An Bille um an Tríú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1968: An Dara Céim. Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968: Second Stage.
Wednesday, 10 July 1968
Seanad Eireann Debate
“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”.
 The purpose of this Bill is to spell out clearly in the Constitution the meaning of the words “so far as it is practicable”. This is done in effect in the proposed new subsection 3º which is contained in the Schedule to the Bill and which is being substituted for the existing subsection 3º of section 2 of Article 16. It sets out precisely the maximum divergence from strict mathematical parity of population per member permitted for constituencies and the factors which may justify a divergence up to that limit. The subsection fixes a maximum divergence of one-sixth from the national average population per member and provides that regard must be had to the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the need for securing convenient areas of representation and the desirability of avoiding the overlapping of county boundaries. This maximum divergence and the other factors will, in the event of the Bill being approved, apply whether or not the constituencies are multi-member or single-member.
I should like first of all to deal with the proposed requirement to have regard to the desirability of avoiding the overlapping by constituencies of county boundaries because it has a direct bearing on the size of the divergence proposed.
It is generally recognised by authorities on electoral matters that constituencies should, as far as possible, be based on local communities. It is an undeniable fact that there is a strong feeling of local patriotism within our counties which should be respected.
There is also the point that much of a Deputy's work relates to matters within the competence of the county council. In addition, the whole process of registration of electors and holding of elections is geared to counties. Apart from these rather obvious reasons for adhering to county boundaries, constituencies based firmly on local administrative divisions will obviously command more public confidence than purely arbitrary creations. If the present system is retained, the aim should be that as many constituencies as possible should consist of a complete county or of two grouped  counties, the boundary in each case coinciding with the county boundary, or should be wholly contained within the boundaries of one county. If single seat constituencies are adopted, the commission to be set up will be facilitated in their task if they can take county boundaries within the proposed limit of divergence as a firm frame of reference in creating constituencies.
These are some of the reasons why the breaching of county boundaries was avoided where possible at all revisions of constituencies prior to 1961. At the 1959 revision, in no case was part of a county attached to the whole or part of another county to form a constituency. This involved in certain instances a divergence from the national average of population per Deputy to the extent that the number of population per Deputy varied from 16,575 to 23,128. This revision was, I should emphasise, endorsed at that time by all Parties in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
As we all know, the 1959 revision was declared by the High Court to be unconstitutional. This decision of the High Court resulted in the present scheme of constituencies in which 16 counties are affected by the attaching of part of a county to the whole or part of another county or counties. During the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1961, which determined the present constituencies, this aspect of the proposals, i.e. the breaching of county boundaries, was severely criticised by prominent Opposition spokesmen to the point of demanding amendment of the Constitution. Unless the Constitution is amended as proposed in this Bill it is doubtful if any county in Ireland could remain intact at future revisions of constituencies.
If the widespread breaching of county boundaries is to be avoided it is obviously necessary to allow the population per member in constituencies to deviate to some degree from the national average. It would be necessary to allow a deviation of nearly one-third above or below the average to avoid the breaching of all county boundaries and indeed, this would not  be out of line with the position in many other democracies.
The deviation of one-sixth proposed in the Bill would, however, avoid the breaching of county boundaries in the big majority of cases. With multi-Member constituencies this deviation would, on present population figures, enable all constituencies to be wholly contained within the individual counties or in pairs of counties which have a tradition of grouping. This would not be possible within the deviation of 12½ per cent suggested by the informal Committee on the Constitution in their arguments adduced in favour of a change in the relevant constitutional provisions.
I must make it absolutely clear, therefore, that the maximum deviation of one-sixth proposed in the Bill is the smallest deviation which would, in general, enable the breaching of county boundaries to be avoided and would keep constituencies within our county framework. I may say in passing that a deviation of this order would be necessary for the purpose irrespective of whether representation is based on population or on electorate. However, because of the fact that the proportion of adults in the total population varies considerably throughout the country and because the census enumerates all those resident in a particular place on the specified day, including babies and their mothers in maternity hospitals, all those in children's institutions, patients in hospitals irrespective of their normal place of residence, people staying in hotels, students at colleges and aliens, the overall results of the operation of a divergence within these limits, confined to taking account of the factors mentioned in the Bill, will do no more than in general equate the value of a rural vote to that of an urban vote—if it even does that.
Having decided on a maximum divergence of one-sixth, it was necessary for the Government to decide on the other basic factors, in addition to preserving county boundaries intact, to which regard should be had at a determination of constituencies. The Government have always taken the view that the special difficulties of persons living in large, thinly populated constituencies should be recognised.  The Bill accordingly provides that regard shall be had at a determination of constituencies to the extent and accessibility of constituencies and the need for securing convenient areas of representation.
All pre-1961 revisions had regard to these considerations and the 1959 revision, which as I have already said was endorsed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, made concessions in respect of these factors involving departures from the national average of population per Deputy greater than would be possible under the proposed amendment. The factor of the extent and accessibility of constituencies—taken in conjunction with the limit of one-sixth divergence—will, as I have pointed out, have the indirect result of making it possible to keep the rural vote in general equal in value with the vote in the bigger cities.
This leads me to deal with some misconceptions which exist regarding the proposed tolerance. First of all, it has been argued that the tolerance will result in votes in rural areas having a greater value than votes in urban areas and that rural areas will get greater, and urban areas less, representation than that to which they are entitled. In order to correct this erroneous idea I propose to show how application of the tolerance provision cannot have this result.
Under the Constitution, Dáil representation is based on population. The proposed tolerance of one-sixth is also based on population. The present national average population per Deputy is 20,028. In theory, therefore, a rural area could get one Deputy for not fewer than each 16,690 of the population and a city area one Deputy for not more than each 23,366 of the population. But the percentage of electorate per population is not the same in rural and urban areas. In fact, and this is an essential point, the electorate as a percentage of the population is appreciably higher in rural areas than in city areas. The total national electorate expressed as a percentage of the total population is 59.4 per cent. The percentage in the constituency of Dublin North-West is, however, only 50.96 per cent whereas in the constituency  of South-West Donegal it is 67.74 per cent. If, therefore, one Deputy were allocated to South-West Donegal for each 16,690 of the population and to Dublin North-West for each 23,366 of the population, the average electorate per Member would be 11,305 in South-West Donegal and 11,907 in Dublin North-West. This is very close in each case to the national average electorate per Member of 11,899.
