The Minister has an amendment to Section 3, of which he gave notice yesterday. It has been circulated in typescript.
Committee on Finance. - General Elections (Emergency Provisions) Bill, 1943—Committee and Final Stages.
In sub-section (2), paragraph (c), page 3, line 42, to delete the word "seventh" and substitute the word "fourteenth".
Would the Minister give us a reason for that?
It may happen that some difficulty of transport or one thing or another might arise to prevent the Dáil assembling within seven days. The Constitution at present provides that the Dáil must be summoned to meet within 30 days after the date of the poll. The amendment proposed will make the periods coincide; the latest date for summoning the Dáil under this Emergency Bill will be the 30th day after the day of the poll, just as under the permanent electoral law the latest day is the 30th day.
We are now dealing with the period of emergency, in which we have extended the life of the outgoing Dáil up to the day before the Clerk serves notice on the Taoiseach that the election is taking place. In a time of emergency, when the desire is speed, it appears inadvisable to allow a period of 14 days to elapse. I understood that the main purpose of this Bill was that the period between the functioning of the outgoing Dáil and the incoming Dáil be limited to a day, and directly that the incoming Dáil is elected and the Clerk serves notice on the Taoiseach to that effect there devolves upon somebody the responsibility to summon the new body. If we are concerned with speed, there you have 14 days in which there is no meeting of the Dáil; at least you could go up to the fourteenth day here, and, allowing for the intermediate day, it is a fortnight in all. I suggest to the Minister that it is inadvisable to split the period just there at that point. As I have said, we are concerned with a crisis, an emergency, in which it is desirable that the moment one institution ceases the other should come into commission. I cannot see the purpose of extending the period—the hiatus, as one might almost describe it—between the expiration of one body and the coming into being of the other. I think it would be better to leave it at seven days.
I hope the purpose of the amendment is not misunderstood. It does not make it mandatory upon the President to delay the summoning of the Dáil until the fourteenth day, but it does give additional time during which the necessary arrangements may be made. Let us assume what would be the most favourable case, the case when the count is completed in every constituency within 48 hours after the day of the poll. The Taoiseach would receive a certificate from the Clerk of the Dáil to that effect, and within two days after receiving that certificate he would have to advise the President to dissolve the Dáil. Now, the question with which the President as well as the Taoiseach is confronted is the date upon which the new Dáil is to be summoned for its first meeting. As the Bill stands at present, that would have to be within seven days after this advice is given to the President.
On further consideration, it has been thought that the margin of time within which everybody concerned would have to make those arrangements, which we know to be essential and necessary, is too short. Even the Deputies themselves might find it difficult to come within the seven days. The officials of the House might find it difficult to make the necessary arrangements within the seven days; and the Taoiseach, the members of the Government and the leaders of the various Parties who have to make their special arrangements may find it difficult. The idea here is to make the procedure under this Bill conform as closely as possible to the permanent law of the land. At the same time, there is a further consideration, to allow a reasonable margin to those who will have to deal with the post election situation to make arrangements for an effective meeting of the Dáil. If we are moving this amendment, it is not to be apprehended that we do so with the desire to defer the first meeting of the Dáil any longer than may be necessary. I would suggest that, in the circumstances, the 30 days is not an unreasonable margin to allow.
Not in ordinary circumstances, but in a time of crisis I should say that the moment one body goes out of existence the other should come in. There should be no interregnum. It may be considered possible to adapt our procedure to the practice in another place—that is, to have a meeting of the Dáil at which there would be no business. If the Dáil wishes then to adjourn for three or four days, or for a week, it could do so. At any rate, bring the body together without any delay: that is my intention. I understood that the main purpose of this Bill was to bridge over the period from the expiration of the old Dáil to the existence of the new body. I thought the original intention was that, when one went out the other came in, on a particular day. Now you have a period in which, although the body is elected, it does not meet. I suggest that that period should be as short as possible.
I do not care what business has to be done—good, bad or indifferent. The Dáil may adjourn for a fortnight, if desired, but if my judgement were brought to bear upon it, I would say that it should meet on the day following the day of dissolution. In fact, if it were possible, I would have one go out and the other come in on the same day. I am not anxious at all about the amount of business to be transacted, but I am anxious that the new body would be sitting—in other words, that we would have a Dáil. In regard to this, it is possible that, as the Minister would have up to 14 days, there could be a fortnight in which there would be no Dáil in existence, although one had been elected.
Is it intended that the old Dáil would have power to legislate, between the date of the general election and the date of dissolution? The Bill seems to be silent on that point.
There is nothing in the Bill which would prevent it. We could not put anything in the Bill which would prevent that, without nullifying the general purpose of the Bill.
I take it that the general opinion was that there would be no legislation, except in circumstances of a compelling nature, such as a crisis.
I take it that it is quite clear that once the election is completed, the outgoing Dáil would have no moral authority to legislate. The incoming Dáil may be very different to that of the outgoing Dáil, so we can say that, during this interregnum, the outgoing Dáil would have no moral authority to legislate, except in a case of grave national emergency. I would ask Deputy Cosgrave not to press this point. We do not know what the transport situation may be. It is difficult enough, particularly in the remote areas, and many Deputies may live in places remote from railways. To compel us to bring the Dáil together without putting before it the immediate and most important business—the institution of a new Government—would be unwise, and would be imposing on Deputies an unnecessary inconvenience. We wish to obtain the utmost measure of agreement possible on this measure and, therefore, I would not like to press the 14 days, if there is a very strong objection to it. I do suggest, however, that it is not unreasonable to allow a margin. Perhaps we could agree on something more than seven days, if the Deputy likes—say, 10 or 12?
I would like to ask the Minister whether, as the Bill reads at present, if the dissolution takes place on a Thursday, it is the following Thursday or the Friday after that which is the latest date on which the Dáil would assemble.
Within the seventh day after the dissolution.
Does that include Sundays?
Yes, in this case.
So, if a dissolution takes place on Thursday the new Dáil would meet on the following Thursday. Under the old Election Acts, where there was a period of not less than ten days Sundays were excluded, but where there was a period of over ten days Sundays were included.
This would be all right, as long as the Minister shares our view that the new Dáil should come together at once and that there should not be a delay.
If the Deputy feels it would help, I say that my view is the same as his—that the new Dáil should meet at the earliest practicable date.
The following day, if possible.
The earliest practicable date at which it can meet.
Paragraph (a) of this section says that the Minister for Local Government and Public Health can make such modification of the Electoral Acts as appears to be necessary. What does the Minister contemplate in that? We would be quite prepared to admit the necessity to alter the Rules, Regulations and Standing Orders, but the changing or modification of an Act is a different thing. After all, an Act is something passed by this House and I do not think the Minister is entitled to modify such an Act in any way, without coming to the House. Does the Minister foresee any difficulty?
Yes. I have already explained that we are anxious to have the election completed as quickly as possible. One of the regulations made under the Act is that the count cannot continue after 7 p.m., except with the consent of all the candidates and their agents.
It has always been granted.
Yes, but it may not be, and I want to ensure that the count will be completed, if we can get it done, in every constituency within 48 hours after the close of the poll.
That is a regulation?
It is a rule in the Schedule to the Act and, therefore, it has the force of law. Another thing is that some individuals act as returning officers for more than one constituency and have been in the habit of conducting the counts in places outside the constituency. That is, perhaps, their legal right. I want, in view of the difficulties which may confront us in regard to transport and other matters of that kind, to have power to compel these counts to be conducted in convenient and easily accessible centres within each constituency and to have the counts conducted simultaneously. I want to have power to compel them to proceed to the conduct of the counts in every constituency not later than 9 a.m. on the morning after the election. Other matters of that kind may arise and it is necessary that somebody should have power to deal with them.
The Minister mentioned yesterday that the return might be delayed by reason of the fact that the ballot boxes from certain islands had not been delivered. What steps does he propose to deal with that situation?
The case I had in mind yesterday was that in which a candidate dies. Perhaps I also mentioned the question of delay due to a hold-up of boxes on an island. The question of voting facilities for islanders is at the moment under consideration. I am not able to say that we have found a solution for it and I may have to come to the House again to ask for powers to enable me to provide special facilities for island voters. There are certain difficulties to be considered. We cannot give people who live on an island exactly the same opportunity as people living on the mainland and there is some objection to granting facilities for postal voting extensively as the Deputy will appreciate. I have not yet determined whether these additional facilities will be by way of extending the right to vote by post to islanders or whether we shall have simply, in the special circumstances, to allow them to take their chance. No matter what way we approach the question, there will be difficulties. If we establish a polling station on the island, it must be remembered that it has happened even in summer time that the presiding officer has not been able to get out to open the station. When he is returning, he or his box may be lost and the election, in consequence, may be held up.
The same thing may apply to postal voting.
It may indeed—and since the Deputy has mentioned it, it is in fact to deal with a situation of that kind that this device of allowing the Taoiseach, if he does not receive a certificate from the Clerk of the Dáil that the election has been completed in every constituency, to advise the President within 14 days to dissolve the old Dáil, has been adopted.