Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

International Women's Day: Statements


2:02 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I begin my statement today by wishing everyone, particularly my female colleagues, a happy International Women's Day. As Minister with responsibility for gender equality, International Women’s Day is a significant day and a reminder of my Department’s mission of working towards “a fair, equal and inclusive society where rights are respected, and where everyone can reach their potential”.

Achieving gender equality and promoting the empowerment of women and girls are key priorities for Ireland's domestic and foreign policy, with the overarching goal of creating a fairer and more sustainable society. As a Government, we have prioritised furthering equality, whether that be online, in the workplace or in home life, and as announced this morning, we are looking to modernise our Constitution as well. Through the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality and the subsequent Oireachtas Joint Committee on Gender Equality, a clear and sharp focus has been brought on the specific measures required to advance gender equality in this country. I commend Catherine Day on her work in her role chairing the Citizens’ Assembly and Deputy Bacik on doing likewise on the Oireachtas joint committee. The Government has committed to a structured and meaningful response to all the recommendations in early course.

Significantly, this morning we announced our intention to hold referendums on Articles 40.1 and 41 of the Constitution in November of this year. Recognising that such a change is now long overdue, work will begin immediately, with proposals due before the Cabinet in May. As a Government, we remain committed to taking real and practical measures to highlight and tackle gender inequality wherever it appears in our society. This past year, as I mentioned, turned out to be a very challenging year. Nevertheless, it was also a year in which we achieved a lot to turn our commitments into action.

In 2022, for the first time, large employers were required to calculate and publish information on the gender pay gaps within their organisations. I am pleased to see employers across the private and public sectors engaging with their findings and examining the factors that contribute to their internal pay gaps. It is heartening to see exemplars of good practice already emerging. Organisations such as An Post, for example, have succeeded in addressing many of the imbalances in the representation of women and men at different levels that contribute to the existence of gender pay gaps.

My Department plans to add to the analysis already being carried out across the private sector and to undertake a study looking at the 2022 reports published. Over the coming years, these reporting obligations will be extended to organisations with more than 150, and then subsequently 50, employees. A centralised reporting database will be developed by my Department for future reporting cycles that will provide easier access to these reports and easier comparison of employers’ gender pay gap metrics across sectors and over time.

As Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, I am committed to supporting parents to have a work-life balance. We have continued over the past year to enhance the provision of family leave, both paid and unpaid. Since coming into office, paid parental leave has been extended from two weeks to seven weeks, and it is Government’s intention to extend it again later this year. The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022, which passed all Stages in the Seanad last week, will provide, when enacted, for a right to request flexible working and leave for medical care purposes, and extend the entitlement to breastfeeding breaks under the Maternity Protection Acts to two full years.

Additionally, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 will support women returning to work after maternity leave by extending the timeframe for breastfeeding breaks from the current six months to two years. As anyone who has taken up their full maternity leave will know, this has meant that a right that has existed in theory on the books has been accessible for many women. Extending breastfeeding breaks to two years, therefore, will be a significant step forward. Earlier this week I had the honour to lead Ireland’s delegation to the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which opened this year on 6 March and continues until 17 March. The priority theme for the Commission this year is “Innovation and technological changes and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”. We cannot discuss the gender disparities present in the digital world without acknowledging the need for online spaces to be made safe for women and girls and the need to stamp out online gender-based violence and harassment.

Colleagues and other women in public life have spoken of the violence and harassment they face online, in particular the very personal abuse to which they are subjected. The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 has criminal sanctions that are among the most severe in the European Union for online abuse. New offences with enhanced penalties for hate crimes are proposed in the hate crime and hate speech Bill published last October by the Minister for Justice. This will mean certain types of crimes can be prosecuted where they are motivated by misogyny. As we know, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022, when enacted, will also provide for paid domestic violence leave.

I cannot speak on International Women’s Day without acknowledging all the women who are experiencing conflict and displacement at this time. Gender inequality and violence against women is an issue that permeates borders. The violence women are experiencing internationally and the bravery they are demonstrating in the midst of such conflict must be acknowledged. Ireland has consistently worked to empower and amplify the voices of women and is a long-standing champion of the UN Women, Peace and Security Agenda, not only in our development co-operation but domestically as well. In the past 12 months, Ireland has continued to welcome people seeking protection from conflict.

In the year that has passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian women and girls are at a heightened risk of trafficking and human rights abuses. In addition, they are facing rising poverty levels due to the loss of their livelihoods. More than 70,000 Ukrainian nationals have arrived on our shores, the majority of whom are women and children.

I wish to restate Ireland's firm commitment to assisting those fleeing here, whether from Ukraine or elsewhere.

When I was in New York in recent days at an event hosted by the Church World Service, I had the opportunity to meet with the Women's Forum on Afghanistan, a body of former politicians and female leaders from Afghanistan who are advocating for strong action to be taken against the Taliban. They recognise the strong role that Irish permanent representatives at the UN took to ensure that sanctions against significant figures within the Taliban regime were not diluted, as had been argued for by some western states. What was particularly interesting to hear from these women was their description of the efforts by the Taliban to undertake the complete erasure of women from public life, denying access to education and employment. The way in which this has been done is different to when the Taliban first came to power. It has been done more subtly and there has been a steady drip-drip to try to avoid the public gaze. This group of women very much want to continue to place the public gaze and the international gaze on what is happening in Afghanistan. It is important that we do so on a day like today. We see what is happening in Afghanistan and Iran in terms of the denial of women's rights. In Ireland, in the context of international protection, we are seeing an increase in the number of people fleeing here from Afghanistan, Iran and many other countries where conflict involves an intensely gendered element.

I look forward over the coming year to continuing to work with Deputies on all sides of the House to keep up the momentum to advance gender equality, and to deliver on the promise of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and on the excellent work done by the Joint Committee on Gender Equality.

2:12 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I too want to begin by wishing all Members a happy International Women's Day. I am delighted that this morning the Government announced the decision to hold a referendum on gender equality, as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and the Joint Committee on Gender Equality.

We can all agree that the Constitution's reference to "a woman's place in the home" is, at best, outdated and is long overdue for amendment. The decision to hold one or more referendums on this issue is in line with the programme for Government's commitment to respond to each recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. Recognising that this referendum is long overdue, we will commence work on this immediately.

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will convene an interdepartmental committee. The interdepartmental committee will develop policy recommendations for consideration by the Government, with a view to agreement by the Government of the wording for the proposed referenda in mid-May. As outlined by the Minister, we are seeking to make progress on gender equality across all parts of government and we will have close regard to the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. The national strategy for women and girls has come to a close and work will soon commence on a successor strategy, which will respond to the recommendations made by the citizens' assembly.

In addition, we have made efforts to create a fairer society by ensuring that women can effectively balance their home and work lives. Through the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, we will extend breast-feeding breaks and introduce a right to medical leave for caring purposes. We will also become one of the first countries in Europe to introduce a statutory right to paid leave for victims of domestic violence. We have tackled gender inequality by introducing reporting on the gender pay gap and an obligation on employers to propose measures to address it. We have extended parent's leave from two weeks to seven weeks; made childcare more affordable, and increased the pay for childcare professionals. Achieving gender equality in our society, through the key actions I have mentioned, among others, is a priority for the Government. It is not just about the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth but about each Department - and indeed all parts of our society - stepping up and prioritising equality.

I thank Deputies for being present. I look forward to hearing their contributions as we celebrate International Women's Day.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Funchion, O'Reilly and Kerrane.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I wish a happy International Women's Day to the Ceann Comhairle and to all gathered here. International Women's Day is a time to recognise and celebrate the strides taken by women towards gender equality and to reflect on the road ahead that we have still to travel. In Ireland, much progress has been achieved. This has been secured by generations of women who have stepped forward and demanded change, who stood up to be counted and to secure a better future for themselves, their daughters, and their granddaughters. Let it be said that many women took a stand against Governments and the State, which had brought so much hurt and harm to them and to generations of women. I think today of Vicky Phelan, but also of all the women and families caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal. I think of those who were in Magdalen laundries and in mother and baby homes. I think of the women who suffered the barbarity and butchery of symphysiotomy. I think of the hepatitis C scandal. I could list more. Women made their voices heard loud and clear in respect of all of these travesties. They were also to be heard loud and clear in the successful campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. The journey continues, as activists campaign for a safe world where women and girls can walk our streets at ease, where women can live safely and with dignity, and where we get a fair and equal day's pay for a fair day's work.

I am proud to be the first woman Leader of the Opposition in this House. I work alongside so many talented, ambitious, and hard-working women who are committed to delivering real change for the communities they represent. This past year saw the election of a republican woman as the North's First Minister designate. She heads our party's team, which has a majority of women MLAs. I think also of the many activists and leaders who have stood up and made their voices heard in so many different ways and often in times of adversity. Yet, for all the progress that has been achieved, the journey is far from over. Women and girls still live in an Ireland where harassment and violence are far too common, where we are paid less than male colleagues, where childcare costs are unaffordable and where the Government often treats the needs of women and girls as afterthoughts. Despite the scourge of domestic violence, nine counties still have no refuge, and those counties with refuges are often forced to turn women and children away when they desperately need help because there simply is not room. The Government continues to fail its obligations under the Istanbul Convention to provide a minimum number of refuge places. This is shameful. Survivors need a safe haven, not just with a bed but with wraparound services such as childcare and counselling on site. That is what real refuge is and that is what must be delivered.

The cost-of-living crisis has hit women particularly hard, as they are on lower incomes, meaning their finances bear the brunt as they try to keep on top of rising rents, soaring energy prices and food costs. Childcare costs are sky-high and totally unaffordable for many women on ordinary incomes. We know that when social protection measures are weakened, it is always women, particularly single mothers, who are forced to shoulder the greatest burden. The Government must continue to deliver sufficient cost-of-living measures to support those on low incomes who need a lifeline now. The State cannot continue to block progressive change. That means the Government must stand up in tangible and meaningful ways. I welcome today's announcement of a referendum on Articles 40 and 41, but this is only the first step. We want to see a change that affords constitutional recognition and protection to caring and carers.

We know that change is possible as the women of Ireland have already created change, not because these rights were handed down to them by anyone else, but because they demanded the changes that were needed, for a better future. Ní féidir cinniúint náisiún na hÉireann a bhaint amach ach amháin nuair atá comhionannas iomlán ag mná. Ní mór d'fhir a bpáirt a ghlacadh san obair sin. Caithfidh siad seasamh i ndlúthpháirtíocht le mná agus an t-athrú seo a éileamh chomh maith. The women of Ireland have been climbing mountains for generations.

