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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1968

Vol. 236 No. 2

An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1968: An Chéim Dheiridh (Atógáil). Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968: Fifth Stage (Resumed).

Tairgeadh arís an cheist: "Go rith-fidh an Bille anois."
Question again proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

On the last occasion I had dealt with a number of points raised on this stage of the Bill, and at the insistent request of Fine Gael Deputies, and Deputy Dillon in particular, I was going on to deal with the question as to why it was that PR was included in the 1937 Constitution. Apparently it is one of the main planks in the Opposition's programme to oppose these proposed constitutional reforms that this was included in the new Constitution in 1937. I have already pointed out to the Opposition that what was being done in 1937 was of great national importance. The enactment by the people of the new Constitution was the culminating point of the first phase of the existence of the Fianna Fáil organisation.

Apparently it is necessary to remind the Opposition once again that Fianna Fáil was set up specifically to get rid of the degrading Irish Free State which was established here by force by the Party we replaced as the Government in 1932.

(Cavan): And accepted by the Minister and his Party after a Civil War fought to object to it.

It was forced on the country—that is what I said.

(Cavan): Why did you not accept it in 1922 instead of 1927?

This degrading position was accepted——

(Cavan): By the Fianna Fáil Party.

——by the precursors of the present Fine Gael Party.

Another Minister said we should not have left the Commonwealth.

I do not know any Minister who said that.

The Minister for Education.

I am quite satisfied that no Minister said any such thing.

He advised others not to do as we did.

The soldiers of destiny have become the Queen's men now.

Whether we have or not, I am dealing with the specific point now that the opportunity was not taken at that time to ask the people to make this electoral reform. I want to remind Deputies of exactly what we were doing in asking the people to enact that new Constitution. All the other limitations on our sovereignty had been removed one by one and, with the replacement of the foreign imposed Constitution, there was only one thing left of this kind to be achieved. Admittedly that was the most difficult thing; to regain the part of our national territory which was signed away in an act of unparalleled treachery by the present Opposition Party.

The enactment of the Constitution in itself was of fundamental national importance. I am sure many Deputies will remember the fierce opposition there was at that time from both sections of the present Opposition to the enactment by the people of that new Constitution. They will remember the grim determination there was at that time to hang on to the status of a British dominion. The Fine Gael Party were not satisfied to oppose it by misrepresentation and by their normal political activities. They actually started a Fascist movement here in an effort to defeat it and to defeat the whole system of democracy.

(Cavan):——to preserve free speech, which you set out to abolish.

This was all for the purpose of hanging on to the status of a British dominion. They will also remember the insidious attempts to organise every possible sectional group in opposition to some specific provision of the Constitution and they even went so far as to try to organise the women's vote against it on the ridiculous pretext that it was intended to confine women to the home.

(Cavan): The former Leader of your Party tried to get the women's vote by telling them to get their husbands back to work.

That was another time—and I know it is another sore point with Deputies opposite. In those circumstances, when there was such an important national objective to be accomplished and when the Opposition was so fierce and so unscrupulous, it obviously would have been foolish in the extreme to jeopardise the attainment of the national objective of getting rid of British domination in this country—which was accepted as an ultimate settlement in 1922—by asking the people to make this electoral reform at the same time. Despite the fact that, at that time, this was official Fine Gael policy, we know that, so great was their attachment to the British connection, the mere dealing with the electoral system in accordance with their wishes at that time would not have been sufficient to lessen in any way their opposition to the replacement of the Irish Free State Constitution by the Constitution of 1937. This was, as Deputies opposite will remember, described as the final act of breaking the Treaty.

Clearly, then, the enactment of the Constitution in 1937 was a case of doing first things first. Since then, the evils of the present electoral system that we have here have gradually become more and more apparent. We have seen what has resulted from similar systems in many parts of Europe and our people here have also had two experiences of what results from a Coalition Government. Luckily, they were two short experiences because the people were lucky to have had a solid and united Fianna Fáil Party to fall back on.

What about the five independents? Does the Minister remember 1951?

Yes. I was not here then but I am quite sure, as I have said before, that it must have been a very uncomfortable position indeed——

I agree.

——to be dependent on people such as they. The fact that that had to be done is, in itself, an argument against the present system.

(Cavan): Especially when they were expensive.

