Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 27
Government amendment No. 30:
In page 25, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(a) in subparagraph (i) of subsection (2)(b) by substituting:
(i) "general increase or decrease" for "general increase", and
(ii) "shall be increased or decreased" for "shall be increased",".

This amendment will provide for decreases as well as increases in Civil Service pay to be applied in future to the fund disbursed annually under the Electoral Acts to qualifying political parties. Part 3 of the Electoral Act 1997 provides for payments to be made to qualifying political parties from the Central Fund. Given that changes are being made to section 17 of the Electoral Act 1997 to link payment to qualifying political parties to the achievement of a general balance in the candidate selection, I am taking this opportunity to introduce a further amendment which I believe is in order.

Section 17(2)(b)(i) of that Act provides that the amount to be disbursed to qualifying parties should be linked to a general increase in remuneration. There is no scope to apply a decrease in Civil Service pay to the fund. Providing for an upward-only change in Exchequer funding to political parties is anomalous in the context of prevailing economic conditions and recent trends in public sector pay. This matter was raised through an amendment by Deputy Catherine Murphy on Committee Stage in the Dáil during the passage of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011 in July 2011.

I did not accept the amendment at the time but I undertook to give it further consideration in consultation with Government colleagues during the preparation of this Bill. Having given the matter consideration, the amendment is now being brought forward as part of this Bill. The effect of the amendment will be to enable any future general decreases as well as increases in Civil Service pay to be applied to the fund. However, the decreases that have occurred since 2008 will not be retrospectively implemented.

I compliment Deputy Catherine Murphy for moving this amendment in the Dáil and I compliment the Minister for accepting it. It shows an openness, especially since it allows for a decrease in moneys to be made available and I welcome this aspect of it. This shows that when amendments are put forward by Opposition Members, they will be accepted when they are reasonable. I thank the Minister for doing this and I hope the public purse will be better off after the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 25, line 35, to delete "30 per cent" and substitute "40 per cent".

Since we last spoke on this issue the representation in our Independent group has gone up by 10%. This is a unique fact about women's representation in Irish politics. Of the total number of 1,620 Seanad seats filled between 1922 and 2009, fewer than 10% have been filled by women. Since the first Dáil in 1919, there have been only 91 women Oireachtas Members. Consequently, Dáil Éireann has never had less than 85% of the women. In the last general election only 86 of the 566 candidates were women. Despite the number of female Deputies rising somewhat since 1997, the overall percentage of women standing at general elections has decreased.

The National Women's Council of Ireland has estimated that at the current rate it will take 370 years before gender parity in political representation is achieved. We welcome the Bill but the Independent group believes we can go further. It is clear that women are not disinterested in politics and from my work in civil society groups I know that there are passionate, committed women working tirelessly throughout the country. Women play a significant role in each of the political parties. It is interesting to note the membership of the parties. For example, Fine Gael has 42% female membership, the Labour Party has 37%, Fianna Fáil has 34% and Sinn Féin has 24% female membership. I welcome the attempts being made in the Bill but I cannot help but wonder why we are delaying the introduction of the 40% quota. If we wait for the natural electoral cycle and, as the Government may wish, until the full term of the Parliament, it could be more than ten years before we get to a 40% quota. The figure of 30% is the bare minimum recommended and it does nothing but delay the inevitable. We are putting forward the amendment because it will take more than a decade to reach the 40% quota which has been recommended by the Council of Europe Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men as the minimum level of gender parity one should expect in the political sphere.

As I remarked on Second Stage, I am no cheerleader for quotas and more than anything I look forward to the day when they are no longer necessary. However, deferring the introduction of a 40% level of gender parity until one decade from now will do nothing more than place another barrier in the way of achieving a truly representative democracy.

Regretfully, I oppose the amendment although my gut is with Senator van Turnhout. As the Minister pointed out, in the report I authored for the justice committee on women's participation in politics in 2009, from which we have all been quoting, the model recommended was the original Belgian model derived from the 1994 Smet-Tobback law which stipulated a figure of one third. At the time the recommendation seemed relatively radical and it is great to be debating against a more radical alternative of 40% now. However, the Belgian model provides us with a useful starting point. I am glad the figure will rise to 40% in Belgium and it took quite some time to rise to the current status of 50% following the 2002 law. However, Belgium has had a quota of 30% in place since 1994 and it has had the desired effect in moving the numbers upwards.

