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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Mar 1999

Vol. 158 No. 10

Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

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

The main purpose of the Bill before us is to provide for a system of disclosure of election expenditure by candidates, political parties and third parties at local elections. In addition, candidates will have to disclose the sources of income used to meet the election expenditure, including the disclosure of each donation over £500 received by them in connection with the election. The Bill draws on the principles of the Electoral Act, 1997, but provides for a more streamlined set of arrangements than those applying at Dáil and European elections in order to reflect the particular characteristics of local elections.

I have given the matter of commencing section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1997, detailed consideration and I am satisfied that the arrangements envisaged under that section would not be appropriate for local elections for the following reasons. Local elections differ from Dáil and other elections in a number of major respects but most notably in terms of scale. At the local elections in June of this year, there will probably be over 3,500 candidates. This compares to 484 at the 1997 Dáil general election and 52 at the 1994 European elections. Similarly, in relation to constituencies, there are 268 local electoral areas compared to 42 Dáil and four European Parliament constituencies.

While the population of local electoral areas varies greatly, the average is around 13,500 and some areas have populations of little more than 1,000, and they are much smaller than, for instance, populations in Dáil constituencies, which range from 62,000 to 115,000, while the European Parliament constituencies have populations of 668,000 to over 1 million. The electorate is generally about 70 per cent of the population. Due to the smaller size of constituencies and the local nature of the elections, extensive expenditure would not be necessary and expenditure by each candidate would be lower than at a Dáil election.

If section 72 were commenced and regulations made under it, the size and complexity of the administrative undertaking become even clearer. For example, each candidate would have to appoint an election agent and about 3,500 election agents would have to make election expenditure statements to the Public Offices Commission within 56 days of the election in respect of elected members and unsuccessful candidates. Expenditure limits would have to be set either for all candidates for election to each local authority, or different limits would have to be set for candidates for different classes of local authorities. If different limits of expenditure are set for candidates in different areas the question of equality of treatment would arise. The 1,627 elected members would have to make donation statements to the Public Offices Commission by 31 January 2000 and every year thereafter, while about 1,900 unsuccessful candidates would have to submit donation statements to the Public Offices Commission within 56 days of the election.

Not surprisingly, given what I have just outlined, the Public Offices Commission would need extra staff and resources to carry out the extra work involved at a cost of about £300,000. Another major feature of a section 72 scheme would be its central focus – all documentation would have to travel to Dublin rather than staying in the relevant locality. It is clear, therefore, that a scheme under section 72 would not be appropriate for local elections. I propose an alternative scheme in the Bill which can meet the objectives of the Electoral Act, 1997, through a less bureaucratic and more local arrangement.

The Bill provides that each candidate will submit an income and expenditure statement to the local authority for which he or she is a candidate for election. Details of any donation over £500 received to fund the election expenditure will also have to be disclosed. Political parties will submit a statement of their total headquarters' expenditure at the local elections to a specified local authority in the Dublin area. Expenditure by a political party at local electoral area level will have to be disclosed by a designated person of the political party to the local authority concerned. Thus, there will be two levels of disclosure for political parties and one for candidates.

I wish to point out that political parties are already obliged to disclose donations over the specified limit received during a local election in their annual donation statements. For this purpose, parties are deemed to include any branch of the party, candidate of the party at a local election, member of the party who is a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, a member of a local authority or a representative in the European Parliament or any officer, member or agent of the party or of a branch or subsidiary organisation.

Members of the Oireachtas who stand as candidates at the local elections will have to furnish statements to a local authority. There may be some duplication in this situation, but it should not be too onerous on any individual. If a Member of the Oireachtas who is a candidate at the local elections is excluded from submitting an expenditure statement to a local authority, then there would not be a complete picture of expenditure at the election and this could give rise to concern that some candidates were not being treated the same as others. In summary, this means that Oireachtas Members who contest local elections will make this declaration in addition to declarations they must already make under the Ethics in Public Office and Electoral Acts.

An important feature of the scheme proposed in the Bill is its local focus. All documentation will be kept locally for inspection by local people. It would run counter to the major programme of local government reform that I have undertaken if the documentation were to be stored centrally in Dublin. Why should the public in towns such as Bantry or Buncrana have to travel to Dublin to inspect the relevant records for local elections?

I wish to mention existing provisions and some current developments in relation to conflict of interest and ethics at local authority level. I am conscious of the need for a new ethical framework for local authorities which is robust and workable and which takes account of the recent legislative changes in this area. As Members are aware, ethical provisions have been in operation in the local government planning service since the enactment of the Planning Act, 1976. This Act applies to both members and officials of local authorities in so far as any planning, land acquisition and disposal functions or any dealings or interests in land are concerned. The provisions involve registrations of interests, public register of interests, declarations at meetings and penalties for non-compliance etc. However, it is now time to widen and strengthen its scope.

The major Local Government Bill currently in preparation in my Department provides an ideal opportunity for the review and preparation of an ethical framework for the local government service. This review will include the widening of ethical provisions to all local government activities, not just planning. It will take account of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, and the work of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service on the draft standards in public office proposals. It will also take account of similar legislation in other jurisdictions. Additional areas to be considered include powers and mechanisms for investigations of contraventions, the drawing up of a code of conduct and the widening of existing disclosures and declaration provisions. For these reasons, I am not proposing in the Bill that elected members of local authorities furnish annual donation statements. The Local Government Bill will also provide for the elimination of the dual local authority-Oireachtas mandate from a future date. In the interim, pending the coming into effect of this general disqualification, it is proposed to remove the current disqualification applying to the chairs of Oireachtas committees and joint committees for the local elections in June 1999; such persons will then be free to stand for election. I will introduce the necessary amendment on Committee Stage to remove this disqualification.

I will now deal with the main sections of the Bill. Sections 1 to 4 are standard provisions dealing with the Short Title, definitions, regulations and expenses incurred by the Minister. I draw Members' attention to the inclusion in section 2 of the definition of donations, which is the same as applies at Dáil and European elections. I also emphasise that where a person makes more than one donation to a candidate at the same election, the donations are aggregated and treated as a single donation.

The power to make regulations in section 3 provides for the prescribing of forms for the statements of election expenses. I will make the regulations as soon as the Bill is enacted so that candidates and political parties will be familiar with the requirements of the prescribed forms before the election period commences.

Section 6 contains the definition of election expenses and is based on section 31 of the Electoral Act, 1997, which applies for Dáil and European Parliament elections. Election expenses are defined as any expenditure incurred in connection with a local election to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party or the election of any candidate, or to present or oppose the policies of a party or candidate. The section provides that certain expenditure will be deemed not to constitute election expenses. These exceptions are the same as those currently applying at Dáil and European elections; details can be found in the Bill and the explanatory and financial memorandum.

