Before the debate is resumed, I wonder if we could get an expression of opinion from the House as to whether there is any likelihood of the Taoiseach being called upon to reply to-night? I think there is a general desire that we should get some indication.
Public Business. - An Bille um an Tríú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1958—An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1958—Second Stage (Resumed).
I think that is a consummation devoutly to be wished for but rather difficult to accomplish. From what I can gather, it does not seem to be feasible to-night but certainly it should be feasible at an early hour to-morrow. I am afraid it could not be done to-night. Although I have made some efforts in that direction I have not succeeded.
Before the adjournment I was saying that I feel that the introduction of this measure is a grave injustice as far as minorities are concerned. No one will deny, and I am sure least of all the Taoiseach, that the farming community is entitled to representation, in other words, to send farmers to represent farmers if it so desires. I am surprised that all the various farmers' organisations around the country, Muintir na Tíre and all the different organisations, are not absolutely up in arms against this Bill. It is something that is not alone going to deprive them of a Party, but is a measure that will give advantage to the town and city dweller, because you have the huge vote in the towns and voters there are nearer to the polling booths. Farmers may live seven or eight miles away from the polling booths and unless they have somebody to bring them in to the booths they have no chance of voting. In other words, this is an injustice to the farming and rural communities.
On the question of representation I am astonished at the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party putting forward this Bill. After all it is a Bill that must do untold injustice to the Labour Party. I must remind the Taoiseach that the Labour Party deserves better. In 1916 when a section of the Irish people struck for liberty, Labour was there. Labour through the Citizen Army took no small part in the struggle for Irish freedom. They were never backward as far as the national position was concerned.
At a time when some of our bravest men were on the brink of death on hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison, Labour and trade union organisations called out their men. I was working on the railway at that time and I remember the stand taken, from North Circular Road to Dorset Street. The men organised in a body and stood outside the prison and did not leave it until the British Government had to grant their request and release the hunger strikers. It is sad to think that a Party that has served the country so faithfully, honestly and sincerely and who were always right in what they did—and it is the labourers and the farmers together who produce the wealth of the nation—should, at a time when the Taoiseach has indicated that he is leaving public life, be rewarded in such a way.
Finally, I would remind the Taoiseach that it was the Labour Party in the other House that put him into office. I suppose people will now say it was wrong but that was the nearest thing to a coalition there could be and it should not be wrong to do now what was done at the establishment of the State. Senator Lahiffe asked why had the Fine Gael Party changed. They may have changed but they have not changed half as much as other people and Parties. One thing certain is that the Labour Party and its policy have not changed since the State was established. They were always prepared to stand in the gap of danger and help the cause of Irish freedom and unity. They were ready to work to build up the nation and if they supported the Fine Gael Party and other Parties to form a coalition they were sent there by the people. Did they not have a perfect right to do that? If we have freedom, we have freedom.
I have a very open mind on the subject despite all the decrying of coalitions. My idea would be to pick the best people who would serve the country most sincerely and honestly. Do we forget the type of Government they had in Britain during the war and which got them up off their knees after the war? I am not one to praise anything British but I would give credit where it is deserved and when one considers the state in which Britain was after the war—all the bombing, the destruction of Coventry and other cities—I believe no other country in the world could have pulled round in the same way as Britain did. It was a Coalition Government that did that; it was not a one-Party Government. Do the people who speak so much against coalitions think they are talking to a lot of fools? They are not; unfortunately, there are many people in the country who have a certain respect for certain individuals and if these individuals tell them something they accept it without bothering to think or consider whether it is right or wrong.
I do not intend to delay the House, as I understand Senators are anxious to have a decision to-night, but the Taoiseach should not forget that Labour played its part in the building up of the nation and his last Bill should not deprive the Labour Party of a say in the country's future. Labour deserve better than that.
I have said that the curse of the country has been promises made by people going forward at election time, promises which are afterwards broken. I am sure Senator Lahiffe coming from a rural area must realise that we have native government only for the Twenty-Six Counties. He referred to the revision of the constituencies. I wonder how many Deputies will be elected in future for Mayo or for Galway under the new system? It is a sad reflection on all Governments that despite the fact that we have native government for portion of our country our population is still decreasing. Going back to schools in rural areas you will find in the national school where there were 120 on the roll book in my time, there are now but 18 or 19. If the people continue to go at the present rate you will not have more than nine or ten there in the future.
I ask: is it considered that a Government composed in the majority of city Deputies will be very worried about the tenant proprietors of Connacht or Clare? These tenant proprietors are the people who were the backbone of the nation in every struggle, in the days of the Land League right down to the end of the civil war. I do not want to mention the civil war but, unfortunately, we had a civil war. Right down to the end of that war it was those people who sheltered the men on the run, whose sons went out and whose daughters helped and who themselves were in the thick of the campaign for Irish freedom. They suffered many privations and did not grumble.
When the economic war came, it was for many of them a desperate struggle, but they did not murmur even though some of them lost everything they possessed and were absolutely beggared. They took the view that it was better to finish the fight then rather than leave it to future generations to do so. It is a tragedy that there is not now a word about the Border, or about Britain being planted in portion of our territory more solidly than ever before.
These are very interesting matters but not quite relevant.
When I was in the West of Ireland, in Mayo, the idea of the people was that the country as a whole should be free. That idea should not be shelved for such a matter as considering the way to elect representatives. That is my opinion and I am entitled to express it. If the Taoiseach had invited into a conference representatives of all sections, particularly Deputies elected by Sinn Féin, as he would have a right to do, as any leader of a country has a right to try to bring such people along if he thinks they are too extreme, and endeavour to coax them into taking a proper view—as he said himself, "bargain" with them, in the sense of reaching an understanding with them —it would be of great benefit to the Irish people, certainly of greater benefit than to spend 17 days in the Dáil and six or seven in the Seanad amending the Constitution—something nobody has asked for and something which is going to divide our people still further.
Another matter I am very happy about is the stand religious minorities have taken in this connection. I am proud to say that, in the Dáil and here, although they are on different sides, they are alive to the interests of the community. It is heartening to find that these religious minorities have been willing to work with the Irish people as a whole to build up this nation. Who amongst us would not admire the outspoken and honest views expressed by Senator Stanford and Deputy Booth, even though these views were not in agreement?
It is wrong to suppose that all the people who are prepared to serve this country are on the one side. Men like Deputy Mulcahy and Deputy MacEoin did excellent work in the struggle against Great Britain. Men like them come from both sides of the House and surely they should all be brought together. To suggest that all the brains are on one side is absolutely wrong.
I would appeal to the Taoiseach, even at the eleventh hour, to withdraw this Bill and thus bring back the spirit we had in 1918-20. If he did that, he would be doing a good day's work and he would go to the Park with the prayers and good wishes of many of the Irish people. It would be a terrible tragedy that the last act he performed should be something to divide us further rather than unite us.
The Minister for External Affairs says the system of P.R. was imposed on us by the British Government; yet with our eyes open we are adopting the present British system. I would agree that if there was any change, it should be to single seat constituencies but that P.R. should be retained. I do not believe in the system whereby a man can be elected with 5,001 votes, although 15,000 people vote against him. The system of election to local councils is contrary to the sense of the word "local" because in rural areas, you may have portions of a constituency 40 miles apart and a person may be elected who is not a local man at all. I believe, therefore, that for local elections, single member constituencies are desirable. The councillor elected would not be elected a second time, if he did not work honestly and in the interests of the people. The same applies to Deputies, but not on the same basis.
In conclusion, may I say I am sorry such an amount of time is being wasted in reintroducing a British system of election as at one time we tried strenuously to brush everything British from the country?
Senator McGuire made a lengthy and, I am sure, learned speech. The only idea I gathered from it was that the people on his side of the House made a very good case and the people on this side of the House made no case. There are, of course, two opinions about that and we shall leave it at that. Senator Tunney also made a lengthy speech and I think the gist of it was an appeal to the Taoiseach to withdraw the Bill. I do not think that is a sensible point of view. The people will decide the issue and it is as well to leave it to them.
I am a representative of agriculture here and before I make any remarks about the Bill, I should like to say a few words about agriculture, of course, relating my remarks to the Bill. It is admitted by everybody that this country, from the agricultural standpoint, is one of the lowest developed countries in Europe. This can be said to be due to the unstable conditions we have experienced in the past 100 years or so. We had the Famine in which we lost half of our people. We had the Land War with all its horrors and the frustration that followed it. Then, of course, we had our quarrel with Britain and our quarrel between ourselves. All these things held up our agricultural development and anything we can do now to stabilise conditions ought to be done.
I was in Holland in 1938 and at that time they had had 100 years of peace, complete freedom from war or upheaval of any kind. At the time I speak of, they were the first agricultural country in Europe—almost in the world, I should say—and they gave credit for the high development of agriculture to the peaceful conditions they had enjoyed for 100 years.
Since this Bill was introduced, I have discussed it with many people, some of them coalition supporters. The general view is that the straight vote and the single member constituency make for stable conditions and that P.R. makes for splinter Parties, that splinter Parties make for instability and that instability makes for upheavals, turmoil and bankruptcy. We have had 40 years of P.R. Previous to that, I had 20 years' experience of the single seat and the straight vote and I have no hesitation in saying that the latter is far more desirable for this country now.
We are asked what is the urgency about the referendum. A man building a house lays particular stress upon the foundations. If they are not right, the house is not right. When we are building up a young State, as we are, the foundations are very important, too. That is sufficient justification for changing the system of voting we have had. Senator Kissane quoted an Irish proverb, the sense of which was that the day of the storm is not the day of the scollop. That applies in the present case. When the Government have decided that the change is necessary, they would be lacking in their duty if they did not put it to the people. At least, give the people the opportunity of making the change.
