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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jun 1934

Vol. 53 No. 6

In Committee on Finance. - Electoral (Revision of Constituencies) Bill, 1934—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I am glad to see that one of the Deputies who came into the House interested in the fate of this Bill is a Deputy representing one of the constituencies that it is now proposed to abolish. In fact, she is the only private member on that side and she represents a University! Possibly that is the reason she is interested in the fate of the Bill we are now discussing, as perhaps she is looking for a haven elsewhere. That may be the reason for her interest, but at any rate I suggest that it is very typical of the Government's methods that that is the only person who, at the moment, is showing the slightest interest in the fate of this particular Bill. When this Bill was introduced into this House there were many objections to it. The Minister will remember that many weighty objections were made. The whole purpose of the Bill was canvassed and it bore on its face, even on the occasion of its original introduction into this House, the marks of one of the most extraordinary efforts at gerrymandering that any parliament has been asked to consent to. Needless to say, the majority in this Dáil consented to this Bill, as they would to any other Bill, no matter how outrageous, that was introduced by the Government.

In the course of the discussion many arguments were put forward, but hardly any case, in connection with any of the more outstanding scandals of the Bill, was controverted by the Government. That is, possibly, a foretaste of what we may expect when legislation will be controlled by one House only. Recently it has been the habit of the Ministry to introduce measures and merely to indicate their will to the House on those measures, taking up the attitude of not bothering to meet any case that may be put up against their particular point of view, knowing perfectly well that whatever is said on this side of the House or on that side of the House, except in so far as it is an indication of the will of the Ministers, is not likely to affect the ultimate decision. As I say, this Bill already had on it, when it was introduced, all the marks of a supreme effort at gerrymandering. I will say for the Government that the method in which it was done was barefaced, unashamed and cynical. If there were a few principles, to which occasionally they might adhere—but not always, because they had to change their principle from constituency to constituency—if there were a few principles that might appear still to be left standing on which the Government might base their defence of this Bill as it was introduced, many of these principles, if not most of them, have by now been wiped away. I doubt if there is any principle now left on which the constituencies of this country are divided. The alleged principles of revision have been so upset that they are made to apply to one county but not to a neighbouring county, though there is nothing to distinguish the two cases.

No principle of solid representation of any kind is observed from beginning to end of this Bill. Right through it bears, as I say, the marks of Party expediency—a calculation, obviously, on the part of the Government and their Party that in this way they may hope to save a certain amount of seats from the wreckage. It is hard, really, to understand it, when a person looks at the Schedule of this Bill, on any other supposition than that. The principle of proportional representation is preserved still so far as the letter goes, but anybody who is acquainted, as I presume the Minister must be well acquainted, with the system of proportional representation must know that a three-member constituency is almost incompatible—I do not say altogether incompatible—with the idea of the working of proportional representation, and that it does not give the principle of proportional representation a fair chance. Theoretically, undoubtedly, the larger the constituency the better from that point of view of allowing that principle of proportional representation to which the Government still, apparently, acknowledge that they are prepared to pay a certain amount of homage. The larger the constituency the better, it being recognised of course that there are certain obvious commonsense limits such as, for instance, where we had on one occasion a constituency representing the whole of Ireland, as we had for the Seanad, which proved to be altogether unwieldy and impracticable. To go to the other extreme, however, is practically wiping out the idea of proportional representation altogether.

I ask the members of this House to look at the Schedule of this Bill, or rather I ask the members of the majority Party in the House to look at the Schedule, and I think they will find that there are altogether about 33 constituencies in this Bill. My arithmetic may be at fault, but I think that is the number, and they will find that almost one-half of them are three-member constituencies. To be exact, 15 constituencies out of 33 are three-member constituencies-cutting across anything like a proper working of the principle that is still preserved, apparently, even at this stage in this particular Bill. Seven are four-member constituencies, which is almost equally objectionable. I admit that owing to the distribution of population and to geographical considerations, they cannot wholly be done away with; but there are seven of these four-member constituencies. Altogether, therefore, two-thirds of the constituencies are either three-member or four-member constituencies, and yet the Government pretend that they are honouring the principle of proportional representation. You have only eight five-member constituencies, and, strange to say, you have three seven-member constituencies left. Now, there were anomalies in this Bill as it was first introduced into the House. I will say for the Government that, in so far as their actions could indicate their mind, they made no effort to conceal what their purpose was; but the way in which they have dealt with the principle of not splitting up counties where it could be avoided, or with any other principle of dividing counties where there was no necessity to divide them as well as the particular points I have mentioned is unique in its cynicism.

