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

SECTION 27
Debate resumed on amendment No. 33:
In page 26, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"(e) Once the number of women elected to Dáil Éireann reaches at least 40 per cent of the total number of TDs elected in one general election and remains at that level following the next two general elections, the gender-related criteria for State funding to political parties set out in this Act shall no longer apply to general elections to Dáil Éireann.”.
—(Senator Averil Power).

I am delighted to have an opportunity to discuss a couple of important issues to do with the Bill covered in this group of amendments. The two issues cover the idea of a sunset clause and extending the remit of the legislation to cover local and, potentially, Seanad elections.

I will take up a couple of the points made by Senator Rónán Mullen who I am glad to hear supports the aim of ensuring greater participation by women in politics because for a while, I was not sure if he did.

I made that clear on the last occasion also.

Certainly, amendment No. 37 in his name is rather different from the sunset clause recommended by Senator Averil Power and in our 2009 report since it is his presumption that the legislation will not continue unless this is provided for by a resolution.

Having listened carefully to Senator Rónán Mullen whom I did not interrupt, I want to make a couple of points. All the legislation seeks to do — it is a moderate proposal — is to provide targets for political parties when selecting election candidates. It does not intervene between voters and candidates, rather it intervenes between political parties and the candidates they select. The Senator speaks about the nanny state and restrictions on voter choice, but in the real world political parties are the gatekeepers in respect of voters' choices. As I documented in the 2009 report — it has been well documented also by Professor Galligan and others — under the current system there is quite a number of constituencies — five out of 43 in the 2007 elections — in which voters have not been able to vote for a woman. There was no woman candidate on the slate in these five constituencies which, by the way, encompassed both rural and urban areas.

There is an obstruction which is presented largely by political parties in closing the gates to women candidates, not overtly or deliberately but because of the old boy culture and all those matters about which we have spoken which militate against women in either coming forward or being brought forward. All the legislation seeks to do is ensure political parties will no longer hold the gates closed against women. It does not impose any restriction on voters who may vote for whomsoever they wish. It requires certain rules to be applied by political parties in the selection of candidates.

The legislation is evidence based. This is not a whimsical idea that we have plucked from the air. It is based on solid evidence, comprehensive reports produced over many years. It is based on the position in over 100 states that have adopted similar measures. As Senator Cáit Keane pointed out, unfortunately, it seems such measures are required to further women's participation in politics, either through voluntary adoption by political parties as has happened in some Scandinavian countries or by legislation.

Moving to the issue of the sunset clause, certainly it is well established and there is nothing embarrassing about it. One finds it in financial and medical authorisation legislation. One also finds it in many areas of the law and it is not, in any way, an unusual idea. It is also linked, when one speaks about gender laws, with temporary special measures to further participation of an under-represented group and it was in that spirit that we recommended a sunset clause in 2009. As I mentioned on the last occasion, a recent report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on gender sensitive parliaments refers to evidence, following the application of a sunset clause, of a falling back of levels in some countries, and this alarms me. When we were carrying out research in 2009, the evidence was that when there was a critical mass, as had happened in Denmark, one could then move to operate a sunset clause and remove the quota rule. Perhaps I am now a little more cautious. While I agree in principle with the idea of a sunset clause, I can see there may be different evidence as more and more countries adopt legislation on quotas. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response. Perhaps the issue of the sunset clause could be considered.

Turning to the issue of the extension of the legislation to the local and Seanad elections, Senator Keane dealt very well with the Seanad issue. In 2009 we did not recommend extension to the Seanad precisely because our focus was on political parties as gatekeepers and because the political parties are not the nominating bodies for the Seanad as this is for the vocational groups. We did not have any sense that it would be practical to apply the legislation. I know the political parties have a role but people have to be nominated by the vocational groups.

The inside panels are those where we are nominated by other Members from within the House. There is a different system for the——

As one who goes through the university panel, where people do not get nominated by anyone or rather they get nominated by ten graduates of the university, I accept it is a very different system. Certainly, there would be no place for this in the university panel. My understanding was that, generally, there is no place for this on the vocational panels.

