European Assembly Elections Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is to provide a revised procedure for filling casual vacancies in our representation in the European Assembly. The existing procedure is that the Dáil appoints a person to fill the vacancy on the nomination of the party which won the seat at the preceding Assembly election. If the seat had been won by a non-party candidate both the nomination and appointment would be matters for the Dáil.

On filling the first vacancy under this procedure, members of the Credentials Committee of the Assembly voiced certain reservations about our system on the basis of Article 1 of the relevant European Community Instrument, which provides that representatives in the Assembly shall be elected by direct universal suffrage. These reservations were brought to the attention of the Government and the Government indicated that consideration would be given to amending our legislation in order to ensure that the arrangement for filling casual vacancies would be seen to be fully in keeping with the relevant European requirement. The understanding is that any new procedure decided on will have effect from the next Assembly elections which will be held in June of this year.

Considerable thought has been given to devising a method of filling casual vacancies which would be seen to be in keeping with the requirement of election by direct universal suffrage and, at the same time, would be appropriate in our particular circumstances and would fit in with our unique electoral system. This has not proved to be a simple problem to resolve.

The system of election used in this country, proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, is widely regarded as a most democratic electoral system giving electors the widest choice as between candidates and parties and the greatest measure of control in the election of representatives. I think it compares very favourably with the various systems favoured by neighbouring countries. Our system enables the elector to make a complex series of choices and there are particular difficulties in devising a method of filling casual vacancies which will complement this process while satisfying the requirements of fairness and simplicity.

In this country we are familiar with two methods of filling casual vacancies under the STV system. These are by-elections in the case of vacancies in Dáil Éireann and co-option in the case of local authority vacancies. By-elections can, of course, have the effect of distorting the proportional representation of a constituency as decided by the democratic vote of the people at the preceding general election. But whatever different views there may be about the pros and cons of by-elections generally, what we would be faced with here is the prospect of by-elections in far flung constituencies, possibly in winter conditions, in a situation in which the European Assembly seems, as yet, to have commanded only limited electoral commitment. The unsuitability of the by-election approach to filling casual vacancies in the Assembly seems apparent.

Maintaining the political composition of the Assembly as established by the people at a general election is regarded as being of considerable importance. It is significant that none of the draft proposals for a uniform electoral procedure prepared over the years, commencing with the draft prepared for the original six members of the EEC over 20 years ago, envisaged a by-election procedure.

In regard to co-option, it is clear that straightforward co-option by the Assembly as a whole to fill a vacancy in the Irish representation would not be appropriate. For this reason the arrangement contained in the 1977 Act was devised. This arrangement is, in essence, a development of the co-option idea with a built-in refinement to ensure that, as far as possible, the political composition of our representation in the Assembly would not be distorted as a result of casual vacancies. The arrangement had the support of all parties. The House will recall that it was originally included in a Bill sponsored by the Coalition Government and, following the general election of 1977, was repeated in the Bill introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government. Unfortunately, because of the reservations of the Credentials Committee, it has become necessary to seek an alternative arrangement.

Looking abroad, we may note that in Malta and Tasmania, where the STV system is used, a special method of filling casual vacancies has been developed. Under this method the ballot papers of the vacating members are re-allocated, in accordance with the preferences shown on them, among the unsuccessful candidates and a fresh count of these papers under the STV rules takes place. In effect, an effort is made to ascertain which of the unsuccessful candidates might have been elected at the original election if the vacating candidate had not been in the field. Apart from the unfamiliarity of this concept from our viewpoint, there are some serious practical implications. It can, of course, result in a seat changing hands. A further and basic problem is that under this system parties would be constrained to nominate additional candidates who would be available as potential replacements. This addition to the number of candidates who would already be required to provide an adequate choice would complicate the electoral process unduly. This option, therefore, does not commend itself as appropriate to our circumstances. This same basic problem would apply in relation to other options for filling vacancies — for example, an arrangement under which the vacant seat would be allocated to the next highest candidate of the party in the constituency.

