Yesterday evening some Opposition Deputies asked me to explain the reason I was not providing for expenditure levels. I made the point that in 1997 when the Electoral Act was being processed, figures were plucked from the air as, in fairness to the then Minister, we had no experience. These figures were included in legislation in relation to general elections. While we have no experience of how they will work in a general election, there have been two by-elections and the two of the Opposition parties had difficulty in staying within the limits set down. As Deputy Dukes said, this was not a huge fault of the parties but rather a result of the amount of work which the provision necessitates. In this context, more consideration of the provision is necessary. The proposal in the Bill covering the declaration of amounts of money spent will allow us sit down after the election on an all-party basis or through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government with the experience of an election campaign and expenditure returns for each of the local authorities. This will allow a more informed decision to be made in relation to local government and expenditure in local elections.
Some Opposition Deputies said it is a simple matter and that they do not understand why we have to consider or assess such things. The previous Minister had the opportunity of including the limits when drafting the Bill, but decided not to do so for some reason. Some of the amendments suggest that in three seater constituencies there should be a limit of £3,000, etc. However, such suggestions do not take into account the complications of the procedure. For example, what would happen in the case of six, seven, nine and 12 seater constituencies? How could it be fair to agree a limit of £3,000 in a local electoral area with a population of over 60,000 as compared with a local electoral area with a population of 1,000? Such questions are not answered through the amendments tabled by Opposition Deputies and for that reason I am not accepting them.
To state that there are similarities with Dáil elections is incorrect and misleading. Members of the Dáil are professional politicians who have back-up. To involve local authority candidates, particularly new candidates, in the system being suggested by the Opposition would be grossly unfair. The Bill will allow each of us to assess the level of expenditure which is reasonably normal in local electoral areas. Following that examination we can revisit the issue of limitations. However, at present it is not my intention to accept any of these amendments.