Private Members' Business. - Garda Síochána Franchise—Motion.

I move:—

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.

I formally second the motion.

I wish to support Deputy McQuillan's motion. It is an extraordinary fact that the only people in this country who cannot exercise the franchise at the present time are convicts and members of the Garda Síochána. It is high time that that situation should be rectified at any rate in regard to members of the Garda Síochána. Good reasons may have obtained in 1924 for depriving members of the Garda Síochána of the vote. What is of vital importance is that the Garda force should be loyal to the State. I believe that they are loyal to the State and I believe that the fact that they would be given a vote in the general election would not in any way make more likely disloyalty on the part of the force. Our Army and the Civil Service have votes and the time has long since passed when we should give the vote to the Guards. I hope the Minister will accept the motion.

I want to associate myself with this motion and while I may in some way be responsible for the hold-up I do not think that I really am. A good many years ago when the question was raised and I sat on those benches with the authority of our Government I was told that when an electoral Bill would come along the vote for the Gardaí would be included. The last time I was in office I informed the representative body of that fact but I do not know what has become of that Bill since. Of course, if the electoral Bill is coming it would be a good thing to take up the two matters together. We did not consider it necessary to bring in a special Bill at the time.

I wish to support the motion. It has been an extraordinary thing that for years the members of the Garda have been without votes. I do not think there will be any objection in this House to these men getting this long overdue right.

I would like to impress on the House that they should be given a vote in a way that would make it practical for them to exercise it. As we are well aware they have, over a long period of years, exercised control and supervision over the polling booths and we could well find the position that many of the Guards would be on duty outside their own area and their own immediate polling booth or polling station. I would like to urge on the Minister, if he is, as I believe he is, going to grant this right to the Guards, that he should do it in such a way that they will be able to exercise the vote even if duty demands that they will be away from their own immediate polling station.

This is something that is very long overdue and it is an extraordinary travesty on the freedom we have in this country that for no less than 30 odd years this particular force in the State has been without the right to vote. They have given loyal service throughout the years in the maintenance of law and order in the State and it is an extraordinary thing that the very custodians of that law and order should be denied the right to vote as to who would be the arbiters of law and order within the natural rights of justice.

I suppose it is not in our best interests to take up the time of the House in discrimination or in castigating people for what should have been done and what was not done. There has been discrimination over the years but I feel that the time has come when something should be done to restore their rights to these men who have been such a credit to the State. It has been said in this House that there never was a more loyal, more conscientious or more courteous force than the police force has been since its inception. Over the years they have built up a tradition that has earned the respect of the people generally. I hope that there will be no unnecessary delay now in giving to these men the right that for far, far too long they have been denied, a right that I feel should never have been denied and one that they should get from any freedom-loving people. It seems extraordinary that such a long period should have passed by with these people ranked, as far as the franchise is concerned, with convicts.

Why it was ever done I am not going to ask. What queer twist of somebody's sense of justice denied them being recognised as other citizens of the State are recognised I do not know, but suffice it to say that it is now time that we wiped out this prejudice and injustice and gave to these worthy citizens of the State the franchise which they have so jealously guarded for so long. I hope it will be given to them forthwith and that they will rapidly forget that the State was ever so ungrateful that 30 years were let pass by leaving them in that disenfranchised position.

I would like also to add my support to this motion. I think Deputy McQuillan was aware of the fact that in putting down this motion he was, to a great extent, pushing an open door. The Minister has made it quite clear from time to time that he is in sympathy with the sentiments contained in the motion and he has indicated that it is his intention to introduce legislation governing the matter. I can appreciate the fact that many of us to-day cannot understand the incongruous position that the members of the Garda Síochána are virtually the only citizens of the State disfranchised at the time of a general election, but those who have longer service in this House and those who are older than many of us of the present generation will probably appreciate the reasons why, when the Electoral Act of 1923 was being pased, Section 5 was inserted debarring members of the Garda Síochána from voting.

