Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the debate adjourned last night, I indicated that I hated quotas. In 2011, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank stated that appointing women to the bank's executive board, which did not have any women, would make it "prettier and more colourful". His comment made me laugh as I am partial to a bit of colour but I was also reminded of the following great words of encouragement I once received, "Toughness does not have to come in a pinstripe suit."

Gender bias is one of the oldest forms of discrimination. Within living memory, our mothers - not our fathers - were forced out of the Civil Service when they married. Equality laws were introduced in large part because we joined the European Union. Nobody died and there were no riots in the streets when they were implemented. Instead, a steady stream of women made its way into third level education and professions such as medicine and business. In medicine, for example, where once a female student was the isolated exception, female students now outnumber their male counterparts. Slowly but surely women are making their way into the top ranks; for instance, we now have a woman consultant as master of a national maternity hospital. Better still, girls in secondary school do not have any sense that anything is shut off to them. They are right not to care about the feminist fights of the past. Women in earlier generations fought to hand today's young women the opportunities they take for granted and the point is they should take them for granted because women are human beings and equal citizens, full stop.

One of the hold-out areas is the political arena. Let me make clear that when I argue in favour of having quotas to ensure a certain number of women make it onto the ticket in each constituency, I am not arguing that the current absence of women on these tickets is due to prejudice. It is inertia rather than active prejudice that is the largest speed bump on the road towards women's progress. Prejudice is up front and takes many forms, from lads sniggering together over a woman's dress sense to the failure to appoint women to private boards. It can be challenged, however, and I have done so. Last week, Professor Brian Lucey challenged prejudice in appointments to the boards of private companies when he stated that women make decisions about high risk investments that follow a different process to the one adopted by men. He did not argue that the process was better or worse, only that it was different. Professor Lucey also made the point that this difference, this contrasting voice, could be useful to commercial companies. Christine Lagarde, the director of the International Monetary Fund, put the matter more bluntly - women can be very blunt - when she stated that if we had Lehman sisters, we may not have had Lehman Brothers.

What is at play in politics is not active prejudice but quiet inertia, a view that if one leaves the issue alone, it will fix itself in its own good time. It is as if the imbalance in our Houses of Parliament were like a head cold, in other words, self-limiting. According to this view, if we drink lots of liquids, the problem will be gone in a week or ten days. The imbalance in Leinster House will not be redressed by lemon drinks but will be solved by quotas. While quotas will not and should not change the face of Leinster House overnight, they will kick out the inertia and allow people of both genders a wider choice.

Yeats stated, "peace comes dropping slow." The same could be said for other things. Change and equality come dropping slow, much too slow. It is time to get a move on in this place, which is supposed to be a source of thought leadership for the nation. Quotas will not bend democracy out of shape. They will bend it into shape and will be one last step towards acknowledging the equality of half of our population.

One of A. G. Wells fictional characters stated:

It is our very importance that degrades us [women]. While we were minding the children they [the men] stole our rights and liberties.

Quotas are helping minority groups claim back their rights in politics and education and deconstructing structural discrimination. They help change cultures by forcing society to unlearn. As a teacher and school principal, I always argued that learning adds value. I hope and believe this Bill will begin a process of unlearning.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill and commend the Minister on bringing it before the House. The legislation addresses two long-standing issues in Irish politics, namely, the lack of female elected representatives and the issue of political donations. As I am one of only 25 female Deputies, I will speak mainly on the impact of the Bill on promoting the role of women in politics.

When enacted, the legislation will require each political party to ensure at least 30% of candidates in a general election are female. Should a party fail to meet this requirement, it risks losing half of its State funding. The percentage of female candidates required will rise to 40% seven years after the general election at which the requirement first applies.

Regardless of the arguments on the merits of gender quotas, the achievement of the Bill has been to get people discussing the role of women in politics. This is a positive development in itself. At present, 15% of Dáil Deputies are female. That this figure is the highest percentage of female Deputies ever elected only serves to further highlight the problem. While the introduction of gender quotas may raise the profile of women's involvement in politics, it is not the final solution to the problem. There are no guarantees that more female candidates will mean more women Deputies. It is ultimately a matter for members of the public to make the final decision on who they elect to serve them and I am firmly of the view that this decision should be based on a person's ability to do the job rather than his or her gender.

The role of a public representative is highly demanding. We are on call for 24 hours per day and we must have a thick skin. Politics has been a male dominated world and it may be a job that is not attractive to some women. Women need to become more empowered in order that they acquire the confidence and self-belief to take on a political role. It is clear there needs to be a significant change in attitudes if this issue is to be properly addressed. To start this process, changes are required to the Constitution. We are living in the 21st century, yet the Constitution still recognises a woman's place as being in the home. Article 41.2 reads:

1° In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

It is all well and good discussing changes that could be made to promote women's rights and progress that has been made in this regard but the fundamental legislation governing this country still enshrines the view that a woman's role should be in the home.

The words "neglect of their duties in the home" is enshrined in our Constitution, and I believe this needs to change.

We are at a point in Ireland where we have had female Ministers, a female Tánaiste, two fantastic women who served as President and we currently have a women in the role of Attorney General. Women have held some of the highest offices in this country in terms of having influence on legislation. This is why it is astonishing that the issue of amending the Constitution has not been addressed sooner. If we are really serious about promoting the role of women in politics, changing the Constitution seems like the place to start. We need to make provisions so that the mother can actively participate outside the home.

There are times in a woman's life when it may not be practically possible to serve in the Dáil, such as a nursing mother with a young baby, and a further deterrent is the fact that there is no maternity leave in place for female politicians. Essentially, it is extremely difficult for a young female TD who is planning to have a family. The flip side is that if a woman were to take a few months' leave when having a baby, would the public be forgiving or take that fact into consideration when the next election comes around and her constituency colleagues have used the opportunity to attend every function they can? These are all very real obstacles which hinder the participation of women in politics. They will not be solved by the introduction of gender quotas alone.

I welcome the Bill. It has started the process to get more women involved in politics and it has focused attention on the issue of female participation in politics. However, I again reiterate the point that we must tread carefully on this issue. I do not believe anybody should have a rite of passage to be elected due to his or her gender, and we certainly do not want a situation to arise where we have token candidates for the sake of a party saving its political funding. Political parties are continually trying to attract young people into politics, and I feel there is a need among political parties to put a greater emphasis on attracting young women into politics. Perhaps we need positive discrimination at grassroots level.

I commend the Minister on bringing forward this Bill and I urge that the constitutional convention review article 41.2 of the Constitution and give serious consideration to its appropriateness in modern Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill. There are two key areas of reform. First, there is to be a further limitation and greater disclosure of political donations to reduce influence over political parties. Second, the promotion of greater gender parity in politics will be attempted through amending the rules of political funding.

Today's Bill will provide that corporate donations of more than €200 will not be allowed unless the person meets strict conditions. First, the person will have to provide details of memberships and shareholdings, and will have to provide each year copies of accounts and annual reports to the Standards in Public Office Commission. These details will be included on a register to be published on the commission's website. Each donation will have to be approved by the general meeting of the members of the corporation or body. These provisions will apply to non-governmental organisations such as trade unions, companies, partnerships, co-operatives, societies, charitable organisations, building societies, clubs, associations and any other unincorporated bodies of persons.

The citizens of our country have a right to know how our political system and political parties are funded. We all know that corporate donations need to be restricted. It is better to have a large number of small donations, rather than a small number of large donations from a big business, which this Bill sets out to achieve. Donations to political parties will fall form €6,348 to €2,500. For a candidate or elected representative, the limit will fall from €2,539 to €1,000.

The programme for Government has made it clear that the role of corporate political donations in Irish politics must be curtailed. We must restrict the influence of corporate donors. In the past, we have had a close relationship between politics and business. For example, the Moriarty and McCracken tribunals investigated payments to politicians.

Citizens ask me what is a donation. A donation is defined in the Electoral Act 1997 as follows:

...any contribution given for political purposes by any person, whether or not the person is a member of a political party. This includes a donation of money, property or goods, conferring the right to use any properly or goods, the supply of services without payment or other considerations of it, the difference between the commercial price and the price charged for the purchase, acquisition or use of property or goods, or the supply of any service where the price, fee or other consideration is less than the commercial price...a contribution made by a person to a fund-raising event...the donation is the part which attributed to the net profit deriving from the event.

Only donations for political purposes are covered by this Act.

The Bill also proposes to amend section 17 of the Electoral Act to use the existing public funding of political parties in Ireland to promote a greater gender balance in the Dáil. As an incentive to encourage the selection of a greater number of women candidates, the new legislation includes a provision that political parties will face a cut of half their State funding if they do not have at least 30% women and 30% men candidates at the next general election. At present, 15% of Members of this House are women. The quota for 2016 is 30% and 40% for 2021.

