Under the system of proportional representation we have here the Fianna Fáil supporters in that constituency who wanted Deputy Dr. Noel Browne to represent them in the Dáil were able to invite him to stand as an Independent candidate. They were able to go over the heads of the Party political bosses who drummed him out as a candidate of the Fianna Fáil Party. They were able to elect him to represent them in this present Dáil. That emphasises one of the vital differences between our present election system, proportional representation, and the British system.
Under the system of proportional representation the elector who goes in to cast his vote is a genuine elector. He is not merely a voter. He has a job to do. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, when speaking earlier on this motion, the elector under our present system has a choice not merely between political Parties but even between candidates in the same Party. In every constituency throughout the country Fianna Fáil put forward two, three, or four candidates—whatever number is suitable to the particular conditions of the constituency— and every Fianna Fáil supporter throughout the country, whether or not he is actively inside the ranks of the organisation, is enabled to decide by his vote which, if any, of the Fianna Fail candidates will go into the Dáil to represent him. He is an elector in the true sense of the word. He is not merely a voter endorsing or rejecting a single candidate put up by his political Party. What happened in the constituency of Dublin South East is an excellent example of what our present election system means as compared with the British system.
I want to examine briefly now some of the other arguments which have been advanced by the Fianna Fail Party in recommendation of their proposals, proposals which have been rejected by the Seanad and are now back here for discussion again. I have referred briefly to the argument used, and used seriously, by members of the Fianna Fail Party that the P.R. system was imposed on us by the British. Leaving aside the fact that the only substitute which Fianna Fáil can find for it is the British system, it is necessary, I think, to record again the fact that the present election system was enshrined in two Irish Constitutions, and the second of those—the Constitution of 1937—was drafted by Fianna Fail and submitted by Fianna Fail to the people.
The Government also argue that the present election system is complicated and confusing; people do not understand it; it is difficult for the ordinary Irish voter; he does not know what he is doing when he goes in to vote at an election. Now, the Irish people are an intelligent people. Proportional representation is an intelligent voting system and, as such, it is well suited to an intelligent electorate. But the Fianna Fáil Party newspaper pronounced its judgment on this question a considerable time ago, long before Fianna Fáil decided that the system was so good that it must be enshrined in the Constitution they were recommending to the people in 1937.
TheIrish Press of the 24th January, 1933, had this to say:—
"The English Press correspondents sympathise with us on having to work so complicated a system as proportional representation. It is wasted sympathy, for the system is simple to understand and easy to carry out. It is based on the excellent idea that we have a greater preference for some candidates than others. Under proportional representation the voter not only has the pleasure of voting first for the candidates he likes most of all, but he also can vote for all the others in the order in which he likes them."
We were told more than a quarter of a century ago by the Fianna Fáil Party newspaper that there was nothing difficult about proportional representation. Every Deputy will admit that, by and large, the Irish people and the Irish electorate are reasonably intelligent. When it was stated in 1933 that our present election system was simple to understand and easy to work it should not take a novitiate of a quarter of a century to discover that it was hard to understand and difficult to carry out.
I notice that the Taoiseach and some other Fianna Fáil speakers have taken to referring to the British system which they are asking us to accept as a straightforward system. The Minister for Health still continues to refer to it as the straight vote but the Taoiseach has gone a step further and refers to it as the straightforward system. That is very clever politically because it tends to deflect the minds of the people from the fact that what the Government is recommending is the British system. I do not say that because the X-vote system is a British system it is necessarily bad. I do not want to be taken as saying that because a thing is British it is necessarily bad but it might embarrass certain elements in the Fianna Fáil Party that they should now be called upon to embrace the British system of election after having been told to burn everything British except their coal.
It is clever politically to refer to the proposed system as the straightforward system. It seems to imply that there is something devious or crooked about the present system. I think it is worth while, if the Government is not going to accept the amendment tabled, that we should endeavour here and now to give some examples of this matter. There are two things involved in this referendum. We are being asked to smash one system of election and to vote for another system and I want to see how straightforward the British system really is.
I have said that the Irish electorate are intelligent and so they are. Fianna Fáil argues that the British system is a simple one and that simplicity is a virtue. Simplicity may be a virtue but we are not simpletons and I do not think it is necessary to legislate for simpletons when we are talking about the Irish electorate. The mechanics of the British system may be quite simple but I think what is far more important is the question of whether the system is a fair one or not. Surely it is not right that the test of the electoral system should be one of how simple it is. Surely it is far better that the yardstick which should be applied is how fair is it.
