Amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Liam Kavanagh. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are alternatives and I suggest therefore that amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 be discussed together if that is satisfactory.
Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [ Seanad ]: Committee Stage.
Before I deal with the amendment it was accepted that the Whips would endeavour to put into practice the agreement made yesterday in order to reach essential amendments at later stages in the Bill. Perhaps we could agree a narrower timescale to that agreed yesterday to complete the three sections which we had hoped to deal with in two days, so that perhaps we could finish section 1 by 12 noon and then move on to the other sections.
I have no problem with that. I suggest we apply the same apportionment of the time available to us now as was envisaged in the earlier agreement.
I agree with that as I believe we should get the business done as expeditiously as possible while leaving ourselves the opportunity of dealing with the more substantial amendments. The intention of amendments 2 and 3 is to ensure that the Bill will be brought into effect in time for the forthcoming general election, which we all know is going to take place. If the Minister assures me that these provisions will be in effect for 26 November, or whatever date is set for the election, I would be happy to accept that and would not proceed with the amendments.
I had hoped to afford Deputy Kavanagh an opportunity of speaking on his amendment first.
On the preliminary point——
I thought we were getting into a debate on the amendments.
I support the proposition that we schedule our business in such a way that we do not delay unduly on certain matters. One of the most important provisions in this legislation is the increase in the deposit paid by people standing for election. That matter is way down on the list of amendments and I hope we take a little time to debate it. I have not put down amendments to this section, and I support the view put forward by Deputy Dukes. I take it from the Minister's response to the debate last week on the abortion referendum Bills that he intends that this legislation will be in place in time for the referendum on 3 December. I presume that undertaking still stands.
I am extremely anxious to ensure that every provision of the Bill is brought into effect as soon as possible, particularly those provisions relating to the more serious aspects of the legislation. There is a timescale to be met as Deputies on all sides of the House, particularly those with experience in Government, will appreciate. However, as many provisions as possible will be brought into effect, particularly those which I have already indicated to the House are essential. Deputies have my continuing commitment and undertaking in that regard.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 12, lines 5 to 9, to delete subsection (6).
The purpose of amendment No. 1 is to ensure that the Bill comes into effect as soon as it is passed in this House and that no Cabinet decision, ministerial order or discussion in the House can change that position. It should apply to any referendum or election that may take place in the next few weeks.
I intend to withdraw a large number of amendments down in my name. In the Seanad there were eight days of discussion on Committee Stage of the Bill. A Bill such as this which will apply to elections for many years to come deserves thorough scrutiny in this House. All of us agree that the supplementary register should be in place to allow the maximum number of people to vote in an immediate election. One of the main reasons our party have agreed that this Bill be put through the House as soon as possible without proper surveillance over its many provisions is to ensure that it will be in place for the forthcoming general election.
Am I to take it that amendment No. 1 is withdrawn?
No, I am putting it to the Minister that he should accept the amendment.
Deputy Kavanagh indicated that he is going to withdraw a large number of amendments, but I would have appreciated it had he given me that information yesterday or the day before.
If I had known the Bill was going to be rushed through the House I would have given the Minister notice of my intention.
The Deputy is withdrawing the amendments due to constraints on time.
That is a different matter.
I think Deputy Kavanagh will appreciate that in all legislation of this kind there has been a standard provision for commencement orders which bring into effect different parts of the legislation as soon as is necessary. I gave a commitment in this regard last week, which I intend to meet in so far as is possible. I wish there was no time constraint to discussion of this Bill because I am as concerned as Deputies are to ensure that the matter is fully dealt with and that we have the best possible legislation. It is a long time since we considered electoral legislation and these reforms are very necessary. However, we are faced with a time constraint over which none of us has control.
In relation to the supplemental register, all the resources of the local authorities will be used in putting such a register in place. However, in circumstances in which application forms must be prepared, where the local authority have to put a system in place and where the appeals must be deposited with the returning officer — and dealt with a clear 12 days before election day — it would be unfair to have a provision in the Bill which does not allow for manoeuvre. I would dearly like this provision to be included because, too often, people who have voted all their lives are not included on the register and one of the reasons for this change is that that could not arise again. I have looked at every option available to me but it cannot be included. I am not in a position to accept the amendment, very few Acts have the requirement that all provisions would be in place immediately, disregarding any other contingency or circumstances.
I understand the Minister's problem but I am disappointed that he has doubts about the provisions in regard to the supplementary register being capable of being implemented for the forthcoming election. Will the Minister indicate whether the provisions in the Bill in relation to the harassment and obstruction of voters at polling stations, the provisions in relation to special voters and the amended provisions in relation to the deposit will be in place in time for the election on 26 November?
Will the Minister comment on the prospect of putting in place the provisions regarding postal voting and the entitlement of a wider number of people to avail of that facility?
Deputy McCartan's question will be dealt with at the appropriate stage and I will see what the position is arising from the decision of this House. In regard to Deputy Dukes's queries, I intend to implement all the matters to which he referred. Last week we discussed whether canvassers should have to remain 50 or 100 metres from polling booths. I have decided that 100 metres is more suitable. I have checked the matter thoroughly and I am advised that I can meet the wishes of the House in this regard.
I understand the Minister said that arrangements could not be made to have an up-to-date supplementary register in time for an election on 26 November. If people call to their local authority before the weekend and ask to see the register of voters, could some arrangement be made, which would be covered by this Bill, to allow them to enter their names on the register?
We are not deciding in the House whether there will be an election but, assuming that there will be, a week would not make much difference. We must remember that we are not just dealing with the system in place, the application which must be made and adjudicated on, because if we rushed matters in this area in regard to a general election or a referendum, this House would be taking more than a risk by rushing it through without complying with the normal requirements of equity and fairness. I sought, by every means open to me within the time constraints, to see if it was possible to implement it because it is a provision I should like to see effected but, with the best will in the world, it is extremely — I use the word advisedly — unlikely that we can implement this provision at present.
This is one of the most important provisions of the Bill and I am very disappointed that it will not be implemented in time for the general election. There are also other important provisions but this is the most important and a number of Deputies thought it would be in operation. The way we are dealing with the Bill means that we will have less time to give it the attention it deserves and if its most important provision cannot be implemented we will be merely making cosmetic changes.
There is not an unwillingness on my part to try to make sure that this necessary provision, which should have been enacted years ago, is not taken on board. I sought information at all levels — working day and night — to see if there were any circumstances in which this could be put in place. However, legal and other advice is that it is fraught with risks and I am unable to surmount the obstacles.
How stand amendments Nos. 2 and 3?
In the light of what has happened to amendment No. 1 and bearing in mind what the Minister has said, I do not think there is any point in proceeding with amendments Nos. 2 and 3.
Amendment No. 4 is in the name of Deputy Dukes and amendments Nos. 29, 71, 81, 82, 83 130 and 141 are consequential. Therefore I suggest that they be discussed together.
On a point of order, Sir, would it be possible to have circulated to us in the usual fashion a list grouping these amendments to facilitate an orderly debate.
That is being arranged. I will be pleased to facilitate the Deputy in that regard as quickly as possible.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 13, subsection (1), to delete lines 1 to 4.
Because we are dealing here with the interpretation section this amendment really forms the basis for action further on in the Bill, in particular, affecting the provisions of section 50 (3).
This has to do with the delivery of nomination papers and the days in which returning officers must make themselves available. I am worried that continuing with the practice of excluded days in some cases may shorten the period available to candidates between the date which they lodged their nomination papers and actual election day. It is reasonable to propose that we simply remove this idea of excluded days from the Bill in order to give candidates as much time as possible during the course of an election to talk to and canvass voters. My feeling is that providing for excluded days, in the manner in which we do here and in section 50 (3), will give rise to circumstances in which the time available to candidates will be reduced. I do not wish to sound at all offensive in saying this, I know it is the normal practice that Sundays and public holidays are days on which people do not normally work. But I would suggest that, in the course of any election covered by the provisions of this Bill, but more particularly a general election which occurs less frequently, certainly somewhat less frequently in recent years than they did in 1981 and 1982 — it is not unreasonable for us to ask returning officers to make themselves available on the few occasions on which it would happen on a Sunday or public holiday for the convenience of candidates.
Section 2 contains a definition of the expression "excluded day" which is used throughout the Bill specifying how periods of time are to be calculated for various processes, such as the period allowing for nominations, or notification to returning officers of details of persons appointed by candidates to act as personation agents or to attend at the count and or adjournment of the poll in the case of obstruction of the poll by violence. An "excluded day" is defined as a Sunday, Good Friday or a day declared to be a public holiday by the Holidays (Employees) Act, 1973. Every circumstance which excluded days are not counted in calculating periods of time is specified in the Bill.
These amendments provide for the deletion of the definition of "excluded day" in section 2 and deletion of the reference to it where it occurs in the Bill. In my view Deputy Dukes has got it wrong; having excluded days not counted I contend lengthens rather than shortens the period of opportunity for nomination. That is the first point I would make. Therefore, instead of having nine clear days with no exclusions, for the sake of argument, there could be at least 11 days and, if there were a public holiday, 12, during which time a candidate was afforded an opportunity of meeting the requisite obligations in this regard. I do not know whether Deputy Dukes has had the opportunity I have had of having a nomination handed in on an "excluded day". A returning officer can, if he or she so wishes, accept a nomination any time, and will agree a time with a candidate taking into account whatever constraints of time may obtain. Having regard to that fact I appreciate what the Deputy wishes to do, with which I agree, but I do not think he achieves it as well as I do in the provisions, as they stand, which I contend should not be amended in such circumstances.
I have to say I disagree with the Minister. The Minister achieves what I want to achieve, as the law stands at present, only by the grace and favour of returning officers. I accept that there are cases where returning officers themselves allow a certain amount of leeway. Section 50 (3) reads as follows:
(3) The returning officer shall attend to receive nominations at the place specified in that behalf in the notice of election between the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 noon and between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the day (disregarding and excluded day) before the latest date for receiving nominations and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 noon on the said latest date.
If the latest date for receiving nominations were to be, for example, a Monday, that would mean that a returning officer could not accept nominations on the Sunday; he could accept them on the Saturday or Monday but not on the Sunday. I understand that returning officers like to have Sundays at home with their families which would be the wish of most of us in this House and which we will not have for the next few weeks. I am saying simply that if we delete this provision for an "excluded day", on the one hand, people presenting nomination papers will know that they can present them on the day before the last day, or on the last day, whatever day that happens to be. The returning officers would then know there were no such excluded days and would not be placed in the position of having to make an exception which I know they do frequently for the convenience of candidates. In such circumstances everybody would know where they stood. Since the events about which we speak happen theoretically once in every five years, in practice once in every three and a half years, sometimes three times in a year and a half, I contend they are not that hugely frequent as to disturb the normal, even tenor of family life of returning officers. I contend the inconvenience occasioned for candidates would outweigh the disadvantage to returning officers.
I have no dispute with Deputy Dukes as to how frequently or infrequently these services are required. It appears they are likely to be required in the very near future.
The Minister will have to ask his officer friends about that again.
I must still argue the fundamental point, that excluded days are used only for the purpose of calculating the time and, in effect, extend the time of opportunity. I cannot accept Deputy Dukes contention that, in some way, it makes it somewhat more difficult. In fact, once the Deputy has had an opportunity to rethink the provisions here, I predict he will realise that what we are doing is affording a better opportunity than would be the case under his proposal. I still believe that in holding the line I am doing a better job than would be the case if I accepted Deputy Dukes' amendment.
In this respect I must agree with the Minister in that I contend he is quite correct when he says that it extends the time. In any event I do not believe that I or any of my colleagues would want to submit their nominations on a Sunday or public holiday. In rural areas we would still prefer to avail of the opportunity presented at after-Mass meetings and so on. In any event I do not think a press call would be answered on a Sunday. Therefore I think Deputy Dukes should give up on this amendment and let us proceed to the next.
Amendment No. 6 in the name of Deputy Dukes and amendment No. 7 in the name of Deputy Kavanagh are clearly related. Therefore, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 14, lines 18 to 25, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:
"(2) Where regulations or orders under this Act are proposed to be made, a draft thereof shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House, save in the case of orders proposed to be made under section 96.".
This amendment is a long standing hobby-horse of mine. I say "long standing" as it never seems to get a decent gallop because Ministers and Governments by their nature do not like this type of amendment. The Minister did, indeed, refer to this in his reply on Second Stage. He made the point that there were so many different kinds of orders and regulations to be made under this Bill that he thought it would be rather onerous to bring all of these measures before this House. I do not agree with that. In cases such as this where the House has gone to the trouble of passing fairly detailed legislation, the House should be able to keep a track of that legislation as it goes through.
The form of order that I provide for in this amendment is far more in keeping with a democratic parliamentary procedure than the kind of passive order to which we are accustomed. What is most common in this Bill is that where the Minister makes an order or regulation, it is laid before each House of the Oireachtas and, unless a motion to annul it is passed by either or both Houses within 21 sitting days, it comes into effect. If it is annuled obviously it cannot come into effect but nothing previously done under its terms can be challenged. That is not a good way to legislate. If there are issues which we, in passing legislation want to see coming into effect we should specifically legislate for them and, if necessary put dates or time periods on them. If there are issues which, by their nature, require a judgment to be made as to the quality or timing of what is to be done — that is typically the case in relation to orders and regulations — it should be a conscious act of this House, and not the legislative equivalent of a sin of omission, to let it pass through there.
That is a better type of order and if we adopted that procedure we would also adopt a different procedure for the provisions in Bills which we want to see passed automatically without further question.
My argument in support of a similar amendment in my name is the same as that of Deputy Dukes and there is no need to repeat it. The House should be informed and the order should be put before the House.
As far as I can see the two amendments are not the same. Deputy Dukes' amendment is a better one. This point has been debated many times in the House in relation to other Bills. We need to give more power to this House and not allow regulations to slip through without being noticed. An important matter such as this should be dealt with in the manner recommended by Deputy Dukes and, therefore, I support his amendment.
The provision along the lines proposed in both these amendments would be inappropriate in this Bill. Section 3 already provides for the laying of regulations, other than regulations made under section 20 amending the Second Schedule, before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after they are made. Quite rightly any regulations to be made under section 20 amending the registration rules set out in the Second Schedule would have to be approved in draft by both Houses before they are made.
We have had this argument over and again and I am proud that the Department of the Environment have taken up approximately 25 per cent of the Dáil time in 1992 by introducing a range of reforming legislation. In the Utopian or ideal world there is no argument against Deputy Dukes' proposal. It provides for more transparency and opportunity for debate. However, in practical terms — Deputy Dukes and Deputy Kavanagh have had the experience of serving in Government — there is a need, particularly in the climate in which we live and bearing in mind the demands that are made on Governments and the decisions that have to be taken, to maintain these provisions.
Speaking from experience I do not honestly know how this House would cope with such a provision in this Bill. Deputies, for genuine reasons, would want greater transparency for everything. However, in reality it is not practical although there may not be anything fundamentally wrong with it.
In essence, Deputy Dukes is saying we need more power in this House and Deputy Garland's idea of more power is different to what I would have expected from him. What this house and, indeed, Central Government need to do is to be prepared to relinquish power and trust local communities more. Our job is to pass legislation. We should not interfere in the way Deputy Garland suggests in regard to legislation debated here. If we do we will clutter up the system even more. We have had similar queries but today is not the day to argue about this. Nobody is being blamed for the fact that we are constrained in regard to time but on many occasions debate on a whole range of amendments has been curtailed.
Deputy McCartan pleaded earlier to have one provision of this Bill covered. He made that plea before as I did when on the other side of the House. Deputies want all amendments debated but that is just not practical.
I hope the Minister is not feeling a little impatient——
I have the patience of Job.
——because in all the legislation we have debated in the House, and we have had much this year involving the Department of the Environment, this issue has arisen. I am delighted to say to the Minister that I expect, within a matter of a few weeks, to be making different proposals on these matters from the Government side of the House and the Minister can make his arguments from the Opposition side.
Hope springs eternal.
For as long as I have been in politics I have been making these points about legislation because I believe the system we use, with respect to the Minister — I am not criticising him in this regard — is one that we have lazily slipped into. It is handy, it is convenient for Governments and it is something perhaps that Parliaments do not pay as much attention to as they should. It is a sloppy, unsatisfactory and basically undemocratic procedure. For as long as it continues to arise in Bills, and I am a Member of this House, I will continue to make that argument. I hope that after some period, whether it is by water dripping on the stone or by me having command of the mill-wheel, we will get a change.
The Minister did say that he would think it appropriate for a type of Utopian situation. He should know, as well as I do, that it is part of our job to bring the form of legislation as near to administrative perfection as we can.
We have a good record on that.
Therefore, to call it Utopian is no argument against it. We should strive for perfection. I know the Minister is distracted with absent friends at the moment whose perfection seems to lie in different directions, but there is no argument for us not to try it.
I invite the Minister — he will not have much time over the next few weeks — but at a later stage on the Opposition benches he will have an opportunity — to reflect on what I said.
The Deputy might as well dream by day as by night.
There are cases in all legislation, and in particular in environment legislation, where the form of order I am proposing is provided for in proposals that come before the House. I applaud that. There are cases where this other form of passive order is provided for where I believe the form of order I am proposing and that figures in legislation is more appropriate.
There are yet other cases where Government have used this form of passive order where it was appropriate and where it was open to this House, if it wanted certain things to happen more or less as a matter of course once an Act is passed, to define circumstances in which these things might be done, and gave these powers to the Minister. What I am arguing for is a clearer definition of where the boundaries of ministerial discretion lie so that we do not have Bills that include in them rather curious provisions which make matters in practice questions of ministerial discretion, which can be overturned by this House if it is awake enough and can manage to pass a resolution to do something different within 21 sitting days. That is the only point. I take it that this is not an issue on which the Minister will give now. Even if the Minister wished to give now, which he does not, it is not the kind of procedure that would be appropriate for some of the things we want to do between now and 26 November, so I do not intend to press a division on this matter.
My amendment has the same purpose as that of Deputy Dukes. The Minister said that if every order had to be tabled the system would be clogged up. The Department of the Environment have modern techniques and if it is a question of putting computers into the House to allow us to call up these orders in the Library we should be able to do that and it would not clog up anything. We are agreed that we want this Bill through today but the orders should be laid before the House because this Bill is not getting the appropriate level of discussion it should in this House. If the Minister makes orders under this Bill we would like to know about them. The Minister should agree to these two amendments. It would show that the Minister does not want to take advantage of the truncated discussion we are having on this Bill.
It seems to me that Deputy Kavanagh's amendment would make matters worse. From reading subsection (2) of this section it seems that quite clearly every regulation made under this Bill must be laid before the Dáil. The difference between what the Minister wants and what Deputy Dukes wants relates to how the regulation is dealt with after it reaches the Dáil. The Minister proposes that the regulations shall have effect unless a resolution proposing their recision is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Towards the end of the subsection it says that the regulation shall be annulled but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder. Surely the procedure should be stayed for the 21 days to enable a motion to rescind the regulation to be tabled. Deputy Dukes' amendment covers that point. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. Under the Bill we are faced with the double problem that the Minister may act under the regulations and then have to unscramble whatever has been done if a subsequent recision of the regulation is made. Deputy Dukes' proposal is the clearer proposal. The draft regulations should be put before the House and they can be debated if necessary when a formal resolution is being proposed. This is a very simple amendment. It is a pity that we will have no Report Stage on this very important Bill but that it will be railroaded through here today. I am sure Opposition amendments will not be accepted and it is most unsatisfactory.
The Minister seems to be totally confused as to what this is about. This is about taking powers from the Minister and the civil servants. That is not the principle of subsidiarity to which the Minister refers. The principle of subsidiarity is a major focal point of the Green Party. We have always maintained the principle of subsidiarity. We do not want the Oireachtas, the Minister or the civil servants interfering unduly in local affairs, but this is not a local matter, it is a national matter. It is a question of the interconnection between the Parliament and the Minister. As much power as possible should be devolved on the Oireachtas in this and in many other areas.
The Minister should restrain himself.
Deputy McCartan has a point. I have made the case and we are anxious to proceed as quickly as possible. Deputy Dukes referred to the fact that what he is proposing is contained in other legislation. Not only is it contained in other legislation but it is in this legislation as well although it does not apply here. I will not get upset, but I would say to Deputy Garland that in terms of the devolution of powers from the Department of the Environment downwards, I would put my record against anybody's.
I understand from Deputy Dukes that amendment No. 6 is being withdrawn.
No, I said I would not press for a division.
How stands the amendment?
I would like you to put the question.
The question is: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand".
I have been given a revised schedule and I just want to know if we have the agreement of the House to go forward on this basis. In the case of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Stages of the Bill, the proceedings if not previously concluded shall be brought to a conclusion in accordance with the following timetable: Parts I to IX to conclude by 12 noon, Parts X to XVI by 5 p.m. and all remaining Parts by 7 p.m. I suggest that if Deputies are in agreement we can revise the orders accordingly.
Do I take it that there is agreement on the new schedule?
If not, we can see if we can accommodate Deputies.
Could we push the first part up to 12.30 p.m.?
I suggest 1 p.m. for the first part.
1 p.m. is all right, and the remaining proposal stands.
Does that affect the other parts?
No, we will finish Part XVI by 5 p.m. and the remainder by 7 p.m.
Where proceedings have not concluded by the stated time they shall be brought to a conclusion by one question which shall be put by the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only amendments set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment.
Is there agreement to that? Agreed.
We now come to amendment No. 8 in the name of Deputy Kavanagh. Amendment No. 10 is a related amendment. Amendments Nos. 8 and 10 will therefore be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 37, to delete "was, on the qualifying date" and substitute "is".
The purpose of these amendments is to give a vote to a person who is 18 years of age. The introduction of qualifying dates means that people who are 18 on the date of an election but who were not 18 at the qualifying date are not able to vote, even though they may have been aged 18 for nine months or so. All young people expect to have certain responsibilities and rights, one of those rights being the right to vote in an election, on the attainment of their 18th birthday.
I know the Minister will say that there has to be organisation, that we have to do things in an orderly fashion and that the Department of the Environment have always shown organisation during the Minister's time of office and, indeed, under the administration of former Ministers for the Environment. We are now in the age of technology and it is my contention that we can take steps to ensure that where possible, within the matter of a few weeks, those people who have attained the age of 18 are not deprived of their right to vote in an election and be part of making a decision that will affect them.
The enforcement of the qualifying date will exclude hundreds and thousands of young people from participating in an election, including the upcoming election. The establishment order has provided that a person has to be 18 on a particular date in April. We are now in November so the imposition of a qualifying date in April will exclude many people from the right to vote. I could perhaps accept the Minister saying that he will consider my proposals maybe not for the forthcoming election but as a point worth examining.
The Minister should address this issue in the workings of the Bill. The amendments concern a very disturbing aspect. I am sure that every one of us when coming up to an election and taking a campaign from house to house has been presented by a disappointed young person who says that he or she has reached the age of 18 but will not be entitled to vote because he or she is not on the register.
