European Assembly Elections Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

Wednesday, 4 April 1984

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 103 No. 8

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

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. F. O'Brien): Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The purpose of the Bill is to provide for a new method of filling casual vacancies which occur in Ireland's representation in the European Assembly. The existing procedure is that the Dáil appoints a person to fill the vacancy on the nomination of the party which won the seat at the preceding Assembly election. In the case of a non-party representative both the nomination and appointment would be matters for the Dáil.

The system of election used in this country, proportional representation — by means of the single transferable vote — is widely regarded as a most democratic electoral system. It gives electors the widest choice as between candidates and parties and the greatest measure of control in the election of representatives. The system compares very favourably with those offered by neighbouring countries, enabling the elector to make a complex series of choices. However, there are particular difficulties in devising a method of filling casual vacancies which will complement this process while satisfying the requirements of fairness and simplicity.

[741] Two methods of filling casual vacancies under the STV system are used in this country, by-elections in the case of Dáil Éireann, and co-option in the case of local authorities. One of the possible effects of a by-election is, of course, the distortion of the proportional representation of a constituency as decided by the democratic vote of the people at the preceding general election. Many arguments can be advanced both for and against by-elections as a means of filling casual vacancies.

However, in this instance, I feel we must face the reality of the prospect of by-elections in far flung constituencies, possibly in winter conditions, in a situation in which the European Assembly seems, as yet, to have commanded only limited electoral commitment. The case against the by-elections approach to filling casual vacancies in the Assembly is pretty strong.

The maintenance of the political composition of the Assembly as established by the people at a general election is regarded as being of considerable importance. In this regard it is highly significant that none of the draft proposals for a uniform electoral procedure prepared over the years, commencing with the draft prepared for the original six members of the EEC over 20 years ago, envisaged a by-election procedure.

In regard to co-option, the arrangement contained in the 1977 Act is, in essence, a development of the co-option idea. Obviously straight forward co-option by the Assembly as a whole would not be appropriate. The present arrangement contains a built-in refinement to ensure that, as far as possible, the political composition of our representation in the Assembly would not be distorted as a result of casual vacancies. The arrangement had the support of all parties. It was originally included in a Bill sponsored by the Coalition Government, and following the general election of 1977 was repeated in a Bill introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government. Unfortunately, because of the reservations of the Credentials Committee, it has become necessary to seek an alternative arrangement.

[742] When the first vacancy was filled under this method, certain members of the Credentials Committee of the Assembly voiced reservations about our system on the basis of Article 1 of the relevant European Community instrument. This article provides that representatives in the Assembly must be elected by direct universal suffrage. These reservations were brought to the attention of the Government and the Government indicated that consideration would be given to amending the legislation in order to ensure that the arrangement for filling casual vacancies would be seen to be fully in keeping with the relevant European requirement. Any new procedure decided on will have effect from the next Assembly elections which will be held in June of this year.

We have, therefore, been left with a fairly complex problem. We have had to devise a method of filling casual vacancies which would be seen to be in keeping with the requirement of election by direct universal suffrage and, at the same time, would be appropriate in our particular circumstances and would fit in with our unique electoral system.

Having considered a series of options, the Government decided to recommend the arrangement set out in this Bill. Essentially the proposal is that at an Assembly election each political party and each independent candidate will be entitled to nominate a separate list of replacement candidates who will be available to fill any vacancies arising in the constituency. The political party or the non-party candidate concerned will determine the order of names on the replacement candidates list. When a vacancy occurs, it will be filled by the person whose name is at the top of the list presented by the political party or the non-party candidate who held the seat at the Assembly election.

