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


Amendments Nos. 32 to 37, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Amendment No. 32 not moved.

I move 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.”.

This amendment relates to the sunset clause. As the Minister is aware, the amendment was recommended by the all-party committee chaired by Senator Ivana Bacik. Every Member sees quotas as a short-term necessity in addressing a longer term cultural problem. The success of the quotas for which we are legislating will become clear when they make themselves redundant. The amendment provides that "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". We have proposed similar amendments in respect of local and Seanad elections to tie them in with the sunset clause. This sensible approach is aimed at reassuring those who are concerned that we might end up with an inbuilt quota system forever. That is not anybody's objective, rather the objective is that quotas should become unnecessary when the cultural problem has been addressed. This means there would be more balanced political representation without a need to provide for it through a quota system. Therefore, I urge the Minister to accept the amendment.

On Second Stage we raised the issue of local elections. The reality is that the vast majority of candidates successful in general elections have gained experience at local level, a point acknowledged by the Minister in his remarks on the subject. I understand he is of the view that parties will take the quotas applying to general elections into account when selecting local election candidates. However, we should go further. That is the reason we propose a quota system be introduced for the next local elections. I note the Minister's comments on Second Stage about the way the political funding system works, that it is based on performance in a general election. Amendment No. 34 would provide that the amount of funding allocated to a qualified political party would still be based, in the first instance, on electoral performance but would be reduced after the following local elections if the party did not meet the requirement that at least 30% of its candidates be male and female, rising to a figure of 40%. While I have read the Bill, I do not see why there should be a legal block to continuing to base the provision primarily on performance in a general election, while providing that it would be subject to review downwards thereafter if the party did not meet its targets in respect of local election candidates. The same would apply to Seanad elections.

Given that provision is being made only for elections to Dáil Éireann, the Minister is pre-empting the outcome of a referendum on the future of the Seanad. However, that is a matter for the people. Given that there is no legal or practical block, the legislation should also apply to Seanad elections. Candidates run without a party logo, but they are nominated by their parties. The position may be different for those nominated by groups, but certainly for candidates nominated by parties through their internal systems, this should not be an issue.

Amendment No. 36 is consequential on the other amendments and has been designed to ensure that if a quota system was in place for local, Seanad and general elections, the combined impact should not exceed a reduction of 50% in funding. We have thought through those issues and have put forward an amendment to make sure that the overall loss would not be more than 50%. I ask the Minister to consider these carefully, especially the issue in respect of the local elections. This has been called for by a wide coalition of groups campaigning on the issue, including academics who have carried out research on it.

I ask the Minister to examine the issue in respect of amendment No. 32 and the local elections. I do not know if it can be done in the manner recommended by Senator Power. When the Minister was here the last day and we spoke about parties doing this voluntarily, he stated that it would not be possible due to the funding issue. Senator Power thinks she may have got around that by including the following local elections and the general election. The amount of funding was allocated under section 4 of the 2001 Act, but I will leave that to the Minister.

There is a precedent for having a voluntary code in legislation. A voluntary code was agreed in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 for the ESB and the power producing groups. I ask the Minister to consider the voluntary side of it again. If we write it into the Bill, we will try to shame the parties into it. If it is possible to do it, I ask the Minister to look at it again. Obviously we are not asking him to do it if it is not possible to do so. I understand what he said the last day about current legislation, but I would like him to examine that 2011 Bill to see if there is anything in that which would allow for this to be included.

I will wait to hear what the Minister has to say about deleting the quota after reaching a certain limit. I am a reluctant convert to quotas and initially did not believe in them at all, but having looked at the statistics and at those countries which have managed to elect more women, it is the only way that it is being done. Senator Power's amendment includes the reference "following the next two general elections" for the quota of elected women. I do not think there is any woman who would agree with quotas for the sake of them. A person gets elected because he or she is a good politician and wants to be there. One swallow does not make a summer, and one election would not make a summer either for women. Perhaps the Minister might consider that.

Even though I would like to agree with the Seanad issue, I do not know how it would be possible to do it. A court case was taken against Portmarnock Golf Club in respect of admitting women into private clubs. Many of the nominations to the Seanad come from private bodies. I do not know how the Minister would get around the legislation, given the way it is drafted at present. If we have a methodology for nomination to the Oireachtas, we could do it for that, but that would not be fair on those who had to come through the nominating system from the private bodies. There might be a difficulty with this. However, it might give us an opportunity to examine the system of nominations to the Seanad in general. The debate on the reorganisation of government must be examined, because it is not working properly in its current format. The nominating bodies are too closed. The institutes of technology are not included in the university section.

This will lead to a wider debate and I thank the Senator for putting down the amendment. However, I cannot support it in its current format. I look forward to the Minister's contribution on it. We should support anything that can be done to promote women in politics, especially at local level. Only 17% of county councillors are women and we always recommend a bottom-up approach. If we do not start at local level, how will we have the required number of women at general elections? We really have to take a bottom-up approach with this.

I congratulate the Minister. I was in local government for 20 years and heard this debate going on through the years, and it is only since the Minister took office that we have grabbed the bull by the horns and said we are going to do this. I thank him for bringing it forward and look forward to his response.

