The Irish authorities are currently preparing a number of interesting pieces of new legislation – some to simply deal with Covid or to comply with European requirements, others relating to more domestic issues and a number will implement international obligations. However surprisingly few are Brexit related.
Traditionally there are an average of over 60 new Acts of primary legislation passed each year in Ireland. Some years there are more and some less – depending on the issues of the day but the average for the decade to 2018 was 62. While difficult to ascertain with any precision, generally about one third of legislation enacted in Ireland is European based. Efforts have been made to cull and control the making of legislation and there are screening mechanisms in place to ensure that legislation is passed only where it is necessary to do so and where there is no more effective way to tackle the problem being addressed. The decline in the numbers of new Acts over the Covid period is noticeable with just 38 last year and 32 this year so far.
Primary legislation – Acts of the Oireachtas (called Bills when in preparation)- require the signature of the President to sign them into law and so the President is the final screen for any controversial new law. He has 7 days within which to refer a Bill for review to the Supreme Court if he considers there is a potential conflict between its provisions and the Irish Constitution. He can summon the assistance of an advisory council (the Council of State) to assist but the timeframe for a Supreme Court referral remains just 7 days from when he receives the Bill and the decision is all his. Unusually, the President criticized the pace and quantity of legislation that he was asked to sign last July. He was concerned that a rush to legislate before the summer holidays, subsequently blamed largely on Covid, could compromise his ability to properly review the then 19 proposed new laws. It was a rare intervention and it resulted in each Government department being asked to address their relevant processes.
A review of the current and planned pipeline of new legislation continues to reflect the times we’re living in. Of the 62 new Acts enacted so far by the current government, 32 of which have been passed this year, about one sixth related to each of the areas of health, justice, financial issues and a combined business and employment related tranche. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act was one of these new laws for 2021, however it has yet to be commenced.
Many of the new Acts (and also a considerable number of secondary legislation), as might be anticipated, are Covid related. Just one is directly Brexit related. The remaining one third of the 2021 Acts are spread over other particular domestic and societal issues, including planning, education and climate laws.
The planned pipeline of 46 further new Acts tagged as priority for the current government and which will spill over into 2022, covers a number of key areas of interest to business. In the mix is:
- a streamlined arrangement for large scale residential developments to deal with housing shortages,
- a Sick Leave Bill to provide for a statutory sick play scheme,
- the establishment of an Office of Food Ombudsman,
- a revision of competition law enforcement and immunity arrangements,
- a Bill to regulate on line political advertising during elections, and
- the establishment of a Media Commission (replacing the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) to regulate online safety and to implement the revised EU Audio Visual Media Services Directive.