A strong report published by the Interparliamentary Union on gender sensitive parliaments examined this topic and referred to some countries which have moved to a figure of 50%. I am keen to see us going in that direction. As the leader of a group in the Seanad with 50% women representation and as a member of a party with 100% female MEPs, that is, all three of them——

—— the target of 30% is not especially radical for the Labour Party and perhaps it will be a little too easy for us. However, it is different for other parties and this was why the conference of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was so important. The conference concluded that it will be quite a challenge for other parties to reach 30%. We want this to be realistic. As the Interparliamentary Union report noted, the key point is that sanctions are in place, that the teeth are in the legislation and that parties which do not meet the required target of 30% rising to 40% will be subject to sanction. This will make the legislation effective. While I appreciate the sentiment with which Deputy van Turnhout brings forward the amendment and I have a good deal of instinctive support for it, I believe the version of the Bill before us recommended in 2009 is a more practical and workable model.

I wish to support our group amendment. I welcome the Minister and congratulate him and the Government on driving this historic Bill through. The reason I am a little cranky with regard to sticking to 40% has to do with an amendment we will probably raise on Report Stage with regard to the magical seven years. I know this concerns a different section, but it has to do with my reason for pressing this amendment. Section 27(b)(ii) states: “ceases to have effect on the polling day at the general election held next after expiration of 7 years from the polling day . . .”. While we hope for political stability in our Republic for the next couple of years, this could mean three or more general elections between increasing to 40%.

I remember there were three in 18 months.

There were three in the period 1981-2. There appears to be a reluctance in the Bill to go from 30% to 40% as quickly as possible. Therefore, I regretfully disagree with Senator Bacik. We could be waiting quite a long time to jump from 30% to 40%,as the 40% would be introduced seven years after the next general election. I am open to correction on this and will be happy to be corrected. It is for that reason that I support going to 40% immediately rather than waiting for what could be 13 or 14 years.

Like Senator Bacik, as a woman I would like to see 50:50 representation straight away rather than by 2020. However, we must recognise that we must crawl before we walk and cannot run at this all guns blazing. I presume when the legislation was being drawn up cognisance was taken of the recommendation by the 2009 sub-committee on women's participation in politics, which was chaired by Senator Bacik, for 30%. That recommendation obviously had a great bearing on the decisions being made and consideration would have been taken of who held seats, where they were held, gender and so on. We must look forward. As the Minister pointed out, the legislation recommends at least 30% women candidates within the seven years. I would like to see the seven year period reduced and hope there may be a way to consider that on Report Stage. Perhaps when an election is called, we should look at that issue.

The legislation states "at least 30%", but we do not have to stick at 30%. It could be 40%. We must recognise that the legislation only provides for putting women on the ticket and does not mean that they must get that percentage of seats. As I have said before, I have not been a fan of quotas, but I realise they are inevitable and that we will not have the representation without them. As Senator van Turnhout has said, it would take years if we did not set a quota. Therefore, quotas are necessary.

I oppose the amendment. I compliment the Minister on being the first Minister to advance this. We have had many Governments and much talk about it, but he has taken up the issue and run with it. We should be thankful for small mercies, 30% is better than 0%.

On a point of clarification, is Senator Keane saying her position is "because we should be grateful for small mercies"?

No, what I am saying is that it would be ideal if we had 50:50 representation.

We may get there.

As the Senators are aware, that is not a point of order. There is no such thing as a point of clarification either.

I got it on the record.

I thank the Minister for being present again. Nothing succeeds like success. Therefore, if we can achieve the 30% that germ of success will create further success and encourage other women to come forward. The idea of pushing the quota to 40% may make it more like a chore, a task or struggle or something to argue about and therefore take some of the goodness from it. I echo Senator Bacik's reluctance to make it 40%, although I would like that in theory. Women are known for their realism and this is a time they need to be realists and to accept the figure of "at least 30%" is a reasonable objective. There are many people for whom the idea of putting a quota in place is difficult, so that debate must still take place. There are many women around the country who are interested in becoming involved in political and public life, but we will need some time to persuade them to be involved. We must show this works and that it can bring in women in a measured and organised way and in a way that is sustainable for political parties.

