The record of the Deputy and his Party have justified to the onlooker the assumption that no proposition for the expenditure of that money in any way other than the way in which it was spent — an attempt to stimulate private enterprise and private capital by the making available of consumer goods to the public generally — would influence them. That has been the traditional policy of the Fine Gael Party and it was a direct result of the carrying through of that policy in the face of opposition from the minorities—the Clann na Poblachta minority and, I suggest, the Labour minority, but certainly the Clann na Poblachta minority — which led to the dissipation of our external assets, or the spending of our external assets on consumer goods of which there has been so much criticism.
I need not dwell on the fact that the Fine Gael Party is not a Socialist Party and neither was the then Minister for Finance a member of a Socialist Party. Consequently, any suggestion that capital might be made available in a way which would enable industries to be started, or money canalised into circulation, or that the Marshall Aid money or our external assets could be made available for these purposes, was something which simply could not arise, so long as a majority point of view dominated the Government. Clearly, the end result shows that it was the majority which dominated practically every aspect of policy which was considered, every important aspect which was considered seriously at that time by the Coalition. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is not what we are discussing at the moment.
I should like to reiterate that the important point is that the minority did not dictate, as far as I can see, and anybody with reasonably objective eyes, or mind, who examines the matter for himself must see that the decisions arrived at in all important matters were the decisions of the majority in that Government. I shall not discuss the matter of my attitude to the health service beyond a passing reference that clearly I did not dominate that. I did not make the final decisions on the questions of health policy. No matter which aspect of Government policy is examined, I defy anybody, any member of the Government, to show where the minority opinion dictated policy to the majority in that Cabinet.
Of course, one of the consequences of that was that the smaller Parties suffered, by virtue of the fact that they could not get the policies, which they had put forward to the people, enforced on the majority in the coalition Cabinet. If you examine the history of these smaller Parties who composed the first Coalition, you will see there has been a progressive decline in their numerical strength and in their political standing in the country. Far from having enhanced their position by joining the Coalition, by not getting their policies put into operation, they paid the penalty to the electorate at subsequent elections, due to the disillusionment of their followers because the promises they made were not carried out.
As I say, the main point is they did not succeed in imposing their will on the majority in the coalition. In fact, the small Parties got smaller and the big Party got bigger. I think that is probably one of the greatest dangers to small Parties in coalition Governments, but that is not the Taoiseach's case. He is not concerned with the fate of small Parties. If they wish to take a considered risk and go into a coalition, that is their affair, but it is a calculated, considered risk, extremely dangerous from their point of view. It can be justified from time to time by political considerations, by an anxiety to achieve a particular limited objective with a view to taking action at a particular time and pursuing one's other objectives in another way.
As far as I know, nobody has in any way attempted to answer the charge that the proposed British system, the Six County system, will leave us liable to minority government because of the fact that, under that system, the Party getting 34 per cent of the votes, opposed by candidates getting 32 per cent and 33 per cent, can be returned as the Government. One can get a minority Government under the British system and, in practice, it has been shown that this is so. If the Taoiseach is genuinely worried about this question, I think that, first of all, he should examine his premises very much more carefully than he appears to have done and, secondly, he should examine his proposition to introduce the British system here and see whether he is agreeable to the likelihood that we shall have minority Governments under that system. If minority government is the thing he really objects to, it seems to me he should reconsider his decision to introduce the British system.
It is possible that one can get more efficient government under the proposed British system, but, if the Taoiseach is solely looking for efficiency, then he can suggest to us that we have the Party list, the single list system as they have in Russia. There they produce the one list of candidates and you have no choice at all, and a more efficient one still is where they have strong dictatorship. How far is he prepared to go in his pursuit of efficiency? How far is he prepared to vitiate the democratic ideal to which he has for so long declared his unquestioned allegiance.
