Electoral Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I had dealt with the provisions in Part IV before the debate was adjourned. Part V deals with the expenditure by candidates in elections. This provision contains all the ingredients necessary to give rise to a bureaucratic nightmare as it will not be possible for candidates or their parties to compile a list setting out all the items on which expenditure was incurred in an election campaign. Given the proposed ceiling on the amount which can be spent during a campaign the potential for false accusations against the candidate or the party he or she represents is very real. As we know from experience, it is easy for unfounded allegations to be made in the political arena. The obligation then passes to the individual who is the focus of the allegation to refute it. This Part clearly gives rise to potential difficulties and the Minister would be well advised to give further consideration to it between now and Committee Stage.

I wish to refer to the position of people who will not be able to cast their votes on polling day due to occupational considerations etc. Two days ago I received correspondence in this regard from a constituent who will be in hospital on 24 November. There is no provision in electoral legislation under which such people can apply for a postal vote. There is still some time to go before polling day and it should be possible to make some provision for people who will not be able to cast their votes on that day.

Some Members have referred to the need to initiate a debate about the electoral system as operated. Even though they may not say it publicly, many Members have stated privately that the potential for waste and duplication on issues which are of no tangible benefit to the public is very real in multi-seat constituencies. I have no preconceived ideas on a new system but we have reached the stage where urgent consideration should be given to amending the electoral system. In the past attempts were made to change the system. However, some of these attempts were rooted in proposed constitutional amendments which were not effected at the time for various reasons.

Public representatives in multi-seat constituencies make representations on the same issues to local authorities, Government Departments and State agencies and the same response is issued to all of them.

Some time ago a retired civil servant wrote at considerable length about the enormous waste of time and effort under the current system. Most Members would concur with that point of view.

The amount of time Members can devote to dealing with national and constituency issues — which will have farreaching implications — and to the preparation of their contributions in this Chamber is minimal. I do not think this is what the originators of our electoral system had in mind. Ministers and Ministers of State have a wide range of responsibilities. I am sure the Minister of State present is looking over his shoulder to see what his constituency colleagues are doing while he is dealing with matters of State. The electoral system should not be framed in such a way that Ministers and Ministers of State are placed in such a difficult position. If Members fail to prioritise, they will not last very long.

There is a range of different systems in use in Europe and beyond. At a time when the Government is considering possible constitutional changes this is one of the areas that should be addressed urgently.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Costello.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill which will allow some of the remaining problems in politics to be dealt with. The payment of donations to political parties will be controlled, which is desirable. It is also desirable that those who make large donations to political parties should be required to declare the amounts involved and there should be limits on the amounts that may be donated.

My colleague, Deputy Pattison, has been a Member of this House since 1961. He made the valid point that if money was the sole criterion he would never have been elected. Money talks, however, and there have been some classic cases where people with bags of money felt they could buy their way into this House. The Bill strikes a reasonable balance between the need to get the message across to the public and prevent people making attempts to buy votes.

The provisions dealing with the disclosure of donations at election time are important. It is widely believed that there is a certain elite which can buy power and influence by making donations to political parties. I suspect this is a slight exaggeration, but disclosure is important to help clarify matters.

Some years ago when Mr. Tony Ryan was accused of supporting a particular political party he responded, if I remember correctly, by writing a letter to the newspapers in which he declared the sums donated to the three main policical parties. These were in accord with their level of support in the ratings.

The Bill has been introduced at a time when there is considerable cynicism about politics. Deputy Deasy claimed that the initial part of the Minister's speech amounted to an apology on behalf of politicians. The Bill represents another attempt by politicians to justify themselves and to prove their honesty. When politicians feel they have to do this in many ways they do more harm than good and look even less credible. They should stand up for themselves because if people cannot accept them for what they are, they will not be convinced by an attempt at justification.

It is time that those who ascribe base motives and venal behaviour to politicians spelled out exactly what they mean and produced the evidence. During the summer there were hints and allegations of corruption in the planning process. I do not know if these allegations are true, but the time has come for those who have made them to produce the proof or, alternatively, to desist because of the undesirable effect they have had on the political process. They have proved damaging.

Politician are no longer able to exert the influence that they could 20 or 50 years ago. To some degree, they have been marginalised in relation to where the centre of power lies. In this context I resent the portrayal of politicans as having enormous power and influence and being engaged in low life activity by those who know the score. This is most unfair and is proving corrosive of the entire political process and dangerous. The public have the right to place power in people's hands. It is alarming that their confidence in the process has been diminished.

The Oireachtas does not have the significance that it merits in setting the political agenda. This is being set by certain vested interests, such as the business community and various lobby groups. In recent times politicians have latched on to this agenda in the hope they will attract some attention. They have a craving for media coverage which gives rise to undesirable behaviour. Of necessity, the matters on which emphasis should be placed in this House are quite different from the matters on which emphasis is placed in the media. The agenda is, however, being set in the boardrooms and committee rooms of the various lobby groups.

