Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a simple Bill with a simple purpose. It has but one substantive provision which is to repeal the scheme — commonly known as the "reinstatement scheme"— whereby certain women were allowed to return to positions in the Civil Service without having to compete formally at Civil Service Commission open competitions.

The scheme owes its origins to the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956, which provided that women, who were then compelled to retire on marriage, could be reinstated upon being widowed. Indeed, from our present perspective, it seems scarcely credible that a mere generation ago, women were obliged to resign from the Civil Service on marriage. It is hard to accept today that in 1932 the Brennan Commission reported that:

If a woman recruited to the post married after eight or ten years' service, the main purpose for which she had been employed entirely fails, and she has, moreover, during that time been blocking the way of a man who could give good value for the service in question.

Under the 1973 Civil Service (Employment of Married Women) Act, the restriction on married women remaining in the Civil Service was abolished and the conditions under which married women could be reinstated were broadened. From that time onwards, any woman who retired from the Civil Service for the purpose of getting married and who became a widow, or did not get married, or could establish to the satisfaction of the Minister for Finance that she was not being supported by her husband, could be reinstated to the Civil Service. In that context, the 1973 legislation could be said to represent the first major initiative to improve the lot of women in the Irish Civil Service.

Policy and guidelines on equal opportunities for the Civil Service were drawn up and published in 1986. They provide the basic principles on which the ongoing development of gender equality policy is based.

Last year saw only the second woman in the history of the State rise to the rank of departmental Secretary when Ms Margaret Hayes was appointed Secretary of the Department of Tourism and Trade in September. If we look at the proportions of women in each of the main middle and senior management grades we find that the picture is a good deal more healthy than it was in 1972 just before the marriage bar was lifted. At higher executive officer level, some 38 per cent of the grade is now composed of women — the corresponding figure in 1972 was 12.4 per cent; women Assistant Principals now represent 24 per cent of the total — in 1972 they were a mere 4 per cent; 13 per cent of all Principals are now women compared with 0.5 per cent in 1972. The percentage of women Assistant Secretaries is now 5 per cent, whereas, in 1972, women in the combined grades of Assistant Secretary, Deputy Secretary and Secretary constituted less than 1 per cent. Women are still under-represented at management levels in the Civil Service but progress is continually being recorded.

This progress while steady is somewhat slower than I would like it to be. It is assumed that the effects of the marriage bar are still a factor influencing the representation of women at the highest levels in that it usually takes considerable time to progress to the top of the administrative pyramid; but Margaret Hayes entered after 1973 — she has reached the top — so why are there not many more? It cannot be the marriage bar.

A further factor influencing the number of women in high ranking positions is the lower participation rate of women in promotion competitions. This is a disturbing fact and one which is being examined. Clearly everything is being done to ensure that even the slightest suspicion of bias is removed from Civil Service selection procedures. It is now policy that every effort be made to try to have at least one women member on each interview board, whether for recruitment or promotion.

Members of boards are briefed on Civil Service equality policy and are given written guidelines setting out the implications of that policy for the conduct of interviews.

The general pattern emerging from an anaylsis of statistics gives no indication of gender bias in either recruitment or promotion competitions.

The current representation of women is, perhaps, nothing to crow about, but the figures do represent substantial change in the right direction.

To a significant degree, they are also the fruits of the various Civil Service initiatives intended to help staff to combine work and family responsibilities. Career breaks, job-sharing schemes and flexi-time have all been available for a number of years and are widely availed of. A créche for the children of civil servants opened in 1992 and is operating to full capacity. Plans are well advanced for a second créche.

I am pleased to note that the policy statement on the programme of change for the Civil Service, entitled Delivering Better Government, which is to be launched this Thursday, confronts head-on the issues surrounding the under-representation of women in the upper echelons of the Civil Service and considers the means whereby this imbalance can be overcome.

The signs are promising but there is no reason to be complacent. There is still considerable progress to be made. In order to address the topic of equality in a meaningful way, it needs to be looked at in the context of the general climate of change within the Civil Service. This is centred around the Strategic Management Initiative — or the SMI as it is more commonly known.

