Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1982: Second Stage.

Thursday, 26 May 1983

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 100 No. 12

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Spring): Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  This Bill proposes to assist voters at the referendum by making available to them a statement explaining the issue on which they are being asked to vote. The proposed statement is prescribed in the Appendix to section 1 of the Bill and it sets out in full the text of the new subsection which the Eighth Amendment Bill proposes to add to Article 40.3 of the Constitution.

Section 1 of the Bill provides that a polling card shall be sent to every voter, including postal voters, containing a copy of the prescribed statement. The statement will also be displayed on posters in and in the precincts of polling stations. Presiding officers will be authorised to assist blind, incapacitated and illiterate voters by reading out the statement to them, where necessary, and asking them whether they wish to vote in favour of or against the proposal and then marking the ballot paper in accordance with the voters' answers. These arrangements are identical with those made in relation to previous referenda on Bills to amend the Constitution. The arrangements are additional to the permanent provisions of [1309] the referendum law under which copies of Bills to amend the Constitution are made available in post offices for inspection free of charge and for sale at a price not exceeding two-and-a-half pence.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  I should like to welcome the Minister to the House. It is the first occasion when I have been here that he has come to the House as Minister. I did not detect any note of wonderful enthusiasm in his voice as he introduced this technical measure which follows as a consequence of the substantive Bill which passed, despite Labour opposition, through this House. There are a number of points which I would like to make even on a technical Bill relating to this amendment because they reveal and further endorse some of the criticisms of the defective proposal on which people will be asked to vote.

The Minister in introducing the Bill referred to the fact that it is proposed to assist voters by “making available to them a statement explaining the issue on which they are being asked to vote”. It does not do that: as he goes on to say, it merely provides for a ballot paper that will have the precise text of the proposed amendment in it but it will not explain what that text means. It would be very difficult to draw up an explanatory memorandum at this stage explaining what that text means. We have been debating it in this House for a number of weeks. We have had very basic differences and a lot of questions have not been answered. The ballot paper will contain the wording but it will not contain any explanation for the voters. As I said on Second Stage of the Bill to amend the Constitution, the explanation will be left to a very random section of the political process.

Deputy Haughey has said that the Fianna Fáil Party will not campaign as a party for this referendum. I do not know if he will continue to say that but he certainly has gone on record as saying that Fianna Fáil will not campaign as a party for this referendum. The Taoiseach has said that he will make a statement urging [1310] people to vote against the referendum. It is clear that perhaps a significant number of members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and the Fine Gael organisation will campaign against the amendment. It is clear, also, that the Labour Party on the whole — certainly the Labour Party in the Seanad — will campaign against the amendment to the Constitution. Apart from that, there are pro and anti campaigns, which are largely organised on a voluntary basis and which also differ substantially in their composition and membership throughout the country. To a very considerable extent, it looks as if the pro- and anti-amendment campaigns, in so far as they have emerged to date, will——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  There is a division in the other House.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  Because the points I am making are points very much for the record, if the Minister has no objection, it is probably more sensible to continue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  Very well.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  Since this Bill is the technical measure relating in some way to conveying the message about this amendment to the voters it is worth underlining the unusual nature of the way in which the campaign is likely to be conducted. Apart from the very unusual nature of the participation or, apparently, largely non-participation in a formal sense of the political parties, it is at least quite likely that the main thrust of the campaign will be organised by the pro-and anti-amendment groups, associations and individuals who come under those broad umbrellas.

This may well, if care is not taken, allow the campaign to polarise because, voluntary bodies, who are pushing for a particular sectional voice, sectional viewpoint or sectional interest, can attempt to polarise and to narrow the focus on an issue. I greatly fear that in the absence of a substantial involvement by serious and responsible politicians and political parties that the debate could become a very narrow pro- and anti-abortion campaign. [1311] That is quite clearly not the issue that this constitutional amendment is proposing to deal with. It is not, in fact, an issue of whether one is pro- or anti-abortion.

Several Members of both Houses have made it clear that although they oppose the constitutional amendment they are anti-abortion and would not be in favour of legalising abortion. Therefore, I would like to use the opportunity in contributing on Second Stage of this Bill to urge elected representatives to involve themselves in this unfortunate campaign. We have to have it now. We have a Bill proposing to amend the Constitution by way of the normal process which has to be validated or not in a referendum. Therefore, none of us can advocate our responsibility as elected representatives. We have had a lot more opportunity than the ordinary voter to inform ourselves, to become aware of the issues that are involved. We must go out and campaign in the country and make sure that the issues are fully understood.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I am afraid the Senator is getting very far away from the Bill before the House. I have been lenient enough.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  You have been a very patient and fair chairman throughout and I certainly will not trespass on your patience at this stage. I submit that the point is a very valid one.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I do not disagree with the Senator but I do not think the scope of the Bill would allow it. I agree it is a very valid point.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  The scope of the Bill is about the mechanics of conveying the information to the voters. I have made the point about that. It is important that the campaign is a fully informed one and that the elected representatives are actively involved in it. I come now more closely to the wording of the Bill. It is to me an unusual feature of it that the appendix, referring to what will be on the ballot paper, refers only to the English language of the amendment. I draw the attention of Senator de Brún to this.

