Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage


4:35 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I support this legislation. None of us likes getting penalty points, but the system has been tremendously successful in ensuring fewer people are killed on the roads. It is a system that is working and we must maintain its integrity.
It occurred to me last night while searching for other legislation that it is very difficult to find commencement notices. This presents a difficulty not just for Oireachtas Members or members of the public but also, I am sure, for Departments. We must have a different system whereby it will be easier to identify which sections of a particular Bill have been commenced and which have not. Alternatively, perhaps we should end the current system altogether and set out in legislation itself when its provisions will be commenced. As it stands, it is difficult to know what is law and what is not, a difficulty that clearly is also being encountered by experts in the Department. This issue needs to be examined at Government level. The fault rests ultimately with the Department in this instance but we, as legislators, also must take some responsibility. This Bill should make us cautious and wary about rushing legislation.
I understand the Minister is meeting spokespersons today, presumably to discuss the amendment he proposes to bring forward on Committee Stage. I can think of no other word to describe that amendment other than "weird". It does not read right and I do not know what the Minister is seeking to achieve. I do not use "weird" in a derogatory sense but to convey how strange it is; perhaps "strange" is the right word to use. The Oireachtas does not set out to make unconstitutional legislation and there must be a presumption that the laws we enact are constitutional. We are often told when we bring forward Private Members' Bills that something cannot be done because the advice is that it is in conflict with the Constitution. However, the Minister's amendment No. 1 states:

If this section would, but for this subsection, conflict with a constitutional right of any person, the operation of this section shall be subject to such limitation as is necessary to secure that it does not so conflict but shall otherwise be of full force and effect.
I am not sure there is any precedent for that. I wonder whether a lawyer panicked and urged that it be included just in case. If this issue only arose today, I would be urging the Minister to seek further advice and omit this provision if at all possible. If a particular provision is unconstitutional, the courts will find it such. It is not for us to put in a "just in case" clause. I am sure the Minister will elaborate further on Committee Stage, but these are my initial thoughts.


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