It is important in dealing with this sub-section that we should keep firmly fixed in our minds the fact that the House has already taken a decision on the question of multi-seat constituencies, or on what is commonly referred to as the P.R. system. There is some confusion in the mind of the Minister for External Affairs and of the Taoiseach, judging by their approach to the discussion on this sub-section. The Taoiseach's refusal to give any explanation to the House as to why this sub-section is introduced into the Bill, his refusal to give the House and through the House, the people, any explanation or justification of his desire to abolish the single transferable vote in addition to abolishing P.R., seems to be due either to some confusion in the mind of the Taoiseach that both are one and the same thing or to a decision by the Government that it would be good election tactics for them to try to put it across to the people that both these separate and distinct entities are one and the same thing.
It is entirely wrong to consider the subject matter of sub-section (1) and the subject matter of sub-section (2) of this Schedule as being the same thing. They are not the same thing. I do not accept the validity of any of the arguments the Taoiseach, the Minister for External Affairs and other Government spokesmen put forward in justification of their desire to abolish P.R. as evidenced by sub-section (1) of the Schedule, but I want it to be quite clear that whatever validity those arguments have, they have no relevancy whatever to the question of the single transferable vote. Yet we have the spectacle of the Minister for Defence— I mean, the Minister for External Affairs—I said the Minister for Defence by mistake, but at least let me say to the credit of the Minister for Defence that he did endeavour to deal with the sub-section—talking to the Dáil and repeating the various arguments which have been made in connection with P.R. apparently under the impression that he was dealing with precisely the same subject as he dealt with last week and the week before.
The Government in introducing this Bill are endeavouring to abolish, No. 1, P.R. and, No. 2, the single transferable vote. If there is any validity in the arguments they have been giving here for the past fortnight, the relevancy and the validity of those arguments can be directed only against the system of P.R. The action of the Government in endeavouring to abolish also the system of the single transferable vote is, in my view, wanton and reckless destruction of an electoral system, or portion of an electoral system, which has stood the test of time in this country and has stood the people well.
The single transferable vote is what has ensured and what could continue to ensure that there will be majority Government here and that the Government, no matter what Government it is, will govern with the consent of the majority of the people. Deputy Mulcahy referred to the fact that in some elections for particular offices, what is done is that after each count the last candidate drops out and the electorate vote again for the remaining candidates. Despite the remarks of the Minister for Defence, I consider that that would be perhaps the best and most democratic system of election that one could envisage, but when you are dealing with the question of parliamentary elections, it would of course be impracticable to work on that basis. However, the system of the single transferable vote gives all the advantages of that system combined in one operation.
The Minister for Defence seemed to be somewhat wrathful over the system of the single transferable vote—I am taking his argument although he was wrong in failing to recollect that we are dealing for the purpose of this discussion with single seat constituencies and not multi-seat constituencies—on the basis that in the last election 163,000, I think he said, votes were disregarded, the reason being I understand that, in various places, probably in most constituencies, a situation arose at some stage, in which there were only two candidates left and only one seat to be filled; consequently, the person with the highest number of votes of the two remaining candidates got the seat. What the Minister for Defence overlooks is that under the British system, which he is inviting the Irish people to adopt, something in the region of 600,000 or 700,000 votes would be disregarded because every vote cast for an unsuccessful candidate under the "X" vote system, the British system which the Government are asking us to adopt, would be a wasted vote. It would have no effect in electing a representative to this House. It would have no effect subsequently in forming a representative Government out of those elected. What the Government are seeking to do when they put their desire to abolish the single transferable vote into this Bill is, whether they know it or not, to enshrine in the Constitution a principle of Government by minority instead of Government by majority.
Under the single transferable vote system, the elector is an elector in the proper sense. He is not merely a voter. He is given an opportunity of saying, when he is casting his vote, that he will give his first preference to a particular candidate and of opting that, if that candidate is not elected in the first place, he will then give his vote to another, to a second preference candidate and so on. That, I think, is the essential fairness and democracy of our present system By means of the system of the single transferable vote, it is quite clear that whatever candidate is elected is elected by a system which has examined and sifted all the preferences and all the votes of the electors in that constituency.
It is only after that sifting of the preferences that the candidate is elected and, when he is elected, he is elected because he genuinely represents the majority opinion in the constituency. There is no question about it. Under the single transferable vote, the candidate who is elected ultimately represents and reflects the majority opinion in the constituency.
Under the "X" voting system, the British system, which the Government wants us to adopt, it is very much on the cards that a candidate will be elected on a minority of votes in the constituency. In nearly any constituency you like to think of, if a seat is contested by more than two candidates, it is nearly certain that the winner under the British system will be a person who has a minority vote in the constituency. If, on the other hand, you retain the single transferable vote and apply it to the single seat constituency, at least this could be claimed: whatever candidate was elected would be elected only after the largest possible area or field of consent had been drawn on by him to get his mandate for coming into this House. He would be here as the representative of the majority vote in that constituency.