[1312]Séamus de Brún: Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  I am waiting to ask about that.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  Perhaps we have at least that common point.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  The polling cards have it.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  It appears that the polling cards have only the English text, which, of course, will not be the authoritative text. Since the Bill is passed in both languages — I see that it will be available for a mere 2½p to the Irish citizen, perhaps that is one of the cheapest things that can be purchased in the country at the moment — nevertheless, it would seem to be appropriate, when we are amending the Constitution in this manner, that both the English and Irish texts should go before the people.

I have another comment to make on the appendix, which is what will be on the polling card. It is on page 3 of the Bill. It quotes what the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution proposes to do. Then it has these questions I referred to on Second Stage. It appears to me that these are questions that cannot in fact be approved, or not approved by the voter because the voter will not have the knowledge and understanding of the text to do that. It says: “If you APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word YES on the ballot paper”, or “If you DO NOT APPROVE of the proposal mark X opposite the word NO on the ballot paper”. Then under No. 4 it says: “A copy of the Bill can be inspected free of charge and purchased for two-and-a-half pence at any Post Office”.

I considered and my colleagues in the Labour group here also considered, very seriously tabling a Committee Stage amendment to add subsection (5) there that we felt should also properly go on the polling card so that the voter could have a full appreciation of the issues. We were prepared, in fact, to consider tabling an amendment inserting an official warning, to the effect that if this proposal is approved it could endanger the life of certain pregnant women. Why [1313] give the text of it and just ask for approval or no approval without drawing attention to the very serious reservations?

I made reference to the fact that we have warnings on cigarette packets, that they can endanger the health of citizens. Similarly on the polling card for citizens going to vote in this referendum it would not be either inappropriate or outlandish to suggest that there should be a warning that approval of the proposal may endanger the health of pregnant women. I deliberately use “may endanger” so that, in fact, it would not be dogmatic, it would not be categorical or taking sides. It would be a fair, further subsection because the issue certainly has been raised. It is a view held by the Taoiseach. It is part, at least, of the apprehension of the Minister for Justice even if he does not wish to express it fully as that kind of view. It is a view expressed in this House by the Minister of State with responsibility for women's affairs and by a number of contributors to the debate. There is a real danger, if this amendment is approved, to pregnant women.

One could add a few more specific points as part of the polling card explanation. If approved this constitutional amendment will affect various contraceptive practices which are available at the moment. Women should know, going into the polling station, that it will very likely affect the availability of the IUD, the morning after pill and of the other types of contraceptives, which may have an effect of preventing implanation of the fertilised ovum. That should be spelt out, whether on the polling card or in some sort of explanatory documentation in relation to the constitutional amendment.

That would be a much more practical and realistic approach than to try, in some sort of explanatory memorandum, to define life, to define the concept of the unborn and to define the equality of rights as between the woman or girl who is pregnant and the unborn, wherever life was determined to begin for the purposes of imbuing it with a constitutional right. All of that is abstract. The real and practical point that could be brought to the [1314] attention of the voter and could well be on the polling card is the Government danger alert that it could affect the life and endanger the health of pregnant women and, secondly, that if passed this proposal could and probably will affect the access to various kinds of contraceptive devices.

Voters in general and women in particular would know that this proposal is something that can and, I submit, will affect substantially the most intimate aspects of their relationship and will bring the Constitution in a very intrusive way into the most private decisions that husbands and wives and mothers and fathers may make. It is, therefore, not an abstract issue and certainly in a narrow sense is not to be seen as an issue of whether one is pro- or anti-abortion.

That is a very different issue which simply has not surfaced to any degree in this debate. Anybody who has read the debate, particularly in this House, could only be struck by the lack of any substantial focus on the issue of abortion. What was being focused on was the way in which this constitutional proposal would affect the texture of the lifestyle of people in the country, that it was proposing to impose a denominational view of when the life of the unborn begins, it would appear, and also whether it should be protected as a constitutional right and the consequent effect that would have on contraceptive practices and on medical decisions relating to the treatment of women in pregnancy.

These practical consequences could be drawn to the attention of the voter. They could be alerted in a polling card, in a sign outside the polling station or certainly, I hope, in the information made available in the course of the campaign by those opposing this amendment. The concentration should be on those issues, on the practical, real consequences for ordinary women in this country and the way in which this amendment must be rejected.

It is not possible to insert into a polling card the consequences for our external reputation, for this little country and how we are viewed outside by our friends who see us as moving into an age when the [1315] Constitution will be seen to reflect the majority religion, where that was accepted and not thought to be something that was in any way surprising because of the religious affiliation in the country. Our friends from outside would view with dismay that kind of development. They would probably like a further addition on the polling card or on the sign outside the polling stations saying: “This is the death knell of any constitutional crusade such as was launched only a few months prior to this particular initiative. You cannot have a pluralist society if you move in the direction of adoptinga Constitution like this.”

That may be a little bit too abstract a notion to include on the polling card or in a big sign at the polling station. I hope it will certainly be part of the broader information made available to the voter. I hope that the campaign will, as my colleague Senator Higgins emphasised in his Fifth Stage speech on the previous Bill, deal with the issues that we dealt with in this House over the last few days. Even if we cannot, in the course of the provisions of this Bill, legislate precisely for the additional information of a practical nature which we would like the voter to have in a polling card or at the polling station, that information will in other ways be made available when people come to exercise their vote.

