Order of Business

The Order of Business on International Women's Day, 8 March 2017, is-----

On a point of order, given that it is International Women's Day, on which the Leader has just congratulated all of us, perhaps it might be nice for females to lead today.

That might be an interesting point, but it is not a point of order.

The race to populism never ceases to amaze me.

It is not populism. I am referring to the day that is in it.

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on Seachtain na Gaeilge, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 2.10 p.m.; and No. 3, Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each. Private Members' business, motion re economic importance of tourism to Ireland, will be taken at 2.15 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

I would like to share co-leadership of this side of the House with my colleague, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, to mark-----

Normally, I would not allow it, but in view of the fact that this is International Women's Day, I will make an exception, if the House agrees. Will I stop the Senator after one minute or two minutes?

The Cathaoirleach need only give me one minute. He can give two minutes to my co-leader.

It is sad that International Women's Day is being marked by the issue of Grace and the disgraceful failure of the system. I know that the Leader is organising another debate on the issue tomorrow, but we want the terms of reference to be expanded to include the 46 others who were in the foster home. In 1992 bruising and injuries were noticed on a another person living in the home, yet nothing happened and people continued to be sent to it. In a land where there are no consequences, things continued to happen and we hear the same thing over and over again. Committee Stage of the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill will be taken in the House in April. We want people who fail to go to jail for their actions. We will make sure the Bill is passed by the House because the best thing we can do is not to have endless discussions about the past but rather discuss how we can change the actions of people in the future.

I thank the Senator for being precise.

I thank my colleague Senator Mark Daly, a well known feminist. I am glad to share time with him on International Women's Day. People might laugh, but he has always supported women, as have my colleagues.

I make reference to what Deputy Micheál Martin said on radio today when he referred to the savage treatment of women and their children in mother and baby homes across the country. He referred, in particular, to the Tuam mother and baby home and the appalling testimonies we have heard in the past few years. I have been appalled and shocked by how the women were treated. They were seized from their homes and dragged kicking and screaming to mother and baby homes where their children were neglected and died. They lived with the stigma and shame for the rest of their lives. They were not able to conduct their lives in the same manner as plenty of men who were pillars of the community and faced no consequences for their actions. They were allowed to continue being pillars of the community. We need to examine our treatment of the women concerned and their children. It is not something that is in the past; they are still living among us in communities.

We need to show compassion to women who have gone through appalling atrocities, as well as to their children and grandchildren. Many generations of people have suffered the consequences of these mother and baby homes. We also make the connection to what is going on at present with the many women and children in direct provision, a matter which has not been addressed. There is a dreadful lack of funding for women's refuges right across the country. In my own constituency it is at an appalling level. I woke up this morning to hear a mother and two children had lost their lives in Clondalkin while living in a women's refuge. We need to find out if this refuge was overcrowded, causing the fire to spread quicker and causing these three unfortunate and beautiful people to lose their lives. It is not good enough. We did not treat women with respect in the past and we need to get our act together in the present.

I am sorry there is not a female here in this seat to represent International Women's Day. As the brother of eight sisters, the husband of a wonderful wife and the father of an equally wonderful daughter----

That qualifies you, Senator.

-----I hope the ladies rock on and have a great day.

This morning, however, I wish to speak briefly about Paddy Power Betfair, who reported profits yesterday of €1.5 billion. Of those profits, €853 million come from their online gambling outlets. We have been talking about a gambling Bill in this House for some time. I wonder how many children went without their dinner in order that Paddy Power could make €1.5 billion, and how many households suffered in order that the Paddy Powers of this world could make such profits. Gambling is the secret addiction that nobody knows about until all hell breaks loose. A man came to me almost three years ago to tell me he had lost €80,000 and was going home to tell his wife that day. He used to wake up in the middle of the night and take out his iPhone in order to bet on ridiculous things. We heard the story in the audiovisual room not so long ago about the postmaster who gambled €10.9 million of the post office's money - not his own - and went to jail for it.

While Paddy Power can make his profit, I know the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald are anxious to do something on this issue. There are major problems with technology moving faster than legislation. I ask the Leader to convey a request to the Minister that when we bring the gambling Bill into the House, it should be flexible enough to allow for ministerial orders to meet these challenges. Gambling is destroying lives. It was gambling of one sort or another that led to the collapse of the economy. Can we please try to bring the gambling Bill in as quickly as possible? It is absolutely disgusting to see this amount made in profits from gambling.

Next I call the lady who stopped me in my tracks, Senator Conway-Walsh.

You are not the first man I stopped in his tracks, a Chathaoirligh.

All joking aside, I extend my sincere sympathy and that of my Sinn Féin colleagues to the families of the young woman and the two children who lost their lives in the unfolding tragedy in Clondalkin this morning. May they rest in peace.

