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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I understand that Deputy Mitchell has just made his maiden speech. I congratulate the Deputy and wish him luck in his career in the House be it long or short. I suggest in the kindest way possible that the Deputy might consult with the leader of his party on their policy regarding the European Parliament and the attitude of all the parties towards it.

As Deputy Lalor said, this is very much a Committee Stage Bill. Having listened to some of the speeches from both sides of the House, I feel there is a tendency to under-estimate the sophistication of the Irish electorate. We have one of the most sophisticated electorates in any democratic country in the world. Our voting percentages in general election after general election prove this point. There is no question but that interest in the European Parliament is probably greater here than in any other of the nine countries. During a recent information trip to Brussels we were told by officials that our newspapers carried far more about what is going on in Europe than any of the other nine countries.

We should get away from this jobs for the boys syndrome in relation to the people who will contest the European elections. Much comment has been made on the salaries and the expenses they will get. This attitude takes away from the case to be made for the existence of the European Parliament. Through direct elections, as we all know, and as has been stated by other speakers, the European Parliament will attain far greater power through elected representatives of each of the countries. If the salaries being mentioned seem very high, they are normal for other countries like Germany, France and Italy as well as Holland and Belgium. Most European countries find these salaries commonplace. It just looks very stark because the salary structures here are so low.

They are abysmally low and that is a reflection of the attitude we adopt to the work that we do. I am certain that German, French and Dutch parliamentarians do not work any harder than Irish parliamentarians. I am quite convinced that when our Members are elected to the European Parliament they will work as hard and harder than many of their colleagues in other countries. We have the fatal sin of envy in this country. Immediately some very desirable job appears on the horizon that because of others we cannot do we tend to denigrate the importance of the task to be done. When the direct elections are held I implicitly believe that the percentage poll in Ireland will be far above the average in any of the other nine countries indicating the interest that the Irish people have in the European concept.

Reference was made to the division of the constituencies by the commission. It has been said that the people from the west feel that the west is under-represented. It is fair to point out that one-third of the population lives in the Dublin area. The fact that the constituencies have been divided in the homogenous manner in which they have been is welcome and it was extremely clever on the part of the commission to spot the importance of the provincial set up as we have it.

Some speakers feel that the local elections should not be held on the same day as the European elections because one would take away from the other. That is not a very relevant argument. If it was convenient to hold the two elections on the same day, I would be in favour of it because the cost of mounting elections is fairly substantial. About five or six years ago the cost of holding local elections was something like £100,000 in administrative charges, and it would cost more now. From the economics point of view it would make sense to hold the elections together if the dates were in line. When the election date for the European Parliament is finally set we should seriously consider holding the local elections on the same day. Sunday elections appeal to me. They are held in many countries and I see no reason why they should not be held here. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, if there are important football matches arranged for that election day and the organisers know well in advance, I am quite sure they could pass a word down along the line and have them postponed to another Sunday.

There seems to be a certain conflict in the minds of people who spoke here as to whether prospective candidates would be elected as Irish representatives in the European Parliament or as Europeans to the European Parliament when they might find themselves in conflict as between their membership of the European Parliament and their loyalty to this country. It is quite clear to me that anyone who stands for the European Parliament will be standing on a platform, promising the electorate that they will do everything in their power to further Ireland's interest in the European context. I believe they will also have a substantial contribution to make to the growth of the European Parliament. In the United States I can imagine some Senator telling the electorate that, if elected to Washington DC, he would no longer be representing his State, he would be representing all of the United States and the American Senate. He would not get very many votes and, in any case, they do not operate in that manner. Everybody who will be elected, regardless of the party to which they belong, will be elected to represent Ireland in the fullest sense of that term. Those who will be elected from the west will bring to the European Parliament a specialised knowledge with them of their problems.

