I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
In light of the omnibus nature of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, I will share time with my colleagues, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, and the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Naughton, who will speak to the Parts in the Bill under their remit. This a cross-government domestic response to the crisis in Ukraine, with legislation covering my Department and measures related to the work of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Department of Transport. The Bill also addresses matters relating to the Stardust inquest. The urgency of this legislation is in light of the emergency domestic response required across government to the Ukraine crisis and the need to facilitate the progression of the Stardust inquest. I thank the Members of the House for facilitating this urgent Bill.
The Bill will provide for key supports to temporary protection beneficiaries who have fled the war in Ukraine. A whole-of-government response is being mobilised to implement the practical arrangements. These give effect to the commitments made following the extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 4 March. A number of legislative gaps were identified and the Bill provides for appropriate legal underpinnings. The Government and communities throughout the country have been doing their utmost to facilitate the arrival and roll-out of services and assistance for people fleeing Ukraine. The Bill is one of the measures to help that effort.
I will outline the main provisions of the Bill on the Parts relating to the Department of Justice. Part 1, preliminary and general, is a technical Part with standard provisions for the Bill dealing with the Short Title and commencement.
Part 8 is titled, Stardust Inquest (Special Jury Provisions). I will address the provisions related to the Stardust inquest initially. I want to acknowledge the suffering of the families of all the victims of the Stardust tragedy and to reiterate my sincere sympathy to all those affected. The holding of fresh inquests into the Stardust fire tragedy represents an exceptional situation, having regard to the history of previous investigations and the large number of fatalities. The fresh inquests were directed by the then Attorney General in 2019 on the basis that the original inquests were an insufficient inquiry.
Concerns were raised with me by the legal representatives of the victims’ families and others that the current method of empanelling a jury for the inquests under section 43 of the Coroners Act 1962 is not sufficient to guarantee a representative jury. This matter was also the subject of a Seanad Private Members' Bill on 23 February of this year. Part 8 responds to those concerns with new provisions for the empanelling and summoning of the jury for the new Stardust inquest and to require that the wages of persons so selected are paid.
Essentially, Part 8 will provide for a bespoke approach for the empanelling and summoning of the jury for the new Stardust inquest; in section 48, for the disapplication of certain provisions of the Coroners Act 1962 and the Juries Act 1976, as necessary; in section 50, for the Dublin coroner to seek the assistance of the Courts Service and county registrar for Dublin in empanelling and summoning a jury by ballot drawn from the electoral register for Dáil elections in a manner broadly similar to that in civil or criminal proceedings under the Juries Act 1976, but with any necessary amendment; in sections 52 to 55, inclusive, the process of determining eligibility and selection or disqualification or excusal of potential jurors and service of summons, adapted from the Juries Act 1976; and in section 58, a requirement that employers should continue to pay the wages of persons summoned to serve on the Stardust inquests jury, a provision similar to that contained in the Juries Act.
Section 60 provides that if the jury at a Stardust inquest fails to agree on a verdict, a majority verdict shall be accepted by the Dublin coroner. In the event of a jury failing to reach a verdict, this section provides for the holding of a new inquest at the discretion of the coroner. This replaces a provision which would have required the automatic holding of a new inquest in such circumstances.
Jurors will not be directly remunerated by the State for service at a Stardust or any other inquest as it could undermine the concept of jury service as a civic duty and give rise to significant costs for all juries. I emphasise that the special jury provisions in Part 8 will apply only to the new Stardust inquests given the extraordinary circumstances involved.
I also emphasise that my proposals respect that the Stardust inquests, as with all inquests, must be conducted under the independent direction and control of the coroner. The proposals at Part 8 respect that independence to ensure, insofar as possible, that the process is not subject to challenge.
At Part 4, the other main provisions under the remit of my Department relate to accessing the immigration services. In light of the significant increase in persons engaging with the immigration system, greater efficiencies for registering and processing across the immigration and social welfare system, and in regional locations, are being facilitated. Part 4 provides for amendment of the Immigration Act 2004 and other enactments relating to the registration of non-nationals. These amendments will facilitate the operation of the registration function jointly by the immigration service delivery function of the Department of Justice, and An Garda Síochána, and will support online registration processes.
I will now outline the main provisions of Part 4. Section 30 amends section 9 of the Immigration Act 2004, which provides for registration of non-nationals. The main purpose of the amendments is to remove the references to registration districts. The effect will be that a person will not be required to register in the Garda district where he or she resides but can register with a registration officer anywhere in the State. The amendments will enable information required for registration to be provided by electronic means.
Section 31 inserts a new section 9B into the Immigration Act 2004 to provide for the appointment of registration officers. The new section will enable the Minister for Justice to appoint multiple registration officers, who may be either members of An Garda Síochána or officials of the Department of Justice.
Section 34 amends section 19 of the Immigration Act 2004, which provides for the charging of fees under the Act. The purpose of the amendment is to clearly provide that regulations may prescribe different fees to be paid for registration certificates in different circumstances.
Section 38 revokes the registration provisions of the Aliens Order 1946. While that order has not been used to register non-nationals since the Immigration Act 2004 came into operation, the registration provisions remain in place. Revoking those provisions means that there will no longer be two parallel systems of registration on the Statute Book. The other provisions of Part 4 that I have not already mentioned contain amendments to legislative provisions and transitional provisions consequential on the amendments to section 9 of the Immigration Act 2004 and the Aliens Order 1946.
The purpose of Part 5 on the processing of certain personal data is to allow for the establishment of a one-stop-shop service to persons fleeing Ukraine who are seeking temporary protection, a personal public service number, PPSN, and income support.
It is aimed to make the process more customer-friendly and easier to operate. To enable this, the Bill will allow relevant justice sector and social protection officials to gather relevant information on each other’s behalf. This co-operation between the Departments of Justice and Social Protection will ensure greater efficiency.
Section 41 is a standard provision, and contains definitions of several words and phrases used in this Part. Section 42 provides for a key element of this Part to allow for collection of personal data by a relevant officer for relevant immigration and social welfare enactment. Essentially, this allows for the Department of Justice to collect data for the Department of Social Welfare and vice versa. The purpose of this collection is also set out. The relevant officer will be acting in accordance with the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the Data Protection Act of 2018 and subject to suitable and specific measures.
Section 43 provides for the processing of personal data collected in this Part. The processing can only be undertaken by the persons who have relevant functions to process the information under relevant enactments. Section 44 provides that the Minister for Justice may, by regulation, with the consent of the Minister for Social Protection, prescribe an immigration enactment to be a relevant immigration enactment for the purposes of this Part. This regulatory power is subject to a number of prescribed safeguards.
The provisions in Part 4 and 5 will enhance efficiencies in the immigration service throughout the country. I thank colleagues for their consideration of this Bill and look forward to hearing from Deputies.