An Bille um an Naoú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1984: An Dara Céim. Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

Tairgeadh an Cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the people to decide in a referendum whether the Constitution should be amended to enable the right to vote at Dáil elections to be extended to persons other than citizens by legislation enacted by the Oireachtas.

As Senators are aware, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, proposed to confer on British citizens resident in this country the right to vote at Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda on conditions identical with those applying to Irish citizens. The President referred the Bill to the Supreme Court and the Court ruled that the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution. Following that decision I announced that the Government had decided to bring forward a Bill to amend the Constitution to enable the right to vote to be determined by legislation.

The right to vote at Dáil elections is conferred on citizens of Ireland by Article 16.1.2 d of the Constitution. The Bill proposes to replace this provision by a new subsection. The new provision, while retaining the citizens' right to vote, will make it possible to extend this right to such other persons in the State as may be determined by law.

If the amendment is approved by the people, the Oireachtas will be empowered to enact legislation granting the right to vote at Dáil elections to such categories of non-citizens in the State as it may decide. The selection of categories will be a matter for the Oireachtas which may extend the categories concerned from time to time by fresh legislation. It will be open to the Oireachtas to take account of special circumstances. It could for example, decide to grant the right to vote at Dáil elections to citizens of any country which granted reciprocal rights to Irish citizens living in that country. At the present time, Irish citizens resident in Britain have full voting rights at parliamentary and other elections. None of the other EEC member states grants the right to vote to Irish citizens at parliamentary or local elections but this position may, of course, change in the future.

The constitutional constraints which apply in relation to the grant of the Dáil vote to Irish citizens will apply also in relation to non-citizens. In other words, a minimum age of 18 years will apply; there can be no discrimination on grounds of sex; the persons concerned must be free from legal disqualifications in relation to voting and they must comply with the provisions of the electoral law.

A definite connection with this country will be an essential condition of the grant of the Dáil vote to non-citizens. It is considered appropriate that this should be a constitutional requirement and should not be left to statute. For this reason, the proposed amendment prescribes that the vote may be extended only to those non-citizens actually in the State. Non-citizens will, of course, be required to comply with the normal statutory provisions relating to voting and to registration as electors, including the requirement to be ordinarily resident in a particular constituency on the qualifying date for registration.

The amendment to the Constitution proposed in the Bill does not extend to granting voting rights to non-citizens at Presidential elections and referenda. The import of the advice available following the Supreme Court decision on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, is that the basic concept of a Constitution is that of a fundamental law given by citizens to themselves. To give non-citizens the right in the Constitution to change the fundamental law enshrined in it would be contrary to this basic concept. To do so would be inappropriate and could constitute an in-built contradiction in the Constitution itself. Similar considerations apply as regards Presidential elections. The right to vote at such an election, which is a special election of the Head of State under the Constitution, is a right appropriately reserved to the people who gave themselves the Constitution.

I feel sure that Senators will welcome the proposal contained in this Bill. The principle of extending the right to vote at Dáil elections to persons other than Irish citizens has already been endorsed by the Seanad in approving the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983. That measure applied to British citizens only. Now that it is clear that an amendment of the Constitution is required, I am sure Senators agree that the amendment should be couched in such terms as will allow the Oireachtas to extend the vote to such categories as it may consider appropriate from time to time.

If this Bill is approved by the Seanad, I would propose that the referendum be held on 14 June which is polling day for the European Assembly elections. The Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1984, which will also come before the Seanad will enable steps to be taken to assist voters in their understanding of the issues involved as is customary in the case of constitutional referenda.

I approve in principle of this Ninth Amendment to the Constitution Bill. I understand that problems arose after the legislation was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and that following the Supreme Court decision a referendum is necessary. What I am concerned about is the fact that, when the referendum is carried, as I believe it will be, we will give the right to vote to British citizens and non-citizens of the State while, at the same time, disabled people who are not deprived of the right to vote by the Constitution or by an Act of Parliament are deprived of their vote due to the fact that we have not initiated or implemented legislation to provide postal voting facilities for them.