Having considered the various options, the Government decided to recommend the arrangement set out in this Bill. Essentially, the proposal is that at an Assembly election each political party and each independent candidate will be entitled to nominate a separate list of replacement candidates who will be available to fill any vacancies arising in the constituency. The order of names on the list of replacement candidates will be determined by the party or the non-party candidate concerned. On the occurrence of a vacancy, it will be filled by the person whose name is at the top of the list presented by the political party or the non-party candidate who held the seat at the Assembly election.

The list of replacement candidates will be published throughout the constituency in the formal Notice of Poll to be given by the returning officer in advance of the election. It is intended that the lists will also be displayed at the polling stations and they will, of course, be given appropriate publicity by the parties. The entry in relation to each candidate on the ballot paper will include a reference to the appropriate list of replacement candidates, but the names of the replacement candidates, as such, will not be printed on the ballot papers. This aspect of the proposals is dictated by practical necessity. The ballot paper at an STV election contains the names of a relatively large number of candidates and the elector is required to indicate a fairly sophisticated range of preferences. It would be highly confusing and therefore inadvisable, if not impracticable, to add to the ballot paper the names and addresses of all the replacement candidates likely to be nominated under these arrangements.

The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill sets out in detail how the arrangement will operate. I will, of course, be very pleased to expand on any aspect on this Stage, or on Committee Stage should the House wish me to do so.

I should mention that the European Assembly is required to draw up proposals for a uniform electoral procedure in all member states pursuant to the terms of the Treaties. Proposals were drawn up by the Assembly during its present term but it was not possible to reach agreement at the Council of Ministers' level in time to enable a uniform system to be in operation for this year's elections. Efforts to reach agreement on a uniform system are to be resumed with a view to having a uniform procedure in place for the 1989 elections. It is possible, therefore, that the arrangements we are now considering may apply for a single five-year term only.

The opportunity of this Bill has been taken to propose certain amendments to the European Assembly Elections Act, 1977. The most important is contained in section 2 of the Bill, which provides that a person holding the office of Attorney General shall not be eligible for election to the Assembly and that holding office as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil, Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad, or Minister of State, will be incompatible with membership of the Assembly. As the House is aware, members of the Government may not, under the European Community instrument, be members of the Assembly. I am sure the House will agree that it is desirable that the position in regard to the other offices referred to should be clarified.

I should also call attention to section 7 (b) of the Bill which provides that the verification of ballot paper accounts will be carried out in each county and county borough rather than at European constituency level. The advice of the returning officers is that this is the most convenient arrangement. I would emphasise that this relates only to the verification of ballot paper accounts. The actual counting of the votes will, of course, take place at a single centre in each constituency.

I thank Deputies for their attention and commend the Bill to the House.

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.

I welcome this Bill and the opportunity it provides us to review the existing law in this matter even though, as the Minister says, it looks as though the provisions of this Bill will operate only for the forthcoming elections if, as the Minister again suggests, there is a uniform voting system for all of the ten countries of Europe in the 1989 Eurpoean elections. I suspect that the difficulties in arriving at a uniform system, which will apply in all ten countries, will be extremely difficult. I doubt very much if the system of proportional representation, which operates in most European countries in some form or other, will be acceptable to Britain. I can foresee difficulties there. Nonetheless, the Minister, with his distinguished record of service in the European Parliament, is especially well qualified to introduce this Bill.

We spend far too little time talking about European matters in the Dáil. I am very glad to see Deputy Blaney here today for this Bill because he has been one of the most effective of the Irish Members of the European Parliament. It should be useful for us to obtain his views on the practical application of much of what we are talking about.

