Local Elections Bill, 1966: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 4.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words from and including "subject" in line 39 to the end of the section and substitute: "subject to the provision that the order shall be made not less than three months before the day upon which polls shall be held and shall be held during the period from 1st April to 31st October."

The purpose of this amendment is to bring more certainty and clarity into the times and the dates at which these elections are held. I suppose the Minister has been so busy in recent times, with the great change that nearly came over him, that he may not have had time to keep an eye on the American scene. It is to be observed in America that there are nationwide elections every two years. If the Minister were looking at television last night—which I am certain he was not—he would have seen that on one ballot paper in one State in America, the American people were able to deal with 34 different appointments, to exercise 34 different choices in one State. It is being suggested in this House that the Island of Saints and Scholars cannot produce an electorate which is able to deal with two ballot papers on the one day.

We should set our face against that outlook. We ought to make it quite clear that the local elections should not be made a plaything for Party political purposes. Therefore, I suggest in this amendment that having decided that the local elections will be quinquennial elections, we should go the further distance of saying that they should be held during the summer months at whatever time is most suitable having regard to the other factors, and that three months notice should be given of these elections. Everyone in the United States knows that the President is elected every four years and they know when a Presidential election is coming up. They know when the local State elections are coming up for a House of Representatives.

I do not see why we in this country cannot set our minds to saying that these elections will be held quinquennially and that we will give three months notice of the date on which they are to be held. That would bring a great deal of clarity into the position. I do not see any argument against it. On the contrary, I think there is a great deal to be said for holding these elections during the summer period from April to October in whatever is deemed to be the most convenient month, and I think advance notice of the holding of them should be given by the Minister.

I should like to support the amendment, not because I have any great predilection for the dates mentioned but because I regard the month of June as being a very undesirable month in which to hold elections for the reason that they are bound to clash with school examinations. I cannot understand why the Minister should have tightened it to an individual month, why he should not have given himself more freedom in the matter. My main objection is based on the fact that this is bound to interfere with examinations, particularly the intermediate examination which will be extended to vocational schools in the future. The school examinations are always held in June and occupy about half the month. Next year they will begin on 8th June and go on until some date after the 20th. If elections are to be held in that month it will mean upsets in a great number of homes where the parents and adults will be going to the polls and the children will be coming from and going to examinations. As well, a large number of secondary and vocational teachers will be employed in the work of the examinations and will find great difficulty.

I find it difficult to understand why the Opposition object to this Bill. After all, it is publicly known that they will be the next Government of this country in a matter of a few months. We shall be holding elections soon and they will become the Government and I wish to remind them that when they are in Government in a few months they will have to postpone these elections again. They will be coming before this House and the other House asking us to agree to a postponement of the elections, if they are right. I do not think they are right. This is utter nonsense. As a member of a local authority during a period of time, I have found the position to be purely and simply this: if one is a good member of a local authority he will be required to stay on as long as he can spare the time and if he is some useless twerp he will be thrown out and got rid of. The fact that America has got some kind of law has not got anything to do with us. The Americans are the most undemocratic people in the world and why should we kowtow to a system which is not democratic?

We are the most democratic country in the world.

Would the Senator come to the question of the date?

I cannot understand why this example from outside has been thrown up. I agree with the Bill.

I wish to support the amendment which makes a very reasonable and understandable proposition. I do not think we should have to try to convince the House that any number of good reasons could arise to make this particular month unsuitable for the purpose of elections. The proposal contained in the amendment that a longer period of time should be specified is reasonable and I strongly commend it for the Minister's consideration.

I also agree that further consideration should be given to this matter. Senator Ó Conalláin pointed out that because of changes taking place, particularly in relation to our younger people, June is not a desirable month in which to hold elections. It is most inconvenient. We must take certain matters into consideration when considering a quinquennial holding of local elections and the most important matter is to convenience the electorate as far as possible. We should, therefore, choose a month in which we can expect favourable weather conditions. We could consider May to be a suitable month, or July, or September as other Senators have pointed out. It also happens that there is an agitation to give votes to people when they reach the age of 18 instead of 21. A lot of those young people would be university students. Possibly they would be away at that time and if there was no provision made for a postal vote it would mean that they would be deprived of the opportunity to cast their votes. Therefore, we must consider this matter of facilitating the young voters in addition to facilitating the electors in relation to good weather and a suitable time. June has been a traditional month and I believe it has been proved to be reasonably satisfactory up to the present. At the same time, we must have regard to the new circumstances arising. If we go too far into the summer a substantial number of the population will be away on holidays.

