Noel Whelan: New Dáil sets out its stall

With seven weeks to go before summer recess we are unlikely to see any substantial Bills passed

File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

This week the Dáil finally got a legislative programme. In the days after the general election there was much talk about the need for a programme for parliament rather than a programme for government but in the end it was the Government and only the Government that published detailed plans for legislation.

The Opposition parties have held occasional press conferences launching individual Bills. This is a useful moment to explore some of the detail of the new Dáil’s legislative agenda for the next few months.

Much of that agenda was set before rather than after the election. Of the 14 Bills currently on the Dáil agenda, 12 were being dealt with by the last Dáil when the election was called and have merely been restored.

Short Bills

Five of the 14 Bills are short, largely technical pieces of legislation.

The Single Resolution Board Bill 2016 runs to just 2½ pages and enables the State to enter into a bridging loan agreement with the Single Resolution Board (whatever that is).

The National Tourism Development Authority (Amendment) Bill 2015 allows for an increase in the size of advances Fáilte Ireland can make for the purpose of supporting tourist enterprises. This Bill has just two sections. It is literally a one-page Bill.

The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 implements a European Union requirement that medical practitioners have professional insurance. It will come as a surprise to many that they do not already have to do so. Although this Bill runs to just 12 sections it has still not been enacted 18 months after it was initiated.

The National Shared Services Office Bill 2016 has just 35 sections and will put in place a new public-sector body to co-ordinate the use of audit, procurement and other services on a shared basis.

The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information System) Bill 2016 runs to just 17 sections and implements an EU requirement to define criminal offences in the area of attacks against information systems.

The Road Traffic Bill 2015 runs to 25 sections. It enables roadside tests of motorists for drug usage and gives effect to mutual recognition of driver disqualifications between Ireland and the UK.

The Technological Universities Bill 2015 is a larger Bill providing for the establishment of technological universities and the merger of existing institutes of technology.

Among the more significant Bills is the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016. This Bill gives effect to some of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal’s final report – which was published more than four years ago – including the establishment of an independent planning regulator.

Arguably the most significant legislation among the 14 Bills is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which not only implements an EU directive dealing with the sexual exploitation of children but also criminalises the purchase of sexual services and introduces long-overdue regulation of the disclosure of third-party counselling therapy records in sexual offence trials.

There are two complex Bills on the order papers dealing with energy policy. The Energy Bill 2016 gives effect and implements rule changes for the EU internal market in electricity. The Minerals Development Bill 2015 provides a new, modern regulatory regime for exploration and development of State minerals. The latter Bill runs to almost 250 sections.

Another significant piece of legislation is the Public Sector Standards Bill 2015, which was published by then minister Brendan Howlin during Christmas week last year. It dramatically overhauls the law on disclosing conflicts of interest for politicians and public servants and gives enhanced investigation and enforcement powers to a newly renamed public sector standards commissioner.

The newest Bill on the order paper is the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016. This was actually finalised by the caretaker government. Outgoing minister James Reilly published it on May 5th, his last day in office.

Its primary purpose is to give legislative effect to the changes to adoption law enabled by some of the constitutional amendment passed in the 2012 Children Referendum.

Summer recess

On Wednesday the Government announced that it also intended to publish 11 new Bills from scratch before the summer recess. These Bills will deal with issues such as the suspension of water charges, additional powers to the IBRC commission of inquiry, paternity leave, suspended sentencing, the introduction of a mini Criminal Assets Bureau, illegal dealing in prescription drugs and implementing the EU victims’ directive.

Barrister and Labour councillor Jane Horgan-Jones launched a new website recently called “Has the Government Passed Legislation Yet?” When you click on the site a single word – “No” – appears.

The list of Bills currently on the Dáil order paper and those the Government intends to publish soon gives a snapshot of the Government’s legislative priorities. With seven weeks at most to go before the summer recess we are unlikely to see any substantial Bills passed soon, however.

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