Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages


10:30 am

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)

I did not have an opportunity due to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges meeting to participate in the debate earlier today. I do not want to make a Second Stage speech, but I am concerned that this measure is, in fact, overly complex to deal with a reaction to the Berlin D2 bar incident in Dublin and is not as necessary as might be thought.It certainly is not as urgent as might be thought.

One element that worries me is that because of the pressure on this House, we have now arrived at the position that one of our functions under law is to consider statutory instruments made under the Health Act 1947, especially the type of statutory instrument mentioned by Senator Higgins. As a result of the peculiar way in which work is being done in this House and the pressure to either sit, or not sit or to fix its business in one way or another, the regulations that were most recently made by the Minister, SI 326 of 2020 relating to various matters particularly covering the consumption of alcohol, have not been subjected to adequate scrutiny.

I echo the comments of Senator Higgins. Here we are giving the Garda powers to implement, supervise and enforce regulations, penalising those who do not implement, contrary to their duty, regulations that we have not really had the opportunity to consider or debate in this House. I can give an example. SI 326 of 2020 was made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on 31 August and it states, among other things, that the carrying on of certain businesses or services in certain relevant premises must be regulated in a particular way.

Looking through regulation No. 11 of that instrument, I made a shocking discovery. The regulation operates in respect of a casino or private members' club at which gambling activities are carried out and which is operated on a commercial basis. There is no such lawful activity in this country, full stop. One may not carry on commercial gambling in any private members' club. It is against the law and specifically the 1956 Act. One may not operate a casino under any circumstances, as it is plainly and simply illegal. There is no provision for casinos to open in this country.

This brings me to a slightly different topic and I hope it is not too distant from the subject of this debate today. There has been a scandalous failure on the part of the prosecuting authorities to implement the law relating to gambling in this city of Dublin. Under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, no gambling type of casino or amusement arcade may operate without a resolution having been passed to enable it to happen. Nevertheless, surrounding us in this city and within a mile of here today there are many gambling casinos and establishments masquerading as private members' clubs where gambling is done on a commercial basis. The Garda Síochána is ignoring this development and has done nothing to stop it.

This strikes me as particularly horrific as the law has been there for donkey's years. Dublin City Council revoked the authority of anybody to have such a premises in its area 20 or 30 years ago. I remember former Deputy Pat McCartan as a Workers' Party councillor proposing the revocation of this in Dublin city. The law is being flouted for very big money in this city. Moreover, there are automated teller machines located in these establishments to facilitate the expenditure of money, usually by vulnerable people, in these wholly illegal operations. What have we found? The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is suggesting by inference that this is a lawful activity and members of the Garda can attend at these premises to ensure people are having a meal, while they gamble and drink. This is grotesque. It brings us back to the point made by Senators Higgins and Bacik. We should not in this House, on an emergency basis and without full consideration of all the implications, be passing legislation that brings into statutory effect regulations that we have not even had the chance to consider. I challenge the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to this House and defend the designation of casinos and premises where gambling is being done on a commercial basis as premises where gardaí can arrive and inspect to ensure meals are being consumed in combination with the service of drink. It is against the liquor licensing law to permit gaming in licensed premises.

I object to the fact this is being made up on the hoof by people who have never considered what is the law. I say it here that it is a crime to operate a casino in Dublin or to operate an establishment masquerading as a private members' club where gambling is carried on for commercial purposes. Instead of having a decent debate on all these regulations on the gambling laws and all the rest, here we are being told for the reasons set out by Senators Higgins and Bacik that we are giving gardaí the right to attend such premises not to close them, take away equipment or prosecute the people criminally operating these places, but to ensure they are handing out meals with alcohol, which they are not allowed to serve either in such premises. No licensed premises can permit gaming on its premises.

This is the nonsense of rushing through legislation of this kind and not allowing this House to meet while this statutory instrument was being produced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly. One of the problems is that today's sitting, as I understand it, sets the clock going for this House to consider whether the regulations made under the Health Act should or should not be revoked. This is a sitting day and the clock is now running on these regulations.

