Referendum (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1992: Committee and Final Stages.

SECTION 1.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(e) a person shall not interfere with or obstruct or impede an elector going to or coming from or in the vicinity of or in a polling station;

(f) during the period commencing 30 minutes before the time appointed for the taking of a poll at a referendum to which this section applies and ending 30 minutes after the close of the said poll, a person shall not, in or in the curtilage of a polling station or in any place within 50 metres of such station, for the purposes of promoting the interest of a political party or soliciting votes for a purpose relating to the Referendum, do any or all of the following things:

(i) loiter or congregate with other persons;

(ii) attempt to induce, by any means whatsoever, an elector to vote in a particular way or refrain from voting;

(iii) display or distribute any notice, sign or poster (other than a notice, sign or poster displayed by the returning officer) or card, circular or other document relating to the referendum; or

(iv) use or cause to be used any loud-speaker or other public address mechanism to broadcast matter relating to the referendum;

(g) a person who contravenes paragraphs (e) or (f) shall be guilty of an offence;".

Basically this is an amendment to stop anybody interfering, obstructing and impeding people on their way in and out of polling stations and in the vicinity of the polling station. Effectively it is to stop people being intimidated on their way to and from polling stations. It is a fairly straightforward, self-explanatory amendment to which I imagine the Minister should be able to agree.

I cannot accept this amendment but I assure the House that I have the agreement of the Whips to complete all Stages of the Electoral (No. 2) Bill by 12.30 p.m. next Thursday in the Dáil. It will enable me to bring into force a provision in that Bill which provides for the same type of situation as is proposed here. The only difference is we still have not agreed or whether it will be 50 metres or more from the curtilage of the polling station. I may have to come back to the Seanad with minor amendments but my response would be do not pursue it here, you will be accommodated in so far as one can be sure at this stage on the commitments I received in the Dáil that the provisions of the Electoral Bill, which deals with this aspect, will be in force by 3 December.

I will not start a row over the question of a few feet. I appreciate the Minister's confidence that the Dáil will sit next week and will be in a position to deal with the other Bill.

I am not a betting person but if the Senator wants two or three to one I will give it to him.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 2 has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 7 are related and form one composite proposal. Amendments Nos. 4, 6 and 8 are related and form an alternative proposal. Amendment No. 9 is an alternative proposal and amendments Nos. 3 to 9 may be discussed together. All the remaining amendments may be discussed together.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, Part I of the Appendix, line 39, to delete "Ceart chun Beatha" and substitute "Foirceannadh Toirchis".

I already referred to this amendment when I spoke earlier. It seeks to have the words "termination of pregnancy" included.

I second the amendment. The inclusion of "right to life" as a heading on the white ballot paper is misleading regarding the substantive issue of the Bill. Our proposal that it be changed to "termination of pregnancy" reflects what is in the Bill. The inclusion of the right to life is an attempt to influence voters in how they look at it. The correct and honest way of putting it to the people is to head it "termination of pregnancy". To do anything else is to try to use an unfair and deceptive title and is an effort to latch on to what has become a slogan in the whole debate over the past ten years. It is a more honest, straightforward and fair description of what is contained in the Bill.

Does Senator Murphy wish to propose his amendment first?

I gave my reasons on Second Stage as to why the term "abortion" should be the key word for the white ballot paper on the so-called right to life.

I was not sure whether Senator Murphy had put his views on the matter. I am very happy to second this. I am rather intrigued by the three different amendments here because they seem to be on a sliding scale of reality. Rather curiously, it looks as if the Labour Party is at the remote end of it in talking about the substantive issue. There is a curious coyness about that. There is more reality in "termination of pregnancy" but Senator Murphy and I are actually facing the issue and using the word "abortion". We are dealing with what I described earlier today as the Fianna Fáil riddle: when is abortion not abortion. I commend this amendment to the House.

In the popular media the question is called the substantive issue. That is the basic reason we use that term. I do not have any problem with any of the other terms. It is really a matter of emphasis. I see very little difference between them but the reason we put forward the "substantive issue" as a term is simply because that is what it is called. That is how they are distinguished one from the other and that is how we perceive the public as being aware of what is involved. I do not have any problem with any of the terms. I see very little difference between them.

In relation to the comment made by the Minister in his reply to Second Stage, the medical term is to terminate pregnancy. The issue is specifically the termination of pregnancy and I hope the Minister will take that on board.

If we take Article 40.3.3º, there is an equal right to life for the mother and the unborn and it seeks to vindicate that right as far as is practicable. We envisage circumstances where there is a conflict between these two — that goes back for centuries — which medical ethics consistently could deal with. The circumstances are that where there is a substantial risk to the mother's life a superior right to life is prescribed for the mother. I do not know why Senators have such difficulty with that.

It is not a question of who is absolutely right or who has all knowledge as to what is perfect. This is a way for people to distinguish between three ballot papers. It is not a question of whether you agree with propaganda or how this matter has grown over the past ten years. The assistance we are giving by way of the description on top of the white ballot paper on the Twelfth Amendment will be such that everybody casting their vote will know the issue. I have emphasised time and again that when we have more than one ballot paper the incidence of spoilt papers can increase between 1 per cent and 5 per cent and that is unquestionably a reason for concern.

We are not making a choice for anybody. It is a free democratic country. We are just assisting voters. For the vast majority of voters it would not make any difference if there were no description. Opposition Senators seem to be suggesting that there are many people who will not be able to make up their minds on how to vote. We are trying to help those people who tend to have difficulty with a number of ballot papers. It is no more and no less.

The House is overwhelmed by the Minister's willingness to assist the people. Of course, he is a politician and actually wants to assist the people to vote the way he wants them to vote.

What are you?

Yes, I am a politician.

I just wanted to make that clear.

He is a politician by accident.

It is an accident that was repeated and accidents scarcely repeat themselves.

May I just comment on the Minister? It is refreshing and enterprising that he, first of all, claimed he had not met any honest politicians and then he has the gall to offer us odds on the election.

I was only trying to put a smile back on your face.

The Minister certainly succeeded.

May I say, quite seriously, that the use of the heading "right to life" is an attempt, in my opinion, to intimidate people. I do not think you have to be a trained psychologist to realise that there is a psychological disincentive for people to vote against something entitled the "right to life" because you are then suggesting that they are against life in so doing. That is why we are so insistent, on this side, that there should be an honest, or at least a neutral title. This title suggests that people who vote against it are anti-life.

I am sorry to interrupt Senator Norris but it is now 4 p.m. and in accordance with the Order of the House today I am putting the question.

Question put: "That the Bill is hereby agreed to in Committee and is reported to the House without amendment and Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed and the motion of concurrence with the earlier signature of the Bill by the President is hereby agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 19.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Donovan, Denis A.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Harte, John.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Murphy, John A.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Raftery, Tom.
  • Ross, Shane P.N.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Staunton, Myles.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators E. Ryan and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Neville and Jackman.
Question declared carried.

May I ask the Leader of the House when it is proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 November.