An Bille um an Naoú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1984 — An Dara Céim. Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1984 — Second Stage.


"Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair."

I move:

"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the people to decide in a referendum whether the Constitution should be amended to enable the right to vote at Dáil elections to be extended to persons other than citizens by legislation enacted by the Oireachtas.

As Deputies are aware, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, proposed to confer on British citizens resident in this country the right to vote at Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda on conditions identical with those applying to Irish citizens. The President referred the Bill to the Supreme Court and the court ruled that the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution. Following that decision I announced that the Government had decided to bring forward a Bill to amend the Constitution to enable the right to vote to be determined by legislation.

The right to vote at Dáil elections is conferred on citizens of Ireland by Article 16.1.2º of the Constitution. The Bill proposes to replace this provision by a new subsection. The new provision, while retaining the citizens right to vote, will make it possible to extend this right to such other persons in the State as may be determined by law.

If the amendment is approved by the people the Oireachtas will be empowered to enact legislation granting the right to vote at Dáil elections to such categories of non-citizens in the State as it may decide. The selection of categories will be a matter for the Oireachtas which may extend the categories concerned from time to time by fresh legislation. It will be open to the Oireachtas to take account of special circumstances. It could, for example, decide to grant the right to vote at Dáil elections to citizens of any country which granted reciprocal rights to Irish citizens living in that country. At the present time Irish citizens resident in Britain have full voting rights at parliamentary and other elections. None of the other EEC member states grants the right to vote to Irish citizens at parliamentary or local elections but this position may, of course, change in the future.

The constitutional constraints which apply in relation to the grant of the Dáil vote to Irish citizens will apply also in relation to non-citizens. In other words, a minimum age of 18 years will apply; there can be no discrimination on grounds of sex; the persons concerned must be free from legal disqualifications in relation to voting and they must comply with the provisions of the electoral law.

A definite connection with this country will be an essential condition of the grant of the Dáil vote, to non-citizens. It is considered appropriate that this should be a constitutional requirement and should not be left to statute. For this reason, the proposed amendment prescribes that the vote may be extended only to those non-citizens actually in the State. Non-citizens will, of course, be required to comply with the normal statutory provisions relating to voting and to registration as electors, including the requirement to be ordinarily resident in a particular constituency on the qualifying date for registration.

The amendment to the Constitution proposed in the Bill does not extend to granting voting rights to non-citizens at Presidential elections and referenda. The import of the advice available following the Supreme Court decision on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, is that the basic concept of a Constitution is that of a fundamental law given by citizens to themselves. To give non-citizens the right in the Constitution to change the fundamental law enshrined in it would be contrary to this basic concept. To do so would be inappropriate and could constitute an in-built contradiction in the Constitution itself. Similar considerations apply as regards Presidential elections. The right to vote at such an election, which is a special election of the Head of State under the Constitution, is a right appropriately reserved to the people who gave themselves the Constitution.

I feel sure the House will welcome the proposal contained in this Bill. The principle of extending the right to vote at Dáil elections to persons other than Irish citizens has already been endorsed by the House in approving the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983. That measure applied only to British citizens. Now that it is clear that an amendment of the Constitution is required, I am sure the House will agree that the amendment should be couched in such terms as will allow the Oireachtas to extend the vote to such categories as it may consider appropriate from time to time.

If this Bill is approved by both Houses I would propose that the referendum be held on 14 June which is polling day for the European Assembly elections. The Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1984, which is also before the House, will enable steps to be taken to assist voters in their understanding of the issues involved as is customary in the case of constitutional referenda.

I commend the Bill to the House.

When the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, was before the House I, as Fianna Fáil spokesman on that occasion, expressed my party's serious reservations regarding the constitutionality of the proposals contained in the Bill which, as the House is aware, proposed extending the right to vote to British citizens living in Ireland. In fact it would have extended the right to vote to British citizens in Dáil elections, Presidential elections and any referenda held here. We seem to be spending quite a deal of our time straightening out mistakes which the Government have been making when bringing forward legislation which has subsequently to be altered. The circumstances surrounding the introduction of the Bill are unusual to say the least and, in view of the provisions of the previous Bill which was declared unconstitutional, it is important that it is stated clearly at the outset that what is proposed now is not the holding of a referendum to ask the Irish people whether they want to give the vote to British citizens or not. That is not the proposal and it is important that that is fully understood outside. It is important that the people understand that the Bill which was passed here with the support of the Government parties extending the right to vote to British citizens has fallen and that no such right exists or is being proposed by the Government. That proposal has been completely withdrawn and all that is provided for in the Bill proposing the constitutional amendment is to give authority to this House to extend the vote to persons other than citizens if and when it so desires. There is not any commitment to do so. The Bill will not allow the Oireachtas, if the constitutional amendment is passed, to extend the vote to non-citizens in the event of a Presidential election or referenda but only in the case of Dáil elections.

Fianna Fáil will support the proposal to amend the Constitution to give power to the Oireachtas to extend the right to vote in Dáil elections to persons ordinarily resident in the country but who are not Irish citizens. In agreeing to the holding of a referendum to give this new power to the Oireachtas, and in the event of the referendum result being in favour of the proposal, we are reserving our right to oppose any such legislation when introduced if we are not entirely satisfied with all of its provisions. Fianna Fáil believe that the only case that can be made at present for extending the right to vote in Dáil elections is to citizens of other EEC countries in which a reciprocal right has been granted by such countries. Fianna Fáil therefore will support future legislation extending voting rights in Dáil elections to citizens of other EEC states only where a similar right has been extended to Irish citizens living in those states.

Therefore, this Bill does not require any long dissertation from this side of the House. Most of the arguments regarding a measure of this kind are on the record of the House since the Electoral (Amendment) Bill was being discussed, the principal difference now being the exclusion of the right to vote in elections for the Head of our State and any change in our constitutional laws. In view of their proposal in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, it is clear that the Government have in mind the introduction of legislation extending the vote to certain categories, but as these have not been spelled out I do not think that this occasion would justify any further consideration of which categories should be included, other than the broad statement of principle which I am enunciating on behalf of my party, that citizens of EEC member states who are ordinarily resident here and whose home countries have extended the right to vote on a reciprocal basis should have the right to vote in Dáil elections. Fianna Fáil would consider favourably this proposal, butin toto we are reserving our position until we see the proposals the Government will bring forward if and when the people accept the referendum and the constitutional changes proposed.

When proposing the extension of the right to vote to non-citizens who are living in the State the Minister suggested it might create difficulty for some persons who would be entitled to postal votes. I should like him to clarify that. Does it preclude the extension of the vote, in the event of a postal voter qualifying — a non-citizen who is a member of the Army serving abroad, in the Middle East, for instance? Would that person be deprived of the vote? It is merely a detail which we can deal with on Committee Stage.

The only other point I wish to make is that the Government have shown in the speed with which they have brought forward this Bill that it is possible to introduce legislation when the Government decide that circumstances warrant it. It is a matter of serious concern to us that despite the fact that a long debate took place here on the extension of postal voting to certain categories more than 12 months ago, no legislation of any kind has been prepared by the Government in the intervening period to allow certain categories of Irish citizens who are entitled to be registered but who, due to their personal circumstances in many cases are unable to exercise the franchise. The Government have not seen their way to bring forward legislation to extend the postal vote to those people.

That is a disgrace, a dereliction of duty, because there is a serious responsibility on the Government to face up to their duty in that matter. When a short Private Members' Bill was brought before the Dáil recently the Minister made a very lame excuse that he had not had sufficient time. I do not accept that. Deputy Kavanagh may not be very long in this Department but he has been in the Government since 1982 and the leader of his party and Deputy Quinn spoke here in the debate on the extension of postal voting and gave very clear commitments that consideration would be given to the preparation of legislation. That commitment was given a long time ago but nothing has been seen since then in that regard. I do not think the Government have a very proud record in this. It was not a justifiable excuse to say that the Minister did not have time to bring forward the legislation. I would remind the House that a member of a previous Coalition Government, Deputy Tully, extended postal voting in local elections in 1974.

It may be in order to make a brief reference but it is not in order to go back several years.

I do not know why one should be precluded from going back several years in a debate. I do not accept that.

Would the Deputy come back to the matter that is before the House?

Legislation was enacted in the House which extended postal voting to a wide category of people. The legislation was implemented and the experience has been that it worked fairly successfully. The Minister said there was widespread abuse but I challenge him to identify where the abuse was.

This Bill is in no way related to postal voting. That is the point the Chair is making.

It proposes to authorise the Oireachtas to extend the vote to certain categories of people who are not at present authorised to vote in Dáil elections. I have been saying that there are categories of people who are entitled to vote in Dáil elections but because of physical disability and other disabilities are unable to exercise that right. We have as great if not a greater responsibility to our own citizens first and then to extend it to other citizens. I regard it as right and proper to speak of the Government's ineptitude in not bringing forward legislation——

As far as the Chair is aware, postal voting does not require an amendment of the Constitution.

Exactly, but amendments of the Constitution cannot take place without this House passing legislation. I am arguing that the Minister has shown his ability to introduce legislation of this kind in an emergency but that he has failed to introduce legislation which would have provided for another important category of persons who are citizens, who are registered to vote, who are fully entitled to vote but who are unable to vote. The Government stand condemned on that issue. We had a full and frank discussion on the report of the review of postal voting. It was a waste of time because the Government took no action whatever on the suggestions made.

The Deputy has been allowed to make a generous passing reference but if the Deputy intends to go into it in depth and at length——

The Chair may not like me being critical of the Minister——

That is a nasty thing to say and it is disorderly. I will not take it from Deputy Molloy or anyone else.

One is pulled up if one drifts and is critical but if one drifts in other areas and is not critical one is not pulled up.

That is not so. This is out of order. We could have a full discussion on postal voting which would last all today and tomorrow if the Chair let things get out of hand, and I do not intend to let things get out of hand.

There is not much more I can say except to express my grave dissatisfaction at the failure of the Minister and the Government to act on the recommendations of Members on all sides of the House which were made during a debate last year.

As my party are not opposing this legislation and will be recommending support for the proposal when the constitutional amendment comes before the people, I do not have anything further to add at this stage.

