Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Paschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
I come here with a certain amount of baggage. I reminded myself that when I was a member of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, I published a report through the Committee on Equality Opportunities for Women and Men which went through the assembly in 2004. In the context of the amendment, one of the comments was that the under-representation of women in elected office hampers the full democratic development of most Council of Europe member states. In the context of the earlier remarks about extending this amendment to other minority groups, we are talking here about increasing the representation of women in Parliament.
The report went on to state that we all have a duty to ensure European standards within the democratic election process are met and that women are given a fair chance to both freely elect the candidate of their choice and to be elected themselves. Rather interestingly, one of the recommendations I made at that time - there were approximately 14 recommendations - referred to taking action through the public funding of political parties in order to encourage them to promote gender equality, which is precisely what this legislation is about.
The report also pointed out that in order to achieve critical mass, the aspiration should be for 40%. It went on to state that there is a time limit in this regard. Keeping in mind that this report was adopted in 2004, the aspiration was that by 2020, there would be 40% representation in the Parliament. On that basis, the Government is finding a middle way here. It is going for a realistic aspiration in opting for 30%. There is no doubt whatsoever that the action it is contemplating in regard to public funding will concentrate minds.
In the context of the amendment, I am sure the Minister will agree it is not sufficient just to put in a legislative model or legislative benchmark and state that everything will flow from that and that there will be quality and quantity as result of it. As the report recommended, the Minister should also be of a mind to undertake awareness raising measures in order to bring about a lasting change of attitudes and traditions throughout Europe and not just in Ireland to ensure the full participation of women in elections at all levels and in all respects. In that context, the recommendations went on to recommend that specific training and publicity packages should be developed to encourage women to contest elections.
Even in the context of the Council of European report, which looked for 40%, and even at that time, there was a realistic assessment of where we were. Six or seven years later and given where we are now, it seems the Government is striking a reasonably realistic balance, as my colleague Senator Power said. She put it very well in one of her interjections that she would much prefer if we were moving closer to more than 30% rather than falling short of 40%.