The European elections will be different in this respect from the referendum held on our entry into the EEC in that we had no parties here dissenting from the election. On the referendum here the Labour Party opposed entry into the EEC. But, as far as being in the EEC is concerned, they are now happy to be part of it and will be vigorously contesting seats in that Parliament. With all three political parties advocating the benefit of being part of the greater European scene, I have no doubt whatsoever that an overwhelming proportion of our people will support the people they have elected to this House in their judgment that being members of a European Parliament will be beneficial. I recall quite clearly that the number of people who voted in the referendum against entry to the EEC here amounted to approximately 211,000 out of the total electorate, and I think well over one million people voted in favour of entry. It was a good solid vote for entry.

In relation to those Deputies who have expressed anxiety about being elected to the European Parliament, I am satisfied that Deputies, whichever constituency they represent, who have been hard-working and have contributed substantially to our political system will be and are well known beyond their constituency boundaries. The provincial type of constituency is particularly useful and helpful in this context.

I hope the European elections will take place next May or June. Doubts have been expressed in this regard because of the position in Britain. It is a fact that the European parliamentary elections will not be held individually from state to state because such would lead to tremendous confusion. Therefore one day will have to be set. For that reason tremendous pressure has been brought to bear on Britain to do what we and all the other countries are doing—getting the necessary legislation passed creating constituencies in readiness for these elections. I should like to add my voice to those who have praised the commission set up for the speed with which they came up with the revised constituencies plan.

Deputy Mitchell said earlier he hoped that an independent commission would be set up to revise Dáil constituences. That is already on the record: an independent commission will be set up to revise Dáil constituencies. One thing every party has learned from the recent general election is that, while constituencies may well be gerrymandered, people cannot and will not be gerrymandered. In that respect a great lesson has been learned by many people. I am glad to see the prospect of the kind of bitterness related to constituencies revision being phased out of political life.

The question of non-nationals voting here on the date of the European elections was raised. We shall probably have a more suitable opportunity of dealing with this matter on Committee Stage but one point that would give me concern is that of residence: how long would such people have to be resident here before they would qualify? If somebody flew over and merely happened to be in Ireland on polling day, could they vote in that election or would they have to be on the register here? I should imagine that any non-national allowed to vote would have to be on the register here in the same way as they are on the register but are allowed only to vote in local government elections. We could not allow a situation to evolve in which people could literally fly over here and decide who they wanted to represent Ireland in the European context.

Nothing could be designed more to exercise the minds of politicians than elections, and this Bill affords the House an opportunity to discuss the arrangements for the direct elections to the European Assembly. I am sure many points will be discussed on Committee Stage and that all Deputies will draw attention to flaws they may perceive in the election procedures. Our method of election has stood the test of time well.

The many sections of this Bill—most of them pertaining to elections we have had already, such as local and general elections—will afford Deputies an opportunity of discussing the various detailed points where there may be some room for improvement.

Like Deputies who have spoken already, I welcome the setting up of the commission to draw up the constituency boundaries for the European Assembly elections. The speed with which that commission reported augurs well for the proposed commission our party intend setting up to redraw Dáil constituency boundaries. I find it remarkable, coming into this House for the first time, that no Deputy on either side of the House has questioned the findings of the commission: everybody is in agreement. It leads me to believe that in years gone past, had the same procedure been adopted, all parties would have come to the realisation that that was the better way.

We have come a long way in that we are prepared to accept an outside authority redrawing the boundaries. The parties now agree that no gain is to be made in drawing lines here and there, that the people will decide. I am glad to see that there is a certain amount of sophistication on this point on all sides. It is ironic that it was only a month before the previous Government left office that they were in a position to put forward their recommendations on the new boundaries but they had an opportunity when previous legislation was before this House to put their recommendations into effect.

There are various sections in the Bill that may cause some concern. First, there is the deposit of £1,000 for candidates. In order to establish theirbona fides it is only right that this amount be asked as a deposit. It has been mentioned in the debate that in Dáil elections, particularly in by-elections, candidates went forward who did not have any special interest in getting into parliament but who merely wished to put forward a certain point of view and in their opinion the £100 deposit was a cheap price to pay for the publicity they gained. I am glad to welcome the views of all but I do not think the legislation was designed to encourage people on those lines.

