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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Jul 1934

Vol. 18 No. 31

Electoral (Revision of Constituencies) Bill, 1934—Report and Fifth Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:—

Section 4. To delete the Section.

I beg to second.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:—

Second Schedule. To delete the Schedule.

Schedule 2 which this amendment proposes to delete is the one which deals with the returning officers. This Schedule was arranged in connection with the First Schedule as it was in the original Bill. Now that Schedule 1 is deleted, and a new Schedule substituted for it—the amendment made in Committee in this House—the Second Schedule is no longer suitable for the new First Schedule. My amendment is to delete the Second Schedule. What will happen if that is accepted is that the law as to the returning officers contained in the Electoral Act, 1923, will immediately take the place of the Second Schedule, and will work out exactly as it is intended to work out.

I beg to second.

Question put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

During the discussion on this Bill in Committee one or two references were made by me that I do not think were made perfectly clear. As this Bill will go back to the other House with the suggested new Schedule, I should like to take the opportunity on this Stage to explain some of the things I said. This Bill, and the one we have just discussed are inseparable. One amends the Constitution and this, particularly, proceeds to do something—if and when the Constitution is amended—by leaving out University representation. The case was put by the Minister that I disagreed with Senator Brown. Senator Brown stated, we were told, that the spirit of the Constitution was being broken and the Minister said that I said I did not agree with Senator Brown because I admitted, as I again admit, that proportional representation in the letter is not in any way being broken by this Bill. But what I do want to make clear and to emphasise is that I hold that by revising new constituencies you can maintain representation as provided in the Constitution, but that you cannot maintain proportional representation as effectively, as far as minority representation is concerned, as when you had the previous constituencies at the beginning of the Saorstát.

I agree that the Minister is correct in stating that I did not accuse the Government of breaking the Constitution. At the same time I do agree with Senator Brown that the spirit underlying proportional representation is being broken. But what I want to lay more emphasis on is that if the spirit of the Constitution is broken, so also is the spirit underlying the statement made, not by the head of the late Government, but by the heads of this Government.

I should like particularly to draw the attention of the House to the attitude of the Minister in charge of this Bill and to the attitude which has been taken up in regard to minority representation. I have great sympathy with the Minister in having to take on a Bill which is not his own and I do not want to score any small point or anything of that sort against him. I am dealing with the general attitude. The Minister was very frank—and I like his frankness—when he said last week that he did not think there was anything in minorities being swallowed by the larger parties. He was a little more frank to-day when he said that a certain number of political leaders having subscribed to one of the Parties their minorities could no longer hope to have any right to minority representation. The two points of view taken together show that the Minister is perfectly frank. But compare his statement to that of the President, made on the Second Stage in the Dáil of the Bill to abolish the Senate. The President is reported in the Official Debates, Volume 51, column 2135, as follows:—

"It is suggested that we have some animosity against the minority. There are members on the opposite benches who have sufficiently intimate knowledge of what I have said and have done and these gentlemen know that that charge of animosity is not true."

I did not make any charge of animosity on the part of the President.

"They know that I stood up for proportional representation in order that all sections of the community might be properly represented. I stood up for that even when it was known to be against our Party interests. I stood for it at the last election and at the previous election also. Why? Because it gives equality of opportunity—in so far as it can be reasonably obtained by all classes—to get proper representation in this House by all classes."'

I want to join issue with the point of view of the Minister as expressed here to-day. That he was of opinion that while ten or 12 years ago there was a case for minority representation, now he does not see the same necessity for it at all. My case is that with the proposed abolition of University representation—it is of course incidental to this Bill—and with the proposed abolition of the Seanad, that the necessity for giving minority representation in the Dáil is twice as great to-day as it was ten years ago. I do not admit for a moment that we are concerned with the ex-Unionist minorities. When the ex-Unionists were looking after their own interests I was travelling in America with the Minister's brother and was not, at that time, particularly concerned with that point of view. But there are in this country and will be in every part of the world a certain number of persons who are likely to be in a minority sometimes; tending in one direction sometimes and sometimes in another. At present the minority are mostly people who were Unionists, or were of that class. We are trying to win over, and without force, the Six-Counties in this country which have got a majority of people who are still Unionists. My contention is that if ever there was a time to try and keep that small representation of such people in the Dáil and I think also in the Second Chamber, although that is not an issue at the moment we should try and do so to-day. It is up to us to show that there is no reason why the Six-Counties should not come in and join us here. I feel that the attitude taken up by the Minister which is frank and open is fundamentally wrong. It is not easy to reconcile the sentiments expressed by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to-day with those expressed by the President in the quotation I have just read. It is not easy to reconcile the Minister's speeches with his attitude of ten years ago, but the President's speech is easily reconcilable. If I did not challenge the Bill for not going back to the larger constituencies, it was not because I was concerned that small Parties could work the constituencies. I was concerned for the representation of the people likely to be here for a considerable time and not likely to form themselves into particular Parties, but likely to come in some constituencies under certain representatives.