Many people are up in arms because we are to have a referendum to give voting rights to non-citizens while, at the same time, we are depriving disabled people of their vote. They have the right to vote in principle but they cannot do so because of their circumstances. They cannot exercise that right due to the fact that they cannot get to the polling booths. Legislation to give them postal voting facilities has not been passed. I appeal to the Minister to think of the people who have been left out in the cold for far too long and to initiate legislation and have it enacted to give to these people their democratic right to vote in all elections. At present postal voting facilities are available to the Garda and the Defence Forces. Disabled people have plenty of time to reflect on many matters to which other people with busy schedules cannot devote much attention. They have time on their hands. Many of them take a keen interest in politics and many of them would be very able politicians if they could get elected to their county councils or to either House of the Oireachtas. Here we are granting voting rights to people who are non-citizens and at the same time we are depriving disabled people of the vote.

I have been very lenient. That does not come under the Bill.

I appreciate that. I hope I have made the point to the Minister and that in his reply he will give an assurance to this House — and I hope I will get support from the Government benches on this matter — that he will accede to the request I have made with regard to postal voting facilities for the disabled.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Senators in the House I should like to welcome the proposal to amend the Constitution in this fashion. As the Minister has pointed out, the principle of enabling non-citizens to vote in our elections was accepted by this House and by the other House when we passed the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983. When we passed that Bill we proposed to confer on a narrow range of people who are not citizens of this country, that is, British citizens, the right to vote not only in Dáil elections but in Presidential elections and in referenda. The arguments used in this House at that time are equally valid now.

We must recognise the fact that the President in referring the matter to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court in making a decision on the constitutionality of that Bill expanded our understanding of the Constitution and gave us this further opportunity to consider what should be done. In accepting that further opportunity the attitude being adopted by the Government in proposing this amendment is a wise one. It would be quite improper to seek to mention in our Constitution a particular nationality, both from the point of view that it would not fit very comfortably with the concept of ourselves as a free and independent nation, and for the very practical reason that the nationality of another country can be subject to change by that country. We might find that people who were entitled to vote at our elections were dependent on the action or inaction of the Legislature of another country.

By adopting the approach which the Government have proposed, that is, to make this an enabling piece of legislation, we will be in a position to consider from time to time and in a calm and considered way the categories of people to whom this right should be extended. We will also be in the favourable position of being able to delimit those in a fairly accurate way. For example, if it were decided to extend this right once again to British citizens, we will be able to define what we mean by a British citizen by reference to some existing piece of British legislation. In the event of that piece of legislation changing that would not necessarily mean that our definition of what a British citizen is would automatically have to change. Therefore, we will be able to establish a more sensible set of criteria in determining what we mean by a British citizen or a citizen of any other country. In addition to the solution to that rather thorny problem it would enable us to consider, at an early date, whether the right should be extended to the citizens of each of the countries of the European Economic Community.

It is true to say that the relationship between ourselves and the United Kingdom, in an electoral sense and in many other senses, is very close. The right which our citizens have to vote in all elections in the United Kingdom — on proof of residence there — is a right which we must recognise as being particularly valuable to those many people who retain their Irish citizenship and live on the mainland of Britain. Some reciprocal gesture on our part is, therefore, overdue. This reciprocal gesture was agreed to as long ago as 1980 between the then Taoiseach and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The series of legislative proposals, culminating in this legislation, this proposal for the amendment to the Constitution, are to be welcomed. We have a duty to respond in a generous way to ensure that British citizens, who have residence in this country, are extended the same facilities in so far as it is practical, recognising our different constitutional framework, and are treated as favourably as are our citizens in the United Kingdom.

The advantage of this proposed amendment to the Constitution is that we will be able to consider, simultaneously with that, our attitude in time, whether such voting rights should be extended to the many people who are resident in this country and who are citizens of countries other than the United Kingdom, which are members of the European Economic Community. As the Minister said, these citizens are entitled, as of right at present, by operation of law, to vote in local elections. That is a right which is widely used. I should like to pursue with the Minister, perhaps on Committee Stage, the question of who is entitled at present to vote in local elections. It is appropriate in the context of this legislation to extend the franchise to include not only the citizens of the United Kingdom but also the citizens of the other countries with whom we share membership of the European Economic Community. It is true to say that in those cases there is no immediate possibility that we will be entitled to or will get a reciprocal right for our own citizens, but I think that will not be delayed for too long. Whether we postpone the decision until those reciprocal rights are available or whether we go ahead unilaterally and grant it to those citizens is something we can consider later. In the event of such proposals being made it is right that all constitutional prohibitions to the Legislature considering such an extension should be removed at this stage.

