Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

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

 

10:30 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)

I apologise as I should have congratulated the Minister of State on his recent appointment during my first intervention on Committee Stage. I am delighted to see him in here with us.

I have listened to the extensive debate on my amendment and I thank colleagues who intervened in support, namely, Senators Higgins and McDowell. I listened also to Senator Ward and the Minister of State but still do not see the need for the inclusion of the phrase "whether in relation to a relevant provision or otherwise". I accept that the phrase "in relation to a relevant provision" might need to be included but I believe the phrase "or otherwise" creates the difficulty. Having read the speech and response by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, in the Dáil on this very point, I simply cannot see a rationale for the inclusion of the phrase. Deputy Howlin described it as a catch-all phrase and I believe Senator Ward appreciated that. It is a dangerous phrase to use in legislation of this sort, which needs to be precise and clear.

Senator McDowell gave a very extensive speech on SI 326 of 2020, which I talked about in my Second Stage speech, as did Deputy Howlin. It is clearly relevant to this matter. Senator McDowell pointed out a particular anomaly. The key ambiguity — I do not apologise for using that phrase — in the regulations and in the phrase "or otherwise" involves the fudging of the line between a criminal or penal power and what is simply a guideline. There is a point to be made about why we include public health guidelines in regulations if, in fact, they are not enforceable through penal powers. That is a bigger issue. What is the point? There is no such thing as a civil offence. These are not offences. There are only guidelines. We have seen remarkably high levels of compliance across the State, and this was achieved by guidelines and without the need for criminal sanction. More powerful public health messaging ensures that people buy in through compliance and a sense of solidarity, or a sense of our all being in this together. That has been really important and we need to embrace it. Anything that undermines it is dangerous and that is why I will be pressing the amendment. We want to ensure that people continue to comply and that there will be goodwill and buy-in. Where we see overreach or a catch-all phrase being used without any clear rationale for its inclusion, we have to disagree and point out the dangers.

Having examined the wording again in more detail, I note it already entails a very clear extension of Garda powers. The Garda is empowered to enter, without a warrant, a relevant premises, as defined in section 1, for the purpose of giving a direction, also defined in section 1, under section 31A(7), which we inserted into the 1947 Act. With regard to the use of "whether in relation to a relevant provision or otherwise", "relevant provision" is defined in section 1(2) in reference to a new section 31A(6A), inserted by section 13 of this Bill. Therefore, there is already a very extensive network of authority under which the Garda is empowered to enter a premises without warrant, without the need to insert the words "or otherwise".For us, that is the crux of the issue. It amounts to an unnecessary overreach. We have not heard a clear rationale for its inclusion. For that reason, we will be pressing the amendment. We support the Bill, however, and we support the Government's efforts to ensure compliance. I have already expressed that, as have my colleagues in the Dáil. This is an attempt to be constructive to ensure we are not overreaching and thereby undermining what are, in fact, remarkable levels of goodwill and social solidarity in this country.

The Minister of State or Senator Ward referred to something the Minister, Deputy McEntee, said at the start of her speech. I regret the speed with which we are debating this and the fact that we have not been supplied with a copy of the Minister's speech. I wanted to check whether I have misheard something. Again, it is unfortunate we are taking all Stages of this important Bill in one day at such speed and without certain supports, such as a printed copy of the Minister's speech.

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