I gCoiste ar an mBille um Bunreacht Shaorstait Eireann. (In Committee on the Constitution of Saorstát Eireann Bill.) - ARTICLE 47—POWER OF INITIATION BY THE PEOPLE.

"The Parliament/Oireachtas may provide for the initiation by the people of proposals for laws or constitutional amendments. Should the Parliament/ Oireachtas fail to make such provision within two years, it shall, on the petition of not less than one hundred thousand voters on the register, of whom not more than twenty thousand shall be voters in any one constituency, either make such provisions or submit the question to the people for decision in accordance with the ordinary regulations governing the Referendum. Any legislation passed by the Parliament/Oireachtas providing for such initiation by the people shall provide (1) that such proposals may be initiated on a petition of fifty thousand voters on the register; (2) that if the Parliament/Oireachtas rejects a proposal so initiated it shall be submitted to the people for decision in accordance with the ordinary regulations governing the Referendum; and (3) that if the Parliament/Oireactas enacts a proposal so initiated, such enactment shall be subject to the provisions respecting ordinary legislation or amendments of the Constitution as the case may be."

Mr. K. O'HIGGINS

In moving the adoption of this Article, I may say it will still further associate the people with the forging of the laws of the country, and it puts the power in the hands of the people of even initiating legislation. If a large section of the people feel that a certain law is desirable; and if Parliament fails to introduce the desired legislation, power is given here to the people to initiate legislation themselves. It is the direct complement of the Referendum, and pretty much what can be claimed for the Referendum can be claimed for the Initiative—that it keeps contact between the people and their laws, and keeps responsibility and consciousness in the minds of the people that they are the real and ultimate rulers of the country. The text of the Article as it stands is permissive; it is not mandatory. It is permissive of Parliament to institute the initiative, but it is mandatory if Parliament, having failed to introduce it, is so requested by a petition within two years. I think it is better not to speak of the amendments that are on the paper until they are moved.

Mr. JOHNSON

I beg to move to leave out the word "may" (the Parliament/Oireachtas may provide for the initiation), and to insert instead thereof the words "shall within two years," and to leave out the words "should the Parliament/Oireachtas fail to make such provision within two years it shall, on the petition of not less than one hundred thousand voters on the register, of whom not more than twenty thousand shall be voters in any one constituency, either make such provisions or submit the question to the people for decision, in accordance with the ordinary regulations governing the Referendum." I think we are entitled to aquid pro quo for our not opposing the Referendum in asking you to make the Initiative mandatory. One runs parallel with the other, and one is the complement of the other. If Parliament does certain things and passes certain legislation, and a minority of that Parliament may hold up that legislation by calling for a Referendum, the complement of that is that people who may be desirous of certain legislation, and Parliament is dilatory in passing it, would be able to initiate such legislation. And it seems to me there ought to be no question that if the Referendum is to be part of the Constitution, the Initiative is equally necessary, especially if we are attempting to associate the people generally with legislative projects. We say in the clause as drafted that Parliament may provide for the Initiative, and, if it fails, then there must be a petition of 100,000 voters to insist that Parliament shall provide. That surely is not a reasonable proposition. The effect of it, as Deputy Figgis has pointed out, is that the Initiative is not going to become part of the Constitutional machinery, and while the clause here is fairly full, the provision in the first part of the clause practically shows we are wasting our time in discussing it. My proposition is that we shall lay down as part of this Constitution that, having passed a Referendum clause we ought certainly to make provision for the initiation of legislation by the people, and that it should be mandatory upon succeeding Parliaments to make proposals for initiation machinery.