The replacement candidates' lists will be published in the statutory Notice of Poll issued by the returning officer. The method of publishing this notice is a matter for the returning officer. In 1979 it was published in the daily newspapers. It is likely that this method will be used again on this occasion. Returning officers [743] will be advised, in addition, to publish it by way of posters displayed throughout the constituency and at the polling station on polling day. The entry in relation to each candidate on the ballot paper will include a reference to the appropriate list of replacement candidates. However, the names of the replacement candidates will not be printed on the ballot papers. This is because of practical considerations which suggest that if we were further to complicate an already complex ballot paper we would risk causing confusion in the minds of the electorate. It is not difficult to understand the difficulty, if not the impracticability, of adding to an already long ballot paper the names and addresses of all the replacement candidates likely to be nominated under these arrangements.

The details of how the arrangements will operate are set out in the explanatory memorandum. I will be pleased to clarify, in my replying speech or on Committee Stage, any points which the House might wish me to deal with.

I should add at this point that the European Assembly is required to draw up proposals for a uniform electoral procedure in all member states pursuant to the terms of the treaties. Proposals were drawn up during the present term by the Assembly. However, agreement was not reached at the Council of Ministers level in time to enable a uniform system to be in operation for this year's election. Efforts to reach agreement are to be resumed with a view to having a uniform procedure in place for the 1989 elections. It is possible, therefore, that the arrangements we are now considering may apply for a single five-year term only.

The Bill also proposes to make a series of amendments to the First Schedule to the 1977 Act which prescribes the rules for the conduct of Assembly elections. The most important is contained in section 2 of the Bill which provides that a person holding the office of Attorney-General shall not be eligible for election to the Assembly and that holding office as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil, Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach will be incompatible [744] with membership of the Assembly. As Senators are aware, members of the Government may not, under the European Community instrument, be members of the Assembly. The Government have considered it desirable that the position in regard to the other offices referred to should be clarified.

Another important amendment of the 1977 Act has been made in relation to the verification of ballot paper accounts. The Bill provides that the verification of ballot paper accounts will be carried out in each county and county borough rather than at European constituency level. This arrangement has been provided on the advice of returning officers. The actual counting of the votes will, of course, take place at a single centre in each constituency.

In conclusion, I wish to state that I make no extravagant claims for the method we have chosen. However, I do think that when the system is implemented we will have a simple and effective means of filling casual vacancies in Ireland's representation in the European Assembly. We will also have a system that is compatible both with the demands of the European authorities and the structure and character of the Irish electoral system.

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  We support this Bill. In the Dáil I am glad that the original intention with regard to the number of replacement candidates proposed by the Government of three was changed to four at the request of the Fianna Fáil Party. It is a more acceptable number. Understandably some people are still confused about the number of candidates, that it is plus four in the major political parties. There may be a slight anomaly percent-agewise where there is one candidate only standing for smaller parties. That is something we will have to accept. However, the Bill as it stands is acceptable.

In introducing this Bill we were talking about changes in the electoral system. I am more than surprised that at this stage the Government can rush through legislation and want the Committee Stage taken here today while at the same time we have been advocating for a number of [745] years the introduction of postal voting for disabled people We are told that legislation is being prepared. Yet the invalided or disabled are being refused their democratic right to vote because such a Bill has not been introduced. I appeal to the Minister here today to introduce this legislation. When we can introduce a Bill such as this at such short notice surely the Minister should look seriously at the question of postal voting for the disabled and merely expand the current system to enable postal voting by the Garda and Defence Forces.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The Senator should now revert to the provisions of the Bill before the House. I appreciate what he is saying but——

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  I appreciate that you appreciate what I am saying. Under the provisions of this Bill we are talking about changes in the electoral system. My reading of it is that it is the electoral system about which we are talking. Members of this House should have the right to express their opinion on the electoral system because it is referred to in connection with Dáil or county council elections with regard to replacement candidates. We might well ask ourselves should we adopt the principle of this Bill with regard to elections to Dáil Éireann and have a list of candidates to fill casual vacancies, when the much talked of by-election situation would not or might not necessarily occur. Indeed, the members of the Government would not then be receiving justifiable criticism about hesitation or running away from their commitment with regard to the Laois-Offaly by-election.

