Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 21 Apr 1983

Vol. 341 No. 8

Working Party on Register of Electors: Motion .

: I move:

That Dáil Éireann takes note of the report of the Working Party on the Register of Electors.

I am pleased to open this debate on the report of the Working Party on the Register of Electors.

The working party were established in June 1982 by my predecessor as Minister for the Environment. The impetus which led to their establishment was a fairly general level of dissatisfaction with the standard of accuracy of the 1981-82 register of electors on which, as Deputies will recall, two general elections to Dáil Éireann were held.

The terms of reference given to the working party required them to examine and make recommendations on the registration process with a view to effecting a real improvement in the standard of accuracy of the register of electors. The working party were also asked to make recommendations on a scheme of postal voting for the disabled and other persons who may be unable to vote in person at an election and on access to polling stations for disabled persons.

The membership of the working party consisted of public service officials with experience in the registration of electors and the conduct of elections. Two were officers of the Department, four were local authority officials, two were county registrars and one a county sheriff. I have already conveyed my thanks directly to the members of the working party. I would like to take this opportunity to record publicly my appreciation of the work which they have put into the preparation of this report. I am sure that members of the House will wish to be associated with this expression of appreciation.

As the report indicates, submissions were invited in the national press from interested bodies and as a result a substantial volume of submissions was received and considered. A list of the individuals and organisations who made submissions will be found in the second appendix to the report. I think it appropriate to record my gratitude to the people and the organisations concerned for their public-spirited attitude in taking time and trouble to prepare submissions.

Immediately on receipt of the report the Government directed that it should be published in full and laid before each House of the Oireachtas. We also decided, in view of the subject matter and nature of the report, that Government time should be made available as early as possible for a full debate on it. To ensure that this debate would be informed and constructive, I arranged for copies of the report to be forwarded to each Member of the Oireachtas as soon as the printed edition was available.

Where electoral matters are concerned, touching as they do on the very essence of the democratic process, it is important to have as much agreement as possible on procedures and, in particular, on any changes which are contemplated in those procedures. It seemed to us highly desirable, therefore, before formulating any firm proposals based on the recommendations in the report of the working party, that the Dáil should be consulted and Deputies given an opportunity of expressing their views. For me it will be of great benefit in preparing proposals to be fortified by the opinions and advice of Deputies. I would like to assure the House that any suggestions made will receive full consideration.

The principal recommendations of the working party are summarised in chapter 2 of the report and it is not necessary for me to repeat them. However, I would like to make a number of points which I hope will be of interest in the context of this debate. Legislation would be required to implement some of the recommendations in the report while others could be implemented by regulations or administrative action. It will probably be necessary to proceed in stages. The recommendations regarding the register of electors, in particular, will involve detailed consultation with registration authorities and county registrars. The recommendations in this area envisage a revised, shorter time-scale for the preparation of the register, the publication of electors lists instead of a draft register and an intensification of the field inquiries. Before formulating final proposals it will be essential to consult with these authorities, who will be responsible for the implementation of any changes, as to the implications of the recommendations in terms of administrative arrangements, manpower and so on. These consultations are now getting under way.

A comment may be appropriate on the role of registration authorities — the county councils and county borough corporations. Inevitably, at election time the wrath of politicians, the public, the newspapers falls on the registration authorities for any shortcomings in the register. In this connection the report makes interesting and instructive reading. It reminds us that the vast majority of qualified persons are correctly registered and that the number who are not registered, or are incorrectly registered, represents a tiny proportion of the total electorate. It draws attention to the relative lack of resources available to registration authorities and points out that many of the so-called errors found in the register are not errors at all but arise out of the nature of the registration process. While registration authorities must not be complacent about their performance, it should be said that generally they do a good job in difficult conditions. What we need to consider is the scope for sensible measures to improve the situation on lines recommended in the report.

In relation to postal voting, the extended system of voting by post which is recommended will have to be examined carefully, particularly from the point of view of avoiding abuse. We recall that at the 1974 local elections postal voting facilities were available to any elector who was unable to vote in person by reason of his occupation, absence from the address where he was registered, illness or physical disability, or of his employment by a returning officer in connection with an election. A total of 30,689 persons applied to vote by post representing 1½ per cent of the electorate. From the administrative point of view the system operated satisfactorily but many public representatives expressed serious reservations about it. Several Deputies put on the record of the Dáil their belief that there was widespread abuse. This whole area will have to be looked at carefully in the context of any extended system of postal voting. What must be done is to devise arrangements which strike a sensible balance between the desirability of providing postal voting facilities for those who need them and providing reasonable safeguards against abuse.

Access to polling stations by disabled electors is an area in which we would all like to see improvements. The working party, having drawn attention to the constraints, make some interesting suggestions, in particular, the possibility of transferring the disabled person's vote to a more accessible polling station. Postal voting for the disabled would do much to remedy the problems arising, but the need remains to consider whether special measures may be feasible to facilitate those disabled who may wish to continue to vote in person rather than by post.

As elected representatives, matters affecting the electoral procedure are particularly our concern. The problems relating to the register, postal voting and access to polling stations have been analysed with commendable thoroughness by the working party, but it is for the Oireachtas to decide what should be done. The purpose of today's debate is to get the views of the Members of this House so that account can be taken of them in preparing firm proposals. I look forward to hearing these views and, again, I assure the House that all views forthcoming from Members will be carefully weighed.

: I have been a good many years a Member of this House and I cannot recall any previous occasion where a report was circulated to Deputies and brought for debate before the House itself within one week of the report being made available to the Members. I am also very disappointed at the Minister's contribution in which he has given no indication whatsoever, as far as I can make out, whether the Government are accepting the recommendations in the report. I cannot see what useful purpose the debate will have being held so soon after the publication of the report without the benefit of the Government's intentions being made available to the House.

The Minister said that the Government were anxious to give the House an opportunity to debate this as soon as possible. Quite a number of Deputies have not even had an opportunity to read this report yet. This was the reason for my leader's comments earlier on that what this House is being asked to discuss today in unreasonable. There is no great urgency that the matter should be brought at this stage before the House. The only reason the Whips asked for our agreement seems to be that the Government had no other legislation, no other matter of great public importance which they thought Dáil Éireann should consider at this stage. It is extraordinary that this should be the view of the Government. As spokesman on this side of the House, I must record our dissatisfaction at not being given adequate time to study the report. Naturally, as spokesman I read the report.

I would like also to go on record to thank the chairman and members of the working party for the work they did, but it is rather too much for the Minister to say that the purpose of today's debate is to get the views of the Members of this House so that account can be taken of them in preparing firm proposals. I am certain a large number of Government Deputies have not yet fully studied the contents of this report. I have said enough about that. In my view we are merely filling in time and it is unfortunate that the time of this House should be used in this way.

The working party were established in June 1982 by the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy R. Burke. As Fianna Fáil spokesman for the Environment, I would like to express the appreciation of my party to the chairman and the members of the working party for the efficient way they carried out their duties. I believe, from the hurried examination I have made of the report that their recommendations are of great value and, in the main, should result in substantial improvements, first, in the standard of the register of electors, second, in the proposed extension of the postal voting and, third in regard to improving access to polling stations for disabled and elderly people but I would like to have heard which recommendations the Minister considered should have been implemented.

People who contest elections, work for candidates at election time and canvass on a house-to-house basis during election campaigns, will be aware of the serious dissatisfaction about the inaccuracies in electoral registers in recent years. In some cases whole streets have been omitted and people who had been included on the register of electors since reaching the qualifying age, having been on the register for may be 20 or 30 years, were shocked and angry to find that, for no good reason their names were omitted and they were denied the opportunity of casting their votes. In many cases people have gone to the trouble of examining the draft register of electors and on noticing that their names were not included, making proper claims and having them heard at the revision court, presided over by the county registrar, and then finding that their names have still been omitted from the official register and they have no redress. That is a cause for very serious complaint.

The working party have identified one of the reasons for these extraordinary omissions as being the necessity to print in toto the draft register and then reprinting it in its final form. That double printing of all the names on the register — over two million people — will result in some printers errors being made. The suggestion to drop the draft register and publish a list of omissions and names to be added and deleted is a sensible proposal.

We are debating this subject without having heard the proposals to be put forward by the Minister or his Department. The working party made five recommendations to improve the register and I will deal with each in turn. The first main proposal is that the register should be prepared within a revised shorter time scale. they suggest from 15 November to 25 March, coming into force on 6 April. A person would have from 5 March to 6 April to claim to be included on the supplementary list. The proposed time scale is on page 26. I would like to make some suggestions in this area with which the House may agree. To change the qualifying date from 15 September to 15 November is a good idea. There is no real necessity to have such a long period between the qualifying date and the publication of the draft register. The date which is of importance to the public and to those who use the draft register prior to election time, such as politicians who are anxious to ensure it is accurate, is the date on which it is published. Heretofore it was published on 1 December and was available for public scrutiny and for the lodging of claims up to 15 January. That was a very bad time of the year with the Christmas holiday intervening. Many registering authorities did not always produce the draft register for public scrutiny on the required date.

I can recall on several occasions not receiving the draft register until the week before Christmas. If the statutory requirement was that it should be made available by 1 December, that hardly ever happened in the Galway West constituency. I do not know what the experience was in other constituencies, but that shortened the period during which one could arrange to have the register distributed throughout the constituency, have people examine it and arrange for claims to be made for omissions and deletions. The intervention of the Christmas holiday period meant the period was shortened further. I agree with the suggestion that it be removed completely from the Christmas holiday period and the publication date of 10 January seems very satisfactory, but what is not satisfactory is the idea that the last date for making claims would be 24 January. That is far too short a period, only two weeks. As we know from experience registering authorities have not always been able to make the register available on the appointed day.

If the proposed new lists are to be made available only on or after 10 January, but claims must statutorily be lodged by 24 January, in many cases the period would be as short as a week. That is a suggestion with which no practising politician would agree. As an alternative I suggest that it be extended to 10 February, in other words to give a period of four weeks for claims to be lodged. That would require consequent changes in the other dates. As listed on page 26, the date for publication of the list of claims is suggested as 31 January but I suggest that should become 17 February; for the completion of returns of endorsed lists of claims by county registrars the suggested date of 21 February should be changed to 25 February; the proposed date for publication of the register is 25 March, which could be retained, and the register would come into force on 15 April. That is an important proposed change in the recommendations of the working party who suggested that the register come into force on 6 April. I will give my reasons for this in a minute.

On receipt of the draft register I have had to arrange for its distribution to units of my organisation throughout my constituency to ensure that supporters of my party will continue to be included in the voters register. It is a political exercise which I consider to be very valuable, as all politicians will agree. That requires quite a period of time because the register has to be broken up and distributed to give time to others to examine it locally. It often involves going from house to house and then coming back and submitting reports directly to the county secretary. Alternatively it comes back to me for transmission to the county secretary, who would draw up the lists. Much time is required to do that successfully and the period of two weeks is far too short. I hope that the Minister intends to adopt these recommendations and bring forward legislation later in which he will allow a minimum of four weeks for that exercise. On page 26 of the report the following is contained:

At present a period of 10 days is allowed for corrections in respect of names appearing in the claims list. Specifying such a period is considered to be unnecessarily formal and it is proposed that this provision should be dropped. It will still be open to interested parties, of course, to make such claims.