It has been said that there are more urgent things. Nothing could be more urgent than stability. Do the people opposite expect us to believe that P.R. and the multi-seat constituency will give us more stable conditions than the straight vote and the single constituency? Nobody in his senses would believe it. The Taoiseach is accused of changing his mind. There are only two classes of people who do not change their minds—fools and dead men.
This matter appeared on the agenda for the annual meeting of the Fianna Fáil Party on many occasions. Motions from many different areas have come up and there has been incessant demand for the change. Senator L'Estrange said the Taoiseach is wrong about this matter, that he was wrong about everything he ever did. He did not mention the £5,000,000 land annuities the Taoiseach got for this country. If he did mention it, I am sure he could find that was wrong, too. When people descend to personal abuse it only shows they have no arguments. Loyalty to a good leader has always been a characteristic of the Irish people, but in the eyes of the Opposition the loyalty of Fianna Fáil to their leader is the greatest crime in the annals of history.
At the Fine Gael Árd Fheis, Deputy Costello was reported in the Press as saying that the proposal to abolish P.R. may, in the long run, lead to the decline of Fianna Fáil and the upsurge of Fine Gael, and Deputy MacEoin is reported to have expressed the same sentiments. Nobody can foretell what the people will do with the Bill. Why not let the people decide? If the Opposition is entitled to take the view that this is a political matter, surely we are entitled to take the view that it is a selfish matter with the Coalition and that they are acting without any consideration for the future welfare of the country?
Somebody told us that there are 300 types of P.R. We had a system in connection with the Seanad elections 15 or 20 years ago, and I remember a number 80 vote deciding the issue between two candidates. That was surely a gamble. The man who marked that "80" on his ballot did not know what he was doing, I am sure, and had no intention of electing the man he elected. There are many minorities in this country, and if we are to have P.R. at all, why not have a system to make provision for all the minorities?
We are told by Fine Gael that in the next election under the straight vote and the single member constituency, Fine Gael will get only 20 seats. We are also told that Labour will be wiped out. In the same breath, we are told that if there were a general election to-morrow, Fianna Fáil would be wiped out. Is it not an opportune time to let the matter go to the people from the Coalition point of view? If the people would wipe out Fianna Fáil to-morrow, they will object to the Bill, too.
In the other House, Deputy Sweetman said there were ructions at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting when the Bill was being discussed. Senator Sheehy Skeffington took a completely opposite view in this House. He said something to the effect that the Party members were afraid to express their views of had no views to express. Of course, the simple answer to that is that many members of this House, on both sides of the House, may not have as much eloquence or book knowledge as the Senator has, but might have just as much common sense.
I read an article in the Irish Times on Saturday 14th, written by “Quidnune”. I think it would be no harm to read it for the House. It states:—
"The P.R. debate has not been marked by the scintillation of very much parliamentary wit, but it did produce one neat shaft in the Senate the other day. The Fianna Fáil speakers, I am told, had been furnished—presumably by their headquarters—with one bundle of notes which was passed from hand to hand. When the first speaker had finished, he passed it to the second, who spoke from it and passed it to the third—all, of course, saying much the same thing.
This process was watched for some time with keen interest by Senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington, and he commented on it when he got to his feet. ‘I was aware,' he said, that Fianna Fáil were committed to the principle of the single transferable vote, but I had not realised they were committed to the single transferable speech'."
A lot of ideas about P.R. has been gleaned from books. It is said that statistics can be made to prove anything, and I think that ideas from books can be made to prove anything, too. I knew a farmer who had very little practical knowledge but had a lot of books. He was never able to make his farm pay; he never brought out the right answer at the end of the year. We have had 40 years of P.R.; why not 12 years of the straight vote? That is all the experience we need.
There was a tirade of personal abuse of the Taoiseach. Decent people are tired of that kind of thing. It only shows they have no arguments. I think the Opposition should listen to their leader Deputy MacEoin and get it out of their heads that this Bill is intended to wipe them out. Governments will come and Governments will go, as Governments have always come and gone; and people will get tired of Governments, just as a woman gets tired of a hat. There are two points of view in the House; the obvious thing to do is to let the issue go to the people, and let the people decide. Forget the despondency and the gloom. Pessimism is bad medicine; when taken in large draughts, it is rank poison.
I have given considerable thought to the question as to whether or not I should intervene in this debate. I look upon the decision which this House is called upon to take as one of the gravest, if not the gravest, since the establishment of the State. In such circumstances, I do not feel I can remain silent since such silence on my part would be unfair to those who sent me to this House.
The proposal put before the Oireachtas by the Taoiseach to abolish P.R. came, one might say, out of the blue. As has been repeatedly stated here, in the Dáil, and by many outside, no word of any kind was uttered about this proposal during the last election campaign. Before there is another election, there will be a referendum as to whether or not the system of election to the Dáil should be abolished. I believe this is an evil step to take and one that will produce sad results, if the people are induced into voting in favour of this proposal, for many a year to come.
As far as I am concerned, I never base my judgment on any question just on what my neighbour says, or indeed my colleagues around me. I have always tried to make up my own mind, collecting all the information available to me, exercising my own judgment in the situation in which I find myself. If I were to believe what the Taoiseach says he believes, and what the people on that side of the House say they believe—I doubt if many of them wholeheartedly accept the proposal—I would support the proposal. If I thought it would make for better government, or for a better way of getting a Government, I would be in favour of it. Heaven knows, we want a better Government, and we want better government; but I doubt very much if any change in the system of election will give us that instrument. In order to achieve that, one would want much more than a change in the method of election.
The responsible, thoughtful people on the opposite side of the House know quite well that parliamentary government is almost at a discount in this country to-day. They know, too, that politicians are being looked at askance and that they are being blamed, perhaps rightly blamed, for many of the defects in the social and economic order. I said "perhaps rightly blamed". The responsibility of leadership in any country at any time is a very great responsibility. The difficulties confronting parliamentary leadership in this country to-day were never greater than they are now and the problems that Parliament has to resolve are so complex and so unsuitable to treatment that in order to resolve them one would need—this is obvious even to those who do not make "a great pretence to book learning", as Senator O'Callaghan so graphically said—a coalescing of all the forces of goodwill to be found within the State. What do we get? We ask for bread. What do we get? Paper!
I want to protest now against the attitude of mind and the arguments which have been made repeatedly here as to the failure of parliamentary systems in other countries based on so-called P.R. Now, I have seen something of those countries and I regard it as colossal impertinence on the part of any Minister of State or any member of the Oireachtas to point the finger at a great, overflowing nation like Italy, with over 40,000,000 people, with its gigantic industries and mammoth production. I object equally to people pointing the finger at Germany or France. We who live in a tail of an island like ours, where the race is dying out and where the prospects for the future, if we are to judge by the attitude of our people so ready to leave their homeland, are darker than they ever were in the days of the British Government here ought to be careful in our choice of phraseology.
We ought to be careful about uttering words like those used by the Minister for External Affairs in the other House: "That is what brought France to its knees, and it would bring this country to its kness if it were in operation long enough." If any of us read in a French paper that the Minister for External Affairs in France had uttered words like those in relation to this little island, we would be making representations to the Minister Plenipotentiary here to have a contradiction made in his own country. That kind of criticism is one into which we ought not to fall. It is something we ought not to do because we have not at our disposal information to enable us to make a fair assessment of the political situation in France, or in any other country, vis-a-vis the parliamentary system of election. That is a type of mental acrobatics we ought to avoid. If we criticise another country, let us first be satisfied that we ourselves are more progressive, more go-ahead, and with more to show the world for our efforts. If we take that as our yardstick, we shall find ourselves with very little right to criticise.
I was saying earlier that parliamentary leadership has great responsibilities. Changes of Taoiseach do not alter the situation. The difficulties remain. Many of them are unfortunately of our own making. It is quite true that with a considerable portion of our population, the Oireachtas does not rank high to-day. The people have suffered too many disappointments. Many families suffered a great deal—Senator Tunney told us what his own family went through—to bring liberty and freedom to our country. To-day, we have liberty and freedom and it is because I feel that our liberty—the liberty that was bought so dearly—is being challenged by this Bill that I am opposed to it. It is a bigger challenge to our liberty than anything else that Fianna Fáil have done since, they came into Parliament. Senators may smile. They may challenge the truth of my assertion, but that is how I feel about it. Sections of our people have liberty to-day to express themselves in a particular way; they will not enjoy that liberty if this legislation is passed.
May I ask the Senator a question?
I have no objection.
As a matter of historical interest: the Senator says liberty is being challenged by this Bill. This Bill is for the purpose of giving the people an opportunity of deciding by way of referendum. Did the Senator think in the same way in 1925 when he voted for a referendum on that occasion?
I presume I may now continue my speech. I want to say to the Senator that neither his question nor any of the questions of his colleagues will turn me from the case I want to make and the case I am entitled to make.
Why not answer the question?
Perhaps I shall answer the Senator in the course of my remarks and in the meantime perhaps he will bear with me with patience and a little silence.
I shall, but I should like an answer.
I was coming to this point. The Taoiseach is a great traveller; indeed, I would say he is a great pilgrim. I am sure he has knelt at the tombs of the Apostles. He has kissed the ring of our late Holy Father and he has sent his felicitations to the present Holy Father. So far as his colleagues on the opposite side of the House are concerned, he would be looked upon as the epitome of a great Christian leader, the type of man who has the capacity to mould and shape society, to establish an ideal social and economic Christian order.
I do not think it will be disputed that students and teachers of sociology who have studied our conditions here have time and again pronounced against conditions as they are. Under the leadership of the Taoiseach, we see home after home being broken up, and husbands leaving their homes, under Government dispensation, to seek work elsewhere. One may say that relative to our population, if one were to count the disasters that have occurred through broken homes and husbands having to leave the country to seek employment, there were as many broken homes here as there are in Britain from other causes. But let us leave that side of things and come to the other question with which I am gravely concerned.
