Working For Equality In Irish Society
Irish society remains profoundly unequal, with a significant and increasing polarisation between rich and poor. Despite the economic prosperity of recent years, many disadvantaged areas and communities have never received any benefits. As a socialist, I believe in the use of the taxation system to redistribute wealth, to minimise polarisation in society, and to ensure the alleviation of poverty. Only radical policies will effectively combat poverty and eliminate inequalities. I have campaigned and will continue to campaign for:
- Full implementation of Equal Status/Equality legislation.
- Rights-based legislation on disability.
- Innovative use of the taxation system to redistribute wealth throughout the community.
I have long been a passionate advocate for equality and social justice in our society. In particular, I have worked on women’s rights campaigns; on campaigns for the rights of people with disabilities; for gay rights; and for the rights of those from ethnic minorities. I have published extensively in newspapers and journals on equality and human rights law issues.
Equality in Healthcare
As a vital part of my vision for Irish society, I have always campaigned and will continue to campaign for the introduction of a healthcare system that is based on equity. I am firmly opposed to the strengthening of the two-tier system that is represented by Minister Mary Harney’s hospital co-location plans, and I have also spoken out against aspects of her healthcare proposals that I believe will reduce the quality of medical training for our doctors, and will diminish the quality of the health service received by patients. I call for the introduction instead of:
- A fully state-funded national health service, based on need not means.
- A health service that is managed principally by doctors, not administrators
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: