Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1968: Second Stage.

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

The Bill is a short one and an explanatory memorandum has been circulated with it. I do not, therefore, propose to make a lengthy statement at this stage. If, however, Deputies wish me to clarify any of the Bill's provisions, I will be happy to do so when concluding.

Section 1 provides that polling cards at the forthcoming referenda must contain a statement, prescribed in the Bill, summarising the proposals in the Third and Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bills. The section will also enable this statement to be displayed at polling stations and will authorise presiding officers to assist illiterate, blind or otherwise physically incapacitated voters by reading out to them the prescribed summary of the proposals, asking them whether they wish to vote in favour of or against the proposals and then marking their ballot papers in accordance with the voters' answers. These arrangements are similar to those which were introduced by the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1959, in relation to the 1959 referendum.

Under existing law, the proposal which is the subject of the referendum must be stated on the ballot paper by citing, by its short title, the Bill containing the proposal passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. I have been legally advised that there is no alternative to this. It would obviously be impracticable to set out the proposal itself on the ballot paper. Furthermore, it would be extremely undesirable that the ballot paper should contain a summary or paraphrase of the proposal because of the possibility of litigation to restrain the President from signing a Bill, even after a referendum, on the grounds that the proposal as stated on the ballot paper—and, accordingly, as approved by the people—was not identical in its legal effect with that contained in the Bill.

In the circumstances, I think the House will agree that it is desirable that a simple summary of the proposals should be circulated for the information of voters, as was done in 1959. Copies of the Bills containing the proposals for the amendment of the Constitution will, of course, be made available for inspection and purchase at a cost of sixpence at all post offices so that voters can study the actual terms of the proposed amendments. The Government are not committed to using the actual summary which is set out in the Appendix to section 1 and and alterations which the House might wish to have made in it can be discussed at Committee Stage.

Section 2 provides for a revised and simplified form of ballot paper at a constitutional referendum. Unlike section 1, this section will be a permanent provision, applying to all constitutional referenda. For the reasons I have mentioned when dealing with section 1, no change can be made in the manner in which the proposal which is the subject of the Referendum is stated on the ballot paper. No change is proposed in the question put to the voter, that is: "Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?" The layout of the remainder of the ballot paper has, however, been altered and some inessential instructions omitted in an effort to make the paper itself clearer for the voter. The main changes are the provision of separate spaces for "Yes" votes and "No" votes and the linking of the voting instructions more closely with these spaces. I feel sure that the House will agree that the revised layout is a considerable improvement on the existing form.

(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.

It is vital that the issue be placed before the people in the referendum in a positive, fair and impartial manner, devoid of any tricks designed to mislead or confuse the people. We have good reason to be suspicious of the Government's intentions in regard to the manner in which this matter is being put to the people when we remember the earlier intention to put both issues, the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, on the one ballot paper. It was called at that time the package deal. Here we had an indication of an intention to compel the people to vote on the question of the abolition of PR on the one hand, the creation of the single-seat constituency and the straight vote, and on the other hand, on the matter of tolerances. Due to the public indignation over the unfair manner in which the issues were being put in this package deal, the Minister and his Government relented and they have now been forced to put the matters at issue on two different ballot papers.

As I said, it is of vital importance that the matters be put fairly and honestly without any gimmicks or trickery attached. Above all else, the wording of these ballot papers should be simple, straightforward and readily understandable to people who go to vote and who are likely to be confused by the large amount of wording on the specimen ballot paper we are debating, much of which is quite unnecessary. The ballot paper will be bilingual and this is going to make for confusion. There will be a pretty large space for the insertion of a brief reference to the Bills: for the proposals in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill given briefly, and for the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill the explanation will contain three provisions, first, to substitute for the present system of voting at Dáil elections the straight vote system in single-member constituencies and secondly, to establish a Commission to determine constituencies subject to the right of the Dáil to amend the constituencies as so determined and, thirdly, to provide that whenever the Dáil is dissolved, the outgoing Ceann Comhairle may be returned without a contest as a second Deputy for a constituency chosen by him which consists of or includes a part of the constituency he represented before the dissolution.

We consider that there is a lot of wording there which is quite unnecessary and which would tend to confuse. It is something which people cannot be expected to assimilate in the few moments one usually gets to exercise the franchise in a ballot of this kind, in the confusion of a booth and particularly late in the evening when one cannot be expected to read all this rigmarole and to comprehend it and then to mark one's ballot paper intelligently. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Fitzpatrick when he says in regard to the wording on the specimen ballot paper for the Fourth Amendment that there is a positive bias in favour of the Government's proposal. The emphasis is on the straight vote and the single-seat constituency, whereas the real issue facing the people is the abolition of proportional representation. This is the issue and there is no reference whatever to it on the specimen ballot paper. A simpler ballot paper could be designed quite easily and the issue put to the people plainly, for or against the abolition of PR, "yes" or "no". The fact that there is no reference to PR on the ballot paper is likely to confuse and it is certainly designed to try to make people forget about the main issue.

Therefore we believe that a simpler method of presentation could and should be designed. For instance, I question whether it is really necessary to have on the ballot paper in Irish and English "Place mark in one square only". This is quite unnecessary. The squares are there with the words "Tá" and "Níl", "Yes" and "No", and people should be regarded as having sufficient intelligence to know what they are doing when they are marking those squares. Another aspect to which I want to refer is this whole question of secrecy in ballots in this country. It is contained in the specimen ballot paper that the back of each ballot paper shall be numbered consecutively and the back of the counterfoil attached to it is to bear the same number and the number on the back of the ballot paper shall be printed in the smallest characters compatible with legibility. By reason of the fact that ballot papers are numbered, people are losing confidence in the absolute secrecy of the ballot. I know many people who are of the opinion, foolishly or otherwise, that the manner in which they vote can be made known and is made known to Party bosses.

I would ask the Minister to state why it is necessary to have ballot papers and counterfoils numbered at all. Are they not traceable? Is it not a fact that if one goes to the trouble, one can find out how a person voted? I know for a fact that certain political bosses in my constituency, and in other constituencies also, have hinted, thereby intimidating people, that they knew how they voted; they purported to tell them how they voted. As I said, people are losing confidence in regard to the alleged absolute secrecy of the ballot.

We question the necessity for numbering ballot papers as well as counterfoils. It is vitally important that we should be unanimous on this issue of absolute secrecy in respect of ballot papers. It is vitally important that there should be no means of finding out how a person voted. We know that certain unscrupulous people have sought to intimidate voters by alleging they could find out how they voted. It is time the numbering of ballot papers was challenged and justification sought for its continuance.

