Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)

NEW SECTION
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
In page 3, before section 2, to insert the following new section:
2.—In this Act "Act of 2002" means the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002.".
—(Senator David Cullinane).

I concur with everything Senator Barrett said. As I noted on Second Stage, when one reflects for a moment on what took place in this State in the past five years one finds that the failure of the political and regulatory systems to rein in the banks and properly scrutinise developments in the economy resulted in the collapse of the public finances and the bail out of the State by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The notion of sovereignty and democracy and whether we live in a republic has been the subject of debate in recent months. People are crying out for genuine political reform. They want leadership. Many question whether we genuinely live in a republic that should and does cherish all citizens and children of the State equally, as was promised by the founding mothers and fathers of the State.

I very much regret the fact that the potential abolition of the Seanad is using this House as some sort of sacrificial lamb on the altar of political reform or the notion of it. I agree with the previous Senator. The point has been completely missed if we go ahead with the abolition of this House and the reduction in the number of Deputies without strengthening local government. It would be a dangerous thing were we to have less accountability and scrutiny in the State. We have all seen at first hand what the centralisation of power can do in other countries. It would be a dangerous development were we to empower the Executive, namely, the Cabinet and give Government parties even more power. It would be against the interests of citizens.

There was a missed opportunity in respect of participatory democracy and ensuring that citizens have a voice. I attended a recent lecture by Professor Kathleen Lynch on the need for the State to value its citizens. She referred to the political discourse and narrative that has been set by the political establishment in recent years even in terms of how we view people. For example, citizens in the health service are seen as customers and people who seek housing are considered as clients. The type of language which has crept into the political discourse in this country is wrong. It shows a move towards more Thatcherite thinking and policies. We must get back to the notion of what it means to be a republic, what a republic should look like, and what kind of republic we all collectively want to be part of creating and living in.

When one measures those big issues against the Bill it shows how short it falls. We are again getting a Government which is simply trying to give the impression that it is serious about political reform but in reality it is just being populist. I very much regret the fact that the abolition of this House and the reduction in the number of Deputies will end up as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political reform. That is wrong. It will not in any way enhance democracy in the State. We should also reflect on the failure of the regulators and the entire regulatory system. That is something which should be seen in the context of political and institutional reform. There was a very real difficulty in respect of the relationship between the State, the democratic institutions and the regulators. All of the institutions failed to prevent the collapse in the economy and the public finances.

I am sure the Minister will relate to and agree with my final point. We are talking about accountability, political reform and ensuring there is improved scrutiny and oversight. Reference was made to the health service and the Health Service Executive. I made the point recently in a debate on the health service that the best impression of Pontius Pilate I have seen in my time as a political activist was the previous Minister for Health and Children who did not take responsibility for any of the problems which presented. We had a bizarre situation where the Department of Health and Children, the Minister, and the Health Service Executive were all going backwards and forwards and nobody was taking responsibility. People were being thrown from Billy to Jack in terms of who was responsible for problems in the health service. That goes back to the dismantling of the health boards and the establishment of the Health Service Executive which introduced more bureaucracy and less accountability and oversight. That is the kind of change we require.

My party introduced proposals on community health partnerships where local public representatives, national politicians, advocate groups and patient groups would have a role in scrutinising health policy. If one wants to fix the problems in the health service then one should talk to those who are suffering as a consequence of the health service. If one wants to fix housing problems then the Minister responsible for that area should talk to people who are living with the nightmare of unfinished estates, which we discussed recently in the House, or other issues. So much was missed in the Bill that it cannot be seen in any way as genuine political reform. That is why the political parties in opposition are so opposed to the proposals.

I stand in awe and admiration of the breadth of Senator Cullinane's contribution which somehow managed, dextrously and efficiently, to transform a section on definitions into a treatise on the health service. If ever there was to be a question mark over the future of this House, with respect to the Senator, anyone from outside listening in would wonder what the debate was about apart from the lecture by Professor Lynch. Senator Cullinane's contribution was close to a lecture to the Members of this House. I do not wish to take away from his right to say whatever he wishes but it one were to reflect on the business of this House, the debate should be about this specific Bill rather than a rant and rave about all that happened in the health service and all the things to which one is politically opposed.

