Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 26 Feb 1969

Vol. 238 No. 12

Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1968: Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

(Cavan): On this Stage I should like to make a few general remarks about the Bill. In the first place, I should like to say that we consider the Bill as it now stands, as it is leaving this House, to be a bad bit of legislation. We consider that, instead of presenting the best possible scheme of constituencies, the Minister has done his best, and has succeeded to a very large extent, to produce the worst and most absurd scheme of constituencies that it is possible to produce.

We had here last year a very long debate on electoral reform in which one of the major arguments put forward by the Minister for Local Government and the other Government spokesmen was that it was undesirable to breach county boundaries, that, as a matter of fact, it was fundamentally wrong to breach county boundaries and that in order to avoid unnecessary breaching of county boundaries we should change our entire method of election to Dáil Éireann.

The Fine Gael Party in the House during that debate made the case that under the Constitution as it then stood and as it still stands the breaching of county boundaries on any large scale was unnecessary in order to implement the provisions of the Constitution. I said then and I still say that while I do not regard county boundaries as sacred or as something that cannot under any circumstances be interfered with, it is a matter of commonsense that they should not be unnecessarily interfered with.

One would have thought, therefore, that the Minister in drafting this Bill would have done so in a way that would disturb the least possible number of county boundaries and that would necessitate the transference of the minimum number of people from one county to another. What do we find? We find that the Minister has transferred 17 portions of counties out of their existing county boundaries into others and in doing that has interfered with nine counties and has transferred approximately 100,000 people. It has been demonstrated to him that that was quite unnecessary, that it was necessary to interfere with only six counties, to breach six county boundaries and in the process of doing that he would have to move only 41,000 people, approximately one per cent.

Why did the Minister do as he has done? Why did he move 100,000 people when the transference of 40,000 would do? If he were acting in pursuance of the principles enunciated by him in the debate on the proposal to change the Constitution he certainly would have moved the minimum number of people. We find that he did not do that, that he went to the other extreme and transferred as many people as he could or, at least, many more people than he might have.

One can only come to the conclusion that the Minister had an ulterior motive for that and that that ulterior motive was to gain political advantage, or to try to gain political advantage, for his own Party. I deplore the effort of the Minister in the Bill as it now stands to gain political advantage for his own Party. It is immaterial whether he succeeds or not—I do not believe he will and I have made that clear all along —but in setting out on his campaign he has inconvenienced a great number of people; he has, indeed, inconvenienced a great number of Deputies both of his own Party and of other Parties, for what he believes to be the political advantage of the Fianna Fáil Party.

The next thing that is obvious here is that there is not a uniform pattern throughout the Bill. One would have thought that it should be possible on reading the Bill to determine what the Minister had in mind when he set out to draft the constituencies. Did he believe in large multi-member constituencies or did he believe in the smallest possible constituency? We will find that he did not proceed on recognised principles in this respect. We simply find that where he thought it suited himself and his Party to have three-member constituencies, for example, he has them. In any part of the country where he thinks that his Party in the past did fairly well, and might expect to get 50 per cent or more of the votes, he goes all out for three-member constituencies.

That is quite apparent in the new three constituencies of Galway where before there was a five-member constituency. The Minister has abolished the five-member constituency and the three-member constituency, and of course if he was to treat the County of Galway on its merits he would have in the Bill seven Deputies for the county, a four-member constituency and a three-member constituency, because the population has fallen considerably in Galway over the last 30 years. In round figures it has fallen by nearly 20,000 yet we find a glaring example of an effort by the Minister to gain an unfair advantage for his Party because although the County Galway as a unit should suffer a loss of a seat because of a fall in population, and because of that fall in population the representation should fall from eight to seven Members, the natural thing would be to have a three-member and a four-member constituency but instead the Minister injects a bit of Clare into Galway and provides three three-member constituencies.

