An Bille Um an Tríú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1968: An Dara Céim. Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968: Second Stage.
Wednesday, 28 February 1968
Dáil Eireann Debate
Subsection 3º of section 2 of article 16 of the Constitution provides that the ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population of each constituency shall, so far as it is practicable, be the same throughout the country. The subsection thus affirms the principle of democratic representation—based, it should be noted, on population and not on voters—and at the same time recognises (by the use of the phrase “so far as it is practicable”) that some divergence from strict mathematical parity is necessary if a rational system of constituencies is to be devised. Difficulties have arisen, however,  on two points—what factors have to be taken into account in determining what is practicable and how great a divergence from the national average is permissible.
At every revision of constituencies, from 1932 to 1959, the most important factors taken into account, apart from population, were the desirability of respecting county boundaries, of having special regard for the needs of constituents in thinly-populated rural areas and of topographical features such as major rivers and lakes, peninsulas and mountain ranges. This was done within the limits of a quite modest divergence from the national average. At the periodic revisions of constituencies up to 1959 the maximum divergences were within the range 11 per cent to 19 per cent approximately of the national average. This was the type of approach that the framers of the Constitution had in mind, it was supported by all Parties in the Dáil in 1959 and it is the approach which appears to be common to democracies. The revision of constituencies made in the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1959, in accordance with these principles which appeared to have been established by usage, was as Deputies know challenged in the High Court and that Court, in its judgment on the constitutionality of the Act, held that this type of approach was not permissible, that if the Constitution had intended that regard be had to such matters as the desirability of adhering to county boundaries it would have said so, and in effect that the phrase “so far as it is practicable” should be given a purely statistical connotation.
The object of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, is to make the original intention of the Constitution effective, to put beyond doubt the extent to which divergence from the strict mathematical ratio is permissible and to set out expressly the special factors to be taken into account. It accordingly proposes to substitute for the existing provisions the new subsection 3º, set out in the Schedule to this Bill. The new subsection has three main provisions. First, the maximum divergence is  fixed at one-sixth of the national average. Secondly, it is provided that regard be had to the extent and accessibility of constituencies and the need for securing convenient areas of representation. Thirdly, it is provided that due regard be had to the desirability of avoiding overlapping of county boundaries.
Taking the provision relating to county boundaries first, it will be noted that this is only set out as a desirable norm, not an absolute requirement. If all county boundaries were to be preserved the tolerance limit would have to be put at too high a level—about 30 per cent. With the level now proposed the county boundary will be observed in the case of the great majority of counties. The reasons for having due regard to county boundaries may be summarised as follows.
1. It is generally recognised by authorities on electoral matters that constituencies should, as far as possible, be based on local communities and respect local sentiment. It will scarcely be denied that, in the conditions of this country, this means that county boundaries must be respected as far as reasonably possible. This applies irrespective of whether we have the present system or the single-seat constituency.
2. A considerable part of a Deputy's work on behalf of his constituency will relate to matters within the competence of the county council. He can, therefore, serve his constituency more effectively if it is wholly within a particular county.
3. The whole process of registration of electors and of holding elections is geared to counties. County councils and county borough councils are responsible for preparing the register of electors and devising polling schemes for their areas. The returning officer is normally the county registrar. From the point of view of electoral machinery many complications are caused by the breaching of county boundaries.
4. It is desirable that constituencies should be based on some form of existing administrative divisions and the authority responsible for devising  these should be given a definite framework within which to operate. This is standard practice abroad. In our conditions, and having regard to the need to cater for two contingencies (single-seat and multi-seat constituencies), the most suitable divisions are counties. Incidentally, constituencies in Britain must normally be confined within counties or boroughs.
The boundaries of County Boroughs are, in effect, excluded from the provision which aims at preserving county boundaries. Housing and other community developments have extended the built-up areas across the boundaries of the four County Boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, and it might not be practicable to determine satisfactory constituencies if the overlapping of these city boundaries had to be avoided within the context of the new subsection 3º.
Turning now to the requirement related to the area of the constituency, the Government have always taken the view that the special difficulties of persons living in large constituencies in rural areas should be recognised. These people do not have the same ease of access to their Deputies as persons living in the more compact urban constituencies. Moreover, experience has shown that people living in rural areas are more likely to have to seek the help of their Deputies for quite legitimate reasons. Any person who disagrees with a slight bias in favour of such areas can scarcely have any idea of the problems of representation for both electors and Deputies in these areas or of the importance of maintaining adequate rural representation in this House. I might mention that there was broad agreement between all Parties on this point in 1959.
If then it is accepted that regard must be had to the factors outlined above the question must be faced of how great a divergence from the national average of population per member should be permitted. It is the view of the Government that the appropriate limit is one-sixth of the national average. This figure, which it must be remembered is a maximum one, is in line with pre-1959 practice. It will be sufficiently high to obviate  the need for breaches of county boundaries in the case of the great majority of counties and to keep the representation for rural areas at or near the present figure. At the same time it is sufficiently modest not to involve any departure in principle from democratic representation. I might say that the figure is low by international standards. In Britain, for example, a tolerance limit of plus or minus 25 per cent was fixed for some years but was abandoned as being too restrictive. In Canada the figure is 25 per cent and in Australia 20 per cent. In Germany a spread of 33? per cent is allowed. Some Deputies opposite, speaking under a misapprehension as to the present constitutional provision, have in recent weeks suggested that a tolerance of 10,000 population per Deputy should be sufficient. We do not propose anything as large as this.
To clear up any possible misunderstanding which may still exist, I should emphasise that this Bill will have no effect on the total number of Deputies. The tolerance limit proposed in this Bill relates to the national average population per member after the total number of Deputies is fixed. For instance, if the total number of Deputies is fixed at 144, the national average population per member would be 20,028 and the population per member of each constituency could not deviate from this average by more or less than one-sixth of the average, that is, by more or less than 3,338.
I commend this Bill to the House. It proposes no more than that the people be given an opportunity to decide at a referendum whether the Constitution should be amended to enable the Oireachtas at the next and future revisions of constituencies to determine constituencies on the basis contemplated by the framers of the Constitution and at all times accepted by the Oireachtas.
An Ceann Comhairle: At this stage the Taoiseach will make a speech on No. 8, Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, but this Bill will not be moved until the House has disposed of the previous Bill, No. 7.
The Taoiseach: The Bill proposes to set before the people in due course, for their adjudication at a referendum, a number of changes in the present constitutional provisions relating to the method of Dáil elections and the determination of Dáil constituencies. The principal changes proposed are those relating to the introduction of single-seat constituencies in lieu of the present multi-member constituencies and the replacement of proportional representation by the relative majority system using the single non-transferable vote. The present constitutional requirement that constituencies shall be revised at intervals not longer than 12 years is being retained.
The present requirement that the membership of the Dáil shall not exceed one Deputy for every 20,000 of the population and may not be less than one Deputy for each 30,000 of population is being recast so that the total number of constituencies at any determination shall not be fixed at less than one constituency for each 30,000 or at more than one constituency for each 20,000 of the population, as ascertained at the census last preceding the determination. This recasting is necessitated by the provision for the automatic return of the outgoing Ceann Comhairle at a dissolution of the Dáil and for the election of a Deputy to represent the single-seat constituency by which the Ceann Comhairle was returned. The Bill visualises that the revision of the constituencies will be undertaken by an impartial commission appointed by the Dáil and presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court.
I should like at the outset to draw a distinction between those elements of our electoral system which are basic to the democratic process and those elements which admit of variation according to circumstances. To the  former category belong such principles as universal franchise, the secret ballot, the right of individuals and groups to contest elections, the limit on the life of any Parliament, the prevention of electoral abuses and the provision of impartial machinery for the conduct of elections. These principles are necessary to the democratic system and are put in practice by all democracies.
