Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the opportunity to present the Bill to the House. The Bill was passed in the Seanad in November 2020 and I am pleased that it received general support from the Members of that House. I am hopeful that the Members of this House will be similarly supportive.
It is a relatively short Bill, and its specific and limited purpose is to complete the transposition of EU Directive No. 2017/1371 on the fight against fraud to the Union's financial interests by means of criminal law, which is commonly referred to as the PIF directive. This directive builds on previous measures to harmonise and update the approach across the EU to the criminalisation of fraud affecting the Union's financial interests.
This legislation is particularly time sensitive as the transposition is now overdue, and the European Commission has issued a reasoned opinion to Ireland with respect to it. This reasoned opinion is the final step before Ireland can be referred to the European Court of Justice, ECJ, where a fine will be imposed.
While the legislation is primarily technical from an Irish perspective, it has a particular significance in an EU context in respect of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO. Although Ireland has not joined the EPPO initiative, transposition of this directive in all member states is being treated as a particular priority by the Commission. A deadline of 3 February applies to responding to the reasoned opinion and we hope to enact and commence this legislation over the coming weeks. This will reduce the risk of Ireland being referred to the ECJ and incurring a substantial fine.
The EU is a unique economic and political union and Ireland, like all other member states, contributes to its budget. That budget is a cornerstone of the Union. The largest share goes on creating growth and jobs and reducing economic gaps between the Union's various regions. Agriculture, rural development, fisheries and environmental protection also account for a major share, while other areas of expenditure include combating terrorism and organised crime.
Responsibility for protecting the Union's financial interests and fighting fraud is a shared responsibility between the EU bodies and the authorities within its member states. Member state authorities manage approximately 74% of EU expenditure and collect the EU's traditional own resources. It is essential that every member state takes the necessary and appropriate measures to tackle criminal behaviour in respect of both EU revenue and expenditure.
The key offence of fraud affecting the Union's financial interests already exists in Ireland and is provided for in section 42 of Part 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. This was introduced in respect of the 1995 EU convention on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests and the related protocols, which was the first measure to create a common approach to the criminal prosecution of these offences.
The 2017 directive replaces the 1995 convention and establishes minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions with regard to combating fraud and other illegal activities including corruption and money laundering which affect the EU's financial interests. These financial interests refer to all revenues, expenditure and assets covered by, acquired through or due to the Union budget, the budgets of the EU institutions or budgets directly or indirectly managed and monitored by them.
In order to comply with the directive, it has been necessary to update the key PIF offence and provide for a new offence of misappropriation. We are also applying the freezing and confiscation measures which are contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1994 to the proceeds of criminal offences under this Bill by amending Schedule 1A of the Criminal Justice Act 1994, to enable the freezing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds from the criminal offences in the Bill. Other provisions in the directive are already provided for in existing legislation and therefore do not need to be separately provided for in this Bill. Notably, the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 and the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, as amended, apply in their respective areas and satisfy the requirements of the directive.
Another provision of the directive is that committing a serious offence within its scope as part of the activities of a criminal organisation is considered an aggravating factor in the context of sentencing. This provision already exists on a general basis through section 74A of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 as amended.
In a European context, the directive is of particular significance in that it defines the scope of offences falling under the EPPO. While Ireland is not participating in the EPPO, these offences will be prosecuted by the EPPO in other member states, potentially in co-operation with Irish authorities, so I would like to address developments in respect of it. The establishment of an EU-level body with investigative and prosecution powers was under consideration for many years in the EU. The legal basis for it was ultimately included in Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, introduced by the Lisbon treaty. The regulation establishing EPPO entered into force in 2017 through a special legislative process, and 22 member states are participating. Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Poland are not taking part. A European chief prosecutor and the 22 nationally appointed European prosecutors are now in place and the EPPO is entering into operation.
In considering Ireland's participation in the EPPO, it is important to note that the development of a supranational investigative and prosecution authority, even one with a relatively limited scope, presented particular difficulties in an Irish context. The fundamental difficulty that arises is that the Irish courts would not be entitled to exclude unconstitutionally obtained evidence. Under the EPPO regulation, evidence would potentially be admissible based on other member states' legal regimes and on the regulation itself. More generally, challenges arose in how the EPPO structures would have interacted with our common law regime and how institutions and practices have evolved. The EPPO built primarily from a civil law base. Nonetheless, while Ireland could not take part, we recognise that the establishment of the EPPO is an important and innovative EU measure, and we have been working closely with participating member states and with the EPPO to look at how co-operation with non-participating members will work.
The approach that has been proposed on an EU level and which is being implemented by participating member states is that the EPPO will be designated by those states as a competent authority within each for the purposes of making mutual legal assistance and European arrest warrant requests to non-participating states. These issues are under detailed consideration. It is important that we avoid conflicts of jurisdiction and ensure legal certainty in respect of requests. We are consulting with and taking into account legal advice on these matters. It is important to emphasise that the fact that Ireland is not participating in the EPPO does not prevent us from prosecuting such crimes here. Such offences will be dealt with by the relevant agencies within the criminal justice system such as An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I will now turn to the content and provisions of the Bill. This is a relatively short and primarily technical Bill comprising 13 sections and a Schedule. Section 1 is a standard provision defining the principal Act as the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.
Section 2 amends section 40 of the Act. This is the interpretation section for Part 6 of the 2001 Act, and the amendment substitutes the definitions which will now apply to Part 6. In particular, it provides that the offences in the Bill have the same meaning as they do in the directive. This means that the offence of "fraud affecting the financial interests of the European Union" has the same meaning as in Article 3(2). The section provides that the offence of misappropriation has the same meaning as it has in Article 4(3). It also provides that "corruption offence" means an offence under section 5 of the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 and that "money laundering offence" means an offence under Part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010. Definitions for terms such as "national official", "public official", "Union official" and "foreign official" are also included.
Section 3 amends section 42, the existing offence provision for fraud affecting the financial interests of the European Union. It provides that the elements of the conduct which constitute the offence of fraud, when committed intentionally, can be in respect of non-procurement related expenditure; procurement-related expenditure; revenue other than revenue arising from VAT own resources; and revenue arising from VAT own resources in cross-border fraudulent schemes where the total fraud involves a value over €10 million. A person guilty of an offence is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or five years imprisonment or both.
Section 4 inserts a new section 42A into the 2001 Act which provides for the new offence of misappropriation. Section 2 provides that it has the same meaning as in Article 4(3) of the directive which means the action of a public official who is directly or indirectly entrusted with the management of funds or assets to commit or disburse funds or appropriate or use assets contrary to the purpose for which they were intended in any way which damages the Union's financial interests. A person guilty of an offence is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.
Section 5 inserts a new section 42B into the 2001 Act providing for liability for offences by a body corporate in relation to an offence under section 42 or section 42A and provides for penalties on conviction on indictment of imprisonment and-or a fine.
Section 6 amends section 45 of the 2001 Act and provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction. Following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, it was decided to extend the jurisdiction provided for. I therefore brought forward amendments on Committee Stage in the Seanad to apply extraterritorial jurisdiction to a person who is resident in the State and a company established under the law of the State. The dual criminality requirement was also removed.
Section 7 provides for a technical amendment to section 58, regarding liability for offences by bodies corporate under the 2001 Act, to exclude the application of section 58 of the principal Act to Part 6 in view of the new section 42B inserted by section 5.
Section 8 provides for the insertion of Schedule 1A in the principal Act containing the text of the directive.
Section 9 adds the offences of fraud affecting the financial interests of the European Union and misappropriation to paragraph 10 of Part 2 of Schedule 1A of the Criminal Justice Act 1994. Article 10 of the directive requires measures to be put in place, in accordance with Directive 2014/42/EU, to enable the freezing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds from the criminal offences in the directive. The principal offence of money laundering and active and passive corruption are already subject to these measures.
Section 10 includes the new section 42A offence of misappropriation in paragraph 23 of Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011.
Section 11 includes the new section 42A offence of misappropriation in paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 of the European Union (Passenger Name Record Data) Regulations 2018, SI 177 of 2018.
Section 12 provides for the repeal of sections 41, 46(4), 47 and Schedules 2 to 9 of the principal Act. These schedules are the 1995 Convention and related protocols on which Part 6 of Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 is based. As they are being replaced by the directive, they will no longer be relevant.
Section 13 is a standard provision, providing for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement provisions.
This Bill will ensure that our legislation is up to date with the provisions of the directive. I hope Deputies will facilitate its passage through the House as enactment of this Bill will demonstrate Ireland's continued commitment to tackling fraud which affects the Union's financial interests and address the ongoing infringement proceedings.
There is an amendment on the Order Paper to the Second Stage motion in respect of pet theft. The amendment was tabled by the Regional Group and I look forward to speaking further on it in my closing remarks. As Deputies are aware, this is an important issue for me and one for which I introduced a Private Member's Bill. The crime of pet theft can give rise to incredible trauma. We are all aware of the strong emotional attachment we have to our pets and theft not only leads to their loss from our lives, it also gives rise to a high level of concern regarding their welfare and what happened to them. This is a crime which often affects which is often targeted at older and more vulnerable people, for whom a pet is of significant emotional importance. Since becoming Minister of State, I have committed to addressing this issue. I met with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and the Marine, before Christmas to discuss it with him. I have also had discussions with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, about it. Contact is continuing at an official level with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as we work on options. I look forward to hearing Deputies' views. I recognise and appreciate Deputy Naughten's real and genuine interest in this matter.
I emphasise that while legislative changes may be considered and needed, we must also look at the full range of policy enforcement options to ensure that this very serious matter is addressed. As I have set out, there is a practical issue in respect of the urgency of the Bill before the House, which needs to be passed in the next week to ten days. It is not a suitable vehicle for making changes in the area in question and I cannot agree to deferring Second Stage by a month, as referred to in the amendment. That said, I am absolutely willing to work with the Deputies on the issue of pet theft and to introduce appropriate, well-considered and effective measures. I look forward to considering the Bill further with Deputies and I commend it to the House.
On the amendment to which the Minister of State referred, I know that pet theft is very upsetting. It is even more upsetting than regular theft but I am not sure that this is the place to be putting an amendment to Bill of this nature. The delay to which it would give rise would cause more trouble that it is worth. It is important to say that in the original 2001 Act, under section 12, the penalty on indictment is imprisonment of up to 14 years for somebody who goes onto someone else's property and steals anything, regardless of whether it is a pet. These stories play out well in the media, and especially on social media. After the most recent meeting of the joint policing committee in Kerry, I asked one of the sergeants how many cases of pet theft there have been in the county. There have been fewer than five - and it is not the higher end of fewer than five - reported pet thefts in Kerry since 1 January 2020. The key consideration when it comes to a matter of this nature is that this House has a responsibility to address crime and the causes of crime, but also the fear of crime. The same garda to whom I spoke to informed me that were more complaints from people going about their business in the county doing legitimate tasks who were wrongly identified as individuals who were possibly stealing pets, and dogs in particular. Gardaí in Kerry were frustrated that this issue was being hyped up and people were afraid that there were some individuals going around the county, and the country in general, stealing dogs, when that is not the case. It is important to put that fact on the record.
On the substantive issue, I wish to highlight the delay in transposing this directive. We have been forced into a situation whereby we have been asked to pass this Bill quickly through both Houses. What commencement date does the Minister of State have in mind in respect of this amending legislation. I understand that existing laws, including the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018, largely cover our obligations, but a referral to the European Court of Justice is a serious matter. Some account should be given as to why the delay occurred here, as it did with transposing other obligations relating to money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Deputies, Ministers and officials are only human. Rushed lawmaking could lead to mistakes and an absence of scrutiny.
One important matter in this regard relates to how the Bill amends the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018, while retaining the defence for bodies corporate under section 5. The relevant section states "it shall be a defence for a body corporate against which such proceedings are brought to prove that it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence." With regard to the original group of offences that the Act covers, some of which were intended to transpose the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions into Irish law, offences under this Bill will also be subject to that defence. The OECD has commented, in the context of its own recommendations, that this is not a defence that it envisaged under the convention. On foot of its report, I understand that the Department is of the view that an offence of vicarious corporate liability would violate an assumption of mens rea, with potential constitutional consequences. Nevertheless, the OECD has pointed out that there is no definition of what could constitute "reasonable steps" or "due diligence". Maybe this could be looked at further on Committee Stage.
One aspect of the Bill that is notable and, indeed, welcome in facilitating prosecutions is that it will allow for extraterritoriality in the prosecution of offences, including situations in which an offence takes place abroad and the proceeds of that offence are laundered in this State. Our laws, having long been criticised by the OECD, have become far more robust since the passing of the 2018 Act. This is particularly important because of the amount of foreign direct investment into this country. We must not let Ireland be perceived as a soft touch when it comes to corporate wrongdoing or exceptionalism.
We should not drag our feet in respect of this Bill. We will support its passage. We should have a strong enforcement system, but law is only one part of the system. I believe there is another Bill undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny to overhaul the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, which is also worthy. The powers for the ODCE or the offences created under this Bill are of no use without the resources. The State needs to give itself a fighting chance and create a career path for people who are interested in law and accountancy to work in these matters. The offences under discussion are complex, multilayered and require much know-how. Furthermore, in the area of white-collar crime, private practice will always enjoy an advantage over the prosecution in light of the rewards for those qualified individuals. Various investigations in the past have been delayed and stymied by a lack of resources in the ODCE. Some household names were involved in cases where serious wrongdoing occurred and public confidence in our wider legal and economic system rests on successful sanctioning where wrongs have occurred. That said, Sinn Féin will support the Bill proceeding to Committee Stage. I look forward to engaging with the Minister of State on it in the future.
The Bill is welcome because it seeks to tackle aspects of white-collar crime, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and specific offences against the EU's financial interests. We know the complex VAT fraud and what are known as carousel fraud operations have used shell companies and banks here. Of course, they have been unwittingly involved, but criminal enterprises have used Irish banks to commit serious offences. Therefore, it is right that Ireland plays its part as a member state and implements this legislation in order to give effect to the EU directive. We know that these types of crimes cost EU taxpayers billions of euros every year. It is important that we do all we can to prevent this. Successive governments have been reluctant to strengthen our domestic white-collar crime legislation but, as my colleague mentioned, the legislation to overhaul the ODCE is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, which is very welcome.
The reform of the ODCE is much needed and well overdue. Sinn Féin has been consistent in its criticism of the hands-off approach of the Government to white-collar crime here. It is scandalous that ten years after the bank bailout, the need for which arose as a result of the reckless behaviour of banking executives, the agency tasked with monitoring compliance with company law has a staff of just 44. The need for a total overhaul of the ODCE came to the fore in 2017 when the trial of the former chairman of the Anglo Irish Bank collapsed due to nature and performance of the investigation of the ODCE. At the time, Justice Aylmer said that the investigation carried out by the ODCE fell short of an unbiased, impartial and balanced investigation to which the accused in any case is entitled. The coaching of witnesses in respect of their statements, the late disclosure of documents, a perceived bias on the part of ODCE investigators and the shredding of documents were all cited as reasons that the trial of the accused could not be considered to be fair. It was, in effect, a damning indictment of the State's apparatus to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime. Almost four years on, however, we are still waiting for the new overhauled agency. The limited staff, funding and powers conferred on the ODCE over decades epitomises the lack of interest that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have in tackling white-collar crime. I look forward to the overhaul of the ODCE. We will seek to ensure that this office has the full capability it needs to pursue and prosecute white-collar criminals.
The Bill before us is welcome because it provides more protections for EU taxpayers in the context of fraud and misappropriation.
The need for our laws in this area to be regularly updated was highlighted by a case involving Meath County Council a couple of years ago. I was a member of that local authority at the time. The council was a victim of what is known as CEO fraud, whereby large sums are transferred online to criminals on foot of a bogus instruction in the name of a company chief executive. Fortunately, the €4.3 million involved in that case was recovered when the money was frozen in a bank account in Hong Kong after the Garda interrupted the operation. That and other cases highlight the need for regular reviews of our laws to take account of new forms of fraud and cybercrime. They also highlight the importance of working with international colleagues due to the nature of sophisticated online crime.
I welcome the Bill but I ask that the Minister for Justice to further strengthen and update domestic legislation to tackle white-collar crime and to ensure that white-collar criminals face the full legal consequences of their actions, which many have escaped to date.
I welcome the arrival of the Bill 2020 into the Dáil. The Minister of State said in his opening statement that it is not a complicated nor a particularly lengthy Bill. One wonders why it has taken so long to arrive before us. We seem to be always at the end of the timelines for the transposition of EU directives. Again and again, that seems to be the situation and we are presented with timelines in which we must get the legislation done or face financial sanction in the European court. That should not be the way we operate. Directives take a long time to go through the European system. They are well-signalled within Departments but it seems the Departments sit on them until such time as they must have them enacted or until legal processes are commenced against this nation. That is not good for our reputation and it is not good for the processes we use to evaluate legislation properly. I say that by way of general commentary.
The objective of the Bill, as the Minister of State said, is to give effect to EU Directive No. 2017/1371, or at least the remaining parts that have not been transposed in previous legislation, and to extend the definition of fraud. The Bill provides for a new offence of misappropriation and the extraterritorial application of certain offences. That, in essence, is the thrust of the legislation. Its purpose is to create a stronger and more harmonised system to fight crime, namely, crime that affects the EU budget. The legislation is designed to protect the internal funding mechanisms of the EU itself. Those mechanisms are growing, they are important and very considerable and we need to ensure that money disbursed across the 27 nations of the EU, with their different legal systems and different traditions of oversight and so on, is done in a very robust way in order that all taxpayers throughout the Union can have full confidence that the moneys are properly appropriated and used for the purposes that the European Parliament, Commission and Council determine.
The Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 transposed part of this directive. We are finally getting around to dealing with the untransposed parts in this particular legislation. The EU Anti-Fraud Office estimates the damage from fraud within the EU budget to be more than €500 million per year. There are many within the Union who regard that as a gross underestimate. The UK House of Lords did its own estimate, for example, which was multiples of the EU estimate on an annual basis. I understand we do not have a proper estimate of money that is misappropriated. We need not only to strengthen our laws but, following on from the debate we just had about Garda oversight, we also need to have financial oversight in a robust fashion within the EU. The largest fraud, according to the report of the UK House of Lords investigation, was in the area of VAT. Of course, VAT is the big generator of resources for the Union. These are matters on which we might usefully have further debate in terms of how we monitor expenditure. We have the European Court of Auditors, and our own member of that court, but, in many instances, it is seen as our sending somebody to Luxembourg who disappears over there and we do not hear very much more from him or her. Perhaps we do not ask enough questions in that regard and it is our fault. We certainly need to look at these matters.
The Minister of State made several mentions of the new EPPO, which was to be established from 2017. It is still not operational, even for those countries that have subscribed to it and that fully intended to participate in the process. It would be interesting to hear a more detailed discussion on how that office is going to develop and how we, as a nation, will be impacted. From the Minister of State's explanation of why we are not joining the 22 nations out of the EU 27 that are going to be part of the EPPO process, it is partly because of the operation of common law in this jurisdiction and partly because of the constitutional difficulties that might arise from that independent office and the way it does its business. It comes down to a very fundamental point about which we will have to have some debate, namely, the divergence of our common law tradition and the civil law tradition of the EU. Following the exit of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Cyrus are the only two remaining common law jurisdictions. Like all the debates we have had about the impact of the exit of the UK, it is important to note that, in many instances and in many fields, we formerly lay in the shadow of the UK in terms of its impact within the EU. One of the things the UK did was to ensure that when European law was being drafted, because of its size, scale and capacity, it was able to push in with its common law tradition and ensure that European legislation could not be interpreted in a way that did damage to our own common law traditions. I am afraid that the situation is now very fundamentally altered because I do not see Ireland and Cyprus having the same capacity to do that.
This is an issue to which we must give some consideration. I was just rereading the very interesting comments by the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, SC, before he was reappointed to that office. He was talking at a seminar on Brexit and made some of the points I have raised. He talked about the difference between the two legal traditions and how that difference is now, in his phrase, coming to a head post Brexit. He spoke about how that is going to impact upon us in the future when significant differences arise, such as in the way we have, in our common law tradition, allowed the courts to be, in some ways, not only the interpreters of law but the instigators of law. Many of the most impressive things that have been done in this country, in fact, have been decisions of our highest courts reinforcing principles and creating law. It will be an interesting new issue for us to address how we are going to continue with those traditions in the context of European law more and more being not only dominated by but, in fact, overwhelmed by a civil law tradition.
I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's views on that matter.
I have no difficulty at all in supporting this legislation. "Is é a locht a laghad," is the only comment to be made about it, in that we can go an awful lot further in dealing with the whole issue of fraud and theft, not only as it pertains to funds belonging to and originating in the institutions of the EU but also as it pertains to white-collar crime, which other speakers have mentioned. In this regard, our structures are wholly inadequate. The previous speaker talked about the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. By everybody's assessment, it is simply not geared up, resourced or able to do the task we now give it in the context of the complexity of financial services operating from this jurisdiction. We are a long time waiting for the fundamental reforms we were promised. I hope we will be dealing with that legislation very shortly.
The most recent document I have read on the subject of the scale of operations out of Ireland is from 2015. It was commissioned by the Department of Finance. In the period covered, over 400 companies were operating in financial services in the State, employing 35,000 people. Staggeringly, the companies were handling €3.2 trillion in funding and paying in excess of €2 billion in taxes and €2.3 billion in wages to employees in our State. I am afraid that Departments and Governments sometimes consider only the bottom line for ourselves, the tax take and the employment rate and they are a little reluctant to robustly ensure the companies paying those taxes and wages are regulated to the highest possible standards.
I want to mention a Private Members' Bill I introduced just before Christmas. It is another criminal justice Bill, the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, more commonly referred to as a Magnitsky Bill. The Minister of State will be perfectly aware that in the European Parliament itself and in several jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom and the United States, Magnitsky Bills have been enacted. These are Bills named after the Russian citizen who tried to expose fraud in his own country, Russia, and who ended up being imprisoned and dying simply because he was a campaigner against wrongdoing and fraud. The idea of a Magnitsky Act is that where there is a gross abuse of human rights anywhere and the perpetrators have funds in our jurisdiction, we can act against them in the same way as the Criminal Assets Bureau can act against domestic criminals. If trillions of euro are washing their way - I do not use that term in a pejorative sense - or moving their way through our financial services sector, we certainly need to have robust legislation to ensure that if there are gross human rights abuses abroad, the perpetrators cannot use our jurisdiction as a safe place to stash their ill-gotten gains or their filthy loot. I hope my Bill, when it comes before the House, will be supported by the Government. In my judgment, it would attract broad support across all sectors of this House.
We are required to enact the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill on foot of a European directive. It has arrived here slowly. On the face of it, having examined the Bill, the Seanad debates and the relevant analysis done, including by our own services in the Oireachtas, I believe it is fit for its stated purpose, which is to give greater legal strength to the protection of funding of the EU and to act against those involved in fraudulent activities against the funds of the EU. Again, as with all legislation, implementation will be the issue. This includes the question of how the legislation is to be implemented. We are not going to be participants in the new European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO. I am not clear from the Minister of State's Second Stage speech how Ireland, as a state, and those other states that are not formally participating in the EPPO, will interact with it once it is established. What will be the equivalent of the EPPO for Ireland? What body will have its functions and authority here? Alternatively, will there be some authority or functioning of the EPPO in our jurisdiction, notwithstanding the fact that we will not be formally participating in it?
I hope the deadlines for the passage of this Bill can be achieved in order that we can report to the European Court of Justice that we have done our business finally, that there will be no financial consequences for tardiness on our part and that we can strengthen our common focus to ensure fraud and theft of public moneys are combated to the best of our ability.
To return to the domestic situation, an increasing number of citizens are considering how we introduce criminal justice legislation in this jurisdiction, how clear, precise and accurate we are in dealing with theft, as in somebody robbing something from a shop, and, at the same time, how obtuse or opaque we are at times in ensuring that theft of a far greater scale, or what is euphemistically referred to as "white-collar crime", is combated to the same extent. We are all critical at times of the United States and of how its criminal justice system operates, and also of how its prison system or plea-bargaining system operates - there are plenty of things to be critical of - but we cannot be critical of the fact that where someone is found out for serious fraud there and somebody from the judicial system puts a hand on his or her shoulder, that person knows it is a very serious matter and that he or she will go to jail for a very long time. I am not sure that people operating in our jurisdiction feel the same weight on their shoulder when they are tempted to commit so-called white-collar crime or fraud. This legislation is a start in addressing this issue insofar as it relates to EU funding but we have an awfully long way to go to ensure not only that we have robust laws but also that we have robust mechanisms to delve into the complexities of the electronic trading that now characterises so much of the activity in the services sector in our country. All this activity is welcome but it needs to be policed to protect our reputation as a country where funds are invested, handled and dealt with in an efficient but fair manner and where nobody is exploited or allowed to get away with fraudulent activities because of our inability to detect them. I hope legislation to achieve this can be put in place here.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this legislation, which I fundamentally believe is important although it will not necessarily get a high level of mainstream coverage. It is important, as we work to transpose the protection of the union's financial interests, PIF, directive into domestic legislation, that we look at the opportunities presented and, more importantly, the responsibilities of the State and agencies of the State in enforcing this directive. It is in our interests. This directive allows for an important level of harmonisation in dealing with fraud and theft against institutions of the EU across the member states.
I will touch on the situation in respect of the EPPO later on but the first thing to note when we talk about the area of the EU's financial interests and the reason why this directive and, in turn, the legislation is so important is that responsibility is ever-changing. When this directive was published in 2017, many of the challenges facing the Union and the State at present were probably not imagined or were far off in the ether. The first of these relates to the Covid-19 response of the European Union. It is a collective response, be it in terms of storing PPE, buying vaccines or investing in research and development. They are EU financial interests and it is the work of the European Union and the collaborative work of the member states through the European Union that needs to come under this directive to ensure that the protections of the Union and the citizenry are maintained through this directive.
The second area which I think is important and which has a particular resonance pertains to section 3 of this legislation and the references to VAT. Of particular interest to this State in recent weeks and pertaining to this legislation is the impact on VAT and the impact on the implementation of the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol of the withdrawal agreement post Brexit. All of us have no doubt been contacted by many constituents in recent days on buying or shipping online for personal purposes, as well as business purposes. There are anomalies and confusion that many people who are buying in from the UK are facing when it comes to VAT and other customs charges and related delivery charges. It is an area where this directive has a real and powerful role to play because it relates to the EU's financial interests when it comes to dealing with the UK and running projects on the whole of this island, not just in this jurisdiction.
One of the key points to make when discussing this legislation and the impact of the activities covered by this legislation is the fact that any time someone attempts to defraud the EU, he or she is not trying to defraud an alternative body or an alien subject, he or she is trying to defraud the citizenry. The EU is our Union, just as anyone who seeks to defraud the State seeks to defraud the individuals and citizens resident within the State. Fraud or theft against the European Union is not a victimless crime. The lack of resources and the fact it may take away from individuals can be felt by everyone in our society and that is why, as Deputy Howlin mentioned, not only is it important that we transpose this directive properly and have rigorous legislation in place, but that we also have rigorous enforcement tools in place that will ensure that we equip the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and An Garda Síochána with the resources to fully implement this directive.
Regarding the EPPO, I recognise the Minister of State's contribution earlier. We said there are major issues for Ireland from a common law perspective in terms of why we had to understandably opt out of elements of it, as other member states did. That is true and there is no point debating that as a matter of law. However, we should not rule out, in the future, the possibility of playing a part within that or seeing how we could further integrate our legislation, even though it is within a common law jurisdiction, to further allow for the proper harmonisation of European norms to ensure these directives are fully enforceable and as enforceable in one member state as in another, be it Ireland, Denmark, Hungary or whichever ones have opted out.
I refer to the area of pet crime on which the Minister of State laid out his concerns eloquently earlier in the day. I fully recognise his track record in other legislation and the work he has done over the last number of years as a Member of the House. It is something all of us have been touched by, whether in dealing with constituents or as pet owners. It is so serious a matter that it is important to recognise this through the Department of Justice and the legal system, as well as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. One hears harrowing reports of not just individuals who have lost a treasured family pet but the worrying environments and situations into which these stolen pieces of property, as some people view them, are put. These are disgraceful, abominable conditions and it is important to ensure that every aspect of our legislation addresses those areas that are fundamentally concerning and worrying for our society.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this very straightforward debate. I imagine this legislation will pass through the House with some ease. When it comes to transposing all European directives, I welcome the opportunity the Minister has given to the Seanad on Committee Stage and to Members of the Dáil on this Stage. Every time European legislation or a directive comes before the House, it requires rigorous scrutiny, not just on the floor of the House but also to make sure we elaborate its impact on wider society. This is a good piece of work from the European Union and from the Government and the Minister. I am happy to support it.
I am happy to speak on this matter. We may be a bit late in transposing the directive but it is important that the Bill is passed. Last week at the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, members heard from Ian Drennan, director of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, regarding the establishment of the new corporate enforcement agency. Our discussion at the committee related to domestic efforts to combat so-called white-collar crime. I am pleased to be able to continue this theme, albeit referencing the transposing of the EU directive on the protection of the European Union's financial interests and the prevention of fraud against said interests. The European Anti-Fraud Office estimates that over €500 million is lost to the EU budget annually due to the fraudulent activities that the PIF directive aims to combat. This is not an insignificant sum. It is only right that this State steps up and plays its part in the effort to combat fraud against the EU budget. As a member state, it is important we take this responsibility seriously. We are now a net contributor to the European Union and in 2019, we paid €229 million more into the EU budget than we received. It is incumbent on us to ensure the money is not lost to fraud or misappropriation.
Although this is a short and technical Bill, I agree with the Minister of State that it is extremely important. An aspect of the Bill that is particularly welcome is the proposed addition of section 42B to the principal Act, namely, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. This allows a means by which criminal liability can be attributed to corporate bodies through the failure-to-prevent model. Although failure to prevent will be used in a limited scope, it is a strong signal of a determination to attribute criminal liability to corporate bodies that fail to exercise proper control over their agents.
Another aspect of the Bill that is important to reference is the allowance for extraterritorial jurisdiction in terms of the prosecution of offences. This is an extremely important aspect of the directive and our efforts to implement it. The offences we are talking about are often committed by numerous actors or bodies across a multitude of EU borders.
The transposition of this directive harmonises member states' response to budgetary fraud against EU finances. As I mentioned earlier, it is important that our State plays its part in this effort. We in Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in that regard and, as such, I am pleased to support this Bill. It is my sincere hope that the implementation of this directive and the unrelated creation of a corporate enforcement authority will send a signal far and wide that there is no tolerance for fraud or corruption and offenders will be pursued. For too long, there has been a lack of appetite to prosecute this type of crime. The perception has permeated many communities that crimes committed by those in suits are tolerated. Introducing measures such as this balances the scale between the accused who are well resourced and those who have less expansive wealth. The adaption of this directive adds another tool with which those who commit offences can be pursued and prosecuted.
We are looking at what will be a litmus test in the establishment of the corporate enforcement agency. Will it get the resources and funding it needs and deserves in order that we can tackle white-collar crime properly? If we do not devote the resources to the new agency, we are on a hiding to nothing.
This Bill, as has been stated by the Minister of State and the Government, is largely technical in nature, protecting the EU's financial interests and creating offences around fraud affecting the financial interest of the EU.
We are generally supportive of it. It is welcome to see legislation that will tackle this issue, given that estimates of the volume of fraud against the EU budget range from €400 million to €5 billion, including an estimated €1 billion linked to VAT fraud. This is a massive expense on the European taxpayer and it removes a huge sum from vital services and supports. We stress the importance of good governance, scrutiny and oversight in passing legislation. Time and again, successive Governments have lacked a proactive approach to transposing EU directives, frequently missing deadlines and passing legislation only in the nick of time, as though our arm is being twisted. There is a resistance and we have to change that culture.
On 11 July 2012, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the fight against fraud to the Union's financial interests by means of criminal law. The proposal led to an examination in September of the same year, and in June 2013, the general approach was agreed. It then went through the European Parliament in 2014. Legislation such as that which is before us has a long lead-in time before it becomes a directive, and then countries have to transpose it. We are elongating that process by virtue of the fact that we are laggards when it comes to transposing EU legislation. We are serial offenders in regard to not transposing directives in a timely way.
On 3 December, the Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Ireland and Romania for failing to transpose this directive into our criminal code. We talk a great deal about being good Europeans but how we act is very different. It is interesting that our former partners in the European Union, the UK, were actually very good at transposing European legislation in a timely way, whereas in that sense we compare very unfavourably. This directive should have been transposed on 6 July 2019, and this delay cannot be blamed on Covid. Time was given to conduct an analysis and present the Bill in a timely manner, but the then Department of Justice and Equality did not do that. Some aspects of the directive were transposed previously under the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018. Why is it that this aspect of the direct was pushed back for so long when, by the Government's admission, this is largely technical and uncontroversial legislation? The objective of the legislation and of the directive is to harmonise the rules in respect of fraud and to ensure consistency in criminal sanctions. Doing so will improve the effectiveness of both investigations and prosecutions, given that all police forces will operate with largely the same rules, even if they are not under the same agency.
We have traditionally allowed white-collar crime to play second fiddle. Even though there is applicable legislation on the Statute Book, the level of enforcement has lagged behind that for other crimes. This is the case even when very large sums of money are involved. Whether someone robs a bank or steals money on the other side of the counter, we pay a price for it. We often enact legislation without considering the need for regulatory impact, with an enforcement agency and the capacity to enforce it properly.
In 2015 or 2016, we in the Social Democrats proposed an anti-corruption agency to focus on white-collar crime. That proposal was about effective enforcement with strong powers, including the power to arrest and prosecute, but also about having a remit that would encourage compliance and assist with compliance to foster a better culture. We modelled the proposal on the New South Wales model, which was very effective. It would incorporate several agencies and particular disciplines could be moved around as required, including, for example, forensic accountancy. Companies would be liable for offences committed by directors, employers, agents or subsidiaries, unless they could demonstrate they had taken appropriate action to ensure compliance. Advice is needed to ensure that people come into compliance. We need to get to the point where compliance is in line with best practice, but that will not happen by accident. That is why we put forward our proposal and we remain as convinced as we were when we published it that there is a need for something bigger and more robust. While it is welcome that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is to be improved, we should not limit ourselves in respect of the improvements that can happen in this area, which is growing and demands much greater attention.
Meeting the EU transposition deadlines is not a matter of courtesy; by missing them we waste time and resources and face possible fines from the EU when it initiates infringement processes against us, as it did in this case on 3 December. Hopefully, we can avoid penalties if the directive is enacted in a timely way. Elsewhere, in regard to other legislation, Ireland was fined €5 million, along with additional daily penalties of €15,000, over landslides at a Galway wind farm. That happened in 2003 and still the issue has not been remedied. I understand that in Limerick, €100,000 was spent on CCTV cameras but they are covered by hoods because they are not in compliance with European directives. Not only do we have a problem with compliance, therefore, we have a problem with understanding the superior nature of European legislation. Only recently, legislation was passed in respect of the right to information as part of the debate on mother and baby homes. We need a better understanding of where Irish and European law is positioned.
It is strange that the Government would state that the key issue is that the State should aim to act lawfully, thereby avoiding fines and reputational damage. Of course that should be the aim. It is not just fines; citizens can go to the courts to seek remedies where the State is liable for not acting within the law. While most people cannot afford to do that, it is not what people will want to do in any event; they will want to be in compliance in the first instance.
What is the basis on which the Government prioritises directives? Is a system in place or is it just at departmental level? Is there a priority list? It does not seem to flow but rather seems to be an afterthought, whereby we say we will get to them but we do not really want to. We have to change our behaviour in regard to coming into compliance. It would be highly beneficial if all Departments could indicate exactly what is in the queue and where we are likely to fall into non-compliance, even if that is done through the various committees. There is probably a role to be played by our MEPs in determining which of our obligations require urgent consideration and which work we should be planning in order that we can address it in such a way that keeps us in compliance and in order that we will have a better culture of compliance.
That includes the Oireachtas as much as it does Government. Ultimately, it will go through our committee system when we enact legislation and through the various Stages before it is passed.
I endorse what the Minister of State said earlier about the amendment being very much separate but it is urgent at the same time. It is not something for this legislation. That does not mean there should be a lack of urgency about dealing with it, however.
I thank the Minister of State for the attending. This legislation is on the back of a directive and there is not much to disagree with in it. I want to use of the time available to make a few points, however.
First, with regard to the transposition of directives, previous Deputies have said there is form here on waiting until the last minute of the last hour of the last day, which does not augur well in terms of our reputation in the European context. Indeed, during the formulation of directives, before it even gets to the directive stage after it is passed in Europe and we are expected to transpose it, we are not very good. In fact, we are one of the worst EU members for availing of the opportunity, afforded to us under the Lisbon treaty, for a period in which national parliaments can view the embryonic stage of proposed directives. It is not something we do well in Ireland at all. The last time I checked the statistics, which was some time ago, we were among the worst in terms of availing of that opportunity. Bringing Europe closer to the people and making optimum use of the Houses of the Oireachtas is something we could and should do much better.
As a former Senator, in one of the umpteen calls for Seanad reform and in various submissions and so forth, I proposed the Seanad could play a useful role in that when directives under whichever Department are referred at embryonic stage, it could have a debate and take a view. That could inform our national position before directives are struck. I am sure it does not apply to this particular directive because we all agree that financial fraud is a moving target in the sense that financial fraudsters are always developing new ways around the system to illegally secure money that is not theirs and belongs to other people, states, the EU, businesses, homes and so on.
I will, of course, support the legislation. I ask that in his deliberations with other junior Ministers and Cabinet Ministers, the Minister of State examines the potential to make greater use of the Houses of the Oireachtas, in particular, the Seanad, which would be only too delighted to play a role. Ultimately, it is a role we are not currently living up to in our democratic mandates as public representatives in taking a view, when we can, on proposed legislation that comes in from Europe.
When we adopt new laws, I am always conscious of resources that are available to gardaí. I would like to take this opportunity to put on record the fact that we almost pass laws here willy-nilly without considering the impact on the potential for gardaí and authorities to enforce those laws with the resources available to them, particularly in the context of fraud. We have various fraud squads, criminal assets bureaus and so on. The technical capabilities of the criminals involved in carrying out fraud is so advanced, however, I wonder and question whether, in fact, we are sufficiently investing the appropriate resources with the Garda to enforce such legislation.
It would be appropriate for me to put on record all our thanks, and certainly my own, to the members of An Garda Síochána. They have been hard-pressed over the course of the past ten months in keeping us all safe during the pandemic and, indeed, with the various checkpoints and so on to ensure we all stick within the rules as laid down on the advice of NPHET during the pandemic. We are all grateful for their ongoing work in that regard.
I will ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for a little bit of latitude because I am going to go off reservation here on a further issue of resourcing. As I have access at the moment to the Minister of State on the justice side, however, I want to talk about something that predates our time in government, that is, the restructuring of regions and divisions within the Garda.
At the time, in the north-west, Sligo housed the divisional and regional headquarters for that region. With the new Commissioner getting all the blame for this and the phrase "operational reasons" always being cited as the answer, we had a peculiar change where the divisional headquarters went to Letterkenny and the regional headquarters went to Galway, all of which is not in keeping with Project Ireland 2040 or the plans for that region in Sligo being a growth centre.
Worse than that, however, sites had been purchased and procured in Sligo, Clonmel and Macroom and were to form part of a public private partnership for the development of three new Garda stations. These Garda stations were announced approximately ten times by the previous Government. Indeed, any time a Minister was on tour for a photcall, he or she would be wheeled up in front of Sligo's existing Garda station, which goes back to the 19th century, to advise us about this new station.
In advance of the election last year, it emerged from my sources that the Government had moved the goalposts, and through a little bit of political engineering at Cabinet, the restructuring was about to shaft Sligo, Clonmel and Macroom. This was denied by the outgoing Minister with responsibility for justice at the time but, lo and behold, last December, before the new Government took over, the then Minister advised that due to operational reasons it was decided the Government was going to do up Sligo station instead.
I ask the Minister of State to look into this matter. I have spoken to him about it personally. We dished out €1.325 million of the public's money to procure this site in Sligo. I do not know what the status of Macroom and Clonmel is now because they were linked together. As a growth centre, if the Minister of State saw where existing gardaí are forced to work in Sligo, in such a large urban centre, he would be shocked. Indeed, the Minister's announcement at the time focused on the fact there were detailed plans for a total refurbishment of Sligo station. The authorities within An Garda Síochána locally have heard nothing about this. Nobody has visited to plan or engaged to see what is required. Yet, ten years between site purchase, the involvement of various political entities and 100 announcements by the previous Government we will now have no Garda station and an expensive site sitting idle. I ask the Minister of State to address this matter and come back to me.
As my colleagues have stated, Sinn Féin will support this Bill, which transposes EU directives that will help in the fight against fraud and will be in the financial interests of the EU and, by extension, Ireland. It is welcome that this Bill tackles further aspects of white-collar crime, corruption and fraud of public money. The EU sources of income, however, include contributions from member countries and it is right we try to ensure that every single euro of the EU budget is spent for its intended purposes. It is critical we have good co-operation across the EU when it comes to tackling areas of fraud, including public money.
For citizens to be confident their money is being properly used, the EU needs to protect its financial interests. This legislation will provide for the transposition of the remaining elements of the anti-fraud EU directive to strengthen the fight against fraud to the Union's fiscal interest by means of criminal law.
If I may, I will refer to some issues that have come up in my local area. It is a slight deviation from the Bill. There has, however, been a spate of robberies in my locality in recent times, which has left people feeling insecure. It is an invasion of privacy and some of them are fearful of the burglars returning. I can understand the stolen cash can be difficult to trace unless someone with no means suddenly seems to have a lot of money.
However, many of the people involved have said that they have had jewellery stolen, sometimes of great monetary value and sometimes of sentimental value. There has also been farm theft and the theft of workmen's tools and people's bicycles. Are the regulations strong enough in the context of the resale of these items? Are pawnshops doing enough to make sure that the jewellery they receive is coming from the legitimate owners and has not been stolen?
Much of this is linked to the number of gardaí stationed in rural areas being insufficient. Many Garda stations have been closed. A small number of gardaí are being asked to cover much larger areas. Members of the community in Drumconrath, County Meath, contacted me recently to say that they feel abandoned by the Garda. There was a break-in there recently that was carried out by someone who was already out on bail but the Garda seems reluctant to deal with this person, to the extent that people in the community wondered if this individual had ever been arrested for the initial offence. I contacted the Minister about this matter before Christmas and I am disappointed that I have not even received an acknowledgement, never mind a reply from her. She lives quite near the area in question, even though it is located in my constituency. A bigger effort needs to be made to keep communities informed of what is happening with regard to crime and to increase the number of gardaí covering rural areas.
There is also an amendment to the Bill in the context of pet theft. It seems that a large number of dogs have been stolen during the Covid-19 pandemic. This type of occurrence was commonplace throughout the country last year. Having a pet stolen can be extremely distressing because pets are like part of the family. I am not sure if this matter fits exactly with the amendment but it is something that needs to be dealt with. Dogs are being stolen for breeding purposes or to be sold on for exorbitant amounts of money. It is totally unfair. Genuine pet lovers who are attempting to buy dogs are unable to do so because of the lack of availability or the exorbitant prices being charged. Something needs to be done to tackle that matter as well.
I had been given a different time slot. I noticed that things were moving slightly faster as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said so maybe some of the Deputies are just not aware that their slots have come up.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following: The Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad] be read a second time this day one month, in order that the Minister may consider the desirability of tabling a motion to expand the scope of the Bill, where such a motion is deemed necessary,pursuant to Standing Order 187, in respect of amendments which revise the law to:(a) clearly reflect that pets are much more than property, and
(b) act as a real deterrent against this growing crime of the theft of companion animals.
The basis for this amendment is to bring forward a revision to the legislation that would clearly reflect that pets are much more than property. We have an amendment that would clearly set out a real deterrent against the growing crime of the theft of companion animals. I have moved the amendment in order that Dáil Éireann can consider a change in the law that would act as a real deterrent in respect of the theft of pets.
We need to increase the penalties in this area for people who steal companion pets, a practice that has been on the rise since the introduction of the Covid-19 restrictions last year. In the past 12 months, there has been a significant increase in the number of reports of thefts of pets to An Garda Síochána. Under the law, however, pets are considered property and their theft is treated in the same way as the theft of, for example, mobile phones. We all know that pets are much more than property. They are part of families and homes across this country. Sometimes a pet is the only friend to someone who is isolated or is a guide for someone who is blind or has other sensory issues. This needs to be clearly reflected in much stronger legislation.
