Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

NEW SECTION
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
In page 3, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
3.—Section 6 (amended by section 9 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2009) of the Act of 1997 is amended by inserting the following subsection after subsection (1):
"(1A) Prior to the publication of the report referred to in subsection (1) the Constituency Commission shall produce an interim report that shall be published for public consultation for a period that does not exceed three months.".".
—(Senator Diarmuid Wilson).

In my initial contribution I attempted to suggest that, in the context of the amendment tabled by my group proposing that an interim report be published for public consultation, I was questioning the need or desirability of having a constituency commission at all. I referred to an article by Mr. John Coakley, the detail of which I have already acknowledged in my earlier contribution.

Mr. Coakley suggests that a great deal of trouble in regard to the revision of constituencies could have been avoided by the adoption of a simple formula that is close to being universal in proportional representation systems. I refer to the definition of permanent constituency boundaries established by legislation in the early 1920s, modified by a few minor local adjustments in subsequent years with seats being reallocated between constituencies by means of a simple mathematical formula after each population census.

Mr. Coakley goes on to argue — I agree — that the introduction of proportional representation by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 for the two parts of the newly partitioned Ireland entailed the creation of multi-member constituencies and would have permitted a return to counties or groups of counties as the basis for new electoral districts. Instead, existing constituencies were grouped in peculiar ways to produce a set of 26 territorial units returning between three and eight members each.

This is the basis of my argument. If we were to adopt the basic administrative district as the boundaries of a constituency we could avoid a lot of what is happening. To illustrate the point, entities such as King's County and Queen's County, which are now Laois and Offaly — Offaly is the only constituency in the entire country to have retained its status as an entity since 1920——

With the help of north Tipperary.

——Carlow-Kilkenny and Longford-Westmeath later became familiar combinations. This resulted in peculiar combinations such as Kerry West Limerick, Waterford East Tipperary, South Mayo South Roscommon, East Mayo Sligo and Leitrim North Roscommon, which gives me some fuel for a further debate on another amendment on the reasons why I think the Leitrim should become a single entity. However, I will focus on the amendment No. 3.

Mr. Coakley's report states two important elections took place on these boundaries. There was an election in 1921 to the House of Commons in southern Ireland, as it used to be referred to, which were regarded by Sinn Féin as part of the election of the second Dáil and in 1922 to the provisional Parliament of the Irish Free State which was similarly interpreted by the pro-treaty group as an election to the third Dáil. The next revision happened in 1934.

The Minister for Local Government, Seán T. O'Kelly, moved sharply away from the principles of the 1923 Act because the Electoral Act 1923 replaced this system with a set of 28 territorial constituencies ranging in size from three to nine members but returned to the county as the basic unit. I do not want to go into great detail about the history of various Governments and the electoral revision of constituencies Acts.

The work done by Seán T. Kelly reduced the average size, leaving only three constituencies with more than five members. There were only three, seven-seat constituencies from that point on. The change also fractured existing boundaries liberally. Some 27 of the 34 constituencies were based on micro-units such as district electoral divisions or, in the case of Dublin, what are referred to as "complex imaginary lines" running between named points. County boundaries were also widely breached.

I am suggesting that we should have a debate on whether we should have a constituency commission, with all of the resources, personnel and expensive that it involves. Others, such as Mr. Coakley, have suggested that a junior official, with all due respect to junior officials, in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would have been able within half an hour to have carried out the relevant adjustments.

I can imagine the advisers from the Department are somewhat amused by my comments. I hasten to add that I am not casting any reflections whatsoever on any civil servant. Mr. Coakley put this view forward as a justification for his argument that it did not require a substantial architecture of resources to do what the commission will do, namely, redraw constituencies. It is important to put on the record the need to at least stimulate a debate in future. The evidence would suggest that the large complex architecture we set up every time there is a census may not be necessary. When we discuss a later amendment we will have the opportunity to debate how constituencies are arranged.

I fully support the view that there be an interim report. The reason we tabled this amendment is that if one looks back over recent commission reports, when it invited public submissions nobody was sure, other than the commission, what the submissions were and what people were saying. It was not until the final report was published that one saw the number of submissions and their content, which generated further debate and did not settle the issue. Following the constituency commission report there was another series of debates which took up several hours.

We have tabled an amendment suggesting that there be an interim report. It would allow the general public to have an idea of the thinking of people who make submissions. The commission would not be required to come to an interim conclusion. All it would be asked to do would be to put all the submissions received into the public domain. It would stimulate healthy debate that would be of assistance to the commission in making its final report.

That is a very important point and has been eloquently headlined by my colleague. I will not discuss it in great detail.

I understand the membership of the commission will comprise a judge who will chair it, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk of the Dáil, the Ombudsman and the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Could the Minister of State indicate whether that comprises the membership of the commission? If it does, I have two questions. Why is the Secretary General a member and what role does he or she have to play on it? Would the Minister of State consider appointing one or two independent people from the general public to it?

I fully agree with Senator Mooney on the establishment of the commission. We see this happen far too often where powers are devolved to a quango or commission. It is a case of politicians abdicating their responsibility. The point has been well made by the Senator that the Minister has a plethora of officials available to him and his Department to do the work of the commission. I gave as an example on the Order of Business the possibility of a boundary change in Waterford which would create local tensions, to put it mildly, with some people in Kilkenny. The response from the Leader of the House was that this was a matter for the commission, that it would deal with the potential hot potato of a boundary change. The Bill provides for the abdication of responsibility by allowing the commission to make decisions in order that politicians can hide behind its recommendations. That is wrong. I question how long the commission will take to do its work and when it will come back with firm proposals. Even at that stage political decisions will still have to be made. The Cabinet will still have to sign off on the recommendations of the commission. All this means is that when a recommendation is placed before the Cabinet, Ministers or Government representatives will be able to say it was a decision of the commission to change the boundaries of a constituency. That is the reason the commission is being established. We should call a spade a spade. I do not agree with the proposal. I fully support the sentiments expressed by Senator Mooney. Therefore, I support the amendment.

I thought commissions were set up to ensure there would be no gerrymandering. I am sure they are fair. We cannot have our loaf and eat it in this regard. I was not around at the time, but perhaps the perception — which is everything — was that additions were being made to constituencies to suit a Minister with a strong vote in a certain area.

We are talking about the Department, not just politicians, with respect to the Minister of State.

In fairness, the commission will be independent. In reply to Senator Wilson who always asks a prescient question, the membership of the commission is set down in law. Section 7 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2009 reads:

A Constituency Commission shall consist of the following members:

(a) (i) a judge of the Supreme Court, or (ii) following consultation with the President of the High Court, a judge of the High Court, nominated by the Chief Justice, who shall be the chairperson of the Commission; (b) the Ombudsman;

(c) the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; (d) the Clerk of the Dáil; and (e) the Clerk of the Seanad.

In reply to the points made by Senator Cullinane, the Act reads:

Upon the publication by the Central Statistics Office, following a Census of Population, of the Census Report setting out the preliminary result of the Census in respect of the total population of the State there shall be established by the Minister, by order, a commission (in this Act referred to as "a Constituency Commission") to perform the functions assigned to it by this Part.

The Act is clear in this regard.

Submissions made to the commission were published on-line and I anticipate that will also be the case on this occasion, as we wish to ensure maximum participation. The integrity of geographical county boundaries is absolutely sacrosanct. I should not apologise for the fact that the maroon and white jersey of County Westmeath defines me.

I am very proud that it is known as the Lake County and of everything we have available in Westmeath. We have tremendous facilities. If the Senator ever visits the county, he will find the finest of equestrian facilities, lakes and much more and will be very welcome.

