seen the interdepartmental report to which the Minister referred but I want to know when he intends to bring forward legislation in respect of this not particularly complex area. What is required is a mechanism which will ensure that security personnel will be brought under the remit of the Private Security Services Act and that the provisions thereof will apply to them. That Act will probably require a few amendments specific to this category of security personnel. Will the Minister indicate a timeline for the introduction of such legislation?

Work is proceeding apace. I mentioned that I am in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. There is a responsibility to ensure that any legislation is legally sound and capable of implementation. I acknowledge the proposals in the Private Members' Private Security Firms Bill. As the Deputy will recall, that Bill unopposed on 31 January last. It was agreed that Second Stage would be taken in Sinn Féin's Private Members' time. These proposals will feed into what I am doing in my Department. I acknowledge that the proposals in the Bill in question were very wide-ranging. They could, for example, unintentionally include persons such as social workers who might be involved in some way in the execution of enforcement of court orders in the area of family law. The proposals which have been approved by Government and on which I am working are more specific in the intended new category of licensee. I assure the Deputy that I would be happy to keep him and the justice committee informed of developments. My position is that the Private Members' Bill will be considered in advance of any Second Stage debate.

I thank the Minister for that response. We will keep the situation under review. For our part, I am glad the Minister has acknowledged the Bill. We will progress it to Second Stage if we are not satisfied with progress from the Government. We can consider any amendments the Minister proposes to make to that Bill, if it progresses to Committee Stage, which I hope it will, and I emphasise its importance. During those recent incidents, it became clear that there is a large lacuna in the law. That is unacceptable and it needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency. I hope the Minister will be in a position to publish the heads of a Bill or a Bill and to bring it to the House as soon as possible. If he does not, we will proceed with our Private Members' Bill.

I acknowledge once again the Deputy's contribution in the matter of the Private Members' Bill, which will inform work in this area, as should be the case. It is important that we proceed to specify what will be a new category of persons, the enforcement guard, that this category will be strictly defined and that we can proceed with the appropriate legislation in draft form at the earliest opportunity. I hope in the next few weeks to be in a position to outline a firm timeline. I acknowledge the urgency and importance of bringing forward legislation.

Question No. 7 answered with Question No. 19.
Questions Nos. 8 and 9 replied to with Written Answers.

International Time Zones

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the preparations his Department is making to prepare for the EU's harmonisation of daylight saving time in March and October 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20941/19]

On 28 March, MEPs voted to cease the seasonal clock changes with effect from April 2021. I understand that the vote was two to one in favour. The last mandatory clock change took place on 31 March last. The Minister will be aware there has been interest among Members of this House in the matter for a long time. His colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, the late Senator, Feargal Quinn, and I pursued various initiatives to try to retain summer time indefinitely. I introduced a Private Members' Bill which a predecessor of the Minister's, the former Deputy Alan Shatter, addressed and which was on the clár of the previous Dáil throughout its lifetime.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this issue. The proposal from the European Commission would end seasonal clock changes with effect from 2021, with each member state electing whether to remain on summer or winter time all year round. This proposal remains under discussion and has yet to be adopted.

In this regard, discussions with members states on this proposal are ongoing via the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy, TTE, Council and the next meeting of the council is scheduled for June.

A number of member states, including Ireland, are conducting national consultation exercises to inform their position. Ireland is also among those member states which have argued that more time is required to properly consider this proposal and its implications for our people. All member states have identified a requirement for co-ordination with neighbouring countries. This is a particular consideration for us in the context of our nearest neighbour, the UK, and on the island of Ireland, with reference to Northern Ireland.

An interdepartmental steering group was established by my Department to consider the proposal, to guide a public consultation process and report to Government. The public consultation comprised a public survey and invitation of submissions from individuals and stakeholders across the country. The Department also commissioned an opinion poll of a sample of respondents aligned with the national population.

