Senators may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to discussion on the amendment. Also, each Report Stage amendment must be seconded. Amend ments Nos. 1, 29, 30, 31 and 32 are related and are to be discussed together.
Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
"3.–A political party, the President, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, of the European Parliament, of a local authority or of Údarás na Gaeltachta, or a candidate for any of the said offices, shall not directly or indirectly accept a donation for political (including electoral) purposes from any person (including a body corporate) other than a Dáil elector."
This amendment addresses a key issue in the Bill, namely that a political party shall not directly or indirectly accept a donation for political purposes from any person or body corporate. That is the key to our approach. Those involved should be Dáil electors and therefore Irish citizens and should be persons as distinct from a body corporate. Contributions should only come from that quarter. We have a particular difficulty in relation to corporate donations and this is not just a matter of a principled position. It is desirable that there should be no funding contributions to political parties, good, bad or indifferent, or from individuals to politicians. However, because there have been so many problems and controversies relating to this, resulting in tribunals being established, we see the difficulties that have arisen with political donations on a daily basis.
Whether we like it, in the public mind we, as politicians, are now identified with brown paper bags. We are identified with donations and the public has made what is for them a logical connection, that donations are made for a political purpose. If one gets a large donation from a body corporate or an individual, people will reach what seems to them to be an obvious conclusion: that politicians are in the pocket of business and big business in particular.
We have a responsibility to put our house in order and until we take the initiative on this and make hard decisions then we will not get the respect of the electorate that is required for politics. Politics should be above reproach. Plato said that those who aspire to politics should be people of the highest wisdom and that only those with wisdom, experience and maturity and who had reached the highest pinnacles were fit to govern their peers. At present the electorate would laugh if one asserted that that is the profession of which we are part and parcel. I ask the Minister of State to look at this from that point of view, not a party political or Opposition point of view. He should look at this from the perspective of what we must do to reform politics and change the attitude that has cast a huge shadow over all political activity in Ireland in recent years.
Money is at the heart of the problem. Until we can eliminate money from that problem substantially and significantly we cannot deal with this. I am asking the Minister of State to look at this matter again and accept the amendment, which would change matters by allowing only a Dáil elector to provide a donation. This would also apply to areas outside the country. Large sums of money have been used for political purposes within this jurisdiction which emanated from people and organisations which have no direct contact with the electoral process here. They are certainly not citizens of Ireland but have huge influence on the way politics develops here.
It is appropriate to look at where we are and to look at this important legislation and put down a benchmark which shows how we want to go forward. We should do so in such a way as to allow us to say, after the legislation is passed, that this is what we are doing to reform the situation and to ensure that in future there are no allegations of corruption, bribery or interference in the political arena.
I second the amendment.
The distinction between my amendment and that of the Labour Party is subtle but there is no great difference. Amendment No. 1 would prohibit corporate donations while my amendment refers to certain people being allowed to make donations and disallows corporate donations. The same principle underlies both amendments and the reason for tabling them is the same.
Senator Costello referred to Plato. I am not sure who said that if we did not learn from our history, we were doomed to repeat its mistakes but that is true here. The history about which we are talking is that being made in the tribunals. We recognise that nobody has been charged there but the implications of what appears to be going on have undermined public confidence in this profession.
It is more of a profession than a career and should appear to be so. The distinction between the two is subtle but important. People devote themselves to public service for the good of the public. That is a profession. The public must recognise that those they have elected to do the job are above reproach. Unfortunately, they cannot do that today because of the relationship between large businesses and Government. They see that this relationship is a symbiotic one. The greater the contribution made, the more likely it is that influence will be won and legislation swayed.
This is accepted in the United States where there is legalised lobbying by large groups such as the tobacco industry, the arms industry and the oil industry. We recently discussed in this House the proposed visit of President Bush to Europe. We are aware of his views concerning the oil lobby. We know that the Kyoto agreement, which is strongly supported in Europe, is being washed down. I do not doubt that there is an influential relationship between the large oil companies and the presidency of the United States.
That kind of relationship may suggest to some people that we are all a little bent somewhere along the line. That is not a standard we want. We do not want to tell our young people that this is acceptable. It is not acceptable and the only way to make sure this message hits home is to break the link between business and politics. If the Minister were to accept the amendments in the spirit in which they are intended, it would be a large step in breaking the perceived link between big business and political influence. That is critical.
The subject of amendments Nos. 29 and 30 may seem small. Amendment No. 29 seeks to reduce the sum from £2,000 to £500. However, the sum of £500 is adequate. It is a serious enough contribution but four times that amount is more than serious. It may require or demand influence.
Another matter, which also influences Senator Costello's amendment concerns contributions from outside the State and the undue influence that may come from those. The possibility of influence by groups which may have little or no concept of what is happening in Ireland should be brought into the public domain. Through large contributions and emotional relationships, such groups may feel that they can improve Ireland. They often contribute to anarchists and terrorists who seek to overthrow the State. I believe that the Government has intentions in this regard, but I ask the Minister to take on board the points raised by Labour and Fine Gael with regard to the relationship between big business and political influence.
I come to this with a different perspective than that put forward by many Members. There is a danger in referring to the tribunals. We must recognise that any payments that are now under investigation by the tribunals were from an era of total secrecy. There were no declarations of interest. That culture has changed.
The Senator should tell that to the public.
There is a legal obligation on Members to declare all amounts in excess of £500. That brings transparency to the system, which is desirable and good. It is said that if the amounts are reduced and the payments are not allowed, this will remove bribery and corruption. That is a facile view. In trying to outdo each other on the high moral ground, there is a danger that we will shoot ourselves in the feet.
We should recognise that since the foundation of the State there has been a high degree of probity at all levels of administration, among professional and elected officials. There have been few transgressions, but where they occur they must be dealt with. A small minority who have dishonest inclinations in the future will not be influenced by the limits proposed in these amendments. It is proper policing that is needed to ensure a proper culture. We pass much legislation in the Houses which is put in place because of human weakness. People will transgress all sorts of laws.
Amendment No. 1 suggests that there should be no contributions made from private sector interests, be they individual or corporate. Amendment No. 32 confines the level of contributions from individuals only. I have a difficulty in separating corporate contributions from individual contributions. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with corporations or individuals making a contribution to parties or individuals running for election. There is expense in the political process and as we have seen recently at home and abroad, the challenge is to keep people engaged in the democratic process and exercising their franchise. It is unhealthy for democracy that only a small proportion of the people exercise that franchise. It can lead to unrepresentative results.
Political parties need large sums of money to administer their affairs. There is nothing wrong with that. All that expense should not be imposed on the taxpayer. A mix of private and public funding is the way forward. In relation to the amendments, the new limit of £2,000 in the Bill is acceptable and reasonable. I do not agree with Senator Coogan that £500 is a large amount of money. A person may incur expenses of that magnitude for one particular trip. A 300-mile round trip will incur such expenses. A sum of £500 is a small amount today. The £2,000 is pitched at an appropriate level.
I said on Second Stage that the limit of £5,000 for political parties is unrealistically low. Having thought about it since Committee Stage, I feel it should be at least £25,000. However, I accept that the £5,000 limit is now part of the Bill and the Minister will not change that. The cost of running the main political parties runs into millions of pounds per year. To get a reasonable proportion of that money in contributions from those who may have like-minded views to a political party or an individual, and wish to support them, is not wrong in a transparent system. I am opposed to the amendments under discussion.
These amendments propose to limit the giving of political donations to Dáil electors and set limits to donations of either £500 or £1,000. The subject matter of the amendments was discussed on Second Stage and Committee Stage when the arguments for and against were well made by Senators. I note that Fine Gael Members do not seem to be able to agree on the figure which should apply. In amendment No. 29 the suggested limit is £500, while in amendment No. 32 it is increased to £1,000.
It is an aggregate figure for one year.
It would not be feasible to restrict donations to Dáil electors only. What about other electors who are not Dáil electors, such as those eligible to vote at European Parliament elections and local elections? Surely, in a free democratic system, these people should also be entitled to make a donation to a political party or candidate.