Another point which is in some way, possibly, related to what has been raised here is the question of the situation in the north-eastern part of this country which, again, of course, is in existence because of the connivance of the Opposition Party with the British in its establishment.

The straight vote was gerrymandered.

It has been maintained here that the electoral system we propose enabled the Government in the north-eastern part of this country to entrench themselves in their present position. In actual fact, the system we have here was in existence up there up to 1929. Prior to 1929, under the present system of multi-member constituencies with the transferable vote, the position was that there were 37 Government members as against 15 non-Government members. But, in the first election fought there under the present system, that position was changed to 35 Unionist members as against 17—so in actual fact the change in the electoral system there, so far from having the effect Deputies opposite said it had, had something of the reverse effect.

The fact is that the situation in that part of the country is completely different from what it is here. The boundary of the area was, with the co-operation of the Party opposite, skilfully drawn to ensure that it would be possible for the majority there to arrange, under any electoral system, for their perpetuation in power. The situation is completely different there, where the majority and the minority consist respectively of those who want to maintain the British connection and those who are anxious for independence and to be united with the rest of their own country—and, of course, the main Opposition Party here are deeply implicated in the establishment of that position.

Deputy L'Estrange devoted a large part of his speech on this stage of the Bill to the subject matter of Partition generally. I do not think I should co-operate with him in going any further into it beyond saying that the Opposition Party are very deeply implicated in the establishment of that position here.

Deputy Dunne had some sarcastic remarks to make about what he describes as "strong government"— apparently wanting to imply that somebody from these benches has advocated government of this type. As reported at column 1797 of the Official Report of Dáil Éireann of 26th June, 1968, Deputy Dunne said:

Who says the first essential is strong government? The vested interest says it first: the person who is a bit fearful that the social system may so change as to alter his status in society: He is the first to look for strong government.

Further down in his speech, Deputy Dunne is reported as saying:

The bulk of the Irish people are people of little or no property.

Deputy Dunne knows well that nobody —certainly on this side of the House— has advocated the type of government he describes. Nobody here is in any way interested in strong government in that sense. However, we do very definitely suggest to the people that they need a coherent and responsible Government. They need a Government with a consistent policy, a Government they can decide upon at election time and whom they can hold responsible for the manner in which they conduct the affairs of the country after the election. If the system is such as to prevent them from choosing their actual Government at election time—I think it is admitted the present system is designed to do just that—and if, instead of being able to choose a Government at election time, they get, instead, a Government of individuals or of small groups in which, in the immortal words of the vice-Chairman of the Labour Party, each member of the Government will be watching for the opportunity to spring a trap on his colleagues, then, if that situation develops, it will, we say to the people, prove as disastrous as it did before. The point is that, once that situation develops of elections producing a large number of small groups, it will be too late for the people to do anything about it: it will be too late to make any change.

We do not advocate strong government of the type Deputy Dunne describes but we do say that wise guidance is necessary to preserve and to improve the position of the people —and it is the people whom he describes as people of no property who feel most keenly and most immediately the effects of ineffective and inconsistent government based on day-to-day expediency and on the ebb and flow of Coalition manoeuvring. For example, in 1956-57 the first to be hit by the collapse of the economy were the workers, the building workers in the first instance, and then it spread right through the economy to every type of employment. We have no hesitation in saying to the people, in particular to the people of no property, as Deputy Dunne described them, that it is essential for them to have responsible and consistent government which they can hold responsible and which they can replace in the next election if they see fit. The present system prevents that and the Opposition speeches have been, in fact, a tacit admission that even though the worst splintering effects of the system have not been felt here still the situation is that the only alternative to the present Government is another coalition government such as proved so disastrous on the two previous occasions it came into operation here.

I suppose in view of the amount of talk which we have had from the Opposition about it I had better make some reference to the incursions into the realms of fantasy by the famous television professors. The poverty of the Opposition case is shown by the fact that they have to get normally intelligent and rational men like them to indulge in this kind of ridiculous exercise. However, I intend to deal with it a lot more briefly than the Opposition did as I do not think it really merits serious consideration. Deputy Donegan appeared to be impressed almost as much by this fanciful forecast of a large majority being permanently achieved by the Fianna Fáil Party under the proposed system as he was by the equally silly projection of the Fine Gael Senators of the possible results under the present system. All I would like to say about that is long may they continue to dissipate their energy in this type of useless activity. The projection of 95 or 100 seats, or whatever it was, by these people only serves to show the nonsense people can produce when they pontificate on something about which they know nothing. I do not believe that any of these people ever did a day's electioneering in their lives. Certainly nobody knows what the position will be.

