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

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

I will pick up where I left off on last day. The fact donations to parties and individuals will be more than halved in some instances may lead to other beneficial reforms. With less cash to spend, perhaps costly posters, which are environmentally and aesthetically problematic, might be reduced. When I was coming to the House this morning, I noticed a large number of posters campaigning for a "Yes" and a "No" vote in the upcoming referendum but what surprised me was to see the mugshots of Socialist Party members, who are MEPs, on posters. They are campaigning for the next European Parliament elections. Those people do not reject the large salaries, expenses, etc., they get from Europe. Hopefully, at some future date, the Minister will ensure candidates cannot promote themselves for local, general or European Parliament elections at referenda. Apart from party leaders, mugshots of people should be omitted from posters. I nearly tripped over when I saw a poster calling for a "No" with the mugshot of someone who will offer himself to the electorate for election to the European Parliament at the next election and will draw down a huge salary with expenses, etc.

I hope the legislation will lead to the setting up of an electoral commission as a matter of urgency. As a member of the committee that proposed the setting up of such a commission, the Minister is only too aware of the extent of the legislative provisions needed to bring about a total overhaul of our electoral system. The committee proposed that commission would be established through an electoral commission Act, which would establish an electoral commission with its own corporate legal personality; chief electoral officer, as the commission's chief executive; a staff who would be civil servants of the State, where appropriate transferred from Standards in Public Office Commission or the Office of the Ombudsman; and with it own assets and liabilities and a budget.

It was envisaged that such a commission would encompass an independent role in the maintenance of the electoral register. We have all witnessed the mayhem at election time. Particularly memorable was the 800,000 errors that appeared under the watch of the previous Government. An electoral commission was promised by the last Government but failed to materialise. There is a strong need for a single independent body to increase public confidence in the democratic process. I am hopeful that the necessary legislation will be brought forward by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, who I am pleased is present in the Chamber for this debate. He is progressing electoral reform, which is very welcome. I have with me a copy of an electoral document that I drafted. It calls for the safeguarding of electoral integrity through the setting up of an electoral commission and the maintenance of an accurate electoral register. While the debate on identity cards is fraught with opposing views, an electoral identity card with photographic identification would eliminate fraud. We should strongly support the introduction of such cards as part of the overall revamp of the electoral process and as a valuable tool in the drive to complete registration. Obtaining an electoral identity card would necessitate prior registration.

It is positive that this Bill will impose a penalty on political parties that do not adhere to quotas in respect of female and male candidates. Across the spectrum from education to employment, a trend has developed in which women and girls outperform men and boys. I am struck by the thought of how many years will pass before it will be necessary to introduce legislation to ensure equality of male representation.

One of the greatest challenges to democracy globally is women's participation in politics, both as councillors and parliamentarians. Gender equality must be our society's aim and should be a central element in the development and progress of democracy. Quotas are controversial and many women resist such a move. One of the great opponents of gender quotas is a former Deputy from my constituency, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke, who has gone on to a new, bright career in the media. However, it is only through certain duress that the under-representation of women in our Parliament will be addressed. The diversity of needs within a society cannot be adequately met by a mere 50% of the population. Equality of gender requires equality of representation. I am proud of the fact that Longford-Westmeath, particularly its Fine Gael element, has always been the main driver of progress in terms of gender equality. For example, Deputy McFadden and I equate to 50:50 representation.

It is interesting to note that, in 2003, Wales became the first country in the world to have a legislative body with equal numbers of men and women. Thirty women were elected that year to the 60-member Assembly. The Welsh First Secretary stated that Wales was setting an example for the world. His wife, an MP, rejoiced that the mould had been broken. By 2007, the number of women in the Assembly had decreased to 34.88%. Last year, female representation stood at the slightly higher level of 40%.

We must ask ourselves a question. Does the electorate choose its candidates of preference regardless of gender? If so, while it is necessary that there should be equity in terms of candidates put forward, their eventual election is dependent on a number of variables at any given election.

On a name and shame basis, Ireland's record is poor and I am glad that something is finally being done about it. I must acknowledge the fact that Ireland had two exceptional female Presidents in Dr. Mary Robinson and Mrs. Mary McAleese. I also acknowledge their great contributions to society in Ireland and elsewhere. They were a credit to themselves, Ireland and women around the world.

The UK, which has a 22.2% rate of female representation in Parliament and is placed 50th out of 188 countries worldwide and 12th out of 27 European countries, has seen a small but significant rise from the 2001 figure of 18.2% of women elected to the House of Commons. This increase followed considered remedial action. The use of positive action strategies by political parties is the decisive factor in increasing women's representation in national parliaments.

This Bill will ensure that women are not discriminated against at the short-listing and nomination stages of the electoral process. It is up to the Government to encourage parties to adopt forms of positive action in order to increase the number of female candidates they select to meet the statutory requirements. I do not doubt that the Minister will see this done. It is recognised that the balanced participation of women and men in the decision making process leads to the achievement of a truly democratic society. Only when the gender balance of the Dáil reflects the gender base of our society more accurately than it currently does will there be real integration of equality issues into Government policy making.

While I am aware of what could be perceived as the "make haste slowly"modus operandi of the political sphere in terms of equality, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has taken the bull by the horns as regards female candidates. The next step is to consider the contribution to be made to our legislative process by ethnic minorities. We have only to consider the input of many “new Irish” citizens to their local communities to realise what an asset their representation would be in the national arena.

Given the name of this Bill, I hope that it will fully address the issue of political funding. The Minister will welcome Opposition amendments to foster the integrity of and public confidence in the democratic process and to regulate party and election finances as the foremost considerations. That is Government policy. This legislation ensues from a commitment in the agreed programme for Government to take responsibility for electoral administration, to implement modern and efficient electoral practices in electoral spending and to deal with the issues involved in financing the political system. To date, the Government has only partly fulfilled its commitment by removing the influence of large political donations and promoting gender equality. The establishment of an electoral commission is conspicuously absent. Such legislation is long overdue. When will it be introduced? It is apparent that an electoral commission that would centralise all matters pertaining to the electoral register would fill the void created by the decentralised, multi-agency approach. An accurate register of electors is essential to an open, transparent and fulfilling voting process. Although local authorities have done the best job possible in the circumstances, the care of the electoral register is not within their remit and has placed an undue burden on their staff and resources, particularly among smaller local authorities. Currently, 34 registration authorities are legally responsible for preparing and maintaining the register even though it is not a core function for local authorities. This undoubtedly means that maintenance of the register is not given the priority it deserves.

While it is not productive to hark back to the mistakes of the previous Government, it is evident that the register was woefully neglected in the past. The previous Government's apathy culminated in the discovery of 800,000 errors. This is completely unacceptable because every person who is entitled to vote must be able to do so. Citizens' confidence in the accuracy of the electoral register was eroded during the last general election. As a politician in a busy constituency, I was asked to find out why one individual was left off the electoral register despite living in the same area for 60 years. This situation should never have arisen.

I have every confidence that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, will bring forward legislation to deal with the issues I have outlined. Parliaments mirror our societies and they aspire to respond to everyday reality. In doing so, parliaments are constantly evolving and modern parliaments are places in which people aspire to recognise themselves and find answers to their questions. I have no doubt the Minister and his colleagues in Cabinet will ensure these aspirations are achieved.

The abuse of political power in the past was shameful and has come back to haunt us. I hope action is taken against those who wrecked our country. It is annoying that the people who ruined the country continue to walk about and receive huge payments. I have every confidence that the Government will address this issue. People are waiting for this legislation to be enacted and when I go out to meet people on walkabouts at the weekends, when they visit my clinics or in general conversations they ask me, as a Member of this Parliament, why certain individuals continue to receive massive payments when the country is bankrupt. It is inexcusable. I do not doubt the Minister will introduce legislation to punish these individuals for wrecking this fine country for which our forefathers fought. Our forefathers would turn in their graves if they saw what happened to this country at the turn of the century. They took nothing and they entered politics for the good of the country.

We should build the entire system anew from town councils and local authorities to the Dáil and Seanad. The Taoiseach has promised to reform the Seanad and I hope proposals will be made in this regard in the not too distant future.

I welcome the Bill and, in particular, the important measures it contains on gender quotas and funding. These measures go some way towards addressing this House's failure to meet the needs of the Irish people. We are operating well below our capabilities.

Late one night during the general election campaign I had a conversation with an American friend. We were trying to decide, in the unlikely event of my being elected, what impact I could make as an Independent Deputy. I kept returning to my jaundiced view of politicians because I found it deeply uncomfortable to refer to myself as a potential politician. My friend told me I had to change my opinion because politics is an honourable profession. It is the greatest of honours to serve one's country. She was reflecting a view which I observed in the Kennedy School in Boston and when I worked in Washington DC.

I have no doubt that every Member regards it as an honour to serve in this House. Deputies are patriotic, hardworking and smart people. That is not the view of the Irish public, however. I was shocked by the results of this year's Edelman trust barometer, which indicated that 70% of Irish people do not trust their government leaders to tell the truth. We are ranked 24 out of the 25 countries surveyed, with only Italy inspiring less trust. All of us have seen surveys that routinely rank politicians as the least trusted profession in this country.

That attitude is not inevitable, however. I have lived in countries where it was absolutely not the case that the public mistrusted politicians. It is not a structural problem. I put it to the House that the total breakdown of trust in politicians is the result of the rules that we apply to ourselves, which this Bill helps to address, and the culture which governs how we behave.

Political scientists may hold a particular view but I wish to approach the problem from a slightly different perspective. I spent several years in the private sector working with large and complex public sector organisations. My role was to help senior management teams figure out how to improve their organisations' performance and do more for the public, usually with less money. I focused in particular on the culture of the organisation and whether employees understood what it was trying to do. The questions I asked included whether employees agreed with it, whether they were consulted on its priorities, did they know what was expected of them and did they have the capabilities and opportunities to develop. The empirical evidence is compelling in regard to persuading complex organisations to improve their performance. In order for an organisation to perform highly, it must operate according to the right systems or, in our case, the right rules and it must have a healthy culture. I put it to my fellow Deputies that Dáil Éireann has neither the right rules nor the right culture. If we can get the rules right and change our culture we will be able to serve the people of this country in a new and better way.

The Dáil and the Seanad should be the beating heart of Irish politics. These Houses should be full of rigorous debate but they often feel like a sham or illusion of democracy.

Ministers come in during Question Time or the Topical Issue Debate and read the start of their statement. An Opposition Member will challenge that and make a few points following which the Minister will simply read the second part of the statement regardless of what has been said. I am sure that many of the Government Deputies experienced the same frustrations when they were in opposition.

Ireland is recognised has having the most centralised Executive power of any Western democracy. In other words we, the Members of the Oireachtas, do not hold our Cabinet to account in the same way as other parliaments do. The extent of the centralised control can be shocking. Recently, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform discussed issuing an invitation to the Governor of the Central Bank to appear before the committee. One of the Government Deputies wanted to frame the invitation in a particular way, which was no big deal as it was an internal committee issue. However, the Whip was applied. Word came from the Executive that the invitation needed to be written in a certain way. As it happens the Government Deputies did not get into the committee room in time and I had the pleasure - possibly the one time it will ever happen during this Dáil - of defeating the Government in a vote. It was symbolic of real control-freakery. The committees are meant to be at least quasi-independent where Opposition and Government Members really can go beyond party lines and bring everything they have to bear in scrutinising legislation. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, a very important committee particularly at the moment, is not even allowed to write the wording of its own invitations, which makes a mockery of any independence that the committee could have.