A detailed analysis of the responses has been carried out and I will bring a report to Government shortly to assist in formulating the Irish position on the proposal. Clearly, the implications for time zones on the island will be a key consideration in our approach to this issue.

I agree with the Minister that it would be impossible to have different time zones in the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware there was a powerful Lighter Later movement in the UK for most of this century to retain summer time and return to what prevailed in the era prior to the First World War. There was overwhelming support in surveys undertaken by the European Union which showed 84% in favour. Our survey showed 88% in favour. I made a submission to the ongoing consultation. I made a strong arguments for this proposal on the basis of health in terms of the seasonal affective disorder, SAD, or winter blues complex from which many people suffer, that our roads would be safer by retaining summer time, that there would be a reduction in the incidence of crime which occurs particularly during the long dark evenings, the benefits that would accrue to our tourism and hospitality industry and the fact, for example, that St. Patrick's Day falls in winter time, and a range of other strong arguments. I accept that harmonisation is a key point. Clearly, if our main European partners - particularly if Brexit happens - were to adopt the European Parliament's approach, we would have to be prepared.

I acknowledge once again the Deputy's interest in this issue over a number for years. I want to make one point clear. Ireland is one among of a number of member states that have argued strongly that more time is required to properly consider the proposal. Contrary to media reports, to date, we have not formally supported the proposal that has been put forward. A particular consideration for Ireland is that the proposal raises the possibility of different time zones on the island of Ireland. This is a concern that is borne out in the responses we have received to the consultation process. As far as consultation exercises are concerned, more than 16,000 responses have been received to my invitation for people to make their views known. A broad preliminary conclusion indicates support for discontinuing the practice of clock changes and a preference for summer time but real concern at the prospect of two time zones on the island of Ireland. Many of the detailed submissions expressed concern at the practical or the logistical implications of ending seasonal time changes and the inconclusive evidence surrounding the proposed benefits of the proposal. The matter is under discussion and I welcome the Deputy's input.

I agree with the Minister that it would be a significant development if it were to proceed.

The debate on the Brighter Evenings Bill which I brought forward was taken by the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Shatter. A clear issue was how we would protect our school children on darker mornings and so on. It is interesting that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, when he was Chair of the justice committee, held extensive discussions on this matter. Many who participated in the discussions were of the opinion that if we could not have full summer time, we should make winter time far shorter such that, at least, the period of winter time post Christmas would be no longer than that pre Christmas. Again, harmonisation would be required and countries would have to act together. In general and on balance, most people believe it would enhance our lives. We were delighted that the European Parliament felt the same way.

It is important to acknowledge that there is a wide range of opinions on the merits of ending seasonal clock changes. There are some school students in the Public Gallery. I am sure that if we were to ask their opinion, we would get a wide and diverse range of responses.

In Scandinavia, children go to school later in the day.

This issue may form part of school projects. I would be very happy to engage or receive proposals in that regard.

There is a large measure of uncertainty around the question of harmonisation between adjoining countries. I refer specifically to the issue of whether our UK neighbours will remain in the European Union, which provides us with a real challenge in regard to the island of Ireland which will certainly inform our decision-making process.

Sula bogfaimid ar aghaidh, thug an tAire cuireadh do na daltaí atá anseo linn inniu moltaí a chur chuige. Má tá moltaí ar bith ná tuairimí acu maidir leis an athrú ama i rith an gheimhridh, ba chóir dóibh iad a chur ag an Aire, Teachta Flanagan. The Donegal dialect may be different from the Irish the students are used to. The Minister extended an invitation to them and stated that he would be very glad to take their proposals regarding daylight saving time into consideration.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Organised Crime

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

12. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which he continues to combat organised crime, with particular reference to gangland activity and the induction of teenagers into a criminal lifestyle by crime warlords; the extent to which further resources are required in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21144/19]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the chain of events in the criminal world can be interrupted with a view to preventing young people becoming involved in a life of crime.

