I agree with Senator Murphy that the tone of the debate on the Report Stage of this Bill has greatly improved. I was horrified by the behaviour of the Minister for External Affairs here on the Committee Stage of the Bill. Beyond that I shall not go, but I do think the Minister for External Affairs did not help towards a dispassionate and constructive debate on the Bill. Indeed, it struck me that if the current rumours are correct that the Taoiseach's cloak is to fall upon the Minister for External Affairs, it would indeed be a very bad day for the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party.
The Minister for Education was obviously in a chastened mood yesterday afternoon when he was addressing the House on these amendments. He felt that there was not much point in saying anything; that the people were not open to persuasion. It was a pitiable condition in which to find a Minister of the Fianna Fáil Government, that he really did not feel like saying anything, but that he had to say it. It is something of a change. Indeed, it may merely be a prelude to a change in the country when they come to bring this referendum to the people. They may find that when they have talked to the people, they will be just as dispirited and dejected as the Minister for Education was yesterday evening.
A curious line of argument that has been introduced in the debate on this stage of the Bill by the speakers on the Government Bench is that people who are in opposition to them are all conspiring, are all in a huddle, to bring about the defeat of this measure. I am glad to know that that is not so, but the idea that the unity of thought among Parties and the Independents here suggests there has been some such conspiracy is the type of thing with which, perhaps, Fianna Fáil members would be more familiar than people on this side of the House.
The same theme was taken up by Senator Mullins when he referred to certain statements published in theIrish Independent which had been made by me at some meetings prior to the Second Stage. At column 288 of the Official Report, Senator Mullins was moved to say:—
"I was interested, again, in Senator O'Quigley and, remarkably so, in the leading article of the Fine Gael daily newspaper which, in almost the same words, had the same idea."
Then he went on to quote it. Then he continued:—
"And this Fine Gael daily organ, a few days later, came out in almost the same words—Senator O'Quigley must have inspired them or they him; I do not know which—with the same proposition."
The idea apparently is that because this leader writer, whoever he is, and I seem to have the same idea, there must be some kind of conspiracy. It does not occur to him or the members of Fianna Fáil that people thinking independently on a problem can have the same views. They apparently have experience only of people having the same view when it has been laid down for them from the top.
I was extremely interest and amused to read in no less a paper than theIrish Press some extracts from the Pastoral of His Eminence Cardinal D'Alton which deals with the Ecumenical Council. The Cardinal was talking about the purposes of the Ecumenical Council, and dealing with the history of the schism out of which the Ecumenical Council arises. Among other things he referred to the principle of cujus regio eius religio in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia. On the Second Reading, I had pointed to the impossibility of people being moulded into the strait-jacket of two Parties; that there were already Parties in this country and that these Parties represented the amalgamation of the views of different sections of the community and that history should teach Fianna Fáil that you cannot compel the people to form themselves into two blocs. History was all against it. I cited, as one of the things in history, the failure of the Peace Treaty of Westphalia and the principle of cujus regio eius religio. I wonder whether Senator Mullins thinks that Cardinal D'Alton and I were in a huddle on this aspect of history?
Yesterday the Minister for Education came along with what has now apparently become a scientific principle among Fianna Fáil speakers— that P.R. leads to a multiplicity of Parties; that a multiplicity of Parties leads to coalitions; and that coalitions leads to instability of government. The Taoiseach was on the same subject many times both in the Dáil and in the Seanad and spoke about the political issues which divided this country when P.R. was first introduced. He is reported at column 254, Volume 50, of the Seanad Debates as saying:—
"We all know there were issues here which divided the country into two major Parties. As long as that was so and there was no public support of any kind for the smaller Parties, they found it very difficult to operate and had not operated to any extent."
I shall not deal with that. At the moment, we have about the same number of Parties as we had since 1923. In spite of the big political issues which divided the people in 1922 and from then onwards, some people in this country thought that political Parties based solely upon political division were not good enough. From a very early stage, we had smaller Parties and we have not really got any more effective smaller Parties at the present time than we had in 1922 and 1923.
In the 1923 election—and I am relying for my figures on the figures given in the book by Dr. Ross,The Irish Election System—there were four major Parties—Republican, Cumann na nGaedheal, Labour, Farmers and minor Parties. In 1927, there were five Parties and this, mind you, at a time when there were supposed to be big political divisions which resulted in fair stability of government and the P.R. system worked. We had as many Parties in 1927 contesting the election as we have at the present time. We had Fianna Fáil, Cumann na nGaedheal, Farmers, National League and minor Parties, who got seven out of the 152 seats. In the second election in 1927, there were again five major Parties and a number of minor Parties who, between them, got only one seat. In 1932, we had Fianna Fáil, Cumann na nGaedheal, Labour, Farmers and minor Parties who got no seat. In 1933, we had still four Parties, Fianna Fáil, Cumann na nGaedheal, Labour and the Centre Party who had 11 seats, Labour having nine. In 1937, we had four Parties—Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Farmers. In 1938, we had the same situation. In 1943, we had five Parties—Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Farmers and Clann na Talmhan. To come up to the present time, in 1957, we had Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, two Independent Farmers, Clann na Talmhan, and Clann na Poblachta— with one seat—which may not be regarded as a Party, so that in reality you have about the same numbers of Parties now as you had in 1923. Therefore, it is not true to say that as long as there were big issues dividing the country, there were no small Parties. In fact, there were many small Parties, and small Parties apparently will persist in this country because the people want them.
