Private Members' Business. - An Bille um an Aonú Leasú Déag ar an mBunreacht (Uimh. 3), 1991: An Dara Céim (atógáil). Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution (No. 3) Bill, 1991: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 1 May 1991

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 407 No. 7

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Atairgeadh an cheist: “Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair.”

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Deputy Boylan was in possession and he has 23 minutes left.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I would like to share my remaining time with Deputy Dukes and Deputy Therese Ahearn, if that is agreed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  Last night I outlined the role of the women of Ireland in building this great country of ours. The influence of mothers on sons and daughters made Ireland the great country it is and that influence came from rearing the family. For that reason alone this Bill is worthy of support. I do not accept, in this day and age, when the modern woman feels she has a more outgoing role to play and she wants to move out into the world, that there should be any bar in her way. It is wrong and backward thinking that any club or organisation should have rules or regulations that debar women. People of that mentality should not be supported by the State.

In conclusion, there is an attitude abroad that it is no longer fashionable for the mother to stay at home and rear her family, that it is not important work. If a woman is interviewed and is asked her occupation one notices that she is sometimes shy or embarrassed in stating that she is [1813] a housewife. She should not be embarrassed. It is still important work. It was never more important that her children be guided because of all the attractions and the medium of television.

For that reason and in recognition of the work of women in Ireland I commend this Bill and compliment Deputy Mitchell on bringing it forward. I ask the House to support it.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  It might be worthwhile to remind ourselves very briefly what our vision of society should be in terms of participation of both sexes. I suggest we should aim to have a society where it would be totally unremarkable to find that half the positions in any occupation, whether with or without influence, should be occupied by men and the other half occupied by women. We should also have as our objective bringing about a society where every member, without any distinction of sex, creed or any other distinction, should feel that he or she has an equal chance to make his or her own choice, unaffected by any outside values that might be brought to bear on them about what path to follow in life, what profession to follow, what degree of influence to aspire to or any of those things that are the meat of most of what we say about careers.

Our Constitution is very eloquent in this regard because it shows an attitude that is totally out of keeping with those two objectives that we should have in society. Only one provision in our Constitution speaks about the matters we are talking about now in a totally unbiased way, Article 9.1.3º. It is worth recalling it because I think it was part of the consideration that led Deputy Gay Mitchell to draft this Bill in the way he did. Article 9.1.3º provides:

No person may be excluded from Irish nationality and citizenship by reason of the sex of such person.

That Article is clear and unambiguous, nothing of a paternalistic nature can be read into it, nothing of a condescending nature can be read into it and that, rightly, has been part of the model [1814] Deputy Mitchell used in drafting this Bill. It is because it has the character I have just outlined that he used it in that way.

The other provisions in our Constitution are very different. Article 40.1. provides that:

All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.

The second paragraph of that provision goes on in a way which opens up ambiguity, room for interpretation or scope for prejudice against which Deputy Mitchell's Bill is aimed because it provides:

This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.

That is where the real difficulty comes in our Constitution, that is where the real problem Deputy Mitchell's Bill addresses begins. Article 41.2.1º speaks of a particular role for women:

In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

Article 41.2.2º states:

The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

It is in those Articles we find the beginning of the problem that has been much talked about, much argued about for many years but which we have not yet fully resolved or tackled. Those Articles in the Constitution depart from the starting point we should have which is that every citizen should feel he or she has the same freedom, the same right and the same ability to follow his or her bent in life without interference from any other values imposed on him or her by the Constitution or by law, but particularly by the Constitution. Every citizen should feel that he or she can live in a society where it is a matter of indifference, a [1815] matter of no comment, a matter that is totally unremarkable that about half the people in positions of influence, power, sway or importance — whether political, social or economic — will be women. We do not have that situation.

That is not the spirit that lies behind our Constitution. What lies behind our Constitution is a very paternalistic view of the role of women, a very condescending view to women, and I say that not to denigrate the framer of the Constitution but simply to make the point that these Articles are based on a particular view, a particular concept of society which had not come to terms with equality, which had not come to terms with the right of each individual to have access to and the ability to develop himself or herself to the full without the interference of external values, external constraints. It is that that has caused the problem here for so many years and it is that which Deputy Mitchell's Bill seeks to address.

It is ironic in a sense that, while all of these provisions in our Constitution sprang from a particular view of society and a concern to defend, to promote or to vindicate that view of society — and done at the time for the best of motives — it is those provisions that have trapped women in Ireland since 1937 and which have brought about a situation where in countless, not readily observable, ways half the members of our society are denied the same right to develop their own contribution to society, to their families, to their own life, that the other half of us are able to take for granted.

Our Constitution of 1937 by the way it refers to women traps them and creates a situation where inescapably they are discriminated against not only in law but more importantly and more comprehensively in the attitudes that lies behind our law and the way our society functions. Some years ago when we were talking about financial matters, a very wise civil servant said to me: “Minister, when somebody tells me that a progressive change we wish to bring about requires only a change in public attitudes, I know it will never happen.” I would not [1816] be as pessimistic as that but there is more than a grain of truth in it. It takes a long time to change an ingrained attitude that is buttressed up by our Constitution. It takes a long time to change a prejudice that is given sanction by the way our Constitution is written. I hesitate to say this — and I know Deputy Mitchell will not be too happy that I would say something contentious about this Bill, which he quite rightly wants to make non-political — but it takes a long time to change an ingrained attitude in the Fianna Fáil Party, because they lead firmly from behind. When Fianna Fáil change their attitude on any major topic you will know, as sure as night follows day, that it is because the public has already changed. We all hope that that ingrained attitude in Fianna Fáil has changed but it has not yet changed on this issue. We saw how long it took to change attitudes within Fianna Fáil on the financial management of our economy and indeed on the econmic management of our State to the benefit of the people. It will take a long time to change the prejudices that underlie the provisions of our Constitution that have caused the problems we are talking about in this Bill.

Attitudes take a long time to change and they will not change if we in this House refuse to take the steps that will encourage and indeed lead the public into changing their attitude. These attitudes are very deeply ingrained in all aspects of Irish life. About 20 years ago my wife and I lived in a south Dublin suburb which in more recent times would have been called “yuppie”, although that term has now gone out of fashion. The rest were a great deal more affluent than we were at that time but that suburb would have been regarded as affluent and socially progressive.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  The Deputy had a very good TD.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  It was not Deputy Mitchell — he was still in short pants at the time. The suburb would have been regarded as quite progressive. We were delighted to [1817] hear the parish priest issue an open invitation from the altar for lay readers. Whatever we may have thought of the Constitution at that time we thought this was good: the Church is changing its attitude about the laity. We both went around to the sacristy after Mass and sought out the parish priest. I told him we were delighted to hear his invitation and we wanted to sign up as lay readers. He beamed at me and said: “That is grand, Alan, we will be delighted to have you, what Sunday will I put you down for?” In those days I was not a politician and I had Sundays mostly to myself and I told him I was generally free. Incidentally, I said, Fionnuala wants to become a reader too. He turned around to her and beamed at her and said, “Can't Alan do it for you?” I do not know if that man ever realised how close he came to assassination from two sides on that Sunday. It showed an attitude. The Church, and rightly so, was seeking to involve the laity in its activities to a greater extent than before and yet because of this unspoken prejudice was saying that half of the people do not really qualify to do it. In the same connection we still have what I regard as a non-sensical debate or dispute, if that is what you would call it, about girls serving on the altar. However, I am happy to say there are other parts of the country where you do not have that problem. Of course, our Constitution has nothing to do with the running, of the Church — which is another days work — but it has to do with the attitude we are talking about, the attitude that distinguishes between the people and the women, which is what we are seeking to unlock and change in this Bill.

