I have always campaigned for human rights and civil liberties. In 1989-90, as President of Trinity Students’ Union, I was taken to court along with fellow SU officers. We were threatened with prison by anti-abortion activists, in an important case that paved the way for legal change to legalise the provision of information on abortion to women with crisis pregnancies.
Since then, for many years I have been involved in a range of different rights campaigns; on anti-racism, on women’s rights, on trade union rights, on LGBT rights and disability rights; and on equality and social justice.
Because of my work as a legal academic and practitioner in the criminal law field, I have also been very involved in issues around education and criminal justice. Some years ago I worked with the Trinity Access Programme to extend scholarships in Law to students from targeted disadvantaged schools – a scheme now taken up College-wide.
There is a view abroad that the liberal agenda has been achieved – but there is still so much to be done. Since my election in 2007 and re-election in 2011, I have tried to use the Seanad as a launching pad for a new radical social agenda.
As a Senator, I have campaigned on issues such as LGBT marriage rights, childcare rights, abortion rights, paid paternity leave, educational equality, criminal justice reforms, environmental changes. I have also spoken in the Seanad to call for the separation of church and state, the extension of multi-denominational schooling; and for the introduction of paid paternity leave so that fathers could take time off work to help look after new babies.
In my capacity as a member of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I have worked hard on a range of campaigns such as these.
Among the initiatives I have taken as a Senator are:
A Climate Protection Bill in 2007 which I drafted with Friends of the Earth Ireland, and which was backed by a whole range of environmental and development NGOs.
A Bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation, which was accepted by the Government in 2010 and became law finally in 2012.
A Bill to give legal status to wedding ceremonies conducted by Humanist celebrants, which was accepted by Government and became law in 2013.
A Bill to amend the Civil Registration Act to remove the prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples – published but not yet debated.
A Bill to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act and prevent discrimination by religious-run schools and hospitals against LGBT employees – debated in the Seanad in March 2013 and passed second stage.
A Report on Penal Reform which I wrote for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, published in 2013, which made radical proposals for change to the penal system and which received wide cross-party support.
And extensive work on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015.
That Seanad Éireann:
I welcome the Minister back to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue. All of us and others outside the House have spoken of the wider context in which the Bill is being proposed. All of us have seen horrific murders in recent weeks and months. Many have mentioned the shooting today in Lusk and there was another shooting last week very close to where I live in a busy shopping street in the south inner city. All of us have been shocked by the brutality of these murders and shootings and by the recent violence, although we acknowledge they represent only a small number of individuals who are connected to an international and national drugs trade and to criminal organisations. That is the context within which the Bill is being introduced and, clearly, a key aim of the Bill is to act to seek to tackle those involved in criminal organisations at low and middle level. I recognise that tackling organised crime at all levels is a priority for the Government and all of us acknowledge that. There is no doubt that the escalation of crime, particularly in inner city Dublin in recent months, requires a proactive approach.
I and my party colleagues in the Labour Party would emphasise, and I am sure most would agree, that tackling this level of this type of organised crime requires tackling the core issues of disadvantage, of drug use and of tackling these in a way where we do not only have a criminal justice approach. I share Senator Ruane's concern about criminalising addiction and my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin expressed that view recently in a debate on the misuse of drugs legislation. We would clearly support a model that would examine much broader issues and that would redirect attention and investment towards disadvantaged communities suffering from a lack of opportunity. We drafted our amendment along the lines of the amendment, to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred, concerning the ring-fencing of any proceeds or money confiscated towards disadvantaged communities.