Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [ Seanad ]: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Debate resumed on amendment No. 80:
In page 44, subsection (3), line 8, to delete "one person" and substitute "four persons".
Under section 60 each candidate may appoint a personation agent to attend at each polling station. If a party present two or more candidates, each can appoint a personation agent. There is no obligation on a personation agent to remain all day. He can at any time surrender his note to the presiding officer and leave. It is also clear that the agent can return subsequently. Thus one candidate can appoint an agent for, say, the morning if necessary and another candidate can appoint an agent in the afternoon. There is flexibility in the system. Under section 60 a candidate has power to revoke the appointment of a personation agent and appoint another in his place. He could appoint one agent for the morning and advise the returning officer and appoint a replacement for the afternoon.
The Deputy's objective can be achieved without any change in the law. In their manual, presiding officers are advised that personation agents may present themselves at any stage during the day. I do not see any need for a change in these provisions.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 81 to 83, inclusive, not moved.
Section 60 agreed to.
Sections 61 to 77, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 84 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 78 stand part of the Bill".
I wish to inquire about the timescale for dealing with the Bill. I understand we are to complete Part XV by 5 o'clock.
I think the point of Deputy Kavanagh's question is concerned with whether we may use any time remaining to deal with the later Parts of the Bill.
Certainly. We just continue on. If we gain time we can use it satisfactorily.
While I am not persisting with the amendment I had tabled, I wish to ask if the Government have any intention of simplifying the method by which special voters are required to vote. Can the Minister advise the House as to the average number of special voters per constituency? This was the motivation underlying my amendment. I had sought in an earlier amendment to extend the use of postal voting. The requirement that a member of the Garda Síochána should accompany an approved officer to the home of the special voter——
That is dealt with in section 84.
I appreciate that. Have the Government any intention of simplifying that process or are we to persist with the existing rules? Does the Minister have figures of the average number of special voters per constituency? I am not arguing about the costs but I would ask the Minister to explain the reason for the extraordinary security arrangements in the case of special voters, especially when we allow many thousands of people to use the simplified postal voting system. Why are special voters treated differently?
Section 84 deals with that.
Perhaps we will discuss it then.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 79 to 81, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 85:
In page 53, subsection (1), lines 34 and 35, to delete ", in the presence of a member of the Garda Síochána,".
I want to find out why it is necessary that a member of the Garda Síochána accompany a special presiding officer to deliver the ballot paper to the special voter. Usually the person doing this job is fairly familiar with the list of applicants. At a time when the gardaí are fairly busy it is an unnecessary requirement.
I support the amendment. I repeat the questions I have just put to the Minister. I would go somewhat further than Deputy Kavanagh. It is equally cumbersome and costly to ask an authorised officer to travel from house to house for the issue and collection of ballot papers. Why not allow these people to use the postal voting system?
Section 82 sets out the method of voting by disabled persons who are registered as special voters. The voting papers are delivered to the elector at his home by a special presiding officer accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. The section re-enacts existing law without any change.
This amendment proposes to delete the requirement for the presence of the Garda. In the special voting arrangements the presence of a garda serves a number of purposes. The garda is the independent witness who ensures that voting is properly carried out and that the secrecy and integrity of the ballot are respected. He provides physical security and protection for the special presiding officer, the ballot papers and other voting documents. He protects the presiding officer against baseless and malicious allegations that might otherwise be levelled at him. A garda in uniform is a symbol of law and order, justice and fair play. His very presence enhances the integrity of the system.
When the special voting system was introduced in 1986 the Minister of the day saw the presence of a garda in uniform as one of the strengths of the new system, indeed the essential core of the system. He rejected utterly the suggestions that voters would be frightened or embarrassed by a visit to their house of a garda in uniform. I would refer Deputies to the Official Report of the Seanad of 9 December 1986 on this matter. I would be inclined to accept the then Minister's view of the position and therefore I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
Will the Minister indicate why postal voting simpliciter is not used as is the case in regard to other persons, namely, the Garda Síochána, soldiers, diplomats and so on? Has the Minister any detail on the number of gardaí involved or the cost per vote under the present system? This seems to be an extremely cumbersome process and could be totally avoided if the postal voting system was used. The Minister might have some concern in regard to a civilian official travelling about with ballot papers, that it would be desirable that he or she be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. I would not suggest otherwise; nevertheless, the process at present is cumbersome and unnecessary and it makes no sense not to use the postal voting system in this regard.
The question of postal voting has already been dealt with under section 14. The bottom line in regard to postal voting is that it is not possible to extend to the postal voter and his ballot paper the guarantee of secrecy, security and integrity which are provided at the polling station. Until a way can be found of doing this an extended system of postal voting is unlikely to commend itself.
At present unsupervised postal voting at Dáil elections is confined to members of the security forces. Voting by diplomats and their spouses takes place in the embassies and consulates and is supervised by a person nominated by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Voting at Seanad panel elections is supervised by officials such as the Clerk of the Dáil or Seanad, county registrar, county manager, or senior Garda officers.
Does the Minister have any information on the numbers involved?
There are approximately 4,000 involved.
That makes my case that it would not be an intrusion on the electoral process to allow the postal voting system to apply. I do not understand the Minister of State's view that a special voter would not be entitled to some security or secrecy in regard to their ballot while members of the Defence Forces and others using the postal voting system are entitled to such security and secrecy.
Is the Minister talking about 4,000 Garda visits to homes on the one day or over a period of a few days and is the garda accompanied by an authorised officer? The cost of carrying out such a service must be colossal. Of course, as long as that cumbersome process is in place it is unlikely that it will be extended in any sympathetic way and people who for good reasons apply for special voting status will be subject to close scrutiny. As one understands a little more about this one realises why the original legislation contained so many unsavoury elements — for example, that which provided that a voter had to get a certificate from a doctor each time he or she renewed their application to prove they were not of unsound mind. Matters are falling more into place now in regard to the disincentives which existed. It is unlikely, because of the costly and time-consuming nature of this process, that the list of special voters will be extended to include those who genuinely deserve it. I would like the Minister of State to give some undertaking that this matter will be considered again should he be returned to Government following the election. I am totally unconvinced by the reasons advanced as to why we cannot extend the postal voting system to such people.
This matter may be reviewed in the future but it cannot be dealt with in the Bill before us.
Is Deputy McCartan happy with that position?
It is a matter for another day.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 82 agreed to.
Sections 83 and 84 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 86 and 87 are related and it is proposed therefore, for discussion purposes, that they be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 86:
In page 55, subsection (1), line 17, after "island" to insert "(other than the island of Ireland)".
These are drafting amendments and are not of any great importance. If the Minister does not feel that they add anything to the Bill, I will be happy to withdraw them. It is a question of definition as to whether we are the island or the island is Lambay.
That is an unusual question and one which I am sure the Minister will accept.
I have no objection to the Deputy withdrawing his amendments.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 87 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 88, 89 and 90 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 88:
In page 55, subsection (2) (b), line 39, after "hour," to insert "but in this instance close of poll shall (if possible) be postponed to such later time as would compensate for the delay in commencement of the poll,".
The traditional opening hours of polling stations is from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. However, occasionally for various reasons a polling station may not open on time and my amendment seeks to have some extra time at the end of the day to make up for this. People should have a full 12 hours during which to vote but occasionally, whether because of distance from the polling station of the person operating it or some other reason, not all polling stations open at 9 a.m. Therefore, some people are prevented from voting before going to work. For that reason there should be some time made available after 9 p.m. to make up for the time lost at the start of the day.
This group of amendments would curtail the discretion of the returning officer and the presiding officer in this regard and would require that where a polling station opened late the time loss would be made up if possible.
It is proposed also to delete the provision which enables the poll to close early. The provisions enabling the poll on an island to be shortened are quite important. I do not have to remind the House how difficult conditions can be off the Atlantic coast and how quickly they can change. It is essential that the presiding officer, the man on the spot, should have discretion to close the poll at any time after four hours of polling if he feels it necessary in order to ensure that the ballot box reaches the count centre on time. Failure of a ballot box to reach the count centre by the time fixed for the commencement of the count would hold up proceedings at the count because, under our system, counting could not proceed until all ballot boxes were opened. It is clearly desirable, in order to ensure the normal and efficient conduct of the count that these provisions be retained. Obviously we could tolerate a delayed count, but it would be intolerable if the Oireachtas were to put at risk the safety of polling staff, boatmen and gardaí in the interests of false uniformity. I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
The argument put forward by the Minister seems reasonable on the face of it. However, if only four hours are allowed for polling that would deprive somebody of their vote and surely that is more important than the danger that the count might be delayed. We are not in the days when boats had to be rowed back and forth. We now have helicopters and the weather would have to be very foul indeed before one would have to deprive people of the services of lifeboats or helicopters. Obviously if the whole poll on an island has been taken why not close up and send the box back to the count centre? That is not to say that any returning officer should have the power to close his polling station simply because he wants to see the count carried out within their hours of counting. Where other boxes have to be opened I do not see that a slight delay in the arrival of a box would unduly delay a count. If a candidate were to die in the middle of an election that whole count would be put back and an election would be held maybe two or there weeks after every other count has been completed. This has happened in the past in my constituency. I do not like the idea of reducing the time for polling to a minimalist four hours which could deprive people of their right to vote.