Where is this climate of change leading? We are seeking to develop a process which will place a constant focus on what we should be doing and on likely future developments, thus enabling a more effective and informed response to be made, both to today's needs and to the likely challenges facing us in the future. I am convinced that meaningful gender equality policies serve to enhance this process.

Experience has shown that the promotion of equality policies yields a number of tangible benefits to the organisation concerned. It increases productivity by improving the use of staff resources, results in higher levels of job satisfaction and enhanced morale, helps to retain the best people by taking their needs into account, and contributes to a working environment in which higher standards of quality and customer service can take root. In short, equality for all staff is a key element in achieving a high-performance, flexible Civil Service — the type of Civil Service which we intend to develop under the strategic management process.

I would regard the effects of the reinstatement scheme as having been beneficial. Since 1980 some 400 women, who had left the system on marriage and who met the criteria, were deemed eligible for reinstatement. For most of the women in this category returning to the workplace was an economic necessity and we should celebrate the fact that the State provided a vehicle by which they could do this for many years. A major attraction of the reinstatement scheme, compared with re-employment through open competition, was that people could resume in the same grade and at the same salary point as they had reached at the time they resigned.

Why are we now seeking to repeal this scheme? The reinstatement provisions were challenged in autumn 1990, under the Employment Equality Act, 1977, by a former official of the Revenue Commissioners who had been required to resign her position on marriage prior to 1973. She applied for reinstatement, but accepted that she did not meet the requirements in that she was married and was being supported by her husband.

She alleged that she was discriminated against on grounds of marital status in that Revenue sought details of her financial circumstances which would not be required of a widow. The Labour Court found that the entire scheme was discriminatory and contrary to the principle of equal treatment in that access to reinstatement was denied to all men and to certain women. The court also found that the Minister for Finance should introduce legislation to repeal the provisions of the scheme.

Subsequently, the Attorney General's office advised that the reinstatement provisions were in breach of the EU Equal Treatment Directive and that we were obliged, under the terms of the directive, to repeal the scheme. The then Minister, Deputy Bertie Ahern, considered that he had no option but to suspend the scheme pending the enactment of the necessary legislation. When it was learned that the woman who had taken the case had referred the Labour Court determination to the High Court, it was considered that further action on the Bill should be halted pending resolution of the challenge. The High Court case has been struck out by consent and it is now possible to proceed with the necessary legislation.

I must confess to having some reservations as I stand before the House today to speak in support of this Bill. Those who check the Dáil Official Report for the time when the 1973 Act was going through will find that there was universal support for its provisions. These provisions were seen at the time, in the words of Richie Ryan, as "a further indication of the Government's commitment to end all discrimination against women and of the Government's concern for the less fortunate members of our society". While the most important provision — that which ended the ban on married women remaining in the Civil Service — remains unaffected by the current Bill, I consider it regrettable that the reinstatement provisions for those who were obliged to leave the Civil Service on marriage have now to go — but go they must.

The concept of gender equality, which was only in its infancy when the 1973 Act was passed, has developed since then, both here and in Europe, and we are now at the stage where it is seen in a much broader context — it is no longer simply an issue of equal rights for women but of equal rights for all regardless of gender. The effects of this more comprehensive approach can sometimes be surprising and even, as in the present case, occasionally somewhat disturbing. Equality can sometimes be a double edged sword.

Many will, I know, share my particular sympathy with the women who were obliged to leave the Civil Service before 1973 on marriage and who will no longer have a right to reinstatement should their domestic circumstances so indicate.

In the last 12 months alone three such cases have come to my notice in my constituency. I am sure other Deputies, too, have had representations on this matter. However, I am afraid that we are caught between a rock and a hard place and the only course of action open to us is to repeal the scheme. If I may quote from the determination of the Labour Court in the case I mentioned earlier:

The Court is satisfied that the whole scheme for the reinstatement of some women in the civil service is discriminatory and contrary to the principle of equal treatment, and that the proper solution is to recommend the repeal of Section 11 of the 1956 Act as amended by Section 4 of the 1973 Act.

The court went on to say that:

All recruitment to the service should be by open competition through the Civil Service Commission, including the re-recruitment of former civil servants who resigned for whatever reason. I can assure Members that the Government investigated all available options which might have mitigated the effects of the repeal to some degree at least.

Consideration was given to such ideas as: instituting a new reinstatement scheme which would apply solely to those women who were compelled to resign before 1973; the possibility of having a scheme which would be open to all former civil servants, regardless of gender, who were deemed to be "hardship" cases; and the possibility of having special panels in some of the Civil Service recruitment competitions which would be confined to women who left on grounds of marriage. All such approaches had to be rejected on the same grounds: they each ran a significant risk of being found to be in conflict with the EU Equal Treatment Directive which precludes discrimination based on gender or marital status whether such discrimination is direct or indirect. In effect any targeted scheme had to be ruled out of bounds.

Although conscious of the necessity not to take any action which would replace one form of discrimination with another, the Government is anxious to take whatever meaningful steps are open to it to facilitate those women who left the Civil Service on marriage and now wish to return.

Accordingly, we have decided that the next two series of clerical assistant and executive officer competitions will include special sub-panels which will be composed solely of former civil servants — regardless of gender or marital status. The House will readily see that while this approach is, of necessity, not focused on women it represents the only measure of relief open to the Government to cater for those who might have wished to be reinstated had the scheme remained on the Statute Book.

It will also be open to all former civil servants to apply for all competitions in the normal way. Indeed, many women who left the Civil Service on grounds of marriage have re-entered the system through this means. The extension of the upper age limit to 50 for most Civil Service recruitment competitions has enabled many more women in this category to re-enter the system.

The necessity for this legislation will, I am sure, be recognised, if not necessarily welcomed, by Members on all sides of the House.

I commend the Bill to the House.

In introducting this Bill the Minister of State referred to being caught between a rock and a hard place. This Bill has been in gestation for some time resulting from a court decision but was delayed because the defendant concerned sought to have it heard in a higher court. It reminds me of the unusual effect of the equal treatment alleviating measures introduced by Government to overcome the problem that would be encountered by certain families resulting from equal treatment of married women. After many court cases here and abroad, the measures were found to be discriminatory, costing the Government another package. The Act introduced some years ago, specifying that women had to leave the Civil Service on marriage was found to be discriminatory. As the Minister of State rightly said, equality legislation can turn out to be a double-edged sword.

Confronted by the provisions of this Bill, negative phrases first spring to mind — bar, barrier, discrimination and inequality. A programme of awareness-raising, aimed at promoting women candidates in the June 1994 European Parliament elections, was based on exposing the paradox of a European Union in which in 1993 51 per cent of citizens are women but only 19.3 per cent of the 518 Members of the European Parliament were women. The campaign slogan was: "Can you imagine a world with 81 per cent men and 19 per cent women?" Is this startling statistic not the ideal starting point for my contribution today since any data or statistics one cares to use serve only to highlight the inequities that abound? At the very least, true democracy should entail a system within which both men and women can represent the population and participate in the democratic process. Any such representation or participation stems from the same democratic base since the very concept of democracy implies that bars, barriers, discrimination, inequities, ceilings and the like should all be exposed and eliminated.

Lack of representation and participation in any aspect of our society, in the case of either of the sexes, should be exposed and corrected where possible. It can happen at the factory gate, the shop floor, in the corridors of power and, of course, within the Civil Service. None of us can begin to say we live in a democratic society when a group representing about half of that society is excluded from participation in the democratic process or discriminated against.

Reporting on the marriage bar to the Minister for Finance in December 1972 the Commission on the Status of Women pointed out that the marriage bar resulted from the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956 which provided that women employed in positions in the Civil Service, other than those employed in certain excluded, non-pensionable posts, were required to retire on marriage. The Civil Service Commissioners Act of 1956 contained a provision enabling the commissioners, in making regulations in relation to a competition for a position in the Civil Service, to require that a female candidate should be unmarried or a widow.

The report of the Commission on the Status of Women highlighted the 1996 census which demonstrated that the great majority of married women did not work outside the home, that only 35,000 married women were returned as gainfully occupied, representing approximately 6 per cent of all married women and 9 per cent of a total female labour force. Outside the agricultural sector, that census reported that there were 23,000 married women gainfully occupied of whom 17,000 were classified as employees.