Recently the Government introduced legislation to provide for voting here by British citizens. While we have no objection in principle to the provision of voting rights for British citizens — after all Irish people have voting rights in England — yet the Government found that this was unconstitutional and we must now hold a referendum on this issue on 14 June. Reverting to what I said earlier with regard to postal voting for disabled people, certainly that could not be challenged [746] on constitutional grounds. The only objection I heard voiced by the then Minister — of my constituency — who introduced it was that there were allegations of serious abuses of the system. Any Member of this House would challenge that statement because there were no abuses. There were reported abuses but where were there convictions? To my knowledge nobody was convicted of abuses of the system in the 1973-74 period when there was postal voting for local elections in 1974.

I would again ask the Minister to give serious and urgent consideration to the introduction of a Bill that would grant democratic rights for postal voting facilities for disabled people in this country. As I said at the outset, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, we support this Bill.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  This Bill is welcomed in that it proposes minor but essential changes in the electoral procedure under which representatives of the European Assembly will be chosen. It also includes further amendments of the methods by which the party or independent representation decided on by the electorate will be maintained over the five-year life of the Assembly.

First of all, we should recognise that the criteria applicable to an Assembly such as this have a certain known life, in other words, irrespective of the change or otherwise in representation from Ireland the European Assembly will last for five years. The difference between that kind of representation and the situation obtaining in the Houses of the Oireachtas — whereby a general election can be called at any time — is a fundamental one. The system must recognise that difference. The people elected to the European Assembly will continue to operate over the whole five-year period. There is no question of an early election being called. That does not arise in this case. Therefore, what is important as far as this country is concerned is that there be the maximum stability of representation, that the views of the people, as expressed through the ballot box, with regard to the proportion of representatives who should be members [747] of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Fianna Fáil Party, or Independents, should be maintained during the whole five-year period.

The Minister pointed out a number of options available to this House and to the other House in making that choice. The simple system of co-option could be used. The system of co-option proposed here has at least the additional value that in so far as it is possible to do so, within reason, all the people who will be used as substitutes during the course of the next five years will have gone before the people by way of being included in a substitute list. That is important because while voters might support a particular political party or might support a particular individual, if they do not like the people on the substitute lists that might be a vital factor in their deciding to vote for another candidate. This element of increased democratic representation and choice in the matter of substitutes is very important. It is also very important to maintain our high profile and good standing within the European Assembly. It is most important that the Irish representatives would not only be representative of the people in Ireland but would be accepted by those with whom they work on a day-to-day basis as being so representative.

Therefore, the proposed system is welcomed by the Fine Gael Members of the House. There are just a few points I would like to make about it. We can deal with them in detail on Committee Stage. The Minister has gone some of the way towards expanding the categories of people who are ineligible for election to the European Parliament. He has included Ministers of State, certain officers of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Attorney General. It is only right that that should be the case. I do not think anybody holding such a position should be eligible for election while he holds that office. This is not necessarily my party's viewpoint but personally I am sorry the Minister has not gone further and declared that it would not be possible for a person to serve both as a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, or in particular the other House of the [748] Oireachtas, and as a member of the European Assembly. I am not suggesting that the rule should be framed in such a way as to prevent Members of this or the other House from standing for election to the European Assembly. That is very legitimate and to be encouraged. There are many people in this House and in the other House who feel they have a contribution to make to our future prosperity in that way. But, having been successful in that attempt, it would be proper that they be requested to opt immediately for whichever of the two places they wish to serve in. The mere fact of their names being put forward either on the A list or on B list for the European Assembly elections — if elected — should render them ineligible for the period they continue to serve there. I understand that over the years no political party can contend that they have been consistent in this regard. I was going to overlook the consistency of the Labour Party because I think it was a most peculiar consistency — they were consistenly disgraceful in that regard.

