Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1971: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In the "Note" in the Fourth Schedule, on pages 8, 9 and 10, to delete the words "in the smallest characters compatible with legibility" in each case and substitute "in 6-point type".

To be quite frank with you, Sir, it is really not up to me to make the case about this matter in the Bill. It is much more a matter for the Minister. I have suggested that the words "in the smallest characters compatible with legibility", which are void because of uncertainty and which have been interpreted in various sizes throughout the country, should be deleted and the words "in 6-point type" should be substituted. I am sorry to say the expert is not here because I was going to ask him a question. I refer to Deputy Browne of Wexford.

I am delighted because I have a serious question to ask him. It is not appropriate that we should have a squabble in this House about this matter. The Minister has not been reasonable. Therefore, I suggested in the amendment the type which is the smallest known to me, the 6-point type. I am quite certain that there are smaller types of print. The 6-point type is legible, even to an ordinary man like myself when I am wearing my spectacles. I hope Deputy Browne will help me out and will speak on the amendment. I should like to ask a question of Deputy Browne as distinct from the Minister. What is the smallest size of type that can be printed without splotching?

I am talking about numbering machines—about 10-point.

OK. I will be reasonable. I will agree with this suggestion. I accept it immediately. I do not mind if "in 10-point type" is substituted for my "in 6-point type". What I object to, and rightly so, is the size of type shown on the ballot paper produced by Deputy Hogan, which was 24-point type, which is nearly two-and-a-half times the size that Deputy Browne suggests. Deputy Browne's suggestion is quite acceptable to me.

I do not believe the Minister was genuine on the last occasion when he talked about contracts for seven years. I shall not dilate this evening on the value of money, the way it is going and all that kind of thing, but I do not think the Minister was genuine about contracts being for seven years. They may be in existence but they are not going to stand up, if I am any judge of the situation. Am I to understand that the Minister would be prepared to accept 10-point type instead of 6-point type?

I understand I can speak only once. May I ask Deputy Hogan, through the Chair, if he will let me have the ballot paper he had in his possession on the last occasion, so that I may check the size of the number? I have a scale here with which I should like to compare it.

I will try to get it for the Minister.

Deputy O'Donovan has said it was 24-point type but I did not see it.

It was, I think.

If the Deputy has not got it, it does not matter.

I will try to get it for the Minister.

It is all right.

I rise to support Deputy O'Donovan's amendment. We discussed on the last day the question of eliminating the numbers altogether and the Minister is not prepared to agree to that. He seems to wish to retain the number for some reason of checking. It has never been used, has never been of any use, since the State was founded and we saw no reason why it should be retained. In view of the recalcitrance of the Minister on this issue Deputy O'Donovan put in an amendment to substitute a point type which he was told was the smallest type that would be available to print numbers. None of us is a printing expert. We can only take what we are told in a matter like this. Deputy O'Donovan has also intimated now that he is prepared to accept a bigger type if it is impossible to print the point type that he has suggested in his amendment. That is being very reasonable. I am sure it will beget an equal degree of reasonableness on the part of the Minister. I am confident of that. We will see when he is replying what he intends to do about it. In the absence of agreement to remove the number, this is the furthest we can go to render the voting of electors as untraceable as possible.

The main purpose here was to eliminate any element of suspicion that the ordinary citizen might have that his vote could in some circumstances be traced, to ensure that the absolute secrecy of the ballot was preserved. There is no other purpose in looking to have the number on the back of the voting paper abolished or made as small as possible.

Former Electoral Acts stated that the number was to be as small as would be legible. That was a rather indefinite, imprecise way of stating the case. Deputy O'Donovan has attempted to lend a reasonable degree of precision to that by putting in a specific measurement, a measurement based on some kind of points system used and understood by printers. I ask the Minister would he not consider the amendment.

I understand that in this country the voting papers are kept after the election for some period. I do not know exactly how long they are kept.

Twelve months.

I also understand that elsewhere the voting papers are destroyed immediately after the election. I do not know what the reason is for keeping voting papers for 12 months.

In case of an election petition.

Was there ever a petition lodged?

Not since the State was founded but there were quite a number at the end of the last century.

In the last century election petitions were very numerous.

Since the State was founded there has not been an election petition.