From changes of time to gangland crime - such is the breadth of responsibility of the Department of Justice and Equality.

I assure the Deputy that tackling organised crime and those involved in it is an ongoing priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. Multi-disciplinary approaches are used by An Garda Síochána to ensure the activities of individuals and groups involved in criminality are effectively targeted. Such approaches include the use of money-laundering legislation and focused intelligence-led operations by Garda specialist units, including the National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the National Economic Crime Bureau and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations with support as required from the security and intelligence section and close co-operation with the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The necessary resources continue to be made available to address this issue. A total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána in 2019, an increase of over €100 million on the 2018 allocation.

Garda operational responses to gangland-related crime in Dublin are co-ordinated under Operation Hybrid. As of 13 January 2019, there were 86 arrests related to gang-related killings and three persons convicted of murder had consequent life sentences imposed. In addition, 290 searches have been undertaken, 37 firearms have been seized and over 17,000 lines of inquiry conducted. More than 76,000 high visibility checkpoints had been implemented up to 4 May, with significant support from armed support units. A large amount of CCTV footage, mobile phone traffic and forensic evidence is being examined. Operation Hybrid is reviewed on a weekly basis to maintain optimal impact on this important issue.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Are specific measures being taken or about to be taken to discourage young people from seeing a life of crime as an attractive option? To what extent can the chain of command in the use of teenagers in particular as mules for drug barons be infiltrated with a view to prevention and the use of rehabilitative and educational measures within the Prison Service?

The Deputy raises an important point. I acknowledge the importance of the Garda youth diversion projects. With specific reference to youth involvement in gangland activity, my Department funded research in the form of the Greentown report undertaken at the University of Limerick. This research outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations, including the distribution and carrying of drugs and, often, the carrying of firearms. A new Greentown programme has been designed with the input of leading Irish and international experts on crime and criminal networks, taking into account child protection and welfare, drugs and community development. It is due to commence on a pilot basis this year.

To what extent will monitoring continue to identify the most satisfactory methods of dealing with that situation with a view to achieving some degree of cut-off to prevent the practice of gang warlords encouraging young people into their nets?

I highlight the importance of engaging in international best practice and informing ourselves as to occurrences or practice in other jurisdictions. I referred to specific research in that regard. I acknowledge the importance of the Garda youth diversion projects which have been operating for many years. They play a very important role in assisting vulnerable children to make more pro-social life choices. These projects, administered by my Department, have been progressively developed and expanded through the years. This year, there are more than 100 such projects nationwide. They are community-based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives and work closely with An Garda Síochána and other stakeholders. They primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. The aim of the projects is to bring about the conditions whereby the behavioural patterns of young people towards law and order can develop and mature through positive interventions.

Liquor Licensing Laws

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the licensing Acts can be amended to provide a separate licence for venues which predominantly provide music; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21102/19]

Irish people have a significant interest in music and enjoy attending live events and performances as well as listening to recorded music. It is not unusual for people to want to be able to enjoy an alcoholic drink while attending a music event. Unfortunately, the intoxicating liquor licensing laws are archaic and the cost involved discourages people holding small music events from getting a licence. Does the Minister have any proposals to change the licensing laws to enable those who wish to promote small music events to obtain such licences?

A licence under the provisions of the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018 and issued by the Revenue Commissioners following submission of an appropriate court certificate by the applicant is required in order to permit the sale, supply or exposure for sale of intoxicating liquor in specified premises. As the Deputy will be aware, such licences are renewed annually.

The performance of music and public entertainment in premises, irrespective of whether the premises are licensed for the sale, supply and consumption of intoxicating liquor, is regulated by Part IV of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890, which applies to premises located in urban areas where an urban authority has adopted the appropriate provisions.

I understand that local authorities that have adopted Part IV to include Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Where Part IV applies, premises that are ordinarily used for public music or other entertainment of like kind must be licensed under that legislation. Such licences are issued by the District Court.

