I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, to the House.
Statute Law Revision Bill 2015: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 117, to delete lines 5 and 6.
This relates to a proclamation ordering the apprehension of street robbers in Dublin. Could anybody deny that this is more necessary than ever? If it was necessary in the 18th century, my God it is necessary now. It is not about robbers but beggars and every kind of trollop and tramp all over the city. We should at least return to the days when there was an attempt to create order. This even pre-dates the establishment of the police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary or An Garda Síochána, for whom we should give grateful thanks to the Lord.
In a way I am half-serious about putting down these amendments as it would be a pity for the legislation to go through without any real intensive discussion. This casts us back in some ways; this comes from 1742, and at least they were trying to do something about robbery. I am a big fan of the gardaí but today a robbery is an ordinary event. Half the time they do not even send a fingerprint technician, as it is taken so casually that people are robbed. There are dippers on O'Connell Street and Grafton Street and so on. I look forward to the Minister of State telling me what is being done. He has very kindly supplied me with answers and explanations. He indicates that some of these provisions are spent, so why not resurrect them? Why not do something about the degree of public street robbery in this city? I will leave it at that so we can get to the other perhaps more important or serious elements.
I will not go on about this but I will make a contribution here and there. I treat this as an opportunity for ventilating significant public issues. Robbery is a significant public issue today, as are the other three matters I have put down for retention on the Statute Book. There are 368 pages under consideration and I have only suggested a few lines to be retained. I pay tribute to the Minister of State as I received the most interesting answers to my questions, although I do not fully subscribe to them.
I disagree with Senator Norris. Good riddance to these proclamations of the 18th century because, in the main, they were penal laws which subjugated the people of this country at the time.
I do not have the text of this legislation relating to that Lord Lieutenant, who I believe was the Duke of Devonshire. I certainly do not support that legislation and I do not wish to keep it.
We know Fianna Fáil supports robbery of the public. That is fairly obvious.
We do not.
Paying the debts of the Germans-----
In many ways-----
That is its style.
Senator Byrne, without interruption.
In many ways it is ludicrous to debate a piece of legislation that was spent nearly 200 years ago.
The context of the Bill is the penal laws of this country-----
It is not.
-----under which the majority of the people suffered grievously under the lord lieutenants and their legislation.
Let us do this as quickly as possible.
The Senator has contributed already. I call Senator Paschal Mooney.
I have some reservations about one of the citations. Which one are we debating?
We are debating the amendment.
It is about the apprehension of street robbers.
I will allow the Senator in on the Schedule.
Is it on the Schedule?
We are on amendment No. 1.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I thank the Seanad for consideration of Committee Stage of the Bill. It is useful in response to this amendment, and what I anticipate to be our debate, to remind people of what we are doing. In this and the other House we pass new laws all the time. That is our job. It is our job to put laws on the Statute Book. It is our job to put laws in place that our citizens want and deserve. It is also our job as legislators to make sure the law is as accessible as possible and that we maintain a Statute Book that is up to date. I agree with Senator Norris that issues relating to law and order are important. I could get into the debate about how this Government has recommenced the recruitment of members of An Garda Síochána but that is not for this Bill. This Bill is about removing obsolete legislation that serves no purpose whatsoever other than to cloud and confuse those trying to read the Statute Book. This is a process that began about 13 years ago. Generally, there has been much cross-party support for it in this and the other House. The Senator's amendment seeks to remove an instrument of 1742 from the Schedule of revoked instruments. I thank the Senator for his kind words in respect of the briefing notes provided to him. I understand his sentiment but this particular instrument of 1742 offers a reward for the apprehension of street robbers in Dublin on or before 1 March of the following year 1743, and, therefore, I think in anybody's eyes it is spent. It is not capable of ongoing application, therefore it should be removed from the Statute Book.
I fully accept the Minister of State's reply.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 129, to delete lines 4 and 5.