I do not accept that it is practical or feasible to distinguish between corporate or non-corporate donations. None of those proposing the banning of corporate donations has sought to explain how to distinguish between an individual and a corporate contribution. We dealt with some of the questions which arise in that regard on previous Stages, but no legal explanation has been put forward by those proposing that a ban be imposed. As stated on Committee Stage, the Government sought legal opinion on this matter from a number of sources, all of which confirmed that it is not legally possible to make a definite distinction between the two in legislation and that it would not be possible to enforce that distinction.
Most of the arguments in respect of this matter have, therefore, already been made in this House and the Lower House. It is not necessary to repeat them at this point. I cannot accept the amendments and ask the Senators to withdraw them.
I am not satisfied with the Minister of State's reply. I have now had an opportunity to read amendments Nos. 29 to 32, inclusive, tabled by Fine Gael, and discover that they run along the same lines as the amendment in my name.
The Minister of State's reply was inadequate. He stated that he received legal opinion in relation to this matter to the effect that it is neither practical nor feasible to separate corporate from personal donations. Previously, the Taoiseach stated that the legal opinion he obtained was to the effect that it is unconstitutional to separate them. Which opinion is correct? Why is it not possible for Members to be shown the text of the legal opinion which indicates that it is not practical or feasible to make a distinction between corporate and personal donations?
My amendment would, if accepted, clarify the position because an elector is a person – a body corporate is not an elector. Where does the difficulty lie? The Minster of State indicated that the amendment does not take account of the position vis-à-vis Presidential elections, local elections, etc. If that is the case, I have no difficulty in removing the word “Dáil” from the amendment to change the text in order that it refers to citizens whose names appear on the register of electors in respect of all elections which take place in this jurisdiction. That would not be a problem.
If the will was there, there would not be prob lems in this area. However, there is no will to make the separation or to have a reasonable threshold for or ceiling on donations. That is the problem. I do not accept what Senator Walsh said. A sum of £2,000 would be a sizeable personal donation for any candidate to receive. If we place a ceiling on the amount of money any candidate can spend in an election campaign, a single contribution of £2,000 will go a long way towards reaching it. A donation of £5,000 is extremely hefty. The difficulty is that we are seen by members of the public as being in the pocket of the corporate sector. If we allow significant sums of money to be donated by major business people or corporate entities, it will not matter if we protest that it is expensive to run an election campaign because people will believe that when we accept such money we must give something back in return.
We must put our house in order. That is the kernel of this issue. Senator Coogan and I are proposing a structure that will allow us to go before the public and state, hands on hearts, that we have put in place a system that is not open to corruption or bribery. If we create such a system, no one will be able to state – everyone does so at present – that politics is corrupt. The sooner Members in both Houses realise that the better because otherwise democracy will be reduced and diminished and fewer people will vote in elections, etc. There are already serious signs that people do not trust politicians and are, therefore, not bothered to vote. If they do vote, they tend to oppose whatever politicians recommend. That was clearly shown by the result of the recent referendum.
I am not satisfied with the Minister of State's reply in respect of this extremely serious matter. If the amendments are not accepted, the legislation, particularly in terms of how it deals with the public's perception of politics, will be flawed when enacted.
The Senator may not make a second contribution on the amendment. As explained, only the proposer of the amendment may speak twice.
The amendments I tabled are not quite the same as that in Senator Costello's name.
That does not matter. They are related and were discussed together.
Why cannot the legal opinion be published in order that the position might be clarified?
We may be able to deal with that matter under a later amendment.
Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.
Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Bohan, Eddie.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.O'Brien, Francis.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
"3.–(1)The Referendum Commission is hereby renamed An Coimisiún Toghcháin or in the English language the Electoral Commission.
(2) The Minister may by order assign to the said Commission such of his or her functions under the Electoral Acts, 1992 to 2001 as he or she considers fit."
This amendment, which proposes to rename the Referendum Commission, seeks to assist the Minister of State and those who will succeed him. It appears to be rather inappropriate for a Minister to make key decisions in regard to electoral Acts. It would be more appropriate if an independent commission had the responsibility to do so, which would allow the Minister of State to operate at arm's length. He could assign the making of the decisions and functions, as he considers fit, to the independent body, which would be a more desirable approach.
This amendment, which is a repeat of a Committee Stage amendment, proposes to change the name of the Referendum Commission to the Electoral Commission and that the Minister would assign to it functions under the Electoral Acts. This issue is not appropriate to the Bill before us. The provisions in regard to the Referendum Commission are set out in the Referendum Act, 1998, and any changes in the commission's function would fall to be considered within the context of that Act and referendum law generally. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and ask the Senator to withdraw it.
The Referendum Commission is not a full-time body. It is re-established for each new referendum. As no one knows how frequently referenda will be held, it would not be practicable to have a full-time body. Four staff members of the Ombudsman's office were appointed to service referendum commissions when established. When no referenda are pending, the staff are engaged in work in the Ombudsman's office. If what the Senators envisage is the establishment of an electoral commission such as in other countries, this would obviously require substantial legislation involving detailed consultation with the different agencies concerned. A study of the position in other jurisdictions would also be necessary as most electoral commissions have different ranges and functions. It would also have implications for the decentralised responsibility for the conduct of elections as it would probably involve centralising authority in one body. I regret I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 20, line 16, to delete "Clerk of the Seanad" and substitute "Chairman of the Appeal Board."
Following the debate on the last occasion, there seemed to be a clear distinction between the office of the Dáil and the office of the Seanad. The Seanad by its nature has no party political involvement, therefore, it would be inappropriate to involve the Clerk of the Seanad in matters of registration of a political party and decisions to be taken in terms of an appeal.
The amendment proposes to replace the "Clerk of the Seanad" by the "Chairman of the Appeal Board". This would appear to be the appropriate method of dealing with the issue because the Clerk of the Seanad will not hear the appeal. Under the proposed legislation, the office of the Clerk of the Seanad is to be the channel whereby the appeal and the deposit will be registered. The clerk would then have the function of forfeiting it or handing it back as the case may be. The actual appeal mechanism is different because there will be an appeal board and a chairman of the appeal board. Why not remove the Clerk of the Seanad from a function which is totally inappropriate to the Seanad Office on constitutional grounds and send the registration appeal directly to the chairman because the Clerk of the Seanad will be handing the appeal to the chairperson who will be dealing with the body applying for registration? Why not rest all the functions in the appeal body and the chair of that appeal body, which would resolve the problem in regard to the Seanad?
I am surprised the amendments have been tabled because I thought there was a full discussion on the matter and that I had given a reasonable explanation as to why the change being sought should not be granted.
At present the Clerk of the Dáil, while acting as the registrar of political parties, receives applications for registration of a political party. In the event of a refusal, the party can appeal the decision to an appeals board consisting of a High Court judge as chairperson and the chairpersons of both Houses as ordinary members of the board. The registrar receives the appeal application. All sides of the House agreed last week that a person other than the registrar should be the recipient of the appeal. The Clerk of the Seanad, as the second highest official of the Houses of the Oireachtas, is now named as the recipient of an appeal. In normal circumstances, one might expect the appeal to be received by the clerk assistant but that would not be appropriate either as the clerk assistant acts for the registrar in the absence of the registrar and, in a particular case, may be the person who made the original decision. It is as an official of the Houses of the Oireachtas that the Clerk of the Seanad will receive an appeal application which will not interfere with his or her functions as Clerk of the Seanad.
It is important to emphasise that this is not an onerous undertaking. There have been just three cases in the past ten years. The actions required where an appeal arises are straightforward. This includes publishing a notice in Iris Oifigiúil, sending a copy of the appeal to the registrar of political parties, accepting a deposit of £300, lodging it in a bank account and making documentation available for inspection.
For the first time, the revised section 25 provides that any service, including the services of staff, that may be reasonably required by the appeal board for the purpose of an appeal shall be made available to it by the chairman of the Dáil from the joint staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. While it is not for me to determine the allocation of staff in the Houses of the Oireachtas, it is plain from the new provision that the appeal board will be allocated staff to enable it to perform its functions once it is established.
The appeal board is not a full-time body and would not be convened until after an appeal is received. The chairman of the appeal body would not be an appropriate person to receive the appeal application as the board would not be in existence at the time of receipt of the application. Is there any precedent for the proposal? Since 1937 the Clerk of the Dáil is nominated to receive appeal applications against the refusal of the Clerk of the Seanad to applications for registration on the panels for Seanad elections. Does this involve the Clerk of the Dáil interfering with the functions of the Seanad, as seems to be suggested by the Senator? I do not think so. If so, why have Senators not tabled amendments to ensure the Clerk of the Dáil does not accept such appeals? I cannot accept the amendments and I invite the Senator to do the sensible thing and withdraw them.
