In order to overcome objections based on property rights enshrined in the Constitution, we have allowed for the commutation of ground rents to ordinary contracts debts. This is not an ideal solution from our point of view but it is a step in the right direction which has been welcomed by the Association of Combined Residents Associations who have spearheaded the campaign to abolish ground rents.
The ground rents issue has also helped to highlight one of the major defects in the Constitution, the excessive rights accorded to private property.
Another major defect in the Constitution is the bar on divorce. Therefore The Workers' Party have also tabled a motion seeking to amend Article 41 of the the Constitution in this regard.
For far too long Irish politicians have failed to grasp this nettle and, in consequence, some 60,000 families are suffering from marital breakdowns for which no adequate legal remedy can be found.
The time has passed for politicians to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Two years ago Deputy Noel Browne proposed a Divorce Bill which other Deputies failed to support on a wide variety of grounds. Some said they wanted an interparty committee of the Oireachtas to examine the problem. Others said they would prefer to examine the issue within their own party, while another group said they would be bringing in their own, more comprehensive measure subsequently.
The Bill then before the Dáil was consequently defeated and nothing has happened since.
The issue is a simple one. Either we need a referendum on this issue to determine the people's will or we do not. I believe, and my party believe, that this is a matter of private conscience. Surely the time has come for Deputies to face up to the issue and say where they stand.
I take this opportunity to appeal to Deputies on all sides of the House to join with us in supporting this motion.
As Workers' Party Deputies we were elected to this Dáil to represent our working class constituents, to improve the quality of their lives, defend their democratic rights and help them win their long-denied fair share of the national cake.
We hope that the Government, and other Dáil parties, take heed of our warning. As I have pointed out already, the huge unemployment problem currently confronting us is the most serious social crisis we have faced as a nation since the Famine. If we do not meet the challenge then Irish democracy itself is threatened.
If the parties of power and privilege in this House are not prepared to face basic, and perhaps unpalatable, facts now, tomorrow may be too late.