(Cavan-Monaghan): We are hard put to it when we have to seek precedents from that quarter because, in recent times, they have been forced to do things there which one would not think of doing in normal circumstances.
At any rate, Dublin is no comparison. In Dublin, the average man could not separate the constituencies. People living and voting in Dublin between one election and another could not define the nine constituencies the Minister tells us are in Dublin. Dublin is taken as a city and, to a lesser extent, a county, and the question of local interest does not arise to the same extent as it does in provincial and rural Ireland.
Therefore, I would not accept that as any argument in favour of the Minister's contention that the central count has worked well in the past and has no shortcomings so far as local interest, or transport, or security is concerned. Everybody knows there are a number of military barracks and a very large section of the Garda in Dublin. Everybody knows it is only a matter of a few miles from any given point in Dublin to another. I do not think anyone would expect me to spend much time in refuting the Minister's suggestion that the fact that the central count has worked reasonably well in Dublin is evidence that it will work equally well in provincial Ireland.
As I said time and again, the Minister concedes that both systems can work. He also went to Northern Ireland, to the referendum held there a few years ago, and pointed that out as an example of how the central count could work here. Presumably, if he gave it any thought at all, he meant to argue that, because there was no lack of interest in Northern Ireland in the referendum, there would be no lack of local interest throughout the Republic in the Assembly elections. Again there is no comparison whatever between a referendum where you are talking about an inanimate thing dealing with "yes" or "no" and dozens of candidates from various parts of Ireland. The Minister did not do his case any good by leaning on that example to show that the central system worked. Nobody could reasonably accept that, because something was done in Northern Ireland in the past seven or eight years, that is the proper thing to do. We have completely abnormal conditions in Northern Ireland. I suggest that what is done in Northern Ireland at present is the abnormal; practically everything done there from any angle of democracy is the abnormal rather than the normal thing at present.
I shall not drag out this debate unduly. The Minister has failed to answer the argument based on the human element, on local interest and on the element of interest necessary to get out the electorate. The fact that he has not dealt with that and that he gives the city of Dublin as an example of how the provinces of Connaught and Ulster and the large province of Munster will work, is, I think, going very far and shows how hard put the Minister is for an argument to refute the arguments put from this side of the House.
As regards transport of votes, I concede that every ballot paper will have to be transported from the various local counties to the central counting place somehow but it is one matter to transfer all the votes in seven or eight boxes and another to transfer the same votes in a couple of thousand boxes. Transferring thousands of boxes is a far more dangerous operation, far more vulnerable to accident, sabotage or attack.
The Minister did not deal with the question of recruiting staff into the proposed central counting centre. They will have to come from all over the place and without doubt they must have a dress rehearsal and a lecture on the way the particular returning officer works. That will cost money and cause inconvenience.
I do not necessarily take the Minister's points in the order in which he dealt with them but apparently he has decided that the count here will take place on a Thursday and the count in the remainder of the Community will not have been completed until Sunday night and the boxes therefore cannot be opened—I think the Minister said—until Monday. If that is so, I can see no reason for the election here not being held on a Saturday. There is a growing volume of opinion in favour of a weekend election and were it not for the religious and conscientious reservations of some people about violation of the Sabbath the vast majority would favour a Sunday election. If that is the climate here, why not have a Saturday election? Then there is no reason why the count could not proceed on a Monday as it would have to go on locally and no reason why the ballot boxes could not be at the central place to have the count continue on Tuesday morning. I cannot see why the Minister would not do that; it seems reasonable.
He has been arguing that if there were two elections on the one day the local politicians would not wait a minute longer than was necessary. I do not think that is so. If they realised that there was a real danger of getting a wrong result—as there would be through ballot papers finding their way into the wrong box—they would certainly wait the extra day or two.
We have a difference of opinion about the doubtful votes. My information is that each returning officer adjudicates personally on the doubtful votes. If that is so I concede that you would have an adjudication in each place but that would be according to criteria established in each place and probably would lead to consultation between various returning officers. But the point is that to go through thousands of doubtful papers in the same place would entail a lot of unnecessary delay.