For generations, they have moved mountains. We know that we are at our strongest and most powerful when we stand together and for each other in sisterhood and solidarity. While much more needs to be done, on this International Women's Day I look forward to the future with a hope and a confidence that change can and will be delivered.

2:22 pm

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. I have not seen Deputy Cairns since she was elevated to her new position, so I take this opportunity to offer her my congratulations. We wish her the best of luck with the role.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, Hear.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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The war in Ukraine had only begun a week or two before International Women's Day last year. It is difficult to imagine that a 12 months on the war is still raging, with no end in sight. Last year, I started my contribution on International Women's Day by sending solidarity to the women who had fled here with their families. I reiterate that again. Also, as we are unfortunately aware, there are reports of the rape and widespread sexual assault being used regularly as weapons of war, not just against Ukrainian women but wherever there is conflict. Depressingly, as we have seen throughout history, sexual violence is not merely the action of rogue soldiers but a deliberate tactic of war.

There is a great deal we can say today, on International Women's Day. There is a lot to be celebrated and commended in acknowledging how far things have come. However, I want to concentrate my remarks on domestic violence, sexual assault and coercive control. We know from the statistics that incidents of domestic abuse attended by An Garda Síochána increased to a staggering 54,000 in 2022, up from 50,000 in 2021 and 44,500 in 2020. These are the incidents we know about that are actually reported to the Garda. Many people do not report incidents. Unfortunately, the statistics also do not reflect the number of cases that are brought to court and prosecuted. There are some excellent people doing fantastic work, particularly in the protective services unit of An Garda Síochána. I commend them on that work today. I also commend our women's refuges and organisations such as Women's Aid and Safe Ireland. However, the process from when a person reports an incident to the arrest of the suspect and the subsequent court case, if there is one, is far too slow. We can understand, when we get a glimpse into that world, why women do not report such incidents. It is very difficult for women who have been such situations, and have come out of them, to move on with their lives. They make a report and the case can drag on for years at a time. We need to see a lot more being done in terms of the actual prosecution and the speeding up of that process.

I also want to touch on an issue that we became aware of last week through the reply to a parliamentary question. It seems that places are earmarked for refuges in 2024 in Wexford, Dundalk and Offaly. Obviously, I welcome this. However, Carlow is still without a women's refuge. That campaign for one has been ongoing for some time. There is no refuge at all in Carlow. We have a fantastic facility in the Amber Women's Refuge in Kilkenny, but it is trying to facilitate both Carlow and Kilkenny. There are situations where women will not leave a horrific and dangerous situation, because if they have to try to get to their job if they are working, or to drop their children to school - and there are often children involved - and they are trying to travel from Kilkenny to Carlow without transport, it is very difficult. I was disappointed that Carlow was not higher on the list and that there is not a way of looking at all of the counties that do not have refuges and trying to prioritise them for spaces.

I want to touch on the issue of coercive control. I was shocked to note from a recent study - I forget who it was compiled by - the number of women who do not understand what coercive control is and that they could potentially be in such situations. I think that whenever we have opportunity in this House to raise awareness of it and to talk about it, we should do so. Section 39 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 defines the parameters of controlling behaviour and coercive control. It provides that an offence is committed under the section if a person knowingly and persistently engages in behaviour that has a serious effect on a relevant person, that the relevant person fears that violence will be used against him or her or that this behaviour causes serious alarm or distress that has an impact on his or her day-to-day life. There have been seven convictions in four years. That is it. I do not even have the words for that. It is devastating to think that is where matters currently stand. I will leave it at that.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I wish the Ceann Comhairle and everyone here a happy International Women's Day. As women, today is our day to celebrate, to mark time in our struggle for equality and to remind ourselves of the importance of international solidarity. On International Women's Day I express my solidarity with the women of Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Cuba and Afghanistan, and with all of those women who struggle. We also need to acknowledge the struggles faced by trans women and to say here, unequivocally, that trans rights are human rights. We will not allow the floor of our Parliament to be used as some sort of bully pit for members of the trans community. I have heard it before. All of us have to take a zero tolerance approach to this. This has to be a safe space. Trans rights are human rights.

Today, I was delighted to host the workers and some of the volunteers from the Aoibhneas domestic abuse service. I know the Minister is very familiar with the organisation. We spoke about the challenges they face. It has been over a decade since the mostly-female workforce providing services in refuges and in the domestic violence sector have had a pay rise. In that time, landlords have had plenty of pay rises. The cost of living has skyrocketed. These workers need a joint labour committee, JLC. They are struggling to keep workers right across the board, but specifically in Dublin. These workers have built up a rapport and a relationship with the people they are helping. They need a JLC.

Time and time again, we see women, specifically those in one-parent families, left to bear the brunt of Government failures, particularly in housing. I want to read into the record an email I got from Steph, one of my constituents. She states:

Hi Louise I'm a single mother with 3 children ... my eviction date is May 1st i have tried since last September to find another house to rent in my location in swords but finding it so hard ... I'm on the council list 9 years. I have sent email upon email to different ... agencies but ... no reply back. My oldest Daughter is doing her leaving cert in June of this year and I'm worried this is going to affect her grades if we're are located in a homeless accommodation also i have sent in medical forms to the council since last October as my son has some additional needs to be told it will take 12 months ... To me this is not good enough. When I heard the eviction ban was to be lifted I cried with fear and worry ...

Perhaps the Minister might tell me what I can tell Steph. His fine words on International Women's Day ring very hollow when we see the impact of the Government's policies on real women whose lives are being destroyed, effectively, by the housing crisis.

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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Today is not only an opportunity to acknowledge the many inequalities that continue to exist for women in Ireland in 2023, but to commit to ending those inequalities. On days like today, I think in particular of places where women really come to the fore in our State. One example in this regard is caring. I am thinking here of family carers, home care workers and lone parents, who are predominately women. We have so much to do to support all of those women in the caring that they provide day in and day out, sometimes 24-7 in their own homes. We need to see better pay, terms and conditions for our home care workers to ensure that we have enough of them, and to end the recruitment and retention crisis that exists. We need a better deal for them. We need to support lone parents who continue to live in deep poverty, deprivation and at risk of poverty. We saw the Survey on Income and Living Conditions, SILC, data just two weeks ago, showing us that 43% of lone-parent families experience deprivation. This means that week to week they fail and struggle to meet the daily basics in their lives for them and their children. That is something that should be a matter of great shame to this Government. Likewise, family carers still cannot get access to a State pension at 66. They get reduced pensions or they have to look for a means-tested pension. It is not good enough and we need to move to support all of those women to the fore, particularly when it comes to caring.

On a positive note, today is also a day to acknowledge the many women in our lives who make them so wonderful. Primarily, these are the women who rear us and shape us to become the women we are today. I think in particular of my mother and of working mothers who sacrifice so much to get their children to where they are and the huge sacrifices they make. I think also of my nanny, who will shortly turn 91, and the huge hardship that her generation faced in rearing families to get them to where they are today.

It is important to pay tribute to those women in our lives today.

2:32 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Mar a dúirt me ar maidin, guím Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan sona ar gach éinne sa Teach. It is good to celebrate International Women's Day with these statements. It was good to celebrate with the women’s caucus earlier at the unveiling of statues of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in the hall of Leinster House. It is very good to hear that the Government intends to run the referendum on gender equality this autumn. I welcome that and thank the Minister for his kind remarks on the work of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality, which I was honoured to chair and which produced a report in December. Our report seeks the development of an action plan for the implementation of the 45 recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. I thank the Minister and other Ministers for their engagement with the committee. I thank the members of the committee who gave so much time on a cross-party basis and all the stakeholders, civil society groups, experts, NGOs and others who engaged with us, particularly the members of the citizens' assembly and those with lived experience of discrimination. We heard from many people during our hearings and found their testimonies extremely valuable.

The first three recommendations in our report and in that of the citizens' assembly relate to the constitutional change we are glad to see committed to in November. The strength of our report is we were able to devise and propose a precise wording for each of the referendums. The referendums would seek to do three things. First, they would insert express protection for gender equality in the Constitution in our equality guarantee, as well as for the principles of non-discrimination and equality generally. Second, they would delete the sexist and outdated language about women and mothers in Article 41 and replace it with a gender-neutral recognition of care. That is a hugely important and significant change which we must make. Third, we recommended the insertion of a more inclusive definition of "family", not limited to that based on marriage. We are hopeful and optimistic those changes will be put to the people in November, as the Government has said. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, for setting out the timeline and I look forward to working with colleagues of all parties and none on achieving that necessary constitutional change.

Such change is only the start of the work that needs to be done on gender equality. Our committee took the view that the 45 recommendations of the assembly, chaired so well by Catherine Day, represent a blueprint for achieving a gender-equal Ireland and need to be implemented in full. The report sets out an action plan addressing measures to be taken across an array of areas, particularly that of care. The Minister spoke of the changes made by Government on care and those are acknowledged but it is essential we move more swiftly to the publicly funded, affordable system of childcare the citizens' assembly asked us to implement. For too many women and men, lack of access to childcare and early years education is holding them and their children back. There is a failure to provide for an equal early years start for children. That needs to change. More generally, we recommended a national planning unit be implemented on care. We heard from caregivers and those receiving care about an absence of data and an absence of a structured framework for protection and valuing of care. The Taoiseach in response to a question I asked earlier referred to a care commission the Government proposes to set up later this year. Will the Minister say a little more about that? I am not sure whether that is a general commission on care to look at all facets from childcare and early years through to elder care.

We were cognisant in our report of the need to ensure equality for women in the workplace. I acknowledge the progress made on gender pay gap reporting. I am sorry the Government still has not introduced the reproductive health leave and early miscarriage leave we in Labour have been pressing for. Two years ago today, we introduced a reproductive health-related leave Bill that would have provided, for the first time, recognition of the need for leave for early miscarriage for women. I hope we see more progress on that.

We should acknowledge that the trade union movement originated International Women's Day when, in 1911, New York women garment workers went on strike demanding decent and safe work. Two years later in this jurisdiction, the Irish Women Workers Union struggled for basic pay and conditions in the 1913 Lock-out. The workplace is a key area where we need to see gender equality breakthroughs made.

There are other areas which need action. Today the Irish Cancer Society told us of the need to amend maternity protection law in order to ensure that women undergoing cancer treatment will not forfeit any maternity leave. That is an important workplace-related issue for women’s equality.

