Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
In page 3, subsection (1), line 21, after "and" to insert "limitation of".
–(Deputy Dukes)

I apologise to the House for an inadvertent discourtesy earlier. It appears our colleagues found the remains of victims more quickly than we had expected.

I understand the Minister is not prepared to accept this amendment. He is not prepared to accept a limitation of expenditure on the part of candidates of parties in local elections. Reference was made in the House yesterday to views expressed by the Minister in the Seanad, where I understand he said we should perhaps abolish expenditure limits for general elections, by-elections and European elections. Will he outline the main reasons he believes we should abolish expenditure limits?

Why does the Minister believe we are so different from other States which have found that in modern societies it is becoming increasingly difficult to divorce the practice of politics from the possession of money? I speak, as do the majority of Members, as one who is not in a position to spend large amounts of money on elections. I would not wish to, even if I were in a position to spend more than I do.

The Deputy does not need to.

It is kind of the Minster to say so. I am not sure his view will go down well with those in my constituency who do not already vote for me. Will he indicate in what way he believes we are different from other societies where the pressure of modern society has led to an overbearing influence of money on many political processes? There are examples, the United States of America being one, where, despite the existence of elaborate legislation, it has still proved impossible to ease the pressure to raise ever larger amounts of money for elections. I am not sure that is the case here for the reason that the number of people with large amounts of money to give is much smaller than in many other countries.

Although there would be complications in the system I am proposing in this and other amendments, the extra work to be done, compared to what is being proposed in the Bill, would not be huge. With random sampling during elections, we could have a working system that would be more onerous than the one provided for in the Bill and which would put the frighteners on candidates inclined to spend large amounts of money.

I join in the collective mea culpa for my absence before lunch. It has not dampened, however, my dislike for what the Minister is proposing to do.

On whether we are dealing with a political intent or an administrative difficulty, if the Government intends to get rid of the spending limits that apply to Dáil and European Parliament elections, it will be opposed in a most vigorous fashion by the Labour Party. We want to have the principle of limits extended to local elections. I am not hung up on the amounts proposed in my amendment, but it is important that candidates in local elections do not have carte blanche to spend any amount they like.

The reasons offered as to why it is not considered desirable to extend the limits to local elections do not stand up. In arguing that the limits for Dáil elections have caused difficulties – the recent by-elections have been cited – one is making the case for examining the limits for by-elections. It is not a case for abolishing them.

The argument that it would be cumbersome administratively does not stand up either. The administrative arrangements are being put in place. The Bill provides for the making of declarations by local elections candidates and designated persons of political parties and for a panoply of administrative requirements which inherently provide a mechanism through which limits on spending could be policed and monitored.

There are no good reasons the limits should not be extended to local elections. This should be done urgently as the local elections are upon us. Candidates should be told soon if there are to be spending limits. That would be the public's wish.

There is much general discussion about the relationship between money and politics. The battery of legislation introduced by the previous Government dealing with ethics in public office, the declaration of expenditure and donations and freedom of information has transformed our system of public life and made available to the public an open and transparent arrangement which governs politics. If this had been in place ten years ago, the matters which are now the subject of examination at the tribunals in Dublin Castle would have been prevented. The spending limits are an integral and important part of that legislation. If they are removed, the arrangement will be seriously undermined. The Minister should give serious consideration to these amendments which provide him with a number of options by which the problem can be addressed.

Mr. Hayes

I am sorry I was not present to hear the Minister's reply. On Second Stage he did not preclude the possibility of introducing expenditure limits for local elections and said he may have to revisit the issue. That being so, he is missing a golden opportunity to provide for regulations which would allow him to introduce expenditure limits at a later date.

Most candidates welcome the fact that there are expenditure limits for Dáil elections. Prior to their introduction, large amounts of money had to be raised. The expenditure limits are sensible. Most local elections candidates would welcome the introduction of expenditure limits as it would mean other candidates would not be able to buy votes in a most unseemly fashion. We can debate the figures, if the Minister concedes on the principle.

The Minister argues that, administratively, expenditure limits would be unenforceable. If he decides to introduce limits, provision could be made for a graded system of penalties that would fit the offence. Is it the intention to have the Bill in place in time for the upcoming local elections?

It is my intention that this legislation will apply to the local elections to be held on 11 June. I acknowledge, as I have done previously, the co-operation of Opposition spokespersons in trying to ensure it is in place. I do not want to use the shortage of time between now and local elections as an excuse why I do not have expenditure limitations in place. I recall in 1997, when the legislation for Dáil elections was going through, we wisely took the decision that provisions in relation to expenditure would not apply in the 1997 general election because of the difficulties of putting mechanisms in place. As I said, I am not using that as an excuse in this instance. It is, however, another reason that in this election campaign, the introduction of expenditure limits at this stage would not be acceptable.

Deputy Hayes spoke about a welcome by all candidates at local elections. I will make a prediction here and now in relation to the next general election campaign, when we are all subject to the provisions of the Electoral Act, that it will cause mayhem. That is not a reason for not putting these limits in place, and there are good reasons we should have them in place. That legislation, particularly the limits, was hastily drawn together. As I said previously, limits were plucked from the air with no real thought as to how fair or equitable they were. As Deputy Gilmore said, we found we had some difficulties in this regard at by-elections.

I predict here and now that, immediately after the next general election, few Members of this House will welcome the provisions of the Electoral Act because of the difficulties it will cause them. We will all genuinely try to comply with the terms of the Act and ensure everything which legally needs to be declared is declared. I genuinely believe Members do not realise what they face when they have to do this the next time round. Even with the most positive will in the world, Members will have huge difficulties. That is an aside to what we are talking about today.

This debate is probably timely in some respects. We could do worse than sit down at the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government, have a good look at the provisions of the Electoral Act and try to get further clarification from the Public Offices Commission. We should use the time we have between now and the next election to make absolutely clear to every Member what is involved.

Will we have enough time?

Two years should be quite sufficient. I say that generally; it is a non-political point.

Deputy Hayes asked about expenditure limits. I am not ruling out, ad infinitum, the possibility that we may introduce expenditure limits. In response to the Opposition spokesperson last night, I said one of the benefits of the approach I am adopting in this case where we have to make returns, as Deputy Dukes and Deputy Gilmore said, is that we would be able to look at that, analyse the levels of expenditure and get a somewhat better idea as to what those expenditure limits might reasonably be, if we are to set them. We do not have any idea other than to pluck figures out of the air.

