Friday, 18 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage
I welcome the Bill. We recently had statements on exactly this issue and the Bill was discussed extensively on that occasion as well. This is very important legislation and I will not repeat what other speakers have said about its import. Suffice it to say that most people find it astonishing that this kind of activity is not already against the law. We are behind the curve on the matter.It is right and proper that we should correct that this week, so I look forward to the passing of this Bill into law.
I wish to comment on the fact that this is a Private Members' Bill. It is a tremendously important function of these Houses that legislation comes forth from Members other than those in the Government. I acknowledge that it has been amended somewhat in the Dáil, but to a great extent the Bill that was drafted by Deputy Howlin, with the assistance of the Law Reform Commission, stands and will become law. We should mark the importance of that. All too often, Private Members' Bills from this and the other House are brushed aside. There was an improvement in that regard in recent years, particularly in the previous Houses when there was a need, perhaps, to engage more with the Opposition. Both Government and Opposition Members have an equally valid opportunity to put forward legislative proposals and I welcome the fact that this is one such proposal that makes sense and has been championed by the Government.
I pay tribute to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, in that regard as well. In fairness, she came to the House for statements recently and she did a great deal of work on this Bill in the committee. It is a tribute to her, as has been said by Senator Bacik, that she has taken this legislation on board and agreed to bring it forward and champion it in some respects. It is not possible for an Opposition Member to do that to the same extent.
I also acknowledge the content of the explanatory memorandum. Senator Bacik quoted the final paragraph of the background section on the first page in which specific provision is made for this to be called Coco's Law. I am aware of the extraordinary campaigning Jackie Fox has done on this subject on behalf of her late daughter, but also on behalf of the myriad victims of this type of behaviour across the country. It is appropriate that we acknowledge that, and credit is due to the Minister for flying in the face of convention, to a large extent, to make provision in the explanatory memorandum to specifically acknowledge this as Coco's Law. It is only a convention and there is nothing to stop us calling it Coco's Law in the Title of the Bill. However, that is more of an American affectation and, unfortunately, I associate that behaviour in America with much more reactionary, populist legislation, as opposed to this legislation, which is incredibly important and grounded in fact and in an identifiable problem. The fact that it is in the explanatory memorandum is an important recognition of Nicole Fox and what she went through and of the campaign her mother launched in this respect.
I will not go into the details of the Bill. In specific sections some of the changes that have been made by the Department in the drafting are, perhaps, unnecessary. They are done now and I do not propose to try to undo them on Committee Stage. However, I return to the point I was making about Private Members' legislation. When something is drafted a particular way and it does the job, it does not have to be written in the Department's style for it still to be perfectly legal, correct, justiciable and functional in the context of prosecutions. I slightly resist the desire sometimes of the Government and the permanent government, if I can put in those terms with the greatest respect to the people who keep the country going, to write things in a Bill in the official form. It can make it more wordy, less accessible but no better in real terms to what was drafted in the first instance.
Finally, I wish to make a comment in respect of what I said earlier about the Law Reform Commission. This is a perfect example of where Members of the Oireachtas have an opportunity to make the best of what the commission does. The commission is a State body that makes recommendations on legislative changes. It provides incredible reports that are very detailed and bring forth the benefit of extensive research and consideration of legislative changes. It also publishes consolidated legislation. Reference is made to many legislative measures in this House, but they are amended all the time. The Law Reform Commission publishes consolidated legislation on its website for the benefit of everyone. It is free of charge for everyone as well. The commission produces reports time and again, on budget and on time. It is remarkable for that fact because it is not an enormous organisation. The fact that Deputy Howlin, no more than any Member of this House, can benefit from that expertise, professionalism and depth of understanding is extraordinary. I encourage all Members to engage a great deal more with the commission, take on board its suggestions and bring forward Private Members' Bills such as this, which identifies and solves a problem that very clearly exists.
It is wonderful the Bill is here and that we are making progress. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, for the work he has done and for coming to the House, and all Members for allowing this Bill to pass quickly today. That is exactly what should happen.