CONSTITUTION (AMENDMENT NO. 2) BILL, 1926—SECOND STAGE.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which is to provide for the automatic return at a General Election of the member of Dáil Eireann who held the office of Ceann Comhairle prior to the dissolution, unless he himself chooses to the contrary. The member of the Dáil occupying the Chair of this House is entrusted with a task of great importance and of some delicacy. His decision in regard to the conduct of the House must be accepted implicitly, and his rulings must be beyond question. For that reason, I should think it would be generally agreed that it is desirable that he should be bound by no Party affiliations or allegiances whatsoever, and that he should be immune from any necessity to participate in controversial political activities of any kind. As the Constitution stands he has to offer himself for re-election if he desires to be returned as a member of the Dáil. In these circumstances his isolation from Party ties would be bound to militate seriously against his prospects of re-election. Under Proportional Representation, in fact—even assuming the good will of all Parties in the House— it might easily happen that he would not be returned. The amendment which it is proposed to move to Article 21 of the Constitution by which the Chairman of the Dáil would be automatically returned as a Deputy to the next Dáil would make his services available for the new House. But it would not impose upon the new House any obligation to re-appoint him to the Chair. As a corollary to the fact that the member so elected would not represent any constituency, the Bill provides that his death, resignation or disqualification would not create a vacancy in the membership of Dáil Eireann. The second section of the Bill deals merely with a consequential amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution, necessitated by the proposed change in Article 21.

The view underlying the proposal embodied in the Bill is that when the Dáil selects a person from amongst its members to act as Ceann Comhairle, the Dáil becomes that person's constituency. He represents it. He presides over its deliberations. He is expected as from that date to hold himself aloof from the active cut and thrust of Party politics, and we think it a proper proposal to make to the Dáil that the person who has acted in that capacity for a period—long or short—of years, as often as not, ought not be under the necessity of presenting himself for re-election to the next Dáil to an ordinary Parliamentary constituency; that he should be returned automatically to the next Dáil, leaving the next Dáil quite free to decide whether or not it would call upon him once more to occupy the Chair of the House. But Deputies, thinking it over and remembering that a system of Proportional Representation is in operation in the country, will realise how seriously it conflicts with one's conception of the duties of the Speaker and one's conception of the limitations which we feel he should impose upon himself as from the date of assuming that office, to be expected to compete in the following General Election with members who throughout the period of the lifetime of the preceding Parliament have been free to court the favour of any particular constituency in a way in which the Ceann Comhairle quite obviously cannot. The principle underlying the Bill is that the Dáil becomes the constituency of the Ceann Comhairle as from the date of his assuming that office. I move the Second Reading of the Bill and trust that the object aimed at by the Bill will appeal to the commonsense and fair play of all Parties in the House.

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.

You are forgetting P.R.

No, I am not. In this discussion one cannot refer to personalities or to the present occupant of the Chair. I am dealing with the matter entirely apart from the present occupant of the Chair. Under P.R., as I said, if you have a three, five, seven, or nine member constituency, I think there could be an assurance, and I believe a greater assurance of success, than under the single member constituency system. I think it is not at all an unreasonable expectation that, where the occupant of the Chair in a Parliament has given general satisfaction, parties would advise their supporters in a particular constituency to give first preference to that nominee. I have not the slightest doubt, notwithstanding all the assertions to the contrary, that the result of an election under these circumstances would ensure the return of that nominee. But the Minister said, "You are forgetting P.R." We have had hints of possible changes in the electoral system of P.R. We provided in the Constitution the obligation that the Dáil shall be elected according to the principles of P.R.