In relation to the amendments tabled by Deputy Dukes and Deputy Gilmore about three, four and five seaters and the variety of proposals of £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000, what about six, seven or nine seat electoral areas, as in the case of urban councils, or 12 seat electoral areas, as in some of the corporation areas? Is it fair for a person to contest an election in a three seater where the population is 50,000 or 60,000 – another issue in which Deputy Gilmore has an interest – while in another three seater, it is 1,000? The issues of fairness and equity come into play, and that situation arises. I do not want to repeat what I said earlier but there are issues that need to be teased out.

I would like to allay Deputy Gilmore's fears in relation to a comment I made. It was meant to be a flippant remark which, I suppose, one should not make on the record of the House. I assure him I have no plans to do away with expenditure limits in the Electoral Act.

In response to a point Deputy Dukes made about expenditure limits, doing away with them and what makes us different from other countries, there are many things which make us different. In electoral terms, we are one of only two countries which has the PR multi-seat constituency and this type of electoral system. That makes us uniquely different. Deputy Dukes and Deputy Hayes, who come from a larger party, and perhaps not so much someone like Deputy Gilmore who comes from a smaller party, would have some knowledge of the difficulties involved in multi-seat constituencies where there is a multiplicity of candidates. That is what makes us different.

To a certain extent, the principle about which we are talking, disclosure and expenditure, is fine. It is good that we look at practices in other countries in relation to these issues. We should not, however, forget that our system is almost unique and that we need to devise our own solutions and practices. My solution is to have an electoral system where we have a single seat constituency with the PR STV system and an element of the list, as well as direct election.

Mr. Hayes

Is that proposed legislation?

It is not proposed legislation – I do not want to get the Ceann Comhairle into trouble. That is one of my ambitions.

I have indicated that I do not intend to accept the amendments on expenditure limits. We will be in a much better position to consider that carefully in the light of the experience we will have. I do not agree with the contention of Deputies that the electorate is stupid enough to be bought by people who can spend money. If it was that simple, we could probably be assured of a 100 per cent turn-out by using money to get people to vote in elections.

We already covered that on Second Stage.

That is not an argument in favour of this proposal.

I am pleased the Minister stated he has no intention of getting rid of spending limits for elections. It sounded from his reply that he was offering an Irish solution to an Irish electoral system, something which has an unfortunate resonance. Is the Minister saying he definitely intends introducing spending limits based on the experience of the 1999 local elections? If so, how does he propose introducing such limits?

Yesterday I touched on the reason spending limits in local elections are necessary. In a way the entire local election system, including the electorate, is probably more extendable when compared with general elections. Generally, the poll in local elections is smaller than in general elections. There is more scope for a person with money to get people out to vote who might not do so or to get out a section of a core party vote to the greater advantage of a particular candidate. In the last local elections I saw a clear case where a political party fielded a number of candidates and ended up with one seat which was won by the candidate with the most money who ran the most expensive campaign. This candidate won the seat to the disadvantage of the other candidates who were clearly not as well resourced. Therefore, there is experience to show that money can play a very significant part in the outcome of a local election, both in and between parties. Earlier the Minister made a point about multi-candidates. In such situations the candidate who is better off has the greater chance of being elected, something which is unfair to other candidates.

I take the point that the provisions have to be fine tuned to meet the circumstances described by the Minister, including variances in popu lation, the number of seats per electoral area, the type of authority being elected and geographical considerations. Clearly, the matter cannot be tied entirely to population as geographical issues should also be considered. However, it should be possible to work out a reasonable limit which would ensure candidates did not go totally wild. I do not necessarily think we should commit ourselves to a limit based on the average expenditure of candidates – it is not that kind of mathematical exercise. It should be possible for those of us with sufficient political experience and experience of election campaigns to put a reasonable upper limit on the expenditure of a candidate. I would not particularly stick to my provisions of expenditure limits of £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000. Is it reasonable, for example, that a candidate in a local election should spend more than £10,000? Is it reasonable that a candidate in a local election should be free to purchase a full page advertisement in every local newspaper circulating in the area?

Deputy Hayes made the point that many candidates, who are running for an unpaid, part-time office, would probably welcome a limit on spending as they are inundated with requests from local newspapers to take full page, half page and quarter page advertisements on the basis that party colleagues have already agreed to do so. Huge pressure is put on candidates to spend money and many would welcome the discipline of a spending limit. This is important in terms of the integrity of local elections. We should not allow a situation whereby somebody can spend mega-bucks trying to be elected. I accept that the limit can be fine tuned in the light of the declarations made after the election, but for the forthcoming elections we should at least impose an upper limit which would prevent excessive expenditure being incurred by candidates.

In a sense we are talking in a vacuum. Throughout the country I have seen posters, etc., for the local elections and even if we decided tonight to put an upper limit on expenditure it would be no more than an academic exercise. I take the point being made by Deputy Gilmore regarding an upper limit, but by the time the Bill is passed such a provision, if included, would not be available for the local elections in June.

We are coming from two different points of view. Deputy Gilmore believes people can be unduly influenced or bought – the Deputy did not use this term – by people who spend money on elections. However, I do not believe this. The Deputy cited cases to support his argument and I have no doubt that he genuinely believes money alone made the difference in such campaigns. However, I could equally give examples of people who spent huge amounts of money in relative terms in local elections and who were not elected. We can agree to disagree on the matter.

Mr. Hayes

So this provision would help such people.

Possibly. I have said that many of these issues can be teased out at the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government subsequent to the elections. Many Members and members of local authorities certainly welcome the concept of limiting expenditure by candidates as they are well established and therefore have an advantage. Many members of local authorities, by virtue of their membership, are able to get on local radio and be reported in local newspapers. The system is not fair and by further limiting a person's possibilities in terms of expenditure we are in a sense giving a further advantage to existing members. Perhaps it is a philosophical argument, but the reality is that we must try to be absolutely fair to everybody.

Deputy Gilmore asked if it was my definite intention to introduce expenditure limits in future. No, it is not a definite intention. However, it is my intention in conjunction with the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government to seek information from the local authorities about levels of expenditure recorded when the returns have been submitted and the documentation is available, and to put that information before the committee so that it can discuss the necessity or otherwise of placing expenditure limits on local government. I make that commitment in the House to Deputies Gilmore, Dukes and Hayes. That is the approach I will adopt in this.

I am not convinced that setting up the bureaucracy involved will advance anyone's cause. I have listened to the arguments and accept the sincerity with which they were made. I am prepared to revisit this matter after these local elections on the basis I outlined. We are within four weeks of the local elections. Were we to pass the legislation with the various limits included, we would not be in a position to implement it in these local elections. Were we to go the route of the Electoral Act, I would have to issue guidelines and give all involved a reasonable opportunity to examine those guidelines.

