Electoral Bill, 1994: Report Stage.

I move amendment No.1:

In page 5, to delete lines 34 and 36 and in page 6, to delete lines 1 and 2, and substitute the following:

"(6) (a) Sections 1, 2 and 4 Part IV, sections 45, 46, 47, 56(1) (other than paragraph (b), and sections 49 and 60 (in so far as they relate to donations at a presidential election), 70 and 72 (other than paragraphs (a) and (c)), and 73 shall come into operation on the passing of this Act.

(b) Parts I, III, V, VI and section 72 other than those provisions specified in paragraph (a) shall come into operation on the first day of January, 1988.

(c) This Act, other than those provisions specified in paragraphs (a) and (b), shall come into operation on such day or days as may be fixed therefor by order or orders of the Minister either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so fixed for different purposes and different provisions of this Act.".

This amendment provides for the insertion of a new subsection in place of subsection (6) of section 1. As I announced on Committee Stage the Government has decided the provisions of the Bill relating to the disclosure of donations for political purposes will come into effect on enactment of the Bill. It will not be subject to a commencement order. However, donations received before the commencement of the relevant sections will not have to be disclosed. Thus Part IV, which deals with disclosure of donations for political purposes by political parties and Members of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament, candidates at Dáil, Seanad and European elections, will automatically commence when the Bill has been signed by the President, so also will the provisions of Part VI in so far as they relate to disclosure of donations by candidates at a presidential election. Ancillary provisions, such as sections 2, 4, 70, 72 and 73, in so far as they relate to disclosure of donations, will also commence from the day of signing by the President. The provision dealing with payments to political parties and control of election expenses at Dáil, European and presidential elections will, as already announced to the committee, commence from 1 January 1998. These will automatically commence on that date without the necessity of a commencement order. The remaining parts of the Bill will be brought into operation as soon as possible by means of a commencement order. These are the parts dealing with the establishment of a constituency commission, postal voting and other miscellaneous amendments. We have had some debate on the commencement of all the provisions of this Bill and by and large we have a political consensus on the timeframe I am now suggesting. I ask the House to accept the amendment.

On Committee Stage we had extensive discussion on this aspect. There was a fear at the commencement of Committee Stage that the Minister would decide to implement certain sections immediately and delay the implementation of other sections. On Committee Stage we reached a level of agreement in relation to this matter. The amendment reasonably reflects agreement with the funding of political parties and paying grants of £5,000 and so on to candidates at election time. As they stood at the time of discussion they were impracticable and could not be met. There was general agreement, as far as disclosure was concerned, that it was more straightforward. The discussion is reflected in the amendment. I will not oppose the amendment on the basis that disclosure will commence immediately on enactment of the Bill, which I presume will be around the same time as the election is declared on Thursday morning. However, we are opposed to the sections relating to the £5,000 grant to candidates and the funding of political parties. In so far as these provisions will not come into operation until 1 January, we will have time to amend and remove them after the election. I will not oppose this amendment.

I have never opposed the principle of disclosure of donations above certain thresholds. I am content to live in a world where those who give more than £4,000 to a party or more than £500 to an individual should disclose that fact. It will affect some of our more munificent donors, particularly those who have been the subject of discussion at the tribunal in Dublin Castle.

This measure preserves some important principles, namely, the right of every citizen to donate to a political party within reason, the right of every political party to seek funds from other citizens and the right of every person to contribute in privacy to a political party as long as the extent of the donation does not, in the view of the ordinary person, create a sense of obligation thereafter.

The Progressive Democrats have consistently supported the proposition that there should be a threshold over which donations to political parties should be published. In practice, with the exception of large institutions such as the banks who have made donations to parties on apro rata basis, the effect of this measure will be to reduce the size of corporate donations. Few donors will wish to appear as supporting one party rather than another. Only those with a wide public base will be able to put their hand on their heart and say they have given equally, or in some proportion, to all parties and will continue to do so above the levels provided for in the Bill.

That is not the end of the matter. With the exception of the Constituency Commission which receives all party support, the other provisions of the Bill fly in the face of popular sentiment. The public does not wish to see a system in which parties are part funded by the Exchequer. It is suggested that this will take the pressure off politicians to solicit moneys from private individuals. The effect of the cap will be to fragment and reduce the amount of donations. The vast majority of people do not want a situation in which the activities of political parties, apart from their parliamentary duties, are funded by the Exchequer. Part of the scheme envisaged by the Bill is that these moneys will not be expended for electoral purposes. That is nonsense. I do not know what political parties do between elections other than prepare for the next election.

Perhaps they serve the country?

The Minister should come and live on planet Earth. Political parties are always preparing for the next election. All their expenditure and effort is geared towards success in the next election. That is the life force of parties. I have never heard of a party which believed that its function was "to serve the country" without regard to the next election. That is not the function of political parties. They are support machines for implementing their policies through success at elections. That is the case in every party.

Not merely is popular sentiment totally against this proposal, there is a serious constitutional issue involved. I am not arguing that it is beyond doubt one way or the other by reference to the Constitution. However, if one was to start a political party such as the New Progressive Democrats or New Labour — we could do with a new Labour Party — and one was to prepare for the next general election it would be unfair that one would spend the next four and a half or five years battling with organisations funded by the Exchequer. The Progressive Democrats were formed not so long ago. There could have been a Christian national party formed in the last few years. Without doubt, the process of political representation through parties will continue to develop as time goes by, nothing is cast in stone. It is a manifestly unfair and unjust law which gives taxpayers' money to one group to organise its activities between elections and gives nothing to another group which has to face it at an election.

It is threadbare hypocrisy of the worst kind to suggest that this money is not available for electoral reasons and is ring-fenced from electoral purposes. The Minister's implicit proposal that the new arrangement for funding political parties should commence at some future date is unfair, unconstitutional, improper and undemocratic in that the great majority of people do not want it.

The great majority of voters do not want leaflets, pamphlets, posters, opinion polls and all other activities of political parties at election time funded by the Exchequer. Nor do they wish to give a £5,000 grant to everyone who retains their deposit. The majority of people regard politics as something which should be funded by parties from modest donations. They can draw a distinction between research and assistance with parliamentary duties but they do not want taxpayers' money spent on electioneering. People regard this as a measure akin to allowing the kids into the candy store. They do not believe it will clean up politics. It will not clean up politics because if it was the be all and end all of funding I could see some hare-brained theoretical argument which would make politics less open to outside influence. However, when the funding is a dollop on top of whatever parties can raise themselves it is indefensible.

Placing a cap on the amount of money which can be spent at elections is a related matter. Some Members of this House, from all parties, are the butt of daily criticism in the media. Perhaps in this election people will be singled out for personal vituperation by their opponents in the media. Whether they deserve it is their business but as night follows day such people will emerge. I do not accept a newspaper has the right to set up and hunt down Deputy Dempsey by a relentless series of articles, if its owner or editor is so minded, to suggest to the people of County Meath — or the people of Dublin South-East in my case — that he should not be re-elected. In reply, we would be able to place only one small newspaper advertisement. That is unconstitutional.

If the Ceann Comhairle was an ordinary Member of this House, if things that were untrue were said about him in a campaign conducted against him and if he decided to buy one half of one page in a newspaper which had devoted many pages to vilifying him, to say he could not do so and that he had spent too much in his election campaign would be outrageous and unconstitutional. Why can I, if I want to, or those who support me, if they want to, not place a half page advertisement in a newspaper which has spent weeks vilifying me? Why can I not issue my own propaganda in the form of a glossy leaflet denying what has been said about me? Why can I not respond in kind if the media barons, such as they are, decide to get at me? I see no reason in logic why the law should prohibit an individual candidate from spending any amount of money in rebutting criticism of himself or herself or in stating his or her own policies truly when others are misrepresenting them.

I hesitate to intervene but I must dissuade the Deputy from making what I would regard as a Second Reading speech on Report Stage, on which remarks should be made solely in respect of the amendment before the House.

I am dealing only with the effect of the amendment. The concomitant to party funding and the funding of candidates' election campaigns, the so-called cap on expenditure, is impracticable. Although I am a member of a party which normally puts one candidate into the field, I am aware that in a multi-seat constituency it is crazy to hope there will be transparency and truthfulness in accounts within a political party in highly competitive situations. If three candidates in a constituency are vying for a single seat, it is not possible for a single director of elections to indicate how much each of them has spent and say, with hand on heart for fear of prosecution, he or she is giving a truthful account.

