Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, National Archives (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 2, Private Members' business, National Minimum Wage (Removal of Sub-minimum Rates of Pay) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
The first item I wish to raise is related to the referendum on Friday. The people of Ireland spoke loudly and clearly on Friday when they voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment. This ultimately means that the women of Ireland will now have equal access to healthcare in this jurisdiction.
I am very grateful to the Members of the Oireachtas who campaigned for this issue, both during the time of this Government and over the past 35 years. I also thank all the civic society groups which spearheaded this campaign across all walks of life and across the whole country. I thank members of my own party who supported the campaign to repeal, especially my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. I welcome the Minister's memo to Cabinet today and commend him on all his hard work. I commend the Government's approval of the memo to initiate the passing of the legislation for the repeal of the eighth amendment and I look forward very much to supporting its speedy passage through this House. We need to be clear on the timetable for the passing of this legislation. It has been pointed out that women across the country will continue to face crisis pregnancies on a daily basis. The need for this legislation to be implemented is crucial to activate the democratic will of the people. This was and is a complex and emotional matter that conjured up very strong emotions on both sides of the debate. I ask those who supported retaining the eighth amendment to accede to the democratic will of the people and facilitate the passing of this legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas. I believe it is time for them to put aside their conscience and legislate in accordance with the clear will of the Irish people.
The second issue I want to raise concerns the reports that parents of schoolchildren had to spend €46 million last year to make up for shortfalls following funding cuts to capitation grants. That is according to the Catholic Primary School Management Association. Schools across the country have lost €110 million since cuts to capitation grants were first made. Unfortunately, those cuts disproportionately affect schools in disadvantaged areas where parents do not have the means or resources to subsidise Government cuts.
One school in particular in Bluebell, Our Lady of the Wayside national school, which is a DEIS school, is very lucky because it has a dedicated principal in Anne McCluskey. The school was built in the 1960s and, as we can imagine, it remains a 1960s school with very little improvements having been made to it; it has a similar massive fuel bill. The school cannot qualify for Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grants as it cannot match the funding from its resources. It cannot do insulation work or run the school more efficiently. The school receives an ancillary grant of €16,000 per year to go towards secretarial and caretaker services but that does not go very far. It just about pays for a part-time secretary. Ms McCluskey spends her own time trying to care for the site and the extensive grounds and has done that for the past six years.
This matter was brought to the attention of the House previously yet we see the Government is still slow to move and is failing to invest in schools in disadvantaged areas. That was evident in the Minister's new schools plan in which not one school in the Dublin 8 and 12 areas was included. I ask the Minister to come to the House today to explain the reason he is failing to invest in children who live in disadvantaged areas.
I do not intend to say very much on the referendum other than that the people have spoken and it now falls to us to put in place the legislation. I do not want to single anybody out but long before I came into the Oireachtas, Senator Bacik was always front and centre on women's issues. She must feel greatly vindicated at this stage for her work and I want to congratulate her for that.
This morning we heard from the Garda Representative Association, GRA, conference that one in four gardaí may be suffering from work-related stress or trauma. That is according to a survey carried out by the GRA. The survey, carried out by psychotherapist Dr. Finian Fallon, described 27% of those who responded as potentially walking wounded. Just over 2,200 gardaí responded to an email survey. There was a response rate of 38%, with two thirds of respondents male and one third female.
This is the second survey of people in uniform which shows that this country is in dire straits. The survey shows that gardaí are frustrated by the amount of paperwork they have to do. They do not feel they have the right equipment or training to do the job properly and that senior managers do not appreciate the challenges they face. That is a damning line.
The GRA has said that the majority of the gardaí are not trained to properly police this State, particularly in areas of roads policing and sexual offences. The organisation, which began its annual conference in Wexford yesterday, points out that detectives who carry guns are not trained in tactics and front-line gardaí are not trained to respond to terrorist incidents. That is damning. I carried weapons for ten years of my life and not being trained regularly in the use of tactics with respect to carrying weapons which have the potential to kill is just unbelievable.
The GRA also said that most rank and file gardaí do not have full driver training qualifications. A vehicle driven at high speed by somebody who is not qualified to drive it is a lethal weapon. The GRA stated that 52 laws have been brought in over the past eight years but not one classroom training event has taken place.It also stated the lack of welfare facilities for traumatised gardaí is of major concern.
The day after the Brexit vote was passed in the United Kingdom, I said a hard Brexit was also an issue, with delegates pointing out that 500 km of border, with 200 crossings, would require 1,000 extra gardaí along the Border. There are no plans in place to do this. We are sleepwalking towards a Brexit that may well be a hard one.
The health of members of the Garda and the absence of training are issues set to dominate the conference today. We really have to start looking after people in uniform. I agree the peace process has taken some of the emphasis off the uniformed services in this country but this is the second set of damning reports. The first concerned the Defence Forces and now the GRA is involved. I have no doubt the AGSI is in exactly the same situation. Senior members of the Garda have, at their conference, pointed out similar issues. We really have to do something about this. I ask the Leader to organise at his convenience a debate in the House with the Minister for Justice and Equality to discuss the Garda, in particular.
I was at a conference in Europe yesterday. It was a conference of the task force on subsidiarity, proportionality and doing less more efficiently. It is headed by Mr. Frans Timmermans. The conference specifically examined how we might get more done in Europe. I am convinced now that local government is not getting enough attention with respect to European directives and laws. There needs to be more interaction with local government. Too many decisions are made by centralised national governments right across the European Union. The conference showed that yesterday. We might also try to organise a debate on how we engage local government more on European affairs.
