Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. In particular, I welcome changes in the legislation which will bring the Electoral Acts since 1986 up-to-date. The most important change is the fact that the Minister and the Minister of State have stated that there will be changes in regard to the preparation of the register. One of the most frequent complaints at election time — whether a Dáil election, local elections or a referendum — is the fact that people's names are omitted from the register. I welcome the proposal to have a different timescale for preparing the register and provision for the publication of a supplement containing the names of qualified electors omitted from the register. It is difficult to understand why so many mistakes are made when compiling the register, but the publication of a supplement with the names of those omitted will help to deal with this issue.

I welcome the provision in the legislation that in future the Exchequer will meet three-quarters, rather than half, of the cost of preparing the register. In the past, Government Departments and Ministers have made announcements that local authorities must foot the bill in this regard. Therefore, I welcome the provision that there will be extra subvention by the Department in regard to the preparation of the register.

I should like to comment on the question of registration where a person has more than one address. There are many problems in this regard mainly because the majority of elections take place on Thursdays. Indeed, the referenda which we have been discussing today are also fixed for a Thursday. It can be a problem for people to travel long distances in order to vote in their local polling station. It would be advantageous if people were registered in the constituency in which they are studying or working, particularly at the time of a referendum, but I am aware of the Minister's reasoning behind the inclusion of this provision in the legislation. This raises the question why we must hold elections on a weekday. I believe we should hold elections at weekends as is the case in most European countries where elections are held on Sundays.

Details of schemes relating to polling arrangements are sent to local authorities every few years. Under the legislation local authorities will be asked to review the schemes at least once in every ten years. A number of directives have been issued by the Minister's Department over the past number of years and I remember, in particular, one statement in regard to taking polling stations out of private houses. That was certainly welcome. We have also had changes regarding disabled voters. Under this legislation, disabled voters will continue to be registered as special voters, but certain requirements relating to the submission of a medical certificate every year will not be necessary. That is very welcome.

I am concerned that from time to time the Department of the Environment may issue statements to local authorities on how schemes should be operated in the various polling districts. For example, in 1986 the Department of the Environment issued a circular stating that polling stations should be in the parish or school catchment area concerned. That would cause many problems in rural areas. We cannot simply have all polling stations in the local national school. Many national schools which are at present being used as polling stations are two or three teacher schools; in other words, they have two or three classrooms. Therefore, a range of polling stations could not be put into small schools.

It is important that whatever scheme is devised should not impose undue hardship on the electorate. In the first place, voters should be able to travel to their nearest polling station. That is not the case at present, particularly in rural areas where voters may have to pass one or two polling stations to get to the polling station named on their voting card.

In the circular issued in 1986 by the Department of the Environment it was also stated that 700 to 1,000 electors should be the general aim for each polling station. If there was a requirement to have 1,000 electors per polling station in the Connemara area many people would have to travel at least 20 miles to get to their polling station. If that requirement were in force in my constituency some people would have to travel ten to 15 miles in order to vote. The criterion used should be the distance from the polling station and not the number of electors voting in the polling station and I ask the Minister to deal with that issue.

In regard to the method of election, section 37 of the Bill states that the principle of proportional representation will be the method of voting used in regard to a single transferable vote. This is probably a matter for further legislation or, indeed, a referendum, but the question of single seat constituencies must be addressed by the Government. Before we talk of reform of the Dáil and the public service there must be reform of the electoral system. That should be a priority of the Government. If we had such reform, together with reform of the public service and the Dáil, we would have an opportunity to tackle the serious economic and social problems which exist. There are many difficulties in regard to multi-seat constituencies, not only within the constituency but because the constituencies are changed so often.

A strong case has been made to have the photograph of candidates placed on ballot papers. I would favour this, although I hope it would not cause further confusion. In the case of multi-seat constituencies the names of many candidates may appear on the ballot paper. Sometimes there are too many names, bearing in mind the number of spoiled votes that occur at each election. This places people who genuinely want to vote for a particular party in considerable difficulty, when somebody may insert three Xs in front of Fine Gael, or perhaps Fianna Fáil, candidates, or perhaps even inserting three "Is". One may know that person's intention but it creates a difficulty within a multi-seat constituency. There has been mention of photographs to help people encountering such difficulties.

There arises also the problem of interpreting a voter's intention when more than one election takes place on the same day — to which Deputy Bell referred — in that a voter, or voters, might start voting 1, 2 and 3 and, on another ballot paper, continue to vote 4, 5 and 6. Returning officers may take different views in interpreting such markings, another matter that must be addressed.

I note that the £100 deposit is being increased to £500, the former figure having been fixed since 1923, obviously necessitating a change. There is proposed also a different method of determining what justifies the loss of a deposit, I suppose, to compensate for its increased level. None of us likes to see people losing deposits. While I find elections enjoyable I do not enjoy the count as much for obvious reasons.

The Deputy has not done so badly.

Whether I fare well or badly it is sad to see others fare badly. I note the proposal to re-examine the position with regard to the loss of deposits.

The 1986 circular I mentioned states:

As far as possible, polling districts in rural areas should comprise complete district electoral divisions. The district electoral division is the basic administrative unit used for the Census, for the revision of constituencies and local electoral areas and for a variety of other official purposes.

Obviously it is important to endeavour to achieve that objective, to have polling districts comprised of district electoral divisions but, unfortunately, in practice it does not work out quite like that.

There have been changes in many constituencies. At the last revision of constituencies 4,000 electors from my constituency of North Galway were transferred to East Mayo and another 4,000 electors transferred to West Mayo whereas, in the previous revision of constituencies, 5,000 electors from North Galway were transferred to the Roscommon constituency. I shall not go into the reasons therefor.

The Deputy knows the reason; so do we all.

One clear result of that revision was that district electoral divisions were split. Current registers give a list of townlands in each constituency, showing that perhaps district electoral division A is included except for, say, X, Y or Z which is most confusing. This means that one must revert and examine the townlands and district electoral divisions that had obtained prior to that division; in other words townlands should not be defined by exclusion. It should be clearly stated what are the townlands included in a particular constituency rather than saying "all but..." Had we not our noses so close to the ground sometimes we might not know exactly which constituencies or counties we represented. Therefore, I agree entirely with the Department advocating that we endeavour to maintain a polling district within the overall district electoral division. This would mean that, in the case of future revisions of constituencies, an entire district electoral division could be transferred into an adjoining constituency or, as in my case, hopefully remain in County Galway.

However, I do not agree with all of the proposed changes. Usually the basic problem encountered is that the Department tend to treat rural areas as if there were a huge population located there and that there must be, say, between 700 and 1,000 electors to comprise what the Department would regard as a viable polling area. That criterion will not work.

I welcome the other important changes proposed and wish the Minister and his Minister of State well in their task in revising our electoral laws and system.

Like so many other Members, I welcome this long overdue Bill. It is a substantial consolidation Bill dealing, within 123 pages, with a range of issues in regard to how we conduct elections and referenda. One realises the scope of this Bill when one observes the number of Acts referred to on page ten, some dating back to 1851. In other words, it will be good to have all of our electoral laws encompassed within this Bill once passed.

Its main features deal with electioneering at polling stations, the issue on which most attention has been focused. It is also proposed to increase the deposit from £100 to £500. Its provisions change the ruling on an elector being registered in more than one constituency, refer to opinion polls and specify the date by which one should register.

With regard to the provisions of sections 13 to 16, inclusive — having to do with the register of electors and the changes proposed in this Bill — our current system of registration of voters has left much to be desired causing voters much bewilderment, particularly first time voters whose 18th birthday may fall after April whenever there is an election pending. Such voters have not understood why they could not grab the opportunity to which many of them had looked forward for quite some time, to exercise their franchise and who are prevented from so doing because they have not been registered. It was a slow, cumbersome system that did not allow any flexibility and, in the view of most politicians, had enormous build-in frustrations.

On numerous occasions I have observed many otherwise moderate, good humoured, mature people get into a state of awful fury on discovering that their names did not appear on the current register of electors. All of us will have observed this occurrence many times, which happens through some extraordinary process. Sometimes we public representatives will discover this when canvassing. Of course, its rectification will then be too late for that election. It is even worse when one is approached by a vote at a polling station who is greatly frustrated because he is unable to exercise his franchise. The vote cannot be restored to such a person at that time, when it becomes an issue of great annoyance. I have always felt that to be enormously unfair given that usually such people could validate their identity, demonstrating they were eligible to vote, had been living in the same house perhaps for the past 20 or 30 years and so on.

I have often wondered why it was so difficult to restore the vote to such people given that their name had been removed from the register through some bureaucratic mistake. Of course, many people believe in the conspiracy theory — that perhaps it was a competing party who removed their name from the register or some sleight of hand that led to their being deprived of that important right to vote.

Hopefully such instances will be a thing of the past with the development of computers, their usage, print-outs and so on enabling quicker registration of voters which should also eliminate the hitherto necessity for draft registers, awaiting checking and so on. We should be able to look forward to greater streamlining of our register of electors. It makes sense to amend existing lists only and to do away with the nonsense of draft registers. Hopefully this new practice will mean that an elector can have his or her name inserted on the register within the duration of any election or referendum campaign and be able to vote. I am not sure if that is the intention but it would be my hope that that is what is meant, that such registration could take place within, say, three weeks of polling day.

It would be my hope also that such change would be accompanied by an intensive advertising campaign calling on people to register for voting purposes during an election campaign or, if possible, well before any election date. It is very tempting to reflect on the idea of making voting compulsory as is the case in other EC countries but I accept that it is not the best way. Given the nature of some Irish people, they might see it as an opportunity to defy the law. Short of making it legally obligatory to vote, every incentive should be used, particularly at second level education, to motivate young people to use their vote on every occasion. This would include education on the PR system and how best to use it. Many of them are still confused and do not understand how the system works. I have no statistics to show it but I believe young adults do not vote in large numbers. That is an indictment of all of us. They should be made to understand that there is a real link between what happens to them, to their families and community and the way they vote in elections.

One incentive would have been Sunday voting. Why was this not considered? It could also be held on a Saturday but Sunday would be the ideal day. It would give a special status to polling day. It would facilitate working people, so many of whom are discommoded by having to rush home to vote. It would make it possible for students, commercial travellers and others who are away from home during the week to get back to their own constituency. It would mean that schoolchildren need not miss a day at school. It would be a much more sensible arrangement. If it has not been considered, why?

I am pleased that this Bill deals with the circus outside polling stations, the hassling of voters when literature is pushed at them by people who sometimes block their way. The requirement that canvassers must stay 50 metres from the curtilage of a polling station is welcome. I hope this requirement will prove so frustrating for canvassers of all parties that the habit will die a normal and natural death. I suspect, however, that ways and means will be found to get around the regulations and that some unfortunate people living at the 50-metre remove may be under siege on polling days in the future. Old practices die hard and years of habit have set a firm trend. It is a most distressing experience for many voters, such as people who are shy and retiring and do not want to be involved with canvassers seeking their vote. It must put a lot of people off. Candidates engage in this practice because the other party do. If we had a bit of sense we might come to an agreement that we would not do it. That would be for the better.

Regarding the increase in the deposit, I accept the reality that the £100 fixed in 1923 is out of line in terms of today's values. I am pleased that the Minister did not opt for the sum of £3,000 but opted for the more reasonable amount. I note that conditions for refund of the deposit have changed from one-third to one-quarter of the quota. I note the various views expressed on this section. Some people feel that the amount should be higher than £500 in order to discourage candidates of a frivolous nature. Who is to say what is frivolous? A matter might be frivolous to us but quite serious to somebody else. Some years ago some people might have regarded a Green candidate as frivolous. The same could apply in the future to individuals who would have strikingly unpopular platforms. We have to be careful in making rules of this kind. Nobody goes through the process of registering as a candidate and canvassing for three weeks without good intent. In 1977 when I first became a candidate I went to register and was amazed at how easy it was to be a general election candidate. I have not been really involved in politics until then. I was pleased the deposit was only £100 and I found everyone involved very helpful and supportive. It must be left as open as that. Anyone who has a point of view and wants to stand for election should not be debarred by financial considerations.

I welcome other changes introduced in this Bill. A candidate is no longer required to have an election agent. The Bill could have provided for photographs on the ballot paper. This issue has been discussed many times. For people who are illiterate or not very literate a photograph would be ideal. The practice of listing the candidates in alphabetical order should be reviewed. Perhaps we should look at some system of random selection. Under the present system there is an inbuilt advantage for candidates whose surnames begin with A, B or C or other letters from the beginning of the alphabet. Those at the lower end of the alphabet have a more difficult time. We should look at an alternative to the current system.

Students in Dublin and the other university cities face a dilemma at election time. I am sure they all want to vote but it is quite impossible to do so on a week day. Would it not be a good idea to have some kind of rail pass or other travel concession to give them an incentive to exercise their franchise? It is important to develop the habit of voting and I am concerned that so many students cannot vote. It would take a great degree of commitment and involvement to get students to leave their college and to go home to their constituency to vote.

I regret that this Bill does not deal with the Seanad elections, which should be examined seriously. We need a more humane system. Having been a candidate after 1987 in the Seanad elections I was quite exhausted after the campaign. I wonder why we have not brought about a more realistic election process. We cannot justifiably continue maintaining in the NUI votes an elitist electorate leaving out Limerick University and DCU graduates and perhaps other third level votes. I hope there is legislation in the pipeline to amend this to give graduates from all third level colleges an opportunity to elect their Senators.

I am pleased with the main changes in the Bill. I welcome the changes for disabled voters, the change in the register and the change in the electioneering process. It will mean an end to a lot of frustration and I hope it will make election day at the polling station more enjoyable than it has been when I have been a candidate.

Like previous speakers I welcome the Bill. Almost all speakers have commented favourably on it. Many speakers have wanted other issues to be included but, by and large, all the changes, many of them long overdue, are welcome. When I first got the Bill I was surprised at the number of Acts covering the electoral process. It is time to rationalise the system.

The most important aspect of this Bill relates to the register of electors. Many of us have campaigned for changes in this area. It was appalling that people travelled long distances to a polling station to find that their names had been deleted from the register and they had no comeback. We were always suspicious that this occurred when the Opposition were in control in certain areas.

Recently, when I checked the draft register in a rural town in the company of three others, I was amazed to find that 23 people who should have been included on the draft register were not on it. With the exception of five, they were all young people, first time voters, although a number of them were as many as three years older than the required age. That is something to worry about and I welcome the change in the register.

Some speakers in the Seanad were over-critical of the electorate and felt that the electorate should make a greater effort to ensure their registration. People tend to think that the State has control of this and that they will be automatically included once they reach the required age. A lot of money is spent at the moment to get people on to the register but the system has not worked well over the years.

I take the point made by the Minister, Deputy Wallace, that the system is not as deficient as is sometimes suggested. However, it is heart rending to observe people who may have travelled 200 miles to register their votes being told they cannot vote. I welcome the change. I agree with the timescale and everything else. This change was long overdue and I commend the Minister, Deputy Wallace, on piloting this Bill through.

Up to now we have had a very liberal system with regard to prospective candidates. The system was held up to ridicule by one candidate who ran in 12 or 13 constituencies for a cost of something a little over £1,000. I do not know the rationale behind that but that candidate made a mockery of the system. Once that sort of thing started the onus was on the State to act immediately. I welcome the change there. The figures are reasonable. The lowering of the quota at which point one can get a refund of the deposit maintains a balance when increasing the sum to £500.

Some speakers referred to compulsory voting. I would oppose that. Part of the democratic process is the right of every person to opt out of participation in the system. We would be pushing things too far in insisting that people go to the polling stations to register their opposition on a ballot paper. We should defend their right to opt out.

With regard to the right to vote, a query raised recently with me centred around the right of non-nationals to vote in general elections but not in, for instance, a presidential election or a referendum. I would like the Minister to look at that issue. It might be outside the scope of this Bill but that rule might be changed to ensure that once a person is granted a right to vote here he will be able to vote in all elections or referenda unless it is not feasible due to some internal situation.

Deputy Kitt raised the question of inconvenience for some of the electorate. That is a point I would like to reinforce. The majority of people when drawing up this type of legislation did not think of rural areas. During the recent referendum I found that people in Cork south-central had to drive perhaps 20 miles to and from a polling station to register their voters. This is asking a lot from the electorate. In the city we would be up in arms until we got polling stations located closer to where we live? I ask the Minister to consider the point raised by Deputy Kittvis-à-vis the required number of people needed to warrant a polling station, in a district and we will have to differentiate between rural and urban constituencies.

Deputy Kitt touched on the problem of a candidate finding himself or herself isolated from the general electorate that he or she had served a number of years. This could happen in a five seat constituency, for example, if the Boundaries Commission, for one reason or another, draws a line through a constituency. This is one of the unsatisfactory aspects of the present system that needs to be looked at.

Generally, people are reluctant to change the rules under which they were elected. However, most people would agree that there is a need to look at this situation. I am not saying that we should have change for the sake of change but there is a need for a meaningful and constructive discussion on the topic. It might be decided eventually to keep the present system or to institute a standard three seat or four seat constituency throughout the country. This would, of course, require a referendum but it is something we should discuss.