I recognise that the Minister must have a date from which to operate, that there must be a qualifying date. Some means has to be devised whereby people can go through the act of registration and be included in a printed list. All of these requirements have to be met; they are reasonable.
In meeting the desire that Deputy Kavanagh has, would it not be possible to rearrange the legislation so that when a person reaches the age of 17 years or an age less than 18 years and will be 18 years by the qualifying date or thereafter he or she will be entitled to register? I wonder whether one's entitlement to registration could arise as and of the date of age of 17 whereas one's entitlement to vote would not arise before attainment of the age of 18. In that way a person from the age of 17 years would be entitled to be on the register. Already many different status of voters are marked on the register. For example, a note is made of a person who is entitled to vote only in local, European or Dáil election, depending on his or her circumstances and, more particularly, origin. We can identify status on the register and we could identify people who are 17 years and upwards. Persons so noted would then be required to produce at the polling station a birth certificate or some other document that would prove that on election day they had reached the age of 18 years and were therefore entitled to vote. This is an important matter.
In general, we say that the right to vote is achieved at the age of 18 years yet there is the problem that people are not entitled to register until they reach the age of 18 years, which in many cases means that people have to wait for the following year before they can be included on the register. That is basically unfair. The system as we operate it works against people. We should try to accommodate and encourage people to come in. We have to be extremely anxious that as many young people as possible become involved in the election process. It is uppermost in the minds of many young people when they reached the age of 18 that they will be able to have a say in the way in which their country is run, that they will be able to vote. Nine times out of ten when 18 year olds present themselves at the polling station with a view to voting they are told that they have to wait, which is a great disappointment to them.
I support the amendments. I particularly support the idea put forward by Deputy McCartan. There should be a very simple way of resolving this problem. The legislation provides for a date on which the process of drawing up the register shall start. It also provides for a date on which the register should come into effect. It would be a very small matter to provide that instead of being aged 18 years, as is provided in the present legislation, people who had reached the age of 17 years and X months on the qualifying date or on the date that the process of compiling the register began would be eligible for registration. We could require evidence of age to be produced. In some jurisdictions the register of electors includes the number and an indication of the address of the person, the elector's name and his or her date of birth. That information could be requested on the application form. We could get over the problem of young people who have reached the age of 18 years not qualifying for a vote.
That problem will be experienced in the upcoming election. We will be faced with young people who reached the age of 18 in May, June or July but will not be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election. It is very difficult to explain to an irate young person in that position that because the register came into effect at the beginning of April they will not be allowed to vote, when everybody believes that they should be allowed to vote on reaching the age of 18. If we were to specify that persons would be entitled to vote from the coming into effect of a register if they had reached the age of 17 years and the appropriate number of months when the process of registration started we could resolve any problem in that regard.
The only difficulty that might arise, which could be dealt with by the proper wording of the legislation, is that there might be some people who, in the event that an election was called very quickly, would have to wait for a vote. I do not consider that has ever been a problem that should concern legislators in this instance. If we were to specify that people who had reached the age of 17 years and the appropriate number of months on the date that the registration process started the problem would be solved.
Without wishing to waste the time of the House I should say Deputy Dukes has made a very good point. I see no reason other than bureaucratic inertia that this simple matter cannot be dealt with. We all agree it is very important that young people be involved as soon as possible in the political process.
Once again Deputy Garland has proved that he is capable of language which brings people together in an extraordinary way and can manage differences.
Is the Minister accepting my amendment?
There is a fair degree of sense in what has been said all round. By means of these amendments the Deputy cannot achieve his stated objective. There are a number of ways in which this matter can be approached. First and foremost, there is no requirement to be 18 years on 1 September but rather 18 years of age when the register comes into effect. That covers part of the problem outlined here. I should like to outline some of the problems that can emerge. If we had, say, the American system of election every four years one could do a great deal on the lines suggested——
Does the Minister want to amend the Bill?
——to try sort out these problems, because there is no argument between us as to the need to involve young people and to ensure they have the greatest possible opportunity to case their votes and to be involved in the electoral process. At what stage should there be a cut off point? Our Constitution provides that we can have a general election at any time, and of course we must have it within 30 days after the dissolusion of the Dáil as the longest possible period.
Subject to a particular——
Let us try to be reasonable about this. The Deputy's objective cannot be achieved by means of this amendment.
Let us have another one.
Let us deal with the sense of the amendment because that is what is involved. I would be anxious to have further discussions at some other time, but I do not think it is appropriate here now, to see what further measures could be taken. There are strict limits in our Constitutionvis-á-vis general elections and so on as to where there will be a cut off point. A person does not have to be 18 years on 1 September but rather when the register comes into effect. I take the point that that fact is not well known and people need to know that is the position. We will have to await other circumstances and other major reforms until we get to the point which the Deputy is seeking. If there is any scope by way of regulation open to me to enhance the possibilities for young people to cast their vote within the constraints we have, I am very anxious to facilitate the House in doing that.
Are we dealing with section 8?
No, amendment No. 8.
We are dealing with amendment No. 8, not amendment No. 10.
We are dealing with section 7, amendments Nos. 8 and 10.
Amendment No. 10 brings us on to section 8 so that we are in order if we discuss section 8 at present. I should like to tell the Minister that enlightened rate collectors and people who make up the register are doing what I am trying to achieve by legislation.
They are getting help from enlightened politicians.
There is no more efficient party than the Minister's party to enlighten them.
The Deputy can see how interested we are in enabling the maximum number to vote.
Deputy Kavanagh to continue without any further interruption. The time is restricted.
I am well aware of that.
If so, then get back to the legislation.
I want to get a good Bill if that is possible. I should like to have a practice which is presently operated whereby on 15 February people who were not 18 years of age on the qualifying date have been included in the register. The Minister need not tell me they are not being included. People are making applications saying: "My son is 18 years of age, I want him on the register" and they submit their list to political parties with whom they may have some connections, but the birth certificates are not checked. This is happening. The Minister should take an early opportunity to rationalise what is now the practice. The Minister knows this as well as I do and everybody in this House is aware of the practices which take place. One does not get on the Government benches with the number of votes which Fianna Fáil get without knowing every detail of an Electoral Bill. We are all aware of what takes place. I am only trying to do what is sensible, which is to allow people who have reached the age of 18 to vote, because that is their understanding.
We are going to achieve that as far as is humanly possible, bearing in mind the constitutional constraints. I will not legislate wrongdoing into existence but I doubt very much if I would be capable of legislating for that much virtue either. However, I will not take over the role of other parties when it comes to omnipotence.
How stands amendment No. 8?
I am pressing the amendment.
We come now to amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy McCartan. Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 are related. Amendment No. 12 is an alternative to amendment No. 11. I propose, with the agreement of the House, that we take amendments 9, 11, 12 and 13 together. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 15, subsection (1), between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
(c) now resides outside the State but was ordinarily resident in that constituency within the period of the preceding five years.".
The purpose of this amendment is to address one of the signal failures of this Coalition Government in their last few hours. It is appropriate that some focus is put on the commitment made by the Coalition Government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to examine and report on the position of emigrants and their entitlement to vote under the laws of the land. The Joint Programme for Government promised that at the end of 1991 a report would be made to Government on the position of emigrants. It was to be prepared by the Attorney General. I understand the Government have received that report but have not yet made it public for people to consider it or to understand the grounds on which the Government have been advised. Whatever they were, they have led the Government to the position where they do not intend at any stage to address the position of emigrant voters. I propose in the Electoral (No. 2) Bill that we add a third ground of right for persons to be registered for the purposes of voting in our elections, be they Dáil, presidential or otherwise. The existing legislation as proposed by the Minister states:
... if he has reached the age of 18 years and if he was, on the qualifying date—
(a) a citizen of Ireland, and
(b) ordinarily resident in that constituency.
They shall be entitled to vote. I propose on behalf of Democratic Left that a further right exist for those people who now reside outside the State but were ordinarily resident in a constituency within the period of the preceding five years.
Basically we propose that emigrants — to our shame, I do not think the Minister or anyone else knows the number of Irish people who have emigrated — who were ordinarily resident here during the five years preceding the holding of an election should be entitled to vote. This is a reasonable amendment. It proposes that people who, through no fault of their own, are obliged as a result of the impact — I will not use the emotive word "failure"— of the Government's economic and jobs policies to go abroad to look for work should be given at least one opportunity to vote and comment on the Government who forced them to emigrate.
I think the period of five years is reasonable. It is conceivable that there could be any number of elections within a five year period — under our Constitution at least one general election must be held every five years. It is only reasonable and fair that people who have had to emigrate in search of employment should be given the right, at least on one occasion, to pass judgment on the Government whose policies have forced them to emigrate. I acknowledge that some emigrants may not ultimately return to this State to take up residency and I accept that such people should not be entitled to votead infinitum in elections as they occur here; there must be some link with the State and the Government in power.
It is arrogant in the extreme for a Government who fail to create the proper climate to keep our citizens here — the creation of jobs should be the objective of all Governments — to say that emigrants automatically lose the right to vote in Irish elections. It has been suggested on previous debates that giving emigrants a right to vote in Irish elections would require some amendment of the Constitution, but I understand that this is not so. Article 16 of the Constitution refers to the right of citizens to vote in elections and recognises circumstances in which people may have to live abroad for whatever reasons. Section 15 of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1986, provides that diplomats and other consular personnel working abroad on behalf of the State are entitled to vote; it can be clearly established that once they go abroad their ordinary place of residence is at the consulate or diplomatic residence provided for them by the State. Ambassadors are appointed — I am open to correction on this point — for a minimum of four or five years. Therefore, the argument that the period cannot be as long as five years does not stand up.
The other interesting provision which exists in our law is section 5 (4) of the Electoral Act, 1963. This has been a forgotten and ignored provision in the debates which have taken place here, but it has been referred to by the group who are campaigning for emigrants to be given the right to vote. It provides that a person whose work obliges him to go abroad and who is likely to return here within a period of 18 months, is entitled to be maintained on the electoral register and to vote here. That provision has survived our constitutional requirements and has not been challenged. That principle could easily be accommodated in this amendment — it recognises that there is a likelihood of return. It is arrogant for any Government who have forced people to go abroad in search of work to suggest that they do not think these people ever intend to return here. I believe it is the aspiration and hope of every emigrant, particularly those who are forced to leave, to return home at the earliest possible opportunity when work is available for them here.
This amendment proposes that all emigrants who go abroad should be given the right on at least one occasion to comment on the performance of the Government whose record ultimately led to their departure in the first instance. It is a matter for us to ensure that a Government survive for five years, the constitutional maximum. It is no fault of emigrants that Governments are cobbled together, in the way the present Government have been cobbled together over the past two years, and cannot survive. This is a very important issue. I am very happy on behalf of the Democratic Left during, so to speak, the dying hours of the 26th Dáil to make what I regard under the law as an unanswerable case for giving emigrants the right to pass judgment on the performance of the Government who have forced them to emigrate in the first instance.
I support this amendment. I do not think we need to go into this issue in great depth in the sense that we do not need to debate why so many people have emigrated; such a debate would take a long time. The fact is that Irish emigrants are effectively being disenfranchised at present. It is very important that this matter is rectified. One could argue about whether the period should be three, five or ten years, but the Minister must surely accept the principle behind this amendment. If he suggests a limit of three or four years I would not necessarily disagree with him. I await the Minister's response to see if he is really concerned about our emigrants.
