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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 21 Mar 1968

Vol. 233 No. 7

An Bille Um An Tríú Leasú Ar An mBunreacht, 1968: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968: Second Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following amendment:
Go scriosfar na focail go léir i ndiaidh "Go" agus go gcuirfear ina n-ionad:—
gcuirfear ina n-ionad:—
"ndiúltaíonn Dáil Éireann an Dara Léamh a thabhairt don Bhille ar an bhforas gur togra atá neamhdhaonlathach go bunúsach an togra sa Bhille suas le 40 faoin gcéad de bhreis ionadaíochta sa Dáil a thabhairt do roinnt saorá-nach thar mar a thabharfaí do shaoránaigh eile."
To delete all words after "That" and substitute:—
"Dáil Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that the proposal in the Bill to provide some citizens with up to 40 per cent greater representation in the Dáil than other citizens is fundamentally undemocratic."
—(Deputy Cosgrave.)

I listened to the discussion in this House for the past three weeks and other than the Taoiseach's opening statement, no Fianna Fáil person has given us any further reason why we should have this referendum.

The last Fianna Fáil speaker, Deputy Moore, got up here this morning and at great length criticised both Fine Gael and Labour for their incompetence—I think that was the word—in dealing with this Bill. He said that as far as Fine Gael and Labour were concerned, all they were concerned with was throwing mud on the Government. We were not given constructive criticism or any reasons why PR should be retained. Deputy Moore by his utterances proved to me that he must be extremely ignorant of the state and the history of this country or otherwise he is extremely naive. I do not think he would still be in this House if he were as naive as he leads us to believe. He said in the House this morning that the Fine Gael Party have always tried to destroy democracy.

Deputy Moore, I imagine, is of my own day, or a little older, and he must know that our predecessors on this side were the people who brought democracy to the country. I hate perpetually to be looking over my shoulder and asking: "Where were you in 1916, 1921 and 1922?" However, remarks like those of Deputy Moore should not go unanswered. Our predecessors in this House were the people who restored democracy to this country and W.T. Cosgrave was the man who finally got the Fianna Fáil Party to recognise democracy and to come into the House. He must have known in 1927 when he did that that he was putting them on the road to Government; yet he did it for the good of the country. We have always stood for and always will stand for democracy.

For that reason we are defending the right of the people to retain PR. I believe PR is the fairest system, no matter what the Taoiseach says. I read his speech, which I thought was in poor form. He looked to Tasmania and to France. I should not like to look too closely at France where the President is the power and Parliament only a rubber stamp. Let us look closer to home, to Britain and to Northern Ireland. Nobody likes to look at Northern Ireland but let us now look at it and at the straight vote system there and see how fair it is. I do not think even the Taoiseach would have the gall to tell us that they have a fair system of election in the North.

Here we have a fair system under which the people get the Deputies they want and minorities are represented. A number of Government spokesmen have said minorities do not count any more because each Party look after religious minorities. I should like to remind them that there are more than religious minorities: there are political minorities. I am in a political minority in my constituency where Fianna Fáil have 21,000 votes and we have 19,000. We are in a minority but we are entitled to representation in proportion to our minority. That is what PR is all about.

The Taoiseach said that the straight vote would give a better type of Deputy. I do not know what kind of backbencher he has over there: some of them utter so little that it is hard to know. I know that it would be very hard to get a better type of Deputy than we have on this side of the House. I should like to remind the Taoiseach of the danger in the straight vote system that headquarters could impose its will on the people in the constituency. Let us suppose Fianna Fáil have a strong majority in a constituency. There is nothing to prevent Fianna Fáil headquarters saying that A would make a good Fianna Fáil Deputy, that he would be elected whether he was the people's first choice or not. In the present system, there is a panel and people within the Party can decide which Deputy they would wish to have. During the 11 years I have been in the House, I have seen men who have been a long time in the House, who perhaps had gone beyond work, in the constituency sense, and yet, through loyalty in the organisation, were not asked to stand down because they had given 35 years of service. But the people do not accept that. They may elect a younger and better man of the same Party. Time and again it happens.

The people do not have that chance in the straight vote system, in which there is also a danger for the West. One Party might have a majority there and I believe a Deputy might be chosen for election to the Dáil as a political perk, a little reward for favours rendered. He would be told: "If you do your work for the Party, we will guarantee you nomination in the Loughrea area." There is a shocking danger in this and instead of getting better Deputies, you would get worse Deputies.

I was at a function recently, not in my constituency, and was sitting beside a Minister. There was a man on the other side who is not a citizen of the country. The Minister said to him: "What do you think of PR"? He said he believed in PR. The Minister then asked me what I really believed about PR and I said I really believed in it as the fairest system. He said: "We cannot go on having this set-up within the constituency." I asked him "What set-up?" and he said: "This throat-cutting that goes on." We know it goes on, that there is terrific competition within each Party to secure the seat. That Minister does not like it. I believe it is good for the constituency because it brings out the best. It means that Deputies have to be on top of their form because there are these bright young councillors and others ready to jump into the breach. This competition within Parties produces good Deputies. It is the very life of trade, as it were, this competition within constituencies. It keeps Deputies on their toes.

There is one little thing about PR that intrigues me. In one of the Bills before the House we seem to be catering for people—a Deputy will serve the people better in a smaller constituency, we are told. Then we turn our attention to the towns and in this instance the Government are thinking in terms of the Deputy, particularly in relation to the West. When the Government speak of tolerance, their real motive is to maintain Fianna Fáil representation in the West. They are losing a little ground in the West. In my constituency we are entitled to only four seats and I believe the seat that would go is a Fianna Fáil seat.

People may say: "It might be your seat." My reply is: "All right; I will walk the plank." It is well known that in politics once you are out of sight, you are out of mind. I have been in the House 11 years; I have got a good run. I have worked hard but if the people of East Galway do not want me, that is their business. They are still entitled to the right of one man, one vote, whether that vote be for a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael Deputy. I can understand the Government preaching tolerance to the West in order to maintain their position there, but why not be honest and say it? There is no other reason for their doing it. I do not believe they think that extra Deputies will do more for the West. Deputies in the West may be hives of industry but it will not save the West. Neither will all the lip service which is only another kind of throw out of the slogan: "We will give you extra Deputies in the West as representation." It is not democratic or fair. We should have one man, one vote and the matter of being east or west of the Shannon should not make any difference. I do not agree we should have extra Deputies in the West because I do not see what extra advantages that would bring. The Deputies there work hard and any loss in representation would mean Deputies there would have to work harder.

I listened to the Minister for Local Government for an hour and a half talking about re-arranging constituencies to give a little here and a little there. At one stage, according to him, I had no constituency at all because part went to north Mayo, another to south Mayo, another to Laois-Offaly and another to Clare. He amused himself re-arranging constituencies and explained that under PR that was impossible—they could not be changed in any way; they must be kept within county council areas. Instead of amusing himself for one and a half hours, he should have done the honest thing and said: "We will have one seat less in each constituency but leave the constituencies as they are." It would save all this sort of rearranging that he said would be so difficult and so cumbersome to have in the Department of Local Government.

Then he explained to us that the people themselves want this referendum. I may be very dumb or I may not be able to read the newspapers accurately, but that is not my understanding of the situation. The only way we have of getting public opinion is by reading the newspapers — except for television, which is not very fair; there is always a slant to it. According to the papers, this referendum is not wanted. I do not read the Irish Press but I suppose they want it. The Cork Examiner, the Irish Independent and the Irish Times have never advocated a change to the straight vote system.