We have had a long discussion on this and the philosophical arguments on both sides have been aired. I ask Deputies, despite their strongly held and genuinely expressed beliefs, to accept my position and the undertaking I have given and withdraw their amendments.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply but he does himself a little too much honour in describing his thoughts on the matter as philosophical arguments. They are not. They are pragmatic arguments of circumstance.

He says it is too late to introduce expenditure limits. The Government has known since it took office that there would be local elections this year. It could have introduced expenditure limits before. It is a fine and sensible thing for the Minister to suggest the information on the levels of expenditure be examined at a later stage. I note, however, there is no specific provision in the Bill to require local authorities concerned to give information to the Government. They have an obligation to keep information and make it available to the public, but there is no specific provision for them to make it available to anyone else. I do not know if the Government will have the right to ask.

I am not impressed by the suggestion that it would make it even less fair for candidates not in office who apparently are already at a disadvantage in that they must compete with incumbent, sitting or outgoing members, or whatever one likes to call them, who have an advantage in terms of access to the media. The Minister and I are long enough in politics to know there are some things in the world which cannot be changed. In any electoral system, no matter what one does, outgoing members of whatever body to which people will be elected already have an established track record as members, be it good bad or indifferent, and nothing can be done to remove that difference. Life is like that.

I regret the Minister will not accept the amendment and I am not minded to withdraw it.

Amendment put.

Ahearn, Theresa.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.

De Rossa, Proinsias.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny. Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.


Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Reynolds, Gerard.

Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.


Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Jacob, Joe.Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 1 agreed to.

Amendments 8 to 28, inclusive, 30 to 64, inclusive, 67, 69, 70, 75 and 76 are consequential on amendment No. 2 and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, subsection (1), between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following definition:

"Public Offices Commission' means the Public Offices Commission referred to in the Act of 1997;".

The purpose of this amendment is to introduce the Public Offices Commission into the Bill. It seems to me we should use the same procedure in relation to the disclosure of donations and expenditure for local elections as exists for general elections, by-elections and European elections. I cannot see why, when we have put such procedures in place and when they have operated on two occasions, we should now adopt a different approach in relation to local elections.

On local elections, the Bill provides that local authorities would collect information, announce that they have it at specified times and that it is available for consultation. There seems to be a feeling that by keeping the information at local level, it would be more readily available to those who would be anxious to see it. I take that with a grain of salt.

The Bill is written in the manner it is because the Minister does not wish to impose limitations on expenditure. This specific proposal arises largely from the fact that I believe such limitations should be imposed. If we impose limitations on expenditure, we should treat those limitations and their invigilation in the same manner we treat them in general and European elections, hence my proposal that the Public Offices Commission be mentioned in the Bill.

Amendment No. 2 simply proposes to put the Public Offices Commission into the definitions section so that it would not be necessary to define it anywhere else it might arise. Amendments 8 to 28, inclusive, 30 to 64, inclusive, 67, 69, 70, 75 and 76 would substitute a reference to the Public Offices Commission for, variously, "the local authority concerned" or "competent local authority".

I am not at all convinced that in order to make information accessible to the public, it must be kept in local authorities only. That puts us back, in communications terms, to the horse and buggy age. It implies that because people in a particular locality might like to have certain information, its existence should be announced in a local newspaper and people should be informed that they can go to the seat of their local county council to consult it. I see no difficulty whatsoever – and I am sure all local authorities are equipped to do this – with making the information available to the Public Offices Commission where it would be accessible to all local authorities, the increasing number of Internet users, the media, pressure and lobby groups, academics, politicians and others. Neither can I see any reason individual local authorities should be obliged to go to the trouble of placing a notice in a local newspaper stating that the information is available. It might well be useful to publicise the availability of information in local newspapers which are a very widely used and, sometimes underestimated, means of communication. However, the Public Offices Commission would be perfectly capable of ensuring that information would be made available through the national and local press, outlining details on how the information could be accessed.

The main reason for this amendment is that I believe we should impose limitations on expenditure. The Minister disagrees with that and the House, unfortunately, has also disagreed with it. Nevertheless, it is useful to proceed with the amendment as the more unity we have in the systems we put in place to invigilate donations and expenditure, the more likely they are to have some effect. It is for that reason we should insert this first reference to the Public Offices Commission and follow it up in the other amendments referred to.

I support this amendment. As Deputy Dukes stated, it relates to the core issue of whether limits should be imposed on expenditure. The provisions in the Bill for the handling of information are archaic. They betray an incredible, old style thinking on the manner in which information is disseminated to the public and processed in the public system. It is absolutely antiquated to advance a formula which requires individual local authorities to set up separate systems for the receipt, administration and advertising of information and for making it available to the public. That kind of thinking views information as something which is written with a quill into a big ledger and if members of the public want to see it, they must come along and stick their heads through a hatch. That is very outmoded. It is surely possible for the information to be transferred from the candidate or the political party to the Public Offices Commission which has already established a system for dealing with this kind of information. The Public Offices Commission would make the information available to the public via the Internet and transfer it to local authorities. There is no reason that people should not be able go to their local authorities and consult the information.

The current provision places an unnecessary administrative burden on overstretched local authorities which are now required to set up independent systems to deal with this information. Local authorities are constantly being given new legislation by the Oireachtas without having the resources to implement it. They are being handed additional administrative tasks to perform when they are already overstretched. The provisions of this Bill will mean that each local authority will have to move staff who would otherwise be processing higher education grant applications or other matters normally dealt with by the general purposes section and put them to work on this, something with which they are unfamiliar and which is already in place in the Public Offices Commission. This reinvents the wheel 90 times over.

There is an additional reason for the Public Offices Commission doing this. We should harmonise what is being provided for in ethics legislation concerning local authorities. I have tabled an amendment on this. The declaration of donations outside the time of the election itself is amazingly excluded from the legislation. The Public Offices Commission is capable of supervising all of this.

I agree with Deputy Dukes. It would relieve the local authorities of an unnecessary burden and it would make the information available in a way which is more accessible. It would confer the obligation to do it on the body which is already established to do this, and which has some expertise in the area. It would facilitate the harmonisation of legislation governing ethics, political practice, donations and election expenditure for members of local authorities with other elected persons and public servants who are covered by the legislation. There are many advantages in transferring this responsibility to the Public Offices Commission.

