A Presidential election is due to take place this year. It should be completed not later than June 24th next. The Constitution provides that the procedure for electing a new President shall not be set in motion before the 60th day prior to the date upon which the current Presidential term expires, and this procedure for electing the President is prescribed by the Presidential Elections Act, 1937.
Under Section 6 of that Act the Minister for Local Government must make an Order appointing, among other things: the last day for receiving nominations; the last day on which a candidate who has been nominated may withdraw from his candidature; and the day upon which a poll, if such should be necessary, shall be taken.
After the most careful consideration of all the circumstances I have come to the conclusion that if there is to be a poll, the polling day should be the 14th June. But it also happens that the elections for the local authorities must take place this year, and the law provides that these elections shall take place not earlier than the 23rd June, nor later than the 1st day of July; that is to say, within from nine to 16 days of the date upon which the Presidential poll may have to be taken. I think that in these circumstances it will be generally agreed that the reasonable and sensible thing to do, would be to arrange that the polls for the Presidential election and the local elections take place on the same day. It is to meet that point of view that this Bill has been introduced. It may not, of course, be necessary to avail of the powers which the Bill proposes to confer. That will depend on whether or not, more than one candidate having been nominated for the Presidency, more than one still remains in nomination when the time fixed for withdrawals has expired. Should only one candidate then remain nominated, it will not be necessary to invoke the powers which the Bill provides for, Part II of the Act will not come into operation, and the local elections will take place in the normal way; that is to say, on such dates between the 22nd June and July 2nd, as may be fixed by the appropriate local authorities under Sections 5 and 6 of the Local Elections Act, 1927.
On the other hand, should more than one candidate for the Presidency remain in nomination when the time for withdrawals has expired, then it will become necessary to take a poll in accordance with Sections 12 and 20 of the Presidential Elections Act, 1937. In that case, Part II of the Bill will come into operation and under Section 5 thereof, the polling at the local elections will take place on the same day as the poll for the Presidential election. It will be seen, therefore, that in these circumstances, if there should be a contest for the Presidency, the date of the local election polling will be the date fixed for the taking of the poll at the Presidential election.
It may be said that the procedure for electing a President is initiated when the Minister appoints the critical days, these days are those by which, or in the course of which, the various essential steps that the law prescribes for the taking of the election must be fulfilled. The days in question are the days for receiving nominations for the office, for withdrawing such nominations, and for taking a poll, should a poll be necessary; and these are appointed by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health by an Order made under sub-section (1) of Section 6 of the Presidential Elections Act, 1937.
In conformity with the provisions of the Constitution, sub-section (3) of that section provides that the Order in question "shall be made on or as soon as conveniently may be after the sixtieth day before the expiration of the term of office of the outgoing President", that is, in the present instance, on or as soon as may be after the 26th April, 1945. I propose to make the required Order on Friday next, April 27th.
The next provision of the Constitution which must be adverted to by the Minister when appointing the specified days is Section 7 of Article 12. This section prescribes that the new "President shall enter upon his office on the day following the expiration of the term of office of his predecessor or as soon as may be thereafter". Accordingly, in appointing the day for the taking of a poll at a Presidential election, the Minister must endeavour to ensure that the counting of the votes will be completed, and the result of the Presidential election announced, in due time to allow the new President to enter upon his office on the day following the expiration of the term of office of the outgoing President.
With this consideration in mind, I have decided that June 14th is the latest date that in prudence might be fixed for the taking of a poll. In that connection, I should like to say that I have every reason to believe that the new register which will come into force on June 1st will be available to all concerned on, or perhaps before, the usual time in every area, and that indeed the inquiries which I have caused to be made indicate that the work of preparing it is well in advance of schedule. When the day for taking the Presidential poll has been determined, the appointment of the other days is a comparatively simple matter.
On the one hand, it is desirable that the period for receiving nominations for the Presidential election should be as long as possible; on the other hand, it is also desirable that the period in which the arrangements for the local elections are made should also be as long as possible. But the date for the local elections cannot be known until after the date for withdrawals of candidatures for the Presidential election, when it will become clear whether there will, or will not, be a poll for the Presidential election and whether the local elections will be held on that day or, during the normal period, between 22nd June and 1st July. If the poll for the local elections is to take place on the 14th June, the county secretaries must give notice of the county council elections 20 clear days before polling day, that is, not later than the 24th May. In the case of local authorities other than county councils, 18 days is the prescribed time for giving notice.
Before they can issue that notice they will require a copy of the Order of the Minister declaring the Presidential and Local Elections Act, 1945, to be in force. Moreover, before the notice of election can be given, the county secretaries will require a few days to have the notice printed and published. The minimum time fixed by the rules for nominations for local authorities is the seventh day after the last day for the issue of notice of election.
It is only fair to candidates for the county council elections that they should get reasonable notice of the date of the poll for the local elections, as they have to get nomination papers, complete them, and lodge them with the returning officers. Thus the 24th May, being the latest date when notice of a poll for the local elections on the 14th June can be given, would be too late for withdrawals of candidatures for the Presidential election. The 19th May is a Saturday, 20th Whit Sunday, 21st a bank holiday. Taking all these points into consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the last day for withdrawals of candidatures for the Presidential election should be the 18th May. The Order will be made and issued with full publicity on the 27th April, 1945.
Under the Act of 1937, three days' notice of the meeting of the council must be given if it is proposed to ask that body to participate in the nomination of a candidate.
Having regard to the publicity which has already been given to the Presidential election, it may be assumed that any potential candidate for the Presidency who is seeking nomination by county councils will have made contacts with them already. Three days' notice of the meeting of the county council must be given to the members of the council. A not unreasonable period within which meetings could be held and the nomination paper completed and lodged with the returning officer would be 20 days from the date of the Order. That would leave the 16th May as the last day for receiving nominations for the Presidential election — any lengthening of that period would be at the expense of candidates for the local elections.
