Bill to ban power cuts pushes for jail terms
A PROPOSED law to ban power cuts at the ESB as part of any strike action is to increase the pressure on Communications and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte to ensure that the December 16 outage doesn't take place.
The hard-hitting bill is being brought forward by Independent senator Feargal Quinn and will be debated in the Seanad next Wednesday.
Mr Quinn is publishing a bill to make it an offence for a person to engage in industrial action which causes an interruption to the supply of a critical utility, which the bill defines as water or electricity.
The Critical Utilities 2013 Bill will also "make it an offence for a person to induce another to cause an interruption to the supply of a critical utility, such as electricity or water".
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Quinn said the planned action by workers at the ESB highlighted the need for such a law. "I have been working on this for a while but certainly the events of the past two weeks have given it a real sense of urgency," he said.
Mr Quinn denied this was an attack on trade unions or the individual right to industrial action. However, he compared his bill to the situation in An Garda Siochana, whereby members cannot go on strike, given their critical role in the State.
Mr Quinn also sought legal advice as to what can be considered a "critical utility" and the advice was gas did not qualify.
The bill is to be co-sponsored by Senators Sean Barrett and David Norris.
Under the planned law, someone who is found guilty of inducing someone to interfere with the supply will be liable to a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine not exceeding €250,000.
Anyone found guilty of engaging in industrial action which leads to a cut in the supply of a critical utility will be liable to a prison term of up to five years or a fine of up to €50,000.
However, Mr Rabbitte said the Government "will not be supporting" Mr Quinn's bill.
"I understand the senator hopes to have it debated in the Seanad next Wednesday. I also understand the bill will create new criminal offences, with provision for up to five years' imprisonment.
"Of course the Government believes there should not be industrial disruption in our utilities but applying the criminal law to this purpose would, we believe, be counterproductive."
Mr Rabbitte said provisions in negotiated agreements for "no strike" clauses can work well. However, statutory provisions that include criminal sanctions are an "entirely different matter".
"The success of our industrial relations machinery is due in no small way to the fact that it is voluntarist in character," he said.