I am a little miffed and aggrieved that part of north Westmeath was hived off in forming the constituency of Meath West. People with whom I grew up were looking for my name when in the polling booth. I received a telephone call from a person in a polling booth to ask whether I was running in the election. These are people who played football and hurling and were educated with me.

I note the case in Limerick. I was in Waterford recently and the same applies there. I am a frequent visitor to Waterford because the Penrose family has an association with the county dating back many years. I, therefore, understand the significance attached to the geographical boundaries. That is a parochial but nevertheless well held viewpoint of mine.

As a barrister, I know the phrase, "in so far as possible", allows several outs. However, in so far as possible I hope the integrity of geographical county boundaries will be maintained.

I agree with Senator Mooney and know what being from County Leitrim means to him and what it meant to his late father, Joe, who was from Drumshanbo and represented the people of the county for many years not just in his electoral area but also in the field of music. I know what county boundaries mean to people. I, therefore, understand the antipathy and annoyance expressed when a county is severed. The Government will not have an input into the workings of the commission. That is only right if the independence of the commission is not to be compromised. However, I appreciate the points made by Senators.

On quangos, I am on the side of anyone who can reduce the number of agencies. A significant start has been made in my Department. In the next few months the number of agencies will be halved, which is only right. Agencies were established at a time when they might have had a purpose.

In early May I wrote to HSE headquarters on a number of issues and have not yet received a reply. That is not good enough, even if the reply is to get lost, which is its right if it believes my query is not appropriate. However, the issues are significant for the individuals concerned and I am their representative. They are known to me and suffering great pain. The more we can bring issues back within the area of political accountability the better and I will not change this view for anyone.

Spin doctors were mentioned. That reference could not have been directed at me because I do not even have a press officer. I do not subscribe to the view that one should have one's name attached to every tiddly event. People are more discerning than this. I am fed up with receiving press releases about Ministers welcoming this or that; it is a load of nonsense. We are here to help the people and there is no need to look around to make sure one is the greatest boy or girl in the class. It is time we moved away from this practice as it brings a degree of cynicism into the game. Deputy Penrose could be followed ten seconds later by Deputy Mooney with another press release. It is a charade. Some of what I have done as a Minister of State has been useful, as acknowledged by other speakers. However, I did not issue press statements. I hope what I do will improve the lives of others. That is the only reason I am in politics. I started in this game a long time ago when I was only 13 years and two months old, to be precise, in October 1969 and hope I have made a difference, although I admit I have made some howlers. I am sure people will say Penrose does not know what he is talking about. That is a subjective view which anyone is entitled to hold. That is the principle of democracy.

I cannot accept the two amendments proposed. I am opposed to the proposal that there be an interim stage report, notwithstanding the well expounded arguments eloquently put by Senators Wilson and Mooney whose review of the historical revisions makes for interesting reading. I know the Senator has acknowledged the help he received from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, but he has presented the facts extremely well, as one would expect him to do.

Constituency boundaries revision is not a perfect science, no matter who undertakes the task. Flaws will always be found. Boundary changes do not suit all parties at various times. I have made the point on occasion. Leitrim is an example in this regard and Senator Mooney will confirm that I am acutely aware of what has happened there.

It is inevitable that someone's interests will be affected during the revision process. That is the price we pay for our electoral system which, in general, has served us very well. Senator Mooney made the case regarding how well it has served us more eloquently than most. When the next commission issues its recommendations — and in view of the fact that the enactment of this Bill will lead to a reduction in the number of Deputies to be returned to the Dáil — some individuals will be extremely unhappy. However, the general consensus is that it is a job which must be entrusted to an independent commission. In that context, we should allow the commission to proceed to do its job in the way it sees fit but within the terms of reference that will be set down for it by the Oireachtas. It is important that terms of reference should be laid down and these are set out, in broad terms, in the Bill.

The amendment, in respect of which Senators Wilson and Mooney put forward a number of cogent arguments, seeks to introduce a two-stage process into the revision of constituencies. That would be a regressive step. I do not want to revisit the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s when parties and Governments decided constituency boundaries. This left everyone involved open to the charges of gerrymandering or whatever. If such a two-stage process were introduced, it is almost inevitable that the same charge would arise if and when the final report of a constituency commission differed from an interim report.

When the next constituency commission is established, it will be operating under an improved public consultation process. The new and improved consultation arrangements set out in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2009 mean that the minimum period of three months for making submissions to the commission will apply. I hope that, at the appropriate time, people will engage to the maximum extent possible with the consultation process instead of waiting to express their views when the commission has reported. The best hurler is always the one on the ditch. People should get on the field and make their views known. I realise that such views may not be accepted and may be termed "off the wall". I fully support and acknowledge the integrity and independence of the commission. It is vital that we should send out a message of strong support to the commission in respect of the important work it will be charged with carrying out. Said work is central to the effective functioning of democracy in this country. In that context, I cannot accept the amendment.

Senator Cullinane made a number of well thought out arguments. However, the effect of opposing section 3 would be to retain the current arrangement of between 164 and 168 Members of Dáil Éireann to which a constituency commission must have regard in preparing its report. This is particularly at odds with the intention behind the Bill. On Second Stage, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, highlighted the current Administration's intention to reduce the size and cost of government. The changes to the constituency commission's terms of reference that are proposed in the Bill will achieve this objective. It is not good enough for those in the political system to ask others to change and make sacrifices. We must also be prepared to make some changes.

The measures outlined in the Bill provide that the minimum number of Members of Dáil Éireann is to be recommended by the constituency commission in accordance with section 6(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 and shall be not less than 153 and not more than 160. The changes proposed by the Government will allow a constituency commission to recommend constituencies based on a reduced number of Deputies. This will meet the requirements set out in the Constitution. We are acting in a timely manner to ensure that the new constituency commission, which must be established upon the publication of the census results — these were issued on 30 June last — will be able to take account of the provisions in the Bill.

If I am allowed to do so, I intend to make a submission to the commission seeking that Westmeath be restored as a full constituency. It is my view that I have a right to do so. Notwithstanding the fact that the county of Westmeath is divided between constituencies, I continue to serve the people of north Westmeath because I believe I have a duty in this regard. This is despite the fact that the entire area from Castlepollard to Collinstown to Fore to Delvin and on to Clonmellon is included in the constituency of Meath West. That correlates with the points being made by the Senators opposite. I am sure Senator Mooney or the other public representatives continue to cater for the needs of the people of north and south Leitrim, regardless of the way in which the country is divided for constituency purposes. I genuinely hope the geographical integrity of counties will be maintained in so far as is possible.

The Constitution states that representation "shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population". I anticipate that a significant number of the submissions to the commission will focus on that point. I am not in a position to accept the amendment but I urge people to become involved in the consultation process relating to the commission and to make submissions before it brings forward its report. There is no point in waiting until the report has been published before complaining about various matters and stating that everything is a mess. I trust the commission will pay careful attention to the submissions made to it in this regard. After all, that is one of its functions. The commission is independent. We should cherish that independence.

Before we proceed, I remind Senators that we are dealing with amendment No. 3, which is seeking the provision of an interim report from the commission. We have engaged in a wide-ranging discussion in which contributions have bordered on being more appropriate to Second Stage. I ask Senators to focus specifically on amendment No. 3. We are to conclude our deliberations at 4 p.m. and there are other good amendments which, I am sure, Senators wish to discuss. Senators should, therefore, remain focused and keep their contributions brief.

My contribution will be very focused. I wish to put a direct question to the Minister of State. Much of the discussion to date has related to the commission, its workings and its report. I posed two questions to the Minister of State earlier but he did not reply to either. These are the most pertinent questions that have been asked. The first relates to why the number of Deputies needs to be reduced. What is the reasoning behind reducing the number of Deputies by seven or eight? What are the Government's intentions in this regard? The Minister of State did not really provide answers in that regard.

My second question relates to the cost——

The Senator's questions relate to the section as a whole rather than to amendment No. 3. They are, in fact, not related to the amendment.

I can return to them.

I will still be obliged to ask the questions again, whether it is now or in a few moments' time.

I will ask the Minister of State to make a note of the Senator's questions and then he can reply to them when we deal with the section.

I am seeking a direct response from the Minister of State with regard to the other question I wish to pose. Is the need to reduce costs a factor in the Government's decision to reduce the number of Deputies?

Does Senator Mooney wish to say anything further?

I will reserve making any further comment until we come to deal with the section.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 24.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

I fully accept the Minister of State's bona fides, about which there is no question. We are all in agreement that the independence and integrity of the commission must be maintained. However, I will attempt to illustrate that perhaps there is a requirement for the Government to examine whether the commission model is now fit for purpose. After all, it was introduced on foot of a political decision in 1979.

I referred to the second Electoral Act introduced by Sean T. O'Ceallaigh in 1934 but the next Electoral Act, introduced by Seán MacEntee, was not introduced until 1947 and it rectified the issue by not breaching county boundaries in any case. This arrangement was continued in the 1959 Act, but it had a fatal flaw. In introducing it the Minister for Local Government, Niall Blayney, argued that not only the population but also the land area of each constituency should be considered on the grounds that "it should be made as convenient as possible for a Deputy to keep in touch with his constituents." The Act thus allocated proportionately more Deputies to sparsely populated western counties than built up areas such as Dublin. Although the Act was passed, considerable controversy surrounded it. A case was taken to the High Court by Dr. John O'Donovan who contested the constitutionality of the Act which was struck down. According to Mr. Coakley, while the O'Donovan case was a landmark one in 1961, it also turned out to be an unfortunate one in that it prevented one possible form of abuse, the disproportionate allocation of seats to areas in which the governing party might have been strong, but at the cost of facilitating another, straightforward gerrymandering through boundaries manipulation. As we know, in the case of a succeeding Electoral Act in 1974, the last Act to be drafted with political direction, there were many accusations. The Kevin Boland Bill was referred to as a "Bolander", while the Bill introduced by James Tully was referred to as a "Tullymander". The three major parties were somehow seen by the public to be contributing to the manipulation of constituency boundaries for their own electoral benefit. Therefore, by 1977 the noise level had become a crescendo. There was a recognition by politicians in both Houses that there was a need for another model. In 1979 the constituency commission model was introduced.

The Minister of State and I aread idem on this point. I believe politicians from all parties support the view that in so far as is possible we should retain county boundaries, but plainly this has not been the case. Statistics indicate the erosion of the argument made on the foundation of the State in the early 1920s in the Electoral Acts that county boundaries should be maintained in forming administrative units. By 1934 it was beginning to erode and by the time the commission came into being in 1979, it had been eroded to the point where we had the most extraordinary combinations.

I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government my suggestion there is a need for an analysis of whether the commission model is now fit for purpose. Perhaps there should be an internal analysis in his Department subsequent to the passing of the Bill and prior to the setting up of a constituency commission in the future, on which we should make a start now.

I remind Senators that this section deals specifically with one item, namely, the proposed change to the number of Members of the Dáil.

I will deal specifically with that point because I have made a number of charges against the Government and the Minister in earlier contributions on the basis of the reason the Government is proposing to reduce the number of Deputies to perhaps 153 or less. The Leader of House said proposal did not go far enough and that perhaps the figure should be 120. I posed a question which I will pose again to receive a direct response from the Minister of State. Why is the change being proposed now? What is the logic behind it? What difference would it make if we had seven or eight fewer Deputies? How would it improve the workings of the Dáil? I do not see how it would.

The charge I made was that this was simply an exercise in delivering on what was a rushed pre-election promise by the Fine Gael Party which seemed to be in competition with the Labour Party in seeking Fianna Fáil held seats. That is what this is about. I fail to see how having six or seven fewer Deputies would make any real difference in the general scheme of things. I must pose the question again because I have not received a response from the Minister of State.

We have talked about the commission, but the question of why the change has been proposed has not been addressed by the Minister of State. He might enlighten us in this regard. Is cost a factor? That is one of the reasons we hear mentioned in public commentary. There is an element of populism, that such a change would result in a reduction of costs. If that is the case, there is a great deal more that could be done to reduce costs. I made a number of points in that respect which I will not repeat, but we have brought forward proposals as to how that objective could be achieved.

I call Senator Byrne and ask that he speak to the section.

The section allows considerable scope to address general issues.

No, let me be clear. The section deals specifically with the proposal to change the number of Members of the Dáil.

The number of Members of the Dáil has a direct impact on the layout of constituencies, a matter which gives rise to debate. In this regard, I return to the important issue of county boundaries.

The Minister of State mentioned the constituencies of Westmeath and Meath West. After 2002 there was the ludicrous decision to include part of County Westmeath in the constituency of Meath West and instead of rectifying the matter part of the constituency of Meath East was included in the constituency of Louth. The result is highlighted by an announcement made by the Minister of State's Department yesterday on the allocation of moneys for the provision of libraries. Bettystown, the second largest town in County Meath, is completely unrepresented in the general scheme of things because it was added to the constituency of Louth taking the focus of Meath County Council off it, meaning the pressure is off it in providing services there. There is no library in the town, although there has been talk for years about providing one. People have been waiting for Government funding, the council delayed in proceeding with its provision and nothing has happened as a result. I firmly believe this is a direct result of the change in constituency boundaries because there is no longer a focus on the area. When I was the prominent person from the area representing it in the Dáil, I was able to get things done and the council would listen to me, but once the boundaries were changed, my focus changed and I believe the Deputies for County Louth are not focused on it. The omission made yesterday could be the responsibility of the Minister of State's Department or that of the council, but nothing is happening in this respect because pressure is not being applied. That is directly as a result of the provisions of this Bill, allowing a breach of county boundaries, and the fact that when county boundaries are breached they are left that way. They are never reversed and more and more breaches seem to occur. It is a point worth considering.

I call the Minister of State on the section.

I am quite happy to speak to the section but I like to reply to each individual who makes a contribution.

Senator Cullinane, for whom I have the height of respect, is perceptive but he appears to have missed the point. In his Second Stage contribution the Minister, Deputy Hogan, highlighted the Government's intention to reduce the size and the cost of government. The change to the constituency commission's terms of reference proposed in the Bill will achieve that objective.

In terms of reducing the size and cost of government, we must lead by example. The political system cannot ask of others what it does not ask of itself. We are asking various bodies across the country to slim down and implement various measures. The Senator made the submission previously, which seems to be a Sinn Féin mantra, on reducing wages and so on. There have been significant reductions in the salaries of politicians and so on. It will soon reach a point where only people of a particular class will be able to become Members of these Houses. As somebody from a working class background and the eldest of ten children reared in a cottage, and I still live in the garden of the house in which I was brought up, I want to see every child have an opportunity to participate here. There is no use talking about the average industrial wage. I have brothers on the average industrial wage, an issue on which I will not be lectured. I have been there.

I set up my own business and I know the difference between being employed and being self-employed. Most people work 39 hours a week but my average working week is approximately 70 hours. If that was factored over a period per hour it makes for interesting reading, and when one gets down to the net figure it is very interesting reading. Like everybody else I support many organisations and so on, and that is another drain. I could have remained in my other job. I have colleagues the same age as me in the other profession who are doing better than me, but that is neither here nor there. As I told the Senator, I came into this Oireachtas to try to improve the lot of people. One can get down to the lowest common denominator in terms of the price of everything but the value is important as well. Everybody is talking about being available for one's constituents and so on. I always prided myself on being available up to 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. I do not close down at 5 p.m. and switch off, no more than the Senator or any of my colleagues here. I look upon all the Senators as my colleagues. That is a point I have always made and I will continue to make.

