Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Nov 1977

Vol. 301 No. 5

European Assembly Elections (No. 2), Bill 1977: Committee Stage.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): While this Bill is largely an agreed measure I feel it is only appropriate that we should have a look at the various sections and make any procedural improvements that can be made by amendments either on this Stage or on Report Stage. While this is not a contentious Bill, nevertheless we should have a careful and close look at it when the opportunity presents itself.

In section 1 which is the definition section, I see that "member state" is defined as "(except in Rule 47 (1) of the first Schedule) means a Member State of the European Communities." I have had a look at Rule 47 (1) and I am not entirely clear what the difference is in the definition of "member state" in section 1 and in Rule 47 (1). It occurs to me that perhaps "member state" as defined in section 1 means any one of the nine member states, and that "member state" in Rule 47 (1) means any one of the nine member states with the exception of Ireland. I am not exactly certain that is what it means, and I should like the Minister to tell me whether I am right or wrong in that assumption.

This section provides for the interpretation of various terms used in the Bill such as "the Assembly", "election", "the European Communities", "the treaties", "local returning officer", "returning officer", and so on. A definition is not necessary in Rule 47 (1) because the reference there is complete in itself.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I appreciate that. I do not want to be difficult, but I have told the Minister what I think. A distinction is drawn here between the definition of “member state” in the Bill in general, and in Rule 47 (1). I have given a little time to trying to find out what the difference is and, more particularly, I should like to know what the significance of the difference is. I think the difference is that in the Bill in general “member state” means any one of the nine member states, and in Rule 47 (1) it means any one of the eight member states, Ireland being excluded. I do not know whether I am right or wrong.

The Deputy is correct in that interpretation.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The term “the postal voters' list” means the list prepared pursuant to section 7 (4) of the Act of 1963. Am I correct in thinking there is no difference here, and people who will be entitled to vote by post are, as heretofore, members of the Garda and full-time members of the Army?

That is correct.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am glad that is correct because I know thought was being given to the introduction of a postal voting system under which various categories of people—in fact, nearly everybody if he had any excuse at all —would be entitled to vote by post, as is the case in the local government elections. I want to go on record as saying I disagree with that system. I believe it is wrong that the postal franchise should be extended wholesale to everybody who has any sort of reason for availing of it.

I fully appreciate that means a hardship for some people. I fully appreciate that, by not extending the procedure for postal voting beyond the Garda and the Army, there will be some hard luck cases, and some perfectly bona fide people will find it impossible to vote. On the other hand, the system which applied in the local government elections is so wide open to wholesale abuses, and is so blatantly abused, that it is highly undesirable. Therefore, I am glad the system of postal voting is being confined in this Bill to the system of postal voting applicable to Dáil elections.

In Dáil and Presidential elections and in referenda, postal voting is confined to Garda and members of the Defence Forces. This will also be the position at the Assembly elections. If any extension of postal voting is decided on for national elections in the meantime, the same arrangements will apply to the Assembly elections. I said "if".

(Cavan-Monaghan): That would be another day's work.

As the Deputy said, at local elections an elector may apply for a postal vote if he is unable to go to the polling station because of the circumstances of his employment, illness, physical defects or disabilities. The last time about 30,000 people applied for a postal vote. Some requests for postal votes have been made recently but the problem is, as the Deputy said, that it introduces the possibility of serious electoral abuses and it is difficult to provide adequate safeguard to prevent those abuses.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am glad the Minister shares my general views on this matter. I know that, as a result of not extending it, hardships will arise. Under the system applicable in local government elections at the moment, a person who is going away from home for any reason, or who thinks he may be away from home, can apply for a postal vote. In other words, he does not really have to have any genuine hardship or any genuine reason for applying for a postal vote other than that he just might not want to go to the booth.

There have been abuses and the system is open to abuse. The system of Dáil elections will apply to Assembly elections.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 2 (2) provides:

The provisions of this Act replace the law providing for the designation by the Oireachtas of delegates to the Assembly and in force immediately before the commencement of this Act ....

Could the Minister tell me what Act that is? We are replacing the existing law for designating people to the Assembly. I presume it is an Act of the Oireachtas.

The Act referred to is Article 138 subsections (1) and (2) of the Treaty of Rome. The corresponding provisions of the other treaties relating to the designation of delegates to the Assembly by National Parliaments will lapse when the first directly elected Assembly assumes office. This is provided for in Article 14 of the Act annexed to the Council decision of 20th September, 1976. By virtue of section 2 of the European Communities Act, 1972, the provisions of the treaties are part of the domestic law of the State. The purpose of subsection (2) is to ensure that these provisions, in so far as they are part of the domestic law, will cease to have effect at the same time as the relevant provisions of the treaties lapse.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I have no objection to the section. It will continue the law outlined by the Minister which is part of the EEC law and it will remain in force until the day before members are due to take their seats under this Bill.

That is correct.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): This section is difficult to follow in the sense that it applies certain sections of the Electoral Act of 1963 to this Bill. I would like the Minister to confirm that I am right in thinking that section 3 is invoking the machinery of the 1963 Electoral Act to compile the electors' list for the purpose of this Act, and extending it. At the moment the electors' list contains the names of the people who are entitled to vote at Dáil elections and referenda. They simply appear without any description after them; then there is another category in it who are entitled to vote at local government elections; and there used to be a third category in it who were liable to serve on juries. I think the Juries Act did away with the description of people who were liable to serve on juries. Am I correct in thinking that the only difference that will appear in the Register of Electors which comes out on the 14th April each year is that we will now have a third category who will be described as European Assembly electors, with EAE or something like that after their names? Is that correct?

