Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 Jun 1985

Vol. 359 No. 3

Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1985: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to make provision for the extension of voting rights at Dáil elections to persons other than Irish citizens, who are normally resident here. Under existing law, the right to vote at Dáil elections is confined to Irish citizens resident in this country.

As Deputies are aware, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, which was passed by both Houses, proposed to extend voting rights at Dáil and presidential elections and at referenda to British citizens resident here. That Bill, which was referred by the President to the Supreme Court in accordance with Article 26 of the Constitution, was ruled to be repugnant to the Constitution. Following that ruling, the Government decided to bring forward a Bill to amend the Constitution to enable the right to vote to be determined by legislation.

The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1984, which was passed by both Houses in April last year, was referred to the people for decision by way of referendum in June 1984. That Bill, which was approved at the referendum, had the effect of allowing the Oireachtas to extend to non-citizens resident in the State, the right to vote at Dáil elections.

The effect of the Bill now before the House will be to provide for the extension of voting rights at Dáil elections, on a reciprocal basis, to citizens of EC member states resident here. The United Kingdom already allows Irish citizens resident there to vote in parliamentary elections and, in recognition of this, the Bill confers directly on British citizens resident here the right to vote at Dáil elections. At present, no other member state gives voting rights at parliamentary elections to Irish citizens. But the Bill makes provision for reciprocating the granting of such a right, should it occur, by ministerial order, subject of course to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The requirements as regards entitlement to the Dáil vote for Irish citizens will of course apply in relation to non-citizens. A minimum age of 18 years will apply; there can be no discrimination on the grounds of sex; the person concerned must be free from legal disqualifications in relation to voting and he must be ordinarily resident in the State. The Bill also makes provision for specifying criteria to determine whether persons resident here are nationals of other member states for the purpose of this Bill.

Apart from section 2, which is the section providing for the extension of the franchise, the rest of the Bill is taken up with consequential technical changes. These arise mainly from the fact that the extension of voting rights relates only to Dáil elections, and voting rights at presidential elections and referenda will still be confined to Irish citizens. This means that a new category of elector must be defined. The Bill proposes a category of "presidential elector" which will be confined to Irish citizens; only persons in this category will be allowed to vote at presidential elections and referenda.

During the debates on the 1983 Bill and on the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1984, many Deputies expressed the view that any extension of voting rights should not be confined to nationals of one particular country and that there should be provision for the granting of voting rights to nationals of other member states of the EC resident here. I am sure those Deputies will now welcome the wider provisions of this Bill enabling this to be done on a reciprocal basis.

This country is unique in that we are the only member state of the EC which allows nationals from all other member states the right to vote at both European and local elections without reciprocation. The provisions of this Bill can be seen as a further development of this country's open approach to the granting of the franchise to a wide category of foreigners living here. I hope it will also be seen as an important first step towards mutual extension of voting rights at parliamentary elections among EC member states.

The extension of voting rights at Dáil elections to British citizens is a reflection of the special relationship which exists between the two countries, as well as redressing an imbalance which has existed for many years with so many Irish citizens voting at parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom. I hope the Bill will contribute to the relationship and to understanding between both countries.

I commend the Bill to the House.

The Fianna Fáil Party welcome this Bill. The gesture of extending voting rights in general elections to British citizens was first proposed by the Fianna Fáil Party who when in office initiated a review of existing legislation and constitutional provisions to determine how this might be done. At the summit meeting with the British Prime Minister in 1980 the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party proposed to reciprocate the voting rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in British parliamentary elections by the extension of the same rights to British citizens living here. When this Government brought forward legislation to give effect to that promise we expressed serious and substantial doubts as to the validity of the Bill which the Government brought before the House — the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983 — and recommended that the President might exercise his powers under Article 26 to have the Bill referred to the Supreme Court for a decision on its constitutionality. The courts ruled against that Bill and we subsequently had a Referendum Bill brought forward. That referendum was held and an overwhelming majority of the people in the 26 counties voted to give the vote in Irish general elections to British citizens living here.