I am convinced that no moral authority is given to the leader of this State to do to-day what he is proposing to do under this legislation— no moral sanction whatever—and it would not be any harm——
——If we were to examine the matter from that angle. I have here a pronunciamento of the Taoiseach made at College Green. He is reported in the Irish Press of 18th May, 1954:—
"Speaking on the social aspect of Fianna Fáil policy, Mr. de Valera said that all material benefits they had provided were intended for the good of the people and for the general welfare. There was a social philosophy behind it all. They recognised the rights of the individual and the family and that the State had no right to encroach upon them. They also recognised that organised society and the State have their own rights which the individual, in turn, had no right to encroach upon. They took the view that society and the State were intended for the advantage of the individual and not the individual for the advantage of the State. The State had no soul as the individual had. The individual's soul gave him his primary position in the universe. Thus his destiny was the ultimate thing that mattered."
I want to urge that the soul of the individual is the ultimate thing that matters. God made man unto His own image and likeness. He gave him free will. The development of the human personality was the highest aim that God had for man in this life. He gave him, too, his responsibilities in society but He gave him his rights and the rights of man in society come first. As the Taoiseach pointed out, society was made for man, not man for society. What are we doing now? I say that if individuals feel that their human personality can be most satisfactorily and successfully developed in communion with their colleagues, that is a right which they are entitled to enjoy and the head of the State, no matter who he may be, or the State itself, cannot take that right away, so long as the individual is doing nothing that is wrong in the moral sense, that is not in conformity with the Ten Commandments or in the secular or material order, contradictory or harmful or injurious to society itself.
We will leave the moral issues to the responsibility of the individual. Let us ask ourselves—and I want to hear an answer to this from the Taoiseach—in what way is it injurious for groups of people who have a common interest to come together for the furtherance of their common interests, in defence of their common interests? I cannot see it. That is the order and the political order which has existed up to the present. Under the system of parliamentary election, it has been possible for groups of people with a common bond and a common interest to come together, to work together, to select their candidates, to put them before the country and to let the country adjudicate upon them.
I do not know what is wrong about that. The only thing that is wrong so far as the Government Party, the Taoiseach and his followers are concerned is that they say that that can create a condition of instability in government and they are afraid of instability in government. They are afraid of it; it is dangerous. I concede that if there is a permanent condition of instability that could be dangerous. However, if that situation were created, the people would find a way of resolving the difficulty. I am satisfied that the Taoiseach and the Government have no moral authority to take a step in fear of that day when it is not with us and to deny to citizens or groups of citizens the liberty which they are entitled to enjoy.
All authority, under God, comes from the people.
All authority under God comes from the people and the people have the responsibility to exercise their authority in such a way as to avoid doing greater injustice by exercising it one way rather than another and if the leaders of the people try to convince them as to what their duties are their first obligation is to tell the truth and reveal all the facts as they are and then let the people answer on the truth. That is terribly important. I have heard most of the speeches here to-day and I should not like to have to take an oath on what was said. I shall not put it any further than that.
I said earlier that the followers of the Taoiseach regard him as a great Christian gentleman. He is the person who should say the very thing that our Holy Father, Pope John XXIII, would say: "People unite; people have peace." There are many Labour representatives here behind us. I do not know if anybody on the other side would have the audacity to say that they have not the right to have a labour organisation, the right to collect and congregate, to sit down at meetings and decide what they ought to do to further their own interests. There are employers represented here—Senator McGuire and Senator Burke. I do not know in what class Senator Hayes, Senator O'Donovan and I would be placed.
I am a worker, anyway.
May I put this question: what would be wrong with its being possible for employers like Senator McGuire, Senator Burke and others to sit down with the representatives of Labour to plan so that things might be better for everybody in this country? Who is the Taoiseach to proclaim that these people should not work together, should not have the opportunity to work together and ought not be permitted to form a Government to work together, if that were possible?
He never said that.
He hated them.
May I go on? He never said it?
He is saying it through legislation and he says so here.
He said in the other House that he hated Coalitions and I happened to be there when he said it.
Do not distort what he said.
Senator Mullins may put his own distortion on it.
The Taoiseach never said what Deputy Baxter says he said.
I will take Senator Mullins's interpretation.
It is your speech but he did not say that.
He said: "I hate this Government." Those were his exact words.
We are not talking about that, but the construction or twist given to what he said by Senator Baxter.
I heard him. I was in the House when he said it. My interpretation was that he hated the Government and he hated it because it was a Coalition. If it were a single-Party Government it would be all right, though I do not suppose he would love it any the more.
That is not what Senator Baxter was talking about.
I hope Senator Mullins will accept it that the Taoiseach should know what he was talking about. I could make another comment on that, but there it is.
A Chathaoirligh, may I point out——
Senator Baxter is entitled to speak. He is entitled to make his speech.
What Senator Baxter alleges——
I do not want to be unfair to what the Taoiseach wanted to present to the other House—I really do not—but the impression I got was that he meant that. We all know that he is a man of many phrases, a mixum-gatherum—in fact, he could add to the vocabulary.
And he could even twist that afterwards.
That is one of the reasons he gives for not liking P.R.
The Senator has adverted sufficiently to that.
May I just explain to the Senator?
Senator Baxter is entitled to make his own speech.
I feel that it is something which we all will eternally regret that the Taoiseach did not use his own personality in his own period of strength in this country, to bring people together more than he did.
He did more than any man in modern history to bring them together.
Maybe he did.
Of course, he did.
Maybe he did, within his own group.
Not within his own group—but since 1923.
We are not going to America or anywhere else, as far as I am concerned, at the moment; we are just trying to resolve this problem in our own way, if we get the opportunity; and I am quite certain, a Chathaoirligh, that you will see that that will be done. Far from taking the attitude the Taoiseach has taken in this country, he ought to have been trying to see how Senator McGuire, Senator Murphy and other people who approach life and the material problems of life from different angles, could be brought closer together, since it is only by that close approach that our problems will be resolved here.
The Government Party have another way. I am convinced it will not succeed and I will give some of the reasons why. Let me take my own county, Cavan. I have tried to bring this down to the realities of the situation as I see them, because while I have tremendous admiration for a number of Senators here who spoke— Senator Hayes, Senator Stanford, Senator Quinlan, Senator O'Brien and others—I have had a different type of experience. I have had some of their experience; I have none of their learning, but I have had practical experience down the country which enables me to get an appreciation of the kind of picture which will be presented to us when this legislation is passed. This is what I am afraid of about it. Let me take my own county.
In the last Dáil election there were 12,545 votes for the Government and there were 18,000 not for them, in Cavan. In the county council election in the same county, there were 12,357 for them and 17,796 not for them. We may take it that they have approximately 12,000 votes, though I do not think they could muster 12,000 to-day, because the population has fallen considerably and is falling continuously. I do not think they could muster 12,000 to-day, but if we take 12,000 as a possible Fianna Fáil vote in our county, we will have three constituencies on the basis of that population. There will be 4,000 votes in each of the three for Fianna Fáil and 6,000 votes not for Fianna Fáil in each constituency.
In each constituency.
If Senator Mullins wants my comment on that—it is an interesting interjection for him at this stage—I am quite certain from what I know about how things have been conducted in County Cavan since 1932, that they will make sure the constituencies are divided in their way and before I have finished I will prove that to Senator Ó Maoláin. My word can be taken on it, that there will be no doubt about the way they will be divided.
By the commission?
This Bill has one purpose and one purpose only. People may say what they like about getting "strong" government, about eliminating small Parties and all the rest. Will Senator Mullins tell me that he would have half the joy in passing this legislation if he thought that it was going to eliminate Fianna Fáil and leave the field to Fine Gael? Not at all.
It could possibly happen.
We are not so simple as to believe anything like that. This Bill has one purpose, one clear purpose and everybody believes it—the followers of Fianna Fáil and our followers—and supporters of Fianna Fáil would not be breast high for it, were it not that they believe that is the effect it will have.
Deputy Seán MacEoin does not believe it and Deputy Costello does not believe it. Those are two of them.
The point is that there will be three constituencies, with 4,000 votes in each constituency electing a Deputy and 6,000 votes against. A minority Party is going to govern. Everybody will be pointing at the Deputy and saying: "Look at him, look at him!" There is not a tremendous amount of respect for them to-day but, make no mistake about it, when a Deputy is elected by a minority of the people, to come up to the Oireachtas to make laws—and to make some unpopular laws—he will not grow more popular and not even the name "de Valera" is going to make such people popular. That is what will happen.
What situation do you bring about then? Suppose I am a defeated candidate for Fine Gael and I see a majority Government coming into power—a majority of Deputies elected on a minority of votes—do you think that I am going to sit waiting on the edge of a constituency for another five years to see what the next elections will bring? I have no intention of doing anything of the kind and I believe every defeated Deputy in the country will be the same. You will have the whole field to yourselves and the Oireachtas to yourselves. Is that what you want—that there will be no Opposition? If anyone makes the mistake of thinking that, because you get a majority in that way in the Oireachtas, you are going to govern the country, I think the experience will be a tragic one. That is what I dislike, that is what I fear and that is why I am speaking now, because I wish to say it in time. I have said things in the past, both to my colleagues and perhaps to some of those over there and I would not be listened to.
Now, what comes out of a situation like that? Naturally, there will be growing up elements which will coalesce because they do not believe in some of the things the Government is doing. At any rate, take the person who is there as a Deputy—he is not brilliant, he does not command a tremendous amount of respect or confidence, he may not be terribly accommodating or he may be the sort of person who must either have you in his pocket or under his heel. The net result of the whole thing will be that parliamentary government in this country will fail. We are to be asked to play our part in killing it now. That is why I say that it is better to speak in time about what I believe. Other people do not believe what I say. They are entitled to their own view, but at least they have the opportunity of expressing it.
