Speaking during the long-awaited passing of my Bill in the Seanad

[Speaking in the Seanad during Report and Final Stages of my Bill – Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012 ….. ]

I thank An tAire and his staff for the effort that has gone into getting these Report Stage amendments which my co-sponsors, Senators van Turnhout and Daly, and I accept. We wish to see the Bill get through as quickly as possible and we understand the reasons for the fundamental change in the nature of the Bill for clarity’s sake. The reason we did it this way was that we thought, perhaps somewhat naively two years ago, it would have been faster if we did it as a simple amendment to existing legislation. We will accept the Minister’s amendment.

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I stress that at a time when the legislative agenda is at an all-time low, the arguments for advancing the Bill in the coming term are overwhelming. This was one we had hoped would have been protecting children in the summer of 2012. We urge the Minister to take it on as a personal project and ensure his officials prioritise it. Let us get one on the score sheet for the good guys in the battle against tobacco. We can pass the Bill quickly and then proceed to work on the Minister’s more definitive Bill on packaging and other regulatory matters.

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I would like to make one small statement of gratitude. There are some folk who did a huge job in bringing this initiative to where it is. It is where it is because it originated with folk in Seanad Éireann and their staff. I thank Senators Mark Daly and Jillian van Turnhout who have been constant supporters of this legislation. Senator Jillian van Turnhout and her colleagues have done much of the running in making sure the Bill negotiates the parliamentary process. She is more skilled at that task. I thank Mr. Shane Conneely who was my adviser throughout the process. He wrote the original Bill and thought through most of the arguments for the defences that should be included. I am glad that we have had the refining influence of the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure it will be easy to enforce, but I would not like Shane’s contribution to this effort to go unrecorded, as it was extraordinary.

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The two year gestation period of the Bill corresponds to an elephantine gestation period, if I remember my biology correctly. The Bill has already achieved my principal aim and that of Senators Mark Daly and Jillian van Turnhout, with Mr. Shane Conneely and other staff, that it provoke debate and have an educational role. People became aware of the real and proximate risk to the health of children if exposed to smoke tobacco products in the confines of a motor vehicle. While others have stated this is a further element of the nanny state and Government interference, the truth of the matter is that its principal role is educational. Children will be aware of it; parents will be aware of it and people will understand this is something they should not do. I would be very happy if there were no prosecutions under the Bill and if no one smoked in a car with a child present. That would be the ideal outcome. I thank the Minister and his officials.

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I thank the Minister as I know he will use his personal influence to ensure the Bill travels expeditiously. I hope that at some stage before the summer, I will have the opportunity to thank him and the President when he signs the Bill in the presence of Fionn O’Callaghan, who provided much of the inspiration for the Bill, on the evening when the protections it contains are enshrined. He was correctly acknowledged by Senator van Turnhout. I must thank another group which was critical to the Bill getting here today, namely, the office of the Leader of Seanad Éireann. Senator Maurice Cummins has taken this on board and by specifying timelines for the Bill, he has facilitated its progress through officialdom. I thank Ms Orla Murray and the others in his office for their great work.

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