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

I was dealing with this forecast on which the Opposition rely so heavily, the fanciful forecast of certain otherwise eminent gentlemen on television with regard to what they pretend to consider the likely results of the system which we propose. As I was about to say, the constituencies have not yet been delineated nor has the Commission which will do this yet been formed, so nobody knows what the constituencies will be and nobody knows who the candidates in individual constituencies will be. In any case, so far as we are concerned, and I think the same would apply to other Parties, information about the distribution of support in different constituencies is just not available and therefore one cannot say what the results of an election would be under the system. Certainly the results of the local elections on which this forecast was supposed to be based are completely irrelevant and in any case Fine Gael have been claiming they won these local elections. If they won the local elections how they can then prove they are going to be wiped out under the new system, on an investigation supposed to be based on the local elections, just beats me. For anybody to base a forecast of the results of the next general election on results in areas which varied widely in population, varied from a population as low as 3,603 up to areas with a population of 51,772, and in view of the fact that the Constitution requires at present strict parity of population per Deputy and even if the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill was passed it would still require comparatively close parity of population per Deputy—for anybody to base a forecast on such diverse areas as that in an election decided on local issues and local personalities is foolish in the extreme.

As far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we know if the next election is fought under the present system, we will be the Government; we believe we will win under the system we propose but this can be no more than a guess. In so far as the future is concerned we have confidence that we will continue to retain the support of the majority of the people but this is in the future and it is unknown. We would not be so foolhardy as to forecast that we would always remain in Government under this or any other system. However, there is one thing sure and that is we are not afraid of circumstances in which there will be a clear confrontation between the different Parties for each seat in the Dáil and I might say neither is the Leader of the main Opposition Party or a substantial number of the Members of his Party. I believe that the majority against the proposal in the main Opposition Party is one.

The Minister is asking us not to suppose anything but he is supposing quite a lot.

It is a fact that the Labour Party accept their role for all time as the role of a minority but that is their business.

There is another point to which I wish to refer briefly in order to point out that what was said in regard to it was completely incorrect. I refer to the question of the members of the Committee on the Constitution who contributed to this debate. Five Fianna Fáil Deputies served at different times on that Committee. I think it was Deputy Fitzpatrick who alleged that only one of these had indicated his support for the Government's proposals. In fact each of the five has done that; four have done it here in the debate and one has done it outside. The Fianna Fáil members who served on that Committee were the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Colley, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Davern, Deputy Andrews, Deputy Molloy and, for a short time, Deputy Seán Lemass. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Andrews and Deputy Molloy all spoke here in support of these proposals and, although Deputy Lemass did not speak in the House, he did express his opinions outside and they were published in the papers. On the other hand, there were three Fine Gael Deputies members of this Committee and only one of them spoke here although we know there was an all-out effort by the Fine Gael Whips to compel as many as possible to come in here and speak. They succeeded in getting 21 members of the Party to come in here on the Second Stage——

Again only hearsay.

——and a large number also on the other stages, but they succeeded in getting only one out of the three who were members of the Committee to speak in the House. Needless to say I do not know what happened in the discussions this Committee had. Deputy Fitzpatrick was not, I think, a member but he claims to know everything that went on. So do various other members of the Fine Gael Party. Whether that is mere pretence or whether it is a fact that the members of the Committee did purport to disclose what occurred——

(Cavan): Read the report intelligently.

He is not able to.

——I do not know, but it seems to me it is purely Deputy Fitzpatrick's imagination at work because, on the one hand, he says the system we propose was not discussed at all and, on the other hand, he says arguments against it were made. How arguments could be made against something that was not discussed I cannot understand.

(Cavan): Obviously the Minister has not read the report.

It is quite obvious that at that Committee the effort naturally was to try to see if some agreement could be reached. Agreement was not reached and we were left, therefore, to formulate our own proposals and we formulated those proposals and put forward the best proposals we could for an electoral system.