To the second category belong such matters as the precise method of voting, whether constituencies should return one or a larger number of members, the machinery for determining constituencies and so on. In these matters there is no unanimity of view or practice as between democratic countries.
The proposal in this Bill to provide for single-seat constituencies with voting on the relative majority system, instead of the present system of multi-member constituencies based on the system of proportional representation and the single transferable vote, comes within the second category. This is not to say that the matter should be considered of no great importance; history shows that the system of voting can have immense influence on a country's political development and this Bill is certainly from this point of view the most important measure that has come before the present Dáil.
While there is no uniformity of practice or unanimity of view on methods of voting, I must nevertheless point to the impressive array of old-established, stable democracies such as Britain, the United States and Canada, which have the straight vote. I should also point to the movement of opinion —and practice—away from proportional representation, which is now regarded by many people as essentially a nineteenth century development. The PR system was invented before the growth of modern party organisation in Europe by constitutional theorists who saw a grave danger that the coming of universal franchise would lead to the “tyranny of the majority”, as it was called. Their aim was to encourage a fragmentation of parties and the representation of numerous minority interests.
What marks out PR as so typically  a product of the last century is the assumption it makes concerning the purpose of elections, which it sees as basically a means of producing a deliberative assembly to pass laws. Its inventors could not, of course, have foreseen the modern extension of the State's role, the growing involvement of the Government in the direction of the economy, the introduction of long-term planning and with it the need to ensure stable government supported by an active Parliamentary majority and able to apply with consistency over a period of years a comprehensive policy of national development. In a modern, developed economy, where the Government play a key role, the electors will wish to choose their Government directly and will consider this as the primary aim of elections.
At one time, there was quite a substantial volume of influential support in Britain for PR, or at least the alternative vote. Nowadays, this support is, for all practical purposes, confined to the Liberal Party. In Germany, where half the seats are filled by means of the straight vote and half by a system of proportional representation, the electorate—mindful, no doubt, of the disastrous multiplicity of parties which existed under the old Weimar Republic—have demonstrated in a practical manner their preference for the straight vote system. Indeed, the major parties there have announced their intention of proposing a change to a system based completely on the straight vote. In France, the multiplicity of parties which flourished under PR in the Fourth Republic made effective government difficult and eventually impossible. The extraordinary resurgence of that country under the stable government provided by the Fifth Republic has been associated with a regrouping of political forces and the beginning of a movement away from a multiple-party system. The present electoral system is similar to that which operated before the war, that is single-seat constituencies with two ballots, but with certain changes to discourage splinter parties. Public discussion has begun on the desirability of introducing further adjustments in the electoral  law to facilitate the further evolution of present trends.
The logic of developments within the past decade in this country requires us to consider our own position. Here, too, the assumption by the State of overall responsibility for the regulation of the economy and the adoption of long-term planning has thrust immense new responsibilities on the Government and increased the need for stable parliamentary majorities to enable policies to be developed over a period of years. The virtual disappearance of small Parties and Independents from the Dáil and the increased interest shown by the voters in national parties with comprehensive policies has been paralleled by an evolution of thinking within the Parties to the point where each Party in the Dáil is committed to seeking a majority for the implementation of its own policy. Thus, the Irish people and the Parties in the Dáil have implicitly repudiated any desire for coalition government. I say “implicitly” because I doubt if all of us have faced the issue and reasoned the matter to its logical conclusion. I therefore propose that we ask ourselves two questions.
The first question is whether we want a multiplicity of Parties and a series of coalition Governments. I do not propose to argue this question since the defects of coalition are well known and the people have in effect already given their verdict. I should like, however, to reply to some objections to the system of a small number of Parties raised by supporters of the present system.
A common objection is that the freedom of choice of the elector is narrowed as compared with the multi-party system. In fact, the freedom of choice under the multi-party system is illusory. The voter can vote for a particular Party but he has no means of voting for a Government and its policy since this will depend on post-election compromises. These compromises may produce a Government and policy of which a majority of electors would not have approved if they had got the opportunity. Under the system we propose, on the other hand, the elector is able to choose the Government and policy he favours.
 Another objection is the contention that a majority of seats may be won by the Party which won not the largest but the second largest number of votes. This can happen only in cases where as in Britain, support for a particular Party is highly localised, involving huge majorities in so-called safe seats. It has already been pointed out in another context by a Fine Gael Senator that the situation here is different—we are a homogeneous community and the margin of safety in any area will be smaller. In fact, there are very few areas, which it is possible to say are definitely pro Fianna Fáil, pro Fine Gael or pro Labour and even in these cases, the volume of extra support for one particular Party is by no means so great as to make it unlikely that a comparatively small swing might produce a change.
The second question we should ask ourselves is which system of election is more likely to keep the number of Parties to a reasonable figure and facilitate the election of majority Governments. If we are honest, there is only one possible answer. The theorists who support PR generally admit that it produces a multi-party system—indeed some authorities claim this as a special virtue of PR. On the other hand, all those eminent authorities in Western Europe and North America who have supported the straight vote have done so on the basis that it is the system most likely to produce stable government and to avoid a fragmentation of Parties. So far as actual experience is a guide it is a well-known fact that countries with PR have a multiplicity of Parties and a permanent series of Coalition Governments while the only countries in which the people have the opportunity of making a clear choice have the straight vote. The only exception is Tasmania.
Tasmania is a member State of the Commonwealth of Australia and it is natural that the structure of Australian politics—which is basically two-Party —would be reproduced there. Besides it has a small population and a legislative assembly of only 35. This does  not leave much room for a proliferation of Parties. In our own case, it is well known that the deep division in the country caused by the Civil War had a strong influence on the development of our political system. Now that the influence of that division is beginning to wane it would be extremely foolish to ignore the long term possibility inherent in all PR systems, of the emergence of a multi-party system.
The logic of the position adopted by all Parties in the House and by the people requires that we change our system of voting to the straight vote. Probably because of this most of the opposition to the present proposal is based not on principles or long term considerations but on the supposed immediate effects of the changeover. For this purpose absurd comparisons are drawn between the recent local elections and the next general election. Because of the distribution of the population, there is no possible relationship between single seat constituencies and local electoral areas. And no valid comparison can be drawn between local elections, contested by a multitude of candidates, and the confrontation to be expected in single seat constituencies.
Opposition Deputies have interpreted the result of the recent Presidential election as indicating a falling off of support for the Government. It is peculiar then that they do not see this has an appropriate basis for speculation as to the possible outcome of elections under the system we are proposing. The issue at stake however, is not whether one Party or another secures some marginal advantage at the next election but which system of election is more suited to the country's needs. At this point, the logic of our position favours the system we are proposing.
If we consider the effects of the present system at constituency level, the arguments in favour of a change become even stronger. Indeed a completely consistent form of PR would rule out constituencies altogether, but for practical reasons the system has been operated here on the basis of a number of multi-seat areas. This, in itself, is an indication that the impracticability of the system was recognised  from the outset. The members elected in a constituency are primarily the representatives of particular groups, rather than of the whole community.
This has many undesirable results. Instead of considering the interests of their constituency as a whole, Deputies tend to adopt partisan attitudes towards local problems. The experience has been that competition between Deputies—often of the same Party— has forced some of them to curry favour with voters by pretending to gain favours for them even where benefits are available as of right thus tending to create a false impression in the public mind. So much time has now to be spent by Deputies in dealing ostensibly on behalf of their constituents with day-to-day matters of administration which it is not necessary for them to deal with and in travelling around extensive and unwieldy constituencies, that they have not enough time left for their primary duty as legislators.
