The effect of this amendment, if carried, would be to resurrect and re-create the position as it was under the Act of 1919. Up to 1919 the woman juror had no existence in fact or in law. Under an Act passed in that year in the British Parliament women became qualified for jury service on a parity with men. We retreated somewhat from that position in our Act of 1924, which laid down that women who applied for exemption from jury service would be granted it automatically. Under the operations of that Act the great majority of the women who possessed the statutory qualifications for jury service did, in fact, express a desire to have their names withdrawn from the register. There remained a very small proportion, possibly ten per cent. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that of that minority which remained at least another ten per cent. remained only because they had omitted, through thoughtlessness, to do the positive thing that would secure exemption for them. When these women received their summonses to appear in court and to hold themselves available for jury service they were very much dismayed, and some of them managed to make things quite as uncomfortable for other people as they felt they were for themselves. The Clerk of the Peace and other officials around the courts were besieged with applications for exemption on various grounds, some of the grounds being, of course, quite good— that they had young children at home and did not know what was happening to them, that they had to prepare the meals for the household, and so on.
It is not any use pretending that the question of women jurors does not present very much greater difficulties than the question of jury service for men. It does. A little experience is worth a great deal of theory, and the experience of the various officials of the courts, in connection with the operations both of the 1919 Act and the 1924 Act, has shown, at any rate, that there are difficulties surrounding the question of jury service for women that are not involved by the question of jury service for male citizens. In effect, in this Bill of mine the State takes the view that the woman juror presents difficulties that make the service that one could secure thereby administratively not worth while. The State asks to be dispensed from the task of vetting and sifting the innumerable grounds for exemption that may be pleaded by women, grounds more numerous, more intricate, and more compelling than can be devised by the most subtle male shirker. The position of the normal male citizen eligible for jury service is essentially different from the position of the woman citizen. A man can be absent for a day, or a couple of days, from his household, as a rule, without any very serious consequences accruing to anybody. He can lunch out, and it does not follow that the other members of his household have to do without their lunch. He is not, as a rule, charged with the care of young children, and so on, and there are other considerations which constitute a sharp discrimination between the sexes when one comes to consider a question of this kind.
Deputy Redmond mixed his terms a little. He talked at times of this being one of the disadvantages of citizenship, and again he talked of the right. We should make up our minds one way or the other on the matter. If it is a disadvantage from which we propose to exempt women, in common with the Governor-General, members of the Oireachtas, and other people who are set out in the Schedule, then clearly there ought to be no objection. But when one talks in the next breath of the great principle of equality of status, it remains to be asked whether that principle is in fact involved. The Deputy would surely recognise the distinction between equality and identity. In another connection much has been made of the phrase that there can be equality of status without identity of function, and I submit that this matter which we are considering is a case in which that proposition is profoundly true. It is not an infringement of the principle of equality of status to say that, all things considered—and there are many things to consider — one is prepared to dispense women from the burden of jury service.
Deputy Redmond asked me to make a case on the cost aspect. I put it to him that the 1924 Act had this result: The officials engaged in the preparation of the register had to put on the register in the first place all women possessing the statutory qualifications, being householders, rated to such an extent, and so on. Then, circulars went out to all such women drawing their attention to the provision in the Act which enabled them to secure exemption on application. Then the applications came pouring in in the name of nearly every prospective or potential woman juror, who applied to be struck off the register. There remained then about ten per cent. of the whole, and at least ten per cent. of that whole turned out, in fact, ultimately to be a most reluctant ten per cent., who had merely omitted to take the positive step that would secure exemption for them, and I can assure the Deputy that they made matters quite uncomfortable and unpleasant for the various officials around the courts when they turned out in response to summonses for jury service. Now, the time of an official is cost. I could not give the Deputy £ s. d. for the thing, but he can take it that all the administrative trouble was ludicrously out of proportion to the net result. Forty women jurors in one year means, in fact, cost to the State. The demand on the time of its officials means cost—the changing of the register, the putting on of all the names in the first instance, and the striking off of 90 per cent. of the names, and then the inevitable wrangling with regard to the remainder, as to whether it was a tyranny or not, an outrage or not, that they should receive their summons and have to leave their children unguarded at home and their husbands without their lunch.
It is said that this exists elsewhere. That in itself is not a complete case. It does exist elsewhere, and the circulars that go out to the woman juror elsewhere in fact make a farce of this great principle of equality of status which Deputy Redmond has enunciated and defended, because these circulars are simply the straightest of straight hints to the woman juror whose name is on the register that if she cares to plead illness — and a particular kind of illness is very plainly indicated — then, of course, there is no more to be said on the matter. It is simply an invitation to the reluctant woman juror to plead a particular condition of health, and that is the end of it. Is it all worth while? What proportion of the women electorate of this State want to undertake this duty of jury service which is unpleasant for anyone? I may be met, of course, by the debating point: if you leave it freely to men, what proportion of them will want to undertake it? But suppose I put it this way: what proportion of the electorate as a whole, men and women, would like us to take this step of reverting to the 1919 Act position with all the administrative difficulties, all the administrative anomalies, and all the administrative evasions that that implies?
I recognise that here in and around Dublin there are a small number of women — I do not really put it higher than, say, 3 per cent. of the whole — who say that the State should compel the 97 per cent. of women, who shrink from this duty of jury service and all the strain — physical, mental and nervous—that it involves, to serve, in order, forsooth, to vindicate this great principle of equality of status. Many of these women are themselves outstanding examples of the capacity of woman to take their place in public life and to render useful service. But are they normal or the exception? I submit to Deputies that they are the exception rather than the normal, and that they are well aware themselves that they are the exception rather than the normal. Because they would be quite willing to undertake this duty, it is scarcely a reasonable thing that they should come along to a Minister and say: "Look at us; we are quite ready to undertake this duty, and we insist that you shall compel the 97 per cent. of our sister citizens, who are not at all willing to undertake this duty, to do it," in order to vindicate some principle that is said to be in the balance — the great principle of equality of status.