Thursday, 8 March 2018
Order of Business
Before I call the Acting Leader on the Order of Business, as this is International Women's Day, it is important to acknowledge and reflect briefly on all the women who have not only made such a valuable contribution to both Houses of the Oireachtas but who have contributed and made society such a better place for all of us and everyone's dear mums who bore us and gave us life.
I, too, acknowledge International Women's Day and echo the sentiments. The Order of Business is No. a1, motion regarding the sixth report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1, motion regarding the address to the House by Mr. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh on Wednesday, 21 March 2018, to be taken on conclusion of No. a1, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding membership of An Bord Pleanála, referral to committee, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, statements on flooding (resumed) to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m. with the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Technological Universities Bill 2015, Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. He opened his remarks by saying that today is International Women's Day, a day that is rightly celebrated around the world. I am leading off today because our leader, Senator Ardagh, is not able to attend because she is at the funeral of an extraordinary woman who was 106 years of age. Not only did she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but she had great-great-grandchildren and she featured in the documentary "Older than Ireland" and was able to give of her wisdom and knowledge of a long life, well lived. She was buried this morning. She was Esther Nolan from Drimnagh, better known as Bessie. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
As we reflect on the fact that today is International Women's Day and that next Sunday is Mother's Day, we must also reflect on the fact that, in this society, it is 100 years since women were given the vote. Considering that the Greeks came up with the idea of voting thousands of years ago, women have only had the vote for the last 100 years and even today, in this society, women struggle for equality and equal treatment. That equality still eludes us in this society. We must and should do better.
There is ongoing controversy about the treatment by An Garda Síochána of two female civilian members who appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality yesterday to outline the extraordinary treatment that they were subjected to by senior gardaí to manipulate figures relating to homicide statistics. When one looks at the world we live in today, a world of alternative facts and where fake news is being purported to be carried out by the man who is the epitome of fake news, what does the fact that the Central Statistics Office cannot rely on the figures being put forward yearly by An Garda Síochána about murders say about the system that the gardaí have? It is not just the system but the culture within senior management of the gardaí that is shocking and appalling. If this was an isolated incident, we would be saying this in itself is a concern but add to that the treatment of Garda McCabe and many others within An Garda Síochána.
The problem is that there are no consequences for this type of behaviour within An Garda Síochána. Guys are promoted, get their pensions, retire, are never fired and never go to jail because there are no consequences in this society for people who treat their staff, society and this State with such disdain. I am concerned on this International Women's Day about the Garda figures on homicide because of the issue of domestic violence, how that is being reported and how deaths that occur in the home are not being recorded properly. Action is not being taken on that most serious of issues which women face on a daily basis - domestic violence, which results in injury, harm and, tragically, in murders as well, which gardaí do not want to report properly. What is wrong with the Garda Síochána?One of the institutions of the State that we hold in high regard is undermining our confidence in it because we cannot believe the figures it provides on murders. Furthermore, when the problem was identified, rather than fixing it, the Garda went after those who highlighted it.
The recent whistleblower legislation is not sufficient to protect whistleblowers. The purpose of the legislation should be to protect whistleblowers and promote the idea of rewarding those who bring to light any information they have. Unfortunately, rather than reward people, the system is punishing and crushing them. On International Women's Day, we see what happened to two female civilian Garda employees who tried to do their job and were treated appallingly and with disdain by senior Garda management, mainly men, who put them under severe pressure to lie to the people of Ireland. Senior management wanted them to manipulate the figures to lie to the public. These individuals must face consequences. They must be exposed and fired, rather than being allowed to retire on a pension.
Ba bhreá liom tréaslú le mná na hÉireann, agus mná Gaelach na hÉireann ach go háirithe, ar an Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan seo. I, too, congratulate and thank the women of the world on International Women's Day. I thank, in particular, the women who, whether for specific periods or on a more indefinite, continuous basis, have brought joy and happiness into my life. I also salute the many achievements of the international women's movement and the efforts of colleagues in the House in reminding us of the significant milestone that is the 100th anniversary of the introduction of women's suffrage. We only have to read the daily court reports to see that society has a long way to go before men respect women and their dignity, and women's equal right to dignity and respect is fully recognised.
While it is only fair to salute the achievements of the international women's movement, I also wish to be a friendly critic. There are two blind spots in the movement at activist level. The first is the denial concerning abortion which, far from being a liberator of women, is actually a betrayer of women, not only of the girl child in the womb but the women who feel they have been betrayed, have not been supported and have been pressurised by others. The easy access to abortion in our world is often a tool for selfish men who view abortion as an easy way out. We need to hear more feminism for life and I hope we will do so in the coming weeks and months.
The second issue is in the area of gender equality. Equal pay should be a given and should go without saying. While it is provided for in law, whether it is always provided in practice is another matter. We also have a long way to go on family friendly workplaces, including in the Oireachtas. Requiring women to work at equal rates of intensity in the workplace regardless of whether they wish do so is not authentic feminism. While I do not often quote David Quinn in the Chamber lest Senators conclude we are twin brothers, he has something pungent to say today by way of an observation on International Women's Day. He states that radical feminism paradoxically makes men and their achievements the measure, and that everything feminine, meaning home and motherhood in particular, is to be demeaned. All women should work, like it or not, he adds, and women must be able to live and work as though they have no children so they can compete equally with men. This view, he points out, leads to an agenda for abortion and universal cheap day care, an aim that does a gross disservice to ordinary women. To that extent, radical feminism is, he says, anti-woman. This is a useful point to include in the debate. It is not a million miles away from the view expressed by Victoria White in a fine article in the Irish Examinertoday, which I commend. While International Women's Day is to be celebrated and a great deal has been achieved, much more must be done and some things must be changed.
