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Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] The overall tax take in this State as a percentage of GDP is 31.3%, well below the European average of 35.6%. Linked to this is the startling figure of €11.49 billion. That is the figure this Government grants in tax relief. We must look seriously at this and I urge the Government to look at it in the run up to the budget. It is the case that people who are wealthy get richer.

  In their book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett claim that for each of 11 different health and social problems such as physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal countries. We know that from looking around the globe. Their striking conclusion is that the societies that do best for their citizens are those with the narrowest income differentials - the Nordic countries - while the most unequal such as the US and the UK do worst.

  In conclusion, the question is where we want Ireland to be in a few years' time. Do we want a more unequal society or do we want a more equal one that is safer, more caring and more productive? We should say "Yes" to that.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Tá mé iontach sásta seasamh anseo anocht chun tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille um Stádas Comhionann (Leasú), 2013. Tá moladh mór tuillte ag an Teachta Mac Lochlainn, a tháinig chun tosaigh leis an mBille seo. Tá moladh le tabhairt fosta chuig na heagrais phobail uilig atá ar cúl an fheachtais mar cheannródaithe ar an iarracht atá á dhéanamh comhionannas a chur i gcroílár an Rialtais seo; go háirithe ionas go ndéanfar scrúdú comhionannais ar an gcáinaisnéis atá againn gach bliain. Tuigim fosta gur tháinig ICTU and SIPTU amach go láidir inniu ag rá gur chóir tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo. Is comhartha iontach láidir é sin, go háirithe do Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, a bhfuil ceangal acu leis an gceardchumann SIPTU. Ar an drochuair, tá sé iontach soiléir go bhfuil daoine i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre a bhí mar bhaill bhródúil de SIPTU sular toghadh iad isteach sa Teach seo, ag dul in éadan an cheardchumainn sin. Tá siad ag dul in éadan toil na grúpaí pobail, atá ag cur na hargóinte seo chun tosaigh, agus in éadan toil a bpáirtí féin, mar go bhfuil sé mar pholasaí ag an bpáirtí go mbeidh comhionannas curtha isteach i gcroílár cáinaisnéis na tíre seo.

I am delighted to support this legislation. This legislation is not revolutionary or unrealistic. It is a simple step forward in the way a normal democratic society should deal with its affairs. There should be protection for the six different areas that have been listed in this legislation. Very importantly, equality budgeting should be the cornerstone of how we deal with budgets into the future.

The question we have before us in this legislation and the question Deputies must ask themselves when a vote is called later on tonight is whether they fear equality and fairness and whether they want to turn their backs and protect themselves and the Government in which they are involved in continuing with the budgets they have implemented over the past number of years, which are a far cry from the slogan of equality. I have listened to the contributions made in this Chamber. I am amused, particularly by the Labour Party which is voting against its own party policy on equality budgeting and the views of SIPTU and the ICTU, of which many of them are proud members and shop stewards and in which they have a long history, and both of which have asked all Members of this House to support equality budgeting and this legislation. I am amused by the squirming of Labour Party Deputies in particular when they try to come up with reasons to justify voting against the issue of equality.

We heard Deputy Ciarán Lynch tell us that equality is a subjective concept. This is very similar to the cries made by the former leader of the Progressive Democrats, Michael McDowell, which said he was against equality. I ask the Labour Party Deputies of 2013 to imagine what it would be like if they transposed themselves back to nearly 100 years ago, if one of their leaders was in place of the great labour leader, James Connolly, when they sat down to discuss what would be in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and if when James Connolly put forward the notion that all children of the nation would be treated equally, the Labour Party of today said "equality is a subjective concept, James, we can't have that in the Proclamation". That is the message they are sending out here today.

Why fear equality? The answer can probably be seen in the type of measures this Government has introduced over the past two years. Equality is not a concept. Equality is something that is rooted in the Irish people and very dear to them but it is something that is very distant from this Government, as has been seen in its actions. We have seen it time and time again in budgets and in the presentation made by the Carers Association in the AV room today. It will not be the only group that will come in here asking, demanding and begging that the Government and Deputies bring forward the issues of equality and fairness. Why attack carers when the wealthiest in society are being protected? Why attack those with special needs while those in the privileged elite are protected?

We know there is no easy way out of this crisis. We know the mess Fianna Fáil, its banker friends and corrupt developers left this State in but there is a fair way to get out of it. This Bill would lift the veil of this Government which likes to proclaim that it is standing shoulder to shoulder with those who demand equality and fairness but which in its actions does something quite different. I commend this Bill. I hope the Labour Party Deputies look into their consciences and vote to support this legislation, which their party dictates they do.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe A phrase to the effect that any free society or state should be judged on the basis of how it treats its most vulnerable members or lowest class has been used by many people down through the years. However, its meaning is as important today as it ever was. I think every Member of this House could agree that the Government needs to ensure that it protects the most vulnerable members of society. Again, there is commonality in respect of that statement. Irish society has changed rapidly over the past two to three decades and while there have always been vulnerable groups in our society, the increased diversity of our society means more and more groups and individuals need enhanced protection from State resources.

  This Bill proposes to create that protection and supports closing the clear cracks in Irish society. This Government recently released One World, One Future, its new policy for international development, and reducing inequality is a key part of that policy. In fact, the policy paper states:

It commits the Government to using its aid programme to "target those most excluded, deliberately addressing the inequalities these people face". Does this evidence not apply to Ireland? That is the question we are asking here tonight. Does the Government believe that this should only happen abroad in foreign countries? Inequality does not fix itself through market forces or by simple state hand outs. To reduce inequality, one has to tackle the root causes of it and this requires robust mechanisms whose essential element is ensuring that vulnerable groups are protected. Over 60 countries worldwide use equality budgeting to tackle inequality and poverty and surely it is time this State considered following suit.

  Existing equality laws ban discrimination and unfair targeting of people based on their gender, civil status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and membership of the Traveller community, but we all come across cases of discrimination every day. Our Bill would add new and additional anti-discriminatory categories. It would prohibit discrimination against trade union members, Irish language speakers, former political prisoners who served their sentences before the Good Friday Agreement or were released under its terms and rural dwellers and on the grounds of socio-economic background.

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