Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 14 Jul 1965

Vol. 59 No. 4

Private Business. - Local Elections Bill, 1965: Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

This short Bill proposes to postpone until 1966 the local elections which, under the Electoral Act, 1963, are due to be held this year, and to extend accordingly the term of office of serving members of local authorities. In giving effect to the principle that it is inconvenient, and in some respects undesirable, that a general election to Dáil Éireann and elections of members of local authorities should be held in the same year, the Bill follows a precedent established by at least a half-dozen previous Acts. General elections to the Dáil took place in 1932 and 1933. In those years members were elected to the councils of Cork and Dublin county boroughs. Apart from this, however, local elections have never been held in the same year as a Dáil general election.

The law relating to local elections originally provided that they should be held at intervals of three years. No fewer than ten Acts were passed between 1922 and 1953 postponing local elections and during the past 43 years only eight such elections have been held. The average interval between has, therefore, been slightly more than five years. Eventually, the Local Elections Act, 1953 changed the statutory period between elections from three to five years. Local elections took place in 1945, 1950, 1955 and 1960. Section 1 of the Bill provides for the re-establishment of this five-yearly pattern after the postponement now proposed and stipulates that local elections shall be held in 1970 and quinquennially thereafter.

The Bill also provides for the postponement until 1966 of the elections of members of certain bodies appointed wholly or in part by local authorities and for re-establishing the quinquennial pattern of these elections as and from 1970. These bodies include health authorities, committees of agriculture, vocational education committees, harbour authorities, drainage committees, etc.

Since the Local Elections Act, 1927, local authorities have been accustomed to hold their annual or quarterly meetings in a non-election year during the period between 23rd June and 1st July. At these meetings they elect the lord mayor, mayor, chairman and vice-chairman and nominate members to serve for the ensuing year on certain committees and other public bodies. I Following the announcement by the Taoiseach in the Dáil on 11th May that local elections would not be held in 1965, local authorities were notified of my intention to submit this Bill to the Oireachtas for consideration and they were advised in the circumstances to make arrangements to hold their annual or quarterly meetings this year within the normal period. Sections 6 and 7 of the Bill will validate the action of the authorities in connection with the meetings.

The 1927 Act also laid down that local elections should be held within the period from 23rd June to 1st July. This was changed by the Electoral Act, 1963, which enables the Minister for Local Government to fix any day in an election year to be the polling day at local elections. A corresponding degree of flexibility is being supplied by sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill to the times for election to and the terms of office of certain bodies on which local authorities have a statutory right of representation. These bodies are vocational education and school attendance committees, the Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees and harbour authorittes.

I submit the Bill tor the approval of the Seanad.

We agree to the provisions of this Bill, In view of the fact that we had a general election this year, and as well a spate of by-elections in the months previous to it, we consider it is only sensible that the local elections should be postponed. It would be well, in the interim, if the Minister would examine the consequences of the enactment of many of the changes and innovations that were brought into being at the general election as a result of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. This Committee made certain recommerndations which were announced by the Minister prior to the general election.

There is one main point o criticism in regard to the electoral provisions arising from the experience in the recent general election in connection with the extension of the franchise to mental patients. It is known pretty generally the manner in which this was abused. It is well known how these unfortunate people were influenced in regard to how they should vote at the general election. I shall say no more on that subject other than to express the hope that the same spirit of benevolence and charity that imbued those public-minded people and impelled them to visit these institutions loaded with gifts will be repeated when the season of goodwill comes around at Christmas time. We hope that their motives on that occasion will be higher than those which actuated them in hearing gifts on the occasion to which I have referred.

I should like the Minister to examine the situation relative to the provision of information to voters in particular regarding their polling booths and where they may register their votes. I criticise officers who accept the voting cards as evidence of identification. I am sure that the Minister will concur with me when I say that it was never intended that these cards would be ever other than necessary information for the voters. We know that there are presiding officers who will not exercise the duties they are obliged to even in regard to putting any question as to the identity of voters they may doubt. They are prepared to accept them on the face value of the voting card.

It would be well if local authorities would examine the location of many of the polling booths. In some of the country areas we have polling booths left over from the war years and there is a proliferation of small polling booths. The necessity for them no longer exists. It would be well if some of the smaller ones were incorporated with adjoining ones particularly where there are fewer than 100 voters.

The postponement of the local elections will also give an opportunity to all the officials, and those of us interested, to revise the registers in the light of the experience of the general election. We know too many electors whose names did not appear in the register. We know, too, in consequence of the Act passed recently relative to electoral reform, that there is a more sensible approach to the compilation of the registers. Nevertheless, the postponement will give an opportunity to the officials responsible, in the light of the complaints that exist regarding people whose names did not appear on the registers, to have that corrected at the end of the year.

We agree with the provisions of the Bill. I also suggest that as the local elections may coincide with the Presidential campaign it would be well, in the interests of economy and in the public interest, if both elections were held on the one day.

There are two brief comments I should like to make on the Bill. The first one is in the form of a question. If it is generally agreed that it is a good principle to hold these elections in the same year as the general election, why not embody that in the Bill? That would, perhaps, save us the necessity of bringing a Bill of this kind back every five years or so. I do not know if there is some objection to that. It seems to me that it is a sensible thing to do and I would be interested to hear the Minister's views in regard to it.

The second matter I want to refer to is this. I personally heard rumours about personation at local elections. It is extremely hard to establish these beyond yea or nay but the people who said this to me are people of judgment and people of good sense. I am convinced that there is something in it. I am even convinced in some cases that it is almost flagrant. I do not want to make any charges but I want to ask the Minister to exercise constant vigilance in this matter. I do know that in certain cases the municipal elections have been brought into disrepute. That is a great pity for the country in. general. The Minister may, perhaps, think up special means of preventing abuses, thereby killing these rumours. I am inclined to think that they do exist on a fairly big scale. I should be pleased if the Minister can reassure me and, at any rate, I hope he will exercise constant vigilance in this. matter.

There are two points I wish to raise and Senator Stanford has covered one, that is, the necessity for a Bill each time we want to postpone the local elections. I would have tbought that there might have been a little more flexibility in the Bill in regard to postponing the local elections. each time we have a general election. The Minister must be expecting that there will not be a general election in 1970 because it is specifically stated that the next local elections after the local elections in 1966 will be in 1970. If the Dáil runs its full time there should be a general election in 1970, but apparently one is expected before 1970 according to this.

Local elections are not an inducement to record breaking polls and, in my opinion, it is desirable that they should be held in conjunction with another election such as a Presidential or general election. If it is necessary to postpone them there is power in the 1963 Act to postpone them sufficiently far in the same year as a general election. We could have had them this year in October or November instead of June, which would have been very near to the general election, if they could not be held on the same day.

Would the Minister undertake to have the year of issue put on each page of the register? It is put on the outside of the register? It is put on the outside matter, for purposes which it is hardly necessary to explain, to switch the front page of an old register. For instance, if by any chance a man's name is left off the register which is being used for the election and is on the previous register, the page can be switched, and the case can be made that the name was inadvertently omitted, or some such excuse. That could be got over very simply by ensuring that the year was on each page of the register.

That covers my two points but I should be extremely interested to know why there is not more flexibility and why an election cannot either be brought forward or postponed without having to come to the House each time with a Bill to do that.

I am not quite sure why it is regarded as a bad thing to hold local elections within the same 12 months as a general election. I suppose in the Seanad there is a feeling of gratitude amongst the majority of Senators towards the local authorities, a feeling that they would like to let them stay where they are for a little longer as they have shown such discrimination in selecting members of the Seanad. We in the University representation view this particular matter more objectively, of course. I am not sure whether it is a question of expense—the Minister did not mention expense—or why it is that we cannot hold local elections within the same year as a general election. I imagine that sitting local authorities have accepted very cheerfully the fact that they are to remain in office locally for another year, but I have a feeling that the voters might prefer to have the opportunity to make a change. I am not really convinced that the Bill is necessary at all. I do not see why we should not go ahead with the local elections.

I should like to ask the Minister one or two points of detail in relation to the point he made about the centinuance in office of vocational education committees, school attendance committees, and so on. Subsection (2) of section 3 is not quite clear. Perhaps, I am not reading it with sufficient care. It reads:

The appointments of members of school attendance committees which, if this subsection were not enacted, would be made under subsection (3) of the principal section in the year 1965 shall be made in the year 1966.