I should like to know what happens to ballot papers. How long are they held? In whose hands are they retained? Who is responsible for safeguarding them? How are they eventually disposed of? Can outsiders gain access to them? Can comparisons not be made with the counterfoils?

The main emphasis should be on the presentation of a simple and easily understandable ballot paper. There should be no ambiguity; there should be no attempt to mislead. The issue here is a simple one and we will see to it on the hustings over the next few months that the issue is not clouded, despite the trickery involved in this specimen ballot paper and the emphasis on the alleged straight vote. Proportional representation is the issue. There is no reference to this intrinsic principle enshrined in our Constitution and it is right that there should be a suitable amendment to clarify the matter. If the straight vote must enter into the ballot paper, then equally proportional representation should also be mentioned.

I am pleased to see that cards will be issued containing a summary of the proposals in regard to the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. It is vitally important that the information on these cards should be clear and that people should be alerted to the fact that the Government are seeking to abolish proportional representation and replace it with the straight vote and the single-seat constituency. I should like the Minister to tell us what this summary will contain? Will it be similar to the information given on this specimen ballot paper?

It is good to know that the blind and physically handicapped may be assisted in marking their ballot papers by a friend, or a relative, or the presiding officer. It would be better if these people were assisted by friends or relatives in order to save them embarrassment by having the presiding officer reading out what is involved before the other personages entitled to be in the polling station. But this is a welcome provision.

We regard the Minister's proposal generally as anything but straight. The intention is to confuse and mislead. The proposal is designed to entrench Fianna Fáil in power for ever. It is very important, therefore, that the ballot paper should be unambiguous. The Minister and his Party are clearly endeavouring to secure their original design by having the issue carried by default.

I should like to join with Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Treacy in querying the provisions with regard to the green ballot paper in this Bill. In what circumstances, I should like to know, does the Minister propose that voters be told that the Fourth Amendment represents a choice between the present system of voting at Dáil elections and the straight vote system? There has been a welter of confusion about this whole proposal to amend the Constitution, confusion that has arisen from a variety of sources.

Reference has been made in the debates and discussions up to this to different systems of election. Proportional representation is something the people know. It is there and it has been there since the State was formed. There has been reference to the British system of election, to the spot system of election, to the first past the post system of election and in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill that the people are asked to vote on, and copies of which they are entitled to receive in the referendum, if they read it from beginning to end, they will not find any term containing the words "the straight vote system". It is not in it and it could not be in it because there is no such system of election known to persons concerned with politics.

What they will find in the Fourth Amendment is the system of election by the single non-transferable vote providing for the relative majority. That is what the people are asked to vote on and this green ballot paper proposes to tell them a lie. That is what it is. It proposes to tell them that in the Bill they are asked to approve or disapprove of they are given a choice between "the present system of voting", which is not named — why is it not named? Why does the Minister want to conceal that the present system of voting is the system of proportional representation that has been known in this country in this generation of voters, in the generations that went before them? They have never known any other system for the best part of the past 50 years. Why is it not named? It is clearly not named because this green ballot paper instruction is intended and designed to deceive the voter. "The present system of voting at Dáil elections." Surely it is the minimum in accuracy, the minimum in truth, to tell the people that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution proposes to abolish proportional representation? Is the Minister afraid of saying that? Are the Government so concerned with concealing the truth that they will not say that their proposal is aimed at abolishing proportional representation? If they have courage in their proposal, let them state that in the simple instruction to the voter —"and the straight vote system". We object to the use of these terms. They are not in the Bill. They are not used. It is an adjectival way of describing the British system of election. It is perfectly as fair to describe it as the crooked system of voting. One is perfectly entitled, depending on one's point of view, approving or disapproving, to describe it by either adjective. Why should this Referendum Bill contain an emotive description of a system of election upon which the people are asked to vote in the sense of approval or disapproval?

We object to the use of this term. It is not in the Bill. It is not in the referendum proposal. If one wanted to be technical, surely the choice before the people is the choice between the single transferable vote and multi-member constituencies and the single non-transferable vote in single-member constituencies? That is the choice. If there are to be technical terms applied, those are the terms that should be applied. If you want to use simple terms, terms that the people understand, the choice is between the present system of proportional representation and the British system of election. No other terms are more clearly understood by the people and will more clearly convey to them what the choice is.

I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick that, in any event, this Bill is necessary and in that sense the Second Reading must be conceded but it would certainly be our object and our purpose to seek proper and appropriate amendments on Committee Stage. I do hope that the Minister's statement here was made with sincerity and conviction and that we are not going to be faced on Committee Stage with a stone-walling refusal to entertain amendments. I do hope the Minister will demonstrate on Committee Stage that he is open to amendments from us designed to bring the choice before the voter, designed to make sure that the issue is clearly understood by each person who goes to vote.

If this referendum is to be held— and unless the Government change their mind, as I suppose they may in view of recent happenings, the referendum will be held—it is well that this time there should be no doubt in anybody's mind as to the decision and conviction of the Irish people. It is necessary that the issue be put fully and clearly before each voter and that each of us, depending on our point of view, can be satisfied that there was no confusion, no mean little efforts to sweeten the pill, and that each voter goes in to vote knowing what he is asked to do. Under the ballot paper proposals here, I fear that that may not be the result.

Above all, I hope that there will be finality in this decision of the people with regard to our electoral system and that we will not have to bother the people ever again. It is for that reason that I want the proposals clearly put without any deception, without any false description. As the Bill now stands, there certainly are elements for deception and there is a basis for a false description and we will seek to amend the Bill accordingly.

I can foresee further appeals to the people on this issue in time to come, possibly every five years, unless this Government are removed from office. Deputy O'Higgins expressed the hope—I think it is rather a vain hope—that this would be the last time the people would be asked to make a decision on it. The evidence is all to the contrary. We had this performance nine years ago. It is quite obvious that people at the head of the Fianna Fáil Party see no objection at all to putting the people to endless trouble to get their own objectives, if there is the slightest hope of doing it. The only hope is that they will get such a tremendous hammering that it will take quite a while for the memory of it to fade, even in so insensitive a mind in matters of this kind as that of the Minister for Local Government.

I have read the Bill and it seems that this most distasteful and objectionable description of what he has in mind in the straight vote will not be contained in the Bill itself but will be contained in the polling cards to go out to the public. It would take a ballot paper a foot long to put down all this material in one sheet as it affects each amendment. This makes the matter all the more insidious. Polling cards notify the people of their right to vote and set out where they are to vote. These things have a significance in the mind of the ordinary voter which makes them appear official, authoritative, carrying weight. When on that they read — those of them who take the trouble to read — the description set out of what is contained in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Act, as it will be, the tendency will be to think that this is something which has a sort of blanket approval by most people.

