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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 27 Apr 1999

Vol. 503 No. 6

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."

I wish to share my time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the local government system which has served this country well. Local authority members have always given their time, energy and efforts in a voluntary capacity in the interests of local democracy. As a result of what is taking place at certain tribunals, emphasis is now being placed on the performance of some members of local authorities and on officials also.

With the development of urban areas and the need for development land, the issue of rezoning has come to the fore in no uncertain terms. It is amazing that, on the one hand, people want more development land for housing, yet on the other hand, when land is rezoned the question is always asked as to who voted for rezoning. That dilemma has existed over the years.

The Minister has been prompted to introduce the Bill, providing for the disclosure of what each candidate spends at local election time. It is an amazing comparison that there is a cap on expenditure in Dáil elections, yet there is no such cap in local elections. I hope the Minister will explain that.

He should also explain his remarks over the past 12 months concerning his plan for the revolutionary reform of local government. He said he would not allow people to hold a dual mandate in the Oireachtas and in a local authority. That idea was put to bed, however, and various theories have been suggested to explain why the Minister did not follow through on his original proposal. If local authority members are allowed a salary, which they should get, the Minister may find himself in a dilemma with regard to Members of the Oireachtas who are also members of local authorities. What will be their position in such circumstances? The Minister may find himself caught between wishful thinking and having to deal with the political reality of his own backbenchers. He probably had good intentions and that is nothing new for politicians, but it is a question of completing the course. In this case the Minister did not do so.

We will create a two-tier approach to local and national elections. It is not good enough and the arguments in favour of it must be faced down. If Dáil election candidates can make their declaration statements to the Public Offices Commission, so should local election candidates. The Minister maintained that the arrangements proposed were in the context of giving more powers and functions to local government. That does not make sense. It gives more work to local government when an independent body, the Public Offices Commission, is functioning well. The Government must think again about this.

A student survey published last week showed that 15 per cent of students are not registered to vote, and I suspect that figure could be applied across the board to that age group. The figure is amazing but is one I have no reason to doubt. In reforming any voting or electoral system, the first thing a Minister should do is introduce a system whereby when people come of age they are automatically placed on the voting register. We have all heard stories over the years of people being taken off the register and political activists of one party or another being blamed. That kind of system should be long gone. We are debating a new system of counting votes but should ensure that every person over the age of 18 is entitled to vote. That should be the first priority.

We are beginning to get used to the capping of expenditure in general elections and Members experienced this in the recent by-elections. Why have local elections been overlooked? We know that a small minority of local election candidates spend considerable sums of money. If the Minister wanted to create a level playing field he should have capped expenditure for local elec tions as well, or left well enough alone. However, the Minister has a habit of meddling and getting involved in matters that end up worse than when he started. This is what he is doing in parts of this Bill.

Candidates have to disclose subscriptions and donations they receive at election time. Politics is very local and donations at this level are equivalent to people making donations to the local football team, as Members are aware, and the parish element comes into play. If people in a parish or area want a person to represent their area at local level, it is understandable that they get together and make a donation towards their candidate or candidates. Local pride comes into this and there is no other reason for it. Rushing to ensure that local election donations are declared is an over-reaction.

The Minister of State and I have both had the experience of parents ringing us to say that their child is over 18 but is not on the register. The parents may tell the child to vote and the child may have little interest in doing so, but if he or she is not on the register, that kills the initiative.

Not enough thought has been put into this Bill. It is a hotchpotch, though its intentions seem good.

This Bill is in many respects an extension of the Electoral Act, 1997, with one glaring difference: the absence of Exchequer funding. We are now familiar with the concept of candidates in a general election receiving a vouched refund if they obtain a certain percentage of the votes but those participating in the forthcoming local election will not be able to do so. In addition, there is no cap on the amount of money that can be spent on a campaign. One wonders what the purpose is in bringing forward a Bill that is more renowned for what it excludes than what it includes. Nevertheless, the basic concept is to make the funding of parties and individuals more transparent and it is welcome from that point of view.

However, it does not place a great restraint on candidates, and thus nothing other than perhaps embarrassment will prohibit a candidate from putting a great deal of money into his or her campaign. It is true that the more money one puts into a campaign the greater the chance of election. The argument is often made that posters, one of the more expensive items in an election, are not effective. However, we all know what a can of Coke and a pint of Guinness looks like, yet how often do we see their images on billboards? This Bill should have addressed the capping of expenditure, as we should place as many obstacles as possible in the way of wealth playing a role in electoral success.

Since my election I have heard many discussions of the 1997 Electoral Act and the answers to many of the questions it raises are still hazy. The situation is almost on a par with the Good Friday Agreement as parties continue to seek clarification. When informed that the provision of a sit down meal would have to be included in election expenses, one experienced politician remarked that he would have to examine the feasibility of feeding people while they stood. No doubt the provisions of this Bill and the 1997 Act will put many sharp minds to work on how best to sidestep one's obligations.

I hope the Minister produces a small booklet to outline simply the requirements of this Bill. Irish people in general do not like to fill out forms or make out returns and prospective councillors will not be any different. It might save many difficulties if candidates were provided with a sample return on producing their deposits. The Minister should look into giving a booklet and sample return to those paying deposits to stand in the local elections. I understand that some candidates did not furnish returns after the 1997 election. How is this problem being addressed? Can we learn any lessons from it?

Section 6(7) deals with a case where a person other than a national agent, designated person or candidate, or a person authorised by them, proposes to incur election expenditure. The person must notify the local authority concerned of the nature, purpose and extent of the proposed expenditure. Following the election, he or she must furnish a statement to the local authority. I fail to see the purpose of the initial part of this requirement and I see grave difficulties in trying to implement it in the forthcoming election, when many people will not be aware of the provisions of the Bill. It is not uncommon for companies to wish their local candidates well in the body of their own newspaper advertising. How will the Minister address this? Will he consider dropping the requirement to inform the local authority beforehand? This would make the Bill easier to comply with and I see no downside to such a change.

Section 13 addresses the statement of donations and election expenses as well as the source of any donation of more than £500. Where a person makes more than one donation to a candidate in the same election, all such donations shall be aggregated and treated as a single donation. Most political parties are organised for local elections on an electoral area level. It is unclear what the situation will be if an individual makes a donation of £2,000 to an area organisation and this is subsequently spent on a candidate in the election campaign. Does the ceiling of £4,000 referred to in the 1997 Act come into play in such a situation? The Minister must clarify these questions to avoid a repeat of the debate which followed the enactment of the 1997 Act.

A much publicised scheme is in place for councillors who have decided not to contest the next election. It also extends to personnel who have already stood down and to their next of kin and is unflatteringly referred to as the scrappage scheme. Its purpose appears to be to bring new faces into local politics but if this is so, the scheme is misplaced. Most political parties realise that it is not an easy task to entice new candidates into the electoral fray and it is not commendable to put a scheme in place for the sole purpose of enticing experienced personnel to leave local politics. In our efforts to involve young people in politics we should not exclude their elders. A form of retirement scheme should be put in place so that all councillors receive a gratuity on retirement and not merely as an incentive to clear the decks on this occasion. Local representatives work very long hours and make many sacrifices for no real remuneration. When they claim expenses or avail of what their critics call junkets, they are ridiculed. During the past eight years,councillors have listened to many people telling them how to do their jobs but when one looks for people to stand in local elections, the solution experts scatter like autumn leaves. I have no doubt that by next July or August they will have returned.

The job of a local representative is a thankless one and the pressures associated with it have increased in recent years as our economy places an unprecedented strain on the development of services and a culture of greed and opportunism takes root. In conjunction with the retirement scheme, the Minister should have addressed the issue of councillors' allowances and expenses. He has not done so because, if he did, many of those he hopes will retire from local government might stay on. Had the details of such a scheme been put in place in time, more new candidates might have been encouraged to come forward.