On Deputy Daly's comments, I remind him that last year An Garda Síochána received 14 reports per day of animals being stolen or lost. This particular practice has a heartbreaking impact on the individual owners of these animals. The law does not take into account this emotional distress of the theft of a family pet which, as we all know, is far greater than the distress caused by the theft of a mobile phone or another piece of property. Yet, the legislation remains the same in its treatment of people involved in stealing family pets.
There are also people who, particularly during the lockdown, have been exploiting vulnerable owners of pets. They steal a beloved animal and then claim the reward for its safe return. From an animal welfare perspective, there is also a serious impact on the pet involved. Being stolen can give rise to long-term emotional or behavioural problems for a particular animal. Despite some criticism earlier, the fact is that there is cross-party support to the effect that companion pets must be treated as much more than property and that the law should and must reflect that. Across Dáil Éireann there is support from all parties and from Independents for a change in the existing law so that there will be a real deterrent against the growing crime of pet theft and that it will be made clear to people that we will act to ensure that there are significant penalties for those who steal or attempt to steal pets.
I welcome the comments of the Minister of State earlier. I hope that he can accept the sentiments behind the amendment we have proposed.
I wish to support the amendment put forward by my colleague, Deputy Denis Naughten, on behalf of the Regional Group and say that people have come a long way in their understanding and appreciation of animals. The role that animals can play in our lives is vastly different to what it was decades ago. This is particularly true in the case of companion animals.
The business of veterinary care, pet supplies and animal nutrition is a multibillion euro industry. The vast majority of Irish people take care of their pets and they cherish the as part of their families. Ironically, it was this appreciation and the increased desire to have a companion pet that led to an alarming spate of dog thefts. It had long been an issue of concern but it exploded in the spring of last year. Demand for dogs, especially puppies, soared as the pandemic led to people being confined to home. The prices being paid for dogs also soared. This was instantly identified by both criminals and opportunists. Headlines screamed that drugs, guns and dogs were the key priorities for criminals. At European level, dogs became the third most trafficked entities. Some reports indicated that there was a 63% increase in the number of dogs stolen last year, while others stated that not all cases were reported and that the figures could be higher.
The figures are concerning but even more concerning are the stories of mental anguish and suffering that countless families endured when they realised that their furry family member was gone without a trace. Broken-hearted families and pet owners took to every available channel to plead for the return of their pets. Gut-wrenching stories flooded the media about elderly dogs that required regular medical care disappearing, nursing dogs and their puppies vanishing, multiple dogs from the same family all gone and support animals being taken from people who depended on them.
Stories and rumours on the possible fate of these dogs added to the distress. Dogs that were not fit for breeding were said to be sold as bait for dogs for fighting rings or abandoned to fend for themselves. Younger and more intact females were deemed to be destined for puppy farms. Puppies and purebred dogs were sold for grossly inflated prices. Dogs had their fur dyed and were advertised as perfect family companions. Microchips were barbarically cut out of dog's bodies so that they could not be scanned and traced. The common trend seemed to be that stolen dogs were largely exported as quickly as possible in the boots of cars or in the backs of vans to the UK and much further afield.
Heartbroken owners were left inconsolable and helpless, terrified of what might be happening to their pets and despairing at the thought that they might never see their beloved dogs again. Many were prepared to go to any lengths to get their precious animals back. This too was exploited. Demands for ransom were sent to desperate owners. The majority of these were false, with heartless individuals reading about missing pets and seeing their chance to get their hands on some cash.
Money was handed over with the promise of the return of the missing pet. Neither the pet nor the money was ever seen again.
As a country, we continue to deem these treasured family members as property, as something akin to a lawnmower or computer. We are not alone in this. Only a handful of countries have moved to change the definition of animals. They have chosen to view them as more than just objects. Switzerland, Germany and Austria were the leaders in amending their laws. They have declared that animals are not merely property and should not be subject to laws relating to property.
It is important that people understand that amending the law in this way does not change the legal status of animals. Neither is it related to animal welfare laws. These are entirely different areas and ready for a different discussion.
The purpose of this amendment is to send out a clear and loud message to those who steal pets from their families that a fine or a rap on the knuckles will not be their fate, that the punishment will go some way closer to fitting the crime and that we recognise that stealing a companion animal is not an insignificant offence. Unless a real deterrent is put in place to prevent or at the very least discourage criminals and opportunists from stealing companion animals, this activity will continue to escalate. If the penalty for stealing a living sentient animal remains the same as that for stealing an inanimate object then families the length and breadth of Ireland will continue to live in fear. We have a moral duty to prevent that from happening and we can do that by inserting this amendment in the legislation as proposed by Deputy Denis Naughten.
I am glad that the First Stage of my Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) (Pets) Bill 2021 passed here in Leinster House. I am glad to get another opportunity to discuss this important issue with the tabling of this amending legislation today as well.
Obviously, pets are very much members of people's families. Anybody who has lost a pet or anybody who has had a pet die, will tell you that it is heartbreaking. People grieve because they lose their pets and people grieve because their pets die. This is an everyday sad experience for families right throughout the country. As such, the sentence for the theft of pets should be different from the sentence that exists for the theft of an inanimate object. It should be harsher. It should be designed to deter in a stronger fashion. It should send a strong message that if one impacts so devastatingly on a family, one will have to spend time in prison as a result. I know people who have had pets stolen and yet the sentence has been similar to that for the theft of a mobile phone, a laptop or a farmyard object.
I know of a family who lives in Navan in a street adjacent to the street in which I grew up and every day their dog, by himself, used to walk up the street to the pedestrian crossing. He would wait for the pedestrian crossing lights to change and then he would cross the road. Then he would go to the local pet shop. He would bark a couple of times and the pet shop owner would open the door and throw out a pig's ear to him. The dog would scoff the pig's ear and then make its way back to the family home using the pedestrian crossing again. At the end of every week, the family used to pay the dog's tab in the pet shop. They used to make up and pay the cost of the five pig's ears that the dog consumed that week. When that dog passed, it was amazing that many of the people of Navan actually felt a sadness because this character they had engaged with on a regular basis for years had been lost. A pet is not an inanimate object. The loss of a pet must be recognised as such in the law.
In the past year, because of Covid we have seen a change in this regard. The pet theft issue has come into sharp focus for many families. Covid lockdowns have seen many families decide to get pets and as a result of this, and a number of other issues, the price of pets has radically increased. My own dog is a crossbreed between a red setter and a golden retriever. He is13 years old. We paid €50 for him 13 years ago. The same dog on the Internet now would cost €1,500. This shows that the idea of pet theft has become far more lucrative and as a result, we see criminal gangs get involved in the theft of pets.
Many people will have heard of markings made on the tarmac outside of their gates or strings tied to gates which show that these gangs are searching for these animals and returning at nighttime under the cover of darkness to rob them. There was a seizure of 32 stolen dogs in Swords in August last. Their value was estimated at anything between €130,000 and €150,000. This pointed to the organised nature of this crime. Animals are sold online, are sold for cash or are got quickly onto ferries to go over to Britain and this makes Garda efforts to break this crime far more difficult. My instinct is that we need to tackle this.
I was interested to hear, and nearly surprised at, Deputy Daly from Sinn Féin mention earlier that this was not a massive issue. The Deputy contradicted his teammate, Deputy Tully, who recognised how serious this is. I have done a lot of research on the incidence of this crime in the State. There have been 17,014 thefts of animals in the State in the past ten years. There have been another 40,000 reports of lost animals in the State. In fact, a big chunk of those 40,000 would have been stolen animals. Anybody who has been involved with the Garda will know that there is always a difference between what is reported and what happens because many people do not report these incidents. This is a big crime with a significant impact.
When I formulated the Bill in response to this crime and published it last October, I met and discussed the issue with the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, and Dogs Trust. These are two organisations that work on many occasions with stolen or lost animals, and they have backed the Aontú Bill on this. They want the law to reflect the gravity of the crime when it comes to the theft of pets.
In the past 12 months there has been a jump of 16% in the number of animals reported stolen to the Garda. Unfortunately, the number of charges or summons brought against people who are involved in this crime is low. Only one in five of these crimes sees a charge or summons. This points to the fact that there is massive underfunding of the Garda around the country.
We often hear from the Government that we have the highest ever level of gardaí in the State and that we are back up to the 2009 figures, before Fine Gael hammered the garda numbers in the State, but the truth of the matter is, if one takes it by ratio of garda to population, we are still not back up to 2009 figures. On a per capitabasis, the number of gardaí is still fewer than the 2009 level. In my constituency of Meath, whole swathes of the county are absent of Garda stations. Of those towns that have Garda stations, many of the gardaí are only working part time. Ratoath is the biggest town in the State without a Garda station. I know of a section of Meath which is 30 miles wide by ten to 15 miles long where on a Sunday there are five gardaí on duty. If two of those gardaí are taken out for an arrest, it hardly leaves enough gardaí to cover the phones in that part of the county. It stands to reason that gardaí are unable to bring the charges and summons necessary to better tackle this crime. What we need also is for the Government to put its money where its mouth is to make sure that Garda stations are functioning, that they are open and to make sure there are enough gardaí to be able to do the job in hand.
The key element of this, and one of my worries, is that we will have a lot of motherhood and apple pie when it comes to this issue, that people will speak positively about the need for us to get tough on this crime but we will not see any action.