I am not sure about Senator Keane's bottom-up approach, but I certainly feel that this legislation is coming from the top down. Although they are welcome voices in the great national debate on policy and legislation, certain groups would have been agitating for this legislation. Speaking for myself, I am not hearing much from the people of Ahascragh about it or from the people of the north side of Dublin, where I live. This is not an issue about which people are terribly concerned. That is because they value their democratic institutions as they have them, and they elect who they want to elect. We have lost sight of that principle in this legislation. The fact that there is no clamour for legislation of this kind, other than from vocal, influential voices who have access to the media, is something we should consider. They are no less welcome to the debate than anybody else, but they should not——

The Senator must not be talking to women on the ground.

The Senator may believe it or not, but I know a few women and none of them has said anything to me about this.

Say no more. You never know.

What I cannot get over, when debating this legislation over several days, is how often people have said they look forward to the day when these quotas will not be necessary. Not only that, they provide in legislation for the day when those quotas will not exist. I cannot think of too many examples in politics where we introduce a measure to deal with a current problem, but we are so ashamed of that measure that we plan to make it obsolete at the earliest opportunity. There is an acceptance in people's psyches that there is something intrinsically wrong with this approach. Why would we not be happy to leave it on the Statute Book in case it should ever be needed again? We get to the desired quota of 30% of candidates and 40% of candidates——

By the time that comes, we will have a family friendly society.

Senator Mullen to continue, without interruption.

Yes, but why does the Senator feel the need to write it out of the statute books at that point?

When it has achieved its goal——

Let it just sit there, in case it is ever needed again. That surely would be the more logical approach. However, I think there is an embarrassment about what is being proposed here, because it is evidence of the nanny state and a kind of mentality about how politics should be controlled — this is why I use the phrase "social engineering"— to bring about a certain desired effect. As I have said this is interposing between the people and the decision that only they have the right to make, namely, who they choose to put into politics.

It would be much more appropriate for the parties to agree among themselves that they are going to operate certain gender quotas, but to link it with the issue of public funding is to hijack the public purse and the public will in order to secure a particular political goal that does not reflect the aspiration of every single elector. As it is related to the electoral process itself, there is something particularly invidious about that. There is of course no problem with using public money to secure the objectives that are agreed by the political parties which constitute the governing majority at any one time. However, that is a different thing. That is using public money to pursue certain general policy objectives. What is wrong with this is that it interferes with the electoral process itself. That is the problem as I see it.

A form of sunset clause has been provided for. Perhaps at this point I should move my own amendment, which provides for a more——

The Senator can only discuss the amendment. He cannot move it.

Thank you for telling me that. I will not say much about it, other than to say that I will not push it to a vote, but I will reserve the right to propose it on Report Stage.

In response to the planned obsolescence that seems to be desired by the proponents of this legislation and by the Minister, and since there is such expressed embarrassment about the desirability and need for quotas per se, I propose a sunset clause whereby the relevant sections shall cease to be in operation after the polling day of the next general election held after the passing of this Act, unless we have a resolution by each House of the Oireachtas. In other words, we should only permit the continuance of this arrangement if the Houses of the Oireachtas were willing to so decide. I do not see why this should not find favour with the Minister because, as I stated, there is a reluctance, discomfort and a certain disquiet about this proposal. Why else would Members propose that it be written out of legislation in the future? At least, let us reflect this. I am opposed to gender quotas per se. If I am wrong on this or do not succeed in persuading the Minister, will he at least consider making the continuation of these arrangements subject to the need for ongoing resolutions by the Houses? I hope we will be speaking about “Houses”, but sin scéal eile go lá eile.

On the last occasion it was pointed out to me helpfully by a colleague that there might have been an unintended element of racism in something I had said when I had spoken about why we should not focus our energies on securing a greater level of representation among the new Irish in Irish politics. While the under-representation of women is regrettable and something I would like to see change, there is high quality representation by women of their views that might be considered distinctive but also in terms of their equal participation in politics. Much has already been secured by those women involved in politics. What is much more noticeable and what is not being addressed is how "white" and predominantly English-speaking these Houses are. It is not their maleness that is the most obvious aspect for the person looking in from outside. Of course, I accept there may be legal issues, where persons do not enjoy citizenship, in their not being in a position to run. They might be able to vote in local elections but not in Dáil elections. This is a much more serious issue.

The reason I mentioned taxi drivers was not in any way to suggest persons from certain strata of our society were exclusively in particular jobs. I am quite aware that there are persons in every occupation and at every level from the category that we have designated as the new Irish, particularly from Africa and eastern Europe, but the point I am really trying to make is that in our society there are powerless ordinary persons who are very much in evidence on the streets and who do not seem to engage the minds of the great and the good in terms of the need to actively introduce them to politics and include them in political representation in these Houses. I wanted to deal with any unintended implication of what I had said, that I was confining members of certain national groups to particular roles or tasks within society. I ask the Minister to consider the issue and state, if he is in a position to do so today, what the Government can offer on the issue of greater representation in politics of immigrant communities and the new Irish. That is much more necessary than what is being proposed vis-à-vis gender quotas.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.