This is a more significant order. It is an order of 3 February 1755 for the surveying of pavements in the City of Dublin. This is from the Paving Commission. I doubt very much if the Minister of State can tell me there is no application or no relevance for this today. The pavements in the City of Dublin are a complete, absolute and utter disgrace. They are a death trap. Nobody can deny that and nothing whatever is done about it. I have been complaining for decades about the squalor and disintegration of the Georgian core and I instanced particular buildings, including buildings in North Frederick Street, to Dublin City Council, but it said everything was all right and it was marvellous. A week or so ago one of the buildings collapsed, so how "all right" was that? In a major capital city of Europe we should at least have decent pavements on which to walk. Whereas this piece of legislation on the Statute Book might well have passed into antiquity, it is time for it to be renewed. What is the Government doing about the status of the city? It always gets off on the excuse that this is a matter for the local city authorities but it is the capital city.
The Government should have some responsibility for it. I despair. I live in the inner city and have lived there for 40 years and I have literally spent millions of my own money restoring a house. We have utterly decrepit pavements. I invite the Minister of State to come and have a look at the pavement on, for example, Parnell Street, where one is taking one's life in one's hands. The Government introduced a property tax. I persuaded the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, during a budget debate to introduce the living city initiative which he did, carefully excluding Dublin. When he extended the initiative to Dublin this year, some anonymous little squirt of a civil servant put down a provision saying that it should not extend to what he called mansions, in other words the Georgian core.
That is inappropriate; that is desperate.
I am making the point-----
I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.
-----that this city is decrepit. It is a disgrace as a capital city and it needs some attention; looking at the pavements would be a start.
I have had much respect for Senator Norris over the years and I am sure he does not mean to refer to any member of the public service as a little squirt. Members of the public service, as they go about their duties, enable the Senator to carry out his duties and have done the State significant service during the years of economic difficulty and during the times when they have been paid less and have had fewer members of staff.
So have we. We have been paid significantly less.
The Senator is paid a fine wage as I am.
I am paid much less than middle management.
I do not think the Senator should refer to people as little squirts. The Senator has mentioned that he was able to spend millions on doing up his home. There are not many people working in the Civil Service who would be in a position to do that.
Yes, they would.
I would hope the Senator would reflect on that.
The Minister of State to continue, without interruption, please. I ask that there be no interruptions from the Visitors Gallery, please.
We are responding to a piece of legislation which seeks to revoke an instrument of 1755. The Senator's amendment seeks to remove an instrument of 1755 from the Schedule of revoked instruments. The instrument concerned is an order of 1755 for the surveying of pavements in the City of Dublin. It requires all church wardens and the directors of the watch in their respective parishes throughout the city to return full and particular surveys of the defects in the pavements in their districts. However, it was a once off survey in 1755 for the purpose of having all of the pavements well and effectually repaired during the current season. The current season has well and truly expired. I take the Senator's point about pavements but that is not a matter for the Statute Law Revision Bill. The job of the Statute Law Revision Bill is to keep our legislation up to date. As this instrument has been spent since 1755, I propose that it be removed from the Statute Book.
I know Senator David Norris does much for Georgian Dublin but he is in danger of turning the Seanad into a Georgian parliamentary chamber because we have been debating issues that are utterly irrelevant. Listening to the debate about the items that are spent, I wonder whether it is worth the time of civil servants going through items that are clearly spent and clearly have no application. Certainly, I do not think the proclamations of the Duke of Dorset, Mr. Sackville, have any relevance today.
Church wardens and directors of the watch would have been the equivalent of local authorities. Nothing could be more relevant to the welfare of the city today than the requirement that all local authorities do a survey of the state of the pavements. The Minister of State said it was a once-off survey. That does not mean it cannot be repeated for the purpose of having the pavements well and effectually repaired during the current season. That, surely, is an admirable objective and, therefore, the Minister of State said this order is also spent and not capable of ongoing application. I do not accept that. I do not see why it is spent. Unlike the previous instrument it does not have an expiry date attached, or does it?