A further reason we did not consider this is that the IPU looks at the Lower House or the single House of Parliament, which was our focus. This was also, frankly, because the Seanad has a much better record. As we all know, 30% of our Members are now women and the Taoiseach's nomination process effectively provides for a type of in-built voluntary target arrangement. We did not see this as being as imperative here.

In terms of the local elections, like Senator Keane, I would ask the Minister to reconsider this area. I totally accept the point about funding and the difficulty of providing for a relevant and pertinent sanction. It is not as clear-cut as with general elections. However, it is very important that we would ensure greater numbers of women come forward in the local elections. I was encouraged at the Dublin Castle conference on this issue in January that the general secretaries pointed out they would have to increase the numbers of women coming forward in the local elections in order to ensure they would reach the 30% quota for the general election. We may find this will happen in practice but I would certainly like to find whether there was some way we could extend the principle to the local elections.

In response to an earlier point, this is not top-down engineering of any kind. A great deal of evidence has been gathered over many years by many groups nationally, not all in Dublin, such as the 50-50 group recently formed in Sligo and 50-50 by 2020 campaigns all over Ireland. This is something women are pushing for. I have been lobbied on this by many women, as I know have others. It is not top-down. There has been a great groundswell to which the political parties and the Minister have responded. I pay him great credit for that.

The reason I was waving was not to draw attention to my Standing Order 30 request but to get into the debate on this amendment. While I completely respect the ruling of the Chair, I wonder what it would take to get a different ruling. I remember proposing a matter in regard to an ESB strike where I was told from the Chair it was not a matter contemplated under that order or of national interest while, simultaneously, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, was declaring a national emergency in the other House. In terms of transparency, we might look at the criteria by which these decisions are made. We are all in favour of transparency with regard to female participation in the Oireachtas and all the rest but it should apply everywhere.

I am all in favour of sunset clauses. Senator Bacik has said quite a lot of what I would have said. Senator Mullen was probably in the House when one or two of them were introduced. I can certainly remember such legislation going through, including one Bill dealing with the architectural profession.

I agree it is social engineering, of which I am all in favour. I look forward to the day when there are no such things as gay organisations or gay pubs because they should not be necessary. All citizens should have equal access wherever they go. I did not get into that particular game in order to be a gay activist for the rest of my life. In fact, I am well out of it by now and I am only a kind of fringe participant. It is a perfectly reasonable thing to want to engineer society in a progressive way and it is then a measure of success when it wastes away and withers on the vine. I have no problem with that whatever. If a sunset clause applied to that particular newspaper, I would look forward to the setting of that sun.

I wonder if it was not perhaps a delicacy on the part of Senator Bacik when she said she did not include the Seanad. Perhaps it was in deference to the local correspondent ofThe Sun, Mr. Enda Kenny, who has an idée fixe about abolishing the Seanad. It would have been a bit of an embarrassment if the Government side supported amendments which indicated a desire for the continuation of Seanad Éireann——

My report was prepared in 2009, before the Taoiseach came into power.

He has muddied the waters quite a bit by talking about members of other communities and other languages. My mother disdained politics but she was fluent in French, Swahili and Kikongo. Had she been elected to this House or been nominated by the Taoiseach of the day, it would not have been very sensible for her to display her talents at Kikongo or Swahili. English and Irish are perfectly good languages for the conduct of business. I regret the fact so few of us are fluent in what is technically the first national language, which is hardly ever spoken here. I remember a Senate in which the most qualified group in the first national tongue were on these benches — almost every single one of us had some Irish and some of my colleagues were native speakers. It would be absurd to look for a plurality of languages, including Polish. If people are citizens, they should know the language that is used by the people.

My real reason for standing up is to indicate that because it deals with the allocation of funds to political parties, I want to raise an allied matter and signal that I may put down an amendment for Report Stage. I declare an interest. As Senator Bacik has indicated the position with regard to the university seats, I will deal with that matter first. I am very proud of the fact the university seats, as long as I have been in this House, have exceeded any other section of either House of the Oireachtas in regularly providing 33.33% representation in that there has always been a woman representative. They have been very fine and remarkable women, including Ms Carmencita Hederman, Senator Bacik and Dr. Mary Robinson. I am proud of the record of the universities in that regard. They have all tended to be Independents, although occasionally people take a vagary and disappear over to the other side.

It is more than a vagary.