I appreciate that Deputy O'Callaghan's concern is to facilitate music and entertainment venues but I do not underestimate the difficulties that would be involved in arriving at a statutory definition of "venues which predominantly provide music" that would faithfully reflect the intentions of this House. I invite Deputy O'Callaghan to assist this debate by making a submission, which I would be happy to give careful consideration to. I am aware of the current debate concerning the promotion and fostering of a more diverse and vibrant night-time culture in and indeed beyond Deputy O'Callaghan's constituency. I have an open mind about enhancements to current arrangements. Any changes to the law in this area would require proper consultation with relevant stakeholders, including representative bodies, groups representing local residents, the local authorities and, not least, An Garda Síochána. I am conscious that any changes would need to be organised and managed in a manner that will not cause undue inconvenience or nuisance to local residents nor create an undue risk to public order. Any proposed changes would also need to have regard to the preservation of a fair competitive environment for competing businesses.

I thank the Minister for his response. I recognise that this is not a straightforward area. He referred to the public health Acts dating to 1890. When combined with the Licensing Acts, which I think date to 1833, that highlights that we are dealing with an archaic system of licensing laws and also for having music events while at the same time having some alcoholic beverage available to people listening to the music. We need to consider other approaches. I will take on board what the Minister said about perhaps making a submission. We need to recognise that some people want to organise music events and do not want the predominant aspect to be everyone coming in for a drink and listening to music as a secondary matter. Some people want to organise music events predominantly but also want to be able to sell alcohol at those events. It works fine in circumstances where there is a big concert in, for example, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where people are able to spend a lot of money to get a licence to sell alcohol for a particular occasion. When one is a smaller music provider, it does not work that well. I have met people from Give Us The Night. I think the Minister previously displayed an interest in providing some form of new licensing mechanism for people who want to predominantly put forward music so that people can listen to it without having to go through the vast expense of paying for a one-off licence.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for commencing an important conversation on this issue. I was previously Chair of a liquor licensing committee here. These areas of law are complex and we need balance. Deputy O'Callaghan speaks of what is primarily a music entertainment venture but one that facilitates the sale of intoxicating liquor. Would the liquor or the music be most prominent? I want to acknowledge the basis for the operation of late bars, operating as they do on the basis of a publican's licence, with a special exemption order allowing the District Court to exempt the holder of a licence from general licensing hour restrictions on occasions. The Deputy mentioned venues. This is an area that I believe is worthy of consideration, including the basis on which theatres, conference venues and such sell intoxicating liquor.

I recognise that we have a serious problem with alcohol in this country. The last thing that I want to do is try to reform the licensing system so that pubs can stay open later because they have the excuse of music. We need to refocus the licensing system. Maybe we could do something that was done in the UK in 2005 when it modernised its licensing system. I think the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in that country spearheaded the change. We need to have a conversation about it. Unfortunately, the absence of recognition for music venues means that we have this substantial number of huge pubs where people congregate and all leave at the same time at 2 a.m., spilling out onto the streets. We need to recognise that there is another method of entertainment for night-time activity in Ireland. It can involve alcohol but does not have to be dependent upon alcohol, and alcohol is not the primary reason. Many people want to go out to listen to music without the necessity of going to a pub but they want to be able to do it in the knowledge that they can have one or two drinks and listen to and enjoy the music.

I have an open mind on the further development or enhancement of what can be described as current arrangements. I stress that any enhancement or further consideration will involve proper consultation. Proper consultation will involve a number of stakeholders. However, that should not be a barrier to seeing how best this issue might be addressed. I am conscious that any changes would have to be adequately and properly managed. I would be happy to engage further with Deputies in the House, in particular Deputy O'Callaghan. I acknowledge the principle behind the parliamentary question.

