Thursday, 21 June 2012
Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 before the House. It received a thorough and interesting debate in the Seanad as well as cross-party welcome. The Bill is being introduced by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform further to the commitment made in the programme for Government to progress the statute law revision project to enhance public accessibility to the Statute Book.
The Bill deals with local and personal Acts from 1851 to 1922 and private Acts from 1751 to 1922 and is the final element of the review of primary legislation enacted prior to Independence and, as such, clears the way for my Department to proceed with other measures of statute law revision, for example, the review of post-1922 legislation and the large body of secondary legislation that predates Independence.
The Bill identifies 796 Acts that are not suitable for repeal at this time and will be retained on the Statute Book. It will repeal all other legislation within its scope. It proposes expressly to repeal 2,983 Acts in total, including 1,358 obsolete local and personal Acts and 1,625 private Acts, while implicitly repealing a further 18,953 Acts. If the implied repeals are included, this Bill is the largest and most extensive repealing measure not only in the history of the State, but also the most extensive single statute law revision measure ever introduced in any jurisdiction.
As the House will be aware, the need for a pre-Independence process of statute law revision arises from the terms of Article 73 of the Saorstát Constitution and Article 50 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which carried over all pre-1937 law, including statute law. The Bill signals a profound change. Following its enactment, it may no longer be said that all pre-Independence primary legislation has been automatically carried forward without analysis merely by virtue of Article 50 and legal inertia. All primary legislation that remains in force will have been specifically assessed and a deliberate decision will have been made by a sovereign Irish Parliament to retain the Acts in question.
Statute law revision concerns the removal of obsolete legislation from the Statute Book that is no longer relevant, whose purpose is exhausted or that has ceased to be in force otherwise than by reason of express repeal. The "Statute Book" is an informal term used to describe all primary legislation, including public general, local and personal and private Acts and all secondary legislation, including orders and regulations that have not previously been repealed or revoked. Primary legislation consists of public general Acts - already reviewed by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 - as well as private and local and personal Acts. Private Acts are those concerned with the affairs of a single individual or body. Such Bills are enacted using a different procedure from that used for public and general Acts. The private Acts listed in the Bill include many naturalisations, divorces and provisions for certain landed estates. Local and personal Acts are concerned with matters affecting a limited section of the community such as a single local authority, local area or company. Local and personal Acts were published in a separate series between 1797 and 1922.
Prior to the enactment of company registration law in 1844 and the introduction of limited liability for companies in 1855, most commercial companies were incorporated by an Act of Parliament. While local and personal Acts and private Acts are not of general application in the same way as public general Acts, they contain rights, duties, liabilities and obligations and, therefore, require careful analysis to identify those with ongoing relevance and application.
It is important to note that the Statute Law Revision Bills are only concerned with removing from the Statute Book laws that have become spent or obsolete. The complementary process of statute law reform involves changing the content of laws to modernise them, for example, by repealing old laws but re-enacting them with amendments in modern form. In respect of the pre-1922 Acts retained by the Statute Law Revision Acts, the process of statute law reform is under way in several areas through the medium of subject-specific legislation. There are several reasons it is undesirable for spent or obsolete legislation to remain on the Statute Book. In simple terms, without clarification, it is misleading for users who may believe that solely by virtue of an Act remaining on the Statute Book it retains some modern effect or relevance. A user of the Statute Book may undertake the time-consuming task of carefully analysing several statutes only to come to the conclusion that they are, in fact, spent or obsolete. Accordingly, the removal of legislation which has lost its relevance provides valuable assistance in modernising the Statute Book. The removal of such obsolete legislation, therefore, renders the Statute Book clear, concise and more accessible for all users and facilitates the process of regulatory reform.
The statute law revision project was first established by the Taoiseach's office in 2003 and has been accommodated since by the Office of the Attorney General. It is now located in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Attorney General's office and the relevant Departments which have worked assiduously on the project since 2003. It is an evolving process. We have been deliberately working through the statutes and Acts concerned to radically modernise statute law. This work has occurred in other countries and is important in modernising our entire body of law. There has been significant engagement between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General to prepare the Schedules. Each of the 23,000 Acts was assessed individually, which highlights the extraordinary work that has been done.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.
Each of the 22,886 Acts within the scope of the Bill was assessed individually. This assessment determined, first, whether an Act was deemed applicable to Ireland. A broad interpretation of applicability to Ireland was used and this included Acts with a tangible connection to Ireland. In taking this cautious approach – one does not want existing rights to be affected by getting rid of an Act - some Acts might not appear relevant to Ireland on a cursory reading of the Short Title or subject matter alone. However, following examination, these Acts are deemed to be applicable as they contain provisions directly relating to Ireland. For example, certain Acts apply to Irish ships, or refer to all ports in the United Kingdom, or they contain a provision which allows the Act to be enforced in the Irish courts of the time. In particular, naturalisation Acts relate to the legal status of persons born outside the United Kingdom and provide that they are to be deemed natural born citizens. These naturalisation Acts automatically apply to Ireland, being a part of the United Kingdom at the time of the passing of the Acts in question.
Acts that were deemed to apply to Ireland and had not been previously repealed were then assessed to determine whether they were suitable for repeal or whether their provisions warranted retention. The statute law revision project also took a cautious approach in deciding whether an Act was suitable for repeal. The local and personal and private Acts are, therefore, only listed for repeal where they are wholly obsolete or spent. If it became apparent during the course of the assessment of an Act that any of its provisions might have some ongoing relevance or effect, the Act is being retained for the moment.
The decision to repeal or retain an Act was taken in conjunction with a process of consultation. For all Acts listed in the Bill, the statute law revision project engaged in consultation with relevant Departments and local authorities. Relevant semi-State bodies and other parties were also consulted on certain individual Acts. The draft Schedules were also placed on the website of the Office of the Attorney General, as well as the complete list of the subject matters and Short Titles, if any, of all pre-independence local and personal and private Acts.
While a large proportion of the Acts mentioned in the Bill appear to relate to specific localities or particular organisations, when viewed collectively, they can provide an interesting historical snapshot of the Ireland of the time. For example, the years from 1851 to 1922 saw the expansion of the railways across the country. During that period various railway companies were established for the purpose of the construction of numerous lines in a piecemeal fashion. It is also no surprise that as an island nation and as a direct consequence of the increase in the frequency of shipping and trade at the time, a large proportion of the Acts refer to the improvement of ports and harbours. However, amidst the progress made in the spheres of transport and industry, it is notable that this period also saw the establishment of the Dublin Science and Art Museum in 1877, more commonly known today as the National Museum of Ireland. Another Act of note from 1877 governs St. Stephen's Green in Dublin and authorises Sir Arthur Guinness to construct paths, roads and fountains to create public and ornamental pleasure grounds for the general public. Thereafter, the new public park was transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works to be managed and maintained for the recreation and pleasure of the public.