It may be difficult to generate much interest in the European elections and to get a large poll. If that happens it will be very sad. Five years ago there was a large majority in favour of our entry into the EEC but people may think now that our membership of that august body has not benefited them. In the election campaign there may be people who adopt the negative approach of abstaining. If there is not much enthusiasm for the European elections there may be a very low poll and a candidate may be elected who may adopt an abstentionist policy with regard to the European Parliament. As we have decided to remain in the Community, direct elections are a further logical step in the development of the Community and it will be up to politicians to generate sufficient interest to get a large poll.

The voting procedures will be those adopted in previous elections. When it comes to the European elections I would encourage the Minister for the Environment to allow postal voting. I consider that would be a necessary step. Politicians know that sometimes it is not possible for people to vote and, while there may be certain drawbacks with regard to postal voting and while it may be abused, it will be necessary in the European elections. I hope postal voting will become a permanent feature of all elections in this State.

It is very important that all member states of the Community vote on the same day. If that is done each country will not think of itself in simple nationalistic terms but as part of Europe. The ultimate goal of our entry into the EEC and the basic theory behind the Community is that we would look on ourselves as Europeans. At a time when sections of society in many states are fighting each other for their share of resources it is important that we think of ourselves as Europeans. If we do that the day cannot be far off when all parts of this island will be one.

The boundaries have been drawn fairly and logically. The proposal to have county boundaries and provincial boundaries is helpful but I see certain problems with regard to the constituency of Leinster. There are only three seats for 11 counties. If parties put up certain candidates, say three for each party, there will be a number of counties who will not have candidates. Thus, there will be difficulty in getting a reasonably respectable vote in that county. However, it will be up to the parties to generate sufficient interest to see that this does not happen.

We will have 15 seats in the European Parliament and this may look quite small in the total number of seats. However, it must be realised that the European Parliament on this occasion will not be the governing body in the Community. Power will still rest with the Council of Ministers and we will have an equal voice there. Therefore, the electorate should not be afraid that we will be swamped because we have only 15 seats out of approximately 400 seats. For the time being the power will rest with the Council of Ministers where we have an equal voice with our partners.

In the drawing of the boundaries I am glad that certain dispensation has been given to areas where the population is not large. I am glad we have not stuck rigidly to the 1961 decision regarding general elections, that there must be one Deputy for a population of 20,000 people. I am glad on this occasion that it has been found necessary to have a bias in favour of the western counties and against the eastern counties. The area involved in the eastern part of the State and I am glad that the commission took account of that.

When we are examining these matters on Committee Stage I hope certain proposals will be put forward regarding sections that may have been found defective in our national elections during the years. In conclusion, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his appointment. I wish him well in the years to come.

The manner in which this debate has been conducted has exceeded my expectations when I introduced the Bill. The interest which so many Deputies have shown in this legislation and the conviction with which they expressed themselves is the greatest guarantee from the point of view of our political representatives that there will be maximum participation in the elections to the European Assembly. I noted especially that many Deputies availed of this opportunity to make their maiden speeches.

It is a very encouraging sign that the European dimension, which is of real interest to us, not just in a selfish way but in terms of the European aim, is lively in Ireland. I agree with the sentiments expressed by so many speakers when they said that we could expect our level of participation in these elections to be the highest in Europe on the occasion of direct elections.

I should like to congratulate those who made their maiden speeches on this occasion and to thank all Deputies for their positive contributions and to the extent that many of them, by way of formal courtesy, wished me well in my responsibility. I extend my assurance to them that my commitment will be on behalf of all the parties here to endeavour to play a full and positive role at Council level and to ensure that the interests which we all share will be expressed both at Council level in the European Assembly and through whatever other agency of the Commission that is available to us.