The 1972 report of the Commission on the Status of Women went on to state that positions and social attitudes in Ireland tended to discourage women from remaining in employment after marriage but did point out that many women, although anxious to remain in their pre-marriage employment, were obliged to relinquish that employment on marriage, thereby depriving the economy of experienced workers. This sometimes happened in occupations where the skills they possessed were in short supply and proved difficult to replace.

A convention of the International Labour Organisation, namely Convention No. 111, provides that ratifying countries shall pursue a national policy designed to promote equality of treatment in employment and occupations with a view to eliminating any discrimination. Within the terms of that convention, discrimination is defined as any distinction, exclusion or preference made, among other things, on the basis of sex. In 1992 the Commission on the Status of Women reported that Ireland had not ratified Convention No. 111.

The statutory restrictions on the employment of married women in the public service in Ireland were completely at variance with practice in all member states of the European Union. Restrictions on the recruitment and retention of married women in the Northern Ireland Civil Service were abolished in 1970, giving women the choice of continuing in employment, in a pensionable or non-pensionable capacity, after marriage.

The marriage bar in the Republic of Ireland meant that, in general, females employed in clerical jobs in service industries — in banks, local authorities and semi-State bodies — were required to resign their employment on marriage. The Commission on the Status of Women reported that the reasons advanced by companies to explain the existence of the marriage bar were varied. In 1972 one company profiled stated that the need for the bar was that it enabled married women to fulfil their home responsibilities. God forbid that companies would pursue that policy today. While some companies may continue to think in that vein, they would not dare raise their heads above the parapet to voice such prejudices. Some other companies couched the rationale for retaining the bar in economic terms, stating that decisions on the matter often were related to supply and demand for single women workers, yet others reported they were in favour of removing the bar. Some trade unions were in favour of its retention. Almost all of the women's organisations who made submissions to the Commission on the Status of Women expressed themselves in favour of the removal of any prohibition on the employment of married women.

At that time the Irish Congress of Trade Unions recommended that the removal of the bar from the public service should be accepted in principle and that discussions should take place with the unions concerned through the appropriate machinery.

In its report the Commission on the Status of Women concluded that, in their opinion:

...compulsory retirement of women from employment because of their marriage is discriminatory and wasteful of their talents, training and experience and we recommend that a woman should be allowed to continue in her job irrespective of any change in her marital status.

That report continued as follows:

...her choice should, of course, be a completely free one and we would not, under any circumstances, wish to see any form of coercion brought to bear on a woman to remain in employment after marriage if she does not wish to do so.

Fast-forwarding two decades, from the 1970s report of the Commission on the Status of Women to the present day, a European Union conference was held in Dublin on gender balance in decision-making.

At the opening of that conference last year, the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Pádraig Flynn, commenced his contribution with two quotations, the first from Napoleon Bonaparte: "because nothing is more difficult and therefore more precious than to be able to decide"; and the second: "because the complete fulfilment of democracy and citizenship means that all those affected by decisions should help to make and shape those decisions". These two phases aptly paint the picture of where we should be today.

Without a doubt, women throughout Europe, and here at home, have achieved a lot since the Commission on the Status of Women reported in 1972. From EU Directive level through to some legislation on the domestic front, women in Ireland have, to a degree, benefited from greater access to the labour market and, in many cases, to better incomes, though "better" does not necessarily imply equal. In her article "Splitting Images; Women and the Irish Civil Service", Clare Eager writes:

it is easy to give a cursory glance at public administration in Ireland and assume that, between the eras of Constance Markievicz and Mary Robinson, women's participation in public affairs, particularly in the Civil Service, has been obscured. In spite of their appointments to senior posts within the system, women like Deirdre Lane (Clerk of the Seanad)... hide the reality that, historically, the status of women civil servants is one of clerical orientation....

The achievements of those image makers, like Thekla Beere in the 1970s, can never be underestimated.. ..However influential those women have been, or may be in future decades, the vast majority of women civil servants remain clustered in the lower grades and thus their experience differs from that of...Lane etc.