In addition, the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 repeals approximately 250 Acts which provide for specific divorces which date from a time when an Act of Parliament was the only way in which to gain a divorce. This was a practice that continued in the Free State Parliament until the 1930s where each divorce required a decree of government. Approximately 70 Irish divorce Acts passed through Parliament between 1857 and 1922, the majority of which were passed in the two decades prior to independence.
The last Irish divorce Act to pass through Parliament was Morton's Divorce Act 1922, which received the royal assent on 31 May 1922, just a few months before the statutory divorce jurisdiction went into abeyance on Irish independence.
I will not go through each section of the Bill as it is self-explanatory, setting out the Bills to be removed and those which remain. They are set out in the Schedules and we can consider them if Members wish. Having regard to the volume of legislation involved and the careful analysis given to each Act, it is clear this Bill is the culmination of significant work for those involved. I have acknowledged and thanked those involved on Second Stage in the Seanad but they certainly warrant mention again here today.
This House is indebted to the work done behind the scenes over the past several years to bring this Bill to fruition. I wish to thank the researchers and management of the statute law revision project as well as Parliamentary Counsel and the staff of the Office of the Attorney General for their dedicated work on this Bill. However, this Bill would not have been possible without the assistance of a number of external sources. First, I acknowledge the indispensable assistance provided to the State by the Parliamentary Archives of the House of Lords and House of Commons, Westminster. For a number of years Parliamentary Archives have kindly lent the statute law revision project various texts of Acts which are not available in any form in Ireland. We are grateful for such co-operation. In addition, project members travelled to the archives last year to view specific texts on-site and were provided with every assistance by the staff of the archives. I extend my sincere appreciation to the Parliamentary Archives and the staff and acknowledge that without their generous and public-spirited assistance and co-operation, it would not have been possible to bring this Bill forward.
The project staff also received texts of Acts and valuable assistance and co-operation from the Honorable Society of King's Inns, the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, the National Library and the National Archives, and I also wish to express my gratitude to those institutions for their support and assistance. I am sure that Members will join in expressing our gratitude for all the assistance received in bringing this extensive legislation before us for consideration and approval.
If asked in simple layman's terms about the benefit of this, it is clear. The State has an obligation to improve regulation and ensure that one's understanding of the law, including its readability, language and uses, are clear for all to see. By clearing up much of the obsolete legislation, we are codifying the Statute Book and putting it in a much more user-friendly way. Clearing up this issue makes it easier for the legal profession, its requirements and how people understand their rights under Irish law. That is significant. As Deputies are aware, the OECD has consistently highlighted the need for Ireland, as a small country, to improve its public sector with enhanced regulation. This is a very clear example of this coming about.
Colleagues may ask where we go from here. One of the issues to be addressed is the clearing of obsolete, irrelevant and outdated legislation from after 1922. The work of statute law revision will continue, as it has since 2003, and what we are doing today is with the support of the House accepting another phase of this much-needed reform. We are setting out a very clear example to other countries about the way in which we have gone about our work in this area. It has been painstaking, deliberative, and academically important work, but it also has a direct application to business, the professions and the country in general. We must ensure the public's understanding of law is made easier.
I welcome the opportunity speak to the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012. When we considered this before, I may have spoken on the legislation at a committee, but we are discussing this under the hat of public expenditure and reform. The Minister wrote to members of the Opposition on 29 May seeking agreement to put this Bill through in one sitting. We agreed to the request and we will do everything to facilitate the smooth and quick passage of the Bill this morning. Although there will not be detailed discussion, I may have a question or two which I hope the Minister of State can answer. If he cannot do so immediately, he might do me the courtesy of sending the reply by letter.
There are 200 pages of Acts to be repealed and retained and I have focused on examples referring not to County Laois but Queen's County, the former name of Laois. I have a few questions relating to the area referred to as Queen's County. Some time ago I pushed for changes in legislation so that land and title documents in both Laois and Offaly would be referred to in the Land Registry as County Laois and County Offaly. When I came to this House, all the title deeds in Laois referred to the Queen's County and that was on the title when I got my mortgage. It could still be on that document. It was the same for Offaly, which was referred to as King's County.
There is nothing anti-British in repealing old British legislation. We are tidying up legislation and I am sure Britain is doing the same. The Bill continues what the Minister of State rightly describes as the cleaning up process in the Statute Book, repealing Acts which no longer have a purpose or relevance in the modern Irish legal system. The Bill addresses local and personal Acts, as well as private Acts; the public would not be aware of such legislation and the Minister of State, in his speech, has explained them. I was surprised to see how many issues concerned divorces, settlements, setting up estates and dowries etc. We only have the titles of the legislation but we can make assumptions about what is behind some of them. Naturalisation Acts would have dealt with people coming from other countries to this area, for example.
The Bill proposes to clarify and simplify the Irish Statute Book by repealing Acts which no longer have a purpose or relevance in the modern Irish legal system. Some 2,983 statutes have been identified as suitable for such repeal. The legislation also provides for a comprehensive list of statutes that will continue to have force after the passing of the Bill, with 796 statutes identified as such and listed in the Schedules. There is amendment of the Adaptation of the Enactments Act 1922 to provide for automatic adaptation of the pre-1801 legislation, with the power to make further changes by order. The Bill deals with local and personal Acts between 1851 and 1922 and private Acts between 1751 and 1922. That is the gist of what we are doing.
The Minister of State has given a comprehensive explanation and I have only one question on it. I will not hold up business if he cannot reply but it is well and good if he can do so. The Minister of State indicated there are a number of reasons it is undesirable for spent or obsolete legislation to remain on the Statute Book and that in simple terms, it is misleading for users who may believe that solely by virtue of an Act remaining on the Statute Book that it retains some modern effect or relevance. What does that mean? The Minister of State has indicated that some Acts remain on the Statute Book and they may have some modern effect or relevance. Will the Minister of State clarify this, and specifically how it relates to the Queen's County?
The Bill is extraordinary, with a Long Title on one page, several sections over the next three pages and 200 pages devoted to the Schedule.
The bread and butter of the Bill is in the Schedules. Schedule 1 lists Acts that are specifically retained, although there are not many of them. The first of them refers to County Tyrone. Why Tyrone? It is not part of our jurisdiction.
As I move down through the other legislation, we can understand why some of it cannot be repealed, such as that relating to Wilson's Hospital in Westmeath - Wilson's Hospital is still there. Reading further, there is a list of Irish Private Acts to be retained and it reads "Vesting certain lands, etc. in the Queen's County formerly the estate of Dudly Alexander Sidney Cosby, late Lord Sidney, deceased, in trustees for raising money sufficient to discharge incumbrances affecting same, and other purposes; and to enable the several persons entitled thereto to make building leases of part thereof", and it is now to be called the Sidney Estate Act. When I see the reference to Cosby, it can only be the Cosby estate, in Stradbally, County Laois, the venue of the Electric Picnic each year. If I said we are dealing with legislation to protect the Electric Picnic site for future years, people would understand why we are not repealing everything. If that Act was repealed, there might be a question about the Electric Picnic. That family is still there, we all know them locally; they are a well respected family with a fine estate used for vintage car and steam rallies as well as the Electric Picnic. It is interesting to see that reference to County Laois. I agree it should not be repealed because that family is still in situ in that estate.
