At the second time of asking, and after lengthy debate (which I will analyse in a later post) the Defamation Bill, 2006 finally passed the Seanad [Senate, or Upper House] last night (hat tip, Daithí). The full text of that final debate is now available here.
This is encouraging news, but we have only reached half-time in the long game that is Oireachtas [Parliamentary] procedure. It must now go to the Dáil [Lower House, functionally equivalent to the House of Commons], where the stakes and the profile will be higher. The stakes will be higher because there will be no further opportunity to amend the Bill once it passes. And the profile will be higher because DÃ¡il debates always have a greater impact on the public and media consciousness than do Seanad debates (for example, there is barely a whimper of recognition of the importance of last night’s debate in the mainstream media – apart from the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent, the Irish Times Seanad Report (sub req’d) discusses an entirely different issue, with the Defamation Bill getting a single sentence near the end, and no mention at all that it had been passed, and there seems to be no mention of it on the RTÉ News website).
(Update (13 March 2008): There is a full story in today’s Irish Times about the conclusion of the Seanad debate: Claim that Bill will improve media and public’s relations (sub req’d)).
In my view, it is an important stage in the process of enacting much-needed reforms of Irish defamation law, and deserving of as a wide a coverage as possible. But we must not get carried away. If it is not an occasion for dancin’ in the street, it is at least one for quiet relief that we have come this far and a certain amount of hope that the Bill will at last see the statute book.