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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Nov 1977

Vol. 302 No. 2

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

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, to insert "or, in case he is authorised under Rule 36 of the First Schedule to this Act by a local returning officer, at the polling station specified in the authorisation" after "him" in line 41.

Subsection 5 (1) of the Bill as it stands provides that, with the exception of postal voters, each Assembly elector will be entitled to vote in person only and at the polling station allotted to him. The purpose of this amendment is to make it quite clear that the provisions in the subsection do not affect the arrangements set out in Rule 36 of the First Schedule, whereby the local returning officer may authorise an elector employed by him in connection with the election to vote at any other polling station in the constituency if his duties are such as to prevent his voting at the polling station for which he is registered. As indicated on Committee Stage, the legal advice is that a provision on the lines of the amendment is not essential. The amendment is being introduced in order to make the position absolutely clear and to meet the point made by Deputy Fitzpatrick on Committee Stage.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this amendment. As he says, he has introduced it in response to a point raised by me on Committee Stage. I was of the opinion that there was a definite conflict between section 5 and Rule 36. Section 5 provided that an elector who was entitled to vote at an Assembly election should be entitled to vote in person only and at the polling station allotted to him. Rule 36 provided that persons in the employment of the returning officer could in certain circumstances vote at places other than the allotted polling stations if they were authorised in writing to do so by the returning officer. I thought there was a conflict between those two provisions and the Minister was advised otherwise. At best, I think there was room for dispute. I am satisfied that the Minister's amendment puts the point beyond doubt. The authority which we always thought the returning officer had to facilitate employees is retained. I accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, to insert "(which order shall be made not less than thirty-five days before the day thereby appointed)" after "order" in line 50.

During Committee Stage Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to the fact that section 6 as drafted does not stipulate any period within which the Minister's order appointing a polling day must be made. As indicated on that occasion, there is an implied requirement because rule 2 of the First Schedule requires that notice of election must be published not later than the 28th day before polling day and this notice must indicate, among other things, the day and the period fixed for taking the poll. Strictly speaking, therefore, it is not essential to stipulate in section 6 when the Minister's order must be made, but there is no objection to so stipulating and the amendment proposes that the Minister's order must be made at least 35 days before the polling day. The amendment indicates the latest date for making the order. It will be difficult to set an earlier date because this would depend on how soon the Council of Ministers move to fix the period for holding the elections.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I have pleasure in accepting the Minister's amendment which writes into section 6 that the Minister's order must give at least 35 days' notice of the election date if the election is being contested. I accept that, by means of reference from the section to the Schedule and from one part of the Schedule to another, it was possible to find out what notice the Minister had to give; but the ordinary man in the street did not know what notice the Minister had to give. Indeed, many politicians, who are usually well informed on matters appertaining to elections, found it difficult to be sure of the amount of notice that had to be given.

There are other provisions in the Schedule which are a bit difficult to ascertain. The Minister should avail of the passing of this Bill through the Seanad to have a look at those sections and to write them in in black and white. I refer to the dates for nominations and so on. These dates are given in reference to some other dates. In other words, they are not written in simple language.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, to delete lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following:

"(2) The Minister shall, within the period of twelve years commencing on the passing of this Act and at least once in every twelve years thereafter, submit to the Oireachtas proposals for the revision of the constituencies for which candidates shall be elected under this Act to be representatives in the Assembly.

(3) An area specified in the Second Schedule to this Act shall be taken to be that area as constituted on the 1st day of January, 1977."

Deputy Fitzpatrick moved an amendment proposing to place the obligation on the Oireachtas to revise the Assembly constituencies at least once in every 12 years, having regard at the same time to the distribution of the population. I indicated at that time that I accepted the principle of twelve yearly provisions and that I would introduce an amendment to this effect on Report Stage. This amendment provides for twelve yearly revisions but the wording is slightly different from the original amendment. This amendment requires the Minister to submit to the Oireachtas proposals for the revision of the constituencies at least once in every 12 years. This is considered a more appropriate approach than purporting, as the original amendment did, to require the Oireachtas to carry out the revision.

As Deputy Fitzpatrick indicated, it is futile to try to bind the Oireachtas by ordinary legislation because the Oireachtas can at any time amend or repeal such a provision. The requirement to have due regard to change in the distribution of the population is also omitted on the grounds that it will be a matter for the Oireachtas of the day to judge whether or not proposals submitted by the Minister have due regard to population as well as any other factor it considers relevant. No reference is made in the amendment to the date of coming into force of revised constituencies and this is a matter which will be dealt with in the Bill dealing with the revision. As I indicated previously, the intention is that an independent commission will be set up to make recommendations on any revision of Assembly constituencies.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I appreciate that the Community propose to introduce rules or regulations which will be binding on all member states in regard to the holding of Assembly elections. Presumably those rules or regulations, which I believe will be introduced by the Community itself, will cover the holding of elections here and I will deal with constituencies and how the elections should be held. There are many people who feel that the sooner that procedure is settled by the Community for all member states and that we have a uniform system of election, the better. It is possible that the uniform system of elections I am speaking about will be introduced within 12 years. In that case we will have an opportunity, through our representatives in Europe, of vetting any proposals and making recommendations. The amendment I introduced in relation to this on Committee Stage was to deal with the position concerning Assembly elections until we have uniform law.

I accept the Minister's amendment in so far as it goes. My amendment suggested that the Oireachtas revise the constituencies at least once in every 12 years and in doing so they should have regard to changes in the distribution of the population. In drafting that amendment I was guided by Article 16 of the Constitution which provides, amongst other things, that:

4º The Oireachtas shall revise the constituencies at least once in every twelve years, with due regard to changes in distribution of the population, but any alterations in the constituencies shall not take effect during the life of Dáil Éireann sitting when such revision is made.

I withdrew my amendment on the Minister's assurance that he would have a look into the matter and that he accepted the principle of that amendment.

The Minister's amendment does not go as far as I would like it to, in so far as it does not provide that the Oireachtas shall have regard to the distribution of population at the time of the revision. However, I accept what the Minister says, that the difference between the Dáil provision and that relating to the Assembly elections is that the one concerning the Dáil constituencies is subject to the Constitution, that the Oireachtas are bound by it and that the Oireachtas have no jurisdiction or power to act contrary to that provision. In the case of the Assembly elections the position is different because the Constitution does not apply to those elections. I agree that it is open to the Dáil to revise those constituencies at any time and have regard to the distribution of the population. I am sure that the Oireachtas will have regard to the provision in the Constitution and take account of the distribution of the population.

My mind is put further at ease by the assurance of the Minister that it is the intention of the Government to honour their proposals and submit the revision of the constituencies to an independent commission. I know the Minister would not be so optimistic as to think that he would be in power when the revision of constituencies takes place, but I am sure the Minister who succeeds him will have regard to the precedent of submitting the revision of constituencies to a commission. That principle has come to stay and I expect that all future creations of constituencies, as in this case, and revision of constituencies will be carried out by an independent commission.

Amendment agreed to.

The next amendment is No. 4, in the name of Deputy Fitzpatrick. Amendment No. 7, in the name of the Minister, is an alternative and amendment No. 5 is consequential on No. 7. There-fore, we will discuss these three amendments together.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

"(3) Where the Minister has appointed the Sheriff or the County Registrar of a county or county borough, a returning office, he shall appoint a suitably qualified person other than the person whom he has appointed a returning officer to be the local returning officer for that county or county brough."

Provision is made in section 13 of the Bill for the appointment of a chief returning officer who will be responsible for the conduct of the Assembly elections throughout the State. He will be responsible for the four constituencies provided in the Schedule to the Bill, and he will be responsible for certifying the results to the European Assembly.

Section 14 of the Bill to which the amendment has been put down provides for the appointment of a constituency returning officer and a local returning officer, and provides that the constituency returning officer shall be one of the people qualified to be appointed as local returning officer. In practice I presume that means one of the county registrars in a county which is part of the constituency will be appointed constituency returning officer.

As originally drafted, the Bill seemed to provide that, where a county registrar for one of the counties forming one of the four constituencies was appointed constituency returing officer, he would also act as local returning officer. In other words, he would have the job of acting as constituency returning officer for the Province of Munster, say, and in addition, he would have the job of acting as local returning officer for his own county. Obviously, the job of returning officer for the entire constituency is onerous, entailing complete supervision of all the counties or county boroughs in the constituency, arranging for the election, assuming responsibility for it and, if the Minister gets his way, assuming responsibility for the count from beginning to end in the constituency.

That person is still to be entrusted with the more detailed running of the election in his own county or county borough. When I saw the Bill it appeared to me that was a very onerous task to give to any one man. While in some counties a local returning officer will have to look after his own county or county borough only, in another he will have to do the same work and he will also have to do the work of returning officer for the entire constituency, involving up to 11 counties, I think.

I put down an amendment on Committee Stage seeking to provide that where the county registrar for county A was appointed returning officer for constituency B, the Minister would appoint a suitably qualified person other than the county registrar to act as local returning officer for county A. The Minister put down another amendment giving the option to the county registrar who was appointed constituency returning officer to appoint a deputy. We discussed this on Committee Stage and the Minister agreed to have another look at the matter and come back with an amendment on this stage if he thought fit.