That is correct. This section proposes that the registration procedures laid down in the Electoral Act, 1963, for domestic elections will also apply to the registration of electors for Assembly elections. What will happen in practice is that there will not be a separate register, but the people entitled to vote at the Assembly elections will be identified on the existing register by means of a distinguishing letter. In fact, for convenience it is proposed that the persons not entitled to vote at Assembly elections will be identified by having a letter or symbol placed opposite their names. There are about 12,000 electors on the register who are not Irish citizens. It is expected that the bulk of these are nationals of one or other of the member states and will, therefore, be entitled to vote at Assembly elections. It will not be necessary to compile a separate register. It will be necessary to amend the existing regulations relating to registration of electors to provide for this and some other amendments arising from the Juries Act, 1976, and the Local Elections Act, 1972. These regulations will have to be approved in draft by each House of the Oireachtas before they can be made. The draft regulations will be brought before the House very shortly.

(Cavan-Monaghan): In other words, all the people ordinarily resident here who are citizens of member states will be added to the electors' list and described in such a way that they can be identified as European electors, and citizens of the United States and other countries who are not members of the Community will continue to appear on the list but only as local government electors?

That is correct.

Will people living in this country who are citizens of Spain, Portugal and Greece, countries who have applied to join the Community, be entitled to vote should their applications be accepted before the Assembly elections take place, or will there have to be an amendment to this Bill to allow those people to be entered on the register of electors?

If they have been accepted and if they are on the up-to-date register which will be used.

The Treaty of Rome refers to nine countries as member states. Would this Bill not have to be amended to include the extra three if their applications for membership of the EEC are accepted between now and the Assembly elections.

The Treaty of Rome will be amended. They will be covered under his Bill.

(Cavan-Monaghan): There is another small point. Section 3 (1) (b) refers to “a national of a member state other than the State”. I am sure the State is defined in some place or other.

It is defined in the Constitution.

Teasing out this question about the transition in respect of Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese who would be on the register, would I be right in assuming that, between the time of the compilation of the register and the possible date of acceptance of one or all three of these countries to the EEC, they would be in a similar position of entitlement to that of somebody who has reached the age of 18, as it is now, but who is not actually been put on the register? The problem arises as follows: they will be on the register as local government voters but not as European Assembly voters. Could I direct the Minister's attention to it in the drawing up of the regulations.

The voters will have to be on the register.

They will, in fact, if they are resident here for any length of time, be on the register as local government voters. I am envisaging a problem where persons would present themselves at a polling station as a national of one of the three applicant countries mentioned. For instance, there are many Spaniards living here. Suppose Spain joins the Community and, between the period of Spain joining the Community and the normal review of the register from 14th April to 14th April, they are registered as local government voters but not as citizens of one of the nine States; do they automatically get caught in the time lapse or is there any provision made for taking them in?

The register becomes effective from 14th April, as we all know, and the question the Deputy raises is surely one for the future; it is a bridge to cross when we come to it. We assume the register as of 14th April next will be the register that will be used for the European elections. It is possible that none of the three nations will be admitted by then, but, first of all, the Treaty of Rome will have to be amended.

Question put and agreed to.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 4 says: “subject to rule 47”. I do not think there is much in that; I take it rule 47 simply gives the presiding officer the right to allow some person to vote whose name appears on the register but appears incorrectly.

That is correct.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 5 (1) reads:

Subject to subsection (2) of this section, a person who is entitled to vote at an Assembly election shall be entitled to vote in person only and at the polling station allotted to him.

I presume the polling station will be allotted to the person concerned by his name appearing on that portion of the register which applies to a certain polling station. If, however, one looks at Rule 36, which deals with persons employed by the returning officer, one sees that these persons are entitled to vote in places other than the place where they would normally vote, provided they have a certificate from the returning officer. If somebody raises this in a technical way there could be some confusion between section 5 (1) and Rule 36. Since reference is made in section 4 to Rule 47 I think reference should be made in section 5 to Rule 36. How is a polling station allotted to an elector? Is it allotted by his name appearing on the relevant portion of the register or is it allotted to him by the returning officer giving him a certificate? At worst, for the purpose of removing doubts or ambiguities section 5 should be referred to. It should start with the words: "Subject to subsection (2) of this section and to Rule 36 ..." This is a technical point but confusion could be caused.

Rule 36 enables the local returning officer "to authorise a person employed by him" and the people who are employed by him are generally understood to be polling clerks, presiding officers and so on. That has always been the case. My advice is that it is not necessary to include a saver for that rule in this connection. That is the advice available to me but I shall consider what the Deputy has said.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): This section deals with the fixing of the date for holding the Assembly election. The section provides:

(1) The poll at an Assembly election—

(a) shall be taken on such day as shall be appointed by the Minister by order,

and goes on to provide that the order shall be published in Iris Oifigiúil. I may be missing something but I cannot make up my mind whether there is anything in that section, or elsewhere in the Bill, which specifies the length of time which must elapse between the making of the order and the holding of the election. There may be something and, if there is not, there obviously should be. I confess I cannot find it. Perhaps it is worked out by some indirect method.

