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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Apr 1999

Vol. 503 No. 5

Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed)

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

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate even though I am not and do not intend to become a member of a local authority. At last the role of local government is being recognised by a Government and we are giving it the attention it deserves. In my short time in national politics I have come to appreciate the role played by local councillors. They give voice to their communities' wishes and desires and play a valuable role in connecting people with what can often appear as grey bureaucracies.

Local authority representation is so important that it should be a full-time, paid occupation. Deputy Currie stated that he was in favour of a full-time role for councillors, perhaps even paying them to fulfil that role. This view is in contrast to Deputy Hayes who favours the dual mandate and is seeking election to a local authority. I agree with Deputy Currie that there is no place for the dual mandate.

Mr. Hayes

There are divisions in all parties.

The Minister has signalled his intention in this regard which is to abolish the dual mandate after the coming election. It is good news for local government and our democracy that we can devolve real power to local level and, over a period, upgrade the quality of representation by giving proper payments and expenses to local authority members.

I had the honour of serving an elected education authority – the Inner London Education Authority – which had an elected membership, committees and an executive. It was striking to note that, in local government in London, it was technically possible for members to make a living from the expenses and small emoluments which accompanied that level of representation. This is a good idea as it would mean we would have a core of full time, local public representatives to carry out valuable committee work and other functions associated with local authorities.

One of the problems with the Minister's proposals is that, while providing for more involvement and more power at local level, it may be difficult to secure the kind of representation which is motivated enough to participate in the new structures. We will have to consider some method of rewarding that kind of involvement. This work should be full time for some of those involved. I do not suggest that those with outside interests should not be involved in local government, in many cases people with other professions or trades add to the essence of central and local government.

Some of the most knowledgeable people have concluded that local government has become a haven for petty corruption. I do not share or relish that conclusion but that was how it was when the British Government was in control of this country. Local government became more corrupt as it became more localised. The danger is that as one brings local government closer to the people, the smallness of the country will dictate that the cross-involvement of people will discredit local authorities.

The Flood tribunal is investigating allegations of serious corruption in the planning process in Dublin in the 1980s. The perception that local government is, or could be, a haven for corruption is damaging and dangerous. Unfortunately that image exists because of the practices which emerged in the 1980s during the rapid development of the city and the requirement for additional rezoning for houses. That was regrettable and it is time to move on. This legislation indicates that the Minister has decided to move to an era in which a distinction will be drawn between those who serve on local authorities and those who serve in the Dáil. The dual mandate will be gone within a matter of years and real power will be devolved to the local authorities to conduct their work. In tandem with that process of renewal, change and modernisation, we must put in place mechanisms to police local government on behalf of the public to ensure it does not become a haven for petty or serious corruption. The Bill will bring to local authorities the kind of controls we introduced at a national level in regard to disclosure requirements. They are a minimum requirement now in the practice of politics. If we are to renew and sustain politics in the long term, it must be seen to be transparent and honest, not a business conducted for private gain. This Bill will achieve that.

Deputy Currie referred to the failure to impose a cap on local authority election spending. I do not believe that will cause serious problems in the forthcoming local elections. Anyone who spends huge amounts of money in a local election will be spotted very quickly and people will ask questions. We have a very vigilant media who would quickly pick up on the tell-tale signs of a candidate who was spending excessive amounts of money. Controls were in place for the first time prior to the last general election but it was not possible to monitor what went on prior to the legislation coming into effect. The introduction of that legislation was a definitive turning point and from now on all election spending will be increasingly scrutinised. A great deal was spent by certain candidates in my constituency but there is no point in dwelling on that.

I do not believe the lack of a spending cap will be open to abuse but I agree that the Minister should perhaps consider this issue in the longer term. I understand the Minister's argument that, from the taxpayers' point of view, it would be very bureaucratic and expensive to put such a cap in place as it would require an expensive policing requirement. I am sure the Minister will consider the issue prior to the local elections which will follow those in June.

People concerned about this issue should remember that other parts of this Bill provide for disclosures in regard to spending; candidates will be required to provide statements outlining how much they spend. To that extent, a degree of transparency is provided for in the Bill. That is only proper in view of the alarming disclosures which have been made in the planning and other tribunals. It is important that the public is reassured.