Last night's decision of the Dáil to unanimously agree to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was regarded as a reason to celebrate. My celebration was to go home with my daughter, Ruth, who visited the Houses for the debate, and have a cup of tea with my wife, Liz. The celebration part was that I was allowed to have a biscuit. We chatted about who said what during the debate. I visited the Dáil for the debate to listen to speakers from all parties and none and I respect the interest they showed in the issue. Many disabled people were in the Public Gallery and references were made to individuals who should have been present for the occasion. Apart from sadness, I was also struck by the thought that there is no time to lose in this work.
This is the morning after and today we celebrate International Women's Day. My celebration was appropriate because we have only secured agreement to get on with the major challenge we face. As a result of the decision of the Oireachtas, Ireland is finally acting to make its disabled people free and equal. The commitment given by An Taoiseach on his election to deliver ratification by the end of 2017 was a critical moment of leadership. As politicians, we love to speak. Last night's agreement to ratify the convention moves us out of the realm of speaking and into the difficult and dangerous space of taking action. Action must be purposeful and skilfully executed.
In August 1942, the allied attack on Dieppe was a disaster from which the allies learned that land, sea and air forces must work together. Government must act as a unit and An Taoiseach must show leadership and relentless drive. He and all of his Ministers must act as one to form what I describe as a disability inclusion strategic implementation unit. When the boss smells gas, we all smell it because it becomes everyone's job. I am grateful to the Leader for the commitment he gave to hold a debate on the implementation of the convention. Senators have control over the work of the House. With only 60 Members, the Seanad is a small House and we should work together, not sheepishly but critically and with respect.
I will suggest a few steps we can take. The first is to debate the implementation of the convention. Every Senator is either a party or group spokesperson or member of a joint Oireachtas committee and all of us are members of a parliamentary group. We must think about disability inclusion at every meeting. We must meet people with disabilities and listen directly to their experience of life in Ireland today. Let us consider inviting people with disabilities to the Seanad to listen to them and set a good example.
I am about to write to the leaders of every political party and group seeking a meeting to discuss their plans for implementing the convention and ensuring implementation becomes a whole-of-Government project. Ten years from now, on International Women's Day 2028, it would be great if our disabled citizens could say Ireland is theirs and is a great, hopeful and warm place for disabled people to live in and in which they can thrive.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach commenced proceedings by referring to International Women's Day. As I have stated previously, women are often the great backstop when it comes to disability and chronic illness. Delivery of the UN convention would provide great practical emancipation and support to many women. I thank all Senators for the support and encouragement they have offered me in my work since entering Seanad Éireann.
I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach and all Senators a very happy International Women's Day. This is a day on which we acknowledge the achievements of women, their survival and the progress made in tackling some of the injustices they face.I want to remember carers, in particular. I refer to carers of the elderly, vulnerable people and children and adults with disabilities. One of our main achievements in the Seanad was the passing of the Domestic Violence Bill. I ask the Leader to express our concern to the Minister that the Bill has not yet been passed in the Dáil in order that it can be enacted. I have no doubt that the Bill will save lives and years of abuse for some women. Perhaps we might be told today when this will be done. The #MeToo campaign has facilitated and opened up a discussion on the abuse of women. However, unless we act, we are failing all women who have suffered abuse, including those who are being abused this very day and who will be abused tomorrow and into the future. The Domestic Violence Bill is hugely important, but it is only one of the urgent necessary actions needed. Yesterday we heard from the two Garda civilian analysts who said they had been belittled and their credibility attacked at Garda headquarters. I am referring to when they raised concerns about the incorrect classification of some homicides. This is not just disgusting; it is also extremely dangerous as it puts the lives of women in danger. Thousands of women disclose domestic abuse to front-line agencies such as Women's Aid and Safe Ireland, as well as to rape crisis centres, women's refuges, family resource centres and other projects, which I also commend for their work.
I also want to remember, in particular, the investigation which is needed and necessary into the shooting of Ms Siobhan Phillips who was left for dead with Garda Tony Golden when her partner opened fire. Why was Mr. Adrian Crevan Mackin not convicted? I have permission from Ms Phillips to read a small element of her statement which we have to remember was made before the shooting. Ms Phillips says Mr. Mackin pinned her to the wall, kneed her to her ribs, grabbed her by the throat and squeezed her windpipe. He was looking at her and told her to look at him in the eyes when he was choking her. He said she liked it and spat in her face. She went on to say she was afraid that he would do to her, or her family, what he had done previously. That was her statement, as read to and confirmed by her as being correct.
After hearing from the two individuals at the committee yesterday, I was so mindful of how we needed to act, why we needed the Domestic Violence Bill and a change to protect women. The facts are that there are men who are walking in the corridors of power right now across the country, donning uniforms every morning, members of organisations and clubs who have abused women. They have used the power and control that come with their positions to do as they wish to women and get away with it. It has been happening for decades. I encourage women to come forward and commend those who have, some of them after decades of abuse. I encourage women to come forward to tell their stories and be supported by the agencies. It is never too late to tell. I commend the agencies involved. However, as legislators, we need to make sure they are given the funding and resources they need to be able to help the women in question.
I really need to say some of the media reporting of sexual abuse cases brought to trial is absolutely deplorable. I want some of the media outlets to walk in the shoes of women who are thinking, "This has happened to me. I have been abused. I have been raped. Will I come forward?" Looking at some of the commentary on some cases in the broadcasting and print media, it acts as a deterrent and must be addressed. I ask them to walk in the shoes of some of the women who have been abused before they open their mouths.
On International Women's Day the Government is to be commended for publishing the text of the proposed referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. Every day I think of the children I taught in an all-girls' school on Sheriff Street. They inspire me. Knowing that - I hope soon - with the votes of the people, they will have full bodily autonomy in the future is something that should be celebrated. As the famous song "Bread and Roses" goes, women and men will be "marching marching" to mark today's announcement by the Cabinet leading, I hope, to a referendum on 25 May. All sides of the House have a role to play in that regard.
Next week the Taoiseach will visit the White House and it is appropriate that he do so. He has diplomatic responsibilities that need to be respected. I hope he will take the opportunity to speak about things which are important to Irish people. However, there will be another event held in New York next weekend. I am thankful that Mr. Colum Eastwood of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, is boycotting the White House event. Instead he will attend an event called "Irish Stand" to be held in New York to try to give voice to the real experiences of the Irish nation and the immigrant nature of Irish people who have been all over the world and who now stand shoulder to shoulder with other peoples in America who feel under threat, be they Mexican or Muslim Americans. It is important that any political representative who finds himself or herself in America next weekend use that opportunity to stand up against the racism, misogyny and homophobia emanating from the White House and not find himself or herself rubbing shoulders with those concerned at fundraisers. Instead he or she should stand in solidarity with the true meaning of what it is to be Irish - standing up for things which are universally important. What is happening in America is being reflected across the world, including in Britain with Brexit, Austria, Germany and Italy. It is not good enough for politicians to speak about equality at home and then to rub shoulders with members of the National Rifle Association, Republicans and Congressmen such as Mr. Pete King in New York who effectively is writing and supporting such xenophobic and racist policies. As we celebrate Irishness next week and what it means to be Irish, we should remember that the Irish were once at the bottom of the social ladder in America. We should, therefore, be very mindful of those who are now suffering discrimination and from rhetoric which is very hurtful and painful for them and who need the Irish to stand up for them. What they do not need is a bunch of Irish politicians in America fundraising and staying quiet when this rhetoric which is so hurtful is used.
It is welcome that it is International Women's Day. I was asked what woman I had found inspirational during the years. It has to be Mrs. Mary Robinson who was elected as the seventh President of Ireland. It was a great day for women. She was inspirational. As she said, she had been elected by the women of Ireland, that instead of rocking the cradle, they had rocked the system. It was an iconic moment which opened up a very liberal Ireland. She is one of many women who have been inspirational and came from Crossmolina.
I heard with interest what the two civilian members of An Garda Síochána had to say. It pains me sometimes to see what is happening in An Garda Síochána. My grandfather who fought for the freedom of this country was the first member of An Garda Síochána. It is an occupation that escaped me because I do not have the skills or discipline to be a garda. However, I will not join in the chorus of those who are undermining the integrity of An Garda Síochána which has defended the institutions of the State since its foundation. It defended the State when there were actually people and parties that were trying to undermine it. Therefore, I will not join anybody who is undermining the integrity of An Garda Síochána.I have seen what happens. They undermine their respect and integrity and take away all of the good they have done. We saw during protests about water people who were not fit to lace their shoes shouting, "Shame, shame on you". Sometimes we have to stand firm and say what has to happen within the structures and frameworks which exist. If gardaí are seen to misbehave, they should deal with the rigours of the law. I will not join a weak political movement which blames gardaí. The Garda is doing a difficult job and protects us and our State. As a politician and somebody who has always had huge respect for the Garda, I will not join that chorus. It is simple and cheap, and it has a very short future.
We saw what happened in Tallaght last week. Thankfully, the Garda had a contingency plan, a plan of which I was not aware. I am proud of An Garda Síochána and the work it does. It makes mistakes, but I will not undermine it.
I would like to agree with Senator Feighan. As the House is aware, Fianna Fáil is a heavy supporter of the Garda and institutions of the State. I am sure there was no slight meant on us.
A senior serving fire officer in Mullingar brought to my attention the fact that while alarm companies are able to sell their wares and provide security for burglaries and fires, there is no regulation requiring those companies to provide Eircode postcodes for the properties they are protecting. In recent times, the link between Google maps and the Eircode system has meant Eircode has taken off. If alarm companies are required to provide Eircode postcodes for the properties they are minding, it would help essential services to get to people's homes, buildings and businesses within the quickest time possible. I have no doubt it will save lives and some properties. I call on the Minister to make it compulsory for any alarm company which has a contract to protect a home, building or business to provide the Eircode postcode for that property. When emergency services are contacted by the company, they should, therefore, have the precise location of the property.
