Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 11 Dec 1947

Vol. 34 No. 17

Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

Before this Bill is taken, can we be told if the House is to sit to-morrow?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I do not know if any decision has been reached on that.

It is hardly going to be assumed, I imagine, that we could put through a Bill of this kind in one hour.

Perhaps if the House would give me the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, the Committee Stage could be taken next week.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We can see what the position will be at 10 o'clock.

I take it that the Minister's opening speech will take half an hour. Surely the House would hardly be expected to deal with a Bill the principles and provisions of which relate to its own existence in the remaining half-hour? I think it would be unbecoming to expect the House to do that.

I do not wish to interfere with the discretion of the House in that regard. The Bill represents, mainly, the labours of a joint committee. I think it is generally agreed that the present system of electing the Seanad requires to be amended. I assume that is the principle which the House will be asked to accept on the Second Reading of the Bill.

Perhaps it would be better if we were to hear the Minister first and then decide. We cannot decide beforehand.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to give general effect to the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Seanad Panel Elections, which was set up by resolutions of both Houses of the Oireachtas on the 31st January, 1946, and on which seven members of this House were appointed to serve.

I need not recount the circumstances which led to the setting-up of the committee; for, apart altogether from any particular matter, few people, I think, believed that the existing machinery for elections was in general very satisfactory, so that I am sure I may say that for a long time there has been a general desire on the part of all Parties to improve it, if possible. Having held 15 meetings, the committee was able to arrive at an agreed report, which in due course was presented to the Oireachtas in May last.

This Bill, therefore, I may claim, has the weight of a joint committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas behind it, and on that body there were representatives of all Parties and sections in both Houses. In considering the measure, and the report on which it is based, it is important to bear in mind that the joint committee was not constituted to make recommendations for an amendment of the Constitution. It could only consider such proposals for the amendment of the existing scheme as were within the terms of the Constitution.

Senators, I am sure, will have read the report of the committee and it will not be necessary, therefore, for me to describe in close detail the proposals in the Bill. At the outset, however, I think it proper to refer specially to certain provisions of it. These relate to the method of voting and to the special arrangements which are required in order to permit the impending general election to be carried out in accordance with the general principles of the committee's report.

Firstly, on second thoughts, some doubt has arisen as to whether the method of voting recommended in the report, while calculated to safeguard more effectively than the existing method has been found to do the secrecy of the ballot, might be regarded by the courts as satisfying the provisions of Article 16 (5) in regard to the postal ballot. Therefore, another procedure, which it is felt will give full effect to the intention of the committee, has been devised and provided for in the Bill. This new procedure, which is prescribed in Section 51 and set out in detail in the First Schedule, more particularly in Rules 8, 14 and 23, will, I believe, make the secrecy of the ballot practically inviolable.

Secondly, as it is now certain that an election will be held before a register of nominating bodies can be prepared in accordance with the procedure recommended by the joint committee, a transitory provision has been included in the Bill, under which it is proposed that the register of nominating bodies which is now in force, under the existing statutes, will continue in force until the new register is prepared.

Thirdly, until the publication of the new register of nominating bodies, it is proposed that the present Seanad Returning Officer should continue to act in that capacity. The second and third provisions will enable the Act to be operative to the fullest extent possible at the next election.

Before going on to describe very briefly the general provisions of the measure, I should also explain that, rather than introduce a Bill confined to making the necessary amendments of the Seanad Electoral Acts of 1937 and 1940, it was felt that it would be more convenient, and more generally acceptable to everybody concerned, to repeal these Acts and to introduce a consolidated measure, in which the desired amendments would be incorporated with such provisions of the existing law as it was not proposed to change; hence the somewhat formidable text with which the Oireachtas has been presented. I should like to emphasise again that the main bulk of the Bill is occasioned by the fact that it is provisions of the electoral laws which do not have to be amended in accordance with the recommendations of the joint committee.

Now to the terms of the Bill. Part I sets out the panels as prescribed by the Constitution, and defines as required by the Constitution the professional interests for the purpose of the cultural and educational panel. The Clerk of the Seanad will be the returning officer, subject, however, to the transitory provisions, to which I have referred, which are set out in Section 85. The returning officer's charges will of course be paid out of the central fund.

