Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011: Report and Final Stages

I welcome back to the House the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded. Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 21, line 18, to delete "Part after Part VIII" and substitute "Parts after Part VIII".

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire ar ais go dtí an Teach. Ócáid stairiúil í seo mar seo í an chuid deireanach den reachtaíocht, An Bille Toghcháin (Leasú) (Maoiniú) Polaitíochta) sula dtéann sé go dtí an Dáil. Tá cúpla rud gur mhaith liom a chur faoi bhráid an tSeanaid agus an Aire maidir le athruithe atá le déanamh ar Chéim na Tuarascála.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 have been grouped together. The Minister probably considers me to be a broken record on the issue of the infamous leader's allowance, but as a Senator, I feel highly exposed to the short-termism of the media and fellow parliamentarians. It is important that Independent Senators have what is called the leader's allowance to enable them to carry out their work in an appropriate way, particularly in being able to use research facilities to the benefit of the House and their activities. The amendments are about this and establishing responsibility for elected Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann who are not members of a qualifying political party or are independent of a political party. However, they also apply to the circumstances of the members of my grouping who are nominated Members.

There was a big kerfuffle in this regard. I understand the Minister has stated it comes within the jurisdiction of his colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to introduce such a measure under the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act 2001. However, regardless of whether he wishes to call it on an optical level or simply a pragmatic level, the Minister has an opportunity to close the gap now, rather than waiting. I do not believe an amendment to the aforementioned Act is on an A list, a B list, a C list or a critical list of proposed legislation. Consequently, the likelihood of such a Bill being introduced to the Houses of the Oireachtas within the next 18 months is minimal. The members of my grouping have, therefore, taken the opportunity to introduce these amendments to the Bill to close the gap. They would place an onus on Independent Members to keep accounts of public payments received and provide for a need to disclose such payments in compliance with the guidelines as set out in section 89.

How many minutes do I have?

It is open, as long as the Senator sticks to the content of the amendments, within reason.

As this is my first time to deal with a Bill on Report Stage, I trust the Leas-Chathaoirleach will guide me gently.

The Senator is doing very well.

The new Part X is an attempt to address this issue. When one considers what the leader's allowance is for, there are aspects of it which could be perceived to be open to misappropriation. In that context, certain elements within the media are only dying to jump down our necks in respect of expenses. Members and the House will be left open to accusations of being of ill repute if we do not close this loophole.

We tried to raise this matter on Committee Stage. Other members of the Independent group and I have been consistent in respect of it from the outset. It is ironic that Fine Gael and the Labour Party voted down our Committee Stage amendment — which is slightly different from that before the House today — without offering their own solution. I am seeking to discover whether the Minister might be able to accommodate the spirit of amendments Nos. 1 and 3 rather than kicking to touch and stating that the matter will be contemplated in the Bill being brought forward by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin.

I remind everyone present that between 25 February 2011 and 31 December 2011 a total of €656,134 was paid to Deputies and Senators who are not members of political parties, who are not qualifying parties or who were nominated to the Seanad. I include myself in this regard. The money to which I refer is unaccounted for because there is no mechanism by which it can be vouched. In addition, there are no rules under which I am supposed to account for my leader's allowance. However, I account for it on a voluntary basis. As amendment No. 3 suggests, all Independent Members should be required, on a statutory basis, to keep accounts in respect of public payments received and to "disclose annual accounts in compliance with guidelines as set out under section 89". It also states that "All accounts will be published and available to the public within 6 months of the end of the previous financial year".

The amendment further advocates that the Standards in Public Office Commission could establish the guidelines in question. I accept that these might not have to be as onerous as those which relate to political parties, particularly in the context of the requirement to keep audited accounts, etc. However, they would ensure that there would be a way in which we, as Members, would not be exposed to expressions of cynicism. Even more important is the fact that they would make it possible for the public to see, in a very clear way, how our money is spent. I have no difficulty with Independent Senators and Deputies having access to the leader's allowance, particularly as they can use it to the benefit of citizens by ensuring that they research matters of concern in full and then make positive and democratic contributions in respect of them in Seanad and Dáil debates.

In its final report, the Moriarty tribunal stated "Appropriate measures should be adopted to ensure that equivalent obligations apply to Independent or non-party candidates". In such circumstances, I see no reason amendment No. 3 should not be accepted. I would, however, be happy to withdraw the amendment if the Minister were to offer an alternative or to accept it in spirit. I would not be happy to withdraw it if he proposes to kick to touch and wait until the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform brings forward his legislation in 18 months. Outside of the financial exposure involved, this matter also gives rise to reputational exposure. When the silly season comes back around, Members are going to be attacked in respect of not ensuring that the money involved is properly vouched. It should be vouched.

The findings of the Moriarty tribunal provided the impetus for this otherwise excellent Bill to be brought before the Houses. Since Second Stage, we have been consistent in our argument that Independent Members' allowances should be fully vouched and that the relevant details in this regard should be put before the Houses within six months of the end of each financial year. I commend the amendments to the House.

I second the amendment. The members of the Independent group feel extremely strongly about amendments Nos. 1 and 3. I will not reiterate what my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, said but I must point out that there are no guidelines for Independent Members. The guidelines we follow are the same as those which apply to political parties. We are, therefore, interpreting those guidelines as existing for us. We only obtained said guidelines on request. "Accountability" and "transparency" are the buzz words which are in vogue. In that context, we are of the view that Independent Members should be dealt with under the Bill, which relates to political funding. Thus, it is our view that it is the appropriate place in which to indicate how Independent Members should be treated. That is why we put forward the amendment. In the aftermath of the amendment we put forward on Committee Stage not being accepted, we have tried to ensure that amendment No. 3 is now in line with what it is hoped to achieve via the Bill.

We ask our colleagues in the House to support amendment No. 3. As Senator Mac Conghail stated, we will push the matter to a vote unless the Minister can provide some assurances to the effect that this matter will be dealt with in another way.

Senator van Turnhout should not be threatening the Minister.

I would never do that.

He is very fragile.

I would never have considered the Minister a softie.

The Minister should note that Senator van Turnhout is merely making a statement of intent.

Yes. We tabled this amendment as a group. We have come under fire from the public and we are strongly of the view that our allowances should be vouched. I do not see why we should have come under fire in respect of this matter. As stated on Committee Stage, I returned quite a large portion of my allowance to the Minister for Finance. It is slightly unusual that I was obliged to gift the money back, in the form of a cheque, to him. Surely there is a better way of doing it but that is a matter for another day.

