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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jun 1925

Vol. 12 No. 2


I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná ragaidh thar £110,385 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1926, chun Costaisí fén Representation of the People Act, 1918, fén Acht Timpeal Toghachán, 1923, agus fé Acht na gCoistí Dháréag (Leasú), 1924.

That a sum not exceeding £17,000 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for Expenses under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, the Electoral Act, 1923, and the Juries (Amendment) Act, 1924.

Sub-head (a) shows an increase of £4,990. This includes provision, not only for recoupment in connection with the preparation of the third register which will come into force this year, but also for outstanding claims in connection with the preparation of the first and second registers. These amounted, in the case of the first register, to £7,760, and in the case of the second register to £13,600. The recoupment for which the State is liable approximates to £19,000 a year. Some of the county councils are slow in sending in their claims. It is estimated that the provision of £14,740, remaining after the other deductions, will be ample to meet all claims that are likely to come in in the present financial year in respect of the third register, even if these claims are sent in more promptly than was the case in previous years. The claims are not paid until the county councils have paid the Stationery Office their share of the cost of printing the register of electors. The expenses, of which the State defrays part, are: (a) expenses of secretaries or clerks of county councils or in the past, district councils; (b) expenses of rate collectors; (c) printing expenses; (d) other expenses. The State pays various proportions of these expenses.

Deputies will understand now that the electoral list and the register of jurors is one publication. Of the expenses of secretaries of county councils in connection with the compilation of the register, it is estimated that the work involved concerns jury and franchise matters about equally. The State pays no part of the jury expenses. Consequently, its contribution of half the franchise expenses amounts to one quarter of the whole of the expenses under that head—that is the expenses of clerks or secretaries of county councils. In the case of the expenses of rate collectors, it is estimated that the trouble with the jurors work is about half of the trouble involved in connection with the franchise work, and the State contribution is one-half of the franchise element of two-thirds, or one-third of the whole. The State pays one-third of the expenses of the rate collectors. As regards the printing, it is estimated that the jury column in the register is equal to one-seventh of the cost of the whole, and this is a local charge. The remaining six-sevenths of the printing cost of the register is franchise work, and one-half of this is borne by the State and the other half by the local authority. The other expenses, which include extra clerical assistance and the like, are divided equally.

Coming to sub-head (b): This shows a decrease of £9,000. The item under this sub-head will disappear after this year. There are still some sums due in respect of registers prepared under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, before the passing of the Electoral Act, and provision is made for the payment of such claims as are yet to be presented.

I want to ask the Minister whether anything has been done to improve the machinery by which these payments are made. If Deputies will refer to the Appropriation Account for 1923-24, they will see on page 54 that out of the sums voted by the Dáil in that financial year, £83,000, only £11,000 was expended, that is to say, only 15 per cent., and there is a foot-note which shows that only a few of the outstanding claims were submitted for payment during the financial year. That was the year in which there was a general election, and that was the year in which, if one can gather from the Question Paper, there was great discontent about the delay in settling those claims. There were a number of questions, perhaps not an enormous number, but still a considerable number, about these claims against returning officers, and so on, and when they were to be settled. That seems to point to some defects in the machinery, either in the Electoral Act, which it would not be in order now to discuss, or in the machinery devised by the Minister for Finance for the settlement of those claims. As we are voting this sum, I think it would be in order to ask if anything has been done on the subject of payments. A man who has to wait six months or a year—in this case the election took place in August and the claims had not been submitted until the end of the financial period in the following year—would become very discontented, and would be very importunate to Deputies who represent him. I hope the Minister will tell us a little about the machinery by which claims are paid and whether it has been lubricated and will work more smoothly in the future.

On this Vote I would like to ask what has become of the promise made almost twelve months ago that the Jury List would be extended so as to avoid throwing almost two-thirds of the Jury work upon the north side of the city of Dublin. The Minister for Justice promised twelve months ago to amend the Jury Act so as to give an equal distribution of the work as between the citizens of Dublin. You have on the north side the extended boundary of Clontarf, Drumcondra and Glasnevin, with the old city doing two-thirds of the work, while the residents of Rathmines, Pembroke and Donnybrook escape all this work. I think the Minister should tell us what has become of the promise that was given to amend the Jury Act and give much-needed relief.

While on this point I would like to ask the Minister whether during the coming Seanad elections arrangements will be made by the Government to supply the people having votes on the Seanad lists with ballot cards. Will he take any steps in that direction or does he expect that any of the candidates will take steps to notify the people that they are voters upon the lists?

To notify all of them?

Everyone may do that.

I was asked to mention it at any rate. To supply those lists all over the country would be rather a big job for the candidate, and it was thought that the Government might do something to prevent the elections becoming a farce, because very few candidates will be able, or will take the trouble, to supply the voters with voting cards.

