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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 28 Jun 1979

Vol. 315 No. 9

Adjournment Debate. - Referenda Arrangements.

Deputy Barry has received permission to raise on the Adjournment the question of the arrangements for the coming referenda.

There should be no necessity for me to be here this evening complaining about the arrangements being made for two extremely important referenda which will take place this day week. Last Tuesday Deputy Dr. FitzGerald asked the Taoiseach what arrangements were to be made in relation to holding the referenda. Deputy Fitzgerald asked:

What steps does the Taoiseach propose to take to alert public opinion to the fact that it is happening and to ensure that the proposals put forward are given every consideration to ensure their adoption by the Irish people?

The Taoiseach replied:

As far as the bringing of the importance of the referenda to the notice of the people is concerned, arrangements have been made with the RTE Authority to have a series of television and radio broadcasts. Arrangements are also being made for the insertion of advertisements in the national press over the weekend and in the early days of next week. Furthermore, informative leaflets will be distributed over the weekend and during next week. By and large the public will have the opportunity of knowing what the issues are. As far as individual parties are concerned I expect they will use their own organisation to vote and to vote in whatever way they suggest.

After some exchange Deputy Dr. FitzGerald said:

How are the leaflets being distributed?

The Taoiseach replied:

We will have factual leaflets printed and they will be available on Thursday. As far as our Deputies are concerned they will be taken to their various constituencies for distribution by the local organisation.

If one were legally minded there is only one interpretation that could be put on that and that is that the Government were to distribute them to the various constituencies for distribution by the organisations at local level. However, early on it was obvious that that was not what was intended, but that it was intended that Deputies would collect them in the House today and take them to their constituencies for distribution there. Evidently the Taoiseach was under the impression or had given instructions that the Minister for Justice would contact the Whips of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties and inform them of these arrangements.

On a point of order, what is on the Adjournment?

What is before me is the arrangements for the holding of the referenda, the subject matter of Question No. 11 on today's Order Paper.

Question No. 11 has to do with moneys made available for advertising and so on. With regard to what the Taoiseach was talking about and what Deputy Barry is referring to, that is a matter for the Government Information Service which does not come within my Department.

What is before me relates to arrangements announced by the Taoiseach for the holding of the referenda, the subject matter of Question No. 11 on today's Order Paper.

That is what I indicated and what I got permission to raise.

It does not appear to be a matter for any particular Minister.

It is not my fault if the Government will not allow the head of the Government Information Service into the House, although from my knowledge of him I have come to suspect that he would be more efficient than some of the Minister.


Evidently the Taoiseach is under the impression or has given instructions that the Minister for Justice would contact the Whips of the two parties and inform them of the arrangements about these leaflets. Deputy Keating asked what was the text of the leaflet and the Taoiseach replied that he understood that the Minister for Justice was in touch with each of the Opposition parties. In fact the Minister had not been in touch with the Fine Gael Whip. Deputy Collins, the Minister for Justice, was in the House at the time and he said:

The Government Information Service is providing a statement of fact on what the issue is, that it is non-political. It will be available for distribution or collection from the Government Information Service. It is completely non-political. It is a publication on behalf of the Government. I had hoped to have full discussions with members of the other two parties. I mentioned it to the Labour Party Whip briefly last week. I was not able to talk to the Fine Gael Party Whip.

That is difficult to believe because Deputy L'Estrange said that he was in the House all through the three sitting days the week before and no effort had been made to contact him about this matter. On today's Order Paper there was a question to the Minister for the Environment:

To ask the Minister for the Environment the total amount of money he has allocated to publicise the Referenda on the Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution and the steps he is taking to encourage people to vote in this referendum.

The Minister replied that money was being made available. Then he said that he knew the House appreciated the importance of these two constitutional amendments and appealed to Deputies to play their part in ensuring the maximum vote turnout so that the amendments would be approved by the people. We all concur with those sentiments. However, the urgency shown on this side of the House is far greater than that shown by the Government who have done absolutely nothing to see that sufficient leaflets were available in time or to see that there was any effort at public education in relation to these referenda.

We all recognise the danger of a very small turnout. We had two elections on June 7 last and we will have two referenda next week. Because of the two elections on June 7 there is a danger of a low turnout for these referenda. That is obvious to every Deputy here and has been a matter of discussion, in our party anyway, for the last month. Yet the Government appear to have done absolutely nothing to be sure that the people were informed about this. Last Tuesday the Taoiseach was pushed by the Leader of the Opposition to say what he was doing and he said that leaflets were being printed. When we tried to question today what these leaflets are, all we got from the Minister for the Environment, who has a responsibility in this matter, was a flippant reply.