There are currently 25 female TDs, which is just more than 15% of the total in Dáil Éireann. This is the highest percentage ever achieved. At the general election held in February 2011, 86 of the 566 candidates who sought election were women, representing 15.19% of the total. Prior to 2011, the level of female representation in Dáil Éireann never exceeded 14%. The average across parliaments in Europe is 24%. However, women account for approximately 50% of the population of Ireland.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the great Jim Stynes, who was a good Gaelic footballer in Dublin and represented the country in Australia. I also commend this Bill to the House.

I would like to join you in your sentiments to the Stynes family.

The Bill is relevant today, of all days, in respect of the restrictions it seeks to place on corporate donations. As we read the report that we have on our computers today, perhaps this Bill does not go far enough. I know we will debate the report in full next week, but many people sat in this Chamber over the years - male and female - and they sat in local council chambers around this island, and 95% of them have served their country and their community for no other reason than to serve it. All of us who seek to serve the public are sullied today by what is in that report. In that context, we must look at this legislation and see if it is time once and for all to ban corporate donations. That places a responsibility on the Exchequer to fund democracy and to fund the operation of political parties. Perhaps that is where we need to go for a few years, as we reassess our priorities.

I was intrigued by Deputy Humphreys's contribution. It would reflect what I hear from people in my party who serve as councillors around the country and from people who served in this House. They got here on their own right. They had to fight a lot harder. I am in two minds as to whether the issue of quotas will get people here on their own right. We have a problem. We have never breached the 15% mark, and we need to do so. It was the former President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, who described women as the boldest and most unmanageable of revolutionaries. That is the kind of attitude we need in this Chamber and in public life at the moment. However, we are not getting it because people are not voting or we are not putting forward enough candidates.

Perhaps gender quotas might be a temporary fix to break that system, but my worry is that it might be seen as a temporary fix and not address the real problem. We have a career and a profession that is not friendly towards anybody, regardless of one's gender or age. Perhaps those of us who are in here are so like mice running around in a cage, as it were, that we do not see that. I am intrigued by the number of new Members elected to this House last year who see that but their desire to change the hours and pressures wanes as the Dáil term proceeds because they get sucked into that race. We all sign up for it. I am very honoured to be here and one deals with the job one has. In terms of attracting different types of people to stand for public office, be it more women, young people or old people who have a great deal to give, while gender quotas might be an easy fix, if we do not change the nature of the job and the way we do our business, even if we have gender quotas, quotas for young people or quotas for older people, will those people stay in the job, having completed a five-year term and still have a passion for it in the way it is currently mixed and designed?

The work the National Women's Council of Ireland is doing in terms of promoting and mentoring a public discussion on the nature of the job is interesting. I am not sure if it favours a 50:50 approach. What Deputy Heather Humphreys said reflects what I hear from our female representatives throughout the country, namely, that they want to be here in their own right. They are on councils in their own right because they work hard in their communities and districts. The notion of quotas is alien to many of them, but if we need to introduce quotas to challenge those of us who in this House to change the nature of this space and the way we do our business, then we must examine doing so as a temporary fix. That would reflect much of the opinion I hear on this issue.

I have said what I intend to say on corporate donations. We will have a further opportunity to examine this issue next week. The way the legislation is designed is clunky. We are putting in place a registration process for the smallest of donations. If we are not going to ban them completely, which is something we should examine doing, putting all this paperwork and registration process in place is a bit of a joke. One has to register a donation of nearly 20 cent at this stage. We should either ban them completely or examine this kind of roundabout system of registration. I do not believe that will change the culture we are trying to change and that I believe everybody wants to change. The Government might review this legislation in light of what has been published today. It might stand back from it before it proceeds to Committee Stage, do the brave thing, ban corporate donations and level the playing pitch. However, the public needs to understand that in banning corporate donations, which is a very easy thing to do in the context of where we are at today and having regard to many reports over many years, we put the burden onto the State of funding democracy and funding the necessary work political parties have to do in terms of research, campaigning and advocacy. That will have to be fully State funded and that is where people's taxes will go if we go down the line many people will be seeking in the next few days in reaction to what they will read today.

The legislation is interesting and challenging but in terms of corporate donations it is not bold enough. In terms of gender quotas and changing the membership of this House, I repeat what I said about the boldest and most unmanageable of revolutionaries. I had the privilege of being Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs for 19 months and the first Minister for labour affairs in this country was Constance Markievicz, but we seem to have set ourselves back since those days when it was virtually unheard of for a woman to serve as a senior Minister. In the early days of the State we set ourselves very high standards and we seem to have moved back from those in many ways but particularly in this area. If one said to Constance Markievicz today that she would be in here as part of a 30% quota, I suspect that the boldest and most unmanageable revolutionary part of her might come to the fore.

I would like to share my time with Deputy Durkan. I note he is not in the House but if he arrives, I would like to share my time with him.

I am not circulating a speech because I am speaking very much as a woman Member of this House particularly on the gender elements of this legislation. I want to put on record that today of all days there are huge lessons to be learned in terms of the relationship between politics and big business. The Mahon tribunal has a large number of recommendations and huge evidence of corruption in this State in the manipulation of the planning process. As Minister of State with responsibility for planning I will very carefully examine its recommendations in terms of necessary changes to legislation and other changes. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and the Government will also examine its recommendations to ensure we learn lessons from this highly expensive tribunal, which has been very costly to the taxpayer but even more costly to our citizens, the political system and the country. Today is a momentous day for politics in Ireland and we must learn lessons from the tribunal report.

I want to speak specifically and particularly on the gender quota element of the legislation, even though the word "quota" is not used in it. I record my satisfaction and pleasure at being a member of the Government that is introducing this legislation. I have stood fairly and squarely behind the idea of quotas because I believe it is the only way we will get the critical mass we need to have somewhere near equal representation of the genders in the political system. It is important we have appropriate representation from both genders in making the laws that apply to everybody in this country, to the 50% of the population that is female and the 50% of it that is male. This is an appropriate way to do that. The legislation is not telling the electorate that it has to vote for women. It is simply giving the electorate the choice to vote for women, and that needs to be put on the record.

Speaking as a woman who has been involved in politics since 1985 and having been a voter prior to that, I find it extremely offensive that there are women in this country who do not have the option to vote for a woman, particularly a woman who shares the same political views as they do. There may well be a woman candidate in their electoral area but they may not want to vote for that woman. I emphasise that women do not just vote for women because they are women, but women want to have the option to vote for a woman who shares their political philosophy, and that is essentially what this is about.

If one checks the tables detailing gender representation in other countries, one will note that Sweden, which has 46.4% women in parliament, and the Netherlands, which has 40.7% women in parliament, have political party quotas. Another example of success is the British Labour Party which implemented gender quotas in its party several decades ago. They were described in a not very politically correct manner as "Blair's babes" at the time but essentially what it did was bring women into politics in Britain. Anyone who watched the budget speech in Britain yesterday would have seen the significant number of women who are still on the Opposition benches.

I have read about and studied this area and I am convinced that having a quota system of candidates - not forcing people to vote for women - brings up the level of participation. I am very strongly in favour of quotas. They do not have to last forever and they should not. I view them as a temporary measure to ensure we bring about a level of participation that provides the type of balance that any healthy democracy requires. Quotas were introduced internally within the Labour Party structure and we have seen the results in that we have greatly increased the participation of women in our party. I am proud of that but we have to introduce quotas more generally and I believe that will have a positive result.

Many women are put off getting involved in politics because they perceive it primarily for men. In every community in Ireland, however, there is a huge level of activity among women and there is no reason that activity should not be translated into participation in the political process. The measure we are taking will greatly assist in that regard.

I welcome the debate on this issue which has been the subject of many discussions during the years. I do not pretend to be an expert on it, but there is a benefit to society to be gained from greater representation by women in Parliament. It is difficult to achieve, however, because it is a difficult job and it is difficult to find the time and space to do it with other things. That applies to men and women; it is not as simple as it looks. There are many who presume public representation is simple and easy, but it is not. I am reminded of the general election of 2002 when as a party we had a high number of women candidates, but we suffered losses. In elections in which we had a high number of female representatives we did badly electorally. It was sad to see, but that was the way it was.

I am not 100% certain the quota system is the answer. I have visited countries which have quota systems in place that seem to work well and I have seen delegations from countries, 80% of the members of which have been female. However, it did not continue. There is no way to presume the introduction of quotas will achieve the desired result.