I am afraid I am not called upon to answer a lot of the things that have been raised in this debate. In the first place, the expenses of the elections are not paid out of this Vote. They are a Central Fund charge. I do not know whether we have got rid of the source of delay, but, in general, they were caused by the very unsatisfactory attitude of several returning officers. In some districts the whole thing was cleared off quickly and satisfactorily. In other cases it was only when we threatened legal action against the returning officers that we could get them to act. Then, there was the returning officer whose behaviour was mid-way between that of the returning officer who took no steps and the returning officer who acted in a satisfactory manner. Delays were due entirely to the non-submission of claims. I do not want to go into it very much. Neither can I go into some of the questions raised by Deputy Byrne. They are matters really for the Minister for Justice, and I think they could be raised when the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Justice is under consideration. I believe that Committees of the Dáil or the Seanad, or both, have been considering the question of the arrangements for the Seanad elections, and I do not know that I can really answer all the questions put on a Vote that merely deals with the expenses of compiling and printing the Registers.

I thought I was entitled to raise the point, because, after all, we must read the Estimates in connection with the Appropriation Account. We must see how money has been spent in the past when we are voting money for the future, and when we get a startling item like this of £54,000 voted and £2,700 spent, we are entitled to be told that that will not happen in the future. I gather that the Minister is dealing with the returning officers in the same way as he is dealing with the income-tax payers. If that is so I am satisfied. Deputy Byrne raised one general point that I do not think the Minister answered: that is, should it be a charge on a candidate, either for the Dáil or the Seanad, to inform the individual voter of his number on the register? It is at present a serious charge. The Dáil constituency is a big thing. In County Dublin there are 92,000 electors. You get free postage for sending these things out, but free postage does not cover it all. You have to get cards printed, envelopes addressed, and so on, and for the Seanad it will be an incredible charge. If a candidate is supposed to send cards to every elector in the Saorstát over thirty years of age, it will be putting a premium on wealth.

On the other hand, there is the point of view of the individual voter, who will not be at all pleased if he receives fifty-seven different polling cards from candidates for the Seanad. Surely, it is a case for the Government to send a card, with no incitement to vote for any individual, but merely saying: "The election is on such and such a day, between such and such hours. Your polling station is so and so, and your number on the register is so and so." It would be economical. It would save enormous work entailed by two or three or more groups of candidates addressing envelopes. I did not send out any polling cards at the last election, but I suppose I will have to do so at the next. I received four or five different polling cards. It could be done, on the whole, more cheaply by the Government. The burden of postage they have already undertaken, and they could send out a non-controversial card telling the voter the hours of voting, the place where he is entitled to vote, and his number on the register. I believe you would see the result in increased public interest in voting, and you would relieve the candidate from this tremendous burden, which is a most unfair one.

I wonder if Deputy Cooper has taken into account the enormous cost that such a distribution of information by the Government to the electors would entail. The Seanad electorate consists of 1,250,000 voters, and it would mean printing documents to the number of 1,250,000. It would mean a Government staff engaged in addressing 1,250,000 envelopes, and while we are certainly seriously interested in having a fairly good poll for the Seanad election, I am afraid that that would entail too much expense on the Government. This election may entail a cost of £50,000 or £60,000. What usually happens in the case of a Local Government election is to publish posters in various places in the area giving the candidates, and I think that if that were found to be a feasible plan, it is about as much as could be done in the circumstances. I do not think, apart from the Deputies opposite, that it is likely that any meetings will be held in connection with the Seanad election. They have a clear run as far as that is concerned.

The President said the same about the Local Government elections.

I do not know. I cannot say yet what is in store for us, but as far as the Local Government elections are concerned, I think Deputies on the far side have been in first with regard to the selection of candidates. The Seanad election differs very much from the Dáil election. In the first place you are not at liberty to select candidates between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five. Thirty-five, I think, is the earliest age at which a candidate is eligible for nomination. In the second place the spirit of the Constitution is that members of the Seanad rather represent interests which originally, at any rate, were not considered to have been represented in the Dáil. It was hoped, particularly with the country as a single constituency, that certain minorities would be able to get elected which might not do so at an ordinary election. It is for those people to concern themselves with any advertising that there may be in connection with the election. I think it would be unusual and unfair to expect the Government to undertake a very considerable expenditure in order that the people might know the candidates, or for what they might stand. I take it that in each county there will be an interest in a particular candidate, and from the point of view of counting it would be rather useful if that were the case, because it would be easily understood what colossal work those engaged in the counting would have if a surplus of 100,000 votes had to be transferred from a particular candidate. In addition to that the steps that I think will be taken by the Dáil, and possibly by the Seanad, will enable an early intimation to be given to the electorate as to the vast majority, at any rate, of the candidates that will stand for election, and personally I think that that will be quite sufficient.

I think the President has really overlooked the particular point, that is, who will supply the people with the names of the polling stations, their vote numbers and their poll cards. Even in a small election when people go into a school where there may only be six tables there is confusion, and a woman will say, "My name is Mary Brown. I live in such-and-such a place." The officer in charge will say, "What is your number?" I have seen officers turning people out of the polling station when they had not their numbers with them. If these people are to vote, I want to know what candidate, or set of candidates, will go to the trouble of informing them of their polling stations, the tables at which they are to vote and their numbers on the register. If they are not supplied with this information you will find that half of the people will not vote. You will find that the Seanad election will turn out a regular farce as a result, and the new Seanad will not be a representative body. Even if it would mean a considerable expense, I think that the Government should supply the people with cards of a non-committal character. They would find as a result that they would have good representatives in the Seanad.

Vote put and agreed to.