During the course of the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, several points were raised by me and other Fianna Fáil speakers. I am pleased that nearly all of the arguments we brought forward have been adopted by the Government in this Bill and in the actions which they have taken since. We were concerned at the proposal to extend the voting rights not just to general elections but to presidential elections and for referenda being held here. Now the right to vote in a presidential election or in a referendum is being confined to Irish citizens. The right to vote in general elections is what Fianna Fáil promised and wanted to see implemented. I gave the reasons why it would not be appropriate to extend the voting to those other areas when the 1983 Bill was being discussed. This is the third occasion since then that we have had an opportunity to discuss the extension of voting rights in general elections to British citizens living here so it is not necessary to delay the House very long. Most of our thoughts on the matter are in the Official Report. We are pleased with the contents of the Bill before us.

There is one point which the Government do not seem to be able to determine accurately, that is the number of British citizens living here who will benefit from this new power which this Parliament is unanimously agreeing to give them. During the course of the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1983, the Minister said that there was an estimated 10,000 such voters. On this occasion in the explanatory memorandum the Government have estimated that there are 12,000 such voters. In reply to a parliamentary question, which I put down on 21 May this year, I was told that there were 56,800 UK nationals usually resident in the State. That figure is a global figure including persons under 18 who would not have a vote. One is not sure how many British citizens will qualify and there is not a reliable source for the statistics given by the Government other than a guess that it is in the region of 12,000 to 20,000 voters. We hope that when these new voters exercise their franchise here they will recognise that the party who first proposed extending that vote to them will appreciate their electoral support.

In relation to this whole question of voting rights between Irish and English citizens a unique situation exists in that in Northern Ireland Stormont Parliament or Assembly elections Irish citizens living in the Six Counties do not have the right to vote. In view of the generous measure this House is proposing this morning will the Minister say if any approach has been made to the British authorities requesting an extension of voting rights to Irish citizens living in the Six Counties in Assembly elections or Stormont elections. That seems to be the only outstanding sore point in electoral relations between both countries. It would have been appropriate to raise this with the British authorities in the course of the various discussions which we are assured are taking place in seeking to find ground for better relations and progress in our long standing dispute over the occupation and division of part of our island. Surely the British could reciprocate to that extent in removing that anomaly and extending the vote to our citizens in the Six Counties in their Assembly elections. One must recall without rancour or bitterness that the extension of the voting rights to Irish citizens living in Britain was not a deliberate decision by the British people. A referendum was not held to extend that right nor was any special legislation passed in the Houses of Parliament. The right was there for historical reasons, because of a reluctance on the part of the British to introduce a Bill after the 1949 Act here setting up the Irish Republic, declaring all Irish people in England to be aliens. It would have been impractical for them to do so and would have had serious political repercussions for Britain had they sought to deprive all Irish citizens there of the vote which they had for other historical reasons. This is a very magnanimous gesture on the part of this Parliament. I hope the British authorities will recognise it as such and that they too will make a move to extend voting rights to our citizens in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

I also welcome this Bill. As Deputy Molloy has said, this matter has been debated here on several occasions already and it is on record. It is pleasant to come into the House and welcome this Bill that we have all anticipated in a referendum. For Irish people who for some part of their working lives have lived in Britain and have had the advantage and privilege — the vote there was a privilege for them in the absence of a reciprocal arrangement here — I can say as one of those people who was integrated into the political system in Britain and worked and had a vote within it when I lived there, that it is all the more welcome that we are now reciprocating. My constituency of Dún Laoghaire has a large number of residents from Britain particularly but also from other EC countries, who have lived there for 20 or 25 years, have paid their taxes and taken a keen interest in the politics of this country. They believe that their vote is precious — as it is — and their future depends upon the politics and policies of this country and not of Britain. They have had a sense of grievance that Irish people living in Britain had this right to vote which was almost automatic while they have been denied it here for so long. They are not guilty of chauvinism. Their concern and their interests arise from their feeling of belonging in this country, of having set down their roots here and regarding Ireland as the country where they want to live. It is embarrassing for us when we canvass at elections that again and again we have had to tell them that the vote has been promised to them, we had a referendum and we hope that the vote will be extended to them.

We are showing openness and a sense of European community here when we use this Bill to extend the right to vote here to nationals from other member states of the EC when those member states reciprocate by allowing Irish citizens living in their countries to vote there. We have anticipated the extension of voting rights to citizens of member states living here. When we consider the ideals — which unfortunately are not always attained — and objectives of the Treaty of Rome we should see Europe as a family with European Community meaning community in the sense of a people joined together across barriers and borders. This measure is a real move towards crossing those barriers and borders and making all of us who work and live in other member states feel that we are of the same European family. It is appropriate that we in Ireland are doing this because from the time we voted to enter the EC we have shown a sense of unity with Europe and a sense of community sometimes ahead of other members states. I hope that in the not too distant future other member states will look at this area and extend voting rights.