I wish to focus specifically on amendment No. 12, which is in the name of Senator Cullinane and his colleagues, much of which I agree with. The amendment and the questions that have been raised by it bring back the hoary old chestnut of the efficiency of the electoral register and the manner in which information is gathered. That has been the subject of debate in both Houses and in all parties in recent years, most recently because of the significant surge in the population and also because of question marks that arose about practices that were indulged in by some parties in the context of putting forward candidates. It happened in particular in urban areas, especially in Dublin. People turned up on the register in apartment blocks who had no particular residence there other than that they got their name on the register and gave an address as to where they came from. I refer to Irish nationals. If the cap fits, those who know what I am talking about will know the history of the situation. That raised serious concerns in all political parties in the Republic, so much so that efforts were made in recent years to tighten up the regulations. In that context, I welcome Senator Cullinane's conversion to having a more transparent and accountable register which will impose on all political parties and activists requirements to ensure that the integrity of the electoral register is not questioned.

The use of personal public service, PPS, numbers has regularly been suggested. Rather interestingly there was an item in today'sIrish Independent which referred to a report from the Department of Social Protection to the effect that approximately 7 million PPS numbers have been issued. I hope I got my figures correct. There are only 4.5 million people in the country which gives rise to the question of how that could happen. From what I read in the article, the explanation is that the PPS numbers were given to non-nationals who came to the country from 2004 onwards, following the expansion of the European Union and that they have taken their PPS numbers back with them. One could ask if we were to introduce a PPS-based system whether it too would be open to abuse because of the enormous corpus of PPS numbers floating around Europe. Although this is an issue for the Minister for Social Protection, not this Minister, perhaps a time limit should be placed on these PPS numbers, whereby if they are not activated after a certain period of time they should lapse and it would be up to people to re-register. If we introduce the use of PPS numbers, which I believe to be a good idea in principle, we must be careful about how it is implemented.

The other issue is photographic identification. Again, I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on this and on the amendment in general in the context of how we can improve the register of electors to make it more accountable and transparent and to prevent questions being raised about people abusing our system. Abuses have taken place. All Members will be aware of the great slogan in the early years following the foundation of the State: "Vote early and vote often".

It was synonymous with Fianna Fáil.

Regardless of whether it was synonymous, I would be the first to hold my hands up for the sins of Fianna Fáil and I hope Members on the other side of the House will be equally culpable for and humble about any mistakes their parties have made. It has always been a great source of amusement to me that all the sins of this State seem to fall exclusively on the shoulders of people who support Fianna Fáil.

That is because it has been in government for so long.

That is a matter for the people. Ultimately, this is about the people deciding. One of the great mistakes made by political commentators and activists is that they accuse a party of being in government for a long time but continually ignore the fact——

People were hoodwinked.

——that every party puts its policies before the people and the people decide. Is the Senator suggesting that the people were wrong in the most recent election? I would be happy to go along with that view if he believes they were. Sovereignty resides in the people and it is the people who ultimately make the decision. This old blather about our longevity in government is not a criticism of my party but a criticism of the people for making a free decision in a democratic fashion. I wish that argument went down a cul-de-sac and stayed there because it does not have any relevance. All it does——

The Senator brought up the "vote early and vote often" slogan, with respect.

——is insult the electorate. By the way, I do not believe it is in the best interests of democracy that any political party should spend more than perhaps two terms in office. There are term limits in America which I am not sure could be applied here but I have no difficulty with the concept. It is right and proper. I am the first to acknowledge, as many Members on this side of the House have done, that we have given this Government a fair wind. The input of creativity and new, fresh thinking is refreshing. The latter years of the last Administration was bereft of fresh thinking and creativity. I am pleased it has been injected into the body politic because, ultimately, all of us, irrespective of political affiliation, want the best for the country and the people who put us here.

To return to the amendment, I look forward to the Minister's response to some of our suggestions and the overall approach being taken to ensuring the integrity of the register of electors.

I am sure this Bill is not the end of political reform by the Government. The Minister's contribution yesterday——

Nobody is objecting to the fact that by-elections will be held within six months of a vacancy occurring. That is an important step. The issue had to be addressed following the debacle in the last Dáil. The limits on spending in the presidential election campaign will come into effect immediately; therefore, it is important that this legislation is passed before the summer recess.

What about the 20 seats?

The census results were published in the past month and the commission has been set up. The Minister will put forward the terms of reference for that commission——

What about the 20 seats mentioned in the Fine Gael manifesto?

——and they will reflect the outcome of the census. Yes, the number of Deputies and Seanad reform will come from the people. They will decide whether they wish to retain this House and it is in our interest to put up a good case if we want it retained.

With respect, Senator, the people will not be given the opportunity——

There is reform across the board——

——to reduce the number of Deputies because there will not be a referendum.

