Deputy Bell moved the adjournment of the debate and has 16 minutes remaining.
Report of Committee on Marriage Breakdown: Statements (Resumed).
It is interesting to hear people talk about the notion that once divorce is introduced it becomes almost uncontrollable. People speak of matters like the constitutional ban on divorce as though they were speaking of ivy in a garden. I must remind myself regularly that we are living in the second half of the twentieth century. I find it incredible that people introduce bogus statements of a high moral tone rather than speaking of any facts relevent to the implications of divorce. We have a major social problem on our hands and we must face up to it. Present law in this area is a total disgrace. As legislators we can only be ashamed of our lack of attention to this important issue. Because of the absence of proper procedures and mechanisms, proper supports and preventive measures and because of the absence of a legal remedy for a breakdown of marriage which enables parties to enter into a second stable relationship, our family law is, in the broad sense, indefensible, discriminatory and oppressive.
It has been said — and is true — that our family law, including our marital law, has now become the most complex in the world because we do not have any straightforward legal remedy to terminate a marriage relationship which has broken down totally. We have very complex partial remedies which endeavour to meet the complexity of human relations. It is only lawyers, social welfare officers, judges and people involved in the front line who realise how complex ordinary people's relationships can be or how oppressive is our law when, on top of a considerable degree of human pain and suffering, one adds oppressive, stupid, inflexible, rigid, uncaring, unfeeling and out-of-date laws. The basic law in relation to legal separation dates from 1870 and is, therefore, 115 years old. It is a totally inadequate response to the problem of marriage breakdown as are all the other remedies that have been referred to.
Article 41.3. 2º of the Constitution reads:
No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage.
This universial prohibition has been criticised mainly on the grounds that it takes no heed of the wishes of a certain minority of the population who would wish to have divorce facilities available to them and who are not prevented from securing divorce by the tenets of the religious denominations to which they belong. It is also argued that the Constitution was intended for the whole of Ireland and that the percentage of the population of the entire island comprised of persons who are Roman Catholic, though large, is not overwhelming. The prohibition is a source of embarrassment to those seeking to bring about better relations between North and South, since the majority of the Northern population have divorce rights under the law applicable to that area.
Another interesting point raised is the fact that, while the Catholic Church in certain circumstances allows for nullity, the constitutional prohibition on divorce in all circumstances goes further than the Catholic Church. Therefore, it is unnecessarily harsh and rigid and, in the view of the committee, could be regarded as being at variance with the accepted principles of religious liberty as declared at the Vatican Council and elsewhere.
The main conclusion of the committee is that the proposed solution to the dilemma of marriage breakdown is to make provision for a constitutional amendment which would allow divorce in the case of persons married in church only on grounds acceptable to the religious denomination concerned.
In a previous debate on the subject, Deputy Eileen Desmond moved in the House on 29 October 1980 that Dáil Éireann, recognising the necessity of reviewing the constitutional prohibition on the introduction of legislation to provide for the dissolution of marriages which have irretrievably broken down, made the following points:
recognising that such legislation cannot be introduced without the prior amendment of Article 41 of Bunreacht na hÉireann by the people; recognising further that the Constitution should continue to provide effective protection for the institution of marriage and for the welfare of vulnerable family members and in particular for the welfare of the children of such marriages; recognising the necessity of securing the widest possible measure of agreement for such proposals within the Dáil and the community as a whole, hereby resolves that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas be established consisting of 18 Dáil Deputies and 7 Members of the Seanad to report to the Dáil and Seanad on the appropriate form of amendment to Article 41 of Bunreacht na hÉireann by way of referendum in accordance with the procedures specified by Article 46 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.
Article 41 includes only the family based on marriage and does not include a family of unmarried parents or the children of unmarried parents.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution and such freedom, if it is to mean anything, must mean freedom either to choose or to reject a particular religion. The case has been made that it is not a function of the State to enforce the rules of a particular Church on their members, to legislate for particular religious beliefs, or to discriminate between different sets of married couples on the grounds of religion. At the time Deputy Desmond made her speech, 13 years had elapsed since the informal all party committee had reported to the Dáil. Furthermore, 25,000 couples were separated at that time and the figure today is estimated to be in the region of 70,000. It could be a higher figure, especially in urban areas.