It seems to me that under the British system he will encourage the development of the pact arrangement. Because Fianna Fáil can count on over 40 per cent of the votes in a constituency, the Opposition will be faced with arranging a pact. The more candidates they put up in such a constituency, the more likely is the Government candidate to be returned. A realistic politican must face this question and the only way out is to arrange for an agreement, or pact, in which Parties ideologically opposed to one another will have one thing in common, the keeping out of the Government candidate, the Fianna Fáil candidate.
I believe that is very undesirable, should it develop, and I do not think we have any reason to believe that it will not. We shall get arrangements whereby the Opposition Parties combine and a single individual will be agreed upon in a particular area where he is most likely to be elected in opposition to the Government candidate. You will have Fine Gael agreeing to allow a Labour Party candidate go forward in an area where there is some Fine Gael support but much more Labour Party support, or a Fine Gael candidate going forward in another area with Labour Party support. Presumably the candidates, if they have, say, Labour support, will have to put forward a Labour type pact. If the candidate is a Fine Gael agreed candidate he will have to put forward a Fine Gael type pact. Consequently, presumably, the Labour supporters will not support a Fine Gael candidate and the Fine Gael supporters will not support the Labour man. The candidate will hope to be elected on the group of Fine Gael or Labour votes that happen to be there. That is, it seems to me, a likely product of changing over to the British system of voting. We have seen it happen elsewhere.
Thus where a Party is putting forward only one candidate we deprive the electorate of the opportunity of choosing between more than one Party candidate, as the individual voter can do at present. We will present the elector with a candidate who has been decided on by the political Party which feels it has a safe seat. That is on one side and on the other we will have the Opposition Parties coming together and deciding to nominate an individual who will possibly win the seat for them even though he may not belong to the parties to the agreement. The public will then be faced with a candidate who has been chosen for them by a group representing the Opposition Parties.
I do not think the Taoiseach will achieve what appears to be his main declared objective, which is to try to get an agreed policy for fighting the election, amongst the Opposition Parties. If such agreement were possible then clearly there would be no need for more than one Party in the Opposition group. It is the purpose of a political organisation to try to fight for the greatest part of its political objectives, to ask public support at each general election for the strength to implement the greatest part of its political policy. I do not believe that there can be that agreed policy, that declared policy, before an election. It is quite possible that there will be an agreement on ten points, 12 points, 15 points, or whatever the number may be, between the Opposition Parties but this would be something about which the public would be left completely unaware until after the election. There is nothing to stop that happening.
I do not think that is an improvement. I do not think the Taoiseach will suggest it is an improvement on the arrangements to which he takes such strong objection, the agreement on a ten point policy after the election rather than before it. I do not think he is going to achieve his objective by changing the election system. I think he is placing the blame where it does not belong at all.
There was one other consideration which I should like to put before the Government. It arises out of the question of the minority control under the proposed British system. As I said is is conceivable that by some remarkable rearrangement of political forces in the whole country, a strong Socialist Party could emerge, to which I suppose most of the Deputies here would strongly object. Assuming something of the nature of an extension of the Six County Labour Party into the Twenty-Six Counties, if that were possible, forming the nucleus of a strong left wing organisation in the whole of the country, it is conceivable that in a reasonably short period you could get a minority Socialist Government. From the Taoiseach's conservative point of view, things look particularly rosy for a considerable time but things have a habit of changing rather rapidly in the political scene, as I am sure he knows very well.
It is conceivable that this could happen and certainly it is something that I would welcome. I would be very glad to see the various aspects of progressive Socialist policy put into operation — the welfare society, the welfare State, educational services, health services, State industries on a large scale, the co-operative movement in rural Ireland, and so on. While it is true that one could get that development one could also get the evolution of a strong right wing organisation with all the evils associated with it. Would the fact not be something worth considering, that in a Coalition, if a conservative majority feels that it is being menaced by a progressive radical minority, it has always the remedy that it can refuse to implement a radical policy and cause the resignation of the minority which is trying to impose its will on it? We then get the disintegration of the Government but we also get the end of those particular policies, or at least those policies cannot be put into operation, whether they are extreme Right or extreme Left.