Guím sonas don Teach ar Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan. Happy International Women's Day to everybody here, including the men. I congratulate all the women who participated in the recent elections in the North and all those who were elected. From my own party, 11 women, or some 40% of successful candidates, were elected. It is a great achievement and certainly a sign of progress.

This is a time for us to reflect on what it means to be a woman in Ireland today. This week, we have been reminded again of how women and their babies were treated by society, the State and religious institutions. We would all like to think that discrimination against and marginalisation and alienation of women no longer exists. We would like to think it is a thing of the past, that we all know better now, and that religious orders no longer have the power and control that they once had. In saying that, I want to commend the goodness and kindness that was prevalent in many religious institutions such as hospitals and schools. I experienced the kindness of some of those nuns in the Convent of Mercy in Belmullet, County Mayo.

It is of grave concern to me that we as legislators are living and working through a period which, I have no doubt, will form the basis of tribunals and inquiries in the future. This morning, I saw a young girl in her school uniform leaving for school from the hotel I was staying in last night. In 20, 30 or 40 years' time, this girl may come back and ask us why she did not deserve a home and why she had to live in a hotel room. She may ask us how she could have been expected to fulfil her true potential when she did not have a place to do her homework. There may be many other questions. She may ask why she was made to feel different, afraid and ashamed because she did not have a home like other girls and boys in the class. I wonder what answers and legal terms we will come up with in the future to answer such questions. The task will not fall to those whose economic policies wrecked the heart of our country, or to those who now refuse to put it right. Are they not the people who should hang their heads in shame?

Today, I also think of the hundreds of girls and boys who have been identified as being at risk and have not even been allocated a social worker. When they ask why no one came to save them from neglect, abuse and fear, what will we say? Last week, Safe Ireland told us that 5,000 requests for help have been turned away. What will we tell those people? Do my colleagues think we will get away with telling them we needed to pursue policies that create an ever increasing number of millionaires and billionaires, and therefore could not find the money to keep them safe? Happy International Women's Day.

The European Commission has declared 2017 the European year of focussed action to combat violence against women and girls. Women and girls with migrant backgrounds, refugee women, asylum seekers, women and girls with disabilities, lesbians, transgender and intersex women, Roma women and children, Muslims, black women, homeless women, elderly and young women - the list goes on. There is hardly a group of women that is not on it. Women and children with disabilities are on that list as well. This is a massive issue.

Anna Peláez, the chair of the women's committee of the European Disability Forum, is calling for the immediate ratification of the Council of Europe's Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, that is, the Istanbul convention. That convention has implications for the convention on the rights of people with disabilities. Dr. Edith Schratzberger-Vecsei, the president of the European Women's Lobby, addressed the issue today while marking International Women's Day. She said we must break the silence around violence against women and girls and that we need to speak up. She asked how much more evidence we need before decision makers will take action, and how many more women should be beaten, raped, killed, prostituted, or harassed before Europe will find it unacceptable.

There was a Malta joint statement of 3 February this year which involved three key institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council Presidency. They made a strong call for action to the member states, which includes little Ireland, asking them to ratify and fully implement the Istanbul convention. Women with disabilities are two to five times more likely to be victims of violence than non-disabled women and are subject to sterilisation and abortions, often against their will. There are 46 million women and girls with disabilities in Europe, representing 60% of the disabled population of Europe. Some 34% of women with a health problem or disability experience physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime.

The House must debate the Malta joint statement and the Istanbul convention. I ask the Leader to facilitate that discussion.

Today marks an important anniversary relating to certain former Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It was 35 years ago today that the then Deputies Tony Gregory and Charles Haughey signed the Gregory deal.

I thank the Senator for that historic information.

Like everyone else, when I woke up this morning I heard on "Morning Ireland" about the families who so sadly lost their lives in the fire in Clondalkin. I express my deep sympathy and that of my party to those families and their extended relatives. It brings us back to Senator Devine's Commencement debate yesterday on the fire services and the need to ensure that a fire service is on-call in Dublin to save lives. I ask everybody to go back into talks to avoid a strike in Dublin. That is very important.

It is International Women's Day and there are many "why" questions. Why is there still such a large pay gap between men and women for carrying out the same work? The last real progress made was when Proinsias de Rossa introduced legislation on equal pay for equal work. At that time, it was resisted by many in society. Why did the Labour Party have to have its policy of gender quotas to ensure that women had an opportunity to run in elections? That legislation was brought in during the last Government when we were in coalition with Fine Gael and it has worked to a degree. We have seen many more women elected with very high quality and standards. They should have been elected without gender quotas. Why did we need to introduce that legislation in Ireland? Why did my party have to fight for two decades for the X case legislation? We got that legislation through with great difficulty during the last term in government. Why did we have such a regressive amendment to the Constitution in 1983? We are still fighting to repeal the eighth amendment, which was an amendment put down that did not trust women. I am probably one of the few people in the House who fought and canvassed in that referendum campaign against the amendment.

