I disagree entirely with Deputy O'Higgins when he says that this question of the Dréacht Bunreacht that we are discussing is of no interest to the people. I do not suppose that anything I could say or anything any of us on this side could say in contradiction of his view would carry conviction to him or to his colleagues, but it is my belief that there are few measures that have been put before this House since I became a member of it that have excited as deep an interest in the public mind as this Draft Constitution. That is my belief, and I think I see evidence of that every day I open a newspaper. There is nothing that has happened of a political nature in recent years that excited such public controversy as this Constitution. Newspapers, magazines and reviews, the few of them that have appeared since the document was first published and that I have seen and read, have commented on and discussed in some way or another the provisions of the Constitution. I think it is absolutely undeniable that there is nothing since the Free State was founded in which the people have taken a deeper interest than in this Constitution. They have discussed it, examined it and commented on it, and, while I have to accept Deputy O'Higgins's word that the people have no interest in it, I think the vast majority of his supporters—some of them I have met and talked to, and some of them I have heard criticise various aspects of the Bunreacht—would not agree with him that the Bunreacht is a matter of no interest. However, on that we can afford to differ, but I think that any unprejudiced person who takes an interest in the matter and who likes to discuss affairs of that kind, can make up his mind as to the side on which the truth lies. We will leave it there.
On the question of the time when the plebiscite on the Constitution is to be taken, I think Deputy O'Higgins must be talking with his tongue in his cheek when he criticises the Government for putting this Constitution to the people at the time of a general election. He personally had no responsibility for the way in which the Constitution was put to the people in 1922, but I am sure that if he were asked he would say he saw nothing wrong with it. The people have had this Constitution before them some months in advance. The matter, as I have said, has been commented upon, and it has been published in full in newspapers in every part of the country. It has been discussed through every available organ for discussion, and it has been debated at considerable length in this House, and the debates, I am sure, will go on for a considerable time. The length of the debates here and the number of speakers who have addressed the House from amongst Deputy O'Higgins' own colleagues all bear tribute to the fact that they regard it as a matter of very considerable interest and importance to the people generally, thus contradicting, to my mind, his view that it is a matter of no interest or importance, and showing also that the people have what they did not have when the first Constitution was put to them, a great opportunity of learning what the Constitution is, what is in it and what is not in it and what its sections mean.
They will have read the debates,pro and con, and they will have heard the views of the President and other speakers on this side and various speakers from the Opposition who have given their views of what it means. If ever the public had an opportunity of understanding any measure, they have that opportunity in respect of this Bunreacht. I do not see anything wrong at all in choosing such a time. I would not put forward the argument as one of very great importance that we save expense by asking the people to vote on the Constitution on the day of the general election. That is not a matter that ought to weigh very heavily with the Government, I agree with Deputy O'Higgins, in deciding the day on which a measure of this kind should be put to the people, but I think the day of a general election is a suitable day. I thought the Constitution would have been brought in earlier, but that could not be done, and the time of the general election draws near. The end of the normal period of office of the present Government is drawing to a close, and the two things happen to coincide, and I think very happily coincide. There will be a bigger interest taken in both matters as a result of the political interest that is always evoked by a general election, and you will have a bigger vote. It would be perhaps difficult to work up the same enthusiasm for a plebiscite on the Constitution if that plebiscite were taken alone. The people would not have the same urge to vote on any Constitution, no matter what it contained, as they would have to vote at the time of a general election. I think that those who are asked to vote for one side or the other at the general election, and at the same time to decide pro or con on the Constitution will have a deeper interest in both matters. You will have more interest displayed, and probably a bigger vote than you might have had on any Constitution put to the people by plebiscite at any other time.
I hope, and this hope has been expressed several times by the President, that the people will be made to understand that whatever way they vote in the general election, they are free to vote any way they please on the Constitution. If they are supporters of the present Government and dislike the Constitution, I hope they will understand that they are completely free to vote against the Constitution, if they so wish, orvice versa. I think the people are politically-minded enough to understand the job they have to do on the day of a general election, to understand what the general election and the Constitution mean to them, and to be able to differentiate between Party programmes and Parties and, at the same time, to make up their minds on the Constitution. I do not think the excitement which has always existed on the day of the poll, and, later on, and will, I suppose, always exist, will be any less, but I do not see any reason why that Party feeling should prevent people from making up their minds independently and clearly and definitely on the Constitution. Our own people will probably pay more attention to what we say, but I hope that the people, all of them, will understand that they are completely free to vote any way they like on this Constitution, and anything we can do to get them to put aside Party views when discussing it and voting on it we will do. It has been done already, and it will be continued to the day of the poll.
With regard to the question of electoral abuses to which Deputy O'Higgins referred, it is the duty of the Gardaí to prevent them. I cannot speak for the country—I have never been in the country at the time of a general election polling day—but here in Dublin the Gardaí are inside the polling booths and outside them.