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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Jul 1992

Vol. 133 No. 15

Private Business. - Funding of Political Parties and Candidates: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann supports the appointment of an all party Oireachtas Joint Committee to examine and make recommendations about the issue of funding of political parties and candidates and the expenditure of money at election time and other times; that the Committee be governed by the following terms of reference:—

(a) the need to ensure that the democratic process is strengthened by an equitable distribution of resources; and

(b) the need to ensure transparency in relation to the source of funding, size of contribution and expenditure at election time.

To survive in politics political parties need huge amounts of money. For the major political parties the type of money involved can only be obtained from big business. It is no longer acceptable that this money should be passed under the table without any limit on the amounts or any public awareness of the possible strings which might be attached to such payments.

At election time money is an important determinant of who wins power. Anybody with doubts about this has only to consider the enormous amounts of money spent by political parties on national promotional campaigns during elections. There is no doubt also that individual candidates spend large amounts of money promoting themselves.

There is no clear information available on the total amount of money spent by individual candidates. Those who can afford it lash the money around without restriction or restraint and with no obligation to let the public know the manner in which the money was spent to manipulate opinion. It is clearly unsatisfactory that the democratic process is open to such manipulation without public awareness or statutory control.

Running elections at the moment is big business. For the major parties the budget runs into millions of pounds. It can be estimated that the total amount of money spent during national election campaigns by all the parties amounts to, I would estimate, somewhere between £5 million and £10 million.

During the 1989 Dáil and European Parliament elections I understand that Fianna Fáil spent of the order of £3.2 million; Fine Gael spent £1.5 million; the Progressive Democrats spent £0.8 million, which represents about half of what they spent in 1987; the Labour Party spent about £100,000 on that election and that includes the money spent on both European and Dáil elections in that year and breaks down to a base of about 40-60 — in other words, about £40,000 on the Dáil elections and £60,000 on the European election. These figures are the estimated amounts spent by the parties centrally and in general they are exclusive of what individual candidates might have spent. If one assumes that it costs an additional £10,000 at least to elect each TD, then this would account for about another £2 million. When various other expenses are accounted for, it is easy to see how the total figure might approach £10 million.

Individual candidates have been reputed to spend as much as £50,000 on their campaigns in addition to the amount of money the party spends nationally. In 1977, I understand that one former major politician is reputed to have spent £42,000 on his election campaign. On a vote basis each vote cost him an amount between £3 and £4. These figures are based on estimates and information provided from what would usually be considered a reasonably reliable source. However, if any member thinks that these figures are incorrect I would invite them to bring forward their own figures so that the record can be put straight. Indeed, if I am incorrect, I would welcome anybody in an authoritative position and who has access to the data laying it on the record of the House so that we will get the facts straight.

The most basic campaign which would have any chance of success would cost of the order of £10,000. Anyone who doubts this figure would be well advised to have a look at the main cost headings for a campaign. Based on my own experience, I estimate that the major cost items would be as follows: posters costing between 50p and £1 each could, in total, cost as much as £1,500. The number of leaflets used and distributed during a campaign is incalculable but the following items might be taken into consideration: canvassing cards are old-fashioned but necessary; an election address is unavoidable if free post is to be used during the campaign; issue based leaflets are essential for establishing differences between the party the candidate represents and the other parties; and a "good morning voter" leaflet is desirable in the Bertie Ahern mode and tradition. The Minister for Finance did not invent it but he has perfected its use. Labels, rosettes and so on are useful in geting a name across, especially in the case of the bigger parties who might be running newcomers. The cost of leaflets, rosettes and promotional literature can run to anything between £5,000 and £10,000 depending on the quality, the amount and the type of printing.

Election headquarters are also necessary. In the Dublin area that generally means renting a shop, which costs in the region of £1,000 and in any well run election that would be a necessity.

There are also many other desirable extras, such as the use of a mobile phone, banners, transport on polling day and secretarial assistants which, even in the most modest campaigns, would account for a few thousand pounds.

Polling day is a major source of expense. The cost of ensuring that personating agents are present at all voting tables in a typical constituency would cost between £3,000 and £5,000. It may be worked out on the basis of £30 a day which I am told is the going rate for Fianna Fáil Party personating agents. I would welcome correction if anybody on the far side thinks I am wrong. The constituency I contested in the last general election had in excess of 100 election tables.

He is making an excellent case for not receiving funding.

I have informed the Leas-Chathaoirleach that I may be quoting a discounted urban rate and that expenses might be higher. Dublin South-Central had 110 polling stations, at the last election which would involve costs of £3,000 to £5,000 for personation agents. It may be more in some constituencies especially rural ones.

I have listed basic categories of essential requirements which few Members of the Dáil would not have used in the course of their election campaign. These figures do not take into account optional extras, such as press advertisements, money spent on both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drink and on other sustenance for election workers and supporters. It does not take into account expenditure on PR companies which some politicians seem to resort to at election time or the renting of large hoarding advertisements which can cost between £500 and £1,000 during an election campaign. These hoardings can be used for statements such as "When the going gets tough the tough get going; Vote Bertie Ahern No. 1", a slogan used in one of the more recent campaigns by the Minister for Finance. I do not want to sound critical of the Minister because I have a tremendous admiration for his projection capacity at election time and I am sometimes bewildered when I look at the enormous numbers of votes he piles up running into five figures, somewhere in the 10,000 to 20,000 vote range.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask the Senator to refrain from naming people who are not here to defend themselves.

I was merely referring to an advertisement which a colleague mentioned to me this morning. The reality is that with very few exceptions it is impossible to run a campaign with any hope of success for less than £10,000. It is clear that many typically successful campaigns cost a good deal more than twice this amount.

When one looks at the large amounts of money given by meat companies to some political parties in the past, it is easy to understand how some campaigns are financed. Why should small companies decide to invest huge amounts of money in political parties? Are these investments made because these companies have an overwhelming desire to facilitate the democratic process? What is the basis of the different levels of investment by these companies in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats? Are these companies taking out an insurance policy with regard to the possible outcome of the election? Can we be sure that these investments are not made on the basis of some unwritten and unenforceable quid pro quo? Would these investments have been made by those companies if it was clear that the beef tribunal would make all this business public?

The disclosure of the level of investment by small obscure meat companies which form part of the meat sector, which in turn is a modest part of the total food industry, which comprises a fraction of all the economic activity in this country, raises the question of how much money is being pumped into political parties by the business sector. Is it good for democracy that small obscure meat companies should invest large amounts of money in political parties that in their opinion are the right parties to be in power? That matter relates to what went on at the beef tribunal.

The information available makes it obvious that the major political parties in this country could not survive without the financial support of big business. I find it unacceptable that this inquiry is being made behind closed doors. There is a clear need for full disclosure of the contributions by big business to political parties. At least the public should know who is paying the piper so that they can draw their own conclusions as the tunes are played. Given the power of money to influence the outcome of elections, there is a clear need for a ceiling to be put on the amount of money any candidate should be allowed to spend.

This debate is taking place in the wake of a series of scandals relating to the activities of some people involved in big business. These scandals have shaken public confidence in the democratic process. The right conduct of elections is vital to that process. This country cannot afford to turn its back and adopt a position of disinterest towards the capacity of people with loads of money to manipulate the system so that their cronies get into power.

I do not want to pretend that the Labour Party do not receive modest amounts of money from business interests during elections. The type of campaigns the Labour Party run is clear evidence of the modest nature of the sums of money received. I have no objection and I am in favour of full disclosure of these sums of money as long as there is a clear understanding that they are received on that basis and that the requirement for full disclosure applies to all other political parties.

In the case of the money the Labour Party receives from the trade union movement — I have no doubt that some of our colleagues on the other side of the House will mention that — amounts of money are modest and are also described as such in the annual reports of the Labour Party and of the trade unions so there is nothing underhanded about it. It is upfront and it is on the record.

