If local government and local democracy are so close to the Minister's heart, perhaps he could adopt the order I have requested. As he said, this is not of momentous importance. I do not understand his objection to my request. He has said it will not add or subtract anything. It would be consistent with views expressed by some of the Minister's colleagues — that they have a real commitment to local democracy, subsidiarity, etc. When it comes to something like this, acceptance of the change of order would be a gesture of some concern and interest in local democracy. Local authorities were there long before central Government. The majority of people in this country feel their local authority is of far more importance and concern to them than the European Parliament.
Death of Former Minister. - Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire faoi rud a bhaineann leis seo ach nach bhfuil tagairt ann dó in aon chor. Tá Acht ann ar a dtugtar Acht um Údarás na Gaeltachta agus is toghchán áitiúil é sin faoi Acht 1979. Níl sé luaite anseo, a bheag ná a mhór, agus, dar liomsa,, ba chóir go mbeadh sé ann. Ní rachaidh mé chomh fada leis an Seanadóir Hederman nuair a deir sí go gcaithfidh sé bheith chun tosaigh nó i lár báire; bheinn sásta fiú dá mbeadh sé istigh ag an deireadh. Is Acht é a d'eascair as Rialtas agus parlaimint an Tí seo. Bíonn toghcháin ann faoin Acht seo sna ceantair Ghaeltachta ar fad gach cúigiú bliain, díreach ar nós na dtoghchán áitiúil. Ach, mar a dúirt mé, níl tada ráite faoi anseo. Ceapaim go ndearnadh dearmad gan tagairt a dhéanamh dó anseo agus ba chóir go mbeadh sé istigh leis an liosta anseo faoi thoghcháin le haghaidh na Dála agus na hEorpa. Ba mhaith liom tuairim an Aire a fháil faoi ar chóir go mbeadh aitheantas dlíthiúil le fáil ag Acht um Údarás na Gaeltachta ar an gcaoi chéanna le gach Acht eile?
I support the amendment. Order is important; it is important to have logic in the order of the electorate to the representatives bodies referred to here.
Whatever about the order being presented by the Independent Senators, the order in the Bill cannot be correct because it lists the presidential elector first, then a Dáil elector, followed by a European elector and, finally, a local government elector. If there was logic in the order, it would begin with the basic element of democracy, which is local government, followed by the national government and then the European Union. European elections should not be in the middle. If we see local government as the pillar of democracy, that should be given first place.
If we applied this order to the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, people would look askance if, at a civic reception, Ministers were placed at the end of the line; and Ministers might not be too happy with that order. Whatever criteria we use, we need to use a certain degree of logic and ensure that the fundamental element of democracy is given priority.
The amendments are interesting. The Bill makes provision for presidential elections, then elections to the Dáil, then Europe, and finally county councils. Senator Costello spoke about the scene at home. At a State reception, for example, you have the President, the Taoiseach, the Cabinet Ministers and then the chairmen of the county councils. In my book, while being a committed European, I must acknowledge that those involved in the EC came on the scene only recently. Nobody should be foolish enough to think that members of local authorities are not national politicians. Perhaps the draftsman does not have a poitical outlook or lacks respect, otherwise why does the Bill refer to the national scene, then to Europe, and then back again to the national scene? Why does it not refer to local government before Europe? I am sure the Minister will not accept this amendment but I would like to fire a warning shot; the draftsman should take note of what is said here about the important role of local government and local elected representatives.
I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment. The section gives us some deep insight into the psychological processes of the person who drafted it but, other than that, there is nothing of significance involved. It would be better if the Minister accepted Senators Hederman and Murphy's amendment and I ask him to do so. I cannot see any difficulty arising from accepting it.
I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. I cannot see why there should be any difficulty in accepting it. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Honan. Local elections should have been mentioned before the European election. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment in the spirit in which it was put down.
To answer Senator Ó Foighil's question first. Údarás na Gaeltachta elections are covered by a separate code and there is reference, in page 87 of the Bill, to Údarás na Gaeltachta.
In relation to the order of the categories of elector, for presidential and referendum votes, Irish citizens only are entitled to vote. For Dáil elections Irish citizens and British citizens are allowed to vote because we have a reciprocal arrangement where the Irish in Britain are allowed to participate in elections there. In European elections Irish citizens and nationals of EC countries are allowed to vote and in local government elections all residents, irrespective of nationality or citizenship, have a right to vote. I accept the points made but I stress that there is no slight intended here. It is a logical order in relation to the size of the vote at the appropriate time. For that and for no other reason it has been laid out in this fashion. It is no reflection on local government, quite the opposite. As I have outlined, the order relates to numbers only.
If we were logical and if all residents can vote at local authority elections, they should be mentioned first, followed by the European and national elections and so on down to the presidential election. Rather than stress this amendment I would be prepared to compromise if the Minister is prepared to go along with Senator Honan's suggestion referring to presidential, Dáil, local government and finally European elections.
I am afraid I cannot accept for the good reasons I have outlined. The way they have been laid out is reasonable. I am not prepared to accept Senator Hederman's suggestion, unfortunately.
Le filleadh ar an bpointe faoi Acht Údarás na Gaeltachta, tá a fhios againn go bhfuil sé luaite sa reachtaíocht ach ní bhaineann sé sin leis an rud atá i gceist faoin Bhille seo mar tá toghlaigh ag an Údarás, an dóigh chéanna a bhfuil toghlaigh ann don Dáil agus do Pharlaimint na hEorpa. Níl sé luaite ach amháin mar reference. Is é an pointe atá á dhéanamh agam ná go mba chóir go mbeadh sé ráite i leith toghcháin oifigiúla Stáit. Bíonn toghcháin ann le haghaidh Uachtaráin, na Dála, na gcomhairlí contae, na gcoimisineirí baile agus comhairleoirí baile, agus chomh maith leis sin bíonn toghcháin ag muintir na Gaeltachta faoi Acht um Údarás na Gaeltachta, 1979, agus níl sé luaite ann. Creidim go mba chóir go mbeadh sé istigh leis an chuid eile. An gceapann an tAire féin go mba chóir? An de dheasca faillí nach bhfuil sé ann ach mar ráiteas faoi in ionad bheith luaite mar chuid de fhorálacha an Bhille.
I repeat, Údarás na Gaeltachta has its own separate code and it is not appropriate to deal with it in this Bill. That is very reasonable. It is separate, it is on its own, it has its own code and that is to be commended. We have no real difficulty here. We all recognise Údarás in its own right, it gets its own recognition by its own code. That is why it is not included.
There have been recent occasions in this House when a Minister has accepted reasonable amendments from the Independent, if not the Opposition, benches. It saddens me to see such inflexibility again being displayed on the Government benches. Senator Hederman obviously feels very strongly about this issue. She has received support from many sections of the House. She has now suggested a compromise which is extremely reasonable, and the only conclusion I can draw is that the Minister has not the power to accept her amendment, that his instructions are to accept no amendment. That is a grievous pity and shows a return to that old-fashioned rigidity and inflexibility from which I thought we were getting away.
Can I suggest that the Minister might adopt the attitude taken by one of his ministerial colleagues in relation to the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, in other words, that he would give a commitment, in the context of the debate, to look at Senator Hederman's proposal and her suggested compromise and to come back to the House on Report Stage with the possibility of accepting the amendment or a compromise containing some modification.
I am sorry we are on a collision course here, especially as it is unnecessary. I have been reasonable in outlining very clearly the reason for the order of the different categories who are entitled to vote. It would be a pity if we were to divide on this because it is no reflection on local government — an area to which I am very committed. I am not prepared to accept the amendment.