It is alleged that the system we propose will give rise to a large number of what are described as "safe seats". I have already pointed out that it is much easier to have "safe seats" under the present system and it is a fact that some Deputies scrape up a quota of votes in different ways throughout a large constituency and look upon their seats as being "safe seats" which is largely responsible for the very narrow majority in opposition to our proposals at the Fine Gael Party meeting. The Fine Gael speakers alleged that Fianna Fáil will have a large number of "safe seats" and they alleged that what they describe as the "Party bosses" would send down people from Dublin to acquire these "safe seats". It is obvious that Fine Gael are obsessed with their own Party's procedure. We have not got Party political bosses. Our conventions are conducted in a democratic way. It is the local people who select the candidates and the assumption that the electorate would elect people who were put before them by Party bosses is, of course, based on the normal Fine Gael attitude of looking upon the people as politically immature and incapable of considering the relevant issues at an election. Deputy Tully gave the same indication. He also alleged that the Fianna Fáil Party would send down a nominee to a safe constituency. I can assure Deputies opposite that it is because we have more respect for the intelligence of the people than that that we have continued to retain the people's support and it is largely because of their contempt for the intelligence of the people that they are where they are. We do not look upon the people as being, as Deputy Hogan (South Tipperary) said, hidebound by tradition, which means, in fact, unfit to operate the democratic system. If anybody showed his interest in a safe seat it was Deputy James Tully who, when I was describing what must inevitably happen in his particular part of the country if our proposals are not accepted and an adjustment has to be made between County Meath and County Louth by the transfer of part of County Meath to County Louth, interjected at column 853 of the Official Report of 28th May, 1968, and said:

Do that, please. It would be a nice cushy seat for me.

That is a very poor effort, I must say.

Deputy Tully alleged this was a threat by me. In fact, I was merely pointing out that, unless the proposal we are making is adopted, some adjustment such as I have outlined will have to be made, but the only point Deputy Tully was capable of seeing was the possibility of what he described as a "cushy seat" for himself and he was very quick to see that and stake his claim. I was not making any threat.

The man who dug up that quotation had very little to do.

I do not know in what way the complexities of that situation will be dealt with, but it is quite obvious that that is one of the possibilities. It was not a threat. Neither was what I said with regard to the possibilities in Donegal a threat, as Deputy Harte alleged. Deputy Harte took four columns of the Official Report of 27th June alleging that I made a threat. I quoted what Deputy Harte said on 3rd April, 1968, at column 1722 of the Official Report:

We have at the present time two constituencies which are sending three Deputies to the House and, if commonsense is to be observed, and if the Constitution is to be honoured, it should be one constituency sending back five Deputies. This will be conceded by anybody with limited intelligence who devotes any time to the political scene in Donegal.

All I did was to point out to Deputy Harte that he was, in fact, demanding that Donegal should lose one Deputy and, in order for that to be done, a transfer of a substantial portion of the population of Donegal to Sligo-Leitrim would have to be made because the population of Donegal is 108,549 and that is below the minimum population required for six Deputies and above the maximum allowable for five Deputies. Therefore, if what Deputy Harte demanded is to be done in Donegal, that inevitably involves the transferring of part of the population out of the county to some other constituency. That was not a threat. That was merely a factual indication of what must be done to comply with his requirement and, indeed, to comply with the requirements of the Constitution at present. I went on then to point out that this was not necessary from the point of view of the number of voters, that there was, in fact, substantially more than the national average of voters per Deputy in the county of Donegal to justify the present representation there. However, that can be dealt with at a more appropriate time during the campaign when both Deputy Harte's and Deputy O'Donnell's constituents will be let know just exactly what their representatives are proposing to do in regard to the County Donegal.

I do not think that it is really necessary for me to deal again with the question of the outstanding achievement of Fianna Fáil in winning six out of seven by-elections, although Deputies opposite dealt at quite considerable length with this matter, or indeed, I do not think there is any need for me to defend the voluntary personnel who assist Fianna Fáil at these elections. We are proud of the fact that it has been one of the main sources of strength of our organisation that there are always people of high ideals who are ready to come and assist us in a voluntary capacity at election time.

(Cavan): The Minister means that these people have their sights trained very high.

