Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 16 Dec 2021

Vol. 1016 No. 3

Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I am grateful for your presence here, Acting Chairman, and for the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I am very conscious that this is the last item of business in a very busy schedule, a unique schedule in many ways. It is important that individual Members still have the right to bring forward legislation and it is with great pride that I present a Bill that enjoyed cross-party support when I introduced it on First Stage. I believe it is an important part of progressive criminal law in this country.

Members will recognise the Bill as so-called Magnitsky legislation. Since 2012, a growing number of countries every year have passed laws providing for financial sanctions against the officials of other states who have committed gross human rights abuses or who have been involved in significant corruption. These laws collectively are referred to as Magnitsky Law, named after Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who made serious accusations against tax officials in the Russian Federation and against law enforcement officials in Russia.

Of course, he was then arrested, jailed, allegedly beaten and he died in prison. In 2012, the United States Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on officials involved in this case. Laws on similar lines have subsequently been passed in a number of states across the globe. As I said, Magnitsky legislation refers to laws providing for governmental sanctions against foreign individuals who have committed human rights abuses or have been involved in significant corruption. They originated in the United States following the death of Sergei Magnitsky and have now generated mirroring legislation in countries like the United States and Canada, the European Union itself, including Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, Gibraltar, Jersey, Kosovo and the United Kingdom, and there is legislation pending on this in Australia, Moldova and Ukraine. Magnitsky was a tax accountant who accused Russian tax officials and law enforcement of stealing $230 million in tax rebates from Hermitage Capital Management. Needless to say, his accusations were not investigated but he was arrested, accused and ended up dead in jail.

The original Magnitsky Act in the United States, which was enacted in 2012, was expanded in 2016 into a more general law authorising the US Government to sanction those found to be human rights offenders or those involved in significant corruption, and allowed the authorities in the United States to freeze their assets and, indeed, after the 2016 legislation, to ban such persons from entering the United States. In October 2017, Canada passed its own Magnitsky legislation, known as the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, which the Parliament of Canada passed in 2015. That Act enables targeted measures against foreign nationals who, according to the Governing Council in Canada, among other things are responsible for, or complicit in, gross violations of human rights, or who are public officials or associates of public officials who are responsible for, or complicit in, such significant corruption.

There are a number of different Acts that I can reference, although I will not go into detail in the few minutes that I have. They are not all identical and they do different things, but all are grounded on the same principle, that is, where there are gross violations of human rights abroad committed by officials of a state or agents of a state, we in a democratic country have the right to take action if they have assets in this State and thereby present, hopefully, a global network to be a chilling factor against those who would perpetrate acts of abuse of human rights.

In this State, as the Minister of State will know, powers are available under the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 to 2016 to seize and dispose of assets against corrupt foreign officials who have assets within our jurisdiction. However, the difficulty with the 1996 Act is that for it to apply, a dual criminality test would need to be satisfied. That means the conduct giving rise to the acquisition of those assets must be such that it would constitute an offence both under Irish law and under the law of the foreign state. The purpose of the Bill I am introducing, and that we are now debating on Second Stage, is to make our Proceeds of Crime Acts more easily available to our authorities to deal with cases where there are human rights abuses abroad. This Bill provides that certain conduct occurring outside our State is described as “criminal conduct” for the purposes of our own Proceeds of Crime Acts, notwithstanding that it does not constitute an offence under the law of the foreign state concerned. As we can imagine, there are many countries where those particular actions of corrupt officials are not prosecutable there because they are not an offence there, but they would be seen as an absolute offence here. We need to have the authority to move against them if they seek to deposit their assets in this jurisdiction.

It applies under this provision if the conduct as constituted is connected with a gross abuse of human rights. Conduct is stated to constitute a gross human rights abuse if it is carried out by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, public officials or a public official of the national or regional government or public administration of a named foreign state, or an official in the performance or purported performance of official duties, or if it involves the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of a person who has sought to expose illegal activity carried out by an official to obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. That latter point is of extreme importance. It is so often the case that we see internationally that it is the whistleblower, the person who wants to shine a light on gross human rights abuses, who is the person who is actually brought to book and, in the most extreme cases, as in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, suffers the awful situation of being beaten and dying in prison.

