European Assembly Elections (No. 2) Bill, 1977: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

At present the Assembly of the European Communities consists of delegates designated by the Parliaments of the member states from among their members. The treaties establishing the Communities envisage the introduction of a system whereby the Assembly will be elected by the people of the Communities by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all member States. In pursuance of this aim, a Council decision and an Act providing for direct elections to the Assembly were signed by the Council of Foreign Ministers at Brussels on 20th September, 1976. These instruments laid down certain provisions in relation to direct elections and provided that, pending the entry into force of a uniform electoral procedure, the procedure for the elections will be governed in each member State by national provisions. The purpose of this Bill is to lay down the provisions to apply in relation to the direct elections in this country until such time as a uniform electoral procedure comes into force.

The decision signed at Brussels in September, 1976, does not fix a specific date for holding the elections but refers to the intention to give effect to the conclusion of the European Council held in Rome in December, 1975, that the first direct elections to the Assembly should be held in May or June, 1978. The Government consider it very important that the elections should take place on the target date. Failure to meet this deadline would reflect on the credibility of the Communities and on their ability to fulfil their commitments. The Government earnestly hope that each member State will be in a position to hold the elections in May or June next and I am sure the House shares our determination that this country at least will be fully ready to proceed with the elections at that time. May I say that I have assured my colleagues in the Council of Ministers that, irrespective of the change of Government and the consequences this would have for reintroducing legislation here, it was our firm intention to proceed with this legislation? I think I was able to anticipate that I would have the support of the House in getting the necessary legislation through so that we could meet the target date.

Turning from the European to the national level, this Bill is an important development in our domestic affairs. The constituencies set out in it have been determined by a process which ensures that there cannot even be a suggestion that it was inspired by the aim of achieving electoral advantage for any particular political party. I think this is a step forward which will be welcomed without reservation by everybody who is involved in the democratic system of this country, as a Dáil Deputy or a public representative at any other level or as an ordinary elector. The House will be aware that, as long ago as September of last year, the Taoiseach gave it as his opinion and intention that this would be a suitable occasion to introduce the Commission for Constituency Revision, and I am glad it has been possible, even in the short time available to us, to do just that.

The constituencies proposed in the Second Schedule to the Bill were drawn up by the commission, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Walsh, which was set up by the Government for this purpose. I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the members of the commission for the thorough and conscientious way in which they carried out their task in a relatively short time. The proposed arrangement of constituencies, in the words of the commission's report, "appears to provide a reasonable basis for the fair conduct of elections and has due regard for social and economic factors, the electorate and density of population as well as to total population." I have pleasure in recommending the proposed constituencies to the House.

Constituencies apart, the provision of this Bill are essentially the same as those of the earlier Bill on this subject presented last April which lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil on 25th May. Reference is made in the second paragraph of the explanatory memorandum to a small number of departures from the text of the previous Bill. These changes are minor ones of a tidy-up nature with no question of principle involved.

As to the major principles contained in the Bill, I am confident that the House will be able to give them its unanimous support. The most fundamental question to be decided was the matters of the elector system. In adopting the single transferable vote we are choosing a system with which our electors are fully familiar and which affords them a wider range of choice between parties and candidates than would generally be available under any other system. The STV system appears to be the most suitable in our particular circumstances and we should not regard our freedom of choice in this matter as being in any way restricted by the fact that the other member States may adopt different systems.

The Bill proposes that nationals of the other member States ordinarily resident here will have a vote at Assembly elections on the same conditions as Irish citizens. We know that some of these electors may have the right to vote by post or otherwise at Assembly elections in their country of origin and that for some the possibility of voting in more than one country may arise. However, the European instruments forbid double voting and this Bill makes it an offence under our law to vote at the same Assembly election in this country and in any other member State and lays down a penalty for doing so. Until a uniform procedure is introduced for all member States anomalies of this kind appear inescapable. Meanwhile, the proposal in the Bill appears to be the most "European" solution as well as being the most suitable arrangement in the circumstances of this country.

In regard to the qualification of candidates and the procedure for their nomination, it seemed sensible to follow the same general procedure which applies at Dáil elections and the Bill provides accordingly. Probably the main question arising here is the size of the deposit which it is proposed to require of candidates. Generally there are two ways of doing this. The right to nominate candidates could be restricted or a substantial deposit could be required. The requirement of a deposit seems more in keeping with our tradition and more likely to be acceptable.

The Bill, therefore, proposes to rely on a deposit and recommends the same level of deposit as proposed in the previous Bill on this subject. I know some Deputies may have misgivings about a deposit of this order but this must be weighed against the necessity to ensure that every candidate whose name appears on a ballot paper will be abona fide contestant.

In relation to the nomination of candidates, there is another matter which I think ought to be mentioned and that is the provision that a person may not be nominated in respect of more than one constituency. This embargo is considered desirable in order to avoid the possibility of a person being elected to fill more than one Assembly seat and the complications that would arise from such an eventuality.

Under the Bill the role of political parties will be the same as at Dail elections but it will be open to candidates, where appropriate, to use the name of the relevant Assembly political group on ballot papers in addition to the name of their political party. Provision is also made in the Bill for the registration of parties specifically organised to contest Assembly elections.

One of the most difficult problems related to Assembly elections is the selection of a method for filling casual vacancies. In the electoral law of this country two methods of filling such vacancies in the membership of elected bodies are recognised. Vacancies in the Dail and among the elected members of the Seanad are filled by by-election while vacancies in the membership of local authorities are filled by co-option.

In relation to by-elections there are two very serious objections in the context of Assembly elections. First there is the considerable expense and inconvenience of holding a by-election in the large constituencies proposed in the Bill but, more important, there is the distorting effect which by-elections could have in our representation in the Assembly. There is of course a strong argument for by-elections in relation to the national Parliament in that they provide a useful method of testing public opinion between general elections and can, thus, have an important bearing on Government policy.

This argument has no relevance in the context of the Assembly which will not have the task of appointing an executive to be responsible to it and for this reason their representational aspect becomes more important. A by-election is therefore not a suitable device in this context but on the other hand, direct co-option by the Assembly itself is also not appropriate.

The Bill therefore attempts to bring together the idea of filling vacancies by co-option with which we are familiar in the local government field and the view that, once the political composition of the Assembly has been decided by the people at a general election, this balance ought not to be upset by accidental casual vacancies. Section 15 provides that casual vacancies will be filled by appointment by the Dail. If at the last election the seat had been won by the candidate of a political party, the appointment will be made on the nomination of that party, provided it furnishes a nomination within three months.

The detailed provisions of the Bill are dealt with very fully in the explanatory memorandum and it seems unnecessary for me to dwell on them at this point. I will, of course, be glad to deal at greater length with any point on which the House may desire clarification.

Introducing this Bill is a pleasant task for me. The Bill was largely prepared by the previous Government and, apart from the question of an delineation of the constituencies, we in this Government found it possible to adopt it virtually unchanged. This brings home to us that there are issues on which all parties in this House can agree. One of these is the necessity to make the institutions of the European Communities more responsive to public opinion by the early introduction of direct elections to the Assembly.

Our standing in the EEC is based on our wholehearted participation in the Community's institutions and our constant support for the principles of the Treaty. Equally, we have always promoted the need for strengthening the democratic process in Europe and to the extent that a directly elected Assembly provides a direct link between the people and one of the institutions, can only be welcomed by all who want a truly democratic European Community.

The fact that 83 per cent of the Irish people voted in favour of Europe in our referendum for accession has always provided our negotiators and representatives in the Community with considerable moral backing. Direct elections will further enhance our position within the Community by providing a direct democratic link between our citizens and decision-making within the Community.

Direct elections will also ensure that the Community remains consistent with its own ideas and has a greater sense of reality with regard to its present commitments and future obligations.

It is necessary that there be a wholehearted commitment by all parties to direct elections. There must be no indifference. Might I say that those who might seem to have some degree of opposition to the whole concept of direct elections, are in an intolerable position. This position would seem to me to be, one might say, a democratic aberration. How can anyone genuinely oppose direct elections which simply mean that the people are getting a right to be consulted democratically or are they happy to say that the people have no right to be consulted democratically?

Whatever the evolution of the powers of the directly elected Assembly, we must be effectively represented to ensure that our voice is strong and that the Community remains consistent with its own objectives and ideals.

As Deputies are no doubt aware, Parliament has at present perhaps the negative power of dismissing the Commission and also rejecting the Community's draft budget. There is also the conciliation procedure which affords Parliament an effective voice at the Council of Ministers on matters with regard to which Parliament is directly concerned.

At present, Parliament has considerable budgetary powers. It can reject the Community's draft budget which this year is in the nature of £8.2 billion. It is worth remembering that 75 per cent of the EEC expenditure is on the Common Agricultural Policy. While the Community budget represents only 2.15 per cent of the total of the budget of the member states and about 0.69 per cent of the Community's GNP, the European Parliament has a considerable role to play in restoring expenditure in areas which are of vital interest to Ireland. Indeed, as recently as yesterday the Budget Committee of Parliament accepted an amendment tabled by our representatives there which will increase by £110,000 funds available for studies on cross-Border projects in Ireland. This extra expenditure is to allow for more comprehensive socio-economic studies of the whole Irish Border region to be undertaken with Community financial assistance. The proposed amendment will increase the funds available for these purposes to £317,000. It is my determination that the Council of Ministers will accept this.

Direct elections will require the active participation of all to ensure an adequate turn-out of voters. Might I say that those who aspire to direct elections should inform themselves with regard to the functioning of the present Parliament and European matters? In this regard I should like to assure Deputies that I will facilitate them by making arrangements for them to visit both Parliament and the Commission in liaison with the Information Departments of the respective institutions.

One of the issues that has surfaced here in Ireland with regard to direct elections is the question of the level of salaries for the European Parliamentarians. While no definite decision has been taken on this matter I might say that the figures mentioned have aroused public interest as people become aware that these salaries reflect the enormous difference in living standards between various regions of the Community.