I too attended the conference held by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. It is clear that finding women candidates will be a greater struggle for some parties. I do not wish to see parties paying penalties, but would prefer to see parties succeeding. If we get at least 30%, we are well on the road to the 40% and, ultimately, to 50:50 by 2020, although that might be slightly further away. That is what I strive for and advocate. Nothing succeeds like success and this legislation, as it is framed, is a realistic and good approach to a difficult issue that will give rise to discussion for many months to come.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue as I was unsuccessful in my attempt to speak on two previous occasions because we ran out of time. I support this initiative and believe the recommendation of the committee for 30% representation is realistic and should be supported. We spoke about achieving a cultural change in Irish politics and this is as much about achieving that cultural change as it is about imposing quotas. If we move cautiously towards achieving success in this regard, that will, as Senator O'Keeffe said, breed further success. Seeing concrete examples of a successful initiative will surely encourage all the political parties and those involved to buy into this important initiative. Reluctantly therefore, I will be unable to support the amendment because moving cautiously and slowly towards achieving cultural change is more important for the longer term than an immediate and unsustainable short term success.

There is no doubt that 30%, or three out of ten, is a small amount. The problem is that we are starting at 15% and trying to double that. While that is a marginal level of progress, it will be a significant challenge. I welcome the legislation, but my concern is that we should not only ensure that 30% of candidates are women, but that we should ensure that percentage is elected. The real challenge will be to ensure that women who run are not turned off by the process and that they get the support they need from their respective parties. I welcome the fact that groups like Women for Election and non-partisan groups will get behind female candidates of all parties and help them get elected. My concern is that if we set the quota at 40% straight away — I wish this was not the overly high target it is — we might make it harder to get more people elected. I would rather see the quota set at 30% and for us to achieve representation of 30% in the Dáil.

I strongly agree with the point made by Senator Mac Conghail in respect of the length of time between getting to the 40% from 30%. I would like to see that gap narrowed and perhaps that could be looked at on Report Stage. Going straight to 40% would be too much, although I wish not. If we can achieve the 30%, double what we have now, and can get women elected to the Dáil, that will be fantastic. We can then move towards the 40% as quickly as possible. I agree on the substantive point, that it will take too long to get to 40%. We should start at 30% and then get to 40% as quickly as possible. Perhaps we can look at a different amendment in that regard on Report Stage.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The debate has moved onto whether the quota should be 40% or 30%. Thank God we are back to item No. 1 on the Irish political agenda; namely, the split. The former Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, once suggested that a piece of political research might work in practice, but questioned whether it would work in theory. We are debating whether a piece of political theory will work in practice by making a genuine difference.

We all agree with Senator van Turnhout's remark that women are not disinterested in politics. I wonder whether we are trying to bring about a perfect form of politics. Have we decided that perfect politics means absolute equality of representation between the sexes, the generations, the socioeconomic sectors of society and urban and rural areas? I do not think politics can be perfect. That is why this legislation will pose as many questions as it will answer. Politics is a bit like life in the sense that there are no clear, sharp or black and white definitions.

Thousands of men and women in this country are hugely interested in politics but do not wish to be elected politicians. They are happy to be political party officers, researchers, press office officials, branch or cumann members, canvassers or organisers. They are politicians who have chosen not to put their names on a ballot paper. I wonder whether we are getting it wrong in our desire to develop perfect politics with what we believe to be total equality. The design of perfect politics should start with a review of our electoral system. It should include a review of the operation of the Dáil, the Seanad and local government. All of that will have to feed into the development of perfect politics. We are addressing a small portion of it.

This debate has been concluded in the sense that this legislation will be voted through and the 30% candidate quota will come into effect. I understand that amendments proposing that the 40% quota be introduced more quickly, or proposing its removal, are to be tabled. I hope it will disappear as quickly as possible. It is more important for us to take steps to facilitate more women to stand for politics, as Senator Gilroy said when he spoke about the culture of politics in this country. Such measures could address our working hours and our electoral system, for example.

I understand that the constitutional commission is considering a review of our electoral system. If some type of list system were to be introduced, as has been done in most European countries and democracies worldwide, the Bill before the House would not be needed. When the party bosses produce their candidate lists, they take account of what they consider to be equality. That would be one way of bringing about equality, if we are absolutely serious about it. If a list system is introduced as part of our electoral process, each party could ensure men and women are equally represented on the top echelons of its list. We seem set to design a form of perfect politics that requires 50% women and 50% men. If we absolutely believe in it, we could do it through a list system.