Any of the statistics one might care to examine, from, say, the 1960s to the present day, clearly demonstrate that women have been integrated in the Civil Service. However, this has not been matched by a move towards a fairer balance in the grading structure. Statistics clearly show that despite female numbers rising within the Civil Service, there has not been a similar rise in their representation in the higher ranks of the administrative structure. Figures from the Department of Finance indicate that, at the end of December 1995, of a total of approximately 13,800 women in the Civil Service, over 9,000 were employed at a clerical grade. This figure is in stark contrast to their representation, for example, at inspectorate grade, where they make up only 5.9 per cent compared to just over 94 per cent of males. Statistics from the Department confirm that the majority of female officers are employed at the lower grades of service, particularly in the traditionally female employment areas of clerical and typing grades.

Examination of the percentage of females to males in general service grade in the Civil Service, as at end December 1995, demonstrate that, at clerical assistant grade, approximately 81 per cent are female compared to a male representation of about 19 per cent. This ratio, rather interestingly, mirrors the statistic of the campaign for the elections to the European Parliament, to which I referred earlier, except on this occasion the female representation is higher, but it is higher when it is not wanted.

Looking at recent statistics, one shining light, however, breaks through. At the end of 1995, there was one female secretary of a Government Department, namely Ms Margaret Hayes at the Department of Tourism and Trade. While everyone undoubtedly welcomes this marvellous achievement, it is disappointing that Margaret Hayes remains an isolated case. She sits alone at this higher level surrounded by 18 male colleagues, at both secretary and deputy secretary level. Having worked with Ms Hayes in the Department of Tourism and Trade, I take this opportunity to congratulate her publicly on such a fine achievement. She has been an outstanding civil servant for a long time in a range of Government Departments and she will make an excellent secretary. The only thing that would make her any happier than being secretary of a Government Department would be for Kilkenny to win three all-Irelands in a row.

Recognising that figures show that women are at last beginning to gain a foothold in the middle and the higher grades of the Civil Service, we cannot ignore the fact that, as Ms Clare Eager points out: "for the large majority of female workers, employment in the lower paid clerical grades remains the single most unchanging aspect of their employment".

I must also refer to the fact that, since the admission of men to the entry grade of clerical assistant within the Civil Service, just like their female counterparts male clerical workers are also victims of the relatively static nature of promotional outlets from the clerical grades. There have certainly been changes over the last number of decades. Major changes have included the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956, being eclipsed to a great extent by the enactment of the Employment of Married Women Act, 1973, which formally ended the ban on the employment of married women.

The passing of the 1970s also saw the dismantling of the traditional female only entry grades and this led to a policy, in most cases, of recruitment by merit and ability not by the traditional biased, unequal and discriminatory gender route. One must not forget also the implementation of equal pay policies. Acknowledging these monumental changes, the figures that have been produced by the Minister for Finance and those which I employed earlier to paint the picture only too vividly demonstrate that, however well equality of opportunity may operate at a senior level within the service, historically, women's employment within the Irish Civil Service remains one of a clerical orientation.

The Bill before the House today has its roots in a case taken by a women from Ennis, County Clare, for reinstatement to the Civil Service. She was forced to resign from the service because of the marriage bar of the early 1970s and her reinstatement was rejected because she refused to comply with the stipulation that she should prove she was unable to be supported by her husband.

A case was taken to the Employment Equality Agency challenging the ruling and this woman won her case in November 1991. However, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners appealed the finding, that each of the three conditions for reinstatement were in contravention of EU equality Directives, subsequently.

The three conditions of reinstatement apply only to women: they must be widows; be able to prove that they retired from the service for marriage related reasons; or be able to prove that they were not being supported by their husbands. The woman in the case I have already outlined was not being supported by her husband. Indeed, the Labour Court found that she should not have had to prove that she was supported by her husband.