The Bill does not address that and perhaps it is beyond the scope of any Bill to do so. Neither does it address the emphasis placed on political rows, arguments and disagreements. If we are concerned about making progress we must make a greater effort to seek agreement rather than emphasise discord which has its own short, shallow superficial attractions. There are clear differences between the way politics is conducted in this country and in the UK with its emphasis on Government and Opposition - opposing almost for the sake of it - and the way it is conducted in the European Union where agreement is sought as a way of resolving political differences. I wonder if the row involving the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is of such significance that it should have dominated the business of the House since Deputy Lowry made his statement last August. It does not merit that level of attention and many people are bored by it. It is hard to see how it can be justified in view of the high levels of unemployment and the enormous developments taking place which are the subject of debate in Europe.

It would be useful if research were carried out into what is important in determining the way people vote. It would save much foolish and futile activity. Money, time and effort were wasted pressing election literature on people on their way into a polling station and that practice has now been banned. Is it credible that someone going into a polling station would be undecided on the way to cast their vote? It should have been obvious that people would not be influenced by canvassers giving them literature and shouting names at them at the entrance to polling stations.

Deputy Deasy mentioned the value of supporting those who legitimately contest elections and do well. The Bill discriminates against such people. There are many Independents who command 4,000 or 5,000 votes but fail to be elected. They have a valid claim on funding when compared to the big political parties and Independent Members of the House.

Deputy Kirk spoke about the electoral system and the need for change. There is a strong case to be made for a full objective analysis of our electoral system, its anomalies and benefits. However, it is essential to retain the principle of proportional representation as people would not tolerate a change in the system which would allow for a serious deviation in representation.

I welcome the legislation which proposes to alter key areas in the electoral system, particularly as regards funding for political parties, candidates, donations and the constituency boundary commission.

The establishment of a constituency commission, its terms of reference and constitution is mentioned. The last census report issued in 1991 and the boundary commission report was published in 1995. We will probably have an election in 1997. Since 1991 approximately 8,000 new private apartments have been built under the incentive scheme in the inner city and approximately 3,000 to 4,000 houses have been built by the local authority which means that approximately a quota and a half extra voters were not considered by the commission when it carved up the constituency.

Time is of the essence. It is important that the commission is established immediately following the census report and reports within six months. I am glad that it is an independent commission. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nominates a Supreme Court or High Court judge, the Ombudsman and the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad sit on the commission by virtue of their office, as does the Secretary of the Department of the Environment, irrespec Minister. It is as close to commission as one terms of reference oblige the commissioners to adhere to natural boundaries in determining constituency boundaries. The river Liffey is the most natural boundary in the city of Dublin but that boundary is constantly breached in the Dublin Central constituency. It is inexplicable that this should be so. I am delighted that the commission is being put on a statutory basis.

The funding of political parties is an important matter. It could be argued that there is a negative side to it in that taxpayer's money will be used but there is the enormous benefit of ensuring transparency as accounts must be audited. There will be no innuendo, insinuations or evidence that certain companies and individuals bankrolled political parties for their own gain, as may have happened in the past.

Deputy Kirk spoke about the disclosure of donations and the bureaucracy associated with it. This system operates in Britain, Northern Ireland, the United States and on the Continent so there is no reason it cannot do so here. As regards the ceiling on expenditure, in common with other Labour Deputies I would like to have £25,000 to spend in my constituency at election time.

We were reluctant to extend the postal vote in the past. We are now providing for the thousands of people unable to go to the polling station to vote by virtue of their occupation, and that is highly desirable. It is proper that people be identified in a Garda station before transmitting their vote by post.

We have avoided regulating voting by prisoners. There is no statutory obstacle to prisoners voting, but we have not facilitated them in this regard. Since they cannot go to a polling booth there is no reason that postal facilities should not be provided for them. In establishing the democratic system in South Africa the first thing done was to introduce voting for prisoners. Such a facility here would have the knock-on benefit ensuring that candidates visit prisons, thereby learning about the circumstances there. Considering that 75 per cent of crime is drug related, it is important of find out what is happening in our prisons. Providing for postal voting by prisoners would be one way of ensuring a focus on this matter and politicians' interest in what goes on there. As a result reforms might be made.

Political parties and canvassers no longer stand outside polling booths with posters, enticing people in, giving them literature and so on. As a result polling booths are not identified in a specific way and new voters may not know where they are. I suggest that we identify each polling booth with the national flag on election day. That would be an appropriate sign of the democratic electoral process. Perhaps it will be considered in the forthcoming referendum and other future elections.

I welcome this Bill which needs substantial amendment. I am sure on Committee Stage our party spokesman, Deputy Dempsey, will put forward sensible and reasonable amendments and I hope the Minister or Minister of State will give them careful consideration.