I apologise to Senator Norris. I did not think he was old enough. There are many "Whys" in relation to inequality and discrimination against women in the State and we must keep battling to change that. The next major battle is to convince people about why the eighth amendment is so wrong. I look forward to joining, hopefully, many colleagues in the House, to try to win a referendum on the eighth amendment. For that, we must appeal to everybody. We must be careful of our language in talking about repealing the eighth and be respectful to all sides. I hope the referendum can be fought in the same spirit as the marriage equality referendum and that we can discuss facts, women's health and the need for people to be treated equally.

At the outset, I wish our women colleagues here and women all around the country a happy, productive and satisfactory International Women's Day. Following Senator Humphreys, I am very proud to have been a Member of the Oireachtas and part of the last Administration which brought in gender quotas. It was very significant legislation and very important for women. It was important to help them to break through that glass ceiling.

The events of recent days and all the unfolding information in our media highlights the neglect of children in the past. We are all horrified by that and cannot escape addressing it, remembering it, talking about it and acting to remediate it where we can. On account of that, it also behoves us to ensure that we treasure, value and celebrate the children of today in an appropriate fashion. We must compensate for and not repeat the ills of the past. That is a great onus on all of us. In that context, I address to the Leader the question of teenage discos for very young teenagers. The Leader might ask why, but I was approached recently by a parent who spent a night by a child's bed not knowing until morning if that child would recover from an alcohol overdose at one of these teenage discos. I am familiar on a number of fronts with the phenomenon of very young teenagers going to teenage discos. The premises they go to may be licensed but no alcohol is served in the room reserved for the disco. However, there is alcohol around it and an introduction to drugs around it. There are also other issues and problems because the children do not have the necessary emotional maturity. They are very young and they are being exploited by the money they pay to go in and in other ways.

There should be identity cards and an age threshold. People should not be fit to access these discos until they are 16. They can have private things at family level or in schools. This is a very serious matter for many parents. I have met people with harrowing stories. It would break one's heart to listen to them. I note the trauma in the house after what the parent mentioned above described to me. I ask the Leader to bring the relevant Minister to the House for a debate. It is up to the Minister and the civil servants in the Department to come up with possible solutions. One is identity cards and another is a minimum age for these events. The phenomenon of very young kids going to these discos is shocking, serious and has awful implications.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoi shláinte na tíre agus an fhadbh nach bhfuil dóthain dochtúirí teaghlaigh ann don daonra. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the chronic shortage and lack of GPs throughout the country. I have been contacted by a number of people from different parts of the country who have told me stories of people moving into towns and being told that no GP was capable of taking them on. They are all snowed under with work as things stand. I know of a family in County Monaghan who moved to Carrickmacross and of two who moved to Monaghan town. The families tramped around both towns trying to find a GP to take them on with no success. The question is where these people are meant to go and what happens if one of their children or if a parent gets sick. We cannot send them to accident and emergency departments as these are overcrowded as it is and we cannot send them to the doctor on call because that service is not set up properly for that purpose. Without a properly functioning primary care service, we are in serious trouble. Things have got to crisis point and it is time the Minister for Health came to the House to advise us and, indeed, the people of this country what he intends to do about the chronic shortage of GPs throughout the State.

The lead story in The Irish Times today is that An Post has warned that it will be unable to pay its wage bill next month. That is the main story in our national newspaper today. There are clearly many issues about An Post and the future. We had some debate around the fringes of an amendment with the Minister yesterday but we need him to come back now. Last week, we were told that possibly 80 rural post offices would close. The CEO of An Post has rejected on the record an injection of €56 million in cash as a result of the Kerr report. He says it is not doable and that he cannot operate within that. He claims the overall operation is losing a substantial amount of money and that it needs a bigger and more sustainable plan. An Post itself has commissioned its own report from the McKinley Consulting Group which will report back to the board. That is somewhat different from the Kerr report which was commissioned earlier.

We now hear that a survival operation must be put together. An Post must be sustained. However, this is all very different to the programme for Government, which I read this morning. Page 48 sets out a new model for An Post. There is a commitment to community hubs and a new banking system in An Post. The Government committed to investigating the German Sparkasse model for the development of local banks in post offices, in addition to making them a hub for social welfare and motor tax services that would keep post offices in place in rural communities. That was part of the Government's commitment to sustaining rural communities. The programme for Government also referred to the establishment and further expansion of the post office network across the country. Could the Leader arrange to have the Minister with responsibility for An Post come to the House? All the post offices and communities around the country need to know what the Government policy is and what is the plan. There is no better person than the Minister to come to the House. It would be very helpful if the Leader could facilitate a debate in the Seanad on post offices.

I support International Women's Day. A number of articles in today's newspapers are about how women are to the fore in terms of some of the top jobs. An issue raised by my colleague, Deputy Madigan, in the Dáil relates to the reference in the Constitution to a woman's place in the home and she is introducing legislation to try to get that changed. It is 2017 and that is at odds with the reality and the many positive roles women play, and the fact that there are so many women both in this House and in the Dáil as well. I encourage all Members to support the change to Bunreacht na hÉireann when the legislation comes forward.