I will be brief as I have to return to the education committee. I welcome the result of the referendum on Friday. When I cast my vote, I was definitely not expecting to see such a high turnout, nor was I expecting almost two thirds to vote "Yes". I campaigned throughout the day on Friday until 9 p.m., reminding people to vote on the way home from work. I definitely knew something was changing when men, the demographic we were all told we needed to worry about, were the ones passing us in their work vans, skip vans and articulated trucks, all beeping and giving us the thumbs up in support.
I had a conversation that evening with a friend of mine who had to travel. She asked me whether I really thought she would wake up the next day and be welcomed home. I realised there and then just how much the vote meant to so many women who did not feel at home in their own country for so long. I hope they now feel welcomed home.
I thank all the grassroots campaigners. I single out Deputy Clare Daly, who, as someone who has led campaigns like this, has been somewhat invisible in recent weeks on the platforms and screens but she has definitely been at the forefront for many years in pulling politicians into the conversation and thinking about equal access to healthcare for women in Ireland.
I welcome to the Visitors' Gallery my colleagues, my comrades, from SIPTU's Limerick district council: honorary president Frank McDonnell, John Higgins, Marian O'Callaghan, Mary McElligott, Antoinette Sheen and Breffni Monahan. I am delighted they are here today to see us reflect on the referendum result. It was a very conclusive result in Limerick, with 67% in favour of repeal. There is no doubt that the people have spoken. There is no doubt that they spoke in favour of legislation, as reflected in the Government's general heads of Bill. It was a very emotional day.
I am proud to say our party opposed the original referendum in 1983. That was my first involvement in politics. To be frank, it was not a particularly pleasant time. I note the way our society has changed and, in particular, the way a new, young generation of people, particularly women, has become engaged in the debate, the way in which the conversations developed over recent months and the way our own people got behind the repeal campaign.Among the questions people asked afterwards was whether I celebrated and whether it was appropriate to celebrate. I did celebrate, along with a number of others, in Limerick on Saturday afternoon. To be clear, I was not celebrating abortion but the fact that this awful amendment - this symbol of oppression - is finally to be removed from our Constitution. It is important to reflect on the consistency of the vote across the State. A total of 68% of people in almost every constituency, be it urban or rural, were in favour of repeal so this idea that there would be a huge urban-rural divide turned out not to be the case.
Many people deserve credit. Obviously, I am very proud of our party leader, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. I could name the members of the Citizens' Assembly, Ms Catherine McGuinness and everybody involved in Together for Yes. It is entirely appropriate to pay tribute to Senator Bacik in particular given her long service with regard to this issue. I pay tribute to the trade unions which paid a key part in the campaign, including my own union, SIPTU, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I also recognise politicians on the other side of the debate, particularly the people in this Chamber who argued with sincerity for a "No" vote and argued with respect and dignity throughout.
In terms of what is to be done now, it is important that we all unite around the result the people have given us. We need to act on the instructions of the people and do so as swiftly as possible because for every week and month we fail to enact the legislative framework will mean putting women in the way of danger. I must say that I accept the Government's bona fides in this regard and I am encouraged to hear that we will see legislation before the summer break. There is a case to be made, as our leader did in the Dáil earlier this afternoon, for a swift repeal of the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act to ensure that women who have to travel in the meantime are not restricted and will at least be able to get a proper referral and have access to their case files.
I cannot forget to mention the North because so many activists came down from the North to campaign for repeal. We now have a situation where people in the North have no rights in respect of this issue. We need to see harmonisation across the island. I assure the House that Sinn Féin will campaign for that.
There is the bigger issue of church-State separation. I call for a debate on that issue but that is for another day.
I thank colleagues for their kind remarks and I strongly welcome the resounding two-thirds majority for a "Yes" vote on Friday. The people have spoken very clearly. As somebody who has campaigned on this issue for nearly three decades since I was taken to court and threatened with prison by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, SPUC, back in 1989 when I was president of Trinity College's student union, I am pleased to see the clear and decisive mandate for change in the law from across the country and from almost every constituency, as others have said. Like colleagues, I urge the Government to move swiftly in bringing forward the legislation, on which the Labour Party and other parties will certainly co-operate.
The people have spoken decisively. I commend the wonderful Together for Yes national civil society campaign with which I was very proud to be involved. I also commend my party, the Labour Party, which opposed the amendment in 1983 and whose members have campaigned for many years to repeal the eighth amendment - people like Deputy Brendan Howlin, Mary Robinson, Catherine McGuinness and others. Senator Gavan spoke about the trade union movement but I also wish to mention the student union movement nationally, particularly the student union in Trinity College, which led a formidable campaign around Dublin. Nationally, student unions and the Union of Students in Ireland also mobilised enormous numbers of young people which was very welcome. I am delighted that the constituency in which I live and which I canvassed most extensively had the highest "Yes" vote in the country, at 78.5%, which is a resounding result.
I join with colleagues in saying that not only should the Government move forward swiftly on the legislation to replace the eighth amendment - the regulation of termination of pregnancy legislation - but some interim and more immediate measures also need to be taken. I have already spoken with the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach and this does not only include the repeal of the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act. The Irish Family Planning Association, an organisation with a proud tradition on this matter, has called for repeal of the Act and it is quite right. It is time to remove the Act immediately. There is no longer any constitutional imperative for the restriction on referral to clinics or hospitals in Great Britain.It is significantly impeding doctors' clinical practice and counsellors and, therefore, we need to repeal the 1995 Act.