This is because people do not relate sufficiently to the Commission, are not sufficiently aware of who is serving the Commission in the first instance and because it is frankly too remote a problem in the second instance. The interesting thing here is that this question is now being asked for the first time because through their elected representatives, the people do relate to this assembly and obviously are more aware of the level of salaries applicable in Europe. To that extent it is a vindication of the role of the Deputy and also must pose a question to the Commission as to how this matter has not been raised beforehand and is now being raised only when we are talking in terms of parliamentary salary.

While the present Bill provides that the dual mandate, that is, membership of Dail and European Parliament, is not incompatible, nevertheless, this must be considered more as an interim arrangement, which is what it is. Hence it would seem desirable that the dual mandate be abolished in all countries in the event of a uniform electoral system being adopted. Furthermore, the burden of work and responsibility would be such that membership of both Dail and European Parliament would be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, we shall have to arrange that there is effective consultation between Members to the European Parliament and the National Parliament to ensure that the views expressed in the European Parliament are not in direct conflict with our interests. Each party will have to elaborate within its own ranks arrangements which will ensure close liaison and a consistency of approach between Euro Members and TDs. A low turn out to direct elections would not only be very damaging for a directly elected Parliament but it would also hinder our standing with our European partners. The mere act itself of holding the elections will not be enough in itself. The elections must be a genuine exercise in democracy with a very large degree of vocal participation. We have a very good record in Europe and it is vitally important that we maintain that record and strengthen our own position in the Community and also the position of this newly directly elected assembly. Arousing the necessary public interest will be a task for all parties and I am confident that, as in the past, that will be done and that Members of this House will play their full part so that we collectively can continue to play a fully committed part in the development of Europe. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I regret having to commence my reply to the Minister's introductory speech on a note of protest because of the manner in which this Bill finds its place on the Order Paper today. Last week I made very careful inquiries to ascertain whether the Bill would be taken this week. I learned through the Whips that it would not and the reason was that—it is understandable—the Minister for the Environment would be out of the country. Apparently the Government had second thoughts and a note that the Bill would be taken today appeared on my Whip's desk last night after 7 p.m. when he had left the precincts. When the matter was raised this morning on the Order of Business by me both the Taoiseach and the leader of this party agreed that the difficulty should be resolved between the Whips, meaning, I took it, that there would be discussions between the Whips. There were no such discussions other than a communication from the Government Whip that the Bill was proceeding. I want to put that on the record and I want to suggest it is not the best way of getting business done. It is true the Bill appeared on the Whip which was sent out that week, but the understanding was it would not be taken this week for the reason I have stated. I want to put that on the record.

Ireland entered the European Community on 1st January, 1973, and since then our experience in Europe has been one of finding that it is beneficial for this country. Our experience endorses the view of this party when we advised the people to join Europe by voting in the referendum which brought us into Europe. Having considered the matter, we believed our entry was good for the country as a whole and for the economy as a whole and our experience there has been a vindication of our approach.

I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak of our high standing in the European Community. It is, indeed, a matter of gratification that we hold this high position and are so highly regarded in the European Community. I would be less than human if I did not think that the part played by the leader of this party as Minister for Foreign Affairs over our first four-and-a-half years in Europe had not contributed to a major extent in projecting a favourable image of our country in Europe and earning for us as a nation the high regard and esteem in which we are held. I am confident the present Minister will follow in the footsteps of Deputy Dr. FitzGerald as Minister for Foreign Affairs and continue to project the country in Europe in a favourable light. I do not envy him his task but I am sure he will measure up to the size of it and that we will continue to enjoy our high reputation in Europe.

May I intervene for a moment? I was taken by surprise, too, by the manner in which this Bill has come before the House. I, unfortunately, have another engagement which means that I must leave the House for a short while. I am reluctant to leave in view of the compliment from the Deputy but I hope to be able to get back as soon as possible.

On a point of order, is it the Minister's intention to reply to the Second Stage?

Can he give us any indication when he will be back?

I will be back in time to reply.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The fact that the Minister has to leave the House—I am not complaining about his leaving because I am sure he was just as much inconvenienced as I was by the putting of this Bill on the Order Paper today— is evidence of the unsatisfactory approach and the arrangement I mentioned earlier. I do not think it is good enough.

I was speaking about the high standing in which this country is held in Europe and I was saying I would be less than human if I did not attribute that to the performance of the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy FitzGerald, in his capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the four-and-a-half years of our membership. Those were four-and-a-half very important years. A good beginning is half the work. Had we created a bad impression, had we acted in an irresponsible way, had we not measured up to the high standard expected of international statesmen, we would now have a bad reputation to live down. We all know how difficult that can be.

Fortunately, the opposite is the position. We have built up a good image; we have given a good performance and I trust that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has left the House to keep another appointment, will give a performance in Europe during his term of office that will do credit to this country. That is what we all hope.

This party is in favour of direct elections; we think that is the next important step after the enlargement of the Community from six to nine members which happened in 1973. The next step is direct participation of our people through universal franchise in the government of Europe. We have supported that and, on behalf of my party, I am here to continue to afford that support and to say that I believe that if our people are really to become part of Europe and get the best out of Europe the direct elections are a must.

It might be expected that as a result of the fact that we were in Government for four-and-a-half years the National Coalition played a big part in bringing these elections forward. I should also like to record that some time ago it was not thought that it would be possible to have these elections held before 1980 but at a meeting of the summit in Paris in December, 1974 the then Taoiseach, Deputy Cosgrave, proposed that the date be brought forward from 1980 to 1978. That proposal was accepted by the other eight heads of state. I believe and I am informed that the European Parliament regard the moving forward of the date from 1980 to 1978 as a very big achievement and welcome the change.

In Government we were also responsible for securing the present representation for this country in the European Parliament. It was proposed to allot 13 seats to Ireland. For a number of reasons we thought we were entitled to more and refused to accept 13 seats. We thought that this country, with its small population scattered over a very wide area, with some scattered in remote parts of the country, required a larger number of seats. We fought for the larger number and secured 15 seats instead of 13. That was a much greater achievement than might be appreciated. The additional two seats for us involved a complete revamping of the membership of the European Parliament. The fact that we got those two seats had the effect of increasing membership of the Parliament from 398 to 410 seats in order to maintain a balance. Getting those extra seats really has a profound effect on the Bill we are now discussing because we are providing constituencies for 15 seats instead of 13. As mathematicians know, there are far more possibilities when dividing up 15 seats compared with 13. Therefore, the advantage gained after hard bargaining in Europe by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dr. FitzGerald, is of great benefit to us both in numbers and in dealing with the constituencies.

Further, we made the case, and it is important to know, that we thought that with 13 seats we would have great difficulty in manning the 12 sub-committees of the European Parliament in addition to the Parliament itself. There are 12 sub-committees and we are expected to be represented on a good number of them, if not all, as well as holding our place in Parliament. It is important, therefore, to have as many seats as possible. I may have been wrong when I said that the allocation of the two extra seats increased membership of the Parliament from 398 to 410—that was due to another fight we made and with which I shall deal later. In fact, the increase in the number of seats from 13 to 15 had the effect of increasing the size of the Parliament by 50 seats.

We also thought, in view of conditions prevailing in Ireland, that it was necessary that Northern Ireland as a unit, although a part of the UK, should have as many seats as possible in the European Parliament. We thought that because of the political situation there the area should have as many seats as possible and also so that minorities should be catered for. We had to fight for this and again we got the result because it had been proposed to allot only two seats to Northern Ireland but as a result of the fight put up by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dr. FitzGerald, the number was increased by 50 per cent to three seats. The matter did not end with just giving an extra seat to Northern Ireland. That had the effect of increasing the size of the European Parliament from 398 to 410 seats, we having already been instrumental in increasing it by 50 seats to 398 when we got our own membership increased from 13 to 15. I should like to think that the enormous goodwill and respect which the then Minister had built up for this country must have played a major part in getting an additional two seats for the Republic of Ireland, and an additional seat for Northern Ireland, notwithstanding the fact that that had the effect of increasing the overall membership of the Parliament by 62 seats or thereabouts. It is only right that we should take credit for these things. It may not be very easy for the Minister introducing the Bill to be lavish in his compliments for the work his predecessor did, nevertheless it is right that the facts should appear on the record and that is why I am putting them on the record of this House.

The Second Schedule to the Bill which deals with the constituencies comes before the House exactly as recommended by the independent commission presided over by Mr. Justice Walsh of the Supreme Court. I should like to join in the compliments paid by the Minister to Mr. Justice Walsh, to the Secretary of the Department of Local Government, and to the Clerk of the Seanad, for the amount of work they put into it. I notice the Minister did not say: "What a good boy am I" or "what good boys are we" on having introduced the commission.

I welcome the commission. It is a good idea. I hope I will not sound ungracious if I say nobody had a better right to introduce the commission system than the Fianna Fáil Party because, over the past 50 years, the constituencies were revised a goodly number of times and they revised them in their own way, for their own benefit, and for their own purposes, on each and every one of those occasions, with one solitary exception. If the commission system were to be introduced, nobody had a better right to do it than the Fianna Fáil Party. I hope this is the beginning, and now that the ice has been broken and the precedent has been set, all future constituency revisions will be carried out by a commission. This is desirable and it is a good thing. It is also refreshing—may-be I am taking credit for a number of things——

The Deputy is in good form.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Let me at it. I was glad to hear the Minister saying he thought the single transferable vote was the type of election best suited to the needs of this country. I am glad Fianna Fáil are converted at last to the system of proportional representation with the single transferable vote.

The Deputy's former leader, Deputy Cosgrave, was very much against that, I understand.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Parliamentary Secretary understands that. Has he any evidence?

He is on record. However, I do not want to be contentious.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to quote me any reference he has if he is referring to records.

I have not got the references here but I could get them. It is a well-known fact about the former Taoiseach.

We are not dealing with past history. We are dealing with the Bill before us.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Whoever was in favour of what, it is well known that the Fianna Fáil Party were united 100 per cent on that whatever else they may not be united on. They were united on doing away with proportional representation with the single transferable vote. It is good that we have a young Minister coming in here——

Deputy Cosgrave was in favour of the Fianna Fáil concept.

(Cavan-Monaghan):—— and showing that he and they are now converted to proportional representation with the single transferable vote. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary is not yet converted but his Minister is. If he feels so strongly about it that he feels obliged to make these little interjections——

I am on record as being for the single seat constituencies.