I am interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say.
In an effort to be helpful it referred to the current season on 1755, hence my proposal that it is spent and the reason I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 169, to delete lines 38 to 40.
This amendment refers to a proclamation prohibiting the publishing of false, wicked malicious reports and news. I delight in that. Maybe it was the 18th century but, surely to God, this is something we should uphold as a parliament. We have a fairly rotten media which consistently publishes false, wicked malicious reports, as I am well in a position to attest having sued about 11 times and won in all cases. The media sought to propagate the most atrocious lies about me. I had my revenge by making them shell out fairly substantial sums of money. I note there is a privacy Bill in my name on the Order Paper - there is also a privacy Bill in the name of the Government - to protect the interests of private citizens in this country. During the presidential election, the editor of one of the newspapers actually said to me that what was happening to me was "pay back time" for the work I did on the defamation Bill in the Seanad.
Something should be done about the deliberate spreading of false, malicious and wicked reports to frighten people off from their parliamentary duties. I do not expect a positive reply from the Minister of State on this, but I would like him to bring the message back to the Cabinet and colleagues that we are looking for some kind of control. I know most people in political parties are afraid to take on the press, just as one hour ago people here were afraid to enter any dissenting voice about the rescuing of the Moore Street buildings related to 1916. I was hissed at by the relatives for entering a dissenting opinion, which makes me wonder what kind of republic they would have liked to see. It is important we take up the matter of false, malicious and wicked reports and news and put a stop to it. This Bill may not be the vehicle to do it, but it provides me with a welcome opportunity to address a serious Minister on the situation and ask that something be done about the issue.
With regard to my remarks earlier, perhaps the use of the word "squirt" was unparliamentary. However, the remark was made about an anonymous person who had an ideological vengeance against the 18th century and specified as mansions any houses over 100 sq. m.
The Senator should not discuss anyone who is not here to defend himself.
In other words, anything more than a cottage was ruled out, not by the Minister, but by this anonymous civil servant.
In regard to the amendment put forward by Senator Norris, it seeks to remove an instrument of 1779 from the schedule of revoked instruments. The proclamation of 1779, which this refers to, was issued in response to representations made to the then Lord Lieutenant and Council of Ireland that forged letters had been sent, stating contrary to the truth that hostile attempts had been made by foreign enemies upon the peace and security of the kingdom. It prohibits the distribution of such false news and advises that "such as shall offend therein shall be prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law". This proclamation has been superseded by modern legislation and is therefore obsolete, but I will convey to my colleague the Senator's views on the broader points relating to the Privacy Bill.
I thank the Minister of State for that undertaking.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 202, to delete lines 12 and 13.
While it may appear so, this is not a frivolous amendment. It concerns the removal of the first instance of the proclamation Magna Carta of 12 June 1215, just over 800 years ago. Is the Government marking the 800th anniversary of the introduction of the Magna Carta into Irish law by removing it? That is a shame and a pity. I understand that segments of the Magna Carta are involved in other legislation, but I believe it is a shame we should remove it from the Statute Book and regret that for historical reasons.
I assure the Senator that this is not what we are doing. The Senator's amendment seeks to remove an instrument of 1215 from the schedule of revoked instruments. The instrument was designed to publish the Magna Carta. Unfortunately, no text has been located during the research for this Bill for the proclamation of 1215. In the interest of transparency, we have adopted the clear policy that we cannot retain on our Statute Book any legislation in respect of which no text is available. Therefore, the proclamation of 1215 cannot be retained. However, I assure Senator Norris that the revocation of this proclamation will not revoke the Magna Carta itself, especially in this its 800th anniversary year. As the House may be aware, the Magna Carta was issued in a number of different versions between 1215 and 1297 in England and in 1216 in Ireland. I assure the House that parts of the Magna Carta of 1215 and 1297 remain in force in Ireland, as does the 1216 Great Charter of Ireland, by reason of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. The revocation of this instrument concerning the Magna Carta will not impact on the ongoing status of the statute.