Guím Seachtain - nó coicís - na Gaeilge faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise ar gach éinne, agus guím Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise ar na mná ar fad atá anseo. I understand that women staff and students are picketing NUIG today as part of an international women's strike in more than 50 countries and that issues concerning gender equality in NUIG are far from sorted and may in fact be deteriorating. Despite lots of talk of change and new initiatives being announced at the university, it appears that the underlying issues that gave rise to a number of high profile court cases have not been adequately addressed and that things may in fact be getting worse.

I understand that relations between senior management and the unions on resolving issues such as grading of staff, promotions, pay and working conditions have made very little progress and that the staff representatives are concerned by the lack of substantive action from the university. Despite the appointment of a gender equality task force and a vice president for equality, the basic issues of institutional discrimination across all grades of staff remain unresolved and SIPTU reports an increasing number of women coming to the union for help. SIPTU is now in dispute with NUIG on a number of issues, including the senior lecturer promotion scheme, which was the subject of the Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, Equality Tribunal ruling, and which five other women are contesting before the courts.

SIPTU did not co-operate with the gender equality task force set up by NUIG because of concerns over its independence and it has highlighted crucial flaws in the report. It said at the time that it needed action not optics. It is now two years since the Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington tribunal case. It is my understanding that staff representatives believe that more than two years has been spent trying to engage with senior management in NUIG, which has frustrated efforts to seek proper resolution to issues and which fundamentally failed to acknowledge that this is a very serious issue that must be addressed properly.

I would not be surprised if we were to see more cases of gender inequality in NUIG coming to the fore in the near future. I will call on the president, Jim Browne, and his staff to engage in a more constructive way to ensure that his legacy is not one of having presided over widespread discrimination in a university that prides itself on research excellence in fundamental human rights. A report was carried out by the HEA which was chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn from my home village. I called for a debate previously on gender equality at third level. It would be appropriate that when we are celebrating International Women's Day the Leader would give a commitment to have such a debate in the very near future.

I had not intended to contribute this morning. I did hear the news item about the women who were killed and injured in Clondalkin, but there was an added horror when Senator Clifford-Lee indicated that it was a women's refuge. I had not realised that at all. It is a particularly shocking thing that women should flee from a violent environment and end up dead as a result of an electrical misadventure. I just want to register my shock at that, and particularly on International Women's Day. I cannot say they were women, because one adult and two children tragically died and another adult woman and child are critically ill in hospital. That is a very sad start to International Women's Day. I just wanted to register that, a Chathaoirligh.

I wish to raise a matter in respect of Limerick. St. John's Hospital announced yesterday that it is closing 20 beds permanently on the ground floor. My understanding is that discussions were ongoing between the hospital and the university hospitals group. There appears to be a difference in the information being given by both sides. I urge that both sides would re-engage in talks and that a mechanism would be found to ensure the 20 beds are opened. If the closures are due to funding we must examine the matter. People in Limerick and the mid-west know that one of our key problems in health care is the lack of bed capacity and it is not acceptable that 20 beds on the ground floor in St. John's Hospital are being closed.

I already spoke to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who is inquiring into the matter. We need people to talk to each other. We must find out the precise circumstances. We have been informed that 15 of the 20 beds are being closed because the hospital was unable to recruit nursing staff and now 20 beds are being closed permanently. That is not acceptable. I want the St. John's Hospital management and the HSE's university hospitals group to resume talks to find a solution which we can all work towards to ensure the 20 beds can be opened as quickly as possible. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is involved. The people of Limerick deserve no less.

I still think it was an interesting point of order and I would still like to see a female Cathaoirleach and Leader in the House today. That is up to both of the individuals concerned but it would be a good thing to do. I offer my condolences to those affected by the tragedy in Clondalkin. Senator Humphreys mentioned that members of Dublin Fire Brigade were in Leinster House yesterday when I raised the break-up of the ambulance and emergency services. I hope good news will emerge later today on the back of the intervention yesterday.

I wish to raise the Donnybrook Magdalen laundry, given that it is International Women's Day. The laundry, which is located in Dublin 4 in the capital city, is for sale for approximately €3 million. It would be a disgraceful shame were the sale to go ahead. The State must intervene and buy the building, along with a donation from the Bon Secours order, which posted profits yesterday for last year of almost €3 million and has accumulated profits over the last decade of just under €100 million. The Government must purchase the home in reparation. On this day, let us dedicate that home to mná na hÉireann, show our history, how great we are and also the tragedies we have overcome, and the strength that is in mná na hÉireann, 51% of the population. That project must be progressed.

I ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to intervene and buy the property. If we allow the development of apartments, homes and playgrounds on the site we will forget, and we cannot do that. It would be like buying a slice of a concentration camp and allowing a development for happy families. The families in the housing estate in Tuam are extremely uncomfortable with what is going on there and what they are living beside. I press the Leader to ensure that women in this country are recognised. We need a museum that tells our history. We silently fought for our history and we made history in this country. We must speak for those who still have no voice in this country. I urge the Leader to bring my request to fruition. We can never forget but we can learn.

Like previous speakers, I wish our female colleagues a happy International Women's Day, as well as the general female population of the country. They are in the majority and I wish them well.

Right on cue, yesterday morning another baby girl arrived into the world in time to celebrate the day. She is the new daughter of our colleague, Senator Keith Swanick, and his wife, Aislinn. I wish him, Aislinn and little Rosa Pearl all the best in her life ahead. There must be something about Belmullet. I understand Rosa is Spanish for Rose and that there are many Roses around there. I am glad that there is another one.

Senator Kevin Humphreys congratulated himself and the Labour Party on introducing the gender quota in politics. It is unfortunate that it was necessary to do this and I hope all political parties, including my own, will put forward genuine female candidates, not token candidates, for election. I hope the Senator and his party will take note of this.

The Senator is swinging low.

The gender quota did not apply to the Seanad election. Is it not extraordinary that the Labour Party was the only party to fail to put forward a female candidate for election? The Senator is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. It will not get him or his party anywhere. Fianna Fáil put forward female candidates both in the general election and the Seanad election and I am glad that a few of them were elected to both Houses.

Senator Kevin Humphreys is not present to defend himself.

I offer my sympathy to the families of those who tragically died in last night's fire. I do not say the accommodation was at fault, but it raises queries about the condition of rented accommodation throughout the country. Shortcuts are being taken because it is a landlord's market. I recently spoke to a young person who had visited an apartment she wanted to rent only to find that the windows had been taped to keep out the draught and that it was in an appalling condition. It is great for some to take shortcuts, but it puts the lives of others at risk. At a time when there is a shortage of accommodation, landlords, some of whom think their only role is to collect rent, have a role to ensure their accommodation is safe and that all regulations are complied with and to ensure nobody residing in it will be at risk at any time. It is time all local authorities and State agencies enforced the rules and regulations to make sure there is no deviation from them. It is important that this issue be highlighted and that we move on it.

Apartheid is recognised by the International Criminal Court as a crime against humanity. It is defined as an "inhuman act committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them". I raise the issue of Israel because this is Israeli Apartheid Week. Events are being held throughout Ireland this week. There will be a demonstration outside Leinster House tomorrow between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and I urge Members of all parties to come and support it. The apartheid laws in Israel are shocking, but Members do not have to take my word for it as others representing all parties have visited Israel and witnessed it at first hand, including Senators Burke and Leyden. If a Palestinian is married to an Israeli citizen, he or she is not allowed to live in the state. There are laws on freedom of movement. He or she does not have the right to vote or to join a political party. We are clear that it is an apartheid state. I am surprised that Ireland has bought €14.7 million worth of arms and military components from Israel in the past decade, which is absolutely shocking. I have called a number of times for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House for a debate on Israel. It is appropriate that he would do so as soon as possible. This trade in arms happened during the same period in which 9,000 Palestinians, including 2,060 children, were murdered. For military items exported from Israel, Palestinians would have been used as human test subjects to enable such weapons to be marketed as "battle proven". Military components exported to Israel will be used to kill and main more Palestinians and entrench the decades long military occupation. The Government still refuses to recognise the state of Palestine. Fianna Fáil colleagues have tabled a motion which we have signed. It is time for the Government to address the fact that, unfortunately, in practice, we are supporting an apartheid state, which is absolutely wrong. We need to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I would love to hear Fine Gael voices facing up to their responsibilities.

The final speaking slot will be filled by a woman, Senator Michelle Mulherin.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for affirming that.

I support Senator Victor Boyhan's call on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House to elucidate on what is happening in respect of the post office network. We have the Kerr report, the business development group and the post office network renewal group, yet the only news we have heard is that there is a proposal to shut down 80 post offices, which would have a particularly negative impact on rural Ireland. I am concerned that there is a parallel universe and that An Post is using this opportunity to implement a policy it has in place to close post offices. It needs to be called on immediately to cease its policy of unilaterally withdrawing postal and other services from rural communities where services are provided through an agency agreement and the contractor dies or becomes otherwise incapacitated. The postmistress in Kilmovee post office in County Mayo died last week. May she rest in peace. I offer my condolences to her family. An Post immediately shut down the post office because it had been operated on an agency basis and the postmistress had been the signatory to the contract. Agency operators do not cost An Post anything. For the past 12 years the Kilmovee community has provided a venue in the community centre and spent €60,000 in providing the service. It paid for the person working there and provided the venue. It saw fit to invest its resources in providing the service in order that pensioners, some of whom live within walking distance, could walk up the road, but they will now be required to go to another post office. Transport is an issue. An Post is having difficulty in contemplating readvertising the agency in order that the community can make a case for the retention of the post office. An Post is a State company. I understand it has to examine its books, but it also performs a social function. We need a proper debate on this function and how the company might be subsidised. In this case, the community is subsidising the service. Local people deserve an opportunity to retain their post office. I call on the Minister to come to the House to outline what is happening with the post office network, in Kilmovee in particular, and whether some progress has been made. We all appreciate the value of the post office network to which more than lip service should be paid.