I still feel that the Minister is wrong in what he proposes here. It is undesirable and he quotes a precedent which is not the same thing. The involvement of both Houses in exactly the same constitutional situation is not the proper way of going about it. The Minister has not given any reason the Clerk of the Seanad needs to be involved. He has not addressed the question of why the chairman of the appeal board cannot be the conduit for the appeal. The chairman of the appeal board and the board will make the decision so why should the Seanad be involved? Why is the clerk necessary and why can the letter not be sent to the chairman?
The appeal board has not been established.
What about the secretary of the appeal board?
There is no appeal board until there is an appeal.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 20, line 18, to delete "Clerk" and substitute "Chairman".
Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 26, line 1, to delete "by" and substitute "by–(a)".
We had a useful discussion on these three amendments the last day. The Minister seemed to be coming round to my view on the matter. We were talking about the extension of the right to stand for election to people detained in custody, prisoners and bankrupts. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter as he indicated he would look at it sympathetically.
These amendments which we discussed on Committee Stage would have the effect of removing two disqualifying criteria for membership of Dáil Éireann, namely, prisoners undergoing a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months and undischarged bankrupts. I undertook to give more consideration to these disqualification categories on Report Stage. Having examined the matter further, I do not propose to accept the amendments.
In considering the prisoner issue it is important to state clearly what is involved in this disqualification category. Paragraph (j) of section 41 of the Electoral Act, 1992, which the amendment proposes to delete, provides for the disqualification of any person receiving a sentence in excess of six months. It covers prisoners undergoing sentences for serious offences and will certainly cover those convicted for more serious criminal offences. On the other hand, a prisoner undergoing a sentence for a minor offence would in most cases not be disqualified. The consequences of imprisonment are severe. When a person receives a sentence of imprisonment he or she is deprived of his or her liberty, contact with persons outside prison are curtailed, he or she cannot engage in his or her normal occupation, movements are strictly controlled and normal actions associated with freedom of expression, association and movement are suppressed or curtailed. Against such a backdrop it is difficult to envisage how a prisoner serving a sentence exceeding six months would be in a position to discharge his or her functions as a Member of the Dáil if he or she was eligible for membership.
It would also be inappropriate to provide in legislation that the important constitutional position of membership of the Dáil should be the one position a prisoner would be entitled to hold while detained. A number of Senators referred to the fact that prisoners were elected to the Dáil in 1981, and this was the case. Two H-block candidates, Ciarán Doherty in Cavan-Monaghan and Paddy Agnew in Louth were elected. However, they were entitled to stand only because they were not incarcerated in this State. Interestingly, the position in Northern Ireland and the UK today is that persons sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained indefinitely or for more than one year in the UK or Ireland, or who are unlawfully at large at a time when he or she would otherwise be detained, are disqualified from membership of the House of Commons. A case on a separate but related issue – voting by prisoners – was heard in the Supreme Court on 14 May last. It would be unwise to seek to legislate in this general area in advance of the Supreme Court decision and careful examination of the implications of that decision when it is delivered.
In relation to bankruptcy, paragraph (k) of section 41 of the Electoral Act, 1992, provides that an undischarged bankrupt is not eligible for election to or membership of Dáil Éireann, a disqualification that has been a feature of Dáil electoral law since 1923. As I pointed out on Committee Stage, disqualification on grounds of bankruptcy is based on the view that a person who has been shown to be unable to conduct his or her affairs in a satisfactory manner should not be entrusted with the conduct of the affairs of the country. There is, of course, a case to be made against the disqualification of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy may arise from simple failure at business and does not necessarily denote misconduct, neglect or incompetence on the part of the bankrupt.
On balance, I am in favour of retaining this disqualification which is mitigated by section 42(3) of the Electoral Act, 1992. That section provides for a period of grace of six months for a sitting Member of the Dáil who is adjudicated bankrupt to obtain a certificate of discharge under section 85(7) of the Bankruptcy Act, 1988, before the disqualification takes effect. If a certificate of discharge is obtained within this six month period the person does not cease to be a Member of the Dáil. In the context of the revised and strengthened donation and expenditure regime which this Bill will introduce, it could be considered inappropriate to allow a bankrupt to become or remain a TD with the consequent temptation that would arise in terms of being offered and accepting inappropriate financial assistance in such circumstances.
Both of these issues are matters that can be revisited when the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution has finalised its report on the institutions of the State. In view of what I have said I ask the Senator to consider withdrawing the amendments as I am not prepared to accept them at present.
I have no intention of withdrawing them although it might be appropriate for the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to examine the issue. These are ongoing matters that have been part and parcel of the electoral system in this jurisdiction and the other jurisdiction for decades. I am not impressed by any of the arguments made by the Minister in relation to either prisoners or bankrupts standing for the Dáil. The simple principle should be there. If we go down the road of identifying categories that should be prohibited, there are many categories we could mention. The simple principle should be, let the electorate decide. It is not appropriate for us to stand in the way of the electorate's decision-making. Bankrupts are a throw-back to a bygone day when property was important in relation to voting.
I am advised that on Report Stage a Senator may only speak once, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. I do not know if latitude should be shown in the case of amendments grouped together.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 26, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
"and (b) by the deletion of paragraph (j),”.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 26, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
"and (c) by the deletion of paragraph (k).”.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 27, line 32, after "polling station" to insert "and where practicable a map of the location thereof".
I will not delay the House by discussing this amendment at length as we has a good debate on it on Committee Stage. I understood the Minister of State would look sympathetically at identifying the address and the location of the polling station on the polling card, as we must give more assistance to the electorate to get there. As addresses and maps on polling cards would be helpful, I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
I second the amendment. I will not speak at length about it as I have spoken to the Minister of State on previous occasions about the appropriateness of mapping and signposting polling stations.
We spoke about the address of polling stations, too. It is important that we provide more information on polling cards to help and encourage voter participation. There have been cases of voters not being able to find polling stations, as the lack of an address on polling cards caused difficulties. If the thrust of this is practical, it is a good idea.
This amendment proposes that, where practicable, a map of the location be inserted on the polling information card. I agreed on Committee Stage to accept an amendment to include the address of polling stations. While I agree with the sentiment of the amendment, I do not favour making a statutory requirement which may delay the issue of polling information cards in the event of premises being unavailable. Section 92 of the principal Act will now permit additional information to be included on an information card, including a map showing the location of the polling station, if possible. The amendment is therefore not needed. After the enactment of the Bill, I will consider how polling information cards can best be designed to include useful information for voters, along the lines suggested. I do not intend to accept the amendment as its objective has been achieved.
I withdraw the amendment in line with the Minister of State's comments.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 27, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(2) Section 96(1) of the Principal Act is further amended by the insertion after ‘constituencies' of ‘, and subject to the requirement that the hours of polling shall in every case include the period from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.'.".
I will not argue the case for this amendment as it was discussed at length on Committee Stage. It differs slightly from the original amendment which proposed polling from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. as earlier opening of polling stations may be desirable. The reason for this amendment is that the time for the opening and closing of polling stations should be defined. It should not change because of the time of year or depending on whether it is a general, local or presidential election or a referendum. We must eliminate the uncertainty regarding the opening and closing time of polling stations. Nobody is sure of the details of polling as they change from election to election.
I second the amendment. The Minister of State indicated that he is aware of the difficulty that occurs when polling hours differ. I ask him to consider the points raised on Committee Stage.
This is a repeat of the Committee Stage amendment, except that 7 a.m. has been substituted for 8 a.m. The amendment provides that polling shall include a 15 hour period between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., whereas the present legal requirement is that polling shall be not less than 12 hours between 8 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. The Bill, as amended on Committee Stage, provides that polling stations may be opened at 7 a.m., but must be open unchanged for not less than 12 hours. As some of our polls are held in winter, as Senators will recall, I do not agree with the amendment. The Government of the day should be able to decide if it wishes to extend polling beyond 15 hours.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 28, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
‘and (b) by the deletion in subsection (5) of ‘personation agents' and the substitution therefor of ‘members of the Garda Síochána'.”.