I may not get an opportunity to speak on this again, but I would like to flag for Senators that I intend to bring forward amendments on Report Stage to insert a number of further instruments into Schedule 1 and to modify the subject matter of an instrument which is also in Schedule 1. The additional instruments have come to the attention of the statute law revision programme following publication of the Bill. The amendment to the subject matter will ensure more consistency in the manner in which the subject matter of the instruments are referred to.
In response to Senator Byrne's legitimate question, I believe it has been worth going through this process, and during Report Stage, I will take an opportunity to try to give an overview of its significance. This is the largest international project, in terms of statute repeal, undertaken in this country. The process was started by the Fianna Fáil-led Government and has been ongoing for 13 years. I believe it will leave us with a more up-to-date and accessible Statute Book and will remove instruments that are completely spent and irrelevant.
I compliment the Minister of State and his advisers on the assiduity they have shown in pursuing the minutiae of law. In response to Senator Byrne, I believe it is well worthwhile to go through the law book and weed it out. That is excellent. Also, I make no apologies for submitting amendments, as that is what the Seanad is for, although some of the amendments just gave me an opportunity to vent certain issues.
We are contemporaries of the 18th century. I am not always belly-aching about it and cannot remember the last time I said anything about the 18th century, but it is the period of our greatest cultural triumph. It produced some of our greatest art, literature and architecture and we should remember that. I am glad, if I understand the Minister of State correctly, that instead of processing the entire Bill in one day here, the slight delay in bringing it here has provided an opportunity to review and produce more amendments. At least we have this opportunity. Making the Irish Statute Book more accessible and a more easily viewed instrument is well worth doing.
I simply selected four amendments, out of an enormous number - almost 5,000 - as a representative sample to test and give the Minister of State the opportunity to place on the record the specific function of their removal. That is not an idle exercise and I make no apology whatever for having put forward the amendments. That is what the House is for. It is not a rubber stamp. The Seanad is a place where there is inquiry into matters of substance. I thank the Minister of State for taking these issues seriously and for his courteous replies. I compliment his staff also, but I cannot compliment the person who vitiated - I say this with some feeling-----
The Senator should not refer to people who are not here to defend themselves. The Senator's comment is not relevant either.
It is relevant. I persuaded the Minister for Finance to introduce a clause specifically designed to save Georgian buildings. I have finished with this and will not personally benefit from it at all.
That is not relevant to this debate.
I just want to answer something mentioned by the Minister of State. I spent millions over 40 years. Anyone on a middle income could have done the same, if he or she took no holidays and had no other expenditure apart from this prime concern. I chose to do that, although I am not and never have been a wealthy person. I was practically made bankrupt by the presidential election and am not a person of wealth and munificence. I just happened to restore part of the 18th century heritage of Dublin and lead the restoration of North Great George's Street. I am proud of that, because if the city authorities had their way, it would be rubble infill out at the Pigeon House generating station.
I recognise that.
I wish to put on record the extraordinary work that has been carried out by the Department in this revision of statutes. In a way, it is a pity these statutes will now be consigned to the dustbin of history, because many of these statutes, particularly those within Part 1, which relate to the period from 1600 to 1603, bring those of us who grew up learning about Irish history of that period and the Elizabethan wars back to that period.
I also have a particular interest in that period because of the long march of O'Sullivan Beare from Castletownbere through Glengarriff to County Leitrim where he joined up with the O'Rourkes. The hope was that they would then meet up with the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O'Neill. A reference was made which brings home starkly the turbulence of that period of Irish history, which marked the death of Celtic Ireland following the Battle of Kinsale in 1603. In 1601 the proclamation renewing the offer of a reward for the capture or death of the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O'Neill, referred to him as the arch traitor of Tyrone. There was another reference which was related to another one of the Irish chieftains. These were laws that were passed at the time and enforced to the detriment of the people. Another one that has resonated throughout history in the context of North-South relations is the proclamation of 1618 ordering the Irish to depart with all of their belongings from lands given to planters during the plantation of Ulster. We are living with that law to this day.
