Civil Service (Employment of Married Women) Bill, 1973: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 17 July 1973

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 267 No. 7

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Minister for Finance (Mr. R. Ryan): Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The main purpose of the Bill is to remove the statutory restrictions which at present apply in relation to the employment of married women in the Civil Service. These restrictions are contained in the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956 and the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956. The Commissioners Act (Section 16 (2) (c) enables the commissioners, in making regulations governing competitions [1094] in which women can take part, to provide that “a female candidate to be eligible for selection shall be unmarried or a widow”. The relevant section, section 10, of the Regulation Act requires in general that women civil servants must retire on marriage.

The repeal of these statutory restrictions was specifically recommended in the interim report of the Commission on the Status of Women which was published in October, 1971. The commission felt that it should be possible to implement this recommendation within two years. The recommendation was repeated in the commission's final report. In accepting the final report, on 8th May, 1973, I undertook that every effort would be made to meet the timelimit. It is with this end in view that the present Bill has been introduced.

In addition to removing the marriage-bar from the Civil Service, the Bill makes some other adjustments to the legislation governing the Civil Service. The main one is provision to enable married women who served in the Service before marriage to be reinstated in their former positions where hardship considerations warrant this, for example, in the case of desertion or the husband's permanent incapacity. This type of reinstatement is already available under the legislation to widows.

My pleasure in introducing this Bill is therefore twofold: first, because it is a further indication of the Government's commitment to end all forms of discrimination against women and, secondly, because the extent to which it provides for hardship cases is very much in tune with the Government's concern for the less fortunate members of our society.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  Despite my appeal and the commendation of the Minister in connection with another Bill when I urged him to drop this nonsense, I am afraid he is repeating it here. He is speaking of this Bill as though it were the result of new thinking, new initiative and great concern on the part of the Government. The Minister knows [1095] and the record shows that in the budget speech last year I referred to this matter and said that the Government had accepted this and ancillary changes as a national aim. I stated that in order to bring it about it would be necessary to make changes in certain regulations and also to introduce certain legislation. I indicated that it was hoped to do so within a period of 18 months and that, of course, is what this Bill is all about. That being so, the Minister may rest assured of the full co-operation and support of this side of the House in bringing about the achievement of that national aim which the previous Government had accepted and adopted.

I would like the Minister to tell us, when he is replying, something about the consultations in regard to the provisions of this Bill which, undoubtedly, have taken place with the various staff associations. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the provisions of the Bill, at least in their substance, have been agreed in those consultations.

I welcome in particular the provision enabling married women who served in the Civil Service prior to marriage to be reinstated in their former positions where hardship considerations warrant this—for example, as the Minister said, in the case of a deserted wife or of a husband's permanent incapacity. This has been a problem which has been dealt with in recent years on an ad hoc and somewhat unsatisfactory basis. I welcome the provision which will enable the problem to be dealt with in a more satisfactory way and on a definite legal basis. There is nothing further I wish to say at this stage except to repeat that we welcome the Bill and that we welcome it particularly because it is a fulfilment of a pledge made by the Fianna Fáil Government in their budget statement of last year.

Mr. B. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  As a Deputy from the Government side of the House I welcome this Bill and compliment the Minister for having introduced it in an expeditious manner. I would point out [1096] to the House that the Bill has been introduced only two months after the acceptance by the Minister of the final report of the Commission on the Status of Women. The Minister is to be commended for this.

I would make the point also that we politicians do not deserve any particular sense of self-congratulation on the introduction of this Bill because the restrictions laid down in 1966 in the Commissioners Act and the parallel restrictions laid down in the Civil Service Regulation Act of 1956 should never have been introduced in the first instance. It was a disgrace that only as far back as 1956 the political climate in this country was such that Dáil Éireann enacted these entirely discriminatory and undesirable provisions. In the light of the economic climate of 1956, a climate of a difficult employment situation, many arguments were advanced for that kind of circumscribing of the rights of married women to have continuing employment in the Civil Service. I would say that, even if these conditions were to appertain today, we should not introduce that kind of what can only be described as socially repressive legislation.