The Minister has put down an amendment which reads:

Where a local returning officer is appointed under this section to be the returning officer for a constituency, it shall be lawful for him with the consent of the Minister to appoint a Deputy local returning officer for the discharge of all or any particular part of his duties as local returning officer.

In other words, the Minister is saying if he appoints a county registrar for a particular county as a constituency returning officer, that county registrar may then, with the Minister's consent, appoint a deputy to perform all or some of his duties in his own county.

In effect, I have repeated my Committee Stage amendment providing that, where a county registrar is appointed a constituency returning officer, it shall be obligatory on the Minister to appoint a fully-fledged local returning officer for the county from which the constituency returning officer has been appointed. My proposal is sounder than the Minister's. If the Minister's amendment is accepted, it may be that the county from which the returning officer for the constituency is appointed may have a local returning officer other than the constituency returning officer, or it may not. It also means that the county from which the constituency returning officer has been appointed may have half a local returning officer, or it may not.

The Minister is saying the constituency returning officer may, if he wishes, with the consent of the Minister, appoint a deputy for the discharge of all or any particular part of his duties as local returning officer. That is not good enough. It is unreasonable. I suppose we will be dealing with this on a county basis rather than a constituency basis. There are 26 counties and a number of county boroughs. If the Minister's amendment is accepted, all these counties and county boroughs, with four exceptions, are sure of having a local returning officer, but four or less may not have a local returning officer and may be dependent on the services of the returning officer who has the huge job of looking after the entire constituency. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle are we re-committing these amendments?

No, they are not being re-committed. The Deputy will have the right to reply, of course.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister may say to me that he will rely on the good sense of the constituency returning officer to appoint a deputy. None of us is infallible or like Solomon; we are not all men of great wisdom and it could quite easily happen that if the Minister were unfortunate enough to make a less than perfect appointment of a returning officer, it is the man who might most need a local returning officer who would be slowest to appoint one. I think the Minister will get my point. If the Minister is lucky enough to appoint four constituency returning officers who are men of common sense, not over-anxious for power or control and who have excellent relations with their chief clerks and the county secretary, then he will most likely have a local returning officer appointed in all the constituencies including the constituencies or counties from which the constituency returning officers come.

Mistakes can be made, however, and people who are ordinarily men of great common sense and reasonable in every way can have a blind spot and decide that the right thing is to hold for themselves all the duties of local returning officer as well as of constituency returning officer. I believe that if a person were to do that he would have some shortcomings; he would be a person who would be in most need of a local returning officer. I greatly fear that if the Minister proceeds as he is proceeding in his amendment, relying on the wisdom of the constituency returning officer to appoint a deputy, he will come across the case where for some reason—perhaps due to the personality of the constituency returning officer or that, unknown to the Minister, one of the constituency returning officers he appoints may not be on the very best terms with his chief clerk who might be appointed Deputy; or might not be on the best terms with the county secretary who I suppose would be in the reckoning for deputy returning officer—the constituency returning officer will decide not to appoint a local returning officer. In that case, I believe the proper running of the election will suffer and you will not have the perfection or near-perfection desirable.

The Minister also visualises in his amendment a situation where the constituency returning officer might not go the whole hog and appoint no local returning officer, he might say: "I will not have anybody here taking over my powers within the county or constituency but I shall appoint a sort of mini-local returning officer who will have some of the functions but not all that a returning officer would have." There is a provision for that in the Minister's amendment. I do not think that is desirable; it would probably lead to friction rather than the smooth running of the election. I find it difficult to see why the Minister thinks fit to introduce the procedure provided in his amendment. Let us read it again:

Where a local returning officer is appointed under this section to be the returning officer for a constituency, it shall be lawful for him with the consent of the Minister to appoint a deputy local returning officer for the discharge of all or any particular part of his duties as local returning officer.

The Minister concedes that there is reason for it. Why would a returning officer not accept the Minister's option and appoint a deputy returning officer? I believe there is only one reason why he would refuse to appoint a local returning officer and that is his own makeup, either that he would not trust anybody in his county with the duties which would be delegated to him or that he is a man who likes power and is not prepared to shed any of it and for that reason would insist on holding all the power himself or because, perhaps, he is not on the best of terms with his chief clerk or with some other officer in the county. If any of these reasons is the reason why the constituency returning officer would not appoint a deputy, in my opinion, it makes the strongest possible case for ensuring that he has a deputy.

If the Minister looks at this from all angles I believe he will conclude that the way to deal with it is to have a clear decision. All the Minister has to do, if he decides to accept my amendment instead of his own, is to say: "Yes, a local returning officer is essential in each county and I shall see that there is one." Apparently, the Minister accepts that, because he has provided in the Bill for the appointment of a local returning officer. Why, then, does he not go the whole hog and say: "In the four counties or county boroughs from which the constituency returning officers are to be recruited, there will be another person appointed?"

There are no grounds for saying a qualified person might not be available. That is not so. The invariable practice is that the county registrar if there is one, acts as returning officer at Dáil elections, at referenda and Presidential elections and that the county secretary acts as returning officer in local government elections. Therefore, one may be satisfied that there are at least two persons in each county qualified to fill this post.

The chief clerk in the county registrar's office carries a lot of the burden of Dáil elections as a rule. In almost every case he too would be fully qualified for the position. The strongest point I want to get across is that the person who would be least likely to appoint a deputy is a person who would be in most need of one and the person who would be least likely to appoint him should have a mandatory direction in this Bill to appoint him.

Deputy Kavanagh, amendment No. 4 is before the House and we are debating Nos. 5 and 7 with it.

When we were on Committee Stage I was in agreement with Deputy Fitzpatrick's desire to see that somebody was appointed in that national Dáil constituency where the county registrar or the sheriff was the person who happened to be appointed to the position of returning officer for the Assembly election constituency. It was a reasonable request that a person be given all the duties of the local returning officer in that area and not only part of them. I again support Deputy Fitzpatrick on this Stage.

I can see that the Minister has gone some way to meet the needs of Deputy Fitzpatrick and if it is possible at this stage I would propose an amendment to the Minister's amendment. The Minister's amendment would meet the need better than Deputy Fitzpatrick's if we were allowed to remove from the Minister's amendment the words "all or any particular part of". This refers to the duties of the local returning officer. If the Minister's amendment read: "where a local returning officer was appointed under this section to be a returning officer for a constituency it shall be lawful for him with the consent of the Minister to appoint a deputy local returning officer for the discharge of his duties as local returning officer", I believe that the needs of Deputy Fitzpatrick and myself would be met. My objection to Deputy Fitzpatrick's wording: "a suitably qualified person", is that all sorts of questions could be raised about who is a suitably qualified person. Would it have to be a solicitor, a county registrar, the local sheriff, or would a court messenger be suitably qualified?

I would ask the Minister to consider my proposition. It would have the same effect and would meet the needs of Deputy Fitzpatrick in requiring a person to be substituted for the returning officer in his Dáil constituency or county borough area which he was removed from in order to perform his duties as the returning officer for the constituency in the Assembly elections.

Since Committee Stage I have gone into this matter very fully and I asked the officials of my Department to discuss the matter with a cross-section of the returning officers throughout the country in order to get their views. From the discussions that took place with the returning officers it is clear that they favour a flexible provision under which the constituency returning officer would have the option of appointing a deputy for some or all of his duties as local returning officer. The returning officers also pointed out that Assembly elections will represent an entirely new situation and that the approach to them should not be hampered by rigidity. They also said that individual returning officers tend to adopt different approaches to the organisation of elections. Some like to have one right hand man to help them generally in the supervision of the election and others prefer to have a number of assistants dealing with different aspects of the election. Some tend to involve themselves very closely in the detailed arrangements while others, particularly those who are responsible for more than one constituency tend to delegate more of the duties to their assistants.

Having listened to the views of the returning officers it seems appropriate to have regard also to existing practice in electoral law. In the law relating to presidential elections and referenda there is a flexible power for a local returning officer to appoint a deputy for any part of his duties and there is similar power in the local elections code. These provisions have worked very well in the past. The appointment of a deputy for counting the votes is compulsory where the same person is returning officer for two or more constituencies. The reason for this is obvious. The appointment of a deputy for other purposes has always been discretionary in the past. The duties to be performed by the constituency returning officer and the local returning officer on examination would support the view that a flexible arrangement for appointing deputy returning officers would be more appropriate. The constituency returning officer will receive nominations, will arrange for the printing of ballot papers and for the supply of them to the local returning officers throughout the constituency.

This completes his duties as returning officer at the early stages of the election and his remaining duties do not arise until the end of the election. They are to obtain suitable premises for the counting of the votes and to engage suitable staff. The constituency returning officer will have to receive and accommodate ballot boxes on arrival from the local returning officer and finally it will be his responsibility to count the votes and to declare the result. The duties of a constituency returning officer will arise at the beginning of the European elections and again at the end.

The local returning officer, on the other hand, has no duties to perform at the beginning or at the end of the election. He has no formal functions in relation to receiving nominations or counting votes. His duties are to issue postal ballot papers, to employ the presiding officers and poll clerks to select polling stations to take the poll, open postal ballot boxes and check the postal voting papers and finally to deliver all the ballot boxes to the returning officer of the constituency. From the point of view of time there is no overlap between the two sets of duties, namely those of the constituency returning officer and the local returning officer. It is quite conceivable that the one local returning officer could do the lot in his own constituency. It would obviously be helpful to him if he could hand over to a deputy specific duties for instance, the issue of the postal ballot papers or checking postal voting documents— and the amendment makes provision for this situation.