The bringing of this case to the Labour Court witnessed a deluge of calls from former civil servants, to both the Council for the Status of Women and the Employment Equality Agency. In July 1993, the Labour Court issued its determination. Two of the findings of the Labour Court were that: the "Minister for Finance should, at the earliest opportunity, introduce the appropriate legislation to repeal the statutory provisions governing reinstatements"; and "under the Equal Treatment Directive ...laws, regulations and administrative provisions contrary to the principle of equal treatment be abolished".

Following advice from the Attorney General that the statutory provision be repealed, the Department had, at that time, arranged that a Bill would be drafted to give effect to the Labour Court determination. However, the determination then became the subject of a judicial review by the High Court. This review has now been struck out, thereby allowing the Minister for Finance to proceed with the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill before the House today.

In acknowledging that the Bill must be brought before us, it is ironic that the debate takes place in a period when we have witnessed the first full stoppage of 10,000 civil servants in over ten years. Civil Service industrial relations are in a perilous and fractious state at present. Over recent months, the Minister for Finance had allowed disputes to escalate to serious levels without making any forceful moves to resolve them until near chaos had ensued. At least ten areas of Government have been affected in recent weeks because of disputes by the civil servants: the examinations section of the Department of Education, the Collector General's Office, the Land Registry, the European Presidency section of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Social Welfare are just some of the areas which have suffered disruption. Indeed, Leinster House has not been immune to dispute.

The Minister for Finance as the guardian of the Government's seriously imprudent financial management exercises, must ensure that low-paid civil servants do not bear the brunt and become the easy scapegoats of the administration's lack of fiscal discipline. The Minister, in cahoots with the Government, has not fulfilled the taxation commitments in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. Promises have been broken and, quite correctly, stinging criticism has ensued. It is estimated that the successful programmes — the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work— have created in the order of 130,000 net new jobs. Economic stability and economic growth have also resulted, thereby allowing Ireland to take a lead role in meeting stringent Maastricht obligations. Yet, the economic boom is matched — or probably more correctly mismatched — by a Civil Service pay revolt; by derisory 1996 tax reductions; the likelihood of a free for all pay bargaining exercise at the end of this year and a phenomenal fall off in popularity of at least one of the parties in Government. The welcoming, at last, of legislation to close a chapter on the iniquitous marriage bar must not, and should not, be balanced by a new chapter of avoidable Civil Service unrest.

I am interested by the dilemma in which a woman Minister of State finds herself proposing this measure because at the end of her remarks the Minister of State said this would be hardly welcomed but might be seen as inevitable by many Members. I was unconvinced by the proposition that it was impossible to keep in place something which would amount to a restitutory remedy for those women who were forced out of the Civil Service due to the unjust marriage bar. I cannot imagine that anyone could successfully object to a system which has given women who could prove that they were forced to leave the Civil Service a fast track re-entry merely because those were the facts. I find it strange that it is proffered as the legal advice to the Government that it is impossible to give people who had been forced out of the Civil Service prior to 1973 some degree of redress by giving them preferential treatment in coming back into the Civil Service after that date. I find it difficult to see how that could possibly be because one thing is undoubtedly an injustice and the other seems to be a remedy for that injustice.

I cannot imagine that a long-term view of the law or fair view of society would strike down a particular provision where it is established beyond contradiction that its purpose is to give preferential treatment to those who have been unfairly treated in the past. Whatever adjustment might have had to be made to the law to preserve that compensatory provision for women in those circumstances should have been made rather than the course adopted in this Bill which is simply to abolish the scheme in its entirety.

The passage in the 1932 report of the Brennan Commission to which the Minister referred is a fascinating insight into the thinking of that time. We should note that it was just in 1932 that such comments were made because they were said by all the people through the medium of the 1937 Constitution. Article 41 of the Constitution enjoins upon the State the duty of ensuring that "mothers shall not obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home". Another Article of the Constitution enjoins upon the State the obligation of ensuring that women are not obliged by economic necessity to adopt vocations unsuited to their gender. The basic fundamental laws of our land are written in the Constitution in tablets of stone. One might imagine that such a law is now effectively dead wood but there are consequences which could easily follow from it, and, perhaps, the provision that women's duties in the home are constitutionally recognised would probably have been seized upon in the courts as a constitutional justification for the discrimination of women occupying positions in the Civil Service if women challenged the Civil Service marriage bar.