It is clear that the existing situation cannot continue. It would be easy, as people have done, to blame the people involved or one particular party for the type of musical chairs we have had with European seats over the last five years. But what has happened over the last five years is exactly what was legislated for here, with the agreement of all parties in the pre-1977 period — the time of the National Coalition Government — and the period after 1977 under the then Fianna Fáil Government. Probably what has happened is that the rapidity of changes in the composition of the parliament was not envisaged at that time. Reverting to the debate at that time it is clear that we chose that system then — which we are now changing — because it was seen to be efficient, speedy, inexpensive and maintained the political composition of the parliament, and contained the composition of seats as they had been won in European elections. The fact that it might be less than democratic, that it allowed small groups to make the changes, was not seen then as contributing in some way to a lessening of the popular respect for parliament. There is no need for people to become in any way sanctimonious about the way in which the system has worked over the past five years. Indeed it was inevitable in 1978-79 — when this Bill was last being discussed — that there would be teething problems. We have had an opportunity over the past four or five years to see, by trial and error, what system is best suited to our needs. This Bill affords us that opportunity.

I am somewhat surprised that the Minister in an almost casual way dismissed the most obvious means of filling casual vacancies in the European Parliament, that is by the ordinary by-election. This is the system which has operated here at national level since the foundation of the State. In spite of some of the colourful things some of my colleagues had to say recently in this House about the need for getting rid of by-elections, about their general undesirability, that they were time-wasting, expensive distractions that hindered the general work of government, that they lead to rash promises and so on, that they are enormously expensive and indeed they are — they are especially expensive on the pockets of Deputies who must now, as is the practice, flock to the constituency and there pay out of their pockets for the privilege of taking part in this exercise — any attempt to change the system that has operated — even though it was advocated by some members of my party — is something I would very strongly oppose.

What we have seen in recent years — and is one legacy of Deputy Blaney — is a distortion of the by-election process. We have seen by-elections become virtually mini-general elections. It would be in the interests of all parties, though not relevant to this Bill, if the whole process could be seriously reconsidered with a view to preventing the type of saturation involvement of all parties in a particular constituency, if we could agree within certain limits on the amount of money spent by parties, if we could perhaps agree that by and large the by-election should be run by the local constituency parties. When I say I support the principle, I should like to see it made part of the European process. I should like to see casual vacancies filled in this way. There are very positive advantages to be gained by this type of properly run by-election. In the case of the Euroean Parliament especially I find it difficult to accept the arguments put forward by the Minister against this process. The Minister talks about expense, about far-flung constituencies, about the difficulty of campaigning during the winter months. But a by-election, properly run, would be especially useful in the case of the European Parliament as a means of bringing home to the voters, who have much too little contact with the Parliament, the issues involved, the workings of the Parliament; it would be a means of bringing a member of the European Parliament into more direct contact with individual constituents.

I do not think there is much hope that my support for this will be accepted by Government or Opposition. I am surprised that the Minister had dismissed this possibility in the rather easy way he has done. This point is especially important in that the type of coverage the European Parliament have got from the media in general over the past couple of years has not been particularly good. For obvious reasons it has been all too easy for sections of the media to trivialise the work of the European Parliament, to harp on the sensational aspects, to harp especially on the salaries being paid and the expenses and so forth without making any real attempt to explain to the public just what exactly the work of the European Parliament involves in the sense of its great national importance to this country or what actually is being done. In recent times Mr. John Healy inThe Irish Times has been writing extensively in a way which is readily comprehensible of the actual day to day work of the Parliament and the involvement of the Irish members and indeed of the great importance to this country of the work which is being done. I hope this good example from a writer with whose political views I do not always agree will be followed by other areas of the media as we approach the European elections.

Like Deputy Molloy, I am very unhappy with the proposal limiting the number of names of replacement candidates. I do not accept the argument at all that the inclusion of a number of names on the ballot paper would mean an unduly long ballot paper. There are two points to be considered here: first of all, the number of names which will appear and secondly, the number of names which will be legally allowed under this Bill. First of all the argument that the names do not appear on the ballot paper because it would lead to an unduly long ballot paper is not an argument which stands up to reason or detailed examination.

Debate adjourned.