In England, I understand, the voting papers are destroyed almost immediately after an election and in Northern Ireland they are destroyed immediately after an election. Our law in regard to the preservation of voting papers is based upon the English system. If they have modified it, is it not time that we should consider the advisability of modifying it also? It does not seem to serve any particular purpose to preserve them. When the count is over and a candidate is declared elected I cannot see why the voting papers could not be destroyed there and then in the presence of the candidates.

We are discussing only the size of the numbers. We are not discussing whether or not ballot papers should be destroyed.

Perhaps, the Minister would leave that to the Ceann Comhairle. The Ceann Comhairle is sufficiently strict without the Minister trying to help him or to put bad thoughts into his head. I am merely putting the point to the Minister. If he has any information on it he might be kind enough to give it to us. He is in a position to be better briefed on practices elsewhere than I or Deputy O'Donovan would be. As the Minister says, we are dealing only with the number on the back of the voting paper and the amendment specifically deals with that but on this occasion we are entitled to a little latitude. I do not wish to pursue that aspect any further. This amendment is a reasonable one and I am hopeful that the Minister will acknowledge this and accept it.

It is my intention to be as reasonable as possible. If I thought this amendment desirable I would accept it but I outlined last week some of the difficulties I face with regard to the size of the numbers. The effect of this amendment would be to make it obligatory under law that the serial numbers printed on the back of ballot papers for use in referenda be in 6-point type. There is a practical reason which makes it essential for me to oppose the amendment.

The contract for the printing of ballot papers for use in the referendum on accession to the EEC has been arranged by the Stationery Office. The Stationery Office have taken up the matter of the size of numbers on the ballot papers with the contractors. They have ascertained that if serial numbering of the size specified in the amendment were to be used on the ballot papers for the referendum it would be necessary to have numbering boxes of the appropriate size made to specification by a firm located abroad. They have indicated that a period of approximately three months would have to be allowed for delivery.

As the Taoiseach said in the House today, the intention is to hold the referendum probably in May. If we were obliged to await the supply of papers bearing 6-point serial numbers the referendum would be held up for several months and there would not be any guarantee of the actual delivery date for the small numbering boxes. As Deputies are aware, the referendum must be held not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days from the date I make the order fixing the referendum. It would be an impossible situation if the making of the order had to be postponed on such an indefinite basis pending delivery of the relevant numbering boxes. I think the House will accept that in the circumstances I have no option but to oppose the amendment.

At the same time, I should like to repeat that I accept the point made by Deputies that the wording of existing legislation on this matter is somewhat indefinite. I expressed my intention to consider this matter and to see if smaller numbers could be used in the numbering of ballot papers but I cannot afford to leave myself in a position with no room to move. If I make it law now and the machines are not available—I do not know when they will be available, an estimate of three months has been given—it is on the cards that acceptance of this amendment, even the 10-point type the Deputy has recommended now, could mean the holding back of the referendum date and I do not think the House would accept that that would be a reasonable thing to do. However, for future elections I am having a look at this matter to see if smaller lettering boxes could be acquired.

I have checked with the Stationery Office and asked them to get in touch with the contractors with whom arrangements have been made for the printing of the ballot papers with regard to the size of the serial numbers. They have informed the Stationery Office that the smallest size serial number available for use on the machine which must be used is 14-point. The machine in question has a high speed and the type is set in curved form. This machine must be used because some two million ballot papers must be printed in a short space of time.

I think the House should accept the difficulties I face in this matter and accept my expression of intent in relation to considering it for future elections and, if necessary, availing of future legislation proposing amendments in the electoral law. I have already informed the House that I intend to introduce this legislation some time in the future. I could avail of that occasion to introduce legislation governing the size of type but I could not accept it at the moment in view of the difficult position the Government and the House would find themselves in in relation to the forthcoming referendum because the machines are not now available. I do not think it would be desirable to get the work done abroad.

The Minister has mentioned 14-point type but I think Deputy O'Donovan can accept that is a face of about 10-point type. They speak of a 14-point body with a 10-point numbering face but I doubt if there is any difference between what the Minister has said here and what Deputy O'Donovan is looking for. The Deputy said that he would be prepared to accept 10-point and I have said that as far as I am aware this is about the smallest numbering face we have with the box numbering machines.

I do not accept the Minister's reasoning about this matter. I will accept his point of view if he is prepared to put in any size of type—I do not mind what he puts in. There was a ballot paper exhibited in this House which was in 24-point type——

I did not see the numbering mentioned.