It is important that the funding of political parties and the impact of same on the democratic process should be examined by the Oireachtas. The information revealed at the beef tribunal adds a special urgency to this issue. The motion before the House this evening is an evenhanded, sensible and balanced motion. It seeks that an all party committee should examine the question of party financing and the role of various agencies in that financing and that this should be done in an effort to strengthen the democratic process. It also seeks to introduce control over and requests limits to the amounts of money which may be expended on election campaigns.

I want to refer to the advice which a wise spouse of a county councillor gave me during the last local election campaign. I asked her what her husband was at. She said he was canvassing in one of those far off areas, and then I asked her if an advertisement which his party had placed in the local paper had been of any use. She said: "I wish to goodness someone would do a worthwhile thesis on the reasons people vote for certain candidates and on the value for money spent on various types of activity during elections." I also welcome such a study. It would save many people a lot of money and prevent them from making some very foolish moves.

I second this Labour Party motion in relation to the funding of political parties, the funding of candidates and the expenditure of money at election time. Our proposal is to set up a joint all-party committee of the Oireachtas to look into this matter for the purpose of ensuring that the democratic process is strengthened, and that there is transparency in relation to accountability. For that reason we are not satisfied with the amendment presented here because it misses the point entirely. We are not concerned with State funding of political parties in this motion but with ensuring accountability and transparency. Where money is provided to political parties — I do not know what money is provided to individual members — that is a matter for the Oireachtas and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has a function to regulate such matters. We are talking about the wider national constituency and the manner in which political parties and candidates, prior to coming into the Oireachtas, acquire and spend money for election purposes. We want to ensure accountability and that is a matter of great public concern.

One hears talk everywhere of politicians being on the fiddle and not being trustworthy. There is a perception abroad that we are not credible representatives of the people because we are not financially accountable. Democracy relies on credibility and accountability. Abuses, whether of a gerrymandering or of a Tammany Hall nature, undermine democracy, and as upholders of the democratic system we should make certain that our affairs are in order, properly run and above suspicion at all times. The danger of diminished trust and credibility is that a democracy may degenerate into oligarchy and dictatorship. We have seen where lack of respect for institutions and for the democratic process has produced undesirable consequences.

Proportional representation is the most complex of political systems. We have adopted it because it gives maximum opportunities for expression to the maximum number of people. It results to a certain extent in a proliferation of parties, large and small, individual candidates, non-party candidates and single issue candidates. All these categories of candidate are welcome and we must ensure that there is no discrimination against any.

The largest constituency of all may be those deprived of employment. There are 280,000 people registered as unemployed in the Republic, a large constituency with a limited say in the democratic process. We must ensure that property or house ownership as an electoral qualification, as happened in the past, is not now replaced by wealth as a qualification. This would mean that one could not successfully contest an election unless one had enormous wealth. For that reason we must ensure that a ceiling is imposed on the amount of money political parties may spend in any election and on the amount that an individual candidate may spend. If that were done, the actual source of funding would no longer be the critical issue it is at present.

Accountability is not impossible to achieve. Britain and Italy have introduced measures to ensure accountability and I am sure that similar measures apply in other democracies. Every political candidate is allowed a certain budget and may not exceed that. Invoices and receipts for all items of election expenditure must be produced preventing candidates from spending large amounts of money outrageously, on gimmicks and so on, and discriminating against poorer citizens in electoral campaigns. Funding for political purposes must be disclosed as to source, must be accounted for and must be audited. Similarly there should be a presentation of audits before the Oireachtas. If we adopt accountability measures we will find ourselves with a healthier system and encourage greater voluntary involvement in the democratic process. Candidates would need more assistants and new ideas and issues would be allowed to come more to the fore. The inequitable situation prevailing at present in relation to citizens' rights to stand for parliament and to contest and election on an equitable basis would not be interfered with. An ethical situation would be established guaranteeing transparency and accountability and would, of course, bolster democracy in the process. In the last analysis we would have the support of the public, our greatest critic, upon whom we rely for election.

What we are proposing today is an ideal format by which we could go about setting our house in order ensuring that there is no question of abuse from any source, business or otherwise. We have seen the ugly head of big business influence raised during the beef tribunal disclosures over the last number of weeks. Thay may be the tip of the iceberg although I hope not. We must ensure that that situation will not recur by learning our lesson from this tribunal and establishing structures that will allow the democratic process to operate on an evenhanded basis and make it accountable and open to the public.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"acknowledges the extent and transparency of the financial assistance at present provided by the State to political parties and individual Members of the Oireachtas both directly and indirectly, in support of the democratic process, and accepts that it would be appropriate that other matters in this general area should, in the first instance, be left to any initiatives which the Committees of Procedures and Privileges might wish to take in relation to them."

Senator Upton outlined the election expenses of parties and candidates very well; in many instances he was able to boil it down to the last penny. His manner of outlining these items was not lost on the Members of the House. He used phrases like "I understand", "speculation" and "reliable sources". Coming from Senator Upton, these phrases surprise me because I would have thought that, coming from an august university institution, he would be a man of facts who would not rely on speculation, on informed sources or on understandings. To that extent I am surprised but perhaps I should not be.

It is a working hypothesis.

I would be surprised if Senator Upton believed everything he read or heard. I know he is above that and it is strange that he should indulge in the type of statement made here this evening. It is ironic that he should declare the Labour Party to be upfront. He told us that his party get a contribution from the trade union movement but he said it was a modest sum. When speculating about other parties' expenditure, he gave it to the last penny; when it came to his own party he described it as a modest sum. I ask Members, who is codding whom on this occasion? He makes no suggestion about auditing the accounts of the Labour Party and there is no suggestion as to the extent of their private funding. The Labour Party want to open the gates so that everybody can see what is happening and, lo and behold, everything is modest.

The Labour Party are being opportunistic. They see there is great hype about contributions at present. There have been newspaper articles about people making contributions to political parties. Being the party they are, not missing the opportunity, they say, "this is a source of publicity and let us use it"——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask Senator O'Keeffe to address the motion.

I refer to the amendment before us from the Government side. It "acknowledges the extent and transparency of the financial assistance at present provided by the State to political parties and individual Members of the Oireachtas both directly and indirectly." I say to the members of the Labour Party that the Government are making a major financial contribution to the leaders of the various parties and to the various secretarial and administrative assistants in the system. I would also point out to them that as a national party, the Fianna Fáil Party have a national collection. There is no problem about that.

People come up to us as they come to other parties who hold national collections. What they say when they get near the Church gate is: "here is a pound for democracy". It is given because the democracy we have, we like, honour and uphold. It might be a Fine Gael person giving a pound to Fianna Fáil or the other way round but they do it for the sake of democracy.

I would like to remind my friends who were once on the socialist left but now, I understand, have gone to the right that there used to be a party called The Workers' Party. I wonder where did their funding come from. Was it from eastern Europe?

At the Church gates.

The Russian Church gates, the Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church? Thank you for that intervention, Senator Doyle, it was very timely. I just wonder about democracy there. Maybe the Labour Party members can tell me if they ever received funds from eastern Europe. I do not know and I certainly would not level that criticism.

The Senator can hardly describe innuendo as fact.


There is speculation and documentary evidence that The Workers' Party did get funds from eastern Europe. When you talk about democracy and about those funds, you ask yourself the question: what were those funds given to that party for and what was the ultimate purpose?

Is there something very wrong with our political system? Can these political parties exist? Are they offering a true democracy? Are we as political parties, doing anything untoward under the system that is operating at present?

Basically what I am saying here tonight, through the amendment put down by the Leader of the party, is that there are many questions that have to be asked and answered. It is appropriate that we use this opportunity to refer this matter to the Committee of Procedure and Privileges where we have many sensible people around the table who have intelligence. We should give them an opportunity to look at what is a serious issue. I do not doubt that political parties at present have difficulty with their finances. For instance, if we were to go out to the people in the morning and say that Fine Gael were £1 million in debt and Fianna Fáil perhaps £1.5 million in debt and ask the people to take us out of debt——

Tell the truth.

