Tuesday, 23 November 1971
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Corish: An Tánaiste will notice that the Labour Party have a Private Members' Bill which is now being described as the Fourth Amendment; up to last week it was the Third Amendment. An Tánaiste will remember that the Fourth Amendment, as it is now described, in the names of members of the Labour Party was one to give votes at 18 years. I assume the Third Amendment of the Constitution is enabling legislation for the purpose of holding a referendum on Ireland's application for membership of the EEC and other bodies?
Mr. Corish: As the six member countries and some of the applicant countries have votes at 18, am I correct in assuming that this provision, included in what is described as the Fourth Amendment, will be embodied in the legislation and in the referendum?
Mr. Corish: This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Government ask the Dáil to provide legislation for the holding of a referendum on membership of the EEC when we will not have the terms of entry which, we trust, will be embodied in the White Paper. Surely the logical thing would be to have the White Paper first and then a decision of the Dáil on Constitutional amendments?
An Tánaiste: Because of the timing in regard to this matter, the debate on the White Paper will take place after the debate on this Bill, not before, as originally intended. It is hoped the referendum will take place some time early in the New Year, after the White Paper.
An Tánaiste: The debate is taking place. We are getting leave from the House to introduce a referendum in order that we can amend the Constitution. This has to be done in any event since we intend to join the European Economic Community.
Mr. Desmond: Now that this rather scruffy cat has come out of the bag at long last, to the consternation of the front bench I notice, may I ask An Tánaiste how the country and the elected public representatives can consider a constitutional referendum without having available, simultaneously, the White Paper outlining the progress of the negotiations to-date and whether we should proceed to have a constitutional referendum?
Dr. Hillery: You did. The Deputy will remember pointing out that the White Paper will not necessarily have any influence on the holding of a referendum. There has to be a referendum for the public as to whether or not we join the Community whatever the result of negotiations. We are making provision for the holding of a referendum. There will be a White Paper which, I think, will now be delayed because of delays in the negotiations. The White Paper will be discussed in the House. There will be a discussion on the merits of the negotiations and of the package achieved in the negotiations. Whatever the opinion on the achievements or otherwise in the negotiations, a referendum will be necessary, and the legislation to make that possible so that the public can give a decision will take place no matter what the outcome of the White Paper is. Deputy Corish made this point.
Dr. Hillery: There is a delay in the negotiations which means that the White Paper on which the Dáil could discuss the merits or otherwise of the package achieved will be delayed. This will delay the starting of the preparing of legislation for the holding of the referendum. As Deputy Corish pointed out in the House, the questions put on the change in the Constitution are not in any way dependent on the negotiations. The merits on which the people will make the decision whether or not they want to join will be after the negotiations, and after the White Paper. That will be published before the people are asked to vote.
Dr. Hillery: Very soon. It only remains for what remain of the negotiations to be completed before we can complete the White Paper. The White Paper may be available immediately before Christmas. The debate could not then take place before Christmas.
Dr. FitzGerald: May I ask An Tánaiste to clarify something that happened earlier? I understood from an earlier exchange that the Leader of the Labour Party asked whether time would be given for a motion or Bill that the Labour Party would bring forward between now and Christmas. I further understood the answer to be “Yes” and, indeed, that any such motion or Bill would be allowed. I seemed to hear things said subsequently which suggested going back on that and that if a Bill were introduced time would not be given for it. Have I misunderstood the position?
An Tánaiste: We are not going to confuse the referendum on the question of voting at 18 years with the referendum enabling us to change the Constitution.  That is quite clear. The Taoiseach has indicated that he will announce to the House at a later date the question of what steps should be taken to provide for votes at 18.
Mr. Corish: This will mean that we will have different types of elections from everyone else. In Britain they vote at 18. Are we going to deny our young boys and girls of 18 years of age and upwards the right to vote? This should be a clear-cut decision. There should be no complications.
Dr. FitzGerald: In all logic the proposal to vote at 18 must be taken before the other referendum so that the young people who will be affected by the EEC will have a chance to vote in the EEC referendum.
Mr. Desmond: Why should we be holding a referendum in the month of March which is the last month of the current register when it will be 15 to 18 months out of date? Why is the referendum not being held in April when it would be held on a new register?
Mr. R. Barry: I should like to put a simple and straight question to the House. Have the Members of the House seen at any time in the past a greater example of collective irresponsibility than we have seen in the front bench of Fianna Fáil?
An Tánaiste: We have made the position absolutely clear. The White Paper has been delayed because of delay in negotiations. We would have to have a referendum in any event. There will be a debate on the White Paper. It will be necessary to have a discussion in the Dáil for the approval of the accession treaty as required by Article 29.5.2º of the Constitution. There will be a debate on the referendum, a discussion on the White Paper and a debate on accession.
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