These are emergencies which happen only rarely. To put this matter in perspective it must be recalled that the island electorate is very small. The largest is Inishmore with 664 electors and the smallest Inishfree with just 11 electors. I seem to remember that for many years an island off Donegal had just two electors. I understand that on one of our smaller islands all of the electors normally cast their votes within a very short period of time after the arrival of the ballot box. I would suggest again that the Deputy withdraw his amendment.
There is a principle involved here that I am not prepared to depart from so I will press the amendment.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 89 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 85 stand part of the Bill."
I intended to put an amendment down but, unfortunately, I forgot to do so. There is a provision under this section for polls to be taken up to five days before the rest of the country polls in the case of islands. This has just been lifted straight from the old legislation. I imagine the Minister did not give the matter the slightest thought when he was reviewing the legislation but just reproduced what was there already.
This is a pity, because we have moved on. We have helicopters, as Deputy Kavanagh said. Boats are much faster now. There are light planes servicing many of the islands. There may be very few electors but every vote counts and every elector in this country is important. The islanders are a bit like the travellers; they are a very neglected part of our population. They are few in number with little influence. We missed a great opportunity here to try to redress the balance and put them on the same basis as everybody else. Apart from anything else, there are frequently last minute happenings in a campaign, last minute revelations, last minute changes in party positions. The rest of us, living on the mainland of Ireland, can decide how we are going to vote up to five minutes before the closing of the poll at 9 p.m. On the islands people frequently have to make up their minds five days before polling day. It is a great pity that the opportunity was not taken to update this provision.
I understand the point that Deputy Garland is making. However, it is at the discretion of the returning officer to decide when to close the polling station. It is because of the exigencies of living on an island and the danger that the poll would not be completed in time, that time is given in advance to ensure that people have an opportunity to vote.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 90 not moved.
Section 86 agreed to.
Section 87 agreed to.
We will proceed to amendment No. 91 in the name of Deputy Kavanagh. Amendment No. 95a is related. It is proposed, therefore, to take amendments Nos. 91 and 95a together.
I move amendment No. 91:
In page 56, subsection (2) (a), line 33, after "names" to insert ", photographs".
The purpose of this amendment is to include photographs on the ballot paper. It is something that is done elsewhere. Perhaps somebody will point out to me that it is in areas where there is more illiteracy than we have in this country. Nevertheless, it is a problem for some people to recognise candidates who may have similar names and may be of different genders, so photographs may be of help to some people. We had some discussion on this on Second Stage. I know the arguments against it — the delay that could be occasioned because of having to include photographs, the quality of photographs and the fact the photographs might bear little resemblance to how a candidate looks today. However the idea is right, but because we do not want to delay the Bill I will for the moment withdraw my amendment.
Amendment No. 95a is almost identical to the amendment in the name of Deputy Kavanagh in that it seeks to have photographs included on ballot papers. However my amendment is more specific in that it indicates what the size of the photographs should be. I am suggesting that photographs should be four centimetres by three centimetres.
Furthermore, I have tabled this amendment for a different reason. I do not think people realise just how many illiterate and semi-illiterate people there are in the country. A study carried out by the Department of Education in 1986 showed that there were no fewer than 400,000 adults in this category. I received a letter today from a person in County Mayo in which he indicated that, given his extreme literacy problems, he finds it difficult to vote at polling stations. I suggest that there are many more people like him. The Government party however would not like to admit that there are so many illiterate and semi-illiterate people in the country. Nevertheless, it is a major problem and we must face up to it. It would be easy to make this simple improvement. Indeed, I have a specimen ballot paper in front of me with small photographs beside the names of candidates. Having regard to the fact that the Bill will have to be returned to the Seanad, why should we not do something for the 400,000 people who will find themselves at a disadvantage in this area?
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I support this amendment. During the course of my conribution on Second Stage I gave as an example a family the members of which had not voted in the last election because one of them was illiterate and they did not want this fact to be made known. They are quite adamant that a photograph should be included on the ballot paper so that a person would be able to recognise the candidate they wish to vote for and cast their vote. I do not know if the Minister of State has made any effort to calculate what the extra cost involved would be but this change would be of help to these people. Literacy classes are being held for adults who need help in reading and they should be given every chance to exercise their democratic right.
Apparently the purpose of the amendment is to assist voters who cannot read and those with impaired vision. Under existing law, restated in this Bill, a voter whose sight is so impaired that he is unable to vote without assistance may have the ballot paper marked on his behalf by a companion or by the presiding officer. A voter who cannot read or write may ask to have his ballot paper marked by the presiding officer under this provision. The presiding officer may assist the voter by reading out in full the details in relation to each candidate on the ballot paper and then mark the ballot paper as instructed by the voter.
While the inclusion of photographs of candidates on ballot papers might assist some voters, the effectiveness of the measure overall is likely to be limited. Under our system of proportional representation, which allows the voter to vote for the candidates in the order of his choice, certain categories of voters would still require assistance in marking ballot papers. The inclusion of photographs would give rise to practical difficulties. For example, it would put extra pressure on the resources of the returning officer at a time when he is already operating under pressure. At an election very little time is available for preparing, printing and issuing ballot papers, which have to be printed as soon as practicable after the closing date for receipt of nominations to ensure maximum time for the delivery and return of postal ballot papers. The extra time required for the checking of photographs, ensuring that they are of suitable standard and quality and making certain that the photographs match the names on the ballot paper, would add considerably to the demands on the resources of returning officers. It would also increase the cost of elections.
Photographs on ballot papers could assist some electors in identifying the candidate they wish to vote for, but only if they already know what the candidate looks like. Thus there would be an inbuilt bias in favour of well known candidates at the expense of lesser known ones, particularly first time and non-aligned candidates. It also misses the point that most electors vote on the basis of party with preferences for individual candidates being a secondary consideration. Our electoral system is already criticised for putting undue emphasis on personalities rather than policies. By including photographs we would exaggerate this tendency and it could have the effect of trivialising elections and turning them into some kind of beauty contest.
Having carefully considered the implications of the proposal contained in this amendment I consider that it would not be feasible to adopt it and ask that it not be passed.
Deputy Garland rose.
As far as possible, Deputy, we should avoid psycho-analysing the mind of the voter.
I should say that the Minister of State's response was disappointing. There is an old expression: where there is a will there is a way. In this case the problem is that there is no will. The Minister of State has made no effort to facilitate the 400,000 people who are illiterate or semi-illiterate, to say nothing about the people whose eyesight is failing. I would imagine that most of the 400,000 people are semi-illiterate. However, they might be numerate and know how to mark one, two, three and four on the ballot paper. Nevertheless, they find it difficult to read names. There are tens of thousands of dyslexics in this country but they are quite intelligent and well able to cast their vote.
The Minister of State made the point that people tend to vote for a party rather than for personalities. That may be so, but I would remind him that no reference is made in the Constitution to political parties. It could be argued that we do not need political parties and that this country could function without them. I feel strongly therefore that the balance of advantage lies in accepting this simple amendment and I intend to press it.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): While I accept what the Minister of State has said may be true, that voters receive help at polling stations, this comes down to a question of catering for those who cannot read. During the course of my contribution on Second Stage I asked the Minister of State if he had made any effort to estimate what the extra cost involved would be. I accept that this would cause difficulties, but provided the cost would not go beyond what was acceptable this proposition should be seriously considered.
Let me repeat that presiding officers may assist illiterate voters. Furthermore, it is not possible to estimate what the extra cost involved would be. Severe practical difficulties would be encountered in producing ballot papers complete with photographs in the limited time available at a Dáil election. Great care would have to be taken to ensure rigid standardisation of photographs in regard to size, shape, colour, finish, pose and so on. There would be a serious danger that photographs of individual candidates would be confused either in the returning officer's office or at the printers, particularly where a large number of candidates are involved. For example, during the 1989 general election there were 13 or 14 candidates in a number of constituencies. I repeat that we have considered this matter carefully and I am not in favour of inserting "photographs".
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 93 is an alternative to amendment No. 92 and amendment No. 96 is related. It is proposed therefore that the amendments be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 92:
In page 56, subsection (2) (a), lines 35 to 41, to delete all words from and including "The" in line 35 down to the end of the paragraph and substitute "The order in which the names of the candidates shall appear shall be determined by lot by the returning officer,".
This amendment is similar to amendment No. 93 in the name of Deputy Kavanagh. It is absolutely absurd that we still retain the alphabetical system of placing names on the ballot paper. My amendment proposes that the order in which the names of the candidates shall appear shall be determined by lot by the returning officer. The Electoral Reform Society in London, who carry out ballots for various organisations, are skilled in this area and they produce ballot papers, on which names are selected at random. If we continue with the present system, surnames of most Dáil Deputies will begin with A, B or C — for example, a few years ago a candidate changed his name prior to an election, calling himself Abbey of the Holy Cross Fitzsimons. This resulted in his name appearing at the top of the ballot paper and, while he was not elected, he probably received many more votes than if his name appeared under Fitzsimons.
This is a simple reform and is not a party political point because in every party there are people whose initials range from A to Z. This is a matter that must be considered. While Electoral Acts have been improved and updated, many areas have not been properly considered. I raised this matter on Second Stage and there was adequate opportunity for the Minister to put down an amendment in this area. I will be curious to hear what possible excuse or reason he puts forward for continuing with this ridiculous system.