This debate needs to be much more holistic, rather than focusing on gender or candidate quotas. We have to look far and wide when we consider how we practise politics in this country and what constitutes our political class. The Minister knows I have believed for a long time that any action in this regard must begin and end with an evaluation of the electoral system in this country, which is a political joke. Obviously, I believe that most of the political blame for the economic mess the country is in rests with a single political party. As a society, however, we are very lucky that we have survived as long as we have with the sort of political system we have.

I will have to rule the Senator out of order.

If one wants to be a success as a national politician and to remain a national politician, one has to practise as a local politician. If a business was run in the way we try to run the political system in this country, it would not survive for very long. We do not have good politics. We do not have thinking politics. We do not have debating politics. We do not have a politics that puts a premium on Members coming into this House and the other House to propose ideas, amendments and suggestions.

The Whip system, the electoral system and the party system are absolutely out of date and not fit for purpose. We should be praying novenas of thanks that this country did not go down the tubes earlier than it did as a result of what we call politics in this country. When we finally draw a dividing line between local politics and national politics and review our electoral system, that is when we will begin to make real political progress. When we change the system of government in this country in order that it is no longer the case that 15 of the Members of the other House have all the power and the other 150 Deputies might as well stay at home, that is when we will send a message to the public that politics matters.

We need to ensure that backbenchers in the Dáil and the Seanad have a say in the running of this country. That is much more important than how many Members of the Oireachtas are male or female, or how many of them are under or over the age of 25. We should bear in mind that approximately 40% of the electorate are under the age of 35. Equally, in the coming years those over the age of 65 will comprise a more substantial proportion of the electorate. Therefore, we should consider whether we need a quota for senior citizens in this country, who will almost comprise a majority of the electorate in the near future. Do we need a quota for people under the age of 35, who will have to foot the bill for our economic distress for generations to come? Do we need a quota for other marginalised people? This debate is fairly endless. To use an awful political phrase, however, we are where we are and the 30% candidate quota is likely to be voted through. I hope we will move beyond it as soon as possible.

I know the Minister has a huge interest in politics in its broadest formats. I would love to see him come to this House over the next three or four years with a reform of politics Bill. Perhaps that will emerge from the constitutional convention. I hope the Minister will try to impress some of his ideas on the convention. We need to make progress with an examination of how politics works in this country. We need to reflect on the fact that what we call politics is not much more than localism. It is in this context that real progress can be made. I hope we will move beyond this short-term thinking.

Although this measure might be necessary — other measures have not worked as well as they should have — we need to ask ourselves how women are treated by this House, the other House and politics in general. The same questions apply to other social groups. Young people and the elderly are very removed from politics. We have to answer many questions of this kind. This is the beginning of the much broader debate that is needed if we want to ensure that politics in this country is real and meaningful. We should stop rubber-stamping the Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Jack-in-the-Box politics whereby one gets away with it, bizarrely, when one says one thing in government and the very opposite in opposition six months later. That is what we need to change.

Is léir go bhfuil go leor rudaí atá fíor ráite ag an Seanadóir Bradford. He picked up where he left off on Second Stage by saying some things that really need to be said. We should be grateful to him for opening up the debate in this way. I have listened with interest to the responses to the proposal made by Senators van Turnhout and Mac Conghail that the required percentage should be 40% rather than 30%. I hope Senator Power will forgive me when I say I was a little amused to hear her say she is not ready to go that far just yet. As I listened to her, I wondered whether it is a case of thinking one can have too much of a good thing.

I said I would rather see us exceed 30% than fall below 40%.

I was also struck——

Senator Power made herself very clear.

Indeed, as she always does. Senator Bradford picked up on the point Senator van Turnhout made about women not being disinterested in politics. That is absolutely true. Women are not disinterested in politics. They are affected by politics as much as men are. That is why it is important for women to be well represented in politics. Their particular insights should be heard in the political arena. The concerns of women should always be ventilated at the highest level. That did not happen for many years. Despite not having achieved equal representation for women in politics or even anything like equal representation, much has changed on that front. Undoubtedly, there is still some way to go and I have talked on Second Stage about the changes I think are really necessary. I do not like the tokenism nor the intrusiveness of what is proposed in this legislation. I think it interposes between the people and the political system in a way that is quite inappropriate and this is why I referred to it on Second Stage as social engineering. I do not resile from that opinion.

