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.