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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Feb 2015

Vol. 867 No. 2

Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Dáil Éireann) Bill 2015: First Stage


Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

This is a Bill to amend the Constitution which is designed to change how we elect people to Dáil Éireann. I am conscious of the irony that I am introducing this legislation in the hope that I may one day have an opportunity to lead off the Second Stage debate on a Friday. Of course, having the House sit on Fridays is one of the many reforms introduced by the Government. Reform of the Dáil is an evolutionary process. There are always better ways to do business and, indeed, more things we can do. I acknowledge the reforms that have been introduced to date and I hope that more will be forthcoming in the future.

The Bill deals with how people are elected to the Dáil in the first instance. The main change it would bring about - a referendum would be required in order to allow the people to decide on the matter - is that we would move from the situation whereby at the next election 158 Members will be elected from 40 constituencies to one where those members would be elected from 157 single-seat constituencies, with the outgoing Chairperson automatically returned. The key point is that the proportional representation-single transferable vote, PR-STV, system would be retained, with the version that we use in by-elections and Presidential elections coming into play.

I have brought forward this Bill for a number of reasons. The first of these relates to the fact that at present there is a huge amount of duplication in constituencies. Very often, a number of Deputies will be doing the same job on behalf of particular agencies or people. This leads to duplication - or even worse - of work within the administrative arms of the public sector and the Civil Service. A large cost is associated with the latter. Another reason is that the number of Deputies representing a constituency can lead to too great a focus being placed on local, non-parliamentary and non-legislative issues. If there were only one legislator per constituency, he or she would have a greater opportunity to focus on his or her parliamentary and legislative duties and to deliver on these for his or her constituents. If there were only one representative per constituency, he or she would not be obliged to compete with others in respect of non-legislative matters. I am of the view that what I am proposing would represent a major step forward. If we have learned anything in recent years it is that those of us elected to these Houses can never afford to take our eyes off the ball in respect of major issues, our parliamentary work and matters of policy. What is proposed in the Bill would assist in focusing Members' attention on legislative and national issues.

In the context of geography, County Kerry will be a single five-seat constituency. I relish the opportunity of being in a position to represent the entire county. We are a very sticky breed in Kerry and we value and take huge pride in the green and gold. Logistically, however, there is a major difficulty for any Deputy seeking to cover a constituency as large as County Kerry. I know my colleague from County Clare, Deputy McNamara, who also represents a very large constituency, will agree with me in this regard and the Minister of State, who represents the large Wexford constituency, will recognise the point I am making.

We all know the honour of representing our counties.

It is a massive honour and we are following in huge footsteps. One of the logistical issues with regard to Kerry relates to the number of peninsulas in the county, which makes travelling even more difficult. I recently spent an afternoon in Caherdaniel making house calls and was then obliged to travel to Listowel, a drive of almost two hours, to deal with other business before spending a further hour driving home that night. That was on a regular day. The Bill would see to it that Kerry would retain its five Deputies but they would instead represent five single-seat constituencies. The position would be the same with regard to every other county. That would be a better way of doing business.

The Bill also has other merits. I am aware that the Government has a busy schedule of planned referenda but I am of the view that the Bill is worthy of debate in the House. I am not proposing the introduction of a first-past-the-post system similar to that which obtains in the UK. Again, the system used for by-elections and Presidential elections would come into play and minority groups would still have the opportunity to be represented. A wide variety of representatives were elected to the House as a result of a number of recent by-elections and there is an argument to be made that what is proposed would favour the larger parties. That is not quite the case. I hope we will have the opportunity to debate the various issues on Second Stage.

Is the Bill opposed?

No. However, I cannot promise the Deputy that a referendum will be held before the next general election.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.

I declare the motion for leave to introduce the Bill agreed. As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Tairgim: "Go dtógfar an Bille in am Comhaltaí Príobháideacha."

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.10 p.m.