I welcome the Minister of State. It is welcome this week that we are marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was yesterday. It is a United Nations day aimed at promoting the rights and well-being of people with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and increasing awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. It is worth remembering the purpose of the day when we are reflecting on the current state of society for persons with disabilities here in Ireland. I have listened to the other contributions and acknowledge the work done on this issue by our colleagues, particularly Senator Dolan, whom Senator Ruane rightly commended for his unstinting work in highlighting issues for persons with disabilities and inclusion and equality since the start of his time in this Seanad in 2016. I also acknowledge Senator Conway, who has really been to the fore on this issue for Fine Gael.
As Senator Conway says, undoubtedly we should acknowledge the immense progress that has been made on advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in recent years. In schooling and education we now have much greater resourcing and recognition of the need to ensure supports for children with additional needs and to ensure accommodation for persons with disabilities in education. That is fairly well established. We also have increased awareness about inclusion, which is part of the United Nations aim, through initiatives like those which others have mentioned, the exhibition that was launched yesterday, Someone Like Me at City Hall, and the Purple Lights campaign that has been promoted by the Disability Federation of Ireland. The Labour Party website went purple yesterday to mark the Purple Lights campaign. These are all important initiatives to enhance and increase visibility. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and we have pushed to ensure that there is inclusion of disability and disability-proofing in our international development programmes. I commend Irish Aid and the Government's work on that issue. That is all positive.
I support the amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, to substitute a debate on crime for one hour of the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I also support Senator Leyden's amendment, which would substitute a debate on the important issue of Cuisle for the other hour and a half of debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Both are hugely important issues and are far more urgent than the ongoing debate on Report Stage of the Bill. My group and I will certainly support both amendments. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his excellent-----
Today marks the centenary of Countess Markievicz being appointed Secretary for Labour and a member of the executive – making her the first woman to hold a ministerial position in Great Britain and Ireland, and the first female Minister in Western Europe.Countess Markievicz was one of the two women who stood for election in Ireland in 1918, the other being Winifred Carney, and she was the only woman elected in Britain or Ireland. Born into a life of privilege, she was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1887. However she chose instead to pursue art, theatre and political causes including women’s suffrage, socialism and Irish republicanism.By 1911 she was a member of Sinn Féin and was arrested while protesting against the visit to Dublin of King George V. Madame de Markievicz, as she sometimes styled herself, supported the striking workers during the 1913 lock-out and organised soup kitchens to feed the poor of Dublin. She fought in the 1916 Rising as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, and was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green. On her release from prison in June 1917 she continued to work with Sinn Féin.She was back in prison at the time of the 1918 election but won over 65% of the votes and became the first woman elected to the House of Commons. She was still imprisoned when elected to the House of Commons, and celebrated the historic win from her cell, where she received a letter from 10 Downing Street inviting her to attend the state opening of parliament, addressed “Dear Sir…”. However, she never took her seat in Westminster. Constance Markievicz was released from Holloway Gaol on 10 March 1919 and along with the majority of Sinn Féin TDs elected was absent from the first sitting on 21 January 1919 due to her imprisonment. Before returning to Dublin, she visited Westminster to look at the peg reserved for her in the MPs’ vestibule. It was located next to that of Sir Edward Carson. She went on to become a dedicated Teachta Dála and speaking in the Dáil Éireann Debate on Thursday on 2 Mar 1922, ‘That a decree be passed having for its object the admission of Irish women to the Parliamentary Franchise on the same terms as Irish men,’ which lowered the voting age for women to 21 years on the same terms as men, Markievicz said that:
I rise to support this just measure for women because it is one of the things that I have worked for wherever I was since I was a young girl. My first realisation of tyranny came from some chance words spoken in favour of woman's suffrage and it raised a question of the tyranny it was intended to prevent —women voicing their opinions publicly in the ordinary and simple manner of registering their votes at the polling booth. That was my first bite, you may say, at the apple of freedom and soon I got on to the other freedom, freedom to the nation, freedom to the workers. This question of votes for women, with the bigger thing, freedom for women and opening of the professions to women, has been one of the things that I have worked for and given my influence and time to procuring all my life whenever I got an opportunity. I have worked in Ireland, I have even worked in England, to help the women to obtain their freedom. I would work for it anywhere, as one of the crying wrongs of the world, that women, because of their sex, should be debarred from any position or any right that their brains entitle them a right to hold.