That is why I am asking the Government to accept this amendment and the Bill I have put forward and expedite it through the House in order that we can give some comfort to families who are dependent on their pets.
While it is important that we take measures to protect the EU's financial interests against fraud and misappropriation, we must remember that those interests are, in fact, our own. That is why it is welcome that we are aiming for a more harmonised system to fight against crime affecting the EU budget by defining the terms "theft" and "fraud perpetrated against the EU" as addressed in the Bill. It is also good to see that the offence of misappropriation is defined as meaning "the action of a public official who commits or disperses funding contrary to the purpose of which it was intended". Hopefully, this will give us an added assurance that the distribution of important funding such as that relating to the Common Agricultural Policy will be policed effectively and monitored intensely.
The amendments proposed in the Bill deal with criminal liability in corporate bodies. Criminal conduct on the part of a company is only attributed to that company if it is proved that the offences are committed by senior managers. In widening its scope in this legislation, I hope the Department and the EU have done all they can to ensure that junior officers are not targeted by unscrupulous companies as a result. These amendments indicate that there is a great deal that has not been done by successive Governments domestically over the years in terms of action in respect of white-collar crime. In the past, the ODCE was criticised by a judge for its work in a particularly high-profile case involving Anglo Irish Bank. Tribunals and inquiries have largely been seen as toothless wastes of money that have done little to give the appearance that justice was done. They have only added to the bill the public has to pick up. We also live in a country which has the lion's share of corporate headquarters and a financial services centre that is seen by the Government as its Holy Grail. Only now, however, we have seen movement through the Hamilton report on penalising economic crime and reform.
It is for these reasons that I believe this conversation must highlight the range of shortcomings when it comes to tackling white-collar crime. This debate must also raise the issue of financial inequality. In the course of this pandemic, the country's billionaires have done well for themselves. Recent reports suggest that these individuals have benefited to the tune of over €3 billion. The rich have a habit of getting richer while the poor ultimately get poorer. This is facilitated through a range of measures.
The Government's opposition to the Apple tax ruling is an example of the worrying culture of rewarding those who have to the detriment of those who have not. We see those who have the financial resources to avoid paying taxes being able to do precisely that. This puts more of the financial burden on the shoulders of our workers while all the time we have unpaid student nurses and are reluctant to invest properly in housing for our citizens. This culture must be addressed. As long as the rich can use our laws to work their way around the obligations that apply to the rest of us, we will continue to have a long way to go in protecting our own financial interests. We must address that matter next.
I agree with my colleague, Deputy Daly, that while dog theft may not be a significant issue in the mainstream, it is a big issue for the individuals directly affected by it. Dog theft is a particularly cruel and nasty crime because a pet is not just property, it is an integral part of a family. Harsh sentences should be handed down to anyone caught stealing dogs in order to deter others. Under current laws, pets are considered property. Their theft is treated the same way as mobile phone theft or items taken from people's gardens. We all know pets are much more than that. Pets are an integral part of families.
Introducing laws is one thing but implementing them is another. For example, since 1 February 2020, we have had in place regulations on the sale and supply of pets. Despite animal welfare organisations reporting hundreds of illegal adverts for the sale of dogs, the Government confirmed to my party colleague, Senator Boylan, that it is yet to take any infringement cases. Animal welfare organisations are using up valuable resources reporting adverts and chasing their tails in doing so. As soon as one illegal advert is taken down, another one pops up.
There is also poor enforcement of the microchipping laws that are already in place. If there was better enforcement, it would help to address the issue of dog theft and reunite lost or stolen pets with their families. There are laws in place. It would be much more productive if these were implemented. Resources need to be allocated to collate the data on dog breeders, sellers and microchip numbers in order to create a central, accessible database. The creation of such a database would not only tackle the illegal sale of animals online but would also make it much harder for unscrupulous dog breeders to avoid paying tax. It would also be a deterrent to dog theft. For example, in my area in west Dublin, if a dog is stolen and later abandoned, it is often taken to Ashton dog pound. When I was a member of South Dublin County Council, there were reports of the Dickensian-style conditions that abandoned dogs had to endure in that facility. The pound operates as the dog warden centre for the greater Dublin area and is used by all four local authorities. Last summer, gardaí were called in to investigate whether unauthorised veterinary drugs were used to sedate and euthanise dogs there. It is time all four local authorities in Dublin developed their own dog pounds to be managed by themselves or by one of the reputable animal welfare services.
I am happy to speak on this Bill. I want to send my good wishes to the Minister for Justice.
Looking at the Bill and listening to the Minister of State, when the European masters want something done, we jump. They say jump and we ask how high. However, there is much legislation languishing in the bowels of the Department of Justice that has not been implemented. The Minister of State is new and I wish him well. I often worked and debated with his father, who I also wish well.
This legislation is necessary. Any way we can stop fraud or crime is important. I support Deputy Denis Naughten's amendment. I compliment him and his group. I also compliment Deputy Tóibín and the other Members involved on bringing forward a Bill to deal with the theft of our canine friends. It has become mean, low and a difficult trauma for many families, especially during lockdown. There are gangs going around putting cable ties on gates in order to highlight the number of dogs that could be stolen from particular premises by the next crowd to come along. Now they have different colour codes for different types of dogs. This practice is sinister and very organised. It must also be very profitable.
I hope the Government will accede to the amendment. It should not be classed as the theft of property, of which we have thousands every day of the week. It is the theft of something very special. One just has to think of "One Man and His Dog". I love the sheep dogs and to see them working the sheep. There are dogs for autistic children and dogs for the blind. The bond built between a dog and their owner is just phenomenal. Many of them have been trained. I salute the groups and charities involved in the training these dogs. There is a huge demand for these dogs for autistic children now more so than ever when the schools are dúnta and special needs classes are not taking place. I hope the Government will accept this amendment.
The European Commission has recommended two courses of action in this area, one of which is primary legislation. We are crying out for legislation. Today, I raised with the Taoiseach the introduction of legislation to put some manners on utility companies. These companies are fleecing people.
They gave an eight-week moratorium to people with regard to standing charges. I have been inundated all afternoon with calls from big and small companies about legislation. We can bring in emergency legislation. In the middle of a pandemic we can bring in this Bill, which is interesting to my mind. It would require a simple short emergency Bill so that utility companies could not charge people when their businesses are closed.
Today, the Taoiseach told me the Government did not close premises but that it was the virus. That is a new element of spin. We are gone completely now. It was an act of this House. It was something I voted for at the start, as we all did. I heard the Leas-Cheann Comhairle being very rigorous in her questioning and rightly so and she was well able to do it. By our acts here we closed the House and gave the Minister for Health inordinate powers to do what he liked. Then the Taoiseach stood up today and said what he did. Some one needs to pinch him and see whether he is in the real world. Previously, he said we had no bank bailout. It is the Government. He blamed the HSE for closing St Brigid's hospital in Carrick-on-Siur. He passes on the blame. He is the Taoiseach. For a while he was confused with the Tánaiste. Which was which? Was it the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste or the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach? Who was the Taoiseach? Who was the Tánaiste? At this stage, he should know he is the boss and the buck stops with him. Legislation is passed in the House to delegate roles to Ministers and there is collective Cabinet responsibility.
I introduced a scrap and precious metal Bill twice, once before the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's time and once during her time. It is very important legislation. Today, precious protected buildings are being stripped of their lead. Georgian buildings in Dublin are being stripped of their door knockers. Worse than this, telecommunications lines are stolen. We almost had major fatalities in Limerick Junction because of copper wire being stolen for a kilometre outside of the station. But for the swift action of Iarnród Éireann employees there would have been head-on collisions. The first Bill was rubbished by the then Minister, Alan Shatter. We amended it and brought it back but it was not accepted. It involved a few simple measures such as traceability, whereby anybody buying or selling scrap metal had to have a PPS number and the item had to be held for a specified period so the Garda could find it. It went back to gold and silver and PPS numbers. It would have been very lucrative for the Exchequer's coffers but there would also have been traceability and time for An Garda Síochána to deal with issues. It was rubbished and we could not act on it. Now we can act on this because Europe wants us to do so. Other countries did act in the area of metal. There is also the theft of farm buildings, farm machinery and farm equipment. House owners also have valuable items taken from them. There is the vast reservoir of artefacts. Some of the precious artefacts were on motorways, where artistic sculptures were sawn down with a gas torch at night and taken away. They stopped at nothing. They took the lead from the roofs of churches. We did not deal with this.
There are many issues we have not dealt with and white-collar crime is a big one. It is a huge issue. We can see it going on and we can see that the regulators in many areas are not dealing with these issues. We have seen whistleblowers being vilified in the past. Next week, the Prison Service will hold interviews and I have been contacted by concerned people about the interview process and the make-up of the boards. I have had no response. It seems to be the Wild West and they can do what they want.