The short life of this Dáil must be somewhat unique because this is the second time in less than a year that we are asking the people if they want to change the Constitution. We must all be very relieved that this time the atmosphere is very different from the acrimony and distrust which marked last year's unhappy episode. I am puzzled by the attitude of the Opposition spokesman. Are his party capable of being straight-forward about anything? The earlier Bill was designed to give voting rights to British citizens resident in this country. It was based upon a commitment given by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, in a very successful meeting with Mrs. Thatcher. The whole purpose of that Bill, and this Bill, is to make it possible to extend voting rights to British citizens in this country.

It does not say that.

I know it does not say it but——

Do not imply it if it does not say it.

We are not talking about giving voting rights to people from Ruritania or Albania; we are talking about giving reciprocal voting rights to British citizens living in Ireland. That is why the Bill was introduced.

That is not the proposal before the House.

I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil will not, for once, come out and say clearly if they are for or against something. Are they building in reservations at this time so that if it suits them, whichever way the wind is blowing, when the enabling legislation comes in they can say they were never in favour of this? Is this a ploy to ensure that this legislation does not achieve the purpose for which it was intended? I do not understand the mentality of the party opposite because they cannot be straightforward about anything, they always have to be politically cute and ensure there is a way out if it is expedient. It is clear to everybody that the purpose of this Bill is to extend voting rights to British citizens living in this country. If we do not accept that, there will be no point wasting the people's time with the referendum on 14 June.

That is not written into the Bill.

If the Oireachtas decide later that voting arrangements can be extended to other countries under a reciprocal arrangement, well and good. Deputy Molloy knows that the only country which gives Ireland this reciprocal right is Great Britain. It is disingenuous on his part to say that his party are reserving their position on this while at the same time building in the principle of extending it to British citizens. Why not be clear and straightforward about this?

This Bill is non-controversial. Its provisions are generous and fair. The thinking behind the Bill is that it accepts and builds into law a recognition of the fact that the relationship between this country and Great Britain is not an ordinary one. Everyone knows that; our history ensures it; the existence of Partition, the unresolved problems in Northern Ireland and so on are daily reminders. It must be a matter of regret to everybody who supports this Bill, which is a very positive step, that it should appear at a time when through carelessness, arrogance or insensitivity, or all three, on the part of the RUC, relations between the two countries are far worse than they should be. Enough has been said about the outrageous and indefensible cross-Border incursions. The firm stand taken by the Government, backed by the Opposition, should put that matter into its proper perspective and ensure that there are no further repeats——

I cannot allow the Deputy to develop that line.

This Bill is concerned with two issues. The first is reciprocal arrangements which should exist for the citizens of both countries. Over the years millions of Irish people have settled in Great Britain. For most of them Britain offered a home, work, a chance to lead a full life and, most important of all, it offered them the chance to participate fully in the political process of their adopted country at both local and national levels. Many of them have made their names in local and national politics. The Labour Party in particular showed the extent to which this has been done. The important thing is that the law as it existed, and then practiced, allowed our people to assimilate fully into their new environment without losing their sense of being Irish or giving up their right to be Irish citizens. They were able to give loyalty to the new country without losing their identity. It must be said in fairness that successive British Governments of all colours, in spite of pressure from racists, Powellites, bigots and a wide variety of sources, have resisted the temptation to change the law and take the right to vote from Irish people living in Britain.

This is not an ancient phenomenon. One has only to go back over the past couple of months to read through the columns of theSunday Express and the Daily Express to see how persistent this ranting is and how strong the pressure is for the British Government to do something which could placate the wild men and women on the right of the Conservative Party; it could be a very easy gesture for a British Prime Minister to make at a time of other difficulties. We have seen Governments, especially Tory Governments, resist this pressure. This is something we should bear in mind today. Deputy Molloy says this Bill does not specify that but if this Bill is about anything, it is about this. We are according to British nationals living here the same rights as our people have in Britain — no more, no less. We are proposing to give a right to those people who are living here and paying their taxes the same right that our people enjoy in Great Britain.

The second point about this Bill is that it is a manifestation of goodwill. I have had a fair bit of post in recent times saying this Bill is unnecessary, that we are being too soft in our dealings with Britain, that we are giving away far too much and that we should take our time before making this move, but nothing could be further from the truth. This Government have shown over the past month that they can be tough and that they will be tough where vital national interests are concerned. We were tough on the superlevy, we are being tough on the question of Border incursions and we will be tough on every occasion——

A general in-depth discussion on Irish-British relations is not in order here. A reference to any country which might be affected by this Bill would be in order but to isolate one topic and have a full debate on it would not be in order.

I will finish this point very quickly——

This is an enabling Bill.

The background to this Bill is based on very specific recent events and anybody who followed them would be clear in his mind that this is relevant, but I accept the ruling of the Chair on the matter.

This Bill is a manifestation of goodwill, something which is very important and we must at all costs work to ensure that there is full understanding and co-operation, based on genuine equality which can help to solve our present difficulties.

I am glad the Minister is making it possible to extend voting rights to citizens of other countries if they give rights to our citizens. This could be a very important development as far as creating better relations in the European Community are concerned. It is right that the Minister has made this possible.

This is a Bill which has the support of all parties. I regret that the Opposition party cannot come out fairly and squarely and support the basic reason for the introduction of the Bill in the first place. The idea was at first supported by that party and I cannot understand why the Bill must go through the House clouded in ambiguity on the part of the Opposition. I hope that the very ungenerous view of the Opposition spokesman will not be shared by many others in his party.

The President of Ireland did a service by referring the earlier Bill to the Supreme Court. I wonder why, in putting this referendum before the people, we are excluding some offices from election by these people. What offices in the United Kingdom are Irish citizens residing there prohibited from voting for? There are none. Irish citizens have the same voting rights as British citizens and the whole purpose of the legislation initially was to reciprocate the very generous rights given to Irish people in the United Kingdom.

In determining who can or cannot vote in elections I cannot understand why we are attempting to divorce the three constituent parts of the Oireachtas. Already United Kingdom citizens living here have an input to the election of the Seanad because they can elect county councillors. Thus they have an input to the nominating procedure for the office of President, yet they cannot vote in a Presidential election. That seems totally illogical and I do not see how this proposed legislation can give them power to vote in Dáil elections but not in Presidential elections or on constitutional amendments. A person given the franchise in parliamentary elections should be able to participate in any Oireachtas election and to vote on proposed amendments to the Constitution. Is this House to be equated with a county council? Is there to be some distinction between the Houses of the Oireachtas? Each part of the Oireachtas has a constitutional function. How can we give people the power to vote in elections to one House and then prohibit them from voting in Presidential elections or in constitutional referenda? It is most unfair.

On what basis are we establishing the principle of the right to vote? There should not be taxation without representation. If people have been permitted to reside within the jurisdiction for a certain number of years and have been paying taxes, surely those two things give them a right to participate in political life. A Scottish couple in my constituency have been living here over 25 years and paying their taxes. They are United Kingdom citizens and we cannot expect them to give up their citizenship. No Irish person living in the United Kingdom has been asked to surrender his or her citizenship. Why should this couple not have a vote in Dáil elections? If they are given this right, why should they not also be entitled to vote in Presidential elections? I cannot see the distinction. It is a nonsense. I mean no disrespect to the Minister and I understand the Attorney General has advised that there may be some difficulties. A Constitution is the ultimate law made and voted on by the people and it cannot be altered without the consent of the people. We are proposing to include in "the people" citizens from certain countries who are to be given the vote in Dáil elections. I cannot see any distinction between Dáil elections, constitutional referenda and Presidential elections.

I would pose a technical question. If we extend the right to vote in Dáil elections to UK citizens, does that mean, given our constitutional claim on Northern Ireland, that a group of people from Newry could challenge in the Supreme Court their right to vote in a Dáil election? It is an interesting question. Presumably prior to this they would have been excluded on the grounds that they were British subjects or citizens. I wonder what the position will be in the light of this legislation.

The question of the Government's being hard or soft on people in giving the right to vote is neither here or there. Anybody who makes a case on a constitutional amendment should do so on the basis of the principle of the amendment, not on the basis of whether the Government are being hard or soft. It is true that the purpose of this exercise is to enable a reciprocal arrangement with the United Kingdom but now that we have started on this road we must look at other areas. There are many Irish people who hold American citizenship, particularly in County Donegal. These people went to America and lived there for many years. They took out American citizenship because they were employed by the state or for other reasons but have now retired to this country. The position may have changed recently but certainly they were not in a position to vote in Irish elections because if they did so they renounced their American citizenship and therefore their American pensions. In extending the right to vote we should not think only in terms of British citizens. Irish people who made their living in America but have retired here should also be given the right to vote.

Deputy Manning made the point, although not in a serious vein, that we were not trying to give the power to vote to Albanians or Czechoslovakians. If such people have lived here for a certain time and paid taxes I do not see why they should not be able to participate in the political system. Perhaps the argument is that we could be flooded by Albanians or Americans and that this would undermine the sovereignty of the State. The point of control need not be the Constitution because the Government decide who will or will not be allowed to reside here. If the Government decide to let some Vietnamese people reside here, why should they not have the right to vote in Dáil or Presidential elections, in Seanad elections if they happen to be county councillors or in constitutional referenda? I have not heard any reasoned argument against that point and I would welcome the Minister's views. I welcome the whole idea of extending the vote to persons in that category.

The parents of a young lady living in my constituency are Irish. She was born in the United Kingdom. She speaks with a very broad Dublin accent. She can vote in local elections only. I never heard such nonsense. We should give the House the freedom to decide who can and who cannot vote. This should be done on a principled basis rather than on an emotive basis. The question of the length of time a person has been residing here has to be a consideration in determining who can and who cannot vote.

I welcome this Bill. It is overdue. It has long been my view that people resident in Ireland and taking part in the life of the country for a number of years should not be disenfranchised on the basis of nationality or citizenship. When the Bill was going through the House earlier in the year to extend the vote to British citizens, it was my view that it should not have been as narrow as it was, and that it should have provided for the possibility at least of extending the vote to other EEC nationals residing within this jurisdiction. The Supreme Court stated that we could not deal with these matters in the way proposed in that Bill without a referendum. I am pleased that this Bill does not seek to confine the legislative powers to extend the vote to British citizens or EEC citizens, but confers a general power on the Oireachtas to extend the vote to people living within the State. In a sense that is the only true, proper and democratic way to deal with this issue.

