Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2007: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil an Bille seo os comhair na Dála seo. Mar go bhfuil an Dáil seo ag teacht chun deiridh, tá sé in am dúinn machnamh a dhéanamh ar dháta an toghcháin.

Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil prionsabal bunúsach i gceist anseo ó thaobh vótála de. Is cuma má táimid ag caint faoi dhaoine óga, daoine meán-aosta nó daoine aosta — ba chóir go mbeadh mealladh sa chóras polaitiúil chun seans a thabhairt do gach éinne vótáil ar an lá, nó na laethanta, is fearr. Chaith an Rialtas a lán airgid amú i rith bhlianta na Dála seo. Chaith an Rialtas na milliúin euro ar electronic voting machines nach n-oibríonn. Tá a lán airgid curtha amú ag an Rialtas. Níl aon rud fiúntach déanta ag an Rialtas chun cabhair a thabhairt do ghnáth-dhaoine páirt a ghlacadh sa chóras daonlathach sa tslí is éasca agus is fearr. Molann an Bille seo córas den sórt sin, a chinnteoidh go mbeidh an vótáil ag an deireadh seachtaine — Dé hAoine, Dé Sathairn nó Dé Domhnaigh. Tá daoine ann nach mbeidh sásta vótáil ar an Domhnach de bharr chúiseanna creidimh.

Ba cheart dúinn gach seans a thabhairt do ghnáth-dhaoine na hÉireann vótáil ar an lá is fearr. Tá an pointe seo cruthaithe cheana féin — bhí ardú ar an líon daoine a vótail sa toghchán Eorpach deireanach i 2004. Tháinig beagnach 70% de na daoine amach an uair sin. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go gcruthaímid spás i ngnáthshaoil na ndaoine, atá an-difriúil ó na saoil a bhí againn deich mbliana ó shin. Bíonn ar dhaoine taisteal go moch ar maidin go dtí na cathracha. Bíonn na commuters ag obair ar feadh an lae go léir, nach mór. Tagann siad abhaile ag a ocht nó a naoi a chlog san oíche. Má bhíonn an toghchán ar an Déardaoin, mar atá ráite ag an Taoiseach, ní dóigh liom go mbeidh seans ceart ag na gnáth-commuters vótáil sa tslí a thaitníonn leo. Má bhíonn an toghchán ar an Aoine, an Satharn nó an Domhnach, beidh seans acu vótáil mar nach mbeidh ar an gcuid is mó acu obair an lá ina dhiadh. Is rud an-bhunúsach é go dtabharfar seans do na céadta mílte daoine teacht amach ar an lá.

Tá na céadta mílte mac léinn ag staidéar timpeall na tíre. B'fhearr le mór-chuid díobh vótáil ina mbailte dúchais. Ní bheidh aon seans ag na gnáth-scoláirí é sin a dhéanamh má bhíonn an toghchán ar an Déardaoin. Beidh i bhfad níos mó spéise ag na daoine óga, go háirithe, a gcuid vótaí a chaitheamh ag an deireadh seachtaine, mar atá molta ag Fine Gael sa rún seo atá romhainn.

This is a very important debate, coming as it does in the dying hours of this Dáil. The Taoiseach is caught like a rabbit in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn. When asked the date of the election, he resembles a modern pope, with the answerin scrinio pectoris and kept firmly to himself.

We are waiting for the white smoke.

My colleague has stolen my line. The white smoke is the smoke of truth and, while we may not burn ballot papers on this occasion, we will mark them with a pencil because of the mess this Government has made of the system and the €50 million it wasted on e-voting. This time, we want democracy to be followed openly, transparently and with the maximum involvement of the people. However, the Government is holding back on dissolving the Dáil until the very last minute in the hope that something will happen to help it win the people's favour and has turned its face away from holding the election on a day that would allow the maximum numbers to vote. This Bill, together with the motion being discussed in the Seanad tomorrow night, seeks to compel the Government to hold the election on a day that benefits democracy rather than one which suits its purposes.

The Taoiseach said he favours Thursday voting for the general election, yet he did not explain why he fears Friday voting when it is clear that it benefits voters. In 1999, the European and local elections were held on a Thursday and had a turnout of 50%. However, when the 2004 European and local elections were held on a Friday, turnout rose dramatically to 58.58%. Given that the number of voters increases by one sixth when polling is held on a Friday, it is clear that a return to Thursday voting is motivated by party political concerns and an attempt to disenfranchise thousands.

Fine Gael is committed to ensuring that all those entitled to vote are given the maximum opportunity to do so. The Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill which we are bringing before the Dáil tonight will help to do this by only allowing national elections to be held on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. This Bill forces all parties, especially those on the Government benches, to put up or shut up by either supporting our Bill or explaining why they want to effectively disenfranchise thousands.

The Taoiseach has already signalled that weekend voting is preferable for young people by holding the second Nice referendum on a Saturday. It would be beyond hypocrisy for him and his Fianna Fáil colleagues to now consider Thursday voting, especially when he said at the time that Saturday brings students home from the enormous number of third level colleges in the country and many other people around the country who work all week and return to their constituencies at the weekend. When pressed on whether young people were apathetic and if it was beneficial to have a Saturday election he stated:

This should help them. Young people, particularly the students' unions, and others have continually said that they need to be facilitated [...] By giving them a Saturday, it gives people an opportunity to come out.

The Taoiseach should listen to his own words. Saturday voting gives young people and those who work all week an opportunity to vote. Thursday voting will deny thousands of students and young professionals who must travel home to their constituencies that opportunity. Fine Gael is committed to ensuring this does not happen.

In discussing this Bill, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats should look to our European partners. A 2004 report from the Electoral Reform Society revealed that weekend voting takes place in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and France. Does the Minister honestly believe the massive 85% turnout in last weekend's presidential election in France would have been replicated if it had been held last Thursday?

There are 650,000 people in Ireland aged between 19 and 28, and we must ensure that each of these voters is actively encouraged to vote and given the opportunity to do so. With 37% of our population under the age of 25, compared to the EU average of 25%, Ireland has one of the youngest populations in the EU. We have only had one general election in the past decade, which means that most people under the age of 30 have, at most, voted in only one general election.