Whatever it is, a specific situation arises in this regard. Here, again, we have the parties looking after themselves with regard to the allocation of funds. What about independence? What about people who have to reach into their own pockets? It is an abrogation of democracy that political parties get funding from the taxpayer as if we were not all taxpayers. Why not give consideration to people who are so committed to a life of public service that they use their own resources? I admit a personal interest but there are other people throughout the country with exactly the same personal interest.

There is one way around this, which should perhaps be explored. My full-time professional occupation, as is true of a number of others in the House, is politics. I am a full-time Member of Seanad Éireann and I devote sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day to the work in this House — that is the degree of my commitment to it. However, I get no funding for election expenses while political parties get their funding, which they can distribute among their candidates, to say nothing of toners, ink and all the rest. Why should I or other Independent candidates not be permitted to write off the election expenses, which are a necessary and vital part of the continuation of a political career, against income tax? Will the Minister comment? Would he say this is fair?

I hesitate to interrupt the Senator.

I wonder is this directly relevant to the amendments.

That is a matter for the Chair, not the Senator.

Senator Norris to continue, without interruption.

I am just asking.

I know that. The Senator was interrupting because she is in a political party. She would not have interrupted before she was in a political party. I am drawing attention to the fact that the amount of State funding allocated to a qualified political party is specifically referenced. I am using this provision as a device to introduce something that is of vital importance to the democratic character of our Parliament. I make no apology to Senator Bacik or anybody else for so doing, unless the Cathaoirleach imposes a restriction on me in this regard. There is that phrase and I am entitled to tease it out. We are talking about the allocation of funds only to political parties and I am signalling that I propose to put down an amendment. Again, this is about the party interest. Senator Bacik may have the party interest at heart now, but there was a time when that was not the case.

I retain and will always retain my independence. The encouragement of independence is a very good thing. I have to laugh at the proposals for protecting whistleblowers which are blowing about the place. The Minister should take that legislation back to his friends in Cabinet and ask them how it will work in a newspaper's editorial office. I can tell him it will not. One reason he is trying to close this place down is that there are a few whistleblowers here. We have always made life uncomfortable for the Government, regardless of the party or parties in power. As the most outspoken of all, the university Senators were the first to be targeted. When the Government could not get us, it went for the Senate in its entirety. I will use every tactic I can to prevent that happening and to strengthen the independence of the House. We need Independent voices in this Chamber. I am giving notice of my intention to table an amendment in this regard.

Senator Bacik, who is a woman of outstanding intellect and clarity, made many of the points I would have made in response to Senator Mullen. I will not bother goingin extenso into those issues. I do not consider this an intervention in terms of the electoral system. Rather, it is an intervention regarding the selection of candidates. I have put my cards on the table in indicating that I am in favour of social engineering. For example, regrettable as it was that they were necessary, busing and racial quotas in universities and so on were important in the United States. Uncomfortable and awkward as they were, they helped to achieve what was necessary in a pluralist society.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this important debate. I am not sure whether we are allowed to admit that we are enjoying ourselves in this Chamber, but I have found it a hugely enjoyable discussion.

That is not allowed.

I say that without irony. It is an educational and historic debate and I have enjoyed hearing Members' views.

While my colleagues and I have not tabled an amendment to that effect, something should be done in regard to local elections. I listened with interest to Senator Keane's observations in this regard. The Bill does not require quotas to be applied at local level as political experience is one of the most important criterion in the selection of candidates by political parties. Women make up only some 16% of councillors, which is a cause for concern. The Bill does not make provision for sanctions for political parties who do not reach a quota at local level, perhaps in order to encourage voluntary action. There is a sense in which parties are being put on notice that if they do not increase their quota of female candidates over time, the issue may be reviewed. The Bill should be about encouragement as much as anything else, and perhaps we can find some way to incorporate that. In the case of State bodies and non-governmental organisations, there is an expectation that each gender should make up at least 40% of board members. That might be the way to proceed in this Bill. I reserve the right to introduce an amendment to that effect on Report Stage.

