Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labour Women's National Conference - and Waterford Labour Women's Collective Debut.

Last Saturday I went to my first Labour Women's National Conference in the Oak Room of the Mansion House in Dublin. This is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a post which is happily currently held by not only a Labour Lord Mayor but a woman, Emer Costello, who is also a Dublin City Councillor. So the conference was on home ground with a political colleague, who is active in Labour Women. We have recently formed a group of Labour women in Waterford, from different branches in the constituency, and we held our inaugural meeting last month. We sent five delegates to the Conference, and proposed three motions which we felt were relevant to women's issues at this time.

Waterford Labour Women with the Party Leader. Back row: me, Cllr. Ciara Conway, Deirdre Jacques; Front row: Lorna, Eamon Gilmore TD, Jane Jermyn

One of the motions was on the proposal to cut child benefit to save 20% on its annual cost, as recommended in the recent Bord Snip Nua/McCarthy Report along with other swingeing cuts that will impact unfavourably on the poor and vulnerable in our society. Such a retrograde step would be hugely negative given that it is the only universal payment to women that keeps them financially independent and ensures equality for all children.

The Mansion House, Dublin

Another motion concerned the new childcare funding that replaces the annual payment for all children under six - it is inadequate in that it doesn't fund sufficient hours of childcare and it does not reflect the real cost of childcare in a registered creche, which is where the grant must be allocated. This sector has already been hit by cuts in subvention to poorer women and children in back to education and training schemes, and this grant will not help if its subvention is inadequate.

Dee speaking on election to the National Women's Executive, with Sinéad looking on.

Our final motion was one proposed by me - one I feel passionate about as it concerns women's health - on the government's unilateral withdrawal in November 2008 of the planned cervical cancer vaccine that was proposed in August 2008 for all 12 year-old girls in the State. This was hugely emotive and caused outrage, particularly as it was already too little too late, given that we were way behind other civilised countries in having no cervical cancer screening programme until last month.

Also, the recommended cervical cancer vaccine catch-up programme for 13-15 yr old girls was not taken up by the government, despite the UK having implemented a catch-up programme for all 13-18 yr old girls. The total cost was a paltry €10million annually for the 12 yr olds, and the catch-up would have cost a once-off €29.2million. But this was deemed unaffordable in the current climate.

Cllr. Ciara Conway speaking

In fact the Revised Programme for Government agreed by the Greens at their Party Conference a week ago talked about expansion of the Cervical Cancer Vaccine “at the earliest opportunity, in accordance with clinical priorities” - I wonder how you can expand something that doesn't exist already? Shows their priorities and skill at double-speak.

What led to my proposing this motion was the recent announcement of the plan to introduce postcodes to all households in Ireland, at a cost of €10-15million, and juxtaposed against the cervical cancer vaccine withdrawal it seemed obscenely inappropriate. Ireland may be the only country in Europe not to have postcodes, but our quaintly unique townlands address system has worked for years and could surely ride out the economic crisis. This was another Green plan, along with (to add insult to injury to the women of Ireland) the plan to stop badger culling by - you guessed it I'm sure - vaccinating them! The Greens must have lost all sense of irony that they didn't see the ridicule this would heap on them by even the most ardent animal-rights activists, and indeed they tried to downplay and even deny that they were pushing for badger vaccination, just an alternative to culling. This would seem to be the only alternative, though, as how else would you stop badgers being a TB hazard to cattle?

Joan Burton TD, Deputy Leader, addresses the conference, with Ivana Bacik seated
Below: Coffee break - Dee, Jane and Lorna

So that gives you an idea of our input to the Conference. It was a very interesting day, with a lot of good speakers, and an address by the man of the moment and hopefully Ireland's next Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore, the Labour Party leader. The theme of the Conference was parity in political life - how to increase women's representation and presence in public office, how to increase the number of women candidates for election and how to strengthen our current position of having the highest proportion of women TDs of all the parties, at 22% compared to the Dáil (parliament) with 14%. So this generated a lot of heated debate, with diverse opinions on a quota system promoting a gender-proofing "affirmative action" type plan. It was all very positive and the format encouraged open debate and contributions from the floor, indeed it was well structured but less formal than the main conference partly because of the numbers and the intimate venue.

Eamon Gilmore TD, and Sinéad

Joan Burton TD, Deputy Leader and party spokesman on finance addressed the gathering, as did Senator Ivana Bacik, both formidable women with a long history of activism and advocacy on feminist and family issues. The guest speaker was well-known writer, journalist and commentator, Susan McKay,currently head of the National Women's Council of Ireland. The outgoing Chair of Labour Women, Sinéad ní Chualacháin, presided over the Conference. We could have filled the day with debates on the various motions from all the contributors, and there was plenty of networking and a chance to meet with the other delegates at the end of the day.

Ivana Bacik, Susan McKay and Sinéad ni Chualacháin

All in all, it was a great day and I am really proud to be a member of a party and a group of women with a level of conviction and moral outrage as was shown at the conference at the injustices in today's society. Contrary to Margaret Thatcher's assertion that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families, most people want to live in a society. Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that right now we live in an economy; we are being shown by the present government that their priority is solely focused on economic recovery, irrespective of the cost to society and the people of the country.


Ann said...

Very enlightening Catherine. I am shocked by the vaccination issue. Can it be true that badgers and cattle are more precious than our children! Those who propose that it is too expensive to keep our children save from disease should hang their heads in shame!!

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, congratulations on getting 'stuck in'the conference looks informative and topical on all issues affecting us at the moment.

Catherine said...

Hi Ann, thanks for visiting and commenting! glad you found the post worthwhile. Yes there is a bit of facetiousness about the whole vaccination issue but the Greens did seriously propose badger vaccination in the run-up to their party conference where they discussed the revised programme for government and culling badgers is in it - that an alternative will be offered. They got such slating over the vaccination thing that they backed down. By the way, I wasn't the only one to juxtapose the postcodes and cervical vaccine anomaly - Liz McManus TD Labour pointed it out on Morning Ireland the day Gormless Gormley announced the postcodes revolution! So we just ran with it. And I had commented on it way back last year on the Facebook group and the Labour website when the vaccine was withdrawn. In fact the PFG says something about "expansion" of the vaccination programme - how can something be expanded when it doesn't even exist?!!!
Cheers and keep on blogging!

Catherine said...

Hi Peggy, thanks for dropping by - long time no see as I haven't been over to your blog in a while! Yes, the conference was very enjoyable, my first but not my last I hope. All the topics were relevant and there was a lot of real and genuine passion about the injustices being put on people with the recession and the way money is flung at the banks while repossessions are going on, and healthcare is being ruined, and Prof. Drumm is getting his 70K bonus - we had plenty to rant about. A nice group of women;I met some women from Cork city there,and it is really good that we have organised in Waterford now with our new group of women in the constituency. We had a piece in the local press today, with the group photo!
All the best,

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