This was published in the Irish Times the other day:—
"Sinn Féin to contest Northern Ireland seats in Westminster. The Republican movement proposes to contest all 12 seats in Northern Ireland during the next British general election for the Westminster Parliament, the Sinn Féin publicity bureau states. It adds that the candidates will go forward in spite of any opposition'."
The statement continues:—
"Once again, as in 1955, the Republican movement appeals for a clear field, and it urges that no shade of Nationalist thought will confuse the issue at stake by creating a situation similar to that created in the 1956 by-election in mid-Ulster."
Can anybody anticipate you people creating such conditions down here when you have, and you will have, so successfully eliminated all opposition according to your lights? You will have pronouncements like that coming forward, and if they come forward what will be the response? You will be astonished at the sneaking regard other Constitutionalists will have for declarations like this when there is only one Party in power free to do what it likes.
Senator Mullins put me a query a little while ago. I am not speaking without knowledge. I am quite satisfied that this proposed system will not be applied only to parliamentary elections. It is going down through the whole gamut because it is essential for the success of the Fianna Fáil scheme that it will go down through the whole gamut. You will apply it to elections to this House and to the elections for local authorities, and what will the situation be like then? We will divide up the areas for the local authorities and we will have the same situation prevailing in the local authorities—if it is possible for the present Government Party to make it —that it is intended will prevail in the Oireachtas.
The chairman of the county council and the majority of the county councillors will belong to the Fianna Fáil Party. The county manager, the secretary of the county council, the county engineer, all the assistant engineers, the home assistance officers, every ganger and every worker on the roads will be completely under their thumb. Some say that the manager will not but, with the Minister for Local Government belonging to the Party, what can he do? Yes, that is what he will do. That is what the setup will be like. Even as it is at the moment I do not know how much of this is common but, quite obviously from statements made here, it is already a practice.
In my own county alone it is the general practice. There are, to-day, 22 rate collectors in my county and 18 of these belong to the Fianna Fáil Party. That is what you get under that scheme of things and I do not like it. The last rate collectorship appointment that was made in my own county was made in my own district. A young man, a bachelor, with 40 acres of land, was brought over from the borders of County Longford into an area in which he did not reside. I said a young man, a bachelor, and he defeated, by one vote, a candidate who was born in the area, who lived in the area, a young decent farmer, working on 15 acres of land, who had seven children.
How many Fianna Fáil men are on the present Cavan County Council?
You were able to get the majority——
Have we a majority?
——and that is what counts.
Have we a majority?
You are able to have the hold.
We have no majority on Cavan County Council.
You have the biggest group on it and you are getting certain assistance that enables you to do that.
We have no majority.
For accuracy's sake we have not a majority.
We heard Senator Lahiffe describe conditions in Galway County Council this afternoon and you would think they had not a majority but, when he was led to disentangle his story, it read very badly.
We are talking about Cavan.
I will say something more on this point. This is of importance. It is the key to the whole thing. It is the attitude which will be adopted when you pursue this policy to maintain the supreme and unchallenged authority of your Party. It is up to us now to say this because we will not have the chance later. There may not be many of us in the Oireachtas when this is over and you can do just what is in your minds to do. If this were only my voice and if I stood alone in this, well, you could challenge it as only my opinion but, earlier in the week, Senator Cole was applauded for opinions to which he gave expression here. I have here a statement by Senator Cole, on this very issue in our county, when the chairman of the county council was being elected after the last local government election.
This was Senator Cole's point of view then, perfectly justified, and he could stand over it. He said, when the proposal for the election of chairman was under discussion:
"...that from what he might term the ingredients of the council it was obvious that the electorate had left it to the Independents to decide on the chair. In that respect he would agree with Senator Baxter's proposal as regards the decision of the chair over four years. The two Independent members of the council, who represented the minority, represented a much larger proportion of the ratepayers—or the rates —than might appear; but that was the way that the law worked. People did not vote on the amount of rates they paid. Over the last five years seven appointments had been made by the council—these are appointments of rate collectors—and not one of these appointments had gone to the minority. The one Party had got all the appointments. He supposed they were entitled to do that if that was politics; but to his mind it was not the politics he would like to see on the county council. They had asked for at least one of these positions and it had been refused. It was wrong and unjust. All qualifications being equal, in so far as candidates were concerned, he agreed that the member of the political Party should get the choice but, where all things were not equal it was wrong and unjust to pursu that policy. He said it would be left more or less to the four Independent members to decide on who was going to occupy the chair. He was sorry it was not to be a completely Independent chairman he was voting for. Nevertheless he would support Mr. Patrick O'Reilly."
Mr. O'Reilly was the Fine Gael candidate.
It is not my word alone you have for that, and it is not any wonder the people are afraid of that. I am going to carry that argument further; I do not say there are not many people in the ranks of Fianna Fáil who do not quarrel with this, but I know very well what goes on down in the local areas. If the key man in a district wants something done, if he wants a rate collector appointed or something else done, the Deputy is put into the position that the Party machine tells him what to do and he knows very well that, if he does not keep it oiled, it will not work for him in turn. The way he keeps it oiled is by this type of thing, by this type of appointment, and that is all wrong, but there will be more of it in the future, under the new system. I dislike it for that reason. I do not think our people will stand for it. If they turn against it, they will be ruthless in the methods that they will adopt and the Government may have to be ruthless in their methods to maintain order. Who wants that?
When it comes to that type of constituency, what will the people get? I do not know. I review my own county again. I am long enough there and know the people on all sides well enough to be able to make a fair appraisal of their competence to serve. I do not think you will get anything like as good a representative under the proposed new system as you get under the old. Fianna Fáil were not terribly successful under that system. Perhaps they got the best at their command. Perhaps there is not a lot of talent available to any Party.
We have read about the treatment meted out to Mr. Montgomery Hyde. If the P.R. system were in operation in the Six Counties, Mr. Montgomery Hyde would not have to kowtow to the narrow, bigoted intolerant crowd who are going to push him out. If he had a wider field, his wider mind would command enough support to get him a seat in the House of Parliament. That is the great danger in this narrowing of constituencies.
There are Deputies who are excellent Deputies but very bad parliamentarians. Such Deputies may be in the writing room and at the telephone doing everything they possibly can for their constituencies but how many Bills are they reading and trying to amend? Will you get a better type of Deputy when the constituency is narrowed or will you get somebody whose brothers, cousins and aunts are available to him, who will man the machine and will have to be selected or else the Fianna Fáil Party will have the kind of thing they had in constituencies but of which we have not had so much because our people enjoy more liberty.
All that I have heard from the Taoiseach about this Bill has been his objection to coalitions. He does not like people attempting to coalesce. What is wrong, under Heaven, in people being encouraged to coalesce? Is it not the whole spirit of Christianity? Who is the Taoiseach or anybody else to preach a doctrine or philosophy that is a contradiction of that? Such contrary doctrine is wrong and will bring no good to the Party, the people or the nation that will enshrine it in its Constitution or adopt it in the solution of its problems.
I like to be able to work with people. I can disagree with them. I can be almost as intemperate in my disagreement as some Deputies may think I am now but, at least, we have the liberty to exercise our free wills and to express our views. I do not think the big stick ought to be wielded. Coalitions that existed here broke up. There was fragmentation. Was that such an awful tragedy? I remember the break-up of the first Coalition Government. I was very close to it. I know that the real issue was the price of milk. I was desperately concerned about it. I knew the people who were pushing Deputy Dillon, the Minister for Agriculture as he then was, for an increase in the price of milk. I knew it was folly and tried to advise them against it but they could not be advised and they pushed and the Government decided that they would not yield to this pressure group and they resigned. According to the Taoiseach and his supporters, it was all wrong for the Government to yield up its responsibility and pass it over to the people in that case but it is all right to throw the referendum at the same people now. Why cannot we have some degree of consistency? I have not attempted to pursue the inconsistencies as some of my colleagues, Senator L'Estrange and others, have done. Unless there can be a new spirit in approaching the solution of our problems, this country will fail.
You can have a strong Government. East Germany has a terribly strong Government. What is happening there? By the hundred thousand, people are flying out of the East German Republic to the West. Do you want something like that here? Establish the authority as strong and as powerful and as majestic as you want it. What will happen? Many of the people associated with the civil war cleared out of the country in 1923, 1924 and 1925. They did not want to be here. Some of the best people that we had left the country in those years, broken in spirit, disappointed and disillusioned with everything and everybody. If the Taoiseach believes that people will sit on the brink, waiting for a change of tide, and seeing all sorts of injustices going on for five years, he is making a terrific mistake. He will see, as a result of this, an exodus from this country of the high-spirited people who will not put up with that sort of intolerance and will term it tyranny. He will see leaving these shores people whose places cannot be filled. That is something on which he ought to ponder.
It may very well be that the course of events may take an entirely different turn. My own view is that the referendum will not be carried. Some Senators may ask, then, why we are preventing it from going to the people. We are discharging our obligations here by saying what we think about it. We are not expected to rush a Bill through the House without saying what is in our minds about it. That would be dishonest. We are not the sort of "yes-men" that can be made to do that sort of thing. I could not do it. If I did not have the liberty and right to speak my mind, there would be no place here for me.
It is conceivable that the Fianna Fáil Party may get the amendment of the Constitution carried by referendum, but I do not believe they will. I know they will draw up a good deal of apparent enthusiasm in certain of their own ranks about it, but there are a great many of their own people, including members of county councils and so on, and Deputies, who do not like this one bit and it will be the most lukewarm enthusiasm they have ever experienced.
