Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 3 Jul 1923

Vol. 4 No. 1


The Prevention of Electoral Abuses Bill of which I now move the Second Reading codifies the existing law with certain alterations and changes in relation to the prevention of corrupt practices. In the law as it stands at present are embodied sections of quite a number of Acts, such as the Representation of the People Act, 1850, the Corrupt Practices Act, 1854, the Ballot Act, 1872, the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, the Parliamentary Election Corrupt Practices Act, 1885, the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1895, and the Representation of the People Act, 1918. Besides codifying the law, certain changes that the experiences we have had in this country have shown to be necessary, are being made. There are new penalties for personation and new powers are given for arrest, and for other steps for the prevention of personation. Heretofore a police officer could only take a person in charge for personation if he were directed to do so by the Presiding Officer. Under this Bill it is proposed to give him power to act in the same way as he would in the case of any other offence against the law being committed. It is proposed, therefore, to indemnify the Returning Officer and policeman in case he acts without malice. Of course if there is malice proven, or if there is anything else wrong in that way the indemnity would not hold. The matter of personation has been regarded as almost a sort of legitimate practice in the past. Both sides have caused men personating to be arrested, and then there was a sort of exchange of prisoners at the end of the day, and the offenders on both sides were released. The thing continued in that way, and at the next election these people probably felt there was no danger in impersonating and they were quite ready to do it. Personation has become a habit, and it is a matter that it is very necessary to take such steps as we can to put an end to it. We also propose to provide that the offence of personation can be dealt with summarily. It is one of the things for which it is very difficult to secure a conviction if tried before a jury, and it would be more difficult if during the next few months people were brought before juries on charges of personation. There will be certainly a great likelihood that in any jury that might be empannelled there will be somebody who had been guilty of the practice himself. We feel it is even more important to have a certainty of conviction if there is evidence given that proves the case and that there should be a conviction rather than that the punishment should be very severe. If a man gets five or six months imprisonment it will serve to deter him quite as well from practising offences of this sort as if he got a much longer term. It is a matter in which people should feel that the risk of being detected and punished for it is very considerable. We have had to make provision in this Bill for the carrying out of a Referendum. It might be argued that there is no need for personating agents at a Referendum. I think in very many countries where the institution of the Referendum exists there is nothing in the way of personating agents appointed, but in view of recent practices we feel that some provision should be made that would allow machinery to be set up to detect and prevent personation. No sort of State machinery can be set up. If you take your Presiding Officer he will not do anything, ordinarily speaking, to prevent personation. The Presiding Officer is a man from the locality generally; he is paid a certain fee for acting for the day. He is not going to do anything in the ordinary way that will incur odium if he can avoid doing it, and any amount of personation might go on, and the Presiding Officer might certainly take no steps to stop it. He would allow it to go on. You cannot appoint from the State personating agents either, because you would be in the same difficulty. A man employed in four years for a day is not going for the sake of the fee he gets or the hope of being employed again, to offend his neighbour or to take any strong action.

If agents were appointed and paid by the State the money would be spent without result. We have provided machinery in this Bill which we think will enable political parties to be brought into action. There can be appointed, if a Referendum is demanded, a man who will challenge the Bill. He will have power to get personating agents to attend in the booths and to stop people who are endeavouring to personate. On the other hand, if the Bill is passed— as it must be passed by the Dáil before there is a Referendum—there can be appointed somebody who will act as sponsor, who will appoint somebody as agent in each county who will have power to send people to act in the booths in case personation is attempted. The machinery is not perfect, but it seems the best that can be devised. This work that may be done by political parties in furtherance of their own politics, with a view either to have the Bill carried or defeated, seems to be the best that can be accomplished. It certainly does seem necessary, in view of the extent to which personation has been carried on in recent years.