The introduction of single seat constituencies would alter this situation radically. In countries where this system operates, the member is regarded as the custodian and champion of the interests of his constituency. He is the member for the area—the whole community looks to him as its member in Parliament to promote its interests and he in turn, if he wishes to retain his seat, will look after the interests of the whole community. He will not be driven by competition of other Deputies into influence peddling.
The Taoiseach: Indeed he will have a vested interest in avoiding situations where he can obtain a favour for one individual or group at the expense of alienating others within his constituency. This could gradually improve the whole tone of public life. The member will concentrate more on the general well-being of the constituency and he will be able to do this all the more effectively since the area will be small and he will have an intimate knowledge of all its real problems. He  will also have much more time to give to his duties as a legislator.
Under the single-seat system, the political Parties would have every incentive to put forward candidates of a high calibre. The smaller the constituency the more important the personal factor becomes and single-seat constituencies would be much smaller than the present areas—a typical constituency would have only about 12,000 electors. Moreover since each Party would put forward only one candidate he would have to be elected on his own merits and would have to stand comparison with opposition candidates. And since he would not present any danger to an established member on his own side, no Party would ever have reason to choose any but the strongest candidate.
Whatever may be the position in the large constituencies in other countries, we can be certain that in the conditions which will obtain here there can be no question of Party machines forcing unsuitable candidates on the electorate. The contrary is true: each Party will tend to put forward as candidate the person most likely to command local support. And under the majority system of voting the candidate obtaining the support of the greatest number of the voters is elected—which brings me to the actual method of voting.
The defects of the present system have often been pointed out. Two defects inherent in the system are that all preferences have the same value— a casually cast 10th or even a 25th preference can have the same value as a No. 1 vote—and that the preferences of only some candidates are counted. This latter defect, combined with the complicated and arbitrary method of counting and transferring votes, introduces a random element into the process and the ultimate result may be far from what the electorate really intended. The choice between two effective candidates can depend on the relative position of weaker candidates and the chance transfer of sub parcels of votes. We all know of candidates who have headed the poll and not been elected. This random element is all the more serious when as happened in the last general  election only a few votes decided the last seat in some constituencies and as happens in many elections, only a handful of votes decides eliminations. If the returning officer decided to include at an earlier stage a different bundle of an elected candidate's surplus votes, a different result could be achieved. But this is not the returning officer's fault. The system obliges him to take random selections from the votes of candidates who receive surpluses for subsequent distribution.
A further defect of the present system is that, with large constituencies, and a large number of names on the ballot paper, the voter is not given the opportunity of giving a considered decision. Many voters know very little about most of the candidates. Often they are not even familiar with the Party or the policy of the Party to which the candidates belong. When the Electoral Act, 1963 was being enacted, there were demands from all sides of the House to have the political affiliation of candidates marked on the ballot paper. Again there is evidence that the later preferences are cast in a somewhat haphazard manner. There have been demands from certain Deputies that the order of names on the ballot paper should be determined by lot rather than alphabetically on the grounds that candidates higher up on the ballot paper tend to receive more votes than those in a lower position. If there is such a tendency, it is, of course, aggravated by the long lists of candidates inevitably involved in the present system.
In short, the present system is confusing and uncertain and does not give the voter the opportunity of making an informed and effective choice between real alternatives. For this we must look to the single seat constituency with majority voting.
In single seat areas there would normally be three or four candidates not many more, all of whom would be fairly well known in the area. Every voter would then have to make up his mind as between the candidates and in due course cast one vote for the  candidate of his choice bearing in mind the likelihood of his being elected as well as his policy. The candidate securing the most votes would be elected. The informed choice of the electorate is thus made directly effective.
My remarks so far have been confined to the principal provision of the Bill, namely, the establishment of single seat constituencies and majority voting. Most of the remaining provisions deal with the Constituency Commission and can more suitably be discussed at Committee Stage. There are, however, a few points I should like to make.
We considered the suggestion, made by Deputy John A. Costello during the debates on the 1958 Bill, that only general principles should be set out in the Constitution, leaving details to be settled by law. We could not find any completely satisfactory way of doing this and we have therefore adhered to the 1958 formula with some changes. The proposal that the three Opposition members of the Commission be designated by the Ceann Comhairle has been dropped and instead the matter is to be regulated by law. The intention is that the choice should be made by the Opposition. We would welcome the views of Deputies on how this might best be done. There was criticism of the virtually absolute powers given to the Commission under the 1958 Bill. The principles on which it was to proceed were stated in very general terms, any challenge in the courts was expressly barred, and the Dáil could upset its findings only by a resolution supported by a two-thirds majority, which would in practice be impossible to obtain. The Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968 now provides more definite guidelines and in the present Bill, the bar on resort to the courts has been removed and the Dáil may amend the Commission's report by a simple majority. I need hardly say that this power of the Dáil which I would put on a par with its power to remove judges, would not normally be used. However, all these matters can be discussed at Committee Stage and we will be open to consider any constructive  suggestions which may be put forward.
Approval of this Bill by the House is a necessary condition to placing the proposed amendment of the Constitution before the people. The Government believe that the people should now have a further opportunity of deciding whether to retain the existing method of election or to adopt the system advocated in this Bill, which, we are convinced, is more suitable in present-day conditions. The debates in this House will be an important means of placing before the people the arguments for and against the proposal. In commending the Bill to the House, I would ask that we discuss the issues involved as constructively and as dispassionately as we can.
“ndiúltaíonn Dáil Éireann an Dara Léamh a thabhairt don Bhille ar an bhforas gur togra atá neamhdhaonlathach go bunúsach an togra sa Bhille suas le 40 faoin gcéad de bhreis ionadaíochta sa Dáil a thabhairt do roinnt saoránach thar mar a thabharfaí do shaoránaigh eile.”
“Dáil Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that the proposal in the Bill to provide some citizens with up to 40 per cent greater representation in the Dáil than other citizens is fundamentally undemocratic.”
This amendment has been put on the Order Paper in line with the decision taken by the Fine Gael Party that the proposals embraced in the two Bills at present before the House for discussion are in present circumstances unnecessary and that in the case of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, there is a definite attempt to alter the fundamental democratic principle  of “one man one vote”. We are opposed to any attempt to alter the Constitution which would in any sense affect the principle of “one man one vote”.
Coupled with that principle is the fact that each vote must be of equal value. Listening to the arguments which were advanced here by the Taoiseach in introducing the first Bill —that which has been described as the “tolerance Bill” but which in fact proposes to alter the democratic principle that one man's vote is as good as another's—one would get the impression that it is not people who elect Deputies but fields or rivers or mountains. Deputies are not elected by the geography of the country and nowadays the inaccessibility of particular parts of the country cannot be adduced as a valid reason for the inability of Deputies to travel to remote parts of the country. In fact, even CIE will get a Deputy, within three or four hours, to the most remote part of the country and nobody would suggest that their methods of operation are always the most efficient. If a Deputy or a Minister who has a State car wishes to get there, he can get there far more quickly. Even on the odd occasions on which Ministers had accidents in State cars, they still reached their destinations.
The position is, so far as we are concerned, that we believe that the essential democratic principle that must be adhered to is the equality of every individual to use as an individual his vote in electing a Deputy to represent him. As I understand the principle put forward in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, the tolerance which is provided for, or under which Deputies for the future, if this particular amendment is passed would be elected would in effect mean that the influence of the value to be attached to a vote in practice would result in rigging the constituencies in favour of particular areas.