I hope the Minister can give some indication about what he and the Department consider to be the appropriate procedures to be followed when names are omitted from the claims list: how can they be included in the list and how will they be checked if that facility is to be removed? The report goes on at page 27:

The register will be published on the 25th March and will come into force on the 6th April. A period between the publication of the register and its entry into force is necessary because in the event of an election the register to be used is needed at the beginning of the election period by the Returning Officer, and for the purpose of canvassing, etc.

I have already suggested a change in those dates — that the period be from 25 March to 15 April. My reason is that I considered the period recommended by the Working Party to be too short. If a general election were called either for 6 April or 7 April and if the register is only to be published and available on 25 March it would not then be available for the full duration of the campaign which on the average has a three-week span. It is my view that the register should be available for the full duration of the campaign, particularly for the last three weeks of the campaign. It would be intolerable if one had to carry out an election without the benefit of the register for most of the compaign period. It could cause great confusion and would prove a serious hindrance to the efficient operation of our democratic process. A lot of time would be wasted with people coming in demanding to know if they were on the register and we would not know because the register had not been published in time. Therefore I strongly recommend that the period between the publication of the register and its coming into force should be at least a period of three weeks — if necessary, a little longer, but certainly not shorter.

The second major recommendation in regard to improvements to the register appears on page 5. The working party recommend that the practice of publishing the full draft register should be discontinued and that only lists of additions and deletions should be made available. That, in practice, should prove to be a very valuable change which would help to eliminate many of the mistakes being made because of the reprinting of 2½ million names on two different occasions — first in draft and then repeating the whole thing when the final register is being made available.

There is also a suggestion that these lists should be published in local newspapers. I have no doubt that if the Minister were to find that to be practicable it would eliminate many of the mistakes and omissions of recent years. It would create immediate public interest. It would be a topic of conversation and possibly would be the most effective step the Minister and the Department could take to bring to the notice of the public that the register of electors was available for public scrutiny and that time would therefore be available to make claims.

I do not know how much money is being spent at present on advertising on television and on stamping envelopes reminding people that they should check the register of electors in the period between 1 December and 15 January. I do not think that has any great public impact: I do not think TV advertising has been very imaginative. I have never found any great public reaction, like people saying, "I must go to the post office or the Garda station to check whether my name is on the register of electors". I do not think there is great public awareness. My experience as a politician has been that there seems to be great ignorance on the part of the public in regard to the procedures that have to be followed in the revision of the register on an annaul basis. The public seem to be interested in whether they are on the register only when they hear an election has been announced. There is intense interest at that stage.

The suggestion I have referred to, it is not a recommendation, that the list of additions and deletions should be published in local newspapers, would bring about an instant response from the public and possibly would result in the most accurate register of electors ever produced here. The only obstacle I can see to it is the cost, and I am not sure it would be very great. I do not have figures on the number of claims for additions and deletions each year but I have a rough idea of the numbers in my constituency. Therefore I would not consider that the cost of publishing the list of claims in local newspapers would be excessive. Indeed, I recall some years ago that organisations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society used to publish the names and addresses of all subscribers. They are not doing that now because of the cost, but when a major part of the machinery in a democracy is being revised the State would be well advised to spend money to ensure that the public would be made fully aware of their rights to check the register.

The third major recommendation in regard to improving the register refers to the number of field workers:

Sufficient field workers should be employed by each registration authority to ensure that the field work involving a complete house-to-house check will be completed in time to be reflected in the electors' list.

If that recommendation is not implemented, the work of this committee will have been a complete waste. I strongly urge the Minister to implement that recommendation. It is crucial to the success in achieving a more effective and accurate register of electors.

An interesting comparison is made in the report about the accuracy of the population census carried out every five years. The most recent census of population in 1981 is estimated to have cost £3.8 million. The public have full confidence that the national population census was an accurate count of the population. An elaborate system was established resulting in house-to-house calls by field workers on the ground and also involving very careful supervision of those people. Unfortunately, the same care and attention have not been given in the past to the preparation of the register of electors. Great responsibility has been thrown on the rate collectors.

As we all know, rate collectors have become scarce on the ground in rural Ireland since the abolition of domestic rates. They are not as closely in touch as they used to be with each individual householder because they have not got the occasion to call to any householder. The only obligation which rests on them now is to call, if necessary, to business enterprises or the remaining enterprises with responsibility for paying rates. The domestic rate has been abolished and ordinary householders have no official contact with the rate collector. He still continues to carry responsibility for compiling the register, and is responsible for its accuracy, despite the fact that he has such little contact with the local community. There is a serious deduction from his remuneration according to the level of accuracy determined by the officer in charge of the registration authority.

The figure of £3.8 million given as the cost of the census of the population in 1981, when compared with the cost of compiling the register of electors over a similar period of only £700,000, indicates the degree of importance given to this task up to now. Unless the Department are prepared to commit an adequate amount of funds for the establishment of a network of personnel on the ground to check the register, the whole exercise will be a waste of time. The recommendation of the working party that sufficient field workers should be employed can never be implemented unless the political will is there on the part of the Minister and the Government to provide sufficient funds to ensure that sufficient field workers are employed.

The figure provided of £700,000 is grossly inadequate. There is no possibility of increasing the number of personnel involved in this task unless the Department make realistic allocations to the local authorities. There is an unfortunate obligation, in one sense, on the local authority to carry half the cost. With the present system of financing local authorities it is not realistic to demand that they provide this improved service unless the Department will provide them with the financial wherewithal to carry out the Department's instructions. We have had a history in recent years, since the 1978 Act was passed, of Ministers introducing legislation placing responsibility on a local authority to provide a certain service and at the same time not providing additional funds to enable the local authority to provide that service. This is a very serious anomaly which is the cause of much frustration for elected councillors, and it has caused much distress to local authority accounting officers and county managers.

Whoever replies to this debate should make clear what the Government's commitments are in relation to the recommendations and whether they are serious about requiring an improvement in the degree of accuracy in the register of electors. We need that statement because it was not the present Minister or any Member of the Government who established this working party. Unless there is an indication from the Government that they support the recommendations and intend to introduce the necessary legislation and provide the necessary finance, involving Deputies in a debate of this kind will be a waste of time. Hopefully we are not wasting our time here today. Hopefully the Minister will pay some heed to some of the suggestions we are making. Hopefully in particular, serious note will be taken of the recommendations made by the working party, and we will see the legislation and the finance provided in the future to satisfy the desire of everybody in this House and in the country that we should have an accurate register of electors.

One comment on page 23 of this report interested me very much. It is rather unusual, bearing in mind that the Minister has informed the House that the people who comprised the working party were civil servants, or officials of local authorities, or county registrars. The comment is that the public must be encouraged to take an informed interest, to understand the procedures involved and co-operate in them, to be specific in their criticism and to refuse to accept an inadequate service. Three cheers for all these civil servants and public officials who advised the community to refuse to accept an inadequate service, but they did not tell us what steps the public should take to make known their refusal to accept an inadequate service or what form their protest against an inadequate service should take. It is a very bald statement and quite extraordinary coming from public servants. The only comment of any critical nature I would make of them — I subscribe to the sentiment; why should we accept an inadequate service? — is that they do not give us any idea of what they think we can do if an inadequate service continues to be made available.

The fourth major recommendation for the improvement of the register refers to a change of residence. If this takes place between 15 November and 24 January the elector should be registered at the new residence. This is a very sensible recommendation. I would add the warning that it is absolutely imperative that, if a person is to be registered at his new residence he must be removed from the register at his old place of residence. It has been the cause of much wonder how people who move from one constituency to another manage to be registered in the new constituency while still remaining on the register in their old constituency. There does not seem to be any co-operation between the registration authorities and the county registrars in examining the electors' lists and the various claims submitted. Time and again we have been told of people who have voted twice on the basis that they were registered in two different places. It is very difficult to know about this unless it happens to come to light afterwards. I urge that special provision be made to ensure that when a person moves his place of residence his name is deleted from the original list. The recommendation here which only allows for this where people change residences between 15 November, the new suggested qualifying date, and 24 January, the suggested date for the last day to receive claims, I consider to be too restrictive. There should be a provision in the supplementary list for people to be registered up to the time an election is announced.

The fifth and final major recommendation to the register is set out as follows:

A supplement to the register to correct errors of a clerical and typographical nature should continue to be published, subject to the clarification that in cases where a person's name is due to appear on the final register but is inadvertently omitted, such name should be included in the supplement. In addition, the supplement should be published as soon as the process for the holding of an election begins.

I do not agree with the views of the working party in this case. They elaborated on those views in the report. Most people will agree that, in the main, omissions from the list come to light during an election compaign. At that stage the supplementary list should allow for omissions to be included in the supplementary list. I suggest that claims up to one week before polling day should be allowed. I know that the public servants involved will shrink in horror at the administrative difficulties they claim this would create but I think it has a lot to do with the will of the people who are charged with implementing the measures. If one wishes sufficiently to do something I believe it is possible to devise efficient methods to do it. However, if the attitude is to make life as easy as possible, one can always say the task is impossible.

In this day it should be well within our competence to devise an efficient and adequate method of including an elector's name on a supplementary list even up to the time an election is announced. I make that suggestion but I suspect from experience it may not be well received by the officials charged with carrying out the measure. If adequate arrangements are made and if good procedures are adopted there is no reason it should not be done. We have only to look back to the local elections in 1974 when the postal voting arrangements were along similar lines, when claims were being made close to the time of the election date.

I do not believe the number of claims would be excessive and I think this facility would remove a major cause of complaint against the present system. I am surprised the working party did not make stronger recommendations in this area. People who contest an election or participate in an election campaign and who go to each door in an area are on occasion confronted by a resident who will say that his name is not on the list and who will ask how he can rectify the situation. Those people who are campaigning are nonplussed because there is no provision in the law to cater for this. We are now reviewing the law and making suggestions for its improvement and I recommend strongly that procedures be introduced to enable claims to be made up to one week before polling day. I do not think the number would be excessive or that it would present the major administrative problems that I suspect some public servants might seek to claim. Even if it should prove to be cumbersome, I recommend to the Minister that it be tried out on an experimental basis.

These are the five main recommendations of the working party. I am not very impressed with the fifth recommendation and I have made my own suggestions which I consider an improvement. I should like to compliment the working party on the thorough way they have examined the whole problem and the open-minded approach they adopted. I should also like to commend the public-minded people who submitted recommendations to the working party. I am very pleased to see that two Fianna Fáil Deputies were among those who made suggestions and recommendations to help the working party in their deliberations. I commend Deputy David Andrews and Deputy O'Hanlon for their work and also the other people and bodies who made contributions.

The next major area the working party were asked to consider was the matter of postal voting. Members of the House will agree that every qualified elector should be able to vote, if not in person then by postal vote. It is absolutely essential that the success of the democratic process be guaranteed by devising facilities which enable all qualified voters to exercise the franchise. The recommendations of the working party with regard to postal voting are very sensible. In the main they recommend the extension of the postal vote to people who are physically disabled and that includes elderly people and electors prevented from voting in person due to their occupation. They make a condition that this should apply only to persons ordinarily resident in a particular constituency on the qualifying date and there are various flexible interpretations with regard to the qualifying date. I understand it has been accepted that if a person is ordinarily resident in a certain place he could be absent for a period up to 18 months and still be accepted as ordinarily resident at that place. I understand that that flexible approach has been adopted up to now.

However, the working party did not recommend extending the postal vote to certain categories. One category might gain the sympathy of the House — public servants employed by the State who, because of their duties, have to reside away from this country. The postal voting facility should be extended, firstly, to all members of the diplomatic service and other State employees required to reside abroad in the fulfilment of their duties. I cannot see how we can deny these citizens the right to vote in our elections. It is a weakness of the report that it has recommended against this. The working party appear to have been over-influenced by the law in regard to the place where one is ordinarily resident in a particular constituency. A person in the diplomatic service ordinarily resident abroad for, perhaps, 15 or 20 years would not qualify for a postal vote under this law and this should not be so.

