Interpretation Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Thursday, 14 November 2002

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 557 No. 3

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Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Tá an-áthas orm an Bille seo a chur os comhair na Dála and to move the Second Stage debate of the Interpretation Bill, 2000, and to outline its purpose and content.

Most Acts and statutory instruments contain definition or interpretation provisions. They seek to make the legislation concerned more coherent by reducing the need for repetition. They also allow legislation to be shorter and improve clarity. Some interpretation matters arise time and again in legislation. Because of their general application, these have from time to time been gathered together and included in an interpretation Act, which is then applied to all subsequent Acts and statutory instruments. In addition, general rules for interpretation of legislation have been developed by the courts over the years and continue to be developed. They form the part of the law that is called judge-made law or the common law. These general rules have often been given statutory effect, sometimes with improved clarity, in interpretation Acts.

Most jurisdictions have some sort of general interpretation enactment that applies to its written laws. These general interpretation enactments provide a means of setting out rules that govern how the provisions of its written law are to be construed and include defined terms that are commonly used. The first general interpretation Act was the Interpretation Act, 1889. Its purpose was twofold: to simplify the reading of statute law by deleting from each statute and statutory instrument standard definitions and phrases and to improve the clarity of legislation by giving statutory effect to certain standard principles of statutory interpretation developed by the courts. These remain the key purposes of any interpretation Act.

Apart from minor amending Acts, major Interpretation Acts were enacted in 1889, 1923 and 1937. The Bill proposes to repeal and replace all of the former Interpretation Acts except the Interpretation (Amendment) Act, 1997. That Act deals with the enactment of statutes which abolish common law offences and is left as a stand-alone Act as it is not relevant to the interpreta[670]tion of most Acts. Spent and obsolete provisions, such as definitions that are no longer applicable to the interpretation of legislation are not being re-enacted in the Bill.

The last major Interpretation Act was enacted in 1937. That it has stood the test of time is indicative of its success. However, a new Interpretation Act is necessary to deal with changing circumstances, including constitutional and statutory developments since 1937. It is also necessary for four other reasons. First, to provide new definitions to terms frequently used nowadays in statutes and statutory instruments; second, to consolidate provisions that have been added by Interpretation (Amendment) Acts since 1937; third, to modernise the language used in the Interpretation Act and, fourth, to take account of developments in statutory interpretation by the courts.

The Bill further simplifies the matter for those who have recourse to the Interpretation Act. The practice of having to examine one of three sets of Interpretation Acts, depending on the date of passing of the Act to be interpreted, will not be necessary. Because of the proposed repeal of all previous Interpretation Acts relating to statute law, the new definitions, which are set out in the second part of the Schedule to the Bill, will apply only to Acts and statutory instruments made after the Bill is enacted and comes into operation. The Bill also contains safeguard provisions to prevent the application of a reworded definition if it causes legal anomalies or absurdities when being applied to an existing Act or statutory instrument. The safeguard provisions also preserve the effect of obsolete definitions that have been omitted from the new Act.

Apart from the standard preliminary and general part, Part 1, the Bill is divided into five other parts. Part 2 is new and includes miscellaneous rules to assist in interpreting enactments. Part 3, dealing with citation, operation and commencement of enactments, reflects current law but clarifies a number of matters in that law. Part 4 and the Schedule deal with the meaning and construction of words and expressions. Again, it reflects current law but incorporates a large number of new matters and omits obsolete definitions. Part 5, powers and duties, and Part 6, amendment of enactments, in general reflect existing law but in more modern language. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill identifies in detail all the new provisions.

In July 2000, shortly before this Bill was published, the Law Reform Commission published its consultation paper entitled Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law. In December 2000, the Law Reform Commission published its report on that matter. In the context of the consultation paper and the report, discussions have taken place between the commission and the Attorney General's office, including the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government. It was indicated to this House on 26 June 2001 by the then Government [671]Chief Whip who stated: “Aspects of the Report will be reflected at Committee Stage of the Interpretation Bill”. Accordingly, I intend moving a series of amendments on Committee Stage to deal with issues arising from the Law Reform Commission's consultation document and report. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude, and that of the Attorney General, to the Law Reform Commission for all of the assistance and help it has provided in this matter.