One of the main events of the year marking Countess Markievicz, was the presentation by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl of a portrait of Markievicz to Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow on the 19 July last year. The Vótáil 100 committee were in attendance for the presentation in the Speaker’s House in Westminster and on that same day we visited the grave of Constance’s sister Eva Gore-Booth in Hampstead Heath. The presentation was the first formal recognition by the House of Commons of Markievicz being elected as the first woman MP, albeit not taking her seat. The picture, which is a photographic reproduction of a 1901 oil painting of Markievicz owned by Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, went on public display in Parliament’s ‘Voice and Vote’ exhibition until 6 October when it was transferred to Portcullis House for public display.
As chairperson of the Vótáil100 committee which is organising the celebrations around the 2018 centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland, I am delighted that we will have so many exciting events and exhibitions taking place in Leinster House. The first year that Irish women had the right to vote and run in parliamentary elections was 1918. Over the course of 2018, the Houses of the Oireachtas will commemorate this important centenary with a programme of cultural, historical and educational events marking the work of the suffrage movement in Ireland going back to the early 19th century.
Almost 30 years ago, I was threatened with prison by SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children). It was September 1989. I was president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), and SPUC were seeking to imprison our four TCDSU sabbatical officers for providing information on abortion in our students’ union handbooks during Freshers’ Week.
A few years previously, the 1983 Eighth Amendment had been passed, equating the lives of “mother” and “unborn”.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this Private Members' Bill, which the Labour Party group of Senators introduced on Second Stage on 20 January of this year. On that date, it was not opposed on Second Stage by the then Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. We have now brought the Bill back on Committee Stage and it is unusual in the sense that it is a Private Members' Bill going through Committee Stage but we anticipate we will have cross-party support on it. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for expressing support for this Bill. I also welcome the many observers here in the Gallery from across the trade union movement and from the ranks of freelance workers, many of whom are in the acting and journalism professions where the issue of bogus self-employed, if I may call it that, is very widespread.
Section 1 provides for certain definitions while section 2 provides for the substantive issue. This Bill stems from a longstanding Labour Party commitment to ensure protection of the right to collectively bargain for vulnerable workers who are freelance, particularly those in the arts, creative and media sectors. Senator Ged Nash and myself have worked on this for some time. It dates back 14 years to a ruling by the then Competition Authority, now the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. In 2004, it ruled, applying a very restrictive interpretation of the Competition Act 2002, that a collective agreement between Irish Equity and the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland was in breach of competition and that was an agreement that has set rates for voiceover artists. To give colleagues something of the practical import of this, until then, it was accepted that, for example, unions could publish freelance fees guides. This is a particular issue in the arts and creative sectors, in acting and so forth, where unions such as Equity and NUJ had long made agreements about minimum fee rates, a minimum floor of rights for freelance workers, many of whom were employees in all but name. I am talking about people like session musicians, voiceover artists and freelance journalists. As result of the 2004 ruling by the Competition Authority, that sort of agreement of setting a minimum floor of fees was now seen as in breach of competition law.
Speaking this morning in the Seanad, Senator Ivana Bacik called for an urgent response from the Taoiseach and the Government to the ruling last week by the UN Human Rights Committee that Ireland had breached the rights of the applicant Amanda Mellet due to the prohibition in Irish law of termination of pregnancy under the Eighth Amendment, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Commending Amanda Mellet and the Termination for Medical Reasons group for their courage in taking their application to the UN and in raising the issue of fatal foetal abnormality, Senator Bacik said: