The Bill has two objectives. The first is to amend the electoral law to provide that sheriffs appointed solely for the purpose of executing certificates of tax liability at elections will not be required to discharge the duties of returning officers at elections and referenda. The second objective is to make available to voters at the forthcoming referendum on the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill a statement setting out the constitutional amendment which that Bill proposes.
As Senators are aware, the Government decided last October that certain measures should be taken to improve the position with regard to the collection of taxes. One of the measures decided on was the appointment of additional sheriffs to take over the functions of the county registrars in relation to the enforcement of tax certificates issued by tax collectors under the Income Tax Act 1967.
It is not intended that these newly-established sheriffs will have the same functions in relation to the conduct of elections and referenda as the existing sheriffs in Cork and Dublin. Section 1 of this Bill proposes an amendment to section 11 of the Electoral Act, 1963, which will preserve the existing situation in relation to returning officers. The amendment provides that the Cork and Dublin sheriffs will continue to be returning officers for their areas while the county registrars will remain the returning officers for the rest of the country. The amendment is necessary because the Electoral Act, 1963, provides that the sheriff for a county or county borough is the returning officer for any Dáil constituency situated in that county or county borough. Section 2 of the Bill proposes a parallel amendment to the European Assembly Elections Act, 1977.
At all previous constitutional referenda a special provision was made to have a polling card sent to all voters setting out a prescribed statement of the proposal for the amendment of the Constitution being referred to the people. Provision was also made for displaying copies of the statement at polling stations. Presiding officers were also authorised to assist blind, incapacitated and illiterate voters by reading out the statement to them, where necessary, and asking them whether they wished to vote in favour of or against the proposal and marking the ballot paper accordingly.
These provisions are additional to the standing provisions in the referendum law which require that copies of Bills to amend the Constitution are made available in post offices for inspection and for purchase at a nominal charge.
Section 3 of the Bill proposes that similar steps to those taken in relation to previous referenda will be taken in relation to the forthcoming referendum. The appendix to that section sets out in both Irish and English the statement which it is proposed to have printed on the polling cards and posters. The statement includes the text of the subsection which the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill proposes to substitute for Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution.
The Bill is technical in nature. The provisions of section 3 are identical with those contained in Bills enacted prior to previous referenda. As indicated, the purpose of sections 1 and 2 is to preserve the existing situation in relation to returning officers, in the event of additional sheriffs being appointed for tax enforcement purposes.