The item in the Bill that got most public attention is the question of canvassing at polling stations. There is a general acceptance among all the people involved in elections that this is a total waste of time and people are merely flying the party colours. People are agreed that canvassing at polling stations is a nuisance, a waste of money producing leaflets, and a source of litter. This change will be widely welcomed. Again, there will be some diehards who will miss the excitement but, broadly speaking, even the people who had to stand at the polling stations were at the point where they would have looked for a change once it was applied across the board.

I welcome the change in regard to handicapped voters. An important aspect was the question of registration with the Garda. A number of people brought to my attention the security aspect; they were worried that they were being highlighted, particularly in isolated areas, by virtue of the fact that they were on the register in a particular category. I welcome the change in that area.

The question I would like to ask the Minister is how long a person must be absent from home before his or her name is deleted from the register. Many who move to the States or to England on a temporary basis presume that their names are left on the register. A problem has arisen in such circumstances when elderly people have submitted an application for a waiver of charges and have been told that their application does not conform with the voters' register. Perhaps the Minister would clarify how long a person must be away from the residence before his or her name is deleted from the register? What is the legal position?

I understand that central funds will now pick up three-quarters of the cost of the preparation of the register. Some people say there are only pennies involved but in Cork city the estimate of the cost of the preparation of the voters' register is over £110,000. The changes the Minister is introducing mean that we can cut that cost quite substantially and that is to be more than welcomed because there was a certain waste of public funds as a result of repetition. Recording additions and deletions should be sufficient.

Apart from the one or two questions I have raised, I agree with everything in the Bill. I am particularly pleased that a colleague who has so much experience of elections is steering it through. The Minister, Deputy Wallace, has had the experience of being at the wrong end of a decision and will be aware of the importance of every aspect of this Bill. I am sure he will be able to answer anything raised here.

I would ask him to get a debate going on the size of constituencies as soon as possible with a view to making a decision one way or the other within the next few years. I appreciate that some of the smaller parties and minority groups might disagree with this and say we are trying to gerrymander the constituencies. The change in 1974 which was implemented to give a certain result backfired, and the same would happen in the future if any party tried to gerrymander the system. I appeal to the Minister to make this the next item on his agenda once he has successfully put this Bill through. In the meantime I congratulate him on his work to date and wish him well with this Bill.

I welcome the Bill in principle. I want to pay tribute to the Members of the Seanad where this Bill was initiated. People from other countries think our electoral system is confusing. However, anybody who has ever been involved in a Seanad election, and more particularly in a Seanad count, will agree that proportional representation is probably the fairest system of voting in any democracy. We are very proud of it. A Seanad count is a time when the variations of proportional representation came into play and is well understood by those elected to the Seanad and by those involved in the counting procedure.

As the last speaker said, there is none of us who has not had experience of winning or losing an election. We have all gone through the process and it is appropriate that we should at times recount our experiences in the election process under the system of proportional representation. The Bill introduces some changes, some of which are welcome. Indeed, it could have gone further in some respects, particularly in regard to voting rights for emigrants. I hope to deal with that matter later.

I would like to pay tribute to the county registrars, returning officers and those involved in the counting process at local elections, general elections, presidential elections or referenda. The dedicated staff of local authorities have built up much expertise through the years on our system of voting and counting. Indeed, nine times out of ten candidates encounter no difficulties during the counting procedure.

I would like however to draw attention to the section which forbids candidates, or their agents, from handling ballot papers. As the Minister is aware, during the counting process ballot papers which are questioned or are to be declared null and void by the returning officer are presented to the candidates or their election agents for inspection. A dialogue ensues and, in general, consensus is reached between the election agents and the returning officer as to whether a vote should be allowed. I would be reluctant therefore to consider the issue as being black or white.

Section 153 states that a candidate or the agent of a candidate who handles a ballot paper during the counting of the votes at a Dáil election shall be guilty of an offence. Given that ballot papers which are questioned are handled in the presence of the returning officer, the Minister might consider whether this should form part of the counting process if it occurs in the accounting officer's room. We are trying to ensure that the decision of every voter is interpreted correctly by the candidates, their agents and the returning officer. At that stage one vote either way will not make much difference but we must always ensure that each voter gets a fair crack of the whip.

In general, the Minister will agree, there is a high level of authenticity throughout the constituencies and the various polling stations. There are some legends about what happened in the past; about how everyone on the register managed to vote. Some of these stories were repeated here last year. It was even suggested at times that the dead had voted. In general people are conscientious; indeed they are so conscientious that if their name is mis-spelled or the initial is incorrect they bring this to the attention of the returning officer.

I note that a provision has been included in this legislation which gives the returning officer discretion where an incorrect entry had been included in the register provided the person concerned can satisfy him that they are the person listed on the register. This provision is welcome because in the past we have been extremely rigid when it comes to the voter's register. This legislation will permit a supplementary register to be prepared so as to ensure that those who have been excluded, through no fault of their own, from the register of electors which is compiled each year by the local authority, beginning on 15 January with revision courts in April, can be re-entered.

The Bill also contains provisions which deal with the special voter's list, which I will comment on later, and postal voting. In general we should, as legislators, ensure that people are given every opportunity to have their names included on the register and to exercise their vote which was hard won. Even in the era of the computer errors can still be made. Indeed, people who have been living in the same house for years and who had no reason to check the register suddenly discovered on election day that they had been excluded. Heretofore this had created endless problems for all of us at polling stations when people requested that they be allowed to cast their vote.

I have complimented the staff of most polling stations throughout the country but there is one exception. I remember the theme music "Arise and follow Charlie" being played at a polling station. Indeed, the loudspeakers were hooked up to the polling station and the instrument was located within the station—

Were there any Labour voters in that area?

There were a few. Needless to say when the matter was brought to the attention of the returning officer he took action immediately. In a way this was quite extraordinary but probably was the norm in those parts of rural Ireland where they could not see the difference and at a polling station where those who used to rise and follow Charlie were more plentiful. That was the only episode of that kind I came across and I have long experience of elections.

There are some changes in the Bill in connection with the registration of special voters about which I am concerned. The registration of such voters is normally carried out in the month of October. Usually the disabled and the handicapped want to vote but some of the language used in the declaration that has to be made in compiling this special register, a major innovation, is offensive. For instance, they have to declare that they are of sound mind and this declaration must be signed by a medical practitioner. While some slight changes have been made in the procedure I note that this declaration will still have to be made.

We should avail of this opportunity to remove any words which may be seen to be offensive to people in this special category who would like to vote and who are now demanding, rightly so, proper facilities such as ramps, so that they can gain access to polling stations. We should ensure that every facility is provided for them if they want to vote given that the adrenalin flows on election days. Certainly, we should not make it difficult for them to have their names included on the special voter's register by using offensive language.

Given that this register is compiled at a different time of the year they may forget that they need to reregister. Above all others, they like to think that they are part of the decision-making process. The Minister should therefore take this opportunity to look again at the interpretation of "a special voter".

This leads me to the question of postal voting. Members of the security forces, including the Garda Síochána and the Army, have always had a postal vote. This right is now being extended to members of a mission; in other words, officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Under section 12, "a qualified person" means a citizen of Ireland who has reached the age of 18, is a civil servant, a member of a mission and who, for the time being because of the requirements of his duty, is serving outside the State. I honestly believe, and many speakers from all sides of the House have stated this, that there are other categories of people who, by the nature of their work, are obliged to be outside the country or outside their constituency on polling day and, as a result are precluded from voting. This begs the question, should we alter polling day? Perhaps we should decide a day when people hope to be at home — Sunday. Some of us hold constituency clinics on Sundays. Generally speaking people are at home on Sundays and weekends and if we had polling on Sundays it would result in an increase in the numbers of people casting their votes as many would take the opportunity to do so on their way to or from Mass.

We broke with tradition in holding the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty on a holy day. Some priests objected to this from the pulpit and in some cases the parish priest disagreed with the curate, but in spite of that — hopefully the pulpit will never be used for political reasons — voting on Sunday would be welcome. It would facilitate many people who are away from home during the week — commercial travellers, etc. The Minister should consider this suggestion. This is major legislation which addresses the problems which have faced us for a number of years. This is a golden opportunity to make it as easy as possible for people who want to vote to do so.