I rise to discuss the report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW. Before I do, however, I will express my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of the tragic fire in Clondalkin. It is a community that I was proud to get to know as mayor of South Dublin County Council. Knowing that community, it will rally around the victims' families and friends.

I celebrate, recognise and wish everyone a happy International Women's Day, which has been mentioned extensively. The CEDAW's report recognised a number of positive developments in the State in recent times, for example, the Gender Recognition Act 2015 and the ratification of a number of international treaties on the rights of children, the domestic workers' convention and the Istanbul convention. However, the UN mentioned a number of principal areas of concern and made recommendations.

The committee regretted the discriminatory provision contained in Article 41.2 of the Constitution, which perpetuates traditional, stereotypical views of the social roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family. It reads: "In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved." The committee urged an amendment to that article as well as a repeal of the eighth amendment. On this day, I send my solidarity to all women who are out in numbers in opposition to the eighth amendment.

The report mentioned the impact of austerity measures on NGOs. Senator Conway-Walsh and I referred to this matter in our support for women's refuges during the House's recent debate on domestic violence.

I welcome the UN's call for the development and implementation of an appropriate rights-based health care protocol for intersex children that ensures that children and their parents are properly informed of all options to the greatest extent possible when they make decisions on medical interventions.

It is important that we again invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to the House. A debate on the positives and negatives outlined in the UN's report would be important. I hope that the Tánaiste can join us for that debate. On this International Women's Day, níl saoirse na hÉireann gan saoirse na mban.

I dtús báire, ar mo shon féin agus ar son an Tí ba mhaith liom mo chombhrón a dhéanamh le na clanna tar éis bás na mná agus na leanaí maidin inniu i gCluain Dolcáin. It is important that Senators send their sympathies to the families of the mother and two young children who were tragically killed this morning in Clondalkin. It is awful news. Any day that lives are lost is not a good day. On this International Women's Day, it is a chilling reminder to us all that life is precious. Be it people in a refuge or home or on the roads and streets of our country, something like this is upsetting and sad, and the House sends its sympathies to the families of the deceased. Three lives have been lost.

Although we are sad, new life has been given to us. On behalf of the House, I congratulate Senator Swanick and his wife, Aislinn, on the great news of the birth of their daughter, Rosa Pearl. Life begins and life ends, but it is important on this day that we acknowledge the birth of new life.

I salute and congratulate mná na hÉireann on this day. Senator Devine would prefer it if I had a dress on or one of my colleagues was present instead. I take her point, but there is also a need to put matters in context. It is about gender equality and equality for all people. Today is a day for recognising and acknowledging the importance of women in society, Irish life and world affairs, but also-----

"Fair City" will be all-female tonight.

-----to celebrate the historic achievements of women around the world in sport, civic life, arts, culture, music and other spheres. It is important that we recognise and pay tribute to women. It is a pity that we do not have the first female President of the US. That would have shattered a glass ceiling. We saw what Presidents Robinson and McAleese did in Ireland. We have seen what many female Ministers can do. I hope that we will have a female Head of Government, Leader of the House or Cathaoirleach at some stage. Actually, women have been the Cathaoirleach and the Leader, namely, Ms Tras Honan and Ms Mary O'Rourke, respectively. I am not sure as to whether Ms Gemma Hussey was Leader, but I will stand corrected.

Thirteen Senators raised the issue of International Women's Day. A great amount of work has been done, and much remains to be done, in attaining full equality. It is important that we praise Senators from all political parties for their work in the pursuit of gender equality and many other issues across the gender divide. It is an objective of everyone in politics to advance women's positions in leadership roles. Senator Byrne mentioned a report on business, in which field there is much to be done.

It is important to recognise that gender balance is not just about benefitting women, but the benefits that they can bring to society as a whole. We should work to achieve further progress for women in respect of the many issues that have been raised. I will revert to those.

Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of the commission on inquiry into the treatment of Grace. As I told some of the group leaders this morning, the intention is for that motion to be before the House tomorrow afternoon. It was switched out of today's Order Paper. It is important that we take the issue of Grace as a priority. As the Taoiseach stated yesterday, if there is a need to expand the inquiry, then let us do that. It is covered in the motion. The Government is committed to establishing the commission. We must find answers and justice and there must be responsibility and accountability for what happened. We will debate the motion tomorrow.