Amendment No. 3 is designed to ensure that the Standards in Public Office Commission will have a remit in respect of public moneys. Perhaps the rules which might be applied to us need not be the equivalent of those which obtain in respect of political parties but there is certainly a need for disclosure and accountability because public money is at issue. That is what the public expects.

I thank our Independent colleagues for tabling the amendments. As this is a Seanad Bill, we must complete our consideration of it today and it will then be sent to Dáil Éireann for its consideration. It is often the case that Bills are thoroughly debated in the Seanad and that some of the proposals made in respect of them are not accepted here. It then transpires that further proposals may be accepted when such Bills are dealt with in the Dáil. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply but our colleagues on the Independent benches should realise that the Bill has a long way to travel yet. In that context, it could be amended in the Dáil and then sent back to the Seanad in a few months' time.

I welcome what Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout said. The leader's allowance, or whatever we wish to call it, has been the subject of much political debate in recent months. There is also a debate taking place in respect of government in general — be it national or local — and of political reform. That debate seems to centre on whether government should be bigger or smaller. I am of the view that it should focus on better government. We should not concentrate on what should be the number of councillors, Senators or Deputies; rather, we should focus on the quality of the work being done. Part of the necessary change in this regard requires that there be maximum transparency and accountability. I accept that the latter two terms have become clichés but what is proposed here would make for better politics and would lead to fewer questions being asked in respect of where the money goes. It would also place greater demands on every Member of this House and the Lower House in the context of accounting for his or her use of taxpayers' money.

We should not be asking how much it costs to run politics. Our focus should be on how the money involved is spent. Democracy does not come free of charge. We could engage in an endless debate on the funding of politics. Regardless of how it is funded, however, our prime responsibility politically must be to ensure that the money is properly spent and accounted for.

As stated, I look forward to the Minister's reply and it should be remembered that the Dáil may return the Bill to this House with amendments. I ask him to reflect on the contents of amendment No. 3, particularly as what is envisaged could be of assistance in allowing members of the public to see what is happening to their money. That could only be good for politics. It is difficult to argue against transparency or to oppose accountability. I accept that there can be small legal loopholes and that problems can arise. In that context, the Minister requires the maximum of time and space. If this cannot be afforded to him today, there will be further opportunities for it to be afforded to him on Second, Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. We will see what the Minister has to say.

I applaud the sentiment behind these amendments but personally I believe there is a certain level of political naivety behind them. The Mahon tribunal report was quoted.

It was the Moriarty tribunal report.

I thank Senators for the correction. The Moriarty tribunal report was referred to and there was an argument that there should be equality. There is no equality and everybody knows this. That is deliberate, structured and built in by the parties since the beginning of the State in order to exclude independent voices. Part of that arises from financial considerations, and the Minister knows that perfectly well. The Minister may want equality and he should reply to this directly if possible. People who are full-time Independent Members of this or the other House should have some mechanism whereby at least some of the expenses incurred in re-election can be discountable for income tax purposes, as they are a professional expense. A dentist, lawyer, doctor or tradesman can do this, and we are the only people who cannot use expenses that way. Where is the equality and level playing field there?

I believe I give value for money but I do not know if the people think so. I certainly put in the hours and I work 12 to 16 hours every day. I am the person who got this place opened up on Saturdays and that practice stopped because I was virtually the only person to use it. As I do not have access to my office on Saturday as a result, I work on Seanad and related business, including legislation, at home.

I do not welcome this added responsibility. I am not an accountant and it would be a considerable imposition on me to have to produce audited accounts. Details of the money dispersed to us is accessible to everybody under the Freedom of Information Act. I accept the point about the leader's allowance, which is part of a cluster of allowances. I remember when they were introduced, and they were a subterfuge by the then Minister for Finance. As a political stunt the Government decided to refuse to take a series of pay increases granted generally throughout the public service and the Government thought it would look good if it did not take the increase. They were implemented through the back door. I prefer openness and honesty but I want to be paid a proper sum for the job, and although it is not easy, I give my full energy to it. Do people believe the public will be satisfied by this?

I do not. The public gets the information via the media and I will tell a story about how that operates. I was contacted by a person in one of the tabloids approximately two years ago and although I do not usually speak with such people, it was suggested to me that this was a good idea. The person claimed to be a student of mine and a big fan but just wanted to ask a few simple questions.

The Senator should stick to the amendment.

This is directly relevant. The person in question asked about the expenses. He asked if I lived on North Great George's Street and even I had the intelligence to answer that straight off. He asked if I worked in Leinster House and I said the questions were getting easier all the time and if I got a third one right, would I get to keep the sweets? The third question was how I could justify claiming €6,000 in travelling expenses the previous year. I asked the journalist how he would justify it and he told me he could not. I said that I could not do so either and that the journalist was referring to theper diem allowance. Not only that but I was the 59th of 60 Senators on the expenses list, with the only person claiming less being my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, who had just sold a supermarket empire. The headline detailing how politicians had their snouts in the trough had a photograph of me and indicated I got €6,000 in expenses. Every element of the story was true but when they were put together it was for the purpose of a toxic lie. Anybody who believes being open, honest and answering questions will completely resolve the problem is living in cloud cuckoo-land. I know that from a series of experiences, of which that is one.

The Independents should get support and we should be accountable. Every penny we get is recorded. I have said before that I go for unvouched expenses because I live an extremely busy life and although I am a hoarder and keep every scrap, I find it very difficult sometimes to find receipts, etc., or remember what has gone on. This would be fine if I could be provided with an accountant and I could be relieved of this duty. I do not want to be bothered by this obligation because I want to deal with the ideas that have me here in Parliament. I should not have to be an office boy checking receipts and keeping lists. I would go ahead with this if I had an accountant but not otherwise.

Senators should not think the media will be impressed by this as it will not. The media are between us and the people, and they can often argue that politicians are corrupt, on the take or liars. I hear that every single day.

I put up my hand to speak when the Senator stated that this side of the House voted against this amendment, which we did. As it stands, the amendment is flawed but the spirit behind it is good. Openness and transparency is very valuable in politics but we are not going to fix an entire system with this Bill. I agree with the spirit nonetheless.

We are all Senators and our category — in a party or Independent — is secondary. Independent Senators are governed and their expenses are as open as mine would be, except for the leader's allowance. We all have an allowance that can go to certain areas. The Independents' leader's allowance is different from the Senator's allowance but we are dealing with a Bill that comes under the auspices of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan.

We should compliment the Minister on a very far-reaching Bill but I will not mention the gender issue today because it is not relevant to the amendment. It is an historic day. This amendment may be under the wrong Department; as I stated the last day, the expenses of Members are not dealt with by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but the issue should be examined in a different sphere.