On a point of order, Senator Mullen is engaging in a Second Stage speech again. He is not addressing the substance of this amendment which is about whether the target should be 30% or 40%——

That is not a point of order. On the amendment, please, Senator Mullen.

I think I am getting to the point perhaps not as quickly or as satisfactorily as Senator Bacik would require, but I certainly do not intend——

(Interruptions).

I appreciate Senator Norris's intervention.

I am speaking to that amendment. I was about to say that while women are certainly not disinterested in politics, many of them may be uninterested in the particular role of running for election and perhaps that is part of the story as to why we do not have the representation that we would like. The question is whether we should try to force the system forward a little by creating disincentives for those political parties who would not have a certain percentage of female candidates on their lists or whether we should try to promote — as Senator Bradford has said — a more healthy political system that is more attractive to people to become involved. I am speaking to the amendment on this.

I know many people who watch our debates and they hear the conflict-based nature of much of what passes for debate in these Houses. They report that this really turns them off more than anything else from either getting involved in politics themselves and running for election or even from taking an interest in politics. I have no doubt there are many women among those who are turned off and who become uninterested as distinct from disinterested in that way. Those are the real problems that we need to address. What Senator Bradford has to say is very much on point when he talks about the current inequities of the political system and what really needs to change. Having listened to Senator Bradford, we all know that if it were left to a free vote, he would be voting against this Bill in its current form. I hope I am not speaking out of turn but that is certainly——

He is well able to speak for himself.

He never said that.

We cannot anticipate what a Member will do. Senator Mullen to continue, without interruption, on amendment No. 31.

That certainly is what I took from his speech and I do not fault him at all for being loyal to his party and that is required under the current system.

(Interruptions).

This argument arose before on the gender side motion I put before the House where half the Government side actually agreed with my proposal. They could not understand the amendment to the motion but they were required by a party Whip to go against their own convictions as to what was best. I think I am progressing on the point quite fairly with regard to the amendment.

There are six further amendments.

What constitutes fair latitude on Committee Stage?

The Chair decides what is fair latitude and it has given fair latitude, in its opinion, on this matter. If I may point out to the Senator, we have to deal with six other amendments within a time of 25 minutes——

I hope there will not be a guillotine.

——and a number of other speakers wish to speak to this amendment.

I must respond to the Chair on this point. It is not my intention to hold up this debate unduly.

What constitutes "unduly"?

Senator Norris was correct when he spoke a few moments ago about the selective nature of the rulings as to brevity. It is important that we be reflective and Committee Stage is the Stage at which we ought to be reflective. I do not wish to patronise anybody but we cannot have a system where, on the one hand, we want to tell the country how great the Seanad is and how we have debates of a quality which is not always heard in the other House and then, on the other, when one tries to develop a point on Committee Stage——

On a point of order, how is this relevant to this amendment?

It is not a point of order, but I ask Senator Mullen to speak to amendment No. 31.

Senator Bacik is very comfortable with the limiting of free speech in a way that I find rather telling——

(Interruptions).

Does Senator Bacik propose to guillotine the debate? Is that what she is telling us now?

This may not be a point of order but it is probably worth making the point that Senator Mullen should really concentrate on the proposal instead of patronising the House and making personal attacks on other Members——

Senator Gilroy would not accuse me of patronising the House had I not introduced the concept by saying that I did not wish to do so——

Senator Gilroy has been ruled out of order. I call for Senator Mullen on amendment No. 31.

If I may speak to the amendment as I have been doing all along.p, the point I wish to make is that there is a problem with what is proposed in this section which I am opposing. I think this is the appropriate point——

We are not dealing with the section as of yet. We are on amendment No. 31.

I will happily hold off my remaining remarks until I have the option to speak to the section, provided I am reassured there will be no guillotine at that point. If the Leader can reassure the House that there will be no guillotine, I will hold off my comments until I speak to the section.

The Order of Business was agreed to this morning. The Leader will deal with that matter if he so wishes to.

Given that the Acting Chairman is not reassuring me, I had better just finish my points at this stage because they relate to this particular amendment.

(Interruptions).

What has been happening in the past few minutes is the kind of thing that will bring the Seanad into disrepute——

(Interruptions).

Senator Mullen is creating the problem.