That seems to indicate that the non-elected members of school attendance committees will be duly appointed in 1966, but I do not think it makes provision for the continuance in offtce this year of those committees of non-elected members. I refer to co-opted members. However, it seems to be intended that school attendance committees and vocational education committees will, in fact, continue as at present composed—and it may be that the very complex section 4 carries that meaning, although one would have to refer to the main Act to understand it.

On that topic I should like to comment on the fact that I think it is a pity that so many of our school attendance committees and vocational education committees are, shall I say, overstocked with non-elected members, with co-opted members. I should profer them to be in the main elected members. I wonder would the Minister have any figures at his disposal as to how many members of the vocational education committees in Dublin are co-opted and how many are elected, how many of the school attendance committees are co-opted and how many are elected, and whether he could tell us in relation to the country as a whole how many of these bodies are chaired by non-elected members. I have the feeling that there is an element which is not entirely democratic, which considers it almost routine that a co-opted member should be in the chair rather than an elected member. Perhaps, it is not fair to ask the Minister that question now, because it is a question of detail.

I differ from Senator O'Sullivan on the question of voters cards and identity cards. He suggested that sometimes they are treated as if you had to have one to vote. He is quite right, legally speaking, but I should prefer to go further—and I think this would meet the objection made by Senator Stanford on the question of personation—and suggest that we should sesort to the continental practice. In France, and I think in Germany, the practice is to have voting cards complete with photographs for voters in local and general elections. This renders personation virtually impossible because the person can be identified by the photograph and a strip is torn off the voting card after the vote is cast.

These matters would be more appropriate to a Franchise Bill rather than this Bill.

I agree, but I am using the fact that Senator O'Sullivan was allowed to mention this, in order to say that, while I think the reference is interesting, I should prefer to go the other way.

I would link up this with what Senator Stanford said about personation. I would like to see the Minister consider this, whether such arrangements might not be introduced at some future date, both at general and local elections. We should all like to eliminate personation if we can.

There is one final point I should like to make. I think we agreed that a maximum percentage poll is desirable. I do not think that the Irish record for that is bad at all. It is true that local elections tend to produce a smaller turn-out than general elections. That is in part due to the fact that they are always held on a working weekday instead of, as on the continent, on a Sunday. I feel that the Irish voters, particularly the working class voters, would vote in far greater numbers if they were given the opportunity of voting on a Sunday. I suggest to the Minister that he might consider making this possible. I do not think there is any reasonable objection to it, and there are strong arguments for it. I conclude by saying that I am not convinced of the necessity, either on the grounds of expediency or of expense, for this Bill.

I cannot help saying that I am amused by the speech of Senator Sheehy Skeffington. I wonder would he apply the same rules of election for the Seanad to the Trinity College register or the register in the National University of Ireland. Would the elector produce his photograph at Trinity College or at ihe many elections where the electors are not resident? I understand that electors to the two universities can be located from Dublin to Timbuctu. Of course, the period for voting is so extended that it would be fantastic. It is equally fantastic for Senator Sheehy Skeffington to suggest that voters, having regard to the numbers queueing up at either municipal or county council elections, would have to produce identity photographs and to suggest that there would be presiding officers, who we claim are not as competent as we would like, at the polling booths to compare the photograph with the physiognomy of the voter so as to be able to identify him.

Every Senator is aware that we do not know when a general election is to be held. We may have one in a week's time or in a year's time or in five years' time but it is necessary to have the provisions of this Bill passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas so that there would not be confusion among the electors if we had local elections, election to the Dáil and election to the Seanad on the same date. I understand that quits often such has occurred.

Finally, I should like to refer to Senator Stanford's reference to personation. I think he is all wrong in this, especially in regard to an elector in the country personating. Everybody knows everybody else in the country voting at a polling station. In the city people do not know who is living three or four doors away but there are always agents of the different political parties at the polling booths.

I have often heard of agents striking bargains on these occasions.

I do not know who the agents are but the Senator referred to the fact that somebody told him that personation was rampant. I deny that entirely, and I think it is wrong to insinuate it. One of my jobs as director of elections is to see that personation does not occur. I am satisfied that it does not. We have safeguards enough, especially in the country, to prevent this. Electors are so well known that they make no endeavour to personate a neighbour at the polling booths unless the presiding officer is a party to it. It is an allegation against the rectitude of the whole community if we go from this House saying that personation is rampant.

