Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I note our amendments have been ruled out of order because they are not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. We wanted the amendments to be within the scope of the Bill which is why we proposed a change in the Title of the Bill to hold a plebiscite on whether an office of a directly elected mayor with authority for the Dublin metropolitan area should be established. On that basis we oppose section 1.

Dublin has four mayors, none of whom has real powers. The offices are rotated between the dominant political parties. I am probably one of the last of the Members of the Seanad to formally welcome the first citizen of Dublin, Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Ardmhéara.

The rationale for the office of a directly-elected mayor relates to the need for strong coherent local government and accountability for the Dublin metropolitan area. Such an office is critical to the lives and well-being of Dubliners and Ireland as a whole. There are currently four Dublin local authorities and a multiplicity of national and State agencies. The system of governance for this city is not sufficiently robust to make strong, clear and accountable decisions as required by a modern city region. In particular, not only do many members of the public not have a clear sense of who is responsible for many of the decisions that affect the way the city and county is run, many councillors are at a remove from these decisions, particularly in areas such as transport. Clear, strong, robust and accountable leadership is needed-----

The Senator's comments on the Title of the Bill-----

I am speaking to section 1. I have just made a comment on the Title but I am speaking to section 1.

The Senator's comments are ultra vires as that matter is not contained in the Bill.

I would like to speak to section 1 and I am entitled to do so.

The Senator must stick to the matter of the Bill and not introduce extraneous matters.

I am speaking on the amendment of the Electoral Act 1992 and all other Acts related to this Bill.

I will allow the Senator a small amount of latitude, but I am ruling that he is ultra vires.

I am referring to several Acts, including the Registration of Electors Act, the conduct of Dáil elections and several others. I do not wish to bore the House with a list but there are several Acts.

Before we go down this road, this is a very specific Bill on a very specific issue and I will not allow speakers to debate the provisions of other Acts.

In the spirit that this is a very swift, pragmatic and important Bill I refer to the case of Godsil v. the Attorney General. The citizens of this city require and need to be directly involved as to whether they should have a directly elected mayor.

It is not within this legislation. The Senator is endeavouring to bring it within the legislation but-----

I am endeavouring to widen the scope of the Bill and I am trying to set out my argument under section 1.

The Senator has made his point. The rule is clear and what he is saying is ultra vires-----

How can I make my point if I have not put forward the full argument? The Minister needs to hear the whole argument.

The Senator is going down a road I have already suggested he should not pursue because it is outside the scope of the Bill and outside the scope of section 1.

I wish to make the argument that the scope of this Bill should be widened. We have both Committee and Report Stages to deal with it.

I have made the ruling and I have given the Senator some latitude. I have ruled that this is a very specific Bill and introducing the issue of the plebiscite is ultra vires to the Bill and section 1. Therefore, I cannot allow a full debate on it.

On a point of order-----

If it is a point of order.

I hope it is a point of order and believe it is. I have raised this matter on another Bill. It seems to me to be very odd that a Bill is presented before this House with the view that it should be reviewed and changed but certain sections of it are automatically immune. I do not see why the Title of the Bill should be immune from scrutiny in this House or from amendment. The Chair's ruling is ultra vires to the power of this House. We have the power to change the Bill.

That is not a point of order. Furthermore, there is no amendment to section 1.

On a point of order-----

We can speak about an amendment.

Yes, but I am not allowing the Senator to go all over the shop on it.

We are required to speak on an amendment if we want to put in an amendment on Report Stage; if we are not allowed to speak on it at this stage then we cannot put it on Report Stage. We are going around and around.

The Senator has gone beyond his point of order.

With respect, section 1 deals with the amendment of the Electoral Act 1992 which is quite a wide-scoping Act dealing with referenda, European, Seanad and local elections. It is on this basis that my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, wishes to speak to the amendment of the Electoral Act 1992. He is speaking within its scope.

I have ruled on this point. This is a specific item which is set out clearly in this short, specific Bill. The 1992 Act is a very broad Bill. I am not allowing the Senator to debate that Bill in the broad sense because this new Bill is so specific on the matter in question.

Section 1 of the Bill deals with amending that Act.

Amending it in a specific way.

We are denying people in Dublin and the Seanad.

In my Second Stage contribution I referred to the Local Government Reform Act among many other Acts. I have no issue with the pragmatic and swift response to the Godsil case and we should look at a pragmatic and swift response to the fact that the citizens of Dublin are being denied the right to have a direct say on whether-----

We are on section 1.

-----they wish to have a directly elected mayor. I would like to continue to make my argument and hear the Minister's response.

I welcome the Lord Mayor of Dublin. I can understand the reason Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and others would wish to amend the Bill on a very important issue which the Government supports. Regrettably, the manner in which the forum came to its conclusion did not include a consensus from all four local authorities in the Dublin region. Local elected members are close to the people and understand the people better than anyone. They were given the opportunity to bring forward a consensus through this forum and failed to do so. They failed to get agreement from the four local authorities. I will not hold a plebiscite on 23 May 2014 but I will look at the situation immediately after the elections to see if the proposals which the local authorities did not agree to can be revised. The Government is very committed to the notion of a directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin but it is back to us to come up with an initiative because the democratically elected people in the four local authorities were unable to reach a consensus.

The Minister has outlined the situation.

I thank the Minister for his courteous response. There is a sense that he is disappointed with the vote. I do not wish to single out one council over another but the combined vote in all four council areas is 98% to 19%, which is significant. I do not wish to put words in the Minister's mouth but there may be a legislative opportunity for the plebiscite to happen in the lifetime of the Government.

