Thursday, 1 February 2024
Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2024: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, to delete lines 1 to 4.
Amendment No. 1 seeks to amend section 2 of the Bill, on page 4. Section 2 inserts a new section 6A into the Coroners Act 1962, as amended, and makes a number of provisions.
I welcome this Bill. It contains important parts. The Bill acknowledges the fact that a sunset clause will come in on 21 February regarding Dublin coroners. In particular, that needs to be addressed. I have no difficulty with that. The Bill goes well beyond what it needs to do. The Bill, and many members here will have received correspondence from the Coroners Society of Ireland in this regard, makes fairly fundamental changes to the way the coronial system will operate in Ireland. That is why I have tabled my amendments.
Amendment No. 1 seeks to delete paragraph (c) of section 2, which would insert a new subsection 6B in section 6A of the 1962 Act, as amended. That creates a situation where the Dublin coroner will become a civil servant, with which I have a real problem. The coronial service, as it exists, is a quasi-judicial function. The service conducts inquiries into deaths in Ireland. It is very important that the service has the independence of function of a quasi-judicial personage rather than that of the Civil Service. The Minister, in his Second Stage speech, said very clearly that the legal advice is that this does not impinge on their independence. I do not have a difficulty with the legality of it, but I have a difficulty with the practicality of it. The reality is that a civil servant has a line manager. Whether that person is a principal officer or more senior, so an assistant secretary or whatever, a civil servant is still answerable to someone in a line management capacity in a way that a judicial or quasi-judicial figure is not, and should not be. If we want to maintain a situation where we have a coronial system that is based on quasi-judicial functioning, we cannot have those people acting as civil servants where they are in a management structure and, therefore, answerable to an individual. That is why I propose deleting the proposed subsection 6B, which would make them into civil servants. The reality is that this Bill will make the coronial service into a mere administrative function within a Department. I do not think that is the right thing for the coroner service. I think the coroner service does much more than that and should not be in a situation where it is, and I do not want to say it, "reduced to an administrative function", because there are lots of administrative functions that take place. Where we are talking about an inquisition or an inquiry, it is important that it has a judicial or quasi-judicial function to it.
Amendment No. 2 seeks to delete paragraph (d) of section 2. Again, this paragraph proposes to insert into section 6A of the 1962 Act a new subsection 6C, which deals exclusively with the Dublin coroner, if I have read it correctly. Again, not all coronial districts are the same and some of them are much busier. Obviously the Dublin coroner is the busiest. It deals with the largest number of deaths. It also deals with the fact that the number of deaths being reported has increased hugely in the last number of years, particularly since the 2019 Act, where now, as I understand it, 70% of deaths in the State are reported to a coroner.That is an enormous increase in the volume of work coroners do in districts throughout the country, not just in Dublin, although Dublin obviously takes the bulk of that because there are more people in Dublin and more hospitals and prisons. These are the institutions that often necessitate a coroner's inquiry and as there are more of them in Dublin than in any other district, the Dublin coroner is far and away the busiest coroner.
One of the reasons this Bill has come about is because we have put in place special systems to create deputy coroners and resources to back up the Dublin coroner in order that there will not be a backlog and the work will be done. We know there is a huge backlog and that other systems that are not dealt with in this Bill are creating that problem, including, for example, a lack of pathologists, toxicologists and other background support staff who allow coroners to do their job. As I said on Second Stage, I would much rather see this Bill dealing with those issues than trying to restructure the service.
There is a difficulty in that there is an attempt in this Bill to unilaterally change the terms of conditions of people who are currently coroners. Maybe that is not a problem. Maybe those people will be happy to do that or maybe they will not, and I do not know. However, it is likely to create a problem, particularly where, as I understand it, the current Dublin coroner is not in fact the Dublin coroner but the Cork coroner, who is sitting in that position on an interim or temporary basis, although I am not sure exactly how the appointments work. If, for example, that coroner were to return to Cork, where the person who replaced her is now the acting coroner, that person would be dispossessed of a job. What this Bill does not envisage at all is the impact on individuals who are doing the work of coroners around the country and it does not envisage that those people might well challenge the unilateral change in their personal circumstances.
I am not here to argue for the terms and conditions of coroners. The primary objection I have is the change of the role from one that is quasi-judicial to one that is essentially administrative and part of the Civil Service. That is why I am also proposing the deletion of subsection (d).
