White calls for change in tone of debate on Legal Reform

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Alex White has called for a change in the tone of the current debate on legislation to reform legal services in the State. Speaking in the Dail Alex said:

“The tone of the debate in recent months has been unfortunate. There has been overstatement on the part of the professions as to the implications of some of the Bill’s proposals….but there has also been overreaction to that overstatement… including references to cabals, and allegations of people trying to stay in the nineteenth century. A change of tone in the debate is required in the coming weeks and months when decisions will have to be made regarding the final content of the legislation. We need to lower the temperature of this tense debate….so that we come to the best possible outcome – not for any one interest group, but for the citizens we represent.

“As a practising lawyer and a member of the Bar, I have been disappointed by the slowness of reform and an unwillingness in the past on the part of the professions to embrace or promote change. This has led to a situation whereby people now feel they are victims of change, instead of themselves taking the opportunity, when it is there, to advance proposals for change to the way things are done.

“For example, there is a need to address the question of equity within the legal professions, and in particular the distribution of work at the Bar, to facilitate younger barristers coming into the profession – people who are willing and well able to work. That has not been done but it is an area that should have been addressed and still requires to be addressed. People have been slow to embrace that.

“The independence of the legal profession is critical in any democracy. It is actually a test of the strength of a democracy. All litigants – rich or poor – are entitled to be represented by absolutely fearless advocates, who are never threatened by any attempts to trample their independence. They must not have any concern about repercussions, either from the Government or elsewhere.

“This issue is also related to economic rights. Prospective foreign investors need to understand and appreciate that we have a fully independent legal profession that is beholden to no one, be it the Government or anyone else. It is therefore absolutely vital that that independence should be protected.

“It is not a formalistic matter. I have heard people saying that there is nothing in the Bill that undermines the independence of an individual practitioner. It is a bigger issue than that, however. One must consider carefully the proposed new Authority, for example. The method of appointing the Authority is essential to ensuring the independence of the profession and it is not an incidental question. Nor should the raising of this issue be taken as a criticism of the Minister or the Government. It has to do with the manner in which people perceive that Authority. They need to be sure that it is entirely at arm’s length from the Government, and that it is independent not just in the operation of its functions – which one would assume – but in every way. There should be no sense on the part of any Authority members that they are beholden to the Government, even where is no such intention on the part of the Government.

“The Minister is open to amendments on the means of appointment to the Authority. It is necessary to amend the provision. There are many ideas on how this can be achieved. Other professions, including the medical profession, have a good statutory regime for the appointment of the independent regulator in their cases. These are the parallels we should be looking at”.

A Fair and Effective Penal System

January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, Labour launched its plans to overhaul the penal system in this country.  It is quite clear that the current system doesn’t work and is not effective – least of all it is not cost-effective.

In the past ten years the prison population has almost doubled and at an average cost per prisoner of €79,307, it is the most expensive in the world.

Labour want a cheaper and more effective alternatives to prison be provided for.  The current system only exacerbates the problem.  By adopting the policies in this document, we believe it will provide both social and economic benefits.

I would encourage you to take a look at the document by clicking here.

Roscommon report highlights urgency of children’s referendum

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the publication today of the report into the Roscommon child care case.

I also welcome the unreserved and unequivocal apology issued by the HSE today, and hope that it may mark a new dawn in an organisation where heretofore the default response when it came to a crisis like this was to pull up the shutters, and distance themselves from any sense of responsibility.

The report is far-reaching and comprehensive, and Norah Gibbons and the team she led deserve full credit for the work they have done in this respect.

While the authors of the report did not regard recommendations on legislative change as within their remit, they do note that failure to consult with, and to hear the voice of the six children was an important factor in this case.

They also say that the proposed referendum on children’s rights, and the related legislation, would make provision for the voice of the child to be heard, and while they stop short of calling for the referendum to be brought forward, that is certainly the underlying sentiment.

The need for progress on this is one that I would regard as extremely urgent. I would call on the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, to publish wording for the constitutional amendment and to announce a timetable for the referendum. If he is not in a position to do this now he should indicate clearly what the obstacles are.