While I am in agreement with both Senators Power and Mullen regarding the sunset clause, my sense is that we should not have such a clause in the Bill. This is partly because I am hopeful that at a certain point a 40% participation rate by women will be achieved. The Minister mentioned that percentage being attained seven years after the next general election. We should consider reducing that timeframe on Report Stage. Consideration should also be given to including a requirement that 40% of candidates be men. A sunset clause would undermine the notion that there might be a time when men become less engaged in politics. As such, I am not necessarily in favour of Senator Power's amendment in that regard.

In terms of Seanad reform, I recognise the difficulties arising from the fact that political parties do not necessarily have the power, as Deputy Micheál Martin realised last summer, to dictate which members of a party will become the official candidates. In other words, the control regarding quotas may not be within the gift of a political leader. I suggest that any future bicameral model that might emerge out of the Seanad reform debate should include a provision regarding quotas. If the parties do become gate keepers within a future bicameral model, that requirement should be established now rather than having to introduce another Bill at a later date. In a scenario where the Seanad might not be abolished, there should be some model that encourages political parties to ensure that each gender makes up a certain percentage of candidates. It may be the case that 30% is a more reasonable target than 40% in the case of the Seanad.

I welcome the debate on this substantial legislation, although the Minister might feel he has heard it all before. A political lesson from this discussion for us in the Seanad is that we might be better to revert to the former way of doing business whereby speakers had as much time as they wished on Second Stage rather than the new restrictions of five or ten minutes or whatever. If we could revert to the old days where people had 20 or 30 minutes to contribute, it might avoid some of the interventions we have seen on Committee Stage.

The amendments we are discussing are interesting. I am sure the Minister recognises that all comments made here are made with good intent. Senator Bacik made an interesting observation in response to a question as to why this rule will apply to political parties. She said the parties function both as gate ways and as road blocks to women's participation in politics.

If it is the case that the political parties are the road blocks and the measures being imposed on them in this legislation are the gate ways, it would imply that Independents do not need that gate way and never faced that road block. However, this does not necessarily reflect reality. In the Seanad elections last year, for example, 14 men and six women stood for election on the Trinity panel. On the NUI panel, 22 of the candidates were male and five were female. I am not sure what is the road block and what is the gate way. Of the large numbers of Independent candidates who stand in every constituency in local elections, general elections and European elections, the vast majority are male. We must ask ourselves whether it is as simple as saying that political parties are somehow the problem.

That is not what I said.

I am asking the question. We are seeking to solve the problem of low female participation rates by placing an imposition on political parties. I am asking whether we are seeking to solve the wrong problem.

I go back to the question of culture. Senator Power said that the quota regime which we are putting in place will hopefully lead to a change in culture. I would like to see that process happening in reverse. I mentioned some of the strong, powerful women who have played leading roles in politics internationally. One of those I forgot to mention is a woman who served with me in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and was, during my time in the Oireachtas, by far the strongest, most powerful and most effective voice for women. I am referring to the late Nuala Fennell who was an outstanding representative and a kind, generous and warm lady. One of the reasons hers was the strongest voice was it was not bitter or divisive, rather it was inclusive, which forced us to look at the difficult options and take the necessary steps to resolve issues.

The question of culture is so important in this debate. I was reading the late Nuala Fennell's biography recently. She was forced to resign from the Irish Women's Liberation Movement, a movement in which she had played such a significant role during its formative years. Her letter of resignation stated, "For one thing it has proved that Irish women, for all the discrimination and deprivation they suffer, are not the nation of blinkered female donkeys that the small policy-making central group of women's liberationists thought them to be." That is very interesting and a challenge to look beyond simplistic, sloganeering solutions and recognise that this is a much more complex problem than we think it is and that can be resolved by minor legislation. Her letter of resignation further stated, "At a recent seminar it was clearly stated that if any member, whatever her previous views, was not against the aforementioned Bill, she was not in Women's Lib, and to this I can add that if you are not anti-American, anti-clergy, anti-government, anti-ICA, anti-police, anti-men, then, sisters, there is no place for you either." That is a piece of writing on which we need to reflect. We should not try to put people into simplistic, caged in categories.

It is a simplistic statement.

Those of us who have questions, queries and concerns about the Bill are coming from a genuine perspective. We also want to see many more women involved in the political process, but it is not as simple as introducing legislation.

