Thursday, 21 June 2012
Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
As Deputy Finian McGrath and others observed, a great deal of work has gone into this legislation. We are at the cusp of a series of centenary celebrations culminating in the centenary of the foundation of the State. We will probably still be dealing with some of the legacy legislation in 2022. Going through legislation like this obliges one to consider the types of issues that were dealt with by Parliament in the 19th century and earlier. These laws were being made against the backdrop of the industrial revolution and we see many stock companies listed, for example, in a manner which is no longer appropriate. A great deal of legal and institutional changes have taken place in the past century which have seen great change in the activities and operation of Parliament. For instance, we have statutes here which name specific divorces and naturalisations. It is difficult to comprehend that such matters were part of routine parliamentary business in the past.
One should also bear in mind that the parliamentarians who enacted these laws were not elected by universal suffrage. Rather, they were men of property elected by other men of property, many of them from urban centres. As such, there is a fascinating historical perspective to this, with parliamentary concerns reflecting the social strata from which Members were drawn. A significant portion of the legislation included here deals with issues relating to the railway companies. Throughout the middle and latter part of the 19th century the development of the railway network attracted a large share of public and private investment. We can see the fragmented approach to that development, with gauge widths differing in different parts of the country. I was interested to read about a Member from Athlone who was also heavily involved in the Midland Great Western Railway company and a substantial landowner. He succeeded in having his project proceed at the expense of the Great Southern and Western Railway company. The expectation at the time was that Galway would become a hub of transatlantic travel and a doorway to the New World. It took a major job of reconfiguration to address that error after the railway systems were amalgamated. Unfortunately, this type of fragmented approach followed over into other realms of activity and was not exclusive to the development of railway services. That fragmented approach is still evident today. We could learn some lessons that it is not the way to do things.
The two large cemeteries in Dublin, Mount Jerome and Glasnevin, were stock companies. That would come as a surprise to people as would the references in the Bill to the Bank of Bolton Limited, the Kent and Surrey Permanent Benefit Building Society and the Buenos Ayres and Ensenda Port Company Limited. It is right that we should repeal the quite extraordinary range of Acts. When I read the Bill, I focused more on what was being retained. I suppose there are good and residual reasons for the retention of legislation.
We are looking at the legacy we inherited but we must consider the legacy we will leave in terms of the way we enact legislation because very often it is a bit fragmented. Consolidating legislation is important. We should take a housekeeping approach to legislation because we will leave a huge body of work to others if we do not routinely do things which will make it easier and more intelligible for people in future. We might learn that lesson from this legislation, which will pass very comfortably.