The recommendation of the committee is otherwise very sensible — the provision whereby people can make a claim for postal voting on being able to show that the circumstances of their employment will deny them the opportunity of being present to cast their vote in their local polling station on the appointed day. If they can produce documentation from their employer or a doctor or, in the case of the self-employed, a statutory declaration, then the deciding officer, presumably the county registrar, would extend the postal vote to them. This will give that opportunity in future to people like commercial travellers, seamen, members of the airlines, fishermen and a whole range of people going about their ordinary task of earning a living and who are as interested and involved and have as much stake in any election as any other citizen. It will give them the opportunity to cast their vote and help to determine who shall govern the country and maintain the peace and democratic process which we have enjoyed since the establishment of this State.

It is extremely important that as many as possible should be enabled to vote and that every facility should be extended to them. Only in very exceptional and necessary cases should this be denied. Unfortunately, it is now denied to a very large section of the community. One reads the newspapers on the day after a general election and sees the headlines of a 70, 75 or 80 per cent poll, but one can be sure that it will never be a 100 per cent poll under our present electoral law, under the arrangements available at present to enable people to vote. People in poor health in hospital are not able to walk into their polling station to cast their vote and a very substantial percentage of the electorate have had no opportunity of casting a vote in any election over the years since the State was founded, because of the denial of the postal vote.

In the 1974 local elections the postal vote was available only to Defence Force and Garda personnel. A whole section of the community have been disfranchised because we in the Oireachtas have not provided them with the facilities and the procedures to enable them to cast their vote. This recommendation is obviously of very great importance.

I would like clarification from some Member of the Government in reply to this debate as to what form the statutory declaration in respect of the self-employed would take. It is mentioned on page 40 of the report that people seeking to prove that because of their employment they will not be able to be present at their polling station on election day must justify their application through the presentation of a statutory declaration. Would this statutory declaration involve the payment of money to a Commissioner of Oaths? I would be opposed to any charge being made on anybody providing the statutory declaration.

Other Members of the House when they come to contribute to this debate or who have time to further consider the contents of this report may suggest that postal voting be extended to other citizens who are not ordinarily resident in the country on the qualifying date. The recommendation on page 45, section 4, that no ballot paper should be sent to an address outside of the State, I could not agree to. If we extend the postal vote to the diplomatic service and State employees, the vote should be posted direct to these people. If I remember correctly, the procedure for postal voting in local authority elections required the application to be made from an address in Ireland and if one were residing abroad at the time of the election the vote had to be sent to one's home in Ireland and from one's home to wherever one resided abroad, and back. It certainly proved very cumbersome. With reference to State employees, provision should be made to have the vote sent direct to these electors.

Reference is made on page 35 of the report to the Local Election Postal Voting Regulations, 1974. Is it the intention to have postal voting in the local authority elections to be held in 1984? If so, will the 1974 postal voting regulations apply? If this is so, it should be pointed out that these differ from the recommendations in this report. The 1974 postal voting regulations for local authority elections provided that the postal vote could be granted if one could show that one was going to be absent from the constituency on the election date, or if one were employed by a returning officer. Neither of these two recommendations is contained in the working party's report and I would like some clarification as to the application of the 1974 regulations in the event of the local elections being held in 1984.

It would be helpful if on this side of the House we could know that it was the Minister's intention to introduce uniform postal voting regulations which would apply across the board to local elections, general elections, presidential elections, referenda, to the Údarás na Gaeltachta elections and, of course, would apply also to by-elections. We have not had any indication as to what are the Minister's intentions and we have been left in the dark in this respect. If it is the intention to introduce uniform voting regulations will the 1974 local authority postal voting regulations continue in operation until a new Act is passed? Might we have some indication as to whether the Government have given any consideration to this whole question of postal voting? Can we expect a new Bill to be brought before the House implementing the suggestions of this working party and, if so, what will be the time scale?

The postal vote was not made available during the most recent local elections in 1979 because the European Assembly elections were held on the same day. It was decided that it would not be appropriate to have postal voting extended to the electorate in the case of local elections when they were being denied that right in the case of the European Assembly elections. The decision was taken not to grant postal voting at all for those local authority elections. We understand from recent statements of the Minister that it is likely that the European Assembly elections and the local elections will be held on the same day in May 1984. Therefore, we should like some clarification as to what are the Government's intentions in this whole area of postal voting as they affect local authority elections and the European Assembly elections to be held next year.

The working party gave some information in their report on postal voting facilities available in other European countries. I must say that I consider the existing postal facilities in the Federal Republic of Germany to be the most enlightened system in operation in Europe at present. The German postal vote is available for absence from the constituency, in the event of a change of address, an occupation difficulty, because of an illness or because of old age or physical disability. It extends also to the diplomatic service serving abroad at the time of the election. I should like to see the same type of scheme operate here eventually.

I referred earlier to the existence of a supplementary list. In whatever legislation is introduced after this there should be provision made for a supplementary list of claims for postal votes where one could show that it was necessary because of illness, because of absence or change of address. The arguments in the report against extending the postal vote to a wider section of the electorate are purely administrative, as outlined on page 37 of the report and I shall not go through them here. It is not beyond our competence to devise a satisfactory system. I recognise the difficulties involved but I do not think they are insurmountable. I hope some further thought will be given to that.

While on the subject of postal votes I might make a reference to the existing facility extended to members of the Defence Forces and Garda personnel. The situation has arisen in the past in which a member of the Defence Forces had retired prior to the date of the election and his name had been included on the voters' register as a postal voter. He was residing in an Army barracks. As we are aware, the arrangement at present in operation is that the returning officer sends the ballot papers directly to the officer in charge of the barracks where the voter is residing, if he is residing in barrack quarters, and arrangements are made for him to vote, secretly of course, in the baraacks. He does this in his own time. He is handed the ballot paper. But where a member was no longer a serving member of the Defence Forces it has happened that these ballot papers have not been forwarded to the ex-soldier's last known address. In the regulations there should be a requirement on the Army authorities to forward the ballot papers to the last known address of a postal voter who had formerly resided in their barracks. If that was done it would eliminate a problem which arose in the past on a number of occasions and which was at one time the subject of a very hot and angry debate here. Of course the same should apply in the case of Garda personnel but it would not arise as frequently in their case.

The third major area which the working party were asked to consider was that of access to polling stations for disabled and elderly persons. Here the objective should be to ensure maximum independence for disabled persons by the elimination of any obstacles to their free access and circulation. On page 49, paragraph 9.2, of the report reference is made to the Memorandum for Guidance of Returning Officers at Dáil Elections as issued by the Department of the Environment prior to the November 1982 general election. This memorandum refers to the importance of facilitating disabled voters when polling stations are being arranged. It goes on to say:

The memorandum advises ... that "polling stations should in all cases be located on a ground floor to provide ease of access by physically incapacitated electors. To facilitate electors confined to wheelchairs consideration should be given to the provision of a ramp if the polling station cannot be reached without negotiating steps".

As far as I can ascertain that memorandum was ignored totally. There is little use in the Minister issuing memoranda of that kind unless there is some follow-up to ensure that the recommendations are implemented, and they were very valid recommendations made for very good reasons. I know that the Wheelchair Association and other organisations representing handicapped people have been making representations along those lines for quite a number of years. I commend the Minister of the day for issuing separate instructions to returning officers to make provision for handicapped people. But in my experience very little has been done to enforce those instructions. If the Department are interested I might quote just a few examples in my constituency. There is no way that a person confined to a wheelchair could enter the Ozman House polling station in Galway city. I canvassed in the Spiddal area during the last general election and a gentleman in a wheelchair told me it would be impossible for him to gain access to the Spiddal national school polling station, that he would have to be physically carried in. That completely defeats the wishes of Parliament that people in wheelchairs should be facilitated to get there through their own efforts without seeking the assistance of people to lift them bodily in and out of polling stations. In the Mervue national school polling station many of the polling booths are located on the first storey of that building. There is no way a handicapped person could negotiate those stairs. There is the same difficulty in the Claddagh national school polling station in Galway city. Those are just a few I can very quickly recall in my constituency. We can be sure that up and down the country there are hundreds of polling stations where a handicapped person in a wheelchair could not gain access. Returning officers cannot implement what the memo provides for if the budget allocated is not adequate to acquire suitable premises. Instead, they will take the soft option and avail of the free premises, which is the local national school.

Again, it is a question of the Minister giving instructions but not providing the wherewithal to implement them. It is very frustrating for a returning officer to receive a direction of that kind and to know that if he sets about hiring a premises to which there is easy access for disabled persons the expenses involved may not be approved by the Department. That is an area in respect of which I should like some clarification from the Minister. He should tell us what the guidelines are for expenses that may be incurred by returning officers and also how restrictive are the Department in this regard. Time and again public representatives have complained to returning officers about inadequate facilities only to be told that the facilities can only be as good as those for which their budget provides. We could be merely wasting our time if the will is not present on the part of the Minister to ensure that these excellent recommendations are implemented and that the additional finance necessary is provided.

An election is the instrument whereby people express their democratic will. The facilities and arrangements provided for the electorate in this respect should be the best possible so as to ensure that at least the people have confidence in the system. On those grounds alone we can justify increasing substantially the moneys spent in arranging for elections.

It is important, too, that lists of voters be accurate and that polling stations be accessible and well lighted. It is a dreadful situation when people have to struggle up grassy banks into broken-down school houses in order to vote and in addition, in the case of a winter election, to have only candlelight from about 5 o'clock in the evening. This is not good enough. It does not help to create confidence in the democratic process. Counting centres should be large enough to enable the public to observe the vote counting procedure. In Dublin access is very restricted. In some rural areas where suitable arrangements in this regard have been made, the people concerned must be commended.

I fully agree with the recommendations regarding accessibility. The suggestion that temporary ramps be provided in order to make the polling stations accessible to the disabled is excellent as is also the suggestion to site polling stations in hospitals and institutions.

Regarding the booklet that is issued to presiding officers I should like the Minister to clarify the position regarding paragraph 18 which concerns illiterate voters. I have known of instances in which this paragraph was interpreted by the presiding officer as meaning that when a person who was illiterate came to shout out his vote, the presiding officer instructed the Garda sergeant present and the poll clerk to leave the station. I do not know whether that is the correct manner in which the law should be interpreted. The only people who remained in the station were the presiding officer, the illiterate voter and the personation agents for the candidates. That situation has caused quite an amount of controversy in the Galway-West constituency. It has resulted in a good deal of correspondence between the returning officer in Galway and the Department of the Environment but so far he has not been given any clear instruction as to what the procedure should be in such cases. In other words, the Department have not said yet whether the presiding officer was correct in the manner in which he interpreted the law. Parliamentary questions from me on the matter have been refused on the grounds that the Minister has no obligation to state the law. He may not have an obligation to state the law in the case of parliamentary Question Time but he has a responsibility to explain to the House what the law is in regard to that issue.

I wish to commend the officials who worked assiduously to produce this excellent report and I hope that the contributions from this side of the House will be helpful to the Minister and that at an early date he will bring forward the legislation to implement the recommendations. If he does so, he can be assured that we on this side of the House will be very pleased.