Senator Clune to continue, without interruption.

This is the soft option.

There is also the strengthening of local government. There will be far more from the Government. This is not the end of political reform, but the start.

I accept Senator Barrett's point about oversight, which we will also have to examine. Recently, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, set up the fiscal council which will be very important. Members on all sides of both Houses will look to it in terms of how we will move forward the decisions that are made and regarding the economic assessments each year of budgetary announcements by the Minister for Finance. That will be important. In addition, the country is overrun with quangos and nobody will argue with that. They must be amalgamated. The first has occurred with the amalgamation of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency. They will be brought back within the remit of the parent Department. Some quangos will be eliminated. That is in the programme for Government and it will happen.

There will be plenty of debate in this House about reform. Unless we reform the political system, local authorities and the two Houses of the Oireachtas across the board, we cannot face the people again. The people are crying out for reform. We must lead by reforming how we do our business and answering to the electorate.

I intended to speak on amendment No. 13 when discussing the section but it has been mentioned——

I make no apology to Senator Mooney for not being straitjacketed by the very narrow confines of this Bill. There is a need to ensure that the Government is not let off the hook in terms of the bigger political reform issues that must be discussed.

For many years I watched the operation of the political system from the outside as a local councillor and saw the Senator's party talk a great deal about political reform but not deliver it. I am sick and tired of the discussions we have on political reform because when it comes to legislation the reform is piecemeal, as the Senator's party agrees. It does not deal with the bigger issues. That is a key point that must be made today and I am happy to make it.

It is disgraceful that the register of electors throughout the State is in rag order. In each county, up to 70% of the people who are eligible to vote are on the register of electors but 30% of them are not. A number of years ago there was an attempt to clean the register of electors and, as the Minister will be aware, people had to contact the local authority to get their names back onto the register. Many people were disenfranchised as a result. People have to go to the local Garda station to get onto the supplementary register before an election. They must fill in forms and bring identification. It can be an impediment to some people getting their names on the register. This amendment seeks to simplify the system. I agree there is a problem with the PPS system. There are over 7 million PPS numbers but the population is considerably less than that. Of course there is a problem, but I still believe it would be a far more efficient way of cleaning up the register of electors.

There is also a change in the housing situation in this country. Many people now live in private rented accommodation. People are more transient and continually move house due to the rent supplement system or the rental accommodation system. Many people forget to change their address when they move from an area and end up not being on the register of electors. When they turn up to vote at a polling station they discover they are not on the register. In fact, they might be on the register but in a different area and are unaware of it. This is the simplest, fairest and most effective way of dealing with it. Every citizen has a PPS number so it makes sense that it is the most efficient means of ensuring people have the opportunity to vote.

In response to Senator Mooney, it was certainly not a conversion for my party in respect of ensuring that the register of electors is sufficient and robust and that its integrity is protected. It is fundamentally important that people have a right and opportunity to vote. Many Senators have been candidates in elections. On the day of an election, one receives telephone calls from many people who are not on the electoral register but who thought they were and who are eligible to vote but who may have moved house for whatever reason. That is wrong and it is a systemic problem which could be easily resolved by accepting our amendment and using the PPS system. It is imperfect but it would be a much better system than that currently in place.

Senator Clune outlined briefly and clearly the need for the political reform currently going through. I would not describe it as piecemeal but rather a necessary first step. I agree with Senator Cullinane that we need to forge a new republic. The Taoiseach went a long way towards doing that yesterday and I commend him for it. As I said yesterday, I hope the Seanad can be a forum for, and a driver of, the new republic we all need.

I welcome all aspects of this Bill and I also welcome the proposal to put the abolition of this House to the people in a referendum. Senators will note I did not say I was in favour of its abolition but it is right that there is a strong debate on that issue. I have no doubt the people will decide in their wisdom the correct course of action.

The proposal in regard to PPS numbers is an excellent idea in theory but to describe the PPS system as imperfect is an understatement. It is not in good shape. It is in much worse shape than the oft and correctly maligned electoral register. Although I see much merit in Senator Cullinane's amendment, I am afraid it is premature and I will not support it.

I welcome the Minister of State. There is an old Irish saying, tús maith leath na hoibre. The Government is not claiming it has a panacea here for political reform. A good start has been made and this Government, in a very short period of time, has signalled its intention to do many things differently and to clean up many problem areas throughout the political system. This is a very useful exchange of ideas.