Mr. Hayes

The great benefit of the Public Offices Commission is that it is totally independent of politics, business and the local government system. I am not suggesting that a county manager is not independent when it comes to dealing with politicians. We are, however, placing them in the invidious position whereby they now have to keep this information and decide when it will be made public. The relationship between the county manager and the member, while it is tot ally independent, is different to the relationship between the Public Offices Commission and any candidate, Member of the Dáil or member of local government. We should be consistent and have one system in place for all political activity at local, national and European level.

The Minister will use the Buncrana example in his reply, as he did so skilfully on Second Stage in the Seanad and in the Dáil. He will tell us that the Dáil has no right to tell the people of Buncrana, Killybegs or anywhere else in the State, that they must go to Dublin to look at the statements of their local authority members. In a general election the people of Buncrana, Killybegs or Clifden must come to Dublin. If the Minister was so concerned about ensuring that they were entitled to see the donation statements of various people, he would have introduced an amendment to the Bill which would allow them to see information locally. That argument will not wash.

We need to have all information contained within the Public Offices Commission. In amendment No. 29 I asked that all information could be sent by e-mail, fax or post. The current position means that a person who wants to see a donation statement in the Public Offices Commission must turn up at the commission. The information is then photocopied and handed to the person. That practice is completely out of date. If a member of the public or someone from the media wants the information, they should be able to get it by e-mail, fax or post. If the information was kept at the Public Offices Commission, as Deputy Dukes has proposed, it would be more sensible and would not create a new bureaucracy at local authority level where people have better things to do. It is wrong, when the State has established an authority to deal with this, that we are not giving a specific function, as contained in the Act, to that authority – the Public Offices Commission.

I have no doubt that if I had proposed in this Bill that this should be done by the Public Offices Commission, the Members opposite would tell me it was an awful insult to local government.

The Minister should try us – if he proposes this he might be pleasantly surprised.

I have no intention of proposing it. I know full well because I have heard all three Members opposite, and others besides, rightly praising the whole concept of local government, local democracy and subsidiarity. They say that decisions should be made locally and everything should be done at a local level. I agree with those sentiments. That is why we have inserted in this Bill that matters pertaining to elections to a local authority, donations and expenditure should be dealt with at local authority level. I have no doubt that if I went the route of centralisation and not subsidiarity Members opposite would point out the error of my ways to me. I appreciate that the Opposition has to do this.

I have a good record of congratulating the Government when it changes its mind and agrees with me, including on Partnership for Peace.

That is true but I am trying to encourage more devolution of responsibility to local authorities and to ensure that any functions best performed at local level are performed at a local level. I know I have the support of Members of this House from all sides. That is why we went this route. I do not accept the arguments which Deputies have put forward, I do not accept the argument that the provisions of this Bill are onerous. We are talking about receiving perhaps 65 submissions, when the county and urban councils are taken into account. The national average for local authorities would be less than that. I do not accept the argument that dumping 3,500 of these forms into the Public Offices Commission would be a more efficient way of doing this. It certainly would not be an efficient way to ensure the information is made available as quickly as I believe it should be. Neither do I accept the argument that invigilation of 3,500 forms would be easier done than a local authority invigilating 15, 20 or even up to 60 or 65 forms. That argument does not stand up. I have said before that local government elections concern local issues, local candidates and, more importantly, the local electorate. There is no reason, therefore, election expenses of local authority members should be centralised in Dublin. Why should a person living in an area other than Dublin have to travel to Dublin for this information?

They should not have to travel.

What does the Minister think it is?

Let me finish. I have had a complaint from Deputy Hayes about the Public Offices Commission. We are talking about the information age, and he rightly pointed out that if people want general election information from the Public Offices Commission they have to go to the Public Offices Commission. Deputies are now proposing that I should put 3,500 of these forms and declarations in the Public Offices Commission so that people can travel again—

Deputy Hayes's amendment would introduce technology to the whole system.

Will Deputy Dukes let me finish the point? It will be much simpler for local authorities, in dealing with their own candidates, to provide the information by way of all the modern communications available to them. A number of one-stop-shops are in place in local authorities and many local authorities now have the information technology that Deputy Hayes rightly says should be used. That is the way the information should be provided by local authorities. If a local authority meets requests specifically for its own area, it should be able to do that without having to go through the procedures for charging, etc. currently being followed by the Public Offices Commission. It will be much closer to the people. Despite what Deputies say, not everybody has the Internet or e-mail facilities.

Mr. Hayes

What about a letter? Everyone has an address.

A letter can be addressed to the local authority. Is Deputy Hayes telling me it is better that a person should have to write to Dublin rather than to Navan or the county council headquarters in Tallaght to get information? I do not accept that. It is better to use this at a local level. Great expertise will not be needed to collate these forms, to make the information available to the public and to investigate on foot of complaints. I do not accept the argument that there is a lack of expertise in local authorities to deal with this issue. An ability to read and perhaps tot up the figures on these forms is all that is needed. I am sure Members are not saying local authorities are incapable of doing that.

The point about placing a county secretary or a county manager in an invidious position is well made and would be a consideration in this context. It is a matter to which I gave consideration. There is a relationship between local authority members and managers who perhaps might not be paralleled at central Government level, but we are talking about reinvigorating a local government system that will make it real local government, where people will have to take on responsibilities. In the past, the local government system, with a recent notable exception, has proved to be upstanding. In terms of integrity, the management system has proved to be first class since its establishment and, like our Civil Service and public service, a responsibility like this, irrespective of the relationship that exists between members and managers or county secretaries, would not stand in the way of a public servant doing his or her duty. I am sure the Deputy would accept that, although I do not want to imply he was saying anything other than that. The point is well made that it is a consideration, but it has to be dealt with in a responsible manner at a local level. There will be a section in the local government reform Bill – this relates also to the point made by Deputy Gilmore – dealing with ethics, conflicts of interest and the putting in place of an ethics officer who would probably be the person assigned to oversee this legislation from the next election onwards.

As Minister for the Environment and Local Government, I will avail of every opportunity to devolve and decentralise as much as possible. I know Deputies on all sides of the House support that broad principle. This is an ideal opportunity to put that into practice and it is for that reason I will not accept the amendments the Deputies have put down. This Bill is best dealt with by local authorities in their local area.

It is a wonderful experience to see the Minister before us in his garb as the apostle of devolution and decentralisation. Unfortunately, the nirvana he is selling us seems to be far away. The Minister used words which send a chill down every county manager's spine. Talking about the functions he proposes to devolve to local authorities through the Bill, the Minister said this is an issue that has to be dealt with and will be dealt with, irrespective of resources or anything else the local authorities have to do. The Minister gets a good idea, he says he is an apostle of devolution and decentralisation and hands over the function to local authorities. Many of us seem to believe they have infinitely elastic resources that can be used, but that is not the central point.