Keeping accounts is difficult and I would prefer if we got no expenses but had a proper salary for the job. Politics is getting a very bad name and although we are looking for women to get into politics, they will refuse to do so if there is such a bad name connected with expenses. Why not pay Senators and Deputies a decent salary and let them pay their own expenses and travel costs? They would be the same as everybody else. That is what I would like to see but it is not within the brief of this Bill.

I would like the Minister to take the issue to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, in order that we can have a debate in the proper place. I hope the issue comes back to the Chamber. I will only agree with the amendment if the Minister believes it appropriate to come in under his Department. I have sympathy with Senator Norris's comments and the way politics is funded currently is giving politicians a bad name. I do not like having to keep accounts and I would like to concentrate on the business of politics.

I am here on a full-time basis and have given up my previous work, as Senator Norris did. People very often write not about what is given up for politics but what a person takes from the job. We should all try to ensure politics gains a good name and we should put in the required hours. I am fully in favour of openness, accountability and transparency. The requirement to return money to the State does not only apply to Independents but also members of parties.

It is taxpayers' money.

Precisely. I would go along with the outlawing of expenses.

If salaries were increased to compensate for that, it would be presented as politicians taking an increase.

We are discussing Report Stage.

On the amendment, which proposes to substitute the word "Part" with the word "Parts", this is a grammatical issue. The word "Part" is the correct form because the word "Parts" refers to a subset of the overall amendment.

We are adding Part 10. It is a grammatical error.

I welcome the Minister back to the House and commend him for being one of only a few Government Ministers who attend the House to deal with business for which their respective Department is responsible.

I would not miss the Senator's contribution.

I commend Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout for the amendment, for which they should be applauded. It is appropriate that Independent Members should be paid an appropriate allowance for the reasons outlined by Senator Norris. To safeguard the allowance it should be accounted for and transparent. Political parties obtain funding from the State, that is, the taxpayer, and must account for it. It is only right, therefore, that Independent Members should account for allowances provided for them. For this reason, the Fianna Fáil Party will support the amendment should it be pressed by Independent Senators.

Having followed earlier contributions on the monitor, there is nothing to be feared from this welcome amendment and the Bill is appropriate legislation in which to insert it. Vouching expenses and recording legitimate expenditure is perfectly correct. I was one of 12 Members of the previous Dáil who was subject to an audit by Mazars. I ask the Minister to examine the costs incurred by the State as a result of the audit.

On allowances for Independents, while most of us are not accountants, it is not a big deal to retain and publish invoices for legitimate expenditure. I would not have any issue with such a requirement. My party was the first to publish detailed accounts this year. This is a step which all parties should take.

We have done so for years.

The Fine Gael Party has still not done so this year.

We have done it for years.

I will not get into the issue of lunches in New York and various other matters for which records are not available.

Do not bother.

No details were published about $5,000 per plate lunches that were held during the previous rainbow Government.

The Senator is going back a long way.

It was referred to in the Moriarty tribunal report.

We are discussing Report Stage.

Unfortunately, the Fine Gael Party leader and Taoiseach did not see fit to accept the findings of the Moriarty tribunal.

No, the Minister did not. Mr. Justice Moriarty made some serious statements with regard to testimonies which he set aside and with which he did not agree. That is another day's work.

The Moriarty tribunal report isultra vires as a subject for debate.

I should not have allowed the Minister to interrupt me. He knows what he is doing.

The Senator should get back to the point.

The Minister is goading the Senator.

Yes, but I am glad he is present as many of his ministerial colleagues do not bother coming to the House. What happened yesterday, for example, was an outrage. I ask the Minister to raise the matter.

I cannot do everything for the Senator.

The Minister is very good and does much work but the fact that the House had to adjourn yesterday because a Minister was not available——

The Senator is moving beyond the remit of the amendment. I must caution him.

I am suitably cautioned.

That the Independent Senators tabled the amendment demonstrates that they consider it necessary to introduce the proposed change. The issue of expenses is cannon fodder for the media should they wish to spin matters in a certain way. This then feeds into public perceptions. The Oireachtas should avail of all opportunities to make changes of this nature. There is nothing to be feared from vouching public expenses and my party will support the amendment.

Senator Keane referred to openness, transparency and accountability, a phrase the Fine Gael Party used while in power previously. She now has an opportunity to vote for these qualities and I assume she will support the amendment.

I endorse the comments made about the presence of the Minister. It is always a pleasure to welcome him to the House. Long may his visits continue. I must declare a slight personal interest. My late father, Joe Mooney, was a Member of the Seanad for a short while.

We are trespassing again on other matters.

If the Leas-Chathaoirleach bears with me, I will get to the point. My late father was an Independent councillor for some 20 years, most of which were during my growing period. I can remember him fighting elections as an Independent and coming up against the considerable resources political parties bring to bear when fighting elections. I have a great deal of empathy with Independent candidates given the financial burdens placed on them when contesting a Seanad, Dáil or council election. This burden increases considerably when they are elected.

I am interested in hearing the Minister's views on the amendment. As matters stand, the transparency and accountability sought in the amendment will not apply to current allowances. In one sense, I can understand the reluctance to go down this road. The allowance is currently granted to Independent Members and used, I presume, to enable them to compete with party representatives in getting a message across, influencing the flow of information and for the other activities associated with being an elected Member of Parliament.

While I support the amendment, I have a small but nagging doubt about opening up this particular avenue of discussion. On the one hand, we are all conscious of the media which are constantly looking for any opportunity to call politics and the political class to account and sell newspapers. The latter objective is the priority in many cases and is often cloaked in an argument about the public interest. My immediate reaction when I received a freedom of information request on the usage of printer cartridges was to ask how much further the media would go and if they would ask us to account for paper clips. As we have discovered since, the journalist in question knew a little more than the rest of us when he submitted the request.

I am curious to learn the Minister's views about the status quo. It is important that the allowance continues to be paid, which will be the case under the legislation. When the media get on a particular hobby-horse and apply pressure, as they have done during many Governments, the political class often responds in a knee-jerk fashion. If such pressure is applied in this case and the allowance comes under threat, it would not be in the best interests of or serve well the parliamentary and democratic process.

The Minister may correct me if I am wrong but a cursory reading of the information on allowances given to political parties indicates they are subject to specific guidelines. Do these guidelines apply across the board, including to allowances to Independent Members? It would be unfair if that were the case because one cannot compare an Independent Member with a party, which is an institution. I am curious to learn if the guidelines relating to spending the allowances, which appear restrictive, apply also to Independent Members. They should be applied in a more liberal manner to Independent allowances. That is an argument for another day, however.

