Presidential Elections Bill, 1993: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 7.

I move amendment No.1:

In page 10, paragraph (a), line 10, to delete "day" and substitute "Sunday".

I welcome the Minister to the House. The intention of my amendment is that, on a trial basis, we should have polling day for the presidential election on a Sunday. Polling is the exercise of the democratic system and it is important that as many people as possible vote.

If there was Sunday voting, there would be a greater turnout. There have been difficulties in relation to traditional voting days. Other countries such as France hold elections and run-offs on a Sunday. Sunday voting would ensure a greater turnout and it would cause less disruption to schools. Although students like the day off, we must take a practical look at this.

If one looks at voting patterns in the last presidential election, there was a 64 per cent turn out. While this figure is not bad, less than two thirds of those entitled to vote did so. In certain areas, particularly in Dublin this figure dropped below 60 per cent.

Sunday voting should perhaps be introduced on a trial basis. It would be more democratic as it would enable more people to vote. Difficulties arise where polling stations are only open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., particularly during winter when people have work commitments. If Sunday voting was introduced, there would be a greater turnout. That is what we should aim for. Regardless of the election or the result — most Members have seen good and bad days in this regard — it is important that those who have the right to vote do so. It is a cherished right which people fought and died for and it should not be taken lightly.

I advocated this in relation to other elections, including local elections where the turn out is often dismal, approximately 30 to 50 per cent. If we want a democratic result and people to vote, we must have Sunday voting.

I support this amendment. In regard to accessibility, many people lose out. Many people are unable to vote without upsetting their daily routine. This also relates to a number of issues which we discussed during the electoral Bill. No provision is made for travellers of any description. Other European countries such as Belgium make provisions for people who are out of the country for a short period — I am not talking about emigrant votes — to make arrangements to vote either before or after the trip. That does not happen in this country. Sunday is a day when people are at home, close to where they would vote. Many people work up to one hundred miles from their home. They may work in Dublin during the week and return home at weekends. Sunday voting would eliminate difficulties for these people.

In the 1989 general election, the present Tánaiste won by a majority of four votes. Although the Tánaiste was happy with the result, some people who were on their way home to vote were unable to do so. I use this as an example because if people are unable to vote on a particular day, the election result may be affected.

I refer to a point made by Senator Cosgrave. Each time there is an election schools are disrupted. I know a day off is appreciated, but it diminishes the State's view of primary education because elections must take place during the school week. It is a day off for pupils and teachers who, like other workers, enjoy a day off. Teachers would not be pleased with me for raising this matter. I also raised this with my union and congress on a number of occasions.

If an election must be held mid week then so be it, but there should be an opportunity to hold it on a Sunday if that is appropriate. This matter concerns me because each time there is an election somebody rings Gay Byrne to say teachers are off again and people like Senator Lanigan will say: "I suppose they will be paid for the day as their salary is assured." I support this amendment because we should be able to use a Sunday now and again and this legislation would provide an opportunity to try this out. Although we should not slavishly adhere to European practices, it would bring us in line with other European countries. Business people who are abroad and people who work in other parts of the country usually return home at weekends. These people are losing out and they would welcome this change.

While I support the philosophy behind the amendment, I am not sure I support the wording as proposed. It makes it a condition that elections be held only on a Sunday and that is undesirable. However, we should be able to hold elections on a Sunday if we wish. I live beside the Newbridge bypass and each weekend a considerable number of buses travel along the motorway to the country. These buses carry students and people who work in offices, civil servants, etc. On the Electoral Reform Bill the point was made that democracy should be as inclusive as possible. It is the responsibility of legislators to ensure no impediments are put in the way of those who wish to exercise the franchise. This has been provided for in the Electoral Reform Bill. For example, people with disabilities are catered for. We must do the same in this legislation, which should be as inclusive as possible. Students, people working in Dublin, etc. who wish to exercise their franchise are excluded. That should not be so. For that reason the amendment should be supported.

Another aspect of section 7 relates to the opening hours of polling stations. Polling stations should open for at least 12 hours. Discretion is allowed and they may open at 8 a.m. and close at 10.30 p.m. While I would favour a specified period, it is a matter which we will not press. Sunday voting should be possible.

On Second Stage, Senator Norris suggested that some members of the Church of Ireland might object to voting on a Sunday because of Sunday observance. I asked some members of the Church of Ireland about this and there seems to be a difference of opinion. Some would certainly regard it as undesirable that polling should take place on a Sunday, but I think they would still vote. There are others who are indifferent or think it would be quite a good idea. That is another aspect of the issue.

My reading of section 7 is that it does not exclude Sunday and there is no reason Sunday could not be polling day, just as any other day. People who travel to the country in buses for the weekend were mentioned. Students consider their homes to be in the country and that is fair enough, but if somebody works in an office in Dublin, Cork or Limerick and happens to come from Roscommon, Carlow or elsewhere, their home should be where they actually live and work. That is where they should vote rather than the place they originally come from. It is not desirable to be living somewhere for years and yet consider that you should take your political allegiance back to your home place. People should take an interest in the area they live in and follow the political scene in that area. It is not necessarily a good thing to encourage people to vote where they originally come from.

Wexford): The Electoral Act, 1992, removed the statutory barrier to voting on Sundays and there is now no statutory reason any election or referendum cannot be taken on a Sunday. It is a matter for decision by the Minister which day should be appointed as polling day and further legislation on the point is not required. There are many different views on the merits of Sunday polling. The possibility of Sunday voting is not excluded but a decision on this must, among other things, take account of reservations on religious grounds. As Senator Dardis said, there are mixed views on that point.

The provision of section 7, as drafted, strikes the correct balance in my opinion. It gives the Minister flexibility and discretion in appointing a polling day. It would enable Sunday voting to be tried out on an experimental basis in the first instance and, if this proved unsatisfactory for any reason, it would be possible to revert without any change in the law.

The amendment which would make Sunday voting obligatory would, I think, be the wrong approach. Arguments have been put forward to suggest that more people might vote on a Sunday. I am not so sure that more people would have an opportunity of voting if elections or referenda took place on Sundays rather than mid-week as at present. Neither is it clear that voting on Sundays would be the only way, or the best way, of facilitating those for whom voting under existing arrangements is not suitable.

I take on board the points made by Senators, and I will refer them to the Minister. If there is an election between now and the end of this Government's term of office, the Minister would certainly be in a position to consider whether Sunday voting would be suitable. Under this Bill the Minister is quite entitled to have Sunday voting and that is the way it should be. To tie the hands of the Minister to having polling only on Sundays would be the wrong approach. For that reason I would ask Senator Cosgrave to withdraw his amendment and allow the flexibility provided for in this Bill.