On domestic violence, I received confirmation from the Department of Justice yesterday that more than 4,700 reports were made to gardaí last year for breaches of protection orders and safety orders. We still lack the necessary refuge spaces for women. Women have been discriminated against in Irish society for far too long, including by means of incarceration in Magdalen institutions and mother and baby homes.

Importantly, other speakers indicated that this is an international struggle. Women’s rights have been trampled on in recent year in Afghanistan and in Iran, where women are mobilising admirably in the face of a brutal regime. We think of the women of Ukraine suffering so much under the brutal Russian invasion, as well as women in Yemen, Palestine and other jurisdictions.

Another aspect of the gender equality report we hope to see Government act on is women in politics. As our report says, until we achieve a representative democracy, our democracy will be unfinished. While in this House only 23% of Teachtaí Dála are women, we have not come near achieving the equal representation we so need. I recall the old suffragette slogan “Deeds not words”. Today on International Women's Day we need to see deeds and words, not just a commitment to a gender equality referendum but a commitment to extending the quota. Let us extend the quota from general elections to local and European elections. That would be a step toward achieving balanced representation in the Oireachtas.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan. I wish everybody in the Chamber a very happy International Women's Day. Today is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness of discrimination and drive gender parity. I pay tribute to my female colleagues in this Chamber and all the females who have gone before us. It is encouraging to see the number of women elected to the Dáil continue to grow and to see more women in ministerial positions and positions of leadership in political parties. I hope our presence will continue to encourage more young women to choose a career in politics. Having all voices and both perspectives represented at the decision-making table is vital.

From healthcare to business, education, social attitudes and the scourge of violence against women, there are a massive number of women’s issues we should shine a light on today and every day. No doubt they will all be represented in today’s debate. The theme of this year's International Women's Day celebration is “Embracing equity”. I was at the Lucan women’s network on Monday when they explored this theme and its meaning in reality. They found equity is about fairness and justice. Equality often means providing the same for all, whereas equity is about recognising that we do not all start from the same place. They had vibrant discussions around that and it was great to see that level of engagement about practical things that happen every day.

Having come from the corporate world into the Dáil, addressing gender equality in said world is something I am particularly passionate about. It is not about giving jobs to people who do not deserve them. Far from it. It is about equity and about recognising that, on many occasions, women do not start on a level playing field with their male counterparts. That is why I was delighted to have my Private Members' Bill to introduce gender quotas at boardroom level accepted by the Government on Second Stage. Earlier, I was pleased to hear that the Minister and the Taoiseach will be advancing gender balance in boardrooms in the coming year or two by means of quotas imposed through legislation. That is critical.

Education, childcare, pregnancy, maternity leave, confidence and imposter syndrome are barriers when it comes to advancing women's careers in the workplace. They can significantly hamper their trajectory to upper management and board-level positions too. The reality is that such an occurrence does not seem to impact on men in the same way as it impacts on women.

International research shows that gender quotas can and, indeed, do change the pattern of replacing like with like and getting more of the same on corporate boards, by giving women the opportunity to be considered and, in turn, that changes the culture at the very top. It gives women a voice at the decision-making table and generates a trickle-down effect benefitting women at all levels of all organisations. It also has the added benefit of creating female role models in business, of which we need more and more. Most companies, with some effort, will find there are women out there who are just as qualified, willing and able to serve on corporate boards, as their male counterparts. They will bring with them a level of different perspective, of diversity of thought and experience.

The importance of female role models in everyday life cannot be overstated. On that note, I wish to say that young girls in Ireland, growing up with dreams of becoming a footballer have excellent role models in the Irish women's national team. I was delighted to see that Vera Pauw was announced as the grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day, along with Diane Caldwell and former international, Paula Gorham. I thank them for the work they do to raise the profile of women in sport. I opened an AstroTurf pitch at St. Francis's football club in my area, which is out recruiting girls to join their team. Those girls are inspired by the Irish women's national football team.

There are too many key areas to focus on in the few minutes I have, but I will mention women's healthcare and access to services, because we need to do more in that area. We are making great strides, but we have to continue to deliver and we need to invest in menopause clinics, endometriosis supports, gynaecological care, free contraception and abortion care. When it comes to abortion, it is so important that we know and accept that there are still counties in which no abortion services are available. That needs to be addressed and changed. We know the reservation among many GPs in providing this service often stems from the fear of protests and intimidation from anti-choice groups, outside their practices. Safe access zone legislation needs to be enacted as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, there are still an awful lot of women who are leaving our country for abortions abroad. We, as a society and a country, voted to ensure that did not need to happen. I know the Minister for Health is considering a review of the legislation and I hope the review can be published as soon as possible. Since its formation, this Government has made clear that a priority for us is tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I commend the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Harris, on their work on this. While I welcome the intention to introduce paid domestic violence leave, it is vital this leave is paid at a higher rate and not at the rate of sick pay. This is not sick leave. It is a time for a person experiencing domestic violence and trauma to get out of an abusive relationship. It needs to be paid at a higher rate. I hope that will be considered.

I have raised early pregnancy loss leave in this Chamber on a number of occasions. I commend Deputy Bacik on everything she has done on this, because I know she had a Bill on it. I also commend Bank of Ireland on its range of brand new family matters policies. It has introduced early pregnancy loss, foster care, fertility and surrogacy leave and extended breastfeeding breaks. We need more companies to follow exactly what Bank of Ireland is doing.

I will mention the painting Her Surrender by Sinéad Guckian, who was here with us earlier today, which is displayed in Leinster House. It recaptures the famous 1916 Rising surrender photograph taken to include Elizabeth Farrell, the Irish nurse and member of Cumann na mBan, who was selected by Pádraig Pearse to deliver his surrender note in the Easter Rising. It is a powerful work that highlights the often-shadowed role of women in our history. I also welcome the unveiling today of busts of two trailblazing women and former Presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. It is great to see more women reflected on the walls around here and I hope there will be many more of them.

2:42 pm

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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On this, International Women's Day, I will dedicate this contribution to the extraordinary women I am lucky enough to know, that is, my mum, sisters, fiancé and friends who, every day, have to work much harder for equal recognition. I make special mention of my amazing sister, Anne, who raised a family and got a degree in business, with her youngest baby in tow in a baby sling, when there was no crèche or childminding facilities available. She has had to hold down a job and battle cancer. She is the most incredible inspiration to me. She has been the biggest and best influence in my life and the lives of so many others. I will also make special mention of the all-female team with which I work back in west Cork, in the Bandon and Clonakilty offices. I do not thank them enough and I need to show them more gratitude for the extraordinary work they do. The team deals with constituents on a daily basis, with dedication and compassion, and they are making a real difference for those constituents. They are helping some constituents who are in very tough and difficult situations, but the team is always there. Timothea, Lynda and Therese are extraordinary and we would all be lost without them.

We hear the same speeches and contributions every International Women's Day. We hear about the extraordinary achievements of women in Ireland and, yet, we are still miles away from true equality when it comes to women in society and the workplace. We are still, at least, a generation from fully closing the gender pay gap. That is borne out in the statistics. Amazingly, women hold only four of the CEO positions in the 36 publicly listed companies in Ireland. That figure is absolutely minuscule. There are still companies with all-male board members and, as was stated earlier, only 23% of the membership of this House is women. We have miles to go. International Women's Day cannot become a groundhog day, where we hear the same contributions. We need to put these words into action, because it is very simple: with women in leadership roles, the world is a much better place. The sooner we realise it and change that to make it a reality, the better for everyone in society.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I wish all women a happy International Women's Day. I take this opportunity to recognise the many achievements of women in all walks of life, from their role in politics, to their roles in sport, community activism and business. We regularly discuss how to encourage more women into electoral politics and it is essential the efforts to do so continue. Women are frequently the mainstay of community and voluntary organisations. That, in essence, is politics because they are making important decisions for their community. This needs to be recognised and women should take a step further and take their place on local councils and in politics at national level. Caring roles are predominantly held by women, whether that is childcare or taking care of the elderly or the sick. Efforts must continue to ensure these roles are shared, because that is often the reason women refuse to become involved in politics.

When referencing caring, I will take this opportunity to call for a review of the carer's allowance, both the means threshold and the need to increase the amount paid to reflect that for many, this is a full-time, 24-7 job. It is a job from which family carers get no statutory rights to holiday or sick pay, mandated breaks or any of the other rights and entitlements the rest of us enjoy. It is a full-time occupation which prevents them from following their own career dreams and ambitions. I commend all carers, but commendations do not pay the bills and they do not replace monetary recognition for the work carers do and the life put on hold every day.

As Sinn Féin spokesperson for disability, I highlight the fact that disabled people are discriminated against by society, but disabled women are discriminated against more so. Recent studies have found that 34% of women with a health problem or a disability have experienced physical or sexual partner violence. This is compared to 19% of women who do not have a health problem or disability. Recent research by the University of Galway found that disabled women are more likely to experience violence, with 40% of disabled female students reporting rape compared to 27% of non-disabled students. More needs to be done to address this very serious issue.

I especially remember all the women who are not here with us today as a result of being violently killed by a partner, a former partner or a stranger in the past year. I pay tribute to them and their families.

2:52 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day. We are talking about equality and equity for 50% of people. There are minority groups out there with whom we should be working and trying to deliver equality for. It is a poor reflection on society in general when almost 50% of the people in the world are continually struggling to get an equal place and an equal chance to flourish the way they should in society. An earlier speaker mentioned the portrait in the Seanad Chamber of Pádraig Pearse handing in his surrender note and how nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell was put back into that picture. She was painted out of that image in the past. So many women were painted out of history and, indeed, society for so long.

We think of the women in the Magdalen laundries. We think of the terrible scar that has been on Irish society for so long by how badly we treated women in our society and how much reparation we have to make in order to make that right and to change and move that forward. Last week I attended an event held by the Bar Council of Ireland where they were talking about equal opportunity for women barristers and women in the legal profession, probably one of the highest paid and highest educated sectors in our society. That is very valid and is certainly required. It struck me that equality for women should not just be for women who are well-educated and come from a middle-class background. Yes, it should be for them but it should also be for all women. It should be for women in lower social status who are struggling and finding it difficult to survive.

