That Dáil Éireann is of the opinion that the Electoral Acts should be amended forthwith in order to accord the franchise to members of the Garda Síochána.
I do not think this first motion on the Order Paper should take up much of the time of the House. To my knowledge, at any rate, the majority of Deputies in the House and the Government are in agreement with this motion, but I would like to say a few words on the reasons which prompted me to put this motion on the Order Paper initially.
It was only within the last 12 months that I discovered that members of the Garda Síochána were not entitled to cast their votes in a general election. I had always been of the opinion prior to that that they were in the same position and had the same rights as every other citizen in the community. I knew that they had power to cast a vote in the local elections and I also knew that at times it was quite difficult for members of that force to exercise their vote in the local elections. It was during a discussion that I had on their difficulty in exercising the franchise in the local elections that it came to my knowledge that they had no right or authority to cast their votes in the general election for this House.
When I heard the true position I decided the best possible way to deal with it was to put a motion before this House so that Deputies would urge the Government to pass the necessary amending legislation to remedy this injustice or grievance at the earliest possible moment. The position very briefly is this: every country in the democratic world confers the rights on its police force to exercise the franchise and we are the only democratic country in which that right does not obtain. Believe it or not, in the small area of the Six Counties the police force is entitled to exercise the franchise. In some democratic countries they even go so far as to make it mandatory or compulsory on their citizens, including members of the police force, to cast their votes.
I am not going that far; it is outside the scope of this motion, but I do suggest that any member of that force who wishes or desires to cast his vote— and to my mind the majority of them do—should be given that right. The case is being made that when in 1924 the right to vote was withheld there were some sound reasons at that particular period for that action. That may have been so, but we are not concerned at this particular moment with that period and if there were good reasons at that time I am sure all will agree those reasons do not exist to-day. No matter what anybody says it is an extraordinary thing that it was felt wiser at that particular period not to give that right to the Gardaí in view of the turmoil and conditions of unrest that may have obtained, while the Army, which was just as much concerned at that particular period, was allowed to exercise the franchise.
The Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Justice in recent speeches expressed themselves as being willing to give this right to members of the Garda Síochána, and I am glad that both of them have shown such a progressive outlook on this matter. All I want at this stage in this motion is a word from the Minister for Local Government that he is prepared to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest possible opportunity. I think his own speech in recent months gave the impression to the public that the legislation was likely to be introduced in this present session. I would ask him to introduce it before Christmas. We all know it is a very simple matter and I do not think there is any need to hold up the House any further on it.