I am not arguing that it is easier for the Public Offices Commission to do this than for the local authorities, although that is a reasonable expectation. The Public Offices Commission was set up with a part of its mandate consisting of the invigilation of expenditure by candidates in general elections, by-elections and now European elections. It is a creature we set up to do that. I see no persuasive reason in what the Minster said to change my mind on the point that if it is appropriate to do that for European elections, general elections and by-elections, it is appropriate to do it in the same way for local elections because it is the same kind of system we operate.

I regret the Minister is making such apparently respectable but fundamentally meaningless arguments about this. The central reason for this was that we were proposing limitations on expenditure, but we are not doing so now.

It is a pity the Minister does not accept the need to address the way in which the local authorities and the Public Offices Commission will deal with this information, particularly since Deputy Hayes has tabled an amendment which would, at least, encourage them to come up to date in the transmission and dissemination of information.

The Minister made an extraordinary contribution. Let us take his argument about devolving this function to local authorities. If he was serious about this he would have brought enabling legislation before the House which would set down principles and guidelines. He would have left the devising of a scheme for the declaration of contributions, arguably for the placing of limits on spending and for the conduct of local election campaigns, to local authorities. The House would pass general legislation which would enable local authorities to draw up by-laws to provide for the declaration of contributions and expenditure and the placing of limitations on expenditure, particular to the circumstances of each authority. There would be much to recommend such a measure. It would constitute real devolution and respect for local government by giving power back to local authorities.

However, the Oireachtas is not giving power back to local government by enacting legislation which goes down to the last detail and then sends the administration of that legislation to town and county halls. That is not devolving any power as there is no power accompanying such a move. In that context local authorities are only being given a chore.

The second argument used by the Minister is that in far flung parts of the country there will be people who will not have access to this information if it is stored centrally. The Minister is living in the Dark Ages. As has been stated, this information is capable of being stored, communicated and made available electronically. Not every household is connected to the Internet but in five years time when the next local elections are held, virtually every house will be connected. If not, there will be opportunities in public places for people to connect to the Internet. Within a couple of years, the Internet will be as common as the telephone. People will be as familiar with getting information from it and, in many cases, doing much of their daily business on it. This process will be accelerated by the integration of television and other communications systems.

This legislation is providing an old style system of dealing with information in the information age when we need to provide for and anticipate the manner in which information is going to be communicated. The Minister has conjured up an image of people taking the train to Dublin to stand at a hatch in some office to view a bound book in which the donations received by candidates are inscribed in vellum. Such an image does not belong to this generation. There is no reason information cannot be made available in the offices of local authorities, public libraries or places where people expect to be able to access public information.

The third argument put forward by the Minister is that the 3,800 forms which would arrive at the Public Offices Commission two weeks after the local elections would be such a burden that they would not be able to cope with it. He has created an idea that the system provided for in the Bill will be easier to administer and more efficient. Let us look at what is being provided for in the Bill. The first thing to happen after the Bill is passed is that the Minister will have to assign officers in his Department to draw up regulations to bring the Bill into effect. They will have to send circulars explaining how this should be done to every local authority, urban council, town commissioners and so on, all of whom will have to set up a system for the receipt and management of this information. Individual authorities will then have to assign officers to handle the system.

There will also be the issue of the compilation of the form. It is fair to anticipate that the Department will insist that there will be some type of standard form to be used by all authorities which the Department will have to design and send to each authority. These authorities will then have to place an advertisement in local newspapers and receive the information from individual candidates.

The issue of consistency will then arise. After the local elections we do not want the electoral equivalent of what happened in Dr. Cullen Park last Sunday, where new rules are interpreted differently leading to the disqualification of some candidates because of an over-zealous interpretation of the new legislation by an enthusiastic officer. There will have to be consistency giving rise to a huge number of faxes and other communications between the Department, town halls, offices of town commissioners and county councils to find out whether they are interpreting the legislation correctly on various points.

What will be the administrative cost in terms of staff in the Department and at local authority level and administration. The paperwork generated will lead to a bureaucratic nightmare which can be simplified in the manner suggested by this amendment.

This Bill is old thinking when it comes to information. Deputy Dukes's approach would make information more publicly available. It would also lead to greater consistency and a less costly and bureaucratic means of administering the legislation.

Mr. Hayes

I wish to refer to my earlier comments concerning the relationship between the county manager, county secretary and the individual member. I do not know of any other legislation where, if a complaint is made against a member for failing to furnish necessary information, the county secretary and the local authority, under section 18, may initiate summary proceedings against the member or furnish a written report on the matter. I know of no other legislation in which such new powers are given to county managers to initiate proceedings against a member. I am only putting this down as a marker. I am not making any comment but we are going down a new route where the county secretary has to initiate proceedings. The Minister argues that people in a local community should be entitled to see donation statements. I agree with him. However, if he is to be consistent, he should introduce amending legislation to the Electoral Act to allow local people in Buncrana, Killybegs or wherever to see information locally. Local elections are organised at an administrative level in the same way as general elections. In a general election the registrar is a local person, and all the personnel who count the votes come from local authorities. If the argument is that we should furnish this information locally, the Minister should introduce amending legislation to the Electoral Act to give power to local people to see the statements of their local Dáil Deputies locally as against coming to Dublin and appearing at a hatch before they can get information.

In the context of my amendment and also in terms of the guidelines that may emerge, is the Minister guaranteeing that if a citizen in an administrative area wants to see a statement nothing will prevent that person from seeing the statement or getting the information by post, fax, e-mail or over the phone? I was not criticising the Public Offices Commission when I said that people have to appear in person before they can get the information. As I understand it, their interpretation of the legislation is that people must turn up personally. They are interpreting the Act as saying that the information cannot be transmitted by way of modern communication techniques. Is the Minister guaranteeing that every local authority will use all means at its disposal to transmit information, and that a person will not have to call personally between 10.00 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., the time at which most local authorities close up shop, and that he or she can get information by ringing up the relevant section and asking for a copy of the donation to be sent?

I have been accused of dictating to local authorities how they should do their business. I will not give guarantees about how local authorities will administer this Act. There is nothing in this Act to prevent local authorities from giving out information however they decide. I am somewhat surprised, if the Deputy's information is correct – and I have no reason to doubt it – that in this age of modern communications and technology the Public Offices Commission would interpret an Act in a very narrow way to mean that somebody has to turn up in person to get information when there are so many other ways in which people can be given information. I understand that in some cases the provisions of the Act allow for a charge to be made for information, which I think is reasonable, but there must be some way of ensuring that information can be provided in both directions and paid for by way of credit cards and so on. I would be astounded if legislation going through this House at this time were interpreted as excluding the transmission of information in any way other than by somebody turning up in person at a public office. A assure the Deputy that there is nothing in this legislation of which I am aware that prevents a local authority from making information available in whatever format or manner it decides.