I find this subject very interesting. Since Deputy Garland and his colleagues in the Electoral Reform Society appear to have carried out such interesting work, will they give an indication as to whether there is a significant deviation between the distribution of initials among Members of this House on the one hand and members of the general population on the other hand and whether that is statistically significant to the order of the ballot paper? Looking back at the records of this House for many years, while to my knowledge there has been no Member whose surname began with X or Z, all the other letters have been reasonably well represented. I doubt that there is any statistically significant deviation between the number of candidates who are elected to this House per initial and the frequency of occurrence of those initials among candidates, not to speak of among the general population. Some of these matters should probably be the subject of learned debate and mathematical discussion for about 30 years before we should bother with them.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I put much effort into studying this matter and there is a great amount of research to show that anyone whose name begins with B deserves to be second in the alphabet and to be elected before anybody else.
My amendment is similar to that of Deputy Garland. It is amazing that Deputy Dukes is so disparaging of these amendments.
I am looking for the statistical background.
On many occasions the Deputy's former colleague, Richie Ryan, raised the question of the unfairness of this system. Obviously people whose initial is in the second half of the alphabet feel aggrieved with the arrangement — I can see that Deputy Browne is not very upset, but Deputy Wallace is also in the House — although some people may start at the bottom of the list and work up. The initial of my surname is mid-way through the alphabet and therefore this amendment is of no great benefit to me, but it would be of considerable benefit to some candidates. Perhaps the reason Deputy Dukes is elected before his colleague is that his name appears first on the ballot paper.
Nobody has yet come between us.
The argument could be made that both Deputy Dukes and Deputy Durkan are elected in any event. In my constituency one of the best candidates was beaten in a very tight vote a couple of years ago, but he was gladly reelected to the House, perhaps because his name appeared second on the ballot paper. The order of names is significant and may result in tight transfers. People with an interest in elections will realise that the course of elections on many occasions is determined by this system.
Electors have been accustomed for a long time to the alphabetical list of names on the ballot paper and to change the system to that based on a lottery as proposed in these amendments would be likely to confuse voters, particularly those with less than perfect vision or with difficulty in reading.
The Minister is making my case.
The alphabetical arrangement of candidates names on ballot papers was the subject of a High Court action in 1986 when the court took the view that the alphabetical system of arranging candidates names provided for in the Electoral Act, 1963, was a reasonable one. In the course of his judgment Mr. Justice Murphy referred to the advantages of the alphabetical system — the voter can quickly find any particular candidates and as it is an establishing procedure in so many fields it is seen as a reasonable, practical solution to selecting or preparing any list of names. While the alphabetical arrangement may not be a perfect system, to determine the order of names by lot would do nothing to remove the advantage claimed by some in favour of those on top of the ballot paper. It would merely lead to a transfer of the alleged grievance from one set of candidates to another. In terms of confused electors and spoilt papers I suspect that such a solution could well be worse than the alleged problem. Therefore I would ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I would counter the Minister's response to this matter. I accept that under the present system the placement of names in alphabetical order on ballot papers can be an advantage to some electors. My amendment dealing with the distribution of polling cards proposes that a specimen ballot paper be distributed with the polling cards to enable people to be absolutely clear as to who is running in an election and their party affiliation, if any. That would give people an opportunity to study the specimen ballot paper and make their choice accordingly. I am pressing the amendment.
Question "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 not moved.
I ask the indulgence of the House in relation to amendment No. 95 in the names of Deputies Kavanagh and Gregory. Deputy Gregory, obedient as always to the rules of the House, assumed that section 88 would not be reached until after 5 p.m. He was not present when we agreed to take amendment No. 95 with amendment No. 60. I suggest, accordingly, that it will not be disorderly to allow Deputy Gregory to make his comments now, which would not be the case if we were dealing with everything seriatim. Is that agreed? Agreed.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): It will be a pre-election script.
I move amendment No. 95:
In page 56, subsection (2) (b), line 44, after "Party" to insert "or `Independent' ".
I am very grateful to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and to the House for allowing me to make this contribution. In my experience nobody anywhere refers to Members such as myself, past or present, as "non-party"; we are universally referred to as "Independent" Members of the House. Perhaps the Minister considers us as "non-party" before the election and "Independent" after the election. However, that is nonsense. Political historians and commentators unanimously refer to candidates — or, after the election, Members — as "Independents" and indeed Independents have held the balance of power. They have given stability to Governments and have never withdrawn their support for petty reasons. It may well be that after the election the Government will require the support of Indpendents. The very least we can be granted is the privilege of allowing that term to be put on the ballot paper after our names.
Will the Minister reconsider his position in regard to this amendment? Two additional words are required to allow the term "Independent" to be used by candidates like me. For the past 11 years I have been described in this House, and by political commentators, as an Independent TD, but if the Minister has his way I will suddenly become a non-party candidate. Nothing could be more confusing to the electorate. I am not just speaking on my behalf. There are, as the Minister knows, Independent councillors, Senators and representatives throughout the length and breadth of the State. This is a perfectly reasonable request. I wish to re-emphasise that in the past, when Independent Members of this House were requested by leaders of the main political parties to give them their support to ensure political stability, they have done so. The very least one expects when standing in the democratic process is that one is described in the same terminology which has prevailed for over ten years in the House.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are a great man for using grammatical phrases and so on. I am sure you will agree that the term "non-party" is automatically negative. I always think of it in that way, as one is seen to be against political parties when one is described as "non-party". If one were described as an "Independent" one would be rightly seen, as one desires to be seen, as independent of political parties. Grammatically, and every other way, the correct way to describe a candidate such as myself is one who is independent of the political parties. I hope that having listened to the points I made the Minister will regard it as fair and reasonable to reconsider his decision and to accept my amendment.
The amendment has already been discussed and I have nothing further to add.
The Committee divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 74.
- Byrne, Eric.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Foxe, Tom.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kemmy, Jim.
- McCartan, Pat.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Ferris and Gregory; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Clohessy.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 95a:
In page 57, subsection (2), before line 1, to insert the following:
"(c) a candidate shall be permitted to include a photograph not exceeding 4 centimetres in height and 3 centimetres in width opposite his name,".
Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 96 not moved.
I move amendment No. 97:
In page 57, subsection (2), lines 9 to 14, to delete paragraph (d).
The purpose of this amendment is to maintain the concept that has always been understood by the general public, that we have a secret ballot. The practice of the counterfoils and ballot papers having the same numbers is a departure from the concept of a true secret ballot. This is something that the general public have not been aware of and they do not realise that there is a way of tracing how a person voted. This is usually only sought where there is some misdemeanour or a challenge in relation to the voting of a particular individual and their ballot paper can be taken up from the vaults of Dublin Castle, the courthouse in Wicklow or elsewhere. Should a ballot paper be closely scrutinised during a count, it is possible to trace how a person voted. There is nothing new about this proposed amendment, but it is worth repeating here. We cannot claim to have a secret ballot when identical numbers are affixed to both the counterfoil and the ballot paper and that is why I have put down this amendment.
I have often been puzzled and alarmed by the numbering of ballot papers. Subject to what the Minister has to say in this regard I would be inclined to support Deputy Kavanagh's amendment.
The serial number serves a number of important purposes at an election. First, it is an essential part of the security precautions against the introduction of forged or counterfeited ballot papers. By reference to the serial number it is possible to establish whether a particular ballot paper is genuine. It is, therefore, an important safeguard and reinforces the security provided by the official mark. The serial number is the means by which one ballot paper can be distinguished from another with absolute certainty. This could arise, for example, where the returning officer's ruling on the validity of a particular paper is being questioned. An election petition could be based on the grounds that the returning officer was incorrect in ruling in or ruling out ballot papers bearing certain serial numbers. The serial number is an essential part of the control system in regard to issuing and accounting for ballot papers at an election.
The returning officer is required, under section 94 (6), to maintain a record of the numbers of the ballot papers provided by him at each polling station. Thus, a tight control and security system is maintained. For example, if ballot papers are rejected at the count for lack of the official mark, the returning officer by referring to the serial numbers will identify the station at which the papers were issued and will be able to take appropriate action in relation to the presiding officer concerned. I want to say, quite categorically, that there is no way in which a ballot paper used by an individual elector can be identified. The serial number constitutes no danger whatever to the secrecy of the individual ballot. I would hope that no Member of the Oireachtas would in any way lend support to the totally baseless allegation that is sometimes made in this regard. The serial number is an important part of the security system and accounting arrangements at an election. It cannot affect the secrecy of the ballot. It is important that the system be retained, and I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.
I reiterate the point I made. How can we claim to have a secret ballot when there are numbered ballot papers which coincide with numbers on the counterfoil to which they were attached? I do not think that point can be contested. The only totally secret ballot is where there is no mark except that made by the presiding officer which ensures that when a ballot paper is handed out on polling day it is stamped and that a copy ballot paper cannot be brought into the polling station. That is the most important mark on a ballot paper — the mark impressed on the ballot paper and the counterfoil by the presiding officer. In the eight or nine general elections, the by-election and the European elections I fought I have never suggested to anybody that they did anything wrong with their ballot papers. I hope I carried out my duty both as a candidate and as an agent for a predecessor of mine for many years. However, I do believe there is a strong perception among the general public that there is no way a ballot paper can be traced. I am aware that a challenge can be mounted in court and ballot papers can be retrieved and scrutinised. The Minister obviously is not going to accept this amendment. He is holding fast to the argument he has made but I contend that there is less than a secret ballot operating and, therefore, I wish to press the amendment.
Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 57, subsection (2), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(e) the top right hand column on the ballot paper shall bear such markings so as to ensure that nothing may be written herein,".
The purpose of this amendment is to insert a new subsection in section 88 that sets out the form of the ballot paper and how the ballot paper shall be laid out. If we look at the Fourth Schedule to the Bill, where the form of the ballot paper is set out, what I am proposing will be immediately clear. On the ballot paper, on the right hand side over the column containing the names of the candidates, there is a blank space. We do not have a huge rate of spoiled votes, but one of the most frequent means of spoiling a vote is that people inadvertently or otherwise write their names in the space on the top of the column containing the candidates' names. To prevent that happening I propose we put some suitable shading into that space to make it clear that nothing is to be written in there.
When I formulated the amendment I proposed that the space should be crosshatched with black lines. I pay a compliment to the staff of the House who were very quick to come back and tell me that they might have difficulties in doing that because if I were to try to make an amendment to the Schedule they would have to make a diagram of what I had proposed and they would have some difficulties with the printers. They invited me to reflect again and see if there was not a clearer way of expressing it. Hence the amendment we have before us which, taking the advice of the Bills Office in the House, is a much more elegant and clearer way of doing what I proposed than that which I initially chose. It is churlish to say it, but there is a slight error in the text of the amendment. The word "so" should not appear in the second line of the amendment. It should read:
the top right hand column on the ballot paper shall bear such markings as to ensure that nothing may be written therein,
The intention is clear, to put crosshatched lines or wavy lines or something like that in the space so that it will be clear to the voter that nothing should be written there. It might also have the incidental advantage of making the returning officer's mark on that part of the ballot paper appear more clearly in that there would be a bit of contrast to the background. This measure might help to reduce the incidence of spoiled votes. A ballot paper which is otherwise validly marked but which has the name of a person written at the top will be regarded as a spoiled vote. I recommend this amendment to the Minister.
This section sets out the directions which must be complied with in the preparation of the ballot paper. The amendment proposes to add an additional instruction which would require the top right hand column of the paper to bear such markings as will ensure that nothing may be written therein. This part of the ballot paper is reserved for the official mark in the existing prescribed form of the ballot paper which is set out in the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1972. The space carried the words "marc oifigiúil — official mark" and an arrow. This was designed to remind the presiding officer that he must stamp the official mark on this part of the paper. It had been found in practice that a surprising number of electors think they must copy this design and set it down in relation to the candidates they wished to vote for. The legend, which was confusing, has been omitted from more recently designed ballot papers — for example, those relating to the Euro elections. The omission has not led to any increase in the number of papers rejected for absence of the official mark. It is necessary to retain this space for the official mark. If the space was obscure or overprinted there is a danger that some presiding officers would not appreciate that the space was reserved for the official mark and might place the mark on any other part of the paper, possibly in the space reserved for marking a vote. It is desirable that the space remain blank. The Deputy might consider withdrawing the amendment.
The Minister of State has just told us that since the direction was taken off the ballot paper there has not been any increase in the numbers of papers spoiled because of an absence of the official mark. That seems to indicate, not surprisingly, that our presiding officers are a fairly intelligent group of people and are capable of understanding the directions given to them by the Department as to where to put the official mark.
That is not the problem. The problem arises from the fact that in a blank space like that a few electors feel obliged to write something. If they write something in it, the ballot is spoiled. If we give a direction to the presiding officers that that is the part of the ballot paper where the official mark is to be put and we have some design which prevents people from writing in it, we will secure the objective we want, which is to have fewer spoiled votes. The Minister should consider this. It is not presiding officers I am getting at. I am trying to help voters to avoid any invitation or encouragement to write there. If there is some sort of device on it they will not write there and we will reduce the number of otherwise spoiled votes. I am sure our presiding officers are sharp enough, aware enough and intelligent enough to know that that is where they should put the official mark and there will be no problem.
This debate is symptomatic of what is happening in the House today. There is a fundamental problem with the way the Bill is being handled in that there will be no Report Stage. This Bill has been before the House since 1991 and we are now near the end of 1992. It is a very important complex Bill which deserved and has got a very good Committee Stage. We have got through the work very well. However, there is no Report Stage, which means that the Minister is almost bound to turn down our requests for simple amendments like this. If there was a Report Stage the Minister could accept a point and undertake to bring back an amendment on Report Stage. Nothing could be more reasonable than what Deputy Dukes is proposing. About 20 or 30 of the amendments we have proposed have been non-ideological, non-party political and not one has been accepted, with the exception of the item dealing with deposits. With a Bill going through the House in a proper fashion the Minister would take on board these minor points and bring back a suitable amendment on Report Stage. We cannot do that and we are rushing this legislation through. Only God knows how many more years will pass before we have another Electoral Bill. It could be ten or 20 years down the road. This Bill is full of flaws which we ought to put right in this House but which we are not putting right.
I am glad that Deputy Garland is of the same opinion as Deputy Dukes. I will surprise the Deputy and I will accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Section, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 89 and 90 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 91 stand part of the Bill."
I appealed on Second Stage for the State to do something about the state of ballot boxes. The old black tin boxes we use are very ancient and cumbersome and require sealing wax, wire and so on to maintain their confidentiality. I would not mind if the Minister sent the Minister or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance around the world to look at the type of ballot boxes being used.
I suggested that we should have a see-through perspex panel on one side of the box which would allow people to see that their ballots had actually been popped into the box safely. I have not tabled an amendment in this regard but that is required. I have also suggested that some of the methods of sealing the boxes are very old-fashioned and that if the boxes did have a perspex panel they could be sealed before coming out of the polling stations. The county registrar would have in his or her possession a key and would ensure that when the box came back it was opened by him or her personally or by somebody acting on behalf of him or her.
It seems that Deputy Kavanagh lacks faith. When one puts a voting paper through the aperture one can surely accept that it goes into the box and stays there. I do not know that one needs a perspex panel in the boxes so that one can see the paper in the box. A little act of faith is required of Deputy Kavanagh.
I would prefer sealing wax and string.
Would the Deputy prefer the use of sealing wax and string and an old key to open boxes that could be opened with a pin?
I have just been advised that they are old but they are beautiful. I take the point made by Deputy Kavanagh. The matter will certainly be looked into.
Question put and agreed to.
I move amendment No. 99:
In page 57, subsection (1), line 49, after "place" to insert "(and the address of the place)".
This amendment is designed to aid the drafters of the Bill. It seeks to insert after the word "place" the words "(and the address of the place)". I feel that it is preferable to include on the card the address of the place where polling is taking place as well as the name of the place.
It is clear that the section as drafted would oblige the returning officer to provide sufficient information to enable local electors to find the premises at which voting is to take place. Polling stations are normally located in prominent public buildings and the name of the building would usually be sufficient guide. For example, in most cases the location of the local town hall, courthouse and national school would be well known to local people and no elaboration would be necessary.
The amendment would probably require the full postal address to be given in every case. It is difficult to visualise any circumstances under which the full address would be necessary. Its inclusion would serve no practical purpose but would tend to increase the cost involved in producing the cards. Computer addressed cards are now the norm. Space is severely limited on those cards and unnecessary detail must be avoided.
I consider that this is a matter best left to the judgment of the returning officer. Under the provision as drafted the returning officer will be required to include as much of the address of the polling station as is necessary to identify the premises in question.
The amendment is unnecessary and undesirable and I ask the Deputy to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 100:
In page 57, subsection (1), line 51, after "section 111" to insert ", and listing each candidate and their political party or an expression in accordance with section 46 (5)* in the same order as they will appear on the ballot paper".
This amendment seeks to put a small extra burden on the returning officer or whoever is responsible for the distribution of the polling cards. There is a slight flaw in the way in which we deal with our elections. Everything is taken step by step but there is a defect in that there is no list of candidates available to electors in a constituency. Electors depend on the newspapers; yet I know that the first time I stood for election one of the newspapers left out my name in the list of candidates.
The Deputy should not worry, I got plenty of votes anyway. I had been duly nominated but the newspapers, after collecting the information from the returning officer, omitted to include my name. People also depend on leaflets. Sometimes leaflets are kept and sometimes they are not, and then on the night before the election when electors sit down to decide for whom they will vote they take the leaflets out of a drawer — if they can find them. Perhaps in some cases the pet dog would have chewed up the leaflets after they were posted through the letterbox; all of us who have canvassed know that to be a quite frequent happening.
A very obvious and a very simple improvement would be made in our electoral procedures if at the time of distribution of the polling card a specimen ballot paper — in whatever order that paper may be drafted; we have now decided, unfortunately, that we will still use alphabetical order — were distributed as well. I remind the House that frequently there are up to 15 and sometimes 20 names on a ballot paper. We want to encourage people to use the proportional representation system properly by voting down the ticket. I realise that the Minister's party are known as the "plonkers" party. For them it is a matter of "one, two, three Fianna Fáil and to hell with the rest". That is not the kind of voting we want to encourage. We should encourage people to use the proportional representation system to its maximum extent by voting right down the paper. For the average person with a primary school education who might be working in a manual job or who might perhaps be not working at all — a person who is not very literate or numerate — it is very intimidating to have to face a long list of candidates' names. I suspect that many people get halfway through filling out their voting paper and then suddenly discover that there is another candidate, whether that candidate be from Fine Gael, the Green Party or an Independent candidate, they did not realise was standing for election. I know that voters can always ask for a fresh ballot paper but people tend not to do so. Voters may get down as far as their eighth preference and then decide to screw up the paper and not bother voting.