I welcome the basic provision of State funding for political parties, a measure that is long overdue. Political parties are in reality State institutions, but no State funding is provided for them. They are a very important part of our democratic system. Since the foundation of the State in 1922 our political system has been stable, and elected public representatives and party activists have contributed enormously to that success. In this State the electoral system has not denied people the right to vote based on colour, creed or wealth.

That civil right was not always given equally to people living a few miles up the road from my home in County Fermanagh. The outrageous gerrymandering of wards and electoral boundaries for local and parliamentary elections caused serious discontent and understandable resentment among the Nationalist community in the Six Counties. It was one of the many grievances that gave rise to the campaign for civil rights.

The provisions in Parts V and VI are unnecessary, ridiculous and a charter for bureaucracy. In recent years there have been constant attacks on our political system and on public representatives. As a person who has been a Member of this House for almost three years I know that the standard of representation by all Deputies is high. Regardless of political affiliation, Members of the House come in here to work to the best of their ability on behalf of their constituencies and their constituents.

Local authorities provide a very important means of representation. Unfortunately the role of councillors has been severely diminished in recent years. The power to make decisions at local level is being increasingly taken from local public representatives. As one who has no vested interest in this matter, since I have not sought election to a council nor have I been a member of any of their sub-committees, I can speak very clearly on behalf of councillors. My father was a councillor and my brother succeeded him, therefore I know at first hand the demands placed on local public representatives. We are very fortunate in County Cavan to have excellent councillors committed to improving the standard of their county and the lot of their constitutents. The past ten to 11 years have not been easy for them, with difficult local issues including road problems and so on. It costs councillors money to do their job properly.

Deputy Michael Smith as Minister for the Environment started a process of putting the appropriate expenses and allowances on a proper footing. Councillors should be adequately rewarded with travel expenses and compensation for phone charges and postage. Apart from the expense incurred travelling to local authority meetings there is also substantial travel involved for councillors in attending local community functions and meetings as well as political party meetings in the electoral areas they represent. The denial of adequate payment for travel, phone and postage makes it very difficult for people on low incomes to seek election.

It is important that all sectors be represented. Much too often we hear glib and snide remarks about councillors being nominated to semi-State boards and other bodies, but they are fully entitled to participate in the workings of those companies. The impression is given nowadays that anybody may be considered for such bodies accept councillors and known party activists. People who go before the electorate and gain the confidence of the public should be given every consideration with regard to such vacancies if they have the relevant knowledge and experience. Not only have journalists and commentators contributed to weakening the role of local elected representatives but successive Governments have also done so. I include my party in that. When in government it brought legislation before this House which specifically excluded public representatives from participating in certain boards and bodies. That is a practice with which I totally disagree. Civil servants who draft Bills and members of Government who bring legislation before this House should be conscious of the important and constructive role played by public representatives.

Another trend in recent years has been the establishment of a greater number of authorities, bodies, commissions and so on, all of which lessen the powers of this House and weaken the role of Members. The people whom the electorate send here to represent them should make the all-important decisions. It is incumbent on us to pay tribute to the role played by members of political parties. They become members in a voluntary capacity and their efforts play a major part in maintaining our strong democratic system. The reward they receive for their efforts is the pride they feel when their political party is successful or their local candidate is elected. I am a member of a party that has at least one cumann in every parish in the Twenty-six Counties. That means we have a direct link with every parish and our party members can bring to the attention of their local council member or Teachta Dáala the needs and difficulties of their areas.

Year in year out the energy of many dedicated party members is taken up almost entirely with fund-raising. I am referring not only to the national collection, which I regard as a relatively easy fund-raising event, but to raffles, card games and functions which must be organised on a constant basis to meet day to day expenditure and to pay off debts from the previous election. As with voluntary and sporting organisations, political organisations also find it difficult to meet their ongoing commitments. The provision in the Bill for State funding of political parties is long overdue and necessary.

Opposition parties have very limited research facilities. The Opposition party leader and Front Bench spokespersons should have adequate expertise available on a permanent basis to enable parties in Opposition to provide the necessary opposition which is good for democracy. Every Member should have access to a proper research facility. The daily demands on a Deputy make it virtually impossible to read valuable and important reports from the National Economic and Social Council, the Economic and Social Research Institute or IBEC, farming organisations and trade union news letters. Most days Members have hardly enough time to read the daily newspapers never mind the volume of material on their desks every morning.

Most lobby groups have experts in the relevant disciplines and obviously Oireachtas Members and members of political parties should have adequate research facilities. Such a provision would help to improve the standard and delivery of public services.

There is a myth surrounding the contributions to political parties from big business. My party organisation in County Cavan does not have the luxury of receiving substantial contributions. Our election expenses are met in the main by the hard work of party members in organising various fundraising functions. I referred earlier to Part V of the Bill which contains unnecessary measures which, if implemented, would help to stifle normal healthy political activity. We are a democracy and the efforts of party members to raise funds in an open manner to promote their party is laudable. The imposition of a limit on expenditure during election campaigns is not necessary. I believe most parties and candidates try to limit the expenditure to the minimum and its provision in legislation is unnecessary.