The organisation of an Assembly election will be a big task, but there is no need to let the size of it frighten anyone. We should bear in mind that a Dáil election in Dublin, for instance, involves close on 400,000 electors and nine separate constituencies and has always been supervised by one man, namely the City Sheriff and that deputy returning officers are appointed for counting the votes only. Having full regard to the views of the returning officers, the desirability to be flexible with regard to the arrangements wherever possible and the existing practice in the electoral law, I am satisfied that the appointment of a deputy ought to be discretionary and not mandatory, as Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment is proposing. We should not forget, when worrying about the various approaches and personalities of different returning officers, that we are not talking about a very big number of constituency returning officers. In all we have only four constituencies and we will have only four constituency returning officers, so there would not be tremendous variations in the characters of four people as there might be with a larger number. Having discussed this matter in great detail and my Department having got the views of the returning officers throughout the country and those views being in favour of our amendment, I am satisfied that our amendment is the right one on this occasion. I recommend amendment No. 7 and amendment No. 5 is consequential.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Apparently the Minister has made up his mind pretty firmly on this subject. I believe that the method proposed by me is the safer one and will lead to the conducting of the Assembly election in a more efficient way. All I am asking the Minister to do is to make obligatory what he says may be done. The Minister says that the constituency returning officer in question may, with the Minister's consent, appoint a deputy for his own county to discharge all or some of his duties within that county. I am asking the Minister to say that the returning officer in question shall appoint a deputy to discharge all his duties within that county. There is not much difference between the two proposals.

We will take it for the sake of argument that there are 20 counties. When you take county boroughs into account there are more, say 26 counties. Twenty-two of these are going to have local returning officers and the other four may or may not. That is unsound. Why not have a uniform practice, applying over the entire State that each county or county borough will have a local returning officer as well as the constituency returning officer? The Minister said that the local returning officer will not have very much to do. First of all the constituency returning officer, in my opinion, has a very onerous job. He is responsible for the overall running of the election in the entire constituency. The local returning officer reports to him in a lot of things and acts subject to him. Surely to goodness the local returning officer will have a very onerous job; for all practical purposes he will have the entire conduct of the election to look after, with the exception of the nominations and the count, if the Minister gets his way. The nominations are not a very onerous job; the count is.

If the Minister gets his way we will have a position where if there is no local returning officer appointed—and we must visualise that position because the Minister's amendment leaves the way open to such a situation—a man on one county will be responsible for rounding up the ballot boxes when the poll is closed, for checking that all the ballot boxes in county A are brought in safe and sound and checked off. The same man will then be responsible for receiving those ballot boxes in another place may be 100 miles away. That does not make sense, and that is the situation which may face us if the Minister's amendment is accepted.

If boxes are lost, who is going to be responsible? If there is no deputy how will a person check out the ballot boxes in one place and at the same time be in another place to receive ballot boxes coming from two or three miles and some coming from maybe 100 miles? It may be said that it is the one man, but the one man cannot be in two places at the same time: and he would require to be in two places at the same time because some ballot boxes could come from his own county within a very short time but the ballot boxes in a local constituency miles and miles away would have, I presume, to be checked into one spot before being dispatched to the central counting place.

The Minister says that he has got advice. With all due respect to the county registrars, it is the most natural thing in the world that they would say: "Yes, leave it to us and we will appoint a deputy if we consider it necessary." That is understandable, and apparently that it the advice that the Minister has sought and that he has got. The county registrars want to retain that bit of power. That develops the point that I was making: that people like to have power and do not like it to be taken from them. If the Minister asks the returning officers who should have the decision as to whether a deputy should or should not be appointed, it is the most natural thing in the world that they would advise that the decision should remain with them. As I see it 24 of the 26 counties will have local returning officers while in the other counties there may or may not be local returning officers depending on the approach of the county registrars concerned. That situation is not fair to the county registrars. Neither is it fair to the county secretaries who would be eligible to be appointed or to the chief clerk in the county registrar's office who also would be eligible to be appointed. This type of provision is not in the interest of the proper running of the elections at local level.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 8, line 45, subsection (4), to delete "It" and substitute "Subject to subsection (5) (a) of this section, it".

Amendment agreed to.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, line 53, to delete "doubt" and to insert "duties".

This amendment relates to a small matter that occurred to me on reading the Bill. It concerns subsection (4) of section 14, the subsection which sets out the duties of the constituency returning officer and the local returning officer. It goes on to provide that if there is any dispute between these two learned gentlemen as to the duties to be performed by either of them, the Minister will be the one to decide. However, the wording is:

... and if any doubt arises as to the duties of a local returning officer, the doubt shall be determined by the Minister.

I concede that I did not consult either the Oxford or any other dictionary about this but it appears to me that the word "determine" is wrong in relation to a doubt. In ordinary language the word should be "resolve". Consequently, I have amended these last two lines to read that if any doubt arises in relation to the duties of the local returning officer, the duties shall be determined by the Minister. In suggesting the amendment I relied on ordinary, everyday usage of language.

I appreciate the point made by the Deputy but I would point out that the provision in the Bill as drafted is taken directly from the existing Electoral Law Act, 1963 section 11, subsection (7). Regarding the use of the words "doubt" and "duties", I am not aware that the corresponding provision in the 1963 Act has given rise to any specific problem nor is there any clear reason for us having a distinction in the code for the Assembly election vis-à-vis the existing situation.

The provision here requires the Minister to decide on any specific point of doubt that may arise in relation to any part of a returning officer's duties. In other words the Minister is required to rule on a net issue, on one point only, whereas the amendment would appear to go much further and to require him to define the full range of duties of a local returning officer whenever any point of duty is raised. I am satisfied that the provision in the Bill is preferable to the proposed amendment and, consequently, I am not disposed to accepting the amendment. Its acceptance could lead to complications whereas the provision as drafted has worked since its introduction in the Electoral Act, 1963.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It is not my intention to raise any major controversy on this point but I do not accept the Minister's approach, that is, that simply because something appeared in the 1963 Electoral Act or in the 1937 Presidential Electoral Act or, say, in some Act of 1924 and has never given rise to any difficulty by reason of its never being questioned, we should accept it now and should not consider ourselves free to depart from the provisions or to improve them. If that were to be the position, once a Bill had passed through this House it would be infallible forever after.

I have never heard anybody say that one determines a doubt. One determines a fact. A doubt is not a fact: it is the opposite. If the Minister has any anxiety in regard to acceptance of the amendment resulting in all the duties of the officers being thrown wide open, that question can be overcome simply. Instead of the wording in the Bill is it not simpler to say that if any doubt arises as to the duties of a local returning officer, the duties in doubt shall be determined by the Minister? That would make common sense. It is our duty here on Committee and Report Stages of Bills to go through such provisions and improve them. In this context, for example, I have never been able to understand why the law relating to Dáil elections provided for the appointment of a sub-agent in a polling district while the law relating to Presidential elections or to referenda provided for no such sub-agent. It was not proposed in this Bill either to provide for a sub-agent but after I raised the matter the defect was made good. I am clear, too, that there should be provision for a sub-agent in respect of a Presidential election. However, it is only by raising such points here that we improve matters. They will not be improved by slavishly taking provisions from other Acts on the basis that they had not given trouble to date and that, therefore, they would not hopefully give trouble in the future. That is not doing our job properly. It is not applying ourselves to improving matters. In the point at issue there is no major controversy, political or otherwise, involved. If a person, speaking ordinary English, said that he would resolve a doubt, one would take it that he was talking of clarifying the position but one could not know what was meant if the person said that he intended determining a doubt.

Perhaps the Minister would look at this again before the Bill goes to the Seanad. I suggest that the last two lines read that if any doubt arises as to the duties of the local returning officer, the duties in doubt shall be determined by the Minister. The Minister may prefer that wording to the wording of my amendment. Opposition amendments are never put down in the spirit that their language is absolutely perfect. That is not so. They are put down in order to establish a principle or a defect in the Bill. I put down this amendment to establish a defect in this section. I think I have established it and, if the Minister would accept it. I believe the section would be better than it is now.

Is the amendment withdrawn?

I will have a further look at it before the Seanad debate.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am obliged to the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Would the Minister please move amendment No. 7.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 9, before line 1, to insert the following new subsection:

"(5) (a) Where a local returning officer is appointed under this section to be the returning officer for a constituency, it shall be lawful for him with the consent of the Minister to appoint a deputy local returning officer for the discharge of all or any particular part of his duties as local returning officer.

(b) Subsequent references in this Act to the local returning officer shall include references to deputy local returning officers.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 7 is moved and agreed. Amendments Nos. 8 in the name of the Minister and No. 9 in the name of Deputy Fitzpatrick are related and we shall discuss them together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 9, lines 19 to 21, to delete "the relevant representative elected to the Assembly pursuant to this Act at the last preceding Assembly election" and substitute "by reason of the last preceding Assembly election the relevant place in the Assembly was held by a person who".