It is important to have another opinion beyond that of the male population in Parliament. That has been proved over a number of years. The female population thinks differently, which is good. There are those who say with a degree of credibility that if the average woman running a household was running the country in the last ten or 15 years, we would not be where we are. Many of my female constituents have told me repeatedly that they knew the economic model would not work because if they used it at home, they would be broke. Realism is the reality. Having to deal with the issues of a household on a daily basis gives the female population of the country a greater sense of responsibility when it comes to taking risks. This is something we must all recognise. My dealings with constituents give me a sense that if there is an inner track or Midas touch, anything will work and all that a person need do is throw the dice and things will always turn out right, but it does not work that way. It is in that regard that women are more cautious and bringing that sense of caution to the Oireachtas would be of major importance and prove to be constructive. The same applies to local authorities. It goes without saying there is a need for a reasonable balance. I am not certain that the quota system will work because it can be counterproductive, too. Suffice it to say that, at least, the issue has been recognised and something has been done about it.

We should not let the occasion pass without paying tribute to the countless women who were elected to the Oireachtas and the contribution they made and continue to make. That should not be forgotten, especially at a time where elements of the political system are being criticised, rightly so. We should recognise the many women who made a positive contribution in the House on behalf of women, families and the wider economy. They deserve to be complimented.

This issue is not the preserve of the Oireachtas. To an extent, it applies to State bodies and Departments. In some areas, however, it is more difficult to see in which direction the project is moving. If we presume the Oireachtas must aspire to achieve a particular objective, we should also assume something similar should apply to all State boards, bodies and agencies and in the private sector also. There have been occasions in both the public and private sectors when for some unknown reason, notwithstanding the ready availability of the relevant and competent cohort of women, they did not get the nod to which they were entitled with their male counterparts.

The presumption is that everyone comes into the world equal and with nothing. When we leave it, there is no need to bring the cheque book. It should be recognised that there is a need for equality in the public and private sectors. I will not touch on the banking sector, as it would be insensitive of me to deal with it after some of the problems we have encountered in recent years. Suffice it to say, if more women had been involved in it, we might have had a different outcome. The economy might not have collapsed to the same extent because women have a habit of applying the practicalities to all economic issues. As society evolves, we will have more reason to benefit from this. I hope the proposal works, but I am not certain it will. The need is obvious but how to achieve the objective with a reasonable degree of fairness and success remains to be seen. We must acknowledge, however, the huge contribution made by the women elected to this House, including those most recently elected.

In serving the public, the vision and the mission might often not be the same, but the commitment is. Those who see the option of public life as a simple and easy one should be reminded that there are no longer such options. They do not happen anymore, and people who pretend they do or should will be sadly disillusioned. It is hugely important that those who have served for a number of years and have seen the contribution it is possible to make should be able to help those who were more recently elected and who might find themselves disillusioned that all is not what it seemed. All that glisters is not gold, so it is not a bed of roses. Nevertheless, it is something in which we wish both male and female colleagues the very best of luck in the future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I will focus my remarks on gender quotas. I commend the Minister on this legislation. The introduction of gender quotas is a welcome first step towards increasing the number of female representatives in the political institutions in this State. Sinn Féin supports gender quotas and considers them necessary if we want political reform.

Full and equal representation is necessary within the political structure and institutions in this country. The evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that gender quotas deliver, and delivery is required at this juncture. Currently, only 25 of the 166 Dáil seats are held by women. Females have never made up more than 15% of the membership of this House, which is the current percentage. Recent years have not been especially positive. In the most recent general election only five more women were elected than in 1992. This compares with an average of 24% female representation across all European parliaments. This has been a persistent trend. Since the foundation of the State only 91 women have served in the Dáil.

Many people have fears and concerns about gender quotas and tokenism. Research has shown that in other jurisdictions in which gender quotas have been applied their political institutions have been transformed. In nearly all states that have introduced quotas there has been a significant increase in the representation of women. In Sweden, 45% of members of parliament are female, in Germany it is 32% and in Norway it is almost 40%. Research carried out by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women shows that in order for females to have a substantial influence on the decisions taken by a governing body they need occupy only one third of the parliamentary seats. The European Parliament went further in a resolution on 18 January 2001, which refers to achieving a balanced gender representation of a minimum of 40% of each gender in parliament.

We must ensure there is an increase in representation of women in both the Dáil and local government. Studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of evidence in Ireland suggests that one of the main barriers to women entering political life relates to the socioeconomic position of women in society in terms of their attitude to flexible working patterns, attitudes to sharing child care between parents and the quality and price of child care. Research undertaken by political scientists in Ireland has found that once women are selected as candidates voters do not discriminate on gender grounds.

The stark reality is that although I am one of the majority outside this Chamber, within it I am just one of 25 females elected to the Dáil. As a mother, I am well aware of the reality of what is involved in being a female politician. One of the biggest obstacles to political life for women is child care in view of the times at which meetings are held, the time required to be dedicated to political activity, the male dominated culture of society generally, the network surrounding politics and, critically, the length of time away from one's family and children.

At present, there are many issues affecting women from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Women are the largest group of those who were excluded from the benefits of the Celtic tiger economy. Households headed by lone parents and older women remain at high risk of poverty and structural inequalities continue to trap many women in low paid, part-time employment. We must ensure they are given every opportunity to enter political life. I have engaged with many different female organisations and there is much support and assistance available to ensure we achieve equal representation for women. These organisations are extremely enthusiastic and committed to the objective of increasing women's participation in political life. We must engage with these organisations to make progress.

Every time the issue of gender quotas is debated there are strong reactions, both supportive and oppositional. However, I urge everybody to look at the evidence. Studies have shown that where gender quotas have been introduced, they have led to remarkable and rapid increases in women's representation.

I am sharing time with Deputies Anne Ferris and Ciara Conway.

I wish to put on record my opposition to the gender quota proposals in this legislation. My first reason for opposing the provisions is that they are very likely to be unconstitutional. They appear to be against many provisions in the Constitution. Second, I believe they are undemocratic and, third, I believe they are discriminatory. Those are my grounds for objecting to the proposals.

The move towards introducing legislated quotas in Ireland is based on information that is basically misleading. People have been misinformed about examples such as the situation in Sweden, as mentioned by the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and Deputy McLellan. Most countries in the EU have not legislated for quotas, nor do they have constitutional quotas. In the majority of countries in Europe some political parties have voluntary quotas but even in those countries it is not necessarily the norm or the majority of parties that have voluntary quotas. Our proposed legislation has not been implemented in most countries and in countries where it has, it has been unsuccessful.

I wish to deal with the claims about Sweden. I have read a great deal about this. It is often cited as an example of where quotas have worked but, in fact, quotas have never been legislated for in Sweden. I wish to refer to a paper by Lenita Freidenvall, an academic in Sweden who is based in the University of Stockholm and is a member of the Women in Politics Research Centre. She also carries out research on behalf of the quota project. She obviously favours quotas but this is what she said about the Scandinavian countries and Sweden:

In international literature on women in politics one finds the argument that women's political representation reached a historical and worldwide high in the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Norway and Sweden - due to quotas.... This is, however, not quite accurate. For instance, there have never been any constitutional quota requirements in the Scandinavian countries. Moreover, while almost all parties in Norway have quota provisions, no parties in Denmark use them. Furthermore, only some political parties in Sweden have introduced quotas for public election.....

To summarise, she says the Center Party, which has enjoyed the best record in terms of the representation of women in Sweden, has never operated quotas and does not even have targets for women in politics.

She points out that the real breakthrough for Scandinavian women occurred in the 1970s before the introduction of any quotas. It has been a slow process along an incremental track. In addition, she points out that only three out of seven parties in Sweden have ever operated gender quotas. That is important information that has not been made available up to now.

Another misleading point being made is that the parties are somehow an obstacle to women becoming involved in politics and running for election. In fact, however, that is not borne out by the statistics which anyone can consult, as I have done. For example, in the 2011 general election the percentage of independent women candidates was 8.9%, or 18 of 201. The percentage of women candidates who ran for registered political parties was 18.3%, or double the independent women's figure. One finds that many parties ran quite a high percentage of women candidates. For example, Labour ran 26.4%, Sinn Féin almost 20% and People Before Profit 44.4%. The party in the Dáil with the highest percentage of women Members is the Socialist Party with exactly 50%. That party, however, ran one of the lowest percentages of women candidates at 11.1%, or one in nine candidates.

Parties are positively encouraging women to run for election, so there are obviously other reasons women are not putting themselves forward for election. I have never been presented with evidence to show that women are any less likely to be selected at a selection convention than a man if they put their names forward. Men win and lose at selection conventions, as do women. Generally, women who put their names forward for selection conventions in political parties are very successful. That is the factual situation.

Twelve years after introducing the kind of legislation we are proposing here, France has only 19% of women members in the national parliament. That is also the figure for women's participation in parliaments internationally, and is not much greater than what applies in this House.

As I have said many times, quotas are not democratic. They do not leave it to voters at selection conventions to make up their own minds on who to choose. Quotas try to engineer the outcome and are imposed from the top rather that from the grassroots. It will be in the hands of the leadership to implement quotas, so they will be imposed.