In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the lack of impact which posters and other election materials have in influencing voters. The production of expensive literature will not determine who the people return to this House.

Provision is made in Part VII of the Bill for those unable to attend their local polling stations on election day. Effectively people in certain occupations such as commercial travellers and fishermen were disenfranchised in the past. The facility for disabled voters has been improved in recent years but I support the call of other speakers for further improvements in that facility.

We do not need to apologise for the provision of State funding for political parties. Parties will still need to carry out substantial fundraising and the State grant will by no means bankroll the parties. The facilities in this House are totally inadequate. I know the former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, instigated much needed improvement but much more needs to be done. There are practically no rooms where a Member can meet a deputation, instead the Member has to bring them to the visitors bar which is not suitable in most instances for conducting negotiations in confidence.

Middle-ranking civil servants and officials in State agencies have their own rooms which can accommodate meetings. People who have the honour of being elected to their national Parliament should have proper accommodation. Inadequate and out-of-date facilities demean the role of a Member. The extra demands on Members is amply borne out by the fact that an increasing number are full-time public representatives. As a Member who is not on the local authority or a subcommittee, I find the job demands hard work every day, work that is most fulfilling and enjoyable. This country needs strong political parties — parties whose time and energy is not caught up fund-raising almost on a full-time basis to pay off debts. Elections should be held on a Saturday and this would enable students at home for the weekend to vote without putting the burden on political parties of sending buses to Dublin and other third level education centres to bring home students to cast their vote. It would ease the demands on party members who traditionally have taken the day off work to help on polling day. I see no reason polling day should not be on a Saturday as from many points of view it makes sense.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Tá tábhacht leis an mBille seo. Caithfidh mé a rá áfach, go bfhuil roinnt rudaí sa mBille nach h-aontóinn leo agus go leór rud eile go n-aontóinn.

I welcome the establishment on a statutory basis of the Constituency Commission. This again raises the perennial question of our electoral system. There are many systems, some which I reject out of hand, but problems arise in our system that we do not take into account. I am totally opposed to a list system in any type of election because it gives pre-eminence to the parties, not to the people. The beauty of our electoral system is that in all circumstances the people choose their elected representatives, with the exception of Seanad elections. For that reason I dismiss the list system. I am also opposed to the single non-transferable vote. Problems arise in that system that are detrimental to our political way of life, for example under it one party could predominate in one part of the country and another in another part whereas under our system the bigger parties in this country have representatives in the Dáil from all parts of the country. This gives cohesion and balance when a Government is formed that is not normally present under the British system where huge areas are effectively excluded from Government by virtue of the fact that there are no MPs from those areas in the Government parties. At one stage I would have favoured the single seat transferable vote but I think it could give rise to problems, particularly the possibility of large areas having no representation in Government parties when certain parties are in Government. That would not be a good thing because parties could comprise predominantly TDs from the east coast with very few from the west coast or vice versa. It would not be good to have such fragmentation of the system and could lead to great tensions between different areas of the country.

I think problems arise in our system in the large five seat and four seat constituencies. It is fair to say that the larger the constituency the greater the tension and duplication. For that reason, even though there is no constitutional ban on it, we do not have six seater, seven seater, eight seater and nine seater constituencies, although they were a feature of our system of PR in the 1930s.

I wonder whether we should have constituencies of uniform size, for example a four seat or three seat constituency, because one cannot compare the difficulty of servicing a huge five seat constituency, particularly if it is one county, with a three seat constituency. There might be a case for making all constituencies the same size. It might pose difficulties with the county boundaries but it is worth considering because, by doing so, one would create uniformity, in other words equal work burdens as well as reducing the tensions and difficulties that arise in the larger multi-seat constituencies. I think the problem in relation to county boundaries could be dealt with if we were slightly more tolerant in dealing with constituency population.

We should examine the problem in terms of constituency size, geography and whether there should be uniformity between Deputies from different constituencies.

Because of our multi-seat constituencies system and the internal competition between candidates from the same party, there is much more contact with the people than there would be if we operated single seat constituencies. This contact is a good thing; if it were ever to disappear, Irish politics would be the poorer. However, such contact means more work and a need for extra facilities. We have not been willing to admit that the nature of the politics and representation provided by Deputies in the Dáil creates a need for much better facilities than are at present available. Some people who contributed to the debate seem to dream of a day when they can become legislators without having to have contact with the people, constituency clinics or Cumann in every parish. They envisage a nice cosy system where we can do what we want here without bothering about people. God forbid that we should ever arrive at the day when legislators work in ivory towers and have no time for ordinary people. Anyone who has travelled knows that the one thing most people abroad who have any idea of politics envy is the close bond between our politicians and the people. People often complain about politicians in general but most think their own local politicians are OK because they know them, and know that they work hard and respond at a most basic level to the requirements of their constituents. It is interesting that people who want to distance politics from the people are the ones who are most concerned about the influence of big business on politics. That, however, is a contradiction in terms. In my short experience in politics I have not been influenced by big business interests. We depend on ordinary people to elect us, and were we to lose contact with them our chances of getting elected, particularly in a rural constituency, would be very much reduced. The nature of our politics ensures that the will of ordinary people prevails. The quick response by Members of this House on issues that concern their constituents illustrates that we have a very responsive system.