When the Bill comes into force it will confer a wide ambit of power on the House to extend the vote to people of all nationalities living within the State. It is important that that message should go outside the House. It will not merely permit the House to extend the vote to people of British nationality living within the Republic of Ireland. It will permit the House to extend the vote to other nationals from EEC countries and, indeed, to nationals of countries from further afield such as the United States and Pakistan. Deputy Flynn, who is not in the House this morning, frequently pleads the case of the small Pakistani community in Ballyhaunis. I have no doubt that Deputy Flynn will be delighted to know that, under this legislation, if people of Pakistani nationality residing in Ballyhaunis continue to reside in Ireland this House will have the power to extend the vote to them.

It is a well-known principle of taxation, and it goes back to the last century and the philosophy of Adam Smith, that you should not have to pay taxes without being granted the vote. It should always be remembered that all of those people living and working in Ireland who are not Irish nationals are normally taxed under the Irish taxation system. They are affected daily by legislation passed through this House. It is only right that we should extend the vote to them.

I share the Minister's view in saying that, upon this measure being adopted into our Constitution as a result of the forthcoming referendum, the bias would tend to be to extend the vote only to those nationals of other countries whose countries have also sought on the basis of reciprocity to extend the franchise to Irish citizens living in those countries. In other words, if we were to extend the vote to nationals of the United States of America, the tendency would be to do so only on the basis of reciprocity to ensure that Irish people living in America and who retained their Irish nationality would be allowed to vote in the major elections there.

Although my personal bias has always been in the context of extending the vote only on the basis of reciprocity, I would hope that we will not be mean in extending the vote, and that we will not use this power simply as a means of foreign policy to seek votes for Irish citizens living elsewhere. We should be generous in extending the franchise to people who have established their roots in Ireland, who have lived in Ireland for many years and been involved in the business community in Ireland. We should not refuse to extend the vote to non-nationals purely on the basis that the country of their origin is unwilling to extend the vote to Irish nationals and has no intention of doing so. The criterion must surely be that, if people have lived here for five years or more and have the intention to continue to live here while wishing to retain their original nationality, we will seek through legislation in this House to extend the franchise to them in those circumstances.

The Minister correctly referred to the fact that, at the moment, even within the EEC the only country in which that level of reciprocity exists is in Britain where Irish nationals can vote. In other EEC countries at present this power does not exist, although there are moves afoot in other countries to deal with this issue. I hope that, when we come to enact legislation following the passage of the referendum, we will not merely seek to extend the vote to British nationals as we sought to do in the Bill which was found to be unconstitutional. I hope we will extend it to all the EEC nationals who have lived in Ireland for in excess of five years. By doing that we will encourage other member states of the EEC to grant reciprocal rights to nationals of this country.

The problem is that, if we wait for them to grant reciprocal rights and they wait for us to grant reciprocal rights, there will be a stand-off situation and the franchise will not be extended beyond British citizens. In saying that, I welcome the fact that it will allow us finally to extend the franchise to British citizens. In the context of non-Irish nationals living within the Republic of Ireland the greater number are British citizens. Many of them live in my constituency. They also live in other constituencies. For many years they felt aggrieved because they were prohibited from voting. Spouses and children were allowed to vote, but others who wished to retain their British nationality were refused permission to take part in the electoral process to elect members to this Parliament and to elect the Government of the day. That has been an injustice.

The passage of this measure enabling the vote to be extended to them will be welcome. Also nationals of France, Germany and Holland have been living here for many years. In fairness and in equity the legislation which will be introduced on foot of the enactment of this measure into our Constitution should make provision for them. We should not refuse to extend the vote here because the countries of their origin are not sufficiently far-sighted to be willing to extend the vote to Irish nationals living in their countries.

In this context I should like to refer to the wording of the amendment. I know this can be dealt with on Committee Stage but I think a reference to it is relevant. I find the wording a little bit curious. The intent of it is clear from the Minister's speech, but in the amendment which we are inserting in the Constitution which will, in effect, reiterate the fact that all citizens of the State are entitled to vote in a general election to elect members to Dáil Éireann, we go on to extend the vote to such other persons in the State as may be determined by law. That means as may be determined by this House. From the Minister's speech the intention effectively is to extend the franchise to people living in the State.

I find it difficult to understand, although I do not think that it creates a major difficulty, why we simply extend the vote to persons in the State. In theory, although this House presumably will not pass such legislation. it would be within the powers of this House, due to the phraseology of that amendment, to pass legislation saying that anybody in Ireland whose name is on the electoral register can vote, but that might be taking the meaning of this amendment to absurdity. I have no doubt that the Minister's explanation would be that while that could happen in theory, in practice we pass legislation presumably requiring a minimum period of residence, together with the requirement of the names being put on the electoral register. Why not get the semantics of the amendment correct? Why not simply say that we are extending the vote to such other persons resident in the State as may be determined by law? I can see no legal, semantic or linguistic difficulty in at least being that little bit more exact. If that created the argument that someone going on a week's holiday at election time might not constitutionally be entitled to vote, why not talk about extending the franchise to such other persons as are habitually resident in the State? That is a phrase well known in international and private international law. By that means we would be doing what we intend to do, extending the vote to people habitually resident in the State.