I do not propose an expenditure limit for candidates at local elections. Such a limit would make the scheme bureaucratic for candidates and political parties and would add to its cost. Given the smaller scale of individual local election areas compared to other elections, expenditure should not be as extensive. The general principle of disclosure contained in the 1997 Act is maintained and, in addition, all candidates will have to disclose the sources of funding used to meet the election expenditure. I intend to have an analysis made of expenditure at the elections and this data will be useful to see whether an expenditure limit is necessary in the future, especially whether different limits should be set for candidates and political parties contesting elections in authorities of different size. It may be of interest to the House that most EU countries do not have election expenditure limits for local elections.

The most frequently asked question concerns the period in which election expenses incurred have to be declared. Section 6(3) states that the period commences on the date of the polling day order and ends on polling day. This is generally a period of four weeks before polling day, which will be 11 June next. However, election expenses incurred before the date of the polling day order for use in the election period must be included in the election expenses statement – that is similar to current provision in the Electoral Acts. This section also provides that third parties who have no connection with political parties or candidates and who intend incurring election expenses at either national or local electoral level will have to register with a local authority and make an election expenses statement after the election.

Section 7 requires a political party other than a political party registered to contest elections in part of the State, which proposes to present candidates at a local election, to appoint a national agent. The national agent will be responsible for national expenditure only as it would not be poss ible for such a person to keep track of local expenditure without an army of staff in the party headquarters. Section 8, therefore, provides that each political party will be obliged to appoint a "designated person" who will be responsible for furnishing a statement of election expenses incurred by a political party at local electoral area level.

Section 13 provides for the furnishing of the statements in prescribed forms by national agents, designated persons, candidates and third parties within 56 days of polling day at the election. I also provide that where a candidate or third party dies before the submission of a statement, it will not be necessary for the personal representatives of that person to submit a statement.

An essential element of the scheme in the Bill is openness and section 14 provides that election expenses statements received from designated persons, candidates and third parties for expenditure at local level must be given to the elected members of the local authority concerned. The statements by political parties and third parties for expenditure at national level will be available for inspection at a local authority in the Dublin area.

Section 18 obliges a local authority to register every statement it receives and section 19 requires it to publish, in a newspaper circulating in its functional area, a notice stating the time and place that the statements can be inspected. The notice will also include the names of those who have not furnished statements. The section also provides that a local authority will issue guidelines to candidates and political parties on matters covered in the Bill. This should assist candidates and others in understanding the Bill's requirements. I would like to see the guidelines issuing to candidates and others as early as possible and I have arranged for my Department to issue draft guidelines to local authorities as soon as the Bill is enacted.

Disqualifications, offences and penalties under the Bill are contained in sections 20 and 21. The penalties for non-compliance or furnishing false or misleading statements by a national agent, designated person or third party are the same as those which apply at Dáil or European elections. I propose a different regime for candidates, whether unsuccessful candidates or elected members. Where an unsuccessful candidate at an election fails to furnish, within the specified period, a statement of election expenses or a statutory declaration the person shall be disqualified from membership of a local authority during the remainder of the term of office of members of a local authority elected at that election. Where a member of a local authority elected at the election fails to furnish, within the specified period, a statement of election expenses or a statutory declaration, the member shall be automatically suspended from membership of the authority for seven days commencing on the expiry of the time specified. If at the end of such seven days the member has not complied with the requirements of section 13, he or she shall be disqualified from membership of a local authority during the period of the remainder of the term of office of members of a local authority elected at that election. So that there is no misunderstanding of the position of elected members, I will ask local authorities to issue a notice at the first meeting of the new councils to remind them of the provisions of the Bill.

Section 24 is the final section and makes provision for research into the feasibility of introducing electronic methods of recording and counting votes under the present PR-STV election system. This provision will not introduce electronic voting and counting at elections, which would require separate legislation. At present, counted ballot papers can only be inspected by obtaining a High Court order made when the court is hearing a petition questioning an election. In the normal course of events, counted ballot papers are destroyed six months after the election. The section makes provision for the use of the counted ballot papers to assist in the examination of the feasibility of introducing electronic voting and counting. This is necessary to test the equipment to be used for electronic voting, including any minor changes in the counting rules necessary, and to establish the effects of such changes. Extraction of data from the counted ballot papers will be restricted to this purpose and the ballot papers will be destroyed in the normal way once the information is recorded.

The scheme I propose in the Bill is a local scheme appropriate to local elections. It will be less costly, less bureaucratic and simpler to operate than the scheme for Dáil and European Parliament elections. Crucially, however, it will embody the principles of the Electoral Act, 1997 – all expenditure will be disclosed, candidates will have to disclose the sources of funding used to meet election expenses together with any donation over £500; and the obligation on political parties to disclose donations, as currently provided for under Part IV of the Electoral Act, 1997, will continue. The Bill is a sensible, workable and comprehensive approach to the disclosure of donations and expenditure in respect of local elections, and I commend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister – he is a familiar face to us now. Having taken over the position as Fine Gael spokesperson on the Environment, my workload is based on the Minister's and there are times when I would like him to slow down. My party agrees wholeheartedly with the main thrust of the Bill. However, there are a number of issues I would like the Minister to clarify in order that we might give the Bill greater support.

Why is it necessary to introduce a Bill of this nature in the first instance? Like the ethics Bill, by which it was inspired, and the Bill governing the actions of Deputies and Senators in respect of donations, the Bill is a reaction to recent events which have seen politicians dragging politics to its lowest level and which have led to the public looking upon politicians as a lower form of life. There is an assumption abroad that because a small group of people are involved in money grasping and questionable activities the rest of us are the same. It is for this reason that Bills of this kind, which merely paper over the cracks rather than dealing with the nitty gritty issues, are introduced. It is sad that local representatives, Deputies and Senators are now obliged to keep close tabs on everything they do.

One of the Minister's main aims is to rid the local government system of Deputies operating under the dual mandate. Given the amount of paperwork they will be obliged to complete on foot of the Bill's provisions, I am sure they will voluntarily decide not to run.

I compliment the Minister on the fact that he did not introduce the Bill under section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1997, which deals with matters concerning the Houses of the Oireachtas, not local government. The Bill is streamlined, less bureaucratic and probably more efficient and, when enacted, it will allow members of the public to discover the expenditure incurred by local representatives without having to travel to Dublin or write to the relevant authority.

I had thought the local electoral Bill would be introduced prior to this Bill. In my opinion there is an ulterior motive behind this. Earlier I referred to the removal of the dual mandate but the Minister pulled back from that principle when he stated that chairpersons of committees will be able to run in the local elections. Everyone in the House knows the reason for that. A sudden decision has not been made that it would be unfair to prevent chairpersons of committees from running. This provision is included in order to allow one individual with a certain control over Government affairs to stand in the elections. That is why the Bill is being introduced before the local electoral Bill. I may be wrong, however, and I am open to correction.