It is a crime to operate a members' club for the purposes of commercial gambling in this city. It is a crime to operate what is called a casino or even a gaming arcade with or without ATMs in this city. The Garda Síochána, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Director of Public Prosecutions should prosecute those involved but, curiously, they seem to be protected by a kind of "do nothing, say nothing, shrug of the shoulders" culture, which I find deeply alarming. I wonder if money is talking in the political system. Is it the case that people with a lot of clout seem to be getting away with murder, breaking the ordinary rules of this State?

Many District Court judges have the wool pulled over their eyes all around Ireland in that because the Revenue Commissioners issue licences for gambling machines, betting terminals and the like, it is somehow legitimate to operate them without the say of the local authority. The people of Carlow, for example, are perfectly entitled to say they do not want casinos in their county. The process may be reversed if people adopt for part or all of their local authority area a resolution under the 1956 Act. Unless they do, it is criminal to carry on that activity. However, we find ourselves this afternoon being asked without due consideration at all to empower gardaí to go to these premises, ignore all the gaming machines and the rest, and the question is not whether it is lawful to serve alcohol in the premises, as it is not, and no gaming is permissible in licensed premises.The question they will ask is whether food is being served to an adequate extent. Gardaí will inquire into that utterly trivial detail. I find it deeply offensive that this is the way the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health are operating. The Department of Justice and Equality is the Department with overall responsibility for the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2019 and other laws relating to gambling. The Government, acting as a cohesive authority, is providing that gardaí can attend casinos to work out who is eating and who is not and is requiring that records be made regarding people who are engaging in criminal activity not to find out who they are or what they are doing, but to find out what they are eating. The Government is saying that it is a matter of great importance that all Stages of this Bill be passed today so that gardaí can carry out that function. I reject that completely. It is a sad day on which we have ended up having been so rattled and confused by events and so spancelled by difficulties in holding sittings of the Houses of the Oireachtas and by rulings of the Chair in the Houses, to which I will not go back, that we cannot even consider the real issues which lie behind this kind of law.

I agree with Senator Higgins. It is very strange that we should be invited to grant, on a very expedited basis - I will not go further than that but I believe it is a matter of rubber-stamping the Bill - powers to An Garda Síochána to carry out functions which it should not be carrying out at all. It is wrong that we should be bamboozled into this position as if asking some questions in this House has now become a crime. One such question is what is the status of a casino or private members' club at which gambling activities are carried out and which is operated on a commercial basis? If that is illegal, why are gardaí going to visit these places to check whether people are eating meals in them? If it is not illegal, will the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality stand up in this House and say so? Will he say that it is legal to operate a casino in Ireland in the absence of any statutory provision? Will he say that it is legal to operate a so-called private members' club where gambling is carried out on a commercial basis?

This goes back to what Senator Higgins said; we are being asked to provide legal powers to enforce regulations which may be made in the future. We do not know what will come down from the Department of Health next. I do not blame the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, for not knowing that it is a crime to operate a private members' club where gambling is carried out on a commercial basis and where drink is available to members. I do not blame him or his officials for not knowing that because they do not know the law as it relates to gaming, lotteries and licensing. They do not understand it. I do, however, blame the Department of Justice and Equality for asking us to give An Garda Síochána the authority to enforce laws in a manner which effectively recognises that criminal activity can carry on as long as food is served in the appropriate way and people do not stay on the premises after 11.30 p.m.

As is obvious, I support the amendment. I will not waste any more of the House's time on this but it is a real shocker to me that a Minister could make a statutory instrument recognising that it is somehow lawful to operate a casino or private members' club at which gambling activities are carried out on a commercial basis and that the only problem is that gardaí cannot knock on the door and ask to see the till rolls to ensure that everybody is buying a meal of €9 value at the same time. There is a law and rich people in this country who have become very much richer over the last ten years are increasingly and more flagrantly operating these places without any enforcement of the law by An Garda Síochána.They will look at this provision in this regulation as the Minister for Health making provision for gardaí to come to their casinos and private members' clubs to demand to see till rolls to see whether food is being served. The law is being deliberately flouted and wealthy people are making a lot of money out of it. For some reason, nothing has been done to stop it for the past ten years. As a result, all one has to do is to drive along the quays or O'Connell Street or out to the airport to see all of these casinos. In my area of Rathmines, there is a casino of this kind. Not one thing has been done to stop them and today they are getting a pat on the back and being told to tighten up their catering arrangements. That is scandalous.


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