Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Dec 1960

Vol. 185 No. 5

Supplementary Estimate, 1960-61. - Electoral Bill, 1960.—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Electoral Law in their Interim Report which was presented to this House on 26th October and to the Seanad on 9th November.

I should like at the outset to express my appreciation of the work which is being done by the Joint Committee. The law which they have been asked to examine is very complex and in many ways archaic. It goes, in oppressive detail, into matters which we should nowadays, if we were dealing with them completely anew, treat a lot more generally. The examination, revision and codification of this branch of the law is overdue and I welcome the speedy presentation of the interim report as an earnest of the Joint Committee's desire to comply with my request, when moving the motion for the establishment of the Committee, that its report should not be unduly delayed.

Deputies will have received with the Bill an explanatory memorandum which sets out briefly what the measure proposes to do. The interim report of the Joint Committee, on which the Bill is largely based, describes more fully the changes which are proposed and the reasons for them. I do not think, therefore, that it is necessary for me to go too deeply, at this stage at any rate, into the provisions of the Bill.

One of the important proposals is contained in Section 3 and in the Schedule which provides for the repeal of the prohibition on the registration of Gardaí as voters at Dáil elections. In future, if this provision is enacted, Gardaí can vote at Dáil and Presidential elections and at referenda. Deputies may remember that as long ago as 28th April, 1959, in a reply to a Parliamentary Question, I gave an undertaking to introduce legislation to deal with this point.

Under Section 6 of the Bill, Gardaí will be entered on the postal voters lists. This provision is desirable because, at election time, Gardaí are liable to be assigned to duties outside their own polling districts or constituencies.

Under Section 1 of the Electoral Act, 1923, a member of the Defence Forces living in barracks or other place provided by the Government is not to be treated, for registration purposes, as being ordinarily resident there or in occupation of business premises. He is, however, entitled to be registered in the constituency where he states he would, but for his service, be ordinarily resident. Section 21 of that Act gives soldiers the option to be entered on the postal voters list if they so desire.

Section 6 of the present Bill proposes that a soldier will be registered wherever he is ordinarily resident on the qualifying date. Since we are repealing the provision in Section 1 of the 1923 Act which states that he is not to be treated as ordinarily resident in the barracks where he is living, this new provision will mean that members of the Defence Forces may be registered in the constituency in which they are living in barracks. It is further proposed that a soldier may claim to be registered in the place where, but for his service, he would be ordinarily resident. This provision preserves a right which soldiers already have of voting in their "home" constituency, as distinct from the one where they are stationed.

As in the case of the Gardaí, all members of the Defence Forces will in future be entered on the postal voters list. The provisions for postal voting by Gardaí and soldiers will be applied to local elections under Section 17 of the Bill.

Another important provision recommended by the Joint Committee is that at Section 5 under which an elector's age will be taken to be his age on the 15th April, when the register comes into force, rather than seven months earlier, on 15th September, when the preparation of the register officially begins. This provision, if enacted and implemented, will mean that about 20,000 to 25,000 persons who would not otherwise have been included in the forthcoming register should be registered in it.

I may say that, on 13th September last, I notified registration officers of the possibility of the change and told them to make arrangements for its implementation, should this legislation be enacted. I also told them to give the new proposal the widest possible publicity so that all persons affected may claim to be registered. This publicity has been supplemented by radio broadcasts, stamp cancellation slogans for which I arranged for this and future years, news reports and public announcements in the press. Notwithstanding these efforts, some persons may still be omitted from the register and, therefore, be left without a vote. It is too late on polling day to correct this situation. Now is the time to act. I would suggest that every person should take a look at the electors lists in his local post office and see if his name appears. In particular, persons in the 21 year old age group would be well advised to write to their county registrar at the local circuit court office to make certain they are registered.

The recommendations of the Joint Committee dealing with voting by blind and incapacitated voters are their only recommendations which I have found myself unable to accept without qualification. Briefly, I consider that a person should be allowed to assist one or two blind or incapacitated voters to record their vote, instead of only one such voter as recommended by the Joint Committee, and I have not accepted their recommendation that a person assisting a blind or incapacitated voter should be obliged to complete a declaration of secrecy. The Bill contains a condition, additional to those suggested by the Joint Committee, requiring the person assisting such voters to be at least 16 years of age.

At present a presiding officer can refuse a request by a blind or incapacitated voter to have his ballot paper marked for him if the request is made within four hours of the close of the poll, and the officer considers that acceding to it would obstruct other voters. This discretion to refuse will remain in the case of requests for the presiding officer himself to mark a blind or incapacitated voter's ballot paper under the existing procedure in the presence of the agents but will not apply where such a voter wishes to have his paper marked for him by a companion.