——because it is very important that we tease out not just this amendment tabled by Senators van Turnhout and Mac Conghail. I have given a lot of thought to this Bill and all the amendments. I have communicated with Senator van Turnhout about her amendments. It is also important that in explaining our position we would be in a position to speak to the section which is proposed to be amended——

No, I must insist that the Senator speak on amendment No. 31. We will deal with the section, I hope, at some stage before 7 p.m.

That is not good enough, if I may say so. I have a strong view that this proposed amendment is taking the section in the wrong direction. I ask whether we are proposing 30% or 40% as the figure. What percentage of people in this country are immigrants? What percentage of people in this country are non-nationals? I estimate it is about 12% or 13% but I may be mistaken. I say there is a far greater unrepresentation, a far greater problem of representation. The very effective women Deputies and Senators make it look like there is no imbalance on occasions because of the quality of their engagement with politics and great credit is due to them, considering they are in a minority, that they do so——

There is more to come; there are more out there.

Senator Mullen to continue, without interruption.

——but where is the equivalent concern? I ask the House to consider the Polish people and those from other eastern European countries in this country, the African people, the people who drive the taxis. Who is speaking for them in these Houses? What serious efforts have been made to induct them into the political system in order that their particular voices and values are properly represented?

Who says we may get Polish women and Polish men?

I am sure I referred to people; I do not think I referred to "men".

Through the Chair, please, Senator Mullen.

Why is there selectiveness around the issue of gender? Is this not really a form of excessive and unhelpful selectiveness where a relatively vocal——

On a point of order----

We know Senator Keane's point will not be a point of order but I am sure the Acting Chairman will allow her anyway.

I will have to ask the Senator to please——

I am just concluding my point but the points I have made are valid.

On a point of order, I understood a guillotine was used on an individual basis rather than on a general basis——

That is not a point of order.

I further argue that this is part of the problem with the party Whip when one can reduce the minority to one or two voices, one can perhaps try to ridicule them——

——when one has no answer for the argument. I will conclude with the following point for the moment and hope the Government will be gracious enough not to introduce the guillotine. I acknowledge this amendment is well intended and I agree with the goal of increased participation by women in politics. The means is pretty appalling in terms of introducing a gender quota. It is social engineering, it interferes with the political system and, I suspect, it may be unconstitutional.

We are all aware of a time when politicians may or may not have tried to get in touch with Uachtarán na hÉireann about the question of whether the Dáil should be dissolved.

I would welcome the views of other Members as to whether we should get in touch with Uachtarán na hÉireann to make an Article 26 reference in regard to this legislation. It seems that on equality grounds alone, it is very deficient and, I suspect, it may very well be unconstitutional.

I was fascinated by Senator Mullen. I was reminded of the time I visited Rome and was told it took more than 300 years for the academics of that time to figure out the Immaculate Conception. Some of Senator Mullen's antecedents were probably part of that debate.

What about Senator Bradford? Is he to escape Senator Mooney's——

Senator Mooney to continue, without interruption.

I come here with a certain amount of baggage. I reminded myself that when I was a member of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, I published a report through the Committee on Equality Opportunities for Women and Men which went through the assembly in 2004. In the context of the amendment, one of the comments was that the under-representation of women in elected office hampers the full democratic development of most Council of Europe member states. In the context of the earlier remarks about extending this amendment to other minority groups, we are talking here about increasing the representation of women in Parliament.

The report went on to state that we all have a duty to ensure European standards within the democratic election process are met and that women are given a fair chance to both freely elect the candidate of their choice and to be elected themselves. Rather interestingly, one of the recommendations I made at that time — there were approximately 14 recommendations — referred to taking action through the public funding of political parties in order to encourage them to promote gender equality, which is precisely what this legislation is about.

The report also pointed out that in order to achieve critical mass, the aspiration should be for 40%. It went on to state that there is a time limit in this regard. Keeping in mind that this report was adopted in 2004, the aspiration was that by 2020, there would be 40% representation in the Parliament. On that basis, the Government is finding a middle way here. It is going for a realistic aspiration in opting for 30%. There is no doubt whatsoever that the action it is contemplating in regard to public funding will concentrate minds.

In the context of the amendment, I am sure the Minister will agree it is not sufficient just to put in a legislative model or legislative benchmark and state that everything will flow from that and that there will be quality and quantity as result of it. As the report recommended, the Minister should also be of a mind to undertake awareness raising measures in order to bring about a lasting change of attitudes and traditions throughout Europe and not just in Ireland to ensure the full participation of women in elections at all levels and in all respects. In that context, the recommendations went on to recommend that specific training and publicity packages should be developed to encourage women to contest elections.