Wearing his previous hat as a Fine Gael organisational person of renown, the Minister successfully suggested during the last local elections that Fine Gael would run at least one female candidate in each urban council area. That did not require legislation, penalties or awards. It was simply decided and done by the political party and it worked very well. I would like to see it happen in the next set of local elections also. It was a practical, common-sense measure that worked. No one was accused of being a token candidate. Many of the additional female candidates won seats and many of them will seek higher office in time.

We have to remain open-minded on the Bill. I am certainly happy with the idea that there be a sunset clause in order that quotas would come to an end after a couple of elections, but it goes back to the question of culture. That is the debate that needs to take place. The mechanism would be in place for Seanad elections also, if we really believed in it. If we can impose regulations and rules on political parties for who they can run in elections, the same regulations and rules could apply to nominating bodies. No one in the country is outside the law. Between 30% and 40% of candidates in Seanad elections are selected by Oireachtas parties. Therefore, such a provision could be put in place. If we want to apply this provision to Seanad elections, we can. We will certainly have to apply it to local elections, but in a voluntary fashion, as was done very successfully without huge fanfare by Fine Gael during the last town council elections.

I know that Senator David Norris has raised the question of independence from the perspective of the allocation of funding. That is a matter for another day, although we addressed part of it in considering an earlier part of the Bill. It is certainly worth considering why so few women stand as independent candidates. Every independent candidate faces much greater difficulty in being elected than a member of a political party, yet for every three or four females who face the electorate as independent candidates, there are ten or 20 males. That shows it is not simply a question of——

Men have higher incomes.

While I accept that it is difficult for independent candidates, only a tiny proportion are women; therefore, they are not being blocked by a political party. They have simply decided not to stand.

They do not receive resources and are not paid——

Wrong. It is the work-life balance.

Senator Paul Bradford to continue, without interruption.

We need to investigate all of these areas.

What are the Minister's views on the constitutionality of the section? I am sure it would not have been brought before us if he was not confident that it was constitutional, but it is fair to say even the most——

That is not the subject matter of the amendments.

I am asking whether the amendments are constitutional. Perhaps the Minister might advise us if they have been the subject of discussions around the Cabinet table. The Bill may be tested; as such, it is better to face the difficulties now rather than in a few months time. The Minister might advise us if he is happy that the imposition of financial penalties on a political party to encourage it to seek additional or fewer candidates is constitutional or otherwise.

I have a feeling that this is one of those days when I should have hid in my office and not say anything because no matter what I say or do, the Bill will be passed and all I can do is lose a few friends, if I say something unpopular.

We are here to influence legislation. The Senator should not throw in the towel.

Senator John Crown to continue, without interruption.

Working as I do in a world in which female colleagues predominate, in a specialty that will soon be female dominated in Ireland, judging by the welcome increase in the number of female medical students, I would also welcome an increase in the participation of women in the political process. It would make our political system a lot more mature and there would be much higher levels of emotional intelligence if more women were involved.

When one looks for international precedents, one is reminded of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition which, when the rest of that society was often blindly following testosterone soaked, gun toting goons around the country, was espousing a vision of the future that was more rational and mature. One also thinks of the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, one of the greater foci of opposition to authoritarian military dictatorship in what was then a very oppressed country. One also thinks of the Peace Movement of Northern Ireland — the peace women — which, at a time when it was very unfashionable to do so, led the cause for a peaceful alternative to the internecine sectarian strife that was destroying the community. Every one of the organisations mentioned would not be funded under the new legislation. They would effectively be legislated out of existence because they are single gender organisations which would not meet the requirement to have a minimum number of men. Therein lies the weakness with this attempt to impose by fiat something which is desirable but which should come about by other means. Effectively, what we are doing is handing power to the Government or a majority in the Dáil to determine the nominations process of minority political parties, which is wrong. This is bad for democracy, smacks of tokenism and will not work. Instead political parties should reform themselves and acknowledge that they would do better if they had a more representative spectrum with more female candidates emerging.

Until recently, the best health spokesperson with whom I had the occasion to interact during the years — as the House is aware, I am very supportive of the Minister — was a female who, sadly, was never appointed Minister, former Deputy Liz McManus, who would have made a fine Minister for Health. Equally, the person I honestly reckon was the least satisfactory as Minister for Health and Children was also a woman, although I will not personalise the issue. Ability cuts across the gender divide. It is, therefore, incumbent on politicial parties to pick the best candidates. This legislation will, however, impose by fiat something which, at its core, is anti-democratic. Therefore, I oppose it.