I agree with Senator Murphy. The Minister is displaying a degree of rigidity which is unnecessary. When the Environmental Agency Bill was going through this House a similar type of rigidity was expressed by the Minister and good amendments were not accepted. Similar amendments, almost word for word, were put down in the Lower House and they were accepted by the Minister. To my mind, that showed the Government have a mental block when it comes to accepting amendments in this House, even where the Bill has been initiated here.
We are at the beginning of the Committee Stage of this Bill which was initiated here. It would be terrible to see if the Minister refused to accept amendments here but accepted similar amendments in the other House. I am not saying the Minister will do anything of the sort, but it is a very distasteful practice and implies that Ministers do not respect this House.
The Minister has adverted to and adhered to a certain logic, but I do not think that logic is any more valid than that expressed by Senator Hederman. If you take the electorate with the lower number, Irish citizens alone, and work your way up through Irish and British nationals. Irish and European nationals and then all citizens, the reverse order is equally logical. This would be in line with the need to underpin local democracy as the pillar of our society. I do not see why the Minister has to be rigid about this matter.
Ba mhaith liom arís a iarraidh ar an Aire Stáit glacadh leis an leasú fíorthábhachtach seo ón Seanadóir Hederman. Níl rún agam scéal fada a dhéanamh faoi Údarás na Gaeltachta ach ní féidir liom glacadh leis an míniú a thug an tAire Stáit dúinn, gur rud ar leith é, dála cheist na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta, nach mbaineann sé leis an tír. Cuireann sé iontas orm an sainmhíniú, nó an definition, atá tugtha anseo ar an "local authority". Tá chuile shórt ráite faoi chomhairleoirí contae agus baile, choimisinéirí baile, srl, agus ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil Údarás na Gaeltachta mar chuid den chomhdhéanamh seo ó thaobh rialtais áitiúil de. Tá Acht ann, atá níos láidre ná aon rud anseo, faoinar cuireadh Údarás na Gaeltachta ar bun i 1979, agus, i gcead don Aire Stáit, ní féidir liom glacadh leis nach bhfuil sé luaite anseo mar cheann de na toghlaigh faoi mar atá chuile cheann faoin Stát luaite anseo.
I am not going to press this point. As other speakers have said, it is a great pity the Minister could not show a little flexibility in this area. He could give a boost to local democracy without losing one milligram of power. That is what it is all about; it is about holding on to power. There is no local democracy because those at the top will not cede even a little power. They want to keep it to themselves. The Minister and his side have lost an opportunity to make a gesture without losing any power but obviously they are not prepared to do so. I will not push the matter any further. It is yet another little knock for local authorities.
Are you withdrawing the amendment?
Amendment No. 6 was discussed with amendment No. 5. Is it being pressed?
Yes, I move amendment No. 6:
In page 15, to delete line 6 and substitute "presidential, local government, Dáil and European electors or the".
Amendments Nos. 7 and 9 are related and both may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 24, to delete "was, on the qualifying date" and substitute "is".
Essentially this amendment is designed to deal with the issue of the definite qualifying date, which I understand is 1 September at present. If somebody happens to be 18 years of age on 2 September they simply will not be qualified to vote. Regardless of when the election is held these people will not be able to get themselves registered and, accordingly, they will not be able to go out and exercise the franchise. That is a matter of considerable frustration particularly for young people and indeed for their families.
Everybody who has been involved in politics knows only too well the unacceptably high proportion of people you meet during election times who are very frustrated because they are not able to go out and have their say in who gets into power in this country. People who are not 18 years of age on the qualifying date are excluded, regardless of when the election is held. We are suggesting that the reference to the qualifying date would be deleted and that flexibility would then enter into the system. People who are 18 years of age at election time could be on the register and be allowed to have their say in how the country is run. That is particularly appropriate, given the large numbers of young people who are coming up to voting age.
It is also very important, given the amount of lip service we pay to the rights and needs of young people and it is very hard to reconcile that with the fact that some young people may be almost 19 years of age and still not able to cast their vote.
This is a very important amendment. According to the Second Schedule, page 100, the qualifying date for registering is 1 September and the date in which the register comes into force is 15 February. If somebody becomes 18 on 2 September they have to wait 12 months before they are entitled to go on the register and then the register does not come into force until 15 February. In other words almost 18 months will expire before that person is entered on the register. That is an unacceptable length of time for a young person to be denied their franchise. It behoves us to ensure that our procedure does not disenfranchise anyone for 18 months. Our amendment covers that.
We want the qualifying date deleted so that anybody who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to vote. That is important. If a person has reached the age of 18 he or she should be entitled to vote; that is the principle of my amendment. By the procedures we have adopted, people could be over 19 years before they could vote. We should be able to insert the date of birth on the register of electors. As well as having young people on the register from the qualifying date there should also be a list of names marked with an asterisk where the date of birth is given so that if an election takes place during that limbo period of 18 months it will be up to those in charge of the register to inspect it and allow the person to vote if his or her birthday has fallen during that time. This would allow greater participation by a younger electorate in exercising their franchise. I ask the Minister to consider this amendment in the hope that he would allow an increase in the number of people entitled to vote in an election.
I support the sentiments expressed in this amendment and I appeal to the Minister to take them on board because the purpose of compiling a register and preparing a list of electors should be to ensure that everybody who is over 18 years should have the opportunity to vote. Anybody who has reached the age of 18 should be included on the supplementary register. The purpose should be to ensure that the maximum number of the electorate can vote at any given time in an election and that, as far as possible, the maximum number of people should be registered. Therefore, the Minister should accept the amendment.
Sections 7 and 8 of the Bill relate to the registration of presidential electors and Dáil electors. The sections as drafted provide that the citizenship and residence requirements for the registration of presidential and Dáil electors, respectively, is determined by reference to the qualifying date for the register. The Second Schedule provides that the qualifying date would be 1 September of the year preceding the coming into operation of the register. Each register will come into operation on 15 February.
These amendments propose to remove the reference in sections 7 and 8 to the qualifying date. The effect of the amendments would seem to be that there would be continuous registration. The registration authority would be obliged to register each person as soon as he or she satisfies the registration requirements even if that happened to be the actual polling date of the election.
Sections 7 and 9 repeat the corresponding provisions of existing law. Our electoral arrangements are based on the idea of a final and conclusive register of electors. There is a standing register, prepared by reference to the specified date. It comes into force on a prescribed date, remains in force for a fixed term and is used at every election and referendum taking place during that year. This arrangement is essential in our situation where the Constitution allows the Dáil to be dissolved at any time and requires the general election to be completed within 30 days of dissolution. In this situation a register which is specifically prepared for an election or which is continuously updated is simply not possible. Therefore, it would be very difficult to implement what the Senator proposes.
I cannot accept that argument. Everybody knows the date of their birthday and the majority of young people believe they are entitled to vote and that all they have to do is turn up at the polling booth once they have reached the age of 18. We should facilitate them in whatever way we can. Our job as legislators is to ensure that there is maximum implementation, operation and participation in democracy and if we can facilitate that we should. What my amendment proposes will involve continuous registration but I do not see that as a problem. If a person had not reached the age of 18 at a certain time but does so after a week, a month, six months or 12 months, the qualifying date does not allow for that because we specify it as 1 September. That means people born on 2 September have to wait one year before they can be considered for inclusion in the next election and then they have to wait until 15 February for their names to be put on the register, almost 18 months. It is not good enough for us to say that it poses problems, there is a way in which the Minister may, by order, regulate the matter if a person wishes.
