CONSTITUTION (AMENDMENT No. 3) BILL, 1926.—SECOND STAGE.

I move the Second Reading of the Constitution (Amendment No. 3) Bill, the purport of which is to provide for the removal, from Article 28 of the Constitution, of the requirement that the polling day of a general election must be proclaimed a public holiday. The intention, I believe, of this provision was to secure that every elector should be free on that day to record his vote. But in practice its operation has resulted in a general dislocation of business and consequent economic loss to the State, as well as a considerable hardship to individuals, through loss either of the day's wages in the case of workers, or of the day's work in the case of employers.

We do not consider that there is any reason to anticipate that as a result of the passing of this Bill persons will find themselves unable to record their votes. If a situation of that nature were to arise, it could be dealt with, if necessary, by legislation. The polling booths, as we know, are open for a sufficient time to enable any voter who for good reason cannot vote during his working-hours, to exercise the franchise either before or after the ordinary work of his day. Any inconvenience that may be caused to individual voters in these circumstances is less than the inconvenience which the loss of a day's work or of a day's pay would entail upon the employer or the employee. There seems to be a strong case for the removal of this particular provision from the Constitution, and this Bill has been drafted, and is put to the Dáil, with that object.

My objections to amending the Constitution in this easy fashion still apply. But I want to ask the Dáil to support me in this proposition: that if the Constitution is to be amended, to remove a provision which proclaimed the polling day to be a public holiday, it should be on the understanding that the electoral law will be altered to extend the hours of polling from those at present fixed. On the understanding that the polling day at the general election would be a public holiday, the hours were fixed from nine to seven. If you remove the holiday obligation then you must extend the hours of polling. I think it is worth testing the members of the Dáil who have had experience of electioneering, as to whether the necessity exists for having the very early hour of seven or eight or nine o'clock, in the morning, or whether all the requirements would not be better fulfilled if the hours were from about mid-day until ten o'clock at night. In any case, whether that is accepted or not. I think there should be an undertaking, before this Bill is passed, that the electoral law will be altered before a general election takes place, so that there may be opportunities given to men employed in the daytime to record their votes after their day's work is over.

I thoroughly concur with the object of this Bill. Whatever the original idea was in proclaiming a public holiday for elections, the practice has proved it to be illusory and entirely detrimental in its results.

I would like also to support what Deputy Johnson has said as regards the hours of polling. I think that at least we ought to have the morning free to carry on our business without interruption. In any case, polling day is a day in which business is bound to be greatly dislocated. I think if the polling booths were not opened until, say, mid-day, that nobody would be inconvenienced, and certainly the business world would be greatly facilitated. We would be sure, at all events, of getting our morning's work done before the actual dislocation, caused by the polling, occurred. I would also like to emphasise and support what Deputy Johnson said as to the uselessness of having the polling-booths open for the general public in the early hours of the morning. That early opening imposes a strain on the people engaged in the booths without any reasonable return whatever in the way of facilities to the people who come to the booths to vote.

When this particular clause, declaring a general holiday on election day, was inserted in the Constitution, I understood at the time that employees who lost the day as a result of this legislation would be paid either by the State or their employer. We find, however, that it is the employee who is the direct sufferer under that clause in the Constitution. For that reason I am prepared to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I would like to stress the point that the hours of polling are not sufficient. Hundreds of people have been turned away at 7 o'clock in the evening from the polling booths. This occurred in different parts of the country as well as in many small towns. Agricultural labourers suffered a great deal in that respect. They were at their work until 6 or 6.30 in the evening, and many of them had to walk a mile or two miles to the polling booths. When they arrived there they found the doors closed against them.

It is well known to Deputies that if factory workers lose a day that the day's pay is deducted from them, and that if they lose an hour there is a "quarter" deducted from them. Therefore, I think that legislation of this kind is necessary. It was thought when this legislation was being passed that either the employer or the State would pay workers for this general holiday. I know that at the General Election of 1923, when all firms were closed down, the employees were left walking around the streets all day. The result was that these people lost their day's pay, and that was a very serious matter for them. I think, for the reasons I have stated, that legislation of this kind is very necessary. I would suggest to the Minister for Justice that the hours for polling might be extended, say, from eight o'clock in the morning until 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, so as to give people engaged in industrial and other work an opportunity of voting. We all know that at the last Seanad election a very small number voted. I think that was because the hours of voting were not long enough. I think that the same will occur in the coming General Election unless twelve hours at least are allowed for voting. That is not too much to ask from the sheriff and his well-paid staff. I hope that that point will be considered.

I think the Minister will be well advised to allow an extra hour for polling in the evening. I agree that it is desirable that this general holiday should end. As a matter of fact it was the employers who took advantage of it. They went away to the sea-side, thinking themselves too good to come down with the general body of the people to the polling booths to vote. It was these people who were the non-voters at all the elections. They will not have that excuse now, as without the holiday they will have to be at their business. I do think it would be eminently desirable that the hours for voting should be extended in the evening for at least one hour more, even though it be the class of people whom Deputy Lyons and Deputy Johnson say will be voting.

I am in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. With regard to the alteration in the hours of voting, I yield to no man in the desire of having all electors record their vote and of their getting the fullest facilities for so doing. If the hours for voting are going to be changed and that we are to have voting from 12 noon to 10 in the night, as Deputy Johnson suggests, and that this is to go on in the winter time, then, speaking from past experience, I am going to protest and object to that. Speaking from experience, I know the kind of electors who would vote during those hours, particularly if the polling booths are any way convenient to a graveyard. I think if we had voting during the dark hours of the night that you would have many " dead " voters coming to the booth. It would be all right to have those hours during the summer time, but certainly in the winter the polling booths should not be open after eight o'clock. I do not object to the booths being open until 10 o'clock in the summer time.

Perhaps the Minister would be able to promise that we would only have elections in the summer time.

Deputies have that largely in their own hands. It does not seem necessary to add very much to what I have already said. I see that there seems to be something approximating to general agreement with regard to the principle of the Bill. The reactions of the passing of this Bill on the general electoral law is a matter for future consideration. It may be that, in view of the provisions of this Bill, the question of the hours of voting would need to be reviewed. Deputy Egan, of course, touched reality when he said that one cannot carry on voting late into the darkness: that to do so gives rise to the probability of abuse. If the hours were to be changed and extended there would need to be differentiation between the late spring and summer months and the winter months when you have darkness early.

If the Minister will send for ex-Deputy Dan McCarthy he will probably tell him that the evils occurred in the morning hours.

Well, there are other specialists.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Tuesday. 7th December.