Order of Business (Continued)
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Billy Timmins: On a point of order, I signalled earlier that I wanted to speak on the Order of Business. What is the exact Standing Order that governs the Order of Business on a Thursday? It is unacceptable that a Deputy who is seeking to raise an issue can sit here for an hour without being given floor time.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Twenty minutes are made available for the Order of Business on Thursdays. A vote is obviously taken out of the 20 minutes. As this morning's time was taken up by the vote and other business, there was no time for questions on the Order of Business.
Deputy Billy Timmins: The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might give me some advice. I have listened to representatives of the Government talking about the Dáil holding the Executive to account. Is there any way the Government might dedicate a tree out in the back lawn to which we might talk if we have an issue? How can someone raise an issue in this House?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This problem has been raised on a number of occasions. It has been suggested that the Whips might meet to discuss it. If the Deputy is asking for it to be considered, I can certainly make that request known to the Ceann Comhairle.
Deputy Billy Timmins: I am not blaming you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It shows how dysfunctional this House has become. We had a referendum last week. We have not even been given five minutes on the Order Paper to discuss the rejection by the people of this country of a proposition that was put to them by the Government. It is outrageous that ordinary Members have not even been five seconds to discuss the issue.
Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill 2013: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Land Conveyancing and Reform Act 2013 to afford greater protection to mortgagors where faced with an order of possession by placing additional obligations on the mortgagee.
This important legislation will assist many people in this State who are affected by the fear of repossession.
Energy Regulation (Code of Practice) Bill 2013: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide the extension of the functions of the commission for energy regulation to ensure compliance, by electricity and gas suppliers, with a code of practice relating to disconnection of domestic energy by electricity and gas suppliers to household customers and to provide for related matters.
Membership of Committees: Motion
That Deputy Michael McCarthy be discharged from the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions and that Deputy Willie Penrose be appointed in substitution for him.
Sittings and Business of Dáil: Motion
That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, unless the Dáil shall otherwise order, the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the sittings of the Dáil on 15, 16 and 17 October 2013:(i) oral questions shall not be taken on Tuesday and Wednesday;
Second Report of the Convention on the Constitution: Statements
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I am pleased to present the Government's response to recommendations of the Second Report of the Convention on the Constitution. The Government welcomes this second report. We continue to be encouraged by the engagement of the participants in the process. This was evidenced again in the most recent meeting of the convention, which took place two weeks ago and at which the question of whether to give citizens residing outside the State the right to vote in presidential elections at Irish embassies was discussed.
As Deputies will know, the Convention on the Constitution was previously tasked with considering and making recommendations as it sees fit on the questions of whether to amend the constitutional clause on the role of women in the home, how to encourage greater participation by women in public life and how to increase the participation of women in politics. This is the subject matter of the second report, which we are discussing this morning.
The establishment of the Convention on the Constitution was approved by resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas in July 2012. The resolution establishing the convention requires the Government to provide its response to each recommendation of the convention within four months. If the Government proposes to accept the recommendation, it is required to indicate the timeframe it envisages for the holding of any related referendum. Due to the summer vacation, this is the first opportunity I have had to report on behalf of the Government to the House in relation to the report we received in May and on which a reply was due while the House was in recess.
The commitments in the programme for Government in respect of these two issues reflect the fact that Ireland has changed significantly since the Constitution was adopted in 1937. While women have always played a central role in the family, over 975,000 women are now also active in the labour market. Over 500,000 of these women have children and therefore have additional caring responsibilities. A further significant number of adults, both men and women, have caring responsibilities for older parents and other adult dependents.
We know from research that we need to encourage greater sharing of family responsibilities among the partners in the family unit. Indeed, this is a stated goal of European Union gender equality policy. EU economic policy encourages member states to take all necessary steps to increase the labour market participation of women. The female population across Europe, and indeed in Ireland, has achieved higher standards of education than their male counterparts. Ireland is to the forefront at EU level in respect of the number of female graduates. We must ensure these women have every opportunity to advance their careers, while sharing with their partners the caring role for their families.
The programme for Government includes specific recommendations to advance the role of women in public and political life, as well as a commitment to examine the language in the Constitution. The Government is actively implementing the national women's strategy. Although it predated our tenure in office, the strategy affords a clear vision to equalise socioeconomic opportunity for women, ensure the well-being of women and engage women as equal, effective active citizens.
The implementation of this cross-departmental strategy, which contains more than 20 objectives and 200 actions, is overseen by my Department. We have already seen many positive developments for the betterment of the lives of women in Ireland, including the narrowing of some key gaps in gender equality, particularly in relation to employment and health care. We are also seeing better cross-departmental and cross-agency coordination of services to address violence against women and human trafficking.
I will now turn to the recommendations in the convention's second report and give the Government's response to each of them. As I have mentioned, the convention was tasked to deal with two specific issues in its deliberations. Those deliberations led to votes on two additional propositions; namely the possible incorporation of gender equality as a principle in the Constitution and the possible amendment of its text to include gender-sensitive language.
I will turn first to the original issue of the language on "women in the home" in our Constitution. This language has been examined critically on a number of occasions over the past 20 years, including by the Second Commission on the Status of Women in 1992, the Constitution Review Group in 1996, the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in 2006 and the UN committee which oversees the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted in 1979 and which Ireland ratified in 1985.
While the Convention on the Constitution did not offer an alternative text in its report, a majority of its members favoured changing the clause to make it gender-neutral and recommended that it should include references to "other carers in the home" and "to include carers beyond the home". On a continuum, a majority of participants at the convention also recommended that the State should offer a "reasonable level of support" to ensure that those to whom the newly constructed amendment should apply "shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour".
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