Amendment No. 5 is also included in this grouping. It is an amendment to section 10, which is consequential on the amendments I am suggesting here insofar as there is a reference later in the Bill to removing section 15 of the 1962 Act. The Bill states at subsection (1): “Subject to subsection (5) and section 6A(6E)...” Subsection (6E) is created by one of the amendments and I am simply suggesting that that be taken out, so it is consequential on amendment No. 2.
I propose the amendments because the difficulty with this Bill is that, although it does important things from a time-sensitive perspective, it also does more than that, and the phrase “more than that” is the problem. It is going to change the way our coronial system works. It is a system that works very well at the moment and one that I do not think needs to be changed. The changes suggested in this Bill are retrograde and will damage the validity of the system and the faith that people have in the coronial system at the moment.
Senator Ward knows more about this area than I because he works in it professionally as a barrister. Senator Ward, the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, and I are like Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown on tour because we were all councillors in the same local authority once upon a time. While I am always delighted to see the Minister of State, I would possibly have preferred to see the Minister, Deputy McEntee.
We had the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in the House on Tuesday, when we outlined concerns on Second Stage that were brought to me by the president of the Coroners Society of Ireland, Dr. Eleanor Fitzgerald, and I have had other representations since from other coroners. They are concerned not about the part about Dublin getting or needing more coroners, which is a given that everyone accepts, but that this is doing an awful lot more than just that. To be fair to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, he said he would bring those concerns to the Minister, who was to be here today. Unfortunately, she is not here and I am not sure if the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, is as up to speed as the Minister, although possibly he is. We outlined concerns on Tuesday and I hope we might hear the responses to those concerns that Senator Ward has already outlined.
There is genuine concern regarding their quasi-judicial functions and independence. Although it may be a completely unintended consequence, there is a fear that their role and position are being changed from a permanent position to a contract for a fixed term, which may or may not be renewed based on how someone did in the last term. For right or wrong, those are the concerns they have. They may be unfounded concerns but they are concerns that they have raised with us, and it is incumbent on us to get responses, if possible, from the Minister of State, or, if not, ultimately, from the Minister. I understand that we are taking Committee and Remaining Stages and that it still has to go to the Dáil, and if changes are not made here, they may need to be made in the Dáil at a later stage. I would be interested to hear from the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond.
I thank Senator Ward for placing these amendments and thank Senator Horkan for speaking to them. As laid out by Senator Ward, amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 5 propose a revised wording of section 6B of the Act which seeks to overturn the future designation of coroners as civil servants. The Minister is satisfied that there is no inconsistency between the classification of coroners as civil servants of the State and the requirement for coroners to maintain full independence in the performance of their statutory functions. No change has been made in the Bill in relation to the functions of coroners and their ancillary powers. The classification of coroners as civil servants of the State, to which Senator Ward alluded, has been comprehensively considered by the Office of the Attorney General, particularly in regard to the question of independence, and no concerns arise. There are statutory precedents in regard to officeholders who are classified as civil servants of the State and who are fully independent in the proper performance of their statutory functions. Various quasi-judicial or otherwise fully independent officeholders, such as the deputy master of the High Court, the Examiner of the High Court and the Director of Public Prosecutions, are civil servants of the State.
Amendment No. 2 proposes the deletion of four changes to be introduced by means of section 2(6C) to (6F). Subsection (6C) requires that any person to be appointed under subsection (6A) shall not without the consent of the Minister hold any salaried office or position or carry on any other business, trade or profession. This requirement reflects the high level of commitment associated with the role of the coroner in the Dublin district and provides a process for ensuring that any other remunerated work undertaken by the coroner will not unduly impinge on their duties.
Subsection (6D) is a consequential amendment related to the classification of coroners in Dublin as civil servants of the State. It disapplies section 14A as Dublin coroners will be subject to ineligibility provisions applicable to civil servants of the State.
Subsection (6E) disapplies the provisions of the 1962 Act relating to the ability to appoint deputy coroners and coroners appointed in future to the Dublin district. This change reflects the fact that the role of the deputy coroner has, in effect, become redundant in light of the multiplicity of coroners to be appointed for the Dublin district. The retention of the role of the deputy coroner in the Dublin region cannot be justified in light of the need for economies in terms of public resources. Subsection (6E) also disapplies the removal procedures for coroners in the Dublin district as they will be subject to the removal position provisions applicable to civil servants of the State.
Subsection (6F) is a technical measure that seeks to put beyond doubt that the deputy coroner position in the Dublin district ceases with immediate effect. The discontinuation measure expressly overrides any other provisions of the legislation which potentially could be construed otherwise.