I take the point made by Senator Mooney, who is well researched on that issue. It is worth considering, and the officials are aware of the document. In the early 1980s I had to learn the Constitution off by heart. If I did not, the first examination question on constitutional law would have been bad. It states that Dáil Éireann shall be composed of members who represent a constituency determined by law and it shall be determined that there will be not less than one for each 30,000 of the population and not more than one for 20,000, but the ratio between the number of Members to be elected any time for each constituency and the population in each constituency, as ascertained in the preceding census, shall, so far as is practicable, be the same throughout the country. It is that equality of representation that is important.

In terms of Senator Mooney's point, I would like to believe it works like that. Senator Byrne made the same point, namely, that Meath should be a geographical entity, for want of a better word, and similarly Westmeath, and that if the number of representatives is fixed at three or four it can remain at that. In terms of the population changes, we would have to change the Constitution to achieve that, which is something I espouse also. I will not say it is someone else's proposal. I am thinking on my feet now, which I used to have to do in another profession, but that area might be examined as part of the constitutional convention. Irish people are reluctant to change aspects of the Constitution when they are asked to do so. I recall reading that in the 1960s two attempts were made to change the method of electing people and the Irish people resisted them. They are careful about it. I hope this constitutional convention takes place because it is worthwhile. However, it is important to get the right participation in that also to have a better outcome. From that perspective I am not able to accept the amendments but I take the points made. They are borne from years of experience on the part of people.

I did not lecture the Minister of State about his salary or that of anybody else. I made the point about costs and whether this measure would reduce costs. We are not advocating that Deputies, Ministers or Senators should earn the average industrial wage. That is a decision that those of us in our party make and we invest the money in our constituencies. What we propose are modest decreases in the pay of politicians, and that is linked to the section because the Government is creating an impression that this is about cutting costs. With the greatest respect to the Minister of State, in the general scheme of things having seven or eight fewer Deputies would not be cutting costs.

The Minister of State talks about comparisons in terms of the salaries Deputies, Senators and Ministers earn but he should put those comparisons in the context of the European Union. For example, the Government is quick to act when it comes to the joint labour committees, JLCs, and low income earners. It says people are overpaid and that it should be looked at in comparable terms yet our politicians are paid much more than our counterparts in Britain, France, Germany and the United States. Those are serious issues.

This is not about lecturing anybody. It is about stating the facts. This measure is window dressing. If the Minister of State wants to cut costs there are various allowances available to people in this House that are ridiculous. This is not about class or whether people from working class backgrounds will be able to get elected to these Houses. There are allowances for chairpersons, vice chairpersons and Whips. Those allowances were put in place in a different era. That was money stuffed into the political system by Mr. Bertie Ahern when he was Taoiseach. He gave any amount of money to politicians. We had benchmarking and so on, and politicians more than benefited from benchmarking. That is the reality. I do not see how those kind of payments can be made in the current climate. That is the point I was making. That is not lecturing the Minister of State or anybody else. If the Minister of State is aware of what Sinn Féin proposes, and Fine Gael and the Labour Party are very good at misquoting and misrepresenting Sinn Féin's position, and if he had listened to what Deputy Pearse Doherty proposed in the Dáil recently in respect of a Bill we brought forward he would be aware it was a 15% decease in the salaries for Deputies and Senators and 30% for Ministers to bring us in line with the European Union. What we do in Sinn Féin in terms of the average industrial wage is a matter for my party. It is our business, not the Minister of State's business.

Question put and agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment No. 4 is in the name of Senator Cullinane and his colleagues. Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

4.—Section 6 (amended by section 9 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2009) of the Act of 1997 is amended in subsection (2) by substituting the following paragraph for paragraph (b):

"(b) each constituency shall return four, five or six members.”.”.

I appreciate that other Members have tabled similar amendments and therefore I will be brief. I want to hear what the Minister of State has to say on this amendment and I reserve the right to contribute again. My view and the view of my party on multi-seat constituencies is that they have operated in the past. Senator Mooney or some other Member from Fianna Fáil gave examples of five and six seat constituencies in the 1920s and 1930s. Cathal Brugha and his wife were Deputies for the then Waterford-South Tipperary constituency.

Waterford-East Tipperary.

That is the one. That was a six-seat constituency. This country has a history of five and six-seat constituencies. We should look at best practice in other countries. Many countries have multi-seat constituencies, and we pride ourselves on our PR-STV system. Its logic is to ensure good representation and diversity in the political system. If we just had four, five and six-seat constituencies, specifically the latter two, it would be the best way to address the issue of the representation in the Dáil of people from working-class backgrounds, as raised by the Minister of State. I am not being biased based on my party's position because, in the last general election, for example, Sinn Féin did very well in three-seat constituencies. It is not that my party would lose; other parties could gain. It is a question of ensuring good representation and participation. If we moved towards having three-seat constituencies, the system could become elitist. People from working class backgrounds may not have the money or opportunity to run for election. Those who are not members of political parties do not have access to the funding to run election campaigns.

This issue could be addressed in the context of this Bill. We are pressing the amendment because we believe it to be important in the context of the reforms the Minister of State is proposing. I am interested in hearing his response. I will now allow others to contribute.

Since my election, I have been amazed to listen to Senator Cullinane complaining about not having speaking time. He is taking over the Seanad today.

This Bill is a necessary first step, as was pointed out. I tabled my amendment purely for the purpose of debate. Debate is required. Perhaps today is not the best day to convince the House of my argument because fewer than 10% of Senators are present to discuss it. I am interested in how the debate proceeds. I hope the electoral commission will report favourably on this issue. I will withdraw amendment No. 5.

I did not get a chance to respond on some of the issues raised regarding the Bill. I will be brief in doing so. Electoral registers were very much up to date when the rate collectors were in charge. When they were removed from the equation and responsibility was handed to county councils, a nonsensical regime was put in place that made it very difficult for people to know they were on the electoral register and when they were removed therefrom.

We are discussing amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, which are not related to what the Senator is discussing.

I will be very brief. The PPS number does not always carry the up-to-date address of the person.

In our efforts to appease the general public by reducing the number of Members in the Dáil, closing down the Seanad and reducing the number of county councillors and all that kind of nonsense, we are actually taking power away from the people. A number of years ago when we decided to abolish the health boards, we took power away from the people and handed it over to the HSE, which resulted in the mess we are in now. I genuinely hope the general public, when examining this issue, will consider all these matters for their own sake.

Senator Mooney will not be happy.

I call Senator Averil Power. I apologise to her for not calling her earlier given that she has her name on two of the amendments.

The amendments propose to change the size of constituencies. Senator Cullinane spoke in general about proportionality and stated the effort to achieve a greater balance is assisted by having larger constituencies. I want to approach the issue from a different angle, namely, with a view to improving female representation in the Dáil. As Members are aware, Ireland has one of the worst records of female participation in any parliament in the world. Our female representation rate is not only one of the lowest in Europe but also lower than those of countries such as Afghanistan, Cuba and Rwanda. This is a serious issue. At no point did Ireland have a percentage of female Members in the Dáil greater than 15%. The National Women's Council produced reports suggesting that, at the current pace, it will take 300 years before we have a balanced Parliament.

