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.