30th June 2011
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive overview. I take this opportunity to welcome the citizenship ceremony held last week in Dublin Castle. This was a very important ceremony and several people noted it as a very welcome initiative by the Minister.
When reading the Bill last weekend I wondered whether the title should be changed to the lost and found Bill because it was certainly an eclectic collection of albeit very important measures. It has certainly tested my mettle in my breadth of knowledge. I cannot claim to have knowledge in all the areas covered so I will limit my comments to areas on which I wish to comment or to measures I wish to note.
I welcome the Minister’s proposals on civil legal aid in section 26 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 which will allow the Legal Aid Board to provide legal advice on criminal matters to victims or alleged victims of trafficking. This is a very positive measure as this is an important extension of powers so that any alleged victim of human trafficking will be able to get legal advice. However, I note that this does not appear to extend to representation for the victims in court proceedings nor will it protect the victims of the sex trade who do not come within the narrow definition of trafficking. I do not know if anything can be done at this stage with regard to this issue. I am concerned that while this is a very welcome measure to allow the Legal Aid Board to give legal advice to victims or alleged victims of human trafficking, it does not include legal representation.
Part 3 refers to proposals on good Samaritans. I read this section with particular interest because I am a long-standing volunteer with the Irish Girl Guides and I am bringing 22 girls on a trip this weekend to a 500-strong camp. If I am a little tired on Tuesday I will ask my colleagues to bear with me.
I have paid particular attention to this proposal which I welcome. It is important to discuss and encourage good Samaritans and volunteerism. This section will be a welcome addition to any discussion on community life. I read the Law Reform Commission report on civil liability of good Samaritans and volunteers and I note that many of the recommendations in that report are encompassed here. The proposal to deal with the civil liability of good Samaritans and volunteers is important. The Minister also accommodates the range of individuals who may constitute a Good Samaritan or a volunteer or the organisations or types of intervention. While it may be difficult to define, any measure to support people to take the initiative, is important.
I am involved in several voluntary organisations and I have noted an undue expectation of a duty of care. This may arise where, as a result of an accident, a case is brought against an individual or an organisation by a concerned parent. The problem is that the insurance companies will urge organisations to settle before it goes to court, thereby not allowing the courts to intervene as is proposed in this Bill. This results in an increase in insurance costs for the voluntary organisations. I can provide examples of where this has happened.
Part 5 deals with intoxicating liquor and I particularly welcome these provisions and the Minister’s words on this issue. I have been a rapporteur on two significant EU reports on alcohol-related harm. This experience has changed my opinion because I would have been slightly more moderate in my view on the issue of alcohol-related harm but the evidence speaks for itself. As the Minister observed, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which came into force in August 2008, introduces firmer penalties for those who sell alcohol to under-18s and it contains other welcome measures. However, enforcement has been limited and weak. I know this Bill cannot change this but I wish to bring this to the attention of the Minister while he is in the House.
Stricter government regulation is required to govern alcohol advertising and marketing. Alcohol advertising and marketing shapes children’s attitudes to alcohol from an early age and it plays a significant role in their decision to drink and how to drink. A review of longitudinal studies was carried out in 2009. This showed that the volume of alcohol advertisement in media seen by teenagers increases the likelihood that they will start to drink, the amount they drink and the amount they drink on any one occasion.
The Minister referred to the voluntary code. In 2003, draft legislation was prepared which was aimed at significantly reducing children’s exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing. Had this legislation been enacted it would have restricted the placement of alcohol advertisements, limited their content and banned the drinks industry sponsorship of youth leisure activities. This draft legislation went to Cabinet and had been approved. There then followed a change of Ministers and subsequently a voluntary code was introduced in place of the draft legislation. I note that this voluntary code mirrors exactly what was produced by the industry, including the grammatical errors. Therefore, the Minister’s comments this morning are all the more pertinent. I welcome the proposals in this Bill but I stress that any consultation cannot just be with the industry. This is an issue that affects society and there needs to be wider consultation. It is clear that a voluntary code alone is insufficient to address the problems and this view is supported by the World Health Organisation which has stated that self-regulation seems to work only to the extent that there is a current and credible threat of regulation by government. I endorse this view.
Part 7 proposes amendment of the Bankruptcy Act 1988. There has been much public debate in recent months with regard to bankruptcy and I welcome the proposals in the Bill. However, I also welcome the proposal by Senator O’Donovan to reduce the term to three years.
Part 8 proposes the amendment of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 and this is to be welcomed. It is an area in which the Minister has a wide experience and he is aware of its direct impact. These new measures will provide for a clear distinction between those who cannot pay maintenance and those who actively choose not to pay it.
Part 13 proposes the amendment of the Registration of Title Act 1964. My understanding is that the proposed section 31 which inserts a new section 49A into the 1964 Act, now provides that an individual can make application to register a right of way as a burden which will first require the consent of the landowner and second, this will only apply in circumstances where the land is registered land. The benefit of this measure is that court applications will be avoided where all parties consent and that registration and the ownership of the lands is registered with the Land Registry. It would appear that this section will not provide assistance to those individuals who are seeking to claim an easement over unregistered lands but, hopefully, this will be eased over time, as compulsory registration with the Land Registry is extended across the country.
My understanding is that section 28 proposes will extend the current deadline of December 2012. Is that correct?
I welcome Part 15 of the Bill which deals with miscellaneous measures. In particular I welcome the amendment of the Domestic Violence Act 1996. This is a critical amendment which is long overdue. I am pleased the Minister has taken this opportunity to amend the Act. Women who have a child with an abuser, for example, but who have never lived together or married, are currently a very vulnerable group. Where there is a child in common, there is often continued contact between the parents after the relationship ends and this contact gives further opportunity to abuse. The Minister’s proposal in this section is very important and will have a direct effect.
Women’s Aid has drawn my attention to a lacuna in the current provisions whereby dating partners who are not cohabiting and women being stalked and abused by ex-partners are totally unprotected under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and will remain so. Protection from domestic violence should not be contingent on current or previous cohabitation and, therefore, safety orders should be available to all parties who are or have been in intimate relationships, as set out in the United Nations guidelines on domestic violence legislation. I hope there will be further progress in this area, and I welcome the steps taken in this regard in the Bill.
I thank the Minister for introducing the legislation to the Seanad. I look forward to our future co-operation.