That is a classic example of what the Minister set out to do. We have the same in Donegal. Donegal is not now entitled to six Deputies as it was for the Minister unnecessarily grabs a bit of Leitrim and puts it into Donegal which he regards as a safe constituency although the referendum results really presented it as a marginal constituency. However, the Minister is a man of hope; he hopes that things might be the same again in the next election and he provides for all three-member constituencies, hoping that in each of the Galway constituencies he will get two out of three, which he will not, and hoping the same will happen in Donegal. Next we have Clare, which was a four-member constituency and which the Minister could have retained as a four-member constituency, but instead he sends a bit of it to Galway and then we have the three-member constituency again. Roscommon he reduces to a three-member constituency and brings in a bit of Westmeath, surrounding the Minister for Education, to provide a three-member constituency there.

That is the pattern all over the West where the Minister thinks he will benefit by the three-member constituencies. That would be understandable if that pattern projected itself throughout the entire country. We could say: "Well, because the Minister did not get away with abolishing proportional representation and he still believes that PR is not a good system, he wants to neutralise it as much as he can and reduce its effectiveness as much as he can." We would be justified in saying that and the Minister would have an argument although we might not believe it. We come then to the populous areas of the city of Dublin, and in and around it, where the Minister knows that he is on the run, if he has not actually departed, and he opts there for four-member constituencies where before we had three-member constituencies and some five-member constituencies. It is well known that in an area where the Minister can get 51 per cent or near it in a three-member constituency, he thinks he will get two out of three seats. It is also known that it is very difficult for any Party to get more than two out of four seats in a four-member constituency and that it takes much fewer votes for the weaker Party to get two out of four in a four-member constituency under PR. Of course, the Minister knows that because he has made more than a study of this matter. As I say, all around Dublin we have had the constituencies carved up in order to suit the Minister and his Party.

This is a bad Bill, a Bill which has set out to provide not a fair scheme of constituencies but a scheme which is unfair, unjust and calculated to give advantage to one political Party. That is what the Minister set out to do but I do not think he will succeed. He is not a good judge. However, it is our business to expose this effort, and I only regard it as an effort. It simply will not work because I would not regard the Minister as being an authority on how the people are thinking. In the very recent past he has been proved to be completely out of touch with public opinion and public thought on matters of importance. That was very definitely demonstrated in the referendum. This is a type of Bill that would never have been recommended by any sort of impartial or independent advisory body. There can be no doubt about that. All on this side of the House are against it while the Minister's Party are in favour of it. As far as we can interpret public opinion through leading articles in newspapers, it is regarded by independent thought as an absurd piece of legislation.

This is a measure that affects every Party and most Deputies in the House and, indeed, all the people of the country in a personal way. Yet the Minister blames us, abuses and ballyrags us for daring to debate, or trying to get him to debate, it in a reasonable way. It is a measure which should be capable of substantial amendment, a type of measure that should be brought into the House, if fair play is to prevail and democracy to succeed, as a sort of skeleton. The Minister should be prepared to discuss it within reason but we have had no worthwhile amendment accepted by the Minister. The Minister wanted to block any amendment. He tried to prevent the Report Stage and so ensure that no amendments would be put down. I emphasise that we used Committee Stage, as we are entitled to use it, to get the Minister's views and thoughts on the Schedule, constituency by constituency. Having done that, we intimated that we wanted to put down amendments and substantial amendments and we had to have a battle royal to get a Report Stage that would be worth-while. When we did get it, yesterday and today, the Minister simply refused to take part in it. He said—he will not disagree with me or be offended if I use his own words—that he was not going to take part in this farce. He stood up and left the House, I think. I do not know what he was at, but my opinion is that he was arranging constituencies in a more personal way. That is how this measure was treated in the House.

It is a fact that some constituencies had to suffer; at least some of them needed altering. Everybody takes County Leitrim because it is a county that has received the most amazing treatment. The population of Leitrim fell between 1936—I am giving the Minister the benefit of the doubt by taking 1936—and 1966 by 20,336. Therefore, it was obvious that it had to get support in order to be entitled to representation. The case was made here by every Deputy interested in the constituencies, other than the Fianna Fáil Deputies, that Leitrim should have been amalgamated with Sligo. The only Deputy who spoke against that was Deputy Gallagher and, fair play to him, the strongest case he put up was to say that the Minister's scheme was as good as any other. It was not as reasonable as any other scheme. It should go on record, too, that between 1936 and 1966 the population of Roscommon dropped by 21,338. In the same period the population of Cavan which is affected by this Bill dropped by 22,640. In the same period the population of Monaghan dropped by 15,557.