I never said it was rampant.

The Senator went further.

I never used the word "rampant."

The Senator might have used a less definitive adjective but he gave the impression that personation was quite common. It is not.

A university elector has to produce valid proof of identity and if be does not do this, duly witnessed, the vote is considered a spoiled vote.

There is no witness to the witness who signs the declaration.

I should like to add a few general comments to what has been said. The rate collector compiles the register and it is then checked by the gardaí. The rate collector gets a special payment for his work. I think the Minister should notify rate collectors that payment would not be made if there were any complaints. There should be a regulation whereby they would not be paid if the job is not properly done. In many cases they are not reminded sufficiently about that and they neglect their duty. A few years ago in my own area nobody in an entire side of a town was notified that the register was being compiled. It was peculiar to note that on the same occasion the mental hospital register was fully compiled. In many parts of the country the register records the number of the house of the elector including his name and other details——

I am afraid that the debate is now being unduly widened.

I shall leave it. Generally speaking, the Bill is welcome but the Minister, I think, should, now, when he is in the process of putting a Bill such as this through both Houses of the Oireachtas, ensure that some of the abuses which occurred in the last general election will not arise again at a general election, or at a local election.

Senator O'Sullivan referred to abuses which occurred in regard to mental hospitals. In view of the fact that we are discussing local elections the abuses may be widespread. The Minister should have regard to what some Senators said. The same observations apply to what happened in a mental hospital in my own area. I do not think it is right for people who are certified as not being mentally sound to be given automatically the right to vote just because they are living. If these people have the right to vote they should have the right to vote in their own homes. If they are fit and able to vote they should be allowed to go home. If their home is too far away they should be registered locally and if they are fit to vote they should be allowed out to vote locally. In no circumstances should a booth be set up in a mental institution.

On that point, mental nurses should be instructed that it is not part of their duty to escort, encourage or take voters from a mental institution. It is the duty of mental nurses to look after the physical health of the patients. If patients are able to make up their own minds they should be allowed to do so and nurses should be reminded of their duty in this regard. I know of sufficient instances where this was abused.

I should like to appeal to the Minister to ensure that for local elections cards are issued, as they are issued for general elections, to all voters notifying them where they should vote and advising them of their number. I think, like other Senators, that the Bill is really unnecessary, in that there should be some general regulation whereby local elections must be postponed for a certain length after general elections. Perhaps, the Minister could do so by Order. Otherwise, I have no further comment to make.

I should like to comment on just a couple of points which have been thrust on the Minister and to which I trust he will pay no attention at all. I was shocked to hear Senators say that this should be done by order rather than by an Act. I would have expected very much the apposite —that if the Minister were trying to do it by order that Senators woald have objected. It is an outrageous suggestion.

Another minor point made and I trust the Minister will not be unduly persuaded by the source from which it came, as everyone has a very great respect for Senator Sheehy Skeffington as someone who thinks equally clearly about all problems, but I must confess to being even more shocked than I was at the other suggestion when Senator Sheehy Skeffington advocated that people should have to carry identity cards. It is no good pretending that you could issue these cards for a local election. I think Senator Sheehy Skeffington must have, for a moment, allowed his enthusiasm for rectitude at elections to outweigh his good judgment in other matters.

With regard to this talk about personation, I presume it does happen but I very much doubt under proportional representation whether the amount of such personation could have any great effect.

Dublin North-East.

I daresay it does happen but I do not believe you can stop people doing wrong things by passing more Acts or doing anything else. If someone could have found an easy way of stopping personation it would have been done long ago. I do not see any particular point in trying to devise some way of preventing the occasional person doing something wrong in that respect. I very much doubt if, taking the country as a whole, it could have a very disastrous effect.

I should like to point out in case any Senators are under a misunderstanding, that the provision of votes for persons in mental hospitals was a recommendation of an all-Party Committee set up by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

That is a misinterpretation of the report.

It was recommended by a Committee of both Houses.