The Labour Party recognise that social difficulties may encourage marital breakdown, for example bad housing, drink, unemployment, etc. The escalation of the problem can be measured by the following statistics. In 1980, 11,150 claimed deserted wife's benefit and in September 1985 3,836 received deserted wife's benefit although 4,880 applied. This monthly figure rises to unimaginable proportions if taken on a yearly rate. Deputy Eileen Desmond also made the point that the attitude of the Catholic Church regarding nullity was more humane than existing legislation and her points are as relevant today as they were when she made them.
The report of the committee is useful, especially chapter 10, which lists the summary of opinions of the committee. If there is a referendum, those opinions should be widely publicised by the Government so that the people will have an opportunity to examine the pros and cons of the arguments put to the committee. There is no point in a committee examining something and making their report to the Dáil if that report is put on the shelf for another 20 years. We went into Government with Fine Gael on a written agreed basis. That agreement contained a proposal to deal with this subject and the Labour Party believe that we should do so now because the problem will not go away. It will grow. Dáil Éireann must take a decision which will allow the people to decide on a very important issue by a referendum, the most democratic process of all.
One of the most important decisions taken by the Oireachtas in recent years was to set up a Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown. We acknowledge the very useful work which they did and the report bears testimony to this fact. However, the real service done by the committee was to initiate a public debate on divorce which is a very sensitive and emotive issue. A public debate on this issue is long overdue.
Over 16 years ago I attempted to initiate a public debate on divorce in places as far apart as Clare and Donegal. At that time my opinions were viewed in many quarters with great suspicion and I was branded as a dangerous liberal. However, I encouraged discussion and people were prepared to listen to me in my role as family doctor, although they did not want to listen to me in my role as legislator. I spoke about the serious consequences of marital breakdown. As a legislator, I was rather intolerant of those who were not prepared to endorse divorce but since then I have realised that it is not a simple matter. It needs serious discussion, investigation and study. It is not a panacea for all the problems of marital breakdown.
Of course we must provide a means of escape for those unfortunate people who are victims of irretrievable marriage breakdown. The present situation is intolerable and holds this country up to ridicule abroad as well as creating impossible problems for so many people who are bigamously married. It is difficult to understand why the Catholic Church have been a party to this intolerable situation. However, I do not think we should proceed headlong with legislation allowing divorce without a proper public debate and without examining divorce laws in other countries and their defects.
We would also examine ways in which marriages in difficulty can be helped. If we accept that more and more marriages are in jeopardy we will have to change attitudes to marriage. We will have to promote proper preparation for marriage and encourage and promote mutual respect among the contractual partners in marriages. We will have to make young couples more and more conscious of their responsibilities. All of these changes span the whole area of education, social services and justice. For instances, we will have to start reconsidering the educational system which has in built in it the segregation of the sexes. This has contributed in no small measure to a lack of understanding between boys and girls and has paved the way to even greater misunderstandings in marriage in later life.
I listened attentively to the statement of the Minister of State, Deputy Fennell. She prides herself on her relentless campaign on behalf of women but I think she is a little shrill in her statements. I am afraid she has tunnel vision on this question and I think she exaggerates the extent of the problem. She talks about "legions" of deserted wives. She said: "In too few cases in Ireland is there an awareness by husbands of the need to develop a partnership or team approach to marriage". That is a great exaggeration. In medical practice I have dealt with thousands of families and it is my view that the majority of marriages are happy and contented. There is teamwork and partnership in most marriages. The Minister said: "In general, Irishmen as husbands have great room for improvement". I do not think so. All of us accept that there are many unhappy marriages, but it is wrong to generalise. There are not legions of deserted wives — far from it. The Minister's statement is a dreadful indictment of men in general.