Certain other changes have been made. For instance, in the past, it was illegal to hire cars for elections. Of course, cars were continually hired and the prohibition was rather in the nature of a farce. Then it was illegal to make payments for bands, ribbons, etc. It does not seem that there is any real objection to spending money on them, and in any case money was always spent in that way. We have withdrawn the limit of expenditure that a candidate may incur. It was very difficult to fix upon a limit that would be suitable in the present circumstances, with Proportional Representation. The limit which might be reasonable in a three-member constituency might be inadequate in a nine-member constituency, where there would be a large number of booths scattered all over the constituency. On the other hand, if you allowed the sum that would be reasonable for a nine-member constituency, it would be too much for a candidate who would seek support in a more restricted area. There is also the fact that the law was entirely ignored in this matter. The agents habitually made returns showing an expenditure of a few hundred pounds, whereas, the expenditure really amounted to £1,400, or £1,500. It seems to me to be better simply to insist on a return being made and to hope that in the future we shall have accurate returns—a thing that was not done in the past. In that way we could come down on people who expended money in a way that was forbidden in the Act, and we would not trouble at all so much about the entire amount of money spent. It is doubtful whether expenditure on the part of any candidate would be likely to influence the result in the same way that it might have done in the past, when there was a straight fight between two candidates. Those are matters that are new and that are capable of being improved.

There is not much new in principle in the Bill. It is mainly a codification of the existing law. The changes are chiefly changes of detail, and it seems to me that a good deal of attention might be given to the consideration of the clauses in Committee, but as the general principle of the Bill is one about which there cannot be a great deal of difference of opinion, I move the Second Reading of the Bill.

I think the whole membership will be glad to support the Second Reading of this Bill. We have all expressed our views as to the necessity for some strengthening of the law, especially in regard to personation, and a few other practices. I think it is, therefore, not necessary to go into any considerable discussion on it at this stage. I desire to raise one small point that may be of importance or of no importance. The short title of the Bill is "The Prevention of Electoral Abuses Bill, 1923." The long title of the Bill deals with corrupt practices and illegal practices, and makes provision for "the prevention of such practices and abuses at elections to Seanad Eireann, and at a Referendum and for other purposes connected therewith." Presumably, that means connected with "abuses." I raise the point whether Section 50 is strictly within the title, and if it is not whether we should not amend the title so that there may be no ruling out of order later.

This is a Bill on which there will be general agreement in the Dáil. One might go further and say that there will be general agreement in other places, even amongst those who might in the past have been professionally or otherwise responsible for a good deal of the electoral guile that this Bill is intended to counteract. The purpose of such a Bill must necessarily enlist general support. I remember being very deeply impressed at the last election by the statement of a foreigner at present in this country who happened to have witnessed a good deal of the wholesale personation that then took place. He was a Scandanavian, and he stated to me impressively, because of his ingenuousness in the matter, that in Scandanavia, whether in Norway or Sweden, any person guilty of impersonation would be regarded and treated as a criminal. Of course, such persons are criminals—they are not merely lieing, they are robbing. They are robbing other people of what is their essential property, as citizens. The Minister in proposing this Bill justly stated that it was not, in fact, more than a consolidation of previous enactments in the matter, with certain slight amendments.

Without expressing any general disagreement with the Bill, or with that procedure, I would like to say that I would have liked to have thought that this Bill could have been so drafted as not merely to penalise offences which it does do and adequately and satisfactorily does, but if possible to do what is admittedly a much more difficult thing to attempt to do, and that is to obviate some of those abuses. I think it would be admitted that any attempt to obviate abuses of this kind would be very difficult, but it would have been worth the attempt. It has been attempted in other countries with a great deal of success. Let me touch upon the single case of impersonation, a great evil which it is necessary to penalise and obviate if it is possible to obviate it. In other countries it has been found possible that a voter shall bring with him his attestation as a voter. Now, I know that is a very difficult thing to do. It has been done in several countries. Methods have been outlined by which it can be done in Ireland. I think it is not impossible to do it, and I suggest it would be worth while to get the voter when he comes to register his vote, to hand in some form of certificate which would be a proof that he or she was the person so certified on the register. That, however, has not been done.