The Government's attitude to the Bill seems to be very unwise, partial reluctance and backward looking. All law needs a good solid foundation in the Constitution — that is what Constitutions are for, to guide and inspire law, so that by laying down a clear set of values and objectives, we will know that those values and objectives will inspire and inform the law that we make. If the Constitution is paternalistic and condescending in any [1818] respect, then there is a fair chance that the law is going to be paternalistic and condescending in that same respect. It is nonsense for speakers on the Government side to say that the issues we are dealing with should be dealt with only in law and not in the Constitution, because without the proper constitutional foundation the law will not match up to our requirements on this essential issue of human rights.

I listened with some distress last evening to the ubiquitous Deputy Roche, who has been brought out to speak on all of these issues, speaking as if we could do without any constitutional inspiration for the law in these areas. He was trying to pretend that there was something wrong with Deputy Mitchell's Bill because it did not change the law in all the specific respects we could talk about. My point, which I share with Deputy Mitchell, is that unless and until we change the Constitution we can never be sure the law will meet the objectives, the requirements and the aspirations we set out for all of our people. It is nonsense to pretend — and we hear more of this from the Government these days — that our Constitution is in some way a seamless web and that no part of it can be changed without all the other parts of it being changed also. Apparently that view started from a liberal feeling among the Progressive Democrats but in the hands of this Government it has turned into a recipe for making no change whatsoever. If we examine the issue we might find it undemocratic to be faced with a choice between on the one hand changing everything in our Constitution or changing nothing. I think the Progressive Democrats have been wrong about that because all they have succeeded in doing so far, after all the huffing and puffing about a new Constitution, is making sure that the other party in Government decide to change nothing. It is pernicious in regard to the matter we are discussing in this Bill.

I repeat that the law needs a very clear and firm foundation in relation to our objectives and principles and the values we put on people as individuals. If our [1819] Constitution does not set that out in the way we want it set out, then there is a more than even chance that our laws will not achieve those objectives, and that our laws will have the same flaws that have been talked about for the past 30 or 40 years and that will not disappear until we root the same fundamental flaw out of our Constitution. It is urgent and absolutely of the highest necessity that we make the change that is proposed in our Constitution and to insert in it the provision that rights under the law shall not be limited or denied by the State by virtue of the distinction of sex. That has the same clarity that we see in Article 9 of the Constitution. That provision can be the keystone we will use to build a structure of equality and to achieve the things for half of our population that we want to achieve and we can make sure, with the right keystone, that they will endure.

Mrs. T. Ahearn: Information on Theresa Ahearn  Zoom on Theresa Ahearn  I warmly welcome and support this amendment to our Constitution proposed by my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell. As far as the women of Ireland are concerned, this amendment is long overdue. It is appropriate, and indeed important that we have a clear, unequivocal, unambiguous clause inserted into the Constitution underpinning the fact that women are indeed equal to men and must be so deemed under the laws of the State.

For far too long women have laboured, and sadly continue to labour, under an abundance of discriminatory attitudes, practices and even laws. It has taken the tenacity, valour and obstinate determination of many women over the years to reverse the blatant discrimination against them in the laws.

Joining the European Community gave a tremendous boost to the pursuit of equality for women under law. Fortunately the women's movement seized the opportunity presented by European Community membership to push Ireland into the 20th century as far as the issue of women's rights was concerned. Under the watchful eye of the European Court [1820] Irish Governments have been embarrassed and coerced into putting women on a par with men before the law. Now we urgently need to move forward, to put Ireland into the 21st century and take the all important steps of publicly demonstrating through our Constitution that we as a nation unreservedly acknowledge the inherent right to equality in the economic, political and social spheres.

The Constitution is the guiding light for all our laws. It is the soil in which the plant of our law is rooted. Yet, viewed from a woman's point of view, it is an unbalanced document. Women, wherever they get a mention, are by and large relegated exclusively to domestic spheres. No other role is readily seen for women. The language and thinking of the Constitution are male dominated. Yet is it not an ironic twist that remedies for some of the injustices against women have been arrived at by recourse to the Constitution? I share Deputy Mitchell's view that this is not good enough. There are ambiguities in the Constitution. The interpretation of certain Articles depends on the courts which may or may not choose to see inequality. Clearly Article 40.1 and 40.3 are most certainly not on every occasion seen by the courts to, without hesitation, support the notion of equality. As matters stand, the recognition of equality of women can be won or lost by the attitude to the Constitution by the courts.

I am not at all impressed by the Government's recital of all they are supposed to have done to improve the lot of women. Is it not scarcely a matter for self-congratulation that they have set about righting injustices against half the population? The fact that we still need an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights serves to show that women do not yet enjoy full equality in all spheres. The very existence of this committee, and indeed the lack of a men's rights committee, speaks volumes of the position of women in Irish society in 1991.

If one takes a glance around this House or the Seanad or looks at the composition of the Cabinet one must ask, why are there so few women? The fact that there [1821] are 13 women in the Dáil out of a total of 166 Members; six out of 60 in the Seanad and one out of 15 in the Cabinet is stark evidence that all is not well for women today.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I would be grateful if the Deputy would now please bring her remarks to a close.

Mrs. T. Ahearn: Information on Theresa Ahearn  Zoom on Theresa Ahearn  The proposed amendment is needed. The Government must come clean on this issue. They must be prepared to insert full equality into the most important document in our land. Women are watching and waiting. They demand, as we in the Fine Gael Party do, that our Constitution should recognise unequivocally through this amendment full equality for women. Therefore, to remove all doubt and all ambiguity the Fine Gael Party demand clarity in this matter in the shape of the proposed amendment.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn): Information on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  Zoom on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  A Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom an t-am atá ann don Rialtas a roinnt idir mé féin agus an Teachta Wallace.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Ceart go leor, aontaithe.

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Information on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  Zoom on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  Is mían liom mo bhuíochas a ghlacadh leis na Teachtaí ar an dá thaobh den Teach a dúirt go leor rudaí le linn na díospóireachta seo an tseachtain seo caite nuair nach raibh mé féin i láthair, agus anseo aréir nuair a bhí mé i láthair.

I would like from the outset to say that I very much regret the fact that my absence abroad on official business last week precluded me from making the opening contribution on behalf of the Government to this debate. I am grateful to my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Vincent Brady, for taking my place at that time and for outlining the reasons why the Government will be opposing this Bill.