It is a short Bill with two sections. The first section sets out the meaning of “criminal conduct”. Section 1 states:

(1) Section 1 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1A):

“(1B) (a) Conduct which occurs outside the State and which would constitute an offence or more than one offence if it occurred within the State is criminal conduct, notwithstanding that it does not constitute an offence under the law of the state or territory concerned, if-

(i) it constitutes, or is connected with, a gross human rights abuse, and

(ii) at the time when an application is made for an interim order or interlocutory order, property obtained or received at any time (whether before or after the passing of this Act or the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Act 2020) by or as a result of or in connection with the conduct is situated within the State.

That gives the authority to our Criminal Assets Bureau and our State agents to seize such property where gross human rights abuses are involved.

Section 1 continues:

(b) Conduct constitutes a gross human rights abuse if-

(i) it is carried out by, or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official, being a [named] person employed by, or acting on behalf or under the direct or indirect control of, the national, regional or local government or public administration of a state other than the State (including of any territory for whose external relations a state other than the State or its government is wholly or partly responsible), in the performance or purported performance of official duties...

The third paragraph of section 1 describes the conduct. It states:

(c) Conduct is connected with a gross human rights abuse if it involves-

(i) acting as an agent for another in connection with a gross human rights abuse,

(ii) directing or sponsoring such an activity,

(iii) profiting from such an activity, or

(iv) providing material assistance in support of or in connection with the carrying out of such an activity, including by providing goods or services or financial or technological assistance.”.

Paragraph (iii) is an important point in that profiting from human rights abuses would also be captured by this enactment.

Subsection (2) states: “The amendment effected by subsection (1) applies in relation to conduct, and in relation to property obtained through such conduct, whether the conduct occurs or the property is obtained before or after the passing of this Act." Again, it is an important point that even if somebody has property here in advance of the enactment of this legislation and is carrying out human rights abuses now, that would be captured by this legislation.

We are living in a changing world. Human rights abuses are being brought to our attention all the time and too often human rights defenders are under attack. A veil of secrecy has been drawn across gross violations of human rights in many parts of the world. Those with the courage, tenacity and bravery to try to expose that awful abuse are often cruelly imprisoned and abused themselves. There are limited things we can do in such circumstances but as a State we surely must ensure that where such abuse occurs those perpetrating that abuse cannot stash their ill-gotten gains in our jurisdiction. We have a growing international financial service with many billions of euro flowing through Dublin and this State all the time. We need to have the capacity to know that this money is clean in all circumstances and where we have prima facie evidence we need to have the legal wherewithal to be able to act against perpetrators who want to use our jurisdiction as a safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.

I look forward to this Bill passing Second Stage and hopefully progressing into law so that Ireland can join a growing group of countries, starting in 2012 in the United States with the Magnitsky Act. We have been exhorted by the European Parliament and the European high level international spokesperson to enact this legislation. I hope the Minister of State will embrace this and ensure the Government gives its weight to bringing it into law so that we can join that growing band of progressive nations. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his present.

In light of the fact that we have nobody else offering would it be appropriate to hear Deputy Bacik and then go to the Minister of State, rather than going around in circles?

That sounds great.

Is Deputy Bacik happy with that?

I am very happy with that and I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle making that suggestion. I am delighted to speak for the Labour Party and to support my colleague, Deputy Howlin’s brilliant initiative in bringing forward this Magnitsky Bill to tackle human rights abuses and to ensure that, as the Deputy said, those guilty of perpetrating human rights abuses will not have a safe haven in Ireland for their ill-gotten funds. We must also ensure that we have the necessary criminal justice infrastructure in place to deal with this and to allow for the seizure of assets of human rights violators. I am proud to be here to support this Bill and to speak in favour of it. It is an issue that is close to my heart.