On Committee Stage Deputies sought to have the meaning of section 15 (1) (b) clarified. They suggested that the draftsmen might be asked to take a further look at the paragraph, particularly at the expression "the relevant representative". This amendment proposes a change in the wording of the paragraph which it is hoped will make the meaning clearer. The wording of the paragraph presents certain difficulty because it is designed to cover a number of different situations. For example, it covers a situation in which the elected representative dies and must be replaced. It also covers a situation in which the replacement, in turn, dies and the vacancy must be filled again.

Perhaps an example might help to illustrate the point. Let us say that at the Assembly election a Mr. Brown —with no disrespect to the Chair—a candidate for Party A is elected to the Assembly; a year later he dies and, under this section, Mr. Black is appointed by the Dáil to fill the vacancy on the nomination of Party A. Subsequently Mr. Black changes his allegience and joins Party B. Say, a few months later he too dies or becomes disqualified—for whatever reasons there are for disqualification —in accordance with this section the Dáil will look to Party A and not Party B for a nomination to fill the vacancy. In other words, any time a particular seat falls vacant during the life of an Assembly it will be filled by reference to the political affiliation of the candidate elected to the seat at the preceding election, at the time of that election.

I would hope that this revised wording would help to clarify the matter in this section.

I want to ask the Minister one question on this, I do not want to place him in an awkward position.

We are on Report Stage.

Yes. The Minister mentioned Party A and Party B. I take it he is referring to the national parties on the ballot paper and not to the groupings in the European Parliamentary sense?

No, at the time of election on the ballot paper.

Not the groupings in the European Parliament itself?

Yes, national parties.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I know the Minister is trying to help me to clarify the position. I know that it is the politics of the person who was elected at the last preceding Assembly election, who may die, resign or be disqualified, will determine the politics of the person who will fill that seat until the ensuing Assembly election. I know that that is what the section wants to do. But what did and still gives me trouble—and I do not think the Minister has put it beyond doubt—is where it says “in case the relevant representative”. There is no definition of the word “relevant”. As this paragraph stood it says:

(b) in case the relevant representative elected to the Assembly pursuant to this Act at the last preceding Assembly election was at that election a candidate of a political party which at the time of the said election was and for the time being is registered pursuant to this Act in the Register of Political Parties, the person appointed under this subsection to fill the vacancy shall, if, but only if, the nomination is made within three months of the day on which the vacancy occurred, be a person nominated by that political party.

My problem is that if I were asked to adjudicate on this would I know what the word "relevant" meant? I suppose I would if I said: "I do not know what the section is saying but I know what it means." I would have to say that because, reading the section, I do not really know what it is saying. But I know that the sense of it is that they are talking about the fellow elected at the last Assembly election who died, resigned or was disqualified. The Minister's amendment does not improve matters either. It says simply:

In page 9, lines 19 to 21, to delete "the relevant representative elected to the Assembly pursuant to this Act at the last preceding Assembly election" and substitute "by reason of the last preceding Assembly election the relevant place in the Assembly was held by a person who".

The subsection would then read:

(b) in case, by reason of the last preceding Assembly election, the relevant place in the Assembly was held by a person who ...

There should be inserted a definition of the word "relevant". Without any training as a draftsman, which I have not, without any consultation with any such person or without resorting to a parliamentary draftsman's library, I suggest that an additional paragraph be added to this section, to be known as paragraph (c) and should read something like this:

in this subsection "relevant representative" means the representative elected at the last preceding Assembly election whose death, resignation or disqualification caused the original casual vacancy.

The only thing there giving me any trouble are the words "original casual vacancy". If I were redrafting that I would say:

in this subsection the "relevant representative" means the representative elected at the last preceding Assembly election whose death, resignation or disqualification caused the vacancy now being filled, or the vacancy giving rise to this vacancy.

I would suggest something like that, when we would also have a definition of the word "relevant". Indeed I think the word "relevant" is defined in many Acts of Parliament, and I think the Minister will find it has been so defined in various sections of various Acts of Parliament. I know what is meant. If I were a judge and were to use my common sense, rather than be compelled to reply on the section. I believe I would arrive at the right decision. I do not think the section should be drafted like that or that it should leave this House like that if it can be improved. I hope I have made my point clear.

Perhaps I may make two comments on this section. A very new and important principle has been introduced, under this section to the Irish political scene in that the Minister in this Bill—and let us face it, also in the previous Bill—intends to adopt the party allegiance of a member rather than the member's wishes himself as to who should fill the vacancy. The proposal here states that if a person should change his allegiance and then die one goes back to the ballot paper and consults it to see which party in whose favour the candidate stood. When making out ballot papers I always understood the political parties' aim was to avoid any likelihood of confusion. The procedure now suggested will have a significant effect in that it commits a seat in the European Parliament to a party and not to an individual. That is a new procedure in Irish politics and it is worth pointing it out now.

The parliamentary draftsman drafted the amendment on the conclusions arrived at in the debate on Committee Stage. This was what he was guided by. Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment does not take into consideration the original casual vacancy. A simple example would be where a person is elected to the European Parliament and thereafter is appointed a Minister of his national government and thus he could not continue as a Member of the European Parliament. Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment, unlike mine, would not cover such a situation. As I have pointed out, my amendment was drafted as a result of the debate on Committee Stage. I am quite satisfied from my discussions that it covers all that is required to be covered. It is quite adequate without any further changes.

With regard to the point made by Deputy Kavanagh, I thought it was more or less unanimously accepted that if a man who was elected to the European Parliament on behalf of Party A dies that party should be entitled to the seat despite the fact that the person originally elected may have changed his allegiance to two or three parties. In my opinion the fairest procedure is that the seat should go to the party that originally won it.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 15, to delete lines 53 and 54, and in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 11, and substitute the following:

"(2) A candidate, his election agent or his local agent may appoint with respect to any polling district in the constituency one deputy local agent to assist the candidate in the polling district and to act therein as deputy for the candidate's election agent and local agent.

(3) An appointment under this Rule may be revoked by,

(a) in case the appointment is made under paragraph (1) of this Rule, the candidate,

(b) in case the appointment is otherwise made under this Rule, the candidate, his election agent or his local agent.

(4) Where an appointment under this Rule is revoked or an agent appointed under this Rule dies, resigns or becomes incapable of acting during an Assembly election, another agent may be appointed pursuant to and in accordance with this Rule to replace him.

(5) The name and address of every agent appointed under this Rule (whether originally or substitutionally) shall immediately after the appointment be communicated by the person by whom the appointment was made to—

(a) in the case of the election agent, the returning officer,

(b) in the case of a local agent or a deputy local agent, the local returning officer.".

The provision in the Bill in relation to the appointment of agents is modelled on the corresponding provision in the law on presidential elections. Unlike the Dáil electoral law there is no mandatory requirement to appoint election agents in presidential elections. Instead there is a discretionary power for the appointment by a candidate of an election agent to assist him generally and a local agent to represent him in each county and county borough in the Assembly constituency.

The Dáil electoral law permits the appointment of a sub-agent or deputy agent for each polling district but there is no provision for sub-agents in the law relating to presidential elections. The present Bill makes no provision for sub-agents presumably on the grounds that in this respect the Assembly elections may be more akin to presidential elections.

In the course of the debate on Committee Stage it was suggested that some candidates, particularly those who would not be in a position to have a personation agent in each polling station, might wish to appoint a sub-agent to look after their interests in a polling district. The amendment makes provision for the appointment of a deputy local sub-agent in respect of any polling district and it includes the usual provision for the replacement of such an agent if he dies, resigns or if his appointment is revoked. That is the purpose of the amendment.

(Cavan-Monaghan): As the Minister has said, his amendment was introduced to meet the point referred to by me, namely, that in Dáil elections during the years provision was made for a personation agent for each polling booth or presiding officer's table and, in addition, provision was made for a sub-agent for each polling district. No such provision was made in the Presidential Elections Act, 1937 or in the Bills dealing with referenda. Apparently when drafting this Bill the parliamentary draftsman followed the procedure in legislation dealing with presidential elections rather than with general elections with the result there is no provision here for the appointment of sub-agents.

I thought that was a mistake. I said we should avail of this measure to draw attention to defects in it and in other electoral measures. I am glad the Minister has checked on what I have said and that he has put down the amendment which meets the point raised by me.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 has been ruled out of order since it involves new matters of substance that did not arise on Committee Stage——

(Cavan-Monaghan): I received the letter from the Chair today when I came to Dublin informing me that amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13 tabled by me for Report Stage could not be moved as they involved new matters of substance which were not effectively before the Committee on the Bill.

I do not want to say or do anything I should not do or say, but I must refer the House to columns 1250, 1251 and 1252 of the Official Report dated 17 November, 1977, where these matters were raised by me with particular reference to the point I want to make now. I referred to the position of a candidate who was a next door neighbour of the returning officer and who died at 8.30 a.m. on the morning of polling day and I outlined what would happen. I am not moving the amendment until the Chair rules on it——

The Deputy is aware that the amendments have been ruled on. While there may have been a reference in the debate it was not such as to justify the introduction of these amendments.

(Cavan-Monaghan): With respect I submit that I raised this matter. I want to put on record that, if Rule 20 (1) and (2) is allowed to stand, a position may arise where you have excluded days, as happened this year, when a bank holiday intervened between the closing of nominations and the date fixed for withdrawals. If a person died hours before the closing of nominations on Saturday, by virtue of Rule 20 (1) and (2) he would be deemed to have withdrawn his nomination and his party could not possibly have found an alternative candidate within two hours before the closing of nominations. It might very well be that the sole representative of a party died at 10 or 11 o'clock on Saturday. By virtue of this rule he would be deemed to have withdrawn and that party would have been deprived of a candidate in that constituency. That would be the position if this rule is allowed to go through without writing into Rule 20 (2) after “hours” in the second line “disregarding any excluded date”.