Also on tomorrow's Order Paper will be statements on matters regarding the commission of investigation into what happened in the former mother and baby home in Tuam. Senators will have the opportunity to speak on both issues.

Senator Mark Daly also mentioned the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016. There is a divergence of views on that Bill in terms of the import of what it is trying to achieve, but we all accept that those who are responsible must be held to account.

I join Senator Clifford-Lee on the issue of domestic violence. Senator Conway-Walsh also raised that issue. The Tánaiste has been proactive on the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016. This links to Senator Dolan's point. I hope that those Bills will be ratified and passed by the Oireachtas by this summer, allowing for the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence to be signed into law in 2018. That is the Tánaiste's intent.

Listening to Senator Conway-Walsh, one sometimes feels that the Government does nothing at all. However, it is worth noting that the Tánaiste has undertaken a strong campaign against domestic violence and published two Bills, funding for domestic violence services was increased in the budget and €200,000 has been given from the Dormant Accounts Fund to localise the campaign. In the city of Cork where I live, there are plans to build a new Edel House, which we would all welcome.

I am sure the Senator will join me in welcoming its construction, as will Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee. Sometimes it needs to be pointed out that the Government is doing work because listening to some Senators, one could conclude that it was not doing anything and not investing any money.

I am not the only one who is making that point; 5,000 people are turned away.

While I do not wish to strike a discordant note, the facts are facts, but the Senator can have alternative facts, if she so wishes. It is important to indicate that the Government is doing work.

This is International Women's Day. Shame on the Leader.

The Government is doing work.

I will provide the facts.

I also accept that the Government must play catch-up because funding was not provided in some areas during the worst recession in the history of the State. I will work with Senators to deliver in these areas, but they should not claim the Government is not doing anything when, to be fair, it is doing work.

I did not give alternative facts. Some 5,000 women were turned away.

The Senator may not speak at this stage. She may raise the matter again tomorrow, if she so wishes.

Senator Craughwell referred to Paddy Power, Betfair and the gambling Bill. I join him in calling for the introduction of legislation on online gambling, in particular. He is correct that gambling is a secret addiction which has shattered and ruined many lives. We must tackle the issue collectively rather than creating silos. It is frightening to note that profits of €1.5 billion have been recorded in the gambling industry. We must ensure the gambling Bill will be proactive and not allow certain lacunae to remain. This matter was discussed for a long time under a previous Government when I was a member of the committee with responsibility for sport and tourism. It is important to have a debate and legislation on it.

I answered Senator Dolan's question on the signing of the 2018 declaration. He is correct on the issue on which I will be pleased to have a debate because it is important that we work together on the topic of international migrants.

Senators Humphreys and Devine raised the issue of fire service call-outs. It was also highlighted yesterday and this morning. I join Senator Kevin Humphreys in appealing to both sides to engage in talks. A protest was held outside Dublin City Hall on Monday and the matter was discussed in the House yesterday and today. Dublin Fire Brigade provides a great service for the State and the city of Dublin and saves many lives. Its members are professional and dedicated. Talks are necessary on whether the service should be moved to Tallaght or retained in two locations. Let us have a discussion on what will best serve the needs of the public.

That is what the firefighters are seeking.

I agree, but one cannot have megaphone diplomacy on the national broadcaster. Both sides should engage, discuss and reach a solution in talks to ensure a service will continue to be provided. Nobody wants a strike, which would not be in anyone's interests. I understand a strike has been proposed for next Wednesday.

It is planned for Saturday.

Both sides should engage in talks.

Senator O'Reilly referred to the misuse of alcohol at teenage discos. I know that the Senator has been proactive in his home area and the House on this matter. I was involved in a sports organisation which ran teenage discos. They were well policed by volunteers and no alcohol was consumed. However, it seems the phenomenon of pre-drinking has percolated down to under-age persons. If that is the case, we should have an alternative to teenage discos. Senator O'Reilly also referred to identification cards and the minimum age. There is merit in the matters he raised in that regard.

Senator Gallagher referred to the shortage of general practitioners and the importance of primary care services. There is a shortage of doctors and we are in a competitive international market. The Minister for Health and relevant organisations are in talks on the GP contract. At one level, despite recent changes, rural practices are no longer viewed as viable or attractive. We must incentivise doctors and consider other ways of addressing the problem, which returns us to the issue of the post office. Rural areas need primary care services and post offices.