Supposing they do carry the referendum and supposing it comes to a constituency in Cavan and I have to consider what to do in the given situation. Suppose I believe that, if the Government policy can be operated to the full, the liberty that will be left to me to voice my opinions will be very little indeed. I can say, in that respect, that when I went on the Cavan County Council first there was a planned campaign to prevent my speaking, and whenever I rose to speak there was a clamour to keep me silent. That went on for a while, but I was not as easily silenced as that. Black and Tans and all the rest did not silence me, my mother, my father or my brothers or sisters and that campaign did not succeed.
If we are confronted with the situation that liberty is so restricted that it might almost be dead, I am very likely to be tempted to work, aye, and to conspire—if the Taoiseach likes that word—with others with whom I may differ more than I differ with Fianna Fáil in many respects but, because I live liberty most of all, I am ready to work with people who want to preserve liberty, let us use or misuse it any way we like. The Government are very likely to find such a situation if they carry the referendum. From the point of view of the nation, the result may be worse than anything anticipated. It may be the most terrible thing, something which the Balfours in other generations would not wish upon the Irish nation.
The Taoiseach's objection to coalitions is something I have often felt disposed to question. I have the opportunity now of saying that when his Party came into Parliament in 1927, I was there. I was invited by his present Minister for Health, on the 12th August, 1927, to go to interview Mr. de Valera. I was asked, first, what I was going to do about this vote and then if I would go to see Mr. de Valera. Lo and behold, what did I reply? I said: "Seán, what do you want Mr. de Valera to say to me that you cannot say to me? I believe I would understand you and I do not think I would understand de Valera." That was in 1927 and I did not go.
We talked there about the formation of the Coalition. He gave me an idea of what shape it would take and said that I would have my place in it as Minister for Agriculture. Then I asked: "What will you do then?" He replied: "We intend to send a delegation to England about the Oath." I saw Tom Johnson, Willie Redmond and Paddy Baxter being invited to go to London about the Oath. Whatever doubts or fears I had about it up to that, I was not taking any risk about that.
It is quite true that, from anything said to me, there was no evidence that the Fianna Fáil Party were to be members of the Coalition but as I said, in effect, and as will be found in the Official Report of that debate: "This thing of being the Government while not being of it, and so on, is something I do not like." It was a quite legitimate thing for them to do. Nobody disputed the legitimacy or the worthiness of it. I did not dismiss it. I parted from the present Minister for Health on the understanding that if I got a telegram to go on the following Tuesday to see Mr. de Valera I would go. I never got the telegram. I presume they had the numbers so well counted that they thought they would carry it by one. I thought they would. I never anticipated that a gentleman would disappear.
I think the Taoiseach is altogether wrong and that it is an entirely false approach to the problem of Government of this country to denounce coalitions, as he has been doing. He does not know, even before he himself passes from the political scene, what may yet have to be done in order to govern in this country.
I should like to put the Taoiseach this final question. Is this the last amendment to the Constitution that might possibly arise from the passing of this amendment? Is there anywhere in the back of the Taoiseach's mind the idea that if the people are kinder to him than I think they will be, and send him to the Park, there will be a further amendment to the Constitution that would put him, in relation to Irish affairs, in the position President Eisenhower occupies in relation to American affairs to-day so that he would be President, Taoiseach and everything else all rolled up into one? Perhaps he will tell us that when he is concluding?
Would Senator Baxter now answer my question?
Will you please put it to me again?
The Senator said that the referendum was an attack on the liberty of the people. I ask him now if there is any difference between the referendum for which he voted in 1925 and this and if he voted for an attack on the liberty of the people.
Senator Mullins wants to put me in the position of being against the principle of a referendum. Not at all. This referendum is being used for a particular purpose and I oppose it and have given my reasons. I think they are very good reasons.
Senator Baxter said there was not one word about the abolition of P.R. in the last election campaign. One can scarcely say that many words have not been spoken about the abolition of P.R. and many words will be spoken before the matter is decided by the people. Having read most of what was said in the other House and listened to what has been said here on this Bill, it would appear to me that speakers had little difficulty in making up their minds and felt quite competent to speak at length on the systems of voting without the assistance of any commission of inquiry. If some of those who claim to be Independent and unattached had any doubts, would it not be only right that they should adopt the democratic principles stated by Senator Connolly O'Brien and vote for the Second Stage of this Bill now that it has been accepted by those who are the direct representatives of the people?
The long discussion which has already taken place and which got such wide publicity in the Press and on the radio should enable people to make up their minds. I am sure the people will have many further opportunities of listening to arguments on this matter before the referendum takes place.
As reported at column 302 of the Official Report of 4th February, 1959, Senator O'Brien stated:—
"...I must say I was certainly greatly impressed by the case made by the Opposition in the Dáil. The long debate there had an educational effect on at least one person. I have no doubt it had an equal educational effect on a large number of voters."
I think, however, the electorate have already heard possibly too much on this matter and are now rather tired of the long drawn out debate that has taken place. To illustrate my point, I should like to quote a paragraph from the Derry People of 14th February of this year.
"The lack of public interest in the forthcoming national referendum on the retention or otherwise of the P.R. system of voting, was clearly demonstrated at Letterkenny on Saturday.
A lecture on the subject, scheduled for the local Devlin Hall, with an admission fee of 2/6, was left practically without audience, and had to be moved outdoor to the Market Square. Speaker was distinguished former Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Seán MacBride, S.C., who still experienced a far-from-lively audience, only a handful bothering to pause and listen."
After all, Deputies and quite a number in this House have been closely associated with elections and Government for many years. A number of them have personal experience of both systems of election and I feel they can be regarded as experts in this matter.
As reported at column 555 of the Official Report of 11th February, 1959, Senator L'Estrange said:—
"...if we adopt the straight vote system, will we have a situation in which the doors of Leinster House will be closed in future to a Jim Larkin, to a James Connolly or to any other legitimate representative of the 800,000 workers in this country?"
Does the Senator really believe or seriously contend that such men could not be elected in any Dublin constituency when we consider that at the moment in the City of Belfast, where so many vote on a sectarian basis, four official Labour, one Independent Labour and one Republican Labour candidates have been elected while in the City of Dublin, under P.R., there is one Labour Deputy?
Does anyone suggest, for instance, that the late Deputy Alfred Byrne could not win a single member constituency in this city if P.R. had been abolished? If the strength of the trade unions is, as Senator L'Estrange says, 800,000, and if their candidates get that support, together with the support of their wives and sweethearts and their sisters and aunts, not alone could they elect a Government but it would be the strongest Government this country could possibly have. But, of course, the fact is that a great number of these people belong to Fianna Fáil, and some of them belong to Fine Gael.
The Senator also stated, as reported at column 581:—
"In the intervening years you had the People's Party, the National League, the Farmers' Party and the Centre Party, but we have had only three large Parties here for the past 36 years."
It would be interesting to know what happened these Parties and what happened Monetary Reform. Perhaps it would be a matter for scientific study by Senator Quinlan and I am sure Senator L'Estrange and some other Senators on the opposite side would be able to assist the Senator in any research on that point. May I suggest that if these Parties were masticated and fully digested by Fine Gael, with the intake of political calories which Fine Gael obtained as a result of taking over these small Parties, then that Party is still rather emaciated?
The Senator claims that farmers should be represented in Parliament. Of course, they should be represented in Parliament. As he stated in 1947, there were as good farmers in Fine Gael as there were in Clann na Talmhan—but possibly there are better farmers in Fianna Fáil. He also stated that it will render more difficult the ending of Partition. I should have liked the Senator to develop that point further. If it is contended by those on the other side of the House that the Unionists obtain better representation by the straight vote, then surely they desire the system to continue. Deep down in the heart of every member of this House must be the hope that the State will become stronger and more prosperous and that the improved economy will, in time, have an attraction for our fellow countrymen in the part of north-east Ulster where they are still opposed to the unity of this country. Surely this ambition is more likely to be achieved if we have here a Government with the strength, with the confidence and the time to put the policy and the programme which has previously been put before the people in a general election, into effect? A reasonably strong Government, capable of doing what is best for the good of the people, with a united, critical and strong Opposition, with a shadow Cabinet, and in a position to establish an alternative Government is how Parliament and democracy work best.
Senator O'Brien at column 324 stated:—
"The Seanad know that every time the Minister for Finance has been in this House since the election of 1957 I have made a very strong appeal to him to make use of his large majority and his long period of office to face up courageously to the pressing economic and financial problems with which this country is beset."
Does this imply that a fairly strong one-Party Government, which should run its full term of office, is an important prerequisite to a Government facing up courageously to the economic problems of this State? Senator O'Brien considers that the referendum is distracting and disturbing the country. Can anyone imagine anything more distracting and disturbing than frequent general elections and too little continuity in a sound Government economic policy? The Senator questions the propriety of plunging the country into a referendum which he states is unjustified unless there is grave dissatisfaction. Surely the result of the 1957 Election showed a grave dissatisfaction with P.R. and the Coalition Government which it produced? The securing by the Government of such an overall result under the present system demonstrated the feelings of the people. If the people do not wish for the abolition of P.R., why are some members of the Opposition so pessimistic about the result?
Owing to the multiplicity of Party groups in the last 20 years, there have been, in my opinion, too many elections. There have been too many elections since the State was set up. I understand there have been 14 elections since the State was set up and in the past 20 years, there have been eight elections. Goodness knows how many by-elections there have been in that time. If we had, during the past 20 years, single member constituencies, then the areas involved in by-elections would have been ever so much fewer, with a consequent saving to the community. It is possible that in the past 20 years we would have been saved the necessity of three general elections and the high cost and unsettling effect of these elections, if we had the direct vote during that time. P.R. undoubtedly led to Government instability and brought about two fragile Coalition Governments which broke up, as forecast, long before their period of office expired.
