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 Header Item Order of Business (Continued)
 Header Item Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2017: First Stage
 Header Item Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2017: First Stage

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 961 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] People are told that they must have their water charges paid and a person who does not have their water charges paid cannot retrospectively pay them now - because it will not be accepted - and therefore changes have to be made. I address this to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy's query is not really on promised legislation.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae It is. The water charges issue was in the programme for Government. It is a very serious point.

Through the tenant purchase scheme the Government is barring more than 80% of the people who live in local authority houses from purchasing those houses because of the statement that they have to be at work. In other words, they cannot be in receipt of an old age pension or a disability payment. That tenant purchase scheme is not fit for purpose and it has to be changed.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy If and when the Water Services Bill 2017 concludes in the Seanad this week, all liabilities under that Bill will be extinguished, as per one of the provisions in the Bill. The tenant purchase scheme is under review and we will, hopefully, conclude the review in the next couple of weeks and I hope to make an announcement on that in December.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick Four years ago the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grants closed. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath was to establish a new mobility scheme to assist those with a disability. The Minister of State has said that this new mobility scheme will be up and running this year, in 2017. Speaking in the Dáil recently, the Taoiseach confirmed there was no budget allocation for such a scheme this year. Many families are suffering and cars need to be adapted. People are confused about this. Perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate when we can expect the health (transport support) Bill to come through the House.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The new scheme requires primary legislation and it is anticipated that the primary legislation will be put before the House next year.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Two Deputies remain and time has run out. I will call Deputy Pearse Doherty, to be quick.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Will the Taoiseach confirm that the State has collected the €13 billion, plus interest, from Apple and that it is now lodged within an escrow account?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Not to my knowledge. Perhaps a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance would be more appropriate.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As the Taoiseach is aware, on Sunday Michel Barnier, suggested that the EU and EU states need to start preparing for the collapse of the Brexit talks. Since we have come in to the Chamber, the BBC is reporting that the talks may not be returning and that they are indeed collapsing.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle This is not about promised legislation.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Yes it is about legislation. The Government promised, quite some time ago, that there would be detailed sector-by-sector plans ready for such an eventuality. When the Taoiseach assumed office I asked him if the plans were ready and he said they were not. He also had no date for when they would be published. In response to a parliamentary question in May, the Taoiseach confirmed the plans were being progressed but did not know when they would be ready. In light of the potential imminent collapse of the Brexit talks and the risks we know this poses to this country, when will we see the detailed sector-by-sector Brexit-related reports we have been promised for so long?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is not promised legislation but I am sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade would be happy to answer in the form of a parliamentary question.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 to provide for increased penalties for persons guilty of sexual exploitation of children.

This legislation seeks to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 and in particular to provide for increased penalties for persons who are guilty of sexual exploitation of children.

  The law at present, in respect of the defilement of a child under the age of 17, is set out in section 3 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. It provides that any person who engages in a sexual act with a child who is under the age of 17 shall be guilty of an offence. The section also sets out the penalties for anybody found guilty of such an offence. I will outline the penalties. A term of seven years of imprisonment is provided for a person who is found guilty of the offence. If, however, the person is in a position of authority, the term of imprisonment that shall be imposed shall be a term not exceeding 15 years.

  The purpose of the legislation I seek to introduce is to increase those penalties, which we believe are too low. Currently, the maximum sentence is a term of seven years if one is not in a position of authority. Under the legislation I seek to introduce today, we would change that maximum sentence up to a term of 15 years. Similarly, if a person in a position of authority is found guilty of defilement of a child under the age of 17, we believe the maximum term of imprisonment should be changed from 15 years to a potential penalty of life imprisonment.

  Obviously we cannot dictate the sentence that a court will impose on any particular situation but we can set out what the maximum sentence should be. It is important that the Oireachtas should set out its revulsion of these offences by increasing the sentences that may be available to the courts.

  It is noteworthy that the legislation I have just referred to, and especially the sentences, are quite low when one considers the other sentences available for persons convicted of offences relating to children. For instance, anybody who meets a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation can, at present, face a maximum sentence of up to 14 years. Engaging in sexual activity in front of a child for sexual gratification can be subject to a sentence of up to ten years. In those circumstances we believe the penalty that currently exists is simply not strong enough.

  We seek to introduce this legislation to enable the Oireachtas to set out its abhorrence to these particular offences. I believe it is important to note that on many occasions, the Oireachtas criticises judges for sentences they impose. Members need to recognise that we have a responsibility when it comes to making law in respect of those sentences. If we believe sentences are not strong enough then we should do what we can do in this House by increasing the maximum sentence for a particular offence. By increasing the maximum sentence we are setting the tariff and are giving an indication to the courts that this is how society views these offences.

  I shall conclude. I believe that we in this House are too tolerant of certain types of criminal activity. The public is genuinely revolted by certain crimes against children and I do not believe that we reflect that adequately in our laws. Members need to become much more intolerant of crimes committed throughout the community such as repeat burglary and gratuitous violence against individuals and I hope that in the near future Fianna Fáil will bring forward legislation to show that. The time for being tolerant of criminal activity that is gratuitous, serious and which has a big impact on individuals should come to an end. I seek leave to introduce this legislation.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Is the Bill opposed?

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan No.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy James Browne: Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person's mental health status and to provide for related matters.

The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2017 seeks to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 to expand the definition of mental health. In 1998 and 2000, respectively, Fianna Fáil introduced the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act. Disability is one of the nine grounds of discrimination set out in the Acts. While the definition of disability includes mental illness, the definition within the Acts provides a restrictive medical definition of mental health. Attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices about mental health can lead to discrimination.

  In my role as mental health spokesperson, I regularly meet people who tell me they have been discriminated against because of their mental health status.

These are people who find themselves treated less favourably than someone else solely because of their mental health status. For that reason, my party and I bring forward this Bill with a broadened definition of mental health to prevent discrimination on mental health grounds, on a human rights basis.

  This Bill seeks to add an expanded definition of mental health under the equality legislation. The Bill aims to solve three problems. First, it will help employees who may have mental health issues. It does so by tackling one of the obstacles facing people who suffer from a mental health issue in their employment situation, namely, discrimination. If enacted, it will be crystal clear for employers and employees alike that discrimination based on mental health status is against the law.

  The second problem it will address is the need to prohibit any attempt to limit services based on a person’s mental health status. This legislation will make it illegal to limit the provision of services based on a person’s mental health status. Discrimination on the grounds of mental health status violates the very principle of equality for which we all seek to strive.

  Finally, this Bill promotes equality by seeking to protect those who have been subjected to discrimination. It is crucial that every person is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of a person’s mental health status. This Bill will serve as a further step towards bringing Ireland in line with international standards on equality and understanding of mental health as a human rights issue and not just a medical illness issue.


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