We have never been in the position of either of the Opposition Parties of being able to pay workers on election day. Nobody ever saw after an election a Fianna Fáil candidate standing up and peeling off pound notes paying his workers, and we would not be able to do it. We have never been in a position to do it and, thank God, we were always able to get voluntary workers to do our work for us.

(Cavan): I saw one of the porters from the Custom House outside Raheny school on the day of an election.

Neither have we descended to the disreputable tactics of the Fine Gael Party in importing into by-election constituencies, not just for election day, but for the whole duration of the campaign, special people for the purpose of disrupting election meetings as well as destroying election posters, and so on, throughout the campaign and generally introducing an element of disorder into the whole elections. As Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Donegan know, these people usually operate under the direct control of Senator FitzGerald on these occasions and they are directed in their disorderly activities by him.

On a point of order, is the Minister suggesting that Senator FitzGerald imports disreputable people to break up election meetings during by-election campaigns? I think that would be a disorderly remark and it is quite untrue. Senator FitzGerald never did anything like that. It is not in his nature.

I said that these people act under his personal direction and they carry out the activities of disrupting meetings and so on under his personal direction because I have seen them in operation. I have seen that happening.

This is quite untrue.

(Cavan): It is easily known that Deputy Donegan has not been sitting in during the Minister's speech. Otherwise, he would not be surprised.

On the day of the by-election Senator FitzGerald spent the day going around with a van feeding all the workers with tea and sandwiches and I went with him.

Then you are as guilty as he is.

What is wrong with that? What is wrong with bringing tea and sandwiches to the workers?

He directs them in their activities of disrupting election meetings and pulling down election posters.

(Cavan): We do not employ civil servants at public expense.

These are people imported specially into every constituency in which there is a by-election, for this purpose and this purpose alone. Against that, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been objecting to the fact that a few voluntary workers come from various places to help us.

Some nice ornaments.

(Cavan): City architects and people like that.

A few hundred rate collectors, under threat of dismissal.

Any workers we have are voluntary and any funds we have are voluntarily subscribed. We have never descended to the methods that the Labour Party have used to get control of moneys that were subscribed in the main by people who do not vote for them.

What about the Donegal Mafia? Have you ever heard of those fellows?

There are some very effective voluntary workers who came from Donegal, as Deputy Donegan and Deputy Fitzpatrick know to their cost.

Another matter that was raised here was the question of the cost of this referendum. The actual carrying out of the referendum will cost a certain amount of money but, as I pointed out, first of all, it is obvious that it is fully justified to achieve the benefits of the system we propose and to get rid of the dangers of the system that we have but, quite apart from that, it is obvious that if the proposals we make are adopted by the people, all this cost will be very quickly recovered. In fact, it will be recovered by the reduced cost of by-elections in the period of any one Dáil.

The British Parliament set up a Royal Commission to consider the question of introducing the system that we have into their elections and, like sensible people, they rejected the suggestion but one of the main objections that they saw to our present system was the disproportionate effort and expense that would be involved in by-elections under the system and, of course, it is obvious that the effort and expense that is called for in by-elections under the present system is disproportionate to the task that has to be performed.

The elections are held over large scattered constituencies. Whereas, under our system, the elections will take place over constituencies only a fraction of the present size. In addition to that, the effort, of course, of all Parties has to be correspondingly greater and the people of these large constituencies are being asked to go to the polls to replace a fraction of their representation whereas, under the system we propose, at a by-election the task of the people in a smaller area, an area a fraction of the present size, would be to elect their total representation. So that, the cost involved would, obviously, be very quickly recovered in the reduced cost of by-elections, apart from anything else.

I think I have probably spent enough time dealing with the points that were made on this Stage of the Bill because I feel they were made largely for the purpose of delaying its passage rather than for any other reason.

(Cavan): The Taoiseach tried to get the Minister to conclude last week and he would not.

We were asked why we decided to put this proposal before the people. In the first instance, we considered it necessary, particularly in view of the debate on the revision of constituencies in 1961 and the unanimous demand of the Opposition Parties at that time, to ask the people to amend the constitutional requirements with regard to strict parity of population per Deputy. That was necessary in order to avoid injustice to the people in different parts of the country. Having taken the decision that there should be a referendum at any rate, the question of the electoral system naturally came up for consideration. There was the fact that there had been a substantial change in the electorate since 1959, that there had been more experience of the present system since then and more examples of its disruptive and unstable effect in other countries. There had been the example of the long recounts here. There had been a considerable amount of speculation at least as to whether or not there would be a move made to provide ourselves with a more rational system of election. In addition, we had recommendations from our own Party Ard-Fheis to make this move.