The Minister went on to remind us that the Fianna Fáil Árd-Fheis looked for a change and that this resolution was carried at the Árd-Fheis. The Minister must be very naive if he thinks, after being as long in politics as all of us are, that one cannot have an inspired motion at an Árd-Fheis. A motion can be inspired and one can organise matters so that it will be carried. I am quite sure the Minister has not got so far in public life without knowing that these things can be organised. If a person has enough anxiety to do so, he can organise a motion at an Árd-Fheis. It can be done at any Árd-Fheis. It can be done in any organisation throughout the world. If one cares enough about it, one can work up sufficient enthusiasm in any section of the community to produce, as was done at the Fianna Fáil Árd-Fheis, an inspired motion and get it carried. That means nothing. It means simply that a few Fianna Fáil people want a change to the straight vote system.

Why do they want a change to the straight vote system? Let us be perfectly clear. The Minister for Industry and Commerce says they want a change to the straight vote system because the Government are worried about the position of Fine Gael and Labour. We are not fools in this House and the Fine Gael and Labour supporters throughout the country are not fools. The Government want to change to the straight vote system because they want to cement themselves in government for, as near as possible, forever. As the Irish Times editorial aptly put it, Fianna Fáil feel they have not the people completely nailed down yet and they want to have a last chance to do so. That is the real reason.

The people do not ask for a change and do not want it. In fact, if we want to know what the people are thinking, let us study the verdict of the people of Wicklow in the recent by-election. If the people want proportional representation, the verdict of the people of Wicklow can prove the position. With the straight vote system, Miss O'Neill would have been elected to this House, which would have been very unfair because she polled little more than one-third of the votes. Under the straight vote system, she would have been elected. Surely that would not be fair? It would be in complete disregard of the wishes of two-thirds of the people of the constituency. The Government got their answer in Wicklow and, believe me, they will get their answer in the country when they go to look for it.

My constituency is difficult to work —I admit that. However, I have worked it for 11 years. I heard a Dublin city Deputy say this morning that his constituency is ten miles by something. Mine is 100 miles by 105 miles. Over the years I have been in this House, I have got to know every inch and highway and byway of my constituency and, while it is difficult, I do not mind working in a big constituency, and I do not think any other Deputy does, either.

Supposing we had single-seat small constituencies. Supposing we lost a seat in the original East Galway constituency. It would mean that my supporters in the old South Galway constituency would go either to Deputy Coogan or to Deputy Donnellan; they certainly would not go to the Fianna Fáil Deputy for the constituency. I have proof of this. Since Deputy Murphy died, I have received a great number of letters from Clare which proves that the 10,000 people in Clare who were represented by him will not go to the Fianna Fáil Deputy but will turn to the nearest Fine Gael Deputy.

Instead of making life easier in a single-seat constituency, it will be just as hard because the public representative will have a certain loyalty to the people who supported Fine Gael in the past, whether or not they are in his constituency. I do not believe for a minute that the old Cumann na nGaedheal and the Fine Gael supporters in the constituency would go either to Deputy Carty or to whomsoever they would be left with. I believe they would go to the nearest Fine Gael man which would only make life extremely difficult for him.

If I happened to lose my seat, I am convinced that, after a few general elections, that seat would not be recontested and we should end up with a position such as obtains in Northern Ireland where seats are not recontested. Let us face the fact that elections cost a great deal of money. I do not know the Fianna Fáil set-up but most candidates spend a lot of their own money at election time. To stand time and time again, without a hope of ever being elected would mean that, eventually, the person concerned would ask himself or herself: "Can I afford to spend this money?" Unless one belongs to a Party organisation with unlimited funds—as I believe Fianna Fáil have—where a person can be asked to stand for a constituency and told that the organisation will give him £500, one will not find many prospective candidates willing to stand just for the sake of going through the motions of having an election when they know they will not be elected.

We are too conservative in this country. In rural Ireland, we do not get the gigantic political swing one gets in Britain. In Britain, there are big urban areas, whereas we have only one such area—Dublin city, which swings this way and that way, as everybody knows—but it is not enough to control the fate of a Government. In regard to whatever Government would obtain office under a straight vote, nothing short of a revolution would shift them because we do not get the swing in rural Ireland. Perhaps the reason is the accident of birth—because we were born of one political view or the other.

I think it is true, in respect of any country that has had a civil war, that it takes practically a century to grow out of the direct feelings of civil war. Whether or not one likes it, rural Ireland is still greatly coloured politically by the civil war and people vote for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael—certainly in the West—because their people before them did so. There is a slight change but the percentage is not big enough to get the big swing that is to be noted in Britain.

I was amused to read—I think in the Irish Times—that the Government Party are employing a market research agency to advise them on the proportional representation situation. I do not think they want a market research agency. I think somebody in Fianna Fáil became alert to the fact that their proposals were not being too well received. I think somebody whispered a wee word in Deputy Norton's ear and that he was encouraged to put down his amendment. We shall get time to discuss the amendment: this is not the place to do it.

If the Government want any kind of a pointer or a leader as to public opinion in regard to the proposed change in the electoral system, I advise them to study the results of the Wicklow by-election, to look at the ballot papers. A month or two ago, when we were first getting this package deal—the two questions all in one—the Government kept a close eye on the newspapers. When everybody howled, through the columns of the newspapers, that this was not fair, they withdrew the package deal and the questions are now to be put separately. As to the form of the questions to be put in the referendum, I hope they will be clear and precise and that people will know how they are voting. There is a tendency to try to put the questions into Civil Service English and to cloud the issue and people will not know whether they are voting "yes" or "no".

In regard to the last referendum almost nine years ago, people said to me when they came out that they did not know exactly what was the answer to the questions. They knew they wanted PR retained but the question was framed in such a way that they did not know whether to answer "yes" or "no" in order to express their wishes. This time no effort should be made to fool the people. If we are to be in any way honest, give them a fair chance to answer the questions according to their wishes.

There is one thought that comes to mind. Supposing, as I have no doubt it will be, the proposal to change the Constitution is defeated, are we again to be faced with this question in another ten years? Is there no limit to this ridiculous question? Will it be asked every ten years? Surely the money spent in this way would be better spent in providing employment in the West or on anything you like in the West? The sum of £100,000 would go a long way on projects other than having a referendum on the same question every ten years. I fear this. Every time Fianna Fáil get an overall majority, the first thing that comes to their mind is that they must nail the country down good and proper. The last time that they did it they had an overall majority. Now they have an overall majority. This is a danger. We should be given some guarantee by the Taoiseach that if this proposal is defeated in the referendum, we will not get the same question put again in another ten years' time.

There will be another Taoiseach then.

There may be but they must have some sort of standard. They may shift him too if they are defeated in the referendum. There is another thing. If the people want a referendum, there are so many questions that could usefully be asked. I do not think anybody wants the referendum. I do not think the expenditure is justified. There are a great many Deputies in the Fianna Fáil Party who do not want it, but, being members of the Party, they must accept the majority decision. They will not kill themselves working to have PR abolished, I can assure you. It will be like the last time, when a number of Deputies did not do a hand's turn. The same will apply this time.

The people understand PR. They know that it is fair and they will hang on to it. The Government under-estimate the intelligence of the average citizen. The people are highly intelligent. They know their rights. They will try to hold on to them. No fancifully worded Amendments to the Constitution, no fancy speeches asking us to look at France and Tasmania, will encourage the people to vote for the Fianna Fáil proposal. I believe, and I think the people believe, that if the Government get away with this, they may end up with the situation where they will have between 90 and 100 seats in this House.

I would hate to see the day when any Party in this country would be in that position. Fianna Fáil have been a long time in power now and they have become very dictatorial with a bare majority. Given a situation where they would have a complete and absolute majority, they would do what they like.