Senator Cullinane said the Government had decided to abolish the Seanad but only the people can decide that. Looking back at the last Seanad, there was much discourse in the public arena that there was something fundamentally wrong with the Seanad. We have made a very good start and there is a real commitment among all Senators to put their best foot forward.

On my way to the House yesterday morning, I spoke to one of the ushers at the front gate who said that in recent years, we were on holidays on 2 July but that we would be here up to the end of July, with this House working on behalf of the people. A real business-like approach is being adopted by this Seanad and there is a real commitment among all Senators to ensure the people get value for money, that we oversee legislation and have meaningful debates and discussions. We had an excellent debate yesterday with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Simon Coveney. That he had an outstanding grasp of his brief added to the occasion, the interaction and the meaningful role of this House.

In regard to PPS numbers, I agree with much of what has been said by all Senators about the inaccuracy of the current electoral register, how it is not fit for purpose and that something fundamental needs to be done. I appreciate the Minister of State might not be able to take this on board now. The PPS number has many functions. We spoke a lot about social welfare fraud when the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, was in the House. We need a fundamental review across all Departments of how the PPS number can be used to trigger all sorts of services, including the electoral register and social welfare benefits. Everyone has a PPS number, although we heard anecdotal evidence that some people have several PPS numbers. We must find a way to ensure everyone has only one PPS number and that we can verify, on a regular basis, that a person is still living and that the PPS number is in use. If we perfect that system as well as we can, it could then be used for electoral purposes.

We boast about the fact that we are technologically very advanced; therefore, there is no reason we cannot use the technology available to ensure we eliminate social welfare fraud, about which Senator John Kelly spoke so eloquently the other day, and use the PPS number to ensure the electoral register is correct. I would like to see the day when one could go to a machine on election day, key in one's PPS number and vote, irrespective of where one is in the country. That is what we would like to see happen but I know we are some way from that yet.

I urge the Minister of State to raise with his Cabinet colleagues the issue of the PPS number, its use in the future and how it can be streamlined. That is political reform which is long overdue.

I welcome the Minister of State. I should have referred to the following and I had hoped somebody else might have done so. In amendment No. 12, which is quite detailed, references are made to people who should be eligible to vote. There is a view, which has been gaining ground over the past number of years, that the process under which people are eligible to vote is restrictive. Other jurisdictions, in particular the UK, have introduced many new initiatives to try to get as many people as possible to vote on election day. Recent elections here have shown a decline, admittedly a small one, in the national turnout. It is part of the modern society in which we live.

Amendment No. 12 states, at paragraph (b), subsection (4):

For the purposes of this section ‘holiday or travel commitments' shall be deemed to include those which prove a person had purchased, or purchased by someone else, in their name for a date which would render it likely that he or she will be unable to go in person on polling day to vote at the polling place for the polling district, and for which proof is provided that that person will be returning to the State within a maximum of three months of their travel date.

That is long, involved and complex but the principle behind trying to ensure we ease as many restrictive measures as possible to encourage people to vote should be encouraged. I will be interested in the Minister of State's view on that.

I am always amazed by the ingenuity of the Seanad to range outside debates in a far-ranging way. As someone who has chaired Committee Stage debates, I know one has to speak to the amendment. All the amendments have been addressed in some shape or form. One could not have a better person than me to play ball in that regard. I come from a very competitive constituency that was referred to earlier. Many esteemed Members of this House kept me sharp there.

And are sadly missed.

No doubt, they made their contributions at various times. I always had to be on the ball.

It is time we got rid of the politics of the last success for a constituent. Politics is a bigger thing than that. Politics had a parochial nature, and we all went through that. I was as practical an exponent of that type of politics as anyone else. I will not decry what was there in the past. However, it is time we changed. We are in the process of changing.

I appreciate the points made about piecemeal measures. The Bill is only a beginning. It is not an end in itself. There is much reform on the way, including reform of local government. Despite what Senator Wilson says, I know of no decision to reduce the number of councillors or elected representatives at that level. It is important that we retain a conduit for constituents and communities to engage with their public representatives at a local level. Reducing the number of local representatives or tampering with government at local level will make it more difficult to achieve our objectives at national level. I know of no decision that has been made in that regard. I would be interested in ensuring that we do not diminish the role of local representatives or reduce their numbers. Occasionally, there is a media frenzy to reduce the number of politicians and so on. Sometimes it is done with the apparent intention of saving money rather than achieving another objective. Most Senators who spoke today were of the same opinion in this regard.