This legislation deals with money laundering as a worldwide crime and with the aftermath of issues in kleptocracies where regimes have robbed their people of their assets, raw materials and resources. The immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union was a case in point and the case that prompted the initial momentum around Magnitsky legislation. As Deputy Howlin said, since 2012 we have seen laws known as Magnitsky laws passed in a number of jurisdictions that provide for financial sanctions against the officials of other states who have committed human rights abuses or who have been involved in significant corruption. These laws are named after Sergei Magnitsky. He was an accountant who died in a Moscow prison after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. While in prison, Magnitsky was refused medical treatment and after almost a year he was allegedly beaten to death while in custody. His friends publicised the case and lobbied American officials to pass legislation sanctioning Russian officials involved and engaged in corruption. Magnitsky’s tragic death is what prompted the passage of legislation and the international movement.

Many colleagues in this House and in the Seanad will be well aware of the Magnitsky case, particularly because it has been publicised so remarkably well across the world by Bill Browder, the American-born businessman who has published on the issue and whose book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and how I became Putin’s no. 1 enemy is a compelling read. I read it some years ago and was overwhelmed by the true story it told of the appalling abuses of human rights, the human story of Sergei Magnitsky, his important work in exposing corruption and his tragic death. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Browder in 2019, as Deputy Howlin and others did, when he came to Leinster House to make the case for Ireland to bring forward legislation in line with the Magnitsky Acts that had been passed in other jurisdictions. This was in order to ensure that the sort of criminal actions that led to the death of Sergei Magnitsky would not go unpunished and that those engaged in those appalling human rights abuses would not have impunity.

Since 2021 a number of jurisdictions have passed legislation on this, including the US in 2012, Britain, Canada, Lithuania and Latvia. The case for such legislation was strengthened in the last year, particularly in light of protests over the treatment of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition politician. The Minister of State will recall that in the other House, when I was a Member of the Seanad, in our debate on the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Act 2021 on 1 February I spoke with him about the prospect of bringing in Magnitsky legislation and I raised the case of Alexei Navalny. The Minister of State told me then that the Department was seriously considering Deputy Howlin’s proposal and the Labour Party Bill and would facilitate it. I am grateful to the Minister of State, as I know Deputy Howlin is, for his constructive engagement on the matter and for the fact that the Government is supporting the Bill to go through Second Stage. That is constructive and it is appropriate that the House would not divide on this. There is clearly a consensus across the House on the need for this type of legislation.

Deputy Howlin pointed out that we are increasingly seeing across the world that those who are taking up the mantle of the defence of human rights are coming under attack for their work. I have been proud to work with Front Line Defenders for many years. It is an NGO that works globally to recognise the work, bravery and courage of so many human rights defenders in different regimes. We will all have serious concerns about the abuses we are seeing and about the need to pass legislation here to strengthen the framework in Ireland that enables us to deal with this abuse. I am conscious that just as we talked about this in February when Alexei Navalny’s case was in the news, so too we are talking about this Bill today as we see a build-up of the Russian military on the border with Ukraine. We see growing concerns about the potential for human rights abuses there and for serious conflict with Ukraine. I know that is a matter that is being dealt with at a high level in the EU this week. It is in that context that we are bringing forward this legislation.

Deputy Howlin has set out the nature of the Bill and clearly there are powers under the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996-2016, as he said, to seize and dispose of assets. These powers may be available against corrupt foreign officials who have assets within this jurisdiction but the difficulty is that dual criminality test that would need to be satisfied. The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is to make the existing legislation more easily available and capable of dealing with such cases so that certain conduct occurring outside of our State will be described as criminal conduct for the purposes of our proceeds of crime legislation, notwithstanding that it does not constitute an offence under the law of the foreign state concerned.