I cannot accept the proposition unquestioningly that some fast track process for women who had been forced out of the Civil Service prior to 1973 should not be available. While it is obviously gender discriminatory because it is to women that the marriage bar applied, I cannot imagine the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg or the Supreme Court striking down any amendment to legislation the purpose of which is to undo this injustice done to those women. As a Parliament we should agree that at least an apology is due to those women who were forced out of the Civil Service in circumstances where they did not wish to give up their job merely because they married somebody.

It seems that the thinking of the 1930s — I was interested to hear Deputy McCreevy's point that it seemed to persist in some quarters until a very late stage — was based on a number of propositions and the Brennan report, quoted by the Minister, reinforces this. The thinking was that women in some sense were not suitable for Civil Service appointment because in the days before generalised access to contraception the function of a woman when getting married was to have a large family and in that thought process it followed that it was unfair of women to clutter up job opportunities for men when they knew that on the balance of probabilities they would have to retire early and would only be completing part of the normal job path for an entrant to the Civil Service.

A curious feature of all that is the notion that jobs in the Civil Service were for life and they are still regarded as jobs for life especially by the public service unions. I find in the last analysis that probably justified the Brennan analysis. It is not that I am suggesting that the fixity of tenure now available to civil servants should be repealed at a stroke but it occurs to me that if in the rest of the world jobs are not for life, the time will come when jobs in the public service will not be for life either and contract employment and periods of employment will probably come into the public service over the next ten years even though to mention it now is politically incorrect and unwise. I do not mind saying I think that at some time it will come about.

I am glad the Minister has presaged the forthcoming Government White Paper on reforming the Civil Service in conjunction with the Strategic Management Initiative and I am interested to learn that it is called Delivering Better Government — A programme of Change for the Irish Civil Service because my party published a document recently, The Changing State — Reforming and Rewarding the Public Service. In that document we underlined the statistical matrix of gender discrimination which still applies to women in the public service.

Even taking into account the improvement that the Minister of State underlines it is still the case that reform in terms of gender equality in the Civil Service is very much retarded compared to other walks of life. For instance in my most conservative profession, as others would see it, the barristers profession, the legal profession and the Judiciary, the number of women becoming barristers has expanded dramatically from the day I was called to the Bar. At that time one could list the number of women barristers by name and probably on two hands out of a profession of 200. Now, with 900 in the profession, I am sure there are, perhaps, 150 women barristers who are rapidly ascending the heights of the profession, although it is commonly the case that judges are appointed only from those who have been in practice a long time.

Though there has been a huge influx of women into the profession the position of women on the Bench is not as good as it might be. However, there is enthusiasm for the appointment of women to the Bench and there is a complete acceptance that there should be a demonstrated willingness on the part of Government to remedy the gender imbalance which so far characterises the Irish Judiciary. The figures the Minister outlined for the public service show a disappointingly conservative approach to women. I note what the Minister said. It is worrying that women are not seeking promotion in proportionate numbers but we have to ask why this is the case. It may well be that the character and the ethos of the public service is hostile to women seeking promotion.

It may well be true that many women in the public service are happy with their lot and do not suffer from overdoses of testosterone that compel unsuitable men to enter examinations in which they do not have any prospect of success. By the same token there must be some hostile elements, hard to finger, which exclude women from competing for promotion in the Civil Service.

Regarding overall reform of the public service, we are going through a stage in which the nature of a public service job will be dramatically reformed. I do not know what conclusions will be reached by the strategic management initiative, but it will be a lost opportunity unless it does for the Irish public service what New Zealand's State services commission and its reform did for New Zealand — brings into effect the notion of contractual liability for Departments to deliver a specified degree of services for a specified cost and brings to key players in the public service personal responsibility for performance in terms of output and their departmental duties. That is the cornerstone of this reform.