An interpretation Act is an invaluable tool for those who draft, use or interpret our laws. It helps by eliminating the need for standard interpretation provisions and definitions to be set out extensively in every new Act and statutory instrument which effectively would clutter up the Statute Book. The absence of general principles of interpretation from each individual Act and statutory instrument allows our laws to be read more easily. It also ensures a coherence of interpretation across the Statute Book that would not otherwise be there. Those who draft, regularly read or interpret our laws can do so with more precision and confidence when the basic rules and definitions of interpretation are of general application, are clearly set out in an Interpretation Act and are well known and understood.

Although the Bill is of a technical nature and of interest primarily to the legal community, I feel it is very important. It will effect a much-needed modernisation and simplification of the language of the rules and definitions found in the former Interpretation Acts and add new rules and definitions. This will have a positive knock-on effect for the drafting and interpretation of our legislation.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I hope this Interpretation Act has the same lifespan as its predecessor. We will not be around if this Bill has as long a life span as the last Act, given that it was enacted in 1889. I welcome the Minister's presentation of the legislation. It is important that we regularly update our procedures and it is necessary to have interpretation, regular review, examination and amendment, where necessary, of legislation. With the passage of time and the build-up of case law arising from legislation, the Law Reform Commission has ample time to make its submissions and to point out the areas where change is needed and where expedition and clarity is required.

It might be best to have an annual update instead of the current system. If a review took place on an annual basis which sought to bring to the House a new interpretation Act specifically applicable to the year in question, the Bill would not have to be as broadly based. It would be recent in its examination of the legislation and more receptive to the needs that arise from case law. That would be more effective than consolidation over a number of years. I have often seen, as has the Minister, how a query can arise about the use of language or the meaning or interpretation of the law. That can arise during the normal [672]course of the judicial year or because of peculiar circumstances.

The Minister spoke of the need for clarity regarding the law and legislation. It should be mentioned that we dealt not long ago with another Bill modernising the language used in legislative texts. One would have to have considerable time at one's disposal to figure out what the draftsman originally intended when many Bills were first drawn up. That is fine but raises other issues, and the courts or other institutions that apply or interpret the Acts at a later stage may be confused as to what was really meant when the legislation was first produced. That should be recognised in the context of this Bill because interpretation can be affected greatly by the language used.

When legislation is put through the Houses and comes into force with regulations appended, it may be found that its application is vastly different to what was intended by the draftspersons and the Members of this House in their debate on the Bill. Reference has often been made to debates in this House. I remember working with a well known and eminent public servant who, in order to determine the meaning of a particular Act, would always refer to the debate in the House. You will be glad to know, a Cheann Comhairle, that he at least recognised where the inspiration should come from. He also referred to the Minister's regulations or statutory instruments which can have a huge bearing on the intention of a piece of legislation.

I hope this Bill will generate enthusiasm and interest in the updating of the interpretation of legislation and in increasing clarity. I am hopeful that there will be a clear recognition that the interpretation, whatever it may be, should bear some similarity to what was intended when Members spoke in the House, and when they expressed a point of view to accommodate a particular issue. It is important to note that this is a technical Bill to embrace a series of other legislative measures. However, it has wider implications in that it can affect those other measures in a positive or negative way depending on its application.

It would be helpful if the Minister over the next 12 months kept an eye on similar legislation to determine whether the measures being put in place are adequate to meet today's requirements. This may require a more immediate annual or bi-annual response and I am interested to hear the Minister's reply.

The Minister made reference to clarity and to spent and obsolete provisions and definitions which will no longer be applicable with the introduction of the Bill. That is as it should be as we must move on. There are modern interpretations of the legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and the Oireachtas should be able to respond to current needs. We should not have to wait to be prompted from any quarter. The Oireachtas is where legislation originates and, therefore, it is where we should deal with improvements and the [673]creation of a more consumer friendly legislative environment.

The passage of time and the build-up of interpretations may require an immediate or more long-term response. That is a matter on which the Minister of State might like to comment. I sincerely hope in the case of all general legislation which has come before the House that there can at some time be a provision in the interpretation legislation which takes account of what the original initiators of the legislation appeared to have in mind. If too long a time is allowed to elapse before a review or revision takes place, it is possible for matters to become vague.