When the Bill is passed and the referendum is held I hope that the people will give it enthusiastic support. It is important that the consideration of matters such as this should be taken out of the area of irritants which might arise from time to time between the Government in Ireland and the Government in the United Kingdom. We should consider this as a right which we are proposing to confer on individual people who represent a community and who are making substantial contributions as citizens of the United Kingdom living in the Republic of Ireland.

I hope the positive attitude the political parties have adopted towards this proposal, both in respect of the previous Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983 and in respect of this amendment to the Constitution, will be retained and that citizens will be encouraged to exercise a franchise and to give a clear indication that we are not afraid of including other people in our electoral process, that we welcome them as a constructive addition to the political life of the country.

I will give Members an example of the kind of problem that can arise. In the mid-sixties I was aware of an English citizen who had lived in this State since 1927. Her husband had come here and started an enterprise which had given employment to more than 300 people consistently for between 35 and 40 years. He was dead at this stage but the company were still employing some hundreds of people. Because this woman had retained her UK citizenship she was not entitled to vote at general elections. That did not make much sense. The legislative rules which apply in the United Kingdom make a lot more sense. So long as a person resident here is paying tax and expected to obey the laws of the country, he should be given some say in the manner in which it is governed.

There appears to be some change in the Government's attitude concerning the entitlement of non-citizens to vote in referenda and Presidential elections. The Minister, in his helpful explanatory memorandum, reminds us of the proposal in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill which was declared unconstitutional to extend to British citizens the right to vote not only in Dáil elections but in Presidential elections and in referenda. On this occasion it is proposed to delete that the latter two. I listened carefully to the explanation by the Minister of the reasons for the omission in this Bill in that regard. I see his difficulty and I am convinced of the merits of his argument with regard to referenda. In other words, I think that if the Irish people take unto themselves a Constitution, it is only right that exclusively it should be theirs to amend or not amend as the case may be, just as we are now seeking that they should amend it to expand the categories of people who are entitled to vote in an election. At some time in the future they may consider it wise to withdraw that. I do not think that will come about but it is right that it should be reserved for the citizens of the country. However, I cannot understand at all — although it is not a major issue — why the vote should not be extended in the case of Presidential elections. So far as I am concerned the President, while he is the embodiment of the State, is basically only another House of the Oireachtas. He is only another part of the legislative process. He has additional powers and he forms an essential bridge between the Legislature and the Judiciary. He has certain other functions of a constitutional nature. But in regard to who should occupy that position, I do not see that there is any great difference between the election of a President and the election of a Government. For that reason I am not wildly enthusiastic about the decision not to include Presidential elections. However, it is not a very significant item. It will not give rise to great difficulty. In those circumstances, and with that one minor criticism, I welcome the legislation. I think it is deserving of our support and we should not only ensure its passage through this House but use our good offices to ensure that it will be passed by a good majority when eventually it is put to the people.

When we discussed the other Bill earlier this year I said that it would be found to be unconstitutional. That was my humble opinion at that time and it has been proved to be right. Consequently, the Government have now had to come back to this House, after the legal teasing out by the draftsmen and legal advisers, with a Bill that would include people from other EEC countries living here. To propose, as was proposed then, to extend the franchise to British citizens living here and to exclude people from other member states was not logical. It is only right that we include all EEC nationals who are living here and contributing to this nation, whether in the industrial field, the educational field or any other field of activity.

Senator O'Leary has said rightly that the President has a very important role to play. He played a very important role in that other piece of legislation we passed here some time ago and which has been found to be unconstitutional. Fianna Fáil will support proposals to amend the Constitution to give power to the Oireachtas to extend the right to vote in Dáil elections to persons who are ordinarily resident here but who are not Irish citizens. The Irish people ultimately will decide whether we give this extended voting right to non-nationals. In the event of the result being in favour of giving that right we are reserving our position to some extent until the other Bill is before us because we may not be entirely in agreement with some of its provisions.

In agreeing to extend the right to vote in Dáil elections to citizens of the EEC countries we would welcome an arrangement whereby reciprocal rights be granted to Irish citizens resident in other member states. The Minister would be wise to include such a provision in the Bill that is to come before us later. If such a reciprocal arrangement can be brought about the Bill may go through with very little opposition from this side of the House but it is necessary that we get that type of arrangement.