I propose these departures from the recommendations of the Joint Committee as a result of pressing representations which were made to me by a deputation from the National League of the Blind here in Leinster House shortly after the publication of the interim report. I think that the changes are reasonable and that they should be accepted.

Matters not dealt with in the interim report are the continuance by Section 2 of the Bill of part of the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1868, and the Currupt Practices Commission Expenses Act, 1869, and the proposal in Section 7 to assimilate the procedures for fixing the latest days for nominations and polling at bye-elections and general elections. Under this section a somewhat longer maximum period for fixing the polling day than exists at present is suggested. The intention of this change is to enable a sufficiently long period to be allowed between nomination and polling to enable ballot papers to be sent to postal voters abroad and returned by them in time to be reckoned as countable.

The Acts of 1868 and 1869 were continued up to 31st December, 1960 by the Expiring Laws Act, 1952. It is intended that they should be continued in operation until they can be revised and assimilated into the general electoral code. It is considered appropriate, since they are purely electoral enactments, that they should be continued by this Electoral Bill.

Under Parts III, IV and V of the Bill, the changes being made in the Dáil code by Parts I and II will, where appropriate, be carried into the referenda, presidential and local election codes.

The Bill, I may say, at first sight strikes one as complex and involving much legislation by reference. We may, however, I think, comfort ourselves with the thought that it is a step towards the eventual rationalisation and consolidation of the law, towards which the Joint Committee and my Department are now working.

In conclusion, I should like to suggest that any ideas on electoral matters which occur to Deputies and which do not directly relate to the provisions of this Bill might appropriately be submitted by them for consideration by the Joint Committee.

As the House is aware, this is an agreed measure, on the basis of the interim report which was presented to the House after consideration by the Joint Committee on Electoral Reform. As most Deputies are familiar with the work of that Committee, or some of its work, it is unlikely that there will be any dispute about the terms of this measure. I should like at this stage to express, as a member of the Joint Committee, our appreciation and thanks to the officials of the Department of Local Government for their co-operation and the interest they have taken in the work of that Committee. The help and assistance which they rendered to the Committee made our deliberations much simpler and assisted greatly the decisions which were arrived at. I have no doubt that other members of the Committee will feel, as I do, that the help and assistance we received was indeed most beneficial and useful. I may also say at this stage that we were fortunate in having a chairman who was helpful, considerate and patient in dealing with the various points made by the members.

The improvements suggested in this measure are desirable and practicable. In so far as they amend the law, they will certainly be welcomed. For some years now there has been a general view that the Garda Síochána should have the right to vote at Dáil elections. This measure will enable them to exercise that right at the next election and arrangements are being made to provide a postal vote for the Gardaí on lines similar to the postal vote already available to Army personnel.

The decision was taken by the Joint Committee that from next April for the first time persons who have reached the age of 21 not later than the 15th April next will have the right to have their names entered on the register. Heretofore, a person had to be 21 on the 15th September of the previous year. Beginning with this register, which is at present being compiled, a person who attains 21 will have the right to vote in the next election if that person is 21 not later than 15th April.

As the Minister has said, he issued instructions on the basis of the recommendation made by the Joint Committee to all county registrars or other officials compiling the register so that appropriate action might be taken in time to include those who would reach 21 on or before 15th April next. I understand that in some parts of Dublin some part of the register had actually been compiled or work had commenced on it before that direction was issued and that consequently in certain cases or places some individuals who will attain 21 not later than the 15th April next may find that their names have not been entered on the register.

While undoubtedly there has been been considerable emphasis in recent weeks on the importance of ensuring that each individual entitled to be on the register is on it, and while this measure now is a further indication that persons should ensure that their names are entered, it may be that all these public indications will go unnoticed by certain persons and I should be glad if the Minister would discuss with the appropriate persons responsible for the compilation of the register in Dublin whether it would be possible for the staff concerned to review the area or part of the register which they have compiled. No doubt most of them will be familiar with the part they compiled first and if there are any persons whose names have been omitted it might be possible to include them on the register. Undoubtedly the publicity which is focussed on the matter will direct attention to the necessity for each person to ensure that his or her name is on the register.

This will be the register used in the next election and no matter what the actual date of the election may be, a person may be reasonably certain, provided he or she survives that he or she will have the right to vote if his or her name is entered on this register at a general election. It is rarely a register is compiled so that a person can be so certain that, provided he survives until the actual date of the election, that will be the effective register for the next general election.

I note from the proposals in the Bill that the Minister has departed to a slight extent from the recommendation of the Joint Committee in connection with blind voters and persons who are incapacitated and unable to mark a ballot paper themselves. Between now and the Committee Stage I should like the Minister to consider whether that change is satisfactory. I notice from his remarks that he has made the change in deference to representations made by the National League of the Blind and I have no doubt they have valid reasons for their viewpoint.