The amendment proposes that a member of the Garda Síochána, not a personation agent as is currently the case, should accompany a presiding officer when a ballot paper is being marked for an elector unable to read or write. The purpose of a personation agent is to prevent personation and, in this case, to witness elector's instructions to ensure they are carried out. It would not be appropriate in this case to involve a member of the Garda. I do not consider this area to be comparable to special voter circumstances as if one agent was selected, other parties would be entitled to appoint agents. It would be intimidating, for example, were a group of gardaí to arrive at a nursing home. I referred on Committee Stage to security matters that also preclude this amendment, which I cannot accept.
Amendments Nos. 17, 51 and 52 form a composite proposal to which amendments Nos. 16, 18 and 19 are alternatives. All the aforementioned amendments may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 31, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
33. –Section 147(2)(c) of the Principal Act is repealed.”.
All these amendments are intended to assist people in finding their polling station and give a sense of an election taking place. The prohibition of canvassing, emblems and posters from a curtilage of 100 metres of the polling station has caused great difficulty. It is agreed that provisions need to be made to focus attention on the polling station, while ensuring all parties are treated equally. It seems that some of the Minister of State's proposals will discriminate against parties while favouring independent or individual candidates. The amendments under discussion, including those of the Minister of State, will help us to achieve the objectives I have outlined.
I second the amendment. The Minister of State has modified the rules relating to election day as posters may now be erected 50 metres, rather than 100 metres, from polling stations. The point was made on Committee Stage that a sense of atmosphere must be created near a polling station. I would not be averse to limiting the size of posters if they were allowed in the curtilage of the polling station, as they would help to indicate the presence of a polling station to voters. This may not be as important in rural areas as it is in urban areas, where indication of the polling station's location is necessary.
As I stated on Committee Stage, I am not bothered about the measurement. I am trying to ensure no party or individual with substantial moneys to spend can erect large signage measuring 40 feet by 20 feet while another candidate erects a poster measuring 1 metre by 1 metre. A regulation should be introduced where each candidate would be limited to using posters of a certain size. If a party has five candidates, the size of the poster should be multiplied by five. It is a simple proposal and would be effective in reducing the number of posters outside polling stations, which is a waste of money anyway.
Activity around polling stations on election day has always been part and parcel of informing the electorate about candidates in general, local and Presidential elections and issues in referenda. A ban on posters and other literature within 100 metres of polling stations was introduced a number of years ago. However, many would not know where polling stations were, particularly in large towns and cities, if it were not for the election material around them.
The Minister is relaxing the ban on the erection of election posters to 50 metres. There are three roads leading to polling stations in a number of towns and villages in north Westmeath, including Delvin, Castlepollard and Mullingar. Will candidates be permitted to erect a poster on each road? Will each candidate be allowed to erect a poster? An independent candidate could put up a poster on each road but if Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party had two or three candidates, they would still only be permitted to erect one poster. I compliment the Minister of State for addressing this problem but in the interest of fairness each candidate should be allowed to erect one poster.
Will party workers who bring voters to polling stations and who must stay outside the current 100 metre exclusion zone be allowed to position themselves 50 metres from the polling station where the posters will be following the enactment of the legislation? I would welcome such a move. The regulation was introduced by Deputy Michael Smith when Minister for the Environment and Local Government.
The activity around polling stations at election time in the past provided an example to our young people and created a breeding ground for politics. Young people witnessed something interesting in which they could become involved. Many of us supported the party into which we were bred, born and reared, which was not a bad thing. When we were young elections were big events and we were able to participate in the campaigns. One would swear a wake was taking place in some parishes on election day nowadays. There is no activity whatsoever.
Various plans are being implemented to generate interest among the electorate to vote but the ban on the provision of election literature near polling booths and on the activity of party workers was introduced to benefit candidates who were not organised, particularly in urban areas. The Minister of State represents a constituency which has both significant rural and urban populations. It is unfair that party workers who serve loyally for years cannot go near polling stations to support their candidates and it is bad for democracy. This issue should be addressed in the legislation. I welcome the provision that has been included but ask the Minister of State for his views on my contribution in support of Senator Coogan, who comes from the same constituency as the Minister.
The Leader supported and voted in favour of all the changes he attacked.
Parliament is about amending legislation. That is the reason we are on this side of the House.
I have considered this matter since Committee Stage and propose in amendment No. 17 that the most suitable way to accommodate the views expressed is to reduce the 100 metre zone to 50 metres in section 147 of the Electoral Act, 1992. Amendment No. 16 seeks to repeal the prohibition in section 147 of that Act on the display or distribution of 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 election within 100 metres of a polling station. This is much wider than the proposal in section 33 of this legislation to allow one poster within 100 metres of the polling station on any approach road and the proposal in my amendment.
Amendment No. 19 proposes that the posters be a maximum size of 1 metre by 1 metre. While this seems reasonable on the face of it, it would be very difficult to police on polling day. Polling staff and gardaí have enough other duties without asking them to measure posters, some of which could be placed high up on electricity and other poles. A question would also arise as to whether they would have any discretion if the poster measured 1 metre and 1 centimetre by 1 metre, for example. This provision would impose an onerous task on the Garda and bring the law into ridicule.
While there is a demand for some sign of political activity at polling stations, as outlined by Senator Cassidy, my amendment will bring such activity close to the station while at the same time keeping it at a distance in order that electors will not be subject to canvassing as they enter the polling station. It is not proposed to amend the ban on canvassing within 100 metres of the polling station. It is an excellent provision, introduced by the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Padraig Flynn.
However, because there has been no activity around polling stations and returning officers have not advertised the location of the polling stations adequately through signage voters have had difficulties finding polling stations. I have discussed this issue with the Minister since Committee Stage. Regulations will be introduced to require returning officers to erect large signage at each polling station indicating its location.
We will try to facilitate the electorate any way we can. Nobody wants to go back to the days when there were scrums around the gateways to polling stations and people were practically intimidated and bombarded with literature. I have done it myself and it was not an edifying practice. None of us wants to return to it. We are dropping the proposal that posters for parties with a number of candidates should be the same size as those of a one candidate party. Posters can be erected 50 metres from the curtilage of the polling station. If three roads comply with the law and the regulations, they can be put up on the three roads provided they are not within 50 metres. One cannot canvass within 100 metres.
Is it one per candidate?
There is no limit.
Given that the Minister for Environment and Local Government will look into the possibility of having large signage and reducing the distance from 100 metres to 50 metres and taking on board the addresses on polling cards and the possibility of putting maps on them, which will help to deal with this matter, I will withdraw my amendment.
If amendment No. 17 is accepted, amendments Nos. 18 and 19 cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 31, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:
"(c) the insertion in Rule 5 of the following:
‘(7) Where a registration authority proposes to publish a draft register which omits the name of a person whose name was contained on the previous register, for any reason other than the death of such person, the authority shall take reasonable steps to notify that person of the proposed omission'.".
We discussed this at length on Committee Stage. I propose that anyone whose name is taken off the draft register of electors should be entitled to be informed. That seems reasonable. They should not be omitted from the draft register without being informed about what is happening and the reason for it. There will now be two sets of registers, an ordinary and an edited one. The purpose of the edited register is that people will not be able to use it for commercial purposes to send people all types of material. It appears the draft register is being used to send waste disposal bills to people.
When this Bill is passed, will the local authority be allowed to use the register, which it compiles, for financial and commercial purposes, although that seems to be forbidden by this legislation? That will lead to controversy in the months ahead.
This amendment, which is similar to a Committee Stage amendment, seeks to make it a statutory obligation on a registration authority to notify a person on the register when it is proposed to delete that person's name from the new draft register or register unless the person has died. There is an existing statutory provision for this matter. The Minister has power under section 18 of the Electoral Act, 1992, to issue instructions to registration authorities in relation to the arrangements for the registration of electors to ensure uniformity and efficiency in the procedures to be followed by the various registration authorities. In September 1997 the Minister issued an instruction to all registration authorities requiring that where it is proposed not to include on the next year's draft register a person's name which is on the existing register, a notice should issue to the person concerned informing him or her that as the registration authority's normal inquiries failed to establish that he or she is still resident at the address he or she is currently registered at, it is proposed to omit his or her name from the next year's draft register unless he or she notifies the registration authority within ten days that he or she is still residing at the address.
