Thursday, 24 September 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
This Bill is being introduced within the context of broader work on better regulation in Ireland as articulated in the 2004 White Paper, Regulating Better. This work encompasses measures to address both the "flow" and the "stock" of legislation, with the ultimate aim of reducing regulatory burdens both on business and the citizen.
The introduction of regulatory impact analysis in 2005 has provided a means for the flow of legislation to be managed more carefully. It requires Departments to engage in consultation and to assess all the relevant costs and benefits of various options in advance of bringing forward legislative proposals. In parallel, significant progress has also been made in recent years on the stock of existing legislation. For example, the Government has committed to reducing existing administrative burdens on business by 25% by 2012 and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is overseeing the programme aimed at achieving this target.
Considerable work has also been done on the consolidation of legislation in high-profile areas such as land law and company law. A specific statute law revision programme has been pursued by the Taoiseach and the Attorney General to remove obsolete legislation from the statute book and to modernise Irish law.
Statute law revision refers to the process of removing legislation from the Statute Book that has lost its purpose and relevance. The term “Statute Book” is a loose and non-technical term referring to all primary legislation — statutes or Acts, as they may be called — and secondary legislation — orders, regulations, rules, schemes and by-laws — that have not been repealed or revoked. Much material remains on the Statute Book simply because of inertia and this material is obsolete or has long since served its purpose. However, until it is actually removed, it will clutter up the Statute Book.
The continued presence of redundant legislation is misleading for the user who may believe by virtue of it simply remaining on the Statute Book that it still has some modern effect or relevance. The user of the Statute Book may have to undertake the time-consuming task of carefully analysing a statute only to come to the conclusion that it is obsolete or spent. Accordingly, the removal of legislation which has lost any practical utility or is obsolete helps to modernise the Statute Book, leaving it clearer, shorter and more accessible.
On another level, the reform of our Statute Book is an expression of this country’s independent, democratic outlook. It is not appropriate that laws from the pre-independence era remain in force here indefinitely. This Bill is a further step in a process that will ultimately see pre-independence legislation removed from the Statute Book, even though some of it will be reproduced in a modern form and in language that more appropriately reflects the conditions of a sovereign, independent Ireland in the 21st century.
The Statute Law Revision Act 2007 was one of the most innovative Acts of recent years. This House will recall that it expressly repealed more than 3,000 statutes and was the largest such Act either before or after independence. Upon its enactment, it repealed more Acts than the total number of public general Acts passed since independence. It has brought clarity for the first time to the public general Acts enacted prior to independence by listing in Schedule 1 all public general acts not repealed. This central feature of a scheduled “white list” of Acts not repealed has again been adopted in the present Bill.
The Statute Law Revision Bill 2009 is the third measure in the current phase of statute law revision and deals with private Acts up to and including 1750 and local and personal Acts up to and including 1850. While the 2007 Act dealt with public and general Acts, a significant number of local and personal Acts and private Acts remain on our Statute Book. This is part of the general body of statute law which continued in force by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Article 50 of the Constitution of Ireland.
Private Acts and local and personal Acts together with public general Acts encompass the three categories of primary legislation. The 2009 Bill will do for private Acts enacted before 1751 and for local and personal Acts enacted before 1851 what the 2007 Act did for the public general Acts enacted before independence.
Private Acts are those concerned with the affairs of a single individual or body. They are enacted under a different procedure entirely from that used for public and general Acts. The private Acts listed in the Bill include many naturalisations, referred to as “denizations” in some of the earlier Acts, which amounted to approvals of marriage settlements and divorces. The Bill contains a number of private Acts enacted by the Irish Parliament between 1534 and 1750. At the time when these private Acts were enacted most would have been in manuscript form and not printed. By 1922 the original papers of the old Irish Parliament were kept in the Public Records Office situated in the Four Courts complex. Unfortunately, the original texts for the private Acts did not survive the destruction of the Public Records Office in 1922. Extensive efforts have been made to track down copies of the texts of these Acts but despite this it has become apparent that for several of them no text remains in existence in any form. Records of the subject matter of many of those private Irish Acts indicate that they are now spent or obsolete. However, because of section 27 of the Interpretation Act 2005, any rights, privileges or obligations that may exist under those Acts would be saved when those Acts are repealed. Consequently, it is proposed to repeal those private Acts up to 1750 for which no surviving copy can be traced.