On the point the Deputy makes about the Electoral Acts, I was not responsible for the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1997. I was in opposition at the time. I contributed a great deal to the shaping of that Act in many respects, but I did not have the final say in relation to it. I would not have accorded any priority to the point the Deputy made about making this available at local level. We have so much more legislation that we need to put through that it would not have been a priority. Now that the Deputy has mentioned it, we will look at it in the context of the ongoing review of the Electoral Acts, this one in particular. No doubt, when the public standards Bill, which is before committees of the House, is brought forward, the Deputy might raise the matter in that context because there will be an attempt to have one piece of legislation rather than two or three as we have at the moment.

Let me refer to Deputy Gilmore's contribution. I was often told that in politics if one cannot convince, one should try to confuse. Deputy Gilmore has succeeded in doing that with some of the arguments he has put forward here. I reiterate that I am not suggesting that people have to board a steam train and go to Dublin to obtain information from the Public Offices Commission. I am well aware of the ways and means of getting information, even though there is some difficulty at the moment. My sole aim in having this information provided locally is to give another function to local government. It would be very demeaning, in the context of local government reform, in the context of decentralisation to which we all subscribe, to have something as important as this is to local elections and the local electorate dealt with centrally. Some people agree with that. Others disagree. I agree with it and, as somebody once famously said "I am over here and you are over there, so it is my view that prevails". I honestly do not think that if the Deputy were over here he would be rushing to change this legislation. It would be wrong and demeaning in the context of local government to have this dealt with centrally when it could be dealt with locally.

Under this Bill, powers are being devolved, and this involves administration. Under section 18 specific powers devolve to local authorities. Deputy Dukes went a step further, saying that this was another case of devolving functions without allocating funds. This year local government will have £126 million extra available to it than it had in 1997. A greater proportion of that money is being given to local authorities on a discretionary basis, and it is my intention to try to continue to provide that money for local authorities. However, I will not provide money for relatively simple administrative tasks. Local authorities have more money, and they have more discretion over that money, so we are not talking of any undue burden. Take the example of Meath County Council, which is a reasonably large county council with 29 seats. We are probably talking here in terms of 50 candidates or so. It is much simpler, cheaper and more effective to deal with that matter at a local level than having to deal with it in a huge, centralised public offices commission.

Deputy Gilmore mentioned the administration of all this. The position is that the declaration forms are already printed and will be available to local authorities. The guidelines have already been prepared and will be made available to local authorities as soon as the Bill becomes law, but not before that for obvious reasons.

Is that foresight or presumption?

I would say it is presumption in this case. The administrative burden the Deputy talked about is being dealt with in the Department at the moment. I do not anticipate a huge administrative burden being placed on any local authority as a result of this legislation.

Amendment put.

Ahearn, Theresa.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.


Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Jacob, Joe.

Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, lines 3 to 9, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) Every regulation proposed to be made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and shall come into operation on such date after its passing as shall be specified in the proposal.".

This is an old hobby horse of mine. Every time I see a provision in a Bill in the form taken by section 3, I ask why. This is the lazy person's way of making regulations. It is a lazy Minister's and a lazy Government's way of making regulations. There is another way of making regulations which requires the positive assent of the Houses of the Oireachtas and when issues of importance are being dealt with we should take that route. Having said that, I tabled this amendment partly to find out what is covered by section 3. It may be that I have not subjected the Bill to a sufficiently forensic examination but as far as I can see the Minister will certainly be required to make regulations on matters arising in sections 6, 13 and 24. I do not know if there are others.

Section 3(1) is also a little unusual in that it provides that the Minister may make regulations prescribing any matter or thing which is referred to in this Act as prescribed. The things the Act prescribes, it seems to me, are things the Minister prescribes in local authorities. He is to prescribe confident local authorities. He is to prescribe forms of statutory declarations and statements and the Minister must make some prescriptions in connection with research into electronic methods of voting. I very much regret that on both occasions when the Minister organised demonstrations of the method he is examining for electronic voting I was unable to attend, due to other commitments. Can the Minister tell me what matters or things he will be prescribing so that I can judge whether they are of sufficient importance to warrant the application of a different form of regulation under section 3?

In the context of Deputy Dukes's amendment, I wish to know where section 3(2) will leave us with regard to the forthcoming local elections. The Minister told us earlier that this legislation will have effect for the local elections. He indicated earlier that preparations have been made in his Department for making regulations and drafting the necessary forms, circulars and guidelines. Section 3 provides for a manner in which regulations may be introduced and annulled. It provides that regulations may be introduced and lays down the standard 21 sitting days within which the Oireachtas may annul the regulations. If this legislation is to be used in the forthcoming local elections there are not 21 sitting days within which the annullment procedure may be activated. The Minister appears to have anticipated this difficulty because the section states that this is without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder. An odd procedure has been established. The Minister is proposing that the legislation will allow him to make regulations and provide the Oireachtas with the standard 21 days safeguard for the annullment of those regulations but there are not 21 days between now and the local elections when the legislation will have effect. The section then states that, even if the regulations are annulled anything already done under them will be valid. This undermines the purpose of the 21 day period and provides a reason for adopting Deputy Dukes's amendment by which the regulation would be given effect by a Vote of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Is section 3(2) constitutional? Is it constitutional to provide in primary legislation for a means of dealing with secondary legislation which cannot be activated in practice and which, in any event, allows things to be done which need not comply with the terms of the legislation and the procedures laid down by it? I wonder if this provision is constitutional and I hope the Minister will address this question.

The best way to deal with this matter is that proposed by Deputy Dukes, that is, by bringing the regulations into effect by a Vote of the Oireachtas. The method proposed by the Minister could lead to a constitutional difficulty. If, after the coming elections, a candidate is disqualified from a local authority and decides to challenge the disqualification in the courts, such candidate might argue that his constitutional rights are being denied because the legislature did not have the period of time laid down in the legislation for the annullment of any regulation, available to it. For example, the regulations will prescribe the way in which declarations are to be made. This is not an abstract point but one which may become an issue in litigation when the legislation has been enacted.

