Dáil debates

Friday, 19 April 2013

Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members]


10:30 am

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I commend my colleague, Deputy Seán Ó Feargháil, on putting forward this Bill and the Ceann Comhairle on facilitating this morning's change. On behalf of Deputy Ó Feargháil I rise to speak on this timely measure to address a serious anachronism in how the Oireachtas operates and to highlight a broader, deeper issue at the heart of Irish political life. Simply put, the aim of this Bill is to provide maternity leave for female members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The merit of the Bill is reflected in the general acceptance by the Government of the Bill, and I appreciate the contact made by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, through the Whips in order to discuss the arrangements for moving on the Bill. The bipartisan spirit of the Bill and its appeal across the floor is a measure of the desire among the Members of the Oireachtas to change how we do business and the pressing need to throw open the doors of Leinster house to all citizens regardless of gender.

This Bill is a simple measure to address an historic Oireachtas oversight but it touches upon a far more profound and important issue of widening participation in the political process. At the very heart of a democratic state is the ideal that all citizens, regardless of class, creed, colour and gender are equally entitled to participate in shaping the collective decisions which bind us all. Bunreacht na hÉireann reflects this aspiration, declaring that "every citizen without distinction of sex" will be eligible for election to Dáil Éireann. In order to breathe life into these words we need to organise the business of governing in an open, accessible manner for both men and women. A system that inhibits full participation by over half of the population cannot be said in any meaningful way to be a democratic state. A society that alienates the majority of its people from the process by which it makes collectively binding decisions cannot lay claim to being genuinely democratic.

A cursory glance over the benches of this House on all sides reveals that those democratic aspirations have not been realised in Ireland. The call of the Proclamation to both “Irish men and Irish women” has not been answered. Despite the seminal election of Constance Markievicz in 1918 as the first female MP in the British Isles, the oldest parliament in the world, Ireland has failed to meet the promise of that election. Over the course of its history, only 91 women deputies have been elected since the foundation of the State. Ireland currently has one of the worst gender balances in the free world in its parliament. Following the 2011 general election, women held 25 seats out of 166 in the 31st Dáil and the Meath East by–election in March improved that to 26 out of 166 Deputies, representing a figure of 15.66%. Some 21 of our 43 constituencies did not elect a single female Deputy in 2011, largely as a result of a lack of female candidates on the ballot paper. My party does not have a female Deputy in the Chamber.

Although low by international standards, the 2011 election was a record high for the number of women elected in a general election in Ireland. Progress in Dáil Éireann has been excruciatingly limited over recent years. The notable strides forward taken between 1977 and 1992, where the percentage of female Deputies increased from 4.1% to 12%, have petered out. Progress since has slipped into stagnation, with just five more women Deputies elected in 2011 than had been in 1992.

This abysmally low record must be confronted if we are to fully embody our democratic principles. The case for greater female representation is clear and, broken down, it centres on three propositions: greater female representation would improve the quality of political decision making, it would deliver more effective representation for women voters, and gender equality is an essential requirement of social justice. The oft-cited five Cs remain the major barriers to the full participation of women in political life. These are candidate selection, confidence, culture, cash and child care, and they collectively hinder free access to the political process.

We have taken small but important steps to confront some of these problems. The introduction of gender quotas, defined as a hard legislative measure, was a welcome move. Quotas however, as even their most ardent advocates recognise, can only be one part of the solution, and this Bill is part of the necessary response to the other factors in a solution and the challenges presented by the five Cs.

Considering the culture problem faced by women and the thrust of this Bill, the 2010 CSO Women and Men in Ireland report indicated that while the employment rate by gender was similar for those without children, at 85.7% for males and 86.3% for females, it drops dramatically for women once they have children. Whereas 80.2% of men whose youngest child is aged three or under are in employment, the respective figure for women falls to 56%. Many women balance work and family life by taking up part-time employment. Women represent approximately three quarters of those who worked up to 29 hours per week in paid employment in 2010, which partly explains the dogged persistence of the gender wage gap. Women earn just under 70% of the average male income, and this increases to 90% when one adjusts for average hours worked. This underlines one of the cold, hard facts preventing strong female participation levels in political life, which is time and money.

A survey of women Oireachtas Members by Yvonne Galligan in 2000illustrates this enduring problem. Some 67% of those surveyed felt that "family care responsibilities" had been the biggest personal source of difficulty in achieving political office.

Child care responsibilities can continue to pose a problem for women with young children once they are elected to the Oireachtas, especially those living outside of the greater Dublin area. The large number of female Deputies centred in proximity to Leinster House, 19 out of 26 , or some 73%, and representing a constituency in Dublin or Leinster, bears this out. For many women a political life is incompatible with a family life.

Drawing on extensive international experience, discussions at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and within parliamentary associations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, we have considered methods in which parliaments can better accommodate women. Options range from parliaments reorganising their work to become more gender sensitive by, for example, instituting family friendly hours, ending parliamentary business at a reasonable time, reorganising work schedules to allow for family days or spreading parliamentary business over a number of shorter days. This is something that all members, regardless of gender, should welcome. While family friendly changes to how the Oireachtas works would help both women and men, women are more likely to benefit and would be more likely to want to join this House, as the CSO report illustrates, due to the fact that they continue to spend more time than men providing care.

Across the globe some of the countries with a higher proportion of women parliamentarians have made family friendly changes to the way parliament works. For example, Sweden’s parliamentary calendar is prepared one year in advance with sittings scheduled Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, commencing in October and ending in June. The Scottish and Welsh assemblies reflect a similar focus on family friendly operating procedures. This morning’s legislation mirrors that commitment to gender equality.

This Bill seeks to take a small step towards ameliorating the sacrifices imposed by a political life. Facilitating maternity leave will ensure that women are not penalised by a work regime that reflects an archaic male-centred set of work practises. The current oversight is indicative of a completely outdated approach to the business of the Oireachtas. It is one minor Bill that must form part of a broader holistic approach to widen political participation.