I agree fully with Senator O'Leary regarding referenda and Presidential elections. When we are amending our Constitution, the Constitution for our own State, the people resident within the State are the people best geared to frame legislation to suit their requirements. No foreign element or group of foreign people should have the right to decide the legislation that goes on our Statute Book.

The same would apply to the selection of our President. Because of the importance of the Presidency it is essential that there is elected to that Office a person who is capable of carrying out his duties, both at home and abroad, properly. Apart from the task of examining and scrutinising legislation, the President plays an important role as an ambassador for this country on his trips abroad. I submit that the Irish people should retain the right to choose their President, regardless of what conventions or legislation may be considered necessary within the EEC.

I just wish to endorse the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Lynch, as regards incapacitated people. I know this is not within the terms of the Bill but as we fought dearly for the right to vote we should ensure that all our citizens who have reached the age of maturity be enabled to exercise that right.

I would not wish the Senator to open up a discussion on that matter during the course of this debate.

I am just supporting Senator Lynch's comments and I am sure they are your own views as well, indeed that they are the views of everyone here. We should facilitate those who are incapacitated in relation to voting. Those who are not incapacitated in any way become very frustrated if they find on polling day that because of a clerical error or for some other reason, they cannot exercise their right to vote. It is only right that we ensure that everybody who is entitled to vote is enabled to do so. When we are changing legislation to give foreigners who are resident here the opportunity of voting within our State we should take cognisance of the fact that there are a number of Irish people who are unable to go to the polls to vote. I hope that the legislation that will be necessary to give them that power will be forthcoming.

I commend the Bill to the House. I have spoken on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill already and have expressed the view that I consider it to be an extension of democracy that no matter what a person's nationality is, if he is resident in the country he should have the right to express an opinion at election time as to who should govern the country. The other Bill was giving to non-nationals who were resident in Ireland the right to vote in general elections. They already enjoy the right to vote under the Local Government (Electoral) Act.

It is only appropriate that they should have the same right to express a view as to who should govern them if they are living in the State and subject to its rules and regulations. When the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Quinn, was introducing the previous Bill he almost asked the President to refer it for a constitutional opinion to the Supreme Court which, of course, the President did. As a result of that, we are faced with this Bill. That was necessary because in the event of that other Bill not having been referred to the Supreme Court and if an election had taken place, a case could have been brought to the courts which could have resulted in that election being declared null and void, a situation which would have created a dilemma for the Government of the day, particularly if there was a hung Dáil. One constituency could be very relevant depending on the number of British citizens who had voted. It was appropriate, therefore, that we got a Supreme Court opinion.

As a matter of principle, the Constitution should be subject always to review and to amendment if necessary. I would support the removal of certain sections of the Constitution. Times have changed since it was written. It has served its people well but attitudes have changed. We should not have our heads in the sand as legislators and not be prepared to look at the Constitution with a view to further amendments.

The advantage also that I see in this amendment is that it is a reciprocal arrangement with our people in England who have the right to vote in elections there. Irish people resident in Britain have never conceded their birthright to anybody. They still regard themselves as Irish citizens and rightly so. They have the opportunity, because Britain does not have a Constitution, to use the franchise to determine what Government should govern their daily lives in Britain. If this can be seen by those people as a reciprocal arrangement it will go a long way towards healing any divisions that might be in people's minds about how we treat people in any particular situation.

If the amendment is passed by the people, and I hope it will be, it will confer on the Houses of the Oireachtas certain powers to decide to whom this additional right of voting should be given and what special categories it can be extended to. It will allow us in the next stage of the process to discuss the right to vote here of non-British people, people from within the European Community. It would be appropriate, too, that members of other EEC countries who have been resident in this State for a long time should be able to vote here.

This amendment will be put before the people on the same day as the European elections. We must ensure, if we are to live up to the spirit of this constitutional amendment, that those who will be given the right to vote in the European elections will not also be given a ballot paper to vote in referenda because it would be in contravention of the spirit of the Constitution. I have an open mind as to whether they should vote for a Presidential candidate or not. I expect many of the existing population in the country would feel already disenfranchised because of the arrangements being made to nominate Presidents without reference to the will of the people as provided for in the Constitution. We should look at our own house and make sure it is in order before we have regard to British people living here and who might consider themselves disenfranchised because of not having the right to vote in Presidential elections. However, it is not something that I am unduly worried about.

