Speaking at the launch of ‘Standing Up for Equality ‘Labour’s plan for a modern, more equal Ireland
For the Labour Party, equality is the keystone of what we believe.
Equality of opportunity.
Equality of treatment before the law.
Equality of rights and of duties.
Equality between men and women.
In recent years, we have made a lot of progress in this country.
Much of it as a result of leadership by the Labour Party, and action taken by Labour Party ministers.
In the 1970s, we had the Equal Pay Act.
In the 80s, we legalised the use of contraception.
In the 90s, Mervyn Taylor introduced some of the most comprehensive anti- discrimination legislation anywhere in the world.
We have had two presidents who were women, and of course, I have the great pleasure to be the first woman leader of a major political party.
But while we have made a lot of progress, there is still a lot left to do.
It was once famously said of the dancer Ginger Rogers that she did everything that Fred Astaire did.
She just did it backwards and in high heels.
The Equal Pay Act of 1977 set out the principle of equal treatment for equal work.
But yet, four decades later, most low-paid workers are women.
Most workers in so-called “precarious” work are women.
Most part-time workers are women.
At the same time, there are too few women in management, too few women in well-paid jobs.
And too few women in politics.
In short, women predominate in low-skilled and part-time jobs.
And there are too few of us at the other end of the scale.
The main reason for this is stark.
It’ s not that women are less skilled or less well-educated than men – we know that the opposite is very often the case.
It’s because the lack of affordable good quality childcare means that many women are forced to choose between home-making and pursuing a career.
The fact that so many women are faced with such a stark choice is unacceptable and has to change.
It has to change for the sake of the women and families involved.
But it also has to change for the sake of society as a whole.
Business, politics and society as a whole will benefit from a greater contribution by more women.
It is for that reason that we have taken a lot of time to work out our childcare policy, and Labour Women have been actively involved in this process.
Our core proposal is first to cap the cost of childcare at €4.50 per hour by subsidising the providers.
We will increase the subsidy over the next five years and set the cap at €2 an hour.
We have also set out how we want to improve the quality of childcare and ensure that it is available in all parts of the country and not just in cities and towns.
I acknowledge of course that even with a comprehensive childcare system in place, many women will choose to work part-time and many part-time jobs are in those sectors of the economy that are less well-paid and less well-regulated.
That is why I asked Ged Nash to tackle the issues of low pay and precarious work.
That is why we have increased the Minimum Wage twice.
And it’s why Ged is working with our colleagues in the trade unions and with business to agree a way forward in dealing with “if and when” contracts and “zero hour” contracts.
Those affected by these issues are not all women, but very many of them are.
Since the earl y 1970s, the Labour Party has taken a lead in relation to family planning and women’s rights.
In 1983, Dick Spring led the opposition to the 8th amendment to the constitution.
Yesterday, we set out in detail our commitments in relation to the 8th.
I know this is an issue of great importance to many young people and in particular to young women.
And so I want Labour’s commitment to be absolutely clear.
We want to give the Irish people a chance to vote on the repeal of the 8th amendment.
And so we will work to build agreement on the need for a referendum.
As an experienced political party with a long track record of achieving social progress, we know consensus-building – not ultimatums – will be central to making progress on this issue.
Only Labour supports repeal and only Labour will do what it takes to let the people have their say.
There will be a referendum on the 8th amendment if Labour is in government.
Equally, there won’t be a referendum if we are not there.
I said a few moments ago that we in the Labour Party have a keen belief in equality.
For us it is a core political principle.
And I would say to all progressive voters – both women and men, to everyone who believes in the importance of equality – that Labour is the only party which shares your belief and is willing and able to make it a reality.