Mr. ERNEST BLYTHE

There are difficulties about making anything mandatory within a limited period. We cannot tell what the Parliamentary history of the next two years may be. It may be impossible for it to undertake the passing of a law establishing an Initiative. It may be that after an election we would have no stable majority. We might have the most extreme difficulty in coming to an agreement in regard to the provisions for an Initiative; that is the detailed provisions. It seems to me that it would not be desirable to make it mandatory on the Parliament with a time limit. On the other hand, it is mandatory as it stands whenever a petition shall be presented signed by 100,000 voters on the Register. It may frequently be a matter of some difficulty, and it is desirable it should be a matter of some difficulty, to get within a limited time 100,000 voters to sign a demand for a Referendum; but if there is any body of opinion, or if there is any political party interested in getting provisions for an Initiative, then, working without any time limit, there should be no real difficulty in getting 100,000 signatures to a petition asking that legislation should be passed providing for an Initiative. Even if there were nothing like 100,000 people in the country who really wanted the Initiative—and there are likely to be many more than that—the active political party which was interested in it could get the signatures of as many voters as that by a canvass. It is an entirely different case from the case of the Referendum where whoever was getting up the petition would be working under a time limit. I think that is a sufficient answer to Deputy Johnson's argument. It does not make it mandatory on the Parliament to do, within limited time, a thing it might not easily find itself able to do, and it does not prevent action being taken which will lead to the legislation being provided at a later stage. I do not think in any of these matters which are left to the people that we should make it too easy for a very small body to involve the country in the expense which anything of this nature will bring about. Every Initiative will mean an enormous expense. It may be that within two years, when the country has had experience of Referendums, there may not be any very great desire for an Initiative. On the other hand, if there is sufficient desire, it would be very easy to get it.

Mr. THOMAS JOHNSON

May I say that the time limit seems to be the difficulty with the Minister for Local Government; but if immediately any particular party began to get signatories to a petition, provided they succeeded, it would be mandatory upon the next Parliament, and they would then have to find the time. So that the argument as regards the time limit would not be very effective in demolishing the case. If it would meet the Minister's point, I am prepared to eliminate the words "two years," and say "within the next Parliament," and I have no doubt the process of political education of the community will go on by virtue of petitions and the like; but I prefer that we should be devoting our time to other matters than persuading people to sign petitions at the initiation of this Constitution. It would probably save a good deal of time and expense and energy if this proposal were accepted now.

Mr. E. BLYTHE

I think there is a definite difficulty about any time limit, because if you fail to get agreement on the details, it may easily happen that the next Parliament's life might be very short. It might, owing to divisions and that sort of thing, not be actually possible to get it passed. This Dáil, at any rate, will become the first Dáil of the Free State. It does not follow that the next Dáil will have four years. There are very likely to be considerable political changes after the election; new parties will arise; parties will go to pieces, and there would be a difficulty or a danger that any time limit might be really over-run.

Mr. THOMAS JOHNSON

Would it meet the case to say that Parliament shall provide, without saying the next succeeding, or the second next?

Mr. G. FITZGIBBON

Surely there is considerable objection to putting compulsory legislation upon Parliament. If the people want this thing they can get it quite easily themselves by demanding it in sufficient numbers, and the numbers are not very great considering the number of electors under the present wide franchise. On the other hand, if the people do not want this thing, and you put a compulsory provision in the Constitution, with or without a time limit, Parliament must provide it even against the will of the people, and it will be extremely difficult, as was pointed out on many occasions before, to get an alteration in the Constitution. This is permissible if the feeling of the country is in favour, probably even without a petition at all; or, even if the Dáil is in favour of it, the Government will probably feel themselves compelled to yield to that public opinion and to provide it. On the other hand, if the feeling of the country is not in favour, it is difficult to see any good reason for forcing the Government to give them what they do not want.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

I notice the difference in the attitude of Deputy Johnson between the Referendum and the Initiative. I observed the great skill with which he has been endeavouring to pull the leg of the Ministry, if I may be permitted to say so. When it came to the Referendum, which is intended to act as a brake upon hasty legislation—I moved that the large numbers should be eliminated, and that, instead of having 100,000, there should be 30,000—he opposed that; and I noticed the Farmers' Party, who would have participated in the brake, also opposed it. Now, when it comes to the Initiative, which is intended, if I may so put it, to ginger up the Legislature and get advanced legislation—a thing which might not be entirely to the will of the entire nation, but might be to very well organised opinion—in this matter he suddenly becomes a convert to the numbers being brought down. I agree with him. I think the numbers ought to be brought down on the Initiative, and I will support him in that. I think the numbers ought to be brought down on the Referendum, too. What is fair one way is fair the other, and if he succeeds in managing to bring this off I shall say "Bravo" to him.