The all-party Oireachtas committee agreed a wording earlier this year. No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government only identified certain ‘unintended consequences’ in recent weeks, and not during the committee deliberations.

The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children. We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or further postpone this urgent and essential measure.

People are entitled to lay the blame – White tells Seanad in banking debate

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

The only way we can assess the success of the various measures the Government has taken in respect of the banking system is to apply the test it established at the outset in this regard. The Minister of State and his colleagues have outlined that test in this and the Lower House on many occasions. The is test is not designed to develop a banking system of which we can, in some symbolic way, be proud or which will satisfy international opinion. The real test the Government has set down – in my respectful opinion, it is the correct one – is that we should have a banking system which lends to the real, active and productive economy. This system must also be part, once again, of a vibrant and dynamic economy. That is the test the Government set in respect of the various measures it has introduced and it is the only one we can be realistically expected to apply.

I invite the Minister of State to outline the success achieved in the aftermath of the various measures brought forward by the Government. What have been the outcomes? We were promised that one of the outcomes would be that the banking system would be restored and begin to lend to a productive economy. On the evidence, this does not appear to have occurred. The Government owes the people an explanation in this regard.

Senator Dan Boyle always refers to honesty. It is ever so slightly irritating to hear him state that those on this side of the House are not being honest, and that all the honesty lies with those on the Government benches. He implies that on each occasion we say anything we are being dishonest. We can, as we are entitled to do, disagree with what has been and is being done, call the Government to account and take the debate in directions which the Senator or the Minister of State might not particularly wish it to go. If we do these things, however, it does not mean we are being dishonest. Perhaps the Minister of State will, in his usual honest fashion, address the matter of whether the banking system has even remotely begun to pass the test the Government set in respect of it.

The Minister of State touched on the subject of retribution and referred, rather amusingly, to the establishment of a star chamber. He has raised an important issue which deserves further ventilation. In that context, however, I am not interested in the erection of a guillotine on St. Stephen’s Green. Senator MacSharry has often stated the latter is precisely what the Opposition is seeking. That is not what we are seeking.

The Opposition is seeking the kind of scrutiny and examination necessary and, ultimately, wants those responsible for causing the difficulties that have arisen to be prosecuted. I use the term “prosecuted” in the broadest possible sense. I am not merely referring to criminal prosecution. As a society, we are entitled to apportion blame. People should not be apologetic and state we should not look backward or engage in a culture of blame but rather should look to the future. Certainly, I am principally interested in what happens in the future. But I would have thought that, of all people, the Minister of State would agree that it is not possible to do anything about the future if one does not have some understanding of what happened in the past. This applies equally to the banking system and the Government’s failure to regulate it. We are entitled to lay blame. « Read the rest of this entry »

Summer recess shows current govt is part of the problem

September 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

With regard to people’s confidence in the future, unfortunately we must record the fact that whatever about the mood in this House and the mood in Leinster House, there is a really palpable mood of despondency and fear throughout the country and that has not changed since we were here last. If anything, it has got worse. We have a responsibility to address this. The principal responsibility lies with the Government but I accept that the Opposition and the people involved in public life have a great responsibility also. The difficulty for the Government – particularly during the summer when there were many examples – is that most people have now taken the view that the Government, far from being able to produce a solution or be part of the solution, is itself part of the problem.

I refer to the question of engagement with people. It is reported in the newspapers today that the Taoiseach stated the Irish Government is trying its best – I do not have the exact words to hand but he is quoted in this morning’s newspaper – to persuade people on the international front that we are doing the right thing. I can understand the Taoiseach attempting to do this but when is he going to start persuading and addressing the issue of the confidence and the belief in this country on the part of the people of this country? Again and again in the spring, Members opposite referred in the House to The Wall Street Journal and various other newspapers in America which they thought were praising Government policy. I do not see them bringing in copies of The Wall Street Journal or some other publications that have been commenting recently on the deterioration in the economic situation here.