Last night we watched the programme on housing and how people were trying to get a home for themselves, including several single mothers at risk of ending up on the street because they cannot get access to housing. Some of them with children in tow go are having to couch surf with different family members around the country. This reflects how badly we have let down a whole section of our society, particularly women. When going forward from today, we must seek to make it better and to deliver on this because it is very much the unfinished revolution. More than 100 years ago, many women stood and fought for freedom for Ireland as well as for the freedom and emancipation of women in Ireland. Today, we have not delivered that and we have to redouble our efforts to ensure that happens.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I also wish everyone a happy International Women's Day. Although this annual session for International Women’s Day is a welcome chance to highlight the issues impacting girls and women, I have to wonder if I could just dust off last year’s speech and give it again. What has changed in the meantime? The Government’s announcement of the referendum on removing the constitutional reference to a woman’s place being in the home says it all. Is this the kind of great, meaningful act for International Women’s Day? It is incredible that this reference is still in our Constitution in 2023. The recommendation was made by the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality in April 2021, almost two years ago. While I welcome the referendum, its delay and its announcement today reeks of cynicism.

Can the Government claim for one second it is interested in the well-being of women and girls when, at the same time, it is ending the ban on evictions, the one policy stopping many one-parent families from becoming homeless? We know they are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Despite making up just 20% of families in Ireland, one-parent families make up more than 55% of homeless families. In the vast majority of those one-parent families, women are the sole parent. During the week of International Women’s Day, the Government is opening up the floodgates for them and other families to become homeless.

I do not know if it is more hypocritical or callous, but I know there are hundreds of women and girls who will be worse off this week because of the Government. Here are some of the measures the Government could announce for International Women’s Day. It could include a properly resourced strategy to tackle gender-based violence. Gardaí responded to almost 54,000 domestic abuse incidents last year, yet the State provides less than one third of the necessary refuge spaces. The Government’s proposed domestic violence leave is half of the international standard. Sexual, relationship, and consent education is antiquated, and the Minister for Education has basically said it is optional, letting young people learn about sex and relationships online rather than training and resourcing teachers and schools to do this.

The Government could prioritise women’s and girl's healthcare. There is a common thread in many of the health issues I have to raise in this House, including the under-resourcing and lack of even basic respect for women’s health rights. Treatments for menopause are still inadequate. The levels of information and support are very poor, and there are still shortages of HRT medication. Women suffering hyperemesis also face considerable barriers in accessing medicines to relieve the chronic conditions. Free contraception for women should mean that pharmacists should be able to supply oral contraceptives without the need for a GP prescription. In addition, the HSE’s attempt to massively restrict home births is still a distinct possibility. All of these things are connected. The State still does not understand or properly support women’s healthcare.

Another measure the Minister could announce today - the most decent thing he could do on International Women’s Day - is to give justice to all survivors of mother and baby homes and illegal adoptions. The horrific and criminal treatment of girls and women at the hands of the church and State in these institutions is unimaginable. Survivors deserve justice. The public are behind them. The Government’s redress scheme intentionally excludes whole categories of survivors, arbitrarily deciding that their suffering and human rights violations do not merit any kind of reparation. I am using this opportunity to again ask the Minister to do the right thing. The redress Bill will be going through the Seanad soon, so there is still time to listen to survivors, human rights experts and the general public and to expand the scheme to include all survivors.

Finally, if the Minister is serious about the announcement of the referendum replacing the reference to a woman’s place being in the home, what material difference will that make in terms of women being in the home? I welcome the symbolic importance, but what impact will it actually have on families, because in the middle of a housing crisis with increasing bills, that is what ordinary people will be asking. The reality of the matter is that this section of the Constitution is pretty accurate. Our State, social and healthcare services are based on the assumption that there is a woman at home full time. In each of these areas - childcare, disability services, caring for older parents - the State only provides a fraction of the support required. There are considerable staff shortages, social and healthcare professionals are emigrating or moving to other professions. Of course, men fulfil some caring roles, but let us be honest, we all know these obligations mainly fall on women. Childcare is an obvious example. For years, exorbitant costs have meant it was more economic for one parent to stop working. In the vast majority of cases, this is the mother. For some women that is their choice. It should always be a choice, not a decision forced on them by Government failure. Childcare is symptomatic of the larger issue. The de facto Government policy for decades has been to base social and healthcare policy off the idea of a woman being in the home. Changing the Constitution might look good, but what actual difference will it make? I actually do not think it looks that good to announce it with great fanfare in 2023. It is embarrassing that it is still in our Constitution. What we need to prevent women from being in the home, and not holding them back in terms of their career, is a massive, radical change in how public services are delivered. Our health and social services need proper investments in staffing.

4 o’clock

This will not only help the people directly involved but will also help to relieve the massive pressure on women and men providing care.

International Women's Day is a day of celebration but it is also a day of extreme frustration, protest and activism. In 365 days' time, I imagine I will be standing before the House again on International Women's Day 2024 and the chances are I will be bringing up the same points as I have today because little or no action will have been taken. I look forward to a time in this country when issues such as domestic violence, women's healthcare and justice for survivors are not treated as fringe and tokenistic but as urgent and essential.

3:02 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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It is lovely to see a woman, Deputy Verona Murphy, in the Chair for this debate. I wish her and everybody in the House a happy International Women's Day. I also acknowledge one of the male parliamentarians in these Houses, Senator Mark Daly. Today sees the historic unveiling of busts of two trailblazers in this country, former Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. I have sat on the paintings and portraits committee for the past two and a half years with Senator Mark Daly and he has been forging the way for female representation around the walls of these corridors of power, ensuring we are represented, looking at our history and ensuring it continues. I thank him for that.

I am going to use my speaking time to talk about domestic violence and I will bring it back to my constituency. However, I also acknowledge the work of Ms Mary McDermott of Safe Ireland, who I am sure has knocked on the Minister's door many times. I particularly acknowledge her publication of Safe Place: Designing Centres for Domestic Violence Prevention and Response. Ms McDermott thinks with her heart as much as her head. She is very passionate about these issues. She has done an enormous amount of work. There are nine counties across this country that still do not have a safe haven for women who find themselves in those situations. There is a blueprint we can all follow in Safe Ireland's Safe Place publication.

The programme for Government acknowledged that there is an epidemic in domestic, homophobic and gender-based violence. I believe there needs to be a more integrated approach to combating domestic violence. The programme for Government is committed to the development of a domestic violence prevention strategy. We need to ensure that the response results in an integrated approach to combat domestic violence rather than compartmentalising it in different parts of the State. We also need to ensure that sufficient funding is available to maintain or establish domestic violence shelters or homes in every county so that women, their children and families will have an option of available and safe accommodation when they are exposed to domestic violence. At present, there are only 140 emergency beds across the country. I believe we should have at least 400 beds and that our local authorities should work with service providers to provide accommodation, and particularly in the nine counties where there are no shelters.

I acknowledge and commend the work of the Garda, which plays a central role in combating violence against women, particularly domestic violence. The divisional protective service units with the Garda should be fully resourced and trained to combat the crime of domestic violence. Increased visibility of gardaí in policing certain criminal activities has a strong deterrent effect and we should take the same approach in policing domestic violence across our country.

As the Minister is aware, I have campaigned since I arrived in the Dáil for services and protection for women across the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. The Department and Tusla have agreed to make available a number of beds and to provide the necessary funding.

I acknowledge the work of a team I have pulled together on this issue. I acknowledge the work they have done and their commitment to providing and delivering services across Cavan and Monaghan. I thank Mr. Aidan O'Reilly and Ms Deirdre Snoek from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Ms Joan Mullan from Tusla; Ms Mary McDermott, CEO of Safe Ireland; Ms Siobhán McKenna from Tearmann domestic violence services in Monaghan, who has done Trojan work for the past two decades or more to protect women and provide them with a service and safe place to go. I also thank the chief superintendent in Cavan-Monaghan and the Louth Garda division, Alan McGovern; Garda inspector Niall McKiernan; and, of course, our housing authority directors of services, Mr. Niall O'Connor at Monaghan County Council and Ms Bridie McBrearty at Cavan County Council; and Ms Valerie Everard of Tusla, who is also the lead person around this issue in the Cavan-Monaghan area. They have been hugely committed. We have met on regular occasions. I believe we can deliver on providing safe havens for women.

Sadly, and not unlike many other counties, we have had horrendous and horrific cases of violence against women and children, some of which have been fatal. I wish to ensure that in the near future, by which I mean the coming months and not five or ten years, because it is needed now more than ever, we have such a service. I know that both Cavan and Monaghan County Councils are committed. They have been looking for sites which have now been identified. Through the team comprising me, Tusla and Safe Ireland, we can do that work.

I thank the Minister for the work he has done in this area because I know he has been committed to it. I ask him to put his full weight and support behind delivering that service across counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the confirmation given by the Taoiseach and the Minister today that we will hold a referendum on gender equality in November of this year. It is fitting that such an announcement will finally give us the opportunity to remove the references to women in the home in our Constitution. I commend the work of the citizens' assembly on the issue and, indeed, the Joint Committee on Gender Equality for the considerable work it has put in on these matters.

Of course, one referendum or a series of referendums will not provide the silver bullet for achieving gender equality in Ireland. I welcome the work that has been done to date by the Government, including the advancements in gender pay gap reporting, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill and progress achieved under the women's health action plan. However, as I am sure we would all agree, there remains more work to do to ensure that our country supports women in a range of ways.

Domestic violence leaves a deep and enduring mark on the women subjected to it and on our country. For many years, it was swept under the rug. I am pleased that we are putting ever more resources and efforts into stamping out this scourge on our society. The publication of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence builds on the progress of previous strategies and sets a pathway forward. We must, however, ensure that adequate resources are given to service providers and women affected by this type of violence. My colleagues have spoken about refuges around the country, which are, of course, imperative. Our response should include an expansion of current refuge spaces, stronger sentencing laws for offenders and the introduction of paid domestic and sexual violence leave.

The voice of women is irreplaceable, and while we have much to do here at home to ensure equal access to jobs, healthcare and more, we must also be a champion for women's rights internationally. Any country that in 2023 still denies basic rights to women should be held accountable for those decisions. In recent years, Ireland has developed a reputation for democratic and social progress. We have built a strong standing within the United Nations and the European Union. I believe that we should use our position in these institutions to be the voice of the many around the world who have been denied the right to speak out by their own Governments.

As I speak today, I think of all the women who have overcome gender bias and discrimination over the many years of this State, rising to become business leaders, political leaders and community leaders, all of whom have made this country stronger. I am also minded of the countless women who were silenced and felt they were not supported by their State, and who died at the hands of their partners.