Deputy L'Estrange stated today that the Taoiseach had said that the leaflets would be available on Thursday for all Deputies to take home to their constituencies and asked where they were at present. The Deputy asked if the Minister was aware that most Deputies had gone home and asked if the leaflets were now available in Dáil Éireann for Deputies to take home. The Minister replied that he knew that the leaflets were available at No. 13 Mount Street today. That may have appeared to the Minister to be very clever.

It was not meant that way.

The Minister for Education apologised for the Minister after he had left the House and said that it was a slip, that Deputy Barrett had not meant it that way. I accept that the Minister had not intended this to be a political bat between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I object to the lack of urgency shown by the present Government in relation to these leaflets and their distribution. We spent the last three days on the telephone from our party headquarters; I am not sure about the Labour Party.

The Leader of our party has been in touch with the head of the Government Information Services and we have raised the matter twice in the House within the past 72 hours in an effort to ensure that these leaflets will be available having regard to the importance we attach to these referenda. We wish to play our part in ensuring that the referenda are passed. We understand that the leaflets would have been sent to our headquarters in the past few days. I understand that this morning the Fianna Fáil Party got 250,000 of those leaflets and our party were informed at about 11 a.m. today that there were in the region of 100,000 leaflets available to us though we could not be told exactly when they would be available. At 4.45 this afternoon—25 minutes ago—we received a telephone call to say that at that stage the leaflets were available for Fine Gael. I do not know whether the Labour Party have received any. We understand that a further 100,000 will be available at 6 o'clock and yet a further amount of the same quantity in the morning.

We wish to hear from the Minister how many of these leaflets were ordered. We understand that the allotment was to be of the order of between 1,500 and 2,000 per Dáil seat, or a total of about 1,250,000. If these leaflets were ordered in sufficient time why are they only arriving now in dribs and drabs from the printers on this which is virtually the last day it will be possible to give them to Deputies for distribution and when we are only one week away from the referenda? Why were not sufficient quantities ordered or why were not proper arrangements made to distribute the leaflets into the hearts of the constituencies? Instead, we have a state of confusion. From what the Taoiseach said on Tuesday our understanding was that the leaflets would be available to individual Deputies before they went home today. That is a reasonable interpretation of what was said since the Taoiseach said that the leaflets would be available to Deputies on Thursday morning. It was reasonable to assume from that that each Deputy would be given his parcel of leaflets today, but the situation is that Deputies have been going home all through the day, not having received their quota of leaflets. Each of the political parties have a responsibility for ensuring that there is a good turnout for these referenda. The Minister should tell us whether the order for the leaflets was placed in sufficient time to ensure that they would be available for distribution to Deputies long before today.

I do not expect the Minister to explain the rather flippant remarks he made earlier today. I take it he did not intend them to be taken in a party political sense but he should tell us why Fianna Fáil members got their leaflets early this morning whereas members of this party had to wait until 4.45 this evening. Also, I want an answer in detail as to what arrangements the Government are making now to ensure that these leaflets will be delivered to the house of every Deputy within 24 hours. The urgency attaching to the referenda would appear to be escaping the Government.

We want a promise from the Minister on behalf of the Government that vans will be dispatched tomorrow morning for the purpose of delivering an adequate supply of these leaflets to every Oireachtas Member by tomorrow night. That is the only solution that will satisfy this party. Therefore, we must have an assurance in that regard.

Earlier in the week both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice stressed the point that the leaflets are totally non-political in nature but they are leaflets that have been published by the Government at taxpayers' expense. We should be told why one political party received two-and-a-half times the quantity received by Fine Gael.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Each of these referenda is very important but the one relating to the validating of adoption orders is particularly important and is of great concern to many people. We realised that some time ago but we realised also that the absence of postal facilities would render it very difficult to make known to the people the urgency and the importance of the referenda, especially having regard to their being held within a month of the European elections and of the local government elections. Realising all this, a week or so prior to June 7 I tabled a question to the Minister for the Environment asking what proposals he had in mind in the absence of postal facilities to bring home to the electorate what was involved in these referenda. In reply the Minister assured me that the importance of the referenda would be brought home to the electorate. However, within a week of the referenda being held we find that proper arrangements have not been made to distribute literature that would help to make the people aware of what is involved.