I believe absolutely that absolute power corrupts. There is no doubt about that. It is very easy to get absolute power under the straight vote system and it is very easy to corrupt Fianna Fáil. Maybe it is not fair to cast smears only at Fianna Fáil. We have never been in that position since 1932 but I would hate to see our own Party with 100 seats in the House, human nature being what it is. I do not think we would be as easy to corrupt as the Fianna Fáil Party but I would not like to see our Party in that position. The people are aware of that and more than anything else that is what frightens them. They do not want to see any Party with absolute power. They do not want to see a dictatorship in this country.

Remember, it is only a comparatively short time since we got our independence and were freed from dictatorship. Surely we are not going to set up another dictatorship even though it is of Irish origin and nationality? It would be a very sad day, an absolute tragedy, if we arrived at a situation where one Party would have complete and absolute monopoly in this country. I would hate to see that day, and for many reasons. I would hate it for personal reasons. I would hate to have to bring up my children in a country where, unless they were Fianna Fáil, they would have no future. In fact, I am alert to that fact already.

I believe that my children and the children of other Deputies would not have a "look-in" in this country. We might as well educate them and prepare them for emigration if you had a situation where only Fianna Fáil would be tolerated. That is what would happen when they had absolute power. They would walk absolutely on everybody else. It would be jobs for "the boys" and "the boys" would be only those who voted Fianna Fáil. It is bad enough as it is. There are enough jobs for "the boys", without making it absolute. That is why I am appealing to everyone to hold on to PR. We fought hard enough to get the right to vote and we are not going to throw it away for a mere whim. That is all it is—a mere whim.

Some people say that it is because Mr. de Valera is now getting on in life and the Fianna Fáil Party want to present him with this last bouquet. They should have more in their minds and more concern for the country than the presentation of bouquets at this stage of life.

We have emigration; there is the housing situation; the farmers are crying out for help and all they can think of is changing the system of election when there are so many other pressing problems. The longer I am in this House the more worried I become. We all in this House have a social conscience and a social duty and a moral responsibility. The housing situation should worry everybody in this House who has any social conscience at all. Obviously, it does not worry the Government one bit. This frightens me. People may ask what are the Opposition doing. What can one do when there is not time to discuss these questions? I am sure I am out of order now. These are the problems the Government should be turning their mind to, not to wiping out a system of election that we all know and that very many people on the Government side are grateful to have, that is a fair system of election, that gives representation to minorities, not only religious minorities, every minority. People who talk about minorities think of religious minorities only but there are all sorts of minorities, political minorities and other minorities, every sort of minority. PR gives a fair crack of the whip to everyone, and why not retain it?

I should like to deal, first of all, with the question of the Amendment dealing with tolerance so far as representation is concerned in the various areas. Arguments have been put forward to try to show that it is essential that every vote should have equal value. At the outset, I want to make it perfectly clear that there is only one way in which this can be done and it is a way which no Member of this House would tolerate for a moment, that is, by adopting the general European arrangement where, with the exception of France, constituencies do not exist and the voter casts his vote for a Party only. Each Party produces a Party list, a list of its own candidates, and if a party gets 25 per cent of the votes it is entitled on its own, without any selection by the electors, to nominate some of its candidates to 25 per cent of the seats. If anyone wants that sort of system, I should be very much surprised. It is an abominable system but it does give a mathematical accuracy which, to my mind, is of no value whatsoever except for the satisfaction of pure abstract theoreticians. As matters stand, each vote is not of equal value and it cannot be because constituencies are of different size and have different populations. But even if each constituency had exactly the same number of voters you still would not have achieved the ideal unless you could ensure that the percentage vote in each constituency was exactly the same.

Let us get away from this stupid chanting of the refrain: one man, one vote. That gets us nowhere. One man, one vote, simply means that each voter is entitled to one vote and one vote only as opposed to the system in Great Britain years ago when certain people were entitled to more than one vote and many people were not entitled to vote at all. Now we have universal suffrage.

If your legislation goes through, can you guarantee the same will not appertain in this country?

I am absolutely certain because the Constitution makes that provision. Unless there is a further referendum and a further vote of the people, there can be no alterations. That is the sort of interjection I might have expected from the Deputy, but it does no credit to his intelligence. Let us forget about this one man, one vote slogan, which is a slogan and nothing more. No democracy has achieved this mathematical division of seats into votes cast except by way of the pure Party vote and the Party list system. Even there it is not quite accurate because it depends on the percentage of voters who cast their votes in each election and that may vary considerably from one area to another.

On the other proposal—the single seat constituency and the straight vote —the question has been asked and is still being asked by many people: why do the Government want to act now when everything seems to be running smoothly? There is an answer to that which I am surprised so few people realise. What we are trying to avoid is a situation where it becomes impossible to form a Government because of the fact——

For Fianna Fáil to form a Government.

Where it becomes impossible——

For Fianna Fáil to form a Government.

The Deputy is getting more stupid every moment.

That is the lowest form of wit.

We are trying to avoid the situation where it has become impossible to form a Government after a general election. That is a situation which can very easily arise under a proportional system. Where it is impossible or extremely difficult to form a Government a crisis arises. Then the public begin to say: "How have we got ourselves into this position and what are we going to do about it?" Then people might say it is time we made some alteration in our electoral system so that we do not get caught that way again.

By the time it becomes essential to carry out such electoral reform it is already too late and that is the invariable experience of European countries. The only time you can carry out electoral reform is when you have some strong and stable form of Government in operation. It is only at that stage a Government can carry a measure such as this through the House and put it fairly and squarely before the people.

The second question being asked—it was asked by Deputy Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins only a few moments ago—is why we should be having a second referendum after only nine years. You might just as well ask why have a general election after only five years.

That is certainly being stupid.

You could just as reasonably suggest that Fianna Fáil have been in office for the last 11 or 12 years and it is hardly necessary to confirm the verdict again. I cannot imagine the Opposition accepting that as a proposal. They say "No", the people have a right to change their minds. They may very well have changed their minds by the next general election. We cannot trust any Party in power for more than five years at a maximum. I think that is a right and reasonable attitude. But to say that the Irish people nine years ago have made a decision and that it is an insult to them to refer the matter to them again at this stage is nonsense. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of people who voted in that referendum who are now dead. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will vote in this referendum who had not a vote the last time. It will be an entirely different electorate. Even if it was exactly the same it is no more wrong to have a second referendum than it is to have another general election. People can change their minds, do change their minds and very often want to change their minds. If they do not want to change their minds and do not want to reverse the decision they do not need to do it. But we believe they will.

Why do you not have a general election along with the referendum to test the wishes of the people?

There is no necessity for a general election when you know——

You have just said that there is as much necessity for a referendum as for a general election. Why not have both?

Nobody has a general election just for fun.

You are having a referendum just for fun, apparently.

A general election is held only at the end of the statutory period or at a time when the Government feel they need a new mandate from the people. You do not go for a general election just at the drop of a hat. Again, that was a rather typical interjection of the Deputy and I do not intend to follow him down that particular alley.

It would be best for you to leave it alone.

I am well able to make my speech by myself without any interjections from any Deputy. The allegation has already been made, too, that this is yet another instance of Fianna Fáil's craze for power. Deputy Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins was on that line only a few moments ago, that we wish to nail down the Irish people once and for all to secure ourselves in power. After you have been in power for 30 out of the last 36 years you can hardly expect the Party to be unduly nervous about its future. After a Party has been continuously in office for the last 12 years consecutively and has got by our standards a very comfortable over-all majority, why should we be nervous?

Whatever about being nervous, you should not be proud.

Proportional representation has done Fianna Fáil excellently as far as getting power is concerned. So long as it is maintained there is not the slightest danger of Fianna Fáil losing power. But if we were power crazy, and so obviously power crazy as some newspaper correspondents have suggested and many members of the Opposition, we must be quite extraordinarily convincing when we have convinced people like Deputy Cosgrave, Deputy Sweetman, Deputy Dillon—in spite of the protesting noises he makes from time to time— Deputy P. O'Donnell, Deputy Flanagan and Deputy L'Estrange. They do not see it that way. They want to get rid of PR.

