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 Header Item Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Teachtaireacht ón Seanad - Message from Seanad
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Order for Report Stage
 Header Item Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages
 Header Item Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran] The purpose of the Bill is to make it an offence to purchase or acquire drugs from a child. This would appear to be an offence under existing criminal law whereby if a person purchases or otherwise acquires a drug, he or she is then in possession of the drug. We are trying to make it an aggravated offence to buy or receive drugs from a minor. That is the principle. These children are being groomed and taken advantage of. There is a willingness in this House to offer a level of protection to those children that is not there at the moment.

I take the Minister's offer very sincerely and will engage with the officials in the Department because all the Members who contributed to this debate want to see this issue addressed in a proper manner. I would not like to say that only legislators have a role to play in this. We already have heard about the Garda. While I am aware of the separation of powers, and often we do not reflect on that here, it is important that the Judiciary and the sentences passed are in line with the thinking and the spirit of what was meant to happen. I refer specifically to section 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which makes it an offence to possess drugs with a market value of over €13,000. Persons found guilty of that offence under this section face a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment. It is extremely unusual for Irish legislation to provide for mandatory minimum jail terms. The norm is that the judge has discretion in determining the appropriate sentence in all the circumstances. The decision in making a mandatory minimum ten-year sentence for the drug offence was to recognise the harm caused to society by drug trafficking. The legislation, however, under a different section provides an element of discretion to the trial judge to impose a lesser sentence if there are exceptional and specific circumstances which would justify departing from the minimum ten-year sentence. The norm should be a ten-year plus sentence. According to the figures the Minister gave me for 2018, there were 141 convictions under section 15A. One of those convicted received a ten-years plus sentence. That was not the intention of this House. While there will always be exceptional circumstances, 99 of those convicted received a sentence of five years or less. That was not the intention of the legislation. It specifies exceptional and specific circumstances. It is now the norm that people caught with significant quantities of drugs do not get the minimum mandatory sentence that this House had envisaged.

As we develop this legislation to protect young children, it is important that the Judiciary does not act just on the words we write but on the view of this House. This measure will not solve the drug problem. There will still be illegal drugs, and the work of An Garda Síochána and the joint policing committees will continue. The purpose of this legislation is solely to try to prevent vulnerable children being coerced, groomed and taken advantage of. I thank the Minister for his contribution and will gladly work with him and others to address the concerns of the Government to ensure that the legislation brought forward on Committee Stage is robust and fit for purpose.

  Question put and agreed to.

Teachtaireacht ón Seanad - Message from Seanad

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Seanad Éireann has passed the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 without amendment.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2019: Vote 32 - Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Order for Report Stage

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I move: "That Report Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages

  Bill received for final consideration.

  Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Bill before us this evening does not vary from the general scheme as published. Section 1 is an avoidance of doubt provision, sections 2 and 3 remove reference to "blasphemous" in section 7 of the Censorship of Films Act 1923 and section 4 repeals sections 36 and 37 of the 2009 Act. Section 5 is a standard citation and commencement provision.

I am not sure of the extent to which Deputies wish to enter into debate. We had a lengthy Second Stage debate and Committee Stage. There were no Report Stage amendments. If Deputies have any queries I would be happy to take them, if not I would be pleased if the House would endorse the Bill.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I welcome the passing of this Bill. It arose as a result of the significant vote by the public to remove blasphemy from the Constitution. That is why the amendments are contained within this Bill. As I and the Minister have said previously, just because we are removing the act of blasphemy from the Constitution does not mean we are becoming an irreligious society or that we regard religion as something that can be easily attacked by any person. That is not the purpose of the legislation. It is to bring our laws up to date in order that we do not have archaic and anachronistic offences on our Statute Book when in fact they are never being used. For that reason I support the Bill.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Connolly): Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I am pleased to be here today to present the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 to this House. The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and simplify the law relating to perjury and related offences and for that purpose to update certain penalties. The Members of this House will be aware that this Bill was initiated in the Seanad just over 12 months ago and passed all Stages in the Seanad in June of this year. It was introduced to the Seanad by its lead sponsor, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and co-sponsored by Senators McDowell, Marshall and Boyhan. It is important for me to begin by taking the opportunity to place on record in this House, my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Senator Ó Céidigh for the immense level of work he and his team have undertaken in developing, drafting and consulting on this Bill. It is to his credit that this Bill commanded such cross-party support in the Seanad and I was very satisfied that the Government strongly supported this Bill in its passage through that House, making some necessary amendments with the Senator's co-operation. Senator Ó Céidigh is aware from my Department's engagement with him that the Government supported the adoption of this Bill on its legislative programme so that I may now facilitate its movement though this House. Senator Ó Céidigh and his team, and his co-sponsors, Senators Boyhan, Marshall and McDowell, deserve much credit for the work that has been undertaken to date on this commendable and important Bill.

As the Members of this House would be aware, the current legal position is that perjury is a common law offence that has rarely been prosecuted in this country. In fact, over the course of the past ten years, according to figures supplied by An Garda Síochána to the Central Statistics Office, there have been just 31 recorded incidents of perjury before our courts, an average therefore of approximately three perjury cases per annum.


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