Local and personal Acts are concerned with matters affecting a very limited section of the community such as a single local authority, local area or company. Local and personal Acts were published in a separate series between 1797 and 1922. Prior to the enactment of company registration law in 1844 and the introduction of limited liability for companies in 1855, most commercial companies were incorporated by an Act of Parliament. While local and personal Acts and private Acts are not of general application in they way public general Acts are, they still require careful analysis to identify those with ongoing relevance.
The statute law revision project under the ambit of the Office of the Attorney General has carried out extensive analysis, research and consultation prior to the publication of this Bill. Some 3,182 pre-1750 private Acts, including 175 private Irish Acts, and 7,543 pre-1850 local and personal Acts make a total of 10,725 Acts potentially coming within the scope of the Bill. Of these, some 8,965 Acts were assessed as not applicable to Ireland. Of the applicable Acts, 138 have been identified as not suitable for repeal because they contain provisions which may have ongoing relevance. The remaining 1,351 Acts have been assessed as suitable for repeal on the basis that they are spent or obsolete. As with the pre-1922 public and general Acts dealt with by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, it is intended that the private Acts and local and personal Acts that did not apply to Ireland will be implicitly repealed by their not being saved and referred to in Schedule 1 to the Bill.
Each of the 10,725 Acts within the scope of this Bill, were individually assessed. Except for the Irish Acts this was carried out in respect of their applicability to Ireland. The assessment was also to determine whether they had already been repealed and those deemed applicable to Ireland and not repealed were analysed to determine their suitability for repeal.
An Act was deemed to apply if it had a tangible connection to Ireland. As a result of this cautious approach, some Acts appear in the Bill that on a reading of the short title or subject matter alone, do not appear relevant to Ireland. These Acts were deemed to be applicable as they contain provisions relating to Ireland. For example, some Acts applied to Irish ships, or to all ports in the United Kingdom or contain a provision which allows the Act to be enforced in the Irish courts of the time. Other Acts related to the status of persons born outside of the United Kingdom and provided that they were to be deemed natural born citizens. As Ireland was part of the United Kingdom at the time of the passing of the Acts in question, these Acts automatically apply to Ireland.
A cautious approach was also taken in the decision whether an Act was suitable for repeal. Acts are only listed for repeal where they are obsolete or spent. If it became apparent that any of the provisions of an Act may have some ongoing relevance or effect, the Act is being retained. As already indicated Irish private Acts for which no copy can be traced are proposed for repeal but this will not affect the saving provisions for right, privileges and obligations, etc. contained in section 27 of the Interpretation Act 2005.
The decision to repeal or retain an Act was taken in conjunction with a process of consultation. For all Acts listed in the Bill, the statute law revision project engaged in widespread consultation with all Departments and local authorities. Relevant semi-State bodies and other parties were also consulted on individual Acts. Public notices were placed on the Office of the Attorney General’s website and in several newspapers. The complete list of the subject matter and short titles, if any, of all pre-independence private Acts and local and personal Acts is also available on that website. Including the 10,725 Acts considered in the context of this Bill, there are 33,333 pre-independence private Acts and local and personal Acts listed on that website. The consultation process formally ran from September 2007 to 13 February 2009.
Before I outline the main provisions of the Bill I recognise that what I have read through is riveting to most people but there may be some interesting snippets. I commend the people who worked on the Bill. I realise Deputy Deasy and others have a background in history and given the day that is in it — this may be of interest to the Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O’Connor — it is interesting to note that one of the many Acts coming within the scope of assessment for the Bill dates from 1814 and is related to the commons situated at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Thereafter access to the green was restricted to the public. However, in 1877 Sir Arthur Edward Guinness was responsible for the re-opening of the green to the public owing to his financial contribution. That Arthur Guinness was the great-grandson of the Arthur Guinness being celebrated internationally today. The Bill covers much of the period during which Arthur Guinness was alive between 1725 and 1803. Many of the Acts would have impacted on him and his business. I recognise the Acting Chairman was born in the shadow of the great edifice associated with the company. I refer to a local and personal Act of 1901 not covered by this Bill, namely, the Dublin St. James’s Gate Brewery Tramways Act 1901, which authorises Arthur Guinness and Son & Company to construct tramways in connection with the St. James’s Gate brewery. The Act required the company to remove snow from the track and prohibited the company from carrying anything but its own traffic.