We have a system of proportional representation, known as the single transferable vote in electoral law, but there may be changes when the Constitution is being revised, and when the electoral law is being altered there may be changes in the method of electing. I am quite certain that the object sought to be achieved by this amendment to the Constitution can be provided, even easier, under a revision of the electoral system than by this method of changing the Constitution. I am not forgetting P.R., and though I were, and if P.R. were an insuperable obstacle to the re-election of the retiring Speaker, I say it is an undesirable procedure to amend the Constitution for the purpose of fitting the case to suit the circumstances of a particular individual, and a particular individual member of this House. I lay particular stress on the position of the re-elected member, or rather the member who has come out of the Chair into the new House without election, by an automatic process, and who then is not re-elected as Ceann Comhairle. You are going to give that representative—we will give him that name for the present—four or five years occupancy of a seat in the House representing nobody, not responsible to anybody, and the essence of this Constitutional arrangement is responsibility. We are all responsible to our constituents, but this particular member is not going to be responsible to anybody. The constituency which elected him in the first instance may be said to have a right to call him to account at the end of his period of service, but we are depriving it of the right to call him to account, and we say, "You may now re-elect an additional member, because the man, or woman, elected by you and occupying the Chair, goes automatically into the new House. He does not represent you. He represents nobody but himself." I say that it is entirely an anomalous position, and one not at all warranted by the difficulties that have been put forward, and quite unnecessary to meet any difficulty we have so far experienced.

I take largely the view of Deputy Johnson. This proposal infringes on the principle of democratic representation, and, while we admit that it would be most desirable in the present case, we can visualise that it would be most undesirable in future cases. I can conceive parties coming in here of equal, or almost equal, strength in the new Dáil, and the first thing that would happen, apart from considerations of ability, would be that each party would try to elect to the Chair one of its particular members, knowing that at the next Dáil that particular member would have an extra vote, whether elected to the Chair or not. I do not think that that is right. As Deputy Johnson said, the Chairman of the present Dáil, coming in to the next Dáil, might not be elected to the Chair, and you would then have the anomalous position of a member representing nobody. If parties come in here of equal strength you would have them lobbying and canvassing around the Dáil trying to get one of their own men into the Chair, knowing that it would give them an extra vote. I think that the principle is wrong and that there is a good deal more to be said against it than for it.

As a member of the Committee which considered this matter I would like to say a word. It has been brought pretty clearly under our notice that the question of the Speaker in Parliaments in different countries has created difficulties of various kinds. We see the extent to which they go in the British Parliament for the purpose of getting a Speaker about whom the House is satisfied as to his capability to conduct the business. They disfranchise the constituency. With the large constituencies that we have and with proportional representation worked in the way it has worked up to the present, I feel that as long as that system of representation continues it is unfair to the constituency and certainly unfair to the person elected by the constituency. To say that this proposal provides a means for dishonest tactics and for carrying through a member from one Parliament to another is in my opinion making a mountain out of a thing in which there is very little. If a person who has acted as Chairman for one particular Dáil has not, in listening to all the different sides of cases put up by different parties, the corners of the party mind taken off during his period of office, it is not to the credit of the different exponents in different parts of the House. A point to be faced is that under present circumstances if you ask him to take the Chair you definitely prejudice him as regards re-election. I would ask Deputy Johnson to consider whether a representative, say, from his own constituency, County Dublin, could be expected to run the gauntlet of re-election there among the different parties represented in that constituency. I do not think that he could say that the Labour people, the Independent people, or any other party in that constituency could be relied on to say: "Give No. 1 to the person who has acted and who, it is proposed, should continue to act as chairman."

Enough in each party would, in order to insure his election.

During this year at any rate one constituency has been deprived of one of its members whereas under the new arrangement it will not, and when Deputy Johnson says that under the new arrangement the constituency would still be deprived of one of its representatives——

There is some misunderstanding. Under the new arrangement a constituency which in the first Parliament returned, say, seven members would continue to send seven, not including the person who has been elected without election.

Deputy Johnson says now that the constituency is deprived of a member under the new position. There is also, I think, contained in what Deputy Johnson says a suggestion that when a Deputy enters the House, he is simply tied to his own constituency and that, as it were, he cannot take a national or a wide interest in any matter except in so far as he is a representative of that constituency. It seems to me that when members enter the Dáil they have to take the widest national view of things consistent with the interests of their constituents, and that the person who occupies the Chair for a term here and who is returned by the Dáil to the subsequent Parliament, should not be regarded as anything like a foreign person or as a distinguished stranger here. Considering the numerous national interests we have to look after and the great ascendancy that national interests invariably do take, over the interests of our own constituencies, I think that a very abnormal view of the position.