Unfortunately the records show that in 2002 many potential young first-time voters either chose not to vote or were not able to vote on election day. Some 40% of young people who failed to vote cited being away from home on polling day or not being registered as a reason.

The problem for so many young people of not being able to come home to their constituency on polling day is something we can do something about immediately. Changing polling day from a weekday to the weekend would have a significant impact on voter turnout. Fine Gael believes that voting on Saturday instead of Friday would result in increased turnout at all age levels.

The overriding priority when choosing a suitable day for voting should be facilitating voters to maximise turnout. Approximately 400,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 will have the opportunity to participate in choosing a Government for the first time in May. They are the decision-makers of the future, and holding the election at the weekend would give them the greatest opportunity to partake in the political process and have their voices heard.

The issue is that thousands of young people, not just students, live away from home, as well as others who are not so young, including those who must travel to work. There is a cycle in the working week, and it is very clear that it ends on a Friday. People go home on that day. If one works in the city, one returns to the countryside. Friday is a critical day in everyone's life, and that is true not only for students but for commuters. Hundreds of thousands must get up at 6 a.m. to travel to the cities to work. Many of them, thousands more than five years ago, do not return home until late at night. Many, because of congestion, a lack of proper planning and poor spatial strategy, will not return home until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

I am sure the Minister finds in his constituency that party workers cannot start canvassing at 7 p.m. as they used to, since they are not home. Even if they knocked on doors at that time, many people would not be in. In particular to facilitate commuters and acknowledge their work cycle, the weekend is the time to encourage them to vote, regardless of the outcome — Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or whatever — since as a group such people have no party political affiliation. We need a majority of people to come out and vote on election day for the new Government. We must facilitate that, and the Government cannot be allowed to renege on what it did for the Nice referendum and the last election held in this State, which was on a Friday.

While we are dealing specifically with weekend voting, much more needs to be done to make the electoral process smoother. Many voters are deeply concerned that their right to participate in the upcoming general election might be denied, as they are likely to be away at some stage during the months of May and June. The principle of allowing citizens to exercise their franchise by way of postal votes is now well recognised. It already exists for gardaí, the diplomatic service, and members of the Defence Forces. It is interesting to note that recent legislation passed by the Oireachtas allows prisoners the right to vote by way of postal ballot, something with which we all agree. Since the principle of postal voting exists for prisoners, why should others be excluded if they have a genuine reason and can prove that they will be out of the country at the time?

Where voters can show a local authority that they have purchased aircraft tickets or must travel, the right of voting by way of a postal vote could easily be extended to them. Alternatively, the voter could vote before the date of the poll at a designated centre or local authority building in his or her constituency. Imagination is required, and given the flexibility that other EU states show in allowing people to vote by post, we should make it easier for people to participate fully in the democratic process.

I congratulate the organisers of the Rock the Vote campaign, who have done much to encourage young people to vote. That campaign was inspired by the shambolic handling of the electoral register by the Government parties. Fine Gael believes that automatic registration of all citizens on their 18th birthday through the PPS system is the best way to ensure everyone who wants to vote has a chance to do so. We are totally committed to an electoral commission and a rolling register updated each month so that any changes are automatically included and our turnout is much more credible.

I remind everyone of the findings of the Democracy Commission in its recent report. Over a 25-year period, turnout in Irish general elections has dropped from 76% in 1977 to around 63% in 2002. In Ireland just over 40% of young adult respondents aged 18 to 19, and only 53% of those aged 20 to 24, indicated they had voted in the 2002 general election. In the 1999 local and European elections, almost 67% of young people did not vote. I will quote the Commission:

It would be wrong...to assume that apathy and a lack of interest lie behind low youth turnout. The Commission's findings show that of non voters in the 20-24 age category, 47% didn't vote because of procedural obstacles (‘not registered', ‘away' ‘no polling card') as opposed to the 39% who didn't vote due to ‘no interest', ‘disillusionment', ‘lack of information/knowledge' and ‘my vote would make no difference'.

The Government is directly responsible for the low turn-out among young people, and the decision to hold the next election on a Thursday only adds to the problem.

My colleague Senator McHugh recently forwarded a petition on the issue to the Taoiseach's office. An election held on a Thursday will disenfranchise many people, but particularly students attending universities in the North, who are not eligible for a postal vote, and Senator McHugh's petition highlights the substantial level of support against the move.

One of the best barometers of inclusiveness in a society is turnout on election day. However, thousands of young people attending college, along with those who live away from home but would still prefer to vote in the place of their upbringing, will effectively be disqualified from casting their ballot if the Fianna Fáil leader fulfils his pledge to hold the election on a Thursday. It is especially grievous for young people attending universities in Northern Ireland, who are not entitled to a postal vote.

I remind the Government that Fianna Fáil's Senator O'Rourke stated in the Seanad this week that she would urge the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party to oppose Thursday voting. I wish her more power and success. If the Taoiseach is serious about democracy, he must ensure that all those entitled to vote enjoy the right and opportunity to do so.

This is likely to be the last Private Members' business of this Dáil. It is a great shame that this issue is even the subject of such discussion. The Government is running away from encouraging young people to vote. It is unacceptable that we should operate under a system whereby a Government may manipulate the date and day of an election to bolster its faltering prospects. We do not expect Government support for this Bill, but relish the opportunity to enact it when the people have had their say and we have the chance to serve them. That the Government will be driven from office is a fact.

There is a very strong view outside this House in favour of change. We want the vast majority of people to be given the opportunity to cast their ballot to change the Government. By frustrating the precedent of Friday voting set by the last election held in the State, the Government shows that it is afraid to face the music. However, it cannot dodge the inevitable, and the Taoiseach cannot get out of naming an election day. When the pinn luaidhe come out, we will wish to ensure the young people of this State have a major say in what happens.

I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, for tabling this proposal. While I do not expect the Government to support it, I urge it to do so. The Taoiseach may sadly have made his mind up on the issue, but perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, has some small degree of influence with him and can persuade him of the arguments.

The only question that one can ask, of the Taoiseach in particular and the Government in general, is why they are so afraid to hold the election on a date that facilitates young people to vote. The Taoiseach has commented on the issue in as definitive a manner as might be expected, and it seems very clear that he is determined to hold the election on a Thursday. He owes the House and, more importantly, the people, particularly young people, an explanation why he is not prepared to hold the election on a day that facilitates the highest turn-out. We have heard much lip service from the Government about young people. If it wanted to show it is concerned about issues affecting young people, it would facilitate them to vote and have their voices heard.

