The Anti-Austerity Alliance will oppose the Bill for a number of reasons. We spoke earlier of our opposition to the citizens' assembly, which is a delaying tactic and a charade for political expedience. Having lost the argument that it should not proceed, we should now at least try to have the most representative sample of 100 members. The Minister of State has said that the use of the electoral register by a private polling company is something that was done before in regard to the Constitutional Convention. However, it is almost a sacred thing that the electoral register is only meant to be used for the registration of voters. There are difficulties in getting people to register as they fear they will be placed under certain types of scrutiny and that the roll may be used to hunt them down for debts. This is a real issue because in many working class areas, the electoral register is in no way representative of the local population. In the polling district I live in at Lady's Well, Mulhuddart, the turnout in elections is often 24% of the register. There should be an investigation of some kind into the reasons for that. I was talking to a returning officer one evening who made the point that because of the huge non-Irish population there, most people do not have a vote in Dáil elections and that therefore the sample is very low. I have raised this very serious issue before. Migrant women are very much affected by the eighth amendment. In fact, they are more affected by it than anybody else, but the Government does not seem to care. The fact is that they do not have the money to travel and probably do not have the freedom and visas necessary to do it. Brexit will be an even bigger issue. They will not have any say. Will any attempt be made to have migrant voices on the assembly?
A lot of young people do not register to vote. The Minister of State may say that is their choice, but it is not good enough to do so. If the Government wants a representative sample of the population at large, to choose from among those who have opted to vote is not the best way to do it. This could have a bearing on the outcome of the citizens' assembly because, agree or disagree, young people have a much more liberal attitude on the issue of the eighth amendment. That will not necessarily be reflected in the citizens' assembly in terms of the youth population. That is my fear. We also know that working class people are not represented on the register. It breaks my heart on a weekly basis as I deal with people to help them with housing or other issues. One talks to them and finds out that they are not registered to vote.
There is a cultural issue in working class communities on the value or efficacy of bothering to register to vote. Let us exclude the other assembly issues and focus on the first one, which is the eighth amendment. That issue is critical for working class women because they face huge issues around having potentially to save €2,000 or €3,000 to have an abortion in another country or trying to access the abortion pill outside the State and take it at home. Nevertheless, they will not be fully represented on this so-called citizens' assembly.
The other really important issue involves Travellers. Travellers are excluded from many aspects of civil and civic society and registering to vote is a huge, generational and historic issue for them. We are relying on a polling company using a small sample of the population and no effort will be made to involve those minority groups.
On non-citizens, the Minister of State did not get a chance to deal with the amendment we proposed to the previous motion. I can give an example from Dublin West, where one in four people was born outside Ireland. It is the highest multi-ethnic population in the country. A lot of them are now Irish citizens, but they are not registered to vote in Dáil elections for a variety of reasons. I have spoken on this in the Dáil but no attempt has been made to address it. Why are people not offered the opportunity to register to vote at naturalisation ceremonies? This is a very big problem because decisions are being taken that affect them. They live and work here and many are married with children in the State but they do not upgrade their vote to a Dáil vote because they simply do not realise they need to. We asked for a simple amendment to include local authority voters in the sample but for some reason that was rejected as unreasonable.
What efforts are going to be made to protect the people who are chosen from the electoral register when they are on the assembly from anti-abortion lobbyists or others who may target them? I am sure we have all been victims of threats. When one is an elected representative, one has to take that in one's stride. What about people who are not elected and who did not sign up for that kind of thing? I asked this before but I have not heard any mention of what will be done in that regard. I assure the Minister of State that the dire diatribes I and others get, in particular from anti-abortionists, can be very upsetting for those who are not used to it. I am sure others get it on other issues.
Turning to the polling company, if the Minister of State remembers back to when the water charges issue was launched, there was talk about people's data being given to Irish Water. It almost caused an insurrection in the country. There is huge paranoia as well as genuine awareness about people's data being passed over.
What safeguards will be put in place at polling companies or other companies that might use this information?
It is funny that a private polling company is being given this task. Every time that attitudes and so forth are surveyed, the Government claims that it takes no notice of polls, yet it is commissioning a polling company to find the 100 people. Polling companies often use much larger samples than that. Many poll 1,000 people.
It is late at night, but 87% of people surveyed in the most recent poll on the eighth amendment stated that they wanted expanded access to abortion, 80% believed that abortion should be available where a woman's health or life was at risk, 73% favoured the holding of a referendum and 66% believed that it was hypocritical to have a constitutional ban on abortion when women were travelling abroad for abortions. I could cite many more figures, but these already give a good idea of what we need to do with the eighth amendment without bringing a smaller sample of 100 people into a room.
Has any consideration been given to the 100 people? I assume that they will have jobs and other responsibilities. No one wants to serve on juries. The Minister of State has told us that this is a weighty matter and will take a great deal of deliberation, but what expenses will be provided? I presume that people will be compensated for missing work or will it be the case, as tends to be in jury selection, that people who may be unrepresentative of all strata - self-employed or well-heeled people who can afford to be there or unemployed people - will be the ones there?
I do not support this idea and will not vote to facilitate a waste of time and a charade, an exercise in kicking the can down the road. It is laughable that we are passing this Bill late at night.