This was tried before in the Prevention of Electoral Abuses Act, 1923 and was found to be unworkable in the years that followed, allowed to fall into desuetude and removed from the Statute Book. In England this exact model exists in theory but is seriously broken in practice. This was the nonsense that nearly had Dr. Hendron hounded out of a seat by Gerry Adams after the last Westminster election. It does not clean up politics, is not fair in its result, makes politics unfair, plays into the hands of the unscrupulous and ties the hands of the scrupulous. It is more nanny state control. If the opinion polls are to be believed, it looks as if the next Government will repeal all of these measures and we will have a proper electoral law which provides simply for an electoral commission and the disclosure of contributions to political parties above certain thresholds. That is as good as one can get. The rest of this nanny state bureaucracy is unnecessary and will not clean up politics although it may keep the Labour Party happy. It is unfair, arguably unconstitutional and retrograde.

These issues were the subject of a long debate on Second and Committee Stages. I thank Deputy Dempsey for his comments generally. We had a constructive debate on Committee Stage and the Bill is better as a result. Many of the amendments I have tabled have their origins in the Committee Stage debate. I regret that the Progressive Democrats chose not to table amendments on Committee Stage.

I disagree with the principle of the Bill.

I understand Deputy McDowell objects to the thrust of the Bill — we have agreed to disagree — but there is a need for a measure of transparency. The Deputy has decided, however, that this amounts to nanny state interference. This is the position in many democracies to ensure there are reasonable thresholds to cap expenditure by political parties and candidates at election time. Significant contributions to political parties have to be disclosed. I suggested in opening the debate that the thresholds should be lowered, if there was popular support for such a move, but we have reached a reasonable compromise.

I strongly support the concept of State funding of political parties. No matter what way we look at it, it erodes the principle of democracy if political parties are beholden to companies or wealthy individuals. While people may give with the best of motives, there is a perception among the general public that there is something more involved. We must address this responsibly.

Deputy McDowell used the word "hypocrisy". There is hypocrisy because prior to the change in the law at the end of last year the Progressive Democrats were the main recipients of State funding. They received £150,000 per year by way of the leader's allowance. This year they will receive £185,000.

For parliamentary duties.

Up to the end of last year the money could be used in whatever way the party leader decided. It would be interesting to know if every penny received prior to last December was used exclusively for parliamentary purposes. The scheme has now been placed on a statutory basis and extended to provide support for non-party Deputies. I was delighted about this as it is important that everybody should receive the necessary support to contribute fully to debates in the House.

It is proposed that an extra £1 million should be made available per year and that every political party which receives a minimum of 2 per cent support in a general election should receive funding. It has been agreed that this mechanism will not come into operation until next year. It is not possible to have the control and capping mechanisms in place before the next general election which is likely to take place in the immediate future. I regret this as I worked to have them in place.

I reject the notion that it is not possible to have transparency and truthfulness in the making of declarations by candidates. Once this measure is enacted, there will be an onus on each candidate in subsequent elections to account for his or her expenditure. A director of elections will not be asked to account for the expenditure of a political party in a constituency. Each candidate will have his or her own election agent who will have to account for his or her expenditure. Deputy McDowell said that a person may be hunted by those who write for newspapers. He has declared his advantage over me in that he has been a member of more than one political party. However, he also has an advantage over me in that he writes a column for a newspaper.

That is not true.

The Deputy is a regular contributor.

An irregular contributor.

It is clear that some Members of the House have suffered a focused attack by the free press. The press is entitled to do this and it is not much defence for someone like me to counteract this by buying space in a newspaper. If there was a concerted effort by a newspaper or group of newspapers to single out a Deputy in the way instanced by Deputy McDowell it would be very difficult for him to buy space in a newspaper column to fight back.

I believe strongly in the principles set out in the Bill. I listened carefully to the points made on the earlier Stages and I believe we have achieved the broadest consensus possible. I gave a commitment at the beginning of the debate that I would be open and listen to the points made. The Bill goes to the heart of the electoral process and it should be supported by as many Deputies as possible. I have striven to accept as many amendments, suggestions and good proposals as I can. I hope to amend the Bill for the better on Report Stage.

I seek clarification on a point put to me by many Deputies. The Ethics in Public Office Act provides that Members who receive more than £500 are obliged to make a declaration. Some Members have been approached by people who want to make a contribution to their general election campaign. If a donation of more than £500 is paid before the Bill is enacted is it covered by the Ethics in Public Office Act or is it regarded as an election donation? Members would appreciate clarification on this point.

On the general points made by him about capping expenditure on elections, the Minister is ignoring or choosing to ignore some important points about our electoral system, that we have multi-seat constituencies and a written Constitution, which some jurisdictions do not. The McKenna judgment also comes into play. The Minister referred to the UK and the US. In the UK one party spent £45 million on its election campaign, while President Clinton spent $80 million on his Presidential election campaign. These two examples of state control on expenditure do not have much to recommend them.

It is invidious of the Deputy to ask me to interpret an enactment which is not before the House and which is not my responsibility. Donations will be disclosed from enactment of the Bill; donations given before enactment will not be covered by the Bill. Gifts in excess of £500 to individual Members must be disclosed under the Ethics in Public Office Act.

Is an election donation a gift?

I understand that it is.

If the chairman of Deputy Dempsey's election committee receives £5,000 it is not a gift to the Deputy.

It is a donation to a political party.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, to delete lines 9 to 13.

This amendment proposes to delete the definition of "non-party candidate". The Bill published in 1994 contained a mechanism for funding non-party candidates. This matter was dealt with in the legislation introduced by the Minister for Finance and enacted by the House. As there is no reference to a "non-party candidate" there is no need for a definition of it.

Will a non-party candidate be put at a disadvantage in that a party candidate can place advertising in the national newspapers relative to that candidate or clarifying a falsehood spoken about him, while the non-party candidate will be stuck with the limit proposed? In other words, the North Tipperary constituency where there is an independent candidate, Fine Gael will be able to put as much money as it wishes into national newspaper advertisements which mention one candidate while the non-party candidate will be stuck with the limit proposed. Is that what the Minister is saying?

No. The method of capping expenditure is based on individual candidates, not parties. The proposals in the 1994 Bill in this respect have been changed. The amount spent nationally by a political party is based on the amount which can be spent by individual candidates.

But it can be pooled.

It can spend nationally from that pool as it likes. However, the overall amount which can be spent by a political party per candidate is identical to that which can be spent by an independent candidate. Ten candidates standing under the same political banner can spend the same amount as ten independent candidates.

If the Progressive Democrats Party were to run, say, nine candidates in the Malin Head area it could use all the available funding to place in the newspapers advertisements about a row we are having with a person in County Meath. Aspirant independent Deputies will find themselves at a disadvantage as they will be stuck with a global figure, while national parties will be able to place in the newspapers advertising which is clearly aimed at them, and collect surpluses from individual candidates in other areas to target certain constituencies. Independent candidates in marginal constituencies will be able to do nothing when the national parties bring in their wagons of war and use advertising which features Deputies with whom they are in competition. If I were an independent candidate and the Minister, Deputy Quinn, featured strongly in the Labour Party's parliamentary broadcasts, I could not respond to it. He could be on television several times during the election campaign and I would be stuck with it.

I am devastated to hear about the poor showing of Deputy McDowell's party in Malin Head. It is a pity the Deputy was not here for the Committee Stage debate when we dealt with this issue in some detail. We have included an amendment to require at least 50 per cent of the spend allocated to a party to be spent in the constituency where the candidate is standing.

I know that.