I am talking of the vast number of people who may not take the intense interest in political affairs taken by us here or by Party members and supporters. There are many people whose interest in politics is a cursory one. Many of them regard it as light entertainment. Others think of politics, when they think of it at all, in relation to local or national problems which arise. These people will not be as conversant as we are with what is contained in these Bills. When they get an official-looking document, such as a polling card, through the post referring to the straight vote, it will form a prejudice in the minds of some—not all—and can be used by other less scrupulous people to create the impression that this is the thing to do, that it is the straight vote as against something which is reprehensible and disputable. This will all be done through the post. It will not be on the ballot paper but will be on the card the voter will receive. That makes it all the more objectionable and its ramifications all the more insidious.

We must stop this if we can. We can only stop it by trying to amend the Bill on Committee Stage. It is vitally important that we do. What Deputy Treacy has said is all too true. Practical politics on the day of elections makes for a situation familiar to every Deputy and to those who work close to them. There is always a great element of confusion present in the mind of many voters when they go to the polls. Every Deputy has seen a voter go to a polling station with the fixed intention of voting for a certain candidate, and every Deputy has seen that person—by no means an unintelligent person or lacking in what is known as education — come out and has learned that he did not in fact do what he had intended to do. By some means or other, his intention was thwarted through his own hurry to get the job over with quickly or through the atmosphere of excitement which builds up in polling booths, especially when things get busy towards the end of the day.

How much more true is this going to be when people are faced with a ballot paper of this kind which is going to take time to read? A simplification of this ballot paper is absolutely necessary if there is to be any element of fairness in this contest. So far we have not seen any sign of any such intention. Perhaps it is too much to ask a political Party, particularly a Party struggling for its life, coming up for the first time, like a person in the water gasping for breath, or, if I may mix my metaphors a little, making a last desperate throw of the dice.

The people coming into the polling both are entitled in fairness to have the issue presented fairly to them. They are entitled to be asked whether they are for or against PR, for or against the system with which they are familiar. The question must be: "Do you want to abolish this system which has given us government from the formation of the State?" That is the question. "Do you want to abolish PR or not?" That is the question as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.

Of course, it would need somebody with training in constitutional law or at least a year or two at the King's Inns to understand some of the phraseology so far as the Third Amendment is concerned. The effect of the Third Amendment is that in a five-seat constituency in some parts of the country, it will take up to almost 30,000 voters more to elect five Deputies than in other constituencies. It can have that meaning, allowing for this so-called bias. How is that to be explained on the ballot paper? It cannot be done, nor indeed is any reasonable attempt being made to explain it in the explanation of the ballot paper given in the Appendix to this Bill, which reads:

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 from the national average...

How many know what the national average is? What does the phrase mean? How many Members of the House, let alone members of the public know what the national average is? To what does it relate? How can one expect the average worker, with much more on his mind than the determination of constituencies, to know what this means?

The deviation is the important thing.

This is what is in the Appendix.

I know, but the important part of it is the deviation from the average, not the average itself.

You must know what the average is before you know what the deviation is.

The elector does not need to know the average. We are explaining what the permitted deviation may be.

Leaving figures aside, I am asking the Dáil to say what does the phrase mean to the average person?

The average would be calculated when you get the total figure.

The phrase must have some meaning which is not explained here. It goes on:

.................. and that regard must be had to the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the need for having convenient areas of representation and the desirability of avoiding the over-lapping of county boundaries.

It is idle to send that to at least half the population. Yet that is what we propose to do. It will be set out on the balloting card because in section 1 (a) of the Bill it states:

A polling card sent under section 64 (1) of the Electoral Act, 1963, shall contain the statement set out in the Appendix to this section.

That is what I am reading, a statement purporting to explain the Bill. It does not explain the Bill to the majority of people and I say advisedly that damn few Members of the House could explain it or appreciate what it means. I am not saying that I am one of those who could.

That is obvious.

If it is obvious to the Minister, he will have an opportunity of explaining it. It should be obvious to him since he composed it— or did he? I may be reading it for the first time for his benefit. Perhaps he is reading it for the first time. The point I want to make is that anything that will tend towards a profusion of words on the ballot paper will have the inevitable result of confusing the voter, which confusion can only help the Government. The temper of the people is such that they are just waiting for the chance to reject this proposal and it is Government tactics to confuse them. The more they can be confused, the narrower can be made the incredibility gap between the Government and the public. Contrary to what the Americans call the credibility gap, we have this incredibility gap between people and Government. The people do not believe that this is being done to give a more effective electoral system but that it is being done to entrench the Government in power. It will not work that way: "The best laid schemes".

Like Deputy Treacy, I believe that if we are to put any face on it, there must be a fair description of the choice the people are asked to make between the existing system which has worked and the other system which it is sought to introduce. The ballot paper should be in the simplest possible form. "For or against PR" is a far more logical and sensible question from the point of the average, fair-minded individual than what they are being asked to decide now.

I join with Deputy Treacy in asking the Minister to say something on the question which comes up at every election, of the numbering of ballot papers. I suppose there is a case that can be made for it. I should like to know it, but whether there is such a case or not, public sentiment is against it. The idea that anybody should cast a vote which can be traced, even theoretically, is repugnant to the democratic idea. It is wrong. We should take steps to eliminate that. I should like to hear the Minister on that and the other points made here.

The explanatory memorandum to the Bill is, I think, most misleading. It begins:

The purpose of this Bill is to assist voters at the referenda on the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution Bills, 1968, by making available to them a summary of the proposals in the Bills and by introducing a revised form of ballot paper.

I do not think that the summary of the proposals in the Bill set out will in the slightest degree assist the average voter. I am wholeheartedly with Deputy Dunne when he says that the obvious way to deal with the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill is by asking the voter: Are you for or against PR? I can understand the soul of the parliamentary draftsman revolting at anything so simple and so readily understandable but I suggest to the Minister that if some simple form as this were devised, it would be in aid of the elector. That is what every Member of the House should want to ensure—how best can we get the mind of the people on this particular question?

In my view, and if the Members on the other side of the House consider it, I think they will agree with me that the simplest way of doing it is to ask that simple question. Possibly we are before our time in hoping that such a consummation could be achieved. Possibly some day parliamentary draftsmanship will be directed, on occasions like this particularly, towards achieving what really should be achieved in a referendum proposal. For that reason we must accept that we will not get that simple formula on the ballot paper. I believe that the formula we have on the green ballot paper in this Bill is simply a sales talk for the so-called straight vote and does not assist the elector to make up his mind on the issue at stake.