This improvement could be effected simply. I am sure that the Minister will tell me that acceptance of the amendment would lead to greater expenditure, would add to the workload of the returning officer and so on. However, this improvement would be of considerable benefit to our democratic process. It is my opinion that if we were to do nothing more than make this change in the Bill we would be making a very big change. I hope that the other parties will support me in this amendment because it concerns a very commonsense, simple measure.
The Deputy mentioned that some of the points I would raise are that acceptance of the amendment would result in greater expenditure and increased work for the returning officer. The measure suggested in the amendment is not practical. There is no doubt that people do know who the candidates are because of the election campaigns and the publicity in the news media and elsewhere. Clear evidence of that is provided by the number of people who get votes and by the number of people who are elected. I certainly do not support this unnecessary amendment. As I have said, there are also practical difficulties and cost implications. It is not necessary to send a specimen ballot paper to every elector and therefore I cannot accept the amendment.
I am extremely disappointed at the Minister's reply. Of course, this issue does not affect the Minister's party very much because Fianna Fáil have a very big electoral machine and they make sure that they get to canvass every house and that plenty of leaflets are distributed. I know to my cost that this measure is necessary. It must be borne in mind that as a democracy we should try to facilitate in every possible way new parties and new candidates who want to enter the House. Certainly no obstacles should be put in their way.
The first time I stood for election I met at the polling station numerous people in my local area who came out after voting and, on seeing me, said that they had not realised that I was standing for election. It might be said that I had not distributed those people with leaflets, and perhaps there were a few houses that did not get leaflets from my party. That is the nature of small political parties and Independent candidates, especially those who are contesting their first election. It is probably that candidates from small political parties and Independent candidates do not cover the ground. Maybe they should and maybe it is right that they should be penalised, but I do not think they should be penalised.
I am disappointed that my amendment received no response from other Deputies. There is no point in my pressing the matter.
Perhaps the Deputy should go on his holidays to New York, like his other colleagues on the city council.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 101 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 92 stand part of the Bill.'
Section 92 (4) states:
No action or other proceedings shall lie against a returning officer in respect of any failure to send, non-delivery of or error or mis-statement in a polling information card.
I can understand why it would not be fair that an action should lie against a returning officer for the non-delivery of a polling information card but I wonder why it was felt necessary to provide that there should be no action against the returning officer in respect of a failure to send a polling information card or in respect of an error in such a card or in respect of a mis-statement in such a card? There may very well be a reason for this. It is the kind of provision that stands out in a Bill such as this. It seems to suggest that the responsibility is being shifted from the returning officer. The purpose of the section is entirely laudable in that I believe we should try to make sure that every elector gets a polling information card. If we are to go to the trouble of sending polling information cards surely we should make sure they are accurate. It seems to me that a subsection such as this, that seems to relieve the returning officer of any liability for the accuracy thereof, is questionable.
Subsection (4) provides that in the event of a non-delivery of a polling card or any error contained in a card the returning officer is not liable for any action. This has been the situation since the foundation of the State and I do not see any reason to change it.
That could very well be the case but I would like to know why. The section sets out to provide where a poll is to be taken at a Dáil election in a constituency the returning officer shall send to every elector a polling card. Therefore, it is the duty of the returning officer to send a polling card to every elector. Then we find that subsection (4) states:
No action or other proceedings shall lie against a returning officer in respect of any failure to send,....
On the one hand, we oblige him to send a polling information card and on the other we say if he does not send it there will be no action against him. Even if there is an error or a mis-statement in the polling information card, again no action will lie against him. It is perfectly understandable that no action should lie against him for non-delivery of the polling card, because once it passes from his hands and into the hands of An Post, then An Post have the responsibility. I wonder why now, or since the foundation of the State, it was found desirable — I know the Minister has not been around for very long, a little longer than I have — to relieve the returning officer in this way and why is it felt necessary to repeat the provision here? I know the Minister was not involved in the original Electoral Act that set this up but somewhere in his Department I feel there is an accumulated corpus of knowledge and wisdom, the result of which is that this provision appears in the Bill. I would like to know why and what is the logic behind it.
On the face of it, I do not see that there is any need to change it. In 99.9 per cent of cases he carries out the function exactly as he is supposed to. I am satisfied that the protection exists and I do not see any reason we should not retain it.
I do not want to take up too much time but that answer is not really an answer. The Minister said he sees no reason to change the provision. That is fine, there may very well be no reason for change and he might succeed in convincing me there is no reason to change if he could tell me why this provision exists in the first place. I will go back to Deputy Kavanagh's earlier amendment, which I understood, and give a couple of examples. The electorate who are looking for the Kilrush polling station — near Athy — which is now in Deputy Kavanagh's constituency — have to search very carefully to find a health centre there. For example, the polling station which is known as Brownstown national school is in a place which nobody calls Brownstown, although it is at the end of the Brownstown Road, but is in a place which everybody knows as Cutbush. If you are a relatively new elector arriving in the area and you were told your vote would be in Brownstown national school and if you ask your neighbour where it was, he is likely to be puzzled because he knows the school as the Cutbush school.
The requirement for information is obviously a serious one. The implications of misinformation are serious if an elector who would normally vote in Brownstown national school got, by error, a polling card which directed him or her to vote in the Curragh national school — in the days when there was a polling station in the national school there — there would be much aggravation about it and a person could well be aggrieved and feel the returning officer has not carried out his job. Now we find under the provisions of this section there is no redress, there never has been any redress for it and the Minister does not know why. I am not going to make a big federal case of this but it is not sufficient to say: "That is the way it always has been and I see no reason to change."
This is a consolidating Bill. I should like to point out to the Deputy that no amendment was tabled on this matter. If the Deputy had some concern he could have tabled an amendment.
I cannot amend something when I do not know why it is there.
I have no difficulty with the existing law. I see nothing to change in it and I am quite happy with it. Does the Deputy have a difficulty with it?
Why does the provision exist?
I am satisfied with the law as it exists. It is a good provision. If the Deputy has some difficulty with some aspect of it and if he wished to put down an amendment he could have done so.
I counsel the Minister at this late stage in the game not to get irritated. If the Minister is telling me that he does not know why the law was made in the first place and that his Department cannot advise him as to why the law was that way, that is fine, all I am asking is why?
I never said I did not know; I said I was satisfied with existing law, that this was a consolidating Bill and I saw no reason to change it because I had no difficulty with it. If Deputy Dukes has a difficulty with it he should have put down an amendment.
The Minister should reflect some day when he has some leisure, in about four or five weeks time, and ask himself why is it that Bills we get from the Seanad are coloured yellow instead of green. It has always been that way and there may well be no reason to change it. It would be worth his while to ask sometime why it was done that way in the first place. He may then come to the conclusion that it is a good idea to keep it that way or he may conceivably come to the conclusion that it should be changed. To state that something has been the law for a long time and he sees no reason to change is not to answer the question. Having said all that, I will not make a federal case out of it.
I think the Deputy is confusing himself at this stage.
I am not. I only asked a simple question. Why do we relieve, in subsection (4), the returning officer of an obligation which we put on him in subsection (1)? I note there is no answer and I find that very interesting and more than a little amusing.
It does not seem to be weighing too heavily on the Deputy.
I will not lie awake tonight thinking about it.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 102 not moved.
Section 93 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 103:
In page 59, subsection (5) (d), line 7, after "necessary" to insert "(being at least equal to the total number of persons on the register allotted to the station)".
Section 94 (5) states:
The returning officer shall provide at each polling station —....
(d) such number of ballot papers as he considers necessary,....
I do not think the returning officer should be given the latitude to hand out a book of ballot papers which is not at least equal to the total number of persons on the register allotted to the station. The number of ballot papers provided at a polling station should be at least equal to the total number of persons eligible to vote in that station. I know people make mistakes and spoil ballot papers — I accept that a few extra ballot papers should be allotted to each station — but this provision is somewhat loose. Ballot papers in book form which may not be necessary should not be left in polling stations.
Section 94 (5), as drafted, makes it clear that the returning officer shall provide in each polling station such number of ballot papers as he considers necessary. This provision clearly obliges the returning officer to supply enough ballot papers for persons registered for the polling station and for electors authorised under sections 99 or 100 to vote at the station together with enough ballot papers to cope with electors who may inadvertently spoil a ballot paper and request a further paper under section 102. The amendment is unnecessary and I suggest it should be withdrawn.
That was not an explanation; it was simply a statement of what is in the Bill. My amendment seeks to insert the words "being at least equal to the total number of persons on the register allotted to the station". This would ensure that the total number of ballot papers would be the same as the number of people eligible to vote in a station. It is only in the most exceptional cases that 100 per cent of eligible voters would cast their votes.
The Deputy should say "at most" instead of "at least".
I would be very suspicious if 100 per cent of eligible voters cast their vote.
Yes. Indeed I have heard of cases where 102 per cent of voters cast votes. That means there were too many ballot papers and some people voted more than once. It seems sensible that there should not be an over supply of ballot papers in any station.
That is what some people in the House would refer to as special activities.
If I was to accept the amendment, the returning officer would be restricted to having a specific number of ballot papers. The present wording covers all aspects of the needs of returning officers.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
We now come to amendment No. 104 in the name of Deputy Dukes. Amendment No. 156 is related. I suggest we discuss amendments Nos. 104 and 156 le chéile.