This measure is apposite particularly when we consider the kind of movement that can be anticipated particularly by our young voters in the years ahead. We have a highly educated electorate and our students have been introduced, not before time, to foreign languages and are learning to overcome psychological and language barriers and to operate freely in the EC. I foresee the day when our young people will move easily in the EC and perhaps spend part of their lives in other member states gaining experience and making the contribution there and to the Commission. It will be of importance to those people to have a vote in the areas in which they will be living and where they will be at the receiving end of the policies and politics of those countries.

The local elections to be held on 20 June remind us again of our right to have the vote and the responsibility attached to it. I would like women particularly to be aware of how precious that vote is and how long and hard women had to fight to get that basic right. It is a matter of sadness to all of us in this House when we canvass and find that people through lack of interest or of education in politics in their school years feel that a way to mark their displeasure is not to bother to come out to vote. Probably even more depressing in a democracy is that some people do not really care, they feel that it is no business of theirs to come out and vote. I think that politicians on all sides of the House would recommend that, regardless of whom people are voting for, they should see their vote as one of the most powerful, democratic and desirable rights that they have. Sometimes when I canvass on the doorsteps I am tempted to say to people who tell me that they will not bother to come out to vote that if tomorrow this House decided to legislate to take the vote away from either the whole populace or part of it, for any reason, there would be an uprising, a revolution of people demanding that their most basic right to vote would not be taken from them, yet, unfortunately, that realisation, enthusiasm, sense of interest is not evident among some of the electorate. I hope that the short debate we are having this morning will raise an awareness once again of the importance of people coming out to vote in the local elections on 20 June next as that election will affect them at local level and within their communities.

Let me mention finally two groups of our Irish citizenry to whom I would like to think voting rights will be extended in the future. For instance, some citizens of our country for whatever reason work abroad on occasions. They would like to be able to vote, but for business reasons or work reasons they cannot do so. That section of the electorate very much resent the fact that they cannot vote because they are not in the country. When it can be shown that these people will be physically absent, they should be able to register their vote within a certain period before they go away, or by post.

There is another group of people with a huge sense of commitment to Ireland, the families of the diplomatic corps. They represent us at all levels in other countries and they do so with a tremendous sense of pride. Literally they are our ambassadors abroad. They have a tremendous interest in what is happening in Ireland. They would like to be able to vote in elections here. Nothing is impossible. We should be able to allow them to register their votes and have them brought back here under proper supervision.

We want the vote to be used by as many people as possible. In this Bill we are extending voting rights to British citizens living in Ireland and citizens of EC member states when they reciprocate. The openness shown in this Bill is an indication of the importance we place on the right to vote. I ask the Minister to consider the two categories I mentioned and see whether the same openness shown in this Bill could give them the right to vote in the near future. When we are talking about people coming out to vote we are talking about people feeling a sense of identity and an interest in the country and its politicians. There is also a sense of family within the nation and within the greater European nation. I welcome the Bill and hope it will be extended further.

This Bill is important in symbolic terms and also in reality. It calls for very short contributions because it is not controversial. It is not divisive. It will be greatly appreciated by those upon whom it will confer one of the great privileges of a parliamentary democracy, that is, the right to vote fearlessly and freely and exercise the franchise.

There are a number of reasons why this Bill is being welcomed on all sides of the House. The first is that it fulfils a promise. It may have taken five years to fulfil that promise but, when the Bill goes through the Houses of the Oireachtas, it will become a reality. This Bill is part of what might have been a major breakthrough in Anglo-Irish relations at the Dublin Summit in 1980. For a variety of reasons the expectation which was inherent in that summit was not realised. That should not deter us or make us see the promise made about votes for British nationals living in Ireland in an unfavourable light. The proposal has great merit and it would be churlish in the extreme for us to reject what was promised then because parts of the package have not worked out. Nobody in the House would want that to be the case. This all-party agreement is welcome.