Overall, there is no reason the Government should object to an initiative from Independents that seeks greater accountability for Independent Members. Addressing the reasons the allowance should be stopped could head off further attacks on the allowance.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 in the name of Senator Mac Conghail and others deal with the same related matter. Amendment No. 1 is a technical amendment to facilitate the insertion of the new Part X into the Electoral Act 1997, which is then provided for in amendment No. 3. A new Part X is proposed for insertion into the 1997 Act after the new Part IX, which section 27 of the Bill is inserting to provide for the disclosure of accounts by political parties. The purpose of the amendment is to require that Independent Members of the Oireachtas keep accounts for all payments other than the salary they receive arising out of the public execution of their duties.

I agree with the broad principle that has been expressed. The issue was raised by Senators Mac Conghail, van Turnhout and others on Committee Stage. I agree with the concept of bringing greater transparency and accountability to payments made to Independent Members of the Houses, but I cannot deal with a perception in this respect, much and all as Senator Mac Conghail indicates that there is a perception about this, in that the position must be legally sound. The Report Stage amendment he submitted does not refer to the appropriate Bill, and penalties for non-compliance were not included as part of the amendment. I have no difficulty about the spirit of what the Senator is seeking to do. These matters will be addressed and the Senator will not have to wait too long for that. Arrangements in respect of the payment of the party leader's allowance are made under different legislation, namely, the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act 2001. While I acknowledge it shows some ingenuity to bring this forward through this methodology, I assure Members that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is contemplating changes in the very near future. I expect that proposals will be passed to the Government in a matter of weeks regarding new arrangements in the spirit of what Senator Mac Conghail is seeking to enshrine in this legislation.

Therefore, the issue is not being kicked to touch. Everybody in the House feels the same as the Senator. Party leaders' allowances in respect of political parties are already audited. It does not happen in regard to Independent Senators or Deputies. It is an issue that has rightly been examined. I assure Senators that it is a matter that is receiving active consideration by the Minster, Deputy Howlin, and the contributions regarding the matter made in the House have been brought to his attention.

Senator Mac Conghail has a right to respond.

After that, is the discussion open-ended? The Leas-Chathaoirleach need not be concerned as I will not be open-ended in my response.

No, the Senator has a right to respond, following which he will have to decide whether he wishes to put the amendment to a vote.

Okay. I thank the Minister for his explanation. I wish to be clear on this issue, having regard in particular to what Senator Norris said. There is nothing naive about what I am proposing. I am not responding in any way to the media but to my responsibility as a parliamentarian who is being given taxpayers' money and being accountable for that. I could decide not to take the money but it is important the party leader's allowance is available to parliamentarians to execute their work and conduct their duties. If I am to accept that, as Senator Keane said, I must also accept the fact that I have to be accountable for it, to keep receipts and to make those public. It is not too onerous a task for anybody in that position. In my role as director of the Abbey Theatre, I am accountable and answerable to the Committee of Public Accounts for all my expenditure. I have to keep receipts in respect of my role there. That is a pattern or habit one gets into in the same way as one gets up in the morning or hits the snooze button on the clock radio. This is an important matter. I am not doing this for the sake of optics. I am not doing it to satisfy some media——

The perception is a legitimate one because there is a gap in the legislation, which we have raised. I accept the Minister's acknowledgement of the spirit in which I put forward this amendment. Senator Keane also mentioned the spirit of it in a teacherly way, but I know she was not too critical of me and noted it was loosely worded or not appropriate.

This is about joined-up thinking and having joined-up government. This is a highly appropriate way to work towards that. I offered the Minister the option to reword the amendment but it should be included in the Bill and there is no reason it should not. I genuinely do not feel naive, as Senator Norris said, in putting this forward.

The Minister has mentioned there are no penalties provided for in the amendment. It would be up to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, to include them. What I suggest, and I would be happy for——

That would not be up to the SIPO.

The commission could draw up guidelines on how our payment was monitored, addressed and all of that.

It would not be binding, as they would be only guidelines.

It does not have to be binding but we would have to comply with them and it would be our responsibility to do that. While I accept the veracity of what the Minister said and his signalling that this matter will come before the Cabinet in the next few weeks, I will be pressing the amendment.

I raised the issue of whether there is any difference in the guidelines between the application of party allowances——

The Minister has responded, unless he wants to make a further comment.

That is a matter for the Minister.

There is also the question of the allowance of expenses for tax purposes. It is an extremely important point, to which the Minister has not responded.

I do not want to put the Minister on the spot.

I remind Senators that we are dealing with a specific amendment.

I do not want to put the Minister on the spot. I was only asking the question. I am sure he will get the information.

I will give the Senator a note on it.

I thank the Minister.

Will the Minister also give me a note on the question I raised?

I will do the same for Senator Norris.

I very much thank the Minister.

Does the Minister wish to make a further comment or has he made his case?

Question put: "That the words and figure proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 17.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 22, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"85.—(1) There shall be immediate disclosure of all corporate and personal donations during a general election campaign.

(2) This disclosure is to commence on the date of the formal dissolution of the Dáil and to cease 6 months after the first sitting of the new Dáil.".

I formally congratulate the Minister on the overall tenor of the Bill and the amount of work that has been put into it. His rigorous and robust engagement with us, all the way from Second Stage, has been a learning curve for me and a deeply educational one. I have learned a great deal. I am very supportive of all the revised caps on donations and the increased transparency and accountability. However, one area that concerns me is the general election. What I am concerned about is a transparency issue with regard to who is funding political parties and candidates during a general election and how that might influence how we might vote. In addition, there is the issue of how it might influence certain decisions after the general election, or the perception - we are back to the concept of perception - of some decisions or appointments that might be made by future Ministers which might have a connection with the donations.

We are accepting all the Minister's arguments, following Committee Stage, regarding the caps on donations and the procedure surrounding the transparency and disclosure of donations. However, one area that requires additional discussion is the time of a general election. Again, I will refer to the Moriarty tribunal report on donations. These are not my words; I am invoking the Moriarty tribunal report because it provided the impetus, although I recognise that both the Labour Party and Fine Gael, in their own right, would have pushed this. The final report of the Moriarty tribunal published in 2011 says that donations should, if possible, be disclosed in something approaching a real time framework, for example, on the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, website, rather than waiting for an annual disclosure report. This is especially important during an election period, as is stated on page 13 of the final report. It is important that as many donations as possible are disclosed during the period surrounding an election.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister why what we are suggesting cannot happen. What we mean by immediate disclosure is that the period could be 48 hours — we are not talking about instantaneous disclosure — but we could find a way of resolving that. I will be happy to hear the Minister's view. The disclosure is to commence on the date of the formal dissolution of the Dáil and to cease six months after the first sitting of the new Dáil. The spirit of this amendment is to allow citizens to make a full and informed decision on how they might vote, in the knowledge of where the candidate, particularly the political party candidate, actually stands on particular issues and how they might support them. That is the basis for proposing this amendment.