I would like to bring Deputies back to the day on which the Dáil met after the last General Election and to turn their minds to what actually happened on that day. A member of the Dáil was called by the Dáil as a whole from the service of his constituency to the service of the Dáil in the capacity of Chairman. That is essentially what happened.

Is there anything to prevent that happening in the new Dáil?

Just let me develop the point. A member of the Dáil was called from the services of his constituency to the service of the Dáil collectively. I put it to Deputies that the person who acts as Chairman cannot in fact as from the date of his appointment adequately represent the constituency which elected him, adequately cater for its requirements, adequately expound its requirements either to the Dáil or to Ministers and Departments of the State, so that when the Dáil chooses from its midst a Chairman, it calls that person from any real active service to the constituency which elected him. That is the basis of this Bill. The Bill purports to recognise that fact.

Is that not the position of a Minister of State?

It is, exactly.

Not quite.

Very nearly.

Not very nearly either. A Minister of State speaks perhaps more often in the Dáil than any private member——

For his constituency?

——with the exception of the leader of the opposition. He speaks frequently in the country from party platforms; he expounds the policy of the Government and the policy which his Party supports. There is, as Deputy Wilson knows, no real analogy between the position of a Minister in this House and the position of the Ceann Comhairle. The Ceann Comhairle is divorced from party politics as from the date of his appointment. He is also by the very nature of his position debarred from adequate representation of his constituents. He must leave that task to others. When matters arise of the most vital interest to his constituents, he sits in the Chair holding the balance between conflicting parties, simply presiding over the debates of the House.

Might I draw the Minister's attention to this peculiar fact— that you elect at the beginning of the Dáil a Speaker. He may be elected, as he has been elected in the past, by the vote of the constituency, but by electing him here you disfranchise that constituency. What remedy would that constituency have in the next Dáil? The point I want to make is that, although you give the present occupant of the Chair a seat in the next Dáil, the next Dáil may not elect him to the Chair. Although you give him representation in the next Dáil, he may not be able to get elected to the Chair in that Dáil.

You leave him where you got him.

If I might interrupt Deputy Gorey, I was making the point that in fact the Bill is simply a recognition of the fact that the Dáil takes its Chairman from the active representation of a constituency, debars him from further part in active controversial politics, debars him from being in any true or effective sense the spokesman of his constituents and the guardian of the interests of his constituents. The Dáil itself becomes his constituency as from the date of his appointment. In Great Britain, where Proportional Representation is not operative, the position arising out of these facts is met by a general agreement not to contest the Speaker's seat, to leave to the Speaker an unopposed return. Obviously here, with Proportional Representation in operation, that course is not open. In any constituency returning five or six members you cannot say the Speaker's seat will not be contested. You cannot arrange by agreement between the parties to have an unopposed return of the Speaker. It will not work out. It is not a matter that lies simply with the leaders of three or four parties. It is a matter that will be determined ultimately by the electorate of that constituency and may not be determined as the leaders of the parties might wish, assuming there is agreement amongst them as to the desirability of the return of the Speaker. This proposal is that the person who is selected by one Parliament to act as their Chairman, and who is thereby divorced from active participation in politics and active guardianship of the interests of the constituency which elected him, shall be returned automatically as a member of the next Dáil. It is open to that next Parliament to appoint him to the Chair; equally it is open to them to appoint another.

Deputy Johnson asked us to dwell on the possibility, as it is a possibility, of another person being appointed, and he went into the fine points as to whom then this ex-Speaker represents. It is true he has no particular constituency. It is true, in another sense, that he must advert to every constituency, if he has an intention of contesting any at the following general election. The country is his constituency, and if he intends to remain in political life he must select from the country some one constituency, at any rate, in which he will offer himself for election at the following general election.

The Deputy said the Constitution should not be lightly altered. The Constitution assumes that changes will not be made without very strong reason.