Deputy Fitzpatrick.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Bill provides for four constituencies: two three-seat constituencies, a four-seater and a five-seater. The fact that we have 15 seats in the European Parliament leaves the drawing of the constituencies open to innumerable possibilities, several of which would be reasonable. The Bill introduced by the previous Minister for Local Government provided one set of constituencies. This Bill provides another. Each is acceptable in its own way. Each conforms with criteria which are acceptable to us.

We made a short submission to the commission setting out our views. We said that the 15 seats secured for Ireland in the negotiations offered four possible combinations instead of three. With 15 seats it was possible to have three five-seaters; a five-seater, a four-seater, and two three-seaters; three four-seaters and a three-seater; or five three-seaters. Some of those possibilities would result in four constituencies and we supported four constituencies. We argued that advantage should be taken of the possibility offered by the 15 seats to have four rather than three constituencies.

We also felt, and we said so to the commission, that they should have regard to the undesirability of constituencies of uniform size. In other words, we were against five three-seater constituencies. I am glad the commission accepted that argument. Having five three-seater constituencies. we felt, would impose too rigid a pattern on the whole country, making inadequate allowances for varying sizes in terms of population and the different socio-economic regions.

Other considerations we suggested the commission should have regard to may be summarised briefly as follows. We argued to the commission that, as far as possible, the constituencies should represent coherent regions with broadly similar socio-economic characteristics. I am satisfied that the constituencies as drafted measure up to that suggestion. We also argued that they should comprise groups of existing Dail constituencies so as to facilitate the organisation of the election and thus help ensure a high turnover representative of public opinion and that as far as reasonably possible they should avoid breaching county boundaries. Again, I am glad that has been done.

We argued that they should be such as to be likely to give representation to political parties broadly in line with their share of the overall national vote. That can be done in various ways and I am satisfied that the way proposed by the commission is reasonable and that no reasonable man can say it is unreasonable. We also argued that the dominant democratic principle of equality of parliamentary representation be respected by not having more than a minimum divergence of ratio of population to seats as between constituencies. There is a difference and a divergence but it is not so marked or so unreasonable as to be objectionable.

The Bill is almost unique in that it gives votes to citizens of all Community states. That is an innovation for us. I understand that the legislation proposed by other member states, with one exception, does not follow this pattern. They propose to give votes only to their own nationals and do not propose extending the franchise to the nationals of other member states. I suggest that the Minister for Foreign Affairs argue the case with his colleagues in the Community that they should follow our example and give votes not alone to their own nationals but to the nationals of other member states resident there. That is a reasonable request. We have set the good example and it should be followed by other states. It is possible that very few votes will be at stake, but the principle is important.

It is proposed in the Bill that the election be held within the given period on some day from Thursday to Sunday, inclusive, and the object of that is to fall in with the procedure for election in other European countries. It is also provided that the count will not commence until the Monday following the Sunday which is the last day for taking the poll. That means that we could have an election here on a Thursday but the count would not start until the following Monday.

The Minister should tell us what he has in mind in relation to the date for holding the election. I also observe that the Bill provides that the count will take place in a convenient place in or adjacent to each constituency. That means that in the entire province of Munster the ballot boxes from each polling station will have to be brought to one centre where the entire count will be conducted. Most of us are interested in elections, the counting of votes and procedures at elections and I am sure many will agree with me that it would be a formidable task to bring the ballot boxes to one centre. Eight counties are involved in the constituency of Connacht-Ulster and the ballot boxes will have to be brought from every polling station in those counties to one centre. There is danger involved in bringing them long distances and presumably it will mean starting at 10 p.m. and travelling through the night to the counting centre. I am raising this matter now to give the Minister an opportunity of thinking of the problems involved between now and Committee Stage.

Would it not be better if the Presidential Election counting system was adopted and the votes counted in each Dail constituency? I realise that it would not end there because the transfer of second and subsequent preferences would have to take place. I suggest to the Minister that there might be a happy in-between and that the first count be conducted in each constituency. For example, the ballot boxes for County Donegal could be opened in that county, the votes sorted and the first count take place there. Assuming there are six candidates for five seats in Connacht-Ulster there would only be six boxes to transfer from the Donegal centre to the centre where the second and subsequent counts would take place instead of transferring in the region of 200 boxes from all areas of that county.

The remainder of the Bill follows the pattern of the Bill drafted by the former Minister for Local Government, which, in turn, is largely a re-enactment of the Bill for the holding of Dáil elections. The fact that it was drafted by the former Minister for Local Government or that it follows the procedure for the holding of Dáil elections does not necessarily mean that it cannot be improved. Improvements can be made on it and I hope to be putting forward a number of amendments for Committee Stage in this regard.

I would dearly like to see a tidying up of the procedure for voting by elderly people confined to institutions. I do not mind who benefits or looses— may be that is too much to expect from a politician—but it is unseemly and unsightly to see the pressure that people in institutions or homes for the elderly are subject to at election time. A system of voting through companions was introduced and the terminology is good, kind and nice. I assume, when that was enacted a few years ago, the drafters meant the people would be assisted by a relative or friendly neighbour. It can be truly said that in many cases the companion is nothing but a political agent who is interested in getting the person into the booth, getting the vote recorded and that is that. Something should be done about that.

There are a number of points I wish to raise but I will not bore the House by going into them now because they would not be proper on Second Reading. They are more appropriate for the Committee Stage. For example, the time for nominations seems to be very short, seven days from the date the elections are announced nominations must be closed.

The Minister's addendum is further evidence of the panic there was to have this Bill taken today. I do not think I have ever seen an addendum to a Second Reading speech before. This addendum was probably the thinking of the Minister as distinct from the thinking of the Department which drafted and handled the Bill, and shows the Minister's intervention. In it he deals with the salaries European parliamentarians will be entitled to receive. That is not dealt with in the Bill. He pointed out, and I would not disagree with him, that the work required of European parliamentarians is very substantial. The travel involved, the time they are away from home and the number of committees they have to serve on are quite considerable. He also pointed out that the salary paid is evidence of the great gulf that exists between the European and Irish standards and cost of living.

A serious study of what is involved will prove that substantial salaries are justified. I would not like to think that this Bill was responsible for introducing monetary considerations into Irish politics. The Minister has dealt with that point in his addendum. It would be a sad day for Ireland if the reward for parliamentary service, whether at European or national level, was the salary paid. It can be truly said that that has never been the case so far as the national parliament is concerned because salaries were never pitched at such a level as to make them the sole consideration. Indeed, they were pitched at a level that would discourage rather than encourage people to enter politics. That does not mean that we could not have the other extreme. Let us not judge European salaries without first considering the work involved.

The Labour Party welcome this Bill and the speed with which the Government have dealt with transferring the commitment of the previous Government and the report of the commission into proposals for a Second Stage reading. I would like to place on record my party's concern with the way in which this has been managed by the managers of business in the House. Deputy Fitzpatrick has said all that has to be, and should be, said on this matter. The House is a little poorer because we have not had more notice of this. If it is any indication of interest in the European elections, it does not augur very well.

As spokesman for the Labour Party. I would like to talk about the European elections and against the background of the referendum held in which 83 per cent of the electorate voted for the EEC. They were persuaded into voting for that Community by the two major parties. Part of the carrot that produced that 83 per cent was the prospect of a substantial regional policy, social fund and the immediate democratisation in the foreseeable future of the institutions of the Community.

If we were to have a referendum today, we would be hard pushed to get 83 per cent to vote in favour of the EEC. We should not take the commitment of our people, based on a judgment that the EEC would work out, to be constant approval for the EEC. Many people are far from happy with the way the EEC is functioning both in the area that has immediately benefited from it, the agricultural sector, and in other areas where there has been a net loss in terms of the results of membership of the EEC.

I view with a certain amount of concern the statements made by both the Minister and the Fine Gael spokesman for the Environment with regard to how well we are received in Europe. I think there is an element of inferiority complex in all this, that somehow we have to be seen to perform well in Europe. I do not deny that the Irish Government have acquitted themselves well over the last four years. I am confident that individual Ministers in this Government are more than capable of maintaining the standard set in the first four years.

Of much more concern and importance to the Irish public and to the people we represent is how well the EEC performs for us and for our constituents. While recognising that it is a legitimate and praiseworthy aspiration of any politician in executive office to do the best that can be done to maintain Irish standards abroad and the reputation of Irish people abroad, there is an obligation to ensure that the EEC delivers to the Irish people all that was so bountifully promised by the two major parties in the referendum.

We were told that the regional policy and the Social Fund would be part of the basket of goodies for the Irish people. It has been a very small basket. We are now told that the European elections and the democratic control of the European elector of his member in the Assembly would somehow transform the Community. We as a political party welcome the advent of direct elections. We are happy that the date was brought forward at the Paris summit from 1980 to 1978 and we look forward to participating fully in these elections, but we will be pushing for something far more than the simple direct election of members to an Assembly which in itself is incapable of effectively redistributing wealth and power within the EEC community. In relation to terminology I reject the shorthand that we have tended to slip into in referring to nine states as Europe, excluding other states within Europe which are not part of the Community. We should refer to the Community when we mean the Community and refer to Europe when we mean Europe. We welcome the prospect of direct elections and the prospect of an extension of democratic control to the European Commission budget, but in doing that we fully recognise that that is extremely limited. The unity of Europe is a common objective in political opinion here and to that extent the direct elections when held will be a milestone along that road.

If an historical analogy is of use, I suggest we are now at the stage historically, of discussing the Chartist reforms of the 1830s. As far as the labour movement is concerned, it was a long time in Britain, between 1830 and the advent of a Socialist Party, before it made any significant impact on the lives and livelihood of the majority of the people in that State. In welcoming the direct elections and this Bill, and in commending the Government for the speed with which they have introduced it, we wish to point out, lest the enthuasism of the Minister for Foreign Affairs runs away with him, that direct elections or a European Parliament on its own given the power that it has now, will not initially do very much to solve the problems of the millions of people who are at present unemployed, and will not do a lot to resolve the peculiar problems which confront the Irish people.