There are obvious reasons for the Government parties to be concerned about the views of young people. In recent years, young people have experienced significant increases in third level registration fees. Originally, the increases were intended to be in line with inflation but, effectively, the registration fees have become a fee by the back door. Young people cannot go on to third level if they do not pay these fees. Perhaps the Government parties are concerned there may be a backlash in this regard. Likewise, it is young people and first-time buyers who have suffered as a result of the Government's failure to tackle stamp duty in the past five years. They are the ones being crucified in paying the penal tax that is due.

We have not had a clear message from the Government on this issue because it is clearly all over the place, although the larger party in Government, Fianna Fáil, has been clear it will not do anything about stamp duty. Today, we had probably the clearest reply the Taoiseach has ever given in this House. When asked by Deputy Kenny whether he would do something about stamp duty in the lifetime of the Government, he said "No". Perhaps he is concerned young people will indicate to him in the ballot box that this is an issue that affects them and that they want to see action taken on it. He may fear young people will penalise Fianna Fáil for failing to take action on the matter.

Young people are unlikely to be fooled by the Progressive Democrats' posturing on stamp duty in recent months. That party has also been in power for the past ten years and it is equally responsible as Fianna Fáil for failing to do anything in this regard. Nobody will be fooled by the Progressive Democrats raising the issue after almost ten years of Government. The Tánaiste will get his answer in regard to that also. These are issues that influence how young people will vote. The Government's failure to tackle such issues has the Taoiseach running scared.

When asked about not facilitating young people, the Taoiseach replied they can get postal votes. I expect the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will probably refer to that fact in due course. The reality of flatland living is that as soon as third level institutions close, students will leave their accommodation. On-campus accommodation, for instance, is let out during the summer. We do not know when the general election will be held and, if one is registered for a postal vote, it may be sent to empty flats where students are no longer living. They will be caught whichever direction they turn as they will neither get their postal ballot paper nor be able to vote at home. The provision of postal votes for students does not adequately facilitate students to vote. Students would have a better chance of voting if they knew the date of the election. This waiting game is causing a degree of difficulty for students who will be sitting exams that are important for their future. Not knowing when the election will take place further disenfranchises students.

I urge the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to provide a degree of clarity on the opening and closing times of polling stations as they have varied from election to election. It would be preferable if we were clear about the times as otherwise it can lead to confusion. I assume the Minister is not aware of the date of the election but Senator O'Rourke must be, as by all accounts, her posters are all over Westmeath. The Minister should investigate the matter as it may be against the litter laws.

Deputy Enright should go out to Tallaght and see what Senator Brian Hayes is doing.

It would be helpful if clarity were provided on the opening and closing times of polling stations. I urge that polling stations be open for as long as possible, as Deputy O'Dowd stated, especially to facilitate commuters. A significant number of commuters live in my constituency. The same is true of Deputy Connaughton's constituency in Galway and Deputy O'Dowd's constituency in Louth.

There are thousands of them.

It could be difficult for people to get to their polling station by 9 p.m. I urge that polling stations would remain open, perhaps until 11 p.m., to facilitate people to cast their ballots. If the election is on 31 May, some students would not be able to travel to vote on the Thursday if they have exams on Friday also, which is very much disenfranchising them.

I support what Senator O'Rourke said in urging the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party to oppose Thursday voting. I hope her party leader, the Taoiseach, will listen to her. I reiterate what Deputy O'Dowd said about the hypocrisy of the Taoiseach in justifying holding the referendum on the Nice treaty on a weekend yet not saying the general election is entitled to the same degree of importance.

To a degree, the statistics speak for themselves. The turnout in 1999 was just over 50% when the local and European elections were held on a Thursday.

To what year did Deputy Enright refer?

In 1999 the local and European elections were held on a Thursday and the turnout was 50.21%.

On a Thursday?

Yes, Minister. In 2004, there was a 58.58% turnout on a Friday. The evidence is that by holding the election on a Friday there was a big increase in voter turnout. It is important that we look at these statistics, which justify the holding of the election on a Friday. The last local and European elections were not Fianna Fáil's finest hour, especially the European elections. At least Fianna Fáil managed to field a team of candidates, which is more than its colleagues in Government did. Perhaps that is why the Taoiseach has concerns about this issue. Instead of running scared, he should agree that having an election on a Friday would give as many people as possible an opportunity to cast their ballot.

Young people are sick of being blamed for not voting. If the election is held on a Thursday, questions will be asked on radio and television programmes about why young people did not vote. That has happened in the past. We cannot blame young people for not voting if we do not give them the opportunity. We worked long and hard to be in a position where we could vote in this country. It must be accepted that young people have to contend with exams or would have difficulty getting home from work. We must hold elections on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays to ensure people can cast their ballot on election day, rather than blaming them for not voting.

I am sure the Minister, Deputy Roche, has a wonderful prepared script in reply to us on these issues but, ultimately, although he is in a fairly powerful position, he is not the man who will make the final decision on when the election will be held. Although the Taoiseach does not generally attend Private Members' debates, I hope he will attend tomorrow night to cast his vote and let people see where he stands on this issue. We have just this evening and tomorrow evening to persuade him to have a degree of common sense on this issue and to show his genuine appreciation and respect for the views of young people by giving them the franchise they deserve along with everyone else in this country.

I urge the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government to seriously consider this issue. The Government should row back, accept this motion and have the election on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday so that every citizen would have an equal opportunity to cast their ballots. Whoever they choose is up to them. We will all canvass them as best we can. I would be ashamed to be a member of a party which would not allow young people to exercise their franchise. We, in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, are fortunate that we have a better spread of young people than the parties across the House. Perhaps that has influenced Fine Gael's views on this issue. Fianna Fáil may not have had the same opportunity but I am sure Ógra Fianna Fáil has strong views on the matter. If I was involved in that party I would be annoyed my voice was not being heard. Perhaps the Minister will think again about this issue.

