I am sure that this Bill will be welcomed by the Members of this House. It is a simple Bill providing for the recruitment of women police, the need for which has been pressed for a good number of years, particularly by organisations of women social workers as desirable in dealing with women offenders and matters affecting children.
Immediately the Bill becomes law, it is the Government intention that arrangements will be completed for the recruitment of 12 women Gardaí for assignment in the Dublin Metropolitan Division. After a trial period, if they make good, as I have no doubt they will, further additions will be made to the force and women Gardaí will be assigned to other centres such as Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, etc. It is a little bit soon yet to be talking of what may happen in the years ahead but that is our intention if the experimental force of 12 to be recruited this year fulfil satisfactorily the police duties now carried out by the ordinary Gardaí.
At this stage, I should make it clear, I think, that women Gardaí will be ordinary members of the force substituting for men and their appointment does not mean an increase in the overall strength of the force. Later on, as their numbers grow, some of them will probably get promotion to higher rank, but in all respects they will remain part of the general police force and not as a separate entity within the force.
The selection of women for appointment to the new force will be entrusted to the Civil Service Commissioners who will hold a qualifying written examination similar to that prescribed for male candidates. The first examination will take place in the Autumn. The final placings of the candidates will be determined by an interview board who will see each qualified candidate and assess their merits giving credit for any special qualifications. It is also the intention that the candidates selected by the interview board will be required to pass a test in oral Irish before appointment.
Candidates will have to be at least five feet six inches in height and to be between 20 and 25 years of age. The pay will range from a minimum of £5 5s. to a maximum of £8 7s. 6d. and rent allowance, amounting to £46 9s. per annum, will be payable in addition. Retirement will be compulsory at 57 years of age, as for men, but a woman Garda may retire voluntarily, with appropriate pension, after 25 years. This is more favourable than for the men, who have to have completed 30 years service and to have reached the age of 50 before they can retire voluntarily. The woman Garda will be obliged to retire on marriage, but in that event she will, of course, receive a lump sum to help her on her way, on the same basis as a woman civil servant.
Some Members of the other House were inclined to suggest that the age limits of 20 to 25 years are too low and that women of more mature years would make more suitable police. However, the expert advice at my disposal is all in favour of recruitment within the age-group mentioned and I do not propose to depart from it, at least in this initial stage.
My own belief is that this is a development which is long overdue and that nothing but good can come from the assignment of women police to cases concerning women and children particularly where sex offences are involved. I am sure that the Seanad are no less happy than I am in the promotion of an enactment of this character and I confidently recommend the Bill to the House.