I am prepared to consider that.

The Minister has been very fair in his response. He is on the Senator's side but this is not the appropriate time to raise the matter.

No, the Senator is on my side.

Either way it fits neatly together.

I am sure I will fit neatly as well; we can make it a threesome. I welcome section 1, as does everyone. I am very glad that tribute has been paid to Jillian Godsil who was a student of mine in Trinity College Dublin. If anybody deserves a second chance and if anybody deserves a chance to run, this woman does. She is very brave and courageous and I wish her well. I am very glad that this is being put through quickly by means of a motion for early signature meaning that these people will be allowed to stand for election.

I thank the Minister for very clearly opening up the discussion on the question of a plebiscite by way of his reply to Senator Fiach Mac Conghail.

I would welcome a strong mayor in Dublin with real power, as is the case in London. A plebiscite would be a slam dunk and a foregone conclusion. If the people were given the opportunity, there is no question they would go for it. How democratic is it? We are talking about the city, but Fingal, for example, is not part of the city. It is a rural area and they have special interests and special problems. They had a very good special programme of bringing business incentives into the area-----

They are Dublin people.

They are and they are not. They are County Dublin people. If the Minister comes to my area of the north inner city and asks if those in Fingal are country people, he will be told they are.

I am often in it in the daytime.

Did the Minister say he would only visit it in the daytime? My goodness.

The Senator and the Minister should respect the Chair.

Yes, but the Chair was inactive at the time, and now that he has resumed his volcanic activity-----

I am very diligent.

I would support a plebiscite, but only if the opportunity were given for secession by Fingal, because it has very special needs and I do not see why we must ram it through. A total of 98% of people in Fingal voted against it; where is the democracy there? Why not let them develop organically in their own way as a small unit? It might be a template for allowing more local democracy, of which we see very little. Let the people of Dublin decide, but if the people of Fingal want to stay out of it, let them do so. They will probably do a hell of a lot better on their own than they would if they were meshed with Dublin, as their interests do not automatically coincide with the urban area of metropolitan Dublin.

I would like to finish off-----

On point of order, I would like to contribute to this important debate.

As it was ruled out of order, I am respecting the rules of the House.

We are debating section 1.

I know Senator Cáit Keane is anxious to help me-----

We are not going to sit here like ducks while an important debate is taking place around us.

That is not a point of order.

It is either in order or out of order. I would like it to be debated.

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck-----

The Senator should allow me to chair the meeting.

Taking all Stages of a Bill on one day presents a problem if Members table amendments, because we cannot respond. I accept the ruling on this but my concern is not so much about the councillors but that the citizens, residents and electorate of the metropolitan area have a direct say in how their city is run. Some may disagree with the idea of a directly elected mayor, but a plebiscite would resolve that point. On that basis, I will oppose section 1 on the basis that we have not had an opportunity to debate the important point, but I am supportive of the overall Bill.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 9.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout.
Question declared carried.
Section 2 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, in the names of Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Jillian van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, not moved.
Section 3 agreed to.

Amendment No. 6 in the names of Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Jillian van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

Have all of those amendments been ruled out of order?

I suggest it is a waste of time printing them, if we are going to rule a raft of them out of order. When they were trying to abolish the Seanad, 71 amendments were ruled out of order.

They are printed for information purposes.

Why waste the public's money in printing stuff that is not in order?

They are printed for information purposes.

Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Government for introducing this pragmatic Bill. We are all in unison about its importance and the pragmatism in swiftly enacting such a Bill. We are proud to have been a part of it. We thank a citizen who moved the Oireachtas to introduce a Bill that will enhance the democratic right of a citizen to become a Member of this House or the European Parliament. I do not know her, but I commend Ms Jillian Godsil for her enlightened role in inadvertently forcing the Government's hand through the case she took. I assume it will now be struck out. She rightly argued against discrimination on socioeconomic grounds, particularly bankruptcy, and is to be congratulated. The Bill is being passed in her honour.

I thank the Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, who was here previously for bringing forward this legislation. The speed with which it has been enacted shows that the Government does listen, see where change is needed and promptly make changes. The Government can be noted for this. In my contribution I mentioned the changes made by the Minister and the Minister of State. Who said women do not matter in politics? Of course, they do. Ms Godsil's name has just been mentioned. I add my voice to Senator Fiach Mac Conghail's.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this issue and I greatly appreciate the Opposition's response to this legislation, both in the Lower and Upper Houses. As the Minister of State indicated in the opening statement, this is something which should have been done years ago. We can only do this when in government but it is important that the Opposition has supported the Bill. I support what Senator Fiach Mac Conghail was trying to do earlier and perhaps it could be the subject of further legislation. I acknowledge that the Minister of State is prepared to revisit the subject, and I hope there will be a resolution to the issue. It would represent an opportunity for the public to have a say in the matter in the not too distant future.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, in his brief visit to the House. Like other colleagues, I welcome the swift passing of this legislation. As the Minister of State and other colleagues have already stated, this legislation is long overdue and should have been completed many decades ago. The attitude to bankruptcy in this country is slowly changing and if somebody falls on hard times and must go down the road of bankruptcy, it should not prevent him or her going for election to this House, the Lower House or local authorities.

I thank the Senators on all sides for supporting the Bill. It is a good and brave step forward for democracy that anybody who wishes to stand can do so despite having a financial issue like bankruptcy. An existing public representative may become bankrupt and it is important that he or she can continue in the work as well, as the people should ultimately decide on their representation. This legislation is well executed.

Question put and agreed to.