If, however, representation in these two constituencies were based on equality of population per member, as required by the present Constitution, the electorate per Member in South-West Donegal would be 13,567 and in Dublin North-West only 10,206, giving the city vote a much higher value than the rural vote.
I could give many more examples to show that under the proposed tolerance there would be very little difference between the value of rural and city votes, whereas under the present Constitution there is definite discrimination against areas outside the larger cities and boroughs. Indeed, if nothing is done to correct this injustice, all the indications are that the gap between the value of a vote in the cities and elsewhere will grow with anticipated increases in the non-voting population of the cities, arising from increases in the numbers of students, the increasing regionalisation of institutions, et cetera. I do not think that city voters expect or want to retain such favourable treatment and I trust that Senators will endorse the principle of one-man-one-vote of equal value which is inherent in the proposals in the Bill.
There are a few further points I should like to mention on this question of tolerance. The idea of a tolerance is not something new. A tolerance of this order was applied at all revisions prior to 1961 and the 1959 revision involved a greater deviation from the national average than that now proposed. The maximum tolerance of one-sixth proposed is substantially smaller than that applicable in other countries. In Britain, for example, the deviation in constituencies ranges from 60 per cent below the national average electorate  per Member to 80 per cent above. This means that the electorate per Member in the largest constituency is 450 per cent greater than in the smallest.
Finally, the tolerance cannot be applied arbitrarily; it must be used in the circumstances outlined in the Bill, namely to take account of the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the need for securing convenient areas of representation and the desirability of avoiding the overlapping of county boundaries. In fact, it will be mandatory to have regard to these factors in determining each constituency.
Apart from the need to define the phrase "so far as it is practicable" in the existing subsection (3) of section 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution, the subsection also suffers from a defect, only recently come to light, that due to the inclusion of the words “at any time” a revision of constituencies could well have to be carried out after each quinquennial census in the future. The census results recently published show that at present 24 of the 38 constituencies do not comply with the legal interpretation of the Constitution and that a revision is, therefore, now required. A revision could thus have to be made in the lifetime of each Dáil making a reasonable continuity of representation impossible. The proposed new subsection does not contain any such requirement. The practice in this respect would also, therefore, revert to that which obtained prior to 1961 of revising the constituencies once every 12 years.
I should like to acknowledge that the Bill as passed by the Dáil includes a number of provisions which were suggested by Opposition spokesmen. One of these ensures that a revision of constituencies shall not take place during the interval between the date of a census and the publication of the final results thereof.
I shall conclude by posing two questions on which I should like to hear the views of the Senators. Is there a defect in the Constitution requiring amendment and if so, how shall the amendment be effected? With regard to the question whether the Constitution  requires amendment, the Opposition Parties demanded it in 1961 and, in the course of the recent debate in the Dáil, Deputy J.A. Costello admitted that there exists what he called a “Constitutional infirmity”.
With regard to the manner in which the infirmity should be dealt with, the amendment proposed in this Bill will, in effect, revert to the position which existed and was acceptable to all Parties prior to 1961. I must make it perfectly clear that failure to amend the Constitution as proposed in the Bill will result in frequent revisions of constituencies involving wholesale breaching of county boundaries, with consequent frustration for the people, their representatives and for political Party organisations, and unfair discrimination against areas outside the big cities.
The purpose of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill is to enable the people to decide if single-seat constituencies and the straight vote should be substituted for the present system of multi-seat constituencies and the transferable vote. The new provisions which would be inserted in the Constitution are set out in the Schedule to the Bill.
Parts V and VI, which make up the greater part of the Schedule, contain provisions relating mainly to the proposed constituency commission. These provisions are relatively uncontroversial. They have, on the whole, been constructively debated in the Dáil and have been amended to meet points  raised. They might, I suggest, be more appropriately discussed at Committee Stage.
The kernel of the Bill is contained in the two subsections set out in Parts I and II of the Schedule. Subsection 1º provides for single-seat constituencies and subsection 2º requires that Members shall be elected by means of the straight vote. I shall deal with each in turn.
The multi-seat constituency has many disadvantages. The large size of many constituencies and the competition between Deputies—even members of one Party—bring about the situation that each Deputy is fully occupied in constituency matters, often of a trivial nature, to the detriment of his highly important duties in relation to legislation, and national economic, financial and social policies. Competition between candidates of the same Party can lead to disedifying intrigues —“the machinations of the multi-seat constituency.” as a recent newspaper article put it. The system has an inherent tendency to keep out potentially strong new candidates particularly where the return of an established member of the same Party would be endangered. The system of election necessitating a ballot paper with a large number of names, some of them unknown to most electors, and a complicated system of transferring some of the votes an indefinite number of times, in which the element of chance plays an important part, is not conducive to producing the best results. There have been cases of candidates who have headed the poll at the first count and have subsequently to the mystification of the voters in the constituency failed in the processes of counting and transfers to secure election.
Contrast this with the single-seat constituency. It will be much smaller —in some cases only one-fifth of the size of an existing constituency. Consequently, the amount of constituency and organisation work will be considerably reduced, leaving the Deputy more time for his duties as a Member of the House. The fact that he is the only Deputy for the area means that he will not be driven by competition from other Deputies into currying favour  with electors by pretending to obtain benefits for them which, in fact, they are entitled to receive as of right. This will further reduce constituency work by making it feasible for the Deputy to confine such work to what is really necessary in the interest of his constituents.
At the same time, because of the more reasonable area of the constituency and the smaller number of people involved it will be possible for the Deputy to give better service to his constituents in regard to local and personal matters which really require his attention. It will also alter for the better the whole tone of public life which is adversely affected at present by the inevitable tendency of multimember constituencies to foster the belief that benefits and services and even public appointments are obtainable through the intercession of Deputies. This better atmosphere and the new status of Deputies should attract a better type of prospective candidate and the political Parties will, in turn, have every incentive to put the best man forward. In the small constituencies which will be established, containing an average of about 11,000 electors each, personal factors will be very important and each candidate must be prepared to win on his own merits as well as the merits of the policy he supports. It will no longer be feasible to put forward candidates in the hope that they will be elected on the transfer of votes of outstanding individuals. The number of candidates going forward in a constituency will be fewer than at present with normally only two or three serious contenders, all of them well known to the electors of the area. It will then rest with the electors to elect the best candidate, taking into account his qualifications and his policy. The Deputy who is elected will look after the true interests of the whole constituency—otherwise he will lose his seat at the next election and be replaced by a better representative. Our case then is that the single-seat constituency will raise the standard of parliamentary life, attract a better type of candidate, encourage Parties to put forward the best candidate available and, in a clear-cut confrontation, make  it possible for the voters to elect the best man.