I am delighted to lend my support to this Bill. Unless I misinterpret the Minister, Deputy Roche, I believe that over the years he has, deep down, wanted to enhance the whole system of democracy. Whatever his faults, failure in this regard is not one of them. I cannot understand why a Minister in his position would not want to give to the electorate the best possible chance to vote at the next election, not that he will have the final say on the matter but bearing in mind that he carries the candle tonight. I am sorry I am witnessing the return of the old days of Fianna Fáil in that I am beginning to get a sniff of gerrymandering from this issue. For the past four or five years, youth parliaments were addressed by Ministers and youth fora met all over the country. They were deemed to be the greatest things on earth, and so they were because they brought people into mainstream politics and afforded them an opportunity to say what they thought about democracy. Rather than long-standing elected representatives prescribing what would be good for young people, the latter did so themselves. All over the country, at various fora and under various headline organisations, they decided they wanted to vote, given that circumstances were reasonable. It is reasonable to believe a great number of these people will vote for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and everybody else.

At rallies throughout the years and since the first day I entered this House, I have said that, whatever else one does, one should vote. I have said this in the knowledge that one has a very mixed audience when speaking in public, as the Minister well knows. To have a say in what happens, one should vote. People who do not vote do not have the same say in what is happening as those who do. Now that there are so many parties, Independent Members and types of politicians, all with different objectives and manifestos, few voters will be able to say there is not a single person in Ireland for whom they could vote. As we all know, there is plenty of competition in all constituencies.

I take it the Minister understands fully that the 1999 and 2004 European elections were held on the dates mentioned. Given the difference in voter turnout in 1999 and 2004, we can take it that Friday voting works. One would not need to be a mathematician to understand this. Let us consider the city of Galway. The Minister may shake his head, but he should realise we are addressing the young people of Ireland tonight. I do not know how many of them will hear this debate but they will find out about it and will be very interested in the Minister's reply. What will the 20,000 or 25,000 students in the National University of Ireland, Galway, and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who live in but one small city, think of a Government that asks them to leave their colleges on a Thursday to travel home to vote, be it in Donegal or the midlands, and then return immediately to attend college on Friday? They may have to get a lift if they do not own a car. Their parents are working and not in a position to collect them. What I have said is happening in Galway city is replicated all over the country. Why would any Government want to impose such hardship, including financial hardship, on voters?

Everybody says a great many young people do not want to vote but they should ask themselves how one can convince a young person in Galway city, Castlebar, Limerick, Cork or elsewhere that the Government wants to ensure it is easy as possible for them to vote. There are many people who, for a variety or reasons, will not or cannot vote but the young people who want to do so must be facilitated. Very few parents would be in a position to drive from Sligo or Letterkenny to Galway on a Thursday to collect their sons or daughters so they could vote and then bring them back so they could attend college the following morning. If there were ever a way to ensure they could not vote, it would be to ensure that we have Thursday voting. This is basically what we are talking about.

The Government has done all sorts of research, at which I admit it is good. It must have been demonstrated recently that if young people get to the polling stations, they might not do Fianna Fáil a great deal of good. One could never take Fianna Fáil to be foolish where electioneering is concerned as its every step over the years has been taken to remain in the Government benches. Anything that had to be done electorally was and is being done and that is why I say there is gerrymandering. It stinks and many young people are fed up to the teeth with it.

We are speaking principally about young people but there are other categories of voter to be considered. Many young married couples are registered to vote down the country but, because the national spatial strategy was not implemented and because we have the worst form of regional development ever known, they must work in Dublin out of economic necessity. Imagine them rushing home to try to get to the polling booths to vote before 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., or whenever they are to close in the knowledge that they will have to be up at 6 a.m. the next morning to commute back to Dublin. Research has shown that many people in this tranche, as opposed to young people, are saying that because their houses cost so much, interest rates have increased so much and child care costs are out of this world, and because they see no hope for alleviation under the current Government, they will deal with it in the way they know best, that is, by voting. They will do so with the pencil rather than the e-voting machine.

Whatever way the Government clothes the issue of electronic voting, it can take it that when people go to vote, they will have a mental picture of a Government that misappropriated and misspent €50 million on the daftest project ever thought of. They will all remember this because it will surface on election day. I do not know how all Fianna Fáil's quantitative researchers and others will overcome this mental picture but I hope everyone has it in mind when voting and I will do my level best to implant it.

It is very seldom that Fianna Fáil makes a mistake of this magnitude and if its back was not to the wall, it would not have done so. I hope everybody left without a vote if the Taoiseach opts for a Thursday election will take into account what the Minister, Deputy Roche, has to say on behalf of the Government.

I wish to pick up on Deputy Connaughton's point. I hope the people have been listening to this debate. If there was ever a motion that illustrated the crass and bizarre incompetence of Fine Gael, it is this one. Did the Deputies not check their diaries or do they not know that the dates mentioned were Fridays? Are they a crowd of clowns?

The Minister is talking about Thursday for the general election.

No. The Deputy stated: "In 1999, the European and local elections were held on a Thursday with a turnout of 50.21%."

I checked the record.

He went on to claim that when the 2004 local elections were switched to a Friday, "the turnout rose dramatically to 58.58%." Does he ever check the facts?

When the election was on a Friday, the turnout increased.

Was the 2004 election not on a Friday?

In 1999, 11 June was a Friday.

In 2004, 11 June was also a Friday.

That is correct.

It is not what the Deputy stated. He claimed that the first was a Thursday and the second was a Friday and that the turnout was higher at the second election because it had been switched to a Friday. I will read the sentence again, as there is no point in the Deputy denying what he stated.

I will not deny it, as I read into the record.

I will read from Fine Gael's website, which was helpful. It states: "In 1999, the European and local elections were held on a Thursday with a turnout of 50.21%. However, when the 2004 European and local elections were switched to a Friday, turnout rose dramatically to 58.58%." The Deputy's problem is that both elections were held on a Friday.

The key point we are making is that the Government will hold a general election on a Thursday.

The Deputy's thesis is based on a fallacy. I checked the dates, which were Friday, 11 June 1999 and Friday, 11 June 2004. If the Deputy is putting forward a serious thesis, the minimum he should do is research it. I would not be as smug as Deputy Enright in addressing an issue such as this.

Were I the Minister, I would not talk about being smug.

What a Minister to talk about smugness.

The Minister and other Deputies should address the Chair.

This is a serious issue and if I could not get the basic facts right, I would not be as smug as Deputy Enright.