Challenging the five Cs will require a fundamental culture shift in which the Oireachtas has a central role to play in delivering a blend of soft and hard measures to heighten female engagement. Today’s Bill is a small but welcome part of that process. The Government’s support for the spirit of the legislation, however, must be broadened out into a meaningful suite of fundamental political reforms if we are to throw open the doors of Leinster House to men and women alike.

I look forward to hearing the thoughts of other Deputies on the Bill and any suggested improvements, and its ultimate passage through the Oireachtas. I hope today’s legislation is but one of a series of measures to prise open the political system for all citizens and to initiate further debate on making it more family and gender friendly.

10:40 am

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo. Píosa amháin de phacáiste mór a ba chóir a chur os comhair na Dála chun déanamh cinnte go bhfuil an Dáil seo níos oscailte do gach duine sa tsochaí anseo, ní amháin na fir den chuid is mó atá anseo, ach na mná chomh maith, agus daoine óga ach go háirithe. Nílim i gcoinne an Bhille seo in aon bhealach. Cuirfidh sé leis an Dáil amach anseo agus tá i gceist go mbeidh cothromas ann. Is trua nach bhfuil sliocht Billí os ár gcomhair, nó Bille cuimsitheach ag déileáil leis na fadhbanna eile a dhéanann sé deacair do mhná ach go háirithe bheith tofa don Dáil.

Tá gá ann chun líon na mban sa Dáil agus san Oireachtas ar fad a mhéadú. Tá gá ann freisin chun níos mó daoine óga a mhealladh isteach go mbeidh an Dáil níos cosúla leis an tsochaí atá lasmuigh ag féachaint isteach orainn. Glacadh roinnt céimeanna ag an toghchán deireanach. Tá níos mó daoine óga istigh anseo ná mar is cuimhin liom agus tá líon na mban méadaithe. Ní go leor, áfach, agus mar sin tá bealach fada romhainn sula mbainfimid an sprioc sin amach go mbeidh an Dáil ina macasamhail ar an saol, gur mná iad a mbeidh breis is 50% de Theachtaí an Tí seo agus gur daoine óga an-chuid de na Teachtaí freisin.

Níor díríodh isteach ar an athrú suntasach a tháinig ar sochaí na tíre seo. Tá a lán daoine nach ó shliocht Gaelach iad sa chéad dul síos agus tá súil agam go bhfeicfimid Teachtaí nach ó bhunadh na hÉireann iad. Bhí duine nó dhó mar sin i stair an Stáit.

Hopefully this Bill is not seen by those on the outside as Deputies debating a measure that will benefit only themselves. It is more important than that. There is often criticism that the Dáil is an old boys' club, and the purpose of this Bill is to prevent that and to overcome the obstacles that prevent women and young people from participating in the Oireachtas in the future. This Bill focuses on one possible obstacle and I welcome the fact it was announced as part of a package. It is to be hoped we will see other legislation to overcome the other obstacles. There is a perception that this is an old boys' club and this Dáil is much better placed than the previous two Dáils in which I served. It is much younger and there are more women, although not enough. It is, however, more reflective of society in general. We have made some progress.

We must reflect society. We need men and women in equal numbers. Perhaps there should be more women because there are more women in the State than men. We must ensure those with disabilities are fully encouraged to participate in the electoral process. We made progress in this area in the last Dáil that should ensure no one feels there is a bar on them in future. Also, those of different ethnicity reflect the changes in Ireland in recent years. People from a huge range of other countries have settled in Ireland and hopefully their sons and daughters, as Irish citizens, will contest elections and will come into this House to reflect their families' experiences when they arrived in Ireland and their cultures. That would be good for the State and society in general.

We must change the working environment here; it is not family friendly. We do not allow those who are caring for children, or even for elderly parents, to make arrangements that they can be sure will stick. How often have we come into the Dáil, having made child care arrangements only for the Order of Business to be changed so we sit late? As a result there must be a whole raft of changes to those child care arrangements. I am as guilty of demanding the extra time as anyone but because we do not have a mechanism to extend the hours in advance, we are all affected.

This Dáil, of all the Dáils in which I have served, has seen more changes in terms of Dáil sitting days. We are presented with a calendar that is then constantly changed. I know this is a time of crisis and we have had to deal with emergency legislation.

That would throw any calendar, but it is the type of problem that is difficult for the principal carer of children to cope with, and in the main in Irish society that is a woman. For a mother who comes into the Chamber in the morning, having made all of these arrangements, it can be difficult and grating if it happens continually for the term of a Dáil.

I look forward to Dáil reform tackling these issues. We received promises in the past. It is not a matter on which I can offer a solution, but it is something at which we must work to ensure that we get it right and are not excluding women because of our chaotic work hours or arrangements in terms of sitting days. If we do not get it right, we will end up with the status quoor with a minor change. That is why it is a valuable Bill.

It is not a priority Bill for the general public. They will be looking in and seeing a Dáil discussing something that will affect a small cohort of Irish society. However, it is important that we send out the message that we are serious about trying to change the workings of the Dáil to ensure that in the future there is no obstacle to greater female participation, especially among younger women, in the Dáil and to ensure that we reach the magical ratio of 50:50 or more, if that is what the electorate decides.