I formally second the amendment.

As Senator Mac Conghail said, the immediate disclosure is something that would have to be examined, but I do not see any difficulty with that. There is no threshold in the amendment either. It could be helpful. There could be a way whereby when donations or contributions are lodged into the person's separate political account, that information could be forwarded on. I accept there would be administrative difficulty as well in calling for an immediate disclosure. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. We will decide on the basis of that response whether we will support this amendment.

Corporate donations are also mentioned in the amendment. As the Minister knows, we have put forward legislation in the Lower House to ban all corporate donations. The Government has taken the view that it would be unconstitutional but we do not agree. One of the reasons we will oppose this Bill is that, while it goes a long way towards that objective, there is no complete abolition of corporate donations.

It is part of the Ard-Fheis motion on gender.

I am glad to hear the Minister was watching it.

I read about it.

Good. I am sure we will be reading a great deal about the forthcoming Fine Gael Ard-Fheis with interest.

With regard to the gender motion, I do not believe it goes far enough. That is an amendment Senator Mac Conghail——

That is why the Senator opposed it at the Ard-Fheis.

No, it is why some of our delegates did, and they were perfectly entitled to do so. We run a democratic party. It is one member, one vote.

Slightly democratic and slightly constitutional.

It is not in the big divvy-up way that Fine Gael uses, where it pays for its delegates to come to get the punter it wants on the tickets. That is not the way it will be done in our party.

To clarify for the Minister, given that he showed such great interest in how some of our delegates voted, we are 100% in favour of greater female participation in electoral politics, but this Bill does not go far enough. It only deals with general elections and does not deal with local authority or Seanad elections. Most people will make their start in politics in a local authority election so the Minister should introduce the quotas at that stage. There is also the fact that the Minister has not seen fit to ban corporate donations. I will not mention the Moriarty tribunal report again as Senator Mac Conghail has outlined its view. The Minister should just go ahead and ban them. To allow for corporate donations in the Bill is not enough. However, I am interested in hearing the Minister's response to this amendment because I foresee a difficulty with the immediacy of disclosure of personal donations. We will decide whether to support the amendment on the basis of his response.

The amendment is similar to the one put forward on Committee Stage. However, it is now proposed to insert it in a different part of the Bill. The amendment seeks to introduce a provision for the disclosure of all donations once a general election is called. It is proposed for inclusion in the new Part IX of the Electoral Act 1997, which is being inserted by section 27 of this Bill. This new Part in the 1997 Act will provide for the preparation and publication of accounts by a political party. It does not deal in any way with the reporting of political donations at a Dáil general election. Those provisions are set out in Part IV of the Electoral Act 1997 which is titled "Disclosure of Donations". In addition, the amendment makes no provision for how donations would be declared, to which body they would be declared and what sanctions would apply. These are some of the technical reasons for not accepting the amendment even though the spirit of what is proposed by the Senators is not a difficulty. Practical issues arise.

I agree there must be more transparency about donations. The current system is badly in need of reform and I have already indicated that this is high on the agenda of the Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. However, in this legislation I have radically changed the thresholds and the donations that can be made, particularly in light of the constitutional issues. Rather than wait for the constitutional issues to be resolved by referendum, we proceeded on the basis of doing what is legally sound. Therefore, section 9 of the Bill provides for the lowering of the thresholds that must be declared to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. The threshold for disclosure by a political party is being reduced from €5,078 to €1,500 while the threshold for a Member of the Oireachtas, a Member of the European Parliament or a candidate in Dáil, Seanad or European Parliament elections is reduced from €634 to €600. There is a reduction in the threshold for donors other than companies, trade unions, societies or building societies in reporting donations to the SIPO from €5,078 to €1,500. Aside from these reductions in the declaration thresholds, the maximum amounts that can be accepted as a donation by a political party or a candidate are being significantly reduced. Corporate donations are also being substantially curtailed.

The principle underpinning the amendment is that all donations of all sizes should be subject to "immediate disclosure". The proposal would have serious negative consequences for the practical operation of politics. I do not believe in putting in place a system if it is not practically possible to implement it. This amendment could unwittingly tie the administration of the political donations system up in knots to the extent that people would genuinely find themselves in difficulty without that having been intended. I want candidates and political parties to be more accountable. I do not believe the approach that is proposed is feasible. I cannot imagine what public good would be served by reporting the name of every person who supports an election candidate by giving him or her a contribution of €10 or €20, or even by purchasing a €2 raffle ticket. That is what the effect of this amendment would be.

The threshold that would apply under this proposal is very low. Under this law, a poster in a shop window during an election campaign or sticker on a taxi could be regarded as a donation, and a corporate donation at that. The onus would be placed on the candidate to send a form to — presumably — the Standards in Public Office Commission immediately, reporting the receipt of such support. I do not think it is reasonable to require that every transaction be reported immediately, which is what the effect of this amendment would be. I suggest that if it were accepted, the Standards in Public Office Commission and the individual candidate would become bogged down in administration.

The Senator referred to the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal, to which the Government had regard in developing this legislation. The provision in the Bill relating to the publication of political party accounts will address the Moriarty tribunal recommendation that all the income of political parties should be disclosed. I am going beyond that by saying all the expenditure of political parties must also be opened to public scrutiny and reported. The tribunal recommended that all political donations apart from those under a modest threshold should be disclosed. The reductions I have outlined will address that issue in a substantial and significant way.

The reduction in the thresholds is a significant measure in its own right. It can be seen as part of a range of measures in the Bill that will have the cumulative effect of providing for a more open and transparent system of political funding and imposing a severe limitation on the scope for corporate influence on politics in Ireland. The problems in the current system have been clear for many years. This legislation will address the fact that too few donations fall within the net of disclosure.

The Minister has been admonishing me slightly in his responses by referring to the "spirit" of the legislation and the "technical" side of it. If this were a football match, the score would be "technical 2, spirit 0". Having said that, since the Second Stage debate we have been highlighting all the amendments we intended to table. Our previous amendment was defeated. I ask the Minister to bear in mind that this is not something we considered lightly before we brought it on board. Having listened to the Minister's comments and responses, I have decided not to press this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

As amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related, they may be discussed together, by agreement.

The difference between the amendments is that amendment No. 5 relates to local elections. We would not like to think——

Would the Senator prefer them to be discussed separately?

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 26, line 31, to delete "30 per cent" and substitute "40 per cent".