I am sorry I misrepresented Senator Douglas's point of view in thinking that there was disagreement between him and Senator Brown. I learn now that they are agreed. I have not got the President's speech by me, and I do not know whether he is quoted correctly or not, but I know in practice the system has been, as Senator Johnson pointed out, that in small constituencies the small Parties have been able to get representation which they failed to get in big constituencies. There are a few big constituencies, such as Donegal and South Dublin, where the minority did get representation. But three-member constituencies have returned representatives of the minority Party. I often wondered what the reason was. Senator Johnson thinks that it is because it is easier for a small Party to work it. I am not saying that the majority Party should not have a majority in the Dáil. I think it should. Five-member constituencies some people seem to think were ideal, but why did Senators only talk of five-member constituencies when we had as many as eight five-member constituencies?

I said at least five would be ideal.

I think some Senator said five was ideal and only four were produced. In this Schedule there is the most ridiculous proposal yet put forward in any amendment, and that is that the two counties of Waterford and Wexford, separated by 14 miles of another county, should be formed into one constituency. I thought there might be some attempt to omit that. I did not think the Seanad would pass a Schedule with such a ridiculous suggestion. The other is in regard to Mayo, a constituency divided into two since 1923.

May I say a word in answer to the Minister that three-member constituencies would give better results for minorities than the larger constituencies had done? That is against the whole theory and spirit of proportional representation and against actual experience. If the Minister took the trouble to look into the history of proportional representation he would find facts that would enlighten him and save him from such absurdities as that three-member constituencies would give better results. I am sure the Minister can find in the archives of the Local Government Department a report of a Commission that was set up by the British Government to inquire into the system of proportional representation at the time when proportional representation became a matter of practical politics.

That Commission was appointed on a non-Party basis. It consisted of lawyers and statesmen of all political Parties and, consequently, it was free from Party interests and prejudices. That Commission reported that areas of three and four representatives were entirely unsuited for proportional representation, that an area of five members was the smallest to give reasonably fair returns, but that better results would be obtained by constituencies of seven or nine members. When proportional representation was made applicable to Ireland, the officials of the British Local Government Board proceeded to define the areas and, in order to load the dice against the Nationalists of the North, they ignored the findings of the English Commission and proceded to fix areas which that Commission declared to be entirely unsuitable for the purpose of proportional representation.

For example, the Union of Clogher in County Tyrone was divided into four areas of three members each and one area of four members. By this means the Unionist Party, with a minority of votes, returned nine members against seven Nationalists. But there is this to be said for them—that they never claimed that small areas would give better results under proportional representation. It has been left to the Minister and his colleagues of the Fianna Fáil Government to do that. It looks as if those who framed the Bill went out of their way to follow the Clogher precedent and to create three-member constituencies whenever they thought Fianna Fáil had a majority and four-member constituencies where they thought the Opposition had a majority. That is the meaning of all the carving up and mutilation that has taken place and the pretence that the constituencies were reduced in size to "enable Deputies to keep more in personal contact with their constituents" is sheer humbug. The constituencies were reduced in size and were sliced and carved up for the one purpose of obtaining Party advantage. Anyone who looks for a moment at the figures can easily see that areas returning three or four members can be made to give a result the opposite of what the electors intended.

To illustrate this, let us take an area returning three members. North-East Dublin was one of the 21 three-member areas in the original Bill. Taking previous figures as a basis, the number of votes cast should be about 34,777 and the quota 8,695. Hence, if Fianna Fáil has 17,389 and Fine Gael 17,388—or simply one of a majority for Fianna Fáil—Fianna Fáil returns two members and Fine Gael only one. Take one quota from the votes of each and Fianna Fáil has 8,694 left and Fine Gael one, leaving 8,693. Therefore, Fianna Fáil gets the third T.D. Here we see that in a three-member area 51 per cent. returns two members and 49 per cent. returns only one. In conjunction with this example, take SouthEast Dublin, which returns four members. And let us suppose that the votes in each area are in proportion to the members. There should be about 43,470 votes and the quota should be the same, viz., 8,695. Suppose Fianna Fáil has only 40 per cent. and Fine Gael has 60 per cent. of the votes in this area, then Fianna Fáil returns two members and Fine Gael can return only two. For 40 per cent. of the votes in this case is 17,388 and 60 per cent. is 26,082. Now, when two quotas are taken from Fine Gael votes, there are 8,693 left and so Fianna Fáil returns the fourth member. Taking these two areas together, North-East Dublin and South-East Dublin, Fianna Fáil with 34,777 votes returns four members and Fine Gael with 43,470 votes can return only three.

It does not matter how many votes are in each area, the argument is the same, and the results similar, viz., a bare majority—a majority of one vote in a three-member area, returns two members, and the remainder can return only one, while in a four-member area 40 per cent. will always return as many members as 60 per cent. It is quite easy, therefore, to carve out an area where it is known through the Intelligence Department of Fianna Fáil that even a slight majority favour Fianna Fáil——

I thought they had no Intelligence Department?

Why not do away with proportional representation?