When the Minister returns, I hope that he will indicate to this House if he has a date in mind for the referendum. It would be desirable that that date be put off for as long as possible. I hope that it will be put off even until the autumn if that is within the possible limits of his discretion in the matter. We are learning more as days go by, we are getting more information. As I mentioned already, the medical profession are providing more informed knowledge as to the dangers of this measure. As time goes on, some of the initial certainty that this was a simple human rights issue has gone and we have begun to realise that it is anything but simple, it is very complex and, in order for it to be considered in all its complexity and in all its inappropriatness, it would be better that as much time [1316] as possible be allowed for the actual campaign for the referendum. I hope the Minister will indicate to us what the date he intends to set for the referendum will be.

Séamus de Brún: Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  Níl sé ar aigne agam oráid fhada a dhéanamh ar an mBille seo ach séard atá uaim ceist a chur ar an Aire Stáit: bhí fúm an cheist a chur ar an Aire an fhad is a bhí sé anseo maidir le leagan Gaeilge den Bhille seo. Níl aon Ghaeilge ar an mBille seo. Sin é an gnáth rud, measaim, do Bhille dá shórt seo, is é sin do Bhille a bhaineann le reifreann. An cheist atá agam ná, an mbeidh aon Ghaeilge ar an bpáipéir vótála nó ar an gcárta vótála a chuirfear ós comhair na vótáláithe nuair a bheidh siad ag vótáil?

This Bill is wholly in English and this is appropriate, I understand, to a Bill of its kind. I had intended to ask the Minister the question, but unfortunately he had to go to the other House, will there be anything in Irish, in other words, will the voting paper put to the electorate be bilingual? Will the voting card, or the ballot paper, as the case may be, be in Irish and in English, or will it be wholly in Irish? That is my question.

I am amazed and appalled at the suggestion Senator Robinson made that there should be some indication on the ballot paper or some information outside the polling stations that if this referendum is passed it would endanger the lives of mothers, in other words, that a warning should appear on the voting paper or that a similar enlarged poster will be outside the polling stations indicating to women voters that if this referendum is passed the lives of women would be endangered. That procedure would be totally and abysmally unprecedented. I believe that it would be wrong and out of character in a referendum.

I hope Senator Robinson's suggestion will not be acceded to, because I believe that it would be unconstitutional. We have been debating unconstitutional and constitutional issues for the better part of three or four days now. I believe it would be unconstitutional to do so. I submit that it be rejected totally by this House [1317] and, if not by this House, by the Government, of whom Senator Robinson has asked that it be proceeded with.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Ar an gcéad dul síos aontaím go hiomlán leis an Seanadóir de Brún go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh an leagan Gaeilge ar fáil do na daoine a bheidh ag caitheamh a vótai san reifreann atá le teacht. An tábhacht atá ag baint le sin ná go bhfuil na focail i nGeailge chomh dona sin go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh seans ag na vótaeirí a rogha a chur i gcrích orthu trí iad a chur ar ceal trí vóta “níl” a chaitheamh. Tá sé tábhachtach, chomh maith le sin, gur féidir leis na vótaeirí comparáid a dhéanamh idir an leagan Gaeilge agus an leagan Béarla. Mar a dúirt mé san díospóireacht ar an Cheathrú Céim den Bhille atá glactha anois ag an Seanad, tá difríocht mhór idir an leagan Béarla agus an leagan Gaeilge. Tá brón orm nach raibh seans agam bheith anseo ag éisteacht leis an Seanadóir de Brún nuair a bhí sé ag moladh an togha leagan Gaeilge a bhí i gceist ach léireoidh mé, más mian leis, céard go díreach atá i gceist. Nuair a bhaintear úsáid, mar shampla, as cúpla focal “na mbeo gan breith” tá tú ag baint úsáid as focail gan brí. Ar an gcéad dul síos an focal “breith”, mar atá eolas ag an Seanadóir, tagann sé ón focal “beir” agus mar bhunús leis sin tá an focal “beo”. Tá tú ag caint faoin bhreith sar a mbíonn tú ag caint faoin rud beo. Is féidir difríocht a bheith eadrainn faoi sin ach, gan dabht ar bith, i leith “na mbeo” níl sé léirithe ón méid a chuala mé ón Seanadóir de Brún bunús na bhfocal sin. Glacaim leis go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh leagan i nGaeilge os comhair na vótaeirí. Táim sásta tácaíocht a thabhairt don Seanadóir san méid sin.

Tá sé de nós ag daoine na laethe seo aistriúchán beagnach díreach a dhéanamh ar an méid atá ráite acu i nGaeilge. Níl sé sin de nós agam féin mar caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil mé beagán sean-fhaisiúnta faoi na cúrsaí sin. Labhraím i nGaeilge nuair atáim ag caint faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge agus níl sé de nós agam aistriúchán a dhéanamh.

It is not my intention to repeat directly [1318] what I have just said in Irish because I do not subscribe to the now fashionable notion that one must translate every word one has said in the Irish language into English exactly because I believe that there is enough Irish in the country to understand the basic sense of what I have said and which I can say in a sentence. It is most important that the Irish version be available with the English version so that people can see the sheer impossibility of reconciling one form in Irish with the form in English or, indeed, the internal inconsistency within both the formulation in English and the formulation in Irish.