Are you happy with that, Senator Cosgrave? Of course there could be racing at Leopardstown too.

There could be a Wexford match on, I suppose. I have taken the Minister's points and it would certainly not be my intention to be dogmatic about the issue. I would have liked the Minister to be slightly more positive and say that he would seriously consider having one of the forthcoming elections on a Sunday, even though there may not be a general election for a while. I understand that for next year's European Parliament elections the plan is that we will have polling here on a Thursday but counting will not start until the following Monday. It might be an idea to have polling on a Sunday for something like the European elections on a trial basis.

I agree with Senator Dardis that there would be merit in having the poll at fixed times. However, while polling has sometimes spanned 13 hours — from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. — it would help quite a number of people if they could vote before they went to work, and an 8 o'clock start should be seriously considered for that purpose. Many people have to be at work by 9 o'clock, or shortly afterwards. An 8 o'clock start should be considered, with the polls being open for 12 or 14 hours. There are many hours during the day when few people exercise their franchise, and there tends to be a rush later on. Many people would appreciate it if they could vote earlier.

I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that the Minister will consider Sunday polling on a trial basis at an early date and see what the result is. I think there is merit in it but obviously we will have to wait and see the turn out. Less than two thirds of the electorate voted in the last presidential election. We might get that figure up to 80 per cent if voting was on a Sunday.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 7 agreed to.
Sections 8 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 15.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 13, subsection (1) (a), line 44, to delete "20" and substitute "10".

Section 15 (1) (a) provides that not less than 20 Members of the Oireachtas shall nominate a person to be a candidate at a presidential election. I would submit that that is too many. The effect is to limit to the major political parties the choice of whom might run for the presidency. In the last presidential election there was a Member of this House who wished to run and who would have been a suitable candidate, but could not find the required number of Senators to sign the nomination paper. I think I am correct in saying that. It comes back to the point about democracy being inclusive. It should be open to a citizen in good standing to run for our most senior constitutional office.

When we discussed the procedures for general elections there was much debate about the type of candidates one might get if it was made easy to run. In a general election we could do with a bit of the "monster raving loony party" type of people. They add colour to the occasion and bring a certain levity which I do not think is any harm. We all take this business far too seriously at times, and we are a bit too pompous about the whole affair. I accept that the Presidency is a different matter from a general election. It is our most senior constitutional office and the candidates have to be people of quality and merit. Fortunately, we have such a person as the President today.

The minimum figure of 20 Members of the Oireachtas required to nominate a presidential candidate is too high. It should be open to the smaller parties, like my own, and to the independents, if they find a candidate whom they regard as being of sufficient merit, to nominate a candidate.

(Wexford): The requirements in relation to the nomination of a person to be a candidate at a presidential election are set out in Article 12 of the Constitution. That Article provides, in relation to nomination by Oireachtas Members, that a minimum of 20 Members of the Oireachtas must subscribe to such a nomination. Any change in this provision could only be effected by means of a constitutional amendment and is not appropriate for ordinary legislation. I appreciate the sincerity of Senator Dardis in attempting to change this requirement. It would simply not be possible to do so in the context of this Bill. The matter could only be considered in the context of a possible constitutional amendment. I appreciate and sympathise with Senator Dardis's argument but change can only be considered in the context of a constitutional amendment. Therefore, we cannot consider the matter in this Bill.

I accept that the Minister is correct. It brings me back to a point which was made on Second Stage. Repeatedly, on this and other legislation we are delimited in a serious way by provisions in the Constitution, which may have been appropriate when the Constitution was drafted but are no longer so. If we abolish this House, which I hope will not be for some time, we will be faced with around 80 constitutional provisions relating to it. The Constitution needs revision but that is perhaps not relevant to this matter. I agree with the Minister that we are delimited by the Constitution.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 15 agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 15, before section 17, to insert the following new section:

"17.—(1) A nomination of a person to be a candidate at a presidental election may be made by petition of not least than 20,000 electors. Nomination shall be made in accordance with the following provisions, that is to say:

(a) the nomination shall be in writing and shall be signed by the persons by whom it is made,

(b) the petition shall form part of the nomination papers which shall state the names (the surname being stated first), address and occupation (if any) of the person thereby nominated to be a candidate and shall also state all such matters as are required by the nomination paper to be stated therein".

This revolves around the point I made earlier. In addition to the procedure whereby Members of the Oireachtas and county councils nominate candidates, it should be open to citizens to nominate candidates, to make democracy as inclusive as possible. I visited Hungary when it was in transition from a communist regime to democracy. On a Sunday morning outside the parliament building in Budapest there were queues of people at tables signing a petition to require the Government to hold a referendum. The petition was successful. The main news bulletin in Hungary that evening showed wads of papers being presented to the officer who was to decide on the matter. A referendum was held. That is the way true democracy should work. It should be open to citizens.

I am flexible as to the minimum number of persons which should sign such a petition but, in the event of there being sufficient popular support outside the political system for somebody to stand for the Presidency, this vehicle should be available. As it stands, it is virtually impossible for somebody outside the established political system to be nominated to contest the election.

There is merit in Senator Dardis's proposal. In Ireland we would not be able to have a Ross Perot type candidate. If Jack Charlton contested the election I would not like to have my name on the same ballot paper.

I can see practical difficulties in implementing such a proposal. If stringent conditions were imposed to prevent abuses, whether the minimum number of nominating persons be 10,000, 20,000, or 25,000, it should be possible for a person who does not belong to a main political party, but might be eminently suited for the office of President, to contest the election. We should consider having the nomination procedure outside of the stranglehold of the main political parties.

There would be logistical difficulties in implementing such a procedure. When petitions are circulated some people sign for their whole households. The petition may contain names of persons who did not sign it. However, there is merit in the proposal and it should be considered.

(Wexford): As Senator Dardis outlined, there are three ways of nominating a candidate for President. A candidate may be nominated by 20 Members of the Oireachtas or by the councils of at least four county councils or county boroughs. A former or retiring President may nominate himself or herself. Any change in the method of nomination of a candidate for election as President would require a constitutional amendment and is not appropriate to ordinary legislation. While we might have sympathy with the argument put forward by Senator Dardis, it would not be possible to proceed on the basis he has proposed. The matter could only be considered in the context of a constitutional amendment.

If this proposal were considered in the context of a future constitutional amendment or a review of the Constitution, there would be problems, as Senator Cosgrave pointed out, in operating the system. We would have to consider a way of ensuring signatures were in order and people were not signing for others. Because of the constraints in the Constitution we cannot accept this amendment.