In addition, the Government should move swiftly in the next week to delete the criminal sanction from the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. It is invidious that doctors and women would face criminal penalty if, for example, a woman imports abortion pills tomorrow or the next day, or if a doctor performs a termination of pregnancy in a case of fatal foetal abnormality. I was questioned on this earlier by a journalist who suggested that if we removed the criminal sanction, a floodgate would open. I think we have seen the floodgate argument pretty decisively defeated in the referendum campaign and I do not think there is any prospect at all of floodgates opening. However, we know that, already, three or four women are importing pills every day and we need to ensure they no longer do so with the threat of criminal sanction hanging over them, now the people have spoken so resoundingly.
I call on the Leader to make representations to the Government on moving forward, not only with the more detailed framework legislation on termination of pregnancy but more swiftly on those immediate measures we could take to remove measures that are no longer required to remain in our statute law because the constitutional imperative has been removed. It would be a very important symbolic gesture, apart from anything else, to recognise this overwhelming result in Friday's exercise in democracy by the people. I agree the next step is separation of church and State in other ways, and we have certainly seen that as an imperative as well. My colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, has called for the setting up a citizens' assembly to examine, in particular, the issue of divestment of schools, given that over 90% of primary schools remain under Catholic Church control. That is the next campaign and a related one.
For today, I thank colleagues for their kind words. I very much welcome this decisive result and ask the Leader to make representations on the next steps.
I was alarmed to read in the Irish Independenthow some of the women affected by the CervicalCheck situation still have not been contacted and my understanding is that three women are involved. I call on the Leader to ensure pressure is put on the HSE to make every effort to contact these three women. It is unacceptable that, five weeks later, they have still not been contacted.
On a local issue, I congratulate Adare Manor on its nomination for a prize in the prestigious Virtuoso "Best of the Best Awards 2018". While the result will not be announced until August, it is an international competition and says that we have one of the best hotels on offer here in Ireland. Very shortly, on 18 June, Adare Manor in Limerick is to host a big international arts conference, with people coming from all over the world to attend. They will be taken on a tour to promote not only Limerick but the region, which I believe is very important from the tourism aspect.
Like others, I wish to pay tribute to the hundreds and thousands of volunteers and people who have worked over the past 35 years to see last Friday's result occur, and in such a spectacular fashion. In particular, Senator Bacik has been fighting a lonely battle over a number of years and has brought other people along with her. As Senator Ruane mentioned, Deputy Clare Daly raised the issue when it was very unpopular to do so, kept the issue on the political agenda and made us all focus on it. I would like to pay tribute to them in particular but also to everybody else on all sides. The debate was conducted in a relatively decent fashion and we did not engage in the personal abuse, which I believe was the hallmark of a previous referendum on this issue. I support Senator Bacik's call for the Government to move swiftly with the legislation and to implement interim measures to make the situation more tolerable for Irish women.
I want to refer to another article in the Constitution which I would like to see repealed, namely, Article 41.2. For those who are not familiar with it, I will read it. It states:
1° In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
This article and its language are wholly unsuitable for a modern Ireland. They do not take into consideration the contribution women have made and make daily to public life, their communities, business, agriculture, the law, the arts, science, technology - the list could go on. Economic independence for women is vitally important if we are to achieve full equality in Irish society. I therefore ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue and this article of the Constitution. I would certainly like to see it addressed in the very near future.
I am conscious of the discussions and the debate on the referendum and I do not want to repeat what other Senators have said. One thing that became clear during the campaign is that it was a good exercise. It was important we had engagement on all sides of the debate. We must never lose sight of the fact that we live in a Republic in which people are free and have the right to express their views and do not have to be vilified or condemned for the views they hold. It is great that we can have a debate and that people can challenge all sides of that debate. That is really important. The vote was important and timely.
On the vote itself, I appeal to Government Members in particular to use their influence. It is about time we had a fully independent electoral commission to operate elections and manage the electoral registers in this country. I met people in my town who went to vote and were told they were not on the register. They had never taken themselves off it. We talk about a 65% turnout. We do not really know the turnout because of the large inaccuracies on the registers of electors. I suggest that it is timely that we had an initiative from the Government to establish a fully independent electoral commission that would govern and police all elections and maintain the registers of electors. I wish to take a final opportunity to thank the electoral commission because it did a really good job during this campaign. It has done likewise in the past but it did an exceptionally good job this time, which is worth remembering.
I wish to raise my concern about a serious problem affecting third level students from Mayo attending college in Galway city, particularly arising out of the rent hikes taking place on student accommodation. The issue of Cúirt na Coiribe and the €1,000 increase in the rent has been highlighted, but this is an issue that affects many students, not just those who want to live in Cúirt na Coiribe. It is hard for students to get accommodation. In cases in which they can secure private rented accommodation, they are being asked to sign 12-month leases, not nine-month leases. This is a big financial imposition on families and it is families and students who have contacted me. Many people from Mayo attend college in Galway, in both Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, and many of them are not in receipt of SUSI grants. They are to the pin of their collar, paying for everything for their children to give them the best start they can, and this is becoming a serious obstacle. I was contacted two days ago by a woman who has a daughter in college in Galway. She is facing the prospect - a very good prospect - of her next daughter going to college this coming year and is wondering how she will afford it. This is a very serious problem. We need to look at rent caps on student accommodation and other measures that will protect students in the same way we have approached rent caps in the private rented accommodation sector. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, are looking at this to see what the appropriate measures are. I believe this needs to be done as a matter of urgency and that some signal of hope is sent out to the hard-pressed families and students who are trying to get by to the effect that there will be a solution and they will not also become victims of our housing crisis.
Like others, I wish to speak briefly about the referendum and the huge majority of the Irish people who made a momentous decision on Friday to trust one another and trust women.Ireland also took a great step towards restoring the trust of women in our State. Women now trust more that they will be safe, that they will be equal and that they will be heard. It is for us as legislators to reflect that trust by ensuring we act in the most timely manner possible in implementing the legislation and giving it effect.
As well as trust, something that has emerged from the campaign is that we can talk to each other, and that it is okay to talk to each other about this. As well as the generations of brilliant feminist activists such as Ailbhe Smyth, young activists and movements such as the Abortion Rights Campaign and others took to the streets in this campaign. As somebody who first marched for repeal as a teenager in 1992, I am very glad these young women and men have not had to wait as long for change. There is also the wonderful political leadership given on this issue by people such as Senator Ivana Bacik and Deputy Clare Daly, which is rightly recognised, and by many before them. One of the key credits that must be given is to those individual women who came forward and shared the realities of their lives and their lived experiences, often talking about very difficult decisions and difficult parts of their lives. There are those who have done this publicly, but I know many have done it privately.
The result and what has happened over this referendum are important not just for the society but for families, because in some families people have spoken to each other for the first time about what they have experienced and the difficulties they have faced. There will be great healing in that. There will also be counselling and support needed for some, who have put great personal effort and energy into this campaign. It is notable that those personal conversations by canvassers or within families proved to be more impactful than the often negative and toxic discussions that took place in the online space, and this is an area that needs regulation. I absolutely support Senator Boyhan on the need for an electoral commission.
The great thing about breaking the silence that existed in the shadow of the eighth amendment is that we can now have a real conversation about supports. The decision was decisive but it need not be divisive, and there is an opportunity for all in the House now to engage in the real work of support for lone parents and for fixing our broken adoption system, supports and rights for those with a disability, support for addressing the legacies of inequality in our pension system and experienced by those in the Magdalen laundries. This is collective work in which I hope all of us will be able to engage to ensure the women of Ireland are supported fully and given all of the best options with all of the best supports. There is also a work of solidarity ahead of us with women in Northern Ireland who still face great difficulties and with women whose rights are being endangered across the world. I hope Ireland can be a beacon of support for them also.
In light of Senator Mulherin's concern about student accommodation I encourage her to support Deputy Eoin Ó Broin's Bill to address the exploitation of students.
I want to talk about the referendum and congratulate everybody involved and commend the people of Ireland who came out in huge numbers to vote. I commend Senator Ivana Bacik on the work she has done and others who have worked so hard on this when it was not easy to do so. I also commend the women who came forward with personal stories. I commend rural people who came out; they were the silent women and men. I was asked over the weekend why did I think so many rural men and women came out and I said it was probably because they had suffered most and had suffered in silence in many ways because of the pressure to conform in many rural areas and have the 2.4 children, the dog and everything else. That has been a huge burden over the years. Then we look at issues such as the Magdalen laundries and the Tuam babies. These informed the thinking and action of women over the weekend when they came out and voted so decisively. I agree this should not be divisive. People should not try to rerun the referendum.There is room for everybody. Just because I voted "Yes" does not mean that the person who voted "No" is any less than me or anybody else. We need to work collectively to put in place robust legislation that will protect the lives of women and children.
Time is ticking regarding the appeal in respect of the hooded men to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. I ask that the Leader raise with the Tánaiste what needs to be done to progress this appeal.
The referendum result last weekend sends out a powerful signal that our country has changed and utterly so. It is time now for healing and reconciliation. There should be no scapegoats. Most people on both sides acted out of compassion. They listened to the stories of the experiences of men and women over the past 35 years. While the result is very welcome - I voted "Yes" - the euphoria has been a little too much. Something similar happens on occasion in this Chamber when people seem to find easy targets such as An Garda Síochána, the Catholic Church, etc. Now is the time for healing and reconciliation. Most of the people on the two sides acted out compassion. They felt that they were doing what was right. As I said, the euphoria has been a little too much and we now need a little healing and reconciliation. We are beginning to trust women. People now need to trust politicians because they will have to make many decisions on this issue in the coming months.
I thank the Labour Party, which over the past 35 years, has been to the fore on issues such as same-sex marriage and repeal of the eighth amendment. I compliment Senator Ivana Bacik, Deputy Clare Daly and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who when it came to forming a government, made this a red line issue. Fair play to the Minister, who, as somebody new to politics, succeed in having this matter included in the programme for Government. There are politicians who have been in government for many years and who have been unable to get other issues included in a programme for Government. What was achieved by the Minister should be acknowledged.
There is much talk about one Ireland. The referendum result signals to our unionist friends in the North that this is no longer a Roman Catholic state but, rather, an open, pluralist, caring, secular society.
Saturday was a remarkable occasion. I do not think any of us anticipated the scale of the landslide. For me, one person in this House stands out, namely, my colleague and friend, Senator Ivana Bacik, who 30 years ago, when it was not popular or profitable to do so, led the movement from inside Trinity College where she was president of the students' union. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, SPUC, went against her and she was threatened with imprisonment. I take this opportunity to salute my colleague and friend for the work she did.
I would also like to acknowledge the role and courage of the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and Deputies Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald. Fifty years ago, when I started out on my journey of seeking civil and human rights for gay people in this country, I was warned that the Roman Catholic Church would be against me and that it would destroy me. I said that would not happen because, like the other Christian churches, it has never once told the truth about human sexuality. That series of lies will come home to haunt them.
I noted a priest from Ballyfermot saying on television that this was the death of the Roman Catholic Church. I sincerely hope it is not. I would lament more than I can say if there is any slow attempted suicide of the church over many years. The two previous Popes removed, transferred, silenced and destroyed the greatest thinkers of the Roman Catholic Church.I refer to Leonardo Boff, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, Charles Curran and John O'Neill. All of these people were destroyed and mediocrities were installed in their place. That is why we have this mess. I would greatly regret if the Roman Catholic Church was so seriously diminished. It has played a magnificent and brave role in the history of this country. That is despite its tragic and vicious record on the abuse of children and the resulting cover-up.
The Church of Ireland archbishops were disgraceful as well. They were appalling. It was unspeakable, the way they resiled from the position that had been taken up and courageously maintained by somebody who was worth 40 times more than each of those archbishops, the late and great Victor Griffin, Dean of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. I met several people from the "No" side. I deliberately went to talk to them because I felt that they were downcast and miserable. I put my arm around them and said that nothing had changed as far as their ideals were concerned. They can still live up to their ideals. Nobody is forcing them. All that has ended is the imposition of their views on other people who do not share them. The ending of that imposition can only be a good thing.
Yes, there was celebration. I was part of it and I hooted and cheered but that was because we were seeing the releasing of chains from people. It was not a celebration of abortion. People will still have abortions. It will always be sad if it is a fatal foetal abnormality. It will be a much-loved child that will be lost. However, it will be in the company and surrounded by the comfort of the family, medical advisers and friends. That is the difference.
Senator Norris is to be congratulated for being so full in his praise of Senator Bacik. She deserves the recognition of the House for her work over the years. Personally, when I was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, I found her help, advice and guidance very valuable.
Returning to the comment of Senator Feighan, I agree this is not a time for any form of triumphalism and I am certainly not going to indulge in it. There is still a sizeable minority who do not share the winning view, if we want to call it the winning view. It is important to remember though that school of thought was, once upon a time in this country, a significant majority. It is now a minority. There is a change there. The Communist Chinese revolutionary, Zhou Enlai, was asked once what his opinion was of the French Revolution and whether it was a successful event. He said it was too soon to say. People are already reading everything into Saturday's result. It is too soon to say. Something huge has definitely happened. It is seismic and on the scale of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Senator Norris deserves the bows there, as does my party colleague, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who was the Minister who decriminalised it. It is on the scale of Donogh O'Malley's free education scheme or Seán Lemass going up north to meet Terence O'Neill. It is going to be seen in the history books in years to come as an important time.
Many Oireachtas Members of my party - a majority - voted "No". That was their entitlement. I had no problem with that. I worked on the "Yes" side with members of all parties and my Fianna Fáil colleagues worked on the "No" side with members of all parties as well. That is a grand thing and I have no problem with it. However, I do want to say very clearly today - as Senator Feighan has said - that we have moved on now.
The referendum is over and the people have had their say. There were reservations and they were heard, understood and acknowledged. Now that the people have spoken, as a lifelong member of Fianna Fáil I expect every member of my party in the Oireachtas to support the legislation, which was clearly outlined in the draft heads of the Bill that attended the referendum. We do not want any more dancing around on the heads of pins. I am saying that in public as something upon which my party needs to reflect. We were always a party of the people and we have to reconnect with the people.There is no question or doubt about that.
Mar fhocal scoir, many people have said it was bad to get into the practice of bringing all these young people back from abroad to vote and we might have opened Pandora's box. I say to those who thought as much that they should be very afraid. Young people have become engaged and politicised and they will stay that way. It is up to politicians to stay ahead of them rather than be dragged behind them.
I welcome my colleagues and friends from Foxford in County Mayo. They come from areas of business, education and medicine. One of them was the first face and voice of the blood bank many years ago and we know the contribution made by that organisation to Irish society and life. They are very welcome. I grew up with them and they know everything about me. They know how much everything they stand for means to me.
I congratulate the people on the repeal of the eighth amendment. The Irish people never let us down on a right vote, and this was the right vote. I thank the Government and everybody who took part, particularly Senator Bacik, our colleague in the House who led a great path for this over the past 30 years. I also acknowledge Deputy Enda Kenny because of the effect of the Citizens' Assembly, which he pursued against all odds. It was derided and berated and we were told it would be an obfuscation but it was not; it ended up being anything but an obfuscation and now it seems to be the best thing on the planet. We are going to use it for everything. It is very good in some ways and not good in others. It is very good with moral and profound issues but not so much with other matters that should come under our scope as politicians and Senators.
I am proud of the Irish people. I have said it before that I do not get my morality from politicians and, personally, I do not get it from the church. I was a single parent in the 1980s when they were flittering Joanne Hayes down the road, so I know what it is to be on one's own with a child in this country and rearing that child, who is now 30 and would kill me for saying this. I know what it is to be a silent "Yes" and a silent movement for women. I get my morality from my own pathology, history and experience. I know these people, whether they are 18 or 80 years old, voted this way because of an internal morality. It is a good one, as was shown the other day. Many people had made up their minds years ago as to what they would do if this referendum came about.