I accept there is a problem but I do not think we should exaggerate it out of all proportion. If I may say so, it is women themselves who create many of the problems. I make that statement in realisation that I may come under fire for it. I notice that mothers think no girl is good enough for their sons and they inculcate that attitude in their sons. As a result, many young women feel they do not measure up to the expectations of their husbands. It is mothers who have contributed to the problem and this is where they may have to change. We must ensure there is equality between boys and girls. We must encourage this in their thinking from an early age. In this way we can prepare the foundation for marriage and for the attitude of the young people.
I accept that many marriages have broken down irretrievably and that the unfortunate couples concerned are impatient for a legal solution to their problem. I sympathise wholeheartedly with them and can understand their impatience. My only regret is that this debate did not take place years ago. We need to have the views of all on this sensitive subject and the report and the debate here will at least bring the problem more into the open.
It is important to hear the views of those opposed to divorce. Those of us who favour divorce should do everything we can to allay their fears about the consequences that divorce laws would bring. I do not agree with many of the speakers who are opposed to divorce but I will defend to the death their right to express their views. We should not brand those who are opposed to divorce as negative obscurantists. We must listen to them. The media must be prepard to give equal publicity to their views. Only in this way can we have a rational debate on this sensitive topic. Only when the public debate has been finished and the reasoned arguments for and against are understood should we put the subject to the people by way of a referendum.
I know many couples who wish to have divorce will disagree with my views on this. However, in a democracy we must be prepared to listen to the views of all. After a reasoned and rational debate, I believe the public will give their approval to divorce. I also believe that legislation on divorce will not offer an easy way out of marriage and I do not think it should. However, it is my view that a form of divorce should be considered when all other efforts have been exhausted.
As legislators we must be prepared to help couples in every way to sustain their marriages. We must help particularly in the area of social legislation, taxation and protection for children. We must implement the necessary measures to give effect to Article 41 — not as we do at present when we merely offer lip service to the Article. We must provide the necessary framework for financial security in marriage and have the necessary social legislation to ensure equality between couples. Above all, we must have the proper educational framework that will enable boys and girls to understand and respect each other from an early age. I know there will be still cases of irretrievable marriage breakdown because such is the complexity of human relationships and human behaviour. For these cases I believe we have an obligation to provide a form of divorce.
To its credit the Church refuse to allow the issue of divorce to be considered as purely a matter of personal concern for the couples concerned. In this respect those who press for the civil right of divorce fail to do the subject justice as long as they decline to comment on the fragmentation of family life that appears inevitably to accompany a relaxation of the divorce laws. This is the experience from Sweden to Saskatchewan, in the United States to the USSR.
There is much talk in this country about women's rights and so on but little is heard about the rights of children. Any civilised society can best be judged by its treatment of its most innocent, vulnerable and trusting citizens, namely, children. Is it sensible to discuss divorce in a vacuum while ignoring an issue even more fundamental than the marital satisfaction of the participants? I am talking about the plight and the needs of the children involved.
There is a tendency to imply simply that children are better out of a marriage which has broken down, but the evidence is weak and the contrary evidence that children suffer dreadfully after the break up of marriage is in contrast strikingly impressive. We have Ministers for Women's Affairs, Defence, Health, Education and Social Welfare but we have no Minister responsible for the family and its protection. The family is the social unit enshrined in the Constitution and we should show in a concrete way our dedication to that beleaguered institute, the family, and establish a Department charged with its protection and development.
We should discuss these matters not as phenomena, separate and independent, but as elements relating crucially to the most fundamental, the most precious and the most powerful unit in society here. If we move along those lines and look at ways in which we can strengthen the family unit then, in certain cases, we could introduce divorce legislation acceptable to the vast majority of our people.
Deputy O'Connell was extremely brief. I had assumed he would continue for much longer and give us the value of his experience in this field, particularly as one who was strongly in favour of divorce legislation over the years. Perhaps having to operate under a different boss, a different direction, he may have changed his views somewhat. I say that with all due respect to him, because I respect his views.