Counties have been carved up, and as little respect has been shown to old affiliations between different portions of counties, as has been shown by the Government in another instance— they treat them as casually as they might treat the rights of the Irish people in connection with the fundamental principles of the Constitution. A more chaotic method of treatment it would be difficult to imagine. I do not see that there are any grounds, any real reason, any justification for it. That there are motives impelling the Government to do what they have done nobody questions. We have not the slightest doubt that there were motives, and strong motives. Portion of Galway is taken away and put into Clare. Portion of Roscommon is also taken. Then, as if Cork were not sufficiently divided up, portion of it is taken and put into a county with which that particular portion of Cork has little connection. It is not even neighbouring it in the ordinary sense. Anyone who knows that portion of Ireland knows that Youghal is separated from Waterford by the estuary of the Blackwater. In some respects that is one of the most clear pieces of carving up, regardless of historical connection, to be found in this Bill. Of course, Carlow is an outstanding example. They are not satisfied with the position which they found —a position established before anyone knew the strength of the different Parties. Carlow-Kilkenny, which was a joint constituency, disappears, and Carlow is divided between Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford. Even to the principles in the Bill to which they pretended to attach some importance when it was introduced, they did not remain true in committee. Take three counties in the South of Ireland-Tipperary, Limerick and Kerry. At present these are seven-member constituencies. The Government proposed to divide Tipperary and Limerick. The House refused to divide Tipperary and Limerick but did divide Kerry. All were seven-member constituencies and exactly the same reasons applied to County Kerry as to County Limerick and County Tipperary. In fact, a stronger case could be made for the division of Tipperary owing to its division into North and South Ridings, than could be made in the case of County Kerry. It is true that the Minister who is at the moment in charge of the Bill was also in charge when we were discussing Kerry. I ask Deputies, even the one member of his Party present, and the other 50 per cent. in the person of the Minister for Finance, to look up his speech on that occasion, when the only case the Minister could make for dividing County Kerry was that when he was down there the roads were bad. Still this obedient House followed the whim-I am sure the Minister will admit that it was nothing better than a whim—and went into the Lobby with him. It was an excellent foretaste, when he had such an excellent argument to put forward, of what we may expect when we have that great ideal—Single-Chamber government. He suggested that there was a reason why you might divide Kerry but not Limerick. That reason was put up only for the occasion, I suggest, because it struck at the very root of one of the descriptions that Ministers themselves gave to this Bill, that it was one to diminish the number of members in this House. When we were discussing university representation, even in the presence of some members representing universities, the argument was put forward that as one of the purposes was to diminish the number of members in the House, why not start with the universities and abolish them. Thus we should get a smaller House.