My amendment No. 11 is being discussed with this amendment. One of the disappointing failures of the Government is that having made a commitment to young emigrants that something would be done to ensure that they would have a say in the running of this country has been done in this regard. To my knowledge, the vast majority of people do not want to emigrate and those who have emigrated would willingly return here if proper and gainful employment was available for them. It strikes me as very strange that American people living in Ireland can register to vote in American elections while young Irish people living in America cannot register to vote in Irish elections.
This is not just the Minister's problem. If it is a decision of the outgoing coalition Government, the promises that something would be done in regard to voting rights for emigrants are clearly not being carried out. All attempts by my party, particularly by my colleague, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, to raise this problem have met a response outlining the difficulties it would present. Our amendment on this point was defeated in the Seanad and I imagine the Government will not change their views. There are many ways that voting rights can be given to emigrants.
I would have no hesitation in withdrawing this amendment if I knew that the Government were serious about implementing their promise, but since we do not know what the state of affairs will be following the election, I am asking the Minister to accept this amendment. He has said he will allow for a supplementary register. We are aware that acceptance of our proposal would not mean that emigrants could vote in the forthcoming election, but the Minister should at least indicate that this is a promise he intends to keep.
Many people are concerned about this matter and have made representations. A very vociferous group in America and in Britain are looking for a move by the Minister. I am a member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body and I have met emigrant groups in London, Edinburgh and elsewhere. This is a priority for them. There is no great cost involved. We are simply asking that people who, because of economic circumstances, have had to leave the country be allowed to retain their voting rights. I am prepared to accept a time limitation such as five years. I seek an earnest commitment from the Minister that he will accept an amendment on these lines to allow emigrants the right to vote in future elections.
I am not at all persuaded, nor are my party, by the case made for this amendment. My party proposed a different amendment in the Seanad which would have allowed for the representation of emigrants in that House. I have met a great many of the emigrant groups in the United Kingdom and the United States who are pressing for a measure of that kind.
The situation in which Irish emigrants find themselves cannot be compared with the situation of people who are external voters in United States elections or the election in other countries. The example of the United States is most frequently given. The nature of the emigrant population from the United States is very different from the nature of our emigrant population. It is not the case in the United States that a great many people are forced to go abroad to find employment. Nor in a practical sense would that non-resident electorate constitute anything like the proportion of the overall electorate domestically as would be the case here. I note that both Deputy McCartan and Deputy Kavanagh are proposing a five-year period, which is considerably less than most of the groups involved are seeking, but that does not change the nature of the problem.
I do not see the difficulties in terms of how the emigrant population might vote in a political or party sense. If this House were to take any step of that kind, I hope it would do so because it was considered justified in terms of the rights of individuals, not in terms of our feelings about their political opinions, erroneous as those feelings might be. The nature of the problem is put in the wrong context by the kinds of comparison which have typically been made.
I regret that the amendment my colleagues put down in Seanad Éireann was not accepted. I have not tabled the amendment here because I do not see any prospect that it will add anything to the debate. Deputy Kavanagh and Deputy McCartan were right to point to the undertaking in the Programme for Government, contained in both the Mark I and Mark II versions. The Government deserve to be condemned for not having done anything about it but they deserve more rightly to be condemned for having put that phrase into the Programme for Government when they knew they would never act on it. In all their pronouncements since, they have claimed to be totally opposed philosophically to the concept.
This issue has been debated for quite some time. It was also debated in the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body and some lengthy reports were produced. The scarey aspect for the Government is that some hundreds of thousands of voters would be voting without knowing about conditions in this country at the time.
The Government and Fine Gael are not taking into account the enormous change in emigration patterns. A man will go to London for a job on a building site lasting three or five months and when it is finished he will return home. People are even coming back from America after six or eight months. There has been an enormous change in the pattern of emigration in that people go abroad to take up a job for a specified time and then return. The idea of a five-year period is probably a very reasonable compromise. Certainly people are being deprived of the vote. I know of people who are not on the new register when they come home after perhaps nine or ten months aboard trying to earn some money for their families. They might go abroad again a year or some months later. There is a very repetitive pattern and probably the emigrants are keeping Aer Lingus going. There is an enormous flow of people to and from Britain and Europe.
These amendments will probably not be acceptable but the appropriate Ministers should look at this matter. It is an issue of justice for people who do not quite see themselves as emigrants in a permanent sense but see themselves as going to earn some money, knowing they will be back. An election may take place and they will not be on the register. This involves a matter of simple justice. It is not a question of trying to get hundreds of thousands of Irish Americans or Irish Australians or Irish people in Britain to vote in elections here. As a matter of straighforward justice for citizens, the Government should rethink this issue.
There are obviously differences of opinion on the solving of this problem. Deputies would have to be under the misapprehension that I was Solomon to think that I could meet the variety of proposals which have been put forward.
The type of circumstances Deputy Mac Giolla envisages are catered for under another provision of this Bill whereby for the first time, it is proposed that a supplemental register to put in place to allow anybody living in the country, and eligible to vote, 12 days before election day in which to have their name put on that register. That proposal has been welcomed on all sides and should have been in place before now. It not only takes account of the circumstances outlined by Deputy Mac Giolla, but of circumstances in which people who have voted all their lives have had their names taken off the register. Deputy Mac Giolla referred also to people returning to this country while Deputy McCartan referred to those in the Diplomatic Corps — employees of the State and virtually all of whom return after a period of approximately four year. The Deputy suggested also that some provision be made for people who leave the country for a period of not more than 18 months, people who are normally resident here but who, in the course of their work, have to go abroad. There is provision in the Bill for people in such circumstances.
A number of other corrections are needed. There was not a Government commitment to provide voting rights for emigrants.
I did not say that.
What was clearly outlined was that this matter would be examined and I want to put on the record that it was examined. Papers were prepared and submitted to the Government and the Attorney General's advice was that it was not possible to interpret our Constitution in a way which would allow voting for emigrants on the basis of what is expected in this area. In reply to Deputy Dukes, even if we were to go down the road proposed by Fine Gael in the Seanad, we are still talking about a constitutional amendment and it still would not be anything close to what is being sought. I am not saying that the proposal is not a reasonable one — perhaps it could be considered in due course but it would involve a constitutional amendment. Any constitutional amendment in this area would have to take a number of factors into account, for example, the matter of the people who live, work and pay taxes here. It would also have to have regard to the circumstances of emigrants. I do not propose to get involved in an argument regarding who is for or against giving the vote to emigrants. I have given careful consideration to the matter and I have met with emigrant groups in America and in the United Kingdom. Any Government would be anxious to find a vehicle by which Irish people living abroad, interested in the affairs of this country and wanting to maintain their ties, would be entitled to vote. However, the proposals put forward here would not represent the correct way of dealing with the issue. The Attorney General's advice to the Government is that it would require a constitutional amendment, and that is not in dispute. Other suggestions have been made but they could not be sustained. I do not know what options are open to me when I am asked to accept something here which requires a constitutional amendment. It would be disingenuous to pretend it is a simple matter to resolve.
I want to clarify the question with regard to the Government. It is untrue to say that the matter was not examined. It was examined very thoroughly and when the Attorney General's advice was given, other advice was available to the Government to the effect that his interpretation might not be the correct one. For that reason, it was doubly checked and was reaffirmed.
I wish to respond to a number of points made by the Minister. He referred to there being varying opinions on this side of the House, I have no difficulty in agreeing with him in that regard. Varying opinions have been expressed but that is no reason for the Minister not to do anything. This is not a new issue. As has been pointed out, the Government and their partners mentioned an undertaking in this regard in the Joint Programme for Government. I said it was proposed to examine the matter, but that examination should be carried out with a view to leading somewhere. It should not be merely an academic exercise to examine the matter and then leave it on a shelf. The expectation was that having examined the matter the Government would move forward and take some action. I merely repeated what I knew to be stated in the Programme for Government.
My understanding of the Attorney General's advice which, regrettably, is based on second or third hand information, originates from a submission to me from emigrants' rights groups such as, Glór na nDeoirithe. Their understanding of the issue is that, while the Attorney General believes the matter would have to be facilitated by a constitutional amendment, a number of legislative proposals exist within which the Government could manoeuvre. For example, in regard to personnel in the diplomatic service, if there is a question of a four year period abroad but with a right, during that time to vote while they are abroad, it is on the understanding that they would have to give notice of a "definite intention of returning". However, the difficulty in regard to emigrants — those forced to go abroad — is that there is no certainty as to when they will return. There is a substantial difference in the two interpretations. People employed directly by the State are given one benefit, in other words, accommodated in our legislation because they have a definite intention of returning while people who are forced to go abroad for economic reasons are in a different position because nobody knows exactly when they will return although 99 per cent of them go in the belief and hope that they will return as soon as possible. Most emigrants who leave this country, particularly those forced to do so for economic reasons, have a burning desire to return home as quickly as possible. Therefore, I do not understand why they are discriminated against compared with people in the direct employment of the State. More importantly, they should not be treated differently from people currently accommodated under the 1963 legislation whereby those who go abroad for reasons of their work — contract work abroad or whatever — no longer than 18 months can remain on the register and, obviously, are entitled to vote.
While the issues are complex, the Minister must be criticised to some extent for not seeking to address them in the legislation. There were many options open to him. He could have extended the postal voting system to people who are ordinarily resident here but who, for whatever reason, are working abroad. It is clear that the Government, having examined the matter, have closed the book on it because they do not want to give a voice and a right to people who, by and large, have been badly done by by this Government in the area of jobs.
The Minister's reply must be a great disappointment to people who have had to emigrate and are working abroad. The Programme for Government promised that this would be examined. Therefore, there was a real expectation that there would be an initiative after that examination, whether on the basis of the amendment put forward by Fine Gael in the Seanad or by introducing a postal voting system as suggested by Deputy McCartan.
The Government now say that, because there is a constitutional problem, they will do nothing about it. Yet, when the Minister and his colleagues met emigrants abroad, they left people with the clear impression that action would be taken. What the Minister said is on record and I could quote it if he wished. It appears that the Minister wants to get on to other sections as quickly as possible. He knows he left people with the clear impression that action would be taken to enable emigrants to register their votes. If the Government had the will to do something in regard to this they would have used a Bill like this to do so.
We tabled two amendments with different emphases and we knew when we did so what the reply would be, but the Government will not get away with just saying that they examined the situation and it was not feasible to do anything. The Government will hear in the next few weeks from the many people whose sons and daughters were forced to go abroad and who feel they were misled. They are annoyed as are many others. There is very strong feeling both at home and abroad that the Government let the people down by not taking the opportunity afforded by this Bill, and the various referenda that are to be held, to introduce a provision or amend the Constitution to allow people who are working abroad to vote here.
Our Constitution does not provide for a Dáil vote for emigrants. It would require a constitutional amendment to give emigrants the right to vote. We must ask ourselves if it would be fair to the people who are living, working and paying taxes here to give somebody living in another country equal voting rights.
That was the fundamental question. Do the people of this country wish to give Irish people living permanently in another country the same voting rights as they have?
On Deputy McCartan's question, it is possible to extend voting rights to those who recently emigrated and have a clear intention of returning. That is the essence of what is contained in the vote for the Diplomatic Corps and those who will return within 18 months. However, the groups who are seeking the vote for emigrants envisage different cut off points and, in one of the amendments, it is open ended. They suggest that people who have been living outside this country for more than ten or 20 years should be allowed to vote.
First, there is a constitutional problem.
Is this something we want to ask the people to adjudicate on? Second, there are the limited circumstances in which one can allow for the vote which, in my view, are not acceptable to these groups. Third, is it appropriate or fair that people who live on a long term basis outside the country should have exactly the same voice in running this country as those who live, work and pay their tax here?