As the Deputy has said, this section empowers the Minister to fix a polling day and the hours of polling and the date and time of the commencement of the count. In fixing the polling day and the time for the commencement of the count the Minister must comply with the restrictions imposed by Article 9 of the Act annexed to the Council's decision. The Article requires that the polling day be within the period Thursday to Sunday fixed by the Council of Ministers and, as counting cannot commence until the poll is completed in all member states, the Minister is advised that it is not necessary to repeat these provisions in the Bill and the corresponding provisions for Dáil elections are sections 24 and 41 of the Electoral Act, 1963. Notice of election, Part I, nomination, subsection (2):

The returning officer shall not later that the 28th day, disregarding any excluding day, before the polling day give public notice in the prescribed form of the Assembly elections in this Schedule referred to as the Notice of Election, stating the times for receiving nomination, the amount of the deposit, the times and place at which nomination papers may be obtained, the times and place at which he will attend to receive nominations and the day and the period fixed for the holding of the poll if the election is contested.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I know about the provision for nominations and so on which the Minister has just read. I was wondering if the length of notice was controlled by these provisions. Surely it would be much simpler to say in plain language that everyone could understand: “The polling day of the Assembly election shall be on such a day as shall be appointed by the Minister by order” and go on then to say that the date specified shall be not less than so many days and not more than so many days after that order appears in Iris Oifigiúil. Whilst I do not understand it. I am sure there is some machinery in the Bill whereby, if you link up with various sections, you will arrive indirectly at the minimum notice which must be given. It would be much cleaner and tidier to specify in this section, notwithstanding what may have been written into previous sections dealing with other types of elections, the length of notice which must be given. In other words, the order should specify that the election shall be held not sooner than such a date and not later than such a date. That should be put in plain language so that everyone would know what is meant.

I appreciate the point about simplicity but this is identical with the procedures in local elections and they seem to have worked pretty well.

I have a number of queries. Where will the count take place? Is it proposed to hold the count in the different constituencies in the normal places with which we are all familiar in local and general elections? Supposing the Government of the day decided this election would be held in conjunction with the local elections, the purpose being to make sure there would be a good turnout, there could be a mix-up of ballot papers and both elections would be invalidated if counting were going on in two different areas. Has the Minister made any provision to prevent that kind of accident? There is, too, the question of the payment to the presiding officers, poll clerks, counting staff and so on. Will funds be made available from Europe to carry on this election over the whole Community? If so, because of the interest shown in the Press and elsewhere in the salaries of European Deputies elected as a result of this election, I wonder will the people working on this election be paid proportionately higher than for the normal election.

That does not seem to arise on the section. It would be more appropriate on another section.

I accept your ruling but I should like to know if it is proposed to count in each of the Dáil constituencies which comprise the Assembly election constituency. It would be important that the old tradition of counts would remain in the normal areas and the returns be collated at the end of the count.

This matter will arise in a later part of the Bill. As regards the European Parliament paying the cost, there is no provision whatever for this at present. The cost will be borne out of the Central Fund. We shall be dealing with the other points made later on.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It is becoming clear to me now for the first time really why it is so difficult for anybody to say when a by-election will be held in relation to the order made for the moving of the writ. It should be a simple date to establish but very few people can tell you right away. The explanation lies in the weird type of language used in the sections to fix the date. I suggest that if anybody were given section 6 of this measure, entitled “Polling day and commencement of count,” he would not know from reading the section when the election would be held. One would think that the first thing you could ascertain from an order directing an election would be the period in which the election would be held.

I do not blame the Minister for this because it follows precedent but frequently a time comes when it is well to depart from precedent and come back to simplicity. The Minister referred me to section 24 of the Electoral Act of 1963 which is really more complicated. It says:

A poll at a Dáil election—

(a) shall be taken on such day as shall be appointed by the Minister by order, being a day during the period which consists of the nine days (disregarding any excluded days) next following the period which consists of the seven days (disregarding any excluded days) next following the last day for receiving nominations,

There must be some simpler language than that jargon for fixing a date and conveying the information to Members of the Oireachtas and the country. I do not blame anybody because there is a habit of following precedents and perpetuating that sort of jargon. Even section 20 here means nothing because you have to get other sections and study the lot together to find out what it means. The section I have read is an appalling one.

There is nothing contentious about this. I know it was a section that was in the Bill which we circulated, that the Minister's predecessor circulated, but that does not excuse the formula laid down for fixing a date. Doubtless there are people in the Department so skilled in this sort of language that they could take up the section and say: "The election must be held between such and such dates." Why not write into the section in plain language that the Minister shall make an order? The formula I suggest is: The Minister shall make an order fixing a date which shall be not sooner than so many days after the order has appeared in Iris Oifigiúil and not more than so many days after it. Then anybody would know, whether an elector, a learned legal man or a mountainy attorney like myself, when the election would be held.

I agree with what the Deputy says about simplifying the language to make it more easily understood. But as I said already, it has worked well in the local elections and the people must have got what was meant from the working in a clear manner. However, I am prepared to consider this and see if it is possible, if there are no serious implications, to have the wording reconsidered.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am obliged to the Minister but I do not agree that the ordinary people knew when the by-elections or the local elections would be held. They accepted this as an act of faith and waited for the magic day to be announced in some publication or advertisement. I am not disclosing any party secrets when I say that when a by-election occurs it is very hard to get anybody, even when the writ is moved, to tell you before the order is made when the election must be held. It must be held within so many days of the writ being moved. The reason nobody knows when is this type of jargon handed down from generation to generation.

I appreciate the Deputy's point.

Would the Minister consider breaking with tradition and holding this election on a Sunday when we could all, perhaps, get the maximum number out?

That is something that will also arise later in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): In this section it is stated that a person who is not eligible to become a member of Dáil Éireann shall not be eligible for election under this measure to the Assembly. That is perfectly clear. And a person who shall be eligible for election to Dáil Éireann, as laid down in the Constitution, is every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of 21 years and who is not placed under disability or incapacity by the Constitution or by law. Therefore, we are determining that only a citizen of Ireland shall be eligible to be a candidate. I am not saying whether or not I agree with this, but that is what we are laying down. The Constitution is consistent. Article 16 (2º) of the Constitution says that:

Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of eighteen years who is not disqualified by law and complies with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.

Subject to correction, the position is that in Dáil elections one must be a citizen either to be a candidate or to vote. In this Bill one must be a citizen to be a candidate, because it relates back to the Dáil qualification, but one need not be a citizen in order to vote. A person can vote if he is a citizen of this State or of any member state of the Community residing here. There seems to be a conflict here and this needs to be teased out. One relevant consideration is whether the other member states who have introduced legislation for the members, are proceeding on the same basis as we are.

As far as we are aware, no member state will allow anybody other than their own citizens to stand for election in that state. There is really no reason why qualification to vote and to be a candidate should be the same. Maybe we would have difficulties if we extended it.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am not suggesting that there is any scarcity of candidates. On reading the Constitution and this Bill it struck me that there was some conflict. The Minister's point is that we are following the pattern of the other member states. I agree that if other member states are not conferring on our nationals the right to stand as candidates in their elections there is no reason why we should confer on nationals in their states the right to stand as candidates here.

I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick. Is the Minister aware of any conflict in what he is doing with, say, the Treaty of Rome, as regards mobility between the member states for certain occupations, professions and so on. Deputy Fitzpatrick has said that there will be plenty of candidates. Maybe we could export some of them to the other member states and encourage them to stand for election there.

There is no conflict with the Treaty of Rome: It is left entirely to the national Parliament to decide.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 8 is a section that deals with the Register of Political Parties. Subsection (1) provides that:

The Register of Political Parties for the purposes of section 13 of the Act of 1963 (in this section subsequently referred to as "the Registrar") shall, subject to the subsequent provisions of this section, register in the Register of Political Parties as a party organised to contest an Assembly election, any political party which applies to him for registration and which is, in his opinion, a genuine political party and organised in the State to contest such an election.

Subsection (1) deals with new political parties and subsection (2) deals with existing political parties which have already been registered in the register.

That is correct.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Is the effect of subsection (3) that if a member of a political party here is associated with a European political party and notifies the register of political parties here of that association or membership, the registrar will make a note in the register that will say, for instance, that a member of the Fine Gael Party is associated with a European political party giving the name of that party so that in an election the names of the two parties will appear on the ballot paper?

That is correct. The registrar shall note on the register in relation to the party the name of the group in the Assembly.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The names of both political parties will appear on the ballot paper?

Yes, if the party or candidate want it that way.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:—

(3) The Oireachtas shall revise the constituencies at least once in every twelve years with due regard to changes in the distribution of the population, but any alteration in the constituencies shall not take effect during the life of the Assembly sitting when such revision is made.

In relation to Dáil elections the Constitution provides that the constituencies shall be revised by the Oireachtas at least once in every 12 years and that due regard shall be had to the changes in the distribution of population. It also provides that any alterations in the constituencies shall not take effect during the life of the then current Dáil. As has already been said, this Bill is non-contentious. It has been described as unique and unusual for one reason or another. It is unique and unusual in that it is the first Bill to arrange constituencies which was introduced in this House that was not very contentious and that did not lead to a long controversial and angry debate ending in the application of a guillotine motion. It is unusual and unique because the Second Schedule which arranges the constituencies is the result of the work of an independent commission set up to arrange the constituencies.

Compliments were paid to Mr. Justice Walshe and the other two members of the commission for the work they did and for the prompt and expeditious way in which they carried out that work. I want again to compliment Mr. Justice Walshe of the Supreme Court, the Clerk of the Seanad and the Secretary of the Department of the Environment for the way they tackled the job and for the expeditious manner in which they completed it. They gave us one set of alternatives that was available. I think there were at least five or six sets of alternatives that could have been used but the alternative put to the Government by the commission was accepted by the Government and unanimously by this House. That is the greatest tribute that could have been paid to Mr. Justice Walshe and his two assistants.

The Constitution provides that Dáil constituencies shall be revised every 12 years. I assume that the procedure followed for this Bill, that is the handing over of the task to an independent commission, will be followed by all future Governments in regard to revising constituencies, that the days of the long, controversial, angry debate, with allegations and counter-allegations, are over and finished with. I cannot help repeating that the Fianna Fáil Party were the proper party to set up the commission because they made better use, for their own purposes, of the old fashioned system obtaining over the last 50 years.

Having said that, I did note—on reading the Bill we are now discussing in Committee—that no provision was made for the revision of these constituencies. Amendment No. 1 in my name reads:

In page 8, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:—

"(3) The Oireachtas shall revise the constituencies at least once in every twelve years with due regard to changes in the distribution of the population, but any alterations in the constituencies shall not take effect during the life of the Assembly sitting when such revision is made".

It is reasonable to write that provision into this Bill. The provision in the Constitution for the revision of Dáil constituencies does not apply to these constituencies. The Constitution is silent on this type of election, just as it is silent on local Government elections. Of course, Europe was far from our thoughts in 1937 and preceding years when the Constitution was being written. I concede, and the Minister will probably tell me, that the Dáil can revise these constituencies any time it sees fit to do so, or any time the Government see fit to initiate a Bill to amend them. I appreciate that. Nevertheless the normal procedure should be that these constituencies be revised every 12 years. The abnormal thing would be to amend the law to avoid such revision. Therefore, it is logical and affords protection to accept this amendment and write it into the Bill.

My amendment also follows precedent—I know I was critical of precedent in relation to another section—but, when a precedent is good, I suggest it should be followed and, when it has been proved not to be good, it should be dropped. We have the precedent of the compulsory revision of Dáil constituencies laid down in the Constitution. Therefore, the omission of this provision for revision in the Bill is an oversight, or perhaps it was omitted because the draftsman thought that it could be that the constituencies could be revised at any time. If that is the explanation I do not consider it a good one. The proper thing to do is to write into the Bill that the constituencies shall be revised.

There is no real objection to Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment. However, we wonder how necessary it is because, after all, we are only talking about the interim period until member states, in turn, draft some form of legislation which will be uniform throughout the Community for the revision of the Assembly constituencies. We do not know how long or short the interim period will be. It is a matter we could consider on Report Stage.