I move amendment No. 104:
In page 59, subsection (5), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(i) a vertical panel at each entrance of sufficient size to allow the display of one poster measuring not more than two feet wide by four feet high for each candidate validly nominated for that constituency.".
The purpose of this amendment is to provide outside each polling station a space which would permit the display of one poster for each candidate validly nominated for that constituency. This arises from section 147 — which I think we all broadly support — which is designed to stop canvassing, displays, rírá agus ruaille buaille outside polling stations and to move them some considerable distance away. I am delighted the Minister is proposing to move these activities 100 metres away from polling stations rather than 50 metres, as originally proposed.
Even if we take that kind of activity away from outside polling stations and stop people being harassed by canvassers, activists and so on, on their way into the polling stations, it would be useful to have outside polling stations a display of the candidates who are seeking election. This may not necessarily make a great deal of difference but it would be a last non-contentious reminder to people going into vote. I think I am right in saying that in jurisdictions where there has not been the custom of this kind of activity outside polling stations or where it has been banned for some time there is still a provision where postering is allowed outside polling stations as a last piece of information for voters. Of course, some other jurisdictions go the length of forbidding postering in public places except on sites which are specifically provided for that purpose, something we might get around to — this matter is not covered in the Bill and I will not raise it now.
It would be useful, now that we are about to take away the hassle from immediately outside polling stations, to include a provision which would give a last chance to parties and candidates to give that information to voters. I suggest that we require an adequately sized panel to be provided by returning officers outside polling stations to allow this to be done. It would also have the advantage, compared with the present situation, that if the returning officer provides the panel he would also be responsible for having it taken away after the election. The advantages of this in terms of avoiding littering would seem to be obvious. I invite the Minister to accept this amendment.
My amendment No. 156 is similar to this amendment. As Deputy Dukes said, in view of the provisions in the Bill regarding canvassing outside polling stations, such panels would be very important. The provision of panels is a requirement in France and, I think, in some other countries. This is another much misinformation, propaganda, much misinformation, propaganda, mindless postering of telegraph poles, and so on at election time. Yet when it comes to something which provides information, not propaganda, the Minister will probably say no.
Has Deputy Dukes thought through the sizes of these panels? My amendment provides that the size of each poster will not exceed 210 by 297 millimetres. I am surprised Deputy Dukes, a convinced Eurocrat, does not talk in terms of millimetres and centimetres instead of feet. I thought this country was trying to introduce the metric system.
That is my human face breaking out.
We have to move with the times and, as a convinced supporter of Europe, I am a great believer in the metric system.
For the benefit of those people who do not think in centimetres and millimetres — I confess I am one of them — I am proposing that each poster shall not exceed ten inches by seven inches, roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper. This is an adequate size for a poster which basically is to inform the electorate who the candidates are. It would not be abnormal to have 15 candidates seeking election in a constituency. If, as Deputy Dukes proposes, a poster is two feet wide by four feet high, it will, if my arithmetic is correct, cover eight square feet. If this is multiplied by 15 it gives 120 square feet or, in practical terms, 12 feet by ten feet. That is a very large display area. Who is going to pay for this? Undoubtedly the Minister will say that this will cost money and that is correct.
The last thing the Green Party want is to unnecessarily increase Government expenditure. We need to reach a compromise here. A small display panel which would limit posters to the size of an A4 sheet of paper would be sufficient. We do not need propaganda-style posters. The big posters with photographs are a part of the party syndrome.
Deputy Garland can have a small one if he likes, the same size as his photograph on the ballot paper.
Deputy Garland made the kind of case I might ordinarily make as to what would arise if the amendment by Deputy Dukes were accepted. It is not the business of the returning officer to be involved in this area. We have set out in this legislation to introduce the kind of reforms needed. We do not intend to eliminate small posters. If there were a number of candidates in the field, Deputy Dukes' proposal would amount to a kind of plaster. That is not acceptable. I do not want to see the returning officer getting involved outside the curtilage of the polling station. We are setting out to impose some limits and to ensure that we do not have the type of poster to which we have grown accustomed. The electorate is mature and people coming to polling stations to vote are entitled to greater dignity than has been afforded them in the past. We should not depart very far from that type of principle. The returning officer should not be involved in an inappropriate and unnecessary way. Deputy Dukes broadly accepts what we are trying to do.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.
Section 95 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 105:
In page 60, subsection (1) (a), line 4, to delete "day" and substitute "Sunday".
This is yet another attempt to suggest that Sunday voting would be appreciated by the electorate. More people are free to vote on a Sunday than on a working day. In some cases people start their day at religious services, while others go to sporting activities. They would have the opportunity of casting their vote beforehand. On a working day many people, particularly those living in counties adjoining Dublin, have to travel long distances, leaving home early in the morning and returning late in the evening. People are sometimes reluctant to go out to vote after a tiring day at work, especially in poor weather. What has been done elsewhere within the EC can be done successfully here. Sunday voting would perhaps allow more people to cast their vote. The argument is not new and I am sure the Minister is fully aware of it.
I am inclined to oppose this amendment because it introduces a degree of inflexibility. There is nothing in the section which specifically prevents the Minister from holding an election on a Sunday. There are many good reasons for Sunday voting but also many disadvantages. I wonder where the balance of advantage lies. People frequently live and work in different constituencies, which may be far apart. People from country areas in the west, south-west or south may work in Dublin, where they reside during the week, and they register for elections in Dublin. Many of them go home at the weekend. Far from facilitating them, this would put obstacles in their way. The matter needs to be looked into. Obviously it is not appropriate for the election which seems likely to be called tomorrow. The balance of advantage appears to lie in leaving the section as it is.
Following almost nine months of disagreement with Deputy Garland, it seems I can leave the remainder of this Bill to be dealt with by him. I accept the point he is making regarding the introduction of unnecessary inflexibility. The existing law prevents the Minister from having elections on a Sunday. We are introducing the freedom to have elections on Sundays or on other days. When Deputy Kavanagh was Minister this was considered and strong reservations were put to him by the minority churches, who are very much opposed to Sunday voting. That remains their position. We must take that factor into consideration. Clearly there are advantages, but there are also disadvantages. We should not now introduce provisions which would oblige us to opt for Sunday in circumstances where there are legitimate objections and some disadvantages. Nevertheless if we decide it would be appropriate to hold elections on a Sunday we have for the first time the freedom to do so.
I am reasonably satisfied that we have this additional freedom. I would remind Deputy Garland that most of the people who leave this city for the weekend are registered in their home districts. That seems to be the practice. Many people who have to vote on a week day are registered in rural constituencies because they prefer to maintain contact with their own county.
Another point is that schools are generally available on a Sunday and there could be no interference with examinations, particularly as elections are often held in June. I am satisfied that Sunday voting is possible at some future date.
I hesitate to get involved in this because what the Minister is doing goes a certain distance towards opening up the possibility of Sunday voting but we should be conscious of what we are doing. There would be enormous advantages in always having polling on Sundays and I would see it as no great disadvantage in being inflexible. However, there is enough flexibility in that the election must be held not earlier than the 17th day or not later than the 25th day following the day on which the writ or writs for the election are issued. That gives a latitude of one week. I accept that there are other considerations that lead "dissolving" Taoisigh, or whatever one might call them — we have one at present — to decide that it should be 21 or 24 days. However, there is a number of advantages in holding all elections on Sundays.
First, there is the advantage of certainty, people would know exactly where they stood. Second, there would be advantages for a number of groups of people who have not been mentioned here but who are frequently disenfranchised by having polling during the week. For example, a large number of commercial travellers frequently find it difficult to cast their vote and some politicians are conscious of this.
In reply to a remark that the Government seemed to be biased against commercial travellers in their 1992 budget, having regard to the rules for taxation on benefits in kind, a member of that Government said it was true and smiled. He went on to say that they are never around to vote, which meant he did not have to be concerned about it. If we had polling on Sundays most commercial travellers would be able to cast their vote. There is also the case of students, a problem that was not addressed properly because of time constraints.
Under the provisions of this Bill people who have two premises will have an option as to where they will be registered. However, that option is to be exercised by the registration authority, not by the voter. That is unfair. In regard to problems which have been mentioned recently about students casting their votes the resolution of this problem is that they should be given an option. I do not believe it is unfair that people should decide which option they want to take, but voting on a Sunday would mean that more students would be in a position to travel to their home constituency without interfering with the course of their studies. Those who commute to and from Dublin to work must also be taken into consideration, although that is not a big issue in my constituency as the trains — when they arrive — travel from Kildare to Dublin in about 40 minutes. Therefore, most people would be home in time to vote before the close of the polling station. However, it is not uncommon for people to travel to Dublin daily from as far away as Athlone or even further. It is conceivable that there would be circumstances in which, on a weekday, a person might not be back home in time to vote. Therefore voting on a Sunday would substantially facilitate such people. There is another group of people, merchant seamen who regularly and rightly complain, that they are disenfranchised. It is fairly certain that some of our merchant seamen would be at home on most Sundays because of the short distances over which they travel. Sunday voting would be a great advantage to those groups of people who up to now have found it difficult to exercise their franchise.