I welcome this technical Bill and hope it has the effect intended. I also hope we are still Members of the House when the next Interpretation Bill is published.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  The Bill was published in 2000 and has taken some time to come before us. I note from the Minister of State's comments that she intends to move a series of amendments on Committee Stage to deal with issues arising from the Law Reform Commission's consultation document and report. To the best of my knowledge, when the Bill was first published the consultation document had been published but not the final report. One of the issues I intended raising in discussing the Bill was the importance of taking on board the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission.

The most significant innovation in the Bill is that it places on a statutory footing a rule for interpreting statutes. This is set out in section 5 and provides that, where a provision is ambiguous, obscure or on a literal interpretation absurd, or would fail to reflect the plain intention of the Oireachtas, the courts may interpret the Act in accordance with the plain intention of the Oireachtas as derived from the text of the Act as a whole. This sounds reasonable and represents an attempt to move away from the traditional judicial attitude that law-making is an invasion by Parliament into the courts' control of the common law, that every statute should be given a narrow and mean construction and that it is no function of the courts to assist the Legislature by interpreting the laws in a way that makes practical sense or reflects what Parliament intended.

The common lawyers' attitude of regarding every new statute with suspicion is what has resulted in our style of law-making where every provision is spelled out in laborious detail and every contingency is envisaged and provided for. Nothing is left to chance because, if any difficulty arises, the courts cannot be relied upon to help out. The traditional view has been that the Oireachtas knows what it is doing, knows the meaning of the words it uses and that the courts should therefore base their interpretation on the words used in their ordinary meaning. Second-guessing, along the lines of “they could not possibly have meant that, they must have meant this” is not considered a judicial function. In fact, it is [674]seen as being a usurpation of the legislative function.

Depending on one's point of view, this is either a triumph of legal form over the dictates of justice and common sense, or an insistence on the basic principle that, regardless of the outcome in certain cases, law should be written so that it is predictable and certain rather than being made up as we go along.

Arguably, the new provision represents a shift of power from the Oireachtas to the courts. The Oireachtas is presumed not to know what it is doing whenever there is an obscurity, ambiguity or absurdity or, more generally, when the words used do not reflect the plain intention of the Oireachtas as ascertained from the Act taken as a whole. There is no proposal to use Dáil and Seanad debates. The courts can now fill in the gaps.

Opponents would argue that this is a licence for judicial legislation. They would say that, in principle, if one believes in the sovereignty of Parliament under the constitutional separation of powers, the rational cure for any defect in an Act should be an amending Act. They would query whether a self-respecting Parliament should pass a Bill to give the courts power to decide that the literal interpretation of that Parliament's enactments should be departed from if they think this is necessary to give effect to an implied but unstated intention of Parliament.

The alternative view, arguably more realistic, is that the detail and complexity of much modern legislation is such that the average legislator does not even attempt to get to grips with it, especially if it outside his or her own brief or area of interest. In this view, Deputies and Senators are not so much the authors of legislation as bystanders, with only limited capacity to intervene and listen to a conversation taking place between the Executive, via its draftsman, and the law courts. There is something slightly bogus about grandiloquent references to “the intention of the Oireachtas” in passing a specific statute. There is also something unattractive about a system of justice which places a premium on the ability of legal advocates to spot defects in legislation that can be exploited to their clients' advantage.

Specific points arise from this provision. One is that it should be made clear whether the Bill is intended to cut across another traditional principle or to abolish it, namely, that of strict construction of penal statutes. In other words, a criminal law or some other law which trespasses upon major legal rights should be read literally. If the State wants to put someone in prison, it must do so in clear language. This is a significant protection for human rights and is in line with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights that a person should have proper notice of the criminal laws.

Another point is that it should also be queried whether the placing of this principle of interpretation on a statutory footing is intended to give rise [675]to the presumption that other canons of statutory construction, some of more respectable vintage but which have not been so elevated, are being effectively abolished.

Another point is that the new Bill, including the principle of construction, would apply to all laws whenever enacted, including laws enacted under different presumptions as to the rules of statutory interpretation. Can we be sure that the interpretation of statutes would not be affected, even where their interpretation has been previously argued and there is now well settled law on the question?