Local government decisions impact greatly on our daily lives. Local representatives must often make unpopular decisions and do not always adopt the populist line. The unpopular decisions of local representatives are often more visible than those of central Government and with the increasing advent of pressure groups it is important that public representatives have the necessary moral courage to make decisions that are for the general good and not merely populist or politically motivated. The same group of local representatives often make all the hard decisions while a minority cash in on populist policies. The general public do not have access to records of decision making at local level. We could improve this situation by providing more accommodation in the public galleries of county council buildings and making available the record of meetings. Generally, the only record of local authority meetings is the account in the local newspaper and this often consists of no more than a vague reference.

It is essential that local representatives put aside party politics in the interest of the well being of the area they represent. There has been a move away from this practice in recent times. Reading a history of local government in Wicklow between 1899 and 1999, I came across a speech by the late James Everett in which he complimented members of the council for not bringing party allegiance to the table.

With the increased competitiveness of Oireachtas elections, some TDs have brought a form of paralysis to local government. I am aware the Minister is addressing this matter. To debar Oireachtas Members from local representation may impact negatively on them but that is a risk we must take and, if necessary, amend the electoral system accordingly. A few weeks ago I received an acknowledgement of a planning application from my local county council, copies of which were sent to 11 politicians. Officials and politicians spend too much time and energy on such activity which is making the system hopelessly inefficient.

Under the terms of section 83 of the Local Government Act, 1946, industrial sites could be sold by local authorities below market value, to indigenous people who would provide employment locally. Officials in some councils are reluctant to do this because of their obsession with value for money. I hope officials of local authorities will look again at this practice.

I welcome section 24 of the Bill which refers to the electronic counting of votes. Voters can be intimidated if they believe that tallymen can identify the ballot papers of individual voters. As the initial of my name is T, I hope the Minister might consider placing the names of candidates on ballot papers randomly rather than alphabetically.

My name is also at the bottom.

The Minister appreciates my difficulty. Unfortunately, too many Deputies have names such as Ahern, Bruton, Dukes and so on.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for a statutory scheme of disclosure of election expenses of candidates, political parties and third parties at local elections. I am glad that disclosure is an integral part of the Bill and that donations over £500 must now be disclosed.

Many have asked why there is no expenditure limit on spending at local elections. Local elections are not comparable with Dáil elections. The Minister has referred to the very large number of local electoral areas, the varied membership of local authorities and the varied populations within local authority areas. An expenditure limit would have to treat all candidates equally and this would cause great difficulty.

We learn from our experience of previous elections but as county council elections have not been held since 1991 – urban council and town commissioners elections were held in 1994 – no information is available on past election expenditure. This presents a difficulty as we debate this legislation.

I am glad the Minister promised that, after the election, an analysis of the effect of the legislation would be carried out to see if the advantage of imposing expenditure limits would outweigh the added bureaucracy it would cause for candidates and parties. The Minister stated that all documentation of local interest only would be sent to Dublin. This would not facilitate local access to such documents. He also mentioned the extra cost of £300,000 for eight extra staff in the Public Offices Commission. We do not know the extra cost for candidates and political parties but parties will be obliged to make two declarations of information, to the local authority and the designated authority in Dublin.

The scheme would involve much bureaucracy and would add to the cost of elections. It is hoped that expenditure on local elections would not be so great as on Dáil or European elections. The Minister has referred to the principle of disclosure which is contained in the 1997 Electoral Act. All candidates will be obliged to disclose the sources of their funding for election expenses. Most European Union countries do not impose election expenditure limits in local elections. The threshold in respect of donations to political parties is too high. Perhaps the Minister will consider this in other legislation.

The Bill removes the disqualification from membership of a local authority of a chairperson of a joint or standing committee. Although Deputy Healy-Rae has received much publicity, many Deputies will be affected. There are 14 joint committees and five standing committees.

Much of the legislation passed in the last ten to 15 years has more to do with Members of the Oireachtas than with improving local democracy. In 1989 the then Government decided that, on appointment, Ministers of State should resign their local authority seats. Chairpersons of committees cannot chair their local authorities or be lord mayor. I can envisage difficulties in 2004 when members of local authorities elected to the Dáil or Seanad will not be allowed to contest local elections. Although I am not in favour of the dual mandate, I can envisage this decision being the subject of a legal challenge.

It is eight years since the last local elections were held. This is bad for democracy. I know of many individuals in my constituency who are committed to local government and who were anxious to contest again, but because of the delay are not in a position to do so. On the last occasion a colleague of mine lost out by 38 votes. Six months later in a co-option he lost out by three votes. This is repeated in many local authorities. I would be the first to admit Fianna Fáil has not always been a saint when it comes to co-option – there has been much talk of gentlemen's agreements – but it should be provided for in legislation that there should be a substitute list of candidates, similar to that in European Parliament elections, ensuring that, when a person resigns or dies, the party or Independent grouping concerned retains the seat. Following co-option, a party or grouping which received 10 per cent of the vote may end up with half of the seats in an electoral area. This is a negation of democracy. It has been suggested that, to avoid by-elections, there should be a substitute list for Dáil elections.

The provision under which local elections will be held at five year intervals is welcome. It has been suggested that there should be a fixed term for Dáil elections, as is the case in many European countries and in the United States. Perhaps the Minister will consider this in other legislation.

On the PRSTV system, political parties and candidates like to have a tally to identify their support base and to determine the number of candidates they should put forward for election when constituency boundaries are redrawn. Is the day of the tallyman over?

On electronic voting, it has been suggested that persons who have emigrated within the last five or ten years should be entitled to vote. This is being considered by the committee on the Constitution whose proposals are awaited. In the event of a snap election, the necessary technology might not be available immediately to allow them cast their votes. This supports the case for a fixed term for Dáil elections. It has been suggested that emigrants should be entitled to vote by fax. Whatever system is chosen, it will have to be supervised at an embassy or consulate, as is the case in most European countries and in the United States. There have been huge leaps forward in computer hardware and software.

I compliment the large number of local authority members who are resigning under the scheme introduced by the Minister. They are entitled to their gratuity which has been under attack from certain sections of the media. A former colleague of ours, Councillor Martin O'Toole said recently his gratuity for 42 years service works out at £1.70 per day. This represents good value for money. I wish him and all those who are retiring well.

I compliment the Minister on introducing the scheme. While some have said it should be improved, others have said it should be revised. I advocate one change. I know of a number of public representatives who are members of a county council and a corporation. Under the regulations they are not entitled to the gratuity if they resign from the county council and contest the corporation elections. They have a very good case for being paid a gratuity. A large number, some of whom were featured on Marion Finucane's radio programme, will not get this gratuity.

Many members have not had the benefit of the new facilities in council offices which are very much part of the history of the centenary of local government. The Minister was in Galway last Thursday to officially open the new county hall there. It is symbolic of the new thinking in local government and newly elected members will have better facilities. I expect our new councillors to be very busy with more and longer meetings. The SPC initiatives are also in place and were started in Galway County Council as a pilot programme.

Deputy Timmins and Deputy Belton spoke about the compilation of the electoral register. It is an important point and I would like the electoral register to be complied in the same way as the population census in that every household should receive an application form and detail the number of eligible people in it.

Another worry is the number of polling stations being closed. If the Department of the Environment and Local Government continues to suggest, as it has done in the past, that 1,000 people should vote at every polling station, people in rural areas such as Connemara may have to travel more than 25 miles to go to their local polling stations. That is something I would not like to see happen. At present people are driving past their local polling stations to vote at other polling stations. Every local authority should ensure a revised scheme will be put in place so that people will be able to vote at their local polling stations. There should be access for the disabled if they wish to vote and people should have to travel only a reasonable distance.