We should be careful to ensure that all those people will not be deprived of taking part in those elections. It all boils down to facilitating the maximum number of electors in so far as we can. Postal voting, of course, would be a partial solution to the problem which would arise if an election were held during the holiday period. When we are choosing a date, we must select one which we can expect will be most convenient for the majority of electors.

I support the amendment because I feel it gives the maximum amount of flexibility which surely is in the interests of the public in general. It would be much easier in relation to candidates for our local bodies. I particularly like the order being given three months in advance because it gives the people who give their services voluntarily an opportunity of getting out and making a bid for the office. If it is confined to a date, as happened over the past two years, it will be found that it has not been to the Government's liking to hold the elections when they should have been held.

If there is a certain amount of flexibility, as suggested by Senator O'Quigley, adjourning those elections for a year may be unnecessary and for that reason I support the amendment.

There is just one point I should like to make in support of the amendment. During that particular time the days are long and it would facilitate commercial travellers who have been agitating for postal voting. They would be given an incentive to return to vote in the local elections in which they might not have the same interest as in general elections. While on the subject of commercial travellers, perhaps the Minister would consider facilitating them still further by having voting on a Monday or a Friday. They could then vote before they left on their journey on a Monday morning or they could vote on a Friday when they would normally be returning home. I am certainly in favour of having both elections during the summer months.

I am in complete agreement with what the Senator has said with regard to giving postal voting to commercial travellers. When we give postal voting to members of the Garda and the Army we should certainly try to facilitate commercial travellers. It is almost certain they cannot vote on a Wednesday because they are away from home.

I do not see how there can be any serious difficulty in allowing those people to vote by post otherwise you have no option but to have the voting as it is on the Continent, on a Sunday. They have solved the problem by getting them to vote after Mass. If we introduced that in this country I do not think it would break any law, either Church or State. It is grossly unfair that those people are not facilitated. I certainly agree with what the Senator has said. It is a damn shame that commercial travellers cannot vote and we should do something about it. I would ask the Minister to seriously consider these people and to ensure that they will be in a position to vote by post in the future.

I wonder sometimes whether amendments are really put down to improve legislation or are put down by people to show they have different views from the drafters of a Bill. The number of people who spoke from the opposite side of the House surprised me. What they had to say surprised me even more. I gathered from the earlier debates in this House and in the Dáil that indeed if there was any feeling of there being wrong done in the legislation it was that the Minister was not being specific to the point of naming a day in advance of a week or a month.

There was running through the debate I listened to a suggestion that the Minister having the discretion to determine which day of all the days of the month of June he should have the elections on, or any other Minister in my position, would be in some sort of position that would enable him to do something which was not satisfactory from the point of view of the political Parties to which he did not belong.

I am amazed that those very people now say to the Minister for Local Government that he should change this law and not only postpone the local elections until next June, about which there was such a hue and cry in this House and in the Dáil, but that he should be given latitude to postpone them to next October. The amendment states that three months notice should be given. The fact of the matter is that everybody interested in going forward for the local elections has notice as of now and next June. Some of the speakers suggested that the people seeking election would require this three months notice in order that they would not be taken unawares. Everybody here knows that ever since the elections were due to be held in 1965 the very people who intended to go forward have been selling their wares. Therefore, this naïve belief that the local election candidates come down out of the sky just on the day it is announced when the elections will take place is so far from reality that the people making this suggestion must have come down from the sky today.

Everybody knows that all political Parties were thinking of the local elections long before the day they are to be held is announced. They are going about canvassing for the elections months before there is any talk of a day being fixed as to when they will be held. There are not many politicians who do not know when local elections are likely to be held. That is why such people are in public life. If they have to wait until the Minister for Local Government actually names the day before they get any idea about going forward for election, then there is not much use in their thinking about the elections.

I cannot get over the change of mind that is apparent to me in a general sort of way at this stage in this House as against what I took to be the view of the general Opposition Parties during the Dáil discussions and the discussion here up to date and that was that we were not having those elections quickly enough. I am just amazed that they now are suggesting that we should be having them too quickly by having them in June and, indeed, they would wish, if possible, to put them back until next October. The three months period does not matter. It does not arise. In the ordinary way the procedure that must take place before a local election would entail a notice period of approximately six weeks. It could be longer but I do not feel that it could be less. Adding to that the campaign for those of us who are existing, as far as local authorities are concerned, absolute notice as to the day in the month of June, which they already know, surely the six weeks notice is adequate notice to those who are already on the warpath and making their way for the last year and a half.

Do not have any fear that the month of June will spoil things on anybody. Do not fear because the Minister and the Government come into this House stating the month of June. It is chosen because we feel this is the best choice. There is nothing sinister in that month. Do not take it on yourselves to add sinister motives to the Government or myself as to why the month was chosen. Do not take motives as to why we left the whole month of June. Any day of that month may be chosen by the Minister and the Government and fixed by order.

There are no sinister motives involved. The situation seems to be well met by the Bill as it is. That brings me back to the Bill at the start, and I am not sure whether this is an effort to improve the Bill genuinely or an effort to show that an attempt should be made to put in an amendment on this Bill because to leave it unchanged would cast a reflection on this House. I am inclined to think the latter is the case.

Is there anything there about commercial travellers? There are a lot of them in the country.

It is not in the Bill.

Fair enough.

Another day's work.

The Minister for Local Government is not in good humour today.

He is never in good humour.

He was in good humour on the last occasion here. In fact, he was almost patronising us but he is not in good humour today. I do not know why. He certainly does not like any amendments to Bills he introduces. I want to tell the Minister that there are numerous Bills with which we deal to which we put down amendments and the Minister's colleagues in the Government accept them, if they see fit. There are various Bills which have left this House much better than when they came in. For instance, the Succession Bell left this House better than when it came in. Likewise, the Extradition Bill would not be workable without amendments which we put down in this House.

When we put down amendments we do so in the conscientious exercise of the powers we have to amend. It takes time to draft amendments and we have not that much time to waste. We can get up and talk in a vague way if we want to but amendments take a lot of time to prepare although it did not take much time to prepare this one. It is wrong for the Minister for Local Government to say that it is put down, as I gather, to annoy him.

It is interesting to note that this Bill has support from both sides of the House. I understand Senator Lenehan to disagree with it in the first place and then, when he heard a more reasonable argument put forward by Senator Malone, Senator Lenehan found it in his heart to support what had been said.

I want it to be quite clear that in the Bill we are dealing with permanent legislation. We have recently had too much ad hoc legislation in relation to local government elections. We had a Bill last year and we have this one which is in the nature of an ad hoc measure. When we are dealing with permanent legislation we just cannot be concerned merely with the fact that the Minister might use his powers occasionally to postpone local elections until the 1st October, 1967. We are dealing with legislation that will be preventing this and we are entitled to specify a period which will give a Minister for Local Government adequate time to fix a date for local elections. I think the general idea always is for flexibility. In various Bills we are constantly enabling Ministers under various sections by order to prescribe, and by regulation to determine various things. We are doing nothing more in this particular amendment than that.

I think Senator Ó Conalláin made a very good point which is not accepted by the Minister and his advisers—that most elections are held in schools, including vocational schools. As I understand the position, most vocational schools will be occupied during the whole of the month of June.

The Senator means national schools.

I mean vocational schools.

Polling takes place in national schools.

I think that is a valid point. June is the terminal month of the vocational and national school year when promotions are made and when examinations are conducted and Senator Dolan knows that as well as I do.

They are always delighted to get the day off.

Of course, they are but it is a point to be borne in mind. Another thing I want to mention is a matter that occurred to me the last day we discussed this Bill. I understand the Tourist Board are busily engaged trying to extend the tourist year to the month of June. One hopes that the tourist year will extend in that way. If it does, many other people will be affected by elections held in the month of June. Some people take their holidays in the month of June because of the lower rates available in houses by the sea, guest houses, hotels and so on. I would have thought that the months of June, July and August are months that are "out" months for holding elections, except in cases of necessity where a general election has to be held. I would, therefore, have thought that giving more flexibility as to the months of April and May, September and October would provide the Minister with an adequate choice of an appropriate time having regard to any general election that may have been held in the meantime coming up to the quinquennial election. If an election is held in the spring the appropriate thing might be to hold the local elections in October and vice versa. That is the idea of putting in this longer period. I think for these reasons the House should accept the amendment. I want to disabuse the Minister straight away of the idea he has on second thoughts. I will not say any more because I do not want to waste the time of the House with this business of our not wanting elections. The Minister would not read the report here the last day to show that what Deputy Clinton meant was one year from July, 1965.

It is amazing the arguments that can be put forward. Senator O'Quigley claimed that amendments have been passed which were proposed from his side of the House. That is so. Some of those amendments were supported by people from this side of the House. I cannot see how anybody can support this amendment. First of all, it did not require too much intelligence or consideration to propose an amendment such as this. The terminology is hooey. It is not easy to make sense of the phraseology used.

Would the Senator indicate——

I shall read it for the House:

"subject to the provision that the order shall be made not less than three months before the day upon which polls shall be held and shall be held during the period from 1st April to 31st October."

Would the Senator relate that to the section and he will see that it is all right?

We shall accept that they can back up their phraseology. How can they back up the holding of the elections in April when there is no register available to the public in April? The register is published on 14th April and no election could be held before that.

What about the general election of 1965?

Seven days before the new register came out.

That argument does not invalidate the facts. Even if an election were held before that date on one occasion we should not continue the practice. The register which, as far as I know, is compiled and displayed all over the country, is not available, at least officially, until 14th April and sometimes not even on that date.

At any rate, the electors and the interested candidates could not do their work efficiently during the month of April. Therefore, I cannot see why any intelligent body of men could suggest that the elections be held in April. Let us not repeat the argument that an election was held in April. The fact of the matter is that we as a body should not suggest that we have the elections in April.

At the other end of the scale I am amazed at the farmers' representatives who want to have the elections held in October, at the height of the harvest. Nothing would be more objecttionable to the farming community than to hold an election in October. They know well that April is a bad month which could not work.

It worked very well in 1965.

The people in the country would object to October. That reduces the period available. If farmers were asked what is the best month in which to have the elections they would say June. It is the easiest month for them. April is a hard month for the farmers because they are putting in the crops and if February and March were as bad as they were last year they would be endeavouring to get in the last of the wheat in April. The same would apply to October, the height of the harvest. An election should not be held when everybody is trying to get the harvest saved. Now we are left with the most suitable month when the farmers' work is easiest— June. I cannot see how anybody representing the farming community could object to that.

On the other hand, there is no month, no week, no day, that could be suggested that somebody would not have an objection to. I could be sarcastic about the motives of people in schools who do not want the elections held in June. They might hope to be appointed as presiding officers. I shall not advance that argument. I would ask people to display some sense when speaking to an intelligent House.

As I see it, the only two points that separate the Minister from the proposers of the amendment are that the Minister would prefer not to have to give three months notice and would prefer to have the elections confined to June. The proposers of the amendment want at least three months notice to be given and would like the Minister to be free to decide whether the elections shall be in April, May, June, July, August or September.

On the second point, the Minister is really saying: "I do not want all this freedom." The amendment does not preclude him from naming June. It merely gives him additional power or extends his power and makes it more flexible and if, in certain circumstances, it would be more convenient to hold the elections in some month other than June he would have that power. It does not preclude him from holding them in June as he is binding himself to do in the Bill. As to the three months notice, I think the Minister has made a good point in that it does not matter very much because everybody knows when an election of that kind is coming up but it would do the Minister no great harm to have to give three months notice. I am inclined, therefore, on these two grounds, to support the amendment.

The Minister mentioned that most interested people are looking forward for a long time and preparing for these elections and making their plans. This amendment asks the Minister to state the date of the elections and to give three months notice of the date of the elections. I think that is a fairly valid request. I think it is fair enough. It is all very well to say that the Minister has given notice of the month in which the elections will take place but this amendment requests the Minister to give the date of the elections not less than three months before the actual date on which they will take place.

My attitude to this is more or less the same as that of Senator Sheehy Skeffington. I am not really concerned whether the local elections are put forward or put back, not being a member of a particular Party and not having very much interest in them apart from a general interest. My only interest was to ensure that the matter was not confined to the month of June. I want to ask the Minister specifically whether, when he was deciding on June as the month for elections, he did, in fact, advert to the fact that June is the month of examinations and whether he took into account the possible upsetting effect the holding of elections could have on the holding of examinations, which are becoming more and more important for people in the country. Did the Minister consider that the month of May, for example, would be free from such objections? I consider that the month of May would probably be the most suitable month of the year in which to hold elections.

I would find myself in a delimma if I were to accede to the very well stated requests of the last two speakers because the trouble is that we would embarrass Senator O'Quigley and his Party and I should not like to do that because here is what Deputy Clinton——

The Minister is a very nice man.

——said in the Dáil on 7th July, 1965, at column 801 of the Official Report:

It would be desirable to have the local elections held in the same month of the year for which they are arranged. I do not like flexibility which allows local elections to be held at any time during the year. People are entitled to know, and their knowledge will not injure anybody, that elections as an established practice will be held in a certain month, be it May, June or any other month.

Then we have the Labour Party view in that same year. It was not on the same Bill but on a Bill dealing with the same matter 12 months ago. We have the opinion of Deputy Tully in the Dáil that a fixed day in the month of June would be the best thing. As I say, to yield to the views of the last two speakers would not only embarrass Senators O'Quigley, Rooney and Malone but it could also embarrass some of the other Members, notably Senator McAuliffe, who in this House on the 1965 Bill agreed, as one would expect, with the view of his spokesman, the Chairman of the Labour Party, Deputy Tully, who had spoken on the same measure in the Dáil some few weeks before. Therefore, whether I am in bad or good humour, I do not like embarrassing unduly my political opponents, particularly those front benchers whom I know wish to remain loyal to the dicdates of their own Party, as expressed from the front benches in the Dáil on these matters on previous occasions. I am sorry to have to bring this up to remind Senator O'Quigley not to press me too hard about this matter along with others but, since he had taken exception to what he regarded as my bad humour, I felt I had to explain further. That is really about the measure of what I feel is the overall opinion about this in Labour, Fine Gael and, now, Fianna Fáil.

The Minister has again misquoted but I shall not go after him wasting any time.

There is just one point —maybe I display a lack of knowledge of the Bill here—but I am wondering is there anything in the Bill which compels the Minister to state the date on which the elections will take place at least three months beforehand?

Nothing.

The amendment here asks the Minister if he could give three months notice of the date of the elections.

Might I plead with the Minister to be a devil and embarrass the two Parties?

Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill".

The Minister, of course, has made his usual outlandish statements but I shall not deal with these misquotations out of context. The Minister has time to indulge in that kind of thing and I have not got the research facilities to track down the various misstatements made. What I do want to say on section 4 is this. When an Order is made, I see that section 84 (1) of the Electoral Act, 1963, which we are amending, provides that it be published in Iris Oifigiúil as soon as may be. Of course, that kind of thing is a complete waste of time. I hope, now that the Minister is not going to give three months notice, that much wider publicity will be given to the date on which the elections are to be held; that these kind of things will be announced in Dáil Éireann and not, as happened in the case of the elections in 1966, at some Party political meeting by the Minister's friends. These things should be given much wider publicity.

Or over in Canada where Fine Gael made their important announcement at some dinner of banquet.

Whenever we were in Canada, we did not run home and leave meetings we should have been attending.

We never ran away from our responsibilities anywhere.

Even if the Minister will not agree to the amendment, I trust he will give the longest possible notice he can and that he will give it the widest possible publicity of an impartial character. People will not read those rubbishy political speeches made but they will read these things if they are properly announced.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divide d: Tá, 27; Níl, 13.

  • Ahern, Liam.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Brennan, John J.
  • Browne, Seán.
  • Cole, John C.
  • Connolly O'Brien, Nora.
  • Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.
  • Egan, Kieran P.
  • Farrell, Joseph.
  • Fitzsimons, Patrick.
  • Flanagan, Thomas P.
  • Honan, Dermot P.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Lenehan, Joseph R.
  • McGlinchey, Bernard.
  • McGowan, Patrick.
  • Martin, James J.
  • Nash, John Joseph.
  • Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
  • O'Reilly, Patrick (Longford).
  • O'Sullivan, Ted.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Patrick W.
  • Sheldon, William A. W.
  • Teehan, Patrick J.
  • Yeats, Michael.

Níl

  • Carton, Victor.
  • Conlan, John F.
  • Crowley, Patrick.
  • FitzGerald, Garret M. D.
  • McDonald, Charles.
  • McHugh, Vincent.
  • Malone, Patrick.
  • Mannion, John.
  • O'Quigley, John B.
  • O'Reilly, Patrick (Cavan).
  • Prendergast, Micheál A.
  • Rooney, Éamon.
  • Sheehy Skeffington, Owen L.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Ó Donnabháin; Níl, Senators McDonald and Malone.
Question declared carried.