Thursday, 25 July 1968
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Local Government (Mr. K. Boland): Beartaítear an dlí a bhaineas le reifrinn a leasú ag an mBille seo tré sholáthar a dhéanamh le haghaidh coimriú do na tairiscintí sna Billí um an Triú agus um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht a chur chuig vótálaithe ag na reifrinn atá ag teacht agus tré fhoirm leasaithe agus níos simplí den pháipéar ballóide a chur ar fáil le haghaidh gach reifreann bunreachta.
As I have said, this Bill is designed to amend the law relating to referenda by making provision for the circulation to voters at the forthcoming referenda of a summary of the proposals in the Third and Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bills and by introducing a revised and simplified form of ballot paper for all constitutional referenda.
Under existing law, the proposal which is the subject of the referendum must be stated on the ballot paper by citing, by its short title, the Bill containing the proposal passed by both  Houses of the Oireachtas. I have been legally advised that there is no alternative to this: it would obviously be impracticable to set out the proposal itself on the ballot paper and it would be extremely undesirable that the ballot paper should contain a summary or paraphrase of the proposal because of the possibility of litigation to restrain the President from signing a Bill, even after a referendum, on the grounds that the proposal as stated on the ballot paper, and, accordingly, as approved by the people, was not identical in its legal effect with that contained in the Bill.
In these circumstances, I think Senators will agree that it is desirable that a simple summary of the proposals should be circulated for the information of voters, as was done in 1959. Section 1 of the Bill provides, therefore, that the polling cards to be issued by the local returning officers at the forthcoming referenda shall contain a statement, set out in the Appendix to the section, summarising the proposals in the Third and Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bills. The section will also require presiding officers to display this statement at polling stations and it will authorise presiding officers to assist illiterate, blind or otherwise physically incapacitated voters by reading out to them the prescribed summary of the proposals, asking them whether they wish to vote in favour of or against the proposals and then marking their ballot papers in accordance with the voters' answers. These arrangements are similar to those which were introduced by the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1959, in relation to the 1959 referendum. I might mention that copies of the Bills containing the proposals for the amendment of the Constitution will be made available for inspection and also for purchase at a cost of sixpence each at all post offices throughout the country so that voters can study the actual terms of the proposed amendments, if they so desire.
Section 2 of the Bill will introduce a revised and simplified form of ballot paper at a constitutional referendum. Unlike section 1, this section will be a permanent provision, applying to all constitutional referenda. As I have explained  already, no change can be made in the manner in which the proposal which is the subject of the Referendum is stated on the ballot paper. No change is proposed in the question put to the voter, that is: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?” The layout of the ballot paper has, however, been altered and some inessential instructions omitted so as to make the paper itself clearer for the voter. The main changes are the provision of separate spaces for “Yes” votes and “No” votes and the linking of the voting instructions more closely with these spaces. I feel sure that the House will agree that the revised layout is a considerable improvement.
Professor Dooge: While we, on this side of the House, consider there is no necessity for a referendum to be held, that the vast majority of the people of this country would be happier without having a referendum of the type embodied in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill placed before them, nevertheless, if a referendum there must be, due to the political weight of the Fianna Fáil Party in both Houses of the Oireachtas then it is only proper that everything should be done to see that the people's choice in this regard can be expeditiously and conveniently determined. Accordingly we should find in regard to this Referendum Bill that there should not be the great disparity of opinion, clash of assertion or length of debate which has characterised the Third and Fourth Amendment Bills.
Except for one aspect, albeit a most important one, the provisions of the Referendum Bill are such as would recommend themselves to the House on the basis that if a referendum were to be held, then not only would it be better if it were done quickly but it would be better if it were done properly. I should like to say straight away that I think the new form of ballot paper which is being introduced by this Referendum Bill is a distinct improvement over the form of ballot  paper used in the 1959 referendum. I think in this regard the present Bill is well worthwhile.
I do not think there is any need to go down through the various provisions of this Bill in detail. In every case there is reasonable argument for adopting the changes which have been proposed. It is, however, when we come to the Appendix to the Bill that a difference of opinion does arise. The Appendix to the Bill contains the information which will be circulated to voters in order to assist them in coming to a conclusion before they cast their votes in this referendum. It is very important that this should be done. It is important in a case like this that when an issue has been debated at length in Parliament and a summary is made for the benefit of the voters, that summary should, if at all possible, be a summary approved by both sides in the debate which has taken place. Unfortunately, that is not so.
Unfortunately, the position is that the summary proposed by the Minister in this Appendix is one which I consider would be a travesty and far inferior to the summary provided for the benefit of the voters in 1959. There are many ways in which the issue under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill can be described. We at present in this country have a particular form of proportional representation. Consequently, there is difficulty in describing our present form of voting. It is not sufficient, if we want to be exact about it, to refer to it merely as proportional representation. The form of proportional representation which we have is different in many respects from the form of proportional representation which is the electoral system in many countries of continental Europe. There is no need for us to discuss these differences in any detail but one of the chief differences is the great advantage of our system in contrast with the continental system, whereby the voter voting under the Irish proportional representation system can transfer his votes and give his later preferences to a candidate belonging to a Party other than the Party to which he gave his first preference  vote. This is not possible under the continental electoral list systems. This flexibility of taking account of personalities which the House discussed yesterday evening is possible under our system. Also, when we come to describe the Government's proposition, there are many ways in which it can be described. The Government have chosen to describe it in the summary being circulated to the voters as, inverted commas, straight vote, close of inverted commas. This, I think; is not a neutral description. This is not a description devoid of emotional content. It is not the sort of clean, clear-cut description acceptable to all Parties in the debate that should be put forward to the people. We might, perhaps, have less objection to it if the inverted commas came after the word “straight” and not after the word “vote”.
We should avoid, firstly, any descriptions which are not acceptable to all sides, any descriptions which have any connotations other than those of description and of summary. There is no doubt that many people have referred to this system as the “straight vote”, but I do not think the Minister's inverted commas quite convey the irony with which this description has been used by those who are opposed to the Government's proposals. Anyway, I do not think that inverted commas used in the sense in which they are used here, rather than used as strict quotation marks, have any proper place in legislation.
It may be that there is difficulty in finding a description other than the undesirable description which the Minister is putting into this Bill, but I do not think there should be. There was no difficulty in 1959 in finding a description which was superior to the description which is used here. If we look back both to the Third Amendment of the Constitution, 1958, the Bill which never became an Act due to the decision of the people in a referendum, we find a description of the choice. If we look back to the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1959, we find again a description of the choice. I think the descriptions used in both of those cases were far superior to the descriptions used in both the Fourth  Amendment of the Constitution Bill and in the Referendum (Amendment) Bill now before us.
I would like to quote from Part II of the Schedule of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1958, that is, the Bill which the people rejected. Here we find a clear description of the system which the Government then proposed. At that time, the Government were quite content to allow a specific description to appear in the Bill, a specific description to go before the people. The description is as follows:
The Members shall be elected on the system of the single non-transferable vote, the candidate in a constituency who receives the largest number of votes being elected, but provision may be made by law for determining who is to be elected where there is no such candidate because two or more candidates receive the same number of votes.
This is what was in the Bill: this is the legal interpretation of the change proposed. Members shall be elected on the system of the single non-transferable vote, the candidate who receives the largest number of votes being elected. This is quite clear and specific. When we come to the present proposal, this description was changed and we had the description “the relative majority system” used. Perhaps there are legal reasons why it is a better description but it is certainly not a clearer description. However, that change may well be necessary because after all this is the draft of what it is proposed should be inserted into the Constitution.
It still should be as clear as possible for the people because, as the Minister emphasised in his opening speech on this Bill, copies of this Bill will be made available at the small cost of sixpence so that those who are interested enough will be able to read in the Bill exactly what it is proposed to be done. So, when we contrast the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution before  this House at the moment with the Third Amendment of the Constitution of 1958, we find there is a far clearer description even in the legal instrument, even in the Constitution amendment, of the position.
We find the same sort of thing when we turn and contrast the Referendum (Amendment) Bill, which the Minister asks us to pass this morning, with the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1959. The Bill which the Minister now proposes in the Appendix says:
This is not an adequate description for the benefit of the public who have to vote in the referendum. It is neither an adequate description nor is it a clear description. We take serious objection to it.
Let us contrast this single sentence here with what was in the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1959 and we find a clear difference. In contrast to this short sentence with its misleading words “straight vote”, we find the following in the Appendix to the 1959 Act which starts off by saying:
At present, members of Dáil Éireann are elected on a system of proportional representation for constituencies returning at least three members, each voter having a single transferable vote. It is proposed in the Bill to abolish the system of proportional representation and to adopt, instead, a system of single-member constituencies, each voter having a single non-transferable vote.
To my mind, the description in 1959 is far more helpful to the voters. It is far more helpful to anyone who wants honestly and sincerely to go about his job of choosing, who wants to be clear in this regard. I do not think it is  perfect. I think what is here in the 1959 Bill could itself have been improved because I think the definition I read from the Third Amendment Bill, 1958 is indeed itself more informative still, telling people quite clearly what we mean by a non-transferable vote. It says:
We can have our debates here in this House and we can have our debates afterwards at our after-Mass meetings throughout the country. There is no doubt when we come to do that we are not going to be concerned about balance in the case we propose. Each of us is going to put our own case with all the fervour we can but let us not carry the disputes in regard to the Bills themselves, let us not carry an irrational element we will all be guilty of during the debate throughout the country into the Referendum Bill itself. This Bill above all should be a measure passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas to help the people, even if perhaps what we are going to say at the crossroads afterwards may have the effect of confusing them. At least let us here in the Referendum Bill lay aside our talk of the straight vote; let us lay aside the talk of what somebody said ten years, 20 years, 30 years or 40 years ago; let us sit down here and work out a description which will be as clear as possible. Even if it takes three sentences rather than one to make this issue clear, it should be done. In this regard we should call a truce to the political argument and put the issue fairly and squarely before the people.
As I say, this is something which should be kept quite apart from the debate on the Constitution Amendment Bills, something which should be kept quite apart from the subsequent campaign throughout the country. In passing the Referendum Bill, we are passing a necessary piece of legislation to assist the people. We all acknowledge that in constitutional matters, they are our masters. If we attempt in any way to confuse the issue here, if we attempt to bring any  emotional connotation at all into any of the descriptions here, then we are failing in our duty in this regard. We have our duties to our own political ideas, to our own political Parties but in regard to this Referendum Bill our duty is to the people. In this legal instrument which determines the message which will be placed before the people on the polling cards that will be circulated to them, at least, let everything be clear, let the full detail be here.
I do not want to go ahead and discuss how this might be done. I have indicated in what I have said already that the job that was done in 1959 in describing the Government's proposal was a better job than has been done now and we should revert to the type of description that was used in 1959, taking either what was in the Referendum Act or what was in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1958. The description which is in this present Bill is unacceptable and should be changed. Of course, the appropriate time for that is on Committee Stage. I do not want to go into detail on this Second Stage in regard to it.
I do want to stress the point of principle that this Referendum Bill, which has produced a ballot paper better than the ballot paper of 1959, is proposing to produce a polling card very much worse than the polling card of 1959, and I think that, without losing any of our Party loyalties, without compromising with any of our political ideals, we can come together and do a better job on the Appendix to this Bill than has been done as it stands at the moment.
Mr. Dolan: I agree with the last speaker that it is only right and proper that what goes on this ballot paper should be very clear and understandable to all those who will come out to vote but I certainly do not agree with his thinking regarding the description which is given on the ballot paper concerning the straight vote. I think that is a very simple, clear-cut description, easily understood by all sections of our people. It ensures that people will know exactly what they are doing. For that  reason, I think the Minister is to be complimented on putting it down in that crystal-clear fashion that is easily understood.
Many people all over the country never understood this proportional representation business but this description in this Bill now makes it clear to them that when they go into the polling booths to cast their votes, they will know exactly, when they read it, that the straight vote means one vote and nothing more.