At national level the single-seat constituency will also have beneficial results. While experience abroad suggests that it does not, of itself, prevent the emergence of a multi-party system or guarantee an overall majority for the Government of the day, it does at least prevent the worst shortcomings inherent in the present system and it gives the people a much better opportunity of avoiding indeterminate election results and, therefore, a better chance of electing a government. With no vested interest in individual constituencies inhibiting the selection of the best candidate and with no conflicting interests to dissipate the efforts of Party organisations, each Party will be able to make a more effective and unified effort to attain a majority.
One of the most objectionable features of the present system is the disproportionate effort and expense both for the State and political Parties involved in by-elections. Under present circumstances the Returning Officer must make arrangements for all the voters in a large area to vote to elect a fraction of their representation. Party organisations must try to persuade all these voters, who already have from 2 to 4 representatives, that it is important to elect another who may be from a distant part of the constituency or even from another county or province. Under the proposed system the people in a fraction of these areas will be voting to elect their full representation. The arrangements for voting to be made by the Returning Officer will, therefore, be much less expensive and disruptive and more appropriate to the job to be done, while, apart from the smaller area and the smaller numbers involved, the fact that the election will be for the purpose of electing the full representation of the constituency and replacing a truly local representative will make it easier to explain to the people the importance of voting. All this will mean less demand on the physical and financial resources of political Parties, will call for less disruption of the Dáil and Seanad and will have less serious  effects on the stamina and health of individual Deputies and Senators.
I do not think I need say any more on this particular provision. Whatever their public attitudes may be, it is known that the vast majority of the Members of all Parties favour the single-seat constituency, or at least they would if they thought they would be elected. Even the opposition press has admitted as much. For example, the political correspondent of the Irish Independent wrote in that paper's issue of 25th May last that: “out of all the uncertainty and confusion one thing comes through loud and clear to the observer: practically everybody now in Dáil Éireann would like to have a single-seat rather than to share his constituency with other Members. They do not agree on the means of election to the seat—some favouring the alternative vote system with its by-election attractions, others favouring the first-past-the-post system”. Later in the same article it is pointed out that in a single-seat constituency “more time would be devoted to parliamentary as opposed to bog-drain business, and many of the present indignities would be eliminated.” More recently, the political correspondent of the Irish Times writing on the 15th June, made the following remarkable admission: “Indeed one gathers in all parties that there is the unexpressed hope that somehow or another the straight vote may become operative. That is accepted, almost universally, as its one great asset: it would make for better quality TDs as each man would have to go out and make his own case in a small area where he would be well known. Later he would not be handicapped in his study of national affairs by his present role as a messenger boy for his constituents.” I am confident that among the public generally there is also the same appreciation of the value of the single-seat constituency.
Subsection 2º provides that election shall be on the relative majority system by means of the single nontransferable vote. This gives practical effect to the principle of “one-man-one-vote”, as unlike the present position each voter will have only one vote and the candidate who secures the  largest number of votes is elected. The amendment which was moved in the Dáil in an effort to find common ground to substitute the single transferable vote for the straight vote failed to secure acceptance by any Party. However, since some of the arguments put forward in public against the Government's proposals tend to concentrate on the method of voting, I think I should deal with the relative merits of the straight vote and the transferable vote in single-seat constituencies.
The principal argument usually advanced in favour of the alternative vote is that the candidate elected under this system has an overall majority of the votes at the final count. Under the straight vote, on the other hand, so the argument runs, a minority candidate can be elected. This argument will not stand up to critical examination. The so-called majority obtained under the transferable vote is a contrived one—contrived unjustifiably by counting the preferences of some, and only some, of the voters and crediting these preferences, some being even the lowest possible preferences, as full votes. Let us suppose, for example, that if there are three candidates A, B and C, A secures the highest number of votes, B the next highest and C the lowest. If A does not secure an overall majority, C is elimated and the second preferences on his ballot papers are now credited as No. 1 votes and distributed between the other two candidates. This may result in the election of B. The theory behind this is that the people who voted for C have been unable to elect their candidate and are entitled to a second chance. If this is valid why should not the people who voted for A, who has not been elected, be given a second chance? If they were it could well be that C and not B would be elected. This in turn would raise the question of B's second preferences which might have the result of electing A. The application of the principle of the transferable vote, therefore, in a non-discriminatory way would be very likely to show an overall majority in favour of more than one candidate. Even more absurd results are obtained where more than three candidates contest  a seat. The absurdity arises from two factors—the counting of the preferences of some voters only and equating a later preference with a full vote. This is obviously not only absurd but also unjust and undemocratic. As a result we sometimes have the situation in by-elections that the outcome may depend more on who got the lowest number of votes and is first eliminated than on who got the highest number, the decision in effect being made not by the majority but by the smallest minority in the constituency.
It is quite clear that the person elected under the transferable vote system need not have a majority of the votes cast. Indeed, he may not even have the highest number of votes, measured either in terms of first preferences only or of all preferences cast. Under the straight vote, on the other hand, the winner must at least secure more votes than any other candidate, and indeed, as experience in other countries shows, he usually secures an overall majority of votes as well. It is clearly not possible to establish that there is any overall majority in favour of one candidate unless more than 50 per cent of the people vote for one particular candidate.
As to the relative effects on the political system of the two methods of voting, the position has been well summarised by Dr. F.A. Hermens, Professor of Politics at the University of Notre Dame in his book Europe Between Democracy and Anarchy, published by The Committee on International Relations, University of Notre Dame.
Mr. K. Boland: I do not know. In discussing the effects of a change in Britain from the straight vote to the alternative vote he states, I am quoting from page 28 of his book: “There is no way to limit the benefits of the scheme, i.e., the alternative vote, to the Liberals. The Communists, the left wing Socialists and the Fascists would be grateful to be re-insured against wasting their votes. No one can tell who would benefit and by how much.