On International Women's Day I would like to remember the women who influenced my life. I would like to remember my mother, my eight sisters, my wife, my daughter, my granddaughters and my daughters-in-law. They are very important people and I would not be standing here today without them. I would also like to remember the women in uniform who serve everywhere. They serve equal to men and some of them get a rough time.
I ask for the Minister of State at the Department of Defence to be brought to the House as soon as possible. Today I received information that four senior officers are to resign from the Air Corps, three of whom are instructor pilots. This will devastate the Air Corps. They are all fixed wing instructor pilots, which means they train people on the Casa. The Minister of State has tried to put in place a retention system in order that we do not lose people, but this is a crisis. We lost half a ship's company from the Naval Service last month and now we are about to lose four of the most senior flying officers in the country. I understand there are two captains and two lieutenant colonels. We simply cannot afford to continue losing people.
The memory of rescue 116 is sitting very firmly in my mind and has done ever since the fateful night when the aircraft was brought down. We cannot allow the Defence Forces to continue to stumble from disaster to disaster. I have spoken to the Minister and I believe he is trying his damnedest to put things right. We need to hear from him where the impediment is, who is blocking it and why money is not available to retain personnel. What will it cost to recruit three instructors?
Even if we brought back retired officers, they cannot become instructors immediately. Some 107 cadets passed out of the Curragh recently, but those going into the Air Corps cannot jump into an aircraft and start flying. It will be five years before they are qualified to fly on their own and ten years before they are eligible to fly the Casa. We heard a lot about the Garda on the Order of Business today and I resent the manner in which we are watching it wash its dirty linen in public. Clearly, some people at the top have serious questions to answer but most are decent people.
What bothers me is that what is going on in the Defence Forces is going on behind closed doors. Nobody seems to be aware of what is happening. We recently saw photographs of soldiers in Blessington who had to be brought from Dundalk to clear the roads of snow. This is outrageous. Fuel consumption in Finner Camp alone has increased by 600% because soldiers are travelling from Donegal to do barrack duties in Dublin. This is now beyond a joke.
We need the Minister of State to come to the House so we can get to the bottom of whether it is the Government, Civil Service or senior Army officers who are causing the problem. I am not one to put the blame on anybody. I met the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and believed everything he said to me when he said was trying to put things right. I want to give him an opportunity to put his position on the record.
Ba mhaith liom, le linn Seachtain na Gaeilge, comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le mná na hÉireann agus le mná go hidirnáisiúnta freisin. People have been thinking about the women who have inspired them the most. Many of us look to international figures who have had a real impact on the world. I have looked closer to home and thought of my grandmother who lost her husband when she had an eight old and a six year old to raise and a farm of rushes to try to keep from the banks. Some things do not change. She succeeded in doing so and lived to the ripe old age of 97. She was still involved in stocks and shares until she was 95 years of age. She is not the woman who inspires me the most. That would be my wife, who would not take "No" for an answer or lie down under a diagnosis of hopelessness, and devoted her time to rearing her children, in particular our son who has autism. Following a diagnosis of mental handicap and not worrying too much, she pursued and persisted, along with our son, to bring him to the point where he has not just one university degree but a masters, and is now studying for a PhD. Today, as they often do, they are speaking to parents of children with autism in the midlands. There is nothing like seeing someone who has had a very severe diagnosis and did not talk till he was five years old or attend a normal school until he was 11 years of age stand and talk to people. I salute her and all of the women like her.
Last May I published a Bill looking for a national strategy for autism spectrum disorder, ASD. The House passed it unanimously in October or November. I want to ask the Minister to come to the House and advise us of the status of the Bill. It is one of many which the Department of Health has to deal with.The Bill has been passed unanimously by this House and I have no doubt it will get the support of the Lower House. When I spoke on this matter here previously I think 10,000 people had signed an online petition and there are now more than 71,000 signatures. I wish to ask where the Bill is, what is delaying it and to remind the Minister and the Department of its necessity- I know the Minister's heart is in the right place in this regard. There is no question about that. This issue will not go away and I am not going to stay silent on it. I will raise it every single week until I see the Bill in Dáil Éireann.
Today is International Women's Day and I wish to highlight the fact that there is a very important march this evening in Dublin, kicking off at the Garden of Remembrance at 5.30 p.m. It is a "votes for repeal" march and I appeal to all of those who support the cause of repeal to come out this evening and unify. It is not a party-political march, it is a march for everyone who is concerned about the health of women and supports the call for repeal. I regret that I cannot be there due to a family commitment but I think it is a very important event and it would be great to see an important turnout there.
I have friends and colleagues who do not share my views and I think it is extremely important that we respect each other in terms of the referendum vote, and that we respect the different sides of the debate. However, as public representatives we do have a duty to say where we stand on repeal. I find it very disappointing that there are colleagues in this Chamber who are ducking and diving and refusing to say where they stand. I do not think that is good enough for public representatives, regardless of what side of the debate one is on. I accept it is a difficult issue but some things are more important than mere electoral gain and on some issues we need to say where we stand and stand by our principles and respect each other's principles. The people in this Chamber who disappoint me are not those on the other side of the debate but the people who continue to hide. I think we can do better.