If I were moving the amendment, naturally I would be speaking at greater length and spelling out how this can happen. It says "within 72 hours of the time fixed for withdrawals in the last general election was 12 o'clock on Tuesday. Nominations closed on Saturday and Monday was an excluded day. Therefore, we would have 72 hours between 12 o'clock on Saturday and 12 o'clock on Tuesday. Because of the rule as drafted if a person died at 10 o'clock on Saturday and the county registrar knew about it, he would be obliged to have regarded that person as having withdrawn his nomination and the election would have gone merrily along and that party would have have any candidate to replace the deceased candidate.

Amendments Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive not moved.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 20, lines 4 and 5, to delete "other names are the same, in the alphabetical order of their occupations" and insert "surnames and other names are the same, in such order as shall be determined by lot by the returning officer".

Rule 22 of the First Schedule deals with the form of ballot paper and sets out the directions to be followed in the preparation of the ballot papers. Paragraph 2 (a) contains the standard provision about the order of names on the ballot paper. In accordance with this paragraph the names are to be in alphabetical order of the surnames or, if there are two or more candidates with the same surname, in the alphabetical order of their other names; or if their other names are also the same, in the alphabetical order of their occupations. This is identical with the corresponding provision in other electoral codes.

During the debate on Committee Stage it was pointed out that, if the occupations were identical as well as the surnames and the Christian or other names, the returning officer is given no further guidance as to what order the names should appear on the ballot paper. Deputy Fitzpatrick gave an instance of two Patrick O'Reillys at a local election. Having considered what is involved here, in my opinion the simplest way to meet this point, without spelling out the matter in very exhaustive detail, is to provide that whenever two or more candidates have identical surnames and Christian or other names, their order on the ballot paper will be determined by the returning officer by lot. This amendment provides accordingly. During the Committee Stage debate we all agreed that the simpler the Bill the more acceptable it is to Members and the public at large. This amendment simplifies the issue somewhat.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I accept the Minister's amendment, which fully meets my point. As he says, the rule as drafted provided that names should appear on the ballot paper in order of surnames, or if they were the same, in order of other names, or if they were the same in order of occupation. In certain counties very frequently the same surnames and Christian names crop up time after time. I imagine in Donegal you might have many O'Dohertys and McLoughlins and in Cavan you could have McGoverns, Reillys, Smiths and Bradys.

My attention was drawn to this because on one occasion we had two Patrick O'Reillys on the ballot papers, both were respected members of this House at different times, both were farmers—I have not checked up on this—one had a second occupation. Perhaps that occupation decided their order on the ballot paper, but if he did not use his second occupation I do not know how this problem was resolved. This is the kind of thing which could give rise to a big row because you know how jealous people are about getting their names high on the ballot paper. Commentators sometimes think that in certain circumstances people go for the members of a party highest on the ballot paper and that results in unfair preference. That is all right if names are placed in order pursuant to a well defined and clearcut rule.

If there were two Tom Fitzpatricks, as in this House, and we were both publicans or solicitors and were in the same constituency, we might easily have a row as to which of us would be first on the ballot paper. The Minister's amendment puts this beyond doubt and I accept it. Again this is an example of the advisability of what some people consider a waste of time, that is going through a Bill section by section with a fine comb.

I want to ask a question about the example given of the two Patrick O'Reillys who were both farmers. What the Minister intends to do in this amendment is to decide by lot between the political affiliations of the two parties. If you have two Paddy O'Reillys who are farmers, there is no difference if you put their names into a hat and draw them out——

(Cavan-Monaghan): The first name to come out of the hat goes on top of the ballot paper.

But they are both Paddy O'Reilly, farmer. I assume it is their political allegiance which will then decide who goes on top.

Amendment agreed to.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 15:

In page 22, line 7, to delete "section" and to insert "rule".

This is purely a drafting point. The Bill proper is broken down into sections. Nos. 1 to 23 and the Schedules are broken down into rules, Nos. 1 to 120. I found on going through the Schedules that Rule No. 28 (1) contains in the second line in brackets "in this section referred to as a polling card". I believe that is a slip and that it came from lifting a marginally defective Schedule from some other Bill and putting it into this one. If I am correct I believe that "section" should be deleted and the word "rule" inserted.

The Deputy is right. The amendment rightly draws attention to a drafting error. The reference to "section" should, of course, be to a "rule". I would like to thank the Deputy for bringing the matter to our notice.

Amendment agreed to.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 16:

In page 22, Rule 28, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

"(5) It shall be an offence for any person to interfere with or use a polling card addressed to an Assembly elector for the purpose of influencing or inducing that elector to vote or to abstain from voting or to vote in a particular way.".

We had a discussion on polling cards on Committee Stage. It was not seriously contradicted that sending out polling cards from the returning officer to each elector on the register of electors, giving him his number and telling him where he can vote, is helpful. I do not think it was seriously contradicted either that those polling cards lead to abuses and can facilitate personation. We have, for example, in the city of Dublin a moving population of flat dwellers who may move from one area to another and may have been correctly placed on the register of electors at a given address. However when an election is about to take place they may have moved away but the polling cards are delivered to those addresses. It is common knowledge that those cards in many cases are collected by political enthusiasts and used to vote on behalf of those addressees, in other words, to commit personation.

That is an offence and those people could be imprisoned. I believe those polling cards can be used in other ways to take unfair advantage of the addressees especially if they are not too bright or old or infirm or in many cases if they are inmates of institutions. I believe those polling cards are withheld in some cases and those people feel they have not a right to vote. In other cases some people may get possession of those polling cards and use them to persuade some of those people to accompany them to vote or suppress them altogether when those people think they are not entitled to vote. Polling cards give rise to serious abuses. It should be the law that whether a person lives with a family, lives on his own or lives in an institution his polling card should be delivered to him and retained by him.

I know that this amendment is not perfect but it conveys my sentiments on the particular practice which prevails in many cases in relation to those polling cards. My amendment would add another paragraph to Rule 28 as follows:

It shall be an offence for any person to interfere with or use a polling card addressed to an Assembly elector for the purpose of influencing or inducing that elector to vote or to abstain from voting or to vote in a particular way.

That does not mean that I want to outlaw fair canvassing. I want to outlaw malpractices in connection with those polling cards. It is tied with a system of companion voting about which I have a later amendment. If the drafting of my amendment does not appeal to the Minister, an amendment should certainly be inserted in this Bill and, at the first opportunity, in all Electoral Acts which would make it a very serious offence for anybody to deprive a person of a polling card or to use a polling card as an inducement, a decoy or some way of getting that person to vote.

I may be told that a person who takes one of those cards is committing the offence of larceny and that such a person could be convicted and could have a penalty imposed. That is true, but larceny involves permanently depriving a person of something which belongs to him. If a person means only to keep an elector's card until the day of the election for fear that particular person would lose it or do something foolish with it and intends returning it on the day of the election, that would not permanently deprive the owner of a polling card and no offence would be involved. That person, however, could be guilty of sharp practice from an electoral point of view. I believe polling cards were introduced approximately 20 years ago. They are a great help in built-up areas of cities and large towns but they lead to some undesirable practices. I want to spell that out. Some amendment, such as the one I suggest, should be incorporated in the Bill.

On Committee Stage both sides were agreed that the purpose for which the polling card was originally intended had often proved less than successful. In the recent general election there were postal delays and cards posted on Thursday did not reach the recipients until the following Monday or Tuesday. In some cases they never reached the recipients at all. At best, polling cards lead to a great deal of confusion. If a voter does not receive one he may feel hurt and refuse to go out and vote because he knows his neighbour has got a card and, to the former, that ranks as an invitation. Again, it is a simple matter to become possessed of polling cards in areas in which there are flats. Inquiries are made and it is found that certain tenants have moved out to another area and the cards are used for purposes of personation.

I do not know if Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment would solve the problem. I think the best thing would be to do away with these cards altogether. Candidates and electors now have the facility of radio and television, to say nothing of elaborate election literature. Why could not voters be informed that their names are on the register? Surely computers could be used here. They are used by the ESB for sending out bills and by local authorities for the purpose of sending out the rates demand. Why not have a central computer bank to send out this information to electors?

The Minister said he would look at the problem. If he is not going to accept this amendment then he should introduce an amendment himself. He may be able to do something to solve the problem. I do not know if these cards are sent out in local elections but I certainly see no need for them in today's circumstances.

Both sides agreed on Committee Stage that the issuing of polling cards was anything but satisfactory. I agreed then to have a look at the procedure and I said we could return to it on another occasion. We were all agreed there were abuses and confusion was created and I intend to review the situation.

With regard to the amendment, it is possible for an unscrupulous person or even a party worker to come into possession of polling cards where voters have died or left the area and such a person may prevail on others to use the cards rather than chance using them himself. The situation appears to be adequately covered in the Bill. Under Rule 72 (1) a person who applies dishonestly for a ballot paper may be charged with personation while the person who supplies the polling card would appear to be open to a charge under Rule 72 (3) af aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of the offence of personation.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am not dealing with personation. I am dealing with the use of these cards to influence people who are feeble and people in institutions. They could be the right people to vote but, with the card, they could be either encouraged to vote or discouraged from voting.

