This Bill is primarily a technical one. Its main purpose is to adjust the mechanism by which the panel members of this House are elected, so that that mechanism may function as smoothly as possible. The contents of the Bill do not lend themselves to those statements of principle and general observations which are commonly associated with a Second Reading speech. My explanations of the several provisions of the Bill and my reasons for them must necessarily be related to its successive sections. While in the ordinary course of parliamentary procedure much of this might normally be deferred until the Committee Stage, it would seem desirable that these explanations should be put on record at the present stage in the case of this particular Bill so as to prepare for the special consideration which will no doubt be given to its contents at later stages.
Under Article 18 of the Constitution, 43 members of Seanad Éireann must be elected from panels, and Section 7 of that Article provides for the constitution of those panels. Before each general election five panels of candidates must be formed in the manner provided by law containing respectively the names of persons having knowledge and practical experience of certain specified interests and services.
Section 7 of Article 18 provides also that not more than 11 and not less than five members shall be elected from any one panel. These provisions are the constitutional foundation on which the law governing the election of the panel members of Seanad Éireann has been and must be based.
The present system of election had its origin in the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1937, which regulated the registration of nominating bodies, the formation of the panels, and the poll at a general election. By-elections were dealt with in a further Act in 1940. In certain respects, however, the 1937 and 1940 Acts proved unsatisfactory, and in 1946 a joint committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas was set up to examine the matter. Its terms of reference were wide, namely:—
"To consider and make recommendations on the method of regulating elections of those elected members of Seanad Éireann who are required by the Constitution to be elected from panels of candidates, and the definition of the electorate for such elections."
The deliberations of the joint committee extended over a period of 15 months, and the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, was the result of their report. The 1947 Act is a long, comprehensive measure embodying the entire law governing the system of election of panel members of Seanad Éireann and including a number of important amendments of the earlier legislation.
In the course of its operation a number of minor defects in the 1947 Act came to light, and an inter-departmental committee was set up to review the legislation, with special reference to the provisions which relate to nominating bodies and nomination committees and to the functions of the Clerk of the Seanad as Seanad returning officer. The present Bill is based substantially on the report of that committee.
The purpose of the Bill is, as its long title states, to amend and extend the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947. The changes proposed relate to the registration of bodies as nominating bodies entitled to nominate persons for election to Seanad Éireann, the appointment by those bodies of nomination committees, and the procedure for nomination of candidates by nominating bodies, together with a number of minor amendments.
The need for the proposed legislation arises from two main causes. First it is desirable to ease the responsibility placed on the Seanad returning officer by the 1947 Act of determining, subject to appeal, whether an applicant body is eligible to be registered as a nominating body. It is proposed to do this by enabling the Seanad returning officer to refer doubtful applications to the appeal board set up under Section 12 of the 1947 Act. Secondly, it is desirable to simplify the provisions of the 1947 Act in respect of nominations by nominating bodies at a general election. The Bill will substitute one formula for the several provisions in the 1947 Act governing the number of persons to be nominated by nominating bodies on the different panels. The formula which is proposed is one which will obviate as far as practicable the need for having recourse to the nomination committees to reduce the total number of nominations for any of the panels to a manageable size.
The Bill comprises 16 sections and a Schedule. Section 1 defines the Principal Act as the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947. Section 2 amends Section 16 of the Principal Act. Section 16, read with Section 11 of the Principal Act, deals with the annual revision of the register of nominating bodies by the Seanad returning officer. Amongst other things these sections give the Seanad returning officer a discretionary power to disallow an application for registration made by a body which is a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to a body which is already registered or whose application for registration he has allowed. It is proposed to make it mandatory on the Seanad returning officer to disallow every application for registration which appears to him to be made by a body which is a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to a body which is already registered in the register, or the application of which for such registration he is allowing at the annual revision. Furthermore, the Seanad returning officer will be authorised to delete the names of branches and affiliated and subsidiary bodies from the register when he allows the application of their parent body.
I would like to make it clear that no body which is at present registered will be affected by this provision unless a body of which it is a branch or to which it is affiliated or subsidiary applies for registration at some future annual revision, and the application is allowed. Apart from the question of easing the burden placed on the Seanad returning officer, these amendments are desirable in view of the fact that since 1947 there is no limit on the number of bodies which may be registered for any panel. Under the 1937 Act the maximum number of bodies which could be registered in respect of each panel was 15.
