Last Monday, the Joint Committee on Health published a report on its pre-legislative scrutiny on the health and so-called safe access zones legislation. The report is not a great advertisement that the safe access zone legislation should go ahead. It seems that the committee’s job is just to grease the wheels of that process. It contains one weak recommendation of how the provisions of the Bill might be enforced in practice but the report completely ignores the elephant in the room, namely, that the proposals in the Bill are most certainly unconstitutional by infringing on the freedoms of speech, association and religion. I inform the Leader that the Dáil and the Seanad are bound by the Constitution not to pass legislation which we believe to be unconstitutional and yet in the 24 pages of the health committee's report, there is not so much as a comma of consideration given to the possibility that the Bill might be unconstitutional. That is despite the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, telling us here in the Seanad in February 2022 that An Garda Síochána believes that the proposal is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge.
The Minister recently told the Dáil that he had five meetings with the Attorney General between October 2022 and January 2023 to specifically discuss this Bill. The only reason they would have met so often is because clearly there is a very significant question mark over the constitutionality of this Bill. Two submissions to the Joint Committee on Health, one by the Presbyterian Church and another by the pro-life campaign, pointed out the constitutionality problem. The latter's submission contained seven full pages of analysis showing that the Bill’s constitutionality is severely in doubt. I ask the Leader what it says about the process of pre-legislative scrutiny when such a glaring potential problem, which the Minister himself has flagged, is completely ignored by an Oireachtas committee. Furthermore, did the committee seriously think that the issue of constitutionality was even worthy of a mention? Did any of its members read the submission pointing this problem out? Why is there nothing in the report on this issue? I value the work done by all committees within these Houses but why waste anybody’s time by going through the process where the decisions and outcomes are already decided before the process begins?