There is another matter that should be mentioned at this stage. A decision was reached by the Joint Committee subsequent to the decisions enshrined in the first joint interim report. That is a decision concerning the form of nomination paper or rather the form or method of nomination for Dáil candidates. We are all familiar with the somewhat antiquated procedure under which a Dáil candidate is obliged not merely to have a proposer and seconder but also to have eight assentors. As a result of the experience of everybody, I think, who has stood as a candidate and also as a result of our consideration in the Joint Committee there was general agreement that the present form of nomination is antiquated and unsuitable for a modern democracy, that in fact it is open to abuse, that it serves no useful purpose and that the system should be changed substantially; that provided a person is eligible to be a candidate that person should be entitled to have himself or herself nominated without the procedure which has up to this attended the presentation of nomination papers.

Since the Bill was published, the Joint Committee have informally considered this matter and I believe I am expressing the view unanimously expressed there when I say that if it is possible to frame an amendment which would include a change in this measure, it was the opinion of the Joint Committee that we should do so. As I say, when we considered the matter the Minister had already published this Bill. In fact, the original decision was taken subsequent to the first joint report and consequently could not be included in it. There is every likelihood that the permanent measure will not be enacted before the next election, especially as, in the spring of next year, we shall be dealing with financial business as well as whatever legislation is left over from this session and it may well be that there will be no opportunity available for consideration of the permanent measure.

I want to mention, therefore, at this stage that it is proposed to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage for the purpose of simplifying the procedure under which a person is nominated as a candidate for election to the Dáil. Subject to these observations, this measure should, I think, have the concurrence of all sections in the House.

This measure is long overdue. Its purpose is to bring electoral law into line with modern conditions. I have a suspicion that most of our electoral law at the moment was initiated and passed by Governments which were not exactly favourably disposed towards the Irish people.

First of all, I should like the Minister to tell me what will be the constituency of a Garda. Will it be the constituency in which he was born or that in which he is serving? If it is the constituency in which he is serving, why include him on the postal voters' list? At the moment presiding officers and polling clerks are allowed to vote in the booth in which they are presiding or clerking, as the case may be. I think the same system should apply where the Garda are concerned, provided the constituency is the constituency in which the Garda happens to be stationed at the time of the election.

There is no change with regard to those who may be compelled to vote after the actual closing time. I refer to those who are in the polling station before the actual closing time but who are refused a ballot paper after 9 o'clock. It is, of course, within the competence and power of a presiding officer so to refuse. Very often, old people and those whose sight is not so good spend an unduly long time marking their ballot papers. Very often, that occurs in the last half hour. I suggest that presiding officers should be empowered to issue ballot papers to all those present in the polling station before 9 o'clock. I know cases where people were refused ballot papers even though they were in the polling station before 9 o'clock. They were turned out without voting. There is nothing to be gained by that. There seems to be no point in doing it.

Can the Minister tell me why it is that people whose names have been on the register for two or three elections suddenly find themselves struck off? The Garda as a whole are very careful in compiling the register and very careful in eliminating those who should not be on it. It looks like political victimisation to me when a person who is living in a locality, has never left it, is not a migratory labourer, or anything like that, suddenly finds himself removed from the register. Certain rate collectors are accused and in most cases it is the Fianna Fáil rate collectors who are so accused. The Minister can afford to smile at that because it pays a dividend, as far as he is concerned.

I knew what was coming when the Deputy started this carp.

Did the Minister ever know of a case in which a voter's name was struck off for no known reason?

Yes, indeed, and they were not all anti-Fianna Fáil either.

How does it happen?

The Deputy is not isolated in that.

When one finds that none of the Fianna Fáil voters are missing, as has happened in my constituency, one cannot help wondering if it is an accident. If it is an accident, it is certainly a very happy accident for Fianna Fáil. I regard it, however, as a very serious matter, irrespective of whether the voter will vote for or against me. It is a very serious matter for a voter to personate another. Surely it is even more serious for someone to strike out deliberately a voter's name and deny that voter the franchise? I suggest there should be pretty strict punishment for anyone who does that deliberately.

I agree with Deputy Cosgrave that the nomination procedure where the Dáil is concerned is rather archaic. A candidate must get a number of people to nominate him. I do not see why the nomination paper should not be simplified. I do not know what possible abuse the present eight or nine assentors are supposed to safeguard against. I quite appreciate that there must be some method to prevent people seeking nominations merely for their own aggrandisement or simply as a joke. Certain warped minds might regard such a procedure as good fun. Frankly, I think the deposit of £100 is an ample safeguard, plus a proposer and a seconder.

I welcome the measure. My only regret is that the Minister did not go a little further along the lines I have suggested.