Another interesting Act is that of 1726 enacted under George I and it related to the naturalisation of George Friedrich Handel and others. This Act provided for the naturalisation of George Friedrich Handel and others and it extended to them all of the duties, rights and privileges of natural subjects of the kingdom of Great Britain as if they were born in said kingdom. I refer to another Act of 1826 enacted under George IV. The American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company Act amends an earlier act for facilitating steam navigation between the United Kingdom and the continent and islands of America and the West Indies. The earlier Act created the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company. The purpose of the Act was to facilitate the beneficial removal of the surplus population of Ireland to a healthy and thinly-populated country.
The Prince of Wales and Trinity issue is probably in the public domain. The 1714 Act enabled the Prince of Wales to qualify himself in Great Britain for the legal enjoyment of the office of Chancellor of the University of Dublin. In Schedule 1 there are many Acts relating to old railway lines and routes, some of which have been opened again. If Deputies have time for it, it makes absolutely fascinating reading.
I will go through the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides definitions of local and personal Act, private Act and relevant statute. The definitions of the series of statutes are necessary to distinguish them from statutes of a public general nature which are not affected by the Bill. It can be noted that definitions relate only to statutes and therefore do not include charters of a local and personal or private nature; thus, such charters are not revoked by the Bill.
Section 2 is a central feature of this Bill and will provide for fundamental clarification and simplification of the Statute Book by explicitly repealing all local and personal Acts up to and including 1850 and all private Acts up to and including 1750, with only two exceptions. These exceptions are the Acts listed in Schedule 1, that is the local, personal and private Acts still relevant and the pre-1922 Acts which have already been saved by Schedule of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 and which are still in force.
It is necessary to include reference to the public general Acts in order to ensure that the scope of this Bill dovetails with that of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. Some of the Acts in the 2007 Act were published or listed both as public and private Acts.
For reference purposes, section 3 provides for the list in Schedule 2 or statutes revealed by section 2 which are wholly or to some extent applicable to Ireland. Section 4 will assign Short Titles to any Act saved by section 2 which does not already have a Short Title. Section 5 makes provision for the amendment of any unconventional or inappropriate Short Titles in respect of Acts saved by section 2 in order to facilitate the citation of these Acts in future.
Section 6 provides for standard saving clauses for clarity, as with the Statute Law Revision Act of 2007. Reference has also been inserted to the application of statutes in order to ensure the saver clause is wide enough to preserve statutes which have been applied to Ireland by statutes repealed by this Bill. Subsection (2) of section 6 is designed to preserve the status of bodies which may have been established by a charter made consequent on a statute which is being repealed by this Act.Section 7 provides for a Short Title and collective citations, and these are standard form provisions.
Schedule 1 provides a list of pre-Independence statutes for each period concerned which are not being repealed. Those periods are before 1 January 1751 for private Acts and 1 January 1851 for local and personal Acts. Schedule 2 lists the Acts specifically repealed by the Bill. These are the Acts which, while applicable to Ireland, have been identified in the course of the review as appropriate for repeal because they are spent, have become obsolete or are otherwise unnecessary.
Other local and personal Acts and private Acts for the periods concerned that do not relate to Ireland or have only a tenuous and indirect connection with Ireland will not be included in Schedule 2 but will be repealed by virtue of the general repeal provision in section 2. Accordingly, this approach — also adopted in the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 — will clarify as to the repeals relevant to Ireland and greater transparency with respect to relevant repeals.
This Bill, in tandem with the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, constitutes one of the most extensive statute law revision programmes ever undertaken anywhere in the world. This Bill when enacted will, for the first time provide a complete list of all private Acts up to 1750 and local and personal Acts up to 1850 that have not been repealed. I am quite satisfied, from the work undertaken by the statute law revision project, that the Acts specified in Schedule 2 to this Bill are no longer necessary, their purpose having ceased. The time has come to remove them from our Statute Book and with it to take a step closer to our ultimate aim of a clear, concise, coherent and accessible Statute Book which reflects the needs of a sovereign, independent and democratic state in the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.
Deputy John Deasy: I am delighted the Minister of State found his connection to Arthur Guinness as he was looking for it feverishly all morning. It is fair to assume we do not have any difficulty with this Bill, as initiated, to repeal 1,351 spent and obsolete Acts. It has been characterised as one of the most extensive clean-outs of legislation and considering we were colonised for so long, one would expect to be left with thousands of spent and obsolete Acts as a remnant of British rule, dating back in this case to the early 16th century.