There has been a call for the segregation of church and State. We are going to close all the Catholic churches, batter them and everything they stand for. While doing that we are to build mosques the size of Croke Park in Dublin 15. I was educated and minded by the Catholic Church. My mother is being minded as a resident by Catholic nuns. I admire the Catholic Church, which has the most appalling background on many issues. We all know what they are. However, it has done great work and deeds.
I am articulate here because of the nuns. Interestingly, when I was pregnant and on my own, it was the nuns who took me in and gave me the psychological ability to move on. I am not so fast in saying this. I believe in choice and all that comes with it but the Catholic Church has made a distinctive and distinguished contribution to this country. We should be quiet about how we will batter it and take it down. It will not die. It may become something else, metamorphose into something more compassionate. We should believe more in the internal morality of the people rather than something we find at statues.
Like many other speakers I welcome Saturday's result. There was good political leadership shown and there was also great leadership shown in civic society. That really stood out. The great referendums that have been passed - this one and the vote on same-sex marriage - have been led by civic society. As politicians we should take a lesson from that.
I am also mindful that on Friday the public gave us major responsibility. We must bring forward the legislation. Beware the public, because if we do not bring in robust and strong legislation, we will be blamed. We must ensure the legislation we introduce satisfies all the courts that will see challenges in future.The quality of the legislation we introduce is our responsibility. I am not in favour of rushing through legislation such as this because rushed legislation in the past has led to problems. This needs to be scrutinised both in the Dáil and in this Chamber.
I have one request for the Minister and those who are drafting the Bill. Not to go against my legal colleagues in the Seanad, but the drafting of a Bill is usually done by legal personnel and it is for the legal profession. Many of us here are simple, honest folk. Can the Bill be drafted in a language that all of us can understand-----
-----and not include words that will allow the legal profession to have arguments in the future?
I wish to raise a final point. Can the Leader ask the Chair of the Seanad reform committee to give the House an update on what is happening? It appears to be stalled. I will be standing here seeking Seanad reform every day if necessary. Things have to change to make this House much more relevant than it has been in the past. We see what has been recommended in the Manning report. We should start there and work back to what the original Seanad was established to do.
I welcome the result of the referendum last Friday. It was an incredible result. The people of Ireland have spoken and it is important that we listen. For the women of Ireland it means a sense of freedom and that is really important. I commend my colleague, Senator Bacik, on the great work she has done, along with Deputies Clare Daly and Zappone and the many other women and men who have fought hard for this.
I also wish to mention the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the great work he did on this issue and his passion. The leaders of the three major parties have been phenomenal on this issue. There was Deputy McDonald's conviction and commitment. In addition, Deputy Micheál Martin and Senator Ned O'Sullivan changed their thinking. To go from a "No" vote to a "Yes" vote takes great courage and I commend them for that.
I also pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers who worked tirelessly for the campaign. In my own office I saw the work Conor O'Neill, who works with me, his girlfriend and his group of friends, all of them very young, did on the referendum. Their passion and commitment were really contagious. I pay tribute to all of them.
Finally, I wish to offer condolences to the families of Jastine Valdez, Anastasia Kriegel and Cameron Reilly who lost their loved ones in the last few weeks in horrendous atrocities and killings. My heart goes out to all of the families. I am aware that the Valdez and Hennessy families met last Friday. I thought that was beautiful because I have no doubt that the Hennessy family are as devastated, as are the family of the 13 year old who was arrested. I cannot imagine what must be happening to them all. I offer my condolences to all of the families.
I wish to reflect on the momentous day we had last Friday and on the turnout. In 1983, 53% of the electorate turned out to vote "Yes".A total of 1,257,369 people turned out to vote, 66% of whom voted to insert the eighth amendment into our Constitution. On Friday last, 2,159,655 people turned out to vote, which is a turnout of 64%, and 66% of them voted to take the same amendment back out of the Constitution. It was the third highest turnout in a referendum in Ireland after the votes on membership of the EEC in 1974 and on the right to travel, to information and on the risk to life in 1992. It was a momentous day. I felt somewhat injured by Senator Feighan when he said that I should not be celebrating. I am not triumphalist but I know what it was like in 1983. I spoke to women in their 80s on doorsteps -----
I know about the indoctrination that we all felt. Those women quietly said that they would be voting "Yes" but asked us not to tell the neighbours. That is what happened in this revolution. The result on Saturday was for the women of Ireland and we are not going back.
I also want to raise two matters which I ask the Leader to address. The first concerns the 135,000 people, mostly young women, who were on the supplementary register. Electoral reform is required because their names will now be deleted. That means that 135,000 people will be taken off the register of electors, which seems illogical. It also means that we are constantly trying to catch up with ourselves in terms of keeping the register up to date. If those people were accepted onto the supplementary register, surely they should stay on it.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns the Minister for Health. While we await the Bill to give effect to the referendum result, will the Minister urge the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, to authorise medicines for termination as soon as possible? Research is readily available on these pills which are being taken by women here anyway. We need them to be licensed by the HPRA without delay.
I am not the only person in this Chamber to have been saddened by the result of this referendum. I must say, on behalf of the one third of the voting population who voted "No" on Friday, that I am very sorry for all of those children who will lose their lives in the future as a result of this decision and for the many women who will be hurt by the decision to have an abortion, as often happens.