These things were allied to our own conviction that the present system being designed to provide representation for small minorities therefore was also designed to foster the formation of minority Parties and our conviction that this must eventually have the same splintering effect that similar systems have had in other countries. We were convinced that it was only a matter of time until that situation developed here. Obviously, once it develops, it is then too late to give the people an opportunity of getting rid of the system. The inherent disadvantages of the system of multi-member constituencies; the evils it gives rise to and the dangers inherent in it; the corresponding advantages to public morale and to the better representation of the people involved in single-seat constituencies and since a referendum had been decided on at any rate—all this decided us to give the people an opportunity of warding off the inevitable result of the present system.

Our proposal to the people arises from these facts—from the fact that we believe the main purpose of an election is to enable the people to choose their own Government. Obviously, any system in which you have a large number of small sectional Parties will make it impossible for the people to do this. It is our belief that it is fundamental in the system of democracy that the people should in fact be able at election time to choose the policies to be operated by the Government and it should be feasible for them to hold the Government responsible for their actions at the next election. It is obvious that, if Governments are only to be formed on the basis of whatever arrangement it is possible to make after elections, the policy of that Government—if any—will never have been before the people and that it will be based on the policy of day-to-day expediency and what results from the considerations of a Government in which, as the vice-chairman of the Labour Party said, the different members are watching for the opportunity of "springing the trap" on their colleagues.

Our decision was also based on our belief that instability in Government inevitably gives rise to economic recession. I think that has been demonstrated here. We believe that if it becomes impossible for the people to actually choose their Government, democracy has been a failure. Indeed, I think the Opposition see this because a large part of their speeches here consisted of a rather pathetic plea for a continuation of a situation in which the formation of Coalition Governments will be possible.

A system of single-seat constituencies will obviously, over a period of time at least, result in good and effective representation for the people. A Deputy will no longer be able to hide the fact he is not giving service because some of his colleagues are dealing with the interests of his constituents. Because the areas Deputies will have to deal with will be of more reasonable size it will be possible for them to give attention to local matters that need their attention and at the same time, because of the smaller amount of time it will be necessary to spend on this type of activity, Deputies will be able to give more attention to their more important business as Members of this House.

I have also pointed out before that the present system, in which there is competition for the same votes between a number of Deputies, is bad for public morale. There is a built-in incentive for Deputies to try and curry favour with the electorate by pretending that things which are available to them because of statutory provisions made by this House are in fact obtained by virtue of the effectiveness of representations made by public representatives. This is to a certain extent a belief in corruption. It is not true that this position obtains, but it does have a bad effect on the public morale generally.

This system we are proposing is obviously the fairest one because there will be a clear choice in each constituency. The people will be able to see clearly what is being put before them. I cannot see that any Party can have any complaint because every Party will be contesting each constituency on an even footing. The candidates will be standing on their own feet. There will be no opportunity for anybody to be elected because of the surplus of a particularly popular candidate of his own Party. In addition, the proposal in this Bill will establish for the first time in this country the fundamental democratic principle of one-man, one-vote. It will get rid of the present system which discriminates unjustifiably between different members of the electorate.

I have dealt with the allegation that this must inevitably result in a perpetuation of Fianna Fáil government and I do not think it is worth while referring to it again. This proposal is not being made in the interests of the Fianna Fáil Party. The history of the State has shown that it is not required for the interests of Fianna Fáil. But it is obvious that the tendency for the Opposition to fragment into small Parties is developing again. We do not know how many Parties Fine Gael is going to split into. It is obvious that when a situation of a large number of small Parties develops, it will be too late to do anything about it. Those in Fine Gael who are not completely demoralised by their long experience of defeat agree with our proposal. It just so happens that they are temporarily and indeed narrowly out-numbered. The attitude to this debate was well indicated by Deputy Murphy of the Labour Party who, at column 1701 of the Dáil Debates of the 26th June, had this to say:

Let us hope that what is in the Bill and what is not in the Bill will not matter.

