Wednesday, 20 October 2021
Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality: Statements
Today is the first opportunity for the Oireachtas to discuss the report of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. I want to begin my contribution by commending and thanking those citizens - the 99 women and men, and the Chair - who gave their time and consideration to developing the 45 recommendations that have come from the citizens' assembly seeking to achieve greater gender equality in Ireland.
Covid-19 provided an unexpected and unwelcome interruption to their work. It is a credit to the chair, Catherine Day, and the team working with her, for innovating and allowing the citizens' assembly to continue in a virtual format. It is striking that, at such a difficult time in our country's history, the members of the citizens' assembly made time in their lives and homes for this important work, working to create a more equal Ireland. They have given us an example of citizenship at work, one that we should all hope to emulate. In as much as we thank them, it is important also to thank the families of those 99 individuals. As we know, when meetings are held by way of Zoom or Skype, a room is out of play and the family have to help to keep the dog quiet, look after the children or whatever. Therefore, I recognise the work of those individuals' families.
I also want to particularly thank Catherine Day for taking on the role of chair in this process and leading the citizens' assembly so effectively in the face of the challenges thrown up by Covid-19. As the Minister with responsibility for gender equality, many of the recommendations relate to my work but a good many others fall under the responsibility of a number of my ministerial colleagues and I will work with them to provide these with the necessary in-depth consideration.
It is illustrative of the need for gender equality mainstreaming across society if we are truly to make a difference in gender equality. As the members of the Citizen's Assembly on Gender Equality set out in their open letter to the Oireachtas, "we looked back into Ireland's history, we looked at present day society and we are now submitting to you a new view of a future Ireland where gender equality is the norm". They have set out a vision of how we can achieve gender equality, based on their considerations, and it is now the responsibility of Members of the Oireachtas to consider and respond to those recommendations. Policy to promote gender equality in Ireland is a key component of the work of my Department. The national strategy for women and girls provides a framework for the whole-of-government approach to gender equality. That strategy was brought to a close this year, having been extended by a year in response to the impact of Covid-19, and work will begin to identify the future strategic path for gender equality in 2022.
I want to move to address some of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality, in particular those which fall under my responsibility. The Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality makes three recommendations for amendment to the Constitution. The first is to amend Article 40.1o of the Constitution to refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination. The second is to amend Article 41o of the Constitution so that it would protect private and family life, with the protection afforded to the family not limited to the marital family. The third is to delete Article 41.2o of the Constitution and replace it with language that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and across the wider community. These three recommendations propose significant amendments to the Constitution and will require careful consideration for their legal and policy implications. Across the House, I think we can agree there is language in the Constitution which does not reflect the country Ireland is today.
The recommendations do not contain specific language proposals and this will form part of what the Government must have regard to. This is not an easy task and it will take time. I am mindful that consideration of the question of Article 41.2o under the previous Government did not identify language which could be used as a replacement clause to reflect the importance of care work in society. However, my officials are working with the Department of An Taoiseach to find a way forward. I am particularly interested to hear the views of Deputies in this debate on what would be suitable language to use in the Constitution to recognise the importance of care in the home but move away from the very gendered language contained in Article 41.2o.
The Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality also makes a range of specific recommendations under the broad heading of care, some of which fall under the remit of my Department. There are specific recommendations made on paid leave for parents. The provision of family leave has gone through many advancements in recent years, with the extension of unpaid parental leave and the introduction of paid parent's leave since providing flexibility and support to working parents trying to balance work and the important work of caring for their children. Earlier this year I brought forward the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021, which further extended parent's leave to five weeks for each parent of a child under the age of two. This leave is available to the parent of a child and their spouse or cohabitant to reflect the complexity of family life in Ireland. As announced in last week's budget, this leave will be extended to seven weeks for each parent from mid-2022. I look forward to implementing those provisions next July. The consequent benefit payment will also be extended for up to seven weeks.
These developments provide a significant amount of leave available to families to care for their child in his or her earliest months and the provisions of the EU work-life balance directive require nine weeks of paid non-transferable leave for each parent by August 2024, the provision of which will be considered in the context of the citizens' assembly recommendations.
Other recommendations focus on early learning and childcare and I recognise the provision of affordable, accessible and quality early learning and childcare services is a very important measure in addressing gender equality. Women are still overwhelmingly responsible for childcare, whether looking after their children themselves at home, organising childcare or working in the early learning and childcare sector. We need to reduce this burden on mothers by making it easier for families to access affordable, quality early learning and childcare which meets their needs. We also need to encourage parents to share responsibility for this care. Recent developments regarding family leave, including paternity leave, parent's leave and parental leave will go way some way to address this, and so too will recent and planned developments in early learning and childcare.
The citizens' assembly has made a number of significant recommendations on this area. These are to move to a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of quality, affordable early years and out-of-hours childcare over the next decade; to increase the State share of GDP spent on childcare, from the current 0.37% of GDP to at least 1% by no later than 2030 in line with the UNICEF target; and to address the specific needs of lone parents to incentivise and support them in accessing work or education, including provision of child and after-school care.
I agree with the assembly's recommendation that we need to take further steps towards a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of quality, affordable early years and out-of-hours childcare over the next decade. We also need to increase State investment. We need to address the specific needs of lone parents. Work is under way in my Department to do just that. First 5, the whole-of-government strategy for babies, young children and their families, commits to doubling investment in early learning and childcare over the period 2019 to 2028 so that by 2028 investment in the sector will reach some €1 billion per year.
This strategy also commits to developing a new funding model which will be the key vehicle to ensure this additional investment delivers for children, families and the State. An independently chaired expert group was convened in 2019 to lead on this work. The work of the group is informed by a significant programme of research, delivered by a research partner, Frontier Economics.
The expert group has also undertaken extensive consultation and engagement with stakeholders.
The report reflects the two years of detailed planning, consultation and research that is being finalised and will be submitted in November and it informed my approach to budget 2022. Budget 2022 has been recognised by advocates in the early learning and childcare sector as historic and a step change for the sector. Funding for early learning and childcare in 2022 will increase next year by €78 million to a total of €716 million. This funding will allow my Department to continue: the implementation of the universal early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme for more than 100,000 children for the two years before they begin primary school; the implementation of the access and inclusion model programme of supports that enable more than 5,000 children with a disability participate in the ECCE programme; and the implementation of the national childcare scheme, NCS, which delivers universal and targeted subsidies to up to 80,000 children in line with their income and other circumstances.
Critically, the additional investment next year will also allow my Department to extend the NCS universal subsidy of up to €1,170 per child per annum to all children under 15 from September 2022, benefiting up to 40,000 children. It will remove the practice of deducting hours spent in preschool or school from the entitlement to NCS-subsidised hours, benefiting an estimated 5,000 children from low income families, which is an issue we have regularly discussed in this Chamber and that was a change I was pleased to introduce. It will also introduce a new funding stream with an estimated total cost of €69 million in September 2022 with a full year cost of over €200 million for approximately 4,700 early learning and childcare providers. Providers will be eligible for this new funding stream to help cover increased operating costs linked to quality improvement measures. This additional funding will support early learning and childcare providers to attract and retain staff, including degree-qualified staff, and will support the programme for Government commitment to support the drawing up of an employment regulation order for up to 30,000 staff in the sector. In return for this investment a commitment will be sought from providers not to increase parents' fees. For the first time, next year the State will have some control over fees charged to parents by childcare providers.
Budget 2022 will also allow for further enhancements to regulatory and quality supports for the implementation of the national action plan for childminding, a new workforce development plan and the registration and inspection system for the quality of early learning and childcare. First 5 commitments chime with the recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly and progress made on implementing First 5 is significant. Budget 2022 marks the beginning of a transformative multi-annual investment programme for the early learning and childcare sector, making significant progress on the First 5 commitment to increase spending to €1 billion per year by 2028 and on efforts to improve access, affordability and quality of provision.
The Citizen's Assembly on Gender Equality also makes important recommendations on encouraging women in leadership, including the use of quotas. It is central to ensuring that our society responds to the challenges of gender equality and that women are encouraged and supported in joining political life and in engaging in leadership. Targets are a feature of some ongoing existing gender equality measures, including the provisions of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, which link the State funding of political parties in the Electoral Acts to the achievement of a gender balance in candidate selection for Dáil general elections. To receive full State funding under the Electoral Acts, a qualified political party had to have at least 30% women candidates and at least 30% men candidates at the election. The legislation provides that this quota will rise to 40% in 2023, seven years after the February 2016 general election.
The Government's long-standing target of 40% gender balance on State boards has had some success, having been met by approximately half of such boards, while the average representation of women among board members is over 40%. In business leadership, the Balance for Better Business review group is an independent business-led review group established by the Government to improve gender balance in senior business leadership in Ireland. Balance for Better Business has set actionable and progressive targets for companies listed on Euronext Dublin and for private companies in Ireland to encourage them to address the gender balance issue on their boards and leadership teams as a matter of priority. The latest data from Balance for Better Business in March 2021 show that the number of women on the boards of Ireland's top 20 listed companies has reached 30%, up from just 18% when the initiative was launched in 2018. Revised targets in its third report, to be achieved by the end of 2023, include a target of 33% of female representation on boards of ISEQ 20 listed companies and 25% for other listed companies. Targets of 30% female representation on boards of large Irish-owned private companies and 35% for leadership teams have also been set.
The Citizen's Assembly also makes a series of recommendations around gender equality in pay and in the workplace. Gender equality in the workplace, particularly in pay, is also a feature of the national strategy for women and girls. Earlier this year the Oireachtas passed the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021, which will introduce gender pay gap reporting for the first time. This is one of the recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly on Gender Equality. I look forward to bringing forward regulations on this by the end of this year and to a structure to permit reporting beginning in the coming year. Having this information available to us about some of our largest employers will enable us to identify where the gender pay gap is most significant and will direct focused efforts to address the gender pay gap across different industries. It will also be a positive to employers, with those that can demonstrate gender pay equality within their organisations likely to be more attractive to prospective employees.
The recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly on the gender equality principle in law and policy are particularly pertinent to the work of my Department. The equality and gender equality policy unit leads on the co-ordination of gender equality policy across Government, including leading the national strategy for women and girls, and developing initiatives to address gender equality. As the national strategy for women and girls will conclude this year, my Department will lead on examining and developing a successor cross-Government strategic policy on gender equality. In developing a strategic approach it is vital that we can measure the extent of inequality and how well our initiatives are working.
The importance of gathering and being able to disaggregate data on the equality grounds is recognised in the national strategy for women and girls and it requires all Departments to identify knowledge gaps on gender inequality and use this as a basis to drive improvements in the data infrastructure and analysis required to close those gaps. That lack of data is as pertinent in areas to do with race, disability and other areas where there is discrimination as it is in the area of gender. The anti-racism committee is bringing forward similar recommendations on the need for greater availability of data on race and that is something the Department will be bringing forward.
In line with an OECD recommendation to develop an equality data strategy, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, completed a data audit, in co-operation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to ascertain the availability of public service data that is disaggregated by equality dimensions. A report on this audit was published in October 2020 and my officials are examining the possibility of developing a equality data strategy with the CSO. Gender budgeting across Government is being developed under the leadership of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and some 12 Departments are reporting equality budgeting metrics. Earlier this year the Government agreed to the establishment of an interdepartmental group for equality budgeting to facilitate the embedding of the initiative across all Government Departments. This group will play a key role in guiding the continued progress of equality budgeting.
I note also the specific recommendations on equality legislation and these are timely in the context of the review of the Equal Status Acts, which has begun in my Department. At the request of a number of NGOs we have extended the time period for public consultation on the review of equality legislation but that is a significant initiative that the Department is taking on. Our equality legislation has served us well but it is 20 years since it was originally introduced and now is the right time to ensure it is fit for purpose, to examine the nine grounds and to consider additional grounds. We have made specific recommendations in the context of the gender ground as well.
I would like to again thank the members of the Citizen's Assembly for taking the time at a difficult period during Covid-19 to give such in-depth consideration to the issues that came before them.
I thank the chair of the assembly, Dr. Catherine Day, for steering it through and delivering to the Oireachtas 45 important recommendations. Some of these are at the level of constitutional amendments and we must bring parties together to consider what is the best language to use in our Constitution to reflect these ideals. Some measures are being progressed in my Department. Where others are concerned, we will outline how we will progress them in my Department as well as across other Departments.
I will reference a line of the open letter sent by the members of the assembly to us in the Oireachtas. It reads: "We urge you to match our commitment by accepting our recommendations and implementing them without delay to deliver gender equality for Ireland." This is a challenge to all of us, and one that the Government and my Department are up to tackling. I look forward to working with Deputies across the Chamber in implementing the recommendations.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. It is important that we use every opportunity to discuss the ways in which we can encourage and create pathways for more women to become involved, be that in civic life or, through greater pay equality, in positions of leadership in the public and private sectors. In our submission to the assembly, we expressed the view that women themselves must be the ones to determine the solutions to dismantling the barriers they face. It is equally vital that migrant women, women from the LGBTQI+ community, carers, including those who care for children, women outside the traditional workforce, women with disabilities and Traveller women, to name but a few, be included in this process.
There are practical examples of where Government policy can positively challenge gender stereotypes. Recently, the Department of Education acknowledged that the gender gap at third level was heavily influenced by subject choices and, as a result, career guidance at second level was undertaken. This is a perfect example of where the Government can effect positive change.
Despite some progress, we still have a long way to go as a country. A recent OECD report on equality budgeting found that there was no overarching strategy or set of goals in Ireland and it was difficult to judge if any of the goals being set by Departments independently were having any real impact or meeting needs. The Minister referred to this in the context of the lack of data, which I hope is something that will change. The OECD set out clear objectives and I would like to see the Government taking some of them on board.
Obviously, we are supportive of the gender pay gap legislation. I am unsure as to whether it is still before the Dáil. I recall that we debated it in the convention centre. We engaged extensively with it at the Committee on Justice and proposed a series of amendments to it.
We believe that the Low Pay Commission has a vital role to play in tackling inequality and in-work poverty, which disproportionately affects women. We have seen that in the context of Covid over the past year and a half. Many of the key roles in the early years sector and healthcare are predominantly filled by women. They are earning very low pay but doing vital work. Many of us never took them for granted, but everyone has seen over the past 18 months how valuable their roles are. While it is important that public discourse shifted in the past few decades and women who smashed glass ceilings are celebrated, there must be a greater focus on the struggles that many women face in reaching even junior management levels and on the gaps that negatively impact on career progression, earnings and pension entitlements. I have often been struck by the issue of pensions in this context, since it is often women who, due to the cost of childcare, must take parental leave for one or two days per week or give up working outside the home entirely. They only realise afterwards that doing so has affected their pensions. Generally, none of us thinks about pensions until later in life. This is something that affects women.