Was it absolutely necessary to have this process? The underlying reason for it was that it would increase the certainty and clarity of the Statute Book, both for business and the citizen, and it would help to identify remaining legislation which can then be consolidated or rewritten in a modern format. Is it the case that these private Acts and public and general Acts were in some way confusing the administration of other statutes? I am not sure. When the Minister of State wraps up the debate, I would like him to go through the cost of this process, which takes in this and previous Bills.
This is not just a piece of technical legislation for me as it is also a slice of Irish history spanning 400 years. It represents 400 years of European history. People may call me a nerd — I have a history degree — but I find some of this fascinating and all of these statutes have their own stories. The Minister of State has already outlined some of these.
It begins in the reign of Henry VIII, with Acts regarding the liberty of the county of Wexford and Acts creating weirs upon the Boyne or building walls and making defensible the town of Navan. Most people would still find it incredible that statutes made by King Henry VIII are still part of the law of the land in this country. People would not expect this, although it is the case.
There is an Act from 1542 which concerns Lady Parr’s children, making them illegitimate. I wonder if that is Catherine Parr, who married King Henry VIII in 1543 and who, more important, avoided getting her head chopped off. In Elizabethan times, there was an Act in 1575 naturalising 12 citizens of Antwerp. I do not know who those people were but they were extremely lucky because in the following year, Antwerp was plundered by Spaniards and 6,000 citizens of the town were massacred. This is an interesting piece of European history.
The legislation takes in the reigns of James I and Charles I and we get a sense from these Acts of the kind of turmoil which existed in Ireland during the 17th century in particular. In the reign of Charles II, one can see Acts such as that restoring honours, manners, lands and tenements in Ireland to people like the Earl of Inchiquin. This Act caught my eye as he was a flexible character, a Protestant and one of the several commanders who played a semi-independent role in the confusion which followed the Irish rising in 1641. He took up arms against the Catholic confederation and inflicted several defeats upon it in Munster. He was passed over by Charles I for the presidency of Munster, something which he expected. He joined the parliamentary side — that is, Cromwell’s side — in 1644 and won an important victory over the confederation troops near Mallow in 1647. The following year, he rejoined the royalists but was driven into exile when Cromwell landed in Ireland. Charles II conferred an earldom upon him in 1654, he converted to Catholicism and fought for the French. During the restoration, and as the statute explains, his Irish lands were returned to him. He was, by all accounts, an expedient and very flexible fellow, and was probably very representative of the times in which he lived.
One also obtains from the Bill an impression of how divided Irish society was in the past. It contains numerous references to Protestant issue — namely, Protestant children. We must remember that in 1641 Catholics owned approximately 60% of the land of Ireland. By 1776, Catholic land ownership stood at 5%. This is evidence that a land grab of extraordinary proportions had occurred.
I only obtained my copy of the Bill at 10 p.m. last evening. However, it contains details of a number of interesting statutes, such as that relating to the granting to two individuals of sole use of an invention for the benefit of shipping. The invention in question was a lead sheathing for ships’ hulls which would prevent the growth of barnacles. There is also an Act from 1700 which facilitates the separation of James Earl of Anglesea from his wife Countess Katharine by reason of his cruelty. It is interesting that some 309 years ago, the Parliament legislated for a specific instance of domestic violence.
I also discovered an Act to enable John Viscount Molesworth and Richard Molesworth to make leases in respect of lands near Stephen’s Green and Dawson St. in County Dublin which were in their possession. The Houses of the Oireachtas stand, therefore, in what used to be Molesworth field and the Act in question relates to land which, almost 300 years later, is the most expensive piece of real estate in the country.
As the Minister of State outlined, the Bill also details Acts that were introduced for the purpose of naturalising certain individuals such as Mainhardt, Duke of Leinster, whose father was second in command at the Battle of the Boyne. Mainhardt was the first Duke of Leinster and this Parliament occupies what was his family’s house. From the reign of William and Mary, there is an Act for the naturalisation of Henry de Nassau, a general who lived in London, in Overkirk House, which is now known as No. 10 Downing St. Another Act relates to the naturalisation of Prince George of Denmark, which had to occur as a result of the fact that he was married to Queen Anne and had to be made a British subject.