We find ourselves in the same difficulty again. I would like to be told which specific provision of the Constitution prevents the operation of the procedure outlined in the amendment. I am not sure it is delimited by the Constitution as the Minister suggests. I accept the practical difficulties the proposal entails but we introduce legislation all the time which overcomes practical difficulties of this nature. It is not beyond the wit of the Houses of the Oireachtas to devise a system which would be as foolproof as the existing electoral system and might not have some of its defects. It is important people participate to the maximum extent in the political process. I say this because it is becoming increasingly evident people are contemptuous of the political process, do not wish to participate in it and feel excluded by it. We should do anything we can to reverse this trend.

(Wexford): Article 12.4.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states clearly that “every candidate for election, not a former or retiring President, must be nominated either by not less than twenty persons,...by the Councils of not less than four administrative Counties (including County Boroughs) as defined by law”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 17 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 37.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together. There is a correction to amendment No. 5 which should read: "between lines 11 and 12" rather than "between lines 8 and 9".

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 25, subsection (2) (a), to delete "and descriptions of" and substitute, "descriptions and photograph of".

This is returning to the point made earlier about making democracy as inclusive as possible and ensuring that everybody who wishes to vote can do so. We are attempting to ensure by the inclusion of a photograph on a ballot paper, that people who are illiterate can vote in a presidential election without having to do so in the manner which is prescribed already.

References were made on Second Stage to the fact that this could turn into a beauty contest and that people would look at the quality of the pictures on the ballot paper with a view to deciding how they would vote. I submit that would not be the case because people see candidates on television and in newspapers for months before an election. They know what the candidates look like and the photograph just makes it easier for people who cannot read to identify them.

Reference was also made on Second Stage to the secrecy of the ballot box, an important part of our democratic process. People should be able to vote in secret. All of us who have participated in elections have been in polling stations where we heard this so-called shouted vote. It is easy in those circumstances to be directional in terms of how somebody might cast their vote. I am not saying it always happens or that it happens often, but it is possible for a certain degree of direction to enter into the so-called shouted vote.

Given modern technology and the ease with which communication can be made, I do not see why this cannot be done. There could be a standard, black and white photograph showing the candidate's full face, head and shoulders or whatever. It would only be there to identify the candidates on the ballot paper, nothing else. It is not proposed that it should be a beauty contest. It is proposed that we make people aware of how they can vote.

We have done this before in the Bill on electoral reform, where we ensured to the highest degree possible that people who suffer from disabilities or are incapacitated in some way would be able to exercise their franchise. This is intended to extend that facility one stage further. A presidential election would be a good place to begin where everybody would know what the candidates look like. It is not the same as a general election or a European election. This would be a good place to start and would bring us into the twentieth century.

In principle, I support the amendment. It might give a certain credibility to the whole process of voting. People would see the picture and would not make a mistake. Where there is a long list of candidates—in Tipperary, for example, there are often several Ryans running — identifying the candidate for whom one wishes to vote can be difficult, particularly for older people. When candidates are listed in alphabetical order on the ballot paper is there an advantage for candidates at the top of the list? In my constituency this has never harmed the Minister for the Marine and for Defence, Deputy Andrews, although he would probably do well anyway. Some people might think they have to start at the top rather than the bottom, thus omitting myself in the middle.

I hope further identification would not turn into a potential beauty contest because some of us might not fare as well as others. To make the process more credible and to remove the difficulties Senator Dardis has mentioned, particularly for blind persons or those with bad sight or hearing who are not able to ascertain exactly what they are doing——

A photograph would not be useful to those who are blind.

Exactly. I ask that the Minister might consider this at some future election.

(Wexford): As one who was on top of the ballot paper in Wexford for the last couple of elections, I do not see anything wrong with remaining there.

Is the Minister of State saying he hopes to remain there?

(Wexford): Under existing law restated in this Bill, a voter whose sight is so impaired that he is unable to vote without assistance may have the ballot paper marked on his or her behalf by a companion or a presiding officer. A voter who is illiterate may ask to have the ballot paper marked by the presiding officer. Under this provision, the presiding officer may assist the voter by reading out in full the details in relation to each candidate on the ballot paper and then mark the ballot paper as instructed by the voter.

While the inclusion of photographs of candidates on ballot papers might assist some voters, the effectiveness of the measure overall is likely to be limited. Under our system of proportional representation, which allows the voter to vote for the candidates in the order of his or her choice, certain categories of voters would still require assistance in marking the ballot paper.

The inclusion of photographs would give rise to practical difficulties. For example, it would put extra pressure on the resources of the returning officer at a time when he or she is already operating under pressure. At an election little time is available for preparing, printing and issuing ballot papers. Ballot papers have to be printed as soon as practicable after the closing of nominations to ensure maximum time for delivery and return of postal ballot papers.

The extra time required for checking photographs, ensuring that they are of suitable standard and quality and making certain that the photographs match the names on the ballot paper would add considerably to the demands on the resources of the returning officer. In the political party I represent, when we are trying to get photographs for the three or four candidates who are standing in Wexford, we usually spend two weeks trying to make sure that one is not brighter or darker than the other. I can imagine what the problems would be if this was a nationwide requirement.

Photographs on ballot papers could assist some electors in identifying the candidate for whom they wish to vote but only, of course, if they already know what the candidate looks like. Thus, there would be a built-in bias in favour of well known candidates at the expense of lesser known ones. Our electoral system is already criticised for putting undue emphasis on personality rather than on policy. Including photographs would exaggerate this tendency and could have the effect of, as some speakers said, turning the election into a beauty contest, although Senator Dardis does not agree. People might be more inclined to vote for a high profile candidate if their photograph was on the ballot paper.

The points I have made up to now refer mainly to general elections. It would be correct to say that the arguments might be different for a presidential election, where there is a longer lead-in, only one ballot paper for the entire country and the number of candidates is substantially less. However, in a presidential election there are usually only two or three candidates — there has never been more than three and, up to the present, the number had normally been two.

Wide publicity is given to the candidates in the news media, an extensive and effective campaign is conducted by, and on behalf, of the candidates and a free postage facility is provided under which the election addresses of the candidates are delivered to every elector. The candidates in the last presidential election — President Robinson, Deputy Currie and Deputy Lenihan — had high profiles and were well known. I do not think a photograph on the ballot paper at that presidential election would have been of any advantage because the candidates were all well known.

In the light of this, it is difficult to maintain that there is a genuine need for the measure proposed in the amendment. The proportion of spoilt votes in the 1990 presidential election was 0.5 per cent, which is very low by any standard. The argument that substantial numbers of illiterate or semi-illiterate electors do not turn out to vote because of embarrassment or fear that they would spoil their ballot paper is difficult to maintain.

In my experience, the major problem with people not turning out to vote concerns young voters. The majority of young people are highly educated, intelligent and would not be regarded as illiterate. This is an area we have to examine to see how we can get young people to vote. The existing regulations for presidential or general elections are adequate and there is no need for photographs as suggested by Senator Dardis.