Mr. Murphy: This is a very important Bill but, unlike Senator Dooge, I do not think there is any hope whatever of persuading the Minister or the Fianna Fáil Party to agree to put into this Bill an objective description of what is the choice before the electorate and to have it circulated to the people who will vote in the referendum. I think the Appendix set out in this Bill and which the Fianna Fáil Party will steamroll through is a disgrace. In the Appendix, which will be circulated to them, the people are being given one side of the story, that the purpose of the referendum is to consider a proposal to change the Constitution, and in the description set out here, there is no information given to the electors as to what the change is. In other words, they are being asked if they approve of something without any description being given to them of the present position.
It may appear to active politicians like most of us here that the ordinary people are well aware of and very familiar with the existing system of the division of constituencies and of the present system of election to Dáil Éireann. In fact, of course, they are not. They have some general ideas but they are not clear, and you would not expect them to be, as to exactly what are the present provisions in the Constitution in regard to the constituencies or in regard to the election of Deputies to Dáil Éireann and the proposed polling card which will be circulated to them if this Bill is passed, as I know it will be, gives them no help whatever.
The Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, proposes that in forming Dáil constituencies, the population per deputy in any case may not be greater or less than the national average by more than one-sixth and that regard must be had to the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the need for having convenient areas of representation and the desirability of avoiding the overlapping of county boundaries.
An ordinary person reading that will say that that sounds good, that that sounds all right, but, of course, he is not at the same time having put before him what the present arrangements are in the Constitution. Maybe you would say that he should know but the ordinary person does not know that the Constitution says that the ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population of each constituency as ascertained in the last preceding census shall, so far as it is practicable, be the same throughout the country. If, of course, he had the choice put to him, if he had the statement as to what the existing provisions are and what is proposed, then it would be clear; it would be a reasonable matter on which to ask his judgment. But what it is proposed to do here is, clearly, to put one side of the story to the electorate.
Anybody reading through this and reading “straight vote” and reading down will say that sounds reasonable enough, but, strangely enough, there is no mention in this of proportional representation and the essential point in all this debate and all this proposal is to abolish proportional representation. Still, on the polling card which will be distributed to every elector, there is not a mention of proportional representation, no indication whatever to the ordinary voter that what he is being  asked to do in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is to abolish the system of election known as proportional representation.
That is a disgraceful situation. I am convinced that this is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party to try to get extra votes in favour of the change by confusing the electorate, by not putting before them the full story, by not giving them a clear picture of what they are being asked to choose in the referendum. I do not agree with Senator Dooge that there is any hope whatever of persuading this Minister and this Party to be reasonable and objective in a matter such as this. They are clearly biased. In my opinion, this is an attempt to confuse the electorate, to try to get a majority in favour of a change by not putting in the official paper going to the electors what the choice is and what they are being asked to do. There is no mention of what the present arrangement is in regard to the division of the country into constituencies. In the second Amendment Bill, there is no mention whatever of PR, which is what is fundamental to this issue.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I would like to support Senator Dooge on this. I recognise that the other legislation is controversial and the Government are perfectly right to put forward their own point of view as strenuously as possible and as selectively as possible, and we will do likewise. But I must say I was shaken by this Bill because even in the last referendum, no attempt was made at all to distort the issue by the use of emotive terminology and bias the result by the introduction into the description of the referendum for the purposes of the public anything which could be regarded as misrepresentation. Although the words used the last time may have been imperfect, they were clear and neutral. They were:
There are two features to this. It  made clear that the proposal was to abolish proportional representation. This is not so in the present Bill, although that is the primary purpose of the exercise. The Minister has said on several occasions that he is not all that concerned as to what system of voting in single-seat constituencies is adopted, that his primary concern is to abolish the multi-seat constituency which is the feature of PR and substitute the single-seat constituency. This then is the primary objective of the exercise. It is one about which there can be arguments put forward by the other side of the House that will weigh with some people and arguments put forward by us which we hope will weigh with some others. But to omit completely any reference to this as the primary aim of the referendum when it was in fact included the last time is to indicate a degree of bias and disregard for the whole constitutional mechanism which is highly disturbing.
The activities of any Government fall into two categories from the Opposition's point of view. There are those who object to or disagree with Government policy, or perhaps the personalities of people on the Government side. One accepts such legitimate divergences. Even though you may disagree with them, the Government are entitled to adopt that line. But there are certain things no Government are entitled to do which goes beyond what is legitimate—certain things like using the power of a Government Minister to influence the allocation of advertising to a newspaper in order to force a change in policy. That I regard as something intolerable in any democratic country.
Similarly, here we have something I regard as intolerable. I place these things in an entirely different category from many features of the Government's policy with which I disagree, but which I think they are perfectly entitled to put forward. But they are not entitled to suppress—and the last time the then Minister did not attempt to do it—the fact that this is designed to abolish PR. They are not entitled to adopt an emotive term which has no precise legal meaning and which, because of its lack of a precise legal  meaning, has to be put in inverted commas as a quotation. This is something I have not seen before in parliamentary drafting. In fact, it is a slang term which has no legal or precise meaning and which has to be put in inverted commas.
It is a quotation from a description that some people have given to this system, a code word of an emotive character designed to make it sound more respectable. For that reason it has to be put in in inverted commas. To use such an expression in a legal document put to the people as an impartial statement of what the referendum is about is something I regard as intolerable. On the last occasion no attempt was made so to describe the system. The description was neutral. It may have been imperfect and could have been improved upon, but it was a neutral description. I cannot remember what was said in that debate. For all I know some people on my side may have said it was not a neutral description. If they did say that, I would disagree with them.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: It was, in my view, a neutral description. What is now proposed is not. In the report of the Committee on the Constitution, this phrase “straight vote” is not the one used. The description used by the proponents of the single-seat system, which included Senator Ryan and Senator O'Kennedy, in drafting their arguments in favour of this system— two sets of arguments were put forward and presumably the arguments put forward were drafted by those in favour of it—in the argumentative section the phrase used was the “first past the post system” which I think is a good description. Maybe it is a slang description but it is descriptive and immediately lets you know what the system is. I could argue against it because of its lack of legal precision but not because it is unfair or emotive. Perhaps it could be said to be too slangy and to be inappropriate for a document of this kind. However, it would seem to me to be a description which was fair, put forward by fair-minded  people to give a description of the system.
