McAleese signs Bills into law


President Mary McAleese has this morning signed the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 into law.

Last night, the President met 19 of the 22 members of the Council of State for nearly three hours to discuss whether to refer two Bills to the Supreme Court. The meeting began shortly after 6pm and broke up shortly before 10pm.

Both Bills were passed by the houses of the Oireachtas earlier this month.

Under Article 26 of the Constitution, the President may, after consultations with the Council of State, send any Bill to the highest court for a ruling on whether all or parts of it are “repugnant” to the Constitution.

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009, which allows for the greater use of non-jury trials in suspected gangland criminal cases, was passed by the Dáil earlier this month.The Defamation Bill updates Ireland’s defamation law, aims to encourage quicker apologies from publishers and renews the offence of blasphemy provided for under 1960s legislation.

Both Bills have caused controversy, with more than 130 lawyers writing a public letter demanding the Criminal Justice Bill be withdrawn, claiming Ireland would be shamed by it in the eyes of the international community.

The Defamation Bill, which reforms the State’s libel laws, provoked an outcry over its inclusion of a charge of blasphemous libel.

It was the fourth time in her 12 years in office that Mrs McAleese has called in the Council of State over concerns about proposed laws.

On one occasion, the President - herself a distinguished lawyer - refused to sign the Health (Amendment) Bill into law in 2002 after the Supreme Court found parts of it were unconstitutional.

On two occasions she decided to sign contested Bills after consultation and on the other occasion she signed the Bill into law after the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional.

Bills must be signed by the President after going through both the Dáil and Seanad before they become law.

The council’s membership includes Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Chief Justice John Murray and president of the High Court Richard Johnson. It also includes Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Senator Pat Moylan.

Former president Mary Robinson and former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern, along with former chief justices Thomas Finlay and Ronan Keane, are also members.

Additional reporting PA