It is sad that there is a perception among the public, often created by the media, that Deputies do not do much work and one never sees them in the Dáil. That is also part of what we must tackle to ensure that the public understands that Deputies of all parties, especially those who have a constituency office and many of those from rural areas who leave the city and hold clinics on Saturdays, are available and work tirelessly morning, noon and night. What time is left for family when, even on a family day out, whether it is a Saturday or Sunday, one is still at work because constituents come up to one? Even when a Deputy is with family, constituents will stop and ask him or her to address a crisis in their lives. As political representatives, often we are willing and, hopefully, able to address those concerns or at least tackle them, but that is at a cost to one's family life. My children often have been dragging out of me while I tried to take details of a case on a street or in a park, and it can be frustrating for them. It can also be frustrating for me. A political representative would be the worst in the world if he or she told somebody, "Go away, I will see you again". In many ways, that is suicide for a Deputy. One must work. There is a need, for society as well as ourselves, to adapt and also to understand fully how the Parliament and Deputies works. When the dual mandate was abolished there was much hope that Deputies would be able to concentrate specifically on the legislative programme and that it would be much better. It has not yet happened, although I live in hope. I never held the dual mandate but I know some who did. The workload seems to be the same, if not greater, since the dual mandate was abolished. Perhaps, in time, that will change.

I support the Bill. I congratulate Deputy Ó Fearghaíl on publishing it. Hopefully, there will be other pieces of legislation which will address the shortfalls we encounter.

10:50 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2013. I speak today as a member of the Technical Group which has the highest representation of women, at 25%, of any grouping here in the Dáil. The Independent grouping has female representation of over 20%. That may say more about the party system than it does about the willingness of women to be represented here in this House when one can see that we have the highest percentage of female representation of any grouping in the House.

The Bill is part of a package that is intended to make political representation more attractive for women and to give the role of women more consideration in terms of political life and serving here in this House. It is important that we remove whatever barriers exist to ensure that women feel free to stand for election and get elected, and that when they get here the working arrangements suit their lives so they can provide the representation they wish and represent all citizens across the country equally. For those reasons, the Bill must be welcomed. Over the coming short period, I hope to see the other legislation mentioned coming forward. That would help to remove the barriers to women's participation in political life to ensure that there is such required representation.

As has been outlined by other speakers, there is a need to look at how the working arrangements here can be made more amenable to all Members of the House. This would enable Members to plan and know clearly well in advance what they are doing, and even the system of information on what legislation will be debated, so that Members can properly prepare and participate fully here as legislators.

The one note of concern I would raise is that the Bill comes in the context of the Government's decision to tax maternity benefits of working women across the country. No doubt the provisions in section 7, which provide for full pay for Members who take maternity leave, are generous, and rightly so, but that is in the context of working women not enjoying the same entitlements across the State. The Bill should be looked at in the context of providing proper statutory maternity cover for all women in the State. Some employments have various systems, such as teachers who enjoy a level of maternity pay top-up agreed through their unions in discussions with the Department of Education and Skills. Some good employers provide maternity pay top-up in addition to maternity benefit for women workers as well, but I would be concerned that the provisions here for full pay for Members would reinforce the perception among the public of a sense of privilege enjoyed by Members of this House. We should be looking at it in the context of all women workers. Right across society, in the upper echelons of all industries, businesses and Departments, women are under represented and if we want to really achieve proper representation by women in this House, we need to ensure that they are represented across the board in all sectors of society. The Government should look at extending that further in the context of this Bill.

In saying that, the Bill must be welcomed. The intention is honourable and good in terms of making this workplace more attractive for women to participate in and making it easier for women when they get here to achieve the goal of being able to contribute fully, to know that their needs will be respected whenever they become pregnant and to know that they can continue in their role as representatives. For that reason, notwithstanding the concerns I outlined, I welcome the Bill.

11:00 am

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank and acknowledge the work undertaken by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl in the development of the Bill. I thank Deputy Calleary for presenting it on his behalf. I welcome the opportunity this gives us to focus on the issue of female participation in politics here in Ireland. This is a topic we have addressed many times before in debate in the House and one that greatly concerns the Government.

This issue was considered in great detail in 2009 by the then Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which produced a very worthwhile and informative report entitled, Women's Participation in Politics This report identified five challenges facing women in politics. These are known as the five Cs, which Deputy Calleary mentioned. I again remind the House that they are as follows: child care; cash; confidence; culture; and candidate selection procedures. I know they can also affect fathers of young children.

The committee also examined the issue of maternity leave in the context of its discussion on child care. The committee's recommendation was that women Members of the Oireachtas who give birth while in office should be entitled to automatic pairing arrangements. When I was an Opposition Whip, a number of Fine Gael female Members gave birth while in office and I always looked after them with pairing arrangements. I am sure the same system would work across the House with all parties. I believe such an arrangement should also be in place for a short number of days for fathers at the time of the birth of a child. This would reflect the important role fathers have to play in family life and reflect an advancement of equality of roles within the caring duties carried out by parents. At the birth of a child or the adoption of a child, both parents should be looked after within the pairing system in the House.

As Members are aware the Government has, on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government, amended the Electoral Acts for the purpose of increasing female participation in politics in the context of candidate selection. It was interesting to listen to the Deputy from Donegal who outlined all the negative parts of what the Government had done, including taxing maternity benefit. He never mentioned what we have done to address gender balance in the forthcoming general election, which is a significant step. I understand where he is coming from because I know that those on the far side of the House and especially those seated up at the back talk endlessly about the negatives and find it very hard to talk about the positives. Perhaps the Deputy should have considered what the Government has done in this area before coming to this debate. I believe the change is positive and we have made considerable progress. I did not see the Deputy or his colleagues introduce legislation to address gender quotas or women's participation in politics, since I became a Member of the House.

This ground-breaking measure will ensure at least a quota of 30% of women candidates will go before the electorate at the next general election. While we have debated this issue both inside and outside these Houses many times, little progress has been made. The facts speak for themselves. At the last general election of the 556 candidates who ran for election only 86 were women. Some 90 years after women got the vote fewer than one in seven of our Deputies are women.

The Minister of State with responsibility for equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has advanced an initiative under the national women's strategy to examine women's role in decision-making in Ireland. A report will be shortly published which, I understand, will recommend that female Deputies on maternity leave should be entitled to an automatic pairing arrangement possibility for the period of maternity leave recommended by the international labour organisation, ILO.