I have had a little experience of elections and my experience differs somewhat from that of a Party man. I accept that all competent persons should have a vote. I agree that the Garda should have a vote. We should make certain, however, that the politics of the individual Garda are kept secret. The Garda are responsible for ensuring that elections are carried out properly and the temptation might be there, if candidates were permitted to canvass the Garda, to get to know their politics. It is a funny thing that when people are of the same political mind, they are not above doing things they should not do. The Guards should be above suspicion. I recognise the Guards' right to vote but everything should be done to see that the barrack room is not made a propaganda room. I doubt if there should be any canvassing or electioneering activity carried out in a Garda barracks. While the Garda should have the right to vote, it should be secret.

I agree that postal voting should continue for the Defence Forces. I also agree that the blind should be helped to vote, although in their case I am rather worried because canvassers on all sides make it their business to bring in the blind and I am quite certain that Party canvassers influence the blind in voting. I do not suppose there is any way out of that difficulty.

Reference was made to persons who are incapacitated. I often wonder if crippled persons or persons in hospital should not have a postal vote. Why should they be deprived of a vote because they are unable to make their way to the polling booths? In their case, a medical certificate might be used in giving them a postal vote. I am going on the principle that all persons should have a vote.

I do not see why fathers of families who have to go to England in order to keep their families should be denied a vote. They are making a contribution to the economy of this State. From experience as a member of the Corporation, I know the problems that these people have to face. The family at home may not be getting enough and the father may be getting only barely enough for existence. A father of a family who is forced to go to England temporarily is denied a vote, although he may be at home at election time. His continuity with the State is maintained by the fact that his family are here and that he is contributing to the family. Sons and daughters who emigrate may remain away but the father who emigrates temporarily and leaves his family here should have some claim to a vote.

A Deputy referred to the fact that it is necessary to be in a polling station at 9 p.m. in order to have the right to vote. I was at a polling station at St. Michael's School at two minutes to nine on the night of the last election and the Guard, on instructions, closed the door. The Guard was challenged. He took out his watch and admitted that it was two minutes to nine. Otherwise, he would not have allowed four people who were standing at the door to go in. No one has the right to keep people out. According to complaints in the Press, in some places the polling booth was closed at 8.50 p.m. because of the number of people who were inside. There should be right of entry until 9 o'clock. It is another matter whether persons should have the right to vote after 9 o'clock.

I do not know whether or not there should be some change in the form of the ballot paper. I do not see why a man who happens to be lucky enough to have a name starting with "A,""B" or "C," should get a few hundred votes to which he is not entitled. There is a chunk vote. People who do not know the difference start with the name at the top of the ballot paper and go to the bottom. If the whole subject were investigated, it would be found that a number of persons are members of this House who have no right to be members; they are just here by chance. Why should the ballot paper not be circular so that we can all have a chance of the chunk vote? Why should all these votes go to one or two people? A number of people have changed their names to the Irish form in order to capitalise on that chunk vote and they do not deny it. It is a serious matter. 200 or 300 votes can make a tremendous difference and have put members into this House who, by right, should not be members. At least, it could be argued that because their names had the initial "A""B" or "C," they got in by a short head. It is doubtful if they are legitimately entitled to be members. I make the point for consideration by the Minister.

I maintain that persons of 18 years of age should have a vote. Persons of that age are subject to all the rigours of the law. Legally, they are regarded as being of full mind and knowledge. Surely they are more entitled to vote than doting old people? In England, several persons were hanged at 18 years of age. Why should men be conscripted at 18 years of age and forced to fight and to die and yet not have the right to vote? Why should they be allowed to marry at 16 and to rear families and yet be denied the right to vote? It is quite obvious that this is a conspiracy by the oldsters who want to ensure that there will not be too many young people coming in to throw them out. It is mere selfishness and concern for themselves. I maintain that if persons of 18 years of age are regarded as being responsible in every other respect, they certainly have the right to vote.

On the question of abuses, the Minister should do something about personation because personation is practised on a substantial scale by Parties. It is not practised by individuals because they have not got the machine to do it, even if they wanted to do it. Parties practise it. The view is that because the other side do it, they have the right to do it. The reason there is so much personation is that the Guards do not take it seriously. In fact, Parties do not bother to make charges. It is like the pot calling the kettle black. They are afraid to make a charge in case the other side might make a counter charge. This whole business of abuse is treated as a big joke by political Parties and people will not be afraid to abuse the law while that situation continues.

If a charge is made, a person has to be sworn. The average agent is afraid that, if he swears a persons, he may be sued, if he does not make his point. Because of that danger, he is afraid to challenge. I do not think an agent should be liable. He should be allowed to challenge as much as he likes. In that case, there would be considerably less personation. It is a serious matter and it is the Minister's job to do something about it.