It is regrettable that people have to emigrate and many of us would like to change the course of history. However, this Government cannot be accused of not examining the feasibility of this matter to see what the constitutional or other problems were and, ultimately, come to a final decision.
Reference was made to what American citizens living outside the US do in an election. This comparison is rather childish in the context of the differences between the electoral systems and so on. Our electoral system is much more precise and small numbers in given constituencies will decide the destination of seats. That has always been the case and I do not think there is any great appetite to change that. Comparisons between countries that have different electoral systems, and talk of the numbers of people who emigrate and why they do so, are not helpful to this debate. We looked diligently at this question and we sought the advice of the Attorney General. We looked to see if that advice could be tailored to meet individual needs. The only area where there is room for manoeuvre is where residents leave this country for employment with the clear intention of returning. Provision could be made in those circumstances. That is as far as one can go within the limits of our Constitution. If we want to go further the people must be consulted. There is no other way.
- Bell, Michael.
- Byrne, Eric.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Foxe, Tom.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kemmy, Jim.
- McCartan, Pat.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, David.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Limerick West
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirin.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
I wish to draw attention to the drafting of this and subsequent sections. Unfortunately I did not have an opportunity of putting down amendments but I would ask the Minister to consider the wording of this section which states:
"A person shall be entitled to be registered as a presidential elector in a constituency if he has reached the age of eighteen years and if he was, on the qualifying date, a citizen of Ireland".
This is not oddball, feminist talk. It is in a document which is expected to become law and which deals with citizenship, the right to vote and the registration of electors. As section 7 and the subsequent sections, 8, 9, 10 and 11, are drafted only males have the right to be registered to vote.
There is no mention in the definitions that where the word "he" occurs it also covers "she". There is nothing to the effect that "he" covers anyone but the male person. It would be very simple for the drafters to state that a person shall be entitled to be registered as a presidential elector in a constituency if that person reached the age of 18 and was, on the qualifying date, a citizen of Ireland. It is quite a simple drafting procedure, but the drafters have in their minds the old male kind of theory, that only men vote. Surely it would be simple to redraft that and subsequent sections, including those dealing with the diplomatic corps where there is reference to "his spouse."
This Bill has been put through the Seanad and is now going through the Dáil but nobody seems to give a damn that women are not encompassed in the legislation. Any such wording could be contested in court on the grounds that rights for women are not specified.
The women Deputies in The Workers' Party——
It is a matter of major concern that this attitude exists in regard to a document such as this. I raised this matter on section 7 and I will also raise it on sections 8, 9, 10 and 11.
If the Deputy continues talking we will never reach those sections.
Even though there is no amendment down in this regard I would ask the Minister to request the drafters of the Bill between now and Report Stage, to substitute, "person" for "he". It is a simple matter of drafting the wording with both sexes in mind. I notice that one of the amendments in Deputy McCartan's name also refers to "he" and "his". The wording should be drafted in such a way as to cover all persons.
All the sexist people joined the Democratic Left Party.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Mac Giolla However, he is incorrect in that this matter is covered by the Interpretations Act which states that "he" imputes——
That does not matter.
It matters legally. It is quite right to raise this point, and in the next Dáil the Interpretations Act should be considered. No-one uses sexist language now. We all accept that women must be included and we must refer to spokespersons, chairpersons and so on. This matter should be considered in the next Dáil and the Interpretations Act is the appropriate medium by which to do so.
It is a state of mind.
As it is now 1 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day. Question: "That sections 7 to 43, inclusive, are hereby agreed to" put and declared carried
We now come to amendment No. 60. Amendments Nos. 61, 94 and 95 are related and may be discussed with amendment No. 60. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 60:
In page 39, subsection (5), line 10, to delete "the expression `Non-Party' " and substitute "any expression, which in the opinion of the returning officer—
(a) cannot be confused with the name of any political party registered in the Register of Political Parties as a party organised to contest a Dáil election;
(b) is not misleading or likely to cause confusion; and
(c) is not unduly long;".
This amendment would allow an Independent candidate to put something other than "non-party" opposite his name on the ballot paper. He or she should be allowed to put any description, within reason, such as "fascist", "communist", "environmentalist", "anti-drugs candidate" and so on. There are many precedents for this in other countries, particularly in Britain, in which Screaming Lord Sutch and his Monster Raving Loony Party stand in elections. If people want to describe themselves in that way on a ballot paper they should be allowed to do so. It would obviate the ridiculous practice which obtained in the case of our former colleague calling himself "Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus". Do we really have to ask people to go to the trouble and expense of changing their names so that the issues for which they stand are apparent to electors when they come to a polling station to vote? It would be much easier to allow candidates to use a simpler description. I have gone to a lot of trouble in wording this amendment, which I hope will be accepted as it stands. The provisions of my amendment are very reasonable. Independent Deputies suffer many drawbacks in the run-up to elections, and indeed after, in the way they are treated in this House. They deserve a break, and democracy would be served by accepting this amendment. The Minister should use a little imagination. What possible harm could result from accepting this amendment?
I withdrew my amendment to this section but I support Deputy Garland's aim to include the word "Independent".
The Bill as drafted, which repeats existing law, provides that a candidate of a registered political party may have the name of the political party concerned shown in relation to his name on the nomination paper and on the ballot. It provides that a non-aligned candidate may adopt the expression "non-party" or leave the relevant space blank. Two of the amendments in this group would allow the non-aligned candidate to describe himself — or herself — as "Independent" or "non-party" or leave the relevant space blank. The other amendments would enable such a candidate to use any description of his own choice which the returning officer does not find objectionable on specified grounds.
I should like to explain that the system of registration of political parties was introduced in 1963 on the recommendation of an all-party Oireachtas Joint Committee on Electoral Law. The purpose of the measure was to enable the political affiliation of candidates to be shown in an ordered way on ballot papers. It would have been possible to achieve that objective in another way. For example, it could have been decided, as is done in the neighbouring jurisdiction, to allow each candidate to use a description of his choice, subject to limitation on the number of words used in the description. This approach introduced to the British public such delights as the "Monster Raving Loony Party", Freddie's Alternative Medicine Party" as well as "Miss Whiplash's Corrective Party".
The Oireachtas of the day wisely decided that the proper approach was to provide a system for registration of political parties. It appears to be generally acceptable that, on the whole, the system has worked remarkably well.
Under the terms of Deputy Garland's amendment we would be apting for both approaches, superimposing the British system on our existing one. Perhaps the hope is that this would give us the best of both worlds. In practice it would be more likely to give us the worst of both worlds. I do not see that any worthwhile purpose would be served by this change and I think the amendments should be rejected. It is rarely a good policy to change horses in mid stream; it is even worst to try to ride two horses simultaneously.
The amendments proposed by Deputies Kavanagh and Gregory would give a non-aligned candidate three choices — to leave the space blank; to use the expression "Non-Party" or to use the word "Independent". I do not see any practical necessity for providing this range of choices. I might stress that the use of the description "Non-Party" is entirely at the discretion of a candidate. Any candidate who does not wish to use that description need not do so and the relevant space on the nomination paper and ballot paper may be left blank.
I consider the expression "Non-Party" to be the most appropriate description for a candidate who wishes to make it known that he or she is not a member of a registered political party. It indicates briefly and clearly that the person does not belong to a registered party. It is a neutral expression whereas the description "Independent" could be regarded as a definite political statement.
Prior to 1963 the name of a political party could not be included on the ballot paper. There was a polite fiction that each candidate was contesting the election as an individual. The Electoral Act, 1963, recognised the reality that most people vote on a party basis. The provisions of that Act introduced a system for registration of parties. Candidates who wished to contest as individuals or did not wish to register their supporting organisation as a political party could describe themselves as "Non-Party" or leave the space blank. The present section continues this arrangement without change. The arrangement has worked remarkably well for almost 33 years. It would not appear to be an area in which there is any great clamour for change; it is basically sound. We shall not copy systems obtaining in other places for obvious reasons. Clearly our present system places nobody at a disadvantage; they may opt to use it or not as the case may be. We should change the system only if there are compelling reasons for so doing which I do not recognise exist.
The Minister's response was very inadequate. I am not familiar with the minutiae of the British electoral law not do I believe that to be necessary here. I mention it merely as an aside. It is quite clear that here at present political parties are entitled to insert the name of the party opposite a candidate, which practice I fully support; I do not think anybody has any problem with that. But, when it comes to Non-Party or Independent candidates the Minister is being extremely complacent. I would remind him that very severe tests are imposed on new political groupings wishing to be registered as political parties, as I know to my cost when it took us some months to be registered in 1981 as the "Ecology Party", as we were then known. In fairness it should be said that it is good that we do not make it too easy for political groupings to form themselves into political parties almost instantaneously. I accept that and that reasonable obstacles must be put in the way, along with reasonable requirements and regulations being laid down.
That having been said, there are people who have a particular cause or issue to fight and who are being denied the right to state that issue or cause. We are very happy with our description — the Green Party — in that when people go to vote and see the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, they know immediately what that is about, which is of great benefit to us. I do not know what people think the description "Fianna Fáil" stands for but people are very clear, when they vote for the Green Party, what that stands for.
It just happens a few more believe in us.
I am speaking on behalf of Independent or potential Independent Deputies who are being seriously disadvantaged. Indeed I am disappointed there has been no response by the Fine Gael Party on this matter. I should have thought they would have agreed with me on that point.
The Deputy has just described them himself as "Non-Party".
Is Deputy Garland pressing his amendment?
Amendment No. 62 is in the name of Deputy McCartan. Amendments Nos. 63 to 65, inclusive, are alternatives and amendments Nos. 66 and 67 are related. Therefore amendments Nos. 62 to 67, inclusive, may be discussed together. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 39, lines 26 to 30, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"47. —(1) A candidate at a Dáil election, or someone on his behalf shall, before the expiration of the time appointed by this Act for receiving nominations, deposit with the returning officer—
(a) the sum of five hundred pounds, or
(b) the sum of one hundred pounds and nomination papers signed by not less than 30 persons (being persons registered as Dáil electors in the constituency for which the said candidate proposes to seek election),
and if he fails to do so his candidature shall be deemed to have been withdrawn."
Three or four major provisions of this Bill stand out, the question of a £500 deposit to allow candidates stand for election being one. We have heard the Minister refer to the "Miss Whiplash's Corrective Party" and other such parties in the United Kingdom. I contend that our system has served us reasonably well in that we have not had the lunatic fringe standing as candidates here. But there have been individuals referred to, such as Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus, who, quite rightly, stood as a candidate in order to highlight issues of burning importance to him. Probably he was the only former Deputy whose title, in addition to his Christian and surnames, was slightly different from that of the rest of us. Indeed those other types of funny candidates who emerge on the British scene also appear on the Continent; there is no shortage of them. Therefore we should make every endeavour to deter such people from standing as candidates in that they undermine the whole democratic process by making it totally laughable, which it most certainly is not.
Part of our amendment seeks the retention of the £100 fee when a candidate can obtain the signature of 30 persons living in the constituency in which they intend standing for election. There are probably famous cases on the record here of people who stood for election and who, at the end of the day, received eight votes, not even having persuaded their family members to support them. Those of us who have been involved in politics for any length of time will be familiar with the voluminous correspondence received from time to time from eccentrics or others seeking to highlight what are burning or very important issues to them and who use all avenues open to them to highlight or expose such issues. I received correspondence today and yesterday from an individual who is threatening to go public with his case, to picket hospitals and ministerial offices, and who is also planning to stand for election. Such people should not be encouraged. If the system is as open as it is, it is possible that lunatic types — lunatic is not the correct word——
——frivolous candidates or candidates who may be unwell may believe this is a way in which they might highlight their individual problems. The fact that we are seeking 30 persons to be joint signatories to a candidate's application is a safeguard that can be embodied in the legislation.