Women play an active role in many aspects of public and community life. They are highly visible in residents' associations, local charities groups, boards of management of schools and chambers of commerce. In every local community women are the leading lights in all these organisations and are often CEOs of chambers of commerce and companies. While it is difficult for them to have such leading roles, what stops them becoming involved in politics? I accept Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh's point about the hours we work. I know that the Dáil sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with late sittings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Deputy needs to take into account those Deputies who live far from Dublin when deciding the sitting arrangements for the House.

This brings me to the substance of the Bill whose objective is laudable. The Government is concerned that the method of achieving that objective set out in the Bill poses constitutional and other legal difficulties. Before I outline those, I wish to say that I hope I can persuade my colleague Deputy Calleary, who has been in contact with the Minister on the issue, not to push the Bill to a vote, but instead to agree to work together to see if within the internal arrangements, including the Standing Orders of both Houses, we can find a way of achieving the shared objective without having to face any constitutional difficulties because I believe the objective of the legislation is welcome.

The difficulties we on the Government side see with the Bill are as follows. We, as Members of the Oireachtas, are not employees but officeholders. We do not fall within the statutory employment protection legislation, because we are not employees. Consequently, we do not qualify for the various social welfare schemes in place to support workers when they are sick or on maternity or adoptive leave. We are also not covered by what is known as the workplace relationship legislation - such as unfair dismissal legislation and the organisation of working time legislation.

The proposal to provide for maternity leave for female Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas - as if we were employees - may raise a constitutional issue since it would in effect make provision for State recognition of an absence from her duties under the Constitution of a Member of either House during the maternity leave period and for State remuneration during that absence. The reality is that Members are entitled to their salary allowance as a matter of law during their period of membership of the relevant House and there is no provision for non-payment of the salary during this period. As Members we organise our own work patterns and - subject to Members on my side of the House being here when I need them to be here - the balance between Dáil work on legislation and other parliamentary business on the one hand, and constituency and other work on the other is managed by the individual Deputy at his or her own discretion and is not subject to approval by an employer.

We need to consider two issues. Would it be possible under the Constitution to legislate for such an absence from duty for Deputies and Senators? What additional provision, if any, could be made in such legislation for payment of the salary allowance - and other allowances - to a Member in respect of such absences, given that the law already provides for the payment of salary for the full duration of membership of either House of the Oireachtas?

The question may well arise as to whether the provision of maternity leave should equate to a formal leave of absence such that the Member is, albeit temporarily, no longer performing her duties as a Member. The Bill does not propose for a temporary replacement of a Member during her absence on maternity leave and this in any event would raise issues both relating to electoral law and possibly also the Constitution. If any mother were to take two or three months off, I do not believe she would like a substitute coming in to take her place because we are all very protective of our seats within the House.

My final difficulty with the Bill is a practical one.

Anyone involved in politics knows our electoral system does not allow any Member the luxury of taking a six month break from constituency politics while being able to expect the seat to be kept warm by one's party colleagues in anticipation of one's return. We need to find a way of encouraging more women to get involved in politics, and of encouraging young mothers to stay involved, while bearing in mind the reality of daily political life, about which I do not need to tell any Deputy.

The Bill also proposes what I consider to be very generous terms for Members of the House on maternity leave, which are far ahead of those available to most young mothers. In the current difficult economic times we need to reflect on this element of the Bill. Most women on maternity leave receive a social welfare payment, known as maternity benefit, between a maximum amount of €262 and a minimum amount of €217 a week. This said, the Government fully supports the objective of increasing the number of women in politics and of making Leinster House a friendly and supportive place for young mothers.

We should consider what we in the Oireachtas can do in a practical way to progress this objective by supporting the young mothers and fathers among Deputies and Senators. I do understand. I listened to Deputies Calleary and Ó Snodaigh speak about the work-life balance in the Dáil, which can be extremely challenging for mothers. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated, one can make an arrangement to collect one's children only to arrive here in the morning to discover the entire day has changed. This happens on occasion, as do changes to the Dáil calendar. It is the nature of the work we do in Leinster house. It is politics. I have spoken to members of other Parliaments, who have the same difficulty as that which we are discussing. Perhaps we should examine more closely whether arrangements exist in other Parliaments for women going on maternity leave, and the types of systems they have in place.

We should work together on the Bill. I urge Deputy Ó Fearghaíl to see what we can achieve through internal Houses of the Oireachtas arrangements. Primary legislation raises serious problems, as I have explained, and the Government would have to oppose the Bill on technical grounds if it was pushed to a vote. I suggest that we do not move to a vote and instead work together to see what can actually be achieved in a practical way without the requirement of primary legislation. This could be considered first by the Whips and then by the Leinster House authorities.

With regard to Friday sittings, on occasion we deal with a hot topic and many Deputies are present, but for this Bill, which deals with women in politics, two men and two women are present in the Chamber. Perhaps this shows the interest some Members have in this topic. We must be very much aware of this.

Yesterday morning, the Ceann Comhairle raised an issue with regard to ordering Friday sittings, and I very much take on board the comments he made. We took them very seriously when he made the same comments a number of weeks ago. At that stage I went to the Whips and asked them their views on it. They stated they would like to-----

11:10 am

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not a matter for the Whips. It is a matter for the House.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----examine it when we introduce another-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not a matter for the Whips.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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They would like to examine the issue when we introduce a new suite of reforms to the House. Party spokespersons should have an opportunity to speak and stress what they believe and voice their concerns about a Bill. A Government Member should then speak, after which any Deputy should be free to contribute. If five speakers in a row are on the Government side this should be allowed. It should be up to the Ceann Comhairle to call on speakers. Nobody is being denied the chance to speak on this very important issue or on any Bill coming before the House. It is important that everyone has his or her say on a Bill.