Deputies are given almost no notice of legislation - we find out on Thursday what is coming up the following week. Most of us are in our constituencies on Friday. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service does not get any additional notice either making it very difficult to put serious time and energy into scrutiny of upcoming legislation. The research professionals who are there to help us do not have the time either. Much of the time we do not get debate packs.

As a new Deputy coming from a highly quantitative world where things are usually backed up with empirical evidence, theory and so forth, I have noticed a real absence of that here. While it may go on at Cabinet and in the Departments, as a Dáil Deputy I do not see it. Regulatory impact analysis is supposed to happen for all major legislation, but it does not. It did not happen for the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill - there was no poverty impact analysis, regulatory impact analysis or gender impact analysis. Nobody had worked out how many people the various measures would put into poverty or at risk of poverty. Slightly tongue-in-cheek I described it as "what does this button do" policy making, but it has a very serious implication.

The OSCE ranks Ireland as second worst in its budgetary process - we came 35th of 36 countries surveyed. On a scoring of the level of data given to Parliament to interrogate a budget, we scored zero out of ten, which is extraordinary. In the time given to Parliament to scrutinise the legislation, use the data and come back into the Chamber and try to hold the Government to account, we scored zero out of ten. It is basically impossible to meaningfully hold the Ministers for Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform to account on two of the most important pieces of legislation that come before the House every year.

Worse than that, when the capital expenditure programme was announced, we were given a list of stuff. It did not indicate how it was arrived at and had no technical appendices or decision criteria. It simply outlined how we would spend more than €30 billion of borrowed money. In the Chamber I asked the Minister for the technical appendix. I told him that I could not indicate whether I agreed with, for example, the school building versus the road building without the technical appendix, the decision criteria and the cost-benefit analysis. He said I could not have it. He told me that I could try to get it from the Departments if I liked and the phrase he used was "we were elected to govern", which is unhelpful.

The Government has used the guillotine on 68% of its own legislation. In spite of commitments in the programme for Government not to use statutory instruments and the guillotine, on nearly seven out of ten Bills the Government has introduced, it has used the guillotine. Two weeks ago the guillotine was used on every section of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, which is not good. The intent in the programme for Government was to stop using statutory instruments.

The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, debated a statutory instrument on an Internet copyright issue for more than an hour with Deputy Catherine Murphy, me and others - we had submitted a counter-proposal. At the end of the debate I asked the Minister of State if he would take on board a single proposal, a single word or a single letter of what was covered during the debate. He said that he was not changing anything and that he had told us before the debate that he would not change anything. For me that really symbolised a particular culture whereby people who had been on this side of the House for years and were passionate about getting into government and doing the right thing, within a year were saying things like that. It is an extraordinary symbol of a culture that accepts this House is not really here to influence the legislation, although obviously there are notable exceptions. It is a very serious issue.

One of the other problems comes down to culture as opposed to rules. Even if Deputies were given the data we needed and the time to use them, the problem for Opposition and Government Deputies alike is that they pretty much have to say what they are told within reason. They have to toe the line and vote the line as well, which is really dangerous. For example, during the referendum campaign on Oireachtas inquiries, all the parties canvassed for a "Yes" vote, but it was defeated. Many of the Deputies I spoke to privately said they were voting against it and told everyone they knew to vote against it because they had serious concerns about it. I do not mean to bring up whether a "Yes" or "No" vote was correct, but it signifies an extraordinary failure by us, as the people's representatives, to give a balanced view to the people. It is a very dangerous manifestation of the strict adherence to the party Whip.

We have a ludicrous situation now with Deputy Ó Cuív and the referendum. He has said that he has agreed not to say publicly what he believes to be true - that people should vote "No". When that is the case, is it any wonder that nobody trusts us? When a politician says what he believes, he is obliged and told to stay quiet. How dangerous could it be to Fianna Fáil to have one of its prominent members say: "You know what, I respect the party line, but I do not agree with it. Here is my opinion. I have been in here a long time and have a lot of experience and here is what I believe"? I do not know when it became the consensus that parties and the political system as a whole were so allergic to dissent. I have never attended a parliamentary party meeting. While I am sure there is plenty of good rigorous debate in them, it is not reflected publicly.

Does the Deputy not read it every weekend?

The impact of that is that nobody trusts us.

Of course there have been improvements for which the Government deserves credit. The Topical Issue Debate has been good. I was lucky to have a Bill selected for discussion on a Friday, which was a fantastic opportunity. However, we are tinkering at the edges. While I really welcome the Bill and the impact it will have, it is still marginal at a time when the Government has the space - there is the need - to be radical.

Article 28.4.1° of the Constitution states: "The Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann" - to us. That means the Government should be responsible and accountable to this House. My experience over the past year indicates that is not in any way accountable to this House. The examples I have given suggest a culture that suggests it in no way believes itself to be accountable to this House. We are less than we could be with that culture in place.

The Bill considers gender quotas and political funding. As I have said previously, I applaud the Minister for dealing with gender quotas. This is a great move. The current situation is appalling. We are 77th in the world in terms of gender representation and 22nd among the 27 EU members. Only 15% of the Dáil is female and only 12% of Cabinet is female, and the situation is getting worse. Only 15% of candidates last year were women, which is the lowest percentage since 1989. Ireland is one of the worst in the developed world in terms of representation by females and we are getting worse. This is not represented in the make-up of the parties or political interests. Fianna Fáil is the most notable example. Some 35% or slightly more of the party is female, but there is not a single female Fianna Fáil Deputy. This is an extraordinary situation. Almost half of constituencies have no female Deputies - a shocking situation. At local government level the situation is just as bad, with just 16% of councillors being women. Only two of the 24 county councillors in Wicklow County Council are women.

Nobody likes quotas, but the research is unambiguous - gender representation does not work without quotas. When the system is so totally skewed and dominated by men, the introduction of quotas is a necessary - but insufficient - element of a policy response that will kick the system back to a better equilibrium. We are all aware of the Five Cs report, which states that candidate selection, cash, child care, confidence and culture are the five blockers to more female participation. Evidence from around the world suggests the critical mass is 30% - that is reflected in the initial quota here - and that at 30%, things begin to happen at the candidate selection stage.

I put it to the Minister that we need to go further. France and Belgium have quotas of 50% and Spain has a quota of 40%. The 30% rule requires very minor changes from Fine Gael and the Labour Party, in terms of finding more female candidates. The timing issue suggests that we will not hit 40% by 2021. While I applaud what the Minister is doing, I advise that he should select a 40% quota, sooner rather than later and he should also apply it to local government. The Minister told me before that he does not have the power to apply the rules to local government because political funding only applied nationally. He should find that power. We make the rules in this House, so let us make a rule that will allow the regulation apply to local government. This change needs to happen.

I welcome the various changes in the Bill with regard to political funding. However, I urge that the Minister takes a serious look at party political funding. We have a very strange situation in this country whereby some political funding goes directly to the elected Deputies. We all get a parliamentary allowance, a travel allowance, a staff of two and an office. Independent Deputies also get a leader's allowance which other Deputies do not get. However, the parties get vastly more per Deputy than the €41,000 or €42,000 Independent Deputies get. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin get €120,000 per Deputy and an extra staff member for a central secretariat. Labour and Fine Gael get approximately €60,000 and €70,000 extra per Deputy and an extra staff member. They get less because they are in government and have access to the Civil Service. I put it to the Minister that it would be healthier and more democratic for all political funding to be directed to the Deputy. The power and authority are invested in each of us as Deputies of Dáil Éireann. If Deputy Timmins wants to be a member of Fine Gael and the rule in Fine Gael is that any member must provide certain staff resources and money, that is fine. If someone wants to leave the party, they should take those resources with them.

I urge the Minister to consider two suggestions seriously. He should direct all political resources and funding to the individual Deputies, and let the parties decide for themselves how much should be given up. He should also radically reduce political funding. For example, if parties were only paid per Deputy the same as Independent Deputies get currently, this would save the Exchequer over €10 million per year. I applaud what the Minister is doing and urge him to be more radical. He has the political space and the country needs bigger and bolder changes than those currently in this Bill.

Deputy Colm Keaveney will share his time with Deputies Frank Feighan and Billy Timmins.

Politicians are only in it for themselves. They all have their snouts in the trough. They are all corrupt The only thing that motivates them is their re-election. They have one hand longer than the other. Their only concern is their expenses.

These statements are comments from an Internet discussion site and a radio show that took place in the past couple of days. While they are easy to write off as ranting from an angry public or anonymous posters, we should not write them off that easily. These comments are an expression of the widespread cynicism towards politics and politicians in this country and we are only deluding ourselves if we think otherwise. Research carried out after last year's general election found that politicians are the least trusted of all professions. The last couple of decades have done untold damage to the reputation of politics and politicians. While it is easy for some to point to Fianna Fáil as the main problem, this fails to recognise that these attitudes were not simply confined to just one party. The damage done is not confined merely to Fianna Fáil, but to the body of politics. Such cynicism and distrust may eventually lead to damage to the democratic legitimacy of the State and we should pay heed to that.

This Bill addresses some of the concerns about the corrupting effect of money in politics. It will restrict donations to political parties, be they corporate donations from private sector companies or contributions from trade unions. The Labour Party fully supports the Bill and acknowledges the Minister's dedication, commitment and action in this regard. Although there will be a considerable financial cost to the Labour Party, it is our view that the interests of democracy and transparency are best served by substantial legislation in this area. It has long been the policy of the Labour Party to end the corporate funding of political parties, in so far as that is possible within the confines of the Constitution. We welcome this legislation on that basis. The Bill will contribute to an improvement in the standard of practice of politics in this country and by doing so will help to lessen the corrosive cynicism towards politics. Much of this will be achieved through regulation, but also through the practices of politicians and political parties.

There are few Members of this House whose bona fides I would question. What I mean by this is that most of us are here because we wish to serve the people and to work for the good of the State although we differ with regard to the means to do this and our goals. These differences are important in terms of the dynamics between government parties and the Opposition, but I recognise that the majority of Deputies are here with the best of intentions. However, there has been some corruption, with the result that much political activity is now seen - fairly or unfairly - through that lens Further legislation and work on the part of every party and Independent Deputies is required in order to counteract both that perception and the challenge posed by cynicism towards politics and to ensure we root out that perception. We must develop an intolerance of corruption in this House and of those associated with the actions of those found to have been engaged in corrupt practices, whether by the courts or tribunals of inquiry.

The two issues in this Bill are mirrored, in a way, by the election to the House of Commons in 1865 of a man named John Stuart Mill. His opponent in that election was W. H. Smith, of the famous book-selling family, who used his vast wealth to buy a great number of votes. Political corruption was present at the start of Mill's time in parliament. Twelve months after his election he touched on an issue of relevance to the other aspect of this Bill, an issue that would see him pilloried, in both his own time and in history, as well as dismissed by some of his fellow MPs as being mad. In 1867, during the debate on the Second Reform Bill, Mill introduced an amendment that would have resulted in women receiving the vote. It was rejected but this was the first time that such a motion had been proposed in the Commons. Mill felt that it was appropriate to create that debate in English society. Sadly, and shamefully, it was 50 years later before women's suffrage finally won the vote, in 1918, but even then it was not on the same terms as men.