Personation is covered in the Bill. That is what I understood the amendment was intended to deal with. What the Deputy is talking about is coercing people to vote or dissuading people from voting. That would also be covered since it would be using undue influence. Rule 74 of the Schedule deals with undue influence.

A person who, in relation to an Assembly election, directly or indirectly makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint against or inflicts or causes or threatens to inflict or cause any temporal or spiritual injury or loss on or to any person, or attempts by abduction, duress, or fraud—

(a) to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting, or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular person or in a particular way,....

(Cavan-Monaghan): Technically it probably is covered.

Is the Deputy replying to his amendment?

(Cavan-Monaghan): Yes. Technically it probably is covered by Rule 74 of the Schedule. I put down the amendment in order to spell this out because I believe polling cards are being used in many ways to persuade people to vote in a certain way or to get to know who is entitled to vote. This thing goes on in institutions. The polling cards should be delivered to the addressees so that they can do what they like with them. They should not be kept in the custody of institution staffs whose duty it might not be to look after the cards and whose only interest in them would be to identify the addressees and, perhaps, to persuade them to vote in a certain way. There should be some offence created in addition to the omnibus one on page 41 dealing with undue influence.

Amendment put and declared lost.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 17:

In page 26, line 19, after "companion" to insert "whom he shall nominate by name".

This is not entirely unrelated to the previous amendment. Rule 39 provides for voting by blind, incapacitated or illiterate electors. The rule, I am sure, has been taken from previous Bills and it is to facilitate in a genuine way blind, incapacitated or illiterate electors to vote as they wish; in other words, it is to facilitate such people to express their personal genuine wishes at election time. This is a comparatively recent innovation.

The position used to be that a person voted in the ordinary way by going in to the polling booth, marking his paper and putting it into the ballot box, or, if he were an illiterate or incapacitated person, he went to the presiding officer who marked the ballot paper as the person wished to have it marked, showed the paper to the agents and then put it in the box. The new system provides that an illiterate person must still vote in that way but a blind or otherwise incapacitated person may have the help of a companion who may go into the booth with him, mark the paper for him and put it in the box.

But just as the polling cards were introduced to facilitate people but led to confusion and serious abuse, as Deputy Kavanagh has said, I am afraid this has also come to be abused seriously in regard to unfortunate people who are confined to institutions and who are beyond voting, because in the past they have been able to communicate their views to the presiding officer or to a companion. Such people are being brought in from institutions, and the first chore on the day of an election is to descend on old people's institutions to get them out and to the polling booths. That chore is entrusted, I regret to say, to ruthless people and that system has gone beyond the standards of decency. Some of those old people have walked in, some of them have been carried and some wheeled into polling booths. It generates ill-feeling between the parties in the polling booths on election morning and it is most undesirable.

The companion to whom this would have been entrusted would have been a relative or a friend, not some political enthusiast from several miles away charged on the morning of election with getting first to the county home or old people's home. My amendment is to paragraph (3) of Rule 39 which states:

Where this Rule applies in the case of an Assembly elector who satisfies the presiding officer that his sight is so impaired or that he is otherwise so physically incapacitated that he is unable to vote without assistance, the elector may request that his ballot paper shall be marked for him by a companion and, subject to paragraph (4) of this Rule, the companion may go with the elector into one of the compartments in the polling station and there shall mark the ballot paper for the elector and shall fold it and show the back of the folded paper to the presiding officer so as to disclose the official mark and forthwith place the paper in the ballot box.

My proposal is to add the words "whom he shall nominate by name". I have personal knowledge of people being brought out to vote who could not talk or communicate with anybody in regard to how they wanted to vote. There is provision for an oath of affirmation to be administered by the presiding officer, if requested to do so by a personating agent, and the elector swears that he or she is incapacitated. We know that some people have been brought in by companions to vote but when they were freed or released from the companions they voted in a way diametrically opposed to the way in which the companions would suggest. It is time something was done about it. That happens. I put down this amendment to highlight this. The difficulty could be overcome if all returning officers in booths which are used by large numbers of incapacitated or elderly people knew the rules thoroughly and were prepared to enforce them. The rules are there and a personating agent can insist that a person swear that he or she is incapacitated and wishes that somebody should mark the ballot paper for him or her.

It is an insult to human dignity that the old people I am talking about should be treated in this way, and they are so treated. It is politically offensive that this should be so. I would suggest to the House that the rules should be amended by making it obligatory on the person who seeks the assistance of a companion to nominate by name that companion. It may be said that it is not fair and that it is posing a burden on the elector. It is not the elector I want to get at; it is the person posing as his companion who is not actually his companion. I have put on the record of this House the feelings I genuinely hold about this abuse. The amendment I have put down would improve matters but I also believe that the strict and rigid enforcement of the rules by a presiding officer who is known to be a stickler for rules and has a good knowledge of them would make this practice unprofitable and bring it to an end.

The change which allowed a person to vote through a companion was a desirable one. It allowed a number of people to vote who would not otherwise have done so because they were not prepared to accept the embarrassment and indignity of having to vote by the illiterate process. Rather than be classified as illiterate, some people took the ballot paper, went to the box and either did not mark it at all or made a total mess of it because they did not want to indicate to a friend or neighbour who happened to be a presiding officer that they did not have the ability to mark the ballot paper properly.

The provision whereby a companion could accompany that voter was a desirable and humane one but it has been abused. The extent of this abuse is difficult to determine. Most companions who accompany voters do the job they are intended to do and are bona fide companions, perhaps brothers or sisters, and they carry out the wishes of the voters honestly and fairly. Most people have already made up their minds as to which way they will vote and they have a voting pattern and simply want someone to help them out. This has allowed an area of abuse at a time when it is impossible to do anything about it. When the paper is in the box there is little point in making a fuss.

The Minister has previously stated that something should be done about this problem but whether he intends to do so in this Bill I do not know. Because of malpractices that have developed, there will have to be a stricter definition as to who is a companion and the duties he must undertake. A stricter penalty must be introduced for abuses. A possible way of stopping such abuse would be by the compilation of a register whereby a person would make an application before voting to be accompanied by a companion and the personating agents of all parties should have their say before that person arrives into the polling station. It is a political fact of life that on the morning of the poll there is great activity and people are dragged out in mini-buses from local hospitals and homes. Sometimes they do not understand why they are being taken out. They are accompanied by companions who have very strong political allegiances.

I hope the Minister will say something about this problem and how he intends to tackle it. It is irritating that the electoral process can be upset and the result changed by practices such as those outlined, either with regard to polling cards or the improper use of the facility to vote through a companion. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment or undertake to bring in his own legislation to deal with this problem.

The motive behind this amendment is very laudable and praiseworthy. It is designed to protect the disabled from unscrupulous people, party workers or otherwise. It is my contention that simply naming the companion in the polling station would hardly fulfil the purpose intended here. If the unscrupulous person can persuade a disabled person to allow him to go along as a companion, surely he can persuade the disabled person to nominate him when they go into the polling booths.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Would the Minister at least ensure that the unfortunate elector can talk?

My contention is that it is not sufficiently adequate to protect the person. On Committee Stage I agreed that there was great need to look at the legislation in relation to incapacitated voters. At that time I said we would look at the legislation in a general fashion to see if we could improve it. With respect, the present proposal may go some of the way but it would be preferable to carry out a full review. I recommend that the provision in the Bill, which is identical with the arrangements in the existing electoral codes, should stand until we have had an opportunity to review the legislation.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It seems to be common-case—and it could not be otherwise because we are all aware of the political facts of life—that this rule is being abused in a way that is no credit to those who abuse it and it is an affront to the dignity of the elderly people concerned.

I put down my amendment to afford me an opportunity of saying what I have said. I do not believe my amendment would go the whole way but it would at least ensure that the elector could talk and in that way communicate with a companion. An experienced presiding officer, such as an officer from the county registrar's office, would go a long way towards eliminating abuses.

The difference between an illiterate voter and an incapacitated voter is not understood. Many officers do not appreciate the difference between how an illiterate voter should vote and how an incapacitated voter should vote. An illiterate voter must vote openly through the presiding officer while an incapacitated voter has the right to vote through a companion. I agree with Deputy Kavanagh when he says that this rule, properly used, is a desirable facility for incapacitated people. I agree that before this rule many incapacitated or blind people did not want to vote in front of their neighbours. It is better for them to be able to go into the polling booth with some member of their family to have their vote recorded.

I am of the opinion that people confined to old people's homes who have home addresses in their constituencies should be registered under their home addresses. Those who have no home addresses are entitled to vote in institutions, but many people in institutions are in contact with their families and they should be put on their local registers. If this was done it would reduce the snatch-and-grab operations on the morning of elections.

I am glad the Minister has recognised the abuses that occur. I do not propose to press the amendment as I take the Minister as saying that he intends to have an in-depth look at the abuses referred to under this amendment and under the polling card provision, and in regard to other defects in the electoral law in respect of which amendments have not been put down. I have no way of compelling the Minister to do that, but I am grateful to him for saying that the law needs to be looked at and that he intends to do so, in order to remedy the abuses and shortcomings. It is only right that the electoral laws should be considered now and again. It is apparent from our discussion that no worth-while consideration has been given to updating the electoral laws since the foundation of the State.

