About this time last year, the Government lost some votes on important issues as the Bill that became the Data Protection Act 2018 (also here) was at Committee Stage in the Dáil. Writing on this blog, I described this as an example of new politics making for interesting times. Rather magnanimously, they did not seek to reverse these defeats; at the last stage of the Bill, the Minister confirmed that it was “not [his] intention to revisit the putting of the amendment in any other form”. In the intervening year, much has changed – for one thing, we are a year closer to a general election, commentators forecast that the next budget in October will be this Government’s last, and there is speculation that the Taoiseach may even call a snap election earlier than that. All of this means that the detente of new politics is breaking down. There can be no surer sign of this than that the Government is no longer magnanimously prepared to accept parliamentary defeats, and will reverse them if it can. There was a shameful example of this arrogance earlier this week in the Seanad, during the Report Stage debate on the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill 2018.
At Committee Stage, the Seanad approved an amendment put down by Senator Fintan Warfield (Sinn Féin) and opposed by the Government that would have ensured that that the archiving of the .ie domain would not infringe copyright. Writing on this blog, I welcomed this outcome as excellent news as a matter of principle, and an important step in making Irish copyright law fit for the digital age. However, at Report State, in an unseemly fit of pique, the Minister who had carriage of the Bill during the debate (the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD) unapologetically restated his objections that there were issues with other government departments and public institutions, and that it would have significant resource implications, and he put down an amendment to reverse Senator Warfield’s earlier successful amendment (see amendment no 7 here). In the event, Senator Warfield acquiesced in the Minister’s amendment with a heavy heart, and it was accepted by the Seanad without a vote. All that remains is a commitment to bring forward proposals within a year.
Meanwhile, Ireland will – entirely unnecessarily – lag far behind the US and the UK. For example, in the US, the Internet Archive (the digital equivalent of the ancient library of Alexandria) is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form, searchable through its Wayback Machine. Similarly, the UK Web Archive performs an automated collection of UK websites (otherwise known as a ‘crawl’) at least once a year, and it collects a number of important websites more frequently (up to daily). The Minister’s petty amendment means that Irish libraries and archives cannot match even the modest collecting of the UK Web Archive, let alone replicate the greater ambition of the Internet Archive.
There is much to be welcomed in the Bill, and I look forward to it being signed into law by the President, but the removal of Senator Warfield’s sensible amendment is a blot on the escutcheon of the Government in its final days in office.