(Cavan-Monaghan): In those circumstances I am quite prepared to withdraw the amendment and leave it for consideration on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 12 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 13 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Deputy Kavanagh raised already the question of expenses.

I jumped the gun.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I gather from the Minister that the expenses incurred in connection with the Assembly elections will be borne by each member state.

Central funds.

(Cavan-Monaghan): That each member state will bear the expenses incurred within that state.

That is correct.

(Cavan-Monaghan): With all due respects to the Assembly, that is unreasonable. It is not a national assembly to do the work of this nation. It is a European Assembly. It is a European Assembly election to elect representatives to do the work of Europe. I would have thought that it should be fundamental that the expenses of bringing the European Parliament into being should be borne by European funds. We have 15 members only out of, what is the total, several hundred?

Almost 400.

(Cavan-Monaghan): We have 15 members only out of approximately 400 in the Assembly. It needs no great argument to convince anybody that the expenses of the election should be borne by the funds which will be administered by the Assembly when it comes into existence. I do not know whether this has been brought up at European level. Certainly these expenses should be discharged by the Council of Europe, or the funds available to it. When I first saw that the expenses would be paid out of the Central Fund I thought I would have found, elsewhere in the Bill, some provision to the effect that the central fund would be reimbursed in due course. But that is not so. It may be something over which this House has no control but certainly it is something that should be raised at European level by our Minister for Foreign Affairs who should make the case that the expenses should be paid out of European funds. I am speaking from memory and I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand the elections cost about £250,000. I am sure the cost of a general election is much more now. I feel strongly that this is out of line, that we should not be asked to pay it. Europe should be asked to discharge the bill.

I agree with the Deputy in that regard. We are aware from the recent budget debates in the European Parliament that large sums of money are being made available for the information services of the Parliament, to inform and instruct people on the methods of elections in the various national states. This money is being made available to the information offices of the Commission and the European Parliament.

In addition, large sums of money are made available to the various groupings to conduct their campaigns throughout the Community and it is reasonable to expect that money would be available to the national states to carry out the actual elections. There are many expenses involved in holding elections and, as Deputy Fitzpatrick has pointed out, the total is a quite considerable sum. It would be advisable for the Minister to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise this matter at a Council meeting to see if some amount could be got back from the central funds of the Community to go towards the cost of conducting the elections.

As of now we have no indication that we will get any money for this purpose but that may change. I have taken note of the points made and I shall bring them to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs because he is the appropriate person to raise this matter. Perhaps Deputy Kavanagh might like to raise it in the European Parliament? With regard to the figure mentioned by Deputy Fitzpatrick, he is reasonably correct in the figure of £250,000.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I do not want to prolong the debate but this is something that sticks out as being out of line with our concept of Europe. While it is not a large sum it is a significant sum. This party think the cost should be borne by Europe and a strong case should be made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I agree with the Deputy and I will see if he can take up the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 4 is related to amendment No. 2 and amendment No. 3 is consequential on amendment No. 4. Therefore, we will take amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 together.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 2.

In page 8, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:—

"(3) Where the Minister has appointed the Sheriff or the County Registrar of a county or county borough, a returning officer, he shall appoint a suitably qualified person other than the person whom he has appointed a returning officer to be the local returning officer for that county or county borough."

Section 14 (1) states:

(1) The Minister shall for the purposes of this Act appoint a returning officer in respect of each constituency specified in the Second Schedule to this Act and the returning officer appointed under this section for such a constituency shall be one of the persons who by virtue of subsection (2) of this section is the local returning officer for a county or county borough contained in the constituency.

That provision is important. Let us consider the constituency of Connacht-Ulster. The Minister will be obliged to appoint a returning officer to that constituency but he will be obliged to appoint either a county registrar or a sheriff—there may be one sheriff left in the whole area. He will be obliged to appoint a county registrar for one of the counties of Connacht and Ulster to act as returning officer for the entire constituency. If the Bill remains as it stands, the person appointed constituency returning officer will also have to carry out the duties of local returning officer. He will have to carry out the duties of returning officer for his own county. For example, if the county registrar of Cavan is appointed returning officer for the constituency of Connacht-Ulster he will have to supervise and organise the entire election in the counties of Connacht and Ulster and he will also have local responsibility for Cavan. That is unreasonable. I do not think the returning officer who acts for the whole constituency could reasonably be expected to act as local returning officer and make a good job of both.

I note that the Minister's amendment confers on a county registrar who is appointed constituency returning officer the right to appoint a deputy for his own constituency. In other words, if a county registrar for one of the counties of Connacht or Ulster is appointed constituency returning officer, with the Minister's consent he may appoint a deputy returning officer to look after his county.

That is not acceptable to me. Under the Bill a county registrar will be asked to act as constituency returning officer and local returning officer. It is more important to ensure that the duties of a constituency returning officer and a local returning officer are carried out efficiently so that the election is conducted efficiently. We are all human. None of us is inclined to underestimate our own ability or capacity for doing a number of jobs. If the Minister's amendment is accepted, we will be relying on the constituency returning officer to be sensible and wise enough to say: "It is not possible for me to act as constituency returning officer and local returning officer. I am going to appoint a deputy". You could easily get an individual who would take the view: "I am going to act as constituency returning officer and I will not have anybody else meddling in my county and doing the work I should be doing or intruding on my preserves. I will act as constituency returning officer and local returning officer and I will see that both jobs are done well". He might have the best intentions in the world in thinking like that but the results might be—and I think would be—that it would not be possible for that person to discharge the duties of constituency returning officer and local returning officer. That is not done in the presidential election.