They lasted three and a half years.
Two years and ten months, and they lasted sufficiently long to enable them to get perquisites for the time they lasted in office.
They did that in the Senator's Party.
Possibly that was a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, it is most difficult to get controversial legislation accepted by a coalition Cabinet and so decisions are delayed and put into abeyance. If it were not for the fact that we have in this country two great national Parties brought about by the issues involved in the Treaty and the economic war, and if we had not had the 1937 Constitution, the successful Agreement of 1938, and the successful declaration of neutrality and the maintenance of that neutrality during the greatest and ghastliest war the world has ever known, changes of government probably would have been more frequent. There was no election, I think, between 1938 and 1943. It is unlikely that there will be such a clash of great national issues in the years that lie ahead and there would be a greater tendency for smaller Parties to sprout up and some of their candidates to be elected if P.R. were to continue.
A national Party, made up of the various interests in the community, is much more desirable than sectional interests and antagonisms between town and country, the clash of class warfare, the agriculturist versus the industrialist, the industrial labourer against the agricultural worker. Interest groups, if elected, may turn aside from consideration of legislation which is for the general good as not being their direct concern. Smaller constituencies, one-third or one-quarter of the present size, would be much more intimate and compact and would, I believe, throw up a better type of candidate, one who has gained the respect and esteem of the people of the area.
Senator L'Estrange said if a candidate were worth his salt he would get 1,000 votes and surely if a candidate is outstanding in a community he will get 2,000 or 3,000 votes. No Party, machine or Party bosses—about whom there has been much talk—could keep that person out. There would be a greater incentive for candidates to offer themselves for election and, if elected, to prove worthy of the trust the people have placed in them and the reputation they have gained in their immediate areas.
After all, the Sinn Féin Deputies were elected under the direct system, the old National Party were elected under the direct system, and did they not throw up some wonderfully fine Irishmen in those years? In a single member constituency, Deputies will be responsible for the well-being of their own areas and there is a greater incentive to devote as much time as possible to the work of the areas. At present, an active Deputy may have a passenger as a colleague but under the new system if a Deputy becomes lazy and neglects his duties he would be quickly found out and eliminated at the next election. In that way, the standard of those elected should be of a pretty high order.
Very often under P.R. I feel we elect the second best and it is always possible to have pre-election bargaining in order to capture votes. It was suggested that in a single member constituency Government Deputies would not ask parliamentary questions in case it would embarrass the Government. My experience is that constituencies are more anxious for Government Deputies than Opposition Deputies and Government Deputies get far more work to do. Government Deputies can be very effective in Party councils and on deputations as the Government would naturally be anxious to placate their Party members in order to retain the seat at election time.
It is only natural that Deputies elected under the system of P.R. should wish that system to continue on the principle that "the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know", but members of Opposition Parties should feel that if there is to be any real future they should support this change. I think some members of Fine Gael would like to support the change but they feel it is better political strategy to play up to the smaller groups whom they eventually hope to "gobble up". In the meantime they hope to capture their preference votes. Party politicians who violently and sincerely oppose the abolition of P.R. must have little confidence in the future of their own Parties. As has been said, when the people turn against a Government in future the swing of the pendulum will be greater than under the present system. The swing of the marginal vote will be accentuated.
The Labour Party appear to be very despondent about their immediate prospects but I suggest that, with the revision of the constituencies, the increase in the urban vote and the decrease in the rural vote and with the increased decentralisation resulting in greater union strength, many urban areas should be able to return Labour Deputies in future elections. There are now 22 three-member constituencies and even if the present system were to continue that number would be likely to increase this year on the revision of constituencies owing to the considerable decrease in rural population as disclosed in recent censuses. In three-member constituencies seats are contested on a basis as near to the direct vote as to the P.R. method; therefore little change need be expected in these areas if there is a change-over to the new system.
The purpose of a general election is primarily to produce a firmly-founded and popular Government sufficiently strong to decree a policy which has previously been put before the electorate at a general election. I suggest the P.R. system may frequently have cut down parliamentary majorities below the margin of safety. Let us not reach the stage of having crisis after crisis followed by chaos. We may never again in our generation have an opportunity of putting this vital question to the electorate for decision.
In a congested or built-up area one does not wait until a fire has spread before a fire brigade is called, so we in this country cannot afford to wait until democracy is wiped out by dictatorship before trying to save Parliament. In all countries with single member constituencies the economy is sound and the standard of living generally has steadily increased, especially among the lower income group. Senator Burke has referred to the fact that, per capita, our income is only 55 as against 100 in Britain; possibly the system of election may have had something to do with the prosperity of countries like Canada, America, Britain, and so on. Senator Baxter has painted a rather black picture of the position of the country, but I suggest that part of that may be attributed to the system of P.R. At any rate, I can say sincerely that for the greater good of the greater number of people in Ireland the abolition of P.R. and the introduction of the system of the straight vote is essential.
Most members of the House will hardly blame me for having certain misgivings about plunging into the controversy which this Bill has aroused. However, as one of the uncommitted members of the House on whom some members at least would appear to wish to place the main burden of responsibility either for the defeat or the enactment of this measure, I feel obliged to state the reasons why I must vote against it.
Senator O'Brien, in the very early stages of this debate, made one of the most realistic contributions to the discussion of this Bill when he pointed out that the onus of proof of the necessity for its introduction rested squarely and very definitely on the Government. I have deliberately waited to this late stage of the debate to intervene because I was anxious to hear as much as I could possibly hear of what the Government had to say in support of this measure. I have listened to most of the Government spokesmen and, I might add, in very great detail read the speech of the Taoiseach and of the members of the Government both in this House and in the other House to which I did not have the opportunity of listening. In my humble but nevertheless considered opinion, no case whatever has been made by the Government for the radical change this Bill proposes.
In defence of its decision to introduce the Bill the Government, as far as I can understand, gives only two cogent reasons: first, they say it will give us more stability—they mean stability of government—but "stability" is what they stress, whatever that vague term may mean or imply; secondly, it will give us stronger Governments—stronger Governments, I presume, than we have become accustomed to over the past 37 years.
I shall not bore the House at this late stage by repeating the references made by so many speakers already in simple but very clear illustration of the indisputable fact that we have had more stability of government over the period of the past 37 or 38 years than any other country we can point to in Europe, or beyond it. As for having stronger Governments, it is a repudiation of all the principles for which so many Irish men and women have sacrificed so much to suggest that at this stage of our development we need a mailed fist—or is it an iron heel—to enable us to govern ourselves in the future, at least as successfully and as satisfactorily as we have been doing for the greater part of 40 years past.
I am not satisfied that the Government has answered, or answered with any effectiveness, the very serious charge of the Opposition that this Bill is deliberately, indeed cynically and almost callously designed, to perpetuate the predominance of single-Party influence in our political life as a nation. That is the main charge that has been levelled from the Opposition benches and I, for one, have not heard that charge answered effectively. If there is any substance in that charge— and I have not heard anything to refute it—then the motives which inspired this Bill do no credit either to the outlook of the Fianna Fáil Party to-day or to the record of that Party in the past, credit which no serious-minded person will attempt to deny them.
A number of Government speakers have suggested—and I have been concerned to note that, one after the other, they referred to it in the same strain of argument or lack of argument—that a vote against the enactment of this Bill in this House is a vote cast to deny the people the right to give their judgment on it in the proposed referendum. That is nonsense, if not deliberately dishonest argument. Every member of this House knows as well as I do we cannot prevent this referendum from being held. At best, or perhaps I should say at worst, all we can hope to do is to make sure that, by refusing to permit the free passage of this Bill through the House, the people will have a little more time and perhaps a fairer opportunity of considering its far-reaching implications before they are called out to give their final judgment on it.
It has been rather lamely suggested that a demand for this Bill to be formulated was created by the unanimous adoption of a motion on the subject at the last Fianna Fáil Árd-Fheis. That is the only reason put forward in support of the suggestion that there is some demand for this Bill. It has been stated—and I think it is quite indisputable—that the Government certainly got no mandate for this Bill from the people at the last election. I should like to ask: do the Government seriously believe that the adoption— even a unanimous adoption—of a motion on this subject at the annual Árd-Fheis of their Party offers sufficient evidence of any demand among any representative section of the people for legislation of this kind?
That is up to the people.
Do they suggest that the adoption of such a measure provides sufficient justification for the distraction and controversy which this Bill has aroused? As an elected representative of trade union interests in this House, even at the cost of repeating something my colleague, Senator Murphy, has already said, I propose to read again the brief text of two resolutions on this subject which have been unanimously adopted by the freely elected representative councils of the trade union movement in this country. I feel that before this debate concludes, it is quite important that every member of the House should hear and understand quite clearly what the trade union movement, expressing itself through its own elected representatives, has to say in regard to this measure. That is why I propose to read those resolutions again.
The following resolution was adopted unanimously by the national executive of the Trade Union Congress:—
"The Irish trade union movement comprising the largest and most representative group of democratic organisations in Ireland has a special concern and a historic responsibility in securing that the democratic system of government shall be maintained. As P.R. is a system of election suitable to advanced democracies and as the system of the single seat constituencies diminishes the democratic authority of the electorate, restricts their freedom to select and change their public representatives in accordance with the requirements of a living and changing community and opens the door to domination by minority Governments, the National Executive of the Irish Trade Union Congress must regard the proposed abolition of P.R. as a retrograde step which the trade union movement must deprecate and oppose."