It has been suggested that external experts should be brought into the Cabinet. I have a great admiration for anyone who puts his or her name on a ballot paper. I have an old fashioned view. I could be wrong, and I am prepared to be wrong. Ministers are people who are standing where I am today but were sitting in the body of the Chamber yesterday. Being a Minister does not make one an expert on everything. I never promulgated that view and I do not subscribe to it now. However, there are some people out there who have particular "ologies" and who have been advocating a particular line over the last while. I have been a Member of the Dáil for 19 years. In that time, some of these people advocated particular "ologies" or economic orthodoxies. If any of the people who were cheerleaders for some of the things that were happening had been brought into government would they not have inflamed an already burning inferno?

It is important that the Government has the best advice. That means one has to have economists, lawyers and people with various skills and proficiencies, but these people should not be automatically elevated. The procedure for doing so is in place. Senator Barrett could be appointed to the Seanad and thereby appointed to a Cabinet position. Such appointments have been made in the past but they are the exception. When a person places him or herself before the people and is then appointed to Cabinet by the Taoiseach, the people have had their say. Knowledge, abilities, proficiencies and life experiences are all important for Ministers. I do not say a Minister must have a doctorate in everything. Ordinary people bring much to the table, whether the Cabinet table or any other, having garnered various expertise and knowledge from their life's experience. A person who left school with the primary certificate has as much to contribute as someone with fourth level education. That is an old-fashioned personal view. It is not a Government view. I do not say whether it does or does not reflect the Government's view.

The Bill deals with only three aspects of electoral law. It is confined, as Senator Clune said. It was never the intention that the Bill would become a more wide-ranging review of electoral procedures to include issues relating to the register of electors. Even if I agreed with all the amendments being proposed in relation to the register, it would not be appropriate to introduce piecemeal measures. Senators have referred to the Bill as a piecemeal measure. The proposed amendments would add another piecemeal aspect to the Bill.

The issues arising in relation to the register of electors are fundamental to our democracy. I accept what Senator Cullinane said in this regard. It would be better to take a comprehensive look at all the issues arising and deal with them together. I take note of what Senator Mooney said. He is an experienced Senator in Ireland and abroad. He often made sure our exiles were aware of what was happening in Ireland. I compliment him on that.

I do not wish to be misunderstood. The electoral register is far from perfect and is in need of review. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has said that although there have been improvements in the register of electors in recent years, further improvements can be made.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an electoral commission to subsume some functions of existing bodies and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. This commission will be an important element in a reformed and revitalised electoral system. I accept that there are merits in the various points made by all speakers. I never come into any forum to denigrate the views of people who make well meaning contributions. They are valuable. It is my intention to absorb various points made by various speakers in this Chamber and elsewhere, bring them together and distil the best of them. I enjoyed the discussion I had with Senators last week. I would like to come more frequently to this Chamber. We can leave partisanship outside and try to work together. We are in a position where all soldiers are needed on deck pulling together. We must pull the rope the one way. We can argue outside about our political views. The electoral commission will be an important element in a reformed and revitalised electoral system.

The proposal to abolish the Seanad was signalled by the Government parties prior to the general election and the programme for Government contains a commitment to put this question to the people in a referendum. Work is proceeding in the Department of the Taoiseach on the preparation of proposals for a referendum. The Dáil and Seanad will have an opportunity to debate the necessary legislation when it is published. Under the Constitution, the people are supreme and sovereign. They will make the decision. In the past, Governments have advocated amendments to the Constitution that have been lost in referendums. Thankfully, sovereignty resides in the bosom of the people. We all subscribe to that right and that is what makes us a sovereign State. Anything we have we have through the democratic will of the people.

Reference was made to the constitutional convention. The programme for Government contains a commitment regarding the establishment of such a convention to consider comprehensive constitutional reform. I sit at the Cabinet table and I understand that work is proceeding in the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of the preparation of proposals for setting up a constitutional convention. When these proposals are ready, they will be considered by the Government. A great deal of work is being done in respect of this matter.

I note what various Senators stated in respect of PPS numbers. The Department of Social Protection is responsible for maintaining the national database relating to PPS numbers. These numbers are stored in the Department's central records system. The latter contains a complete database of all the historical tax reference numbers which were used to pre-populate it in 1979. It, therefore, contains every insurance number from before 1979 and every RSI and PPS number issued after that date. In addition to those people who are currently resident in the State who have been issued PPS numbers, the figure of 7.4 million includes any individual who since 1979 required a PPS number and who has died or who, having been resident in the State, has subsequently left the jurisdiction and is no longer resident here. Senators Mooney and Wilson referred to the latter example. There is a requirement on the part of the Revenue Commissioners that all individuals who have been resident abroad and who have benefited from the proceeds of Irish estates to have PPS numbers. The Department of Social Protection continually monitors customer records on its central records database in order to preserve and enhance the quality of the data, including, where appropriate, consolidating duplicate PPS numbers as they emerge.