Like Deputy Seán Collins and other speakers here, I certainly do not want —on a motion like this, which I think is going to be supported unanimously in this House—to say anything which would have the appearance of endeavouring to stir up controversy of any sort. I think, however, it is at least relevant to point out that, when the Electoral Act of 1923 was passed through this Assembly, the state of affairs in this country was completely different from the state of affairs existing to-day or from the state of affairs that has existed, one might say, for the past 20 years. You had in office for the first time for some 700 years or so an Irish Government which was charged with the responsibility of establishing in this State an Irish police force, an Irish Army, an Irish Civil Service and an Irish judiciary. You had a fresh Government of a fresh and new-born State endeavouring to find its feet and to take over the administration of this country from a mighty empire. At the same time, you had a young Government endeavouring to undertake the Herculean task of building up Irish institutions, an Irish Civil Service, an Irish police force and an Irish Army. You had existing at the same time a state of turmoil within our own borders.

To my mind, it showed an extraordinary sense of justice and fair play that the Ministers then in charge of the administration of this country should legislate in such a way as to ensure that, no matter how violently political differences existed, the police force in this State should not be stigmatised as being political, that the police force should be above and beyond anything in the nature of political controversy. Consequently, when this House considered the Electoral Act of 1923 they framed it in such a way as to ensure, even at the cost of an apparent injustice to the Garda Síochána, that the members of the Garda Síochána on full pay would not have the right to vote in parliamentary elections or in Seanad elections.

I think it was Deputy McQuillan who, in introducing this motion, drew attention to the distinction between the position of the Gardaívis-á-vis parliamentary elections and local elections. There, again, the distinction is, I think, historical. At the time of which we are now speaking—in the days of 1923 onwards—the local elections were not contested on a political basis—theoretically, anyhow—and it was not until comparatively recent times that political Parties unashamedly got into local politics. I think that will be conceded. I know Deputy Boland's Party hold that view. I am not arguing it now: it is not one that I am to be taken as agreeing with because I am not arguing it. However, I know they have always quite frankly held the view that it is right and proper that the national political Parties should contest the local elections and should operate as political Parties and political groups within local councils.

They contested them as far back as 1920.

I went back to 1923.

It is a pity the Deputy went back so far, all the same, and stirred things up.

I think that what I said is a fact.

Its relevancy is very doubtful, anyway.

They were contested in 1920.

If the Deputy would keep closer to the motion he would get on better.

"I was not born then."

I think Deputy Allen now disagrees with Deputy Boland on a matter of Fianna Fáil policy.

When the British were here.

All I want to point out is that, while in the Electoral Act of 1923, which this motion urges should be amended, it was not permitted to members of the Garda Síochána on full pay to vote in Seanad or Dáil elections, nevertheless their right to vote at municipal elections continued to exist unimpaired. The reason for that, I think, is that local elections—at any rate, theoretically— were considered as outside the sphere of politics and political activity. Deputy McQuillan drew attention to something which I believe is a fact, namely, that for many years, even in relation to local elections, members of the Gárda Síochána were not encouraged to exercise the franchise although they had the right to vote. They were quite entitled to cast their vote, just as any other section of the community. I understand things even went to the length that a directive was issued to them from the Commissioner or from Garda Headquarters suggesting that they should not exercise the franchise.

I was glad to hear Deputy Boland's contribution to this discussion because I got the impression, when this matter of the right of Gardaí to vote was raised by way of parliamentary question in this House last May or June, that Deputy MacEntee, as the spokesman of the Fianna Fáil Party on that occasion, was rather inclined to voice his opposition to any steps——

He spoke for himself— on that occasion, anyhow.

I am very glad to hear that because he did seem to suggest that there was something wrong about the expressed intention of the Government to introduce legislation of that sort on that particular occasion to facilitate the exercise of the franchise by the Gardaí in the local elections which were then pending. I do not know that there is very much more that can be said about this motion——

The Deputy has said quite a lot.