I should like to join with all of those, and that must include every speaker, who expressed special appreciation to the commission for the manner in which they undertook their task but principally for the unique distinction of having their conclusions adopted unanimously by this House. Knowing the special interest which public figures will have, even those not actively contemplating membership of the Assembly but nonetheless looking to the interests of their parties in that Assembly, it is unique that a commission should get such an unanimous response to its first operation. As Deputy McCreevy and others said this is an indication of the capacity they had in their judgment, in their awareness of our socio-economic structure and of the need to ensure effective participation and representation throughout the country. It is also evidence of the high standards that should be set for all of us in relation to electoral activity.

It has been mentioned, not by way of gloating, that it has fallen to the lot of this Government to implement the commission. While the commission did report speedily, it is fair to say that the Government acted expeditiously in incorporating the findings of the commission in this Bill which has received such unanimous support.

In this connection I should say that many of the questions which arose were quite pertinent. Some of the questions that had been asked by many speakers will be acknowledged on Committee Stage. As the House is aware, this is a Bill which the Minister for the Environment would normally be dealing with and it is only in his absence, that I, with a certain European responsibility, have had the opportunity to introduce the Bill on Second Stage. Many of the detailed questions I will leave to my colleague to reply to during the course of Committee Stage.

I should also say—and I made this point recently when addressing the Conference of European Journalists—that our lively interest in Europe is due to a considerable extent to the interest of the political parties and the people, but, in the main, it is due to the degree of publicity which our media give to the European Community and every aspect of our involvement in it. The degree of coverage given to our European participation is the envy of public representatives in other countries. The media can feel assured to know that the politicians and the Government are commending them, but it is fair that we should acknowledge the role they have played in presenting political and other issues which are of interest to so many voluntary and professional organisations. That lively interest is important because we are not just talking about May/June, 1978, or what-ever the date may be, but about the participation of all our people in a community which has clear aims and which has made great progress but which has not always been able to maintain a consistent path towards the realisation of those aims.

We all have an obligation to keep the European engine on line to its terminal point. From time to time it may have strayed off the tracks and sometimes it has stopped, but we are coming to a point when questions are being asked in the context of enlargement, in the context of eliminating regional imbalances, in the context of a new look at economic and monetary union from 1977, and in the general context of a realistic appraisal of what Europe represents and of where we go from here to implement it. For that reason, the evident commitment of this House is very welcome. It is not a blind acceptance.

Deputy Quinn made the point that we must not have an uncritical attitude towards the Community and that the critical attitude that we have should not be determined by what would appear to be our own narrow national interest in the Community. We must examine it in terms of what it has set out to do. Let us not forget that it has achieved one miracle in that it has brought about peace in Europe over the last 30 years among nations that for centuries before were at war. When we express our criticisms it is only fair to acknowledge that this fundamental step has been firmly taken. The achievement has been so significant that we tend to take it for granted. These elections will bring about a situation in which all the people of the Community will vote together within a few days to elect an Assembly. This is certainly a democratic miracle even though it does not solve all the problems of the Community. Less than 30 years ago there seemed little opportunity that many of them would be able to co-operate much less operate together. For that reason, the consistency that has been expressed in this House is welcome. We, who have been spared many of the problems of Europe, can now play a positive role.

We do have a good standing in the Community and I should like to put on record that it is due to our total commitment, particularly to the role played by some members of the previous Government, notably by my predecessor, in the Community. I trust that my colleagues and I will be able to build on that. Admittedly, we had differences of opinion during that period. Indeed, we are having a difference of opinion now but it is fair to say that Ireland's role in the Community as expressed by ourselves and by the previous Government will be one of consistency and one that will enhance our standing in the Community. I am confident that those who will be elected by the people to represent us in the European Parliament will have the same approach. There can be no ambiguity in relation to one's obligations so far as membership is concerned.