There is often debate on whether it matters whether members are male or female and whether there is a balance. There is no doubt that men's and women's lives are becoming increasingly similar, yet there is a host of areas in respect of which women's lives are fundamentally different from those of men. Women are far more likely to be the primary carer in the home, either looking after a child or an elderly parent or dependant. Women are more likely to be in part-time employment and to be victims of domestic violence. There is a wide range of areas in which women's life experiences are different. Until our Parliament is more representative, certain issues will never be addressed seriously by the political system.

I welcome the Government's initiative to incentivise parties at the next election to ensure at least 30% of candidates will be female. It is the right approach to put the choice in the hands of the voter by having candidate quotas. All we are saying is that each voter, when he or she walks into a polling station, will be offered a balanced ballot paper and will have an opportunity to make a choice thereon.

I always find it incredible that, at every election, many constituencies present no choice whatsoever. Voters in the polling stations are handed a list of 15 men. In Dublin North-East, I was the only woman out of 14 or 15 candidates. This does not represent a fair choice. The legislative proposal being advocated is fair and it is right to ask parties to step up to the plate and find the right candidates. There is no doubt that there are outstanding women in every constituency. Women are heading community groups, residents' associations and chambers of commerce. If they are not involved in politics, it is the fault of the political system and the parties for not finding a way to get those women on the ticket.

The legislation represents a very positive step but, while candidate quotas will help ensure there are more women on the ballot paper, the ultimate objective, as reflected in our amendments, must be to ensure more women are actually elected. There is a wide body of international research on which system is best for women, and various academics have various views. I have read a number of reports on Ireland and elsewhere that suggest women have a better chance of being elected in larger constituencies.

I am in favour of much more significant electoral reform. For the reasons I outlined, there is a need to have a serious debate on national political issues during election campaigns and to move away from the excessive localism to which other Senators referred. We should move towards having a national list, which would be the best way by far to ensure a gender balance. A national list makes it much easier to ensure a more favourable gender balance without having to account for the intricacies of various constituencies and whether a party member can run in one location and not another.

Ultimately, we have the system that we have. It is important to move on this issue now. I propose that we do not postpone addressing it and that we do not get into a big debate on electoral systems. We will have a 30% candidate quota for the next general election. We need to consider the electoral system now and determine whether there are changes we can make to ensure the candidate quota will lead to more female seats. Our amendments propose that three-seat constituencies be abolished in favour of four, five or six-seat constituencies.

One of our amendments concerns the constituency commission. When deciding whether to recommend in favour of a constituency with four, five or six seats, it should have regard to the fact that larger constituencies afford a better opportunity for women to be represented. It would have to have regard to county boundaries and other factors but gender would be one factor in its deliberations.

It is worth noting that the Joint Committee on the Constitution, which examined a wide range of issues, not just gender, recommended that all constituencies have at least four seats. It drew attention to feasibility in urban areas in particular. The committee was a cross-party group that examined the electoral system and recommended against having three-seat constituencies. This is one reason for our amendment.

I broadly agree with all that has been said by Senator Power. Her remarks afford me an opportunity to commend to the HouseWomen in Parliament: Ireland, 1918-2000, a book I had the privilege of producing in 2001 with Maedhbh McNamara, a senior research assistant in the Oireachtas. I commend it to those Members, particularly my male colleagues, who may not be au fait with the history of female Irish parliamentarians. Women in Parliament: Ireland, 1918-2000 traces the contribution women made and continue to make, from Countess Markievicz in 1918 to the present and one or two findings therein might help to support Senator Power’s argument. One conclusion arrived at is that electorally, the worst position to be in is that of a female challenger, while the best is that of a male incumbent. However, I query Senator Power’s point on the number of women who are involved in voluntary organisations, chambers of commerce and so on. While our conclusions also agree, there is a wide gap in the step-up from involvement in voluntary organisations to active political participation and women were reluctant to take that jump. This reluctance came about as a result of many factors, some to which Senator Power referred, regarding family commitments, the hours of work and the need to ensure the manner in which parliamentary duties are assigned was not inimical to the mothering nature of women to be with their families. I note strides have been made in Leinster House in this regard with the provision of crèches and so on. However, the most important factor of all was the lack of finance. In general, women getting involved in political activity found it was more difficult for them to raise money than it was for men.

While I do not wish to widen the argument on the gender issue, I will conclude this point with one statistic. When I started out on this odyssey, it was as a member of the Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men in the Council of Europe, at which I was asked to be a rapporteur on women's participation in politics. This first exposed me to the Europe-wide experience of women across many societies and subsequently was the motivation for the book. In fact, there was a gap in the market here, in that there was no extant textbook that defined the contribution made by Irish women to the Irish political system. This led to the publication ofWomen in Parliament: Ireland, 1918-2000, which I am glad to note now is used as a school text. One conclusion to emerge about Scandinavia, which usually is held up as a model where participation rates for women are at 40% plus, is that despite or in spite of the advances women have made in the political culture and system within Sweden, a glass ceiling still exists in that country’s commercial life. Consequently, issues arise in this regard.

In the context of greater gender balance, although I understand Senator Power's motivation in tabling the amendment, which I support, the onus ultimately lies with political parties. While I understand the Government's motives in holding back money if a party fails to put a certain percentage of women on an election slate, I do not consider this to be the way forward. It is a matter for political parties to grasp. I acknowledge that they have failed miserably to so do in Ireland in recent decades, despite the excellent work done, for example, by Senator Bacik to highlight this issue since she became a Member in 2007 and to have established a corpus of female politicians who keep this issue on the agenda. Nevertheless, I still believe it is down to the political parties, their structures and the manner in which they do it. One need only consider what happened across the water. There is a 50:50 split in the National Assembly for Wales, primarily because it was insisted that women would stand in certain constituencies. In the wider United Kingdom, the Labour Party in 1997 insisted that as male MPs retired, female candidates be chosen to stand in those constituencies. Moreover, they primarily were constituencies the party could win because there is no point in putting up women to stand in constituencies or electoral areas in which they will not win, as often has been the case. My final point in this regard is that Europe has managed to be more advanced than we are here because list systems are used. However, women there also have been obliged to fight to get as high as possible a position on such lists. It is not sufficient to be simply placed on the list as they must secure as high a place as possible and this has been a challenge for many female politicians across Europe. I make this point in the wider context of the subject under discussion and the reasons Senator Power has advanced the view that there should be larger constituencies.

In the context of the commission, the terms of reference are inherently flawed. The Minister of State might agree with me and others regarding the maintenance and the sanctity of county boundaries. However, I am strongly of the opinion that when setting up a commission, use of terms of reference that refer to maintaining county boundaries in so far as is possible, has resulted in practical terms in the splitting of counties throughout the country. This goes back not to the commission but to 1921 and 1922. The Electoral Act 1923 replaced a system that was in itself flawed and Senator Cullinane referred to the constituency of Waterford-Tipperary East. Under the 1920 Act, county boundaries already had been breached with examples such as one to which I have referred previously, Mayo South-Roscommon South. However, in the Electoral Act 1923, our founding fathers replaced this system with a set of 28 territorial constituencies ranging in size from three to nine Members but returning to the county as the basic unit.

It was because the Electoral Act stated the county boundaries had to be maintained that it was possible to accommodate this position by extending the number of members per constituency and allowing a flexibility in the system between three Members and nine. Such flexibility has been absent from all subsequent constituency commissions, simply because the wording has allowed a commission to get under this requirement and to breach county boundaries on the pretext that its obligation to adhere to the constitutional requirement in respect of numbers means it must do so. This is the reason I have argued consistently throughout this debate that if there is to be a return to county boundaries, the constituency commission's terms of reference must be strengthened to include this proviso as it will not work otherwise.