In compiling the initial electoral register people could fill in their date of birth and that could be transferred to the final register so that, automatically, anybody in charge of the register at a polling station can see their date of birth. There are many special categories of people on a register, people who can vote in one election but who cannot vote in another, special voters and so on. Why can we not introduce another category? This other category would include people whose birthday falls within the time schedule of the compilation of the register, which is up to 17½ months. It is possible to do that. The Minister may not have considered this to the same extent as we have in putting forward the amendment, but he is not able to give us a definite answer now he should not rule it out because it is too important. He should consider it and come back to us on Report Stage.
I take the Minister's point in regard to an ongoing register. To put into practice Senator Costello's point, the date of birth would have to be registered in the voters' register and if an election took place before that date they would not be able to vote, but if it took place after that date they would be able to vote. I agree with the Minister that it would be an ongoing register. It would be very difficult to work it in practice. However, at present people believe they can vote when they are 18. I have five children over 18 who thought they could vote when they reached 18 but many people may be 19½ before they are entitled to vote. Would it be possible for people to be on the register if their birthday fell before the date on which the register came into operation, which is 15 February? If a person's birthday falls between 1 September and 15 February, it is possible that his or her name could go on the register because that register would not be coming into force until 15 February? That would mean that if somebody's birthday was on 14 February they would be entitled to vote, but if it was on 16 February they would not be entered on the register and would have to wait for a full year. However, under this system they must wait for nearly 18 months. Can that anomaly be considered? We are wasting our time if the Minister is happy that some people are virtually 19½ years of age before they can vote, but if he is not happy about it, we are putting forward various proposals for his consideration.
I appeal to the Minister to show some flexibility here. I do not accept his suggestion that it would not be feasible to have people registering right up to polling day. It would be easy enough to cope with this; 50,000 to 70,000 people are born here each year, an average of 1,000 people each week. If you take the 50 constituencies and divide them by 50, 20 people will be eligible to register during the last week of an election campaign. State agencies should be able to cope with those numbers and they can also verify if those people are telling the truth because there are ways and means of checking their dates of birth. On average, for each constituency, one is talking in terms of 20 or 30 people requiring to be registered. Even if it were 100 people, it would be a very small burden on those who administer the election process on polling day. For each table in a polling booth, one might be talking about a maximum of three, four or five people who might present a difficulty as a result of their birthday falling in the week preceding an election. As I said, the numbers involved are very small and given existing technology, I see no reason for the Minister not accepting this amendment and using imagination to solve the problem.
Senator Costello made an excellent point regarding people who have just come on the register, that their date of birth which could be indexed by month and checked on polling day. Alternatively, some other form of indexation could be introduced. With a little imagination and flexibility, it should be feasible to allow everybody over the age of 18 the right to vote. Senator Hederman is correct when she says that when people reach the age of 18 they simply assume they will be able to vote in the next election. I am sure everyone in this House has met people who are not on the register and who are exceptionally annoyed and upset because of that. The reality is that we must tell them there is not a single thing that can be done for them. I hope the Minster will show some flexibility and produce a system which will allow people to cast their vote on reaching the age of 18.
The amendment will not secure the end it seeks to achieve. The qualifying date in sections 7 and 8 relates to residence and citizenship. The question of age is dealt with in rule 1, paragraph (3) of the Second Schedule on page 100. Up to 15 February any person of 18 years of age will be entitled to register. It is not correct to say that one could wait a year and a half before being able to register, 15 February will be the date when a person can register in order to be eligible to vote. The amendment will not achieve what Senators want here. In fact we should deal with this later in the Bill.
The qualifying date for a register shall be the first day of September in the year preceding the year in which the register comes into force. The 15th day of February in the year in which a register comes into force shall be the date by reference to which a person's age shall be taken for the purposes of sections 7 to 10. I cannot see the Minister's point in this respect. I still think our point is valid. If somebody's 18th birthday falls after 1 September — he/she cannot be on the register for February and must wait until the following September and they are automatically registered the following February. As I see it, months will elapse before that person becomes entitled to register.
The Minister may say that the amendment will not secure this, but that is a matter for regulation. We want to ensure that everybody who has reached the age of 18 years will, in fact, be able to vote. That is the law, that is the principle, it is stated in the Constitution and all we are governed by is a qualifying date the law regulates. We are seeking to regulate it in a different way so that we will acknowledge the basic principle in regard to a young person reaching the age of 18 years.
I am not necessarily saying the Minister must accept this amendment. What I am saying is that we will not press the amendment if he is prepared to accept the priciple of what we are saying to ensure the maximum of enfranchisement for young people who will otherwise be left in limbo between one registration period and the next, with the result that they might lose not only 17½ months but, if an election was held, the period until the next election. Therefore, a young person might be 22 or 23 years old before he or she could vote.
We offered a reasonable way of providing a regulation for this, where we established a certain category within the register of elections that would enable each person whose birthday falls after the qualifying date, but before the register comes out, to be indexed from their birthday so that when the election takes place all that will need to be done when they arrive at the polling station is to check their birth date. They should then automatically be entitled to vote.
The Minister may suggest another way of doing this, but this is one way of doing it. This is a matter for regulation but we would like to underline the basic principle that everybody who has reached the age of 18 years should be allowed to vote and we should ensure, especially with modern technology, that every facility is made available so that they can participate in an election.
I am not sure what Senator Costello is attempting to do. He said that if somebody has not reached the age on 2 September they cannot be on the register. That is not my reading of the Bill. I understand that 1 September has more to do with the residence of the person and that the following 15 February is the important date. That does not seem to be appreciated by Senator Costello. It is important and I hope I am not reading it wrongly. If that is the position, I believe it is adequate.
I am confused about this and perhaps the Minister would clarify the position. My understanding of the matter is the same as Senator Costello's, that if you are 18 years of age and an Irish citizen resident at a certain location on 1 September, you are entitled to be on the register; otherwise you are not entitled to be on it. It is ridiculous to think that a person who is 18 years of age in the first week of September will not have the privilege of voting until 15 February, a year and five months later. If the position is as the last speaker stated, then it shortens the period somewhat, but in my view it does not shorten it enough. A supplementary list should come into operation half-way through the period to permit 18-year-olds to vote. Casting the vote gives young people a feeling of status, a feeling of belonging in the community. I accept it is something one does in a few minutes but it means a great deal to most people, irrespective of their ages. Therefore, every effort should be made to shorten that period.
Perhaps the Minister would clarify whether the impression we have on this side of the House and the impression Fianna Fáil Senators seem to have is correct because, if so, it is certainly far too long. If a person can register on 1 September and attains 18 years of age at Christmas, in January or up to 15 February when the register comes into operation, it is somewhat better than it was but it could still be shortened by bringing in a supplementary register to facilitate those people. In my view, it would be worthwhile to do so.
I hope the Minister will elaborate on this matter because I agree with what Senator Finneran said. The date of 1 September has nothing whatsoever to do with the registration, it relates to residency and one is eligible to register up to 15 February. I appreciate the concern of the Senators on the other side. The difficulty in trying to streamline this registration is to know at what point to stop. There has to be a cut-off point at which it is feasible and reasonable to expect that a register would be prepared. If it is left open-ended the opportunity is provided whereby people can register right up to polling day. That would not be practical; notwithstanding all the regulations and streamlining procedures in place at present, there are still many problems caused by people impersonating others on polling day. If it is left open for people to register right up to polling day, I would be fearful of the consequences. There would be absolute chaos.