Schedule 2 outlines those Acts that are specifically being repealed. Page 87 of the Bill includes the Act "Enabling John Preston, Esquire, for the considerations therein mentioned, to charge his estates in County Meath, and Queen's County with a further sum for payment of debts", which is obviously to levy rates on the people who lived on the estate. That is one of hundreds of such Acts. Over the page there is a further reference to John Preston and his estates in County Meath and the Queen's County, which we all know as County Laois. These Acts are of value as curiosities because they were enacted in 1773 and 1774 and they are now being repealed. The Act I mentioned relating to the Sidney estate was passed in 1783 and the house is still in fine condition. I would not like to see anything done by repealing that Act that would have implications for the house.
I will not be tabling any amendments on Committee or Reports Stages so maybe we will not be here for too long.
This Bill marks the completion of important work by the Attorney General and associated staff. I acknowledge the final review of the primary legislation enacted prior to Independence has taken almost a decade to complete, although there is still a lot to do.
As a historian I have a huge interest in delving into each of these Acts to discover why some of the divorce proceedings happened in the way they did and to consider the changes brought about by the railways. I perused the titles and the staff are lucky that on this side of the House we did not ask for copies of each Act because some of it would only be found in Westminster. It could be a job for a historian in the future, or even for the Attorney General and those who took part in the project, to undertake a history of the work behind this Bill and the problems that arose. Here we are in Ireland so many years after the independence of the State and we did not have access to some of the laws that were still in force today. As a republican, I have always been bemused that it has taken successive Governments so long to deal with that legacy, considering it was one of the issues that had been identified very early in the War of Independence and the foundation of the State, that we had to deal with this legacy and either repeal the legislation or restate legislation that still needed to be in effect in the State.
It is a good day and hopefully in future we will deal with some of the other flaws the Minister of State mentioned. He mentioned in his speech there are 2,116 Acts still in force that predate Independence. It would be interesting to look at those Acts at some stage in future to see why we are not repealing them now and examine their impact. We know the effects of the Acts listed in this Bill and previous Acts relating to statute law. We had fun looking at the titles of some of the Acts, their effects and how bizarre some of them were in terms of modern parliamentary procedure and legislation. What took up parliamentary time so long ago? They show the history of the parliamentary system and how practices have changed.
I do not question the enthusiasm of the interns who were used on this project but I have a problem with the use of internships in this fashion. Interns should be used but this whole process hinged on their work because the project had been stalled for a number of years due to the embargo on staff recruitment and cuts to the Attorney General's office. To ensure the project was not stalled for too long, interns were used rather than employing staff and ensuring all work was continuous. The interns are now finished but the project is not yet complete. Hopefully the valuable experience they gained might make them suitable for recruitment by the Attorney General's office in future to finish some of the work outstanding in statute law revision.
The work is to be commended. Work still needs to be done on the Statute Book, particularly its full codification, so it is fully accessible. Businesses, parliamentarians and the public should have quick and easy access to the laws that govern our State. If we look at this legislation, the Acts involved are full of archaic language. Even today, the legislation we publish is not in plain English. If I was to hand a Bill to someone outside the Houses who had no expertise in legislation, he would find it very difficult to understand; it is gobbledygook to most people. In some ways that is deliberate, with the law being used by lawyers, barristers and solicitors to keep the public out and ensure they are the only people able to extrapolate the intent of legislation. The 2,000 Acts that were in place before Independence and all of the legislation passed by the State since then should be restated in simple language.
While the Minister of State has read the Nice treaty, he probably has not read the reader friendly edition which was published by the Dutch MEP Jens-Peter Bonde and which I have recommended to others as an example. EU law is difficult to follow at the best of times, but he collated all of the documentation relating to the treaty. The book provides on one page the explanation of what each section in the treaty means, as well as the deletions and insertions relating to previous treaties and other documents and the explanations on the opposite page, which makes it easier to track the changes. I have suggested something like this would be a better tool for us when dealing with legislation, particularly on the social welfare code. One has to bounce back and forth between the principal Act passed years ago and various amending Acts passed in the meantime and it is difficult to follow the legislative trail when amendments are being made to the code. That is also a project that needs to be considered to make everything easier for us and the public which is taking a greater interest in how Parliament works. That is why there are so many tours every day. People want to learn about how legislation is processed because they are mystified as to why it is so complex, but we have made it complex through the mechanisms we use.
I speak as Gaeilge in the House from time to time and have made demands regarding legislation. One is that Bills should be published at the same time in Irish and English and Members should have the facility to table amendments in both languages. The Gaeltacht Bill was published earlier this week in both languages and I presume that if I table amendments in both languages, they will be accepted, whereas in the past that was not possible. Not all of the legislation passed since the foundation of the State is available as Gaeilge. I wonder how many of the 2,116 Acts are not available in Irish because any of them could be challenged in the courts. The fact that they remain on the Statute Book means they have implications for today's society. I urge the Minister of State to examine this issue. I am not trying to overburden the Attorney General's office, but these projects are vital. I acknowledge that they take years; for example, it took ten years to complete the project that led to this legislation. While they cannot be rushed, once we know work is being done and progress made, most reasonable people will accept this.
I refer to another example of how legislation can be difficult to find. When the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2010 was being taken in the House, many said it would address many of the inequalities experienced by some family formations, in particular same sex couples. Towards the end of the debate Marriage Equality demonstrated that the legislation did not address a significant range of rights, responsibilities and obligations that flowed from marriage. Hundreds of these remain to be addressed to ensure equality between various family formations which some people do not want to have addressed. They do not want to recognise that there should be marriage equality, but some of these rights were not captured in the Act because this is a complex legal area. However, they need to be captured to address shortfalls in the legislation. This has arisen because some of the legislation in this area is archaic and not available. I hope we will come back to the issue of marriage equality and that legislation will be introduced. Marriage Equality has highlighted 169 legal points of difference covering rights and protection across a range of legislation, including family law, immigration, housing, court procedures, inheritance taxation, freedom of information and other miscellaneous provisions, that can apply to married heterosexual couples but not to same sex couples registered as civil partners. If we are to examine this issue properly, we need all of the relevant legislation in front of us. This group has done this work and it is an example of how difficult legislation can be. While we cannot rush legislation sometimes, in some cases, we have to wait years for the necessary legislation to address problems. We are happy for some progress to be made, but once it is made, we need to ensure the completion of changes.
I welcome the Bill and, as an Irish republican, the repeal of any British Act of Parliament. It is a pity the Act of Union and similar Acts are not being fully repealed in this legislation, although some other provisions have been in the past. I refer to ground rents. I presume some of the 2,116 Acts still give some rights to landlords who were never in or who are no longer in the State. I would be willing to help in whatever way possible to go through the legislation to put together a Bill to repeal the Acts which force Irish people who own their homes to pay ground rent to somebody they have never seen or heard from other than through a threatening letter from a legal company based in England.
