I think the Dáil might have expected to have presented to it a case in favour of a constitutional amendment to meet the difficulty which the Minister presumes to exist. So far the Dáil has had no arguments adduced which would justify a change in the Constitution. One would imagine that the Constitution of this State was equivalent to the rules of procedure of a debating society, altered easily, without much argument, without much sign of necessity, but simply a matter of the officers of the society coming forward and making a case for a change in the rules, putting it to the meeting, and the meeting carrying it, and that is enough. I want to make the case before the Dáil that the Constitution ought not be amended lightly and easily, and not at all without a very definite and compelling reason. This proposed amendment to the Constitution is put to the Dáil by the Minister because a certain difficulty appears to him to exist regarding the future representation of a constituency, and the somewhat peculiar position that the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil is placed in. But surely we ought to have some justification for dealing with the Constitution to meet the difficulty, presuming a difficulty of that character did exist. What I have to say about the constitutional changes applies not only to this Bill, but to the other Bills that are now presented to us. I think the House ought to take the view that constitutional changes ought not be made easily. As a matter of fact, the Constitution itself assumes that changes will not be made in the Constitution without very strong reason, and that after the eighth year of the Constitution there will be very great difficulty in changing it. The view of the Ministry seems to be that, having regard to the difficulty of future changes, we must go to the other extreme in the interim and make changes now as lightly and easily as possible. So much is that the case that the Minister satisfies himself by presenting the other easy and simple proposition, without any concern, that these constitutional amendments are merely a matter of procedure affecting the House. I think the House ought not to take that view. This matter was discussed in the Committee which was appointed a fortnight ago, but even there, to my mind, there was no presentation of a case which would justify any changes in the Constitution at the present time. I propose to place on record the views I submitted to the committee, which views, of course, were not accepted, in this form:
"The Committee is of opinion that alterations in the Constitution ought not to be made unless compelling reasons are-adduced, and that proposals for change should be preceded by a full and close inquiry by a joint committee of the Dáil and Seanad, and public discussion of the reasons for change. The reasons put forward for any of the present proposals are insufficient to justify the proposed changes at this stage. There is general agreement of the Committee that amendment of the Constitution is required. It is our view that such amendments as are now proposed ought to be the subject of an inquiry by a joint committee for the revision of the Constitution, whose duty it would be to review the Constitution generally for the purpose of removing minor faults which have become apparent in the light of experience, and to whom would be referred for examination and report any proposals of major importance affecting the relations between the citizen and the State."
That proposition was submitted to the Committee, but was not accepted.
I want to have it on record that that is a view I put forward. I think the House ought to take the view that Constitutional changes ought not to be made merely on the initiative of a Minister. The part of the Constitution which deals with the Legislature undoubtedly affects the Seanad as it does the Dáil, and changes of the Constitution respecting the Legislature must inevitably alter the balance which was presumed to have been arrived at when the Constitution was being drawn up. I submit it is not right or proper that such Constitutional changes should be made affecting the Legislature and its composition, without reference to a committee on which the Seanad would be represented, prior to a Bill being introduced. I think, too, that such changes as are required in the Constitution, and as seem to be desirable in the light of experience, ought not to be dealt with piecemeal, one at a time, or even four at a time.
I think it is quite well known that numerous other proposals are under consideration regarding the Constitution and its amendment. I think it is a reasonable case to make that all such proposals ought to be considered together so that one would be related to the other, and the effect upon the whole scheme should be understood before we make any single change. The case for this particular Bill is necessarily somewhat different from that for the other Bills, and the objection, to my mind, is greater, inasmuch as we are proposing now to add something to the Constitution of an entirely new character. In the other cases there were minor alterations and deletions, but in this particular case we are adding something which is entirely foreign to the Constitution as we know it. It is proposed to make a new type of representative in the Dáil, in fact to alter the character of the Dáil and to do that by a change in the Constitution. At present the Dáil represents constituencies, and every member of the Dáil has been elected and is subject to re-election. What is proposed now is that one member in succeeding assemblies will not have to undergo that test, will not have submitted to the test of a new election, and may or may not have given satisfaction to those by whom he was originally elected.
