It has been maintained here that the electoral system we propose enabled the Government in the north-eastern part of this country to entrench themselves in their present position. In actual fact, the system we have here was in existence up there up to 1929. Prior to 1929, under the present system of multi-member constituencies with the transferable vote, the position was that there were 37 Government members as against 15 non-Government members. But, in the first election fought there under the present system, that position was changed to 35 Unionist members as against 17—so in actual fact the change in the electoral system there, so far from having the effect Deputies opposite said it had, had something of the reverse effect.
The fact is that the situation in that part of the country is completely different from what it is here. The boundary of the area was, with the co-operation of the Party opposite, skilfully drawn to ensure that it would be possible for the majority there to arrange, under any electoral system, for their perpetuation in power. The situation is completely different there, where the majority and the minority consist respectively of those who want to maintain the British connection and those who are anxious for independence and to be united with the rest of their own country—and, of course, the main Opposition Party here are deeply implicated in the establishment of that position.
Deputy L'Estrange devoted a large part of his speech on this stage of the Bill to the subject matter of Partition generally. I do not think I should co-operate with him in going any further into it beyond saying that the Opposition Party are very deeply implicated in the establishment of that position here.
Deputy Dunne had some sarcastic remarks to make about what he describes as "strong government"— apparently wanting to imply that somebody from these benches has advocated government of this type. As reported at column 1797 of the Official Report of Dáil Éireann of 26th June, 1968, Deputy Dunne said:
Who says the first essential is strong government? The vested interest says it first: the person who is a bit fearful that the social system may so change as to alter his status in society: He is the first to look for strong government.
Further down in his speech, Deputy Dunne is reported as saying:
The bulk of the Irish people are people of little or no property.
Deputy Dunne knows well that nobody —certainly on this side of the House— has advocated the type of government he describes. Nobody here is in any way interested in strong government in that sense. However, we do very definitely suggest to the people that they need a coherent and responsible Government. They need a Government with a consistent policy, a Government they can decide upon at election time and whom they can hold responsible for the manner in which they conduct the affairs of the country after the election. If the system is such as to prevent them from choosing their actual Government at election time—I think it is admitted the present system is designed to do just that—and if, instead of being able to choose a Government at election time, they get, instead, a Government of individuals or of small groups in which, in the immortal words of the vice-Chairman of the Labour Party, each member of the Government will be watching for the opportunity to spring a trap on his colleagues, then, if that situation develops, it will, we say to the people, prove as disastrous as it did before. The point is that, once that situation develops of elections producing a large number of small groups, it will be too late for the people to do anything about it: it will be too late to make any change.
We do not advocate strong government of the type Deputy Dunne describes but we do say that wise guidance is necessary to preserve and to improve the position of the people —and it is the people whom he describes as people of no property who feel most keenly and most immediately the effects of ineffective and inconsistent government based on day-to-day expediency and on the ebb and flow of Coalition manoeuvring. For example, in 1956-57 the first to be hit by the collapse of the economy were the workers, the building workers in the first instance, and then it spread right through the economy to every type of employment. We have no hesitation in saying to the people, in particular to the people of no property, as Deputy Dunne described them, that it is essential for them to have responsible and consistent government which they can hold responsible and which they can replace in the next election if they see fit. The present system prevents that and the Opposition speeches have been, in fact, a tacit admission that even though the worst splintering effects of the system have not been felt here still the situation is that the only alternative to the present Government is another coalition government such as proved so disastrous on the two previous occasions it came into operation here.
I suppose in view of the amount of talk which we have had from the Opposition about it I had better make some reference to the incursions into the realms of fantasy by the famous television professors. The poverty of the Opposition case is shown by the fact that they have to get normally intelligent and rational men like them to indulge in this kind of ridiculous exercise. However, I intend to deal with it a lot more briefly than the Opposition did as I do not think it really merits serious consideration. Deputy Donegan appeared to be impressed almost as much by this fanciful forecast of a large majority being permanently achieved by the Fianna Fáil Party under the proposed system as he was by the equally silly projection of the Fine Gael Senators of the possible results under the present system. All I would like to say about that is long may they continue to dissipate their energy in this type of useless activity. The projection of 95 or 100 seats, or whatever it was, by these people only serves to show the nonsense people can produce when they pontificate on something about which they know nothing. I do not believe that any of these people ever did a day's electioneering in their lives. Certainly nobody knows what the position will be.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,