I think it is obvious that the decision to oppose the Bill is not based on what is in it or not in it; it is based on the consistent attitude of the Opposition Parties of opposing proposals by Fianna Fáil purely and simply because they are put forward by Fianna Fáil. I think it is significant that the Leader of the main Opposition Party adheres to the traditional view of his own Party. He stands where his father stood on the foundation of the Fine Gael Party in 1933. I quoted the extract from the published programme of the Fine Gael Party in 1933.

(Cavan):“The system we have we know. The people know it and on the whole it has worked well”—the President speaking on 1st June, 1937.

No. That was not it. I have already put it on record in this debate. Point 7 of the Declaration of Policy of the Fine Gael Party which was set up in 1933 was "the abolition of the proportional representation system so as to secure the more effective democratic control of national policy and to establish closer personal relationship between parliamentary representatives and their constituents." I also showed that this was still Fine Gael Party policy in 1937 and it was still their policy in 1947 and the first indication of change from that was in 1959. The only obvious reason was that in 1959 we proposed to give the people the opportunity of making the change that Fine Gael had been advocating all through the period of their existence and that indeed the old Cumann na nGaedheal Party had been advocating prior to their demise.

In case Deputy Fitzpatrick might think this is an exaggeration and that it was only with the advent of Fine Gael that this plan and programme was adopted, I want to quote from a paper known as "An Réalt", the Star, A National Weekly Review— which was the official organ of the old Cumann na nGaedhael Party which was later transformed into Fine Gael. In the issue of Saturday, May 10th, 1930, was an article headed "Faults of Proportional Representation".

One of the factors which has delayed normal political development in the Saorstat is our bad electoral system. The particular form of Proportional Representation which is in force here is perhaps not so bad as that in force in Germany but that is the best that can be said about it. It has all the ineradicable faults which attach to the system. It may be added that such faults have manifested themselves in every country in which Proportional Representation has been tried. Both before the outbreak of the Great War and after its close a great many nations enshrined the principle of proportional representation in their electoral codes. For a while theorisers and faddists succeeded in pushing their views in many countries, with the result stated. Proportional Representation has proved to be like prohibition in two respects. Those who have had experience of it and who are prepared to judge it impartially are satisfied that on the whole its results are evil but vested interests have quickly grown up around it which renders its abolition difficult. In our case Proportional Representation was thrust upon the country by the British. Generously subsidised propagandist societies had, for a long time, been at work in the neighbouring country endeavouring to persuade the people there to abandon an electoral system which in its main outline had been in existence since parliament was first established. The British people, or at any rate certain sections of them, were interested but not convinced. When the Home Rule Bill establishing two Parliaments in Ireland was passed these kind people arranged, on the policy of trying it on the dog, that the new Parliaments should be elected on the principle of Proportional Representation.

When was that?

On 10th May, 1930. That was the old Cumann na nGaedheal Party organ.

(Cavan):“...We have to be very grateful that we have had the system of proportional representation here,” said President de Valera as reported in Volume 67, at column 1343.

The people who actually accepted the British proposed Constitution themselves in 1922 were in 1930 saying that PR was thrust upon the country by the British. I think the people who were in control of Cumann na nGaedheal at that time were in a much better position to know exactly how this system came to be enforced here than people like Deputy Fitzpatrick who maintain that we adopted this of our own free will.

It is also interesting to see that Deputy Dillon did not, in fact, invent this phrase of "trying it out on the dog" and that when he expressed this opinion in 1947 he was quoting an official Cumann na nGaedheal publication of 17 years previously.

(Cavan): Tell us what the President said in 1937.

The Leader of the Fine Gael Party in being in favour of the proposal we make now is being entirely consistent. He is adhering to the policy of the old Cumann na nGaedheal Party in 1930 and of the Fine Gael Party right up to some time between 1947 and 1959. This, then, is not necessarily in Fianna Fáil's interest alone; it is in the interests of whatever Party the people will choose in conditions in which it will be possible for them to make a clear choice.