There must have been a review in 1960-61 when the all-party committee recommended the provision relating to companions.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Those provisions are in operation since 1963. In the light of our experience and knowledge of the operation of the new provisions introduced by the Electoral Act, 1963, it is time we had another look at them. I thank the Minister for saying that he proposes to do so and I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 18:

In page 26, line 45, after "agents" to insert "Poll clerk and Garda on duty".

I put down this amendment to officially recognise a procedure that has been in operation for many years. It is an amendment to paragraph 5 of Rule 39, the provision dealing with the marking of ballot papers by the presiding officer on behalf of illiterate electors. Rule 39 (5) states:

(5) Where this Rule applies and—

(a) the Assembly elector is illiterate, or

(b) the Assembly elector does not request that his ballot paper shall be marked for him by a companion, or

(c) the Assembly elector having so requested, the marking of his ballot paper by the companion would be in contravention of paragraph (4) of this Rule,

the presiding officer shall, in the presence of the personation agents and no other person, mark a ballot paper as instructed by such elector and shall then fold it and place it in the ballot box.

If that is the rule it has been breached, in my opinion, at every polling booth for the last 50 years where an illiterate elector voted, because the acknowledged practice is that the poll clerk and the garda on duty are allowed remain on. I understood from the Minister that his interpretation, and that of his Department, of the rule is that the poll clerk and the garda must leave the polling booth. I understood that nobody is entitled to remain, with the exception of the presiding officer and the personating agents. In my view the practice is correct. It is strange that a poll clerk, an official of the returning officer, should be excluded while the personating agents are allowed remain.

In rural Ireland the garda on duty is regarded as the most important person around the place. He is regarded as the person who keeps law and order and one who is as important as the presiding officer. If the law is as is stated in that rule then that should be known everywhere and poll clerks and gardaí excluded.

I would not agree with that action because it is not necessary or desirable. A poll clerk is a part of the staff of the polling station and he has many duties to perform. When the name of the elector is read out the poll clerk must cross it off the register. A garda is required there to preserve order. For example, a person could approach the polling station under the guise of an illiterate voter, ask to vote and when the garda is excluded throw a lighted match into the ballot box. That is one reason why it is necessary to have a garda there. It would also be necessary to have a garda there if two personating agents started to fight. I do not think it was the intention of those who drafted the Bill to exclude poll clerks and gardaí.

My experience is that the practice varies from that outlined by Deputy Fitzpatrick. In my view the individual presiding officers never interpret this rule properly. The procedure varies from one polling station to another. We are all familiar with the call to clear a polling station when an illiterate person comes in to vote, and this means on occasions that everybody is put out and the presiding officer insists that only himself and the illiterate be left. I accept that that is the exception. In my view it would be better for the garda to be outside the door of the polling station keeping unwanted persons out so that the business of the illiterate voter is not interrupted. I do not think it is necessary to have a garda present. While presiding officers are selected carefully by the returning officer that does not happen in all cases with poll clerks. On occasions this job is given to people with no experience and it is possible that they would be given to gossip. I would prefer to see the Minister leave well enough alone in this matter and continue with the existing procedure, even though it may have been interpreted wrongly on many occasions. The voter, if he wishes and knows the rules, can ask that the poll clerk and the garda be excluded.

We are speaking about a blind, incapacitated or illiterate voter who has the same right to the secrecy of the ballot box as anybody else. It is all-important that we protect the secrecy of the ballot and it is essential that as few as possible are aware of how an incapacitated person voted. The presiding officer and the personating agent, or agents, are permitted to remain in a polling booth when such a person is voting. As I stated previously, the garda and the polling clerk are not entitled to be present and if they have been permitted to remain on in the past the fault for this lay with the presiding officer who did not read his instructions properly. The function of a garda at a polling station is to maintain law and order in the area. It is permissible to have the presiding officer and two personating agents present. That means that three, or four at most, would know how such a person voted. To increase that number and include a garda and a polling clerk is unnecessary. The unfortunate person anxious to vote secretly like everybody else would be overcrowded. I can see no reason for accepting the amendment because it would infringe further on the rights of such voters to have secrecy.

It is not always necessary for the two people concerned to have to go outside the station. We are all aware that in urban areas halls are used for such voting and it is usual for the presiding officer and the personating agents to move down the hall to an area away from the crowd to conduct the business. I can see no reason for allowing the poll clerk or the garda to remain there, thereby infringing the right of the voter to secrecy. Already this has to be infringed by the presence of a presiding officer and personating agents. I am afraid I cannot accept this amendment.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I agree to a large extent with what the Minister has said, that the secrecy of the ballot should be preserved as far as possible and that people who are forced through circumstances beyond their control to vote openly should have as much secrecy as possible.

Apparently Deputy Kavanagh's experience is not exactly the same as mine. I have had pretty wide experience in a number of constituencies at by-elections and otherwise. By and large, the practice as outlined by me, which is that the presiding officer, the poll clerks, the Garda and the personating agents remain, is the practice. I was surprised to hear the contrary is the practice. If it is the practice—and I do not disagree to any great extent with the Minister—it should be written in black and white into the instructions. Many presiding officers will be surprised to hear that.

It may be written in as it is in the Bill and I suppose that covers it, but I do not think any presiding officer ever took the exclusion "and no other person" to include his assistants, the poll clerks, or his protectors, the Garda. On a vast number of occasions it has been operated as I have said. If the Minister feels strongly about it, to put it beyond doubt another line should be put in to say the exclusion includes the poll clerks and the Garda.

I certainly do not agree with excluding the poll clerk because I believe he has a duty to perform. He performs one duty and the presiding officer performs another. The poll clerk has custody of the register and he marks off the voter when he has voted. It might happen, and it often did happen, that an illiterate voter was not capable even of voting illiterately. In such a case, his name would not be marked off the register. So the poll clerk has a function to perform.

This may sound like having two bites at the cherry but I believe it was never intended that the poll clerk should be excluded. He is part of the staff. This is a matter of what is right and what is wrong but I do not propose to press the amendment. I suggest the Minister should make inquiries as to what happens throughout the country.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are consequential on amendment No. 19. Therefore, we will debate amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 together.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 19:

In page 29, to delete lines 43 to 45, and substitute the following paragraph:

"(4) The local returning officer shall appoint a place within or convenient to the constituency as the place at which he will open the ballot boxes and arrange the ballot papers in parcels as hereinafter provided and shall at that place so appointed provide suitable accommodation and all furniture and equipment necessary for opening the ballot boxes and arranging of the ballot papers in parcels as aforesaid.".

These three amendments propose to have the first count in the election conducted locally at a local centre in each county. The Minister, Deputy Kavanagh and I have already had a fairly extensive debate on this. The Minister's proposal is that the entire count, including the opening of the boxes, the checking of the ballot papers against the ballot paper account, and the first count, should take place in a centre in each constituency. This would involve transport of up to a couple of thousand ballot boxes from all over a constituency into one huge counting centre and the recruiting and transport of a greatly augmented staff to the central counting place.

I am not too clear why the Minister insists the entire count should be conducted in a central place, rather than having the first count conducted locally, and then conveying the ballot papers, sorted in bundles under the name of each candidate, in a few boxes to the central place. I cannot understand why the Minister insists on this new departure, because new departure it is. There is no precedent for it in this State.

At a Presidential election the votes are counted in the local constituency and then the ballot papers are brought to Dublin. The first count is conducted in each of the local constituencies and then the ballot papers are brought to the city where the second and subsequent counts, if there are such, are conducted. In the past, on one occasion there was a second count in a Presidential election and it was held in the city of Dublin. The first count was held throughout the country.

The same procedure is followed in referenda. The votes are counted in the local constituencies and the total sent to Dublin with the ballot papers. The ballot papers are sent under an Army escort. That has been the procedure in the past and it has worked well. So far as I am aware there were no complaints about it.

The Minister says he has considered the method in the Bill, that is, to have one counting centre in each constituency, and he has considered the method put forward by me, and supported by Deputy Kavanagh, that is, that the first count should be conducted in each local constituency and the papers forwarded to the centre in each constituency, sorted under the names of the candidates. The Minister concedes either system would work. That is the worst he had to say about it. His information is that his system would work and that the old system worked. My advice is that the Minister's system would work but it would work inefficiently. It would lead to difficulties and possible dangers because it involves rounding up all ballot boxes for the constituency of Connacht-Ulster into one place and then the transfer of about 2,000 boxes to one central place. There may be more than 2,000 boxes in one centre; I am averaging them. A fairly formidable Army escort will have to be provided for those boxes and at the same time a similar escort will have to be found for Dublin city and county, and for the remainder of Leinster and for all Munster. A huge building will have to be found at some centre in each constituency. We know how difficult it is to find a building sufficiently commodious and comfortable in which to conduct the count when there is only a local constituency involved. In this case there will be the greatest difficulty, when the security difficulty has been overcome, of accommodating the count in a suitable building.