The population of Mayo fell between 1936 and 1966 by 45,802. Those are only a few constituencies taken at random. They demonstrate the failure of Fianna Fáil policy during those years. I could—and the Minister well knows this—go through the Schedule to this Bill section by section and item by item and county by county and remain within the Rules of Order and talk here until 10.30 tonight if my object was, as the Minister alleges, simply to delay the passage of the measure through the House and to obstruct. When I sat down, several of my colleagues could get up and discuss the Schedule item by item from their own angles and remain within the Rules of Order if our object was to obstruct and delay.

I consider that we in this Party have discharged our obligations and duties to the House and to the country in regard to this Bill on Second Stage— during which it got a reasonable discussion — on Committee Stage and on Report Stage which we had to extract from the Minister and his Party. We have demonstrated that the Minister introduced the Bill in bad faith; that he was committed before that to introducing an electoral monstrosity and absurdity. He has succeeded. I am satisfied the people of the country who have followed the debate are by now satisfied that is what the Minister set have followed the debate are by now satisfied that is what the Minister set out to do and what he succeeded in doing I do not think that is an unreasonable assertion by me because I know, and the House knows, that during the debate on the Third and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution the Minister went on record ad nauseam as saying that no one could prepare reasonable constituencies under the Constitution as it stood without the tolerance he sought, a tolerance which would give him the right to decree that, while as few as 16,000 would qualify for a Deputy in one area, it would take 24,000 to qualify in another. The Minister committed himself and his Party to the proposition that the Constitution needed amendment and that, if it were not amended, he could not produce a reasonable scheme of constituencies.

On the Second Stage of this Bill I posed a question to the Minister. I posed that question again on the Committee Stage and now I shall pose it once more: why did the Minister for Local Government, committed to the proposition I have just outlined, take on himself the task he had already said was impossible? One would have thought that in such circumstances the Minister would have said to his Taoiseach: "Look, I am too much involved in the controversy which has gone on over this. My views are too well known. I have already committed myself by saying that the present system is unworkable. Please do not ask me to do the impossible because, even if I were to do my best, what I did would not be accepted by the people as an honest effort."

The result of the referendum was hardly known when the Minister for Local Government rolled up his sleeves and went baldheaded for this task. I remember on a debate here— it was, I think, on a motion of no confidence—the Minister tore himself away from his office to come down here and make a contribution. I remember that he started off by saying that, unfortunately, he had not been in the House during the debate because he was concerning himself in his office with such important matters— that is how he described them in his own sarcastic way—as the number of babies born in the maternity hospitals in Dublin on 14th September——

17th April, 1966.

(Cavan): I am sorry—17th April, 1966, the date of the Census. He was, he said, concerning himself with the number of babies born in maternity hospitals in Dublin, the number of criminals in prison, the number of sailors in the port of Dublin and the number of guests in the various hotels throughout the country. Now, that was the frame of mind in which the Minister sat down to draft this measure and that is why it is such a bad measure. The Minister sat down to ridicule the Constitution, to make fun of the task given to him and to demonstrate to the people— in particular, to the Opposition in this House—that he was right and we and they were wrong. The sovereign people were wrong to the tune of 250,000 votes on 16th October, 1968. That is why we have got this bad Bill. The Minister had a double-edged, ulterior motive in drafting it. He wanted, first of all, to belittle proportional representation and that wise provision in the Constitution which says that, by and large, allowing for mountains and lakes and rivers and county boundaries, and so on, the same number of persons will qualify for a TD in one part of the country as will qualify in another part of the country. This provision is upheld by Chief Justice Conor Maguire. By and large.

I thought it was Fianna Fáil Deputies who divided up the constituencies. That is what the Deputy said on the Committee Stage.

He will say that in another half hour.