This is practically doing away with it. In these circumstances they can assign three members to a constituency. If this were done in the 21 three-member areas in the Bill as introduced, the result would be 42 Fianna Fáil members against 21 Fine Gael, though the votes cast for each Party might be almost equal. Where the reports of the Fianna Fáil intelligence department show a majority against that Party, a few judicious divisions of four-member areas will equalise the members returned unless indeed the majority against be overwhelming. Objection has been taken to calling this Bill a gerrymandering Bill. This is surely gerrymandering, or gerrymandering up-to-date. Yet we are told that smaller areas give better results. Yes, better results for Fianna Fáil purposes, but the results are the opposite of proportional representation.

One is surprised at the lack of faith exhibited by Senator MacLoughlin in the fortunes of the Party of which he is a member. His Party would, on the assumption that they got a majority of 51 per cent., or more, in three-member constituencies, get the advantage of the plan in the Bill as originally drafted.

That would be just as bad.

Undoubtedly, but the Senator was speaking from the point of view of Party advantage.

The Bill, as it will leave this House, will provide for a number of large constituencies. One of the features of the large constituency which I have heard described as very detrimental even in very recent elections, is the difficulty of electors going through a ballot paper containing from 18 to 30 names. That is a probability in many of those areas where there are a large number of persons to be elected. That is by the way. I desire to speak to the question raised both by Senator MacLoughlin and Senator Douglas as to the basis of the philosophy of proportional representation. Undoubtedly, in many people's minds, the proportional representation system makes for conservatism. That is to say, it has a conservative influence. In the large constituency, I think that that is true. To the minds of other people proportional representation has a reformist influence. It is from this point of view that I look upon it—that it gives a living minority a chance to extend. I maintain that that is more easily possible in the smaller constituency than in the larger constituency. I agree, as I said before, that the three-member constituency does not give a fair chance to the proportional representation principle to be effective. But, as contrasted with the eight-member and nine-member constituency, I think that the three-member constituency is very much better for a living minority— that is, a minority with an idea in the minds of its promoters, a minority that hopes to extend. For the dying minority the larger constituency is more advantageous. The declining numbers in that constituency can coalesce and, in some way, get representation without having to think of making converts to their idea. For a party representing a new idea, a party which is out to make converts to its principle, I maintain that the advantage lies with the constituency which is more easily organised and taught. That is the difference between the attitude of Senator Douglas to this question and my attitude. That is why I am in favour of the smaller rather than the larger constituency for the benefit of minorities.

Senator Johnson's argument about the smaller constituency being more advantageous to a minority than the larger constituency is utterly fallacious. An attempt is made to support that argument by the statement that, in certain small constituencies, members who were not associated with either of the big Parties happened to get elected. They got elected in some of these constituencies simply because there was a peculiar situation. They would have got elected even if these small constituencies had been merged in larger areas. The fact that the constituencies were small had nothing whatever to do with enabling small groups to get representation. I could quote, as examples some of the Border constituencies, where Independent members were elected. Size had absolutely no influence there. Take constituencies like Wicklow and Kildare. I should say that, owing to the situation that exists there, labour representatives could have obtained election even if these constituencies had been merged in larger electoral areas.

It is quite wrong to suggest, as I think the Minister did, that it is only in the smaller constituencies minorities succeeded in securing election. All over the country, at one time or another, minority representatives—I am referring to minority representatives as those outside the two big Parties—were elected. They were elected in County Dublin, Dublin North and, I think, Dublin South on one occasion. Minorities also secured representation in Limerick, Carlow-Kilkenny, Wexford, Donegal, Cavan, Longford-Westmeath, West Cork and East Cork, so that there is absolutely no foundation for the suggestion that, in practice, small constituencies operate the more easily to give representation to minorities. The argument put forward by Senator Johnson is simply that, theoretically, the big constituency favours the minority but that, for some peculiar reason, in practice, the minority cannot assert itself there. We know that, if a minority exists in an area and is not spread over the constituency, the representative of that minority can get elected practically on a local vote. That happens often. The chances of election of a candidate whose strength is in some particular town, or area around a town, will not be modified in the slightest if that area becomes part of a large constituency. There are difficulties in working a large constituency, but a minority does not need to work a large constituency in the way that a party seeking a majority must work it. Sometimes, even candidates going forward on a personal basis succeeded in getting in because they did not need to set up all the machinery necessary for a group seeking to bring in the last man in its favour and seeking an absolute majority in the House. The size of the constituency may involve a little extra travelling, but undoubtedly the minority will gather in more votes as a result of the bigger size than will be involved in any inability to work the constituency compared to the way that the majority, or what would be the majority party, must endeavour to work it.

I can only repeat what I said on the Committee Stage: that in theory it ought to be as Senator Blythe has said. From memory I have a list before me of small constituencies which shows that, in practice, it has been the other way. Kildare, North Cork, Monaghan, Meath, Louth and Wicklow constituencies return minority representatives and Cavan also. I admit that in the case of Monaghan and Cavan, because probably of the people living in a certain area, they were able to do that. But in Leix-Offaly, Clare and West Cork minority representatives were returned, and these are five-member constituencies. There is nothing in it one way or the other so far as that argument goes. In practice it has worked out as I have said. The other people, of whom Senator MacLoughlin spoke, were theorising. They had not the 12 years' experience of the actual working of the system that we have.

Question put and declared carried.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach took the Chair.