It is right that we mark International Women’s Day but we must recommit ourselves to ensuring that we strive every day in these Houses of the Oireachtas to improve the lives of every woman and girl in Ireland, and that we work to deliver real and substantial progress for women in Ireland. We will be the richer for it.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight the incredibly difficult and misogynistic world in which the women of the Oireachtas live and work. Their exposure to special treatment at the hands of nameless, faceless keyboard warriors is a disgusting sight to behold. Regrettably, however, some of those nameless, faceless warriors manifest themselves in constituency offices and public meetings around the country.

As a man, I take this opportunity to call out such behaviour and demand that it stop. The women of Ireland, our mothers, sisters and daughters, represent more than 50% of the Irish population. It is therefore fitting that we have a legal requirement to ensure a higher bar for the representation of women in elections, 40%, at the next election. I look forward to seeing more women in politics at every election in the years to come. If the young women and girls of Ireland cannot see it, how can they aspire to be it? Happy International Women's Day.

3:12 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I will share with Deputy Ward. I am incredibly happy to speak here on International Women's Day as a woman and a Deputy. I wish everybody, all the women and all the people who love women, a very happy International Women's Day. As a Sinn Féin Deputy, I am very much committed to the egalitarian and republican values of equality, liberty and, for the day that is in it, sorority. I wish the international sisterhood, especially those in Ukraine, Palestine, Syria, Türkiye and Afghanistan, a very happy International Women's Day and encourage them to keep the faith. As a member of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality, I am really proud of the contribution of Sinn Féin members and of the recommendations of our final report. These included the recommendation that ten days' domestic violence leave be provided to women who seek it, which is in line with Bills brought forward by my comrades, an Teachta O'Reilly and uachtarán Shinn Féin, an Teachta McDonald.

I very much welcome last evening's announcement of the forthcoming referendum in November on women's place in the home. After spending yesterday on the phone trying to console terrified women who were crying their eyes out after the shameful decision by a shameless Government to get rid of the eviction ban, I will note that we also need a referendum on women's right to have a home. We need that quicksmart.

As a republican, it is important to me that International Women's Day not be about privileged women recognising and admiring the privilege in each other but about extending opportunity to all women. It must be about extending opportunity to women from all socioeconomic backgrounds, women of all colours, women of all creeds and none, women with disabilities, Traveller women, migrant women, younger women and older women not only in politics, but in public life more generally. For example, in the media we really need to hear accents and voices beyond the usual social suspects we hear on the Sunday morning radio shows.

I was in Maynooth University in my hometown on Monday to celebrate that we now have six, and soon to be seven, women presidents of Irish universities and I was struck by how many of them came from working class backgrounds. Their message was that equality of educational opportunity can help us unlock the potential in ourselves and, therefore, in society. While this is true to an extent, your level of intelligence, whether you have an intellectual disability or your ability to raise funds to avail of third level education should not be the decider. Being born in a republic should automatically provide you with that.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Domestic violence is paramount in people's thoughts on International Women's Day every year and, sadly, this year is no different. I always find that a really sad reflection on Irish society. As leaders, Deputies in this House have a responsibility to do everything possible to end violence directed towards women and girls. When a woman comes forward after surviving an incident of domestic abuse, she is entitled to and deserves to be heard and fully supported. That is why it was so disappointing to hear the Minister, with the full support of his Cabinet colleagues, including the prescribed pay provision for domestic violence paid leave. He previously stated his intent to cut victims' pay by up to 30% when taking domestic violence leave, bringing the entitlement in line with sick pay. It is totally inappropriate to align domestic leave with sick pay. Domestic violence is not and should not be a normal occurrence in life nor should political leaders accept it as such. The retention of normal rates of pay for victims is also in line with international best practice, where this type of leave is well established. When in the Seanad recently, the Minister stressed that he had no intention of bringing forward a rate that would in any way undermine what he is trying to achieve with this legislation. We await his regulations setting out the rate of prescribed pay for domestic violence leave. I call on him to clarify what the rate of pay will be, when the regulations will be finalised and when this leave will be put in place.

In the brief time I have left to speak on International Women's Day, I take the opportunity to welcome the decision of the national body, Women's Collective Ireland, to base its head offices in north Clondalkin. Women's Collective Ireland supports grassroots women through women's community development locally and nationally. In addition to the head office being in my area, we also have the benefit of three local projects, the women's collectives in Ronanstown, Lucan and Liffey Valley, which have become an invaluable resource to women in my area. I thank the collectives for the tireless work they do in my community.

This morning, I attended the launch of two Mental Health Reform reports, one on women's experience of mental health and another on the impact of menopause on mental health. It was a really good launch and the work Mental Health Reform does for women's rights should be commended.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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What I find fascinating is that this debate marking International Women's Day is taking place in a Parliament that, for me and most people here, is dominated by a decision taken yesterday by Government to basically tell women that it will split their head and give them a plaster. Yesterday, we lifted the eviction ban and today we say "Solidarity with sisters on International Women's Day." Those on the other side of the House have no idea of the sort of misery, fear, stress and pain that decision has created for thousands of women.

Housing is a feminist issue but it is not the only challenge women in this country face. There is a great deal of unfinished business and women should no longer have to wait. As one of our colleagues just mentioned, the reduction of domestic leave pay is another stain on the record of this Government and another indication of splitting the head and giving a plaster. We still have restricted access to abortion and far fewer rights to abortion than we fought for in the repeal campaign. Only nine out of 19 hospitals offer full abortion services. The rest do not. The post-repeal legislation requires that people seeking abortion go through a three-day waiting period. This is insulting and causes unnecessary delay and stress. Abortion is still a criminal offence carrying a sentence of up to 14 years. There is a 12-week limit on access to abortion and a 28-day limit with regard to a doctor's decision to carry out an abortion based on the fatal foetal anomaly clause. This has meant that, since the legislation was introduced post repeal, more than 700 women have had to travel to access abortion care. We in People Before Profit have brought a Bill before the House, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Amendment) Bill 2023. There has been an unacceptable delay in the production of the review of the legislation, which the Act requires to have taken place within three years. Our Bill would address all of those issues.

One year after the murder of Ashling Murphy, the worst year for femicide in this country, we are still no closer to meeting our targets for refuge spaces under the Istanbul Convention, which requires us to have 512 spaces. Shockingly, in 2021, 62% of requests for refuge were turned down because there were no spaces. Ireland needs to treble the number of refuge spaces and campaigns across the country have attempted to push this Government to do so. For example, our councillor in Carlow, Adrienne Wallace, has been campaigning for a refuge in that county, which is one of nine counties without any refuge spaces. At a council meeting last November, she was told that designs are in planning and are progressing. However, in the response to a recent parliamentary question, Deputy Paul Murphy was told by the Minister for Justice that only 24 refuge places would be provided in 2024, they have all been delayed and none of them will be in any of the nine counties that do not currently have a refuge, which include Carlow. Despite public commitments given by Deputy McEntee in 2022, Carlow will not have any refuge spaces and Councillor Wallace and her pals will have to take to the streets again. In my constituency, Councillor Hazel De Nortúin-----

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I will give the Deputy correct information.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----has campaigned for the promise of a domestic violence liaison officer. She got a motion past the city council but we still do not have a domestic violence liaison officer appointed to Dublin City Council, although we are promised funding for research into why there is such a high level of domestic violence in places like Cherry Orchard.

Honestly, we do not want any more press releases and we do not want any more promises. Women cannot wait. We need action now.

The oppression of Irish women goes back to the pervasive role of the Catholic Church in this country in collusion with the State, and the cruel enslavement of women in the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries are testament to that. We still have hospitals where religion still pulls the strings, including the new national maternity hospital, and 90% of our Catholic schools still have Catholic patronage. Many of these schools do not provide the required relationships and sexual education. That is a huge issue we have to look at.

There is the gender pay gap. We all know this system globally gets women to do the work on the cheap. That provides the next generation of workers and looks after all the care in the family home.

3:22 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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The Deputy is in her colleague's time.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It means the system of capitalism can continue to gouge for profit. I want to say, finally-----

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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The Deputy is way over time.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----solidarity to women everywhere, especially to the women of Iran.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I send International Women's Day greetings to all who are struggling for women's rights worldwide, including those who are putting their lives on the line in doing so in places such as Iran.

Here in this county the Government is heralding a constitutional referendum on women in the home in the same week it decides to lift the eviction ban, thus ensuring thousands of women will not have a home. Domestic violence shelters are reporting significant amounts of readmissions. The housing crisis means women frequently have little option but to return to their abuser, leading to a higher amount of repeat admissions and continued trauma.

The Central Statistics Office tells us 83% of sexual offences involved a suspect known to the victim, 21% were a friend or acquaintance, 16% were blood relatives, 15% were partners or ex-partners, and 17% were strangers. This runs directly contrary to the narrative being perpetrated by the far right about where the threat comes from for women. Hiding the fact that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are known to the victim is dangerous to victims and is dangerous for refugees on whom they seek to blame this pandemic of gender-based violence. Anyone can be a perpetrator, regardless of nationality. Far-right organisers have campaigned against abortion, marriage equality and divorce. They only care about this issue when they can try to spin it for their own ends.

I do not have time for my final point. I will only say that it should be ten, not five, days' domestic violence leave and 100% pay with no cut. Long live International Women's Day.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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Deputy Murnane O'Connor is sharing time with Deputy McGuinness.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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As women, we sometimes look at the movies and the media or society that focuses on marital or romantic relationships as the only support. The focus should be on friendship and social interaction which can provide us with support when we need it. Everybody needs a good friend and I am so lucky to be surrounded by strong women in Leinster House. It is the same in County Carlow. I have a lot of women who inspire me every day.

Today, for example, a new women's centre, the only one in Ireland, was opened by my good friend, Ms Annette Fox, from Carlow County Development Partnership. This centre in Carlow is where new friendships and support will thrive. It is a centre for women to learn, create, chat, train and be their best selves. It is so important today we recognise Carlow is the only place that has this women's centre. I did not hear others speak about that. I am very disappointed.

I always say everyone needs to work together. As women today, on International Women's Day, and every day, we need to work together to look out for each other, support each other and hold each other up. I join Selena Gomez in saying we should be kinder in everything we do, in real life and online, in work and in our free time.