I do not think there is any equivocation about that statement, but in case it might be said that it still is not representative of the trade union movement as a whole, I should like to read a resolution which was proposed by the Congress of Irish Unions, which, on the date the resolution was passed, was speaking as a separate entity, but nevertheless with one voice. The resolution stated:—
"Having considered the issues. relevant to the proposal to amend the Constitution and discontinue the present method of electing members to Dáil Éireann by the P.R. system of voting, the Central Council of the Congress of Irish Unions (1) is of opinion that justification for such action has not been established; (2) urges Deputies, Senators and citizens not to support or vote for any system of election which may result in a person securing membership of Dáil Éireann in a single member constituency without having received a majority of the votes recorded in such constituency: (3) submits that such a method of election would not be in the best interests of the citizens of Ireland: would be in conflict with the sound democratic principle which is traditional to the trade union movement in Ireland, that is, that important issues should be decided by the majority vote of persons having the right to decide such an issue."
I should like the House to note particularly that, as I have already mentioned, at the time when those two resolutions were passed, they were passed by two separately elected executives acting as separate entities. It is rather significant that they spoke on this subject with one voice. There may be further significance in the fact that they speak and act to-day as one.
I have already said that I regard the introduction of this Bill as unnecessary. I now want to say that I also believe it to be unwarranted. Every member of the House is entitled to question the propriety of the Government's introduction of such a measure, particularly at present. In explanation of their failure to introduce any such proposal over the long period of years in which they held office, more than one Government spokesman has pleaded that in those years they had other things to do. That is the expression I heard used—"other things to do." Are we to take it that at present the Government have nothing better to do than to insist on what I believe is a quite unnecessary intrusion on the people's time and attention at a time when we are faced with such very grave and serious problems as unemployment and emigration on the scale we have had, unfortunately, become accustomed to?
In repudiation of some of the suggestions made that those of us criticising the measure are not expressing any representative public opinion, I should like to quote just one brief sentence from a public comment that appeared in one of our evening newspapers during the past week. I quote from the Evening Mail of Wednesday, 11th February. The leading article is headed “A Crucial Problem”. It was a comment in turn on a comment which had appeared in a trade union journal of the same month which again drew attention to the fact that the total number of persons registered as unemployed in the Twenty-Six County area is over 80 per cent. and that during the past 12 months, some 60,000 people emigrated. I do not propose to read the article in full, but I think it is very apt. It concludes with this sentence:—
"Offensive as it may be to some people to say so, the emigration question is more important than the language or even the abolition of P.R. It is a matter of the very life blood of the State."
That comment is not open to question for it follows, as surely as night follows day, that, if we are content to put up with emigration on its present scale, in a very short time we will have very few people left to worry about the language or, for that matter, to worry about unemployment. The editorial says it is "more important".
As a responsible spokesman on behalf of the trade union movement, I submit it is more important than the abolition of P.R. and it is more urgent, in my opinion, that we should bend our energies to solving the problems that confront us rather than expend our time, a great deal of effort and a considerable amount of money on an issue such as this. For those reasons, I shall vote against this Bill. In reply to speakers on the Government Benches who have suggested that by voting against it we are, in some way, denying the people a right, let me explain that I shall vote against, not in the futile hope of defeating the measure, but to make quite certain that the people will have a fair opportunity of considering the serious implications behind the Bill, a fairer opportunity than the Government apparently intended they should have.
Any hope there was of having a sober and objective discussion on this measure was destroyed by the opening speech for the Opposition made by Senator Hayes. I had hoped—foolishly, I suppose—that it might be possible to have a more objective debate in this House than that which took place in the Dáil and that we would not here traverse the same ground as that covered in the Dáil. Having heard Professor Hayes, I realised my hopes were unfounded. I think I can summarise his speech by saying that, instead of dealing with the measure before the House, he used the measure to make a personal attack on the Taoiseach. In doing so, he traversed a long period in the history of this country. There was no need for Senator Hayes to traverse past history. But he even went so far as to suggest that an attempt was being made by the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil Party to pervert history. I listened to the Senator's speech and I subsequently read it.
It is my belief that the Senator and his colleagues are in the position of having taken a wrong stand in the past on major national issues. Hence, they are prevented from taking a right stand now. It is a philosophical principle that people who take a wrong stand on a major issue are compelled to take more wrong stands on subsequent major issues in support of their own perverted action in the first instance. That seems to me to be the principal reason why this debate has been conducted by the Opposition along the lines on which it has been conducted. This Bill is being used by Fine Gael in an attempt to justify their past and once more, they are taking a wrong stand.
Who is perverting what now?
Having taken a wrong stand in the past, on other fundamental issues, they are compelled to take a wrong stand now. It is a pity that Senator Hayes should have led off in this debate because he set the headline for his colleagues. It was unworthy of him to suggest that the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil Party were trying to pervert history, because I am certain that he knew he was wrong in making that suggestion. I believe that he feels and fears that the verdict of history will go against him and his colleagues and that is why he was so anxious to use every opportunity to pervert history himself.
Would the Senator quote where Senator Hayes said that the Taoiseach wished to pervert history?
If the Senator reads the speech he will find I am quoting correctly.
It is essential, of course, to read it as the Senator read it.
If the Chair so desires, I will submit the paragraph later. That should be acceptable to Senator Carton. Many quotations have been given to try to put across a particular slant on history.
We are not too concerned about history except in relation to the Bill.
We are concerned about interruptions.
Senator Lenihan must learn to behave in this House. I hope I shall not have to repeat that.
Senator O'Donovan went even further in his quotations from Professor Hogan. He quoted at length in relation to the Parnell Party in an attempt in my view to misrepresent the Parnell Party. Down the years many people have written books. A particular group has been very active in that respect; I am tempted to call the group the "Healy clique". They have done all in their power to misrepresent Parnell. In my opinion Senator O'Donovan endeavoured to carry that misrepresentation a bit further.
I do not want to interrupt the Senator, but he will appreciate that the history of Parnell, or of earlier periods, must be related to the Bill.
I am replying to the quotations of some length which Senator O'Donovan gave from Professor Hogan.
It is not our purpose to correct history in this debate. Senator Ryan will please leave me to deal with this matter. Will the Senator resume his seat, please? We must try to preserve order in this debate. I do not want to restrict Senator O'Reilly at all. He is making a speech and introducing the names of Parnell and other leaders long since dead. If his desire is to correct history in this debate, he must realise that is not possible. He must relate what he has to say to the Bill.
On a point of order.
I shall hear the Senator on a point of order.
Senator O'Donovan —and the Official Report will bear me out—devoted some time during his speech—about ten minutes—to the Parnellite Party and Senator O'Reilly is merely concerned with rebutting the allegations made by Senator O'Donovan.
If Senator O'Reilly desires to correct something that has been said relating to the Bill, he must quote what he desires to correct. I suggest that is not necessary but he must relate his remarks to the Bill now. I do not wish to hinder the Senator at all.
I submit, without any offence, that what I was criticising was part of the speech made by Senator O'Donovan. Since he tried, at any rate, to relate it to the Bill, I thought I was not out of order in discussing what he said——
In relation to the Bill.
In relation to the Bill.
If the Senator does that, it is all right, but he must relate his remarks to the Bill, not in the abstract.
What I was about to suggest was that if the Chair wishes, I shall quote what Senator O'Donovan——
The Senator is entitled to quote.
I shall refrain from quoting the whole thing because I feel, in all fairness to the Chair, that there have been so many quotations from Professor Hogan's book—I do not like quoting other people's speeches——
The Senator must be quite clear on this matter. The Chair's function is to keep order and if the Senator has some speech made by somebody who has spoken before him from which he wishes to quote, it is his right to do so and he is fully entitled to exercise that right.
I wonder would the Senator just quote the final paragraph of it? That would satisfy me.
If I were to quote the whole statement——
All the better.
Please leave it.
To make it easier for the Chair——
There is no question of the Chair. I want the Senator to be quite clear on that. The Chair is, I hope, competent to discharge its functions. The Senator has his rights and if he wishes to quote from the speech of a Senator, he is entitled to do so and the Chair cannot prevent him. Please do not consider the Chair. If the Senator wishes to quote, let him quote.
Lest it should be felt by the Chair——
Leave the Chair out of it.
You are very naïve in Leitrim.
If the Senator wants to quote, let him do so.
To get over this difficulty, I suggest that the Senator did not, in my view, relate his argument apropos the Parnellite Party to the measure, but perhaps he did.
That is a matter for the Chair to determine.
I cannot help concluding that it was just one other attempt to lower the status of Parliament.
On the contrary, Sir. I did not intend to intrude in this at all, but I made no reference at all to the late Mr. Parnell. However, let me be quite frank——
The Senator sneered.
Although I have read a number of books about that matter, I have come to no conclusion at all.
The whole tenor of the Senator's except was a sneer.
I realise he was the leader of a national Party in an absolute sense, but in the whole of that speech I made no reference to Parnell himself.
The Senator is trying to back out of it now.
If the Senator states that he did not mention the name of Parnell, I shall accept it, but he certainly did mention the Party.
That is what the book is about.
I accept his statement on that issue, but I cannot help feeling, since, in my view, it was barely related to the Bill, it was just another attempt to lower the status of Parliament. I am one of those people who feel that no matter how much may be written by the group of people I refer to—the people I call the Healy clique—the stature of Parnell is growing in the minds and hearts of the Irish people and no amount of quotation here or elsewhere will reduce that stature at all.
That is not an issue in this Bill, and the Senator ought to know that.
Senator O'Donovan's reference——
I have spoken repeatedly to Senator Lenihan and I have asked him to please respect the authority of the Chair in the House. I desire that he should do so and that he should show the same respect for the Chair as is shown by all his colleagues.
All this has convinced me that this is an attempt to prevert history and that is why the phrase "perverting of history" was used. It is distortion of history——
I was attempting to give a forecast of the future. That is what I was trying to do.