There may be a national pool but that would be spent on the national campaign. Most national parties regard the national pool as modest when one adds the sums of money available. It will not give someone a great wagon of war to wheel around the country if any sort of national campaign is to be mounted. The Deputy's fear is based on a false premise. In terms of defending independent candidates, they will be in a much better position, with a cap on the moneys available to a large party, to bring in their wagons of war rather than the current position whereby independents with limited resources — and I say this to somebody who has some experience of it — face large parties with no cap who have an enormous capacity to spend money. We have seen political parties literally spend hundreds of thousands, if not in excess of a million pounds, on an election campaign. If the two larger parties in particular, and my own party to a lesser extent, want to concentrate their fire now, without any amendment in the law, they can run an irresistible campaign against any independent who clearly would not have the resources to fund a similar campaign. The situation will be immeasurably improved by capping the available resources at local and national level.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"(4) Nothing in Part IV or VI shall apply to donations received before the coming into operation of Part IV or of the provisions of Part VI in so far as they relate to donations.".

This amendment to section 3 provides that the disclosure requirements of the Bill will not apply to donations received before the enactment of the Bill.

The enactment of the Bill is when the President signs it into law.

Yes, and would be automatic on that.

Should the President choose to refer it to the Supreme Court——

Then it has no effect until the matter is determined.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, line 34, to delete "the Chairman of the Dáil" and substitute "each House of the Oireachtas".

This amendment affects your office, a Cheann Comhairle. Section 4(1) as it currently stands would have the Public Offices Commission reporting to one of its own members, the Ceann Comhairle, who is also Chairman of the Public Offices Commission. With the current emphasis on natural justice, we could run foul of natural justice, particularly having regard to the well known maxim that no one should be the judge of his own cause. If the Bill remains as it is, that is what the Ceann Comhairle will be doing. I understand the Public Offices Commission feels strongly about this matter. I ask the Minister to accept this simple and straightforward amendment, the effect of which would be that reports would be made to each House of the Oireachtas, not to the Chairman of the Dáil. That would overcome any difficulty that might arise.

I support Deputy Dempsey's amendment. I know it is difficult in your circumstances, a Cheann Comhairle, to see how this would have an effect, but you will have a successor and if the successor's election was the subject of controversy——

——which might well happen, it would be invidious that a report concerning these matters would be made to the person concerned.

I have thought about the amendment and the effect of the section as drafted. The amendment proposes to amend the provision to require the report to be furnished to each House of the Oireachtas. I assume the reason behind the amendment is the one given, namely, that the Chairman of the Dáil, the Ceann Comhairle, is also chairman of the commission and that it would be unusual, in terms of the reporting arrangement, to have the chairman reporting to himself. The section does not require the chairman of the commission to furnish the report; it could be done by the commission secretary. Even if it was felt necessary for the chairman of the commission to furnish the report, it should not cause a problem. The report is simply being sent from office to office, not to the chairman or the Ceann Comhairle. It is being sent to the office for it to deal with the issue. In view of the potentially serious nature of the matters which may be contained in any report furnished, the reporting arrangements envisaged in the section are adequate. It is not necessary to make the amendment Deputy Dempsey suggests and I ask him not to press it.

The Minister says the amendment will not make much difference to the Bill but in the interest of removing any doubt, I ask him to accept it.

Who is responsible to the Houses of the Oireachtas? The Chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas is the Ceann Comhairle.

I accept that, but once a report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas the matter can be raised in the House.

It is nobody's responsibility then.

It is everybody's responsibility.

The problem with matters being everybody's responsibility is that they are nobody's responsibility.

Is the Minister seriously suggesting that if a report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas Members of this House, particularly members of the party the report does not affect, will ignore it simply because the Ceann Comhairle has not given it his blessing and commented on it? The proper procedure should be to lay these reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Much of what is contained in the Bill is to do with public perception. In the circumstances Deputy McDowell outlined, the public perception may not be favourable if reports are being accepted by the Chairman of the Dáil, the Ceann Comhairle, who might be personally involved in the matters contained in those reports. There should not be any problem with laying these reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not see how that mechanism should cause any difficulty from the Minister's point of view. These reports should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than having the Public Offices Commission reporting, in effect, to one of its own members. I do not see the logic in that. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment because it makes sense and is better from a public perception point of view to have the reports laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment, otherwise I will press it.

The amendment is redundant in that the report would be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas pursuant to section 4(5) which states that every report furnished by the Public Offices Commission pursuant to subsection (1) shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is furnished. The Deputy's concern, therefore, is addressed in the Bill. Any Deputy not a Deputy in the party of the Deputy who has questions to answer will be in a position to raise the report, but it should be an established reporting arrangement. I do not make this point glibly. The notion of the Chair coming under some sort of suspicion or that there might be a row about an appointment — we can do this in a neutral way since the incumbent will not be involved — does disrespect to the Chair. There has been enough of that in recent times.

Lest the Minister's remark be left unchallenged, there is no intention to slight the Chair in this matter. The Minister has made my point, even if he thinks every angle is covered in the Bill as it stands. These reports should come directly to the Houses of the Oireachtas and not by way of a committee reporting to the House in the manner outlined by the Minister. The report of the Public Offices Commission should be laid before the House and not given to the Chairman. Where the phrase occurs in other sections it should be changed to "each House of the Oireachtas" for the sake of continuity.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related to amendment No. 5. Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed. If amendment No. 5 is agreed, amendment No. 6 cannot be moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 8, to delete lines 48 to 52 and substitute the following:

(3)(a) Where the Public Offices Commission, following consideration by it of a statement furnished to it pursuant to sections 23, 35, 47 or 55 or regulations made under section 71 or a notification furnished to it under section 22, is of the opinion that there may have been a contravention of the provisions of Part IV, V or VI or regulations made under section 71, the Commission shall furnish to the person who provided the statement or notification details of the possible contravention and the Commission shall inform that person that he or she may furnish comments on the matter to the Commission within 14 days from the date on which the notification issued to that person and that any such comments will be considered by the Commission before considering the matter further.

(b) Where the person to whom a notification issues under paragraph (a) furnishes to the Public Offices Commission his or her comments on the matter referred to in the notification within the period referred to in paragraph (a), the Commission shall have regard to the said comments.

(c) Where, following consideration of any comments which the person to whom a notification issues under paragraph (a), or where such person fails to make any such comments, the Public Offices Commission continues to be of the opinion that there may have been a contravention of the provisions of Part IV, V or VI or regulations made under section 71, it shall furnish a written report on the matter (together with any relevant document or other thing in its possession) to the Director of Public Prosecutions.".

This amendment arises from a commitment I gave on Committee Stage when discussing an amendment tabled by Deputy Dempsey.

Section 4(3) provides that where it considers there may have been a contravention of provisions of the Bill, the commission may make a report on the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was pointed out on Committee Stage that such a report should not be furnished to the DPP without first giving the person to whom it relates an opportunity to comment on the matter and on its content. I accept this proposal has merit. A provision such as that suggested would be in keeping with section 4(2) which already provides that where the Public Offices Commission identifies a minor error or an omission in a statement of election expenses furnished to it, the commission is required to give the person making the statement an opportunity to correct the error or make good the omission before the statement is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I put down this amendment to take account of the views forcefully put in the Select Committee.

I thank the Minister for accepting the principle of the amendment I proposed on Committee Stage. I will withdraw amendment No. 6. I was obliged to table it without having sight of the Minister's amendment which meets my concern about this matter.

I wish to address amendment No. 7 and seek clarification from the Minister. My concern does not appear to be addressed by the Minister's amendment. Where the Public Offices Commission believes there may be a case to be answered it will send a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions, having studied the case carefully, might decide there is no case to answer. If the Public Offices Commission has already made a report which simply states that files relating to certain candidates have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, people will draw certain inferences. The purpose of amendment No. 7 is to prevent that happening.

I am concerned that if the Public Offices Commission reports that a file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the public and the media will assume there was something wrong, even if the person's name is cleared by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Amendment No. 7 seeks to ensure that a report from the Public Offices Commission will not mention that files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions until the director reports his intention to prosecute or otherwise, after which a relevant report will be laid before the House. I am not sure if what I have outlined is covered by the Minister's amendment. If it is not, I intend to press amendment No. 7.

Can the Minister explain how the functions of the courts in reversing an election result on foot of a petition will mesh with these procedures?

I will deal with Deputy Dempsey's point about amendment No. 7. I have taken further legal advice and have been told section 4(5) is clear. It requires only reports furnished by the Public Offices Commission under subsection (1) to be laid before the Houses. Reports to the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to possible contravention of the Bill will be furnished under subsection (3) and they will not be required to be laid before the House. If a prosecution ensues it will obviously become a public matter. However, the Deputy's fear does not arise.