The description given by the technical experts who advised the Committee in the secretariat in preparing the annexe dealing with the electoral systems was somewhat different. They described it as the “spot vote” system. That seems to be a reasonable description. I do not think it is as clear as the “first past the post” description. It has the demerit of being a bit slangy, but at least it has the merit of not being an emotive description. It was chosen by people who had read up the literature on the subject. Apparently, it is the description used in that literature. It is somewhat imperfect but at least it is neutral and does not attempt to prejudice the issue in any way.
The Minister has chosen then to take the description which was not the description applied by the people on the Committee to the system now being discussed—a system which indeed they dismissed, discoursing at some length on the superior method of the alternative vote over the system the Minister has now forced on them and on us. The description given in the annexe is the “spot vote”, but the Minister has chosen to adopt this slang expression, emotive in character, because the word “straight” immediately carries with it connotations of something good. It is a description which is based on prejudice. The Minister has chosen to adopt this in preference to the neutral description given by the civil servants who helped draft this report by his own Party members, who set out very fairly the merits and demerits of the alternative vote, and in preference to the description they gave vis-à-vis what they described as the “first past the post” system, having since been overruled by the Minister. I do not think we can accept this.
Senator Murphy may be right in that the Minister is not going to change his mind. If he were the kind of man who changed his mind in the face of fair argument, the fact that the Dáil is now in recess would discourage him from doing so. That may be so. Nevertheless, it is up to us to make our points  and, for my own part, if this description goes through, I shall fight this referendum in part on this issue and I think the people of Ireland who are fair-minded will not accept this. I think the Minister will find it has a boomerang effect. I think he is being just too clever. The use of this description which is quite different from that employed on the previous occasion, quite different from that given to it by his own people in the Committee on the Constitution and quite different from the description used by the secretariat to the Committee, a description of an emotive character, is something which, when put to the people, I think they will regard as objectionable and I suspect that quite a few votes will be falling to us because of the Minister's attempt to be clever in this respect.
Nevertheless, it is up to us to urge him to change his mind and point to his responsibility and the consequences that will ensue if he fails to do so. He will have heavy consequences to face in his own Party when this referendum is over and these will not be lessened by this attempt to fool the people of Ireland who are not readily fooled in matters of this kind. They can react violently as they did in the case of the original package deal proposal and when the matter is exposed to them, I think they will react very strongly. I put it to the Minister therefore, as we must formally do, that he should change his mind and adopt an alternative description, any of the others, “the relative majority”, which was used before, the “first past the post”, the “spot vote”. Any of these, even though some of them are defective, would be preferable to this description. I formally call on the Minister to modify this description as I have suggested, and if he fails to do so, it will certainly feature in our campaign that he has attempted to distort the referendum in this way by using this unfair description, something it will not do if our campaign has any effect on the people of this country.
Mr. Nash: When I read this Bill, I wondered whether the Opposition could possibly find anything in it to which they could object because the  normal pattern of parliamentary procedure in this country is that whatever is proposed by the Government is opposed by the Opposition. They seem to think that the sole purpose of an Opposition is to oppose. Therefore, I am surprised at the arguments that have been put forward. I can see nothing whatever in the Bill or the Schedule to which anybody could reasonably object.
Senator Murphy has suggested that in dealing with the Tolerance Amendment there should have been a quotation of the Constitution, that the Minister should have set out Article 16 3º of the Constitution which is to the following effect:
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.
If that was set out, a glossary on it should also be set out stating that there was litigation in connection with this matter in the High Court, the arguments used and the effect of the litigation and how it became necessary to introduce this Bill in the interests of justice to ensure that votes in rural communities would have, per head of the electorate, somewhat the same value as they have in the urban areas. The description to be set out on the white ballot paper as referred to in the Bill is:
The Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968, proposes that in forming Dáil constituencies, the population per deputy in any case may not be greater or less than the national average by more than one-sixth and that regard must be had to the extent and accessibility of constituencies, the need for having convenient areas of representation and the desirability of avoiding the overlapping of county boundaries.
Could anything be clearer? Is that not much clearer than quoting the Constitution, which would involve going on to quote the decided case and so on? Senator Murphy does not think so. It is the old story of objecting for the sake of objecting, opposing for the sake of opposing.
 Senator FitzGerald has spoken very strongly about endeavouring to fool the people. It seems to me that he is the only person who is endeavouring to fool the people. He has talked about spot votes, about the first past the post system—as if we were all racing men —but he has not set out what is the description of this straight vote that is ordinarily understood by the people, how it is described in our newspapers and in ordinary conversation. Surely that should be the method of describing it? It has been described in the newspapers now for very many months past as the straight vote and also in normal conversation. Listening to Senator FitzGerald speaking here on technical matters, in my opinion he is more given to gobbledegook than most people —“disincentives”, “escalation”, “de-escalation” and so on, all these words that have come into common jargon in recent times. The description adopted is a very simple one, known and understood by everybody.
It is also argued that the present system should be set out and described and that it should be described as proportional representation. Senator FitzGerald was the person who challenged me when I referred to the various types of proportional represention in Europe which had proved a failure. He wanted to know what particular type of PR was used in each of these countries. In other words, to him it meant something different in different countries. Is this document, which is to go out as the ballot paper, to set out the various types of PR and the particular type used in this country? If logic is to mean anything, it should be followed through to the end. The description set out here is “To substitute for the present system of voting at Dáil elections...”—surely the Irish people know what the present system is; to my mind, that could not be clearer to the ordinary man who does not propose to read a tract on the matter—“... and to substitute for it the ‘straight vote’.” The straight vote is a description that has been used for the past six months, particularly on television and in the newspapers, and in ordinary conversation. It is understood by the average voter and by all  the voters in this country to mean only one thing; that you cast one vote, that it may not be transferred, that it is cast for a particular policy and may not be transferred to any other policy and that the person who obtains the highest number of votes in the election will be the person elected. It is quite clear to everybody what is meant. Again we are back to the general conception that you must oppose for the sake of opposing, an attempt, and I would suggest a very deliberate attempt, by Senator FitzGerald and by the Opposition to throw dust in the eyes of the public.