The question of posters at polling stations has come up. At present they must be placed 100 metres from the polling station. I am conscious people can be impeded going into a polling station, and that should not happen. However, posters at a polling station create an atmosphere of political activity and it will indicate to people where the station is located especially if polling stations are relocated under the revised scheme. The Minister should not worry too much about posters because the litter legislation covers taking them down immediately after the election. There is a need for some posters around a polling station to create a buzz at election time.

In the run up to the June elections, I have been taken aback by what I would call unauthorised planning where posters seem to have been posted before Christmas at roundabouts and in prominent places along our county roads. Are local authorities taking any action to stop people putting up these posters? The place for posters is at polling stations at election time.

Another issue which arose at recent elections concerns voting for people on the islands. There has been a strong lobby that people on the islands should vote at the same time as everybody else. In the past, early voting has been organised for them which does not please them. There is a problem in that if the islanders vote on the same day as everybody else and we cannot get the votes because of bad weather, the count will be delayed. When talking about electronic methods of voting and recording, perhaps the Minister might look at the position of island communities.

I welcome the opportunity given to people to correct the register or to include names that have been omitted. The Department and local authorities should advertise more that corrections can be made up to shortly before polling. When Telecom Éireann recently contacted everybody on the register about share options, many people were amazed at their addresses and the spelling of their names. This shows there can be mistakes on the register despite the best will in the world. There is an opportunity for people to make corrections and to add names left off the register. This should be done and every effort should be made to pub licise the fact corrections can be made under legislation and regulations passed by this House.

I join Deputy Kitt in expressing thanks to serving members of local authorities who have decided not to contest the election in June. Like all politicians, they are frequently lampooned and often maligned. I suppose it is something we should all get used to and about which we should not worry too much, although very often county councillors come in for an undue share of it. There is a fund of wisdom among those members of local authorities which we ignore at our peril and to our disadvantage. It is only fair this House should recognise the debt it and the public owe to the work done by members of local authorities of all parties and by independent members.

It is a measure of our sensitivity that people get a little vexed from time to time at the nickname which has been given to the gratuity scheme. If I am properly informed, a member of a local authority first dubbed it the scrappage scheme. I found more members of local authorities who were amused by it rather than annoyed. They have a far more robust and resilient sense of humour than that which many of the pundits who comment on these matters tend to have.

I agree with Deputy Kitt in his observation that the role of members of local authorities is changing. I agree with his view that members who will be elected to local authorities next June will, in many ways, have a more onerous role than current members. Members of local authorities, who have been members for the past eight years, have been under substantially increased pressure by the changing demands of life as a member of a local authority. I hope that continues because I believe a number of functions currently exercised by the managers of local authorities should be handed back to its democratically elected members. That is perhaps a little outside the scope of the Bill so I will not go into it too much at this stage.

This is an odd Bill which is, in some ways, as remarkable for what it does not contain as for what it does. It does not, for example, carry through the provision that Members of this House who chair committees of this Houses or joint committees would be disbarred from being members of local authorities. I was never sure that a very good legal or constitutional basis existed for that particular bar. It seems to me that any Member elected to this House should be eligible to fulfil any function which can carried out by such a person. Equally, anyone elected to a local authority should be entitled to carry out any function proper to local authority members. There is a difference between someone who chairs an Oireachtas committee being a local authority member and someone who is a Minister or Minister of State holding such a position. The provision that local authority members who are appointed to office should resign their local authority membership is a perfectly proper and pru dential one. I cannot imagine how a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of State could hope to combine ministerial or Oireachtas functions with local authority ones. That would be impossible.

In some countries, the functions of parliamentarian and minister do not go together. In some of our fellow EU member states, one does not have to be a member of Parliament to be appointed a member of Government. In others, members of Parliament who are appointed to Government positions are obliged to give up their parliamentary seats and have them filled by substitutes. We have not yet reached the point here where we need to consider those measures. Although I can see their validity, I do not believe they should apply to the duality of functions between Oireachtas committee chairpersons and local authority members.

This Bill does not bring an end to the dual mandate of being a member of a local authority and of this House which the Minister has so often spoken about. I agree with the Minister that it is undesirable to try to combine both functions as each could suffer in certain circumstances. I am aware, however, that many Oireachtas Members do not experience any particular difficulty in combining both functions. I cannot imagine there is any constitutional basis on which Oireachtas Members could be debarred from being candidates for local authority membership. My own view is that Oireachtas Members should not be candidates for local authority membership but that local authority members should be entitled to be candidates in general elections. It is a rather idealistic point of view.

I have never been a member of a local authority myself but I am aware that many Members of this House who are also local authority members would, if they could get away with it, prefer not to be local authority members. I cannot see any constitutional way in which such a bar could be introduced. It would be open to challenge; the decision must be left to the good sense of Members themselves and perhaps to a question of party discipline. If parties decide they are opposed to the dual mandate in practice, perhaps they could ask their members to abide by rules in that regard.

The Bill provides for the disclosure of donations and expenditure in local elections although it does not provide for any ceiling on expenditure by candidates in such elections. Nothing I have read or heard constitutes a good reason for not imposing a ceiling on expenditure. We have a ceiling on expenditure in general elections, by-elections and European elections and I cannot see any reason if we believe such a ceiling is appropriate in regard to those elections, it cannot be imposed in regard to local elections. The Minister has stated it would cost a lot of money to supervise such a provision and that it would require a significant increase in local authority staffing levels. I do not find that argument at all convincing and even if it is true, it is not a sufficiently good reason to depart from the pro cedures adopted in general and European elections.

Objections have been made to the absence of a cap on expenditure. It seems nonsensical to me that, as one of two general election candidates running for the same party in a two seater constituency, my party could spend of the order of £16,000 or £17,000 on my election campaign. However, if I decided I wanted to be a candidate in a local election, I could spend that much myself as long as I accounted for its origins. I could spend £1 million in a bid for a local authority seat if I were so inclined and nobody could say 'boo' to me as long as I conformed with the Bill's provisions and declared all donations in excess of £500.

I cannot see the logic of departing from a practice which exists in regard to other elections. If the Minister feels it would be administratively difficult to implement a ceiling, there is another option. We could provide for a series of random checks rather than inspecting individual candidate's expenditure. It would not be beyond the bounds of the ingenuity of the Department of Environment and Local Government to devise a system where the possibility of random checks would be a sufficient deterrent to prevent candidates exceeding expenditure limits.

I have heard Members of this House say that the current situation is unfair in so far as well heeled candidates are at an advantage over those who do not have much money. If we were to look at the composition of local authorities, I am not sure we would find any direct correlation between success in local elections and the amount of money a candidate spends. Nor do I believe an inordinately high proportion of fairly rich people are members of local authorities. In fact – although I am open to correction – I would imagine the proportion of wealthy people who are members of local authorities is smaller than the proportion of wealthy people in the population as a whole.

I have heard colleagues complain that, in the absence of a cap on local election expenditure, prospective candidates in the upcoming by-elections might gain an unfair advantage. I do not know when the two by-elections will be although I suspect they will not be held until after the local elections in June. I see the Minister smiling so I am probably correct. It could be argued that someone who stands in the local elections who may also be a by-election candidate could, by spending a lot of money, build up a good position in advance of that election. That has always been the case. I do not believe that argument is relevant but it is relevant to state that, since we have decided it is appropriate to cap expenditure in general and European elections, we should follow the same logic in regard to local elections. We should not avoid doing so because it might prove too inconvenient. There are ways through which an effective system could be put in place to cap expenditure by local election candidates.