I do not wish to obtrude my religious views on this House but I speak today as a practising Christian and somebody who is very concerned about religious matters. This is International Women’s Day and the Voices of Faith organisation, an international organisation of committed Roman Catholics who deal with women have a conference in Rome about why women matter. Two women have been excluded and banned from the group, by an Irishman as it happens, Cardinal Kevin Farrell. It reminds me of the time when the Irish judge in the European Court of Human Rights voted against gay rights. We can always find one of our own to stab us in the back. Mrs. McAleese and Ms Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, who is from Uganda, and is extraordinarily courageous in defending the rights of gay people who are routinely murdered at the behest of the Christian churches in Uganda, have both been banned.
They join an enormous number of people who under the recent regimes have been persecuted, isolated and their careers destroyed. I think of people like Archbishop Hunthausen, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff and the Reverend Professor Dr. John O'Neill. I could spend the whole morning listing them. They have driven out the greatest spiritual thinkers of the Roman Catholic Church to its immense detriment, to a point where Mrs. McAleese, a former President of Ireland, has described the entire leadership of the church as mediocre. I am afraid that is what they are. Mary McAleese has been President of Ireland and she has been gratuitously insulted. I think the Government should raise this with Rome. This is an insult to a former President of Ireland by a foreign state. Archbishop Martin, a decent man, who is Archbishop of Dublin was not consulted or even informed until Mrs. McAleese rang him. She said the church's hierarchy has reduced Christ to a rather unattractive, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-abortion politician. That is a pretty interesting charge for a former head of State of one of Europe's significant countries to make against the church to which she still belongs. I pay tribute to her for hanging on in there and trying to operate from inside the church. She speaks of misogynistic codology. She describes the theological works she has read as complete codology. They are of course. I read Ratzinger's rubbish, his theological drivelling about sexuality. I would fail a first year student for the kind of nonsense he went on with, but of course he is a Pope so he must be a genius because of his automatic connection. He is another mediocrity.
Mrs. McAleese says the church has become an "empire of misogyny". That is something that needs to be addressed by Seanad Éireann on International Women's Day. When a former President of Ireland, a brilliant lawyer and a remarkable campaigner is treated in this manner by the Roman Catholic Church I think we need to ask questions right at the top. I think we need to raise the issue at Government level with the Vatican.
I do not really know the circumstances but Senator Ó Ríordáin mentioned Sheriff Street. I heard part of a programme just before I left the house about the crèche which is being closed down. It is a remarkable place which housed a whole complex of children's resources in that very deprived parish and an attempt is being made to close it down. The centre is also home to a group known as the Little Larriers, after St. Laurence O'Toole, to whom the church is dedicated. Those are people who dragged themselves up in an area that is polluted with drugs and alive with poverty yet they have made something and they are being stopped by bureaucracy.
She was one of the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever had the privilege to know yet she was also one of the toughest and most determined women I have ever met. Her toughness and determination helped her win a general election in 2011, for which she had fought for a very long time. Unfortunately, she did not have enough time to enjoy it. It also allowed her to fight a most awful disease, namely, motor neurone disease.
Given that yesterday was Research Day, I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Health to look at budgets for research. Motor neurone disease is an unknown quantity. Nobody knows what causes it or anything about it. There is no cure for it. A lot of research is being done in Trinity College and Beaumont Hospital with Professor Orla Hardiman but as with everything of that nature money is an issue. I ask the Leader to urge the Minister to look into funding for research.
Yesterday, I spoke in the House about the fact that there are not enough women in politics or in business. On this day I ask women and also men to encourage women to get involved in local and national politics and to get involved in business, on their merit, because they are good enough to do the job and not because of gender quotas. What better way could we pay tribute to the people who pioneered votes for women in the early part of this century than to work towards gender parity in Parliament and society in general? Let us take on the motto of those women, namely, "deeds not words". Let us not just talk about gender parity, let us work towards it and let us make it happen.
I also wish to say a few things about women on the day that is in it. It is not the easiest subject as it can be quite tricky with all the political correctness that is going on nowadays.Maurice Chevalier had a great song one time about how to handle a woman. I do not think he would be allowed get away with a title such as that one these days. However, I want to put on the record that I like women. I love women, I respect women and I trust women. It was my trust in women that informed my view and vote when I was a member of the recent Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and it is that trust which will inform how I will act and canvass in the forthcoming referendum.
This country has not quite decided on whether to trust women-----
-----and a lack of trust in women is at the core of much of the rhetoric we are hearing from the anti-choice groups. The people of Ireland will shortly get an opportunity to articulate how much trust they have in the women of Ireland and I am fairly confident the people will not come up short. Today I think of Kit Ahern who was a cousin of mine and a Senator in this House. I worked for her and with her politically.