The proposed new sub-section (3), which is being incorporated in Section 16 of the Principal Act, sets out categorically the powers and duties of the Seanad returning officer in regard to the allowance or disallowance of applications for registration at an annual revision and the deletion or amendment of entries in the register. It expressly requires the Seanad returning officer to delete from the register the names of bodies which apply for such deletion. The Principal Act was not explicit on this point.
Sub-section (5) of Section 16 of the Principal Act provides that the Seanad returning officer shall not make any deletion from or amendment of the register without giving notice to the body affected or without giving such body a reasonable opportunity of making representations in regard thereto. It is proposed to waive these requirements where the body itself applies for such deletion or amendment.
Section 3 amends Section 17 of the Principal Act, which provides for appeals to the appeal board against decisions of the Seanad returning officer. The appeal board consists of a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court nominated by the Chief Justice to be chairman, the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Dáil Éireann and the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Seanad Éireann.
Bodies whose applications for registration are disallowed and bodies whose registration has been deleted by the Seanad returning officer have a right of appeal against such disallowances and deletions. Section 17 also gives any body registered in the register and any body which applied for registration, whether the application was allowed or disallowed, the right of appeal against the allowance of an application for registration made by any other body.
Thus, a body which applied for registration in respect of the Administrative Panel could, irrespective of whether its application was allowed or not, appeal against the allowance of an application made by another body for registration in respect of the Cultural and Educational Panel. Section 3 of the Bill is intended to restrict this right of appeal against the allowance of an application for registration to bodies registered or which applied for registration in respect of the same panel, or bodies which are branches of or affiliated or subsidiary to the applicant body and which are registered or have applied for registration. Furthermore, any body which has a right of appeal against a decision of the Seanad returning officer shall be notified of that decision.
A further amendment of Section 17 of the Principal Act is proposed in Section 3 of the Bill so as to provide that where an appeal is made by a body against the allowance of an application by another body for registration, the appellant body must send a copy of its appeal to the body which made the application; and the latter may submit comments on the grounds of the appeal for consideration by the appeal board. Where an appeal is made by a body against the disallowance of its own application for registration the body making the appeal must send a copy of it to every body which is a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to it and which is registered or has applied at the annual revision for registration. Any of the latter bodies may submit comments on the grounds of the appeal for consideration by the appeal board. This provision is considered desirable, as such bodies would be excluded from the register if the appeal of the parent body were successful.
Section 4 of the Bill provides for the amendment of Section 18 of the Principal Act by the addition of a sub-section requiring the appeal board to include, where necessary, in its decision allowing or disallowing an application, a consequential direction to the Seanad returning officer to delete, or to restore or allow, the registration of any bodies which are branches of or affiliated or subsidiary to the applicant body.
I mentioned earlier that one of the main objects of this Bill is to enable the Seanad returning officer to refer difficult applications to the appeal board. Section 5 proposes to insert a new section in the Principal Act, which will enable him to do this, and which will give the appeal board the necessary powers to deal with the referred application. Provision is made whereby an objection to the application may be made to the appeal board by any of the bodies which could have appealed if the Seanad returning officer had allowed the application—that is to say, every body registered or which applied for registration in respect of the same panel, and every body which is registered or has applied for registration (irrespective of panel), and which is a branch of or affiliated or subsidiary to the applicant body. A deposit of £20 (twenty pounds) is required from an objecting body. This is the same sum as is required under the Principal Act in the case of an appeal. The amount will be returned if the application to which objection is made is disallowed by the appeal board.
The proposed new section includes provisions requiring the Seanad returning officer to inform the body concerned of the reference of its application to the appeal board, and to inform also any body which has a right of objection. If an objection is made, the objecting body must send a copy of the objection to the applicant body, and the latter may submit comments on the grounds of the objection for consideration by the appeal board.
The reference of an application to the appeal board will be equivalent to an appeal, and no further appeal will be allowed. If the appeal board allows an application, its decision shall, under the Bill, include where necessary, a consequential direction to the Seanad returning officer to delete the registration of bodies which are branches of or affiliated or subsidiary to the applicant body.