What is involved in the system of disclosure? The system outlined in the Bill is a very strange one. The Minister issued a summary statement on the Bill on 23 February which provides the best summary I can find on what must be declared and the form declarations must take. It states: "The Bill provides that each candidate will submit a one page income and expenditure statement to the local authority for which he or she is a candidate for election." It goes on to say " . . . political parties likewise will submit a one page statement of their total headquarters' expenditure at the local elections to a specified local authority in the Dublin area". I imagine all principal parties will be sending statements of expenditure to some happy and fortunate local authority in the Dublin area. Perhaps the Minister will tell us which local authority will be the fortunate repository of this information. The statement also says "Finally, expenditure by a political party at a local electoral area level will have to be disclosed by a designated person of the political party to the local authority concerned".

Therefore, three statements must be made, namely, one by a candidate to the local authority in the functional area in which he or she is standing, one by the political party of that candidate to that same local authority and one by the political party concerning overall electoral expenditure by headquarters to the specified local authority in the Dublin area. What will happen all this information? There has been some discussion on where the information will be kept and it has a wonderful air of unreality about it. My colleague, Deputy Hayes, asked last week why all this could not be dealt with by the Public Offices Commission, which we went to some trouble to set up in order to supervise and invigilate the activities of politicians in various ways. Why is all the invigilation not being done by this agency? The Minister said that would take functions away from local authorities. However, as far as I know local authorities are not demanding that they be given this job.

To my knowledge it does not matter where the information is kept once it is clear that it is held in a form which is easily accessible and transmissible and once the general public is told how and when they can access it. In this era of information technology it is not necessary to ensure that information concerning expenditure by candidates in the Kildare electoral area is held only in Naas. It is perfectly possible for that information to be made available to an elector in Tully West in County Kildare by the Public Offices Commission in Dublin through the use of modern information technology or even by sending letters in envelopes with postage stamps. What we have heard about convenience and requirements of access to this information is absolute balderdash. We live in a time when there is no difficulty in ensuring information is readily accessible.

The Bill includes provisions whereby local authorities must announce in a newspaper circulating in their area that people can have access to this information after a certain period. This is rubbish – there is no need for such detail of announcement. We could tell the public through the numerous ways we have of getting information to them that all this information is obtainable from the Public Offices Commission if that is what we decided to do. We could decide to do this as it would make much more sense for the Public Offices Commission, which exists to invigilate certain kinds of conduct, to do the same job in relation to local elections as it will be doing in relation to general elections. I see no reason for doing things differently in local elections.

The Bill provides for an examination of electronic recording and counting of votes. I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for inviting me a couple of weeks ago to see a demonstration of this in action. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend and my colleague, Deputy Hayes, went instead. I am interested to see the results of this examination. I have every confidence that the Minister, the Minister of State – they will be surprised to hear me say this – and the Department will use properly and for the purposes set out in the Bill the information they will collect from the local elections and I have no doubt that the necessary norms of confidentiality, etc., will be properly observed. I look forward to seeing the results. The electronic recording and counting of votes would greatly facilitate voters and candidates who would not have to wait so long biting their nails. It would also remove from the counting of votes in general and local elections the randomness which is endemic in the current system.

The Bill is defective as it does not provide for a cap on expenditure. I intend proposing amendments on Committee Stage providing for a cap and for the information to be collected in a way which is different from that set out in the Bill as published. I do not think the course being taken by the Labour Party of tabling a reasoned amendment on Second Stage and voting against Second Stage is the way to improve the Bill. It is far more efficient to propose and I hope the Minister will be far more open to accept amendments on Committee Stage which would bring the Bill into line with what we have provided for in relation to other elections.

I wish to express support for the Minister in his presentation of the Bill. It was important that the issue of clarification of existing legislation would be addressed in light of the current and understandable public scrutiny of financial matters in the political arena. It was inevitable that a demand for this Bill would arise. The public wants its elected representatives to be squeaky clean. They must be seen to be whiter than white in line with the public's expectation and entitlement.

The Minister must be complimented for the lucid layout of the Bill which is a model of its kind. It amends sections of the Electoral Act, 1997, and has been inspired by the growing public insistence on ethical behaviour by all those elected to represent them and who hold public office. It seeks to make the Electoral Act more workable in its interpretation and operation. It evolved following consultation with the party Whips. The amendments were acceptable to all parties, except the Green Party, during the debate in the Seanad. However, it now seems the other Opposition parties are opposed to certain aspects of the Bill. They are entitled to their opinions – this is what democracy is about – but I find their stated reservations difficult to understand. There is widespread cross-party support for the Bill and it is a pity we could not have a unanimous viewpoint on such a straightforward matter.

The sections of the Bill opposed by the Opposition are those which refer specifically to the disclosure of donations for political purposes and the regulation of expenditure in elections. Disclosure of donations over £500 is desirable and necessary, but in today's climate I do not think we will have too many problems with amounts over £500. It is nearly impossible to collect £50 because nobody wants to be involved with politicians, irrespective of what side of the House they are on. The disclosure provisions safeguard the integrity of the democratic system. Undisclosed or hidden donations of large amounts must inspire doubt in the public mind if they are exposed subsequently. It is a natural reaction for people to wonder why such donations were made and concealed.

The Bill addresses matters arising from the knowledge gained since the coming into operation of the Electoral Act. It allows the chairpersons of Oireachtas committees to be members of local authorities, a decision which has unanimous support. The Bill comprehensively addresses the requirement for accountability and transparency in sources of funding for local elections. It provides a statutory scheme for the introduction of standards of integrity in the preparation of accounts for all expenses incurred during election campaigns.

Section 24 provides for research into electronic methods of recording and counting votes under the proportional representation and single transferable vote system. I am sure this proposal will be welcomed by the public. I was delighted to hear Deputy Dukes warmly welcome it. The experiments will be conducted on ballot papers from the local elections on 11 June. It is planned to conduct an experiment on the presidential election campaign in 2004. A demonstration of this was given to journalists. It involves a touch screen process using a specially programmed smart card. I am concerned about one aspect. The card will not release unless the entire ballot paper is filled in, but people may not want to do that. I hope this will be examined. Much of the economic boom has been brought about by our use and investment in technological expertise. We sell ourselves as the base for information technology in Europe. It is important we are seen to use this expertise, of which we are so proud, in the running of our State apparatus. This will be seen as further evidence of the commitment of the Celtic tiger economy to technological excellence.

Electronic voting will have the additional bonus of early election results. I am concerned about tallymen who count box by box and produce important information for political parties on electoral strength area by area. Will they be redundant when electronic voting is introduced? Its introduction will eliminate the wait for a result from long drawn-out manual counts. I sat through such a count until the early hours of the morning not so long ago. I do not want to relive that experience and I hope the voters will be kinder to me next time.

The Bill requires each candidate to submit an income and expenditure account to the relevant local authority within 90 days after polling day. A statement in writing must be furnished itemising all election expenses incurred by the candidate in the election, whether paid or not, and the matter to which they relate and giving details of donations. Failure to observe the guidelines will result in legal proceedings by the State. There are named exceptions to the above, such as the failure to observe the law in circumstances where illness, death or reasonable cause not involving negligence is proved. The Bill requires political parties to submit a statement of headquarters expenditure at local elections and the submission to the local authority of a statement by a person in the local electoral area designated by the political party.

In section 2, the Minister clearly defines donations in wording which cannot be misinterpreted. The terms "donation" and "election expense" are clearly defined. A donation is a sum of money, property or goods, the conferring of the right to use goods or property without payment, the supply of free services, the supply of goods or services at less than the commercial rate and contributions made to events which benefit candidates. I am delighted the Minister has clarified that because we experienced untold difficulty seeking clarification from the Public Offices Commission on a number of aspects of the 1997 Act. In addition, multiple contributions amounting to more than £4,000 by an individual to several party members must be covered by a donation statement which must be submitted to the Public Offices Commission and must be completed by the donor.