In contrast with that situation, it is accepted by all authorities that the straight vote has an integrating and moderating effect on politics. Each major Party will try to attract support from all sections of the population and will aim in particular at the “middle ground”. In order to win, a candidate must appeal not only to committed supporters of his Party but to the marginal voter as well.
Those opposed to the proposals in the Bill have not sought to deny that electoral experts all over the world regard PR as favouring the development of a multi-party system in which it would be impossible for any one party to secure an overall majority, nor that in other countries PR has been associated with the emergence of a multi-party system. The evidence is too strong to admit of any denial. Instead they have concentrated on the Irish experience and suggest that since we now have only three effective Parties, PR does not give rise to a multiplicity of Parties.
This argument ignores two vital points. First, the Civil War and its aftermath, the constitutional struggles of the thirties, the Economic War and the Second World War—all these provided great issues which dominated the political scene and at the time made the situation unfavourable for the emergence of splinter groups. The second point is that on a number of occasions we have seen the beginnings of a multi-party system, for example, in the period 1948-1957. We should not forget the instability of that period or its disastrous economic consequences. After the 1956-57 crash there was considerable public disenchantment with splinter groups and coalitions and we have been fortunate that this has so far inhibited the development of a multi-party system. However, with the passing of time, a similar situation could again emerge and, in fact, there is a continuing effort to form splinter parties. The really serious aspect of this is that once a multi-party system is finally established, it is then too late to make the change.
 Perhaps the objection most insistently advanced against the Fourth Amendment Bill is that it will benefit the Fianna Fáil Party. This objection takes a number of forms. For example, it is urged that the change must favour one side or the other and that the Government would be unlikely to promote it if it favoured the Opposition. This argument can, perhaps, best be countered by another: one might inquire if it is to keep Fianna Fáil in power that the Leader of Fine Gael and a substantial number of members of the Fine Gael Front Bench and Parliamentary Party favour the straight vote? The real fallacy, of course, is the suggestion that the change must necessarily favour one side or the other. This is a point with which I would like to deal at some length, particularly because of pseudo scientific forecasts of the results of the straight vote.
The forecast to which most publicity is given has suggested on the basis of the last local elections that Fianna Fáil might win over 90 seats under the straight vote. The assumptions on which this forecast is said to be based are completely unreal. The first assumption is that constituencies, at any rate outside Dublin, will be related to the local electoral areas on which local elections are based. In fact, there can be no possible correlation between these areas and the proposed single-seat constituencies. Some counties have many more local electoral areas than the number of Deputies to which they would be entitled and others have less. Even within counties there can be no correlation, since most of these areas were drawn up many years ago and bear no relation to the present distribution of population. The population of county electoral areas ranges from 3,603 to 51,772. It should be noted also that the issues and personalities in local elections tend by definition to be essentially local.
The second assumption on which the projection is based is that the same number of Parties and groups will contest the constituencies as contested the local elections and that the number of votes going to each Party or group will be as in the local elections. This assumption is manifestly absurd. Experience of elections under the straight  vote abroad and of by-elections here shows that in most constituencies there will be only two or at most three effective candidates who between them will secure nearly all the votes. This is sufficient to undermine the validity of the projection. Anyone who knows anything about elections knows that the individuals contesting constituencies are a very relevant consideration and any attempted forecast of results without any knowledge of either the constituencies or the candidates is obviously a farce. In the final analysis the issue will, of course, be determined by the votes of the people. If, as the Opposition claim, the people are turning from Fianna Fáil, then the outcome of the election will be quite clear— Fianna Fáil will lose. I am confident, that in an unambiguous confrontation between Fianna Fáil and the coalition, Fianna Fáil will win. However, because of the fact that neither constituencies nor candidates are known it is not possible to be certain. On the other hand, the fact that Fianna Fáil have in the lifetime of this Dáil been successful in six out of seven by-elections is the clearest possible indication that under the present system Fianna Fáil are certain to be the next government.
I have referred to these short-term aspects because they have been frequently used as arguments against the proposal. The fact that they have been so frequently used, in one form or another, is evidence that the opposition to the present proposal is based on fear and suspicion of their own prospects in conditions of a clear confrontation between the Parties rather than on grounds of principle or long-term considerations.
“ndiúltaíonn Seanad Éireann an Dara Léamh a thabhairt don Bhille um an Tríú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1968, ar an bhforas nach bhfuil aon éileamh ag an bpobal ar an togra atá sa Bhille agus nach bhfuil aon sásra sa  Bhille chun teorannú dáilcheantar a chinneadh go neamhchlaon”.
“Seanad Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968 on the grounds that there has been no public demand for the proposal contained in the Bill and the Bill contains no machinery to decide impartially the delimitation of constituencies.”
There are many possible approaches for the Seanad and for Senators to the discussion of this particular matter and of this particular measure. There is, I hope, no need to repeat all that was said nine years ago on the subject and no need to repeat all that has been said on the subject in Dáil Éireann in recent months. Indeed, some people might raise the question whether there is any real need for a thorough discussion of this measure by the Seanad at all. The view might be expressed that the two Bills which deal essentially with the matter of the manner of election to Dáil Éireann is a subject on which the Seanad might, if it speaks its mind at all, do so briefly.
However, the issue we have before us is such that the Seanad must view it thoroughly, that Senators must speak their minds on the matter. No matter what viewpoint we take, we cannot avoid the responsibility of stating our views on this particular issue. We have a constitutional responsibility to defend the Constitution if we see no need for change. Equally, those who are convinced that it is in the public interest that the Constitution should be amended have a duty to give the reasons for their point of view.
On the last occasion when a similar measure came before the Oireachtas, in 1959, when there was a proposal to abolish Proportional Representation, the move was approved by Dáil Éireann, often known as the popular House, it was defeated in the Seanad, re-enacted by Dáil Éireann and ultimately rejected by the people. On that occasion the popular House did not  take what ultimately proved to be the popular view. The Seanad, in discharging its duty on that occasion, in discussing the measure thoroughly, expressing its opinion of it and defeating it, was taking the view that was ultimately taken in the referendum by the general population. This time there is no possibility of Seanad Éireann defeating the Bill.
