Before the adjournment of the debate I said I was concerned that some special consideration be given to the method of the selection of candidates. Because of the small number of seats which Ireland has in the European Parliament the choice facing the electorate will be very small. Political parties will not select so many candidates as to reduce their success at the poll. In very large measure the real selection of the future members of the European Parliament will be done at party level.
It would be unfortunate if a small political caucus had the power to make this selection and I would urge the Minister to give some consideration to this measure and, perhaps by way of amendment, make some provision in the Bill. As we all know, any Deputy worth his salt has a great deal of influence in his own constituency. While the caucus, convention, or conference that selects candidates for the different parties is relatively small, the real choice will lie with an even smaller group of people, namely, with sitting TDs.
The opportunity arises here to try to broaden our democratic base and to experiment by way of involving a wider sphere of people in the selection of candidates. One possibility would be to have a primary election similar to that held in the United States. That would not be a simple thing to do as it would involve registration of voters and so on. I am not suggesting that that would be the system we would adopt but I am asking the Minister to give some consideration to this matter because effectively that is where the choice lies.
We have far too much centralisation and that will be exacerbated by the removal of the domestic rate next year. For instance, the powers of the local authorities will be automatically diminished because the central Exchequer will be meeting a very large proportion of their expenditure and we all know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. This trend towards centralisation is very bad for democracy. To have these very highly rewarded posts in the gift of Deputies is wrong. Needless to say I will have some influence in the selection of Fine Gael candidates in the Dublin constituencies. Giving the choice to a wider spread of people is worth considering. Democracy would be served well if this could be provided.
The constituencies outlined in the Bill are reasonably fair. I believe on paper they offer the opportunity for some proportionality but in practice they may not. If they are shown not to be capable of proportionality, they should be amended in the interests of democracy and in the light of experience to provide proportionality. Even though the constituencies are fair, especially outside the Dublin constituency, geographically they are very extensive. For instance, it will be very difficult for the three Members of the Connacht-Ulster constituency to keep in touch and serve the people of that constituency. Obviously this service will be at a different level from the service currently provided by Members of this House.
The notion of service and representation means and involves elected members keeping in touch with their constituents. Membership of the European Parliament not only involves being out of this country for a great part of the year but it also involves extensive travelling. The remoter the constituency the more time consuming this travelling will be.
I would like to see provision being made for staff for members of the European Parliament both in Europe and in their constituencies. I believe we should want to provide some kind of offices in the constituencies for those members, not to facilitate the members themselves but to facilitate the general public. Increasingly, and this will continue as the years go by, EEC decisions, whether they be by the Council or the Commission, will have very serious effects on Irish life, business, farming and so on. These decisions very often open opportunities to be grasped but they can only be grasped if our people know about them. One way of ensuring that would be by having offices in the different constituencies for the members of the European Parliament. I do not consider that to be unrealistic.
When we talk about the European Parliament we are really talking about a level of representation quite unlike what we are used to. The nearest comparison is the House of Representatives or the Senate of the United States because of the extent of some of the constituencies.
If you compare the present services available to Members of this House, which are derisory, or to members of the European Parliament at present or proposed, with what is available to legislators in the United States, you will see they are very niggardly. The provision of staff and facilities to Members facilitates a more active part being taken by Members of Parliament in the decision-making process. This brings me back to my first point, the exaggeration of the importance of these elections.
As things stand, the European Parliament will be like this Parliament and the present European Parliament, it will have no real effective say in European affairs. The real decisions are taken by the Council and the Commission.
The parliamentarians have no way of exercising their influence in an extensive way and have very little in the line of research and help. Because none of us is capable of tri-location we are limited in what we can do. Not only do I feel that staff should be provided for European parliamentarians, but it should be provided for Members of this House if they are to serve a proper democratic function.
We talk about Ireland being a net beneficiary of the EEC. That is a lot of nonsense. If we are net beneficiaries the implication is that other countries are net losers. The idea of the EEC is that all members are beneficiaries because of their co-operation. While in strict budgetary terms we may be getting more from the EEC than we are giving, we should not restrict ourselves to budgetary terms.
I compliment the three man commission appointed by the Government for the expeditious way in which they carried out their responsibilities and for their report. We have become unused to expediency here because things have to go through the proper channels taking a long time, often causing opportunities to be lost. The House is unanimous in feeling that the commission have done a good job. The whole idea of the commission is to be praised. I hope that as soon as the next census report is published we can look forward to a commission on Dáil boundaries. I hope this is the beginning of the depoliticisation of institutions that should be non-political.