(Cavan): In the position in which we find ourselves, following the steamrolling through this House by the Government, with their majority, of the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution Bills, we are now faced with a referendum on these Bills. That cannot be avoided unless the Bills are withdrawn by the Government. It is therefore necessary that a Referendum (Amendment) Bill should be introduced.
I am glad to hear the Minister saying that he is not tied to the explanation about the two Bills contained in the Appendix, and that he is prepared to listen to any suggestions made to alter those explanations, as I call them, at a later stage. I should like, first of all, to deal with the explanation, or the paper, which will be sent out explaining the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The object of that card, and the object of the explanation which will appear on the ballot paper and in the polling booths, should be to qualify the position and to use language which will convey to the voter exactly what the proposal is. I have to say that the language used in the Appendix in reference to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, is, in my opinion, calculated to confuse and to deceive. The green paper explanation will read as follows: The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, proposes to substitute for the present system of voting at Dáil elections the straight vote system in single member constituencies. Now, this description of the spot vote or the first past the post system as the straight vote system is simply and solely an invention of the Minister to give a respectable description to this system—to describe it as "the straight vote system" when, in effect, it is anything but straight and is, in fact, a crooked and unfair system of election.
There is nothing in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill describing this as the straight vote. In Part II of the Schedule to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, it is stated that the members shall be elected on the relative majority system by means of the single non-transferable vote. This is the description of it there—a single non-transferable vote. This single non-transferable vote system is described in a couple of ways in the Report of the Committee on the Constitution, December, 1967, this Report the Minister does not like quoted at him and does not like to discuss. It is described there as the first-past-the-post system. It is also described, at page 115 of the Report, as "the spot vote which is used in British elections".
It is obvious to me that the introduction into this explanation of the word "straight" is not a mistake and is not just a coincidence. It is an effort by the Minister to dress-up this unfair "relative majority system", "first-past-the-post system", "the spot system", in language that will convey to the electors that it is fair and straight and honest because the words "straight and honest" go hand in hand in the ordinary everyday language of the man in the street here.
How any system could be described as straight in regard to elections which propose to represent a person who receives 30 per cent or 35 per cent of the votes as representing a majority of the people in his constituency is a mystery. That is the system the Government are now trying to force on the people of this country. It is anything but "straight". It is anything but fair. It could be described, if one sought to describe it in terms which would suggest merit or demerit, right or wrong, as unfair—"the unfair vote" rather than "the `straight' vote".
I am very much against the use of those words "straight vote" to describe this system. I cannot get it in the discussion which took place in the Committee: it is described there as the "first past the post system". It is also described and officially described in Great Britain as "the spot vote". I therefore propose to put down an amendment on Committee Stage to alter that description.
I think reference to proportional representation should be made in the description, too. Reference should be made to the abolition of the system of proportional representation and the substitution of "the spot vote" or the first past the post system.
As I say, this is a matter which can more properly be dealt with on Committee Stage. I want to serve notice on the Minister that I am making a charge that these two words, "straight" and "honest", are calculated to deceive and will in fact deceive, that they are calculated to mislead and will in fact mislead, that they are calculated to present a dishonest system of voting as an honest system of voting.
On the ballot paper dealing with the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, it is stated that the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, proposes that in forming Dáil constituencies the population per Deputy in any case may not vary by more than one-sixth of the national average. In Part II of the Schedule to the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill it is clearer. Actually, what is happening is made clearer in the Schedule because it is stated that none of the quotients shall be greater, or less, than the average by more than one-sixth.
I think it should be made clear in the explanation which is to be given to the voters that the Government may, in one constituency, go one-sixth above the national average and, in another constituency, may go one-sixth under it. I do not think that is clear in the explanation which it is proposed to give. I propose to consider that further, between now and Committee Stage, and to put down an amendment.
It is very unfortunate that it should be necessary to introduce this Bill and to discuss it. It is necessary only because the Government have refused to accept the clear answer given by the people in 1959 that they are quite satisfied with the system that we have and, indeed, the present President is on record as saying that this is simply a manoeuvre with the system so as to get Party advantage.
What we are doing now is introducing a Bill to enable the Minister to try to persuade the people to change the system so as to get Party advantage. As reported in Volume 67 of the Official Report of Dáil Éireann, column 1344, the present President stated here on 1st June, 1937:
My view is that it is better, when dealing with fundamental law, with the right to vote and how the vote shall be exercised, to define, and take away from Parties the temptation to manoeuvre with systems so as to get Party advantage.
That is clearly the Minister's object in introducing this Bill. If the other two Bills had not already been passed by the Government majority in this House, I would certainly vote against this on Second Reading, but when these Bills have been passed and when the Government have decided to steamroll their opinion through the House by their majority obtained since the last election, we should do everything we can to make the issue as clear as possible for the people.
As I have stated, neither of the explanations of the Third Amendment or the Fourth Amendment as contained in the Bill at present will clarify the position for the electorate. On the one hand, the synopsis of the Third Amendment is not clear: it does not make it clear that the one-sixth tolerance, as the Minister calls it, goes either way. Certainly the synopsis of the Fourth Amendment describing this unjust, inequitable, unfair and undemocratic system as the straight vote is, in my opinion, a grave abuse of the English language and a grave abuse of words. I propose therefore to try to improve the synopsis of each Bill on the next Stage.