Thursday, 8 July 2010
Business of Dáil
On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, I would like to thank the Deputies who participated in the debate on the Criminal Procedure Bill. It is an important Bill, and although some of its effects may take some time to be seen, they will, nevertheless, be significant. By opening the possibility of retrials in the event of undeserved acquittal, the Bill ensures a means of dealing with cases whose outcome represents an unacceptable affront to the legal process and to the concept of justice as understood by the population at large. Deputies will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, attaches great importance to the passage of the Bill and sees it as an integral part of his justice for victims initiative. His commitment has been demonstrated by the time he has devoted in this House and in the Seanad to debating and explaining the Bill's provision. He regrets he is unable to be here now.
As this is the last day of the session, I take this opportunity to wish all of my colleagues a peaceful and enjoyable summer break. I know it will be a very busy summer break, because I fully recognise that the Deputies who leave this House will be extremely busy over the summer period, except probably for a very short break, working for the people who elected them.
It has been an interesting experience for the past ten days or so to be back again as Fine Gael spokesperson on justice. I am pleased we have completed the Criminal Procedure Bill today as it contains some desirable measures. However, I regret that specific reforms necessary in statute to protect the victims of crime have been rejected. I regret that we still have a parole system which results in people who have committed barbaric and heinous crimes being the beneficiaries of early release, without the victims having a say of any description of which the parole board takes any notice.
The Minister's praise for his ministerial colleague was a piece of political back-slapping, but I take it less than seriously because a great deal more could have been done and a great deal more reform would have been implemented a lot quicker if the victims rights Bill - a 2007 rather than 2008 Bill - had been adopted by Government. If it had, we would be three years into providing reforms, some of which the Minister has rejected today. I would not describe my experience as Fine Gael justice spokesperson over the past ten days as indicating any constructive engagement by Government with the Opposition. Deputy Rabbitte has laboured hard as justice spokesperson in his brief on behalf of the Labour Party and my colleague, Deputy Charles Flanagan, did the same for Fine Gael. We have gone through two pieces of important legislation in this House without a single amendment from any Opposition Deputy being completed in the past week. That casts serious doubts on the validity of the manner in which we do our business in the House and on the capacity of the Government, which has been in office for far too long. It is far too arrogant to take seriously any proposals that come from this side of the House.
I acknowledge, as the Minister has done, that Deputies who will finish their work in the House this evening will be very busy over the recess and that there will be committees of the House sitting during the month of July in which many of us will be engaged. Nevertheless, in the midst of the economic crisis we are suffering, there is no excuse of any description for closing down the House until the end of September. We should have sat two weeks longer into July and should be back by the first week in September.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in seeing the Criminal Procedure Bill through to finality. It is by no means the most significant piece of legislation we have put through in this area. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform claims that his Department has enacted some 60% of the legislation put through the House in the past couple of years. I do not know if the percentage is as high as that, but the legislative burden in the justice area is very high. While this Bill would not rank at the top, it is, nonetheless, important, given the progress that has been made in the area of forensic science, DNA evidence and so on in recent times. It is right that the law comes into kilter with those developments.
It is regrettable that at the midnight hour of this session we are completing important Bills - we move from here onto the important Multi-Unit Developments Bill - and that inadequate time is given to these. At other times of year the Government did not manage its legislative schedule very well. There were times in the year just finished when the Government could not field legislation. Now, we are guillotining legislation, almost by rote.
I agree with my colleagues, Minister Ó Cuív and Deputy Shatter, with regard to the workload of Deputies. It is fair enough for there to be comment and criticism about whether we should be doing all of the things we do, but the proposition that people will disappear for three months holds no validity. Ministers will function and will look forward to the break from the Dáil to tackle work that needs to be done. Similarly, there is an enormous amount of work to be done by Deputies on this side of the House, particularly by those with front bench responsibilities. The Dáil is not a factory for making widgets or producing concrete blocks. Time is required for reflection on some of the material that must be processed through the House.
It is dispiriting for most Deputies to read articles such as those in the Evening Herald this evening, which has devoted a page to the alleged three months summer break of Deputies. The article is accompanied with a photograph which was, apparently and lamentably, supplied to it by a Member of this House. The photograph was taken in the Visitors' Bar and is described as TDs making jolly at the break. There is no Deputy in the photograph and there was no Deputy in the Visitors' bar on the night in question, except the one who took the photograph and one junior Minister who was perfectly entitled to be there. This kind of trivialisation and misrepresentation of what goes on in here is all too often accepted by Members on the basis that we are expected to bend the knee to this type of denigratory reference to Parliament. It does not serve to help tackle any of the problems that confront this Parliament that we should acquiesce in that kind of denigration of the work that goes on here. I am sorry it was aided and abetted by a Member of the House who ought to have more sense.