One of the major aspects of the Bill is that the Minister is not proposing to place a cap on the expenditure incurred by candidates in local elections. The Minister justified this by stating that the introduction of a cap would involve additional costs. I do not believe capping would involve extraordinary additional costs. The Bill would be better and more rounded if the Minister agreed to introduce a cap on expenditure. I intend to table amendments on Committee Stage – I am sure other Members will do likewise – to introduce a realistic cap which would not be designed to narrow the field or allow only wealthy people to stand as candidates. The Minister stated that other EU countries do not cap expenditure in local elections but we do not have to slavishly imitate everything they do, we can set standards ourselves. For that reason, the Minister should have introduced the concept of capping.

I am confused by the provision governing election expenses incurred before the four week per iod between the polling day order and the election. How is election expenditure assessed? It is nearly impossible to do so. Everyone knows when local elections are held and a person who intends to stand as a candidate may decide to carry out a subtle canvass for a year beforehand. How will he or she keep a record of their expenditure during that period or is it necessary to do so?

Another important aspect of the Bill involves third parties with no connection with political parties or candidates who intend to incur election expenses. It is stated that these parties must now register with local authorities. This is a complex matter. During the last local election campaign, groups suddenly appeared and put up posters which carried no identifying particulars. These people were not running candidates and merely wished to promote a single point of view. As already stated, they put up posters and distributed leaflets which did not include a publisher's name, a printer's name or the name of their organisation. In some cases they invented a name to use during the campaign but no one knew their real identity. How will we oblige these people to provide details of expenditure they incur? How will we pin them down if they decide to oppose a particular candidate in the elections because they do not like him or her? Is there any way this provision can be strengthened?

I am sure the Minister does not intend his words to be followed slavishly or rigidly, but he stated:

Where a member of a local authority elected at the election fails to furnish, within the specified period, a statement of election expenses or a statutory declaration, the member shall be automatically suspended from membership of the authority for seven days commencing on the expiry of the time specified.

Is any allowance made for the fact that a person may have canvassed for weeks on end and may be exhausted, stressed out, physically debilitated or seriously ill? Suspension should not be automatic and there should be a system of appeal. If a person is ill or if they miss the deadline by one day, there must be a mechanism by which they can avoid suspension.

Section 8 requires a political party which proposes to present candidates at a local election to appoint a designated person in each local electoral area or electoral area where a candidate is nominated. I accept that the Minister's streamlining of the system has reduced the number of agents from over 3,500 to 1,627 but that number could be reduced even further. For example, in an electoral area containing a number of wards, would it be necessary to appoint an agent for each candidate or could an agent deal with a number of wards? Will the Minister clarify this matter?

With regard to incurring expenses, if I was given the use of a car at a lower rental rate than normal I would be obliged to report the average rate on my list of expenses incurred. However, suppose my brother, sister or someone else offered me the use of an office – at no cost or for a nominal fee – for the four weeks of the election campaign. In that instance, the actual rental rates applying to the office would have to be registered on my list of expenses incurred. Given the obvious difference in the cost of renting office space in Dublin 4 and in a small town, who will decide how the rental of office space should be valued? For example, at a rate of £500 per week, an office in Dublin may cost £2,000 to rent for the four weeks of the campaign, an amount which must be registered as a contribution. If a person has been running clinics, perhaps two each week, prior to the local elections in various offices, will they be obliged to include on their list of expenses the use of those offices? There is no doubt that public representatives run clinics in order to gain re-election, which is part of their job. Will they be obliged to include the rental rates for such offices on their list of expenses?

The bottom line here is the principle of openness, of being able to say this is above board, although it is unfortunate that this has become necessary. However, because this principle is included in the thrust and spirit of the Bill we will support it. Nevertheless, the questions on capping and the nameless groups, together with the other points I have raised, will have to be resolved before we are fully satisfied.

I welcome the Minister. He is keeping himself and his Department very busy. There is much new legislation to be looked forward to, including the comprehensive Bill on local government reform which will probably be introduced in a few months.

The are three component parts to the Bill. The first is the statutory scheme for the disclosure of election expenses on the prescribed forms which will be held locally. The second is the disclosure of donations over £500. It is right and proper that donations above £500 are made public because it safeguards the integrity of the democratic system, which is fundamental to our democracy. Perhaps for the future, all sums of money set out in Bills should also be designated in euros, given that we are part of the single currency and given also that Irish punts will be phased out over the transition period.

The third component deals with the research which, following these elections, will be conducted into the electronic methods of recording and counting votes. I welcome this provision. Given that we have a modern economy with a heavy emphasis on information technology and which is promoting itself as a good European base for overseas investment in this area, it is appropriate that all aspects of the State apparatus, including the conduct of elections, would be tangible evidence of our commitment in this area. I hope this research will lead to the implementation of electronic voting and early election results.

We are a very young State; we do not go back hundreds of years nor do we have a long tradition in this area. Given this, I see no reason, as a relative newcomer to the Oireachtas, we would not consider the introduction of electronic voting to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It would be a more up to date approach than trooping through the lobbies. While it may not be the Minister's responsibility, perhaps the relevant authorities would consider this aspect. Other Parliaments have effective systems of electronic voting. It portrays a more modern image of the democratic system and would have greater resonance with the public.

I support and agree with the thrust of the Bill. It is necessary. Experience has chartered the agenda to some extent. Nevertheless, when considering these matters we should look at the best international practice. In this regard, many EU member states provide for the disclosure of information. It has been tried and tested in these countries and it strengthens the process of democracy and public representation. It is essential that there be transparency and accountability and this is what the Bill is about.

It is probably rare for candidates at local level to receive donations in excess of £500. It is right that we get such information, but I would be very surprised if there were many disclosures in excess of that sum. I have contested four or five local elections and I do not believe I have received any personal contributions, never mind ones of £500.

The Senator does not have to make any declarations until after the Bill is enacted.

The measure will probably ensure that few, if any, donors will be prepared to give in excess of £500 to avoid their names being publicised and having negative connotations being put on their contributions. This is a larger question for all our political structures. It needs to be addressed because there is nothing wrong with donations from the private sector provided no strings are attached and provided they are in the public domain.

While I am unreservedly in favour of the requirement to disclose donations, I am not so enthusiastic about the requirement to maintain all expenses incurred for local elections. In my experience, many of these are incurred on an ad hoc basis and generally do not amount to much. However, the climate referred to by Senator Coogan perhaps obliges us to do things which might not be necessary to illustrate that the system is beyond reproach. On that basis the measures should be supported.

However, the Minister should endeavour to keep the relevant form as simple as possible. While essential information should be in the public domain, which will ensure the integrity of the system, we can go overboard in this area and instead of ensuring that the system is transparent and is seen to be such, some people in the media may interpret it differently. We should ensure that does not happen.

The Minister is probably correct in not setting a maximum expenditure limit per candidate for local elections. However, the information which the legislation will gather will be very useful and this aspect should be looked at later. Everybody should be able to participate in politics, be it at local or national level, and this should not be limited by the extent of their own resources or those they can secure to assist their election. There should be some control in this area. By and large, there have been few instances of excessive expenditure but there have been some notable exceptions.

Activists working within political parties may not have a great commitment to tidy administration, etc., because often that is not their concern. They may have other contributions to make. I am concerned that those working in political parties in a voluntary capacity may be exposed to statutory obligations on technical matters such as this, which could deter them from participation or may lead them into unintended difficulties which may arise because of carelessness. That is why the relevant forms should be as simple as possible

I hope the measures in the Bill will be another step in restoring public confidence in and regard for politics. There is a need to promote the positive side of politics. I remember a former Member, Professor Lee, saying at a conference that his opinion of politicians had improved dramatically when he was elected to Seanad Éireann but his opinion of the media had gone in the other direction in inverse proportions.

It is important that the hard work and commitment of politicians and political parties are not lost in a swamp of a few exceptional but highly publicised situations which tend to affect the profession in general. I left my office last night at 11.30 and two or three people were still working. That does not appear on television or in the newspapers but it is a measure of people's commitment. Many politicians work extremely hard and are devoted to the well being of their constituencies and the people they serve. The Bill is a step in the right direction as it promotes openness, transparency and accountability and I hope it is seen as such by the public.

Sections 9 and 10 deal with the responsibilities of an agent and the fact they can be sued by the local authority for non-compliance. There should be protection to ensure that compliance is made easy and that these people get the necessary encouragement. It is unfair to give them responsibility without such encouragement. The political party machine and the candidates work extremely hard during a local election and when it is over they want to get away. This means everything is left on the back burner for a month or two. We should ensure that candidates and party workers do not find themselves in the dock as a result.

Section 11 states that claims for the payment of election expenses must be made by the agent, designated person, candidate or third party concerned not later than the 45th day after polling day at the election. Any claim not received within this period shall not be paid and shall not be enforceable against any of the above mentioned persons. I am glad suppliers will not be at a loss.

They can be legally pursued.

It would be unfair if small printers, etc., who supplied material to the candidates or parties, suffered a loss because their administrative systems failed them.

The Minister should have one simple form for donations and election expenses. There should be an onus on the paid officials of local authorities to send this form by post to all the candidates in the election by a certain date. They should also be obliged to send a reminder to each candidate seven days before the deadline expires. An onus should also be put on individual candidates to respond.

The Minister might consider extending the deadline for a member who is duly elected to submit the document from seven days to 21 days. The thrust of this Bill should be to assist individuals who are duly elected to comply with the regulations rather than disqualifying them because they are not good administrators or are careless in this area. We should incorporate safeguards in the Bill to ensure that does not happen. A person will have no defence if they decide not to comply.

Many local election expenses are as small as £10, £15 or £20. Are the expenses of candidates who buy rounds of drinks for party workers to promote themselves, for example, covered under this legislation? The Minister might consider expenditure in excess of £100 for assessment purposes. I do not know if that will undermine the thrust of the Bill but I am sure the Minister does not want small technicalities to disqualify people.

I welcome section 15 which provides for the position under which the court can grant relief. I note that in section 22 the penalties are generally the same as those applying for similar offences at a Dáil or European Parliament election. If the same penalties are applied in this Bill, the remuneration should at least be proportionate to that received by those elected to the Oireachtas and European Parliament. Perhaps the Minister would consider that in the context of the local government reform Bill. It is time the work of councillors was recognised and that they were given a salary based on the valuable contribution they make to our democratic process, and especially to the development of our counties and urban areas. The days of expecting people to do that on a voluntary basis are gone.

I welcome the provisions relating to research into electronic methods of recording and counting of votes. The Bill is welcome because it sets out a framework under which people can function and operate. Experience here and elsewhere has shown that the process is enhanced and safeguarded by prescribed conditions and regulations. We are responsible for our actions if we move outside those playing rules.

I welcome this important Bill. I am probably the only non-member of a local authority who will speak on this Bill today and my views may be contrary to those of some of my colleagues. I hold people in local authorities in the highest regard. County councillors – I do not depend on their votes – do a particularly good job, but they get a lot of unfair criticism. Their position in society is hugely important but it is not recognised or valued. I am concerned that we will suffer a loss nationally for that reason.

One of the differences between people in Ireland and the rest of Europe is that a successful business or professional person in his or her mid-fifties in a small town or townland in rural France considers it an honour to be elected chairman of the local town council which may represent fewer than 700 people. They are valued and considered to be making an input in the community.

There is a huge job to be done by the Department of the Environment and Local Government to promote the importance of local government to the general public. It is not good enough that the current cynical approach to local government is so rampant. The general view is that the local councillor is just a "cute hoor", in the council for himself and for no other reason. I am not a member of a local authority but I am aware that we will pay a price for that attitude. I am anxious to hear the Minister's views and I urge him to seek a budget line to deal with it. I do not know if school tours are arranged to watch county council and local authority meetings. There is a need to value local government and to raise the profile of local authorities and what they do.

I have lived in north Dublin for the last 30 years. The various inquiries being held at present are turning up matters which leave people aghast. However, the local authority in my area has been quite responsible and visionary in its work. If there were a few corrupt people in the middle of that, I will not comment on them. I am talking about the generality of people, be they councillors, officials or professionals. It is important to make that point.

I have a long held the view that Members of this House do not have enough of a sense of ourselves. We are now applying that lack of esteem to people in local government. We ran before the mob with regard to electoral legislation, disclosure of assets and so forth. I firmly believe in openness and accountability and since I first stood for election I have published accounts and made them freely available at each election. I do not care about people's comments on the origins of the money. It is important for the people who elect me to know that the INTO and groups involved with that organisation put money in my election campaign and it is important for them to see the amounts. Therefore, people will know what my stable is or from where I come. That is as important as knowing a person's party affiliation. Nothing needs to be hidden.

However, the Minister left the capping matter open. I wish to put my views clearly on the record and I am probably one of the few, from my neck of the woods, willing to do this. I am absolutely opposed to capping. It is unnecessary and probably impractical. It creates a bureaucratic mountain of statements, paper, checks, balances and legislation, which is hugely unnecessary and achieves little. There should be a simple statement of accounts, that is, a requirement for openness, responsibility and ensuring the electorate knows what is happening. A simple statement of accounts would show what money came in and what was expended.

I disagree with the threshold of £500. I could find ten ways around that figure without even trying. A person is obliged to declare all donations above £500. However, if I get 100 people to play a round of golf at £50 each and get £5,000, I am not obliged to declare it. The provision is daft. The same provision applies to the Oireachtas but I hold the same view about the spurious type of accountability we are unnecessarily imposing on ourselves.

We are elected representatives. We should be open, we should answer questions and show from where every penny comes. It could be a golf outing which raised £5,000. We should explain that and outline where the money was spent. There is no necessity for big brother to stand over us and say "you should not spend the money on that, you should not have got more than such and such from somebody or the amount of money you spend should be capped". I am aware of the thinking behind this attitude and many people in politics with whom I generally agree have a different view on this subject.