I wish to take a few minutes to discuss three of the assembly's 45 recommendations that recommend constitutional change in the area childcare. They recommend a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare over the next decade; increasing the State's spend on childcare from the current 0.37% of GDP to at least 1% by no later than 2030; and paid leave for parents to cover the first year of a child's life, be non-transferable, provide lone parents with the same total leave period as a couple, and be incentivised by increasing payment levels to encourage an increased uptake, which would also be important for lone parents.
The early years and childcare sector has been discussed. We feel strongly about having a publicly funded model, reducing fees for parents and introducing a decent wage scale for those who work in the sector. Encouraging women back to work or education is often discussed, but there is not always the infrastructure to support that. In an early years and childcare survey that I conducted last year, an issue for parents, predominantly women, was that they were locked out of work because of the cost of childcare, childcare spaces not being available or both. I imagine that the issue of cost is the overriding factor. While the pandemic shone a light on this sector like never before and how vital it was to the economy probably took some men by surprise, I do not believe that many women were surprised. Doctors, nurses, retail staff, carers and other vital front-line workers could not get to work because of childcare issues.
I acknowledge the extensive work that the assembly's members, including its chair, have undertaken on behalf of their fellow citizens. The role they have played in changing Ireland into a better, more inclusive and fairer society for women is commendable and I thank them for that. As the Minister stated, we must match their commitment by accepting their recommendations and implementing them without delay.
The Citizens' Assembly makes excellent observations and recommendations on gender equality and women. I thank Dr. Catherine Day and the other citizens who took park.
I would like to put the assembly's recommendations in context. If one were to pick up and smell poverty, homelessness, inequality, the climate and biodiversity crises, and the abduction, rape and murder of girls and women, it would all have the same stink, and that stink is given off by an entitled, privileged and patriarchal elite. As politicians, we are not meant to be keepers of the status quo. As parliamentarians, we are not meant to be apologists for a patriarchy that in this State has instituted inequality, homelessness, crises in health, housing, caring, childcare and mental health, and poverty. This is especially important for our daughters. None of us would be willing to accept for our daughters what we had to take in giving up and giving in - giving up our jobs, our independence, our own incomes and, often, our own names. For decades, we were forced to give up our children because "acceptable" motherhood was dependent on marriage to a man. Many women were forced to stay in violent marriages because they no longer had jobs or means of providing for themselves and their children. I am thinking of LGBT mothers who for decades lived in fear for their safety, their identities and their children because of their sexuality. Many had to live a lie because if they came out or, worse, were outed, they would lose their children. Thank God, we have since passed the referendum on marriage equality and we are getting somewhat better.
Today, however, women are still giving up in terms of unequal pay and the exorbitant cost of childcare that is often located miles from where they work or live. That assumes they can get childcare at all, given that there is a shortage. If women are pregnant, they are being forced to give up having their partners by their side and to give in to intrusive internal exams while in labour, not for any medical reason, but to ensure that labour is established so that they can get access to their partners. That is unacceptable. Maybe women should retire to the pubs and night clubs where it is perfectly safe for their partners to have a pint and themselves to have a dose of oxytocin as well as a bit of gas and air with the bags of smoky bacon crisps.
In here, female Deputies have to give up their right to vote on their constituents' behalf while on maternity leave. Out there, women are having the living daylights kicked and punched out of them, but their right to a response to their 999 calls is being taken away by the Garda Síochána.
Despite all of the political razzmatazz on the stage in Dublin Castle and the arms linked in the sunshine, we are still waiting for safe access zones to access an abortion.
On the recommendations with regard to women in the home, Sinn Féin would like to see women having a home. We are all for that because a home is a basic commodity that women need to prosper. Women do not want to be camped out with their children in their mothers' back rooms and the infantalisation that brings. With regard to Bunreacht na hÉireann and the woman's place being in the home, all of us here know that a woman's place is in the revolution, be it political, social, financial, cultural, spiritual or psychological.
On the topic of the citizens' assembly, we need a citizens' assembly on reuniting our country and on the deep damage that was done to women through partition. In our country, North and South, we will never have true equality of citizenship until Ireland is united with dignity, respect and care for all, north, south, east and west.
As of yesterday, more than half of the Sinn Féin representatives in the Assembly in Stormont are women and the lights are still on and the world has not stopped turning. Indeed, the work will continue. This can and will happen in this and other Parliaments and it will be a good thing, a positive thing and something that we should celebrate. We are not nearly there yet. There is a huge amount of work yet to be done. When reading the recommendations of the citizens' assembly, I was struck by how much work remains to be done. Every year, we have statements on International Women's Day. You try to not be negative because you want to put the best foot forward and not disrespect those campaigners who have come before you and the tremendous work they have done, but every year on International Women's Day I reflect on how much work we have yet to do. Pandemics and major world events can sometimes push back that work. There is a need to look not only at the inequalities faced by women, which is really important, but also, within the gender known as female, the inequalities experienced by people of colour, members of the Traveller community, migrants and those who are marginalised within a marginalised group that ironically enough makes up 51% of our population.
A couple of the recommendations jumped out at me. The first is the legal right to collective bargaining. I note that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, did not mention that and neither could he have mentioned every recommendation but the reason he did not mention it is that it is not important to him. I do not believe it is important to people on the Government benches, but I would like to be persuaded otherwise. For workers, the union is their voice. When you are a woman in work and a member of a group that experiences inequality that voice is even more important. It is vital that we legislate for the legal right to collective bargaining. We have to give workers the strength and capacity to be vocal in their workplace because things will not change in the workplace. We will be back here again talking about the gender pay gap. We might have more information on it, but we will keep coming back to it.
Likewise, the reference to the right to flexible working, and not the right to request remote working, is a nonsense. We already have the right to flexible working. Every worker in the State can ask their boss for flexible working, remote working or blended working. We can all do that. What we want is a legal right to have that considered and not refused unless it is an unreasonable request. Again, the emphasis of the Government is very often on placating the employer and not the worker and what he or she needs. In this instance, we need a legal right underpinning remote working and flexible working. Women will say, because disproportionately they do most of the caring, that during the pandemic it fell on them, but they also saw the advantages that could come from remote and flexible working. It worked for people but now people are being asked to return to the office. We need that legislated for. We need to reverse it so that we put the worker at the centre of it, not the employer as is often the case with the Government.
I thank the Chair and members of the citizens' assembly for their time, dedication and honesty and for the thoughtful way they approached this work. They have provided us with a plan and a roadmap. I hope the Government is listening.
The 45 recommendations shine a light on the key issues hampering women's full and free access to and participation in all areas of our economy and society. This should not be so prevalent in 2021. We have a long way to go yet. We know that Covid-19 disproportionately impacted women and, unfortunately, that still is the case. We know too about the feminisation of poverty. We have heard that we are on the verge of another recessionary chapter in Ireland. We know the risk of shecession, that women earn less than men and, in terms of the gender pay gap, that Ireland ranks 18th among the EU 27 member states. Worse than that, we have a 40% gender pension gap in this State. Enough is enough. Our women have suffered and they have been punished enough. The recommendations to resolve these discrepancies must be heeded by Cabinet in the interests of fairness, equality and in the interests of having a decent society of which we can all be proud.
I stand here today as a young woman whose journey to this very House was not the typical route by any standards. Some have called it the leap from the dole to the Dáil. I am still in the maternity stage of my life, by which I mean my children are not fully reared and mothering is still very much a part of my every day life. Through my experience and my work I am aware of the attitudinal barriers faced by young women, disadvantaged women, lone parent mothers, disabled women, Traveller women and refugee women, in terms of being fully valued and recognised in society.
Childcare, adequate supports for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, maternity leave for all elected representatives, State recognition of care work, closure of the gender pay gap and gender quotas, to name but a few, are the very issues that unless progressed allow for gender inequality to persist. Many are areas on which Sinn Féin has been leading the way for years now, which, in part, is the reason I am so proud to be a representative for Sinn Féin. In terms of representation, one more female Deputy was returned in general election 2020. That pace of change is far too slow. Sinn Féin supports the call for gender quotas and it believes that they should be incrementally increased towards 50%. Fair is fair and equality is equality.
An area where there are barriers to full and meaningful participation in politics is that of maternity leave for Oireachtas Members on a legislative footing. If there is a genuine political will to ensure a full and meaningful participation in Parliament barriers need to be removed. The lack of explicit provision of support for a pregnant woman or new mother essentially excludes that women from holding office or putting herself forward. Until such time as we have such provisions and a Parliament that is fully representative of our diverse society, people will, unfortunately, remain unrepresented.
To speak on gender equality is important for me. I hope the Cabinet will heed the 45 priority recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality, which are critical if we are to give real substance to the phrase "gender equality". Sinn Féin has been paving the way in terms of many of these recommendations. As mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, as of this week more than 50% of Sinn Féin MLAs in the North are female. That is what equality looks like. I welcome the expertise and comprehensive research represented in these recommendations and I compel and urge the Government to prioritise their implementation.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality.
I listened with great interest to the Minister's speech. It is really good to see us having this debate. I was delighted to read the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly in April. What it has done in setting forward the 45 recommendations is present a visionary manifesto for change and for a society genuinely based on gender equality. The Minister quoted an open letter from assembly members in which they made clear their intent. It is inspirational and I join him in acknowledging the immense commitment and work done by the 99 citizens and Dr. Day, as chair of the assembly, in carrying out their task through Covid and adapting so swiftly to the move to working online.
We in the Labour Party very much support the expeditious implementation of the 45 recommendations. They set out what is really a social democratic, left-of-centre and feminist vision for change on gender equality. Equality is central to the Labour Party's political philosophy and political belief system. I should also say we are very supportive in general of the citizens’ assembly process, as we were of the constitutional convention which predated it, the establishment of which was originally proposed by the Labour Party in government. I was proud to chair the Labour Party delegation on the constitutional convention in 2012 and 2013, the recommendations of which paved the way for the holding of the marriage equality referendum in 2015, among other things. It is a valuable deliberative process to have these assemblies established and maintained in this country.
I wrote earlier this week about the potential for a new human rights culture to take hold in Ireland as we move through this awful and devastating pandemic. Assemblies like the Citizens’ Assembly and the constitutional convention are a way for us to move towards a new human rights culture in which the language of rights becomes more mainstreamed and accessible and we move to a new vision for rights that are not just first-generation civil and political rights but move beyond those more limited views of rights to a more substantial form of rights, that is, socio-economic rights which place positive obligations on the State to intervene to provide for greater equality.
In that regard it is very useful to see what the Citizens' Assembly recommended in terms of the amendment of the Constitution. The Minister focused on those recommendations as well. The assembly’s recommendation to amend Article 40.1 to refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination builds on similar recommendations made by other expert groups. We might reflect that the Constitution of the Irish Free State had a guarantee of equality that included the words "without distinction of sex", so it was more cognisant of gender as a ground of discrimination and the need to provide specifically against gender discrimination. That would be a very welcome amendment to include.
The Minister asked specifically for the views of Members of this House on the second recommendation on amendments to the Constitution, that is, the recommendation that Article 41.2 be amended so the language would be rendered gender neutral. We might reflect on how extraordinary it is that in 2021 our Constitution still speaks of women as having a "life within the home" and of mothers as having "duties in the home". Not only is that absurdly discriminatory towards women and reflects, as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, has said, a perpetuation of gender stereotypes but it is also discriminatory against men, who do not have any recognition of their paternal role. We do not see any reference to fathers and that also needs to be changed.
There have been many different formulas put forward for changing Article 41.2 and the Minister said he is well aware of the variations that have been proposed. We came close to the holding of a referendum on deletion of the very gender-specific language. What happened was, I suppose, a disagreement over what should replace it, if anything. From my experience in practice and taking constitutional cases, I would simply prefer deletion of the language. The problem is how one constructs a formula to recognise and support care and care work, as IHREC and the assembly again recommended, without setting up a hierarchy of rights. If we acknowledge the role of carers, what about the rights of those who are cared for? We must be so careful, in any constitutional reframing, about setting up hierarchies of rights. This is an issue on which we will, I hope, have more discussion and debate but it is difficult to see how we construct the very necessary recognition for care and the role of care in our community without creating difficulties. That is the real challenge. How do we recognise care in a way that is inclusive and not counterproductive? It is a debate we will continue to have.
The third recommendation is a more straightforward one. It proposes we amend Article 41 to protect family life but with the protection not limited to the marital family. Just yesterday, the Labour Party published a new Seanad Bill to give entitlement for a widow or widower’s contributory pension for a surviving cohabitant in recognition of the glaring discrepancy in our law whereby we do not have recognition for cohabiting couples when one partner dies. That is a serious issue and was highlighted by the very tragic case of John O'Meara who lost his long-time partner Michelle Batey and who, because they were not married, was not entitled to the same supports a married surviving spouse would have been. Cohabiting couples account for 150,000 households, 75,000 of them with children. They are unprotected in the event of family tragedy like that which visited Mr. O’Meara. The Labour Party will also put forward a Dáil motion to change this. I call on colleagues to support the motion, which will call for an expansion of the definition of family in Article 41 to include families that are not based on marriage. It is very welcome that we have expanded the definition of marriage but we need also to expand the definition of family, as the Citizens' Assembly has recommended.
I wish to refer very briefly to some of the other very important issues the assembly has made recommendations on, particularly those on women in politics. If I were to ask for two changes - and I notice the Minister did not commit to these in his speech - to ensure greater numbers of women participating in politics, the first would be to introduce a statutory right to maternity leave for women elected representatives, while the second would be to introduce quotas for local elections. Let us do that for the next local elections in 2024. A report I did for the justice committee in 2009 identified five "Cs" as obstacles to women’s progression politics, namely, lack of cash, an old boys' culture, lack of childcare, lack of confidence and candidate selection procedures. We sought to tackle at least some of those five Cs through the 2012 Act and the gender quota, which has been somewhat effective in the elections since, but we still see that the numbers of women Teachtaí Dála are very low by international standards. My election in July, as only the 37th woman in Dáil Éireann increased our proportion of women to 23%, so we still have a shockingly low level of women in politics. We need to see more positive action measures. The two changes to which I referred should be made. They are both key recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly.
I will also speak in support of the assembly recommendations on childcare. It is unfortunate we did not see anything immediate in the budget to address specifically the cost of childcare for parents. I acknowledge the very important progress the Minister has made since taking up the portfolio and the progress we saw in the budget but it is still not working for parents, professionals, providers or, indeed, children. Just today, I got an email from a constituent in Dublin Bay South telling me the crèche their child was in had raised the fees substantially on the day the budget was announced. I know the Minister is proposing a new funding model and I very much welcome any move towards a universal public childcare system but it cannot come soon enough for the parents who are paying so much money for places that are so hard to access, as there is a scarcity of places too. The Labour Party has called for equal early years policy which would be a Donogh O'Malley moment to move us towards a system where every child in Ireland is guaranteed a free place in childcare. So much inequality stems from that disadvantage in the early years and we need to tackle that.