In conclusion, a deposit of £500 on its own as is proposed in this Bill is a retrograde step and we are opposed to it. In order to give recognition to the fact that we should not deter, in any undue manner, participation in the electoral process by serious people who wish to change society, the requirement in amendment No. 62 (i) (b) should be accepted by the Minister. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment.
On a point of order, I believe I am due to speak next because I have tabled the next amendment, amendment No. 63.
The Deputy will get his opportunity.
As the Chair wishes.
I hate to impede Deputy Garland, particularly as I understand he agrees with my amendment. I am delighted to say that I find myself at one and the same time the most liberal and the most conservative of persons on this issue. As far as I can see the amendment I put down and on which I am joined by Deputies Kavanagh, Mac Giolla and Garland——
Reading this, I thought you had joined me.
——to delete "five" and substitute "one"——
It is only a small point.
I do not know. Maybe it is only a matter of time. We are all joined on this amendment. I find that all the other Deputies who have put down amendments on this, including Deputy Kavanagh, have muddied the waters by adding in various other considerations. Deputy Kavanagh, although he has withdrawn the amendment, would like people to——
I am backing myself each way on this one.
I know and if the Deputy tries to ride two horses he will get into serious trouble. There are people who want to include signatures in this regard. I have a very simple view on this which is that I oppose the Government's attempt to raise the deposit from £100 to £500. I oppose that outright. I am not prepared to go along with any of the frills and furbelows that are being proposed by other Members to obtain 30 or 1,000 signatures. The idea of increasing the deposit from the current £100 to £500 is an unnecessary and a rather silly proposal. I cannot see any good reason for increasing the deposit. The Minister on Second Stage told us that if the deposit was now to be fixed at the same level, in real purchasing power terms, as it was in 1923, it should be £3,000. I could see some case for doing that if the Minister wished to be consistent with what was done in 1923, but I would oppose it also because I do not believe this has anything to do with real purchasing power. There is nobody in this House, and there are very few people in Fianna Fáil or in the well-heeled Progressive Democrats, if I may say so, Sir, who would agree with increasing the deposit to £3,000. I believe all Deputies would rightly reject such a proposal. I do not agree that there is any need to increase the deposit nor is there any need for these other frivolous measures that are being proposed, such as signatures of 30 persons, a person who is not the first nominated candidate of any other political party, or a petition of nominations signed by 1,000 electors.
I firmly believe in the principle that it should be the right of every citizen in this country to present herself or himself for election if that is what they wish to do. Much of the chat that takes place concerning frivolous candidates is very misplaced. I know there have been some cases, but it is a relatively rare occurrence here. Some of the candidates we might sometimes regard as frivolous have gone through all types of contortions to change their names, to add phrases to their names, etc. and one or two of them have turned out to be relatively serious.
There was one such candidate who was a Member of this House at one stage who I understand took a decision on a particular night in January 1982 that he subsequently regretted. That had nothing to do with the frivolity or otherwise of changing his name. He changed his name for various other eccentric reasons best know to himself.
It was the best decision for this House on that occasion in the light of what subsequently happened.
Perhaps. I do not know, Deputy. Maybe we will have an election in four or five weeks time and we will have an opportunity in the interim to have a conversation about what might have been, although I hope we will be more concerned to discuss what will be at that stage. This particular candidate who, on some of the definitions here, would have been regarded as a frivolous candidate, was elected to this House.
He would have had a problem getting the 30 signatures.
He might have had a problem getting 30 signatures; he might have had a problem getting 1,000 signatures, but he got elected.
He was already a city councillor at that stage.
I do not think we are entitled to label him as frivolous. However, I did not agree with him; I did not agree with him on that night in January 1982 and there were a great many other issues on which I disagreed with him. However, I would not for a moment regard him as frivolous. If the Government are of the view that by increasing the deposit to £500 or by making a corresponding increase in the deposit for local election candidates they would deter frivolous candidates, I believe they are mistaken.
There was a case, not too long ago, in a constituency which is not represented by any Deputies in the Chamber at present — I beg your pardon, Sir, in your own city — where a candidate was elected in a local election, a candidate who could be fairly described as a frivolous candidate. If the deposit had been raised to ten times its then level, given the type of people who were behind the candidate, that person would have been sponsored, would have been a candidate and might even have been elected.
I do not believe this question in relation to the deposit is the only or necessarily the key question in deciding whether "frivolous" candidates are kept out of the electoral process. If there are people who wish frivolously to present themselves as candidates, then I do not believe that an increase in the deposit from £100 to £500 would make any difference. That being the case, Sir, the Government's proposal here is totally unnecessary, very unwise and should be resisted straightforwardly.
I am not sure, Sir, how you are going to go about putting this group of amendments to the House. Given what I have said I would not support Deputy McCartan's amendment because I do not believe we should agree under any circumstances to an increase in the deposit and, therefore, I could not agree with the second part of Deputy McCartan's amendment, which would require a deposit of £100 to be accompanied by 30 signatories.
I do not understand what Deputy Garland is seeking in amendment No. 63 and, therefore, I would not support that amendment. I do not support Deputy Kavanagh's proposal that we should keep the deposit at £100 only if the names of 1,000 electors accompanied the nomination.
That is not fair. There are two amendments——
Hold on a moment, Deputy, I know you are anxious to——
Deputies must address their remarks to the Chair.
I am reading your amendment, Deputy Kavanagh——
You did not read it right. I will give the Deputy a loan of my glasses.
I do not support your amendment No. 64, but I am pleased Deputy Kavanagh supports amendment No. 65, which is simply to delete "five" and substitute "one" in section 47. I am open to persuasion by Deputy Kavanagh in relation to amendments Nos. 66 and 67. I hope the Chair does not intend to put this series of amendments by one question, because I would object most strenuously to some of them. I would hate to be presented with a choice of either accepting the mess of pottage that other parties have put up here rather than the simple straightforward proposition that we object to the Government's wrong proposal to increase the deposit.
I will not support the amendment in the name of Deputy McCartan because it includes £500 in some circumstances and I cannot accept amendment No. 63 either. If we had the luxury of having this Bill debated in a special committee like the Roads Bill we could have had a a good debate on amendment No. 64 in my name. My proposal is reasonable. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves today with a Bill being rushed through the only practical thing for me to do is to withdraw my amendment which was put down last Thursday. I was glad I got the support of Deputies Mac Giolla, Dukes and Garland.
The Deputy was listening to my Second Stage speech.
I would have liked to discuss the other two amendments in my name, but I am prepared to withdraw them to allow us deal with the amendment to delete £500 and substitute £100. When £100 was suggested as a deposit in the early twenties it was done to exclude certain individuals and parties. A sum of £100 at that time was twice what my father earned for one year. I wonder why Governments since did not change the amount of the deposit. Although it has not been changed we have not seen frivolous candidates such as those who contest by-elections and general elections in Britain. People who might be regarded as being frivolous did not make a habit of going around all constituencies, although some people will seek cheap publicity, the sort one could not buy for £100, by adding their names to a ballot paper.
Some genuine people will find the increase in the deposit exorbitant. We suggest our amendment to meet the wishes of all Opposition parties. We do not know the views of the Progressive Democrats on this but nonetheless I presume all parties, with the exception of Fianna Fáil, are in favour of it. I will withdraw my other amendments so that we can concentrate on amendment No. 65.
I am surprised that Deputy Dukes does not seem to understand the way we work in the House.
The situation is very clear. We start at amendment No. 62 and deal with each amendment, unless it is withdrawn.
Deputies Dukes and Kavanagh should have done me the courtesy of waiting to hear me speak to my amendments before they dismissed them out of hand. I would have liked to have heard more about Deputy Kavanagh's amendment No. 67, but before explaining what it was about, he simply withdrew it.
There are many amendments I want to talk about today.
Amendment No. 67 is separate from what we are talking about. It deals with how the deposit is to be paid. I hope we will not all go in with £500 in £1 coins weighing down our pockets.
I will explain the purpose of my three amendments. One is simply to oppose the increase in the deposit. In order to broaden the debate it is reasonable to put other suggestions. Deputy McCartan's suggestion is excellent in many ways but I take issue with him on the number of people whom he feels are necessary before a person can be nominated. Thirty people is a little thin. Deputy Kavanagh talked about 1,000 electors but that is too many. A very strong case can be made for a signature system and 0.5 per cent of the electorate in any constituency would be a reasonable number for that. These people would state that in their view the candidate was a candidate with a serious political agenda. I suppose at the end of the day these arguments are not very important.
I would have thought that the purpose of my amendment No. 63 was patently obvious. I will explain it to Deputy Dukes. The point we are trying to get across is that each registered political party would be entitled to nominate one candidate per constituency and if they wished to nominate more than one they must pay the deposit. That is not unreasonable.
For a three seater or a four seater?
One per constituency. If the party wanted to put up a second candidate they would have to comply with whatever provisions for deposits we have in place.
As I said, it is very difficult for a group to be registered as a political party here and any political grouping that succeeds in being registered here is by definition a serious political party. There should not be obstacles to putting up one candidate in each constituency. That is not an unreasonable proposition. We will be totally inhibited by this increase. In talking about the substantive issue Deputy Dukes is making the debate a very simple one and perhaps he is right in the last analysis because the Minister will not for one minute look at any signature system or at any of the amendments I have tabled. That does not mean that they should not have been put down.
What case is being made for the increase in the deposit? I went through the records of the last election in 1989. We have 41 constituencies and there were 49 non-party candidates. That is a very significant number. The ballot papers are not being cluttered with 20 or 40 no hope candidates. There is no problem. The Minister is inventing a problem. One or perhaps two non-party candidates on a ballot paper will not be an unreasonable burden for people to accept. We would have to consider the matter if 20 or 30 Independent candidates were standing. We could decide to leave the fee at £100 and if we found at the election that now looks inevitable later this month that ten, 20 or 30 Independent candidates stood in each constituency we could reconsider that decision. However, there is no indication to suggest that that will happen.
Merely increasing the deposit from £100 to £500 will not deter wealthy eccentric candidates who are on some kind of ego trip and who have no serious political agenda. For such people a deposit of £500 would be buttons. Those who will be deterred by the imposition of a £500 deposit will be the unemployed — as was referred to by Deputy Kavanagh in one of his amendments — small political parties such as the Green Party and other small Independent groups. They are the people who are being targeted by the Government.
I wonder where the Progressive Democrats will stand on this issue. Without any doubt the Progressive Democrats are the most wealthy party in Dáil Éireann. They would have the least to lose in the increase of the deposit from £100 to £500, so I presume that in the interests of their own party they will support the Government on this provision. The final nail in the Government's coffin will be the likely attitude of the Progressive Democrats. Progressive Democrat Deputies have not bothered to have even one of their number in the Chamber to deal with the Committee Stage of the Bill in order to put some kind of a different gloss on the Government. Do we have a Fianna Fáil Government or a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Coalition Government? Where are the Progressive Democrats? They are not in the House. At this last moment I appeal to the Progressive Democrats to do the right thing for democracy by supporting this amendment and thereby opposing the proposed increase in the deposit from £100 to £500.
I call on Deputy Gilmore.
I have an amendment tabled.
I have called Deputy Gilmore.
I think that the Democratic Left spokesman has already spoken to his party's amendment and I should be entitled to speak to my amendment before any other Deputy is brought in.
I am happy to give way to Deputy Mac Giolla.