If this White Paper turns out to be mishmash, a watering down of other initiatives and a faint-hearted effort to introduce touches and smidgens of principles of responsibility into the process and not one which embraces the concepts which the New Zealanders have wholeheartedly embraced with such success, it will be a failure. I am concerned that in the last analysis this Government with its centre left orientation and, the alliance of the Labour Party and Democratic Left Party with the public sector unions, will turn out to be a disappointingly conservative prescription for change in our public service. We are dealing with a situation in which many people consider their specific interests are gridlocked into a zero-sum game in which any concession or change is regarded as a loss and nobody considers they can be in a position where by making changes everyone will be a winner.

I presage the publication of the Government's document by making the point that if it is not a radical, far-seeing dramatic essay to attempt to change the way the public service is viewed, it will be all the more disappointing.

I declare an interest in this Bill because I am one of the people who was fired when I married in 1972. I suppose I could have a theoretical right of return to the Civil Service which is being extinguished under this Bill.

I will pick up on some of the more general comments made. The effects of the marriage bar lasted in the Civil Service to this day. We have a pyramid structure in terms of the involvement of women in the public service. Two of the major economic Departments which have a significant number of staff, the Departments of Finance and Enterprise and Employment, have only one women principal officer. That is due in no small measure to successive generations of women leaving the public service on account of the marriage bar and the attraction of taking a marriage gratuity. I hope the strategic management initiative with its emphasis on performance and ability rather than the traditional rigid grade structures will address the central issue of equality in terms of women in the public service. That service needs the input and perspective of women at every level in the same way as the perspective of men need to be employed at lower levels.

Women seek promotion in smaller numbers than men and those who did have been extremely successful in competitions disproportionate to their male counterparts. Certain Departments have been successful in ensuring that women get a fair crack of the whip and come through the promotional structure. The active promotion of women has taken place in the Department of Social Welfare, in which Deputy McCreevy served, and in the Department of Health, and women of ability in those Departments have come through the promotional structure. It is no accident that the two women who head Government Departments, Margaret Hayes, in the Department of Tourism and Trade and, Julie O'Neill, in the office of the Tánaiste, have come through the Departments of Health and Social Welfare, respectively, to positions where they have been able to compete successfully before TLAC.

When I saw the quotation from the Brennan report I was reminded of an old neighbour in Glasnevin. She joined the Civil Service in 1915 when it was under British rule. In those days women were let out five minutes early for lunch lest they meet and engage in unacceptable social intercourse with their male counterparts on the stairs. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then. Unfortunately, the legal advice on this measure is that we cannot move any further, but I hope that through the medium of the strategic management initiative we can ensure that women, who were deterred by the marriage bar, will play their rightful part and advance in numbers in the Civil Service of the future.

I welcome the observations of the Minister and Minister of State about public service reform, the strategic management initiative and the progress of female participation in the public service. It is of great importance that we have the maximum possible female representation at every level of the public service. The Minister said there has been a substantial change in the right direction, but much remains to be done. Progress will ensure in part what Deputy McDowell is seeking, greater efficiency and a better delivery of services in the public sector.

I am disappointed about this measure. It is extraordinary that an equality measure supposed to address an inequality and imbalance between the sexes should result in a specific harsh measure in terms of those seeking readmission to the public service. The scheme operated to assist women of another generation who worked under different social assumptions and who were obliged to leave the public service. It is disappointing that this measure must be introduced as a result of legal advice. I accept that a Government is constrained to act on the advice given to it by an Attorney General but was the opinion of the commission obtained on this matter? It seems extraordinary that legal abstractions can lead to a measure which results in inequality. The courts have often referred to the famous dictum of Aristotle, who said that equality consisted of treating equals equally and unequals unequally. In this situation a diversity of arrangements should be permissible.

Will the Minister outline the hard facts? How many women were obliged to leave the public service as a result of marriage bar? I realise it is difficult to compile an accurate statistic because of the influence of death and emigration, but an estimate must be available of the number affected by this measure. There is not a lobby to represent that group, but Deputies who attend to the needs of their constituents will be well aware of the substantial number of cases involved. I was pleased the Minister said a special scheme would be put in place for at least the next two years which will go some way towards redressing the injustice involved. We will not be lobbied on this matter by many people in a collective sense and we should be careful when dealing with it. I welcome the proposal and urge the Minister to extend the scheme in the future.

Debate adjourned.