People are conscious that Fine Gael would like to see history distorted; that is the basis as I see it. People who took a wrong stand on one issue are now compelled to take a wrong stand on another issue. Fine Gael took a wrong stand 21 years ago when the Constitution was introduced. I remember it very well indeed and I remember the lengths to which they went to mislead the people and to misrepresent the issue before the people. Every political trick was tried and every political rabbit was pulled out of the hat in the hope of preventing the enactment of the Constitution.
Senator Carton will please permit Senator O'Reilly to continue.
The members of the Fine Gael Party spoke with as much heat and vehemence and as much apparent sincerity as Senator Baxter did here to-night in trying to convince the public that the Constitution should not be enacted. Every argument and every trick was tried. I remember quite well all the misrepresentation: that it was proposed, under the Constitution, to set up a dictatorship in the Presidency. I suggest that Fine Gael knew quite well that it was not intended to set up such a dictatorship. They knew it was not possible to do so, and now after 21 years of the working of the Constitution, they know there was no such intention and that it was not possible to put it forward as a sound argument.
Another argument at that time was the question of the rights of women and many womenfolk I know were misled. That was the intention—to mislead them. I suggest that because they took a wrong stand then, they are taking a wrong stand now and using again all the arguments that can be trotted out, in the hope of preventing the people from exercising their rights to decide this issue calmly and objectively. If they fail in that, I suppose every trick and every misrepresentation will be trotted out again. It really only proves my argument that they are again taking a wrong stand and will go to any lengths to maintain that wrong stand. This chain of events has been brought about because the Opposition took a wrong stand at the time. Senator Hayes elected to go back to refer to 1921 and 1922. That is why it has happened. That is why they are taking the wrong stand.
Could the Senator now come to the Bill?
Shall we ever be redeemed?
I am trying to reply to some of the arguments raised by Senators opposite and so long as I am doing so I think I am in order. I could mention many instances to prove that thesis of mine in regard to this wrong stand, but I think I have mentioned quite enough.
I listened to some of Senator Murphy's speech and I read it all. It is appalling to contemplate the defeatist outlook which seems to exist in the Labour Party. If we are to judge from Senator Murphy's speech, the Labour Party is suffering from fear. In the words of the Senator, the Labour Party fears that this measure, when enacted, this change of voting system, will annihilate the Labour Party. Was ever such a lack of confidence expressed in this House? It appears to me that there must be something seriously wrong with the Labour Party. I began to examine and think why the Labour Party should be suffering from this fear. It occurred to me then that the shock the Labour Party got at the last general election is the cause of this fear. Apparently, their philosophy is that any change will not be for the better as far as they are concerned. What is the reason for it? There is, of course, a reason. Is it not a fact that in this City of Dublin, where there is the greatest concentration of trade union members, the Labour Party won at the last general election only one seat? I suggest that even that one seat would not have been won were it not for the fact that the candidate bore an honoured name in Labour circles.
I can quite understand the Labour Party members suffering from fear, but, if they are, that fear is of their own making, and no change in the system will get them out of that difficulty. It is not my function now to attack the Labour Party as such, but I feel that I am entitled to refer to Senator Murphy's speech and to criticise his outlook on those matters. I feel that if the Labour Party did badly at the last election there is a very good reason for it. It is due to the ordinary members of the trade unions of this country having lost faith and hope in the Labour Party. Hence, a certain chain of events has taken place.
Here is what happened, in my view. A large section of the people who would normally vote Labour voted for Fine Gael—and the leaders of Fine Gael know that. A larger section who would normally vote for Labour, did not vote at all; and a larger section still, the largest section, voted for Fianna Fáil. Those members of trade unions had lost confidence in the Labour Party. Why did they lose confidence in the Labour Party? I suggest it was due to the outlook and method adopted by the Labour Party that the trade union members lost confidence in them.
They voted to "put their husbands back to work".
That is why the shift of vote took place. It is agreed by most thinking people who examine objectively the shift that takes place in a particular election; and it is agreed by many people that that shift did take place. Fine Gael lost substantially because of their policy. They lost the conservative type of farmer and shopkeeper, because of the Coalition wrangling—those people stopped voting Fine Gael and voted Fianna Fáil. Again, Fine Gael gained from the Labour Party. Again, it can be argued that Fianna Fáil lost to Sinn Féin and elsewhere, but again they gained from the Labour Party. In my view, a greater shift took place than the overall figures would reveal. The Labour Party are the people who really suffured, because if they lost on the roundabouts they did not gain on the swings. That is why they, are suffering from fear now. If they are to get out of this difficulty, might I say this to them: when the Labour Party stop adopting the policy or copying the policy or the antics of Ramsay MacDonald, there then can be some hope for them. It is because of that MacDonaldonian outlook and behaviour that they have lost.
On a point of clarification, what does the Senator mean by the antics of Ramsay MacDonald? I am completely mystified by that.
I am not here to educate the Senator. It is my conviction that unless and until the Labour people in this country base their policy on the Connolly tradition there is no hope for them. When Irish Labour has a national outlook and has due regard to all sections of the community, and is not a group of people with a narrow sectional interest, when it has a policy and outlook which is honest with all the workers, I can see the Labour Party winning many seats under any free system of free election in this city and in this country. In my view, until that outlook prevails there is no hope for the Labour Party. They would have failed at the last election under any known system of free elections. I hope that Senator Murphy will digest those views of mine on that point.
I was rather amused by some of the speeches from some of the Independent members, spoken from the benches opposite.
They are getting it now.
May I say——
I have already addressed myself to Senator Lenihan. If there is a question of order, it is my responsibility to preserve it—not Senator Lenihan's.
Some of the Independent Senators opposite were at great pains to profess their independence. It occurred to me that the only way they seem able to express their independence is by voting against this measure, by voting against Fianna Fáil. The only comment I feel disposed to make on that is that I think, if my recollection of history is correct, it was in regard to Poynings Law it was said, in the case for its introduction, that the Anglo-Normans had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. I think if I suggest the Independent Senators on the opposite side have become more Fine Gael than the Fine Gael members themselves, it would be correct.
That is not true.
The Senator must be permitted to make his speech.
His history is a bit mixed.
That is quite a compliment to Fine Gael.
That is my view and I am not trying, by anything I say, to influence the votes of those Independent Senators. Some of my colleagues have suggested that they are scientists but I would not at all agree that if a man is a scientist he knows more about public life than I do. If a man is an expert in one thing that does not mean he is an expert in all things.
Neither is the Taoiseach.
If those Independent Senators feel that the only way they can express their independence is by voting against Fianna Fáil they are entitled to do so, but that does not convince me that they are independent.
On a point of information——
Is the Senator raising a point of order?
Were the Independent Senators more independent when they voted for the Fianna Fáil point of view?
May I suggest that the point raised by Senator Quinlan is not a point of order?
The Chair can decide that without any suggestion from the Senator.
All this adds up to one thing—that this debate was to be prolonged as long as possible. Every argument that could be used was used in order to confuse the issue, and to try to prevent the people from deciding it. I suggest it would be better if the people were left to decide this matter in a calm atmosphere, and I suggest that all the pontifical drivel brought in was introduced simply to confuse the issue. In my view that is a pity.
Of course it can be argued by many people that it is because of the immediate past history of the opposition Parties, of Fine Gael and of Labour, and because they did feel rather guilty in this matter on account of their record in Coalition Governments, their view is that a straight vote system with the single seat constituency does not help the growth of Parties, and neither does it help towards the development of Coalition Governments. That is one of the reasons they are so anxious to oppose this measure. I am prepared to argue that many people in the Fine Gael Party in this House, in the Dáil, and throughout the country, feel that in the long run joining the Coalition Governments did not help the Fine Gael Party, though at the time it did appear to have a political advantage.
It helped the country.
The people were the judges of that at the last general election.
They were the judges in 1954.
They turned you out.
I do suggest that damage has been done to the country by the very idea of a Coalition Government, and irreparable damage has been done to Fine Gael.
And you are shedding crocodile tears.
In so far as I do not believe in Coalition Governments, and the Party I am a member of does not believe in them, that is one of the reasons this measure is being introduced. It is not to annihilate the Fine Gael Party, or the Labour Party, or any particular group of people, that it is being introduced.
Nor Sinn Féin.
I suggest that it is in the national interests that the political institutions of the State should be on a sound, solid foundation.
Let us get back to the start.
Would the Leas-Chathaoirleach ask Senator L'Estrange to go outside and play with his "chanies"?
In reply to Senator L'Estrange, I did not interrupt him.
For three hours.
I did not even refer to his long speech, if I may call it so. After all, he is from the same part of the world as myself.
We will coalesce.
By taking part in the Coalition Governments the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party damaged themselves and damaged the nation. Now they oppose this Bill on the grounds that it is an attempt to prevent the formation of Coalition Governments, and we have the sorry spectacle of responsible men coming in here extolling the virtues of weak government. Representatives of the Opposition have made that case, but apparently they object to Senators on this side drawing a parallel by quoting what happened in Italy, and by citing what has happened in France. It has even been said that what the Minister for External Affairs said here was an insult to the French nation, but one can criticise a system of election and a system of government, showing its weaknesses, without making an attack on the French nation or on any particular member of a French Government. I think that should be clear to any thinking person.
One of Senator Sheehy Skeffington's arguments was that this proposal had been foisted upon the members of the Fianna Fáil Party by the leaders of that Party; he seemed to argue that there was no discussion on it, but other speakers against this measure have argued that there was a volume of opinion against it in the Fianna Fáil Party.
The result was all the same.
I can inform Senator Sheehy Skeffington that he is quite wrong. The Fianna Fáil Party favours discussion of its proposals and I can tell the Senator that I spoke on this issue within the Fianna Fáil Party myself.
The Senator must have broken their hearts.
And all the arguments I advanced then I am prepared to advance now.
Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar ath-lo.