Thursday, 19 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Brendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, to delete lines 16 to 35 and substitute the following: “(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), each of the amendments effected by this Act shall continue in operation for six months from the passing of this Act and shall then expire.
(4) An amendment effected by this Act may be continued in operation from time to time by a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas before its expiry, resolving that that amendment should continue in operation for such period as may be specified in the resolutions.
(5) Where the Government by order declares that an amendment effected by this Act and specified in the order shall expire on a date earlier than six months from the date of the passing of this Act, the amendment so specified shall expire accordingly.
(6) Where an amendment effected by this Act expires, the Act to which the amendment was made shall apply and have effect as it applied and had effect before that amendment was effected, but subject to–(a) any other amendment to that Act effected by this Act which has not expired, and
(b) any amendment to that Act effected by another Act passed after the passing of this Act.”.
I have looked at the Minister's own amendment subsequently, which moves a long way to capturing the essence of what I want to do. In the Bill as published, section 2 envisages that the Act would have effect until 9 May. It is then envisaged that the Act can be extended indefinitely - that was the original draft - by Government order, unless it is annulled by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Certainly I think there was a very strong argument across all the benches here that we needed a clear sunset clause. However one categorises the authorities being given to the Minister and health officials, draconian or otherwise, they certainly should not be open ended. Everybody on these benches understood they would pertain exclusively to this crisis. We provided an alternative in the wording I have given, and I am conscious of time, that both provisions, which the Minister has separated out now, namely the social welfare side and the health side, would last for 12 months and then would automatically end.
Also key in the amendment in my own name and that of Deputy Kelly are two other sections. One is that if the emergency ends before that, the power would rest with the Government to excise those powers immediately. The amendment the Minister has circulated goes some of the way to achieve what I have said. It provides for six months and, in terms of that side of it, provides that it can be extended beyond that only by a resolution of the Houses. However, it does not allow us to end the provisions sooner if they are not required six months from now.
Just on a technical matter, I refer to the final part of what I think is a better amendment in my name and that of Deputy Kelly. A Bill like this, an emergency Bill, alters other Bills.
When this ceases to remain in force the amendments it makes to other Acts do not automatically expire. The last part of the amendment, for technical reasons, would achieve that objective. That is not achieved in the Minister's amendment. Often the argument is not to accept an amendment from the Opposition, but technically our proposal achieves what the Minister said he wants to do in a much more comprehensive way.