I shall begin by quoting the words of Arthur Griffith and I shall follow that by quoting the words of the Taoiseach in relation to the system of voting which it is intended to change. In 1911, Arthur Griffith writing inSinn Féin said:—
"Proportional representation secures that the majority of the electors shall rule and that minorities shall be represented in proportion to their strength. It is the one just system of election under a democratic Government."
Could anything better be said for the existing system of voting which the Fianna Fáil Party are now trying to change for their own purposes?
I shall now quote what the Taoiseach said when he was asking the people to support the Constitution which enshrined the present system of voting. Speaking in this House during the debate on the Constitution in June, 1937, as reported in Vol. 67, col. 1343, the Taoiseach said:—
"The system we have we know; the people know it. On the whole it has worked out pretty well. I think that we have a good deal to be thankful for in this country: we have to be very grateful that we have had the system of proportional representation here. It gives a certain amount of stability, and on the system of the single transferable vote you have fair representation of Parties."
At column 1353, the Taoiseach said:—
I think we get, probably, in this country more than in any other country, better balanced results from the system we have. If you take the countries where proportional representation exists, you get better balanced results than you get in the other countries. I think we get the benefits of proportional representation in reasonably balanced legislation here better than in any other country that I have read about or know anything about.
Could anything better have been said by the Taoiseach in favour of the system he now tries to destroy than the opinions he conveyed to the Dáil when speaking on 1st June, 1937, and asking the House to approve of the system of P.R. being enshrined in the Constitution at that time?
It is obvious from the haste with which efforts are being made to finish off this debate and put this issue to the country, that the Fianna Fáil Party are determined not to put the issues involved in the present voting system as against those in the proposed new system in a calm way for the decision of the electors. Instead of putting the merits of the system in a calm atmosphere to the electorate, they have decided to pin their proposals to the coat-tails of the Taoiseach in the coming presidential election, in the hope that he will carry the new system with him, in spite of the views of the ordinary people.
We have not noticed a desire in any section of the community for a change in the system of voting. No effort was made by any organised group of intelligent people to put forward a suggestion that the existing system of P.R. ought to be changed. In spite of that, it is being advocated by the Fianna Fáil Party for their own political ends and their own political purposes, not in the interests of the nation, but to maintain their own strength and unity.
The Taoiseach himself said that the system of P.R. has worked well and that we ought to be thankful that we have had it here, but now for political ends, and for the benefit of the Fianna Fáil Party, efforts are being made to abolish that system which the people have operated so effectively and so well for practically 40 years. Any time the people wanted a change of Government, they had a system which enabled them to bring about that change. It is a remarkable fact that down through the years there has been a very reasonable trend in political opinion here and Governments knew very well that they were sent here as a result of the considered opinion of a democratic electorate, people who were able to exercise their votes in a free and democratic manner, having considered the various issues involved when it came to a question of reelecting or changing the Government.
The Taoiseach admitted here in the House that it was because Fianna Fáil were put out of office in 1948 that he has since decided to take that system away from the people and to prevent them from ever again removing Fianna Fáil by the election of an inter-Party Government. He did not have time to do so before he was put out in 1948. He came back again in 1951 with all kinds of efforts and promises and he stayed here for approximately three years until 1954, at which time the inter-Party Government were sent in with a majority of nearly a quarter of a million people. Approximately 700,000 people were against Fianna Fáil and 500,000 were for them. It was only fair that the Deputies elected by the 700,000 people should form the Government rather than the Party which was supported by 500,000 people.
A case is being made at the present time that under the new system, whatever group gets the largest number of votes, even if it is far from a majority of the votes, should be given the opportunity of forming the Government. Our view is that we should follow majority rule in the democratic way which is permitted under the system of P.R. People have not been asking for a change in the voting system and the Fianna Fáil Party should not try to push a new system down their throats. In fact, it is becoming more obvious, as time passes, that the citizens of this country will not swallow the new system which the Fianna Fáil Party are attempting to push down their throats.
Last autumn, the Taoiseach mentioned that this was a very important issue and that it should not be confused with the Presidential election, but now we find that he is to be a candidate himself in the Presidential election and that the proposed change in the voting system is to be decided upon the same day. Is it fair for the Taoiseach to exercise his personality and the sympathy that he may encourage amongst the electorate, to support him as a candidate, and at the same time, to support a change in the voting system, a change which he advocates in spite of the glowing tribute which he paid in the past to the system of proportional representation which was the basis on which this State was founded? It is a blow at the very foundations of the State to try, at this stage, to alter the voting system. The present system of voting is the basis on which the State was established, and it is the system that has functioned very well in a democratic manner for practically 40 years. Why should the foundations of the State be taken away in such an abrupt, hasty manner? Why will the Fianna Fáil Party not agree to sit down and give calm and cool consideration to a proposal which will interfere with the people's rights to elect representatives to Parliament?