It is good to see Deputy Ó Fearghaíl has brought forward the Bill, and that it came from a male Member of the House and that there is participation from male and female Deputies and mothers and fathers. As a father I understand one is away from one's children two or three days a week. One comes to Dublin on Monday evening and does not return until Thursday or Friday, and one has one's constituency work to deal with when one returns home. Rural mothers probably face a similar difficulty. Mothers have more affection for their children than fathers and we must accept this. It is a very close relationship.

As Chief Whip I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for raising this important issue and I invite him and all of the Whips in the House to work with us to see what can realistically and appropriately be done. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, should examine this issue, as should the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Whips. This area can be explored further. I thank Deputy Calleary and the other speakers for their participation in the debate.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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With regard to ordering Private Members' business, I have been Acting Chairman during Friday sittings, and it is notable that at present only Government speakers are available although we are debating and Opposition Bill. The Ceann Comhairle's proposal that the speaking order should be on the basis of Members indicating would probably make sense.

I wish to pick up a point made by Deputy Pringle. He stated that because the Technical Group seems to have a high representation of women it somehow means we have a good record of women running as independent candidates, but in fact this is not the case. In the general election of 2011, 9% of independent candidates were women and 18% of political party candidates were women. The Socialist Party ran only 12% women candidates, but returned 50% representation with one male and one female Deputy. Deputy Pringle had his facts wrong.

I understand why Fianna Fáil has tabled the Bill. It is not so much about laudable intentions but rather reputation salvaging, the need to be seen to be women friendly, and trying to appeal to women voters. After the last election Fianna Fáil returned no women Deputies which is not great for the party, particularly when one considers the women representatives it has had over the years who held very important positions and were very good representatives. It is understandable Fianna Fáil would table this Bill given this predicament.

I wonder whether Fianna Fáil would have tabled the Bill had it run its proposals past women politicians who have given birth while being elected representatives. Many women Deputies and Senators, including former Fianna Fáil representatives, have had children while being Members of the Oireachtas. Many women councillors have also had children.

The Bill is very much framed in the old-fashioned view that it is the woman's role, so the woman must leave the Dáil when she has a child, but it makes no reference to fathers. I welcome the Chief Whip's comments in that regard. I wonder, however, if those framing this legislation would have tabled this Bill had they first put themselves in the shoes of women TDs and thought about the practical implications of what they were proposing.

Does Deputy Calleary really think it is realistic for a woman TD to take leave for up to six months as a parent?

11:20 am

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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It is giving the option.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I have read the Bill and it does not give the option. A woman TD just would not do it. I had my first and only child when I was a Member of the Seanad, so I experienced this matter and I can think of many things that are wrong with the Bill. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, went through some of the issues and I will expand on one of them. He said that we are different because, as office holders, we are not employees. It goes much deeper than that, however. We have been voted in as Teachtaí Dála to represent our constituents and we have a democratic mandate to do so. Who would represent the constituents if a Deputy was not here for up to six months a year? An election could be called two years into a Dáil term while, under this legislation, a woman Deputy could be missing for a whole year if she had children in each of those years. That has happened in here, with women representatives giving birth to children in quick succession. Therefore, constituents might not be represented by one of their TDs for up to a year and there could be an election a year later.

I am trying to look at the practicalities involved. Who would represent those constituents? A court case was brought by Sinn Féin about by-elections not being held within a certain period, thus leaving constituents unrepresented. Yet this Bill proposes that people who vote for women TDs could be left unrepresented for up to six months each time a woman Deputy had a child. That is an important aspect of how we view our roles as TDs. Much of the debate, however, seems to be missing the point about what it means to be a politician in a representative democracy. It is not a job or career; a TD is in the Dáil to represent constituents and raise their issues. That is the constitutional position, so what Fianna Fáil is proposing would almost certainly be unconstitutional.

We all work very hard here, so we know what the work entails. If I were to take leave for six months, who would do my job? Who would represent my constituents in the meantime? Who would follow up my workload? The Minister of State mentioned other parliaments, but they have list systems where people are not directly elected by the people. Under the list system, people are basically appointed by party hierarchies. We do not have that system and the voters do not want it. Anytime they have been polled or surveyed on it they opt to keep our PRSTV system.

As the Minister of State said, what sensible and rational TD would want somebody else to take over their role for six months? What TD would want to have their constituency colleagues mopping up all the votes while they went off for six months and disappeared from public view? That is what maternity leave means - TDs either represent their constituents or not, but they cannot take leave from their representative role.

What if an election was coming up? Under our Constitution, an election can be called at any time. So what would happen if a TD had a child and four months later there was an election? Is that TD supposed to go missing or pull out of running for election? A sitting councillor in my constituency had a child three months before the local elections in 2009. She ran and was re-elected. Why should she be different to any man? If we really want more women in politics, we should not propose that such a person pulls out and takes maternity leave.

The Bill totally disadvantages women in many ways, including the perception of women and their role as elected representatives. If this legislation was to be passed and women took it up, it would leave the field entirely to their rivals in the meantime. To get elected one must ask the people to vote for you. That is the kind of democracy we are living in. The best democracy is when one must seek votes and then represent the people when elected.

There are other practicalities involved. Would a woman Minister disappear for six months and let one of her male colleagues take over as a Minister in the meantime? How would that progress the participation of women in public life? On the other hand, would the electorate vote for women candidates if they thought that, once elected, women might absent themselves from their role as public representatives for up to six months a year while sitting as TDs?

The Bill perpetuates a very old-fashioned view of the way things are between men and women. I am glad the Minister of State picked up on the fact that fathers are parents too. In my personal experience, as a woman who had a child while serving as a Member of the Oireachtas, I found my colleagues were very supportive. They facilitated me when I had the child. I did not absent myself from my responsibilities but my colleagues facilitated me in terms of votes, as the Minister of State has suggested. One does not get the same support for male TDs and Senators when they become fathers, which is wrong. Both men and women are parents and parenting should be a shared responsibility. This Bill perpetuates the notion that it is all about the mothers.