[1822] My interest in this debate stems, of course, from the fact that, in addition to my responsibilities for European affairs, the Taoiseach has assigned to me a specific monitoring and co-ordinating role on all aspects of Government policy as they affect women.

The Government's commitment to the promotion of equality and equal opportunities between women and men is clear for all to see, and it was for this very reason that the Government decided not to oppose the moving of Second Stage of this Bill. While we believe that Private Members' time could and should be used to a lot greater effect to promote legislation of real benefit to our citizens, women and men alike — I quote Deputy Shatter's Judicial Separation Bill, as subsequently amended and enacted, as a case in point — we nevertheless welcome this opportunity for the House to debate such a fundamental principle of our society, the question of equality between the sexes, which we believe is already adequately enshrined in our Constitution.

I have studied the contributions made in the debate on this Bill last week with great interest, and was present to hear the contributions made in the House last evening and again this evening. Overall, I would like to commend Deputies who contributed to the debate for the quality of their contributions. It is a measure of the maturity of this Legislature and the seriousness with which it addresses the principle of equality of all our citizens that the contributions in this debate were, in the main, well researched and highly responsible. If I was to take exception to any particular contribution, I would have to say that I found that of Deputy Fennell to be overly selective in attributing credit for past achievements in this area to Fine Gael-dominated Governments, but I propose in any event to put the record straight as regards the Government's commitment to the promotion of equality between women and men.

In his opening address to the House, Deputy Mitchell suggested that the record of the Oireachtas and successive Governments on the issue of equality was [1823] abysmal. While I would certainly contend that there is room for improvement on our past record, I quite simply cannot agree with this assertion. What strikes me most about it is the fact that, in apportioning blame to successive Governments, the Deputy must assuredly have been including that Government which was dominated, numerically, although clearly not ideologically, by his own party in the period 1983-87. The House will agree with me when I say that I find it a little bit odd, to say the least, that Deputy Mitchell and his colleagues, while underlining the absolute necessity for the draft legislation before us at this time, made absolutely no effort to enact such legislation in the four year period during which they were in office.

The simple explanation is, of course, that what was not an absolute necessity or an imperative in the period 1983-87 is still not an imperative today. This fully justifies the Government stance on the issue before the House to the effect that it is simply not necessary. In fairness to Deputy Mitchell's partners in Government in the 1983-87 period, Deputy Ferris, on behalf of the Labour Party, made it clear in his contribution last week that his party share the Government's view that an amendment to the Constitution is unnecessary and that any remaining obstacles in this area can be addressed by legislation to be enacted by the Oireachtas.

A further point which strikes me about the weakness of the Fine Gael Party's arguments for the necessity for this Bill arises from the contribution made by Deputy Fennell. Although the Bill before us confines itself to an amendment of Article 40 of the Constitution, Deputy Fennel, who is after all her party's spokesperson on equality issues, volunteered to the House her personal opinion that we should go further even than this simple amendment. She suggested that we should also, “scrap Article 41.2 of the Constitution; it is meaningless”. I am bound to ask the House how are we to address this Fine Gael [1824] proposal seriously if the party's spokespersons on constitutional reform and equality issues. Deputies Mitchell and Fennell respectively, cannot agree on the nature of an amendment to the Constitution dealing with equality? If the House was foolish enough to enact this unnecessary legislation before us, are we not to assume that we must brace ourselves for a further legislative proposal in six, 12 or 18 months time to provide for another referendum to meet the concerns expressed by Deputy Fennell in relation to Article 41.2?

One of the more forceful points made in the debate so far on this Bill was the fact that, far from promoting the principle of equality in our society, the provisions of the Bill as they stand could, in fact, restrict the scope for action in this area.

Deputy Ferris very validly posed the question as to whether the Oireachtas could ever enact legislation to provide for positive action in favour of women if the Fine Gael proposal was enacted and carried by referendum. Deputy De Rossa reinforced the doubts on this issue and went so far as to propose an additional text to the Fine Gael proposal to ensure continued scope for positive action. My own view, although I would have welcomed legal advice on it if the time had allowed, is that the Fine Gael proposal as it stands would restrict the scope for future legislative action to cover positive action in favour of women. In doing so, it would fly in the face of the wishes and decisions of this House, which has already enshrined the principle of positive action in our Employment Equality Act, 1977.

Moreover, it would cut across the universally accepted opinion throughout the western world, as enunciated most clearly in the five year equal opportunity programmes of the European Community which we must implement, that, with the achievement of equality in law in most western democracies in recent decades, positive action is regarded as an essential policy instrument if what Deputy Dukes talked about and what we all want, equality in reality is to be [1825] achieved over time. Indeed, I would remind the House that Ireland, by virtue of our accession to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, is now bound by international law to respect the principle of positive action. Article 4 of the convention provides that:

Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.

Given the serious question mark surrounding the implications of these proposals for future positive action measures, I believe that this is a further strong reason for the House to reject this unnecessary and poorly researched proposal.

A further point made in the debate by Deputies Mitchell and Fennell was that the Constitution, in particular Article 40.1, allowed the passage of legislation which was restrictive to women and, in fact, that it has inhibited legislation in the equality area. I suggest to Deputies that this is patently not the case. The Minister of State, Deputy Vincent Brady, in his contribution referred to the wide range of legislative measures which have been enacted by successive Governments, including measures by some of the parties opposite when in Government, to give effect to the principle of equality and to enhance the status of women in our society.

These legislative measures — covering such issues as married women's status, succession, employment equality, equal pay, maternity protection, unfair dismissals, guardianship of infants, the care of children, maintenance orders, juries, maintenance of spouses and children, family planning, social welfare and [1826] income maintenance, taxation provisions, rape, domicile and recognition of foreign divorces, and protection for part-time workers — have all been enacted in full compliance with the provisions of our Constitution and have given very real support and provision for redress of wrongs to Irish women. If, in some instances, these laws have been found to be inadequate or overly-weak, I would argue that this has arisen not from any inhibitions in our Constitution but, rather, from the failure of this Legislature to enact sufficiently comprehensive provisions to achieve the objectives originally intended. As Minister of State, Deputy Vincent Brady, implied in his contribution last week, the real challenge for us as legislators is to fulfil our responsibilities to the electorate by using our ingenuity to draw up effective and practical legislative measures to combat the highly complex problem of discrimination between the sexes.

I should now like to turn briefly to the Government's record on equality issues and to some of the points raised in this context by Deputies. Deputy McGahon last evening expressed some views regarding which I was glad to see Deputy Taylor-Quinn taking him to task. Deputy McGahon last evening suggested that a serious shortcoming in the Government's new law on rape was that it omitted to address the problem of rape within marriage whereas he believed a recent judgment from the House of Lords placed Britain far ahead of us on this issue. I attempted, but failed, to put the record straight last evening, so I wish to make it clear here that Deputy McGahon was misinformed in his assertion. The Government's new law on rape does address the problem of rape within marriage and provides that it is subject to the same maximum penalty as rape in any other circumstances, that is, life imprisonment. The Deputy will be pleased to learn, therefore, that our rape laws are now far advanced in comparison with many of our European neighbours.