As this statutory provision covers the content of the amendment, I do not consider the amendment to be necessary. In case the instruction is not being fully complied with, the Minister has indicated that he will issue a reminder to the registration authorities on this matter.
Will the Minister of State address the other points I raised about the use of the register for commercial purposes or by local authorities? I know it is not directly related to the amendment.
It does not arise under this amendment. I cannot see the practicality of using the register for sending out refuse bills.
In view of what the Minister of State has said, I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 33, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"(2) No equipment may be approved for the purposes of subsection (1) unless a full technical description of the said equipment (including all source code and information regarding independent testing and verification relating thereto) has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution approving a draft of the order approving the said equipment has been passed by each such House.”.
This amendment and later amendments relate to electronic voting. A resolution should be put before and approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas before any equipment is bought. It is important to know what type of equipment will be used, what expertise is required and the difficulties and complexities which could arise. Because there is a high level of technicality, the equipment should not be used until it has been clearly examined. Electronic voting is not necessary and it will be extremely difficult to operate. Until there is a more thorough examination of it and until we are satisfied it is foolproof, we should not introduce it. It will be expensive and it will require much back-up. I am not satisfied it will deal with the intricacies of our system of proportional representation in a satisfactory manner.
That issue has not been dealt with nor have any of us in this House been given a demonstration of the new system. We should give it serious consideration and examine it in a detailed and comprehensive manner because this is a fundamental change.
I second the amendment. I voted against the introduction of electronic voting because I have not been familiarised with it. I am not blaming anyone for that, but I was not informed that a course or exhibition had been organised to demonstrate how it would operate. Even if I had attended such a course, I am not sure I would know how it operates because it involves technical skill.
A valid point has been made that voting, through the use of proportional representation, tells us what people are thinking and how they feel about a person, subject, party or policy. Indicative of that is the social and political phenomenon of knowing where the number two and three votes are coming from, which indicates public opinion on certain issues. That will be lost if this system is introduced. It should be examined by both Houses and by the Committee on the Environment and Local Government before it is introduced. If it is introduced, there will be a loss of knowledge about voting patterns.
Many people are also frightened by technology. If elderly people hear they must use a computer, they will be inclined to avoid voting. We have already seen how difficult it is to get people to vote without putting another obstacle in their way. I know the Minister of State will say it will make things easy. However, it is one thing to tell someone it will make it easy and another thing to make a person realise how easy it is.
I spoke about this issue on Committee Stage. It is related to party machines and political activity which have been part of the electoral process for many years. Tally people from all political parties get together at the count after election day and do unofficial tallies. That is important for people in the democratic system to monitor the progress of political parties, candi dates and elected public representatives. It also shows that the public appreciates the hard work and dedication shown by families for generations. It is not unusual for that practice to be passed on from father to son, and even to grandson. These people give their lives to serving the public.
It is gratifying to know that the efforts made in one's own electoral area are appreciated by the electorate. Under the current practice, if there are 900,000 votes in a box, a party or political candidate will know that there are 200, 400 or 450 No. 1 votes in that box. While that practice was unofficial practice, it was still an important motivating factor for the public representative in the main and the political parties in general in terms of how much they were appreciated by the people in their parish.
I ask the Minister to seek legal opinion on this matter. He has the best legal advice available to him and I fully appreciate the position in which he finds himself. He is one of the most senior, respected and long-serving Ministers in either House and I thank him for his contribution over many years. With his energy and experience, I have to accept his advice but he knows where all parties in the House are coming from on this issue, and it is not just the Government side. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour are anxious that the practice of using the ballot box will be retained in some way, either officially or unofficially, as it has been for generations.
I will not repeat what I said on Committee Stage, but will the Minister of State confirm that the equipment used will be capable of giving the results box by box? Various Senators outlined the reasons for that. That information, be it for policy planning or political activity, is important.
If there is any legal reservation in relation to this issue, perhaps it could apply to boxes where the votes cast would be above, say, 100 votes, or something like that. That area could be examined, but the information would be invaluable. As we said previously, one of the greatest challenges in the western world is to keep people engaged in the democratic process and participating by exercising their franchise. Obviously, information to political parties can be fundamental to the continuation of that. Any aid that can be utilised should be, and this is one such area.
This amendment, which is generally similar to the amendment discussed on Committee Stage, proposes a new subsection to section 36 to provide that the Minister would not be able to approve the use of voting system equipment under subsection (1) until a draft ministerial order is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, including the laying before both Houses of technical documentation.
I explained the position on the technical documentation and the testing of the system last week – I presume there is no need to repeat that again. It is only after the receipt of reports on the testing of the system that the Minister will seek Government approval for the use of the new system at elections. As I said last week, all reports will be available and will be lodged in the Oireachtas Library. I do not consider it necessary that a draft ministerial order be brought before both Houses as the voting machine is not a new development and is used in other countries.
When this issue was being debated last week, a question arose about the knowledge of political parties in terms of the way the machines operate and the opportunity for political parties to look at the machines doing mock election activity, and Senator Costello said his party had not been informed.
That I had not been informed.
That his party had not been informed.
I said that I knew nothing about it and that I had not seen any demonstration.
I would like to record that on 15 September 1999, the following letter issued to the Labour Party:
As discussed on the telephone this morning, the Department will be testing in October and November four machines which enable electronic voting and counting to take place at elections. No decisions have been taken on the use of such machines which would in any event require amending legislation. [That is what we are doing now].
The Minister has suggested that a demonstration of the equipment be given to Members of the Oireachtas and that the most suitable time might be at the end of parliamentary party meetings. Deputy Gilmore saw the equipment earlier this year.
If the Labour Party wished to see a demonstration of one or more of the machines, which will take about 15 minutes, please contact the undersigned.
I just wanted to clear up that aspect.
Senator Coogan said that elderly people would be afraid of these machines and reluctant to go to the polling station to vote. It has not been the experience in other countries where they have introduced electronic voting that elderly people have been afraid of the system or that it has any effect. One of the encouraging aspects was that elderly people were well versed in the way it worked, capable of utilising it and not inhibited in any way. Ten years ago it might have presented a fear of the unknown to many people, but that is not so today. The experience has been that eld erly people have had no difficulty using electronic voting machines.
On the question of what we commonly call tally results, if we go electronic we will have the result within a very short time of all the cartridges being inserted into the machines. The results will become available within a few hours so we will not have those long, tortuous counts. Political parties seeking to establish the outcome of an election can examine each ballot box being emptied and sorted. They can then do a rough mark down as to who is getting the No. 1 votes, perhaps even the No. 2 votes, although we would need a very sophisticated machine to go further than that on the first count. That kind of information will be lost to the political system.
I have to point out that there is no statutory provision or legal right to allow people observe the count and record the voting pattern in each polling station as the ballot papers are being sorted. That practice has been exercised but it has not been provided for in law. The law lays down very strict conditions. Indeed, there is a provision in the Constitution on the need for legislation to ensure the absolute secrecy of the ballot. That whole issue, therefore, hangs over this question.
Senators Coogan and Cassidy raised this issue. Between now and the next Stage in the Dáil, I will seek the Attorney General's view on the potential to get that kind of information out of the system, which would comply with the constitutional requirements. Where there is a small number of voters in a box, it could be deemed that votes might be identifiable. Perhaps boxes containing less than 100 votes would be excluded, but I do not know if that would stand up to a legal challenge on constitutional grounds. We would have to be sure as to where we were going with that issue.
It is a legal requirement to preserve the secrecy of the ballot in terms of how an individual votes. We could not condone or legislate for anything which would disclose that information in any way. The secrecy of the ballot must be assured at all times. The issue will be raised with the Attorney General before the Bill is introduced in the Dáil, or at some point before it is passed by the Dáil. I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are related and may be discussed together.
These are minor drafting amendments.
Amendments Nos. 24 and 26 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 41, to delete lines 20 to 23.
These amendments are a repeat of amendments discussed on Committee Stage and seek to delete subsections stating that the election shall not be questioned on the grounds that the statements to be produced at the opening and closing of the poll are not produced due to a malfunction of the printer in the machine. If there is a malfunction of the voting machine printer, the information which would be on the printed statement will be read from the machine display unit and entered on a blank form by the presiding officer.
