This Bill deals with the maximum term of office of Dáil Eireann. It is at present fixed by the Constitution at four years. The proposal is to increase that to a maximum term of five years. It is not proposed, of course, that the amendment, if carried, will affect the lifetime of the present Dáil. It is generally recognised to be undesirable and undemocratic that Parliament should, by its legislation, prolong its own lifetime, so that this Bill will apply, not to the Oireachtas now sitting, but to the Parliaments of the future. As to the case for a five years' term rather than a four years' term, that is a matter that the Deputies will probably have thought out for themselves. Members of a Government newly appointed may very often be men who have had no previous experience of office and no previous experience of administration as Ministers. It would take them several months, possibly five or six months, to get accustomed to the routine administration of their offices, and to get to grips with matters of policy that would arise in the various departments. Now, a four years' term, even assuming that the Government runs out the full span of the lifetime of the Parliament without a dissolution, gives little enough time, rather too little time for a Government to develop fully to the Dáil and to the country the policies at which it may have arrived in respect of the various departments. It is, of course, a factor, too, that very often parliaments do not run out their full time. Up to a period of, say, three or four months before the statutory lifetime of the Parliament, it will have come to an end, and four years, therefore, might work out in practice as being something very little over three years and three months, or three years and six months. If you have new Ministers at the beginning of that term, taking, perhaps, five or six months to get accustomed to the work of their departments and to give that consideration to matters of policy which it is highly desirable they should give, then you have quite a short interval in which that policy may be worked out in legislation and administration, and placed before the Parliament and before the country. We have come to the conclusion that the proper term is a five years' term, which obtains, I think, now in Great Britain, and we propose this extension for the consideration of the Dáil—an extension from four years as the maximum to five years as the maximum.
CONSTITUTION (AMENDMENT No. 4) BILL, 1926.—SECOND STAGE.
I think this Bill will also be very acceptable to most members of the Dáil. I think we must all recognise, as the Minister has said, that a period of four years, with the subtractions that you have to make in connection with the effective time available within the four years, is too short. I think we all remember when we were elected to this Dáil. It does not seem very long ago since we were, and we all recognise that the amount of things that are still outside our grasp in parliamentary procedure is very considerable. The amendment of the Constitution, as outlined in this Bill, is in the interest of the country generally and in the interests of good government.
I think it is necessary for somebody at least to draw attention to the consideration that is referred to in the Committee's report— to the effect that the constitutional provision ought to be longer for a Parliament than the electoral law. That is to say, that it would be desirable that the provision regarding the maximum duration of Parliament which is contained in the Constitution should be longer than that provided for in the electoral law regarding the normal life of the Parliament. The point is that if, as is always a possibility, at the end of the statutory limit of Parliament, there arises simultaneously a very critical situation of a warlike kind in the country, where an election would be impossible, then you have got to break your Constitution; have your election, or do without a Parliament.
Of course that might apply to the longer term.
It might, but there is ten thousand to one against. If you have a normal provision of four years in your electoral law, it is possible, in a very great stress of circumstances, to alter the law without a referendum. You can alter the electoral law without a referendum, but you cannot, under the present Constitution, alter the Constitution without a referendum after a given period. It is, therefore, obviously desirable that the constitutional maximum should be greater than the statutory maximum life of Parliament.
If we agree to the principle of the desirability of an extension I would be prepared to deal on the Committee Stage of the Bill with the question of the amount of that extension. It does occur to me that Deputy Johnson's argument might arise whatever the constitutional maximum term we fix. If you make it seven years, and the electoral law five years, then one could have, at the approach of the close of the maximum term, a crisis of one kind or another that might make it desirable, or apparently desirable, that Parliament should remain in session. That is a question of weighing probabilities. In the Committee Stage we can decide whether a more liberal extension of the maximum within the Constitution is desirable on the assumption that the electoral law itself will not take full advantage of that extension.
I am accepting the proposition that the Constitution shall be five years with a proviso that the electoral law shall remain at four years.
That is not our outlook. We consider that the ordinary span of a Parliament ought to be a five years' lifetime. We are prepared to consider the case for a greater extension than that in the Constitution on the basis that the ex-electoral law will provide for five years.