Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Order of Business
As promised, I have circulated to all group leaders and to Senator Craughwell, as per his request, an alternative text of a motion seeking access by cystic fibrosis patients to particular medications. I look forward to replies from colleagues. I hope that by the end of the week, if I have agreement from all group leaders, we can table the motion as an all-party motion from all Senators on this very important and pressing issue for so many people across Ireland.
I welcome the fact that former Chief Justice, John Murray, is to conduct a review of the legislation allowing access to journalists' phone records. I note that the review is somewhat circumscribed and limited in its remit and that there is a time limit of three months on it. It is important that we have a tight timeframe. It might be difficult to expand its remit and still expect a report within three months. Clearly, there are concerns that are broader than the issue of access by GSOC to journalists' phone records. I note the revelations in The Irish Timestoday that 62,000 requests or applications were made, mostly by members of the Garda, for access to phone and Internet data over five years to the end of 2012, so clearly there is a bigger issue here.The impact of the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 needs to be considered in more detail and I welcome that the Data Protection Commissioner has announced an audit of Garda and GSOC access to phone data. There are other reviews ongoing or which will be put in train apart from the review announced yesterday. I welcome the assurance of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, that she has not personally authorised tapping of journalists' phone calls. It is important we know that. I also welcome the news that the new chairperson of the GSOC, the eminent former High Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, has said the ombudsman acted within the law at all times. A number of issues are being brought to light around surveillance, access to phone records and Internet data which deserve further consideration.
I also welcome the approval for publication of the statute law revision Bill 2016 which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, announced yesterday. This Bill will repeal 300 pieces of outdated legislation and is an important tidying up or codification of our statute law, which is an issue about which I have spoken many times.
Tonight in the House I look forward to introducing a very important Private Members' Bill in Labour Party Private Members' time which I will be proposing and Senator Aideen Hayden will be seconding, namely, the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 which seeks to expand the rights of collective bargaining for workers. It is a Bill that has been sought by trade unions for some years. I have been working on it for some years and I know the introduction of the Bill is being welcomed by SIPTU, the NUJ and Irish Equity, among others. Colleagues will be aware that the operation of the Competition Act 2002, in particular, restricts the capacity of unions to negotiate on behalf of freelance members, such as freelance actors or journalists, in setting pay rates. The Bill seeks to exempt certain groups of workers from the prohibition in competition law against price fixing. We are trying to take the middle ground to ensure there is no detriment to the consumer because the Competition Act is concerned with consumer protection. I am happy to provide a briefing on the Bill to any Members who wish to have one in advance of its introduction at 5 p.m. Members of the unions affected will be present in the Gallery tonight to see the Bill debated on Second Stage. It is an important plank of the Labour Party policy and it should receive a general welcome from across the House as well as from the Minister.