The Minister will cover this matter under instructions to be issued under section 36(4). This provision permits the Minister to issue instructions regarding voting and vote counting as he or she considers necessary or expedient to ensure a smooth and efficient vote and vote counting, and to secure uniformity of procedures under Part 3 of the Bill. I cannot accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 41, to delete lines 38 to 48 and substitute the following:
"(3) A Dáil elector on receiving permission to vote shall (subject to the provisions of section 103 of the Principal Act as applied to this Part) go alone to one of the voting machines in the polling station and there shall secretly record his or her preferences on the ballot paper displayed on the voting machine and shall then cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on that machine. He or she shall vote without undue delay and shall leave the polling station as soon as he or she has voted.
(4) Where an elector fails to cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on the machine, the presiding officer shall de-activate the voting machine without approaching the voting machine."
This amendment seeks to delete three subsections and replace two of them with identical text. The third subsection which the amendment would delete provides that if an elector leaves a polling station without pressing the vote confirm button, he or she will not be permitted to reapply to vote as the voting machine will be deactivated.
The operator at the control unit of the voting machine will be alerted when a voter presses the vote cast button by a bleep from the machine and the counter on the unit will increase by one. Publicity for the voter and instructions at the polling station and on the machine will include the necessity to press the vote cast button. At present if, for whatever reason, a voter leaves the polling station without putting his or her ballot paper in the ballot box, he or she is not entitled to reapply for another ballot paper or put a ballot paper in the ballot box as the presiding officer would not be aware if the ballot paper was genuine or not, or how or who marked the paper. I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 and 33 to 44, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
These are drafting amendments to improve the text of the section. They do not involve policy or other major changes.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 50, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
‘(2) (a) A donation, the acceptance of which is prohibited by that section is made to a political party, to a member of either House of the Oireachtas or of a local authority or of Údarás na Gaeltachta, to a representative of the European Parliament or a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad, European, local or Údarás na Gaeltachta election, the party, member, representative or candidate concerned, not later than twenty-eight days after being made aware that the donation so accepted is prohibited by section 49, shall notify the Public Offices Commission in writing of the date of receipt of such donation; the amount of such donation; the identity of the donor; the date when he or she became aware that the donation so accepted is prohibited by section 49; and all other relevant circumstances relating to the acceptance of the aforesaid donation. Such notification shall be furnished in writing to the Commission together with a remittance to the Commission of the donation or of a sum to the value of the aforesaid donation.
(b) The Public Offices Commission after receiving the notification referred to in subsection (1) herein, shall within twenty-one days request such further information as it deems necessary to clarify any matter detailed in the notification received by it and shall within twenty-eight days of receipt of such notification, or within twenty-eight days of the furnishing of a request for such clarification (whichever is the later) lay before each House of the Oireachtas the original notification received by it; the request for further clarification or information, if any, made by it and where received, any subsequent explanation.
(c) The Public Offices Commission shall dispose of all monies, property or goods received by it under this section in such manner as may be prescribed by the Minister for Finance in regulations made under this Act.
(d) Every regulation made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as practicable after it is made and if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either House within the next twenty-one days on which that House has sat after the regulation is laid before it, the regulation shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to the validity of anything previous done under it.
(e) Any regulation made under this Act may contain such consequential, supplementary and ancillary provisions as the Minister considers necessary or expedient.
I second the amendment.
This amendment goes back to the initial debate.
On a point of order, this amendment has already been discussed and, therefore, it should be put to a vote.
I was seeking a bit of leniency in the hope the Minister of State might be more responsive to the other aspects of section 32 regarding penalties etc., and donations which should be refunded.
Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.
Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.Ross, Shane.
Bohan, Eddie.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.
Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.Lanigan, Mick.O'Brien, Francis.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 50, to delete lines 26 to 40 and substitute the following:
‘2. Following the coming into force of this Act, a donation shall only be made by an individual citizen of the State ordinarily resident in the State in an amount which does not or in amounts which do not in total in any one year exceed £1,000 to any political party or to any individual and where more than one donation is made in the same year–
(f2>a) to a political party and to one or more persons who were members of that party when the donation was made, or
(f2>b) to two or more persons who were members of the same party when the donation was made,
in amounts the aggregate value of which do not exceed £1,000.
(3) A political party, a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a local authority or of Údarás na Gaeltachta, a representative of the European Parliament or a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad, European, local or Údarás na Gaeltachta election shall not directly or through any intermediary accept a donation from any person other than an individual citizen of the State ordinarily resident in the State, nor accept from any such individual donor in any one year, a donation in an amount which exceeds the sum specified in subsection (2) of this section.
(4) It shall be an offence for a person to make a donation, the acceptance of which is prohibited by subsection (3) of this section or to accept a donation knowing it to be prohibited by this section.
(5) Where a person is guilty of an offence under this section, the person shall be liable–
(f2>a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £5,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months, or to both, and
(f2>b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both.'".
Amendments Nos. 45, 47, 48, 64 and 65 form a composite proposal and will be taken together, by agreement.
Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 1999, provides for the definition of election expenses on the basis that everything is included unless it is listed in the paragraph dealing with excluded items. This has given rise to difficulties for political parties, elected Members, candidates and the Public Office Commission in the interpre tation of what constitutes an election expense under the Act. The aim of this amendment is to define, in a more constructive way, what election expenses encompass. For convenience and clarity these matters are set out in a new Schedule to the Bill together with, for the avoidance of doubt, specific exclusions. The list included in the Schedule features expenditures typical at an election. They include expenditure on advertising, publicity, posters, leaflets, office rental, transport, market research and payments to campaign workers. As before, the exclusions will include free postage under the Electoral Acts, payments or services and facilities provided out of public funds, the transmission of party political broadcasts and the payment of a deposit.
Clarification is made to the list of exclusions in paragraph 2(f) of the Schedule to include accommodation as a reasonable living expense. The amendment to paragraph 2(g) clarifies the meaning of minor expenditure as expenditure of less than £100 on any item, by an individual out of his or her own resources, provided the costs are not recouped to the person. In addition, the exclusions include expenses in respect of property, services or facilities in so far as those expenses are met out of public funds.
Changes are also being made to the expenditure regime for presidential and local elections. The legislation currently covers everything except listed exceptions. The problem with this approach is that unless an expenditure item is explicitly listed as excluded, it is by definition included. An example of the difficulties that can arise were seen at the Dublin South Central by-election when child care expenses of a candidate, which are not explicitly excluded under current law, were viewed as election expenditure. This has been dropped, it was unacceptable that such an interpretation should be made as it could discourage female candidates. There is no doubt similar instances will arise in the future. A definitive list of expenditure categories, qualified by a listing of exclusions, will assist all concerned to monitor and comply with the legislation. I recommend the amendment to the house.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 66, to delete lines 13 to 16 and substitute the following:
"(l) in section 32 by the substitution of ‘£14,460' for the sum mentioned in subparagraph (i), ‘£17,600' for the sum mentioned in subparagraph (ii) and ‘£20,700' for the sum mentioned in subparagraph (iii) of subsection (1)(a) and by the addition to subsection (1)(a) of ‘and that the figures referred to in subparagraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) increase to remain in line with the consumer price index which shall be reviewed annually';”.
This is a very simple but important amendment. It refers to the collection and expenditure of money. It also ensures balance between candidates. I propose the simple formula of taking the provisions of the 1997 Act and linking increases to the consumer price index. That is fair. If it was fair in 1997 why is it no longer fair? Accounting for the consumer price index there is an increase from £14,000 to £14,460. That is a substantial sum, although Senator Walsh says it is only the revenue from one 600 mile trip. The increases proposed by the Government are totally disproportionate. In one case you are talking about £6,000, in another, £7,000, and £10,000 somewhere else. A 50% increase is too much. If the 1997 provision was good enough it should be related to the consumer price index. Will the Minister of State explain the basis for these figures? This means the larger party with the larger collection will be able to spend the most. It is a simple inequity.