In regard to section 10, amendment No. 5 is a consequential technical adjustment relating to the proposed deletion of the proposed section 6A(6E). This amendment refers to the ability to appoint deputy coroners and the disapplication of removal provisions for coroners in the Dublin district. I have addressed this amendment under amendment No. 2.
For the policy reasons I have outlined, I do not propose to accept the amendments.
I understand entirely where the Minister of State is coming from. These are issues that were canvassed on Second Stage and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, probably gave a similar view. I was aware of the opinion of the Attorney General regarding independence. I do not agree that there is a legal impediment to this, and there probably is not, but my objection is based on the practicality of it.
If the Minister of State does not mind me saying so, citing the deputy master of the High Court and the DPP as examples of civil servants who carry out independent functions is not the place that this should go. That is for two reasons. First, the deputy master of the High Court is, of course, not the Master of the High Court, and Master of the High Court is an office that is currently essentially vacant because of difficulties in regard to it. I accept the functions are carried out by a civil servant and member of the Courts Service, who is deputy master, but that is an office that has different problems. Of course, the DPP is in a totally different category, given that she is a statutory officer and, under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974, has a huge degree of independence built into statutory protections, even down to her appointment and the manner in which she is appointed.
I do not deny that these people are independent judicial officers and may be civil servants, but they have statutory powers built into their terms and conditions that give them a much greater level of independence. Nor am I saying that no civil servant could ever act independently. What I am saying is that we have a situation where coroners around the country carry out a quasi-judicial function and they do so with no small degree of excellence, on the whole.They do so very effectively and in circumstances where their caseload is massively increased. I do not see the justification for making them civil servants because, irrespective of what protections we build in to the contents of this Bill, they will be answerable to someone in a way that coroners should not be. That is my considered opinion and that is why I have proposed these amendments. I understand what the Minister of State has said and what the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, said when he was here. I also understand the amendment is not being accepted and, on that basis, I will withdraw it, but I reserve the right to reintroduce it on Report Stage.
Can I make a brief point? The Minister of State alluded to it earlier and it would be good to hear the Government response to the Coroners Society letter. The Government is of the belief there is no issue in terms of the independence of the coroner's role. Is the issue here that they were permanent employees previously or had permanent contracts and now that is being changed? Is that the case, Senator Ward?
Some of that is covered in the next section in the context of amendment No. 3 and I am happy to address it when we get to that point. If there is anything else outstanding, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has undertaken to convey that to the House. She cannot be here today for very serious personal reasons.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 4, line 39, to delete “for one further period” and substitute “for such further periods”.
On what was said about the terms and conditions, there is no doubt this legislation will substantially change the terms and conditions of coroners. It will not only result in them being limited to holding office for five years, it will also reduce to a single time the number of times they can be reappointed. There was reference to three terms but that relates to people who are in situfinishing a term, being appointed for a five-year term and then reappointed for a subsequent five-year term. That is my understanding. There is a degree to which coroners who are in the system will be lost through attrition as they come to retirement, with the exception of the Dublin Coroner who is set apart from the other coroners in real terms. Every other coroner in the country will, I presume, be allowed to finish under the current terms and conditions he or she enjoys. These are more favourable than those being proposed here, including the length of service they are allowed to give. Over time, as those people come to retirement or leave office for whatever reason, the people who replace them will be subject to the new terms and conditions set down in section 3. If anybody is to be changed within the Coroner Service after this legislation passes, any new term will be subject to the new terms and conditions and they are changed and reduced, it is fair to say.
Section 3 essentially proposes to insert a new section 10A into the 1962 Act and it is made up of four subsections. The one I am seeking to amend is section 10A(2) which reads "A coroner to whom subsection (1) applies and whose term of office expires with the passage of time may be re-appointed by the Minister for one further period, not exceeding 5 years". The five-year period is there and I have less of a problem with that because it is entirely reasonable to put a limit on any person's holding of office. It is not that the appointment cannot be renewed but that at a certain point there is a renewal process, an examination of the work done and an opportunity for another person to compete for the position. That is normal and appropriate and is part of the transparent service we have. The difficulty I have with subsection (2) is that the coroner can only be appointed for one further five-year period. That means when this legislation comes to fruition and is fully operational, a coroner can be appointed in Carlow, for argument's sake, in light of the terrible tragedy there this morning, for a five-year period and may only be appointed for a further five years. Therefore, under this legislation, the coroner could only ever serve for ten years.
