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

Question proposed: "That the Bill, as amended, do now pass."

(Cavan-Monaghan): First of all I want to repeat the welcome for the system of arranging constituencies enshrined in this Bill, which sets a precedent for all future creation or revision of constituencies. The system of handing this sensitive task over to a commission is the right one. I want to renew my words of thanks to the learned members of the commission who did their work so well and expeditiously.

This Bill provides for the election of 15 members to represent this country in the European Assembly. When these elections are being held I hope the candidates who offer will not be influenced by any consideration other than that of serving the country to the best possible advantage. There have been suggestions in the media and elsewhere that the European Assembly is nothing short of a talking shop. I hope that is not so. I believe it is not so. There have also been suggestions that the allegedly huge salaries offered are the only attraction for some people and it has been said that the beaverlike activities on the part of those interested seem to bear that out.

Now democracy is the best system of government that can be found. It has its shortcomings. There is no doubt about that, but there also is no doubt that over the ages no better system of government has emerged. Democracy, at European and national level, will be a success so long as it is respected by the people and so long as people have confidence in it. That places a very heavy responsibility on politicians in general, because the day democracy ends or the day it is destroyed and some other system takes its place the people to blame will be the politicians who failed democracy because democracy will not fail them. I hope it never will be said that people are in politics for what they can get out of them financially. That certainly could not be said where national politics are concerned because from the foundation of the State to the present day the tendency has been to underpay rather than overpay. Experience has shown that people in politics, instead of amassing wealth, have actually lost money and many have ended up poor. Experience has also shown that many in politics would have done better financially in private walks of life had they not gone into Parliament.

The salaries are being talked about and speculated about. In the European Parliament they are infinitely—"infiintely" is too extravagant a word and this is a time for moderate language— a few times more substantial than the salaries paid in the national Parliament. The life of the politician at the moment here is a full-time job irrespective of whether he is in Government or in Opposition. A Minister's job is certainly full time. I do not know any politician, even in Opposition, who can discharge his duties to his constituents and to his party and engage in another job as well. I do not think it can be done. I do not think it is done. I believe that national politicians are not adequately paid but I sincerely hope that our entry into Europe will not create a situation where people rush for Europe simply and solely because of £30,000 a year plus. If that day ever dawns a severe blow will have been delivered to democracy. Democracy will be damaged beyond repair and the end result will be an unacceptable form of government. I hope I am making myself clear. I notice the Chair is looking at me.

The Deputy is a wee bit wide of what arises on this Stage. But what harm? I am giving him quite a bit of latitude.

(Cavan-Monaghan): This is the measure which will send people to Europe.

European salaries would be in order.

(Cavan-Monaghan): This is the measure that provides for the £30,000 a year. This is the measure that will enable the Europeans to look down their noses at the nationals and thereby make the nationals unhappy and dissatisfied. That would be a bad day's work. It may be that the whole question of salaries, European and national, needs to be looked at. These salaries are accepted in Europe. There is criticism of them in the UK. To me, that means that the whole basis of remuneration of politicians needs to be looked at but I hope this Bill will never be the cause of inducing people into politics for financial gain.

I want to refer now to the Schedule and I hope the Minister will deal with the matter when he replies. I did not have an opportunity of hearing him on Report Stage because my amendments were ruled out of order. Rule 20 (1) provides:

Where, not less than seventy-two hours before the latest time for the withdrawal of candidates under Rule 12 of this Schedule, the returning officer becomes satisfied that a candidate standing nominated has died, the returning officer shall immediately give public notice to that effect and the candidature of the candidate shall be deemed to have been withdrawn.

That means that if, more than 72 hours before the latest time for withdrawal, the returning officer is satisfied a candidate has died, he will deem that candidate to have withdrawn.

I wonder why this addition to the rule has been introduced. I have come to the conclusion that the only reason for it is that the experts thought that if a candidate died 80 hours before the election he could not himself with-draw and that the proposer could not withdraw because he could not have the permission of the dead man to withdraw on his behalf. The next paragraph in the rule states:

Where at any time during the period beginning seventy-two hours before the latest time for the withdrawal of candidature under Rule 12 of this Schedule and ending on the commencement of the poll, the returning officer becomes satisfied that a candidate standing nominated for election has died, the following provisions shall have effect in relation to the Assembly election—

(a) the returning officer shall notify the Minister and the chief returning officer of the death of the candidate and at the same time, if notice of the poll has been given, he shall countermand the poll,

That means a case where a candidate dies within 72 hours of the date fixed for withdrawal. Normally speaking, 72 hours before the latest date for withdrawal would be 48 hours before the latest date for nominations. Therefore, if a candidate died and was deemed to have been withdrawn under Rule 20 (1), his party or somebody else who wished to get on the ballot paper instead of him would have 48 hours to get into the field, but in neither 20 (1) nor (2) do the words "as regards any excluded day" appear.

I believe the effect of that is that where there are excluded days, a candidate could die 74 hours before the latest date fixed for withdrawal, two hours before the latest date fixed for nominations, and the party of the candidate concerned would have only two hours to get around the Province of Munster, assemble their forces, get a convention held and a candidate selected.

Rule 20 is not the same as the relevant rule in the Presidential Election Act, 1937. The rule there deals only with a candidate dying after the adjournment date for the election. The Electoral Act, 1963 dealing with Dáil elections deals only with a situation where a candidate dies at any time beginning 72 hours before the adjournment, the time fixed for withdrawals. I may be wrong, and I hope the Minister tells me I am, but it is my opinion that the new paragraph which deems a candidate to have been withdrawn creates difficulties. A matter of a couple of hours can push the candidate from the provisions of paragraph (2) to paragraph (1) which would not give any time to have him replaced.

I am afraid the Deputy is reverting to a Committee Stage type debate. The Fifth Stage permits only brief statements. Perhaps the Deputy could have these matters raised in the Seanad. We have had these matters raised on Committee Stage and it is not in order to repeat them here.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I dealt with these matters in such a way on Committee Stage to warrant having them raised on Report Stage. For instance, in this year's general election there were two excluded days. Nominations closed on a Saturday and if a candidate had died at 10 a.m. on the Saturday, nomination day, his party would have had only two hours to get a replacement in the field. If he had died at 11 o'clock they would have had only one hour.

I will not say any more on the Bill except that our treatment of the Bill throughout its passage has unearthed some shortcomings in electoral practice since 1963. The Minister reasonably accepted some amendments and put forward some of his own arising out of points raised by me. He has undertaken to look into other points raised. This debate has proved that when politicians deal with something with which they are familiar, with subjects of which they have knowledge, the debates can be useful.

Rule 20 (1) and (2) were questioned. There is no departure here in that respect—they are identical with the provisions in regard to Dáil and presidential elections. I should like to express my appreciation of the manner in which the debate has been conducted by Deputies Fitzpatrick and Kavanagh. There were not many other contributors and I cannot help wondering if that means Deputies are not interested in going to Europe.

I was out of the country during the Second Stage debate but during Committee and Report Stages we had fruitful debates and we found that certain aspects of existing legislation need improvement. It is my intention to have a general examination made of the electoral law with a view to improving it. I look forward to further debate for the good of democracy and of all people who live under democracy here and in Europe. We will have learned from our experience on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to.