I do not wish that to sound a begrudging comment. It is not meant to be. I am merely being consistent with the position that this party held before the referendum on the EEC and subsequent to it. We accept the democratic decision of the overwhelming majority of the people. In accepting that, we rededicate ourselves to democratising the European Parliament, and attempting to get some shift from the centre out to the periphery. From the statistics, I understand that there has been no significant shift in either power or resources from the rich nations to the poor nations. To the extent that the proposed salaries for European members has caused comment, nothing is a greater indictment of the imbalance between the rich and poor sectors of the Community than the level of those salaries. The salaries should not be seen to be excessive. A salary which would be considered normal for a TD in Germany or France, is perceived to be enormously bountiful in Ireland or in Southern Italy. That is an indication of how much work lies ahead of the European Parliament in tranferring resources from the rich to the poor regions.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that:

In adopting the single transferable vote we are choosing a system with which our electors are fully familiar and which affords them a wider range of choice between parties and candidates than would generally be available under any other system. The STV system appears to be the most suitable in our particular circumstances and we should not regard our freedom of choice in this matter as being in any way restricted by the fact that the other member states may adopt different systems.

I regret that the Minister in making that perfectly acceptable statement did not advert to the fact that on two historic occasions by way of referenda the Irish public by majority vote came out in favour in principle of such a system and that the Irish adoption of the STV system in this context should not be seen merely as a matter of procedural convenience. It should be seen as something upon which the Irish people formally made a decision, that therefore we are committed to such a system, and that in any discussions that may take place between the various member states about an integrated and uniform system of election for the nine or perhaps 12 member states, our commitment as a nation should be made fully clear to all the other member states.

The election date has been referred to. Nobody seriously expects the European elections to take place in the spring next year. Informed commentators have already adverted to the fact that they did not expect such elections to take place then. The possible dates referred to are this time next year or the spring of 1979. In some respects it is to be regretted that this delay will take place, but given the context of politics in France and in Britain it seems inevitable. The present Government no less than their predecessors, are to be congratulated on removing any barrier to the holding of those elections at the prescribed time. To that extent I, on behalf of the Labour Party, support the introduction of this measure, and appreciate the speed with which the present administration have introduced this Bill.

I turn now to the commission that was established and to the findings of the commission. I follow Deputy Fitzpatrick on this. We welcome the establishment of the commission. We welcome the fact that the European elections provided a unique opportunity in which the whole idea of a commission, which had been voiced on numerous occasions, could be tried out, to see how it would work in the context of domestic politics where there would be a certain amount of trepidation about the functions and workings of such a commission. On balance it is fair to say that the speed with which the commission made their decision, and the final content of that decision, is, generally speaking, seen to be fair and acceptable to majority opinion.

One will never satisfy everybody with regard to boundary proposals. I am sure when the Fianna Fáil Minister for Local Government of the day was drawing up his boundaries there were a lot of alternatives proposed behind closed doors. I am sure that was equally the case with regard to the last Minister for Local Government. However, it is fair to say that, given the terms of reference— the options contained in alternatives for 15 seats—the commission have done a job that certainly is acceptable in principle to the Labour Party and we welcome it.

When those elections take place one of the provisions of the Bill is for the allocation of names of domestic political parties, national political parties, if you like, and European political groupings. I could not help but smile at the opening speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he referred briefly to that fact in that I look forward with a certain amount of interest to the designation of Fianna Fáil candidates on the ballot paper and to the policy put forward by them on the grounds that the Minister's personal commitment to some form of federalism within Europe is quite clear and apparent. However, the same commitment is far from shared by the Fianna Fáil colleagues in France. It will be of interest to us who are so concerned with the democratisation of the European Parliament to ascertain whether the influence of the Fianna Fáil Party will extend to the Gaullist Party in France to the extent that they will relax some of their virulent anti-federalism and antagonism towards the European Parliament generally.

Perhaps the Minister might address himself to what appears to be a contradiction in regard to the aspirations for the future of the Parliament: I refer to the position adopted by the Constitutional Court in France regarding France's participation in direct elections. It seems to us in the Labour Party that, in effect, there will be a very substantial brake put upon the democratic evolution of the European Parliament. If I understand it correctly—and I am open to correction on this—the French have said: "We will participate in this Parliament only if its powers are not increased significantly". In effect, that rules out the aspirations not merely of the Labour Party with regard to the development of this Parliament but equally so those of the Fianna Fáil Party, if I understand the intent of the Minister's speech. Perhaps the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary, at the closing of this stage of the debate or on Committee Stage, might refer to that point. If the Minister and the Government wish to get support for the European elections they have to hold out the prospect of some real evolution of that Parliament in Strasbourg above and beyond its current role.

At this stage I would urge on the Government that in order to maintain the high credit rating, if you like, of the Irish public's interest in the EEC institutions, they should not resort to the tactic of holding the European elections on the same day as local elections in order to guarantee a high turn-out. That would be a dishonest approach to the Irish attitude to the European Assembly. It would be an apparently convenient way in which to kill two birds with the one stone. I have heard it voiced—not, may I add, by Members of the Fianna Fáil Party but by people who are described as "committed Europeans", whatever that means, because we all happen to live in Europe; rather I should redescribe them as committed members of the EEC—that in case we cannot whip up sufficient interest in these elections so remote from the Irish public it might be necessary, useful or smart to run the two together. On the assumption that the direct elections do not take place next spring—and consequently are more likely to take place in the spring of 1979—we would be running up to the end of the term of office of present local government members.

I believe that would be totally dishonest. It would be dishonest in terms of using it as an indication of how much the Irish cared about the European Assembly. But, speaking as a former member of a local authority, I would say that the prospect of combining a campaign for local elections with that for the European Assembly is daunting at the least. One cannot but think of the extraordinary situations that would evolve in attempting to clarify issues about the European Assembly, about its future evolution and, at the same time, deal with the very legitimate concern of local authority members and local communities. Therefore, I should like an assurance from the Government that that temptation will not be yielded to because, in the long term I believe it would damage the body politic of this country.

One point not adverted to as yet is the fact that for the first time since 1918—I am subject to correction on this—all of the adult electorate, the people of this island will be voting together at the same time the same day within the framework of the same election. In view of the position of all three parties with regard to the reunification of this country that historical fact should not go without comment. As far as the Labour Party are concerned we will be campaigning in the European elections as a member of the Socialist International, as a member of the Confederation of Socialist Parties within the EEC. In the North of Ireland the SDLP is a sister member of both those organisations.

It is my hope that the joint policy programme in which the Labour Party will participate in these elections with other members of the Socialist International in the nine member states will contain an attractive prospectus for the electorate North and South of the Border.

I referred earlier to the short notice with which this Bill has been brought before the House. But it would be unfair to use that as an excuse for attempting to delay or complain about the contents of the Bill. As far as my party are concerned we welcome its introduction. We welcome the commitment the Government have displayed for its speedy implementation so that we cannot be accused in any way of delaying the official date for a European election. We believe a positive lesson has been learned from our experience of the commission. To that extent we hope that in view of the general widespread, positive acceptance with which that comission's report has been received our Government will take their courage in their hands and introduce a similar kind of commission with regard to Dáil constituencies should that become necessary.

When the elections take place we feel they should be uncluttered by any considerations of local elections or any other domestic issues that would get in the way of the real political issues centred around the European Assembly. To that extent, as spokesman of the Labour Party on the Environment, I might add that we would like formal reassurance from the Government that they will not resort to insisting or attempting to combine the two elections, side by side, for the reasons I outlined earlier.

An exercise in political education is required in order to explain to the public the implications of this Bill and of the European elections. I hope that the Commission in executing this exercise will make adequate funds available for those people who have reservations about the nature of the Community's capacity to deal with social and economic problems. Otherwise many people who are dissatisfied with the performance of the EEC—largely because of its failure to deliver to the Irish public much of the social and economic policies promised in the 1972 referendum—those who are essential to the democratic life of the country, will not participate at all. In that event the election, as a democratic expression of the people's support for the Assembly in Strasbourg, will not be a true or accurate one.

In his speech the Minister said that as Minister for Foreign Affairs he is prepared to facilitate parties, and presumably other individuals, in connection with visits to the Commission, to the Assembly in Strasbourg and other aids with regard to information and so on. I should like clarification as to whether this facility will be coordinated with the work of the commission through their office in Merrion Square or whether it will be channelled through some pro-Community movement such as the ICEM. Will the Minister clarify what he has in mind and the kind of budget envisaged in order to provide this kind of information?

We have reached a very historic stage, which to my mind, has not been sufficiently highlighted. For the first time since 1918 there will be an election for the entire island of Ireland. If anything is likely to generate interest in the South on this question of the European Parliament and the Assembly at Strasbourg it might be this fact and the Government should bear it in mind.

In his closing speech on this Stage the Minister might clarify how he, as a Member of Fianna Fáil and a constituent part of the European Progressive Democrats, can reconcile his aspiration for the enlargement of the European Parliament and the democratisation of the institutions of the Community with the Government's alliance with the Gaulist Party in France and the steadfast opposition of that substantial grouping to any significant democratic enlargement of the powers and roles of the Commission and the European Parliament. To what extent does he as Minister for Foreign Affairs see the decision of the French Constitutional Court effectively putting a bar on the hoped-for evolution of the European Parliament?

We welcome this Bill and we offer the Government our co-operation in getting it through the House. We hope it will go on the Statute Book without too much delay.

I welcome the Bill, not just because it was introduced by Fianna Fáil but because it is a most historic Bill. The whole concept of the European Community grew from the efforts of men such as M. Schumann and M. Monnet in the original coal and steel pact. Now we are about to enact legislation that will allow the Irish people to send elected representatives to the European Parliament.

In the EEC referendum our people voted overwhelmingly to join the Community. One thought was uppermost in the minds of people in Europe; it was that this would mean peace, that we would not have to endure the wars that have raged in Europe every 20 years—the conflicts in 1870, 1914 and 1939. We saw that countries such as France and Germany could bury their differences, could come together and work for European integration and prosperity. The problems between the two countries were thrashed out in Strasbourg or Brussels instead of on the plains of Europe with the destruction of so many people.