Again, I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment if he wishes to get the best possible results from this Bill. Take, for example, a person who reached the age of 18 on 1 February and there is an election the following January; if he or she is not 18 years on 1 February that person does not have a vote. In effect, that person is deprived of a vote for a further 12 months.
In the case of a local election, regarding which everybody knows the date six months in advance — any local elections I recall were held in the month of June — why not update the register on 1 June so that anybody who would be 18 years of age on 1 June in the year of local elections would be added to the supplementary register? This should be feasible.
The same procedure could apply to presidential and European elections. We know the approximate date of the next European elections which will take place in two years' time. I do not see anything wrong with the supplementary register including the names of those who were 18 years of age on 1 June of that year. There should not be any great difficulty with it.
Our aim in this Bill should be to ensure that on the day of an election the maximum number of people will be able to vote. If the Minister accepts this amendment it will help to achieve this aim. As Senator McMahon said, the fact that young people have a vote, that they can cast a vote which reflects their views on who they elect to the local authority, to Europe, to Dáil elections, county council elections or presidential elections, gives them a sense of status. I appeal to the Minister, in the spirit in which the Members from this side of the House put down this amendment, to accept it so that on the day of an election we can give the maximum number of people the opportunity of voting.
I agree with the last few points made by Senator Naughten. I do not see why a register cannot be prepared once people reach the age of 17 in anticipation of their being 18 on election day. This would only necessitate the preparation of a register and having each person's date of birth entered on it once they become 18 years of age. If you work out the figures for each constituency, you are talking of approximately 1,000 people who would become 18 years of age during a full year and during the period of an election. It would be a small number, perhaps 100 people. I see no reason that cannot be done. In other words, prepare a register specific to people who will reach 18 during the forthcoming year, enter their date of birth beside their name on the register and on the day of an election, simply consult the register to ensure that they qualify to vote. I do not see any difficulty in solving this problem if we use some imagination but our present policy in this matter is, in the European jargon, a very significant democratic deficit in relation to large numbers of young people.
We are unnecessarily at cross purposes here. The amendment has nothing whatsoever to do with age. I repeat the any person who is 18 years of age on 15 April will be entitled to vote in subsequent elections. Amendments Nos. 7 and 9 relate to citizens and have nothing whatsoever to do with age. We are ahead of our time because on page 100, as I have already mentioned, the Second Schedule covers the points made by the Senators. Therefore, the amendment is not in order because it refers to a different matter. It has nothing to do with age and the points made by the Senators are covered later in the Bill. Senator McMahon may not have been present when I said that earlier. The points he made are covered in subsection (3) on page 100 of the Second Schedule.
Will the Minister clarify whether it is 1 April or 15 April?
It is 15 February.
I do not think the Minister has answered my question. The Second Schedule clarifies that the qualifying date for somebody to be registered is 1 September. The second criterion is that their name be on the register by 15 February. We have got both obstacles to people being on the register. However, another obstacle remains no matter how we look at it, whether a person reaches the qualifying date or whether he is a citizen or not. Let us take the example of a person who has reached the age of 18 years and, under the Constitution, is entitled to a vote. Under the system we have introduced they have to be 18 years old and on that register before 15 February. If not, they have to wait 12 months. We still have to do something about that.
The Second Schedule does not resolve that problem: it merely establishes the criteria for drawing up regulations. Will the young people in the Chamber today be able to vote in a year or two? Should be disenfranchise them for a further 12 months? I am sure they expect that once they reach the age of 18 they will be automatically entitled to vote. How are they to find out that, because they did not reach the age of 18 by a certain date they cannot vote for another 12 months? If there is an election in that 12 month period they will not vote until the election after that, and, in the meantime, three, four or five years may have elapsed.
It is eminently reasonable that we look at the position that has been enunciated here. There have been a number of suggestions made that we anticipate local elections. We know what year and month they take place.
In normal circumstances we do.
No. They have been deferred for the last three occasions.
They have always taken place in the month of June.
Not the year.
Senator Costello without interruption, please.
Even if they are deferred in that year, we know they will be taking place within the next 12 months, because the Constitution specifies a maximum of seven years.
Likewise, we can anticipate a young person reaching the age of 18. We know their birth date. If we are serious about addressing that problem, it can be tackled. The Minister should set about establishing a system where everybody who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to vote, and is not prevented from doing so because of the rigid registration methods.
I do not know whether Senator Costello in putting down the amendment was hoping to confuse this Seanad, but by his contribution here today he is attempting to confuse the Seanad. His amendment has nothing to do with age; his amendment has to do with residency. Let us go through it for a second. He is asking to delete "was, on the qualifying date" and substitute "is". What is after that is that on the qualifying he was a citizen of Ireland and was ordinarily resident in that constituency. Where does age come into it? Senator Costello might have intended to deal with age, but that point is covered 85 pages later in the Bill. There is no point in his continuing this debate and trying to confuse the House. Either his amendment is defective and he is trying to cover up, or he has misread the situation. As far as I am concerned this amendment has nothing to do with the section we are dealing with.
I was listening to Senator Costello and it reminded me of the referendum debate: the more he went on, the more he confused me. Like Senator Finneran, I was trying to relate the amendment to the section. I wonder if Senator Costello meant to put this amendment down to the Second Schedule because I cannot relate it to the section.
We are all concerned to get the maximum number of Irish citizens included on the voters register. I take the point mentioned by Senator Finneran. Section 7 states:
A person shall be entitled to be registered as a presidential elector in a constituency if he has reached the age of eighteen years and if he was, on the qualifying date—
Senator Upton and his colleagues have used the word "is". What all of us want to do is to try to ensure that if there is a June election — and all our local elections fall in June — or if there is a presidential election, which is known for a long time in advance, the Minister of the day could make an order, for example, that up to the first of the month before the election, anybody who had reached the age of 18 years whether it is 1 June or 1 September, would be entitled to cast their vote. Age is referred to here — the words "on the qualifying date" are used. I take the point that there are other sections dealing with age, but I think it is relevant to this section.
It makes me uneasy when I find my distinguished colleagues on the other benches confused by Labour Party amendments. I wonder if the amendment has been properly read. What we are suggesting is that if he/she is a citizen of Ireland and has reached the age of 18 — in other words, when somebody reaches the age of 18 — he/she will be entitled to vote. That is what the amendment says: the qualifying date is gone. We are suggesting that it be removed. That is why the Schedule is not relevant to this amendment. We have got rid of the qualifying date.
- Bennett, Olga.
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Conroy, Richard.
- Cullen, Martin.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Foley, Denis.
- Haughey, Seán F.
- Honan, Tras.
- Hussey, Thomas.
- Keogh, Helen.
- Kiely, Dan.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lydon, Don.
- McGowan, Paddy.
- McKenna, Tony.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- O'Donovan, Denis A.
- O'Keeffe, Batt.
- Ormonde, Donal.
- Ryan, Eoin David.
- Wright, G.V.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Costello, Joe.
- Doyle, Avril.
- Harte, John.
- Hederman, Carmencita.
- Hourigan, Richard V.
- Jackman, Mary.
- McDonald, Charlie.
- McMahon, Larry.
- Manning, Maurice.
- Naughten, Liam.
- Neville, Daniel.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Foighil, Pól.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Raftery, Tom.
- Ross, Shane P.N.
- Ryan, John.
- Staunton, Myles.