Deputy De Rossa very kindly complimented me on my role of monitoring and co-ordinating Government policies [1827] as they affect women, but went on to criticise this role on the grounds that I have no obligation to report to this House or to let Deputies know what the Departments of State are doing specifically to improve the status of women.

Deputy De Rossa is correct in saying that I have no specific reporting obligation in these matters, but I would point out to him that I published a comprehensive booklet just over two years ago in which I itemised the actions taken by each Department of State to promote equality over the period March 1987 to September 1988. This booklet was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, was available from the Government Publications Sales Office and was given widespread distribution to women's groups throughout the country. It had the benefit of sensitising the community to what specific actions had been taken in this area and of promoting a public debate both on the efficacy of these actions and the need for further measures to be taken. Moreover, I believe that the very exercise of requesting this information from the senior policy-makers in all Government Departments had the important function of sensitising them — the majority of whom unfortunately, are still male — to the effect which the policies they propose and implement can have on women's lives.

I am pleased to inform the House that, in line with a promise which I made when I published this detailed booklet, I am now in the process of drafting a second publication which will again itemise, by Department of State, all the activities which have been carried out by this Government since September 1988. Material is being received by my office from each Department at present, and I hope to be in a position to publish the document within weeks. I believe this will largely meet the point made by Deputy De Rossa as regards his perceived shortcomings of my role on equality issues.

Deputy Ferris referred to the Second Commission on the Status of Women. He stated it was disappointing that the [1828] Government have contented themselves with the appointment of another commission in this area because, no matter how well intentioned and busy that commission will be, he believed it would be possibly another two years before there is a call on the Government to act. I am happy to inform the House that Deputy Ferris is way off the mark with this assertion.

The position is that when the commission were established some six months ago, they were asked to report to Government within 18 months. So at this stage the longest timescale for responding to the commission's recommendations would be one year from now, and not two as suggested by Deputy Ferris. However, implicit in the Deputy's criticism was a suggestion that the establishment of the commission was something of a stalling exercise. I reject this suggestion out of hand and would point out that, when the Taoiseach addressed the new commission last November, it was he who took the initiative by inviting them to consider making interim recommendations pending their final report. So, far from putting these issues on the back burner, as it were, it was the Taoiseach himself who invited an early response from the commission.

I am pleased to remind the House that the commission have, in fact, responded to the Taoiseach's invitation by announcing seven interim recommendations only last week in their first statement to Government. In her otherwise excellent contribution last evening, Deputy Taylor-Quinn spoke at some length on the content of these seven recommendations and called for their implementation. What she neglected to point out, however, was that the Taoiseach immediately announced that the Government had considered the recommendations and that they were in principle acceptable to them. This very positive response from the Government, coming only some six months after the establishment of the commission, is a clear indication of the Government's commitment and sincerity in promoting the status of women.

[1829] The practical effect of the Government's decision is that legislation to provide for joint ownership of the family home and household chattels — which I must emphasise is already under consideration by this Government — will be finalised once the outcome of a case on appeal from the High Court to the Supreme Court is known.

In future, all Government decisions will specify the probable impact, if any, on women of proposed policy changes. The Government have also agreed to work towards the commission's guidelines as regards representation of women on State boards subject, of course, as their recommendation in any event accepts, to the need for appointing men where objective criteria so indicate.

The Government will appoint a woman to the Top Level Appointments Committee which selects candidates for the most senior posts in the Civil Service.

I am pleased to inform the House that the Government also accept the recommendation that national lottery and other public funds should not be allocated to private clubs which operate discriminatory policies which deprive women of the right to apply for full membership.

As regards public service age limits, the Government can already report progress under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress in raising the recruitment age for the public service so as to broaden career choices for women, particularly women who are keen to re-enter the work force.

Finally, as regards the commission's recommendations on the curriculum for primary schools, the Government will ensure, through the Minister for Education, that the curriculum is revised to exclude all sexism and sex-stereotyping.

The swift response from Government to all seven interim recommendations from the Commission on the Status of Women sums up very well this Government's approach to equality issues. We believe that the promotion of equality is a matter for all Ministers and all Government Departments. We are committed to implementing practical measures which [1830] will change our laws and administrative arrangements in all cases where such laws and arrangements pose an obstacle to women's full and equal participation in Irish society. We refuse to be deflected from our commitment in this area by proposals for piecemeal amendment of our Constitution which have been ill thought out, poorly researched and do not stand up to reasoned argument. We are for sustained, solid and practical progress in the equality area and, as the forthcoming publication of my second booklet on the precise measures which the Government have taken in this area will clearly show, we are happy to stand on our record and submit it openly to the full rigours of public debate.

Despite a full and lengthy debate on the Fine Gael proposal before us, and having carefully considered the issues raised in this debate, I have to say that we on this side of the House see no attraction in the Bill. For this reason, we will be opposing the passing of its Second Stage.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  I am glad to hear the Minister of State, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn say that she intends to publish another report on the action taken by all Government Departments to promote equality. I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister personally for the work she has done having been given the responsibility for the co-ordinating and monitoring of all aspects of Government policy in relation to women's affairs.

As we already know, this Government are totally committed to equality for women in every area of life in Ireland. I am sure we would all agree that substantial progress has been made and will continue in the years ahead because of the commitment of the Government.

This Bill is unnecessary. I am at a loss to know why Deputy Mitchell should put down a motion such as this because, of all the Deputies in the House, he is very conversant with all the legislation. He is an excellent contributor and participates more than many of his colleagues. I feel [1831] that this amendment is really a waste of time in that it will not achieve anything.

The Constitution provides that “all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law”. Deputy Mitchell wants to add another sentence: “Rights under the law shall not be limited or denied by the State by virtue of distinction of sex”.

The task of interpreting the provisions of our Constitution falls to the courts. The growing importance of the courts in interpreting the Constitution has been a major political development since the mid-sixties. The rate of constitutional decision making has dramatically increased. There were two referenda in the eighties as a direct result of decisions by the Supreme Court. Other decisions have led to the introduction of new legislation or the amending of legislation already in existence. It is the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution, namely Articles 40-44, that have most directly affected Irish social policy since the Supreme Court took a more active approach to the Constitution in the sixties.

The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means. In this sense, the court is not limited to interpreting the Constitution by reference to the standards of the thirties. Far from it. The courts interpret in terms of the present time. In a wide range of cases the courts have made explicit rights and entitlements of citizens they have found to be implicit in the Constitution. In the words of Mr. Justice Kenny in Ryan v. Attorney General, “There are many personal rights of the citizen which follow from the Christian and democratic nature of the State which are not mentioned in Article 40 at all”.

Article 40 speaks of citizens having rights as “human persons”. There is no reference to these rights being dependent on the sex of the person. The courts have upheld the equality of the sexes in this regard. It is at the level of the courts that the real protection afforded by the [1832] Constitution, for all people in this country, is upheld. As long as the courts continue to interpret the Constitution to provide for equality of opportunity for all citizens, whether male or female, then we do not need any amendment of the Constitution in this area.

Deputy Mitchell has introduced this Bill for reasons best known to himself. Even if it were enacted and accepted by the people of Ireland, it will not in any way affect the position of women in our society.