I should like with your permission, a Chathaoirleach, to dwell on a number of points raised by Senators which were in fact completely irrelevant to the Bill. Indeed, very little has been said about the Bill apart from the suggestion that it is really not necessary and that there is no justification for such a Bill at all. If I had my way the local elections would be over and done with by now. Despite the fact that they would have followed the general election I think it might have been a very good thing. My view would probably be influenced by the fact that I belong to a political party, as indeed, do most members of local authorities, despite their disclaiming any aasociation at times of elections. It would have been easy for the organisers of the parties if, in fact, we could have had this election immediately but one of the reasons why it was not possible for me to press this was because—as the House is probably aware—there was then awaiting a determination of the new boundary of Cork city which is taking in quite an extensive additional part of the county. It would have been rather ludicrous to have held an election on the basis of the old boundary and then find, after a couple of months, that it did not have any real bearing in regard to those elected.

On the other hand, one might say that I could have left Cork out but it would have meant special legislation and some bother in excluding Cork and having their election later. I do not think that would have been more acceptable to anybody. That is my own feeling about it for what it is worth. Neither do I hold the view that we should have gone ahead and ignored the change in the law and have the election sometime after the summer recess, say, October, November or December. That, I think, is asking too much of the people whose task it is to try to encourage our people to come cut to vote. These, again, are the political party organisers without whom, regardless of what some people may think of them, this could not be done. It would have been difficult for them to have just recently been at full strength for a general election and then, after an interval of four or five months, expect them to rise again and try to get our people to come out to local elections in the numbers we would wish.

I think we should try to attain the voting we would all wish—that is to have a really good turn out and have a proper poll in these local elections which are very important and are becoming even more important as the years go on. There may be a feeling in some quarters that these do not serve any important purpose but I think their role is to secure that every person who is capable of voting, does so, and but for them many thousands of people would not bother coming out to vote.

This brings me to the matter of those people who complain after election day that they did not have a vote. I am inclined to be somewhat uncharitable to those people. They are given every possible encouragement, every possible notice, and most of them who are the loudest in their complaints have obviously done little about ensuring that their vote is available to them by taking the normal precaution which they are asked to do on many occasions. They should look at the local register and, if their name is not there, ensure that it is inserted. As to the compilation of the register, I should say that rate collectors are, in fact, employed and paid a small amount of money on the basis that, if they should have anything greater than one per cent of error in the compilation of the register in their electoral district, the amount of money promised to be paid is reduced. My own feeling about the amount of money available for rate collectors for this particular job is that, in most cases, they would forgo the money rather than do the job. It is rather difficult to bring about an improvement as they might refuse the money offered. Quite a number of them would opt for the removal of the entire amount if the onus to do the job were removed with it. That is not to say that they do not make a very good effort.

It is not true to say that the register in these years is less accurate than it was in years gone by. If, in fact, our efforts in the direction of accuracy mean anything or have attained anything, then the register should be much more accurate than it was five or ten years ago. We have given quite an amount of publicity to the compilation of the register as various times through public advertisement, through television, through radio, through stamp cancelling machines. through public notices in post offices and other public buildings, through rate collectors and through the check by the Garda Síochána which is done at a later stage. There is also the extension of time which has been allowed when claims and objections may be made by any individual or any person on behalf of a political Party or otherwise. This has been allowed in order that a greater amount of time can be devoted to corrections at this stage when we are getting near the time for publication and printing.

In addition to this, there are appeal courts held all over the country by various people responsible for these registers. Again, every opportunity is afforded to the public and public notice is given of these hearings. If people, after all that, have not their names on the register, while I should like to know what further can be done, I really do not appreciate that there is much we can do to ensure that people will get their votes if, in fact, those same people are not sufficiently interested at any particular time during any given year to take the local draft register to see whether or not their names are on it. All of these things should add up to a very accurate register.

Judging by the number of complaints one hears voiced, it would appear as if the register is in a shambles in many parts of the country. This, I do not believe. In the Dáil, I did invite from any and all my colleagues specific details from their particular constituencies where there is an obvious lack of accuracy or a falling-down on the job of compiling the register. This invitation extended not only to these matters but also to all the other matters complained of here.