However, I have argued this case for the past two to three years and I regret some of the legislative measures, one of which was the Electoral Act, which have been passed by these Houses. I accept that this Bill must follow the other Bills. The mistake was made earlier and we should have stepped back then.

The Seanad is also due to consider the new ethics legislation. The first attempt at that legislation was difficult. A politician would have had to have been another Houdini to evade the traps in that legislation. It was virtually set up to put politicians sitting on a trapdoor. That is unnecessary. What our constituents want is openness. They want to know where the money came from and how it was spent. That is all they need to know.

The tribunals have shown that all political parties were receiving contributions from various sources. Obviously, aspects of those contributions are the subject of inquiry and I will not discuss them. However, it is useful to know that a certain company was giving large amounts of money to two or three political parties. The electorate is entitled to know that. There is nothing wrong with it and, as long as the electorate knows, it can make its judgments on that basis. It is entitled to know that Joe O'Toole is supported by trade unions. If somebody else is supported by the other side of the industrial relations spectrum, the electorate is entitled to know that also. This issue is not about restrictions but about giving people the space to run elections in a transparent manner.

I do not know a great deal about the dual mandate but I am not as hung up about the subject as others. The Minister has offered the view on a number of occasions that the dual mandate is undesirable. I am not so sure. The electorate can be wise enough to make these decisions on the basis of whether somebody does a good job. I accept that there are opposing arguments. The strongest argument in favour of abolishing the dual mandate is participation – it allows more people to be involved in the system. I probably should be in favour of getting rid of it on that basis.

However, people have a democratic right to stand for election as representatives of their community. Has a constitutional investigation been carried out with regard to the right of the State to restrict individuals from standing for election on the basis that they already represent people in another forum? I have always felt uncomfortable with that. Whatever the pragmatic considerations, that aspect should be examined.

Electronic voting is little different from moving from the quill to the biro; it is no big deal. The Minister should simply bring forward proposals and find out where they need to be changed. There is no big deal about pressing a button instead of filling in a form. In fact, it is easier. I strongly believe we should press ahead with it.

I have been trying to manage change in this area of education for the last three or four years. I am aware of all the arguments against it made by the people who might have been born five centuries ago. People will tell you everything that is wrong with the current system until one tries to change it. Suddenly, they start to speak about all that is right with it. That is the natural way of people who oppose change.

We are now in the electronic age and that should inform and permeate all aspects of life. Electronic voting should simply be introduced. I accept that the Bill had to include an enabling section to allow people to examine the ballot papers. I do not know how necessary such research is but I am prepared to take the Minister's word on it.

When this Bill was first published, I could not discern its objective from the Long Title. I am not being smart or emulating my colleague, Senator Norris, on the quality of language. I read the Title a few times in an effort to discern its meaning. It states: ". . . TO PROVIDE FOR RESEARCH USING BALLOT PAPERS INTO ELECTRONIC METHODS. . . ". Now that I am aware of its meaning, the wording is more clear. It probably should have read "to allow ballot papers to be used for research". The Title is a little confus ing in its drafting but I strongly agree with that section of the Bill.

I oppose capping. I do not know why the long list of definitions of the various types of expenditure and donations is required. I presume it is included in case the Minister changes his mind about capping. I urge him not to do so and to leave that section intact.

We must seek to attract people of substance and authority who want to give something to the community. Footballers, for example, like to give something back by joining the administration when they are older, or by training the younger teams. Everyone likes to give something back when they have the time to do it. Local government should move in that direction.

The Minister should take particular note of any restrictive legislation which goes beyond reasonable openness and accountability. People standing for election should be open and accountable but we do not need to put complex structures in place to achieve this. We should recognise that these are people who put themselves forward to help the community for little or no reward. For that reason we should make it attractive to them to get involved in local authorities. People will then see for themselves that local authorities are part of the community and will realise the importance of voting in elections to it and offering views on issues it addresses. That might give some courage to mealy – mouthed local authority members who are afraid to take hard decisions. We need people of substance with leadership qualities who will do this for the benefit of their communities and local areas.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on the volume of legislation which he is introducing. I support this Bill. If the outcome of this Bill is to enhance the reputation of politics at local and other levels, it must be welcomed. As we speak matters are at an all time low and that is not good for the State or its citizens. Any action the Minister can take to address that has to be supported.

The principle of disclosure is good. The public has the right to know how much money is spent on elections and from where it came. It is of fundamental importance that the system which makes those disclosures public should be as simple as possible. People offering themselves for election at local level are amateurs in the political culture. Many come from residents associations and community groups and they are accustomed to providing important public services on a voluntary basis – that is their ethic. We should be careful not to put too many bureaucratic impediments in their way.

Political parties are finding it difficult to persuade candidates of quality to offer themselves for election, particularly at local level. That is a serious impasse in our electoral history. If people of intelligence and integrity do not see a chal lenge in local politics there must be something wrong with the way it is operated.

I am sorry that the local government reform Bill has not preceded this Bill into the Houses of the Oireachtas. A wide ranging legislative measure to carry out a root and branch reform of local government is needed more than anything else. When we consider other European states, one of the most salient features of those states is the strength of local government. We see the hallmarks of that when we see how cities are run in other European countries. We ask why cities are run in this manner and the answer is that there is strong local government. There is a strong local mayor, directly elected by the citizens, who runs the city for a defined period and has discretion, role and function to run it along certain lines.

In cities of that kind there are modern traffic and waste management systems. There are well developed recreational provisions for citizens. They are run so well that one wonders why we do not run our cities on the same lines and why we cannot put our public services on a par with those delivered in most other European countries. It is because of the weakness of local government in this State and the strength of local government in those countries. There exists there a participatory form of local democracy – the citizenry is engaged in a dynamic way in making decisions which affect their lives and because they are engaged in this way, they have a respect for their local government which is remarkably absent in this country.

If we are serious about restoring politics to where it should be we must start with local government reform. We must give some decision making power to local authorities and the people living within their boundaries so they can decide if they will have a public park or a branch library, for example. They can be involved in decision making on cleansing and the litter problem. Other European countries do not have a litter problem because they have a civic culture and pride.

While I welcome this Bill, I regret that it has not been preceded by the other Bill. There is great apathy among the citizenry towards local government in particular. That is a pity because local government is the oldest form of self-government in this State, predating by many decades the establishment of Dáil or Seanad Éireann. Patrick Kavanagh was speaking about himself when he said "This soul needs to be honoured with a new dress". Local government in this State needs to be honoured with a new dress.

In the run-up to the election on 11 June, parties across the board are finding it difficult to attract the candidates we need to have if we are going to bring in all these promised changes. This is because local government has been stripped of function and role by central government for many years. It is particularly upsetting that so few women are offering themselves as candidates in the upcoming local elections. I am in a con fessional frame of mind this morning; I have tried hard to encourage more women to run as candidates in the upcoming election. When I tell them what they will called upon to do, they shake their heads. They feel they can do better and more meaningful work for voluntary bodies. That is a pity and we must address this issue soon. If this Bill goes part of the way to doing that, it must be supported and welcomed.