I fully support the amendment and second it. This is one of the legislation's controversial areas. The proposals in the legislation would have the effect of allowing a 50% increase in expenditure per candidate and the party with larger numbers of candidates is the party that will have by far the largest expenditure. That is wrong and I cannot see why there is such a substantial increase. The consumer price index is the way to go about this. The sum thus calculated is reasonable and fairer. These new increases will ensure the playing field is uneven for all candidates in the election. The danger is that it will allow and encourage abuse whereby token candidates are put forward to gain extra funding. That would be a very undesirable development were it to take place. This sum is very substantial and likely to allow the major party in the region of £1 million in extra expenditure over the course of a general election. That is not the way we should be going. We already had a long discussion about public perception and how money seems to be the root of all evil in politics today. Increasing by 50% the amount of money available to, and spent by, each candidate is a detrimental move. We should be moving forward in a much more positive fashion, reducing the amount which can be spent in elections. It should be clear to the public that money is not the centre of political activity.
I see the arguments being made as an intolerable interference with the democratic process. There is a need to have the process accessible and open to the most vigorous campaigns, anyone who wishes to participate should be able to do so. If one imposes limits, one is conferring an advantage on sitting members when name recognition is long established by those who have been involved in the process. Now if someone wants to contest an election as a first time candidate, he or she has only the period of the campaign in which to do so.
Limits are very questionable in a proper democracy. I have seen no evidence of a relationship between the amount spent in a campaign and electoral success and there are many instances of people spending a lot of money and doing very poorly in elections. It should be open to people to spend their own money if they wish, particularly when there are limits to contributions that will act as a brake.
There is a by-election in Tipperary South and one candidate has the advantage of being able to recycle his posters. Others are not in that position because it is their first time out and they did not participate in the last by-election. All parties would probably admit that because of the limits people are photocopying material rather than printing it, which is amateurish. That is not the way to run our political system. We can all act whiter than white but we are going from one extreme to another here. Interfering in the process undermines the system of democracy and does not enhance it, which is what we should be doing. When one looks at the limits, 50% of those limits is taken up by parties at national level. Therefore the amount available to a candidate is far less at constituency level. As a consequence, independent candidates may have an advantage.
This needs to be looked at. The amendment is going in the wrong direction. We have tied politics into such a knot that it will be unattractive for anyone to participate in it. One thing that is needed in politics is renewal and regeneration. It is like a business. The system should facilitate that happening. By imposing limits one is interfering with the process by conferring an advantage on those who are sitting members.
This amendment seeks to replace the expenditure limits proposed in the Bill by the present limits, rounded up by nearly £100. Arguments concerning expenditure limits were extensively debated on Second and Committee Stages and it is not necessary to repeat them at this point. There is a strong case for increased expenditure limits and the amounts proposed are in line with the limits proposed by the Minister in 1997. The two lower limits, adjusted for inflation, are less than the Minister's proposed 1997 amounts. Costs of printing, advertisements and costs associated with canvassing, such as petrol and food, are high and have increased greatly since 1997. I consider the proposed limits reasonable and that they would permit a candidate to run a reasonable campaign without the need to watch every penny.
We have seen the difficulties parties now confront when it comes to keeping a tally of expenditure and the consequences of exceeding those limits can be quite calamitous for individual candidates and parties. Extreme caution has to be exercised and putting in tight limits would create exceptional difficulties, particularly when one must take into account that expenditure by the party at national and local level is combined. In that sense these levels are not available to the candidate on the ground in his or her constituency. A one page or half page advertisement in a provincial newspaper runs to thousands of pounds and one will not be long spending these kinds of amounts. That is the unfortunate reality in which we live – elections are expensive.
The Government has gone some way towards helping to fund political parties with other proposals but in this case there is no State funding available to pay for this expenditure. Money has to be raised locally, as Members are aware, through raffles, golf outings, race nights and whatever Members can think of. As these are people who will be in the national Parliament advocating prudence and good management, it is essential that they can run their own campaigns in a prudent and efficient way enabling the bills to be paid when they come in after the election. There are many responsibilities nowadays on those offering themselves for election to the national Parliament and I consider these limits reasonable in view of the kinds of expenses that will be incurred and the divide between local and national expenditure.
I am a member of a small party which has rarely run more than one candidate per constituency and we accept these figures as being reasonable. I find it difficult to understand the arguments being made by some Labour Party spokesperson when these figures are mentioned. One would imagine that the money was being given by the State and that larger parties were going to benefit enormously. That was the implication and our partners in Government were named as the party that would benefit but these will apply across the board. If anyone wants to get out and raise funds to achieve success, they must work at it.
The limits are reasonable enough. One might say: "God be with the days when there were no limits," but extraordinary sums were not spent on electioneering in those days either, though there were no limits at all. Money does not grow on trees and people do not throw that much money at political parties.
Not if one listens to the tribunals.
We read about a few individuals but the reality is that of the very small percentage of the electorate which benefited from democracy and the Governments which govern the country, very few contribute at all to the expenditure of political parties. In view of the costs involved, these are reasonable figures and I cannot accept the amendment.
The Minister of State did not sound a bit convincing and was not even convinced himself. The truth is that there will be £1 million in additional money given to the larger party to spend and he who pays the piper can very often call the tune. I am not saying that money will buy the electorate.
Look at the number of candidates. Be fair.
However, there has to be some degree of influence.
It is per candidate.
It is a pity that what was good enough in 1997 is suddenly not good enough now. The Minister of State has failed to convince me and the public. When the public hears of this it will remain unconvinced. The public will be reconvinced that the relationship between big money and big parties is still there.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 67, line 39, after "by" to insert "the insertion in subsection (1) after ‘employment' of ‘or the elector's personal circumstances' and by".
This amendment is to allow the postal vote to be extended to those who need it, but not due to a situation of employment. By this, I mean prisoners, students and some others should be entitled to a postal vote. The simplest way of dealing with the current situation is to allow a postal vote. Here is the opportunity to do it.
This amendment seeks to extend postal voting provided for in section 63 of the Electoral Act, 1997 – for electors whose occupation, service or employment renders it unlikely that they will be able to go to a polling station on polling day – to include the personal circumstances of an elector. This would effectively mean that postal voting would be available on demand as registration authorities would not be able to decide what personal circumstances should be allowed.
Extending postal voting to all electors would require serious consideration. While there might be a case for extending it to electors going on holidays or into hospital, the matter requires serious consideration having regard to maintaining the secrecy and integrity of the ballot paper. It would also be of use to evaluate the experience in the United Kingdom where universal postal voting arrangements were available at the recent elections.
Concerns have also been expressed about extended postal voting arrangements in the USA. The findings of a recent study of turnout found that liberal or no-fault absentee voting limits voter turnout, early voting hurts voter turnout, continuation of early voting and liberal and no-fault absentee voting has had a mixed effect on voter turnout, election day registration helps turnout in elections which generate late interest, and mail ballots do not produce an impact on voter turnout. In view of this, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment as I cannot accept it.
I will not withdraw the amendment. We have the most restrictive system of postal voting when compared with the European Union and the United States. I do not see the reason we cannot find a mechanism to be more generous. Nationals of other countries are able to vote from Ireland while here on business or on holiday. We do not seem able to find such a mechanism. This is because there is no will to do so. At the same time, we wring our hands and say that the electoral turnout is lower than it should be. It is, but we should be encouraging those interested in voting to vote. Nothing the Minister said has convinced me otherwise.
Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 53:
In page 81, to delete line 5 and substitute the following:
"(c) in section 52
(i) by the deletion of ‘five' in paragraph (a) and the substitution therefor of ‘8',
(ii) by the deletion of ‘eleven' in paragraph (b) and the substitution therefor of ‘9',
(iii) by the deletion of ‘eleven' in paragraph (c) and the substitution therefor of ‘9'.
(iv) by the deletion of ‘seven' in paragraph (e) and the substitution therefor of ‘8',”.
I want to suggest something different for Seanad elections. We should have a fresh look at the panels. It is out of date that there are only five seats on the educational and cultural panel whereas there are 11 on the agricultural and labour panels. Likewise, there are discrepancies between the panels. It goes from a high of 11 to a low of five. I am attempting to introduce a measure of equality in so far as that can be done. I have proposed three nine seaters and two eight seaters. That would ensure greater numbers. There would be a relatively equal number of Senators on each panel and it would bring into line the differences which have developed during the years in terms of the importance of different areas. Culture and education merit more than five seats on their panel. Agriculture has declined during the years and perhaps does not merit 11 seats. Likewise, the labour panel can be brought to greater equality also. The business and commercial areas are major ones at this time.