In Ireland, women have had the vote since Independence. Indeed, before independence, Ireland had elected the first woman MP, Countess Markievicz, who later became only the second female Minister of government in Europe. She left office in 1922 and we had to wait until 1979, 57 years later, until another woman was appointed to Cabinet. Of the total of 4,744 Dail seats filled since 1918, only 260 have been occupied by females. Only 91 women Deputies have been elected since the foundation of the State. In this, the 31st Dail, women hold only 25 seats out of 166, which, as outlined earlier, represents a percentage of just 15.1%. This places Ireland in a global position of 79th, considerably lower than the global and European averages of 20% and 22.3%, respectively.

This under-representation of women means we are missing the talents and insights of half the population. This may be a matter of humour for some but it cannot be denied that the lack of women in politics is having an effect, in the context of our policies and in outcomes of our work and our deliberations. Their different experience means that women parliamentarians are more likely to raise issues that involve women and to bring their perspectives to bear on policy-making. Women are often less adversarial and, as was mentioned by one of the Opposition speakers, are often more consensual in parliamentary and committee debates. This can only help to enhance the quality of governance in this country. In any event, the appeal of democracy as an idea is not that it is the most efficient system of government, rather that it is the most legitimate form of same. Having women, who make up just over half of the population, so under-represented undermines the legitimate authority of this House. This must be remedied. I welcome the Minister's commitment to addressing the situation in this Bill.

The issue is not that the electorate does not vote for women but that they do so in proportion to the number of women who run in elections. The issue, therefore, is that there are not enough female candidates participating in the democratic process. In the last general election, in Cork South-West, Kildare South, Limerick and Roscommon-South Leitrim there were no women on the ballot paper. The Labour Party's commitment to this ideal is reflected in its high percentage of female candidates but, as noted earlier, we have not reached the 30% mark. Our having only two extra women candidates participate in the democratic process would have addressed that 30% quota. It is important that all parties work in this regard, simply by reaching the quota outlined in the Bill. A quota of 40% is a goal we must look to achieve later. These are starting points; we must be blunt about it.

An earlier speaker mentioned the five "Cs": child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection. These are important issues. I shall take one, child care, which predominantly affects women as they are still more likely to have the responsibility of rearing a child in the home. Although a crèche facility is provided in Leinster House, the sitting hours of the House do not suit those with young children or families. I include myself. This can form a barrier for women in becoming involved in politics as often the arrangements and meeting times for branches and cumanns - Deputy Donnelly has the luxury of being an Independent in that respect - are often in out-of-hours situations.

Maternity arrangements for Deputies is another issue which must be addressed. Although statutory maternity leave is not available to women Members of the Oireachtas, as they are not employees, Deputies or Senators who give birth in office do not have an entitlement to survive or protect their domestic circumstances outside the Houses.

This Bill, in both its aspects, will represent a significant improvement. For that, I thank the Minister, Deputy Hogan, for his dedication and commitment and, above all, his action in this area. On both counts the Bill represents a significant step on the road to another destination which we must reach. No doubt more must be done on the two significant aspects of this legislation but I welcome the Bill for what it is and gladly support the Minister in his endeavours.

I very much welcome the Bill for opening up transparency and openness in regard to corporate and political donations and for requiring the auditing and publication of the accounts of political parties. This is very welcome. Many Members have alluded, as did Deputy Keaveney, to the fact that political systems seem to be debased and politicians seem to have lost the trust of the people. Perhaps it is the same in other countries but in this one we are becoming nearly ungovernable. There is a scattergun effect and people make their own ideals.

Deputy Donnelly asked what we can do about this. When I was in opposition, or at any other time, I never became personal. If a Deputy or Minister made a good decision I applauded it; if they did not I did not become personal. There is a Deputy in Deputy Donnelly's ranks who has taken away my good name in the past year. Every politician is entitled to his name and his character. This Deputy spoke on local and national radio stations, telling untruths, and has continued to do so in the past year. I do not mind if somebody makes a mistake but when one continues to tell something that is untrue people will sometimes believe it. When I brought this up and said, "This is untrue", the Deputy merely laughed it off. In politics we need to have some backbone, whereby we tell the truth and do not debase a person's good name and good character. Perhaps this is the game we are in and that is it, but I do not agree with it and I know that neither does Deputy Donnelly. I am glad he brought up the issue.

Regarding trust, we should look at the way in which political parties are funded. I have stated before in the House that we should look at the way Independent Deputies are funded. It is wrong that they get €42,000 tax-free into their hand, unvouched. It is also wrong that political parties should get money but at least their accounts are transparent and open. This is an area we must examine.

We both call for it.

On the issue of gender balance, I very much welcome the proposals. It is very difficult for women Deputies with families to try to enter politics. I would point out that I was elected through my hard work. Nobody ever said, "We elected you because you're a good-looking fellow on the poster", or "You have a lovely pair of legs", or whatever. No one ever said that they elected me because I was a good-looking fellow on the poster or had a lovely pair of legs. I got elected through hard work. Perhaps the Minister will include in the Bill a provision for people like me, who represent aesthetically challenged politicians.

I broadly welcome this legislation. There are two categories of donations, the first of which is from those who have a desire to contribute to the democratic system. It normally manifests itself in small donations from family or friends. The second category is corporate donations to political parties, which are for influence or access. I spoke to a member of the Fianna Fáil Party in the late 1990s who had attended many corporate events in the early 90s. There was a change of government in the mid-90s and he was amazed to find the same corporate clients attended the fundraising events of the new Government. The corporate donors did not change; the recipients changed the depending on who was in government. I often hear Vincent Browne harp on about how Fine Gael cleared its debts in the mid-1990s. I was not elected at the time but it is plain that the corporate donors who had been giving to the previous Government then gave to the new Government, which greatly assisted in clearing the debt. I am dubious about corporate donations and the proposed requirement on those who wish to give more than €200,000 to register with the Standards in Public Office Commission will finish corporate donations.

I welcome the fact that political parties must give a statement of account. Deputy Donnelly said that it would save €10 million if political parties were on a par with Independent Members. I thought political parties received less funding than that. I believe it is approximately €5.5 million but I may be incorrect. Irrespective of the figure, it is important that the money is audited. However, if someone wants to be corrupt, these proposals do not matter because that person will hide it somehow.

I would like to see a limit on the amount of spending between elections and a limit on the cumulative total of donations an individual or a party can receive. There should be a cap on individuals and a limit on what candidates can spend between elections. If applied correctly, money can buy entry to the Oireachtas. Notwithstanding the fact that these measures go some way to controlling it, they do not prevent people buying their way into the House. People can spend money ad nauseam between elections and that must be stopped.

It is desirable to have more female representation in the Oireachtas. The current system is not satisfactory. I do not have the solution and I do not know that the current proposal is the solution. Generally, I am uncomfortable with the concept of quotas. The argument can be made that if we are going to dip our toes in the water of quotas, we should insist on a quota for membership of the Oireachtas rather than candidates. I read an article recently about the percentage of women who stood as Independent candidates. The argument was always made that large cumbersome political parties prohibited women from standing but the percentage of women who stood as Independent candidates was lower than the number who stood for political parties. I have not carried out scientific research on it but I hear arguments for and against it. Notwithstanding that, I will support legislation despite a certain unease about the tipping of the cap to female representation. The Minister is going some way but I am not sure if it is the solution.

If we were to bring the quota system to its logical conclusion across society, where should we stop? I lament the lack of male primary teachers. Some primary schools have only female teachers. Equally, we could say the medical profession needs more women. Where do we stop? One can argue that we need to set an example but I have concerns about the approach.

Deputy Donnelly spoke about a free vote on certain matters. Deputy Colm Keaveney referred to voting times, which we should examine if we are trying to make the House more user-friendly. The vote on Wednesday evening has moved from 8.30 p.m. to 9 p.m., which flies in the face of making the Dáil more user-friendly for women, and indeed for all Members. I do not know why the time change was made.

I have often been an advocate of a free vote on certain issues, particularly Private Members' business. Those in opposition may question why the Government votes against a Private Members' motion or Bill but there is an onus on the Opposition, when introducing a proposal, to outline from where funding will come. It is often a shortcoming in the Opposition argument, including when my party was in opposition. There must be a certain discipline in government. We would all like a free vote and many politicians verbalise ad nauseam in a free manner before taking the opposite approach at the vote. We should examine the concept of allowing a free vote on Private Members’ business or certain other social issues.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to this informative debate. It is interesting to listen to the observations made by Government Members, and Independent and political party Members of the Opposition. When talking about the electoral and political system, individual observations or analysis offered by Deputies reflect their position as Independents or members of parties. Deputy Colm Keaveney referred to public trust in politicians and the fact that it is at a low ebb. Perhaps it is opportune for the Government to allow all political parties to have a no holds barred debate in the House on public trust and what politicians need to do to rebuild the trust of the public.

It has been suggested that there are too many Members of the House at a time when our population is increasing. Constituencies on the eastern seaboard are filling out and the number of people represented in certain constituencies has grown by comparison to others throughout the country. Should we have fewer Members? Should we consider the multiseat constituency? Is there a problem with Members in the same political party expending too much effort and time on the competitive element within the party? It is a problem Fianna Fáil had in the past although not to the same extent today. It will be a problem for the two parties in Government, the Labour Party and Fine Gael. When election time comes around, the competitive consideration in constituencies will be manifest.

The question of payment and level of salary and allowances paid to Members raises the matter of whether we should consider a part-time arrangement for Members without frontbench responsibilities, those who are not Ministers or Ministers of State. Should we consider a part-time arrangement for the sitting of the Dáil to allow Members to work as teachers, or to operate pubs, farms or IT companies?

Many speakers have remarked on the perception that career politicians live in a bubble and we do not know what is happening in the wider economy and the wider world. There is a grain of truth in this view and perhaps a person who also has another job as well as being a Member of this House would bring a different perspective to debates. I will not hold my breath as I do not think the House will revert to such a system. When I was first elected to this House quite a few Members attended on a part-time basis as they also worked in the Law Library or practised as solicitors or worked in other occupations compatible with membership of the House. They could contribute to debates for a certain number of hours during the week and also continue with their jobs. Whether the quality of contributions was the better I cannot say.

There needs to be a fundamental examination of the electoral system in order to rebuild trust in the system. The process of alienation of the public from the political system has become a cancer and it is not good. When individual members of every party engage with the electorate, they must be perceived the same as people who work in other lines of public contribution.

This Bill deals with the issue of donations and gender quotas. The political history of the recent past and perhaps earlier will show that the issue of corporate donations has been at the heart of many of the problems which affect the political system and there clearly is a need to bring this practice under control. I am sure other Members will agree that it costs money to survive in politics, to fight elections and to look after the constituency between elections, and there must be some system for financing the political system. There is understandable resistance to the public purse contributing to the level it does, whether to Independent Members or to individual political parties. However, this is a democracy and it is a question of how to fund politics if all sources of funding are cut off. How will parties such as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or the Independents finance themselves? These are the big questions. However, I fully accept the principle that corporate donations must be controlled to ensure that such donations do not have a negative effect on the political system, that these are eliminated completely rather than minimised. I acknowledge this Bill goes some distance in this regard.

Last November, the Fianna Fáil Party brought forward proposals which are much more effective and will better address the issues. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to that Bill which was debated and voted down. That Bill was a serious attempt on the part of Fianna Fáil to address this cancerous problem at the heart of the political system in Ireland. It envisaged a greater empowerment of the Standards in Public Office Commission to audit and monitor the accounts of political parties, to extend the SIPO supervision to independent expenditure and referenda and to implement the recommendations of Mr. Justice Moriarty relating to extending provisions to Independent and non-party candidates. The combination of these measures with the lobbyists Bill would restore public faith in the institutions of the State. These measures will underpin the efforts to level the playing field for all stakeholders, strengthen the democratic principle of political equality and break the very unhealthy link between business and politics.