The Minister will remember that he put forward as a reason for not dividing Limerick that if he did so that county would lose a member. In a Bill, one of the purposes of which, as announced by the Minister for Local Government, was to secure a smaller number of members in the House, simply because he has to make a case for not treating County Kerry the same as County Limerick, an excellent reason is suddenly found for not dividing Limerick, because it would otherwise diminish the number of members, and therefore it ought not to take place! Similarly in this Bill, the purpose of which is to cut down representation in the House, Youghal is filched from County Cork and put into County Waterford to prevent Waterford losing a member! I wonder what principle is now left in the Bill. I am speaking of principle now, not motives. The motives that influenced the Minister are, no doubt, as strong as ever, but I wonder what principle is now left in the Bill as far as the Government is concerned. Counties are to be cut up. There are to be 15 three-member constituencies, and seven four-member constituencies. There are glaring anomalies, one principle applying to Counties Tipperary and Limerick, and an entirely different principle to Kerry. Notwithstanding the intimation of the wishes of the House on that matter, a different principle is applied to Donegal and to Kerry. What is left in the way of principle in this Bill? What is the reason for this, except a cynical calculation by the Government that it will benefit their own Party? That calculation may prove to be wrong. It is based on previous election figures. I notice that all calculations of this kind are based on the assumption that no change of public opinion takes place, and that the figures got at the last election can safely be relied on for the future. A little reflection should convince the Ministry that that is not so. Otherwise there would be no point in general elections. The normal assumption is that there is a change, so far as figures are concerned. Therefore, it is probable that even the motives which actuate Ministers may prove to be as weak as the expediency upon which they seem to rely, and upon which they seem to change from county to county, and from one portion of the Schedule to another. The Bill was bad when it came to this House. It is improved to this extent, that its badness is now more apparent. That should be even more apparent to the Minister now than it was before it came to the House. There is all the evidence of a very sloppy piece of legislation, and of no principle to guide the Government in their actions in this matter. Undoubtedly they have the power to put a Bill of this kind through the House, but the way they will persist in doing what is, on its face, a very unashamed piece of gerrymandering, is a certain augury for the future, if the time ever comes when Single Chamber legislation is to prevail in this country. Even at this late hour I think the House should exercise a certain amount of wisdom and commonsense by rejecting a Bill that, even on the face of it, is bad and contravenes every principle of decency.

I referred to certain details in the Bill, in relation to names I proposed on the Committee Stage. When you look on the Bill as a whole, and consider the speeches made in its favour, you see very obvious tricks. In relation to a Bill or anything else, you can set up a principle as a guiding motive, you can demonstrate the rightness or the desirability of making such a principle applicable and you can apply that principle rigidly. Or you may say that there is more than one consideration to be taken into account and in that case you must necessarily establish what I might call, a hierarchy between these principles. Thus the Government say: "We are desirous of maintaining proportional representation." Again they say: "We want to get county units." Further they may say: "It is desirable that constituencies should be small so that a Deputy may be able to look after his constituency and be intimately in touch with it." But to put forward three principles that are on completely different planes and establish no hierarchy amongst them, is a very effective way of making a swindle and deluding people who are incapable of thinking.

It is perfectly obvious that there is no relationship between the desirability of proportional representation, the desirability of having county units and the desirability of having small constituencies. To begin with, these principles contradict each other. Proportional representation is contrary to the idea of the small constituency. What has the Government done? It has taken three things, all of them you may say desirable, viewed in a certain light, but if you regard any one as most desirable, life being just a series of choices, you must abandon the other two. The Government has said: "We want to keep proportional representation." In this Bill it abolishes proportional representation. It is perfectly clear to all who will take the trouble to think that even with the appallingly bad system of proportional representation we have had in this country, if you admit that what it aims at is a desirable thing, we must have constituencies returning not less than five candidates. Anybody can see how it works out. In County Wicklow you have a three-seat constituency. That means that any Party which gets one vote over half the number of votes cast will get two seats out of the three. In that case proportional representation is not in operation at all. Under the old system that operates in England, anybody who gets one vote more than half the number cast gets one seat and the other person, of course, gets none. So far as that system is concerned, the seats go to the one Party.

In County Wicklow you give two seats to one Party and one seat to another. That is to say, a representative can be put in by getting, in effect, only one vote. The whole idea of proportional representation was to make the number of Deputies in the Dáil roughly proportionate to the number of their supporters in the country. When you establish a three-seat constituency or a four-seat constituency, you are abolishing that. If the Government had faced up to the thing and said: "It is necessary in certain cases, in 22 of the constituencies, to have them so small that you cannot have five seats," one could understand their attitude. They then should have recognised that the principle of proportional representation, however desirable it may be in one aspect possibly, must be abandoned. What they do is, they assert that principle at the same time as they assert the desirability for small constituencies. When it is apparent that a certain Deputy or Minister of the Fianna Fáil Party would be almost inevitably wiped out, if a small constituency were maintained, or if the county unit were maintained, they twist round and say how desirable it is that the constituency should be so large as to make proportional representation operative. Their adherence to these three unrelated principles, without any order established amongst them, is merely a fatuously dishonest attempt to pull the wool over the people's eyes.