The Statute of Uses, 1634, as interpreted, and only as interpreted, is the cornerstone of the modern law of trusts. On any other interpretation than the one the courts have given it, the edifice falls apart. The specific purpose of that statute was to execute every trust and thereby pass full legal and beneficial title to a person vested with property to hold in trust for another. Despite this, that statute has deliberately been interpreted in a way that wilfully fails to give effect to the intention of its promoters. Presumably, the passing of new interpretation legislation is not intended to re-open a question that was resolved almost 400 years ago. One could cite other examples.

There is also the point about including the issues raised by the report of the Law Reform Commission. I have already raised that with the Minister of State and I add it to the list of points I have made.

The Interpretation (Amendment) Act, 1997 is not included in this legislation and the Minister of State referred to this fact. She said it was not included because it is a stand-alone issue. Is it also being excluded because it was questioned in the High Court and subsequently in an appeal to the Supreme Court?

Part 2 of the Schedule lists only a further eight expressions which the draftsman considers are so commonly used in statutes, invariably with the same definition, that their definition can be set out once and for all in the Interpretation Act rather than being repeated in every statute in which the expression arises. Is there some reason in principle that the list could not be added to? I imagine there are more than that number of expressions commonly used and repeatedly defined in different legislation. Examples would be “civil servant”, “the Central Bank”, “contravention”, “enactment” and so on. A number of terms are defined in different legislation.

The central question I raise apart from the other more minor ones is whether the supreme makers of law are the legislators or the courts who interpret the law. It is important that we do not hand over too many of our powers to the courts. It is primarily our responsibility as legislators to make laws and write them as clearly as we possibly can so that the courts can interpret them rather than re-interpret them.

Obviously a number of amendments will be tabled by the Government and others on Com[676]mittee Stage and this will give an opportunity to tease out these areas. They are important in terms of the separation of powers between the Legislature and the Judiciary. We will also table amendments on Committee Stage on other technical issues.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I wish to share time with Deputy Sargent.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  This is a complex, technical and legalistic Bill which is challenging for anyone other than a trained lawyer. There is no queue of speakers waiting for time on this Bill and I am not surprised. My party and I support a proposal that would be valuable and progressive, especially in the context of legislation such as this. The proposal is that consideration should be given to the establishment of an office of law officer to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The chief legal adviser of the government under the Constitution is the Attorney General. In recent years we have heard repeated calls for the opinion of the Attorney General and his advice to the Government on various matters of public importance to be published. These calls have generally been met with refusals from the Government, which is regrettable. In most cases there is no reason why such advice should not be made public. The role of the Attorney General is primarily to advise the Government on legal matters and he is not directly answerable to this House. As legislators we need an officer in the Houses who would be available to advise Members, and it is obvious that all Members would require this assistance, on the full legal implications of legislation and other matters with which we must deal. This would enhance our role as law makers and as representatives of the public interest. I make this point in the context of this Bill which is concerned with the interpretation of legislation. It is something all Members of this House and the Seanad should consider and support and I urge the Minister to take it on board.

I have no difficulty with the Bill as presented. It is a sane and sensible measure which should facilitate both the legislative and judicial process. Anything which contributes, even in a small way, to the simplification of the legal process and that makes it more expeditious is welcome. We have a long way to go in that regard. The legislative and legal systems need to be opened up and made more accessible to citizens.

I take this opportunity to echo some of the comments of my colleague, an Teachta Aengus Ó Snodaigh, when he spoke on the Statute Law (Restatement) Bill. Labhair sé ar stadas na Gaeilge ó thaobh reachtaíochta de. Is scannal é nach bhfuil reachtaíocht ar fáil i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla. Ba chóir go mbeadh cothromaíocht ann idir Béarladóirí agus Gaeilgeoirí. Tá sin sa Bhunreacht ach ní chuirtear i bhfeidhm é. Legislation [677]could and should be published in both Irish and English. This should include Bills, statutory instruments and Acts of the Oireachtas. The laws of the State should be made available in both languages simultaneously. The State has gone backwards in this regard since the practice of simultaneous translation was ended in 1980.

In the case of Ó Beoláin v. Fahy last year the Supreme Court condemned the failure of the State to provide official Irish translations of laws. I remind the Minister and the House of what Mr. Justice Hardiman said. He said that the current situation was “an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution”. The Government and the Oireachtas are in dereliction of their constitutional duty towards the Irish language and the Irish language community. We should give the lead on this. Not just the legislation but the explanatory memorandum and all the associated material is in English only.

