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.