The regulations referred to are those prescribing the forms for making declarations of election expenses; section 25 contains an order for obtaining ballot papers and for their retention and destruction and under section 2(11) an order must be made in connection with Dublin Corporation. The only matters prescribed in the Bill are the two forms to be used for furnishing election expenses statements to local authorities. They are being prescribed by legislation in case changes are necessary in the future.

I note what Deputy Dukes has said. In opposition I had the same view of statements being put into legislation regarding regulations with no stipulation that regulations should come before the House. The Deputy will agree that it is not necessary to bring every regulation before the House. The regulations referred to here relate to two simple and straightforward forms. When the Deputy sees those forms I am sure he will agree it would not be a productive use of the Houses' time to debate these draft regulations in detail. The forms required by the Electoral Act, 1997, which Deputies may consider deal with more serious matters, did not come before the Houses for discussion. The forms are not included in the Bill and it is not considered necessary that they should. I share the Deputy's view that, in general terms, regulations should come before the House, particularly where serious matters are involved. Deputy Dukes has waged this campaign for a long time and when I was on his side of the House I waged it too.

The difference is that I took the same view when I was on the Minister's side of the House.

That is true.

I accept what the Minister says. I was right about the context in which these regulations are to be made. As a matter of course I dislike the form of regulation provided for in the Bill. The form of regulation requires the Government to lay the regulations before the Houses and unless the Houses of the Oireachtas have had notice of the regulation within 21 sitting days, they continue in force. Even if the Houses annul the regulations within 21 sitting days nothing previously done under those regulations can be challenged.

This presents the difficulty that the Government need only put the regulations on the Order Paper and simply not provide any time for any one of those 21 sitting days to debate them. Once, in my experience, we objected to the form of a regulation but were obliged to put down a motion in Private Members' time to annul the regulation. That is entirely unsatisfactory. This is not a matter we can concern ourselves with here but somewhere in our parliamentary procedures we should have a provision which allows the House parliamentary time to discuss regulations which they consider objectionable. I see its usefulness and that it would not always be desirable or necessary to debate the regulations in the House. However, there should be a procedure where the House, especially the Opposition, has access as of right to parliamentary time in the event that it considers there is something in a regulation of this kind that is objectionable. It is a lack in our system. It is not very important but it could happen from time to time that important regulations would be passed in this way without the House having had a say.

I agree with the thrust of what the Deputy has said. This may be an unpopular suggestion but perhaps chairpersons of the Oireachtas committees could give consideration to the possibility that there be an automatic right to raise regulations for debate. If a minimum number of committee members sought such debates they would not be dependent on Government time. Such a mechanism might be worthwhile. Perhaps the Deputy would pursue it. I will pursue it with the Chief Whip.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Given that the local elections are less than 21 sitting days away what is the constitutionality of subsection (2)?

The Deputy cited the example of those who will be removed from local authorities because they did not make returns or whatever else. That cannot arise because it is not subject to regulation. It is contained in the primary legislation, which clearly outlines the obligations of a local authority member. The question then arises as to whether the Bill is constitutional.

Do I understand the Minister to say the only circumstances in which a member of a local authority can be disqualified is where the member or candidate fails to make a return, but that disqualification is not the penalty where an incomplete or inaccurate return is made?

If candidates fail to make returns within the specified period of time of seven days they are automatically disqualified. If a councillor makes a false return or declaration the matter would be prosecuted in the courts, probably under the statutory declaration legislation. The local authority would prosecute. A constitutional challenge would be made to the primary legislation, not the regulations, which apply to the forms and the other matters I mentioned. While we do not know what might happen if proceedings go to court, they would not fall because the regulations were not before the House for 21 days.

The connection is between the regulation and the form which raises the question about whether the return is accurate or complete. Am I right in concluding from what the Minister has said that disqualification is not a penalty for an inaccurate or incomplete return and that it is only a penalty for a failure to make any return?

If a person make a false declaration and he is successfully prosecuted under the statutory declarations legislation he will be disqualified by this law.

Only after prosecution.

The constitutional issue might arise at that point.

The matter arises not out of regulation but primary legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–Subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by regulations in that behalf the expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a candidate in a local election shall not exceed the following thresholds–

(a) £3,000 in a 3-seat constituency,

(b) £4,000 in a 4-seat constituency, and

(c) £5,000 in a 5-seat constituency.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, line 14, after "repealed" to insert "except in so far as they relate to the limiting of election expenditure".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

I oppose section 5. We dealt with this in the debate on previous amendments. Section 5 takes out of action the provisions of the Electoral Act, 1997, concerned with the limitation of expenditure. For that reason I am opposed to it.

Question put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 6 is out of order because it is outside the scope of the Bill.

I do not see your point, Sir. The amendment applies specifically to local authorities. It is within the scope of the Bill and is concerned with the disclosure of donations and information.

Mr. Hayes

And gifts.

What this Bill means is that the only donations a local elections candidate or a member of a local authority will have to declare are those received during a local elections campaign period. If a local elections candidate receives a large sum well in advance of the elections, he or she will not have to declare it. A member of a local authority could be in receipt of several thousand pounds a year but as long as he or she does not receive a donation during a local elections campaign, he or she will not have to declare it.

I am seeking to have the ethics legislation applied so that declarations of interest and donations would have to be made, irrespective of when they were made. That is perfectly reasonable.

Acting Chairman

The Ceann Comhairle has ruled that the amendment is out of order. There will be other opportunities to debate the matter.

I have no choice but to accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling. I wanted to outline the thinking behind the proposal and to highlight the inadequacy of the Bill in this area.

Mr. Hayes

On the same matter—

Acting Chairman

The Ceann Comhairle has ruled that the amendment is out of order. Time is limited. The debate is due to conclude at 7 p.m.

Mr. Hayes

Amendment No. 78 in my name has also been ruled out of order. I received a letter to this effect last week. Why did Deputy Gilmore not receive correspondence advising him that his amendment had been ruled out of order?

Acting Chairman

I expect he did.

I am not making that charge.

The Deputy just looks gobsmacked.

Acting Chairman

I am glad that Deputy Dukes has advised us that he is aware of what is involved. We will proceed to amendment to No. 7.

Mr. Hayes

It is absurd that this Bill does not refer to the Ethics in Public Office Act. This makes a nonsense of the legislation. I have learned nonetheless.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 6, before section 6, but in Part II, to insert the following new section:

"6.–(1) No candidate at a local election covered by this Act may incur election expenses in excess of £3,000, or such other amount as may be determined from time to time by regulation under this Act.