During the Second Stage debate I spoke fairly strongly on this issue. Amendment No. 65 is the only amendment I have put down to this Bill. I did not have to wait for Deputy Kavanagh's amendment to put down an amendment which proposed a reduction in the deposit from £500 to £100.
I feel very strongly on this issue and it is my opinion that the House should feel very strongly on the issue. At a time when the Dáil and the Oireachtas are becoming more and more remote from the people and people are becoming more and more alienated we should make every effort to have more participation in the electoral process and the democratic process than ever before. The democratic process should be extended outwards so that representatives can be with the people and the people can be with the Dáil and the Oireachtas.
No reason has been given for the increase in the deposit. I would love to know the thinking of the Government in providing for the increase. There is no reason for this measure. No reason has been demonstrated in any election. There has been no problem and no one has ever raised the issue before. All of the Opposition parties oppose the increase. We should strive to involve communities around the country in different areas in the whole process. More communities are beginning to get involved in the process and are putting up candidates on local issues in an area that has a particular problem — whether the problem concerns a planning matter, a dump or something else — and they are quite entitled to do so. Those candidates may not expect to be elected. One does not have to expect to be elected when one stands as a candidate in an election. The vast majority of people who have their names on the ballot papers do not expect to be elected; they expect to make a point and they expect to build up an area, an issue, a party or a process by way of the electoral system. The vast majority of candidates do not expect to be elected——
I do not agree.
It is nonsense to say that people should have their names put forward only if they expect to be elected. That is the way in which the whole electoral process will be destroyed. That is the way in which the elite club will be provided for. People already recognise the political system as being an elite and exclusive system because of the difficulties experienced in coming forward and winning against the big parties. The increase in the deposit proposed is a deliberate decision to exclude, and it comes right before the election that seems inevitable in the coming weeks. I presume that this exclusive measure will be pushed through and signed so that it will be in time for the upcoming election. I am sure that the Minister has that thought in mind.
There are many good measures in the Bill. On the Second Stage debate I commended most of the Bill. Much of the Bill is concerned with bringing forward existing legislation and much of it is concerned with the introduction of new features, such as keeping polling booths uncluttered, all of which I commended previously. However, the Minister should really consider the way in which this proposal is perceived by the public and the way in which it is perceived by those who feel that the wrong people are representing them and that they should be doing something locally, which they are entitled to do, to ensure that better people are elected, local people or people who understand a particular issue. He should consider the way in which it is perceived by those who are for political parties and by those who are against political parties. All sorts of people have rights to have their say.
If there are substantial reasons for increasing the deposit they have not yet been put before the House. They were certainly not put forward on the Second Stage debate and I have not yet heard the Minister speak on this section. The Minister will need to give very good reasons for the increase. It is nonsense to speak of monster raving loony parties. Here in Ireland we have never had a problem with that kind of candidate; and even if we did in one election, would that destroy the whole electoral process? For a great number of years and through a large number of elections, through different political parties and various processes, the Irish electorate has become quite sophisticated. Our electors will be the quickest to write off any monster raving loony parties. As has been pointed out already, there is an assumption by the Government that frivolous candidates — we do not know what the meaning of the word "frivolous" is — come only from the poorer sections of the community, candidates who could afford a deposit of £100 but not a deposit of £500.
That is outrageous.
The most monstrous frivolity comes from the top, from the people who would be able to put up £500,000.
Give us an example.
I ask the Minister to consider the effect on the electoral process and the effect on the perception people have of this House and of the Government that will come from pushing through this measure. I hope that the Minister reconsiders this issue.
I should like to say a few words in support of the amendments before the Committee. The whole idea of a deposit was clearly to discourage people from standing for election. Clearly, as has been said already, there is no necessity for that in our electoral system because we do not have a record of frivolous candidates standing for election. We do not have a record of ballot papers being cluttered with the names of large numbers of candidates. That has not happened even since the sum of £100 lost its value as compared with the time that that fee was introduced.
I want to question the whole idea of a deposit because it seems to be a very discriminatory way in which to seek to control the numbers of people standing for election. The sum of £500 is hardly likely to discourage a potential Ross Perot appearing on an Irish ballot paper but it would certainly discourage representatives of a local community organisation who had a particular point of view they wanted to have articulated through an election campaign. The idea of a financial deposit is a discriminatory method of discouraging candidates which penalises people and organisations which do not have the money. I do not think it should be part of our electoral system.
I have tabled an amendment to that effect.
Deputy McCartan's amendment sought to introduce a new idea, which was to have a number of people sign a nomination paper. Clearly that amendment was tabled at a time when most of us anticipated there would probably be a greater length of time to debate and to tease out the idea. It would not appear we will now have that opportunity. The central issue that has to be decided today is whether the deposit remains at the present level or is increased to £500. I am of the view that it should remain at its present level.
The people who are looking in on the practice of politics, particularly during the past couple of weeks, are bewildered at the extent to which Members of this House, including very senior Members, can engage in political antics which bear no relationship whatever to the real problems that people are facing in their homes and in their communities. The last thing people need in the dying days of this Dáil and facing into a general election is for the Government to put through this House a measure which makes it more difficult for people, particularly those on lower incomes, to challenge the Government in the course of the election. The Government would be giving a retrograde signal to the public and adding to an already heightened degree of cynicism at the practice of politics in this country if they decide to increase the cost of standing for election, literally pulling up the ladder on those people who wish to challenge the Government or any Member of this House in the course of the coming general election.
Is amendment No. 62 being pressed?
I would like to say a few words. I am doing my best to keep as much cohesion as I can between the parties on the Opposition benches on these questions, but with very little success.
The Minister should not put himself out. He should save his energies for the parties over there.
We had a variety of proposals and it is interesting to note that none of them came to the nub of the question. What is a deposit? It is an earnest of public support; it is refunded if that support materialises. Nobody was gracious enough to admit that. Yes, there has been an increase, the first in 69 years. We will not talk about equivalent comparisons of what it was like then; we were not there, we do not know the circumstances. It is not an almighty hike over 69 years. It is refunded if the required public support materialises. I have reduced the requirement for refund of the deposit. Up to now one had to receive a third of the quota, but now I have reduced that requirement to a quarter, so that it is much easier to reach the stage where one gets a refund of the deposit.
Non-serious candidates, people who have no interest in a Dáil seat, have reasons other than representation for standing. This will perhaps act as a little disincentive, but I will not decide that today. We have before us legislation which sets out to do a number of things. It updates the electoral law in this country, the first reform for 25 years. It deals with all the matters relating to a supplemental register, the question of interference with voters going to poll and it proposes an increase in the deposit. The great majority of candidates have the deposit refunded. This is not a charge. This is not a sum of money which people are just being asked to pay. If you consider yourself a serious candidate, if you have a serious message, if it is reflected in public support and if you obtain a quarter of a quota, the deposit is refunded. Do not try to exaggerate what is involved here. I do not have all the wisdom to say where the figure should lie today. The deposit has been at the rate of £100 for 69 years.
Why the increase?
Yes, it has increased.
That is not a reason. The Minister has said he will not increase it to anything like the same value as it was at in 1923. He has just said that for 69 years nobody saw the need to increase it. He has not given one single reason for increasing it.
Do you know the main reason?
The simple fact is that these issues have not been addressed. I am addressing issues in this House which should have been addressed years ago——
Why is the Minister putting it up to £500?
——and I am dealing with them. I will not be the person with all the wisdom to decide what the figure should be.
The Minister is proposing £500.
I am quite prepared to examine a lower figure.
Why did the Minister choose £500.
Why did the Deputy choose the same figure as somebody chose in 1923?
Why did the Minister choose £500?
We are not going to debate that issue. I am prepared to have a look at a slightly lower figure. Beyond that, Deputies have totally exaggerated the impact of this increase. They have misunderstood, deliberately or otherwise, what a deposit is for, how it is refunded when you obtain the public support you expect and how I have rearranged the situation so that it is now much easier to obtain a refund than it was heretofore because you do not require the same percentage of the poll. As far as I am concerned, you are getting a very good deal.
The Minister made statements to the effect that the great majority of candidates have deposits refunded. I would like to see the statistics. What does the great majority mean? I would ask the Minister to prove that. The Minister cannot make statements about that unless he gives us the statistics in regard to refund of deposits in each election.
Deputy Smith rose.
Allow me to make the point. We are all aware of the fact that certain deposits are refunded if one achieves a certain amount of support. The fact is that, even though there is great enthusiasm, many first time candidates in an election do not get the required support, because of pressure from other parties, insufficient money for posters, leaflets, etc, and they do not have their deposits refunded. Those who are well organised and who have the money probably will get one-quarter of the quota and will have their deposits refunded. The Minister is missing the nub of the question, which is that of raising the initial deposit to £500.
I understand that certain political parties put up the deposits for their own candidates and therefore it never comes out of their own pocket. I have to say in the case of my party one had better find the money first. I have every hope of being refunded, but at a time when I am spending quite an amount of my own money——
On thoroughly non-socialist practices.
Can we make some progress on this amendment?
I would hope to get my money back. I would not want my deposit left lying in the county registrar's office for two months before being returned to me, and by way of cheque, even though I had had to pay in cash. I hope the Minister will give consideration to my amendment. Even if we press our amendments, the Minister is not likely to accept them at this stage. However, if he were to give an indication that he would introduce an amendment on Report Stage to reduce the deposit to £200, I should be happy. Such a move would go some way towards achieving the agreement of all Members of the House.
There will not be a Report Stage.
I do not mind what vehicle is used to make the change. Because of the strained circumstances in which we are debating this Bill, perhaps the Minister would accept an amendment now to reduce the amount to £200.
We will have a Dutch auction.
I wish to make two brief points. The Minister seems to be missing the point. The point is that the deposit of £500 has to be put up front; one cannot give the county registrar a post-dated cheque. If a small party or an Independent candidate has to put up £500 they will find it but it means they will have less money to spend on leaflets, which are very important.
The Minister has offered us an olive branch and it would be very churlish of us not to accept some kind of compromise on the amount of the deposit, bearing in mind that we do not have any great choice in the matter. Could we not agree on a figure now?
May I suggest that this could be done under amendment No. 65?
That would be the only realistic way to deal with it at this point. I wish to say to Deputy Mac Giolla that I have represented my constituency for approximately 21 years and that during that time few candidates lost their deposits. On any occasion on which it did happen, only one candidate out of five was concerned. A high percentage of candidates in constituencies in my part of the country have their deposits refunded. I accept that the picture would be slightly different in Dublin but the overall percentage would not be very high. I do not have exact statistics.
I move amendment No. 65:
In page 39, subsection (1), line 29, to delete "five" and substitute "one".
In an effort to reach agreement on this matter, I propose that the figure be set at £300.
Amendment No. 65 amended, by leave, by the substitution of "three" for "one".
We now come to amendment No. 68. Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 are alternatives. I suggest that we discuss amendments Nos. 68, 69 and 70 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 68:
In page 39, subsection (1) (e), lines 42 and 43, to delete "one quarter of the quota" and substitute "two per cent of the valid poll".
Amendments Nos. 68, 69 and 70 are basically the same. While we accept that the Minister has reduced the figure for return of deposit from 33 per cent to 25 per cent — we appreciate that this gesture is a move in the right direction — nevertheless it it still very high. For example, it means that a candidate in a three-seat constituency would have to get over 6 per cent of the total poll before he would get a refund. This figure is far too high.