Section 6 of the Bill proposes to amend Section 22 of the Principal Act which deals with the appointment of nomination committees. Section 22 requires each nominating body to appoint five persons to be members of the nomination committee for the panel in respect of which the body is registered. It is proposed to require that all persons appointed to a nomination committee shall be members of the body which appoints them.
Under Section 22, the first appointment by a nominating body of members of a nomination committee is made either at an annual meeting of the body or at a meeting specially convened for the purpose. Subsequent appointments are required to be made each year at an annual meeting. As doubts have arisen as to the meaning of the expression "annual meeting," it is proposed to define it as including a meeting to which all the members of the body are invited or a delegate meeting or a conference or congress. It is proposed to provide also for the making of second and subsequent appointments in the case of bodies which do not hold annual meetings.
Section 22 of the Principal Act requires the interval between the annual meetings of a nominating body to be not more than 400 days and not less than 330 days. This is not in conformity with the provisions of Section 64 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908, which applies to a number of nominating bodies and allows a period of 15 months between annual meetings. It is proposed to remove any inconsistency by providing that the interval between the annual meetings shall be not more than 15 and not less than nine months.
One of the consequential amendments in the Schedule—Reference No. 6—provides for a maximum term of office for 15 months for a member of a nomination committee.
Section 7 contains the second major change proposed in the Bill, that is, the replacement of the rather lengthy provisions of the Principal Act, in regard to the number of persons to be nominated by nominating bodies in various circumstances, by one formula. The provisions of the Principal Act are designed with the ultimate object of placing on each panel which is put before the electorate a number of nominees of nominating bodies not greater than twice the maximum number which may be elected from the appropriate sub-panel, and not less than the maximum number plus two.
For instance, of the 11 members who may be elected from the Agricultural Panel, at least four must be elected from each sub-panel and, therefore, the maximum number that could be elected from either sub-panel is seven. In this case the names of not more than 14 and not less than nine nominees of nominating bodies must be placed before the electorate.
To achieve this, each nominating body nominates a certain number of candidates, calculated in accordance with Section 26 of the Principal Act. The actual number to be nominated depends on the panel and the number of nominating bodies, but it cannot be less than two.
Where the number of bodies registered in respect of a panel is less than three, the total number of candidates which is required to be put forward on the nominating bodies sub-panel is equal to twice the maximum number which may be elected from the sub-panel. One or two bodies cannot make this number of nominations, even if there is no duplication, and in such cases the Taoiseach must nominate persons to bring the nomination up to the required number.
Where the number of bodies registered in respect of a panel is three or more, the total number of persons whom they are required to propose for nomination must be at least equal to twice the maximum number which may be elected plus four. A meeting of the nomination committee for the panel must then be convened for the purpose of holding an election to reduce the number proposed for nomination to twice the maximum number which may be elected. If it should happen that the number proposed for nomination is less than twice the maximum number plus four, the Taoiseach is required to make supplementary nominations to bring the number up to that figure before the nomination committee meets to reduce it to twice the maximum number that may be elected.
There are, for example, at present eight nominating bodies registered in respect of the Agricultural Panel. Each is entitled to put forward three candidates, that is, 24 in all. Then the nomination committee has to meet and reduce the 24 to twice the maximum number that may be elected from either sub-panel—that is, 14.
The final step is the "completion of the panels" which involves a ruling by the Seanad returning officer, with a judicial referee, on the nominations and the qualifications of the persons remaining on the panels.
It is desirable that nominating bodies should as far as possible be real nominators and that the ratio between the number of persons proposed for nomination at any stage and the maximum number of persons that may ultimately be put before the electorate on the nominating bodies sub-panel should be kept as low as possible. The proposals contained in Section 7 are aimed at simplifying the Principal Act in this respect and obviating as far as practicable the nomination of large numbers of persons who have little chance of having their names placed before the electorate. The proposed new provision, which will be applicable in all cases, is that the number of persons which may be proposed for nomination to a panel by each nominating body shall be not more than the number ascertained by dividing twice the maximum number that may be elected from the nominating bodies sub-panel by the total number of nominating bodies registered in respect of the panel, and if the number so obtained is not a whole number, the next higher whole number. In Section 34 of the Principal Act the figures representing twice the maximum number that may be elected from the nominating bodies sub-panels of the various panels are conveniently set out and described as "the appropriate number," and the Bill refers to this. It is to be noted that the proposal involves the repeal of the provisions of the Principal Act which require the nomination of a minimum of two candidates by every nominating body.