I am just taking figures from the air, Senator Doyle.

Tell the truth.

I am surmising. I do not want to reveal the extent of Fine Gael's problems.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator O'Keeffe, without interruption, I ask him to address his remarks through the Chair.

Parties are finding it difficult to survive. It is expensive to run a party organisation, to give the type of service, administrative and otherwise to the party organisation that each and every one of us would like. It is difficult to fund that. Some people say funds are coming in over the top but the two major political parties in this country at present are experiencing problems with funding.

They spend too much.

How appropriate is it at present to ask the hard-pressed public to meet this problem? The Labour Party tell us how hard-pressed the public are but that party are asking for more funds for housing, and for taxes to be reduced and employment to be created. Yet, the same party is in here tonight asking for State funding for political parties.


I just wonder if the public would take that on board at present.

I recommend to the House the amendment in the name of Senator Wright. This issue is certainly one that deserves deliberation and the proper forum for that deliberation is the Committee of Procedure and Privileges and I urge the House to accept that.

It has been an interesting debate so far but it is not getting us very far. The motion deserves careful reading because it does not actually state what it is being interpreted——

It has been misinterpreted.

I will be supporting the motion here this evening even though, with the greatest respect to the scribes behind it, I find some of the wording a little woolly. I support the sentiments expressed in it and I would like to see an all-party committee debate the issue of funding of political parties and the issue of transparency. Without getting into details, we will be supporting the Labour Party motion before us tonight on that general basis.

A healthy open democratic system depends primarily on vigorous political parties. I acknowledge the role of the Independents, lest we all be chided when we have a contribution here this evening from them. A healthy democratic system depends on vigorous, properly constituted, political parties and it is to that I am addressing my remarks specifically this evening.

The question of funding political parties has been with us for some time now but has assumed a new importance since the beef tribunal exposed details of funding from this rather controversial corporate sector to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats. What we do not know in this area, we are promised we will know before the tribunal is over.

In Ireland not only is there no law which governs the funding of political parties but our Constitution does not even mention political parties at all. Our legal system has no role in their operation. However, under the legislation governing the salaries of public representatives, leaders of political parties in the Dáil receive allowances in order to help them carry out their parliamentary activities. Political groups of seven members or more are entitled to these grants and some parties — Fine Gael in this instance — put that grant directly towards the very costly funding of our headquarters. Other parties may use that money differently. I would like to see the size of grouping entitled to these grants reduced to five and I would like that to apply not only in relation to this matter but generally in the Dáil. I make that point in passing.

Political parties are generally regarded as unincorporated associations or private voluntary bodies in this country. Their existence is not regulated by statute. All of us must look at this immediately and see if there is an omission here. As a result these parties are not obliged to keep accounts or publish them, although most parties do keep accounts. Parties can appoint trustees to hold property and represent them legally in court. However, they are not legally obliged to do so and their appointment does not make a party a trust in the legal sense of that word. The disclosure of donations is not compulsory. No provision for tax deductions is mentioned by the law.

The ceiling for campaign expenses at election time was abolished under the Electoral Act, 1963, and, while I did not have time to research that specifically, I imagine the reasons for that abolition would make good reading. The electoral system in this country, being based on individual candidates and not on party lists, does not pre-suppose the existence of parties, although they are recognised in the Standing Orders of the Dáil and Seanad.

We must be aware of those facts in talking to this motion and the amendment, as we talk of political parties as if they were legal entities in this country. They are not recognised as such and we need to spend some time rectifying what I consider to be an omission in our system in that regard.

All parties are experiencing serious difficulty collecting the large sums of money needed to develop political organisations. There is a real problem on the one hand, in that all political parties are now grossly under-funded and are carrying large and potentially unmanageable debts. On the other hand, the obsession with fund raising activities is driving members away from the political process itself, as the highly motivated activist can no longer sustain the effort required to raise the necessary finance. This is the core issue, not whether we need rosettes, should buy drinks for the activists at election time, pay personation agents or whatever. The whole political process is being undermined as we are driving the highly motivated activists away because they cannot stand the pressure of raising funds locally and nationally for the party which they support.

This constant quest for funding is seriously undermining the political process in several ways. First, there is a growing perception that parties can be undermined by indebtedness to big business. Let us face it, this is the unwritten script of the beef tribunal. The question in the air is, was a party undermined by corporate funding? Justly or unjustly, it is the common held view that export credit insurance was linked to corporate donations. I think that is unjust, but it is the perception of the man in the street.

Second, the democratic process can be undermined by the fear or reluctance of parties generally to challenge the Government of the day on minor issues lest an election be precipitated and a party's indebtedness increased, particularly at a time when the banks may not extend credit to them. This is a most important issue also. It is not a question of who wears the rosettes and what they cost.

Are parties in this House, or have parties in this House been reluctant to challenge the Government, or have the Government been reluctant to challenge the Opposition lest an election be precipitated when, financially, the parties cannot stand the strain? If we are honest and look back over the years we may suspect that has happened on minor issues. It has never happened on an issue of confidence or a big issue but on minor issues, I feel there has been pressure over the years. Third, as I said, committed party activists are being driven away.

Finally, through lack of funding, the capacity of parties to sell their message is seriously undermined. With the revolution in the media today, and in the field of communications technology, the party that cannot afford to get its message across in the media is seriously undermined and with it, the democratic process.

The state should fund political parties on a basis of £1 per vote on Dáil elections. I would like this all-party committee to consider that proposal, having reduced the group for a political party from seven to five. I believe that elections should be funded by the State with strict spending limits imposed on each candidate and full accountability and transparency, transparency meaning full legal and financial accountability in relation to the party and candidate concerned. I would suggest a £1 per vote and a rebate system on achieving a certain percentage of the quota for general election funding.

It is early days yet and we would have to tease out exactly what all this would mean. The electorate may not like it. Initially, they will oppose it but it is the norm in the developed world now, particularly in the European Community. In Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain provision is allowed for the day-to-day spending of their political parties and they reimburse a certain amount of expenses incurred at election time. All these countries, plus Belgium, Holland and portugal, require disclosure of the identity of people or companies donating over and above a certain amount. I would very strongly support that view. With this goes transparency and full accountability, i.e., full legal and financial accountability by the parties of their expenditure and income.

Candidates' spending at election time would be strictly monitored. This would effectively stop the buying of votes, where the stronger the party the more they can spend, the more they can influence the public and the more they can ensure a favourable outcome. Fianna Fáil, even at this time, help certain candidates in key marginals through their trustee fund at headquarters. Apart from the local constituency funding, they send money in from headquarters to key marginals. The role of TACA over the years has not been mentioned. I know it is now abolished and, effectively, another committee has been set up in its place, but I have witnessed the altar boys of TACA in the sixties as they grew in stature and went up through the ranks, up to six months ago, to become the high priests at Charlie's altar.

And now facing the beef tribunal.

That is the fall out we are now experiencing.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I would like to remind the Senator her time is up.

Look at Telecom, Greencore, the beef tribunal——

I ask the Senator to ask her husband if he ever got anything from the beef baron.

No. Our party did and it will all come out in the beef tribunal. If Senator Lanigan had been here he would know I mentioned that at the beginning of my contribution.

Did he ever buy a bit of beef from——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

What is before the beef tribunal is a matter for the tribunal and not a matter for this House. I would ask the Senator to conclude and I ask Senator Lanigan to allow Senator Doyle to conclude.

Did he ever buy anything for Larry Goodman?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Doyle without interruption.

To whom is the Senator alluding?

Certain persons.