I find the legislation fascinating from a historical point of view. I like to take meaning from something of this nature, namely, a Bill that represents 400 years of Irish and European history. I have a degree in history and another in law but I do not believe one needs either to take some meaning from the legislation, particularly at a time when we were about to decide the direction this nation will take with regard to Europe. It would be no harm to remind ourselves of our history when we are about to decide whether our alliance with Europe will be as strong as it has been for the past 36 years. It is also worth reminding ourselves that there was a period — not that long ago — when Irish people were subjects and took orders. At that time, Ireland had no appreciable and definitive alliances with other European countries and was, as a result, completely powerless to determine its own fate.
My point is that small nations such as Ireland gain strength through their relationships with other states. In Ireland’s case, such relationships might be that with the United States, which developed on foot of the intense historical links brought about through emigration, or those with other European countries, which came about through our economic ties within the framework of the EU.
As people consider how they intend to vote on the Lisbon treaty, this matter becomes particularly important. History has shown us that our growth and our strength as a small island nation lies in giving ourselves options. Our future does not lie in some kind of forced isolation or in a departure from those ties we have developed during the past three to four decades. The alternative is a scenario which promises only vulnerability and the shutting off of our options as a nation of Europe. People should consider this country’s history and our society’s origins before they get sucked in by bogus arguments regarding the benefits of isolationism.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: I commend the Attorney General and his office on the methodical work they have done on this project, which is evident from the information provided on this website. I dealt with phase 1 of the project during my time in the Seanad not so long ago. As I recall, I contributed to the debate on what became the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. The process employed by the Office of the Attorney General appears to be extremely good and methodical, involving public consultation, openness and accountability. In my view, that is very much the way to go about drawing up legislation of this nature.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: In such circumstances, I found the legislation extremely interesting. It brought out the nerd in me. I spent much of this morning trying to find as many references as possible to Lucan in the Bill.
Will the Minister of State indicate whether the historical documents listed in the Bill are available to view on-line? If all of the documents are available, they should be placed on-line in the same way previous census results have been. The documents to which I refer detail Ireland’s history when it was part of the United Kingdom.
As already stated, I searched the Bill for references to Lucan and I discovered a number of English private Acts which refer to Agmondisham Vesey, who is a key figure in the history of Lucan. For example, there is an Act from 1702 which relates to the estate of Agmondisham Vesey and his daughters, Ann and Henrietta, in Kildare and the sale thereof for payment of debts and empowering him to make leases. In addition there is an Act from 1711 which relates to the confirmation to Agmondisham Vesey and his children of the benefit intended by the Act of 1702 passed for their relief. There was obviously a difficulty with the 1702 Act.
I consulted a document relating to the history of Lucan which indicates that Vesey married Charlotte Sarsfield, the inheritor of the line of the Earls of Lucan. She married Agmondisham Vesey, the second son of the most reverend John Vesey, archbishop of Tuam, who went on to become a Member of Parliament for Tuam and perhaps also for Kildare. This relates to the aforementioned two Acts because Agmondisham Vesey married William Sarsfield’s daughter, Charlotte. However, she died not long after the marriage, leaving him two little daughters from one of whom the present earls of Lucan descend.
The history of Lucan relates that “Agmondisham Vesey had long and troublesome negotiations with the Crown regarding his title to the Lucan property, which required for its settlement more than one Act of Parliament”. Obviously, the aforementioned two Acts of Parliament reflect the trouble he had in settling his estate in favour of his two daughters, Ann and Henrietta, which is highly interesting. Moreover, his son, who shared the same first name, went on to design Lucan House, which is now the site of the Italian Embassy and is of course an example of great architecture in Lucan. It is very interesting to read such information and I hope this material is available for further examination. I was unable to find it on checking the Attorney General’s website this morning and would be interested to learn the up-to-date position regarding this aspect of the documents.
In addition to its historical value, this legislation also is valuable because as the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, has noted, it cleans up Irish legislation in terms of what Acts one must consult when trying to ascertain which law applies. Although Deputy Deasy questioned the value of the legislation, it is valuable because it reduces the amount of time that must be taken by everyone, including solicitors, barristers, legislators and judges, to establish what is the law. It is evident that tidying up the Statute Book helps in this regard and saves both time and money.