The effect of the new formula on the Agricultural Panel will be to enable the eight registered nominating bodies to put forward two candidates each, that is, 16 altogether, instead of 24 as at present. By virtue of Section 10 of the Bill, to which I will come in a few moments, the names of these 16 candidates, if their nominations are in order, will be placed directly on the panel which goes before the electors, and a meeting of the nomination committee will not be held.
These amendments which I have outlined are the result of the fullest possible consideration designed to simplify and improve the procedure.
It is proposed by Section 8 to permit a nominating body, if it so desires, to propose less than the maximum number of persons it is entitled to propose. At present the nomination is void if the body proposes either more or less than the actual number of persons which it is entitled to propose for nomination.
Section 9 proposes the repeal of the provisions in Section 28 of the Principal Act whereby the Taoiseach makes nominations to supplement nominations by nominating bodies in certain circumstances. At present if the number of bodies registered in respect of a panel is less than three the Taoiseach must be called upon to bring the number of nominations up to the desired figure of twice the maximum number which may be elected from the sub-panel. This will be unnecessary under the proposed scheme, as the nominating bodies themselves will be able to nominate the desired number.
If the number of bodies registered in respect of the panel is three or more the Taoiseach must at present make proposals for nomination if the total number of proposals for nomination made by the bodies happens to be less than twice the maximum number which may be elected from the sub-panel plus four.
To illustrate this, I will again quote the Agricultural Panel. If, instead of the 24 possible nominations that could be made under the present system, only 16 are made, the Taoiseach is required to nominate an additional two to bring the number up to 18—that is twice the maximum number plus four. The nomination committee must then meet to reduce this number to 14 by a poll.
I would like, however, to draw attention to the fact that Section 37 of the Principal Act is not being repealed. Section 37 enables the Taoiseach to make, at the completion of the panels, supplemental nominations to either a nominating bodies sub-panel or an Oireachtas sub-panel if the total number of nominations for the sub-panel does not exceed by at least two the maximum number which could be elected from the sub-panel. It is necessary to retain this provision, as it is conceivable that in certain circumstances the number of nominations might not be sufficient if, for example, there was duplication in the nominations or if some nominating bodies did not make any nominations or did not make the full number of nominations they were entitled to make.
Section 10 will modify the rule which determines whether a nomination committee meeting must be called and will obviate such meetings as far as possible. The nomination committees are simply aggregates of representatives of the nominating bodies and where a manageable number of nominations can be obtained from the bodies themselves there is no point in convening a meeting of their nomination committee to reduce the number of nominations. This section and Section 7 are designed to ensure that the persons put forward by the bodies will all be persons who have a fair prospect of having their names go before the electorate.
The amendment in Section 10 is simple. At present the greatest number of persons which may be placed on a nominating bodies sub-panel is twice the maximum number which may be elected from it. If more than this number are nominated, the nomination committee must meet. It is proposed to allow an excess of one or two over this number to be placed on the sub-panel; that is to say, a nomination committee meeting would be held only when there were three or more nominations in excess of the desired number. To go back to the example from the Agricultural Panel I have quoted, Section 10 would provide that where 16 nominations are made to the Agricultural Panel it will not be necessary to convene the nomination committee to reduce this number to 14.
Section 11 of the Bill is consequential on Section 10 and proposes to repeal sub-section (2) of Section 35 of the Principal Act, dealing with the preparation of the provisional nominating bodies sub-panel in cases where a meeting of the nominating committee is not held, and to substitute a new sub-section to fit in with the new provisions.
Before proceeding further, I would like to indicate the effect of the proposals contained in Sections 7 to 11 of the Bill on each of the five panels. There are 12 bodies registered at the moment in respect of the Cultural and Educational Panel. At present these must nominate two candidates each, i.e., 24 candidates in all, and the nomination committee must meet and reduce this number by an election to six, that is, twice the maximum number of candidates that may be elected from the nominating bodies sub-panel of the Cultural and Educational Panel. Under the Bill, each body would put forward one candidate, i.e., 12 altogether. It would still be necessary to call on the nomination committee to reduce the number to six, but it is obvious that each candidate's chance of being put on the sub-panel is greatly improved.