The second reason why this Bill is welcome is that it contains a measure of reciprocity. Irish people living in Britain have long had the right to vote in Great Britain. I exercised that right in local elections in Britain on a number of occasions. Had there been a general election while I was living there I would have used my vote to have my say in who would represent the constituency in which I lived.

Having the right to vote means that Irish people who have made Britain their home permanently or on a long term basis can become fully involved in the political life of their adopted country, whether it be in local politics or in national politics. We have tended to underestimate the extent to which the use of the vote has helped to create a strong and increasingly powerful Irish lobby in British politics. This is particularly evident in the Labour Party. People who came over here on deputations tried fairly consistently to understand the nature of the Northern Ireland problem. They have also tried to understand the problems which affect the two Governments whether they be in terms of the welfare of emigrants or in terms of trade. The presence of a strong, sympathetic Irish lobby in British politics is beneficial to us.

Nothing could be more frustrating for a person than to become involved in politics and not have the right to vote. The right to vote has had an integrating effect on the Irish community in Britain while, at the same time, allowing them to maintain their sense of being Irish and their links with their home country. The right to vote for those who made Britain their home gave them an opportunity to belong and to be part of their new country. That opportunity has not been available to British citizens living in this country. British people living here are for the most part model citizens. They have a very high civic sense. They pay their taxes. They follow Irish politics with great interest and in a very constructive way. They want to see good relations between our two countries and they want to see progress made towards a resolution of the outstanding problems between our two countries. Up to now they have felt excluded.

At the last count 575 British people living permanently in my constituency were excluded from voting. From talking to these people, meeting them on the doorsteps and at social functions I know they feel excluded. They cannot participate fully in a country which they want to serve. They feel a great sense of gratitude because of the fact that this Bill is now a reality. We all take for granted the right to vote. Perhaps in the coming local elections many people may feel the right to vote which was fought for for so long and which is one of the hallmarks of a free people is not worth exercising. Like everybody else I hope that in the local elections people will come out, no matter whom they will vote for, to ensure that this right does not go by default.

I should like this Bill to go a little bit further. The constitutional change last year makes it possible for the Bill to be extended. At a time when we should be discussing European union and our own future in Europe, this Bill is particularly appropriate. I would like to see voting in national elections extended to nationals of European Community countries living here. Obviously that can only happen if those countries are prepared to grant the same right to Irish people living in their countries. The figures revealed in the Dáil a couple of weeks ago by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach of EC nationals living in Ireland are not very great and are not concentrated in any one area where they could distort the election results. I am glad to see the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the House. He had a great deal of work to do during our presidency and he can take up the point I am making. I hope in the discussions with our European neighbours that the question of extension of voting rights on a reciprocal basis can be looked at in a serious way.

I can see one problem straightaway. France extends voting rights to its nationals living in Ireland. There is a fairly complicated system in relation to the French national elections whereby French nationals can vote by post or at their embassy. The question of whether people will have the right to vote in the elections of two countries will arise. This matter will have to be sorted out between the two Governments. I am sure we all agree it would not be proper that a person should have the right to vote in two national elections. People in that situation could opt for one or the other. I urge the Minister to look at this particular aspect.

The vast majority of EC nationals living in Ireland do so from choice. They have come here to work, they bring their own skills with them to contribute to the development of this country or they have chosen our way of life. The Minister's own constituency is an example of this. They perhaps feel in these areas that there is a saner, more civilised, calmer way of life. They find there something which they believe the rest of Europe has lost and they have come here to make this country their home. I believe they will greatly appreciate the privilege of voting in our elections. If the problem could be ironed out there would be a great welcome for the extension of this right.

This Bill is going through the Dáil with all-party agreement at a very crucial stage of Anglo-Irish relations. The discussions are at a very delicate and difficult stage and it appears that agreement has been reached on many issues but there are still some outstanding issues. It is no harm that this measure goes through here today and through the Seanad later this week or next week with the full backing of all the parties in the House as an earnest of our goodwill, a desire of all parties in the House to live in terms of friendship and equality with our British neighbours and also to highlight one of the element of the Forum report, that is the ability of two seperate identities to coexist side by side, fully expressed and in full harmony. This Bill conferring the right to vote in our elections will be greatly appreciated by the many British people who live here and who have contributed so much to our development over the years.