There will be the additional difficulty of augmenting the staff by several times to carry out the counting. Staff will have to be recruited from outside constituencies, conveyed to the centre and kept overnight. That cost will have to be borne. As I said, and as emerged from our discussion here today, broadly speaking, within the rules, different returning officers apply the rules in different ways but get the end results right. The same applies to counting. Different returning officers have different approaches; some have two checkers on a box when it is opened; some have three and some four. Some facilitate agents in seeing boxes being opened and checked; others are not so accommodating. There will be a mixed staff with varied experience and different interpretations of the broad rules. Will they be brought in a couple of days beforehand and instructed by the constituency returning officer as to his understanding of how the count should be conducted? If so, will that not lead to further trouble and expense and take people away from their full-time jobs in other counties?

I also made the case earlier—a very real one—about the difficulty in adjudicating on doubtful votes. Usually, there are 200 or 300 spoiled votes in a normal constituency but doubtful votes usually number several times that figure and I suggest there would be at least a couple of thousand in a local constituency. When you multiply that by eight or 11 you find that a huge number of doubtful votes will have to be adjudicated on and investigated. I repeat that only one man can do that. I do not accept that you can have one mind determining what is a valid vote in one county and another deciding what is a valid vote in another county in the same election. One person in the central counting place will have to adjudicate on each doubtful vote, an enormous task which will slow down the count. When the count is over, although there is no great urgency, the ballot boxes will have to be returned, involving more time and money. Therefore, the overall cost of conducting the count in one place will be considerably more than in conducting it locally.

Apart from the difficulties and inefficiency that a central count will involve it is another major step towards centralisation and another major blow at local democracy. Before each election we hear lip service paid to the necessity for people to exercise the franchise. That is made possible by the full co-operation of political parties.

This is sometimes over-enthusiastic, as I complained earlier but you get the people out by maintaining local interest. Fears are being expressed at present that there will not be as much interest as is desirable in the European election. The way to kill interest is to have an impersonal approach and having the count in a central position scores of miles away from parts of the constituency is bound to lead to that. We politicians know how keen is the demand among key workers and political enthusiasts for tickets for the count. They want to be there, see what goes on, see boxes opened and how one town votes as against another, one parish as against another. That will all be out of the question. You will not get people to travel the long distances involved here and if they did travel, you could not accommodate them in the central counting place. That is one of the major objections from the politicians' point of view to the central count.

Deputy Kavanagh, on Committee Stage, raised the very good point that it is quite possible that at some time you will have an Assembly election and a local or other election on the same day. If that happened it is absolutely certain that ballot papers will find their way into the wrong box, that general election papers—if there is a general election—will be put into the Assembly box and the Assembly paper into the Dáil ballot box. If that happens, and even if it is known immediately or shortly after it happens, nothing can be done about it until the boxes are opened because nobody is entitled to open boxes during the count once they have been sealed.

The ballot paper for the Dáil election or the local election, as the case may be, will be hauled miles away and if the Minister has his way the local count will begin immediately and the Assembly count may not take place for several days. When the Assembly ballot boxes are opened it may transpire that Deputy Begley from Kerry has been wrongly eliminated or that one of his county council candidates has been wrongly eliminated because a vote for him was in Cork or some place else instead of in Tralee or Dingle. That is too horrifying to think about. We may laugh about it but there is nothing so important for a person who stands as a candidate in an election as that he should get elected. It is bad enough if he is not elected, but there is nothing so frustrating as to find out a week or three days after the election that not alone was he defeated but that he was defeated when there were still enough votes left to elect him. That man will go down into his grave, decades after, bemoaning that and feeling a sense of grievance because of it.

There is no way that can be avoided if the Minister does what he intends. The Minister complained that in order to avoid that it would be necessary to postpone the local count for perhaps a couple of days because the Assembly count cannot take place until all the elections in the member states have concluded and that those elections might not conclude until the Sunday, whereas it is unlikely that out election would be held later than Thursday. If that is so, it would be much better to delay the local count for a couple of days rather than elect the wrong candidate. I believe that the election should be held here on a Saturday and that all the counts should commence on the following Monday. The Minister knows that it is politically unthinkable that we should tolerate a system here under which two elections can be held on the same day and where the result could be that the wrong candidate could be elected.

Even if the Minister agrees with me and decides to commence the count in each case at the same time but to conduct the counts in different places he will find that it will be necessary to send ballot papers hundreds of miles whereas at present if a mistake is made it is only a matter of sending the ballot paper from one room to another within a building or sending it from the town hall to the courthouse.

The Minister is on record as saying that either system will work. For the purposes of this argument I accept that, although the Minister's system will not work well. It will give rise to all sorts of difficulties. I put it to the Minister that the arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of my system—from the point of view of avoiding a mix-up when two elections are being held on the same day with disastrous results, from the point of view of security in transferring these boxes long distances, perhaps in the midst of winter, from the point of view of recruiting staff for the count and conveying this staff long distances from one end of a constituency to another to the counting place, from the point of view of the enormous task that is involved in adjudicating upon thousands of spoiled votes, and having regard to the fact that the Minister admitted that he had been advised by experienced returning officers that they were in favour of my system but against his.

The Minister argued here today for his system of appointing local returning officers, that he was adhering to his method of giving the constituency returning officer the right to appoint or not to appoint a deputy because he had been advised by an experienced cross-section of people whom he had consulted that that is the way they wanted it. On the last day the Minister admitted that the same people, presumably had advised him that they wanted the count conducted locally, but he is not prepared to accept that. It is beyond me why the Minister holds on so doggedly to this innovation. Innovations are dangerous especially when there is a considerable volume of opinion against them. The Minister is holding on to this innovation against a system that has worked. We try another system invariably to replace a system that has proved faulty or which has disclosed abuses, but we do not usually have an innovation or a new system to replace a system that has worked well. This system has worked well. I have argued in favour of my amendment at some considerable length on Second Stage and on Committee Stage and I am renewing that argument now. I have no doubt that the proper procedure is to hold on to the Presidential system of voting —the tried and approved system, the system that has given satisfaction.

At this stage we should do everything to ensure that the largest possible turnout is provided for the European Assembly elections. If we can assist in some way through this Bill to ensure that as many people as possible give their verdicts on our entry into Europe and elect the 15 members for Europe, we can certainly face any criticism if the turnout is in excess of the 60 per cent level, which is usually the figure that we have in a local election turnout. If the figure drops below 50 per cent it will be open to any critic in Europe to say that there is apathy and lack of interest in the country with regard to the Assembly election. The Minister is contributing to this when he refuses— as he has done on Committee Stage; maybe he will change his mind today —to accept the amendment of Deputy Fitzpatrick which would allow the first count stage to take place in the county and county borough areas. When the results come in in each county and county borough area and the first count takes place in those areas, then the traditional electorate for the Dáil constituencies can judge the strength of the various parties. Each of the four constituencies is huge, and if all the votes for one constituency are brought together to the central counting place for a constituency as large as Leinster, the returns will tend to be less immediate and this will tend to blur the result for a lot of people in so far as those people will not be able to compare where loyalties have lain from one election to the next within their traditional constituencies.

Local party workers in this election are going to be vital to ensure a large turnout. The local party worker is the person who gives his time freely and for nothing in all our parties. If he is not involved in the result then there will be a great diminution of effort in all of our party machines in getting out the electorate for this election. If these party workers cannot without great expense to themselves go to a counting centre and watch the ballot boxes for their traditional constituencies being emptied out, if they are not there to do their traditional jobs of checking and cross-checking the ballot papers and scrutinising them, if these very important people who are the backbone of our electoral system are deprived of that then we will see a drop in the number of people voting. All the countries of The Nine will be watching this election and it will be vital to the successful conclusion of the election that there is a relatively high turnout.

The Minister is wrong in thinking that the result of this election could be achieved more quickly by taking all the ballot papers into one central area within the Assembly constituency. The know-how and expertise of local constituency counters is now well established and the first count could be accomplished far more quickly if it proceeded within each county or county borough area where there are the traditional counters with their expertise bringing about a first count result which will to a large degree, because the seats are limited within each of these constituencies, indicate clearly to within probably two seats of the 15 exactly what the result is going to be. The political commentators will probably go even closer to the final outcome if they get the first count figures. The succeeding counts will obviously have to continue in the central area, but the heightened interest which always goes with the sorting of ballot papers and the first count figures will satisfy most people in an election of this nature. The Minister has not an amendment of his own here, and I hope that he will accept Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment.

I have one reservation on the amendment. It states:

(4) The local returning officer shall appoint a place within or convenient to the constituency as the place at which he will open the ballot boxes...

I believe that Deputy Fitzpatrick wants that to mean the county or county borough within the Assembly constituency and that when he mentions "constituency" at that level he does not intend to mean the Assembly constituency but he wishes that the count continue in those constituencies which are the traditional Dáil constituencies within the Assembly constituency.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The local constituencies.

I hope that interpretation will be put on that paragraph. I appeal to the Minister once again to accept this amendment and thus gain the best possible results and the largest turnout in this Assembly election.

I also support Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Kavanagh in this amendment. Supposing a member decided to stand for the county council and for the European election and the two elections were held on the same day. In the European election it is possible that a lot of candidates will stand who have no chance of being elected. This will be strategy in order to get out the maximum vote. If the European election count was taking place in, say Cork and the county council election count was taking place in Tralee, a vote thrown into the wrong box could make a big difference to that county council. I ask the Minister to consider seriously the points made by Deputy Fitzpatrick.

Debate adjourned.