I do not want to see sub-section (1), which has been adopted by this House, being passed by the people. I do not want to see the multi-seat constituencies being abolished, but, even if they were, I still say that in the single-seat constituencies, we should retain the single transferable vote and, at least, ensure that whoever is elected as a representative in such a constituency will be here as the representative of the majority of the people in that constituency.
This House should express its thanks to the Leader of the Opposition and to Deputy Mulcahy for ensuring that the House is enabled to consider, to discuss and to come to decisions separately on these matters, the two separate and distinct matters contained in sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) of the Schedule. They should express their thanks that they are now able to come to a separate decision on the question of multi-seat constituencies and P.R. on the one hand, and the single transferable vote on the other. If the Government had their way, the position would have been that this House would have been able to take a decision only on the Schedule as a whole. They would have been forced into the position of discussing the Schedule as a whole, and of voting on it as a whole, though it contains a number of different provisions, and it was due to the motion moved in this House by the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Mulcahy that this House is now enabled to discuss these two important and distinct questions as distinct and separate issues.
It would be only right that the people of the country should be given a similar opportunity. There is no reason, no good reason, why the people of the country should be forced into the position that they must vote for the abolition of both of these separate and distinct items at the same time. It may be that many people would like to see the single seat constituency who, at the same time, would prefer to retain the single transferable vote. What opportunity, on the Government plan, will those people get of indicating what they want? We hear a lot of prating about the will of the people and of this question being left to the people to decide. Are the Government showing any regard or any respect for the will of the people in the particular type of question that is to be put to them in this referendum? Are not the people going to be forced into the position that if they vote "Yes" in the referendum, they are voting not alone for the abolition of P.R. but also for the abolition of the single transferable vote?
I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to amend this Bill so that those questions can be submitted as separate issues to the people, so that the people will be allowed to take their separate decisions on those two issues. I do not think it is necessary that there should be a second referendum. I think that the form of the ballot paper could be such that the people would be able to vote on each of these questions separately, and I think they should be given that opportunity. As far as I am concerned, the advice I would give to the people would be to vote "No" on both of these issues.
I think the fact that the Taoiseach refused to give this House any justification, or refused to advance any arguments whatever in support of this sub-section, makes a farce of all the arguments the Government have been putting up in connection with sub-section (1), because it seems to me to be quite clear that the Government have made up their minds that the two issues are one and the same thing, that they are so closely related and intertwined that you cannot separate one from the other. I am convinced that that is entirely wrong, and it is approaching the matter in a slovenly fashion without having given any proper examination to what the Government conceive to be a problem facing the public.
If the Government were serious in trying to improve the electoral system, surely it would not be too much to expect that there would be proper examination of what is involved? Surely it would not be too much to expect—with all the commissions they have appointed—that they could appoint a commission to examine this question? I should be willing to wager anything I have got that if this question were submitted to a commission, the commission would advise that the question of P.R., on the one hand, and the question of the single transferable vote, on the other, are separate and distinct issues; and if the Government wanted a change, wanted to get away to some extent from the electoral system which has worked so well in this country for the past 30 or 40 years, any independent commission set up and established would certainly advise caution. They would not advise or recommend to the Government this kind of leap in the dark, which the Government ask the people to take. I think the advice that any independent commission would give would be to recommend that if we are doing away with the multi-seat constituencies and going to adopt single seat constituencies, we should, at least, in those constituencies have the single transferable vote. The Government have not shown any indication, good, bad or indifferent, that they are prepared to submit that question for consideration or examination by any independent body or commission. On the other hand they have adopted the attitude: "We have got a majority in the House. It is probably the last time we will ever have a majority and, therefore, we are going to push these measures through the House, now that we have got that majority."
I have said before that the argument of the Minister for External Affairs and those who argue on similar lines, that this is probably the last opportunity Fianna Fáil will ever have of obtaining a majority under the system of P.R., is quite right because now that the plot has been hatched and dragged out into the open, there are very few of the electorate who would be willing to entrust them with a majority in this House again.
The Minister for Defence referred to the by-election—I think it was Dublin South-Central—where the Fianna Fáil candidate, out of a valid poll of 17,500 odd, got about 6,000 votes and was subsequently elected. No one on this side of the House has any grievance as a result of Deputy Cummins's election, for the simple reason that it was carried out under the system of the single transferable vote. Deputy Cummins got only 6,014 votes out of the total valid poll of 17,583 first preference votes. When the other preference votes had been sifted, Deputy Cummins was the candidate, out of the five candidates who faced the electorate, who got the majority of preferences and consequently became the Deputy for that constituency, entitled to claim that he was the representative of the majority of the people who cast their votes in that election. I am leaving out of consideration the fact that some 35,000 people did not bother to vote in the election, but of the people who did vote, there was no doubt that under the single transferable vote which was in operation, Deputy Cummins came into this House as fairly representing the majority opinion of those who voted in the by-election.