With regard to Deputy McDowell's point, the procedure is the mechanism whereby the House will regulate its affairs. It is open to a citizen to petition the High Court on a matter of law and challenge the validity of an election result. That is not circumscribed by the provisions in the Bill which regulate the conduct of Members of the House. Regulations drawn up by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are applied to Members of the House but, in the past, Members have had recourse to the High Court to vindicate personal rights notwithstanding the mechanisms in the House. There are two parallel procedures and I do not see how one can be affected by the other.

I might not have made myself clear. Will the right to petition to annul the result of an election include a right to make such a petition based on the proposition that a candidate has breached the provisions of this Bill?

Yes, if the breach of the Bill was deemed to be material to the extent that it would have affected the result, for example, if the expenditure threshold was breached to the degree that it would have a material effect. We tried to include the same degree of proof that is required in the current Petitions Bill in relation to a referendum. A minor breach should not be the cause of striking down the result of an election, either in a constituency or in a national election. However, a significant breach that would materially affect the outcome certainly could be subject to such a petition.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 9, lines 41 and 42, to delete "be established by the Minister, by order," and substitute "stand established".

This refers to the section that deals with the establishment of the Constituency Commission on a statutory basis. There is no mention of an independent Constituency Commission, which my party would favour. The series of amendments I have tabled are designed to make this an independent commission.

This amendment endeavours to underline the independence of the Constituency Commission by not having it subject to the whim of a Minister. We discussed this at length on Committee Stage. The Minister may tell us that once he has the final census figures he is obliged to put a Constituency Commission in place. The Constituency Commission should stand established and should need no order or direction from the Minister to start its work once the final census figures are before it. Not only should the Constituency Commission be independent, as we would all claim it is at the moment, but it should also be seen to be independent.

It is necessary that the public should feel a Constituency Commission is fully independent. Whether the Minister or Members of this House accept it, a body that needs to be cranked up by a Minister after every election or on publication of a report is not regarded by the public as independent. Their perception may be wrong, and is wrong in the case of the Constituency Commission, but perception is important, and we want to put this and other bodies forward as being independent. The purpose of my amendment is that the Constituency Commission would stand established and start its work as soon as the final report of the Central Statistics Office on the census is published and would not be seen to be beholden to any Minister. Will the Minister accept this amendment and accede to the principle that this body should not just be independent but should be seen to be independent. As long as such a commission requires an order of the Minister to start its work, it will not be seen to be so.

We had a long discussion on Committee Stage about this matter. I do not see the logic of the argument. Somebody has to start the procedure. As to the notion of the publication of the report bringing this automatically into effect, somebody has to notify the Chief Justice so that he can appoint a suitable judge. Somebody has to start the mechanism. That the Minister is given responsibility for it is a good thing because it means he has to make sure it is done. Otherwise the Chief Justice would have to look for the report of the census and then nominate a judge and so on. Somebody has to take responsibility for that, and that is appropriate to the Minister.

In terms of independence, we have had good independent commissions. Section 5(2) states that the Constituency Commission and its members shall be independent in the performance of their functions under this Act; it is a statutory imperative. There is no flexibility in the Minister's obligation to establish the commission once the census figures are to be published — the section assigns responsibility to an individual for doing the job. That is as it should be. I do not want to rehearse the debate we had on Committee Stage, but this is sound, logical and sensible and does not impact on the independence of the commission. By its membership, and by the statutory provision explicit in subsection (2), it is independent and will be seen to be independent.

I can see at this stage that not only can the Minister not see my argument, he will not accept it. However, I would have more faith in the chief justice and other people responsible for the Constituency Commission——

Than in the Minister?

——being aware that a final census report was due. I hope the Minister is not suggesting that a regulation could not be put in place to the effect that the Chief Justice or somebody other than the Minister could set this in train.

Why is the Deputy denigrating politicians?

I am not denigrating them. This Bill is based on the Labour Party's perception of what the public perceive politicians to be. The Minister cannot pick and choose and, on the one hand, tell me that the public perceive all politicians to be on the make and beholden to people because they get a few pounds from them at election time and, on the other hand, ignore what the public perceive. Their perception is that once the Minister has to start this process it is not independent of the Minister. The public also perceive that when the Secretary of the Minister's Department is a member of the commission, it cannot be independent. I am not saying that is the truth, but it is the perception. As we are into perceptions, let us not pick and choose perceptions to suit individual cases. The Minister should go the whole hog or else he should not go down that route.

How the process starts is irrelevant to me. I simply want to be practical.

A regulation to ensure that as soon as the figures are published the Chief Justice shall call the Constituency Commission together would be very simple; the Minister does not have to have his finger in the pie. This would meet a perception of the public. I can see the Minister does not intend to budge on this.

Will the Chief Justice provide accommodation? These are practical things. Who would do that?

The Constituency Commission would come into play. A public offices commission would be in operation, and officials in the Department could be instructed by chief justices.

Are we to have chief justices instructing officials in the Department?

The Minister does not want to accept that the perception is there, but it is. Despite the Minister's commitment to the independence of the commission, he does not want to let it out of his control. If we are talking about proper electoral reform, we should set up a body totally independent of the Department and the Minister.

I can do that under another electoral Bill in my next term in office.

The Minister's record on this Bill would not give us great hope in that respect and for that reason the electorate will decide to change the incumbent in the Custom House in the next few weeks. I will withdraw the amendment because the Minister is being unreasonable.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 9, to delete lines 47 and 48 and substitute the following:

"(3) Where an order under this section is proposed to be made, a draft thereof shall be laid before Dáil Éireann within one month of the publication of the Census Report referred to in subsection (1) and the order shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by the Dáil.".

We had a long debate on this matter on Committee Stage, but it is worth having another long debate on it. The purpose of this amendment is to make the process more open by allowing Members of the House discuss the draft under which the Constituency Commission will operate. In that way elected politicians could suggest changes to or endorse the draft. I am delighted the Minister took up the cause of politicians in the previous amendment and I am sure he will have no difficulty accepting this one.

This amendment runs counter to the argument the Deputy put forward in respect of the previous amendment. He stated he did not want politicians to have hand, act or part in this matter.

I do not want the Minister to have hand, act or part in it.

The Minister is a politician and will remain one, unless we give the Judiciary the function of running the State.

If this amendment runs counter to my argument on the previous one, the Minister must agree with it.

The Deputy should listen to the logic of what I have to say. The enabling resolution will kick-start the process of establishing an independent commission. This amendment would require the order, in draft form, to be placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is not necessary and runs counter to the thrust of the Deputy's argument on the previous amendment. The independence of the commission is established. Its personnel will be enshrined on a statutory basis and have a statutory function. Therefore, it is not necessary to place a draft order before the House. That would only delay the work which, under the previous amendment, the Deputy wanted done immediately and automatically.

I anticipated the Minister would oppose the independence of the body, which I proposed in the previous amendment. As an Opposition Member I have a right to anticipate what the Minister will do and table alternative amendments, some of which might contradict previous ones. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the procedure of the House. He has rejected the proposal that the body should be established on a permanent basis. If it were established on that basis it would not be necessary to place an order before the House.

The census takes place only every four years. What would happen if members died during that time?

They could be replaced under the current procedures.

A standing committee is not necessary for a job that occurs only once every four years.

There is a need for a proper electoral commission.

I have made provision for that.

The Electoral Commission should carry out the work of the Constituency Commission. It should recommend changes to the electoral laws, deal with the registration of political parties and so on. The Bill does not provide for that.

I am open to discussing that in the new Dáil.

I hope the Minister will be doing it from this side of the House. I will be a much more reasonable Minister.

Each amendment must be dealt with separately. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that if the Minister does not appoint a standing committee Members of the House have an opportunity to express their views on a Constituency Commission. While Members might not have a great deal to offer on the composition of the commission, their recommendations might benefit the Constituency Commission before it starts its work. Will the Minister consider the benefits that would accrue to the commission from a debate in the House on this matter? A delay of a month would not make much difference to the work of the commission.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 10, line 12, after "breaching of" to insert "provincial and".