: I am very pleased to have this opportunity of discussing this Report of the Working Party on the Register of Electors. As the Minister said, such an opportunity is the very essence of the democratic process. It is very important for all of us to have an input into this process. I concur with the remarks congratulating members of the working party who have put so much work into this report and also for having done so much work in just more than six months.

I was amused this morning at the shallow protestations of the Opposition concerning the legislation being ordered for today. They were implying that it was not important, that there were some shenanigans, that there was no other legislation ready. The Leader of the Opposition was the loudest so far as these protestations were concerned. We have now heard Deputy Molloy say rightly that a major part of the machinery is being revised. What is more important than that the Members of this House have an input into that revision? During his lengthy but very good deliberations, Deputy Molloy told us that we must have concern for people who might have voted twice. Combine that with the shallow protestations of the Leader of his party and ask ourselves where are we. History has the rest documented. It is difficult to know what to make of the Opposition.

There were many submissions from interested parties when the work of the group was advertised. In this respect I congratulate my own local authority, Wexford County Council and also the urban district council for the tremendous input on their part into this whole issue. Our county manager is a tremendous upholder of local democracy and indeed of local government in Ireland. Hardly a month passes without issues of this kind and issues relating to the whole process of local government being discussed at our council meetings. My own views are that a thorough and effective system of local democracy is the basis of our overall democratic process. If we do not have a thorough system for the political parties in the local areas the rest will not work. The register of electors is an essential input in ensuring that everyone who is entitled to vote has a vote.

Before going into some of the detail of the report I should like to raise one general point. All our citizens and not only those who are resident should be allowed to vote. There are many non-nationals living among us who are paying their taxes and who have contributed to the wellbeing of this country but who do not have the right to vote. I appeal to those concerned and to the Government to consider this question. As an example of what I have in mind, I am thinking of a woman in Wexford who is not Irish but who has lived here for 17 years. She is married to a Wexford man. She has reared her children and has contributed to the taxation system. It can well be said of her that she is more Irish than the Irish but she does not have a vote. There are many non-nationals living here who are involved in business or in farming or who are here because they are married to Irish spouses. All of these people should have the right to vote. All of them should be allowed to vote if after a given length of time here they are contributing to our system. Those who pay taxes are entitled to say how those taxes are spent and that is all one is doing when one exercises one's democratic right to vote, to say who should govern and who should dictate the method of spending. I hope that overall issue will be considered in conjunction with the very good report of the Working Party.

Deputy Molloy said he was disappointed that there did not appear to be a recommendation from the Government, particularly from the Minister, in offering the report to the House. I am satisfied that there is a recommendation from the Government and I should like to draw the Deputy's attention to the following extract from the Minister's speech:

What we need to consider is the scope for sensible measures to improve the situation on lines recommended in the report.

The Minister is not keeping us exactly to what is in the report but is anxious to hear the views of all Members. Clearly he is stating that it was on the lines recommended in the report that he would like us to consider the issue. That is recommendation enough for me without being a straitjacket and that is as it should be in a democratic process.

The working party was established about a year ago and they advertised last July seeking submissions from various bodies. The following were the terms of reference of the working party:

To examine and make recommendations on:

(i) The registration process, with a view to effecting a real improvement in the standard of the register of electors, [None of us would argue with that]

(ii) a scheme of postal voting for disabled persons and others who may be unable to vote in person at an election, and

(iii) access to polling stations for disabled persons,

Indeed, the working party were prepared to discuss any other aspect if any of the submissions from the public and general bodies indicated there was a necessity for it. In fact those three points covered all the submissions made to the working party.

The issues which the greatest number of submissions dealt with was the time scale during which the register is revised. The report points out in detail that at the moment 15 September to 15 April is the span from the qualifying date to the enforcement of the register. It has been suggested that this be shortened and that 15 November become the qualifying date, 25 March for the publication, and 6 April the date for the entry into force of the register. I accept Deputy Molloy's point that the two weeks suggested, between 10 January and 24 January, is too short to make claims and for political parties to assess the situation. We should not make any bones about the fact that the people most interested in the register of electors are the political parties in as much as we are the ones who have a vested interest in ensuring that they are correct, that those who are entered are entitled to vote and that those who should be deleted are deleted. In my view this is the area most open to abuse, whether it is in the compiling of the register or in the operation of the postal voting system. All parties share the blame in my view. I take the point that that period should be longer but I will not argue now whether it should be three or four weeks. However, the Minister should investigate that and tell the House if he considers two weeks to be sufficient. Any change, as Deputy Molloy mentioned, would mean all other dates would be moved forward.

I could not understand Deputy Molloy's explanation why the publication of the register on 25 March and its entry into force on 6 April would, as it were, cramp his style if an election was called. He did not ask us to change the publication date but spoke of what would happen if there was an election about 5 April or 6 April. Surely in that case it would be necessary to move to put the publication date back if the political parties needed more time to study the register? If there is an election on 5 April and the register is published on 25 March it will not make much difference if the register comes into force on 15 April because that would be after the election. I am afraid I lost his line of argument but I do not agree with him on that.

I agree with the suggestion that the practice of publishing a full draft register should be discontinued. Over the years, that has happened and various correction lists were issued. That has been changed back to the full draft register. I wonder what experiences caused the change back to the full draft register but, as far as I can read the situation, it would be an easier matter to handle at local level by publication in the newspapers. It would be better if we adopted a system of publishing the list of deletions or additions. It would be easier to control the situation and for the public to investigate their situation vis-à-vis the register.

The third improvement suggested was that sufficient field workers be employed by each registration authority to ensure that the field work, involving a house to house check, is completed within a given time. That is the basis of an efficient and correct register. Over the years a great job was done by our rate collectors. The accuracy of the register, considering the amount of work, the number of names and the amount of detail in it, has been tremendous but with the change in the system of rate collecting — most rate collectors have become Revenue collectors — it is not possible to have as heretofore the number of people with an intimate knowledge of every household in detail. Rate collectors, particularly in rural areas, knew when children were born, when they went to school and, in most cases, were still collecting rates from that household when that child became eligible to vote. They knew more about what was going on in rural Ireland than any other individual and were part and parcel of the community. The situation today does not allow for that and the field worker will be the most important contributor to an efficient and accurate register in the future. We need an adequate number of field workers and the only limiting factor in that regard is the provision of finance. The Minister should ensure that the money will be available to enable the recruitment of sufficient field workers to carry out house to house investigations essential for the accuracy of the register.

I also accept that any extra legislation necessary to provide certain services must go hand in hand with the need to provide funds for the Department concerned. Over the years we have expected local authorities to implement new legislation without making funds available to provide services in terms of work or manpower. The money in this case will have to be provided by Government. We should not expect local authorities to provide the money particularly at a time when they are badly in need of it. With regard to the supplement to the register to correct errors of a clerical or typographical nature I disagree with Deputy Molloy who felt we should have a safety net system around election time. The only reason I disagree is that I believe it would be open to political abuse. I include all parties in that; I am not removing myself or my party from that.

We all know the scurry that takes place when an election is called. The register is examined and it is only then we notice that somebody has been left out or that a person of 17 years of age has been entered. A man dead for 20 years is suddenly back on the register, his name having been removed earlier. We are all confronted with this kind of thing. A child born six months previously appears on the register and we are told that it is really the grandfather's name but he is dead. So it goes on. One cannot expect returning officers to be familiar with every individual in their area. All political parties must share the blame. What would happen if we decided to have a supplement and a safety net system at election time whereby anyone who thinks he or she is entitled to vote could make a claim? The administration of such a scheme would be impossible because the same people who would be involved in organising the election would also be involved in adjudicating on claims. It would be open to too much abuse and would be administratively impossible.

I would favour broadening the scope of those entitled to vote to include non-nationals as well as our own citizens. I am delighted to see the recommendations on postal voting but I am not native enough to think that it will not increase the amount of abuse. It definitely will. In 1974 I stood for the first time at the local elections in County Wexford. A broad postal voting system was used at those elections and there were some prosecutions for abuse. Everyone involved realised that there was a far greater incidence of abuse than appeared through the official channels. The main area of abuse involves people living in flats who move between Dublin and the country. In many cases they are registered at two or three addresses. The postal votes arrive for them and the local party on the ground know what is going on. These postal votes are even collected in bunches and sent out. Let us not pretend it does not happen. We must be sure if we broaden postal voting that we minimise this abuse. It was far more widespread in 1974 than official channels would lead us to believe.

: That is how the Deputy's party won three seats in Wexford.

: The Deputy should ask his former colleague, Lorcan Allen, about that.

Inclusion on the postal voters' list should be open to registered electors who are physically disabled but I believe it should also be open to anyone who is entitled to vote. In Wexford there was much dissatisfaction among seamen and over 400 seamen registered their protest because they could not vote last November. They have been particularly vocal in County Wexford but I know there are many other groups in other counties who feel they are being deprived of their franchise. The Garda and Defence Force personnel have always been allowed a postal vote. Deputy Molloy mentioned the members of the diplomatic service and public servants working abroad. It is a very interesting point and I feel they should be entitled to a postal vote. There is a precedent for this in other countries.

The method of implementing the postal voting system varies greatly among EEC countries and I am sure we could learn many lessons from their experience. Germany has the broadest system of postal voting and anyone who cannot be at home appears to be allowed to vote, whether disabled, ill, working away from home or in the diplomatic service abroad. Belgium and France had fairly wide postal voting facilities but abolished them because of abuse. Let us hope that when we introduce this broad system of postal voting for all our citizens and residents entitled to vote we will not decide after a few years that it was a big mistake. Let us implement the system as fairly as we can. Our European partners have not been able to implement it in a manner which is sufficiently free of abuse but perhaps we will learn from their experience and avoid the same mistakes.

Access to polling stations for disabled persons was a major area of discussion. All of us who have been involved in manning polling stations have been aware of the acute embarrassment caused to many a disabled person, especially a person in a wheelchair, who has been hauled into a polling station to cast a vote. The provision of a simple ramp would solve the problem and I fully support the recommendations in this report regarding the facilitating of disabled persons. It has been said that the postal vote for many disabled persons will take a lot of worry and harassment out of casting a vote but many will still prefer to vote in person and we must look after these people as well. Most of the schools which are used as polling stations have a few steps, but ramps would solve this problem. A returning officer should be enabled to authorise a voter on request to attend a more accessible polling station.

Returning officers should also make greater use of the power to site polling stations in hospitals and institutions. I have not much experience of other areas but I have worked in elections in Dublin and Wexford and there has been tremendous abuse in ferrying patients from hospitals and other institutions to get them to vote. This is done by all the political parties. The patients are lined up and cars are coming in and out and if they see the car of the wrong party coming there is abuse. It would be amusing if it were not so serious. It would be a very important step forward to site a polling station in a hospital, especially when the number of electors in that hospital would make it an efficient way of spending time and money. I agree fully with the reports' recommendations with regard to improving access to polling stations generally for the disabled person.

There were many submissions from interested parties and individuals. On the matter of improvement of the register the main submissions related to complaints about the time over which the register was complied. Christmas and the New Year is not a satisfactory time for looking at the lists, sorting out the claims and trying to improve the system to make it more efficient. This period has been shortened and I agree with that.

The census of population held every five years or so costs a great amount of money — £3.8 million in 1981. There was a very efficient supervisory system. There were many submissions to the effect that we should compile the register of electors either with the census or in a census-type operation. The working party felt in their wisdom that because of the confidentiality in the compilation of the census and the type of information required on a census form, people might feel it to be an invasion of privacy if anything they put on a census form appeared in print, as on the register of electors.

