Article 1 of the Act of 20 September 1976, concerning the election of the representatives of the European Parliament, states that the representatives in the Assembly of the peoples of the states brought together in the Community shall be elected by direct universal suffrage. It is clear, therefore, that the onus is on each member country to lay down appropriate procedures for filling seats in the European Parliament and any vacancies that may arise.
It is well known that the Committee on the Verification of Credentials expressed very serious reservations concerning the method of replacement of Irish members who had resigned. I am referring to the appointment of Deputy Cluskey to replace Deputy O'Leary who was resigning and the appointment of Deputy Treacy and Deputy Pattison to replace Deputy Desmond and Deputy Kavanagh. Those resignations and the proposed filling of them caused serious reservations to be expressed by the verification of credentials committee. We accept, therefore, that it is necessary to alter the law here in regard to the replacement of members of the European Parliament.
Fianna Fáil have no objection in principle to the method proposed in the Bill for the filling of vacancies in the European Parliament. However, we strongly object to the limiting of the number of names on the replacement candidates list to the number of candidates plus two, which is proposed in the Bill. In other words, in the constituency of Connacht-Ulster, where my party have decided to put forward two candidates. Being a registered political party, we would be entitled to have a substitute list consisting of the number of candidates, two, in relation to the number of candidates we had selected, and two others to be added, giving a list of four names. In practice, I am sure the House will accept, it is most likely that each political party nominating more than one candidate in a European constituency will name each of those candidates on the replacement list. Where a political party nominates two candidates to contest a constituency they will most likely name the same two candidates on the replacement list, thus allowing the addition of only two more replacement candidates to fill the quota of four. If the two candidates succeed in getting elected there will, in effect, be only two names remaining on the replacement list, which is merely a one for one situation.
If the experience of the Irish Labour Party is anything to go by, a situation could arise where a vacancy following the resignation of a Fianna Fáil candidate would be filled by the Government of the day with the name of a candidate taken off the Fine Gael or Labour Party replacement list. We cannot accept such a proposition and we cannot understand how the Government arrived at this decision because they have advanced no valid reason as to why the replacement list should be limited in the number as proposed. This proposal bears no relationship to the position which obtains in other European Community countries where long lists of candidates and supplementary lists are drawn up prior to the election. In each country some provision is made for the filling of vacancies even when the list of party substitute candidates has been exhausted. No such provision is being made for Ireland.
In this legislation a Fianna Fáil vacancy could be handed by the Government to a Fine Gael or Labour Party representative. It is very hard to understand how the Government thought we would agree to that system. I should like to give some examples of the position which obtains in other European countries. In Germany there are two lists, a substitute candidate on a party list and also provision for selecting the highest placed candidate on a party list. In Germany, where an elected candidate dies or declines acceptance of election or where a member dies or otherwise subsequently retires from the European Parliament, the law states that the seat shall be taken by his substitute candidate. However, where no substitute candidate has been nominated or the substitute candidate has previously retired or later retires, the seat shall be taken by the next candidate not yet to have been declared elected on the election proposal for which the retiring member or candidate stood at the election. For the purposes of succession candidates and substitute candidates who have withdrawn from the party or political organisation since the dates of adoption of the election proposals shall not be considered, but where the list is exhausted the seat shall remain vacant. Therefore, there is no provision in German legislation to allow opposition parties to fill the vacant seats in the European Parliament created by the resignation or otherwise of a member of another political party.
In Italy replacement must be from the same party and the same constituency list. Any seat which falls vacant for whatever reason during the exercise of the mandate shall be assigned by the national election office to the next candidate on the same list and for the same constituency as the originally elected candidate. Similarly, in Greece, where the replacement list is exhausted, they must hold a by-election which ensures that the party which had the seat has an opportunity of holding on to it. I am quoting these cases to give an indication that there are other ways and that our fellow member countries of the European Parliament have not adopted the system which is proposed by our Government.
In Greece the position is that seats of Greek representatives of the European Parliament which for one reason or another fall vacant shall be filled by the substitutes from the same list in the order in which they were declared. In cases where there are no substitutes, as described in the preceding paragraph, or in cases where their numbers have been exhausted, a supplementary election shall be held to which all the provisions of the present law shall apply by analogy. During this supplementary election the lists referred to in Article 3 of the present law shall contain up to three times as many candidates as the number of seats vacant.
Seats of Greek representatives in the European Parliament falling vacant within the last year of the parliamentary period shall not be filled by supplementary election as long as the number of vacant seats does not exceed one quarter of the total number of Greek representatives.
I am quoting the position in other countries to show that none of the other member countries would tolerate a situation where a vacancy would be filled by a member of another political party. There is no real justification for limiting the number of names on the replacement list. I am surprised that the Minister omitted to make any substantial reference to the whole question of the replacement list and the numbers that may be contained in it. If the Government insist on a limit, at least four more than the number of candidates should be allowed. For example, where a registered political party have two candidates on the ballot paper they would have six names on the replacement list. This would not always mean six replacements were available because of the likelihood of the two ballot paper candidates being the first two names on the replacement list. As proposed in the Bill, the unregistered political party has an advantage over the registered political party. If an unregistered party puts up two candidates in the same constitutency the party could name six substitutes as against a likely four substitutes in the case of a registered political party. A non-party candidate would not be his own substitute. Of course, he could be a substitute on his colleague's replacement list which might equalise things somewhat.
