Thursday, 10 September 2020
Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Michael McDowell (Independent)
I, too, welcome the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his appointment. I thank him for his offer to discuss with me the question of gambling. I assure Senator Conway that I am not opposed to An Garda Síochána being given powers to enforce the law in general terms. I have no doubt that An Garda Síochána will apply the powers it is being given with discretion and reasonableness. All of those things go without saying. However, we must bear in mind that we are, in effect, giving powers to An Garda Síochána to enforce regulations we have not seen. There is something fundamentally problematical about that. It might have been half cured or remedied if it were the case that the statutory instruments under the Health Act, as amended, had to be approved in advance by the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are faced with a different situation whereby we will find out after a Minister has made a regulation on the recommendation of NPHET or another relevant body, albeit with the permission of the Government, what that regulation is. We will be authorising and requiring the Garda to enforce regulations which the Houses will not have seen. That is the point I am making. It is unfortunate that it is being done in that manner and that is why I sympathise with the amendments that are before the House.
On the issue of gambling, Senator Ward made the point that this has nothing to do with the Bill. I contend that it does in the sense that the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, has made regulations controlling or requiring casinos and private members clubs where gambling is carried out on a commercial basis to be operated on the basis that where drink is served, that should be done in accordance with the regulations. The point I am making is very simply this and I hope Senator Ward will appreciate it. Either those premises are licensed premises or registered clubs or they are totally criminal. Either we are dealing with powers for An Garda Síochána to visit those premises or the Minister for Health is making regulations in respect of premises which lie completely outside the law.There is no provision in Irish law for a casino to be operated in Ireland. God knows, some of us who have been here long enough remember when there were efforts to open casinos and that led to unfortunate consequences politically. There is no provision in Irish law to operate a casino or a so-called private members' club where gambling is operated on a commercial basis. Such premises, which are dotted all over Dublin city, are criminal establishments. No club or institution of that kind may legally serve alcohol to anybody. That is the law, as the Department of Justice and Equality well knows. If the Garda is being given the power to go to relevant premises which are licensed premises or registered clubs, as is the case under the Bill, either the Department of Health has created an entirely new entitlement to serve drink with food in gambling clubs and casinos or, alternatively, such a power does not exist. That is the point I am making.
I will make one supplemental point for Senator Ward's information. When I was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I strongly and resolutely opposed all of these matters and pointed out that it was unlawful to carry out gambling in casinos or casino-like institutions and private clubs where gambling is carried out on a commercial basis. The law in that regard has not changed one jot in the 13 years since I was Minister. On the other hand, all across Dublin city, significant sums of money are being made by people who are flouting the law clearly laid down under the 1956 Act. Somebody, be it the Minister for Justice and Equality, an official in that Department, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General, the Garda Commissioner or the assistant commissioner for the Dublin region, should enforce the law and stop the poor of Dublin being fleeced of their money by these illegal casinos. I am sure Senator Ward would agree that there are probably such institutions even in the royal borough of Kingstown, now known as Dún Laoghaire.