- Upton, Pat.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 15, before section 8, to insert the following new section:
"8.—A person shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector in a local electoral area if he has reached the age of eighteen years and he was, on the qualifying date, ordinarily resident in that area."
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 15, subsection (1), to delete line 37 and substitute "is—".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 39, after "constituency" to add "or formerly resident in that constituency but now resident outside the State".
This is a very important amendment in as much as it relates to the question of emigrants being given the right to vote. I am sure Senators on all sides of the House have had a series of representations in relation to this matter. I have received quite an amount of representations from various emigrant groups who are very anxious to have a say in how this country is governed. Over the years we have had a great deal to say about our concern for the welfare of our emigrants. We have taken a great deal of pride in the success of many of them. We have no hesitation in exploiting their attachment to this country when it comes to inviting them and enticing then back here for holidays or to visit their relatives.
However, the crunch comes in relation to our being prepared to give emigrants a say in how things are done here, to give them a say in ordering our business, to give them the opportunity to create an appropriate environment or to support parties who will pursue policies which will reduce greatly the need for emigration. This amendment provides for that opportunity. It provides the Government with the chance to give emigrants a vote in Dáil elections, and I think that is desirable. Emigrants already have a vote in Seanad elections to the extent that they are able to vote for graduates of the National University of Ireland and graduates of Dublin University in the University constituencies for this House. That has not created any great problems. In many ways it is very much to be welcomed.
Well, I welcome it and I welcome the contribution of the people in the seats behind me, although, as I have said in this House on a number of occasions, I have some reservations and questions to ask in relation to whether graduates of universities should be singled out for special treatment in the matter of votes. However, that is for another day.
This amendment, which is in considreable accord with the amendment put down in the name of Senator Naughten, allows for emigrants to be given the vote. It gives the Government an opportunity to put action in the place of promises, sentiment, good wishes and basically pleasant but harmless talk. We are now giving the Government the opportunity to get down to brass tacks and allow the emigrants to have a say in this country, to keep them part of this country, with which so many of them want to be involved. That is perfectly obvious from the number of representations I received from emigrant groups from all over the world. My colleague in the other House, Deputy O'Sullivan, has had a tremendous response and a considerable degree of interest from emigrants in relation to the Bill which our party introduced in the other House on the question of giving emigrants the right to vote.
I share the concern of a number of people in trying to facilitate our emigrants in some way and giving them some recognition for the fact that they want to feel part of their homeland. A substantial number of them have left the country through no fault of their own. While many of those people would be active members of organisations and political parties, independent people who would have their own political views, through no fault of their own they find themselves in a situation they never anticipated. It is appropriate and timely that we would express our concern and try to facilitate them by formulating some proposition that would suit them and give them the franchise. That is where the difficulty is. How does one co-ordinate or regulate it? I know the Government are at present taking a serious look at this situation and I would prefer to wait for the outcome. They are due to report back in the near future and I await the outcome to see what type of approach the Government will adopt.
I support this amendment and accept what Senator McKenna says about the goodwill of the Government. The Government voted down a Labour Party Bill which sought to give rights to our emigrants. Reasons can always be found to put it on the long finger but at some stage the nettle has to be grasped and action taken. This proposal has not been plucked out of the air but is the norm with our European colleagues.
If we vote "yes" on 18 June we enter another stage of European integration. The majority of our European colleagues have procedures in place whereby their citizens when absent from the jurisdiction for whatever reason can vote in internal national elections. We would with this amendment bring ourselves into line with the rest of Europe and the United States.
We should look at the positive side to see how we might facilitate electors rather than at the negative side for obstacles and difficulties. There are admittedly, enormous difficulties given that in 1989, 46,000 Irish citizens emigrated. Last year it was considerably less but in every year there has been a plus factor of emigration. Many people would qualify for electoral status as Irish citizens living abroad who left Ireland, unwillingly for the most part but who remain anxious to contribute politically. There would have to be certain regulations but that should not take away from the principle of ensuring that Irish citizens in jurisdictions abroad should have the right to make a political contribution and to feel part of our democracy.
I would like to see this amendment taken seriously by Government and I would be interested to hear the Minister's reply. I understand that the Progressive Democrate are in favour of enfranchising Irish citizens abroad. What steps could be taken to ensure a level of involvement and enfranchisment for our citizens abroad?
I support the sentiments expressed in amendment No. 10. Amendment No. 15 deals with the same issue, i.e., giving rights to vote to emigrants who, through no fault of their own, have had to emigrate. I am not talking about extending this provision over a 20 to 25 years period but over a two to three year period. It is not a simple measure which is why I have stated in my amendment "subject to regulations made by the Minister". It would have to be controlled but what I find objectionable is that people who emigrate for a short period of six to 12 months sometimes find on their return that they have been scratched from the register. That is grossly unfair and we must provide a facility in this Bill that will allow those people the right to vote.
Senator Upton referred to the fact that one section of out population abroad, graduates from university, can vote in Seanad elections while those who are not graduates have no input into either House of the Oireachtas. People who emigrate, many for only two or three years, should not find themselves without a vote when they return and have to wait for another year or 15 months to rectify it. I appeal to the Minister to extend the principle to young emigrants who are extremely anxious for the right to vote. A facility should be provided in this Bill whereby they could go to the local embassy or consulate and exercise their democratic right to vote.
It is not clear from either the Labour Party amendment or Senator Naughten's amendment whether we are talking about people who happen to be abroad on a one or two year basis, such as people on a temporary secondment out of the country, in which case I do not see difficulty, or whether we are talking about enfranchising the great exodus from Ireland. This is nonsense and I am not sure of the motivation of those who advocate it — sympathy perhaps and I share that. Shylock speaks about the curse never falling upon our nation until now — I never felt it until now. I did not feel it until my daughter became a permanent emigrant. My only grandchild now lives on the other side of the world and I share the general feeling of loss towards emigrants.
Part of the motivation is possible that there are many emigrants, meaning there are also many relatives and relatives mean votes. I suspect some of the motivation is to attract votes and to ingratiate politicians with relatives. Another part is a pie in the sky hope that somewhere out there may be the kind of constituency that, if properly organised, will suit us in our domestic politics, whether it is in New York, London or elsewhere. Irrespective of the motivation, and people may have the highest motivation, this proposal is nonsensical and the Government would be better off to say this is not on. It is not on in point of principle because no matter how much sympathy one has with emigrants they live in another country from morning till night; they have their being in another country; and the politics and society of that country impinges upon them every hour.
As long as we talk about promising or half promising emigrants the vote, they will be left in a semi-permanent state of schizophrenia about where they belong. Are they ever going to be British? If Britain gives them a living they should consider themselves British and participate fully in British elections. The same applies to America and other countries. We cannot say — you belong to us in a way; we cannot give you a job at the moment but we will give you a vote — to people who cannot be informed on what goes on here from day to day and whose physical presence abroad ensures that will be influenced by the country they live in now and not by Ireland.
The proposal also offends against the fundamental democratic principle of "no representation without taxation". The point has been made that there are many people in this country who do not pay tax — a rather unconvincing point. They do not pay income tax so therefore they are in the same position as the emigrants, but they are not because they pay indirect tax in a variety of ways. My attitude is that while I share all the "no fault of their own" stuff, when we have wept our crocidile tears, let us admit that emigrants have settled in other countries and that is where they belong if we are talking about permanent emigration.