I welcome the fact that certain expenses will not be taken into account within the terms laid down by the Bill and these are outlined under several headings. The Minister excludes such items as the payment of deposits, purchase of registers and the reasonable expenses of voluntary workers. I do not expect people to canvass for me from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. without offering them lunch and tea and, on a cold evening, a drink in the pub before they go home. People may not expect it, but it is what they richly deserve if they voluntarily spend their time work ing for a TD. Minor expenses incurred in the election are not included and neither are payments of services provided from public funds or institutions of the EU by virtue of the candidate being a member of a local authority. Other items excluded are any gratuitous service provided by an individual, such as the use of a motor car on behalf of a political party, newspaper publication where a newspaper is not published solely in a candidate's interest, normal political party broadcasts and expenses incurred relating to property, goods or services, where such items were previously provided in respect of an election and were included in the statement of election expenses at the time. An example of the reasonable thrust of the Bill is that it excludes the expenses of an elected representative's normal constituency expenses from being listed as an election expense. I welcome that. It is welcome that the Public Offices Commission accepted this view in recent by-elections. The language used in the definition of what constitutes a donation is unambiguous and not open to misinterpretation.

I am glad the Minister has also seen fit to define the differences between local and Dáil elections in the Bill. It would be farcical at this stage to ask all local elections candidates to appoint election agents as laid down in the procedures for election to Dáil Éireann. It would be impossible to introduce limits on spending for them in light of the variance in the type of local authority, the vast number of candidates' agents who would have to make returns, the mathematics of 1,627 elected members making annual returns each year, the mass of documentation, all of which would has to be sent to Dublin, the cost to the candidates, successful and unsuccessful, of meeting their requirements and the additional heavy expense incurred by the Public Offices Commission in enforcing the requirements of section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1997.

There is a compelling logic in the Minister's down to earth approach. Local elections are a small scale operation and the expenditure normally falls within certain predictable limits, but there is a still a requirement that all candidates disclose the sources of their funding. This is in line with the general principles laid down in the 1997 Act. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has given an undertaking that he will analyse the levels of expenditure to determine if, in future, spending limits should be set at varying levels for different sizes of authority. That is fair and acceptable and I do not understand why the Opposition takes a different view. It is normal practice to do this because there is no history of expenditure in such elections. Most EU states do not have curbs on expenses for local elections.

The positive aspect of the Minister's approach is that candidates will not have to appoint election agents or have expenditure limits, but they will have to account for income and the disposal of that money, they will need to complete a simple form, they must outline individual donations over £500, and their statements will be accepted unless a written complaint is received or the figures do not appear to be credible. It is important these matters are clearly spelled out to all intending candidates. They must be made aware of the parameters within which they will operate. Non-conformity with these guidelines means candidates will be disqualified and will not be eligible for membership of the relevant local authority until the next local elections.

It is practically impossible to run a campaign without financial support, whether it is from one's own resources, fundraising or donations. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise money, to get people to attend party functions or to contribute in writing specifying an amount. Many people do not want their names associated with politicians. All moneys over £500 must be disclosed. Consideration should be given to the proposal that local authorities should pay for elections, including the production of literature and other required paraphernalia on a fair basis for all candidates.

A recent outrageous article about me in The Sunday Times referred to an incident 20 years when I was an employee in a company. An attempt was made to link me to a matter with which I had nothing to do. It was distressing for me and my family. I received a donation from the principal of the company 20 years later. It has got to the stage where one is almost accused by association with people, whether they be acquaintances, friends or business contacts. It must be very difficult for people entering politics to put up with this. The person who made the accusations against me was fined for fraud in the courts in Dublin, the first person to be fined under the intermediaries legislation. While I could name him, I will not do so.

I pay tribute to the excellent work of the city and county managers and to the elected representatives of local authorities. I am privileged and proud to be a member of Cork Corporation for the past eight years. I have enjoyed my work and being part of the development of Cork city.

Deputy Dukes referred to the dual mandate. Councillors have served the country well. The Taoiseach was a member of a local authority, as were previous Taoisigh. I expressed my concerns about the dual mandate some time ago. While circumstances vary across constituencies, one's work as a councillor is connected with one's work as a Member of the Oireachtas. There is a social mix in my constituency of Cork North-Central and where housing and other such matters need attention there is a heavy demand for social services from elected public representatives, including Members of the Oireachtas and councillors. The situation may be different in Deputy Dukes's constituency – I do not know the make up of his constituency or of the constituency of any Member who does not believe the dual mandate is not necessary. Approximately 60 per cent of my work is local authority related while 40 per cent is related to Departments. In view of this, I welcome the Minister's decision not to proceed with his proposals for these elections but to consider the views expressed to him by members of my parliamentary party and other Members in the House.

Among the proposals the Minister is considering is the right of audience for Oireachtas Members at local authorities in their council areas. For example, I cannot get documentation from Cork County Council on decisions it has made or is about to make even though I can get it from my own local authority because I am entitled to it. I hope the Minister agrees to this proposal when he introduces regulations prohibiting Oireachtas Members from standing for local elections in 2004. It is important that we give Oireachtas Members the right to attend and speak, but not vote, at local authority meetings.

The most important by-laws our local authority made under the Electoral Act, 1994, dealt with the prohibition on the consumption of alcohol in public streets and places. At my instigation, Cork Corporation introduced by-laws on 1 November 1998. Members of other local authorities referred to similar measures last week. The public is beginning to respond positively to the by-laws. There have been 122 offenders to date. Many have paid the £25 on the spot fine and 39 are before the courts. The main offenders are a mixture of boys and girls in the 18 to 20 years age group. From 1 May, Cork Corporation will intensify its campaign to stop the ugly sight of drinking on the streets in an uncontrolled environment. We are also introducing new signage. This is a difficult problem throughout the country and I encourage other local authorities to consider the by-laws we have introduced. Some have taken the initiative and I encourage others to do so.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill that refer to the disclosure of donations and the expenditure by candidates in all future local elections, including the election to be held in approximately five weeks. In view of the climate and allegations regarding payments to politicians, the House must extend the limit on donations to public representatives to local authority members. The current low esteem in which politicians are held by many members of the public and the media must be redressed. The politicians are the only ones who can do that.

In the general election of 1997 a donation limit of £500 was imposed. The system appeared to be, and was, more fair. No candidate was in a position to receive large sums of money from those who might be perceived to have been in a position to unduly influence or place undue pressure after the election. In the long-term this provision will be good for politics and for politicians. It is right to attempt to remove the direct donation element from elections and to transfer State funds to political parties, the amount of money in question reflecting their popularity at the last election. The days of the brown envelope and the fistfuls of cash exchanging hands – we do not know for what – are gone.

What we are witnessing today in the tribunals is a necessary part of the cleansing process to begin the long slow attempt to reinforce the public's confidence in politics and politicians. It will take time and it will not be 100 per cent successful, but this generation of politicians owes it to future generations to clean up the tarnished image. Perhaps there is no truth in the rumours we hear and perhaps there are innocent and plausible explanations. Who knows? I hope that is the case, but in the meantime the rumour machines are out and accusations are being made. We are all being tarred with the same brush. We must be seen to clean up our own shop. Who knows the business of election expenditure better than the politicians themselves?