The only point worth translating about the Irish version is that in a lovely way — this is where Senator de Brún and I who are both committed to the Irish language will differ — the Irish language reveals the absolute absurdity of the words, because indeed in the words “na mbeo gan breith” the word “beo” cannot be derived from any verb and, in turn, the whole question of what it is that might be born could refer to the intentions on telephones of anybody who might ever want to have made love to somebody who might have become pregnant at any eon in the future.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I am afraid the Senator is going back to the Constitution Bill.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I want to come specifically to the Bill before us. I will assist the Cathaoirleach and be very brief. I have a few suggestions to make to the Minister of State about the Bill. It would be terribly inconsistent of me if I had spoken on all Stages of the previous Bill if I did not endorse the statements made by Senator Robinson to say that this formulation of words that we have decided to put to the people is in itself incapable of explanation. What can be explained — I support Senator Robinson in this — are the dangers inherent in the passage of the form of words. It is more than an abstract suggestion of Senator Robinson that, quite frankly, the position of women is changed by the amendment. It would be [1319] helpful if the attention of women was addressed to this fact.

I have a question to put to the Minister of State in relation to this. In a way, it is an extension of a remark that I made on the Final Stage of the previous Bill. Could the Minister of State indicate what steps will be taken to stop misconstructions of the amendment near polling stations? Let us be perfectly clear about this. We have had seven referenda before now in which we sought to change the Constitution about matters that could be explained rather simply. Parties explained their positions and they invited the voters to vote yes or no. Will the Minister of State say what will happen if the so-called pro-life movement distribute deliberately misleading leaflets outside polling stations?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  It does not arise on this Bill.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I now look for the Chair's assistance in that matter. The Minister's statement says that section 1 of the Bill provides that a polling card shall be sent to every voter including postal voters — we have no difficulty with that — containing a copy of the prescribed statement. I have already commented on that. The statement will also be displayed on posters in and in the precincts of polling stations. What if other statements are available in the precincts of polling stations or in polling stations?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  It is not a matter over which the Minister has any control.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Then the Chair might help me again in this because to me, unfortunately, the matter is not academic. I have been a candidate in an election where groups who were in breach of the Electoral Act——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  It relates only to the freedom of expression.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I am delighted that the Chair has got the audacity, indeed the courage, to give me the information. [1320] The Acts referred to are the Electoral Act, 1963, Referendum Act, 1942 and Referendum Acts 1942 to 1979. I am referring to the Electoral Act 1963 and to that part of this Bill which derives from that Act. I must inform the House of my experience in this regard which is that people who are not bound by the normal disciplines of political parties, which is that the name of the director of elections be published on every piece of literature will not publish their address or identify their organisation. If such people may come within the precincts of polling stations, in and near polling stations, what will we do? The Cathaoirleach may suggest, as he has, that I am speaking of some kind of restriction on freedom of speech. I am not——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I did not suggest that.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  The nature of elections and referenda is entirely that people who make statements accept responsibility for them. For example, in the last election in Galway West, an organisation calling itself ISPUC distributed tens of thousands of leaflets outside polling stations. Later SPUC decided that it would dissociate itself from ISPUC. Senator de Brún knows well that the leaflets were printed in Roscommon.

Séamus de Brún: Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  There are good printing presses in that county.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I want to ask a question about a referendum. If I have to stand at a polling station inviting people to vote against this blatantly anti-woman referendum I will put my name at the bottom of any literature I distribute. I am asking the Minister of State what actions he envisages taking to discipline organisations who are separate from the political parties in relation to the referendum. It should be remembered that we are in a very curious situation. The Taoiseach is going to be sitting at home advising the people that they should vote “No”, but not campaigning. Fianna Fáil are going to be on a higher plane suggesting that they will not be campaigning as an organisation [1321] but that they will be spiritually sending their organisation off in favour of the referendum, whatever that might mean. I can only draw the conclusion that individuals, and groups, who are not used to the discipline of elections and referenda will present themselves outside polling stations and distribute, as they did in elections before now, literature that is irresponsibly worded. If it is said that there will be a display of a statement of the words what action will be taken against those who display distortions of that statement in or near the precinct, people, for example, who might want to do so? Of course one is entitled to call for votes for the capitalist party, vote for the socialist party or vote for the republican party. Everybody has words that have no meaning often for many people, little letters and big letters; it depends what one means.