It is a minor point and I do not mean to nit pick but all too often in the past and the more recent past in the context of constitutional amendments we have not always been as exact in our language as we should be. As a lawyer who has been involved in a number of constitutional cases, who is interested in constitutional law and has written something about it over the years before becoming a Member of this House, there is no harm in my pointing out that the language of a Constitution should be exact and clear and the meaning and intention of Parliament when putting a proposal before the people to amend the Constitution also should be clear. I have no doubt that legislation subsequent to the amendment will deal with the point which I am making and that there will be no likelihood of legislation being passed entitling people flying in on a short holiday to vote and leave the country again with no other association with it. This amendment should have stated that such other persons habitually resident in the State as may be determined by law may have the vote extended to them. That is more exact language, copperfastening the intent of this proposal. I should be interested to know the Minister's reason for the amendment not being more exact in its language.

On Second Stage debate, it is worth making another point in this context with general relevance to the rights of non-nationals living in Ireland and to the Constitution itself. Since the Constitution was enacted, various fundamental and constitutional rights are expressly stated by the Constitution to extend to citizens of the country. Over the years cases have come before the courts — although I do not think that the matter has been finally decided — which have raised doubts as to whether some of the fundamental rights conferred on Irish citizens actually extend under our Constitution to non-nationals residing in Ireland. There have been doubts as to whether some constitutional rights can be used by the courts to extend protection to non-nationals living here.

In that context, one of the most fundamental provisions in the fundamental rights section of our Constitution expressly refers to the fact that all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law — Article 40.1 — and it goes on to add a qualification. It appears that that legal equality which the Constitution confers on citizens does not extend to non-nationals. It would be logical, if we now intend to extend the Dáil Eireann franchise to non-citizens, to take the opportunity to tidy up this constitutional anomaly and ensure that all persons living here are entitled to the same fundamental rights, freedoms and civil liberties as extend expressly to Irish citizens. The fundamental rights provision under Article 40.3 of the Constitution under which the State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen have been utilised as a very fundamental constitutional protection of civil liberty in a great many constitutional cases of considerable importance before our courts, which seem to confine their ambit to Irish citizens. Again, Article 40.4.1º refers to the fact that no citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with the law.

The Chair thinks that perhaps the Deputy is widening the scope of the debate very much.

With respect, in a Second Stage debate such as this one is entitled to make a brief passing reference to other issues which are relevant. That is my intention.

The Chair would not object to a passing reference.

This is a very fundamental constitutional provision which again has been mitigated in the courts in many instances and has afforded a protection to the human rights and civil liberties of people living in this country. There can be no valid or justifiable reason for not extending these rights to non-nationals. We now recognise that we should extend the vote and that in extending the vote we should do so on the basis of no discrimination on the basis of sex or age. We have to deal with non-nationals and Irish citizens in an identical fashion constitutionally.

I should have liked the opportunity to have been taken in this legislation to extend the fundamental rights, provisions and safeguards which were conferred on Irish citizens when our Constitution was enacted in 1937 to all persons living within this country. Indeed, there is a suggestion that if we do not do so at some stage we shall be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which seeks to extend basic human rights to all people living in Europe without discrimination on the grounds of religion. Taking advantage of this opportunity would not have posed any major administrative, social, constitutional or political difficulties for this House or any political party herein. It would have been seen as a welcome extension of human rights and an acknowledgement of the need to ensure that a constitution keeps pace with modern thinking.

Another reason for welcoming the extension of the franchise, having made my criticisms, is that a number of constitutional amendments have been referred to the people, some of which have been favoured and some opposed. It indicates that the 1937 Constitution as a constitutional document has often been criticised. There are aspects of that document I should like to see reformed, indeed there are some items in it I wish were not there and I should like to see removed. Members on the opposite side of the House, indeed colleagues in my own party, might disagree with me on some of these issues. But what is important is that a constitution is not regarded as such a fundamental document that it is unchanging. The bringing into this House of proposals to amend the Constitution, the debates that take place in this House and the putting of issues to the people in referenda indicate the relevance of the Constitution as a growing document, as a changing document keeping pace with changing social conditions. In dealing with our Constitution it is important that we view it like that, that no particular provision in this Constitution should be regarded as sacrosanct and safeguarded from criticism, that none of its provisions should be regarded purely on the basis that it was enacted in 1937 and that, therefore, it should remain unchanged.

It is important that the Constitution remains a living, vibrant, fundamental legal and constitutional document providing the political and social framework for the basic functions of this State. It is important also that aspects of that Constitution seek to accord with social realities. Indeed, if some aspects give rise to social problems or seek to prevent this House tackling major social issues of the day, they should be the subject of review, of debate and should be put to the people for the purpose of their being given an opportunity to take decisions on issues which they have not been given an opportunity to do so far during their lifetime.

I welcome the fact that the electorate, all citizens of this country, in this context, will be given an opportunity to amend the Constitution in the area of the extension of voting rights to take into account the realities now of our having a large number of people living in Ireland who are not Irish nationals but who regard themselves as being part of this country, as playing a leading part in the social life of the country and who wish to participate in the democratic process. Indeed in the context of the Constitution and updating it over the years one of the problems has been that all too often it has been left to the courts to update it by new interpretations in the light of modern, legal and social conditions. This House has not always been as active in introducing constitutional amendments or providing constitutional protections. Certainly in the sixties and seventies this House, to a great extent, delegated that responsibility to a dynamic and reforming Judiciary in the Supreme Court. That is not often sufficiently acknowledged by Members of this House. The fear would be that if we do not tackle other social issues and problems — which it would not be appropriate for me to mention in any great detail in this debate because I am sure the Ceann Comhairle would stop me if I did, but as a general comment — if this House is not prepared openly and properly to tackle other social issues and problems in the light of modern conditions, of existing conflicts, of international political debate, indeed in the context of major social and economic difficulties confronting this State at present, no doubt the courts will within the confines in which they can do so by way of constitutional interpretation.