Who? Name him if you will. If it is in order, name him.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I have ruled matters linked to the beef tribunal out of order.

I would also like to comment on The Workers' Party funding from Eastern Europe and the Labour Party funding by the unions. We need transparency, Fine Gael needs transparency in its funding.

As part of the Taoiseach's promises for open Government and to remove politicians from the culture of the fixer that had pervaded here in recent years, we need up front funding by the State of all parties. The quid pro quo would be the transparency the electorate expect from all political organisations so that we can allow our activists to get on with the real business of politics which is the shaping of public policy.

The crucial issue is that politicians are seen to be elected fairly and democratically and then seen to act independently. Since becoming involved in political life I have come to develop a healthy regard for the integrity of the vast majority of politicians. The problem with the introduction of any kind of financial element is that whatever the real circumstances under which politicians operate, there is no question of doubt, that the ordinary member of the public has become increasingly cynical about the way in which politics operate in this country, very largely because they believe that politicians and political parties can be influenced by financial inducements. Events of recent months have simply confirmed them in his view.

I listened with some interest to some of the other contributors talking about the need for transparency and the need to be open. Of course they have to be open now because the beef tribunal, if it does nothing else, is doing a good job of exposing material that was previously hidden. This hits not just the Government party, it hits every major party in the State, and goes further to confirm what people may have felt about political life. It is extremely dangerous if people are given the impression that political influence can be bought.

I listened with interest when I heard about the demand for transparency, because I recall some years ago putting down an amendment to legislation going through this House which would have required not just a register of interests but also a register of payments received by political parties from various interests, whether industrial, commercial or indeed from any sectional interest operating as a lobby or private interest group in this country. It was roundly opposed not just by the Government but by every one of the major parties. I have to say, with the greatest deference to my friends on the Labour benches, that I cannot actually remember whether they opposed it; I do not think they did. The reason I have not included them is that, regrettably, I cannot describe them as a major party in this Parliament.

This is not a matter confined to Ireland. I listened during the week to a rather unusual presidential candidate in the United States of America being engaged in conversation. One of the things that was being raised, both by him and about him, was whether or not this was another example of the American presidency being bought. The point that was made in return was that, at least if it was being bought, it was being bought by his own money and he was going to return it to the people of America. I think that is a rather frightening prospect, this kind of paternalist notion that a man can use all those millions in order to acquire the highest office — and it is an executive presidency in the United States — and then return it graciously to the groves of democracy.

May I also say that I am disturbed by a number of the revelations that have come out. Now, I do not want to seek to impugn the integrity or honesty of any of the politicians involved, but can I put it this way. Businessmen live in a very realistic world. I have sought over the years to secure funding for various beneficent operations I was involved in, in the form of sponsorship from Irish companies and from multinational corporations. Believe me, in order to get £5,000 out of a very large company you have to produce a logical brief and very detailed expansion on precisely what they can get in return. They just will not look at sponsorship in a kind of generalised, sentimental, do-gooding sort of way.

Why would they?

I quite agree with Senator Lanigan. Why would they? The reason I have got substantial sums of money from a number of companies and corporations is that I am able to go to them and say this is what you will get for your £30,000, which, for example, Arthur Guinness gave to the Joyce Cultural Centre. R. and A. Bailey and Co. gave £50,000 to the symposium. I think it was marvellous that they were prepared to invest in this.

How could you get £30,000——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I would ask the Senator not to name companies here.

Those were just my little payments. This is where it is all at. When you get large sums of money you have to give credit to these people. It is not very much to ask.

——never got a penny from any of them.

May I just ask the question of Senator Lanigan, through the Leas-Chathaoirleach? What is the quid pro quo——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Norris cannot address questions to Senator Lanigan. He can address his remarks to the Chair.

Perhaps, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, with your wide experience of life in the civilised reaches of the West of Ireland and your long experience of the realities of political life in Ireland, you will be able to answer this question: what precisely is the quid pro quo when very large companies lollop out sums of money in excess of £30,000? There are records here of £30,000, £35,000, £40,000 being handed out. I am not suggesting that Ministers or leaders of Opposition parties were directly influenced or that they took specific decisions in an atmosphere that had been coloured by such donations. But I am perfectly certain that the hard headed, realistic businessmen who handed out this kind of hard currency certainly believed that, although they might not be able to summon in a Minister and give him his orders, they were creating a context in which what they said would be received favourably. There is no question in my mind, or in the minds of the vast majority of the Irish people, that such cash grants are related to the creation of an environment in which a positive view would be taken of those providing the money. That seems to me to be hard, logical sense. Nobody gives money for nothing. It is interesting to look at the sums involved. If they were so altruistic, and so interested in the democratic process, why did they not decide to bolster up some of the smaller parties? Why did they give the very largest contributions to the Government parties, and give money according to a descending order of influence? If you really want in the most idealistic sense to promote democracy, you do not promote the largest party in the State, you promote the weaker one. Perhaps they might even have been tempted to support some of the lone Independents who maintain the highest standards of parliamentary integrity. I do not, in fact, rule out the possibility of money being given, and may I lay my cards four square on the table? I, too, have received money. I did not receive it from Larry Hagman. I did not receive it from Larry Goodman.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I would ask the Senator to refrain from mentioning names.

I was merely referring to persons who were mentioned in a statement earlier on.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

They are not here to defend themselves.

You did get out a statement.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Norris, without interruption.

I will spare the blushes of the two people who did give me money. But I can tell the Minister that at the last election, at which I was ultimately elected, confirming the good sense of the Irish people——


Ultimately, after six elections. It took a long time convincing people that I was responsible.

Does this mean you are not going to get elected again?

I have been elected again. I was very nearly top of the poll the last time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Norris, without interruption. I would remind Senator Norris that he has only one minute left.

You did say "ultimately".

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask Senator Lanigan to refrain from interrupting Senator Norris.


An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Lanigan may not disregard the Chair by continually interrupting.

I will just ignore him. One of the things that helped me to make up my mind to run on that occasion was that I called a meeting of some supporters and one of them actually gave me a cheque for £250. He was a non-party person, somebody with whom I had worked on legal matters. He was a practising member of the legal profession. His views, he found, coincided with mine. Somebody else came to the meeting who did not have time to spend on this and was not that much involved in politics. That person left a little note with six points on it. I did not open the envelope until the next day. Wrapped around the six points was a cheque for £500. There was no question that my opinions were being influenced. Those two people knew perfectly well what I stood for. I think they felt that there was an opening there for this kind of radical liberal view to be expressed and they wanted to support it. I would be very happy for that kind of information to be placed honestly and squarely before the people of Ireland. There is no such thing as a free lunch or even a Mae West free dinner.

I am not so sure how we should respond to this motion because it has been put down just to get a little bit of publicity by a group of people who know bloody well that they get financial support themselves. Senator Norris has agreed that he gets certain financial support.

Not enough.

Not enough. This is the nub of the argument. He has agreed that it is the "not enough" argument that is at stake. He would suggest people in the majority parties might get a little bit more than the others, who do not get enough. In my lifetime in politics I have got a few pounds from people but in terms of their support, financially, I have never been able to give them back a political response. I got their support because people believe that as a Member of the Oireachtas I can help this country to progress. They did not give it that I would go to a Minister to get a certain programme through. Financial assistance to Members of the Oireachtas has always been given by people outside the Oireachtas.

Members should be paid commensurate with what we do in terms of legislation. We should be full-time politicians and paid accordingly. The Minister and his advisers and senior civil servants are paid about five times more than we are paid. Legislators should be paid for the work they do. The Seanad is sitting four days this week.

At £17,500 a year, we are not paid to be legislators, but to be assistants. If a person gives me £500 in an election campaign, he does not ask whether I am going to pass legislation. He probably gives it because he feels that as Senators we are not paid enough to legislate.