What would be the position if the single transferable vote were not in operation? Then Deputy Cummins, having obtained 6,014 votes out of 17,583, would have come in here as the Deputy for the constituency not being able to claim that he was representative of the majority of voters in that constituency. The only thing to be said if we had been dealing with the "X" vote in that by-election was that while Deputy Cummins got 6,014 votes, there were 11,583 votes cast for other candidates, that there were 11,583 votes cast against Deputy Cummins and only 6,014 for him. He would then have come into this House the winner under the British election system which the Minister for External Affairs wants us to adopt, and certainly he would not be able to claim that he was representative of anything except a minority, something well under 50 per cent., of the people who voted.
When the Minister for External Affairs refers to that by-election figure, I want him to know we are quite satisfied that Deputy Cummins is entitled to claim that he represents the majority of the people who voted in that election. The reason we are satisfied that he is in with the consent of the majority of the people who voted is just that that election was carried out under the single transferable vote system. The Minister for Defence refers to the system which the Government are asking us to adopt as an absolutely fair system. I do not think it is any such thing. At the moment, whoever is elected can claim to represent the majority view of the people who vote. Under the system which Fianna Fáil are asking us to adopt, that certainly will not be so.
The single transferable vote ensures that there will be majority rule and it ensures that the Government, having got a majority of the seats in this Parliament, are in a position to claim that they govern with the consent of the people. It is very important that any Government should be in a position to make that claim and that fact has been recognised by the Taoiseach in a quotation which I propose to place on the records of this House. He has stated, in effect, that the size of the Government majority in the House is not all-important, but that it is important that the Government should have the people behind them. That is important at any time. It is important even at the present time that the Government, with a majority of 14 or 15 seats, or whatever it is, should be able to claim they have the majority of the people behind them. That is very much open to question now.
One of the things of which the Government are afraid is that the question of whether or not the people are behind the Government might be put to the test in this referendum. I suspect very strongly that that is the reason why the Taoiseach has been prevailed upon by the Fianna Fáil Party to go forward as a candidate for the Presidency, so that both elections may be carried out on the same day and so that his influence and prestige with a number of people may be utilised for the purpose of securing votes for the proposals contained in this Bill.
The point I want to make is that it is important that a Government should have the consent of the majority of the people; that it should be able to say that it has the people behind it. Under the British system which we are being asked to adopt, we may very well have a Government in office who are in a substantial minority in relation to the votes cast in the general election which elected them to office. We may find ourselves in the situation where, in practically every constituency, a Fianna Fáil candidate with a minority of the votes cast in the constituency could become the candidate elected.
The Taoiseach had this to say with regard to what a strong Government is, as reported in the Irish Press of 20th January, 1948:—
"A Government is strong only if it has a majority in Parliament because with our system, the Government depends on the majority it has in Parliament. It is a weak Government if it has not a strong majority."
I am giving that quotation deliberately in case I might be accused of suppressing any of it. He goes on:—
"It is not strong merely because it has a parliamentary majority. If it can be suggested that a Government is not supported by the people, then a Government by that very fact is a weak Government—if, after these elections——"
this was in reference to the 1948 elections——
"——a finger can be pointed at us, and it is said in the Dáil: ‘You have a majority of 12 or 14 over the other Parties, but the people are not behind you—you have not the majority or the people.' You know that the Opposition would talk in that way, and would be encouraged in their efforts by the fact that that charge could be made.
We are determined that that charge cannot be made and if we are to continue as a Government we would have to have a majority in Parliament; be able to show that that majority was reasonably given to us and that the people were behind us as well as the majority in Parliament."
Now, the Taoiseach and his Government are asking the people to adopt a system which may very well give us, for many years to come, minority Government and a Government which can be demonstrated to be a minority Government. We are asked to do that in the face of those views expressed by the Taoiseach as to the importance of the Government having a majority of the people behind it, not simply a majority in Parliament. We are asked to do so, notwithstanding the fact that the Taoiseach himself is on record as showing that no matter what majority a Government may have in this House, it is a weak Government, unless it has the majority of the people behind it.
We are asked to adopt a system which may give us minority Government. I do not want to say anything further on this issue, but I would appeal to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for External Affairs, who seems to be principally responsible for this debate as far as the Government are concerned, to give us some arguments, if any exist, to justify the abolition of the single transferable vote which they are recommending to the House. So far, we have heard nothing worth while from the Government: we have heard nothing at all from the Taoiseach. His only contribution was at the very commencement when he was asked to give some explanation. He said:—
"I think it can be inferred from the terms of the sub-section what is in it. The matter has been discussed here many times already and arguments put forward for and against."
That was the Taoiseach's attitude— am I not right in saying—his refusal to explain the reason for this sub-section is because he considers the question of P.R. on the one hand and the single transferable vote, on the other to be the same thing. We heard the Minister for External Affairs and I think the kindest thing would be not to refer further to his speech, but I would ask him, the Taoiseach or any other member of the Government at least to show this House the courtesy of making their arguments in favour of this sub-section. At least, let it be clear to the people that the arguments which were relevant to the question of the P.R. issue are not relevant to the question of the single transferable vote. Let the Government endeavour to justify what they are asking the people to do and if they cannot do that, let them have the good grace to withdraw this provision from the Bill.