But there are many issues that can be dealt with only by way of legislation passed through this House or further and other constitutional proposals and amendments. It would be my hope that within the next 12 months we would have another Bill before this House seeking a referendum on other issues that need to be resolved and tackled, some of them being issues that this House has for too long ignored or sought to ignore because of the possible political controversy that would arise if they were issues brought into this House.

This Bill is a tribute to the Minister and his Department in the sense that it indicates how a Minister with the political will and desire to implement a given policy can very rapidly introduce the necessary legislation in this House with the co-operation of the officials in his Department and the parliamentary draftsmen. I can only say that I wish a similar determination was apparent in some other areas where legislation is required. Certainly it indicates to me that if the political necessity to introduce a measure is recognised it can be done. The problem we have in many other areas is that the legislative process is suffering from what could be best described as legislative paralysis, when frequently promises are made to produce legislation in all sorts of areas and on all sorts of issues but we are told that because they are terribly complex and difficult it is very difficult and time-consuming and a great deal of time will expire prior to the measure coming before this House.

In the context of constitutional law — and I intend to make a passing reference to it only — and in the context of constitutional reform a problem we have at present is that it is suggested by some lawyers, though it is a view I do not share, that, for example, to extend adoption to legitimate children who are permanently abandoned by their parents, who are in either foster or institutional care, would be unconstitutional. I do not believe it would be but some people suggest it is or could be. As a result, for over ten years now we have had successive Ministers of different Governments investigating, looking at, considering, wondering about, receiving reports on this issue. Some people have told them that would be unconstitutional, some people have told them it would not be. I only wish that the political will existed to tackle that issue. I have no doubt that if similar determination existed to tackle that issue, even if we accepted the argument that to so extend the adoption process would be unconstitutional, the response would be why do not we have, as this Minister has done within a short time of being in his Department, a constitutional Bill seeking to amend the Constitution if that is a problem in dealing with this area?

Deputies cannot pick out each item and then tease it out. I will allow passing references but I am not going to allow in-depth discussions on individual and isolated matters. That would mean we could be here until Christmas.

I shall confine my remarks to that issue. I compliment the Minister on his speed in introducing this Bill. In conclusion let me revert to the question of extending the vote. Recently, in the context of the right of citizens to vote, there was a constitutional action brought before our courts in which it was sought to extend the vote, through the courts system, to disabled or handicapped people. The courts held that that was a matter to be dealt with by the Legislature.

That is not a constitutional matter.

I accept that. The courts held——

I ruled Deputy Molloy out of order on that and I am going to be consistent.

All I was going to say was that the courts held that that was not a constitutional matter, that it was a matter to be left to this House. The only point I was going to make on it was that, when this Bill is passed and becomes part of our Constitution, when the Minister introduces legislation, pursuant to this Bill, to extend the vote to non-nationals, I would ask him very specifically to include within its provisions to enable disabled persons to have the benefit of postal voting. I see that as an issue just as urgent, if not more so, than that of extending the vote to non-nationals.

The lesson is there with this measure, that is, that if the political will exists to tackle a problem, if the political will exists within the Department of the Environment, there is the expertise to draft the appropriate legislation. If we are to have, as we must ultimately, very soon after this Referendum is held, legislation to extend the vote to non-nationals, there is then no rational or logical reason why we cannot at the same time provide comprehensive and satisfactory measures for a system of postal voting for disabled people.

Hear, hear.

That would be in order when the Bill to give votes to non-nationals comes in. It is not in order now, anyway.

The Government should be ashamed of themselves for not having brought forward this legislation before now.

The people opposite did nothing about it.


Deputy Molloy should not play political football with it now, anyway.

Order, please Deputy Séamus Brennan on the Bill.

I unreservedly support the intention behind this Bill and I wish it well. It is well overdue and we should reciprocate the rights given to Irish people living in Britain in particular. I hope this will be the first legislation which will come from this change in the Constitution if the people decide to support it on 14 June, as I hope they will. After all, British people, particularly, who live in Ireland vote in the European and local elections. They pay their taxes here and in every way have been part of the State for many years. It has not really been very sensible to regard them as second class citizens in a State to which they are entitled to feel that they have given long service and that they are very much like everybody else, or to deprive them of being first class citizens of Ireland. They feel that they contribute to the State in every other way and it does not make sense to discriminate against them.

This Bill brings our voting legislation into the twentieth century and I hope it will be seen as enlightened legislation. The Bill is an enabling Bill in that it enables a constitutional referendum to be held. It does not really do anything and it is important to get that message across. The Government tried to do something with a previous Bill which was shot down by the Supreme Court. This document in front of us is enabling legislation which allows the people of Ireland to give power to Dáil Éireann and the Oireachtas to bring in legislation, and that is the view taken by our party. We reserve our right to see the shape of that legislation. We cannot on this side give a blank cheque in regard to future legislation. Any Opposition who would do that would be seriously lacking in their duty as an Opposition, which includes examining legislation to see if it fits the day. The view we are taking is that we support this Bill but reserve our right to criticise and suggest alternatives and improvements to the various items of the legislation which will come forward once this is passed by the Irish people.