I am against that. I am against denying to a constituent in my own constituency, or in Dublin, or in County Dublin, or in Cork city or in Limerick or anywhere else, the same weight in  exercising his or her vote as we would give to a person in a remote rural area.
Mr. Cosgrave: A Deputy elected to this Parliament must represent people whose votes are of equal value. This proposal as made in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill means that the voters in some constituencies would have 40 per cent more Dáil representation than those in other areas. If, say, people need houses in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin or any other part of the country and have been denied houses because of the failure of the Government to provide the necessary funds or necessary plans and to sanction them over the past ten or 11 years, surely they are entitled to assert through their votes their opinions of and their dissatisfaction with the inability and ineffectiveness of Government policy to provide them with what they need, just as a person living in a remote area, even a person living on an island off the coast? I believe they are entitled to the same weight and their votes are entitled to the same value. Under this Bill a population of approximately 16,067 in one area is entitled to a Deputy or, as it is apparently becoming fashionable to call them, to a Member, whereas in other areas 40 per cent more of the population, 22,233, may be required.
I want to ascertain from the Taoiseach or somebody else is the tolerance proposed in this Bill around the national average, as the papers have said, or is it different? As I read this amendment, it would appear that if the Third Amendment goes through and the Fourth Amendment does not,  then the tolerance will not be around the national average of 20.028 per Deputy but around a figure that will vary, depending on how the constituencies are distributed. This proposal is fundamentally undemocratic. Whatever about the inability in other times when transport was less efficient, when telephonic and other communications were either non-existent or available only in certain areas, there is no justification in present circumstances for a proposal to rig the constituencies.
We must be concerned here with the practical results of our experience since the State was set up. As far as this country is concerned, we cannot assert that there has been any instability in government. There are a number of theoretical defects in proportional representation, but as far as stable government is concerned, this country has had what a number of people have described as not stability but stagnation. Before I finish, I will have to pose certain questions to those who ultimately will have to decide this issue and those who will bring their influence to bear on these decisions. The decision to introduce these amendments has been made by the present Government because of the trend as shown in a number of recent elections. The trend would indicate that on the pattern of voting as shown in the local elections and in the by-elections, as well as the Presidential election of two years ago, the majority which Fianna Fáil has at present is unlikely to exist after the next general election. That is not a sufficient justification for a decision to alter the present electoral system. There are, as has been stated on a number of occasions, many more urgent and pressing problems about which the Government appear to be far less concerned. It is important in any matter of this sort—and this is a question which concerns all of us, no matter on what side of the House we sit—to remember that we have a duty and an obligation to act as trustees for the country and for those who come after us and to ensure that actions or decisions will not be taken merely for the Party or personal political advantage of individual Parties or individual Deputies.
 As far as one can judge from the statements that have been made and from any public discussion that has started on this matter, there is no demand for changes such as are proposed. This question was last decided less than nine years ago. Prior to that, it was put into the 1937 Constitution and prior to that, it was included in the 1922 Constitution. There were many general elections after the first Constitution; there have been many general elections since the 1937 Constitution was enacted; and there was a decision in 1959 to adhere to the existing system. Therefore, so far as the people have expressed an opinion, so far as the opportunity has been given to the electorate to decide since the establishment of the State and more especially in the referendum of 1959 in which this issue, and this alone, was put before the electorate, a decision was taken on the proposal.
Problems which affect this country such as the spiralling rise in the cost of living, the growing unemployment and redundancy, the disruption in industry because of the effect of the Free Trade Area Agreement, the virtual stagnation in agriculture—the present temporary rise in cattle prices is not due to the Trade Agreement but to foot and mouth disease in England; when the present Minister for Finance arrived back when he was Minister for Agriculture, he said there would be a rise in cattle prices of not less than £10 per head and the first thing was a drop, and cattle prices did not rise until foot and mouth disease intervened——
Mr. Cosgrave: I submit I am entitled to advert to more urgent problems than those before the House. This proposal, according to the estimate of the Minister for Finance, is to cost £100,000. I know, of course, that people who are in contact with Tacateers may feel that £100,000 is a small sum but——
Mr. Cosgrave: ——it is still a substantial amount of money. A sum of £100,000 is a lot of money when it is taken from the taxpayers or the ratepayers and when the Government have responsibility for spending it wisely and well. We are entitled to suggest that there are more urgent and pressing problems, including the position of pensioners on which to spend the money, instead of in this fashion.
In addition to the definite proposal in this Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill which would involve a rigging of the constituencies, I want to refresh the House's memory with a quotation from Deputy Seán Lemass who was——
That was Deputy Lemass's view. Now this decision is being departed from  and there is this proposal to alter the present system, a suggestion that there should be an alteration in the present Constitution which at one time was regarded as the Ten Commandments of the Fianna Fáil Party. A change was advocated by Deputy Lemass after he had assumed responsibility for leadership of the Fianna Fáil Party and when he had “parked” his old Chief. That decision was taken for political reasons. I am convinced that if we have a sense of responsibility to the people, we cannot decide merely on what is good for a particular political Party. Since the establishment of the State, we have had stable government. We have had the effect of the normal democratic process and when public opinion decided a particular way, that was effective in changing the Government. The position has now been reached in which it is suggested that because of a change in the attitude of the people, because of the passage of time and because particular divisions which divided political Parties in the past no longer exist, there may be a justification or reason for altering the system.
We are convinced that because of the stable conditions which have existed, because of the repeated opportunities and repeated decisions expressed by the electorate and because of the fact that this matter was last decided less than nine years ago, there is neither a public demand nor any apparent justification for proposals such as those which are now brought forward. If we did not know what the public thought, if the system had not worked, if there had been instability, if the present electoral system provided particular advantages for one section or area, then there might be a case for reviewing it or examining it, but this is a proposal to alter the fundamental democratic principle of the equality of each individual elector, of the power and force which his or her vote has, irrespective of where he or she resides —a fundamental democratic right that should not be interfered with.
It has been suggested as a reason for the proposal that the present system,  because of a court decision some years ago, does not allow for consideration of practical local or county problems and I want to direct the attention of the House to a decision expressed on behalf of the Supreme Court by the then Chief Justice when he announced the decision of the court in regard to the matter of Article 16 of the Constitution and the Electoral (Amendment) Bill of 1961. He referred to certain matters on the question of whether it was possible to take into account questions such as the ratio of Deputies between one area and another and the consideration of the basis on which that would be undertaken. He went on to say, as reported in Irish Reports, 1961, Part II, page 182, that the basis of the clause—this is clause 2.3º of Article 16 of the Constitution—
He then referred to the decision in the earlier case of O'Donovan v. Attorney General when a reference was made to an interpretation given by Lord Goddard, then Chief Justice, in the case of Lee v. Nursery Furnishings, Ltd. where it was accepted:
I construe the sub-clause as meaning that a parity of ratio of members to population in the constituencies throughout the country is to be attained by the Oireachtas as far as that is capable of being carried into action in a practical way having regard to such practical difficulties as exist and may legitimately, having regard to the context and the provisions of the Constitution generally, be taken into consideration.
The sub-clause recognises that exact parity in the ratio between members and the population of each constituency is unlikely to be obtained and is not required. The decision as to what is practicable is within the jurisdiction of the Oireachtas. It may reasonably take into consideration a variety of factors, such as the desirability so far as possible to adhere to well-known boundaries such as those of counties, townlands and electoral divisions. The existence of divisions created by such physical features as rivers, lakes and mountains may also have to be reckoned with.
The problem of what is practicable is primarily one for the Oireachtas, whose members have a knowledge of the problems and difficulties to be solved which this Court cannot have. Its decision should not be reviewed by this Court unless there is a manifest infringement of the Article. This, of course, is not to say that a Court cannot be informed of the difficulties and may not pronounce on whether there has been such a serious divergence from uniformity as to violate the requirements of the Constitution.