Since the local government elections were held, adoptive parents have expressed concern in many cases that all parties would join together in asking the electorate to come out and vote. The adoptive parents feared that because the Government party have so obviously lost standing in the country, the electorate would not accept their invitation to vote. The Minister may think that is not serious but it is a point I have heard made by a number of adoptive parents and others interested in these referenda. Therefore, it is particularly important that each political party give their support to encouraging the people to vote on Thursday next. I took the precaution of inserting an advertisement in the local paper in my constituency on behalf of Fine Gael in which I asked people to vote on the referenda but what I am concerned about now is that Fianna Fáil people, presumably, will be outside church gates around the country on Sunday next giving the impression that this is a Fianna Fáil election matter while the Fine Gael people will not have for distribution to the people the literature that has been printed at public expense. As Deputy Barry has said, the Taoiseach assured us on Tuesday last that Deputies would have these leaflets to take home this weekend. It is no excuse to say that the intention was that the House would sit until tomorrow. The Taoiseach knew yesterday that this would not be the case and, consequently, the leaflets should have been available today. I join with Deputy Barry in asking that arrangements be made now to send copies of these leaflets to every Member of the Oireachtas.

I wish to press this point. It is an extraordinary situation that two hours ago in the House the Minister was not able to say how many copies there are of these leaflets and that all he knew about them was that they were at the Fianna Fáil headquarters in Mount Street. According to the Minister's statement, the decision now is that the Government have an absolute duty to deliver these leaflets in time for distribution to the political parties this weekend. While we attach importance to the university issue to be voted on in the referenda in order to clear the way for legislation, it is somewhat less pressing than the other issue involved. If the Government have any concern for the adoption situation they will put right what they have put wrong. They are guilty of gross ineptitude in this case. However, we will do whatever we can, by whatever means may be at our disposal, to urge the electorate to ignore the tactics adopted by Fianna Fáil in this case and not to take the referenda as Fianna Fáil referenda but as referenda in which all political parties are involved. To do this effectively and to carry conviction our people, like anybody else, must be in a position to distribute these leaflets. The Minister has a duty to ensure that they are delivered to each part of the country within 48 hours. We can make arrangements to take that course of action. Any other course of action would be a gross abuse of public money.

I appreciate that Deputy Barry has said that he did not interpret my remark in the way that it seemed to be interpreted.

Which remark?

The remark about 13 Mount Street.

They are in Mount Street.

Today's question had nothing whatever to do with the pamphlets or leaflets, nor have I any jurisdiction or responsibility for these pamphlets.

Who has and why is he not here to answer the question?

Before Deputy FitzGerald came into the House I asked to have the position clarified. I was told that the subject of this debate was a supplementary question on Question No. 11 on today's Order Paper which dealt with expenses for my Department.

It dealt with the arrangements announced by the Taoiseach this week.

Deputy FitzGerald said he was amazed that I had no knowledge of the matter this afternoon. I could not have had knowledge of the matter this afternoon.

Is the Minister not a member of the Government?

The Minister should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Deputy Barry asked how many pamphlets were printed. The number is 1 million for each referendum.

Only a third of them have now been delivered.

The Minister should be allowed to speak.

The answer is 1 million for each referendum and a quarter of a million each again tomorrow.

The General Secretary of Fine Gael and the Chief Whip of Fine Gael were both informed by the Government Press Secretary this morning that leaflets would be available for collection at the Government Information Service this afternoon and tomorrow. Fine Gael requested the leaflets to be delivered to their headquarters which is also in Mount Street. The Government Press Secretary said that the Government Information Service was being used as a central distribution service and that all political parties could collect the leaflets at the Government Information Service office this afternoon and tomorrow. That is still the case. So far, it appears that more Fianna Fáil members have collected them than have the members of Fine Gael. Fine Gael headquarters were informed of the position this morning as was the Chief Whip.

At what hour were the first leaflets available to us?

The Minister should be allowed to reply.

Advertisements for the referenda began in yesterday's newspapers and advertisements will appear in all Sunday papers and in all daily papers next week. Radio and television advertisements will begin tomorrow.

The leaflets were ordered on Tuesday.

On Tuesday?

They were ordered on Tuesday.

Of this week?

There was a delay in delivery and that is why they are coming in in stages this morning and this afternoon. Yesterday evening's power cuts delayed the printers. These are the facts as I know them. I am not responsible for this matter. Deputies Barry and FitzGerald mentioned further delivery arrangements. I will certainly bring that matter to the notice of the Government in the morning to see if we can set up further delivery arrangements. Perhaps Fine Gael's Dublin Deputies could collect them at the Government Information Service and I will see if it is possible to have them delivered to rural Deputies. I do not know how many Fine Gael Deputies have already collected them.

It is a matter for the Government Information Service to take the names of those who have already collected them so that there will be no duplication.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 July 1979.