I wish to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome the Bill, as it gives us the opportunity to continue the process of cleaning up the Statute Book by repealing Acts which no longer have purpose or relevance in the modern Irish legal system. It also gives us the opportunity to debate the relevance of the legal system which urgently needs to be reformed. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and every day we witness the flaws in the justice system. We must accept the people are not happy with it and want action, change and reform. For example, sentencing policy urgently needs to be reformed. I urge the Minister of State to take on board my views.
In recent days light sentences were handed down in cases involving murder, attacks, violence and intimidation, while a small businessman, Mr. Paul Begley, was sentenced to six years in prison on a tax issue, even though he had paid the penalties. I have been asked where is the justice, logic and fairness in the legal system. This man employed 200 people. He was involved in something, but he put up his hands and paid the penalties. Giving a man six years for such an offence is appalling. It is one of the most appalling miscarriages of natural justice I can recall for many years. It has disappeared off the radar, but I am raising the case now. The judge made an example of Mr. Begley to warn others not to mess with the State coffers. In reality, he did not swindle the taxpayer, a fact not sufficiently highlighted at the time. The garlic tax is a protectionist levy aimed at safeguarding Europe's garlic growers against Chinese imports.
Most of the moneys raised by this tax go straight into the European Union budget, with the State retaining 25% to cover collection costs. Mr. Begley's sentence came in the wake of a landmark ruling in February this year by the Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of a man jailed for 12 years for social welfare fraud. That ruling offered future sentencing guidelines to the effect that significant and systematic frauds perpetrated upon the public revenue should generally be met with immediate and appreciable custodial sentences. In other words, this particular case served as a warning that anybody engaged in such activity should expect a harsh penalty.
I am fully supportive of a justice system which ensures that the person who does the crime will do the time. However, the imposition of a six-year sentence in Mr. Begley's case, at a cost to the State of some €100,000 per year, is not logical. Instead of being imprisoned at enormous expense to taxpayers, that individual should have been made to repay the tax and perhaps given community service. To clarify, I am not saying he should not be prosecuted for what he did, but the sentencing is out of proportion to the crime. I am approached regularly by families in my constituency who are living in fear because of the intimidation exercised by gangs and organised criminals in their neighbourhoods. There are people being assaulted by their teenaged children who are too intimidated to take any action. We must examine the broader issue of how the justice system is letting citizens down. An ex-member of the Garda Síochána expressed the view to me recently that many judges are dissatisfied in their work as a consequence of the recent controversies concerning their salaries. These individuals are, he claimed, trying to make life difficult for the Government and for politicians. I hope that is not the case because it would be appalling.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh raised the issue of ground rents. The law in that regard is connected to this country's imperial past and should no longer be tolerated. I strongly support ACRA and the National Association of Tenant Organisations in their campaign to abolish ground rents. That issue should be included in the broader debate on legislative reform.
The legislation before us sets out a comprehensive list of statutes which will continue to have force after the passing of the Bill. The Statute Law Revision Act 2009 repealed obsolete local and personal Acts enacted prior to 1851 and private statutes enacted prior to 1751. This Bill will repeal all remaining obsolete local, personal and private Acts enacted prior to independence in 1922. The two key words to consider here are "law" and "revision", and we must take an approach that is radical but sensible at the same time. I welcome the efforts towards statute reform, but the overriding concern must always be the imperative to ensure our laws are based on principles of justice and equality. An important focus in this regard should be a justice system which respects human rights. At the same time, there must be strong support for victims of crime. That issue seems to have gone off the agenda of late and the only people speaking out are the victims themselves. The Government must get its act together, up its game, end the waffle and take action. The justice system must be reflective of the laws of the land and the rights of citizens.
The Criminal Assets Bureau has been in operation for more than a decade and there are long-standing proposals that the moneys confiscated from organised criminals should go back into disadvantaged communities. The late Tony Gregory was the first to make that proposal. I take this opportunity to call for the new bridge over the River Liffey to be named for Mr. Gregory as a mark of respect for his work to combat disadvantage and inequality. The Minister of State should have a word with Big Phil when he comes back from Rio de Janeiro, Colombia or wherever he is with a view to ensuring that is done.
I conclude by stating my intention to support the Bill. Its purpose is to clarify and simplify the Statute Book, thus making it easier to locate statutes and ascertain relevant law. It does so by repealing Acts that are no longer of purpose, providing a comprehensive list of statutes and amending the Adaptation of Enactments Act 1922 to provide for automatic adaptation for pre-1801 statutes. The Bill also deals with local and personal Acts enacted between 1851 and 1922 and private Acts enacted between 1751 and 1922. A great deal of background work has gone into the legislation, with 22,855 statutes analysed as part of the revision exercise. I take this opportunity to thank all of the public servants involved in this important work, particularly those with legal expertise. The current fashion is to bash civil servants, so it is important to commend them on this impressive achievement.
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.
The Statute Law Revision Bill is very interesting and made entertaining reading. One sees some historical things, which one does not see anymore, and one could spend a lot of time going back over all the Acts mentioned. This Bill is more than an essential exercise in repealing outdated legislation prior to Independence in 1922 and ensures the law helps rather than hinders citizens. It also provides a fascinating glimpse into the historical motives and objectives of the legislative process while containing dozens of Acts of Parliament relating to County Galway, or I should say Galway and south Mayo.
We will worry about our own areas.
More than a dozen Acts directly relating to Galway have been deemed to have outlived their usefulness and will be repealed with the passing of this Bill. However, more than a dozen more are being retained because future plans are dependent on them.
The Bill specifically retains Acts on which future legislation or proposals will be built or on which legal rulings have relied. For example, the retention of the Galway, Oughterard and Clifden Railway Acts 1872 and 1875 is necessary because of the planned greenway along the now disused railway. The original legislation contains legal points on land ownership and rights of way which will be vital to the successful implementation of the new greenway.
In hindsight, the decision to close this railway was most regrettable. It would be one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world if operating today. Going through the heart of beautiful Connemara, it would have been a godsend for tourism and especially for the town of Clifden. However, the tourism potential can be realised by the construction of the greenway along the old railway line put in place by the Acts, which we are retaining in this Bill. A 2.5 m wide tarmacadam surfaced walking and cycling route from Oughterard to Clifden is with An Bord Pleanála under strategic infrastructure planning. The plans will be decided by An Bord Pleanála from mid-October to early November. The construction will result in a tourist route similar to the Westport to Mulranny line which has brought huge numbers of cycling tourists to Mayo. The plans for that will extend from Galway city to Oughterard and through my own area of Moycullen. It is interesting that these plans relate to Acts dating back to 1875 and the construction of the railway line.