Like my colleagues, I am surprised and disappointed that there is to be no limit on the amount of money which may be spent by an individual candidate. This is crazy. The only people who will benefit are those who offer advertising space in the local media, print literature or deliver literature to letterboxes. That there is to be no limit on expenditure makes it very unfair on those candidates who do not have money to spend on elections or who will not be in a position to receive donations of £500 or £499. In some cases, there will certainly be more than one £500 donation. Where is the equity in this decision? There is no remuneration of local authority members. Many voluntary community workers want to contribute to local politics and to society. A cap on election expenditure would be desirable. I am pleased that Deputy Dukes will table amendments to that effect on Committee Stage. I hope the Minister will reconsider because that view has echoed across the Chamber.

The Minister stated that there are 3,500 candidates standing for election to county councils and corporations. A great deal of money will be spent unless there is some limit on expenditure. I am a candidate in the local elections. I already have a file of media proposals for buying advertising space in local newspapers, free sheets and newsletters. There are all sorts of proposals on offer between now and the middle of June. The way the sales people pitch their wares, one would almost believe one would not be elected unless one spends a certain amount on their particular newspaper. I am told all candidates are placing such advertisements and if one is not in, one will not win. It is a difficult decision to make. Perhaps we should all get together and say no to this, but who could trust whom in this situation? I have even received a suggestion from a local television channel that I buy advertising space along with all other candidates, but I do not believe this works. I would like to be able to say I will not take up their offer of advertising space because I am limited by law on the amount of money I can spend. The only people to benefit are the owners of the media. Those people must be rubbing their hands in delight at the thought of all the money they will make from the 3,500 candidates in this election.

We saw the implementation of spending limits for the first time during last year's by-elections and it worked well. I was directly involved in Cork. The message was clearly brought home by election agents that not one penny more than £20,000 was to be spent in the by-election in the five seat constituency to which I referred. There was a real threat that if the successful candidate overspent during his or her election campaign, he or she risked losing the seat, a prospect no one relished.

A limit on expenditure at elections, be they local elections, European elections or general elections, is a good and fair system, but it demands a great deal of time from a financial officer in the constituency. In the case to which I referred, we were fortunate to have an accountant acting as treasurer who was willing to fulfil that role. It is a difficult position and demands a great deal of commitment. It is not easy to find people who are willing to give such time on a voluntary basis.

Mention was made of the dual mandate. I am not a member of a local authority and I was first elected to the Dáil almost two years ago. I feel the need to be a member of a local authority because otherwise I have no access to the documentation of the meetings or decisions of Cork Corporation or Cork County Council and I have no means of making representations, other than by letter, to the county or city manager or relevant agents. If the dual mandate is to be abolished, Members of the Oireachtas should be provided with access to, or allowed attend meetings of, their local authorities. That is essential to the delivery of a better service to the electorate. A subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government, of which I am a member, recently produced a document on reform of local government and that was one of its recommendations. I am pleased the Minister is also considering this matter.

The introduction of electronic voting is probably welcome and inevitable. It is sad, too, because there is a tradition of nail-biting finishes to election counts. Will the tallyman be redundant? The election count is a spectator sport for those who are not directly involved. I have certain reservations about doing away with it because it is enjoyable for everyone, except perhaps the candidates. The business is done when the polling booths are closed the night before and a certain calmness comes over candidates at that stage. They can do no more about it.

I welcome the Bill but I have strong reservations about the fact that there is no cap on elec tion expenditure. That is essential, particularly in local elections which are about local people going forward to represent their areas. It is not about big spending and high powered election campaigns.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I do not wish to repeat much of the criticism, but a cap on election expenditure has not been introduced in the Bill. While a previous speaker from the Government side stated he could not understand why it was not accepted at the outset, there should be consistency in the work of the Dáil. If a cap was introduced for Deputies, it should be introduced for all other elections, including the most minor ones. If there is justification for not introducing a cap on expenditure for local elections, a cap should not exist for general elections. It is like planning. If one can stand over planning decisions because of consistency, one is justified. It is when a contradiction arises and somebody gets planning permission which was previously refused that public representatives get into a knot.

There should be consistency about that in the same way as there should be consistency about allowing chairpersons of Oireachtas committees to stand for election. It belittles politics when, for the sake of an important supporter of the Government, an Act introduced as recently as 1994 is changed in 1999 to allow that person to stand in the local elections. There is enough sarcasm and criticism from hurlers on the ditch without leaving ourselves open to that kind of criticism. It is absurd.

While I am criticising, perhaps I should raise something which I have already discussed with the Minister on the Adjournment, the absence of photographs on the ballot papers at local elections. Ballot papers with photographs of candidates will be used for the European elections, but we cannot have such ballot papers for the local elections. This is a serious mistake on the part of the Minister. In the past his answer to me has been that one could not get printers to print photographs for the local elections. Every Mickey Mouse printer in the country can produce perfect photographs on canvas cards. One would be amazed at how they can improve the raw material they are given when they are asked to do the printing. I do not accept the silly argument that photographs cannot be printed. It is far more serious than worrying about other candidates and, as a senior member of the local scene who is past his fortieth birthday, I should not give the opportunity to young whippersnappers to pass me by. However, for the sake of voters, photographs should be printed.

I have been approached by the adult literacy group, which is furious that its members are deprived of the right to vote. These people do not want to publicly admit that they cannot read. This is not something this group has made up. On one occasion a man said to me that he had asked me about having photographs on ballot papers before an election. He said that he would not embarrass his illiterate wife and daughter by asking them to vote again and in solidarity with them he would not vote. Therefore, three people did not vote in the following election. This is grossly unfair to such people, who would love to exercise their right to vote. They could go into a polling booth, recognise a photograph and vote for that person. It is almost a dereliction of duty on the Minister's part to allow photographs for the European elections but not the local elections, even though the candidates are better known.

I would welcome electronic voting and counting. I disagree with my colleague, Deputy Clune, because it is not pleasurable to contest an election in a constituency that is one of the last to produce a result and to have to sit there while spectators enjoy the bloodsport. I am a candidate, not a spectator, and I want the result to be known just after the polling station closes, if possible. I did not enjoy sitting in the count centre, hoping that transfers would go the right way and I would be elected. I hope this experiment will work in the forthcoming elections and the system will be used again.

I was surprised by the results of the recent survey carried out by the National Youth Council which found that 52 per cent of young people would vote in the forthcoming elections and approximately 33 per cent would not. Our young people are probably the best educated and have the best work opportunities since the foundation of the State. From my dealings with them, they are very much aware of that and will vote.

I have spoken to students in schools and colleges, as has every Member, and I have been more than impressed with their interest in and knowledge of politics. These students are 18 years old and, thus are eligible to vote. I have the utmost confidence in them that they will vote. They said they would vote for young people and, again, I am at a slight disadvantage, but there will be young candidates for whom they can vote.

I do not know what role the spokesperson for the National Youth Council has but I was dismayed when she appealed to politicians to produce political lollipops to encourage young people to vote. Apart from pointing out that voting is a privilege and a right that many people want to exercise but cannot in other countries, she should fully explain to them why they should vote. She misjudged the situation but may get an opportunity to talk to them again and encourage them to vote.

Councillors do not get the expenses payments they deserve. There is a system in vogue currently via which councillors are given money for attending conferences. If councillors should get expenses for attending conferences, the local authorities and the Department should be prepared to pay them directly. Those of us who serve on local authorities know that some of our colleagues work almost as hard as we do, especially in rural areas, where they are asked to travel to places which have been flooded or which have housing problems and so on. They deserve to be paid expenses and should not have to go through the sham of travelling to conferences around the country which leads to people highlighting on radio programmes the fact that an individual did not attend a given conference. I am not suggesting that people should not attend conferences if they go to the venue but it is not easy for people who are used to working in the open air to sit in on lectures for an entire day. Councillors should be paid a certain amount for attending conferences. Some conferences are excellent and councillors who attend are trying to update their skills and knowledge. However, the bigger share of the money should be paid as expenses and I have said this on many occasions. They deserve it and abuse of the system would be avoided. There will always be people who will abuse systems but many outstanding councillors attend conferences, keep up to date with what is going on and provide an outstanding service to their electorate.