So far as the Party to which I belong is concerned, we have expressed the view on a number of occasions during the years that the Electoral Act of 1923 should be amended in this particular regard. In my view, Deputy Boland is quite sensible in foreseeing that greater amendments than this particular one are desirable and it may be that, instead of introducing legislation to cover this specific point, the Minister may be contemplating the introduction of a further Electoral Act which will clear up some of the anomalies which exist at the moment. Before I am reprimanded by the Chair, let me say that I quite recognise the fact that it would not be in order to discuss such anomalies, other than by way of passing comment, at the moment. I merely mention it because Deputy Boland threw out the comment that while he was in office such legislation was contemplated.

The point I was dealing with was that, so far as the Fine Gael Party is concerned, on more than one occasion we have expressed our desire to see the Electoral Act amended by permitting the Garda Síochána to cast their votes at parliamentary elections as well as at local elections. The Minister has indicated his attitude to this matter already.

I think it is desirable that this alteration in the law should take place. The turmoil and the excitement no longer exist. The Garda Síochána have long been established in the minds of the people as a body that have done their job loyally and well without favour to any particular Government or any particular political Party. They serve the State and not political Parties.

The task of establishing in this country an unarmed, non-political police force has been accomplished to the extent that the Irish police force have, I think, earned the admiration, the goodwill and the gratitude of all sections of the Irish people irrespective of their political differences.

I certainly agree with those speakers who have urged that whatever the reasons for this difference in legislation in the past those reasons are no longer valid ones and the time has come when the law should be amended as suggested by Deputy McQuillan.

I am in favour of the motion. I have only one dread and that is that this is going to be another organised body which can be purchased the week before the general election by a rise in pay to vote for a particular Government.

Are you talking for Deputy Boland or Deputy MacEntee?

I refer to the local authority officials and all the rest of it.

Seven thousand of them.

That is the only danger I see. In the last general election it cost a million and a half of the taxpayers' money to pay for the purchase of one crowd. In the election before that it cost the ratepayers of the country 1/6 in the pound and it cost the State £25,000 to purchase the officials of the local authorities. The instruction in regard to the purchase and the letters on the purchase were issued after the Dáil dissolved.

The Deputy cannot argue that on this motion.

I am pointing out the only danger I see.

Have not the dance hall proprietors votes?

I admit that up to very recently the Guards were a fairly busy body of men but now with the rise in the price of the pint they will not have so much to do in the pubs. They need not worry; the other penny will finish them. They will have nothing to do but to study form. They will have time to study which of the boys is going to give them the best return for their money. They will vote.

They are entitled to do that.

The Deputy did not even know they used to vote at the local elections. I have never seen a local election yet at which all the guards in my area did not vote for me.

Still you do not wish them to vote in the general election.

I am sure they will continue that good work in regard to the Dáil elections in the future, thanks to Deputy McQuillan. I am not a bit worried, but they will have more time now to study form.

And they will vote for us.

I admit you may tell us that that is not going to affect the country boys, but wait until we have the result of the Limerick by-elections. That is the present position. The Guards will have more time. I hope they will all exercise the franchise. I hope, as Deputy Seán Collins said, that they will be given an opportunity of exercising it. After all, we must remember that there are about 40 per cent. of the people who do not vote at all and do not worry about it. We also know that those are the very boys who will write to you every week to look after everything for them while we are there.

That does not arise on the motion.

I am giving a little advice to those who are now going to get the franchise, that they are to exercise it when they get it.

What about the political platform?

You need not worry about the political platform. They are all right in my constituency.

Maybe they have to be.

That is right. Maybe they have to be.

That is the position.

What is the position?

I do not wish to delay the House as we seem to be generally agreed on the matter. I am glad they are getting the opportunity now to exercise the franchise.