In a personal way, this debate gives me an opportunity to express views which will differ from the recommendations in the report. I will treat the report with sensitivity, which is what it deserves. I compliment the chairman of the committee for the manner in which he presided at all the sittings, which went on for almost 18 months — I do not think he missed one sitting. He is more experienced politically than I, who am less qualified to deal in depth with this subject, but I learned considerably from my attendance at the meetings of the committee, and I attended 95 per cent of them, being absent occasionally, unavoidably.
When we talk about marriage breakdown and the importance of the family in our society we must consider the possibility of divorce. I do not think we are advanced sufficiently to comprehend the effects of a divorce jurisdiction here. Having listened to the wide range of views presented in oral submissions to the committee, I am happy to accept the committee's views on most issues. I regard the report as a milestone of social growth and development in Irish family law.
I will refer to what I regard as the proper formulae for the protection of family life and for considerations that would avoid marriage breakdown. Initially, I was extremely concerned about what we might do or could do, about what information we could provide in order to protect marriage and the family. We are living in a changing society. The family always has been regarded as a sacred institution, the basic unit, enshrined in our Constitution. This is clearly set out in the first paragraph of the committee's report, and chapter 2 states that marriage is given express recognition in Article 41 of the Constitution. There are many other provisions about the family in the Constitution, including a definition of "family", which were regarded as very important by the committee.
Soon after we had begun our deliberations it became apparent that since the Constitution came into effect the State has been very remiss in its support for family life — perhaps it took family life for granted. However, society has changed and there are continuing pressures on the family. We must conclude in these circumstances that the State is not putting in the effort, financial support and so on, in this vital area.
The report should serve as a standard and guide for young people contemplating marriage, and I suggest that they should not contemplate marriage without having considered the report in its entirety, particularly its recommendations on the rights of individuals in the family and problems that can arise from contractual relationships in marriage. The report takes into account the social, emotional and pyschological dilemmas of people involved in family life.
As a politician one would like to think that the report would be acted on in a very different way. Some speakers have made a very strong case for that but perhaps others have different views. As the chairman of the committee said this morning there may be as many views in this whole area as there are politicians in the House. Each of us has our individual views as to the development we would consider appropriate in this area but, in line with the protection for marriage and the supports for marriage as indicated in the report, I should hope that initially the Oireachtas would take a very strong line in that regard and ensure that the recommendations as outlined in the report would deliberately and actively be taken on board.
The other question which confronted all of us was the Church-State situation, or perhaps one might say the Roman Catholic Church which would appear to have a very strong view on what family life and marriage are about. They have a great responsibility to ensure that their code is understood clearly by their members and that people embarking on the marriage contract appreciate that, should the marriage break down, they must accept the consequences. I have concluded that, while perhaps 95 per cent of married people in the State fulfil their obligation and their role adequately, there are others who for a variety of reasons have problems in that regard.
The report indicates clearly the strong need for change in many areas and I will deal with those under the various headings. We have been provided with what I regard as a balanced report. The committee considered the possibility of the success of a referendum and the need for legislators to provide for a divorce jurisdiction. But as that was not within our remit, we stood back from suggesting what type of legislation we would recommend to the House in the event of a referendum being accepted by the people.
It is a matter for the people in the first instance. To that extent perhaps it was easier for us to shed our responsibility and to hand it over to other people. As elected representatives representing the views of various people, we were not able to make a firm recommendation either on a majority or a minority basis. We concluded on a majority basis that there should be a referendum and again we tried to accommodate the views of all those who had an input into our deliberations.
While the work of the committee was harrowing at times, it was exceedingly deliberate. We had the advantage of a very high level of expertise from some of the members and we all benefited from that. This expertise was based on the practical experience of operating in the area of family law, and so on, and with dealing on a day to day basis with the problems associated with marital breakdown.
The protection of marriage was included in our remit and this aspect was given a considerable level of consideration and time. It is very important that each Member of the House as well as anyone outside who may be interested should acquaint themselves fully with what is included in chapter 3. There are many references in the report to our education system. In some parts of the country there are co-education schools or schools attended by both boys and girls from an early age. Perhaps it was a mistake not to have had more of that type of development earlier.