I believe this matter could be overcome. There is no reason why, with the very complicated form we get to fill in for the census, that a perforated strip could not be placed on the side with details for the register of electors, and people could fill that in. This could be torn off and kept separate from the information for the census. I respect the views of the working party who have had many years of experience and wisdom within local government and the civil service. They might consider that impracticable and perhaps there is need for more discussion to see if that could be got over. It still does not get over the problems of the intervening years, the inter-census years.

In regard to postal voting, most of the submissions asked for it to be extended but they also warned against the potential dangers of abuse. I do not believe any of us need to be warned about that. I have yet to see any suggestions about how this can be overcome. They are neither in the submissions nor have I heard them in the House. That is secondary to the fact that every person should have the right to exercise his or her franchise. The inaccuracies in the register of electors in general appear to be far less than the politicians and the public perceive.

The report of the working party states that one of the greatest areas of inaccuracy is in relation to the people who have just reached 18 years. The span at the moment from 15 September to April means that in September you have to get the list of all those who will be 18 years before 15 April. The length of time and the vagueness involved is one of the reasons which contributes to the inaccuracies of the 18-year-olds who are either put on too early or are left off when they are 18. With the idealism of youth and the initiative young people have, they either could not care less about voting or else they are very interested in exercising their vote for the first time. It is a great frustration for young people to find that they are not entitled to vote, which usually happens when they get to the polling booths because many do not bother checking beforehand.

Double registration was mentioned briefly. I wonder if Deputy Molloy had his tongue in cheek when he was talking about it. I assure the House I have not. Double registration should not cause double voting. Double registration is an inaccuracy but it does not automatically lead to abuse on behalf of the elector whose name happens to be in twice. It should not lead to abuse but we must check this area more carefully because it has caused abuse throughout the country not alone in Dublin.

Registration of deceased persons is a classic one. It is even worse in rural Ireland than it is in Dublin. They can be dead and buried for 20 years as far as the register is concerned and suddenly appear on a register for some reason. People alive and well can be on the register for years, as happened in County Wexford recently, and suddenly be deleted from it for no explicable reason when they come to exercise their vote. That is really worse than having the deceased on the register. Who would be involved in deleting from the register a person, who is perfectly entitled to vote, who has been resident at the same address for years? We may all take a bit of the blame in this regard.

: We must be very simple in County Meath.

: There are a lot of problems with the distinguishing letter which appears after some of the names. We all know that L after a name on the register denotes someone who may vote at local elections only. The letters LE means that the person may vote at local and European elections. The letter P denotes a postal vote. I do not apologise for saying again that those with L after their names should be allowed to vote in general elections as well as local elections. If they have been a minimum length of time in the country and if they are eligible to pay taxes here they should be eligible to vote in general elections and share the responsibility of how that money is spent by the politicians.

The greatest number of errors arises from inadequate field work, the furnishing of insufficient information by householders and insufficient checking. While I have been critical of the political parties and how they can misuse the register I would like to say that without the politicians taking such an interest in the register over the years, particularly in election years, there would be a far greater number of inaccuracies. If sufficient money is provided by the Government to do the field work this will sort out a lot of the problems.

People expect the register to show who is entitled to vote but it is only at election time that many of us are bothered who is entitled to vote. The public must take more responsibility in ensuring that they have the right to vote. I accept that it is very hard to interest the public in a subject like this. We are told on the TV that Garda stations and post offices have the register, that we should check the draft register but this means nothing to most people. A far more comprehensive publicity campaign is needed. School children of 16 and 17 years should be advised that they have the right to vote at 18, to be sure to see that they are on the local register and to exercise their right to vote. This is very important.

We have been told by the working party report that the incidence of genuine error is very small. There are, however, problems with the register and if remedial action is not taken the situation will get worse not better. There are other options, apart from a register of electors, and these were dealt with by the working party but, in general, they came to the conclusion that the present system of a register is perhaps the best system that anybody has come up with. They discussed dispensing with the register. In theory, an election could be conducted without a specific electoral register. Every elector would be required to establish identity and entitlement to vote at the polling stations before being given their ballot papers. I do not believe the chaos this would cause would be conducive to conducting an election in a proper and democratic way. I, like the working party, would not favour that and I do not believe anybody would call for such a system to be implemented.

The working party also discussed preparing and publishing the register immediately before an election. The main disadvantage is the administration of such a system. With regard to general elections the register would have to be prepared and published within three weeks, a physical and practical impossibility. It would have advantages if it was administratively possible, because it would be up-to-date, everybody would be interested in knowing what was happening and it would be in everybody's interest to ensure it was correct, the general public as well as the political parties. Perhaps, if it could be done it would be free from a lot of errors but I believe the administrative aspects of it rule it out completely.

Other points discussed were transferring the obligation to register to the individual. That would not work because without proper monitoring of the field work many people would not be in a position or would not wish to know, bar when an election is imminent, whether they were on a register. It was suggested that we employ postmen and gardaí to do the field work. We do not have sufficient gardaí to do their own field work without burdening them with this task. Using a postman to do the work could be looked at. He is in day-to-day contact with people in his own area and he, as the rate collector used to be, is well known.

After considering all the options the working party came to the conclusion that none of the approaches could be recommended above the present system of registration of electors. The other main nationwide survey undertaken on a regular basis is the census of population. It would be useful to see whether this could be applied to the preparation of the register. The working party spent some time discussing this. The census involves a comprehensive type of field work operation linked to a carefully defined supervisory structure. A sum of £3.8 million was spent on the census. If that much money was spent on the register of electors we would have the same accuracy and detail but such an amount could not be justified because of the problem of obsolescence. The register has to be updated every year whereas the census is updated every five years. There is some justification for spending such money on statistical information which will serve the State for a number of years. However, it would be hard to justify this type of expenditure on a yearly basis. Commonsense dicates this cannot be so.

Every aspect of the census operation could, with advantage, be brought to bear on the preparation of the register of electors. The comprehensive mapping and listing operation and many other procedures would make our register extremely accurate. It all comes back to money and in present economic circumstances the working party could not recommend such a comprehensive and detailed operation in relation to the register. I agree with that. None of us could expect more.

Deputy Molloy drew our attention to page 23 of the working party recommendation and to what he called a "bald" statement. It was that the public must be encouraged to take an informed interest, to understand the procedures involved and to co-operate with them, to be specific in their criticism and refuse to accept an inadequate service. Of course they must refuse to accept inadequate service. Is that not why we have more people protesting, voicing their views and demanding more of politicians, and rightly so? An inadequate service in any field is not acceptable. The inadequacies could be remedied but we must have the will to do that. I would call that statement "bold" not "bald" and commend the working party for it.

The working party are against any radical departure from the present method of compiling the register. They consider that the present approach must continue and most of us agree with that. The various options they looked at did not appear to be the answer. Until something is produced, what we have is reasonably adequate and more accurate than many of us think. Considerable consideration is given to the extension of the system of postal voting. I agree with Deputy Molloy's suggestion that we include the diplomatic corps and public servants who are serving abroad. I should be interested to know why France abolished their widespread system of postal voting.

There was some discussion about postal voting for prisoners. Our prison population is about 1,200 but this figure is probably six months out of date. Of this number, 500 are detained for a period in excess of 12 months and of these 20 per cent would normally reside outside the State. Prisoners are not registered at a prison but may be registered at the address at which they were residing if they were there from 15 September of the year onwards. The working party do not recommend that this facility of postal voting be extended to prisoners. I did not agree with that. People are incarcerated in jail for many different reasons. Some people are in jail and many of us think they should be out while others are out and get away with crimes for which many of us think they should be in jail. It is an important matter for an individual to exercise his right to vote.

The point about islanders having a postal vote rather than going to polling stations is important to the individuals concerned but in terms of overall numbers it does not affect the postal voting system greatly. In as much as they can be facilitated islanders should be entitled to a postal vote. A problem can arise where some claim a postal vote and others insist on their right to vote at a polling station. We could have a polling station on an island for five or six people with the remainder of the people voting by post. However, that matter could be got over by having a consensus from the islands concerned.

One of the controversial points is that no ballot papers would be sent to an address outside the State. If we agree that the diplomatic corps and public servants abroad are entitled to a postal vote — I hope we do — this clause should be deleted. We do not have much faith in people who are representing the State in the diplomatic service abroad if we think they cannot be trusted to fill in their voting paper correctly and send it back.

The detail given in the report on access to polling stations for disabled persons shows the importance the working party put on this aspect. This is an area where there could be immediate improvement without spending a lot of money. We could have temporary ramps. We could re-site polling stations in hospitals and other institutions where they are deemed necessary by virtue of the number of people in those places who might need to vote and by giving discretion to returning officers to allow disabled persons to vote at a more suitable polling station. These are all essential and practical recommendations. I support them all and perhaps more suggestions will come from Members of the House as to how we might make easier the whole matter of exercising the democratic right to vote and facilitate disabled people.

The only major limiting factor in effecting an improvement in the electoral register is money. I hope the Minister and the Government have the will to improve the standard of the electoral register and, in so doing, will provide the necessary finance. In the overall terms of budgeting and estimating, not much money will be needed. The improvements and the standard of the register in general is totally dependent on adequate field work, house to house canvassing and person to person checking by people who have sufficient knowledge of the local scene to get the work done efficiently and correctly.

The provision of money for the field work and the extension of the postal system are two very important recommendations. I welcome the extension of the postal system. We must realise that, although it opens the door to further abuse, we must opt for it nevertheless. We must try to find out why our neighbouring Europeans have had to abandon extensive systems of postal voting. We must get it right when we introduce it so that we will not be coming back here in a number of years time wondering where it all went wrong and dismantling the system. Democracy is based on sound, local government. This whole area of compiling the register, having an accurate register and having on the register everyone who is entitled to vote are matters of great public importance and deserve the time and attention which the House is now giving these matters.

: Deputy De Rossa, please.

: What is the procedure in relation to the order of speakers?

: The Chair is the sole judge of the order in which speakers shall be called and, in exercising my discretion, I am not establishing a precedent, I am taking into account a number of considerations, especially the subject which we are discussing, the fact that it affects parties and that it is a limited debate.

: It leaves us with a difficulty that we must conclude this debate by 2.30 p.m.

: I respectfully suggest to the Deputy that we will not improve matters by eroding the time available by points of order.

: I accept your wisdom in this matter but the fact remains that we must conclude at 2.30 p.m. I assume the Minister or the Minister of State will have to reply to the debate before that. I know that Deputy Walsh and others also wish to speak.

: I am sure the speakers will take that into consideration.

: It is no harm to bear in mind that Deputy Molloy spoke for a considerable length of time and if everyone speaks as briefly as I intend to do, many more people could get in on this issue.

This debate is very useful. It is very important that Deputies should have an opportunity to express opinions on legislation that is going to be introduced to the House before it is framed. For that reason I welcome the debate and I do not regard it as a useless exercise. The experience of the last three general elections has focused attention on some of the more glaring inadequacies of our electoral process. It can be no comfort to anyone committed to the democratic process to know that in the recent elections almost 30 per cent of the electorate did not exercise their vote, largely because of the practical difficulties and inaccuracies in the register. There should be a wide-ranging review of the methods and practices used by the State in its organisation of elections and by the political parties in their conduct of election campaigns. The basic thinking governing the State's approach to elections seems to be that its responsibility ends when it makes it possible for people to vote. The aim should be to make it as simple and as convenient as possible for people to vote.