This is a straightforward amendment which proposes that the Constituency Commission should avoid breaching county and provincial boundaries. This has been recommended by previous constituency commissions. While provincial boundaries are not breached very often, there is nothing to stop it happening. The provincial, Euro and county boundaries in the Longford-Roscommon constituency have been breached by the Constituency Commission. If this amendment is accepted the relevant wording in the Bill would read, "the breaching of provincial boundaries shall be avoided as far as practicable". On the last occasion we referred to this, the Minister compared it to a jigsaw. We should send out a clear signal that if possible provincial boundaries should not be breached. The Longford-Roscommon constituency suffers most in this regard. There is not much difference between the people or the topography in Kilkenny and Tipperary and in most other constituencies.

However, there is a major gap between east and west — the division between Leinster and Connacht, west and east of the Shannon, and that should be taken into account. It was not taken into account by the last commission. This amendment would not make it imperative that provincial boundaries should not be breached, but it would make the commission aware that Members would prefer if they were not breached. I ask the Minister to accept my amendment.

We discussed this at some length on Committee Stage. As Deputy Dempsey explained, the amendment seeks to include a further term of reference, the avoidance of the breach of provincial boundaries. The terms of reference proposed in the Bill have been tried and tested by past commissions. Given the constitutional requirements — an eminent lawyer is present — and court rulings, I am advised there is little scope for changing them. This proposal to revise the terms of reference would affect the situation to date.

The Constitution sets out the parameters to be taken into account by constituency commissions. The main point in the Constitution is that each Deputy must represent broadly the same number of people. That is a constitutional requirement that can only be changed by referendum. The High Court decision in the 1960s was clear. It states in regard to that constitutional provision that there is nothing in the Constitution about constituencies being based on counties and the same logic applies to regions and provinces. There is no point in adding a further term of reference of which a commission would not be obliged to take account. In drawing up a constituency the only constitutional imperative is the population base per Deputy.

The reports of commissions to date illustrate that, where possible, commissions are mindful of county boundaries and, as Deputy Dempsey acknowledged, of regional or provincial boundaries. Practical decisions must be made and often the population distribution does not fall so neatly into place that every county and province can have an exact number of Deputies. By and large the thrust of what the Deputy requires is being done, but it is not practical or prudent to seek to require the commission to do what goes further than the constitutional requirement.

I do not follow the Minister's suggestion that provinces should be excluded on constitutional grounds. Provinces have very little legal recognition. I do not know if they are provided by law. They may be provided in some British statute, but they do not leap to mind in my case. I agree with Deputy Dempsey that the Longford-Roscommon constituency was a startling result of the last constituency review. The effect of accepting his amendment would direct a commission to undo that and since it is a startling decision, it might not be a bad idea. If we were to tinker with the edges of the County Louth constituency the same could happen as happened in the past when areas of Monaghan were included and excluded from it. I do not believe anybody was outraged by the idea that they were switched from one province to another. The same could apply to Clare-South Galway constituency, which, as a child, I remember used to be a constituency and many areas of Kilkenny were included in the Waterford constituency from time to time. I do not remember people thinking their birthright was being destroyed because they were moving from one province to another.

What about Waterford and South Tipperary.

They are the same, but they live in different worlds now. It is desirable that well established lines of differentiation should be followed. I would have thought that the Shannon River was a significant physical feature — that appears in a later subparagraph (e) — which should have guided the commission away from that decision. I would not go to the stake to stop County Louth constituency including a small area of County Monaghan orvice versa.

It is more valid to include my amendment than to have included the subparagraph to which Deputy McDowell referred. Regard should be had for geographical considerations, including significant psychical features and the extent of and the density of population. I question if the commission took account of significant physical features. Apart from the River Shannon, Carrantuohill is probably the only other significant physical feature in that area. I will not press the amendment, but it is as valid to have included provincial and county boundaries as to include significant physical features. If the Minister consults his officials after this debate and considers the reports put forward by previous constituency commissions, he will note that they have referred to this on a number of occasions and recommended that provincial boundaries should be included. For that reason I do not know why his officials are advising him not to accept my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Amendment No. 13 is related to amendment No. 11 in the Minister's name and it is proposed that amendments Nos. 11 and 13 be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, to delete lines 38 to 40 and substitute the following:

"(a) (i) a judge of the Supreme Court, or

(ii) following consultation with the President of the High Court, a judge of the High Court, nominated by the Chief Justice, who shall be the chairperson of the Commission,".

Under section 7, as drafted, a judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court nominated by the Chief Justice shall be a member of and chairperson of a constituency commission. A similar provision is to be found in section 6 relating to the replacement of the judge originally nominated due to ill health or other reasonable cause.

The point was made by Deputy McDowell on Committee Stage that it might be necessary to include in these provisions that consultation should take place between the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court where it is proposed to nominate a judge of the High Court to the commission. Having considered the matters and taken further advice since Deputy McDowell's intervention, I agree these provisions should be amended to refer to consultation between the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court. These amendments provide for that good advice accordingly.

Amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Amendment No. 14 is consequential to amendment No. 12 in the name of Deputy Dempsey and it suggested that amendments Nos. 12 and 14 be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 10, to delete line 42 and substitute the following:

"(c) Director General of the Central Statistics Office,".

This amendment is not meant to cast any reflection on the current or former, as he is now——

The future Secretary.

——Secretary of the Department of the Environment. It relates to the argument, which I will not repeat, about the perception of the Secretary of the Department of the Environment being involved in the constituency commission. The Minister will recall that on Committee Stage I suggested a number of people other than the secretary who could fill that role. Because of the brevity of Report Stage, I favour allowing the Director General of the Central Statistics Office to replace the Secretary of the Department of the Environment.

I spoke on this matter on Committee Stage and have not since been convinced otherwise. The knowledge in the franchise section of the Department of the Environment should be available to the Commission and the Secretary is the proper person to be on that Commission. If the logic is that the Secretary will be amenable to political pressure, the same would apply to any office holder: the Director General of the Central Statistics Office holds that office under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. Would that person be subject to pressure from the Taoiseach? I do not believe that any such holder of high office is amenable to political pressure and the statute specifically forbids it. They are required to be independent and always have been. I do not want to repeat my views on this. The Deputy should not press his amendment.

I referred before to the fundamental difference between the Secretary of a Department and the people we are discussing. That is the difference between civil servants and public servants. Apart from the Secretary of the Department of the Environment, most of the people on this body, such as the Ombudsman, the judge from the Supreme Court, the Clerk of the Dáil and the Clerk of the Seanad, are clearly seen as absolutely independent of political influence. I had the honour of working with the Director of the CSO as a Minister of State, and he and the others I mentioned are fundamentally different from the Secretary of any Government Department. That is why the Director General should be included.

The argument for the inclusion of the Secretary of the Department is that the franchise department of the Department of the Environment is supplying information to the Commission. That does not hold water. The Minister is surely not suggesting that the franchise section would mutiny if it did not have its own man in the Constituency Commission. The Minister will not accept my amendment unless I have convinced him since I began to speak but this would allow total independence to be seen to be there. The Minister does not accept that argument but it is worth making. He will talk to people over the next three weeks and if he speaks to people who know about constituency commissions, I will bet him £10 that nine out of ten will say that the Constituency Commission is independent but that they know the Minister has a finger in the pie.

When this is tested I will be found to be close enough to the views of the people.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 11, line 7, after "Court or" to insert ", following consultation with the President of the High Court, another judge".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 11, line 15, before "report" to insert "draft".

We discussed this on Committee Stage. The purpose of these amendments is to change the procedure in relation to the Constituency Commission's reports. We are probably back to my word for the evening, perception, for the reason that no Government has tried to amend this, even though there was general agreement that it would be good to change some matters in the Constituency Commission's report, Deputy Nealon spoke on this matter during the Committee Stage debate. Nobody dared to do that because of the public perception and the political correctness of our times.

My proposal is reasonable. The current procedure means the Commission usually meets behind closed doors, and the Minister has accepted some amendments to make this process more open. My proposal is that instead of the current procedure, the Commission would work to produce a draft report, allow interested parties to make observations on it and that the report would give clearly stated reasons for its recommendations. It would also outline to the public and this House the alternative recommendations to those adopted.