Finally, I would urge the Minister to continue to implement the many other recommendations of the report of the Commission of the Status of Women. It would be lamentable, indeed, if the many far-reaching, constructive and socially progressive recommendations relating to the status of women in our community were not introduced also.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy is moving away from the Bill.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  With these slightly out of order comments, I thank the Minister for having introduced the Bill.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  My intervention will be brief. While welcoming the Bill in general, I should like to comment on some implications of it. In the last paragraph of this speech, the Minister referred to the Government's commitments to end all forms of discrimination against women. This is a laudable objective and one which I am sure is [1097] shared by all parties in the House. However, there is an aspect of discrimination which, in my opinion, is much more urgent than the one covered by this Bill, that is, that of the frequently occuring advertisements in our newspapers of positions in the Civil Service in respect of which there are two distinct salary scales, the higher scale for males and the lower ones for females.

As a rural Deputy the aspect of the Bill in particular to which I wish to refer is the employment of young women. Because of the enlightened policy on education of previous Governments there are coming on to the labour market now, especially in the secretarial and clerical fields, a number of young women who in the past would not have had the opportunity of post-primary education. I am afraid there will be a certain amount of discrimination against those people as a result of this Bill in so far as that people living where the largest concentration of civil servants is, namely, Dublin, will find themselves being employed after marriage. The position will not be so much one of “I'm all right, Jack” as “We're all right, Jack and Jill”, while the girls in rural Ireland, who are far from the capital, will find themselves in a difficult position where employment is concerned. This will only heighten the difficulty that is appearing already due to automation and computerisation which leaves fewer jobs available for these people. As a rural Deputy, I am conscious of this problem because I am approached increasingly by school-leavers who express the hope that there will be such jobs available requiring clerical and secretarial skills. I hope some solution will be found to this difficulty; otherwise the situation will be one of discrimination and cross discrimination.

Mrs. Desmond: Information on Eileen Desmond  Zoom on Eileen Desmond  As perhaps the only Member of the House who was discriminated against under section 16 (2) (c) of the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956, I have a very special welcome for this Bill. I am very conscious of the long time it has taken for the majority of people to see how women were discriminated [1098] against under this section. I am sure it has made many people's blood boil down through the years to read that this Act enabled the commissioners to make regulations governing competitions in which women could take part. This is blatant discrimination which cries out for justice for over 50 per cent of our people. What surprises me is that it was allowed to remain on our Statute Book for so long. I know what has led up to the unanimous acceptance of this measure in this House this evening. I welcome it. I welcome too, the other provisions of the Bill dealing with hardship, a husband's incapacity et cetera.

I sincerely hope that this is just the first of a long series of measures to end the many forms of discrimination against women that still exist in our society. They have been tabulated effectively by the Commission on the Status of Women. They have been brought to our attention very effectively by those people who have fought for women's rights for so long. Everybody knows what is required. I know that we have a Minister and Ministers with the capacity and the will to eliminate whatever forms of discrimination exist and I look forward to the ending in a very short time of the other forms of discrimination which still exist which can be eliminated by legislation. I have a special welcome for this measure.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  As a Deputy who has been suggesting this type of legislation in relation to discrimination against our women folk, I should like to pay tribute to the concept of the Bill, which was prepared by the previous administration. Listening to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ryan, one would imagine that it was part of the 14-point plan with which we were presented prior to the election, most of the promises in which have not been fulfilled. We, on this side of the House, recognise this as Fianna Fáil legislation and if the people had retained us in power—I have no doubt they will return us at the next election—we would have introduced this Bill. Let me say that the Coalition are amending legislation which they introduced themselves in 1956. If it was discriminatory legislation in 1956 it will [1099] remain discriminatory legislation until such time as it is amended.

I should like to support one aspect which was mentioned by Deputy Wilson, but there is another aspect of the condition of married women which the Minister cannot include in this piece of legislation: that is the penalisation of married women in the context of income taxation. They have to carry a very heavy burden of income tax and are very much discriminated against in this respect. I should ask the Minister to take into account the condition of married women in relation to income tax.