On the other hand, as the Minister mentioned, a number of what we call the minority chuches here might object to Sunday voting, the religious groups who have a strong Sabbatarian tradition. We owe it to the clarity of debate at the very least to say in this House that the reason we are not specifically providing for Sunday voting is that we do not wish to create a situation where people with a strong Sabbatarian tradition would feel offended. In order to avoid offending those people — and it is right that we should not do so — we have decided to continue to run the risk of, effectively, disenfranchising a number of people who would be able to vote if polling took place on Sundays. I am happy that we should do that, but this is the type of question that we should examine regularly, perhaps, every four or five years, to test opinion to see whether sabbatarianism continue to be as strong or whether people might relax the strictness of their observance. This has been done, indeed, not far away from us, for the relatively virtuous — and I use that word in its old and, possibly, purist Latin sense — exercise of voting.
There are as many reasons why Sunday is an unsuitable day for voting as there are for it being a suitable day. I cannot speak for County Kildare but I know that they are interested in sport. Many elections are held in summer time, although that does not seem likely on this occasion. Some counties are very involved in sporting activities and games are played far away from people's place of residence. We must also consider those who work in hotels and on our transport services. The picture has changed in the past number of years in regard to the type of activities which take place on Sundays. People are engaged in various activities on that day and Deputy Dukes should accept that.
The view of the minority Christian churches here is certainly a consideration in regard to Sunday voting but not the only one. I am happy to leave things as they are for the present, bearing in mind that we generally have a high turnout on polling day. Giving the franchise to one group by changing polling day might have consequences for others. On balance, I think we have just about got it right.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.
Sections 97 and 98 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 99 stand part of the Bill".
Perhaps the Minister will tell me that this is a repeat of existing legislation. However, as I understand it, the effect of section 99 is that any person employed by a returning officer and working in a polling station in the constituency in which that person is registered, other than the one in which that person would normally vote, is entitled to be given a vote in the polling station in which he or she is working. I believe some improvements have been made in that regard recently. Is it still the case that a person employed by a returning officer in a constituency adjoining the one in which that person lives is, effectively, disenfranchised by not being able to attend at a polling station in the constituency where he or she is registered? While working in a polling station in an adjoining constituency, they are not allowed to vote in the adjoining constituency. I take it that is the position.
Effectively, the problem which was much greater up to now — I acknowledge the changes which have been made in this regard — is now limited to general elections, or perhaps the same problem exists in regard to local elections.
My understanding is that it would also apply to local elections.
I would like the Minister to consider that position. It seems that because people are employed by returning officers — although this may be an unsatisfactory resolution of the problem — it would be wise and perhaps simpler to provide that in all cases where a person is employed in a polling station other than the one in which that person would normally vote that person be entitled to vote at that polling station, even if it is in a constituency or an electoral area where that person does not reside. It is a second best solution. I know the perfect one is simply not available because people have to be there at the proper opening time. I would just ask the Minister if he would consider that and, perhaps when he is in opposition as spokesman on the Environment after the next election he could ask his successor to take the matter up in future legislation.
If I am any judge of the pleading that Deputy Dukes is making, he is assuming that I will still be in the same job and will have an opportunity to facilitate him.
It is like ping pong, when one thinks about it.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 100 agreed to.
The next amendment is No. 106 in the name of Deputy Kavanagh. Amendments Nos. 107, 120 and 124 are related. Accordingly we will take amendments Nos. 106, 107, 120 and 124 together for discussion purposes.
I move amendment No. 106:
In page 61, subsection (3), line 30, to delete "shall" and substitute "may".
The Bill says that when a person goes into a compartment to vote he must vote. When one comes to these Bills in the Department there are always arguments about the words "will", "shall" and "may". As I understand it, the word "shall" is the strongest exhortation to do something. This Bill says that a person "shall" vote when he or she goes into the polling booth. I agree that everybody should vote, but I suggest that the word "may" should be substituted in that case and in the case of the other amendments I am putting forward. We are still a democracy. Even though one feels one must go down to vote for the sake of appearances, it should not be an offence under this Bill not to vote. One may demonstrate one's dislike of all the candidates by not voting for any of them. However, according to this, a person must vote.
You are not going there to do the crossword are you?
This Bill says that once one goes in there one must vote. I do not think that should be so and that the Bill should read that a person "may" vote.
The next section deals with spoiled ballot papers.
It is not a spoiled ballot paper if one does not vote.
Section 101 sets out the procedure for voting at the polling station at a Dáil election. Subsection (3) provides that an elector, on receiving the ballot paper, shall go alone into a voting compartment and shall secretly record his or her vote on the ballot paper. Similar provisions exist in section 103 (3) and section 103 (5) in relation to the marking of a ballot paper on behalf of a voter by a companion and presiding officer respectively. These amendments propose to amend section 101 (3) to make it clear that the voter may either mark his ballot paper or that he may spoil it or write nothing on it. They also propose to amend subsections (3) and (5) of section 103 to provide that in having a ballot paper marked on his or her behalf a blind, incapacitated or illiterate voter will have the choice of having the ballot paper marked, left blank or spoiled.
What a person does with a ballot paper in the secrecy of the polling booth is, of course, his or her own business. We live in a free democracy where everybody is free to vote or not to vote as he or she thinks fit. We would, of course, hope that he or she would use the ballot paper to express a reasoned and intelligent choice between the different candidates presenting themselves. We would hope that he or she would participate in the democratic process and play his or her part in choosing the Parliament to represent us and the Government to conduct the affairs of the nation in the coming term.
Let me make one point to Deputy Kavanagh. Of course we want everybody to cast their vote when they have gone to the trouble of going to the polling station and gone into the secrecy of the polling booth. There can be circumstances where somebody is perhaps illiterate, but that fact is not known and what they do in the polling booth is the best they can do in the circumstances. For that reason, with the best will in the world, there will be some spoiled papers. The system has worked reasonably well. It is a comfortable system and not in need of any amendments of this kind.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 107 not moved.
Amendment No. 121 is related to amendment No. 108. They may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 108:
In page 61, subsection (3), lines 32 and 33, to delete "show the back of the folded paper to the presiding officer so as to disclose the official mark".
This, I think, is new in the Bill. A voter is required, when he has filled in his ballot paper, to show the back of the folded paper to the presiding officer so as to disclose the official mark. I think this is an unnecessary encumbrance on a person voting. I am sure that the presiding officer will obviously want to know that the paper being put into the ballot box is the actual voting paper. However, this business of walking up with one's ballot paper and holding it up seems an unnecessary requirement. What is the effect if one does not do this and puts a ballot paper into the box? Is that a spoiled vote? If the presiding officer has not seen the back of the ballot paper, has not seen the mark, will he open up the ballot box and fish it out to take a look? It may not be possible to comply with this requirement in, for example, the last hour of voting when things get hectic, there is a rush on and there is a need to facilitate people quickly. There are hours in the day when there is no pressure, but a huge number of voters can turn up on their way from work or when they are going out in the evening. I do not think this requirement is practical and that is why I put down an amendment to remove it. I think it is unnecessary.
First and foremost the official mark is the same for the whole country, so showing the official mark does not in any way identify one's voting intentions. I do not know whether it would be right and proper to put this on the record of the House but——
——in my experience the vast majority of voters who go to the polling station do not return to the presiding officer's table to display the official mark on the ballot paper. In most cases things are very orderly and there is no attempt on anybody's part to do anything other than what is expected of them by law. This requirement is nothing new. It has been there for very many years and there have been no complaints about it. In 21 years, nobody has ever contacted me to complain about it.
Nobody ever bothers about it either.
Absolutely not. I do not know what the Deputy's experience has been.
That requirement is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
I think so, but it is there for the safety and security of the ballot box. In most cases there is no absolute requirement; neither is there any demand or necessity to change it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.
Section 102 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 109 to 116, inclusive, not moved.
I move amendment No. 117:
In page 62, subsection (2), line 8, after "assistance" to insert "and I am aware that if I knowingly give false information I may be prosecuted for perjury".
In exceptional cases neighbours or others might say that a person who has to ask someone to mark his ballot paper for him has all his faculties and should be able to mark his own ballot paper. People should be told what would happen if they seek assistance even though they do not require it. I am suggesting in this amendment that if a person says he is incapable of marking his ballot paper when that is not the case he would be guilty of an offence.
The amendment seeks to have the following words included in the oath: "and I am aware that if I knowingly give false information I may be prosecuted for perjury". The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that a person does not allow somebody else to hear the name of the person he wishes to vote for. I would like to hear the views of the Minister of State.
We should have included this in the terms of reference of the beef tribunal.
Has the Minister of State experienced anything like this in his constituency?
I do not think this amendment would add anything to the Bill. There is no need to advise people that if they break the oath they will be guilty of an offence. Perhaps it could be considered in the future but I am not interested in including it in this Bill.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 118 to 122, inclusive, not moved.
I move amendment No. 123:
In page 62, subsection (5), lines 41 and 42, to delete "and the personation agents".
Subsection (5) states that where a Dáil elector is unable to read or write the presiding officer shall, in the presence of the elector and the personation agents and no other person, mark the ballot paper. Given that personation agents are political people I do not think they should be present when this takes place. This may make no difference in large urban areas but I can assure the House that many people will not vote if they have to mark their ballot paper in the presence of certain people. People should be allowed discretion; they are not fools simply because they are unable to read or write. They should be allowed to say that they do not want personation agents to be present in the polling booth when they ask the presiding officer to mark their ballot paper. Therefore, personation agents should be included on the list of people who may be removed from the polling station.