Personation was mentioned in the Dáil and here. I make the same appeal to the Seanad as I made to the Dáil and this is to furnish me wit any specific details Senators may have of single cases of personation but particularly if there is any widespread personation that they may be aware of. In regard to the invitation to the Members of the Dáil—this was some weeks ago—as yet, I have not had one single specified case set out for me by any of the people, including those who made the complaint. It may be that they have not got around to it yet or that when they came down to seeking the specifics of the case they talked about, they found they did not exist at all. This, I hope is true. I now make the same appeal to the Members of the Seanad that if they are aware of abuses, of personation taking place, of widespread inaccuracies in the compilation of the register, or, indeed, of any other matter that would seem to reduce the effectiveness of our elections and our electoral laws, I should be extremely glad to be furnished with any details any Senators may have.

The printing of the year on each page of the register has been suggested as something that might be very useful. I would imagine that this would be no great difficulty. However, we would have to print, rather than a year, the double year, say 1964-65 or 1965-66, and so on, and, in turn, it might possibly lead to some confusion. I do not readily see that myself at the moment. I shall bear it in mind and if I can see no reason why it should not be recommended I do not see why it should not be applied in the future printing of the register.

Senator O'Sullivan mentioned that polling stations or polling booths are probably not placed in a way that would fit in with our present methods of getting to the polls with transport of the present day and that they may be a carry-over from the war years. This may be quite so. In many places where I have been throughout the country, there are far too any polling stations, too small, catering for very few, requiring a great deal of time and, indeed, a bit of cost in the manning of them such as official appointees, appointing officers, poll clerks, the agents of the candidates, and so on. Where you have to put in these people, no matter how few voters may be on the register, it has to be treated as if there were thousands voting there. It is something that I think has carried over not necessarily since the war years. It is a matter for the local authorities themselves to prepare a realistic polling scheme and adopt it and send it forward for approval by my Department and myself. I should like to see it done. I feel there is great need for it in all too many of our constituencies as of now. The reason is probably that the matter has just been allowed Lo drift from year to year with nothing much done about it and nobody really getting down to the business of doing something about it.

While I myself, and, I am sure, others of you who fight elections and are associated with elections, find ever so many little things one would like to see rectified during an election, the position is that, once the election is over, one forgets about those things until the next time when they become irksome again. The polling schemes do need some modernising. I appeal to all Senators who are members of local authorities to bear in mind that it is a matter you yourselves can do and I would ask you to bring these polling schemes up to date.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington asks whether there is in this Bill the power in law to continue the membership of certain school attendance committee co-opted members. I would refer him to subsection (3) of section 3 for that power which I feel is contained there. The election of committees—vocational education committees and school attendance committees—has been complained of as carrying too many non-elected members and it is suggested that a greater number of elected members should be on those committees. There is probably an amount to be said for that view in some counties—not all of them—but, again, this is a matter of opinion. I have the feeling that, to the degree that the law allows, the elected people—those who have got to seek election through their local authority elections, local council elections— should go on to the numbers allowed or required by law and that the additional people, the non-elected members, should be kept to the minimum. However, I am quite open-minded in this. This is my mind on it. It may correspond, maybe for different reasons, with the view of Senator Sheehy Skeffington and that other people have quite different views, I have no doubt.

Polling cards were mentioned. It was suggested that the production of a polling card was taken as absolute proof that the bearer was entitled to a vote on the register corresponding to the name and number on the card. Of course, this is entire bunkum. Not only that, there is a notice on the card to say that it does not confer any right on the bearer and that it is a card issued for the convenience of the voter, as voters will appreciate. If a presiding officer is prepared to stand on the production of a polling card as absolute evidence of the identity of the person so presenting the card then I am afraid I would not agree that that presiding officer was being very wise or very prudent.

I am afraid I do not agree with the belief that personation takes place on any sort of widespread scale. Not only that, but I would assert very definitely that it does not exist to any degree except the most infinitesimal degree throughout the country as a whole. Talking for a large city area such as Dublin, I cannot be so definite but I feel that personation is not a widespread matter. If, in fact, it exists, I think it must be on a very small scale, indeed. But in the country as a whole, I would say that the amount of personation is absolutely infinitesimal. Of course, this is not due to the fact that the people in rural parts are more upright and are beyond such manoeuvres as these. It is due entirely to the fact—certainly it as due to a very great degree to the fact—that in the country everybody knows everybody else and the hopes of getting away with personation are almost nil.