The issue of gender balance is a perennial problem in politics and particularly as regards membership of the Oireachtas. There are simply not enough female Members of the Oireachtas. A greater number of female Members would have a marked impact on debates and on the subject of debates. However, the greatest challenge for the system is how to ensure more people come into politics. In an ideal world, candidates come through the ranks of political parties and are selected at convention, but it is clear this system has not worked. The numbers we would like to see in the House are not turning in here after each general election. An effective and strong quota system may be the solution, whereby 30% or 40% of candidates in a general election must be female but at the end of the day, it is the electorate which decides who comes in here. At least, political parties would be fulfilling their obligation and making their contribution to ensuring more female Members. The quota system proposal is to be welcomed and I hope that further efforts will be made to ensure a higher number of female Members.

I refer to statistics on gender breakdown in the Dáil. Only six out of 30 Ministers are women, 20% of the total. Women account for only 13% of Cabinet membership, two out of 15 people. This is similar to the 17% of women Ministers in the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party Government of 1993, some 20% in the Rainbow coalition Government of 1994 and 16% in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government of 1997, when the country had its first female Tánaiste. These statistics highlight the challenges facing the system and they compare very unfavourably with the position in the European Union generally and in stark contrast to the gender equality in countries such as Spain, Sweden and Iceland. I hope the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will consider the genuine effort made by those who framed the Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill to address these two issues. I ask the Minister to consider incorporating its provisions into future legislation in the best interests of the democratic system.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Tom Hayes. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. I agree with Deputy Kirk that we are all faced with a challenge and that the people will decide who comes into this House and who will be elected as local councillors. However, when I hear members of the Fianna Fáil Party and their supporters talking about political reform, I remind them that Fianna Fáil was the party in Government for the longest period of time and I ask where were the measures for political reform or an attempt to bring about real reform. We have instead seen a liaison and a relationship between big business, a chosen few and political influence. This is the reason for two tribunals in Dublin Castle .

As regards the advancement of women in politics, Fianna Fáil was in Government for 14 years and we saw no such legislation coming forward. However, I welcome the publication of this Bill. I agree with the over-arching aim of the Bill which is to reform the political process, to restore the trust in us as practising politicians, in political parties and in the financing of political parties.

Members of the Press Gallery who write about politics and social and political commentators must remember that politics is a part of democracy and democracy is not cheap and it comes at a price. We must fund political participation in democracy either by means of private donations or through public funding. There cannot be an opt-out clause - it is either one or the other, so there is a consequence to whatever we do. That is why it is important to cast our minds across the Atlantic Ocean to America and look at the inordinate and absurd amounts of money being spent in the US primary elections, as well as the amount being gathered both by President Obama and former Governor Romney in pursuit of the office of President. Even the amount of money being spent on congressional elections by both Democrats and Republicans is ridiculous.

We should have a real debate about what it means to fund democracy in our country. We cannot just be silent participants. Democracy comes at a cost and that is the way it should be. We either opt for one or the other, but we must make a decision.

I am sorry that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has left the Chamber. I want to make it clear to the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, however, that under no circumstances can we allow politics to become the preserve of a chosen few. We cannot allow those who have money to be the few who go forward for election. The peann luaidhe, ballot paper and the ability to run must never be lost on the ordinary citizen. Every person must be able to run for election if they so wish; we cannot allow a chosen few to run this country. That is why this Bill, no matter how flawed or imperfect it may be, is an attempt to change the system where influence is continuing.

I agree with Deputy Kirk that we must have a wider debate about politics and democracy. If the amount of money one has is the benchmark for going forward then our democracy will be the poorer. Deputy Timmins is correct in saying that we should examine the amount of money being spent between elections. Senator Paul Bradford gave a fine speech in Seanad Éireann a few months ago - I would ask all Members of the House to read it - about the interaction between politicians and the public.

I welcome the intent to limit political donations and the influence of donors. The majority of us in the House are not governed by what we get or do not get, or by attempted influence. When I was a city councillor on Cork City Council I made up my own mind. I was not influenced by anybody else but chose what I thought was best for my community. That should be the reality for all of us.

If we want to remove political donations, however, then somebody must pay for democracy. The Minister wants to promote greater gender balance and inclusion through the legislation, which I welcome. As somebody who had a female colleague running as a candidate in the last general election, I know it is healthy to have competition. It poses the question as to how best we can get more men and women involved in politics. Is it by changing our electoral system to single seat constituencies or to a list system? Do we want our politicians to be catch-all people who do everything, or parliamentarians engaging in legislation and committee work? If we analysed what we do every day, we would find that a disproportionate amount of work is taken up with constituency matters, which is why people come to us.

The beauty of our system is that as elected politicians we can walk down the streets of our constituency and engage with the public, unlike other democracies where constituents never see a politician. In other jurisdictions, local politicians may not even live in their constituencies. They may go there once a month or on a weekend jaunt.

The regulation of donations is important and is to be welcomed. Equally, should we allow a Deputy to have a golf classic? If someone wants to donate to that event, should he or she be debarred from doing so? If I want to have a lunch to raise funds for the local Fine Gael party, should I be stopped from doing so if the donations are €100 or €200? Personally, I do not have a problem if a person wants to contribute to a candidate or a political party, but there must be a regulation to ensure that the person confirms they have contributed.

We should have full State funding of political parties. If I had my way, I would eliminate any corporate or private donations and make the State pay the price. In that way there would be full openness, transparency and complete honesty on behalf of the party that is being funded.

The trust between politicians and the people was breached not by many but by a few who must be made to pay the price. The actions of a few have denigrated politics. However, for all its flaws the system of politics in our country is a good one. As my mother used to say, "The ballot box is a great leveller. You know where you stand and who you are when people go in to cast their votes".

The Minister's policy objective is to be commended. He is trying to involve more women in politics and is also trying to limit the relationship between money and influence on political parties. That is the way it should be.

I hope the provisions of this Bill will encourage more women to get involved in politics. This poses the question, however, as to why fewer women than men are involved in politics. Deputy Kirk cited some statistics in that regard. We are 23rd in Europe as regards the number of women in parliament. Is the party political system wrong or is the selection process by party gate-keepers the problem? Is it the fact that we have a lob-sided calendar and schedule? Whatever the reason, the Minister's attempt at change is to be welcomed.

The political system is being reported on by the media who I believe should also be examined. In the Fr. Reynolds case, which was a fiasco, we have seen how RTE was left to go unchecked. Similarly, the reporting of politics must be objective and fair. I would question the intent, agenda and motivation of some periodicals.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I am pleased with the opportunity to speak on this legislation, which I welcome wholeheartedly. The Bill addresses two of the biggest problems facing our electoral system, namely, how politics are funded and how representative politics, or politicians, are of our people.

This legislation is important as it will go some way to addressing the scepticism and cynicism surrounding politics, particularly in the area of transparent party funding. The Bill tackles two main areas in political life. First, it introduces greater transparency where political donations are concerned. Second, it reduces State funding for political parties who fail to ensure that at least 30% of candidates going forward for election are women, thus giving the electorate a more balanced choice in general elections.

On the first point, transparency is an essential part of restoring trust in politics. Reducing the financial links between private money, corporate money, vested interests' money and the political world is vital to rebuilding a greater faith in our political system. The reduction of the maximum amount a political party can accept from any one donor to €2,500 is welcome. It will mean that our own political funding laws are brought more in line with best international practice.

For example, in the United States, a country where politicians are much more reliant on donations, the maximum any individual can donate to a general election candidate is $2,400.

However, it is important that we do not simply reduce the amount political parties can accept. We must also increase the transparency levels if we are to make a significant impact on public trust in our political funding. That is why reducing the disclosure threshold for political parties from €5,078 to €1,500 is so important. It is also important that the public are aware of their ability to review the annual donation reports for both parties and individual politicians on the Standards In Public Office, SIPO, Commission website. It is important to have such transparency whereby people can log on to that site to see at first hand the amounts.

The redefining of what constitutes a corporate donor will also mean severe restrictions are placed on companies and trade unions when it comes to political donations. Any donor body that is not registered with SIPO will be prohibited from contributing any more than €200 to either a political party or an individual candidate. I note that virtually all of these moves have been welcomed by Government and opposition Deputies alike. It is good to see such a united and determined effort to prevent special interests from influencing what is, and should always remain, a purely democratic process.

This Bill will mean that the future of political funding lies in smaller, more widespread donations from members of the public. If anything, this change will mean that all public representatives will need to devote even far more time to the interests of their constituents, something which many people have been doing but it makes it more important for us all to do.

Although nobody doubts the importance of regulating political donations, it has not been the most talked about or controversial element of the Bill. That title falls to the second element of this legislation, that of gender balance. Upon the passing of this legislation, all political parties will be required to meet a 30% quota when it comes to putting female candidates on the ticket. We can debate whether this quota system is the most effective way of changing our system but we must all agree that something had to be done. Where female representation in politics is concerned, the reality is that only 15% of the Members of the Dáil are women, which is the highest ever number to date. Since the foundation of the State there have been a total of 4,700 male Deputies elected to Dáil Eireann and just 260 women. That latter figure tells its own story. That is one of the main reasons this legislation has to be brought in. Women account for 50% of the population and having only 15% of those women represented in this House makes that democracy unbalanced. This makes the need for these changes even more pressing.

That brings me to a point we must discuss when dealing with this subject, that of the Dáil not being a family friendly place. I have no doubt that when this legislation is passed and if we are all serious about changing the structure and the representations, which I believe we are, we must make sure that this is a more family friendly place. Late sittings into the night several nights of the week is not family friendly. That must change. Being a politician is onerous and pressurised for many people.

There has been a lack of respect, particularly in recent years, for politics and politicians. Respect for politicians must start in this House. We all owe it to ourselves to have more respect for each other as politicians. We are not representing ourselves as individuals in here but are the representatives of the people of Ireland. It is a great honour to be elected to this House and very few people get to be elected. Many people would love to be in this House and to be representatives but they will not get that opportunity. Being elected to this House is a great opportunity that we should respect. Not alone us as politicians but the media and everybody associated with working in this House should have more respect for politicians because we are representing the people. We are not representing ourselves as individuals, we are elected to this House to represent the people and we must never forget that. It is a great honour for anyone to be elected to his or her national parliament. People should be humble but also respectful about it.

Unfortunately, change such as that I mentioned will not occur overnight. Therefore, we need to come up with positive, workable solutions. Electoral gender quotas have been successful in other countries such as France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Portugal and Poland. There is no reason they cannot have the same effect here. We do not want to dictate, as was said earlier, who should be a representative. It is the people who cast their votes in the ballot box who should have that say.

A number of international organisations have looked at the notion of gender-balance representation, and the results are clear. A more equal distribution of men and women in politics results in better decision making, a very important point. A United Nations study into the use of quotas concluded that there is evidence from around the world where quotas have had an immediate and direct effect on women's participation. In the same study the United Nations highlights that in Argentina, where quotas were introduced, women's participation rose from 5% to 25%. That is why I would support this Bill, support the Government introduction of it and look forward to our having better representation from the people of Ireland in this institution.