In addition, quotas do not suit our electoral system which involves multi-seat constituencies with individual names on ballot papers. We do not have a list system whereby one could put 50 men and 50 women candidates on such a list. Very often, a party might pick one or two candidates in an Irish constituency. If a party leader decides to impose a candidate on a constituency, and the decision is to have one female and one male candidate, in practice it means that a woman who got more votes than the highest placed man in terms of the contest, would not be selected because the man had to take the place on the ballot paper, even though she would have more votes. If she was the second placed woman in that contest, but the highest placed man was below her, she would not be selected either, even though she had more votes than the man. That kind of discrimination often backfires and defeats the purpose.

Swedish courts have recently ruled against quotas in universities because they have discriminated against women. Women have had better results than men but are losing places in university courses due to the quotas that were in place.

Many people would agree that if we want more women involved in politics, including running for election, we need women to become active in politics at grassroots level and have a real say. Quotas, however, do the opposite to that by undermining participation by men and women in political parties. They undermine democracy in political parties and give too much control and power to party leaders.

As I have mentioned, quotas are discriminatory, blunt instruments. Many people have said so, even those in favour of quotas. They are an even blunter instrument in our electoral system where one cannot just decide on a quota; one must pick and choose constituencies where they are implemented. One may be pretty sure that party leaders will not impose quotas against the men or women they want to see on the ticket. Therefore, quotas are a blunt instrument that can be abused.

This legislation enshrines discrimination in our laws. There is currently no discrimination in our laws concerning a person's gender when they want to run for election. Article 16.1.3o of the Constitution states:

No law shall be enacted placing any citizen under disability or incapacity for membership of Dáil Éireann on the ground of sex or disqualifying any citizen or other person from voting at an election for members of Dáil Éireann on that ground.

However, we are making the issue of gender a factor in whether someone actually gets to run for election for a political party. The quota system also makes an issue of one's gender, as opposed to people running as human beings. People are being distinguished by their gender rather than working in solidarity as men and women.

I wish to raise briefly the unconstitutional aspect of quotas. Some years ago, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution examined the PR-STV system. That committee was advised that measures which went further than merely encouraging parties to take positive measures with regard to female candidates would raise serious constitutional questions. The committee felt that any measure that coerced political parties to select certain types of candidate or which imposed quotas in that regard would be unconstitutional. It also mentioned the case of Kelly v the Minister for the Environment where a judgment was made on the basis that one cannot treat candidates unequally in elections. In the legislation before us, however, State funding would be used to discriminate between candidates on the basis of their gender, which I believe is in conflict with the Kelly case. Other people have also raised concerns about this. It obviously affects freedom of association and makes an imposition on political parties using the State mechanism of funding in terms of what they should do in elections. I believe this will be found to be unconstitutional.

The Bill is a welcome measure and I am delighted to see it before the House. We know all too well that the link between politics and money is an unhealthy one and, therefore, the greater transparency that is brought to this matter the better.

I also welcome the commitment to introduce gender quotas for political parties, because I believe that in a democracy, it is truly representative of the people. When half of one's own country is not properly represented in this House, the laws we make and the decisions we take can be too reflective of a male dominated society.

The main tenets that form the core of this Bill are necessary and today's publication of the report by the Mahon tribunal emphasises this necessity. It was with great dismay that I read the outcome of the tribunal whose report has been 15 years in the making. Its 3,270 pages make for interesting, yet desperately disappointing, reading. It is certainly true that Fianna Fáil has severely damaged the economy, but it is equally true that the body politic has been undermined by the revelations contained in the report.

The Mahon tribunal's report has demonstrated that Bertie Ahern failed to account truthfully for more than €165,000, which is quite incredible. This is the same Bertie Ahern who gave the performance of a lifetime when he told his sob story on RTE, and has now been found to be totally lacking in credibility. If this information from the Mahon tribunal had come out at the 2007 elections, I wonder how different things might have been. A different government would likely have been elected and the responses to our economic downturn would, in my opinion, have been far better than those of the last tired Government clinging to power.

Mr. Bertie Ahern was not the only Fianna Fáil TD who has been subject to findings in this report. Indeed, findings of corruption have been made against several former TDs, including people like Pádraig Flynn. I was also disturbed that members of the previous Cabinet made sustained and virulent attacks on the integrity of the tribunal's members. The report states that "There appears little doubt but that the objective of these extraordinary and unprecedented attacks on the Tribunal were to undermine the efficient conduct of the Tribunal, erode its independence and collapse its inquiry". Perhaps this is not unexpected, given that previous Cabinet members repeatedly stood by Mr. Bertie Ahern when the dogs in the street knew something was off in the affairs of the then Taoiseach. I am in favour of tying political funding to the selection of female candidates at general elections. It is unfortunate that quotas are necessary, as the idealist in me would like to see a natural 50:50 breakdown in representation. However, given that only 15% of Members of the Dáil are women - this is an historic high - it is clear that change is needed. Of the Members of the previous Dáil, 13% were women and before that there were even fewer. These percentages are appalling and reasons abound for the lack of representation. An Oireachtas study carried out in 2009 demonstrated that five Cs need to be addressed to facilitate the entry of more women into politics: confidence, child care, cash, culture and candidate selection.

I welcome the chance to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011. However, the revelations of the Mahon tribunal have done more damage to anyone getting involved in politics than the issues addressed in the Bill. The carry-on of the previous Government, the antics of Fianna Fáil and the relationship between big business and politics have done more to damage the participation of citizens in politics. That needs to be stated.

I am a recent convert to the principle of gender quotas. In the past I thought, along the lines of my colleague Deputy Joanna Tuffy, that if women put themselves forward, they would receive a positive response. Within the Labour Party I have never found it an impediment to be a woman. Since my election to the Dáil, however, I have noted the severe lack of women and their contribution. This is reflected in some of the issues that have failed to be legislated for in the past 20 years. Twenty years after the X case we do not have legislation to deal with an issue that pertains solely to a woman's right to her body. Is that because women are not fairly represented in this House? We heard on radio this morning about the horrific cases of women who had to travel to England to undergo the medical procedure of abortion. This is an Irish solution to an Irish problem whereby women are exported and people turn a blind eye. Is it because women are absent from this House, in which legislation is passed, that no one has the wherewithal or the gumption to tackle this issue?

I welcome the changes in funding for political parties in terms of women being selected as candidates. That is a positive move. However, the Bill misses an opportunity to focus on the selection of candidates for local elections. I served on Dungarvan Town Council for two years before being elected to the Dáil. Although one of only nine members of a very small council, we were a hard working and effective section of local government. Such experience is of huge benefit for a woman, as it allows a person to understand what is expected of him or her. I am a single mother of one child who is nine years old. As a Deputy for a rural constituency in County Waterford, it is very difficult to leave one's child on a Tuesday afternoon to come to the national Parliament for three or four days every week. We need to do more, therefore, than look at gender quotas. We need to look at how child care is provided and the expectations placed on politicians, not only with regard to the hours kept and the way business is done in Parliament but also in terms of the work to be done in the constituency and how it can be a seven day a week operation. That can prove to be difficult, too.

The Bill gives us an opportunity to look at how we can make positive changes to encourage more women to become involved in politics. On 8 March, International Women's Day, I was asked to speak to pupils at my old secondary school in Waterford city about women involved in politics. A recent report highlighted how women's pay still lagged behind that of their male colleagues. Again, one has to wonder why that is? At a certain point in their careers men forge ahead, while women seem to stay static. The same is true of politics. All over the country women are involved at grassroots level on local committees and in GAA and youth clubs but do not seem to want, or are not asked, to become involved in politics. The gender quotas to be implemented under the Bill will enrich political life and offer people the opportunity to choose a female Deputy to represent them. Of the 15 candidates who stood in the general election in Waterford, I was the only woman and I am the first female Deputy in the constituency of Waterford for 60 years. That tells us that something needs to be done. The Bill should be an interim measure. We should come back in five or ten years time and see how matters have progressed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill. It is opportune that today marks the publication of the Mahon tribunal report because it impinges directly on the provisions and culture of the Bill. In 1997 the Mahon tribunal, originally the Flood tribunal, commenced its business of inquiring into the planning history of 726 acres of land in north Dublin. Its terms of reference were extended a number of times, between 1998 and 2004. Today, after fourteen and a half years and at a cost of several hundred million euro, we have its final report. Its recommendations impinge directly on this legislation which deals with electoral expenditure, donations and contributions.

The tribunal has found that corruption affected every level of political life and that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern failed to truthfully explain the source of money. It has rejected his evidence of dig-outs. It has also found that the former European Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, wrongly and corruptly sought donations from Mr. Tom Gilmartin, that the late Mr. Liam Lawlor accepted inappropriate and corrupt payments from Arlington plc and that Mr. Owen O'Callaghan paid €1.8 million to Mr. Frank Dunlop over ten years.

