Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

The purpose of this Bill is to assist voters at the referendum on the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill by making available to them a statement explaining the issue on which they are being asked to vote. It also proposes that the poll at the referendum be taken on the basis of counties and county boroughs instead of Dáil constituencies as the European Assembly elections which will be held on the same day as polling at the referendum are organised on a county and county borough basis.

The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill explains the purpose and content of this measure in some detail and it does not appear necessary for me to make a lengthy statement on the matter. Briefly, section 1 provides that a polling card, containing the statement set out in the appendix to that section, must be sent to every elector, including postal voters. The statement will also be displayed on posters in, and in the precincts of, polling stations. Presiding officers will be authorised to assist blind, incapacitated and illiterate voters by reading out the statement to them, where necessary, and asking them whether they wish to vote in favour of or against the proposal and then marking the ballot paper in accordance with the voters' answers. These arrangements are identical with those made in relation to previous referenda on Bills to amend the Constitution.

Section 2 provides for the taking of the poll at the referendum on the basis of counties and county boroughs instead of Dáil constituencies. This change will apply only to the forthcoming referendum and is being made because of referendum is to be held on the same day as the European Assembly election which is being organised on a county and county borough basis. Having the two polls taken by reference to the same areas will facilitate the work of the returning officers.

The information arrangements provided for in this Bill are additional to the permanent provisions of the referendum law under which copies of Bills to amend the Constitution are made available in post offices for inspection, free of charge, and for sale at a price not exceeding two and a half pence.

The Bill is a technical one, identical in form with previous similar measures. The important part of the content is the statement set out in the appendix to section 1. I am sure Senators will find this a reasonable description of the proposal contained in the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

There is very little to ask the Minister in connection with this Bill. There is one very important point that he could probably hazard a guess at. I asked the same question when the Government decided to defer the local government elections and I estimated at that time that there would be a saving of £1 million to the State by having the local elections on the same day as the European elections. It has been mentioned already in the press and other places and figures ranging from £500,000 to £750,000 to £1 million have been mentioned. Would the Minister give us any indication of what savings will accrue as a result of holding this referendum on the same day as the European elections? When I mentioned that there would be a saving of £1 million when the local government elections were postponed I was told that nobody could be accurate about that. Is there any accuracy since then, now that we have reached a figure of £500,000 to £750,000 to £1 million? Could the Minister tell us what saving there will be in having this referendum on the same day as the European elections?

I hope the electorate do not get as mixed up as I did a few minutes ago. I think I am on the right Bill this time. Having made several pleas — once in this House and several times in the other House — I sincerely hope the Minister will have a look at the regulations governing returning officers, not so much in regard to issuing polling cards — that end of it is quite in order — but when it comes principally to personnel being appointed by the same returning officers. It is not possible for a person who is appointed to be a presiding officer or a polling clerk in one constituency to vote in a neighbouring constituency. This happens a lot in Dublin. I am quite sure it happens in Limerick, Cork and the other major centres of population also. It is not possible for the person, despite the fact that he has his polling card with him, to cast his vote if he crosses the boundary from one constituency to another. In Dublin alone this could involve a few thousand people. Certainly it involves hundreds of people.

In the constituency for which I would be standing for election, or as far back as when I was working in elections, I found personnel being appointed from neighbouring constituencies and they lost their vote. Likewise there were personnel appointed from my constituency to act at polling stations in other constituencies and they also lost their vote. It is a great pity, seeing that we have just passed the other Bill to extend the vote to non-citizens, driving home the fact that we are democrats in extending the vote to other citizens that we so easily deprive citizens of our own State who are entitled to vote, are on the register and would be able to vote if they had been appointed to another polling booth, in some instances only a couple of hundred yards away, from voting. I have mentioned this on a number of occasions. It would appear that while the Minister of the day has always expressed concern about it, nothing was ever done. I would ask the Minister of State to have a serious look at this and if he can go no further, at least to make a request. I am sure the Minister would be concerned about it also. Although he would not have the same problem in his own constituency I am sure he is aware of it in the Dublin constituencies and in the other major centres of population.

It is a great pity that we have gone to such lengths today to extend the vote to those who are non-citizens of the State that we do not take a little more trouble to ensure that people who are being appointed outside the constituency in which they normally vote are not prevented from voting. I have found this even in national elections, not only in Dáil and local government elections where one could find a reason for them to be confined to their own constituency because the candidates would be different in the constituency in which they were serving for the day. In national elections, where the ballot paper is the same right across the country, I have found people being refused the opportunity to exercise the franchise. I ask the Minister to have a serious look at this while he is in that Department and not let it slip on into the terms of some other Minister. It has been tossed around for long enough and he will have done a good days' service for democracy if he will enable more of our citizens to cast their vote.