We have here a Bill which has been passed through this House and which has gone to the Seanad and it speaks of the relative majority system by means of a single non-transferable vote. The Minister coins the phrase "straight vote" to cover this. It is a slang term used by the Minister in this respect, and I imagine this is the first time that a slang term was ever imported into an enactment of this House. Those of us who know the Minister do not consider that he is so simple as not to realise the import of this explanatory statement which is being sent out on the polling card. It bears all the signs of the publicity agent, the advertising agent, the man who knows best how to sell the thing he wants to sell. You mention it as often as you can and you do not mention the competitor's name at all in any circumstances. The only occasion on which the Minister is able to mention the commodity he is peddling is once, but he makes very sure that the other commodity which is being put forward to the people, which is in the possession of the people at the moment and which we are asking them to keep, is not mentioned at all.

The note which will go out on the green polling card simply says that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill proposes to substitute "the present system". The Irish people have become accustomed to the discussion of the abolition or retention of PR. I doubt if some of them even know that it is the present system. It would be fair—and on consideration, the Minister would agree, I think, it would be fair—to make some reference to it. The Minister can expect to have a very rough time in the amendments on Committee Stage seeking to have these words inserted: "substitute for the present proportional representation system." It is not fair to use the term "straight vote"; some other words should be used. The words in the Bill are "relative majority system", and these are the words that should be used.

The terms of this Bill underline the immense responsibility which devolves on Opposition Parties in this matter. The man in the street has no indication whatsoever of the contents of the two Bills on which he is being asked to vote in this referendum. He and his wife and his family can thank God there are Opposition Parties who have in this House gone to the trouble and who outside this House will go to the expense of explaining to them exactly the issues which are at stake in this referendum.

The ballot paper simply asks if you approve or do not approve of the provisions of such and such an Act of Parliament. It is a bad system. Some other system should be evolved whereby pithy explanation of the issues at stake could be inserted in the ballot paper. There is an intimation that copies of the Bill can be inspected and purchased at any post office. I would seriously suggest to the Minister that, as he is telling the electorate that he might as well give them the added information that they can purchase the Bill for sixpence. The man in the street does not believe he can get any official document for that amount and he may not go to the trouble of looking for it, but if he is told it costs only sixpence, he may purchase it.

I should like to warn the public against going to the trouble and expense of purchasing both of the Bills, because I contend not one-third of the Members of this House fully comprehend the nature of the Bills which are in front of them. I defy the average man to read the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill and make any sense of it at all. However, as the Minister is obliged to tell the people they can purchase these Bills, he should give them as much information as possible about them.

Here there arises a lovely thought. We have been talking about the expense of this referendum, and notionally every elector in this country, stirred by interest in the referendum, could go to purchase a copy of this Bill. Should that happy or unhappy situation arise, I should like the Minister to tell the House how many copies of each Bill he intends to have published for this purpose. The ideal situation would be, notionally at all events, that one copy per elector should be available. What will be the situation when an elector goes into a post office the day before the referendum and says: "I want to get the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, please, sir," and sir has to say: "We are very sorry; we are sold out"? It would be a serious disappointment, I am quite sure, to the electorate, and I would suggest the Minister should tell us at this stage how many copies of each Bill he intends to publish and the expense involved in the publication of roughly 1,500,000 copies of each of the Bills in question.

There is another part of this Bill on which we shall be addressing the Minister on Committee Stage. It looks innocuous enough, and I think it does arise on the general discussion on the Bill. I refer to section 1 (e) which says:

copies of the statement referred to in paragraph (a) of this section may be displayed in or in the precincts of polling stations,

There is a well-established practice in this country that no document shall be displayed in polling stations by any of the candidates. This section would enable any political party to go into a polling station and plaster the place with this statement. They could underline or put in big print any parts of the statement to which I have been objecting already, that is, the statement that is included on the polling card which is sent to the electorate. I would earnestly ask the Minister to reconsider this proposal in the Bill.

I agree completely that the explanatory statement as amended by this House should be prominently displayed in each polling station, and to that end the Minister should take out the permissive words in the section, "may be displayed", and should say the statement referred to in paragraph (a) of section 1 "shall be prominently displayed" by the presiding officer. The Minister will agree with me that it is a dangerous precedent to enact a measure here which gives any person the right to go into a polling station and display any document, no matter what it may be.

Deputy Dunne and Deputy Treacy who spoke before me have referred to something which undoubtedly has disturbed generations of Irishmen, particularly when they have had a few drinks at night. It is only then it strikes the Irishman that his vote is not really a secret vote, and it is only on occasions like that he will come to you and say: "Is it true my vote is not secret?", and you will have to reply to him that notionally it is not a secret. I do not think the average voter yet realises that and I think he should be informed of it. While I can appreciate that there may be technical reasons why the counterfoil and the paper itself should be numbered, the Minister should seriously consider taking some steps which would ensure the secrecy of the ballot, because it is notionally possible for a Minister who is sufficiently ruthless and sufficiently assiduous to find out how each elector cast his or her vote.

That is not so.

That is ridiculous.

The Deputy may address the House afterwards and put his view, but I should like him to allow me to continue putting my view. I am quite serious, and I think it important that this should be said. I should be very glad if the Government, or the Deputy, or anyone, would explain to the Irish people that this is not so. It is my conviction. We have the ballot paper here and on the back we see:

The back of each ballot paper shall be numbered consecutively and the back of the counterfoil attached to it is to bear the same number.

I do not know what is the intention behind the next bit, or whether it arises from false confidence. It reads:

The number on the back of the ballot paper shall be printed in the smallest characters compatible with legibility.

I do not know why that should make any difference to the ballot paper. You have on the counterfoil the voter's number on the register, his letter and his number, and the number of the counterfoil. Then you have on the back of the paper the number of the constituency. I believe that if you got the register for a particular constituency and if you were able to get hold of the voting papers and the counterfoils, you could trace the vote of a voter.

That is quite true.

I know it is not likely to happen but I am quite certain —and I do not think the Minister can deny this—that it is possible.

It is not.