The report states that corruption affected every level of Irish political life and was allowed to continue unabated. It also draws attention to the various attacks on the tribunal by Ministers in an attempt to undermine the tribunal and to deflect it from its business. The recommendations and findings of the tribunal are far reaching and they must be taken into account in this legislation. In the wake of the report I call on serving politicians who were members of the Cabinet under the former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, to resign and retire from public life. The report's recommendations are a devastating indictment of the conduct of political affairs in this country over a long period. Those who served in high office in those Cabinets and who are still in public life should resign and retire from public life immediately.

The Bill must be withdrawn following the report's publication and, at a minimum, redrafted on the basis of the tribunal's recommendations. I would go further than that. I will elaborate on the matter in due course. The Bill must be withdrawn and cognisance must be taken of the tribunal report's recommendations in the redrafting of the legislation.

It is important to put on record some of the general details outlined in the report about corruption in general. The report outlines that:

Corruption, in particular political corruption, is a deeply corrosive and destructive force. While frequently perceived as a victimless crime, in reality its victims are too many to be identified individually. Political corruption diverts political resources to the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many. It undermines social equality and perpetuates unfairness. Corruption in public office is a fundamental breach of public trust and inherently incompatible with the democratic nature of the State.

Those are strong words from the tribunal. The report continues: "Although the tribunal recognises that corruption is most obviously a failing of individual morality, it believes that it is also a problem of systemic failure." In other words, the operation of the political system and of public life gives rise to a culture and a ground for corruption and dishonesty. The report further states: "The tribunal is concerned that existing conflicts of interests measures do not sufficiently identify or otherwise regulate certain types of conflict of interest." The tribunal makes it clear that the conduct of affairs in this country in recent years is, in effect, a web of dishonesty and corruption. That must be tackled.

Some of the recommendations which directly impinge on the Bill are important. They deal with such issues as donations and expenditure. It is important to read some of the report's recommendations on donations and expenditure with which the legislation deals. The recommendations must be taken into account as a minimum in redrafting the legislation.

On donations, the tribunal indicates at chapter 18, 1.37 that:

There are several difficulties with the way the political finance Acts define the term "donation", namely, as "any contribution given for political purposes". In particular, whether or not a contribution is a political donation is dependent on the reasons the contribution was made rather than on the use to which it is put. Moreover, several types of contributions fall within this definition including, for example, commercial loans. The tribunal is therefore recommending that the definition of the term "donation" be amended in both the political finance Acts [such as this] so as to define a donation as "any contribution given, used or received for political purposes".

The report outlines in chapter 18, 1.41 that:

The political finance Acts limit the amount of money which an individual politician, a political party, or a third party may accept from an individual donor. The tribunal is concerned that the existing limits are too high and note that this concern is also reflected in the 2011 Bill, which lowers those limits to €2,500 in the case of donations to a political party, "accounting unit", and "third party" and to €1,000 in the case of donations to an individual electoral candidate or elected representative. While the tribunal welcomes this proposal, it notes that at the moment, there is nothing to prevent an individual donor from giving a donation to each member of a political party and the party itself. This could amount to a significant amount of money capable of giving rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. Consequently, the tribunal is recommending that an overall limit be placed on the amount which an individual may give to a political party and electoral candidates or elected representatives who are members of that party.

The report continues in the same vein in a number of areas on donations and the minimum amount of donations. In chapter 18, 1.43 the report deals with the question of expenditure between elections:

The tribunal is of the view that the existing expenditure rules suffer from a number of deficiencies from an anti-corruption perspective. First, they only cover expenditure during the electoral period. As there are no restrictions on expenditure outside that period, they do nothing to reduce the incentive to accept corrupt funding in respect of that expenditure. Secondly, few candidates meet the expenditure limits, which suggests that they are too high and therefore ineffective. Thirdly, those limits do not apply to expenditure by third parties which may serve to undermine the limits applicable to electoral candidates. Finally, they do not apply to Seanad elections [to which the tribunal says they should].

The tribunal refers specifically to the Bill in a number of areas. While the report welcomes some elements of the Bill it suggests that much more must be done. The report must be taken into account in redrafting the legislation. However, we must go further than that. Political parties must be funded through the public purse and donations must be prohibited.

Donations should be prohibited because the web between big business and politics has let the country down over the past number of years. The only way to ensure that corrupt payments are not made is to ban these payments completely and to fund political parties from the public purse. It had been said that would cost considerable amounts of money but, as we all will be aware, there are significant amounts of money being paid to political parties and individuals as we speak. It would cost no more than the existing funding to fund political parties properly in the future and to ensure the area of donations is prohibited. If one looks, for instance, at the party leader's allowance for the 12-month period since the Government took office, and this would be reflective of any year, the income from the leader's allowance was as follows: Fine Gael, €2.076 million; the Labour Party, €1.37 million; Fianna Fáil, €1.23 million; Independent TDs, €617,000; Sinn Féin, €944,000; the Socialist Party, €143,000; and People Before Profit, €143,000. As we speak, there is a total of €6.24 million of funding to political parties. The political system and political parties could be properly funded through the public purse at no additional cost over an above what is being provided by way of funding to those parties and individuals as we speak. That is what should be done because it would stop the question of corruption in future. As I stated, I hope this Bill will be withdrawn or at least redrafted on the basis of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report. I would prefer that the parties would be funded through the public purse at no additional expense.

Before I finish, I want to move on to the question of gender quotas. Certainly, it is a welcome step in the right direction but, in truth, a minimal enough step affecting general elections only. A number of Members have already made the point that the quotas do not deal with the question of local government elections, but maybe the Minister will abolish nearly all the local authorities and feels there is not any need for quotas in that area. If we are introducing quotas at national level, then they should also be introduced at local level. Many Oireachtas Members come through the local authority system and the introduction of these quotas should be done both at national and local level.

It is unacceptable and unsustainable that one would have a situation where only 25% or 15% of 166 TDs are female when females make up more than 50% of the population. There are wider issues as well. Quotas, of themselves, will not fully address the situation in which we find ourselves. Other Members referred to the Oireachtas committee report that drew attention to a number of areas. Child care and candidate selections are two significant issues. In particular, child care is a significant issue for women candidates who have children. Of course, the less than family-friendly hours worked in this House and in the Seanad do nothing to ensure that there is a proper level of representation of women in the Oireachtas.

The culture of the political system is another area which needs to be addressed. There needs to be a general audit of all provisions on a gender basis. No doubt political parties should ensure that their Front Bench or, if they are in government, Cabinet would have the necessary representation of both genders. Certainly, women have not had such proper representation in the past.

These gender quotas, of themselves, will not solve that problem. There is a wider problem. As I stated, attention was drawn to that by the committee, which reported it involved cash, child care, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The provision is a start, but I would like to see the provision extended to local authority elections as well.

No doubt there should be a general audit in this area of Government, where it appoints members to commissions, committees or public bodies of any kind, and even in the representation of females in RTE where there is a public broadcasting authority, and the representation of women on programmes in that broadcasting authority is an issue as well.

I certainly welcome these quotas. I hope they will improve the situation significantly. It has happened in other countries. Hopefully, it will happen here as well, but it needs to be addressed in a much more fundamental way.

Deputy Regina Doherty is sharing time with Deputies Corcoran Kennedy and Connaughton.

At the outset, I thank Deputy Healy for his concern with regard to young women Members with children in this House. For the record, I point out that I approach the organisation of child care for my four small children in exactly the same way as my husband does and there is no difference.

I have four children as well.

This Bill includes a measure to introduce a 30% gender balance requirement for political party candidates at the next general election, rising to 40% a further seven years later, and it is this aspect on which I want to concentrate.

The Dáil currently has 25 women TDs, which is just over 15% of the representation of Dáil Éireann. This is the highest percentage ever achieved, but it is still a shockingly low representation of women.

With the passage of this legislation, at the next general election political parties must select at least 30% women and 30% men or face losing half of their State funding. Seven years from the general election where this provision first applies, this will rise to 40%. I, for one, welcome this.

The only argument against this Bill is that it tokenises women. There is no tokenism in a measure that will address an issue of major concern in the functioning of Ireland's democratic system where women are significantly under represented.

This coalition is the first Government to bring forward a meaningful proposal to increase the participation rate of women and to give them the opportunity to be candidates in a general election.

More than 90 years after women in Ireland won the vote, only 15% of Deputies are women. Clearly, there is a glaring democratic deficit. These concerns will not be addressed and will continue until there is positive intervention enforcing parity among candidates.