We are talking here in terms of a target date of May or June 1978 for the direct elections. Firmly, that target date remains. This target, too, was indicated at a recent council of Ministers meeting. Eight of the nine are very much in line with that target and we who have had a general election in the interim were in a position, because of the consistent view among us here, to say that we would be able to meet the target and that we would have the legislation through before the end of the year. Thereafter the question rests with the United Kingdom. But it is not for us to pass judgment on the performance of another country in this regard. As Deputy Mitchell has rightly pointed out, if we are to be net beneficiaries and to think in terms of a tidy balance sheet, there must be net losers but as he has said, the matter is not as simple as that. For all of us there are pros and cons in the final analysis. Once in the Community a country must either stay in unequivocably and accept the obligations or else clear out altogether. A member State must not put a brake on the pace of the Community. Such an attitude would not help either the country concerned or the Community as a whole. However, I have no wish to be regarded as sitting in smug judgment, particularly in regard to the United Kingdom. They may have their problems but the resolution of those problems is a matter for themselves.

It has been pointed out that the Labour Party, although obviously a minority party, took a certain view but a view that was not accepted by the Irish people. The Labour Party have shown, though, that they can respond to the will of the people and they are now playing an effective role in the progress we are making in the Community. If that situation is possible here, it should be possible also in other countries. If there is failure in regard to meeting the target date, progress will be halted. Undoubtedly, the European Council when they meet in December will repeat their roll call of recent times but by then there will be a fairly clear view as to whether all nine member states will be able to meet the target. There may be some who will suggest going ahead even if only eight countries are ready but the view developing within the council is that all nine should act simultaneously in this regard.

I expect that after consideration the House also would be of this opinion. However, we must be ready. Even now we should be making preparation but the difficulty relates to making preparation for a date that is not yet firm. This, also, is one of the practical problems facing France, Germany and Italy. Consequently, the sooner that there is finality about the Bill, the better. We will then be able to make the necessary practical arrangements towards activating our supporters to play an active role in the campaign.

It is unique to find on all sides of the House such unanimous endorsement not only of the operations but of the findings of the commission who drew up the constituencies. Some Deputies took the opportunity of pointing to the desirability of the same procedure in regard to Dáil constituencies. That matter is settled. The Taoiseach has made it clear—he even referred to this in his statement to the House on July 5—that it is proposed to set up an independent commission who will be charged with responsibility for re-drawing Dáil constituency boundaries. That move will be welcomed by all of us. Without going into the history of either recent or past Governments in this sphere, we know that some mistakes were made by those who thought they could redraw the constituencies to their advantage. That is not the way to approach the matter. It is not the sort of situation that we want for the future of our democratic representation. This sphere of activity must not depend simply on the good or bad judgment of an individual who happens to be in government at a given time.

Will the new arrangement not lead to more disunity among the masses on the other side?

Much will depend on the terms of reference of the commission.

I trust that that commission's findings will have the same degree of endorsement as has been afforded the commission responsible for drawing up the European Parliament constituencies. Regarding the terms of reference, I think the Deputy will agree that they were stated fairly for the commission. I am sure Deputy Quinn realises that the public are shrewd enough to know whether a task is being undertaken properly.

We shall wait.

There would be no point in a half-hearted effort. So far we have been fairly consistent but there is no point in comparing records.

Can the Minister not anticipate some backbench problems?

The Minister on the Bill.