Under section 103 (5) where a blind or incapacitated elector does not wish to have their ballot paper marked by a companion or where the elector is unable to read or write the presiding officer shall mark the ballot paper on behalf of the elector in the presence of the elector and personation agents only. The amendment proposes to delete the provision under which the personation agents may be present where a ballot paper is marked by the presiding officer under the section.
The purpose of having personation agents present when the presiding officer assists an elector in marking the ballot paper is to enable them to satisfy themselves that the presiding officer complies with the instructions of the elector. An elector who is unable to read or who has severely impaired vision will be unable to verify that the presiding officer has marked the ballot paper as instructed. It is considered proper that personation agents should oversee the marking, otherwise the presiding officer could be put in an invidious position without protection against malicious charges of misdemeanour. The presence of personation agents would be essential to protect the interests of the elector and the presiding officer.
Which is the greater problem? A person may not vote because he does not want his political allegiance or preferences to be made known. Indeed, he may not wish to indicate which candidate he favours over another from the same party. We have been told that this is a secret ballot but if personation agents are allowed to be present they will have superior knowledge.
What the Minister of State is saying in effect is that presiding officers cannot be trusted. I am not saying all presiding officers are perfect and it may well be true that there are presiding officers who may not mark the ballot paper as instructed by the elector but I have not come across any of them. In any event prior to an election party members and agents are given an opportunity to satisfy themselves that the people to be nominated as presiding officers have the trust of all political parties and individuals who stand for election. Indeed, many of them are reappointed time and again.
The presiding officer is usually well known. It may be argued that presiding officers should be replaced by people who are unemployed, but the reason the county registrar repeatedly calls on the same people is that no complaints have been made against them. Occasionally, a presiding officer may show some bias but generally speaking political parties are satisfied that presiding officers, particularly at general elections, are trustworthy. If I was in the position of one of the unfortunate people who due to the loss of a faculty may not be able to vote I would be happy to ask the presiding officer to do the job for me. However, if two or three personation agents representing political parties were present, particularly in rural areas, I would have some reservations.
I have every confidence in presiding officers, but I am referring to people other than presiding officers. It is important that somebody be present when the person is voting and the agents are the most suitable people in this case.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 124 not moved.
I move amendment No. 125:
In page 63, subsection (6), line 5, after "electors" to insert ", but in this case, the presiding officer may designate some other person to perform the functions conferred by this section".
I have reconsidered this matter and I believe that to ask the presiding officer to designate another person during the course of an election is not practical.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.
Amendment No. 126 not moved.
Section 104 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 127 to 129, inclusive, not moved.
Sections 105 and 106 agreed to.
Amendment No. 130 not moved.
Sections 107, 108 and 109 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 131:
In page 65, subsection (2), line 34, after "poll," to insert "and after all those in the polling station at the time entitled to and willing to vote have voted,".
Again I am sure the Minister will have a good reason for rejecting this amendment. What I am seeking to do here is to ensure that if people are in the polling station at close of poll the presiding officer will not refuse to allow them to vote. Once a person is inside the door, he should be allowed vote. It may happen that if there is a rush of voters in the last few minutes a fussy presiding officer will misinterpret the legislation and use the last quarter of an hour to seal the boxes.
I would ask the Minister whether "polling station" covers the curtilage to the station. For example, the polling station in my area is the Holy Rosary national school which has six polling booths. I would like to know whether we are referring to polling booths, polling stations or the surrounding area which, in this case, includes the playground of the school. When people arrive in that area will they be allowed vote or will they have to be in the polling booth in order to vote?
Under subsection (1) of section 110 the presiding officer must ensure that at the time fixed for the close of poll no further electors are admitted to the polling station while at the same time ensuring that any elector on the premises is permitted to vote. Subsection (2) provides that after the close of poll the presiding officer must seal the ballot box and make up in separate sealed packets the various documents used in connection with the election. Marked copies of the register, unused and spoiled ballot papers, counterfoils of ballot papers, ballot paper accounts and authorisations to vote at the polling station must then be delivered to the returning officer.
This amendment proposes to insert in subsection (2) a provision that the ballot box shall not be sealed until after all those in the polling station at the time entitled to and willing to vote have voted. Under subsection (1) it is clear that at the time fixed for close of the poll any elector on the premises shall be entitled to receive a ballot paper and to vote — voting obviously includes putting the ballot paper into the ballot box. The point made in the amendment is already covered and the amendment is therefore unnecessary.
I am glad of the Minister's assurance that a person in the polling station before close of poll is entitled to vote.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.
I move amendment No. 132:
In page 66, subsection (2) (b) (ii), line 30, after "Minister" to insert "with the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas".
When I looked at possible points of discussion on this Bill I had hoped that it would be in a special committee of the House which would have given us much more time on each section to tease out the Bill in a much wider fashion than is possible today. As there is general agreement in the House that the Bill should be in operation for the referenda — and a possible general election — we are foregoing a full debate on the amendments I tabled. However, since that is not possible, there is no point in moving amendments which will not be accepted.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 133 to 139, inclusive, not moved.
Section agreed to.
I move amendment No. 140:
In page 67, before section 112 but in Part XVII, to insert the following new section:
"112.—(1) Expenditure by candidates and parties in connection with an election shall not exceed an amount to be determined by regulations made by the Minister with the consent of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
(2) The regulations may also provide for audit of accounts of expenditure.".
This is an example of an amendment on which I should have liked to have a wide debate but I know that there is not time to consider it in any detail. At present and for some years past the expenditure by candidates at general elections has, in some instances, been a disgrace. So much money is spent on certain campaigns that it is very hard for others to match it, even in a small way. Small parties are at a great disadvantage compared to major parties in the electoral procedure. It would be desirable to revert to the practice of 40 years ago where there was a limit on a candidate's expenditure during an election. The same applied to parties. It meant there was a level playing field for all candidates. In the last general election and in the European election the amount of money spent was astronomical. It was spent on documentation, advertisements in newspapers and in making claims which could not be rebutted during a campaign. It is very costly to employ people, which also puts smaller parties and the less well off candidates at a big disadvantage.
I am sure that the Minister will reject my amendment, but if there is a move from democracy it is because of the amount of money some people can spend during the course of an election. We should revert to the former practice, although it was not very practical. I operated it when I was the election agent for my predecessor and he had to account for every penny he spent on the election. Of course that system was also open to abuse but not to the same extent as at present. I should dearly like all parties to accept my amendment. The excesses at present in elections lead one to believe that the normal democratic process can be interfered with as a result of the amount of money spent, which can influence people.
I understand some of Deputy Kavanagh's concerns and worries but I disagree fundamentally with his amendment. While I agree that there is a problem, I disagree with the way he is trying to solve it. I do not believe that this kind of measure, which is open to all kinds of interpretation and abuse, will achieve his objective. I do not accept that there is an abuse in the sense that my party have unlimited amounts of money to spend on elections or that there is any question of interference with the process of democracy by the amount of money which my party spend on elections. From personal experience I know what I am talking about. We are about to embark on an election campaign and I assure Deputy Kavanagh that there will not be abuse or interference with democracy as a result of the amount of money my party will spend on the campaign.
People like Deputy Kavanagh, who comment on these matters should know better and should choose their language more accurately. There is no sense in which it has ever been the case in my party that a candidate had an unlimited amount of money to spend. Deputy Kavanagh and others may be unaware of the fact that certain economies of scale arise for a party in funding an election from having candidates in 41 constituencies. Deputy Kavanagh's party are not in that position as far as I know, nor are they likely to be, but there are economies of scale from which parties can gain. The result is that in some cases they get better value for money than smaller parties who do not have that scale of operation. However, it means they need larger amounts of money to spend in absolute terms because they are campaigning in 41 constituencies and because — I am not betraying any secrets — they wish to have a consistent and coherent message to deliver to the voters. I speak for Fine Gael, other parties can speak for themselves, but to suggest that there is any interference with democracy in the way we spend money on general elections is absurd. There is no interference with democracy in using the facility of the free postal service, which is provided for in this Bill, to communicate with the electorate. Some of the expenditure may not achieve great value for money and I know that at every election my party examine very closely the effect of different kinds of expenditure. The same applies to every argument we have about engaging in forms of canvassing.
There never has been a time — nor do I foresee such a time — when my party have been in a position to say: "To hell with the expense. We are going to do everything and anything that could possibly be imagined to bring ourselves to the attention of the electorate." As far as my party are concerned I want to reject utterly the suggestion in what Deputy Kavanagh said and in the amendment he proposed that there is anything improper, undemocratic or abusive in the way we spend money.
I must now ask the Deputy to conclude.
I am sorry that we have taken up the remaining few minutes on this. I would suggest strongly to Deputy Kavanagh that he take cognisance of the lessons learned recently by the former Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Taoiseach.
Before you put the question, Sir, I should like to thank all sides of the House for the manner in which they dealt with this Bill today. I want to make one small adjustment to section 167 in relation to the insertion of amendment No. 168 in the name of the Minister in respect of which the following minor correction should be noted. The word "and" which appears between section 167 (a) and (b) on line 11, page 90, should be deleted and the word "and" inserted after section 167 (b), in line 43, page 91.
As it is now 7 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of this day:
That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment on Committee Stage to Parts XVI to XXIII, inclusive, of the Bill and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; and, in respect of each of the sections undisposed of in the said Parts, that the section or, as appropriate, the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee; that the First, Second, Third and Fourth Schedules and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and that the Bill is hereby passed.
Question put and agreed to.