I have heard arguments about the need for transparency in public and private funding. In the future I hope that any body who gives me a financial inducement does so because I am a friend and not because he is going to get anything in return. I have been involved in politics for many years and have been offered financial inducements but I have never gained financially. Altruism has been mentioned but there is no altruistic person in this country. Politicians will always receive financial support.

Setting up an all-party committee will not change people's attitude towards giving a few pounds to Members of the Oireachtas. The democratic process would not be strengthened by an equitable distribution of proceeds. That would mean that every company who wish to give a few pounds to a political fund would do so on the basis of the percentage of votes for each political party. For example, they would give 55 per cent of the money to Fianna Fáil, 50 per cent to Fine Gael and so on. Nobody would give money in that way. People give money to those they feel will work for them and who may be able, at some stage, to put pressure on a Minister or a Government. That is what it is all about.

People have always given a few pounds towards election campaigns and they will continue to do so. We acknowledge the extent of financial assistance at present provided by the State to political parties and individual Members of the Oireachtas, and I sincerely hope that continues.

Before I call the next speaker I would like to explain that under the order of the House, as there is a greater numbers of Fine Gael Senators than Labour Senators, I should call a Fine Gael Senator. However, Senator O'Reilly has kindly agreed to allow Senator Harte to speak first. I put that on the record lest a precedent be created.

Any precedent created in this respect was created by me because I gave way many times and made concessions. However, I thank Senator O'Reilly for his gesture.

Senator O'Keeffe spoke about dealing with facts, which are events, truths and realities, but he did not proceed down that road. He misquoted some facts and made innuendoes about where funds came from. Funds were never given to the Labour Party by any eastern countries. Some time ago when Deputy Lenihan was leader of the Fianna Fáil group in this House the issue of contributions was revised. On that occasion I informed the then Senator Lenihan exactly how much is provided by the trade union movement, and I will repeat what I said then. Any Member who allows his name to stay on the political register contributes 28 pence per year. If he signs a form to the effect that he wants to be excused from paying the political levy the money goes into another fund — there are five funds in the union.

There are about five trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party and often we were delighted to receive about £13,000 per year. Individual members who are members of a union may receive a grant from the union provided there are sufficient funds in the union political fund. Somebody foolishly suggested — I think it was Senator Lanigan; he must have lost his political acumen — that we are discussing this matter to get publicity. On a day when the President addresses both Houses, it is unlikely that we will get much publicity. It must be accepted that there is some sincerity in our efforts and that we are genuine about this matter.

There is no mention in the motion of State funding, nor is there any reference to the desirability of State funding of political parties. While we do not see political funding as the panacea for all ills, especially in respect of accountability, inevitably in any joint party committee it raises its head as one option for consideration. There has been much talk about what is happening, but we want to see action taken.

Our objective is clear. We do not believe that democracy is being served well in circumstances whereby one political party can afford to risk spending £1 million to cover an election while another party cannot risk spending more than £50,000 or £60,000. That kind of activity only weakens the democratic process and our objective is to strengthen the democratic process by putting in place a more equitable system.

All the evidence before us shows that there is no community support, nor should there be, for political parties who are not prepared to disclose private sector contributions. Failure to do so is aggravating to the public, particularly as the parties do not have to show they have used the money wisely and properly. This matter should be examined. Openness is important, and this motion affords all political parties an opportunity to ensure transparency.

The motion is about ethics, and we can only succeed in that aim by ensuring that political parties are encouraged to compete with each other on the basis of well researched ideas, policies and initiatives. In the present circumstances we cannot do that. There is nothing democratic in one political party having the resources to communicate effectively their ideas to the public at large while other parties with good alternative ideas are denied, because of lack of resources, the fullest possible scope to communicate these ideas effectively. We cannot allow a continuance of the buying of votes mentality. It is crazy that one candidate can spend £30,000 on his private campaign while his competitor struggles to find £5,000 or £6,000.

The setting up of a committee is essential if we are serious about preventing shadowy businessmen from calling in their IOUs. Many serious incidents have contributed to the cynicism by the public of politics and politicians. Let us rid ourselves of that tag and we can do this by setting up a joint committee to cover every aspect of the matter, including contributions from trade unions, etc. If we accept the setting up of an all-party joint committee, which would deal with the major unanswered questions that concern the public, we will have done a good day's work, and without much publicity.

I agree with the principle of the amendment but in its reference to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges it does not effectively amend the motion. Therefore, while we accept the amendment in part, it does not meet our objective. I am sorry for rushing through my contribution, but having been facilitated I want to give other people an opportunity of speaking.

The great thing about this country is that we have a democratic system which allows freedom to individuals to join and be part of the political system. In all my years in politics I have always cherished the freedom to join and leave a party. All of us know of people who were members of political parties but because of disagreement or whatever they decided to leave the party. That is the essence of democracy as it works on the ground, people realise that Governments are not doing a good job they have the right to contribute money to another party to help bring about a change of Government. That is a right which has to be protected. I strongly believe that those who advocate publicity of contributions to political parties are the very parties who, since the State was founded, have been taking money out of people's wages, with no questions asked and no records kept. These people now request disclosure——

Of course there are records. That is an outrageous allegation.

There are no records.

No records are kept of money contributed, some of which is not voluntarily contributed. It is taken from people, but if these people protest and say "I am not contributing", they do so at their peril. The people requesting disclosure of contributions are the very same people who are on their hobby horses——

Political parties are not bound to disclose contributions.

Will they be——

If Senators do not listen I will have to repeat myself.

Fianna Fáil people have to subscribe to the Labour Party.

Acting Chairman

I have allowed some latitude but I am not going to allow cross debate.

Thank you very much, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for your protection. I am well aware of how the system works. Many people have asked me how they can discontinue contributing to a certain political party out of their wage packet. I told them they are foolish to give money if they do not believe in the party to which they are contributing. That practice has existed for years and no records or statements are kept of the accounts of organisations or the way the money is spent. The Govenment party, of which I am proud to be a member, have dispensed with the practice of keeping records of contributions. When collecting money at church gates or wherever we no longer write names and send out receipts. If people put £10 on the plate I thank them. We identify these people locally as supporters and contributors and we are most grateful to them. Like every other political party, we have a system of collection. There is no point in coming in here and pretending you are naïve. That charade is evident in the motion before us. Political parties exist only because they receive contributions from people who believe in them. Thank God we have received sufficient contributions to sustain the party down the years. We need money at the moment because our party is in debt. That is a matter of public knowledge and we are not afraid to disclose that. The average intelligent person knows that if he throws £100 or £10 on a plate his daughter or son who is looking for a job is not going to get one the following week. He knows that is not a possibility, but he also knows that it is important to sustain a Government who are doing a reasonable job. That is the kernel of the matter and the public who contribute to political parties know what it is all about.

The publicity about the Progressive Democrats sending back £10,000 and the publicity surrounding the tribunals that are taking place has nothing to do with the fundamental issue of politics. The people involved in those cases believe you can use the political system, but every time that has been tried it has failed. These people never succeed. The average person who believes in a party contributes to them in an open way whether at the church gate or wherever, and he knows he will not get a receipt. As long as I am alive I will collect contributions at church gates and I will not send out receipts for these contributions, which are welcomed. I and my colleagues in the political party are sustained on contributions received from the public. I will never come into this House and apologise for accepting contributions because that is the basis of our existence as a political party.

I think most people agree that there is much cynicism about politicians and politics. All of us in this House know that much of that cynicism is misplaced and is not justified. A recent MRBI poll established empirically that public perception of politicians is very low. I am convinced that the current events in the Four Courts and at the beef tribunal together with the recent spate of publicity, is a major contributing factor to cynicism about politicians.

It has nothing to do with politics.

It has; it creates a cynical perception of politics and politicians.

That is created by people such as the Senator making those suggestions.