I understand that at present there is a 20 year gap between publication of the Acts of the Oireachtas and statutory instruments in English and their translation into Irish. This is farcical but serious. It is unacceptable and it must be addressed and reversed in the context of the forthcoming Official Languages (Equality) Bill.

I hope the points I have raised will be taken into account although they come at somewhat of a tangent to the legislation before us. Most importantly, they are relevant points to this House and its role. I look forward to further elucidation on this legislation on Committee and Report Stages and hope to have another opportunity then to raise some of the important matters which have been referred to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  For the information of the House, following the recommendations of the DIRT committee a law officer has been appointed to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Ba mhaith liom bhuíochas a ghabháil don Teachta Ó Caoláin as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. This Bill is technical and seems limited in its interest and directed at those in the legal profession. It is interesting to take stock as a Parliament of how the interpretation of Acts has progressed down the years. It is interesting also to hear the Minister talk about the various years in which we have had previous Interpretation Acts, in 1937, 1923 and 1889. I have been looking back before that at what I might also call Interpretation Acts and I will mention them shortly.

When I heard 1937 mentioned it struck me as a historic year in the development of Parliament and our laws. The Constitution came into being in that year. Mar gheall ar Airteagal 8 sa Bhunreacht, tá suim faoi leith agam agus ag go leor daoine eile sa Teach sa stadas a thugtar don Ghaeilge. Bhí an stadas sin ann ó 1922 faoi Bhunreacht an Saorstáit ach ag féachaint siar ar bhealach, is léir gur botún a bhí ann sa Bhunreacht 1937 nach raibh an foráil maidir leis an Ghaeilge [678]i bhfoirm chirt; dearbhú a bhí inti. Fágann sin a lán daoine míshásta leis an bhéalchráifeacht faoin teanga. Tá muid ag dul siar i ndáiríre ó thaobh cur ar fáil reachtaíochta sa dhá theanga agus dátheangathas a chur ar fáil do shaoránaigh na tíre.

Ba cheart dúinn athbhreithneamh a dhéanamh agus gníomhú de reir an Bhrunreacht mar tá seo soléir in Airteagal 8º:

1. Ós í an Ghaeilge an teanga náisiúnta is í an phríomhtheanga oifigiúil í.

2. Glactar leis an Sacs-Bhéarla mar theanga oifigiúil eile.

3. Ach féadfar socrú a dhéanamh le dlí [agus tá muid ag caint mar gheall ar dhlí anseo] d'fhonn ceachtar den dá theanga sin a bheith ina haonteanga le haghaidh aon ghnó nó gnóthaí oifigiúla ar fud an Stáit ar fad nó in aon chuid de.

Is léir nach féidir a rá go bhfuil deis ag an bpobal gníomhú de reir Airteagail 8.3º. Is ceist sin do na cúirteanna freisin ach de bharr nach bhfuil cearta luaite sa mBunreacht, tá leisce ar go leor daoine dul os comhair na cúirte. Tá ról faoi leith ag an Rialtas sin a cheartú agus ba cheart á dhéanamh roimh i bhfad.

Idir an dá linn, áfach, tá muid ag leanúint ar aghaidh ag caint ar an gcuspóir mar a bhí sé i bhfreagra Dála i 1988, nuair a dúradh linn gur cuspóir náisiúnta é an Ghaeilge a athbheochaint agus go bhfuil tacaíocht leanúna tugtha don aidhm sin ag Rialtais éagsúla thar na blianta. Is beag tacaíocht atá ann i ndáiríre má tá muid ag caint fá aitheantas a thabhairt nó cupla rud deas a rá anois is arís. Ní féidir a rá go bhfuil athbheochán ar bun.

It is quite interesting to see how Irish law has developed and how it was before that. After the Elizabethan Wars and the flight of the earls in 1607, we could probably say we had English law in this country. What we are talking about now is a development and legacy mainly from those times. More recently it has been modernised out of all recognition to the Elizabethans.