Those are the terms of the amendment tabled by Deputy General Mulcahy and Deputy J.A. Costello. It is a very reasonable request. It is a very important request as far as the people of this country are concerned, because, if their rights are taken from them now, the right to have majority representation in Dáil Éireann, they may never get the opportunity to reverse that decision at a later date, without a violent national upheaval.
The proposed new system is alien to the fair-minded democratic outlook for which the ordinary Irishman is noted. Efforts are being made now to adopt the British system of election, but let us remember that the system of election in Great Britain is one that has operated there for hundreds of years, and not just a matter of the 40 years during which our Parliament has functioned here. Having given consideration to that system, we had the advantage, around 1920, of being able to adopt a system which would suit democratic Parliament better than the old British system which had functioned across the water through the years. Arthur Griffith proved it to be so. We had the advantage, in 1920, of being able to look around the world and examine the different systems whereby parliamentary representatives were elected, and it was decided at that time that the system fairest to all sections of the community was the system of proportional representation, the system which we have had since.
Let us remember that there are nearly 10,000,000 people in Great Britain who hope that the system of voting which exists there will be changed to the system we have in this country. There has been an agitation in progress in Great Britain, with a substantial measure of public opinion behind it, since approximately 1831, putting up every possible argument to show that the system of election in Great Britain should be altered to the fairer method of proportional representation. Several books have been written, regarding that matter, by authorities who have gone to great trouble, who have obtained statistics to support their arguments in favour of scrapping the system of election used in Great Britain and giving to the people a fairer method of electing their representatives by the use of the proportional representation system.
The majority Fianna Fáil have in the Dáil at the present time is being used for several purposes. At the moment, it is being used to set aside the considered decision of the Seanad which, on three different occasions, when it was put to a vote, rejected the proposal to abolish the system of proportional representation and to adopt the system of what they called the straight vote, which is being advocated by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil. Their majority in the Dáil is a substantial one; it is a working majority; and it was obtained by promises of more bread, work, houses and economic security. That is what the majority was given to the Fianna Fáil Government for. But, instead of giving the people those things which were expected from them as a result of the general election in 1957, their majority is being used to take away from the people their ordinary democratic right to elect members to the Dáil under the system of proportional representation, which is agreed to be the fairest system. It seems that there was one more trick in the promises that Fianna Fáil so frequently offered to the people.
In 1957, they acceded to office once more by making various promises which led the people to believe that the difficult economic condition which obtained in 1956 could be overcome merely by a change of Government. They obtained their substantial majorty under the system of proportional representation, a system which they now try to destroy because they know it would be used by the people to-morrow—if they got the opportunity—to put them out of office once more, as they did twice during the past ten years.
Let us remember that it is the vested interests in Great Britain and the United States of America which are keeping the two-Party system in operation there. It does not suit the Conservatives in Great Britain to promote the adoption of an electoral system which would enable the Liberal Party to grow strong again, or any other Party which would have a widespread appeal to the electorate there. Their opponents are the Labour Party and, when the Labour Party are in power, they know that if they give the opportunity to the Liberals, under a new system of election, they might suffer just the same as the Conservatives would suffer, if the people were given an alternative choice. Instead, the electorate in Great Britain are mainly thrust into two straitjackets, the straitjacket of the Conservative Party and the straitjacket of the Labour Party.
It is well known that there are people in Great Britain who have been voting Liberal for perhaps 25 or 30 years and who have never yet succeeded in returning a member to Parliament. Their political view is Liberal and, in the last general election in Great Britain, a million Liberals in various constituencies cast votes and yet did not get even one representative into Parliament. It is a situation which could not arise under the system of proportional representation. Under that system, members of Parliament are elected in proportion to the measure of support which they get for the policies they put before the electorate at the time of a general election, and, as I say, the agitation which started in 1832 in Great Britain still goes on trying to bring into Great Britain a system of proportional representation such as we have here in Ireland.
Mention has already been made of the comments of theManchester Guardian in regard to the system of proportional representation in Ireland. I think that those who read and study the comments of the Manchester Guardian should be grateful for them, realising that we are being given the benefit of a dispassionate, outside view so far as our electoral system is concerned.
TheManchester Guardian in a leading article says:—
"Ireland has been a model of the virtues which its advocates have claimed for P.R. It has had longer periods of stable Government than most other European countries; at the same time, by giving representation to minority views, proportional representation has served as a unifying force in a country that was deeply split by civil war."
Is it fair that the influence of the Civil War, which is still strong inside this House because it has not left the memory of surviving generations, should be used at this stage in order to take from the people a system which was provided for the country before the Civil War? It is unfair at this stage to use that Civil War frame of mind to take away this system of voting and to put the coming generations into a straitjacket.