With regard to the constituency I represent, the Government say that it is undesirable to have two counties associated in one constituency. If they applied that principle and said: "We want county units all over the country; each county is going to be a constituency, and where proportional representation conflicts with that principle in some of the counties, we shall forego it in favour of the county constituencies," we could understand their attitude. But they put up the argument that it was desirable to separate Carlow and Kilkenny. The Minister for Agriculture scraped in without a quota at the last election. Had Wexford remained by itself, and returned the number of Deputies it is due to have, his prospect of being elected would indeed be very remote. It was necessary to give the Minister for Agriculture some chance, as the Government thought, of being elected. In order to do that, they cut a part out of Carlow and associated it with Wexford.

There was no other ground for that except that the unfortunate Minister for Agriculture should get some sort of look in at the next election. If the Government had said that honestly one could have a certain amount of respect for them. But the Minister for Local Government got up to defend that and he introduced a totally new principle. He went back, as far as I remember, to old Gaelic times and said that somewhere about the time of Con of the Hundred Battles Wexford was intimately associated with this part of Carlow. Surely they do not propose, as a principle, that we must have our eyes cast back to ancient Irish times, and regard the intervening period as a mere accident which is obliterated as completely as it is possible to obliterate it? It is the contemptible dishonesty of bringing up such bogus arguments that makes one so disgusted with this whole Bill. If the Government had got up and said: "We are the Government; we feel that we want to be the Government after the next election, and we feel that if we have a majority in the country, we should not be forced into the position of having to govern under circumstances where we are always in jeopardy; where an accident may demolish our majority; the majority Party has a right to special privileges in the country," I would have found it very hard to argue against that.

I would have thought it a perfectly good argument if the Government had said that the majority Party must be given certain rights under the Bill which will give them an assurance that the illness of a couple of Deputies or some accident like that, would not put them in jeopardy of being thrown out of office, but it is a contemptible trick to come along and operate three different principles as it suits them. They said that one of the principles was the county unit. County Carlow is one of the smallest, if not the smallest county in the country. Yet the Government has divided it into three parts. Why have they done that? First of all, the interests of the unfortunate Minister for Agriculture have to be looked to and part of the county is put in with Wexford. In County Wicklow where if you take the results of the last election you will find that the Government combine got more than their due representation— they got two out of three seats although they have not two-thirds of the votes in the constituency—the Government require to maintain that position. If they had joined Wicklow with some other constituency they would have inevitably, assuming, as they seem to admit, that the last two elections represent the final assessment of the Irish people's political opinions, lost a seat. If County Wicklow remained alone there would be only two representatives and two representatives are just as good as three, as far as proportional representation is concerned. The Government then would have lost a seat. In Kildare also, if I remember aright, as the result of the last election, the Government combine had two out of three seats. If they put the two constituencies together, assuming there was no change otherwise, they would have lost another seat. Therefore Carlow is divided up into three parts. A bit has to be provided for the Minister for Agriculture and another bit is put in with County Wicklow to justify, under the Constitution, the maintenance of three seats there. The Minister, speaking in regard to County Wicklow, said this part joins fairly closely with County Carlow. I have travelled that district, and I know how difficult it is to get from what I may call the really large populative parts of Carlow to Wicklow. It is true that it is difficult to get from one part of Wicklow to another. A totally different arrangement would be conceivable in these circumstances by abandoning the idea of county units altogether, taking part of Wicklow, on the west side of the mountain, and attaching that to a constituency on the west side of the mountain. There would be reason for the breaking up of Wicklow in that it is divided by mountains but the Government had to find a case that would keep them a seat.