Senators Boyhan and Mulherin referred to the post office network and the report that emerged yesterday, about which Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke yesterday. The Government is committed to working with An Post and the Irish Postmasters Union to reinvigorate the postal service. My information is that the programme for Government has not changed. As Senator Boyhan will be aware, Governments cannot close post offices as such matters are the responsibility of An Post. Yesterday the House debated legislation dealing with the mechanism for capping the price of postal stamps. An Post is losing money. As part of the reinvigoration and revitalisation of rural areas, facilities and services must be provided for people who live in them. We cannot shut down the country at the M50 or at the edge of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. We must ensure vibrant services for people outside these hubs. The report Mr. Bobby Kerr submitted to An Post in December 2015 is being considered by the company which has rejected the suggestion it is about to close post offices. The Government is committed to acting on the recommendations made in the report of the post office network business development group. Senators Boyhan and Michelle referred to the requirement to maintain a post office network in rural areas. I hope we will not see what is set out in the report come to pass.

I will be happy to have a debate on the legislation to which Senator Byrne referred. On International Women's Day, it is important to have a debate on the role of women. The Constitutional Convention, of which I was a member, discussed the matter. As Senator Wilson noted, gender quotas did not apply in the Seanad elections and fine women were elected on their own merit. I congratulate and thank them for the role they play. It is important to note that women leaders and Members of this House are doing an extraordinary job. Senator Wilson referred to gender quotas. To be fair, Senator Bacik is recognised as a representative of the Labour Party.

She was elected as an Independent Member.

Gender quotas have helped to bring more women into politics. Perhaps the Senator's assertion that some token women ran in the most recent general election is correct, but I hope that is not the case.

There were token candidates, including in the Leader's party, although not in the case of the Fianna Fáil Party.

All of the women Ministers, at senior and junior level, are playing a key role in the development of policies and shining a positive light on the role of women in politics. I return to my point that it is an awful pity that we do not have President Clinton here on International Women's Day. What a signal that would have sent to the young women in the Visitors Gallery in aspiring to be the best. I will not comment further on that issue.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh again raised an issue related to the National University of Ireland Galway. It is primarily a matter for the university. In the context of the debate on gender equality in third level education and persons who are promoted or appointed or the roles of women and minorities, I will be happy to have such a debate in the House. It is a worthwhile issue to discuss and I support the Senator's call for such a debate.

A number of Senators referred to the issue of repealing the eighth amendment to the Constitution. I am not sure if Senators followed the broadcasts of the proceedings of the Citizens' Assembly or read newspaper reports on last weekend's meeting of the assembly, but it was a fine example of people engaging in the democratic process. I thank everyone who participated last Saturday and Sunday, whatever his or her views, and the members of the assembly who are deliberating on a very important issue.

I challenge those who criticise the Taoiseach for establishing the Citizens' Assembly to look at the work that has been done, the papers that have been presented and the questions asked and answers given last weekend. They certainly underscored the importance of and the underlying need for the Citizens' Assembly. It is important to state also that there is not universal support among men or women for the repeal of the eighth amendment. I hope that when the Citizens' Assembly makes its presentation to the Government and the Oireachtas, we will have a very open debate in this House. As the person who chaired the hearings over six days in this Chamber and a number of days at the committee on the protection of life during pregnancy legislation, I can say this is a very divisive issue. For every person who is against there is another who is for. We, therefore, need to tread carefully in how we speak and act whatever our viewpoint is on the issue. Our language and the words we use are important. On a personal level, I hope we will put the issue to the people for their consideration and a decision on it in a referendum. It has been too long since the debate last took place in the public domain in the context of a referendum campaign. I look forward to that happening.

Senator O'Donnell raised the issue of beds in St. John's Hospital, a matter raised yesterday on the Order of Business when my information was that some of the beds had been closed temporarily. As far as I know, there are discussions under way between the HSE and the two hospitals. I hope the beds will be opened. I made the point yesterday and make it again today that there is a need to increase bed capacity in hospitals. I hope that will be done.

Senator Devine referred to the Magdalen laundry site in Donnybrook. I am not familiar with it in the context of its proposed development, but I do share the Senator's view and agree with her about having a museum or an interpretative centre as testimony to the role women have played in Irish society. I would be very happy to support her in that regard and work with her to see it being progressed. It is something we should have. I have been in a number of presidential libraries in America and think we need something like them in this country. I am not sure about the site, but I would be happy to have a discussion with the Senator on the issue. She is right that there is a need for a museum - I think that is the word she used - although an interpretative centre might be better.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the condition of apartments. I join him in saying there is a need to be more proactive in how we monitor and inspect living conditions in some apartments. He referenced landlords' responsibility, but tenants also have a responsibility. Some of the conditions I have seen recently are appalling. One would not be happy to see anyone living in such conditions.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of apartheid in Palestine. He will be pleased to hear I met the Palestinian ambassador last week when I had a very good discussion with him. The Senator knows what my views are on Palestine, from which I have never demurred and I do not see any reason to change my opinion today. I will be happy to have the issue debated in the House. I am not hiding in any way my views on Palestine and Israel, as the Senator knows well. There is a need for a debate on the issue and recognition by the United Nations and world leaders of the state of Palestine.

Senator Warfield mentioned the UN committee's report. I will be happy to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss it.

Order of Business agreed to.