(Cavan): When I say “the Minister for Local Government” I mean the Minister plus all the Fianna Fáil Deputies behind him and the bedevilment that is pumped into him by that army of Fianna Fáil Deputies.

Do not forget the county councillors.

(Cavan): That was in only one county.

Is that all?

(Cavan): Yes. Any place the Minister had Deputies he relied on the Deputies. The Minister said himself he was not slow to call on the county councillors. Fianna Fáil are well represented in every county except one; thereby hangs a tale. That one county is Leitrim. Lo and behold, it is carved up into three. I went out into the restaurant here one day and there I saw a great many county councillors from Leitrim. I know most of them because it is a neighbouring county.

What about the Deputy's grandfather?

(Cavan): The Minister had a discussion here with Deputy Dillon about grandfathers and he did not come too well out of it, so we will say no more about grandfathers. I saw the array of Leitrim county councillors in the restaurant. I did not know what was on, but I learned afterwards. They were up to agree on the carving up of Leitrim into three constituencies.

The Deputy said before that they were up to keep it one.

(Cavan): I did not. Deputy Cunningham is at times chief interrupter. Damn it all, Deputy Cunningham must have some purpose in life as a Fianna Fáil Deputy from Donegal. All the others are office holders. All the others have Mercedes cars. Deputy Cunningham must have some duties assigned to him. He must make his presence felt some way or other.

Someone has to do the work.

(Cavan): For some reason best known to himself he decides the best way he can make himself known is by having little gibes at me now and again. These county councillors from Leitrim were up here and they were consulted before Leitrim was divided up into three. They agreed, foolish men, to Leitrim being carved up and Leitrim is now disappearing altogether from the electoral map. The county councillors went home and, lo and behold, Leitrim was never mentioned in the Bill. I do not know how these county councillors communicated with the Minister again, but I do know that they were nearly “bet” out of Leitrim. We had three amendments introduced here and Leitrim springs back into the Electoral Bill in name only. We have Roscommon-Leitrim, Donegal-Leitrim and Sligo-Leitrim. They are busy men, these county councillors.

And no lovely Leitrim.

(Cavan): No lovely Leitrim is right. I will leave it at that. This Bill could not possibly have been a good Bill. It could not possibly have been designed to be helpful because the Minister set out to do what he has done—to produce an electoral monstrosity. When the next election comes the Minister's forecasts and his opinion will be just as far out as they were in relation to his last electoral effort in this House.

(South Tipperary): In submitting I think it was 19 amendments to this Electoral Bill, I was actuated by certain ideas and principles which appear to have been completely foreign to the Minister's mind. I was at pains to draft amendments which would improve, in my opinion at any rate, the Bill presented to the House by the Minister. I was actuated primarily by a desire to ensure that population transfers outside county boundaries would be kept as low as possible. I now find that the Minister still agrees with me that this is a desirable objective. He still holds the opinion in that regard which he held before the referendum. I find it hard to reconcile his opinion in that respect with what he has done in this Bill.

My personal belief is that counties should not be fragmented and that each county should stand on its own, or at least be joined completely or almost completely to another county. The transfer of areas with populations of the dimensions of 10,000, 11,000, 12,000 or 13,000 is not desirable. Such transfers are not large enough to provide political viability, but they are large enough to cause considerable distress to the people who are transferred. If a population area of that size is joined to another county, particularly if it is to a large unit, a four- or five-seater, it cannot be expected to provide any measure of broad spectrum representation for the people transferred. Such a transferred area is likely to become a mere annexe to the main constituency certainly so far as Fine Gael and Labour are concerned. The fact that such a transferred area, either fortuitously or by deliberate tailoring, may occasionally elect a Fianna Fáil Deputy, may satisfy the Minister or Fianna Fáil, but it is not democratic representation.

I, therefore, take the view that when these transfers outside county boundaries are being made—as they have to be made under our constitutional position—one should endeavour to transfer at most only four or five district electoral divisions. It will occasionally arise that a whole county may have to be transferred, where you get a constituency consisting of two counties. In that case where a whole county, or 90 per cent of a county, is transferred that transferred county may be expected to provide a degree of political viability on its own, and the amount of stress arising from the transfer is not great. There have been examples of that throughout the years. For instance, we have Laois-Offaly and Carlow-Kilkenny and there do not appear to have been many complaints arising as a result.