Capping was referred to by a number of Senators who have differing views. I cannot say I have an open mind; I fear that if some form of capping is not in place, people who have a good contribution to make to public life will not be able to compete with those who can generate large sums of money and who can run election campaigns without any limit on expenditure. That would be a backward step.

I am not the kind of person who looks for an excess of regulation because one cannot regulate for decency and honesty. If one is crooked and dishonest, one can drive a coach and four through any legislation. That has happened, to our detriment. Nonetheless, the Minister should monitor this area closely and put time into analysing it. If it emerges that putting a limit on the amount of money a candidate can spend would increase access and encourage more people to run for election, it ought to be introduced.

If electronic voting is necessary, the process as outlined in the Bill ought to be supported. This should happen sooner rather than later to ensure that the electronic system of voting and counting is in place. Interminable counts have run their course. I remember the appalling count in Dublin South-Central and the impact it had on candidates and their families; nobody ought to be subjected to that level of raw torture. We should bring our electoral system into line with that of others. We are a bright people. Why do so many overseas investors want to locate their plants here? Because we have a good, intelligent and well educated population. However, if the way we dealt with elections was one's only peephole into Irish life, one would not be inclined to hold that view. We still count votes and deliver results as if we were living in the middle of the last century. I support any effort by the Minister and the Government to speed up the introduction of modern voting systems to put us on a par with other European countries.

If this Bill helps us to clean up our act, or to be seen to do so, it must be supported. I do not think most Members of the Oireachtas have any act to clean up. However, we are living in an age of perception and if one of us sins, we are all guilty. That is not to deny the fact that appalling incidents happened in the past. I am not saying they were figments of the media's imagination; they happened and are under investigation. I hope that by the time the investigations are completed we will have rooted out a part of our political past from which we would all like to walk away.

We would like people to feel, once again, that it was a privilege to serve their country as a public servant, whether in local government or central government. That is the ideal to which all of us should aspire. We inherited from the founding fathers an approach to public life which was patriotic and exemplary. It would be nice if we could arrive at a stage where we would pass on the same attitude to the next generation who would see it as a privilege to serve in public life.

On the Minister's last visit to the House, we had a positive discussion on the legislation before us then. I regret that the Labour Party will oppose this legislation because it is unnecessary and unworthy. The legislation and the reasons for its introduction – as published and with the further announcement the Minister made today as regards the position of Deputy Healy-Rae – are an example, at a time when politics can least afford it, of stroke politics of the worst kind. I mean that in two senses.

First, at the stroke of a pen the Minister is giving away powers he already has under the Electoral Act, 1997, which was considered by these Houses at length. These powers, covered in section 72, limit spending on local elections. The second stroke is that, having published the Bill the week before last, the Minister said he will make a fundamental change to the Bill on Committee Stage by proposing that Deputy Healy-Rae will be allowed retain his substantially paid position as chairman of an Oireachtas committee and run for local elections. This reverses the agreed position accepted by all parties in this House a number of years ago.

At each Ard Fheis since taking office, the Taoiseach has given a commitment to clean up politics and has said that there will be no room in his party for anyone not capable of living up to the highest standards. In conjunction with that, there have been numerous well flagged reports in the media that the Taoiseach will introduce a code of conduct for his party candidates and elected representatives. Given that stated position, the last thing one would expect is the Government to introduce legislation on conducting elections which seeks to remove some of the protections of existing legislation, particularly the provisions of the Electoral Act, 1997. This is unworthy of a Government which is preparing standards in public office legislation.

However, we have come some way. In 1995, during the debate on Second Stage of the Electoral Bill, the Progressive Democrats Party stated its principled opposition to the Bill, on the grounds that it did not want public money spent on the political process. One can only assume that, if that is still the position, it prefers dependence on corporate donations.

Or trade unions.

In Dublin Castle, every day of the week for the past few months, we see where that has got us. One can only assume its position has not changed. At least it can be said that one element of this Bill is consistent with that philosophy, even if it is somewhat disquieting that this is the party currently priding itself on its role in overseeing the major party in Government.

In 1995, as in 1989, matters were different. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, was not in senior Fianna Fáil circles during 1989 to look the other way when Charles Haughey was spending money like confetti. In fairness to the Minister, his contribution in the debate on the Electoral Bill, 1997, was among the more restrained by members of his party. Others are obsessed about the Labour Party's political correctness. It is somewhat amusing to see the ethical rhetorical heights they are now reaching given the treatment they meted out to members of my party at that time.

It is in this context that I thought a general consensus had emerged in recent years on the appropriateness of limits on expenditure and the disclosure of donations. Apparently this is not the case. It appears the Minister has gone to the trouble of publishing fresh legislation which duplicates the wide and flexible powers available to him in the Act, solely so the complete contradiction as to how separate electoral contests are being treated does not appear under the auspices of the same piece of legislation. I predict a mess will emerge in claims, counter claims and disputes over whether electoral expenditure this year was meant for European elections or local elections.

One can only assume the Government, if it had its way, would also like to repeal the cap on spending which exists for general and European elections. Having participated in the three Dáil by-elections last year, I was struck by the constant complaints from activists and members of Fianna Fáil on the ground in the three constituencies about their having plenty of money to spend but not being allowed to spend it.

I note only the Labour Party and one other party failed to make proper returns in those by-elections.

I note that. It does not negate the constant complaints by members of Fianna Fáil canvassing on the ground that if only they could spend the money at their disposal they would have had a much better chance of winning the election.

I welcome the extension of the disclosure clauses of the 1997 Act to local elections. It makes sense. However it does not make sense that fundamental aspects of that Act, which are now beginning to overcome their original teething difficulties, are being jettisoned completely.

The 1997 Act was based on two fundamental points, disclosure and expenditure caps. While this Bill retains disclosure, the expenditure caps are gone. The Minister's reasoning in his speech this morning, that such a limit would make the scheme very bureaucratic for candidates and political parties and would add to its cost, is extremely weak. If that is the case for local elections, the principle also applies to Oireachtas and European elections. Why does the Minister not get rid of it altogether then?

I will in the next electoral Bill.

The Minister should bring it before us and we will see what the public thinks of it. The purpose of disclosure and expenditure caps was to ensure the perception that elections could not be bought, or perhaps more importantly be seen to be bought, and to ensure contributions to campaigns would be made in public. Nobody is arguing against contributions, only that they be public and with limits, in the interests of transparency. The decision is bizarre. Theoretically at least, a local election candidate can spend more than a European election candidate. A local election candidate in a small electoral area can spend more than someone covering a whole province in a European election.

If he had it.

The Minister must be party to higher logic than I. I cannot understand it. Equally bizarre is that the Bill proceeds as though the spending caps remained in place. I suppose a case can be made for examining election expenses even without a cap on spending, but it is a poor second to the real thing.