They divided Carlow and Kilkenny which was a five-seat constituency, where proportional representation operated adequately. They made Kilkenny a three-seat constituency by destroying proportional representation and they attached the other part of Carlow to Kildare. That was probably part of the representation made by Deputy Norton, who wanted to retain his seat, and they put part on to County Wexford and part on to County Wicklow. I do not know why the Government could not come in here and say, quite frankly, what they wanted. But they were possibly afraid that a little political propaganda would be made against them. They could have come in here and said: "In the last two years we have received a majority of votes in this country; we assume that position will continue, and we feel we are justified in making an arrangement that would guarantee us an adequate majority instead of one which leaves us dependent upon the Labour Party, which we have to placate now and again in one way or another." That would be a legitimate proposal. In regard to Clare they were putting it in the position that Carlow-Kilkenny was in and making it a five-member constituency. Carlow-Kilkenny has been, up to the present, a five-member constituency. Clare, in order to be a five-member constituency, required another part of another constituency added to it. Consequently Clare, and portion of Galway, are brought together in order that President de Valera would be able to get an enormous poll. If the constituency was reduced to four members that would not happen. It was necessary to separate Carlow-Kilkenny and do away with it as a five-member constituency, at the same time that it was found necessary to combine portion of Galway to Clare in order to get a five-member constituency.

There was a peculiar thing noticeable during the progress of this Bill. There were times when the Government withdrew the Whips and other times when they kept them on very rigidly. It was perfectly obvious to everyone at all observant that the Whips were withdrawn when a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies insisted, say, in the change proposed by the Government, on the danger of their not being able to hold their own personal seats. In that case the Government withdrew completely from the three unrelated principles that they have in mind. But on other occasions, when the change proposed was something not in the national interests, but merely calculated to benefit Fianna Fáil, as against the Opposition, there the Fianna Fáil Whips were rigidly maintained. An individual Deputy might feel that it would be advantageous for him to support the line taken by the Opposition because it would be more flattering, or more pleasing to those people who support him, but the interests of the Fianna Fáil Party—and if it was not their positive interest, then the negative interest of attempting to injure the Opposition—operated to such an extent that the Whips were rigidly maintained in such instances. Deputy J. M. O'Sullivan referred to the declared purpose of the Fianna Fáil Party when they introduced this Bill. It was, he said, to reduce the size of the Dáil. If one observes it closely he will see, in regard to the provisions of the Constitution, that this Bill is one to keep the size of the Dáil as large as possible. The Minister for Local Government and Public Health referred to the fact—I do not remember the circumstances or facts of the case— that when we left office we had a Bill in draft that would reduce the size of the Dáil to 120 members.

The Fianna Fáil manifesto at the last election was issued although roughly for 12 months they had that information available in a Government Department at their disposal. They consequently knew that our proposal—I am now speaking from memory—had been to reduce the Dáil to 120 members, yet they brought out a paragraph in the early part of their manifesto, saying how much they were seeking for economy. In one paragraph, as far as I remember, they indicated two lines on which they were anxious to economise, and that paragraph dealt with the Dáil and the Seanad. They indicated that they were very concerned that the people had to pay high taxes and that they therefore proposed to economise on the Dáil and on the Seanad. They said, with regard to the Seanad, that they were going to abolish it in its present form, and that if it was decided to maintain a Second Chamber it would be one with much less members than the present Seanad. The implication in that was that their proposal in regard to the Seanad was influenced by concern at the expenditure. That was coupled with a statement with regard to the Dáil. They said in the same paragraph, as far as I remember, they proposed to reduce the membership of the Dáil. The implication of these statements was that the Government stood for economy; they called on the people to vote Fianna Fáil rather than for the Opposition, on the ground that the people would be serving themselves by voting for a Party that wholeheartedly stood for economy, with regard to the Dáil and Seanad as compared with others who stood for a large Dáil and Seanad. The Government knew that their statement, about reducing the numbers of the Second Chamber, was only humbug, and that in reality they were proposing to get rid of it in toto, in order to clear the way for Mr. de Valera to set up as a Dictator. They said that they proposed to reduce the numbers in the Dáil, in the interests of economy, whereas they had before them a Bill in draft which they inherited, but refused to accept for the reason that it made the Dáil smaller than they were prepared to accept. They introduced a Bill for making the Dáil larger than it would be if they had accepted the Bill which they found in draft. In face of that they put out this manifesto which was typically dishonest, calling upon the people to vote for them because they were going to save expenditure by reducing the size of the Dáil. It is quite evident all through this Bill that enormous ingenuity has been exercised in order to enable them to have a comparatively large Dáil.

