I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Under the Constitution, 43 of the 60 members of Seanad Éireann are elected from five panels of persons who have knowledge and practical experience of certain interests and services. The Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, governs the election of these members. Under that Act some of the persons to be placed on each panel are nominated by members of the Oireachtas and the remainder are nominated by nominating bodies registered in respect of each panel. The purpose of this Bill is to simplify the 1947 Act in regard to the nomination of candidates by nominating bodies and to make some minor amendments which experience of the Act has shown to be desirable.
The present system of election of Seanad panel members originated with the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1937, dealing with general elections and the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) (By-elections) Act, 1940. These provisions were reviewed by a joint committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas set up in 1946 "to consider and make recommendations on the method of regulating elections of those elected members of Seanad Éireann who are required by the Constitution to be elected from panels of candidates and the definition of the electorate for such elections." The 1947 Act was the result of the report of that joint committee.
In the course of its operation some minor defects were noticed in the 1947 Act and an inter-departmental committee was established to review the legislation. The Bill as introduced in the Seanad was based on the report of that committee. The Bill was referred in the Seanad to a select committee and on the recommendation of that committee it has been amended to secure further simplification of the system of election.
The major change made by the Seanad is the abolition of nomination committees. Under the 1947 Act every nominating body registered in respect of a panel is required to appoint five persons annually to be members of a nomination committee for that panel. At a general election where there are three or more bodies registered in respect of a panel—as is usually the case —more persons will be proposed by nominating bodies for nomination than can be put on the panel. The nomination committee's function was, by secret ballot, to reduce the total number of nominations to the appropriate number to be put on the panel. The present Bill as introduced in the Seanad contained provisions to obviate as far as practicable the nomination by nominating bodies of large numbers of persons who had little chance of having their names placed before the electorate and to avoid having meetings of nomination committees to effect very small reductions in the number of nominations. The Seanad went the whole way. To quote the report of the select committee:—
"The committee considered that these modifications tended towards making the nominating bodies the real nominators of the candidates. In their view the system of nomination committees had not worked out satisfactorily, and accordingly they decided to take the further step and amend the Bill by providing for their abolition."
This proposal means that every qualified person who is nominated by a nominating body will be put on the ballot paper.
The Bill as introduced contained a formula restricting the number of persons which might be proposed for nomination by each nominating body and this provision has been retained— it is Section 7 of the Bill. It will ensure that the ballot papers will not contain an unreasonable number of names.
Under the new formula the number of persons which a nominating body may nominate will in certain circumstances be reduced to one instead of two, which is the present minimum. The abolition of the nomination committees would allow, therefore, of each nominating body having at least one nominee on the ballot paper. If a large number of bodies is registered in respect of a panel there will be a corresponding number of nominations. The experience of the past few years, however, suggests that this number is unlikely to become very large. Prior to 1947 the maximum number of bodies which could be registered in respect of a panel was 15. Since 1947 there has been no statutory limit but there has been no significant increase in the number of bodies registered in respect of the various panels. The largest number registered at the moment is 17 in respect of the industrial and commercial panel.
One of the functions of nomination committees is to fill casual vacancies among members elected from the nominating bodies' sub-panels. The abolition of nomination committees entails the adoption of a new procedure for filling such vacancies. The procedure is embodied in Section 11 of the Bill. Briefly, nominations will be made by the nominating bodies themselves—each body may nominate one person—and the electorate will be the members of the Dáil and Seanad. This is the same electorate as for a by-election to fill a vacancy on the Oireachtas sub-panel side.
Another important provision in the Bill is that contained in Section 4 which obliges the Seanad returning officer to disallow an application for registration in the register of nominating bodies made by a body which appears to him to be a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to a body which is already registered or whose application for registration he is allowing. He must also delete the registration of every body which appears to him to be a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to a body whose application for registration he is allowing. Under the 1947 Act the Seanad returning officer was given a discreation in the matter.
This Bill is very largely a technical one and, as amended, was agreed to at all stages in the other House.