Questions Nos. 14 to 17, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Organised Crime

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

18. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the strength of An Garda Síochána is adequate to meet the challenges of organised crime; if particular issues have arisen that may require extra attention in the time ahead; if changes to the bail laws have resulted in an improvement in respect of recidivism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21145/19]

This question seeks to examine the extent to which the strength of An Garda Síochána is adequate to meet the challenges of emerging organised crime and whether the revised bail laws have been shown to have restricted, restrained or contained the level and extent of the organisations involved in crime.

Tackling organised crime is an ongoing priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána and I am keen to ensure that necessary and appropriate resources continue to be made available. The manner in which the resources of An Garda Síochána are deployed, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. I am informed by the Commissioner that the additional resources coming on stream have enabled him to assign extra resources to specialist units involved in tackling organised crime, including the Armed Support Units, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Criminal Assets Bureau. Since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014, just under 2,400 Garda recruits have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, including 800 new gardaí during 2018.

A total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána this year, an increase of more than €100 million on the allocation for last year. The Commissioner plans to recruit a total of 600 trainee gardaí this year and, in addition, it is his intention to recruit a net 600 Garda civilian staff. This Garda staff recruitment will allow the Commissioner to redeploy a further 500 fully trained gardaí from administrative duties to front-line policing this year. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed that the Government's commitment to increase the overall strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000 Garda members will be achieved by the target date of 2021. Deputy Durkan will be aware that recent changes to the bail laws were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2017 with the aim of strengthening the bail system and making the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail.

What impact are the revised bail laws having on recidivists, if it can currently be quantified, and will revisiting of the bail laws be required?

I acknowledge the importance of the bail laws in respect of the power of the courts to refuse bail where there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is likely to commit a serious offence. In assessing this likelihood, the court must take a number of factors into account. The recently enacted Criminal Justice Act 2017 also strengthened Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail; provided for a power of arrest without warrant in certain circumstances; made provisions to increase the use of curfews; and facilitated the introduction of electronic tagging for those on bail in certain circumstances. Given that the new bail laws were only introduced a short two years ago, it is probably too early to give a comprehensive assessment as to whether or not the changes are having the desired effect. The figures for 2018 have not yet been made available from the CSO, but I expect that the introduction of the new tighter and more restricted bail regime will result in the type of activity envisaged and proposed by Deputy Durkan.

I thank the Minister. Has it become evident, from observation of court proceedings, that as many prisoners are receiving bail as did before, and are those who have committed a number of offences while on bail still receiving bail under the new regime?

I detect a change, however I am not in a position to inform the House by way of annual report or otherwise. As soon as I have these data I would be happy to inform both the Deputy and the House.

There have been proposals to further support changes in the bail regime, and while I would be happy to give due and careful consideration to any further proposals, I need, as Members will appreciate, to ensure that any new provisions are consistent with both the constitutional requirement for a fair trial and the fact that in these circumstances all persons are innocent until proven to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I need to ensure that all provisions, including any new ones, are consistent not only with the Constitution but also with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I thank the Minister.

Personal Injury Claims

Joan Burton

Ceist:

7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for a statutory cap on insurance compensation awards for minor injuries in view of the fact that the Personal Injuries Commission found that awards for minor injuries here are almost five times those paid in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17830/19]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

19. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to investigate capping personal injury payouts; the way in which this will be achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17645/19]

The Minister has made some tough comments recently on the capping of personal injury payments, and I think it is fair to say that this House is totally exasperated with the escalating cost of insurance. We have had a number of debates, including Private Members' debates, on insurance over the past three years, and yet many of the groups which represent the very hard pressed say that insurance costs are constantly rising. I know the Minister's colleague, Senator Lawlor, has a Bill in the Seanad on this, so is the Minister finally going to take stern action on it now?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 19 together.