The Government is disenfranchising young people.

The Minister should tell them why the election will be on a Thursday.

I am prepared to listen to any logical argument, but an argument based on a confusion of the most fundamental facts is bizarre.

There is no confusion.

Fine Gael has demonstrated its complete and utter incompetence as a party.

Will the Government hold the election on a Friday?

Since I did not want to interrupt Deputy O'Dowd, I asked Deputy Enright whether she was sure about the dates. She dismissed my question arrogantly. I gave her a hint to leave her off the hook.

The Minister should not lecture on arrogance.

While specific provisions in the Constitution relate to the dissolution of the Dáil, the day and duration of polling is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We do not have the type of information to support Fine Gael's thesis, a second element on which I will speak later.

The Electoral Act 1992, as amended, provides that a poll at a Dáil election can take place on any day of the week appointed by the Minister, provided the day is not earlier than the 18th day or later than the 25th day after the day on which the writs for the election are issued. The Act removed the statutory barrier to voting on Sundays, providing the option to have an election on any day of the week, which is not as constricting as the proposition tabled by Fine Gael. The inherent flexibility in the legislation provides a framework that allows all relevant factors to be taken into account at any given time in setting the polling day.

As regards what has happened in practice, the House should note that, using the flexibility now available, voting in Ireland has taken place on every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. For example, the second referendum on the Nice treaty in 2002 took place on a Saturday, as did the Tipperary South by-election in the previous year, although there was an issue concerning the Jewish Sabbath.

Contrary to what Deputies have stated, the European elections in 1999 and 2004 took place on Fridays. The fundamental point being made by Fine Gael is false. The 1999 EU and local elections were held on Friday, 11 June with a turnout of 50% and the 2004 EU and local elections were held on Friday, 11 June with a turnout of 58%. I do not wish to embarrass Deputies, as it is easy to make a mistake.

The Minister will not embarrass us.

A mix-up in dates would be embarrassing, but perhaps Deputy O'Dowd has more brass neck than I give him credit for.

The Minister should continue and not act like a child.

The Minister's next point is his disenfranchisement of young people.

The mistake suggests that the roadblock the Deputies wish to create in the Houses on this issue is little more than an ill-founded diversion. That they could get a basic aspect of their argument so desperately confused raises a fundamental question about the competence of their approach and their party's competence, somewhat similar to its confusion on stamp duty, which the Labour Party needed to correct.

What about Fianna Fáil on the election?

The Minister should stay on the issue. The people will decide whether there is any confusion.

Arguments can be made for and against the choice of a particular day of the week as the polling day.

The Minister should address the main issue of Friday voting.

The Minister without interruption.

The Ceann Comhairle was not present at the time, but I mentioned stamp duty because two or three Deputies referred to it. I would have believed they would have been incredibly embarrassed given that they needed to climb down when Deputy Rabbitte pointed out the incompetence and sheer stupidity of their proposition last week.

The Minister is like a reverend mother. He should watch his smugness and stay on the point.

I can accept the Deputies' embarrassment.

Allow the Minister without interruption.

The flexibility in the law is better than Fine Gael's proposition.

Will the Government use it?

Those in favour of voting at weekends may say that a Friday, Saturday or Sunday poll would facilitate students who are registered in their homes, but who attend full-time education elsewhere and return home at weekends. Others would not support a Friday poll, as students might be travelling home for the weekend. As Deputies should know, workers and students who are unable to get to polling stations can ask for postal votes.

Postal votes can be asked for, but they do not suit students.

Let us not be silly. A postal vote can be sent to people.

It could arrive at a flat in June after the student has finished college.

Allow the Minister to continue. The Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute.

It must be borne in mind that postal voting is provided for in respect of certain categories of person and was introduced specifically with students and certain workers in mind. Since 1997, full-time students registered at home who are living elsewhere while attending an educational institution in the State may apply for postal votes. Students need not be adversely affected by the timing of an election, given the provisions of the Electoral Act 1997. Similarly, people whose occupation, service or employment makes it unlikely that they will be able to get to the polling station have the right to postal votes. These good changes were introduced by the House to provide flexibility.

It may also be argued that people have more leisure time at the weekend, so electors would have greater opportunity to vote at an election when they are freed from demanding work schedules. Equally, it could be said that, given busy modern lifestyles, the weekend represents valuable spare time for family, sporting and other pursuits and religious and spiritual time. It may be the case that the weekend is not as attractive as we might hypothesise. If we look at other experiences, we will see the point I am making here is borne out by the facts. It must also be borne in mind that today, for many people, particularly workers in the tourism, retail and transport industries, the weekend is probably the busiest time and they might have difficulty in getting to polling stations.

On the religious dimension to the issue, if weekend voting were to become part of the national arrangements, it might be necessary to ensure that voting could take place over both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate religious observance by members of both the Christian and Jewish communities. Friday may also need to be considered because the most rapidly growing religious group in the country observes its Sabbath on Friday. There are practical issues involved.

What about the commuters? The Minister has failed to address them.

The idea of holding an election over two days would probably require a referendum.

In general, it can be said that weekend voting would facilitate those electors who are normally away from home on weekdays and would reduce or eliminate school closures, a necessary feature of weekday elections. There are, equally, arguments against weekend voting. It can be said that weekend voting could reduce turnout because of people going away at weekends or because of clashes with sporting events, festivals or because of objections on religious grounds. Such factors may depress voting patterns at weekends. There is no concrete evidence to support the thesis Fine Gael is putting forward, that a particular date is favourable.

The evidence from Europe strongly supports weekend voting.

I will deal with the evidence from Europe but the Deputy could not even get the dates right for the 1999 and 2004 elections.

That does not change the argument.

The Minister should ask young people their views.

I am not changing the argument, I am making the point that the basic thesis——

Address the commuters' issues.

Schoolboy debating.

Fine Gael always gets ratty when it is embarrassed. I am prepared to listen to any argument and I listened to the Fine Gael argument in silence. I am glad Deputy Gilmore has joined us because his colleagues in Fine Gael could not even get the dates of the two elections right, something that speaks volumes.

