Thursday, 23 October 1969
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan) asked the Minister for Justice if the Government will indemnify Meath County Council and the ratepayers of County Meath against malicious damage claims arising out of the recent burning of buildings in that county.
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Justice what measures he proposes to take to relieve the ratepayers of County Meath of the enormous burden of payments which they will face this year for malicious damages to farm property and equipment which is generally believed to have been caused by people who were not from the county at all.
Mr. Moran: We shall see if we get the answer. Under existing law, local authorities are liable for the payment of malicious damage awards. There is no provision whereby this liability may be met in whole or in part from State funds. The interdepartmental committee which, some years ago, considered the question of amending the malicious injuries legislation recommended, inter alia, that local authorities should continue to be liable for the cost of meeting claims. Proposals for legislation, which I have had prepared on the basis of the Committee's report, have recently been approved by the Government and I hope to be in a position to introduce a Bill on the subject in the not too distant future. This will afford Deputies an opportunity of discussing all aspects of the matter.
Mr. Bruton: I have two supplementary questions to put to the Minister. Does the Minister not realise that it is considered to be the policy of the illegal organisation which is generally conceded to have been responsible for these burnings that its activities in a given area are to be carried out by people who are not living, and hence not known, in that area? Therefore it is likely that the atrocities referred to were committed by people who are not Meath people at all. Therefore, it is extremely unjust that the ratepayers of Meath should be asked to pay for acts committed by people who are not natives of Meath. Further, does the Minister not agree that the original basis of the general liability for malicious injuries resting on county councils was that in earlier times, when travel was much more restricted, it was then very likely that if malicious damage took place it was perpetrated by a person from that county? Nowadays, however, with improved transport, it is no longer likely, if malicious damage occurs in a given county, that the perpetrator is a native of that county. Therefore, it is unfair to impose this liability on the particular county in which the damage takes place in view of the fact that it is not likely to have been committed by a native of that  county. Would the Minister, therefore, not consider making this a national charge on the grounds of ensuring justice between counties?
Mr. Moran: I cannot accept the suggestion in the Deputy's first supplementary question. I have not proof that no local people of that county were not concerned in this outrage. As far as the second supplementary question is concerned, as I said in reply to the question, the House will have an opportunity of discussing this matter shortly when the Bill comes before it. I am aware that there are two views on the question of whether local authorities should or should not be liable for malicious damage. That argument has gone on for a long time. Taking the average for the county, it is only about one penny in the £: this is, taking one year with another over a period. I have said that this committee unanimously recommended that it should still be a charge on local authorities. However, the Deputy and the House will have an opportunity of expressing their views. There are arguments pro and con but this is not a suitable time to go into them.
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