The idea that a woman TD would be paid €92,000 for not representing her constituents is nonsense. Our constitutional role as TDs is to represent our constituents in the Dáil, whether in budgets, legislation or otherwise, while holding various public bodies to account.

As someone who has had a child while a sitting Oireachtas Member, I can think of many practical things that could be done to support women. Some of them have been outlined by the Minister of State and I welcome his approach to this legislation. When I had my child a crèche was opened across the road in Kildare House. That was helpful to me because if meant I could leave my child into the crèche. I welcomed that initiative and I know other TDs and Senators also used that facility. The fact that I could use it on a drop-in basis was great because it meant there was flexibility for me. The one problem with the crèche is that it is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so it is closed even if the Dáil sits late. The crèche should be open longer so that Oireachtas Members with babies could make full use of it.

At that time, I sought baby changing facilities to be put in the disabled toilet opposite the Visitors' Bar and that was done. At the same time, other facilities were put in around the Houses of the Oireachtas which were helpful for those with young children. There could be many more such facilities. Leinster House is not a very child-friendly place. Before children go to school, one needs to bring them in here but one is conscious that they can become bored and might make noise. It can be awkward having a child in here, so I always thought there should be a family room so one would not have to take a child to the canteen or the bar, so that people could work in the office. Small practical steps like that would help women.

The other thing that is most important for women politicians is to introduce paternity leave, not for TDs but for employees.

Such a measure would be welcomed by women and men all over the country because many women, particularly those who are self-employed, do not wish to take up to half a year out of the workforce but would like to share parenting responsibilities with their partners. Were the partner of a female politician able to take paternity leave, it would be very helpful to women who are elected representatives.

The question of sitting hours has been mentioned by many Deputies. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that come the next budget, Members will not have the same experience as in recent budgets, which was much too intense and stressful for all Deputies. It is very difficult in respect of one's family life, mental health and so on. The hours are too long, the period is too intense and ordinary Deputies do not have enough say in the budget anyway. This is another thing that must be changed by the Government Whips and those in power, namely, the Government, whose Ministers need to change this practice. I urge people to avoid proposing that sessions in the Chamber should run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week, because that of course would be disastrous for both male and female Deputies from outside Dublin who have children or other caring responsibilities and who seek any kind of work-life balance.

11:30 am

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Were the Deputy to tell my wife that Members were going to sit for five days a week, she might get her reply.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Absolutely, that is my point. If one is a Deputy representing Wexford or Donegal, the idea of sitting here for five days is absolutely family-unfriendly. It also is ridiculous to expect a Deputy not to be in his or her constituency and community for part of the week.

I welcome this debate and in that sense, I welcome what Fianna Fáil has done in this regard. However, I do not believe its members thought it through or thought about it from the perspective of how it would affect them, were the same provision applied to them as male Deputies. I welcome the approach proposed by the Minister of State and Chief Whip.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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This Government will be remembered for its introduction of political gender quotas. It was a brave and historic move and was an acknowledgement of the need for greater female participation in politics. Members need not revisit the abysmal statistics regarding female representation, as they all know they are depressing. I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for bringing forward this Bill. It provides a reminder for those in Cabinet of the need for greater action to encourage women to engage in electoral politics. While the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act was a momentous step forward, more action is required. However, I am not convinced that one such action is the provision of the Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill. I welcome the acknowledgement by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, that a pairing agreement for women who need maternity leave will be considered supportively. I also take on board the observations of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, on the constitutional issues regarding this Bill. However, I believe the importance of today's debate to be in effecting a culture change within the public expectation of women in politics who are mothers, as well as that of their colleagues. There is a perception that if a woman goes on maternity leave, it is then time for others to take advantage politically and benefit when the woman is off the scene for maternity reasons. Employment laws protect women on maternity leave but this is not the case for female politicians. Maternity leave is not a holiday time but is given in order that babies and mothers can bond and that babies can be looked after. There can be complications or post-natal depressions and statistics show the breastfeeding benefits for the health of the baby can continue on into motherhood, but time is needed to do this successfully. Birth can be traumatic and in this week alone, I have dealt with two women who have suffered from spontaneous symphysiotomies and who, in consequence, are in wheelchairs and using crutches. Women need time to get over the trauma of birth.

This week, the youngest female Member, Deputy Helen McEntee, took her seat in Dáil Éireann and it is important to put out a strong message for women in the future. Two young high-profile mothers who were politicians were obliged to resign their posts because of the pressures of motherhood, namely, Olwyn Enright and Mildred Fox. They simply could not juggle motherhood, rearing children and politics. It is not good enough that there is a perception that one simply pops a baby and then gets back to work immediately for fear that others could take over one's political patch. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, that fathers also need to feel free to take the prescribed paternal leave without feeling under pressure to be back in harness at work here in the Dáil. I note this also happens to women in other professions and not simply to female politicians who feel pressure to get back to work in case someone takes over while they are out on maternity leave.

I made a submission to the Constitutional Convention on the issue of increased female political representation. I specified the need for changes in three areas, the first of which was the rotation of ballot papers. Experience from other countries, such as Argentina, highlights the necessity for clear rules regarding ballot paper placement. The ultimate decision not to include a rotation system for ballot paper ordering in Argentina led to protests and confusion. In Spain, researchers highlight how primacy effect was used by parties as an obstacle to enhancing female political participation. Experience from this counties implies that a rotation system or policy should be imposed alongside Part 5 of the local government Bill. In support of this argument, research points to Irish examples of politicians changing their names to place themselves higher and better preferred on ballot papers. The research indicates there is a significant advantage in having one's name first on the ballot paper. It is estimated that the effect for a person appearing first on the ballot is approximately 1.2 percentage points, which, in a tight election result, could make the difference between election and non-election.

