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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Jul 1959

Vol. 176 No. 11

Committee on Finance. - Export Promotion Bill,1959—Report Stage.

Amendment No. 2 is consequential on amendment No. 1 and the two might be discussed together.

Very well. I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 35 and 36, to delete "either as a candidate for election to either House of the Oireachtas or".

I mentioned on the Second Stage of this Bill that we seemed to be incorporating into the Bill a principle which derives from previous legislation. I think at one stage we took the wrong line. The history of this business is that the original Electricity Supply Act passed about the year 1926, if the truth is to be known, was a long and complex measure. A strategy not unknown to skilled advisers was employed. There were incorporated in the Bill certain minor provisions on which an industrious Opposition might reasonably be expected to fasten. It was thought desirable that certain such provisions should be inserted which might, without jeopardy to the main principle of the Bill, be jettisoned by the Minister in order to satisfy the industrious Opposition which was concerned to improve the Bill.

As so often happens, "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley." That was one of the particular bones upon which the hounds of the Opposition did not concentrate their attention and so it remained in the Bill and became part of our statute law. There it lay unobserved by anybody until Deputy Maher presented himself as a candidate for Laois-Offaly. It suddenly transpired that, according to the strict letter of the 1926 Act, it would appear that Deputy Maher had rendered himself liable to all sorts of pains and penalties because he did not retire from the service of the E.S.B. prior to offering himself as a candidate for Dáil Éireann.

I think the general consensus of opinion in this House then was that though that might be the letter of the law, nobody felt it would be appropriate to disqualify Deputy Maher from membership of this House. The general feeling was that the appropriate provision in the law should not be invoked. It was generally disregarded and Deputy Maher remained a member of the House, though I believe he rendered himself technically liable to certain penalties.

It was quite evident that everybody in the House took the view that the provision in the original Act was unreasonable, that Deputy Maher was properly elected and that, if the statute said otherwise, the statute had either to be ignored or amended. That is my certain knowledge of the general feeling of the members of Dáil Éireann when the true significance of this section of the 1926 Act came to be examined.

In the meantime, as so often happens, an undesirable precedent had crept in. When, subsequent to 1945, after the war, various other Acts setting up statutory bodies came to be drafted analogous legislation was referred to and the wretched section of the original Electricity Supply Act was lifted out and poked into a series of other Bills which came before this House. Again nobody adverted to it because during the same period an alternative form of section was sometimes used. The alternative form of section said that where a person who was a member of a public body—when I say a public body I mean a State corporation—got elected to Dáil Éireann or appointed to the Seanad, he thereupon ceased to be a member of the Board. I think that is a reasonable arrangement. Or, alternatively, the formula which appears in this Section for officers or servants in the employment of the Board was used and that is relatively unobjectionable because I think we will all agree that where a person is either an officer or servant of a State company it is inappropriate that he should continue to be a member of Oireachtas Eireann.

I think the Leader of the Labour Party suggested that he was prepared to go the whole hog and to say that he did not think there was any objection to a servant or a director of one of these Government corporations being at the same time a member of Oireachtas Eireann. I am not prepared to go that far with Deputy Norton. I think it is reasonable to provide that if a director or an officer or a servant of a State company is elected to Oireachtas Eireann he ought to resign or at least be seconded from his existing employment until such time as he ceases to be a member of Oireachtas Eireann.

As I understand it, that is the rule that applies in regard to the servants of public bodies. I think if you are working for a county council you can get leave of absence but when you cease to be a member of Oireachtas Eireann you are entitled to go back to your work.

Rate collectors.

I do not know about rate collectors but I do know that people working in a county secretary's office or employment of that kind are ordinarily seconded and when they cease to be members of the Oireachtas return to their jobs. What I am thinking of is, if a man becomes a member of the Government and is working in public employment, he is seconded and when he ceases to be a member of the Government he can go back to his work. It is acknowledged that if national teachers become members of the Oireachtas they are facilitated in providing substitute teachers while their public duty requires them to be here. If it ceases to require their attendance here, they can go back to their schools.

All I am suggesting is that we should not provide here that where a member of the Board is nominated as a candidate for election to either House, that automatically disqualifies him from continuing in his ordinary employment. I think he should be entitled to be so nominated. If he gets elected, he should retire. If he fails to get elected, he should continue in his existing job.

There is a snag which I have tried to meet in my second amendment, because the Bill says in subsection (1):

"Where a member of the Board is nominated either as a candidate for election to either House of the Oireachtas"

That is clear and simple. Then the section goes on to say:

"or as a member of Seanad Éireann".

That provides that if he happens to be one of the eleven nominated by the Taoiseach to the Seanad, he shall thereupon cease to be a member of the Board. I seek the deletion of the words, "either as a candidate for election to either House of the Oireachtas or" and to leave it to read:

"Where a member of the Board is nominated as a member of Seanad Éireann, he shall thereupon cease to be a member of the Board"

and to provide:

"Where a member of the Board becomes a member of either House of the Oireachtas he shall thereupon cease to be a member of the Board."

I am bound to confess that I do not believe that a case of this kind is ever likely to arise. I think it is not at all probable that a member of one of these Boards should put himself forward as a candidate at a Parliamentary election and desire to remain a member of the Board but the purpose of my amendment is to rebut what appears to be the implication of the section as it at present stands, and that is, that entrance into public life makes a person in this country almost suspect and unfit to occupy the position of director of a public Board. I believe the very reverse to be true.