We outlined our position strongly during the previous Stages of this debate. I will not reiterate all of the reasons we believe this legislation should be amended to provide for a gender threshold of 40%. We welcome the Bill and support it fully. In 2003, the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution stating that the representation of women or men in any decision-making body in political or public life should not fall below 40%. Therefore, it is disappointing that a level of 30% has been proposed. According to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the figure in question should be at least 30% but preferably 35% or 40%. We are asking why the introduction of a 40% level is being delayed. If we wait for the natural electoral cycle to run its course — the Government may wish this Parliament to run for a full term — it could be more than ten years before we get to 40%. The figure of 30% is the bare minimum that has been recommended. It does nothing other than delay the inevitable.

Women play a significant role in each of this country's political parties. It is interesting to note that 42% of the members of the Minister's party — Fine Gael — are female. His Government colleagues in the Labour Party have 37% female membership. The relevant figures for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are 34% and 24%, respectively. We have proposed this amendment because we believe it will take more than a decade for us to get to 40% — the level that is recommended in many reports — if we proceed in the manner provided for in this Bill as it stands. We believe that now is the time to be introducing a 40% requirement. We do not understand why it is being deferred. On the basis of the figures from last year's general election, to move from 30% to 40%, in line with the Council of Europe recommendation, Fine Gael would have to find 24 more female candidates and the Labour Party would have to find 12 more female candidates.

That is no problem.

Exactly. There are 2.25 million women to choose from. I do not understand why there will be a delay in moving to 40%. The Government can do it without a problem. There are more than 2 million females in this country. I do not believe the political parties cannot find the candidates to get us to 40%.

I would like to second this amendment, which arises from the Committee Stage debate. We might have to wait until seven years after the next election. It is very convoluted. We think the Seanad should be brave and progressive. I know many people have a difficulty with the setting of quotas in the first place. We have accepted and put aside the problematic aspects of that. It would be clear and progressive to set the target at 40%. It is a question of equality. I assume the Government will last for another four years, but the next one might not last as long. Potentially, we might have to go through another three general elections before the 40% target is reached. That is why I am seconding and supporting this amendment.

In keeping with what Senator Mac Conghail said, I am in favour of the spirit of the amendment but against it on a technical level. I do not have a difficulty with the proposal to start at 30%. That was recommended in the report that was produced by the Oireachtas joint committee in 2009. That recommendation was based on the Belgian model, which involves starting with a target of one third. Such a level would represent a doubling of the proportion of candidates who were women at the last election. If it were achieved, it would mark significant progress in itself.

Although I have no difficulty with keeping the 30% figure as a starting point, I would like to see change in another respect. Would it be possible to reduce the timeframe within which the target will remain at 30% before increasing it to 40%? If that cannot be done in this House, I ask the Minister if it could be done in the Dáil. The Bill as it stands specifies a starting point of 30% at the next general election, to increase to 40% seven years after the date of that election. I would like the period within which the 40% target must be reached to be reduced somewhat. If we were to provide for a five-year period, that would be more closely aligned to the election cycle. That would give us a realistic chance of progressing to the 40% level that all Senators on this side of the House agree with. While I do not have a difficulty with the proposal to start at 30%, I would like us to agree on a reduction in the time it will take us to get to the 40% target.

I am in agreement with the spirit of the amendment. The legislation currently refers to "at least 30 per cent". I encourage all parties to ensure they reach a level of 40%. They will not be prevented from having 40%. They will need to have at least 30%. I urge all parties to strive to achieve 40%. If the Government established a committee to examine legislation and make recommendations, we would criticise it if it were to ignore those recommendations. Senator Bacik mentioned that the committee she chaired recommended that a level of 30% be provided for. I suppose that was the benchmark. In the 1992 general election, 18.5% of all candidates were women. That figure increased to 19.8% in 1997 before dropping to 18.1% in 2002. It decreased further to 17.6% in 2007 and to 15.5% in 2011. By ensuring 30% of candidates will be women, we will almost double the 2011 figure. I recognise that everybody would like to see an equal number of men and women being selected, as the 50:50 by 2020 group which was set up to look at the issue of gender representation is aiming for, but we must walk before we can run. This is a significant advancement in politics. I was not totally in favour of having a quota system, but European-wide statistics have convinced me otherwise. It is the way to go and I have sympathy for the Fianna Fáil Party Members who voted against quotas at their Ard Fheis. When everybody examines the European statistics, it is in our interests to go along with the political parties. I also join Senator Ivana Bacik in asking the Minister to look at the length of term and reduce it to five years.

As women cut their teeth in local politics, we should have another look at the local elections. As this is not referred to in the amendment, I cannot dwell on the point. However, it is important that women are chosen to contest winnable seats. I ask the parties to ensure female candidates are not political fodder but chosen to contest winnable seats. Let us look at the French experience — the parties knew that if female candidates did not contest seats, they would pay the penalty; therefore, female candidates had to contest seats that were not winnable. The French used both methodologies. I do not suppose any political party in Ireland would dream of doing this.

The former Minister Ms Gemma Hussey is in the Visitors Gallery and I welcome her to the House.

I concur with Senator Ivana Bacik that we need to consider reducing the seven year period, as that would be of benefit. We would like to see more women involved in politics. In practical terms, as Senator Cáit Keane said, if we start with a figure of at least 30% of candidates being women, it gives everybody involved in the political parties the chance to engage in a proper debate and to find women who are almost on the cusp of entering politics. If we were to increase the figure to 40%, perhaps we might be looking for women who were not quite ready. Given that confidence has been spotted as a problem, forcing people before they are ready to become involved may have a perverse effect and we might find the number falling back in subsequent elections. I am very happy, therefore, with the starting figure of 30%, but I would like to see the period of seven years being reduced to five, as this would go a long way in the direction of the spirt of the amendment.

I like the idea of 40% of candidates being women, but Senator Ivana Bacik has come up with a very good compromise by suggesting we reduce the timescale within which we arrive at the 40% figure. The real challenge for women, as Senator Cáit Keane pointed out, is to have the female candidates who stand for election in the coming years elected. We know how most of the party organisations are male dominated; therefore, it would be a very good idea if all parties agreed — even though this is not included in the legislation — that at least 30% of the candidates chosen to stand in the next local elections in 2014 would be female. I know the Fine Gael Party intends to do this and hope all other parties will show good faith and agree voluntarily to do the same. I would like to support the amendment tabled by Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout, but a figure of 30% is more realistic at this point. I, therefore, ask the Minister to consider, as Senator Ivana Bacik requested, reducing the timescale within which the 40% figure will be reached.

