(Cavan): On this Stage I should like to make a few general remarks about the Bill. In the first place, I should like to say that we consider the Bill as it now stands, as it is leaving this House, to be a bad bit of legislation. We consider that, instead of presenting the best possible scheme of constituencies, the Minister has done his best, and has succeeded to a very large extent, to produce the worst and most absurd scheme of constituencies that it is possible to produce.
We had here last year a very long debate on electoral reform in which one of the major arguments put forward by the Minister for Local Government and the other Government spokesmen was that it was undesirable to breach county boundaries, that, as a matter of fact, it was fundamentally wrong to breach county boundaries and that in order to avoid unnecessary breaching of county boundaries we should change our entire method of election to Dáil Éireann.
The Fine Gael Party in the House during that debate made the case that under the Constitution as it then stood and as it still stands the breaching of county boundaries on any large scale was unnecessary in order to implement the provisions of the Constitution. I said then and I still say that while I do not regard county boundaries as sacred or as something that cannot under any circumstances be interfered with, it is a matter of commonsense that they should not be unnecessarily interfered with.
One would have thought, therefore, that the Minister in drafting this Bill would have done so in a way that would disturb the least possible number of county boundaries and that would necessitate the transference of the minimum number of people from one county to another. What do we find? We find that the Minister has transferred 17 portions of counties out of their existing county boundaries into others and in doing that has interfered with nine counties and has transferred approximately 100,000 people. It has been demonstrated to him that that was quite unnecessary, that it was necessary to interfere with only six counties, to breach six county boundaries and in the process of doing that he would have to move only 41,000 people, approximately one per cent.
Why did the Minister do as he has done? Why did he move 100,000 people when the transference of 40,000 would do? If he were acting in pursuance of the principles enunciated by him in the debate on the proposal to change the Constitution he certainly would have moved the minimum number of people. We find that he did not do that, that he went to the other extreme and transferred as many people as he could or, at least, many more people than he might have.
One can only come to the conclusion that the Minister had an ulterior motive for that and that that ulterior motive was to gain political advantage, or to try to gain political advantage, for his own Party. I deplore the effort of the Minister in the Bill as it now stands to gain political advantage for his own Party. It is immaterial whether he succeeds or not—I do not believe he will and I have made that clear all along —but in setting out on his campaign he has inconvenienced a great number of people; he has, indeed, inconvenienced a great number of Deputies both of his own Party and of other Parties, for what he believes to be the political advantage of the Fianna Fáil Party.
The next thing that is obvious here is that there is not a uniform pattern throughout the Bill. One would have thought that it should be possible on reading the Bill to determine what the Minister had in mind when he set out to draft the constituencies. Did he believe in large multi-member constituencies or did he believe in the smallest possible constituency? We will find that he did not proceed on recognised principles in this respect. We simply find that where he thought it suited himself and his Party to have three-member constituencies, for example, he has them. In any part of the country where he thinks that his Party in the past did fairly well, and might expect to get 50 per cent or more of the votes, he goes all out for three-member constituencies.
That is quite apparent in the new three constituencies of Galway where before there was a five-member constituency. The Minister has abolished the five-member constituency and the three-member constituency, and of course if he was to treat the County of Galway on its merits he would have in the Bill seven Deputies for the county, a four-member constituency and a three-member constituency, because the population has fallen considerably in Galway over the last 30 years. In round figures it has fallen by nearly 20,000 yet we find a glaring example of an effort by the Minister to gain an unfair advantage for his Party because although the County Galway as a unit should suffer a loss of a seat because of a fall in population, and because of that fall in population the representation should fall from eight to seven Members, the natural thing would be to have a three-member and a four-member constituency but instead the Minister injects a bit of Clare into Galway and provides three three-member constituencies.
That is a classic example of what the Minister set out to do. We have the same in Donegal. Donegal is not now entitled to six Deputies as it was for the Minister unnecessarily grabs a bit of Leitrim and puts it into Donegal which he regards as a safe constituency although the referendum results really presented it as a marginal constituency. However, the Minister is a man of hope; he hopes that things might be the same again in the next election and he provides for all three-member constituencies, hoping that in each of the Galway constituencies he will get two out of three, which he will not, and hoping the same will happen in Donegal. Next we have Clare, which was a four-member constituency and which the Minister could have retained as a four-member constituency, but instead he sends a bit of it to Galway and then we have the three-member constituency again. Roscommon he reduces to a three-member constituency and brings in a bit of Westmeath, surrounding the Minister for Education, to provide a three-member constituency there.
That is the pattern all over the West where the Minister thinks he will benefit by the three-member constituencies. That would be understandable if that pattern projected itself throughout the entire country. We could say: "Well, because the Minister did not get away with abolishing proportional representation and he still believes that PR is not a good system, he wants to neutralise it as much as he can and reduce its effectiveness as much as he can." We would be justified in saying that and the Minister would have an argument although we might not believe it. We come then to the populous areas of the city of Dublin, and in and around it, where the Minister knows that he is on the run, if he has not actually departed, and he opts there for four-member constituencies where before we had three-member constituencies and some five-member constituencies. It is well known that in an area where the Minister can get 51 per cent or near it in a three-member constituency, he thinks he will get two out of three seats. It is also known that it is very difficult for any Party to get more than two out of four seats in a four-member constituency and that it takes much fewer votes for the weaker Party to get two out of four in a four-member constituency under PR. Of course, the Minister knows that because he has made more than a study of this matter. As I say, all around Dublin we have had the constituencies carved up in order to suit the Minister and his Party.