I too wondered at the tones of triumph, the cheering and the hoopla but I was more taken over the last few days by the attitude of some gentle friends of mine who found themselves bewildered by that. One could not think of an occasion in the western world where there was such cheering about a decision that was so directly related to a decision to end the lives of other human beings. Those peoples' opinions, their hurt and their sense of bewilderment matter and need to be spoken for and to.
I want to thank the many people who campaigned on the "No" side with dignity and who have a lot more work to do in the future. Now they have to do the very same work that they would have been doing anyway, but without the support of the law, which is to try to persuade each new generation that there is a better, more life-giving and humane choice than abortion.
Much has been made about the debates and whether they would be divisive. When it comes to life and death decisions, there will be times when debates are divisive. I know that many people voted "Yes" on Friday because they accepted the emotional power of arguments for abortion in particular tragic circumstances. I never disputed how people could understand that perspective, even if my perspective is different. However, I regret that there were also arguments made, some from those in high places, about the compromising of women's health if we did not change our law or the prosecution of women, even though that has never happened in this country. Such arguments really spoke to fear, were not grounded in reality and were all about getting a result over the line.I regret that there was too little time, public space and open debate in our forum to seek to prove some of those arguments untrue.
The margin was decisive, but when one in three people continues to believe that abortion is profoundly wrong, not necessarily for religious reasons but because it offends and denies human dignity and rejects the literally tiny minority, is something more than a majoritarian impulse that insists that every legislator must be on board not required? People have given politicians a free hand to decide on this issue, and I believe that in a healthy democracy we should wonder why one third of the membership of these Houses is not regretting the vote last Friday. If one third does not oppose legislation that would deprive a minority of life, does that not show that the democratic deficit remains on the "No" side?
I appeal to the majority, which now has a free hand, to exercise that hand with caution, care and thoughtfulness, rather than rushing. I ask it to consider the position of people working in healthcare who feel they should not be forced into having any hand, act or part in something they believe is nothing to do with healthcare. Calling it obstruction because they do not want to refer a person to someone who will do something they believe is unjust lacks tolerance. There is still time to consider whether we should support everything the Government is proposing, particularly in the area of late term abortions. We now have the power to do something, but we should ask ourselves whether we ought to do it.
The weekend was momentous. I thank the women who told their personal stories. Many of us understand the harm and hurt that comes with that. Others will say it is cathartic, and perhaps that is the case, but only when the result was positive. For Parliaments elsewhere in the world, such as Australia or the North, where these decisions can be made, politicians owe us political will. I thank the Irish people, who made such a strong and decisive decision after what Ailbhe Smyth described as one of the most lengthy national conversations about any law. I also thank the activists who made it all happen. I was glad that Fintan O'Toole mentioned our young people and recognised their efforts. How often do young people have to smash the redundant stereotypes? How long before this Parliament recognises that and allows their political participation from a younger age?
On Sunday morning, I visited the National Print Museum and an exhibition entitled, Print, Protest and the Polls: The Irish Women's Suffrage Campaign and the Power of Print Media. There should have been crowds at the event and it should be a permanent exhibition. One quote, from Margaret Connery, who wrote an article entitled, The New Force in Irish Politics, in The Irish Citizenin August 1918, stood out:
If the new woman voter in Ireland has the courage and independence to set a new standard I believe the men of the new generation would try hard to live up to it... Irish women have a long-inherited passion for national liberty. They will ring true on that issue. May they be equally true and uncompromising on the deep human issues.
I join Senators Gavan and Bacik in calling for legislation as soon as possible to ensure referrals can be made to Britain and to remove criminal sanctions from the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. I have also written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, asking that he ensures gender neutral language is included in the legislation in recognition of the fact that trans people face crisis pregnancies.
We finally live in a time when the position of everybody is respected. Our job, as we make advances, is to reach out our hand to our brothers and sisters in the North and elsewhere
A recently published PhoneWatch survey recently published showed there were 19,000 burglaries last year in this country. That is a 3% increase on the previous year. Rural areas would appear to be the worst affected, with my own constituency of Cavan-Monaghan experiencing 483 burglaries last year. That is a staggering 36% increase on the previous year. Westmeath was the highest and showed a 44% increase on the previous year. I am sure the Leader will agree these figures are scary and alarming. We should also remember that behind each of those 19,000 burglaries, there are people who have been left hurt and traumatised. I have raised the issue of inadequate Garda resources in our communities for some time and I think it is an issue that deserves serious attention. The front-line members of the Garda who put their lives on hold every day they present themselves for duty deserve better. The conference of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, is taking place this week. Year after year, its members raise issues regarding their work and the lack of resources and, it would appear, a lack of commitment devoted to helping them do their job.
It is high time we showed more respect to the men and women of An Garda Síochána, who go out on a daily basis to protect us. The least they deserve is to be properly resourced, from the perspectives of manpower and preparation. I understand from the conference that more than 50 Bills have passed through these Houses in recent years and no member of the Garda has received tuition as to how that legislation affects his or her job. It is not good enough, as I am sure the Leader would agree. It is high time we showed respect to the men and women of An Garda Síochána who go out and do the difficult job of protecting rural communities day after day. Based on these figures, they have a serious job of work on their hands.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business and I thank the 18 Members of the House who made reference to the referendum and the decision of the Irish people last Friday. I will begin by thanking all Members of the House for their contribution on the matter and I thank the Irish people for their participation in the referendum. The people have spoken decisively. They turned out in their droves to cast their ballot and we have seen the outcome. It now behoves us as Members of the Upper House, in conjunction with Members of the Dáil, to ensure that the will of the people is carried out.