Part II of the Bill directs that a register of the nominating bodies be prepared and maintained and sets out the conditions to be fulfilled by bodies seeking admission to the register. These conditions, as will be clear, give the returning officer a positive guide in determining the eligibility of any body that applies for registration. In contrast to the existing provision limiting the size of the register, it is proposed that there should in future be no limit to the number of bodies that may be registered in respect of any panel.

The decision of the returning officer on an application for registration is subject to appeal to a board, which is to consist of a judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court as chairman and the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of Dáil Eireann and of Seanad Eireann. A fee of £20 must be lodged with the appeal, but it will be returned if the appeal succeeds.

Every precaution that is practicable in present conditions has been taken to secure that the bodies registered will be real bodies serving a definite purpose and representing a true vocational interest. The standards prescribed by the measure will, it is hoped, prevent any mushroom body getting on the register. In the course of future developments naturally we may anticipate that the standard may be raised further and the general characteristics of the nominating bodies take a more concrete form, but in this matter we must, as the committee realised, proceed gradually.

Part III provides for the formation and maintenance of a nomination committee for each panel. This is a new feature and one of the principal recommendations of the Joint Committee. Each nominating body will have the right and it is presumed, will exercise that right, to nominate five members to the nominating committee for the panel in respect of which it is registered. These members are to be nominated at the anuual meeting of the body and will remain members for a year.

The particular functions of a nomination committee are set out in detail in Part IV, Chapter II, and Part V, Chapter II. At a general election, the appropriate committee for a panel will review the proposals for nominations made by the nominating bodies for the panel and will select therefrom what may be called a short list of candidates who, as representing the several vocational interests, will stand nominated on the panel when it is submitted to the electorate.

Where there are more than two nominating bodies on a panel, the nomination committee will meet, as provided in Section 32 and in accordance with Section 34 will make their selections by balloting on the candidates proposed to them. The result of the ballot will be determined according to the principles of proportional representation, using the single transferable vote.

It will be seen, therefore, that, through the medium of the nomination committee, the nominating bodies will in effect make a collective nomination which will be as truly representative as is at present practicable of the general interests and services to which the panel relates. This procedure should definitely intensify the vocational character of the Seanad.

At a by-election, the nomination committee will directly nominate and, subject to the provisions of Chapter III, Part V, elect a candidate to fill the casual vacancy, the voting being according to the principles of proportional representation.

Part IV sets out the procedure for the holding of a general election. In this connection, there are four sections of the Bill which may be said to be of vital importance, Sections 26, 28 and 34 in Part IV and Section 52 in Chapter III of the same Part. It is convenient to refer to these sections in the reverse order to that in which they appear in the Bill.

Section 52 which is the fundamental section prescribes how the 43 Senators to be elected under the measure are to be allocated to the several panels. In this respect, we are proposing no change and in accordance with the section the Cultural and Educational Panel will return five members with a minimum of two and therefore a maximum of three from either sub-panel.

The Agricultural Panel is to give 11 with a minimum of four and a maximum of seven from either sub-panel. The Labour Panel will elect 11, with a minimum of four and a maximum of seven from either sub-panel.

The Industrial and Commercial Panel—nine, with a minimum of three and a maximum of six; the Administrative Panel will elect seven members, with a minimum of three and a maximum of four.

Thus, it will be seen, that there is not, as at present, a fixed number to be elected from a sub-panel, but a minimum and a maximum number, and it will not be possible as at present for a candidate to be elected merely because he cannot be eliminated, whether he has received any votes or even no votes. The choice of the electors, therefore, will be an effective one, subject to the requirement that a reasonable proportion of the candidates from each of the sub-panels will be elected. In order that the electors may have a reasonable choice of candidates, Section 28 requires that the number of candidates who will stand nominated after the meeting of the nomination committee will be twice the maximum number that could be elected from the nominating bodies sub-panel. Accordingly there must be nominated to the Cultural and Educational Panel six candidates, since the maximum number that could be elected from that panel is three.

The Agricultural Nomination Committee and the Labour Nomination Committee will place 14 on their respective panels, since the maximum number that could be elected from each of these panels is seven. To the Industrial and Commercial Panel the appropriate committee will nominate 12, since the maximum number that could be elected is six, and to the Administrative Panel, eight, since the maximum number that could be elected is four.

If a nomination committee is to make, not only a collective, but a considered and selective nomination from the proposals submitted by the nominating bodies, the number of the candidates proposed for its consideration must exceed the number of candidates to be nominated.