Professor Quinlan: It is nice to have the simple political faith of Senator Nash when he can see everything as black or white and that any effort we make here to perform our function is just simply opposing the Government for the sake of opposition. I thought Senator Nash would have been more broadminded in his approach than that, that as a lawyer he would be able to contrast the description as given in 1959 with what is here today, and that he would see the very grave decline in democracy that is shown by comparing these two. Of course, that is significant because in 1959 the Bill was piloted by our esteemed President, Mr. Éamon de Valera——
Professor Quinlan: ——who could not for one moment be charged with being in any way unfair to the people when he went to consult them. It was typical of his approach that the description as given in 1959 was simple and direct. It said: “The single non-transferable vote in which the candidate in the constituency who receives the largest number of votes is elected.” That is simple and straightforward, and puts into a few words what the system really means. It was typical of his high parliamentary standards that, despite the fact that the slang term “straight vote” had been used, he did not suggest putting a slang term into our legislation. Evidently Senator Nash prefers a slang term to the other available terms, two of which were already used in the Constitution Committee  Report. I am surprised at that, and I am sure that any of our constituents on the university panels will see the deterioration that has taken place and will object, as we do, to the introduction of slang into our legislation, especially when it is slang of a highly emotive character and is used merely to deceive the electorate. I do not think “deceive” is too strong a word here. It shows the anti-democratic approach the Government are taking to one of our most sacred democratic instruments in this country, that is, the referendum. It was hailed in our Constitution as being the acme of democracy, the means by which the people may be consulted on vital issues at times other than that of the hurly-burly of a general election.
Many of the great writers on constitutional matters, many of our greatest Irishmen, have advocated at all times that the referendum provision should have been used much more widely. What has prevented its being used has been the delay that would be involved, and that is something that may be got rid of in future. It is something to aim at and something which the people dearly value.
That is why the people reacted so magnificently and so strongly to the disgraceful package deal which was suggested in the television debate by the Minister for Education. The newspapers are to be complimented on expressing so well and so fully public indignation at this outrageous proposal. The Minister attacked the papers as being Opposition papers. I wonder does the Minister hold that all the weeklies up and down the country, which, without exception, were expressing their indignation, are also Opposition papers. If he does, it shows a very strange mentality, almost as simple a political faith as that shown by Senator Nash in the facile way he is able to write off all the reasonable suggestions and criticisms from this side of the House.
The drafting of the form in which a question is put to the electorate in a referendum should be above party politics altogether. There should be special machinery there for drafting it, give thought in future. In the absence and it is something to which we might  of such legal machinery, it should have been possible to get the Parties together with the Minister and to see that the question was put fairly on the paper. It would be so easy to use the 1959 description and that would convey exactly what was meant, or to amend the present one to say: “to substitute for the present system of proportional representation”. I do not think even Senator Nash could see ambiguity in that, because the present system is our system, the Irish system, the one we have developed here to suit our particular needs of reconciling the question of representation with that of producing a majority. It is our system.
What is wrong about putting it down as “the present system of proportional representation”? The use of the term “straight vote” is completely objectionable by every standard, and if the Minister still insists on it, at least he should give some lead to the people as to what it means, simply to say “straight vote system as operated in Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, or is the Minister ashamed to tell the people of Ireland that now we have become so British that we must copy everything that Britain does? Indeed I wonder sometimes why Britain spent so long trying to hold us down; according to the way we are going, if she had left us to ourselves, we would have become British far more quickly than we ever would under her domination.
Mr. K. Boland: I take it I can deal with this question of whether or not this is the British system or whether the system that was imposed on us is the British system? In view of the fact that Senator Quinlan has devoted a large part of his time to dealing with this, I take it I can speak along those lines?
Professor Quinlan: I intend to move an amendment which will endeavour to clarify the wording on the ballot paper on the lines I have suggested, namely, “our present system of proportional representation”. I do not think there is anything to be ashamed of in putting that down. The system has served us well. It has been praised by President de Valera and many others. In the case of the straight vote, I would much prefer to see it called the single majority system, but I want to clarify it by putting in the words “as operated in Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. In other words, we tell Mamma Britain that we are returning to her again, that we are incapable of operating a system of our own, that after 40 years of self-government, that is all we can rise to. At least our people should know that.
Professor Quinlan: The way the Bill is drafted pinpoints the grave danger to democracy that is arising in this country. We have heard it said that the Minister is anxious to save Fine Gael from themselves and help them into power. The real issue today is to save Fianna Fáil from the antidemocratic wing in their own Party.
Professor Quinlan: With due deference to the Chair, I am contrasting the wording here with the wording in 1959. I am leaving it at that for everyone to see the decline in democracy represented therein. In so far as I can influence voters in the coming election, I will put this point quite clearly to them, and I will leave it to themselves as intelligent citizens in a democracy to weigh up the position for  themselves. The people should be alerted before it is too late, because in a democracy eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
Mr. Honan: Since I have had the honour to come into this House, I have heard various protestations from the opposite side of the House about the terminology and language used in parliamentary Bills. I have heard various criticisms from the opposite side of the House about the language used in parliamentary Bills. There has been all this commotion, suggesting that the Irish people cannot understand what is meant by substituting for the present system of voting at Dáil elections the straight vote system in single-member constituencies.
What could be plainer than that? Every man, woman and child in the country knows what the straight vote means. Every man, woman and child in the country knows that when we talk about the present system, we are talking about the system of PR, and that we are talking about PR here and not the various types of PR in other countries. What could be clearer than that? If the protestations we have heard from the other side of the House have any meaning it is that the parliamentary draftsman should convey in the simplest possible form what the Bills that go through the House are about. I think the parliamentary draftsman has made it quite clear what this Bill is about, and I think these histrionics are unworthy of the House.
