I would like to appeal to some of the Deputies who have spoken to reconsider their view in regard to this Bill. Unfortunately, I was not here when the matter was being discussed, and I was greatly surprised that there had been opposition taken to the Bill because, honestly, I thought that the attitude of the Deputy who has just spoken would represent, generally, the attitude of most experienced Deputies in the House. My own connection with this matter, and my thoughts on it, go back to the time when we were considering the present Constitution here. At that time Deputies may remember we extended the period of six years, which was the period prescribed in the old Constitution, to a period of seven years. I think I pointed out that while we had no desire to extend the legal life of Parliament, as determined by the ordinary law, beyond the period of five years which was prescribed, that if a crisis should occur making, it extremely desirable to do so, that Parliament's power should not to unduly restricted by the Constitution: that there should not be hard and fast lines drawn by the Constitution at six years. Accordingly, we put it into the Constitution that the constitutional length beyond which it would not be permissible for Parliament to prescribe as the interval between Parliaments should be seven years. Now, I have to confess that at the time what has been brought up very clearly during the present emergency did not occur to me. Although I thought that in a crisis it would be desirable that Parliament should be able to extend its own life, it did not occur to me how extremely difficult it would be for Parliament to do that.
I think that most people in the country would agree with the remarks made by the last Deputy and regret very much that we should have an election at this particular time. Personally, if I did not see the great danger that would result from not having an election I would be of that opinion myself. We are passing through dangerous times—there is no use in blinking the fact — and it gives a wrong impression, at first sight anyhow, to people to have an election in times like these. They will think there are no dangers when the Government and all the activities of the State can be thrown into what they regard for the time being as a contest between Parties. The position in which we found ourselves then was this, that if the Government, for instance, was satisfied that it was in the national interest that there should be an extension of the life of Parliament and attempted to have that put through against the will of the other Parties in the House, there would be the immediate feeling that the Government, in its own interests and not for the national good, was trying to lengthen its life. And even if all the Parties agreed to extend the life of Parliament, even that was going to bring dangers with it because there are other groups outside who would say: "It is the representation of Parliament as a whole that we want to have changed; we are not satisfied with the representation of the existing Parties."
There may be other Parties outside who will say: "We believe it is we who represent the people and that we should have representation in the Dáil. It is not satisfactory from our point of view that the Parties in the Dáil should agree amongst themselves that they will keep on as representatives of the people without consulting the people." When we were bringing in the Constitution, although I thought of the possibility of a crisis in which it would be desirable not to have the power of Parliament limited too narrowly, I had not thought of the great difficulty of any Parliament extending its own life. Having decided here that we were to have an election because of the dangers attaching to not having an election, we were discussing some question — I forget exactly what it was—and it occurred to me that nobody knows how long the present war may last. We do not know how intense and how dangerous the immediate emergency just after the war may be. I thought it would be desirable, now that we have had the experience of what can happen, that we should at least not put the coming Parliament in perhaps the same predicament that we find ourselves in, and that therefore we should provide, in so far as we reasonably can provide, that the next Parliament would not have the same difficulty that we have and that at least they would be in a position to have a six-year period. You may say: "Why not make it a seven-year or an eight-year period"? or something else like that. First of all, I think that for Parliament to extend the period mentioned in the Constitution would be disastrous. I agree with Deputy Mulcahy that you cannot do that. But, within the period in the Constitution, I think you can.
I must say that I was not thinking of this merely because of the emergency because, although it is the emergency that brought it very forcibly to my mind, I have been thinking on exactly the same lines as Deputy Lynch has been thinking. I did not go back so far as he did, but I counted up how many general elections we have had here since 1922. We had one in 1923; we had two in 1927; we had one in 1932; we had one in 1933; we had one in 1937; we had one in 1938; and then we have the forthcoming election. That works out, I think, at about seven in a period of 20 years. In other words, the average length of Parliament determined, not by the figure put in the statute as the maximum length of Parliament, but by the ordinal political position, has worked out at about three years. I do not think that anybody would think it was desirable to have it as short a period as that. Therefore, with the idea of trying to lengthen out the average somewhat, it seemed to me that to extend it from five to six years would probably bring about something between four and five years as the average; that is, that the people would be consulted in a period between four and five years.
Most of us are experienced in the business now and we realise that if there is an election due definitely within a certain period, as it is due this June, from the moment the election year comes in a certain amount of disturbance takes place. You have the various Parties thinking in terms of Party, much more, in my opinion, than they are thinking of it at any other particular period of time, and there are measures which will not get the same type of consideration in Parliament in an election year that they would get in another year. I think that there is always a portion of the year, anyhow, when a definite election is due as the result of Parliamentary provision, which is bad from the point of view of the conduct of business. The result is that a Government having the interest of the people at heart try to anticipate that period, and you find that they do in fact go to the electorate earlier than the time provided for. I can say for ourselves that if this had been an ordinary period we would have gone to the country and got the opinion of the people at an earlier period than the present. It is the prerogative, I think, of the Taoiseach to decide matters of that sort, and I can say for myself that I certainly would have decided to appeal to the people earlier were it not for the emergency. I felt, however, that during the emergency it would not be justifiable to go to the country any considerable time before the time we were bound to go by law. That consideration would not have held in ordinary circumstances. I do believe that the result of having a five year limit inevitably means that you never will get a longer period than about four and a half years, if you get that; and that for the other elections which are likely to take place, as they have taken place, as the result of the political situation in the country, the average will be very much less than four years. If you do agree to put this in the statute, on the law of averages I certainly would be willing to wager that over a period of years the life of Parliament would not be five years, even when you have agreed to six years.
This Bill was agreed to by the Government and was introduced. As I say, I was rather disappointed to find that the attitude adopted towards it had not been such as was indicated by the last Deputy, which was my anticipation, because it seemed to me that all experienced Deputies would take that point of view. Again I ask Deputies to reconsider their attitude towards it. It is naturally the sort of measure upon which one would like to have agreement. As was pointed out by Deputy Lynch, it cannot affect the life of the existing Parliament. It has to be done in advance. If this were an ordinary period, with the experience I have got as the result of this crisis—the experience we have all got —I certainly, for the ordinary public good, would introduce this measure as a measure, not for the emergency alone, but generally. Even if it were to be introduced from that point of view, surely with the experience we have just had about the emergency, it would be desirable that it should apply to the emergency also. Therefore, it should be introduced now to apply to the next Parliament rather than be introduced in the next Parliament to apply to the subsequent Parliament, because it has always to apply to the subsequent Parliament. Again I would ask Opposition Deputies to look at it from that point of view and to see whether the objections which they have indicated could not be waived. I feel very strongly that it is in the public interest that the period of time should be lengthened by a year.