One other omission I desire to draw attention to, which, I hope, it will be possible to obviate in the Committee Stage, but which it is right to refer to in this stage, because I think it is a very glaring omission. Inasmuch as it would be very difficult for any private Deputy to deal with the matter adequately by an amendment in Committee Stage, because of the lack of machinery, I suggest to the Minister that he might think over the question of intimidation in the meantime. Intimidation is not dealt with in this Bill. Intimidation has very markedly occurred not only in one election, but in several elections. I would like to have, in any prevention of Electoral Abuses Bill passed by this Dáil, a definition with a very stringent penalty that any person even professing to interfere with the normal course of an election should be held open to some penalty of a drastic kind, and that the parading of arms or of any weapons whatever during the course of an election should be penalised in a similar fashion.

Having studied the procedure adopted for the taking of referendums in other countries I am slightly surprised at Section 23, and the adoption of a definite sponsor and a definite challenger. It is undoubtedly a very carefully thought out matter in the Bill, and may be regarded at this Second Reading as a principle of the Bill, but I do not know that a procedure of this kind is adopted for referendums in other countries, and I am not sure that the principle is the right one. I think it would be very much better to leave the matter to the elector acting by referendum without bringing the question of personalities in at all. The Minister will perceive instantly what I am referring to. If you are going to get a challenger put down by name, and a sponsor put down by name under any motion carried by referendum, the question underlying that referendum will undoubtedly be tied up with the merits and demerits of the personal qualities of the sponsor. That is inevitable, and is a thing that is highly desirable to avoid. In other countries the question is put down so that it will be possible for an elector exercising the referendum to record his opinion, yea or nea, in respect of a particular measure, having taken his or her conclusion on that matter without a very clear recognition of who might be the sponsor, or who might be the challenger. If it be possible to remove the question of those personalities it is very desirable that it should be done. It is a case of procedure, and I think what has been done in the Bill in this regard is not the very best that could have been done.

Certainly I am bound to say that so far as I am concerned, I regard it with a considerable amount of apprehension. I hope it is not the case that the procedure of the Referendum will be made any more cumbersome than it need be. It is unnecessarily cumbersome. It is adopted in all Constitutions, and in all Constitutions it is not confused with any question of who might be in favour of the Bill or who might be against it. There are two other omissions to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister. The first is: Has it been decided that the returning officer or the presiding officer, whoever he may be, shall not be absolved from responsibility if, considering all the circumstances, he were to regard it as his duty, but without any advice from the personation agent, to cause an arrest for personation? I know a case that occurred at the last election in the constituency which I represent, County Dublin. I drew the attention of the Presiding Officer to the fact that personation was occurring on a very large scale, and he replied that he knew it was occurring on a very large scale, that within his knowledge three persons had on that morning come forward, purporting to represent certain persons, and he knew personally they were not those persons. I asked him why he did not cause their arrest, and he said: "Because I might be mulcted in certain fines." Now, I think that a presiding officer or a returning officer should be empowered to cause the arrest of any people for personation, and if he can show in any subsequent action that he acted on the reasonable belief that personation was occurring, he should be absolved from all penalty. I want to refer to Section 26, Sub-section (2), which seems to argue against the case that I have been making. It says: "No action or other proceeding, civil or criminal, shall lie against any Returning Officer or Presiding Officer in respect of the arrest by his direction without malice of any person on a charge of having committed the offence of personation." If I read that Sub-section correctly, I believe it is open to this interpretation, no presiding officer so acting would be supposed to have acted except under the first Subsection of that Section, by which he is motived, if I may use the word, by the personation agent in question. That is a matter of small change in wording, but it does incorporate a principle. The Minister can cause the wording to be so changed that the presiding officer need not act on any motive furnished other than his own reasonable presumption.