We can only express the hope that, through the education structures that are being created, there will be accommodation for that new type of development because it is important that between the ages of perhaps seven and 14 years boys and girls can relate to each other. There has never been any attempt in our schools to educate children in the area of personal relationships. There has never been any attempt to educate them for the important step that the majority of them will take at some stage in their lives when they enter into a life long marriage relationship.
We have never attempted to help our young people to understand the psychological and other differences between the male and the female, for example. Sexuality was a taboo subject in schools. We are only now beginning to accept even the use of the word "sex", to accept that there is nothing sinister or bad in regard to it. Apart from the schools, parents too, failed in this area. I am not blaming the education system for the growth in the breakdown of family life. Perhaps there was always some measure of breakdown in that area, but the kind of levels of breakdown suggested by people who have contributed already to this debate and also by those who made submissions to the committee were unqualified. It would be difficult to qualify them. In the section dealing with statistics, the committee draw attention to the desirability of undertaking a survey to establish accurately what the level of marriage breakdown is in the State.
Today, perhaps, our young people are not being educated adequately or properly for the complex society of the future. As we become more urbanised, the scale of problem changes and perhaps young people, particularly in the absence of a degree of security which may stem from their own development not having achieved the level it should have achieved through the education system, tend to become isolated. That can give rise to tension and pressure in a married relationship, and eventually to a less than full personal development with a consequential loss of confidence. This causes great distress and can lead to an eventual marriage break-up. The confidence young people should have is being threatened and that leads to frustration which in turn leads to marriage conflict.
Deputy Bell said he has been happily married for the past 25 years and he hoped to have a further 25 years. I wish him another 50 happy years. He said for himself he was not concerned with divorce and I am in a similar position. I do not personally see the need for divorce. There are stresses and strains in all marriages. Perhaps if divorce existed here it is possible that as politicians these stresses and strains could affect our lives and our husbands or wives would look for a way out.
I had experience of participating in a family counselling service and I found it to be of great interest. The value of a proper counselling service with qualified counsellors is immeasurable. This service could be provided prior to marriage to advise young people what marriage is all about. Some people enter into a marriage because of sexual infatuation, or to get away from the stresses of living at home. That is no basis for a happy marriage. I am confident that counselling would lessen the number of marriage breakdowns. It does not matter what we do or what type of aid is provided, there will always be a certain level of conflict and a certain number of marital breakdowns.
We are unique in western society in that we are one of the few countries which do not provide for marital breakdown and the promotion of a new relationship within the law. Perhaps that is a good thing but let us weigh the evidence, and the report deals very competently with that. We all recognise that a healthy marriage is the basis of a healthy society. We would love to have the ideal situation where there would not be any marital breakdown and marriage would influence society in a positive way. What causes marital breakdown? The report deals very competently with that, although it may not go into it in as much detail as we would like. We tried to keep the report as brief as possible while at the same time being as enlightening as possible.
I was particularly impressed by the visit of Jack Dominian. He expressed his views in a practical way. He said that even if we provided all types of protection we still would not be able to prevent marital breakdowns. He felt that divorce in itself was not a solution to this problem, although it might help in some situations. Personal factors have to be taken into account. We must start with our educational system and so help the family deal with some of these problems. Environment is a major factor. People living in poor accommodation find it very distressing, although we have improved that situation considerably. It is costly to provide houses for people to walk into immediately they get married but we are moving in that direction. Good housing is essential to a stable married relationship. Factors which lead to marital breakdowns are lack of jobs and commitment to mortgages, the inability of people to get other employment and so on. We all know people who have been unemployed for a long time and still have no chance of getting jobs. These people suffer the indignity of having to go to the labour exchange each week. All these factors pose a serious threat to married life.