An extension of the various categories may not necessarily include an extension to provide facilities to enable disabled persons to vote. That is not a requirement in a constitutional amendment. Constitutionally, disabled people are at present entitled to vote. The problem is the physical difficulty they have in getting to polling stations. I hope the Minister and his Minister of State will look at this problem. He should look, too, at the anomalies that have arisen in the postal vote system and if a ministerial order is being made to grant an extension of a voting system to other people who are disadvantaged by way of physical or other incapacities, we will then have an opportunity in this House to decide on the method by which we extend that facility. I would not like it to go out from this House that we were having a constitutional amendment to allow British people to vote and not doing something about disabled people who are not, as I say, precluded constitutionally from voting. There is required only a ministerial order to facilitate them if we cannot deliver the ballot box to where they are.

I said most of what I wanted to say on this legislation at the time we were discussing the previous Bill. I hope that the Bill will pass with the agreement of all parties in the House and that the country will accept it in the spirit in which it is offered, that is, as an extension of democracy.

Senator Ferris mentioned something to which I should like to refer, that is, the question of our priorities. Quite rightly, we are facilitating the Oireachtas to extend to certain people resident in this country the right to vote. Our reasons for doing this could well be subject to some scrutiny. It all goes back almost as far as Sunningdale and the attempts made then to bring ourselves and the United Kingdom closer together. That of itself is a very good idea but it also raises a question because it has to do with a reciprocal arrangement based on the fact that Irish citizens in Britain currently have the automatic right to vote.

It needs to be said that there is something sad in the history of this country that we should have a huge number of our people resident in Britain and voting in Britain. When we get involved in the niceties and analysis of constitutions we should remember that there are other fundamental needs which we as a community failed to meet, even during the history of our present Constitution when close on a million Irish people emigrated at the same period as this Constitution was being tested.

This Bill raises yet again the point that our Constitution is rapidly becoming so antiquated that it is virtually creaking at the joints. There are omissions in regard to what I would regard as almost fundamental rights, such as the right to shelter. There are omissions of issues that are now much more important, like neutrality and there are unevenesses in areas where certain rights are delineated almost to the point of tedium and which have been elaborated on by the courts, that is, the area of property. Personal rights and the right to freedom are apparently very easily circumscribed. Therefore, we need a reforming Government to look at the fundamental question of the Constitution.

The central thing that bothers me is the extraordinary haste in which something like this can be brought about. I would hate to have a reforming Government simply seen to be reforming by doing that which is easy and speedy rather than devoting resources to doing that which is fundamental. I am thinking, for instance, about the facilities for handicapped people.

The Bill and the proposal are very worthy though why it is suggested that it be confined only to citizens of the United Kingdom I do not know. I welcome it more than anything else because it will underpin the rights of Irish citizens in Britain to be treated equally and will not give some people on the extreme right of British politics an excuse for starting yet another tirade against the Irish in Britain. On that basis alone it is welcome.

I wish that the same urgency and speed were devoted to dealing with the increasingly apparent problem of handicapped and housebound people who do not have access to the polls. I trust the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that this matter will be before us quickly. There is one small thing the Minister could clarify for me — perhaps this is my ignorance — and that is what are the processes of law by which a person can be deprived of his right as a citizen to vote? What categories are excluded by law from this right to vote? It is an area that has all sorts of implications. I am sure we are well protected but it would be interesting to know what categories are or can be excluded. In principle the Bill is welcome. I just wish that the fundamental questions of what is wrong with our Constitution could be addressed with the same speed and vigour.

I, too, welcome this Bill. It is necessary because of the process that the Minister described in his Second Stage speech, that the previous legislation, the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1983, which sought to extend voting rights to British citizens was declared not to be in conformity with the Constitution when it was referred to the Supreme Court. That may seem a very cumbersome and untidy process but there are very considerable strengths in it. It was clear when the 1983 Bill was brought before both Houses that there was considerable doubt about its compatibility with the Constitution. It was felt that the appropriate course to take was to bring it forward and then indicate that the Government felt it was a Bill which the President might, after consulting the Council of State, refer to the Supreme Court, as he did. It confirms the maturity of our system that we have very interesting checks and balances and a procedure whereby a Bill can be examined in that way to see if it is compatible with the Constitution. I am happier with the present approach. I prefer the approach of an amendment to the Constitution which is the only approach open to us following the judgment of the Supreme Court in the reference case. It is a preferable option to provide for a possible extension by the Oireachtas of the categories of persons resident in the State who will be qualified and eligible to vote in Dáil elections.