The last matter is with regard to registration. As I read this Bill, I have not found in it any reference to wrongful registration, which is one of the gravest evils in connection with elections. I know a constituency in which it was claimed, and rightly claimed, that at the last election six thousand persons who did not exist were registered. We know there are a number of persons who are supposed to have died and who vote. That occurs, but this is even more remarkable. Six thousand persons were registered who had never lived, and that has become a very considerable art in this country, the registration of persons who are fictitious but who, nevertheless, are very potent. I would like the Minister to state that he will regard unlawful registration of that kind as an offence to be punished in exactly the same manner as impersonation.

I think there is very little to be said about this Bill, except that it will be generally welcomed by everybody who wishes to see purity in the public administration or common decency in public life. It would be possible, under the different clauses of the Bill, to deal with people who are not prepared to accept that. I think that a Bill of this kind is equally desirable in the case of Local Government elections, and one cannot fail to notice that the title of this Bill only makes it applicable to elections for the Dáil. I would like to know from the Minister whether or not he intends to introduce a Bill of a similar kind to be applied to the Local Government elections which, we are now informed, will follow immediately after the elections for the next Dáil.

I have noted the point that Deputy Johnson made as to whether Section 50 comes within the Title or not. I see that it is somewhat doubtful, because the removal of the limit for expenditure seems to me to help to take away the connection with the free postage as with the matter of electoral abuses. I will look into that matter. The object of course is to obviate abuse by personation. That is not so very easily done. We have taken certain steps as well as the proposal of penalties to obviate that. The most important of these has been the increase in the number of polling booths and having smaller compact areas around each polling booth so that a personating agent will have a good chance of knowing everybody in that area, and so preventing people wrongfully voting. The question of the identity card was considered by the Committee which was set up pursuant to a Resolution of the Dáil, and they reported against it. If in this country for police purposes everyone had to carry an identity card it would be easy to use that card for preventing personation, but when people have not cards we would find perhaps when we come to an election that only a small proportion of the electorate would be equipped with their cards and we would defeat the idea of the Constitution, and I think we would be going altogether along wrong lines. The ordinary bulk of the people, even if they did not interest themselves very greatly in politics, have as much title to take part in the election of representatives as the organised active bodies who, perhaps, have their own particular interests more in view than the inert mass of the people. Then if we have not a very elaborate form of identity card it has been felt that the abuse would be rather increased than diminished. A simple form of card might be traded and might be bought and sold for the purpose of making personation simple and safe. Intimidation is dealt with in the Bill; it is one of the forms of undue influence. Section 5 says "Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, by himself or any other person on his behalf, make use of or threaten to make use of any force, violence, or restraint" and so forth. I think those words cover intimidation quite sufficiently. One cannot look at any Bill that may be referred to a Referendum simply by itself. No matter what we do, regard will be had to the people who proposed it and to the people who opposed it. I do not think that the appointment of an individual to take charge of the organisation and the machinery to prevent personation either for or against a Bill is likely to prevent the electors dealing with the Bill on its merits any more than the debates that would have gone on in the Dáil or Seanad would so prevent them. I do not think there is really very much substance in that. It certainly was intended that the Returning Officer should be absolved from responsibility if he acted bona fide and without malice, in ordering the arrest of any person whom he found engaged in personation.

May I mention that my point was not that he should act but that when he acted on his own motion.

I meant that. With regard to wrongful registration, there are penalties in the Bill. Furthermore, a vote in the name of a fictitious person is personation, the same as voting for some living person, so that the people who cause wrongful registration can be punished, and people who vote under fictitious names can be punished in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. I would really like to know the constituency where there were so many as six thousand fictitious names.

Would you stand for it?

It would be a very good idea. Perhaps Deputy Figgis would stand for it. We intend to bring in a Bill dealing with Local Government elections, and the question of Local Government franchise, which has not yet been dealt with will be the subject of a separate Bill.

Question put: "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday week.