If we adopted this approach it would delay the publication of reports, but the interests of democracy would be better served. This would make the system more transparent and people would have a say before the final decision was made. On Committee Stage the Minister said that one is allowing for appeals and scenarios whereby those unaffected originally are affected by a revised position. However, I do not accept that argument because appeals are allowed in all our systems, from planning to licensing systems, and a decision can be made after these appeals.

The Minister should accept the principle behind these amendments, which proposes to allow practitioners to comment on interim or draft reports of the Constituency Commission which can continue to operate independently, having taken such views into account. When the final report comes before the House it is too late to do anything about it, and no Government in the foreseeable future will alter that final report. However, in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability, as well as the interests of maximum participation in a fundamental decision that affects the electorate, this amendment should be considered.

In the interests of the electorate I ask the Minister to accept my amendments, in particular No. 15, and follow this route of opening up this procedure to the general public and Members of this House. When the report of the Constituency Commission has been finalised, we can, as we have done in the past, speak for as long as we like, in this House. That practice will not change. While that is perhaps a good thing, at draft stage it is only right that practitioners, those who represent the public, should at least have the right to put down markers to the effect that the commission is travelling in the right or wrong direction and raise issues, as was done when the final report was presented to this House in the case of, say, Tipperary South, Mayo or any other constituency. In the interests of democracy, it is important that that be allowed.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the general thrust of Deputy Dempsey's arguments. Any body of people, however eminent, learned or fair-minded, through no fault of theirs, can make elementary mistakes. There is a particular danger of this occurring from time to time since, generally speaking, no member of the commission will have had practical experience in the operations of politics. Let us admit that a fairly elementary mistake was made recently which would not have occurred had a draft report been made available and people given an opportunity to examine it.

Nonetheless we have moved a considerable distance from the period when all of this was undertaken by the Minister for Local Government, who burned the midnight oil in the Custom House and undertook the task with the census returns under one arm and the tally sheets under the other. Many a potentially great political career sank as surely as a stone thrown into the nearby River Liffey, as the Minister moved a few ballot boxes across a boundary, travelled some three or four miles into a constituency and moved other ballot boxes to make good the balance.

We on this side of the House have often derided the many promises made in 1977 — for which we still pay — including one by former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, that if returned to Government he would establish a Constituency Commission. True to his word he did and this led to an amazing change and improvement on what had been a very serious blemish on our democratic system.

Deputy Dempsey's amendments have merit but could lead to inordinate pressure on the Constituency Commission in areas not eligible for special attention. The Deputy seeks to ensure that mistakes which occurred in the past are not repeated by recommending discussion on a draft report and its possible amendment. On the other hand, there is a danger that Members, with their own interests and survival at heart, would attack areas in a vigorous, compelling way, seeking to override many decisions, thus giving rise to many other difficulties.

I listened carefully to Deputy Dempsey's comments on Committee Stage and today. I listened even more intensely when a person as knowledgeable on these matters as Deputy Nealon intervened.

We have travelled a long way from the days when a Minister for Local Government, of his own volition, decided where constituency boundaries lay. Perhaps it was not so difficult for former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, to take that decision in 1977 when he saw the results of the constituency divide of the former Minister for Local Government and its effect on the then Government.

He should have employed him permanently.

Yes. The notion of allowing a Minister for Local Government to draw up constituency boundaries, with the express intent of affording advantage to a party or Government, has not always proven to be a successful venture.

Generally we have incorporated a very independent, open mechanism here but it must also be practicable and lead to a conclusion. Unlike, say, planning permissions, when somebody applies to build a house and those interested will give their views, in the first instance for consideration by the relevant local authority and thereafter through the relevant appeals mechanisms, constituency boundaries are a different kettle of fish since any change will have repercussions for somebody else. Therefore, in seeking to address any anomaly invariably one causes another, additional difficulty or redirects focus in some way. There must be a process that brings this to a conclusion. Whenever one has a draft report, has received comments thereon and produced a set of amendments, people will say they were not affected by the original draft but we will be by the amendments.

I have travelled a considerable distance to address the issues raised by Deputy Dempsey. After listening to the arguments, I will require the Constituency Commission to publish data on the population of each constituency and its variations from the national average. My amendment No. 23 will achieve that objective.

I also indicated I would examine the possibility of requiring the Constituency Commission to make available for public inspection copies of all submissions received. There was a long discussion on this on Committee Stage and I have made appropriate provision in my amendment No. 25.

While I have given the matter considerable thought, I do not think we can travel the road of a draft report being debated here. As Deputy Nealon rightly said, every Member has an interest in this matter, not always of obtaining perfect proportionality or boundaries but rather that to which most of us would have to admit, our own survival. Therefore, the openness of procedures and mechanisms we have stipulated represent a very good regime. No doubt if we have ideas in the future for their improvement they can be debated. We will have done a very good day's work if we can, for the first time, give statutory effect to this set of proposals.

Mindful of my amendments, which represent the logic of Deputy Dempsey's arguments on Committee Stage, I ask him not to press his.

I have no intention of causing any division on this section or my amendments thereto. The Minister went a considerable distance to meet the spirit of our Committee Stage discussions. However, I am disappointed he could not have travelled somewhat further in relation to a discussion on a draft report.

That was to avoid division. Members of the same party and constituency might not speak in the same voice on all matters.

I agree, but is not that the joy and beauty of democracy?

At least, all come together at the end of the day.

I accept the Minister's general comments on possible difficulties. I do not believe and, in fairness to the Minister, I do not think he believes that just because some difficulty arises in working out the appropriate mechanisms, they should be abandoned or ignored. If the system I propose is sufficiently open, affords all interested persons an opportunity to see the submissions made to the Constituency Commission and an opportunity to submit their observations, it is then up to the "experts" to take the appropriate decision. There is a need for further discussion on the way we do this, whether in Government or Opposition. I found the discussion on Committee Stage beneficial as were some of the views expressed, which helped me to modify my ideas. We should discuss this matter further, but I will withdrawn my amendments. I acknowledge that the Minister has gone some way to making the system more open and I hope we can improve it even further.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 22, inclusive, not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 12, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(2) (a) As soon as may be after its establishment, a Commission shall prepare —

(i) a statement setting out the relevant provisions of the Constitution in relation to Dáil constituencies to which the Commission is required to have regard in preparing a report under section 6(1) (a), and

(ii) statements based on the population as ascertained by the Census of Population last taken before the establishment of the Commission showing, for constituencies for the time being in force for the Dáil and European elections, in relation to each constituency —

(I) the number of members or representatives, as the case may be;

(II) the population of the constituency;

(III) the population per member or representative, as the case may be, of the constituency; and

(IV) the percentage variation of population per member or representative, as the case may be, of the constituency from the national average population per member or representative.

(b) The Commission shall furnish, on request, to any person a copy of the statements referred to in paragraph (a).".

These amendments relate to our previous discussion. In considering amendments on Committee Stage, I agreed to consider bringing forward an amendment to require a commission, when established, to make available to the public information on the constitutional constraints to which the commission must have regard. I also agreed that the commission should make available statistical data relating to the constituencies then in force showing the latest population figures based on the most recent census and the variation from national average of the population from each constituency. Having considered this, I tabled amendment No. 23 which proposes to give effect to that suggestion so that people can make submissions on the basis of the same data which is current and available to the commission.

In the debate on Committee Stage, I also indicated I was prepared to consider making available for public inspection submissions received from the commission because there was a fear that a constituency colleague or a political opponent of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for example, would make a submission to the commission which might disadvantage him and of which he would be unaware. Amendment No. 25 proposes that submissions will be available for public inspection which would greatly assist persons wishing to make submissions as they may wish to make counterproposals to submissions made. This links our discussions on Report Stage and previously on Committee Stage.

Amendment No. 24 requires the public notice to be published inviting submissions to include a reference to the availability of statements received by the commission — a point made by Deputy Dempsey. Notification inviting people to make submissions will state that submissions received will be available for public inspection and will state where. There is agreement on these amendments.