I too am pleased to speak on this Bill. I am also pleased to follow my senior Deputy in the constituency, Deputy Tom Hayes. I am sure many in his party, especially the female members of the county council in south Tipperary, will be delighted to hear that he is in favour of gender quotas. He will look forward to the convention at the next election and if the numbers are not right in Limerick, they will have to made right in Tipperary South. Some other councillors in Tipperary South will be disappointed with him but one wins some and one loses some. I am saying that in jest.

The Deputy should stick to the matter in hand.

That is part of the matter in hand. My constituency colleague is very much pro-gender quota, which I am not and I will come to that.

Democracy, as many speakers have said, is not cheap. While it might have been denigrated by people to a large extent in recent years and I refer to the structure, the media and everything else, it is certainly something that it is worth preserving, fighting for and ensuring that it serves the people fairly, and that it is not prestigious or in the gift of any of any particular part, group or business people. How much would we decide that we have to pay for it? If we were to abolish all donations in this manner and ensure it is paid for - regardless of the number of votes any candidate or party gets in any election, be it a council, local authority or whatever - by being funded from the State, even though the State coffers are poor enough, there would be total transparency. I have great faith in the current system where the ordinary people can give one €50 for a ticket for dance, a golf classic or whatever. If it is only a fiver if people want to give it in good faith and in all sincerity, they would not mind the donation being recorded. The Standards in Public Office Commission should have a record of donations and that should be available for anybody to access.

I now turn to the issue of gender quotas. There is much talk about them which is meant to be dressed up to be nice and - I hate using the word - sexy, but it is meant as a political term. To be fair, most women I speak to do not want them and do not want to be treated as a special designated group.

Most men do not want them either.

Fair enough, the Deputy is correct that people are not interested in them. They are interested in having a representative they believe in and who they can vote for, be that person male or female. We are not playing party politics but we are tinkering to the media and everyone else trying to introduce gender balances. Most housewives and ordinary women working and in business do not care about it. If they want to seek election to the Dáil they want to do so in their own right as Mary or Angela and not to make up a gender balance. I say this honestly and openly on my own behalf and on behalf of the people who have told me so and offered this view to me time and again. They like politics and dealing with politics. In some cases where we have had female candidates people have told me, and others I am sure, it is not straightforward that they vote for women candidates as they pick the candidate of their choice and on many occasions they bypass or give a low preference to the female candidate. We need to get serious about this and have a real interest.

The Government was elected with a huge majority more than a year ago. We knew the state the economy was in and how serious and precarious the situation was. The Government parties, which were then in opposition, made promises. It diminished politics because there was no need to make any promises as the public was sick and tired of the previous Government which had grown arrogant after ten, 11 or 14 years in office and its members were going to be banished anyway. However, offers and claims were made by Deputy Gilmore, who is now Tánaiste, that it would be the Labour Party's way or Frankfurt's way. It is funny that he had a meeting with the President-elect of France over the weekend because he offered the same thing. Do they share this around? Will it be passed on to the next election, which will be in Greece if another one is held there? Is it a left-wing socialist ideal that they pass around? If they all come together we will have a mighty bonfire and the aeroplanes will not fly in the skies because of the heat from it. We were promised all of this and the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, who has spent much time in this House and knows more about its workings than me and many others, promised a five point plan and this, that and the other.

Lo and behold when they formed the coalition they left aside their party manifestoes and five point plans. Everything was put into the tumble dryer and what came out was a pick and mix. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, called us a pick and mix group. However, it was pick and mix because we got this and that and one could not have this or that because the others did not agree. The public are incensed by the con job. We now have a more educated electorate than we did 30 or 40 years ago and they are up to speed with everything. We have a very intrusive media - I would say it is too powerful - and the public is aware and understands. This is why the serious issue to be voted on by the public on 31 May could go down. The people are incensed by what they were promised knowing the coffers were bare and there was nothing in the kitty. They did not have to make any promise. They had the experience of 1977 when Fianna Fáil offered no rates and no taxes on cars. I canvassed for it and I admit it. I was delighted as a young fellow. The people were delighted and gave the party a huge majority. How long did that last? What happened? Look where we are now. Will we ever learn? These are the real political issues.

People want honesty, openness and transparency. The previous Government ran amok establishing quangos. The present Government promised to get rid of them all but instead I can see nothing but an increase in the number of quangos. I do not want to hark back but the Minister for Justice and Equality appointed a quango, the chairman of which was a man who had given him a €1,000 donation during the election before last. What message does this send out to the ordinary people? It puts a sour taste in their mouth.

I want to mention State boards, trade unions and big business organisations such as IBEC. I read a story in today's Irish Independent about some members, former trade union leaders and representatives of IBEC, refusing to give up their generous allowances. This is what happened to this country and what has us where we are. The cosy cartel got together. The trade unions clambered up along, I know they support the Labour Party, and got into cosy partnerships under the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in programmes such as better local government and the national pay agreements which had fancy names such as Towards 2016. They existed only to put people’s friends on them, whether they were in trade unions or political or IBEC representatives. They forgot they were representing the ordinary punter on the ground, the same as many people do in here and I can be guilty of it too. They all sat around the high table and shared out the spoils. They made the deals and bought power and industrial peace but at what cost?

They negotiated stupid rates of pay. I am not speaking about the minimum wage or anything like it. I am speaking about the minimum rates they negotiated for their members. I could name electricians and other such people who received €22 an hour during the boom. They received money to get up in the morning and to travel to work. What happened us? We all borrowed money. The problem we have is to untangle but it is very difficult to do so because they have their hands clasped around it. For the life of me I cannot understand why the IMF and the EU have not seen this and broken it. One might say I am straying from the Bill but this is where we need reform. We should not be speaking about gender quotas.

I remember sitting on the Government benches for four years and being attacked about the use of the guillotine. What is happening now? The guillotine is being used on Bills. A total of 70% of Government legislation has been guillotined since the return of this Dáil. It rings hollow with everybody. We were protesting about it when I first came to the Dáil. I thought it was strange but all that has happened is that we have changed seats. Why do we do it? Is it because we do not have enough time to discuss Bills? Is it because the real people running the country are the officials who present the Bills and drive the agenda? I think it is. We do not have a Minister who is strong enough to stand up to official Ireland. We saw how the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, put on a big show over the weekend about high noon or high dawn or an early dawn raid at RTE when he was going to bring two six guns and shoot the 12 of them and banish them. He came back holier than thou and was grand with them. A former Minister sacked the RTE board and more power to him. He is retired now. Why should they not be sacked? There is no accountability.

What happened to the priest was a disgrace. I can say on the record of the House it is not the only incident where RTE, our public service broadcaster which we all want to admire, blackguarded decent people and companies in the country and used illegal tactics-----

The Deputy cannot make allegations like this. You cannot accuse anyone of engaging in illegal activity.

I withdraw it. However, very suspect tactics were used. As far as I am concerned they will be proven right when it comes to it.

What happened on this occasion has been proved and heads have rolled, but not many heads. Tom Savage said it was a media invention that heads would be asked for because all of these people in powerful positions know that nobody is sacked any more. They have to know this, otherwise how could he come out and publicly say it was a media invention? We do not have Ministers and people in charge of Departments who will take them on. Michael McDowell, the leader of the Minister of State's former party, the Progressive Democrats, was not afraid to take them on. We need more of these people. We are elected to govern and not to say "yes Minister", "aye Minister", "no Minister", "what Minister" or "what for Minister". We need to bring back the power to this building and show we are in charge, and we then go back to the electorate who will decide whether we are right or wrong. We must break the stranglehold that has taken over during the past 30, 40, 50 or 60 years whereby these people are all-powerful. When one cannot do anything with them, when they know too much about what they should not know or one is afraid of what they may or may not know, one promotes them to Europe.

Another issue I want to deal with which I could not see in the Bill is the holding of elections on weekdays. This is the biggest disgrace of all. We want people to vote and we encourage them to vote but we hold elections on Thursdays. Workers and people in college cannot go home. Every election should be on a Saturday or Sunday. Again, we cannot take on the people running the elections because they want jobs for themselves and their friends. They want to be presiding officers and clerks and they get overtime and double time counting the votes on Saturdays and Sundays. In all fairness if we want to be true democrats we should allow most people the best opportunity to vote, and Sunday would be preferable for lorry drivers and everybody else. It would give them a chance to vote. Break the stranglehold whereby it can only be held on a Thursday. We tried it on Friday once or twice, but we should provide for this. It must be changed. They are the things that should be dealt with in this Bill but are not.

We must show leadership and show the public that when we campaign on an issue, we will not proceed to do the opposite. That sells ourselves short. I was involved in that in the past and I do not deny it, but it must change. The public are sick and tired of it. That is why people, when the very important vote is held in a few weeks, might just say, "To hell with all of you" and "To hell with Europe" and vote "Níl". Where will that leave us? The entire system must be reformed.

What way are you voting?

I have not decided yet. However, I am worried and concerned about it.

The Deputies should address the Chair.

Chuir sé an ceist orm.

It is a fair question. I was interested.

Deputy McGrath without interruption.

I have not yet decided but I am concerned about the number of people who wish to vote "Yes" but for several reasons, including the way they have been mistreated and let down with false promises, they could vote the other way. They must get important and clear messages about stimulation packages and so forth and clear commitments that they will get what they vote for, and that it will not be a case of voting for one thing and getting something else. That must change.

Deputy Hayes also referred to the system being family friendly. Certainly, the Houses of the Oireachtas should be more family friendly. People talk about what we do and what we waste but apart from the offices there are no decent services for ordinary Members. I am not looking for a five star hotel, but there is no rest area. There are very few areas where one can have a private space. There is no sacred space for prayer. There should be one, regardless of the god one wishes to worship. There should be a sacred space in the House where Members can have five or ten minutes of solitude or to talk to their maker, whatever description that maker might have. That uninterrupted and peaceful space should be available for both Members and staff. I believe it is a shame and it beggars belief that it is not available. There should be such a space in these buildings for everybody.

Independent Deputies have been attacked by various Members since we were elected. I receive a leader's allowance. I never knew it existed until I left the party and became an Independent Member. It is approximately €41,000; I do not know the exact figure. However, if one analyses the party funding, it is a con job. Jibes are thrown at us all the time. We get the same staff as other Members but they also have party staff. I have all the facts and figures. I compliment Deputy Catherine Murphy on the parliamentary questions she put down and the replies she received from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. That money is constantly being thrown at us but other Members cannot see what I could not see for four years of the last Dáil, the amount of money the parties get on their behalf.

The Deputy is getting €40,000 as well.

I am talking about that. I told the House it is approximately €41,000, but I am not sure of the exact figure. However, the political parties get €5 million, apart from the 19 Independent Members. That is on top of the ordinary staff and the €126,000 per Member for Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. The Government parties get less now that they are in Government.

The Deputy was very supportive of that when he was in Fianna Fáil.

Deputy McGrath without interruption.

I did not know the system. The Deputy is only listening to bits of what I am saying. I was not aware of the leader's allowance until I came to this side of the House. However, it is there. It is shambolic to have such a con job. We are being told we have €41,000, which we have, but we have sought some back-up staff. I went back and forward to Ministers and the Ceann Comhairle on this for the Technical Group, to have the number of staff the other parties have. It is crazy. We talk about democracy but if the 19 Independent Members of the House cannot have the same system as Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, that is apartheid. Political apartheid is alive and well in this Chamber. What hope is there in talking about this Bill without being honest?