As with so many of the 45 recommendations, the Citizens' Assembly has given us a very clear pathway for change in Ireland. It is a vision of change towards a society in which women and men are genuinely equal and we can say we are a society in which citizens and all of us resident in this Republic are truly valued as equal in our Republic. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for far too long.
I see I am running out of time. I could say a lot more on the gender pay gap, which I am glad to see we are finally tackling, although again legislation introduced by the Labour Party some years ago on this issue should have been passed by now. We know that women experience poverty to a greater degree than men. We need to address the lack of socio-economic rights for women and men in order to achieve a truly equal Republic.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. Dr. Catherine Day and the 99 assembly members should be commended on their work on and dedication to producing this report in the most challenging of circumstances. Their work may have come to an end but this report marks the beginning, or in some areas the continuation, of our efforts to set Ireland on a path to becoming a world leader in challenging gender-based discrimination in all of its forms. For many decades, Irish women have often been left behind in our society and this report provides a comprehensive pathway to ensuring that this never happens again.
The programme for Government is clear in its aim of supporting the principle of equality and ensuring that all citizens can achieve their full potential. I welcome the Minister's commitment to that this evening. The Minister will recall that I was in touch with him immediately following the publication of this report to suggest that the Oireachtas establish a special committee to examine these proposals in greater detail. I understand that the Oireachtas Business Committee has discussed this in recent weeks and that a referral has been made to the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform. I strongly urge the Minister to push these respective committees to issue a final decision on this proposal. The recommendations are ready to be presented and debated and there is not a further moment to lose.
I am sure the Minister will agree that Bunreacht na hÉireann is our fundamental law and a statement of our values as a society. In recent years, the Irish electorate has helped to bring it up to date with our changing values. However, to this day there remains a number of outdated and legally meaningless provisions within its pages. That is why the Citizens' Assembly has recommended three symbolically powerful changes to our Constitution.
Bunreacht na hÉireann does not seek to define the place of men and should not, therefore, seek to define the place of women. Our Constitution should never narrowly define our roles in society. In today's modern Ireland, both mothers and fathers carry out important family duties in the home, as do grandparents, siblings, carers and others. While many parents choose to stay at home to raise their families, we should not discriminate against working parents, working mothers in particular, who make an invaluable contribution to Irish society. Therefore, I would like to see the anachronistic articles consigned to history. They do not represent the values and lives of modern Irish women and families. Moreover, Article 41.2 remains out of date and legally meaningless. We know full well that there was never an economic rationale behind the marriage bar but 47 years after its abolition, it is ludicrous that the backward thinking of that bar remains enshrined in our Constitution.
I have said previously in this House that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a scourge in our society. It is oppressive, abhorrent and inhumane. The Citizens' Assembly has submitted several interesting recommendations related to combating this pernicious evil. In particular, the assembly should be applauded for its call to develop guidelines and specialist training for judges and lawyers around the treatment of victims of abuse, including the exclusion of the consideration of sexual history, character and certain medical records from court cases. Women, or indeed anyone who is subjected to any form of abuse, should not be made to feel as though they are responsible for the harm that has been caused to them. Our criminal justice system needs to reflect our desire to support victims, not to punish them for no wrong of their own.
I mentioned that this report represents the continuation of some of our efforts to challenge gender-based discrimination. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021, which was signed into law in July this year, requires certain companies to publish information pertaining to the difference between hourly pay and bonuses paid to men and women in their employ. Work is also at an advanced stage to introduce a pension enrolment system which will ensure that many employees will be enrolled into a quality-assured retirement savings system. In recent weeks, my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Emer Higgins, introduced the Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021, on which I commend her. The Bill will provide for corporate bodies to maintain a minimum of 40% gender balance on their respective boards and governing councils.
It is clear that work is being carried out by this Government to address the very many gaps that exist within our society. However, the pace of filling these gaps needs to hasten. After all, gender equality is the unfinished business of the 21st century and I intend to play my part in rewriting the rules when they perpetuate injustice.
Lastly, I raise what may seem a trivial matter. It is difficult sometimes as a woman coming into this Chamber if one is wearing a dress because it is absolutely freezing. I understand that there are Covid regulations involved but I have been saying this consistently every day and have spoken to my female colleagues about it. We do not wear suits as a general rule. We often wear dresses but it is absolutely freezing in here. I wanted to mention that since we are speaking about gender equality. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to take it into account. Perhaps he could discuss it with the ushers. Obviously, I know public safety is of paramount importance but I said I would mention it today.
I wish to go slightly off script at the beginning and commend the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan. When we have statements or a discussion in this Chamber, Ministers and Ministers of State do not generally move outside their ministerial area to comment. However, the Minister of State has every right to lead the discussion here this evening given the immense courage she showed last July when she stood in the convention centre and declared that she had been a victim of sexual harassment and assault. I commend her on that. I said that to her privately but I also wanted to say it on the record of the Dáil. It takes courage to speak out, whether it is a child calling out a bully in a schoolyard or a woman calling out someone who has perpetrated a sexual assault. It is important that it is called out each and every time. It takes immense courage and I say that in all sincerity.
I commend Dr. Catherine Day and all the members of the Citizens' Assembly. I was very sceptical about the assembly when it was first set up. I felt that these Houses, the body politic, were where we debate and propose new legislation and act on it. I felt the assembly was an exercise in kicking the can down the road but it has excelled and done a great job. I hope it will look at more bodies of work.
I will speak about a number of issues that have not been referenced yet, the first of which is gender poverty. This is a recurring theme when I hold clinics throughout my county. A lot of women come to me and tell me they have been left holding the children. Their husband, boyfriend or partner is gone and pays no maintenance. I am sure Deputies from all over the country can relate to this. So many of these women have tried to go through the courts. They have tried the nice way and the hard way but they are left in a position of gendered poverty because their partner is not paying up.
On the other side of the equation, there are many dads who are not given access to their children. The child is held back in order to try to leverage money. It should not happen either way. There should be a God-given right for a parents to see their child, as long as they do not pose a threat to that child or the other parent but there is also an undisputable moral and legal obligation to support one's child through life until he or she reaches adulthood. The Dáil needs to do more in that regard because it is still a huge gender issue that has not been dealt with properly by successive Governments.
I will turn now to the issue of political under-representation of women. I was in a classroom 18 months ago, before I was elected to the Dáil. There were many girls sitting in front of me each day in fourth class in Parteen National School, many of whom would do a far better job than me in this Chamber in terms of speaking up for themselves, for their gender and for young people overall. Something happens in the adolescent years. I do not know if it is a societal or cultural issue but their natural ability recedes. I do not know how it is dumbed down. I do not know if it happens within the peer grouping or the education system. I am not quite sure. Perhaps it is a cultural issue but sometimes I meet very confident 12-year-olds but they lack that confidence when they get to 18 or 19. They have dropped out of sport and other activities. Some of them would make fantastic politicians - far better than me. I do not want to criticise the other Deputies in Clare but they would probably do a better job than all of us combined, yet they do not engage in public life. I have long been sceptical of imposed gender quotas and believe there are other barriers we need to remove along the way.
We are very good as a nation at speaking to other countries. When our Government representatives speak to their counterparts in the Middle East, for example, they reference women's rights. The time has come when we can no longer shy away from the fact that in some sectors of Irish society, culturally, the woman is still servile in the home. That is a fact, culturally, in some parts of Irish society. We need to address what is happening on the home front as well. Of course, we need to speak up about what is happening in the Middle East but we need to have the backs of Irish women too, of all ethnic groupings.
I was just thinking as Deputy Cathal Crowe was speaking that the issue of gender equality crosses into so many areas of our lives. When I was Dublin spokesperson for my party in the previous Dáil, I took a particular interest in cycling. There is quite a body of literature that shows that particular innovations and infrastructure have to be put in place to enable and encourage more women to cycle.
It goes to Deputy Cathal Crowe's point that some research indicates that when young girls are cycling it can be seen as more of a male pursuit so they fall out of the habit. There are things we can do infrastructurally to address this, specifically by separating cycle tracks from the main road. Women certainly feel an awful lot safer and experience far fewer catcalls and less abuse when that kind of infrastructure is put in place. I did not think I was going to come in today and talk about cycle lanes in relation to this issue but it gives an indication that to make the experience of cycling in a city equal for everybody, certain things have to be done and certain innovations have to be implemented.
I must give credit where credit is due. Some taoisigh pass through their office and leave very little imprint on the public mind. One of the legacies of former Taoiseach Enda Kenny is the citizens' assembly model. That was his innovation and it was looked at in a jaundiced way by some Members, although certainly not by myself. They wondered was the Dáil not a citizens' assembly. We know that sometimes, the Dáil finds it incredibly difficult to make challenging decisions. The Citizens' Assembly has enabled the Dáil to do just that on two or three occasions and I hope we follow through as regards the report of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. I also pay tribute to its chairperson, Catherine Day.
Each of us can ask what have we done to further gender equality. The issue of political representation has come up. I am particularly proud to have done everything in my power in my own constituency to promote women at local electoral area level, which is the first step into national politics. I note that, as a result of me having gone out directly seeking female candidates to run and represent the party at local level, 50% of my party grouping on South Dublin County Council are women. I do not think my party has replicated that in any other constituency in the country so I am particularly proud of that.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Budgetary Oversight and in the previous Dáil, we recommended including a gender statement in each budget, which the Minister for Finance is now implementing. We recommended that be done because some of the decisions taken by previous Governments had disproportionate effects on women. Most notably, some of the measures brought in by the former Minister for Social Protection in 2011 disproportionately affected women over men. The whole idea behind gender budgeting and equality budgeting is to ensure that, in the future, no measure or policy decision taken by a Minister for Finance can do such a thing. Every decision on budgets has to be assessed from a gender and equality perspective across the spectrum before they are implemented.
The issue of universal childcare was mentioned by Deputy Bacik and others. I agree wholeheartedly with them. In order for women to access the workplace, and therefore access all the different hierarchical structures in the workplace, universal childcare must be in place. As part of the next challenge, that must include children with special needs. Their parents should be afforded exactly the same opportunity as parents of children with no specific special needs.
The work that was done by the Citizens' Assembly is to be welcomed and its members are to be congratulated for the work they did. Sinn Féin made a lengthy submission to the Citizens' Assembly and some of our ideas were represented in the final report. In the justice portfolio, I come across the issue of gender inequality very regularly, sometimes in relation to people who are before the courts charged with a crime but more often, unfortunately, as victims of crime. Many women in this city and in many urban areas fear going out after dark. That is a reflection of our society and is a way in which we have failed women. They should be encouraged and supported in every way possible to have the freedom of the streets the same as everyone else. That is something we need to do more about and ensure we put the provisions in place. There must be sufficient garda numbers to protect and police and ensure that everyone has freedom of movement across our city and everywhere else as well.
Issues of healthcare are regularly mentioned in relation to women's rights and equality, and salary scales and family care arrangements have also been mentioned. Childcare is something that we have failed with for many years. For generations it has been accepted that when it comes to caring in our society for some reason or other, whether that be care of the elderly or the young, women are put on the front line and are never rewarded for that or appreciated for it nearly enough. That is something we need to reflect on and we must change how we work and how we resolve those issues. While I am sure the Citizens' Assembly's work is going to kick-start some movement, for as long as I can remember we have been getting reports about equality, gender equality, gender rights and women's rights and yet we still have this issue and this problem. It is very clear that there has to be positive discrimination to ensure we put the resources in place and give the opportunity where it is needed. Indeed, this is often talked about within politics and there are quotas at the moment for elections to ensure more women get involved in politics and run for election. I would suggest that they be put up for election in constituencies where they have a chance of winning rather than just being put on the ticket. That is one of the things that has happened in the past. Our own party leader is an example of the success of women in politics, and there are many other women in other parties across this House who are strong, authentic voices, not just for women but for the entire society and community. The work of the Citizens' Assembly is moving us in the right direction and I certainly hope we see the fruitful gains of it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. I also welcome the budget allocation of €500,000 to increase access to community-based drug and alcohol services for women, ethnic minorities and the LGBTI+ community. However, I ask myself if this Government really understands the depth of the issues facing women in addiction and recovery. Once again women, the LGBTI community and ethnic minorities are all grouped in together, despite the very different and stark challenges that each of these communities face. I hope the Government is familiar with the Supporting Women to Access Appropriate Treatment, SWAAT, survey but just in case it is not, it shows that there is a steady rise in the number of women reporting drug and alcohol problems and there are serious concerns about the fact that women are less likely than men to attend treatment services. Almost all of the women surveyed reported experiencing significant trauma at some point in their lives, including domestic violence, and the report highlighted the lack of supports for women in addiction experiencing domestic violence and other traumas. Some 82% of the women surveyed were mothers and they feared losing their children. The barriers these women face will not be addressed by this Government's budget. The Minister seems to have no plan to begin to remove some of the stigmas or difficulties faced by women in addiction or recovery in this State. There are community groups doing wonderful work in addressing this but the Government did not listen to these groups, never mind the women themselves. I am asking the Government to specifically produce a strategy aimed at tackling barriers experienced by women in addiction and recovery.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality has done incredible work cataloguing and making recommendations on a suite of issues that impact on inequity and discrimination concerning gender. It is important to note at the outset that this is a discussion about how gender affects individuals and groups in society.
It is not a discussion about women and girls. However, the patriarchal nature of our society means that it is women and girls who are most frequently disadvantaged.
The assembly’s report is an outline of many of the key matters that are consistently raised in this House, from the needs of people with disabilities to the cost of childcare and harmful and abusive content on social media. It should also be noted that there was overwhelming agreement on most of the issues, with many of the recommendations passing by over 90%. This level of agreement shows that when people are given the time to examine these topics, there is a strong consensus for a fairer society in which public services play a vital role.
This report confirmed something that I have often said, which is that most Irish people are social democrats, by which I mean they value the principles of a social democracy that strives for a more equitable society and locates the State as the primary actor to help achieve this in conjunction with civil society. This report is basically a manifesto for a living wage, publicly funded childcare, improved conditions for carers, better social protection, home care packages for older people and people with disabilities and gender balance in politics, public life and workplaces. This is a clear, independent barometer for this and future Governments. It is the yardstick by which actions on equality can be judged.
Successive Governments have a mixed track record with following up on the recommendations of citizens’ assemblies or constitutional conventions. They have helped progress some of our recent social referendums but equally, the findings on economic, social and cultural rights and extending voting franchises have really been left to individual Oireachtas Members to pursue. We need, therefore, the Government commitment to act on these recommendations and those of previous assemblies.
In my remaining time, I will focus on three of the many items raised in the recommendations, although there are many I would like to discuss.
First, on childcare, the assembly recommends that over the next decade, we should move to a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of quality, affordable early years and out of hours childcare, which will be achieved by increasing the State share of GDP spent on childcare from the current 0.37% of GDP to at least 1% by no later than 2030, in line with the UNICEF target. This funding will make a substantial difference to hundreds of thousands of families across the country. This is an issue that disproportionately impacts on women who tend either to be childcare professionals or to spend more time at home caring for children. A SIPTU survey of the childcare sector released earlier this year showed that 90% of childcare workers struggle to make ends meet, 77% have no work sick pay scheme and just 10% received paid maternity leave from their employer. Many people, primarily women, who are employed in this sector are actively seeking other work.