Under that decision, which is now a constitutional decision and a part of the law of the land, the court decided that the provisions of the Constitution allow departure in certain cases. It means that a tolerance is permitted. There can be no justification, and it is well to point out that the informal Committee on the Constitution never suggested it, for a departure from the ratio between one constituency and another as wide as the 17 per cent suggested in the Third Amendment to the Constitution Bill. We believe that there is no justification for this proposal and any attempt to gerrymander or to discriminate unfairly against people in one particular locality as against another is not justified and cannot be supported or upheld.
 This is a matter which affects not merely the political Parties in the House and the people we represent but which affects everyone in the community. It is a matter which must be voted upon and decided upon by all the people. In so far as those who are opposed to Fianna Fáil profess by their speeches and express by their policies and actions the reasons for which they are opposed to Fianna Fáil, they now have the obligation to carry this opposition into effect. A number of Members and individuals from time to time have expressed, mainly in talk, their opposition to Fianna Fáil. If we look at the result of recent elections, if we look at the results of the pattern of voting in the recent by-elections, there is a clear indication that a majority of the electors are opposed to Fianna Fáil and wish to see them out of office. I say this because a number of people have been expressing views to the effect that they have an attitude of a particular kind.
Mr. Cosgrave: I will let the Minister for Justice spell it out for himself but I will say this: the fence-sitters must get off the fence. There cannot be an unrealistic or theoretical approach to this matter. We have consistently put forward our policy in this and other matters and those who are not for us are against us. We ask these people to come out and cast their votes against this proposal. The ballot-box is the place to decide this issue and we will accept the decision of the ballot-box.
Mr. S. Dunne: I could hardly fail to be impressed by the fiery enthusiasm and overwhelming applause by which the Taoiseach's speeches on these two measures were greeted by his own followers here today. They are leaving now, I wonder why. Running away! Little over one-third of the Taoiseach's Party is present now in this House on this occasion described by him as an historic one and certainly the most important parliamentary occasion of this Dáil. Where are they? Why are they not here to support those Bills? Is there support in the Taoiseach's own Party for them? I will tell you the answer: the support is not there and it is not in the country either.
Mr. S. Dunne: Is there a new affinity of loyalty between Deputy Lemass and the Front Bench here? Such an affinity has not been apparent in the past few weeks. The first Bill here, An Bille um an Triú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1968, is improperly titled. It should be called a Bill for the creation of second-class citizens, being an enactment to destroy the principle of one man one vote and for the rivetting of minority rule on this nation for the foreseeable future. It is a presumption, an impertinence which was essayed before, a very short time ago, by a noted electoral chessmaster. It is not to be tolerated and it will not be tolerated from a clique of ludo-players such as those we are confronted with in this House today.
James Connolly said, and I know it galls you to hear the mention of his name: “Ireland apart from its people means nothing to me”. We know, those of us who have spent any time studying the operations of the main political Parties in this House, operations not unduly unshared by my friends on the left, that the people of this country have been treated to a display of sunbustry and maudling sentimentality over the past 40 years and that they have been exploited under that head. We know what are the intentions behind the Third Amendment to the Constitution Bill. Regardless of what the Taoiseach may say, its purpose is to destroy the principle of the equality of voting rights. Its purpose is to devalue the vote in the highly populated areas, highly populated areas such as Dublin where it is manifest that more, and more, and still more people are refusing to be exploited, as they were in the past, in the political sense and are moving into more rational forms of thought and action in so far as politics are concerned and moving towards the Labour Party in ever greater numbers.
This Bill is designed to maintain what the Fianna Fáil Party consider to be their entrenched position, particularly in the west of Ireland and in the rural areas generally. Of course, it has not a snowball's chance in Hell of  succeeding and I would say that every one on those Government benches knows that, with the single exception of my distinguished colleague, who is responsible for the whole job. I refer to Deputy Boland. It is a remarkable commentary upon the absolute lack of democratic freedom in the Government Party that one man can impose his will upon all. We know that that is what is happening. Most of the members, indeed, of the Government Party find the second of these Bills as distasteful as the great majority in this House do and as the great majority of the people do. But they express such a view at their peril. If they dared to express such a view in the Party room, there is always the possibility they will not get the nomination when the time comes for nomination.
Mr. S. Dunne: However, to return to the essentials of this Bill; I want to put this thought to the House and to those Members of the House who have the honour to represent here any constituency which contains any kind of urban vote. What does the Bill mean in its application to this thing called, if you do not mind, tolerance? Tolerance, a soft, easy, insidious word whereby they move in to do—what? Whereby the pickpocket moves in to do—what? To steal the vote. This word “tolerance” means that it will take more than three Dublin votes, or Cork votes, or Limerick votes, or large town votes to equal two rural votes, or west of Ireland votes, if you like. In other words, every third man casting his vote in a Dublin election, although he does not know it, will in effect be having his vote cancelled out. One man one vote and votes of equal value: this is the principle which is attacked in this Bill.
Exception was taken to some comment Deputy Cosgrave was making about cattle prices. I think it is highly relevant because it would appear to me that the Government are going to substitute bullocks for people and give them instead of people votes. And, if there are not animals they will find stones, and mountains, and bogs, and lakes and so on——
Mr. S. Dunne: The nonsense we have heard here talked about comparisons with other countries would be laughable, if it were not tragic. This is an operation in the stealing of a principle. Canada is mentioned as a comparison—Canada, if you do not mind, where you can travel for days, and weeks, and months, and never meet a human being. Australia is mentioned as a comparison, with its outback where there are countless thousands of acres uninhabited even by the disappearing natives. And they say they can live anywhere. They could even live in parts of this country from which the people are fleeing daily and nightly to jobs in Dublin.
Let us have a look at the position. The average figures for Canada, Australia and Ireland in relation to acreage are as follows—remember, the acreage concept is one which dominates the thinking apparently of the framers of this Bill: in Canada, on the average, there is said to be one person for every 122 acres; in Australia, there is an average of one person for every 190 acres; in Ireland, there is one person for every 6.175 acres. Yet Canada and Australia are leaned on heavily by the Taoiseach to justify the indefensible.
A couple of weeks ago we had a very telling interjection in a debate on something or other from the Minister for Local Government. I was referring to the principle of one man one vote, which he finds so distasteful, and he angrily said: “There is no such principle in the Constitution.”
Mr. S. Dunne: I would refer him, or anybody interested, to paragraph 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution—this  Talmud, this Holy Writ, rammed down the necks of the Irish people. And I only a youth at the time. I remember it well. It was the last word in Revelation, the uttermost in wisdom.
Mr. S. Dunne: For my friend's benefit, and as one who has not had a classical education, I must confess the reference escapes me. We were told when this Constitution of 1937 was being put before the people that never again in the history of Ireland would it be necessary for any man, politician or statesman, to agonise in order to produce a similar creation. It was the last word in perfection. It was what we were waiting for. It was that for which Lord Edward had died and Sarsfield had bled. The dawn of salvation for the Irish nation had come. I hear a voice from the past interrupting me.
Mr. S. Dunne: Leave Deputy MacEntee alone. Oisín i ndiaidh na Féinne. On his lonely perch, let him interrupt to his heart's content. The acerbity has gone from his tongue and we have to make allowances for the mellowing of the years. Perhaps he will on some future occasion entertain us with a poetry-recital taking us back to the youth for which he obviously hankers so longingly. He has, unfortunately, interrupted my train of thought—that was the purpose of the interruption—but I will come back to it.
The ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population  of each constituency, as ascertained at the last preceding census, shall, so far as it is practicable, be the same throughout the country.
Mr. S. Dunne: At a later stage in the debate. We will be interested to hear. It seems to me that it is an approximation—as near an approximation as, I suppose, one could ever hope to get from the complex thought processes of the framer of the original Constitution to a firm, comperhensible declaration of anything—to a declaration of the principle of one man one vote but, whether it is or not, the telling thing to which I was referring was the interjection of the Minister, indicative of the whole approach of the dominant element in the Government Party to matters which relate to the running of this country. It is an approach based on the idea that they are the owners of Ireland, the owners of the people of Ireland, and that they can do what they like with the liberties of the people. This, seriously, is the notion that apparently they were brought up to and that was injected into them. I want to say that ere many months pass, the Irish people will show them that there is no clique and no group in this country that will be allowed to impose  their will in the manner in which they seek to do. The very idea of having a difference of over 6,000 votes between what it would take to elect a Deputy in the west of Ireland and what it takes to elect a Deputy on the eastern sea-board is an insult to the intelligence of the people and nobody will tell me that those few who still live in the West, whose number you should be ashamed to admit is so few after your boasted 27 or 30 years in office, give a damn as to how many they send to this House because they have seen the futility of it all. How much more realistic would it have been for the Government to say that they would give votes to the exiles in Britain, as the Americans give their exiles, that they would give votes to the people of the West who have to work for McAlpine and John Lang and the rest of them throughout the length and breadth of Britain.
Mr. S. Dunne: It would have the merit that it would be realistic. That is the test of this Bill. It is, purely and simply, to use a hackneyed word, an attempt at gerrymandering. There are people who say that to them the existing Constitution is a simple document and is understood, that it is a document that people can buy and read and get an idea as to what is meant by the various Articles. The people who say that are themselves simple because practically every word in the Constitution is loaded in such a fashion to mean, in the judicial way of the former leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, many things, not just one thing, and capable of many interpretations.
However, this point has to be made: supposing this Bill were to pass and supposing the impossible happened—I believe that it is impossible that the referendum on the Bill would succeed —it is obvious that the wording of the Bill as it stands would become completely incomprehensible to the average citizen. The skilled lawyer, I understand, has difficulty now in grasping what it means and we have had an example of it here today.  This question of tolerance has been mentioned. We are told that the national average is in the neighbourhood of 20,000 but that it will be possible to elect a TD for some 16,000 voters. We are told that in one breath and in the next breath, the Minister trots out a statement that each Deputy will represent 20,000 to 30,000 people. There is a difference between 16,000 and 30,000 of 14,000. How is it suggested that the average citizen—and I count myself an average citizen—will understand that kind of double talk which is there in the Bill and is incomprehensible?
That is only by the way. I am concerned with the principle, and the principle of this Bill attacks a fundament of democratic rights. Mr. Justice Budd, when he gave his historic judgment in 1961 on the Bill which was brought before him for determination as to its legality, made the point amongst many other points—and a very fine judgment it was, looked at from any point of view——
Mr. S. Dunne: That is not correct. I am afraid time is taking effect on Deputy MacEntee's memory. This is not so. Mr. Justice Budd's judgment stood and was not challenged in the Supreme Court. As I say, in the course of a very fine statement of the legal position and a very illuminating outline of what the situation was, expressed in very simple terms which even I could understand, he adverted to the need for any and every action which  might be taken under the Constitution to be democratic. I contend that this Third Amendment is the very opposite to democratic procedure in as much as it reduces the value of the city or town vote, the vote in the built-up areas, and exaggerates the value of the vote of people living in rural areas.
What is to be said in favour of that? I know there is a notion concerning the superiority of rural as against urban dwellers. There is an American textbook written by Henry B. Mayo which is called An Introduction to Democratic Theory published by the Oxford University Press. Mr. Mayo examines this question of the contention among some people that there is a reason why greater value should be given to a rural than to an urban vote. Let me quote from page 132 of this book:
The theory behind it is such that it is a form of interest representation, that somehow the rural population are the backbone of the country superior in some relevant way to urban dwellers, or that farming is a more basic industry, again in some relevant political way, and thus ought to be more than proportionally represented. One occasionally hears the argument for the “equilibrium or balance of town and country”, a phrase with as many misleading ambiguities as the “balance of nature”.
All these arguments are extremely weak and specious and the inequalities between rural and urban districts for the most part must be regarded as an anachronism. They are born as the product of historical accident and group pressures. Some of the over-represented areas, for instance, American rural counties in Georgia or Florida, may fairly, I think, be regarded as the “rotten boroughs” of the 20th century.
He goes on to indicate that in his view, which is a completely independent, unpartisan view of electoral systems, any departure from the idea that every person shall have a vote of equal value to every other person is wrong and is not justifiable in any circumstances unless  there are physical facts which make such a disparity inevitable, physical facts of a kind to which I have referred as existing in continents like Australia and huge countries like Canada. Surely the Taoiseach was straining very hard and labouring when he had to make mention of these examples in justifying his efforts in the direction of gerrymandering as he proposes to do in this Bill?
In the course of his opening statement, the Taoiseach referred to the securing of convenient areas of representation, and went on to discuss the need to preserve county boundaries. He said it was the intention to preserve county boundaries in the great majority of counties except Dublin, because it may be necessary, in order to gerrymander effectively, to go over the city boundary into the county to get the balance wanted in the case of Dublin. The same arguments for the preservation of boundaries exist in regard to Dublin city—and perhaps stronger arguments, if they have any validity at all—as exist in regard to the preservation of rural boundaries. “Ease of access to Deputies”—this is nonsense. When I look at some of the provincial papers. I do not find it an uplifting exercise; on the contrary, since we see advertisements from Deputies saying that they will be available at this, that or the other town, at such a time. There is almost a race between town and town. That does not add to the dignity of the office, nor indeed does it add to the effective discharge of a Deputy's tasks. It does not add to a Deputy's peace of mind, not that anyone consults the peace of mind of a Deputy of Dáil Éireann in any circumstances.
I see this ease of access to a Deputy in every constituency in Ireland today. If a constituent wants to find a Deputy, he or she will do so, and without any great trouble. Very often in rural Ireland, is it not more in the nature of a nice social outing to go and interview a Deputy? Indeed, a man or woman going to see a Deputy will not be short of good company. Others will go along for the trip. That is as it should be. Rural Deputies are available to their people and the suggestion that there is  now in this modern age, with a proliferation of traffic, with all kinds of vehicular transport—mopeds, motor bikes and cars of every description—a real difference between the problems of a rural citizen locating his or her Deputy, and the problems that face a city person, is a pretence, and nothing more than that, to bolster up the arguments for this Bill.
In fact, I would draw this to the attention of the House. Let us take Deputy Burke of the Fianna Fáil Party, for instance, a hardworking Deputy in a city area with a rural hinterland which he has in his constituency. Even if he operated in a city area only, he would be inundated with work on a scale which I defy any Deputy in Ireland to compare with, and yet it is proposed to make it harder for someone similarly situated—Deputy Burke is not the only Deputy; I mention him because he is such a good friend, and an old friend, and I know he is hardworking——
Mr. S. Dunne: There are other Deputies in the large urban areas, not necessarily the city areas, who are working all the hours God sends, and working hard, and who can never go to bed secure in the knowledge that they have answered every letter, dealt  with every phone call, and that they can start in the morning with a completely fresh sheet. No Deputy in Ireland in the history of Dáil Éireann ever arrived at that stage. If he found himself in that situation, he found himself out of the Dáil at the next election, if he was not getting those demands.
