There is not much to be said as regards the principles of this measure, inasmuch as we were all warned of the necessity for it after the passing of the Constitution Amendment Bill. There are one or two points of detail that I think ought to be amended, and that it would be more convenient to deal with now. In the first place, I refer to the hours fixed in sub-section 3 of Section 3, from 9 o'clock in the forenoon till 8 o'clock in the afternoon. In the discussion that took place at the Committee dealing with the proposed change in the Constitution this question was referred to in connection with the proposed abolition of the public holiday. As the Minister has pointed out, some change is necessary, consequent on the abolition of the holiday, but the change proposed here is not at all satisfactory.
We must think of it in the light of the practice regarding summer-time in the country. Notwithstanding the law, it is the practice to recognise the old time, even during the summer months. Consequently, to close the poll at 8 o'clock in the evening will mean that very large numbers will be kept from voting. I made the suggestion at that Committee that it would tend to increase the convenience of the polling day, and increase the total poll, if instead of an early morning opening and an early evening close, we might even postpone the opening of the poll until, say, eleven o'clock and keep it open till 10 o'clock at night. Some people think 10 o'clock at night too late for country districts, but 8 o'clock is certainly too early. If it is the view of the House that 10 p.m. is too late, I would press very strongly for 9 o'clock at night at the very earliest, even if we had a 10 or 11 o'clock opening in the morning. It is pretty generally recognised that the morning hours of polling are very slack, and are quite unnecessary, either in town or country. We can afford to be elastic in that and still fit the convenience of the people engaged in the business of the election.
A thirteen or fourteen hours day is almost too much for electioneering, whether behind the ballot box or for people working in the election, and I think all the requirements would be met, if, say, 10 in the morning were the hour of opening, whether in town or country, and I would suggest the possibility of a 10 o'clock closing in the cities, and, perhaps, 9 o'clock in the country. I certainly would strongly urge the necessity for having the poll open until 9 o'clock whether in town or country, and I hope that this decision of 9 o'clock in the morning to 8 o'clock in the evening is not a final one, and that the Minister will accept this suggestion of a later hour of closing the poll, whether he alters the hour of opening or not.
I think that there is an omission from the Bill which might well have been dealt with, and it is not a matter affecting one party more than another. I refer to the question of the deposit and the conditions under which the deposit will be returned. I do not know whether this would constitute the kind of amendment which would be reserved to the Minister, but I would urge upon Ministers and upon the Dáil that the condition of the present Act, requiring the candidate to receive one-third of the quota before he can get the return of his deposit, is unnecessarily severe, and is not required to meet the purposes of the deposit. I think everybody will admit that the idea behind this provision regarding deposits was to prevent forcing elections, forcing the community into expense merely for a sport candidate, and to prevent the irruption of all kinds of freak candidates into an election. While one may not, perhaps, like this kind of a monetary test of a man's ability and capacity, it is the law at any rate, and we are not making a major change. But I press this idea on Ministers and on the House, that the third of the quota is unnecessarily high for the purpose of achieving the end aimed at by this provision regarding deposits, and it works inequitably as between one constituency and another. I accidentally found this morning a cutting from a newspaper dealing with the last election. It states that up to that date ninety-seven forfeits in twenty-one constituencies had been made owing to the absence of the quota.
I know that in a number of those cases, and in some of the by-elections, the candidate who had to forfeit his deposit was by no means a freak candidate, and in the case of a general election you are not preventing a contest. A candidate goes forward as one of a group, with quite a solid backing and a legitimate aspiration for election, with perhaps a strong body of opinion behind him, but he happens to be one more than that group is able to carry home. I think it is quite inequitable and unreasonable that that particular candidate should have to forfeit these deposits in the same way as if he were a candidate who had no backing and support. So much depends upon the extent of the poll. Under the present method there is an actual advantage to a man, if he had a modicum of support which he can rely upon, to prevent a heavy poll. A man might find that he could rely upon 2,000 or 3,000 votes, and it would be to his advantage to urge that there should not be a heavy poll. I think that that is quite a drawback to the system, and it should not be a temptation to anybody to urge a small poll. Take two constituencies. In one the quota is perhaps 10,000 and in the other the quota is 5,000. One-third of 5,000 is only a half one-third of 10,000, and yet in the one case the man may have twice the number of supporters that the other man may have and still be obliged to forfeit his deposit. I say that that is inequitable, and I submit that the way this should be met is that a certain fixed figure, covering the whole country, should be named as a minimum, whether it amounts to one-third of the quota or not, and that that figure, having been reached, might be reckoned to be the figure which would warrant the return of the deposit. No particular Party is affected by this more than another, but I think that the provision militates against the success of an election and is inequitable, and we might well alter it without any loss, except perhaps £1,000 or £2,000 to the Minister for Finance. I do not think the Minister for Finance should be a participant in the profits of forfeits, and I urge upon the Minister the desirability of introducing an amendment to the Bill dealing with this question of forfeits and altering the present law, so that, let us say, one-fifth of the quota, or 1,500 or 2,000 votes, whichever is the smaller number, should be required by a candidate before his deposit is returned. Otherwise I think the Bill is merely a matter of machinery and one which, as we have passed amendments to the Constitution, is necessary and calls for no comment.