One of the major factors of the poor turn-out which we regularly have at elections is the state of the electoral register. From my own experience in Dublin North-West, I estimate that up to 10 per cent of the electorate there were not eligible to vote because they were either removed from the register or listed for the wrong constituency because of change of address and so on. That figure may be higher in the North-West constituency than for others but the figure is also high in Rathmines where there is a large shifting population. It is estimated that something like 25 per cent of the population in Ballymun changes in a matter of eight to 12 months because of the number of people moving from the flats to corporation accommodation on the far side of the city. Most people moving from Ballymun go to Tallaght and it is virtually impossible for those people to get back to Ballymun to cast their vote.

The improvements suggested by the report in relation to the electoral register are good so far as they go although I question some of the proposals and I think that a number of suggestions made to them, which they turned down, should be reconsidered. The suggestions made by the committee do not go far enough. The period of time during which the register is compiled is still far too long. It is seven months at present and the proposals put forward by the working committee suggest it could be reduced to about five months. Even five months is far too long. It should be compiled in a period of not more than a month and the use of the census system would be useful in that regard. The census system of compiling the register was turned down by the working party on the basis of cost, not simply in relation to the cost at this time but they said it might not be worth it because they had not yet decided whether the margin of error was large enough to justify it. I argue that the accuracy of the register and the democratic procedures which we have are worth whatever it costs to get them right. I recall that last year when there was talk about a general election it was felt that the country could not afford a general election. That sort of thinking is dangerous. If we cannot afford to have proper democratic procedures and elections we will lose our democratic processes.

It is essential that the present totally inadequate provisions for postal voting should be improved. I go along to some degree with the working party's recommendations in this regard. However, I am concerned about one of their points referring to postal voting. They say that application for inclusion on the postal voters' list should be supported by medical or employment certification as appropriate or a statutory declaration in the case of self-employed persons. The self-employed person may well be able to afford a statutory declaration. I have no idea what form of statutory declaration would be required to obtain one but normally you would go to a commissioner for oaths and at a cost of a few pounds you get your declaration signed. Medical certificates can also cost money and it is likely that people who require medical certificates are the people least likely to be able to afford such certificates. I suggest that any legislation which the Minister is considering should provide for a system of certification by the local gardaí known to the person who requires a postal vote. This would be a better and less costly way of processing the system.

Generally we welcome the extension of the postal vote but we feel that the possibility of allowing people to apply for postal votes when an election has been called, which again was rejected by the working party, should be considered again. Otherwise a large number of people who are short-term patients in hospitals, people going away on holidays, people confined to the house for a short period, will not be able to vote. Our purpose must be to make it possible for all to vote regardless of the circumstances they may find themselves in.

In relation to the postal vote also I will refer briefly to the point raised by Deputy Molloy and Deputy Doyle from Wexford concerning the Diplomatic Corps, public sector workers and State employees who find themselves abroad working for the State. The provision of postal voting for such people has been turned down on the basis that they must be resident in the State in order to be eligible to be on the electoral register. If that is the only reason — it seems from the report that that is the only reason — then that should be amended. It is quite improper that people who are serving this country abroad should be deprived of their right to vote for the Government. Likewise, non-nationals who are resident in the State should be given the right to vote in national elections. Many such people have been living in this country for a considerable time and some have raised their families here. I know of one case in my constituency of a man who has been resident here for 20 years and has not been able to vote in the national elections for that length of time.

While I would welcome the extension of the postal vote to disabled persons, representations have been made to me indicating that a considerable number of disabled persons would prefer the facility of putting their vote into the ballot box. In other words, they want access to existing polling stations. It has been suggested that the provision of ramps would enable these people to gain access to the stations. It should be ensured also that polling stations would be on the ground floor. Even for elderly people it is essential that polling stations be on the ground floor. I make a strong point to the Minister also that mobile polling stations which have been rejected by the working party should be reconsidered. We should endeavour to ensure that every person disabled, elderly or whatever, does not feel that he or she is being treated as a second class citizen. The option should be there for those who are disabled to choose the postal vote if they wish but some system of mobile polling station should be instituted. The report suggests that it is within the powers of the returning officers to establish polling stations in hospitals and institutions. I do not know of any example of this being done to date, but again the Minister should give serious consideration to it.

Taking the wider perspective in relation to elections, the possibility of holding elections on Sunday should be considered. This is common practice in many European countries and there is no reason why we should continue to follow the British and American system by asking people to vote on normal working days when for many people this is the least convenient time. If we do not provide for a system whereby people who moved from their district a short time before an election is called — for instance a person who has moved from Ballymun to Tallaght, for instance, or even out of the city altogether — election day is also a working day and the possibility of such persons voting is restricted further.

: I draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that the report is merely on the register of electors and anything more than a passing reference to Sunday voting would not be in order.

: I am raising it in order to highlight the fact that the report refuses to allow people to register at short notice. When people have to vote on a normal working day the difficulty of casting a vote in those circumstances is increased. The alternative to having it on a Sunday would be to make polling day a public holiday.

Another aspect of this matter of enabling people to vote is the circus that takes place outside many of our larger polling stations. Some restriction should be put on that kind of activity and a way of doing this would be to reduce the numbers of people who have to vote at various polling stations. In some constituencies up to 10,000 electors go to a single polling station. It would be far better if a larger number of polling stations were provided so that smaller numbers would be using any one station.

To conclude, I ask the Minister to indicate when he intends to introduce legislation on the lines recommended in the report. I urge him to introduce this legislation in time for the local elections in 1984 and the European elections.

: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate which is one of the most important——

: I must protest——

: I can understand Deputy Fitzsimons' immediate reaction but I must preserve a balance between the Opposition and the Government sides of the House. The last speaker was from the Opposition side and now I must call on the Government side.

: I will not delay the House, but there are 73 Members on this side of the House and so far only one has spoken. While Deputy De Rossa may be a member of the Opposition he occasionally votes with the Government. I thought a Member from this side of the House should be called next. I think this is unfair.

: That would be contrary to precedent, practice and balance. Think about it.

: I am shattered. I think it is very unfair.

: I can assure Deputy Fitzsimons I will not delay him. This is one of the most important debates to come before this House. I was amazed this morning when the Leader of the Opposition voiced his consternation and said we were wasting our time today. I disagree completely with him. We are discussing a most important issue — the right to vote. This is something we fought for for many years. Unfortunately the situation still arises where people who should have the vote find at election time that they cannot vote because their names are not on the register of electors. This is very serious. Had many more people had the vote in the past it is probable that our political history would have been different.

I want to compliment the working party on their detailed report and also those who made submissions, in particular the county registrar for County Clare, the Clare County Council and Ennis Urban District Council. When I read the names of the members of the working party I was amazed to note that not one woman was involved. The reality is that there are a number of women in public life, at national and local levels, and over 50 per cent of the electorate are females. It was unfortunate that the Minister overlooked appointing a woman to the working party and I hope such a thing will not occur in future.

The terms of reference of the working party were very limited. The Minister should have made recommendations to the working party. The activities outside polling booths, powers of presiding officers and polling clerks, the allocation of presiding officers year after year to polling booths and some of the abuses which have gone unreprimanded at polling stations need examination and it was a pity this working party did not have an opportunity to examine these areas.

One of the first recommendations was the change of dates. Like previous speakers I am not too pleased with the proposed date of publication of the register, 10 January, with the last date for making claims being 24 January, two weeks later, and publication of lists of claims on 31 January. Political parties make a great contribution in this area and as a member of a political party I regard this as a very short period. This is one point in the report with which I do not agree and I ask the Minister to consider extending that date at least a further two weeks.

The working party propose that in addition to the publication of the current register, lists of additions and deletions be issued. This is an excellent idea because it will be evident to all who are interested exactly what the situation is. In the case of the proposed additions, if the people who have the right to vote do not see their names on the lists, they will have the opportunity to have their names added. This is highly commendable and should be brought in as quickly as possible. In the past the examination of the register has been left to the rate collectors.

: On a point of order, under what precedent did you allow one Member of the biggest political party to make a contribution as against three others?

: I am not establishing a precedent now by allowing a discussion on the exercise of my discretion in calling Members to speak because that is the sole responsibility of the Chair. When I called Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Fitzsimons questioned the matter. I replied that I was not establishing a precedent. While the sole responsibility for calling Members rested with me, I said I was taking a number of things into account, including the subject we are discussing, the fact that it affected parties and that this was a limited debate. When Deputy De Rossa concluded, I called Deputy Taylor-Quinn and Deputy Fitzsimons again expressed surprise and questioned the matter. I explained, again without prejudice, that I was obliged to preserve a balance and in accordance with long standing practice and precedent I was moving from one side of the House to the other.

: As you have to preserve a balance, how can you justify excluding the biggest political party on a three-to-one issue? I am entitled to ask you how you can justify that.

: I do not propose to have any further discussion on it. I did not think it would be reasonable to run the risk of excluding Deputy De Rossa's party from expressing a view on a matter which concerns all political parties.

: There are statements from your own party where they challenged Deputy De Rossa's party——

: I am sorry, Deputy, but——

: I must register the strongest possible objection against your unbalanced——

: Out of courtesy I explained my decision to Deputy Tunney and I will not have any further discussion on it.

: Conscience doth make cowards of us.

: I resent that remark and the Deputy should not have to be asked to withdraw it.

: On your own words, Sir, three-to-one is unbalanced.

: I look at balance over the whole debate. I am calling Deputy Taylor-Quinn.

: The working party suggested that there should be sufficient field workers employed to ensure there is a complete house-to-house check before the electoral lists are compiled. In the past the rate collectors have done this job. In some cases people were satisfied with that situation but there was a fair amount of discontent, depending on which side appointed the rate collectors. To a point, that has been unsatisfactory because it has led to many allegations by political parties who have been saying so-and-so was taken off the register because of a particular political affiliation. It has been said that somebody under age had been put on because of certain political affiliations.

In order that such a situation will not arise in the future we should have people less politically involved than rate collectors. Deputy Doyle suggested postmen. I agree with that suggestion. They, with officials from the Department and, possibly, representatives from the political parties, could do quite a good job in compiling the register.

I consider the suggestion of a supplement to the register a good idea. The working party suggest that the register in future should contain a supplement which should be published as soon as the election campaign would begin. Although I agree with that suggestion I consider that the publication should be two weeks before the date of the election because many people often are not interested in checking the register or doing anything about registering until an election has been called. People could be reminded a second time to check the register and if they had been omitted they could go to have their names included and have them published in the supplement.

It is a good idea to broaden the postal voting system. It is now limited to the Defence Forces and the Garda. I go along with Deputy Molloy's suggestion to have it extended to the diplomatic corps. I would go further and suggest that it be extended to press correspondents who have to cover events abroad, particularly since we became a member of the EEC. Business people and others whose employment requires that they be out of the country should be included, but this should be carefully monitored because it could be open to abuse. Country registrars should be very careful to ensure that those who apply for this right will be qualified for it.

We must ensure that there will be better access to polling stations for disabled persons. In the Clare constituency I can think of few polling stations that have easy access for the disabled, particularly those in wheelchairs. Most polling stations are in schools which have steps and this means that disabled people have to be carried in to vote, if they decide to vote at all. The sooner ramps, even temporary structures, are provided at all polling stations the better.