The debate is due to finish at 4.30 p.m. and there are at least four or five Members who want to come in again. I understand Senator Aideen Hayden has not spoken.

The Minister is welcome. I may be new to this game, but it seems many of the speeches made were Second Stage speeches, not relevant to the amendments.

It is not too many years since I was at a political party meeting at which the only time a woman was mentioned was when the chairperson thanked the ladies who had made the tea. That, unfortunately, is the reality.

Excellent documentation was furnished to us by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service which clearly set out that there was no upward trajectory; in recent elections the number of women participants in the electoral process has not improved. The need for this legislation was well established on Second Stage and I am at a loss to know why we are continuing to have this debate.

In response to Senator David Norris, I am familiar with Senator Ivana Bacik and her independence has not in the least been compromised by the fact that she is a member of the Labour Party. She is an excellent, independent-minded woman who is well capable of participating within a political party.

Let the record show there was laughter coming from Senator David Norris.

(Interruptions).

Senator Aideen Hayden to continue, without interruption.

In response to Senator Paul Bradford, we all agree that there are other barriers to women's participation in politics. The excellent document furnished to us by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service also set out the ways by which these barriers could be addressed. However, what we are talking about is the funding of political parties, not the other barriers women face in terms of their participation in political life.

Senator Ivana Bacik is correct. Any student of Irish politics from 1922 onwards would be able to tell us categorically that political parties is where it is at. I agree that Senators such as Senator David Norris are excellent and have made excellent contributions, but the fact of the matter is that most of the legislation placed before the Government, the Upper House and the Lower House is presented by political parties and that if one wants to influence what happens in the country, one has to do so through a political party.

I want to address the issue of a sunset clause. We cannot always assume society is on an upward trajectory. I refer to a recent "Newsnight" programme on female genital mutilation in Egypt on which a number of those interviewed stated they were concerned that the change in party representation in Egypt was leading to a position where there would be a rowing back on the commitment to guard against female genital mutilation. The reality is that having sunset clauses is all very fine, but I agree with Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and I would draw the attention of Senator Rónán Mullen's to this were he present in the House. A sunset clause would protect the participation of both men and women, to which Senator John Crown alluded. There are certain professions that one could describe has having been feminised; however, it is not in the interests of society to have one sex over-represented, whether it be male or female. No more than I do want to see the political profession dominated by women, I do not want to see the teaching and medical professions dominated by women also. I am not in favour, therefore, of having a sunset clause. In an ideal world we would end up with 50:50 representation. There is nothing to stop us revisiting legislation in the future, but we should not commit ourselves to introducing a sunset clause, as it would not be in our interests to do so. Unfortunately, the evidence is all too clear that we are not on an upward trajectory.

Senator Rónán Mullen is no longer with us. I concur with the response Senator Ivana Bacik gave at the time. Senator Rónán Mullen stated voters elected whomever they wanted to elect. Frankly, they do not. I think it shows an extraordinary misunderstanding of the political process. Voters select candidates from the list of persons they are given. As Senator Ivana Bacik pointed out, in several constituencies in the last general election people were not given a choice to chose candidates on gender grounds.

Senator Rónán Mullen suggests Members are embarrassed by quotas. I am not. I am embarrassed that 15% is the highest level of female representation ever achieved in an election to the Dáil. I am also embarrassed that there are constituencies in which there have been no women on the ticket. I am embarrassed that two general elections ago my party put up four candidates in one constituency all of whom were men, but I am certainly not embarrassed about bringing progressive legislation through the House. As I stated on Second Stage, it is a necessary evil, although I wish we did not have to do so. Everybody who has spoken in favour of it has made the same point.

In respect of local elections, I have made the point that they are an important process in giving persons an opportunity to gain political experience prior to participating in general elections. It is also important to look at local elections, not just as a pipeline for entry to national politics but also in their own right. When local authorities are making decisions on such issues as planning applications and the provision of local facilities such as a playground, it is important that there be balanced representation and a mix of views at the table. Local authorities, apart from their role in giving persons opportunities to gain political experience, should be representative. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply, but I am confident that the way the amendment is worded meets the purpose and would amend the political funding Act in the appropriate way.