Within a short period a Coalition can disintegrate and with that comes an end to the dangers of which the Taoiseach seems to be so afraid. But where a Government have been elected as an extreme Left minority Government, or an extreme Right minority Government, they have five years during which to operate and they cannot be displaced. There is no way short of a revolution in which they can be dissuaded from putting their policies into operation. Therefore, while there are serious defects in a Coalition type of Government — nobody knows that better than I do, and I have proclaimed it on many occasions — at the same time, in certain circumstances there appear to be some slight safeguards associated with Coalition Governments. I do not think any intelligent politician, who really believes in the point of view which he professes, could try to hold that he would sooner work in a multi-Party Government than in a single Party Government. In order to achieve even limited objectives, the realisation of limited objectives, which is probably better than not realising them at all — half a loaf is better than none — in the national interest, I suppose there can be occasions which would be different.
There is a further overriding safeguard in this question of the Parties being influenced by minorities, or not honouring their pledges to the public, or making extravagant promises which they either cannot or will not fulfil in office. These charges have been made by the Taoiseach from time to time against the coalition type of Government. They can be made equally well, of course, against a single-Party Government.
There is always a safeguard, in our system of periodic elections, in that we are all answerable to public opinion. To the reasonably objective mind, it is clear, as it is to any person in politics in Ireland, that small Parties take a very considerable risk when they join in the coalition type of Government. However, it is something which can be justified from time to time, always with the proviso that you are in a position to go back and justify whatever actions you take. Whether you are in the minority group or the majority group within a coalition, that is a very considerable safeguard. The overriding factor is still true. There is no doubt that the coalition type cannot — on account of the obvious underlying strain which must arise in the circumstances, in a multi-Party Government — be as efficient as single-Party Government.
The prospect appears to be, if P.R. is abolished, that the Opposition will be faced with a series of pacts or be relegated to Opposition for the rest of their lives. It will mean that there will be fewer and fewer young people tending to come into politics, and more and more of the other type of Government. If they did take what I consider a retrograde position, to enter into pacts in order to be returned, it is possible that this decision could be frustrated quite easily by small minority groups representing minority interests of one kind or another, which could seek to split them by putting up candidates in different areas, refusing to accept the electoral pacts. They could split the Opposition vote and in that way allow a Fianna Fáil Government to be perpetuated.
There is the other rather more sinister thought, that it might suit the Government, whichever it was — Fianna Fáil, presumably, being the major Party or organised Party—in suitable areas to put up candidates, or encourage candidates to go forward, in order to split the Opposition vote, and ensure that their candidates would be returned. Politics being what it is, I think this is quite a reasonable suggestion, quite a reasonable proposition and quite a reasonable likelihood. Therefore, we would then get, instead of the evolution which the Taoiseach suggested of a strong Government and a reasonably strong Opposition ready to take over government when the people change their minds, the fragmented Opposition and the one-Party-Government for as long as one can see ahead.
One of the most remarkable advantages of P.R. has been the freedom from the very wide swings of policy which have taken place in Britain under the system there. The position here is likely to be slightly more frightening in that regard, because of our historical development and the fact of the Treaty and the subsequent Civil War causing an utterly unnatural division of our people. Our political development has not followed that of other countries. Consequently, one does not get the pockets of voters — traditionally Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Radical or Socialist — which you get in other countries.
There are relatively few of what can be termed "safe seats," in the British sense, in Ireland. In Britain, the Tories have 200 safe seats, Labour have about 200 and they fight about the rest. The election is as to who will win the marginal seats. Indeed, it is another example of a minority, under the British system, controlling policy. Both major Parties are there and are trying to get the support of the voter. They depend on their own safe seats in their own areas, but the marginal seats will decide whether they have a Labour or Tory Government after the election.