District magnitude is another issue. This refers to the number of candidates elected from a particular district or constituency. In 2010, an Oireachtas research paper concluded that the size of the electoral district affects directly the chance of a female candidate being selected and ultimately elected. This argument was backed by the results of the general election of 2011. In total, there were 43 constituencies in the 2011 general election. Approximately 40% of the constituencies were three-seaters, accounting for 51 seats, and three female candidates were successful in this constituency type, amounting to 12% of the total number of seats won by women. In the 2011 election, 35% of constituencies were four-seaters, amounting to 60 seats and 14 female Deputies came from such constituencies. Finally, five-seat constituencies made up only 26% of the total number, amounting to 55 seats, but nearly three times more female Deputies were elected from this category, that is, eight women, than from three-seat constituencies. The constituency commission report of 2012 recommended boundary and constituency changes. The report recommends a reduction in the number of constituencies from 43 to 40. Specifically, it called for a reduction in the number of three-seat constituencies from 17 to 14 and for an increase in the number of four-seat constituencies from 15 to 16. While this is a welcome development in respect of female representation, the eradication of all three-seat constituencies would be a more radical and beneficial step for female representation. Expanding constituency size may also reduce the link between a representative and a constituency, thereby reducing local constituency workloads.

This would be of particular benefit to young parents.

Many calls were made during the Second Stage debate on Part 5 of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill to alter the working hours of the Dáil and Seanad. Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, for example, stated that the Houses had to adjust to a modern way of doing business within daylight hours that is supportive of family life. Senator Rónán Mullen agreed and referred to the need to create a more family friendly workplace. Senator Imelda Henry said that it can be very difficult for young mothers to leave home and base themselves in Dublin for three days. Senator Terry Leyden signalled his agreement and said it is practically impossible at present for a young parent to work in the Dáil or Seanad because of the unsocial hours we keep. Similar sentiments were expressed in the Dáil. Deputy Niall Collins stated there is a fundamental question over the lifestyle, career demands and constraints of this job. Deputy Seán Kenny argued that there is a need to move to more conventional business hours and to put an end to late night meetings. Deputy John Paul Phelan also raised the issue of the long sitting hours in the Dáil and the meetings representatives are required to attend late into the night. I believe these views represent the wishes and views of the vast majority of representatives. The working hours are a major obstacle for young parents.

To increase female participation in politics it would be prudent to review working hours. If we are serious about increasing female participation, the Government should consider these suggestions.

11:40 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for drafting this Bill. I welcome the opportunity to speak on an issue which we really have not grasped over the years. There are many good provisions in the Bill but some of them are simply not practical.

I represent a rural constituency. Yesterday, I left Leinster House at 3 p.m. I attended a funeral in my old constituency of south Leitrim. I was delighted to attend it. The family of the deceased man were delighted that their Teachta Dála came to pay respect to a man who had been an upstanding member of the community. After that I attended a meeting in Roscommon and finished by attending three Fine Gael Party annual general meetings, AGMs, in the new constituency of east Galway. People might ask what I was doing at the AGMs. It is a great way for politicians to find out from party members what is happening in the area. I always convey the fears and trepidations of those members to the parliamentary party and to where it matters. Sometimes people accuse politicians of being out of touch. When one attends a Fine Gael AGM, and I am sure Deputy Calleary will say the same for a Fianna Fáil AGM, one is told in no uncertain terms about the state of the country and what must be done about it. I believe it is a great system.

Today, I left Williamstown and Ballymoe at 1.30 a.m. and reached Dublin at 3.30 a.m. That is a normal day for a politician. I have a meeting with the Taoiseach today and tonight I will attend another three AGMs in east Galway. If I did not do that, it would be disrespectful to the members of the local Fine Gael branches, who have been very loyal and supportive over the years. They get nothing out of being members of a political party, but they expect the politician whom they have supported and for whom they have put up posters to show that appreciation once a year. I do not know how I would address that if I were a mother with a young baby. The people in the constituencies, aside from the party members, are unconcerned. They want their politician to be there regardless of what happens, even if one is ill or on maternity leave.

About three months ago a public meeting was arranged in my constituency for a Wednesday night about a certain issue. I could not attend the meeting because I could not get a pair in the House. I sent my apologies. My two colleagues, who are in the Opposition, were able to attend because they are not in government. They could stand up at the meeting and say they intended to defend this, that and the other. I was castigated by the same people who voted for me to represent them in government because I did not attend this so-called public meeting. I can do a great deal more in Dublin and in Leinster House than I can do on the radio, in the local newspapers or by going around shaking hands. However, the electorate likes to see one there. You are their little show pony sometimes. I was in opposition for nine years and I was in Government Buildings four times in that nine years. I will be in Government Buildings five times today, because we have work to do as a Government. That is the real work, not going around shaking hands or attending these public meetings and telling everybody they are fine.

I understand what is involved for a man who does not have children. However, those difficulties would be compounded tenfold for a woman seeking maternity leave. There is also the problem of ill health. I have seen Members of this House who had terminal illnesses attending sittings of this House when they probably should have been attending their doctors or so forth. They came to the House because they felt they had a duty to be here. It was very difficult for them. However, that is a different issue.

Society has moved on. My mother raised three children. We had a newsagent shop and she worked 80 hours per week. She could not leave the shop. There was no way at the time that one could pay somebody to work her hours. If one works 80 hours per week for about €10 per hour, it is approximately €800 per week. No business could pay it. There is a divide between the self-employed and others. I agree with the generous terms available but the self-employed cannot take that time off.

Deputy Tuffy summed up how things have changed. I had a pub in the late 1980s. At 9.30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the great and good would arrive. They might be doctors, bank managers, gardaí or teachers. They were all men. What happened in every house in Ireland at that time was that when the news programme was over the man of the house went down to the pub, while the wife put the children to bed. The men would go home at midnight or 12.30 a.m. This happened every night. At the time they were considered very good husbands and fathers. However, that would not happen today. Fathers are now expected to work closely with mothers in rearing children. It should not be solely the mother who has the duty to raise the children. It is a partnership and that is very healthy. It shows how society has progressed.