The Minister asks who will resolve the discrepancy, if there is one, between the number of votes alleged to have been despatched from the local area and the number received in the central counting house. This has been dealt with in presidential election after presidential election and no difficulty has arisen. Presumably, the votes are counted at a local centre in the presence of the agents. The count is announced and agreed upon and a certificate is made out by the local returning officer and that is despatched to the central counting office and presumably if there is a discrepancy when it reaches there, there will be a recount. Recounts have resolved many things; they have ended up showing a difference and showing no difference.
The Minister made the point that if the surplus were taken from a particular county it might be unfair to one candidate or another. This is one of the inherent weaknesses in proportional representation, the only weakness of which I know, in that there is no certainty as to what bundle of votes will be taken from the candidate with the surplus and passed on. But the Minister knows as well as I do that there is a provision in the Schedule to the Bill and in the rules for all elections that the ballot papers must be mixed before the count begins. When the ballot papers are taken out of their boxes they are mixed, put into a huge cantainer and then find their way to pigeonholes. That is the theory and the practice of it. If there is any substance in the Minister's argument—I do not accept that there is—the same argument arises in each Dáil election as to where the surplus votes will come from. They might favour one candidate more than another. The answer is that the rules provide for mixing.
In regard to time the Minister seems to think that his method will be speedier than mine. I do not accept that. It would take far longer to transport votes in thousands of boxes to each centre than to transport a dozen boxes. Furthermore, a mixed staff from County Galway and County Cavan will not work as quickly as the staff of one county who are accustomed to working together and who would be doing the breakdown of the work in the first instance. One system will not be speedier than another to any great degree. This should not be a stop watch situation. The advantage in gaining a few metaphorical seconds by using one system will be lost by taking away from the local interest and departing from true democracy.
The Minister made the case that there is some difference between the presidential election and the Assembly elections. I cannot see any real difference. It is true that normally there are only two or three candidates in a presidential election and that is all the difference there is. The ballot boxes in each case have to be opened, the ballot papers have to be reconciled with the ballot paper accounts, the ballot papers have to be sorted under the names of the candidates and they have to be counted. If there are three candidates and nobody reaches the quota on the first count there has to be an elimination and a distribution of votes. In general practice there is no difference and I do not accept the Minister's argument as valid.
The Minister for some reason or another is in a hurry with this Bill. The Minister need not be in a hurry because we will not have European elections this year or next May. June or autumn, but they will be held the year after. That seems to be the news from across the water. I agree that if the Minister were to accept my amendment he could not just simply accept the amendment but would have to take the Bill away and throw the Schedule back to the parliamentary draftsman, his Department would have to work on it and there would be a good deal of inconvenience. It would not be a case of just rearranging the Schedule. I suggest that the whole Bill would have to be redrafted. The Minister would have to look at the Schedule to the presidential election and that Schedule would have to be modified to meet this case. All that inconvenience would be worth it because we would have a more efficient system at the end of it.
The Minister agreed that the two systems will work. I argued strongly that my system is the more efficient and the Minister believes that his is. To have the tried and proved system the Bill will have to be completely redrafted. Some people in the House believe that the Minister has a political feeling about this matter and thinks that his organisation is stronger and more able to get out voters and that any lack of local interest will favour his party more than other parties in the House. I have argued strongly and convincingly from the very beginning that we should have the local count up to and including the first count. With all due respect, the Minister's last contribution on this amendment was the weakest contribution he made yet. There was no human touch about it and it was devoid of any political approach except, perhaps, the one just mentioned which did not come very much to the surface. We are political beings here and we know that it is necessary to instil local interest to get the biggest possible vote. I concede to the Minister that the system I am advocating is a system which was prepared by his predecessor. That is no reason why, if there is a better system, we should not go for the better system. If it were a matter of arranging constituencies I could understand the Minister holding out so strongly, but this is a question of finding an efficient and acceptable system that will appeal to the people, that will work and that will not have any pitfalls in it. There are pitfalls in the Minister's proposal. There is lack of local interest and the system I am proposing has been tried and has proved acceptable.
Amendment put and declared negatived.