There is provision in the Bill for a review of polling stations — Deputy Kitt referred to this matter — and this is important. This morning before I came to the Dáil I attended a meeting of a sub-committee of the council in my area which reviewed the position of polling stations. It is important to locate polling stations, particularly in rural Ireland, as conveniently as possible for voters. By reducing the number of polling stations we would be forcing people to travel a further ten or 15 miles. If we chop and change the location of polling stations too often that would create confusion. At times we have to offer incentives by way of transport when canvassing to ensure that the majority of people vote. It is our obligation to provide every facility for voters and the location of rural polling stations is important. The requirement is that polling stations are reviewed every ten years but even if there is a major change in population numbers in certain areas, polling stations should not be relocated.

I welcome the concept of banning the extraordinary practice of campaigning at or near polling stations. On polling day one would think it wasmardi gras outside polling stations because every campaign worker likes to be present, but candidates and people responsible for legislating in this area would be happier if canvassing was prohibited from midnight the night before an election, even from the curtilage — to use Deputy Fennell's words — of the polling station. People may decide to canvass at the nearest crossroads but if that happened the whole concept of what we are trying to do would be defeated. People should not be allowed to hand out campaign literature on election day. We know from experience that by the time the person goes to vote he has already decided for whom he will vote. People are often offended at being interrogated and obstructed by canvassers. I would welcome the banning of all campaigning from midnight the night before an election. I am glad that in the legislation we have moved from the idea of precluding the publication in newsprint of polls and media comments on how the electorate feel on particular subjects. Matters arise during election time which reflect people's changing attitudes.

I would refer to the section of the legislation that deals with the death of a member who is nominated to contest an election. As I understand it, if that happens after the issuing of the writ any votes cast in that area are null and void and a new election will take place on another day. Perhaps the Minister would refer to that in his reply.

In the remaining minutes I would like to re-emphasise the Labour Party's commitment to the concept of votes for emigrants — Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan moved a Private Members' Bill on this matter. It is unacceptable that Irish nationals, be they in England, America, Australia or Europe, are unable to vote in elections at home. This is an emotive subject for emigrants. All other nationals vote in elections at home. I know there is a commitment from the two Government parties to move down this road. In two weeks' time I will address a Tipperary/London reunion group who will say that we forget them when they emigrate. It is appropriate that our emigrants have an input into the affairs of their country.

I welcome the thrust of the Bill. I ask the Minister to take on board the suggestions I have made which will help to tidy it up, particularly the question of postal voting for people who are away from home. In other countries the voting paper is unimportant until it is authenticated. It can be picked up at post offices and other public offices, and it is only when the vote is cast in the presence of a designated person that it becomes an authentic vote. Procedures should be devised whereby people would not necessarily have to attend on the day to cast their vote.

I take this opportunity to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, well in his portfolio. As a man with extensive knowledge I know he will effect change.

The Minister said the Bill is essentially a consolidation and modernisation measure designed to restate existing law in a more convenient form and a clear and more modern idiom. That is basically what has been done in this Bill. Most of the changes, which are long overdue, are welcome. As individuals and parties we have been requesting such changes for many years. As regards the registration of electors, this is a area of great frustration, particularly on polling day when people find their names are not on the list of voters. I welcome the introduction of a supplementary list to which names could be added at any time during the year.

In many areas people depend on political parties to keep lists up to date. It is very frustrating for members of political parties to find that names are omitted through clerical error or otherwise.

A man's vote is not important until he is denied it, which makes him very frustrated and concerned, even though he might not have thought it worth while to notify the authorities that he wished to be registered to vote, particularly if he had moved to a new area. Therefore, it is very important to use the supplementary list.

Over the years the local authorities did a good job compiling a voters' list and it has been streamlined in many areas. The previous speaker referred to postal votes in relation to people in the public service, Garda and Army who work outside the State. However, long distance lorry drivers are also denied a voting facility. Many of them drive to the Continent on a continual basis; this is a relatively new phenomenon as 30 years ago you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who travelled abroad regularly.

I do not agree with having polling day on a Sunday but I am in favour of holding an election on a Saturday. It is a question that should be examined because many people go home to rural areas for the weekend, where many of them are registered to vote. If an election is held on a weekday these people are unable to get home to cast their votes.

With regard to the provision that disabled electors be registered as special voters, it is proposed that the requirement that applicants for inclusion in the special voters' list be certified to be of sound mind will be repealed; the same applies to the requirement for a medical certificate. I welcome this provision in the Bill. It was a problem for a disabled person to have a certificate signed by a doctor and the repeal of that provision is very important because people who are housebound are very anxious to vote. The process will now be simplified.

There are also powers in the Bill to deal with interference or obstruction of electors outside polling stations by canvassers. I am glad canvassing in the immediate vicinity will be prohibited. Perhaps interference at polling stations is not rampant in many areas but anyone in the political arena in the eighties in Border areas knew all about interference and intimidation. Indeed, many voters preferred to return home when faced with barracking and intimidation outside polling stations. At that time I requested that this matter should be dealt with and I am glad the provisions are included in the Bill.

Now that there is so much emphasis on tidy towns, the litter problem should also be tackled. There should be a big reduction in half sheet posters; in the constituency which I represent we have moved over to hoardings which, admittedly, are expensive and hard to store between elections but they solve the problem of litter. I hope, in the years ahead, this system will be common to all constituencies because people driving at 50 miles per hour see very little on a poster on a telegraph poll. There is also provision in the Bill for the candidates' deposit to increase from £100 to £500. We cannot really quibble with that provision or the changes in regard to the quota.

Several speakers referred to the single seat constituency. I suppose it will not be in operation for a while but I am sure the idea appeals to many, especially those who have spent much of their political life in five seater constituencies where competition is intense, even between members of the same political party. All these changes are welcome and they will improve the Bill. The Bill also states that local authorities will be required to review their polling schemes at least once every ten years and the Minister will be given power to take the initiative where it appears to him that polling arrangements should be revised. I am in agreement with the revision of polling arrangements. One polling station should cater for at least 400 people and perhaps isolated areas could be amalgamated for the purpose of voting. Political parties have plenty of manpower at their disposal and they can help in this area.

There are many good provisions in the Bill. I welcome the changes and wish the Minister well.

Like Deputy Dennehy, I wish the Minister well. He has excellent experience in his own constituency and he knows how elections are run because he has been in politics for many years. He is the right man to steer this Bill through the House.

I welcome the Bill because any legislation which helps elections to become more efficient and accessible to the electorate is timely. During the passing of the measure through the House every effort should be made to improve it if at all possible.

In this country we are fortunate to have a system of elections which must rank as one of the fairest in the world. Our system offers a wide range of choices. At times up to 12 candidates may offer themselves for election in a constituency. Voters number the candidates from one to 12 in order of preference — and all candidates, including the Minister and myself, hope to have many voters allocating No. 1 to them. Voters are able to select those people who they deem would represent them best at either national or local authority level. Some commentators would claim that the system of proportional representation does not produce the best politicians but I tend to disagree. Those commentators might say that the politicians elected are messenger boys, clinic operators or those who are always stuffing letter boxes with unwanted literature —"drops", as they are known out my way.

Although our system is not perfect, I should like to speak in its defence because I believe it to be absolutely fair. Deputy Leonard made the case for single seat constituencies. The Irish people get excellent representation from our present system. My constituency has four TDs, all of whom work very hard on behalf of the constituents. Under our system there may be a lot of competition but, in my opinion, through that competition the constituents get the benefit of good service. All of the ensuing activity may place unwanted burdens on the elected representatives, but such activity brings the public representatives closer to their constituents. The representatives are given greater opportunity to ascertain the views of their constituents on matters relating to legislation and on local issues that affect the wellbeing of the public. It is my experience that on a regular basis constituents offer views on matters affecting the environment, planning and housing. As their public representative, I am thereby enabled to put forward their views at local council level and at Dáil level. It is a two-way process and I am able to report back to my constituents on progress made. By attending constituency clinics and meetings, a public representative is made aware of different views and circumstances that can be represented both at local council meetings and in the House. I find our present system very helpful and I hope that it continues for a long time to come.

One group often forgotten when legislation such as this comes before the House is the party activists. We all have party activists — the Minister's party have the cumann members and my party have branch members, and one is usually able to identify the party to which activists belong when one is told that they belong to the local cumann or the local branch. Some of the best ideas to come before the House have originated at a local branch party meeting or a meeting of a local constituency executive. In my constituency of Dublin North East the activists of my own party are frontline people. They are the people who are out at local level working very hard on our behalf and they are often the people who can tell us just what our constituents feel. I often think that most of the time of party activists is wasted on fundraising activities — selling tickets, running functions, raffles and so on. That should not be the role of party activists. Our party activists should be able to make a contribution in other ways such as by finding out what is happening in the constituencies and by having an input at meetings and reporting to us. They should have an input on the issues of the day, such as legislation that may be going through the House. Such feedback can be very valuable.