The truth is that in attempting to accommodate one group of voters by choosing a particular polling day, another group may be inconvenienced. There will be advantages and disadvantages no matter which day is chosen. There is little evidence to suggest that the choice of a particular day of the week has a significant impact on voter turnout or that, for example, voting on a Friday produces a higher turnout. The two Fridays on which elections were held, in 1999 and 2004, involved other issues related to voter turnout. If we consider turnout data for elections in Ireland over the past 20 years, there are no definitive or clear-cut trends associating turnout with days of the week. Conflicting patterns are, in fact, evident, as well as ones contrary to the theories the Deputies opposite are advancing.

The last two general elections, in 2002 and 1997, were held on a Friday and turnouts of 62.6% and 65.9%, respectively, were recorded. The previous general election, held on a Wednesday in 1992, had a turnout of 68.5%. The turnout on the Wednesday was higher than on the Fridays. An election was held on a Thursday in 1989 and also had a turnout of 68.5%. On a Tuesday in 1987, it was 73.3%. That was a special situation, because at that time we had the most incompetent Government in the history of the State, a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, and it was run out of office. That coalition left us with 250,000 unemployed.

The Minister was trying to get elected himself.

Did the Minister lose his seat that time or was that in the next election?

That was the election that ran the most incompetent Government we had ever seen out of office.

The Minister had a bad old run around that time.

Will the Minister address the issues facing commuters? Will he get to the point?

It doubled the national debt and was running 35,000 to 45,000 people per year out on the emigrant ship. That election got rid of a Government that had elevated unemployment to 250,000. That was why on a Tuesday in 1987, 73.3% of the electorate turned out.

Turnout figures recorded for the same day of the week vary significantly from poll to poll and from year to year. As I have said, the European elections held in 2004 and 1999 were both on a Friday, contrary to the point made by Deputies opposite, but their turnouts were 58.6% and 50.2% respectively. The right to life referendum held on a Wednesday in 1992 had a recorded turnout of 68.2%, while the protection of human life referendum in 2002, also on a Wednesday, had a turnout of 42.9%. We know why this is, because issues dominate electoral turnout.

Statistical evidence supporting a direct link between weekend voting and increased voter participation is also lacking internationally. Weekend voting was tried in several state and local elections in the US in 2000 and did not produced definitive results one way or the other. In some elections, such as was the case in California, there was increased voter turnout with respect to comparable elections held on Tuesdays. In other cases, Texas for example, there was no measurable change in voter participation. Weekend voting was found to be a costly endeavour with election officials, support personnel, including maintenance workers, working overtime. Normal weekend events such as sporting events and concerts had to be rescheduled.

A weekend voting Bill was proposed in the US Congress in January 2005 which aimed to amend federal law with respect to elections to provide for Saturday and Sunday voting for the election of Congress and the President and Vice President of the United States but this Bill never became law.

In Britain, where the experience is more comparable to ours, during local elections in Camden in 2002, voting was made available on the weekend before the usual Thursday election day. In this experiment, according to an evaluation undertaken by the British electoral commission, just 1.1% of the total turnout availed of the opportunity to vote at the weekend, the remainder preferred to vote on a Thursday. A pilot experiment in Watford in 2000 found that the change to weekend voting did not appear to encourage many new voters to vote at the polling stations.

It may well be that reforms like weekend voting might be attractive to some people who already vote, rather than encouraging non-voters to get the voting habit. It is clear that the choice of a particular polling day alone does not necessarily encourage turnout and other factors besides the day of the week are at work. Looking at the figures for both elections and referenda over the years, there is no direct connection between the day of the week and turnout. There is, however, a connection between turnout and the extent to which people are exercised at the time about the issues before them and the level of public interest in the election, the real issues at stake. That is why there was such a phenomenal turnout in 1987, because people wanted to get rid of the Government. There is a great onus, therefore, on the Members of the House and on candidates generally to make the upcoming election as interesting and as engaging as possible.

Political engagement is the foundation of a healthy democracy. Disconnection from the political process in Ireland is indicated by declining rates of electoral participation in recent decades. Over a 25 year period, turnout in Irish general elections has dropped, from 76% in 1977 to 63% in 2002. In a move to turn this and other trends around, the Government established the taskforce on active citizenship in April 2006 to lead a national conversation on the extent to which citizens engage in the issues that affect them and their communities. The taskforce, which had a specific sub-committee on political issues, voter participation and education, produced its report in March of this year. It will be an interesting report and there should be an informed debate on the issue. This is one issue where both Deputy O'Dowd and I firmly agree; whatever happens on 17, 21 or 31 May, we need a debate on how we conduct our elections. I am a fan of the idea of a rolling register to deal with the point Deputy Enright made. I am on the record as saying that on several occasions. I am a fan of the concept of an electoral commission that could deal with all of the issues, producing,inter alia, clear research on the best way to conduct elections.

The report, following a widespread and varied consultation process across the country, makes a number of important recommendations to Government on participation in the democratic process. These include the establishment of an independent electoral commission with a mandate to encourage everyone who is eligible to register and vote in elections, to support voter education programmes and provide data, research and analysis on the issue of political engagement and awareness. Other recommendations covered areas such as the public service and citizens, community engagement, education for citizenship and ethnic and cultural diversity.

I welcome, in particular, the task force's proposal for the establishment of an independent electoral commission and believe that if there is consensus on anything in this House as regards the electoral area, it is on this issue. It is an area where reform can be achieved and progress made in a positive sense. After the general election, regardless of who is in Government, we should establish an independent commission and have a logical discussion on issues ranging from voter education, to registration, to the date on which an election is held and how electronic voting systems might be introduced. I do not want to get into a debate with Deputy Connaughton on this, but since he raised it, and to answer his specific point——

I know the Minister does not. That would put him in the box.

I have made the point before to the effect that his party was very enthusiastic in the past, but the point is that this is part of an ongoing debate we should have, removed from the white heat of electoral politics. We should examine how we conduct the democratic process and what powers should be given to an independent commission very early in the life of the next Dáil. I simply make that point because it is something on which there is general consensus in the House.

There is need for an ambitious programme of modernisation and reform of the electoral system in Ireland and I have said this on several occasions. The best and least contentious, if not the only, way to achieve this is through political consensus within this House as to the programme that needs to be implemented, shortly after the next election, and then establishing an independent commission to get on with the job.