The fact is that we are going to have organisations who are not disciplined by the normal electoral process and they are going to feel free. For example, suppose they decide to print, “vote for the unborn, vote yes.” What are we going to do about that? This is not an academic matter for the Seanad. It is not a matter of freedom of speech, it is a matter of the freedom of the voter to know the form of words. I doubt if many people will be taking the entire Seanad debate and distributing it widely throughout the newspapers and so on. What am I to do? Am I to stand there and look at nine month old babies represented as the unborn, for example, on a leaflet or something like that or leaflets with bouncing babies calling on people to defend them? Because of the unusual nature of this referendum we are entitled to ask what disciplines the Minister of State, and the Minister for the Environment have in mind in relation to the conduct of this election? One might ask if I am not, late in the evening, introducing a red herring. I am not. Business commenced today with a complaint from a Senator about somebody who had already distorted this referendum in a leaflet that was condemned by everybody in this House. That was done in Leitrim. It was in a parish newsletter that sought to distort the message of the referendum [1322] already. I want it recorded that I sought in the Seanad a protection for the voter from distortion near, in and around the precincts of voting.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I think I have good news for the Senator.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I am about to finish and I am delighted if the Minister of State is about to tell me that under an appropriate section of the 1963 Act that sanctions are available to him. I should like to tell him that these are unfortunately in practice. It is a very appropriate time to say this because we are speaking about something that is derived from the Electoral Act, 1963. It is a very important point to make now. May I make the unfortunate suggestion that recently we had much publicity about abuses of electoral practices but always after they had taken place. I am appealing to the Minister of State, and through him to the Minister for the Environment to say on this occasion, on this referendum above all else, he will advise the people in advance of the appropriate sections of the law and to display posters to show what the sanctions are under the Electoral Act, 1963. I do not want, for example, to have to drag myself back after this referendum suggesting abuses, going through the courts and things like that. I want to do what the Opposition have invited me to do, to allow the public to see the words for what they are.

I support Senator de Brún in wanting the leagan Gaelach chomh maith lets an leagan Béarla. He knows the reason for that is that my view of the Irish language is that it is a wonderful, beautiful language that celebrates life and love, and its verbs and structure cannot handle the misery of the suggestion of this referendum. He disagrees with me on that as he is entitled to. I support that and, of course, I want the English version but I emphasise that it is absolutely necessary that warnings be distributed that groups who do not comply with the 1963 Electoral Act will be prosecuted and the Minister and the Minister of State, are going to have great difficulty in doing that.

[1323] I should like to address the Opposition now. I will give an example of it. We recovered nearly 1,000 leaflets that were printed by an organisation calling itself CPAM Box AC36 which, when checked was the box No. of Lloyds Bank in London. That was an organisation printing a bogus address, pretending to be pro-life. We had an organisation calling itself ISPUC disowned by SPUC. There is no point in coming along and being all polite after the referendum is over and, like I had to do, going to the Superintendent of the Garda who after carrying out an investigation will say that he has discovered that these are bogus addresses and he cannot identify the people who lodged thousands of these leaflets.

We already know that in Leitrim there will be an attempt, not only completely to corrupt the form language of the referendum, but to defame, slander and libel people. If we are going to have this appalling exercise which I have opposed from the beginning, let us use the 1963 Electoral Act, and the referenda Acts to make sure that these cowards will not appear again, the people, for example, as I mentioned in my discussion of the previous Bill, who appear from nowhere, with leaflets from nowhere and the worst cowards from the larger parties who will run out of their cars and say, give me a bundle of those to distribute. Then, suddenly, the referendum is over and the seedy people have won.

My view in this: I have accepted defeats in elections, referenda and different things but let us have standards and not have to go to the courts afterwards. Why should we have some unfortunate half-witted woman standing in front of a polling booth or a church to whom a bundle of leaflets has been given by a woman who owns a firm but who does not want to be identified or another person who stores the leaflets, collects them from some place in Roscommon and drives them to Galway and they are all safe except the poor half-witted woman whom I could, after the election, bring a case against for breaches of the Electoral Act?

Let us handle all this in advance. It is [1324] going to be a most unusual referendum. The Seanad can be sure that I will be out there inviting the people to say no to this most historic anti-woman measure ever suggested in the history of the State. We will have the organisations on each side and some individuals within parties doing what they feel is important and campaigning against the referendum. What does it mean to say that the big parties are not campaigning? Does it mean that there is going to be no polling day activity or that we are going to have — as people at one meeting described to me — the storm troopers? Will the storm troopers of the extreme movements be outside the polling stations?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  The question of who campaigns does not arise.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  The standards of the campaign do. After this referendum I hope to be still a Member of this House and I will be back here placing business on the agenda if any of these lunatics get away with what they have got away with already, this business of misrepresenting fact and slandering, libelling and defaming people. I will come back every session to do that. I have no obligations in this because I did not ask for this exercise but on the Opposition side we have the people who got their form of wording while more people decided they can wash their hands of it. The most important thing is that they now have the responsibility for the standards of what will take place on referendum day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  That does not arise.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I am asking the Minister of State, and the Minister for the Environment, to make sure that we anticipate the abuses by making warnings through posters and other measures publicly available before the referendum takes place.

Mrs. McGuinness: Information on Catherine McGuinness  Zoom on Catherine McGuinness  When the Minister for the Environment first came into the House for the commencement of this debate I had intended to welcome him to the House, as did Senator Robinson, but I notice he did not stay very long. In the [1325] circumstances I can well understand his feelings that he did not want to stay long to preside over the introduction of this Bill. Unfortunately, the Minister's extreme lack of enthusiasm about his own Second Reading speech is probably mirrored by an even greater lack of enthusiasm by his Minister of State for the whole exercise in which they are engaged at present. I was about to suggest that perhaps the Minister, and the Minister of State, should join in a type of strike against this Bill and putting it into effect. Perhaps, having listened to what Senator Higgins has said, I might change my mind about that because if we have any hope of Ministers who would, in fact, use the Electoral Acts and use the Referendum Acts in the way Senator Higgins is suggesting in order to prevent abuses perhaps we should be relying on the Minister for the Environment, and Minister of State, who would at least feel enthused about trying to stop this kind of abuse. I will not encourage them to follow the example of the Minister for Health who managed to shift the previous Bill out of his Department entirely by simply refusing to deal with it. I hope, despite their lack of enthusiasm about putting this into effect, that in their carrying out of their onerous and unwelcome duties they will follow the suggestions made by Senator Higgins and take steps to prevent the issuing of unidentifiable propaganda and the general abuse of the Electoral Acts which could occur.

With reference to the Bill, and what is laughingly called an explanatory memorandum about the amendment which is to appear on polling cards, I agree with Senators de Brún, Higgins and Robinson that this should appear in Irish and English. For the sake of peace in my house I had better say that. It is not just a question of are the Irish words right or wrong or what way the Irish words are put: it is also a question of the fact that there are not just people here who speak Irish as well as speaking English, there are people for whom Irish is their first language. It is their requirement, and right, to have the polling cards in the Irish language. Recently, a lady was prepared to go to jail because her parking ticket [1326] was not in the Irish language. I suggest that if in such an important matter as this the polling cards are not in the Irish language people would be justified in being willing to go to jail rather than deal with the matter in a language which may not be their first language.

However, to go on to the so-called explanatory statement, I realise it is practically impossible to explain the unexplainable and if one thing has emerged from the debate in the House it is that this wording is unexplainable. It is understandable if the Minister for the Environment, and the Minister of State, in the Bill cannot put forward any better explanation.

I suggest, referring to another section of the Bill, that blind, incapacitated and illiterate voters are far from being the only ones who will need help in trying to understand this. Perhaps we should have explanatory leaflets or booklets issued to us during the course of the run-up to the referendum. I seem to recall that a few years ago the State issued a large number of booklets on Civil Defence which were circulated to every family telling us what to do in the case of a nuclear war attack. This referendum will be more likely I hope to affect people's lives than the likelihood of a nuclear war here. Perhaps it might be well spent money to issue an explanatory booklet which will sum up the arguments made on both sides. There was even a time when we had a vast issue of free toothbrushes to prevent any danger to our children's teeth. That was not so long ago either. There may be danger to more than our teeth in this referendum and, perhaps, we could have the issuing of a free booklet about it instead of this bare statement which is not, I submit, an explanation of what is going on. Although this may be described as a red herring it is red booklets we may well be drowned in by the time the referendum comes. The blood dimmed tide of leaflets of the sort described by Senator Higgins may be even higher than it has been already. I join with other Senators in saying that we need to be careful about this kind of campaign. People are very quick to condemn politicians and say they fail to do this or that, but at least politiness [1327] cians are accustomed to election campaigns, they know the rules and while they may stretch them a bit here and there by and large they stick by them. They do not try to push crude propaganda of an absolutely deceptive nature.

There is the aspect of the non-printing of leaflets and the other aspect of Electoral Acts where the cost of mounting campaigns is limited. I wonder will there be checks on this. With the enormous issue of propaganda on one side or the other it has been suggested that money comes from abroad to finance this. Will there be checks on how much this costs? This has only occurred to me recently and I have not had an opportunity to check how this applies to referenda as opposed to elections. Is there any limit on the amount which one side or another may spend in their campaign? I share Senator Higgins' concern that the storm troopers might well be out with their quantities of leaflets. In this connection I am reminded that in The Guardian newspaper the other day I read that the pro-life people in Spain who were also trotting out Mother Theresa on their side greeted her not alone with their pro-life slogans but with the fascist salute. Perhaps, storm troopers are not the wrong words to use.

I suggest that the explanatory memorandum should be enlarged by some clearer and fuller explanation of what is implied by the wording and the Minister should make every possible effort to prevent in advance abuses of the Electoral Acts which may occur in this campaign.

Senator McMahon rose.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I must say to the Senator that when he stood up the last time I am sorry I did not see him.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  I always give way to the ladies. In the main the debate on the previous Bill over the last few weeks has been constructive but we have strayed a bit from that in the last hour or so. In fact, I am rather appalled at some of the suggestions made by Senator Robinson. I hope her suggestions are not taken [1328] seriously by the Minister. One I am referring to in particular is that a Government warning should be on the ballot paper, or displayed in a prominent position inside and outside the polling booths, to the effect that should the referendum be carried it could endanger life. She was referring principally to the female voters.

