Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 20 Mar 1934

Vol. 18 No. 11

Workmen's Compensation Bill, 1933. - Message From the Dáil.


The following message has been received from the Dáil:

Dáil Eireann has agreed to amendments Nos. 1 to 4 inclusive, and 7 to 24 inclusive, made by Seanad Eireann to the Workmen's Compensation Bill, 1933, and to amendment No. 5 as amended by the insertion in the proposed new sub-section (5) of Section 8, and at the end thereof, of the words "unless such owners reside or have a place of business in Saorstát Eireann"; it has disagreed to amendment No. 6, to which the agreement of Seanad Eireann is desired.

With reference to amendment 5 for the insertion of words for the purpose of ensuring that where a workman other than a member of the crew is injured on board a ship at a port in Saorstát Eireann, but not registered in Saorstát Eireann, the worker has a right to proceed against the owner if he has a place of business here. The amendment of the Seanad gave the worker the right to proceed against the agent only. This amendment gives him the right to proceed against the owner if he has a business or resides in Saorstát Eireann.

In order to put the matter in order I move that the Seanad agrees to the amendment in the Bill as provided in amendment 5.

I beg to second it.

The Seanad will recollect that an amendment was inserted, the purpose of which was to provide that where a workman, employed by an employer in Saorstát Eireann, in connection with the employer's business in the Saorstát, was injured in an accident occurring outside the Saorstát, he would be entitled to proceed against the employer in the Saorstát courts for compensation. It was considered at the time that the Bill as framed did not give the worker that right. The relevant section of the Bill—Section 15 —is identical with the same section of the 1906 Act, and a similar section in the British Act. A number of decisions in the British courts had placed upon that section the interpretation which it was assumed was operative here also. Since this Bill was before the Seanad, and before the Bill came before the Dáil, a decision was given in the Supreme Court of the Saorstát which places an interpretation on the Act different from that of the British courts. The effect of that was to place upon the section an interpretation which secured for workers injured under the circumstances provided in the amendment the right to proceed for compensation against their employer in the Saorstát court. The case was one which had been argued in the various courts, and the effect of the decision of the Supreme Court was to confer upon the worker the right to get compensation against his employer. In these circumstances it is clear that the amendment inserted here is not necessary. It might have been thought desirable nevertheless to leave the amendment stand in order to reinforce the decision of the Supreme Court by the insertion of this section in the Bill. On consideration, however, it was considered better to rely upon the decision of the Supreme Court, which covers all cases that are likely to arise under the section, although it leaves undecided certain possible cases that might arise, and might at some future date be the subject of further discussion. There are, of course, in this section inserted in the Seanad provisions designed to prevent the worker getting double compensation in any circumstances. It might have been decided to have at least allowed that portion of the amendment to stand, so that the safeguard against double compensation being paid would be maintained. But having examined the matter with great care, and discussed every contingency that might arise, it was felt that circumstances in which double compensation would be awardable, having regard to the Supreme Court's decision, were so limited and unlikely that there was no necessity to make such provision, particularly having regard to the fact that the provision would have to be a very complicated one. The decision which was taken in the matter was approved of in the Dáil by all authorities, and I think it was the wiser course to take. The Seanad can be assured that the position that it wished to provide has been provided by the Supreme Court, and that the amendment is not now required.

I move:

That the Seanad do not insist on this amendment, No. 6.

I beg to second it.

I am not at all able to understand the position of the Dáil in this matter. The argument of the Government in this matter seems to say that it is better that possible doubts should be resolved by the courts rather than by the Oireachtas. That is to say, if there are any doubtful points likely to arise, though they were covered by the section, it is better that the procedure of the case through the courts should be gone through so that the judges may be capable of making the law in the matter. That is a point of view I am not at all able to appreciate. Senator Comyn may, but, it seems to me, if you can do the job here it is better to do it, rather than wait for the decision of the courts which may be required to determine what the Oireachtas intended should be the law. I am sure the Minister has reasons that I cannot see, but I think it is very much to be desired that the law should be made as far as possible by the Oireachtas and should be interpreted by the judges rather than that we should take the line that the Minister seems to take, that when doubtful cases arise the law can be determined by the judges. That may be very good if it could be done for nothing, but the people who are going to be involved in litigation in the courts will have to pay something. Law cases of this kind usually cost something. It seems a pity that the Oireachtas should not take the opportunity of determining what the law should be in these cases.

I do not think that Senator Johnson has got the right end of the stick. It seems to me that this particular case has already arisen and that a decision has been reached. That is the decision of the Supreme Court, and that, I understand, was the deciding factor in the debate in the Dáil. If we insist on putting in this amendment, that amendment would probably lead to further litigation. As the matter now stands, the question has been determined by the Supreme Court decision, and I think it would be better to avoid any complication which might arise by insisting on this amendment.

Senator Johnson is the watchdog of the interests of the working man, and a very good watchdog he is, but I think in the present case it would not be desirable to insist on the insertion of the section put forward in this House. I think we ought to agree with the Dáil for this reason. The section was inserted originally to cover a case that was likely to arise rather frequently. It was inserted because there was a decision of an English court which it was thought might lead to a decision of the Irish courts. The case has come up before the Irish courts, and they have arrived at a decision which renders this section unnecessary so far as its main object is concerned. The Minister explained, and, if I might say so, very rightly, that it is unlikely that any other question will arise in respect of any matters covered by our section. I think it would be wrong, therefore, to legislate beforehand in respect of a case that might never arise. There is a lot to be said for what Senator Douglas has stated, and I wish to support him in what he has said. The very section drafted and inserted in the Seanad might give rise to litigation, so that in order to avoid that litigation the best thing to do is not to insist on our amendment but to agree with the Dáil. The chances are a million to one that you will have no case brought before the courts, but if you insert this section, it is perfectly certain that you will have several cases. Therefore, in the interests of the labouring man——

A Senator

And in the interests of lawyers.

I have no great interest in lawyers in regard to workmen's compensation cases. I was the lawyer to the Labour Party in New Zealand and succeeded in the Privy Council for them, before ever there was a Treaty and, therefore, I say I am a labouring man by what you might call extraction.

I think what Senator Douglas has stated is correct. The decision of the court covers everything that is intended to be met by this section. Senators will remember that when the section was introduced here they disputed amongst themselves as to what the exact meaning of certain words might be. It is, I think, likely that if the section were allowed to stand that dispute would be carried to the courts sooner or later. We have the decision of the court which states the law exactly as we want to have it stated. When I said that a certain type of case might not be covered, it was because the Chief Justice in his judgment stated that his decision in this case was not to be taken as covering a case where the worker was employed in the Saorstát under a contract of service, but where the service had to be performed entirely outside the Saorstát. It is quite clear that that case is not covered by the amendment either. It is something which must be decided at a later stage.

Question—"That the Seanad do not insist on the amendment"—put and agreed to.