Even the Minister for Health will admit, I do not think he could argue against it, that the British system may lead to and is likely to lead to minority government. A Deputy elected under that system can be elected by a minority of the voters in any given constituency. You can get a result where one candidate, representing one of the major political Parties gets 11,000 votes. Another candidate representing another major political Party can get 10,000 votes and a candidate of a third Party can get 9,000 votes. Under the system which the Government is now asking us to adopt the person who secures 11,000 votes becomes the sole representative of that constituency although there were 19,000 votes cast against him.
The Taoiseach, speaking at a Fianna Fáil convention in Sligo, on the 6th April said:
The only thing that could be said against that system, which he called a straightforward system, was that a person could be elected without getting a majority. Say that one person got 40 per cent. of the votes, another 35 per cent. and another 25 per cent. The person who got the 40 per cent. of the votes would be elected even though the combined vote of the others was greater. Why should they add the 35 per cent. and the 25 per cent. together when it is quite possible that the views of the persons casting these votes would be more opposed to each other fundamentally than to the person who got the 40 per cent.? If the views of these people were taken it is quite possible that they would rather vote for the person who got the 40 per cent. of the votes.
That is what we have been telling the Government for the past three or four months. Under the present system the views of the people casting the 35 per cent. and the 25 per cent. of the votes are taken into account. You have the people who go out first. The No. 2 preference votes of these people is taken into account and, in a general election, you are able to ascertain with absolute accuracy what the people who voted for the person getting 25 per cent. of the votes thought of the other two candidates in the field. The Taoiseach need have no doubt that, in that way, the views of the people as expressed in their second preferences will be counted and become effective.
Fianna Fáil argue that the emphasis should be on effective Government rather than fair representation. As I understand their argument they think the important thing is that you should have what they call effective government and I think what they mean is strong government and that that is of greater importance than the question of fair representation in Parliament. I want to pose this query to the Deputies opposite: is it possible to have effective government if you do not have fair representation? Is it possible for a government to be effective in the full and true meaning of that word if that Government is not backed by a fairly representative Parliament, a Parliament which fairly represents the people?
Many better men than I shall ever be on both sides of this House fought and a number of them died so that we could have in this country of ours a Parliament which would fairly represent the Irish people, that we would have an Irish Parliament into which the Irish people could elect their representatives in a fair and equitable manner. Before we achieved that we had a Government in Ireland, a strong government for 700 years. The only thing about it was that it was not an Irish Government elected by a fairly represented and representative Irish Parliament.
We must look very closely at this argument about effective government and while we may feel embarrassed at producing an argument that appears to be emotional or sentimental I do not think we should disregard the sufferings and the sacrifices of those who went before us to establish an Irish Parliament that would be fairly representative of the Irish people and would give and Irish Government that would be drawn from the representatives of the Irish people.
I heard the Minister for Defence, using an argument with regard to votes wasted under the present system of election. We should record and note the fact that under the British system of election every vote cast for a candidate who is not successful is a wasted vote and plays no part, good, bad or indifferent, in the affairs of the Parliament or in electing a government. It is possible under the British system of election for a person to go right through his adult life voting in election after election without his vote ever playing the smallest part in the affairs of Parliament or of the Government of that country. In some of these constituencies where you have either a Labour or a Conservative seat you may have elections which are merely token elections, and the voter who votes for the candidate who does not succeed can go right through his adult life casting his vote and never having a person elected from his Party to represent him in Parliament.
Under our system here by reason of the fact that you have more than one seat per constituency we ensure that does not happen and that in this country the minority views will be represented and expressed in Parliament. In the illustration I gave some minutes ago, of a contest where one candidate gets 11,000 votes, another 10,000 and another 9,000, is taken, I believe it is not possible for the person elected under those conditions to go inside Leinster House and fairly claim to represent all the people in his constituency. It is ludicrous to put up that kind of argument.
Take this example. You can have a situation where a Government, let us say a Fianna Fáil Government, go into an election with a wage-freezing policy and a standstill order behind them, and that will continue to be their policy. You may have that policy opposed by the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party, and there are three candidates in a single seat constituency. That may be the sole issue in the election: yet by dint of getting one vote more than any other candidate the Fianna Fáil candidate supporting a standstill wages order can go in as the representative of that constituency although there might be nearly twice as many votes cast against him and against that policy.
That can happen under the British system which Fianna Fáil are asking us to adopt and every vote cast for the candidates who do not get in is a wasted vote. Under the British system, the so-called straightforward system of voting, you also have the possibility, and I think the probability in the course of time, of safe seats arising. You have it everywhere you have that system of voting in operation. You certainly have it in the North of Ireland and in Great Britain. The development of the safe seats means that you will have a situation where perhaps over vast areas of territory there will be no election at all. There will be no contest at all, election after election, and whole belts of country may be completely disfranchised as has occurred in the North.