The time has come when those elected to the European Parliament should have to opt between one or the other. It is not good enough to have a Deputy in Dáil Eireann who has a constituency to look after and also serve in the European Parliament. Certainly I have no objection to any Member of the Dáil or Seanad standing for election to the European Assembly. But, having been elected to Europe, such Member owes it to the people to change then and allow a new person who can devote his or her full time to representing the people in Dáil Éireann. Whatever changes are necessary to enable this to be done in a reasoned and non-contentious manner should be implemented. It is becoming increasingly impossible for people to do a good job representing our people in this or the other House of the Oireachtas and simultaneously attend the European Parliament. I am a little sorry that section 2 of the Bill has not been expanded to include some provision to reduce the possibility of a dual mandate in the future. This dual mandate has got a bad name, and deservedly so, and we should be working [749] towards phasing it out. It would be in the interests of all political parties that that be done.

The other main bone of contention in the public discussion which has preceded our consideration of this Bill is the question of the number of replacement candidates which should be permitted in respect of both party and non-party candidates. The Bill attempts to solve this problem in a very fair way. It seeks to lay down, in the case of party candidates, that the number of replacement candidates will be four and, in the case of non-party, three. In practice that would work out very well. In the case of a political party which had three candidates standing in a constituency they would be entitled to nominate three candidates and then four additional candidates. I shall have to pursue the Minister on Committee Stage with regard to the entitlement of the other candidates who are standing to be on that list and the extent, if any, to which they are counted in making up that four.

There is one other problem I would like to bring to the attention of the Minister, that is the potential problem that might arise in the case of political parties deciding to nominate one candidate only. From time to time some political parties nominate one candidate only. From section 2 (3) it would appear that four additional names would be the maximum number of names that the party could put forward. Contrast that with the position of an Independent who stands. He can put forward only three and that is plenty but I wonder if an Independent would have a fair cause for complaint in that case. A political party which puts forward two or more candidates is entirely different because they both might be elected. They would have a greater need for a higher number of replacement candidates. A political party which only puts forward one candidate is entitled to four substitutes. Compare that to the position of an Independent who puts himself and three others forward. Will the Independent candidate have a constitutional action in that regard in that he is not being treated the same as other people? Three [750] is quite sufficient for an Independent. I am not in favour of allowing an Independent a very long list because in that way he can create a caucus which would give him an unfair advantage.

I am bringing this matter to the attention of the Minister because it is important. No doubt the Minister is satisfied about it and he might share his knowledge with us during Committee Stage. We must find out if it has a secure constitutional basis. If it has, I am happy to let it go through. I do not think it is unfair to anyone but it could be represented as being unfair.

The other amendments which the Minister is proposing with regard to a variation in the number of hours and changes in the rules for selecting a candidate are normal and logical. I also note that the Minister is proposing a change with regard to the manner in which the votes shall be sorted. It appears that the votes will be sorted face upwards which I understand to mean with the voting side upwards. If that is the case the result will be known in advance of the count which I understand will be postponed for a few days. There is no doubt that in the Munster area where there is a vast reservoir of——

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  Expertise.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  Yes. We could all get together and announce the result in advance. That is not a great development. I know that my party are in favour of this open disclosure of the ballot paper and there is a lot to be said for it. They add to the knowledge——

Mr. W. Ryan: Information on William Ryan  Zoom on William Ryan  The Senator wants to find out how popular he is at present.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  It does not matter to me because you will find it out in total if you do not find it out individually. I am a little concerned about the result being known in advance of the count and whether that will look well compared to the rest of Europe. The purpose of the delay is so that the counting process can commence at the same time in various countries throughout Europe. Some of them will [751] not be voting until the Sunday after 14 June. I would like the Minister to satisfy us that these changes are in the interest of democracy in general and in the interest of the European Assembly in particular.