What we want, and this is the position adopted by Fianna Fáil, is to show and to take positive practical action to improve the position of females in Ireland. One of the first major pieces of legislation in this area was the Succession Act, 1965. This was the work of the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Justice. It was regarded at the time as a major development which would substantially improve the position of women. It has achieved that objective and still remains a measure of great force for the position of women.

The Succession Act established equality in the workplace, in the tax code and, in particular, the protection of the status of women rearing children in the home. For far too long, women in the home did not receive recognition. We must give greater recognition to women at home.

I was somewhat disappointed with Deputy Fennell's contribution last week when she referred to the absence of the Minister. The Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, has certainly made a major contribution in this area which has been acknowledged not alone in Ireland but in Europe. Deputy Fennell reminded the House of the legislation she was responsible for bringing into the House but she conveniently omitted to give the same recognition to other people on this side of the House. There was a promise that women in the home would get a cheque for £9.50 on a Thursday morning if an election went a certain way. When it did, the postman came on the Thursday morning but we never saw the cheque.

I must refer to some of the changes which have occurred, such as the ending [1833] of the marriage bar in the Civil Service in 1973, the introduction of free legal aid in 1979 and paid maternity leave which came into effect in 1980.

The setting up of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights, which has again been re-established in the present Dáil and of which I am privileged to be a member, gave Members of the House an opportunity to meet groups directly involved in women's affairs throughout the country. It has certainly been a great experience for me to meet those people, to listen to their views and to be aware of the difficulties and problems that many of them have.

There was also the abolition of illegitimacy, the reform of the adoption law, the Judicial Separation Act, the reform of the rape law, the recent child abduction legislation and the protection of part-time workers. These are all major pieces of legislation which affect people.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  You cannot take any special credit for them. Europe is making us do all this.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  The Deputy will be able to speak soon and I can assure her I will be very interested to listen to what she has to say.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  The Deputy was being critical.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  Fine Gael were over here and their record of legislation in the social area is very wanting indeed.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  It is extremely good.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  I would like to refer to part time workers because all sections of the House paid tribute to the Minister recently for recognising this very sensitive area where the vast majority, 70 per cent, are women working for unscrupulous employers and being abused. This Bill was another positive response by the Government. Rather than being negative all the time, some Members on the other side of the House should recognise this.

[1834] I should also like to acknowledge the progress which has been made to date in the appointment of women to the boards of State bodies — I think the Minister mentioned a figure of 297. Women are also heading Government commissions and task forces. Again, the commitments given in this area have been honoured by the Government. In addition, a second woman judge was appointed to the High Court recently. Every opportunity is being taken by the Government to ensure that there is equality in all sectors.

The recent establishment of the Second Commission on the Status of Women will highlight continued areas of inequality. Unfortunately, I cannot refer to all these areas in the time available to me this evening. All of the changes in regard to inequality have taken place without any infringement of the Constitution. The first statement of the new Commission on the Status of Women was published recently. It is a preliminary statement on the measures they consider necessary to secure equality for women in Irish society. The commission were given a mandate to make comprehensive recommendations to the Government on the means by which women would be able to participate on equal terms and conditions with men in the economic, social, political and cultural life of our society, with special attention being given to the needs of women in the home.

The commission have expressed their pleasure at the political priority given by the Government to equality and other issues affecting women. This reflects the reality of the approach adopted by Fianna Fáil over many years and also clearly shows the Taoiseach's continuing commitment to the improvement of the position of women in our society. The recent statement issued by the commission does not contain a list of comprehensive priorities. However, it does indicate the approach of persons with a great deal of experience and expertise in the area of women's rights. When one looks at the recommendations one can see the desire of the commission to achieve real practical progress on the road to equality. They recommend a series of practical [1835] steps which can be taken and which do not require lengthy and detailed consideration on matters of principle. The Government have accepted these recommendations in principle.

The approach adopted by the commission complements the thrust of the objectives set out in the new Programme for Economic and Social Progress which was agreed between the main sectoral interests in Irish society — farmers, unions, employers and the Government. This is a measure of practical importance for people. There is no reference in the new programme or in the commission's recommendation to the need for constitutional change to improve the position of women. The commission considered that the new programme contained a number of initiatives directed very much towards the achievement of equality in Irish society. They went as far as to commend all the parties who were involved in the programme. They welcomed, in particular, the new labour legislation on the protection of part-time employees and the promised reform of existing employment equality legislation.

I am sorry I do not have more time to refer to other important areas. The Bill before us tonight will not do anything for women. As the records show, we are achieving many of the things which needed to be achieved in this area. I do not think there is anything to be gained in pursuing the Bill.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I should like to give such time as I may not use to Deputy Owen.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Doyle): Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I should like to say at the outset that a great head of steam is being generated in relation to this proposed amendment to the Constitution. I welcome the debate which is taking place in this House on the general issue of equality. As a person who served on the Joint Committee on Women's Rights for a number of years and who participated [1836] in hearing evidence from different groups which later led to the publication of reports, I am delighted that there is such enthusiasm now for gender equality in Ireland, with the rare exception of the odd irredentist Deputy who wants to slide away from what is perceived as general progress.

It is important that we face realities and live with them. The truth is that our society is still deeply patriarchial. A great deal of time was spent this afternoon on a rather small but technical and important Bill dealing with scholarship exchanges between Ireland and the United States. That legislation, as in the case of all legislation which comes into this House and the Seanad, uses the word “his”. I am aware that there are interpretative regulations which suggest that this word is used generically to include his and her but the facility with which the word “his” and the word “he” is used in other legislation and the apparent inability of those who draft Bills, those who are responsible for guidelines and draftsmanship to change them, seem to suggest that we are stuck in a rut. But there has been progress though listening to the speeches, one hears from one side about people who did this or that. There are even suggestions, rather on the lines of Ataturk and contemporary Turkey, that with the personality of our Taoiseach came all reform in relation to equality. The Taoiseach should be credited with such gains as he initiated, be it in terms of justice, appointments or whatever but I do not think we should fall back and think that around his personal cerebral intentions lies the future of women. It is more serious than that.

The reality is that after the State was founded we had a brief and rather simple but manageable 1922 Constitution which was amended in a series of different ways between 1922 and 1937. That Constitution used the simple phrase “without discrimination as to sex.” Some time ago I looked at the de Valera papers in Killiney — I might say that these are a much over-rated source of information — and one of the things which comes out of them is that Mr. de Valera was very upset [1837] by what he perceived to be the attack on him by women who were worried about the omission of this principle in the new Constitution. Included in Mr. de Valera's papers are cuttings from an article in the Irish Independent of the day entitled “Leaves from a Woman's Diary” in which the author describes meeting another woman at the Horse Show. When the other woman said, “Mr. de Valera is a darling man” she replied “He is a darling indeed, you know what he has in mind for us.” She went on to refer to Article 41 and his proposed future for women. We know that he was upset by that.