Today, I also joined the South East Technological University Carlow students to talk about women facing challenges in political life to mark International Women's Day. I also joined the Carlow local enterprise office and its green panel with women and men from all over the south east. I also spoke to those working hard to secure a women's refuge for Carlow. Even KCLR covered the Carlow women's centre today. Carlow Women's Aid was interviewed and said it was very happy with the progress that was being made with the refuge for Carlow. That is important. Carlow's Women's Aid is very happy. As the Members all know, this is a passion project of mine and something I have been working on with very dedicated people. We have worked very hard on this.

It needs to be highlighted that Carlow County Council with Focus Ireland and Carlow's Women's Aid has four safe houses operational right now as family units for short-term temporary support accommodation. The units are available to families escaping domestic violence or families who are very vulnerable. This is part of the progress we have made. They also recently commenced eight own-front-door units purchased through the capital assistance scheme, CAS, by Kilkenny Voluntary Housing Association. These units will be available to families on a short-term basis and I thank the local authority and the committee for this valuable work that is being done.

A women's refuge is vital for Carlow and we have plans for 2023 already. We have had two meetings with the Department. We have had several meetings with Tusla and the stakeholders for domestic violence provision. An advisory group like a task force has been set up. Tusla has appointed an external consultant for Carlow. I have suggested a site. Stakeholders have been working on a framework for development and a series of meetings are planned for the next few weeks. There is a lot of work being done for Carlow's women's refuge. That is so important.

This summer, we will have a firm plan to bring a refuge to Carlow. This plan is vital. We are not talking about a building but about the wraparound services. This is what is being done. Already, we have the wraparound services, Carlow's Women's Aid, Amber, Focus Ireland, the Kilkenny Voluntary Housing Association, the HSE, Tusla, An Garda Síochána, Barnardos and family resource centres, including St. Catherine's.

No vulnerable family in Carlow should ever not feel supported, whether it is through Carlow County Council or any services. My door is always open.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I compliment the team who are working to get this work done. They did not go to newspapers and publicise things. We are doing the work in the background and moving it as quickly as we can with the Department. That is what we are doing as a group.

I am delighted to be working with all the different agencies to get this women's refuge through as quickly as possible.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Deputy should tell the Minister for Justice.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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As we mark International Women's Day, it is critically important we ensure significant and meaningful female participation at every level of society. I call on all women to look at politics. First and foremost here, I call on all women here in this Chamber to work together for a women's refuge, not go to newspapers and not make it political, and instead make sure as a team we are stronger. I am calling for this today. It does not matter what party you represent in government or out of government or that you will hold a rally or do this or that. You should get with the group, work with us and make sure that we deliver this. We are meeting with the Departments. We are meeting with the Ministers. We are doing our best to get this women's refuge for Carlow as soon as possible.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I support Deputy Murnane O'Connor in her efforts on behalf of women and the supports they need in County Carlow. I also wish all women best wishes on this International Women's Day and encourage as many as possible to consider a life in politics, whether it be local or national.

I want to reflect on the State itself. What record can we point to in the context of the State - Ireland versus the people? Let us look at the Grace case. We debated it at length in the House and it was said by the Ceann Comhairle that, because of its importance, we should have a further debate and monitor the action being taken. Disgracefully, the Government and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, have given a further 12 months to the Farrelly commission. This is ongoing in terms of what has been done since 2016. There have been many interim reports but there are those within the services beyond the HSE who stand accused of neglect in the case of Grace and the 47 others.

Treating Grace, who has no voice, and those who were with her in care in this way is a disgrace, and that is a reflection on the Government.

On this day, I remember Lucia O'Farrell, whose son – a young man with his future in front of him – was murdered on the road. She was promised all sorts of support in terms of an inquiry. The report is yet to be presented in full to the Cabinet or to be made public. I ask the Minister to make it public and to ensure the public inquiry that was voted for and committed to by the majority of Members of this House is put in place. It is harrowing for Lucia O'Farrell to hear this case being mentioned time and again. It is harrowing for all women to look on and see the Grace case not being dealt with either just because there is no voice on her behalf.

I refer to Finola Cassidy, who has campaigned long and hard on behalf of thalidomide victims. She has been misled by the State and poorly treated by successive governments.

The late Vicky Phelan, a wonderful person, has been mentioned. All sorts of commitments were made that what happened to her would never happen again, but has anyone in the Department of Health tried to find out how many women, and indeed men, are involved in the latest scandal where the lab at University Hospital Waterford has not processed what the consultants estimate to be 6,000 cases? They have been waiting since the middle of last year for the outcome of biopsies. Is this the way the State will treat women? Is this the way the State will live up to its promise to the late Vicky Phelan that this would never happen again?

What about the mothers of all those who are trying to access disability services and child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS? The length of time their children have to wait is an utter disgrace. There are few if any services being made available to them. They have to queue for services that may be delivered in years to come, and there is no understanding of the devastation this is causing families and the individuals who need those supports. This is another group of women being badly treated by the State.

The eviction ban should not have been lifted. Certain modifications should be made to it and it should be put back in place. Today, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach heard that seven out of every ten mortgages that were in difficulty were held by vulture funds. Everything the banks are doing in this regard has a major impact on families, for example, missed opportunities and arguments about the home and the future. It is reprehensible we would not have sought the input of the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, to inform our understanding of what the eviction ban meant.

If we want to pay tribute to women in Irish society for what they do, let us fund without question the Amber refuge service in Kilkenny. Fund MABS so that it does not have to worry about its contract ending at the end of 2023. Take MABS off the waiting list and do something positive for it. The same could be said of FLAC. Pay tribute to all of the work it does and give it all of the funding and recognition it deserves. Words mean nothing. Action is required. In the cases I have mentioned, though, I am afraid that the Government has fallen well short of the action that is required to address them. Shame on it.

3:32 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Next are Deputies Quinlivan and Gould, who are sharing time.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I wish everyone a happy International Women's Day, especially my wife, Sue, my mother, my sisters and Danielle O'Shea in my constituency office, who does incredible work behind the scenes.

Speaking today is particularly poignant for me, as I remember our dear friend and comrade, Rita O'Hare. Rita was the epitome of a good comrade and determined activist. Throughout her life and in whatever task was put before her, she worked hard and diligently. In her work in the United States, she held the room with presidents, secretaries of state, taoisigh and prime ministers. I worked closely with her for three years in Sinn Féin and it was an honour to do so. I think of her today on International Women's Day.

The battle for gender equality has been a hard-fought one through the generations and it is one that continues today, but in some spheres, great progress has been made. Not so many years ago, it would have been difficult to envisage a day when three of the political parties in this Chamber were led by women. It is something that, in our time, we see as unremarkable. People reach these positions on their merit and based on their hard work. Not so long ago, though, it would have been unimaginable for many. That is a measure of progress, and long may it continue, but there remain many areas where progress needs to be made.

I welcome the domestic violence leave Bill and the confirmation that victims will be allowed paid leave. I commend Women's Aid, the National Women's Council and trade unions, which have been advocating for survivors to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose. Not only is this the correct thing to do for victims, but it will raise awareness of the issue. Along with my colleague, Deputy McDonald, we introduced a Bill in 2019 on domestic violence leave. I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, who reintroduced the Bill, on her tireless work on the issue over the years. Looking at the statistics, there can be no doubt domestic violence remains a serious threat to people. However, the Government's legislation will put victims at risk. It needs to be strengthened to ensure victims are protected. As Women's Aid has highlighted, maintaining normal rates of pay for victims who avail of domestic violence leave is in line with international best practice, where this type of leave is well established.

In my home city of Limerick, figures provided to me show that the number of women categorised as the "injured party" of a domestic abuse incident has risen year on year. In 2016, the figure was 165. By 2019, it had risen to 245. Domestic violence is not normal and should never be normalised. It is an attack in the place one should feel safest, that being, the home. It is an attack by one with whom a person should feel safest.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I wish my wife, my daughters, my sister and all my female family members the best today on International Women's Day. Unfortunately, my mother passed away 30 years ago last weekend, but she left a great legacy for my family and me. It shows what strong and great women can do.

I send my support to the LGBTQI+ community, in particular trans women. Trans rights are human rights. There are no ifs or buts about it.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am proud to be a member of a party and a movement that have been built on the shoulders of strong and committed women. Yesterday, we said our goodbyes to one of these women. Rita O'Hare personified what it was to be a republican. She was an inspirational leader, a driving force and a role model for our future generations. I am proud the republican movement has been built by, and been a home to, women like Rita O'Hare, Rose Dugdale, Margaret Buckley, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Countess Markievicz, Mairéad Farrell and many more. These are women whose stories have pushed me and many others. Their sacrifice has given republicans a legacy, and their legacy lives on in this Dáil. I am proud we are the first Opposition party to be led by a woman. Deputy McDonald is a proud republican, as her heroes before her were. Future leaders, future role models and future republican girls who sit at home right now and watch Deputy McDonald are inspired by her. I hope we build an Ireland where these girls are safe to reach for their dreams and are given the opportunity to reach their potential.

Violence against women is a scourge on our society and has robbed too many future generations of their female heroes. It has robbed too many women of their chance. We must fight against it and create a society where women and girls are given every opportunity. We have come this far, but we have much further to go.

3:42 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I am delighted to be in this Chamber for a third International Women's Day. It is a huge privilege to be in a position to speak for women. This morning I began my day by visiting Wygram Nursing Home in Wexford. There were probably 30 women there aged from 75 to the great old age of 98 who were delighted to see me and I was delighted to see them. All too often on International Women's Day, and every other day, we lose touch with that age group when they go to a nursing home. They were all delighted with their care. They told me they were receiving wonderful care. They had wonderful entertainment. We had a sing-song. I asked them all where they were from and where they had been. Many had travelled to different parts of the world. Many had worked in the UK and other places and come back to Ireland. They are an inspiration. They are the people to tell us what their lives were like and how far we have come. I was there for an hour. I would have spent the day there but I had another engagement at the other end of the spectrum.

I went to Coláiste Bríde in Enniscorthy which is an all-girls schools that had invited me to speak to the pupils on the occasion of International Women's Day. I thought I was to only speak until I received a document by email which was a list of questions I was to be asked in 35 minutes. The document was called Embrace Equity. That is the name of their campaign. It states the aim of the #embraceequity campaign is to get the world talking about why equal opportunities are not enough; that equality is the goal and equity is the means by which to get there; that people start from different places so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. That is brilliant from the age group of 13 to 17. I will give the House a flavour of some of the questions I was asked in the school where I spoke to the pupils for an hour. The selection of questions I was asked included whether I think girls are losing interest in politics. The second question was about the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who both resigned their positions recently. I was asked whether I think this is because it is becoming harder for women to fulfil these roles. My honest opinion is that I do not think it is becoming harder. We have to put up with a lot, not based on our gender, but because we are politicians. Women in particular know when their time is up and when what they have to offer has been given and when they deserve to take their lives back and go down another route because they do not see they have more to give. These are two great women who I admire greatly and who gave much to the political world.

