I move amendment No. 1:
In paragraph (ii), to delete "the provisions of Standing Order 81 shall not apply to the Committee" and substitute "the provisions of Standing Order 81(1) shall apply to the Committee save that only one member and no other member may act as a substitute for an absent member: Provided that the name of such substitute be notified in writing by the relevant member of the Committee to the Committee clerk before the first meeting of the Committee".
I thank the Leader for giving me the opportunity to put forward this amendment. The situations we have heard of in recent weeks, for example, the incarceration of young girls who have suicidal thoughts and who have sought access to abortion has again underscored the fact that the situation in Ireland today is unacceptable and dangerous and that the eighth amendment to the Constitution casts a shadow over many generations of women and needs to be addressed urgently. In respect of implementing the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly in full, it is regrettable that the establishment of the committee has been delayed by measures designed to restrict the participation of certain Senators and parliamentarians in the process.
I note the motion before us today mentions six rather than seven Senators participating and that substitution has been blocked. In regard to the clause on non-substitution, as this is a special committee, Members will not have a right, as they do in other committees, to attend and speak if they have a concern about or interest in the area. The only way to participate is through formal attendance and only those designated members of the committee will be able in any way to contribute to this process. Blocking substitution is very unusual. The only precedent for it was the banking inquiry, which operated in a quasi-judicial way, making findings against individuals and institutions and which was in no way similar. We need to move past a judicial and criminalising approach to this issue and to debate it fully as a social issue. The committee on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, chaired by the Leader of this House, is a more relevant precedent. Substitution was allowed on that committee and it did not impede its working.
The ban on substitution is against the spirit of new politics because it creates great difficulty for Independent groupings and small parties which have found constructive ways to work together to maximise and share their contribution. Those who know our group in this House know we always endeavour to work constructively and contribute. It is regrettable that it is being blocked in this case. It is also notable that those in the Dáil and Seanad affected by the ban on substitution are women who have well-known records, a history of acting on this issue, and expertise. These are people such as Senator Bacik, those in my group, those in the Green Party, Deputy Coppinger and others. They have a commitment which extends far beyond the three months of this committee and spans three decades of advocacy and work on this issue. It is very unfortunate they will not be able to contribute to the work of the committee but I have no doubt they will find, and I will endeavour to find, other ways to contribute to this debate, which is a debate in wider society.
Beyond that issue, non-substitution is a regressive practice and a step backwards in respect of inclusivity and participation in this House. It means that if a committee member has a family or health emergency, he or she cannot be substituted for. It creates a dangerous dynamic where people might be asked to choose between a family responsibility or a health concern and being present for a vital division.
It is an extraordinarily poor practice and, if it became more commonly used, could prevent those who have care responsibilities, health concerns or a disability being able to fully participate and put themselves forward on special committees in the same way because it creates an unnecessary and inappropriate tension. It denies us in the House the full body of expertise we should have. I have put forward a compromise amendment. It is not the constructive proposal for working we had hoped for before where, for example, Senator Kelleher and I would have substituted for Senator Ruane. It is a basic safeguard which proposes a single, named substitute. Every member of the committee could designate a substitute so that if an emergency or other consideration stops them attending, they can be substituted. I am asking for support for this amendment. I have great confidence in Senator Ruane, who will represent the Civil Engagement group on the committee. Senator Kelleher and I and all the rest of us will continue to contribute to the wider debate we were having in society on this issue. The most crucial thing is that we have a referendum in the spring to repeal the eighth amendment and fully implement the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. We will all be working in every way we can for this. I urge the House to think carefully about setting a precedent for non-substitution. It is a regressive step for the House.