The fairness of the present system cannot be disputed and can we not leave a decision to change the voting system to a future generation? Is it fair for the old Fianna Fáil Cabinet, most of whom will be retiring from active political life in the next few years, to take from the people the fairest system of election known in this part of the world? We know that the proposed system can result in a situation in which 35 per cent. of the electors can send a member into the Dáil and the remaining 65 per cent. will have no representative. It is a system where one equals three and is such a system fair? In other words, they get barely over one-third of the votes and they can secure the seat in spite of the views of two-thirds of the people who vote against them.
We could have a situation where one-quarter of the electorate would be capable of electing three-quarters of the Dáil, orvice versa, where three-quarters of the electorate would succeed in electing one-quarter of the members here. That is not a fair system but the Government intend to adopt it because they consider it will bring them the best political advantage. It is a spiteful blow at the citizens because they rejected Fianna Fáil in 1948 and again in 1954. This question did not arise until Fianna Fáil had been rejected twice by the people and the Taoiseach admitted it when this debate began. He admitted that it was precisely because Fianna Fáil were put out of office in 1948 that he gave serious consideration to changing the voting system. But we will not always be with the people; the Taoiseach will not always be with the people and it is unfair to impose on them a system which is obviously unfair and which in the future it may be impossible to change.
In Great Britain it is impossible for the people to change the system. The vested interests in the Conservative Party and in the Labour Party do not want the Liberals to become stronger, or they do not want any other political organisation to grow strong there. The result is that the people in Great Britain, however they might like it, are in the position where the two great Parties have vested interests in keeping the present system and in preventing the people from getting the maximum results from the votes which they cast for their representatives. If we had this proposed new system we would have a situation where the people in fact would not be the electors of the candidates because it would be the Party headquarters that would decide who was the candidate to stand in any particular constituency. If the Party did not like the colour of a man's eyes, or if the Party had any particular prejudice against any candidate, regardless of his talents, they could refuse to put him forward as a candidate. The public, if they want to vote Party, will be given a candidate which Party headquarters decides to present to them in their constituency, whether they like it or not, whether or not they consider he is fit for the position, or whether or not he is a man of talent. If he is a good Party man that will be the test.
At the present time the political Parties in every constituency are able to provide the people with an alternative choice. In a three seat constituency it is usual for the major political Parties to put up two candidates each, so that the public can choose between one or other of those candidates to represent them, as they think fit. It is only fair that the people should be given the right to make a choice instead of the Party headquarters.
If the Fianna Fáil Party were ever serious regarding the Partition and the possibility of having the Border abolished, surely they would not now propose to introduce a system which will ensure that minorities in the Six Counties will have no hope of getting fair representation? We know that at present in the Six Counties minorities have not got fair representation. Parliament there has been reduced almost to a farce. It was reduced to a farce when the system of proportional representation was taken away from the people in the late 1920's. The Taoiseach protested vigorously at that time and said that taking away the system of P.R. from the people of the Six Counties deprived the minorities of fair representation.
He was a vigorous advocate of the system of proportional representation at that time. It was the P.R. system that enabled him, in the long run, to come into this House and enabled Fianna Fáil to act as an organised, democratic political Party, and eventually to become elected as a Government, aided by the Labour Party. He was supported by the Labour Party in forming the first Government here and then, when he was put out in 1948 by the Labour Party, he decided to bring in a system which will give his Party an unfair representation in this House. It seems that the Taoiseach was quite satisfied when he had the support of the Labour Party, and other Parties too in this House, but when those Parties, in their judgment, decided to oppose the policy of Fianna Fáil he decided to try to exterminate them and to deprive the people they represented of any representation in the Dáil.
What chance would the minorities in the Six Counties or indeed the minorities in this part of Ireland have of getting fair or proportional representation under the proposed new system? It will be obvious to the Nationalist minority in the Six County area that whatever hope they would have had under P.R. as operated here, they will have no hope of fair representation if we in this part of the country decide to abolish P.R. and adopt the vested interest system operated by the Labour and Conservative Parties in Great Britain.
When we consider all the anti-British exclamations of the Fianna Fáil Party for their own purposes at various times in order to secure political support and sympathy, it is surprising to see that Fianna Fáil propose to introduce the British system of voting which will be most unsuitable to our people. Is it possible that the Fianna Fáil Party are admirers, for instance, of the system in Kenya where it takes about four native votes to equal one colonial vote? I have mentioned already that we could have a situation here under the proposed system where one vote would be equal to three.
This movement toward depriving the people of the Republic of fair representation started in a quiet way when the Fianna Fáil Party noticed that the system was not favourable to them if the number of seats in a constituency was more than three. At one time there were approximately 30 constituencies. In some of those constituencies there were five, six, seven or eight seats and when the system of P.R. operated in those constituencies the system was seen at its best. However, the Fianna Fáil Party decided they were not getting any advantage out of it or only the slight advantage which a major Party gets under the system of P.R. Therefore they decided to increase the number of three-seat constituencies and to reduce the number of five-, six- or seven-seat constituencies. That brought us nearer to the "straitjacket" vote system where 49 per cent. of the electorate are capable of getting two seats under the present system——