The Minister has tackled a very difficult problem which has given rise to some considerable aggravation in the European Assembly. It has been tackled in such a way that any substitutes we send over the next five years will have a mandate from the people. That is important with regard to their status and self-image.

I congratulate the Minister on the general structure of the Bill and assure him of our support and help in processing the Bill speedily through the House recognising the necessity to examine these matters on Committee Stage.

Professor Hillery: Information on Brian J. Hillery  Zoom on Brian J. Hillery  In the course of my contribution I wish to pose a few questions which I hope the Minister will answer in his reply. I will also comment on the importance and relevance of the elections. What arrangements have been made in Northern Ireland for replacing MEPs? Should we not be aiming at a more uniform electoral system here so that both parts of the island would be in conformity? As regards the voting day, June 14, for the European elections, it is proposed to hold a referendum on the same day to amend the Constitution in order to enable British and other EEC citizens to vote in elections here. Is it intended to publish a White Paper in connection with that constitutional amendment? How is the constitutional campaign to be organised and what will be the cost of such a campaign?

The European elections are important and it behoves all parties to make every effort to ensure the maximum poll. The European Parliament, as an important organ of the Community, is faced with very serious issues, not least the issue of unemployment. The latest statistic shows that 12 million people are out of work in the Community. The achievement of a single Community market, made up of 273 million consumers, free from customs duties and restrictive quantitative measures [752] on trade is essential if the European economy is to compete with the US and Japan. The situation in the US and Japan is that there are millions of new jobs being created and in sharp and discouraging contrast jobs are shrinking in the Community. I heard a member of the European Parliament, who was not from the Republic, say on a radio programme recently that the European Parliament is a talking shop and does not have any real clout except in budgetary matters. We all know it has limited powers. However, it is worth noting that some very useful and relevant work is conducted there. I propose to give a few examples of such work, particularly as they relate to Ireland.

The European Commission is more sensitive and alert now to the Parliament because its proposals are put before the Parliament for discussion and consideration. It is noteworthy that the directly elected parliamentarians propose amendments from time to time to the Commission's proposals and that in several cases these amendments have been taken seriously by the Commission and reflected in the final draft. These amendments are particularly important when they apply to the Social Fund and the Regional Fund which are of obvious relevance to Ireland. As regards the work of the Parliament in relation to Ireland and our interests here, the European Progressive Democrats as a group should be congratulated. In 1983, as a result of the initiative of the EPD, the year was dedicated to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises — SMEs. This highlighted the role of SMEs in job creation and led to the allocation of more funds from the new Social Fund to training of employees of SMEs. Projects aided by the Social Fund in Ireland are reimbursed 55 per cent of the cost. Also, in connection with the work of the Parliament——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Are we dealing with legislation regarding the work of the Parliament or are we dealing with a Bill to elect people to go to Europe?

Professor Hillery: Information on Brian J. Hillery  Zoom on Brian J. Hillery  I do not mean to move too much off course. In the context of employment generation, the work of [753] the EPD is of immediate consequence to those who will be elected and to the substitutes should they take their place in the Parliament. I am referring to the work of one group in the promotion of jobs.

The EPD group, which is made up of Fianna Fáil MEPs and their French allies, succeeded also through their work in the Parliament in ensuring that all people under the age of 25 years would be eligible to receive aid from the Social Fund for training programmes. I reiterate the plea I made that all political parties make every effort possible to get the maximum poll on June 14 and therefore support the concept and work of the European Parliament.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I will try to stay within the ambit of the European Assembly Elections Bill, 1984.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I am having a pretty hard task getting Senators to do so.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I will not make your task any more difficult. I welcome the legislation before us. As a party, we have been the people most criticised for using the Electoral Act which preceded this one. Since that is the case, it is proper for me to state our party's position and why we used the legislation that was there. There was nothing fundamentally wrong or illegal about it. Any expressions of reservations, even from my esteemed colleague on my left — if it is possible to have him on the left of me——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  Absolutely, that is where I am.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  It is only right and proper that we should set out exactly what the European Parliament originally suggested might be done and how we approached the problem. In dealing with the Assembly as it was then called because it was an assembly of nations which were, generally speaking, nominated by the various parliaments within the Community. Article 137 of the Treaty of Rome in 1958 states:

[754] The Assembly, which shall consist of representatives of the peoples of the states brought together in the Community, shall exercise the advisory and supervisory powers which are conferred upon it by this Treaty.