I propose a level playing pitch for all panels. It would be a preferable way of progressing. This is a useful opportunity to have a look at the panels to see whether they merit an equality of seats on each.
Trying to get greater equality in numbers on the panels is perhaps not appropriate. The Seanad election process and its vocational aspects should be looked at in the overall context of the House. We have proposed debates on Europe and that the House act as a greater conduit between the people and the institutions of Europe. The matter should be looked at in the context of an overall review of the operation of the Seanad rather than on a piecemeal basis as in the amendment.
These amendments seek to amend sections of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, which deal with the number of Senators to be elected by different panels, and also the filling of panel vacancies by nomination rather than by an election. These are major changes which require full consideration. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution publishes its accord on the institutions of the State. It will have to consider whether there is support for it in the House. At this stage, I do not propose to accept the amendments. Major changes would need very detailed consideration.
In relation to amendment No. 54, Article 18.5 of the Constitution states:
Every election of the elected Members of Seanad Éireann shall be held on the system of proportional representation by use of the single transferable vote and by secret postal ballot.
This rules out the amendment.
The Minister of State is simply saying "No" to both amendments. Has he got legal opinion on his point about "every election?" I am not proposing an election in relation to amendment No. 54. I am proposing that the vacancy be filled. An election should not take place because it is the by-election that brings party politics into the matter.
Any Government which has a Taoiseach nominating 11 Members will have an automatic majority. That is not fair in democratic electoral terms. It would be much more appropriate that any vacancy which occurs would be filled by the body or party which held the seat in the first instance. This would simplify matters and eliminate the unfairness and discrimination which currently obtains in relation to Seanad by-elections. I do not believe there is a constitutional difficulty. If the Minister of State held a similar view to mine, what would be his response?
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 81, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"58.–In lieu of the provisions set out in Part V of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, casual vacancies in Seanad Éireann shall be filled by the nomination of such person or body as is specified for the purpose by the member in question at the time of his or her candidacy or as soon as may be thereafter, but where no such person stands so specified the provisions of the said Part V shall have effect.".
Amendments Nos. 56 to 63, inclusive, are minor drafting amendments and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
These are drafting amendments to improve the text of the Bill.
I thank the Senators who took part in the debates on the various Stages of the Bill for their constructive approach. I appreciate the amount of time and effort they invested in studying the legislation and drafting amendments. I understand that it can be disappointing when one's amendments are not accepted, but this will always happen when political judgments have to be made. I sought, as far as possible, to try to accommodate the suggestions that were made. However, while we will have to agree to disagree on certain matters, I believe the debate was courteous, constructive and thorough.
The Bill contains many progressive provisions to assist in the registration of electors and the conduct of elections. It is important that the Oireachtas continually reviews electoral matters to ensure that the procedures employed are suitable for a changing environment. While ensuring that the secrecy and integrity of the ballot is maintained, other procedures, as far as is practicable, should be such as will facilitate maximum participation in the electoral process.
I was somewhat surprised at the level of doubt expressed at the prospect of direct vote recording and electronic vote counting. This may arise from a lack of knowledge of the system and is, perhaps, understandable. The provisions in the Bill are enabling and it is needless to say the Government will not agree to the use of any system unless it is convinced that system will meet the objectives set for it. The current position is that the Government has agreed, in principle, to the use of direct vote recording and electronic vote counting, subject to satisfactory testing of the system to ensure that it is suitable for Irish electoral conditions. The Department expects to receive delivery of six voting machines, together with the necessary software, in July. Due to the holiday season, intensive testing will not commence until September.
The Minister will invite representatives from political parties to join the steering group overseeing the testing of the system. In addition, when the voting machines are delivered, Government officials will provide demonstrations to party spokespersons, individual Members or groups of Members. The Government would wish to reach an all-party consensus, if at all possible, on this system. All testing reports, specifications and documentation relevant to the voting machines and software will be placed in the Oireachtas Library for the information of Members and Department officials will facilitate Members in providing information on the system. In addition, publicity and information programmes for the public will be carried out before use.
The Bill also contains important provisions concerning a limitation on the size of political donations, a prohibition on certain donations from abroad and matters relating to the opening of special accounts for political donations. I consider that these measures will go a long way towards allaying public concerns about donations to political parties and individual politicians.
Members will be aware that the Minister has recently been indisposed, which resulted in others being obliged to take responsibility for some of the work he had commenced. He regrets his inability to be present. I thank Members for the constructive approach adopted on the various Stages. I particularly thank Senators Coogan and Costello for their co-operation. I know we have not met all their requirements, but in my opinion the Bill makes a major contribution to the area of local government and heralds the dawn of a new era. In addition, it will lead to our embracing information technology to a greater degree and it will be good to see the eventual introduction of electronic voting, as far as possible, with the agreement of all Members of the Oireachtas. I assure anyone with concerns about this matter that it is not intended to rush the introduction of electronic voting and it has not yet been decided whether a pilot scheme for its use will be launched during the next election. The Government is proceeding cautiously with its testing programme and will keep Members on all sides informed to the greatest degree possible before final decisions are arrived at.
I thank the Minister of State for his kind words. I would like him to convey to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government our wishes that he will be restored to full health in the immediate future. I compliment the Minister of State, who was thrown in at the deep end, on the rapid manner in which he brought himself up to speed on this legislation which, on the surface, might appear simple but which is, in fact, quite technical in nature. His experience as a Minister and Minister of State aided him in becoming familiar with the legislation and he dealt with the debate in a very able and efficient manner.
Unfortunately, the main focus of the media and members of the public will be on political donations. I regret the Minister of State could not take on board my recommendations and those of the Labour Party regarding the relationship between political donations and corporate bodies.
The electronic voting system heralds a new era but there is no doubt there will be a certain loss. There was a great relationship between tallymen and the voting structure in their attempts to work out the permutations. It was not wonderful for candidates but the public and the people who supported candidates had a wonderful time working out the relationship between third and fourth preferences and transfers and such like. That will be a loss, unfortunately. I look forward to seeing how the system works. I do not know how the breakdown came about that I and a few other Members were not informed there was an opportunity to see it in operation. We can do that in future.
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to speak a second time because of rules and regulations. I had wanted to ask the Minister of State about the legal opinion he received on the distinction between corporate and individual donations. Will he circulate to me and to Senator Costello an explanation why a distinction cannot be made between the two?
I wish to be associated with Senator Coogan's remarks and compliment the Minister of State on the manner in which he handled the legislation. Having come in at short notice, he has done remarkably well. I convey my good wishes to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that he gets well soon. I am sure he will be in the Seanad with the Local Government Bill before long.
The Minister of State and I disagreed fundamentally on some elements of the Bill, such as corporate donations and spending limits in constituencies. I believed these were the areas which required most action from politicians to show the political process was not too closely linked to big business or money. I am sure the Minister of State and I will continue to disagree on those.
I am reassured by what the Minister of State said about trying to achieve all-party consensus on electronic voting and that it will proceed only if we are assured business can be conducted in a safe and secure fashion.
I compliment the Minister of State on the courteous manner in which he dealt with the debate. I also compliment his officials on putting together what is in most cases good legislation, with the caveats I have highlighted. It is a job well done.
I join the Minister of State in his compliments to Opposition Members who did a great deal of work in tabling many amendments which enhanced the debate and probed various aspects of the Bill. I will not re-open the nebulous debate on corporate and individual donations. We dealt with that during the course of the discussion on the Bill.
I also join in the compliments to the Minister of State who hit the ground running and whose experience and expertise in the area was brought into play when he took possession of the Bill at short notice. I join those who wish the Minister for the Environment and Local Government well. We hope to see him back in good health soon.
Through the Department and the Ministers of State, Deputies Molloy and Dan Wallace, much valuable legislation has been enacted of which this is certainly a part. The main aspect of the Bill is undoubtedly the use of information technology and computers for electronic voting. It behoves us as one of the leaders in that area to apply best practice to all aspects of administration and voting. It will change the process of voting and, I hope, be an attraction for people to participate and vote. I hope the officials who played a significant part will find a way to ensure that, when electronic voting is in place, we will get the detailed information necessary for us to conduct our political affairs vigorously and competitively.
It would be remiss of me not to express my sincere thanks to my officials who have put a tremendous amount of work at extraordinary hours of the day and night into preparing this legislation.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 12 noon on Tuesday next.