The Government Legislation Programme of the Partnership Government for the Spring session 2019 has been published.
Rather unusually, the Cabinet has only approved 6 Bills for priority publication (in comparison to 39 Bills for the Autumn/Winter session). The reason for this low number is that the Government needs to ensure there is sufficient time available in the Oireachtas schedule to pass emergency legislation to deal with a no-deal Brexit scenario by 29 March 2019.
Other than the Brexit legislation (discussed in more detail below), the significant items on the priority list include legislation to:
- establish a CervicalCheck Tribunal to determine the issue of liability in CervicalCheck cases, and in particular in respect of the reading of smears;
- propose an amendment to the Constitution to extend the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State;
- propose an amendment to the Constitution to reduce the waiting period for obtaining a divorce.
The proposed Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill (the "Brexit Bill") will be a significant piece of legislation, spanning 17 parts focussed on the broad themes of protecting the citizen and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Specifically, provision will be made for contingencies in the areas of health, energy, financial services, taxation, transport, education, employment and justice.
Alongside this, over 20 statutory instruments are being prepared to cover a range of matters supplementary to the content of the Brexit Bill. Amendments to the Interpretation Act 2005 will also be included.
The Government has indicated that the Brexit Bill will be published in draft form during the week commencing 21 January 2019.
Progress on other legislation of interest
Quite a few of the other Bills in the Autumn Legislation Programme have not progressed over the last number of months. However, two notable pieces on which some progress has been made are:
- Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill
This Bill seeks to amend the provisions of the Companies Act 2014 with respect to the structure of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) with a view to establishing a new independent agency to investigate breaches of company law to be called the Corporate Enforcement Authority. The Authority will have the same functions and powers as the Director of Corporate Enforcement, with modifications to reflect the new proposed agency structure. The Heads of Bill were approved on 4 December 2018 and drafting is underway. Please see our article New Corporate Enforcement Authority Proposed: Further Changes to Companies Act 2014 on the Horizon.
- Central Bank (Amendment) Bill
The new Legislative Programme provides greater detail on this Bill confirming that it will address the Central Bank's recommendations on banking culture as well as other matters. The Central Bank's proposed framework is based on the four pillars of: conduct standards; senior executive accountability regime; streamlined enforcement processes; and stronger fitness and probity requirements. The Heads of Bill are currently being prepared. For more information on the Central Bank's proposed framework see our detailed briefing on "Behaviour and Culture in Irish Retail Banks".
Given the enormity of the task facing the Oireachtas in passing the Brexit Bill, it is expected that very little progress will be made on other, non-Brexit legislation until the second half of 2019 at least.
It is expected that the Brexit Bill will be published in draft form during the week commencing 21 January 2019 and that it will be published in full by 22 February 2019. The aim is to have the Brexit Bill enacted by 14 March 2019, in time for the current scheduled exit date of the UK from the EU, 29 March 2019.