It was exhibited here.

I do not know if the Deputy got the measurements correct.

I would point out to the Minister that we are not blind. All kinds of print may not be as legible for me now but I know the different sizes when I see them. The Minister has said that he has made a contract for 14-point type. Let us put in this figure; if the Minister will not accept that suggestion I will know where he stands. If he is not prepared to do this it will be obvious that the Minister is not being honest in this discussion. Although I have considerable respect for Deputy Browne, I do not believe the ink would blot on the 6-point type. However, I am prepared to be reasonable.

I do not want a number on the ballot paper, and neither does Deputy Hogan. We are both right but if the Minister does not want to be reasonable I cannot stop him. He is raising the size all the time; it is 10-point, 12-point or 14-point. With respect to the Minister, I take it that the company that are going to print two million ballot papers has every kind of type and in enormous quantities. The Minister need not try to fool me. I have had enough to do with the printing of books and so on to know something about the various kinds of type and to realise that any company have these kinds of type in enormous quantities——

That is not typing; it is a box machine.

I am sorry to have to say it, but I do not believe that the company who are printing two million ballot papers cannot do this job in 10-point or 12-point type as well as in 14-point type. I just cannot accept that.

The Deputy is now questioning the integrity of Messrs. Dollards, the Dublin printing firm in question.

They may not have kept their type up to date.

They could make a mistake.

If the Deputy will allow me——

The Deputy is questioning their honesty in saying they gave me false information.

The world is full of people who give other people the answer they want to hear. That is no reflection on them, especially if the man who wants the answer is paying them. This is a fact of life. If the Minister were honest he would put a proper size of type into the Bill instead of this indefinite thing which has given rise to a great deal of comment. What is the smallest legible type? It certainly is not 14-point type. Would the Minister accept the suggestion Deputy Browne made originally?

I did not make any suggestion.

The Deputy answered a question. The Deputy said at first that the smallest type that could be printed was 10-point type.

About 10-point.

This is easy meat in regard to the referendum. It is being done by one firm for the whole country. Suppose it does cost £2,000, what is the cost of the referendum? It is about £50,000.

About £130,000.

My colleague tells me it will cost about £130,000. If this new machine would cost £2,000, what is that in relation to £130,000? We have a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for £7½ million before the House at the moment and one for £7 million for the Department of Industry and Commerce, and yet we cannot look after this simple job which would cost a couple of thousand pounds. The Minister told us it would cost £2,000 for every 20 printers. This is only one printer. Is the Minister prepared to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar?

Would the Deputy clarify something for me? The Deputy's amendment related to 6-point type and then he spoke about 10-point type. Is he now agreeing to 14-point type?

I feel that 14-point type is too big. About the largest size it should be is 10-point type. The Minister wants the whole thing to go through smoothly and he does not want to add a few pence to the cost of the referendum which we are told will decide the future of the country for generations to come. The Minister is not prepared to spend a further £2,000 to provide a proper size type on the back of the ballot paper.

It is not a question of money. It is a question of the availability of the type size.

I will make a bet with the Minister that the referendum will not be held in April or May of this year. I am aware of the steps that are being taken to ensure that it will not be held in April or May. I will not do anything about it. Once in a lifetime is often enough for that kind of job. I realise that I am laying my head on a block once again, but will the Minister give me his word that he will arrange to have the numbers printed in 10-point type, as suggested by Deputy Browne? I believe that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of the referendum being held in April or May of this year. The Minister's case falls down straight away. If the referendum is not held until the autumn, how will the Minister look in relation to this discussion which has been going on for the past fortnight with Deputy Hogan and myself trying to persuade him to see reason on this matter. I departed from my original intention of trying to have no number on the back of the ballot paper—the right thing—and I agreed to try to have a number in 6-point type. I have now accepted Deputy Browne's suggestion of 10-point type but the Minister wants it to be bigger and bigger. He can do what he likes.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I think Deputy Hogan will agree with me that the Minister did not meet us reasonably. If there be any truth in the assertion that the Fianna Fáil Party do certain things in remote parts of the country it is to their advantage to take the number off the ballot paper. We wanted to create a situation in which nobody could say that the ballot was not secret. We have been denied that. We wanted to have no identification mark on the ballot paper.

Flights of fancy.

Question put and agreed to.