The extraordinary thing about it is that with all that experience, and with the knowledge that these different Parties were presenting themselves for election at all elections from 1923 to 1937, the Taoiseach, at that stage, did not seem to think that P.R. was such a bad thing and did not leave the Constitution in such a way as would enable P.R. to be dealt with to meet changing circumstances. More extraordinary still—and we have pointed this out before, but it is necessary to repeat it— is that from 1937 to the present time, with the exception of Deputy MacEntee as Minister for Local Government in 1947, and the Taoiseach at election times and for a particular purpose, not a single member of the Fianna Fáil Party, or any political theorist in this country, saw that there was anything wrong with the P.R. system.
The Minister for Health has as great facility for unearthing all kinds of quotations about all classes of people. He would have made a great researcher into history or a great biographer but he has not been able, with the one exception of the quotation from his speech on the Constituencies Bill in 1947, to produce another quotation from himself, or from any other Fianna Fáil speaker, in the same vein. It is very little wonder, at this stage, that people should ask themselves why it is sought to introduce the single member constituency and to abolish P.R. One thing we can be certain of at the present time, and one thing that is a legal fact, is that the Constitution, the law, at the moment provides for P.R. and for the multi-member constituency, and that represents the will of the people until it is changed.
That cannot be controverted and, what is more, the people have given, as recently as 1954, expression to their will in the election results of that year. They had the experience of 1948 and from 1948 until 1954, a period of six years, they had continuous condemnation of Coalition Governments by every member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil and in the Seanad, at Party meetings all over the country, and in daily issues of theIrish Press. There was a continuous condemnation of the so-called, supposed evils of Coalition Governments and, in 1954, the people were sternly warned by the Taoiseach of the gloom and disaster that would follow if Fianna Fáil were not returned with an over-all majority. In spite of that intensive and well-organised propaganda over a period of six years, and in spite of the warnings issued to them by Fianna Fáil speakers at all elections, the people decided in 1954 that Coalition Government was the form of Government which they wanted. They voted for it and they got it. I do not know what could be a clearer indication of the will of the people than what is contained in the Constitution, and in what I might call the latest ratification of the Constitution in the 1954 election.
The Taoiseach speaking at Mullingar, as reported in theIrish Press of Monday last, 16th March, stated that “the straight vote system made for unity and a coming together. The P.R. system made for disunity and dispersion”. I want to weigh these words against what he had to say on Second Reading of the Bill. Having referred to the divisions which kept people apart, in column 254, of Volume 50, he went on to say:—
"It is different when the aims and objects which divided the major Parties are no longer there."
In other words, P.R. has produced what he says the straight vote system produces, unity and a coming together. It is there already. What the Taoiseach wishes to do is to create disunity and dispersion by introducing the straight vote system. He then continued:—
"One of the reasons we did not have the evils stemming from P.R. which were to be seen in other countries was that the divisions were so sharp that they prevented the development of small Parties, which leads to Coalition Governments.
"Again, the war kept us fairly well together, but immediately after the war we were obviously entering into a new phase in which the antagonisms—I do not like to call them that, but I may as well use the word here—which divided us into two main Parties were disappearing."
The Taoiseach is right that the old antagonisms of 1922 are not still there to keep the people apart so that he and his Party can be identified as the great republicans and the rest as substandard republicans. He added:—
"When these disappeared, you were going to have, as a normal feature, the growth of a lot of artificially-created Parties, splinter Parties, and so on."
We have Senator Lahiffe saying that the people will judge. The people know what they want and, if the people know what they want, the people are intelligent and, of course, they will not support the artificial or splinter Parties which the Taoiseach says P.R. leads to. If the Taoiseach is really sincere in saying that the people are intelligent, then intelligent people will not be voting for Parties which will make organised government quite impossible, but it seems to me that the Taoiseach, in spite of all his professions of regard for the intelligence of the people, has not got the regard which he says he has.
The debate on this Bill has been characterised by one thing more than another, by the sweeping assertions made by members of Fianna Fáil of what they say are facts but which upon investigation and upon being challenged, do not stand up to investigation. We had the Minister for External Affairs stating that there are three countries in Europe where the whole country is turned into one constituency for the purpose of P.R. I have asked the Minister for External Affairs, and have asked the Minister for Education to-day through you, a Chathaoirligh, which are the three countries in Western Europe that conduct their elections under P.R. on the basis that each country is a whole constituency. I do not know which countries they are and I should like to be informed. If that is the kind of "factual" information that Fianna Fáil speakers will give the people when they begin to talk upon this referendum, I can well see the need for Senator Quinlan's plea for a commission that would, at least, establish and set beyond dispute the facts relevant to P.R. in this country, and in the other countries where it is operated.