I would like to thank Members for their contributions. I would also like to thank my Minister of State for being available to be here for most of the discussion. This Referendum Bill, which is consequent on the passing of the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, is just putting in order what will happen on the day and the type of approach to the general public, to explain to them the question they must consider on election day. The actual question will be circulated on the polling card. The same polling card will operate for the European Assembly elections. Therefore, there will not be any undue cost in that respect, in having to send out two different polling cards.

The cost of the additional election will be in the region of about £500,000. This comes about because the count has to be carried on in each county and county borough area. Counting staff will have to be provided in all of those areas, as is normal in a general election situation. The same number of people will be required. Therefore it is not an election that can be run for the same cost simply because it is held on the same day. There are obvious savings by holding this on the same day as the European Assembly elections but there are additional costs which have to be met by the State. We estimate that additional cost to be in region of £500,000. It would be almost double that if there was no other election on the same day.

Senator McMahon showed his knowledge of the electoral situation by raising a point about the presiding officers and their poll clerks and their ability to vote. Almost without any exception the poll clerks and the presiding officers will be from their particular European electoral constituency and, therefore, it will be possible for them to vote for the particular candidates of their own area and, of course, it will be possible for them to vote in the referendum. Arrangements can be made for them to do that. Unfortunately there may be the exceptional case where somebody may be very close to the border of one constituency in the European Assembly elections and live outside the European election constituency where he is presiding.

In that case I would have to be quite honest and straightforward in saying that on this occasion this particular person will not be able to transfer a vote but will not be deprived of a vote. He will still be able to vote for the particular candidate in the area in which he is presiding. Because of the huge extent of the constituencies and the number voting in them, the effect of that would be very minimal indeed. I hope it will not get down to a situation where the difference in the two remaining candidates perhaps for the last seat will be in the region of single figures. I believe that this is probably the type of figure we are talking about. From my own experience in that particular previous election I think the smallest margin was in the thousands rather than in the hundreds. The effect on this occasion will be very minimal indeed.

These were the points that were raised that might be the cause of some contention in the debate. I would like to thank the contributors for what they have said. We will certainly be looking at the points made and taking them into consideration to see if anything can be done to meet the points that have been raised. I would like again to thank the Members of the Seanad for their contributions on this very important Bill.

This will form a somewhat different pattern from what we had at the last European elections where we ran them with the municipal elections. Do I take it that when ballot boxes are collected within a Euro constituency — we will take our own constituency of Mayo, Galway or Sligo — that all of them will be brought to the one centre? I take it that there will be a different coloured ballot paper for the European Assembly elections and the referendum. Is it at that point that segregation of the ballot papers takes place? I am sure the scrutineers would like to know for statistical, political and many other reasons, how regions voted, on the one hand, for the referendum and, on the other hand, the result a county gives to their European candidates. If they are taken to a central location and there are all the boxes from a whole constituency with a geographical spread like Connacht/Ulster, one can see no way any scrutineers can get this information. I am sure political parties will be entitled to have their scrutineers there to observe the counting.

Has the Minister any proposals to meet this type of situation? It is the first time it has happened in the history of the State that this type of an election has been held, when a referendum has been held with the Euro elections. We have had a Presidential election and a referendum but this is the first of its kind. If the Minister has not the answer I will wait until another day.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator is taking too long to ask it.

It needs to be asked.

I can answer it fairly adequately. The boxes will be collected in the county boroughs which the presiding officers cover. The boxes will be taken to a central place in those counties, not in the full constituency of a Euro constituency but in the actual counties or county boroughs. There the votes will be sorted because we will be using one box with obviously two different coloured ballot papers. They will be sorted into bundles for each of the different counts for the referendum and the European Assembly elections.

The checking of the papers which will probably have more interest for people will be the European Assembly election papers. They will be checked against the returns of the presiding officers to see that the actual count in the boxes agrees with the numbers in the returns of the presiding officers' sheets. That processing is the area the Senator is concerned about. The normal presence of the parties' agents will be there to scrutinise at that stage the upturn in the ballot papers, in other words the ballot papers will be faced up with the names of the candidates facing upward. It will be possible within each county or county borough to carry out the usual scrutiny that happens at general elections for the various purposes for which it is used. The main one is to give some indication of where the first preference ballot has gone in each area.

I can assure the Senator that in the European Assembly elections these ballot papers will be face upwards in each county or county borough. They will then be checked and returned to the central counting area where the election count is normally held for the European elections or where it was held on the previous occasion. There the full count will commence in those areas. The checking of boxes will be done in each of the county areas under each presiding officer appointed for that area.

That is a departure from what happened on the other occasion. Now we will be able to find out how each county voted in each Euro election and the number of votes cast in that particular county?

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.