Other relevant Acts relating to Galway which are being retained include the Athenry and Tuam Railway Acts 1858 to 1865. These Acts will be relevant to the plans to proceed with the re-establishment of a western rail corridor, the first phase of which has been implemented from Limerick to Athenry. Also being retained is legislation pertaining to Galway harbour and port, the Galway commissioners waterworks and the Corrib river among others.
There are great plans for the development of a new port in Galway city. The Volvo Ocean Race, which will be held from the end of June to early July, will be a huge boost to tourism in Galway city and county, although I hope the weather will improve. There is a large energetic team behind this project. A container ship arrived in Galway docks during the week with the tented village which will be erected to house the dignitaries and everybody else who will come along to the festivities.
The major plans for the development of a new port in Galway city, which will go to An Bord Pleanála during the year, will allow cruise liners and large ships to come into the heart of Galway city. The docks in Galway city are in the heart of the city, unlike those in other cities. It is interesting to see the related Acts being retained under this Bill.
A further examination of the Bill reveals how our legislative system has changed. Legislation being repealed includes Acts of Parliament passed to facilitate divorces, which were always sought by men as divorce law was heavily skewed in their favour, to confer citizenship, to change names and to sort matters concerning wills, estates and debts. It is clear that parliamentary Acts and the legislative process was once the preserve of the wealthy and well-connected and used for the most personal and individual of reasons but it has gradually transformed into a process for the benefit of all citizens. That the Statute Law Revision Bill is repealing narrow, individualistic Acts but retaining those of benefit to communities, towns and cities confirms this.
The Bill and the legislation being repealed provide a historical perspective on the nature of laws in the past. For example, narrowly focused laws were enacted for individuals, most likely the privileged and wealthy. Nowadays law should be for the common and greater good rather than for individuals. The Bill is an exercise in ensuring laws are up to date and I welcome its publication.
I very much welcome this Bill and the Minister of State. As Deputy Kyne mentioned, the way laws were enacted in the past is interesting. This is the third in a series of Bills following a comprehensive review of legislation enacted by the House of Commons between 1750 and 6 December 1922. I noted the Minister of State's opening comments regarding retrieving the original documents. It is a pity that such a major act of vandalism, namely, the occupation of the Four Courts complex, caused so much damage to our public records. Unfortunately, records were lost which is a great pity. The destruction of Acts or genealogical records was a personal and historical tragedy. We, and future generations, will have to live with that loss and shame.
There is a wealth of our history in this legislation, which we should put on the record. Much of this Bill has to with the repeal of Acts dealing with the local, personal and private Acts of Parliament dealing with naturalisation, dissolution of marriage and dissolution of trusts. The local Acts mainly concern railway orders, harbour orders, the creation of townships, patents and railway orders. A few of these Acts caught my attention and intrigued me as a legislator and I wish to highlight some of them.
The Munster Bank (Limited) Liquidation Act 1887, which is it proposed to repeal, involved the liquidation of the Munster Bank. On researching this, I came across an exchange in Hansard involving a question asked by Mr. Parnell:
MR. PARNELL asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the monetary situation created in Ireland by suspension of payment on the part of the Munster Bank, and considering that the Bank of Ireland enjoys special facilities under the Law, and exceptional advantages from the Government, and has at its disposal unused note-issue power to the extent of above a million sterling, whether the Government will use its influence to cause the Bank of Ireland to assist the Munster Bank to recover its position, and thus avoid liquidation, if the different classes of persons interested in this Bank as depositors and shareholders should undertake to do their part, and the affairs of the Bank should be found in a condition to warrant assistance from the Bank of Ireland?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied:
The hon. Member has asked me a Question to which I could not give an affirmative reply without the risk of raising hopes which, so far as I see, could not be realized; but I may say that, in my opinion, the exceptional position of the Bank of Ireland entails upon it at times such as these special duties, and I have good reason to believe that this is recognized by the Directors of the Bank, and that they are ready to help in promoting the very desirable object referred to by the hon. Member, so far as may be possible consistently with due regard to the safety of the Bank.
With regard to what taxed or influenced the Members in the House of Commons in 1887, it is a case of Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Another Act of note was the Edward, Pamela and Lucy Fitzgerald (children of Lord Edward Fitzgerald): restoration of blood Act. It was intriguing. The next that caught my attention was the Archbishop of Dublin's estate: enabling the demise of the mansion house of Tallaght (Dublin) Act. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Euseby Cleaver, was, prior to his death in December 1819, found to be of unsound mind and his functions were discharged by the Archbishop of Cashel. I must assume the Act was to tidy up matters relating to his will and affairs. These examples show the way legislation and methods of legislation have evolved. There used to be very personal and narrow Acts involving families and individuals and now the focus is on the common good. It demonstrates how politics may have changed and how the greater good and common good must be privileged over clientelism in decision making.
The Bill is an interesting and timely document to clean up the Statute Book. It is no harm reminding people how legislation was pursued over the past 200 or 300 years in the House of Commons, the Grattan Parliament and in this country up to 1922. I welcome the tidying up of the statutes and discussing them in the Chamber.
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.
I am sharing time with Deputy John Paul Phelan.
The Statute Law Revision Bill will repeal all spent or obsolete local and personal Acts enacted between 1851 and 1922 and private Acts enacted between 1751 and 1922.
In historical terms, regulatory reform and the need to make laws accessible for those affected by them dates back to the development of the civilised society. Until 1922, Ireland was part of Britain and the United Kingdom and this historical connection has resulted in the inheritance of a very different regulatory system than the one we have today. When the State was established in 1922, Article 73 of the 1922 Constitution carried over the laws that applied in Ireland up to that date and Article 50 of the 1937 Constitution contained a similar provision. The State did not begin life with a blank legislative canvas but carried over virtually all of the pre-1922 laws that had been put in place up until that time.
Between the 1920s and the 1950s, a certain amount of reform of the laws in Ireland occurred but there was no systematic approach to the issue and the need for reform has long been acknowledged as an important part of public policy. The Bill is the next step in the most extensive statute law revision measure that has ever been undertaken in the State.
The Bill has been considered by all Departments, local authorities and relevant companies, bodies and organisations. I particularly pay tribute to all the officials in a number of Departments who have been working extremely hard on revising the statute law in this area for a long time.
At the publication of the Bill, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, stated that it is the most extensive statute law revision ever attempted anywhere in the world and puts Ireland in a leadership position internationally in terms of the management and updating of the Statute Book. If we take it with previous Acts, this legislation will result in the removal of almost 8,000 obsolete Acts enacted before Irish independence in 1922.
In 2005, the statute law revision project was established to conduct an analysis of, and consult on, statutes which may be appropriate for appeal. This project, which was set up within the Office of the Attorney General, was set the lengthy task of reviewing all legislation on the Statute Book to identify which was spent or obsolete.
The statute law revision project engaged in wide-ranging analysis of all legislation of the various Irish, English, British and United Kingdom parliaments which exercised authority over Ireland prior to Ireland achieving her independence as well as all legislation passed since 1922. The project identified approximately 63,000 statutes which came within its remit for examination.
In tandem with the enactment of this Bill, it is the Minister's intention to move on to review pre-independence secondary legislation and to examine the substantial number of charters and statutory rules passed prior to 1922, but this Bill is merely another phase of that work.
The Schedule to this Bill contains lists of both the Acts specifically repealed and also those that will be retained. Those being repealed in this tranche include a large number of private and local and personal Acts relating to land transfers, conferring of citizenship, setting up of institutions, divorces etc. In addition, the Bill specifies approximately 790 pieces of old legislation, which are still relevant and which are being specifically kept in force.
I acknowledge the extraordinary work that has been done to ensure we modernise, codify and bring up to date the legislative code before the foundation of the State. Up-to-date legislation that is easily accessible and comprehensible to the public is as essential a part of the basic infrastructure of society as a road network or reliable telecommunications system. This initiative firmly places Ireland as an international leader in terms of the management and updating of the Statute Book, and I commend it.
I am glad to have a few moments to speak on the Statue Law Revision Bill 2012 and to commend the work of the officials of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who were belonging to a different Department, I assume the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, until the new Department was created a year ago.
As somebody who has been a legislator for ten years and a student of law for four years, I am a bit nerdy about matters such as this. It is fascinating to read and learn about the amount of legislation that has been passed by different parliaments that have had jurisdiction over what we know today as the Republic of Ireland over more than 250 years. It is a fascinating area of study, and fascinating to think that 60,000 pieces of legislation have been reviewed from the period prior to independence and that this Bill, along with three or four previous Acts that have been passed, mostly in the past decade, is the fruition of that work. I commend the officials who were involved in the drafting of this particular piece of legislation.
As Deputy Regina Doherty outlined, when the State was created, it is clear, certainly from this legislation if one did not know previously, that we did not start with a blank canvas when it came to legislation governing all aspects of people's lives.
One of the most interesting things about this Bill is the notion of private Acts of parliament, which do not exist in this jurisdiction nowadays. Before much of the main body of current company law came into existence, most companies were brought about through Acts of parliament, in those days Acts of the House of Commons in Westminster. This was prior to the establishment of company law currently in existence. Much of the legislation being repealed relates to private Acts from 1751 until 1922 and local and personal Acts from 1851 until 1922. I understand 40,000 Acts were considered and the Bill repeals almost 10,000 of them. Some private and personal Acts which pre-date Independence will remain on the Statute Book. Many of these contain archaic nuggets of interesting historical information. The debate pack provides a number of examples, including an Act passed in 1877 to legislate for how St. Stephen's Green was to be maintained and managed. It is appropriate that some of this historical legislation, such as that concerning the maintenance of public facilities, including St. Stephen's Green, be maintained.
It is crucial in terms of company law and the manner in which business is done that Acts of Parliament are codified, reviewed and, where necessary, repealed. For this reason, I wholeheartedly support this welcome legislation. I also commend the efforts of the officials involved who have completed a major task in bringing this legislation to fruition.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012, which deals with a large number of archaic Acts of Parliament. Similar legislation revising statute was enacted in 2009 and there have been other such Acts over the years.
I echo Deputy Ó Cuív's comment that considerable work had been done in this area in recent years. I urge the Government to continue this work and remove as many archaic Acts as possible from the Statute Book. As a modern country, we should not need to have legislation passed in the 18th or 19th century on our Statute Book. Ireland has been independent since 1922 and it would be more convenient for the general public and solicitors, barristers and those engaged in legal studies if we were to have a comprehensive Statute Book covering all legislation passed since the foundation of the State.
Many of the 40,000 Acts on the Statute Book are private and officials are to be commended on proposing in this Bill to remove 10,000 of them. This is no small piece of work and I commend them on their laborious, time consuming endeavours behind the scenes and hidden from the glare of the House. They deserve our thanks and praise and I wish them well as they study the remaining 30,000 Acts with a view to making the Statute Book more relevant to citizens.
I note a 1761 Bill was introduced for the purpose of "vesting certain lands etc. situate in County Tipperary, the estate of Philip Percival, Esquire, in trustees, in order that same may be sold for payment of debts and incumbrances affecting same, and also the estate of said Philip, situate in County Sligo;". This refers to the Earl of Tipperary selling Irish land to raise moneys to pay off his debts. It is timely that legislation of this nature is removed from the Statute Book. In Clonmel, Cappoquin, Carrick-on-Suir and many other areas people still pay ground rents and in some cases must obtain permission from so-called lords before vesting certain property, taking out probate or engaging in similar activities. My area had many such lords, most of whom are deceased. Some of them were good people, for example, Lord Doneraile, who was a neighbour of mine, was always a good man to deal with. Nevertheless, that people are still beholden to such people is archaic. This should have gone out with the flood and certainly with the gaining of independence.
Reference was made to making the workings of the Law Library and Four Courts relevant to ordinary people. I have been arguing for years for the introduction of refresher courses for judges. Unless a judge is impeached - fortunately this is seldom required - he or she will remain a judge for life. Times have changed and the courts must become more user friendly places for all citizens, whether they are called for jury duty, must appear as a witness or to answer a charge or choose to visit the courts out of curiosity and interest. Having gowned and wigged gentlemen and ladies playing around with laptops and so forth in the courts is archaic and nonsensical. It is time we copped on and got rid of this last vestige of the British Empire. We should abandon the use of gowns and wigs and the charade that goes with it and come down to the level of ordinary people. People need to have faith in the system of justice. We should help them feel comfortable in their surroundings when in court. It is bad enough to encounter the eerie silence of court chambers. I have been arguing for years that the proceedings of the Coroner's Court should be held in a much softer environment, as is the case with some of the family courts. Reform is needed in this area.
We need to repeal more archaic Acts of Parliament. As was noted, a number of Ministers tried to address this issue over the years with some degree of success. We need to go further because justice must be for everybody and everyone must feel at ease in places where the law and justice are administered.
There are so many private statutes that one could use the list as bedtime reading. It is interesting to note the various issues they address. For example, an Act of 1783-84 was introduced for the purpose of "vesting in trustees certain lands and tenements, the estate of Francis Mathew, Esquire, of Thomastown, in County Tipperary". Last Monday evening, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, visited Athassal Abbey, a wonderful old Cistercian monastery close to Thomastown. Much history, architecture and archaeology is associated with the abbey and those present heard a wonderful discussion. We should strive to have this part of rich heritage preserved and ensure it looks it best. I am delighted the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Brian Hayes, is present. Perhaps he will visit Athassal Abbey with his colleague, Deputy Tom Hayes, at some stage. Local landowners are amenable to allowing the OPW have a car park and walk at the site. Some negotiations would be required beforehand.
Pre-1922 Acts of Parliament, on the other hand, are the type of heritage we must get rid of. We should repeal these Acts and cherish and enjoy instead our heritage and rich cultural diversity. We do not want to retain archaic statutes dating from the era of the British Empire and Cromwellian times when we were given the choice of hell or Connacht. This should all have been taken with them when they went. We have our own destiny and we should ensure that some of these dastardly Acts get repealed. I wish the Bill speedy passage through the House, along with the other 30,000 Acts and I commend the work of the officials in this case.