The book, “A Guide to Early Irish Law” by Fergus Kelly from the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, gives a sense of heritage and longevity to what we are discussing. It mentions somebody who could be seen as a legal officer, but not to the Oireachtas, in 1602. He was known as a Brehon and his name was Patrick McEgan of Corbeg, County Longford. One could say he was appointed a law officer and his role was that he had licence to “prosecute and punish by all means, malefactors, rebels, vagabonds, rhymers, Irish harpers, idle men and women and other unprofitable members”. Clearly things have changed and I hope Irish harpers are not considered in that category any more, whatever about rhymers.

It is interesting to note how some issues do not change that much. I hear many people bemoaning the fact that shops are open on Sundays, which [679]have become quite secular and seem to be considered no different from any other weekday. Before the Elizabethan Wars in Brehon times it is interesting to read the Cáin Domhnaigh, which is the Sunday law. It says:

The treatment of the offence of working on a Sunday relies on principles, which have been unable to discern in other law text and they are: the offender not only pays a fine for working on a Sunday of four dry heifers, but also forfeits whatever clothing and other property, including a horse, which he may have with him at the time of the offence. The witness who takes legal action against him is entitled to receive half the fine.

In no other law text are witnesses offered such a strong inducement to come forward. Cáin Domhnaigh is correspondingly severe on the witness who fails to report a violation of Sunday who had to pay as heavy a fine as the offender himself. There is clearly a change of emphasis today. I am sure the courts would be bulging if there were any revisitation of that law.

If we were to look at O'Connell Street, Dublin, on a Sunday there might also be a need to look at the law governing damage to trees.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  One could not tie ones horse to a tree.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  It says “to cut trees is counted as human trespass” although it does not state whether someone has to be living in the tree at the time. It states:

Trees and shrubs are organised into four groups of seven in accordance with their economic importance. The fine due for cutting one of the most valuable trees, the seven nobles of the forest, is five sets. The culprit also has to make restitution. If he cuts a branch, this is a yearling heifer; if he cuts a fork or a large limb, this is a two-year-old heifer; and if he cuts the tree at the base, this is a milch cow.

Dublin City Council would need quite a herd available to it to pay the penalty on that offence.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Is chaining oneself to a tree an offence?

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I think that would get a reward. Tá sé suimiúl féachaint siar ar stair cúrsaí dlí na tíre seo. Beidh an dlí seo mar chuid den stair fhada sin agus feicfimid cé chomh fada agus a bheidh sé go mbeidh Bille nua eile mar seo ann. Is Bille teicniúil é seo agus le cúnamh Dé beidh an dheis glactha ní amháin oifigeach dlí a cheapadh ach go mbeidh sé in ann a rá go bhfuil an dlí ar fáil as Gaeilge agus as Béarla agus nach mbeidh ar dhaoine dul os comhair na cúirte chun a gcuid cearta ó thaobh teanga de a bhaint amach.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  During the debate on [680]this Bill, it was mentioned that when passing legislation people might be forced to look at the substance of the debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas to interpret it. I hope nobody in future tries to interpret from our debate this afternoon what exactly is meant by the Interpretation Bill, judging by the range of topics we have discussed here. Were people to interpret any legislation, the written word could never capture the enthusiasm, strength of voice and vigour that can be demonstrated by some Members in this House. That, of course, would all be lost in the interpretation of just the written word, which is why it is important to have legislation like this.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  We could put a footnote saying the Members were ecstatic about this.

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  It could say the Member was very enthusiastic about this proposal, which is the importance of having an Interpretation Bill. It will become an Act that will be of particular benefit to lawyers and those interpreting legislation. It should not be the case that people in this House feel it is outside their remit or capability to be able to discuss it. Our job is to be national legislators. We have to prepare legislation, making sure it includes the policy for which we stand and then make it available to the people in such a way that it can be applied. Any legislation we introduce to assist that is obviously important. Taken in tandem with the restatement Bill, which was introduced a few months ago, it shows the need not only to simplify and update the law, but also to update the interpretation of it.

I thank the Deputies who contributed. Deputy Durkan spoke about the need for an annual Interpretation Act but amendments are sufficient as the need arises. Interpretations do not change that often. If one examines the list of words that are defined and explained in the legislation, one wonders why they are being explained at all because they are in regular use. They interpret and define what a week is – some people start it on a Monday, others on Sunday morning. It defines what a Minister of State is. I do not know whether it is possible or necessary to define what a Deputy is but then who could? We are all so different.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  That is an important piece of interpretation.