The Minister made an important concession when he said that the presidential election is different from other elections. That is precisely the point. I have not said it should be done in general elections but that this is the place to start.

The candidates are, by definition, high profile people. There is an extensive campaign and when we get to the point of voting, everybody knows what the candidates look like. However, not everybody can read what is on the ballot paper and those who cannot should be facilitated when voting. It is as simple as that and that is what is being requested here.

It is probable, God willing, that our President will hold office for a second term. It is unlikely that the next presidential election will be contested as far as we can judge at present. I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that by the next presidential election where ballot papers are issued, we will be voting differently. We will probably be voting electronically at that stage. Technology is moving at such a pace that some of this legislation is likely to be out of date within a few years, and possibly for the next presidential election. Considering that advance in technology, a provision like this is very sensible.

The point may at some stage arise in the context of a general election. The Minister has made a reasonable statement about the difficulties in getting pictures. However, I guarantee that if the candidates knew their pictures would not be on the ballot paper if they did not have them submitted by a certain date, they would make absolutely sure they were there.

One can always leave a blank if one does not show up on the day and a picture does not have to be included. The candidate who does not have his photograph on the ballot paper may get the most votes because there is a blank where his photograph should be. Somebody like Senator Cosgrave who does not feel beautiful may feel it better not to submit their photo but that is a different argument.

I accept that we have a good record in terms of the number of spoilt votes at elections but that does not deflect from the central point which is that some people may be discouraged from voting because they must call out their preference. The secrecy of the ballot box is not maintained to the extent it should be and this provision would help. The Minister made a reasonable point when he stated that certain categories would still need assistance. That is correct but we are saying this would ensure that fewer categories would need assistance.

Mr. Ernie Sweeney is involved in the literacy campaign which has been in operation for many years. We now have an opportunity to deal with this problem in presidential campaigns and presidential elections. The literary organisation got commitments from all political parties that consideration would be given to this area.

A presidential election would be an appropriate place to start as there are usually no more than three or four candidates. To a certain extent the Minister appears to be in agreement that recognition has to be given to this problem. It has been admitted that an enormous number of people in this country are illiterate. The Minister said that many people will not go to the polling booths because they do not understand the system.

It is a sad reflection on us that we are not availing of this opportunity to be adventurous and to give a commitment to the electorate that at the next presidential election, photographs of the candidates will be included on that ballot paper. I do not see any great problem or cost. We would be recognising what the Department of Education is saying about the large number of people who are illiterate. I do not wish to embarrass anybody but everybody, in one way or another, has difficulty understanding the procedure and the use of a picture may make things simpler for everyone.

We are always talking about helping the handicapped, restructuring buildings to facilitate wheelchair access, etc. We did it in this House. Floors were raised and people in wheelchairs can now visit parts of the building which were previously inaccessible. Why can we not do something for people who are illiterate, particularly for the presidential election? What would it cost? This change would benefit 400,000 adults, the figure provided by the Department of Education. Half of these people do not come to the polling booths and we are degrading them further by not catering for the fact that they cannot read. It is sad enough that about 1 per cent of our population cannot see but let us not embarrass the 400,000 who can see but unfortunately cannot vote because they cannot read.

We should consider this innovation in the context of the presidential election and, if it is successful extend it to urban and local elections. I can understand that there may be problems with general elections because of the number of candidates involved, but that can be changed. If the form of voting in general elections is changed there would be fewer candidates.

This new system could be introduced at little cost. We are trying to help the handicapped so why not help those who cannot read? The Department is prepared to say that we should be recognising this problem.

The Minister said that 0.5 per cent of all the ballot papers in the presidential elections were void. That is sad. Many people do not vote 1, 2, 3, etc., in order of preference; instead they put an X opposite their choice and this means their ballot paper is void. If there is only one X on the ballot paper it should be valid because only one name is marked. This is another question which should be addressed.

I ask the Minister and his Department to consider the inclusion of photographs on ballot papers. It would not cost very much and Ireland could be to the forefront in this area. This new system could be in place for the next presidential election. As the previous speaker said, there may not be a presidential election for some time if the President wishes to remain in office for a second period and the House and people agree that she should stay. We are very proud of her and she is serving the country well.

The President and the Tánaiste have replied to letters from people involved in the literacy campaign saying they will investigate and consider this idea, and that they agree with it in principle. It would be strange to hear in Government circles that it should not be done because whenever Ministers make statements they ensure that their photograph is included. This is important because there are many people who would look at that photograph and think the Minister is saying something of importance, even though they cannot read it. Every opportunity should be given to the voter. We must remember that in other countries a person must vote and may have to pay a fine for not voting. There is a lot to be said for making voting compulsory.

We spend thousands of pounds every year advising people to register and to ensure that their voting papers are in order. How much does that cost? How many people over 18 years of age cannot read those advertisements and do not want to register because they cannot read or write? We should give these people an opportunity. If we can spend so much encouraging them to register, why can we not make it possible for them to understand what they are doing? It is vital that we consider this possibility. It would be an exceptionally good move and would cost very little. With computerisation the ballot papers could be printed quickly and only one ballot paper would be required on the day. This is a great opportunity for us to put the photographs of presidential candidates on the ballot paper and, if successful, we could use the system in other elections.

I appreciate what Senator Cregan is saying and the thrust of Senator Dardis's remarks. However, I oppose putting photographs on the ballot paper. For months, and sometimes years, before an election the candidate tries to influence the voter. The voting booth is the only place where the voter is free from any pressure.

I know people who cannot read must be helped but the art of professional photography is so advanced and sophisticated that certain photographs could look better than others. I could show Senator Cregan two photographs of the same person and he would automatically choose one because the pupils have been highlighted. If a photograph is to be taken of every candidate, who will be the photographer? Will the same photographer photograph every candidate?

The Senator would look well anyway.

Will the photographs be black and white? Will they be highlighted? Will they be shaded? The complexities are enormous. For that reason I do not think there should be photographs. There is too much subtlety in professional photography to say there would not be some influence in the secrecy of the voting booth, where there should be none.

I can understand that some people can look better than others, and may be seen to look better, but they may not be nicer people. However, why can we, as a nation not say that every person will be treated in the same way? The photographs can be taken by one photographer on behalf of the State. Can that not be considered?

The argument is that some people can be seen to look better than others. Some people have improved over the years and others have disimproved but that does not mean that they have not done well.

Speak for yourself, Senator.

For example, we could say that some Taoisigh look better than others but it does not necessarily imply that they will get more votes. Some people look taller than others but they will not necessarily get more votes. I could continue in that vein.

