The Minister for External Affairs has reminded us that this debate has gone on for nine weeks. During that period, I have listened to contributions from Ministers and from members of various Parties, but in all that time I have not heard such utter rubbish as has just been offered by the Minister. We are a small nation of some 3,000,000 people with a Constitution originally brought in here in 1922, amended and adopted by the people on the proposal of the Taoiseach in 1937. Our Constitution, our institutions of Government, our way of doing business in this House, the methods of the Government in dealing with business, have nothing in common with the system which is operated in the United States of America. The Minister for External Affairs should be the first to know that, if they are discussing a Bill in the House of Representatives, there is no Cabinet taking part in the debate there. In the United States, the Cabinet is not even part of the Legislature. The States themselves—49 at the moment—have got their own State Governments. National decisions are made by the Federal Parliament, but many of the laws which bind the citizens are the laws made by the State Legislatures and there is no such thing as a national Minister in the same sense as we have such a Minister. Even beyond that, has it not been common knowledge over the past 30 or 40 years that from time to time in the United States of America, there have been grave differences of opinion between the President for the time being and the legislative chambers making up Congress itself? Yet, this is the country, this is the continent, the Minister sets up as having a type of electoral system which would be more suitable in Irish conditions than the one which—according to the words of the Taoiseach on many occasions—has been successful in our own country, in our own conditions, since 1937.
I have come to the conclusion—and I wonder if it is a conclusion that many of our people are coming to—as a result of the type of case put up by the Government spokesmen, that this Government are a majority Government, they have got the support of the majority in this House—in the general election they were elected on the basis of getting the support of the majority of the Irish people, and nobody is quarrelling with that—but this Government have so little faith in themselves and in their Party and in their own future that they wish to ensure that future elections will be decided, not on the basis of a majority decision of the Irish people, as they are at the moment, but on the basis of a minority decision of the Irish people.
Many Deputies have concentrated on the possible results of the introduction of the proposed system, and have stated on many occasions that the tendency of this Bill—if it is accepted eventually by the people in a referendum—will be to deny representation to minority sections of our people. In that regard, the Minister for External Affairs has been kind enough to refer on many occasions to the Labour Party. I do not think either the members of the Labour Party in this House or their supporters in various parts of the country care very much what opinions the Minister has in relation to the Party's future. However, I agree with him that so long as the workers of this country believe that their interests will be served by having Deputies of the Labour Party in this House, they will continue to send them here, no matter what the system of election is.
That is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue may have been clouded by concentrating on the necessity of continuing to provide in this House fair and equal representation for substantial minorities in the country. The fundamental issue is that this Bill, if passed, will tend to have this House representing a minority of the people. If in a few years' time, as well might be the case, the Fianna Fáil Party were reduced to 30 or 40 members, I doubt if the Minister for External Affairs, the Minister for Health or the Minister for Local Government would consider that Fianna Fáil supporters should not have the right to nominate candidates in every constituency or that Fine Gael or any other Party that had grown bigger should not have a similar right. The general tendency of the Bill has been quite clearly shown by the Minister for External Affairs. He is anxious—and I take it the Government are anxious —to introduce into this country a system whereby there will be a Government Party and an Opposition Party.
The Minister for External Affairs and some of his colleagues talk about an alliance between Fine Gael and Labour or Fianna Fáil and Labour because, they say, their policies are familiar. We know they are talking cockeyed nonsense. The Minister for Industry and Commerce indicated that he thought the Labour Party had a different philosophy and outlook from the other big Parties here. I agree with him. I hope the outlook will grow more different and that this other era will come to an end very soon.
This evening, the Minister for External Affairs referred to the development of a powerful Labour Party in England. There was no Sinn Féin Party to split in England. At the beginning of the century and for a long time before that, you had in England the Conservative and the Liberal Parties. The Labour Party grew and developed in England when the workers there realised that they required not only industrial strength but protection of their interests in the Parliament of that nation. To-day, the strength of the Labour Party in England rests on that firm basis. There can be no analogy between the situation that developed in England from the beginning of the century to immediately before the war, and the situation in this country. The Parliament in which we sit has only operated as a Parliament since 1922. To the sincere regret of many of us here not allied to either side and to thousands of supporters outside, that situation has not yet clarified itself.