Under that article this country nominated ten people. They were based on the representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas. That was an appropriate norm to use to decide on the number of members that each party would have within the Assembly.

Article 138, section 3, of the Treaty of Rome states:

The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.

That was the first challenge of the Treaty of Rome but unfortunately the Assembly did not take that challenge seriously or initiate any proposals until it was further pursued in a Summit conference held in Paris in 1974. In 1958 they were asked to do it and in 1960 they decided that they should do something about it. It took another 14 years until a conference in Paris for the heads of governments to notice that the election of the European Assembly by universal suffrage was an objective laid down in the Treaty which should be achieved as soon as possible. In this connection they awaited with interest the proposals of the European Assembly on which they wished the Council to act in 1976. On that assumption, elections by direct universal suffrage could take place any time after 1978. Accordingly in 1975 the Assembly decided that they would have universal suffrage. In doing so, it was to take into account the electoral voting procedure in each member state. It decided also that it would be improper or impracticable to have all the voting on the same day throughout the Community so it decided on a number of days starting with a Thursday morning and ending on the following Sunday. I am sorry that we did not avail of the opportunity on this occasion to have the first elections in this country held on a Sunday. It would have been appropriate to start with the European [755] elections in view of the fact that many of our colleagues in Europe will be voting on a Sunday in this very important electoral campaign. Two and a quarter million people in Ireland are entitled to vote in the European election and we could have facilitated that many people by having the election on a Sunday.

In addition to deciding that they would allow each country to pick its date between Thursday and Sunday Article 12 states:

(1) Pending the entry into force of the uniformed electoral procedure referred to in Article 7 (1) and subject to other provisions of this Act, each Member State shall lay down appropriate procedures for filling any seat which falls vacant during the five-year term of office referred to in Article 3 for the remainder of that period.

(2) Where a seat falls vacant pursuant to national provisions in force in a Member State, the latter shall inform the Assembly, which shall take note of that fact.

It was because of that that we initiated the legislation which was referred to by previous speakers. We decided to eliminate the possibility of having a by-election. This would be unheard of in a European context and certainly unheard of in the multiple constituencies which are involved in the European elections. Rather than adopt a co-option system, we decided that the party that lost the seat for any reason would have the power to nominate a substitute and that the substitute would be approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas and sent to the Assembly. For a sub-committee of the Assembly to cast aspersions on us for having done that was a little high-handed. I hope that whenever they raise this problem the Credentials Committee will refer to section 12 of the original Treaty which set up the Parliament and gave this country the power to decide on a system of co-option.

Everybody knows exactly what we said about the European elections. As a party who are basically European and have [756] many colleagues and political allies in the European and international socialist movement, we wanted to participate fully in the decisions that are made at European Parliament level. For that reason we sent some of our best people to Europe in the 1979 direct elections. Our posters stated that Labour were sending some of their best people to Europe.

Afterwards when ministerial posts were available to our party we had a national responsibility to ensure that the best people available to the Labour Party, who had been democratically elected to the Dáil initially, could return from Europe to take up the challenge. I see nothing wrong with it. I defend it and I am sorry other people have criticised it. We did it in the national interest. Those who returned on the first occasion suffered financially.

