I move amendment No. 1a:
In page 50, line 12, after "directors" to insert "at least one of whom shall be a woman".
I indicated earlier that I would raise this matter on Report Stage. I sought advice as to the precise format of this amendment. I am conscious of the fact that on Report Stage in accordance with the rules of the House I can make one contribution only. Therefore, I will endeavour to be as comprehensive and concise as is possible.
The principle is very clear. We had a substantial debate on the issues surrounding this on Committee Stage. The Minister has had advance notice of my intention to table an amendment. I apologise for the fact that, because of its precise formulation, it was not tabled as quickly as I should have liked. However, if one takes amendments Nos. 1a and 1b together, one sees it is quite clear that the principle of at least one third of the directors of any building society as constituted within the framework of the provisions of this Bill when enacted — hopefully within the term of this 25th Oireacthas — will be women.
One might well ask: why do I put forward this proposal? I do so for the following reasons. The first is I believe that the outrageous attempts to date to prevent women from being elected to the boards of building societies — with all the concerted might and apparatus of those institutions and administrations, particularly of one building society — constitute an affront to the majority of our people. It is also an affront to the majority of households, of which women form a critical and, in some cases, dominant part. This has its historical roots in the struggle for representation that a particular person, Muriel Scorer, fought, not merely on behalf of herself but on behalf of all women.
The second reason I put forward this proposal is that, increasingly, with the creation of single adult households — I am endeavouring to use the most technical phrase possible, in many cases because of the failure of Irish society to deal comprehensively with marital breakdown and the formation of second households — the problems with which women in particular are confronted in the first family home, or in attempting to establish a second, are quite substantial. At the highest level in building societies — by that I mean their boards of directors — there need to be people who can relate to, who can empathise and sympathise with, who have friends or who have had themselves direct experience of the problems to which I refer.
The third reason is that, increasingly — and there has been demographic research carried out within the Department of the Environment to underpin this point — we can expect a larger percentage of household formation to emanate from single women, or women as heads of households in a manner that has not been the case historically heretofore. Their needs, in terms of borrowers as well as investors, should be adequately recognised and represented.
I began on a pragmatic basis because I do not really feel the present Government have a commitment to equality to the extent I believe they should or certainly to the extent of my party. The fourth reason I put forward this proposal is a fundamental one of equality. It is about time we structured equality into institutions such as building societies because of their size and importance.
I would ask the Minister to accept these two related amendments, the core of the intent being contained in amendment No. 1b. Amendment No. 1a is a logical extension of the principle, but the principle is one third. There is no shortage of talent and there is no shortage of ability. The building societies themselves have recognised the need to move, albeit at a very slow pace, to try to have female representation on their boards.
If I could anticipate an argument which might come from the other side of the House it would be as follows: it is not for this House to prescribe the manner in which the composition of the board of directors should be composed, therefore, we have no right prescribing the way they should be elected. We have gone into extraordinary detail in sections 50, 51, 52, 53 and so on to regulate the way in which people would be elected, the way in which they are appointed, the way in which they shall retire and so on, but because of an unease in the past, we have given ourselves the right and the power to regulate the manner in which these people are elected so as to satisfy standards of democracy. I put it to the Minister that standards of democracy in 1989 — the last remaining 11 years of this century, and the last year of this decade — require that these standards be extended to ensure equal representation of both sexes.