This leads me to comment briefly on the role of Members as legislators. People continually cite the need for Deputies and Senators to act as legislators, which of course is a highly valuable part of their work. Members should be doing more in this regard and should spend more of their time in the House as legislators. As both a Deputy and previously as a Senator, I have always considered that the most valuable contributions I have made in this House have been when dealing with legislation. That is the time when the Government sometimes takes on board amendments I have tabled or points I have raised. I bring to my role as legislator my experience as a local public elected representative. Being a legislator is not about acting as though one were in an ivory tower, it is about being a representative. As an elected representative, one empathises with one’s constituents, talks to people on the ground, meets people in one’s clinics and one then brings one’s experience as a public representative to bear when considering legislation. One has a better idea as to how legislation will affect people in practice and what will be its consequences. This is what being a legislator is about and it is intrinsically tied to one’s work as a local representative. I note that one of the two professors of politics in Trinity College published an article on this subject in The Sunday Times recently. While his first name is Michael, I cannot remember his surname.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: It was either Michael Marsh or Michael O’Farrell. His point was that rather than taking away from Members their local role as public representatives, that role should be enhanced because it informs their role as legislators and is valuable. This is the reason they are elected. The people elect politicians to represent them and Members should bring their knowledge of and empathy with their constituents to their work as legislators.
Although I qualified as a solicitor, I do not work as one at present and did not do so for very long. Consequently, the viewpoint I bring to legislation is that of a public representative for the people rather than that of a lawyer. This is the reason Members require the legislative expertise of those in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the barristers in the Office of the Attorney General.
Members also need the expertise of the Law Reform Commission. This issue was discussed during the debate on the last Bill and I formed the opinion that the Minister might have suggested that he did not intend to abolish it. I hope this is the case because the Law Reform Commission produces valuable work. I presume it had an input into this legislation and was consulted in this regard by the Office of the Attorney General. I have dealt with highly complex Bills drafted by the Law Reform Commission that I never could have drafted as a Deputy, including the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act that was passed just before the summer recess. In addition, the Law Reform Commission drafted the Bill that has been introduced into the Seanad on multi-unit dwellings and how to legislate for management companies of apartments and so on. This is a highly complex area of the law and the Law Reform Commission has done valuable work in drafting a Bill which can be brought to the Houses to enable Members to consider the practicalities as to how it will affect their constituents and those in their constituencies who live in apartments.
In this regard, statements have been made by a number of prominent people about the value of the work of the Law Reform Commission. For example, the High Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, spoke recently on the value of the commission’s work in the context of the importance of law reform, especially when it involved the human person. She stated:
She noted that as a judge and barrister, she had occasion to draw on the reports of the Law Reform Commission, which had created a huge reservoir of information on where the law stands. Another person who has spoken on the value of the Law Reform Commission’s work is the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. James Hamilton. He observed that in the past, the State had paid through the nose for not keeping its laws up to date and stated that a great deal has been done by the Law Reform Commission. Moreover, it has been reported that Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness has complained and has stated that it was highly unfortunate that the McCarthy group had not spoken to the commission. She told The Irish Times that the commission already worked to a Government-mandated reform agenda and that each of its programmes of law reform was agreed with the Government. Moreover, I understand that the Law Reform Commission has stated that 70% of its reports end up in legislation. Consequently, its abolition would be very short-sighted. It demonstrates how such a one-dimensional approach was taken when the McCarthy report was drawn up. It simply considered how to save money and did not consider the other costs to society, were certain bodies to be abolished or were certain jobs or services within the public sector to be cut.
As for how legislation in this House is approached, the Bill is important in the context of streamlining legislation and eliminating unnecessary Acts from the Statute Book. However, there is a need to take a more strategic approach to legislation in this House in future. The manner in which legislation has been dealt with in recent years has been poor. While there have been periods during which no legislation passed through the House, they have been followed by periods at the end of a session when it is rushed through without an opportunity for Deputies and Senators to have a proper input into it. There should be a programme of legislation for the year and not simply a list of Bills issued by the Chief Whip, which sometimes ends up being essentially an aspirational document that bears no resemblance to reality in respect of the introduction of legislation. Members should know when they are going to deal with blocs of legislation in this House. Deputies should have plenty of time to prepare for debating on such legislation. The point made about the National Asset Management Agency Bill to the effect that its Committee Stage should be debated in this Chamber should apply to legislation in general because the media pay no attention to the legislative work carried out by the Dáil in the committee rooms. It would be better if it was done here because legislation would be seen to be done in public and could be reported on by the media.
I commend the work of the library and research team, which has started preparing summaries on the background to legislation. This is very valuable work by the library and research section, which I used when preparing to speak on this Bill. The document it produced was very informative about the background to this Bill.
