The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 was debated in the Seanad for over eight hours yesterday and ultimately passed without amendment late last night. This is from my Second Stage speech:
I made the point on the Order of Business earlier that, unfortunately and regrettably, there did not seem to be much point in debating this legislation because the Government was clearly intent on not accepting any amendments, and that this would render our debate somewhat irrelevant. The Leader, Senator Donie Cassidy shook his head in response to my comment, which I took to be an indication that he disagreed with me. Senator Terry Leyden then indicated to the House that if amendments were brought before the House that the matter could be dealt with during the course of the summer. The Minister has now put that issue at rest and has made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that no amendments to this legislation will be accepted by the Government and that, to use his words, “we need this legislation now”. Let us be clear about this, there is no intention on the part of Government to permit this House to amend this legislation in any respect today or on any other day.
Notwithstanding the Government’s view as to whether we should be listened to in this House on this legislation, we still have to reflect on our role as legislators. We are paid to come here by the people to deal with legislation. As to what is our role, I accept that the Government has a very particular role, perhaps an enhanced one in the sense that it has the expertise and advice of the Garda available to it and it is dealing on a day to day basis, operationally and in policy terms, with the management of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Therefore, it is in a position of expertise far greater than anything available to any of us. I accept that. That is how the system works.
Let us examine our role. I do not wish to oversimplify it but it appears to be the case that a Minister comes to the House to inform us of the changes that need to be made to the law because there is a problem that needs to be addressed and he outlines the changes he proposes we should make. It is our role to ask him to tell us why that is the case and to demonstrate it to us. We then consider whether that explanation is adequate and we either vote for or against the proposals brought by the Minister. I accept that is an oversimplification but it is not an unreasonable description of our role.
If I am correct in that are we not entitled to ask the Minister to do more than simply assert the need for certain legislation? The Minister must demonstrate the need for it to us. He must show us why it is necessary, not just simply by anecdote, the expression of his opinion or the communication to us indirectly of an opinion given to him by the Garda. He must give us some evidence on which we can take the rest of the argument in trust that what he says is necessary. I cannot, and do not, exclude the possibility – I say this genuinely – that these measures are necessary, but I am not prepared to agree to them simply by it being asserted to me without any evidence or convincing argument – in some cases without any argument at all – as to why they are necessary.
This is very serious legislation. We are dealing with the curtailment of rights and the liberty of the citizen, irrespective of what he or she is accused of, and in view of this we are under a bounden duty to exercise the strictest possible scrutiny of any such proposal. That is all I am interested in doing. Senator Quinn, and to some extent Senator Boyle, have expressed the hope that the Minister will return with responses to some of the questions that have been raised. I do not know whether the Minister will do so when he replies to Second Stage. However, he has made it clear that he does not intend moving from his position. That puts us in a very odd position in terms of trying to debate the issue, or any expectation we might have that the Minister might address any of the difficulties we have.