I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. During a recent debate on a motion by Deputy Cole proposing that the general election, now impending under the law, should not take place during the continuance of the war in Europe, the Taoiseach adverted to the danger which would be inherent in the situation, if, while Dáil Eireann stood dissolved, a grave emergency were to confront the State. It is true that the Constitution confers on the Government very wide powers in time of war and during a period of national emergency, but none the less in certain matters the assent of Dáil Eireann to actions taken by the Government is essential. For instance, even in so grave a situation as an actual invasion, the Dáil would have to be summoned at the earliest possible time, so that the Government in its actions would be upheld by the unmistakable support of the representatives of the people. The importance, therefore, in these critical times of keeping Dáil Eireann in being, even during a general election, will be appreciated.
The House having been practically unanimous as to the unwisdom of deferring the general election now imminent beyond the time which the law, as it stands at the moment, prescribes, it has been necessary to consider the problem very closely in an endeavour to devise a procedure which will diminish to the utmost the period between the dissolution of the present Dáil and the institution or summoning of the Dáil which will be called together after the forthcoming general election. In the normal course, as prescribed by the existing law, a general election is completed and the personnel of the new Dáil is settled three or four weeks after the dissolution of the outgoing Chamber. Not only that, but as the law stands at present the present Dáil, being dissolved, cannot be summoned or reconstituted during that interval, no matter what the circumstances—even, indeed, if they were such as would prevent a general election being held.
The aim of this Bill is to make the contingency of there being no Dáil as nearly impossible as may be. For this purpose, it prescribes the procedure by which the outgoing Dáil will be kept in existence until the general election has been completed and the personnel of the new Dáil definitely settled by the vote of the electorate. As auxiliary to that, it gives to the Minister for Local Government the necessary authority to ensure that the election, and I may say, in particular, the counting of the votes, will be conducted and completed with due expedition.
It also includes certain consequential provisions for the continuance of the Ceann Comhairle in his membership of Dáil Eireann and for the adaptation of the legislation governing the election of the elected members of Seanad Eireann. I should emphasise that all these provisions relate only to a general election held during the period of the present national emergency. As soon as that emergency is declared by the Oireachtas to have passed, the power and authority to be given under this Bill will lapse, and the existing law and existing procedure will be reverted to unless in the meantime the Oireachtas, by further legislation, decides to modify it in any particular.
A reference to the particular sections of the Bill will indicate how the policy I have outlined will be carried into effect. Section 1 is the definition section. Under this section, the phrase which is used in the Bill, and particularly in Section 2, "the present national emergency" is limited to mean the emergency which the Oireachtas has already declared to exist by resolutions passed on the 2nd day of September, 1939. By this definition, therefore, the duration of the Act is confined, as I have said, to the duration of the present emergency.
In the definition section distinction is also made between the incoming Dáil and the outgoing Dáil, so as to make it clear that the expression "outgoing Dáil" applies to the Dáil immediately present; while the expression "incoming Dáil" relates to the Dáil Eireann, the members of which are elected at such a general election. Section 2 will authorise the Taoiseach, instead of advising the President, as at present, to dissolve the Dáil, to advise him to direct that a general election shall take place. Under this section, the provisions of the Electoral Acts which relate to matters to be done consequent on a dissolution will have effect as though a proclamation by the President, directing a general election to be held, were a proclamation dissolving Dáil Eireann. The election will be held on a date, after the proclamation, to be fixed by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and, naturally, in that regard, the Minister will conform as closely as possible with the provisions of the present electoral law, and the precedents which have been established under it.
Section 3 of the Bill directs that when the election has been held, and the Clerk of Dáil Eireann has received from each Returning Officer the names of the persons elected for the constituency concerned, the Clerk will certify to the Taoiseach that the election in that constituency has been completed. The Taoiseach will thereupon, not later than two days after he has received the certificate from the Clerk of Dáil Eireann, advise the President to dissolve Dáil Eireann—that is, the outgoing Dáil—and summon the new Dáil, the "incoming Dáil," to meet. In the event of the Clerk's certificate not being forthcoming, by reason of the non-completion of the election in one or two constituencies, due, perhaps, to the death of a candidate, or some such occurrence, as sometimes has happened in the past, the Taoiseach must, within 16 days after the polling date give similar advice to the President— that is, to dissolve the outgoing Dáil and summon the new Dáil. If, however, something should arise after the poll which would make the completion of the election in a considerable number of constituencies impossible, or which would render it impossible to complete the election, then, I should like to point out, that the outgoing Dáil—that is, the present Dáil— could meet to deal with that situation. However, I hope and trust that nothing will arise which will prevent the completion of the election in the ordinary course. I just want to point out that so long as the outgoing Dáil is in being it can meet to deal with any widespread situation which might prevent the holding and completion of the proposed general election—or, indeed, any danger which might arise.
I think there will be no doubt about the wisdom of these provisions. It appears to me to be quite reasonable to require that Dáil Eireann shall be dissolved not later than 16 days after the poll. That is the extreme limit. Normally, it will be dissolved within two days after the Clerk of the Dáil has certified to the Taoiseach that the election has been completed, but if for one reason or another the Clerk is not in a position to give a complete or full certificate in regard to every constituency, nevertheless a limit is fixed in this Bill within which the Dáil must be dissolved.