I am making a special appeal. This is a fundamental piece of constitutional work and it would be a pity if in the glamour and excitement and the large sums that are usually thrown around with regard to the European elections a fundamental entitlement, a fundamental proposal to the Irish people was put in second place and did not seem to be getting the attention it deserved. While we have some reservations, there seems to be general agreement amongst the Members of the House that we would extend this right. I make a special appeal to all sides of the House to make sure that their various constituencies and the Government use their resources to make sure that the fact that it is a constitutional referendum is explained clearly to the people between now and June and that they get an opportunity to consider all the items in the proposed legislation.

It would not be consistent with our membership of the EEC if we did not take the view that all people living in our State in whose country reciprocal voting rights exist should be given the same privilege in this country. In that regard I see this as enlightened legislation. Overall, I appeal to the Government to make sure that this is not put into second place. I support unreservedly the intention behind this legislation which is to make first class citizens of the thousands in this country, mainly British I suppose but many others also, who for many years have given a sensible, dedicated service to the Irish State, financially, physically and mentally. It only makes sense that in choosing the Government under which they live they would have a vote. This Bill shows that the Irish nation has reached a certain level of maturity in seeing that people who live in our State and serve it are not necessarily — because they may have a different tag — in any way opposed to our State, that they are valuable contributors to the development of the Irish State. In that regard, with the reservations expressed by Deputy Molloy, I totally, fully and unreservedly support this Bill before the House today.

First, I thank the Members of the House who have contributed to the Bill for their enlightened contributions. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Opposition for allowing us to proceed as quickly as we can with the passage of this Bill. There is an urgency in that if we are not able to take it in this session it would perhaps be difficult to have this referendum held on the same day as the European Assembly elections. The time-scale for holding a referendum would have been very difficult to meet if this Bill had not been taken in this session and we had to wait until the next session to take it. I accept that every side of the House, the Opposition particularly, realise the necessity to have this Bill in this session in order to proceed to hold a referendum on 14 June next.

In my opening remarks I indicated the need for the Bill, which arises from the fact that the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, which proposed to give full voting rights to British citizens only, is now unconstitutional. This new Bill will widen the scope to include citizens of other countries and in one respect will be more acceptable to the House and the people in this country in that this right can be extended to any group of citizens according to any legislation which is passed subsequent to the referendum.

Deputy Molloy in his contribution was in full agreement with the general thrust of the Bill. He made a point about postal votes for non-citizens. In that respect and without any introduction of another Bill dealing with a postal vote it is unlikely that non-citizens would have the right to postal votes at present. Members of the Garda Síochána and the Army who are citizens of this country are allowed postal votes. That right does not extend beyond those categories and the postal vote aspect of the Bill subsequently would not be extended to any other categories. I give the House the assurance that we will be bringing in a Bill dealing with the extension of postal voting to other citizens and not simply the disabled who are probably the largest group who would benefit by the extension of postal voting rights. I am very well aware of the need to extend the postal vote but, as I said when a Bill was brought before the House by The Workers' Party, they were not simply the only people to whom the extension of the postal vote could be made. A great many other categories were demanding that they be considered for the postal vote and in that respect all categories will be looked at. I would like to bring in legislation to deal with the views of other categories and I would like the House to consider several other categories who are making their demands for a right to the postal vote. I assure the House that there will be no delay and I will look at other categories in the next session as soon as I get an opportunity to do so. I have given that assurance to the House and I assure the House — which is aware of my record since becoming Minister for the Environment — that the Department of the Environment have probably introduced more legislation in that period than have any other Department.

Deputy Shatter raised the point that the amendment might be framed differently. In order to be eligible to vote a person must comply with the electoral law and this law requires a person to be ordinarily resident in the State. There is no question of someone coming here on holidays or merely spending a fortnight here and then being eligible to vote. The ordinary law which applies to present citizens will apply to non-citizens. Therefore, the fact that someone had been here for a very short time but was here on the day when registration was taking place would not entitle him to voting rights.

Deputy Mitchell inquired about the position of people in the North. Again, people from that area would have to comply with the electoral law and this of course would include the residency qualification. Because of previous laws most of the citizens from the North would be entitled to vote but if they are not ordinarily resident here they will not be entitled to vote in our general elections.

Deputy Mitchell made the point, too, that this Bill will not confer on non-citizens the possibility of voting in Presidential elections and in referenda in the future. I explained in my opening remarks that the constitutional Bill deals only with the Dáil vote whereas the electoral Bill which was thrown out by the Supreme Court went further. I explained, in the light of the Supreme Court decision, that it was not considered appropriate to provide in the Constitution for voting by non-citizens in Presidential elections and in referenda. The basic concept of the Constitution is that of a fundamental law given by citizens to themselves. It follows that only the citizens have the power to amend the Constitution. If there were provision for the Constitution to be amended by persons other than our citizens, there would be a basic contradiction in the Constitution itself.

I think I can say that the Bill is totally acceptable to the House and I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I hope that today we will conclude the Bill so that it may proceed to the Seanad.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an Cheist.

Question put and agreed to.
Aontaíodh na Céimeanna eile a thógáil inniu.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.