That is a bad state in which to find our society. Any considerations which make it necessary are not at all as important as the consideration of maintaining the secrecy of the ballot and getting out of the minds of the Irish voter the secret fear that his secret vote could be made public to the Minister or his friends. I do not mean the present Minister but any Minister of any Government. That is bad. That is dangerous. It should not be allowed to happen. I earnestly appeal to the Minister to avail of this occasion to change the system which has been with us for a long time and has rightly, I think, given rise to a great deal of apprehension. Even if the Minister does not intend to change the system he should avail of this opportunity to explain to the Irish people exactly what is involved in a referendum such as this, and exactly what happens to their ballot papers and their counterfoils.

The suggestion has been made very plainly to the Minister that it is possible to trace a man's vote. If the Minister is of the opinion that this is not so, it is absolutely necessary that he should at this stage explain to the Irish people in plain unequivocal terms that it is not so and tell them where the ballot papers and the counterfoils go. He should be able to assure them that in no possible circumstances could the two be again reconciled, as I believe they could. Until the Minister can say: "Look, once you cast your vote your ballot paper can never be reconciled to the counterfoil; no one can say, here is the counterfoil, here is the vote number, here is the register, and here is the man," the Irish people will continue to regard measures of this nature with apprehension.

Otherwise a show of hands would do.

I am absolutely appalled that a member of the Bar of the standing of Deputy Barrett should ventilate such unadulterated nonsense.

It is not unadulterated nonsense.

If the Deputy is as innocent as he makes out I am horrified. There is no excuse for him. I was a member of the Select Committee which sat for a very long time dealing with the reform of electoral law. I do not think Deputy Barrett was a member of that Committee. The work of that Committee was subsequently enshrined in legislation. The proceedings of the Committee are open to Deputy Barrett and also the present electoral law, but for his own information, I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no chance of the ballot paper and the counterfoil being brought together.

The Irish voter does not know that.

Because people like the Deputy are planting this in his mind.

I have told them thousands of times. If Deputy Barrett and people like him would stop talking nonsense and try to talk sense, the Irish people would have no worries.

Deputy Booth seems to forget what I said. I simply said that if it were not so, the Minister should explain it.

If the Deputy would take the trouble to look at the regulations and acquaint himself with the facts of life, he would not have to ask anyone.

The Irish voter is apprehensive about it.

The sheer ignorance of Deputy Barrett appals me. A man of his ability should know exactly where to get the facts.

The Irish voter is apprehensive.

Deputy Barrett made sure that that apprehension would be increased quite unjustifiably. If the Deputy had ever paid any attention to the electoral procedure, he would know that as soon as the ballot station closes, the ballot boxes have to be sealed and the counterfoils have also to be put in a sealed box.

That is right.

The seal on the ballot box may be broken only by the presiding officer.

We all know that.

The counterfoils are sealed separately, and that seal may be broken only by order of the High Court on the presentation of a petition for the annulment of the election. I hope the Deputy has got that into his head.

The seal can be broken by a ruthless Minister.

That is sheer nonsense. It can happen only by order of the court and if the Deputy, as a member of the Bar, feels that the Minister can overrule the court, he is just being downright stupid.

No such thing.

He knows that the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Local Government, the Taoiseach, or the President himself, may not and cannot overrule the court.

They may not but they can.

No they cannot.

They cannot do so because the documents are not in their possession.

There must be a powerful lot of counterfoils somewhere.

They are destroyed after six months.

Who burns them?

The returning officers.

I know who burns them.

The returning officers.

You need not tell me they cannot be seen. I know they can be seen.

There is no procedure whereby the counterfoils and the voting papers can be brought together. They have to be destroyed separately.

No official procedure.

The procedure is very carefully laid down for that precise reason. The Committee of this House which went into the whole question of the reform of electoral law gave very serious consideration to this question of the number on the ballot papers. It was made perfectly clear to us, and we accepted, that it is a final protection against any substitution of ballot papers, but it is still necessary that this safeguard should be maintained. That was accepted. There was no question of a Government majority or anything else. It was accepted as the proper electoral procedure. There is no way in which the counterfoils and the ballot papers can be brought together otherwise than by the direction of a judge of the High Court.

No official way.

That can be done only if aprima facie case is established of the substitution of ballot papers. Deputy Barrett said there was much too much verbiage on the ballot paper. He started off by saying we were confusing the people with words. Deputy Dunne said we were confusing the people with words. The next moment, Deputy Barrett says we have not half enough words, that we should preach a sermon on the ballot paper and give far more information on it. According to the present referendum Bill, all you could have on the ballot paper is simply the question: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?”. That, probably, was sufficient, if there was only one Bill before the electorate. In this case, we have two very complicated Bills before the electorate and we have decided therefore —I think, correctly—that we should give some summary of the provisions of the two Bills.

Once you start summarising, you are in trouble. I think, in this particular case, as set out in the Appendix to the Bill we are now considering, we have done it very fairly and as briefly as possible. Quite obviously, if you wanted to do it fully, you would reprint the whole Bill—and that cannot be done. Basically, the contents of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill are proposals for limiting the deviation from the national average of the number of population per Deputy. It does not make any difference whether the national average be 20,000 or 21,864, and so on: what the electorate are worried about is the amount of deviation which there may be—and that is clearly set out.

Now we come to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. Deputy Barrett said that all we really want to say is: "Are you in favour of or opposed to proportional representation?" Having said that, he promptly abandoned that suggestion and started suggesting a much wider coverage of the whole business. He attacked the use of the words "the straight vote". He said he wants to make it easy for the electorate. If we had said "to substitute for the present system of voting in Dáil elections the relative majority vote in single-member constituencies" people would say the average man would not know what "the relative majority" is and I would agree with them. He would not know what it was unless we went into a further explanation. But, by reason of all the publicity which has been given, both in this House and in the press, it has become a fact that people know what is meant by the words "the straight vote". It means a non-transferable vote, a vote exactly the same as we had in the elections of the Beet Growers' Association.

I should not bring that up, if I were the Deputy.

It is a very interesting point.

I am sure there are Members of the House who find it very interesting.

Everybody knows what the straight vote is. I think we are perfectly right to put it in in that way. That is the first paragraph, if you like, of the reference to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

Would "the single non-transferable vote" not be a better description?

I do not think so. The Deputy is getting too much into verbiage again. When we get down to a technical Bill which will be enshrined in the Constitution, we must use technical language because ultimately that may be referred to the High Court or to the Supreme Court for an interpretation. When we are composing a document for interpretation by lawyers, we must be very careful in our choice of language and we must use the correct technical terminology.

What will they make of the "straight vote"?

They will make a straight issue of it because they know precisely what it is. Deputy Barrett suggested we should not refer merely to "the present system" but that we should say "the present system of proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies". Here, we are again getting into a mass of unnecessary verbiage. Our suggestion is "to substitute for the present system".