We were criticised by the Opposition party who said we were playing musical chairs. Every day the nominations came up in the Dáil for verification there was criticism of what we were doing. Reference was made by Senator Hillery to the excellent work of his political group in the European Parliament—the European Progressive Democrats. I do not doubt for a moment that they have contributed quite a lot to the Parliament but they have contributed many substitutes to the Parliament. In a period of five years their de Gaullist colleagues used the system to change their delegates on an annual basis. The de Gaullist party have changed almost 60 people during the lifetime of this Parliament. That should be on the record of this House in case there is any condemnation of us as a small party for having used the system that was legally adopted in the Houses of the Oireachtas as the appropriate way to fill vacancies.

It is important that we get as close as possible to the European system of elections to the European Parliament. They use a list system. They have no qualms of conscience whatsoever because of that. They feel it is an extension of the terminology “universal suffrage”. When people are voting for candidates it is important that they know the identity of the substitutes who will represent them [757] in case the original candidates meet with some catastrophe or accident. I am a substitute but I am only interested in democracy. Legislation which would bring us as close as possible to the list system would be welcomed by both sides of the House and by our colleagues in Europe as well. We will, for the first time, be coming closer to the type of system that they operate in Europe. The difference is that they provide a list of all the candidates and the political aspirations of various groupings. These are designated by the colours of the ballot papers, and you do not put any mark whatever on the ballot paper with all the names on it. One is voting for the first person and the number of votes decides the number of people from that list who are elected to the Parliament.

That is a further extension of our proportional representation system which is more advantageous to smaller parties. It is more democratic and the Irish electorate understand it. They cast votes in order of preference even for candidates of different political affiliations. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the choice of the people. We should always abide by the people's decision. I hope people will use the system in the spirit in which this Bill is presented to them. It provides them with an opportunity for the first time not alone to have a transferable vote but to have an option of candidates in the event of anything happening to their primary candidate.

The point raised by Senator O'Leary is valid and must be looked at. We must not give the impression that this system works more fairly for politicians than it does for Independents. They should be treated as a separate entity and should have the same power to decide on the number of substitutes that they might require. This legislation puts a limit on the number that an Independent might nominate.

I am interested to hear how the Minister responds to that. If there is an anomaly, the sooner we tidy it up the better. We must remember that in the referendum to enter into Europe we conferred the right on everybody whose country was a member of the European Community [758] to vote in the country in which they are resident. I presume that there is no question but that people should exercise this right.

Disabled people are not debarred from voting. The only problem is one of accessibility to polling stations. This will be dealt with under different legislation. In spite of what Senator Lynch said, there were anomalies in the past as regards postal voting. That is not a matter for this Bill. I am satisfied that there is an inbuilt right——

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  On a point of order, could the Senator mention one of those anomalies?

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I will if the Leas-Chathaoirleach wants me to be out of order and discuss voting for the disabled. Legislation will be coming before us which will give us an opportunity to debate that in full. I should like to feel that everybody in this country can vote. I would like to see accessibility to polling stations for people in wheelchairs. I hope the legislation will be brought in very quickly.

As regards the dual mandate, people who are prepared to commit themselves to a county council, an urban council, the Dáil or Seanad and the European Parliament and can physically do so should not be precluded by legislation from doing so. A party can decide what members can contest an election but, constitutionally, everybody has a right to be nominated and to contest an election.

A perfect example of how well it can be done can be seen in the present Minister for the Environment, Deputy Liam Kavanagh, who in his day was originally nominated by Parliament to represent us in Europe. In the first direct elections to the European Parliament he was elected to Wicklow Urban Council, to Wicklow County Council, to the Dáil and to the European Parliament. He performed in every one of them admirably and the records will show that. He did it without any regard for his health or for the problems it might have created for him privately. That was his commitment, and I admire somebody with that commitment. It would be improper to put down legislation [759] that would preclude people from doing so. You can deal with the financial rewards for doing all that in a different way. Most of the cricitism about dual mandates relates to the amount of money that people can earn by being Members of the House here and the European Parliament. I am glad that many members of our party have that commitment. Their voting records and attendance records show that when the national situation at home demands it or when a question of a national nature was being debated in Europe they were present and voted, unlike other people who did not have dual mandates and could not be in the European Parliament for strategic votes on questions which were relevant to this country and which will be the basis of much political argument during the campaign.