I welcome the suggestion in respect of a figure of 30%. It would be interesting to know the Minister's rationale for not increasing it to 40% or even 50%.

As a practising politician of long standing, I can assure Members this will not be an easy target to achieve, even if it is supported by legislation. There are various reasons which prevent the participation of women in politics, which do not apply to men. In the Bill we have adopted an ambitious but also a pragmatic approach to double the level of female participation. We must phrase it in such a way that women will make up at least 30% of candidates. Political parties are very conscious of the fact that if they do not address this issue, they will lose the opportunity to gain support and there is nothing that concentrates the minds of political parties and their candidates more than receiving enhanced popular support by ensuring a balanced gender ticket. If we do not incorporate this provision in legislation, we will have the same opportunities described by Senator Cáit Keane in filling in the ballot paper. With the forthcoming local elections due to take place in 2014, I imagine all political parties will be mindful of the fact that they will be heading into a general election in 2016 in which at least 30% of candidates will have to be women. It is deemed this will be difficult, which is the reason we are introducing this provision. The local elections will provide the opportunity for political parties to address the issue.

Some 85% of candidates elected to the Dáil have come through the local elections process. It would be very foolhardy of any political party to ignore this fact, or not to make plans to ensure the provision that 30% of candidates be female will be adhered to. In starting with a figure of 40% we would be setting the bar too high, as the last thing anybody wants to do is fail. One would exert pressure on the system, but we would end up with tokenism. If people come through the local elections system, they get a flavour of what is involved in politics and whether it would suit them. That applies equally to male and female candidates.

I am not going to change the stance I have taken on the basis that I am seeking to double the level of participation by women in politics in the next general election. As it is linked with the funding of the political process through the votes cast in the general election, there will be a penalty for not doing so. Some political parties may get around this provision by stating they will pay the penalty and will be happy to have their funding reduced by 50%, but I do not think political parties will be inclined to take this option. However, some might wish to do so.

I hope the spirit of what we are trying to achieve in an ambitious way is accepted. I am delighted that Senator Jillian van Turnhout who talked about sunset clauses in order to ensure female representation and was against quotas during the Second Stage debate now wants to enhance the provision in order that there will be a ratio of 50:50. I am delighted that we have converted her.

While I do not like quotas, I like the results. That is the reality.

I am the same.

The Minister referred to the local elections, on which I will comment during the debate on our next amendment. He has made some valid points which underline the next amendment which we tabled. In spite of the number of female Deputies rising slightly since 1997, the overall percentage of women standing in general elections is decreasing. We must be more ambitious. Previously we debated ways by which we could reduce the time period involved because it could take several elections to get to the figure of 40%. Our group has the greatest difficulty with the fact that potentially it will take a considerable length of time for us to increase the level of representation from 30% to 40%, a point the Minister did not address.

No, I am sorry I did not have an opportunity to address that issue. The latest date by which the quota of 40% of candidates being women must be reached is 2020. That is a reasonable period for political parties to prepare properly to reach in an ambitious and pragmatic way the participation level by both sexes we want to reach in elections. For the next election the gender quota is 30% and for the subsequent election, 40%.

Question put: "That the figure and words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crown, John.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 27, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"29.—Section 17 of the Act of 1997 is amended by inserting the following subsection after subsection (4A) (inserted by section 50(c)(iv) of the Act of 2001):

"(4B) All political parties shall endeavour to reach the quota of at least 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women in local elections by 2019.".".

Our final amendment is about quotas in local elections. This is the first time I have gone through a Bill and the Minister and I have been very intimate since Report Stage. I listened to his comments on Second Stage and on Committee Stage regarding the fact that no sanctions that can be imposed regarding local elections. We tabled a series of amendments on Committee Stage about the general election, Seanad elections and local government elections. The Minister quite rightly pointed out that we could not look at any quota for Seanad elections because they are not within the remit of the Bill as political parties do not necessarily control the quotas or the candidates who go for election to the Seanad.

There was also a very good debate about local elections. I am reminded of what Senator Keane said on Committee Stage. The spirit of the discussion about local elections was that, while we cannot have sanctions, we should encourage, inspire and possibly blackmail, although not through sanctions. We are proposing this amendment because there should be a quota at local elections. The Bill does not require quotas to be applied at local level, as political experience is one of the most important criteria in the selection of candidates by political parties, but women make up only 16% of local councillors. The application of quotas for local elections would seem, in my view, to be an appropriate way to tackle the barriers. In our debate on amendment No. 4, the Minister was eloquent in saying we should start at a local level.

I am sure the Minister is going to hit me on the head with a technical criticism of the amendment.

Exactly. I look forward to the Minister's response on this because a Bill should inspire and encourage and be a guidance to us, as parliamentarians and as citizens, to make our political culture better and more equal, where men and women can participate.

This is a non-binding and aspirational clause in the Bill which calls on all political parties to reach a quota. I know Niamh Gallagher from the 5050 Group which is proposing equal representation by 2020, but our amendment proposes equal representation by 2019. We are looking at encouraging political parties at a local level to fast-track this over two general elections. This amendment does not propose any sanctions in the Bill, because that cannot happen, which I learned from the Minister on Committee Stage. We are proposing that all political parties endeavour to reach the quota of at least 50% men and 50% women in local elections by 2019.

I second this amendment. We are missing an opportunity by not applying the gender quotas to local elections. I agree fully with the 5050 Group and its contention that for quota legislation to be meaningful and to work, it must be extended to local government. By failing to do that, we will run the risk of making the same mistake that was made in France, to which Senator Keane referred, where women who do not come from a political family are effectively excluded from entering local politics and thus gaining political legitimacy within their constituency, which is often what is needed to succeed at a general election.

To be truly effective in the long term, quotas cannot be introduced in isolation. New candidates should be given every opportunity to build up the skills and the experience that would allow them to achieve their full potential. As the majority of Members in this House and the Minister himself began politics at a local level, they should be more than aware of the invaluable experience that can be derived from participating in local democracy before moving on to the national Legislature. Excluding local government from gender quota legislation denies potential female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy that would protect new female candidates from any allegations of tokenism.

The amendment we have put forward is non-binding. It states "shall endeavour", but it is an important principle that local elections are included in this Bill to set down a clear marker for the parties that they need to ensure that in the 2014 local elections and the subsequent 2019 elections, they will strive to increase female participation.

I agree with this amendment. Why does the Bill not deal with local authority elections or Seanad elections? Is the Government pre-empting the judgment of the people in the forthcoming Seanad referendum, meaning that the Seanad is not included in the Bill? I caution the Minister on that issue as well, because the Government pre-empted the decision of the people before on the investigations referendum.