That is the nature of democracy. A number of Deputies referred to the desirability of increasing the powers of the Assembly. The Assembly has considerable powers some of which were evident as recently as yesterday. They have, for instance, the power to dismiss the Commission. That is a negative power but it is there. I think the Commission are conscious that that power may be exercised at some time in the future. The Assembly have power to reject the budget. That is a power not enjoyed by us in this Assembly. They have power, too, to add to the budget proposals. It is not my intention to compare their powers with our powers here. That great and committed European, the late Peter Kirk, pointed out that there was not a lack of power but a lack of opportunity on the part of Members of the European Parliament to use fully the powers they have. That is a problem we do not have to face in relation to the assembly we are talking about now. I cannot think of any parliament which was granted powers freely, willingly and enthusiastically—with those three qualifications I cannot go wrong—by any Executive. In this case there is no Executive but the Council. Parliaments themselves have always developed their own procedures and powers and made their own demands. The test of those future powers of Parliament and their guarantee will be the determination, and the commitment and the capacity of the members of that Assembly. If it is going to be the kind of democratic Assembly we hope for it will in the nature of things fight for extra powers, come into healthy democratic conflict from time to time with the Council, and also question the Commission in more ways than they can at the moment. Inevitably our political representatives who have the mandate of the people will not be content to sit back and accept the terms that are presented to them by other agencies of the Community. They may not always win, but that is not the issue. The powers will really be determined by the manner in which the members themselves operate in the Community.

A number of suggestions were made for the improvement in electoral procedures. It is fair to say in relation to a number of these that they did not relate merely to the election to the European Assembly. They also related to elections generally, and that is as it should be. You do not make different rules for the same principle, which in this case is that of direct election by the people. I and the officials have taken notes on all of these and these notes will be referred to my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, and will be considered in the course of Committee work on the next Stage of this Bill. A lot of the points cannot be considered in isolation; they might be more appropriate for consideration in the context of elections generally. One example that I am concerned about and Deputies Mitchell and Quinn must be concerned about too is that we might not always proceed according to the electoral or alphabetical order on the ballot paper. Two of us at least will find ourselves lost somewhere in the middle of a ballot paper. Deputy Quinn probably will have the advantage of being conspicuously near the end.

Fortunately it happens all over as well.

That suggestion which is the one that activates those of us who are going to turn up on the ABC list may be more appropriately considered by the Minister in the overall context of elections.

Some people thought that the period for receipt of nominations was rather short, but it is two days longer than the period for receipt of nominations in respect of Dáil elections; it is seven days instead of five. That seems to be a fair extension, having regard to the fact that constituencies will be larger and any longer might perhaps be too long. I am sure my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, will be quite ready to consider the matter provided some persuasive arguments can be made to him—but one of the most persuasive arguments he will have from any side, particularly from the Opposition is that basically this Bill is very much the Bill—with one notable exception, namely the Commission—that was introduced by the former Minister for Local Government. Therefore, one would expect a degree of consistency and that the Opposition would not criticise with unseemly enthusiasm proposals which emanated from the former Government.

Deputy Fitzpatrick suggested that the first count in the election should take place at Dáil constituency level. I was absent when he made the point but I think that what was on his mind is the question of having a head count of how the various constituencies respond. That is fine, but there can be problems there too, and this again will be a matter for the Minister for the Environment. This is a European election which will take place between a Thursday and Sunday when the Council finally fix the dates within four days. It might not be possible for us to have that kind of count simply to get an impression of how we have done in the constituencies as they are for Dáil elections. This could cause an undue delay, because the count cannot begin to start in any country until the election has concluded in each country. It would not be then in the interests of Europe—and this is about the European Assembly—that any undue delay should occur because of an undue spread of counting places throughout the country. Subject to what the Minister may do on consideration of the suggestion, apparently in these circumstances to have a count per regional constituency would be the most practical thing.

I understand that the television and radio networks in Europe are already making their arrangements, which shows optimism on their part, to have a programme on the whole election count. It will be very difficult to do that if we are going to have up to 40 constituencies here as distinct from four. Apart from the administrative problems that will be involved we will have to take note of that. I understand that the Minister and also his predecessor gave considerable thought to this matter before recommending it. Deputy Fitzpatrick may or may not have been aware of that, but it seems to me that the proposals as they are are most practical.