That is complete and utter nonsense.

It would be very interesting to see, would it not?

I do not wish to interrupt the Deputy, but for the record, that is complete and utter nonsense.

(South Tipperary): He is drawing on his imagination.

One does not need to draw on one's imagination so far as the Leader of the Opposition or Deputy O. J. Flanagan is concerned. It is generally known that the other names I have mentioned are the names of Deputies who are equally enthusiastic about the single-member constituencies.

It is absolute cod.

It is perfectly clear from speeches in this House that there has been an absolute lack of any real bite in the Opposition's arguments. They are going through the motions of opposition without the slightest enthusiasm, and I do not blame them. Even if we keep to the two members of the Fine Gael Front Bench——

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

On a point of order, I want to refer to the Opposition we have, a very poor democratic——

That is not a point of order.

There are two members of the Fine Gael Party——

That is not a point of order. Deputy Booth is in possession.

I was referring to the fact that we had been accused of being power crazy, and I was expressing some amazement that we have been so clever in our operation that we brought certain leading members of the Opposition—led by the Leader of the Fine Gael Party—to our side in spite of our wild ambitions. That in itself shows what an empty charge this is. We already have got all the power we could ever ask for or ever hope for, and there is no conceivable chance of our ever losing it in the foreseeable future. Why should we be looking for any more power than we have got? Why should leading members of Fine Gael be so keen to join with us in this operation? There is only one answer. There is no question of power craziness at all, but it is simply because we on this side of the House, and a number of genuine politicians in the Fine Gael Party, see the necessity for an electoral system which will guarantee the formation of Governments, and which will also give a reasonable opportunity for the formation of alternative Governments.

I do not want to interrupt the Deputy, but was this decision unanimous in the Fianna Fáil Party?

The Deputy is pledging his word of honour on that?

That is my recollection.

Is the Deputy pledging his word of honour on it?

I am pledging my recollection.

We all know it was not unanimous.

Order. Deputy Harte should allow Deputy Booth to speak.

I am trying to keep him correct.

The Chair will look after that.

Assistance will not come amiss.

With all due respect, you have a usurper from Donegal.

If I am upsetting Deputy Harte I am sorry. I can understand that hard facts are upsetting to him, but if he cannot take it he should feel perfectly free to withdraw. At the moment what alternative Government is there to a Fianna Fáil Government? The answer is none, because in spite of the suggestion from Deputy Dillon in his speech that there was still a possibility of Fine Gael and Labour joining to oust Fianna Fáil, that offer was not taken up with any enthusiasm by Labour. Most people in Fine Gael are not interested in another Coalition and without Coalition it is obvious, as Deputy Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins said, that it would take an utter landslide to make any alteration in the present set-up. Consequently Fianna Fáil are home and dry already at the next election and the next election after that, and there is no chance of an alternative.

I was talking to a man only yesterday and he said: "I am no supporter of Fianna Fáil but what I constantly ask myself is what the hell is the alternative." To my mind that is a dangerous situation. The electorate should always be faced with a choice between one Government or another Government. At the moment the electors have no such choice. They have a choice between the Fianna Fáil Government or a chaotic bunch of independent small groups. We and the politicians in Fine Gael feel that is a dangerous situation which should be ended at a time when it can be ended. We have no intention of waiting until the danger signals are showing because it is too late to act at that stage. This is the time to act, and that is why we are going on with it.

Have you not got Deputy Norton to put down an amendment for you? You are in full retreat now. You are only codding yourself.

Deputy Harte's complete inconsistency and the inconsistency of many spokesmen of his Party is almost incomprehensible to me. One moment we are domineering, bullying, power-crazy maniacs, and the next minute we are in full retreat and yielding to public opinion. You cannot have it both ways. Either we are sensitive to public opinion and seeing what way the people would like us to go, or else we are bullying them. You cannot have it both ways, and even Deputy Harte cannot get over that.

Is the Deputy speaking against Deputy Norton's amendment?

Deputy Norton has no amendment before the House as Deputy Harte perfectly well knows.

Are you going to reject it?

If Deputy Harte cannot listen without interrupting he should leave the House. We cannot carry on the debate in this fashion.

Here we have the determination to go ahead and do it now backed by a great proportion of the Fine Gael Party who are politicians as opposed to the witless amateurs who got in on the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth counts and who have not a clue about forming a government and never want to form a government but just want to remain happily seated on the back benches getting in on the surplus distributed from other working politicians.

Some Fianna Fáil Ministers come in on the third and fourth counts also.

It is always thrown at us that this straight vote system is unjust and that it is unjust that somebody should have the right to be elected when there are more votes cast against him than for him. To help Deputies of limited intelligence, such as Deputy Harte, let us assume there is a constituency with 10,000 votes cast and we have the famous three candidates, A, B and C. A gets 4,500 votes; B, 3,500 and C gets 2,000 votes. You can play any games you like with this result under the proportional system or the transferable vote but that would be pure imagination. Under the straight vote, A would get the seat with 4,500 votes out of 10,000. The howl of horror goes up immediately that this is unjust because there are 5,500 votes against him. Look at B. He got only 3,500 votes for him and 6,500 against him. Who is going to say that B has a better claim than A? He got 1,000 fewer votes for him and 1,000 more against him.

The Minister for Local Government made that speech this day week.

It is a pity that if he did—and I think he did, very largely— Deputy Harte still has not got the message.

I have read it.

Then I must only express my regret that Deputy Harte is so deliberately avoiding the issue. I do not think he is all that stupid. I cannot believe he is as stupid as he looks or makes out.

I am not surprised at anything that Deputy Booth says.

C has 2,000 votes for him and 8,000 against him. Who will say it is unjust for A to get the seat?

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

In dealing with the question of the straight vote, I was pointing out that, to my mind, it is obviously fairest that the person who gets the most votes for him and the least votes against him should be the successful candidate as opposed to the person who got fewer votes for him and very many more votes against him.

Let us go on to the question of the purpose of an electoral system. The purpose of an election, basically, is to form an executive government, to form a parliament out of which an executive government can be chosen, but there are those who regard the whole exercise as more in the nature of a popularity poll. It is anything but that. We must stress to the electorate that voting is a hard-won right; it is a privilege and a duty which is not to be taken lightly. If anybody comes along at election time and says: "All I want to know is who are the candidates and I shall vote for whomsoever appeals to me most," he would be as well employed in filling in the coupons for the Sunday newspaper competitions. It is not a matter of a popularity poll; it is a matter of electing a democratic parliament and eventually forming an executive. It is no different from all the other elections which take place in different forms of human society, football or darts clubs, golf clubs, debating societies and so on.

When you want to elect a committee—I ask each Member of the Opposition; I should say both Members of the Opposition since there are only two, to note this—to such a society or club do you decide that the first thing you want to do is make sure the entire membership of the society or club and all pressure groups therein are all fully represented; that you want somebody to represent the over fifties, somebody to represent the ladies, somebody to represent the teenagers? You will never form a committee that way and Deputies know that well. When you want to form a committee, you first decide whom you want to have as chairman, who is the person to co-ordinate the work of the others, control the committee and get the most out of it, get them working as a team, and then you elect the best man for the job.

Then you want a secretary, somebody who knows the rules of the society or club, who is good at correspondence and record keeping, and you appoint him as secretary, not because he represents any body or any section but because he is the best man for the secretaryship. You want a treasurer. All right; you want a man who is scrupulously honest, who knows something about keeping accounts and who will be able to advise the society on its financial affairs and make sure that expenditure does not exceed income and so on. The members of the committee are the people who will most readily and most devotedly work together in the interests of the society. The idea of representation as such does not exist and should not. You are appointing an executive for a limited period to do a certain job and report back. That, to my mind, is the essence of the democratic parliamentary system, that you have got to elect somebody to take charge, to take control, to exercise power.