CATHAL O'SHANNON

Of course, Deputy Darrell Figgis is not quite correct when he says that this might ginger up legislation of an advanced type. It might just as readily ginger them up on reactionary legislation.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

That is often done.

CATHAL O'SHANNON

There is not much use in prejudicing the issue by talking about advanced legislation, and scaring the farmer Deputies into the belief that Deputy Johnson wants to Bolshevise the country right off by this proposal. It might be, it would be as easy for every other member, for them or anybody, the Conservative element, to make use of it for the purpose of checking legislation and for reactionary legislation.

Mr. K. O'HIGGINS

What we feel is that to make this thing mandatory is assuming too much. It is assuming a great demand for it on the part of the country to make it mandatory, the time limit is assuming that, and it is placing definite responsibility on Parliament to provide for this. It remains to be seen whether that demand will take shape and crystallise in the country, and we do not think that it is too much to ask, as evidence of that, one hundred thousand signatories to a petition. To make it mandatory without a time limit is simply absurd. Parliament shall provide for so and so, when it suits it, when it thinks fit. If there be any approach it would more likely be on the lines of a smaller figure perhaps, than a hundred thousand.

Mr. JOHNSON

Will you make it fifty thousand and strike a bargain?

Mr. O'HIGGINS

We will consider that.

Mr. JOHNSON

Very well.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. THOMAS JOHNSON

The further amendment is, to be short, to divide the numbers that are mentioned here by two, to make 100,000 as the number of necessary signatories to a petition 50,000, and to make the number 20,000 in line 6—that is "of whom not more than 20,000 shall be voters in any one constituency" 10,000. And in line 12 to make the number requisite for the initiation of a petition 25,000 instead of 50,000. This is a matter of proportion as to what number we consider practicable in the matter of initiating legislation, and everybody who has had anything to do with the organisation of public opinion knows how difficult it would be to raise so large a number of petitioners as 50,000, and I submit that the numbers are too high in the present form, and could well be divided by 2 to make it practicable.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

Hear, hear.

Mr. KEVIN O'HIGGINS

It is, I suppose, unnecessary to state that, with the exception of the Articles which I mentioned in my letter to Deputy Johnson, these things are free to the Dáil to consider. The other matters are matters on which the Government takes a certain stand, and would not be prepared to remain in in the event of a defeat on them. But matters of this kind are very much for the individual judgment of Deputies. Our own feeling on this is that the only figure we would change or consider changing would be that figure in the second sentence, which states the number of voters on the register who shall make the petition for Parliament to provide for the Initiative. That number is down at 100,000 here, and we certainly will consider altering and lessening that number. But, in view of the great expense to the State that each Initiative will involve, we do not consider it unreasonable to ask for these other figures further down in the Article.

Mr. THOMAS JOHNSON

I should point out, while it is undoubtedly true that, if an Initiative is called for, it will involve considerable expenditure by the State. But the very fact that it would cause a great deal of expenditure on the part of individuals, or groups, or parties, would prevent the too frequent use of this privilege. And, as a matter of fact, in the one country which has been so often quoted in favour of the Initiative, its experience since that reform was introduced is that it has not been used with undue frequency. It has been used with great moderation, and they found sufficient difficulties to preclude people from inciting the Government to spend money unnecessarily. There is preliminary expenditure called for by organisations responsible for the movement, and that in itself is a check, and it is ths experience that, I think, is borne out in other countries, that the Initiative is not used with undue frequency, and therefore expense is not a matter of very great moment, especially if one is prepared to consider the real educational value, in a political sense, of the agitation for an Initiative. That, I submit, in itself is very well worth, from the political point of view, all the expenditure even by such a practice as that. Others may organise a petition and then fail to get sufficient support, but the education has gone on, and the preliminary expenditure has been undertaken by the various parties on the score of expense. I do not think it is a matter that the Government should lay too much stress upon.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 36.