Mr. Crowley: I want to make one or two brief comments. The Leader of the Labour Party has made clear what our attitude to this Bill is and particularly to the form of the ballot paper which it is proposed to issue on this question. It is rather extraordinary, to say the least of it, that at this stage of our parliamentary life we should resort to the type of wording we have in what will be known as the green ballot paper: “To substitute for the present system of voting at Dáil elections the ‘straight vote’ system in single-member constituencies”. With all due deference to my friend Senator Honan  I do not think it can be said that every man, woman and child in the country understands what we mean when we refer to what is called the straight vote. I have spoken to dozens of people and they invariably ask me what is the straight vote. They do not know. Let us be candid and honest about it. The majority of the people do not know and any honest man will find that out if he talks about this matter intelligently. We object to this.
Mr. Crowley: I am sorry. It is very unfair if the views we are endeavouring to express in the interests of the people are misrepresented and deliberately twisted from the opposite side of the House. I want to make it clear that we object to the fact that in this ballot paper the people are not being asked a straight simple question. No one can suggest that the wording in the green ballot paper conveys the significance of the decision the people are being asked to take. We object to that. These proposals are obviously designed, deliberately, I suggest, to put the people in a straitjacket. I suggest that the Government would have been more honest if they used the word “straitjacket” instead of the words “straight vote”. If they are not prepared to do that, they should at least make it clear to the people that they are being asked to abandon the system of PR which they have used intelligently and well over the past 50 years. That is the basis of our objection. I do not wish to repeat what other Senators have said.
Mr. Flanagan: In general, I am impressed by the arguments put forward by Labour Senators and by the reasonableness of their speeches, but I  am not impressed today. We should have some regard for the intelligence of the people. We have heard it suggested that when you ask the people to express their preference by putting the letter X on a ballot paper, that is a reflection on their intelligence, and that the exercise of voting 1,2,3 and 4 is a mark of their super-intelligence. We have heard the words “scandalous” and “disgraceful” used by Members of the Labour Party, but before these Bills were discussed and determined in Dáil Éireann, and before they came here for consideration in the Seanad, looking at Liberty Hall, I saw, 12 storeys up, in letters ten feet high: “Vote No.” The people who put up those words 12 storeys above the streets of Dublin in letters ten feet high, intended to convey a message to the people. What is the message? Do they explain anything? Do they wait for the decision of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann? Do they wait until the Bills are enacted? Do they wait to put before the people on what they are asking them to vote “No”? If they had done that, I think there would be much more force in the arguments they are putting up here.
Mr. Brennan: At this late stage, the House will appreciate that it is particularly hard for me to cover all the formal debate on this Bill. I was particularly impressed by Senator Crowley's arguments a few minutes ago when he complained about the specimen ballot paper and said the public would be deceived, would not understand this type of paper and would not understand the very simple and very much used words “yes” and “no”. The same Senator and his Party expect the public to understand all the forms and intricacies that constitute proportional representation.
When it comes to a count, I should like to ask this very same Senator what proportion of the public would know how to distribute a surplus. I guarantee that not ten per cent of them could do so. As he did pose a question, I shall give him some information. I happened to be director of elections and agent at the last Presidential election. One of the agents for the Fine Gael  Party was a barrister-at-law. At one stage when a returning officer, who was a solicitor, asked me if I wished to see the postal votes being counted, and I said of course I did, he said: “I must get your counterpart”. The two of us went and the returning officer opened the box and proceeded to count the votes. We were not very long counting them—about the fourth vote—when my friend said: “That is a spoiled vote”. I said “Wait a minute”: the votes were marked 1 and 2. I asked him: “How do you claim that this is a spoiled vote?” Believe it or not, the returning officer agreed with him— because the paper, the day before, had come along with an article telling the public that any ballot paper that was marked 1 and 2 was a spoiled vote. What do you think about that? If you push me very hard, I shall give you the name.
Mr. Brennan: The very same agent was coming fresh from the wars of Longford-Westmeath where they thumbed their votes for about a week before. I assured him that we would educate him in counting votes. This is the sort of thing you have to listen to every day in the week. Senator Crowley complained that nobody will understand how to vote and, at the same time, he expects the public to understand proportional representation. However, be that as it may.
Mr. Brennan: It was very nice to hear Senator Sheehy Skeffington, who had a copy of the fashion competition in the Sunday Press with him. Whatever upset him in this fashion competition I do not know—it could have been a mini-skirt—but he skipped from the mini-skirt to Moscow. As far as I could see, on the way home, he dropped in to see Hitler in his heyday and Mussolini. As a matter of fact, Senator Stanford had been speaking  about strong government, weak government and good government. However, neither of the two learned gentlemen ever thought of telling us that the reason we got Hitler and Mussolini was weak government and, therefore, bad government. He then spoke for some time——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It is certainly in order to refer, in passing, to the subject matter of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill but this discussion is on the Referendum Bill.
Mr. Brennan: Yes. To come back to my point of view, I think we should study for some time—this has been so much debated in the Dáil and now in the Seanad—the set of circumstances in which we first got this legacy of proportional representation. The Seanad will recall that it was introduced here in the 1920s. After we had seen the 1916 Rebellion we then had the 1918 election. The British Government of those days found that, although they might hope to hold Ireland, they could not hold her very long. The Home Secretary, I think——
Mr. Brennan: ——advised the British Government that they would have to do something to try, not so much, as they often said, to give minorities representation as to see to it that majorities would not be successful in this country. That is the reason we got proportional representation—but they made sure not to hold on to it themselves.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I hesitate interrupt the Senator but what he  has been saying is relevant to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The Bill we are discussing at the moment concerns the manner in which the forthcoming referendum should be conducted.
Mr. J. Brennan: I thank the Chair for the guidance. I think I have made my point about this ballot paper we are discussing here. I have no doubt that every intelligent person will be able to read very easily and clearly what is before him or her at the referendum.
Mr. K. Boland: I might have expected that the pattern of this debate would be similar to the pattern on the Second Reading debate on the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, namely, that the reasonable contribution by Senator Dooge would soon be followed by the type of contribution we got from Senator Quinlan and Senator FitzGerald and which necessarily lowered the tone of the whole debate. Let me deal first with some of the points made by Senator Dooge. He said there was no necessity for the referendum. I must admit that that tempts me to explain once again why the referendum was decided upon but I do not think that that should be necessary at this stage.
Mr. K. Boland: As far as I could gather from Senator Dooge, the summary of the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which it is proposed to circulate to voters is acceptable, but the summary of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill is not acceptable. That in fact seems to be the general approach except for Senator Murphy, to whom the summary of the Third Amendment Bill is apparently also not acceptable.
Senator Dooge in his description of the present system said it was a system under which a voter can give his later preferences to other candidates. Of course this is not so. It is a system under which some voters, not selected in accordance with any democratic principle, can have as many votes as they  like. Some voters only can transfer their later preferences to other candidates. One of the Senator's objections to the summary of the Fourth Amendment Bill was that the present system is not described and he also objects to the actual description of the proposed system. In 1959 the summary of the proposals was as follows:
After the 1959 referendum and during the campaign, there were complaints that this was confusing to the electorate, that there was too much contained in a summary being printed on a small voting card, that the average voter did not read the whole of this description carefully and was confused as to what exactly the question on the ballot paper meant. The question was: “Do you agree with the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?” If there was confusion, surely it was because there were two separate systems described with the result that the voter who did not take the trouble to study the matter closely did not know whether he was being asked to vote for or against PR or for and against the proposed system. If there was any confusion, it was that voters did not know whether “Yes” meant that they were in favour of PR or that they were in favour of the proposed system.
In view of the fact that it is agreed that the system in operation is known, it would only tend to confuse the voters if the Bill were to describe it. That must be absolutely clear, particularly when you have people such as Senator  Murphy saying that the proposal is to abolish PR. Admittedly, if the proposal is carried, PR will be abolished but the question being asked is: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?” If Senator Murphy and people like him say the people should be asked to vote on whether they are for or against PR, they will only help to confuse the people. It must be obvious that to the normal voter who will not read a long description, the proposed summary on this occasion is much clearer. Everybody here realises that the present system is known; it is not known in detail and there are only about 5 per cent of the members of either House of the Oireachtas who know exactly how the present system works, but they know the system in a general way— they know that it is the system of the multi-member constituency and involves this process of allocating the votes of some people to different candidates, one after the other. As I say, I can see no reason to describe it and the only effect of putting in an unnecessary description of the present system would be to confuse the people and lead some to believe that they were voting for or against the present system when they would be voting for or against the proposed system.
Senator Dooge also objects to the use of the term “the straight vote”. He says it has been used with irony. I think there is no doubt—and it is quite easy to show—that this term is now used naturally by everybody to describe the proposed system when people want to make themselves clear, which I admit is not always, as sometimes they want to confuse people. When they do not want to use unnecessary words, they refer to “the ‘straight’ vote”. I am not saying that they are agreed that the description is an accurate one but when they do not think it appropriate to describe the thing in detail, they describe it as “the ‘straight’ vote”. That applies to Opposition spokesmen and Opposition newspapers.
I have a fairly random selection of press cuttings which show that when political commentators or newspaper editors who are opposed to Fianna  Fáil and therefore, like Senator Quinlan, opposed to this proposal, want to describe this proposal and do not want to be too confusing, they use the term “straight vote” just the same as Senator FitzGerald uses it when he wants to make himself clear. Take the Cork Examiner of 22nd February, 1968. In a leading article headed “Third and Fourth Amendments” the following passages occur:
From now on the terms Third Amendment and Fourth Amendment will become familiar in our political terminology, the former relating to the ratio of Deputies to population and the latter to the straight vote issue.
The real bone of contention, of course, is the Fourth Amendment which is to be presented as a simple choice between the existing system and the straight vote in single-seat constituencies. This is a question which admits of no misunderstanding.
All this aside, the most intriguing suggestion that came up while the Second Reading was in progress was that the Government might depart from their proposition of the straight vote and opt for the Norton amendment...
In various places throughout the article, the proposed system is referred to, naturally, as the “straight vote” because the political correspondent of  the Irish Independent wanted to be understood by his readers. In fact, he goes so far as to say:
He was actually discussing the Short Titles of the Bills and he thought that the Government, in order to try to reach agreement with the Opposition, would agree to insert, in brackets, “Tolerance” into the Short Title of the Third Amendment Bill and “Straight Vote” into the Short Title of the Fourth Amendment Bill. Even the political correspondent of the Irish Independent, trying to do the impossible, namely, interpret the mind of the Opposition, thought that the most reasonable thing the Government might do, in order to reach agreement with the Opposition, was to insert the term “Straight Vote” into the Short Title so as to make it clear to the people what it was they were being asked to do.
He also made another suggestion, realising obviously the desirability of trying to facilitate the Opposition and the difficulty of doing so, and thinking, apparently, that even the reasonable suggestion he had already made might not be accepted; he went on to say:
Mr. K. Boland: The Irish Times and the Irish Independent are anyway. I must say I very rarely get the Cork Examiner and I would not consider  myself competent to give an opinion in regard to the Cork Examiner, but I certainly will give an opinion both about the Irish Times and the Irish Independent.
Mr. K. Boland: The Irish Times of 11th January, 1968, has a title to its leading article to which I do not think Senators opposite will object: it is headed “Danger Year”. There again, the proposal is referred to as the “Straight Vote”. It says:
The Irish Independent, of 1st February, 1968, in an article by the political correspondent — the heading extends over four columns —“Party Moves for Major Changes In Constitution”—mentions the straight vote on several occasions because the political correspondent did not want to confuse readers; he wanted to be understood and all through the article there are references to the proposal the Government were making and on each occasion the proposal is described quite naturally as the “straight vote”. The political correspondent uses the term by which people in general know the proposal.
On 31st January, 1968, he had another article—this was prior to the one to which I have just referred—and in that again the system is described, quite naturally, as the “straight vote”. Mark you, apparently to Senator O'Quigley's confusion, the Irish Press also described it as the “straight vote”. On 31st January, 1968——
Mr. K. Boland: Yes. I am dealing only with the question as to whether or not “straight vote” is the appropriate way to describe this system when one is making a summary. On 1st February, 1968, there was a report of a speech by the leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Brendan Corish, in the Irish Press. Deputy Corish is reported as follows:
When Deputy Corish wanted to be understood, he referred to the proposal as the “straight vote”. He did not go to the trouble of describing the actual system proposed in the Bill because he wanted to be understood. The Opposition want to make sure that as many people as possible will not understand the proposal and that is why they want a confusing summary to be made of the proposals in the Bill.
The political correspondent of the Irish Independent on 3rd February, 1968, has this suggestion to make; this is before the request to divide the proposal into two separate proposals had been conceded:
This aspect will probably be watched very carefully on this occasion, when, as seems likely, the Government will combine the two referendum proposals in one question. Roughly this would read:  Abolish PR, adopt the straight vote single-seat system, reduce the representation ratio to 17,500.
The Irish Press on 25th November, 1967, immediately after the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, was considering the likelihood of this move being made and described the system proposed as the “straight vote system”. The Irish Times on 1st January, 1968, New Year's Day, started the new year by describing the proposal in this way:
The majority of Ministers in the Government is now believed to favour the complete abolition of the present system of proportional representation and its replacement by the straight vote in single-seat constituencies.
Mr. K. Boland: No, I want to establish the fact that this is the title by which the proposed system is known. Even Professor Basil Chubb of Trinity College as reported in the Irish Times of 20th April, 1968, in a long attack on the proposal—he attacks the proposal from every possible point of view—but he describes it as the straight vote. Now we come to a report in the Irish Times of 10th May, 1968, headed “Only 50 at meeting to defend PR” and whom do we see here referring to it as the straight vote? Senator Garret FitzGerald himself:
Mr. K. Boland: No, it is not. Of course this is a quotation and maybe Senator FitzGerald tried to put the words in inverted commas when he was speaking. In any case he wanted these 50 people who were gathered together at this mass meeting of protest to be clear as to what he was referring and he said straight vote because he did not want to confuse them by going into  one of the long descriptions he is capable of going into.
Mr. K. Boland: ——I shall merely content myself with one more because it is my colleague Deputy Seán Dunne. The Irish Times of 4th March, 1968, quoted Deputy Dunne as saying that the straight vote would not abolish the Labour Party. There are plenty more of them here and plenty more also on the records of this House and on the records of the Dáil to show that when people, whether Opposition speakers or Fianna Fáil speakers, want to be understood and do not want to go into long descriptions of the actual technicalities of the system. they use the term “straight vote” naturally. It is quite obvious that this is the clearest way to put the actual proposition.
Senator Murphy suggests that it should be made clear that the proposal is to abolish PR. He is in fact suggesting that the voters should be deliberately misled because the proposal is to establish this system and if the voters are led to believe that they are voting for or against PR, then they are likely, some of them at least, to think that “yes” would be a vote for PR, and that was the complaint that was made on the last occasion, that people would think they were voting for PR by voting “yes”.
Senator FitzGerald describes it as an emotive term, although he uses it himself when he wants to make himself clear such as when speaking to those 50 loyal supporters who turned up at the mass meeting in May last. Whatever about when the term was first used, there is no doubt that it is now used both by those who support the proposal and those who oppose it. The term “straight vote” has been used by people who are attacking it and if it had any emotive implications when it was first used here—although it had been used of course in publications and so on——
Mr. K. Boland: Miss Lakeman's book. I do not know, but it was a recognised term. I am not saying it was the only way in which it was described but it was one of the descriptions given to it in publications before we used it here. It may have had some emotive connotations when introduced first but it is by now the recognised term and the term utilised both by its opponents and its supporters.
Of course the term “single transferable vote” is not an accurate description either. It is not even an honest description because the system that is described as the “single transferable vote” is in fact a system which gives multiple votes to certain arbitrarily selected voters. I agree that the term “straight vote” does not describe the system in detail but it is a reasonable name for the system. It is a good description and it is the name by which it is known here by both its supporters and its opponents. Of course it is because it is the name by which it is known that there is this opposition to it here in this House, because it is known that both the people who support Fianna Fáil and the people who support the views of the present Leader of the Fine Gael Party know this system.
Apparently there are no depths to which Senator Quinlan will not sink in this House. I think it should not have been necessary for him to descend to such hypocrisy as he did here in pretending this esteem for the President only two years after the vicious slander campaign that was conducted against the President in the 50th Anniversary Year of 1916. Surely he could at least have fulfilled his intention of opposition to Fianna Fáil which is dictated by his colleagues in Fine Gael without descending to these depths of hypocrisy here?
Mr. K. Boland: As far as I can see, his only other contribution was to make  a case that this was the British system of election. In fact, as he should know, the system we have here is a British system of election but it is a system that was invented not for themselves but for people like us who had the temerity to throw off British control. I should like to quote from Mr. Samuels, the British Attorney General, in introducing this system which is now supposed to be an Irish system, freely adopted:
At the general election on the parliamentary franchise, 75 per cent of the representatives have gone over to the Sinn Féin Party. What is the declared object of that Party? It is to make local government in Ireland absolutely impossible and to break down the British reign and rule in Ireland by capturing local bodies. Who are you going to trust the administration of these things to? Are you going to trust them to bodies elected on the present franchise and under the present machinery— bodies which have been absolutely captured by people who call the rest of the United Kingdom “the enemy”, and whose object is to break down the rule of the “enemy” and make the whole administration in Ireland impossible.
As I have pointed out before, the main Opposition Party when they were Cumann na nGaedheal and when they were Fine Gael here always adopted this attitude of opposition to the system and have always insisted that it was a system forced on us here by the British, “tried out on the dog” as their official publication said, and as Deputy James Dillon repeated on a number of occasions, and forced on us here. Nobody should know better than they whether it was forced or not. It was they who accepted it in 1922.
Mr. K. Boland: I was merely dealins with the points raised by Senator Quinlan. It was he who insisted that this proposal was the British system of election. I am merely pointing out that there are two British systems, one they have for themselves and one they invented for us. I would agree with Senator Quinlan that it is not relevant but he must have known that when he introduced it himself. With regard to this question, I think it is quite clear that the proposed summary is a clear summary, one that will not be misunderstood and that in fact opposition to it is just because of its clarity.
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