My colleague, Deputy Fleming, has entered the Chamber which brings me neatly to my next point. Deputy Fleming initiated the idea that we are now moving towards full State funding of political parties. This would be a welcome development and we should move quickly towards that position. It would serve to guarantee people that politics are honest. We should also ban corporate and company donations to individuals or political parties. The perception that business might have an undue influence on public policy is very damaging and we should seek to do away with it. I am not suggesting that individuals be prevented from making contributions but we should impose a cap on the amounts involved. I expect the Minister to be in a position in the not too distant future to bring forward radical proposals of that nature. An upper limit of £1,000 might be imposed on individual contributions. Anything greater would be excessive and might lead to the perception that such an individual would have a disproportionately greater influence on public policy than the ordinary man or woman on the street. Such a perception would be very dangerous. State funding of political parties, an absolute ban on corporate donations and the imposition of caps on individual contributions would be progressive moves in regard to national and local government.

The dual mandate must go. Nobody could do two jobs well under the new system of reorganised government. It is far preferable to do one job well than two badly. My limited experience of politics to date has shown that the workload involved at local authority level is enormous and time consuming. The new committee structures which are to be set up within local government will require people to be focused fully on their jobs. They should not have to run from the local authority chamber to the Dáil. We are charged with huge responsibilities in this House; we must legislate for all people, not just our constituents. It is important that we be given the time and resources to do that job well.

This Bill represents a real step forward for local government. Local government will become more real and true for the public. I would like to see the Minister instigating a system whereby mayors would be directly elected. The current system under which county managers enjoy huge executive powers and are, to a large extent, unaccountable is a bad one. Mayors should be directly elected and, if necessary, should be paid to run local authorities for specified periods. This view has been taken by the Labour Party in Britain and a mayor is to be directly elected there. Dublin, at the very least, deserves that. I expect that there would be support for a directly elected mayor for the corporation area as well as other local authorities in Dublin and throughout the country.

Local government has turned the corner. Damaging revelations have been made in public tribunals about rezoning practices and other matters pertaining to local government. We must raise political standards and practices to reassure the public that people are not in politics for private gain or to line their pockets on foot of valuable land rezoning decisions.

I view this Bill as a first instalment, not as a frozen piece of legislation. We have a long way to go before we can restore the kind of public confidence in politics we enjoyed until relatively recently. This legislation is a step in that direction.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999, as it is an area of particular interest to me. This Bill must be viewed in the general political context of where we are in regard to political funding, donations and expenditure at national and local level. There is widespread agreement among the general public and politicians that we must restore and improve standards in public office. It is vital that we do so if we are to restore some of the confidence which has been lost in the political system. That the Government has come forward with proposals for standards in public office is a clear commitment to action. All political parties and Independents in the Oireachtas share this concern. These proposals have been presented to the Committee on Finance and the Public Service and a sub-committee has examined them in detail over the past number of weeks. I was pleased to be a member of that sub-committee which will publish its report on 29 April. The report will be referred to the Government with a view to it considering our comments, suggestions and proposals and bringing forward legislation before the summer.

In recent years a number of tribunals have been established to investigate matters of public importance, including the beef tribunal, the McCracken tribunal, the Moriarty tribunal and the Flood tribunal. A common theme in all these tribunals is the link between business donations and politicians and political parties. The disclosures in relation to these matters arising from the various tribunals have caused concern among the entire community. It is right that all these matters should be fully and properly investigated by tribunals which have very important work to do and everybody should co-operate fully and voluntarily with the tribunals so they can get to the bottom of the matters under investigation. Any wrongdoing highlighted by the tribunals should be investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions and should ultimately lead to prosecutions.

As elected politicians we have a primary role in restoring public confidence in the political system. We all acknowledge the tribunals have important work to do. Nevertheless, politicians have a clear role to fulfil in our own right. They must bring forward proposals to restore confidence in public office – the public expects nothing less. Currently there are several matters with which we as politicians should deal. The essence of a democracy is that elected representatives represent the people. The role of the citizen and voter must be pre-eminent. When people vote in elections their decisions must be respected and there should be no hidden influences on the political system. Revelations in recent years have highlighted links between business and politics. We should separate business and corporate donations from politics and politicians. We should bring forward legislation to outlaw once and for all business donations to politicians and political parties. We should ban all financial contributions from all forms of businesses, be they limited companies, partnerships, co-operatives, representative organisations or other groups. We must also ensure no organisation or umbrella group is allowed act as a collection agent for funds for onward transmission for political purposes.