Even in the context of the Council of European report, which looked for 40%, and even at that time, there was a realistic assessment of where we were. Six or seven years later and given where we are now, it seems the Government is striking a reasonably realistic balance, as my colleague Senator Power said. She put it very well in one of her interjections that she would much prefer if we were moving closer to more than 30% rather than falling short of 40%.

Given the lateness of the hour, I shall resist the temptation to give a disposition on the Immaculate Conception which Senator Mooney so tantalisingly drew for us. If logically followed, which no piece of dogmatic theology ever is, it leads to the complete destruction of the notion of original sin. However, putting that to one side, may I say that I am in favour of a general reflection of the population? If one is going to have a mathematical reflection of the population, one should look for 51% because, as I understand, women are in the peculiar situation of being in the majority.

Given that he has certain views about this House, I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that this House has certainly had one woman Cathaoirleach or I think two women Cathaoirligh whereas his House has never had a woman Ceann Comhairle. We are an advance and we also have higher participation by women. We are a little bit further along the way the Minister appears to wish to push the country rather than his House, so perhaps he could take a little bit of a lesson from us.

This is social engineering but I do not have Senator Mullen's problem with it. When issues of social benefit do not move fast enough, they must be given a discrete nudge but, at the same time, that sometimes means people get bruised in the process. If I were in a political party and were a male candidate who was passed over simply because of a gender quota by somebody who I regarded as my intellectual, moral and physical inferior, I would feel really upset if this person was selected simply because she was female. I hope this will be a transition period and that it will wither away. I hope also we will not be kind of nitpicking about it.

Maybe it would be great if there was gay representation because gay people comprise approximately 10% of the population. There is an even greater discrimination there because we know people are afraid to reveal themselves but there is an increase as there are now openly gay Members in both Houses. That is a very welcome development. One of them is a Taoiseach's nominee. That shows we are growing up as a country, which is terrific. There was not all that much social engineering, except the nomination by the Taoiseach, and I honour and respect him for it. However, I do not think the person I am thinking of — it would be invidious to name anybody — who is a very distinguished public figure was nominated simply because of her sexual orientation.

I have a couple of observations on the bland generalisations which have come from all sides of the House, such as women are more realistic than men. Are they? Some are but some are wonderfully unrealistic dreamers, thank God. Some of them conceal their essential nastiness under a guise of realism just as some men do. I am pretty bloody realistic because I know that despite the fact that everybody says this is a great amendment, they will not vote for it, so it will not get through. Let us cut the crap, get on with it and vote on the amendment.

Another generalisation is that not only are women realists, which some of them are, but that they are interested in politics and are not disinterested in it. Many of them are interested in politics but I have bad news for the House. The vast majority of the population of this country are uninterested in politics——

So are many men.

——because it is so ineffective and needs such reform. I do not think it is just women. Many people are really disillusioned.

We have really good debates in this House but I do not think generalisations help even if they are well intentioned. Poor old Albert Reynolds, who at the end of the day was a decent man, got into frightful trouble for an off the cuff remark —"Sure that is women for you".

Generalisation can be dangerous because they always conceal a complex situation. This is an attempt to create a situation where we have a more general reflection of the population and, as such, I can only regard it as democratic. I will support the amendment but let us get on with it and vote on it because that is the realistic thing to do. All of us are either women or not realistic or whatever. Let us be realistic and get on with it.

This amendment in the names of Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout and others relates to section 27 and proposes changing the requirement which we have been discussing for political parties to have at least 30% women and 30% men to 40% men and 40% women. The section to which the amendment relates facilitates the general increase in participation of women in national politics. Ultimately, it is a matter for the people to decide whether they want to vote for men or women.

This is about participation. The Bill amends section 17 of the Electoral Act 1997 to provide that political parties will have their funding cut unless at least 30% of their candidates are women and at least 30% are men. No political party will be stopped from having a proportion greater than 30% if it wishes. Parties will have their funding cut if they do not take the provision seriously. The same is not required of Independents. The requirement to have quotas of 40% for men and 40% for women will be considered after a specified period, but no sooner than seven years after the general election to which the legislation will first apply.

