Home > Seanad Éireann debate. Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023: Committee stage (resumed) and remaining stages.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate. Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023: Committee stage (resumed) and remaining stages. (25 Oct 2023)

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

Acting Chairperson, Senator Mark Wall: When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Senator Regina Doherty: Now.

Acting Chairperson, Senator Mark Wall: Is that agreed? Agreed. Bill received for final consideration.

Acting Chairperson, Senator Mark Wall: When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Senator Regina Doherty: Now.

Acting Chairperson, Senator Mark Wall: Is that agreed? Agreed. Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."


Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee: I thank the Acting Chairperson for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I thank my colleagues in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and the Fine Gael Seanad group for tabling this legislation and for working so proactively on it. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss it as I did not have the opportunity previously.


The Bill stems from an initiative by Young Fine Gael. I acknowledge those of its members who are here and their colleagues who have worked on this and I thank them for all of their work in bringing this issue to the fore, for speaking out and for driving this campaign for change. A great deal of effort has gone into developing the legislation. While spiking is a crime that can impact anybody, it is a particular danger and concern for young people in social environments. It is important that this generation be given a voice and that it has an opportunity to put forwards its views, its concerns and, most importantly, its ideas as to how the issues affecting it can be addressed. I thank them for all of their work.


Throughout these debates, we have returned time and time again to the fact that spiking is a heinous act that can have a very detrimental impact and devastating and lasting effects on victims. Even where it does not facilitate a further offence, it can have a lasting effect on a victim's physical and mental health and emotional well-being. Spiking victims describe feeling embarrassed, ashamed and fearful and suffering from a loss of confidence. These have significant repercussions on people's lives. We can also see things go even further. I have engaged with people whose families have also suffered highly detrimental implications. It can be very difficult or even impossible for spiking victims to ever again feel comfortable and at ease in social settings after having been subjected to such a traumatic experience. Incidents of spiking also have a real effect on the public at large. They undermine people's confidence in being able to simply enjoy a night out without fear.


As we are here, it is important to say that spiking is a serious crime. Section 12 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 criminalises anyone who intentionally or recklessly administers a substance capable of interfering substantially with another person's bodily functions. This explicitly includes unconsciousness or sleep and would certainly encompass an attempt to stupefy or overpower. It is important to emphasise that, where spiking is used to facilitate a further offence such as a sexual assault, an assault, which carries a ten-year maximum sentence, or a rape, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, these offences may be charged separately in addition to this offence. Other provisions exist that would deal with an attempt to commit such further offences. In addition, the offence of poisoning could be considered an assault causing harm, an offence carrying a sentence of five years. However, I intend to commence relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act to double the sentence for assault causing harm from five years to ten.


In saying all of this and despite the fact that spiking falls under existing legislation, although it is not called that, there is a gap and, from speaking to Young Fine Gael members and the younger people I meet in universities in different environments across the country, I know that young people are not coming forward. They are not sure what they should do, whether the law will be on their side and what the best steps for them are. That, in itself, means there is a gap we need to fill and that we need to do more. I look forward to this Bill's enactment. The fact that it has passed is wonderful.


Senators will be aware from previous debates that we had sought advice from An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Since then, we have received detailed observations from those bodies and there is ongoing engagement there. We have gone to Forensic Science Ireland with a view to gaining further insight into practical issues around evidence gathering. We have heard some useful points and constructive information that will enable us to progress this Bill further. Again, I look forward to engaging with colleagues here and with Young Fine Gael to make sure we can progress it in that way.


To my previous point, it is clear that the issues in challenging and tackling this crime are not solely of a legislative nature. That is why, in December 2021, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I launched an awareness campaign to combat spiking in collaboration with the Union of Students in Ireland. This included information on how to tell if a drink had been spiked, acknowledging that most drugs used in this manner are tasteless, colourless and odourless while highlighting the possible signs in a person's behaviour or body language and the steps to take if it is suspected that spiking has occurred. Campaigns like this send a very clear message that it is not acceptable to spike a person for any reason but there is a great deal more that we need to do in this regard. We see work in the area of consent being actively rolled out in all universities. It is almost mandatory that students engage on that issue. This is the space we need to be in when it comes to spiking. Students should be aware of the dangers, where they can access help and the proper route to take if something like this happens. We need to make sure supports are available for people, whether the victims' helpline, rape crisis centres, sexual assault treatment units or others. We need to make sure there are supports for individuals who become victims of spiking.


There is more we need to do and a lot that needs to be done but I welcome this Bill's passage today and I acknowledge the significant work that has gone into it. I again note the engagement with An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Collectively, all of this will be very helpful in moving forward on this matter. I intend to do that to make sure that we have as strong a legislative footing as possible to deter this crime and, when it does happen, to make sure that people know they have recourse and that those responsible will be brought to justice.


[Click here to read the full debate]

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