Anything to do with expenses leads to a great deal of comment. This morning Ireland's leading radio presenter interviewed an MEP about the proposed new salary for Irish MEPs, which will bring them into line with the European average. It is ironic that we cannot find out what he earns, but if the rumour is right, he probably earns 10 times more than MEPs and 15 times more than Deputies. If the kettle could call the pot black long ago, Pat should not call the kettle black today.

I am glad the Bill has been introduced. It includes the same basic principles of the previous Bill on this issue in that donations must be disclosed. If the Public Offices Commission were involved and all of us had to declare every expenditure, the system would have been too democratic, totally unwieldy and impossible to operate. There is some merit in the idea of setting maximum spending guidelines, but how can this be done? There should be maximum spending guidelines rather than strict limits. However, the local elections are not the problem because large amounts of money are not spent on them. The spending limits for general election candidates in the previous Bill were too low and would not have been practical. I hope other means are being tried out in this Bill.

I hope the forthcoming elections are successfully run, the principles underlining them are taken on board and the Electoral Act, 1997, is amended. While other speakers referred to the by-elections which were well run according to the new provisions of that Act there is a difference between running a by-election campaign where all the attention of a political party is focused on one candidate and a general election where there are three or four candidates and the organisation's focus and energy is spread around. They are two separate cases and, while the system may have been successful in a few by-elections, that does not mean it is viable – at least, I do not give it my vote of confidence.

The Members opposite are disappointed that no limit has been imposed.

It would have been beneficial for Fianna Fáil Members for all their political lives.

Perhaps, but the question is how one sets the limit. In general elections constituencies return three, four or five Members, but the size of an electoral area does not vary all that much. How can one set a limit for a local election? I understand some Members of this House will stand in the local elections on 11 June in electoral areas with a population of only 1,100, whereas other Deputies will stand in an area with a population of 63,000. What limit can be set and how would we fix it? If the limit is appropriate to an electoral ward of 63,000 people – I am not running in that ward – that would make nonsense of the Bill because for a person running in an electoral ward of 5,000 people or less, the figure that applies to the electoral area of 63,000 is meaningless. If this is to be done properly we must have a range of limits related to the size of the constituency. There is such a huge divergence in the size of electoral areas that one limit would be impossible. Perhaps one of Deputy Dukes's amendments will deal with this, but it must provide a scale of limits. However, the system would then become bureaucratic and people would lose the run of themselves.

I have been selected and hope to run in the Ballymun-Whitehall ward, which is a three seat area. Ballymun covers 50 per cent of this ward, but the population of that area alone is equal to, if not greater than, the populations of County Leitrim, County Longford and County Carlow. Given the scale of the differences, it is impossible to have a single expenditure limit, regardless of how admirable that might be. There is no point in speakers lamenting this unless one provides a list of possible limits, and if that is introduced the scheme will become so complicated we will not know where we are.

I was unhappy with the expenditure figures for Dáil elections set down in the 1997 Act. Thanks to the last boundary commission, at the next election I will stand in a three seat area where we will be able to spend £14,000, which simply is not enough. Like anyone else, I am entitled to fight to retain my job. The party hierarchy and the Comhairle Dáil Cheantair will fight to allocate 40 per cent to one person and 20 per cent to another, so I will be expected to fight for my seat with buttons. As with the previous legislation, the figures in this Bill are too low and should be amended. I am not the last of the big spenders, I spend enough to project myself and that is all, and at Dáil elections we should be allowed to spend more. This Bill goes in a different direction and I hope it is successful.

I also hope we amend the 1997 Act before the next general election because if we do not many candidates will be in trouble. That Act was passed in a great hurry and was not thought through. I envisage parties running extra candidates in some constituencies simply to be allowed to spend more money. There will be two real candidates and two others who will not canvass or look for votes, but because the party is running four candidates rather than two, it will be allowed to spend more.

As I said, I am not speaking from the viewpoint of big spenders, although to listen to me it might sound like I have plenty of money. This aspect of the funding of elections makes me laugh. I have heard speakers from other parties suggest that my party is wealthy, but the picture in the constituencies is quite different – it is the other parties who have the money. At the last election one Fine Gael candidate mis-spent enormous amounts of money and lost his running mate's seat in the process.

It is not difficult to work out who that is.

I looked with envy at the Labour candidate's fabulous cardboard posters while I had cheap posters. She looked well on those posters but she gives the impression that her party has not one penny and that I represent the party of the rich. The best leaflet I saw in the last election was sent out by the Democratic Left candidate in Dublin North-Central. She received only 1,000 votes, but I do not know what that proves. It was a fabulous production and if I had produced something like it I would have thought I was on the pig's back.

After we achieve equality and it is set down that all candidates spend the same amount, almost to the penny, what will happen? What one spends on leaflets and posters is only one aspect of the matter. Will we then demand that all candidates receive the same number of seconds on radio or television or column inches in the newspapers? I do my work as a backbench TD and am not good at preening myself on the plinth outside Leinster House or currying favour with the media. If we have to spend equal amounts of money, the next step must be rules and regulations for the media. Before RTE invites a Deputy to appear on a programme, it should have to check how many minutes and seconds he or she has been on television or radio over the last six weeks or six months.

I am delighted with section 6 of the Bill because it deals with an extraordinary anomaly in the 1997 Act, which I pointed out at the time. That legislation laid down rules for a candidate projecting himself or herself in the best possible way, but there were no rules about how much one could spend denigrating other candidates. I congratulate the Minister and the officials on filling this loophole. One can talk about fairness and equality, but whatever money one spends putting oneself forward in a positive way is all right. The danger opened up by the previous legislation was that a limit was put on how much money one could spend presenting oneself in the best possible way, but a candidate could set up a front organisation and spend as much as he or she liked in a campaign to do down, say, Deputy Neville.

They do that anyway.

This was legitimate and no one could complain about it. That was an appalling mistake in the Bill and I am delighted it has been corrected so that such groups will have to register. That is right and proper.

Last week Deputy Gilmore spoke about local residents' associations opposing candidates. I accept that you can turn any argument on its head or try to destroy it, but what is wrong with a local residents' association publishing a newsletter which outlines who has been helpful and who has not? However, it must also be recognised that such groups could have introduced an extraordinarily negative twist into the Irish political system which would have been appalling. I am delighted this has been nipped in the bud.

It is not enough to take this type of action in respect of local elections. The Electoral Act, 1997, must be amended before the next general election because if you tie people down in one direction they are bound to shoot off in another direction. It is easy to establish and fund a campaign to smear a colleague. I welcome the positive provision in the Bill which will put a stop to such behaviour.

I am pleased the chairpersons of Dáil committees will be permitted to run in the local elections. I am disappointed Members of this House who intend to run in the elections will be disbarred from becoming lord mayor or chairman of their county council if they gain election. I see no logic in that provision which was introduced in legislation a number of years ago. However, the fact that it is law does not mean it is right. I believe it is wrong. Given that the dual mandate will be removed in five years, everyone should continue to be treated equally. That was the recommendation of the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government which has been working on this matter. The sub-committee stated that the fact that the dual mandate will be abolished in five years is fine but that, until then, chairpersons of Dáil committees should be permitted to run and that they should be allowed to take up any office on being elected. It is scandalous that Deputies who are elected will be told they are not as good as other representatives and that they cannot serve as lord mayor or chairman of their county council. That is an appalling provision and I would be interested to see if someone will take a case before the courts to test its validity. It is unfair and wrong. I do not know how people feel about serving as chairman of their county council but we all aspire to becoming lord mayor of our cities. It is terrible to be informed, even after election to the city council, that you have to abandon that aspiration.

