Written answers

Thursday, 11 April 2024

Department of Justice and Equality

Legislative Measures

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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165. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will reflect on the Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 and take into consideration the potential effects it will have on charities, non-profits, and sporting organisations and their ability to fundraise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15752/24]

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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The Programme for Government includes a clear commitment to reform gambling legislation, with a focus on public safety and well-being from both an online and in person perspective. The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 sets out the framework and legislative basis for the establishment of a new, independent statutory body – Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland – and for a robust regulatory and licensing regime to regulate gambling in-person and online, and for the regulation of gambling advertising, websites and apps.

At its core, this legislation is a public health measure aimed at protecting our citizens from gambling harm, including younger people and those more vulnerable in our communities.

The Government recognises and appreciates the hard work of, and services provided by, not-for-profit and voluntary organisations, including the many charitable organisations in this country. In that regard, the Bill provides for a new type of licence that permits gaming, betting and lottery activities for fundraising for charitable or philanthropic purposes, including charities, sporting organisations and local sports clubs.

Neither the Government nor I want to prevent charities from fundraising via lotteries, raffles and other gambling activities. I have had wide-ranging engagement with the charity sector and have listened to their concerns. My officials and I met with 14 individual organisations from the sector in February 2023 to hear their views on the Bill. In addition, my Department has corresponded with over 40 charities in relation to the Bill. A further meeting between Department officials and representatives from the Charities Institute Ireland took place in August 2023 to discuss the Bill.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Bill includes restrictions on gambling advertising, including the introduction of a pre-watershed ban on gambling advertising, which was included as a direct result of a recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice’s pre-legislative scrutiny report (May 2022). In line with that recommendation, section 141 of the Bill provides for a watershed prohibiting the broadcast of gambling advertising on television, radio and on audio-visual media services between the hours of 5.30am and 9.00pm, with a focus on protecting children from the widespread proliferation of gambling advertising across these forms of media.

The Bill does not equate the charity and not-for-profit sectors with commercial gambling operators. Charities may continue to advertise and promote their work in all fora without hindrance. The advertising watershed will only apply to charitable / philanthropic licence holders when advertising gambling activities, and not advertising generally.

It is important to note that charities and other organisations that operate and promote lotteries as part of their fundraising model are already subject to regulation via the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. The Gambling Regulation Bill is a direct continuation of this existing policy, and the measures, albeit modernised, provided for in the 1956 Act and the exclusion of the charity sector from the provisions of the Bill would result in a removal of safeguards and protections that sector has complied with for close to the past 70 years.

It is essential that charities, not-for-profit and voluntary organisations of all kinds and their activities continue to be well regulated, and are also seen to be well regulated to ensure public confidence in them, and that is what the Bill provides for. It is also imperative to ensure that someone cannot operate and offer gambling activities under the guise of a charity, charitable cause or as a sports club. To exclude these organisations from the scope of the legislation, or to reduce its application, would remove important protective legislative safeguards for legitimate organisations, and create a scenario where anyone could apply for a charitable or philanthropic licence to circumvent being subject to the regulation, scope or accountability contained in the Bill.

As I noted at Committee Stage, and following engagement with stakeholders, I intend to bring a number of amendments to the Bill during Report Stage to provide clarification to the advertising provisions and related matters.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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166. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to respond to correspondence and proposals set out by an organisation (details supplied) in respect of the Family Courts Bill 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15768/24]

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy is aware, in November 2022 I set out in the First Family Justice Strategy an ambitious vision for a family justice system that will focus on the needs and rights of children and which will assist their parents in making decisions that affect all of the family. This will be achieved through the implementation of over 50 actions across nine goals, with timelines for delivery up to the end of 2025.

A key part of this plan is the creation of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts the family and children at the centre of its work.

The aim of the Family Courts Bill, which is currently being considered by the Oireachtas, and the establishment of Family Court divisions within existing Court structures is to enable family law issues to be dealt with in the simplest and most cost efficient way, reducing the stress faced by litigants in such cases.

The proposed extension of jurisdiction in judicial separation and divorce cases should be particularly helpful in uncontested cases. Giving jurisdiction to the Family District Court to rule in such matters is considered to be appropriate. Many of the issues to be dealt with by the court, in uncontested cases in particular, will have already been agreed between the parties to the case before they go into court and what remains is the granting of the appropriate order or decree by the court.

Giving concurrent jurisdiction to all three Family Court jurisdictional levels in such cases will enable less contentious cases to be determined in the lowest appropriate Court jurisdiction at a lower cost to Court users.

Among the many goals in the Strategy is to develop better ways to manage, collect and share information within the family justice system while maintaining privacy and dignity for children and parents.

This poses challenges, especially in family law, where maintaining privacy and dignity for children and parents is so important and indeed, legally required.

A key action within this goal is the research my Department is commissioning to examine the operation of the in-camera rule and recommend changes to it

My Department issued a request for tender for this research and preparations are under way for contracts to be signed.

Once commenced, the research is expected to take six months to complete.

This new research will also examine any practice from other jurisdictions which could be applied in the Irish context. We need to ensure transparency, certainty and the continued protection of both the families involved in family law proceedings and the professionals who may engage with them.

An important goal in the Family Justice Strategy is to promote more co-operative, less adversarial, more sustainable, ways for individuals, children and families to try to resolve disputes. This goal contains a number of actions relating to the role of mediation in family justice.

The Courts Service has, as part of its family justice work, provided on its new Family Law Information Hub information on the potential for use of mediation in family law.It also signposts mediation on guardianship, custody, access and maintenance court forms.

As part of the Strategy, the Legal Aid Board has provided training to its staff and those of the Courts Service to inform members of the public on mediation and the services available. It also provides a private panel of family mediators to supplement the vital work of the Family Mediation Service.

In 2022, the Legal Aid Board introduced an Advanced Family Mediation Trainee Programme to train mediators to work in the family mediation area and to meet the current eligibility criteria to apply for a position as a family mediator in the Legal Aid Board. Entry to the training was via a recruitment competition, which was advertised nationwide. Nine trainees completed this programme in 2023.

My Department engages with stakeholders an ongoing basis on the issue of family justice reform and examines all submissions received including those received recently from Safe Ireland. Officials of my Department have previously met with Safe Ireland to discuss issues relating to the Family Courts Bill. Submissions received on the Family Courts Bill are being considered, and any amendments found to be necessary and appropriate will be introduced.


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