Monday 17 June 2019

Varadkar vows to end gender 'inequalities'

New citizens' assembly will be formed as Taoiseach admits Ireland falling 'far short'

Women facing barriers at work: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the launch in Dublin of plans for a new Citizens’ Assembly on gender. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Women facing barriers at work: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the launch in Dublin of plans for a new Citizens’ Assembly on gender. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Ireland falls "very far short" when it comes to gender equality, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Announcing a new Citizens' Assembly on gender, Mr Varadkar said it would take "many generations" for men and women to be equal unless new policies were pursued.

Over the summer months, a polling company will be tasked with recruiting 100 people to sit on the assembly from next October.

They will be given six months to draw up a series of recommendations in the areas of childcare, pay, social welfare and potential constitutional change.

Its conclusion will be advisory for the Government rather than binding - but similar processes in the past have been the starting point for the referendums on marriage equality and repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland had made "great strides forward" in terms of laws on divorce, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

"However, I don't think anyone can argue for a second that Ireland is a country where men and women are equal. We fall very far short of that," he said.

"The current rate of progress is too slow. At the current rate of change it could take many generations before men and women are truly equal and truly have equality of opportunity."

Mr Varadkar said he wanted Ireland to be the "first country in the world where men and women are truly equal".

One of the topics to be considered by the assembly will be the special place in the home assigned to women within the Constitution.

The Government had planned to hold a referendum to remove Article 41.2 but this stalled when some other parties proposed that it be replaced with a new clause recognising carers rather than simply be removed.

The section in the Constitution says: "The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved".

Mr Varadkar said in his view the article should be deleted but he wanted cross-party support for a referendum.

"Referendums rarely pass if there isn't cross-party support for them. Let's see what the citizens' assembly says," the Taoiseach said.

"The language that we use [should be] gender-neutral and not sexist.

"While it may not have been sexist in the context of the times, it certainly is when you read it today."

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said she hoped the assembly would identify the barriers still facing women in the workplace.

She said childcare remained an obstacle to women having "full and equal participation" in work, culture and politics life.

Likewise, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said she recently got in "hot water" for saying the country needed "a conversation about care".

"I think this is exactly the place to have it. The citizens' assembly has a really good track record of sometimes being ahead of politics and the curve."

When the assembly on gender concludes its work, the Government proposes to set up another which will focus on the four local authorities in Dublin.

It will be asked to assess whether the capital should continue to have four councils.

And the assembly will debate what role a directly elected mayor might have ahead of a plebiscite in 2021.

Irish Independent

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