I welcome the publication of this Bill, which is the third in a series of initiatives that have been taken in respect of statutory revision. Statutes are not proposed for repeal on the basis alone that they are old or on the basis alone that they are British. They are proposed for repeal because a judgment has been formed that they have become spent, obsolete or otherwise unnecessary. As I understand it, no statutes are being proposed for repeal if their repeal would give rise to a loss of rights and entitlements an individual might conceivably have. The criteria applied to a decision on whether to repeal are very important.
I join others in congratulating the people who have been involved in this process. A really impressive body of work has been done on behalf of the State. However, it is ultimately a matter for the Parliament - not even the Government - to decide on legislation, including the repeal of legislation. We rely on the judgment that has been applied to these statutes by people who have done the technical work and have advised us in the Parliament that these statutes are obsolete and have no further application. For example, one major criterion on deciding to repeal these statutes is their applicability to Ireland. If the statute does not have applicability to Ireland, then almost by definition it is obsolete. That would seem to be an unanswerable argument for repeal, but other criteria to be applied might tend towards the area of a value judgment. That is where great care needs to be taken as to whether it is right to have a particular law or not. If such judgments were being applied to this exercise, I would be very concerned. It seems that a much narrower technical function has been exercised. It is important that the Minister of State touched on that. He might confirm in his concluding remarks that we are not being asked to do certain things. We have not looked through the hundreds of statutes in this Bill. We are taking our job seriously, but somebody might conceivably ask us if we looked at all those statutes to check on what we were repealing. We are relying on the judgment that has been exercised, and I am happy to rely on it.
Statutes are not repealed just because they are old or just because they are British. This notion of archaic laws is thrown around. Many old laws are good laws. It is not bad law because it is old. Some laws endure for a great period of time, because they are regarded as rational laws. Just because a law is old does not of itself mean that it is bad. We made a conscious decision in 1937, when the people approved the Constitution, to continue to give effect to laws that were already on the Statute Book. That was a very important thing and we did the same thing in 1922. For those who ask when are going to clear away all this British stuff from before 1922, I remind colleagues that the people made a conscious decision not to do so, and to continue in effect with laws that existed previously. We did this for very good reason, because many basic things could not have worked in the country if we did not do so, but also because many of the laws were still rational laws for us, notwithstanding the fact that we were independent with our own Government. Laws related to how services were managed, provided and so on, and these, as well as basic laws of the land about offences against the person, were rational laws that we carried into the new State. Professor John Kelly, a predecessor of mine in Dublin South - I notice it disappeared today - made that point in very strong terms in his monumental work on the Constitution. He said that the old Article 73 in the Free State Constitution was generally taken to be the vehicle on which the whole corpus of law used in Ireland was carried across the constitutional divide and formally continued in force in the new State. It was a conscious decision made by us as a new State to do this. The same principle prevailed in 1937 for the laws that were passed between 1922 and 1937.
It is not self-evident that it was necessary to do this. My view is that it is correct to do it, but there seems to have been a difference of opinion going by some of the judgments in the High Court and the Supreme Court over the years as to whether laws would just fall into disuse. In the case of State v. O'Dea in 1986, Mr. Justice Keane spoke about the provisions of section 8 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851, which prevented the District Court from sitting in a building where spirituous or fermented liquors are sold. He said that the section had fallen into a limbo of disuse and therefore was inoperative, as it belonged to the vanished world of grand juries, county sessions and presentment sessions. In that case, the judge seemed to be saying that the law has fallen into disuse and nothing really needs to be done about it. He implied that the laws are old, they are dusty and nobody cares about them anymore, so there is no need for this kind of exercise we are engaging in now. That was one view. Another view was expressed in Nova Media Services Limited v. Minister for Posts and Telegraphs by Mr. Justice Murphy in 1984. He made the point that the Government is probably relying upon in this exercise. He stated that a statute cannot wither away from lack of use and cannot be repealed, waived, or abandoned by the express decision or agreement of the Executive. That confirms the view that the laws do not just wither away on the vine and that we have to repeal them if we want them gone. We cannot just leave them there. That is the legal context in which we are engaging with this work.
I think the better view is that we should be proactive about this and that we should not just have this view that if they are lying around the place, they are not doing any harm. Let us have a look at it and let us have this cleansing exercise in our Statute Book. That is a useful exercise. However, I must emphasise that it is for the Parliament to do this. We need to be satisfied - I think we are satisfied - that the analysis being done to assist us has been rigorous and has not strayed beyond a relatively narrow frame of reference, which is whether the statutes have any applicability any more. They are obsolete in the sense that they are "dead letter", or devoid of meaning or effect. That must be the criterion applied, rather than a broader value judgment which would peculiarly be a matter for us.
The Minister of State said in his speech that this would help the legal profession. There are not too many people out there who worry much about helping the legal profession. Perhaps it would help the legal profession. As a legal practitioner as well as a legislator, I can say that the most important thing for legal research is cataloguing. We often have an image of lawyers ploughing through book after book.
It actually tends not to work in that way. If there is a good cataloguing and library system, which we tend to have, in place, one can usually find what one is seeking relatively quickly. I am not sure if it is going to have a huge effect, one way or the other, in the legal profession. We are not doing this for that profession, rather we are doing it in order to have clarity in the Statute Book. What we are doing makes great sense.
I agree with Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on a particular point which has often occurred to me on previous occasions. The Deputy's point relates to what happens when the House or its select committees deal with complex legislation. Let us consider, for example, the position on amending legislation. Such legislation usually amends a principal Act, to which one is obliged to refer back. In addition, there may be two or three other statutes that are relevant to the work one is doing. It is quite a job for any legislator to ensure he or she tracks down all of the material relevant to an item of legislation that is being amended. I do not say what I am about to suggest could be done easily or quickly and I accept that there would certainly be a cost involved. However, I ask the Minister of State to consider whether, at some point in the not too distant future, we might change the way we do business in the Houses when dealing with legislation. In other words, our work would not just be paper based; we could have quick on-line access to principal Acts, other statutes and relevant amendments. This would allow us to do our work better on behalf of the people.
The basic concept of law is that it must be recognised as having relevance to those to whom it applies. The Statute Law Revision Bill seeks to address a problem which has become apparent in the context of statutes which apply to a bygone age, which deal with events long since past and which fail to have any relevance to modern society or social interaction. The law, like everything else, must evolve to meet the changing needs of society or else it will become irrelevant. What the Bill seeks to address is the debris which was discarded as the process of evolution to which I refer kept pace with social change but which was allowed to remain on the Statute Book. Some of the statutes involved were enacted to address individual circumstances such as the break up of an estate, the winding up of a particular dynasty, etc. This is not how we legislate today, nor has it any relevance to a modern common law system.