At the presidential election we have the national returning officer, who is usually a senior official in the Department of the Environment, who directs operations from the Custom House. He has working for him a local returning officer in each county or county borough. The prudent and sensible thing to do is to lay down—before individual names creep in or before we start dealing in personalities when the order has been made—that the person who is appointed constituency returning officer will be debarred from acting as local returning officer and that the Minister will appoint a suitably qualified person, as I suggested in the amendment, to be the local returning officer. Such suitably qualified person could be the chief clerk in the county registrar's office or the secretary of the county council of the constituency. If we leave it optional, as the Minister proposes, I fear that, and I would not be surprised if personalities would creep in and relations might not be just perfect between the chief clerk and the county registrar, or the secretary of the county council and the county registrar might not be seeing eye to eye. You could end up with only one officer and perhaps he would not do a good job. I suggest that the Minister should accept my amendment.

It has always been the practice with regard to the conduct of elections that the Minister would get involved as little as possible at this level. In the appointing of a returning officer for the entire constituency for the Assembly elections the Minister would always take into consideration the capacity and integrity of the returning officer and would ensure that the man appointed would be fully capable.

Under Deputy Fitzpatrick's amendment it is mandatory to make the returning officer for a particular county the returning officer for the entire constituency. Under my amendment it is left to the man's good sense to appoint somebody, with my consent, to fulfil his obligations in his constituency. That is the difference as I see it between the two amendments. Could we reach a compromise on this point on Report Stage? I would make it mandatory for the returning officer for the entire constituency to appoint a substitute in his own constituency but I would leave it to him, with my consent, to name the person to be appointed. I would make it mandatory that a man be appointed to do the job in his absence.

(Cavan-Monaghan): That is an improvement.

If we could agree on that, I would introduce the amendment on Report Stage.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I think I know what the Minister is thinking. I must confess I had not carefully read his amendment until now. This amendment proposes that where a local returning officer is appointed under this section to be the returning officer for a constituency, it shall be lawful for him with the consent of the Minister to appoint a deputy local returning officer for the discharge of all or any particular part of his duties as local returning officer. I would be against giving the returning officer the right to appoint a deputy for all or part of his duties because you will get a conflict between the returning officer and the deputy. You are introducing the very thing I feared—a clash of personalities and the constituency returning officer giving some of his duties to the deputy and then interfering. This will make trouble.

I am glad the Minister is prepared to go as far as making it obligatory on the constituency returning officer to appoint a deputy after consultation with him but in my view it should be a full-blown local returning officer and not a Mickey Mouse one, as is provided in the Minister's amendment. I concede that human beings, being what they are, the county registrar who becomes the constituency returning officer should have some say in the person to be appointed. I would be prepared to think seriously about the Minister's suggestion that it should be done on the basis that the constituency returning officer would appoint a local returning officer for his own constituency after consultation with the Minister. You can do it that way or the other way—that the Minister would appoint him after consultation with the county registrar concerned.

I am glad the Minister is prepared to have a serious think about this and that he sees the force of my argument. I would be strongly of the opinion that whoever is appointed should be a local returning officer within the meaning of the Act. The Minister's amendment is designed to give the returning officer the power to appoint a deputy for some duties. Therefore, there would be two local returning officers, the constituency returning officer discharging some of the duties of the local returning officer and the local returning officer discharging some of the duties also. That would be disastrous and would create trouble even if there were not likely to be trouble.

I have listened both to the Deputy and to the Minister but I should like someone to clarify for me what the section purports to do. My understanding of the situation is that returning officers for Dáil elections will now become local returning officers for the various Dáil constituencies that comprise a European constituency and that it is intended to elevate one of those local returning officers to be returning officer for the constituency. What Deputy Fitzpatrick is suggesting is that the person elevated should be replaced by someone who would undertake all the duties in this regard in the Dáil constituency. That seems reasonable and I trust the Minister will accept it.

The main reason for leaving the matter to the returning officer who would be appointed returning officer for the whole constituency is that it has always been considered good practice for the Minister not to get involved to that extent in the running of elections. This has been an accepted principle in regard to the conduct of elections.

Deputy Fitzpatrick makes the point that the person appointed should be responsible for all the duties concerned, that otherwise two people could be involved at that level. Assuming that no serious legal complication or anything of that nature arises, I would be prepared on Report Stage to consider seriously an amendment on the lines I have indicated, namely, that it would be mandatory or obligatory on that returning officer on further appointment to appoint, with my consent, a substitute to carry out all the duties concerned.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am obliged to the Minister for that. He need not fear that a provision of this kind would involve him too deeply in the running of elections. Under the Bill he is obliged to appoint a national returning officer and to appoint also a returning officer for each constituency. That will impose on him the duty of selecting from among ten individuals in a constituency and deciding which should be appointed as constituency returning officer. This tiny step further of replacing the constituency returning officer by a local returning officer in his own constituency will not involve the Minister much further in the running of the elections.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): This is the section that provides for the filling of casual vacancies which occur by reason of the Assembly member finding that he is not eligible to take his seat or that he becomes disqualified during the currency of the term of the Assembly. The provision applies also to the filling of a vacancy in the event of the death of a member. I agree with the proposal that such vacancies be filled by this House rather than by way of a by-election in the constituency concerned. It is proposed also that the person co-opted be from the same party as that of which the member who caused the vacancy belonged. However, I do not see the reason for the time limit for the party concerned to move within three months.

Paragraph (b) of subsection (1) refers to "the relevant representative". Presumably he will be the person who dies or who becomes disqualified from holding his seat but "relevant" is not defined. Consequently, this could lead to argument so I would suggest that in the interest of the removal of doubt and of avoiding ambiguity the word "relevant" would be defined by saying that "the relevant representative shall mean the representative whose death or disqualification caused the vacancy".