In this context, it is interesting to consider the revision made in 1934. Incidentally, as I noted, it marked the beginning of the erosion of the maintenance of county boundaries by the then Minister for Local Government and Public Health, Mr. Seán T. O'Kelly. He moved away sharply, according to Professor Coakley's dissertation, from the principles of the 1923 Act. As for the combinations that emerged therefrom in respect of County Westmeath in particular, a Meath-Westmeath constituency was created that excluded a sizeable portion of the latter county. As people will say in footballing circles, Meath always is the dominant partner but it even happened in electoral terms in 1934. However, the commission did not finish whatever it was at in respect of Westmeath, because part of it was included, together with part of Roscommon, in a new constituency of Athlone-Longford. How the commission came up with that configuration beats me and there were many further instances like that. The next electoral Act was passed in 1947, followed by the 1959 Act. Thereafter, from 1979 onwards, a series of reports has been made.

I wish to discuss briefly the extremely important issue of the system of constituency commissions and the number of seats allocated per constituency as it affects my own county in Leitrim and other less populated counties. Arising from the shift of population to the east of the country, there will be a loss of Deputy representation west of a line drawn from Derry to Cork despite the best efforts of the constituency commission. This simply is because the shift in population has been so evident and something like two thirds of the country's population now lives in Leinster. However, I revert to the 1988 report, which was based on the results of the 1986 census but its terms of reference required a set of three and four seat constituencies, permitting five seats only "if necessary to avoid the breaching of county boundaries". However, this was perceived by the then Opposition as an attempt to undermine proportionality and to reinforce Fianna Fáil's position. Has anything ever changed? It depends on which side of the fence one is on. The Opposition threats to vote against any Bill based on this principle were sufficient to ensure that no such measure was brought forward because at the time, the argument was that it constituted an effort by Fianna Fáil to shore up its political majority. The same argument was used against Mr. James Tully when he introduced it, as well as against Mr. Kevin Boland, with clichés such as "Tullymandering" and "Bolanders" being used.

In the wake of the 1988 report, a new commission was appointed instead and its report became the basis of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1990. The final stage of the depoliticisation of constituency boundary revision came with the Electoral Act 1997, to which this Bill refers. It placed the boundary commission on a statutory basis, thereby reducing the role of the Minister for the Environment. This is rather interesting in the context of Members' overall discussions on political accountability as up to the present day, the role of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is purely formal. All he or she does is establish a constituency commission with predetermined membership and terms of reference after which the five-person commission gets down to work. I note the commission is given certain terms of reference. These stated each constituency shall return three, four or five Members and that the breaching of county boundaries shall be avoided as far as is practicable. That was the get-out clause. The terms of reference that will be given to this commission will not change this. Even with all the rhetoric about maintaining county boundaries, the model is inherently flawed. It has replaced the founding fathers' aspirations, as contained in the 1923 Act, that irrespective of anything the county boundary determined the constituency boundary. They took the administrative territory — the county council area — as being the constituency and put together combinations such as Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon as a seven-seat constituency.

However, owing to the terms of reference given to electoral commissions since 1979 that has not been the case. I do not believe the reunification of Leitrim will happen under this one either. The Minister of State is correct in quoting the provisions in the 1937 Constitution. Successive Governments up to the establishment of the independent electoral commission were able to mess around with the counties and come up with some weird combinations.

Mr. Coakley's report concluded by stating it highlighted the difficulties that have confronted those charged with revising constituency boundaries in Ireland. In the early years of the State, politicians were not particularly preoccupied with this aspect of electoral law. Once the 1959 Electoral (Amendment) Act appeared to discriminate against Dublin and in favour of rural areas, Opposition anger spilled over into a court challenge. The High Court challenge that Mr. O'Donovan took on the grounds the Act was unconstitutional and subsequent insistence on a Deputy to population ratio as set down in the Constitution ruled out the practice for the future.

Mr. Coakley claimed, however, it also unintentionally provided a cloak for gerrymandering by encouraging, if not forcing, Governments to micromanage constituency boundaries. He believed that while the introduction of an independent constituency commission in 1980 depoliticised the process, boundaries have continued to be amended as vigorously as ever. By contrast, he pointed out, continental European proportional representation systems meet the principle of suffrage equality by periodic reallocation of seats to stable administrative districts, the equivalent of which in Ireland would be counties.

This could easily be applied to Ireland by a junior official in the Department, as I stated. There is a need for a fundamental change in the approach to constituency boundaries. The current model has become deeply ingrained in our political culture, however. Owing to the discredited gerrymandering of electoral boundaries by successive Governments in the eyes of the public, all political parties were quick and anxious to subscribe to a new model to determine electoral boundaries with minimal ministerial involvement. This was the basis of the establishment of the constituency commission. It was to prevent politicians manipulating the electoral system for their own ends.

Its inherent flaw, however, is in its terms of reference which will result in part of the Minister of State's county, the wonderful Westmeath, remaining in Meath while my county, Leitrim, will be split in two along Lough Allen. There must be a fundamental reappraisal of the model used by the constituency commission. We must refer to the founding fathers, as Senator Cullinane often does, the people who forged this State who realised the importance of county boundaries. As they were close to the people, they saw the confusion and anger caused by splitting counties for electoral purposes. That is why the 1923 Act stuck to the county model. Sadly, subsequent Governments have made changes which have resulted in the current model. We need to return to the county model and have five, six or even seven-seater constituencies. Ultimately, it will give fairer representation and avoids all the problems I outlined in my argument.

It is always an education to listen to Senator Mooney. His was atour de force through the fascinating history of constituency boundaries.

It is useful we debate the issue of increased women's representation in the context of Senator Power's amendment. As Senator Mooney said, I have had a long interest in this issue since I was elected in 2007 and authored a report for the Oireachtas justice committee on women's participation in politics in 2009. It was subsequently debated in the House and Senators Mooney and White were supportive of my recommendations, as were all parties.

As Senator Power said so eloquently, we have an appallingly low level of women's representation in politics. We languish around the 70 and 80 mark on the world league tables, well below the European average. We never took positive action to address this. That is why I am delighted the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government recently announced legislation will be forthcoming to ensure political parties will be required to field a minimum proportion of candidates of each gender, as recommended in our 2009 report. Will the Minister of State give more details about the timeline for the legislation's publication?

The main obstacles to women's participation, known as the five "Cs", have been well rehearsed in this debate. Women tend to have less access to cash, lack confidence, less access to child care and run up against the old boy's culture and candidate selection procedures in political parties. As Senator Power pointed out, in some constituencies party activists are often presented with a restricted choice of all-male candidates. The legislation announced by the Minister will facilitate greater voter choice by allowing more women candidates go to the electorate. In Belgium and Spain, the introduction of such provisions increased the number of women elected to parliament.

I must pay tribute to Senator Mooney for his book with Maedhbh McNamara,Women in Parliament: Ireland, 1918-2000, an excellent resource. This Seanad has the highest representation of women of any Seanad with one third of Members women. Six out of 12 Members of the Labour grouping are women. This is a sign of how a positive will to change can be successful.

While I am grateful to Senator Power for tabling this amendment, I am not sure it addresses the real cause of the problem of women's participation in elections. A Council of Europe report on the impact of different electoral systems on gender representation pointed out no particular one disadvantages women notably. Somewhat surprisingly, because I certainly thought our electoral system might be an obstacle, that was not the finding of the Council of Europe. The national list system, that Senators Power and Mooney have mentioned and that I would also favour, might provide a better vehicle for women, but there is no strong evidence that larger constituencies within the current electoral system would provide a greater opportunity for women. The far more significantly important reform is the one to which the Government is committed, that is, the reform to provide for political parties to select more women.