I have no problem with providing resources to allow public representatives to function properly, but I have slight reservations about these provisions which give the impression that the money is not being given to political parties to enable them to function properly as Government, as Opposition and as political parties but to help run their organisations. We must not give that impression.

Some Members seem to look forward to the day when we will not have to take up national collections. I do not believe that day will come. There is no way money provided under this Bill to a huge organisation such as Fianna Fáil will filter down to cumann level to be used in the operation of its day to day business. Neither would that be a good thing. We want people to become involved in politics, and the strength of the two major parties in this House has been their involvement with ordinary people. A local branch of a party must have some function, some part to play. There is a saying that there are no votes without taxation. Likewise, part of having a say within a political party is one's willingness to become involved in national collections and fund-raising at local level. It is about participation, and participation must be a two way process. If local branches were not obliged to carry out such functions they would just sit and pontificate without being involved in the day to day running of their party. For that reason we must make it clear that this money will not be in substitution for the collections taken up by political parties. It is meant to substitute for major donations which are becoming few and far between, to prevent parties getting into debt and to ensure that from Oireachtas level down parties can perform more effectively. If the message is put across that this is what we are doing, that would not be a bad thing.

As well as cash funding we need increased resources in this House. When I was first elected to the Seanad, having been manager of a small rural co-operative, I was asked what I thought of Leinster House and of Dublin to which my quick reply was that it was technologically disadvantaged compared to rural Ireland. We had to share telephones, we had no computers and no access to fax machines. Photocopiers had to be shared among large numbers and one was lucky, in the Seanad, to share a secretary with two other Senators. As somebody who had worked efficiently with few resources in a small co-operative, I found the facilities here Spartan.

It is amazing that the elected representatives of the people under proportional representation, most of whom engage in a huge volume of work and belong to organisations with large branches which are the life blood of politics in the community, should have to operate a system like this. If a Deputy's secretary is in the constituency he has nobody here to answer the telephone or to look after constituents who come to see him in Leinster House, and if his secretary is here and a constituent at home wants to contact him that constituent is expected to telephone Leinster House. That is ludicrous in this day and age. It is ludicrous also how little money we provide to cover the cost of telephones, travel etc. Most politicians I know travel the country year in year out at their own expense attending meetings, functions and so on. We should not have to beg or be beholden to anybody for the money to cover the cost of such travel. It is part of our job to travel, particularly when in Opposition, although I did a fair share of it even when Fianna Fáil was in Government. Front Bench spokespersons travel literally day and night from one end of the country to the other and all we get is a constituency travel allowance which, in my case, does not cover the cost of travel within a constituency in a year, when the cost of getting to the islands is taken into account.

In fulfiling their functions as public representatives, many Members travel from one end of the country to the other and pay the cost themselves. Most Members do not wish to become millionaires from politics, but we would like to have enough money to rear our families and pay our monthly bills. We merely want to enjoy the comforts that those on similar salaries enjoy. It is farcical that a large proportion of our salaries goes on travel expenses. The true cost base of politicians must be reviewed to ensure they are not out of pocket. Otherwise, it will be too expensive for full-time politicians to carry out their duties. The number of such politicians is increasing.

The provisions relating to disabled voters are welcome but do not go far enough. Why must a disabled person place his or her name on the register when it is being compiled? People's health can change radically in a short period and that is particularly so in the case of the elderly. When a person over 65 years or a permanently disabled person is on the register they should not have to register again. Furthermore, there should be a facility to allow a person who becomes ill or incapacitated between the compilation of the register and the election to obtain a disabled person's vote. I visited the Ukraine last year and was very impressed by their voting system. As well as having a box in the booth on polling day, an additional presiding officer brought a polling box to houses in the area. The same could apply in cities here. In rural constituencies one box could be used to collect votes in five or six different areas and party scrutineers could ensure the vote was properly conducted.

I welcome the decision to hold the divorce referendum on a Friday. As elections are not held frequently, it makes sense to hold them on Fridays and to close third level colleges, thus maximising the vote.

When a census is taken, it is traditional to count the number of people at home on a Sunday night. Many people go to college and work in urban areas but rural Ireland is their home. As such people return to college or work on Sunday nights, the census should be held on either a Friday or Saturday night. This would lead to a correct balance in representation for urban and rural areas. It is important that those who call, say, Cornamona their home are counted for the purposes of a census. Having regard to strict tolerance levels in setting up constituencies such people would have a major impact on the size of rural constituencies.