On the question of expenses—this is another joke—we are told it is an offence to spend too much money. I was reading a short time ago the life of Beaverbrook, the Press baron, and he explained that on one occasion his friend, Winston Churchill, lost the famous Dundee election by a handful of votes and, because the editor of the paper in question did not back Churchill to the full, he sacked him. That proves the point that if you have newspapers and big money on your side, you will win. It does not matter what the law says. You are told a candidate can spend only a certain amount of money. Let us take a Party candidate who has newspaper support. That candidate will get unlimited space in the newspaper. It may be said he has got it for nothing. He is not buying the space but he is getting it in a backhand way. Thousands of pounds can be spent on publicity by a newspaper allied to the Party candidate. In that way, he is able to get around the law.

That does not arise on this Bill.

We are dealing with an electoral Bill.

This Bill deals with electoral abuses.

It would not be a bad idea if we were to deal with this, too.

It may not be dealt with on this Bill.

I shall raise the matter again. It is not only the Party man who is to be considered. There are many individuals, of whom I am one. I am wise to all the Party tricks and it is a good thing the House knows that an individual has rights, apart from those of Parties. I shall take advantage of the Committee Stage to say more on the subject.

There is one small point which I think I raised on some other occasion, that is, the question of the time during which the register is compiled. The register is compiled in September of each year and for a month or two afterwards, but that is not what I want to deal with. I wish to refer to the publication of the register. The register is published and displayed in post offices and employment exchanges and various other places in or about this time, the first week in December or the last week in November. It varies from place to place. I do not say there is specific or widespread variation, but while the list may be displayed in Wexford on the first of the month, it may not be displayed in Limerick until the 5th of the month. Anybody who has a grievance in respect of the register or any person who believes that he or she should be included in the register must make a claim before 18th or 20th December.

Is that not a very short period during which a person may claim a vote? It is well known that in the rural areas people have not the same opportunities to visit these places to scan through the register to see whether or not their names are there and to make their claim for a vote within a period that sometimes may be only three weeks or less. The objections are heard sometimes in January. I submit this is not the proper time for this procedure. There are too many holidays and bank holidays—I will not say for ordinary purposes but for this purpose—and there is a general air of festivity. People are not politically conscious. It is not a time when they would be as worried as they ought to be about such matters. This procedure of claiming one's vote or lodging of objections should be done at some other time of the year, instead of when the weather is bad and when people are not in the habit of travelling into post offices. I would therefore ask the Minister to see what improvement can be effected in that respect.

The register should be compiled at some other time, say, in the months of May and June. There is a very good case for asking rate collectors and other officers to compile the register of electors in May, June and July and for hearing any objections or claims for votes in October and November. Rate collectors are the people who are mainly concerned in the compilation of the register. They are particularly busy in February and March in trying to make their collection. Also in the month of September they are engaged in the collection of rates to a certain extent, and that is supposed to be the period during which they are compiling the register. Therefore, from the point of view of rate collectors and the general public, the Minister should switch the period for the compilation of the register and the period during which people may make objections in respect of the register of electors or make claims for votes.

Deputy Cosgrave, in opening the discussion on this measure, had a few things to say in regard to the new age limit for qualification as it particularly affects Dublin City and has asked that since part of the city check had already been done before the notification went out from my Department on 13th September, we should, by co-operating with the people in charge in Dublin, have another check done in the area that was missed.

The fact is that every possible device that we can think of and every device the returning officers and the registrars in Dublin can avail of are being tried to ensure that each voter who might otherwise be left out and who would reach the age of 21 between 15th September and 15th of next April will be put on. Whether we can get another check done is a matter with which I dealt in reply to a Parliamentary Question. I am afraid the difficulties are even more pressing now and I do not think it is possible to hold out any hope of such a re-check being done. However, as regards publicity of one kind or another and in so far as facilities can be made available in any way, the House can rest assured that my Department, in conjunction with the returning officers and registrars concerned, will make every effort to ensure that the facility which this Bill provides will be available to the people in the 21 year age group and that they will be on the register when it appears next April.

So far as the question of a departure from the interim report with regard to companion marking of papers for blind or incapacitated voters is concerned, the Deputy and the House can be quite assured that the case made to me by the National League of the Blind was indeed a very telling and pressing one. I may say, at this stage, that we are, after all, making this change in order to help these people, and if a small detail change is to stand between what is being given and what they want, no damage is being done in any way to anyone else. It is only right that we should facilitate those we are making provision to help. If it were not for that attitude and for the idea that we want to help them, we would not be making any provision for them at all. Therefore, as I say, the case is of their own proposing. Representations were made to me since the publication of the report which I felt it incumbent on me to include in the Bill, and certain provisions were added, if you like, in order to meet their wishes.

