I, too, support the Bill. As has been pointed out already, it is a representation of a similar Bill introduced by the last Government but with the major change in the designation of constituencies. Before going on to outline my views on the Bill I should like for the purposes of the record to rebut something that was said yesterday afternoon by Deputy Fitzpatrick regarding the arrangements for the Second Reading.
I had indicated to the Fine Gael Assistant Whip, Deputy Begley, on Thursday last that the Bill would be brought forward for Second Reading yesterday morning but as a result of what I regarded as a last-minute request from Deputy Creed I arranged to have the Bill ordered as the last item on yesterday's Order of Business. However, the other business was dealt with so expeditiously that the Bill before us was taken immediately after Question Time. Deputy Fitzpatrick had a complaint to make in this regard. I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to create friction of any kind, especially in these early days of the session. The arrangements between the Opposition Whips and myself are extremely good. I find it easy to reach agreement with them, but I do not like being accused wrongfully.
This Bill is a measure that should be talked about in the House. The bulk content of the Bill consists of repetitions of the various arrangements that go to make up the normal run of elections, and in that context it is very much a Committee Stage Bill. The basis for any discussion in this House on the Bill itself must be the constitution and layout of the proposed constituencies according to this Bill. Enough could not be said about honouring the commitment that was entered into by the then Leader of the Opposition, now Taoiseach, that he would set up an independent commission to make recommendations with regard to the arrangement of constituencies.
If we had debated the previous European Assembly Elections (No. 1) Bill which was presented by the Minister for Local Government in the former Government it would have been extremely difficult to justify the constituencies which that Government had been responsible for creating.
We have very acceptable constituencies. We are following the old provisional boundaries. It is unfortunate that the people in the three Ulster counties which form part of the Republic have not the opportunity of being in the province in which we as a nation would like to see them placed with the right to represent that province of Ulster in an election. However, the three members of the commission who so speedily investigated the situation, Mr. Justice Walsh, Mr. Meagher and Mr. Tobin, all of whom came up with this recommendation, must take great satisfaction from the wholehearted and pretty unanimous acceptance of their recommendation that has come from all sides of the House.
From listening to the last couple of speakers here I appreciate that Deputies representing the west may feel that they have not sufficient representattion on the basis of the size of their constituency apart from their representation on the basis of population. On the other hand the short report of the commission clearly points out the reason for the findings in the recommendations. Despite the fact that the commission draw attention to the fact that there is no constitutional—as they see it—difficulty in playing about a bit, they nonetheless accepted the guideline which the country had given in the Third Amendment to the Constitution Act, 1968, that is that they did not want a greater variation than the courts had decided on arising from disputes before that. As Deputy Callanan said, it is better to have representing that west and the three Ulster counties three Deputies with a positive interest in the wellbeing of that part of the country.
Despite what Deputy O'Brien from the Opposition said in relation to his objection to European representatives fighting Ireland's case not as Europeans but as, so to speak, parochial Irishmen, one thing for which we can take pride in ourselves as Irishmen is that irrespective of what disagreements we have at home at political level it can be expected of us as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour men or men of any other party yet to be formed, in a European Parliament to fight the Irish cause as a united group of 15. This can and should be done without being constrained by different political party affiliations on the European scene. If within any constituency in this State some disaster occurs or there is danger to an industry or if a group of people are affected to their disadvantage the pro and anti-Government politicians, be they members of any party or independent, rally together, as is their duty and responsibility, in representing that constituency, in an effort to help out their constituents and do what is right by them.
In the wider context of the European commitment nobody can point a finger if representatives from the Connacht constituency, the Munster constituency or the Leinster constituency get together, or if the people from the four constituencies get together to fight a battle in the national interest. That is what it is all about, and it would be very wrong for us to renege on our responsibilities as Irishmen in this regard.
We have a Bill here which is generally welcome. I have heard views expressed in the House which give the impression that it is taken for granted that, due to the UK attitude, it is unlikely that we will have these European Assembly elections as expected during the course of next year. I do not share in that pessimism. There is an enormous amount of goodwill here, great anxiety to get the whole European scene in proper perspective, to have positive progress towards the social and political well-being of the Community, in other words, to get going a European Parliament with teeth.
Deputy Callanan expressed the view that until now there was the general feeling that talking at European Parliament level has been ineffective because of insufficiency of powers but, he said, he has discovered from experience that concentration of talking, even where it would appear to be ineffective, has worked out to be very effective. The effect of direct elections to the European Parliament will be that the power will be in the hands of the different peoples and therefore that the Parliament will be representative of all peoples in the Community.
I have looked at the Schedule to the Bill setting out the constituencies and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that this is an earnest of the Taoiseach's endeavour to do the right thing about getting Ireland's representatives in Europe truly representative of the wishes of the nation. The Taoiseach arranged that, having received the recommendations of the commission set up to consider the matter, he would adopt these recommendations and circulate the Bill immediately so that the Dail and the public would not be in any doubt as to his and the Government's acceptance of the recommendations.