I congratulate the Minister for tabling these amendments. He listened carefully and was deeply involved in the debate on Committee Stage, which was a good one. These amendments will make the system more open and will keep the public informed. His proposal making submissions available to the public is welcome. Amendment 23 states: "The Commission shall furnish, on request, to any person a copy of statements referred to in paragraph (a)." I am not sure if this matter is dealt with elsewhere but is it necessary to amend it so that Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will automatically get this information rather than having to request it?

What information?

I refer to the statement setting out the basic detail at which the commission will look before it considers changes to the constituencies. At present the public notice is usually sent to Members of the House.

I do not know how we could do this without amending the Bill. Contact is automatically made with Deputies but, whether by regulation or suggestion, I will ensure that what the Deputy suggests is done.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 12, to delete lines 26 to 28 and substitute the following:

"(3) The public notice referred to in subsection (1) shall indicate that —

(a) the statements prepared by the Commission under subsection (2) may be obtained on request from the Commission,

(b) any person may make a submission to the Commission in such manner and within such period as shall be specified in the notice, and

(c) submissions received by the Commission within the period specified in the notice referred to in paragraph (b) may be inspected at such place and during such period as shall be specified in the notice and that a copy thereof or of extracts therefrom may be taken on payment of a fee not exceeding the reasonable cost of copying.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 12, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

"(4) The submissions received by the Commission under this section shall be open to public inspection at such time and place and under such conditions as may be specified by the Commission and the Commission shall permit a copy thereof or of extracts therefrom to be taken on payment of a fee not exceeding the reasonable cost of copying.

(5) The Commission shall dispose of all money received by it in respect of fees under subsection (4) in such manner as may be directed by the Minister for Finance.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 12, to delete lines 31 to 33 and substitute the following:

"11. — (1) A Constituency Commission shall be served by the staff of the Public Offices Commission and the Minister shall make available to a Constituency Commission such other services, including the services of additional staff, as may be reasonably required by the Commission: provided that any additional staff seconded shall be under the sole direction of the Constituency Commission.".

I resubmitted this amendment because when we discussed it previously, the Minister gave assurances he would accede to its spirit. I understood further discussion would take place between the Public Offices Commission and the Department. Up to one week or ten days ago, no such discussion took place.

We had more time than I envisaged at that stage.

The Minister did not know that at the time. During the short time he has left in office, will the Minister arrange a meeting between officials in his Department and the Public Offices Commission to ensure he provides the necessary staff? The Minister gave a commitment that the necessary staff will be made available, which I would like him to restate.

When we discussed this on Committee Stage I hoped that all elements of the Bill would be in place relatively soon but that is not practicable in the light of an imminent general election. That was one of the reasons we picked 1 January for the coming into force of many of the sections. It gives us time to discuss with the public offices commission its requirements, to resource it adequately and to ensure it has sufficient time to draw up the relevant guidelines and so on. I assure the Deputy that is my intention. I will have plenty of time subsequent to the election to engage in those discussions and to ensure the public offices commission is fully resourced to implement the provisions of the Bill on 1 January. I look forward to that.

I will not rise to the bait.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 13, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

15. —(1) Subject to the provisions of section 10, it shall not be lawful for any person to communicate with the members of or staff whose services are made available to a Constituency Commission undersection 11 for the purposes of influencing the Commission in carrying out its functions.

(2) A person who contravenessubsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,000.”.

On Committee Stage an amendment tabled by Deputy Dempsey sought to preclude anyone seeking information from members of staff of commission. I indicated that I thought the amendment would not achieve what was sought and that I would consider an amendment to protect the commission from the import of the Deputy's intention, that is, to protect the commission from unwarranted influence. This amendment provides that it shall be unlawful for any person to communicate with the members of staff whose services are made available to the commission for the purposes of influencing them in carrying out their functions. This issue was not only pursued by Deputy Dempsey, it was strongly argued by Deputy Lenihan, who made a convincing case. Anybody applying improper pressure will be guilty of an offence which will be punishable by a fine of £1,000 for contravention of this section.

I strongly welcome this provision. The amendment proposed by the Minister is probably even better than the one we tabled originally. We made the case that it should be an offence for members of the commission to give information other than the statutory information they are obliged to impart, but it would not be an offence for people to improperly seek to influence the commission. Even if the amendments on securing the independence of the commission are not accepted, at least I will be able to point to this section to show that the Minister and Members of the Oireachtas regard the independence of the commission as important. I thank the Minister for putting forward the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No: 28:

In page 13, to delete lines 10 to 49, in page 14, to delete lines 1 to 46, in page 15, to delete lines 1 to 55, in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 52 and in page 17, to delete lines 1 to 42.

This amendment proposes to delete Part III of the Bill which provides for making payments from the central fund to political parties. It indicates the Deputy's total opposition to political funding. Lest my explanation is unclear, I am opposed to the amendment.

Before the Minister indicated his opposition to the amendment, I thought we had achieved a major coup. We argued this case in great detail in Committee and today's discussion started on the basis of funding for political parties. I do not wish to delay the House because the Minister will not change his view — he can rightly say that Fianna Fáil changed its view in recent years.

It may again change its view.

I doubt it, except at a time when we perceive the public mood is more in favour of political funding. When Fianna Fáil and Labour were in Government both parties sought accommodation on this matter and reached a degree of agreement. Subsequent to that the McKenna judgment necessitated the Minister to substantially alter the proposals before the House and propose a three-pronged strategy. As a result of that judgment the Minister changed his position, but the principle remains the same. The change in public mood was displayed to us before Christmas when we discussed the legislation dealing with Oireachtas allowances and privileges. I was shocked at the level of antipathy to the notion that the taxpayer should fund political activities. I make no apology — I did not do so the night that Bill was passed — for stoutly defending the notion that duly elected Members should have as much back-up facility as possible to do their job.

However, what we are talking about here is different. In regard to funding political parties, that money would be spent on day-to-day administration, back-up to parties generally, which to some extent is covered by the leaders' allowance, and the upkeep of and employment of staff in party headquarters, in our case, in Mount Street. Perhaps the Minister does not sense the public mood on this matter, as my party does. There is deep resentment of the fact that political parties are asking the taxpayer to fund their activities, and in recognition of that we have tabled this amendment to delete the section.

Whatever arguments can be made about funding political parties — the Minister said that this money will be ring-fenced and will not be used for party electioneering, I do not know how such a guarantee can be given because political parties are generally geared towards elections——

Funding under party leaders' allowance is not allowed for electioneering either.

I accept that, but general administration and expenses are slightly different. Political parties are very much geared towards what happens in the House.

Deputies undertake their best electioneering here.

Yes, with the benefit of television coverage and so on. The research and back-up staff employed with the party leaders' allowance are very much focused on what goes on in the House, on legislation, research and so on whereas those in party headquarters are more focused on organising party branches, constituencies and so on. It is difficult to say that the money which goes towards party headquarters will not be used in the electoral process.

The Minister is aware of my views on the reimbursement of election expenses of candidates and I will not bore him by repeating themad nauseam. We would probably get away with making payments to political parties for administration purposes, but if we agreed to the proposal that emanates from the McKenna judgment, to give people who get one quarter of a quota £5,000 of taxpayers' money provided they have expended that amount, we would be decimated on the doorsteps. I cannot agree to that proposal under any circumstances. Our profession is a noble one and I am committed to it, but nobody should be paid by the taxpayer to contest an election. Because of the McKenna judgment, the Minister may be caught in a dilemma in terms of making payments to political parties. The McKenna judgment stipulates that the election expenses of candidates must be paid for. I feel so strongly about the proposal to reimburse such expenses that, if it is the price to be paid for payments to political parties, I am not prepared to pay it. That is as simply, directly and straightforwardly as I can make the argument. It is a personal one and I have also put forward a party political argument. That is why I tabled this amendment. I know the Minister will not accept it but I tabled it on the basis that I wanted my views on the record. I do not expect the Minister to respond to them or to be swayed by my argument but it is important they are on the record.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Minister may avail of the two minute second speaking spot.

That is unfair. My first interjection of 30 seconds was to point to where we were as opposed to giving my view on it.

The Minister was being helpful earlier on by providing information.