International bodies such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union note that true democracy requires that parliaments should have gender balance. Given the slow speed by which the number of women in politics is growing, quotas present one such mechanism. At the same time, quotas raise serious questions and, in some cases, strong resistance. It can be said of quotas that they are against the principle of equal opportunity for all since women are given preference over men, they are undemocratic because voters should be able to decide who is elected, they imply that politicians are elected because of their gender, not because of their qualifications, and they violate the principles of liberal democracy. However, quotas for women do not discriminate but actually compensate for the barriers that prevent women from gaining their fair share of political seats.

It is the political parties that control the nominations, not primarily the voters who decide who gets elected. Therefore, quotas are no violation of voters' rights. Quotas can contribute to a process of democratisation by making the nomination process more transparent and formalised. Electoral gender quotas open up "the secret garden of nominations" by making the recruitment process more transparent and formalised. Research shows that women need to reach a critical mass of at least one third of the seats of a legislative body to be able to exert a substantive influence. France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal all have legislation which obliges political parties to put forward a percentage of female candidates. This Bill will bring about the balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making.

We know the diversity of our needs. Women are the experts of their own lives and need to be able to voice and act on those needs. Since women have different life experiences and prioritise issues differently, an increase in the number of women in Parliament would provide a broader spectrum of views, not just on women's matters but on all policy matters. Numbers do matter. Much of the detailed policy work is done in parliamentary committees. Parliament is the place where the country's policy direction is set. A democratic Dáil reflects the views and interests of the society from which it is drawn and allows those perspectives to shape the society's social, political and economic future. When women are involved in all aspects of political life, including as TDs, our society becomes more equitable and our democracy is both strengthened and enhanced.

The passage of this legislation will, I hope, change the face of politics forever. In total, only 91 women Deputies have been elected since the foundation of the State and it is my privilege to be the 73rd of those. It has been a long, hard road for us all to get here but, with initiatives such as this Bill, the road might get just a little shorter.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important Bill on political reform which was identified in the programme for Government as being badly needed in this country. I want to point to three items I find particularly welcome. The first is that on the day the Mahon tribunal report was published, the tribunal has identified both public sector and private sector corruption across our society. It is clear we need to address this problem and, in terms of the caps on political donations, the Bill certainly does that.

Second, I welcome the list of lobbyists. It is only fair that people know this information and that we have a more open and transparent democracy. To have such lists will mean we know exactly what is happening and who is lobbying for what.

Third, while many have spoken about the cost of the tribunals, they have done us a great service in establishing facts. I have no doubt the legal processes in this country will follow that trail and pursue where necessary. A further point is that they have provoked Government into producing ethics legislation around our democracy, which is very welcome.

I wish to focus primarily on the gender balance provisions in the Bill. It is a shame that, as a society, we have to intervene in this area. We are a representative democracy but, unfortunately, one gender is not properly represented in the House where 85% of Deputies are male. This is a significant indicator that we are not a fully representative democracy.

I draw the attention of the House to a number of interesting facts. Where quotas have been introduced, they have been known to work. For example, in Sweden, 46% of parliamentarians are now female following the introduction of quotas and the figure is 44.5% for South Africa. It is well established that this intervention is very positive in terms of ensuring a true democracy that really works.

The various barriers have been well documented at this stage - cash, culture, candidate selection, child care and confidence. All of these have applied to me as a woman entering the political arena. Once we can address and recognise those barriers, we will go a long way towards addressing the issue.

I have heard comment that many people, both male and female, are very concerned about tokenism, and I completely understand their sincere concerns around this issue. However, we should remember there are plenty of male token candidates who are added to the ticket at the discretion of the parties to ensure they win seats. I doubt very much that any of them lie awake at night wondering if anybody is declaring they are only token candidates. I do not see this as being an issue. At the end of the day, the Bill encourages the parties to have candidate quotas, not seat quotas. In the election last year, I was the only female candidate out of 20 candidates in Laoighis-Offaly, so I know that selection is only half the battle and that a person still has to get elected. Anybody who can get themselves elected, regardless of whether they are added on by a party, deserves the seat and should not be considered in any way as a token candidate.

The Bill seeks to ensure that within seven years we will have 40% women candidates, which is a good target. I believe this will only be a temporary measure. If we have role models so that our young people can see women in all walks of life, we will certainly provide encouragement. Reference was made to the local elections. While I would have liked to have seen this introduced for local elections, I understand an amendment to the Electoral Act would be required. However, Fine Gael introduced this during the last local elections for town councils and we were successful in that we not only found the candidates but they got elected. It does work.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women refers to a critical mass of 30% to 35% female participation to ensure we have equality in society. I acknowledge the National Women's Council of Ireland, the joint committee which produced the report in the last term of Government, the Women in Government group and the 50:50 group for the fantastic research and work they are doing to help us to encourage people to support what we are doing. I hope we will see the first female Taoiseach in my lifetime.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is unfortunate we have to discuss it when all the news today is about findings of the Mahon tribunal and that we are not discussing the more positive news from yesterday in regard to the promissory notes. Such are the revelations that have come out today, however, and such is the level of corruption that took place in regard to planning irregularities and politics that I can see why this is so newsworthy at present. I know that issue will be dealt with in the Chamber next week, so I will not dwell on it now.

How politics is funded is a key element of democracy in any country. If a country is to function for the benefit of its citizens instead of big business interests, it is only fair and reasonable that corporate donations be discouraged in favour of individual donations and that a clear record be kept of where the money for parties is coming from. Under this legislation, corporate donations would be severely curtailed and there would be greater openness. People have a right to know how political parties are funded, and the measures contained in this Bill will go a significant way to increasing transparency on this matter. The legislation significantly lowers the maximum amount of money that can be donated from a corporate source to a political party, from just over €6,000 to €2,500. The maximum amount for a political donation by an individual is reduced from €2,500 to €1,000. The new limits apply to Deputies, Senators, MEPs and all candidates in Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament elections. An important element of these provisions is the establishment of a register of corporate donors. This list will be published in order that voters know which organisations are providing funds to political parties and candidates. The term "corporate donor" encompasses all companies, partnerships, trade unions, trusts, co-operative societies, charities, non-governmental organisations, clubs and associations.

Efforts to introduce a more balanced political representation in terms of gender are another key aspect of the Bill. Parties whose female candidates do not comprise at least 30% of their total at the next general election face the prospect of losing half their State funding for the lifetime of the next Dáil. There is undoubtedly a need for greater female representation at parliamentary level. One need only consider that the Oireachtas currently comprises 183 men and 43 women. However, while the aims of the gender provisions in the Bill are commendable, their success or otherwise will depend on how individual parties implement the various elements. For example, disputes could arise in a particular locality where there is a view that the right to choose a candidate is being hindered by party officials who are anxious to achieve the 30% threshold, which threshold will increase to 40% post-2019. Such situations will not serve to bolster the number of female representatives in the Dáil or Seanad but will rather set up an artificial barrier between the genders.

Individual donations to political parties are the best way of ensuring politics remains rooted with the people. The caps proposed in this legislation will help to deter a "Big Donor" culture. On the other hand, the danger with individual donations is that they may result in the wealthy being disproportionately represented. However, the cap on private donations will limit this danger somewhat. There are also dangers in having political parties paid solely out of the public purse. First, it places politicians at a distance from the people and cushions them from public opinion. Second, by providing a secure and guaranteed income, there is less thrift. Third, and perhaps most importantly, by providing funding to parties based on the current level of representation, there is a danger of creating inertia in the political system whereby the larger parties will always remain the largest, maintain the highest degree of funding and become immune from the necessity to interact with their supporters in terms of funding.

The Minister has ruled out any increase in the amount of public funding to political parties to compensate for any reductions in funds arising from the new restrictions on corporate funding. The bottom line is that there are no extra funds to disburse in the current climate. Forcing political parties to rely more heavily on donations from individuals will ensure that greater cognisance is given to creating a more fair and just society. This legislation is timely, balanced and fair. It discourages a corporate business culture in favour of representation for and by the people. It will result in much greater transparency in regard to political funding and will help to redress the long-standing gender imbalance in representation at parliamentary level.

I commend the Minister on tackling this long overdue legislative change and look forward to working in a more transparent and balanced political system.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill. Other Deputies have observed that on the day the report of the Mahon tribunal is published it is timely to be discussing the issue of political funding. Some of the activities highlighted in that report were prevalent before the representation allowance was introduced with a view to ensuring local authority members would have a more professional role. That was a positive initiative by a previous Minister.

In the early years following the foundation of the State, only business owners and certain professional people were wealthy enough to participate in politics. That remains the case in some countries today. For example, a recent report in the United States found that more than 60% of members of Congress are millionaires. This is reflective of the level of costs involved in funding political campaigns in that country and of keeping one's seat after it is won. In Britain we have seen people giving donations of €1 million to political parties and subsequently receiving a peerage or knighthood. There is plenty of evidence of that in the honours lists. The United States President, Mr. Obama, has largely forgone the option of public funding and instead sought to fund his re-election campaign by way of individual donations. He made great use of the Internet to that end in the last presidential election. All of these issues must be taken into account.