On 19 October 1983, when we were discussing the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, I stated:

I am delighted to extend the franchise to British residents, but I appeal to the Minister to go further. Let us lead the way in Europe by extending the franchise to all our European colleagues resident in Ireland. There is little we can lead in when it comes to European matters. We always appear to have the hand out. The reasons for that are obvious. I do not need to document them. If we give our jealously guarded franchise to anyone let us give it to all our European brothers and sisters who are residents in Ireland.

I made the point about how much they were contributing to our economy, that they were, as Deputy Manning has just said, in Ireland by choice, that many of them were married to Irish men and women and were rearing Irish children. I felt they were entitled to a say in our affairs provided they were well and truly rooted here and making Ireland their home for the foreseeable future. When I made that plea, along with many other Deputies from both sides of the House, it was pointed out that doing it on such a wide base would not have the same political advantage as just extending it on a reciprocal basis to British people living in Ireland.

I am delighted that we are here this morning doing what many of us asked to have done in October 1983 but I am rather saddened that we had to have our hands forced to do what most of us would like to have done at that time. However, having said that by way of an I told you so, I welcome the Bill before us this morning. My only reservation is that we are insisting on reciprocity in relation to our other European partners in extending our franchise to them. I feel very strongly that we could lead the way in Europe in this regard. I also feel very strongly that our example, even as we have it in the Bill this morning, will lead to Irish people resident abroad being extended the franchise in the various countries they are living in by choice.

It is very difficult to feel magnanimous about a Bill on which many of us felt let down a couple of years ago when we were discussing the previous Bill. There is a missed opportunity here to which I have just referred. I know there will be great delight among non-nationals resident in Ireland in what we are doing here this morning. I will make a final appeal on Committee Stage that we consider extending the vote to those who do not give it to us in other European countries. It is a little dog in the manger of us as a nation to insist that reciprocity must be the order of the day in relation to the question before us. I urge the Minister to have a final look at the matter, to make the decision and not have his hand forced by any constitutional issue, by the Supreme Court or otherwise. I urge him to listen to what back benchers on all sides of the House had a strong gut feeling for nearly two years ago. Perhaps we could reconsider our demand that what we are granting this morning can only be on a reciprocal basis.

When I spoke on this issue in October 1983 I, like many others in the House, including Deputy Molloy, voiced our concern about the constitutional aspect of what we were then discussing. We were subsequently proved right on that issue also. I hope that those of us who have not too bad a track record on this particular issue will be listened to again. I hope that Committee Stage will allow the final step to be taken on what I consider would be a superb contribution to those concerned in this country. We sometimes forget how much we own to non-nationals who have come here by choice. These are people who have chosen Ireland to live in, who were not born and reared in the country and who have to accept a de facto situation. Those people can look at our good points and our bad points and make a conscious decision to come to Ireland, live here, pay taxes and be part of our community. I consider they are entitled to vote in our elections. It is back to the old basic premise of no taxation without representation. We had something to say about that 18 months ago when we were discussing the Bill before us.

I was right on that occasion. The Deputy has now changed her footing on that one as well.

The Deputy was not alone.

I join with Deputy Manning in appealing to everyone to exercise their franchise once that franchise has been gained. History has documented very carefully the difficulty experienced by various groups in various communities who were denied the franchise. These included women, coloured people and other groups. When one has regard to the record and realises how different people had to fight for the franchise, including people in our own country, it seems a certain tragedy that perhaps up to 50 per cent of the electorate do not bother to exercise their franchise. I appeal for a big turnout for the local elections. We are spending time here today debating the gift of franchise to various sections in the community but there will be thousands who will not bother to exercise their vote on June 20 though they may have had the vote for many years and merely take it for granted.

I am delighted with the country's open approach now to the granting of franchise to wider categories. It is important for British people living here that the franchise is being extended to them. Irish citizens in Britain have always been allowed vote at elections. This is a reflection of the special relationship between ourselves and Britain, a relationship that has been difficult at times but which has always been special.

I make a final appeal to the Minister to consider going all the way and extending the franchise in respect of Dáil elections to all European citizens resident here without demanding reciprocity. Perhaps we should have a definition of residency, too. We are assuming that residency means that a person has been in the country long enough to be placed on the register of electors. Can we make that assumption? Perhaps the Minister would let us know. I am very pleased that we have arrived at the stage where we can discuss such an important Bill as this.