A great deal of thinking went into this. The people who opposed the Constitution were primarily women, the movement against the 1937 Constitution was organised by women. One of the biggest meetings held at that time was held by Professor Mary Hayden in the Mansion House. After that meeting the late Minister, Mr. McEntee, said that the women present did not have a drop of nationalist blood in their veins. This drew a response from Mrs. Clarke, the widow of the signatory of the Proclamation, who said that the proposed position of women was more or less an insult to her husband's intentions for women and their equality in the spirit of the Proclamation.

The 1937 Constitution excited interest in the position of women primarily. Women campaigned and held meetings because they were very worried about what they saw as a running down of their position, which had been preceded between 1932 and 1937 by a number of special work orders which had excluded women from certain categories of work. I think only two women spoke in this House on the Second Stage of the 1937 Constitution Bill. One of those women was moved to suggest that Irish women should model themselves on the Polish family who had saved the Polish language and culture. In a later part of her speech she suggested that womens nervous systems were not suitable to times of bombing and that when bombs fell in the City [1838] of London women ran from telephone exchanges. Those were the kind of statements which were made.

The reality is that the 1937 Constitution, where it refers to women, was a very serious regression. I do not think constitutional historians could argue with that position. For example, the social articles, from Article 40 onwards, are unsatisfactory in relation to a number of statements. Article 40.1 includes the phrase “differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function”. There is not any sustainable evidence in relation to social function or gender that could support a use of language like that now. Those who are thundering on about Deputy Fennell's suggestion on Article 41.1 are dealing with a very difficult situation, the definition of families. There is a problem of interpretation as to what form of family is involved. One possible interpretation could create difficulties for contemporary or modern households, and the drift of legislation is towards households. I do not say that the Government will not be moving in that direction.

I would like to see a new constitution but without doubt the position of women, the view of women, the role and function of women as stated in the 1937 Constitution, is not as favourable as that which they enjoyed at the foundation of the State. It cannot be argued otherwise.

Let us give credit where credit is due, all reforming legislation which would establish the rights and participation of women should be welcomed from whatever source. The argument seems to be that there is a legislative momentum which can be accepted as sufficient. There is not any basis for the suggestion that an amendment like this would imperil that movement, but should one rely on that legislative process as it unfolds, alone? We would have great difficulty bringing in affirmative legislation without a constitutional referendum. For example, if one wanted to require it of all legislative instruments that they be drafted to include a clause which suggested that nothing in them should offend [1839] the principle of equality, one might need the prior constitutional reference to equality between the sexes.

While I would prefer a new constitution, equality must go beyond gender equality now. I see why people are looking to the Constitution to make the changes being spoken about. People are a little too coy about the question of changes in relation to women. From my time on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights I can say, “let nobody think that the gains won were not won without considerable struggle”.

The Department of Education have been referred to, an outrageous example of discrimination against women in relation to promotions. An enormous number of women serve as primary teachers but what is the number of women above the level of inspector? All the main participants in education are women and yet they have not risen, as one would expect, to the higher ranks of the Department. During the term I served on the committee we saw a form of questioning which could preclude women from senior positions in schools, even in relation to teaching posts. The suggestion was that their social function was to get married and have children. They were put into an impossible position in that they could not possibly answer the questions without lying. Many women were deprived of their just entitlements in that regard. That was wrong and it was done with the connivance of people who were satisfied, and would be satisfied today, with a male dominated Government Department and with a society that did not allow women full participation.

In employment generally the evidence, not only here but in every country in the European Community, and outside, is that in State employment the greatest gains for equality have been made. The mixture of the carrot and stick to induce private employers to accord equality has not been as successful as one would like. Put bluntly, equality is not conceded to women, it has largely been won by women. That is the evidence from the workplace.

[1840] There is another side to it. Surely no one can be happy with the appalling abuse of women in the advertising industry. Week after week, and day after day, there is a suggestion of a set of roles appropriate to women. There is the suggestion that the content of those is silly, facetious, flippant and so on. That is an insult not just to women but to civilised members of society who take offence at it. Yet, for commercial purposes women are regularly abused. Indeed, the national television authority only recently appointed a woman to the review body which looks at offensive advertising and decides whether an advertisement would offend.

When I was a member of the Committee an editor of a newspaper wrote to say he found nothing wrong with a woman selling a tractor dressed in a bikini. He wrote what he considered to be a humourous letter about this and showed us what an extraordinary rather bigoted and ignorant person he was.

In relation to the concept of illegitimacy, it is wrong to suggest that it is strictly a women's issue; it is a rights issue. I proposed a Bill to abolish the status of illegitimacy with two others in the Seanad in 1974 and a former Senator suggested that this was socialism under the sheets. That Senator revealed, as has come across to me from this long debate in which I have participated for 20 years, that property values were always the problems one runs up against. If a big farm is at stake, the woman is blamed and the law is not reformed in relation to the child born out of a liaison outside of marriage. Something similar has happened in relation to divorce legislation.

I am sympathetic to those who feel they have gone beyond obstacles of a legislative kind and who want to keep that momentum going, but I am not convinced of their argument that a constitutional referendum would in any way impede their progress. Equally, while this constitutional amendment might be approached differently, it has afforded us [1841] an opportunity to debate the reality of the Constitution of 1937.

We must think about how long it takes to change regulations. Let nobody think that it was only two weeks ago that people read in the handbook for teachers that for boys martial airs and cheerful songs should be played and that a soothing lullaby should be played for girls. I recall attention being drawn to that in the seventies. What an appalling length of time it has taken for that kind of nonsense to be stopped.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Stafford): Information on John Stafford  Zoom on John Stafford  I hesistate to interrupt the Deputy, but he did say he would share his time, and he has but five minutes left.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I am finishing. I recall seeing a textbook in the Irish language about a “gúna nua”. The story was about how a mother brought her little girl off to a shop. There was a little boy and a father involved. The story used language like, “mammy is buying a new dress; daddy is paying for it; are not women very expensive”, and so on. That was in use last year in the primary school system. Do the people responsible for administering this new ethos of equality listen to us? We are responsible for legislation and we should all support this Bill. I do not detect a great party difference on it. It relates more to those who are open to change and those who are against change, wherever they are. The administration of society, the attitudes, the embedded patriarchy, the way in which people negotiate their lives each day all need to change. I would risk a referendum even on a form of wording which the Government could come back on but which might shock people into a debate on the attitudes that, need to change if there is to be equality. It is not a matter of choosing just legislation and/or the Constitution. That is a false choice.

I am not convinced by the argument that an activist Supreme Court can save [1842] us from our responsibilities. At the end of the day the Supreme Court can only indicate. It can be activist in one period and not in another. Interestingly, all the activists claimed that they operated from a basis of natural law which preceded positive law. It would be very interesting if we could give an example to the Supreme Court of what we want to do and then ask them to adjudicate within the new ethos we are making constitutionally possible.

Acting Chairman:  I would remind Deputy Owen that she must conclude by 8.15 p.m.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  During the recess I heard a radio interview with a woman who works as a radio presenter with a radio station in England. I do not know if any of my colleagues in the House heard it but, during that interview it transpired that not too long ago this woman had been a man and had undergone a sex change operation. She assumed that she would continue to work in the same job. She was told she could continue in her job but now that she was a woman her salary would drop. That story depicts the kernel of this Bill; it has got to do with attitudes in society, not just the attitude of men but also of women. Despite what Deputy Higgins said, progress has been made and new laws have been introduced. However, changes in the law will not lead to equality for women.