We have discussed this measure at length. It may be an earnest of things to come, if the Government succeeds in getting its way, that on a number of occasions leading Government spokesmen have expressed their irritation at the prolongation of the discussion. The discussion has been prolonged no more than that of many other Bills, possibly of less importance, that came before the House. It has been suggested that the discussion has been a waste of time and that there has been an endeavour to obstruct the course of the Bill. We have a Government with a majority of 18. I do not think the Government can suggest that the prolonged discussion on this matter has held up urgent public business. The Government of the day can set down and order the business to be dealt with by the Dáil. It may be—I do not know—that they have no public urgent business. Certainly, they have demonstrated in the course of their contributions to this debate a singular lack of faith in their own capacity to convince the people that they have done a good job during this period of office and that they are entitled to get their support again.
There appear to be two main conclusions to be drawn. The first is that the Government have introduced this Bill because they are convinced they have no hope of being returned with a majority in the event of another general election under the system of P.R. I suggest that conclusion is a reasonable and correct one. It is based on this very simple thesis. If they had such faith in their own Party and in their ability to convince the people that they are doing a good thing and deserve the support of the people for a further period in office, then I submit they would never have introduced this Bill at this stage.
The second conclusion that one must reach in this matter is that this Government, headed by the Taoiseach, with Ministers, some of whom have had many years in office as Ministers, and who on countless occasions have expressed their belief in democratic decisions taken by the people, democratic decisions made in the name of the people, are even losing their alleged regard for democracy.
The Minister for External Affairs tried, as usual, to be humorous. He indicated that the alternative to the direct system of voting—in other words, the continuation of P.R. to its extreme limits—would result in one constituency for the whole country and, for that single constituency, candidates would go forward for election on the basis of covering the whole country. The Minister, in his endeavour to be humorous, neglected to advert to the fact that this Dáil, as at present constituted, represents all the people in the country and constituencies are divided in certain ways for the purpose of giving fair representation to all the people in the country.
The Constitution which they now propose to emasculate provides that the number of people in a constituency shall be limited both as regards the minimum and the maximum. It is inherent in the Constitution that representatives elected here are elected to represent Irish citizens and they are, therefore, elected to speak in their name. They are not elected merely for the purpose of electing a Taoiseach and ensuring that ten, 12 or 14 Cabinet Ministers are appointed. Under the present system of P.R., as it operates here, not a single Minister has been able to say that the people are unfairly represented. It is perfectly obvious that if the new system is accepted, that statement cannot be made in the future, because, in practically every case, where two candidates contest a constituency, the Deputy elected will be representative of a minority. If only 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. of a constituency send a Deputy here elected on a minority basis, this House will then, of necessity, represent only a minority of the people.
I wonder whether the vaunted regard of the Minister for External Affairs for a Government elected as a result of such a system would rest on any fair basis? I sincerely believe that parliamentary democracy, as it operates in this country, and democracy itself, as recognised in this country, will suffer a most severe blow if the proposals contained in this Bill are passed by the Dáil and Seanad and approved by the people. The tragedy will be that the people, and this is true of Fianna Fáil too, may not realise that until after the event. If this issue goes before the people, there will be very little opportunity for calm, considered judgment. In any country, when an issue is put before the people and presented to them by newspapers, by radio and other means of propaganda, the people can conceivably make a mistake if the weight of the publicity falls in a certain direction. I appealed to the Taoiseach earlier to give an assurance to the House that the people would be afforded a fair and equal opportunity of judging the merits and demerits of this proposal. Nobody in the House has yet received such an assurance. Indeed, it is obviously the intention of the Government and the Taoiseach not to give such an assurance to the people.