The Minister has not made it clear to whom it is envisaged the vote will be extended following the referendum on this constitutional amendment. He raises the possibility of the Oireachtas deciding to extend the right to vote at Dáil elections to citizens of any country which grant reciprocal rights to Irish citizens living in that country. Then he points out that the only country which does this is Britain. Britain grants voting rights both at general elections and local elections to Irish residents in that country. No other member state in the EEC grants this right. I put forward the submission that it would be a very narrow base to approach the possible extension of the right to vote in the Dáil elections here purely on the basis of a guarantee of reciprocity. We did not do that when we decided to extend the right to vote in local elections.

Senator Ferris asked the question as to who is entitled to vote in local elections. I think I am correct in saying that since 1974 that has been open to any people of any nationality provided they are resident here on the qualifying days and put themselves on the register for voting at local elections. Anybody of any nationality — EEC, Americans, Third World — who is resident here can not only vote in local elections but can stand in local elections. I am speaking from memory, having looked at this, but I think that is the position. We have been very open in the way in which we have given residents in this country the right to vote in local elections. Similarly, we have not demanded reciprocity in extending the right to vote in our European Parliament, the European Assembly elections. Ireland has given an example to other member states of the European Community by opening that, without requiring reciprocity, to nationalities of the EEC who are resident in Ireland. Again, I welcome that. If and when this is approved by the people by way of referendum, the approach to be adopted by the Oireachtas should be one of deciding on the basis on which we as a country wish to extend to residents who are living in this country and who should be enabled to participate in elections to the Dáil.

The opportunity exists for Ireland to take an initiative particularly in the context of the EEC. We have already done this for the European Parliament elections and it is a logical, reasonable and innovative measure which would be scrutinised very carefully by other member states. If Ireland did extend the right to vote in Dáil elections to nationals of other EEC countries this would certainly create waves in other countries because issues of this kind are examined in a Community context. The rights of aliens in member states of the EEC are examined on a Community-wide basis and already Ireland has been more open and more prepared to grant voting rights than other member states of the European Community. We grant local election rights on a much more open basis to anybody resident in this country, the right to vote and the right to stand at local elections and we also have been very open in relation to the European Assembly elections.

I believe we should adopt a similar approach in relation to Dáil elections because we do not have a major problem in doing this. We do not have very significant numbers of foreign residents living in Ireland. The numbers are relatively small and they would not upset any balance or change the character of the electorate. They would not disturb normal, predictable voting patterns. Therefore, it would not cost us a great deal to take this step, but it is a commitment to the reality of the vision of the European Community and a necessary component of the whole philosophy of free movement of persons. There is a commitment to facilitating and guaranteeing equality of access to social security, equal treatment, equal benefits to both workers and self-employed moving from one member state to another. As a country with a very young population, whether we like it or not, we are likely to see an increasing number of young Irish people seeking employment in other member states of the European Community. It is in our interests to take an initiative in improving the quality of contribution which nationals of other member states can make in coming to reside in Ireland, that provided they satisfy the qualification conditions, they would be entitled to vote in the Dáil elections.

This would create a useful pressure on other member states of the EEC to look at the rights which they give to nationals of other countries, nationals initially, perhaps, in an EEC context and then the logical follow-up of that is that it should be possible to grant voting rights to any long-term residents of a country. Unless there are very serious problems in relation to either the numbers involved or serious apprehensions about what effect this would have on the system and situation in a country it is desirable from a human rights point of view and from an individual point of view that a person who is a long-term resident, who has made a commitment to and has family links and other strong bonds with a particular country should have the opportunity to exercise the democratic right to vote. Therefore, I urge that the legislation which would follow this constitutional amendment would be on the basis, not of looking for reciprocity of voting rights being guaranteed to Irish residents in that country, because that would confine us purely to British citizens, but should be more open to the nationals of other member states of the EEC, as we did for the European Parliament elections without seeking reciprocal rights from those countries for Irish citizens resident in those countries.