Today we are playing a significant part in remembering the 28 million people who were killed or maimed in World War II. Quite apart from any material considerations we are playing our part to unite Europe and to prevent war. I should like to see the Community enlarged. I should like to see every country in Europe in the position of working together peacefully for a prosperous Europe, thus ensuring peace. I welcome the principle of the Bill as well as the subject matter.

The Bill is really an expansion of our domestic election machinery. There is not much difference. Certainly the deposit is higher but ten or 15 years ago the £100 deposit required in the national elections must have meant quite a lot to the people concerned. I do not think the deposit in this case is too high, nor do I think it will cause embarrassment to any candidate.

We should thank the commission which this Government set up to draft the boundaries for the new constituencies. They did their work quickly and well and we wish to thank them for that. The Government have set a headline for the future. Without being petty, I am sure the previous Government now wish they had referred the matter of the new constituencies to a commission. They could not have done any worse in the election.

There are certain matters in the Bill than can be dealt with on Committee Stage. In the meantime I want to refer to Deputy Quinn's speech and his reference to their opposition to the referendum some years ago. It is a pity the Labour Party members make the same speech. If I were a foreigner and I listened to some of the British Socialists speak about the EEC and I heard Deputy Quinn speak afterwards I would assume that the Irish Labour Party are merely a regional part of the British Labour Party. The people in the Irish Labour Party are their own worst enemies because they trot out the arguments of the British Socialists and they try to justify their opposition to our joining the European Community by the fact that they are Socialists. They do not seem to remember that the vast majority of Socialist parties on the mainland of Europe were behind this integration of the six nations and then of the nine nations.

Deputy Quinn now informs us that they will campaign in the next election with all the Socialist parties of Europe, as members of the Socialist International. That is a great turn around. They opposed our joining the Community because they are Socialists and now they will campaign with their European counterparts to try to ensure that their candidates are elected. This is very inconsistent and not on a par with European thinking. We have a part to play in Europe. The Government brought forward this Bill very quickly to ensure that we will keep the date set for the elections by the European Commission. The only country dragging its feet on this is the United Kingdom. The other countries want to keep this date the same as we do. When this Bill becomes law we can say to any of the countries in the European Community that we are ready for the European elections.

I will have more to say about this on Committee Stage because there are parts of the Bill that are difficult to assess quickly. I want to mention something I mentioned previously on Bills concerned with domestic politics, that is, the ballot paper. It has been proven by political observers that the place where one's name is on the ballot paper may decide whether or not one is elected. I am not complaining because it does not affect me. The first letter of my name is the thirteenth in the alphabet. I have never finished thirteenth. We should have a look at our ballot paper as well as the European ballot papers which may be a different shape. I have often thought if we had a round ballot paper it would be the ideal thing.

What would happen to the A's?

We would all be equal. The A would be equal to the Z. I have seen articles written since the last election showing that certain people would not have been elected if their names were in a particular position on the ballot paper.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Parliamentary Secretary is very satisfied with the present system.

I am sure the Ceann Comhairle is also.

(Cavan-Monaghan): We will not be concerned next time.

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary need worry about where his name is on the ballot paper.

(Cavan-Monaghan): He was arguing against the Deputy.

He was not arguing against it. We should look into this matter. I do not know what the shape of the European ballot paper is. Candidates could perhaps draw for a place on the ballot paper. It is a small point but this Bill, like many others, is made up of small points which are brought together, become a Bill and eventually an Act. Deputy Fitzpatrick said that he would not like to think that financial reward would be an overriding consideration. We also share this view. I do not believe that this is a consideration with any politicians that I know. If it was one would select other fields for one's endeavours. If a politician were to work the same hours in a professional capacity he would get a greater reward. The reward in politics is given to politicians because they are involved in politics, are giving service to people and are part of the whole democratic set up. I do not believe anybody will try to go to Europe for financial considerations. It is tough having to go to Europe so frequently and possibly having to learn a third language in order to be a good member of the European Parliament.

I believe this Bill is another part in the process of restoring our place in Europe. It will mean that our Members can partake in deliberations in Europe which must surely bring about the prosperity we all seek. We know that unemployment is as big a problem in Europe as it is here. If one looks at the amount of money we have got from the Community fund since we joined the EEC one can see that we have got a lot more than we put into it. We should consider the European Community as an agency for the better distribution of wealth.

I would like to remind the Deputy and the House generally that the Bill does not permit a general discussion on the merits or demerits of membership of the European Economic Community.

I accept your ruling, Sir. The point I was making is that the new European Parliament will be an instrument not only of governing generally but also a weapon in the fight for a more prosperous Europe. Deputy Quinn said that the Labour Party accepted the decision of the people in the referendum. What else could they do when the people voted by 83 per cent to join the Community?

We could have maintained our opposition to the EEC but we did not.

The Deputy's party could not because they would have been laughed out of the House. Britain had a big task before she joined but now she has accepted the facts of life, as the Deputy's party have. There is no future in opposition to the EEC. When the Deputy says that his party accepted the decision, they had no choice in the matter. I suppose the commission which set up the boundaries here will be criticised. We will probably be told that they could have done this and that. I believe it is generally taken that they have done a good job. They have fashioned the constituencies in a way that will give us the opinion of the people in those areas.

I can see this as our return to Europe because we have always had European connections. This time we are going in as equal members of the European Parliament. We fought for so long to get rid of the coat tails of our neighbour and those who opposed our entry to the Community were prepared to perpetuate our hanging on to those coat tails. If we had not entered the Community, partition would have been perpetuated because the Six Counties would have formed part of the Community and we would have been outside it. The Irish could see where their future lay and we have benefited enormously from our membership. We are a sovereign nation in Europe. Anyone elected to the European Parliament will have the opportunity of playing a major part in the Community. There is now a possibility of three other countries becoming members and we welcome the expansion of the Community and hope that eventually it will encompass every state in Europe.

I do not want to interrupt the Deputy again but I would point out that the Bill is to regulate the conduct of elections to the European Parliament. A general discussion on the EEC must inevitably await the motions which are on the Order Paper in relation to the reports from the EEC. There are no fewer than ten reports on the Order Paper for discussion in the near future.

This Bill might well be a model for other nations but I will not pursue that point.

Deputy Quinn mentioned holding the two elections on the same day. We are still not quite sure of the date of these elections but we will be ready when the time comes. I do not know what the Government will do about holding the local elections on the same day. It is not an important point. The people will be very interested in these elections since they will be held on a nation-wide basis and this will generate tremendous interest. An extra fillip will not be needed to get people to vote. A great deal of effort will be put into this campaign and everyone will recognise the importance of sending the best people to Europe, whether men or women. I look forward to this historic election and I believe that the legislation here will enable people to come out and vote. There are one or two small points which I hope to raise on Committee Stage.

Apart from the material good that the new Parliament will do, it is a pledge to the people who have suffered in the wars of Europe that at last Europe has learned a lesson, that we are coming together and that we have seen the last of the European wars. I look forward to a prosperous Europe in which this country will play an important part.

First of all, I should like to congratulate Deputy Andrews on his appointment and wish him well during the next few years. I want to make a number of brief points. At present the Assembly of the European Community consists of delegates designated by the parliaments of member countries from among their own members. The original treaty envisaged the introduction of a system whereby countries could elect people in the same way as in their ordinary internal elections. The Act of 1976, from which this Bill has arisen, laid down the provisions to apply in relation to direct elections here until such time as a uniform electoral system comes into operation. I should like the Minister to tell us what is happening regarding electoral procedures.

The Bill also mentions that the election might be held in June, 1978. We have all accepted that this will not happen. I agree with Deputy Quinn in that this election should not be held at the same time as the local elections. This is a very important matter and if we are sincere about it we should decide on a single voting day.

All who are interested in democracy, as is everybody in this House, welcome the fact that the constituencies have been drawn up by a totally independent commission and no advantage is given to any grouping. I congratulate Mr. Justice Walsh and his staff. It is often said that commissions are set up simply to delay matters. This commission was set up some time in July and very speedily accomplished their work. Mr. Justice Walsh has stated that a reasonable basis for the fair conduct of elections appears to be provided, with due regard to social and economic factors, the electorate and density of population, as well as total population. I accept that and, having looked at the constituencies, it seems a very fair split-up.

As the Minister said, the STV system is the one with which the electorate are fully familiar and it affords a wide range of choice between parties and candidates. I agree with that.

There is reference to the fact that until a uniform system is introduced anomalies appear to be unescapable. A person might be able to vote in two countries. We cannot solve this kind of problem in our own country and a person who has moved to a new house may be entered twice on the register and thus have two votes. When several countries are involved it may be difficult to eliminate this kind of thing.

The qualifications for candidates and the deposits required are very much in line with our domestic system and should not cause any difficulties for prospective candidates. Hopefully, the holding of by-elections will be avoided because of the massive expense involved and the size of the campaigns which would be carried on. The domestic affairs of a country would probably be affected for several weeks. It seems to be a fair system.

Deputy Moore seems to think that we may not have a problem in arousing interest in the European elections. Most people know very little about the European Parliament and it may be a difficult task to arouse sufficient interest in order to get a high percentage vote. I should like to congratulate Mr. Justice Walsh and his staff and the Government for the speed with which they have put this Bill before the House. We cannot be accused of delaying the European elections. Perhaps the Minister will tell us if there will be a delay and the countries responsible for it.

I should like to compliment Deputy Andrews on his new appointment. He is suited to it. If you look across the House at him you will see that he has the European look, with his long flaxen hair that we associate with Germans and Danes. He could pass as a representative of these countries.

I welcome the Bill. We are all disappointed that we are getting only 15 representatives for such a vast Assembly. Like yourself, a Ceann Comhairle, coming from the large areas of Connacht and Ulster, we too are disappointed that our population only permits us to have three representatives. It is a pity that it has been done on a population basis. It is wrong that a large area such as Connacht and three counties of Ulster are only entitled to three representatives. It takes longer to travel through the constituency that I represent than it takes to travel through Dublin.