I agree with the Electoral Acts that seek to attract more women candidates and to get more women elected to this House and to other fora. This Government has gone a long way in trying to address that issue. However, the House must be more family friendly. Again, as Deputy Tuffy said, where does one go with a child? Does one go to the Members' bar or the public bar? A great deal more must in done in that regard.

With regard to the generous terms proposed by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, people would be very angry if a Deputy or Senator received far more generous terms than a member of the community.

The Bill contains worthy provisions but a number of provisions are not practical. Following this debate, Members and Whips should meet to work out themselves the best way forward.

Politics is a tough, unforgiving game but politicians can work together to ensure young and middle aged women who are elected to the Houses have a safety net. Perhaps they could be automatically paired. I wonder if the Government had a tight majority and a sensitive Bill needed to be addressed whether an Opposition party force a woman to hightail it to Dublin as quickly as possible because there is not huge sentiment in politics. However, political parties could work towards such a sentiment. We talk about sentiment but if push came to shove and the Government only had a majority of one or two, Deputy Calleary would not be thanked by Fianna Fáil supporters and other Opposition supporters-----

11:50 am

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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We would facilitate the Government.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. This legislation is worthy of discussion and I support many of the provisions but some are impractical. That does not mean we cannot move the issue forward.

I very much welcome the opportunity to debate legislation on Fridays. As a Government backbencher, I do not get as many opportunities to speak as I did in opposition.

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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I pay tribute to the work undertaken by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl in the development of this Bill. It addresses important issues, which clearly need attention. The debate has been informative and productive. However, I still urge the Deputy to reflect on what the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kehoe, said earlier on the role that Whips could play in advancing the issues outlined in the Bill and not to push the Bill to a vote but instead to agree that work together to see if through the internal arrangements, including the Standing Orders, of both Houses, we can find a way of achieving the shared objective without having to face constitutional difficulties.

There are difficulties with the Bill, which need careful consideration. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe explained, we are officeholders, not employees, as Oireachtas Members. We do not fall within the statutory employment protection legislation because we are not employees. The proposal to provide for maternity leave for female Members as if they were employees may raise a constitutional issue since it would, in effect, make provision for State recognition of an absence from her duties under the Constitution of a Member of either House during the maternity leave period and for State remuneration during that absence. The reality is that Members are entitled to their salary allowance as a matter of law during their period of membership of the relevant House and there is no provision for non-payment of the salary during this period. As Members, we organise our own work patterns and, subject to Members on my side of the House being present when the Whip needs them, the balance between Dáil work on legislation and other parliamentary business on the one hand and constituency and other work on the other is managed by the individual Member at his or her discretion and is not subject to approval by the employer.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe said earlier, there are two issues to consider - whether it is possible under the Constitution to legislate for such an absence from duty for Deputies and Senators and what additional provision, if any, could be made in such legislation for payment of the salary allowance and other allowances to a Member in respect of such absences, given the law provides for the payment of salary for the full duration of membership. The question may well arise as to whether the provision of maternity leave equates to a formal leave of absence such that a Member is, albeit temporarily, no longer performing her duties. The Bill does not provide for a temporary replacement of a Member during her absence on maternity leave and this would raise issues under electoral law and the Constitution.

I fully support the thrust of the Bill in its general aim to support greater participation of women in politics. We need to find a way to encourage more women to get involved in politics and to encourage young mothers to stay involved, which is a significant challenge. Deputy Mitchell O'Connor outlined clear examples of where that has proved impossible. We are all agreed on that but the way needs to be one that works and is constitutional. Bearing in mind the reality of daily political life, I do not need to tell the House much about that because we are all acutely aware of it.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome all the contributions to the debate. In what was a busy day for the Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday, his office worked with us on the Bill. We recognise there are practical issues and we will not divide the House on the Bill but we are seeking to have it referred formally to a committee in order that it will not be filed away under any other business. It needs to go into the system.

The legislation was tabled because we have a problem as a party and as an Oireachtas. Both genders face this problem. We need to make the Oireachtas much more family friendly in the conduct of its business. I met a former colleague from Fine Gael earlier who retired in 2011 and she looks 20 years younger than when she was a Member. I meet many former colleagues who are in the same place. The best thing one can do for one's appearance and health is to get out of here. While that is humorous, it is the reality about the way we work. Deputy Feighan's description of his week is typical of my week. The Minister of State's job is particularly onerous as Ireland holds the EU Presidency. We get on with it and we leave voluntarily or otherwise but no change is made to the way we do business and then we wonder why people feel disconnected from the system and do not want to get involved. We have many changes to make. I will seek a motion on Tuesday on which we all agree to refer this legislation to a committee such as the Committee of Procedures and Privileges. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kehoe, referred to the 2009 all-party report but we have not moved that on. I had the privilege of sitting on the justice committee but it has not moved the issue on. The 2011 election was a disappointment in breaking the ceiling to get more women to participate in politics. We went through the figures earlier.

I welcome quotas, although I was not a supporter of them. I still am not sure about them but we need them. Unless we change the way we do business, not just in the Oireachtas but at local authority level, quotas will not resolve the problem. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to people pulling and dragging out of him at all times. Quotas will be a quick fix but they will not address the issue of attracting people into this profession or calling. I welcome the fact that we had a good debate but quotas are not the answer to the problem. This will not win votes for us and people will say politicians are worrying about themselves again. We are not worried about ourselves; we are worried about making the Oireachtas easier to get into and a more family friendly place in which to serve. If it can be, more people will get involved in politics and challenge the system. That is what we need at the end of the day.

Question put and declared lost.

The Dáil adjourned at 12 noon until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 April 2013.