The proposal from the task force is very welcome and an important input to the emerging debate. In fact it may be desirable to build on the task force's proposals and widen the remit of the proposed commission to include responsibility for all aspects of elections — in particular to include responsibility for constituency and local electoral area revision. Again, this is a matter that cannot be logically dealt with in the white heat of an election campaign. It is much better if it is dealt with in calmer waters afterwards.

The recommendations formulated by the task force have been accepted by Government and a new office is being established to develop an implementation plan in consultation with the stakeholders. To conclude, limiting elections and referendums to weekend voting, as proposed in the Bill before the House, would require careful consideration of a range of factors, including people being away from home, the large numbers employed in the services, the reality of commuting, as Deputy O'Dowd has said, possible objections on religious grounds, the likelihood of competition with sporting events and the fact that the weekend might not be the panacea for reduced voter turn-out.

Another point is that real voter turn-out in Ireland has been higher than the statistics we all quote from time to time. The reality is that it must be, since the voting register has been a mess for many years. We have made an honest effort to correct the mess and now we have the most up to date register for a quarter of a century, as we go into this election. Again, that is an issue that needs to be looked at by an electoral commission. An electoral commission should examine the issue of constructing a voting register. The Deputy and I differ as regards the use of PPS numbers. I do not believe that makes any sense while he believes it is the panacea. We just have an honest difference in that regard, and it is one of the issues that could be looked at and resolved.

That is after ten years.

I am simply making the point, and I did not once interrupt the Deputy other than to query the date.

The Minister went very close.

I did not. I asked out of a sense of not wanting to embarrass the Deputy, when I pointed out the error as regards the dates.

The Minister is embarrassed.

Overall, and despite several advantages, it is not clear that more people would have an opportunity to vote if elections and referendums were held at weekends. That is one argument. Equally, there is a counter argument. The day of the week to be appointed for the taking of a poll is a matter for decision on each occasion. It would be retrograde to remove the legislative flexibility available at the moment. I do not believe the Deputy has made a strong case and it is an important matter. In choosing a day for the forthcoming general election, the House can be assured that all relevant factors will be taken into account. The hours of polling are also relevant. Again, this is particularly relevant in the context of the point made by Deputy O'Dowd. Electoral law in Ireland requires that the duration of the poll must be not less than 12 hours between 7 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. We amended the law to extend the potential opening time back to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m., which is consistent with modern lifestyles and gives people, in effect 15.5 hours for polling.

I urge everyone who is eligible to take the opportunity to vote. I agree with Deputy Connaughton on that. It is important that people take the opportunity to vote. If Members choose to put forward a private Members' Bill on such an important issue as voting, the very minimum they could do is get the dates of the elections right. To suggest that the difference between 1999 and 2004 could be accounted for by the fact that one was held on a Thursday while the other was on a Friday — when they were, in fact, both held on Fridays — illustrates——

Hold this election on Friday.

——at a minimum that the Deputy did very little research into this issue.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Sullivan.

The Labour Party supports this Fine Gael Bill this evening. I congratulate the party's environment spokesperson, Deputy O'Dowd, on bringing the Bill before the House. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has a hard neck. He is the Minister responsible for electoral matters. After his party's ten years in office he addresses the House like a detached don as regards what he would like to see in electoral law. He tells the House he is the fan of an independent electoral commission and about all the reforms he would like to see in our electoral legislation and procedures. He would like to see a rolling register. He welcomed the recommendations of the task force, which were published a year ago and tells us about all the things the next Dáil and Government should do about changes in electoral legislation.

On a point of information——

Allow Deputy Gilmore, without interruption, please.

Deputy Roche is the Minister who is responsible——

Deputy Gilmore said the recommendations were published a year ago. They were published four weeks ago.

According to the Minister's script, they were published in April 2006. For a man who is getting "smart-alecky" about dates, now, and who has been lecturing other people here all night about dates, the Minister would need to——

The task force was established in 2006.

Nobody comes into the House more often than the Minister to pull people up on all types of dates, phrases, commas and so on. He is the Minister responsible for electoral matters. His Government could have brought legislation before the House anytime in the past ten years to provide for an independent electoral commission. It is not a new idea but one that has been kicked around the Houses for some time. The Labour Party advocated it in several debates on electoral legislation but it was never taken up. On the eve of a general election and having been ten years in office, it is a bit late in the day for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to outline the changes he would like to see made to our electoral legislation and procedures when none of them have ever appeared in electoral legislation introduced by the Government.

The Fine Gael Party's Bill deals with the days on which elections should take place. A designated polling day is required. I have been struck by the number of constituents who have informed me that the Taoiseach's dithering on calling the date for the general election is causing them considerable difficulty and inconvenience. These are people who take their votes seriously and wish to participate in our democracy. Many of them wish to exercise it in a way that will change the Government. They have told me they cannot plan business trips, holidays or family arrangements because they want to be at home for polling day. Due to the restrictive nature of the polling arrangements the Government makes available to people, they feel they will be deprived of the right to vote.

The Fine Gael Party has proposed that the general election should be held on a week-end day. The Government's preference, which the Taoiseach has indicated, is that it should be held on a mid-week day. I acknowledge there are provisions for postal voting but these are limited. For example, a student, preparing for examinations, is unlikely to travel back to his or her primary place of residence to simply vote on a Thursday. Holding the election on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, will disenfranchise large numbers of people who wish to exercise their vote.

There is no point in the Minister quoting poll percentages from the 1990s, as the figures are unreliable. With the disorganised state of the electoral register, we do not know whether voter turn-out has gone up or down in the past 15 years.The Sunday Tribune carried several articles highlighting the oversubscribed state of the register, as did Deputies on this side of the House. The percentages for voter turn-out are therefore, wrong. The Minister attempted to draw comparisons between the percentage turn-out in local and European elections and general elections but these are very different matters. Traditionally, there is a relatively low turn-out in local and European elections and for many referenda. The percentage turn-out in the 2004 local and European elections, which were held on a Friday, stood at 58%. Given the state of the electoral register, that was a high turn-out. The reverse argument simply does not hold.

I appreciate Ministers who have been in Government for the past ten years may be detached in how people lead their lives. People are busy with work, away from home and can have various family arrangements. A mid-week polling day makes it difficult for them to vote. My preference is for elections to be held over two days. I note the Minister's comments on respecting those who observe the Sabbath as a Sunday, and likewise a Saturday, can cause difficulties for some religious minorities, making it unfair to pick an individual day. The option of conducting a general election over a two-day period should, therefore, be considered. Candidates may feel a certain discomfort, if an election were spread over 48 hours rather than a much shorter period. The priority is, however, to maximise the opportunities people have to exercise their vote.