You will always get bleating noises from the Opposition: "What about the minorities?" I remember Deputy Hogan, as Ceann Comhairle, having to explain to the Opposition that there were the rights of the majorities as well as the minorities and that it was not overbearing on the part of a majority Government to do what it felt to be right. At times the Opposition make out that it is very naughty of the majority Government to do what it believes to be right, and they feel that we should yield to the minority and to do what the minority want. I cannot see any justification for that. I am one of the few who can speak as a member of a minority. I have been in a minority all my life and always will be. I have got used to the feeling and learned to live with it. One thing I have learned is that there is no use in bleating about your minority all the time. What you must do is to try to join with the majority, to accommodate yourself to their wishes and to make sure only that on any matter of principle your own conviction shall be heard and respected.

The idea that every minority should be represented is just too crazy. There are plenty of minorities in this country, plenty of pressure groups, and if they are all going to be represented as such in Parliament we are going to get nothing but hot air. We certainly will not get decisions, if we are going to have a representative of the shorthorn breeders being opposed by a defender of the preservation of the Grand Canal. This is the sort of pressure-group politics which we have to keep out of this House, because we must legislate for the whole community, bearing in mind the amenities of the Grand Canal and bearing in mind the cattle trade, the tourist trade and every other aspect of national life. However, we must avoid the multiplicity of parties, the danger of which is always with us.

That danger, as the Taoiseach has said, has been greatly reduced simply by reason of the old loyalties and hatreds stemming back to the Civil War period. Deputy Mrs. Hogan O'Higgins confirmed that herself when speaking before. It is only that catastrophic division in our society which has prevented an even greater number of Parties than we have had already. There have been 13 Parties represented in the Dáil over the years, and that is far too many, because most of those 13 were not full-scale political Parties in a national sense at all; they were sectional pressure groups and no more.

Reference has also been made to the desirability of stability of government. For exactly the same reason as I have mentioned, we have had so far quite remarkable stability, simply because even with minority government the Independents preferred to go with the Government rather than against the Government in order to keep their seats. Stability on that basis is an illusion and a dangerous illusion, that any Government should ever have to be looking across at the Independent benches to say: "Will he come with us on this issue, or will we have to trim our sails in order to bring him with us? Or will we have to have a general election simply because one Independent has changed his mind?" We must never have the balance of power wielded by an irresponsible Independent, and most Independents are thoroughly irresponsible.

(South Tipperary): You would not say that a couple of years ago.

I have always suggested it. I spoke about this nine years ago in the House and I said precisely the same thing. I have seen no reason to change my mind.

Surely the Deputy could not repeat what he said? Did he say that nine years ago?

And he has not learned since?

I have learned plenty. but nothing to make me change my mind on that question. Deputy Dillon said it was most undesirable that we should have strong government. He said he preferred a Government which was always looking over its shoulders. We have a certain university professor who has exactly the same sort of approach to the whole question of government. There is also a substantial volume of public opinion in the country which does not like government at all. It prefers to go its own way, and it has an inherent distrust of any direction from an executive Government. People say: "We do not want any interference." Of course you do not as long as you can get your own way, but as soon as a bigger fellow turns up who is pushing you around that is when you want interference. That is why a strong Government is necessary and that is why I would disagree with Deputy Dillon altogether. It is a damnably dangerous situation to have a Government which is dithering. A strong Government is one which is able to take unpopular decisions, to take them rapidly and decisively and produce results. The Opposition will say this is overbearing, this is bullying.

Take a case like the recent foot and mouth epidemic in the United Kingdom where strong measures, brutal measures, had to be taken to protect this country against the infection spreading here. That was the action of a strong Government here.

That was an action by the unanimous wish of the people.

But the leadership was given by the Government in the first place.

Was it unanimous?

The Government took the action and the people said: "Thanks be to God, they have done it." The people were delighted and they all stood behind the Government. If you had a Coalition Government and pressure groups, it would have been dithering until it was too late.

What the Deputy is trying to say is that if Fianna Fáil were in Opposition, they would be an irresponsible Opposition.

Deputy Booth, without interruption. Deputy Harte will have an opportunity of speaking later.

The Deputy just wants to use his imagination that some day Fianna Fáil will be in Opposition. He keeps up his morale by dreaming about that, but there is no chance of it. If we change to the single-seat constituency, there is a chance of some other Party being big enough and strong enough to put Fianna Fáil back into Opposition again, but there is no chance at the moment.

Time will tell.

The overbearing majority created by the straight vote— let us look at that situation. We do not need to look any further than Great Britain in regard to the present Labour Government. What has happened there is that while they have a very safe majority does it enable them to disregard public opinion? Not on your life. Technically speaking they have a majority of 100, although it is dwindling, but the ordinary Labour Member of Parliament is becoming increasingly conscious of the resistance of his constituents to the policy, or lack of policy, of Mr. Wilson's Government and that is leading to growing rebellion within the Labour Government. An overbearing majority? Not on your life, because Mr. Wilson, the Prime Minister, is realising the hard way he is facing rebellion among his own Members. I do not see any future for that Government, not in spite of its big majority but because of the swing of public opinion against that Government. That swing is immediately reflected in the actions of the back bench Members of the Party who are refusing to go into the Division Lobbies or are going blantantly across to vote with the Tories.

Is this not a contradiction of your own argument?

It is quite the reverse. Deputy Harte cannot be that thick really. I will assume that he is not. I will just ignore the remark. The point is that you cannot say that Mr. Wilson's Government is at the moment an overbearing majority. It is tottering on the verge of utter collapse——

That is what you think.

——even though it has a technical majority, but because a technical majority, because public opinion is turning against it and because Labour Members are turning against their Leader and abstaining or rebelling openly. That Government is just as susceptible to a swing in public opinion as if they had started with a majority of only three or four. There is no question of a Government becoming overbearing in face of outraged public opinion. This is a democracy in which each member has to face his constituents regularly. If any of us is getting the works from our constituents about Government policy you can bet your life we get on to the Minister straight away and tell him, leaving him in no doubt that such-and-such is taking place. There is no question of an overbearing majority and in actual fact you get a much greater freedom of debate where there is a strong Government, where Members of the Government Party can speak their minds freely without thereby endangering the whole fate of the Government.

Some people say that the straight vote would wipe out Fine Gael or Labour. I see no danger of that happening as long as these two Parties can really form themselves into national political Parties with a fully comprehensive national policy. I was talking to one Fine Gael backbencher—I will not mention his name—and he assured me that this was the end of Fine Gael if the referendum went through. I said: "How on earth would that happen?" He replied: "On a quick check, Fine Gael cannot get a seat in the city or county of Cork, nor in Meath, Cavan or Monaghan. It would be doubtful in Galway." He said that they would not get a seat anywhere. I said to him: "If you cannot get a seat anywhere, you might as well pack your bags and look after your fields or something, if you have no hope."

At what stage of the dream did you wake up? Where you in bed?

This was early in the morning.

I was in the Library.

A lot of people go there to sleep.

Yes; there are two brothers who sleep very happily in chairs facing each other, but they are both Members of Fine Gael. If any Party go before the people and say: "We have not a hope of getting to the top of the poll in more than five or six areas," they have admitted defeat before they start. I do not believe this will wipe out Fine Gael, but I believe that it will put new life into them, and above all give them an opportunity if they have the guts, and some of them have, of forming a really possible alternative Government. It would not need such a huge swing of votes to put Fianna Fáil out under the single member constituency as it would under PR, but some of the Fine Gael and Labour Members do not want power or responsibility. They prefer to be the hurlers on the ditch indefinitely. If that is where they want to stand, do not let me stop them.