Deputy Cosgrave also mentioned the procedure for nominations. This matter has, I understand, been discussed by the Joint Committee since the provisions now contained in the Bill were reported on, and there is no doubt that there are one hundred and one other things, each and all of which could, in fact, be held to be something that we could put into this Bill, even by way of amendment. This is a Bill which, by its very nature we urgently want to get through the House because of the fact that it deals with provisions for matters such as registration of voters which we are endeavouring to have completed at the moment. Certain complications could arise because of that urgency.

The Committee made an interim report arising from that urgency, and I imagine that to add any extraneous matter at this stage, even though a good case could be made for its inclusion, would give rise to questions as to why thousands of other things were not included as well. In addition, with regard to a particular matter which has not been fully examined in its true light in so far as I and my Department, and indeed the Government, are concerned, I could not say straight off that I shall or shall not accept it. I would feel that it is a matter which is being reported on by the Committee and will be considered.

This is not necessarily a complete, final and permanent measure. In fact it could be followed possibly in the next six months by another Bill. I am not saying it will be, but it is quite possible that it could be, if the matters to be reported on by the Joint Committee present themselves in the months that lie ahead. If we can get around to getting a decision on this report, as I say, there is no real reason that I can see why we might not have another instalment, as it were, and a redrafting of certain provisions of our electoral code.

Deputy Blowick asked what was the constituency of a member of the Garda. His constituency is the one in which he is normally resident, and his constituency qualification is that of the ordinary individual, the same as the qualification for any one of us here or any other person throughout the land. He will qualify by virtue of the same provision as any other ordinary citizen of the State.

Deputy Blowick also wanted to know why a member of the Garda should be made to vote by post and not record his vote in the same way as a polling clerk or presiding officer. The fact is, as I mentioned on Second Reading, it is not quite the same thing. In fact, quite frequently Garda are moved out into different areas. Very often, on the day of the election, they are moved out into different constituencies. It might be said that that holds out no real difficulty and that we make arrangements where presiding officers or polling clerks are moved out. The big difference is that, in 99 out of 100 cases, so far as polling clerks and presiding officers are concerned, the place they are to be assigned to is decided some days in advance of the date of the poll and the person who would assign them to the various posts throughout the constituency is the returning officer in whose control and power it lies to make available to them the vote or ballot at the particular station in which they are employed in relation to the election.

The Garda may not have knowledge of being moved out until the day before, and, in some cases, the morning of, the election. It would be impossible for them to communicate to the returning officer all the various switching that would be bound to take place and he, in turn, would have no magic way of providing ballot papers for the several thousand Gardai here and there in areas outside the actual station at which they would normally be recorded as resident voters. For those reasons, it is absolutely essential that the Garda should vote by post and also because of the impossibility of ensuring that they would, in fact, get their votes.

Deputy Blowick also raised the question as to why persons who had succeeded in getting inside the premises in which the ballot was being taken, before closing time, were not permitted to vote. That would raise the question of closing time. There will always be those who rush at the last minute to vote, and it is not always the people who are busily engaged who wait till the last moment. There is always a residue who come at the very last moment. If we were to accept what would seem to be quite a reasonable case, that, if they got inside, they should be allowed to vote, this is what would arise: polling might begin in a small room accommodating half a dozen people in addition to the staff; if those half a dozen people got in and we said: "Well and good, they may vote," and if we allowed them to vote after the time, there would be a great danger that the time would be exceeded. In fact, I imagine that the clock is not always seen in its true light when it comes to a minute or two after 9 o'clock in such cases.

We must also take account of the extreme case where a hall is taken which might hold practically half the total registered voters. The hall would accommodate them and they might all come in at one, two or five minutes past 9 o'clock. Is it to be said that the poll should continue to be taken until everyone on the premises had cast his vote, which could be three hours after the official closing time? Some closing time has to be fixed, and if 9 o'clock is not late enough, then the obvious thing to do is to extend the closing time so that those people who wish to vote and are precluded from getting there in time will get there in time in future.

As I said, overall, this is not a matter which causes an undue amount of concern because the presiding officers and the staffs usually deal with these matters in a reasonable way. Undoubtedly, an unreasonable attitude and possibly even the attitude displayed by any one of these persons here and there can, in fact, give rise to comment such as we have heard and, justifiable comment possibly, that voters have been unreasonably treated after presenting themselves at the polling station, possibly through no fault of their own, at the last minute. There has to be a closing time and there must be some regulation. Otherwise, the abuse to the degree I mentioned could, in fact, be great and nobody would be happy then, either.

The Deputy also, very naïvely, I felt, for a most experienced politician, wanted to know if I, as Minister, had any explanation in regard to a person being omitted from the voters' list after that person had been on it for a number of years and had not left the country and had not done anything to disqualify himself in the interval. As he developed the theme, it appeared that the rate collectors were to blame. Furthermore, in this particular case, it turned out that it was only the Fianna Fáil rate collectors who were to be blamed. I have known Fianna Fáil people who were, in fact, left off in this way.