I was in favour of the motion until I heard Deputy Corry say that all the Guards voted for him. I am now inclined to question whether or not we should give it to them at all. Notwithstanding that, on behalf of the Labour Party, I should like to say that we are in favour of the motion. I do not want to repeat all the reasons why we are in favour of it but I think it is unpardonable of Deputy Corry to suggest that the police force as a body are any more likely to be bought than any other section of the people in this country. I think that wage increases would have no more effect on the Guards than on civil servants or the public in general. The Guards will exercise the vote, as we all do, by electing the people best suited to run this country. I will end by saying that we in the Labour Party hope that this is but a beginning and that there will be an extension of the view that civil servants of all kinds should not only have a vote but the political right to exercise that vote.

On behalf of the Clann na Talmhan Party, I should like to say that I agree with this motion. Like other Deputies, I could never understand why Guards had not votes in elections. I am sure, having heard other Deputies, that that is the general view of this House.

As far as Deputy Corry's comment on buying the Guards is concerned, I would like to say that there is one thing we are very proud of and that is that the Guards cannot be bought. I doubt very much if that is true of many other countries. The Guards are definitely as fine a body of men as you would get in any part of the world. If you travel outside this country, even across the water, you would appreciate that.

To suggest that Guards can be bought by increases in salaries or anything like that is, I think, most unfair to that body. From our experience, I think the Guards should be very good judges of politicians. They travel round on fair days and other occasions when we are addressing public meetings and from time to time they hear politicians saying one thing in one town and something entirely different in another. If Civic Guards got votes they would be good judges of the politicians and would exercise the vote properly. We appreciate there is difficulty in that a Guard has to be on duty at a particular polling booth. Whenever this matter is being put in order by the House, I hope some provision will be made to afford them the opportunity of casting the vote. I express the view on behalf of our Party that we agree with this motion.

I agree that the electoral laws of this country are really archaic. It may surprise the House to know that the electoral laws in force here are the very same as those which flouted the opinion of mid-Ulster recently, when the duly elected Deputy there, Deputy Mitchell, was unseated under the Forfeiture Act of 1870. These same archaic laws exist here, and I think the House will agree that it is time they were amended. The electoral laws here go back to 1850 and no Government has taken steps to amend them. I am glad to be able to tell the House that I have taken steps to codify them, and that I hope to do that in the very near future. I hope to do see the Forfeiture Act of 1870, the Ballot Act of 1872 and other archaic Acts—introduced into this country by a foreign Government—amended or abolished completely. No one in this House is in favour of legislation by reference. We wish to see our laws codified—be they fishery laws, local government laws or electoral laws— and that is what I propose doing.

I hope to include in the new Bill a section amending Section 5 of the Electoral Act of 1923, to extend the franchise to the Garda in Dáil and presidential elections. It is not so easy to do that. When I came into office I found that the Gardaí had not exercised—contrary to what Deputy Corry says—the franchise in local elections. I have no hesitation in saying now that 95 per cent. of the Gardaí did not exercise the vote in local elections. Immediately before the last local election, I took steps to ensure that the Gardaí would be facilitated in exercising the franchise. On the 18th June last, less than a week before the election—not for the purpose of vote-catching, as suggested by Deputy Corry—I caused the following circular to be sent out. It statedinter alia the following:—

"I am directed by the Minister for Local Government to enclose for your information a copy of an Order made by the Minister on the 17th instant, amending the Local Elections Order, 1942, so as to enable a returning officer at a local election to give a member of the Garda Síochána assigned for duty in connection with the election a written authorisation enabling such member to vote at a polling station in his electoral area other than the polling station at which he would otherwise be entitled to vote."

I caused that to be sent out to each returning officer, thereby ensuring that Gardaí posted at polling stations other than those in which they were entitled to vote would have the opportunity to vote. I did that before the first available election—in June last. We are due a Dáil election in 1959 and I now assure this House that, prior to that Dáil election in 1959, I will ensure that every member of the Gardaí will have the right to exercise the franchise. Further than that I cannot go.