The Minister, in presenting the Bill, said in effect that the House becomes the Ceann Comhairle's constituency under the new arrangement, but that is not a full statement of the case. It is proposed that the House should elect a Ceann Comhairle to preside over its activities, but it does not make it obligatory, as the Minister has pointed out, that the person who occupied the Chair before a dissolution must necessarily occupy the Chair in a new Assembly. That is to be left to the option of the House, but what is the result supposing the new House does not elect the person who has come in from the previous Chair? You have then a member of the House with all the rights and privileges of every other member, who has not a constituency behind him, and who does not represent anybody, a foreign person within the community or, as I have heard it suggested, a distinguished stranger. That is a perfectly proper appellation—distinguished because the previous Dáil allowed him to preside over their deliberations, but a stranger because he has not gone through the mill of election, and does not represent any constituency, and may not be said to be in that assembly in a representative capacity. That is a serious change to be proposed, and in my view an entirely unnecessary one.
The case is made that on the proportional system the occupant of the Chair loses some of his chances of re-election because it is expected of him that during his occupancy he will not take an active part in political or controversial affairs. Presumably it is intended that if he shall occupy the Chair in the succeeding chambers he will not be a violent partisan in the election. That is the theory. Therefore, some special provision should be made to allow an occupant of the Chair to enter the new chamber by an easy road. I have said that the entry by that easy road alters the character of the House, in so far as one member of it is concerned. That, I say, is quite a serious proposition, inasmuch as you are assuring him of all the rights and privileges of a member—that by the way is considered to be a necessity. It is believed by those putting this Bill forward that it is desirable, if not necessary—I think essential is the word which would apply accurately—that the occupant of the Chair should have the rights and privileges of membership of the House before he is elected a member of the House. The fact that he has come into the House by a method which is not common to every other member of the House undoubtedly places him in an anomalous position.
Supposing it is necessary, and I understand and believe it is, that the occupant of the Chair shall be appointed by the House, and selected to speak for the House, and that it is thought unnecessary, or rather undesirable, that he should have to go through the gamut of a test from the electors, there is really nothing to prevent the House electing a person, whomsoever they please, to preside over their meetings, whether that person is a member of the House or not. That is not the proposition in the Bill. The proposition is to create a new type of member, but only affecting one person. I think there is something to be said for the proposition that the occupant of the Chair is placed at a disadvantage, in some respects, compared with other members who have to go to the electorate.
I think the disadvantages that are said to accrue owing to the system of proportional representation by the single-transferable vote are really very small, and so far, at any rate, have not shown themselves. Until we see the defects, and until there is some experience of evils, I think we ought not to assume that these evils will exist. I think it is an aspersion on the character of the electors to say that they would not elect as one of three, five, seven or nine representatives of a constituency, that person who has occupied a chair in the previous Parliament to the satisfaction of the parties who constituted it. I think it is an aspersion on the characters of the electors to say that they would not choose such a person in the future. It is said that the constituency is deprived of a member. So it is under the new proposals. Equally that particular member, who has gone over into the new House by the kangaroo method, docs not represent any person or any constituency. Whatever defect there is in the present system on that score is equally applicable to the new proposal.
The case is made that it is desirable that the system of having an impartial Chairman, who is not subject to the activities and sometimes the violences of political controversy, should be the rule. It is pointed out that the British system has led more or less to a general understanding between conflicting parties, and that the ex-Speaker is almost invariably re-elected without opposition; that a tradition has grown up in that respect. I do not think it is a bad thing to suggest that we should begin traditions of decency in political controversy, but, if we are afraid of making traditions and have to make these changes by constitutional amendments, it seems to me to evince a complete lack of faith in the development of public and political opinion in the country.