In a democracy citizens are entitled to show support for a candidate, politician or party of their choice by voting for them on polling day, working for them during an election campaign and assisting them with their time, energy and expertise as may suit the individual concerned. There is a belief that individuals have a constitutional right to financially support a politician or political party of their choice. Legislation should be introduced to limit total donations to a maximum of £1,000 per year per individual. Members and supporters of parties should be free to pay membership fees and participate in local fundraising activities, etc., subject to an annual maximum contribution of £1,000 from any one individual.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in Exchequer funding for political parties. This year £3.17965 million is being made available by the Exchequer to the various political parties and Independents as follows: £2.59901million under the party leaders allowance scheme and £1.4864 million under the Electoral Act, 1997. These figures may not be widely known. Given that the Exchequer has gone a substantial way towards subventing the political system, we should complete the process and provide for full funding of all parties. An estimated additional £4 million would be sufficient to fully finance all political parties. This would give a total Exchequer subvention of approximately £7 million per annum to be allocated between the various parties.

In the context of public funding for parties, all party accounts and financial records should be published, laid before Dáil Éireann each year and be open to public scrutiny. The Comptroller and Auditor General should report on the accounts on an annual basis. New legislation should provide for funding for new candidates, those who failed to be elected and new political parties. If no such mechanism existed the legislation would be biased in favour of established political parties.

There is a widespread belief that business donations to politicians and political parties are not healthy and should be stopped. The country is almost on a permanent tribunal footing in the context of investigating these donations. We are spending many millions of pounds per annum on various tribunals, the root cause of which in many cases are payments to politicians. We would be far better off investing some of this money in providing full public funding for parties and eliminating all corporate donations.

Sooner or later the political system will have to accept that corporate donations to politicians and political parties are no longer acceptable. We should take the lead at this time. I propose the enactment of legislation to ban all financial donations by businesses to politicians and political parties, to restrict financial donations from individuals to politicians and political parties and to provide for full funding and accountability for all political parties and candidates.

This is the essence of the points I raised at the sub-committee of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service last week when we considered proposals by the Government for standards in public office. It is appropriate that these points be restated in the Chamber during this debate.

I welcome the general thrust of the Bill and am happy that it has been brought before the House. I expect it will be enacted before the forthcoming local elections. I also hope all candidates and potential candidates will be given an easily readable summary, in simple English, outlining their obligations. The Bill sets out onerous obligations and I would not like anybody to be in contravention of it as a result of not understanding the various measures included in it.

The Bill provides a statutory scheme for the disclosure of election expenses at local elections by candidates, political parties and third parties. In addition, candidates will be required to disclose the source of funds used to meet these election expenses. Any donation over £500 will also have to be disclosed. These provisions are good. Some controversy has resulted from the fact that no limits have been mentioned in terms of expenditure in local elections. This is the first time we are applying these provisions to local elections and it is appropriate that we establish a full picture as to what is happening and use that information for future purposes. Perhaps we will examine the issue of expenditure limits at a later date, although I am not in favour of them. People are free to spend as much money as they like advertising Coca-Cola, McDonalds, cars, etc. I place a higher value on the political process and on being elected to public office than on buying some of these consumer goods. To my knowledge the advertisement of cigarettes is the only other area where there are major restrictions on the basis that cigarettes damage health and can lead to death. It is incongruous that the only other area where expenditure on advertisement and promotion is restricted is in the context of general elections. I do not want to see excessive expenditure, but the approach is fatally flawed and demeaning to the political process. Voter turn out and the numbers who vote on polling day has been mentioned. I would like the Department of the Environment and Local Government to spend a great deal of time, energy, resources and funding on conducting detailed questionnaires and surveys of the public on why they do not vote. The turn out in recent general elections has been in decline. There was a time not so long ago when the turn out was more than 75 per cent. In the last election it was 66 per cent. That means one in three of the electorate, which is almost one million people, decided for one reason or another not to vote. That concerns me, and I would like research and information on that so politicians can address the reasons people do not vote. That would be a good service to the political system.

Another provision in the Bill I am pleased to see is the fund for research into the electronic recording and counting of votes in future elections using ballot papers from the forthcoming local and European elections. We should only count votes electronically. I would not be pleased to see a mechanism which meant one had to vote mechanically or electronically in polling stations. A number of people might find that off-putting, older people especially. None of us has a problem filling out the ballot paper. What causes the public concern is that it can take several days to obtain a result, especially if there are recounts. A system of counting votes electronically would solve that problem, but the ballot paper would have to be designed to facilitate that.

Some ballot papers may not be capable of being counted accurately electronically. That small percentage can be counted manually and included in the overall figure. I would like to see the emphasis on the counting of votes. It is remarkable that it can take several days to obtain a general election result here whereas the result in the UK is obtained in the early hours of the morning after voting and the new Prime Minister is in 10 Downing Street by lunchtime the next day. I would like to see that happening here. I see no reason for the delay.