I deplore the suggestion of Deputy Corry and I deplore the interjection of Deputy MacEntee, when a question was asked here by Deputy McQuillan on the 1st June last, as to whether the Electoral Acts would be amended so that the Gardaí could vote. I deplore the innuendo that it was for the purpose of buying votes, the votes of the Gardaí, for inter-Party candidates, just as I deplore the suggestion of my friend Deputy Corry to-day.

I have two examples.

The innuendo of Deputy Corry was that Deputy McQuillan—and I, as Minister sponsoring legislation—have merely introduced this motion for the purpose of buying the votes of the Gardaí. There are approximately 7,000 Gardaí in the country, they are divided over the constituencies of the entire State and their votes will scarcely influence the election of a successful candidate in any one constituency.

A handful of civil servants——

I deplore the suggestion that the decent Guards down in East Cork should be branded by him as people whose votes can be bought. I am surprised the Deputy should make the suggestion.

Let him come down.

I know the majority of the Gardaí in this country. I have met a good cross-section of them in my political and professional career and I can say they are honest men and their votes will not be bought.

I know a lot of them.

The Deputy may know a lot of them better than I know them and that is why he suggested they ought to vote for him. They may be afraid to do otherwise. I do not think that is true: I think they are honest men who will vote whatever way they think. They will vote for the best possible candidate. I can give Deputy McQuillan the assurance that when I come to amend the Electoral Acts and codify them I will include a section to amend Section 5 of the 1923 Act.

I would like to support in general the purpose of this discussion and would like to mention one particular section which it appears to me will affect the mechanics and details of any legislation amending the Electoral. Act of 1923 in so far as it affects Dublin and possibly other cities. The situation which the Minister mentioned operated this year for the first time in a local government election. The Gardaí were entitled to vote and were given a special authorisation to vote at a polling booth other than their own, in the same constituency area. In the City of Dublin, as soon as this franchise is extended, a Guard will be on duty in one end of the city and will have a vote in another constituency entirely. Presumably, on polling day most Gardaí in Dublin would have a long spell of duty.

You could have a postal vote, like the Army.

I was about to suggest postal voting or some system which would save the Guard from having to wend his way, after his day's duty, from the north side of the city to the south side.

A number of speakers referred to their anxiety for some time past to have amending legislation introduced. Prior to the last local elections I raised the problem in this House that the Garda Síochána were not in a position to cast their votes in the local elections. A number of Deputies, including one Minister, contradicted me and more or less suggested that I did not know what I was talking about. Some of the Deputies themselves have now admitted that I was correct and that in the local elections, in spite of the fact that by law the Garda Síochána are entitled to vote, they have had a number of difficulties put in their way.

That is all I meant when I interjected on the Deputy's question, that they had a legal right.

As a matter of fact it is not the Minister for Social Welfare I had in mind at all, but another Minister. As a result of the questions that were asked in the Dáil at the time, the Minister for Justice made it clear to me in a supplementary reply that he would ensure that no difficulties would be put in the way of the Garda Síochána in casting their votes in the local elections and as a result of the Minister for Local Government's action, a direction was issued through the commissioner to the various superintendents to facilitate the Garda Síochána, and I know in my own constituency that worked.

The Minister has told us the position with regard to the archaic laws here and I am very much afraid that if there are laws that need amending since 1850 this Minister, energetic, virile and enthusiastic as he may be, may be taking on more than he can deal with in saying that he will be able to amend, codify and get rid of certain legislation during his present term of office.

I am actually in the process of doing it.

All I am asking of the Minister is this. He has given a specific promise that in this amending legislation a section will be included that will amend the particular Act. He has stated that the date on which he will bring it in will be before 1959. I want this clarified in the Minister's mind. I am not suggesting that there will be a general election in 1957, 1958 or 1959, but would the Minister make this promise, that it will be prior to the next general election and leave out the dates 1959 or 1969?

I will give the Deputy this assurance, that if I am aware of an election in the offing I will introduce a one-section Bill to amend it.

Motion agreed to.