I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh.
European Union Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages.
The issue to which I wish to refer also arose in the context of the 2007 Act. The Minister of State may be familiar with the position my party took on that occasion. I take this opportunity to reiterate that position. This matter may also have been raised during the debate on the Bill in the Lower House.
My concern relates to the authority given to the Minister to specify indictable offences by way of secondary legislation, namely, statutory instrument. It should be a cardinal rule, in respect of which we should admit few, if any, exceptions, that when an indictable offence is being established in this jurisdiction, it should be done on foot of debate and the enactment of primary legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It simply is not appropriate that a Minister — I am sure he or she would be well meaning and act in good faith and in accordance with the principal legislation — should have the power to establish by way of statutory instrument indictable offences which are serious and often attract extremely large fines. That which I am describing is wrong in principle and flies in the face of what everyone agrees is the considerable advance included in the Bill, namely, the opportunity for the Oireachtas to become far more deeply involved in European affairs and law-making, particularly in the context of what has been done in the Lisbon treaty. Section 4 runs counter to the very laudable principle of involving the Legislature, legislators and, by extension, the wider community in discussing what is being done in their name.
For the reasons I have outlined, it is wrong in principle for the matters to which I refer to be the subject of a statutory instrument. This provision flies in the face of the wider achievement that has flowed from the passing of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We are changing and enhancing the role of Members of both Houses. Why, therefore, should the latter not be involved in the proper fashion in the determination of laws which deal with indictable offences? While it may be argued that the matter does not strictly arise in respect of this Bill because it was dealt with in the 2007 legislation, it is important to again record the fact that this decision is bad and wrong and contradicts the remainder of the very good work being done.
I recognise and appreciate that the Labour Party was opposed to the 2007 amendment which made it permissible in implementing regulations to provide for indictable offences. However, the issue was decided by the Oireachtas at that stage and is now law. Section 4 makes no substantive change to the position and simply reaffirms the arrangement in the new Lisbon treaty context. I regret, therefore, that I cannot facilitate the Senator.
Whereas the Bill does not bring about any particular change, it is certainly highly relevant. I am not, as has been suggested, merely seizing upon a convenient opportunity to bounce the ball again. My concern about this matter could not be more relevant to this section, particularly in the context of the Lisbon treaty. It is somewhat unsatisfactory for the Minister of State to merely indicate that the matter was dealt with in 2007. We already know that. The Government is essentially confining to a Minister the power to establish an indictable offence. It would be better if the Minister of State made an effort to address the issue of substance and indicate, even if this was done two years ago, why such this measure will remain in place.
I accept that the Senator is registering a protest and that he would like to reverse the position which has obtained since 2007. However, I have no discretion in that regard.
I wish to clarify that this section refers to both Houses of the Oireachtas and that it does not confer power to joint committees. Under it, the Seanad has equal status to the Dáil. That is one of the most innovative changes in the status of the Seanad since its foundation under the 1937 Act.
I merely wish to make the general comment that as the previous Seanad, of which I was a Member, showed, this House is, on an equal basis, extremely well placed to scrutinise EU legislation and developments. Long may it continue to do so.
On behalf of the Minister, I thank Members for expediting this legislation through the Seanad. The conclusion of consideration of the Bill in this House sees the completion of its course through the Houses of the Oireachtas. This means that Ireland will complete the ratification process of the Lisbon treaty ahead of next week's meeting of the European Council with the deposit of our instrument of ratification with the Italian Government in Rome. I believe the Minister may have been heading to Rome for precisely that purpose. The treaty could enter into force as soon as next Sunday week, were all 27 instruments of ratification to have been deposited before the end of the month. However, everyone is aware from reading newspaper reports that there still may be one or two complications.
I reiterate that with the approval of this Bill by Seanad Éireann today, consideration by the Oireachtas of matters directly related to the Lisbon treaty will be concluded. Obviously, Members must return to other issues in due course. For example, issues such as Oireachtas scrutiny of draft European Union legislation and the transposition of directives will require appropriate consideration by the Houses.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, for coming into the House for the Final Stages of the Bill. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, for his excellent and comprehensive speech. The Leader of the House and the other leaders in the House should note this constitutes an opportunity for Members to come together and study. Following the treaty's full ratification by the Czechs, Members should immediately move into action. Members should agree through the Cathaoirleach and the leadership of the House on protocol and procedures to enable the House to act straight away on a regular basis, be it weekly, fortnightly or whatever is required, in respect of legislation passed or recommended by the Commission as by so doing, Members will provide an opportunity to people nationwide. As people will know what business is planned in the Seanad, they will be able to make submissions to the House through the Clerk or the Leader to the House in order that their views and concerns may be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. In addition, Members also have the opportunity to invite members of the European Parliament to the Chamber to discuss their attitude to such issues.
This is a very exciting time and affords an opportunity to this House to prove to those who may have doubts that it can justify its existence. While there may be policy changes in this regard in the future, at least this will prove to be the most historic change to the workings of the Seanad since 1937. This is a very exciting time and I am delighted with this Bill. Moreover, I am pleased the Minister of State is present to discuss this matter. I believe that irrespective of the future, this House can play one of the most important roles in respect of the European Union and the question of policies, decisions and Bills that come through the Oireachtas.
I thank the Ministers of State, Deputy Roche and Deputy Mansergh, for coming to the House. Members heard a comprehensive speech from the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. This Bill brings into effect what the people decided by voting in the referendum. I also thank the departmental officials for their work on the Bill.
I also thank the Minister of State and his officials for their attentive approach, as always, to the debate in the Seanad. As Senator Leyden observed, it is an important moment for the Seanad. It also is important for both the Oireachtas and the people, that this treaty finally has been passed and one hopes it will come into operation sooner rather than later. I agree with Senator Leyden's comments on the practices of this House. There is a real need for Members to consider the possibilities that present themselves, as well as the necessity for Members to move quickly to take whatever steps are required to equip them to carry out the role envisaged for them in the treaty and the various instruments relating to it. Without wishing to be too light-hearted about it, among its many achievements the Lisbon treaty might even be a factor in saving this House from itself.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 October 2009.