I refer to regulation because this measure is part of the White Paper, Regulating Better. That White Paper incorporates a view of regulation and Deputies across the board have bought into the idea about regulation in recent years, but it has led to our economic crisis. We view regulation as a bad thing when we have too much regulation, or as a necessary evil to moderate excesses. That is a value-laden view of regulation linked to the view of light touch regulation where one should not interfere with business, which is part of the free market idea that has led to the collapse of our economy and all the land speculation and financial gambling that underpinned it. There was also the idea of individualism, acting for the benefit of the few rather than all of us as stakeholders in society.
We need a more positive view. The White Paper sets out six principles for better regulation but does not mention values. Laws are there to instil values in how we organise our society and our economy. When we implement laws and regulate it reflects the values of our society. We update laws to reflect modern values. Values are political and there are good and bad values. We have had too many bad values in much of the regulation of business over the past decade. Our legislation must incorporate good values concerning the common good, decency and how we look after and respect our fellow human beings. A core value we should insert in our legislation is equality, something that is in our Constitution and in the declaration of independence and the democratic programme. Core values from when we founded the State should inform our laws and regulation. We have had too many other values that failed us. One of these values was lauded by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, who spoke about inequality as being necessary and a good thing. So many of our policies in recent years have been about promoting inequality. Tax cuts and tax shelters favoured the most well-off to the greatest extent. We have had growing inequality. We have had many good things over the past 12 years but many laws and Government policies have underpinned inequality. In dealing with problems we must ensure that our laws and regulations underpin equality in our society and in our economy.
When we regulate for business, we should do so to ensure that business is done for the benefit of all of us as stakeholders in society. When business makes profit it does so at our expense, using our resources and our public services. The banks use our money, taxpayers’ money. Will that be used for our benefit as stakeholders or for the shareholders of the bank? We must ensure that laws from now on benefit all of us as stakeholders and the common good. This legislation is valuable in tidying up the statute book but much work must be done in introducing new legislation in areas such as better regulation. We should have a new set of values for Irish society so that we do not get into this mess again.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I welcome the Bill, recognising that it is a necessary item of legislative housekeeping. I do not intend to keep the House long. The Bill is chiefly of interest to legal historians and family historians, given the nature of some of the Acts dealing with the naturalisation of individuals and the disposal of private estates. It is an interesting perusal but I would not call it a read. One’s attention is grabbed by a number of entries on the long lists, which go back to 1534. A large number of them deal with land ownership and inheritance. There is also much to do with seizure, reminding us of the long history of upheaval, plantation and confiscation, particularly in my province of Ulster. No. 9 of George II refers to places I know very well, Emyvale and Glasslough in County Monaghan and the sale of lands by Robert Leslie. The Leslie family still has an estate in Glaslough and the family members are valued members of our community. Less fondly remembered is Sir Charles Coote, the English general who was responsible for fearful massacres of the Irish in the 1640s. The Cootes gave their name to Cootehill, County Cavan and one of the Acts to be repealed, No. 11 of George II, relates to a descendant of Charles Coote, also called Charles Coote.
I have a specific question about five of the Acts to be repealed, namely the Ulster Canal acts of 1825, 1828, 1829, 1831 and 1836. The call for the full restoration of the Ulster Canal has long been an important issue and one with great potential for the economy of south Ulster and the island as a whole in terms of indigenous inland waterway traffic and the attraction the connection between Loch Neagh and the Shannon system represents for boating enthusiasts throughout Europe. I repeatedly raise this matter and I have no hesitation in doing so again. I am happy to record that this is a flagship project arising from the goodwill, hope and expectation generated by the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. I recently attended a meeting organised by the Blackwater partnership in Caledon, County Tyrone, attended and addressed by a cross spectrum of politicians north of the Border. Representatives from all parties in this House elected in the neighbouring constituencies south of the Border attended. There is unanimity on the importance of moving ahead with this project. We must fully realise the potential of tourism and the unique features of Ireland that attract visitors to our shores.
The Schedule to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Act of 1998 defines the Minister’s responsibilities with regard to canals and refers to the Ulster Canal Act 1825.