There is a real need to increase the direct State funding to the childcare sector to help improve staff pay and working conditions and increase affordability for parents. We all know that we will not achieve equality in terms of gender until there is a fully accessible childcare system in this country.
The assembly has strong recommendations regarding domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It calls for sufficient publicly funded provision of beds, shelters and accommodation for victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and their dependants across the country, in line with the Istanbul Convention. I have repeatedly raised this exact point. Under the Istanbul Convention, the State is required to provide one refuge space for every 10,000 people in Ireland. However, we only provide one refuge space per 10,000 women. That is, therefore, 50% less than what is recommended to be the bare minimum. The Department seems content to provide half that amount of refuge spaces due to a clause that refers to other supports. Clearly, however, its interpretation is incorrect. The assembly reinforces the need for the proper number of refuge spaces and the report states:
nearly 99% were in favour of ensuring that there is sufficient housing and accommodation for victims/survivors. The Istanbul Convention recommends one shelter space to every 10,000 people in Ireland.
It is unambiguous. We need the Government to fulfil our obligations under the Istanbul Convention immediately.
A related recommendation calls for a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility for implementation of a national strategy to prevent and counter domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This reflects the complexity of domestic abuse, which has relevance for the Departments of Health and Housing, Local Government and Heritage just as much as the Departments of Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. It is one of those cross-cutting issues that needs targeted attention, probably driven by a single person.
On this point, I am guided by support organisations and advocates, which have repeatedly called for a dedicated Minister with reach across all those Departments and agencies, with which a survivor may interact, in addition to a Cabinet standing committee. We need this leadership to drive the necessary transformative change to provide integrated support, on-the-ground specialists and preventative strategies. I suggest that the new committee looking at these recommendations would focus on this role, which may be a Minister of State - I am not sure - but someone whose sole responsibility is driving a far-reaching strategy on domestic and sexual violence.
It is also important to say that a number of sub-recommendations on victim support and reforms of our court systems are under way. This is incredibly welcome but we must still be aware of the considerable barriers that victims and survivors face in even considering reporting these crimes. Two weeks ago, Rape Crisis Network Ireland revealed that there has been a 22% increase in helpline calls during the pandemic and that over the past decade, there was a 100% increase in calls. Women, children and men are all reaching out. The assembly’s findings are a fresh call to re-double our efforts in response.
Third, there are direct recommendations on stereotypes in education and the media, highlighting the need for our education system and media advertising to promote gender diversity. I am a strong believer in the idea that you have to see it to be it. We need to ensure that children and young people have a selection of role models to help them develop.
As the assembly recommends, this means strengthening existing programmes to encourage women into male-dominated careers and developing initiatives to encourage men into female-dominated careers. The latter point is often overlooked. We probably all know men who would have been incredible nurses, therapists or secretaries and perhaps would have been, had social norms facilitated them in pursuing these careers.
The conclusions on media and advertising are also significant as this is an incredibly influential area with little oversight. The assembly has called for stronger regulations to promote gender equality and avoid gender discrimination and stereotyping and take action where discriminatory behaviours occur. This is very relevant when we consider the work of the Why Not Her collective, of which I am sure the Minister has heard. This work has shown that up until recently, a person is more than five times more likely to hear an Irish male artist than an Irish female artist on Irish radio. The collective's monitoring of gender disparity on Irish radio revealed that issue and, even more importantly than revealing the issue, its work has resulted in some of the stations consciously changing this pattern. Over the past year, therefore, for the top 20 most played songs by Irish artists, some stations have gone from 0% women on the top 20 most played list, to be specific, to more than 20%. Therefore, we need this trend to continue. When similar research was conducted in the UK, stations changed their practices and confronted their bias. Like I said, some Irish radio stations have begun to consciously support Irish women artists and we need the rest to follow. We need the industry and the Government to work together to give these talented artists airplay.
Representation matters. What we see online, on television and in schoolbooks really shapes our understanding of the world. For children, it influences career choices. We need to make more opportunities available to more young people.
In closing, I note that this item is being covered today due to the determination of a number of Members, mainly Deputy Carroll MacNeill. The recommendations were published in June and these matters should have been discussed long before the budget.
I call for the forthcoming new committee on gender equality to have members from all political groupings given the importance of matters it will consider. I request that all groups, especially the larger parties, ensure that they have sufficient numbers of male representatives on the committee. As I said, gender does not mean it is just a women and girls issue. There are distinct gender patterns on our Oireachtas committees at the moment reflecting those kinds of societal stereotypes, from the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, which have only one female member - there are no female Deputies on the agriculture committee - to the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, which has a majority of female members. It is somewhat similar on the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
In terms of gender equality in Ireland in general, one of the sad realities is that when we gained independence as a country, that is when things really went south for women for gender equality. I did not actually mean the pun when I said, "going south". I cannot speak for all women but I know that most of us are also proud to be Irish and to have that independence. It is kind of a horrible feeling when one thinks about the reality of happened for us when we got independence. It really is time to change that. We have the Citizens' Assembly report now. What we require is the political will to change this and I really hope that exists.
I welcome the opportunity to highlight some of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. Gender equality is often mislabelled as a woman's issue, but it is not. It is a societal issue and a goal on which every Member of this House ought to be focused. The Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality makes a number of recommendations, spanning from politics and childcare to pay and media and each recommendation has weight and possibility for change behind it.
One of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly is to enact gender quota legislation which requires private companies to have at least 40% gender balance on their boards. I am pleased to say this is a recommendation I have set in motion. Earlier this month, I introduced the Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021, which will seek to introduce a 40% gender balance quota in the boardroom. Last year, women accounted for just 22.4% of board members in Irish listed companies. That is shocking when the evidence shows gender balance is better for business. It is better when it comes to performing financially. It is my ambition that this Bill will deliver on the Citizens' Assembly recommendation; become landmark legislation and create opportunity for both men and women to be fairly represented at the top table of business and ultimately, to achieve better balance in the boardroom.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for her comments, for endorsing my Bill and for all she has done to shine a light on victims of sexual assault. The Citizens' Assembly made a number of recommendations on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. These included appointing a victims and survivors commissioner; covering power dynamics, consent and domestic violence within a revised relationship and sexuality curriculum and developing guidelines and specialist training for judges and lawyers on the treatment of victims, including the exclusion of sexual history, character, attire and counselling or medical records in cases.
We already know that since the beginning of the pandemic, incidences of domestic violence have spiralled and last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, confirmed the sharp rise last year in case files concerning domestic violence has continued into this year. The Citizens' Assembly's recommendations on the treatment of victims or survivors in a courtroom setting is especially relevant. Of course, we need to make sure we are preventing sexual, domestic and gender-based violence through increased education and I support a revised relationship and sexuality commitment. However, when sexual assaults come before a judge, which is a long road in itself, we must ensure - we owe it to survivors of these crimes - that their character, relationship history, personal medical records or indeed their wardrobe are not subjected to offensive and damaging scrutiny. It is time these factors, which are still often used in court cases dealing with sexual offences, are ended. When someone's wallet is stolen, we do not think it relevant to ask the person what he or she was wearing when it happened. Survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based crimes should be afforded that same dignity.
I also welcome the recommendation to set targets in legislation to reduce the hourly gender pay gap. The gender pay gap in Ireland is 14%, which effectively means women are working for free from the beginning of November until the end of each year. It is a reflection of how we value men and women in society but it is not a reflection of the value women bring to the workplace. The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 will begin to address this systemic problem.
Introducing maternity leave for all elected representatives is also a recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly and this is an issue the Government was forced to face earlier this year when the Minister, Deputy McEntee, had her baby boy. We all agree it is wholly unsuitable to be rushing decisions to make these kinds of important topics relevant. It is a knee-jerk reaction and it sends the wrong message about the place of women in government and the heights they should expect to reach in their political career. All elected representatives need the security of knowing they will be able to take maternity leave should they need it.
This should be a priority of the Government, because, it speaks to the lack of women entering politics and the lack of women in this Chamber. Safety, be that online, on our streets or outside our own homes, can be a real concern for both women and men in politics and we have an opportunity to act cross-party and united to tackle and change that and prevent it from escalating in order that it does not put women off entering politics. Greater gender balance in politics would have a positive impact on every recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly. Simply by having more women in the room where policy and legislative decisions are being made, we can make better decisions and have more inclusive impacts on our society as whole.
We are rightly proud of much of the progress we have made in Ireland over the past several decades and especially in the past decade. We have seen positive and inclusive social progress made and at a pace which has surprised many. However, despite this progress, we face a continued battle to achieve full inclusivity and equality within our society. This is true of many minorities and groups but also applies to the largest population group in the country which is, of course, women. The regrettable truth is sexism and gender bias has been allowed to fester and spread throughout every aspect of our society for far too long.
The pervasive and insidious nature of sexism has resulted in a situation in which every woman in Ireland can recount multiple experiences in which they felt physically or verbally harassed or were made to feel uncomfortable in their working environment; took a longer route home for fear of their personal safety or avoided public transport at night. This happens on a daily basis. It is happening in workplaces, restaurants and pubs. It is happening in the home and has happened on the street. The tragic reality is it happens far too often, so that many women do not even report it or speak of it and choose not to follow up on it. No one should have to endure these unsolicited and unacceptable encounters in this way.
To tackle the scourge of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, we must build a broad coalition. Men, especially, must do better and must call out this behaviour when they see it. We, as men, must not tolerate the casual harassment or comments passed by other men about women. These women are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. They should not have to tolerate the behaviour of men who act in a way which is abhorrent to the decency within society.
Education will play an important role in this effort. Introducing extensive education programmes on consent, harassment and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will be a positive step. I am pleased the Citizens' Assembly has recommended this form part of the review of the relationship and sexual education curriculum in schools. In quarter 1 of next year, we will begin with the junior cycle. Some universities have already begun such models on campuses. This should be increased throughout all levels of higher education. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is working to ensure these programmes become a regular part of university life.
The assembly has also highlighted the importance of other recommendations, among them, the removal of Article 41.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, commonly referred to as the women in the home article. Section 2 of this article refers to the need for the State to ensure mothers shall not engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home. It is jarring that in 2021 such a sentiment remains in our Constitution. While the removal of this article will not act as a silver bullet for this problem, it is yet another example of the casual and everyday sexism to which women are subjected.
I am also pleased the role of technology companies has been highlighted in the recommendations. The spreading of private images and the malicious nature of persistent harassment, bullying and other forms of abusive behaviour have no place on the Internet nor in society. These activities must be removed without delay by the technology companies involved and we in this House must hold those companies to account and ensure they are doing all they can to remove content such as this and indeed social media users who engage in this sort of activity.
The assembly has called for specialist training of judges and lawyers with regard to the treatment of victims which includes the exclusion of their sexual history, their clothing or, indeed, their character, as Deputy Higgins so eloquently put it.
While there are positive developments being led by Government, such as the forthcoming publication of these third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the Gender Pay Gap Information Act and, indeed, the recently introduced and mentioned Private Members’ Bill by my colleague, Deputy Higgins, are reminders that there is a considerable body of work that remains to be done. It will take years to complete, but it must be done. We must be bold and consistent in our efforts to root out gender inequality and everyday sexism in our society.
The scourge of domestic violence tears at the fabric of our society and has profound ramifications for the victims and those close to victims. In 2020, there was a 17% increase in the number of domestic violence calls to An Garda Síochána. This constitutes an average of 120 calls per day, totalling 43,500 calls over 2020 alone. Sadly, this number does not represent the full extent of domestic violence, as many cases go unreported and victims suffer in silence and in despair.
Similarly, a report carried out last year by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, highlighted the experience of women on public transport. It showed that one in three has been physically harassed on public transport; 55% of women avoid public transport at night; and 47% of women take a longer route home while walking due to safety concerns. The report is filled with statistics such as these. It is a damning look at an issue that has been too long ignored by society as a whole. I recently witnessed vile comments being used on a DART one evening. A group of young men used language aimed at a woman who was leaving the train which had no place in either private or public discourse. It is a disturbing event that should not have taken place. The individual who chanted these phrases did so in the safety of his own group of friends, and with a sense of impunity. It was the truest form of toxic masculinity aimed at a lone woman. While this is an overt scenario, it speaks to the attitude of acceptance of some men - too many men - with regard to this kind of behaviour. I refer to the quiet language of the nod and wink, or a whistle as a woman passes, or worse still the cat-call from scaffolding at a college student on her way to a lecture in the morning, when dressed in jeans and a hooded top, heard the words, "Walk of shame, love" as she passed. There is a resulting feeling of uncomfortableness and fear for those women. That instance, incidentally, was not in this jurisdiction but it is still valid.
I have spoken many times on the need to build an inclusive, progressive and sustainable society. We can do this if all people feel safe and if everyone, regardless of their race, orientation or gender are treated equally. We must do all that we can to realise a truly modern Ireland and to build on the progress of the past. We must support women and minorities to rise up in business, politics, education and every other aspect of society, so that they can live the lives they choose without undue barriers being placed in their way for no other reason but the gender they were born as.
I welcome this report and its recommendations. Many of the recommendations reflect what we in Sinn Féin have calling for on a range of issues. First, I welcome the decision to delete Article 41 and to replace it with non-gender specific references to care. It is estimated today that family carers in Ireland number in excess of 500,000 people. Our carers do incredible work looking after family members who are elderly, ill or who have a disability. It is estimated that they save the State €20 billion every year and yet they often feel forgotten about, ignored or taken for granted and, in many cases, worthless. Any recommendation that would oblige the State to take reasonable measures to support care in the home and in the community is welcome.
I agree with and welcome the many other recommendations around carers, such that paid carers should have proper pay scale, pension entitlements, and a career structure. The income disregard for the carers’ allowance needs to be increased. An important clause recommends the reimbursement of the costs associated with caring, which is pertinent. The number of hours that a carer can work or pursue education in conjunction with caring should be increased, as recommended here. In fact, carers should be trusted to police this provision themselves. The report also recommends improved respite provision for carers. It is important that we care for the carers. Many of them are suffering with mental health issues due to a lack of support and adequate breaks.
The recommendations on childcare again echo our policy. It puts forward proposals that there should be a publicly funded form of childcare. This will not cannot happen unless the State starts to invest in childcare and spends at least 1% of GDP on childcare provision. Older people and disabled people need to be supported to live in their community independently. There should be personalised budgets based on the individual’s level of need. People need to be able to make choices about how to live their lives. They must be treated with respect and listened to. A statutory right to home care is essential. While it is included in the programme for Government, it needs to be implemented without delay.