Professor Dooge: The political situation in this House is such that that eventuality will not happen this time but the Seanad and its Members can speak their minds on the two measures which have been laid before us, and they should. Those measures have been brought before us. This Bill, which is before us now, was introduced into the Dáil by the Taoiseach as a matter worthy of the attention of the Houses of the Oireachtas above anything else which might be brought before them at this particular time. We have had in recent times an interest in matters of constitutional reform. In August, 1966, an informal committee was set up in agreement between the Parties to review the constitutional, legislative and institutional basis of Government.
This committee, in which three Members of this House took part, did a good deal of work between August, 1966, and December, 1967, when their interim report was issued. Despite interruptions by by-elections and local elections, the committee did get through a good deal of work but I think the Minister will probably agree with me in one thing and that is that the proposals which are before us this evening have very little to do with the work of that particular committee. The committee set up to review the Constitution reported in its interim report on Constitutional matters on 26 topics and referred a similar number to the Attorney General as being matters of law and legal interpretation which might more properly be examined by him.
In their eventual report the Constitutional committee dealt with four  points of electoral reform. They dealt with the question of the qualifying age; they deal with the question of the size of the Dáil; they dealt with the question of rural representation; and they dealt with the question of the electoral system. The committee were divided on all four points and in accordance with the practice which they adopted they reported on the arguments which had been put forward on the committee on one side or the other on those four divided questions. Before the committee had completed its report in the autumn of 1967 the Minister spoke on a few occasions in public on the question of electoral reform. At the end of November, 1967, the informal committee formed of the three major Parties was obliged to speed up the final drafting of their report because of the imminence of a Government decision on this question of electoral reform.
It was a matter of regret that the committee was obliged to act in that way and I think, in fact, the report of the committee which was issued in December, 1967, has suffered from the fact that the final drafting and revision of its report was not as detailed as it might have been. It is still more a matter of regret that the decision taken by the Government in regard to the type of electoral reform to be proposed ignored the opinions expressed on all sides of that committee. This is the stand to which the Government and the Government Party have adhered to since.
There is very little relation between what the Government proposes and what the committee proposed. The Minister said he is introducing a tolerance here of one-sixth in comparison with the 12½ per cent tolerance between constituencies proposed by this committee. That committee proposed no such thing. The Constitution Committee never proposed a 12½ per cent tolerance between constituency and constituency. If the Minister who has been talking on this matter now for several months would only read the committee's report properly this fact should be obvious to him. The committee reported on page 19 of its report on the question of delimitation of constituencies,  which is covered by Article 16.2.3º of the Constitution. This is the Article which in the Constitution provides that the ratio between the number of Members to be elected for each constituency and the population shall as far as practical be the same throughout the country. The committee were not in agreement on this particular point and there was no recommendation from the full committee.
In regard to the substance of the Fourth Amendment Bill, the proposal put forward by the Government is quite beside the views put forward in this committee. In the committee the proposition that was brought forward and reported on with different views was not a proposition to change from proportional representation to the relative majority system but to change from the present system to single-seat constituencies with the transferable vote. What we have to discuss this evening are the proposals the Government have put before us. These are that between one constituency and another there should be, at the time of the revision of the constituencies, a possible variation of plus or minus one-sixth, a range of one-third or a disparity of 40 per cent. There is also the proposal in the Fourth Amendment Bill that we should have single-seat constituencies in which the method of election would be by the relative majority system, described in the report of the committee as the first-past-the-post system. There is also a provision for the setting up of a constituency commission.
In the Third Amendment Bill there  is no provision for the setting up of the constituency commission. This was one of the clear recommendations of the all-Party committee which recommended that if there was any constitutional change in the present position there should be such a commission. That committee left open the question of the form such a commission should take.
What we have to consider next is why there should be any proposals at all. They do not arise from the report of the Constitutional committee. There certainly has been no popular demand for them and the only possible reason for them is that the Government are acting in the public interest. In the absence of specific recommendations from the committee, in the absence of any public demand the Government is entitled to bring forward propositions on its own initiative if it considers that they are in the public interest but the onus of proof is on those who take the initiative. This is an onus which the Government has not discharged.
Since the matter was first mooted early last year we have had a variety of arguments used. Before the publication of the Government's proposals certain arguments were used. After the publication of the proposals certain other arguments were put forward and in the discussion in the Dáil further additional arguments were put forward. Probably in the course of this debate the arguments will change again and we will probably have a final set of arguments used in the public campaign.
Let us look at the case made by the Minister in regard to the Third Amendment Bill. The essence of his arguments is that there should be a variation of plus or minus one-sixth in the ratio of population per Member. The Minister proposed that this should be allowed to take account of three factors—of taking into account the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the convenience of representation and the avoidance of the overlapping of counties. The Bill makes no mention of the relation between electorate and population of which the Minister made so much in his statement this evening. If the  Minister is so worried about this matter why did he not put it into the Bill? When he decided to change the way of determining the constituencies the Minister did not include that particular change in his proposals. The reason is that this is an example of one of the arguments used in favour of the Government's proposals only at a later date. It would have been easy for the Minister, who talked of the injustice which occurs due to the varying ratios of electorate to population throughout the country, to have written his proposals into the Bill but he did not do so.
If the Minister is worried on this point let him come in here with the proposition to change from population and put the electorate in its place in the Constitution. That he has not done but what has he done? He has made it impossible to take it into account. The Minister has given specific reasons which he proposes to write into the Constitution and by writing in these reasons he is ruling out all other reasons as a basis of consideration as to how a commission or a minister could vary the ratio of population or electorate to member throughout the country. The Minister made a great deal of this particular question, yet his own amending Bill will make it impossible for it to be taken into account. If he is worried about this point let him amend the Bill in regard to this point. If he shows sincerity in this regard he would get a reasonable hearing.
We should be clear in regard to the tolerance which is or should be allowed between county and county. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion on this particular point. All we know on this matter from the judgments that have been made is that a 5 per cent variation was allowed and an 18 per cent variation was not. It is not true to say that a variation of more than 5 per cent would not be recognised by the courts. Nobody has any right to say this. The particular variation of 18 per cent put to the courts was disallowed but there has been no judicial determination of the  effect on the present constituencies of a scheme including a variation of 10 per cent. It has been suggested that the variation in the scheme disallowed by the High Court was the normal practice which had gone on for many years.