I have the figures. A total of €5.456 million was paid out last year. Fine Gael received €2,328,207, the Labour Party received €1,312,000, Fianna Fáil received €1,081,000 and Sinn Féin received €733,000. The Technical Group got nothing. Where is the fairness in that? What is the point in talking about reform of the Dáil if all the Members cannot be treated equally? There are three funds. There is the fund for the leaders' allowance, which all parties receive including the Technical Group. There is a €5 million fund from the Exchequer to pay the four political parties. As our 19 Members get none of that, instead of it going back to the Exchequer or being given for something we need, it is divided up between the four parties. Why are they talking about improving democracy when they treat their equals in the House, all elected by the people, in that way? It is an outright disgrace and outrage. It is disingenuous and dishonest.

It behoves the Deputies on the other side of the House to cop on to themselves and not taunt Members on this side of the House about our €41,000. I admit we get it. What we get is in the public domain. However, they share €5 million among themselves and the share of it that we do not get is also spread among them. It is rotten to the core. They can talk about change and introducing Bills to provide for gender quotas, but they are codding the people.

Fine Gael has brought forward this Bill now but it held functions two weeks ago in Punchestown. The tent was there. There was much talk about the Fianna Fáil tent in Galway, which I was never in and which I never supported, but Fine Gael members have a tent as well. What were they doing? Were they getting a fighting fund for the next ten years before they introduced the legislation? As for the big business associations, there is no point in talking about tribunals. They were a waste of time, to be honest, but they did exist yet nobody was prosecuted. They involved some of Fine Gael's members as well. There is talk now of pillorying a colleague of theirs who is a Member of this House for €500. That would not buy 50 dinners for campaign managers. That is not to talk of the millions that have gone side ways, backwards and other ways on the wink and the nod.

Politics must be cleaned up, and it must start in this House. If Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and the Labour Party cannot treat the 19 Independent Members equally, does that mean they are afraid of us? Do they want us out? What is the problem? If they cannot treat us fairly, what hope have Seán citizen and Mary citizen of getting fair play from this Government? I put that challenge to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and the leaders of all the political parties in the House. The figures are in the public domain, thanks to Deputy Murphy and the Minister, Deputy Howlin. They cannot treat us fairly. We deserve better as we were all elected as equals on that day in February. We can be thrown out at the next election but at least give us a fair chance and the same operating tools of the trade so we can serve the public and democracy by researching Bills and reforming legislation, which is what we are supposed to do. We cannot do that without proper back-up.

I am sharing time with Deputy Áine Collins and Tony McLoughlin. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this reforming Bill, which deals with how parties are funded and how our democracy works. We have been in a continuum of reform over the past ten years in terms of how democracy works and to modernise the transparency that is absolutely necessary.

The objective of the Bill is to limit the potential for political donations to influence the actions of political parties by reducing the cap on donations and introducing more disclosure requirements to make political finances more transparent. Everybody would welcome a more transparent approach. There are many aspects to the Bill as it is a complicated and far-reaching measure, but I will dwell on just some of the issues dealt with in it. The argument in favour of caps on contributions is that it deters unacceptable relationships between lobby groups and civil organisations including corporate bodies through influencing political parties.

The essence of any human organisation is the human aspect of it. While Members are clearly influenced by those they meet or who discuss matters with them, 95% of the time this is highly positive. For example, today I engaged in detailed discussions with Amnesty International on the issue of mental health. While that organisation would be perceived to be a lobby group in respect of human rights issues, it plays a highly positive role in this regard. I cite this meeting as an example of how positive lobbying can be in informing and educating legislators on important aspects of Irish society. I make the point that while there often is a question mark over the whole area of lobbying, many NGOs make a highly positive contribution, through their lobbying activities with legislators, to influence legislation and Government policy in a positive manner.

The Bill itself introduces contribution limits to prevent the perversion of elections by quid pro quo exchanges or in other words, exchanges that privilege the donor’s interests over those of the public. Although the common good appears to be a phrase that is not entertained as much as was the case in the past, Members have a duty to respond to the common good and to deploy the information they receive from various aspects of society, including NGOs and lobby groups, to ensure they are contributing to that common good. The donation caps prevent the economic inequality that exists in society from being translated directly into political inequity or at least play a role in preventing such a direct translation. Caps deter big donor culture and even academics who are sceptical about the effectiveness of caps accept they can serve to deter very large donations, such as can be found in the United States in particular. Such a big donor culture has been described as undesirable and it is suggested that caps play a role in deterring it. Consequently, the issue of the control and transparency of donations is extremely important.

In response to the previous speaker, the contribution of donations and the contribution of the State to the democratic system by funding political parties is vital to our democracy. No matter what their views or how much one might disagree with some of the policies of other political parties, it is important that political parties and politicians have the wherewithal to communicate in a highly complex society. Moreover, given the highly expensive communications process that currently obtains, it is important that the political parties have the ability and the resources to communicate their message in order that the electorate can objectively be as informed as possible. The entire objective is for them to be fully informed of all the implications of the decisions they will make in the polling booth on the future governance of the country. While some will decry any donations to political parties, this is a negative approach that evinces a lack of understanding on how the democratic system must operate and on the complexity of the communication system. Members must recognise the need for political parties and politicians to communicate, which is a very expensive process. In this context, I note the management of political parties in general has become very expensive.

The Bill itself will change fundamentally the manner in which politics is funded and conducted in the State. Corporate donations will be severely curtailed and the books of political parties will be opened up to public scrutiny. Moreover, the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation will be more than halved and there will be greater openness, with significant reductions in the threshold for the public declarations of political donations. Other measures in the Bill provide for greater transparency by donors and those in receipt of political donations. This transparency will be highly positive and the donors and those who wish to contribute to political parties should be proud of what they are doing in contributing to our highly-valued democracy. Regardless of the flaws in our democratic system and the manner in which it has let us down in many economic and societal ways, it may be said of it to paraphrase Churchill, no better way of governing one's country has been found. Consequently, those who contribute to the political system are contributing to the survival and support of the entire democratic system.

In the remaining time, I wish to deal briefly with the subject of gender quotas. While I accept the provisions of the Bill, I have concerns about the necessity for such an intervention. Members should read the contribution of Deputy Tuffy in this regard because it was a highly revealing and informative approach that asked the reason any group of citizens should need a gender quota. There is something basically wrong with a political system and a society that does not recognise the need for the involvement of women, their role and the positive approach they would have in the political system for the benefit of the aforementioned precious democracy. Women have a crucial role in this regard and some previous contributors have discussed the reasons for the differences in representation. Certainly, the involvement of women in politics is crucial and it is interesting to note that in the Scandinavian countries, gender quotas were never legalised. It is not legally necessary in the Scandinavian countries, that is, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, to have gender quotas although I acknowledge there are party policies in this regard. However, one should question the reason for the position in this democratic system and this society in general. The introduction in the 1970s of the Equality Acts was seminal in respect of equality between genders. However, in certain areas of society, we have not moved on in this regard and it is vital to so do. If this intervention is needed in the short term, it will be welcome to so do. It is unfortunate that such an intervention should be made because it should not be necessary. Society should understand and recognise the crucial and positive involvement women can have in the political system.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which essentially tackles two main areas in Irish political life. First, it introduces greater transparency in the relationship between politics and money. Second, it introduces a greater degree of equality among those who decide to become involved in politics as a career. There have been many examples of too close a relationship between politics and money in recent years. The McCracken and Moriarty tribunals both investigated payments to politicians and the Mahon tribunal has reported at an enormous cost to the State. These tribunals have tarnished the perception of politics and those involved therein. There is deep distrust of the current political system among the public. The Government is committed to implementing reform and this Bill is a much-needed step in the right direction.

I also welcome the proposal to encourage a greater number of women to put their names on the ballot paper. I was never sure about the necessity for gender quotas, as good arguments can be made on both sides. However, one need only look at the reality of the present position, which is that only 15% of the Members of this House are women and that this is the highest number in Dáil Éireann to date. I find astonishing that I am one of only 5% of women who, since the commencement of this State, have represented the people in Dáil Éireann. These figures were recently brought to my attention at the launch of "Women for Election" on International Women's Day, at which time Ms Olivia O'Leary recalled that on the day the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was elected the late Garret FitzGerald had commented that while women accounted for 40% of those in the Press Gallery they comprised only 15% of the membership of the Dáil.

Gender quotas have been successful in other countries, including France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Portugal, Poland and Canada. Gender quotas were in operation in Canada for a number of years and are now no longer required. It is hoped this will also be the case in Ireland. The issue of representation of women is not confined to politics alone or to Ireland. It is an issue that needs to be addressed across a number of platforms. The EU recently voted in favour of mandatory quotas to boost female representation on corporate boards. Interestingly, it is calling for a 30% quota which will be raised to 40% by 2020, which is similar to what is proposed in this legislation. The EU Justice Commissioner, Ms Viviane Reding said that it would take another 40 years for women to achieve equal representation on boards throughout Europe, which is far too slow for much needed change.

I was struck when listening to Ms Olivia O'Leary in the Mansion House by a story she told about her husband encouraging her to argue from the economic point of view, saying that economics is about the efficient use of scarce resources and that the lack of women in public life in this country is an inexcusable waste of scarce resources. I like the phrase "An inexcusable waste of scarce resources". It is true and sums up the situation perfectly.

I support the Bill which promotes much needed transparency with regard to the relationship between politics and political contributions. It also promotes the greater inclusion of women in public life, which can only be good for greater balance in our democratic system. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which seeks to incentivise and encourage the selection of a greater number of female candidates, which is a welcome proposal, one that has provided much debate inside and outside this House.

Being a politician is more suited to the male gender than the female gender, which is wrong. I welcome that this is being addressed by the Minister in this Bill. The burden of home and domestic duties, even in this modern changing society, appears to lie with the woman of the house, which in essence has stifled the progress of many women climbing the political ladder. The recent movie "The Iron Lady", which documented in a brief way the political career of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, illustrated the 1950s era in Britain when she first tried to win a Conservative Party nomination and how this male dominated profession tried to intimidate her into not contesting. Only for her resilience and tenacity she would never have secured her party's nomination and Britain would never have had its first and only female Prime Minister.

Society has come a long way, when in the Ireland of 2012, we are introducing legislation which includes the provision that political parties will have their State political funding halved if in the next general election at least 30% of their candidates are not female and 30% are not male. This will increase to 40% after a further seven years. The Government must in any future legislation consider an improvement in conditions to allow women to enter politics. I will give an example. Currently, all elected county and city councillors pay a small PRSI contribution which bestows little or no entitlements. A female councillor who must absent herself from council meetings or business for a period of time due to maternity has no recourse to benefits. Surely this is not right and does not send out the right signal if we are to attract women to contest local elections in 2014. The Government must look again at the provision of proper child support for active female politicians so as to make it easy to be a politician and a woman. I suggest that as part of local government reform research be undertaken of the reason so few women are attracted to local government. This should, perhaps, be done in conjunction with LAMA, AMAI and the ACCA, the councillors representative bodies. I urge the Minister to engage with these organisations on the provision of incentives around child care and home supports which would lift the bar and attract more women into local politics. A survey of women politicians in 2004 carried out by Knight Consultants found that the long hours culture of Leinster House was unfriendly to women with young children. Some 69%, 16 of 23, of female Members in the previous Dáil were located in the Dublin-Leinster area, which suggests that this disincentive may be exacerbated for women who would be required to be away from home from Tuesday to Thursday. While there is a crèche in Leinster House it is of no benefit to such women. Also, as female Members of the Dáil and Seanad are not employees, they are not, if they become pregnant while in office, entitled to statutory maternity. Some 86 of the 566 candidates - 15.19% - who sought election in the 2011 general election were female. As a society that wants more women in politics, we must, if we are to attract them in the first instance, present to them an environment in which they can work and flourish as decision makers.