People have asked: "Why have you gone for the straight vote and not maintain the transferable vote for a single seat constituency?" I found tremendous support generally for the single seat constituency. The great majority of people with whom I spoke are delighted with this and they regard it as a great improvement, but some of them said that they would still prefer the transferable vote, and I said——

Here it comes now. Watch it.

I asked them why and they said: "We still like to vote one, two and three and to have a choice."

Now the retreat is coming.

It is amazing how Deputy Harte cannot resist interrupting when I am saying anything which may be an embarrassment to him. If he cannot stand me, I invite him to leave.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

I was discussing the suggestion that the single transferable vote might be used in single member constituencies. I should like to refer now to the speech of the Minister for Local Government. I am in complete agreement with him when I say that, in my opinion, the essential part of this Amendment is the single seat constituency. Whether it is a single transferable vote or a straight vote is not nearly so important.

Converted or defeated? Which?

Deputy Harte must cease interrupting.

I hope I shall not be regarded as interrupting Deputy Harte if I continue. On this question of the single transferable vote in the single-member constituency, I find myself, rather surprisingly, absolutely at one with a very old and redoubtable opponent, Miss Enid Lakeman, of the British Proportional Representation Society, who recently wrote a very strong letter to the Irish Times commenting on this proposal, which was alleged to be that of Deputy Norton, and saying that the transferable vote in the single member constituency was complete nonsense. She did not use the words that Deputy Dillon used, but she might very well have described the proposal as a fraud and a cod. I thoroughly agree with her in that. I do not think it would make the slightest difference to the result and one reason why I have always been in favour of the straight vote is because I prefer to make a clean breast of the thing and not try to give any impression to anyone that I am in favour of any element of proportionalism whatsoever. You cannot have proportional representation in a single member constituency. You can have only one member in a single member constituency. If, for any reason, people say they want to vote one, two and three, that is just a habit; they do it like filling up a football coupon.

It is illegal to fill in football coupons in this country.

Order. Will Deputy Harte cease interrupting?

It is also improper to interrupt but that does not stop the Deputy. If people want it one, two and three, that would not come between me and my sleep. I am not in favour of the transferable vote but I shall not weep any salt tears so long as we have the single-member constituency. That is the main thing. If we have the transferable vote, let it be made perfectly clear that it is even more of a cod and that it will not give any proportional result. In actual fact, it will not affect the result to anything more than a marginal extent. I should be afraid, if I were to advocate that, that people would say I was trying to cod them into believing they were getting proportional representation. I want to get rid of proportional representation and all its works.

Deputy Corish, Deputy Treacy and others said we should at this stage be trying to become more European and that we should adopt the European parliamentary and electoral system, which has given rise to such stability on the Continent. I remember the days when a very able lady used to write Deputy Corish's speeches for him. They were well worth listening to. Unfortunately there was a change.

Pity someone does not write the Deputy's speeches for him.

Deputy Harte will either cease interrupting or leave the House.

I have a horrible suspicion that now Deputy Corish makes up his own speeches and that is really a disaster. He should find somebody else. With regard to the present system in Europe, to regard that system as giving rise to stability betrays nothing but the most crass ignorance of the whole European set-up.

The Taoiseach referred to it.

I hear Deputy Harte muttering "The Taoiseach..." What he is worrying about is France and the French situation.

For the record, Deputy Booth's hearing is as bad as his speech. I did not say anything.

He did not open his mouth.

Maybe it is bad indigestion. I am sorry if I upset the Deputy because he is bound to get a duodenal ulcer very shortly. Let us start off with France and see what the situation is there. The Taoiseach's reference has been completely misinterpreted. What actually happened — Deputy Harte would not remember—was that in 1957-58 there was a situation in France in which Governments were flashing in and out at such a rate that one could never keep track of them. Eventually the situation became so impossible— Prime Ministers were lasting only a matter of hours at a time and Cabinets likewise—that an appeal was sent out to General de Gaulle to come and get a grip on the situation. Only a very able and resolute man could do what General de Gaulle did and it was only by reason of his record and his standing that he was able to do what he did. Mark, you, he has not finished yet. But, in 1958, he managed to get some electoral reform pushed through the Assembly out of sheer desperation.

That illustrates to me, and it should illustrate to the House, the point I was trying to make earlier, namely, that by the time electoral reform is essential, it is almost too late to do anything about it. It was not until complete chaos had broken out in France in 1957-58 that General de Gaulle was able to get this electoral reform through and have, for the first time since 1936, a general election with single-member constituencies. That was the matter to which the Taoiseach referred.

One has only to read General de Gaulle's speeches to see his absolute horror of multiplicity of parties, such a multiplicity as existed in France at the time. Many of these parties he denounced as not being parties at all. Very correctly, he denounced them. They were party groupings, small pressure groups, splinter parties of all sorts and sizes. In that political situation, he managed to get a new system of single-seat constituencies, but with a double ballot, which, to my mind, is an abomination. At the election in 1958, there were 12 major political parties, big enough to put up 75, or more, candidates. But the political situation was so confused that you had 2,978 candidates for 465 seats.

The first ballot was held and, for Deputy Harte's education, I might mention that on the first ballot the only person elected is the person who gets the quota, as it were, and if nobody gets the quota, nobody is elected, and one has to move on to the second ballot where the straight vote majority system operates. After the first ballot, 1,000 candidates retired from the field of battle and 500 others were eliminated, because they had not got sufficient votes to qualify for the second round. If you did not get more than five per cent of the votes, you were not allowed to play again. Eventually he did manage to form a Government but he had not managed by any manner or means to overcome the problems which he inherited through the multiplicity of parties.

I would like to refer to the last election in March, 1967 where he had to rely eventually on the help of a group called the Independent Republicans. They wanted to call themselves the Gaullist Republicans but he would not allow his name to be attached to that party, so they called themselves the Independent Republicans. With their help and the help of three Independents, he just managed to scrape a majority, but he is still bedevilled by a multiplicity of parties. He has one called the Democratic Union of the Fifth Republic, the Independent Republicans, Progressive and Modern Democrats, Federation of the Left, Communists and Independents. That is what General de Gaulle must wrestle with. He is a very resolute man and I think he will make progress but he is wrestling with a fearful problem which was bequeathed to him by a proportional system. He is trying to wipe out most of these small groups and splinter parties and knowing him I believe he will do it and he will leave a much better parliamentary democracy behind him than he found when he came in. Let us not cod ourselves either, it is not a parliamentary democracy at the moment, it is virtually a Presidential Government verging on dictatorship but not quite. That is all because of the fragmentation of the proportional system.

We go to Germany now. German history under proportionalism is equally bad. It was under a proportional system that the Nazi Party gained strength and was able through using democracy to defeat it and it was when complete confusion had broken out in Germany that the President had to call on Adolf Hitler as the only person who seemed to know where he was going and who was in charge of a party which was held together and was able to do something. We know the disaster that was. That was entirely because the ordinary process of government forming had broken down completely.

After the war, they tried again, and with other Members of this House, I visited as guest of the President of the Bundestag, the Parliament in Bonn and also made a tour of the country. One of the leading German politicians said to me: "What is your reaction to our system?" I said: "I have not been here long enough but I am studying it and I am interested." He said to me: "Please be sympathetic because remember, we are trying only for the second time to run a parliamentary democracy. The first one we ran led to Hitler and we are in danger of doing the same again." How right he was. Look at the last general election in 1965. There were various major parties and five smaller ones. The major parties were the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, the Social Democratic Party, the Free Democratic Party, the National Democratic Party, the German Peace Union. After the election, out of 494 seats the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union together managed to get 245 seats with 47.6 per cent of the votes.