This is one way of addressing polling, given the complex lifestyles of many people. I accept there may be constitutional issues that may have to be addressed but it is a different country to the one in 1937 when the Constitution was written. Then the idea of voting on a single day suited people's arrangements as people tended to work close to home. People tended then not to be away from their bases to the extent we experience these times.

I am not surprised the Government will make it more difficult to vote in the forthcoming election. Its handling of electoral matters has been lamentable. It had to be dragged into rectifying the electoral register. While there has been some improvement to it, we still do not have an accurate register. We could have if the Government had not been so arrogant in shooting down the advice given from this side of the House on using the census process. The Government was responsible in attempting to foist a form of electoral voting which the Commission on Electronic Voting found to be unreliable. The system had never been tested; the software could not be relied upon and could be interfered with. This was the system the Government wanted to impose on the people without listening to the advice and concerns expressed on this side of the House.

The last thing this Government will do is set the date for the general election. After ten years of many mistakes, neglect, bad decisions and arrogance, it looks like it will make a hames of that too and set a date for the general election which will inconvenience many people and disenfranchise those who would dearly wish to vote.

I, too, congratulate Fine Gael and, in particular, Deputy O'Dowd for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue. It is appropriate we discuss it in the context of the run-up to a general election and that we have the opportunity to engage in debate about the most suitable time to hold such an election because we have a lamentably low turn-out at elections. I have no reason to doubt what I just read on the Rock the Vote website which encourages young people to vote. It stated that Ireland has had the lowest average rate of turn-out for general elections in Europe over the past 30 years. Therefore, it is appropriate that we engage in this debate and I hope that by doing so, we will perhaps encourage more citizens to cast their vote.

Democracy is a very precious thing. People of the generation of those of us in the House this evening would not dream of not voting but a sizable section of the young population do not consider voting relevant to their lives. Perhaps they do not realise the significance and importance of having a vote. We really need to engage citizens much more in the whole question of exercising their franchise and having a say in what goes on in our democracy.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, on his contribution to the issues surrounding voting, the electoral register and so on. He very much drove the work to ensure the electoral register was thoroughly reviewed. I hope it is now in a more accurate state than it was in the past. Deputy Gilmore also drove the agenda in regard to the electronic voting debacle to ensure we did not have a system of counting votes about which the public did not feel confident. We spent a great deal of money on the system but we are all very grateful we will not use the machines in the forthcoming general election despite the fact that more than €50 million was wasted on them and a considerable amount of money has been spent on their storage. Deputy Gilmore has been a very incisive voice in pointing out the difficulties in that area.

I live in a city and constituency with a very large number of students. The University of Limerick, the Limerick Institute of Technology, the Limerick School of Art and Design and Mary Immaculate College are located in Limerick city. I meet many students when I knock on doors and I imagine my constituency probably has the highest percentage of students of any constituency. In Dublin and Cork students are scattered around a number of constituencies. When I go canvassing I meet people who tell me they are from Mayo, Sligo, Mullingar or elsewhere and that they hope to go home to vote. Naturally enough, they feel they belong to the place from which they come. Inevitably, students only live in the place in which their college happens to be on a transitory basis. While some may stay on, the vast majority see their home as the place in which their families live and to which they return during holidays and frequently at weekends.

We will disenfranchise a large number of students if, as the Taoiseach has indicated, polling takes place on a Thursday, although we do not really know. I listened to the Minister give statistics on whether more people come out to vote on a Thursday or a Friday and what happened in various European Parliament, local and general elections. However, I have not heard any assessment of what is the appropriate way to engage most of our citizens and get them to come out to vote. An independent electoral commission, as was suggested, would at least engage the public. After ten years in office, we have not seen any attempt by Government to encourage citizens to think about the value and importance of voting and of democracy.

With the Taoiseach saying polling will take place on a Thursday rather than a Friday, I suspect it may well be because it might be of more use to the Government if it is not held on a Friday. Is the Government a bit scared of students in places such as Limerick and does it hope they will not go home to vote? Students are disappointed about several issues, particularly the fact that failure to reform the grant system is now a reality. For several years, the Minister for Education and Science told us the student support Bill would be published, debated and enacted before the forthcoming academic year. However, that has not happened, nor will it. The grant system will be left as is, costing, according to the Union of Students in Ireland, €1 billion. It is administered by 66 different authorities, which very often has resulted in students not getting their grants for months after they were supposed to get them.

Students are not very happy with the Government because there has been a failure to deliver on one of the key issues, namely, reform of the grant system. The Government did not promise much to students but that was one clear promise that has not been fulfilled. Students are not happy with the Government and there might be something behind this agenda whereby large numbers of students will not be in a position to vote, which is a shame.

I mentioned the Rock the Vote campaign. I commend those behind that campaign, although I do not know who they are. They state they are not driven by party politics and from looking at the website they do not appear to be. They have organised events around the country and according to their website, they got 70,000 hits on their Bebo page which is important because it is read by young people. They are making a strong argument and are making an effort to get young people to come out to vote. That contrasts sharply with the Government which does not appear to make any effort to encourage young people to come out to vote.

At the other end of the scale, there is the Older and Bolder campaign, an initiative of organisations of our senior citizens which are also attempting to encourage their members to come out to vote. They are conducting a very strong postcard campaign at present in regard to their issues and encouraging their cohort of citizens to come out to vote.

Between the Rock the Vote campaign, the efforts of other bodies such as the Union of Students in Ireland and the National Youth Council and at the other end of the scale, the Older and Bolder campaign, there is an awareness that it is important to encourage people who do not vote to do so. If the pattern of turn-out is as it has been for years, figures show that probably more than 1 million registered voters will not cast their vote in the forthcoming general election. That is very serious for our democracy.

I would like to think the Government intends to take this issue of the franchise seriously but from what I heard from the Minister, I do not believe it has any intention of doing so. All the Minister did was continue to engage in scoring points against the Opposition rather than present a coherent position as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister in charge of this issue.

Debate adjourned.