It is amusing to note the comments of political commentators in regard to the salary of £30,000 per annum. As parliamentarians, we have been too apologetic to the Irish people in the past in regard to our salary, which is in the region of £5,000. Many salesmen earn more than £5,000 per annum and there is not a word about it. When people talk about £30,000 salaries they do not realise that many sacrifices will have to be made by politicians if they are serious about the European elections. Many of them will be away from their homes for weeks, working 70 to 80 hours per week. It is only right that the salary should be high because it will encourage a better type of individual to stand for the European elections. One of our faults at present is that we are not enticing enough people of the right calibre to offer themselves as candidates for Dáil elections. Many managing directors pay more in income tax than the amount of our salaries. If you want the right kind of representation in Europe you must pay the right salary and we should not be apologetic about it.

Section 3 of the Bill provides for a wider franchise as far as voters are concerned. It is worth mentioning that many American citizens who are living here in retirement are not using their voting rights. The American Ambassador should be asked to notify them that they are entitled to vote.

I welcome the fact that postal voting will be confined to the Garda Síochána and the Army. There is no doubt that injustices were done to many people in local elections because of the postal vote. I know of constituencies in which the system was abused right, left and centre. In some towns and cities large numbers of votes were made use of because of the postal voting system. I often wonder whether our voting system is the right one. We must all admit that impersonations are carried on. In towns with a population of between 15,000 and 20,000, candidates have been known to collect ballot papers and misuse them. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should consider the problem in regard to the European elections.

Some years ago I asked the Minister for Local Government if it was intended to introduce photographs on driving licences. If this was done a driving licence could be used as a means of identification for getting a ballot paper. It is our duty to ensure that this type of impersonation is wiped out. The only way in which it can be wiped out is to insist on proof of identification for voting. There is nothing to stop people who live in flats from voting several times at an election.

Some speakers said they were in favour of holding the two elections at the same time and some were against it. It would be a good idea, particularly in country areas, to hold both elections at the same time. If this were done it would ensure a full turnout of voters. It distresses me to see so few Deputies taking an interest in this important legislation. Unless the election coincides with some other election it is likely that many people in country areas will not bother to vote. Already there are indications that people in some of the political parties will not be in favour of these elections, but in common with many others I often ask myself what situation we would be in today if we had not joined the EEC. I was not a great advocate of membership but in hindsight I realise the extent to which agriculture has benefited from it. Hopefully we will benefit, too, so far as fisheries are concerned. At least we have vetoes in regard to all these spheres of activity and we should not be shy about using those vetoes where necessary.

Section 15 is very interesting. It might be to our benefit as Dáil Deputies to introduce the kind of legislation that is proposed in this section whereby casual vacancies can be filled by the nomination of a person from the political party of which the person causing the vacancy was a member. Those of us who have been public representatives for some time are aware of the time that is wasted on the occasion of by-elections. We spend weeks campaigning when, properly, we should be attending to legislation. The other system would be fair and just. When a party or parties are elected by the people to rule, they should be allowed to rule until such time as a general election is necessitated. It is in this context that I am advocating a change in the system of replacing members who die or who for some other reason must be replaced.

In conclusion I welcome the Bill. It contains many good points which we here might adopt for this Parliament.

First I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment and wish him well in his new post.

I am in favour of direct elections to the European Parliament. Consequently, I welcome the Bill. Unlike Deputy White, I was one of those who advocated our joining the EEC. I spent a fair deal of time discussing the question and urging a vote in favour of membership because I could not see any other realistic way of facing the future economically or even socially. At the time we were facing the removal of the EFTA tariffs in respect of agriculture.

I am very happy with the arrangement as provided by the European Assembly Constituency Commission. This represents a fair division of seats. I am glad, too, that there is proposed provision for three seats for Northern Ireland. This should ensure that the minority will have representation in Europe. I understand that this provision involved a certain amount of negotiation.

Deputy Quinn has said that he has been critical of the European Parliament and of the Community to date on the basis of performance. However, it is evident that our economy has been saved during the recent period of recession by, particularly, the advantages and the stability that were achieved in respect of agriculture. It is important that we recognise this and that consequently we are prepared to be enthusiastic about making further advances into our total commitment in the Community. At this stage we are involved fully in Europe as members. We have gained a great deal of experience in the administration of business within the Community, something that we lacked and about which there were real fears in the early days of our membership. However, having gained so much experience in regard to administration we are now in a good position, backed in many ways by the experience gained at the level of the European Parliament, to take the further step of these direct elections.

I was disappointed at the EEC's failure to provide immediate remedies in respect of the energy crisis, remedies that would solve the problems of the various member states and, in particular, the problems that the crisis created for Ireland. Much of the responsibility for this failure lies in the fact that in Europe we were not thinking and working as one. I see the proposed direct elections as a step further along the road to such unity of thought, concern and consideration for one another. I see the proposal also as a means of bringing about much greater democratic control of the EEC's bureaucratic system.

Hear, hear.

Of necessity the administration of such enormous budgets and diverse systems requires an enormous bureaucracy, but this bureaucracy must be answerable to the people of the various member States. It is in this way that I see the greatest influence of the direct elections because the people who will subsquently be representing us in Europe will be speaking with the full backing of the people and will be able to speak with a degree of confidence which I trust will result in greater control of the systems that operate in Europe.

The direct elections, too, will provide an open forum for review, for debate and for agreement on the policies which should be pursued within Europe. In this respect it is self-evident that we will get from the EEC returns that are only in proportion to the efforts which we as a people put into the Community. We have been rather shy in this respect to date but it is time that we put a wholehearted effort into the development of all the member States. The EEC is a very adult and fastmoving Community. Therefore, through the direct elections we will need to have the strongest possible representation. It is on that basis that I trust the people who will be representing us will be chosen.

Because of changing circumstances, changing social and material conditions, our younger people may not realise what went before. They will know very little of the worries and concerns we had prior to our membership of the EEC. They are growing up as Europeans and they will look to us to set up the systems, the organisation and the methods of democratic control which will enable us to avail whole-heartedly of the opportunities presented by our membership of the Community.

I hesitate to mention the word "salaries" but I am glad that Deputy White raised the question. In this regard I am very much in agreement with him because I detest the sort of small-mindedness that could operate where this matter is concerned. Those who go to Europe will have an onerous task. There is plenty of evidence of that. Deputy Clinton has indicated clearly that the burdens carried by such an onerous and diverse office are considerable for the individual Deputy.

There is a view expressed fairly widely to the effect that the salaries of directly-elected members of the European Parliament should in some way be restricted. I do not agree with this view. If we are to be Europeans we must make up our minds that we will be Europeans in the full sense. I might add that I am not particularly anxious or involved directly in that respect, but we must face up to the situation. The disruption to the lives of families of Deputies, the inconvenience and the wear and tear to the members who will be elected will be very considerable. The positive contribution which will be expected and is very much needed from these people will mean that they must be free to participate fully as equal members of the European Parliament.

Deputy Moore has said that he is very anxious to see an enlargement of the Community and there are plans for enlargement in motion at present. I agree with this political desire for a wider involvement but I am disappointed that the EEC have not addressed themselves to structural and development problems which still exist in both the North and South of Ireland and in other parts of the Community.

We should be prepared to take things step by step. The movement towards direct elections is very important for the member States, and in relation to it we should establish ourselves in a democratic way before going much further with all the other economic and social problems which will arise from enlargement.

In conclusion, I am in favour of direct elections. They will bring the plain people of Ireland more directly into contact with Europe because the people would be making their own decisions about our representatives in Europe. Our democratic involvement in European administration will be increased.

I want to assert my welcome for the proposal and I suspect there will be unanimous approval of the provisions of the Bill. It is an historic Bill in so far as it sets out to enshrine the continued contribution by this country to European affairs and to the international stage generally. It will give solid realisation to the natural aspirations of the Irish people who have traditionally faced in the European direction with the traditional selflessness shown by their input and contribution to European affairs generally.

The Bill is not controversial. It is, with one or two minor exceptions, precisely the Bill which was drawn up by the Coalition Government prior to the general election. It underlines also, on the eve of the historic occasion of the first direct elections to Europe, that there is much to be gained economically and socially by this country from direct involvement and participation in the European structure. Economically we have already had indications, particularly in the agricultural sector, of the type of benefits which may be anticipated. Socially and culturally the advantages will be more obvious as the years go by. We are an island country off another island which is off the coast of Europe and it is vital that our people have access to the depth of culture, tradition and history which Europe can offer us. I see an opportunity for representatives of our nation at all levels to come into closer contact with people of other European states, and I welcome that.

It is a pleasure to see that the new constituencies have been drawn up and introduced by an independent commission. I presume that this will be the standard format for all constituency revisions at all elections from this day forward. Also, the party that I represent can feel proud to have a part in welcoming the voting system. But for the resilient attitude that this party took in defence of that voting system some years ago we might not now have the opportunity of ensuring that all sections of the community are represented fairly and adequately in the election outcome. The single transferable vote will ensure, perhaps in a degree unprecedented in Europe, a genuine effort to see that all sections of our community have a voice on the European stage.

It has been suggested that those parliamentarians who will become members of the European Parliament will in some way be defecting from the Irish cause and in some quarters there is unease that the excellent services, of these men and women will be lost to the domestic scene. I hope that that will not be the case. I see the role of the European parliamentarians as being an extension of the role that they have been and are playing in the Irish political situation. I anticipate that the strains and stresses which will be upon these people will be compensated for to some degree by the fact that they will be working with a depth of experience gained in many cases from the hard task of political activity in this country, and they will be an enlargement of our political life. They will represent our country proudly and well on the European political stage. It is important that the support and encouragement of all Irish people go with these ambassadors.

There are difficulties, undoubtedly, in trying to convince people that they should be especially enthusiastic about the need to represent them in a European Parliament. I trust the Government will give thought to the ways and means of encouraging maximum participation among the public. If there is not a high degree of participation in the European election the result in terms of democratic emphasis will be distorted. The Government probably have that in mind and may have devices to ensure the maximum turnout of voters. This might be the opportunity to take other measures relating to the queries and questions which the Fianna Fáil Party had and presumably still have in relation to the Constitution and other matters of that nature. This will afford us an opportunity of putting to the people, in the most economic way and the best manner possible for our democratic institutions, a number of other questions which have been troubling the present Government over the last four years. This opportunity to get a public response to some of the proposals they have been putting forward must appeal to them.