Here you have a system where you vote for the party and find out what the total percentage party vote is and then the party allocates the seats, a thoroughly unsatisfactory system. In that position no party had an overall majority and a Cabinet was formed of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union with the Free Democratic Party. What a job it was to form that Government and this is what always happens under the proportional system where you have to have a coalition. Before they could get that coalition in 1965 there were strong objections lodged by Dr. Adenauer and others to the inclusion of Dr. Schroder as Foreign Minister.

Surely the Deputy's version of what happened in Germany is wrong?

Deputy Harte may not interrupt.

Just for the record, it was not a democracy that brought Hitler to power in Germany.

If Deputy Harte would look up his facts——

You look up your facts.

I said it nine years ago and nobody has denied it since. The only criticism was from Deputy Dillon who said that he thought I had somewhat over-simplified the situation. He could not say I was wrong and Deputy Harte cannot say I am wrong either.

I am not saying it categorically but I am of the opinion that you are.

After the 1965 election in Germany, the formation of a Government was almost impossible, because initially there was this strong objection by Dr. Adenauer and a few others to the inclusion of Dr. Schroder as Foreign Minister. How can you have a formation of a Government when you have a few individuals saying: "Yes we will agree, but he must not be in such and such a position."?

On a point of information——

A point of information does not arise at this stage.

On a point of order——

What is the point of order?

——was it not the union at Versailles?

That is not a point of order.

A point of order arising out of the Deputy's speech.

In actual fact, I think it was a certain incident in the Garden of Eden which was basically responsible for the whole disaster, but I think that is going back too far.

That is being ridiculous.

There has been an awful lot of sin around for many years. There were objections by the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union. They would not have Dr. Mende of the Free Democratic Party as the vice-Chancellor. This was the price of the Free Democratic Party. They said: "We will play ball with you as long as our Dr. Mende can be vice-Chancellor". The others objected, but in the heel of the hunt, this comparatively small party, with only 49 seats, 9.5 per cent of the votes, were able to appoint the vice-Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. This is crazy but that is what happened.

The Federal Democrats went on to insist that Herr Strauss be excluded and they won that one, too. They were fairly threshing around at that stage. Then the Christian Social Union came back and said their union must have the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Defence, or they would not play ball. All this bargaining went on. This is a crazy way of setting up a Government. If they were united they would be in the same party but they did not agree. They hated each other's guts in many cases. They disagreed on policy and all this huckstering went on in the background. Consequently the constitution broke up in 1966 when the Free Democratic Party in the Coalition would not weather the budget. They said: "No. We are not going to have that amount of taxation." That wrecked the government.

There is this feeling that there is stability in Europe simply because you do not have so many general elections. That is simply because defeats of government and parliament as such just wait for the formation of a new Government. The existing coalition government broke up when the Federal Democrats pulled out. At the same time Dr. Kiesinger succeeded Dr. Erhardt as Chancellor. It took a whole fortnight of bargaining behind the scenes, a whole fortnight of negotiations, before the new Cabinet could be formed. It is a damned dangerous situation to have no Government in power, no Executive for a whole fortnight. Anything could happen. A new Cabinet was eventually formed between the Christian Democrats, the Christian Socialists and the pure Socialists, Herr Willi Brandt and his socialists.

There you have a coalition which is most unhealthy in so far as it controls 477 seats, leaving an Opposition of only 49. I do not know whether you consider that as hopeful, helpful, or wise. I consider the present situation in Germany is critical simply because of this wretched proportional representation system which has got them into this state in regard to a coalition Government, a Government already split right down the middle.

Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in regard to foreign affairs where you get the Chancellor, Dr. Kiesinger supporting the President of France and his Foreign Minister denying he made the remarks which, if he did not make them about General de Gaulle, he would have loved to have made. Everyone knows that Herr Brandt is utterly opposed to General de Gaulle and everyone knows that Dr. Kiesinger is supporting General de Gaulle. That is the situation which you should not have and which should be terminated in the interest of peace and safety as rapidly as possible.

Let me go to another part of Europe, Greece, where the present system of election before 1963 produced such a system of chaos that they amended the system and introduced a reinforced proportional representation system which eliminated altogether any Party which did not hold more than 15 per cent of the votes. That did not give any great help to minorities. It wiped out a whole lot of minorities. Even then in 1963, the election gave no majority and the Government lasted only three months. The next election gave a majority to a Coalition, but during that time six Cabinets resigned over various issues, the last of which was electoral reform because they at last got the message that they would have to reform the system still further, but they had not the majority to get it through.

They resigned after several break-up of Cabinets, and while there was no Government, the army took over. Here we have a situation where, as happened repeatedly, the system of proportional representation has led to the breakdown of Parliament. Dictatorship has had to be introduced to avoid chaos. We know that the situation in Greece is a disastrous one and we do not want that to happen here.

We now look at Italy. The Italian system at the time of the war was not unlike that of Germany. There was proportional representation with a multiplicity of Parties incapable of forming a Government until Mussolini was sent for. He was the only person who happened to have any body of organised opinion behind him. He started off quietly enough and we know how he finished up. When that system was adopted in 1919 one of the politicians of the day Signor Alessio said: "The application of this system of election would lead to a very bad functioning of the Chamber which would make it impossible to form a lasting Cabinet and would bring about in the long run a paralysis of public life." That is what happened. He saw this system was bound to lead to that.

The 1963 general election had 630 seats and 303 Party lists alone to be looked at. There were 5,750 candidates. The largest Party, the Christian Democrats, got 38 per cent of the seats, the second, the Communists, got 25 per cent. A Government was formed. The first failed instantly. It was only formed and disappeared at once. The second was formed as a minority, temporary Government which lasted only four months. The third was a coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Italian Socialists and Republicans and lasted only six months. It then broke up and had to be reformed after bargaining. It has gone now and there is a general election pending. How could you have a reasonable Government formed out of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Italian Socialists and Republicans? Is there anything in common between them? If there was at that time, they would all be in the same Party. It is because they are all different and have different opinions that this has given rise to ineffective government.

In the Netherlands, a general election took place in February, 1967. There were 23 parties alone which contested this proportional representation election in 1967. As a result of a certain reinforcement of the system, only 11 Parties were represented in the final figures. The percentage of votes cast for each party ranged from a maximum of 26.5 down to a minimum of 0.86. How in the name of all that is wonderful could you form a Government out of a conglomeration like that?

Negotiations for a new Cabinet lasted from February to April. Imagine a country without effective government from February to April while the politicians are discussing among themselves: "What will you give me if I give you that? If you press for me I will give you—". This sort of bargaining which went on without any reference to the electorate is pure huckstering. I do not like that. I know it happened during the Coalition here the last time, and I did not like it then. When it takes from February to April to form a Coalition Government—we know this is the ecumenical age—between the Catholic People's Party, the anti-revolutionary Party and the Christian Historical Union, what kind of Government can you have? The last two are Protestant Conservatives. You do not find those three sitting down and shaking hands. If they were really in agreement about national policy, they would all be in the Catholic Party, but in actual fact those are all independent of each other, with different views about national policy. That is too damn difficult.

In Belgium, there was a general election in May, 1965. There were 212 seats. The biggest party got 77 seats. There were nine parties represented in the final figures. They included language groups and two groups of Communists, one pro-Moscow and one pro-Peking. How further can you go than to get a Belgian group calling themselves a pro-Peking Communist Party? There was a resignation of the Cabinet immediately and a crisis under the caretaker Government and two months' bargaining before they formed a Cabinet. They got a Cabinet of a sort which fell a few weeks ago and the King is still trying to find somebody to form a Government.