We are discussing the possibility that one person may look better than another but we are ignoring the most important statistic from the Department of Education, that is, that 400,000 people are illiterate. If half of them do not vote because of that, we are doing them an injustice. We are prepared to give justice to other people. We are prepared, for example, in our national plans and at Government level to give extra money to the handicapped. Although it is not enough, at least there is a commitment and we recognise that problem. However, what annoys me is that there is so little effort in this area even though the Department says that it is imperative that action be taken.

It is important that the Minister read these statistics from the Department of Education. The estimated number of adults with literacy needs and unlikely to be able to attain literacy is 44,000; nearly literate 110,000, sub-illiterate, 286,000. That is very serious and yet we as legislators are not prepared to do anything to help. We have a duty to consider this.

Consider literacy programmes.

Here is an example of how the ballot paper for the last presidential election would have looked if there had been photographs of the candidates on it. Brian Lenihan looked exceptionally well.

Is the Senator introducing that document as evidence?

I am showing a sample paper which could have been used. It could be produced at the same cost. The same heading regarding the candidate can be included.

When a person knows the candidate but cannot write down their preference, we have a duty to give them the right to see the person for whom they wish to vote. It is very embarrassing for voters when somebody has to accompany them into the ballot box. It is bad enough that a person in a wheelchair must be brought up a stairs in order to vote because the ballot paper cannot be brought downstairs but it is a sad reflection on us that so many do not vote because they cannot read what is on the ballot paper. If they can see the candidate they can vote and we have a duty — irrespective of the candidate for whom they wish to vote — to consider that.

It may not happen in the next four years because there may not be a presidential election. However, we should give the commitment and show example. Why not consider it for a by-election? We should at least be prepared to try it. There would be no more than five or six candidates in a by-election.

That could be years away.

It will be the way you are ducking it.

We are talking about presidential elections, not by-elections.

I appreciate that. I am giving an example. There is a by-election coming up and we should not be afraid to experiment. We have a duty in this regard and I would like to hear the Minister's views.

I have sympathy with Senator Lydon's remarks. However, the degree to which it would be possible to influence the vote is minimal and much less than the degree to which it is possible to influence the vote that is shouted.

Amendment No. 5 gives wide discretion to the returning officer in the presidential election to prescribe the manner in which the photograph would be published on the ballot paper. As a practising journalist, I know something about printing and it would be impossible, on the quality of paper used in ballot papers, to achieve the degree of sophistication mentioned by the Senator. In any event, even if it was possible for one candidate to have a better picture on the ballot paper than another, the fact is that before a presidential election people are bombarded by posters showing the picture of the candidates. They see them on the television, day in, and day out. They know exactly how the candidates look.

People who know the presidential candidates' faces but who cannot read the ballot paper should be facilitated to vote. That is what we are seeking and it is possible to frame a procedure in the legislation which would preclude abuses of that facility.

(Wexford): This matter was discussed on Committee Stage and again today and there are mixed views on the issue of photographs. As Senator Cregan has pointed out, many people are illiterate, but under existing law, which is restated in this Bill, a voter who is illiterate may ask to have the ballot paper marked by the presiding officer, so we are catering for those people. We should not tie down in law the provision of photographs. If we read section 32 carefully we see that the ballot paper will be prescribed by the Minister. In the future the Minister of the day could consider amending the form of ballot paper to allow the inclusion of photographs. Suggestions have been up to me that instead of having photographs on the ballot paper, photographs could be shown on posters displayed in the polling station. This could be another solution to the problem that would not require a change in the law.

I assure Senators that I will bring their views to the Minister and see if at some stage in the future under section 32 he could consider the provision of photographs. Let us allow him to see what he can do at some future election to operate this system as suggested.

The Minister is very sympathetic. He can see the merits in what we are saying. Let us go a little further. He says we should not tie it down in legislation. At the presidential election, 10,000 votes were spoiled. I wonder why. Voters could not be opposed to the three parties. What percentage of these votes was marked with an "X"? That happens because voters do not know which candidate is which. A photograph would help these people to recognise the candidate they want to vote for.

The Minister is going further in suggesting that the photographs could be displayed outside the doors. No more than 18 months ago we passed legislation to ensure that no canvassing or electioneering may take place outside polling stations.

(Wexford): Inside polling stations.

Or inside polling stations. Under no circumstances should any photograph or names be seen. All parties agreed that it worked quite well on the day. People seemed to be more rested and we did not have the fanatics from all political parties hustling people on the day or creating a situation where people would not come to the polling booth. There was general agreement that it worked exceptionally well and we still got the same number of people out.

Let us get another 3 per cent out. If 70 per cent or 72 per cent are voting, why not get the other 3 per cent or 4 per cent out who cannot vote because unfortunately they cannot understand what they are doing? They understand the pictures on the television and the sad part is that when they go to the polling station they cannot understand what is in front of them.

I have here a reply from the Tánaiste in which he says he will take the matter up with his Labour colleagues to see if they can support this idea. He says that he would favour the idea in principle and that it has all the advantages which I have outlined. I have here a reply from the President——

Is that holy writ?

——who is totally in favour of printing photographs of the candidates on the ballot paper.

She is good looking, though.

With all due respect, is that relevant? If it is a question of looks, may God forgive us in both Houses, this is no fashion parade.

We have a golden opportunity here to introduce photographs on the ballot paper in presidential elections. Generally the feeling of the people throughout the country is that under no circumstances should anyone consider opposing our President, and rightly so. She is an excellent President, a great ambassador for us.

Leas-Cathaoirleach

I ask the Senator to stay with the amendment.

How many people would love to be able to vote who cannot, because they do not understand? The State has a duty to help these people in every way possible. Why are we not prepared to consider it for presidential elections only? I would be satisfied if the Bill were amended in such a way that we might consider the idea of photographs in our next presidential election. That may be 11 years away.

The Minister, to be fair to him, has come some way to meet us. He is to be thanked for that. He has made references to section 32. I am not clear as to whether that——

(Wexford): That was section 37.

I beg your pardon. That clarifies that. The ballot paper we use at present is a product of history. It originated in a time when we did not have mass communications as we have now. We did not have television. We did not have access to the high technology material that is available to us now which will ensure that every voter will know exactly what the candidate of their choice looks like before the day of the election. All we are asking is that when they go to vote they should be facilitated.

Remarks made by Senator Cregan give rise to a question in relation to the postering aspect of elections. Am I correct in thinking that the provisions which we introduced on postering for general elections apply equally to the presidential election? Is it the case that we cannot have these posters displayed all the way into the polling booths at a presidential election? These posters were at one time used to influence voters on their way into the polling station. We have stopped that but we should still facilitate those people who are excluded and we should include them in the democratic process. This is one very effective way of doing that.