A matter I would like to see addressed in future legislation on local elections is a provision for the election of the person with the power at local level. If that is to be the county manager, the county manager should stand for election. I am pleased with the suggestion of an election for the chairperson of each local authority, but it is a facade unless the chairperson is to have power.

There is a myriad of legislation covering election expenditure and ethics in politics, such as the Electoral Act, 1997. We now have the Bill and the Government is proposing further legislation on standards in public office which will be published before the summer. It will be necessary before long to have consolidating legislation dealing with this. Every six months when there is a new crisis concerning political matters or when an election is to be held, we introduce legislation to deal with the problem at hand. There is so much legislation, it is safe to say that some of it is contradictory. I would like to see consolidating legislation introduced as soon as possible.

The essence of local elections is that people in a county should have the right to vote for the local authority or county council by which they will be administered. There is a major problem in County Laois. The Local Government Boundaries (Town Elections) Regulations, 1994, provided for the extension of the boundaries of a number of towns, including Carlow, for the purposes of local elections. The boundary of Carlow Urban District Council extended into County Laois for the urban district council elections. In the local elections in June this year, people in County Laois who are governed and administered by Laois County Council and who are in the Dáil constituency of Laoighis-Offaly will vote in the Carlow County Council elections. That is wrong and is almost unconstitutional. The 700 people in the Greycullen area of County Laois have no vote in the forthcoming local elections for Laois County Council even though they are in County Laois and will be serviced by Laois County Council. It is an anomaly that they will only have a vote in Carlow County Council which will have no administrative authority over them. The relevant statutory instrument should be withdrawn and the legislation repealed. It may have been introduced for good reasons at the time, but it serves no useful purpose any longer and should be withdrawn.

I support the legislation and look forward to it being incorporated in consolidating legislation in coming years.

I welcome the measure. The Minister said it provides for a statutory scheme for the disclosure of election expenditure by candidates, political parties and third parties at local elections. In addition, it requires disclosure of the sources of funds used to meet election expenses, which is an innovation. It also requires all donations of more than £500 to be disclosed by those persons within its scope. Other matters dealt with by the Bill relate to disqualification of chairpersons of Oireachtas committees from contesting local authority elections and research on electronic methods of voting. I welcome these reasonable objectives.

The legislation supplements the existing corpus of legislation dealing with other elections which was introduced in 1997. It is important to bear in mind that, no matter what legislation is enacted, the people cannot be protected if they insist on electing venal characters and fools to Parliament. We only have to examine the McCracken report to see that no amount of legislation can deter that type of conduct – the use of offshore accounts and cash payments. No amount of legislation will protect the people if they elect knaves to high office. That is an inescapable fact and is important in terms of the dispute the Labour Party has with the Bill. I understand it proposes to divide the House on the question.

The approach taken by the Minister of insisting that all election spending be disclosed is correct. It is better to require a candidate to disclose all election expenditure than to require him to travel with a chartered accountant during an election campaign to ensure he remains within certain spending limits. If there is an insistence on candidates making a full disclosure of their spending in an election, a great deal will come to public notice and it will be easy for voters to identify when a person has not made a full disclosure. The system is an effective one. The new requirement that a candidate disclose his sources of funding is also valuable because we will see how candidates raise their funds, be it from private means or from contributions by others. That is a welcome provision.

I appreciate that it would have been possible for the Minister to implement the type of scheme envisaged in section 72 of the 1997 Act in a local election context. That option was open to him but he decided not to exercise it and to introduce this simple Bill instead. It retains the principles of disclosure of donations and controls on expenditure through full disclosure but prevents the development of a large bureaucracy in this area. The Minister pointed out that there are 268 electoral areas, a great number of councillors, a large number of electoral contests and a huge variation in size between different electoral areas. It would have been difficult to devise limits on expenditure in that context. Neither do we have any information in that context. One of the merits of the scheme of disclosure proposed in the legislation is that we will now develop a body of hard information about what happens at elections. That is the best basis upon which we can draft legislation. If specific abuses come to light it is open to us in the House to amend the legislation and deal with them.

For present purposes the legislation puts local government elections on a solid foundation as far as the disclosure of expenditure and donations is concerned. It is very important that be done. Without casting a slur on local government I would have thought this was the first and not the last area that should have been attended to by recent Governments because that is where the local and personal contact and the conflict of interest are most apparent. We should, therefore, have introduced this legislation in the first place for the protection of councillors.