Finally, although as has been pointed out this does not really arise directly on this amendment, I support the views that have been expressed urging the necessity for measures to be taken to ensure that anybody who is suffering from a disablement or condition which prevents him or her from voting in the normal way, will be enabled to vote. Again, it is sad that we who have always emphasised the importance of the vote are so behind in doing this. We have nothing to be proud of in our tardiness in this respect. It is a sad reflection that an individual had to bring a case right to the Supreme Court asserting and seeking that right to vote and being effectively told by the Supreme Court in its judgment that although there is a right to vote it was one which required that the Legislature or the administration of the day make whatever provisions would be necessary for the exercise of that right. It could not be asserted in a simple way as something that was guaranteed to be facilitated. So the onus is back on us and I join with those who have already raised this in urging that we bring in as quickly as possible measures necessary to enable the disabled to participate in the franchise in like manner to any other citizens. I, too, welcome this measure and I hope it will have a successful passage.

I do not want to delay the House but there are a few remarks I want to make. I welcome the Bill although I regret that it has taken so long to get it to this stage. I sincerely hope that when the people are asked to vote on it on 14 June next they will quickly give their approval to extending the vote to non-citizens. I am not so sure, however, we should be extending the vote to citizens who perhaps reside in this country for short periods. I would like to hear from the Minister the length of time a person would need to be resident in the State to be considered eligible to vote. There is no indication in the explanatory memorandum or in the Bill as to the length of time a person needs to be a resident to be entitled to vote. Would it be necessary for one to be resident continuously for an entire year? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that point for us when he is replying?

We are now extending the vote to non-citizens and while I believe that returning officers in the main have bent over backwards in providing polling stations for local or general elections or referenda, succesive Governments have given little attention to facilitating those who normally cannot vote despite the fact that they are on the register. I join those who advocated here today, and on other occasions, extending the postal vote to other categories. Members of the Garda, the Defence Forces and, I think, the Diplomatic Corps are entitled to the postal vote. Perhaps this could be extended in a limited way to commercial travellers, patients in hospital, and those confined to nursing homes either for the day or for long periods.

I know it is not possible to do so this year but I would ask the Minister to give consideration to extending the postal vote to the categories mentioned. Perhaps there are others also that he could consider. I know it is something that lends itself to abuse when it is extended and we had an instance of that a few years ago although it was never conclusively proven that it was abused to any great extent. I do not think that one instance is sufficient to stop us from helping those who cannot get to the polling station.

In the explanatory memorandum it states that the polling card is issued to the person who is entitled to vote in a particular constituency and I hold the view that in areas where you do not have a vote in a constituency — in other words where the vote is nationwide — it should be possible on that occasion to permit, say, commercial travellers who would have their polling cards with them from Cork and are doing business in Dublin or, vice versa, people from Dublin who are in other parts of the country, to vote. It may lend itself to some abuse but it is something that I would like the Minister to consider so that we could extend the vote on occasions when we have a vote for a President or a referendum.

People who must be away from their normal place of residence should be able to exercise the franchise. Many people who work on polling day must move from the constituency in which they are entitled to vote. My reading of the Bill is that if a person moves from one street to another and is not in his constituency he cannot vote. There is no justification in that. Provision should be made in the Bill for a person who moves from his normal district to another to vote provided he is within the constituency and has his polling card with him——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I do not like to interrupt the Senator, but you are going a little bit outside the legislation with which we are dealing. You are going even further away from the subject than previous speakers.

I will of course bow to your ruling but paragraph 3 of the explanatory memorandum states:

Local returning officers at a referendum are required under section 64 of the Electoral Act, 1963, to send polling cards to all Dáil electors, except postal voters, indicating——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

You are reading the wrong document. You are on the Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1984, while we are dealing with the Constitution Bill, 1984.

I bow to your ruling. However, I would ask the Minister briefly to give consideration to extending the vote to those who must move away from their own constituency to neighbouring constituencies for the purpose of having the poll carried out, to make it possible for them to cast their votes when it is a national vote rather than a constituency vote.

I should like to thank the House for its reception of this Bill and to thank the individual Senators for their very good contributions. As indicated in my opening statement, the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Constitution to enable the vote at Dáil elections to be extended to persons other than citizens by legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. The necessity for the amendment of the Constitution arises from the fact that the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, which proposed to extend full voting rights to British citizens resident here, was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. That Bill, which was supported by all sides of the House, had been referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26 of the Constitution. If the Bill is approved by the referendum the vote may, at the discretion of the Oireachtas, be extended to all residents irrespective of citizenship whereas the Electoral Bill provides for votes for British citizens only. It seems appropriate that the constitutional amendment should make provisions for a general extension of the franchise rather than extending it to a particular category and perhaps having to come back in a few years' time to seek further authority for the extension of other categories.