We have women in this Chamber who have given their lives to politics, such as the two ladies who recently retired from the co-leadership of the Social Democrats. They have given their lives to politics at local level and as Deputies. They are to be commended. I am not sure there is a lifelong future for anyone who enters politics given the rise of social media, unless we get a grip on it. I answered the young girls honestly. Another question was on whether politics is male-dominated and how women are treated by their male colleagues and counterparts. I answered honestly. The truth is that not all males are very nice. Sometimes they sit beside you in studios and different places and pretend to be your best friend and that they would not offend anyone, but the truth is that we have a mindset that sets us against one another. We need to change that.

There is no need for young girls to worry about how they are treated by men. They must change their own perception of how they need to be in leadership roles. They can absolutely enter politics without fear or favour. The mindset should be that people know whether they can or cannot. That is how I live most of my life. If you want something and you can see it, you can be it. It is up to us to set the agenda and show we are capable and many of us do that. That does not mean we have to put up with everything that comes our way.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation in the audiovisual room given by young carers and young adult carers and I was moved to tears. For almost an hour I listened to four young people as young as 13 years of age up to one young man who was 19. They spoke about how they take care of their siblings who are profoundly disabled or profoundly autistic or their parents who were in need of care and completely disabled, while they attended school, did the housework, made the dinner, worked at weekends and attended college, all without support. That is one of things that most resonates with me on International Women's Day. We must ensure our children have the childhood they deserve and if there are complications we should support them, not ignore them as though they are someone else's problem. When there is a difficulty in a family and a child needs a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant in a way that is not normal, we should have the capacity to make an exception. When children have mobile phones in school because their mother has had a heart operation, teachers should understand that is why they have the mobile phones and not take it from them reducing them to tears. We must be educated about what it means to be a child under pressure without support. If we do not understand, we will fail not only as women, but as politicians.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and wish her and all female Members of this House a happy International Women's Day. I wish a happy International Women's Day to my wife Maeve, my mother Irene, my little girl Eve, who is at home, my sisters and especially to Mary and Sonia who are in my office. They tell me they always have the television on the Dáil channel. I do not fully believe them, but they are mighty workers. They do much in the constituency of Clare to support and help vulnerable, marginalised people and I greatly appreciate what they do. I will also pay tribute to our Leas-Cheann Comhairle who is in the Chamber this afternoon. We are proud of the role she has in these Houses and of the job she does. She probably will not hear me now. There has been some speculation in the bar some evenings that she might be a candidate for the Áras next time around. Who knows? I wish everyone a Happy International Women's Day.

I want to correct the Dáíl record. Today, 8 March, might be International Women's Day but the Dáil record lasts in perpetuity and it must be accurate. I want to correct something Deputy Gould said a moment ago. Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Countess Markiewicz and Margaret Pearse were all founding members and matriarchs of the Fianna Fáil Party. They were fantastic women. I would not dispute anything he said about their attributes, their wonderful CVs and all they did for the republican movement in Ireland, but it must be stated on the record - as a few people try to rewrite history every day for their own gain - that those women were founding members of Fianna Fáil. We on the Fianna Fáíl side of this House are hugely proud of the role they played in the past and of the legacy they left that we continue to espouse.

I will touch on a few matters in my speech, the first of which is women in sport. I recognise it is an aim and objective of the current programme for Government. In his tenure as Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Chambers, doggedly pursued the requirement for sporting bodies to have up to 40% of their board populated by female representatives. I am glad he led that but much more needs to happen. I was a primary school teacher before becoming a Deputy and I saw many fabulous athletes wearing the blue and white of Parteen. A few years later when they reached the adolescent or teenage years I would bump into them in the local shop and ask how the gaelic football or camogie was going only to hear they had packed it in and that their boots were hanging in the attic. The strategy for female participation in sport should not always be focused on the top end, preparing our Olympians, county level teams and international teams. It must start with the age cohort from 11 to 16 years old who are every bit as good as the boys and give it socks on the sports pitch.

Yet there is something about the adolescent teenage years that means they withdraw from it and opt out of sports. Sport is fabulous for many reasons. Even from a health point of view alone, participation should be encouraged.

With regard to women in agriculture, earlier I was at a meeting with the IFA in the audiovisual room. It is a sector where we see a lack of women. The more that can be done by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, in this regard, the better.

Some Members addressed the issue of lone parents. It is a recurring theme in my office. I am sure most Deputies can relate to it. Not a week goes by without a single mother coming to my office to say she is struggling to make the rent, pay various contributions in school, buy schoolbooks and clothe her children. That is before we get to bills and keeping a car on the road. It is simply too much for many people, and they are struggling. We need to have an honest debate - there has not been such a debate for a long time - on maintenance payments in circumstances where families are estranged. There is also the male side of it. Then often tell me they cannot get to see their children any more because they have fallen behind in their payments. The children are used in the middle and everyone loses. The State needs to represent women better in this scenario. It must also ensure that fathers are not estranged from their children. It is a debate that needs to happen. We have citizens' assemblies and we do work on many issues. The ramifications of family separation, in particular for young people, is something we need to look at.

I want to address the war situation in Ukraine. A man living just a few kilometres across the city, Ambassador Filatov, has some cheek to still be here in Ireland. We need to call this out more and more in the Houses. The ambassador represents a Government, and I am not saying the Russian people because there are many fine Russian people who are standing up against the Government of their country. The current Russian Government is a tool of thuggery. This morning, many media outlets put up fabulous photos of Ukrainian women in their military uniforms on the front line in the Donbas region. They are fighting for and defending their country. Ambassador Filatov needs to be aware of where his army and the Wagner Group are at this time. We have all seen footage of them going into the battlefield holding sledge-hammers and shovels with which to bash in people's heads. The ambassador is not welcome in Dublin any more. Governments have sat back a lot from this over the past ten or 11 months. It is time to say that he is not welcome any more. Blacklist or no blacklist, he is not welcome. There should be no red carpet for a representative of a country that has invaded another country and that is acting in a thuggish manner. Now the war crimes are not even happening subversively, they are happening openly.

I echo what Deputy McGuinness said about MABS. The dedicated mortgage adviser teams we have in these offices are keeping people in homes. The funding for it will expire very shortly. We need to ensure it continues.

3:52 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I wish all my female colleagues and all the women I know a very happy International Women's Day. Today is about celebrating the role women play in our lives. We have heard about the very important role they play in so many aspects of our lives. People have spoken about very famous women who have gone before us. I am very fortunate to be able to speak about the most positive female role model I have had, and that is my mother. She worked full-time in teaching for 41 years of her life. She had 12 children and worked every day. She stayed up every night knitting clothes because she could not always afford to buy them. She made so many sacrifices in order to ensure that each of her children was gifted with the opportunity of education. When my sister, her daughter, passed away, she took on the caring role for four grandchildren for a period. I share this story today because I am immensely proud of my mother. I often use a phrase which is widely used and that is the "lottery of birth". I was very fortunate to be born into this family with such an inspirational woman as my mother. There are many people who are not so fortunate. We have a responsibility as legislators to stand up and ensure people who are not as fortunate in life get the same chances.

One thing Covid has done is shone a light on another pandemic, and that is the pandemic of domestic abuse. As a society we need the political system to address this and look at how the system responds to the needs of these particular vulnerable women. We know the Government strategy of zero tolerance is built on the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention. These are prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination. The €363 million that will give rise to a doubling of the number of refuge spaces and the establishment of the statutory agency for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence by the beginning of next year is very welcome.

I arranged to visit Esker House in Athlone last week, having forgotten that International Women's Day was coming up. I met the management team. They are passionate dedicated women who are helping and empowering other women every day of the week. They spoke about the 11 other staff members working with them. The centre provides a refuge, a day service and a service for children and young people. It was a very informative meeting, and I learned a lot. The women there said that bringing women and children into refuges is not the answer. Clearly, it has a very important role to play at a particular time, and it is a critical intervention at a particular time, but they spoke about wraparound services and putting in place the necessary supports. Prevention is far better than cure.

There is also the long-term economic gain if we make the right interventions at an early stage. We will save long-term in areas of mental health, addiction, the justice system, the Courts Service and the Prison Service. I was very pleased to hear them speaking about businesses coming to them to ask for domestic violence awareness on how to spot women in their work environments that might be under coercion or suffering some type of abuse.

In a number of weeks' time, senior executives from Tusla will meet Deputies and Oireachtas Members from Dublin and mid-Leinster. I look forward to having a very frank and open debate. In certain instances good work is being done but in certain other instances we are failing vulnerable people very badly.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I compliment the Acting Chair, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and all the ladies who are Members of the House and elsewhere with whom I am friendly. I wish my wife Margaret and my five daughters, six granddaughters, three wonderful sisters, daughters-in-law and sisters in law all the very best on this very important day. I also wish the best to my office team. I could not manage without them. They are mainly females as well. I refer to Geraldine, Tríona, Cathy, who is out on maternity leave, Vivienne, Joanne, Mairéad, Councillor Máirín and others who help me, including Caroline who is standing in. I could not function in my job as a Teachta Dála without these wonderful people and their support.

Like Deputy Troy, I had a powerful mother who worked very hard. She raised nine children on a family farm. Like Deputy Troy's mother, she was a wonderful role model and she instilled values into her children. She worked very hard and went without herself to look after us.

I salute the late great former Deputy Carrie Acheson who died recently. She was from Clonmel. She was the voice of the ploughing and the Clonmel show. She was a voice for many people. She was a powerful woman in her time. She did so much work as a public representative and as a woman in all of the many organisations of which she was a member. She was involved in the local ploughing in Tipperary.

5 o’clock

I would want a day to list it all. I suppose we will be having expressions of sympathy for her in the House. She was a fabulous politician and a fabulous worker when she was in this House, with her sister, former Senator Tras Honan. I salute all the women who work so hard and give of their lives to make their families and their world a better place.