This Bill must be welcomed. Apart from the previous administration's thinking on the matter, it also emanated from the Commission on the Status of Women which was set up by the previous administration. Like Deputy Mrs. Desmond, who was out of order, and with your indulgence, Sir, I will be out of order momentarily, we on this side of the House would hope that this is only the beginning of the introduction of legislation doing away with discrimination against our womenfolk.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I must rise to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of his Bill. I might call it the women's Magna Carta. We all hope that from this many other discriminatory phases of our ordinary life will gradually fade away. If Fianna Fáil had done something like this I certainly would have been glad to welcome it but if they were going to do it they were perhaps rather dilatory in bringing it in.

There are many people in this country, and I am one, who were brought up in an atmosphere of women's rights, the suffragette movement and things like that. There are many people who remember the workers in this cause, noble people. A couple come to my mind. Many even now will remember something about the Haslams away in the past. They were contemporaries of my grandparents and they worked unceasingly and devotedly rather like the Webbs in the social sphere in England. They worked for women's rights as I am [1100] sure the Sheehys and the Skeffingtons worked too. There were many noble minds in Dublin who put the rights of women in the forefront of what they wished to see done. Unfortunately, the 1914 war and then the troubled history of this country put the question of women's rights into the background and, now, although it would be a wise man who would say that it is less troubled than some of the past, I am glad that we have time to do this act of justice for the section of society and of life to which we all owe so much and to which we are all deeply indebted. I believe that from the beginnings in this Bill will come very big things in the years ahead. Nobody quite knows what women can do in industry. Of course, this deals mainly with the Civil Service but when the Government set the pattern other people will follow. I congratulate the Minister. He must be a proud man today. I certainly am very happy to be sitting in the Dáil which has given women this great opportunity and this fine Bill.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  I, too, wish to welcome the Bill and all it entails but I should like to say a few words of warning too. Deputy Desmond mentioned the legislation passed in 1956. Reasons were given then—employment and that sort of thing. As a result of the efforts of the previous Government in providing free post-primary education a big panel of young !people are coming out at the moment, all over 18, with the leaving certificate to their credit. For any job for which the leaving certificate is required there can be as many as 500 applicants. In my county recently interviews were held for 50 positions and 500 applied. This is the case that the young people are putting up to the rural Deputies.

I agree with the Bill in every way but I should like to issue a warning about the young people who are leaving school. How are we to get jobs for them? This has been implemented by the health boards and married nurses have been brought back into service while girls with their leaving certificate have been sent home even though they have completed two years in a hospital. Jack and Jill will be very well away, [1101] both of them will have good jobs and good salaries, but Mary's daughters from over the way who have their leaving certificate will be looking for the job that Jill has.

The standard of education required for the Civil Service has improved and the young people maintain that now people who entered the Civil Service when the educational qualifications were not as high will be brought back and they, with their leaving certificate qualification, will not be in a position to obtain such posts. I welcome the Bill but we are going to have a big job providing positions for the younger generation. If we were to build up an Ireland which the Minister envisages, the type of Ireland that everybody wants, jobs will have to be provided for our youth. We should be careful that we do not send out youth on the emigrant ships.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  As Henry VIII used say to his brides, “I shall not detain you long”. I welcome this Bill. It amuses me that everything produced on this side of the House was already hatched on the far side. We have seen such confusion already in the last two speakers, they are for it and they are against it. They cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  The Deputy is not at a county council meeting now.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I always conduct myself there also. I would like the word “hardship” defined by the Minister. The Civil Service is a big, heartless machine and a borderline “hardship” as we would see it might not have the same meaning for the officials. You have the “hardship” of people who have mortgages around their necks. I know of young married couples who have had to leave their homes because they could not meet the demands. This Bill goes a long way to help those people. I sympathise with the idea that young people must have jobs but young people starting out in life must have a home and a job as well. The way things are going today they might need two jobs.