A number of Deputies sought an assurance that the local elections would not be held on the same day as the direct elections. The target we are talking about here is May/June, 1978. The local elections, to the best of my knowledge, are not due until 1979. Therefore, if Europe meet the target this question does not arise. The target date will be set not by us but by the Council, so that if it were postponed it might be postponed until autumn, 1978. Although I do not wish to pre-judge on the issue that would seem to indicate that these elections will take place on their own on that issue alone, unless of course they coincide with our local elections. That might be in one sense very convenient but it is not an issue at the moment. The determination of the date for the European elections is not a matter for ourselves alone. I do not think it is likely that the two will take place on the same date or within a few days of each other.

Could I ask the Minister if he will express the Government's opinion on the advisability of having the two elections on the same date, allowing for such coincidence?

I was here today when the Deputy was asking my colleague, the Minister for Justice, about the Government's opinion.

No such thing.

The Deputy will appreciate that we are not talking about a commission. The Government's function is to make decisions. I am not being smart about this. Opinions in advance of final proposals are not very worthwhile. There may be different opinions at the moment, but obviously opinions are not and should not be formed by Governments in a vacuum. That is the only answer I can give to that.

Does the Minister think it would be better to have a few months between the local elections and the European elections for democracy's sake?

If the time scale seems to work that way, all the opinions, the Deputy's and mine included, can be considered, but at the moment let us not even consider it. It does not arise but if it does, perhaps all our opinions will be taken into account.

The arrangement for filling casual vacancies seems to be generally acceptable, though Deputy Enright seemed to come down in favour of the by-election arrangement. As I said in my opening speech, there are alternative ways of doing it, but let me say, not because I am looking for plaudits, if you were to have a by-election the likelihood is, irrespective of where the seat had been lost, that the major party would pick up the seat. There-fore, when we made this proposal we obviously did not do it in the Fianna Fáil interest. As I said in my opening speech, it is reasonable to accept that the by-election system would not be appropriate to adopt here since the people would have expressed their choice in the initial election and that view should be maintained in the by-election.

What about independent interests?

That might be more academic than practical. Some independent groups have managed to become registered as political parties but they have not succeeded in getting Oireachtas representation. However, in such a case the vacancy procedures in the Bill would apply. I would point out that the system we have has worked well and that we are trying to apply the same system now so that first-time voters as well as old voters will be familiar with it. The salary question also came up.

What about the civil service?

We are not talking about the civil service. We should be very happy about the matter of salary because it is a vindication of the relationship between the people and those who represent them. Being a representative of the people means being among them, being criticised by them, being paraded by them on occasions. I do not know what ambitions Deputy Quinn has in this respect——

Let us say that Deputy Quinn or someone else, not a nonentity but some anonymous person, gets £25,000 and somebody else gets £5,000 more than that. I do not think that would concern the person getting the £25,000. The real test is that we are related to the people and this underlines the need for a public representative always to be identified with the people. The point about salaries indicates to us the levels obtaining at the moment in the other member states. They are so different that we must consider them, and we are at the bottom of the table. Perhaps it is that the other peoples in the community have a higher appreciation of the parliamentary role.

Deputy Briscoe said that it is not a question of money. I am glad that it is not, that there will not be many people attracted just by the money but by the currency, the value, they put on themselves. These are the important things. I sympathise with the comparisons made between the facilities here and elsewhere and I am conscious of the difference between being in Opposition here and being in Government. The greatest miracle for most of us during the past four years was in regard to survival.

This Bill opens up the whole issue of representation not just in Europe but at home. I know that the people will look at this Bill as being the best medium of representation here and there. They are entitled to that.

Would the Minister like to comment on the implications of the limitations suggested to the French constitutional court?

I had not intended to make individual comments. As far as I understand it, each of us is allowed to make our own arrangements to meet the target date. I understand the French are in that position but it would be invidious for me to comment on their internal arrangements. We are all awaiting the final Council decision.

Reference was made to the dual mandate. This Bill does not make membership of either House of the Oireachtas a bar. Of course, this is the first stage only : when we come to the next stage the Council will probably have decided on it. Whether they do or not, it will not be possible for a Member of this House properly to represent dually his constituents. Therefore, the House will have to consider some procedure of liaison between Members of the Oireachtas and of the European Parliament.

