Home > Seanad Éireann debate. Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023: Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate. Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023: Second Stage. (31 May 2023)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Senator Barry Ward - I propose to share time with Senator Doherty. I will have ten minutes and she will have six. 

Cuirim fáilte roimh an tAire inniú. The Minister is welcome to the House to discuss the Bill. This Bill is very close to the hearts of those in the Fine Gael group. It stemmed from an initiative taken by Young Fine Gael and a campaign it led in respect of spiking. Spiking, which I will talk about in a moment, takes a number of different guises, but I want to acknowledge the work done by the members of Young Fine Gael, particularly those who are present. I see Mr. Owen Gallagher, president of Young Fine Gael, Ms Beibhinn Byrne, Mr. Jamie Malone and Mr. Luke Corkery in the Gallery. A number of people have been involved in this campaign over many years, particularly from freshers week in the universities last September on. They brought this issue to the fore primarily because brought to their attention by their colleagues in universities throughout Ireland. They led a campaign, and the results they got back were shocking. So many students have experienced spiking. So many people have experienced this kind of unacceptable behaviour that they took the step of coming to our group and asking that a Bill be drawn up. They assisted with the drafting. We all had a hand in it. The result is the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023, which is being taken in this Private Members' business slot. 

It is important to look at the context of assault in this country. Assault has been contemplated in law for as long as there has been law. For hundreds of years, it has been unlawful to assault a person. The law that governed Ireland for a long time was the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which prohibited common assault, as it was called, and other forms of assault. The legislation with which we are most familiar is the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which was an attempt to reform the law, bring it up to date and put into law a categorisation of assault. There are three categories of assault under the Act: the first, provided for in section 2, is assault simpliciter; the second, provided for in section 2, is assault causing harm, and the third, provided for in section 4, is assault causing serious harm. 

The Act has been amended in the interim because the reality is that although assault has existed for hundreds and thousands of years, the nature of assaults and the manner in which assaults can be rendered has changed. The 1997 Act was amended to include assaults and threats with syringes, for example. That reflected the fact that assault with a syringe was not something that existed in 1861. Increasingly, however, syringes have been used as weapons against people. 

It is tremendously important that this Legislature and society in general recognise the damage that assault - that impermissible trespass on a person's body, personal space and security - has to be dealt with. Assault has hugely pervasive effects. What the Bill before the House deals with is perhaps the most modern iteration of assault. In bringing it forward, I am aware the Department feels a better way to do this would be to put it in the context of assault causing harm, because we know the harm is caused by spiking, and make it an aggravating factor in sentencing. Therefore, when somebody comes before the court for a section 3 assault or whatever, if the offence involved spiking, that would be an aggravating factor. That is to miss the point of what this legislation does. It is also to miss the pervasive element of what spiking is. We have defined spiking in the this short Bill, which deals with the matter quite comprehensively. The offence of spiking is created in section 2, which states: 

(1) A person commits an offence if he or she intentionally—

(a) administers a substance to,

(b) by whatever means, injects a substance into, or

(c) otherwise causes a substance to be taken orally by, another person—

(i) knowing that the other person does not consent, or being reckless as to

whether or not the other person consents, and

(ii) with the intention of overpowering, or sedating the other person, for the purposes of—

(I) engaging in a sexual act involving the other person,

(II) causing harm to the other person,

(III) making a gain,

(IV) causing a loss to the other person, or

(V) otherwise committing an offence with, or against, the person. 

The definition is fairly wide because that is the reality of what spiking involves. In the context of the way spiking is used by people, it can, as is stated in section 2(1) occur as a result of someone dropping a pill into a person's drink in a bar when he or she is not looking. 

It can be through a tiny needle in somebody's shoulder or arm, of which they may not even be aware. Essentially, this administers into them a poison, which has a very significant effect on their ability to function, to have control of their body, and to be conscious of what they are doing. The stories we are hearing of people who have been the victims of spiking are quite extraordinary and frightening. This is not restricted to young women, although it is fair to say they are the bulk of the people who are directly affected by spiking, but it also affects young men. 

Those who tell us about what has happened often do not know exactly what has happened but they know they woke up somewhere and do not remember getting there. They talk about being in a trance. In the past we referred to date rape drugs, where people were unable to stop what was happening. That is a tremendously frightening thing for any person to go through. Not only is it such an awful offence but it has a very significant effect on that person also. We are bringing forward in this Bill a stand-alone offence of spiking. It states that it is an assault, a poisoning. There are possibly other areas of the law which could deal with it but it is important that we, as a Legislature, put down a marker to say this is a particular type of offence which we will not tolerate. It is out there and needs to be recognised specifically in law as a type of assault which is worthy of its own recognition and penalties. 

The Bill specifically prescribes the penalties in section 2(3) where for a conviction on indictment, the maximum term of imprisonment is ten years. It is also a serious offence and is something which we specifically acknowledge as being very serious. The effect it has on individuals, and long after it has happened, is very pervasive. 

I hope the Minister will look at this Bill with a fresh eye and consider the argument we are making which is that a stand-alone offence is the only way we can properly mark this, as a Legislature, and properly send out the message to people who might be considering carrying out this kind of behaviour of just how serious it is.... 

[For the full debate, click this link to the Oireachtas website]

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