In 1971, shortly after I married, I attended one of the early heady meetings of the women's liberation movement in Ireland. I felt that conference at lunch time as I was embarrassed and unable to cope because sitting around the table was a collection of women I had never previously come up against. Despite being the child of a widow I had not come up against the harder side of society. Sitting around the table were prisoners' wives, deserted and battered wives, single women who were minding elderly parents — a whole range of women working in [1843] society against all the odds. Practically every one of them said there was no recognition for prisoners' wives, deserted wives or the single daughter who had decided to stay at home to look after her mother or father. Thankfully, successive Governments have made changes since then in a number of areas.

While progress has been made in terms of changes in the law, attitudes have not changed. Only two days ago the Taoiseach, in reply to a question put to me, used the language which automatically attempts to downgrade women. The Taoiseach used the word “strident” which implies that somehow women are going too far. Until such time as the attitudes of men and women towards women and their place in society change, changes in the law will not lead to true equality.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  I heard an eminent lawyer, a former Attorney General, say recently that the adversarial system in the courts may be changed. Having listened to the debate which has taken place on this Bill, perhaps the adversarial system in Parliament should also be changed as it stinks having regard to some of the contributions made purely on a party political basis. I do not share the views of the Minister of State, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, who said that all the contributions made were well researched. I believe some of them were pathetic while others were excellent.

With regard to my own contribution the Minister of State said it was a poorly researched proposal. It is not. I came to this view when I travelled to Queens University over a two year period and heard a speech on this subject by Dr. Yvonne Scannell on the radio. The first thing I decided on being appointed party spokesman on constitutional reform last January, was to get a copy of that speech and go through the sections of the Constitution to which it referred. I do not [1844] know how the Minister came to the conclusion that my proposal was poorly researched; I can only put it down to being a party political comment to which I take exception. If the Minister of State reads my opening contribution and today's edition of The Cork Examiner she will learn there are good and valid reasons for my proposal. Presumably, if the Council for the Status of Women recommended the introduction of a constitutional amendment the Minister of State and others will have to recant some of the comments made.

I wish to pay tribute to Deputy Michael D. Higgins who made what I consider to be one of if not the outstanding contribution in this debate. It was delivered in a tremendous manner, its contents were educative and it was worthy of him. In time people will come to realise that we have abolished illegitimacy and it is now time to abolish inequality. I thank all those who contributed to the debate, especially the lady Members——

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Information on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  Zoom on Máire Geoghegan-Quinn  The women Members.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  ——whose contributions were very constructive.

I avoided making party political comments but I have to defend myself. During my contribution I indicted all parties for their failure to do anything in this regard. I resent a female Minister of State coming into the House to make party political comments. Some of the dismissive comments made by a handful of Deputies reminded me of the South African President, Mr. De Klerk, who protested on RTE earlier this week that apartheid was not all bad given that 50 per cent of the South African police force are black. This goes to show that one can quote scripture to suit the devil.

The Minister of State, Deputy Brady, made a poor speech. Whoever presented that speech from the Department of the Taoiseach did not do this House a great service. The record will show that the [1845] speech was poorly researched and inaccurate. Reference was made to some unspecified technical problem with regard to the Irish wording of the proposed amendment. Is that not what the Committee Stage is all about? The purpose of Committee Stage is to iron out technical difficulties and consider amendments. The record will indict the Minister of State who replied to my opening remarks on the Bill.

He also criticised Fine Gael for seeking to change the Constitution. Is the Legislature to be condemned for seeking to legislate? If there was a contempt of parliament Act the Minister of State, Deputy Brady, could be indicted for making such comments. It is the job of the Legislature to legislate. How dare any Member of this House condemn other Members for introducing legislation. The people can change the Constitution but amendments must be initiated here. That is our job and the job that I am paid to do. It should be remembered that Mr. de Valera amended the 1937 Constitution on several occasions before the provision which allowed Members of the Oireachtas to make amendments was changed. In 1959 he sought to amend it again himself. He never claimed the Constitution was sacrosanct for all time. All law, including the Constitution, is amendable. To condemn such an initiative is to show contempt for Parliament and the people, in this case women specifically.

Deputy Ferris in his opening remarks had a bob each way and described the Bill in words to which I took exception. Far from being capricious, I gave a great deal of thought to it over a considerable time. I first became interested having listened to Dr. Yvonne Scannell on the Thomas Davis Lectures broadcast on RTE well over 12 months ago in the series “de Valera's Constitution and Ours”. I was appointed party spokesman earlier in the year and this was the first thing I took on. My amendment was drawn up with the assistance of two of the most [1846] eminent lawyers in this field, one an authority on women's issues in law and the other a leading constitutional lawyer. Deputy Ferris had my Bill for a maximum of four days, though I suppose he had it really for only a few hours, and it was he who made the ill-considered, poorly researched remarks which are on the record for all time beside my detailed and researched contribution which stands up to analysis. Nonetheless, I welcome the support of the Labour Party for the Bill. The contribution made by Deputy Ferris' colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, this evening went a considerable way to erase from the record some misinterpretations which could have been put on Deputy Ferris' contribution.

I want to address some remarks to Deputy O'Malley. Neither he nor any member of the Progressive Democrats even sat in on the debate, let alone participated in it. He did not even see fit to attend in the House and neither did any of his Members. He took a smug shot at Fine Gael and said that what is needed is not an amendment but a whole new Constitution. He did not say it in this House; he said it smugly at his Ard-Fheis over the weekend. I have read a draft of the Progressive Democrats' whole new constitution, the one which hurriedly restored God to its content. It speaks of the Irish nation being the Republic. The word “nation” means “greater community”. The Republic is not the Irish nation. The people of Northern Ireland are part of the Irish nation, so are the 700,000 people of Irish birth living in Britain. Is this the sort of amended new constitution Deputy O'Malley wants to bring into the House, one that refers to the Republic as the Irish nation, saying that, we, the Irish nation, hereby defend our inalienable rights? This is the new constitution he is proposing. Neither does the Progressive Democrats draft constitution which I have read contain a satisfactory sex equality clause; it contains none at all. This is the party who styled [1847] themselves last weekend at their Ard-Fheis as “the difference” to quote their slogan. The indifference of the Progressive Democrats is alarming. Their backsides now are in the Mercedes and they do not give a hoot about changing society or changing the Constitution or changing laws, and they are using this well rehearsed excuse that really what we need to do is not make that change or this change but change the whole law and the whole Constitution, in the full knowledge that it will never happen. However, they can always use this as an excuse. It is a little like a man whose car has a punctured wheel saying, “I am not going to change the wheel or mend the puncture, I need a whole new car”. The indifference of the Progressive Democrats in not even attending in this House or contributing to this debate but smugly making contributions over the airwaves at their Ard-Fheis is a cop out.