Those on the opposite side to Senator Robinson could equally claim that a warning should be on ballot papers that should the amendment be lost the life of unborn children could be in danger. They have equal claim to have that on the ballot paper as the other warning. They are those who claim that if the amendment is lost there would be a lobby for legalised abortion but if I went on on that subject I am sure the Cathaoirleach would call me to heel. The Cathaoirleach has been quite generous to some of those who took part in the debate on this Bill and allowed them to stray into areas that should have been debated on the previous Bill.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  They were debated.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  They were over and over again. I welcome the Bill and I am sure the country welcomes it. I am sure everybody will welcome the Minister announcing the date of polling as soon as possible. That brings me to a point I wish to raise with the Minister of State. It may be unfair to ask him to give us an indication as to when polling might take place, because that depends on the day the Minister makes the order. I understand that polling day must not be before 30 and not after 90 days of the Minister making the order. When there is that 60 days in which the polling can take place, it is good latitude for people to make arrangements, I should like to ask the Minister to give serious consideration to giving an early indication as to when polling might be. Senator Robinson asked that the poll be left over until the autumn and that consideration should be given some serious thought because there are many people who will be anxious to cast their vote on this issue and are now arranging holidays. I am sure it is pointless putting it to the Minister to consider [1329] making arrangements for people who might be holidaying in the State to vote if they have their polling cards with them. As there will not be constituencies involved as such it might be possible to permit persons with an address in Dublin to vote in Cork or Kerry, or wherever they may be on holiday. It may lend itself to great abuses. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that presiding officers or polling clerks who cross from one constituency to another are permitted to vote in the station they are serving. It has happened in Dáil elections, particularly in Dublin areas, where returning officers find it necessary to minimise as far as possible the dispersing of the staff from one constituency to another. Many votes are lost in general elections in this way and I am sure the same occurs in other cities such as Cork and Limerick. Many people who work in my constituency at polling stations cannot vote because they preside in a neighbouring constituency. As the ballot paper will be the same in all constituencies I ask the Minister of State to ensure that those who must move from one constituency to another to serve in these polling stations are given the opportunity to cast their votes.

A more serious matter is the notifying or the giving of some indication to the country of the polling date. People may be confused now but I have no doubt that as the campaign gets under way they will give it more serious thought. I have no doubt that the poll will be greater than some anticipate. The Minister should ensure that as many people as possible have an opportunity of casting their vote. His greatest contribution to this would be to give an early indication of at least the month when polling will take place. He should give some consideration to putting it back until after the holiday period now that it is not possible to have polling before the holiday period. It must be remembered that people without family ties take holidays from June. Certainly, July and August should be out as far as polling is concerned. It would be a reflection on the Minister if he held the referendum during the peak holiday months. It may be possible to have it in June but the time is drawing very close. Even if [1330] the month of June is considered it must be remembered that it is a holiday period. It is a serious matter and one I ask the Minister to take into consideration.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I want to make one very brief point in relation to Senator Robinson's contribution. I agree with Senator de Brún in relation to what she suggested should be included on the voting card or published in some other way, that is a notice to the effect that this amendment if passed would endanger the lives of pregnant women.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  I used the word “may”.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  May endanger the lives of pregnant women. I would object to it because it is wrong.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  The Senator thinks it is wrong.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I am saying it is wrong. Senator Robinson can only say that she thinks it is wrong. If some type of explanation is to be included I would suggest that it would be something like: “This is a referendum to prevent legalising abortion except at a future date by a vote of the people and it will not change or alter the existing law or practice with regard to medical treatment of pregnant women and with regard to the use of contraceptives.” I would like to see the referendum held as soon as possible.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Information on Martin J. O'Toole  Zoom on Martin J. O'Toole  I suppose in the history of the Seanad a Bill such as this never went through this House. It is a most extraordinary Bill in that first of all it has come before us. It is Fianna Fáil wording opposed by the Attorney General and by the Government. The Bill incorporating wording by the Attorney General came through the Lower House and was defeated in favour of the Fianna Fáil wording and it is now here before us with the Minister for the Environment from the Labour Party, the Minister of State from the Labour Party and the only opposition to the Bill comes from the [1331] main group of the Labour Party. It is the most extraordinary Bill that has come in here and is not being pushed by the Minister of State or by the Minister who left the House after making a brief entry and a speedy exit and has not returned. Nevertheless the wording must be infallible because neither of the Government parties could fault it in its transit to the Seanad. The Attorney General, the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  On a point of order, I understood that we were discussing the Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1982. It appears that the Deputy is discussing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill which has been passed.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  I think he wants the words that it is infallible put on the poll——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  The point of order is, is the Member entitled to discuss the Referendum (Amendment) Bill in the terms in which he is discussing it? I will accept the Chair's decision on it without question.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Information on Martin J. O'Toole  Zoom on Martin J. O'Toole  Am I in order to proceed? If I am then I will be able to proceed but I will observe the procedural rulings of the Cathaoirleach before the Leas-Chathaoirleach came into the Chair.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Senator O'Toole, you are in order to proceed but I would ask you to make your remarks relevant to the Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 1982.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Information on Martin J. O'Toole  Zoom on Martin J. O'Toole  The latitude which was given to the previous speakers was the reason for the stance I have taken here since I stood up and I think I am entitled to do that. If you allowed Senator Robinson and Senator Higgins and others——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  You will appreciate that it was the Cathaoirleach [1332] who was in the Chair, not myself, but if they have had latitude——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  I could help the Cathaoirleach.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Information on Martin J. O'Toole  Zoom on Martin J. O'Toole  I am sorry that the Cathaoirleach did not wait, I would have pursued it because I think I am in order. I am not getting the same latitude as he gave to the previous speakers. Nevertheless, I will go on and I will adhere to the terms of the Bill before us as much as I possibly can. Fortunately or unfortunately if I go away from the terms of the Bill it will not be my fault.

To do as was suggested by Senator Robinson and put notices oil the polling cards would be completely illegal. In the next breath Senator Higgins said that if these pro-life people are allowed in the precincts of polling booths to display their goods that that would be out of order. I do not know what terms or what wording the Senator intended to use, but people going into a polling booth in the future will not be making their minds up at that time whether notices are displayed inside or outside the polling booth. We have taken a decision on whether we will campaign in this referendum and the decision is that we will not campaign. We do not underestimate the intelligence of the Irish people to define for themselves which wording should be accepted. They can say yes or no, or tá or níl in this referendum. It is very simple. I listened very attentively to a constructive debate on the referendum in this House and I will make up my own mind very quickly in connection with the wording.

The referendum paper should be bilingual. The referendum should be held as soon as possible. A great deal of the legislative time of both Houses and especially this House has been taken up with this debate and the people are anxious to give their decision on this issue. While I do not want to prejudice the result of this referendum I am confident of the outcome because of the failure to change the wording that is going before the people now by everybody who was opposed to it. Many people do not like that wording because it was ours. Nevertheless, it is [1333] foolproof and infallible and I recommend it.

I ask the Minister of State to tell us the date of the referendum. The Bill before us is a mechanical Bill. Senator de Brún moved in as spokesman on this side but I would have no intention of moving away from the terms of the Bill but for the latitude that was given to the previous speakers. However, I know that the mechanics of the Bill are the same as any other constitutional amendment local Government provisions. It will be a matter for the returning officers in the various constituencies to effect the laws in accordance with the Act and I am sure that they will do that.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I would first of all like to convey to the House the expression of regret from the Minister who was unable to return following the division in the other House due to commitments at a Cabinet meeting. I have been made aware of and acquainted with the points that were made in my absence and during his presence and in the spirit in which this debate has obviously commenced I will attempt to be very brief and to the point.

Firstly, the standard practice — a point made by Senator de Brún and I suspect by some others as well — is that both versions in both official languages of the State will be made available to the electors when they go to the polling stations. The normal process within these Houses is that the English language version is printed first and the official translation follows, as Senators are, no doubt, aware. There is no proposal to change that procedure arid the Irish language version and the English language version will be available.

The second point, and I am not taking them necessarily in sequence, was raised by Senator McMahon and Senator O'Toole — the question of the fixing of the date. The Government have made no decision in relation to the day on which polling will take place. As the House is aware, the provision is not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days, so effectively the earliest possible time for such [1334] a polling day would be the end of June — 28 or 29 June. This is in answer to Senator McMahon's question regarding holiday time and I regret to tell the Senator, to get the arithmetic clear, that it will probably be some time between the end of June and the beginning of September because of the constraints of law. This may have the effect, regarding holiday time, that the Senator referred to.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  Make the order.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  We have not that discretion. We need to make the order in not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days and we must fix the day within that period once the legislation has gone through. So we do not have the discretion that the Senator appears to suggest we have.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  Is it 30 days from the time the order is made or from the time the debate finishes in the House?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I beg the Senator's pardon, I have apparently misled the House. It is 30 days from when the order is made, so if the Government make the order it is 30 days from then. I thank him for that correction. We have that discretion. I will convey to the Minister and to the Government the views that have been expressed in relation to this.

On the question of postal voting and the other changes, we are confined by the existing law with which every Member of this House is already familiar and, therefore, the matters of postal voting and transfer of votes, to which Senator McMahon referred, cannot be changed in the present climate, I regret to say. I will draw the House's attention to the fact that the report of the working party for the register of electors has been circulated. There was a debate in the other House in relation to it and those matters will be dealt with subsequently, but for the purposes of this poll the provisions governing postal voting and all the other matters relating to voting in polling stations apply.

Finally, I want to turn to the point that was raised with some considerable — and [1335] in my personal view — justifiable concern by Senator Michael Higgins in relation to the way in which the campaign will be conducted and to the legal matters relating to the publication and printing of material. Senators will be aware of the procedure whereby in elections for political office in constituencies party political emblems cannot be worn inside the precincts of the polling stations. The only material permitted to be put on display, as set out in the Act, is the text of the statement set out in this Bill in both languages. Any other literature must be outside the precincts of the polling station —“precincts” being defined by the returning officer in the traditional manner. In my experience in by-elections the definition varies considerably from place to place but there is a convention which appears to be accepted.

In relation to the more worrying point — which I find very worrying — about the kind of anonymous literature that has been circulated in the past, I would draw the House's attention to section 13 of the Prevention of Electoral Abuses Act, 1922 to which the Referendum Act, 1942 refers. For the benefit of the House I will read it out to put it on record. It refers in part to some of the concern that Senator McGuinness referred to in her comments. The section is as follows:

Every bill, placard, or poster having reference to an election shall bear upon the face thereof the name and address of the printer and publisher thereof; and any person printing, publishing, or posting or causing to be printed, published, or posted, any such bill, placard, or poster as aforesaid, which fails to bear upon the face thereof the name and address of the printer and publisher, shall, if he is a candidate, or the election agent of a candidate, be guilty of an illegal practice, and shall, if he is not a candidate, or the election agent of a candidate, be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds.

There is provision obviously within that section for sanctions in relation to some of the abuses to which Senator Higgins [1336] referred. We will have due regard to all of the points which have been made on this Second Stage debate in relation to that point and see what action can, within the operation of the law, be taken by us.

I think I have covered all of the points that have been raised by Senators on Second Stage. I do not believe I have omitted anything and I will conclude.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Before we take up consideration of the Committee Stage of this Bill I should indicate that amendments Nos. 1,2 and 3 on the sheet of amendments circulated to Senators are out of order as they are outside the scope of this Bill as read a Second Time.


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