With this in mind the Bill, under Section 26 (3) and (4), provides that where more than two nominating bodies are registered in respect of a panel, each will propose for nomination at least two candidates or more, according to the number of bodies entitled to propose.

It may happen that some proposals may be received late, or that the same candidate may be proposed by more than one body, but the total number of persons to be put before the nomination committee, in the case I am describing, must exceed by at least four the number who are to be finally nominated by it. If, therefore, the proposals made by the nominating bodies are not sufficient to fulfil this condition, the Taoiseach will propose a number of names to make good the deficiency, and thus enable the nomination committee to exercise its right of selection under the Bill. It may be assumed, I think, that the occasions on which the Taoiseach would be called upon to discharge this duty will be extremely rare. I can scarcely believe it will arise but, as there is that possibility, we must make provision against it.

I have dealt with the position as it would be when there were more than two nominating bodies registered in respect of a panel but where there are not more than two bodies registered, special circumstances arise and must be taken into consideration.

In that case, for instance, there would be no point in summoning a meeting of the nominating committee; since the committee could only accept all the candidates proposed to it. It is therefore proposed that where there is only one body or two bodies, no meeting of the nomination committee will be held. Instead, if there is only one body—a most unlikely contingency —it will propose, as provided under Section 26, but, in effect, nominate three less than the number to be finally nominated, which under Section 34 is twice the maximum that can be elected under Section 52, and here we have to consider the special position of the electorate. I proceed on the principle that the electorate must have some right of choice and, therefore, in order that the right of the electorate to make a choice may be made effective, an excess of candidates must be provided and, therefore, the Taoiseach, under Section 28, will nominate then three more candidates. If there are two nominating bodies, the total of their nominations will be two less than the final, that is, "the appropriate number", as defined in Section 34 (2), and the Taoiseach will nominate two candidates. This procedure, dealing with very special cases, which I think are most unlikely to arise in future, solves many problems.

Perhaps I should not deal merely with that narrow aspect of the procedure but I should perhaps put it this way—that the procedure as I have outlined it for nomination to all panels solves many problems. It gives, in the case of those panels where there are many nominating bodies entitled to make proposals, a procedure for reducing the plethora of candidates to a compact and rational panel of such convenient size as to allow the electorate to consider it rationally and, at the same time, a panel which will be sufficiently large to be broadly representative of the vocational interests to which representation is to be given.

Furthermore, the general procedure whether for panels with one or two nominated bodies or for panels with many nominating bodies, safeguards the right of the special electorate to have it so elected. Under the procedure I have outlined it will not be possible for the special electorate to be presented with a list from which a free choice cannot be made. It will not be possible, by restricting the nominations to a sub-panel, to leave the electorate no choice but to accept in toto the candidates proposed by perhaps only one or maybe two nominating bodies.

At the same time I should point out that the nomination of candidates, by the Taoiseach, in the special cases I have mentioned, will not preclude the nominating bodies, even if only one or two, from securing all the seats that may be filled from their sub-panel, if their candidates receive the necessary support from the electorate.

It may, furthermore, be mentioned in this connection that it would be difficult to comply with the implications of Article 18 (7), 10, (iii), in its relation to unorganised labour, if some such procedure as I have been describing were not devised.

Chapter III sets out the procedure for taking the poll. The electorate will be the members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and of every county and county borough council. The electorate will be over 900. The advantages of the wider electorate are patent and I need not, I am sure, dilate upon them.

The next matter I wish to refer to in some detail is the method of postal voting. The Constitution, under Article 18 (5), requires that the election to Seanad Éireann shall be made by secret postal ballot, and in order better to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot, the joint committee made certain recommendations.

Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, some doubts have been expressed that the recommendations of the joint committee in this particular matter may not be in strict conformity with the requirements of the Constitution and a different procedure to attain the same object has been outlined. Under this procedure the ballot papers only, accompanied by the necessary outer and covering envelopes, but without forms of declaration of identity, will be sent to the electors by registered post.

The envelope containing the ballot papers and instructions and the covering envelope for the return of the ballot papers will contain a warning to the person to whom they are addressed that he must preserve the envelope, in which he received the papers and their contents carefully until he has completed the procedure which I am going to outline. The forms of declaration of identity which, as you may have noticed, will not be enclosed in the first instance to the elector, will be sent to the appropriate superintendent of the Garda Síochána or county registrar or other authorised persons, as specified in Rule 8 of the First Schedule to the Bill.