I hope that our European Parliamentarians and representatives will be able to tackle in a real way many of the problems of Europe which confront us. As a small nation we are in a vulnerable situation, but I have no doubt that those who are elected will ensure that they represent this country in a way which is adequate and strong in relation to the role they play. I do not propose to go into the type of problems facing the European situation, but the relations between Europe and other parts of the world and, perhaps, specifically between Europe and the Third World, will undoubtedly be attracting a good deal of attention in the years to come. The casual observer at least would be concerned at thelaisser faire approaches in relation to the Third World which Europe at present adopts. I am thinking of the talk we hear—and I am speaking as a Dublin Deputy—of large masses of intervention beef, butter mountains, wine lakes and so on. There will be a need to consider a planned approach to food production in relation to the projected needs of the world and particularly——

These matters may be discussed on motions that are already on the Order Paper. They are not relevant to this Bill.

I accept that and I will not continue along those lines. I just wanted to say in essence that there are major issues with international implications facing those who go forward and are successful in the election. Some people have a relatively narrow view of the role which our European parliamentarians will play. I suggest it is very much an international issue which we are debating and that this is an historic occasion.

One issue that strikes me as being worthy of some consideration is the likely implications of the growth in our population in relation to the number of seats we have at present and are likely to have. I am not aware of any provision whereby reconsideration will be given to the number of seats this country has at a particular time depending on the new trends in the population. Ireland is probably unique in the fact that population patterns are very different from what they are on the mainland of Europe. In some countries there is a contraction of population; in other countries the population is standing still; Ireland does not show too many indications that that will happen in the immediate future. It would worry me slightly that this country, with representation which is already thin on the ground, might have an even more disproportionate voice at some time in the future unless our representatives are fully conscious of the need to stress their full right to adequate representation relating to the population of the country as it might be at any particular time. Obviously, that is not covered in the Bill, but presumably somewhere in the European context that matter will be looked after and I would commend that it would be closely watched.

This is a new venture for Ireland and for Europe, and I would suggest with the greatest respect to heads which are older and wiser than mine is, that there is a need for flexibility, a need, for example, in two, three or four years' time to look again at what has been achieved and how it has been achieved, and to ask whether a review is possible, and whether it is desirable that the Bill as it now is should be amended. In other words, I am saying this may be the beginning of a process rather than the end of a process. It is very important that Europe as a whole should adopt an attitude which will allow flexibility, which will allow for the undoubted major social, economic, cultural and other developments which will take place in the Europe of the eighties and the nineties and the great challenges which will confront Europe not merely internally but in relation to other parts of the world.

On the filling of casual vacancies, one very minor question mark arises in my mind. I know there is provision for the Dáil to fill any casual vacancies, and one would not be expecting a great number of these to occur. For the political parties obviously there is no great problem. There is provision for the political parties to nominate their replacements; indeed, there is provision for them to nominate, apparently, any replacements which are necessary. It might be worth considering the aspects in relation to independent or non-party people who might find favour with the electors when these elections take place. There does not seem to be as full a consideration of the implications of that as might be desirable. In other words, it is theoretically possible that a significant proportion of people who would vote for and elect an independent would be disenfranchised by decisions reached by the consensus of major political parties, and that is something that this parliament, as a democratic parliament, would probably not wish. I do not know to what extent this would be a problem, but I thought it worthy of mention in passing.

I welcome the Government's stated intention of ensuring that these elections are held on time. It is very important that we do not have a long period of speculation and unease, of rumour and counter rumour, which undoubtedly would help to undermine not merely the morale of the parties and individuals who might aspire to success in these European elections but also that of the public. I think there will be a problem in getting the public concerned and interested in the European situation. We do not want to aggravate that by unseemly tussles over, perhaps, a year or 18 months relating to the time of the election and their impact on, perhaps, the domestic politics or neighbouring countries. It would be most unfortunate if that happened, and I have no doubt from the Minister's statement today, that the Government will endeavour to ensure that these elections are held as close as possible to the date for which they have been set. Accordingly, it is a pleasure to welcome this Bill and a privilege to be able to say a few words on what I believe to be an historic occasion for this island of ours.

As the Minister will be intervening in the debate by way of reply——

Do I take it that the Parliamentary Secretary is concluding?

No. The Parliamentary Secretary will hopefully be playing a fairly active part in the propagandising of the European direct elections, and I have felt that, in the circumstances, it is proper that I should make a short contribution on what has been described as an historic Bill before the Dáil. The standard of debate has not been affected by the suggestion that the Bill itself was introduced in a hasty fashion, but the history of its circulation is that the Coalition produced a Bill with the exception of the new constituency boundaries as enshrined in the present Bill, in addition to a number of drafting amendments. Therefore, the Bill was in circulation during the halcyon days of the past Coalition, and I understand the new Bill as drafted has been in circulation since the 18th October. In all the circumstances, there has been a considerable amount of time available to Deputies who are interested in the whole concept of Europe and the direct elections in particular. I would hope that would in some way answer the criticisms about the allegedly hasty manner in which the Bill was introduced today.

The absence of Deputies from the House early in the debate was commented on. If the Deputy who did so were here now he would agree there have been a great number of contributions and a large volume of expressions of views on the importance of the Bill since he voiced his criticism. Indeed, if he goes to the trouble to read the Official Report he will agree that though the criticism may have been reasonable when it was made, it has no validity now.

The contributions made reflect the tremendous interest in this important Bill. It is important to realise that the Bill has received the unanimous support of the three parties in the House. By virtue of their welcome for the setting up of the boundaries commission it is clear all parties also accept the constituency boundaries recommended by that commission and set out in the Bill. It is good to know that every Deputy in the House is behind the Bill, even though there may be some drafting amendments on Committee Stage.

There is another matter of extreme importance in relation to direct elections to the European Parliament. It is that the three parties have a responsibility to ensure that there will be a massive turnout for the elections in May or June next year. As a Parliament we have a duty to do what we can to ensure such a turnout in support of the various candidates going forward. The situation will be somewhat different from the referendum on entry to the EEC when there was an 83 per cent vote in favour. A massive turnout in 1978 will indicate that we have proved our worth in the European Parliament and in the Commission.

Deputy Quinn is right—we should not be going around with some sort of Celtic inferiority complex. It may have something to do with our history. Our important contribution to the affairs of the EEC and the Council of Europe has been recognised as such by the eight other EEC members and the 18 other Council of Europe members—it will be 19 others when Spain accedes in November—twenty in all.

Ireland has a high place in the corridors of power in Europe and this has been achieved by hard work by successive Irish Governments. Our reputation is high, but to copperfasten it it is important that the electorate turn out in equally high numbers as when they voted in the referendum. As Deputy Quinn suggested, such a high poll would ensure the strengthening of the democratic institutions of EEC because it would indicate support for the philosophy of our involvement in Europe, of the continued exposure of one national culture in Europe to another. As the views of Irishmen have been broadened by exposure to other cultures, I have no doubt that other nations have benefited from visits to this country. We have seen that the EEC is not all about crude economics —that there is something else.

Unanimity has been displayed here today and we have an obligation to communicate that to the electorate between now and next summer, to ensure that we get across to the electorate the message of the importance of the direct elections. Naturally, the three parties in the Dáil will be vying for the 15 seats so they will be doing their own thing, but generally there must be an effort to get the public to appreciate the importance of these elections and we must do this with the co-ordination of existing European agencies here.

On the question of salaries, if you place a valuation on yourself people will place that same valuation on you. When we are talking about £25,000 or £30,000 that European parliamentarians will get it reflects the size of salaries which national parliamentarians are getting in Germany, France and elsewhere. I accept the suggestion on salaries made by Deputy Fitzpatrick. We should not be in politics for the salaryper se. When we are in politics on a full time basis the matter of salaries becomes a reality.

At this point it is as well to disabuse the public mind of the view that salaries are tax free. They are not. It is my view that there could well be an improvement in the existing salaries. It is not unusual for parliamentarians to do a great deal of travelling to and from Europe and that means they are away from their homes and from the country for a large portion of the year. They have a great deal of work to do. The dual mandate may go eventually but initially there will be Deputies who will have to work in their constituencies and also work in the European Parliament. Compensating these will be very difficult. No doubt a salary of £25,000 or £30,000 is very attractive but let us not pretend that those going to the European Parliament will not be worth that sort of money. Europe is an extremely expensive place in which to live. When in Copenhagen recently the bill for bed and breakfast was £35 per night. That is the reality. We must keep this in perspective.

It would be a bad place to have the Ard-Fheis for the lads coming up from the country.

It would, indeed, be a very severe strain on party funds.

It is nearly as dear in Dublin.

May I conclude by thanking the Deputies who congratulated me on my position? I very much appreciate their congratulations and I would like to reciprocate by congratulating those Deputies who made their maiden speeches here this afternoon on this very important Bill.

I would like to take this opportunity of wishing the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary good fortune and success as Ireland's representatives in our Department of Foreign Affairs. They know that any help that can be given to them by this side of the House will be given whole-heartedly.

There appears to be almost complete unanimity on the Bill. It is vitally important that only top class candidates go forward in these elections to the European Parliament. The candidates must be of the highest calibre. I am confident that Fine Gael will put forward some first-class people. We must emphasise here and in Europe that we regard the Community as so important we want only the best representation looking after our affairs in Europe.

With regard to the Government most of their top people are in Government but that is no reason why Ministers should not go forward as candidates thereby demonstrating that they recognise the importance of these elections. That is not to say that other than the best are required at home to look after domestic affairs but there are 148 Deputies and only 15 will be required in Europe. That 15 must be people in whom we can have confidence at all times, in their ability, their diligence and their dedication.

The Minister dealt with the date of the election and he hoped that it would take place in May or June of next year. As a politician, looking at the scene in Europe, I have certain reservations as to the likelihood of these elections taking place next May or June. They could well be held in 1979. There may possibly be a time lag but it behoves all of us to be ready.

These elections must not be held in close proximity to local elections. With local elections due in 1979 the danger is the Government might decide to have the European elections and the local elections on the same day. I would urge the Minister to ensure that this will not happen. We have a highly intelligent electorate, an electorate that has shown keen perception at all times.

What about last June?

They made a decision anyway.