It has been reported that the Government standards legislation will contain proposals to beef up the Public Offices Commission established by the previous Government. Can the Minister enlighten us on what that legislation will contain? If media reports are true, it surprises me even more that the body charged with the supervision of other elections is not to be used for the supervision of these elections.

Local authorities are not being given extra resources to carry out the function bestowed on them in this Bill. It will place a great strain on their ability to carry out day to day work which all of us as elected representatives know they do under great strain and pressure. Perhaps the real intention is not only to ensure the controls put in place do not apply to local elections, but also to see that they do not work in respect of any elections. I was disappointed to hear the Minister's comments regarding his intentions and views on that this morning.

The fact that the European elections take place on the same day as the local elections will give rise to further complications and effectively render the monitoring of spending on European elections almost impossible. I would be the first to acknowledge that there were teething problems with the 1997 legislation. However we expected them. I did not expect the repeal of section 72, including the powers to limit expenditure, would be put before us by the Minister.

When the Bill was published, due to much discussion in the media and here in the Houses, everybody wanted to know where Deputy Healy-Rae stood on the Bill. It beggars belief that a Bill published two weeks ago would not have contained the Minister's intention to allow the chairmen of Oireachtas committees stand for local elections this year. Many of the chairmen have made decisions based on the existing provisions. Why did the Minister not have the courage to be upfront two weeks ago and say that Deputy Healy-Rae, as part of his continuing price for supporting the Government, was extracting this concession? Given the loss of Kerry and Clare from Objective One status negotiations and statements by the Taoiseach as reported in today's newspapers, is this the Deputy's consolation prize?

Under this legislation the sky is the limit for local election expenditure. We will have an anomaly where there are strict limits on expenditure for elections in the higher levels of Government, but none for local authorities. The sky will be the limit for those who can afford it. I predict that as a result of the Minister repealing the powers in section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1997, sooner or later more people will come before tribunals.

The Government's decision is incomprehensible given that tribunals are sitting in Dublin Castle, with one in particular examining the relationship between developers and the local government system. Given the noises the Progressive Democrats – which has a junior Minister in this Department – have been making, it is extraordinary they agreed to this proposal. Senator Quill made some noises this morning. I wonder if she will be listened to, even on Committee Stage.

The imposition of limits on the amounts Dáil candidates can spend was welcome and it has slowed down the rapidly escalating cost of contesting general elections, a trend which was putting people off standing for the Dáil as they knew others had a lot of money at their disposal. This Bill imposes no controls and will lead to a significant increase in the cost of local government elections for everyone, much of which will be wasteful and unnecessary. It will ultimately benefit candidates in parties which can raise most money and will inevitably increase the influence of the corporate sector on local government.

I oppose this Bill, as does the Labour Party. I wish to share the remainder of my time with Senator Costello.

I thank Senator Gallagher for his remaining few minutes.

Let me clarify. Senator Costello has his own time and the remainder of Senator Gallagher's time. He has 15 minutes in total.

I will not avail of 15 minutes. Five minutes should be sufficient. I welcome some elements of the Bill. I welcome the Minister's proposal that all local election expenses in terms of candidates and political parties should be disclosed and the inclusion of the source of donations over £500. I also welcome the Minister's proposal to establish research into computer generated methods of counting and recording votes.

However, the Bill falls down disastrously on the two elements on which Senator Gallagher dwelt. This Bill could have been good legislation if the Minister had gone in that direction but it is not too late. The Minister proposes to introduce an amendment which allows chairpersons of committees to stand in local elections. That is a late decision and, if introduced, I will oppose it. There is nothing to stop the Minister introducing a further major amendment which would have the effect of limiting the amount of money which can be spent on local elections. If that is done, it will be in accordance with the principle established on general elections and European elections. It is an important principle which has been recognised on all sides of the House – politics cannot be conducted unless it is seen to be above reproach.

Criteria and standards must be provided. This is an essential core standard which must be enshrined in legislation on local government because, if it is not, we will become the laughing stock of the community. Our credibility has been severely dented and tarnished due to recent events. The Flood Tribunal which is examining local authority planning should give a clear warning that unless we get our house in order the entire framework of electoral representative politics will be a cause of major concern among the public.

The Minister is on record as stating that he is part of the new clean Fianna Fáil which is not part of the old generation and he should be pointing the way forward. One way this might be done is not just to disclose electoral expenses or the sources of funding over a certain amount but also to ensure there is a level playing pitch for all citizens who aspire to represent the people of this country. Nobody can stand for election unless he or she can face the electorate. Nobody should be forced to stand for election with one hand tied behind his or her back because he or she does not have the resources of a major political party. It is incumbent on the Minister to establish that principle at local electoral level.

The Labour Party will oppose this legislation unless a commitment can be given that an amendment will be tabled on Committee Stage which will give effect to that principle. If it is introduced, it will create a huge mess. In his address, the Minister said it will give rise to bureaucracy. I would prefer if it gave rise to bureaucracy which is accountable, can be examined and ensures we present ourselves to the electorate in a fair and impartial fashion so that all our finances will be clearly above reproach, rather than one that creates a bureaucratic mess which will be the outcome of the decision to repeal section 72 of the 1997 Electoral Act.

How can the situation exist where the local election candidates will wish to be associated with the European candidates and vice versa? If both are put on the same literature whose literature will it be? From where will the financing come? Will it be part of the capped European election expenditure or part of the uncapped local election expenditure? Surely that is a bureaucratic mess. By avoiding that mess and ensuring the cap for local elections the problem will be easier to address.

With regard to the Minister's amendment to provide for the chairpersons of committees, it is pointed and undue of him to introduce such an amendment. It is directed at one person. When legislation is reduced to the requirements of the Taoiseach of the day to have an Independent Member vote for him, and when legislation enshrines the wishes of that person, the legislation will be a laughing stock. I bring this to the attention of the Progressive Democrats who have a strong record of fair play and accountability. It is not good enough to have legislation passed which reflects the wishes of the chairperson of one of the Dáil's committees because he wants it changed. That is the price of the Minister's support for this Government. He is about to lose Kerry in one sense, but as one of my colleagues said, there is a consolation prize at the expense of the Legislature and the good name and repute of this and the other House. It is a bad way for elected representatives to conduct the running of the country.

I welcome the provision for disclosure of donations and their source in relation to expenses but the failure to provide a cap or limit on the expenditure and the intention to change the legislation to suit the requirements of one individual in the other House are unbecoming and unless there is a commitment to movement on those two matters we will oppose the legislation.

I express my appreciation to Senators for this useful debate.

Senator Coogan raised the question, as did others, of there being no cap on expenditure. I outlined in detail my reasoning on this. I do not wish to delay the House in going through it again but it will be useful if Senators consider my reasoning. When in opposition and during the discussions on the Electoral Act I was consistent in the view that when people stand for election it should be as open as possible, it should be known from where their money is coming and where and how much is being spent. Anything beyond that is an intrusion into the democratic process by Government and those others who seek to act as policemen on all fronts.