The reason they fell rests on two issues, a language issue and a university issue. Let nobody say that can not happen us here either. What does a strong government do? It took a strong government to make a decision and a strong Minister, God rest him, to make a decision that UCD and TCD would merge. The Belgians were not so lucky. They got tangled up on a language issue and on the siting of a university to such an extent that the Cabinet tore itself to bits and disintegrated simply because there was nothing to hold it

God protect us from anything of the sort of a European system. In Denmark nine Parties contested the election—Social Democrats, Radical Liberals, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, a Single Tax Party, Communists, the Liberal Centre and the Independent Party. How can you have that number of national political parties? These are purely political pressure groups and a minority government that had to be formed by the Social Democrats with the qualified support of the Socialist Party, but this may be withheld at any moment and bring the whole thing tottering to the ground.

Labour have held power in Norway for 40 years. Now they have lost power because Labour had only 68 seats out of a total of 150 and you have a Government of Conservatives, Liberal Party, Centre Party and Christian People's Party. That reminds me very much of home. None of these has anything in common except they all hated the Labour Party. As Deputy Dillon makes clear in our case the main thing to do was to see if by any chance some grouping could be made to get rid of Fianna Fáil, not because he had anything constructive to offer but simply because he hated our guts. That feeling is shared by a number and it is destructive. Nobody is entitled to say he is against a Party if all he has to say is: "God, how I hate them." We have to have something more than that.

In conclusion, I should like to say that nine years ago I fought all around the country: I argued in the country and I argued in the House to convince the people that the single-seat straight vote system was the best. Everything that happened since that issue has confirmed me in my belief and made it stronger still. The European parliamentary system is an exact parallel and we cannot ignore the fact that proportionalism has led to disasters time and time again. This is the time, when we have stability, when we have a strong government, to take this step and I think we will be able to do it. I believe the people will come with us. There was confusion the last time partly because of the Presidential Election at the same time but there was only a small majority vote against the referendum.

The people now have got the message so far as the single-seat constituencies are concerned and the great majority want it. I should like to make a clean break and have nothing to do with PR and have the straight vote.

Are you changing your mind after Wicklow?

It may be well to the immediate advantage of Fianna Fáil to have the transferable vote. It would be more to our advantage. Wicklow did not show the general trend, but in actual fact we could do very much better on the transferable vote because the old traditional voting pattern is tending to break down now.

What was the trend in Wicklow?

Tell us what the trend was in Wicklow?

We cannot win them all.

Deputy Booth is in possession.

Deputy Booth's statement is as inaccurate as his assessment of the position at the moment.

If Deputy Harte would rely on facts rather than on prejudice he would be better employed. I always feel he is one to whom facts are always embarrassing. I would ask him to screw up his courage and look up his history. I am sorry misinterpretation has taken place, but I do not think we have any reason to fear the result except that there is complete apathy. I am satisfied that the whole kick has gone out of this issue. The last time there was a tremendous battle going on. Now it is obvious they are with us.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

I do hope we will be successful in this because I am convinced that this will be a tremendous improvement of our whole system. I think we will probably get the same Deputies but we will be able to do our job very much better and those of us returned under the new system will be much better for it. We will have a smaller area to look after. We will be finally responsible for that area and it will mean that by-elections will be a more realistic operation than they are at present. If there is a by-election for a seat which was previously for one political Party, it will be doubly interesting to see if there is a swing of votes for that Party. That would be an assistance to the Government generally in a much more real way than can be done under the present system.

Above all, we must in this present condition of stability not lose the opportunity of taking this action which will ensure for the future that we will never be faced with the situation in which there is difficulty in forming a Government. This can be utterly catastrophic and all the experience has been that it is catastrophic. Now is the time to do it—now, when everything is quiet, when everything is stable, when everything is right. If we leave it until it becomes obviously necessary, it will already have been too late. We cannot wait that long. We might be able to go on for quite a long time, but whatever happens, it will be more in Fianna Fáil's immediate interest to retain the system which has kept them in power during 30 out of the last 36 years and during the last 12 years consecutively.

I for one much prefer a system which would give us a strong Government faced with strong Opposition. The weakest part of our present system is that we are faced with no Opposition at all. There is no alternative Government. Labour are far too small; Fine Gael are far too small. They hate each other. They will not co-operate in spite of the tentative offer of Deputy Dillon. We know they will not coalesce again, except under tremendous pressure, and that if they do, they will fall out again, like they did the last time.

Like when you were electing a successor.

We are here together.

Give Deputy O'Higgins a Honda.

The maddening thing is that despite all the prophecies of woe and disaster, Fianna Fáil refuse to disintegrate and they have no intention of so doing. There is not the slightest danger of their doing it because they are much too united. It will never happen.

What happened in Wicklow?

It has gone to your heads—your first moral victory in eight years.

We are giving an opportunity now to the Opposition to form an alternative Government. If they can—and under this system they would be able to—if they can form policies which will appeal to the electorate, well and good. Fine Gael say they will be all right under this new system; Labour say they will be all right under it. We know we will be all right, so let us all go in together. There is bound to be a certain change. Governments will tend to be slightly larger, which will give members a much greater freedom to speak their minds and to criticise members on their own side, which is very helpful.

If there is a majority of only one, there has to be strict Party discipline: nobody dare go sick or go into rebellion. That is not healthy. It is far better to have give and take in the Government benches and we must have a system under which that can happen. Then, if the Government lose the confidence of the people, the people will have a chance to sweep another Party into power, with enough power to rule. The essence of democracy is the giving of absolute power to an Executive for a limited period on the ground that at the end of the period they will be held accountable for what they did. That is healthy; that is the right way of doing it. I am 100 per cent behind this and I believe we shall get it this time. Do not let us reduce Party politics to a popularity poll.

Let Deputy L'Estrange read the newspapers.

Not the Irish Press.

Let him do things properly while he is doing them.

I do not think it is quite fair for the Minister for Justice to suggest that Deputy L'Estrange should do things properly. May I intervene again at this stage to say: Let us get down to a system of election which will produce a Government unlike those which the present system has consistently failed to produce in Europe. There is not stability in Europe. There is stagnation simply because parliaments will sit waiting for the executives of parties to strike bargains and form groups at the top. That is a denial of democratic principles. People must have their say in these matters. I am all for the people having it. Europe has nothing to teach us but we have much to teach them. The Germans are seriously considering the straight vote. De Gaulle has gone a certain distance and wants to go further and faster than he is going at the moment. I am perfectly certain the other European countries will follow. We shall be going ahead of Europe and Europe will be very glad——

We are not even able to get into Europe.

You are not able to get into Clare.

I raised this matter because various Fine Gael and Labour Deputies suggested we should follow the European example. Not on your life—we have a better example to follow.

Like Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, the situation is entirely different. What happened when PR went out and the straight vote came in?

In 30 years the Unionists have been there.

If Deputy L'Estrange wants to intervene, he should know what the answer is. He does not know.

How do you know?

Because I can see it in the look of his vacant face.

The brilliant Deputy.

I am sorry; I must apologise.

Not at all; I do not mind what you say.

He does not look any more vacant than he usually does. When Northern Ireland switched from PR to the straight vote, the situation remained almost precisely the same—the Unionists got one seat from Labour and the Nationalists preserved exactly the same representation.

There could have been a change in the past 30 years if there had been another system.

The Deputy is speaking about an entirely irrelevant situation.

What about Derry, where the Nationalists had 60 per cent of the electorate—

"Too late have I loved thee." You hated all that lot.

Let me inform Deputy L'Estrange that the situation in Derry was due to gerrymander which you can have just as well under PR as the straight vote. There was no difference in Northern Ireland under PR and under the straight vote, so that matter is entirely irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the only system which has been able to produce a succession of coherent, cohesive Governments.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 5 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 26th March, 1968.