Other speakers have pointed out some of the other dangers of the change. The Minister for Health seems to throw down a challenge that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition should be dealt with on the basis of producing arguments that there would be economic, social and political questions involved. I think he conceded that so far as the political questions were concerned, they were involved. Other speakers have pointed out that six Senators representing the two universities, Dublin University and the National University, had, after an examination of this question, publicised their views.
As an example of the type of consequence which it is suggested by this amendment should be examined by a Committee of the Dáil and Seanad it is worth while recording the various dangers they saw. I wish to quote what these six Senators stated:—
"We are convinced from our many investigations that the proposed change to the miscalled straight vote system would be disastrous on the following grounds:
(1) It would lead to an excessive Government majority with an Opposition almost as powerless as the present Opposition in the Six County Parliament.
(2) This would result in intolerant and dictatorial Government and might ultimately evoke as a reaction an organised extra-parliamentary Opposition.
(3) It would cause division and Party strife rather than a cooperative approach to our economic and national problems in the coming decade.
(4) The single seat constituency would inevitably narrow the voter's choice at elections and would greatly increase the power of political Parties as such. This would undoubtedly lower the quality of Dáil representatives since unquestioning obedience to the Party leaders would then be the first demand made on any candidate.
(5) The proposed system sets the stage for class warfare between town and country and makes it possible for a majority to command 40 per cent in the urban constituencies and, getting little or no support in the rural areas, due to its deliberate anti-rural policy, to get a majority in Dáil Eireann. Such a Party might have the support of as little as 25 per cent of the total electorate, and yet the miscalled straight vote system would enable it to impose its doctrines on the remaining 75 per cent of the population."
Those are five solid arguments produced after an examination by six individuals who, as Deputy Kyne said, could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as Party hacks. University Senators elected by the University Graduates and drawn from different Universities are able to come together and pass that kind of judgment on the Government's proposal. Surely the Government must feel that the time has come to think again about rushing headlong into a Referendum campaign at a cost of £80,000 or £100,000 to the people of this country?
Those are some of the consequences which might result from the change the Government is proposing. No one can see into the future and no one can be a prophet about this or any other matter of this sort. But surely it will be recognised by everyone that the Leader of the Opposition is quite right when he condemns this move? Because it is, in fact, inviting us to take a leap in the dark, to rush headlong into a change in our election system without knowing how it will work out.
The University professors referred to the danger of lowering the standard of the type of Deputy elected if the change is brought about. I have heard Fianna Fáil speakers—from the Tánaiste down, I think—recommending the Fianna Fáil proposal on the ground that it will give us a better type of Deputy. I would give a lot to have been at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting when this change was urged on that particular ground. I can imagine any Fianna Fáil Deputy you like to think of wandering into the Fianna Fáil Party Rooms and saying: "Listen, boys, we had better get rid of P.R. so that we can get a better type of Deputy than we have in this room." Even on that, I think it is purely a question of a leap in the dark; it is purely a question of guesswork. My own guess is that you will probably have every Deputy who is in the Dáil at the moment contesting the next general election. You will probably have many of them elected. I do not believe that Fianna Fáil seriously contemplate that if they can get this change accepted by the people, they will drop any of the "boys" and replace them by a better type of Deputy.
Are they serious in putting forward that argument? If this change is accepted and if there is a particular type of development in this country, is it not very possible that you will limit your choice of candidate to two types: either the professional politician—the man who is in politics on a whole-time professional basis—or else the very wealthy man, the man who can afford to be in politics because he has the income or some source which would enable him to give his time to politics without having to concern himself with making a living? Either of those developments is possible under the British system if it is accepted by the people here. In any event, I do not see the validity of the type of argument which supposes that one Deputy, representing say 10,000 people, would be any better than three Deputies representing 30,000 people.
I notice that those who spoke on this subject for the Fianna Fáil Party recently seem to have given up what the Leader of the Opposition described as the ransacking of libraries all over Europe to get arguments in favour of the change. I notice they have given up referring to France, Germany, Italy and various other countries throughout the world. It is about time they did that because it is important that we should remember we are dealing with Irish conditions, with an Irish electorate and with an Irish political system, and that many of the factors which apply to the larger European countries have no relevancy whatever to this country. Any politician of note in Ireland is as well known in Cork, Limerick or Galway as he is in Dublin. You do not have the same growth of purely local or zonal Parties in this country as you have in the larger European countries and elsewhere.
The fact of the matter is that in Ireland—and I think one of the Fianna Fáil Ministers conceded it recently when speaking—we have not had the multiplicity of Parties which, it has been argued, is one of the outcomes of P.R. There is a number of Parties here but there has not been any great multiplicity. The principal Parties in this Assembly ever since it was established are still here: the Fianna Fáil Party, the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party. By and large, that has been the pattern right down through the years ever since Fianna Fáil, as one of the major political Parties here, decided to come into the Dáil.