It is correct that we should discard obsolete statutes, most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, in order to tidy the Statute Book and bring it up to date. I find it incredible that of the almost 3,800 statutes deal with in the Bill, almost 3,000 are suitable for repeal. It appears that this particular bout of spring cleaning is both long overdue and underlines the obvious need for exercises of this nature to be conducted on a basis more frequent than the current bicentennial rota. The Law Reform Commission does the State quite a service in maintaining a watchful eye on this area and is suitably disposed to conducting the necessary reviews. The commission is seen by legislators, the people and the Judiciary as efficient and impartial and acting in all our interests. One can only imagine the size of the task involved in undertaking such a comprehensive review to lay the foundations for the introduction of the Bill which has been designed to bring order to a system the roots of which stretch far back into our history, while preserving those items which continue to have relevance. In that context, I refer, for example, to the Simpson's Hospital Estate Act 1779 which established an institution that is still in place.
The positive outcomes that will emanate from the passing of this legislation will include a more efficient keeping of statutes, resulting in a reduction of the time spent on research as a result of the removal of obsolete items. The presentation of a modern and efficient Statute Book would definitely cast a more favourable light on our system for those engaged in inward investment. A greatly reduced Statute Book would be capable of delivering a more efficient system and this can only be a plus. Nothing in the Bill diminishes the rights of individuals and it should, therefore, be roundly welcomed.
I thank all 14 colleagues who contributed to the debate. I also thank them for outlining their considered views on this important legislation. It is not every day that the Oireachtas effectively makes redundant approximately 23,000 individual items of law which date back to a previous age. Historically, this is an important day for the House.
I take the point made by Deputy Alex White to the effect that this is a decision for the Parliament. Each Act passed by this and the Upper House is an instrument in respect of which all Members must make a determination. I confirm for the Deputy and others that the entire process relating to statute law revision is based on judging what is and is not relevant and what is and is not obsolete. It is not based on whether an Act was passed prior to independence. As the Deputy correctly stated, various items of legislation still have meaning and retain their applicability. This is not, therefore, a cultural legacy difficulty with which we are dealing, rather it is an exercise in assigning applicability to law and ensuring it has relevance.
There is no doubt that some of the legislation involved must remain in place. Of the 60,000 or so Acts passed prior to independence, some 2,116 are being retained because they have applicability, meaning and relevance. It would be utterly wrong to infer that all laws passed before independence are illegitimate, incorrect or wrong merely on foot of the fact that they were enacted under the British regime. It would be a travesty to make such an inference. Many of these laws were right, had applicability and were relevant to the periods in which they were introduced. In so far as they have meaning today, a number of the laws to which I refer are being retained. Their retention is largely down to the team that has been working on this matter since 2003.
It is important to state the parliamentary tradition has a long history in this country, be it on the British side or, since 1922, on the Irish side. Ireland is the fourth oldest parliamentary democracy in Europe and, thankfully, did not go the way of embracing fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the reasons for it remaining a democracy during the latter period is the parliamentary tradition. That tradition continued even after independence and it is extremely important. Many of the procedures in place before the country became independent have been retained. Many such procedures which were copied from Westminster continue to be applicable in this House. This is a result of their durability and strength and also due to the way in which parliamentary values have been inculcated into wider Irish society. We do not need to throw out all of this because much of it is both good and important.
The process in which we are involved has been ongoing since 2003. The Bill is the fourth item of legislation of its kind and has been worked on for the past 18 months. As I pointed out when introducing it, we are going to proceed with the next phase of our review in order that we might modernise the law. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh has correctly pointed out that in the context of the legislation we pass, we must be mindful of the language we use and its applicability. Other colleagues referred to the need for consolidation. It is absolutely the case that in order to make legislation understandable, it must be readable, in the first instance, but it must also be codified in such a way as to allow people to view the law in its entirety. As colleagues are aware, that is not the case. When reading social welfare or finance Bills, one would need a catalogue of previous Acts available in order to make what is proposed understandable. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh made his point forcefully in the context of the civil partnership legislation, in respect of which many changes relating to many aspects of law are required. It would be better if we were to arrive at a position where legislation was codified and that is a matter of which we are mindful and on which successive Governments have been working. The Statute Law Revision Acts of 2007 and 2009 and this Bill set out, in their Schedules, the pre-1922 legislation that is continuing in force. Instead of having 60,000 Acts, we will have a comparatively small number setting out the Acts that are retained. For the first time we know the modern applicability of those Acts because they will be set out in the Schedules.
The mandate given to the statute law revision project was to keep Acts wholly if they have relevance. If an Act has 100 sections and ten of them are applicable, the entire Act will be kept. Acts that are wholly of no relevance are being, effectively, deleted from the Statute Book.
Members have queried the applicability of the 2,116 Acts. The Dublin Fire Brigade, for example, was established by an Act in 1862. Are we suggesting that Act should go? No, we are not. The establishment of the Dublin Fire Brigade, a core function of the service provided in the city, is still relevant. The Coroners Courts were established by Acts of 1876, which make provision for the maintenance of the Coroners Courts. We are not going to throw that legislation out, because it is still applicable today. Deputy Fleming and others referred to the Railway Acts. The lines the Deputy mentioned are still in place. The legislation was good at the time and remains good now. Following the clean-up operation that has occurred, we will have a clear picture of more than 2,000 Acts that are applicable.
Our mandate is clear. We only knock out an entire Act if all of its sections are irrelevant. Where some sections of an Act have relevance, it remains on the Statute Book.
When the State was established, everything that went before was not obliterated from Irish historiography in some kind of cultural revolution. Previous legislation remained on the Statute Book by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann. Furthermore, Article 50 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that laws in force in Saorstát Éireann "shall continue to be of full force and effect". When we accepted the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Bunreacht na hÉireann we accepted, implicitly, the 60,000 pre-1922 Acts.
Since 2003, as Deputy White said, we have been looking at those Acts and their applicability and relevance to modern Ireland.
Deputy Fleming asked about Queens County. If the printed version of an Act says "King's County" or "Queen's County" it is an historical fact that they were called that at the time. Deputy Catherine Murphy spoke about legacy. We must work in the context of what was enacted at the time. Those names do not have applicability today but we cannot obliterate them, as though there had been a cultural revolution. I hope that is clear.
Deputy Fleming also referred to an Act listed in Schedule 1 which refers to Tyrone. I understand the Act concerns lands in County Louth, although Tyrone is mentioned in the subject matter.
The use of interns was questioned. Significant work was done on this project for a considerable length of time. People obtained huge experience. Their involvement in the process has been to our advantage and theirs. Some Deputies were critical of the fact that interns were involved. Legal researchers and people with a particular knowledge of historical legislation were also involved. This is a cumulative piece of work involving many different people across Departments.
I thank colleagues for the cross-party support for the legislation and for the considered views expressed. This is not the end of the process. It continues. I assure the House of the Government's intention to continue this work in the lifetime of the Government and to recognise the work of the previous Government in this regard.