4:02 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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International Women's Day is celebrated annually on 8 March and, in 2023, we commemorate the 117th year of the global event. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and promoting gender equality worldwide. On that note, to the ladies who look after me in every way, shape and form in my office, Margaret, Ellen and Valerie, and my two daughters, Eileen and Marie, and my sister, Kay, I wish them the very best on this day. I wish the women of Ireland and all over the world a very happy International Women’s Day.

There is one particular woman I would like to mention in the short time I have, and that is Katie Taylor, who is probably the most astonishing sportsperson in this country. I am disappointed with the way her latest fight is being thrown about here, there and everywhere. I know the competitor has ended up being injured but I hope they can find a stadium big enough. I know there is a serious issue over Croke Park but I cannot understand why. I would say that if it was heavyweight men's boxing, they would have found a way of sorting out this issue. I am not going to point a finger at the Government because it is the GAA that owns the pitch and maybe there is an issue that needs to be resolved. I certainly put forward a very simple solution, which is to move it down to Cork, where there is 45,000-seater stadium in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but nobody wanted to listen. They all want to put the greatest sportsperson that we ever had, Katie Taylor, into an 8,000-seater stadium. It is an astonishing, crazy move, and it needs to be rectified on behalf of the women of this country.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I salute the women today, International Women’s Day. I salute the mothers who are trying to do their best for their children, particularly those with children with special needs who stayed at home to look after their children. I salute the mothers who had to abandon their careers to look after their children. I salute the women who had to move into the sitting room to look after their husbands and to care for them at home so as not to have them go to a nursing home. I salute the women who bake the scones and the apple tarts when there is a bereavement in our parishes, in our families, in our areas, in our communities, who go above and beyond to take care of all of the people at a time of need. I also salute the people who followed Vicky Phelan in her journey due to the inspiration she had given to them. Finally, I salute my wife, my sisters, my sisters-in-law, my nieces and my future daughters-in-law. I salute my staff, Maura, Triona, Mary and Marie, for putting up with me. I thank them and all Oireachtas Members.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I want to wish a very happy International Women’s Day to all of the women who I know, who I encounter, who are with me and who support me in the work that I do and support all of my colleagues.

I want to use the time I have on what is a very important issue, and I think it is an appropriate time to say this. The gender quota that was brought in was supposed to help women. I had a personal thing that I thought it was an awful insult to women. I really believe that, and everyone is entitled to their own belief. I thought it was an insulting and degrading thing to do to bring in a gender quota, and I will tell the House why. It was thought that if political parties are forced to pay a fine, they will be financially inconvenienced if they do not put up enough women. The women I have seen in politics were absolutely excellent, every one of them, whether in government, in opposition or as Independents, and I would have nothing but admiration for them. When I go back to my time in the local authority, there were women on that local authority and they were role models to me in their work ethic, in their organisational ability and in their sincerity and commitment to politics.

I will use my final seconds to ask this. Why is it that more women are not going into politics? I think I know the answer. Perhaps they were too sensible and they were too intelligent, and they were able to look at it and realise they were not going to go at it. I do not mean that in an insulting way. I did not agree with the gender quota when it came in.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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We move to the Independent Group. I call Deputy Connolly, who is sharing time with Deputy Harkin.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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In my two minutes, I want to focus in. I have already wished everybody a happy International Women’s Day. The theme this year is to embrace equity, and it has been pointed out to us that equity allocates the resources and opportunities needed to get an outcome. While it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day, it is also important that that celebration does not obscure what we are talking about: the radical roots of International Women’s Day which started in 1911 and the changes that need to be made. At no stage can a woman collude with a system that is completely unequal in this country and throughout the world. It is too important. We need transformative change and women have to be the leaders in that transformative change. The UN General Secretary captures it in his words: “[P]rogress on women's rights is vanishing before our eyes”. This is the 21st century as we celebrate International Women’s Day, and on the current track, gender equality is 300 years away.

Sinead Gibney, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said in January 2023 that violence against women has reached crisis levels in Ireland. Therefore, while I appreciate we have made progress in terms of policies and legislation, we are far away from where we should be. Eleven women died in violent circumstances last year in this country, making that the worst year in a decade for violence against women, according to Women's Aid. Despite a programme for government commitment to legislation to introduce domestic homicide reviews, that legislation still has not happened. We still do not have something as basic as enough refuges in the country. We should not need them, but we do, and they are one basic step if we are seriously interested in making an equal society.

According to Safe Ireland, the third national strategy is more ambitious than its predecessors. It was late coming and although we have it now, Safe Ireland says it barely scratches the surface of what is a wide-scale social problem. Given the extent of the problem and decades of non-investment, regrettably, the upward trend of violence is likely to continue before the benefit or impact of these recent initiatives takes place.

We then perpetuate this with the mother and baby homes, where we exclude over 24,000 people on an arbitrary basis because of the six-month limit. Prior to six months, it is said, people know nothing and do not suffer.

With regard to the Women of Honour report, trust is of the essence. I ask the Minister and the Minister of State where is the report in regard to the Women of Honour.

I want to acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, who because of time pressure will not get to speak. I want to acknowledge her solidarity, and my own, with all women who struggle. I will finish with a quote from James Connolly that she has brought to my attention: “None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter.” No doubt about it, women are still in chains, physically and metaphorically. We cannot talk about an equal society until we have that transformative change which, in the end, will also help to save the planet.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Today, International Women’s Day, gives us a chance to reflect on women and their lives, on the contribution women make to our society and on the challenges many women face in trying to live independent and fulfilling lives. It gives us a chance to think of some of the inspirational women in our own lives and at national and global level who have inspired us and who have been change-makers, often at great cost to themselves. It gives us a chance to reflect on the women whose names we will never hear but who led quiet lives of desperation and fear, whose lives were ripped apart and neatly forced back together so they conformed, so they became acceptable. So many of those women paid such a high price for being themselves.

In that context, I raised an issue this morning with the Taoiseach about the urgent need to preserve all private and public records and information relating to residents of Magdalen laundries. These records are the life story of these women - women who were silenced, women who were incarcerated and women whose labour profited others. The last piece of legislation passed by the Stormont Assembly was an all-party Bill, the Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill.

This Bill seeks to ensure records and all relevant documents relating to certain institutions are preserved and protected and that it would be a criminal offence to alter, destroy or dispose of any of them. This would be a really good International Women's Day if the Government were to take a similar approach and follow the good example of our counterparts in Northern Ireland. I hope we can rely on the support of both the Minister and the Minister of State on this issue.

I mentioned earlier that today is an opportunity for all of us to reflect and also to thank some of the women who have inspired us in our lives. Last Saturday, I attended the funeral of my former school principal, Sr. Donal Moran, in Carrick-on-Shannon. She was an inspirational teacher and a decent and good principal. She ensured her students were able to take many of the opportunities presented to us. I have always had great respect for her and for many of the fine Marist Sisters who taught me in Tobercurry. It may seem odd that in a three-minute contribution I am speaking so critically of many of those who ran the Magdalen laundries and whose grip on records and information must be loosened, while at the same recognising the valuable contribution of the Marist Sisters to my education and that of many of classmates. Both aspects of this are valid and both have their place in the stories we tell on International Women's Day.

4:12 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I thank Deputies for their statements. There were many detailed and specific contributions.

I take the opportunity to respond to Deputy Harkin's point as I was not in the Dáil earlier. The preservation of records about Ireland's institutional past is essential. A significant step in that preservation has already been taken with the Birth Information and Tracing Act we passed last year. The major focus of that legislation was the provision of birth and early life information. To update the House, over 2,500 of some 7,000 people who made applications under the legislation have had their queries answered. There was a key provision providing for preservation of relevant information and making it a criminal offence to destroy such information. The Government has, therefore, taken a first step on preserving information.

The next key step is another part of the overall response to mother and baby home and county home institutions, namely, the establishment of the records and memorial centre. Again, important steps have been taken in this respect. The site has been transferred from the ownership of Dublin City Council to the Office of Public Works and there is an important interdepartmental group working on how we will make this a site of conscience, how we will work with the National Museum of Ireland on the record-keeping element and how it will provide an historical explanation of what happened in mother and baby homes, county homes, Magdalen laundries and industrial schools. Work is also ongoing on how the site can bring a benefit to the north inner city in the form of social housing, childcare and education. That key project is under way and will have various elements. It is my view that the records of bodies such as the McAleese committee should be protected and made available under the relevant legislation for historical study. That is where we are at. I wanted to take the opportunity to respond on that.

I highlighted earlier some of the steps we have taken on progressing gender equality. The national strategy for women and girls, which sets out various thematic high-level objectives and aims to integrate gender equality considerations into decision-making has come to a close and work is now beginning, by means of commencing consultations, on developing the successor strategy. This will very much respond to the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality.

We have made efforts to create a fairer and more equal society by ensuring that women can effectively balance their home and working lives. Parental leave will be extended from the current seven weeks to nine weeks by August 2024. Under the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, parents and carers will shortly have the right to request flexible working and leave for purposes of medical care and breast-feeding breaks will be extended to two years. In addition, we have tackled workplace gender inequalities by introducing reporting on the gender pay gap and an obligation on employers to propose measures to address it. This requirement will be rolled out to organisations with fewer employees over the coming years, with the aim of ensuring pay transparency is upheld in the workplace and that obstacles that stand in the path of women's active participation are removed.

Achieving gender equality in our society through the key actions I have mentioned, among others, is a key priority for this Government. I began my contribution by recognising the significance of International Women's Day for me, the Government and all members of society. Promoting equality does not stop today or at the door of my Department. It must be a priority every day for all elements of Government. At a societal level, men and boys must take action to reflect and find ways to counter discrimination and violence against women where they encounter it. We must acknowledge it exists, recognise the scale of the problem and call it out. We can never be bystanders to even the most casual forms of misogyny. It must be acknowledged we have faced more and different challenges this year. We must acknowledge the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on society, and on women in particular, as well as recognising the high incidence of violence against women both at home and internationally, especially those experiencing conflict in Ukraine - and many of those have been welcomed to our shores.

As Deputies know, in recent weeks the Cabinet approved the heads of a Bill to create a new agency specifically designed to respond to domestic violence. The agency will bring together responsibility from a range of Departments, including my own, in one core centred area. That has been a key ask of the domestic violence NGOs over the years that is being delivered by this Government, and on a tight timeline as well. It is my aim that by the time we celebrate International Women's Day 2024 we will have refreshed our vision and ambition and set priorities for Ireland to advance equality for women and girls over the next period. I again thank all Deputies for their contributions and wish them all a happy International Women's Day.