It all depends on the extent that parties see any advantage in having well-established names on replacement lists to attract support for the ballot paper candidate. In former times it was considered an advantage to a candidate to have the name of his proposer and seconder printed on the ballot paper and often it was printed on his election literature to show he had the support of people of standing in the community who could command electoral support for the candidate. He was not then seen to stand in his own right but was seen to have clear electoral support of other persons of influence in the community.
There is no doubt that political parties will see some advantage in choosing appropriate names for their replacement lists. This is particularly the case when the constituencies are large, covering several counties, where no one candidate can expect to have great personal support in every part of every county throughout the constitutency. It will prove advantageous to candidates who have been nominated to contest this election to have people standing as replacement candidates with them. It will attract support for an individual candidate and his party, particularly where a large county with a substantial number of voters does not have a candidate from that county.
It seems strange to me that the unregistered political party, which is to be deemed non-party for the purpose of this election, appears to have an equal or even greater advantage than the established political parties. I do not think the House would support such a position. Therefore, I urge the Minister to change that part of the Bill, to provide either for an unlimited number on the replacement list or, if he considers it has to be limited, it should be extended from plus two to plus four.
I do not see how the Minister can argue in favour of his Bill, as presented to the House, that the number should be limited to two. He has personal experience of the replacement procedure which has operated here up to now. He knows of the difficulties encountered by the people who were nominated to replace him in having their membership of the European Parliament confirmed.
At the time of the next general election those who are Members of this House and who succeed in being elected to the European Parliament may be faced with a decision as to whether they will continue membership of the European Parliament. The Minister, as a member of the European Parliament, will recall that when he was about to be nominated as a member of the Government he was disqualified from continuing his membership of the European Parliament. He had to relinquish that membership and he was replaced. The possibilities I am mentioning are not unrealistic.
The situation where a major political party of the size of the Fianna Fáil Party would be limited to having two other names on our replacement list in respect of the Connacht-Ulster constituency — I will quote that constituency as it is the one with which I am the most familiar — other than the two people who will be selected at our convention would not be satisfactory. If we succeeded in having two people elected and if both had to resign, their replacements would be clear. However, once they became members of the European Parliament Fianna Fáil would have exhausted their replacement list and in the event of either of the people having to resign we would not have any name left on our list. According to this Bill, the Government — I assume the present Government will still be in power for the purpose of this example — will be able to pick someone from the Fine Gael list or the Labour Party list to replace one of the seats won by Fianna Fáil.
The whole situation is ludicrous and I do not understand how the Minister thought the House would agree to such a proposal. It is a very political proposal and if the Government thought they would get away with it without it being exposed they must have a strange belief in our approach to politics. As party spokesman I consider it important to highlight the possibilities. We do not want to enter into a political wrangle over a simple procedural matter. We do not want a long haggle between the Government and the Opposition on a matter of this kind. It should not take up the time of the House for any great length of time. We should be mature enough to agree to a system that is acceptable to all sides and vote it into legislation without any disagreement.
There is no way we could give our support to the notion that the replacement list be confined to the number of candidates plus two. Personally, I do not know why there should be any limit. It does not matter if there are six, ten or 20 names on the list. It is not going to make any difference with regard to people having to resign. However, if people give a mandate to a party it is important that that mandate be represented in the parliament to which the candidates are elected.
I urge the Minister to give some indication, through intervention in the debate at this stage or through some subsequent speaker from the Government side at a later stage, that he will agree to amend the section that contains this proposal. Otherwise, we will fight this tooth and nail and we will delay the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. That should be unnecessary, but we have to get our point home to the Government. We will use whatever parliamentary means are available. However, we should not be forced into a situation where we have to fight for this kind of principle.
This is a matter which should be decided by the electorate, not by the Government through legislation. If the people make their choice in a democratic election using our PR system the will of the electorate as expressed in the votes cast and the quotas given to the various candidates should be maintained throughout the life of the Parliament where those people will sit; otherwise there must be a by-election system. I cannot understand the validity the Government see in their proposal to limit the number of substitute candidates to two, particularly in the manner in which it will affect a large party of the size of the Fianna Fáil Party on whose behalf I am speaking.
It is the first time I have seen legislation which gives equal status and advantage to unregistered political parties in comparison with registered political parties. With all due respect to my colleague, Deputy Blaney, he will claim to have a political party of his own. He does not fulfil the requirement for the registration of a political party as laid down by the Oireachtas, so his candidates will be deemed non-party. Under this Bill non-party candidates are entitled to three substitutes. If Deputy Blaney decided to put forward two candidates in the constituency of Connacht-Ulster he would be entitled to have six substitutes plus his two candidates, that is eight. If Fianna Fáil put forward two candidates we are entitled to only two extra which makes four. It is more than likely that two of those four will be the two candidates we nominate. I appeal to the Minister to cut short a long protracted political argument on this proposal by indicating that he will bring in an amendment increasing the number of replacement list candidates to the number of candidates plus four.