In respect of Seanad elections, Members are elected through various routes. I came through one of the vocational panels, but I was nominated by other Oireachtas Members on what they called the inside list. For the benefit of Members who are elected through other routes such as the universities and the Taoiseach's nominees——

Depending on to whom the Minister was speaking.

No provocation, please. The Minister should not open up old sores.

On what list was the Leas-Chathaoirleach?

Senator Averil Power to continue, without interruption.

As Senator Paul Bradford pointed out, at least one third of Members are elected through the vocational panels and nominated directly by political parties because of the mechanism in place. Within each of the five panels one third of those elected must be nominated by the nominating bodies and one third must be nominated through the Oireachtas. There is a large number of persons elected to the House who are directly chosen by parties. The legislation applies to decisions political parties make in choosing candidates for Dáil elections. There is no practical reason it should not apply to those selected by their parties through the inside list. I appreciate, however, that there would be practical difficulties in the case of the nominating bodies, some of which only nominate one candidate.

There are practical issues. Senator Cáit Keane raised the case of Portmarnock Golf Club. I read about it and know it ultimately fell because the Equal Status Act provided a precise exemption of which the golf club was able to avail by stating it had been set up specifically for that purpose. The case was also informed by case law that the guarantee of equality under the Constitution could not be asserted against a private institution. While Senator Ivana Bacik's knowledge of these issues is far superior to mine, that is my understanding of the case. Senator Cáit Keane raised this issue in referring to what might present a difficulty in the case of Seanad elections. For a start, one cannot assert equality rights against a private institution and, presumably, also a political party. As to whether the State, by setting incentives for parties, is getting involved in the process, this is something the Minister has thought through. If it is constitutional in respect of other aspects of the Bill, it should follow that it has to be so in respect of the amendments we are proposing in regard to Seanad elections.

I take on board the good points made on the sunset clause. I will reflect on them before Report Stage and will not push the matter to a vote today. As Senator Ivana Bacik said, earlier research shows that what we need is a change in culture. We hope other measures would not be necessary afterwards. That is still my instinct, but I will reflect on what Senator Aideen Hayden and others said.

I will be brief as I am conscious of the time and also that others have been making Second Stage speeches, as Senator Aideen Hayden said. This is not the time to do so.

On the specific points raised, I am grateful to Senator Averil Power for referring to the sunset clause. I will reconsider the most recent evidence on whether it would be wise to include a sunset clause if there is a fear there has been be a falling back and that the culture has not been given enough time to change.

In response to Senator Paul Bradford, we have rehearsed this debate many times. Of course, legislation is not the only solution to the problem of increasing women's participation and I am sure people are fed up hearing about the obstructions facing women, be they Independents or party members. Whatever about the five Cs, there are four Cs that affect all women in trying to enter politics — cash, culture, child care and confidence. The candidate selection procedures apply specifically to political parties; that is the specific obstacle being tackled. Political parties are not the obstacle. I have said they are the gatekeepers, although that is not my phrase - it is the phrase used in the international research. They are the gatekeepers who can open or close a gate to political participation by women. That is why they are targeted in the legislation.

On the Portmarnock Golf Club case, there is a question about how one sanctions a private organisation. The Bill, as we recommended, clearly has State funding for political parties as the sanction or incentive to ensure targets are met. That is the key point. It would be very difficult to do this in the case of other organisations. This is the difficulty in the case of Seanad elections. Our report recommended the extension of the principle to European elections because, of course, political parties nominate in the same way as they do for general elections. There is the same difficulty in the case of local elections in deciding on sanctions. It is a matter worth mentioning.

I am interested to hear Senator John Crown is in a female dominated world. I was not aware women were in the majority among consultants in the medical profession.

They soon will be.

I conducted research in 2003 and we published the first study in Ireland of gender discrimination in the legal profession. We found that while well over two thirds of all law students nationally were women who have been in the majority since the mid-1980s, they were a tiny minority at the top levels of the profession. I suspect the same is true of the medical profession. What this legislation is trying to do is tackle what we call the pipeline factor——

On a point of order, two of six consultant oncologists in St. Vincent's Hospital are female. For many years neither of the two consultants was female. There will soon be a female majority.