The Taoiseach clearly indicated in advance that the recommendations would be acceptable whether they appeared to be of advantage or disadvantage to the Government party. I would point out that one of the lesson learned in the last general election was that trying to arrange constituencies to suit the sitting Government can backfire. It is the people who decide whom they want to govern and I suggest to all parties represented in the Dáil that the handing over of the job of arranging constituencies to an independent group, with the Government automatically accepting the recommendations of that group, is the effective way and the just way to fix constituency boundaries.
Coming back to the Schedule, in the Connacht-Ulster constituency there will be a representation greater than that constituency is entitled to theoretically. It is difficult to break up a country of this size into four constituencies for 15 seats, particularly because the former Government fell down on the job of providing us with a census of population, which meant that the commission arranging the constituencies had to rely on the 1971 census figures. The ratio representation for the European Parliament was set at 198,550 electors per seat. The Dublin-Leinster area, the most densely populated, will require a little fewer than the national average to elect a member. In Connacht-Ulster and Munster there is a slight advantage, quite different from the proposals in the No. 1 Bill.
I can foresee that in 25 to 30 years the European parliamentary elections will become the important elections here, but I doubt if that will be so next year. The report of the commission refers to the difficulty of getting the people sufficiently interested. The reason given by the commission for turning down a single national constituency is that if the electors could not be intimately associated, locally, with the candidates they would be disinclined to vote. I agree, though experience in Presidential Elections has not been bad in that way. As well, the three political parties represented in the House have proved their ability to generate interest in national campaigns. However, the commission made the solid point that it is easier to get people out to vote if they have a positive local association with the candidates—a feeling by the voter that he is supporting somebody who represents his view.
The commission report went into detail in relation to the problems of Munster—whether it would be advisable to extend the constituency into a six-seater, adding Carlow. They decided against it on the basis of the old traditional provincial ties. That was a very intelligent approach. In the context of the European Assembly Election (No. 1) Bill I recall that that particular area was added into Connacht. With all due respect to you, a Cheann Comhairle, I think you will appreciate that from the point of view of affinity or the sharing of interests the people of Laois and the people of Donegal are not all that akin. We have the bogs. You have the mountains. I do not think the aspirations of the bogmen in Laois, whom I represent, are exactly in line with the aspirations of the shrewd Donegal people. We are more at home in Laois-Offaly and Longford-Westmeath with Leinster people. We have always been part of Leinster. We have the old tradition of the four provinces. The only unfortunate aspect is that the three Ulster counties cannot at present be part and parcel of their proper province from the point of view of European Assembly elections.
Doubts have been expressed as to whether the election can take place during the course of next year. The Minister in his opening speech pointed out that the Government considered it very important that the election should take place on the target date—that is, in May or June of next year. As the Minister also said, there is no doubt that the proposed arrangement appears to provide a reasonable basis for the fair conduct of elections and has due regard to social and economic factors, the electorate and density of population as well as to total population. There the Minister was quoting the commission's report. Both the Opposition parties have accepted the report. Remember, both the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party made submissions to the commission. In the Fourth Appendix to the report we have a list of the persons and bodies from whom submissions were received but there is no indication as to what the submissions from the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party were. There was press publicity about the submissions. It is rather remarkable to note the change in regard to the submissions of both the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party compared with the contents of their own No. 1 Bill when they were on this side of the House and could put their own submissions into effect. However, that is history.
The Minister said the Bill proposes that nationals of other states ordinarily resident here will have a vote in the Assembly elections on the same conditions as Irish citizens. He added:
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.
That is an essential provision. We have the situation in which English nationals living here are registered for local elections. They have no right to vote in Dáil elections but they will have the right to vote in European Assembly elections and that is as it should be.
Some Deputies may have misgivings about the deposit of £1,000. That has to be weighed against the necessity of ensuring that every candidate will be abona fide contestant. I am not for a moment suggesting the deposit should be increased. A pattern which has evolved in recent years in conjunction with RTE is the making available of time on the radio and television for representatives of political parties. I have had experience as Whip of discussing with the other party Whips the allocation of time, particularly in regard to by-election candidates. There may be an argument as to who gets the last night or the night before the last but equal time is given to each candidate. He gets, I think. ten minutes peak viewing time. A candidate, be he an Independent, a Communist or what have you, provided he deposits his £100, gets ten minutes prime viewing time on television to sell his line.
Perhaps we should not be trying to stop anybody from selling his line to the electorate but we definitely had that situation in a number of by-elections in the past five years—I think it arose in the Monaghan by-election. I do not know how much the ten-second spot, the thirty-second spot or the full minute of advertising time costs on radio but if you want ten minutes time on radio to try to sell your washing machine powder it would cost more than £100. I do not suggest that it should become more expensive or more difficult for legitimate politicians to get their messages across on television but it should be made a little more difficult for somebody who is not interested in being elected and has no chance of even reaching the quota figure and whose £100 is down the drain from the beginning. I have a recollection of a by-election candidate who never got out a poster and who made no serious effort at election time but he got ten valuable minutes of television time to get his message across and in my view that message had nothing to do with the welfare of this State.