I do not propose giving the Bill the warm welcome it received from many other speakers. I have grave reservations about it and seek clarification in relation to certain aspects. I do not disagree with the principle of establishing the commission to revise constituency boundaries on a statutory basis or the proposal to provide public funding for political parties. The measures that deal with the disclosure of donations and how they will be calculated are a cause of concern. While I am sure nobody would disagree with the principle of disclosure, I have some difficulty with what constitutes a substantial donation and how one must account for it. I am sure all Members are aware of the commitment given by friends and families in support of candidates in the run-up to an election. There is also a network of constituency members who assist throughout an election campaign.

Before they are declared candidates members of political parties must appear before a convention or a party meeting where they may either submit a paper or make a presentation. In some cases those voting in the convention may meet them on a personal basis. If a person is successful he or she is declared a candidate in a multi-seat constituency and must canvass in a general election. Other party members may canvass with such candidates and, while they would like to give of their time voluntarily, their work commitments do not allow it. They may decide to make a place available for a candidate as an election headquarters or may invite the candidate and his or her party members to their restaurant for a simple cup of tea or something stronger later in the night. That happens.

I would not necessarily know what candidates on my party ticket would be doing on a daily or hourly basis in my constituency in the course of a general election campaign, nor would I know what my election officers would be doing. I would not know what is happening in an adjoining constituency. In the real world once an election is called candidates are interested in getting to meet as many constituents as possible to outline what has been achieved as their representative and why one is seeking re-election. Candidates who are not Members of the Dáil must explain why they are seeking election. It is the electorate that candidates should focus on. Candidates tend to leave other important matters to officers of the party such as the registration of the name of the candidate. Heretofore, the party of which I am a member, Fianna Fáil, looked after the election strategy. The Front Bench, in conjunction with the parliamentary party and our national executive, prepared the election manifesto. Others looked after other aspects of the campaign, whether it be television advertising, printing of posters or a leaflet drop campaign. Candidates beaver away in their constituencies and try to meet as many people as possible and present their case to them. I am concerned to ensure that there will be a level playing pitch for all who wish to contest a Dáil election.

The proposals before us do not represent fair play or result in a leveling of the playing pitch.

A number of issues do not come into the equation such as money spent in the course of an election campaign or postage, secretarial assistance and back-up services which are available to Members of the House. While I agree with some of the sentiments expressed on the back-up services and facilities for Members, I recognise that others seeking election do not have these facilities. That discrepancy should be rectified. Outgoing Members have an advantage over other candidates in regard to office accommodation in the House. Is it fair that one Member has a large staff and support services that other Members do not have? If we are to be honest and fair, we should be treated equally. I have built up a reputation for being a hard worker.

And modest.

I am happy with that reputation. I visit two local DART stations periodically outside of election time and I hand out informative literature. I hold a number of clinics, distribute constituency newsletters, and go on walkabouts. Is there to be a limit on the amount of constituency work I can do? I would like clarification from the Minister on such matters.

As a public representative I intend to continue to provide the best service possible for my constituents. I will give them whatever information I deem appropriate. I do not want to find myself in a situation where, either before or after an election, I am told that I have exceeded my expenditure limit and I have thus breached certain regulations.

Earlier, I referred to how a candidate must present his or her case for election to the Dáil. Has any consideration been given to that in the Bill? They are real issues. Deputies do not like to disagree with the principles contained in a Bill, whether it be in regard to disclosure of donations, imposition of limits, payments to political parties or the setting up of the commission I have no problem with most of those principles but I am concerned about the problems and the complexities of some sections. There will be much confusion and many disputes about their interpretation. The Minister should clarify the matters I brought to his attention. I do not think I am unique. Most public representatives in one way or another keep in regular contact with those who elect them. I want to ensure that every Member knows exactly how the imposed limits on election expenditure for political parties and candidates will be calculated and how they will apply on an individual basis. I would also welcome clarification in respect of voluntary time. I know this is mentioned in the Bill but I asked about people who are not able to provide voluntary time but who provide something else in lieu such as a cup of tea. Are we talking about calculating this on normal retail values? Is that the way we are going forward? These are real issues that I want clarified.

The other issue that I warmly welcome is the provision for people unable to vote at polling stations. There is a huge number in this category. For a number of years I had to travel many miles to come home and cast my vote. Many of my colleagues involved in selling and marketing products around the country also had to travel up to a hundred miles to exercise their right to vote because they were out of their constituencies on a rota basis over eight or 12 weeks.

I welcome that aspect as it also relates to clerks and presiding officers who, heretofore, had difficulty in exercising their right to vote even though they played a central role in ensuring that others who wished to vote could do so.

Will the Minister clarify the aspects I have raised by way of a letter to my office? That would help me to present my case, if I need to, on Committee Stage.

I will certainly give Deputy Callely a written response on the issue he raised as soon as we have an answer.

On all the issues?