That is not a point of order.

I am delighted to hear that. A key point about the legislation concerns the pipeline fallacy, the idea that it will happen if we let things to continue organically. It will not. That is why we need the legislation.

Reference was made to losing friends in taking different positions. I do not think anyone will lose friends. I had a battle with Senator Ivana Bacik and I am glad to say I won, but I am sure she does not entertain hard feelings.

I have forgotten already.

On what Senator Aideen Hayden said about independence, it is lost when one joins a party. The dogs in the street, perhaps the donkeys or jennets in the street and in this House, know perfectly well that Senator Ivana Bacik was the subject of a gerrymander in seeking to become a candidate in a constituency in Dublin in favour of a male candidate. That is the reality of party life. If Senator Aideen Hayden does not know this, she will soon find out.

I hope I will not lose the friendship of my valued colleague, Senator Paul Bradford.

I knew Nuala Fennell well. When I came into the House, I thought the Senator was talking about Nuala O'Faolain and nearly dropped dead at the throught she might have said such a thing. Then I thought Nuala was always such a wonderful contrarian. I spoke at meetings of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement and presume it had a vague notion that I was a man of some sort. There was an idea that it was anti-man, anti-Irish Countrywomen's Association, anti-police and anti-America. We are all familiar with the notion that if one criticises American foreign policy, one is anti-American. It is a load of rubbish about a woman who, despite her sterling qualities, was essentially conservative. It is important to make the point that she was making a highly coloured statement, but it is a wonderful quotation. I gather it was on the forcible entry Bill, but I do not believe it applies in this instance. I would be surprised, conservative though she was, if Nuala Fennell would have wished it to apply in these circumstances. The Irish Women's Liberation Movement, like all such movements, as I know to my cost, contains extremists who are not representative of the whole movement. Without women's liberation, we would not have the degree of participation we have.

I also spoke to the Women's Political Association. I launched a book for Senator Ivana Bacik, although I was a man. Does the Senator remember that I launched the book?

I certainly do. It's title isKicking and Screaming: Dragging Ireland into the 21st Century, published by O’Brien Press in 2004.

I was a man and proud to launch it because it was a splendid book which dealt with this kind of issue.

Thanks for the plug.

I wish to proceed with the amendments.

I will not press the amendments we have tabled, as we will retable them on Report Stage.

I am sure the Minister wishes to reply to some of the comments made. While my presentation might have been simplistic, he might wish to express his views on the constitutionality or otherwise of the legislation.

He did that on Second Stage.

Has the matter been discussed and debated?

Yes. I take it the remaining amendments are not being moved.

I thought the Minister was going to reply.

It is the Minister's prerogative not to as we only have a few minutes left.

I ask him to communicate with me privately on the matter I raised, particularly the question of encouraging Independents and allowing a write-off against tax.

The Minister has nodded his approval.

I will not press any of the remaining amendments as I would like to revisit them before Report Stage. However, it would be helpful to hear the Minister's views on them in order that we can have a more informed debate next week.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 27 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 34 to 36, inclusive, not moved.
Sections 28 and 29 agreed to.
Amendment No. 37 not moved.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

Do we have a date for Report Stage?

It will be taken next week.

Can the Leader be more specific?

I apologise, it will not be next week but a week or two thereafter. I do not yet have a specific date.

I am glad I asked. Incorrect information would otherwise have been given to the House.

It is normal procedure to specify a date the following week even though it may not take place so soon because of procedural issues.

That should be clarified. It is improper that a decent man like the Leader should be forced by Standing Orders to tell a lie to the House.

The Leader is not telling a lie. What he is saying is that no date has yet been set for Report Stage.

For the information of Members, I understand it is pencilled in for Thursday, 15 March.

That is the information I was seeking. What is the harm in giving it?

The Leader, in so far as it is possible and practical under the circumstances, is suggesting a date for the debate. It is the norm to indicate a date the following week. We will receive our schedule of business for next week on Friday.

On a point of order, it says in the Seanad manual that the following week is an appropriate response to this question.

Thank you, Senator Mac Conghail.

Report Stage ordered for Thursday, 15 March 2012.
Sitting suspended at 4.25 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.