On this question of confidence, I agree that the Irish Government should be engaging with the people. There is a serious failure on the part of the Government and in particular, on the Taoiseach’s part. I do not want to hear again another reference to turning the corners. What does the phrase, “turning the corner” mean? The Irish people are able to put up with bad news and they are able to put up with the truth. They are able to put up with honesty and they do not get that from the Government. They get this happy, clappy sort of soft-soaping where everything is fine and we are turning the corner. How many times have we turned the corner? We are going around a roundabout at the moment and that is the sort of corner we are turning. The first time this phrase was used was a year ago and the Minister for Finance is still saying it. The Government should level with the people. Let us have facts and honesty and the first place we should have it is in this House, today and tonight, about Anglo Irish Bank. I refer to the ludicrous scenario whereby tonight, the House will be asked to extend the guarantee but we will only be told the story about Anglo tomorrow.

What sort of nonsense is that and what way is that to treat the Parliament and the people of Ireland? The Government should level with the people. Let us have the facts. We can take it and the people of Ireland can take it. It would be much better for the Minister for Finance and the Government and Taoiseach to level with people and give the facts to the people of Ireland, however negative are those facts, so that people can then be part of this great confidence-building exercise which we all want them to engage with.

Civil Partnership Bill is major step forward in a relatively dark period for the country

July 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of this hugely important and momentous legislation.  The Labour Party enthusiastically supports the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations for Cohabitants Bill 2009.  We will try to amend it in some areas and, while we can to some extent predict the Minister’s response to our proposals, we will push them as strongly as we can.  We hope to expand on the vital work done on this Bill with further legislation when the Labour Party is in Government.

I think this is the first time since I entered the Oireachtas three years ago that I have commended the Government on any issue but I am happy to congratulate it on bringing this legislation before the Houses.  I also acknowledge the heavy lifting that was required from the Green Party in order to bring the matter to its present status.

When we discuss this Bill in more detail on Committee Stage, we should not forget that we are trying to improve the lives of individual citizens.  We should, therefore, also congratulate the thousands of campaigners who have fought for this legislation.  None of this would happened without people who were prepared to go to meetings, spend time on campaigns and work out how incremental change could be achieved.  Perhaps some felt they were compromising themselves while others wanted to progress their goals without being seen as incrementalists but they made the same intelligent political decision as so many other figures in history by accepting this Bill as legislation that could be achieved and leaving for another day the fight to build something better.  For that reason, I am delighted to be a Member of this House as this Bill comes before us. « Read the rest of this entry »

11 years after Labour Bill on Whistleblower Protection, we still wait

June 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the most frustrating things about debates on transparency and the need for new legislation and measures to deal with whistleblowing and related matters is the extent to which people give the impression that there has only been a recent discovery or realisation of the necessity for such measures. Senator Dan Boyle hopes there will not be another general election before something is done about this, but there have already been two general elections and we are well into the third Oireachtas since this issue was raised for public debate in 1999 by Deputy Pat Rabbitte who published a Bill that year to deal with this issue.

It is fully 11 years since this matter was first raised for public debate. It is simply not good enough for anyone, be they a Minister, supporter of the Government or otherwise, to imply that these matters are now coming forward for public consideration and concern and must be addressed in the light of what has happened recently. We knew about these issues many years ago. There is little use in people saying that now we have seen the dreadful things that have occurred which we never thought would happen – the subtext being that they never thought there would be a problem – but on which we have been proven wrong, we must do something about it. It is simply not good enough to give the people that excuse.

The Minister of State referred to the conclusion of the Company Law Review Group. Bluntly, the company law review group is wrong. When we are considering its report and when we are pointing out, as the Minister of State did, the fact that this group of eminent individuals came to this conclusion, we should bluntly state that the conclusion was wrong. Had these matters been considered in the depth and with the realism with which they should have been considered, the group would have come to a different conclusion. Mr. Paul Appleby and Mr. Michael Halpenny, the representative of the ICTU, were the two lone members of the group who maintained the view that it was necessary to bring forward a report that proposed robust whistleblower protection and legislation. When considering the balance sheet of what has occurred, I believe the best way for the Minister of State to view that group’s report is to conclude that it was wrong. We must do something different from what it recommended. « Read the rest of this entry »

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