The situation in Europe is different in some respects. It is not unknown for very prominent people to have their names put on the ballot paper and having garnered the votes, people indicating their support for them — well known national figures — after being elected they indicated to the returning officer that they are declining membership of the European Parliament. They never take their seats and their seats are passed on to others on the list. This is the first time we have introduced any listing of candidates. It is clear from the Government's half-hearted attempt in relation to this matter that they have no real understanding of the effects of it. It should be done in an open democratic way and the Government should not have sought to manipulate the system for their own advantage. That is clearly what they are trying to do here if they persist in limiting the number of replacement candidates to the number of candidates on the ballot paper plus two.
There are a few other points I would like to refer to. There is a clause in section 2 which lays down prohibition on membership of the European Parliament for certain persons. It names the Attorney General and the person holding the office of chairman or deputy chairman of Dáil Éireann, the person holding the office of chairman or deputy chairman of Seanad Éireann or a Minister of State. None of these people can hold membership of the European Parliament. I notice in only debarring such people that the Bill allows members to be members of the European Parliament and Members of the Dáil. It is another matter whether the Oireachtas should continue that system. I know the Government have avoided that issue and have not introduced any prohibition on dual membership of both Parliaments.
I know the Bill deals solely with election to the European Parlaiment but I am interested in the principle whereby a Minister of State and other named persons cannot retain membership of the European Parliament and membership of the Oireachtas. It is time the House enacted legislation which debars members of the Government and Ministers of State from retaining membership of local authorities on appointment to the Government. I am sure Deputies on all sides agree that it is time that matter was cleared up. I would like to see something along those lines contained in future legislation because there is incompatibility in a member of the Cabinet being a member of a local authority. We had the unique situation not long ago when the Minister for Energy, who was then Minister for the Environment, was also a member of Kerry County Council. I submitted continuously here that there was clear incompatibility in the dual membership. Eventually, following persistent highlighting of this in the House, the then Minister for the Environment agreed it was wrong and resigned his seat on Kerry County Council. It should not have been necessary for me to have to point that out to a Minister in an Irish Government. Some provision should be made in future legislation to ensure that that situation does not continue.
Section 3 states that a person's name cannot be included on a replacement list in more than one constituency. Would the Minister indicate if a person can be a candidate in more than one constituency? If the Minister feels it is proper to apply the principle that a person should not have his name on a replacement list in more than one constituency, surely a person should not be entitled to offer himself for election in more than one constituency? I have not given a lot of thought to the matter but I would like to hear the Minister's views on it.
We are told in section 4 that the replacement list candidates' names will not appear on the ballot paper and that they will be identified by reference to letters. I would like the Minister to give more explanation than that contained in his speech about how this will operate. Could he give us some examples? I understand that the notice of polling day and stations will contain the names of replacement candidates. Will there be official publications inserted by the election officer indicating the names of the persons who are replacement candidates for each of the parties and the non-party candidates? I should like to know exactly how much official publicity will be given to those names and what status they will have in election literature.
The procedures in section 6 for the filling of casual vacancies state that the Clerk of the Dáil will communicate with the registered political party concerned with a view to ascertaining the name of the person standing highest in the relevant replacement candidates' list. But in the case of a non-party list, the Clerk of the Dáil will communicate with the returning officer for the constituency. As the replacement candidates are registered with the returning officer I wondered why the Minister thought it necessary to include a section which would require the political party to be consulted in one case and the returning officer in the other. It seems strange that any distinction be drawn in that matter.
Section 7 can be welcomed by all sides and eliminates any confusion with regard to the checking of votes and their eventual re-counting. I should like the Minister to clarify whether returning officers will be appointed on a county basis or on a constituency basis because, if it is on a county basis, then some constituencies overlap counties and there will be need for some tidying up in that matter. But if the ballot paper counts are to be checked on a county basis, if there are to be local county returning officers, then I ask the Minister to give an assurance that full facilities will be made available at the checking centre for representatives of each of the candidates and the political parties. I know that when the ballot paper account is being checked the number on the back of the ballot paper must not be disclosed to any agents of the candidates. Therefore, that must be kept face downwards, which allows the party representatives present to do a quick tally by looking at the face-upward part of the ballot paper where the vote is actually marked. As the Minister knows, it has been a long-established practice that this forms an important part of the election machinery in this country, that the agents be allowed observe the counting of the votes and make their own tallies. This will enable the county by county tally to be recorded before the votes are gathered together and forwarded to a central counting place. Fianna Fáil accept all of those changes.
I should like some brief explanation of the points I have raised. We accept the principle of the Bill but we do not accept its mechanics under which the number is being limited, as I have already explained. I hope that in this debate the Minister will give an early indication that he will agree to the suggestion we are making, either that he leaves the list unlimited or, if it is to be limited, that he will increase his figure from plus two to plus four.