This is not so. I am not sure of the exact figures but I am quite sure the Minister will be able to remind me of them in his reply. The figure of 18 per cent is the figure in my memory. In introducing this Bill in the Dáil the Taoiseach talked of the variation as being one of 11 to 19 per cent over the years so that 18 per cent was at the top of the range and was over the average figure. It is not true to say that anything over five per cent would be disallowed by the courts and it is not true to say that the Constitutional committee as a committee was in favour of a ratio of 12½ per cent as between constituencies.
There is one point which has been completely ignored in this discussion on the tolerance and that is the effect of the 12-year revision period on the particular tolerance fixed at the beginning of the period. The whole debate has been centred over the point of exactly what ratio should we have between Members and population or Members and electorate at the time of revision. It is important to look beyond this because this is not something which is subject to continual revision. Indeed, the Minister has indicated that there is an absolute necessity to go through the business of Constitutional reform because a five-yearly revision would be absolutely intolerable but the effect of a 12-year revision has quite a substantial effect on the ratio that occurs. Even if the constituencies started out absolutely equal at the beginning of the 12-year period, the lapse of the 12 years would result in a considerable distortion as between the various constituencies.
We can look back and see what happened in the last revision. It was made in 1961, not made on the 1961 census, but made on the 1956 census returns even though the results of the 1961 census were available to the Government at the time of the revision.
Professor Dooge: This is a matter we could dispute but I have no wish to do this. The situation is that the revision anyway, the Minister does agree, was on the 1956 census. This meant that at the time this actual revision was made in 1961 the determination was made on the basis of figures which were already five years out of date. The 1961 general election was fought on figures which were five years out of date. The 1965 general election was fought on figures which were nine years out of date. Was this effect a small one, something which we should neglect, something which we should ignore completely? It certainly was not, and in order to illustrate the fact I should like to take the case of two constituencies. So that the Minister will feel at home, I should like to take his own constituency of County Dublin. In the figures based on the 1956 census, according to my calculations, the population per Member in County Dublin with a division based on the 1956 census was 20,751, whereas the population per Member for the constituency of South Mayo was 19,419, a disparity of seven per cent between the two, a disparity which is of the order which one would accept as being not unreasonable, of the order which it would appear would be allowable under the present Constitution.
That was the position according to the census of 1956. By the time the actual division of constituencies was made the 1961 census had already been taken, the figures had already been compiled in the Central Statistics Office and the position was that at the time the scheme was made the ratio of population to Member in County Dublin had risen from 20,000 to 23,386, while the figure for South Mayo had fallen to 18,024, so that the position was that even on the day the scheme was made there was already a disparity of 30 per cent between the position in South Mayo and in County Dublin. It took 30 per cent more population to earn a seat in County  Dublin than it did in the constituency of South Mayo. That was the position at the beginning of the scheme in 1961.
In 1966 there was a further census taken, at a time five years after the revision of the census taken, at a time when less than one-half of the Constitutional period had run. Five of the 12 years had elapsed. By this time the position was that the ratio of population to Dáil Member in County Dublin had risen to 29,181 and the population per Dáil Member in South Mayo had fallen to 16,950. The position then was that before one-half the time this particular determination of constituencies had run there was a 72 per cent disparity between the figures. The number of persons per Member in Dublin was 72 per cent higher than in South Mayo.
This is an essential factor. The Minister is proposing now to us a scheme which he is endeavouring to ensure beyond all ambiguity will run for 12 years. That he proposes that at the beginning of this period there should be allowable a disparity of 30 to 40 per cent between one constituency and another. He has indicated that this is something which should be done so that we can leave the representation which it has had to the areas which have suffered by loss of population, that we should not have to take account in the next division of constituencies of any shift of population from certain parts of the country to other parts of the country.
If we now put in at the beginning of the 12 year period a disparity of 30 to 40 per cent we will, indeed, find that long before the end of the period there will be, on the basis of our experience in the past, over 100 per cent disparity. In the five years since the last revision—in the ten years since the 1956 census, if we consider a scheme will always be made immediately after a census—we find here in ten years a difference of seven per cent initially between County Dublin and South Mayo which gives after ten years a difference of 72 per cent. Give a bonus of 30 to 40 per cent to South Mayo initially and this will grow to a difference of 100 per cent. This will completely mask the ten to 20 per cent  variation in electorate over population of which the Minister has made so much. Here we will be getting into the position of one-man-one-vote in County Dublin and one-man-two-votes in South Mayo. This will be the position under the present Bill.
I think we must be very slow to assent to the proposition that there should be an initial disparity built into the system at the beginning of a period and, in particular, that there should be an initial disparity built in in favour of this constituency which by the trend of events, by the unfortunate but largely uncontrollable, movement of population, will produce a disparity of close to 100 per cent before it is time for a new revision to take place. These are serious matters which must be considered.
The Minister has said this disparity should be built into the system, that at the start of each 12-year period we should build in this disparity, and one of the factors that should be taken into account, he has told us, is the extent and accessibility of constituencies. This is losing sight of the purpose of an electoral system, of the purpose of representative democracy. In this respect I can only quote what has been stated in the report of the Constitutional committee as one of the arguments adduced against a change:
The second factor which the Minister has said should be taken into account is that a disparity should be built in between constituency and constituency in order to give convenient areas of representation. There the argument is based on the idea that it is important there should be real representation of the people in Parliament. What the Minister is proposing to us this evening in the Third and Fourth Amendments—now separate Bills, originally all part of one—is to pass the Third Amendment and to allow, for example, the County of Donegal to  keep the number of Deputies it has at the moment, and then to pass the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in order to ensure that all six Members will belong to his own Party. What sort of representation is this? If we are interested in representation——
Professor Dooge: The Minister may feel he has enough Donegalmen in his Party but at the moment we are discussing the question of the representation of Donegal. If we are interested in the idea of representation, we must look at these two Bills together and when we do so this argument that we must build in a disparity on the basis of convenient areas of representation does not carry very much weight.