One often finds that the agenda of a party branch or cumann meeting is taken up by financial issues. Finance is usually the first item on the agenda and much of the meeting is taken up in discussing fund-raising ideas following receipt of a letter from party headquarters that urges members to hold raffles or draws or find other ways to raise funds. That is not right. In this regard, I am trying to make a case for the funding of political parties. Parties should be funded at national level. In Germany a political party receives funds the amount of which is determined by the number of votes gained. From memory, I think that for each vote gained at national level a party gets one Deutsche Mark. A system such as that operated in Germany should be put in place in this country. As I have already said, too much of the time of TDs and party activists is taken up by fund-raising. At local level there are people who have good ideas to contribute and it is wrong that their time should be taken up with projects that try to raise funds in order to keep a party in operation and to meet the expenses incurred at the time of local and national elections.

Party activists could make a better contribution to democracy and to this country by identifying the issues in a constituency and by commenting on issues to come before the House. People go out to join parties not to raise funds but in order to have an input, and it is my view that much talent is being wasted. All political parties are experiencing a falling off of numbers at branch and cumann meetings. I have spoken to people on the Minister's side of the political divide who have agreed that this is happening. People are discouraged from attending the meetings because they know that they will either be asked to pay money by way of subscription or be asked to go out and raise money. Our party members should not have to do that, they have a more important role to play. As I have said, people go out of their way to join a political party because they want to have an input into democracy and into the running of this country. At this stage we should consider the case for making money available to political parties. In fact, funding should be filtered down to local level so that party members are enabled to carry out research and surveys.

We live in an age in which the environment is of paramount importance. Elections should not pollute our environment. There would be a great improvement were posters and electioneering literature strictly controlled at election time. I have just spoken about party activists and the way in which they have to raise money. Much of the money raised during the years in between elections is put towards the publication of posters and literature. The whole issue of electioneering literature needs to be examined. In my own constituency we found other ways of doing things during the most recent local authority elections. Posters can pollute a constituency. Party activists go out on the streets and put up posters and a few days later after a stormy night, one finds damaged posters all over the place. Posters become an annoyance to residents. People are often put off the thought of elections by the evidence of so much waste and so much paper pollution. At the time of the most recent local authority elections all parties in my constituency met and decided that we would not erect the traditional posters we had used over the years but would instead use the local newspapers and the local radio stations to get the messages across. I found that process worked very well. My own party decided to give individual candidates their own choice of what kind of advertisement was put in the local papers. My area has two excellent papers, theDublin Tribune and the Northside People, and we chose advertisements that included an individual candidate's photograph, asked for a No. 1 vote and requested people to carry their votes on to one's party colleagues.

That is the way to go about putting across a written message at election time. Most of the free publications are delivered to every household in an area and people do read them. Perhaps a party or an individual candidate incur expense in inserting advertisements in the newsletters and papers but that is money well spent. Surely it is better to put a message across in that way than to pollute our environment. What about the time wasted by party activists in putting up posters which may be found on the ground the next day? That time could be better employed by party activists canvassing people, putting the issues to them and being positive about the election. The electors would thank us were we to carry on our business in that way.

Most contributors today referred to activities outside polling stations on election day. I welcome the provision in the Bill in regard to this aspect. I believe the polling station should be the domain of the general public on election day. I welcome the provision whereby there should be 50 metres between the polling station and what is happening elsewhere but the provision could go further. As Deputy Leonard said. There will always be people who will say: "I can set up shop beyond 50 metres and I can erect banners, posters and loudspeakers and I can have the usual razzmatazz that takes place." There should be no razzmatazz in the vicinity of the polling stations — it should be banned from the night before — as provided for in the Bill.

As candidates over the years we all know from watching people arriving at the polling station that they have literally to run the gauntlet before they achieve their aim of getting inside and casting their vote. Fine Gael supporters are on one side and Fianna Fáil supporters are on the other side and they are trying to outdo the other on election day. The night before the election they are out erecting posters and banners and it all seems such a waste of time. In my opinion the activists are people who should be out there putting the issues on the doorstep. When election day arrives it should be a free day; it should be for the electorate and no one else. All electioneering should cease the night before and the polling station should be free so that people can get in easily and cast their vote.

I welcome the provision in the Bill whereby a supplement to the register of electors can be formulated up to 12 days before polling day. At every election in which I have stood — approximately eight between local authority elections and general elections — I have met people who say they are not on the register and ask why that is so. Quite an amount of time is spent in ascertaining why they are not on the register and in reporting back to them after the election. I am aware local authorities do their best. I notice in my own household that Dublin County Council have had people checking the register door to door. That is not an easy job because they may find many people are not in and may have to call back but it is the only way it can be done. The register must be right. However, no matter how thorough you try to be someone will always slip through the net. I welcome the fact that a supplementary register can be compiled up to 12 days before polling day.

Deputies referred to commercial travellers who have missed out on voting down through the years. Following the last budget many commercial travellers called to our clinics; in fact, I had some of them here on a deputation in relation to the taxes they were being charged. They pointed out also that they very seldom have an opportunity to get back to vote because they are travelling in the country and, indeed, nowadays many are travelling outside the country. Special provision should be made for commercial travellers to have a postal vote.

In my own constituency there are many fishermen. The fishing business in Howth has become specialised nowadays and fishermen are at sea for two or three days at a time. More often than not, elections in this country, are held on a Wednesday and fishermen are not always able to get back on time. I am aware — and I am thankful to them — that on one occasion they broke their trip and came back on a certain day and voted for me. They should be considered as should sailors who often have to sail across the Channel, and sometimes further afield. I have had representations from them from time to time as to why they do not have a vote and I would like to make a special case for those three groupings I have met over the years who have been deprived of a vote.

It is important at election time that only serious candidates offer themselves for election. We should make sure the ballot paper is not confused with entries from spurious candidates and the Bill provides for that aspect. I have some reservations about the increase in the election deposit from £100 to £500. I note the Bill reduces the number of votes to be obtained from one third to a quarter of the quota. That is a welcome provision but we should examine the idea of reducing it to, perhaps, a fifth or a sixth of the quota which would allow those with limited means to contest an election. If democracy is to work, money should not be an inhibiting factor for anyone standing for election. However, we must ensure that spurious candidates do not cause confusion. At local elections, which are basically very different from national elections, there will be many people seeking election on local issues, sometimes from the local residents' association or various community groups. The deposit of £100 should remain because it allows people to participate in local elections.

During the past few months I have received representations from the people under reference D on the register of electors. Recently I received a letter from a constituent regarding the fact that she was born in Liverpool of British parents and had arrived here when she was three months old. She married an Irishman but she was unable to have a vote in a recent referendum and was most perturbed. She stated that after living here for 65 years, paying taxes, being married to an Irishman and having had two children here she was most upset over the whole matter. She asked whether she should pay her taxes in Britain as she is no longer a citizen of this country. She appreciated the help I gave because I raised the matter with the relevant Department but she want on to say she has requested that her name be removed from the register of electors. That is the case of a person who arrived here when she was three months old, lived here all her life and paid her taxes here. Her husband, who was a civil servant, paid his taxes here and yet when an issue like the Maastricht referendum came up she had no vote. We should examine that issue and try to accommodate such persons.

I support the vote for emigrants, many of whom have put much effort in helping this country. It is not their fault that they have had to emigrate; some day they may wish to come back and be part of the process here.

I am not as happy about this legislation as everyone else appears to be. Basically, it is consolidating many other Acts but it does not do much more. It has failed to grasp the nettle. The idea of requiring people to move back 50 metres from the polling station is ludicrous. I would have hoped in this day and age that as politicians, we would have been mature enough to know that when people go to a polling station they know exactly what they want to do. It is disappointing to think that in 1992 people can be waylaid on their way into a polling booth. The Government had an opportunity in this legislation to correct that.

When I was in Paris a few months ago there was an election. I was not aware of that until when walking around on a Sunday morning I noticed people going into a rather nice building. As it was Sunday morning, I thought it was a church. When I approached the building I discovered it was a polling station. I went in I found it was completely peaceful, people were going about their business and there were nogendarme in the vicinity. That was a civilised way of conducting an election. Nobody questioned me as I walked into the polling station to have a look and nobody outside assailed me by asking me to vote in a particular way or by stuffing pieces of paper into my hand. It is probably a very French way of doing things but it was very civilised. I thought this was the way we should carry out elections in Ireland.

