I compliment my colleague, Deputy Keogh, on the amount of time and thought she put into drafting this Bill and on the support she has gained for the Bill both in this House and outside. I also thank the Opposition speakers who, to date, have spoken warmly and cogently in support of the Bill. In anticipation, I thank Deputy Frances Fitzgerald who will be speaking in support of this Bill later this evening. The contributions of all the Members who spoke in favour of this Bill are much appreciated by the Progressive Democrats. The amount of research and preparation they put into their contributions stands to the credit of the Members who have subscribed to date and is a mark of the importance they attach to this Bill. It is particularly encouraging for women who will be the main beneficiaries of this Bill if passed into law.
I also acknowledge the support given to this Bill by the Council for the Status of Women. In a supportive statement sent to our party, the Chairwoman of the Council for the Status of Women, Ms Ann Taylor, said the Bill "was a laudable attempt to give statutory recognition to the unpaid work of women in the home". She goes on to say:
Following the Supreme Court decision which found the Government's Bill on joint ownership of the matrimonial home unconstitutional, women feel that their rights are not being adequately protected. This Bill is a valuable attempt to put this issue back on the agenda.
She goes on — and I am glad the Minister for Equality and Law Reform is here to take note—
The principle of this Bill is what matters and it is vital that the Government does not underestimate its importance to Irish women. Any attempt to recognise in law the contribution made by women in the home through their unpaid work must be welcomed and it is critical that this issue is dealt with before the Government's proposed referendum on divorce later this year.
There is a great deal of sound common sense in that statement. It is important that that be noted by the Government as it frames a response to this Bill and shapes up to voting on it in an hour and a half — I am still optimistic that the outcome will be positive.
This basic reform is long overdue. The objective of the Bill is simple, and its simplicity is its strength. It is simple without being simplistic. It was very clever and far seeing of Deputy Keogh to be able to frame a Bill that is set out in short and general terms and that lacks the complexity that often ends up with a Bill of this nature being in conflict with our Constitution. There would have been no need for this Bill if the Government's Matrimonial Homes Bill had been drafted with the same forethought as this Bill. After all the time discussing it, it is extremely disappointing that this Bill finished up being rejected. It is a severe setback to women's rights and to this Dáil. This suggests that the requisite amount of preparation and forethought was not put into it. It ought to be possible to frame legislation which, when referred to the Supreme Court, would not fall. If that had not happened the present Bill would not be before the House tonight.
What we are seeking is recognition in law of the non-financial contribution of a spouse towards the family home. What is the contribution of the spouse who does not make a financial contribution to the home? It is well known to most people, and certainly to women. It can be summed up simply as raising the children, the next generation on whom we pin our hopes, running the home and keeping house. However, to put it in those terms is a gross over-simplification. The tasks involved are those on which we, in the Progressive Democrats seek to put a value and to have recognised in law. The contribution made in the home is far more than raising a family. The spouse, in most cases the woman, who stays at home and makes the unpaid contribution to society and to the home is, among other things the person who does the shopping and the cooking. She is the source of consolation and encouragement to the whole family and, sometimes, to the whole community. She is the tutor who overseas the children's homework, the arbiter in childhood disputes, the imparter of a great deal of basic education, often the enforcer of the family's code of behaviour and of sanctions when there is a breach of that code, the monitor of the children's whereabouts, the promoter of the families religious or ethical standards, the purchaser of clothing, the counsellor, the willing listener, the career adviser, the manager of the children's social life and so on. Who could fail to put a value on that contribution to the well being of society and of our country? Who are the people who would benefit if this Bill were to be accepted by the Government? For the most part they are the women of Ireland.
In an extraordinarily patchy contribution Deputy Ferris, in a feeble attempt to denigrate this Bill, said: "only small categories of people would be involved". I would make two points in that regard. It has been quoted in the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women that almost half of all women aged 15 and over do unpaid work in the home. It was also pointed out in that report that there has been no substantial increase in the number of women working outside the home in the last 20 years. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that we are talking about a small category of people. There is statistical evidence to prove that.