The most important chapter of the report, in my opinion, dealt with legal remedies. The law of nullity posed great problems for some members of the committee. They could not understand why the law was not up-dated and why it could not be up-dated. The grounds for obtaining a decree of nullity vary. At one stage I thought the up-dating of the laws of nullity might be the basis for improving the present situation, but on further examination it was felt that it could be considered divorce in a different way and perhaps would not be acceptable. Certain decrees of nullity were granted and I was concerned about how that could have happened. There may be stresses and strains in the family home and a young person might rush out of the house, pick up a boyfriend and decide to have a married relationship, but it is not really a marriage in the proper sense. That should be considered as grounds for nullity and this couple should be granted their freedom.
I have spoken to Catholic priests about teenagers who get married because the girl is pregnant. The families want to brush this under the carpet and the easiest way to do this is to have this young couple married. Some of these marriages have been very successful but others have not In such cases, that too should be considered as grounds for nullity.
The question of judicial separation was covered in the report and many fine recommendations were made. The main condition for judicial separation should be irretrievable marriage breakdown. That leads me to the question of maintenance. Deputy Flynn said that it cost the English Exchequer an additional £200 million because husbands with two families could not support them and the state had to pick up the tabs. I do not know the accuracy of that statement. Doubtless the situation would be the same here. The State will have to have a higher input to ensure that deserted wives or husbands are not on the breadline.
I will not go into guardianship and custody. That is a very delicate area of which the committee have taken account. They suggest the employment of a social worker to ensure that the people who get custody of the children have the best interests of the children at heart.
Matrimonial property was referred to this morning. This is not a simple matter and it caused acrimony when we were dealing with it. Where there is a certain amount of property we all agree that it should be shared but in some cases there can be contrived situations where either a man or a woman would marry simply to get their hands on a certain level of wealth so the issue is not as clear-cut as one would like it to be.
I was very impressed with the submission from Dads. These were people who had had barring orders exercised against them. They were very much opposed to a divorce jurisdiction. Prior to meeting them I had felt they would be in favour of divorce but I was impressed with their reasons for opposing it. Most of them had been barred from their houses though some were living in a room in their house. They wanted the marriage relationship to continue, they did not want to lose their wives, they wanted to make the marriage work. They were very disgruntled with the existing court system. From their point of view the State has given them no support to protect their marriages.
Chapter 8 of the report sets out the family courts system which should be set up and suggests a system which would make it easier to solve family disputes in a friendly way. That is extremely important.
The crucial issue of the whole deliberation is whether or not the committee saw fit to promote a referendum and whether they would go so far as to suggest that the result should be positive and make a strong recommendation for divorce. The arguments in favour of divorce were very strong. The problems are obvious and will not go away. People in Fine Gael are for divorce and the Labour Party have promoted the development of a divorce jurisdiction for a number of years. The Fianna Fáil Party are non-commital. There are differing views in Fianna Fáil and they have adopted a Disraeli wait-and-see approach. I represent a majority of Catholic people and to some extent I am influenced by my own Catholic ethos but I have to legislate taking into account the views of the minority groups. Minority groups are becoming more vocal and they are making their positions felt right across Europe. We may reject the possibility of a referendum today or tommorrow but a time will come when the people will demand an opportunity to express their views on this issue.
I was impressed by the arguments against divorce. A better case could not be made than that made by the Knock Marriage Bureau who had a very sincere, sensitive approach. Deputy Flynn put a gloss on that approach and delivered perhaps the greatest defence of the existing situation that anybody could deliver in the House this morning. That may not necessarily be the answer. It may be the answer for a majority of the constituents in East or West Mayo but I must recommend a referendum to let the people have a say in this vital area. The referendum must be called in the context of the likely effects of a divorce jurisdiction on the State. If I could be guaranteed, if we brought in a form of divorce by making a constitutional amendment, that irretrievable marriage breakdown only would be the ground for divorce, I would be reasonably happy. However, virtually every country which has introduced divorce has introduced it on a fault basis. The fault basis is cumbersome and faults are difficult to prove in court. Such a system imposes a great level of stress and strain on one or other of the parties seeking the dissolution of the marriage and very quickly the people see that because of the court procedures or the costs it is expedient to change the rules and it becomes a no fault system. That is the development. We must be clear in our minds that if we are to have a referendum we must be fair and honest with our people. If we are talking about divorce for some stage in the future we are not talking about divorce that will be based on fault. It will be on a no fault basis.