I have two things to say about that. First, I do not understand why it is necessary. I do not know why we would want a situation where somebody who is doing the job well and who has the skills, competency and experience to do the job is told he or she cannot do it anymore. It seems to me to be relatively arbitrary that a five-year or ten-year limit, depending on the circumstances, would apply to a coroner, notwithstanding that he or she is doing the job well. Second, there is a real risk with this measure that we will run out of qualified people to do these jobs if they can only ever do them for ten years. There is a limited pool of people with the skills, experience and knowledge to do the job of a coroner and we will run through those people relatively quickly if we are limiting their terms to ten years.
The greatest objection I have is that I just do not see the rationale for it. It may well be that it goes hand in hand with the Civil Service element of it but, to my mind, this is a further argument why they should not be civil servants, if the attitude is that it is a temporary position and people move on to the next thing, whatever that might be. In reality, we have coroners throughout this country who have served for many years. Mr. Brian Farrell, who was the Dublin Coroner for years, is the obvious example. He became an authority on the coronial service and wrote the book on the subject, quite literally. Indeed, Coroners: Practice and Procedureis still the definitive guide for coroners throughout this country. He could not have done that if he was only doing the job for a limited period. We allowed a person with great expertise and personal experience to develop a huge breadth of knowledge that he could then share with the rest of the coroners of Ireland through the coronial service. Why are we limiting them? There is no basis for it that I can see. Maybe I will be enlightened by the Minister of State in that regard but I simply do not see the basis for it. The simple amendment I have tabled asks that we do not limit the reappointment number to one, that we do not say they can only be reappointed once. The reality is that with the five-year term built in to section 10A(1), there is a renewal process after five years. There is a reapplication, a re-examination and an opportunity to evaluate how well, or otherwise, a person has been doing the job. Why would we then limit that? Why tie the hands of the State and say we cannot reappoint that person more than once? That is what I am seeking to change. I am not saying we should not have a re-evaluation or a reapplication but they should be able to be reappointed as many times as the Minister sees fit. That gives a Minister the ultimate discretion, rather than tying his or her hands.
On the amendment, I would like to hear the Minister of State explain the rationale behind this. Why is it being proposed to switch from a full-time position until retirement, effectively, to a five-year term? Senator Ward does not have an issue with reviewing people's position and that is fair enough. The fear is some people at the moment are doing their job well and unless something goes wrong or they are called in for improper behaviour or some such, they would be there until retirement, whereas a five-year term, even with multiple terms, means they will not be in situuntil they retire. Furthermore, if they are not playing ball with the system, the fear is their appointment would not be renewed. They are the concerns and I am just wondering why it is being changed from a permanent position to a fixed-term contract.
Amendment No. 3 proposed by Senator Ward seeks to allow the Minister to review fixed-term appointments to the Dublin district on an indefinite basis and without prescribed criteria for such renewals. The Minister's legal advice to date has counselled against the indefinite, successive renewal of coroner positions. Nevertheless, I emphasise that the requirement to retain high-calibre individuals in a highly specialised role is recognised and, with this in mind, the appropriate tenure provisions applicable for future coroner appointments will be further reviewed as part of the overarching reform of the Coroner Service. The appointment of fixed-term coroners for periods not exceeding five years, which may be renewed once, should provide the required level of stability immediately necessary for the Dublin District. Such measures are of an interim nature pending the more substantive reform of the Coroner Service which is under way. Part of the pathway to reform is the public consultation process which concluded on 19 January, and this underlines the Government's absolute commitment to reform the Coroner Service. For those reasons, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 3.
I appreciate what the Minister of State said. Obviously, we do not have the benefit of seeing the Minister's legal advice, and while I accept it is against indefinite renewal, I do not see any legal impediment to that.I see a good practice impediment. Again, I think the notion there is a review after five years solves that problem. You can put systems in place to ensure it is not a rubber-stamping exercise, or it is not the case that somebody continues on the nod and the wink. The Public Appointments Service or some other agency can oversee such systems. I appreciate what the Minister of State has said about the re-examination. I withdraw the amendment on that basis and hope the Minister might consider it in advance of the debate on this Bill in the Dáil.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, to delete lines 31 to 36, and in page 10, to delete lines 1 to 8 and substitute the following: “ “14A.(1) The Minister may decline to appoint, or remove from office, a coroner or deputy coroner if he or she—(a) is, or has been, convicted on indictment of an offence,(2) In subsection (1), “Act of 2014” means the Companies Act 2014.”.”.