I have already referred to the position in regard to the Agricultural Panel, but it may be no harm to repeat it. There are eight nominating bodies registered, each of which must put forward three candidates, i.e., 24 in all. The nomination committee must reduce this number to 14. Under the Bill each body would put forward two candidates—16 in all —and all would be placed directly on the sub-panel. There would be no need to call a meeting of the nomination committee because the number of nominations (that is, 16) would not exceed by three or more twice the maximum number (that is, 14) which may be elected from the sub-panel.
For the Labour Panel there are four bodies registered at present, each of which must put forward five candidates—20 altogether. The nomination committee must meet and reduce this number to 14. Under the Bill, each body would put forward four candidates, i.e., 16 in all—and all would be placed on the sub-panel. Here, again, there would be no need to call a meeting of the nomination committee because the number of candidates would not exceed by three or more twice the maximum number which may be elected.
For the Industrial and Commercial Panel 16 bodies are registered at present. Each must nominate two candidates—32 in all. The nomination committee must reduce this large number to 12. Under the Bill, each body would put forward one candidate, or 16 in all. From this 16 the nomination committee would elect the 12 to be placed on the sub-panel.
For the Administrative Panel two bodies are registered. At present each may nominate three candidates, i.e., six altogether. As eight is the appropriate number for the sub-panel, the Taoiseach must make two nominations. Under the Bill, each body on this sub-panel could nominate four members and it would not be necessary for the Taoiseach to make nominations.
Section 12 of the Bill proposes to amend Section 43 of the Principal Act in such a way as to require that the panels of candidates shall be published in Iris Oifigiúil in the same form as they are issued to the electors. Section 43 provides that the panels when completed shall be published in Iris Oifigiúil and that the name, address and description of each candidate shall be given. Section 46 of the Principal Act requires copies of the panels to be issued to each elector containing, in addition to the particulars published in Iris Oifigiúil the name of the body or persons on whose nomination a candidate was put on the panel. This necessitates two separate prints, involving additional work at a busy period for the Seanad returning officer's staff, and unnecessary expense, all of which Section 12 of the Bill is intended to obviate.
Section 13 amends Section 61 of the Principal Act, which has reference to the proceedings of a nomination committee which has met to elect a person to fill a casual vacancy in the membership of the Seanad. At such a meeting any one member of the nomination committee present is entitled to nominate a person for election.
If more than one person is nominated the meeting is adjourned for the purpose of taking a poll, on the result of which the Seanad returning officer issues a certificate of provisional election. It is considered that three is the minimum number of members of the nomination committee who should subscribe to a nomination at a by-election meeting of the committee and the amendment proposed in Section 13 of the Bill will provide accordingly.
In view of the proposal that there should be three nominators, it is not considered desirable to retain the provision which allows the withdrawal of nominations at a nomination committee by-election meeting, and Section 13 provides for the repeal of this provision.
The reason for Section 14 lies in the fact that at the ruling upon nominations for a nominating bodies sub-panel casual vacancy the only nomination paper which can be questioned is that of the person named in the certificate of provisional election and questions can be raised only by the Seanad returning officer and the person so named or his agent. There seems to be little point, therefore, in publishing in Iris Oifigiúil the certificate of provisional election and a notice stating the date and place for the ruling upon nomination as required by sub-section (3) of Section 63 of the Principal Act— nor in holding the nomination papers available for inspection, as required by sub-section (5) of Section 63. It is accordingly proposed to delete these two sub-sections.
As regards the Schedule to the Bill, a few items call for comment. Under Reference No. 2 it is proposed to amend sub-section (2) of Section 16 of the Principal Act by substituting "at 5 p.m. on the 14th day of February" for "on the 15th day of February". This refers to the time when the period for the receipt of applications in connection with the annual revision of the register of nominating bodies shall terminate, and the amendment is designed, first, to provide that this period shall terminate before the day on which the annual revision begins, and, secondly, to fix a definite hour up to which the Seanad returning officer will remain available for the receipt of applications.