(2) The Public Offices Commission shall scrutinise all statements made by candidates, national agents, designated persons, political parties and all other persons required to make statements under this Act. It may, at its discretion, carry out detailed inspections of statements randomly selected, without prejudice to the generality of its functions under this Act.

(3) Where any person exceeds the level of election expenses provided for in subsection (1), the penalties provided for in this Act shall apply.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Hayes

Subsection (7) deals with third parties. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that a third party, for example a residents' association which draws to the attention of the public in its area the position of a certain candidate on an issue it has raised over a two or three year period will have to obtain a certificate from the local authority concerned when this legislation comes into effect? Who will implement and police this provision? What is the thinking behind it?

As I said in the Seanad, these provisions mirror the provisions in the Electoral Act which were inserted after a long discussion about how third parties might interfere with an election campaign. Members are required to disclose donations and expenditure which is subject to limits. There was a concern that a third party with a gripe or at the behest of another candidate, clandestinely, would be able to expend money willy nilly to defeat a candidate or, alternatively, that an organisation with a particular point of view such as the local chamber of commerce would be able to expend money willy nilly to have a candidate elected.

The Deputy asked who will police these provisions. That is a reasonable question. Every local elections candidate will be conscious of these provisions and will bring any breaches to the attention of the appropriate authorities. It will be in his or own interests to do so.

Mr. Hayes

After they have lost their seats.

They will bring any breaches to the attention of the appropriate authorities as soon as they become aware of them. Knowing the skilful use that can be made of situations like this by some, I have no doubt that they would make it public that there is a plot to undermine their candidacy. It is right that this Bill should contain these provisions.

Most would agree that those who stand for election are entitled to respect. A third party whose only ambition is to be negative against a particular candidate or candidates or party should not be allowed to attack that candidate or candidates or party willy nilly. He should be required to register and be subject to the same constraints.

On the issue raised by Deputy Hayes, if a residents' association or community body decides to inform the public in its newsletter that particular councillors voted in favour of the rezoning of a controversial site in the last review of the development plan and that it should support those councillors who opposed the rezoning in the local elections, will this have to be declared? Is that contemplated by this provision? Will they have to declare that?

If, as has happened, a residents' association or another group wants to give some information or direction to its members on for whom they should vote in the local elections and it circulates literature saying a candidate or a number of candidates have been particularly helpful to the association in recent years and asking people to vote for them in the forthcoming local elections and if, for example, they found other candidates were not helpful or took a position with which they did not agree, and actively discouraged people from voting for them, is that included in this legislation? Will they have to declare that?

The provision regarding opinion polls states that expenditure on "opinion polls or similar surveys relating to an election within the period of 60 days before polling day at the election by or on behalf of a political party or one or more candidates at the election" will have to declared. In recent weeks, I have heard of many opinion polls on the local elections which have been conducted—

On the backs of envelopes.

—by individuals or parties. What is the procedure whereby the existence of the opinion polls may be validated? What is the procedure by which the cost of the opinion poll may be established? Any time I have seen the results of many of these opinion polls, they have usually been written on the backs of envelopes late at night in a public house. I have not ever been able to see the raw data or the original report, so I am curious to know how the existence, validity and the cost of these opinion polls will be established for the purpose of this legislation. Every opinion poll which has been conducted over the past two months is in the net as far as this Bill is concerned.

The Deputy will appreciate that this legislation will not be retrospective, so it does not apply to anybody who carried out an opinion poll before its enactment.

It does apply to them. It says 60 days.

It cannot be retrospective. It says 60 days but that will apply only from the time the Act becomes law. This is an import from the 1997 Electoral Act and I cannot answer any of the Deputy's question in that regard. He might ask his colleague, Deputy Howlin, about how it might be done. A national opinion poll for Dáil elections would probably be easier to police, but I cannot answer his question in relation to local elections.

Mr. Hayes

Was it in place for the by-elections?

Yes. People have some experience of that.

On the Deputy's first question, the answer is "yes". Any expenditure incurred by an individual, group or association for electoral purposes would be deemed to be expenditure under this Bill. A person should be registered and should make declarations to the local authority. This brings us back to the question of a letter from a residents' association to its members saying someone has been very helpful and asking them to please remember that, as opposed to a leaflet from a residents' association saying "vote number one for Eamon Gilmore"—

Or the reverse.

I am sure there would be some interesting court cases about something such as that. A strict interpretation of the legislation means that it is necessary for a person who intends to undertake any expenditure to register and make themselves amenable to section 6.

I was interested in the Minister's comment on whether the legislation may be applied retrospectively. Does that mean any expenditure incurred by candidates or political parties up to the passing of this Bill in respect of the local elections will not have to be declared?

Yes, which is exactly the same as happened with the 1997 Electoral Act. If one had one's money spent, as most parties did, prior to the passing of the Act on 26 May or whenever, it was not declarable.

This makes a nonsense of the legislation for the purposes of the forthcoming local elections; it is a fig leaf, if the Minister is saying that as long as the bills are paid and the cheques are written before the President signs this legislation into law, it is not covered. It is making a total nonsense of its application for the local elections. We will end up with declarations of expenditure which are meaningless. People who incur their expenditure after the date will have to declare it, but those who are clever enough to incur the expenditure before the enactment of the legislation will not have to do so. It will make a nonsense of the declaration process and will make it meaningless. It is even worse than we thought.

Mr. Hayes

Is what Deputy Gilmore said correct? Is it true that if one buys leaflets, posters and the other paraphernalia attached to elections before the Bill becomes law, it will not have to be declared in the statement? I understood from reading the Bill that even if one purchased all the election material for the three or four week election campaign, one would still have to declare it? We need to be absolutely clear about this matter.

I am only a layman in relation to law. This legislation can have no effect in the period before its enactment.

Irrespective of when the literature is distributed.

Yes, irrespective of when the literature is distributed and whether it has been paid for and so on. To answer Deputy Hayes' point, once this legislation in is place – for example, for the next local elections, as with the 1997 Electoral Act, the rules will apply in that if one buys one's election material six months prior to the local election, it will be declarable. The situation is as it was for donations prior to the general election under the Electoral Act. The Bill only becomes effective when it is signed into law by the President. Anything paid for post the passing of the Bill is covered.

Mr. Hayes

So the election posters in County Meath are ready.

While I accept the Deputies present were totally ignorant of this and it has come as a total shock to them, they are the only three Deputies of the 3,500 candidates running who were not aware of this fact.

As it is now 7 o'clock I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That the sections undisposed of and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.".

Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny. Brady, Martin.


Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Jacob, Joe.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.

Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Currie, Austin.Deasy, Austin.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Question declared carried.