Ruairí Brugha: Information on Ruairí Brugha  Zoom on Ruairí Brugha  I think Deputy [1102] Coogan knows perfectly well that this is a Bill which flows from the report of a commission which was set up some years ago to report on the status of women. As such I welcome it. It is one of a number of measures that one would expect following the publication of that report. I should like to speak on the aspects of this which must, or should, strike our own conscience as legislators. One can take the example of the two people who are in the Civil Service and are married. Coming into that house you will have, quite rightly, two wage envelopes each week. However, on another side of our society you may have another married couple neither of whom has a job. Into that household will be coming only the social welfare allowance to which they are entitled.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the justice of the case for women. I am sure we are all in favour of this Bill. I feel sure that men would be horrified at the idea of legislation at any time in the history of mankind which would insist on a man retiring when he gets married. Similarly, such legislation in relation to women is wrong. I think a note of warning needs to be issued to us as legislators, irrespective of what side of the House we are on, of the obvious inequality that must exist in the eyes of any young married couple who have not got employment. Perhaps it is a note that women might take into consideration if they are, or will be, in the Civil Service.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  I give this Bill my wholehearted support and I welcome it. I must compliment the man who instigated this whole concept of employment of married women in the Civil Service when he asked for the review on the status of women, Deputy Charles Haughey. I must also compliment Deputy Colley who received the interim report and, in his last budget speech, promised that this would be implemented within 18 months. Exactly that period of time has elapsed.

As a rural Deputy I am aware of the problem of employment and of the endeavours to keep our people at home. I should like the Minister to [1103] inform us if this will be extended to local authorities. If it is I believe it will go to meet part of the problem we will be encountering as a result of this legislation. If it is extended to the local authorities it will give more opportunities to the people in the remote rural areas to have employment nearer home.

Minister for Finance (Mr. R. Ryan): Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  I should like to express my gratitude to the House for the manner in which they have received this Bill. I speak for all women, no matter what their marital status, when I express that thanks. Deputies have raised a number of fears which are not justified. If we look at the private sector today where no such bar exists we do not find that there is any substantial number of married women working. There are some where domestic circumstances make it convenient for them to work or are such that they feel obliged to work to supplement the family income. Even in those cases they do not amount to any great number in the private sector. I do not think there is any real need to fear that the employment opportunities for young people will be in any significant way jeopardised or minimised as a consequence of married women being entitled to remain in the public service.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I do not want to interrupt the Minister, but I distinguish between urban and rural, and I think the danger is in the rural.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  Yes. I would not suggest for a moment that the pattern would be the same in different environments. It is bound to be different. We all know, no matter what the law says you may or may not do, that Mother Nature will probably dictate a pattern which will be outside the law and beyond the law's capacity to control. One need only look at the private sector in any part of the country to see the number of married women who continue to work after marriage. It is small because God is good and one can usually project interests other than collecting wage packets as time passes [1104] by. It is also worthy of note that the number of civil servants is on the increase. Complaint has been made about this, but it is one of the demands of modern life which requires the State to be more and more involved in regulating society and so the number of civil servants increases. This is so in respect of junior civil servants and particularly so in respect of girls.

There are a number of things at which we have to look. Apart from the removal of the marriage bar we have to examine carefully the discrimination in respect of different posts in the past. I accept the criticism Deputy Wilson makes but I would ask him, and others who have criticised in the same way, to bear with the administrators in the problem they have to solve. The Commission on the Status of Women recognised the problem which would arise if all forms of discrimination were to be instantly removed. If equal pay for work of equal value were to be given to everybody in the Civil Service immediately it would cost the State £14½ to £15 million a year. If it were to be applied in the public sector that would, of course set, a pattern for the private sector and there the amount would be much more than £15 million. The pattern which both my predecessor and I decided upon is to apply equality of pay, or steps towards it, in the public sector as recommended by the Labour Court. This is, I think, the appropriate basis on which to move forward.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  By the Employer-Labour Conference.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  Yes. They are related. It is thought that certainly well within the decade—I am putting that now as the outside—all forms of discrimination against women in both the private and the public sectors ought to have been removed. There will, of course, always be posts which will have to be confined to people of a particular sex. Warders in male prisons should obviously be males. Nurses in women's wards in hospitals should be women. There are several other particular spheres of responsibility which must be limited on grounds of sex to people of a particular [1105] sex; but I accept, as the House accepts, that there are many forms of segregation which are not justified today. Certainly the standard of education achieved by both boys and girls is such as to make them at least equal and, as we know from the results of the leaving certificate, the girls are in many cases superior as far as academic qualifications are concerned.