The swing here is likely to be very much wider than in Britain because of the fact that there are, I understand, only between 30 and 40 safe Fianna Fáil seats and about 20 safe Opposition seats, so that if there was a 7 per cent. swing in the electoral opinion it could mean that the Government Party would lose over half of its seats. I do not say that would be a source of great regret to me but it is a fact the Government members should bear in mind. This may work to their advantage in the early years but it will certainly work both ways in time. As can be seen from Great Britain the marginal swing amongst the electorate can give the most diverse policies in any society.
On the one side in Britain you have the policy of the nationalisation of steel and other industries and the expansion of a welfare society, and on the other side you have the Tories trying to cling to their way of life. Certainly a few years ago nothing could be more diverse than the political attitudes of those two Parties. The Taoiseach might get a certain satisfaction from the fact that the contest for the marginal vote has tended to bring the Right to the Left and the Left to the Right. I do not know what the objective is here. If there were a Left it might be understandable.
I should like to draw the attention of the Taoiseach to a recent speech by the President, Mr. Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, in which he spoke as a most experienced public man and as President of Ireland. He went on to talk about the achievements and the objectives of the men of 1916, but he also said:
"I want to say emphatically that one authority and one authority only in this country has the duty, the responsibility and the right to declare and to dictate national policy. The Government of the Sovereign Republic of Ireland is a Government elected freely and in the most democratic way by the whole people in liberated Ireland."
I believe he is right. The Government, whether we agree or do not agree with its policy, is the Government elected by the majority. However, if the majority of the people from time to time prefer a less efficient form of government, a coalition type of government, we should be prepared to abide by their decision.
It is unfortunate that the Taoiseach is allowing the referendum to be held on the same day as the Presidential election. He seemed to express the opinion that it would be most undesirable that they should occur on the same day. He is reported very recently, in the Irish Independent of the 27th April, 1959 as saying:
"A referendum is more important than a general election. It is a question of the fundamental law of the country which is the foundation of our whole political system."
I agree with the Taoiseach. This is the most important step we could take since the Constitution was established. Seeing that the Taoiseach understands its significance and importance I am surprised that he would permit this issue to be clouded by any other issue. It is a complicated problem in relation to which many of us in the House have had our own difficulties and our own personal debates. The Taoiseach has the opportunity under the amendment to this motion to submit the whole question to a commission and benefit by the advice of a reasonably objective body of people. The people could then give their decision in a referendum, as he wishes, in isolation from the emotional complications which must inevitably be associated with his standing for the Presidency.
Practical politics indicate that every member of the Fianna Fáil Party will turn out to vote for the Taoiseach as President. Probably some of his worst enemies will turn out also and vote for him. That cannot be said about the members of the Opposition in respect of their candidate who is merely the candidate of a single section of the Opposition. It has been carefully calculated by the Taoiseach that, having got his electorate out to vote in the Presidential election and in the referendum, they will vote as he and his Party wishes. In that way he is more likely to get a response to his appeal than is the Opposition. Admittedly that is a credit to him but it leaves the position deliberately confused to have the two issues decided on the one day.
I do not know if there is any purpose in dwelling further on these points but I do believe the referendum which involves the alteration of the voting system, will not be carried out in the best possible conditions to elicit the clear, carefully thought-out uncomplicated beliefs of the people. It is clear that the Taoiseach will not change his decision to have these two elections on the same date. Therefore, it would seem to me that there is an opportunity left to the Opposition. It is possible that the Opposition may think more highly of the national interest and welfare and feel that this referendum is of such transcendal importance that there is nothing else to compare with it in importance; that important as the Presidency is to them, it is completely overshadowed by the question of the referendum and its implications for every one of our people in the years ahead.
I wonder if the Opposition candidate, General MacEoin, appreciates that by going forward as a candidate for the Presidency, he is playing completely into the hands of the Taoiseach? Without a doubt, on balance, presumably the Fine Gael Party have a right to the choice of candidate for Presidency in their term; but would it be possible that they might now decide to ask General MacEoin — a man who has made many sacrifices in the national interest in the past — would he be prepared to make this very great sacrifice at this time in the interest of the nation?