Surely to goodness, anyone who will vote in this election knows what "the present system" is? The great majority of them will already have voted at a general election and no doubt will have their own minds. Deputy Barrett suggested "for or against proportional representation". There is a very important provision to establish a Commission to determine constituencies. There is provision, too, that the outgoing Ceann Comhairle may be returned without contest. That, again, is an alteration of the Constitution to which some reference must be made. If we had not made it, we should be told we were trying to cover up something. We have these proposals as set out at (1), (2) and (3). We have put it in simple language. We have not oversimplified it. We have not loaded the question. I think we are doing it fairly and properly. I hope Deputies will not follow the example of Deputy Barrett and air their complete ignorance in such a way as to give unnecessary alarm to the public.

In conclusion, I should like to reaffirm that there is no way in the world in which any Government or any officer of the Government can bring together the counterfoil of a voting paper and the voting paper itself otherwise than by order of the High Court on a petition for a declaration annulling the election.

Deputy Booth means that there is no legal way.

There is no legal way. I cannot quote the procedure from memory but I remember looking into it when dealing with this matter. The procedure is so cumbersome, with checks and double-checks——


I would not know so much about that as the Deputy.

Not at all. Simon Pure.

The checks and doublechecks are more than adequate to prevent any Government from tracking down the vote of one elector. In the name of all that is wonderful, what would any Government bother wasting time doing that for, anyway? It is a useless exercise.

It is one way of finding out where the preponderance of votes lay in the country.

If Deputy Dunne thinks we can break the seals of these boxes and bring them from another place and break into them, too, I suppose—sorting out the counterfoils and matching them up with the voting papers—it would take a hell of a long time.

The Minister said these are destroyed after six months.

After six months, yes.

Is it not possible that they might be destroyed at the same place?

My recollection of the procedure is that at no stage may the voting papers and the counterfoils be in the same place——

That is the Deputy's recollection.

They have to be dumped and destroyed.


It was not the purpose of the Committee——

You claim to be the authority.

Because I remember going into this in the greatest detail at the Committee and I satisfied myself that the precautions were more than adequate.

Where are they destroyed?

I do not honestly remember.

You are about 20 yards away from the place.

I rather think it is in the precincts of the House. I am absolutely satisfied that there is no way in which the secrecy of the ballot can be breached.

You are a very simple man.

It seems to me that in the drafting of this Bill, the Minister and those who advised him must have come to the conclusion that the electorate consisted of Rhodes scholars. If there is anything that could possibly confuse people, this ballot paper will certainly do that. It is the height of nonsense to say that by reading the ballot paper and by reading the Bill afterwards, the average person could understand the voting system. What we have been debating here over the months was whether we are to retain proportional representation or get rid of it and get the system that the Government are trying to foist on the country. There would have been nothing simpler than to have said that.

There is much more to it than that.

It is a very good thing that the Minister has Deputy Booth to defend him because he sees the motive pure in everything. He is an honest man himself and he went to tremendous trouble to explain that there is no risk of the secrecy of the ballot being breached. Of course there is and nothing that he has said will prevent that opinion from prevailing abroad. When he was challenged to say where the papers were destroyed, he did not know; he did not know when they are destroyed and he has never seen them being destroyed.

I am not allowed to and neither is the Deputy. They have to be destroyed in secrecy within the precincts of the House.

What he is suggesting is without any foundation in fact except that it is the law. As Deputy Barrett explained, once you have ballot papers which are numbered, the secrecy can be breached.

By whom?

By whoever has contact with the papers. I do not know. If anybody can get to them, it is the Government and not the Opposition.

No, they are the last people.

It is the job of the Opposition to say what they have said. If Deputy Booth does not like it, he can lump it. I am not saying he is dishonest but he has the motive pure. Deputy Booth has tried to reject the arguments put up by Deputy Barrett which are sound and tangible——

They are not arguments; they are hallucinations.

Deputy Booth, as I say, has the motive pure. However, he is now going to retire from the House. I do not think that this is a simple ballot paper and I do not think that the ordinary person is going to understand the ballot paper and know exactly what he is voting on. It has been said that its contents will be read out to an illiterate person, who is fully able to vote. In all fairness, if this conglomeration is read out to an illiterate, is he going to be any wiser at the end of it? He would probably ask the presiding officer: "How do I vote to retain PR?". The presiding officer will not be allowed to tell him that. He will only be allowed to re-read this nonsense which is written here and which as I said would be suitable for Rhodes scholars and nobody else. He cannot say: "If you vote `no' or vote `yes' you will be voting such-and-such a way". He can only say: "You can only say `yes' or `no' in relation to the Constitution". That is for the Fourth Amendment, the attempt to change PR.

The people as a whole know that this Bill is for the purpose of trying to change the electoral system but because of the considerable confusion that has ranged around this, they will probably be confused and not quite clear about what the Minister's system is. That is only natural because of the considerable confusion thrown into this debate by the Minister and the Government. Last week it was said that the French system is that of the straight vote. It is not but a lot of people will now think that it is the transferable vote. What they want in black and white is whether they are voting to retain PR or voting to get rid of it. That is all they want and it would be perfectly simple for the Minister's advisers to produce such a ballot paper if they were allowed to do so. Quite obviously they were asked to produce this mix-up of words which really conveys nothing to anybody unless, as somebody said, he is a constitutional lawyer of high standing. In regard to the Third Amendment, the tolerance vote which enables the minimum to drop to 17,500 or to go to the same degree in the other direction, would it not have been better to put that in simple parlance instead of expressing it as it has been expressed? It boils down simply to a tolerance of 2,500 voters and if you have not got that, which you have not in the west of Ireland and certain other rural parts due to the emigration which has taken place because of the Fianna Fáil policy——

Emigration may not be discussed.

But it is very much in issue here because it is as a result of this happening that we have this legislation here and for no other reason. Under the Constitution we had 20,000 votes as a minimum and 30,000 as a maximum but now the Government, in their wisdom or otherwise, consider they have to cut it down because of emigration. The people were there but now they have gone. It may be that people think that it is not the policy of the Government that is responsible for it but I feel I am entitled to say that——

We cannot have a debate on emigration on this measure.

There is no question of a debate. I am simply mentioning the matteren passant. I suggest to the Minister that he withdraws this Bill because it is total nonsense from beginning to end, an attempt to confuse the electorate. Indeed, both Bills are nonsense and nobody ever wanted them, except the Minister.

And Deputy Cosgrave.