The idea that somebody is still referred to as a “qualified adult” today is archaic. The fact that 90% of qualified adults are women comes as no surprise. Women account for only 33% of those in receipt of full State contributory pension, even though women outnumber men among the over 65s. Only 28% of women of pension age have an occupational private pension compared to 55% of men. Older, rural-based women are even less likely to have an occupational or contributory pension. On average, women have 29% less pension income than men. Approaches that tie the pension system more closely to employment and earnings exacerbates, rather than mitigates, gender inequalities, as well as intersecting with inequalities and discriminations experienced by disabled women, carers, lone parents, Traveller women, and other women who encounter barriers to the labour market.
In particular, the State has a responsibility to remedy the inequality experienced by women affected by the marriage bar, as supported in the recommendations of the citizens’ assembly. It is past time that any adult, male or female, should be described as a “qualified adult”. Every individual should be entitled to a social protection payment in their own right in this day and age, especially when awareness of domestic violence and coercive control should be commonplace. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that all adults have independent means.
The “qualified adult” payment is generally paid the primary claimant, unless the claimant and the qualified adult agree otherwise. This increases the qualified adult’s financial dependency. In the case of qualified adults living with an abusive partner, this financial dependency makes it harder for women to seek support or access services and possibly leads to violence. Moreover, the lack of access to independent income contributes to the ongoing financial abuse of the woman and any children while in that relationship.
A universal basic income scheme where no one is living below the poverty line is an excellent recommendation. It should be taken seriously.
Finally, the figures on female participation in politics and on boards in Ireland are startling. While I support gender quotas in politics, until certain political parties take it seriously, nothing is going to change. However, some parties are no longer as dominant as they were, so the problem may be overcome anyway. It is unbelievable that 38% of Irish companies have no females on their leadership teams. I believe sporting organisations need to do a lot more. They are making some effort to promote women in sport. Things have improved but they have a long way to go. I commend the report and its recommendations.
The feminist performance pieceA Rapist in your Pathwas first performed in Chile in November 2019. It quickly went viral because it resonated with women in particular, with street performances by activists around the world, including in Ireland. The central point of the piece is to highlight the complicity of state in violence against women. Many here today might think that that has little relevance to the Irish State. I am sorry to say that that is entirely wrong.
Citizens’ assembly recommendation 34(A) was endorsed by 98.9%. It calls on the State to support justice for victims and survivors by: "Reviewing and reforming the courts system – including the family courts – to better protect and support victims/survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and their dependents and remove barriers to justice."
Recommendation 34(B), endorsed by a vote of 95.6%, calls for “developing guidelines and specialist training for judges and lawyers regarding the treatment of victims/survivors”. Yet, several times now in this Chamber, I raised the issue of the now retired Judge James O'Connor, who blatantly and repeatedly sexually harassed multiple women who came to his court for his assistance-----
One of the women reported harassment to the gardaí. She was told that it was a case of boy meets girl and that there was nothing to investigate. We know that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, was of little use, and so far the Taoiseach has also been of no help. This pattern of State harassment and State violence against women, and minimising and ignoring it, is not an isolated incident. A well-known US study found that police officers are 15 times more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence than the general population. An incredible 40% of them self-reported as having perpetrated domestic violence in the previous year. For some, it is a small step or not a step at all from enforcing the legal violence used by the capitalist state to protect the private property of the rich, mostly against marginalised groups such as those suffering from addiction or homelessness, to taking the step to beating their partner in the home, or even to preying on women in the course of their police work as we saw in the brutal murder of Sarah Everard. Channel 4 News in England recently reported that one woman a week is now coming forward with complaints of domestic abuse by police officers. Every woman spoken to by Channel 4 said that the police failed to investigate their own. Perhaps that is not surprising for a police force in which the murderer of Sarah Everard was casually nicknamed "The Rapist" by his colleagues.
What is the situation here? In the past few months, we have learned the barring orders have been taken out against at least 21 serving gardaí since 2019. Nine of those gardaí are under investigation for alleged breaches of the barring orders and five for alleged coercive control. This follows from revelations that gardaí cancelled more than 3,000 999 calls from women in distress, seeking assistance from the State to protect them from domestic violence in their own homes. Even in instances where victims of domestic violence got a response, an internal Garda investigation found that in some cases they failed to follow procedures for dealing with such cases and that they did not make further checks, either phone calls or visits, to the victim in the days that followed. This is the Irish version of A Rapist in Your Pathwhere agents of the State, the ones who are supposed to protect women from violence, are often the worst perpetrators of gender-based violence and are complicit in covering it up.
I have some brief points on the abortion law review. The fundamental right of bodily autonomy is a necessary starting point for any possibility of gender equality. Until recently, that was completely denied to women in Ireland, courtesy of the eighth amendment. The magnificent mass movement for repeal culminated in a resounding two thirds majority vote in favour of legislating for access to abortion on 25 May 2018. Since then, thousands of pregnant people have legally accessed abortion care in this country but it remains the case that a substantial minority of women are still forced to travel to Britain. Last year, at the height of the Covid pandemic, almost 200 women were forced to travel and 375 were forced to travel the year before. One third had received a devastating diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality but were refused abortion care here. One of the main reasons it is still happening is that section 23 of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 criminalises doctors who get a diagnosis wrong and perform an abortion outside the provisions of the Act, with a prison sentence of up to 14 years. This draconian clause is having a serious chilling effect. The Journalreported earlier in the year that 85% of pregnancy people who came to the advocacy group for help with terminations for medical reasons still ended up having to travel for a termination, many of them for abnormalities commonly recognised as fatal.
The forthcoming review of the Act must address this injustice by decriminalising abortion, removing the chilling effect on doctors, and legislating for the right to choose, in full, without any term limits. One of the mottos of the repeal campaign was "Trust Women". We need to do this not only as the best way of assisting pregnant people faced with devastating decisions about fatal foetal abnormalities and foetal anomalies but to help all women who need abortion care. Only they can make the right decision for them.
A second major issue with the 2018 Act is the ridiculous, patronising and damaging three-day wait period for abortion care. It treats women like airheads incapable of knowing their own minds from one day to the next. Its sole reason for existing is as a sop for misogynistic anti-choicers. It must go in the review. As with all restrictions on abortion, this has the worst impact on marginalised women who may struggle to attend repeated, unnecessary medical appointments. This includes women suffering domestic violence, migrant women, young women, single parents with no one to mind their kids, and women living in many areas in this country without abortion access.
A final issue is the failure of the Government to introduce promised legislation on safe access zones to prevent the harassment by anti-choice zealots of women accessing abortion services and of women simply attending GPs or maternity hospitals. Earlier this week, I stood with activists from Together for Safety, along with many others, to demand that this legislation proceed as a matter of urgency. That must also be done.
I will start by saying a few words about femicide. In Northern Ireland, 11 women have been murdered since the lockdown in March 2020. Imagine if there had been 11 sectarian murders in the same period. It would be all over the news and, having been all over the news, the whole island would be talking about it. If it was because of which community you came from, it would be a significant news item, but when it is because of your gender, it is a different story. There is talk about violence against women being the shadow pandemic, hiding in the shadows and in plain sight. The corporate media have a role to play here. Why is there not more of a light being shone on this? For example, we recently saw an edition of the television show "Living With Lucy", featuring Paul Gascoigne, Gazza, a great footballer. I admired his skills with my mouth open on many occasions. He is one of the most talented of his generation anywhere in the world. Gazza was also responsible for years of violence against his ex-wife. The television show featured his life after football, his battle with alcohol, and his use of Botox. There was nothing about the years of violence. Should it have dominated the programme? No, I do not think so. Should it have featured somewhere? Yes. It cannot have been that the programmers were not aware of that history. His ex-wife Sheryl is a well-known campaigner on the issue. It is an example of how the media fail to shine a spotlight on these issues. I support the recommendations from the assembly regarding violence against women, including about relationships and sexuality education, RSE, training and so on. When will the Government implement them?
Finally, I have a word for the woke capitalists on the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party benches. When are we going to have a new sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, SAVI, report? The last sexual abuse and violence in Ireland report was in 2002, 19 years ago. When will we have a new one?
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report. The assembly has become an important part of our democratic process. Yet again, it has produced a nuanced representation of the state of gender inequality. I thank everybody who was involved in the assembly vote, both men and women. Sometimes men feel excluded from this debate or they feel that we need to be defensive in responding to the debate. This is an issue, like all inequality issues, which disproportionately impacts women. It eats away at all of society like all inequality does. Very few men have felt unsafe walking home at night or been widely discriminated against with regard to opportunities. That male privilege sometimes needs to be set aside in reacting. It also needs to be harnessed in order to deliver the change that is needed. Representation and political participation were key recommendations. There are so many in this that you could have a debate on each one of the recommendations. As the Fianna Fáil councillor liaison, I want to talk specifically about local government.
There are ten constituencies in the Dáil that are represented entirely by male Deputies. At local authority level, women make up only one quarter of all councillors and the level of mismatch between male and female representation varies widely between different geographic areas. That is bad for politics and unfair for women. The recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly on Gender Equality provide a pathway to removing some of those big barriers.
Maternity and paternity leave need to be more available, particularly to local elected councillors. Many female councillors have contacted me on this and have made a keen effort to resolve it. Currently, a councillor requires their local authority to pass a resolution to allow them an absence based on illness. We know pregnancy is not an illness and this is unacceptable, inadequate and insulting to women. Female and male partners of councillors who are having a child also have no right to extended leave without taking a similar hit in their income.
I welcome the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, report. It has done huge work on this issue. The proposals for paid paternity leave it published earlier this year will inform the ongoing work of the Government. I urge the Government to implement this legislation as soon as possible.
The introduction of leave for parents is only one part of the wider change which is needed in local government. Remote attendance and hybrid meetings should become a permanent feature as we enter post-pandemic life. This has been a transformative measure for parents of young children in attending council meetings, as it has in all walks of life. We need to be far more ambitious in regard to remote working and home working, both for climate action and for the societal benefits they deliver. The potential of remote work must be harnessed and facilitated where possible and I welcome the steps the Government has taken with the national remote working strategy and the incentives provided in budget 2022. Actually, they are not incentives but a recognition of the costs. Perhaps there should be greater incentives.
The area of childcare is vital in encouraging full participation of women. The cost of childcare is crippling many families. It limits the choices of both parents, who each have responsibilities, if childcare arrangements are not in place. Fees regularly cost more than a mortgage and present a significant barrier to both parents being able to work.
My children are now ten and 12 and for almost the entire time I served in local government we had to arrange for different forms of childcare. I have calculated that we must have spent more than €100,000 of post-tax income to facilitate childcare. My brother reckons he spent north of €120,000 over that decade. It is an incredible cost. No amount of tax incentives will be able to meet that but a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare will. I welcome the investment in the sector in the recent budget and I believe it is the beginning of realising what this report talks about, the targets set out in it for childcare and the contribution it can make to ending inequality. The programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the childcare system and create one that supports the staff working in it. In many cases, those staff are disproportionately women and the low pay levels have an impact on them. The introduction of a universal childcare scheme is welcome but we have a long way to go.
This report is incredibly ambitious and needs to be met with a similar level of ambition from Government, public agencies and public life. I encourage all those watching the debate to examine the report and see how they can take up the challenge of ending gender inequality.
In her inaugural address in December 1990, Mary Robinson declared: "As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history, in the words of Eavan Boland, 'finding a voice where they found a vision'". President Robinson was acknowledging that her landmark election owed a great deal to stalwarts of feminism like Eavan Boland and Máire Mhac an tSaoi, people who had been writing women back into history and the female experience back into Irish society. In a week when we have lost extraordinary figures in Irish culture, we would do well to acknowledge the role of the feminist pen in the line drawn from the election of Ireland first woman President to the work completed by the Citizen's Assembly on Gender Equality. As a result of that work, we have 45 clear recommendations to better our society for all our citizens. Just as gender inequality shadows all aspects of our society, these recommendations span sectors with key recommendations for leadership and politics, social protection and education, and tackling pay disparity and domestic violence.
I offer my thanks to the members of the citizens' assembly for their work. They have proved again, through the power of the process, the value of deliberative democracy. As with the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change, informed and nuanced discussion can and should underpin policy-informed decision-making in the work of Government. As we face a range of enormous challenges in housing, pension reform, social inequalities and our climate and biodiversity emergency, this deliberative democracy model can help us plot a path forward, regardless of where Twitter polls or newspaper surveys with leading questions may try to deflect. Where social media and clickbait headlines serve to polarise, inclusive and informed debate serves to unify. If we are to address and overcome the enormous challenges ahead and bring our citizens with us on that arduous road, that in-depth and considered engagement is essential.
The carefully considered recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality provide us with clear directions towards a better and fairer society. While a special Oireachtas committee is being set up to comprehensively address the recommendations, it is worth noting work has already begun. In the short life of this Government, we have begun to take some of the necessary steps to address gender inequality, reflecting a number of the key recommendations from the citizens' assembly. In the recent budget, the Minister introduced ground-breaking funding for the childcare sector, designed to deliver quality and affordable childcare for children and their parents and stability for childcare providers. It is the start of a multi-annual investment programme, which will achieve real and practical improvements in people's lives. There will be an extension of the universal subsidy available under the national childcare scheme to all children under 15, which will allow all children availing of early learning and childcare to receive a subsidy to offset the often eye-watering childcare fees. It will also see a cessation of the practice of deducting hours spent in preschool or school from the entitlement to the national childcare scheme subsidised hours. This is of particular benefit to children from low income families whose parents are not in work or study. The Minister also announced an additional two weeks' leave and benefit to the current five weeks of parent's benefit, which can be taken during the first two years of a child's life or, in the case of adoption, within two years of the placement of the child with family.
These steps forward demonstrate this Government's commitment to improving access to childcare, barriers which compound existing gender inequalities in our society. They are steps forward on a path to gender inequality and achieving one of the key recommendations of the citizens' assembly to move to a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare over the next decade.
I have spoken numerous times in this House on the United Nations sustainable development goals, SDGs, and how they set out a path to a more just sustainable and better future for us all. Goal 5 is particularly germane to this debate in that it focuses on gender equality. However, progress on this goal requires strong progress for girls and women across every SDG, including those related to quality education, reduced inequalities, decent work and economic growth and others. Similarly, the key recommendations of the citizens' assembly recognises the need to ensure our societal structures provide a level playing field for all genders.
Another key recommendation in the report is in the area of leadership in the workplace. It outlines how places of work should be required to develop, resource, implement and monitor gender-neutral recruitment and promotion policies and practices, including specific policies to promote gender equality in leadership positions. From my background as primary school teacher, I am aware of a real-world example of the imbalance of gender representation from my days in the classroom. In 1961, nearly 40% of primary school teachers were men but today that figure is below 15%. Yet, although there is a minority of men in primary school classrooms, they are not disadvantaged when it comes to promotion in the education system.
Just over 50% of primary school principals are female. We must ask what the reasons are for this anomaly and also what message it sends out. If you have to see it to be it, what does a girl in primary school see when see looks at her school leadership? When I look around my new workplace of the past year and a half, I see the need to enable female representation throughout the political establishment. If you have to see it to be it, then what does a young girl in Ireland see in her political sphere?