The point I am making is that a Deputy representing a densely populated area can have much more work to do and the pressures on him can be far greater than a Deputy living in and representing a rural constituency. So, all this talk about the need to ensure the service of the people by reducing the number of the people in the rural areas to be served by a Deputy has no solid arguments to support it. One-sixth of the national average is mentioned as the tolerance figure, above or below. I wonder why it is one-sixth? Is it not an odd coincidence that if you work it out, you will find that one-sixth of the national average brings down the minimum population figure which can elect a Deputy just barely to what is required in certain constituencies in the West which return, it would appear, mainly Fianna Fáil representatives. Would it be unkind of me to suggest this influenced the Minister in arriving at the fraction of one-sixth rather than some tighter fraction?
Mr. S. Dunne: Harsh things are said in public. Yesterday I heard myself described in terms I never thought would be used in this House. Someone used the description “big bluffer”. I distinctly heard the word and it was not “bluffer”. It sounded like that and the delicacy of the Reporters returned it as “bluffer”. So, as I say, at times one feels that the general standards in political life are not improving.
Mention has been made, as an argument,  of the disparity which obtains in constituencies in Britain. It has been pointed out that in Welsh and Scottish constituencies, there is a large difference between the numbers required to return an MP to Westminister. Of course, it is now the fashion for us to do whatever they do in Britain. It used not to be at one time. If anyone suggested anything like that, he carried his life in his hands when he went outside the House but now it is all the fashion. It is a kind of inverted patriotism. You can hardly say anything against Britain now or you insult the Fianna Fáil Party.
They cited the British example, but in fact, it will be found that whereas the Government are seeking a tolerance —and this tolerance means an imposition upon the Irish people's tolerance, of course—of 16 and a fraction per cent. Anybody interested who looks at the situation will find that the average difference between the Scottish Highland and Welsh constituencies and some of the British constituencies is not greater than 8 per cent, or half that being sought for the gerrymander here.
Mr. S. Dunne: Of course it is. It might very well be argued in Britain that they are dealing with separate nations, the Scots who want regional autonomy and the Welsh who also want regional autonomy, that the British Government is under very strong pressure to make gestures in this direction. But the most they do is 8 per cent of the average so that there is no support here for the Government.
Turning to the Second Bill before us, An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, more attention has been paid by the Taoiseach, or rather, should I say, by his scriptwriters, to this than to the first measure, possibly under the mistaken impression that the first Bill will be a pushover while the second will need more buttressing. We know what is proposed. We know that it is proposed to abolish PR in this Bill. It is proposed to establish a system whereby one person in each constituency elected by a minority of the  votes in most cases, a probable minority of the votes in every constituency, will be returned to form the Government. The interesting thing for the Fianna Fáil supporters through the country to observe is one of the remarks made by the Taoiseach in his efforts to persuade the Dáil on this proposal, when he says:
Is this a suggestion that the Taoiseach goes along with certain gentlemen in the other part of this Oireachtas who would have the populace believe that there is something wrong or unrepresentative in the calibre of the existing representatives of this House? I contend that Dáil Éireann is as the Irish nation is, warts and all, with all its faults and, I hope, with some of its advantages.
What is the inference in this gesture towards the part-time letter-writers who have not the faintest clue as to what it means in terms of hard labour to do the work of a Deputy? This suggestion to me reads as if the Government Party, if they succeed in passing this Bill and abolishing PR and establishing a strong, as they say, Government—in other words, a Government who will have a majority unlikely to diminish substantially for the balance of the century—will retain to themselves the right, this hierarchy will retain the right, to send from Dublin to anywhere else—possibly from Donegal—to any part of Ireland candidates chosen in the centre and the local machinery will be told: “This is your man; go out and put him in.”
This has a message for the activists of Fianna Fáil, those on whom the Party has leaned for so many years to return them here and who may have worked hard in spite of annually increasing personal unpopularity to maintain the impossible position in which the Government has placed them by their absolute lack of policy. To these people I think there is an indication in this phrase that Fianna Fáil are prepared to turn upon them despite their  loyalty, an indication that the party is prepared to turn away from them and to take from Dublin—who knows, perhaps from that fabled, almost legendary organisation, Taca—candidates who will fill this particular bill.
Mr. S. Dunne: Do we not see them pounding the corridors, straining at the leash? They cannot wait until an election comes after PR is abolished so that they can get seats for which they will not have to work and which they may forget about except at election times so that they can luxuriate as people of some importance in the capital. I am sure that Government spokesmen will not over-emphasise that danger when they are talking to the faithful but it is there nonetheless.
Reference is made in the Taoiseach's speech to the revision of the constituencies to be undertaken by an impartial Commission appointed by the Dáil. May I be forgiven for saying so but I do not think it is possible for politicians or any group of Irish people honestly to come together on an issue of this kind and acting as politicians appoint an impartial Commission. It cancels itself out. The proposal has the saving clause that such a Commission will be presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court. I understand that in the event, the proposal in regard to such a Commission would be that it would consist of six representatives. Say there are six Deputies or politicians and three of them are Government representatives and three are Opposition, will anybody tell me you can get unanimity there as to how constituencies will be determined? It is completely unreal to suggest it. If there is not unanimity, there would then devolve on the president of the Commission—on the judge—responsibility for doing the job himself and completing the task within a month. It is a difficult task for any judge to undertake.
I wonder by whom are judges appointed? By the Government of the day. With the best will in the world, could we be sure that the public will be satisfied that this operation is completely  impartial, however satisfied we might be ourselves?
In his statement concerning the proposal to abolish PR and the principle of one man, one vote, the Taoiseach referred to many such principles, universal franchise and the secret ballot. The secret ballot has been broken also, of course, in certain areas. We know about that; it is not necessary to go into it here. One could spend a constructive half-hour talking about how the secret ballot has been manipulated by the strong Party machine in certain areas. Deputy Cunningham looks at me askance. I know Donegal would not know anything about that. How could they possibly?
Mr. S. Dunne: I will be telling you about it in another place where I will have more time to deal with it. It will be so revelatory I would rather you would not be present because I would not like to see you blush.
Mr. S. Dunne: The Taoiseach refers to the existence in the Constitution of the right of individuals and groups to contest elections. That right has been seriously abrogated by steps taken in this House some years ago requiring the registration of Parties. I felt that was completely unconstitutional. Although it might appear a comforting thing for those Parties already in existence, it always struck me that that effort by the House to keep Parties off the ballot paper unless they were registered—and the House set up an organisation to decide who were or were not to be registered—is highly doubtful if one examines it from the point of view of democratic procedure. However, it is there and we must deal with it.
The prevention of electoral abuses and the provision of impartial machinery for the conduct of elections —these things appear so primitive that it surprises me the Taoiseach referred  to them at all. He suggests that there is something remarkable in the fact that we have achieved these simple things. If that is his view of the rights of the citizen, he is at least half a century behind the times. Most of these things were gained by the Chartists over 100 years ago in Britain. The universal franchise only came here long after it came to most other countries. It only came here within the last quarter of a century. But the other things are facts of life and it puzzles me why the Taoiseach brings them in at all except to fill out the page, which he was so obviously trying to do.
He also makes the startling announcement that history shows the system of voting can have an immense influence on a country's political development. The book circulated by the Minister for Finance a couple of weeks ago should be given to whoever evolved that one. These facts we hold to be self-evident, and repetition of them is tiresome. The suggestion that Fianna Fáil have brought them into existence is too puerile to be worth controverting.