The evidence is less clear-cut for reforming the electoral system to increase the numbers of women elected. Short of providing for the national list system described, the evidence is certainly not clear that larger constituencies, in themselves, would have the result that Senator Power and I, and I think all of us, want to see, which is, increased numbers of women elected to the Dáil and to the Seanad.

I do not want to prolong the debate unnecessarily, but I am glad we are having this debate. I hope we will have more debate on this topic in the autumn.

Others have mentioned the glass ceiling. I always prefer the phrase "the sticky floor", to which women tend to be stuck in the political system as elsewhere. Our mission is to try to unstick women from that floor and get women raised up through the echelons of power.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, here this afternoon.

Having been first elected as a political activist to the Fianna Fáil National Executive by all of Fianna Fáil in Dublin across the then 11 constituencies, Irish women must be firing on all cylinders and have a passion for it. That is what it is about, having the passion to feel part of what is happening in one's country. I was frustrated until I got involved politically and I felt I could participate. I looked at everything much more rosily because I was participating.

In schools, we need to encourage women to believe that they should be there equally with the men. It will not be a true republic until there is an equal number of men and women in the Parliament.

I draw attention to a survey, "Power to the People? Assessing Democracy in Ireland", in 2007. Of the 14 European countries surveyed, a councillor represents 2,500 people in Ireland, only 118 people in France, 256 in Germany and 350 in Sweden. Contrary to conventional wisdom that we must reduce the numbers, just as Senator Mac Congaile and Professor David Farrell of We the Citizens group say, it is about participation and boring down into the communities and getting people more involved. I am sure nobody in this Chamber is aware that in Ireland 2,500 people are looked after by each councillor whereas in France, 118 people are, and in Sweden and Germany, 256 and 350, respectively, are. Sweden is supposed to be the model democracy and here we are attempting to cut back on the number of politicians.

The We the Citizens group wants people to be asked for their views on the issues. I totally agree with that vision and philosophy. What if we had a much depleted democracy? It is a very poor democracy, really. If there were more opportunities, more women would get involved at community level. Women are driving the child care facilities as board members, and the volunteer groups. They are very active in communities. It is all down to the leaders of the parties calling for more women to be involved.

Leitrim is the least populated county in the country. No doubt it has very bad land, but its people are the most charming in Ireland as far as I am concerned.

Senator White married one.

I married my husband in 1969. All the people I meet in Leitrim remember everything about me if I meet them six months or two years later. They are charming and courteous all of the time. I plead here today that Leitrim should be one administrative county to give it self-confidence in order that the people can fight for their rights as a county, rather than be split with Sligo and Roscommon. As Senator Mooney stated, it is divided by Lough Allen into Sligo-Leitrim and Leitrim-Roscommon. We need to give the people in Leitrim self-confidence. During the last recession, the population in my husband's village of 150 people built 300 new houses because the population was growing but the demise of the Celtic tiger set poor ol' County Leitrim back again.

Senator Mooney would be pleased to be the Deputy for County Leitrim.

And Senator Comiskey.

One needs an identity.

(Interruptions).

There is a bit of a difference between north and south Leitrim. They are far more strident in south Leitrim.

I remind Senator White we are on section 4.

Senator Comiskey, like my husband, is from north Leitrim. I give them the accolade of being the gentle and gallant people in the county.

This is a serious matter. Leitrim needs to be one administrative area that can fight for its rights, fight for employment and for everything to which it is entitled.

Returning to an issue on which Senator Mooney touched in terms of the difficulty of getting women involved, particularly the double burden for women who are working hard at a career, be it politics or business, and also having a family, there is quite interesting work being done on that in the corporate field. McKinsey & Company conducted a study on women and men who had achieved considerable success in the corporate world and found that while both groups put their careers ahead of their families, the choice between professional success and work-life balance had far greater consequences for women, who had to pay a higher price for success than their male counterparts.

It is quite interesting to look at two statistics in that respect. McKinsey & Company found that 54% of the women surveyed — these were women who had done well in their professional careers — did not have children compared to only 29% of men. Almost twice as many of the women who had got ahead did not have children. In respect of men and women who were married, the survey found that 33% of women who were in top management positions were single compared to 18% of men. If one looks back at women who have made it through to the Dáil, one finds that many more of the female Ministers do not have children and that trend is in politics as well.

In fairness, in the business world smart corporations are increasingly starting to realise that diversity in the workforce is not only right from an egalitarian point of view, but that it also benefits the bottom line. I refer particularly to manufacturing and marketing companies which found that there is a strong correlation between gender diversity and economic benefits, attributed in part to the fact that the more closely a company reflects its market demographic, the more likely it is to understand its customers. If one has a marketing team half of which is made up of women, particularly if it is trying to sell products to women, it is more likely to understand how women will see its advertisements and view the company's products.

The same argument applies to politics. If one does not have a balance of people, if 85% of those who make decisions are male and only 15%, or one in seven, are female, then the perspective brought to debate is seriously lacking something. It has been particularly difficult, not only in Ireland but elsewhere, to encourage women with families to get involved in politics. Many of the decisions made, in this House and in the Lower House, affect people with families. That perspective should be fed in before the decisions are made and it is a great loss to politics and to public service in general that it is not heard. I agree with Senator Mooney that quotas are only one part of the solution. The electoral system is important in making sure that women get in but a broader debate must also be had about whether the parliamentary system is family friendly. Change will only come about when there is a critical mass. Other countries' success in increasing female participation came about as the result of significant numbers of women, rather than two or three, pushing for change. The only way to reach that critical mass is through candidate quotas and changing the electoral system to provide greater opportunities in larger constituencies. I hope Members will support my party's amendments.

I support the arguments made by previous speakers regarding the introduction of a list system. Such a system would deal with many of the issues arising in terms of women's participation in politics. There appears to be cross-party support for the principle of a list system and perhaps this House could return to the proposal in the form of a motion or a Bill. In the 2007 general election, one party won eight seats on 3% of the vote, while another won five seats on 7% of the vote. A list system would address that problem.

I pay tribute to Senators for their contributions. They ranged far and wide and there were no barriers.

Senator Mooney is not finished yet.

I learned more today than in 40 years of participation in politics.

I was only a day ahead of the Minister of State in learning the same facts.

There is no glass ceiling in here.

I compliment Senators for the depth of their knowledge compared to the ignorance I must profess. Their contributions are well meaning and thoroughly researched. My praise is genuine. I do not engage in patronising speech and people will hear from me quicker than they might like if I think something is wrong.

Senator Mooney spoke about the fundamental reappraisal of the constituency commission model and reverting to the ethos of the founding fathers. His point is well made but the Constitution circumscribes his noble aspiration. Senator Mary White clearly missed the commitment Senator Mooney and I gave regarding the geographical integrity of counties. I feel as strongly about this subject as anybody and I have outlined my views on why it is important. Being told that a voter could not find a candidate's name in the polling booth reinforces the point. We would have to forego the constitutional provision on equality of representation to achieve that objective, however.

The constitutional convention may sound like a sop but it is more important than many of us think and we ought to start paying attention to it. As someone who sits at the Cabinet table, I am eager to see this happen because the commission's terms of reference are subordinate to the relevant constitutional provisions. We have to start there, irrespective of the points so clearly articulated by Senators. There is no reference to county boundaries in the Constitution. I could make a number of criticisms of the Constitution, apart altogether from trying to learn and remember it. I took the Constitution examination after returning from watching Everton play Liverpool in a cup final. I was a big Liverpool supporter but I did well on the Monday morning. The moral of the story is to relax before examinations. Perhaps we should start with the question of county boundaries.