The amendments which I submitted dealt with three different groups: the eastern group, the western group and the southern group. They were discussed on that basis. So far as Report Stage is concerned, the amendments dealing with the southern group were ruled out of order as they had already been discussed at an earlier stage, and the Ceann Comhairle decided that the amendments submitted for Report Stage were not substantially different from those discussed earlier. At any rate, they were adequately discussed and voted on. We have had a vote on the amendments that referred to the eastern complex of constituencies. We have discussed the western areas.

To summarise, as regards the eastern areas embracing the counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Kildare and Kilkenny, the amendments which I submitted proposed that there would be two three-seaters, one four-seater and two five-seaters, giving 20 seats in all. The Minister proposes for this area five three-seaters and one five-seater, again, 20 seats in all. The proposals which I offered envisaged Cavan-Monaghan as a five-seater, Meath as a three-seater, Louth as a four-seater, Carlow-Kildare as a five-seater and Kilkenny as a three-seater. The Minister's proposal is to make them all three-seaters with the exception of Carlow-Kilkenny which he proposes should be a five-seater.

Under the amendments submitted by me, the transfer of population would be much smaller than under the system envisaged by the Minister. If the amendments I submitted were adopted, there would be a transfer of 6,640 persons from Meath to Louth. There would be no further breach of any county boundary. That would be the total transfer of population, consisting of the transfer of five district electoral divisions from Meath to Louth. On the other hand, the Minister's proposal envisages the butchering of several counties. In fact, there will be five breaches of county boundaries under the Minister's system in this Bill, involving a transfer of 29,053 persons. That is a figure of 6,640 as against 29,053. That is a summary of the position as regards the eastern counties.

When we come to the western counties, the position here is even worse. I have submitted eight amendments which, if adopted, would mean three breaches of county boundaries. Tagh-boy-Ahascragh: 953 persons to be transferred from there to Roscommon; 5,642 persons to be transferred from Leitrim to South Donegal and 2,805 persons to be transferred from Galway to Clare. That is a total transfer of 9,400 persons. The Minister's proposals involve eight breaches of constituency boundaries and a total transfer of 59,274 persons. The Minister's proposals would give us ten three-seat constituencies.

The proposals I have submitted would mean six three-seat constituencies and three four-seat constituencies. It would leave Donegal intact. It would leave Mayo intact. It would leave Roscommon intact. It would leave Clare intact. There would be two breaches of Galway county. It is a big county. The population transfer there would be small. Furthermore, there would be no interference with West Athlone Urban. Most important of all. it would leave the greater part of Leitrim intact as a political unit—admittedly, joined with Sligo, it represents a small movement of population. With a little over 5,000 persons transferred to Donegal and the remainder joined with Sligo, 25,000 persons in Leitrim would give them some measure of political viability as compared with what will arise now with the division of Leitrim in three parts—an unnecessarily large part going to Donegal, another middle section going to Sligo and a southern section going to Roscommon. These constituencies, thus divided, would mean: Donegal North, three seats; Donegal South, three seats; Sligo/Leitrim, four seats; Roscommon, three seats; Clare, four seats; Galway East, four seats; Galway West, three seats and Mayo two three-seaters. That is the same number of seats—30 seats —and instead of giving the Minister's proposal of ten three-seaters it means six three-seaters and three four-seaters. It would provide a far better population distribution.

Similarly, in respect of the southern part of the country, the proposals which I submitted to the House were: 3,136 persons would be transferred from South Tipperary and East Cork to Waterford; 2,413 persons would be transferred from South Tipperary and 723 persons would be transferred from East Cork so as to provide, in Waterford, a four-seat constituency and allow the return of the 10,749 persons from West Waterford back to Waterford. The total transfer of population under that scheme, and taking in, now, and accepting the Minister's transfer from Cork to Kerry, would, under my amendment, be 5,260 and, under the Minister's scheme, 12,773. There would be three breaches of county boundaries in what I propose to do. There would be two breaches in county boundaries in what the Minister has in his Bill. Therefore, from every aspect, whether we tot up the breaching of county boundaries or whether we take it as population transfers, all the amendments I have submitted would give a better picture and would give a fairer and more equitable distribution of population than what is provided for in the Minister's Bill.