(Wexford): I am totally in favour of facilitating illiterate voters and it is laid down in this Bill that they should be facilitated. In reference to Senator Dardis's question, the regulations for general elections do carry over into presidential elections where there is political involvement. I spoke about the possibility of the Minister adding a photograph of each candidate to the list on display in each polling station detailing names, addresses and occupations at some stage in the future.

I ask Senators to allow me to take their views back to the Minister. Under section 37 he may in the future decide to include photographs, either on the ballot paper or in the polling station itself, but let us not tie the Minister's hands in this regard by putting it into legislation. As Senator Dardis has pointed out, voting will probably be automated in the future. That is another day's work.

I am not prepared to accept the amendment but I will bring Senators' views to the Minister, Deputy Smith who may decide that is possible at some stage in the future.

The Minister may but my expectation is that he will not.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Section 37 agreed to.
SECTION 38.
Question proposed: "That section 38 stand part of the Bill."

At present every ballot paper has to be examined when it is taken out of a ballot box to see whether it is an official ballot paper. Are we upgrading the system whereby the officer handing out the ballot papers must stamp each paper? Have we looked at any structure in other countries which would speed up the issue of ballot papers?

(Wexford): The official mark is an important part of the security arrangements for the ballot paper. In most countries some form of seal or other device is placed on the ballot paper at the time of issue. In the past an embossing instrument was used at elections here. Disputes arose occasionally as to whether there was a faint embossed mark on a paper. The perforating instrument now used leaves no room for doubt and the type of instrument can be reviewed from time to time. Inquiries are being made on a range of possibilities.

We should show an example here because in urban areas particularly the issuing of the paper can be slow. People may not attend the polling station if they feel the procedure is too slow. There may be something important on television at the same time. It is not the fault of the officials but due to the system they must operate in issuing the papers. Some new system could be tried, perhaps in a small number of polling stations in busy areas, to see if an improvement could be made.

(Wexford): We are looking at a range of possibilities but it is important to have a security mark on the ballot paper. At present it takes perhaps a couple of seconds and that may seem slow. The number of papers rejected for lack of official mark is not great — a total of 778 of the total poll at the last presidential election.

It is too many. There should not be any.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 39 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 26, before section 40, to insert the following new section:

"40.—Section 7 of the Act of 1992 is hereby amended by the deletion of subsection (1) and the substitution of the following:

‘(1) 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, a citizen of Ireland, and—

(i) ordinarily resident in that constituency, or

(ii) residing outside the State but was ordinarily resident in that constituency within the period of the preceding five years.

(2) The Minister shall make regulations providing for

(i) the inclusion in the register of presidential electors resident outside of the State, and

(ii) a scheme of voting for presidential electors resident outside of the State.'.".

This amendment would have the effect of extending the franchise to emigrants. We have had a long debate on this matter and there are practical difficulties with regard to a general election. In a presidential election there would be reasonable notice of its being held and the candidates are the same in all constituencies. We must do something to extend the franchise to emigrants.

What is proposed here is that it would be extended to people who within the preceding five years would have been ordinarily resident in that constituency but who are now residing outside the State. This is a realistic attempt to extend the franchise for the primary office in the State to people who for various reasons are no longer living in the country and have only been gone a maximum of five years. There has been much talk about giving votes to the many emigrants throughout the world, particularly in America, Australia and England.

There are practical difficulties relating to the question of general or local elections but this would be easier to manage in presidential elections and I ask the Minister of State to accept this amendment. He has not very accommodating to date so perhaps he will start at this stage.

I would like to support what Senator Cosgrave has said. This is not a novel idea but is one that has been accepted in other countries for many years. It is a sad reflection on us that we give the impression of being a nation of the future and readily claim that we are more advanced than other nations which may be older than us. American citizens, irrespective of where they are in the world, are entitled to a postal vote in their presidential elections. They take particular pride in that. I know people in the Cork area who have dual Irish American citizenship and they are entitled to vote in the American presidential election. Why should we should not allow the same facility to our emigrants? We want agreements with other countries and we want to get more of our exports into other countries, yet we are not prepared to extend these rights to our emigrants. We have talked about our democracy, about being broadminded and liberal but that is questionable. Senator Cosgrave's amendment is constructive and sets an example.

Before the last election one party claimed that all emigrants would have the vote as soon as possible. That seems to have been smothered and has gone out of date like other promises. I have no objection to it. The opportunity is in our presidential election. If the Minister was prepared to consider it for another election, such as a by-election, this would be awkward because people could request the vote who may not be from the constituency. However, a presidential election where two or three people are being considered for one position is an opportunity which we should not be afraid of. I am surprised that under this Bill the matter was not included for consideration by the Government parties. It was the commitment by one of the parties in Government. This matter should be considered, although I readily admit the opportunity of putting it into effect may not arise for another 11 years.

We have been dragging our feet on this matter for several years. As the Senator has remarked, there was a general view among several parties that this matter should be dealt with. I remember that it was trenchantly argued when similar legislation was brought before the last Seanad.

We all accept the practical difficulties of implementing this measure, but other countries have done this successfully and there is no reason we should not be able to learn from them. We are not saying everybody is going to vote. People have to register and there is the restriction that they would have had to live within the constituency within the preceding five years. Personally I would extend this provision, but if we even began with five years I would regard it as a positive step.

It must be remembered that the President has a light burning in Aras an Uachtarán to remind her of our emigrants and to indicate that there is a welcome for them in our country. We have exported our people over a long period. If those people feel such an attachment to the country, as they do, that they wish to vote in a presidential election, then they should be able to do so.

It must also be remembered that the President, more than anybody else in this country, has visited our emigrant groups around the world and has had contact with these groups. From this viewpoint also these emigrants should have an input into who should be President. I do not believe that every person who has left this country will wish to vote in a presidential election. I am sure that many of them would wish to have nothing to do with the political process in this country. However, it is the same point as was made about those who are illiterate, namely that if they wish to do so, the responsibility of the State is to facilitate them. Those people who are spread across the world, who still look to us and are interested in what is taking place in the country and who would like to have their input into who should be President should be entitled to do so.

We should not get hung up about the effect these people might have on the outcome of an election. That is an irrelevancy. If that argument was to be pursued to its logical conclusion, one could say that all the members of Senator O'Toole's teaching trade union should not have a vote because they might have an influence on the outcome of an election. Of course they have an influence on the outcome of an election. Let them exercise their franchise.

I support the intention of the amendment. There may be problems with the details. The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to moving towards votes for emigrants. As far as I am aware a revue committee has been established which has not yet reported. There are many details which have to be considered fully and there has to be expertise involved in considering the detail of drafting legislation. I would be willing to wait until the revue committee reports to ensure that we proceed correctly. We have been waiting for votes for emigrants to some degree for quite a long time and many people have been calling for this measure. However, it has to be undertaken properly. I await the Minister's view on the detail of the situation and I defer to the expertise of whoever is reviewing the question.