Senator Cullinane asked a number of questions. The political funding Bill is being drafted and we hope to have it ready by autumn. It is time for politics to be taught as a real subject in our schools. That would include modules on how taxes are raised and spent and why a bicameral Legislature may be preferable to a unicameral one. The civic, social and political education syllabus is very good but it should be broadened to include lectures and tours.

Longford-Westmeath has no problem with candidate selection and gender quotas. I would not be miffed if I was defeated by a women in convention. My late mother, who propelled me into politics and who died unexpectedly, and my grandmother, who goes back to the Lockout, were never proponents of the gender quota. My mother was fiercely opposed to the idea of tokenism and she always believed that people would emerge. When I started in 1969, the chance of me standing before Senators today was minus 20, never mind zero. but we often discussed the issue as we sat on the aeroplane going on holiday to visit my uncles in England. I encourage women to get involved with my local party branch in County Westmeath. I will not stand in their way. Senator Mooney referred to the obstacles incumbents often create.

It was statistical.

I appeal to candidates to come forward in County Westmeath. They will find a more than willing advocate.

Get Mary O'Rourke.

I had some tough times with her.

The same statistics indicated that women do not vote for women.

That is correct. The Government has made its decision but in the last election, 86 or 15.19% of 566 candidates were women. Of the 166 Deputies returned, 25 or 15.01% were women. Senators will know where I am coming from. The proportion of men to women is approximately 50:50 but this has never been reflected in Dáil representation. In fairness to the Seanad, it has moved far ahead of the Dáil. The most recent figures indicate that there are marginally more females than males in the population. Prior to 2011, the level of representation among women in the Dáil did not exceed 14%. I am addressing the issues raised by Senators Power and Bacik. Women comprise one third of Senators and one half of Labour Party Senators. Since I was very young I have been on record as encouraging women to participate in politics because they have made a huge contribution. I started in Westmeath County Council with a former Minister and Leader of this House, Mary O'Rourke. It is as difficult to break through at local authority level as it is at Dáil level.

Yes, it is probably harder. I hope the legislation on political funding to be introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will deal with it. However, I have a view that including something in a law is not necessarily the best way of dealing with it, but who am I but a small fry?

I want to address the amendments specifically because people have spent much time speaking on them. During the Second Stage debates in the Dáil and Seanad, arguments were put forward in favour of the introduction of constituencies with a greater number of seats. I must defer to Senator Mooney's historical review on constituency size which was excellent. Constituency size has been restricted to three, four or five seats since 1947. In broad terms, this strikes a reasonable balance between the considerations involved.

Arguments were made in favour of the maximum degree of proportionality in the ratio of seats to votes and I understand these arguments which are valid and well made. However, issues are raised about the practicality of constituencies larger than those we have at present. All Oireachtas Members are concerned about the alienation of citizens from politics, and this issue was raised during today's debate. We agree on the need for greater connection between the people and our parliamentary and governmental systems at national and local level. However, I am not sure constituencies with populations of up to 180,000 people, as would occur in a six-seat constituency, are the way to go. One of the successes of our electoral system is the retention of close links between elected Deputies and their localities. This is a circular argument because this brings us back to clientelism.

I will not argue with Senator Cullinane but many of my people left in the early 1950s and I am glad to say that no matter where they went, they still speak with broad Westmeath accents. However, they hardly know who their MP is. A counterargument to the point made by Senators Mooney and Wilson is that MPs have surgeries with staff and nobody knows them. It is different to here and I take the point that in the UK system is more defined by one's party allegiance to either the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats than here where in the PR system one could vote for Sinn Féin or the Labour Party and also vote for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. One could write a thesis on this and we will not resolve the issue. Nevertheless, the contributions are well made. Perhaps this is why MPs are less well paid; they do not have to take part in ground level hurling to use the analogy used earlier. They deal with legislation, and perhaps that is the system they have. Some day our system will probably move to this if the people allow it, and that will be the question.

If the media say something it is the be all and end all.

It is not the gospel on the ground.

No, not on the ground.

I must travel throughout the country now and people in my constituency tell me they have not seen me around. The time I spend sitting at Cabinet meetings from 9.30 a.m. or 10.00 a.m. until 1 p.m. or 1.30 p.m. is time I normally would have spent in the constituency. How does one win? I pose this question to the Senators because they are all politicians, some of whom have been practising the art for a long time.

Any move towards six or seven-seat constituencies would give rise to difficulties sustaining these links. This will be the real balancing act. In addition, the proposed amendment would not allow a constituency commission to consider the option of three-seat constituencies. This would not assist the commission to meet its terms of reference. In particular, it would be impossible for the commission to maintain continuity in any of the 17 existing three-seat constituencies, despite that the census results may not require any boundary changes to be made.

Senator Power contends that larger constituencies would assist women candidates to be selected. I am not sure this would be the case. It is a quantum leap. There is no statistical evidence to back it up. The Government is being proactive in this regard. Notwithstanding what my late mother would have argued, everybody gets through based on ability and competence. There are all of the problems Senator Bacik mentioned regarding the five Cs, but when I started off one could have argued many issues would have meant I would not have got through. I accept we have moved on and it is a different era.

On 8 June, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, published the general scheme of the electoral (amendment) (political funding) Bill 2011 which includes a measure to encourage and improve gender balance among candidates of political parties in general elections. The general scheme includes provision for a requirement that to qualify for full State funding under Part III of the Electoral Act 1997 a qualified political party must have at least 30% female candidates and at least 30% male candidates at the next general election. This will increase to 40% after seven years. Half of every payment to a qualified political party is to be made contingent on meeting these new requirements. Only 15% of candidates in the recent general election were women so a 30% threshold would double the number. The new legislative provisions are a proportional response to address a significant challenge in Ireland's democratic system, which is to increase the number of women in politics. The approach of the political funding legislation is practical and sound and it is intended to proceed in this manner rather than amend the terms of reference of the constituency commission as suggested by Senator Power. Overall, I am satisfied the present requirement of three, four or five seat constituencies strikes the correct balance. I do not support the amendments being proposed and ask Senators to consider not pressing them.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his openness and frankness and the honesty with which he brings his considerable experience, which is very understated and shows the humility of the man I know.

I appreciate this issue will not change overnight. All I attempted to do was stimulate debate based on historical evidence which suggests that under the current terms of reference, and those that will be proposed, and subject to constitutional provisions, the retention of county boundaries will not be as guaranteed as we would like. Therefore, I agree with the Minister of State on the need to bring this debate to the constitutional convention because it affects us all. As the Minister of State correctly stated, the adherence to county boundaries is very strong and deep in the culture and psyche of the Irish people. I am firmly of the opinion that even with the best will in the world, the language used creates a let out clause as it states "in so far as is practicable" which is also used in the Constitution but not referred to in the previous Acts. I will not labour the point but I am grateful to the Minister of State for giving time and his considerable experience and expertise to this matter.

To respond to the comments of the Minister of State, one of the country's foremost and well respected experts on electoral systems, Professor David Farrell of UCD, made the point that an increase in district magnitude would lead to improvements in women's representation. Fiona Buckley of UCC, who specialises in women in politics, has made similar arguments. A report was also published in the US on the effect of district magnitude there on female representation. It has been examined in Ireland and people have argued that women have a better chance in larger constituencies, and international research shows that, in general, larger constituencies are more proportional with regard to smaller parties and provide greater opportunities for women. Whether in economics or politics, there will always be differing opinions and experts but quite strong research backs up the argument that larger constituencies offer better opportunities for women.

According to my stopwatch, it is now 4 p.m. and, in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day, I am required to put the following question: "That amendment No. 4 is hereby negatived; that in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to; that the Title is hereby agreed to; that the Bill is hereby reported to the House without amendment; that the Bill is received for final consideration, and that the Bill do now pass."

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.