Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015: From the Seanad

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, form a composite proposal and will be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 1:
Section 2: In page 4, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“(b) in section 2, by inserting after the definition of “the list of candidates” the following:
“ ‘Local Authority Members’ Association’ means the association of the members of local authorities (within the meaning of section 2 of the Local Government Act 2001) known as the Local Authority Members’ Association;”,”.

I am pleased to be back in the Dáil today to discuss amendments to this Bill which was initiated in this House and passed all Stages here on 18 November.

Most Deputies will be familiar with the main provisions of the Bill, having considered them very recently and I will not go over them again. The amendments we are discussing today are ones I introduced in the Seanad last week.

The first amendment provides for the inclusion of the Local Authority Members' Association in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad panel Member elections in the same way as the Bill is providing for the Association of Irish Local Government to be included. Technically there are six amendments to the Bill to provide for this. The amendments will give equal recognition to the two local government representative bodies for the purposes of making nominations to the Administrative Panel for Seanad elections. I ask this House to support these amendments.

The overall effect of the amended section 2 of the Bill will be to replace the references to the Irish County Councils General Council and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland in sections 8, 27 and 58A of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 with references to the Association of Irish Local Government and the Local Authority Members Association.

No increase in the number of nominations to the Administrative Panel will arise from the changes. No changes are being made to the electorate for Seanad panel Member elections.

Did the Minister of State say that LAMA would have the right to nominate a candidate to the Administrative Panel? Correct. I take it that is the sum total of the Government's Seanad reform as well. I think we should put it on the record that it brought in one piece of reform.

That is not for this Bill.

It is the season of goodwill and all that kind of thing.

It is just a technical Bill.

It was important that this Seanad was kept. It is a very important part of our Legislature.

The amendments are mainly technical in nature relating to updating the system. We had the referendum on Seanad abolition and this Bill concerns the Seanad. It is a pity that we do not have more substantial reform. It was not done within the lifetime of the Government. Sinn Féin wanted substantial reform. In particular we wanted universal franchise, increases in the number of women and people from minority groupings in the Seanad, and broader representation. While the existing panels served a purpose and some of them may still serve a purpose, the whole system needs to be re-examined. We need to broaden the franchise to include everybody on the electoral register and allowing people from the Six Counties to become Members of the Seanad. We had people such as Gordon Wilson there in the past. Some other people from the North-----

----- have served in the Seanad and they made a valuable contribution. We should open that up. Hopefully, in the term of the next Government we can turn it into a more democratic second Chamber that reflects republicanism in a deeper sense. It is outdated as it is. While the public marginally wanted to keep it, they made it very clear during canvassing for that referendum that they wanted substantial changes in it.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 2:
Section 2: In page 4, line 22, after “Government” to insert “and the Local Authority Members’ Association”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 3:
Section 2: In page 4, line 33, after “Government” to insert “and the Local Authority Members’ Association”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 4:
Section 2: In page 4, line 40, to delete “Government is registered” and substitute “Government and the Local Authority Members’ Association are registered”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 5:
Section 2: In page 5, to delete lines 4 to 7 and substitute the following:
“ “(3) In the case of the Association of Irish Local Government and the Local Authority Members’ Association, the persons to be proposed for nomination to the administrative panel by those bodies respectively shall be chosen by the members of the body voting on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.”,”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 6:
Section 2: In page 5, to delete lines 11 to 14 and substitute the following:
“ “(3) In the case of the Association of Irish Local Government and the Local Authority Members’ Association, the person nominated under this section shall be chosen by the members of the body voting on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.”.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 7 and 8 form a composite proposal and will be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 7:
Section 5: In page 7, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
“Review by Standards in Public Office Commission - direction
5. Section 4 of the Electoral Act 1997 is amended by inserting after subsection (4) the following:
“(4A) Where a person fails to comply with a requirement made of him or her under subsection (4) within such time as the Standards in Public Office Commission considers reasonable, it may direct the person to furnish it with such information, document or thing specified in the direction within such period of time mentioned in the direction and, if the person fails to comply with the direction within that period, the person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a class D fine.
(4B) Any information furnished by a person (other than information that the person knows is false or misleading) to the Standards in Public Office Commission pursuant to a direction under subsection (4A) is not admissible as evidence in proceedings brought against the person for an offence.
(4C) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (4A) to show that the information, document or thing the subject of the direction was not in his or her possession or control and that it was not reasonably practicable for him or her to comply with the direction.”.”.

These amendments provide for the amendment of section 4 of the Electoral Act 1997 and a consequential amendment to this Bill. The Electoral Act 1997 provides for the disclosure of donations by Members of the Oireachtas, MEPs, political parties and accounting units, election candidates and third parties. It also provides for the regulation of expenditure at Dáil, European Parliament and presidential elections by candidates, political parties and other persons who incur election expenses. The provisions in the Act are implemented by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Section 4(4) of the Electoral Act 1997 provides that the Standards in Public Office Commission "may make such inquiries as it considers appropriate and may require any person to furnish any information, document or thing in the possession or procurement of the person which the Commission may require for the purposes of its duties under this Act".

In reporting on the implementation of those provisions in the Electoral Act 1997 for which it has responsibility, the Standards in Public Office Commission has recommended that failure to co-operate with inquiries made by the commission under section 4(4) of the Act should constitute an offence. The commission is of the view that this would strengthen its hand in implementing the provisions of the Act.

Most of those with responsibilities under the Act co-operate with the commission, but some do not. This amendment is aimed at addressing this situation by introducing a sanction for non-co-operation with inquiries made by the commission.

Amendment No. 8 is a consequential amendment to the Long Title of the Bill.

I ask this House to support these amendments.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments. I believe all election expenditure should be transparent and in the public domain. Most of us do not have problems with donations because we do not get them and so disclosure is not an issue. I am speaking for myself and, I am sure, the vast majority of public representatives as well. We generally go into debt to try to fight elections.

I am sure any measures proposed by the Standards in Public Office Commission come from its experience in dealing with the new regimes that were implemented in the mid-1990s. I remember being in the House when that legislation was first introduced. There have been changes over the years. Any legislation can need change from the point of view of implementation. The people at the coalface who are implementing the legislation we lay down here can often pinpoint the lacunae or the different anomalies that may exist. If it tightens up the existing regulations and practices, I am sure it will be a welcome addition in dealing with election expenditure.

Am I correct in thinking funds raised abroad cannot be used legally here at election time? If the Minister of State does not have that information at her disposal, will she communicate it to me later? I understand a ban was imposed on the raising of funds outside the jurisdiction and using them for political purposes in the jurisdiction.

I support the amendment. It is important that people comply with the Standards in Public Office Commission's rules for declarations of expenditure at election time. While the system is not perfect, it has brought a level of openness to it. It has also introduced a regulatory system for what election candidates can spend and what they have to declare. There are questions about the timeline and specified period in which the money is spent. That is difficult to redefine and change, but it could possibly be looked at again. The amendment is important because it strengthens the hand of the Standards in Public Office Commission and we support it. The more transparency the better.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 8:
Title: In page 3, line 6, to delete “and the Electoral Act 1992.” and substitute “, the Electoral Act 1992 and section 4 of the Electoral Act 1997.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendments reported.