I shall be very brief. With my colleagues, I welcome the legislation and particularly I welcome the changes in this Bill compared with the previous one. As Deputy Doyle pointed out, a perusal of the record of the House in respect of the previous Bill will show that myself and many other backbench Fine Gael Deputies made the point specifically that the 1983 Bill should not have proposed simply to provide extending the franchise to British citizens but as a minimum should have proposed extending the franchise to other European nationals particularly in the context of the EC. I welcome the fact that that has been done here and I shall not be ungenerous by criticising the Minister. It is an indication of the willingness of the Government to take into account the views being expressed by Government backbenchers and, in fairness, by Members of the Opposition also that we now have a different type of Bill before the House. The Supreme Court decision which found the original Bill to be unconstitutional did not require the Government to extend the franchise to other EC nationals. The constitutional amendment that had to be made was specifically to empower the State to extend the franchise to persons other than citizens of this State. It is within the power of the State to extend the franchise purely to British or French nationals, for example. I welcome the principle behind the Bill which provides for a general European dimension, a dimension that was not included in the original Bill.

However, in dealing with that dimension it is worth pointing to one or two anomalies that arise. I agree initially with the views expressed by Deputy Doyle but I do not have the theological belief that we should endear ourselves to the concept of reciprocity. If we take the very basic principle that other Deputies have referred to — no taxation without representation — the position is that to be taxed under our taxation code, one must establish residence in Ireland. I am not suggesting that someone who has resided here for one or two years should have the franchise extended to him but whereas the principle of reciprocity has merit in the context of trying to encourage other European countries to provide rights to Irish nationals residing in those countries, it does not have any great relevance to the position of foreign nationals living in Ireland. As other Deputies have suggested, the Bill could be improved by providing also that in the context of any other country, and not just a European country, where there are reciprocal arrangements for Irish nationals we would extend the franchise to people from those other countries who are resident here.

We could provide that the national of any country European or otherwise, who has resided here for a continous period of 10 years would automatically be extended the franchise. Because of the tax position it would be simple to establish the genuineness or otherwise of a claim to residency qualification. Therefore, I urge the Minister to consider this point between now and Committee Stage. If French or Italian nationals have lived and worked here and have paid their taxes for 15 or 20 years, they should qualify on that basis alone for the franchise. They are working within the country. They are bound by the constraints of our legislation and they are contributing to our economy. Such people should not be deprived of the franchise solely because the Governments of their own countries are not prepared to extend the franchise to Irish nationals.

Regarding the electoral qualification there are anomalies in the legislation. The Bill refers to extending the vote to nationals of other EC countries but there are countries which would be regarded as European but which are not formally members of the EC. One thinks of Sweden, for example. One must ask whether we should exclude nationals of other European countries from voting here simply on the basis that their country is not a member of the European Community. Even if Swedish law extended the franchise to Irish nationals living in Sweden, this legislation would not entitle us to provide for reciprocal arrangements in respect of Swedish nationals resident here. Therefore, while I very much welcome the European dimension, the legislation would seem to be unnecessarily confined to the EC. If we are to provide for a principle of reciprocation in terms of the franchise, should we not apply that principle to any State? There is no reason why the rule should apply solely to member states of the Community. There is the point also that those member states can change, that the Community can either expand or reduce. Recently, for example, Greece acceded to the Community and Spain and Portugal are about to become members but not so long ago Greenland left the Community. In theory then, we could have a situation where if Greenland had extended the franchise two or three years ago to Irish nationals living there we would have extended reciprocal rights to persons of Greenland origin residing here but under this legislation we would have to deprive any such person of the vote. That may sound extreme but it is an example of what could happen. Likewise, if we extended the vote to the Dutch or Greek nationals and then if at some future date Holland or Greece decide to leave the EC, we would be depriving someone of the franchise as a result of the actions of a foreign, country of which they were a national but over which they had no control. A number of anomalies could arise under this legislation. If we are adopting the principle of reciprocity we should do so on a worldwide basis and not confine it to member states of the EC.

There are many people of foreign nationality living in Ireland who have made the same contribution in this country but who under this legislation will be treated differently. For example it seems anomalous that we can extend the vote under this legislation to Italian or German nationals but not to American nationals who are permanently residing here. An American national working and paying taxes here for 15 years will not have the facility of a vote extended to him even though under American electoral law Irish nationals would have a vote.