I knew this legislation was being prepared; it was mooted when we were in office some years ago. There was a genuine desire at that time to introduce Sunday voting and I wonder why it has now been decided not to go down for this road. Consideration should be given to the introduction of Sunday voting. I know that some people who attend church on Sunday might find this a sensitive issue. Indeed, I would not blame them for having doubts about the introduction of Sunday voting when one considers some of the dog fights one sees outside polling stations. Two polling booths in one part of my constituency are directly across the road from each other. Approximately 7,000 people are entitled to vote in one station while approximately 6,000 are entitled to vote in the other station. One does not have to be too bright to understand what this gives rise to. At around 6 p.m. on the evening of an election people run back and forth across the road to stuff literature into the voters hands. I presume many people would be opposed to the holding of elections on a Sunday on the basis that such activity would be contrary to what the sabbath is all about. However, I do not think anyone would object to the holding of elections on a Sunday if they were run in the civilised way they are run in Paris.

I wish to refer to the proposed 50 metre limit. Many years ago I was told the limit was 150 feet. I never saw this in writing but I was told it was the law. If it was the law, I do not think it was ever observed. If this provision is to be implemented the Garda Síochána will have to spend the entire day moving people back to the 50 metre line. I ask the Minister to look again at this provision. It is time we took a bold decision in regard to this matter; people are enlightened nowadays and do not require prompting by any of us when they are on their way to vote. As any of us who have stood outside polling stations know, people are harassed on their way to vote. Even if we stand 50 metres back from polling stations people will continue to be harassed.

The holding of elections on a Sunday would enable people to vote at their leisure for example, after church. It would mean that people who work late during the week would not have to make a last minute dash to vote and would eliminate the need for the presiding officer to help people who are unable to exercise their own vote as the two hours before the close of poll would probably be very quiet on a Sunday evening. These are obvious changes which need to be introduced in our electoral system.

I wish to refer to the practice whereby political parties put up posters on poles. Attempts have been made by political parties to reach agreement to bring this practice to an end. I though the Department of the Environment, who are supposed to be sensitive to the environment would have dealt with this issue in a Bill such as this. As Deputy Cosgrave said, if it is a bad, windy night posters may end up on the ground the following day. Alternatively, an enthusiastic supporter of another political party may think the posters would be better on the ground. The practice of putting up posters may have been all right 20 or 30 years ago when the communication systems were not great, but there is a myriad of communication systems nowadays, for example, local radio and free newspapers which are delivered in certain areas. Indeed, many people do not have time to pull one piece of literature in through their letterbox before another is put in by somebody else. Nobody can tell me that people have to look at posters on lamp posts in order to decide who they will vote for. This practice has become part of the psyche of our political system. We should look at this issue in a more intelligent way and realise that people know what they are doing. Some people may say that posters on a lamp post give an area an atmosphere at election time. These posters do not add anything to areas like Dublin where much has been done to improve the image of the city over the past number of years. The practice of putting up posters on poles is self-perpetuating: a person who sees the posters put up by another political party can get terribly upset and decide to put up posters supporting his party.

The Government had an opportunity in this Bill to change such practices. I am disappointed at this legislation. Nevertheless, there are some good proposals in it, for example, the introduction of a supplementary register to which people can add their names very quickly. We need to ensure at all times that people have access to voting. As long as they do not infringe the law, we should make this as easy as possible for them. More consideration should be given to the extension of the postal voting system to cater for company representatives and people who work away from home. I know that this system is open to abuse. However, there has been a history of abuse in the voting system. This is regrettable, but nowaday people are not as inclined to break the law because they know there is a greater likelihood of their being caught.

I would increase the penalties for people who break the law in this way. There should be more stricter rules about the production of identification in polling stations and anybody who attempts to abuse the system should be arrested and heavily fined or imprisoned. This would minimise the amount of abuse. In a democracy we should not try to impede people from exercising their democratic right; rather we should be trying to help them.

The same applies to disabled people. Given the number of polling stations which must be provided to allow people cast their votes as close to their place of residence as possible, it is not easy to cater for everyone, but we should ensure that facilities are provided for disabled people and for anyone who requires assistance in order to vote. If that means erecting temporary accommodation that should be done. We must do everything possible to make disabled people feel they are part of the system and that they are not at a disadvantage.

I should like to deal now with the question of the financing of political parties and of how much Deputies should expend on canvassing at election time. A case in this respect is being heard at present in a place not very far from here. We should try to ensure that candidates should not be allowed spend the earth, that there should be a limit to their spending on election campaigns. It is important that, as far as possible, people have an equal opportunity when putting themselves forward for election. The funding of political parties is a delicate issue. We have all seen the kind of publicity political parties have received in regard to funding from businesses. I would consider it legitimate for parties to receive some such funding but we must ask whether there is a better way of funding political parties. There is the danger that because a company subscribe to a certain party, they might consider they had some sort of line on that party and could expect to be granted a favour should they request it. Political parties ought to be above that kind of thing. There is need at this stage for something more than talk about this issue.

The whole question of the election system could be dealt with by an all-party committee of the Dáil, or some other committee. The multi-seat constituency system has been fairly successful up to now but I wonder whether it has outlived its usefulness. What we ought to have is a single seat constituency and transferable vote system, such as operates in other European countries. We might have also a list system, so that smaller parties with a certain percentage vote, would not be denied representation in the House. When we are talking about electoral reform and legislation in that regard, we should examine all aspects of the matter, and this House, particularly, should have an opportunity to express its views.

The question of electoral reform was raised in our election manifesto in 1987. I know that the senior partner in the Coalition Government raised this matter also. We should be mature enough to look at all systems from time to time to see if they are serving the country well and not suspect there is some kind of plot when the idea of change is mooted. The present system is a little outdated. It creates the clientelism that we all tend to condemn and causes competition within parties. That selection process contributed politically to the demise last week of a Member of this House. I am not saying that would happen across the board, but the present system creates competition that has no relevance to national politics. Its only concern is local politics and how one can serve his or her constituency.

People who might be interested in serving in public life decide sometimes that it is not for them, given the salary structure and the time consuming nature of our not very efficient system. It is time we reconsidered the system with a view to change. This might cause problems, but it could be examined objectively. The fact that a particular party have a majority in this House does not mean they should railroad a system through. That is not the type of process I am talking about, I am talking about a process of examination. To use the much abused phrase in this House of late, we should get consensus on it. We should look at the system objectively to see if it is good for Parliament and for the country. We would attract a greater range of people into public life if a different system was in operation. We have all attended residents' meetings. There might not be 12 people at the meeting, but there would be perhaps five Dáil Deputies and, perhaps, six councillors. This is democracy but is democracy going too far? Those Deputies and councillors would all them write to the relevant Department or whatever in relation to the same problem. One must ask if this is the way we should be running our business. We are now entering the mainstream of European politics, and the single seat constituency system operates effectively in Europe. It is not seen as undemocratic or curtailing the smaller party because of the built in system of percentage voting which applies if a party get the necessary number of votes.

While this Bill contains many sections and is necessary, its provisions do not demonstrate any great sense of imagination, any vision or real desire to change the position obtaining.

The Minister should grasp the nettle and eliminate canvassing outside polling stations. I do not honestly know what prohibiting canvassing to within 50 metres of polling stations will achieve. There has been much mention of voting taking place on Sundays. If canvassing were eliminated we could reach consensus on polling on a Sunday having consulted the various groups involved.

All political parties would agree with the elimination of postering. One may well ask why it has not been eliminated before now. There should be a committee established to examine the methods of election, the funding of political parties and so on. If only we tackled those issues we would be eliminating some current problems rather than merely tinkering with them as we have done to date.

I welcome this Bill and the opportunity it affords us to speak on what is, after all, the very basis of our democratic process, the method by which we public representatives are elected. Given its limitations, I welcome this Bill.

One criticism I would level at the Bill is that, in some instances, its provisions do not go sufficiently far. I listened to some previous speakers contribute. There appears to be general consensus on the part of the spokespersons of the different parties that one of its most progressive features — the limitation of canvassing at polling stations on polling day — should be extended to total elimination of canvassing throughout the entire polling day. I might instance the case of, one polling station, that in Lower Rutland Street, in my constituency. I predict the provisions of the Bill will mean that, rather than voters being harassed by large crowds of what can be described very loosely as political canvassers at polling stations themselves, that harassment will take place at the bottom of Lower Rutland Street. Because of the geographic structure of the area the vast majority of the electorate approach Rutland Street from one end which, as it happens, is located approximately 50 metres from the polling station. I am thinking of polling stations throughout mine and other constituencies. I predict that that type of difficulty will be replicated in the case of many polling stations. I predict that, specifically in that area of Rutland Street in my constituency, what will happen will be that interference with the electorate en route to voting — which the provisions of the Bill endeavour to eliminate — simply will take place further down that street. I am fairly certain that is what will happen in the case of that polling station. If that takes place in other villages, towns and cities nationwide one may well ask: what is the objective of the proposal that canvassing be confined solely to within 50 metres of polling stations? I predict it will not achieve its objective.