As has been pointed out, it is proposed under this section that casual vacancies be filled by the Dáil. Where the seat was held by a member of a registered political party it is proposed that the appointment of a person to fill the vacancy will be by way of a nomination from the political party concerned but that where the seat was held by an independent or a non-party candidate, the vacancy will be filled by the Dáil. In this case there is no provision for nomination by any group or party. The reason for this is that it is impossible to predict and make provision for the different kinds of situations that could arise. However, there is no reason for the Dáil, when filling a vacancy created by the death or disqualification of an independent member, not to have regard to the wishes of the group or the interest that the member represented. It would be surprising if the Dáil were not to give some consideration to this aspect of the situation.

On the other side, it is relatively easy for a group to secure registration as a political party. Several parties have been registered although they do not attract sufficient support to have a Member elected to this House. It is difficult to visualise a group who have enough support to win an Assembly seat failing to satisfy the conditions of registration. If the group did not wish to become involved in domestic politics, they could seek registration in accordance with this Bill for Assembly elections only. That is the position with regard to vacancies. It is not unusual. I believe certain countries for a number of years have had this system. If a by-election occurs because of the death of a member or somebody is absent from the European Parliament or certain international assemblies the party concerned can appoint a Deputy in his absence, but that may not be very good for a Deputy while he is still alive and absent because it might create difficulties. I understand that something like this obtains in Norway. That is the way it is proposed under this section to fill vacancies and to deal with by-elections.

I have experience as a member of the European Parliament of one member who has been in three different groupings in that Parliament. Suppose a member of the socialist group who was selected in, say, the Labour interest here in Ireland decided to leave the socialist group, go into the Christian Democrats group and join the Fine Gael Party, were to die or leave, would his successor be appointed by Fine Gael or by Labour in whose interests he was originally elected?

By the party he was elected for.


Initially; in the case the Deputy quoted it would be the Labour Party.

The Labour Party would not do that.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Would the Minister like to comment on the word “relevant” as to whether the meaning is clear enough?

It refers to the man who is being elected not to the man who has gone. Apparently, the phrase is to be taken as a whole: "the relevant representative elected".

(Cavan-Monaghan): It shows that I was right.

It is the incoming person.

(Cavan-Monaghan): No, it is clearly the out-going man. It says:

(b) in case the relevant representative elected to the Assembly pursuant to this Act at the last preceding Assembly election...

surely that is the out-going man——

... was at that election a candidate of a political party which at the time of the said election was and for the time being is registered pursuant to this Act in the Register of Political Parties, the person appointed under this subsection to fill the vacancy shall, if, but only if, the nomination is made within three months of the day on which the vacancy occurred, be a person nominated by that political party.

He could have been a beaten candidate in the election proper.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 15 (1) says:

Where a casual vacancy occurs amongst the persons elected to the Assembly under this Act or appointed under this section, the procedure for filling the vacancy shall be as follows:

(a) subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, the vacancy shall be filled by the appointment by Dáil Éireann of a person who is eligible for election under this Act to the Assembly,

(b) in case the relevant representative elected pursuant to this Act at the last preceding Assembly election——

Surely that must mean the man who died or was disqualified. Anything else would not make sense.

At the last preceding election——


——was a candidate of a political party——

this is the man who died——

——which at the time of the said election was and for the time being is registered pursuant to this Act in the Register of Political Parties, ...

I am assuming the by-election took place because of a death. The "relevant representative" if it means anything must mean the representative who was elected at the last election and has since died.

Apparently the phrase must all be taken as a whole. An instance is that the first man elected may have died and is being replaced and the second man may also have died and must now be replaced. It is complicated.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I suggest, with respect, that the way to deal with it is to define “relevant” as meaning the candidate elected at the last Assembly election or any candidate appointed under this section to replace him or something similar. It is not clear as it is.

We will certainly have a good look at it.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The section says:

... the person appointed under this subsection to fill the vacancy shall, if, but only if, the nomination is made within three months of the day on which the vacancy occurred, be a person nominated by that political party.

What is meant there is that the political party are to have the right for three months to fill their own vacancy if they decide to move in the House and if they do not move within three months they lose the right. Would the section unintentionally be going further and even if the party have a majority would it disqualify them from electing a member after three months?

It means the party have the right to nominate their member to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas if the said party nominate an eligible person within three months of the occurrence of the vacancy.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I appreciate that.

I presume no party would sleep on that but it is setting a limit. I am not saying that it deprives the said party thereafter of nominating their person. It removes the obligation contained in the section that the person from that party would be selected if he is disqualified under that heading.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I agree with the Minister, but I am wondering if is does for all time disqualify the party who lost the deputy from nominating a successor if they do not do so within three months.

It would be up to the Dáil to decide after the three months had expired.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It would be a free-for-all.

Could the Minister explain what the timetable would be? Suppose there was a long recess. I do not foresee a party letting such a vacancy lie vacant for three months but a party's nominee might be found to be ineligible for election under the Act. What procedures are there for a nomination? Does the Dáil have to be sitting for such a nomination to take effect?

No, the three months applies to the nomination by the said political party.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister has undertaken to look into the position arising out of the word “relevant”.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Subsection (4) of this section provides:

An Order referred to in subsection (1) of this section may be made subject to such conditions as to persons, time, place and mode of inspection or production as the court may think expedient, and shall make provision to ensure that the manner in which any voter voted shall not be disclosed.

The reality now is that the ballot is absolutely secret. Consequent on a court decision the number of the elector was removed from the counterfoil. It is now not possible to ascertain how anybody votes. The oftener we say that the better because there is still a feeling abroad that it is possible to find out how a person votes. Since the court decision, which removed the voter's number on the register from the counterfoil of the ballot paper it is not possible to find out how a certain voter votes. I agree that this should be continued.