The elector when he wishes to vote shall produce to one of these authorised persons the ballot paper and other documents sent to him including the envelope in which they were sent and, having satisfied the authorised person that he is in fact the person entitled to have them, will thereupon complete the declaration of identity which will be given to him, and mark his ballot paper in the sole presence of the authorised person, taking care, of course, not to disclose how he has voted.

The papers with declaration of identity will then be enclosed in the ballot envelope and then in the covering envelope, which will be closed and presented to the authorised person by the voter, who will then attach his official paper seal to the envelope and sign the certificate printed on the seal that the law has been complied with.

The elector will then return the packet thus sealed and endorsed to the returning officer. The packet naturally must be sent in due time and by registered post, and if the covering envelope is tampered with in any way the vote will be bad.

An elector, I should emphasise, cannot show his paper to anyone once it has been marked. If any attempt is made by him to disclose how he has voted, by tampering with the envelope which has been sealed by the authorised person, I think the form of seal which has been devised will effectively prevent that. Thus, while we have given the voter his full right to vote by post for any person he likes inside the area of the State, it will be quite clear he will have no opportunity of disclosing it for an improper purpose once he has marked it.

As I mentioned, the next section which is of importance is Section 52. I dealt with Sections 28, 26, 34 and the rules covering postal voting. Section 52 is the section which allocates representation to the various panels. No change is made in the representation of the various panels, but instead of prescribing a fixed number to be elected from each panel as heretofore, Section 52 prescribes the minimum for each, and having prescribed a minimum fixes a maximum.

Part V makes provision for filling casual vacancies that arise. Where the vacancy is from the nominating bodies sub-panel, the nomination committee will meet and fill the vacancy direct, and the voting will be by proportional representation. Heretofore the nomination committee had only a right to select three names and recommend them to the Taoiseach, who made the final choice. Henceforth the nomination committee will have the right to make a choice in the election. Where a vacancy arose on the Oireachtas sub-panel the electors will be the members of the Oireachtas. Under Chapter III of Part V every nomination is subject to the rulings provided for by Section 68. All questions relating to the qualification or disqualification of a candidate or the description of a candidate or the validity of a nomination may be raised thereat.

The general provision relating to the ruling will be found under Chapter IV. At the ruling nominations the President of the High Court will sit with the returning officer as judicial referee. A statement of any question to be raised by a candidate or agent must be delivered two days previously to the returning officer.

Part VI of the Bill contains miscellaneous provisions. It provides that a panel member may resign by notice in writing. It provides that if a person is elected as a panel member and as a university member he must declare in what capacity he will sit, and if he does not do so within one month, he will be deemed to be a university member.

The First Schedule contains the rules for the issue, receipt and return of ballot papers at a general election. The Second Schedule contains the rules for counting the votes. These are the existing rules modified by reason of the provision that a minimum and not a fixed member of candidates must be elected from a sub-panel. The Third Schedule contains the rules for the conduct of a by-election and are a re-enactment of the rules in the Act of 1940.

This Bill not only gives effect to the recommendation of the joint committee and consolidates all the law relating to elections of panel members; under it, as I mentioned at the beginning, the Acts of 1937 and 1940 will be repealed.

Existing casual vacancies will be deemed to have been notified to the Minister for Local Government at the passing of the Act, but there is little possibility of those elections being held with the general election imminent.

The existing register of nominating bodies on the present register which is made to be the first register under the Bill must nominate five members each to constitute the new nomination committees.

It is highly desirable that the Bill should become law as early as possible. In order that a general election may be held under it, there is much to be done to give effect to its provisions, much which cannot be done until it becomes law. The returning officer, for instance, must within ten days after a dissolution send by post to every nominating body a form of proposal for nomination paper and at that time everything, including forms, must have been prescribed and a full supply printed.

I trust, therefore, that the Seanad will recognise that there is real urgency in the matter and give me the Bill, if they are so inclined, so as to enable the Minister concerned, the Minister for Local Government, to complete all the necessary preliminaries before the general election is declared.

I propose that, having heard the Minister's statement, we adjourn until 11 a.m. to-morrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.30 p.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday, 12th December 1947.