The third factor which the Minister is endeavouring to write into the Constitution, and to leave there as a matter that can be changed only by referendum, is the proposed sanctity of county boundaries. This is a matter which should be looked at in perspective. There has been a certain tendency in the public debate on this question, on both sides, indeed, to refer to the system they dislike as the British system. There has been a tendency on the part of Government supporters to label PR as a British imposition and on the part of those opposed to the Government's proposals to refer to the relative majority system as the British system. They do not make very much sense and I remind those who make that approach that the system of dividing Ireland into counties was introduced not by Cumann Lúchleas Gael but by King John in about the year 1200.
Professor Dooge: A long time ago, indeed, and the Minister now wishes to say that these boundaries must be taken account of and written into the Irish Constitution. The counties as they stand today mean a great deal to us. Since their institution in the year 1200 they have formed many associations and there are loyalties to counties, but the position is that the counties do not  necessarily correspond with the natural communities of Ireland as they stand today and it is, therefore, rather disturbing that the Minister in charge of the physical planning of this country should be obsessed with the idea of the sanctity of county boundaries.
We have our county loyalties but there is no question that our people have loyalties to regions and areas other than counties. Anyone with a knowledge of County Cork will know that the people of East Cork may have different loyalties from those in West Cork. There is the other aspect, that mere respect for county boundaries will not produce suitable constituencies to represent communities. In fact, the county boundaries have been breached many times. In the past few years we have had many regional groupings and attempts to go beyond the county. We have had a union of counties but we have also had the breaking of boundaries. This has been suggested in the Hospitals Report circulated to Members today — a new organisation of regional and local hospitals, ignoring King John's counties in order to produce a scheme to meet the needs of the community. In the matters of tourism, Health, technical colleges, planning, regions have been outlined and always these have not been harmonised among themselves, and they have not agreed with county boundaries.
It is quite possible that in the near future a reform of local government may be introduced in which this administrative unit will disappear. The Minister might have been better occupied examining the question of such a reform of the local government structure rather than indulging in the exercise which has us here this evening. Is the present Minister or some future Minister to be inhibited in any attempt to recast the local government structure in terms of regions on the one hand or of communities smaller than counties on the other by the fact that in this measure he is putting the administrative county as such into the Constitution? This is a reflection of the innate conservatism of the Minister and of the Government.
As I remarked in passing earlier,  sticking within counties will not necessarily give us reasonable constituencies. In many cases, where the constituencies are within counties, we have a pattern which does not reflect the local community.
In a by-election in the relatively recent past Members may have become familiar with the constituency of Mid-Cork which as far as I know lies wholly within the administrative County of Cork. This constituency runs from within a quarter mile of the centre of Cork City to the Kerry border. It does not breach the great principle which the Minister has invoked but it is, nevertheless, a somewhat crazy constituency. From a point about 100 yards from Cork City Hall, the constituency includes the purely urban suburbs of Ballinlough, Blackrock and Douglas and sweeps out the country to Bandon, Millstreet and up by Knocknagree to the Kerry border. The county boundary has been preserved but it is not a constituency that has been well designed from the representational point of view.
Therefore, it is a mistake to make overmuch of the idea of the administrative counties. From what the Minister said here this evening and what has been said before this, I feel that no case has been made for the proposition which the Minister puts to us. Certainly, no case has been made for such a variation between constituency and constituency without a special constituency commission. A Minister is perfectly capable of producing the constituency of Mid-Cork because he takes viewpoints other than those which might be taken by an impartial constituency commission. Indeed, the constituency of Mid-Cork was well designed, and did its job. The job of the constituency of Mid-Cork was to remove Alderman Stephen Barrett from the head of the poll in Cork city by removing from the Cork city constituency his old strongholds of Ballinlough, Blackrock and Douglas. In this it was successful, and at the first election afterwards Fianna Fáil went within 300 votes of securing a third seat in Cork city. As I say, the question is that if we are to have an exercise in disparity between constituencies  let this be done in the constituency commission, let the reasons be argued there and let the reasons be given in a report of a constituency commission, if necessary a constituency commission of the type such as is suggested in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. Given such a commission and given certain other modifications of it, there may be points in what the Minister proposes under the Third Amendment Bill which would be worthy of consideration.
It does appear that there is at least ambiguity and awkwardness in the present constituency provisions, for equality between constituency and constituency. If we were given this proposition, and if the Minister had come forward with the idea which he proposes tonight to move to electorate rather than to population, then he should put this into the Third Amendment and also have brought in the idea of a commission. In this regard I want to quote from paragraph 57 page 21 of the Report of the Commission on the Constitution. I quote:
Certain Members felt that even under the existing system it was desirable to establish a Commission to determine the delimitation of the constituencies. Though this viewpoint was not acceptable to all Members, the Committee were unanimous that in the event of any constitutional change a commission should be established to determine the delimitation of the constituencies.
Professor Dooge: The Minister is in the position here that when it was a package deal there was a constituency commission provided for the two changes the Minister was proposing. The recommendation of the Constitution committee was that if there was to be any change—and the Third Amendment is a change—it should have its own commission. Are the people not entitled to accept the Third and reject the Fourth?
Professor Dooge: I do not think that it is beyond the ingenuity of the Minister's advisers to deal with this particular matter. People are now being told: “Even if you want the Third Amendment you cannot have the commission unanimously recommended by the Constitution committee unless you will swallow the single transferable vote at the same time.” This is no way to put a choice before the people.
Professor Dooge: Indeed, we know that. We know that if the Minister had his way we would not have a referendum at all. I am sure he finds all this a terrible nuisance. Under this Third Amendment if it were brought forward on the basis of proposing the replacement of population by electorate, if the disparity were not quite so wide, if there were some allowances for the very serious effects of lapse of time, and if there were a constituency commission, it might well be that this Third Amendment would recommend itself as something which could be accepted on Second Stage and possibly amended to make a better Bill. The  way in which it is proposed here is I feel such that the Fine Gael Party in the Seanad will have little option but to vote against this particular amendment of the Constitution.
The other Bill which is being discussed with this is the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The proposals with regard to this are contained in the Schedule to the Bill. We have here in Parts 1 and 2 the proposals for a single member constituency and a single non-transferable vote. Parts 3 and 4 are a re-enactment of the 20,000-30,000 national average in order to meet the special position of the Ceann Comhairle, and in Parts 5 and 6 we have the recommendation in regard to the constituency commission.