On a note of levity, I am not at all objecting to the removal of the proclamation of 27 June 1746 ordering tories, robbers and rapparees, presented by the grand juries of a number of counties, including my county of Leitrim, to surrender to the authorities. Whatever about tories, I never thought there were robbers and rapparees in County Leitrim, but I am glad to see that law being removed.
I compliment the Minister of State's Department. The body of work carried out has been extraordinary. It must have been a painstaking experience for all those involved. Will the Minister of State indicate if there was just one, two or half a dozen individuals involved? They have given us a great deal of food for thought and I do not object to many of the laws being removed.
I thank the Seanad for its consideration of these amendments and Senator David Norris for tabling them. I share his view that it is worth stress-testing legislation, which is what we have done. There was a constructive debate in this and the other House on the matter. I share strongly the view of many that this process will leave the Statute Book more accessible, clear and relevant. It is important that any citizen of the Republic should be able to pick up the Statute Book and see what laws apply to him or her. By removing obsolete and spent laws, we help to improve the process.
I thank Senator Paschal Mooney for his kind words about the officials in the Department and I join him in thanking them. We will have an opportunity on Report Stage to further expand on the huge work undertaken over 13 years to arrive at this point and the project is not yet finished. There is more work to be done in modernising the Statute Book. The work was carried out by a small team of perhaps four or five people in the Department who worked with great dedication. I record my gratitude to them.
I wish to make a comment. I completely agree that the Statute Book should be open to the public, but it must be very large, if it is a book. Is it in several volumes and is it available? There used to be a Stationery Office. Can the Statute Book be consulted and how is it consulted? Is it available in the Oireachtas Library or does one have to go online? When the Minister of State referred to the Statute Book, it was almost if as if he was referring to a particular volume. I wonder about this because it must be a very large volume. We talk about ease of access for citizens, but I wonder how many citizens actually ever attempt to access the Statute Book. What is its scale and size, if it is available, and if it is, where is it available?
I will provide the Senator with some detail of those issues on Report Stage, but the short answer is that the Statute Book is available electronically and through the National Library of Ireland. One cannot go into a shop and buy a consolidated version of it. As the Senator rightly suggested, it is a very large document. Many citizens, like all of us perhaps, look at the law book when it is of relevance to them and they dip in and out of the relevant parts. That is why, when they go to consult it, we should ensure the statutes contained in it are relevant and not spent, but I will come back to the Senator with more detail.
If possible, will the Minister of State consult the National Library of Ireland to see how many times the Statute Book has been consulted? It would be rather interesting to discover what interest the people of Ireland take in their Statute Book and whether they consult it regularly. I must confess that I am 30 years a legislator and have never looked at it once in my entire life. I am not sure the public-----
Shame on the Senator.
Has the Senator looked at it?
There is an app.
I did not want Senator David Norris to take me as criticising his role in preserving Georgian Dublin, which is widely acknowledged and I accept as fact. I was merely pointing to the context of the proclamations dating from the 18th century, many of which were concerned with devastating penal laws.
There were proclamations on both sides. There was one for army Catholics.
The debate is over.
I again acknowledge the massive effort made by the Civil Service which I have seen over many years. It is really important, but I would like to see some work done to consolidate legislation. We do it from time to time, but legislation tends to be inaccessible. A Bill one thinks is in force may have been amended. In some cases, Bills can be amended by statutory instruments. That is another massive job of work to be done and there is a way of doing it within our procedures. When we pass legislation, we should also seek to consolidate it. That would be one way of making modern legislation much more accessible to the general public and lawyers.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?