It creates bad public perception of political practice. On occasions, as Senator Lanigan said, people make donations to political parties for altruistic reasons. While many people are very genuine in making bona fide contributions, without wishing to influence politicians, unfortunately, that is not always the case. It would be in the best interests of all political parties to establish a system of State funding of parties. There should be openness about the operations of political parties. The systems used in Germany and Denmark are worth looking at and I would ask the Minister to consider the matter.

It would be churlish of me not to regard the Minister here tonight as a person who is serious about the business of politics. I would urge him to take on board the notion that it would be in the interests of all political parties to put this matter on a level footing by bringing in a system of State funding. Such a system would benefit all political parties. There would be no question of inherent injustice because the system would be based on electoral performance and on the number of votes for each party. There would be an openness and a clarity about it. The system would provide for public audits of political party accounts — in other words, it would have to be clear to the public who is funding whom and to what degree. These matters are important. It may be known to me personally that people who contribute to my election campaign do so for the right reason and that I am not engaging in malpractice by going to county managers to get planning permission for people who fund me. However, the worrying consideration relates to public perception, which is not good at the moment. The system will have to be seen to be fair and open, as is the case in Denmark.

There is no option but to bring in State funding and ensure public accountability and an open approach. Such a system would be in the interests of individual politicians. Nothing is more compromising for politicians, be they members of town commissions in Bantry, Cootehill or wherever, members of county councils or Members of the Seanad or Dáil, than to have to depend upon major donations from big business in order to contest elections. People are conscious of this on an ongoing basis and it cannot be good for them as professionals or in developing their perspective on various matters.

I believe we should introduce State funding. It would be an equitable system that could be operated properly. There should be openness in regard to the funding of parties so that the public are fully aware of the position, that would work to keep democracy functioning and to eliminate the cynicism that exists abroad at the moment. I ask the Minister to consider setting up such a system as a matter of urgency. If we continue with the present system alienation of the public from all the mainstream parties will increase.

The issue of political funding is as old as democracy itself. Indeed, several countries have moved in recent decades to either introduce legislation or to amend existing legislation in this area. Surprisingly, Ireland and what is called the mother of all parliaments, the House of Commons, have been somewhat slow to introduce legislation in this area. The British and Irish parliamentary systems provide for annual assistance from public funds to help political parties carry out their parliamentary work. In Britain this is limited to parties which had at least two members elected at the previous general election or one member elected and a minimum of 150,000 votes cast. Therefore, there are certain restrictions, as indeed there are here. The Irish system is based on the number of seats won in the previous general election, but there are few checks and balances when it comes to the wider question of political funding by individuals, groups and corporations.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the principles behind the motion. I believe, however, that the Government amendment requesting that such matters should, in the first instance be left to initiatives which the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses might wish to take in relation to this matter is the wisest course. However, in common with my colleagues on all sides of the House, I would urge that this matter, which is now firmly on the political agenda, be addressed, preferably prior to the next general election.

I belong to the school of thought which believes that political parties in the democratic process should be funded out of the public purse. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in sister democracies in America, Canada and especially Australia, our legislative colleages have been way ahead of the posse in this regard. In America, for instance, the biggest changes have been made in the area of campaign financing of presidential elections. Until 1976 campaigns were financed largely from contributions from wealthy individuals or groups who believed their interests could be advanced by association with the president and party in power. This was a wide open system that allowed for unlimited contributions and spending. Presidential campaign costs rose in America, and I will give some idea of the scale of costs involved.

In 1860 it cost an estimated $100,000 to elect Abraham Lincoln while some 112 years later it cost $60 million to elect Richard Nixon. The most recent figures available from America indicate that in the US federal elections of 1988, that is, the national elections, almost $1,000 million was spent by candidates seeking federal office — the Presidency, the Vice-Presidency and fewer than 500 contested seats in the Congress. Since the early seventies, a new wave of political reform arose in America, at federal and state level. The Federal Election Campaign Act, 1971, and subsequent amendments, have regulated campaign financing and provided for federal matching funds for the primaries and for full funding of general election campaigns subject to certain conditions.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to an interesting section of the US Act of 1971 which could perhaps be included in any future legislation that might be contemplated here. Americans now indicate on their tax returns whether $1 of their taxes should go to the federal election campaign fund. This initiative was first used in 1976 and might be worthy of consideration in an Irish context.

The reason for this flurry of legislative reform, not just in America but indeed in Canada, Australia and other English speaking democracies, was that the public funds provided in national campaigns were and are intended to diminish the need for contributions from wealthy "fat cat" donors and interest groups and, especially in the pre-nomination period in America, to make the nominating process more competitive and so encourage candidates to broaden their bases of support by seeking out large numbers of relatively small contributions. My colleague, Senator McGowan, touched on this issue in the context of major political party funding in this country, which in the main is made up of relatively small contributions taken, as is the Irish custom, outside church gates or in door to door collections. I would like to see this continue. However, there is a move within Parliament — and as I stated earlier, I would encourage this — to seek more public funding, particularly for elections, and so diminish, and I hope eliminate the need for political parties to request, sequester or lobby corporations for large contributions. I agree with Senator McGowan that raising this motion might give the impression to the general public that there is something dishonest about paying into a party fund. Of course, that is not the case and I think most people recognise this.

Let us look at the Canadian example. The history of Canadian politics is littered with party leaders and Cabinet Ministers who were involved in questionable dealings as a result of financial contributions being made by vested interests. Until recently the large industrial and financial interests of Toronto and Montreal provided nearly all the funds required by the main political parties in Canada. Fund raising in Canada was organised at committee level where the various political parties formed committees which were then responsible for raising the money for their campaign funds. These main fund raisers were not responsible to the elected party organs and rarely held elected office but were appointed by the individual party leaders. They were usually co-opted from the legal or financial communities or else they inherited their position from older family members. The usual reward for members of these fund raising committees when the party achieved office was appointment to the Senate or to the Bench.

However, because of scandals in various provinces, including Ottowa itself, and because of the effect of the American Watergate scandal in the seventies, there was a movement for the control of election expenses during the sixties and seventies in Canada. That has now been tidied up under the Election Expenses Act, 1974. Reforms have been adopted by the majority of provinces in Canada and the role of party funds which was formerly ignored by the legislature has now been recognised in that country. Control bodies have been instituted and ceilings imposed on party and candidate spending and contributions. In Canada, disclosure of the amounts and sources of income and expenses is mandatory. Incentives for individual donors — again, I suggest that this might be worthy of note in future legislation in this area — have been provided in the form of graduated tax credits favouring smaller gifts.

Let me turn briefly to the model that I believe we should look at, that is, the Australian model. Since February 1984 the Commonwealth Electoral Act, 1918 has been amended and provides for public funding of election campaigns, disclosure of political donations or gifts and disclosure of electoral expenditure. Last year the Act was amended to require full disclosure of all income, expenditure and debts of registered political parties. Registered political parties, independent candidates and non-party Senate groups in Australia are eligible to claim public funds and seek reimbursement of their election campaign expenditure. Candidates and Senate groups are required to submit returns disclosing gifts received and electoral expenditure incurred in relation to the election while registered political parties are required to submit annual returns of income, expenditure and debts. Interestingly — this point was raised during the debate on our Electoral Act — the legislation in Australia on registration of political parties states that the electoral commission will refuse to register a party if the name comprises the word "Independent", some Senators take note.

On the question of disclosure of political donations or gifts, the Australian legislation is of interest. They define a gift as any disposition of property, including money, for which no payment is made or for which any payment is inadequate. They state that a return must be made within 15 weeks following the date of the poll and that it must show the total value of all gifts and the total number of donors, the amount or value of each gift — this is their definition of "a gift"— from a donor who gave $1,000 or more to a Senate group or $200 or more to a candidate, the date on which each gift was made and the name and address of the donor.

