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)

The Minister has mentioned the resolution that will be in place but it is the detail of the resolution and the constraints around it that my amendment seeks to address. I am not opposing the fact of the resolution and I recognise the reason for the date and the fact that the date is aligned with the other provisions. I am trying to set a clear signal as to how far these emergency powers can be pushed by simple resolution and where the actual limit of this legislation that we are pushing through is.

The latitude we have shown has been mentioned. In agreeing to this legislation, we are agreeing to the enforcement powers on regulations that we have not seen. I seek assurances from the Minister of State that will be important. Will there be opportunity for discussion on the regulations? Will this House have an opportunity to discuss the statutory instruments, both those that have already been passed and those that are proposed, in regulations that are to be enforced under the legislation we are passing today. For example, live music was mentioned, and the question of live music outside where there is social distancing if it is not amplified. We are all getting questions on this. I am being asked if a lone guitar player who is not amplified can play outside. There may be regulations which we feel are not strict enough. I have very serious concerns about the 1 m issue because there is a very strong scientific basis for the 2 m rule and I worry about the slide towards 1 m. It is not about a gesture, it is about science and there is very significant research to support proper distancing.

Many people have raised the issue of ventilation as a core concern that does not seem to be addressed in the regulations. There are huge questions around the regulations which will be effectively enforced through the powers that we are giving today so we need to know that we will have an opportunity to address and discuss those regulations and that that opportunity will be afforded to this House.

Similarly, a simple resolution allowing for an extension that effectively sets another date, on 9 November, will not allow for the kind of nuance and debate and the questions on necessity, proportionality, sufficiency of the regulations and their enforcement. That kind of nuance is not available to us in a simple date setting mechanism but is available to us in actual legislation. If we do not know what the situation might be, if we continue to need special powers, regulations, penalties and enforcement mechanisms after 9 November 2021, it would be within our powers as an Oireachtas to ensure new primary legislation is put through before November 2021.If we are looking to an extension beyond a period of one year, I would prefer that we seek to ensure that we are getting the legislation right. It is not simply about shifting the dates and the goalposts.

I would also like assurance from the Minister of State in respect of the proposed resolution in November. If there is to be a resolution in November, will adequate opportunity be given to all of us to discuss it? When representatives from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties was before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response yesterday, they referred to proposed regulations being notified in good time to the Oireachtas. They also said that if there is a proposal to extend or amend the emergency health legislation in force now, then the legislation should be put before the Oireachtas sufficiently in advance of 9 November to allow for proper scrutiny and consideration, including, if necessary, a debate in which Committee Stage rules would apply. It is important for us to know that such a resolution as may be put before these Houses on 9 November next is going to allow for proper and robust debate and not simply be placed as, say, an item to be taken without debate, with minimal debate or with group spokespersons speaking for five minutes and then a vote being taken. We need to be clear on this. I seek assurances from the Minister of State on the mechanisms of oversight that will be available to us. I also urge that he consider this reasonable amendment. I hope we do not have to extend these powers as far as November 2021 but, as an outside limit, that date is reasonable.


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