Deputy, you have five minutes to conclude.
After the deliberations I was influenced by what I had heard, witnessed and read. I was equally impressed by the sincere contributions of all my colleagues and their interest and concern for people who have found themselves in a very serious marital situation, whether their marriages had irretrievably broken down or they had established new relationships. I was concerned about the nature of the status of children that would arise in second relationships. I have turned all that over in my mind since reading this report. Before that I would have been opposed to a divorce jurisdiction. Now I am not so sure how I would vote if I had the opportunity to go behind a screen and decide whether I wanted a certain paragraph in Article 41 deleted. It will not necessarily be just a paragraph of Article 41. I feel that all of Article 41 will have to be rewritten and that will perhaps pose a major problem.
However, I support the view that the Irish people should be offered the opportunity to have a say in this important social matter. I hope they will reach their decision in an enlightened manner after considering all the relevant aspects. The Church will be brought into this. The Catholic Church have a responsibility to be involved in it. Let us not as politicians deprive them of that simply because they defend what they believe in, that is, the indissolubility of marriage, but it is for the people and members of the Church to decide then whether they want to go along with this.
I did not realise I would be called on so soon. The important aspect of this debate from the point of view of the House is that it gives an explicit, expressed freedom to those who will be contributing because at the end of the day there will be no vote. On the other hand, I accept that one is committed on the record by what one might say. Nevertheless because there will not be a vote, Deputies should have greater freedom not to be bound by party constraints or the majority view of the party of which they happen to be members. I am bound by the majority view of my party but I have no problems with my personal views in this discussion and the debate generally.
We are discussing the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown. It is a first class document of its nature. I had not the opportunity to be a member of that committee. It did not fall to me to be chosen for that, but I was a member of another committee, the constitutional review committee in 1967 — a long time ago. Their report is there for the record.
Unfortunately, as I say, I was taken at a disadvantage in that I had not prepared myself to come in so early. So be it. The opportunity fell to me and I took it on my own decision. I sat on that committee many years ago with some of the most eminent politicians ever to pass through this House. I was only a whipper-snapper then, and people might take the view that I have not changed in the meantime.
The Deputy has matured.
I had the honour and privilege as a young person coming into this House to sit with people like Deputy Seán Lemass, Deputy Sweetman, Deputy George Colley and others whose names are recorded there. That committee's findings in this area will be placed on the record of this House by me when I have the opportunity.
The ongoing public argument between the Minister for Agriculture and the good Bishop of Limerick is a good and worthwhile discussion. The views of the Minister for Agriculture coincide with mine. I am a Roman Catholic but I do not see this as a Catholic Legislature for a Catholic people. I was brought up in a very strong republican tradition and the party of which I am a member are a republican party. To me that republicanism means many things, but it does not mean that I am elected here as a Catholic to legislate solely for Catholics; far from it. I see my role as a democratically elected republican Dáil Deputy of the Fianna Fáil Party legislating for everybody, including Catholic, Protestant and people without religion. That is how I see the Toneite republicanism in which I was brought up.
I have no difficulties about this debate. I am clear about where I stand in relation to the issues. I am clear in my mind as to where I stand as a legislator in relation to the diverse religions which go to make up this nation. I accept that over 90 per cent of the people are Catholic, but does that in some way deny the minority their right, their entitlement to be represented here? If a person has not got a point of view on God at all, is that individual to be denied the right to be represented here? I see us as a democratic, nationalist, interdenominational Parliament; some might go so far as to say we are non-denominational. It is a matter of choice. It is not a matter of indifference to us, and it is important that we get the record right. I may practise my religion. That is entirely a matter of privacy, and what somebody else on that side of the House does in the context of his or her religion is entirely a private matter between that individual and his or her God. That is an easy thing for me to understand and appreciate. I do not have any difficulty about my position in regard to this debate and I can also see the difference between the rural and urban Deputy in regard to it.