His own Party does not even want them. Deputy Cosgrave did not ask for these Bills. The Minister is under a misapprehension but I hasten to correct him.

You are the first one who did.

I suggest that he withdraw this piece of drafting nonsense. I am sorry to have to describe it as drafting nonsense because I know that devoted civil servants probably spent long hours trying to defer to the wishes of the Minister. I suggest that he brings back something on Committee Stage or otherwise we will be as long on Committee Stage of this as we were on the other Bills in the long struggle to convince the Minister and his followers that——

Then we will not adjourn on the 11th.

——they should never have introduced this futile legislation.

First of all, in regard to the allegations that the wording of the proposed summary of the Fourth Amendment is in some way unfair, I suppose the Opposition, in pursuance of their role as an Opposition, as they see it, had to oppose this and this was the only matter on which they could seize for the purpose of opposing. It is beyond all doubt, in my opinion, that the description of the proposed system as the straight vote system is a well-established one. It is a well-known system and it is a system that is in common use. In fact, there is no other description by which it would be recognised by the people. It is quite well understood by the people and any description of the proposed system would result only in confusing the electorate. That, of course, is exactly what Deputy Fitzpatrick, Deputy Esmonde, Deputy Barrett, Deputy Dunne and Deputy Treacy want. They appreciate that, as each day passes, more and more people, particularly in the Fine Gael Party proper and among the supporters of that Party, are gradually coming round to the view at present held by the Leader of the Fine Gael Party and by a near majority of the Party. Indeed, it has been a plank in the Party's programme from their very foundation, a plank taken over from their predecessors, Cumann na nGaedheal. These diehard members of Fine Gael who persist in opposing the Leader of their Party see in the creation of confusion their only hope of succeeding in their efforts to prevent this proposed electoral reform.

Would the Minister tell us something about the diehard members of the Fianna Fáil Party now?

There is 100 per cent acceptance, enthusiastic acceptance, of this proposal in the Fianna Fáil Party. Every single member is in favour of the proposal, recognising it as the best possible system of election and the best possible system of representation for the people. Apart from the fact that the description "straight vote" is the description by which people know and recognise the electoral process we propose, it is a good description and an accurate one. It is the description used to describe the system in a number of textbooks on the subject of electoral systems. A straight vote is exactly what it is because, under the system, the voter votes for his candidate; he is not required to do other things which do not make sense but which result in the post-election manipulation of votes and unjustified discrimination between one voter and another. Apart from the fact that the voting operation is a straight operation, the counting is also straight. The system is straight in another sense in that it ensures equal consideration to all voters, something which is denied them at present.

The suggestion was made that there is something wrong in not including in the voting card a description of the present system. If the people do not know what the present system is it is hard to believe that describing the present system on the voting card would make them any better informed. It must be quite obvious that including on a small voting card a description of the proposal and a description of the system at present in operation could only result in further confusing the people. To describe the present system would take a considerably greater quantity of verbiage than will the description of the proposed electoral reform. It is quite likely that, in the rush to vote, people seeing this lengthy description of the present system would, in fact, think that they were being asked to vote for or against the present system. This could only result in confusion.

The whole approach of Opposition Deputies to this Bill is the same as their approach to the Bills proposing to amend the Constitution. It is obvious they want to create as much confusion as possible; their only hope is that the people will be so confused that they, the Opposition, will have their way. They cannot accept the possibility of a clear decision by the people and they hope to confuse electors so that this reform will not, in fact, be made. In my opening statement I said:

Under existing law, the proposal which is the subject of the referendum must be stated on the ballot paper by citing, by its short title, the Bill containing the proposal passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. I have been legally advised that there is no alternative to this.

The questions, therefore, that the people must be asked are: "Do you approve of the proposal contained in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Act?" and "Do you approve of the proposal contained in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Act?" That must appear on the Order Paper. That is prescribed by the Constitution. The voting card, therefore, must obviously contain, if it is to contain anything to guide the voters, a summary of the proposal; and the proposal is to amend the Constitution by substituting, in the case of the Fourth Amendment, this system of voting which is known as the straight vote for the present system.

To include a description of the present system which, it must be assumed, the people know, in so far as it is possible for anyone to know it, and I agree with Deputies that there are comparatively few who know how the system works, would only clutter up the voting card with verbiage and result in confusion. In fact, at the time of the last referendum, when a short description of the existing system was given, one of the complaints made was that it was confusing. Now, when it is not included, there is a demand that it should be included. This is just another indication, as I said before, of the impossibility of interpreting the mind of the Opposition on this matter, or on any matter, because their attitude is determined purely and simply in accordance with the principle of opposing anything and everything suggested by the present Government.

Apart from that, if we include in the summary of the proposal on the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution a description of the present system—in other words, what it is proposed to replace—then obviously the same thing will have to be done in regard to the Third Amendment of the Constitution. Of course, that would be impossible to do. I believe that I have a fairly accurate idea of what the present interpretation of the Article of the Constitution with regard to the delineation of constituencies is but the Opposition have not. In order to show that opinions differ as to what the present position is, I want to quote, first of all, Deputy Ryan of Fine Gael, who said in the Dáil on 28th May, 1968—Volume 235, column 42 of the Official Report:

The courts have allowed no divergence from equality in so far as equality is practicable.... The courts have not said that a five per cent divergence is permissible.... That is not what the Constitution says. That is not what the law at the moment says....

But, on the other hand, Deputy Fitzpatrick, on 15th May, 1968— Volume 234, column 1364—assumed that a divergence was allowed and that, in fact, a divergence in excess of five per cent was allowed and that, in fact, the amount of divergence was something that could be decided by the Oireachtas. He said:

... we do not know the extent of the divergence at present permissible. We know that in the O'Donovan case a percentage of approximately 17.6 was considered too high and we know that 4.6 was considered correct, but we do not know what the difference is between 4.6 and 17 per cent approximately and, therefore, we do not know what the present permissible tolerance, or divergence, within those limits is.

So that, if even two Fine Gael lawyers of the status of Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Ryan cannot agree as to what the present position is, how could anyone expect the agreement of all Parties in the House to a summary of that position?

So I think that everybody on every side of the House knows that the proposed summary of the two Bills is, in fact, a reasonable summary and I am quite certain that everybody also knows that to try to insert into those summaries also a description of the present position would only create confusion. It is obvious that it is only for that object of creating confusion that the proposal is made. If it is considered necessary to describe the present voting system, then I do not know what to say about that.

Does the Minister propose to describe the new system?

It is in the Bill.

It will not be on the ballot paper.

