CONSTITUTION (AMENDMENT No. 2) BILL, 1926—FIRST STAGE.

I move for permission to introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution by inserting therein special provision for the election at a general election of the member of Dáil Eireann who was Chairman thereof immediately before the preceding dissolution of the Oireachtas.

We are asking leave to introduce four Bills this evening. If it be desired I will give a short statement upon each, but, I think, the general view of the House is in favour of having the statement made on the Second Reading of Bills, so that I will only, now, formally move for leave to introduce the first stage of the Constitution (Amendment No. 2) Bill.

Before the House grants that leave may I ask whether any report was made by the Committee that sat to investigate possible changes which should be made in the Constitution; if that report has been made, whether it is intended to make it public; and whether it would not be desirable, before the Second Reading stage of those measures, at least, that there should be a full public discussion of matters of such widespread and vital importance to the nation.

I desire to raise a question of procedure. There are here four distinct Bills. Yet they refer to changes in the Constitution which may possibly have relationship one to the other and which, I think, certainly, will involve, if they are passed, some changes in the electoral law and, perhaps, other consequential changes. I think it would be difficult to discuss those Bills independently of each other. I suggest there ought to be a Committee of the House set up to inquire into their effect before we give them a Second Reading or, certainly, immediately after Second Reading is given, if it is given. I would rather desire that before any Bills of this kind were introduced there should be a Committee of the House, or a joint committee of the two Houses, set up to consider what necessary changes are required in respect of the Constitution due to the little experience we have had of the working of its machinery.

I desire now to ask if the President has any suggestions to make regarding the reference of these Bills, as a whole, to a Committee, or whether it is intended that they should be taken independently and separately and, therefore, that the discussion be confined to the particular Bill under discussion. I do not think it is possible to disentangle one Bill from the other entirely. Therefore, I think there ought to be opportunity provided whereby the effect of the changes, as a whole, may be discussed and the necessary consequential changes in the electoral law may also be discussed.

I would have no objection to having the four Bills put to a special committee of the House. I do not think they affect so much the Seanad as the Dáil. I think a Committee of this House would suffice. These four measures are considered necessary in the light of our experience. There were other matters dealt with by the Committee appointed, but it is not proposed to publish the report of that Committee. There are many reasons for that. The report will be there for our successors when they come to discharge the duties of the Executive Council, and they can benefit by whatever information is embodied in it. I would be prepared to meet Deputy Johnson's point to have those four measures, after Second Reading, referred to a special committee of the Dáil.

I feel that if Second Reading is assented to we are more or less committed to the Bills, and I cannot see how we are to discuss the Second Reading of the first Bill without referring to the effect of No. 2, 3 and 4 Bills. I think, even before we arrive at Second Reading, there ought to be an opportunity for representatives of the different parties in the House to discuss the Bills in the light of what the Government has to say following the inquiry which their Departmental Committee has informed them on. It is certainly not in accordance with any procedure that I am aware of. But I do not see why we should not have a Committee of the Dáil set up before we arrive at the Second Reading stage. When we have the views of the Government put before us, in print, then let the Committee be set up to consider the proposals of the Bills and the effect of those Bills upon the constitutional position and the electoral laws.

Before leave is given to introduce the Bill, is it not desirable that the House should be put in possession of the reasons for the desire to legislate in this way? We all understand that a Committee has been sitting to investigate the changes required in the Constitution in the light of the experience of its work. Rumours have been circulated as to what items of the Constitution came under review and as to the suggestions of change. We are all aware that there is one particular item in the Constitution which requires revision, if not recision. Are we not to have an opportunity of reviewing the Constitution as reviewed by that Committee? Are we not to be put in possession of their findings, if, as might be presumed, these are the outcome of it; and the fruits of the advice tendered to the Executive Council? After all, it will be admitted, I think, that the public is very much concerned in certain articles of the Constitution, and if it is the case that the Committee did not investigate selected articles of the Constitution, but the Constitution in its entirety, why should we not have the advantage of their inquiry? Why should it be a secret piece of enlightenment merely for the Executive Council to deal out portion of it by instalments, not in the direct form of advice but in legislative results? Without expressing any opinion whatever, favourable or unfavourable, I think, if only as a matter of courtesy to the House, one is entitled to ask what reasons prompted these particular revisions.

I must say I am not at all satisfied with the President's explanation as to why the findings of this Committee should be kept secret. What was there secret about the Constitution or that should not be made public? Why is it that the people of this State who are intimately associated and bound up with the Constitution, should not have the right to discuss in public, and to go into freely, the whole question of the Constitution on the finding of a Commitee set up by the Executive Council. Is there anything in this report which the Executive Council does not want to be disclosed and, if not, why not disclose it? Why not have the report published for the benefit of the public at large? I suppose, like Deputy Magennis, that these proposals are based upon some of the findings of this Committee. If they are, why not say so? Why place this veil and cloak of secrecy around an investigation into a matter that is of the deepest and of the utmost concern for every citizen in the community? I must say that the President's explanation in no way satisfies me. I cannot, by any stretch of imagination, see why the Committee appointed to investigate a matter of such importance and public concern as this should be private and secret and that their findings should not be made public and be broadcast to the country.

I am prepared to meet Deputy Johnson in having a Committee meeting if he wishes on this matter before the Second Reading, and not to take the Second Reading for a fortnight.

We will, of course, have to take motions for the introduction of these particular Bills. Two questions have been raised, one of which I might express an opinion upon myself; that is, the question of procedure on constitutional amendments. Deputy Johnson suggests that constitutional amendments before they go to Second Reading, or Bills introduced in this way for constitutional amendments, should go to a Committee even before the Second Reading. The President has agreed to that, and I think it is very sound procedure. At any rate, it is perfectly clear that a Bill amending the Constitution should, if possible, be submitted to some special kind of procedure. The other question raised about the report of the Committee is, of course, a different question altogether — one simply between the Executive Council itself, the Committee which reported, and anyone who wants the report. I presume the suggestion now is that these Bills should be introduced when they have been printed; a motion to be introduced by the President submitting these four Bills under new Standing Order 65 to a Select Committee, that Committee to make its report, and then whatever action is considered suitable to be taken immediately.

Would that Select Committee be put in possession of the report that is now being kept from the Dáil?

There is no report being kept from the Dáil.

It is not being disclosed.

Leave was given, and it was ordered that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.