(b) is, or has been, convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty,
(c) is, or has been, sentenced to a term of imprisonment for an offence in respect of which he or she was convicted,
(d) has, or has had, a declaration made against him or her under section 819 of the Act of 2014 or is deemed to be subject to such a declaration by virtue of Chapter 5 of Part 14 of that Act, or
(e) (i) is subject to or has been subject to, or(ii) is deemed, or has ever been deemed, to be subject to, a disqualification order within the meaning of Chapter 4 of Part 14 of the Act of 2014 whether by virtue of that Chapter or of any other provision of that Act.
This amendment relates to the eligibility for appointment to office of coroner or deputy coroner and, perhaps more importantly, to disqualification from office. It proposes to insert into the 1962 Act a new section 14A, which sets out a number of criteria which would allow a person to be disqualified from being appointed as a coroner or deputy coroner. Those criteria being convicted on indictment for an offence, being convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty, being sentenced to a term of imprisonment for an offence in respect of which he or she was convicted, or having had declarations made under section 819 of the 2014 Act or Part 14 of the 2014 Act, which essentially relate to other issues.
I have two difficulties in this regard. We have had debates on this subject in this Chamber on a number of occasions. The mere fact that a person has been convicted of an offence does not mean they should never again be able to do certain things. If we are to champion the notion of rehabilitation in our criminal justice system, it ill behoves us to say that because somebody has done X, they may never again do Y. We must leave the door open for those people. I would much rather see the Minister given discretion to disqualify a person. During the appointments process, she should be able to decide that in light of all the circumstances, this is not a person she will appoint. A previous conviction, an indictable conviction, a term of imprisonment, a dishonesty offence, or whatever it might be, may be cited as the reason. I would have no difficulty with such criteria being weapons in the armoury of the Minister to keep somebody out of a coronial office if that is what she thinks appropriate.
I do not understand why we would tie the Minister's hands at this juncture in such a one-size-fits-all manner. We should not deem that there is no room for the Minister of the day to consider the circumstances of a conviction, the extent of the dishonesty or whatever the case might be. If an 18-year-old steals a Mars bar from a shop and gets convicted in the District Court for what is a summary, minor offence, this section provides that he or she can never become a coroner. I am not endorsing stealing Mars bars from shops, I am not saying theft is okay, and I am not saying dishonesty is okay; I am saying we have to leave room for people to have second chances. I am proposing to amend the proposed new section 14A, which provides that "a person shall not be eligible for appointment ...." so that it instead states that "the Minister may decline to appoint, or remove from office, a coroner or deputy, if he or she ...", and it then lists the criteria. This amendment is about rewording the new section 14A to move us from the mandatory to the discretionary. It is about putting our faith in the Minister of the day to be able to make that decision on behalf of the State as to whether someone is an appropriate person. It is not saying that any of these things are okay, because they are all serious matters.
When you put somebody into a quasi-judicial office, the fact that they have a dishonesty conviction, whether for stealing a Mars bar or something more serious, is definitely a mark against them, as is the fact that they might have been convicted of an indictable offence or any of those serious things. However, if it happened 20 years earlier, and since then that person has demonstrated the utmost good character and so on, the notion that we would now say there is no way and no basis on which he or she can be appointed is retrograde. I am suggesting that instead of saying that there is absolutely no way this can ever be done, the Minister can make this decision. I am also giving the future Minister the discretion to say that someone who has previously been convicted of dishonesty or an indictable offence, whatever it might be, will not be considered any further on that basis. There will be no repercussions for the Minister in those circumstances, but crucially the Minister will have the discretion to do that. I think we can trust members of the Government to make such a decision. They are vested with much more significant powers in reality. I do not see why we would tie future Ministers' hands to appoint somebody who might be good at a job because of a younger indiscretion.
I thank the Senator for this amendment, which proposes to set out ineligibility criteria in the new section 14A. The proposed amendment refers to the ability of the Minister to remove a coroner from office, notwithstanding that the revised section 15 of the principal Act deals comprehensively with removal from positions. The proposed amendment furthermore appears to confer a discretion on the Minister to appoint individuals to an office, notwithstanding their ineligibility under section 14A. It should be noted that the revised section 15 of the Act relating to removal from office contains standardised, updated provisions with regard to removal provisions and procedures. Similar provisions have been applied with respect to certain other office holders where safeguarded removal procedures necessitated modernisation and enhanced natural justice safeguards.