Last week the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government discussed the forthcoming legislation in this area which will make provision for the direct election of lord mayors. I am aware of the origin of that idea and I wonder if we are merely looking at what is being done in London and running off half cocked. Why introduce direct elections in respect of local government and not in respect of central Government? The Taoiseach of the day is not elected by the people, he is chosen by his peers in whatever party or coalition of parties hold a majority of seats in this House. What will a popular candidate directly elected to the office of lord mayor of Dublin do if he or she is opposed by the 51 other councillors?

We are concerned with raising the status of lord mayors or chairmen of county councils and giving them real power rather than having them serve as figureheads. However, if they are to be given real power, they will have to be able to use it, but they will not be able to do so unless they have the support of a party. This is a great idea in respect of the lord mayors we elect at present, namely, figureheads, but it is not suitable for lord mayors with real executive powers.

I wish to put a number of questions to the Minister of State. I accept the provision where a person is obliged to disclose any donation of £500 or over. If I receive ten other donations of £100 each I will not be obliged to disclose the names of the donors. However, when submitting my return to the county or city council at the end of the campaign, will I be obliged to state that I received a donation of £500 from Joe Murphy and further donations totalling £1,000?

I understand that anything I purchase before and use after the polling day order must be recorded. Will I be allowed to purchase 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 corrugated board posters, put them on display for the duration of the campaign, take them down, store them and use them in the next general election campaign without being bothered or pursued by the Public Offices Commission? I am seeking confirmation from the Minister of State because if I seek it from the Public Offices Commission, it will request 20 additional officials to consider the matter and delve into the detail of it.

I hope the Minister of State will provide a common sense response because, in my opinion, reusing posters is a form of recycling. A number of weeks ago he appeared in the House to discuss reuse, recycling, waste minimisation etc. If I purchase posters, display them, collect them after the campaign and store them in my garage, will I be allowed use them in the next general election campaign or will I be pursued and asked to return them? If the Public Offices Commission informs me that it is wrong to reuse my posters, the law is an ass because preventing me from doing so runs contrary to the type of behaviour the Minister of State is trying to promote in terms of waste recycling etc.

The legislation is acceptable and should be allowed to govern the local government elections. However, we should amend the Electoral Act before the next general election because otherwise we will all encounter tremendous difficulties. A spending limit is fine once constituencies are roughly equal in size. However, it is not possible to impose such a limit when constituencies vary in size from those with 1,100 inhabitants to those with 63,000.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ulick Burke.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill and pay tribute to the work carried out during the past century by those who volunteered to enter local government. It is not easy to seek election. An enormous contribution has been made to the State, our democracy and the people by those who sought election to local government and we must ensure that tradition of service continues.

Times are changing and it will be difficult to find people who will be willing to volunteer to serve in local government and who can afford to devote more time to their work than did their predecessors. I have served on a local council since 1985 which is affected by a democratic deficit in that there are few PAYE workers serving on it. Teachers, the self-employed, farmers, publicans and others serve on the council because they are in a position to manage their time. PAYE workers are not represented in local government in proportion to their number in the State. That is because they are not in a position or do not get permission to take time off work or there is no system to facilitate them to become more actively involved at local government level. A small number of corporations hold meetings at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. which helps but, by and large, local authorities meet during working hours. As a result local representatives who work in factories, companies, shops, restaurants and hotels are thin on the ground. An objective of our system is that all areas of society should be represented at local government level, but they are not.

When I was elected in 1985 I worked in the PAYE sector. I was lucky that the company for which I worked encouraged and supported me to become involved in local government, but some of my co-workers resented that I got time off to do so. There is not a system in place to assist workers to become involved in local government. My company was very supportive but it is unique. I hope the fact that I was made redundant in 1987 had nothing to do with my being elected to local government in 1985. We should consider this aspect when examining the area of local government.

I welcome the Bill. My party favours maximum disclosure. While I do not want to repeat what others said, I disagree with a point made by Deputy Noel Ahern. I believe a formula can be drawn up to ensure there is a cap on expenditure. That should be an important aspect of the Bill. As previous speakers said, including Deputy Noel Ahern who spoke about posters and fancy leaflets, we must endeavour to ensure the field is as level as possible and that those who can command large funds do not have an edge over candidates who cannot get the same level of funds. While there are inherent difficulties because of the difference in the size of local government constituencies, something should be done to ensure the field is as level as possible.

We must ensure powers are given back to local government. We are all aware that local government has lacked the necessary powers. I will not go into the reasons for that because my time is limited, but we must find a way to ensure responsibility for various functions is given back to local government. One of the main ways a local authority can exercise power is through the collection of taxes. I welcome the small move in the discretionary figure for car tax, but I do not know how effective it will be. When the roads in my constituency were in a poor state back in 1994-5, my council bit the bullet and significantly raised taxes. We did our duty. While some concerns were expressed about that, we were respected for doing it and we got the results. The then Minister recognised we were making progress and gave us matching funds and the necessary action was taken to address that problem. Councillors will take responsibility when they have to, but responsibility was taken away from them. Deputy Dukes spoke about this. He is keen to ensure responsibility for many areas is given back to local councillors.

Major changes have taken place in the planning area, especially in rural areas. A policy is developing which seems to encourage people living in rural areas to move to towns and cities. Those who want to live in the country encounter many obstacles. I appreciate there are environmental problems in certain cases and nobody wants to damage the environment. While there has been talk about ribbon development and about areas not been serviced for development, we are basically a rural community and many of our people want to live in rural areas. Many Dublin people are only one or two generations removed from rural contact. People living in rural Ireland want to stay there but the planners want them to live in cities. They have seen what has happened in other countries and believe that is the way we should go. I object to that because the rural aspect of our people is a key element of our culture and, as a people, our aspiration is to remain rural. Ribbon development in my area has created a fantastic community. It ensured teachers remained in schools, hurling and soccer teams remained in the area and it has kept life in the community. However, planning permission for such development would not be given today; that is a is a backward step.

Local government is damaged by certain aspects not least by the fact that there are a thousand people on the housing waiting list in County Limerick. We have not responded to the changes that have taken place in society, not least to the needs of single mothers. More than 20 per cent of children born last year were to single mothers.

We have not responded to the need for sewerage schemes. I could name six sewerage schemes in my county in respect of which applications date back ten years. I have been told the plans submitted for them are out of date and that the process will have to recommence. I hope we will not have to wait another seven or eight years for approval of these schemes.

It is reported that young people will not vote in the forthcoming elections. An opinion poll conducted by the National Youth Council of Ireland in the Minister of State's county yesterday showed that almost half of the eligible voters under the age of 25 may not vote in the local elections. I am not surprised by that finding because the political process has no interest in young people. I am not targeting the Government as being responsible for this. The political process has no interest in people under the age of 18. We do not respond to the needs of children and young people. We have not responded to the difficulties or crises they face. We do not honour our commitment under the UN Convention on Human Rights and we do not have an ombudsman for children. We have not responded to the alarming increase in the incidence of suicide among young men. On numerous occasions over the past 12 months I called for an examination of this issue, but neither the media nor the political process has shown any interest in it. Given that, we cannot expect young people to respond to the political process when they reach the age of 18.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. I imagine the sentiments behind it would be better served if it had been renamed "The Prevention of Corruption in Local Authorities Bill", which would be a more realistic title. If this Bill has any meaning it is that its provisions would ensure once and for all that the possibility that corruption rampant in local government would be eliminated. I do not see any section which will help eliminate such corruption.

Debate adjourned.