It is my intention to be as reasonable as possible. If I thought this amendment desirable I would accept it but I outlined last week some of the difficulties I face with regard to the size of the numbers. The effect of this amendment would be to make it obligatory under law that the serial numbers printed on the back of ballot papers for use in referenda be in 6-point type. There is a practical reason which makes it essential for me to oppose the amendment.
The contract for the printing of ballot papers for use in the referendum on accession to the EEC has been arranged by the Stationery Office. The Stationery Office have taken up the matter of the size of numbers on the ballot papers with the contractors. They have ascertained that if serial numbering of the size specified in the amendment were to be used on the ballot papers for the referendum it would be necessary to have numbering boxes of the appropriate size made to specification by a firm located abroad. They have indicated that a period of approximately three months would have to be allowed for delivery.
As the Taoiseach said in the House today, the intention is to hold the referendum probably in May. If we were obliged to await the supply of papers bearing 6-point serial numbers the referendum would be held up for several months and there would not be any guarantee of the actual delivery date for the small numbering boxes. As Deputies are aware, the referendum must be held not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days from the date I make the order fixing the referendum. It would be an impossible situation if the making of the order had to be postponed on such an indefinite basis pending delivery of the relevant numbering boxes. I think the House will accept that in the circumstances I have no option but to oppose the amendment.
At the same time, I should like to repeat that I accept the point made by Deputies that the wording of existing legislation on this matter is somewhat indefinite. I expressed my intention to consider this matter and to see if smaller numbers could be used in the numbering of ballot papers but I cannot afford to leave myself in a position with no room to move. If I make it law now and the machines are not available—I do not know when they will be available, an estimate of three months has been given—it is on the cards that acceptance of this amendment, even the 10-point type the Deputy has recommended now, could mean the holding back of the referendum date and I do not think the House would accept that that would be a reasonable thing to do. However, for future elections I am having a look at this matter to see if smaller lettering boxes could be acquired.
I have checked with the Stationery Office and asked them to get in touch with the contractors with whom arrangements have been made for the printing of the ballot papers with regard to the size of the serial numbers. They have informed the Stationery Office that the smallest size serial number available for use on the machine which must be used is 14-point. The machine in question has a high speed and the type is set in curved form. This machine must be used because some two million ballot papers must be printed in a short space of time.
I think the House should accept the difficulties I face in this matter and accept my expression of intent in relation to considering it for future elections and, if necessary, availing of future legislation proposing amendments in the electoral law. I have already informed the House that I intend to introduce this legislation some time in the future. I could avail of that occasion to introduce legislation governing the size of type but I could not accept it at the moment in view of the difficult position the Government and the House would find themselves in in relation to the forthcoming referendum because the machines are not now available. I do not think it would be desirable to get the work done abroad.