They were very clever.

They could not go wrong with Deputy Connolly and myself. It is absolutely important that no other elections are held simultaneously with elections to the European Parliament. Remember, if local elections were held simultaneously there could be no fewer than three ballot papers. This could lead to confusion. It would be an easy way out for politicians and, let us be frank about it, politicians are not overfond of elections. We like good results but we would prefer, if we could to avoid the actual work beforehand. Holding local elections and the election to the European Parliament on the same day could detract from the importance of the latter. Any semblance of confusion must be avoided. I trust the Minister will take heed of what I say.

That brings me to another point to which the Minister referred. It deals with casual vacancies, by-elections, resignations or otherwise. Section 15 of the Bill contains a proposal that would allow the vacancies arising to be filled by Dáil Éireann. This takes away some of the rights of the people regarding filling of vacancies. It would be unwise that Dáil Éireann should have the power to fill such a vacancy because, to be frank, the number of people who would have the actual filling of it would be very limited. A registered political party will have the power, if they nominate a candidate within three months when they have lost a seat, to fill the vacancy. Without considering the different numerical strength of parties you could have a situation in which 12 or 15 people or, in extreme cases, four or five people would have the decision regarding the filling of a seat in the European Parliament which would be the overall right of perhaps close to 250,000 otherwise. This would leave too much power in the hands of a small group and would be unwise. It would put the European Parliament in the position where people would say: "This is a very sorry move. There was a vacancy and four or five fellows in the Dáil were able to push in a pal of theirs to get £30,000 a year and all the perks that go with it." This could lead to a certain amount of scepticism. We must ensure that is avoided.

The Minister very fairly pointed out the position in regard to there not being a necessity for European Parliament by-elections. I shall quote the Minister He pointed out: "This argument has no relevance in the context of the Assembly which will not have the task of appointing an executive to be responsible to it and for this reason the representational aspect becomes more important". If something was going wrong in Europe and there was a vacancy in Leinster and the Leinster people decided to have a rap at the people in Europe, their only chance of doing so other than waiting for a further election would be through the ballot box. All three political parties will be involved in Europe but the people might say: "Let us get rid of all of them" and they might put forward somebody that we might consider an oddity but that the people in Leinster might consider would teach us all a lesson. It is essential that the Leinster people should be entitled to put in somebody they think would teach us all a lesson so that the other 14 representatives in Europe would be able to go there and say: "See what happened to us at home because of the policies being pursued in Europe." We do not like by-elections; they mean a lot of extra work but it is nevertheless essential to have them and I would be in favour of amending the Bill to provide that by-elections will be held similar to the by-elections we have here. By-elections will take place in this Dáil also but the logic of the other procedure would be that it is no longer necessary to have by-elections here. You either have them in both assemblies or in neither and I believe it is essential that we should have them.

A further reason why by-elections may be essential is that our representatives in Europe will be representing Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour and will be members of some of the other party groups in Europe. If party groupings in Europe become more powerful and get greater executive functions—I believe it will be essential in time that the Assembly should get real powers and have an executive because it is only with an executive they can get real power—and if there is a seat being contested and the people in the party grouping want it, they will come over here and help to contest the election. If this occurs it will be for the benefit of the European Parliament in that institutions will benefit through people from other countries coming here and taking an interest in what is going on. Similarly, it will be of benefit for our people to go throughout the Community and see what is happening there. All this will benefit the Assembly and the Community. Otherwise, we would be taking the easy way out and personally I would be against this, irrespective of what anybody else may think.

The deposit is another item of importance. I am sure Members here would have some party backing if they were badly stuck. In the time of the last Dáil or two we had a number of by-elections and some most unusual candidates arrived in certain constituencies. In one constituency I think the candidate did not arrive at all. At least the candidate—I think it was a woman—was entitled to have her name down as a candidate. She put down her deposit and contested the election. It is important not to scare off people from contesting the election. Individuals contest elections irrespective of what views they hold and they are entitled to put them before the people to see what the people think. The people very quickly give their answer if they are not satisfied with what such candidates represent. I do not think we should bring in a regulation under which money would be a bar to any person contesting an election here. The Irish people are shrewd enough to make a decision and I think it would be wrong to specify a deposit which would scare off would-be candidates. I am against having the deposit too high.

I agree with the Bill as proposed. The Chairman, Mr. Justice Walsh, is to be congratulated on the Bill and also his commission for formulating the proposals very quickly and very fairly. I am largely in agreement with it but, personally, if I had the say as to how the constituencies would be worked I would go for a 15-seater. I would have the one constituency. It would be difficult, complicated, and so on. In a 15-seater constituency the three major political parties will get their own percentage of the votes. The vast majority of Fianna Fáil supporters will vote for Fianna Fáil. The vast majority of Labour supporters will vote for Labour and the vast majority of Fine Gael supporters will vote Fine Gael. Each of these parties will follow their own traditional pattern of voting.

A 15-seater would give the minority groupings a much better chance of having a representative in Europe. In the proposed constituencies I cannot see anybody other than the major political parties being represented in Europe. Independents in this House are a help. Independents in a county council are a help. In their own way, political parties are restricted in a great deal of what they say and do. Independents are essential. I will go further and say many Independents will be needed in Europe to try to ensure we are not smothered in red tape and by the actual size of the institutions. Independents would have a good leavening effect in the European Parliament.

I am confident the people will make a very wise decision about who they will select from the candidates offered to them. There is no danger that people representing the Leinster constituency will just consider the interests of the Leinster area or that the people in Munster will be just Munster-minded. The same can be said of Connacht, Ulster and other areas. I hope people will consider themselves as Irishmen first in the election and, when they are elected, that they will consider themselves as Irishmen and the Europeans.

We will be contesting this election under party political banners and, when the posters are taken down after the election, I hope the 15 people who will go to Europe will look after the interests of the people of Ireland in a united manner. It is important that, whatever political differences we have, will be forgotten once we go into Europe, and that we will work hand in hand for the betterment of the Irish people and the future of the people coming after us. It is essential that these 15 people will work as a team on behalf of the people of Ireland.

This is an historic occasion. I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I am delighted that so many people are speaking on the Bill. I hope the Minister will take cognisance of the points I have raised. I look forward to this election. I will not be trying very hard to be a candidate but I will work hard to ensure the success of the election.

Like other speakers I congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on their appointments and I wish them well in their work which is of vital importance to the projection of our Irish image. I am glad to see the Minister has been creating a very good impression in European circles. The Minister and other speakers laid stress on the importance of having a very big turn out for the European election. It is vitally important to ensure that there is a very large turn out in the election if we are to live up to the very high vote for entry into Europe. We must use every means at our disposal to ensure that we have that turn out.

I welcome this Bill and I look forward to its enactment with the least possible delay. Judging by the general agreement among all parties and among all members of the House it appears that it will go through without any real delay. With the implementation of direct elections to the European Parliament, for the first time the people of Ireland will be able to identify closely with European affairs and institutions. They will be able to get first hand information from their elected representatives from each area, information which now appears to be almost classified as secret despite all the publicity given to Europe and European affairs.

Because of the lack of information, in Mayo we have lost a great deal of financial help for various schemes. Our own county manager had to go to Europe to find out the various grants and aids which were available. It was only then that the flow of assistance came to us from various schemes which should have been coming to us for three or four years.

The introduction of this Bill is an indication of our determination to be full and true Europeans while, at the same time, conscious of our own traditions and nationalism. We hope all—and I stress all—the other members will be ready to hold their elections in 1978 and that petty nationalism by any member will not prevent the early holding of direct elections.

This is an historic Bill in that it is the first constituency Bill introduced with constituency recommendation from an independent commission. I congratulate the commission on the expedition with which they delivered the goods, so to speak, and made their recommendations. We find ourselves in the Connacht-Ulster constituency grouped with people who have diffferent backgrounds.

Many of them will not know the different candidates. Deputy White felt it was wrong that the constituencies were chosen on a population basis. Those living in western areas felt that for some time. Fianna Fáil tried hard—in retrospect we were probably wrong to have tried at the time if one is to judge by the subsequent results—to get representation in western areas increased in the last redrawing of constituencies. We would welcome a commission. In so far as western areas are concerned smaller constituencies with fewer representatives than originally proposed would suit.

Unlike Deputy Enright, I view the insistence on a large deposit as being indicative of the importance of the occasion. While £1,000 is a lot of money it should be remembered that our first direct elections to the European Parliament will be important and only those with a reasonable chance of success should put their names forward. Deputy Enright suggested that we should have just one constituency for the country and he put up a good case for minority groupings. However, if we had one single constituency the areas with the greatest population would get the greatest number of seats. If we are to identify with Europe we must hold our elections on a regional basis, as proposed in the Bill.

For Dáil elections many people, through no fault of their own, are defranchised. Commercial travellers and those working away from home do not vote because they cannot make the long journey home before polling stations close. The Minister should look at that situation now, particularly since this is the first occasion we will have direct elections to the European Parliament. It has often been stated that returns from some constituencies were low but if we took into account the number of people who were anxious to vote but could not rather than the number on the register the percentage would be much higher. I hope the Minister will reintroduce the postal vote for those in hospitals, those genuinely ill at home and those who work a long distance from their polling booths. We can introduce safeguards against abuses. In a small area in my constituency 30 people were absent for the last election through no fault of their own. I accept that the system I suggested could be abused but in my view it would be worth the risk to ensure that those who are genuinely entitled to vote have the opportunity of doing so. The existing rules were laid down when the work patterns of people were different. Because of the number of people involved it is essential that the Minister amend section 5.

Deputy Enright also spoke of the need for Irish representatives when elected to the European Parliament to forget that they are members of political parties at home and unite on matters that affect Ireland. In my view that is generally the case and I believe it will continue to be so. However, occasions will arise when their membership of the various European groupings will lead them to vote against one another. It should be stressed that on certain occasions they should vote as representatives of the Irish people and not as members of the various political groupings in Europe. The Bill also provides that the result of an election may be questioned by way of petition procedures similar to that applying in Dáil and local government elections. I have had experience of being involved in one of these and it is my view that such problems are only sorted out from one election to the other. I do not know if there is any real strength in the petition procedure.

Debate adjourned.