Even if we were talking about small categories of people, as legislators in this so-called Republic are we not concerned about small or minority groups? Surely the hallmark of a healthy society is the manner in which it provides for its minority groups. Women in this position have been overlooked for a long time. If that statement was quoted what signal would it give to minority groups in the North? What signal will go out from this House if legislation deemed by a particular Deputy to cater for a small group of people is rendered invalid and becomes the hallmark of the approach by Government to legislation? I am appalled that anybody should use that argument to denigrate this Bill.
The manner in which we deal with equality issues as opposed to the way we make speeches or put on paper our aspirations about such issues is a major concern. This legislation also relates to equality. The out-of-court settlement yesterday in respect of equality payments long overdue to married women — many in the category for whom we seek to make provision in this Bill — must make Ministers blush. It must be a matter of grave embarrassment, after years of fudging and denying those women their entitlements, that in total capitulation in an out-of-court settlement it was finally acknowledged the moneys claimed were due.
This morning I asked the Taoiseach if it was his intention to honour the settlement and to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to enable the long overdue payments to be made without delay. The women involved have shown incredible patience waiting so long, but their patience has run out. I appeal to the Minister for Equality and Law Reform to request Cabinet to introduce such an Estimate without delay so that the payments can be made. Payments should also be made to the many hundreds of women who were not included in yesterday's settlement, but who have an equally valid claim to payment. If that is done at least some kind of reparation will have been made for the long delay.
It is regrettable that this relatively new Government should, with a few exceptions, vote against Private Members' Bills, regardless of their merit. This Government claimed it would be an open one. To what is it open? Is it open to good ideas because at the heart of this Bill is a series of good ideas? If it is not open to good ideas and constructive creative thinking, from whatever source, it can hardly claim to be any better or different from the type of Governments the Labour Party denigrated with such energy when in Opposition. In that regard I pay tribute to the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, on whose part I detect a strong and exceptional degree of openness to taking on board good ideas from whatever source. She listens to people and takes good ideas on board. It will be disappointing if the Government votes down this Bill and refuses to acknowledge its excellence and urgency. This legislation would not have been introduced if the Government's Bill, which was so badly bungled, had not faltered at the hurdle of the Supreme Court.
This Bill is a direct response to the vacuum created by the collapse of that Bill. It is also a response to two factors that stand to be overlooked in the "retreat from Moscow" by the Government; its members are putting their heads in the sand and pretending the urgency we placed on that Bill is no longer a factor in society. The Bill is a response to the overwhelming need, in equity and natural justice, to give practical recognition in law to the unpaid work of the spouse in the home. It is also a clear response to the judgment handed down by the Chief Justice in the L. v. L. case. In summary, that judgment stressed the objective we seek is a desirable and social one. It was suggested by the Judiciary that legislation should be put in place to acknowledge its verdict and that the obligation was on the legislators to do so. It is regrettable that the House, in this as well as many other respects, lags behind court decisions. It is embarrassing that the Judiciary, as it has been forced to do from time to time, has had to draw attention to our failure to put in place the type of legislation that responds to modern conditions, hopes and aspirations. This is another case in point and it is disappointing it has not been dealt with.
The attitude of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to this Bill was upsetting. When he was on the Opposition benches he was to the fore in seeking reforming legislation and in castigating the previous Government and its leaders day after day for their failure to bring our law up to date, to introduce essential reforms and to bring our law into line with that of other countries. He was particularly scathing about the failure of successive Fianna Fáil Governments in respect of social legislation. However, when he spoke in the House a week ago he was more conservative, obstructionist and destructive than any Member I heard speak in this House, and I have been here for seven years, two and a half months.
In the history of botany or whatever the relevant science is, it has seldom happened that the butterfly turned into a caterpillar with such speed. The great red winged admiral, the champion of reform, who stood on this side of the House suddenly turned out to be the green slithery caterpillar. It upsets me that that should happen. Although I can be as vociferous as any Deputy in Opposition, when a Government is doing well, whatever the label of that Government, I am the first to praise it. When a Minister is doing well I am one of the first TDs to admit it. As the Minister knows when the stillbirths Bill was introduced I was fulsome in my praise, but when the second in command in this Government, makes the kind of speech he made here a week ago, it makes the hair stand on my head. I am sorry that had to happen: and I am very sorry for the signals it sent to women. I predict that that speech will haunt him. I read his speech again this evening and it was only my sense of decency which prevented me from stitching quotations into my contribution and flinging them back at him.