We see this as in keeping with other progressive legislation being passed in other countries around the world and we are also conscious of the initiative of the European Parliament to encourage all EU states to take up the same cause and to pass legislation mirroring this sort of Magnitsky law. This will ensure that foreign governments or officials involved in corrupt practices or gross violations of human rights, if they have assets in this State or in other EU states, will have to face the rigours of the law in those states. It is a huge issue when we look at the amassing of assets that corrupt officials have done in other countries, particularly in EU member states but also in countries like Switzerland. We need to ensure, therefore, that Ireland does not become that sort of safe haven and that we have the necessary tools and infrastructure in place in our criminal justice system to deal with this issue.

I commend Deputy Howlin on bringing the Bill forward. I thank the Minister of State on behalf of the Labour Party for his constructive engagement on this and I look forward to the swift passage of this Bill in the memory of Sergei Magnitsky. I recognise the immense work done on this by Bill Browder and so many others.

In this, the closing debate of this Dáil term and of 2021, I thank Deputy Howlin for bringing forward this Bill. As the contributions heretofore have highlighted, it is an important Private Members' Bill because as Deputy Howlin said, the world has changed and financial institutions have changed. In fact, the world has shrunk in the context of the ability to move assets of all types very quickly into different jurisdictions and it has become more complex for states to respond to that type of behaviour. That is why it is important to discuss the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, the thrust and intentions of which I fully support.

I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing this Bill. It is very important that it proceeds to the next Stage so that it can be fleshed out and elaborated. It is a pity that there are not more Deputies contributing to this very important debate. Like Deputy Bacik, I have worked for the past two years with Front Line Defenders. Working with that organisation allows those of us who are fortunate to live in a very stable democracy to get a glimpse into the world of those who are not as fortunate, who do not live in stable democracies or who have no democracy at all. The totalitarian states that some people live in and the fear they live in under bear no comparison to the western world. I want to praise all front-line defenders for the work they do.

This Bill has its origins in the Magnitsky legislation and it is important to remember the brutal nature of Sergei Magnitsky's death in 2009. His courage and legacy live on in various parliaments around the world. I am pleased that the Bill is not being opposed and will progress to Second Stage. The international criminal justice net needs to be tightened further and Ireland needs to play its part in that regard. While we have the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and other iterations, it is important that we review our stance and our ability to respond to these issues.

The extended scope and definition of the criminal conduct element of this Bill would be subjected to inevitable and possibly protracted legal debate within various jurisdictions. Obviously, we have to realise that some of those jurisdictions do not have the most robust legal systems. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to play our part in Ireland and to encourage our European counterparts to do likewise. I want to highlight a specific element of the Bill to which Deputy Howlin referred earlier. The Bill provides that conduct constitutes a gross human rights abuse if it meets certain conditions, one of which is that it is "carried out by, or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official...". It is important that this House scrutinises that provision further on Committee Stage because while I accept that definition, we need to be as broad as possible to ensure that various scenarios which may arise in the context of the intentions of this Bill are considered.

I will leave it at that. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for everything this year. I also thank the Minister of State for participating in this debate.

As this is the last debate of the term, I thank the Ceann Comhairle and wish him a happy Christmas. I also wish the staff of the Houses a happy Christmas. We recognise the hard work a lot of people have done during the Covid period but we must recognise the contribution of the staff in the Houses to keeping both the Dáil and the Seanad going through that entire time. I also want to wish a happy Christmas to our front-line staff. In particular, I want to mention the staff under my own Department including An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, the youth justice workers, the board of management unit and immigration staff who all kept going during Covid, who are continuing to work and will do so over the Christmas period. I also want to recognise the NGOs that have done a huge amount of work during Covid and will also continue to work over the Christmas period.

I thank Deputy Howlin for introducing this Bill. He and Deputy Bacik have raised this issue on a number of occasions in both Houses. I acknowledge that Deputy Howlin, throughout his entire career, has raised and championed human rights, progressive legislation and policies. I was reminded earlier that today is the anniversary of Deputy Howlin entering electoral politics. I will not say which anniversary but he has a very proud record in that period of time in this House and in County Wexford.