It is not possible, as the Deputy said. The corresponding provisions in relation to documents used at Dáil elections are contained in Rules 38, 39, 40 and 41 of Part I of the Fifth Schedule of the Electoral Act, 1963, as amended. There is similar wording in this case.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 17 to 19, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): Section 20 states:

The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

I imagine that has not a lot to do with the running of elections. It does not mean the day-to-day running of the elections. Section 13 states that the expenses mentioned there shall be paid out of the Central Fund. I would like to know what is the difference between moneys provided by the Oireachtas and moneys provided by the central fund.

Section 20 (2) states in the last line: "to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof". The Central Fund is mentioned here also.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I do not want to go into it in detail. I want to give the Minister an opportunity of telling me what it means some other time. Subsection (1) of this section says that the expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act shall to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Subsection (2) says:

The expenses incurred by reason of this Act by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs; whether such expenses relate to the exercise by candidates of the right of free postage conferred by Rule 18 of the First Schedule to this Act or are otherwise so incurred in relation to the Assembly election shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof.

I refer the Minister back to section 13 which says: "shall be paid out of the Central Fund". In section 20 (1) they are to be paid by the Oireachtas and in subsection (2) they are to be paid out of the Central Fund while in section 3 (1) they will be paid out of the Central Fund.

Subsection (1) of this section states: "The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act". These have to be voted moneys and they are voted by the Oireachtas for the administration of the Act as against the other expenses we have been talking of.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The central fund moneys are not voted moneys.

Subsection (1) states:

in the administration of this Act shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): I assume that the purpose of this section is to bring the European elections into the machinery provided for holding other elections.

It applies to Assembly elections the provision in the Electoral Act, 1963 relating to the taking of two polls on the same day a special provision relating to emergencies and difficulties.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 22 and 23 agreed to.

We now come to the Schedule of the Bill. It consists of 40 pages. We will take the amendments first. As the Deputies are aware, there cannot be divisions on the Schedule. There can be only one division, if it is required, on the whole Schedule. I suggest, for the convenience of the Chair, that we take it page by page. If any Deputy wants to raise any matter on a page we cannot go back once we dispose of a page. The amendments come first. Is the House agreeable to that course?

(Cavan-Monaghan): I have not many points to raise on it.


Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are consequential on amendment No. 5 so I suggest that we discuss the three amendments together.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I move amendment No. 5:

In Part II, page 29, rule 46, lines 43 to 45, to delete paragraph (4), and substitute the following paragraph:—

"(4) The local returning officer shall appoint a place within or convenient to the constituency as the place at which he will open the ballot boxes and arrange the ballot papers in parcels as hereinafter provided and shall at that place so appointed provide suitable accommodation and all furniture and equipment necessary for opening the ballot boxes and arranging of the ballot papers in parcels as aforesaid".

Section 46 provides :

At the time fixed for the close of the poll the presiding officer shall take steps to ensure that no further Assembly electors are admitted to the polling station, but any elector on the premises at that time shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be entitled to receive a ballot paper and to vote.

It goes on to make provision for the closing of the poll and the safe custody of the ballot papers. Later on in the section it is provided that the local returning officer shall deliver all the ballot papers to the constituency returning officer and that the constituency returning officer shall conduct the count for the entire constituency in one place provided by him.

The effect of my amendment would be to provide that the local returning officer would retain custody of the ballot papers for his constituency in his constituency, and that he would provide a place within or convenient to that constituency for the opening of the ballot boxes, the checking of the ballot papers, and the arranging of the ballot papers in bundles on the basis of the name of the candidate who received a No. 1 vote on each ballot paper.

In a nutshell what I propose in my amendment is that the local returning officer in, say, County Cavan, would retain all the ballot boxes for County Cavan in a convenient place there, and he would open the ballot boxes at a time to be laid down in the Minister's order. He would check the ballot papers against the ballot paper account. He would then adjudicate on any doubtful papers and he would credit each paper to the candidate in whose favour a No. 1 vote appeared on that ballot paper. Having done that, he would then forward the ballot papers, which would require only a few boxes, to the constituency returning officer. The constituency returning officer would take up the count there from the first count on and complete the count.

If the procedure proposed in the Bill is followed, it will mean that in the constituency of Connacht-Ulster all the ballot boxes will have to be taken from, say, Donegal to Galway or some other place, and every ballot box will have to be taken from each of the eight counties to one place. There are, I think, about 140 boxes in Cavan. I imagine there are over 100 in Monaghan, and I would not be surprised if there were 300 or 400 in Donegal. I imagine there are 300 or 400 in Galway and Mayo, not to mention the other places. The result will be that it will be necessary to transport over 1,000 ballot boxes from all over this huge constituency—and there are bigger ones—to one place.

Some of which might get lost.

(Cavan-Monaghan): An enormous staff will have to be recruited in this one place to deal with the first count. It will not be possible, presumably, to get a trained or experienced staff from within the constituency where the counting will take place. If not, this staff will have to be transported from long distances to work there.

Furthermore, we all know each county registrar's staff have their own way of doing things, of course within the rules and regulations. They have been working together for years, and they know how to do the work and they agree. Now we will have strange staff from different parts of the huge constituency being brought in to work with people they do not know.

A further point I will have to develop later is that, at the moment, there are at least 1,000 doubtful votes in a small constituency which have to be dealt with or adjudicated on. The county registrar in charge, who is appointed returning officer for this constituency, will have to deal with literally thousands upon thousands of doubtful votes, maybe up to 30,000, and that is a duty he cannot delegate because the same mind will have to give a decision on each vote. I hate to think how long that will take.

The method I propose is the method which has been in force for presidential elections here since 1937. It is a system which has worked well where up to the first count is concluded in the local constituency by the local returning officer and, after that, the papers are all sent to the national returning officer. It may be said in regard to the presidential election that it is not very often that there is a second count because usually there are only two candidates but there has been a second count. There was a case since 1937 where the issue was decided on the distribution of a third candidate's votes. That is what I am suggesting here.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.