Thursday, 21 June 2012
Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
Éamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
Ta áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Is fada muid ag plé leis an gceist seo. Thug an Rialtas roimhe seo fúithi, agus rinne an t-Ard Aighne ag an am go leor oibre uirthi. Tá súil agam go leanfar leis seo agus go gcríochnófar an próiseas. Níl sé ceart go mbeadh aon dlí i bhfeidhm in Éirinn a hachtaíodh roimh 1922. Go deimhin, tá go leor dlithe a hachtaíodh tar éis 1922 ar cheart iad a aisghairm de réir a chéile.
Fáiltím roimh an mBille. Beidh mé ag súil go ndearbhóidh an tAire go leanfar leis an obair seo go dtí go mbeidh gach aon cheann des na sean Achtanna seo aisghairmthe agus go mbeidh Leabhar Reachtaíochta ag an Stát a bhaineann leis an am a raibh ceannas ag muintir na hÉireann ar a gcuid reachtaíochta féin.
I have been a great supporter of this process since it started. It is better late than never. It was monumental to decide that all pre-Independence legislation should be systematically repealed and that all the rules and laws that govern us should be those made by an Irish Oireachtas for the Irish people. The task has been very long and complicated and it is not yet completed. I am sure the Minister of State will now admit that much meritorious work was talking place under the radar and that fundamental decisions were being made that will never receive much coverage in the media. I hope the Minister of State will accept that this was one of the major decisions made by the previous Government and that it will have a lasting effect.
The basic idea and ultimate aim is that no statute should stand in this country that has not been enacted by the Oireachtas. Ensuring that all the laws are made by an Irish Parliament, Oireachtas Éireann, for the Irish people represents a consummation of Independence in the legal sense. There is still a long way to go and it requires resources, time and commitment. We have devoted considerable time and effort to this process. There will be those who will say the legislation is not urgent. Practically and conceptually, this is an incredibly important process. I hope the Government is as committed as its predecessor to completing this task. I hope that, in the next few years, we will be able to say the task is completed. When the process is completed, we will have to eliminate post-Independence legislation that is no longer relevant. There is also a very important practical element.
Many years ago, when I was on the board of Gael Linn, the organisation had to deal with oyster bed rights in Connemara. The late Dónal Ó Móráin was drawing on 15th century law – he may have been going back further but I cannot remember the details – to try to establish the rights of Gael Linn to the oyster beds. He did win in the court. That was my first understanding of the fact that one could draw on legislation from the mists of time and perhaps establish some rights on finding some dusty parchment. I am thankful that in the case in question, in which I had a small part as a member of the board, the rights to the oyster beds, having been established by Gael Linn, were bought by Údarás na Gaeltachta. It, in turn, gave the beds to a local co-operative to manage. The project has been very successful since. The problems that plagued Gael Linn when it owned the oyster beds were miraculously solved when the local people became the custodians of the property.
This matter brought home to me the legal difficulty that arises in the courts from having legislation from the mists of time. Resources can be wasted trying to make arguments on the basis of such legislation. It would be great if one could say to somebody that no law before 1922 has any relevance because it has been repealed. One would only have to look at the finite Statute Book, containing a proper copy of every Act passed by Oireachtas Éireann to decide on a legal position.
I kept asking the previous Attorney General whether an ancient Act on cuffs and wigs in the courts would be repealed. I have not had time to do research to determine whether that archaic legislation was repealed in full. A court is more like a drama setting than a court of a modern, independent state if judges and barristers are dressed in ancient garb and wearing horsehair wigs. Instead of adding to the status and solemnity of the courts, wandering around the Four Courts in horsehair wigs and sitting in judgment on people while wearing 18th century garb is more likely to result in derision and the alienation from the upper legal system of many people who are not familiar with the courts. Eoin MacNeill, a Cumann na nGaedhael Minister and grandfather of former Minister, Mr. Michael McDowell, did some work on replacing the horse-hair wigs in the 1920s with some more suitable head attire. I regret that he did not manage to see that legislation through because it is one piece of archaic Ireland that we could do without. The heritage of the wigs would be better in a museum than in the courts of a modern state. They are a little incompatible with the iPhone, the laptop etc. However, this is important legislation. It is important that we are making this progress.
I was interested in what my colleague, Deputy Kyne, had to say about the Acts not being repealed. Specifically, he mentioned the legislation on the Galway to Clifden railway line. I am delighted he is so in favour of the greenway because I was the one who, as Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, first promoted the idea of using abandoned and disused railway lines, both those in State ownership and those where the land had been sold back to the people, as cycle-walk ways. What was done between Westport and Achill is an example of good practice. I have been a long time trying to encourage the Donegal people to do the railway line along the Barnesmore Gap and the people in Kerry to do the one that goes out in such spectacular fashion along the road to Cahirciveen, where one sees the line of the railway up on the side of the mountain, where one would have a spectacular view and where most of the railway line itself is intact.
I welcome this Bill. As I stated, tús maith leath na hoibre agus tá tús maith curtha leis an obair seo. Rinne an Rialtas deireanach go leor oibre air seo agus cuid mhaith den obair atá á plé againn inniu obair an Rialtais dheireanaigh atá ann, agus tá súil agam go leanfaidh an Rialtas nua leis seo. Tá tús maith curtha leis an obair ach go dtí go gcríochnófar í, go dtí go mbeidh deireadh leis an reachtaíocht dheireanach a bhaineann leis an tréimhse roimh 1922, ní bheidh mise sásta mar creidim gur cheart gur reachtaíocht Éireannach a bheadh mar bhunús reachtaíochta do phobal na hÉireann, agus ní reachtaíocht a achtaíodh ag seanpharlaimintí in Éirinn nó thall sa Bhreatain.