To cut to the chase, what is the effect of the repeal of the 1825 Act and the Acts of 1828, 1829, 1831 and 1836 which I already mentioned? Perhaps there is none. If that is the case I would very much appreciate an assurance in that regard. The definition of the Ulster Canal remains as the 1998 Act is still in force, but my sole concern is whether the repeal of the 1825 Act has any implications for the status of the existing trough of the Ulster Canal as we have known it or the restoration of the canal. Have all the legal aspects of that been checked to ensure we are on safe ground?
The Acts to which I refer are included in Schedule 2 of the Statute Law Revision Bill 2009. The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill states, “The remaining 1,351 Acts have been assessed as suitable for repeal on the basis that they are spent or obsolete”. Will the Minister of State assure me that the five Acts relevant to the early days of the Ulster Canal are, as the memorandum describes, spent or obsolete?
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey): I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. As many speakers stated, the Bill suits those who are interested from a legal and an historical point of view. If I had realised that Deputy Cyprian Brady would be in the Chair I would have mentioned the Anna Livia Bridge that was approved for construction and the approval of lighting on what is now Parnell Square. Much of this type of interesting information is contained in the legislation referred to.
Today’s debate is a timely reminder of the better regulation agenda which is being overseen by the Taoiseach. Deputy Deasy correctly asked why this is being embarked upon. There is a commitment to reduce the cost to business by 25% by 2012. It is a significant job to modernise and reform the Statute Book and make it accessible and user friendly. The costs are borne by the Office of the Attorney General and I thank the team in that office who worked with people in the Department of the Taoiseach. They have lived with this project for some time. Members of the team are coming to the end of the project and are moving on and I thank them for their work. Deputy Tuffy spoke about values and how legislation is worked up and this will inform much of our discussion, and that of our successors, in years to come.
The Bill, when combined with previous Statute Law Revision Acts will represent one of the largest statute law revision programmes undertaken anywhere in the world. It is an important step in our efforts to increase the transparency of our statute book and complements the ongoing work to consolidate and modernise post-1922 legislation. This addresses Deputy Deasy’s question on whether the exercise is necessary.
I am anxious to ensure that as much information as possible on the Bill is available to Deputies, particularly on Committee Stage. If Deputies have specific queries on any of the Acts listed for retention or repeal, I and departmental staff will be more than happy to provide the relevant summary information on those Acts prior to Committee Stage. Given that more than 10,000 Acts come within the scope of the Bill, it is not proposed to prepare summary notes on all of them.
Deputy Deasy raised a number of questions, which I have addressed. Deputy Tuffy asked valid questions on the availability of the documents concerned with Private Acts. Those relating directly to Ireland in the form of Irish Private Acts were lost in the destruction of the Four Courts in 1922. Private Acts passed in London are held in the United Kingdom Parliamentary Archives. Local and Personal Acts which date from 1747 are kept by the National Library, Trinity College library and the library of the Honourable Society of King’s Inns. I understand the Oireachtas library also has access to many of these Acts. The Law Reform Commission was not involved in the project but the project has assisted them on an ongoing basis with their work.
Deputy Ó Caoláin raised the issue of the Ulster Canal. This canal is now disused but there are plans to redevelop the Monaghan stretch of it. The extant assets of the canal are vested in Waterways Ireland by virtue of modern legislation, the Canals Act 1986, and all the powers that Waterways Ireland may need to restore the Ulster Canal are set out in modern legislation and therefore this Act is deemed suitable for repeal.
I believe I have addressed the issues that have been raised but if not I will ensure they are addressed on Committee Stage. I acknowledge the work of the team of officials in the Office of the Attorney General who have engaged in detailed and very considerable research in preparing the Bill. It has been a complex task to identify those Acts that still apply to Ireland and then ascertain whether they are suitable for repeal. In addition, I acknowledge the kind assistance of all those who facilitated the Office of the Attorney General, in particular the UK Parliamentary Archives and the Honourable Society of King’s Inns. I thank the Deputies and the Acting Chair for giving this Bill the attention it deserves and for their helpful and insightful comments. I look forward to Committee Stage being addressed at a very early date.
Deputy John Perry: I compliment the Minister of State on this visionary legislation which modernises and tidies up the Statute Book. I would like to be associated with his comments on the senior officials who have worked on this. The research must have been a painstakingly difficult job and they have done it well. The Minister of State also made reference to reducing by 25% by 2012 the costs of business administration. Streamlining the Statute Book and removing those Acts which are irrelevant is welcome. It is a step in the right direction towards the modernisation that is needed in Leinster House. It augurs well for Dáil reform.
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