Clearly, what I submitted here is entirely objective. It has no political overtones. It has been devised merely with a view to preserving, as far as possible, a fair and equitable distribution of population; to preserving, as far as possible, local authority boundaries and to providing, as far as possible, that it would be coterminous with Dáil representation, which is an important matter from an administrative point of view and from the point of view of a public representative who, so often, particularly in rural Ireland, is also a local county councillor.

Taking the position of the three areas covered by my amendments, the eastern part, the western part and the southern part, the total transfer of population by the Minister in this Bill outside the county boundaries is 101,100 persons. The amendments I have submitted and which the Minister has rejected would provide for a transfer of only 21,200 persons for the entire country: his figure is 101,100. The amendments I have submitted would provide for a transfer of people outside their boundaries of 21,200.

Of course, that is not correct.

(South Tipperary): I do wish Deputy Cunningham would stop making that kind of foolish interjection. It is made, really, only for its nuisance value.

Deputy Hogan is not counting the large part of Leitrim going into Sligo.

He is counting only what he wants to count.

(South Tipperary): You might as well add in, so, the large amount of Laois going into Offaly or of Carlow going into Kilkenny.

Two complete counties.

(South Tipperary): The Sligo-Leitrim constituency is practically two or three counties. All you need to transfer from Leitrim to Donegal—if the Minister were not so liberal about Donegal—would be a little over 5,000 of a population—and 5,000 of a population, to all intents and purposes, leaves Leitrim still an intact county with a population of 30,000, if 25,000 of them are still allowed to remain as a unit. I think any reasonable person would accept that.

The transfer is much larger in the Bill.

Sixteen per cent.

(South Tipperary): Under the Bill, you are transferring from North Leitrim to Donegal 8,997; from mid-Leitrim to Sligo, 10,503 and from South Leitrim to Roscommon, 11,072.

It is done in three. Deputy Hogan wants it done in two.

(South Tipperary): Through the suggestion I have made here, you are merely transferring over 5,000-odd persons from North Leitrim into Donegal and leaving a Sligo-Leitrim constituency intact. Under the amendments I have submitted, the total number of breachings of constituency boundaries is seven——

That is not right.

(South Tipperary):——involving a total population transfer of 21,200 and the Minister——

That is a dishonest statement.

(South Tipperary):——has brought in 15 breaches of constituency boundaries with a population transfer of 101,100. That is a factual statement. Deputy Cunningham was here yesterday and he has been here today. He comes in occasionally, as Deputy Fitzpatrick said, to make himself heard in some kind of foolish fashion, to justify himself.

As a kind of interrupter.

(South Tipperary): As a kind of heckler. He had an opportunity yesterday and again today to speak and unless he is going to follow the Bill to the Seanad he has lost his opportunity.

I have said all I wanted to say on the Bill on the earlier Stages.

(South Tipperary): I again and again——

That is right anyway—"again and again". That is disorderly.

(South Tipperary): He had an opportunity of standing up and factually demolishing the statements I have made. I gave him plenty of material, plenty of facts and figures. I gave them to the Minister and I invited the Minister to ask the officials of his own Department to go over these figures with a magnifying glass to see if there was any hiatus, any gap, any error in them.

Those figures are wrong.

(South Tipperary): I did not have the advantage of a highpowered Civil Service behind me to see that they conformed to the Constitution and to local geographical areas. I did them entirely on my own.

Simple addition.

(South Tipperary): Deputy Cunningham apparently has not got to the addition stage because if he had he would be in a position to come in here and discuss these figures. All he has done is to come in and say: “That is all wrong.” It is very simple to say that.

You are omitting part of County Leitrim from your calculations. You are omitting 25,000 from one area. If you divide a county and you calculate one division and do not calculate the other, then it is dishonest.