For many years, I have indicated clearly that I disagreed on principle with the present system of proportional representation which, to my mind, puts the adjective in a more important position than the noun, makes representativeness much more important than government and tries, in a way, to defeat the whole idea of government, which aims at the unification of a people who are necessarily divided. The purpose of proportional representation is to produce in a Parliament an exact replica of all the divisions and differences of opinion that exist amongst the people and to maintain that divergence instead of creating a unity. Consequently, I have been consistently against proportional representation. The Government may like proportional representation. They may think that they have tried to maintain it but they have done nothing of the sort. Once they departed from the principle of proportional representation, they could have said: "The population of Wicklow has diminished; on the previous basis it had three members; now it shall only have two. In that way, we will keep the county unit intact, which is one of the principles for which we stand. It will also be in accord with the policy of economy which we announced at the last election. It will save the cost of one Deputy so far as Wicklow is concerned." I think that Wexford would have had to be reduced, too, but I may be mixing it up with another county. Waterford would have had to drop also. In my own constituency, Kilkenny—I have not the figures at the moment—it will take 3,000 more votes to elect a man than it will to elect a man in the portion of Carlow joined with Kildare. Yet, the Constitution says there shall be not less than one Deputy for every 30,000 of the population and not more than one Deputy for every 20,000 of the population. Since the Government issued a manifesto saying how much they stood for economy and how, as one of the first steps towards economy, they proposed to reduce the size of the Dáil, one would have thought that they would have aimed at having the number of population per Deputy rather nearer to the 30,000 than to the 20,000 mark. So far as Wicklow and Kildare are concerned—and, again, I speak from memory but if it does not apply here it certainly does apply to other constituencies—a very small decrease in population will require another reconsideration of the constituencies because a comparatively small drop in population will mean that the requirements of the Constitution will not be fulfilled because there will be more than one Deputy for every 20,000 people. If you take the population per constituency and see how many people there are per Deputy, you will find that the Government has approached as closely as it could in many cases to having one Deputy per 20,000 whereas the Constitution allows them a margin of from 20,000 to 30,000. Sometimes, they do require rather more to elect a Deputy than the minimum 20,000. In County Kilkenny, as I said, it will take 3,000 more people to elect a Deputy than it will in Carlow-Kildare or Wicklow.

Here is a Bill which I shall not say is shameless. I should have had much more respect for the Government if it had been shameless. The Government wanted to bring in a corrupt, gerrymandering Bill in such a way as they thought would completely benefit their Party and would give them more Deputies to ratio of the population than any other Party would get. Personally, I do not mind a great deal because, with an ostrich-like point of view, the Government assume that the last election represents the permanent decision of the people. I quite agree that the majority Party, which has to take over the responsibility of government, does require to have that fact recognised, that it should be put in a position where it will not be in daily jeopardy and should claim, in some form or other, a representation that will give them an adequate majority, even though they are only elected by a small majority. That, I admit, but the elaborate gerrymandering of the Government is contemptible. It is done in the interests of a specific Party instead of in the interests of the country. It is particularly contemptible because they have tried to hide their object by mouthing certain contradictory principles. There is an additional element of contemptibleness in their conduct in that the very thing they are trying to achieve will, probably in a short time and certainly ultimately, have a completely opposite effect to what they think.