I accept the principal position Deputy Dempsey outlined. We had discussions on the concept when this Bill was first mooted in 1994. It was part of a noble package for politics of restoring damage done to it by fears of golden circles prevalent in 1992 and 1993. The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, was designed as part of a package to have complete disclosure about personal interests. Most of us were only too anxious to put on record our worth and interests because they were so painfully pathetic. People's feeling that we were in politics for our own advancement was shown by that disclosure to be hollow. However, we have to go further because the notion still persists that people can buy influence in politics by contributing to political parties. We know the stories, the belief is still there and the only way to deal with it is by having openness in the funding of politics.

The mechanism we have devised is consistent with the constitutional view taken by the Supreme Court. If we are to fund the political mechanism, we must fund political parties as they are the lifeblood of politics. Under these proposals, every party which receives 2 per cent of the national first preference vote will be entitled to some measure of support to continue as a political party in the democratic debate. That is a good objective.

Reimbursing candidates' election expenses is not paying people to stand for election but giving them some measure of reimbursement for the money they spend by doing so. It should not be such a crushing debt or burden on people to stand. It is not to some because they are independently wealthy but, for many, it is a huge commitment to stand for election and I make no apology for saying there should be State support. It is an imperative of the McKenna judgment and the advice I have been given that we deal with candidates individually if we are to fund parties and politics generally.

The three sets of proposals stand together very well, they are very fair and financially very modest. The amount of Exchequer funds spent on politics is relatively very small. We starved ourselves of resources for too long. A well funded Opposition is a good asset to the State. A strong Government and an informed Parliament helps debate and makes good law. This Bill has improved because of informed and thoughtful debate with a number of Deputies.

We will agree to disagree fundamentally on this issue. Politics should be open and contributions should be declared. I am not averse to banning all contributions to political parties, which runs counter to Deputy Michael McDowell's view. Good people donate money because they are committed to the cause but I do not like the notion of businesses donating to everyone. I do not like being beholden to them or writing to them. Unfortunately, I am required, like everyone else to accept donations to run a political campaign because I have no other way of getting money other than through my friends and family. To run a campaign of any sort costs money and that is true for every party and individual in this House.

We should not apologise for ourselves. Neither should we be terrified by public opinion, even if it is strong. We must convince people of the merit in funding our democracy and I am willing to do that. We have debated this repeatedly. I accept Deputy Dempsey's honourable position but disagree with it.

Question put: "That the words down to and including `election' in line 18 stand."

The question is put in this order to save amendments Nos. 29, 30, 31, 35 and 37 to 43, inclusive, in the name of the Minister.

Question put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 form a composite proposal to amendment No. 29 and all may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 13, line 18, after "election;" to insert "and".

On Committee Stage, Deputy Dempsey, in his general contribution suggested that paragraph (b) could be deleted from the section. It requires a party to have put forward at least one candidate in the preceding general election as one of the conditions to be fulfilled before qualification for payments under Part III. Paragraph (c) contains a further condition, that the party must have achieved at least 2 per cent of the first preference vote cast nationally in the election. I accept that, as paragraph (c) in effect requires a party to have nominated a candidate at the election, paragraph (b), while technically in order, is superfluous, as one would logically have to have fielded a candidate to achieve 2 per cent of the vote. If it pleases the Deputy and logic, I accept the argument and move the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 13, to delete lines 19 to 21.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 13, line 23, to delete "that" and substitute "the last preceeding general".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34 are related and amendment No. 88 is an alternative to amendment No. 34 so all may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 13, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"16. —The Electoral Act, 1992, is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3) of section 25:

`(3) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Registrar shall register every political party which applies in accordance with this section for registration provided that at the time the application is made—

(a) the organisation and direction of the party are governed by a constitution, articles of association, rules or other regulations which have been adopted by the party and which provide for—

(i) annual or other periodic meetings or conferences of the party; and

(ii) the conduct of the business of the party by an executive committee or similar body elected by the party; and

(b) (i) the membership of the party as certified to the Registrar in writing by a person qualified for appointment as auditor of a company in accordance with section 162 of the Companies Act, 1963 comprises not less than 300 persons (or, in the case of a party applying for rigistration as a party organised to contest a local election only, 100 persons) each of whom has reached the age of 18 years, or

(ii) at least one person who is a member of the Dáil or an Irish representative in the European Parliament (or, in the case of a party which applies for registration as a party organised to contest a local election only, each of three persons who are members of a local authority) certifies in writing to the Registrar that he or she is a member of the party.'.".

We spent longer on this section on committee Stage than on any other but it is worth reiterating the thrust of these amendments. Amendment No. 32 outlines a criteria for registration of political parties. The Minister will recall the registrar of political parties made a submission to the select committee on possible changes to the law in regard to the registration of political parties. I had tabled a very full amendment to cover all parts of section 25 of the Electoral Act, 1992. For Report Stage I have taken out a number of key issues in relation to this section. In the most recent appeal against the disallowance by the registrar of an application for registration, the chairman of the appeals board, Mr. Justice Ronan Keane, described the threshold for registration of political parties — which was set previously inLoftus v. the Attorney General in 1979, quoted on Committee Stage — as low and drew attention to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of interpretation of the terms “genuine” and “organised”. In view of these judgments it is almost impossible for the registrar to apply any real or qualifying standard for the registration of political parties.

The amendment recommends a new standard be established, that it be based on numerical strength and visible structures of a party. That is reasonable. We are talking in terms of the organisation of the party, that it be governed by rules and annual meetings, that the business be conducted by an executive, committee or some other elected body. I am mindful of the fact that the Green Party does not have the same structures as most other parties in the House but that is catered for in the amendment.

We are into the era of the Government proposing the funding of political parties. It is not unreasonable that the criteria for registration should be specific. The words "genuine" and "organised" political party should be more clearly defined than at present. It is very difficult if the registrar has to make a decision on the basis that it is his opinion that a political party is organised and is genuine.

Amendment No. 34 was proposed by the Minister on Committee Stage. For some reason, which I cannot recollect, the Minister decided not to move this amendment but to consider the matter further as part of his consideration of the registration of political parties and come back to us on Report Stage. The amendment seeks to give a wider role to the appeal board which exists under section 25 of the Electoral Act, 1992 but which may, at present, hear only appeals from refused applications or cancellations of registration. In his careful consideration of the other sections of the Electoral Act, I presume the Minister simply forgot to table his own amendment and that he will accept my amendment.

The Deputy recycled my amendment.

The amendment is the Minister's amendment word for word. Obviously the Minister accepted the argument and the position on Committee Stage that the registrar needed greater powers to require that information be provided to him in the form of a statutory declaration. The amendment will allow the registrar to decide on matters of information on a more definitive basis and might also cut out the need for appeals and the bringing of issues to the appeals board. I do not propose to dwell unduly on the amendment since I am sure the Minister sees the merit of his original amendment and will accept it. I have not yet studied the Minister's amendment No. 88 but I am sure he will tell me what it is about.

We had much discussion on Committee Stage on the whole registration process. In essence what Deputy Dempsey proposed was a new Bill on the registration of political parties. I deemed it inappropriate to graft it into this measure. He made a number of valid points today and on Committee Stage which I said we would consider. We have extra time to consider them because all the matters about funding of political parties and so on will not come into effect until next year. In the interim we will have time to deal not only with the issues of the Public Offices Commission but the registration of political parties. We can give more thought to the specifics of registration which are a matter of fundamental importance to all Members. We will be returning to this matter early in the new Dáil session. It will not be complicated legislation but rather than simply deciding on the thresholds suggested by Deputy Dempsey, there is a certain obvious arbitrariness for choosing a number of Members or the structure of a party. I ask the Deputy not to press amendments Nos. 32 and 33. Irrespective of what side I am on in the new Dáil, it will be imperative to deal with the upgrading of the registration process. That is something we undertake to do.

Deputy Dempsey has rightly acknowledged that amendment No. 34 is a recycled amendment of an amendment I tabled on Committee Stage. I withdrew it on Committee Stage in light of the general discussion on registration. Apparently there are some difficulties in relation to registration that could be facilitated by the acceptance of this amendment, but not simply for the sake of an amendment in my name, it just does not fit into the section. I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment which will appear, in identical form, as amendment No. 88. That will facilitate its correct location in the Bill and avoid consequential amendments.

I have had an opportunity to read amendment No. 88 and on the basis of it I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.
Debate adjourned.