Thursday, 11 July 2019
Citizens' Assemblies Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I thank the Minister for outlining and summarising the provisions of the Bill. This is a short Bill designed to facilitate the establishment of citizens' assemblies to deal with two very important issues. One relates to gender equality, the gender pay gap and all other matters that go with it, particularly the need to examine whether Article 40.1.2° should be removed from the Constitution or amended. It will specifically look at the role of those who care and the interaction of carers and parents with children, parental care and parental leave. This is a very important matter to be looked at in modern Ireland.
In general terms, criticism aside of the citizens' assemblies they have provided very good fora for teasing through in great detail important issues and matters of the day and looking at where potential pitfalls may be. For those who may have a particular view on it, this is an advisory assembly. The Dáil is the citizens' assembly and that has primacy. It is right and proper and very useful in many instances to consult.
Certainly on the gender equality issue, it is very important in modern society that we make sure we provide the best of opportunities for all our citizens regardless of their gender, background, creed or sexual orientation. We can always be working on that. To have a diverse group of citizens selected at random from throughout the country to consider these matters is something that I and Fianna Fáil welcome and fully support. In his interactions on the selection of citizens, and the Minister will not be selecting them as it will be an independent company that will do so, there were some concerns about regional spread in previous assemblies and the fact certain counties were not represented. I ask that as much as possible some of this feedback is taken on board and perhaps in the Minister's closing remarks he may have further information about how random the sample is. He correctly stated that we want to ensure that it is a representative spread of citizens from across the country, which means taking account of gender and ensuring that a selection of people from rural and urban areas are involved.
The Minister may wish to address that further and ensure that the group of citizens is as representative as possible. Turning to the issue of a directly elected mayor for Dublin, this has been raised previously by my party colleague and spokesperson on Dublin, Deputy Lahart. A previous response from either the Minister or the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, I am not sure which, mentioned that a citizens' convention rather than a citizens' assembly would look at this issue. This is an important issue as it concerns a directly elected mayor for our capital. A citizens' convention would have allowed input from political parties and politicians concerning how we would see that being achieved. I understand that commitment was made in response to a question on the Order of Business. How can we ensure that political parties can input into that process? That is the job of politicians. Is there a reason why we are going with an assembly as opposed to the previously stated citizens' convention?
I say that with the full understanding that whatever recommendations are made regarding a directly elected mayor, as well as the gender and gender equality issues, will purely be advisory. Perhaps the Minister might comment on how long he thinks this process will take? When will the assemblies be established, when will they conclude and when will the next step be taken? I am referring to reports coming back to the Dáil, and the Seanad if necessary, for further debate and discussion. I am seeking some insight concerning the Minister's view on how long this process might take, particularly in respect of the first issue. It is of great importance and deserves detailed attention and discussion by the citizens' assembly. In addition, when the report comes back to the Dáil it is also important that appropriate time is allocated with a view to securing a commitment to holding a referendum on Article 41.2.1o, the women in the home clause of the Constitution, in 2020. It is Fianna Fáil's earnest desire for that to happen, whether that referendum is concerned with a deletion or an amendment to the existing article.
We will be guided by the assembly. I say "guided" but obviously at the end of the day the Dáil will make its decision. I ask the Minister to give us an update on what he sees as the timeline following, hopefully, the passage of all Stages of this Bill today. What is the next step and what is the timeline? Will the Minister confirm that he is committed to holding a referendum on Article 41.2.1o in 2020? We should be giving this matter priority, particularly concerning early years parental care and seeking to give and facilitate a greater work-life balance and ensure an equal role for both partners in a relationship and co-responsibility for care within the family.