Change is necessary: a change in the right direction following the right path. The 45 recommendations of the members of the Citizens' Assembly are pointing the way forward, but I feel strongly that this is not a report that can be left to gather dust and sit on the shelf, as so many reports have done in the past. Let us expedite the establishment of a special Oireachtas committee to consider how best we deal with these recommendations. After that, let us put it into practice. These are excellent recommendations that have been developed through an excellent process. Let us put them in place and see a better and more just society for all citizens.
I welcome the report of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality, which is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness. There are still many inequalities in women's lives that need to be eliminated, but we must also recognise that men suffer from inequality too.
I thank the members, chairperson and secretariat of the Citizens' Assembly. The assembly is an excellent example of participatory democracy. It is a constant challenge to ensure progress is being made with the Government's implementation of the assembly's recommendations. There must be change in that regard. The recommendations in the report must be implemented as a matter of urgency. We must see a more inclusive society where everyone feels he or she belongs. The time for talking is over. Now is the time for action.
While Covid has been hugely disruptive, lessons have been learnt. Remote working, hybrid meetings and family-friendly changes can only help with the work-life balance. We must also put in place solutions to assist carers to participate to the best of their ability in society. We must ensure political, business, sporting and cultural institutions are more representative of society in terms of gender balance and the representation of minorities. We must increase the number of women in representative office at national and local level. Progress is too slow.
Gender equality is vital for a sustainable and equitable economy. It helps reduce poverty and promote economic growth. The gender pay gap must end. We need a better work-life balance for the good of families and society. As the old saying goes, money makes the world go round. We must expand capacity in the area of equality budgeting. It must be expanded beyond the performance of budgeting foundation to link it with other robust budget policy tools used in Ireland. We must design a data strategy to support equality budgeting. Such a strategy would focus on improving the extent to which official statistics and administrative data provide insights into equality gaps and assess the impact of different Government interventions.
Structural pay inequality limits women's aspirations and opportunities. Women continue to take more time out of the labour market over their lifetime due to child-rearing and caring responsibilities. In addition to missed career opportunities or progression, this time out of the workforce will reduce a woman's cumulative earnings over the course of her working life. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, tell us more women than men earn the minimum wage. The introduction of a living wage of €12.90 per hour, as recommended by the living wage technical group, would benefit tens of thousands of female workers. Women earning the minimum wage are usually working part time and are employed in the services sector. Due to their parenting or caring responsibilities or because of high childcare costs, they often have to reduce their weekly working hours. Again, this limits their opportunities for advancement in work and earning potential.
I will segue ever so slightly to speak about breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding gives children the best start in life and we must do more to encourage it. It should not be a postcode lottery as to whether parents have access to public lactation consultations. We have a ludicrous situation in maternity hospitals where, before they go home, mothers whose babies are tongue-tied are handed a business card by consultants and told to call the office to make an appointment if there is a problem. That is inequality. We must bear in mind that up to 10% of babies can be tongue-tied. In the past, tongue-tie was dealt with before the baby went home through a relatively simple procedure. In 2021, mothers and babies are being put at risk while private consultants profit from their misery. In Portlaoise hospital, parents are being told they must pay €350 privately for a procedure that takes ten minutes. It is shameful and it must stop. The system must be more equal for people who have to work, breastfeed their children and look after them. I call on the Minister to take urgent action.
I call that gender balance. I am delighted to speak on the subject this evening. I spoke earlier with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, about another subject, namely, autism. This is an issue the Citizens' Assembly has brought to the fore. As a previous speaker said, having a report is one thing, but implementing it to make change happen is the challenge. Sometimes the challenge can cost money, but at the end of the day if we put in services to support women in whatever they want to do in life, we will get the rewards back in abundance.
I have come across certain issues myself. For instance, in sports, especially when ladies started to play Gaelic football, there were no facilities for them. They had pitches but no changing facilities. Additional funding must be made available to the GAA and other organisations promoting soccer, rugby and camogie for men and women to make sure there is full participation by women as well as by men. We must make sure the facilities are there so that people can use changing areas in comfort and in a way that is right. It is a small investment for a long-term gain. It is important for the well-being of young ladies that they play sport. Playing competitive team sports is also good for their overall development.
Politics has been discussed. There is a majority of women on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters. There are two men on the committee. I have never worked on a committee like it before. It is so full of people who want to work, who get on and focus on what we have to do. We must have more such people in politics. It is all right to say we must have gender balance, but it must be meaningful. A lot of political parties say they must maintain a quota rather than saying they want to maintain a quota. The attitude is they do it because they have to do it rather than because it is the right thing to do. We must encourage more young people to get involved in politics. At the same time, one of the difficulties is the amount of abuse women in politics get. That is totally unacceptable. It seems women are targeted on social media and elsewhere. We should speak up and tell people to stop it. The social media platforms have a role to play. We cannot have good people in politics, who can make changes for the betterment of all, being abused on social media just because they are women. That is totally wrong.
The other issue I wish to raise relates to social welfare and pension rights. In the past we have discriminated against women because they were homemakers. We brought in some measures to try to address the imbalance. The day has come whereby we must never go back to that system. Anybody who stays at home by choice to raise his or her family should not be discriminated against when it comes to pension rights. The same applies to childcare services. This has been said to the Minister and I know he has taken some steps to get more funding into the area. It is important to make sure both parents have the choice to work if they want and that they are backed up with a proper childcare service.
I wish to relate to the Minister an experience I had lately, which I thought was brilliant, when a group of women contacted me and wanted to meet me.
They are setting up a women's shed in Tuam. I raised this in the House last week. Men's sheds in Ireland have been a great success and we need to make sure that if women want to set up women's sheds, they should be entitled to do that and we should support them in the same way that we supported the men's sheds. Again, people might say, “Sure the women are okay, they can talk and do this, that and the other”, but many women need company and they also want to contribute. If they are working together, they can come up with some great contributions for the community and for one another.
I am not sure how much of my time remains but I will leave it at that.
I hope I will not need it all. I have had a good look at and put plenty of thought into the key recommendations. First and foremost, I want to thank those who took part in the assembly. Before I move on to the specifics, based on the engagement I have had at constituent level, I want to highlight the fact a citizens’ assembly is not necessarily representative of the population as a whole for a variety of reasons that have been brought to my attention. We cannot, therefore, automatically assume that the assembly is either representative or infallible. I believe some of the recommendations are welcome, others are open to further examination, while others are completely unacceptable.
First, under leadership and politics, there is a recommendation to introduce maternity leave for all elected representatives. I see no issue with this except we must consider that if a mechanism was ever to be put in place to replace a Deputy for the duration of maternity leave, that mechanism would have to be recommended by the public. Many would argue that as they are elected by the public, the public should have a say in that matter. Certainly, it is a recommendation that has potential but needs further examination.
I am most definitely not in favour of the recommendation to enact gender quota legislation that requires private companies to have at least a 40% gender balance on their boards. This is probably a little outrageous and may be a step too far in swinging the pendulum. The State should not be involved in deciding who runs private companies. It should be up to the shareholders and the owners of the companies to decide who to have on their boards. For example, a family business might have three sons who are directors of the company, and it could be difficult in that scenario.
The assembly also made some recommendations on care. One in particular that I am in full agreement with, and that I raised recently on the floor of the House, is to improve terms and conditions for those in paid employment as carers, including access to pensions. A pensions solution for carers was committed to in the programme for Government and it cannot come soon enough.
On domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the recommendations state:
Cover gender power dynamics, consent and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence within the revised Relationships and Sexuality curriculum.
Develop guidelines and specialist training for judges and lawyers regarding the treatment of victims/survivors, including the exclusion of the consideration of sexual history, character, attire and counselling/medical records.
Appoint a Victims/Survivors Commissioner as an independent advocate and voice for victims/survivors.
I support these recommendations. Too often, we see stories of victims being subject to an unnecessary level of personal scrutiny of their medical records, attire or sexual history, as if this was some sort of reason to excuse the abuser, and that has to change.
A recommendation on pay and social protection that needs further scrutiny is to set targets in legislation to reduce the hourly gender pay gap to 9% by 2025 and to 4% by 2030, with a view to eliminating it by 2035. There are a number of issues with this. The first is the phrase, “Set targets in legislation”. Legislation should not be used to set targets. Our legal system should not be used as a strategic planning exercise. Legislation should be about making clear, precise, objective laws, not about setting targets. It may turn out to be problematic if we go down that road.
Second, the gender pay gap has been explained many times as being caused by a variety of different factors that do not automatically amount to discrimination. There is a wide variety of reasons people are paid differently. The main aim of any Government policy should be to identify and penalise organisations paying men and women with the same qualifications and experience different amounts for the same amount and quality of work. That is where an issue may exist. I would support any measures brought in to deal specifically with that problem if there is further need beyond the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015.
With regard to social media, there is a recommendation to hold technology and social media companies accountable for immediately removing online content that constitutes sexual harassment, bullying, stalking or sexually violent or abusive content. There is a difference between free speech and online abuse. I fully support the idea of free speech in terms of holding opposing views, robust debate and critique of ideas. However, when it comes to bullying, harassment and other abusive online content, we must take a stronger approach. It is not nice to be on the receiving end. It causes plenty of anxiety, worry and stress, not only for the recipient but for those close to the recipient, a subject I am familiar with. However, I do not believe online abuse can be dealt with on a gender equality basis. This is more about common decency and respect for all others, regardless of gender. Where the line is crossed, we need to consider legislation for online abuse in its own right because it appears to be one of the biggest obstacles to women putting themselves out there, front and centre. People make derogatory contributions about them as women, and when they go up online, they may be there for eternity.
To conclude, I hope the debate can bring about positive change and bring balance in the future but, equally, I caution against swinging the pendulum too far. We have a long way to go before we are at that stage.
In April, the chair of the assembly, Catherine Day, said:
The recommendations the citizens agreed don’t just call for incremental change. They call for big changes that can make Ireland a better and more gender equal place to live for all of us. They call for change in our Constitution, for new laws and policies and for stronger enforcement.
It is long past time for big changes. In the 100 years since women won the right to vote, millions of stories of strong women have forged the way ahead, fighting for equality of treatment with thought and action. Wives, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and sisters are still fighting because, in Ireland today, women are not equal.
I thoroughly welcome the key recommendations, especially the recommendation to: "Delete and replace the text of Article 41.2 (woman in the home) with language that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community." It is high time that we talked about how little we value women, how we do not honour the incredibly important role of motherhood and how we constantly place barriers to women leaving the home. Let us talk about freeing women from old perceptions of who she is – "her outdoors" instead of "her indoors", as the joke goes. The Constitution states the woman should not have to leave the home and neglect her duties because of economics but we do not pay that woman for the work that the article in the Constitution says is very important. We give universal child benefit but only until a child is 18. We do not pay women who do not have children and they have to go out and get the money themselves and, as the article states, neglect the home. There is no place for this kind the of language or this kind of judgment. We should be equal, inclusive and gender neutral.
Working women provide a massive contribution to society as teachers, doctors, sisters, daughters, engineers, lawyers, singers and politicians.
Some of them do that as mothers too. This State does little to value its women. We have gender inequality in the workplace, in our board rooms and in our homes. We need to change how we talk if we are to change how we think. It is time we free ourselves from old ways of thinking, open the kitchen door and let women out by removing this article from the Constitution in its entirety.
We should allow women who stay at home apply to the State for a wage. We should continue to pay child benefit until a child has left the home and earns his or her own money. We should stop this nonsense of a woman having a place at all. She is a woman and can be any place she wants.
According to the Centre for Women's Global Leadership, in the absence of targeted measures and investment by Government, we will see major roll-backs in gender equality and profound challenges for women workers in the post-Covid-19 world. We need those measures here.
Women are significantly outnumbered by men in both local and national politics in Ireland. If we are not at the table we cannot voice our opinions and female friendly policies. There are 36 female Deputies in the Dáil. That in itself shows the status we have. Those figures are worrying. We should be encouraging women into politics. We need to make sure that is highlighted. We should not have to create a family friendly society in which women can run for office. A woman should be able to run for office because she would be good at the job. Culture barriers must be addressed through the education system, civil education programmes and voter education initiatives. A culture change is needed. We all have to examine our culture and education. That needs to be addressed. We need to speak more about it and to communicate more on it. That will be a big start for us all.
A review of fathers’ rights and paternity leave should be undertaken in order that children will not always be seen as an issue for mothers only. We must examine ways to support family time and to have a better work-life balance. I support the recommendation to amend Article 41o so that it would protect private and family life with the protection afforded to the family not limited to marital families.
We must examine the childcare provision. I had a number of meetings with the Minister prior to the budget on childcare and the cost of it. I am a granny myself. My daughters are working and I know from their experiences about the high cost of childcare. I deal with people who raise the issue of childcare in my constituency clinics every day. They say it can be a barrier for them. It is a big barrier to women returning to work. We must also have proper pay for workers in the childcare sector who are educators. That is the proper name for them. I welcome the budgetary measure that will address their wages. The educators in our childcare sector need to be paid proper wages.
Another issue I constantly raise is the lack of a women’s refuge in Carlow. It is a massive issue for me. This issue is raised with me daily by women with children who call to my constituency clinics and they have to go to Kilkenny or Waterford to get that support. This is 2021 and there is not a women’s refuge in Carlow. That is unacceptable. We should not have to have a women’s refuge but we need them. We need to let women know that if, through no fault of theirs, they have to leave their home at night time or get support that these supports are in place. Places like Carlow and the 31 local authority areas should have a women’s refuge. I am passionate about this issue. I have spoken about this to the council, to the Minister with responsibility for housing and to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I am speaking to the Minister present about it now. All the Departments need to work together on this. This issue falls under the remit of different Departments. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, about this issue several times. It is something we should deliver on.
When women with children call to me about needing this support and I do not have somewhere to recommend they can go or somewhere nearby, that is very disheartening for me as a female politician. While the Minister does not have responsibility for the budget, we all need to ensure women's refuges are provided where they are needed. I ask that the Minister talk to his ministerial colleagues about this, and I know he will. I know how passionate he is about issues like this.
I welcome these recommendations. Timing will be an important factor. We need to get these through as quick as possible. It is only a start. We have a long way to go. We need to start a culture change. Women can multitask and are good at it. We need to see more women in our Houses of Parliament. We also need more female councillors. Of the 18 council councillors in Carlow, only two are women. We need to broaden the spectrum through boards or committees. We need women in those positions. I firmly believe they will deliver just as good as the men.
If these recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly show us anything it is that we as legislators and a society have a massive job of work ahead of us. We need to make those substantial changes, the ones that are necessary to provide true gender equality, a true equal place for all citizens of this State to live. We need those new laws and policies, and stronger enforcement. One thing that screamed out to me from this report was that it is not only urgent action but co-ordinated and monitored action that is needed across an array of areas.