It has been a bureaucratic nightmare for those people trying to watch what they are doing on expenditure from a party political point of view. Our only examples to date have been the two or three by-elections. As I said at the time, Fianna Fáil appears to be the only party who got it right. Others had to correct their returns. From my knowledge and from information which I received locally, I have grave doubts about the returns made by a party under the terms of the Electoral Act in one by-election. The standard and type of posters used and the amount of advertising in local newspapers would lead me to believe that it far exceeded the amount provided for in the Act. However, it would be difficult to prove that.

As Senator O'Toole has said, people want to know how much can be spent, how much was spent and the source of donations over £500. That is the kind of information that is provided for in this Bill. We should not provide for anything more than that because we do not need a lot of bureaucracy.

Senator Gallagher talked about the burden this scheme would place on local authorities, particularly with regard to expenditure. If this scheme, whereby a local authority takes returns which declare how much is spent by 30 or 40 candidates in a local authority election and the source of their money, will be a burden to local authorities, then the logic of his argument is that it will cause huge difficulties to have the scheme centralised in the Public Offices Commission. In other words, if the burden will be so big on a single local authority, either an urban council or county council, imposing an obligation on the Public Offices Commission to do it for the entire country is totally at variance with the Deputy's argument. The public will know who is spending the money and its source.

With regard to Senator Walsh's comment, the form to be used will be simple and straightforward. It will seek information on the donations received by a person and the total expenditure a person has made on a local election. It will also seek information on how much a person has spent from their own sources and they will have to provide the information as to where the balance came from in a general sense. Any donation in excess of £500 will have to be included on the form. If a person wants to spend over £150,000 to get elected to Bundoran, Buncrana or Ballydehob Urban District Council then that person will have to declare it on their form. When the local electorate sees this they can ask their own questions. It is ludicrous to suggest that someone could spend more money on county council elections than on a European Parliament election.

Senator Coogan raised the point about expenditure before the election period. Part of the problem with this type of legislation – we discussed this issue at great length when both Houses debated the Electoral Act – is that the same questions always arise. When does it start? When does it finish? What qualifies? Is a round of drinks classed as expenditure, as mentioned by Senator Walsh? There must be start-up and cut-off dates.

Members raised a series of valid questions that are not easily answered. However, they would have to be answered if expenditure limits were included. Senator Coogan asked if a person who conducts a clinic and uses a local hall for 12 months will have to declare it. That person is doing so to get re-elected. As to whether it forms part of the expenditure does not matter if there is no expenditure limit. However, it does matter if there is because then one has to start asking questions about it.

I would emphasise that expenditure on anything before the polling date is set which is used during the election campaign is included. For example, if a person buys their posters now, prepares canvass cards or places advertisements in the local newspaper which read: "Vote for me I am your local election candidate" these measures will all be classed as election expenditure.

Senator Coogan and a number of other Senators raised another point about setting election expenditure limits, namely, what limits does one set? Does one set separate limits for each different type of local authority? Then one must address the fact that some local authority electoral areas have seven seats while others have only three seats. I dealt with this issue in my speech.

We also have to deal with the fact that there is a bigger electorate in urban council elections than in county council elections. We have to examine all these details and be seen to be fair at all times. We would have to deal with a whole range of constitutional and equality issues that will never be sorted out. It is for that reason that I believe expenditure limits are inappropriate and are unnecessary for local elections.

With regard to Senator Walsh's point, I have heard anecdotal stories of people spending large amounts of money in local elections. My own experience of county council elections – it would be slightly different for an urban area – is that people do not go mad with election expenditure. I would let the electorate make their own judgments in relation to how they treat that information.

A number of Senators referred to the provision for automatic suspension after seven days. I am not in favour of changing this provision because it comes 56 days after a person is supposed to have made their declaration. The person is then suspended for seven days and if they have not made a return they are automatically suspended. Perhaps there is more to be said with regard to the point made by Senator Walsh that if necessary or by way of regulation – it may not be necessary in the legislation – we might include warning signals and discuss it on Committee Stage.

It is not necessary to provide a different agent for each candidate in each ward. It is acceptable for a party to arrange for one person to take on the responsibility for the entire local authority area. This issue is drafted in the Bill in this form because of my experience with larger parties where there are many candidates contesting seats and one candidate may not know what the other is doing.

With regard to using euros in the legislation, our legal advice is that we should not do so at present. I will try to provide more information for the Senator on that issue.

As regards some of the other points raised, the form will be very simple and straightforward and guidelines will also be issued. This did not take place before the last election. We will try to clarify matters and have guidelines issued to local authorities. Allowing local authorities to deal with the matter directly will mean that people can check locally whether they are within the guidelines.

On third party expenditure during elections, this is included as a safeguard. It was felt that during Dáil elections people might do the sort of things talked about, so this is included as a safeguard even though it will not be easy to police.

A number of Senators referred to the profile of local government and the necessity to make it more relevant to people. I have spent a lot of time trying to raise this profile and putting across a positive image of local government. Given that this is the centenary year of local government, local authorities have an ideal opportunity to raise their profile. There is an open week in April or May to show people what happens in local authorities. Probably the best PR for a local authority is how members conduct their business, how they become involved with the local community and advance the causes of the local people. This is happening to a greater extent at present with the integration of local government and local development. It is important that we continue down the route of partnership, which is something I will continue to promote.

The question was raised as to why this Bill was introduced before the Bill on local government reform. I intended this Bill to be part of the local government reform Bill. Unfortunately, the local government reform Bill will not be enacted before the local elections, but I hope to publish the Bill early in June. This means that the Bill before us today had to take precedence.

A question was raised concerning changing the amendment in relation to the position of chairpersons of Oireachtas committees. Up to recently I intended to change this requirement by order, which I have the power to do. The legislation allows for individual chairs of individual committees to be excluded from the terms of the Local Government Act, 1994. Recently I was advised that for this to apply generally I would have to introduce primary legislation. This is the reason it was not included in the original Bill and is being signalled clearly here today. This does not apply just to one chairperson of a particular committee; it applies to every chairperson of every committee of the House.

I have a view on the matter which has some legal basis. If one allows Members of this House to be members of local authorities, one cannot preclude them in the way this legislation does. This is why I have decided, as part of the local government reform Bill, to abolish the dual mandate and forbid Members of the Oireachtas from becoming members of local government prior to the local elections in the year 2004. I believe it is justifiable to remove the bar on chairpersons becoming members of local authorities in the next elections.

I think I have covered most points raised by Senators. I thank them for their contributions to the debate and look forward to a lively Committee Stage debate.

The question is: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." On that question a division has been challenged. Will those Senators calling for a division please rise in their places?

Senators Costello, Gallagher and O'Meara rose.

As fewer than five Senators rose in their places I declare that the question is carried.

Question declared carried.

The names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Official Report and Journal of Proceedings of the Seanad.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9 March 1999.
The Seanad adjourned at 1.5 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 March 1999.