No excuses for rushing important legislation
Why is it that for many weeks there is little or legislation before the House but in the two or three weeks before the end of the session there is an extraordinary flurry of activity with measures being introduced and pushed through both Houses as is happening again now? Why is it that the Minister, the Department or those who manage the flow of business to the Houses cannot pace themselves a little better throughout the year? Why can legislation not be introduced in the House periodically in a manner that will allow it to breathe, as it were?
The Leader of the Seanad often says he does not guillotine legislation and that is true, but that misses the point. It is not a question of saying we can have an hour or two to read the legislation but of allowing the public to consider important legislation over a period of weeks. I am not suggesting that the Government never makes an effort to do that. In fairness, it does. However, that should be the universal approach to legislation, unless it is genuinely emergency legislation which must be put through the Houses in a period of days.
I have in mind some of the criminal justice legislation we are dealing with this week. There are two Bills this week and I presume the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill will be introduced in the House next week. The latter includes proposals for the considerable curtailment of the liberty of the citizen. It may well be that this is justified and that Members of the House support it but it is one of the most serious actions a parliament can take. The guarantee of last September is probably the most serious action a parliament can take in that it mortgages the future and future generations. However, in terms of the liberty of the citizen the proposed legislation provides for the expansion of the use of the Special Criminal Court and removing the important protection that juries provide.
I disagree regarding any further restriction on the use of juries. In the criminal context, in particular, it is a further restriction on the liberty of the individual, as is the introduction of secret hearings in the District Court regarding detentions and so forth. I appeal to the Leader to ensure, especially with legislation of this nature, that the public and the Houses be given an opportunity to consider such legislation over a longer time span. It should certainly be over a period of weeks and not days, as is now being proposed.