The Senator would. She was a Senator in the 1960s and 1970s before she was elected to the Dáil in 1977. It was through her and arising from an admiration for her that I came into politics. I will never forget what she had to undergo from sexist commentary by the male-dominated bear pit that was north Kerry politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Expressions of anti-feminism used to issue regularly at comhairle ceantair and county council meetings and on the hustings. It was a disgrace but she had the bravery and the guts to see over that and to best all those people. It is women like her that were the leaders. I congratulate women on the great strides they have made in this country within my own lifetime - we do not have to go back 100 years - and it is changing all the time.
For me, Senator Norris struck the key note in today's discussion. I, too, am remarkably impressed by the courage and consistency of former President Mary McAleese.
I continue to believe that I am a Catholic, however. She is a committed Catholic and has the courage to call it as it is: an empire of misogyny. What a thing to say in the year we are in today. I will not concern myself with the affairs of the Catholic church but I congratulate the former President, Mary McAleese, who has uttered her views strongly and in a way that everyone understands. One would not have to go to the Oxford dictionary to understand what she says, and I commend her on that too.
The day is gone when the women of Ireland are stereotyped as Mrs. Doyle making tea and sandwiches at the meetings.
I wish to raise two issues this morning. One relates to St. Patrick's Day. This is always a big day from an Irish point of view, with many Ministers travelling abroad, including to the United States. I wish to raise the issue of having a more structured approach with the US House of Representatives and Senate. When I served in the European Parliament, I had the privilege of serving on a joint committee of the European Parliament and the US Congress which met once every six months. I have discussed with Senator Lawless the need arising from the fact that the UK, an English speaking country, is leaving the European Union, how one of the biggest places outside of Europe to which we export is the United States and the need for a structured approach on how we will deal with the States.
Many Irish companies work in the United States and many State agencies sell Ireland there and they are doing a very good job. We should consider making direct contact with the US Senate and having a joint approach with it, even if it was only once every 12 months. The visit of the Canadian delegation to the House yesterday was extremely helpful and useful. There was an exchange of views. We should look at this further because we should not just focus on America around St. Patrick's Day. There is a far bigger issue now and we need to make that contact. We should explore the possibility of having a direct link with the US Senate. We should use the connection that is Senator Lawless to examine and develop this proposal further.
The second matter relates to my Commencement matter this morning about those who are available to perform marriage ceremonies on Saturdays and Sundays. Currently, registrars of births, deaths and marriages perform the ceremonies from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, but they are not available on Saturdays. I pulled the figures on registered solemnisers and found out that there are 5,630 religious solemnisers, 123 civil solemnisers and 31 secular solemnisers. That is not a proportionate representation in terms of the numbers of those who are available to preside over marriage ceremonies on Saturdays and Sundays.
My Commencement matter considered whether notaries public could be appointed to fill that role where registrars are not available. I want to explore this further because I believe we need to examine the issue. The Minister of State's reply was that there are no proposals at present to deal with this issue but we should be examining it and the current registration process. As I understand it, the Humanist Association of Ireland has 30 people registered and Aisling Árann Teoranta has one. They are secular solemnisers. There are also 123 civil solemnisers.
They are those in the Humanist Association of Ireland and Aisling Arran Teoranta. We should not leave this as it is because the situation around the issue is changing. We have had marriage equality legislation and there have been changes in a number of other areas. The process for religious marriage ceremonies remains the same, however, and we need to examine it. The Minister of State told me this morning that it was not being examined but we need to put it on the agenda in this House and open up the debate.
It is genuinely great to hear inspiring debate, conversation and insight from every single one of my colleagues this morning. It was a good quality debate on a whole lot of aspects, particularly relating to International Women's Day. This is not just a pet for Christmas but something for life. It is fundamentally important. As the House knows, I am involved in business and I would say that 75% of all senior management is female. This is because they have a skill set, ability and talent to achieve. I wish to speak about the team of females who work with us. Ms Bridget Doody and her team are the backbone and they help us function and achieve what we aim to achieve. I ask that we all acknowledge the team of female support in leadership roles and others in the Seanad and the Dáil and what they do to help make this place function and be effective.
I have been very involved in entrepreneurship over a number of years and have chaired the entrepreneur of the year judging panel for years. We get quite a small number of female entrepreneurs coming forward and it is reducing a little. After the recession the number of entrepreneurs coming forward is reducing anyway. This is a big issue. People are afraid or are concerned about taking a leap or risk because they do not want to lose their house and everything that they have and they know what it is like to deal with the banks.I am asking everyone in this House to work collectively as a team. This is not political. We need to see what we can do to support entrepreneurship and to help male and, in particular, female entrepreneurs who have incredible ability to achieve in line with their talents. Unfortunately, I did not meet Nicky McFadden, but I have heard a lot about her.
From what I hear, Nicky and her sister, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, were cut from the one cloth. I congratulate Senator McFadden. I mean that. While I am speaking about entrepreneurship and job creation, I would like to say that one of the best things a person can do in life is to give somebody a job. When a person gives somebody a job, he or she gives that person a choice and an opportunity and puts money in his or her pocket to spend as he or she wishes. To me, entrepreneurship is key to a functioning economy. As Enterprise Ireland has recognised, female entrepreneurship is essential in that regard. The chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon, has a team that is focused on female entrepreneurship and is creating incredible success, way above the European average, in supporting the development of female entrepreneurship. I ask all Senators to support this in every way possible. I would like to make a final point about something I have a huge issue with.