I find it unacceptable that emigrants should have a massive influence on elections in this country, and it would be massive. It is all very well for Senator Costello to talk about falling into line with other countries if we give emigrants the vote. No other European country has a massive imbalance between the resident population and Irish born foreign population comparable to ours. Logically, if we want to give emigrants the vote we must give them all the vote. What is the cut off line? We may accept something like temporary secondment, a year or a scholarship period or a term on contract for special consideration but there is no logic to support giving it to those who left within five years and not to the generation of the 1950s. They have as much moral right to it as the generation of the 1970s. The thing bristles with logistical problems.
I will not raise the spectre of electoral fodder being organised by sinister forces, but it is there nonetheless.
The Senator already has.
If one enfranchises emigrants in south Boston who is going to tell me it will not be mobilised and organised by forces possibly anti-democratic and subversive of the interests of this State. All these dangers exist. This proposal is dishonest and undesirable in principle; it bristles with logistical difficulties in practice and I exhort the Government to come off the fence and say it is simply not on.
I support Senator Murphy. I am not in favour of giving votes to emigrants. He has made the necessary points and I need not go over them. This proposal, has nothing to do with one's pride or concern for emigrants, with what they have achieved abroad or how one feels at their having to go and how much one would like them to be able to return and find work. It is not fair to say we are prepared to exploit them for tourist purposes. We should seek to attract people who have left this country to return and enjoy Ireland's peace, beauty and the quality of life here. One could not describe that intentions as exploitative.
Emigrants lose touch with their country of origin. One cannot live away for any extended length of time and be au fait with issues here. This motion says “formally resident”. Does it mean that if one left Ireland as a baby and lived abroad for 50, 60 or 70 years one could now be entered on the register in one's constituency of birth? The proposal is fraught with hopeless complications. I am opposed to the proposal.
I commend Senator Murphy for his excellent speech. I am opposed to the proposal because it is fraught with difficulties. Who gets the vote? One generation or two? If one lives abroad for two years, ten years of 50 years does one always qualify? Does it cover people on holidays or working only? It is a non-starter. Like Senator McKenna, I have sympathy for our emigrants but emigration and voting rights are different issues which we should separate.
Senator Naughten referred to University panels and graduates abroad having votes. They have a vote not by virtue of where they live but by virtue of where they graduate from. I oppose this amendment.
Emigrants should be able to vote here for a period of five years after leaving. I am amazed at the case being made by Senator Murphy and Hederman as they enjoy the privilege of external votes; obviously neither of them has benefited from the external vote. My experience in dealing with local authorities is that persons who emigrate are not automatically taken off the register. People who left my locality seven or eight years ago are still on the register there. We are talking about young people who emigrate before they register. They should be entitled to register and vote here. Emigrants cannot vote but they should remain on the register and if they go to the expense of coming home on polling day they can vote. Dublin county and most local authorities keep emigrants on the register for a considerable time after they have emigrated. When the people compiling the register report that a person has left the country the practice is not to omit them from that register for some time although they have no hope of voting unless their homecoming coincides with an election. It would be too expensive for anyone to take a boat or plane in order to cast their vote here.
The amendment is reasonable. If the Minister would make certain orders to limit the time people would remain on the register it should be considered. Many people on the Fianna Fáil benches feel the same way and the Minister might consider that. In years gone by we have been accused of forgetting about those who have left the country. This is one way in which we could show our concern for them.
Senator Upton has already indicated that he wants to reply. At this stage I ask the Minister to reply and Senator Upton may speak then.
On Senator Naughten's point in relation to people absent for short periods of time, temporary emigrants who have a firm intention of returning can have their registration retained under section 11 (3) of this Bill for up to 18 months.
Existing law on the registration of electors which is repeated largely unchanged in this Bill provides that in order to the eligible for registration as an elector a person must be ordinarily resident in a Dáil constituency. The effect of these amendments would be to modify the residence requirement and enable persons resident outside the country to be registered as electors. Both amendments are wide in scope. The amendments proposed by the Labour Party Senators would enable every Irish emigrant no matter how long absent from the country to be registered. Senator Naughten's amendment is even wider and would probably enfranchise everyone born here who subsequently left the country.
I note that no special arrangements are proposed to enable people living outside the State to vote in elections. These matters would have to be teased out and dealt with at a later stage. I mention these points in passing, but these are not the reasons I ask the Seanad not to accept the amendments.
The Government are examining the feasibility of providing voting rights for emigrants. Representation in the Oireachtas on behalf of emigrants raises fundamental questions, including constitutional questions. In fairness to emigrants and to the resident population, any arrangement that might be decided on would have to recognise the differences in situation between those who reside permanently in this country and those who, for whatever reason, live abroad on a continuing basis. The difference relates not just to the representation and taxation question, but to emigrants' entire circumstances, including jobs, wages, housing, health and welfare, environment and so on.
It is not a question of whether we are for or against emigrant representation. The question is what is possible within the constitutional, legal and practical constraints and what is appropriate and fair to emigrants of whatever duration, as well as to the resident population. The Government are giving the fundamental issues the careful consideration they demand and I hope that the Government's position will be made known shortly.
At this stage I am not adopting a position either for or against emigrant voting. In the circumstances I ask the Seanad to reject these amendments and allow time for the Government to complete their consideration and adopt a position in the matter.
I am pleased to hear the Minister say that as far as the general idea of votes for emigrants is concerned he has an open mind on it. That is good, but it is a pity he will not accept our amendment which converts the question into brass tacks terms. The first issue I would take up with the Minister is his statement that we wanted to give a vote to every Irish emigrant. That is not our proposal. We want to give a vote to every Irish emigrant who is also an Irish citizen, and that is clearly spelt out in the amendment.
The fact that emigtants are Irish citizens means that this country has some obligations to them and we are quite vigorous in pursuing those obligations from time to time. We acted vigorously when Mr. Brian Keenan found himself in dreadful circumstances in Beirut. We took a great deal of pride in the fact that the Irish diplomatic services played an important role in securing his release.
There are one or two points I would like to take up in relation to Senator Murphy's remarks. He said that emigrants would not be informed and the implication is that they should not then be allowed to vote. I am sure Senator Murphy realises that being informed is no qualification to vote. People are entitled to vote whether they are informed or not. Many political parties exploit the fact that people are not informed on matters to persuade them to vote in their favour. That argument has no validity nor does the point about taxation. Emigrants do not pay tax here but neither do they use the services provided in this country from taxation returns.
In relation to electoral fodder and how these people might vote in Irish elections, I do not accept that people should be barred from elections on the basis of how they might vote. It would have an attraction for all of us if we could prevent our political opponents from having votes in elections. We are not in favour of that. We should not claim that certain elements of the Irish emigrant population would vote in a way which many of us here would find unacceptable. There are many people in this country who vote for and support causes which some of us would find repugnant and unacceptable but I do not think any of us would argue that they should be barred from voting.
May I make one final political comment on the likely way in which Irish emigrants would vote? My own view is that many of them would support the Fianna Fáil Party when they get into the old misty sentiment which many of them seem to wash down with large consignments of alcoholic beverages in America and elsewhere. I would not expect our party to do well from the granting of votes to emigrants.
We should draw a very clear distinction between Irish emigrants who remain Irish citizens and those who do not. A number of Irish citizens, particularly in the United States of America, many of whom Senator Murphy might be alluding to, are prepared to engage in talk late at night, in American saloon bars about the old sod and political violence and so on but when it comes down to brass tacks, will look after No. 1 which means increasing the size of their bank accounts and swelling the dimensions of their pockets with dollars.
Seen in its true light.
I am sure Senator Upton's name would look well on a poster in downtown Texas.