Before I get into the specifics, I will give a few examples of what gender inequality looks like. The following is one case of it that crossed my desk this morning. It involves a family with two small children where the mother has just returned to work following maternity leave who were refused a mortgage under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan because they were not in a position to save. The mother is the primary earner and her employer did not top up her maternity benefit. That is a case of real gender inequality. That is something the Government can fix and needs to quickly do so. It is wholly unacceptable. Another case involves a elderly woman who lost her husband only to find out that her personal public service number, PPSN, had also disappeared. As her daughter put it, their mother had been erased following their father's death. That is not on either. Another case involves a young lady, Kim, who parents alone. She is highly educated, talented and skilled. To return to participate on a community employment scheme, it would cost her €60 a week in childcare. That simply will not happen. She is now consigned to being at home despite wanting a career.
We talk about leadership, politics and gender quotas but I want to touch on the maternity leave aspect. On 23 May 2014 I was elected to Westmeath County Council. On 12 June I gave birth to my fourth child, my daughter Teagan. The Minister can do the maths. I was 37 weeks pregnant when I was first elected. At the very first council meeting I was supposed to be in hospital for tests but there was no mechanism to vote by proxy, in absentee or in advance. That is because of the archaic system of voting we have by a show of hands, no other reason. The only advice I was given is that I should have considered a judicial review. That was not good enough seven years ago and it is still not good enough today. Also, what came to be a factor is that while we had recommendations in legislation for consideration of females in positions, none of them was binding except when it came to positions on the educational training board. I will not even go into the comments that were made to me that night in the count centre because I do not believe in giving that level of misogyny any more air than what it received then. While gender quotas are key to addressing female participation, unless we also address those systematic and very illogical issues, essentially, what we are doing is wallpapering over a crack in the foundation. The reality is that in 2021 many women are expected to work as if they do not have children but they are expected to parent as if they do not have careers. It is simply not possible to do that, nor should it ever be possible or something to which a woman wants to aspire.
The Government had a real opportunity to take a very significant step towards the publicly funded model of childcare for which the assembly has called, one that genuinely cuts the cost for parents, opens doors for working families and values the staff who are there, but the Minister did not take it. I find that extremely disappointing. When we talk about investing in childcare and about that percentage of GDP, what we are talking about is not a cost but an investment. The return on that investment is the future of this State and the future of our youngest citizens.
Regarding the changes recommended to the articles of the Constitution, I find the term "woman in the home" incredibly insulting for a number of reasons. Not only is it an outdated term but it fails to recognise the key role men play in their children’s lives, in their development and that important bond between father and child. It fails to reflect what is a family here.
I want to touch on the gender pay gap in the rest of the time I have. That 14% difference between what women and men earn represents women working for free from the beginning of November to the remainder of the year. If two individuals have the same qualifications and experience and are doing the same job then this should be called out for what it is; discrimination. It would not be tolerated if it was anything other than gender but for some reason we tolerate it and it has been allowed to continue. That needs to stop now. Planning for the next 15 to 20 years is well and good but it needs to be quicker and it needs to happen now.
Will the Government give urgent attention to what this Citizens' Assembly is calling for, that is, putting a Cabinet Minister or the Taoiseach in charge of this? Without that genuine and co-ordinated approach to each of these issues we will be having the same conversation the next time the Citizens' Assembly reports. That will fail women, young girls and those of us in this Parliament who are completely underrepresented as women.
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk on this important subject. It goes without saying that no matter what one's gender we should all be equal and everybody should respect each other. I admit that I am troubled when people take umbrage to words that are used, not in any way to be derogatory or hurtful to anybody. These words could be complimenting a person but they could be taken out of context. We have seen people getting up on their high horses about something that is nothing. What do I mean by that? I will give an example. We have a newspaper in County Kerry called The Kerryman. A senior person in politics came out and said it should not be called The Kerrymanbut that it should be "The Kerry Paper" or "The Person's Paper". I came back and said that we have manholes on the road and that we should not be calling them manholes, rather we should be calling them "person's holes" in the road in case we would be insulting anybody. There is a borderline between being correct and having manners in dealing with people on the one hand and then being off the wall and crazy on the other hand.
I took great notice of another thing this evening. I listened carefully to every Member who spoke and it struck a strong chord with me that Members stood up and spoke eloquently about gender equality and people having their manners and their P's and Q's. I do not know whether I did something to step on their toes but some of these people are the very ones who when you pass them in the corridor and bid them the time of day they will look up at the sky, at their shoes or everywhere but the last thing they would do is look at you and say "Hello". It is a bit like "D'Unbelievables"; if they can hear me talking now maybe they will look into their faces in the mirror the next time and think about the way they treat people. Some of them treat other people in a way that leaves an awful lot to be desired and a lot of the people who are professing about gender equality do not have the manners of a scalded cat. I mean that; they are totally disrespectful to their colleagues because they would pass them in the corridor in that manner. I do not care who you are or what you are; if a person says "Hello" to you the least you can do is say "Hello" back. They know who they are and it is up to them. They do not carry the night's sleep in me at all because I could not give a damn about them. I am just saying it is ironic to hear people being so hypocritical in talking about gender equality when they would not even say "Hello" back to a colleague when walking around these premises or anywhere else inside or outside of this place.
A lot of people have different issues and personal experiences of gender inequality. The members of the Citizens' Assembly considered factual information and different perspectives on a broad range of topics related to gender equality and they then developed and voted on its priority recommendations . I want to compliment them for the work they did and the time and deliberations they gave because they were working for all of us when they were dealing with this important issue. We have to look at the recommendations they have made and at what their implementation and delivery would be like. We have to examine how that would work because it is important that when people do a job, come to a conclusion and make recommendations we are mindful in our deliberations and give them careful consideration to ensure that we arrive at conclusions that are for the betterment of all.
At the end of all of this I would like to see a situation where, if the Constitution is to amended, it would explicitly refer to gender equality and non-discrimination. If any changes are being made, they should be made for the betterment and equality of everybody. We should not allow ourselves to get silly either, as in the example I gave a while ago of some people going off the rails. The Minister and the Members who spoke earlier on should always remember that it costs nothing in this world to be nice. It does not cost a penny.
I come from a farming background and there was always gender equality in our house. Everyone had their chores to do and everyone did their jobs. Nieces of mine drive trucks and to tell the truth they drive them better than I can. I grew up with gender equality as a constant. I was struck by something during the week; I was getting a small mark on the side of my car fixed and when I collected it I was delighted to see that there was a female panel beater in the premises I picked it up in. I thought that was great but then I have sat on many boards of schools where female teachers told me they were finding it hard to get male teachers in schools. That includes primary and secondary schools. There are an awful lot of trades where we have a shortage of men for one trade and a shortage of women for a different one. There should be equal opportunity for any person, male or female, to do any job.
As I said, I grew up in a farming background and I work in construction. What gender equality brings to society is the idea that anybody can do anything if they put their minds to it. Some physical jobs are probably better geared towards men as they involve heavy lifting but there are machines to do that work now so there is no reason anyone cannot do those jobs. In the construction business I have had the pleasure of working alongside many female plasterers. It is a tough trade but people want to do it.
I had a meeting with the Irish Farmers Association and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, recently in Kilmallock mart and about 100 people were present. What shocked me on the night was that there were four people present under the age of 30, two of whom were female and two of whom were male. About 80% or 90% of the rest of the people in the mart were men and the remainder were women. The biggest thing that came to mind was, and it was pointed out to the Minister, that those in the age group who were left in the mart were aged between 50 and 70 or older. We said that we needed to look at how we can encourage the next generation, male and female, to take up farming. I was delighted that there were four people under 30 there but there should have been 44 people under 30 there if the services were in place to provide them with a decent living out of farming.
How do we correct that? The correction has to come from the primary schools upwards and in the teaching of our children of all ages.
When they are asked at that early age about what they would like to be when they are older, be it an astronaut, politician, plasterer, truck driver or doctor, everyone in the room should have an equal opportunity. If we can instil that mindset at an early age, our next generation will do everything. However, how do we tackle some of the industries that we cannot encourage men into, for example, primary school teaching and nursing, and why can we not get more females into male roles? We must ensure that there is a transition and that people can do work equally.
Equally has always been in my house. I am the boss of my house when the boss is out. That sums it up, does it not?
I thank the Whip's office for giving me this time.
I am thinking about the media consultant at my school gate who cannot get a 20-hour consultancy contract because she can only work until 2:30 p.m. when 5:30 p.m. is the corporate norm, and she cannot seem to disrupt that. I keep telling her that if she does not tell them that time, she will be fine, but she cannot get back to work. That is a labour market activation issue.
I am thinking about the in-house lawyer in a corporate doing the exact same job as her colleague for 25% less pay who knows that, even though it is the law, she cannot litigate or she will get a "name" in the sector for having done so. It is easier just to wait, ride it out and leave when another opportunity comes.
I am thinking about the professional women whom many of us know who shifted to three-day weeks to manage the needs of their young families when their professional partners stayed at five days. This impacted their activity, inclusion, opportunity, pay and pensions. I wonder how many corporates have a substantial number of their male employees with young children opting for a four-day week for those busy and difficult early years.
I am thinking of the young women, new to the working world, who have decided to drive during the winter because the walk home from the bus stop or the train is not really an option, just in case. I am thinking of all the women who have had gendered violence explained to them by men. I thank the men who have the awareness to back off when it is dark and cross the street or take a different seat on the train or bus rather than crowd the space of a woman who is always vigilant because she has always needed to be.
I am thinking of the women who have moved out, with their children, under the cover of darkness to anywhere except with a violent or abusive man at home instead of him leaving. Today is two years since Ms Kathrina Bentley, long-time activist and now CEO of Men's Aid Ireland, and I held a rally in Dún Laoghaire against coercive control. We did it outside in the open air on the Dún Laoghaire pier to bring it right into people's awareness. Of course, many people were already well aware of the behaviour. Now they had a name for it. People on the pier told us that their sisters, daughters, mothers or aunts went through it. A common phrase used was "he has always been difficult", telling a story that left many women isolated and psychologically damaged in the long run. I welcome the work of An Garda Síochána to prosecute successfully this offence of coercive control that people said could not be prosecuted because it was too nebulous, too based on subtlety, patterns and nuance. I congratulate the Garda on its work and thank it and all of those working to support people of both genders, but predominately women, experiencing domestic abuse, including coercive control. I am also thinking of the two women I met in my constituency who looked afraid at the door when the man of the house came on the scene while I was canvassing. They had to hurry off suddenly.
I am thinking of the women of the Phil debating society in Trinity College who I met last week who made me both laugh and despair with their comic depiction of apologising for taking up physical space, having an opinion, wearing lipstick and not wearing lipstick.
I am thinking of the politicians from all around the world, such as Ms Julia Gillard, Baroness Ruth Davidson and others, who contributed to the excellent online abuse programme on the BBC last night by the journalist, Ms Marianna Spring, herself the recipient of serious online abuse. I am thinking of all the people, but particularly all the young women, with high-profile jobs who have been the subject of social media abuse and misogynistic efforts to silence, undermine or hurt them.
The recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly are welcome and overdue. They set out a vision for change, but it is one that women did not need articulated for them because they have been living these experiences for many years. However, it is welcome to hear their experiences being articulated and, importantly, affirmed by someone of Dr. Catherine Day's standing, having been debated and agreed by the 99 citizens who worked so hard. It is appropriate that their work now be taken forward by their elected public representatives. I wish to take the opportunity to thank the Ceann Comhairle, who responded and acted quickly on my letter to him requesting that a dedicated Oireachtas committee be established on this subject. I similarly thank the Business Committee for its support, particularly my colleagues, the deputy Chief Whip, Deputy Griffin, and the Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, for their help in bringing this forward. I also thank Deputy Naughten and the National Women's Council for their considerable help on this. I would like to see the committee established by the end of the year. I thank Members for their support - Deputies Cairns, Bacik and Funchion, who mentioned the committee, the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and many others who have commented on the need to progress this committee as soon as may be.
I was a councillor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which is essentially a gender-equal council. It is the only place in Ireland where girls can look and see an equality of representation. We know there is not equality of representation in the House and we should be embarrassed that we have been dependent on quotas or incentives to get to 37 women. Politics is important because voices and lived experiences influence discourse generally and, crucially, the assumptions and experiences on which policy is based. It is not enough to have women in or near the room when decisions are being made. Women need to be the decision makers as often as men are for there to be equality.
I might disagree with the Citizens' Assembly on one point in particular, namely, that budgets should be gender proofed. It is insufficiently ambitious and continues the ongoing "othering" of women instead of aiming for a society that is influenced equally by equal genders. Budgets would not need to be gender proofed if they were written by women as often as they have been by men and if the most senior civil servants on the financial side of government numbered as many females as is the case on the state side of government, that is, education, justice and so on, which is something that I observed continually while working in government.
Many of these cultural issues would be different if childcare were perceived as a humans with children issue instead of a women's issue. I was asked on radio a little while ago if childcare in the Dáil would get more women into politics. I pointed out the number of men in the House who had recently had babies in their families and how they had not been asked this quite ridiculous question. I said it more forcefully in my head than I did out loud, and I rather regret that now. At this juncture, I might mention my Private Members' Bill on providing for temporary remote voting for Members of the Oireachtas, thereby providing support to people of both genders who need more time at home because they have small babies or for other specified purposes.
I have spoken before in the House about the imbalance in the work done at home by both genders and have highlighted the work of the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, which was published in November 2020 and pointed out that women across Europe did 13 hours more each week than men on unpaid care and housework. The committee's work also pointed out that the closure of schools, care centres and workplaces during the pandemic had increased the unequal distribution of unpaid domestic and care responsibilities within the home for women who, often in addition to balancing working from home, were left without sufficient support for child and elderly care, and that remote working was not a substitute for childcare.
I have also spoken about the urgent need to disrupt the cycle of gendered violence that our generation and every one that went before ours have experienced. The only way to interrupt the cycle for our children is to interrupt our cultural norms through a programme of relationship and sexual education that focuses from the earliest age on respect, consent, equality, personhood and boundaries. I note Deputy O'Donoghue's remarks on teaching children from the earliest age that they can do any job and the importance of mindsets. In many cases, though, these norms are coming from a cultural perception of women and men, so their disruption is important.
Deputy Cathal Crowe's contribution was interesting and important. He observed that the brilliant girls he had taught changed somewhat in their teenage years. They became less involved and outspoken. Of course they did. When boys or men speak over them, take credit for their ideas or sexualise them without their consent, when mass media tells them that they must look a particular way to be perceived as acceptable or successful, and when they must wear a skirt to school when I can choose to wear trousers in the Dáil, is that not continually ridiculous?
This is an important debate and I thank everyone who has contributed. I acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Higgins, and her work on women on corporate boards that was recommended by the assembly. Research published in the Financial Timesin August highlighted that, in the UK, there had been an increase via a voluntary effort to achieve a better gender balance on corporate boards, but the counterpoint was that much of that balance was achieved through the appointment of women as non-executive directors.