The Deputy will be aware that in July 2016 the Government set up a special working group chaired by Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, to analyse the high cost imposed by insurance companies, and to determine what action the Government might take to address any issues that might be contributing to these costs. The cost of insurance working group published a series of recommendations in 2017 and 2018, the majority of which have been implemented, and work is ongoing to implement the outstanding recommendations. The Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, also undertook a major analysis of the claims process in Ireland and recommended that the future judicial council be assigned the function under its statute of compiling guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.

On the specific question raised by the Deputy on the capping of insurance awards, the cost of insurance working group is examining the issue of the introduction of legislation for the purpose of capping the damages which a court may award in respect of personal injuries. In response to recommendation 5 of the working group's January 2018 report, the Law Reform Commission is now carrying out a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries. This forms part of the commission’s fifth programme of law reform, which was approved by the Government earlier this year. The commission is giving this project immediate attention with the aim of publishing an issues paper over the coming months. In its final report of July 2018 the PIC, chaired by the former President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, noted this development and expressed the belief that the Law Reform Commission is the appropriate body best equipped and resourced to undertake this study.

As emerged in the course of the working group's deliberations, this is an area of the law replete with complex constitutional and legal issues. It was recognised that the State must be cognisant of the constitutional rights of all parties and must balance those rights to ensure that any encroachment on them is justified, proportionate and in the common good.

The Minister mentioned the former president of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, whose fundamental point was that there is a compo culture in our country. Slips and trips are a key feature of the legal system, and schools, crèches, shops, small businesses, and local authorities have all become victims of both this and the escalating cost of insurance. As I said, there is a Bill in the Seanad on this.

I note that the distinguished journalist, Stephen Collins, wrote recently about the amazing awards in our book of quantum, which are maybe four or five times the amount of similar awards in the UK. Mr. Collins seemed to think that the only way forward in this regard was not, as the Minister suggested, to kick this into touch with the Law Reform Commission, or the judicial council whenever we see it, but to have a referendum and put this to the people. Inordinate awards are made based on the very flawed book of quantum estimates, and that is central to the problem. We need to move back towards recognising the rights of citizens and particularly small businesses, local groups and so on.

I very much share the concern of Deputy Broughan and others on this issue. As Minister for Justice and Equality, there are perhaps two areas which fall directly under my responsibility. One is ensuring that every effort is being made to combat perceived fraud in the matter of claims, be they exaggerated or false. This is an issue on which I have had discussions with An Garda Síochána, and I am pleased to see specific initiatives in this regard.

Deputy Broughan mentioned the Judicial Council Bill, and what its current position is. I recall that when this Bill was first published in 2017, its primary purpose was to set up a judicial council, which would promote and maintain excellence and high standards of conduct by judges. This is a large piece of legislation and requires careful and due consideration. However, I am pleased that there has been progress in recent times, and the Bill passed Committee Stage in the Seanad in April of this year. My priority is to find agreement on a range of amendments which had already been developed and were the subject of ongoing consultation with the Judiciary in the preceding months. In this regard, I want to acknowledge the constructive engagement of Deputy Ó Laoghaire in particular on many of the amendments, none of which, however, is directly related to the issues raised by Deputy Broughan. This is a big Bill. However, I am very keen to ensure that if there are aspects of the legislation applicable to the insurance industry, I will frame an appropriate number of amendments to ensure this Bill can be the most appropriate vehicle for early enactment.

Is the Government supporting the Bill brought before the Seanad and will the Minister try to steer it through this House as well? He mentioned fraud and perjury, a very important aspect of the problem, but the cost of insurance working group found that sufficient legislative provision exists to combat fraud and perjury in some of these claims using section 14 of the 2004 Act. The report states "no instance of a prosecution or conviction pursuant to section 14 was found by the working group". Clearly, this is another example of legislation that is not enforced.

We have discussed this matter so many times in this Dáil and Fianna Fáil moved a motion on it just a couple of weeks ago. We need some decisive action and the Minister has responsibility. Perhaps it is something that should be a major priority.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.