So far as this Bill aims at giving the majority Party more than its normal representation in the Dáil, it would have served Fianna Fáil in the last election and the election before that. I regard it as practically certain that it will not serve Fianna Fáil in the next election. We know that, with the fluctuations that take place amongst the people, it is inevitably going to operate against Fianna Fáil as soon as Fianna Fáil becomes a non-majority Party. The mentality which is always looking around for crooked and devious ways for benefiting a Party, while mouthing high principles to the country, is bound to make a mess of everything it does and, ultimately, I think that this Bill is going to injure Fianna Fáil. But I think that the Bill is bad, whether it will injure or benefit Fianna Fáil. This Bill, with its contradictory principles, with its destruction of everything that is good in any of these principles, with its exaggeration of everything that is bad in any of these principles, is a thoroughly bad Bill. Everybody who does not stand for corruption and gerrymandering will necessarily vote against it. The debate has proven what its purpose is. Independent of the debate, the very articles of the Bill, to anybody who reads them carefully, show clearly that the Bill is brought in for a corrupt purpose and for a corrupt purpose only.

I want to have a few more words on this Bill. One outstanding characteristic of it, as has already been pointed out, is that it does not fulfil the policy of the Party opposite as expressed before it came into office. Deputy Fitzgerald has just been drawing certain inferences from the phraseology of the Party manifesto, but it is not necessary to draw even implications. Various of the most prominent members of the Party opposite—and, I think, the President himself—declared themselves, before they came into office, in favour of a House of 100 members. It is unnecessary to point out how much this Bill differs from the views that they then held.

The Minister for Local Government was deeply pained because anyone should assert that this Bill was an attempt at gerrymandering, but if that has been asserted it has been asserted for the reason that nature abhors a vacuum, and it has not been possible to discover any other principle informing this Bill except the principle of gerrymandering. The Minister for Industry and Commerce laid down some principles that he said had been in the minds of the Government, and on examination it turned out that those principles had not been embodied in the Bill at all, barring the attempt to increase the number of three-member constituencies. I cannot think of any principle at all that can be said to be preserved or attended to by the actual terms of this Bill.

Now a chain is said to be only as strong as its weakest link, and the respectability of the Government's motives in drafting this Bill may, perhaps, be judged by some of the more outstanding crimes that it contains. To my mind— I may possibly be a little prejudiced —the worst blot of all in this Bill is the treatment of the County Roscommon. The treatment of the province of Connaught, as a whole, is very bad. The province of Connaught has one piece carved off it and presented to the County Clare, and another piece carved off it and presented to the new monstrosity that has been created called Longford-Athlone. In consequence, the province of Connaught is to have two members less than it would have had if these operations had not been performed, and three members less than it is really entitled to have, comparing its population with the population of the other provinces.

It is true that the County Carlow has been passed through the mincing machine, but the County Carlow did present a problem that had to be handled some way or the other. The County Roscommon presented no problem of any sort or kind. It had four members—it was entitled to have four members—and there was no need to disturb it in any way. So far as I can make out there was absolutely no motive for disturbing it except that it looked to the Government as if they could not hope to improve their position in the County Roscommon, and they thought they might conceivably improve it by cutting a piece off it. The figures that have been produced show that, as a result of this Bill, the County Roscommon will have a smaller representation in proportion to its population than any other county in the Saorstát. It will take more voters in the County Roscommon than in any other county in the Saorstát to elect a member to this Dáil. That is a fact. As I have stated, there was no need to interfere with the County Roscommon at all. It was entitled to four members and it should have been left intact with its four members. The County Sligo, another county in which I am deeply interested, has had a piece cut off it and given to the County Leitrim. It would have been far preferable to have retained the County Sligo and the County Leitrim in a double-county constituency as they are at the present moment.

We object to this Bill because it does not seem to be built on any respectable principle at all. If you are in favour of proportional representation you cannot like this Bill, because it cuts out any good there is in proportional representation. If you are against proportional representation you cannot like this Bill, because you have not got back to the simplicity of the other system: to the system which gives a chance to the individual trying to break in through the Party machine that corresponds to the chance he gets under proportional representation. That chance can be got under the old system of single-member constituencies, but, to my mind, the hope for an independent is made definitely less by the terms of this Bill and that is one of the numerous reasons why I object to it.