Senator O'Leary referred to Presidential elections and referenda. The Constitution Bill deals only with the Dáil vote whereas the Electoral Bill dealt also with the vote for Presidential elections and referenda. This aspect has been commented on by a number of the Senators and, in the light of the Supreme Court decision, it is considered that it would not be appropriate to provide in the Constitution for voting by non-citizens at Presidential elections and referenda. The basic concept of the Constitution is that of the fundamental law given by citizens to themselves. The citizens themselves enacted that fundamental law. It follows that only they should have the power to amend it, and if the Constitution were to give persons other than citizens the right to change this fundamental law or indeed repeal it there would be a basic contradiction in the Constitution.

With regard to the question of a Presidential election, the President holds a special position under the Constitution as Head of State. He takes precedence over all other persons in the State and, in a special way, is the direct representative of the Irish people. Having regard to the nature of his office and his role under the Constitution, it would seem inappropriate that he should be elected by anybody other than citizens of this country, and indeed the weight of opinion following the Supreme Court decision bears this out. We could be in trouble if we pursued any other course.

If the Bill is approved by the people on 14 June the provisional certificate showing the result of the referenda will be published in Iris Oifigiúil and, if not contested, will become final after 21 days. The Bill will then be signed by the President towards the middle of July. Given these requirements it is likely that the implementing Electoral Bill will be introduced in the autumn and the extension of the franchise would be tied in with the ordinary registration procedure.

The question of the categories of people to which the vote will be given was raised by Senator Mary Robinson. This will be a matter for the Oireachtas to decide in due course. The choice would seem to be to extend it to British citizens only or to all EEC citizens. Senator Robinson questioned reciprocity and said it would be a rather narrow approach. I mentioned this in my speech, but I want to make it quite clear that it is not necessarily the view that will prevail eventually. Obviously we have time to think about this and possibly giving it to one section only might seem to be narrow. We now have the opportunity if and when this legislation is passed to look at this broadly as I believe we should. This legislation enables both Houses of the Oireachtas to extend the vote and gives us the opportunity to be able to think about it in a mature way. I take Senator Robinson's point that if we want to get closer to the EEC it might be one way of doing it.

Senator Ryan wanted to know who is disqualified by law from voting. There is no legal disqualification for voting people into Dáil Éireann. The question of postal voting was raised by a number of Senators. This is being examined at present by the Government and it is their wish to bring something forward as soon as possible but it is something that has to be examined, not in the narrow context but in the broader context of looking at the postal vote to see who would or would not be entitled to it, not necessarily picking one section as against another. We have to look at it broadly rather than narrowly because if we decide on the facility of postal voting naturally those who will be deprived, other than the disabled, will want the same facility. It is better, whatever we do, to think it out and to come up with as broad an answer as we can.

Senator McMahon asked what would be the qualifying time for a non-citizen after this Bill is passed? Once the Bill is passed a citizen may apply in the normal way when the register is being compiled and will then appear on the voting register on the next occasion and will be eligible to vote in subsequent elections.

Senator O'Leary asked who is entitled to vote in local authority elections. Since 1963 all non-citizens, whether they are from the EEC or the Third World or wherever, are entitled to vote in local elections. That covers the points I wanted to make and it covers the points the Senators raised. Again, I would like to thank the House for the speedy way in which the Second Reading went through.

I want to thank the Minister for his interest in the postal vote for the disabled. Could he give some indication at what stage in 1984 is it envisaged that legislation will be brought to this House to allow disabled people to vote? It is a very contentious issue.

It will be brought before the Committee on Legislation as early as possible and I would hope sooner rather than later. I am not going to put a date on it.

I thank the Minister of State.

In connection with the words "ordinarily resides" in the State, the Minister of State is saying that if the person is on the register, regardless of the term of his residence, he will be entitled to vote.

When he resides in this country and when they are compiling the register he can then put his name down and he will appear on the following 15 April or whatever date depending on the particular local authority area. His name will appear on the register of voters and he will have a vote in the next election.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

If we could conclude Second Stage we might take Committee Stage.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.
Aontaíodh na Céimeanna eile a thogáil inniu.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.