Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

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


10:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 14, line 34, after “such date” to insert “, which must not be later than the 9th day of November 2021”.

Amendment No. 6 relates to the question of a sunset clause. While it has been said that a sunset clause is provided for in the Bill, it is currently stated in section 17(3) that: "This Act shall continue in operation until the 9th day of November 2020, unless a resolution approving the continuation of this Act has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before that date and, in that event, this Act shall continue in operation until such date as is specified in the resolution." It has been stated that the powers being given under this Bill are very significant. Moreover, it has also been clearly stated, both on the Order of Business and throughout the course of this debate, that the time given to the scrutiny of the legislation and to debate on it has been extremely curtailed. We have been looking at all Stages of this legislation in the course of one day in the Seanad, which is an extraordinary situation and not good practice. Moreover, these are very significant powers. A motion or resolution passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, which again may be taken with or without debate and which, given we know there is a Government majority, we have no doubt will pass if put forward by the Government, will not afford the same kind of opportunity for scrutiny and examination that proper examination of legislation does. As such I am concerned that we must not have any situation whereby, on 9 November of this year, a resolution could come before both Houses with a date - it simply says "such date as is specified in the resolution" - that is one or two years or whatever length of time away. There is no limitation on the time period by which these powers might be extended. While it must be done by a resolution of the Houses, given this is legislation pushed through in a hurry with very extensive and unusual powers, it is simply not sufficient that it can be extended indefinitely by resolution. I understand that it may be needed to be extended for a period of time by resolution.

My amendment, which is an extremely conservative one - I certainly do not want to see that there would be emergency powers for An Garda Síochána for a year - simply seeks to set one year as an outside limit. It says that the resolution which goes before the Houses of the Oireachtas in November, if it goes before them in November, and frankly I have little doubt that it will, will specify a date which shall not be later than 9 November 2021. I am just trying to set an actual sunset clause, an actual outside limit, on how far and how long these powers can exist before they have to go through not simply a resolution of extension but proper scrutiny and primary legislation, as is normal and proper.

A lot has been asked from us as parliamentarians, public representatives, and members of different parties and none in terms of co-operation to ensure urgent action can be taken. It is a reasonable ask that the Minister of State and the Government would give us the assurance that there is a genuine outside limit on how long these powers we are giving will extend for. If this resolution were to be put in place, it would give a sense of assurance that this is genuinely emergency legislation and not legislation which we may live with for a longer period of time. Again, a resolution of extension is one form of sunset clause, but because it allows for indefinite extension, we need to make sure that there is a limit on the power of extension with that resolution.


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