It is for those reasons that I do not propose to accept amendment No. 4. I sincerely thank Senators Ward and Horkan for their observations, and Senator Ward for his proposals. Due to the urgency of this Bill and the reasons I have outlined, while I do not propose to accept the last of Senator Ward's suggested amendments, these proposals will be given further consideration during the consultation process on the reform of the coroner service, as already outlined.
I welcome that. I acknowledge that the Minister is not here due to a sad personal circumstance. I am sorry to hear that.
After the conclusion of the Bill in this House and before it gets to the Dáil, and notwithstanding the pressure of the Dublin situation in the middle of this month, it would be helpful and important if there would be some engagement by the Department with the Coroners Society of Ireland and its representatives. It feels a bit left out of the loop for whatever reason. I think it would be helpful for everybody if this were to happen, particularly in acknowledgement of all the society does in the day-to-day running of the system it is involved with. It would be better for relations between ourselves, the Department and the society if there were some engagement between now and when this Bill is brought to the Dáil, which will probably be quite soon. I would appreciate if that could be facilitated
I agree with Senator Horkan that it is important to take on board what the Coroners Society of Ireland is saying. It has written to the Minister and to Members of both Houses. Engagement with it is important. I said this on Second Stage. I know a public consultation was opened by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, in October. I was aware of it. It seems the Coroners Society of Ireland was not consulted. It claims it was not. I cannot say anything beyond what it said in its letter. However, in those circumstances in particular, I think it is important that they be engaged with in advance of the Bill going before the Dáil.
I acknowledge what the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, has said. I recognise the urgency of this Bill. There are provisions in this that need to be passed. There are no two ways about that. I also say the Bill goes beyond that. In this amendment, which I propose to withdraw in a moment, I am doing exactly what the Minister of State has said by giving the Minister discretion. He makes reference to section 15 of the 1962 Act, which is to be amended by section 10 of this Bill. That again deals with dismissals of coroners. I respectfully suggest that is different from what section 14A does. It sets out criteria, but importantly section 15(1) states that the Minister may remove a coroner or deputy coroner from office where he or she is satisfied that one or more of the specified grounds is in place. It states "may", not "shall", whereas section 14A states that this person "shall not be eligible". There is a difference. In fact, if we are relying on section 15, which I have not proposed to amend and which is being amended by section 10 of this Bill, as a precedent for what the Minister should or should not do, it gives the Minister of the day the discretion to remove a coroner on the basis of the criteria. I again have no difficulty with the criteria, in the same way I have no difficulty with the criteria in the proposed section 14A. I have a difficulty with tying the hands of the future Minister. Let us have faith that our Ministers can exercise discretion in a reasonable way. I appreciate what the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, has said. I appreciate that there will be a consideration of the issue, and on that basis I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
I again acknowledge the importance of this legislation. I acknowledge that a sunset clause is coming on 21 February and we have to do something about that. I will say, however, with respect to the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, who has nothing to do with what I am about to criticise, that it is not appropriate to bring legislation such as this to the House and say Committee, Report and Final Stages are to be taken and consideration of the Bill is finished. We were given no time to submit amendments. An 11 a.m. deadline was set for Tuesday, which was before Second Stage. That is not the way to pass legislation, notwithstanding the fact the pressure is on.
I say all the time that when we have amending legislation, it is illegible to an ordinary citizen because the references to the legislation being amended mean a person might have to have two, three or four pieces of legislation before him or her to understand what is being said. I would much rather a situation whereby a section or Bill is repealed and replaced with the entire text so that the person reading the legislation, be it a Member of these Houses or a member of the public, has a clear picture of exactly what the Bill is doing. That is absent from some of the wording in this legislation, including where there is reference to the amendment of the principal Act by the removal of one word and the insertion of another. It requires quite a lot of work to understand what that is actually doing. Given the might of the draftsman's office within the Department and the Office of the Attorney General, it would be far better to include the proposed amended section so everybody can read what is proposed. It is not the first time I have said that. I do not anticipate it will happen anytime soon but it is worth making the point in the context of amending legislation, which is quite important.
I thank the Acting Chair for expediting this Bill, which is important because the deadline is looming. I thank, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond. While he is a capable Minister of State, he is not normally a Minister of State in the Department of Justice. He may not be as familiar with this legislation as others and he has done a good job to steer it through the House today. I thank him for stepping in on behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee.
I reiterate that it is important to deal with the people and representative bodies that are affected, on a day-to-day basis, by the changes that are proposed. It would be worthwhile for the Department and the Minister to talk to them in advance of the legislation moving through the Dáil.