I noticed in today's paper a comment from one correspondent about a recent advertisement setting out different levels of remuneration for men and women. These advertisements will continue to appear until such time as discriminatory rates of pay are removed. I would hope that people would realise that they are being removed. Already discrimination has been reduced by 17½ per cent as a result of the national agreement and that is now applicable. One can feel confident that, as time goes on, all disparity will cease. This is exactly as it should be.

Deputy Andrews raised a point about the income tax burden borne by married women. I noticed that, although he encouraged me, irrelevantly, in this debate to do something about it, he was not gracious enough to acknowledge in the debate on the Finance Bill that I had made a move in this direction in the Finance Bill by providing that the income tax allowance for a married woman, together with that of a married man, would be double the single rate. That was a move in the right direction.

Deputy Colley is still suffering from the disappointment of defeat in the last general election and every time a piece of legislation comes before this House, with which he does not disagree, he claims it as his own. Of course, while the interim report from the Commission on the Status of Women was published over 18 months ago, the Minister of the day, Deputy Colley, did not take any steps to remove this bar. It was open to him to introduce a Bill to remove the bar from a date to be fixed by him, but he did not do that. In this sphere, as in many other spheres, we are acting where he merely promised.

[1106]Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  That is not in the Minister's brief anyway.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  That happens to be the reality.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  That is why it is not in the Minister's brief, because it is not the reality.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  We are doing what he merely indicated that he might do; and, once this Bill is signed, the marriage bar in the Civil Service goes. I can anticipate that there will be people disappointed that they just missed out because they married too soon, but one must have regard to the views of serving civil servants. Deputy Colley referred to discussions with staff associations. I am glad to report that they have been amicably concluded. Serving civil servants realise the injustice of this bar. They also realise, understandably, that its removal may to some extent limit promotion opportunities for women because if a large number of married women stay on, obviously the area of competition will be increased. Accepting all these things, the view of the associations now is that as soon as this Bill is signed it should be law and it should be the cut-off point between the injustice of the past and the justice we propose to apply in future. I trust the House will accept the Bill in that spirit. I know there is no reform that can ever be introduced which can cure the injustice of the past and we cannot do it here, but we are saying that, once this Bill is signed, injustice will end and the marriage bar will not apply.

Deputy Crowley asked about the position in the local government service. The bar which applies there is not a statutory bar and therefore does not require legislation for its removal.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  Can the Minister clarify this question of hardship?

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  The Bill specifies that married women will have the right of return if they are widows or if they retired in order to marry and did not, in fact, marry. Entitlement to return will also be given where the Minister for Finance is satisfied a married [1107] woman is not being supported by her husband. That would arise in the case of desertion or where the husband, through infirmity, illness or incapacity, might be unable to earn, or he could be unemployed.

The Deputy and the House can be assured that this will be most liberally and generously interpreted and, if it can be shown that a married woman is, in fact, suffering hardship because her husband is unable to provide for her and her family, she will be taken back. Like most matters of this kind, the more you try to particularise in legislation the kind of hardship you want to avoid, the more you tend to exclude cases of genuine hardship which are likely to develop. It is better to leave it to be generously interpreted than to try to cover every case in legislation.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  Could I ask the Minister for clarification with regard to what he said about the local authorities? Is it the relevant local authority which has the power to change the regulation, or is this done by the direction of, say, the Minister for Local Government?

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  No, it is a matter for each local authority.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  I suppose we may take it that once this is done in the Civil Service it is very likely to follow quickly in the local authorities?

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  I imagine that people will regard me as a pacemaker in this regard and will follow my good example.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

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