There are two ways of dealing with this issue, one of which is to talk in terms of a percentage of the quota. Deputy Kavanagh proposes a figure of 20 per cent of the quota while Deputy McCartan suggests 12.5 per cent of the quota. The figure of 12.5 per cent would be more reasonable than the figure of 20 per cent. However, I would prefer the issue to be decided on the basis of the percentage of the valid poll a candidate gets. This would iron out the differences between three, four and five seat constituencies. It is more logical to talk about a percentage of the valid poll. It is arguable whether the figure should be 1.5 per cent, 2 per cent or 2.5 per cent. I think the Minister would have to concede that a candidate who gets 2 per cent of the electoral vote is a serious candidate. I hope we can make some progress on this matter.
These amendments propose that candidates who get less than one-quarter of the quota, as proposed in the Bill, should have their deposits refunded. The point is that the valid poll in city areas can be a very small percentage of the total poll: it can range from 50 per cent in some constituencies to 80 per cent in other constituencies. This does not seem to be a fair way to decide the matter. My amendment No. 69 proposes that a candidate who receives one-fifth of the quota should be entitled to have his deposit refunded. This is a move in the right direction. I am always afraid to move too far from what the Minister wishes to do as I believe he will reject our proposals out of hand. I regard this proposal as a small improvement, and I hope it is acceptable to the Minister.
Amendment No. 70 proposes that a candidate who receives one-eighth of the quota should be entitled to have his deposit refunded. The Minister proposes that a candidate should receive one-quarter of the quota before his deposit is refunded. The quota in my constituency is 9,000-10,000 votes. Therefore, the Minister's proposal would require a candidate in my constituency to receive 2,500 votes in order to have his deposit refunded.
Much reference was made in the debate on the previous amendments about frivolous candidates; the Minister referred to "serious" candidates. A person who receives 1,500, 2,000 or 2,500 votes is a serious candidate; he has a point of view to express which is supported by a very large number of people, even though it may not be sufficient to have him elected. I do not know what the Minister's personal experience has been but I lost my deposit on the first occasion I stood for election to this House. I thought I had done reasonably well by receiving 1,400 or 1,500 votes. Under Deputy McCartan's amendment a person who stands for election in a constituency similar to the one I represent — he may be an Independent candidate in a local area who wishes to highlight an issue of considerable importance to that area and to give people an opportunity to identify with it — would have to get in excess of 1,000 votes before his deposit would be refunded. That is a fair achievement for first-time candidates and candidates standing for small and large parties who find themselves trailing at the bottom of the list of candidates. I would ask the Minister to reduce the level at which the deposit can be returned.
It looks as if all my good deeds for today have been done. I tried to go as far as I could to give a positive response in regard to the earlier provisions, but I am not minded to make changes here. We have already cut the level from one-third of the quota to one-quarter of the quota. Setting the right balance is a matter of judgment. We have sought to make a positive change in the direction Deputies are seeking, although not going as far as Deputy Kavanagh is suggesting. There is not a great difference, however.
Generosity is a curious thing. The more you give, the more you find in yourself.
I am not pressing the amendment, but perhaps Deputy Kavanagh could use his powers of oratory to extract a further concession from the Minister.
I move amendment No. 69:
In page 39, subsection (1) (e), lines 42 and 43, to delete "one quarter" and substitute "twenty per cent".
I move amendment No. 70:
In page 39, subsection (1) (e), lines 42 and 43, to delete "one quarter" and substitute "one eighth".
I move amendment No. 71:
In page 40, subsection (3), line 29, to delete "(disregarding any excluded day)".
Amendment No. 72 is in the name of Deputy Kavanagh. Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 are related. Amendment No. 74 is an alternative to amendment No. 73. Is it agreed to take amendments Nos. 72 to 75, inclusive, together? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 41, subsection (3), lines 1 and 2, to delete paragraph (a).
I seek an explanation as to what the Minister is trying to achieve in subsection (3) (a) which states:
(3) The returning officer shall object to the name of a candidate in a nomination paper if such name—
(a) is not a name by which the candidate is commonly known; or
What kind of name can be put down? Is it the Christian name, the Christian name and surname or just the surname? Years ago there was a candidate whose Christian name was not widely known. He was simply known as Backers Byrne because he was fond of betting on horses, as he still is. There were so many Byrnes in Wicklow that each had to have a nickname. Is the Minister suggesting that if the candidate's actual name is not commonly known his nickname will have to be given? It could lead to some strange names on the ballot paper. In the case of names like Byrne or Murphy it is an old custom to use certain characteristics or traits to distinguish one from the other.
Far be it from me to decide that a nickname should not be used. What is required is whatever name appears to be normal. I do not pass out very many bouquets to my opponents in Fine Gael and Labour who were in Government in 1986, but the then Minister was quite wise in making sure that extraneous material which would confuse would not be allowed the light of day. I have had reason to disagree with the great wisdom of the then Minister and I maintain that position now.
The Minister is very kind. I cannot fight against my own judgment.
I move amendment No. 74.
In page 41, subsection (3), line 5, to delete paragraph (d).
This amendment proposes to delete part of subsection (3).
That has already been discussed with amendment No. 72.
Amendment No. 76 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 77, 168 and 170 are related. Amendment No. 78 is an alternative to amendment No. 77. It is proposed to take together amendments Nos. 76, 77, 78, 168 and 170.
If amendment No. 78 is an alternative to amendment No. 77, it seems it is also an alternative to amendment No. 76.
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 42, subsection (1), line 31, after "constituency" to insert "or to any combination of such persons".
The existing law in relation to free postage for candidates at Dáil, Presidential and European elections is that each candidate is, subject to regulations to be made by An Post, entitled to send free of any charge for postage to each person on the register of electors for the constituency one postal communication containing matter relating to the election only, not exceeding two ounces in weight. Section 57 as drafted restates the provision of existing electoral law in relation to a candidate's free postage entitlement. There has been certain dissatisfaction with the present arrangements relating to free postage facilities, particularly the requirement that election material must be addressed to individual electors. Some parties and candidates would wish to send election letters to each household rather than each elector or, possibly, to vary the arrangements by addressing the election material to each elector in one area and to each household in another.
Consultations have taken place between the parties and the consensus is that free postage provisions should be amended to allow for more flexibility in its operation. Accordingly, amendment No. 76 provides for the amendment of section 57 by giving a candidate at a Dáil election the option of sending an election letter to every person on the register as at present or to any combination of such electors. The other amendments in the group provide for similar amendments to legislation relating to presidential and European elections. The official amendment will, I believe achieve the same objective as the amendment tabled by Deputy Dukes. It also has the advantage of avoiding the use of the word "household" which might be difficult to define in practice. The existing arrangements whereby two or more candidates of the same political party in a constituency are treated as single candidates for this purpose and are entitled to issue a single election letter only are continued in this section.
I am pleased to note that the Minister has moved in this direction and I would be happy to accept the Minister's amendment rather than press my own because it sets out to achieve the same result. I welcome the amendment and am glad the Minister has tabled it. Will this be one of the measures that will be in operation for the forthcoming general election?
I did not publicly indicate up to now that that would be my intention but I believe it is capable of being achieved. There is nothing I know of that can prevent it from being enforced.
I support the Minister's amendment. In regard to this section, I want to put down a marker for the future. It is an appalling waste of time, envelopes and trees by each political party to have people addressing envelopes. Surely it should not be beyond the wit of politicians to develop some system under which all political literature could be sent out to every household at the same time. That would save a great deal of time and expense. The electorate would also welcome it because it would mean they would get the political leaflets from every party in one envelope. The electorate are tired of getting literature through the post at election time.
Deputy Garland will have to learn the virtues of distinction in politics.
I move amendment No. 79:
In page 44, subsection (2), line 4, after "number" to insert "(being at least a minimum number to be prescribed)".
There is a difficulty when parties with multiple candidates deploy a large number of counters, agents and so on at counts. Parties with one candidate or independent candidates are unable to do a proper check or assessment during the count. Some limitations should be put on the number of people involved in the counts? The idea of, perhaps, 50 people turning up for one party, 30 for another and so on leads to difficulties at counts. There cannot be the surveillance to which each candidate is entitled because of the multiplicity of candidates. My amendment seeks to have a minimum number prescribed by the county registrar. This difficulty arises, in particular, at the count which can become quite a brawl, to put it mildly.
I can visualise circumstances where a minimum number would, be required but this is really a practical matter. The returning officer must take into account the various political groups and the accommodation factor. If a minimum number was set the figure would probably be so low as not to add anything to the corpus that already exists. I understand the problem but I do not believe it is possible to resolve it by means of Deputy Kavanagh's amendment.
I move amendment No. 80:
In page 44, subsection (3), line 8, to delete "one person" and substitute "four persons".
My reason for proposing this amendment is partly anticipation and partly sense. This amendment is designated to benefit from the fact that I hope people will no longer canvass outside polling stations. We will then have people from all the political parties carrying out the various duties we are used to carrying out inside the polling station. That would mean that the people carrying out duties inside the polling station would not have to remain there all day. If we are going to have the liberation of people who would otherwise be outside polling stations it might help the comfort of people who work for the parties if they could replace others or take terms of duty inside polling stations. My amendment seeks to ensure that will be the case.
Subsection (3) of section 60 allows each candidate to appoint one personating agent to attend at each polling station for the purpose of assisting in the detection of impersonation. A provision to this effect has been part of the electoral law since the foundation of the State.
The amendment would permit the appointment of four personating agents by each candidate for each polling station. If this amendment was accepted and candidates were to avail of their full rights in this regard, an impossible situation would be created in the polling stations where space is often at a premium. In practice many candidates are not in a position to avail of their present right to appoint one agent for each station. A typical situation at a polling station is that two or three major parties each have one agent.
The point is sometimes made that the personating agents have a long day and that there should be some arrangement to give them a break for meals. This is provided for in section 59 in the appointment of one deputy agent for each polling district. One of the functions of the deputy agent will be to fill in, as necessary, for personating agents. Some personating agents may be in a position to serve for only part of the day, morning or afternoon. The provision in section 60 allowing the appointment of a personating agent to be revoked and another to be appointed could be used in this situation.
I heard what the Minister said but I do not think he heard what I said. My amendment proposes that instead of the present position where, strictly speaking, it is either a nominated personating agent or an authorised subagent who can replace that person we allow the appointment of up to four personating agents, not more than one of whom should be present at any time. Since, I think, the Minister agrees that we should relieve people of these duties outside polling stations we will have more person power available to do the job inside the polling station. Therefore, we should provide for a rota of persons to carry out these duties inside the polling station. I am not proposing that four people should be available for each party at the same time.
I also have put down a related amendment to a later section to allow people to leave the polling station, and return with the permission of the polling officer. I am simply asking the Minister if he would not make life a little bit easier for the activists of all the parties by not requiring them to spend all day in the polling station but that we have the humanity that we are allowed to have now by banning canvassing outside to give us more flexibility inside.
It was clear to me that that is what the Deputy had in mind in the first instance. There is no problem at all in catering for that. I will ensure that that is what will arise from the passage of this legislation.
Is the Minister sure that he can do that by direction, or does he need this amendment in the Bill?
An appointment under this section may be revoked by a candidate or his election agent. Where an appointment of an agent under this section is revoked or an agent appointed under this section resigns or becomes incapable of acting during a Dáil election, another agent may be appointed under this section in his place, and where such an appointment is made a person making the appointment shall forthwith give written notice.
I am talking about a substitution.
My advice is that it is possible to nominate in the way Deputy Dukes has suggested but I will clarify that further.
To make it clearer, I am not talking about people resigning or being disabled but about people being hungry or wanting to go and pick up the children from school or go and do the many other things that they have to do. I am not sure the Minister can tell us now that he can do that by direction.