I would suggest to the Minister, as Deputy O'Brien and others have done already, that on the remaining Stages of this Bill he would seriously consider banning canvassing entirely on polling day nationwide because there is no necessity therefor. After all, other European countries, such as France, have done so. It is time we realised we are living in the nineties, that the electorate do not want it, that it serves no useful purpose and, if anything, merely acts as a deterrent to people voting. In addition, in a country in which up to 40 per cent of the electorate do not vote, the last thing we should be endeavouring to do is create further deterrents to their approaching polling stations and voting. Rather we should be divising every possible method of attracting people to vote on polling day.

In addition to banning canvassing, or any other such activity outside polling stations, or anywhere else, on polling day I would concur with the many suggestions made that polling should take place on a Sunday. All Members of this House will be aware that, after tea on polling day, people who will have worked all day rush home for tea and then rush out to vote, the largest percentage of the electorate actually voting after 6 p.m. If polling were to take place on a Sunday, obviously that would not happen and it would be an incentive to people to come out and vote.

Though the introduction of this Bill presents an opportunity to achieve many other objectives — to which I will refer later — if it achieved nothing else but give people the incentive to vote it will have been worthwhile and should be welcomed by all Members.

I have strong views on this issue because, in the course of the last local elections at the polling station to which I have referred already, that of Lower Rutland Street, the street outside was virtually taken over by a semi-thuggish element. They could not be described as anything less. On that occasion, people who were coming along to vote legitimately were intimidated either into voting for a particular candidate or not voting at all. I was not there all day or when this occurrence was at its worst in the evening; it appeared to worsen as the day progressed. I learned of the matter later and reported it to senior Garda officials. Those reports were made known to me only after polling had ceased when it was too late to do anything about it. Indeed, in the course of that occurrence, a particular untaxed car was driven to and from a local public house, not by the Government party, although I will not specify which party or who were the people involved. That is the manner in which people were taken to that polling station on that occasion. This meant that the ordinary voter who wanted to travel up the street to vote experienced enormous difficulty in endeavouring to do so. Indeed, many elderly people were turned back and deterred from voting because of what occured on that day. I have no problems about the numbers of votes I received in that election. I received the highest vote in the country and I am very proud of that achievement. I am ashamed at the type of activity that went on in Rutland Street in the constituency I represent and I hope that it will not happen again and that the limited measures in this Bill will prevent it.

I will make one further reference to Rutland Street and what happened there in the evening. I have been told that named individuals went round the blocks of flats in the area asking people if they had voted and, if not, asking for their polling cards. Particular individuals then went to the polling station, to this group who had literally taken over the street, with bundles of polling cards. I do not have to describe what happened then. Deputy O'Brien spoke about the offence of voting in somebody else's name. That should be dealt with by all the rigour of the law. If there were stiff enough penalties they would prevent it happening again. I do not want to dwell on that although it is perhaps the most important aspect of the Bill because it could change the nature of electioneering and have a dramatic effect in increasing the number of people who vote. That in itself should be one of the prime objectives of the Bill.

I suppose I would be expected, as an independent, to refer to the increase in the deposit from £100 to £500 and expected to be instinctively cautious that even the appearance of such a Bill might represent an attempt by the dominant political parties to consolidate their control of the democratic process. I must say in fairness that it is my view that this Bill does not attempt to do that, although there are specific sections which obviously make it more difficult for smaller parties. The increase to £500 is one of these. That is the practical reality. If it was £100 in 1923 there is an obvious case for an increase but that increase should not in one dramatic swoop be five-fold. It is suggested in the explanatory memorandum that it may discourage "frivolous candidates" but it would be sufficient to increase the figure to £250. If we are genuine about small parties and about minorities, which is what democracy is supposed to be about, we must remember that a small party fielding two candidates in one constituency will have to fork out £1,000 before they do anything. If that is repeated in constituencies around the country, it makes it impossible. I hope the figure will be amended to a lesser sum.

There are almost 300,000 members of the electorate unemployed and it is quite reasonable to expect that there will be candidates who will wish to represent specifically the unemployed, as distinct from the interests of any political party, community group or other group. It is quite legitimate that they should do that in the next election. For democracy's sake it might be quite essential. If that is the case, and I would argue that it is, then this increase in the deposit would make it extremely difficult for an unemployed group to organise and participate in the democratic process.

One could argue that this is a direct and deliberate attempt to prevent such groups as the unemployed or poor communities from electing their own representatives. Initially my whole electoral base was in what is regarded as the poorest urban community in the entire State. I found it extremely difficult. I did not have the advantage, nor do I want it, of cheques from beef barons or any other business interests to help organise my campaign. Nor did I, as apparently some other political grouping did, counterfeit and print money to finance my political campaign. I ran a political campaign on a virtual shoestring and I suppose in those circumstances I can count myself lucky for having been elected at all.

If we are truly interested in democracy we should be facilitating all groups to participate in the electoral process. Anything that would seem to act as a deterrent should be thought about a second time. I would ask the Minister to consider amending his own proposal and reducing the deposit from £500 to £250. This is a practical proposition.

The issue of special voters has always interested me. It is a nonsense that a disabled person has to go through the process of registering as a special voter, requiring a member of the Garda and returning officer to visit individually and personally that disabled voter and every other disabled voter who so registers. We should not countenance the fact that disabled people, people in hospitals or in prisons are disenfranchised. There is no logical reason for preventing any citizen from voting. We should be trying in this Bill to provide incentives for people to vote and to remove deterrents. Elderly people living in homes or hospitals and people who are in prison should be as entitled as anybody else to vote. Like members of the Garda and the Army, they should have some form of postal voting system. I do not expect that this will be done in this Bill but the debate gives us an opportunity.

Is trua liom go bhfuil an t-am geall le bheith istigh.

Bhí mé beagnach críochnaithe leis an bpointe sin. Bhí roinnt pointí eile agam ach de réir cosúlachta ní bheidh an t-am agam chun iad a lua. Ach tá súil agam go raibh an tAire ag éisteacht, ar aon nós, leis an méid a bhí le rá agam agus go mbeidh sé sásta, b'fhéidir, athruithe a dhéanamh sa Bhille seo.

I had not intended to speak but the remarks made by Deputy Gregory have brought me into the debate. One would think that Deputy Gregory was elected to this House as the representative of the unemployed. He left a job as a teacher to come into this House. He was not unemployed.

I did not refer to myself as one of the unemployed. I said they should be represented.

They were, in 1956 by a man called Mr. Murphy who was elected to represent the unemployed. Sadly, the poor man was harassed so much he had to run out of the place and go to England. He resigned because of the pressures put on him.

Certain Deputies in this House think they have a monopoly on sympathy for the unemployed. All of us feel wretched about unemployment. My sympathy does not extend only to young people but to people in their forties and fifties who feel they will never get a job. The situation is tragic for them but there is an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment and as far as I am aware there is no problem with providing deposits for people who wish to stand for election to this House. The 1923 deposit of £100 is equivalent to a deposit of £3,000 today. The £500 is worth considerably less than the £100 deposit introduced in 1923. The Deputy's argument that we are trying to keep the poorer sections of the community out will not carry much weight. As Deputy Gregory said, he has no difficulty in getting voluntary donations to run his campaign and put up his posters.

I do not remember saying that, Deputy.

It is obvious that you have a corps of volunteers.

I do not get them from the beef barons, like your party.

You get them from constituents.

I do not seek or get donations from constituents.

In any case——

Deputy Briscoe and Deputy Gregory, gabh mo leithscéal——

Deputy Briscoe is inviting comment.

I am just——

Deputy Briscoe, fan go fóill.

He keeps referring to me, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am going to subject this debate to the rules that apply. I am not going to allow atéteà-tete, a cross examination, or speeches directing comments to anyone other than the Chair. Now if Deputy Gregory feels he is being invited or provoked into comment, I am afraid he will have to contain his provocation, and Deputy Briscoe will address the Chair.

I will. There is a certain level of hypocrisy evident and it is difficult not to comment.

I welcome the measure to restrict campaigning immediately outside the entrance to polling stations. The Bill refers to people not coming within 50 metres of a polling station. Canvassing should not be allowed on polling day. People should be free to cast their votes without harassment. There is nothing wrong with members of political parties assisting people to get to polling stations by driving them but it should be left at that. People should not have to walk through a crowd of canvassers putting unwanted literature into their hands in order to vote. Those who have the interest to come out to vote know for which party they will vote and they do not change their minds between the time they arrive at the polling station and go into the booth. On polling day one sees people distributing literature who never participate in the political process and who are never seen between elections. That is unacceptable. If on Committee Stage an amendment is put down to prohibit canvassing on polling day I hope the Minister will give it earnest consideration. The Garda will have their work cut out trying to get people to stay 50 metres from the polling station. It is about time we accepted that when people come out to vote they have made up their mind about their voting intentions.