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  It even goes so far as to define what swearing is, so it makes one wonder regarding the words that have been chosen. However, for the purposes of law, it will simplify matters for those who use it.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for her learned address and the questions she raised. We will be able to refer to some of those important matters on Committee Stage. She asked why the Interpretation Act, 1997, was excluded. The reason is because it relates to unwritten law not to statute law, so it is not relevant in this case. She asked [681]why some terms were defined and not others, particularly the word “enactment”. I understand the word can have different meanings concerning different matters. For instance, it can refer to the Constitution in some contexts but not in others. It does not have a general application so it was not included. The Statute of Uses of 1634 pre-dates the Interpretation Acts of 1893, 1923 and 1937 and, as indicated in my speech, this Bill will not impose new interpretations on existing acts. I note the significant number of issues that the Law Reform Commission raised and I will be examining those on Committee Stage when we can debate them fully.

Don dara huair sa Teach seo tá muid ag caint faoi thábhacht na Gaeilge agus an tábhacht ag baint le reachtaíocht a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge. Glacaim go hiomlán leis. Tá bearna fada ann idir reachtaíocht a bheith ar fáil i mBéarla agus ansin i nGaeilge. Dúirt an Teachta Ó Caoláin 20 bliain; ar a laghad tá 10 mbliain ann. Tá aistritheoirí nua, áfach, tar éis bheith fostaithe sa Teach chun na hoibre seo a dhéanamh. Aontaím gur chóir do dhaoine a gcearta a bheith ar fáil sna cúirteanna ach tá súil agam nach gá d'achan duine a gcearta i nGaeilge agus iad os comhair na cúirte. Ba chóir go mbeadh daoine in ann Gaeilge a úsáid.

Tá súil agam go bhfeiceann an saol lasmuigh go bhfuil i bhfad níos mó Gaeilge á labhairt sa Teach seo ná mar a bhí le blianta anuas. Tá neart Teachtaí le Gaeilge agus tá formhór díofa sásta a gcuid a úsáid ach, faraoir, ní fhaighimid mórán poiblíochta mar gheall air sin. Sin a fáth nach labhrann an-chuid daoine Gaeilge. Ní gá a bheith ag feithimh le reachtaíocht ná dhul os comhair na cúirte chun na Gaeilge a úsáid. Ní féidir linn ach dea-shampla a thabhairt.

Tá Bille na Gaeilge ag teacht ar aghaidh. Tá an tAire Ó Cúív tar éis an Bhille sin a chur ag barr an liosta reachtaíochta a chur os comhair na Dála agus beimid ag obair air go luath. Cuirfear fáilte roimhe agus nuair a chuirfear os comhair an Tí é agus beidh an-dhíospóireacht againn ar an Ghaeilge i gcoitinne. Tá a fhios againn uilig cad é atá le déanamh.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  An bhfuil dáta ag an Aire Stáit leis an mBille?

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Níl go fóill. Bíonn cruinnithe againn go rialta leis an gCoiste Reachtaíochta ara mbíonn Airí agus Oifig an Ard Aighne ag féachaint conas is féidir linn an reachtaíocht seo a chur ar fáil. Tá sé ar bharr an liosta cinnte. Tuigeann an Teachta go bhfuil suim agam féin ann. Cabhraíonn sé go mór nuair a bhím i mo chathaoirleach ar an gcoiste.

The translation of the Bills is one thing, legislation is another. It is significant, in the context of making legislation, that today we have passed the Second Stage of three Bills in this House. Despite all the other work which is going on – including the valuable debates on tribunals of inquiry and the Book of Estimates next week – we can still legislate. This is the job we are elected [682]to do. We will continue to introduce legislation into the House and to consider our ideas carefully on Committee Stages.

With the Interpretation Bill, 2000, we must ensure that those who go on to use it can understand what is meant by it. It is a legal document so the contribution of the Law Reform Commission is valuable and greatly appreciated because we need the views of the users of legislation. I look forward to taking this Bill to Committee Stage which will be taken in the same committee as the Restatement Bill, so the Bills will be backed onto each other at the finance committee. Perhaps those Deputies who contributed so ably here, including Deputy O'Sullivan, can raise their amendments and suggestions there. I thank Deputies for their consideration.

Question put and agreed to.


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