There is a broad range of views in this State on the issue of political funding. I have heard people argue that taxpayers' money should not be used to fund political parties. Others have expressed indignation at party activists collecting money at church gates. I have listened to arguments for the complete banning of corporate donations. My view is that State funding is necessary, but we must ensure there is transparency in its administration. This Bill delivers on the commitments in the programme for Government in this regard. Anonymous donations of more than €127 are banned, foreign donations from persons with no direct link to Ireland are outlawed, and the maximum donation that can be accepted by a public representative and a political party will be just over €2,500 and just over €6,300, respectively. These standards will ensure a greater degree of transparency.

On the issue of gender quotas, the majority of people agree on the desirability of a greater representation of women in politics. The question is how that can be achieved. In my first election in 2004 there were four candidates in my constituency, two men and two women. In the next election there were two men and one woman and last year there was a 50:50 split. We seem to be above the curve in Galway West, including Connemara - even though it is sometimes regarded as a conservative place - in terms of the selection of female candidates. That is not always the case in some of the neighbouring constituencies. In Galway East and Clare, for instance, it is my understanding that there were all-male tickets at the last election.

My concern in regard to these proposals is that they are targeted at the next general election. I urge political parties to consider introducing gender quotas voluntarily at the coming local government elections. Must of us have come through the local authority system. By ensuring we get more female candidates elected to county councils we will give them the spur to go on and take seats in a general election. We have heard much about the prospect of token candidates. Of course the ideal situation is that we will find women of merit to stand for political office, which I am confident we will. There are women who are opposed to quotas on the basis of these concerns regarding tokenism. I commend my colleague, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who, as chairperson of the internal justice group within Fine Gael, invited various groups to engage in discussion on this issue some weeks ago. There are jurisdictions in which quotas have not been successful but, on balance, I agree with the principle. I am confident they will facilitate more equal gender participation within the electoral system.

I commend the Bill to the House.

As other Deputies observed, it is opportune that we are discussing this issue on the day of the publication of the report of the Mahon tribunal. We have not had the opportunity to study that report in detail - it will be nice bedtime reading for us all - but the headlines grab the attention in pointing to a clear rejection by the tribunal of the evidence of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. It could hardly be otherwise when one considers the entirely threadbare character of that evidence. Corrupt practices were identified on the part of Pádraig Flynn and others. It is unfortunate that a significant number of those found guilty of engaging in corruption or corrupt practices are now dead, whereas some of those still living seem to get off more lightly.

This report forms the backdrop to the debate on this Bill. Its provisions have their roots in the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals, which put a spotlight on the correlation between big business and the political establishment and political decision-making process. These measures are being put forward in part as an attempt to deal with that. One must recognise the points made by the Taoiseach approximately one year ago, when he stated the Government was committed to the most comprehensive programme of political reform since the 1930s. Clearly, this measure falls well short of that objective and would comprise only a tiny piece of that entire agenda. The link between big business and politics and the practice of money buying influence in Irish politics has existed since the foundation of the State and goes far beyond any of the measures that are identified in this Bill, allegedly to curtail it.

Such practices have been evident since the 1960s in particular. While much attention justly has been given to the carry-on of former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, in the past, in many ways what he did was to take the situation to a new level. The practice of buying political favour was in existence well before that and I refer to the obvious example of the infamous Fianna Fáil Taca fund-raising organisation in the 1960s. Monthly meetings for top construction companies were organised to gain access to Ministers, in return for a bite to eat and the hand-over of a couple of wads of cash and so on. Such absolutely reprehensible practices were contributed to by companies such as McInerney, Sisk, Gallagher and so on, which, in the years of the boom came to dominate the skylines in respect of construction. It was not an accident that while those dinners were taking place and this money was changing hands, the Government sat on the findings of the Kenny report and refused to implement reports to control the price of building land. This inaction, more than 30 years ago, has led to the crisis we now face, the price of which now is being borne by hard-pressed homeowners, people living in sharply constructed dwellings and so on, as well as the taxpayer who is bearing the consequence of the overall debt.

We are the ones who are paying these bills because, despite the disbandment of Taca when its existence became common knowledge, the practices continued thereafter by Fianna Fáil in particular although obviously not exclusively. Fine Gael has had its own problems in this regard, some of which were identified in the Moriarty tribunal, such as the carry-on of former Fine Gael member, Deputy Lowry, and so on. The only difference is Fine Gael probably was not in power for long enough to have sufficient favours to offer and perhaps did not appear as often in consequence. However, even the Labour Party was trying to get in on the act. I recall the infamous incident during the 1990s when that party offered dinner at £100 per head to gain access to Deputy Ruairí Quinn, the then Minister for Finance. The Labour Party was of course obliged to back off because of the negative publicity but it was considering such a measure, thereby aping the conduct of the other parties at the time. This is not to mention the pristine Progressive Democrats, who were found to have a skip-load of documents when the party conducted a spring cleaning of its head office, only for the paperwork to end up in the hands of the Sunday Business Post. The paperwork revealed a ten-year period of massive political donations to the Progressive Democrats from the likes of Larry Goodman, P. J. Hayes of Waterford Glass, PJ Hegarty & Sons, builders, Irish Distillers, Irish Continental Bank, Martin Naughton of Glen Dimplex, John Sisk & Son, Cement Roadstone, Stokes Kennedy Crowley, Arthur Cox & Co, solicitors, Fyffes, GPA etc. It reads like a never-ending list. At the time, Mary Harney stated these moneys never had any interest or impact on decisions to privatise economic policy, which is complete and utter nonsense. The dogs on the streets know it is nonsense and needed neither the Mahon nor the Moriarty tribunals to show this.

This is because historically, the political establishment in Ireland has been bound by a thousand threads to big business and money interests within this society. One needs only to consider what happens to Ministers, once they resign or end their political lives in the Dáil. In a number of cases, a practically seamless transition is evident from the Dáil Chamber onto the boards of companies all over the place. While Members could spend the entire afternoon going through them, it is important to put on record a flavour of some such transitions. Charlie McCreevy was appointed to the board of Ryanair, with a payment of £57,000 at the time. Bertie Ahern stood down in 2008 and left behind a legacy of disaster for the people to shoulder, including massive unemployment and a crippled economy. He swanned onto the board of Parker Green International, an international property company, and is chairman of the Swiss-backed International Forestry Fund where he now plays a role in its efforts to get its hands on our State forests. He also is on the board of other international companies. Incidentally, it is not only Irish politicians who benefit in this way, as Tony Blair landed a £2.8 million advisory role with the investment bank JP Morgan and so on. Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was on the boards of hedge funds, while Albert Reynolds chaired Bula Resources and John Bruton was on the board of Ingersoll Rand.

Ministers for Finance are particularly in vogue and Ray MacSharry ended up on the boards of Eircom, Ryanair, Bank of Ireland, Irish Life and Permanent and London City Airport, as well as that of John Magnier's organisation and so on. Alan Dukes, David Andrews, Joe Walsh and Dick Spring were appointed to the boards of Anglo Irish Bank, AIG, Bank of Ireland and Eircom, respectively. Tom Parlon went straight from the Dáil to become director general of the Construction Industry Federation. The list goes on and on and really demonstrates a web that historically has tied wealthy interests in Irish society to the political establishment.

The idea of State funding is put forward as a solution to this connection. However, I consider this to be far too much of an innocent solution to what is an endemic problem. It is not a solution to the overall problem and I note that all the rules concerning standards in public office, ethics and so on have not changed what has happened. The amount being spent on elections has, if anything, risen but it simply is managed in a different way. All Members will have observed many candidates in their respective constituencies spending huge amounts of money in advance of elections being called and so on. Such candidates might put up billboards on people's private lands without declaring such expenditure, without getting its equivalent monetary value and so on. In principle, I am opposed to State funding of political parties and the taxpayer should not foot the bill in this regard. However, while the system is in place, there is no doubt that it most definitely should be operated on the same basis for everyone, that is, on the basis of a level playing field. Sadly, the present system does not do this. It clearly favours those who already are in power.

This is an absolute fact and if Members contemplate serious reform, they must address some of these issues, including salaries for Deputies, Ministers and so on. The original idea behind paying people to work in Parliament in Britain was that it was meant to facilitate working-class representatives to take their seats in Parliament. Obviously, what has happened subsequently is that it has become a highly lucrative career for many people, as well as an enticement into public life that is unacceptable because it is out of kilter with the average industrial wage and the average living conditions of ordinary people. It may be one reason there is such a disconnect between what happens in this Chamber and the real world outside, because most people who dwell in here do not live a normal lifestyle in that regard.