I have seen in my own constituency such happenings taking place. I followed the matter up as to how that could happen because it did not seem possible that it should have taken place. It was not because of any machinations of an anti-Fianna Fáil rate collector in my case. It was a mistake by the printer.

What side was he on?

I am not quite sure yet. These unavoidable mistakes can happen and Deputy Blowick is long enough in politics to know what a local rate collector in a country area has to do with it. It may arise only in the initial stages. The final check is gone into, not by the rate collector at his sole discretion, but by the local Garda as well, plus any of the agents or other interested people on behalf of the various political Parties. Generally speaking, rate collectors are one group of people whose responsibility for the compilation of the registers is strictly and carefully watched. They get a right rap across the knuckles from their county registrar or returning officer who, in fact, is the means whereby they get something extra for doing this work. They are careful in regard to that work. That is a common sense approach to things, apart from their sense of fair play. It is in their own interests that they should do it properly. The idea that rate collectors—let them be Fianna Fáil or whatever they may be—have an all-powerful interest in the final leaving-off of people is a fear about which I did not really feel Deputy Blowick was very serious. I should not like it to go forward that this is a practice which is a danger to——

Why not print a list of those taken off the list?

If you have not a final hour at which the names are listed, you would never get your register out.

Take a constituency with 12,000. They would all have to go to the post office. Is that what the Minister says?

Generally speaking, we go to such lengths to try to ensure that no one is left off the register that it has come to be accepted by the people that being on the voters' list is not something which they themselves should check. In other countries, they have to make great efforts to ensure they are on it. We err, if we err at all, on the opposite side. We go to every possible length by way of publication, rate collectors, Gardaí and even the local political organisations, to ensure that everybody is on the register. In addition, we have press publicity, stamp cancellation, radio talks, topical talks, spot advertisements and goodness knows what else. It is really inconceivable how anyone can ultimately be left off the register, after all these things are done. Certainly if they are left off, they can scarcely blame anyone for their not having a vote. By and large, we go to the utmost extremes. We are even going still further and looking for new ways and means to ensure, if possible, that every person entitled to vote is, in fact, on the list.

Would the Minister consider asking Radio Éireann to make broadcasts—perhaps of only two sentences—from this until 22nd of December?

We have, and we have undertaken very recently to make further representations in regard to what further action we might take.

The Minister is taking it up with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs? It would be much more useful than some of the announcements they make.

It is not for me to judge in that regard. Nevertheless, we have got without doubt and in fairness to Radio Éireann and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and all these other publicity agencies, an increasing volume of publicity. We shall continue to seek still more. Nevertheless, the publicity given is growing in volume and should surely result, if it continues, in a situation being reached where no one can blame anybody else if it finally turns out he has not a vote because he failed to get on the register.

If a man has voted for 50 years and finds his name deleted, would you expect him to go to the post office to look round?

There was one matter raised by Deputy Sherwin, that is, that the barrack room of the Garda station should not be made a propaganda centre. In fact, he feels that canvassers should be kept out of them and that, generally speaking, it would be a bad thing to give votes to the Garda if it should bring about a situation where the politics of the individual Garda should become known. We were not born yesterday. Just like everybody else, some Gardaí have one view and some another. Many of them are just as cute as the rest of us. Nobody knows what they are. I do not think this new procedure will change that. I have no real fear that the Garda station will be any more a propaganda centre in the future than it was in the past. I am not worried about that aspect at all.

Hospital cases, emigrants and migrants, and all these other types of people whom we could add to the list, who, through no fault of their own, are not in a position to cast their vote on a particular day could have a case made in their regard. We must have regard to reason and the reasonable carrying out of the policy at whatever day and time it is being taken. It is not because of lack of wish in regard to this matter that all and sundry are not accommodated in exceptional cases. The difficulty of meeting these various cases is the only reason why they are not being met and are not proposed to be met in the future.

The alphabetical order on the ballot paper is Deputy Sherwin's difficulty. On the dog tracks there are two places in the draw that are good. You have the inside and the extreme outside boxes. In regard to the ballot paper, if the top draw is the best the bottom draw must be the second best.

I do not agree with the Minister. They start from the top and work down.

I know plenty that start from the bottom up. As one who is normally on the top draw and talking to somebody usually on the bottom draw I would say there is not a great difference between the two draws.

I have closely examined the papers. One in a hundred goes up. The rest come down.

Then I can only suggest that the Deputy arrange to be born again. That would seem to be the only way out of his difficulty. He might consider the formation of a round robin ballot paper with the marking of the names in a circle.