I will try now, as best I can to deal with some of the issues which the Deputy was not unique in raising. If anybody had doubts about the significance of the Bill, those doubts have been well and truly laid to rest by the number and quality of the contributions. I had looked forward to an open, vigorous and positive debate and it can be truly said that we had such a debate. I thank Deputies for their contributions. I would point out to Deputy Callely that this Bill is a product of the last Administration. It was published almost a year ago and many of the——

It was never presented to our parliamentary party. It is being presented to us now. The Minister is presenting it and he should speak for it on its own merits, not as something he inherited.

No. I am just saying——

On a point of information, does the Minister propose to circulate copies of his speech? It would be enormously helpful to those of us who are spokespersons, and who spoke at length on this Bill at the outset, if the Minister could now allow us to have, as is customary, copies of his speech.

I do not have a speech, I am just reading from some of the notes I made up as I went along. They will be there in the copies of the debate and Deputies can get them in an hour or so.

It is a substantial Bill and there were substantial contributions on it. It would be a courtesy if nothing more to circulate your speech and to indicate your response to the key points in my speech.

I am sorry, Deputy Quill, but the Chair has no control over such matters.

As a courtesy to Deputy Quill, and since she has a problem, we will certainly compile the notes I have into text form and let her have them as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister.

I was trying to point out to Deputy Callely that this was a product of the last Administration, one of whose parties he was a member of. I am surprised to hear him say that this Bill was published without his having had any input as a member of a parliamentary party.

Do not worry. We have our procedures that we would have adhered to. It would have had an opportunity to come before the parliamentary party for a full debate and every Member would have been invited to participate. However, we never had that opportunity.

The Minister in possession should now be allowed to make his reply without any further interruption. There is a time limit to this debate.

Many Deputies welcomed the provisions of the Bill in principle but expressed doubts about the workability of certain sections, particularly those relating to the disclosure of donations and the limitation of election expenses. They complained about the complexity of the provisions and maintained that an army of accountants with a battery of computers would be required to deal with them.

Members have a great deal of experience of elections and I look forward to specific suggestions from them on how the provisions of the Bill can be simplified and made more effective. I am open to any suggestions that Deputies may have. Deputy Dempsey and several of his colleagues expressed strong reservations about the provisions relating to the control of election expenses. The Deputy saw these provisions as wrong, unnecessary and an example of bureaucracy gone mad. I find myself in an odd position in defending the proposals against Fianna Fáil because that party had a central role in framing them and were present at the birth of this offspring of a broken marriage. There should be a limit to the amount that parties and candidates can spend on elections. The limits and procedures set out in the Bill are, on the whole, reasonable, and the majority of Deputies share that viewpoint.

We have not issued divorce proceedings to put that viewpoint to the test.

However, I will be happy to deal with specific suggestions and constructive amendments. Deputy Dempsey made the interesting suggestion that there should be talks on this matter between now and Committee Stage. I do not know if this is the appropriate way forward but certainly I will take note of his suggestion.

Fianna Fáil has indicated its intention to table an amendment providing for votes for emigrants at all elections but this is a little strange. This difficult question has been debated several times over the last four or five years and a consensus seems to have emerged that, initially at any rate, emigrant representation should be via the Seanad. A specific proposal enabling emigrants to elect three Members of the Seanad has been developed and is expected to be put to a referendum next year. The proposal appears to have broad cross-party support and the emigrant organisations, while not entirely satisfied, are prepared to row in behind it. Therefore, I find Fianna Fáil's U-turn on the matter hard to understand, particularly in view of the party's attitude to the Bill introduced by my late friend and colleague, Gerry O'Sullivan, in 1991 and the statements made by various Fianna Fáil spokespersons on this subject at that time.

It was a big U-turn for Labour that night. I remember it well.

In his contribution, Deputy Deasy was at least consistent in his viewpoint. Several Deputies sought improvements in the arrangements for registering electors, a supplement to the register and other electoral practices, including weekend voting and having photographs of candidates on ballot papers. These questions are included in a range of electoral matters which the Minister has referred for consideration.

On a point of information, will the Minister circulate a copy of his speech? He has placed the Progressive Democrats in a difficult position if there is not some indication in the speech of the intention in regard to amendments.

That question has already been raised and it is one over which the Chair has no control. I understand that the Minister is speaking from extended notes rather than a script.

I explained that before Deputy Molloy came in.

It will be in The Cork Examiner tomorrow.

Before Deputy Molloy came in, I assured Deputy Quill that we would try to put together a collection of what I have said and let you have those views.

It is the proposed amendments on the Government side that my party is anxious about.

There will be ample time for that, Deputy.

We may have to interrupt the House and call a vote.

I must dissuade Members from interrupting or even raising points of order at this stage because there is a strict time limit applying to the reply of the Minister of State. The Minister should be allowed to utilise that time without interruption.

For Deputy Molloy's information, I said before he came in that I am open to suggestions. We will consider any amendments which are put forward in a reasonable and open way. It is in the interests of all the parties and the Independents to bring forward a Bill which will be compatible with their needs and views.