It is not dishonest. You did not read the amendment. If I were you I would read it.

I have read it.


The Shadow Minister.

Is Deputy Cunningham taking over from the Minister? He might as well because the other Donegal man has taken over from the Taoiseach.

From two Taoisigh, actually.

He did not make a good job of the boys in the North.

You made a job of them, you set them up.

(South Tipperary): I do not know whether the rules of order would permit Deputy Cunningham to make a contribution at this stage but if he is in a position to make any worthwhile contribution I certainly would not step in his way. I would be delighted to hear him upsetting all these figures. If I had known in time I would have furnished him with a copy so that he would be in no doubt as to what they are. I have invited the Minister to stand up and demolish them. He is not able to and I doubt if poor Deputy Cunningham, with figures up in the sky, coming down from North Donegal, is suddenly able to upset all this.

I have dealt at length with this matter and I do not propose to go back over it again. I can only ask Deputy Cunningham if he is still interested to read the Dáil debates and at least familiarise himself with the subject. He is very much in error and needs some general education on this business.

Deputy Cunningham rose.

Apparently the long delaying operation of the Bill has at last petered out.

Deputy Cunningham was going to speak only the Minister silenced him.

I must say I sympathise with Deputy L'Estrange who has been making such heroic efforts ever since this session of the Dáil started to keep the Bill going, with obviously two reasons activating him—first of all, the well known one that Fine Gael can never have a division until the Law Library closes.

Hear, hear.

In that respect I cast my mind back to the time when the Opposition were pressing the Government to increase the Dáil salaries. One of the main arguments was that this would enable Deputies to devote more of their time to the House.

Who increased the Dáil salaries?

We did, at the behest of the Opposition Parties.

Pressure from the Opposition Parties, Labour especially.

Tell the truth. Do not be running away from it.

Deputy Sir Anthony Esmonde.

He said he got it for us.

This was to enable them to attend to their Dáil duties. We had this whole session, on this Bill and other Bills, a few Fine Gael Deputies keeping business artificially going until such time as Deputy L'Estrange could succeed in getting a reasonably respectable number of his Deputies to come here so that he could have a division. Today he failed. He could not get enough to keep it going until after 6 o'clock and so we could not have any more divisions on Report Stage. Deputy Hogan got his instructions from Deputy Fitzpatrick to conduct this delaying operation on the Fifth Stage instead.

That, of course, is one of the reasons for the delay. The other is the obvious one that Fine Gael feel that they require more time to solve their own differences before facing the electorate and believing that the election cannot be held until this Electoral Bill eventually gets through the two Houses of the Oireachtas and apparently not having as much confidence as they normally have in the delaying potentiality of the Seanad the idea was to delay it as long as possible here.

This Bill arises not from any desire, as has been alleged, on the part of me or anybody else in the Fianna Fáil Party to rearrange constituencies and to butcher counties for the benefit of Fianna Fáil or this other motive that has been imputed of demonstrating to the people the absurdity of the present constitutional position, but arises because of the existing constitutional position which was established as a result of an appeal by the Fine Gael Party to the courts. A decision was reached as a result of this action taken by the Fine Gael Party in the courts and the decision was endorsed by the people in the recent referendum.

It is completely wrong to suggest, as Deputy Fitzpatrick has suggested, that the Fianna Fáil Party thought this question of the desirability of avoiding the breaching of county boundaries so important that we proposed to change the electoral system in order to avoid it. Deputy Fitzpatrick knows that that is not so at all, that there were two distinct and separate proposals put to the people, again at the request of the Fine Gael Party, and that the proposal to change the electoral system was in no way involved with the question of avoiding the breaching of county boundaries.

I am satisfied, and more satisfied than ever after having heard the debate on this Bill, that the proposals put forward in the Bill are the most reasonable ones that could be put forward in the circumstances. I do not claim to have examined every one of the very many possible alternative schemes that could be produced, but I am satisfied that nobody else has produced a scheme of constituencies that would involve less disturbance of the people from their traditional patterns of representation and less disturbance of the existing lay-outs of constituencies than the proposals I have put forward in this Bill.

Debate adjourned.