In my opening speech I said a proposal had been passed by the budget committee to increase the allocation for cross-Border studies. I assumed that it would then come before the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately that will not be the position because yesterday there was a vote on that very issue and I regret to say one of our representatives voted against the proposal. One of the Opposition representatives voted in favour and one voted against. Now I know no Deputy would do that deliberately just to stymie something original but obviously there is a lack of co-ordination. Perhaps there was pressure within another group but in a matter of such vital importance surely we could expect a consistent approach. I shall make no criticism except to say that this highlights the need for consultation. Perhaps the fault in not making arrangements for such consultation lies with this side.

A similar situation arose in regard to another proposal. The representatives of both Opposition parties voted against a budgetary allocation for an office of the European Commission in Belfast. This is a very sensitive area and one in which we should show a proper awareness of the European dimension and its importance in regard to the Northern Ireland problem and, in those circumstances, no Irish group should be entitled to break from what-ever group they might be attached to unless there was a very strong Whip for some reason or other. I have no information except a reference to the matter in the newspapers.

There will be issues on which we must consult together. The bigger groups will obviously combine a wide variety of interests and they are not parties in the sense that we know parties and it is unlikely, in my view, that they could have a very strong reaction to our representatives standing together and responding together on what are very sensitive areas and issues. We all recognise how sensitive and important Northern Ireland is. Now, yesterday's votes may not be the end of it in the two instances to which I referred—it is only fair to say this—because they are in there simply on the basis of a political commitment for next year but, since it is a political commitment, I would have thought we could have supported it. We were happy with the events yesterday where the Parliament did show they were going to restore the necessary regional funds, even increasing the original proposals. We also note that there is a growing consumer lobby—obviously there is a difference here between consumer and producer—in terms of consumer nations which means that our people will have to be very fully informed on the whole operation of the policies of the European Communities and the need to strengthen the regional policy and what the common agricultural policy represents because there will be a fairly keen analysis and a constant attack from many sources. You will find that people who are diametrically opposed, such as the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in Britain, will find common cause very soon when it comes to the interests of their own consumers. That is understandable. We, in turn are entitled to look at the same interests as well.

Can the Minister give any indication of the kind of funds he could give for an information exercise?

I am glad the Deputy asked that question.

I will give the Minister any assistance I can any time.

Good. There are very specific arrangements. On the question of general publicity in relation to direct elections the budget of both the Assembly and the Commission contains special appropriations for this purpose. In the case of the Commission one million units of account will be devoted to the implementation of a special information programme. This programme is concerned with providing vital factual information about the Communities and Community policies. It takes the form of fact sheets, brochures, booklets and so on. That is the Commission. Here is where we are concerned. The budget for the Assembly includes an appropriation of three million units of account for information projects. Of this one million is devoted to a campaign by the Assembly's own information service and the remaining two million has been allocated to the political groups in the Assembly to finance information campaigns in the direct elections. This sum is allocated on the following basis: Socialist group, 29.5 per cent; Christian Democratic group, 23.8 per cent; Liberal and Democratic group, 17.6 per cent; EPD group, 10 per cent; Communist group, 10 per cent; Conservatives, 9.1 per cent.

My question was what sums, if any, are coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs? I understood the Minister to say he was making funds available.

No. I said I would be glad to assist Deputies with any facilities. I do not think the Department will be directly concerned in this. The Department will, of course, as they have always done, make any facilities at their disposal available. They will not make funds available.

I have dealt with the broad issues. Questions may arise on the Committee Stage and I think I can fairly say that the response exceeded our expectations and, from what I have heard in the debate, I am confident there will be a full and active participation by all political parties and by others who may be interested. We will be ready.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 2nd November, 1977.
The Dáil adjourned at 5 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 2nd November, 1977.