Approximately 90% were non-executive directors rather than the more influential and, indeed, higher paid executive directors, who tended to come from within the business. This debate is important because if you are a female aged 22 to 25 who has come out of school or college and you are entering a career for the first time, you do not expect that this is what is front of you. You do not expect that things could be different, or should be different, because of your gender when you have done just as well as males in school, college and everywhere else. Yet, you come to discover that the cultural norms are different, the expectations are different and the fact of having babies interrupts the opportunity to have a continued career and ensures you are perceived as different.
I never thought coming into Dáil Éireann that it would be the first time I would experience coming up against a gender wall. I was quite surprised by it, to look around and see how few women there were here. So many of the invitations I receive are to speak about being a woman in politics, the difficulty of being a woman in politics or what it is like for women in politics. I am never asked about anything else. I do not wish to complain about all of those things. I simply want to note that their very existence or the precepts behind the questions continue to other and make different women persons in politics from men persons in politics. Why am I or, say, Deputy Funchion not asked about the Government balance sheet, the separation of powers and a range of other issues? The invitations are continually about being a woman in politics. There is no question that we do not wish to pull up the ladder behind us. That is not it; of course not. I contribute to everything I am asked to do. I simply observe that every time that interview request comes in or the request to speak on gender issues comes in, for one, two, three or four hours I am taken away from being a woman person in politics who would like to be re-elected while the man person in politics has that one, two, three or four hours to spend responding to his constituents, getting through his call list, developing policy and legislation and preparing for media. It is simply an observation, but it is one that I think is important. I note Deputy Funchion is nodding. I thank her for her support because I am somewhat nervous even articulating it. I do not know why given that I am a Member of the House and should be entitled to say whatever it is I believe on behalf of the women I represent, whom I know agree with this point. Nevertheless here I am taking up that measure of space articulating an opinion that is somewhat contrary, both to the narrative generally and a feminist construction of what women might or should do in politics. I thank Deputy Funchion for nodding in support.
The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality are a stark reminder of how far we still have to go to ensure gender equality in this country. It is clear from these recommendations that we will never have a gender equal society until big, institutional changes are made. That is the simple fact. If this Government is as serious about gender equality as it says it is, it would consider making those changes. The people do not need another photo opportunity or another tweet saying "We support a gender equal society". They need real commitment to change and delivery of it. It might surprise the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to hear this but he has the power actually to do something more substantial than just typing a hashtag or showing up for a photo. Following on from his very brief interaction with the children protesting about mica outside the gates of Leinster House today, he may have proved today that nothing is more important than a photo opportunity.
They very much felt there was a very brief interaction with them by the Minister and the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, outside Leinster House today. They had travelled for many hours to be here-----
It struck me when reading this report that there seems to be a solution that would address most of these recommendations, that is, proper funding of our public services. This is, again, an argument of ideology. The Government's pro-market thinking that the private market will provide is extremely flawed. It is not good enough to expect the private sector will fulfil the public need. The Government is elected to provide the public with the services they require. It is not elected to allocate this responsibility elsewhere and for there then to be no accountability when things go wrong. We need to stop the constant privatisation of our services. We need to fund our public services properly to provide the public with what they need and the Government needs to be accountable for these services.
In terms of how this can have a huge impact on gender equality, one of the recommendations of the report is that a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare be established. The fact that Ireland is one of the world's most expensive countries in the world for childcare and that families are forced to spend half their salaries on childcare services is nothing to be proud of. This disproportionately affects women who are unable to return to the workforce after their maternity leave due to the fact it simply would not be worth it to pay such high rates of childcare. Many who work in childcare are forced to work for minimum wages despite having studied to get a degree to enable them to work in that sector. There is no way we can empower women or create a gender equal society without addressing this fact.
I support the call to extend gender quotas to local, Seanad and European elections, but I feel this should go even further to include quotas for women of ethnic minorities and women with disabilities in correlation with the population. I would love to see this Parliament as a true reflection of our society and its make-up. Sadly, that is not the case at the moment. We need to provide all the support necessary to ensure this happens. We need to consider the reasons women do not get involved in politics and take real steps to change that. Leaving aside the party political system, one such reason is the fact elected representatives are not entitled to maternity leave. That is an absolute disgrace in this day and age. I commend my colleague, Senator Eileen Flynn, and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for taking a stand for all women who are not given their maternity leave by taking that time off. It is important to show it is needed.
I support the Citizens' Assembly's call for constitutional changes and for stronger enforcement of laws and policies. The language in the Constitution should not be gender-specific and should oblige the State to take measures to support care within the home. I also support the call for the appointment of a victims' and survivors' commissioner and for the development of guidelines and specialist training for judges and lawyers with regard to the treatment of victims and survivors. Spending on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence needs to increase massively. Everyone has the right to live a life without violence and abuse and we need to do all we can to support victims of violence and abuse. Again, this can only be achieved through proper funding of public services. The report states "Our recommendations call for better public services and improved social protection". It further states this should be funded through reprioritisation between current spending and revenue raising and greater efficiency and accountability for public funding. Privatisation takes away the opportunity for proper Government accountability for public spending. It is clear that gender equality cannot be achieved without first addressing this fact. That is most important.
I would like to preface my comments by repeating what was said in the report from the Citizens' Assembly, that is, that gender equality is a topic that affects us all. My comments are made in an inclusive fashion. I thank the Citizens' Assembly for acting so quickly during a very difficult time in the context of Covid and for producing a report with 45 recommendations under eight headings. In five minutes I cannot go into all of the recommendations but I agree with most of them. They merit deeper consideration, reflection and action, which they have asked us for.
I particularly welcome the recommendations to change the Constitution in regard to the woman's place in the home and the provision of public childcare. It is a disappointment to me that was not a heading in the budget. That would have been a most practical measure and a message sent out to the public that we are serious about gender equality. However, in my time I want to zone in on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I thank the chair of the assembly who decided early on in the process that this issue should be considered by the assembly even though it was not within the terms of reference. Members of the assembly emphasised the need for strong, co-ordinated action by Government, with 95.6% voting that a Cabinet Minister should hold responsibility in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and so on.
There are 45 recommendations generally, but in regard to this issue there are five or six which are particularly focused and can be put into practice. Before I come to them, I would like to set the context of this. Let us look at the Women's Aid annual report for 2020.
There is an increase of 43% in contacts. The figures are astronomical. There were 29,770 contacts with Women's Aid alone. The helpline heard 22,685 disclosures. It is all there in the report. That is the background.
I have repeatedly mentioned the cost to the economy of not dealing with domestic violence. The estimated annual economic cost of domestic violence is €2.2 billion. However, recent research from NUIG is even more upsetting. There is a summary report from its research from July, and I understand a substantive report will follow. Researchers found the aggregate cost of domestic violence over a woman's journey to safety is €113,475 per woman. That is one figure. They estimate a cost of at least €2.7 billion to the economy. I direct my comments to the economists who fail to take in the cost of this and of failing to do this. Again, this is absolutely conservative. The estimated national cost of domestic violence over a woman's journey is €56 billion. These figures are so big that they are difficult to comprehend but the message I have repeatedly asked us to accept is that we need consider the value, to use the economists' terms, of not doing something about it.
Then we look at the background. In 1997, we had a task force which produced a report and said that services were fragmented and piecemeal. We have had two strategies since then which were never implemented. If they were implemented at all, it was piecemeal and fragmented. Then we had the review that came out this year. It was in relation to the monitoring body report published earlier on, with which the Minister is very familiar. On the monitoring body, some of them failed to show. There are interesting points highlighted in the audit published recently. It was found there were:
... some areas that have seen little or no progress. These include gaps in data collection and analysis, in service funding and delivery, and meeting victim needs ...
They are the exact same words that were used back in 1997, when my second son was born. He is now 24 years of age and we have another report telling us no progress has been made. It tells us the monitoring body was ineffective. It met sometimes. The absence or the failure of some Departments to attend is mentioned. It is absolutely damning and it is all set out in that report.
I have 23 seconds left. What I am going to do with 23 seconds, except welcome the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and point out that I am sick, sore and tired of reading reports? I have read them all. I have them all here. We lack action and a serious commitment to realising that if we do not have gender equality, we cannot have an equal society and therefore we cannot have a thriving economy. We need to address it. I am especially worried by the recommendation that domestic violence, sexual violence and gender-based violence should go back under the Department of Justice. I would love to hear the Minister's views on that proposal. I have seen very good comments on Cosc, the subgroup that was within the Department but was done away with. I understand the person in charge of Cosc went to Tusla and was never replaced. I am here tonight with all of these reports and I am looking at a citizens' assembly, but what I see is an absolute failure of government after government to match the strategy's theory to the actual words. That actually comes from the audit published by the Minister a few months ago. The Acting Chairman is being very generous with me. Last of all, the report on refuges still has not been published so maybe the Minister will address that when he is summing up.
I welcome the input from Deputies across the House during the debate. As has been generally identified, gender equality is a major challenge in our society. It continues to be a challenge within our society despite the progress that has undoubtedly been made in recent years. The recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality give us a significant number of proposals, concepts and ideas to consider. The broad scope of the 45 recommendations we are discussing today has meant we probably will not have the opportunity to give each issue the attention it demands but the programme for Government makes a commitment to respond to each of them in detail, so no doubt we will return to each one as the Government's term continues.
I spoke earlier about the impact of Covid-19 on the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality but its report and recommendations are more timely than ever as we emerge from a pandemic that has changed so many aspects of the way we work and how we live. There is a recognition that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, their working lives and their family lives. This time of great change has highlighted the inequalities that exist in our society and has made us all pause and consider how we want our society to work. The Government recovery measures are mindful of this and of the manner in which the pandemic has impacted with particular force on women and girls across our society. I will continue to work with my ministerial colleagues to ensure gender equality and all equality considerations are mainstreamed in policy decisions as we come back from the pandemic. Gender equality in decision-making is central to this, including here in the Houses, and it is imperative that we take a close look at what barriers exist for women in politics. I will discuss this more later on.
Many Deputies have raised domestic violence and Deputy Connolly did so before she left. One of the most concerning consequences of the social distancing measures and the wider measures in our response to Covid has been the rise in domestic violence or at least the rise in the number of cases reported to the Garda. As we know, women experience domestic violence to a vastly disproportionate degree. From the earliest days of the pandemic, my Department, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice put in place additional measures to protect those most at risk and support those who were experiencing domestic violence. Deputy Connolly spoke very eloquently about how this State has not grappled with the issue of domestic violence with the degree of precision, and particularly with the degree of co-ordination across all elements of Government and of the State, that is necessary. The Government asked for an audit of which agencies, Departments and bodies were doing what, in recognition of the fragmented nature of the response. That audit has been published and it is critical of certain elements of the response. It is now the work of myself, my Department, the Minister for Justice and, probably most importantly, the groups active in this sector to collaborate to fashion our response, which will be an all-of-society response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Our commitment to this is represented in the significant additional investment we provided to Tusla in last year's budget. We secured a significant additional investment in Tusla in this year's budget as well and I am confident a proportion of that will go to increasing investment in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.
Deputy Connolly also referred to the issue of the lack of accommodation, be it refuge space or alternative safe accommodation. Deputy Murnane O'Connor spoke about the particular situation in County Carlow. The accommodation review will be essential in providing a clear roadmap for how the Government identifies those areas most in need of additional accommodation for people fleeing domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and how the significant money allocated to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the capital assistance scheme in the context of the national development plan can be appropriately targeted to the areas in greatest need. There is also the work the Department of Justice is doing on foot of the Supporting a Victim’s Journey report, following on from the rape trial in Belfast. The Minister for Justice has secured significant additional investment in this budget, so we are supporting victims, especially victims of domestic violence and sexual crime, while recognising the rigidities of the justice system often leave these victims most at risk. Again, significant additional investment has been provided in this context. This will combine with the development of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which will be submitted to the Government by the end of this year.
I move to the matter of wider strategies for dealing with gender inequality.
In 2022, I will work to develop the next strategy for gender equality to succeed the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020. This work will begin with a consultation process, which will enable us to identify the most significant issues facing women and girls today and, from there, to develop appropriate active responses. I have no doubt that the recommendations that we are discussing here today will feed into that process, as they cut across women's lives and well-being.
The national strategy for women and girls is not the only equality strategy that concluded this year and one of the challenges for my Department in the coming months is the question of how to address the multiple facets of the identity of a person that make them subject to discrimination or inequality, that is, the intersectionality of equality issues, in all future strategies. This has come up in the context of the national strategy for women and girls and the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy in terms of the specific barriers that Traveller women face in society and likewise, that migrant women or LGBTI women face. We want to develop a new approach to the co-ordination of cross-government policy, which can encompass these concerns and address them through concrete, measurable aims and initiatives.
I recognise the importance of an Oireachtas committee to progress these recommendations. As we have heard in the debate about some of the recommendations on constitutional amendments, including the proposal to change Article 41.2, there are different views on how we proceed. Do we just act to delete or do we delete and replace? My preference would be to delete and replace with something that recognises care in the home and potentially care outside of the home as well. That said, Deputy Bacik spoke about the challenges that such an approach might meet. It is important that we have that discussion because that discussion in the previous Dáil prevented anything coming forward. Many Deputies have spoken about the need for action and the need to progress but when it comes to the amendment of our Constitution, we have to find a forum where we can come together and find the best way forward in order that we can secure the removal of the offensive language that remains in our Constitution.
I want to briefly refer to the issue of gender equality within the political sphere. I have always believed that using gender quotas for elections is appropriate. I know people have criticised the fact that in the 2020 general election we did not see a significant increase in the number of female Deputies elected. However, it is important to remember that in an election where there was a substantial turnover of Members of this House, we continued on the progress that had been made in the 2016 election, progress that I believe was very much linked to the introduction of gender quotas. I do not believe that the fact that we only saw an increase of one female Deputy in the 2020 election represents a condemnation of the use of quotas. As I said, there was a significant turnover of Deputies in the 2020 election. Many female Deputies lost their seats but a lot of female Deputies were elected as well.
The issue of maternity leave is crucial. The Minister for Justice's pregnancy threw the issue into particularly stark relief in this House but in addressing that, we must also look at addressing maternity leave on our county and city councils. In terms of where people are in the development of their political career and the sheer numbers involved, it is far more likely that introducing maternity leave for politicians at local government level will benefit more women who are at a stage in their life where they are more likely to be pregnant. Of course, that is not to say that it should not be done in this House and in the Seanad too; it absolutely should. However, it must be done in a way in which the representative function is provided for. It is not just the issue of the time off or the benefit, but also the issue of being able to properly reflect the fact that women are elected and many will become pregnant and that this should be recognised as part and parcel of life and provided for in supports and provisions to ensure their representative votes at county and city councils and in the Dáil and Seanad are respected.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to this debate. I look forward to elements of this report being advanced in my Department, in other Departments and in Oireachtas committees in the future.