The Bill proposes that conduct which occurs outside the State and which is both a gross human rights abuse and an offence under Irish law will be considered criminal conduct for the purposes of the Proceeds of Crime Act, regardless of whether it is an offence in the other state. There are clearly complex legal and practical issues underpinning the debate; and the limits of extra­territorial jurisdiction and the need for a dual criminality test are particularly technical. Perhaps more significantly for this debate, important developments in relation to sanctions at an EU level occurred after the Deputy published his Bill. While these sanctions are primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, I will speak briefly on them as they are relevant to the current proposal.

The complexity of the area should not take away from the principle that Ireland must not be a safe haven for illicit gains. That principle applies as much to the proceeds of corruption and abuses of power as it does to other forms of organised criminal activity. We have a particular responsibility as an international financial centre and we cannot allow weaknesses in the legal protection of human rights in other states to enable the shielding of property in this jurisdiction when it is, by any reasonable standard, the proceeds of crime. While I will mention issues that need to be addressed, I acknowledge the shared goals and principles motivating the Bill and the Government will not be opposing it at Second Stage.

The Deputy rightly referred to Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax adviser who alleged fraud involving corrupt officials. He was imprisoned and died in prison in 2009 after being severely beaten and denied access to medical treatment. In response, the US introduced the original Magnitsky laws in 2012 to target those responsible. It extended these significantly in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, which allowed sanctions to be imposed on government officials implicated in human rights abuses globally. These measures sent an important signal that perpetrators of gross human rights violations will face real, immediate and personal consequences.

Other countries have followed suit and critically, after extensive negotiations, the EU agreed a global human rights sanctions regime in December 2020. This new regime marked an important extension of the existing country by-country measures, shifting towards thematic sanctions on both state and non-state actors. They provide for freezing of the assets of individuals and corporate entities and for a travel ban applying to individuals. These measures may be imposed on those responsible for, involved in or associated with, serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide no matter where they occur. These sanctions apply to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses including torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions. Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the regime where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the EU common foreign and security policy.

The regime is implemented through directly applicable EU instruments and does not require state-by­state actions each time sanctions are imposed. All natural and legal persons across the EU are required to comply with them, as with all EU sanctions. The Departments of Foreign Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment provide further information and are the national competent authorities. For financial services institutions, the Central Bank provides regular updates to providers on sanctions development and their obligations thereunder and may take enforcement action where necessary. The Deputy's proposal approaches these issues from a different direction and would amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996, following similar lines to the UK in its 2017 Criminal Finances Act.

The confiscation of the proceeds or instrumentalities of crime on the basis of a conviction is well established both in this State and internationally. Following a conviction by a court, there are extensive confiscation powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1994 and further specific powers under drug trafficking and terrorist offences legislation.

The important innovation under the 1996 Act was that it applied to the civil non-conviction based model. Confiscation under the Act is based on the property being the proceeds of crime rather than being an action against the person from whom the property is confiscated on the basis of an offence. The person in possession of criminal proceeds is not necessarily a suspect in relation to the crime from which the proceeds have derived and the State does not need to show a link between the person holding the assets and the crime.

The most important body in relation to the Act is the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. CAB’s remit is to target a person's assets, wherever situated, that derive or are suspected to derive directly or indirectly from criminal conduct. The bureau is widely regarded as a best practice model in the context of combating organized crime and a world leader in asset investigations, tracing and forfeiture. It works closely with law enforcement bodies at national and international level to pursue the illicit proceeds of organised crime activity. I would caution that CAB, or indeed any agency, would face practical challenges pursuing assets in the situations the Bill envisages. Critical evidence is likely to be in the other tate, and the co-operation of the law enforcement authorities in that State may not be forthcoming. CAB quite correctly prioritises its resources towards organised crime within the State, and any change in that prioritisation would require further consideration.

The proceeds of crime legislation, as first enacted, did not directly provide for extraterritoriality. However, from the outset, courts have adopted a view that proceeds of crimes committed abroad may be in scope, and in 2005, the Act was amended explicitly to address these situations. This also clarified the double criminality requirement the Bill proposes to amend.