Improvements in the electoral system depend on allocations of money. I hope the Minister will regard this as a priority because the right to vote is held dearly by all people. It is a right which we fought for during the years and we should cherish and respect this right. I was interested to hear Deputy Molloy say that it is accepted and widely known that there is rarely a 90 per cent poll in any polling booth. I had not thought the Deputy was so politically naive. We all know of cases where there have been extraordinarily high votes, touching on 98 per cent and 99 per cent. Indeed I have heard of a number of polling booths where polling has exceeded the number of people who were alive: the percentage did not go beyond the number on the register, but it went beyond the number of live people. Indeed some corpses have returned to vote on the day, so more than 100 per cent of the live register voted. That is most unsatisfactory. It will have to be very closely watched so that those people who have departed this life, those who have left the country and people who have moved to other areas permanently would be taken off the register and kept off it. Some of the abuses going on now are appalling and all parties are offenders, particularly in urban areas and in flatland.

: In politics you learn something new every day.

: I did not think they were that innocent in Meath. As a former flat dweller I remember an occasion when certain members of a political party came to the house and, not knowing that any of us had any political affiliations, they asked for the polling cards that had been posted to that house. It happened that there were quite a number of cards but many people who had previously lived in the house had left. We all know that personation happens, particularly in Dublin, and some serious action will have to be taken against it. It is not on a small scale. I will go so far as to say that thousands of personations occur. This will have to be closely monitored. I compliment the working party and all those responsible for the report. It is a good report and it should be implemented as soon as possible. I hope lack of money will not prevent proper action being taken on it. If such action is not taken we will be seen to have little respect for the franchise. We will be seen to condone abuses in the voting system and it is something any party or any Government cannot allow. Every effort should be made to ensure that all people will have the right to vote.

: I want to be associated with the protest of the Leader of this party and Deputy Molloy about the shortness of notice in regard to this report. I saw it for the first time yesterday. It is necessary that the report be put before the House but it seems to me that it has been used as a filler because the Government have not other legislation prepared. It is highly unusual that we should have this debate only a couple of days after the issuing of the document.

I intend to be brief because we have to conclude before 2.30 and I suppose the Minister or Minister of State will require time to reply. Without reiterating the points that have been made, I have learned a few things today about electoral registers which I was not aware of before. Things are happening in some parts of the country which do not happen in others. Perhaps we are a bit too dignified in my county. There are no abuses there of which I am aware. We do not bring anybody back from the dead to vote.

The Minister said the incorrectness on the register represents a tiny proportion of the total electorate. I do not know how tiny tiny is. Since we began to computerise the registers every Deputy knows there are mistakes in every register. In the past two or three elections people who had voted all their lives found they had been left off the register through a computer error. One assumes that is what it was. One hopes there is nothing more sinister in it than that. A returning officer in a local area who knows a mistake has been made should have discretion to allow that person to vote, but that does not happen. I suggest that we should all have permanent voting cards, like a passport or a medical card, which could come up for annual review. In the past three elections we went to enormous expense sending out voting cards and so on. The Minister should consider my suggestion seriously. When a person dies the voting card could be withdrawn. This would put an end to many of the abuses in the system. There would be no great difficulty in administering it. I am sorry the Minister is not here to hear my suggestion, and I hope it will be considered seriously.

We are a very politically-minded people. In the United States in a presidential election they are lucky if they get 50 per cent of the people to vote. Normally the figure is about 45 per cent. In the last election, despite the fact that it was the third election in 18 months, we had a 73 per cent poll. That is good by world standards, but it could be better. I made a suggestion on another occasion in this House on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment. The Minister should give serious consideration to having voting on Sundays. It is fair to say that most of us are churchgoing people. I suggest that we should vote on Sunday rather than on a weekday.

In France they have a two-Sundays operation. We could have a one-Sunday operation. This would have several advantages. Civil servants may say: "This will create problems for us. We might have to give our staff double pay." I do not see how that would affect my suggestion. We should give deep consideration to it. The 73 per cent vote in the last election could be increased by 10, 15 or 20 per cent if we voted on Sunday. This would suit all parties. I made this suggestion to the House before and nobody took it up. Deputy De Rossa pre-empted me today. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to it.

I am trying to pick out points which have not been raised already. A revision of the constituencies is scheduled for some time later on this year. The Minister should also consider a revision of the local authority areas. We have not had one for some years. In Country Meath we have had quite an increase in the population in the past eight or nine years. Obviously some local authority areas need to be revised. When the commission are reviewing the constituencies perhaps they could review the local authority areas as well.

It has been said that non-nationals should be allowed to vote here. There is an anomaly here. British people often say that while Irish people can vote in British elections British people who live in Ireland cannot vote in our general elections. When Deputy Haughey was Taoiseach, at the famous Summit in Dublin he discussed this briefly with Mrs. Thatcher. The Fianna Fáil Party accept this idea in principle. The Minister should introduce whatever legislation is necessary to do away with this anomaly.

We sometimes see the letters "L" and "LE" on the registers. Some Irish citizens have foreign names. I think in particular of one Italian name. Because they have foreign names the letter L or the letters LE are placed before their names on the register. On polling day people have protested to me that they were not allowed to vote because these letters were in front on their names. Where that occurs, if it is pointed out to the presiding officer that this person is an Irish citizen, he should be allowed to use his commonsense and let that person vote if he is entitled to vote. I met some very irate people who took out Irish citizenship and because those letters were in front of their names they were not allowed to vote. A bit of commonsense is required here.

The suggestion about the postal vote is a good one. While it is possible that it could be open to some abuse, in general the principle is good. I agree with the working party that we should introduce it as soon as we can. Deputy Molloy dealt very thoroughly with that and I do not propose to delay the House further on it except to say it is an excellent suggestion. I remember when it was introduced in the 1974 local elections. I thought it was a good idea but it was dropped for whatever reason. The Department must have known of some good reason why it should not be continued.

I now come to the question of 18-year olds. Our schools should hold exercises in civics. Despite the fact that considerable money is spent on advertising on television and in the newspapers about registering one's name on the electors' list many people do not bother to do so. School leavers should be advised to go to the post office to check that their names are on the list. The Minister might send a circular to all schools emphasising the importance of ensuring that one's name is on the list. This is very important for young people who are 18 years and who are entitled to vote.

As far as we know the local elections and the European elections will be held in May, 1984. I am not sure if the date has been fixed. Deputy Molloy or some other Deputy asked earlier that we be given definite information on that point. Perhaps the Minister would also tell us the date of the next general election.

: I am Chairman of the Dublin City Council Finance Committee and that committee have been considering for some time the matter of the register. We have had three general elections and the local elections which were held in 1979, and considerable difficulties arose on a number of occasions. Mr. Tom Colgan of Dublin Corporation was a member of the working party. He has now retired from the corporation but he would have given the views of that authority and I hope they will be borne in mind.

One of the problems that we, as public representatives, encounter is that people come to us on election day and tell us their names are not on the list. I am not talking of 18-year-olds but of people who have voted in previous elections but who have suddenly found their names omitted. There are several documented cases where this has happened. Invariably these people come to the public representative for whom they were going to vote but nothing can be done for them. It is my belief that something should be done for such people. If a person has lived in an area for a considerable time he should be able to go before two peace commissioners or a garda superintendent and a peace commissioner in the locality. They could certify that the person lived in the area and he should be given a vote. What happens is that the person is told at the polling station to go to the local Garda station and they refer him to his TD. That person could spend many hours on polling day going from one place to another in an effort to get a vote to which he is entitled. I should be most annoyed if my name were taken from the register without my knowledge. All that is needed is for two local peace commissioners or a garda superintendent who know the locality to say that the person concerned has lived in the area for a considerable time.

The question of access for disabled persons is something I have been pursuing for a considerable time. In my constituency there is one man who is a quadriplegic. He is paralysed from the neck down. His father took him to vote but because he could not gain access to the polling booth he was not able to vote. In Dublin the returning officer at local elections is the city manager and in general elections it is the city sheriff. Because public representatives have direct access to the city manager he has accepted recommendations from them that access will have to be made at polling stations for disabled persons. However, at general elections when the city sheriff is in charge he will not give any such commitment. In fact, he is hostile to representations and apparently because he is in the higher echelons of the outer heavenly atmosphere he is not answerable to the Minister or to the local authority. I am very disappointed that the city sheriff is not responsive to the public need or the representations made by public representatives. He has not accepted an invitation to meet members of the city council. He has made decisions regarding the right of people to vote and that should be remedied. Nobody should have that power.

I consider that people in prison should be given the right to vote. Obviously it would present a problem if everyone in Mountjoy had a vote in the same constituency — God knows what promises would be made. If people in prison were allowed to use a postal vote giving their home address that would be fair. There is no reason why a person who is being imprisoned supposedly for rehabilitative and corrective purposes should not have a vote. It is a very considerable indignity to have one's right to vote taken away. People in prison should be as much entitled to vote as anyone else.

Another problem arises particularly in areas where there are many flats: I refer to places such as Rathmines. In an area like this people may have their names on the register in Dublin and also in their home county. Many of them may go home to vote, leaving behind them their cards for the Dublin constituency and their votes may be used by others, even without the card. I do not see any problem in voting without a card provided one can identify oneself or be identified by another person. However, in an area like Rathmines where there are many flats people would not be known and extra precautions must be taken to ensure that impersonation does not take place, particularly given the tight voting position in the past two elections. It could influence a marginal seat and that would have a disastrous effect on democracy.

Some years ago in London a Member of Parliament succeeded in applying to the courts the day before an election to have the residents of a new housing estate given the right to vote. The local magistrate decided that they should be given the vote. As I understand it, there is no such power in this country. At the last general election I found that the residents of a new housing estate in my constituency were not on the register but nothing could be done about it. Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council are building enormous housing estates and there is a considerable transfer of population. If an election were to take place during the compilation of the register many housing estates would be omitted. This is absurd. It should be possible to ensure that the people concerned could apply en masse to the courts to be entered as an addendum to the register and given the right to vote. It is morally wrong that entire housing estates are excluded but that is happening.

The checking of the draft register is often done on a voluntary basis by the political parties. Winter time, when the register comes out, may be a good time for some areas and bad for others. I do not know if this should be regulated by law or by the local authorities who know better the needs of their areas. It might be better to compile that register in the summer. These draft registers of electors are left for inspection in places such as Garda stations, libraries, local authority offices and post offices for people, but they will probably be hard to find in a local Garda station. I do not see why these could not be left at churches, schools and supermarkets where so many people go. These would be convenient locations for people to check if they are included. That would be very easily arranged and fewer errors would arise on the register.

I support the suggestion that non-nationals residing in this country should be given the opportunity to vote. It is wrong that people living here for 20 or 30 years who have abided by our laws and paid their taxes should be denied that right. In one housing estate in my constituency there are three such families, one of whom has been established here in business for the past 25 years or more. These people are loyal to our customs and our ways of life, but happen to have been born in Scotland. They can vote only in local and European elections, which is totally wrong. They sooner that situation is remedied, the better.

There is also the case of a girl of 18 whose parents are Irish, but who was born in England. She is now residing here with her parents, but because details of her birth have been provided, she has not been given a vote in general elections. I do not know the reason for this, but I understand that it will be corrected when the vote is given to non-nationals. This anomaly is absurd. The time to review these regulations is well overdue. I will certainly lend my support to a system which will give votes to non-nationals resident here.

: I call Deputy Seán Walsh. I remind the Deputy and the other speakers that this matter must conclude at 2.30 p.m. and I believe that the Minister of State would like to contribute briefly at the end. I hope that all Deputies will co-operate on that.

: In fairness, the Chair has every co-operation from this side of the House, perhaps a little more than we ourselves got. I would like to make my point on that.

An Leas-Cheann-Comhairle

: I was not present.