I wish to deal in particular with two aspects of the Bill under discussion. I refer to the question of trade union donations and the issue of gender quotas for political parties with candidates. As for the first issue regarding trade unions, I fundamentally object to the bracketing and comparing of trade unions with private companies that donate to political parties. It is not in any way the same thing.

It is the same thing.

Trade union donations effectively are an amalgam of very small donations from a union's members. Individual amounts from the aforementioned members would fall well below the ceiling for any individual decorations that it would be necessary to make in the course of a single year. It is clear this is different to the case of a wealthy individual or company making a donation and seeking a favour in return.

I refer to words and slogans that have been termed retail or wholesale corruption. All Members are aware of the instances that have taken place and which have been referred to in the Mahon tribunal report and so on. There have been examples of what is known as retail corruption, whereby a specific donation or bribe is made to a party or politician in return for that politician or his or her party voting a particular way or introducing a particular legislative item. A Deputy and former Minister in my own constituency was obliged to resign as a result of such behaviour.

There is another type of more wholesale corruption on the part of pro-capitalist parties - in the main these are the big business parties - which is more common but in the context of which direct exchanges of X amount of money in respect of Y decision do not necessarily take place. This kind of corruption involves buying influence, having an impact on ideologies and policies etc. The position in this regard is not similar to that which obtains in respect of the trade union movement. The link to trade unions developed in a much different way and their relationships with political parties are also entirely different.

The trade union movement in Ireland and Britain arose as a response to the development of capitalism and capitalist industry. That development took place in both countries against a backdrop where two parties - the Conservatives and the Whigs or Liberals - were in direct competition for power and were basically two sides of the same coin. In the struggle for better wages and conditions, the trade unions initially allied themselves to the Liberal Party. That was their original stance because they saw the Liberals as the lesser evil. However, a debate took place within the movement and over time it was decided that the unions needed political representation of their own in order that the needs of working class people might be catered for. That was very much the basis on which James Connolly and Jim Larkin established the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its political wing, the Labour Party, almost 100 years ago. For Connolly and Larkin, without political representation the union movement was fighting with one arm tied behind its back and they believed there was a place for political representation for ordinary people.

If one considers the sacrifice these two individuals and others like them made 100 years ago in the context of the absolute scandal relating to the contributions being made to the Labour Party in the name of defending workers' rights, one comes to the conclusion that the latter is a nonsense. We are, after all, aware of what the Labour Party is doing in government. To this day, Labour continues to obtain contributions from SIPTU, Unite and other unions. Many SIPTU members are completely unaware that a percentage of the fees they pay goes towards funding the Labour Party. They will be horrified to discover this. On foot of the role the Labour Party has played, I strongly encourage SIPTU members who pay the fees to which I refer to investigate the position and then complete the form necessary to stop the relevant deductions being made from their union fees.

I am not stating that the principle of political funding and that of people who are members of trade unions being entitled to fund a representative or representatives of their choice should be abandoned. In my opinion, this entitlement should be defended because it is incredibly important. There is a need for political representation for ordinary working people. A debate is taking place within the trade union movement in respect of this matter. In that context, it should not just be a case of putting a stop on the money being paid to the Labour Party. A discussion should take place within the trade union movement in respect of how people might contribute to parties and candidates who advance the cause of the movement. In that sense, I do not believe we are comparing like with like. The measures in the legislation do not represent a step forward in this regard. However, neither I nor many other workers will shed any tears with regard to the Labour Party losing access to its funds.

Another issue in respect of which work must be done is that of gender quotas. The Bill contains a very weak provision in this regard. There is no doubt that there a major problem in the context of the participation of women in politics. The CSO's figures for last year reveal that women are completely and utterly under-represented at every level of the decision-making process. It is not just the fact that only 15% of Deputies are female, fewer than one third of the members of State boards and one fifth of the members of local authorities are women. In addition, women comprise just over one third of the membership of VECs. That is an absolutely scandalous situation but it is not unique. The average female representation in the national parliaments of EU member states is only in the region of 25%. That is pretty pathetic. This problem is not just limited to Ireland, although there are issues which make the position here perhaps slightly worse than in other countries.

As previous speakers indicated, where quotas were introduced, for example in France, the situation with regard to the participation of women has not improved. In countries such as Denmark, where there are no quotas, there is a much higher level of female representation. Other Deputies have probably alluded to the fact that when one considers the number of women who put themselves forward for election as independent candidates, it is obvious that the position is not dramatically different from that which obtains in respect of political parties. It is clear that imposing a measure on just those parties is taking an extremely simplistic approach to the problem.

People who use the term "tokenistic" are not demeaning the women candidates who might be selected, they are, rather, referring to the fact that the relevant measure in the Bill is tokenistic in nature. Let us be honest, this is something of a sop which was put forward to offer the illusion that the Government is doing something positive to improve women's access to politics. It is being offered at a time when the Government has probably adopted more measures that are anti-women than was the case with any of its predecessors. In this regard, I refer to the vicious attacks on the lone parent and carer's allowances and to the various measures which have hit women on both the double and the treble. One cannot engage in such attacks and then inform women that they can put their names on the ballot paper.

There is a major difficulty with regard to the participation of not just women but also ordinary workers in politics. I refer here to manual workers or, for want of a better term, ordinary people. The composition of this Dáil is wholly unreflective of society at large. It is also extremely unrepresentative. I like to believe that the adage to the effect that women have a great deal more sense is at least partly true. Who would want to be one of the handful of Deputies present in an almost empty Chamber this afternoon ready to make a contribution in a prearranged slot, particularly when the Government has a built-in majority and the outcome of any vote is known in advance?

If we are to discuss real participation, then we need real and participative democracy. Such democracy must begin at local level. The way politics is organised now, most people who become Members of the Dáil begin their journey with their local authorities. The problems exist at local authority level and there are no measures in place to address these. There is a need to stand the political system in this country on its head. We must consider taking a more locally-based, bottom-up approach that will allow people a real say in respect of both their communities and their lives. The reality is that in communities and at local level it is women who are to the fore in respect of campaigning on many issues. This must be reflected in the decision-making process.

I am of the view that the very limited provision contained in the Bill is not going to have any impact whatsoever. This provision does not even make sense and it misses one important point, namely, that gender is no guarantee of anything. This was very well highlighted by certain Members who referred to what the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, stated when in opposition in respect of last year's budget. The Minister indicated that the problem with that budget was that there were not enough women in government. When she took the helm in her own Department, however, she visited even more severe cuts on women and children than did her predecessors. Gender is no guarantee. There are many men on this side of the House who would defend the interests of women much better than any woman who would stand for election as a member of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and who would implement policies that are anti-women. I do not believe the measures contained in the Bill will improve the situation. What we need is a system of positive encouragement in order that more women will take on the roles to which I refer.

I understand Deputy Corcoran Kennedy wishes to make a brief statement.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I wish to amend the record to reflect the fact that I was referring to the Women for Election group. I believe I may have used the term "Women in Government".

That is noted. I call Deputy Bannon, who has two minutes available to him before we take the next item of business.

I understood it was a 20 minute slot.

The Deputy can move the adjournment of the debate now and then make his contribution on the next occasion if he so desires.

I will use the two minutes available. Deputies Clare Daly and Higgins have, on many occasions, lectured us on the position regarding the workers versus the capitalist parties in this country. The Deputies inform us that they only take the average industrial wage out of what they are paid and that the remainder of their State salaries are transferred into party funds. I often wonder whether this is ethical and whether the procedure involved is correct. I am of the opinion that what is being done is this regard is wrong. Deputies Clare Daly and Higgins should practice what they preach in this regard. They are, after all, pumping taxpayers' money into their party. That is neither correct nor proper.

At a time of increased public accountability, the Bill will hopefully make the position in respect of political funding more transparent. The perception that politics is not so much about democracy as it is about big business needs to be replaced as a matter of urgency and a system of total transparency must be introduced. I welcome the fact the Bill goes some way towards achieving this. I do not doubt that intention. This Bill will ensure mechanisms are in place to remove the power of large political donations, which can and have been used to influence outcomes. There is something surreal about such actions, which have the scent of the sort of corruption associated with cinema and television serials. However, corruption of this kind has no place within the political sphere, be it on a party or individual basis. It goes without saying that in the Ireland of 2012, transparency in every facet of government is the basic right of the electorate, which has put us all here.

The Minister referred to the input of the Council of Europe group against corruption, and this legislation will take on board its recommendations, along with those of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The main proposals from both groups recommended that consideration be given to lowering the current disclosure threshold for political donations. Recommendations made by the Moriarty tribunal, published last year, will be also responded to. It is amusing, in these circumstances, to consider the yardstick used by the Minister to decide that this legislation is long overdue. He mentioned that amounts referred to in previous legislation, the Electoral Act 1997, are given in punts. One would almost wonder if the term should be explained to younger Members; one of those Members, Deputy Harris, is on my left.

Debate adjourned.