However, these questions are challenging in the context of civil, non-confiscation based seizure. While conviction-based confiscation is widespread and uncontroversial internationally, non-conviction based models are not yet as commonly adopted, albeit this is changing and more and more countries are seeing the benefits of such systems.

More broadly, I would argue that targeting gross human rights abuses demands a cohesive and consistent international approach and that the sanctions measures adopted by the EU should be considered a primary tool. They operate automatically against those identified, and have greater immediacy, reach and effect than changes to the proceeds of crime legislation.

However, I recognise that the approach to extraterritoriality in the 1996 Act should be examined further in light of legal developments, and that the Deputy's Bill is a valuable contribution to that process and will be explored further. My Department has been giving extensive consideration to the Proceeds of Crime Act and the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau. Based this work, I expect a general scheme proposing amendments to the Act will be brought to the Government next year. The Department would be very happy to engage with the Deputy further as it progresses. The key thing here is to get what the Deputy envisages enacted in one form or another.

Happy anniversary Deputy Howlin, by the way.

I am not sure what anniversary it is.

Is the Deputy going to tell us what year?

I was co-opted to Wexford Corporation. That might be it. I have had many anniversaries since and I have served in many positions. I thank the Minister of State for recalling whatever anniversary it is. It gives me another cause for celebration tonight.

I thank the Minister of State for his very detailed response to the Bill. It is modelled on how the Government in 1996, of which I was a member - another anniversary - looked at doing something that was very radical at the time, namely, instituting CAB, so that we could remove from criminals the fruit of their criminality. In cases where it was often difficult to bring extensive criminal cases, we looked at where you saw somebody with no means of support but with great wealth. There was extensive debate at the time about the constitutionality of the legislation, but it has worked and it has been a most effective instrument. It was Ruairí Quinn's idea, who was Minister for Finance at the time. It has been a most effective device.

The Minister of State spoke of the extraterritorial - a lovely word - application of the CAB. We had to apply it extraterritorially because many of our own domestic criminals have significant assets, especially in Spain and the Netherlands. We amended the legislation subsequently to do that.

We need to have the same broad scope thinking in relation to world affairs and not be captured by this notion that we cannot act in an extraterritorial fashion. Of course we can, in limited circumstances. In recent weeks we dealt with legislation on people smuggling and we enacted legislation that has impact beyond our jurisdiction. We need that approach in the case we are discussing here. It is the approach followed by the UK and it is an effective approach. The Minister of State is suggesting we can take sanctions on an EU-wide basis but that does not meet the requirements. The EU has to act in consort against individual issues. I am talking about where there are assets in the State that are owned by someone who we know is a human rights violator, who is often involved in everything from genocide to exploitation on a massive scale, and that we would have in our own jurisdiction and our own authority the power to act against them. That is what we need.

I thank the Minister of State for his constructive contribution and thoughtful presentation. However, he should not rest because the EU is doing something already on that. We need in our jurisdiction to have our laws sharp enough, particularly because we are a growing financial services centre. Many billions of euro flow through Dublin city. I have been fearful in recent times whether we have the capacity within our own financial services regulation and oversight to manage all of that in an effective way, but that is a different argument for a different day. Certainly, where it is brought to our attention and we are clear in the knowledge that assets are the result of exploitation and human misery, we must have the capacity to act against them and provide a day in court for anyone who wants to rebut that, as we do with criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act in our domestic affairs.

I hope the normal approach of thanking the Deputy for his or her great effort, that it will be got to in due course, and that the Government has a different set of ideas will not bury this important legislation. It is important for us and I think there is an ambition for this in the House. I think the debate would normally have attracted many more speakers were it not for the lateness of the hour and the lateness in the term. I thank the Minister of State for his attention to the Bill. I hope that once it passes Second Stage, we will see progress on it in the course next year. I and my colleagues who have great experience, such as Professor Bacik, will be able to lend support to that endeavour.

I conclude by wishing the Ceann Comhairle and all the members of staff a very peaceful and happy Christmas. I apologise for this last item of business delaying them for the few minutes it did.

Question put and agreed to.