: I am sorry that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not present. Our party were treated very unfairly in relation to the rotation of speakers. I register my protest in relation to that. However, there is no point in delaying.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks of Deputy Molloy, our spokesman on Environment, and also Deputy Fitzsimons, in paying tribute to the working party responsible for drawing up this report. It is a worthwhile document containing valuable information in relation to the compilation of the register. It is a pity that we had not more time to study this document which is very important for all Members of this House because if people are not on the register, they cannot vote and if they are not able to vote, some Members of this House may be defeated and others elected. It is a matter of concern to everybody.

I represent a constituency including the new town of Tallaght and, for the past few years, part of the new town of Clondalkin. For some years we had many problems with the register with regard to a constant moving of people into these areas. The staff of Dublin County Council have made great improvements in the recording of the register. In the past two elections, the problems were not so apparent as in other years.

I refer to page 8 of the report — access to polling stations and so forth. I appreciate very much the comments made in regard to facilities being provided for disabled people. This is commendable and will help these people considerably. At every election there are additional polling stations opening in the new town of Tallaght, with many problems about new votes. It is very often the case that these stations have a very inexperienced presiding officer in charge. All the necessary arrangements may not have been made and people may have to leave without voting. As the Minister of State is present, I hope he will give some consideration to this matter. This affects all parties and the problem is well known. At the 1977 general election the new town of Tallaght was developing rapidly and there were numerous problems as a result.

I also refer to page 51 of the report — polling stations in institutions. I was not aware that the sheriff was entitled to set up polling stations in institutions. There is reference in the report to this, which I appreciate very much. In the constituency of Dublin South-West, there is one institution, Crooksling Hospital, mainly catering for elderly people. Every year a number of people from there are on the register but a very small percentage are able to vote. I sincerely hope that the recommendation of the report will be made operable. There are one or two other institutions in the constituency to which I hope this will also apply.

I appreciate that the postal vote will be extended. The report refers to seamen, from whom I have had many representations. I am pleased that these people will now be catered for. I welcome the report and again congratulate the people responsible, who have done a wonderful job.

: The Chair has called for brevity and I hope that I do not disappoint. I would like to put on record my appreciation of the work which has gone into the compilation of this very extensive report. It has been exceptionally well researched. The submissions contained therein will, it is hoped, have the desired overall effect, that is, that the register of electors will be more accurate in future.

It is a pity that we are confined to such a short period for discussing such an important document. It is an extremely important document as far as politicians are concerned because they rely on the accuracy of the register of electors in order to generate sufficient support to gain a seat on either a local council or in the national forum. There has been a tremendous amount of criticism voiced from time to time of the secretaries of local authorities, the people referred to in this document as the field assistants, whose job it is to ensure that people are accurately registered for election purposes.

The main attack came after the 1982 general election when the register of electors was almost two years out of date. Naturally there would then have been considerable omissions, inaccuracies, people on the register who should not have been on it and so on. Over the years the register of electors in rural areas has been maintained reasonably accurately. Rate collectors, whose responsibility it was to ensure that the register of electors was maintained reasonably accurately did an excellent job on which they should be complimented. There was also a tremendous input by politicians, by a large number of other agencies, all with local knowledge of an area and in constant touch with the people. That is precisely how the register of electors can be kept accurate.

There are so many submissions in this document that it would be irresponsible of me — because time is running out — even to attempt to address myself to any number of them. However, I must mention some of them in order to assist the Minister, when drafting legislation, so that at least he will know the views of the Members of this House. With regard to the compilation of the register, I am all for appointing competent people to do the job. This is vitally important and may involve other organisations, political or otherwise. Here we must compliment the political parties—although they do it for their own purposes—for ensuring that on election day the register is reasonably accurate. That eliminates a lot of the frustration that might otherwise arise.

We are running out of rate collectors because of the elimination of rates on housing. For that reason we must consider paying people—as is done in other countries—to ensure that the register is kept up-to-date. The onus should be placed on the local authority and on the person being paid to ensure that the job is done accurately and well.

We sampled postal voting in the 1979 local elections. It was suggested by politicians — and it is on the record of this House — that there was considerable abuse in this area. The elimination of abuse in a postal voting situation is extremely difficult. Nonetheless there are genuine reasons why postal voting should be extended. When the Minister is considering that question he should give serious consideration to the elimination of such abuse. I know that there is abuse in all forms of voting, even to the extent that people can be brainwashed going to a polling station, when they actually record their vote in a semi-mechanical way.

I feel very strongly also that consideration must be given to people who are in institutions, who are on a register and who would normally and dearly wish to vote at election time. Such people must be given serious consideration, as also should people in hospital for short periods. Ways and means have been suggested of getting rid of the existing draft register. We must give that serious thought because the draft register, if properly drawn up, is the most accurate of all ways of ensuring that the final register is accurate. Clerical errors can be eliminated at the final stage. The overall objective should be to ensure that all those people qualified and entitled to vote are on the register. Omissions have given rise to very serious criticism from all quarters. People who have voted for years on an election day have found they have been eliminated from the register for some reason or another. That practice is most undesirable and must cease. Of course there has also been the question of double registration which has led to a lot of abuse. Personation has been part and parcel of the Irish scene. Irish people going to America took pride in the fact that they could personate and won elections and a lot of influence in high places arising from personation. Fortunately that practice has been kept to a minimum in this country and that is the way it should be.

In the interest of allowing others have their say I shall conclude by saying I welcome the report. I endorse many of its provisions and I look forward to legislation that will put many aspects of this report into effect.

: I make a special plea to the Minister when drafting legislation to consider those individuals in our diplomatic corps serving abroad. I know this was considered in the course of this report. But it seems to me to be a rather dubious situation that individuals of such distinction as those who participated in the drawing up of that working party report would not feel that diplomats were as trustworthy as they in the matter of voting. I do not see anything untoward about diplomats in our embassies abroad casting their votes. They are not going to incur the risk of personating or doing anything wrong. I have great faith in them; they serve the people of this country abroad and they serve the interests of this nation abroad. Because of that they find themselves in a situation quite frequently — where they have been over 18 months abroad — of being unable to cast their votes. There is the situation here in which Americans vote in their embassies in Congressional elections, Senate elections, presidential elections, which indeed can become quite festive occasions for exiled Americans here on business or who are in their diplomatic service. I do not see any reason why — as in Germany, Denmark or Holland — we cannot liberalise our laws to provide for these people.

I might mention also seamen, people serving the national interest by reason of taking our exports abroad. I realise this has been dealt with in the report but there is a special case to be made for them also.

I thank you, Sir, for having allowed me make those few points.

: In replying on behalf of the Government and the Minister I should like to thank Deputies for having participated in this debate. This has really been a listening/exchange of information type debate from which we wanted to get as quickly as possible the views of the elected Members of this House. I heard Deputy Molloy earlier express a certain degree of displeasure at the speed with which we had moved. I should say it was not our intention to pre-empt or exclude Deputies from having an opportunity to digest the contents of the report. In fact there is a lot of meat in the report. On the contrary, it should be said that we face elections in May and it is desirable that we attempt to be in a position to implement whatever changes we in this House agree on in time for those elections. Therefore an earlier debate was considered preferable rather than postponing it.

: Is the Minister referring to 1983 or to 1984?

: I am talking about the European and local elections for 1984. There is no ulterior motive in relation to the timing of this debate. We are anxious to hear the views of all Members as soon as possible and I assure Deputies that everything that has been said during this debate will be evaluated in conjunction with the recommendations of the report.

Most Deputies who have had a chance to go through the report will recognise that the working party have done a good job in evaluating the various options in relation to the problems that have arisen down through the years. That does not mean necessarily that we are accepting all the recommendations or that Deputies must agree with the recommendations, but the working party have gone through the whole process and have identified and analysed most of the problems that have surfaced.

I wish to thank also all those who made submissions. A good deal of work went into some of these submissions which came from local organisations and from various constituencies. My constituency of Dublin South-East submitted a report which was based on the experience of the Director of Elections during two elections when anomalies that were very disturbing occurred. About 23 per cent of the population in that constituency live in private rented accommodation. The lack of accuracy as between two or three elections was frightening.

Deputy Walsh raised the point about the problem of establishing identity and of not being allowed to vote if one's name did not appear on the register. As elected representatives we must find an acceptable means of ensuring that anyone whose name inadvertently does not appear on the register should be in a position to vote somewhere. We have all had experience of people finding that their names had been removed from the register although they had been included on two or three previous occasions. There are enough forces at work in our society trying to undermine the democratic process. We must give every encouragement to people to vote. I have taken note of the views of Deputy Walsh on that matter.

I should like to put on record my personal support for the views of Deputy Andrews relating to giving the right to vote to diplomats, seamen and people who either for personal reasons or for reasons of working abroad whether on behalf of the State or otherwise cannot exercise this right. Personally I do not accept the recommendation in relation to that aspect in the report but this is a debate in which we are all talking about what is in the report and I look forward to coming back with a series of proposals to put before the House. There is a very strong case for people in the diplomatic service or for anyone who because of his work finds himself abroad at election time. The present situation means effectively that these people are disfranchised. I have had occasion to meet diplomats who have not been able to vote here in the past four to six elections because of their being abroad. This is not something that happens in other countries. We should take steps to ensure so far as possible that everybody who wishes to vote is facilitated, that the minimum of hindrance is put in their way.

The question of postal voting was raised, too. From my own experience I know that there were many reservations expressed about the alleged misuse of this facility but I think the misuse relates more to the way in which people voted rather than to the facility. It is difficult to distinguish the anger that some people have because of their reckoning that the election went the wrong way. We need to put right the system of postal voting. The experience of the 1974 local elections whereby people were able to have their names included on the postal vote register just before the election was not satisfactory. As the report suggests, we must look at this whole question and at the possibility of extending it. There are people who are not able physically to attend at a polling station on election day. We should facilitate such people.

There is the whole question of the putting together of the register and of the accuracy of it now that rate collectors are a declining group in the work force. We must find other ways of compiling the register accurately. Perhaps postmen could be utilised in this task.

If after this debate has ended the Opposition spokesman has any other views that he may wish to bring to our attention, I should be grateful if he would do so.

: Can the Minister explain the legal point about the position of an illiterate voter, about the removal from the polling station of certain personnel including the poll clerk and the Garda sergeant?

: I was not here when that point was raised so I am not in a position to give an explanation.

: I appreciate that the Minister was not here at the time.

: I shall let the Deputy have the information later.

: Is the question of the vote for itinerants being considered?

: Every citizen should have a vote.

: Are there proposals to ensure that this applies to itinerants?

: There are difficulties in terms of establishing residence. If the right to vote is extended on the basis of residence, there are problems created. One of the reasons for the working party not recommending votes for diplomats was that they had no formal residence in the Irish State.

: I should not like the impression to be created that itinerants are not entitled to vote. They are so entitled and to my knowledge are registered in most places.

: That is correct. Perhaps Deputy Andrews is not fully aware of the situation. We are all anxious that the system be put right. Experience of the last three elections indicated a wide range of anomalies and much dissatisfaction with the system. People in all of the political parties, especially in urban areas, were aware that there were grave inaccuracies and that something would have to be done to put the matter right. The working party established by my predecessor, Deputy Burke, did a lot of good work. I am now giving the undertaking to the House that we will evaluate carefully all the points made in the debate in conjunction with the recommendations of the report. It would be our desire and our intention to come back to the House as soon as possible with legislative proposals should such be necessary and with regulations designed to ensure that those who are entitled to vote are given every opportunity to do so and that the accuracy of the register is maintained at the highest level possible.

Debate adjourned.