This legislation could be improved. We should have a general principle of extending the franchise on the basis of reciprocity which would not be confined to member states of the EC. We should extend the vote to those who, be they nationals of the EC or another state, have worked and lived here for ten years or more and who paid taxes here. It would be a fundamental democratic right for them to have the franchise extended to them and would comply with the principle of no taxation without representation. I urge that we do that. It would not undermine our democratic institutions but would rather enhance them and our reputation as being a country totally committed to parliamentary representation and election and as a country committed to extending to all those who live here on a permanent basis the right to vote in general elections.

The legislation in 1983 was welcome in that it was intended to extend the franchise to British nationals living in Ireland particularly in the light of the fact that, albeit for historical reasons, Irish nationals residing in Britain have always had the right to vote in British general elections. We are now changing our law in this area and extending the vote to British nationals. By so doing we are extending it to the largest number of foreign nationals who are permanently resident here and who have contributed by way of taxation and job creation. It should be recognised that we are not doing it simply on the basis of reciprocity but should be seen as being symbolic of the unique relationship which exists between the two islands. We do not always agree with British Governments. There are matters of tension and disagreement between us but there is a closeness between us and the British. It is only right that this legislation be seen to be a unique example of the recognition of the relationship that exists between us. To that extent I welcome the Bill and the fact that its passage through the House is not being opposed. I hope we can improve the legislation to some extent along the lines I suggested when we come to deal with it on Committee Stage.

I have always felt it was outrageously unfair not to extend the franchise in general elections to UK citizens who are resident here. During my eight years in the Dáil I have campaigned for this legislation and I am delighted that we are now at the stage of having it enacted in the House. There is a unique relationship between our two countries. For historical reasons, Irish citizens in the UK have always had a vote in their parliamentary elections. Thirty five years ago when we left the Commonwealth this right was continued for Irish citizens resident in the UK by a special Act of Parliament. It was rather a dog in the manger attitude on our part not to reciprocate that. Over the years, UK citizens here have made a contribution from the point of view of the establishment of industry and so on. At this late stage we are in many ways remedying an injustice by extending the franchise to them.

From the European point of view this legislation creates a new opening. In the European elections we, uniquely within the EC, provided for all EC residents to vote. There is considerable debate in Europe as regards the possibility of having a uniform system for the next European elections. There are two points of view. One is that the vote should be based on nationality and the other is that it should be based on residence. In European terms, my view is that the system we have should, if possible, be accepted and adopted by all other member states.

In the context of the national elections we have also created an opening. In many ways I would wish to see all nationals having entitlement to vote here in general elections but we must take into account that there are different systems in different countries. In the recent elections in Greece there were many buses, ferries and planeloads of electors travelling to Greece because that is where they had an entitlement to vote. What we have done is create an opening so that we can discuss with our colleagues in the EC a system which will bring our citizens closer together from the point of view of parliamentary elections. Under the legislation, we have the right to discuss procedures for the future on the basis of reciprocity which will enable progress to be made in European terms in the future. We are doing a good day's work in extending the vote to UK citizens and in giving a lead from the European point of view.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister of State for introducing it after many years of possibly unnecessary delay. The Supreme Court found the previous Bill repugnant to the Constitution but, following voting last June, the way is now open to extend the franchise in relation to general elections to British citizens resident here and to other designated residents of member states. The situation as it was was ridiculous having regard to the reciprocal rights which Irish citizens enjoy in England. Up to now, British citizens residing here could only vote in local and European elections. People from the UK who work here and contribute to society should have a say in general elections.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

As I indicated, I welcome these proposals which are long overdue. I note that about 12,000 British residents will be entitled to participate in future general elections.

A point has been made in regard to the register at the time of presidential elections and perhaps the Minister of State will indicate the position in this area. I look forward to British residents and those from member states having full voting rights and I hope that they, in turn, will ensure that people from this country will have similar rights abroad.

I wish to thank the Members of the House for the way they received the Bill. There is general agreement in this area and we had lengthy debates on this matter some time ago. We are now giving votes to UK residents here and we have talked about this for years on the basis that Irish people living in England have a vote and, in natural justice, the same situation should prevail here.