That, together wifh the fact that people do not usually wish to take the risk of the penalties that may follow from being caught out personating, ensures that we have an almost clear clean record in the greater part of the country and covering the very great majority of our entire voters and those entitled to vote. If there is anything that anybody can suggest as to how I might by law, regulation, direction, advice or otherwise help to grapple with any personation which anybody feels takes place, I would be only too happy to examine any suggestion in that way. I invite all members do submit to me any specific cases that have taken place in no matter what way and no matter in what area they may have taken place.

Finally, in regard to the question of the voting rights of mental hospital patients it has been asserted by An Seanadóir Ó Maoláin that this was as a result of a recommendation of an all-pariy committee, and I think I did hear it being contradicted while it was being said. I can say in this regard that, while it might not be clearly stated in the recommendation, there is no doubt whatever that the intentions of the recommendations of that committee, having been put into effect, have brought about the situation wherein mental hospital patients now have votes. As to the attitude of those who have the job of caring for the mental patients such as attendants and others, I do not see that we are very competent to deal with whether or not any I attendant is entitled to or should accompany a patient or any group of patients from one part of the institution to the point at which the polling station is located. This is a matter which would be really within the competence of the RMS or the authorities within the hospital. I certainly would not feel competent to judge as to whether or not this was necessary or unnecessary in any particular case.

I do not agree that the majority of the patients in mental hospitals are more easily swayed than are the people outside whether that means that there is something in common held by those who are in and those who are out I am not prepared to say; but it is my belief that a great number of our mental patients are, when it is their day—and this happens in many cases and many of them have a very great number of days out of the entire year-as competent to judge the merits of a candidate, a party or policy and, indeed, in many cases more so than a whole number of people outside those institutions at the moment. I hear of all the great influence being used on them but I am not at all inclined to agree with it. On the other hand, it is, as I have said at the outset, one of the matters which is not a part of the Bill and is not relevant to it at all. I can thank you and the Cathaoirleach for great patience in allowing all of us to develop these points which are extraneous to the matter really, and I commend this Bill, which is for the postponement of elections from 1965 to 1966 to the Seanad.

Might I ask the Minister one plain question? What was the objection to bringing in a Bill setting out for all time that in a case where a general election takes place in the year settled for local elections the local elections should take place in the next year? Would that not save bringing in legislation of this kind from time to time?

I suppose that as we have had elections in 1945, 1950, 1955 and 1960 we are trying to hold the local elections at five yearly intervals though the law did not so determine in the years prior to 1950. There is every hope and expectation that we should do so in the future. In addition, as I said at the outset, my own personal view is not to the effect that it is really difficult that a local election might be held in an election year. I am not fully convinced that that may always be the best idea at all.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill considered in Committee.
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Might I ask the Minister what induced him and his advisers in determining that the next session shall be only a four year term? Is this not contrary to the quinquennial idea?

One of the things would be that we regard the postponement this year as an interruption of a pattern we would hope to continue, that is every five or ten years of the decade or various decades. 1945, 1950, 1955 and 1960 have already established that pattern which we hope to continue therefore, with 1965 postponed to 1966 and thereafter at five yearly intervals.

Is it the Minister's intention to hold elections early in the year?

I have no intentions on that matter as yet.

If the Minister's argument holds good in relation to local elections, why does it not operate in regard to Dáil elections?

I wish it would, but it is not a matter within my control.

Relative to the situation to which the Minister has adverted in relation to the extension of the Cork borough boundary, would he indicate any early decision or his ability to make an early decision relative to the creation of divisions within that borough and to the effect it will have on the county council membership?

The membership, I think, we have already increased to 31. That we have already dealt with in the Dáil. It is my intention to divide the city as of the new boundary into probably six divisions. As far as my recollection goes—I have not been looking at this matter for some time although I did have it to the fore for some months before the general election—I think there would be three on either side of the river, though I am not quite sure of that.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

There is one short point I should like to make to the Minister on the idea held by too many people regarding the secrecy of the ballot, that the fact that certain records are made on the counterfoil is interpreted by some people as making it possible to discover how a person votes.

That matter would be completely out of order.

Very good. I am merely appealing to the Minister between now and the date of the local elections to emphasise the absolute secrecy of the ballot.

To find out how somebody votes from the counterfoil would be very hard.

Take the matter of an urban council where the counterfoils are held in limited numbers by the officials.

This matter is out of order.

Question put and agreed to.