The new Oireachtas session is going to be very busy with several important pieces of legislation coming before the Houses, including the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011. I will be strongly opposing the changes to the One Parent Family Payment in the Seanad. To put my opposition succinctly ‘7 is too young’! I plan to actively engage in the forthcoming Referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty and have also published, along with my colleagues Senator John Crown and Mark Daly, legislation to ban smoking in cars with children, which will be debated on 9 May.
The Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill 2012
On 15 March, the Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill completed its passage through the Seanad. During the debate we in the Independent Group tabled a number of wide-ranging amendments to the Bill covering the payment of allowances to Members, corporate donations and gender quotas.
This was a timely and important debate about political reform, which both Fiach MacConghail and I actively engaged. We regret that the Government voted down our amendments to ensure fully vouched expenses to Party Leaders and Independent Members and to ban corporate donations to political parties.
I maintain our position that all independent members of the Oireachtas should have a statutory responsibility to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis. Accordingly, I will publish an annual statement of the public money I receive as a Senator. Please find a link to my statement for 2011 here.
Likewise I was disappointed that our amendments to gender quotas were not successful. The Bill introduced a 30% gender quota for candidate selection at the next general election with provision for the figure to increase to 40% at the subsequent general election. The Independent Group proposed introducing a 40% quota immediately. I noted during the debate the Council of Europe Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men recommendation that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in public or political life should not fall below 40%. I also noted that it could take as long as ten years before we get to a 40% quota. I believe 30% is the bare minimum level of gender parity necessary to achieve critical mass and not introducing 40% immediately does nothing but delay the inevitable.
We also failed to have the quotas extended to local elections. I think this is a missed opportunity that will deny future female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy needed to succeed at general election. It may also leave new female candidates vulnerable to allegations of tokenism. I hope we can bring forward measures in the future to deal with this.
Women are not disinterested in politics. There are countless women working tirelessly throughout this country for change and reform but there are undoubtedly barriers to them entering political life. I am therefore delighted to see new initiatives such as from Women for Election to inspire, equip, and inform women to run for political office.
End of the Detention of Children in Adult Prison
On 2 April, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, announced capital funding had been secured to bring about the end of the detention of children in the adult prison regime of St. Patrick’s Institution. I have repeatedly called on the Government to address this glaring breach of our international human rights obligations and I warmly welcome the adoption of a new approach the care and rehabilitation of such children.
The significant progress the Minster has made on this issue illustrates the true value and potential of the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and demonstrates a positive shift in the Government’s policy towards children, which places the best interests of the child at its heart.
I also welcome the commitment by the Minister to bring the Heads of Bill to put the Children First Guidance on a statutory basis and to consult with the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout