In considering the single-seat versus the multi-seat, we have to look at and compare the position in England with our situation here. The first thing we must note is that the Member in England serves a constituency with a population at least four times as large as that of a Deputy here. They have 600 Deputies serving the present British population. That means in point of fact that the average English Member is serving as many as are served by three to four Deputies in any one of our constituencies here today. That enables a Deputy to keep at a certain distance from his constituents, a distance that enables him to discharge his more important function of legislator.
Here, unfortunately, we have gone too far in the other aspects of a Deputy's work, that is, of making representations. One would think from many of the speeches that one was electing, say, welfare officers and not Deputies. This tendency has grown apace over the past 15 to 20 years and new and more refined techniques are being used by Deputies of all Parties to encourage this and to make the people feel more dependent.
I am not saying it prevails in all Parties, but it does to some extent. The first essential, before bringing the Deputy any closer to the people, is to ensure that the people are educated into realising the real function of a Deputy, and his real function is that of legislator, and also into realising their rights as constituents. If they are entitled to an old age pension, if they have reached the age, they are entitled to it and there is no need whatever to call on any Deputy either to fill in the form or to make representations. We can sympathise at present with Deputies because all this unnecessary work is thrust on them. They have to do it if they are to stay in, but it is high time that a concerted effort was made by all Parties, spearheaded by the Government, to enlighten the people about what their rights are and so rid Deputies of this awful burden.
If we reduce the present level of representation, it will give a greater impetus to this type of what I would only call messenger-boy representation. That of course obviously is not for the good of the community. There are other and higher tasks required from Deputies. The State has taken steps, quite rightly, recently, to increase the salaries of Deputies so that they can concentrate on this work and they will be of a calibre that merits those salaries.
Again, in smaller constituencies of one seat, we have the situation where obviously only one can be elected. That means if a leading member of one Party, say, the Government Party, in his area is a candidate the Opposition have no choice in such a situation. They have either got to concede the seat to the man in possession or else they have got to get a really good candidate to, as it were, mark the member. It means that in such a constituency if we have one good candidate and say three Parties contest the election, we have three good candidates. There is no room for the mediocre candidate when there is one really good one in the field. Consequently it means that three candidates in the present situation of multi-member constituencies would be obvious for three seats and would form three excellent representatives. Now they are in competition with one another and only one can emerge. Much inferior candidates from other Parties will probably be elected due to the lack of competition.
When a swing goes against the Government, it is the ex-Ministers who very often are the people who suffer most. I am not saying this just solely from the point of view that it is hard on the ex-Ministers to find they are cut off and that they are not in Parliament. That is purely personal. What matters is that in a change of Government, we can be sure that the leading members of the previous Government and of the previous Government Party are available to lead an effective Opposition in Parliament and this means a healthy contribution in that respect. Therefore, any system of single-seat constituencies militates grievously against that, unless we resort, as across the Border, to the safe seat. We saw there in the last election only three out of every five seats were contested. Is that a situation we want to import here?
Again, we take the question of the lack of choice available. Our people at present are highly critical of the activities of Parliament and no amount of denial by Senator Nash or anybody else will get away from that fact. There is no point in whistling going past the graveyard. Politicians have only got to read the papers, see what the political commentators have to say and see what is said on Telefís Éireann to realise that people are highly critical of Party politics today. I admit a good deal of it is ill-informed criticism, but the fact is that the criticism is there.
The people have a certain distrust of what they call the Party bosses and the way the Parties are operated, especially at the inner caucus level. Consequently the people have valued down the years, and like to have the final say on who shall be elected. In a three-seat constituency, the people expect the Government in power to offer, say, three candidates, even though it expects to get one, or at the most two, candidates elected. That is only right and proper. The electorate assumes a very discriminatory function in putting those in the order of their choice.
This very often results in one man breaking through, as it were, the Party machine from being in the position of the reluctant third of the team. This is the choice of the Irish electors, and it is only right and proper that they should have this function because it means that they can exercise their choice of candidates which is made first at Party level and secondly, and most important, at the level of the voters. From that point of view, the people would be very unwise to make themselves simply cogs in the political machine where, if they wish to vote for the Government, they just simply have to put before whatever candidate the Government want, whereas at the moment they can vote for the Government if they wish, but have a choice of three candidates from which to exercise their preferences.
The single-seat constituencies make any idea of proportion impossible because it just simply means that one person is elected. It does not matter what system is operated under the transferable system, the person represents not just 50 per cent or one per cent of the electors. In other words, you have the rule of the 51 per cent. In a modern democracy where all reasonable shades of opinion should be taken into account, it is not only right but it is highly desirable that those shades of opinion should be expressed within the national Parliament. That cannot be achieved through the single-member constituency, especially in our set-up here where, by and large, the country is rather homogeneous. At least you have only two main divisions: the rural part and the urban part. Therefore, we cannot take it for granted that Parliament will be representative under the single-seat constituency system by the fact that one shade of opinion gets representation in one area and another shade gets representation in another area.
This is just like in England where you have certain areas where when it comes to a general election, they will return Conservatives and you have other areas where they will return Labour candidates, and you have the few Liberals who have their strongholds. We can see no such divisions here and therefore we cannot rely on any balancing up of our national representation in Parliament by this type of chance occurrence. It has been done very well in the past and very satisfactorily on the basis of our own version of proportional representation, that is, where the proportionality has been sharpened to give a bonus to the majority Party by keeping multi-member constituencies, with a majority of three-seat constituencies. That has worked well and we should be very slow to change from it.
Again, irrespective of whether a change is made or not, we must realise that we are now in the second half of the 20th century, that our parliamentary procedures, our parliamentary forms of representation, the work of the Deputy have not changed for 100 years. Consequently, we have got to get down to that. That is what we should be doing at the present time. It is what the people of the country are calling out for. They have been asked to modernise in everything they are doing. They have been asked to modernise in their work, to become more efficient. They have been asked to participate in all the recent advances of communication and otherwise. They are demanding that we here in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann should modernise our approach, to set a lead rather than reluctantly be dragged on behind more progressive sections of our community.
For all these reasons, then, it would be very retrograde at this stage to depart from multi-member constituencies.