I remember reading in the Irish Times an article before this Bill was actually circulated and just after it had been introduced. It said that whatever the Bill was like we might very well be sure there would be charges of gerrymandering. Of course we were quite certain that we would be accused of gerrymandering in connection with this Bill, no matter how we might try to draw it up. The Deputies on the opposite side would see that no matter what kind of a Bill we brought in they could not get a majority on their votes. It would take a genius to draw up a Bill that would give the Opposition a majority. We are not able to do that even if we wanted to. The Opposition is really expecting too much. We have Deputy Fitzgerald and Deputy MacDermot, both of whom have to go back to three-member constituencies, objecting to the Bill. Naturally, they feel that things are not as bright looking for them as they would like. If you are going to have a Redistribution Bill at all you must naturally change some constituencies, and by accident these two constituencies, Kilkenny and Roscommon, came in for alteration. There was no problem, it is true, in Roscommon, but there was a problem in Westmeath. We could not leave it as it was, because it would not carry three members. Something had to be taken in with Westmeath, and the result was that Roscommon came in for a little bit of carving, as Deputy MacDermot has put it. I know that these charges have been made about gerrymandering, but I do not think that any single instance has been given where there has been gerrymandering.

The Deputies opposite know as well as we know that representation all over the country is fairly evenly distributed. There is not a county where you could say that it is ten to one Fine Gael or one where you could say that it is ten to one Fianna Fáil. In practically every county the percentage of Fianna Fáil votes would be between 40 and 60, and I suppose one could say also that in practically every county the Opposition votes would number between 40 and 60 per cent. How can anyone make a charge of gerrymandering in circumstances such as these? The position is quite different in other countries where you might have one whole district entirely on one side and another district going solidly on some other side. In such countries you might, by a process of carving up, be able to do a certain amount of gerrymandering. I put it to the Deputies opposite that even if they were given a free choice and allowed to draw up a Bill on the lines that they liked, that it could not be done. It is ridiculous, therefore, to talk about gerrymandering. We had the usual talk from Deputy Fitzgerald about dishonesty and corruption. It is from one such as the Deputy that we get such talk. The Deputy cannot think, act or talk honestly in this House or out of it, and he is certainly the last Deputy that should talk about corruption. With regard to the point made about Kerry, Tipperary and Limerick, I did not advocate, when I was in charge of the Bill, that we should let Limerick go back to one constituency and divide Kerry. On a free vote the House decided in the case of Tipperary and Limerick that they should go back to one constituency, and that Kerry should be divided.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 38; Níl, 32.

  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Boland, Patrick.
  • Bourke, Daniel.
  • Breathnach, Cormac.
  • Carty, Frank.
  • Concannon, Helena.
  • Cooney, Eamonn.
  • Crowley, Timothy.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Doherty, Hugh.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hogan, Patrick (Clare).
  • Keyes, Michael.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Kissane, Eamonn.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Maguire, Conor Alexander.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • O Briain, Donnchadh.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • Pearse, Margaret Mary.
  • Ruttledge, Patrick Joseph.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Robert.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.


  • Alton, Ernest Henry.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Broderick, William Joseph.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Burke, James Michael.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Costello, John Aloysius.
  • Curran, Richard.
  • Davitt, Robert Emmet.
  • Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
  • Doyle, Peadar S.
  • Esmonde, Osmond Grattan.
  • Fagan, Charles.
  • O'Reilly, John Joseph.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Reidy, James.
  • Finlay, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Haslett, Alexander.
  • Holohan, Richard.
  • Keating, John.
  • Lynch, Finian.
  • MacDermot, Frank.
  • McGovern, Patrick.
  • McMenamin, Daniel.
  • Minch, Sydney B.
  • Morrisroe, James.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • O'Donovan, Timothy Joseph.
  • Rowlette, Robert James.
  • Thrift, William Edward.
  • Wall, Nicholas.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Little and Traynor; Níl: Deputies Doyle and Bennett.
Question declared carried.