  • Pádraig Ó Gamhna.
  • Uaitear Mac Cumhaill.
  • Seán Ó hAodha.
  • Tomás de Nógla.
  • Riobard Ó Deaghaidh.
  • Darghal Figes.
  • Tomás Mac Eóin.
  • Seoirse Ghabhain Uí Dhubhthaigh.
  • Liam Ó Bríain.
  • Tomás Ó Conaill.
  • Séamus Eabhróid.
  • Liam Ó Daimhin.
  • Seán Ó Laidhin.
  • Cathal Ó Seanáin.
  • Seosamh Mac Giolla Bhríghde.
  • Seán Buitléir.
  • Nioclás Ó Faoláin.
  • Domhnall Ó Muirgheasa.
  • Risteard Mac Fheorais.
  • Domhnall Ó Ceallacháin.

Níl

  • Donchadh Ó Gúaire.
  • Seán Ó Maolruaidh.
  • Seán Ó Duinnín.
  • Liam de Róiste.
  • Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
  • Peadar Mac a' Bháird.
  • Deasmhumhain Mac Gearailt.
  • Seán Ó Ruanaidh.
  • Micheál de Duram.
  • Domhnall Mac Cartaigh.
  • Éarnán Altún.
  • Sir Séamus Craig.
  • Gearóid Mac Giobuin.
  • Liam Thrift.
  • Liam Mag Aonghusa.
  • Pádraic Ó Máille.
  • Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
  • Fionán Ó Loingsigh.
  • Séamus Ó Cruadhlaoich.
  • Criostóir Ó Broin.
  • Risteárd Mac Liam.
  • Caoimhghin Ó hUigín.
  • Tomás Mac Ártúir.
  • Séamus Ó Doláin.
  • Aindriu Ó Laimhín.
  • Proinsias Mag Aonghusa.
  • Eamon Ó Dúgáin.
  • Peadar Ó hAodha.
  • Séamus Ó Murchadha.
  • Liam Mac Sioghaird.
  • Tomás Ó Domhnaill.
  • Éarnán de Blaghd.
  • Uinseann de Faoite.
  • Domhnall Ó Broin.
  • Séamus de Burca.
  • Micheál Ó Dubhghaill.

Tá.

Níl

Pádraig Ó Gamhna.Uaitear Mac Cumhaill.Seán Ó hAodha.Tomás de Nógla.Riobard Ó Deaghaidh.Darghal Figes.Tomás Mac Eóin.Seoirse Ghabhain Uí Dhubhthaigh.Liam Ó Bríain.Tomás Ó Conaill.Séamus Eabhróid.Liam Ó Daimhin.Seán Ó Laidhin.Cathal Ó Seanáin.Seosamh Mac Giolla Bhríghde.Seán Buitléir.Nioclás Ó Faoláin.Domhnall Ó Muirgheasa.Risteard Mac Fheorais.Domhnall Ó Ceallacháin.

Donchadh Ó Gúaire.Seán Ó Maolruaidh.Seán Ó Duinnín.Liam de Róiste.Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.Peadar Mac a' Bháird.Deasmhumhain Mac Gearailt.Seán Ó Ruanaidh.Micheál de Duram.Domhnall Mac Cartaigh.Éarnán Altún.Sir Séamus Craig.Gearóid Mac Giobuin.Liam Thrift.Liam Mag Aonghusa.Pádraic Ó Máille.Seoirse Mac Niocaill.Fionán Ó Loingsigh.Séamus Ó Cruadhlaoich.Criostóir Ó Broin.Risteárd Mac Liam.Caoimhghin Ó hUigín.Tomás Mac Ártúir.Séamus Ó Doláin.Aindriu Ó Laimhín.Proinsias Mag Aonghusa.Eamon Ó Dúgáin.Peadar Ó hAodha.Séamus Ó Murchadha.Liam Mac Sioghaird.Tomás Ó Domhnaill.Éarnán de Blaghd.Uinseann de Faoite.Domhnall Ó Broin.Séamus de Burca.Micheál Ó Dubhghaill.

Motion made and question put:—"That Article 47 stand part of the Bill."
Agreed to.