SEANAD IN COMMITTEE. - FISHERIES BILL, 1923.—THIRD STAGE.

Section 1 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

I beg to move:—

To insert after Section 8 a new Section 9 as follows:—

"9. No penalty inflicted under this Act shall be reduced or remitted save on the recommendation of the Judge or Justice who imposes such penalty, and any recommendation for such reduction or remission shall be made at the same time as the penalty is imposed."

I think the effect of the amendment is clear and obvious. I may describe the amendment as one to save the Government in general, and members of the Government in particular, from the importunate advances of their friends. We all know what happens in these cases. A penalty is inflicted, and for some reason hard to appreciate, whether it is lack of sympathy with the law or regard for the individual offender, a petition is got up and actively championed by a number of law-abiding citizens, with the result, as frequently happens, that the course of justice is frustrated. This thing has become so obvious, and so notorious, and has earned for the country such a bad name that I hope, now that there is an opportunity, it may be put right once and for all. The object of the Bill is to put a stop to a very great danger from the point of view of the economic welfare of the country, a form of poaching, hard to detect, and one very indiscriminate and far-reaching in its effects. Judging by our experience, if on every occasion, when a penalty has been inflicted the usual petition comes on, then I think the object of the Bill will be only partly and ineffectually attained. I do not think Ministers can honestly say that they are absolutely immune to all kinds of advances from outside sources. Take the case of any of us, however high one puts duty, or however anxious one may be to do what is right, if from his constituents a number of very important and influential people come forward on behalf of some malefactor, it is almost more than human nature could expect to turn a deaf ear to such entreaty. We have rather to go on our human nature and on facts in considering this matter. I hope that the Seanad by its action will remove all temptation from the way of Ministers and put them in the enviable position of being able to say: "I am very sorry, much as I sympathise with you, but the law allows me to do nothing for you. The law has to take its course." There is this exception provided, that a judge or justice who imposed the fine can recommend remission. While by law the minimum penalty has to be imposed, there may be extenuating circumstances which the judge or justice can best appreciate. If a recommendation for remission is made, and if such a record is made at the same time as the conviction, there will be no possibility of any undesirable influences being brought into operation.

I would have much pleasure in supporting Senator Sir John Keane's amendment in this matter, as an amendment of my own with precisely the same object was to have come on a bit later. However, if Senator Sir John Keane's amendment is accepted, as I hope it will be, there is no need of entering into mine. Now I ask the Government for a great many reasons to accept this amendment. In the first place, whatever reason there may have been for the remission of penalities in the past, these reasons have disappeared now. There was a fear in the past that benches of magistrates might perhaps inflict penalties which would be too severe, having regard to the personal interests that would crop up. Sometimes these penalties were alleged to be too severe in themselves but that has now been done away with by the Government. These magistrates have now been done away with themselves, and these penalties can only be inflicted by the District Justices lately established by the Oireachtas. If the men who have been appointed to administer the laws, and to inflict these penalties, are suitable, and if the penalties themselves are not too severe, I cannot see the least reason for reserving power to revise these penalties to somebody in Dublin who does not know the circumstances as well as the man who heard the case. It is not right that somebody here in Dublin should be in the position of revising these penalties. In this connection I might perhaps tell the Senate of an instance which I heard within the past week. It is quite notorious through the country that these fines, as a rule, are paid by the dealers. There is a certain lady in one part of the country who used usually pay the fine for the poachers who supplied her with fish. She came some time ago to a friend of mine, and said she never came across a greater rogue than Johnnie So-and-So. He had a fine inflicted on him and then came to her to get it paid. She paid it. Then he went to Dublin and got the fine remitted. He really made money by it. I confess that if the power to remit these fines is continued in the hands of somebody here in Dublin, who himself would be the last person in the world to desire to have that power, it will give rise to any amount of back-stairs influence and every kind of corruption which it is most desirable to do away with. We have now started out to make things better and to reform things, and I hope the Government will accept the amendment.

I would like to go further, and not to allow any remission of these fines to anybody outside the Justice. The Judge or the District Justice who had decided the case should be left to decide it once and for all. The Judge or Justice who has to decide in the case of theft or robbery decides it once and for all. This is to all intents and purposes also a case of theft and robbery, and theft and robbery of a very discreditable kind. Why the case of a poacher should be treated with greater leniency than the ordinary thief I do not know, and I would therefore suggest, and I am not quite sure whether it covers Senator Barrington's view, that no penalty inflicted under this Act shall be reduced or remitted.

I think the Minister, when framing the Bill, must have had the assistance of the people best calculated to understand all the conditions of salmon fishing in Ireland. In some districts the differences are very great. Everybody who knows anything about fishing is aware that there are such things as bye-laws which could be introduced on the application of the Conservators. These bye-laws can be, as possibly they have been, upset on the application of influential interests in a district after an inquiry has been held by the officials of the Fisheries Board. The little retreat taken by the Minister in this Bill was a wise one. It is clear that the District Justice must sponsor the application in all cases where the aggrieved party considers the law is bearing unfairly on him.

There are cases where the law does not really mete out justice. One example occurs to my mind, and it is the village of Rathcoursey, where, for the past 200 years, the inhabitants have been exclusively carrying on business as fishermen. They understand the art of fishing thoroughly, and are just as well versed in it as any fishermen in the world. They fish there for salmon until almost the close of the season. The village is about 8 miles from Roche's Point, which is the extreme limit of the harbour. They can fish with drift nets from Roche's Point to Templebrady, provided they can get there. To get there, however, they would have to row the boats a distance of 8 miles or so, and if they happen to be caught in the act of going out there, although their nets would be perfectly dry and their boats would present every appearance of the fact that they were not out for any but a legitimate purpose, as the law now stands they would be liable to a penalty. To avoid incurring that penalty, they have to transport their nets and gear by road a distance of 8 miles, so as to get them over to Roche's Point, and to approach the sea there for the purpose of fishing is an almost impossible task. Dozens of men have lost their lives in endeavouring to observe this particular bye-law which prevents them going by sea. In 1909 or 1910 an inquiry was held, at which the cream of the Bar was present. The inquiry was held by the Privy Council, and some ex-naval man succeeded in getting the Admiralty into it. The Admiralty succeeded in putting up a case that a salmon drift net would be highly dangerous for the periscope of a submarine, and consequently they could not think of granting the appeal. There are 80 drift nets at Youghal, 70 at Waterford, and 64 on the River Shannon. The whole coast is strewn with drift nets, but yet they cannot be used because the Admiralty hold that they would be destructive for submarines.

A wag was responsible for the statement that the Empire was now all right, and that its integrity was complete, because all that would be required was to scrap the fleet and surround the British Islands with drift nets. Mr. Green and Mr. Holt held exhaustive inquiries at Cork and at Cobh, but despite those inquiries, the state of the law is as I have explained. These unfortunate men, who are living by fishing, and whose ancestors lived by fishing, are hindered from approaching the fishing ground in the way I have indicated. They are very excellent types of men. If they were to go through the harbour they would be liable to severe penalties. They are obliged to take their nets either by cart or aeroplane to the fishing ground. Surely the Minister ought to see his way to make some provision to remedy the plight of these fishermen.

In my opinion the Bill, as it stands, does not require any amendment. It indicates that a decision cannot be considered except on the recommendation of the District Justice. I am quite in agreement with the efforts made to prevent poaching, and especially am I in agreement with the effort to prevent any interference with spawning fish, which really is the most important thing. If in-spawn salmon are killed in sufficient numbers, the whole species will be exterminated. I do not think there is any necessity for the amendment.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

You are not correct when you say that the Bill in its present form provides that the Justice is to be consulted and is to make a recommendation.

In adjudicating, if the Justice did find there were any of the circumstances I speak of, he would have to inflict the minimum penalty and he would have to send a recommendation forward.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

That is not inconsistent with the amendment.

I cannot recommend the Seanad to accept either of these two amendments. They are both more or less following the same lines, and they stand or fall together. The real reason that I do not accept the amendment is, it is absolutely unnecessary. What it conveys is exactly the procedure as at present in vogue. The procedure is that when the Justice imposes a fine, if he feels, under the circumstances of the case, that a remission might be advisable, he makes a recommendation immediately to the Minister for Home Affairs, who refers it to my Department. I make the ordinary local inquiries through the Boards of Conservators, and I send my recommendation to the Minister for Home Affairs. He then forms his decision as to what should be done. As far as other memorials emanating originally, not from the District Justice, are concerned, I do not think we can prevent persons sending up memorials of this kind or asking for remission. At any rate, when they do arrive the procedure is that the Minister for Home Affairs refers these cases back to the District Justice who has tried the case, for his comment. When that has been received, it is then sent on as if it originally emanated from the District Justice. I am perfectly satisfied that this talk about back-stairs methods of influencing Ministers is all moonshine. The Ministry brings forward this Bill, considered by some people a drastic Bill, and surely the Ministry is not going to stultify itself by urging the remission of fines which the Ministry itself put into the Bill and which they went to the trouble of bringing before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not see the point in either of the amendments. The procedure at present covers them, and covers the point raised in them, and, as a matter of fact, the putting forward at this particular stage of this amendment would help to put the provisions of the Bill out of action for the close season, which is now well advanced.

I do not think that the Minister has answered the point I raised, and that is that the Ministry is absolved from all possibility of considering reduction or remission in the matter of penalties. It would save it a great deal of trouble if the Judge or District Justice sent there to carry out the law, carries out the law and inflicts certain punishment or fine. That is an end of the question.

The Minister for Fisheries is absolved already. The Ministry of Fisheries has absolutely no authority to remit. The Minister for Fisheries makes a recommendation to the Minister for Home Affairs. In other words this amendment cuts across the authority of the Governor-General, because he is the remitting authority, on the advice of the Executive Council.

I was going to ask what difference there is as between this Bill and any other Act of the Oireachtas—would not the amendment practically have the effect of excluding certain powers of remission which the Governor-General has on the recommendation of the Minister for Home Affairs, simply in the case of fisheries but leaving them in everywhere else?

I must frankly confess that I am not satisfied, and I hope the Seanad is not satisfied, with the arguments of the Minister. As I understand them, these petitions come forward at present. Considerable interest and agitation have gone on about these petitions, and I still say, in the light of local knowledge and knowing what these petitions do mean, and that such things go on in this as in every other country, that it is highly desirable to exclude, as far as possible, this power of remission from the Government. We should face this amendment which makes it absolutely clear that there will be only one means by which penalties can be remitted, and that is through the Judge who hears the evidence. I think Senator Love is in agreement with this point of view.

I am in practical agreement with it.

I am most concerned with the suggestion the Minister in his last sentence dropped that because we are amending this Bill therefore we are going to prejudice its effects for the present close season. That is again the question of urgency, and it is suggesting that the Seanad is expected to assent, without putting up any amendment to the Bill, or otherwise you are going to interfere with the administration of the law. That is not a position that this Seanad, with its responsibility and dignity, can accept, especially as this is not a matter of such extraordinary urgency. I, therefore, do hope that this amendment will be accepted without prejudice to its indirect effect on the prerogative of the Governor-General. I hope the Seanad will in no way be affected by the argument that two Ministries are concerned, that while one Minister has power of decision another has the power of recommendation. That makes the thing worse. When it is a question of canvassing two Ministers, one to recommend and the other to remit, it makes it worse. I do hope that the Government will not take these remarks of mine in the spirit that is not intended. We all know how these influences arise. We are subject to them ourselves. We are here canvassed on different things that we do not like. Would it not be much better to say in a matter of this kind "I have no power in the matter, the law cuts away the ground from under my feet." There would be no more canvassing about it. I, therefore, hope that the Seanad will support this amendment.

I am a follower of the gentle art, and I would like to say something with regard to the Bill and the debate that has taken place on this amendment. As I said on the Second Reading, this is a very drastic Bill. The amendment proposed by Senator Sir John Keane is not necessary, and I hope to be able to show why that is so. I agree with the Minister that a petition can be sent up. Anybody can send up a petition to the Ministry on any subject whatever. That is a liberty of the subject that is allowed in almost every country. The petition is dealt with in this manner. The Justice, in deciding a case, is asked for a report into the circumstances, and it is quite right to have a petition sent up, because those who send it up are local inhabitants who know the local circumstances. The Department of Fisheries, having had the opinion of the Justice on the subject, sends the case to the Minister for Home Affairs. Does anybody suppose that the Government, having brought in a drastic Bill, are going to stultify their position by remitting fines upon poachers under a Bill which is one of the strictest Bills I have ever had the pleasure of reading? This Bill is, in fact, much stricter than the measure in operation on the other side. Senator Sir John Keane must allow that we are living in times quite different to those of the old regime, when it was a pleasant fashion for the Lord Lieutenant to remit a big fine if, indeed, not to cancel it. That made a farce of the whole thing. The law was there, but it was never administered. This Bill is going to administer the law, because I believe every word which the Minister has said with regard to it. I think the Seanad would be doing an injustice to the Bill and to the Minister if they accepted the amendment, because I consider it is perfectly unnecessary. The law is going to take its course, and the Minister has already said that he is going to make the profession of the poacher an unpleasant one. That is quite enough for me.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I shall now put Senator Guinness's amendment to the amendment: "To omit all words after ‘reduced or remitted.'"

Amendment put and negatived.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I shall now put Sir John Keane's amendment.

Amendment put and, on a show of hands, declared carried.
Question—"That Section 9, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That Sections 10 and 11 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That the title stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I do not know whether there is any desire on the part of the Seanad to put this Bill through its remaining stages.

The Bill has now to go back to the Dáil.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Then there is no urgency about it?