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.