With all these considerations in mind I propose to appoint the following days by the Order, which, as I have already mentioned, will be made on Friday next: — (a) May 16th as the last day for receiving nominations; (b) May 18th as the last day for withdrawals; (c) June 14th as the day for the taking of a poll, if a poll be necessary. If a poll for the Presidential election is held on the 14th June the local elections will, under this Bill, as I have endeavoured to impress on the House, be held on the same date.
Working on the time schedule I have just given for the Presidential election, the following would be the significant dates in connection with the elections for county councils:—
Notice of Election: Any time after 17th May but before 24th May. Nominations: 31st May. Notice of Poll: 6th June.
These dates refer to county council elections. As far as other local authorities are concerned the latest date on which notice of election could be given would be 26th May. Nominations could not be made later than 2nd June and the notice of poll would have to be given on 6th June.
If, however, and I think it is necessary to emphasise this, a poll for the Presidential election is not taken, the local elections will be held in the normal way on dates appointed by the local authorities between 23rd June and 1st July.
To come now to the several provisions in the Bill.
Sections 1 and 2 require no comment.
Section 3 I have already referred to. It specifies the circumstances under which Part II, which embodies the remaining ten sections of the measure, comes into operation.
Section 4 declares the Act to apply only to the elections in 1945. In the normal course these elections will not occur together for 21 years. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that certain difficulties, such, for instance, as paragraph (f) of Section 14 is intended to provide against, would arise at a future date and necessitate some of the provisions which are embodied in this Bill.
Section 5 modifies the Local Elections Act, 1927, by fixing the poll at a local election to be the day for the poll at the Presidential election instead of the day appointed by the county council, between the 23rd June and the 1st July.
Section 6 adapts Section 20 of the Presidential Elections Act, 1937, by making the administrative county or county borough, instead of the Dáil constituency, the constituency for the purpose of Section 20 of the Presidential Elections Act, 1937. Under this section also the county registrar or under-sheriff, as the case may be, is appointed the local returning officer for the purposes of the Presidential election. It is essential, if a poll is taken for both elections, that the constituency be the same for each election in order to avoid confusion in the arrangements for the poll and in the collection of the ballot boxes and the counting of the votes and, of course, it will greatly convenience the electors. This adaptation involves the preparation of a postal voters list also, arranged according to each local electoral area.
Section 7 authorises the issue to a member of the Gárda Síochána or L.S.F. of a certificate enabling him to vote at a different place in the county electoral area from that at which he would otherwise vote, provided that he is engaged on duties connected with the election.
In this connection, I understand that in the copy of the Bill which has been circulated the words "Gárda Síochána" have been omitted in the index to the Bill, and also in the marginal note to Section 7. The section as printed is correct. It embodies the reference to the Gárda Síochána, but the reference to the Gárda Síochána is omitted in the marginal note. It may be necessary, therefore, to make a verbal amendment in that section.
Section 8 extends the obligation to preserve the secrecy of the voting to all agents present at the polling or counting, whether on behalf of the Presidential or the local election candidates. Section 9 provides that if separate ballot boxes are provided a ballot paper will not be invalidated merely because of the fact that it is placed in the wrong ballot box. Section 10 places the polls for both the Presidential election and the local elections under the sole jurisdiction of the local Presidential returning officer. The duties of a returning officer in relation to the poll are such that a division of authority between two or three officers would be impracticable, but at the same time we may assume there will be complete co-operation between the returning officers concerned. I should like to emphasise that this merely makes the local returning officer responsible for the taking of the poll in so far as all the other arrangements leading up to the taking of the poll of the local elections are concerned. Those who would ordinarily be the returning officers and would be responsible for the taking of the poll for these local elections will continue to be responsible for all arrangements preliminary to the taking of the poll.
Section 11 is, perhaps, now unnecessary, but we have put it in as a precaution. As has already been explained, the period for nominations for the local elections will expire in some cases possibly on 2nd June. In order to guard against the remote contingency that persons who wish to participate in the nomination of candidates will not have copies of the new register which comes into force on 1st June, in their hands by that date, and to remove any doubts which might exist as to whether such persons are duly qualified, this section provides that where a person has been registered in the outgoing register he shall be deemed to be registered in the new register. That is to say, we are putting this in as a precautionary measure to ensure that if by any chance a copy of the new register should not be available, no person will be deprived of any right he may have had in 1944 in relation to the elections of 1945.
Section 12 authorises the expenses incurred in taking the joint poll to be charged and paid as part of the expenses incurred in the conduct of the Presidential election.
In so far as these charges include expenses which would otherwise be paid by the local authority, the charges will be apportioned. Senators may be certain that the Minister for Finance will see that they are apportioned correctly.
I may say a similar provision was made in former days where county and rural district councillors were elected on the same day.
Section 13 is consequential on Section 11. The scale to be prescribed under this section for the local government elections will not include the expense of taking the poll, since that expense will be paid and recovered under the provisions of Section 12. Section 14 confers on the Minister for Local Government and Public Health power to make such regulations as may be necessary to give effect to the Act, including the issue of a polling card in respect of the Presidential election, to each Dáil elector.
Those are the purposes which this Bill seeks to serve. It has been introduced because of the fact that it seems to be probable that we shall have a contest for the Presidential election this year, and that, as the taking of the poll in respect of that contest must fall within a very few days of the normal date upon which the poll would be taken for the local elections, it seems to be a reasonable thing in the public interest and for the public convenience that arrangements should be made to allow the polls at both elections to be taken on the one day.