Put the names in a hat.

Deputy Sherwin also spoke about votes for persons of 18 years of age. Undoubtedly it is a very popular approach. It might be as popular with me as with any Deputy. However, the Constitution says that a person must be 21 years of age before he has the right to vote. There is nothing in this measure in that regard.

What about having another referendum?

That thought immediately occurred to me when I first heard the suggestion. There is no point in talking about it now. We are precluded constitutionally from dealing with the question of giving votes to those under 21 years of age.

Does the Minister propose to entertain the idea?

Deputy Sherwin also spoke on personation. He describes it as a serious matter. I entirely agree with him. He suggests the Minister should do something about it. I am afraid I cannot go all the way in agreeing with him because the laws are there. The precautions are there and in 99 cases out of 100 they are taken. The elimination of the danger of personation is attended to. I doubt if many more devices could be employed to cut down on any personation that may still take place.

So long as they are sentenced to a month and are let out the next day they will continue.

Has the Minister forgotten that a Fianna Fáil Deputy said in this House that there is nothing wrong with personation?

Deputy Norton should know that what a Deputy said about something or other on some occasion is not relevant now.

What about repudiating that statement?

Deputy Corish spoke about the compilation of the register not in the sense I have already discussed but in the sense of the timings. He referred to the publication of the long list or the "pink list" as I might call it in December and the interval between that and the date claims may be made which he says is rather short. I agree and I have held that view for a considerable time. If further legislation similar to that which we are now bringing through this House is dealt with by me, I hope that we shall achieve a proper regulation of the time for claims, objections and various checking which is not only unduly short at the moment but comes at a bad time on the eve of Christmas. Who is thinking about checking a register or making a claim for a vote, even if they have checked the register, almost on the eve of Christmas? It is a bad time. I made definite enquiries about this matter. I asked why the period is not longer. The reason it cannot be extended is due not to any choice of date but to the circumstances of the time schedule. Allowance must be made for the various procedures of claims, objections, revisions, final checking of the list, final issue of the list to the printers, and the very important time-binding factor. This register must be available throughout the country as and from 15th April. Every printer of blocks of this register in the various counties throughout the country is involved. The last of them must have their register out by the 15th of the month. At the time limits we are using, we could possibly get registers out from some printers a month before that but invariably we come to the last date in the case of some printer or other and not always the same printer is the last printer.

Could we not get around that? Could the Minister not amend it in this Bill?

I do not feel that now is the time we should get down to this problem. There are other ideas in mind in regard to the register. I am sure the Joint Committee have ideas as well. I do not want to prejudge the issue in any way other than to say that the present timings and the time of the year are not good enough and that we shall do our best to remedy that situation at a very early date. I want to indicate my appreciation of the Joint Committee's efforts in this regard, particularly of the expedition with which they produced the interim report and the precise manner in which they presented it. By and large, 99 per cent. of it is incorporated as I got it in this Bill.

I raised this matter on the Joint Committee, of which I am a member. Apart from the work done and crystallised in this Bill by the Joint Committee, the Committee also gave consideration to a number of other amendments and cleared its own mind on these to such an extent that the decisions have been unanimous on quite a number of the points. I hope to see the adoption and carriage into legislation of these suggested amendments, that is, the further amendments the Minister will see in due course. There is also the question of how to simplify complex aspects of our existing electoral law. As it is now likely to be ten months before we have a General Election, according to the Taoiseach, would the Minister examine as soon as possible the practicability of embodying some further recommendations which he received from the Joint Committee in due course in another Bill which could probably be passed through this House well in advance of the next General Election and which would simplify the whole procedure certainly from the point of view of candidates?

In fact, I think the Deputy will find from the Official Report that in my reply, to a fairly extensive degree, I covered the point which he raises and which was also raised by Deputy Cosgrave.

The Minister will consider a further Bill?

To put it clearly, if the Deputy follows what I have said I think what he is asking has already been suggested in my reply. This Bill is urgent. Certain parts of it must be enacted very soon; otherwise there will be all sorts of complications. That is why the Committee reported so rapidly and that is why we want to get the Bill through both Houses as soon as possible. Any question of adding to it, by way of amendment, any further recommendations would naturally delay the Bill because some of them have not been sufficiently examined or been agreed by my Department, myself or the Government. In addition, it does not follow that no further Bill will emerge between now and the next election. In fact, I feel that another instalment of the revision of the electoral laws will quite possibly emerge within the next six months. I think that answers the Deputy's question.

The Minister did not mention the expenses which may be incurred by a candidate. It is important to ensure that millionaires cannot buy out the Dáil and that poor men will not be kept out.

That is a matter which has not yet been dealt with by the Committee.

No millionaires have yet come in.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 13th December, 1960.