I have already mentioned Reference No. 6, whereby sub-section (1) of Section 23 of the Principal Act is amended to impose a limit of 15 months on the duration of the membership of a member of a nomination committee.
As regards References Nos. 8 and 11, under Section 25 of the Principal Act, nominations are made by members of the Oireachtas, a member of the Oireachtas being defined in Section 2 of that Act as a member of Dáil Éireann or a member of Seanad Éireann. Section 44, sub-section (1), defines the electorate at a Seanad general election as consisting of (a) the members of Dáil Éireann elected at the Dáil election consequent on the dissolution of Dáil Éireann which occasioned such Seanad general election, and (b) the members of Seanad Éireann and (c) the members of every council of a county or county borough.
Under the Constitution, a general election for Seanad Éireann must take place not later than 90 days after a dissolution of Dáil Éireann. If, shortly after reassembly, the new Dáil should be dissolved, the Seanad election, consequent on the first dissolution, would still require to be carried out—to be followed later by a second Seanad general election. The second dissolution of the Dáil would not affect in any way the right of Senators to nominate and vote in the Seanad general election, as they would still be members of Seanad Éireann until the new Seanad was elected; but the position as regards Deputies is not so clear, as they might have ceased to be members of Dáil Éireann before nominations and polling at the Seanad general election could take place. It is, accordingly, proposed to remove any doubt by providing that for the purposes of Sections 25 and 44 the further dissolution of Dáil Éireann shall be deemed not to have occurred.
Reference Nos. 10 and 14 amend Sections 34 and 62 of the Principal Act respectively. These sections outline the procedure at nomination committee meetings, and provide that the Seanad returning officer and his assistants, and the persons named in the electoral roll constituted for the meeting may be present at the meeting. It is desirable to make it clear that the meeting comes to a close with the close of the poll, and, therefore, the only persons who shall be entitled to be present at the ascertainment of the result of the poll shall be, as indicated in the Principal Act, the Seanad returning officer and his assistants and the candidates or their duly appointed representative.
Reference No. 12 contains an amendment of Section 45 of the Principal Act designed to make statutory what has been the regular practice, that is, the publication of the electoral roll for a Seanad general election in Iris Oifigiúil.
Reference Nos. 16 and 17 amend Sections 64 and 68 of the Principal Act which deal with the ruling upon nominations at Seanad by-elections. The provision proposed, viz., that the Seanad returning officer shall have due regard to all decisions if the judicial referee on questions referred to him by the Seanad returning officer, is similar to that contained in Section 36 of the Principal Act which deals with the corresponding stage at a Seanad general election.
Reference No. 20 proposes an amendment of the First Schedule to the Principal Act—Rule 8, paragraph (2)—so as to include the Clerk-Assistant of Seanad Éireann and the Clerk-Assistant of Dáil Éireann among the persons having authority to witness declarations of identity.
In regard to Reference No. 21, which proposes an amendment of Rule 8 of the Second Schedule, no alteration in the present practice is involved. Rule 8 provides that whenever the number of candidates on a sub-panel who have been deemed to be elected is equal to the maximum number of candidates that could at that time be elected in respect of such sub-panel, then—
(1) no further candidate shall be deemed to be elected in respect of that sub-panel, and
(2) the value of the votes of the remaining candidates on such sub-panel shall be transferred before any other transfer is made.
The word "transfer" is used in the rules both in relation to the transfer of a candidate's votes or surplus and the transfer of part of a candidate's votes, that is, of a parcel or sub-parcel during the count following an exclusion.
It is desired to make it quite clear that the transfer to which paragraph (3) of Rule 8 refers is the transfer of a candidate's votes or surplus; in other words, the count in progress when the sub-panel is filled shall be completed before the votes of the remaining candidates on the sub-panel who cannot be elected are dealt with.
In paragraph (4) of Rule 8, it is stated that the value of the votes of the remaining candidates shall be transferred in the same manner as in the case of a transfer on the exclusion of a candidate. It is desirable to link this provision more closely with paragraph (3) and also to make it clear that each of the remaining candidates shall be treated as a continuing candidate for counting purposes until the transfer of his votes begins.