I was not a Member of this House when some of the legislation affecting Members was passed, but since I have had to complete the declarations, I have often been struck at how much of it appears to be theoretical and unreal. There are no real conflicts of interest relating, say, to the work of a backbench Deputy and the kind of ethical requirement imposed by the legislation. However, in local government these conflicts arise every day, inevitably where councillors have powers to vary, add to and enhance the value of property through the provision of local services. It is vital, therefore, that councillors be protected through a scheme of legislation of this type which puts their candidature and election operation beyond question.

The Labour Party is anxious to provide for expenditure limits. However, to operate that scheme in a local election context would involve the creation of a massive bureaucracy. The alternative option the Minister has chosen to exercise in introducing this Bill and the provision for the devolution of this matter to each council is appropriate. The initial responsibility for counting the votes has always rested with the local authority so this new policing regime will also be attended to by the relevant local authority. That is a desirable way of proceeding in this matter.

In some respects I regard this legislation as a substantial improvement on the 1997 legislation. The Bill provides for a realistic system of accountability. The national party must have an agent, as must the local party in the specific electoral area and the candidates. That reflects the reality of the electoral system and how campaigns take place today. A clear accountability is imposed on the party at national and local levels and on a candidate to make the level of disclosure required by the legislation.

I have already welcomed the fact that the sources of funding must now be disclosed. It is an innovation that was not provided for in the 1997 Act. The disclosure of all expenditure in principle is a far better approach to this problem than requiring candidates to observe a limit which I fear would, in many cases, only lead to evasive practices. I also fear that under any systems of limits and limitations, attempts would be made to evade them which would in turn bring politics and public life into disrepute. By contrast, a scheme of broad and total disclosure, as provided for here, would foster an attitude among politicians and candidates where they must make clear everything they spend in an election campaign.

On the general political question I agree with Deputy Fleming's remarks on the proper relationship between political parties and public life and money and influence. This has been the subject of much debate because of the tribunals. The key point here is that political parties are volunteer organisations. We as politicians must foster a greater recognition that they are an essential feature of democratic debate and democratic life in this State. There is a need to recognise this at every level of our legal system.

The all party committee on the Constitution is examining whether there should be a constitutional recognition of political parties – they are not referred to in the Constitution. However, they play a vital part in the proper operation of our democracy. There is a need to recognise that principle enshrined in the Constitution.

As is the case in the Amsterdam Treaty.

Indeed. Many modern constitutions in continental jurisdictions contain an express recognition of the importance of political parties in the civic culture.

We must also foster an opinion in which it is understood that political parties are essential to democratic debate and are essential if people are to exercise real authority over the organs of government that are established by them in the Constitution. In a country like ours, with a political system that is prone to much fragmentation and to placing the emphasis on the personal consideration rather than the principled argument or policy, it is essential that we promote the idea that political parties have a central part to play as voluntary organisations in developing a healthy democracy.

If we are to do that we must address in a radical way the question of money and influence. We must set a limit on the amount anyone can contribute to a political party. In a voluntary organisation it is desirable to have fundraising. It is also part of the spirit of any political party to have some fund raising, but there must be a monetary limit which necessarily entails far greater public provision for the political parties themselves in the form of funding. In saying this I have gone beyond the strict scope of the Bill, but it is very important for our public culture that we recognise this problem because we must also recognise that we have brought onto ourselves a degree of disrepute because of the tribunals. With no disrespect to Independent Members, we must foster political parties.

What does the Deputy mean by "we"?

We as a House and as legislators, through the type of constitutional change I have referred to and by legislating for the funding of political parties. If we do not address this issue civic life may be the poorer.

I welcome the legislation and I accept the Labour Party raises a legitimate point on the capping of expenditure at elections because there is the danger that the candidate with a vast amount of money can, in effect, purchase his or her way to an elected authority. I assume that is the danger the party is trying to address.


However, I have always seen a constitutional problem with this. Suppose in our modern electronic age I am seriously defamed in the course of an election on television and in the national newspapers. Have I not the right of reply and, if my supporters believe I have been defamed, have they not the right of reply? A very large amount of expenditure might be available to exercise that right, yet it could not be taken under a system which imposes expenditure limits.

If the Deputy was defamed on television he would have the right to reappear on it at no cost.

There is no cost involved in that, but one may wish to make one's position clear through the distribution of appropriate literature and, if necessary, the taking out of advertisements in the national newspapers, which is a very expensive operation.