The position is not as simple as that outlined by the Senators opposite. In the context of the electoral commission, this is an area in respect of which significant progress could be made. As someone whose relatives emigrated in the 1950s, I have a particular view on the matter Senator Mooney raised. New circumstances emerge from time to time which support an extension of postal voting facilities. The Bill does not relate to piecemeal changes to the register of electors. A more detailed analysis is required. The electoral commission would be a useful forum in the context of addressing the issue at hand. The electoral commission is extremely important. How advances could be made in respect of use of PPS numbers and the extension of the right to vote are issues for the commission.

People who miss the opportunity to vote feel aggrieved. I refer to those who may have booked holidays before an election was called and who are obliged to be abroad on polling day. Other jurisdictions permit citizens travelling abroad to present themselves at the their embassies in the country which those individuals are visiting in order that they might vote. I would broadly agree with having such a system in this jurisdiction. Senator Mooney is correct in stating that a line must be drawn somewhere. However, that is a matter for the electoral commission. It is not for me to state what should happen. The electoral commission must evaluate the matter and bring forward proposals. It is time we showed a measure of maturity with regard to this issue. I am of the view that progress can be made in respect of it.

Consideration is being given as to how the measures necessary to establish the electoral commission — including those relating to its structures and functions — can be advanced. It would be appropriate that issues relating to the electoral register, and the integrity and accuracy thereof, be explored as part of that process. Ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the register of electors is paramount. We all claim to have a democratic mandate. If, however, huge swathes of people do not have the opportunity to participate in elections, then it can be stated that this is unfair. The position in this regard is different from that, for example, of an individual who has to opportunity to vote but who fails to do so. One will often discover such people, on the day after an election, pontificating in their local pub and stating that a certain Willie Penrose knows nothing about anything but that he has been elected and can be found in the Seanad talking through his hat. One will always come across such individuals and that is part of democracy. However, I am incline to dismiss the views of those who do not vote.

I prefer the views of those who participate in the process, irrespective of the parties or individuals for whom they vote. I have some extremely old-fashioned views. Anyone who knows me would state that I would never say something in this House which I would not also say outside. The only difference is that I am making pronouncements on the opposite side of the House from that which I occupied for the past 19 years.

For the reasons I have outlined, I cannot accept these amendments. There is a great deal of merit in the proposals that have been put forward. I do not decry the efforts of the various speakers to put forward their very positive and constructive views. The Bill only deals with three issues. It is merely a start. We are at the stage of the acorn and it will be a long time before the oak tree matures. I hope that during its lifetime the Government will achieve the various reforms to which Senators on all sides, including the Independents, referred. I also hope I will be around to play a constructive role in ensuring that what people legitimately want will be realised. At the same time, it is important that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water. We must engage in careful reflection before we proceed. I am secure in the knowledge that the major decision on whether this State has a unicameral or bicameral system of parliamentary democracy will reside with the people. We should all draw comfort from that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
SECTION 2

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"(2B) The provisions of subsection (2A) shall not apply where an election is due either—

(a) within nine months of Local and European elections, or

(b) within nine months of the date upon which Dáil Éireann must be dissolved, pursuant to the provisions of section 33 of the Electoral Act 1992,

provided that, in respect of paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Chairman of the Dáil (or, where he or she is unable through illness, absence or other cause to fulfil his or her duties or where there is a vacancy in the Office of Chairman, the Deputy of the Dáil) shall, as soon as practicable, direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue a writ to the Returning Officer for the constituency in which the vacancy occurred directing the Returning Officer to cause an election to be held on the same day as the Local and European elections to fill the said vacancy.”.”.

We welcome the provision in the Bill to the effect that a by-election must be held within a six-month period after a vacancy arises. In amendment No. 2 we are seeking that the Minister of State consider making provision for a situation where if local or European elections or a general election were to occur within a nine-month period, then a by-election should not proceed until they have been held. This would lead to a great deal of money being saved.

I wish to draw attention to the fact that we are due to conclude our deliberations in 17 minutes. Three parties in the House have tabled important amendments in respect of constituency sizes. In such circumstances, I encourage Senators to be brief in order that we might reach those amendments.

Progress reported, committee to sit again.