I thank the Deputy Leader. This morning, I saw a newspaper headline, "Use bank profits to write off more debt, says EU", on an issue that has been bothering me for a while. I do not think there is anyone in this House who was not directly or indirectly hit during the recession when the banks were giving people hassle and seeking to get their pound of flesh. The banks are making huge profits now. Quite frankly, it is criminal that no tax is being paid on those profits. Will the Deputy Leader impress on the Minister for Finance the need, which is now being supported by the European Commission, for the profits being made by the banks to be put back into the economy, into entrepreneurship and into hospitals?
The carers are incredible people too. One of the big issues in our hospitals is that the vast majority of people leave their lunch or breakfast on the tray because they cannot eat it. These meals are picked up again an hour afterwards without having been eaten because our hospitals do not have sufficient staff to feed people who are sick. Quite simply, this means that people go day after day without eating any food. I apologise for going so far into injury time.
I will try. The Chair will give me some leeway because it is International Women's Day. I commend and respect Senator Ned O'Sullivan for what he has said. I think his journey, which he has shared, will help this country to make its decision on the eighth amendment. I thank him for his thoughtful contribution which was devoid of spin. I would have to be forgiven if I did not talk about women on International Women's Day. It is important to talk about women given that we comprise over half, perhaps 52%, of the population of the world. I love Irish women and I love to reach out internationally to other women throughout the world who are in very difficult circumstances. I was at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore this morning with the women from Palestine. I want to repeat in this Chamber an extract from a poem, Here We Shall Stay, that was read at this morning's wonderful event:
We shall remain
a wall upon your chest,
clean dishes in your bars,
serve drinks in your restaurants,
sweep the floors of your kitchens
to snatch a bite for our children
from your blue fangs.
Here we shall stay,
sing our songs,
take to the angry streets,
fill prisons with dignity.
In Lidda, in Ramla, in the Galilee,
we shall remain,
guard the shade of the fig
and olive trees,
ferment rebellion in our children
as yeast in the dough.
Free Palestine. Go raibh maith agat.
Mar fhocal scoir, before I call the Leader, I want to say that International Women's Day is of particular significance this year as we commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland. It is most welcomed in this House through the leadership of Senator Bacik on the Vótáil 100 working group, which is playing a central role in ensuring the importance of this historic event is highlighted. Perhaps I should have said that at the beginning, but I did not want to speak for too long. I call the Deputy Leader to respond.
I just wanted to provide clarity. The debate could very easily be completed in advance of that. Senator Mark Daly and many other Senators spoke about International Women's Day. Senator Daly mentioned a 106 year old lady who has passed away. It is a phenomenal age for anyone to achieve. I think the statistics show that more ladies than men live to the age of 100. Obviously, they are doing something right. They are probably living healthier lives than men. We should be following their example in many ways, particularly in terms of health and the ability to live longer.
Senator Daly also referred to the two brave ladies who gave evidence at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality yesterday. I attended that meeting and I found their testimony breathtaking. That they were treated in such a cavalier fashion by senior management is a reflection of the challenges that have been faced by An Garda Síochána. As everyone in the House will agree, the rank and file members of the force do a great job but there have been serious deficiencies at senior management level. We hope those deficiencies will be dealt with. The Policing Authority has been in place since 2016. There has been a call to take the politics out of An Garda Síochána. The Policing Authority represents an attempt to do that. I note that representatives of the authority will come before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in two weeks to address the serious issues that were raised by the two ladies yesterday. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.
Senator Mullen spoke about the issue of gender equality in the context of International Women's Day. All Members of this House agree that gender equality should just happen, rather than being something we merely aspire to. I certainly agree with the Senator's viewpoint on this issue.
With regard to what the Senator said about abortion and the eighth amendment issue, I note that the Cabinet signed off today on the wording of the referendum. That legislation will come before the Dáil tomorrow and will certainly come before this House after the St. Patrick's Day break. At the end of May, the people will have their say on whether the eighth amendment should be repealed. Like everybody here, I hope the debate will be respectful.
I agree with Senator Dolan that yesterday was a great day for people with disabilities, but it is really only the start. I am standing in for the Leader today. I think it is the first time somebody with a disability has taken the Order of Business in the House. I thank the Leader for that opportunity. It is the first time I have done this in my seven years in the House. I think it is fitting that it is happening the day after Dáil Éireann ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I hope it is the first of many occasions on which I will take the Order of Business. I agree with Senator Dolan that we should have a debate on the implementation of the convention.He is quite right. A commitment was given in this House by the Leader that such a debate would happen. I also agree with what he said about bringing in people with lived experience of disability because disability is a broad church. Everybody who experiences it has different stories and testimonies. In the spirit of the public consultation committee chaired by the Cathaoirleach, perhaps we could have that type of civil engagement with people with disabilities within that type of structure. I pay tribute to the ongoing work of Senator Dolan through his role as chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland and as a Member of Seanad Éireann. He is always discussing the issue. In many ways, he has very sensible and logical solutions. He is quite right when he contends that it should be an all-of-Government response and that all of us here in our roles as spokespeople should be factoring in our responsibilities and advocating for the ethos of the convention to be embodied and embedded in every element of work we do across Departments. Yesterday will be a day that will go down in history but I hope it will be for the right reasons. I look forward, as does Senator Dolan, to 2028 when, hopefully, we will be a country that not just talks about equality but can turn around and say we are a country of equals for all our citizens.
Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke about the eighth amendment and when he taught in Sheriff Street. I have no doubt that he was an inspiring teacher. As has been said, people will have the opportunity to vote on the eighth amendment when the referendum comes before us. Hopefully, people will make the right decision based on their conscience but they will have the vote and the opportunity to vote, which is important.
Senator Feighan also spoke about International Women's Day. He spoke about not taking potshots at An Garda Síochána. Yes, there are issues at senior management level but the vast majority of gardaí do a good job on a daily basis keeping us safe in our homes and ensuring that people can walk the streets in safe way. It is also worth noting that the Behaviour & Attitudes survey which is carried out each year about the public's view of An Garda Síochána shows that the figure of people who have absolute confidence in An Garda Síochána fluctuates between 75% and 86%. This should be noted and amplified. Many people have confidence in An Garda Síochána.
Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about the domestic violence legislation that passed through this House. I will speak to the Leader and ask him to make contact with his colleagues in the Lower House to see what the timeline is. I am sure he will get back to the Senator on that in due course.
Senator Davitt spoke about the situation with eircodes and security companies. What he said makes sense, which is that security companies should be required to have the eircodes of their customers. Eircodes are there for a reason. It is supposed to make things efficient. I cannot understand why they would not have them. We have seen significant advancements in regulating the security industry. Ten or 15 years ago, the security industry in this country was not properly regulated at all. Now that situation is totally different. There is proper Garda vetting and licences that clubs and various other facilities that use security must possess. Perhaps this is something the security industry regulator could look at because the proposition makes sense.
Senator Craughwell requested a debate on defence, the situation in the Air Corps and the fact that so many people are leaving. Yes, it is worrying and I am sure we can organise a debate here with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence in due course.
Senator Reilly spoke about the women who inspire him. I must agree with him that a lot of the time, the women who inspire us are those closest to us and those who we love and who help us achieve what we do achieve. I know Senator Reilly's son. He is a remarkable person. I also know Senator Reilly's wife who is also a remarkable person. They make up a remarkable family and can be very proud of what their son has achieved. I know their son will go on to achieve an awful lot more in the years to come. I am delighted that he is sharing his story with schoolchildren around the country because it is seeing and hearing living examples of people overcoming challenges and difficulties that creates role models for other people. He is right to raise every week the Bill about a national strategy for autism that was passed unanimously here. I will certainly talk to the Leader and see if he can establish what the situation with the Bill in Dáil Éireann is.
Senator Gavan spoke about the march on the eighth amendment that is taking place this evening. He is right to highlight it. If people believe in that, they should go to the march.
Senator Norris spoke about Mary McAleese and the lady from Nigeria. I heard the media reports where the former President described the Roman Catholic Church as an empire of misogyny. It is very hard to argue with her to some degree but I admire her for staying in the Catholic Church and trying to change it from within. She is doing good work in that regard. I suggest that Senator Norris submits the matter of the crèche in Sheriff Street as a Commencement matter to get some clarity on what the situation is.
My good friend, Senator McFadden, spoke about her sister Nicky, who was a good friend of mine. Nicky was one of the ladies who would inspire one just by speaking to her in terms of her kind personality and steely determination. I met Nicky for the first time in 2007 when she was standing in the Seanad elections. I instantly developed a bond and a friendship with her. She went on to win her seat in the Dáil in 2011. Those of us who were Members of the Houses at the time saw at first hand how she battled motor neurone disease. Senator McFadden is cut from the same cloth. We could highlight the issue she raised, namely, research and funding for research into motor neurone, at some stage in a future debate. I acknowledge the research into this area carried out by Professor Hardiman in Trinity College, which is very welcome.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan spoke about his journey and experience and what he learned from serving on the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. He certainly articulated that very well. We all learn from the women in our lives and the women we work and interact with on a daily basis. The Senator's aunt, Kit Ahern, sounded like an amazing woman. As soon as he heard her name, Senator Norris had an affectionate response. It is not easy to impress Senator Norris so she must have been a formidable lady.
Senator Colm Burke discussed relationships with the US Congress. As an island nation, we need to export to the United States, with which we have good ties, including the visit on St. Patrick's Day, but we should probably be developing a more structured interparliamentary relationship. In Deputy John Deasy we have a colleague who is representing us in America, specifically on the matter of the undocumented Irish. Perhaps the Leader might arrange for him to come to the House to update us on his work. We could also consider inviting the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora to attend the House. Having a more structured and formalised link with the US Congress Washington is something that could be considered.
The Leader might revert to the Senator in due course on the question of wedding solemnisers.
Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh raised the issue of women in business in the context of International Women's Day. He referred to how women with whom he had worked were on his senior management team and operated in the various units of his business, how they had made a significant contribution to it and how he had learned from them. As a nation, we need to determine how we can fund and challenge more women to become entrepreneurs.
Senator Máire Devine also mentioned that it was International Women's Day. The poem written by the women from Palestine that she read said it all. There is nothing more I can add, except to say we should listen to their words.