In the Bill, we have adopted a very ambitious approach. Despite our having made a radical proposal potentially doubling the participation of women in elections, the amendment suggests this is not enough. Some 15.19% of candidates at the February 2011 election were women. The 30% requirement I propose will effectively double the rate of participation by women and, potentially, their electoral success rate at the next general election.

We all recall it was this section of the Bill that received the most attention during Second Stage, notwithstanding the importance of all the other provisions. In responding to that debate, during which many suggested the Bill should go further, I stated the legislation was a significant step and that its provisions represented a seismic shift in our approach to gender equality. I stated we must be mindful of how far the provisions of the Bill actually go. It will be a challenge to meet the 30% requirement. I hope this challenge will be met by the political parties and those involved in politics. They will know the consequences if it is not.

I have tried to examine this matter in the context of what is practical and pragmatic in regard to the cultural shift to which Senator Gilroy quite rightly referred and in regard to setting the bar too high initially. It is not a matter of penalising people for not achieving a very reasonable proposition to enhance the participation of women in politics.

Senator Bradford mused at considerable length on political reform.

There is nothing wrong with that if it makes sense.

Senator Mullen was very academic and theoretical regarding the argument but he does not understand the practical realities on the ground facing political parties and how difficult is sometimes is for a large party to enhance the number of female participants in the political system. It is not as easy as the Senator believes. This Bill is about enhancing the opportunity of women to become involved in politics.

Will the parties provide the incentive then and leave——

The State funding provided for political parties under the electoral legislation is to be used, in part, to enhance and promote participation by women in political activity. The taxpayer is already doing a bit, although it may not be noticed.

It is a matter also for the political parties to do more. I do not want to be prescriptive in legislation and hammer political parties financially in the short term on foot of doubling, to 30%, potential representation by women in the national Parliament. That is ultimately a matter for the people to decide democratically. The Government is providing people with an opportunity to decide whether they want more gender equality. Some of the musings I heard on political reform and quotas in respect of other aspects of life were completely wide of the mark. This is about political participation. The political system has failed to have broader female representation in the Oireachtas.

The programme for Government, which has been put to the electorate and which I, as a Member of the Dáil, put to the masses — not the finite number that elected Senator Mullen——

The individual parties put their programmes to the electorate——

I am a member of a political party; the Senator is not.

——-to obtain sanction from the majority of the electorate.

I am trying to impart some information to Senator Mullen, who is not a member of a political party. The provision in question is a significant part of the political reform agenda, which I assisted in drawing up and which was approved by my party. The electorate has already cast its judgment——

A majority has not voted for this.

——not in any narrow sense——

Senator Mullen is interrupting continually.

In the programme for Government, the Senator will see the consequences of having a very strong mandate for a political reform agenda, including on this issue. Both parties signed up to the programme and we are going about implementing it. Senator Norris should note there is no promise to be broken on this occasion.

Not in this case. The Government has broken a fair number of them already.

The Senator will see a lot of political reform over the coming years and may judge it——

I can well understand a threat when I hear one.

No. This is about leaving the decision to the people.

Let us leave it to the people.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

It will be for the democratic process to decide whether there are to be more women in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are giving an opportunity, through a modest and practical proposal, to political parties to ensure at local authority level there is a sufficient number of candidates for the general election in 2016 in order to meet the legislative requirement. Anybody who believes that is not a reasonable and pragmatic approach does not understand the practical reality of what happens on the ground in regard to political parties ensuring they have a sufficient numbers necessary to meet the requirements.

The Independent Senators should note that this amendment, by stipulating a figure of 40%, could be a little opportunistic considering that I am already achieving 100% more than has been achieved to date.

I have listened to the debate on all sides of the House with great interest. I was very encouraged to hear so many supporting the view that even 40% is not enough and that we should aim for a ratio of 50:50 by 2020. My colleague, Senator Mullen, agreed with the principle of increasing female representation in politics and this is extremely encouraging.

The Bill is welcome and has the capacity to achieve transformation. However, this is not a new issue for us. In 2001, the European Parliament passed a resolution seeking a proportion of 40%. In 2003, the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers adopted a resolution stating representation of either women or men in any decision-making in political or public life should not fall below 40%. In 2008, the European Parliament showed that gender quotas have led to dramatic, remarkable and rapid increases in female representation.

I have listened to the debate. My difficulty is the time it will take for us to achieve a proportion of 40%. I reserve the right to reintroduce the amendment on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.