Fianna Fail have been basing their arguments principally, I think, on the fact that they dislike Coalition Governments, that P.R. has already resulted in Coalition Governments in this country and that each of those Coalition Governments replaced a Fianna Fáil Government. I am not surprised that Fianna Fáil do not like Coalition Governments, but I think we have to go into the argument a little bit deeper than that. I do not think it is necessary to argue on the merits or demerits of Coalition Governments at all. As far as we on these benches are concerned, we are prepared to accept the Fianna Fáil challenge, no matter on what ground it is made. If they want to argue politically about the work and the achievements of the two inter-Party Governments in this country, we are prepared to meet them on that basis.
I think we should go much deeper into the argument put up by Government speakers when they recommend the jettisoning of proportional representation because it leads to coalition governments. Surely, if they think over that argument they will agree that it is essentially an arrogant, intolerant and entirely undemocratic type of argument. I dislike Fianna Fáil Governments and, so far as I am concerned, I shall endeavour to persuade the people to share my dislike of them in the next general election but is not that a very far cry from saying that if I were in a position to do so I would be entitled to advise the people to legislate so as to make Fianna Fáil Governments impossible? Yet, is not that what the present Government are doing? Are they not saying we dislike coalition Governments and we are in a position now, because we have an over all majority, to steamroll a measure through the Dáil, to ride roughshod over the decision of the Seanad, to try to persuade the people to legislate—because that is what they are doing—to amend the Constitution so as to make coalition Governments more difficult if not impossible?
Is there any democracy about that argument? And is not that the principal argument that Fianna Fáil have produced in support of these proposals? I hope there are some Deputies in the Fianna Fáil Party who will think over that argument and consider the full import and effect of it. I am quite sure that it has not occurred to them that there is anything odd about the line of argument they have been pursuing but if they ponder on it they will find that there is a grave danger in that argument. They may find they are pursuing an argument which may some day boomerang very severely on their own Party.
Fianna Fáil argued that proportional representation does not give stable government and that the British system does. I think the validity of that argument can be called in question quite simply by looking at the records of Governments in this country since the State was established. Those arguments are already on the records of the House and I do not want to repeat them at this hour. I would urge, as did the Leader of the Opposition, that even now at the eleventh hour the Government should come to their senses. They should realise the gravity of the step they are taking and asking the people to take and they should consent even now to a proper examination of the proposal. I am willing to wager anything I have that if any commission is established, even a commission drawn from this House and from the Seanad with a majority of Fianna Fáil members on it, you will not get any strong recommendation from any such body that these proposals should be proceeded with.
Even if you did get a recommendation of that type would it not be worth while to get a thorough examination of the possible consequences in every field and in every direction of this radical and grave step which the Government are asking the people to take? Is there any reason why the Government or any other Party in the House should hesitate to face an examination of that sort? Why should they hesitate for a moment in bringing the results and the report of such an examination before the people? It is not practical politics to expect the ordinary voters through the country to examine these matters for themselves. They have not the facilities nor have they the libraries of Europe at their command; they have not got the wealth of experience which would enable them to come to a clear and decisive judgment on these questions or even to understand fully what is involved in the Government's proposals.
I do not understand why the Government should hesitate, if they believe in their case, if they believe the arguments are with them, if they believe that the arguments which they can adduce are so weighty as to carry influence outside of Party loyalties and considerations, to have a calm, considered and unprejudiced pronouncement on this matter.
I shall conclude by recommending to the Members opposite consideration of some advice given by the present Minister for Health some years ago when, I am sure, questions of the election system and P.R. were very far from his mind. As reported in the DublinEvening Mail of February 28th, 1949, when he was on the Opposition Benches here, under the heading, “Mr. MacEntee on Public Morality” under a sub-heading, “Perverted Democracy” the advice is as follows:—
It is natural, he continued, for a man to use his individual strength and resources to advance or protect what he regards as his own rights and possessions. It is natural for the strong to use their strength to achieve their own purposes. If, therefore, in a democracy the strong are called upon to renounce any resort to that force which is natural to them, then it is essential, in order that this renunciation may continue to be made willingly and permanently, that those who exercise power in the State in the name of the majority should act always with justice and fair play towards all sections of the people alike.
If this condition is not observed then democracy will degenerate into tyranny exercised by a few in the name, but ultimately not with the consent, of the many.
That is in fact what is happening in all those countries which have fallen under Communistic domination; countries where tyrants, by a perversion of democracy have created the very abomination of desolation, under which they deny their just due alike to God and man.
If, therefore, we were to preserve our democratic system here it is imperative that those who exercise authority in the State should be balanced in their judgment and calm, considerate and unprejudiced in their public pronouncements.
We appeal from these benches for the calm, considerate and balanced judgment of the Government, of the House and of the people on this question.