Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1971: First Stage.

Leave granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution—(An Tánaiste).
(Interruptions.)

We do not know what is going on.

Would the Deputy please sit down and we will find out what is going on. I called No. 1 which An Tánaiste moved.

When is it proposed to take the Second Stage?

Next Tuesday is the earliest possible date.

I take it the Government are more optimistic that the third attempt to amend the Constitution will be more successful than previous attempts?

An Tánaiste will notice that the Labour Party have a Private Members' Bill which is now being described as the Fourth Amendment; up to last week it was the Third Amendment. An Tánaiste will remember that the Fourth Amendment, as it is now described, in the names of members of the Labour Party was one to give votes at 18 years. I assume the Third Amendment of the Constitution is enabling legislation for the purpose of holding a referendum on Ireland's application for membership of the EEC and other bodies?

That is correct.

As the six member countries and some of the applicant countries have votes at 18, am I correct in assuming that this provision, included in what is described as the Fourth Amendment, will be embodied in the legislation and in the referendum?

That is a separate matter.

Would An Tánaiste be prepared in Private Members' Time to take the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill in the names of the Labour Party members?

That does not appear to be on the Order Paper.

We could not accept that.

The Chief Whip of Fianna Fáil said they would be willing to take any of our motions.

The question of time necessitates this Bill being taken and passed before the White Paper is available and I think the Deputy understands that.

It is proposed to pass this before the White Paper?

That is ridiculous. There are no explanations given in this Bill and unless the White Paper is introduced they will not know what they are voting on.

This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Government ask the Dáil to provide legislation for the holding of a referendum on membership of the EEC when we will not have the terms of entry which, we trust, will be embodied in the White Paper. Surely the logical thing would be to have the White Paper first and then a decision of the Dáil on Constitutional amendments?

Because of the timing in regard to this matter, the debate on the White Paper will take place after the debate on this Bill, not before, as originally intended. It is hoped the referendum will take place some time early in the New Year, after the White Paper.

The people will be asked to vote on something which has not been made known to the general public or to this House.

We are asking the public to decide.

What we are being asked to do is to buy a pig in a poke. We did not do it before and we will not do it in future.

The debate is taking place. We are getting leave from the House to introduce a referendum in order that we can amend the Constitution. This has to be done in any event since we intend to join the European Economic Community.

We do not intend to do that.

Now that this rather scruffy cat has come out of the bag at long last, to the consternation of the front bench I notice, may I ask An Tánaiste how the country and the elected public representatives can consider a constitutional referendum without having available, simultaneously, the White Paper outlining the progress of the negotiations to-date and whether we should proceed to have a constitutional referendum?

Deputy Corish said they are two separate things.

Who did?

You did. The Deputy will remember pointing out that the White Paper will not necessarily have any influence on the holding of a referendum. There has to be a referendum for the public as to whether or not we join the Community whatever the result of negotiations. We are making provision for the holding of a referendum. There will be a White Paper which, I think, will now be delayed because of delays in the negotiations. The White Paper will be discussed in the House. There will be a discussion on the merits of the negotiations and of the package achieved in the negotiations. Whatever the opinion on the achievements or otherwise in the negotiations, a referendum will be necessary, and the legislation to make that possible so that the public can give a decision will take place no matter what the outcome of the White Paper is. Deputy Corish made this point.

Is the delay in completing the negotiations the reason for reversing the time-table?

It is not. It is preparation for a general election and we know it.

There is a delay in the negotiations which means that the White Paper on which the Dáil could discuss the merits or otherwise of the package achieved will be delayed. This will delay the starting of the preparing of legislation for the holding of the referendum. As Deputy Corish pointed out in the House, the questions put on the change in the Constitution are not in any way dependent on the negotiations. The merits on which the people will make the decision whether or not they want to join will be after the negotiations, and after the White Paper. That will be published before the people are asked to vote.

In other words, is it clear that the referendum will not take place until the terms have been published and discussed?

Quite clear, yes.

When will the White Paper be published?

There will also be a debate on the accession of this country to the Treaty of Rome.

The White Paper is being preparedpari passu with the negotiations. When they are completed it will be published.

How long afterwards?

Very soon. It only remains for what remain of the negotiations to be completed before we can complete the White Paper. The White Paper may be available immediately before Christmas. The debate could not then take place before Christmas.

Could we find out when it is proposed to circulate this Bill?

Immediately.

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

You are rushing things.

Are the Government sure that this Bill could stand if it were taken to the Supreme Court?

There does not seem to be anything unconstitutional about asking the people to decide.

(Interruptions.)

May I ask An Tánaiste to clarify something that happened earlier? I understood from an earlier exchange that the Leader of the Labour Party asked whether time would be given for a motion or Bill that the Labour Party would bring forward between now and Christmas. I further understood the answer to be "Yes" and, indeed, that any such motion or Bill would be allowed. I seemed to hear things said subsequently which suggested going back on that and that if a Bill were introduced time would not be given for it. Have I misunderstood the position?

We are not going to confuse the referendum on the question of voting at 18 years with the referendum enabling us to change the Constitution. That is quite clear. The Taoiseach has indicated that he will announce to the House at a later date the question of what steps should be taken to provide for votes at 18.

This will mean that we will have different types of elections from everyone else. In Britain they vote at 18. Are we going to deny our young boys and girls of 18 years of age and upwards the right to vote? This should be a clear-cut decision. There should be no complications.

In all logic the proposal to vote at 18 must be taken before the other referendum so that the young people who will be affected by the EEC will have a chance to vote in the EEC referendum.

Why should we be holding a referendum in the month of March which is the last month of the current register when it will be 15 to 18 months out of date? Why is the referendum not being held in April when it would be held on a new register?

The referendum will be held early in 1972. I have not given the exact date of the referendum.

I should like to put a simple and straight question to the House. Have the Members of the House seen at any time in the past a greater example of collective irresponsibility than we have seen in the front bench of Fianna Fáil?

We have made the position absolutely clear. The White Paper has been delayed because of delay in negotiations. We would have to have a referendum in any event. There will be a debate on the White Paper. It will be necessary to have a discussion in the Dáil for the approval of the accession treaty as required by Article 29.5.2º of the Constitution. There will be a debate on the referendum, a discussion on the White Paper and a debate on accession.

(Interruptions.)

Will An Tánaiste say if there is urgency about the Bill? Why are we rushing the Bill before Christmas?

We cannot discuss the matter any longer at this stage. The Deputies will get ample opportunity to discuss it later.

Second Stage ordered for Tuesday, 30th November, 1971.