The last review of the Constitution was commenced by all parties in the form of a committee in 1966. At that time Mr. Lemass said a review should take place every 25 years. From 1966 to 1991 is exactly 25 years. That committee, of whom incidentally Deputy Andrews was a member if my recollection is correct, made one interim report. None of the recommendations of that report was implemented with the exception of the one regarding the special position of the Catholic Church and other named churches, and the committee never met again. Now they want us to wait for further reform of the Constitution.

I think the Constitution needs to be reformed from top to bottom for reasons within the Republic, not just because of Northern Ireland, but that does not mean we cannot take the opportunity of a local election on 27 June to put a specific amendment before the people who are the ultimate Legislature in connection with the Constitution.

I want to pay tribute to Deputy De Rossa for a very sensible, well thought [1848] out contribution. I say in response that Fine Gael would accept even putting this Bill into a committee of the whole House if thereby improvements to the text could be made which would bring about greater equality. I thought Deputy De Rossa's contribution was statesmanlike and I want to put my tribute to him on the record of the House.

Deputy Dick Roche and Deputy Tom Kitt referred to Article 9.1.1º of the Constitution which they said deals with the issue. It provides that:

1. 1º On the coming into operation of this Constitution any person who was a citizen of Saorstát Éireann immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution shall become and be a citizen of Ireland.

2º The future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship shall be determined in accordance with law.

3º No person may be excluded from Irish nationality and citizenship by reason of the sex of such person.

How that deals with the question of nationality I do not know, but Deputy Dukes addressed this very well. There is a clear, unambiguous content in Article 9.1.3º but there is no clear, unambiguous content in Article 40.1. In other words if Article 40.1 was as unambiguous as Article 9 is in relation to citizenship, there would be no need for an amendment. It is because it is ambiguous that there is need for an amendment.

I want to read into the record of the House what Deputies do not appear to have read, this morning's contribution in the Cork Examiner by Richard F. Humphreys, lecturer in law, University College, Cork, who strongly declares the need for an equal rights amendment. He says:

One might have been forgiven for predicting that a proposal to amend the [1849] Constitution to prohibit sex discrimination would attract the enthusiastic support of all members of the Oireachtas.

Instead, however, Fine Gael's Bill to that effect, which will be voted on tonight, has been strongly opposed by the Government, and has received only a lukewarm reception from other party spokespersons. This article argues that the Government's stated reasons for opposing the Bill are not only unpersuasive, but are beset with legal misconception.

The Bill, introduced two weeks ago by Deputy Gay Mitchell, was roundly attacked in the Dáil by Government spokesperson Vincent Brady. Deputy Brady's principal line of opposition to the proposed amendment is that “it is merely another way of putting what is already in the Constitution”, and therefore “will not add one iota to the effectiveness of the Constitution with regard to the principle of equality.”

Further on the article says:

The Government's claim that sex discrimination necessarily contravenes the existing Constitution is legally incorrect. The general equality guarantee is seriously limited, not only by a clause permitting different treatment on the grounds of different “capacity or social functions”, but also by reference to other provisions of the Constitution which justify discrimination.

Later in the article Mr. Humphreys says:

In reliance on the circumscribed nature of the existing equality guarantee, the courts have in a number of cases upheld the validity of laws which discriminate on the grounds of sex (although it must be said that in the decided cases the discriminations have tended to fall more heavily on men). Differences between men and women regarding adoption were upheld in the Nicolau case; social welfare in the Dennehy cases; sexual offences in the [1850] Norris case; and citizenship in the Somjee case.

The Government's claim that “laws which discriminate solely on the grounds of sex are not permissible under the existing terms of the Constitution” is, therefore, demonstrably erroneous.

Further on the article continues:

Deputy Gay Mitchell, in introducing the Bill, emphasised that aside from its legal effects, it would have an important symbolic and educative value; particularly in setting a headline and in affecting attitudes over time.

The Government's insistence in the Dáil that any constitutional amendment must have some direct and immediate practical impact has a rather strange flavour given Fianna Fáil's enthusiastic support for the abortion amendment of 1983, which was openly designed to “copper-fasten” and make explicit what was already implicitly in the Constitution.

This article concludes:

... the Fine Gael proposal for an equal rights amendment is in principle an excellent one and entirely worthy of support.

I have already said that the UN committee on anti-discrimination want this principle in our Constitution and in the Constitution of members. The Women's Committee of the Council for Civil Liberties gave seven or eight points, all of which are on the record of this House already, for amending the Constitution.

Those who advised the two Ministers of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and prepared their speeches should be hauled over the coals for the most dreadful responses to one of the most serious pieces of legislation to come before this House. How are we to justify that women comprise only 6 per cent of people at the top level of the Civil Service and of the Judiciary and in our Parliament and Government, while 94 per cent are [1851] men? The people who wrote those speeches had a vested interest in the views they expressed. Perhaps they were blinkered.

I commend this proposed amendment to the House and hope it will have all-party support. It should stand on its own. It is time we unshackled women, gave [1852] them more opportunities and took the smugness from this Government and their advisers who had the temerity to come into the House with such a response to a well thought out and well argued proposal for constitutional change.

Question put.

Ahearn, Therese.
Allen, Bernard.
Belton, Louis J.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Byrne, Eric.
Connaughton, Paul.
Connor, John.
Cotter, Bill.
Creed, Michael.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Doyle, Joe.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas W.
Fennell, Nuala.
Finucane, Michael.
FitzGerald, Garret.
Flaherty, Mary.
Flanagan, Charles.
Foxe, Tom.
Gilmore, Eamon.
Gregory, Tony.
Harte, Paddy.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael D.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kavanagh, Liam.
Kemmy, Jim.
Lee, Pat.
Lowry, Michael.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Moynihan, Michael.
Nealon, Ted.
Noonan, Michael.
(Limerick East).
O'Sullivan, Gerry.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
Owen, Nora.
Pattison, Séamus.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerry.
Ryan, Seán.
Sheehan, Patrick J.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Timmins, Godfrey.
Yates, Ivan.

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Andrews, David.
Aylward, Liam.
Barrett, Michael.
Brennan, Mattie.
Brennan, Séamus.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Burke, Raphael P.
Callely, Ivor.
Clohessy, Peadar.
Connolly, Ger.
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
Cowen, Brian. [1853]Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Charles J.
Hillery, Brian.
Hilliard, Colm.
Hyland, Liam.
Jacob, Joe.
Kelly, Laurence.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Leyden, Terry.
Lyons, Denis.
Martin, Micheál.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, Jim.
McEllistrim, Tom.
Cullimore, Séamus.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
de Valera, Síle.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fahey, Jackie.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Flood, Chris.
Flynn, Pádraig.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire. [1854]Molloy, Robert.
Morley, P.J.
Noonan, Michael J.
(Limerick West).
O'Connell, John.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Leary, John.
O'Rourke, Mary.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Power, Seán.
Quill, Máirín.
Roche, Dick.
Smith, Michael.
Stafford, John.
Treacy, Noel.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Wilson, John P.
Woods, Michael.
Wyse, Pearse.

Question declared lost.


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