I do not think it reasonable for Deputies to insinuate that Deputy Cosgrave wants to perpetuate the Fianna Fáil Party in Government. I think the fact is that he sees that what we are proposing is the right thing for the country and that despite the long history of defeat in the Fine Gael Party, he is still capable of deciding questions on their merits rather than indulging in blind and unreasoning opposition, and so far from its being an indication that he wants to perpetuate Fianna Fáil in office, it is an indication that he has sufficient sense of responsibility and honesty of purpose and confidence in his own judgement to agree with the Government when he believes they are right and that unlike the majority of his Party, he has the moral courage to say so. It is also an indication that he still retains some hope that at some time in the future it will be possible to instil some backbone into the Party he leads. I think it is obvious from the debate here that the Fine Gael Party are gradually coming around to the point of view of the Leader of the Party and that when this referendum goes to the country, Deputy Cosgrave will have his way in spite of the Party he leads.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 66; Níl, 56.

  • Allen, Lorcan.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Barrett, Sylvester.
  • Blaney, Neil T.
  • Boland, Kevin.
  • Booth, Lionel.
  • Boylan, Terence.
  • Brady, Philip.
  • Brennan, Joseph.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, Partick.
  • Burke, Patrick J.
  • Calleary, Phelim A.
  • Carter, Frank.
  • Carty, Michael.
  • Childers, Erskine.
  • Clohessy, Patrick.
  • Colley, George.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Cotter, Edward.
  • Crinion, Brendan.
  • Cronin, Jerry.
  • Crowley, Flor.
  • Cunningham, Liam.
  • Davern, Don.
  • de Valera, Vivion.
  • Dowling, Joe.
  • Egan, Nicholas.
  • Fahey, John.
  • Fanning, John.
  • Faulkner, Pádraig.
  • Fitzpatrick, Thomas J.
  • (Dublin South-Central).
  • Flanagan, Seán.
  • Foley, Desmond.
  • French, Seán.
  • Gallagher, James.
  • Geoghegan, John.
  • Gibbons, Hugh.
  • Gibbons, James M.
  • Gilbride, Eugene.
  • Gogan, Richard P.
  • Haughey, Charles.
  • Healy, Augustine A.
  • Hillery, Patrick J.
  • Hilliard, Michael.
  • Kenneally, William.
  • Kennedy, James J.
  • Kitt, Michael F.
  • Lalor, Patrick J.
  • Lemass, Noel T.
  • Lemass, Seán.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Patrick.
  • Lynch, John.
  • Meaney, Tom.
  • Millar, Anthony G.
  • Mooney, Patrick.
  • Moore, Seán.
  • Moran, Michael.
  • Nolan, Thomas.
  • Norton, Patrick.
  • Ó Ceallaigh, Seán.
  • O'Connor, Timothy.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Smith, Patrick.


  • Barrett, Stephen D.
  • Barry, Richard.
  • Belton, Paddy.
  • Burke, Joan T.
  • Burton, Philip.
  • Byrne, Patrick.
  • Clinton, Mark A.
  • Cluskey, Frank.
  • Collins, Seán.
  • Dillon, James M.
  • Dockrell, Henry P.
  • Dockrell, Maurice E.
  • Donegan, Patrick S.
  • Donnellan, John.
  • Dunne, Seán.
  • Dunne, Thomas.
  • Esmonde, Sir Anthony C.
  • Farrelly, Denis.
  • Fitzpartick, Thomas J.
  • (Cavan).
  • Flanagan, Oliver J.
  • Gilhawley, Eugene.
  • Governey, Desmond.
  • Harte, Patrick D.
  • Hogan, Patrick (Clare).
  • Hogan, Patrick
  • (South Tipperary).
  • Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.
  • Jones, Denis F.
  • Connor, Patrick.
  • Coogan, Fintan.
  • Corish, Brendan.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Costello, John A.
  • Coughlan, Stephen.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Patrick J.
  • Desmond, Eileen.
  • Kenny, Henry.
  • Kyne, Thomas A.
  • L'Estrange, Gerald.
  • Lindsay, Patrick J.
  • McLaughlin, Joseph.
  • Murphy, Michael P.
  • O'Connell, John F.
  • O,Donnell, Patrick.
  • O'Donnell, Tom.
  • O'Hara, Thomas.
  • O'Higgins, Michael J.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas F.K.
  • O'Leary, Michael.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Ryan, Richie.
  • Spring, Dan.
  • Tierney, Patrick.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Treacy, Seán.
  • Tully, James.
Tellers:— Tá: Deputies Carty and Geoghegan; Níl: Deputies L'Estrange and James Tully.
Question declared carried.