I suggest that we do away with the idea of putting posters up all over the place and use hoardings like they do in Italy and other places. During the last local elections Deputy Gay Mitchell and I agreed on behalf of our parties not to have any postering on poles. The agreement was honoured and the constituency looked better for it. Perhaps the local authorities could make space available on hoardings. There might be some way of giving a subsidy towards this method of advertising for political parties. It could be in proportion to the number of candidates a party is fielding or on some other criterion. That would be up to the people who organise these things.

I repeat we should do away with harassing people and making them walk through lines of canvassers in order to vote. One sees more fights between members of the same political parties over this sort of thing. Will the Minister consider banning canvassing on polling day so as to let the people vote in peace? The people are not idiots. They know how PR works although the other day I heard of a case where a person addressed a politician and told him that he had given him his highest vote, No. 12. However, the vast majority of people know the value of the No. 1 vote.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Those who criticise the increased deposit of £500 should remember that there is no comparison between that and the original £100 introduced in 1923.

We are lucky in Counties Leitrim and Sligo and in rural Ireland generally that we do not suffer from the severe harassment that apparently goes on outside polling stations in urban areas. I appreciate what the Deputies have been saying about this particular difficulty. This electoral Bill should try to outlaw canvassing on polling day. The proposal that canvassers should be at least 50 metres from a polling station will not be effective because they will still be within the jurisdiction of the polling station. To do away with canvassing on polling day completely one would have to increase the limit to about 500 metres. They would probably then canvass outside the local church or the local pub but at least they would not be beside the polling station. If canvassers are 50 metres from the polling station we will have the same problems. This is something the Minister of State should take into consideration. If he wants to outlaw canvassing he should do it properly and extend the distance that canvassers must stay away from polling stations. Otherwise let him leave it as it is because 50 metres will not make much difference one way or the other.

From my experience of elections, short though that is, I would be in favour of allowing a certain number of people outside a polling station — the number could be restricted. That is my opinion but the vast majority of Deputies who live in urban areas seem to think that harassment would cease by moving people from the polling stations.

I welcome the Bill in general. There are a number of good proposals in it. I would like to congratulate the Members of the Upper House on the way they dealt with all stages of this Bill. They used their expertise to get the Minister and the Government to make some very worth-while changes. I welcome the Minister's change of heart in regard to opinion polls because his original proposals was a disgraceful attempt to suppress information. I am glad he has taken the view that opinion polls should be allowed within seven days of polling.

There are a number of changes in regard to the registration of electors which I welcome. There are particular difficulties in rural areas in this regard. Many young people from rural constituencies work or go to university in Dublin, Cork or Galway, or they attend colleges which are not in the constituency they come from. These young people are automatically taken off the register and sometimes political parties are blamed for this. This has been going on for years and it is something that should be dealt with under this legislation. People should be given every encouragement to exercise their franchise. People who have left their area to work in a large city may feel they should be entitled to vote in the area from which they originally came. They should not be refused this option because if they have an interest in their area they are entitled to vote there. If, in the future, they settle in Dublin or Cork or anywhere else, their interest will be in that area rather than in their home area. As things are at the moment, many young people have been done out of their democratic right to vote. Our forefathers paid a heavy price to get the vote for us and we should be encouraging people to vote. As things stand, people are discouraged rather than encouraged to vote; that is something that should be taken up with county registrars. My information is that county registrars have proposed guidelines as to who should be allowed on the register. That is an area of legislation that should be tightened up dramatically.

There is a section in the Bill on the publication of electoral lists which provides for changes to be made, for instance, in the case of a typographical error. People will be allowed back on the register if they can prove that their name was omitted through an error. That is a worthwhile provision.

A further change provides for a contribution by the State to the registration authorities of 75 per cent of the cost of producing the register; at present it is 50 per cent. That, too, is to be welcomed. County Leitrim, the county I represent, is one of the last counties to compile the register manually and the amount of time and effort put into that is enormous. We are not able to provide a computerised system because of lack of finance. The job of those in County Leitrim who work so hard to bring the register up to date would be much easier if there was enough money to computerise the procedure.

The Bill also deals with the registration of political parties. The Government have missed an opportunity in regard to funding political parties. This is a thorny issue but I feel there should be State funding for political parties in view of the fact that in all democracies in Europe the State funds political parties. This amounts to a funding of democracy which is very important. This country needs such funding urgently. Without going into the pros and cons of the matter, what is taking place in Dublin Castle is an off-shoot of it. If political parties were adequately funded by the State people would be encouraged to become politically involved and join political parties if they wanted to see changes in our laws and make this a better country for every individual. It is wonderful that those people believe in a certain political ideal and they should be encouraged but when political parties are trying to raise funds to survive certain people within parties become totally——


Thank you. They end up spending most of their time trying to raise funds for the party rather than making suggestions which would be of help in developing the party and the country. The Government should take this opportunity to provide funding for political parties and if at all possible, we should base our system on the German model.

Many Deputies have made the point that there should be Sunday voting, and serious consideration should be given to this suggestion. I cannot understand the reason we adhere to the British system. We inherited our system from them and, apart from Britain, this is the only country in Europe where people do not vote on a Sunday. Holding elections on a Sunday would encourage people to vote and make it easier for them to do so. I would support anything that would make it easier for people to exercise their franchise, and every politician should try to encourage this.

By having Sunday voting, we would also facilitate students whose names have been left on the register at home and those people who work, say 100 miles away from home, such as commercial travellers who have to make an extreme effort to get back before 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. to vote. They should be given every opportunity to vote.

Like other Deputies, I wish to raise the question of voting rights for emigrants. Emigrants should be entitled to vote and given an opportunity to exercise this right. Most European countries allow their emigrants to vote. While there would be logistical problems, the principal outweighs the difficulties in getting civil servants to produce a worthwhile scheme. While a number of Government Deputies share the view that emigrants should be allowed to vote, unfortunately the Government do not give the issue the same priority. The Minister of State should take this suggestion on board. He is acutely aware of the number of people who have emigrated from the part of the country he comes from and that they wish to participate in elections here. They should be given every opportunity to do so.

I welcome the provisions dealing with special voters. However, disabled people find it difficult to gain access to a number of polling stations. This should be taken into account by the local authorities when selecting polling stations. In my own constituency, a person has to climb five to ten steps at a number of polling stations. Therefore, a person in a wheelchair who arrives at the polling station will encounter difficulties. They may be entitled to a postal vote but many disabled persons would prefer to go out on polling day and vote. If polling stations were more accessible they would certainly go out to vote rather than avail of a postal vote. I do not think this point has been addressed adequately in the Bill.

I would like to endorse a number of the proposals in the Bill, particularly those that would lead to restrictions being placed on activity on polling day around polling stations. The 50 metres limit is not adequate. Some Deputies have proposed that all activity should be banned on that day but I could not agree with them entirely, given that it is important to get people out to vote. If there was no activity on that day, things would be very quiet and people would not be encouraged to come out to vote. However, political activists should be kept at least half a mile away from the polling station. It is important that there be some activity on polling day to alert people to the fact that it is polling day and encourage them to vote.

I agree with the idea that there should be a supplement to the register of electors. It is an excellent idea given that numerous problems are encountered at each election. In some cases, people who had been on the register of electors for 20 years suddenly discover that they were no longer included because a form had been lost in compiling the register. Furthermore, the vast majority of people do not inspect the register at post offices or Garda stations. Indeed, the vast majority of people do not know when the register is being compiled, no matter how often one tells them and how often it is advertised.

The idea that there should be a list of additions and deletions is also an excellent one. However, all the registers would need to be computerised. The existing system would need to be computerised initially to ensure accuracy.

I would endorse many of the proposals in the Bill but I object in particular to the proposal that the deposit should be increased from £100 to £500. I congratulate Deputy Dukes on his excellent speech on this issue in which he explained that certain interest groups or organisations may find it necessary for a particular purpose at an election to use the electoral process. He instanced the recent example of the Army spouses. Many other groups may wish to use the electoral process and should have this right. The previous speaker made the point that the country needs democracy. It certainly does; indeed it needs more, not less. This increase in the deposit from £100 to £500 will lead to the elimination of many groups. The obvious example is the unemployed who were able to put up a candidate in the fifties and have him elected. This gave them a great boost.

Debate adjourned.