In relation to the Senator Naughten's amendment, one of the most important phrases is: "subject to regulations made by the Minister". I do not know whether the Minister acknowledged that when replying. Many of would like to see emigrants have some franchise but the intricacies of that must be looked at; it is not a simple or straightforward matter. The votes electing some of our university colleagues come from foreign parts. I do not know how that system operates and perhaps the University Senators are informed about it. I presume there is difficulty with addresses. When the University ballot papers are sent to a last known address, they may be picked up by an other person or disappear into a wastepaper basket.
I would like the Minister to clarify the position in relation to our embassy staff or Irish people representing this country abroad. It is important that they have a vote in each election and referendum. What is the position with our Army personnel who are doing such a good job with the United Nations? There may not be a massive number of votes involved — I have personal knowledge of the value of even a small number of No. 1 votes — but sometimes the last seats have been decided by what would be attributable to one constituency. Whatever about the broader aspects — and I am glad the Minister indicated that the proposals are being studied — the Minister should be able to clarify the position in relation to Irish people abroad who are readily identifiable.
During an election or referendum it should be physically possible to locate a ballot box in an embassy or nearest point of call to enable Irish people to vote. I understand the staff of foreign embassies here can avail of such a service. I support in principle what our spokesman has said in relation to the question. It is not an easy question, but I would like some commitment from the Minister on it. Perhaps he could reply to the points I raised.
Emigration has been one of the great tragedies of this country involving personal sadness, human and economic loss. It can still be extremely sad and painful today, as Senator Murphy implied. It was infinitely more tragic and heartrending up until quite recently, because when somebody went abroad to the United States or elsewhere it often meant that parents or grandparents might never see them again, or only occassionally. It is only in the past 20 years that air travel has become more frequent and cheaper and the sadness and tragedy of emigration has been eased considerably. It is very deep in the psyche of this country and we have tended to ignore and neglect it. Our emigrants did not and do not have a vote. Perhaps in times past if they had a vote some of the stagnation, backwardness, self-satisfaction and smugness which we have experienced and suffered from in this country might have been questioned.
I have great sympathy with the amendments although they are not really satisfactory I am very pleased the Government are going to look at this situation. It may, in practice, be virtually impossible to find any satisfactory way of providing a voice or a form of voting rights for our emigrants but it is time we looked at it.
In other countries, for example the United States and Australia, one is obliged to vote. In Australia a person can be fined and even if a person is in Ireland on a holiday and if they do not go to the Australian Embassy and register their vote they are liable to be fined. It is not as easy for us because we are a small country with many of our population abroad, whereas Australia and the United States may have tiny proportion of their citizens abroad. Nonetheless, there is a clear contrast between our attitude which allows no vote at all and that of these countries where, by law, one must vote.
We should perhaps consider whether emigrants should be represented, truly represented, through the Seanad. We have this extraordinary anomaly as a result of which some of our colleagues in the Seanad receive votes from Irish people who have emigrated. Indeed, some of their voters may not even be Irish citizens but have qualified in one of the two universities. That may have been an excellent system the best part of a century ago but should it still be the situation today? It is certainly an anomaly that a person who is born and bred here and who, because of economic circumstances, is forced to live elsewhere has no vote, whereas somebody from some other country who comes here and does a degree in three years, thereafter has a vote in the Oireachtas for the rest of his or her life. That seems very strange.
I would dissociate myself from some of the comments made by Senators Upton and Murphy. I do not know the views of Irish people who happen to have emigrated to south Boston but I do not think we should sneer at them.
I was not sneering.
You were sneering at them, Senator Murphy, in your references to the sort of vote Irish emigrants in south Boston might cast suggesting that we would not like to have them voting.
Senator Conroy has no right to interpret any remark I may make as a sneer.
The record will speak for itself.
I know the Senator will not withdraw his comment but I resent it.
Senator Murphy, please allow the Senator to proceed.
There are many adjectives I could use to describe Senator Conroy's contribution, but, in all charity, I do not.
I never associated you with charity, Senator Murphy.
Senator Conroy, to proceed without interruption, please.
It will be very difficult to find a satisfactory method based on Dáil constituencies. Should we allow former residents of a Dáil constituency to vote for Dáil candidates in that constituency? Should we allow people who have, effectively, taken up permanent residence elsewhere for many years and have totally lost any connection with this country, to vote? In the United States effectively, you have to become an American citizen and, when you do so, you must abjure citizenship of any other country. Perhaps such people, when they take that decision, should not have a vote as Irish citizens. On the other hand they could argue they were obliged to give up their citizenship. There are many factors concerned.
By not having had any system of representation for our emigrants down through the years, we in this country and not just the emigrants, have been the losers. I am delighted the Government will look at this situation.
I listened with interest to the Minister's reply. He did not respond to my amendment in the way I thought he should. I was very careful to say "subject to regulations made by the Minister". I fully recognise as Senator Conroy has pointed out, that this is not something that can be done very simply. It is a complex and difficult question. I am equally satisfied that we cannot just ignore those people who, because of circumstances outside their control have had to emigrate and have no vote if they come back, and if they wish to vote from abroad they have not got the right to do so.
I appreciate that we could not give a blanket vote to all citizens outside this State. It would certainly distort the results in some constituencies. I recognise that. I am talking about those people who are recent emigrants, who have not settled down and have no permanent residence outside this country. They still recognise Ireland and their home residence where they were born as their home. We should try to facilitate them. That is why I was very careful to put in "subject to regulations by the Minister".
I would like to point out to the Minister that the Government have stated on a number of occasions that they are examining this matter. I regret very much they had not made a decision before this Bill came before the House which could have been incorporated as part of the Bill. The Minister in his reply said that a temporary short term arrangement would apply where people who were gone away would be retained for a short period on the register. I would like the Minister to clarify what is the definition of short term. Is it three, six or 12 months? I regret the Government have not made a decision one way or another.
The point was made by Senator Murphy that many of those people who are abroad may not be informed. I can assure Senator Murphy that I know of many people, who vote in every general election, who are not informed. There is an anomaly here, as Senator Conroy pointed out. Somebody who is not an Irish citizen but who comes here for three years and gets a degree, can vote in Seanad elections. Yet people who are born and reared here and who have lived here for 20 or 25 years have no say, because they did not attend a university. Our recent emigrants should have a possibility of using their democratic right in a general election. Perhaps the Minister would clarify the meaning of "temporary short term". I ask him to take this amendment on board and come back on Report Stage with some suggestions.
I am sorry we had a little altercation a few minutes ago. I sometimes think I am too well behaved in this Chamber. I was glad the Minister brought in the constitutional position. My objection to these amendments was based on a certain ground of principle to begin with, namely, no representation without taxation but the more fundamental objection may well be a constitutional objection. That is an obstacle which the Government have to face.
If we vote "yes" to Maastricht and a European Union is established with the consequent diminution of our powers and responsibilities in this Oireachtas, than (a) the question of whether emigrants have a vote in Ireland becomes less important, because we will be less important; (b) as far as the United Kingdom and other members of the European Union are concerned, people might as well vote in the member state of their residence, which is only one component of a wider federal union.
Senator Naughten has not clarified what he means when he speaks of temporary absence and so on. Does that mean he is totally at variance with the views put forward by the Glór na ndeoraithe movement both in the UK and in the United States, which makes no stipulation about temporary absence from the country? They are really talking about votes for emigrants, period. Senator McMahon mentioned five years. Why not ten or seven, which is another mystical number? How does one decide that after five years a person is no longer entitled to vote? I suggest that these points have not been thought out.