I begin by thanking Senator Bacik for her leadership in the campaign. I thank Senator Noone for her role as chair of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, and I thank Senator Mullen for his contribution to the referendum campaign from a different viewpoint. I thank the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, for establishing the Citizens' Assembly. As a member of the Constitutional Convention that was, I believe in the importance of deliberative democracy, and the Citizens' Assembly again proved its importance.
A mandate has been given to us to act and it now behoves us to do that. I think it is important to reflect on what took place last Friday. The Irish people, as Members have said, participated through a combination of personal conversations and thorough investigation of the facts before them. However, as the exit polls from RTÉ showed, it was not just about the referendum campaign. It was during the five previous years that many of them made up their minds. It is important to recognise the critical importance of civic engagement groups on both sides of the referendum campaign, in particular, as Members have said, on the side that emerged with the "Yes" vote last Friday.
I made the comment on Friday we voted, on Saturday we counted, and today we stand as Irish people in a republic, united, going forward. I commend all who took part, "Yes" and "No". I want to hear all sides. I have always been of that viewpoint. We live in a democracy and a republic, where the one third who voted "No" continue to have the right to have their voice heard.That is what we do as a republic. We respect each other, we disagree but we now move to legislation. The enactment of the legislation is a priority for Government. As the Minister for Health said today, and I ask Members from the "Yes" side who contributed today to note this, we must do so with a sense of realism. Senator Lawlor was correct. Rushed legislation is bad legislation. The Minister is committed to putting together a timeline for the legislation and regulations. This is why he is having discussions with all sides in a cross-party way. It is important that we get this right for the women and doctors of Ireland. The Minister's intent is to have the Bill published in the coming weeks. I understand the Dáil is sitting longer so that it can have Second Stage commenced prior to the Dáil recess. Obviously, as Members of the Upper House, we must await the passage of the legislation through the Lower House before it comes to us but I am sure that in coming months and weeks, we will have an opportunity to debate the legislation. We will not delay it here. We do our business in this House in a very efficient manner. As the Taoiseach said this morning, it is desirable to have a cross-party approach. In the context of Senator Bacik's comments on the 1995 abortion information Act, we could have a cross-party approach to that.
It is important that we reflect upon what happened last Friday and do so in a manner that respects the right of all of us to have different viewpoints. In response to Senator Boyhan, the Electoral Commission Bill is part of the programme for Government and is a priority for Government. Tolerance is a two-way street, as Members will know. There is room in our society and State for different viewpoints and I hope those with a different viewpoint will not, as some people have argued, fold up their tent. Democracy in a republic is about all of us being able to have our views heard and voiced.
Senators Craughwell and Gallagher raised the issue of An Garda Síochána and the GRA. It is important to recognise that the debate at the GRA conference is coming from a representative organisation, which has a right to have its voice heard. The Government is committed to An Garda Síochána. I will not take any lecture from Senator Gallagher about the way the Government treats and respects members of An Garda Síochána. We are the party that reopened the Garda Training College in Templemore, started recruitment and increased investment in An Garda Síochána. It is important to put that on the record. I would be happy to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of capitation, an issue that has been raised here previously. The Minister for Education and Skills is committed to increasing capitation. It is one of a number of issues being looked in the context of the upcoming budget. There has always been a traditional local contribution. We have had ten difficult years. A total of 42 new schools have been built and an extra €1 billion put into the education budget, 85% of which has gone to schools, which means extra teachers and special needs assistants. We now have 6,000 new teachers employed, 3,000 new special needs assistants and 20,000 extra school places compared to 2010 when we had 9,000. The capitation grant has increased under the Minister. It was first reduced in 2010 by the former Government. It is important to recognise that in the past number of years, we have seen the capitation grant increase. The Minister's record in education is there to be seen. It is important that we recognise that.
Senator Craughwell raised the role of local government and Europe. I would be very happy to have a debate on that. I know many members of local authorities travel to different conferences in Europe and play a very strong and sterling role in the promotion of local government. I congratulate and commend members of our local authorities who do that.
I welcome Senator Gavan's group from SIPTU's Limerick district council, which is very welcome to the House today, as is Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's group from Foxford, County Mayo. Senator Byrne raised the issue of CervicalCheck. It is important to recognise that there have been delays in some women being notified, which is unacceptable.Some of that has to do with information being unavailable but additional staffing has been granted to CervicalCheck and it is critical that the women involved are communicated with and that there are no delays whatsoever.
I join the Senator in wishing Adare Manor well in the "Best of the Best 2018" awards.
Senator Clifford-Lee will be glad to hear that the Government is intent on holding a referendum on the reference to women in the home in October. I am sure she will be very happy to campaign on that referendum. I agree with her that the language in our Constitution is outdated, is of its time and should be removed. It is the Government's intent to have that referendum in October of this year and I look forward to campaigning with the Senator for its removal from the Constitution.
I answered Senator Boyhan in terms of the Electoral Commission.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the Cúirt na Coiribe student accommodation in Galway. A new management company has taken up residence there which I understand is treating the students unfairly. I hope that can be resolved as a matter of urgency.
I do not have the information in terms of the hooded men for Senator Conway-Walsh. I will be happy to communicate that issue to the Tánaiste.
Senator Lawlor raised the issue of Seanad reform. The second meeting of the Seanad reform committee will take place this afternoon under the chairmanship of Senator McDowell. I will be happy to bring the matter back to the House for ongoing debate in terms of progress reports. I thank Senators for their contributions.