This provides plenty of food for thought in relation to any possible legislation that might be contemplated. I hope this matter will be dealt with in legislation sooner rather than later because I believe it would be of help in changing perceptions, misplaced or otherwise, in the public mind about the manner in which donations are made by groups or by individuals. Having carried out some research on English speaking democracies, it seems that legislation was not introduced in response to any public clamour but rather because parliamentarians themselves realised that they were vulnerable on this issue in the public arena and should, as a necessary extension of the parliamentary and democratic process, introduce legislation to tighten up the position with regard to political contributions.

Finally, I welcome the Government's commitment to reform of the Oireachtas in general and, in that context, I look forward to an opportunity to debate these matters. I hope the Minister will return at some stage during the term of this Dáil to propose legislation of this nature. I am confident the Government will do this.

I support the motion. My only complaint is that it is not as explicit and blunt as it should be. I will happily disclose my election expenditure and its source, if my bank manager permits; the source of my funds is my salary and the bank manager and I received a total of £20 in the last 12 years in donations. While I would not dispute the honesty of the Members of this House who say that donations do not influence them, somebody is codding somebody because I am sure that the people who give donations think they will make a difference — that is the problem.

I know the Members of this House and the other House are not crooks but the public thinks we are crooks. We have to change that perception.

Political parties are very good at that when they get professional advice during election compaigns but once an election is over, they forget all about it. We then have to wade through this quagmire of public cynicism. Week after week at the beef tribunal at Dublin Castle we hear about donations to political parties and people who took high moral positions and claimed they were above all this, but the reality is that most of these donations are given to the three main political parties; they are not given to the Labour Party or the Democratic Left and, most assuredly, they are not given to members on these benches, although I cannot speak for Senator Ó Foighil.

And they do not end up in my pocket either.

I do not want to get involved in a dispute about the contents of Senator Lanigan's pockets and I accept what he says is true, but people do make donations. If this is a noble gesture as Senator McGowan would have us believe, why are they so determined to keep them secret? If people want to make a contribution to political parties then they should be required to make this public. It should be remembered that the trade unions must make it public and must include the amount of the contribution in their accounts, which are subject to stringent controls under the legislation that governs the trade unions. If parties receive money, this should be made known publicly.

I am not an enthusiast of the concept of State funding for political parties because I believe it would lead to a splurge on elections; that instead of spending the almost obscene amounts of money that were spent on recent elections, twice as much money would be spent — the money the State would provide plus the amount received in other donations. We must review the scale of expenditure in elections on multiple multipage advertisements and multiple multicoloured handouts in addition to expensive television advertising, which is the way other countries have gone, and bring it down to a realistic level. This is daft——

We agree with the Senator; that is what the amendment is about.

How do you propose to do that?

By the simple expedient of agreeing a limit on the expenditure per candidate in an election.

We agree that is what the committee will decide.

Senator Ryan to continue without interruption.

That is what the amendment is about.

What the amendment is about is thinking about doing that. The amendment does not say that——

Everybody thinks about whether they should do something.

The problem with Fianna Fáil is that they put such an effort into thinking about thinking that they never get around to thinking.

The Senator is confusing the issue. He has made a proposal and he should stick with it.

Senator Ryan to continue without any interruption.

Because my constituency continues to expand I would be delighted, like every other Member, if a ceiling was put on expenditure. Why then do they not outline the amounts they spend and receive? The profound reluctance of parties to disclose to the biggest and most important tribunal in the history of the State the source of their political donations does not fit well with the "holier than thou" commitment to reduce and control election expenditure; the two do not go together. Therefore this motion, given that it refers to the need for transparency and to elections, not just to the funding of political parties, should be accepted by the House. If it is not accepted and we put the matter on the long finger again — I do not necessarily believe this — the public will say that we are postponing the issue to take the heat off and to allow the next issue take its place, and that during the next election campaign once again obscene amounts will be expended. The amount spent in recent elections were obscene.

All I can say to the two political parties which are now up to their necks in debt is that it serves them right. Because they spent a fortune on a succession of elections they are now up to their necks in debt.

The Senator did not send out any letters when seeking re-election on the last occasion?

It serves them right.

Senator Ryan should continue without interruption.

Senator Ryan will tell anybody who wants to know how much he spent on all his election campaigns; it is not a secret. Indeed, I have told thousands of people how much I have spent. As I do not want to use up my precious time I will tell Senator Lanigan later and he can put it on the record whenever it suits him, but that is not the issue. The issue is that the public are convinced that we are ripping off the system, left, right and centre and that parties receive backhanders in return for changing the law, fiddling the funds or rezoning land. We are the only people who can put an end to this.

This motion marks an attempt to start the process and provides for transparency, accountability, a limit on expenditure, clear guidelines and severe penalties to deter prospective candidates in the future from exceeding those limits. I would be very happy if this motion was accepted. It makes a start in that direction.

The first thing that attracted me when I read the motion was the reference to the need to strengthen and support the "democratic process". This is put forward as a principle to form part of the basis for what is sought in motion. As a statement of principle, few people would disagree with this. I certainly have no hesitation in subscribing to it.

What does, however, cause me difficulty and annoyance is the sheer hype which is going on at the moment on the issue of the funding of political parties, candidates and so on under the umbrella of principles like this one. The present motion is part of the hype, part of the over-reaction. The "war cry" we hear is that something drastic needs to be done so that the democratic process is protected and supported, as if that process were in a state of collapse or in imminent danger of collapse. That is nonsense.

In case those who have tabled the motion have not noticed, the democratic process is alive and well in this democracy. It is as strong and as vibrant as it has ever been. If proof were needed, we have only to look at the public's handling of the recent referendum, the ultimate expression of the democratic process. In spite of being bombarded, through the "democratic process" I might add, with irrelevancies and red herrings in the leadup to referendum day, the public had the political maturity to see what the real issues were and to use the democratic process to go out and make their democratic choice.

Let us forget therefore about all this hype and keep things in perspective. Let us pull back from those airy-fairy theories of democracy in distress, or democracy in crisis, and come down to earth. In spite of what some would try to make us believe, the democratic process in this country is in a healthy state.

Of course, because the operation of democracy is an ongoing event, there will always be issues which need to be aired, to be discussed and, if need be at the end of the day, to be tackled in one way or another. Just now the limelight is on funding issues, and that is fine, but let us not go overboard on these issues and rush into a search for quick solutions, or into mechanisms which we think will provide quick solutions.

These issues are complex and have many facets on which people have different views and opinions. We in this House, or indeed the Dáil, are not the only ones with vital interest in them. There are no easy solutions and time is needed to allow mature positions to develop in relation to them.

Take, by way of example, the question of the State funding of political parties. I have heard the issue of total funding by the State debated on radio, for instance, both by politicians and members of the public as if parties get on State support at present, as if party members and the democratic process were left completely unsupported. The reality, of course, is quite different. The State, that is the taxpayers, does provide very substantial financial support for the "democratic process" through allowances for party leaders and staffing and many other facilities and expenses for members and parties. In 1992, the State's contribution is circa £500,000. We owe it to the public to acknowledge that that support for the democratic process is provided, in effect, by them.

On this one narrow front the issue that has been debated is whether we should go beyond what is made available and provide virtual total State funding for political parties. This is a very sensitive issue which is of great interest and concern to the general public; but as yet, as I have said, there has been little real, properly-informed debate on it and very little opportunity for mature views to develop in relation to it, as they should.

That is just one example. Many other issues arise on the broader funding front. It is not necessary to detail them for the purpose of this motion as it is concerned more with the question of putting a mechanism in place; but what I have said applies to these other issues also. They need to be aired and debated in public so that informed positions and views can emerge on a broad front and not just among the small group of commentators and media debaters who seem to be more concerned with getting a bandwagon rolling so that they can jump on to it.