However, there is a practical problem with excess expenditure in that it enables very wealthy individuals to effectively purchase their way in if they spend enough money. That problem must be addressed. Nevertheless, experience under this legislation will enable us to legislate where specific abuses exist and we can, in appropriate cases, decide that certain forms of election expenditure should not be permitted.

Realistically, the areas of high expenditure in elections relate to advertising in newspapers and outdoor advertising. The old fashioned poster campaign is the poor man's outdoor advertising campaign. The cost of procuring advertisements from companies such as Adshel – I have never had the benefit of it – is very substantial and the quotations supplied by advertising agencies are very expensive. That kind of expenditure means spending a great deal of money and if one candidate can afford to buy a lot of newspaper space and conduct that kind of very high quality advertising campaign, it gives that candidate a great advantage over other candidates. Ultimately, however, the people retire to the ballot box and make their decision.

The legislation proposes to undertake research on electronic voting and for that purpose there is a legal necessity to permit the use of the ballot papers which are collected after the elections for the purposes of research. The Bill is carefully drafted to safeguard the secrecy and anonymity of that operation.

I have reservations about the introduction of electronic voting at polling places. The famous legend of Mayor Daly's intervention in Chicago in 1960, that the police were requested to assist in some of the electronic polling places, was alleged to have affected the result of a presidential election.

It was mechanical.

Yes, but the electoral system, like the judicial system, must be seen to be beyond reproach. I am not convinced that the replacement of the manual system with some form of electronic system would protect the electoral system from reproach.

I agree there must be scope for improvements in the operation of the count. However, I have always questioned the basic rules at general elections because the non-use of fractions in the computation of surpluses is wrong and the manner in which the physical surplus is transferred is wrong. Again, it is outside the scope of this legislation but Deputy Fleming raised it.

I am glad the Deputy noticed that because I was going to tell him that it was outside the scope of the legislation.

The Minister has chosen to make two or three miscellaneous amendments in the electoral code and I suppose it is legitimate to point out one or two other ones which could be made. If research on electronic voting is to be conducted, it is clear there will have to be certain changes in the electoral rules for the computation of the votes.

I extend a broad welcome to this legislation. The Minister has tried to devise a practicable scheme which will address the concerns which have arisen in recent years.

There has been a great deal of debate in recent times about whether Members of this House should contest local authority elections. It should be left to the individual Member. I have chosen not to contest the forthcoming local elections but it should be open to a Member who wishes to contest an election to do so. While a Minister is disqualified from being a member of a local authority because of a conflict of interest, it has not been suggested that there is a conflict of interest between the position of a backbench Deputy or an Opposition Deputy and the position of a councillor. We are not unique in this respect. I think President Mitterand retained the mayoralty of a tiny village in the south of France throughout his later political existence.

Mr. Hayes

Giscard D'Estaing.

The involvement of national politicians in local politics is common in other lands. I am not certain that it is desirable to prohibit Members of this House from contesting local elections. After all, many backbench Deputies on the Government side have little influence over policy, and the fact that they may contest a local election and play a part in the development of their communities through a local authority is important to them and provides a natural focus of leadership in that area.

I also have doubts about the constitutional propriety of prohibiting people from contesting elections but that issue has not been considered in this legislation. The chairpersons of Oireachtas committees are allowed to contest elections under this legislation. That matter is under consideration.

Part IV gives the legislation teeth. It is important to note that not alone are there criminal offences involved but that, in the event of a local election petition if the breach of the Act materially affected the result, the election could be set aside. That is an important sanction which ensures there will be substantial compliance with the legislation. With the knowledge of a possible petition – there is nothing like a hanging to concentrate the mind – no doubt candidates contesting the local elections will realise that if a breach of these provisions materially affects the result, they may be unseated on petition. That is a powerful deterrent and will ensure the implementation of the legislation.

While I welcome this Bill, we must tackle the broader problem of addressing the central role of political parties in the civil culture of the State recognising that through the Constitution and appropriate statutory provisions.

Will his committee propose that?

It is under examination.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has half a minute remaining.

No amount of legislation will protect the people against knaves and rogues who offer themselves for election and convince the people that they should be elected. This type of legislation can assist. That is why I do not agree with the Labour Party approach on this Bill. There is enough disclosure in the legislation and the problem of expenditure limits can be addressed when we see the practical experience as a result of this legislation,

Before I adjourn the debate I want us to remember that today is the 100th anniversary of the first county council meetings.

Debate adjourned.