Wednesday, 12 February 2003
Private Business. - The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Charters Amendment) Bill 2002: Second Stage.
Joanna Tuffy (Labour)
The Labour Party supports the aim of this Bill – the provision of a modern framework for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. As with any Bill, public or private, Government or Opposition, we have the responsibility of ensuring the enactment of the best possible legislation. We will suggest a number of changes to the Bill on Committee Stage but are happy to co-operate with the promoters of the Bill in addressing these issues.
There are some areas to do with policy that concern us, one of which has already been mentioned by Senator O'Rourke, the need for section 27 to comply with equality legislation. Section 27(4) contains a crude cut-off point that a person cannot qualify if he or she is under 25 years of age. We believe such a provision is rare in legislation and has not been used since the enactment of the Employment Equality Bill 1998, which prohibits discrimination in vocational training over the age of 18 years. We would not favour this requirement to be expressed in terms of age. It could be redrafted to suggest that seven years study of medicine is required. This would achieve a similar result without offending equality legislation.
We also have problems with sections 12 and 29. Section 12 provides for the revocation of degrees awarded by the college in certain circumstances, such as allegations of fraud. As with any disciplinary procedure, it is important to provide some basic protections for the accused person. These are missing from the Bill and would be dependent on by-laws. We should be reluctant to allow degrees to be revoked on the basis of such notice as the section provides. Firmer guarantees of fair procedure are required. A similar issue arises in section 29(6). It is desirable that we spell out the guarantees of fair procedure that will be afforded rather than ask the Oireachtas to leave everything to the officers of the college.
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has been very responsible in consulting widely in advance of the publication of the Bill, the objectives of which are very worthy. The Labour Party will respond in a similar spirit of co-operation in terms of any changes that should be made. The model undertaken by the college in the Bill is one for any organisation which wishes to introduce private legislation. As a new Senator, I am glad that I have been involved in this process. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience to deal with legislation initiated outside the House. We should look at a broader application of the idea in terms of Seanad reform, with other groups initiating legislation we can take on board.