These issues need to be given time. We must be careful not to push too hard, too soon, for solutions to them. There are, after all, far more than us engaged in the democratic process, far more than us with vital concerns in these issues. Let us not forget that we are interested parties in some at least of the issues that arise and we must take great care not to leave ourselves open to the charge of being judges in our own case.

It is for these reasons that I cannot go along with the proposition that a joint committee be set up at this stage to examine all the issues referred to in the motion. In my view that would be a premature and excessively reactive step to take at this stage. It would represent an initiative which I feel is neither appropriate nor called for at this stage and which I feel this House should not support. To go from where we are into the formal situation of such a joint committee of review would not be appropriate at this time.

I have, of course, no wish that formal debate of these issues by Members of this House or of the Dáil be stifled. It is quite right that these issues be debated and that Members discuss them in tandem, as it were, with the development of more informed public debate on them.

My very strong view is that if Members wish this whole question to be formally pursued the most appropriate approach at this stage would be to leave this in the first instance to any initiatives the Committees on Procedures and Privileges might wish to take. I recommend this approach to the House. Whatever emerges from the committees would clearly be a very significant input into how the whole question is handled from there on. Therefore, I ask the House to join with me in supporting the amendment to the motion and I thank all Senators for their contributions.

Ba mhaith liom i dtosach baire buíochas a glacadh leat as ucht an deis cainte seo a thabhairt dom.

While I accept there is a need for disclosure and transparency a few points should be made. There is an impression that members of the larger parties at election time have vast resources available to them to fight elections. Normally, at election time, the national organisations look after national advertising while posters, leaflets and day-to-day campaign expenses are handled by constituency organisations or by the candidates themselves. Because of our electoral system, general elections are made up of 41 separate elections. Therefore, it is my firm belief that the amount spent nationally by parties bears little relationship to the result of the votes in various constituencies.

I have made it a virtue not to spend money on elections. Indeed, the strength of my campaigns in both Seanad and Dáil elections lay in the fact that I did not have resources behind me. I always depended on my community for financial support to ensure that I had money to keep going, in elections to the Seanad in particular. The collection of money formed part of the election campaign and allowed ordinary people to become involved in the democratic process.

I am against the concept of State funding for political parties because I do not think it would resolve the problems associated with corporate donations, if they are a problem. What would happen instead is that the ordinary person who contributes between £1 and £5 to the political party of their choice would say to us "We do not need to do this anymore because you are getting money from the State". Therefore it would lead to a drop in income and to people deciding to reduce their involvement and the day our people reduce their involvement in the democratic process is the day democracy will be at a loss.

I do not believe there is a direct relationship between spending and election results nor do I believe the Irish electorate would be as stupid as to let people buy votes. I think people are now only beginning to realise that more and more elections are going to be fought by way of debates in the local media — in addition to the house-to-house canvas — and on television. If we want the State to contribute in election campaigns, although most people would agree this would lead to saturation coverage, it could do so by providing more time for debate on the national airwaves and ensuring that adequate time is made available on local radio for a proper debate so that candidates can account for their actions and outline their policies. It is my belief, from my experience of local elections, that the people who get elected are those with a record of work, who are upfront in their dealings and who can articulate their views coherently on local radio and on the doorstep. In this debate we have under-estimated the intelligence of the Irish people.

Senator Ó Cuív mentioned that there is a perception that major parties have vast resources available to them. It depends on what one considers to be vast; and if you look at it from the money which is available to my party, then the figures are vast. If doubts exist, one of the best ways of clearing up those doubts would be to publish the amounts. However, the major parties have resolutely refused to do this and seem to have used every device available to them to resist such a move in the case of the money provided by the companies now involved at the beef tribunal.

I agree with what Senator Ó Cuív had to say, he spoke about the relationship between spending and the number of votes obtained. I accept that there is not a lineal relationship between the two and I have no doubt that a substantial amount of money is spent in a stupid manner which does nobody any good. The people who spend this money have more money than an understanding or knowledge of politics.

The Minister of State used the word "hype". However, I am at a loss to know where the hype is in our motion which I consider to be well balanced and evenhanded. In it we adopt a very sensible approach to the problem. I cannot understand, therefore, how the Minister of State could use the word "hype" in relation to its and hope he is not hypersensitive to any mention of the question of the funding of political parties at this stage.

The Senator is taking what I said out of context.

I wish to compliment Senator Mooney on his speech, although I would not agree with everything he said. I want to compliment him in particular on the way it was researched; it contained useful data. He seemed to put a lot of effort into its preparation and it was both valuable and useful and I have to compliment him on it. While I would not agree with everything he said I welcome his suggestion that this country should look at the Australian model. That is a worthwhile suggestion. It is possible that we would reject all or part of it but we could start from there. It is a constructive suggestion and I welcome it.

I also noted with interest that the Senator mentioned there was a necessity to introduce legislation, sooner rather than later. I welcome his remarks. As for the other speakers on the far side of the House, I have been driven to despair, it is difficult to take them seriously. The motion deals with the potential for those people with large amounts of money to invest to manipulate the democratic system. That must be a source of concern. It is important that we now get down to the business of controlling the ways in which money can be spent.

I relished the opportunity to speak before and after Senator O'Keeffe; this is a luxury I enjoy only on rare occasions. He mentioned that I had used the words "understand", "estimate" and "reliable sources" in relation to the data I produced regarding the amounts of money spent by the various political parties. The reason I used those words was they were the only ones I could use as the hard facts are not available. I invited Members on all sides of the House who have data, either in relation to their own expenditure or in relation to the expenditure of their parties, to put it on the record and to refute what I said if what I said was wrong. Facts were not produced. There were no figures mentioned.

There was no Labour Party data either.

I quoted the figures for what the Labour Party spent in those elections. If I remember correctly, I said that in the 1989 election the Labour Party centrally spent £100,000 and of that £100,000, to the best of my information, £60,000 was spent on the European side of that campaign and the remaining £40,000 was spent on the general election campaign. In relation to the 1987 election, to the best of my knowledge, the Labour Party spent £200,000 on the campaign nationally. I would invite Senator Doyle to place on the record what the Fine Gael Party spent in those elections, or, indeed, to contradict the figure of £1.5 million approximately that I gave as having been spent by the Fine Gael Party on the 1989 election.

It is out by £1 million. We spent £600,000 and we collected £580,000 to defray the expenses.

Senator Upton without interruption and incidentally, Senator Upton should not be encouraging dissent.

Thank you for your protection.

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. I am sure Senator Doyle would have a far better understanding of what Fine Gael spent than I would have. I have to work on the symptoms of the spending rather than having access to the actual amounts. Where is the difficulty in publishing these figures and why will Fine Gael not make that data publicly available?

I acknowledge that money is made available to political parties. The Minister rightly said that it is of the order of £500,000 and that is welcome. But that is not the central point that this motion sought to address. The central point which this motion sought to address was the question of the capacity of those people who have large amounts of money to manipulate the democratic process in an unacceptable manner. Basically, that is what it is all about; and those concerns are more acute because of the information which is now being produced and made available from Dublin Castle.

Normally I try to restrain myself from referring to anything that Senator McGowan says. It is good for me, good for Senator McGowan and, indeed, good for the House; but on this occasion I will make an exception and simply repeat what Senator Harte said in relation to the money which was taken out of their wages — I hope I am quoting Senator McGowan correctly — by the unions. It is 28p per person per year.

Sixty per cent of them are Fianna Fáil members.

It is approximately ½p per week and Senator McGowan is concerned about this. He sees this as some tragic and outrageous violation of members' money. The total amounts are available in the annual reports of the unions. They are under that obligation under the terms of the Act.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 21.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddle.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Doherty, Sean.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donovan, Denis A.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G. V.


  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Harte, John.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Foighil, Pól.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Raftery, Tom.
  • Ross, Shane P. N.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Staunton, Myles.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá Senators E. Ryan and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Upton and Costello.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.