How should we approach the discussion of this proposal to change the electoral system, which is coming to this House now for the second time? There is one thing which should be made clear above all—that if we are to discharge our responsibility as a House of the Oireachtas on this matter we must avoid at all costs dogmatism in regard to electoral systems. If we are to have a useful discussion here in the House we have to recognise from the very beginning that electoral systems are means and not ends. This is the only way in which we can have a useful discussion.
It would be easy enough to swop slogans across the floor of the House, but I think that to do this would be for the Seanad to fail to do the duty which is imposed upon it. If we are to have a reasonable discussion we should try to get as much agreement as we can on what the purposes of elections are, what objectives we are aiming at; and while we will not be able to reach unanimity on this we should be able to reach a fair measure of agreement. Having got some agreement about that, we can then discuss how different electoral systems might help us to achieve the objectives on which we are, by and large, in agreement. We will probably find agreement that the purpose of elections falls broadly into the election of a Parliament and indirectly the election of a Government. We want to be able to elect as the result of a  general election a Government which will have the power to act in the public interest and still be responsible to Parliament and ultimately responsible to the electorate. Unless we are in favour of the one-Party system, this implies that we envisage the possible replacement of the Government and the need at all times for an alternative Government ready to take over. This particular aspect was stressed very heavily in the initial Government propaganda in favour of the proposals which are being made to us. It was stressed in many statements that one of the results which would ensure if the Fourth Amendment were accepted would be a strengthening of the Opposition, increasing the importance of the Opposition as the alternative ready to take over under this new system.
It is only fair that we should examine, but examine critically, the Government proposals in this particular respect. We look to them for an electoral system which will give us a Government which would be responsible to Parliament but which can act firmly in the public interest—a system which would ensure that if the people wish they could transfer their allegiance to an alternative Government and replace the Government which has met with their displeasure. We have the other aspect of it. We are not only interested in the election of a Government but also in the election of a Parliament—a Parliament whose members have to fulfil certain criteria and who must be able to act as legislators, to act as representatives of their constituents and, also, if we are to have an alternative Government a certain number of them must be capable in the future of acting as executives.
We can broadly agree that these are things we are looking for when we discuss the merits of the electoral system. A great deal of the disagreements which are likely to arise in the course of this debate will not be so much that we disagree about ultimate objectives but rather that we disagree about the emphasis which should be placed on one of these objectives rather than another or that we disagree concerning the extent to which these objectives will be achieved by one  particular method of election or another.
Speaking about the Fourth Amendment I said that we must avoid any idea that, on the one hand, PR is a dogma which we must cling to at all costs or on the other hand, that the two-Party system is a fundamental principle of good Government which cannot be abandoned. We must look at these objectives, agree on them in so far as we can and choose as a legislature and later as a people, the means which appear to us as those most likely to achieve the objectives we are looking for under present circumstances.
The Government have the initiative in regard to this. We are asked and the people will be asked to choose between the present system of PR and the relative majority system. It is the Government Party that have determined the choice. This is not the choice the people would have asked for themselves. If the terms of the choice were left to public opinion, I do not think it would be a choice between PR and the relative majority system. Indeed, if one looks at the Report of the Constitution Committee, it would appear that if the matter had been in their hands, the choice which the Government now proposes to us did not appear to the Constitutional Committee as being the most natural choice to place before the people.
The question of adopting a different election system for Dáil elections was considered by the Committee. The substitution of the present system of PR for the alternative straight vote was proposed and the arguments adduced for and against are set out hereunder.
I have no intention of entering into any discussion of what happened inside that committee but the report is there for any Member to read. All I can say is that paragraph 61 of the report is an accurate reflection of the proceedings and conclusions of that committee.
 Let us be clear as to what the choice is which is being put before the House and before the people. Those of us who are in favour of the status quo are not concerned with PR as a dogma, are not concerned with doctrinaire views of full PR, views expressed by certain writers at times during the 19th century. People who hold these dogmatic views on PR would probably not be satisfied with anything short of PR with the whole country as a single constituency. There is no attempt on behalf of those of us in this House who wish to defend the present system of election, there is no proposal to defend the original system on the basis of dogmatism such as I have mentioned.
We are not concerned with any doctrinaire advocates of PR or any advocacy which is concerned with theoretical methods of election. We are concerned with the methods of PR as practised in this country which for a considerable time past have been PR with constituencies returning three, four or five members.
We are not concerned either with any doctrinaire view that the multiplicity of Parties or the increase of Parties above two is something which is per se indispensable. There is an onus on those who feel that PR leads to an undue multiplicity to show it does so in the circumstances of Ireland today and is likely to do so in the Ireland in the 70's. The onus is here to show what will be the effect of our present system if we hold to it in the Ireland of the 70's and after. If we want to make a comparison what we should do is compare the two systems put before us at present, the present system of PR and the relative majority system which is being proposed by the Minister.
How can we go about this? How can we compare these particular methods? We can, of course, look at what has happened in this country. We can make prognostications of what might happen in this country in the 70's. We can look at the present position in countries which have a system of PR although no country has one which is really close to ours. We can look at countries which are operating the relative majority system. It is, of course,  always a dangerous thing to transfer from one country to another, to say that because something has happened in one country it will not necessarily happen in another. Nevertheless, if anyone can point to a consequence which has occurred in a country which is clearly traceable to a particular electoral system, then I think we should take it into account in our assessment of what might be the effect of a change of system in this country.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: We have not really been given very much information so far about the intended Order of Business. We have heard rumours that we are going to meet on Friday but we have not been told anything in the House. I understood that the Seanad would meet at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Unless something is arranged to the contrary, the Seanad when adjourning on Wednesday adjourns until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday. Unless there is a contrary agreement, it adjourns until 10.30 a.m.
Tomás Ó Maoláin: If I remember rightly, I informed the Leaders of the two other Parties that we would meet on Thursday and Friday of this week, that we would meet at 3 o'clock on Thursday and on Friday morning.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: When we meet on Wednesday the normal procedure is that we adjourn until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday. If there is some special reason why this cannot be done one would expect the Leader of the House would tell us why this is not being done, otherwise we would presume we are adjourning until 10.30 a.m. the following day. Surely this should be done when there is so much business to be conducted.
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