As Senator van Turnhout said, most of us began our careers at local authority level. It is where most politicians who serve in the Oireachtas start their careers. It would seem sensible to apply the gender balance quotas at a local authority level, as that is where most people start out. It seems to be a glaring omission from the Bill. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views as to why it is not included. Has he plans to address that matter? Why are quotas for political parties in elections for Seanad Éireann not mentioned in the Bill?

I welcome former Senator Gemma Hussey to the Seanad. She did much work in this area and I thank her for it. She is still working with the various groups that have been set up to ensure that women are educated. Much work remains to be done besides introducing quotas. We must get to the bottom of the problem. I will not make a Second Stage speech, but quotas are one thing and preparatory work by parties is also important.

I proposed the use of quotas in local elections. Unless a measure is mandatory and a fine can be imposed for non-compliance, political parties will not comply with the measure. Before the local elections in 1991, in my innocence I wrote to every political party in my ward asking them not to put up posters. I was thinking of reduce, re-use and recycle and thought we would come to a local agreement. I have learned much since. If you cannot beat them, you must join them.

Senator Keane joined a couple of parties in her time. She has more experience than most of us.

She joined every party but Senator O'Brien's.

She is not finished yet.

I am not confused in any way.

We have too many looking to get in.

At a recent Fine Gael party conference, I heard the general secretary of my party say that Fine Gael would be seeking to reach the quota at the next local elections, but in a voluntary capacity.

I ask the Minister to seek a way to impose sanctions. The amendment, as worded, is pie in the sky. I have learned from experience that pie in the sky will not work. There must be a sanction and it must be implemented.

I ask all parties to draw up a pact and to have voluntary quotas.

It did not work with the posters.

That is what I am trying to do.

I welcome former Senator, Deputy and Minister, Ms Gemma Hussey, who has done so much to improve the position and increase the number of women in politics. I know she is continuing to do great work in that area with the 5050 Group.

I would like to see this principle extended to local and European elections, as recommended by the 2009 report on women in politics by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights. The difficulty is how to do that. Where is the sanction? As we saw in all the research done in other countries, a sanction on parties who do not comply with the target is critical. That is the difficulty with local elections. I hope parties will endeavour to reach quota targets in the local elections, in preparation for the targets which will be enforceable in the next general election.

I reiterate to the Minister my wish that the seven years between the targets of 30% and 40% be reduced to five years. That would be a major step forward and would have a significant knock-on effect on the local elections.

Senator Mac Conghail is correct. There are a number of technical issues.

I am relieved. Go raibh maith agat, a mháistir.

When I explain I am sure the Senator will accept my bona fides. The language he used suggests that it would not be a binding requirement. I note the provision proposed is for political parties to, "endeavour to reach the quota of at least 50% men and 50% women in local elections by 2019". Unwittingly, the use of the word "endeavour" means that we do not have to do it, or even to reach the 30% required by the legislation. In terms of legal soundness, that provides a difficulty.

Apart from that, where there are two genders it is not possible to have at least 50% men and 50% women. It must be either one or the other. I got the Senator.

It took the Minister a month.

The fundamental issue is to link the provisions in the Bill to local election candidate selections. I do not rule out reviewing the legislation after the 2014 local elections to see what has happened among political parties during the course of that election, but I do not want to be too prescriptive. People in all political parties, or none, should be trying to embrace what we are trying to do here anyway. Women are under-represented and have been since the foundation of the State. The situation will not change unless we take some action. We are taking a practical approach in the Bill. It is the first time it has ever happened. I hope political parties will, to borrow a well worn phrase, embrace the spirit of what we are trying to do here, which is to bring greater gender equality to candidate selection at general elections. I also hope the potential loss of half the funds from the State will focus minds.

With regard to Seanad elections, there is a panel system and representative bodies must make nominations for 43 of the 60 seats. I do not believe it is appropriate for me to dictate to those organisations that have only one nomination — others have the right to nominate two — and to be too prescriptive in telling them how to do their business. I hope the organisations that have two nominations would nominate at least one woman, on a voluntary basis. We might make representations to the organisations to be mindful of gender balance in making their selections.

I also expect that the new provisions of the Bill will provide the necessary catalyst for improvements at local elections. Practical experience suggests that if a target is set, with a number of years to achieve it, incremental moves will be made along the way in order to achieve the objective. In this case, there will be a legally binding provision on political parties. There is nothing like money and a financial penalty to concentrate the mind.

Some in the House, and elsewhere, believe the Bill goes too far. I respect those opinions. No matter what one does one will please some people and not others. I hope we have hit a balance and that we point the way forward nonetheless. The 30% quota will apply in the 2016 general election. After that, we will make incremental moves to enhance the figure to 40%. I am mindful of what Senator Bacik said earlier and we will look at that when we debate the Bill in the Dáil.

The Bill balances our legal and constitutional responsibilities against a clear need and desire to bring about significant change. If some people do not agree with the Bill I hope they will realise that we are making a genuine effort to ensure that we have at least 30% female and male representation in the next Oireachtas. The Bill gives people the opportunity to participate. It is then up to the people to decide whether they want to have at least 30% of both genders in the House. With this measure, we have gone a fair step of the way in making an important development in political reform.

The technical matters I referred to deprive me of the opportunity to support the Senator's amendment.

The technicalities win.

I acknowledge the work of former Senator Gemma Hussey. My first ever political action was to help her in her first Seanad election. Before computers were used, I addressed thousands of envelopes in Dartry Park. I remember that very well and I am proud to have supported her such a long time ago.

Senator Keane is a little churlish about this proposal, when she says it is pie in the sky. I find this slightly disrespectful. The idea of the amendment is to show leadership and a sense that this House can encourage additional political participation at a local level. I do not care whether the word used is "endeavour", "will", "able" or "should". I thought there should be generosity in the Government parties. They had plenty of time to come up with their own amendment. Our amendments were submitted very early. The amendment regarding the 40% quota was submitted particularly early because we could not accept that we will have to wait seven years after the next general election to reach that percentage. There was a lack of clarity on the part of the Government parties in explaining this. We were the ones driving this on Second Stage. We were the one who highlighted the fact that the duration was seven years, which was why we pressed the motion. The Bill will have a profound impact on the political culture and level of participation in politics in this country and as such, I broadly accept it and congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. I also commend him for his good humour and technical ability to admonish me. However, with no disrespect to him, we will press the amendment.

On a point of order, I was not admonishing the Minister on the title of the Bill; rather it was the concept of voluntarism and——

The Senator should stand when she is addressing the House.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 30.

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 37; Níl, 8.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 12.30 p.m. next Wednesday, 21 March 2012.