Referendum Bill, 1994: Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendments 1 and 2 are related and may be taken together.

Wexford): I move amendment No. 1.

In page 7, subsection (3) (0), line 16, after "29" to insert "and the reference to sections 99 and 100 was a reference to section 31".

The purpose of these two amendments is to rectify minor omissions from the text of section 2. The Bill applies to referenda many of the provisions of Dáil electoral law contained in the Electoral Act, 1992. The approach adopted is to spell out all the necessary modifications of the 1992 Act so that the provisions in questions can apply directly and exactly to the referendum. The modifications are effected by section 2 (3) and comprise just over three pages.

Following circulation of the Bill two minor oversights came to light. The first is in paragraph (0) on page 7 which modifies section 101 of the 1992 Act. That section describes the procedures for voting in a polling station and contains references to a number of other sections of the 1992 Act, including sections 99 and 100. These two sections are not, in fact, applied to referenda. The subject matter to which they relate — authorisation to vote at an alternative polling station — is dealt with in section 31 of this Bill. Section 101 of the 1992 Act, as applied to referenda therefore, should be further modified by substituting a reference to section 31 for the reference to sections 99 and 100 of the 1992 Act. Amendment No. 1 proposes to effect this further modification.

The second amendment arises also in page 7 at paragraph (p) which sets out modifications to section 103 of the 1992 Act as it applies to referenda. Section 103 contains the procedure for assisting electors with disabilities. Section 103 (7) states that the presiding officer may read out in full from the ballot paper "the particulars stated in respect of each candidate". There are, of course, no candidates at a referendum and amendment No. 2 proposes to substitute "the proposal stated therein" for "the particulars stated in respect of each candidate". It is a technical amendment only.

Does the provision in amendment No. 1 dealing with voting at alternative polling stations interfere with the proposed concession for poll clerks and presiding officers to vote at a polling station where they may be working rather than the one at which they are registered?

(Wexford): It does not affect that right and is dealt with in section 31.

Amendment agreed to.

(Wexford): I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, subsection (3) (p), line 20, after "the said subsection" to insert "and in subsection (7) ‘proposal stated therein' was substituted for ‘particulars stated in respect of each candidate'".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 3 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 16, subsection (4) (a), line 31, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

I am anxious that the section be tightened up by substituting the word "shall" for the word "may". The word "may" gives the Minister an option in respect of inserting an explanatory title on the ballot paper but such an explanatory title should be inserted on ballot papers in all referenda. We have only to refer to the November 1992 referenda to realise the confusion caused on that occasion when three separate referenda were held. These related to amendments 12, 13 and 14 of the Constitution. Amendment No. 14 was on a white ballot paper under the heading, "The Right to Life." That amendment, which was supported by the Government at the time, was defeated by almost three to one, while the other two amendments were carried by majorities of almost two to one. Those who campaigned in those referenda will know that people with completely different views both campaigned and voted in the same manner. That was because the objective of the proposed amendments was not clearly spelled out and people were not clear as to what it was hoped to achieve. In future referenda the Minister should be obliged to insert a clear definition on the ballot papers. Consequently, the word "may" should be substituted by the word "shall".

(Wexford): There is no need to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

Subsection 24 (4) provides that at a referendum the Minister may, by order, provide for the entry at the top of a ballot paper of a heading to indicate the proposal to which the referendum relates. Under the provision, as drafted, the Minister will have discretion whether to provide for such a heading on referendum ballot papers. The Minister's order will require prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

This amendment proposes to place a requirement on the Minister to provide for such a heading on ballot papers in the case of every referendum, regardless of the circumstances. The sole purpose of having headings is to help electors distinguish between the different ballot papers where two or more referenda are held on the same day. It is simply a distinguishing mark and is not in any sense designed to inform electors about the subject matter or help them make up their mind. The matter, therefore, arises only where there are two or more papers. Where there is only one paper, clearly it must relate to the one and only proposal being voted on. There would, therefore, be no need for a distinguishing feature and such a feature would do nothing to help electors. I suggest that Deputy McCormack withdraw his amendment.

A distinguishing feature would clearly help the electorate to understand what exactly was being asked of them in a referendum. I accept that where more than one referendum is held on the same day there must be some way of distinguishing the ballot papers — on the last occasion this was done by having different coloured papers; pink, green and white. Even where only one referendum is held I would see nothing wrong with clearly spelling out what is being asked of the people and my amendment is designed to cover that aspect of clarification.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 24 agreed to.
Sections 25 to 58, inclusive, agreed to.
First and Second Schedules agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

(Mr. Browne, Wexford): I thank Deputies McCormack, McDowell and Molloy for their contributions and co-operation on this important legislation in the electoral reform area.

Question put and agreed to.