Rushing through of Intoxicating Liquor Bill undermining integrity of the Seanad

Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008

The Seanad discussed the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 this afternoon. This piece of legislation is somewhat unusual as the bill only passed the Dail last night and the government is seeking to have it passed in the Seanad by tomorrow evening.

At Order of Business this morning, a number of senators raised concerns regarding the rushing of this Bill. I stated that it was undermining the independence and integrity of the house.

What concerns me also, is the fact that I have received letters and emails by the dozen in the past 48 hours from people concerned about what effect the legislation will have on them – not only members of the nightclub industry but youth groups and organisations. I have not yet had an opportunity to consider fully what each one states.

Below is my contribution to the second stage of the bill in the Seanad:

No one can doubt the background against which we are having this debate. We discussed it on a number of occasions in this House and it was discussed elsewhere. I refer to the abuse of alcohol, the problem of binge drinking, and the knock-on effect right across a range of social and personal problems such as mental health problems. All of these issues and their impact have been documented and elucidated in this House many times over.

No one questions the commitment of all of us, Senators on both sides of the House, to address this fundamental problem with which Dr. Gordon Holmes, in his insightful report, assisted us so much. The fact that all on this side of the House are complaining that this is, as Senator Quinn stated, “rushed legislation of the worst kind”, are criticising the legislation and the manner in which it has been introduced, and the speed with which it is being forced through both Houses, can not be taken for one minute as indicating any less of a concern on the part of those of us on this side of the House who would make that point with addressing this issue.

The question really is; does it address the issue? Dr. Holmes, in his report, wrote of the need for a comprehensive approach to this problem right across society but that is not what is in this Bill. The Bill contains a number of welcome provisions, but this is not the comprehensive attack on a serious social problem that we all know is needed. It is not consistent with debate, analysis, careful scrutiny of the problem and then the bringing forward of solutions to have legislation in this House, for the first time in my relatively short period here, where the deadline for amendments on Committee Stage came before the Second Stage, although there was some flexibility indicated for later today. It is ludicrous for us who are expected, as I stated on the Order of Business, to carry out the important constitutional function, to scrutinise legislation and to decide whether it is appropriate that it should be passed, to be faced with such a situation.

I heard one of my colleagues state that he was lobbied by one of the associated bodies, I think it was the nightclub association. I have not had time to be lobbied by them. There is not enough time to meet the people who have expressed an interest and an involvement. Certainly, people who are involved in it are just as entitled as anybody else to raise their concerns with legislators. What we do about that is another matter, but we should have an opportunity to listen to them and to think and consider carefully what they have to say.

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