Reform of political funding has been promised for years. Despite that the Government has been in office for only 14 months it is introducing this far-reaching and progressive piece of political reform legislation which will significantly enhance the openness and transparency of political funding in Ireland. This legislation will address issues of serious public concern in terms of the operation of political funding arrangements in Ireland. Corporate donations will be restricted, political party accounts will be published, the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation will be more than halved and the transparency of such donations is being significantly enhanced. Payments made to political parties under the electoral Acts are linked to performance at a general election. These new requirements will, therefore, apply in respect of candidates of political parties at a general election.

While this Bill is not intended to deal with individual candidates and their code of ethics, given we are dealing with political funding, regard should be had to candidates that are being funded. I urge the Minister to consider in any future electoral Bill the disqualification of persons who have been convicted of defrauding a local authority, the State or a semi-state body, from taking a seat on a local authority or in the Oireachtas. Such people are not fit persons to be public representatives as they may, as local or national legislators making decisions, have a bearing on many of the aforementioned State agencies. Current legislation deals with persons subject to bankruptcy. Given the current insolvency levels across Ireland among citizens, it is incredible that people who become bankrupt perhaps for having been over ambitious in their business would be debarred from being a Member of this House or a local authority while a person convicted of defrauding a State body is not debarred. This area needs to be reviewed without delay.

I warmly welcome this Bill as a positive step in political reform. It is hoped that in time the Government will consider introducing in future legislative measures that will take on board the points I have made in regard to the type of people who contest elections to serve in our national and local assemblies.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation, which provides us with an opportunity to deal with the urgent need for reform and radical change in our political system. It must be accepted that we need a complete change in Irish politics if we are to break out of the current mindset, which is conservative, stale and lacks energy. As a Member of this House for the past ten years, I welcomed the many new Members of Dáil Éireann following the last general election, which added a freshness and energy to this House.

On funding, I am sure most of my colleagues in this House would agree that corruption has damaged the political system in this country. In politics, we are not all the same, an issue that concerns me from a democratic point of view. Approximately 30% to 35% of the electorate believe all politicians are the same and that they are all on the take, which is totally untrue. What is sad also is that many among that cohort of the population do not bother to vote. This debate must be part of the broader debate on Dáil reform. In this regard there is a need for media diversity to enhance the political system. I have concerns about what is going on in the debate about broadcasting in this country.

Whether people like it or not, a high percentage of the population is voting for independent candidates. The recent opinion poll put us in the region of 18%. In some constituencies, some Independent Deputies are even higher than that. We need to change the mindset and reflect the reality that 18% to 20% of people are voting independent and thinking independent. We need to deal with that.

Part of the problem in regard to the conservative Establishment in this country is that there seems to a kind of intellectual snobbery about particular kinds or brands of Deputies. If anybody has the honour of being elected to Dáil Éireann or to Seanad Éireann, his or her mandate should be respected. I want to see a major change in the mindset. There is a broad spectrum of views in this House, with Members putting forward different policies and different views on legislation.

There seems to be a kind of nanny state brigade in broader society. I take, for example, the attempt today in Seanad Éireann to ban smoking in cars with children. The vast majority of smokers I know would never dream of smoking in a car with children. The vast majority of people who smoke will go along with the legislation but do not want to be treated like lepers. I raise this issue in the context of respecting different values and enjoying diversity.

The Bill comprises 30 sections. The purpose of its provision is to significantly reform political funding arrangements and to bring about a more equal gender balance among candidates at general elections. The Bill will give effect to these reforms by way of amendments to the Electoral Act 1997, the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999 and the Electoral Act 1992. These will provide for a ban on the acceptance of donations of more than €200 for political purposes from a corporate donor unless the donor has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission. I welcome that section and the fact the Minister is in the House to hear my views. I also welcome the establishment of a register of corporate donors which shall be published and the reduction in the maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by a political party, an accounting unit of a political party or a third party from €6,348.69, or £5,000 as it currently appears in legislation, to €2,500. That is a welcome development in this legislation.

There is a reduction in the maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by an individual - an elected represented or an election candidate - from €2,539.40, or £2,000, to €1,000. There is an attempt here to try to reform the system and to give everybody a fair chance. We must understand that many people want to come into public life but they are often bullied or frightened from doing so for a number of reasons. There are personal reasons in that they feel their private lives will be hammered in our national media and across the board. Another reason is that many good quality candidates are frightened about the money. When I stood for election to the Dáil in 2002, I had to borrow from the credit union to part fund my campaign because I did not get any big donations from big sponsors or people in the background. If we want to encourage democracy and inclusivity, we must have a level playing pitch for all.

The legislation provides for a reduction in the threshold at which donations must be declared by a political party to the Standards in Public Office Commission from €5,078.95, or £4,000, to €1,500 and to an individual from €634.87, or £500, to €600. There is also a reduction in the threshold at which donations must be reported by companies, trade unions, societies and building societies in their annual accounts from €5,078.95 to €200.

Broadening this out, we also need political reform. This must be part of an overall strategy to deal with political reform. All of us who banged on doors at the last general election were told to try to change the system to make it relevant, so I am putting forward proposals in regard to Dáil reform. I would like us to create a real democracy with accountability at every level. We need to cut the fat. I am in a minority but we should try to transform the Seanad rather than abolish it and turn it into a genuine forum for civic society. We should stop the use of the guillotine in the Dáil to pass laws which have not been scrutinised. We should give Dáil committees the powers to examine the proposals for spending before it happens and to hold real inquiries by giving them the power to compel witnesses and documents. We should make senior public servants responsible for their decisions and actions. We should bring real transparency to the funding of political parties, and this is partly covered in this legislation.

I feel strongly that parties should publish their annual accounts. There should be a register and control of lobbyists and whistleblowers' legislation, which I believe is in the pipeline. We should make all appointments to State and public bodies and the Judiciary open to public competition and Dáil scrutiny. It should be done on the basis of meritocracy and people's ability to do the job. Whether one is a good garda, a good judge or a good school teacher, one should be promoted, enhanced and developed based on ability. We should ban any individual from being a director of more than three major companies or public bodies. I put forward these proposals for discussion. We need to conduct an urgent review of company law to ensure white collar criminals are brought to justice and I feel very strongly that we should bring back the original Freedom of Information Act. When I knocked on the doors of Dublin North-Central at the last general election, these were the issues on which people elected me and on which they gave me a mandate. They were on page 4 of my election leaflet. There is no limit to what can be achieved if we all work together in the national interest. Part of that must be Dáil reform.

There is a debate about the funding of political parties which is linked to this debate on funding. A number of my colleagues raised this issue because there is much misinformation in regard to the famous Independents leader's allowance. I am honoured to chairperson of the Technical Group, which represents 16 Deputies. Independent politicians have always called for reform of a system which sees the political parties receive €10.7 million in political funding. We have harshly criticised the political party funding system which sees a whopping €10.7 million of public funds going to the main parties and yet they have a go at us about our leader's allowance. Currently, Fine Gael receives €58,735.79 for its 75 Deputies while the Labour Party receives €63,317.54 for its 37 Deputies. At the same time, the €41,000 received by Independent Deputies is all over the media.

In regard to best practice, many of us put the spending of our leader's allowance on our websites for everyone to judge. We use it directly for political purposes and there is a record of that on our websites. We also use it to hire extra staff, which is very important. I say this because it is related to the funding issue.

We need to ensure all funding allowances paid to politicians are fully vouched. The group of Independent Deputies have publicly called on the Minister to do this in the context of the funding of political parties in this State. That is very important. The people demand that we are accountable and they want to see an end to the kind of carry on that went on for too long.

When one looks at the detail of the Bill, it proposes changes to the political finance system with a view of achieving two central policy aims. The Minister is trying to limit the potential for political donations to influence the actions of political parties, especially when they are in government, by reducing the cap on donations and by introducing more disclosure requirement to make political finance more transparent. It is a positive objective and it is in line with much of the Dáil reform. It is important that we have a debate.

I have different opinions on a second issue, namely, the use of political parties' public funding under the Electoral Acts to promote a gender balance in the Dáil. I believe strongly in a meritocracy. Someone should not get to be a Minister of State, senior Cabinet Minister or Taoiseach based on his or her sex. Appointments should be based on merit.

We must facilitate the entrance of people into public life but I would broaden the scope to include, for example, people from disadvantaged backgrounds and people who are not directly involved in the political system. We must recognise the reality, in that many people will not enter public life because of fears that their personal lives will be exposed on the front page or page 3 of the daily newspapers. The children of some of my colleagues in the Independent group have been written about by newspapers despite having nothing to do with politics. This is unacceptable. A number of my friends have had their personal issues publicised. Have a go at me about my political ability any time but anyone who goes near a friend or family member is crossing a dangerous line. Although we should never accept such activity, the sad reality is that it is part of the so-called political debate. Politicians from all parties should unite on this issue. What people do in their private lives is their own business. People can have a go at us for what we do in the Chamber or in our constituency clinics, but our decisions have nothing to do with our children, partners or extended family members. We need responsible reporting, diversity in the media and so on. There is no point in discussing the reform of political life if the people involved will not go along with it.

Section 6 amends section 23A of the Electoral Act 1997 to reduce the cap on donations to political parties, accounting units of political parties or third parties from €6,348.69 to €2,500. Under section 9, any donation in excess of €1,500 to a political party or €600 to an individual must be disclosed by the recipient to the Standards in Public Office Commission. This is a positive measure. We need to know from where people are getting their money. If one is doing gigs for a political party or for one's own election, that is one's own business. One can sell tickets, hold table quizzes, run sing-songs or so on as long as one keeps those efforts within the guidelines. One should also be conscious of the fact that some people assume they can use money to gain clout over a person who gets into office.

It is well established that Ireland's Parliament has one of the poorest gender balance records of European OECD countries. This fact was documented in a 2009 joint Oireachtas committee report on women's participation in politics. That report contained a number of interesting statistics. Of the 166 Dáil seats, only 25 are currently held by women, some 15.25% compared with 13.3% in the Thirtieth and Twenty-ninth Dáileanna. These figures compare with a European average of 24%. It is important that we consider examples of good practice. We must ensure that people make it in politics because of their ability, constituency work rates and public service.

I will target the phrase "public service". Some sections of society seem to believe that all politicians are not interested in the public good. I am not moaning about the job, as I love it, but it can be difficult at times. In the current economic climate, it is easy to be cynical about politicians and Ministers. We need to reintroduce the sense of public service. Most councillors, Senators, Deputies and Ministers are in their jobs for the right reasons - they love their country and want to be credible public servants.

The same approach should be taken to the gender issue. We must consider why not enough women put themselves forward for election. Only 91 women have served in Dáil Éireann since the beginning of the State. This low figure is reflected at Government level, in that only 7% of the 181 people who have served in Cabinets since 1922 have been women. We must take this matter seriously.

Women are under-represented at local level, accounting for only 16% of local councillors and 12% of regional authority members. Women's representation on councils has been consistently low for decades, reaching a modest 15% for the first time in 1999. At the 2004 local elections, women filled 152 city council seats, amounting to 17% in total. The position worsened at the 2009 local elections, when women only won 16% of the seats available.