In principle I am in favour of extending votes to certain categories of emigrants, especially those who have emigrated in the recent past and have the intention of returning to Ireland, not those who have gone for life but only for a short period.

The first refuge always is the Constitution. The second refuge is drafting and we go steadily downhill from there and we are all in favour of things in principle. I have the utmost confidence that the gentlemen who sit behind the Minister are able to devise a form of words which will allow us to achieve the objective, which is to give people the vote. It is easy to do so and let us proceed. There are models all over the world to consider.

The point was made that we should wait for the Department to define the type of person who is entitled to a vote. I am not sure what is meant by that. Over 18 years of age is enough for me. One does not then define who is and who is not an emigrant.

The Senator is already defining it in stating the number of years.

Five years. The opportunity is there for anybody who has gone for the last five years. If the Senator wants to change that to life, I will agree. I would accept a proposal from the Government side today that any person over 18 years of age who was born in Ireland and had to emigrate will have a vote in a presidential election. Such a proposal will be acceptable to this side of the House.

However, let no one say to me that they are waiting for the experts to suggest that one person should be entitled to something but another person should not. How is this to be defined in law? How do we say that one person is entitled and one is not? How do we define, for example, that certain people can play for the Republic of Ireland team? Is that not the same situation?

No, it is not.

Does that mean that the Senator does not want them to play for the Republic of Ireland team?

May I advise Senator Cregan that one cannot vote in Ireland if one's grandmother comes from Ireland? It is a different matter.

Any person born in the Republic of Ireland, and I would like to say on the island of Ireland, who is over the age of 18 years of age should be entitled a vote in a presidential election. What is wrong with this proposition? It is as simple as one could get. The best way to answer any question and to undertake anything is the simple way.

As Members will note from the second part of the amendment, which we had the foresight to insert:

"The Minister shall make regulations providing for

(i) the inclusion in the register of presidential electors resident outside of the State, and

(ii) a scheme of voting for presidential electors resident outside of the State..".

I am sure the officials in the Minister's Department will, at an early stage if this amendment is passed, be able to bring forward such regulations. Senator Dardis is correct in saying that we are great at putting off measures. Parliamentary draftsmen appear to be a rare species and difficult to find. Even when they are found it is difficult to get them to bring forward certain Bills. This amendment specifies a certain number of years. The period of time might be debated but at least it takes the initial step towards giving emigrants the franchise.

(Wexford): In the last six weeks there have been many debates in both Houses and in committees on votes for emigrants, on the Presidential Elections Bill, the Electoral Reform Bill and the European Parliament Elections Bill. The issue has been widely discussed and opinions have varied, even within a political party. The Fine Gael Party today supports this amendment and on Committee Stage in a Select Committee recently Deputy Doyle, Fine Gael spokesperson on the Environment, favoured Seanad representation for emigrants. The difference of opinion exists not alone in Fine Gael but in my party, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats who have consistently expressed the viewpoint put here by Senator Dardis.

I thought we were going to be left out as a mark of unity.

(Wexford): Despite what Senator Dardis says, the legal advice available to the Government is that under the relevant provisions of our Constitution it would not be possible to extend voting rights to citizens who are not part of the population of the State except to limited categories, such as those who are only abroad for a short period.

In response to Senator Cregan, the right to vote for emigrants will not be decided by officials nor by the Minister for the Environment or myself. It will be decided by the people at a referendum. Article 12.2 of the Constitution clearly outlines who is currently entitled to vote.

The Programme for a Partnership Government accepts in principle that there should be constitutional change to give voting rights for emigrants. That acceptance in principle is not confined to the two Government parties. All parties think emigrants should have some voting rights.

The issue is being examined at present by the Minister. The examination will be comprehensive and all options will be fully considered, including those put forward today and previously by other Members of the Oireachtas. The examination will be thorough in that it will explore the detailed technical arrangements required to give effect to each option and the nature of the constitutional amendment each might require. When the review is completed the Minister will bring it to Government and will then have to decide on a referendum and what system will be put to the people.

There are significant differences of opinion on this matter. While there is a desire to establish a link between emigrants and the Oireachtas, no consensus has emerged as yet as to what form the link might take. The Government's examination will clarify these matters and we should be prepared to allow time for this to be completed. It has been widely acknowledged that within the lifetime of this Government a formula will be devised to give votes to emigrants. It has yet to be decided whether that will be for a presidential election, a general election or a European election. Senators should await completion of the review when we will put in place a system which will be satisfactory to everyone. The Irish people will have the right to accept or reject the proposed system.

The examination is departmental and is being carried out on the same basis as the examination of a policy in any other field but that is not to say the examination may not be broadened at a later stage. Consultations with other Departments will be required, especially the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General. I hope we will be able to make adequate arrangements for emigrant voting but matters are at an early stage. The question will only be clarified when it comes before Government and is put before the Irish people.

It is sad that the Minister says some form of consensus will be considered in the future and that the Irish people will have to decide whether to change the Constitution. Not all the Irish people will decide that question because the several thousand Irish people who leave each year will not receive consideration because they are not long living in this country. How many people leave Ireland each day?

The consensus should be that anyone born in the Republic of Ireland who is now over 18 years of age should be entitled to vote in an election. I resent some parties saying all emigrants will have the vote because it is part of the Programme for Government. I would not agree with "some form of consensus" but I would agree with a consensus that everyone be treated equally. All the Irish people should agree to a change in the Constitution.

It is a sad reflection on us that when our Constitution was written it said those who did not live in Ireland were not entitled to anything. No other country has lost more people to other lands in proportion to its population than Ireland. Who drew up the Constitution and decided emigrants do not have rights equal to those who live here? The consensus which should be put before us is that those over 18 born in the Republic of Ireland are entitled to vote here, irrespective of where they live.

Senator Cregan has said a number of times he does not expect there to be a presidential election for a number of years. Therefore it is not clear why he wishes to rush into something which may prove to be unconstitutional.

Because the legislation is before us.

It is on this paper.

We should wait and ensure what we do is constitutional. We may not have an election for years.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 20.

  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Honan, Cathy.
  • Lee, Joe.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Ross, Shane P.N.

Níl

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Sean.
  • Cashin, Bill.
  • Crowley, Brian.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Gallagher, Ann.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Mary.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • Magner, Pat.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Cosgrave and Neville; Níl, Senators Mullooly and Magner.
Amendment declared lost.
Sections 40 to 47, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 48.
Question proposed: "That section 48 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister has already admitted that approximately 700 ballot papers in the last presidential election did not have the official mark. Seven hundred ballot papers may not be a large amount when one considers the 1.5 million votes cast, but we must not forget that certain Presidents would not have been elected if one ballot paper in every ballot box had been invalid. Therefore, every vote is important.