It is also important that we are now giving EC partners the opportunity of coming in on the whole question of reciprocity between various member states and this country in relation to voting in parliamentary elections. This is important and I hope that member states will look at this as a gesture from a small national committed to the principles of European unity and economic development. It is surely a way of forging closer links between member states and, if we talk about a European concept, nationals of such states should have the right to vote in elections. We have now set up the machinery to allow this to happen and one could say that the ball is now in the court of other member states to reciprocate and I hope that they do. Indeed, I have no doubt that they will.

Deputy Molloy raised the problem with regard to Northern Ireland in relation to the Assembly elections. This Bill is basically about parliamentary elections and in that regard people living in Northern Ireland have the right to vote in Westminster elections. We are aware of the restricted franchise in the case of local and Assembly elections but they are not at issue here. I have no doubt that the British authorities will take into consideration the views expressed in the House on this and will respond. We have now made the running and we hope that will be taken up. I do not have any doubt that in the on-going discussions on various issues in regard to Northern Ireland that issue could be taken on board. We have given a lead by giving votes to citizens of the UK. We have shown the way.

Have the Government brought up the question of extending votes in the Assembly elections to Irish citizens with the British Government?

Discussions that take place between the Governments are confidential and I am not in a position to say whether or not the matter was raised.

The security of the State would not be at risk. There is nothing earth-shattering about the proposal.

I did not say that the security of the State would be at risk or that there was anything earth-shattering involved.

Why is it being kept secret?

I am not saying it is being kept secret. We are giving votes to UK citizens and I have no doubt that notice will be taken of the views expressed here on this matter. I will leave it at that.

Have the Government brought this matter up with the British authorities?

We have outlined our position by bringing in this legislation and the rest is a matter between spokesmen for the two Governments, if they desire to consider it.

The Government have not brought it up?

I am not sure if it has been brought up or not.

The Minister does not know?

I do not know. However, Members have made their views on this matter known today and I have no doubt that the British authorities will take them on board.

Deputy Doyle mentioned the question of reciprocity and suggested that this requirement be dropped. I should like to point out to the Deputy that our laws in relation to the franchise for local and European elections are the most liberal of any European state. We are giving a lead in the legislation before the House. We have gone as far as we should go and we await a response from other member states. I have no doubt they will respond. Deputies Doyle and Shatter raised the questions of residency. The intention is that no length of residence will be specified. The requirements will be the same as those that apply in regard to the registration of Irish citizens at Dáil elections. Deputy Shatter said he would like to see the vote extended to any person who resides here for an extended period especially those who stay between five and ten years. I should like to point out to the Deputy that a person can take out Irish citizenship after five years of residence without being required by our law to renounce his existing nationality or citizenship. If people living in the State want to avail of a vote they can do so without renouncing their citizenship. That is a reasonable approach.

Deputies Barnes and Manning, and others, said that in view of this legislation it was hoped that such people will take a keen interest in the forthcoming local elections and exercise their right to vote. We all share that sentiment. It is our hope that people will take an interest in all elections. Our proposal is to allow UK citizens who have worked on the economic, social and cultural side of our life to vote. I am happy about the proposal. The referendum last year indicated that the majority of Irish people in a generous and open way wanted to extend that right. I hope other member states will follow our example. Such a provision will not tip the balance in the electoral field in any country but it represents a gesture of solidarity and a coming together of the citizens of member states. The provisions have been debated fully today. It is a short though important piece of legislation which many Members recognise is long overdue. I should like to thank both sides of the House for the warm way they received it. The approach of Members is indicative of the way the people felt when asked to decide on the issue in the referendum.

Will consideration be given to the two categories I mentioned, diplomatic families living abroad in embassies and people who go abroad on business?

Do Fine Gael not have any parliamentary party meetings any more?

We have very constructive meetings.

Do Government Ministers not listen to backbenchers?

We do. We are a united party, unlike the Deputy's. We do not have our midnight meetings.

We do not have to silence or expel members for expressing their views.

Or for expressing a party view. The Deputy's erstwhile friend, Deputy O'Malley, with whom the Deputy was hand in hand for a long time, seems to have been thrown to the wolves with little regard for him. The Deputy should not get too involved about party relations.

Do not get carried away. The Deputy who was carried out of the House before might be carried out again.

No more than the Deputy.

The diplomatic category will be considered under the extended voting system.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 11 June 1985.