It may be a gratifying thing to become the repository of a Minister's confidence by being appointed to be a member of a public Board but it is a very much more distinguished and honourable thing, in my judgment, to become the repository of the electors' confidence by being elected to this House by the voters in the exercise of their constitutional right and duty to choose their Parliamentary representatives and I want the House to go on record as assenting to that general principle.

I am bound to admit that I do not believe my amendments have much practical effect but I think they have a very important effect in declaring that being a candidate for election to either House of Oireachtas Éireann cannot be a disqualification in any capacity in this country. I think I should mention in that context that there is some other Bill before us at the present time which has a similar provision in it. If my representations prevail with the Minister for Industry and Commerce, I hope he will accept my amendments and undertake to incorporate them in the other Bill which is at present passing through the House.

I should like to support the principle of Deputy Dillon's amendments. I am not quite certain whether it was on this Bill or the other Bill that he has mentioned that I too commented on the fact that a person nominated as a candidate to either House of the Oireachtas becomes automatically disqualified from membership of one of these Boards. I would have preferred a simpler solution to this difficulty by deleting entirely Section 14, subsection (1) and substituting Deputy Dillon's second amendment, which would make the position clearer but that is only a matter of drafting and I rise just to support the argument. I think it is wrong that because a person is nominated and may possibly be unsuccessful, he should give up his seat on one of these Boards, particularly if he is a useful member of the Board concerned and I hope the Minister will agree to make the necessary adjustments in the Bill.

When Deputy Dillon mentioned this matter in the course of the Committee Stage of this Bill, I was impressed by the argument that we should not as a general principle seek to decry people engaged in public life by declaring them ineligible to act on State Boards once they have been nominated for election to either House of the Oireachtas. I want to say that I fully approve of the idea behind Deputy Dillon's amendment but, having examined the situation more closely since, I propose to resist the amendment as put forward for the following reasons.

Many of these State bodies have a very high employment giving potential and, therefore, a person who is a member of one of them, for example, the E.S.B., Córas Iompair Éireann or Bord na Móna, might be considered to have some advantage by reason of that fact, in putting himself before the electorate. There is also the case which we can envisage of a member of one of these bodies going forward for election and of his being approached by a number of the employees of that State body who might have a real or an imaginary grievance, and who would ask his support to put that grievance right, possibly in return for promised or expected support in the election. We all know that, particularly at election times, organised bodies who have grievances to redress frequently present documents and memoranda to Dáil and Seanad candidates and, in these memoranda, ask for a reply to be given before the date of the election.

And by all right-minded men are told to go to hell.

Quite so. They seek a candidate's view on their own particular grievance. I agree with telling them to go to hell but some people feel it would be better in their own personal interests to avoid making direct answers to such questions. However, the fact remains that people on these State-sponsored bodies are put there by the Government of the day, and are in certain positions because of enactments here in this House and in the Oireachtas generally. It might be suggested for that reason they would be in a privileged position vis-á-vis other candidates who have not got that privilege.

For that reason I think it is more desirable that a member of such a body, on being nominated, should be deemed to have resigned. I say this at the outset in order to make my position clear but, to revert to what Deputy Dillon described as the history of this position, it is true that under the 1927 Act a person who was a member of the E.S.B. was disqualified to become a candidate, or to become elected to one of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is true that the same provision applied to Deputy Maher. At the time of his original election to the House he was an employee of the E.S.B. and, therefore, under the law as it stood would be deemed to have broken the law and, perhaps, rendered himself disqualified from being elected at all. Deputy Maher settled that matter for himself by resigning his position in the E.S.B. Rather, he settled it to a limited extent, but the section continued in force until 1957 when the E.S.B. Bill of 1958 was being prepared.

At that time the Department of Local Government directed the attention of other Departments to the fact that this provision in the 1927 Act could well be declared unconstitutional, inasmuch as it would deprive a citizen of his right to become a candidate in a general election or in a Seanad election. It was then that the matter was examined and, for the first time, the new formula was inserted in the E.S.B. Bill of 1958, which passed through this House in December of that year. It is possibly true that Opposition Deputies did not advert to the fact that a new principle was contained in that Bill but, nevertheless, we can only conclude, by its passage into law, that the principle was approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

On what occasion was that?

December, 1958.

Nobody had the slightest notion it was in the Bill.

As far as national teachers are concerned I think they are in a special position. The Department of Education is not the employer of national teachers. The contract of employment exists between the teacher and the school manager and, even though I believe that from time to time the position of national teachers coming into this House has been referred to but not examined, the fact that the contract of employment is between a private individual, a school manager and the teacher himself, that has decided in favour of not, for the moment at any rate, and perhaps for all time, interfering with the right of a national school teacher to enter this House. In general, I think it is more desirable that the provision in the Bill should remain as it is.

I want to say again that I am in full sympathy with what Deputy Dillon has referred to; that membership of the Oireachtas, that being actively engaged in politics, should not disqualify a man or render him less fitted for any other type of employment but, for the reasons I have outlined, I have to resist the amendment.

Is the amendment withdrawn?

No, Sir.

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the Bill"—put and declared carried, Deputies Dillon and Russell dissenting.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Bill received for final consideration.

When will the next Stage be taken?

May we have it now?

I am quite willing to give it to the Minister but does he not think it reasonable to mark my disapproval on his failure to meet a reasonable point if I asked him to postpone it until to-morrow? It is my only way of registering a mild protest.

Fifth Stage ordered for Wednesday, 22nd July, 1959.