One of the major points raised was donations, including the value of property, goods or services provided free of charge or at a reduced cost and monetary contributions. All contributions made by a person or organisation in the course of a year, or in relation to a particular election, will be treated as a single donation. Contributions made to different branches, elected representatives, candidates or officers of a party will be treated as a donation to the party. I stated that in my speech.

The value of subscriptions to the sponsorships of golf tournaments, celebrity dinners, race nights and other fundraising events will be regarded as donations and must be disclosed where the value or cumulative value exceeds the prescribed threshold. If a company sponsored prizes at a golf tournament to a value exceeding £4,000, this contribution would have to be disclosed by the company also. Appropriate records must be maintained by parties, members and candidates. Penalties are prescribed for failure to furnish a donation statement or for making a false statement.

As regards public funding, the position of the Progressive Democrats is a little obscure. However, I believe its Deputies are saying that they favour public funding but they think it should be even more heavily biased in favour of small parties. Not surprisingly, Deputy Sargent and Deputy Gregory made a similar plea. Small parties stand to do well from the proposals. Democratic Left and the Green Party, who get nothing from the present leader's allowance, will benefit substantially. The gain to the Progressive Democrats will not be as significant because it does well under the present eccentric rules governing the allocation of the leader's allowance. However, the precise allocation rules, particularly as between Government and Opposition parties, can be considered in detail on Committee Stage. We will be willing to hear arguments on this matter.

As far as I am aware, in every country where there is public funding some threshold, in terms of representation or votes, must be crossed before a party can benefit. While there is usually a basic grant for all qualifying parties, the grant reflects the size of each party in terms of seats or votes.

As regards section 15 (5), which envisages a supplementary allowance for non-party members, the decision on this matter will rest with the Oireachtas, not as Deputy Quill alleges with one or two Ministers. There is no question of bargaining with individual Independents as some speakers tried to imply. The arrangements which will be introduced will have general application. Deputy Gregory noted that the provision in relation to Independents is discretionary; he would prefer to see "shall" rather than "may". We will hear more argument about this on Committee Stage.

Deputy Deasy inquired how the proposed allocation would work out in practice. The total fund will be £2.6 million, the equivalent of £1 for every elector. Some 10 per cent will be reserved for Opposition parties and the balance will be distributed among all qualified parties in proportion to their numerical strength. On the basis of present party strength, payments will work out at approximately £14,700 per Member for Government parties and £18,400 for Opposition parties.

Does that imply we are worth more?

It means we have greater needs but fewer resources.

Part V of the Bill, dealing with the control of election expenditure, has attracted considerable comment during the debate. I will now recap on the main provisions.

The Bill provides for the limitation of expenditure by or on behalf of political parties and candidates at Dáil and European elections. There will be a limit on expenditure at national level by political parties, related to the number of constituencies contested, and for candidates at constituency level, related to the number of seats allocated to the constituency. Spending limits will also apply at presidential elections.

The controls will apply to all expenditure incurred in relation to the election, whether incurred before or after the issue of the writ or the commencement of the election. That answers the point raised by Deputy Callely. The controls will not be confined to spending during the few weeks of the election campaign, but will apply to all expenditure in connection with the election, whenever incurred. The controls will be the same, irrespective of the source of the money, whether it is provided locally or centrally by the party, put up by the candidates out of his or her resources, put up by sponsors or supporters or, as somebody suggested, obtained from the candidate's business. It must be fully accounted for in all cases.

The value of services provided will be taken into account, for example, someone may supply a fleet of cars. However, if a private individual canvasses in his own time and without any payment, this will not be reckoned.

The control of expenditure will operate through a system of agents. Parties must appoint a national agent and each candidate an election agent. Agents will be required to maintain appropriate records and furnish details of expenditure. Despite the inconveniences, the principle of placing a limit on election spending has much to recommend it.

There was broad welcome for the special voting arrangements proposed for electors who have difficulty getting to their polling stations because of their occupations. There was criticism that the arrangement will not meet every conceivable situation. There were references to people sailing away from Rockall. If someone is at sea for the full duration of the election campaign, this arrangement will not meet his requirement in relation to that election. It will, however, facilitate many hundreds of people who fish out of Ballycotton, Kilmore or Howth and are at sea for, perhaps, three or four days at a time and will be in harbour at some stage during the election period. Ballot papers will be issued to such voters a considerable time before polling day. Voters in this category may vote while ashore during this period and have their ballot paper returned in time for inclusion in the count. It will also facilitate many business people who may be absent for most of the week but return to base at the weekend. Deputy Callely also referred to this situation.

It is not possible to cover every conceivable situation, but the proposals in the Bill represent a substantial improvement on the existing position, while maintaining essential safeguards for the secrecy of the ballot and the integrity of the elections. I thank all Deputies for their contributions. We are open to any reasonable proposal put forward on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.