In the United States there are substantial numbers of Irish people who have never taken out American citizenship, who are Irish citizens extending back to the 1940s, but who have lost total contact with the realities of this country. That is why I mentioned south Boston. I did not mean to sneer; sneer is a nasty word. I was suggesting that there could be a Gerry Adams in south Boston, or worse and it would be possible to so mobilise a particular vote to make it opposed to the best interests of this country. I do take Senator Upton's point that we do not have any right, obviously, to tell people how to vote. I found it interesting that he thought they might vote Fianna Fáil, especially if the vote was held just after closing time and they fell out of a pub. The Labour Party are no daws when it comes to wrapping the green flag around them, either.
Senator Upton made a good point; I have no right to base my opposition on the hypothesis of how people may or may not vote. On the other hand, some of Senator Upton's other comments and those of Senator Naughten were facetious. To say that, because certain people are ill informed when they vote, that is an argument for giving all ill informed people a vote, is unworthy. Living week after week, month after month in a foreign country does put one hopelessly out of touch and one is ill informed in a sense in which the resident voter, no matter how unsophisticated he is, is not ill informed. There is a very important distinction there.
Let me nail something else. More than one Senator referred to the extra territorial vote in the case of the university Seanad elections. The question was: who am I to complain about emigrants getting the vote when some of my support comes from emigrants who happen to be university graduates? I do not know what the position which obtains in Dublin University is, but the percentage of emigrant graduates who are listed on the register of electors in the Seanad Éireann NUI register is absolutely infinitesmal; I would put even the number of NUI graduates in Northern Ireland as no higher than 10 per cent. As regards the proportion outside the jurisdiction, and outside the island of Ireland, I would say it is less than 0.1 per cent. I certainly do not want their votes and have never looked for them. I am consistent about this.
I have written to the Minister for the Environment asking him to consider the anomaly of British subjects who live in this country and who are university graduates, but cannot vote because they are not Irish citizens. I understand from something Senator Conroy said that he thought whether you were an Irish citizen, if you were a university graduate, you could vote. That is not so. This is quite consistent with my views on this matter, no representation without taxation. My British subject consultant who cannot vote for me and who has lived and worked all his life in Cork, but who is not an Irish citizen, should have every right to vote for me. I take the point for what it is worth that the person in the United States does not have that same moral right. That is a very small point.
No one has answered the question of imbalance. We are unique, as far as I know, in western Europe, in the huge imbalance there is between our emigrant population and our native population. No one has said how this enormous problem of logistics could be faced.
How many foreign resident British subjects voted in the last general election? I am not quite sure, but it certainly was not more than 50,000 or 60,000 in that huge electorate. I do not know how many were entitled to vote or what kind of people voted but it is an example of the great contrast there is between our country and others. This issue is not a problem for other countries but it is a vast logistical problem for us.
I am pleased to hear unanimity, from all sides of the House, on this issue; I am extremely disappointed to see that one sector opposes the extension of the franchise to our emigrants. The irony is that is the section which benefits from such votes.
I have just answered that.
People who attended university are entitled to a postal vote for Seanad elections. Many of these graduates live outside this jurisdiction and they may be citizens of another jurisdiction. It is irrelevant for Senator Murphy to say that only a tiny percentage of people are registered abroad. They would be registered at their residence when they were attending university and the mail would be sent there.
We hear Senator Norris regularly talking about attending to his constituents in Australia. Not too long ago Senators Ross and Murphy went to South Africa. I cannot see how any Irish citizens would have gone to live in that jurisdiction——
That is totally irrelevant.
——but even when we had an economic boycott——
Senator, please stick to the amendment.
——people there were entitled to vote for candidates who stood for this Seanad. This is anomaly. In our debate on Seanad reform I do not remember either Senator saying we should disfranchise those people from abroad who are now allowed to vote for them in the Seanad election. They are prepared to say we should not enfranchise people who do not have a vote in any election while those who have it already keep that right. There is a contradiction there. All the logical development of Senator Murphy's argument does not take away from that.
It is the norm in European countries, the United States and Australia for citizens abroad to have the right to vote. As Senator Conroy pointed out, they have an obligation to vote. Why should we always adopt a negative approach and put up obstacles? Why can we not try to facilitate our citizens abroad?
Senator Murphy put forward some of the weirdest objections I have come across. He says many people have relatives abroad. Has not everybody a relative in another part of the country? People in Cork have relatives in Dublin, people in Dublin and Cork have relatives in England and the United States and so on. That is not an argument. He said these emigrants do not pay taxes here. How could they? That is irrelevant. If they were here, they would be paying taxes; they would love to be in a position to pay taxes here; they have probably emigrated because they were unable to get employment at home.
It is the Trinity and NUI graduates who have made a deliberate choice to go abroad. They have had the education to earn a good living in any country. The majority of Irish people who have gone abroad have not done so from choice. We should be telling those people, citizens of this country, that we are interested in their welfare and we should ensure that they get representation in our elections. We are not saying it should be a blanket representation. Regulations will have to be made.
We can confine it to those who choose to remain citizens, or we can set a timescale. That can be discussed. We can go as far as other countries and make it not just and entitlement but an obligation. I cannot accept a blanket refusal to examine the situation at all.
We will eventually have to accept what the Minister is saying, that the Government are examining the feasibility of the issues. I am glad they are taking that positive step. Because this is an electoral Bill, I would like to see it include the findings of the committee set up to examine the problem. Could the Minister give us any idea how far the Government committee have got in providing the vote for our citizens abroad?
Play has been made of the fact that there is an imbalance in the proportion of Irish citizens living abroad compared with that of many other western European countries. This provides us with the difficulty of arranging representation for such people. The fact that we have such a gross imbalance, would not be argument against seeking representation for them.
With reference to Senator Naughten's comments in relation to emigrants being residents in another country for 18 months, where emigrants have a firm intention of returning under section 11 (3) they can have registration retained under section 11 (3) of the Bill. I would like also to refer to the Senator's amendment which mentions regulations to be made by the Minister. I think the Minister should be given some guidelines as to what should be in the regulations. The Oireachtas very rarely gives such sweeping and unfettered powers to any Minister. If the Senator has a view on that, he might like to think about it further.
Senator Cosgrave referred to our embassy staff abroad and members of the Defence Forces, every one of whom is entitled to vote and arrangements are made for them to do so.
I have listened very carefully to the points made by Senators on all sides of the House. Even in the short debate we have had here today, with so few Members present, we can see the variation in views and opinions on both sides of the House. It is important that this matter should be looked at very carefully. The Government are considering the matter and I hope and expect they will make a decision very soon.
We saw a recent "The Late Late Show" where this issue was debated and there were divided views. Many people see the implications for the State and bear in mind the fact that those who live here participate fully including paying their taxes. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn. The Government will make a decision in the near future and we will then have an opportunity to look at the situation.
Is amendment No. 10 being pressed? I would like to remind the Senator that we must conclude the debate at 6 p.m.; it is now 5.59 p.m.
Do we have to decide this issue today?
I am anxious that the Minister should give a little more detail on the Government's views on votes being given to emigrants. It is clear that he has an open mind and that a series of proposals is being considered. It is highly desirable that those proposals should be included in a Bill like this, which seems to be the ideal way to deal with the control and regulation of votes for emigrants. For that reason, I am very anxious that the Minister give us more detail, perhaps on the next occasion we are debating this Bill, rather than that we should have to reach a definite decision on the amendment before us this afternoon. I am very interested in the Minister's views and would like to know the timescale he has in mind.