Just eight Bills passed by Oireachtas in autumn session

What to watch out for in 2017 as this Government gets set to publish its legislative list

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was quietly withdrawn last year after a filibuster. The real winner was the drinks industry which skilfully outmanoeuvred the Government

Passing the Bill to segregate alcohol from other products in supermarkets and small shops will be a major test for the minority Government in the new Dáil term which starts on Tuesday.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was quietly withdrawn last year after a filibuster by predominantly Fine Gael Senators during the committee stage debate as they went to war on behalf of the business community.

The Bill is expected to be reintroduced in the Seanad later this month or early next month.

As well as segregation, the Bill also introduces a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks, requires strict health and ingredients labelling on alcohol products and introduces marketing and promotion restrictions.


The real winner was the drinks industry which skilfully outmanoeuvred the Government, stirred up retailers who in turn provoked politicians, and scored a victory in the long-running battle with doctors and public health officials over the public’s pockets and livers.

Public health experts have suggested that political minds might focus if the number of hospital beds used daily by patients with alcohol-related diseases is calculated when daily figures are totted up of patients waiting on hospital trolleys.

The Government’s weak position, relying on backbenchers and Fianna Fáil to pass legislation, will test the political skills of Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

Poor record

The Government will publish its full legislative list this week against a background of a poor record on legislation in the Dáil last year.

Once an administration had been formed last May following the February general election, eight Bills successfully made their way through the Oireachtas.

In the autumn session, the same number were completed by the Dáil and Seanad but just three Bills did not hail from the previous administration.

The annual Finance and Social Welfare Bills, which give effect to the provisions of the budget, were of this Government’s making. So too, was the controversial Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill which gives effect to the Government’s housing action plan including a cap on rent over three years.

The slow pace is not all the Government’s fault. A “new politics” move not to guillotine legislation or limit time for debate has had an impact, slowing down delivery speeds, but allowing everyone to have their say.

Pre-legislative scrutiny, where committees consider draft legislation before a final version of the Bill is published also takes time but makes for better legislation.

And there is a reluctance, senior officials have acknowledged, to introduce Bills for fear that the precarious numbers of the minority coalition in the Oireachtas could result in “mad” amendments to legislation being accepted.

The Eight Bills passed

1 – Statute Law Revision Bill. This legislation is part of a programme to revise the statute book and excise irrelevant or outdated laws. Five previous Bills have been enacted since reform began in 2003, dealing with proclamations, legislation, directions and orders going back to the 11th century and deleting 60,000 pieces of legislation.

More trimming needs to be done but Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said there will be a “pause” in reform so his department “can progress other priorities”.

The 2016 Act expunges almost 300 out-of-date or irrelevant Bills enacted between 1922 and 1950.

They include the repeal of the 1923 Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Act from the Irish Civil War which imposed the death penalty or penal servitude for anyone found guilty of an armed revolt against the government of Saorstát Éireann.

The 1933 Constitution (Removal of Oath) Act was also expunged. It repealed article 22 of the Free State Constitution requiring TDs and senators to swear an oath “declaring their faithfulness to His Majesty King George V and his heirs and successors”.

2 – Social Welfare Bill. This legislation gave effect to a number of measures announced in the budget including the €5 increase in a number of social welfare benefits, among them the State pension, maternity benefit, paternity benefit, adoptive benefit and deserted wife’s benefit.

The means-tested Jobseeker’s Allowance for young people received a smaller rise than the €5 for other welfare rates. Those aged 18 to 24 will receive an extra €2.70 each week while those aged 25 will receive €3.80 extra a week.

The Bill also extended eligibility for invalidity pension and treatment benefit to the self-employed paying S-class PRSI.

3 – Financial Bill. This Bill also gives effect to budget day announcements including reductions in the universal social charge (USC) and the controversial first-time buyers’ grant which offers a 5 per cent PAYE rebate up to €20,000 over four years on houses valued up to €400,000.

It also closed a loophole that allowed vulture funds such as Cerberus to pay just €70,000 tax on €20 million profit on Irish property loans it bought.

The only tax increase announced in Budget 2017 was a 50c hike in the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes.

4 – Road Traffic Bill. Stemming from the last government, this legislation means motorists can be tested for driving while under the influence of cocaine, heroin or cannabis and prosecuted in the same way as for drink-driving.

An Irish driving licence-holder disqualified in the UK will also be disqualified in Ireland and vice versa as each state recognises the other’s disqualification orders.

The legislation also gives local authorities the option of introducing a 20km/h speed limit on roads where it is appropriate.

But a section of the Bill including a Sinn Féin amendment to regulate rickshaws, which was passed in a vote by the Dáil despite Government opposition, will not be implemented pending further legal advice on its implications.

5 – Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill. This legislation gives effect to the Government’s housing action plan including its rental strategy. The most debated element of the Bill is the limit of 4 per cent in rent increases for three years in “rent pressure areas” Dublin and Cork cities. The cap could possibly be extended to other parts of the country such as Galway, Waterford and Limerick next year.

6 – Finance (Certain European Union and Intergovernmental Obligations) Bill. This Bill allows the State to have a loan facility agreement with the Single Resolution Board, which was established to deal with the euro crisis, to give bridging finance of up to €1.815 billion.

The legislation also gives the Minister for Finance powers to perform the State’s functions through the agreement.

A number of amendments were made to the Companies Act in the Bill to transpose an EU directive on sanctions for market abuse.

7 – National Tourism Development Authority (Amendment) Bill. The authority is another name for Fáilte Ireland and the legislation allows the Minister for Tourism to double total aggregate funds that can be given to Fáilte Ireland out of capital monies from €150 million to €300 million to support tourism enterprises and projects. The actual annual capital given to the authority is decided in the yearly budgetary process.

8 – Courts Bill. A technical Bill, it essentially provides that the Circuit Court has jurisdiction in litigation on land and property with a value of under €3 million, while the High Court has jurisdiction on values of €3 million or above. The legislation specifies that it does not apply to proceedings initiated before its enactment as litigation in the area is under appeal.

Three to what to watch out for in spring session

1 – Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Government needs to pass this legislation to finally allow ratification of the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

It was published just before Christmas by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath. Mr McGrath expressed his disappointment that he could not meet his own target to have the convention in place by the end of 2016.

But his wish to have this Bill enacted early next year will depend on the priority the Government places on it as well as the complexity of the legislation.

2 – Domestic Violence Bill and Victims of Crime Bill. The Tánaiste wants these two Bills passed by next summer to allow for ratification in early 2018 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Pre-legislative scrutiny took place more than a year ago and concerns have long been raised about the publication and processing of the Domestic Violence Bill. This Bill will extend access to interim barring orders and give judges power to refer perpetrators to programmes. Both issues are requirements of the convention.

3 – Gambling Control Bill. Yet more long-promised legislation, the heads or initial outline of the Gambling Control Bill were published in July 2013 but have yet to see the light of a Dáil or Seanad chamber.

The Bill aims to comprehensively address terrestrial and online gambling, which has mushroomed with the development of technology that existing legislation cannot cope with.

Minister of State David Stanton and officials have rightly said this was complex legislation that had to be got right and takes time to ensure no unintended consequences.

But they are examining if areas of pressing concern can be dealt with in the meantime such as dealing with gambling advertising to children, and countering the ability of children to gamble online at the click of a cursor.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times