This is a bad Bill, a Bill which has set out to provide not a fair scheme of constituencies but a scheme which is unfair, unjust and calculated to give advantage to one political Party. That is what the Minister set out to do but I do not think he will succeed. He is not a good judge. However, it is our business to expose this effort, and I only regard it as an effort. It simply will not work because I would not regard the Minister as being an authority on how the people are thinking. In the very recent past he has been proved to be completely out of touch with public opinion and public thought on matters of importance. That was very definitely demonstrated in the referendum. This is a type of Bill that would never have been recommended by any sort of impartial or independent advisory body. There can be no doubt about that. All on this side of the House are against it while the Minister's Party are in favour of it. As far as we can interpret public opinion through leading articles in newspapers, it is regarded by independent thought as an absurd piece of legislation.
This is a measure that affects every Party and most Deputies in the House and, indeed, all the people of the country in a personal way. Yet the Minister blames us, abuses and ballyrags us for daring to debate, or trying to get him to debate, it in a reasonable way. It is a measure which should be capable of substantial amendment, a type of measure that should be brought into the House, if fair play is to prevail and democracy to succeed, as a sort of skeleton. The Minister should be prepared to discuss it within reason but we have had no worthwhile amendment accepted by the Minister. The Minister wanted to block any amendment. He tried to prevent the Report Stage and so ensure that no amendments would be put down. I emphasise that we used Committee Stage, as we are entitled to use it, to get the Minister's views and thoughts on the Schedule, constituency by constituency. Having done that, we intimated that we wanted to put down amendments and substantial amendments and we had to have a battle royal to get a Report Stage that would be worth-while. When we did get it, yesterday and today, the Minister simply refused to take part in it. He said—he will not disagree with me or be offended if I use his own words—that he was not going to take part in this farce. He stood up and left the House, I think. I do not know what he was at, but my opinion is that he was arranging constituencies in a more personal way. That is how this measure was treated in the House.
It is a fact that some constituencies had to suffer; at least some of them needed altering. Everybody takes County Leitrim because it is a county that has received the most amazing treatment. The population of Leitrim fell between 1936—I am giving the Minister the benefit of the doubt by taking 1936—and 1966 by 20,336. Therefore, it was obvious that it had to get support in order to be entitled to representation. The case was made here by every Deputy interested in the constituencies, other than the Fianna Fáil Deputies, that Leitrim should have been amalgamated with Sligo. The only Deputy who spoke against that was Deputy Gallagher and, fair play to him, the strongest case he put up was to say that the Minister's scheme was as good as any other. It was not as reasonable as any other scheme. It should go on record, too, that between 1936 and 1966 the population of Roscommon dropped by 21,338. In the same period the population of Cavan which is affected by this Bill dropped by 22,640. In the same period the population of Monaghan dropped by 15,557.
The population of Mayo fell between 1936 and 1966 by 45,802. Those are only a few constituencies taken at random. They demonstrate the failure of Fianna Fáil policy during those years. I could—and the Minister well knows this—go through the Schedule to this Bill section by section and item by item and county by county and remain within the Rules of Order and talk here until 10.30 tonight if my object was, as the Minister alleges, simply to delay the passage of the measure through the House and to obstruct. When I sat down, several of my colleagues could get up and discuss the Schedule item by item from their own angles and remain within the Rules of Order if our object was to obstruct and delay.
I consider that we in this Party have discharged our obligations and duties to the House and to the country in regard to this Bill on Second Stage— during which it got a reasonable discussion — on Committee Stage and on Report Stage which we had to extract from the Minister and his Party. We have demonstrated that the Minister introduced the Bill in bad faith; that he was committed before that to introducing an electoral monstrosity and absurdity. He has succeeded. I am satisfied the people of the country who have followed the debate are by now satisfied that is what the Minister set have followed the debate are by now satisfied that is what the Minister set out to do and what he succeeded in doing I do not think that is an unreasonable assertion by me because I know, and the House knows, that during the debate on the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution the Minister went on record ad nauseam as saying that no one could prepare reasonable constituencies under the Constitution as it stood without the tolerance he sought, a tolerance which would give him the right to decree that, while as few as 16,000 would qualify for a Deputy in one area, it would take 24,000 to qualify in another. The Minister committed himself and his Party to the proposition that the Constitution needed amendment and that, if it were not amended, he could not produce a reasonable scheme of constituencies.
On the Second Stage of this Bill I posed a question to the Minister. I posed that question again on the Committee Stage and now I shall pose it once more: why did the Minister for Local Government, committed to the proposition I have just outlined, take on himself the task he had already said was impossible? One would have thought that in such circumstances the Minister would have said to his Taoiseach: "Look, I am too much involved in the controversy which has gone on over this. My views are too well known. I have already committed myself by saying that the present system is unworkable. Please do not ask me to do the impossible because, even if I were to do my best, what I did would not be accepted by the people as an honest effort."
The result of the referendum was hardly known when the Minister for Local Government rolled up his sleeves and went baldheaded for this task. I remember on a debate here— it was, I think, on a motion of no confidence—the Minister tore himself away from his office to come down here and make a contribution. I remember that he started off by saying that, unfortunately, he had not been in the House during the debate because he was concerning himself in his office with such important matters— that is how he described them in his own sarcastic way—as the number of babies born in the maternity hospitals in Dublin on 14th September——