The Constitution is an important document. But let us not read more into it than it in fact contains. The Constitution was drafted by a number of persons who candidly recognised that not one amongst them had any very close experience either of Parliamentary life or of departmental administration. From the very nature of the position of this country it was not easy to get those who had. And so this Constitution Committee itself, recognising the limitation of its members, inserted a provision that for eight years after the Constitution would come into operation it would be possible to alter it by ordinary legislation. It was recognised that inevitably there would be sins of omission and sins of commission; certain matters passed over inadvertently, certain other matters that were not passed over, but that were dealt with in a manner which actual practical experience of the operations of the Constitution might show to be imperfect. And so the greatest possible elasticity was provided for. An Article in the Constitution provides that for eight years after its coming into operation it may be altered in any respect by the ordinary processes of legislation.

This is a matter which was not dealt with in the Constitution, but which now, in the light of further experience, it seems desirable to deal with. You cannot do here, with our system of election, what is done in England with regard to the Speaker. You cannot leave him an unopposed seat, even by agreement between the heads of parties, and some other method, some other system. is desirable, unless you want the Speaker of the Dáil to be campaigning the country on public platforms, taking active part in the cut and thrust of the political life of the country, calling a Deputy-Speaker to the Chair, and coming down to participate in, perhaps, the most controversial discussions in the House, and generally losing that non-party complexion which seems so natural and so essential to the holder of his office.

The Bill seems to us an eminently sound and proper one. It is not brought forward with advertence to particular persons or particular situations, but it seems to embody a principle which always, at all times, utterly regardless of the personality of the Speaker, is a sound and proper principle, and one to which the Dáil should give favourable consideration.

Question put—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 46; Níl, 21.

  • Earnán Altún.
  • Pádraig Baxter.
  • Earnán de Blaghd.
  • Thomas Bolger.
  • Seoirse de Bhulbh.
  • Próinsias Bulfin.
  • Séamus de Burca.
  • John J. Cole.
  • Sir James Craig.
  • Máighréad Ní Choileain Bean
  • Uí Dhrisceóil.
  • James Dwyer.
  • Michael Egan.
  • John Hennigan.
  • William Hewat.
  • Patrick Leonard.
  • Seosamh Mac a' Bhrighde.
  • Liam Mac Cosgair.
  • Seán MacCurtain.
  • Pádraig Mac Fadáin.
  • Patrick McGilligan.
  • Eoin Mac Néill.
  • Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
  • Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
  • James Sproule Myles.
  • John T. Nolan.
  • Michael K. Noonan.
  • Peadar O hAodha.
  • Mícheál O hAonghusa.
  • Seán O Bruadair.
  • Risteárd O Conaill.
  • Parthalán O Conchubhair.
  • Séamus O Cruadhlaoich.
  • Séamus O Dóláin.
  • Peadar O Dubhghaill.
  • Eamon O Dúgáin.
  • Micheál O hIfearnáin.
  • Seán O Laidhin.
  • Aindriú O Láimhín.
  • Risteárd O Maolchatha.
  • Séamus O Murchadha.
  • Máirtín O Rodaigh.
  • Seán O Súilleabháin.
  • Mícheál O Tighearnaigh.
  • Caoimhghín O hUigín.
  • Seán Priomhdhall.
  • Liam Thrift.

Níl

  • John Conlan.
  • Séamus Eabhróid.
  • Séamus Mac Cosgair.
  • Tomás Mac Eoin.
  • Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
  • Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha.
  • Patrick McKenna.
  • Risteárd Mac Liam.
  • Liam Mag Aonghusa.
  • William Norton.
  • Ailfrid O Broin.
  • Aodh O Cúlacháin.
  • Liam O Daimhín.
  • Tadhg O Donnabháin.
  • Eamon O Dubhghaill.
  • Micheál O Dubhghaill.
  • Donnchadh O Guaire.
  • Tadhg O Murchadha.
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (Luimneach).
  • Nicholas Wall.
Tellers.—Tá: Deputies Dolan and Tierney. Níl: Deputies Corish and Wilson.
Motion declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday next.