Compare these figures with those of the organisations on the ground. A large number of women have been involved in my election teams. They are outstanding canvassers and workers and are all involved in their local communities, be it in the form of parents councils in schools, groups representing disabled children or helping the elderly. A large percentage of volunteers are women. I have asked many members of my election team to go forward at local elections, but they do not want to enter into public live because of two major issues that have not yet been addressed during this debate. If they join Dublin City Council or Dáil Éireann, they believe their privacy and families will be threatened. These issues must be examined.

In the 2002 general election, 18.1% of all candidates were women. In the 2007 general election, 17.4% were women. In the 2011 general election, 15.2% were women, representing 86 candidates. There is an issue.

We must also address the question of family issues, although this is not a concern for women alone. It is a question of equality. If the Dáil works unsocial hours, we must examine the reasons. Many Members have young children. I am not too bad, as my two children are reared and I have a bit more free time. For young parents, however, being a Member is difficult, as it is for rural Deputies who must travel to Dublin for three or four nights every week. We must be radical and sensible when considering ideas on how to deal with this issue.

I welcome this debate. I also welcome the Bill as a starting point for a real discussion on the future of Irish politics.

May I share ten minutes with Deputy White?

Ten minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on introducing this progressive and reforming Bill. During my contribution, I will mention the gender parity measures contained in the legislation.

Overwhelmingly, political decisions that affect women are made by men, nowhere more so than in this Parliament. For this reason, that the Government is set to introduce legislation to bring a gender balance to general elections is a significant development. Such legislation is badly needed. The statistics on female Irish parliamentarians are a cause for concern. For example, there are eight men for every woman in the Dáil. In total, there are 25 female Deputies out of a possible 166. Regrettably and embarrassingly, this is one of the lowest percentages in any European parliament. Outside of the European Union, the average for women's participation in the parliaments of sub-Saharan countries is 19%, which is ahead of Ireland. We have made limited progress on our UN commitment to achieve a female participation rate of 30%. At the rate we are going it will take at least 370 years for the proportion of women in the Dáil to reach 50%. The lack of female politicians at the level of policy and law making is a reflection of the difficulties women in Ireland face in accessing employment in general. The hours that our Parliament observes are unsocial and not conducive to family life, which disadvantages women with young children. I am sure this is an issue to which all working women can relate.

I recently attended a debate organised in Cork city by the 50:50 group. Despite being held on a Monday night during what could be described as unsociable hours, the hall was packed. This demonstrates that females participate in political campaigns when they are relevant to them. The participation of women in decision making and policy is crucial in order to secure and highlight their position in society generally. Inclusion of women's perspectives in Government policies and programmes would allow issues such as child care, equality in the workplace, social welfare, pension reform, retirement security, home care, long-term care, housing and domestic violence to be properly addressed.

The influence of women on Irish politics far outweighs their small numbers. Dr. Mary Robinson revolutionised the role of the President and raised not only the profile of mná na hÉireann, but also Ireland's reputation internationally. She was subsequently appointed to a position at the UN thanks to her achievements during her short time as President. A more recent President, Mrs. Mary McAleese, provided a model for what women can achieve as politicians. A former Labour Party Deputy from my constituency of Cork South-Central, Eileen Desmond, will always be remembered as one of the outstanding women Members produced by our Parliament. She was the first women since Countess Markievicz to be appointed to a senior Cabinet position and thousands of unemployed people in the Cork region and elsewhere remember her for her compassion even though she only served for a brief period.

One third of the Oireachtas Members of my party are female. While that is not something I can be boastful about given that it is short of the targets set down in this Bill, it is a beginning. The achievement of gender balance is a policy which the Labour Party has advocated for over the years. A proposal to increase female participation in politics was set out in our 2007 election manifesto and repeated in our 2011 manifesto before finding its way into the programme for Government and this legislation. In 2008 I introduced a Private Members' Bill which contained similar provisions to what we are now debating. My Bill sought to increase female participation through a candidate selection process which ensured that a specific number of female candidates were included on the ballot sheet. Commentators at the time argued this could not be achieved and some even went so far as to assert it should not be attempted.

I am glad the Minister has achieved the goals that a modern democracy demands. The changes proposed in the Bill include cuts to State funding for political parties that do not ensure a minimum of 30% of their candidates at the next general election are female. This ratio will increase to 40% after seven years. My only regret is that the provision applies solely to general elections. The Minister has taken account of the suggestions made in this and the other House to extend the provision to local elections but he has indicated that a number of difficulties arise in this regard because funding for political parties is based on the outcome of general elections. I am sure he will give further consideration to this issue on Committee Stage. Most Members have come through the local government system. If these reforms are not put in place at local government level we will not see a sufficient increase in the number of women elected to local authorities. If this legislation is to be successful, it will have to facilitate the transition of women from local government to the Oireachtas.

The Government is committed to creating a more transparent and equal political system. This Bill reflects the changes we have advocated over the years. It deals comprehensively with the funding of political parties and it begins a journey which will bring Ireland in line with our European neighbours by moving us from the bottom of the class in terms of female participation in parliamentary politics. It will also make us compliant with the resolution of the European Parliament that member states should increase gender balance among electoral candidates. However, the ultimate aim of the Bill is not to establish gender quotas but to ensure sufficient female candidates are on the ballot. Gender parity is not a gender issue; it is a societal issue. This Bill corrects the gender imbalance that has existed in Irish politics since the foundation of the State.

My colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, concentrated on the gender balance provisions contained in this Bill. I commend the Minister on these provisions, which are profoundly progressive and extremely welcome. They will bring Ireland into line with best practice and, in many cases, allow us to be even more progressive than many countries.

It is understandable that debates on women in politics tend to revolve around ideas about culture. I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that many of these cultural factors mitigate against women's participation in politics. However, as politicians we can play a role not only in discussing ways of changing culture and asking how people can be persuaded to think differently about politics, but also by introducing measures that bring about this change. Instead of holding a sometimes vague debate about changing culture, we can legislate for change. The measures on gender balance set out in this Bill are progressive and ingenious. In time they will be successfully directed to bring about the change that would not otherwise happen.

That brings me to my second main point about the Bill. It is an earnest of the Government's intention and good faith in respect of the overall reform programme to which the programme for Government is committed. Earlier Deputy Mattie McGrath from Tipperary South made a speech, which I have heard him make previously here, about myriads of promises made before general elections with the suggestion that none of them had been kept, which of course, is not true. Ministers and Deputies on the Government side of the House are often so busy concentrating on doing the work that they do not make the point in the House often enough that the area of reform in the programme for Government is being pursued and legislation is being introduced.

We are putting our legislative money where our mouth is, if that is not an unfortunate metaphor in this debate. We are debating a Bill to reform the electoral system, which represents actual progressive change in our political system which will have a real impact on how Irish politics is managed and functions in our democracy. The heads of a Bill on whistle blowing have already been produced and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, of which I have the honour of being Chairman, has already begun a discussion on it to assist the Minister. The Government has already been involved in an early scoping exercise to report on how legislation on lobbyists might appear, and that legislation will happen. The Government is also considering legislation on Executive responsibility and Civil Service responsibility, which I believe will be pursued. There is a real commitment by the Government to introduce changes on the Freedom of Information Act and to roll back some of the unacceptable curtailments that were introduced. This is a Government that is being true to the undertakings in the programme for Government, which was agreed just over a year ago.

Let us consider the recommendations from the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals. The recent Mahon tribunal recommendations were summarised under seven different sections. The Government is already moving on five of those seven areas: whistle-blowers legislation; limits on the amounts that can be given in political donations; the requirement in respect of transparency of donations; the register of lobbyists; and - perhaps this remains to be addressed - the expansion of disclosure requirements for public officials to include areas of conflict of interest. The Government is alive to all these issues. Sometimes those of us on the backbenches can be frustrated at the pace of change. That is natural and understandable because part of our job is to continue to advocate and agitate for these changes. I am very happy that most of the headline reform issues are being pursued by the Government. This Bill is an important example not of broken promises, but of promises actually being fulfilled.

I particularly welcome the provisions in the Bill on the source of election funding. As a practising politician, I have been through a number of elections - although not as many as some of my colleagues in the House at the moment. Leaving aside the source of funding for a moment, we need to ask ourselves if the overall aggregate amount of money spent on elections is excessive. There is an element of self-criticism in this. I have driven for two or three miles along roads on the south side of Dublin and put up a poster along every second lamppost - sometimes every lamppost. We then congratulate ourselves on how well it looks with a sweep of posters continuing for a few miles. What in the name of God are we doing, trying to festoon every lamppost across miles of roads whether in suburban, urban or rural areas? Is it absolutely necessary? Perhaps curtailing the source of funding will have a consequence on the overall amount of hardware out there. I am not against posters and believe their presence at election time is part of the process of an election. However, I wonder whether there are too many of them and whether we could consider a way to curtail the number - not the fact - of posters that appear at election time.

Last night I was out campaigning in favour of the stability treaty and I heard opposite views by people who lived two or three doors apart. One complained of not having received enough information even though I was standing ready to hand over a leaflet. Other people complained they received too much and effectively regarded it as junk mail which they did not want it in the letterbox at all. It is not always easy to strike the right balance regarding the amount of material that is distributed, bit it is a matter that should give us cause for thought.

I very much welcome the proposals to reduce the limits on the amounts that can be donated. I welcome even more the additional transparency that will be introduced, which is progressive and correct. I believe I understand the legal background as to why an absolute ban on corporate donations would fall foul of the Constitution. Perhaps during the course of the passage of this legislation we could have a more extensive debate on why that is so. There is considerable jurisprudence in the United States on freedom of expression suggesting that making a financial donation is essentially a form of freedom of expression and to curtail that in absolute terms would offend against the American constitution. I hope we would be absolutely clear in monitoring this in the future.

I ask the Minister to address this in his closing remarks if he has an opportunity. I understand that donations of up to €200 can be given by corporate entities in the previous manner in which they were given, but anything above that would require the corporate body making the donation to be registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission and ensure a resolution was passed by its general meeting authorising that donation. Even in circumstances where a corporate body registers with the Standards in Public Office Commission and passes a motion at its general meeting, is there still a restriction on the amount that such registered entities can give?

I raise this matter for the purpose of it being shot down, which I hope it will be. Is there any concern that in the future, given what we have seen in the US, corporate entities could possibly be set up just for the purposes of donating to political parties? It is hard to imagine that happening in our current situation. However, in the future could a new body - let us call it "Builders' Friends Ireland Limited" be set up? It could register with the Standards in Public Office Commission and pass motions to make donations - perhaps large ones - to political parties. That kind of thing has happened in the US where such entities are interposing themselves into the political system. It may be that the architecture of this legislation would not allow that to happen, but it is important that we would guard against that occurring. There is little or no likelihood of it happening at the moment, but when we pass legislation we should think about the future.

I welcome the legislation and am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

I do not want to eat into any of the time allocated to the Private Members' motion on domiciliary care allowance, which is very important to many families.

The Bill deals with the two key areas of political funding and the chronic under-representation of women in the political system. We must make strong efforts to bring about improvements in these two areas because of their importance to the system as a whole. The Bill is a blunt instrument in achieving gender balance. Any reasonable measure to improve gender balance is right and proper. However, we need to look behind the numbers at the reason so few women offer themselves for election in the first instance. We must also scenario-test the 30% figure. What happens if a political party does not have the required 30% of women offering themselves for selection?

Debate adjourned.