“The tyranny of the majority”— what a wonderful phrase to discover! The Taoiseach does not say who the originator of that extraordinary phrase is except to refer in a loose way to “constitutional theorists.” Like whom? Like Deputy Corry perhaps? “The tyranny of the majority.” If words were ever twisted they are being twisted here. Surely it is accepted that democracy means government by the majority—the greatest good for the greatest number? Surely that is the essence of democracy? Surely the mere mention of the word “tyranny” immediately connotes the usurpation of democratic rights by a minority? Again, it is one of those telling phrases which so clearly illumine the mental pathways down which this group now temporarily in power are proceeding.
We have had here coalition Governments, called inter-Party Governments, in the past. They represented the majority of the people. While the Taoiseach avoided too much discussion of the history of that period, I would like to remind him that the first inter-Party Government went from office by  a very narrow majority and at the subsequent election three years later, the people voted back in great strength the Parties which had previously supported the inter-Party Government. I think it is true to say that if the people were given an opportunity, they would certainly vote out the present Government. The majority of the people have no confidence in them.
I do not go along with what Deputy Cosgrave said. I do not think he has any right to demand of any Party in this House that there should be combinations of any kind. I want to make the Labour Party's position crystal clear. The Labour Party are an independent Party. It may seem, looking at our present strength, that we are remote from power. Time, history, education and enlightenment are all on our side. The Taoiseach referred to the waning influences of the Civil War. He does not deny—nobody can—that the existence of the two main Parties in this House is predicated upon the Civil War and the personal differences which arose during that unhappy time. They must be personal differences because what one side said was right the other side after a few years also said was right to do. The differences must have been personal, not an unusual thing to find in any Irish situation. It is something the people who examine voting patterns always leave out of account— the tendency of the Irish voter to follow individuals rather than policies and Parties.
However, the Civil War situation has brought both of your Parties here—not rational thought or reasoned argument for definite policies upon which you disagreed, but differences which are basically unreal. If there is to be a coming together, the logical coming together must surely be between the two Parties who broke 50 years ago. Everybody would be happy to see that occur. Then we might start developing a natural form of political life in this country. You may think this is asking too much. The trend of events in the coming year will show that the people, particularly the younger people, are becoming absolutely disenchanted and disillusioned with talk of the past and they will create by their votes  a situation which will drive together the two big Parties, which will drive elements of the two main Parties which have a lot in common to form, as they should be, a Party of the right. Whether I am here to see it after the next election, or the election after that, is of no consequence and I do not say that in any partisan way but merely as an expression of opinion as to the political trend for the future in Ireland. I will leave the Civil War alone at that. There is an awful lot I could say about it but I will not.
Mr. S. Dunne: Well, it is worth a ball of malt. The Taoiseach referred to the position of France, the great hobby-horse—France from which stem some of the greatest liberties we now cherish; France which first raised the flag of democracy in the cause of freedom many years ago, was it two centuries ago, before Napoleon? Nowadays when we want to talk about why it is so necessary to dig ourselves in, to prepare the position from which we cannot be dislodged by enemy fire, we say: “Look at France”, as the Taoiseach has done. However, the Taoiseach also compared present-day France with pre-war France and post-war France in regard to the question of stability of government. General de Gaulle was so nice to the Taoiseach when he went there recently to see him and when the  Taoiseach told him of his errand he said: “But come in. What is stopping you? By all means come in”, and then the Taoiseach had to find some excuse for not going in, which was that Britain would not let us. We could not do without the British market. However, leaving that aside, General de Gaulle with all his qualities, a most exceptional man who has brought such stability to France, is nonetheless not a democrat. I would imagine that his likes would not be too popular in modern Ireland. We did have, in the person of our revered President, somebody perhaps of the same temperament and who was attended with something of the same success in regard to elections, but that was a different time. That was before O'Malley's free secondary education, to put it at its lowest.
Mr. S. Dunne: I doubt it would happen now so I would not play the de Gaulle hand too hard. Apart from anything else, he might take a dim view of what you are saying. They say that he is notedly sensitive on these matters in regard to France because when you speak of La Belle France, he considers you are speaking of himself and he takes it as a personal insult, so it is not wise for the Taoiseach to be dragging his name into this debate. I want to refer too, to the efforts which have been made to put this across the country. We had the Minister for Local Government saying in Cork or Waterford recently that the Government have not even begun to fight in so far as the promotion of their plan to abolish PR is concerned. I do not know what you call the occurrences in Telefís Éireann which I tried to raise here by every parliamentary device open to me——
The Taoiseach: To produce proof that the Government had anything to do with this, and I still deny it. I knew nothing about it. The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs gave that its proper status in reply to a question last week.
Mr. S. Dunne: The Taoiseach, I hope, will have the grace to withdraw his, I suggest, highly improper remarks to me last week when the innuendo was that I was saying something which was not a fact, and that is the proof.
The Taoiseach: It was stated openly that there was this communication within the offices of Radio Telefís Éireann. This is proof of nothing except what the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs stated last week.
The Taoiseach: I do not know why the Deputy passed this out in such a dramatic fashion and I do not see why there should be any restriction on publication of the names of the signatories. I certainly will not disclose them but——
Mr. S. Dunne: What I am saying is that there is a Fianna Fáil clique responsible for this, whether the Taoiseach knows of it or not. There is a group that perhaps the Taoiseach is not aware of responsible for it. The Taoiseach is sitting on a very unsteady throne.
Mr. S. Dunne: On page 8 of his statement the Taoiseach embarks upon a rather puzzling performance in regard to what Deputies have to do. I would ask the House to have another look at this. He says that instead of considering the interest of their constituency  as a whole, Deputies tend to adopt partisan attitudes towards local problems. That attitude was born, suckled and weaned in the Fianna Fáil Party. He says that the experience has been that competition between Deputies, often of the same Party, has forced some of them to curry favour with voters by pretending to gain favours for them, even where benefits are available as of right, thus tending to create a false impression in the public mind. I am certain Deputy O'Connor would never be guilty of such skulduggery. It must have reference to members of the Opposition.
Mr. S. Dunne: He and I are not of the same Party. He used to fish for votes in a certain well-known area but I am afraid he has not been very successful in recent years. The innuendo is that we must change the Constitution because Deputies are competing with one another. We must put the country to the expense of £100,000, not to mention the incidental cost of refreshments, personation agents, cars, publicity, posters and all the rest of it, simply to ensure that Deputy O'Connor does not enter into a race around the Ring of Kerry with the new and active young man, Deputy O'Leary. I take it they are from the same area.
I know that this does not make for the most restful nights, this competition among Deputies, but it does not justify causing upset to the people and the cost that is entailed in taking up the time of this House which could be more profitably spent in discussing such things as the emergency housing situation, relief for our old people, relief for the poor and sick and similar problems. We should be discussing what we are going to do to prepare ourselves for the cold bath of entering into the Common Market. Instead of that, the Government are forcing the Dáil to devote its time and intelligence to a discussion of competition between Deputies in their different constituencies.
All this shows us how poor the case  of the Government is. The fact is that the Government are seeking to abolish proportional representation because they are certain they will not get a majority in the next election and that they will probably be very far short of a majority. They want to ensure that they can take time by the forelock and make a gambler's throw now because they will not get the chance again. If they succeed in getting the Referendum passed, and they might very well do that if there is apathy and a small vote, if they are successful in getting the Referendum passed, it could possibly happen that an enraged people who saw that something had been put over on them in time would give the opposite result to that sought by the Government. That is an unlikely contingency.
Mr. S. Dunne: I agree that the Referendum cannot be successful, will not be successful, and I am sure that Deputy O'Connor and every reasonable man in his Party knows that. You will not meet one man in 20 in the street who will tell you that it has a remote chance of succeeding.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 09:49:00||Page of 44|