The Minister has admitted there are problems with regard to ballot papers which are not officially marked. Why is this happening in a technological world? Has consideration been given to the introduction of a pilot scheme, particularly in urban areas, so that we can ascertain who wants to vote at a particular time of day, because delays annoy people? People have the right to vote. In other countries one must vote. Does the Minister suggest that every person over the age of consent should vote?

My concern is not about the official mark, although I agree with what has been said about it; I am concerned about the ruling on the validity of papers and the first preference and the intention to have, on the one hand, a national returning officer and, on the other, to do this Dail constituency by Dail constituency. In the last European election ballot papers which were marked four, five and six or five, six and seven were ruled as being valid in three of the four constituencies because two elections were held on the one day. The returning officer in three of the constituencies said there was a clear preference indicated if one started at five or six, etc. However, in Leinster the returning officer ruled that the papers were invalid. I am not disputing their right to do that, although that ruling was challenged in the court and the returning officer's point of view was upheld.

There could be discrepancies across the board if local returning officers in each Dail constituency have a different point of view. Can the Minister say what procedure could be put in place to prevent this happening because it could be crucial in an election? For example, in Leinster the margin between the last candidate elected and the succeeding candidate was quite small. Uniformity is needed across the board because returning officers should not be allowed to make decisions in this regard.

(Wexford): As I said the last day, the Government is concerned about the need for uniformity across the country. For that reason, discussions will take place with the local returning officers about how uniformity can be achieved. Concern has been expressed that in various counties returning officers deal differently with matters. I assure Senator Dardis and all Senators that discussions will take place about how uniformity can be achieved.

In relation to Senator Cregan's point, the Government is looking at a range of possibilities in relation to security arrangements for ballot papers. I agree with Senator Cregan that 778 ballot papers had no official mark at the last presidential election, and that is too many. The Government is trying to eliminate mistakes and it is examining different procedures and regulations to see how this position can be improved. If a presiding officer makes a mistake, the returning officer can replace him. The Government is considering improvements in this area and I take on board some of the points made by Senator Cregan. I agree that we should look at ways to reduce the figure of 778 to 78 and my Department is doing this at present.

Section 48 (1) (b), (c) and (d) must be highlighted because they are important. Section 48(1) reads:

(c) on which the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference, or the word "one" or any other mark which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, clearly indicates a first preference, is set opposite the name of more than one candidate, or

(d) on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector,

shall be invalid and not counted, but the ballot paper shall not be invalid by reason only of its bearing the words "one", "two", "three" (and so on) or any other mark which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, clearly indicates a preference or preferences.

The point we made earlier is relevant to these sections. A photograph would solve this problem. This Bill, particularly this section, is contradicting the argument which has been made about photographs. I ask the Minister to consider this idea for forthcoming elections because, as one Senator said, there may not be a presidential election for 11 years. This matter should be dealt with now. There would be no problems if a photograph was included on the ballot paper.

(Wexford): We have dealt with the issue of photographs on ballot papers and I have assured Senator Cregan that while I do not accept his amendment, I will accept his and other Senators' views——

It was not Senator Cregan's amendment.

(Wexford):——including those of Senator Dardis who tabled the amendment. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, to consider the matter again. Perhaps it would be possible to include this in section 37. However, I asked Senator Cregan not to tie it into legislation. Let us discuss it with the Minister and see what view he has on it. There is the suggestion of photographs on the ballot papers or, alternatively, photographs displayed in the polling station on the day.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 49 and 50 agreed to.
SECTION 51.
Question proposed: "That section 51 stand part of the Bill."

I have a question about the number of counts without reaching the quota. Should it be clarified in this section which candidate should be eliminated first? If there are two or three candidates and the candidate with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated, in a PR system are the votes divided proportionally? This is important and the Minister should note it. It does not say in the Bill that proportionally the lowest candidate should be eliminated; he may have more number one, two and three preference votes than the candidate above him before reaching the quota.

(Wexford): Obviously the candidate with the lowest number of votes would be eliminated. Subsection (2) provides for the exclusion of two or more candidates together. Subsection (2) states:

Where the total of the votes of the 2 or more candidates credited with the lowest number of votes is less than the number of votes credited to the candidate credited with the next highest number of votes, the presidential returning officer shall direct under subsection (1) the exclusion of such 2 or more candidates and the transfer of their papers in one operation.

I am not sure if that is the point?

That is the point.

(Wexford): It is quite clear.

How can two candidates be eliminated together? Their votes could be relevant to the fourth count. This should be considered, except where each candidate has received nine or ten first preference votes. The two then could be eliminated together because it would not be relevant to the quota. However if a candidate gets a transfer from another person the two people could not be eliminated together.

(Wexford): Is it not always the candidate with the least votes who is eliminated?

Not in Cork.

With respect, if the Minister is saying that the candidate with the least votes must be eliminated, then subsection (2) should be deleted because it is contradictory. If there is a transfer of votes from any other candidate to the two candidates the returning officers thinks should be eliminated at the one time that point should be clarified. Only their first count votes should be relevant. A person cannot be eliminated if they have received a transfer because that transfer could be relevant later. That happened in Cork when transfers elected one candidate.

This is a presidential election.

(Wexford): The person who got least votes would be excluded, whether first or second preferences are added. Obviously if the two people received the same number of votes and they are fewer than the other candidates received, then the two people are excluded.

Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is section 51 agreed?

On a point of clarification.

Leas-Chathaoirleach

We do not want to drag this out for too long.

I seldom hold up the House. A preference vote given to a candidate is not the same as a proportion of a vote. If two people have ten votes and one person has been given four transfers, proportionally he should not be considered the same as the person with ten first preferences. The two should not be eliminated together. The person with the lower proportion of the votes should be eliminated first.

(Wexford): Where neither of the candidates would have any chance of catching up with the person ahead of them, they would be eliminated. Is that not correct?

I already said if it is not relevant to the quota but it could be relevant.

Leas-Chathaoirleach

We have covered this section pretty well.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 52 to 62, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for the way he dealt with this legislation and our queries.

I also thank the Minister. He listens to what we have to say. He creates a situation for debate and he sees others' views. I congratulate him.

It is a strange voting system in Wexford.

Wexford): I thank Senators for their reception of this Bill. I assure them that valuable points were raised and were made with the utmost sincerity. To the extent that they are not taken on board in this Bill, I have a feeling that many of them will be discussed at a later stage. I thank the Senators for their co-operation and the way they put forward their points on this Bill.

Question put and agreed to