No, not on the ballot paper. It will be on the voting card and there will be displayed in the precincts of the polling station a summary which is given in the Appendix to the Bill, a white ballot paper dealing with the Third Amendment of the Constitution and a green ballot paper dealing with the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Will the Minister say why it omits to refer to the abolition of PR?

Repetition is not in order. Deputy Treacy has only come in. I have already dealt with that. I can only suggest that Deputy Treacy should read it in the Official Report.

It is a very pertinent question.

The Constitution lays down that the question to be asked must be: "Do you approve of the proposals in the Bill?" That is the question. The question must be related to the proposal that is being put before the people and in connection with the Fourth Amendment the proposal is to substitute this system of election for the present system.

Deputy Fitzpatrick also raised the question that in so far as the Third Amendment is concerned, instead of saying that the Third Amendment proposes that in forming Dáil constituencies, the population per Deputy in any case "may not vary by more than one-sixth from the national average", we should say: "shall not be greater or less than the national average." That is exactly what "vary" means. It is obviously impracticable to reproduce the whole of the two Bills in the summary. Any intelligent person knows that "vary" means that it can vary in either direction and there is no need to introduce any more words into it. Obviously, the more words that will be in, the more likelihood there is of conclusion.

Deputy O'Higgins stated that not describing the present position amounted to concealing that the present system is the system known for almost 50 years. If the system is known and known to have existed here for almost 50 years, how is it possible to conceal that by referring to it as the present system? If it is known, as Deputy O'Higgins said, surely it is unnecessary to describe it and to describe it in connection with a ballot paper where the question is, "Do you approve of the proposal?" obviously can only have the effect of confusing some people and possibly making some of them think that it is a proposal to retain the present system that they will be asked to approve of. It is obviously much clearer to describe the proposal, which is, to replace the present system by a new system, and ask them the straight question, do they approve of that proposal. As I said, there is no way of asking the people to make a choice between two different systems. The only possible question is to ask them whether or not they approve of the proposed change.

Deputy Treacy got back to the question of what he described as a package deal. Of course, it is a fact that when we decided to ask the people to reform the electoral system we intended to put our proposals to them for the reform of the electoral system in the form of one proposal. That seemed to us to be a reasonable thing to do. It would be the easiest thing to do. There would be only one ballot paper and the people would vote for or against the proposal that we were making. In response to the demands of the Opposition, we agreed to separate them. I do not know why the Opposition wanted them separated. That is a mystery to me. The only possible reason I can see for having the proposal for electoral reform separated into two separate proposals is that it was intended to recommend to the people acceptance of one of the proposals and rejection of the other. As far as it is possible to interpret the attitude of the Opposition Parties—and I admit that is not an easy thing—it appears to me that they are, in fact, opposing both of these and if they really, genuinely and unitedly want to oppose both of these things, then they could do it more effectively if there were just one proposal. I wonder is it a fact that there are a number of Deputies in each of the Opposition Parties who are in favour of one or other of these proposals and intend, in fact, to support one or other of these proposals or are they, in fact, opposing both proposals? However, they were separated to convenience the Opposition Parties and on the Second Stage they were brought together to convenience them again. When they were separated for the Committee and subsequent Stages the Opposition found it impossible to adjust themselves to that situation and dealt with both together.

With regard to this question of the numbering of the ballot papers, I would like to point out, first, that this provision to put the number on the back of the ballot paper is a new one. It was always on the face of the ballot paper before. I do not know whether putting it on the back will do anything to relieve these fears that Deputies say exist as to the secrecy of the ballot. I do not think any such fears do exist except in so far as they are deliberately fostered by people like Deputy Barrett. I certainly have never heard any such fears expressed.

Some of your people are going around purporting to know how people vote.

All anybody can know is how people say they vote and people say they vote in different ways to different people.

It is a form of intimidation.

I would like to point out to Deputy Barrett, Deputy Dunne and Deputy Treacy in regard to this matter that the Joint Committee on the Electoral Law considered this whole field. They went into the matter in considerable detail, as Deputy Booth has said. This was an official joint committee. They reported and accepted on behalf of their Parties the necessity for having the ballot papers and the counterfoils numbered. They also accepted that the arrangements for secrecy in this regard were satisfactory and that there is no danger of individual voters' ballot papers being traced. To imagine that anybody could really believe what Deputy Barrett suggested could take place—that all of these practically 1¾ million ballot papers could be gathered together and the counterfoils associated with the actual ballot papers and the numbers checked against the register in order to find out how individual people voted—is the height of nonsense. Indeed, it is just typical of some of the other suggestions that have been made.

This Committee, which sat down seriously to consider the electoral law rather than just put on a show of opposing this Bill, accepted that this numbering was necessary so as to provide a means of checking for the purpose of an election petition the votes cast by people accused of personation. After the referendum the ballot papers are sent to the returning officer in sealed packets. He is required to retain them for six months and then to destroy them. None of the sealed packets may be opened except under an order of the High Court.

The law on the matter is contained in the Referendum Act, 1942. Section 34 in Part I of the First Schedule to that Act states:

Notwithstanding anything contained in the next preceding rule, no sealed packet of counterfoils shall at any time be opened and no counterfoil and no counted ballot paper shall at any time be inspected save under and in accordance with an order of the High Court under Part III of this Act.

People who sat down in a reasonable way to consider this on behalf of all Parties in the House accepted that this was a reasonable safeguard. But of course the situation is different here. Here reason does not enter into it. The only concern is to create as much confusion and as much doubt as possible and to create, if possible, apprehension.

Section 31 in Part I of that Schedule describes the arrangements for the sending of reports and documents to the referendum returning officer. They must be sealed and so on. If there is any desire to have this re-examined by the Joint Committee or by another Joint Committee, this can be done. Everybody here—certainly everybody on this side of the House—would be concerned to have the greatest possible amount of confidence in the conduct of elections. The provision for secrecy was studied by the people nominated by the different Parties. They were satisfied that the numbering of the ballot papers was necessary and they were also satisfied with the arrangements to ensure absolute secrecy in this regard.

Deputy Barrett and the other Deputies who spoke on this matter were, I think, talking with their tongues in their cheeks. They were talking for the sake of the audience rather than expressing any real doubts they had in regard to this matter. Those who were nominated by the Parties to consider the matter were thoroughly satisfied. If they now have any doubts, the matter can certainly be re-examined. I do not see that it is feasible not to have them numbered. I do not think any more definite or more satisfactory arrangements for ensuring secrecy can be made than what is already laid down in the law.

Question put and agreed to.

Next Tuesday.

Tá go maith.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9th July, 1968.