I missed the debate on GSOC and I am sorry. The Ceann Comhairle told me he would allow me to say something on it in this debate because of the lack of backbenchers who did not show up. We cannot watch a debate and it finished early. It is impossible. They want time taken from Independent Deputies but they will not turn up for the debate. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has a nice name and it certainly does some good work but it needs to be revamped and there needs to be a refocus. I want every Garda to be held accountable as some have not been very accountable in the past. I have had issues with a Garda station in Dungarvan, County Waterford. They need to be held to account. I have often been contacted by gardaí, some of whom are now retired, who were caught in accidents and did not have a squad car or a squad van. Some Deputies mentioned the lack of resources. GSOC investigators could land in a field in a helicopter. Where a member of An Garda Síochána, on or off duty, is involved in an accident, GSOC has those powers. That is extraordinary.
Recently, we saw a case where GSOC took a garda to the courts and the judge lambasted it and rightly so. The garda was doing his duty and the next thing GSOC brought him all the way to the courts and vilified him. He was cleared, thankfully, and GSOC was admonished by the judge. We need a review. We set up these bodies, most of which are quangos. They have boards, and today we appointed two new members to the board of GSOC. I do not know who they are or what they are and more power to them. There has to be accountability and there has to be a comeback and some respect for the law of the land.
Some of these quangos get in and they just seem to be there. The Road Safety Authority, RSA is one of them. It just does what it likes with regard to licences and tests. There is pure blackguarding of ordinary citizens. There seems to be no accountability. I do not see the chair of the RSA board on the television complaining about the testing. The test centre in Clonmel in Tipperary is the Wild West. Young people are being penalised unfairly. Yesterday morning. four tests were cancelled because of the frost, despite the fact driving instructors were able to drive, the testers drove to work and the people drove with their parents, who took a day off work in these hard times to bring their child. Then, at 2 p.m. one of the testers decided he or she was sick and went home and left people with appointments for which they had waited months. They had spent a fortune on lessons with very good tutors. This is blackguarding of the highest order. It is driving people to the brink and could drive young people over the top. They try to do a test two or three times but get blackguarded like this. It is not acceptable and there is no redress and nowhere to go.
There are many areas of legislation the Minister of State could look at during his career. We do not have to wait until the high masters in Europe tell us what they want. We are wonderful Europeans. There are many elements of European law the Government will not introduce because they would suit Irish citizens. It is time that we served the people whom we are elected to serve and left our masters wait. When we wanted a bailout, we got little support and solace. There are many areas in the Department of Justice. I could go on for an hour but I will not. I gallantly tried twice to introduce the scrap and precious metal Bill and it was the same with the sulky racing Bill. There are murky industries that we do not want to touch and we dance around them.
The directive and the Bill are aimed at stamping out crimes against the EU budget and specifically mention fraud that affects the financial interests of the Union. To be clear, this includes the misappropriation of funds that might be obtained under the EU budget but also fraud or wrongdoing concerning money from national budgets that could contribute to EU resources.
In 2016, the EU's annual report on the fight against fraud found 1,410 instances of fraud involving €391 million. The regulatory impact analysis of the Bill published by the Department of Justice states the European Commission estimates that implementing the directive would result in a saving of €477 million throughout the EU. The departmental analysis is that it is not possible to quantify what portion of this €477 million would result from Ireland's transposition of the instrument. Will the Minister of State address or clarify this point? For instance, on what basis did the Commission reached the figure of €477 million? Why can a country-by-country breakdown not be given, even in very general terms? The Commission's report on the fight against fraud gives a national breakdown. If it has a means of estimating an overall figure surely it would be able to estimate a breakdown by country. It would be of benefit to know how much money could be saved by the passage of the Bill into law. Why is there no country-by-country breakdown from the Commission or from Ireland? Is it about protecting the reputations of certain countries? Is it the case that the Bill is more about protecting eastern European countries? Will the Minister of State address these questions?
We are speaking about the EU, and we are part of the EU, but the Garda needs more resources to apprehend criminals such as these and all other criminals. Is there a new budget for them? We also need to thank our local gardaí for all of their efforts in recent months. It has not been an easy job for them as the Minister of State can well imagine. They stand on the roadside in the rain and snow. This is their job and this is what they are made to do. They are out in the frost and cold and every kind of weather telling people not to go outside their 5 km limit while we have tens of thousands flying in and out of the country and no one gives a damn. They are all fine and welcome and there is no quarantine. It is an EU issue and an issue throughout the country. I raised it in the Dáil last May with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. I stated we needed PCR testing for those coming in at our airports but it was dismissed at the time. I contacted the airports but it was dismissed. It has come at a very high cost. We can look at various issues but this needs to be addressed.
We have been fighting very hard down through the years to give justice and stronger powers to gardaí because they need them to deal with these issues. I think of the Garda stations that were closed in Ballinspittle, Ballinacarriga and Goleen. We fought and we won the battle to reopen Ballinspittle Garda station but issues like that need to be tackled.
I fully support the amendments tabled by Deputies Naughten and Tóibín. We look at the theft of dogs and the fines and proceedings that follow. People adore their animals. I have had so many phone calls about this over the past number of months from people who would rather be taken away themselves. They would rather nearly kill themselves than to think the dog was taken away from them, given the heartbreak and the worry they have had in the past number of months due to unscrupulous individuals who go around terrorising people by attempting to take or taking their dogs. The law here is too easy. Long ago, the law was very strict in regard to horses and if a person hurt a horse, it was far more serious than if they hurt a human. The law should be serious if a person attempts to abduct a dog or take a dog away from its owner, and thinks they can walk away from it.
We talk about Europe and this law is based on a European directive. I see what came into law in the past number of days, after the Taoiseach signing into law on 26 August the penalty points for fishermen, which is another EU belt on top of the fishermen. Well done to the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. He is continuing his goal since he got into office of wiping out Irish fishing after Brexit, and this is another EU penalty down on top of the fishermen.
These are all areas that have caused great stress to people and they would warrant further discussion, but I am out of time to discuss them.
I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Other Members have asked about the €477 million. We need more clarity on how this figure came about and how much of it applies to Ireland. I sincerely hope farmers or people who could or would have benefited from funds like this will not be denied this money as a result of this or any other fraud. None of us in the House condone or support fraud and we are certainly behind any laws that would prevent same.
It was mentioned that dogs and pets are being stolen. I know one person who had a very valuable dog and he is fairly sure that it was stolen recently, or anyway he cannot find the dog, and it disappeared for no reason. I know too well about pets. We had a pony ourselves, Peig, and she was stolen. It gave my father desperate concern at the time because he used to go up and feed her every day and, all of a sudden, she was missing. It took three months or more to find her but we did find her, thankfully. I thank all those who were involved, including Detective Sullivan from Castletownbere, who played a massive role in ensuring we found the pony. I know the anxiety and the pressure that was on my father and my younger family members when that pony was stolen. I thank everyone who helped in the recovery and return of Peig, who we still have and take pride in having, and we see after her in the best way we can.
What springs to mind is the situation of old people being robbed in their homes and being so concerned about being robbed or broken into. When people move on in years, they are not as courageous when people drive into the yard and they are worried. I know one great friend of ours, and when someone drives the long road up to his house and he sees the car coming, he would go out the door of the house and into the outbuildings, and he would wait in the yard and peep from some angle until he was sure it was not thieves or blackguards, and that at least it was someone he knew or that they had a good reason for coming to visit him.
There are other types of what I would call fraud when a property is rendered of less value. What I am talking about is designations, whereby environmentalists and others seek to reduce the value of property by placing designations on land that farmers may have bought and paid for at high cost, or inherited, and their pride in their place could not be exceeded by anyone. Sadly, in some places, land has been designated for the hen harrier or for different reasons, and we hear that more of the countryside is going to be designated as special areas of conservation. This will definitely reduce the value of their properties.
There is also the situation where environmentalists want to stop us cutting turf. Turf is of value to the people who own the bog in that they can cut and save turf, and keep themselves warm. We hear of others suffering fuel poverty. What do they want these people to do? Do they want them to suffer fuel poverty as well, with the bog lying idle on their land? Will they stop them cutting it like they have done for generations and for centuries back, without doing any harm to themselves or anyone else? Their pride in their property could not be exceeded by any environmentalist.
That is fine. It is interesting to sit here in a debate to transpose EU legislation onto our Statute Book only to listen to a debate about the theft of dogs. When I heard this debate was coming up and it was being discussed earlier, I was thinking that it was not appropriate for this Bill. However, I then thought that the Government is going to have to show to Europe that we have transposed this Bill and will have to send a copy of it off. It would be interesting and a bit of craic to send it off with the amendment about protecting dogs and looking after dogs because it would really show what this Government amounts to in the overall scheme of things. It would be very interesting and worthwhile. For that reason, while I was thinking during the debate that this was not appropriate and it should not go ahead and, for the first time in my career, I was thinking I would support the Government in rejecting the amendment, now, I think I will stick with it because I think it would be worthwhile. I would love to be there and, in fact, I would deliver the Bill to the European Commission and make sure the Commission sees it with that provision in it, if it is passed. However, I am sure the Government will use its majority to make sure it is not passed.
I am sure this is an issue of feeling for the Members who have raised it and it needs to be addressed. It is probably a sign of how things cannot be addressed that the Members have to take the step to shoehorn this amendment into the Bill to try to get it dealt with and taken care of. Maybe the Government's response will be that it is not an issue, and maybe the Government can explain that as well.
With regard to the Bill-----