The European Parliament has discussed very important things and people with the dual mandate managed to be there. That is my comment about it. It might not even be relevant to the Bill as such but I want it in the debate because I think it is only fair and proper that we would put the situation as we see it on our side of the House and as we have worked the legislation which was laid before us. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have done our job as a small party both at national level and at European level. We will continue to do that and we will still send some of our best people to Europe.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I would like to welcome this European Assembly Elections Bill, 1984. However, I regret slightly that the Government were not more ambitious and did not introduce the real European type list — the list in the majority of our sister countries in the European Parliament. It would have been a greater step towards a more unified approach to the European Assembly. It would also bring us that much closer to the ideal of a fully united Europe. However, I appreciate all the difficulties that are there. Other speakers have said that perhaps the Minister could have introduced balloting on Sundays. I assume he considered it. I suppose it would have been a [760] step towards the European ideal to have voting here on Sunday. From an Irish point of view the only advantage of that would be to people who are forced to be away all week working: it would give them a chance to be at home for the count. Nevertheless I welcome section 7, which will certainly expedite the actual count itself by having the ballot papers more or less counted. The count proper would be able to proceed directly on the Monday morning. That will mean that our results will be a little earlier than they were on the last occasion. It is a small step further in that direction.

Looking at the representation in the European Assembly from an Irish point of view, the Irish constituencies are still rather large, if we consider the traditional Irish way of representing people. Perhaps it might be an appropriate time to think about the single-seat constituencies for Europe which would reduce the landmass considerably in most areas with the exception of the Dublin city area where you have a huge constituency, but nevertheless you have not got the physical expanse of counties to cover. This Bill is envisaged to cover and meet the needs of European elections for the coming five years. The Minister said in his Second Stage speech that it is expected that a unified electoral system will be in operation, or will be accepted or passed by the Council of Ministers in time for the next scheduled European elections in 1989.

I notice a trend in the elections here. The European election is becoming one in which money is counting and it is fast becoming an arena in which literally millionaires and the well-to-do can obviously spend more and get into the limelight much more successfully. Many years ago, even in the Dáil elections, there was an accounting system that was changed in one of the electoral Acts back over the last ten or 15 years. A time might come, at an appropriate future date when perhaps the Minister might look at that trend. It is important that while we accept that we have free elections, everybody should be able to aspire to representing the people. The fact of not being a millionaire should not adversely affect somebody's chances.

[761] A greater effort should have been made by our 15 MEPs to lobby their colleagues in the Parliament over the last couple of months on the Irish national interest. I know that it made the position of the Minister for Agriculture that much more difficult by virtue of the fact that the Parliament did not pass a positive resolution in support of the Irish——

Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún): Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  I am afraid that this does not arise on this Bill.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I thought it was worth mentioning in passing, but I bow to your ruling. While one could not say that the Bill is entirely technical, the sections are indeed extremely long. From that point of view, there are many things that need to be explained. There appears to be some ambiguity about the sections and the problems that might arise in the event of a candidate dying before the actual election. I know that the Bill provides for that. It is difficult to understand exactly where the dividing line is because in one part it says that a candidate's death does not necessarily mean that he will not be elected.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  It could introduce a new element into Irish politics where instead of a delicate candidate there could be a dead candidate.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  The candidate could be shot the night before.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  We hope that will not happen. There are a few points I want to raise. It might be more appropriate to do that next week on Committee Stage.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Obviously I support and welcome the Bill because it gives the electorate a choice which did not exist before in so far as a substitute candidate will be deemed to have stood and offered himself before the public. Senator Ferris covered very adequately the Labour Party position, vis-à-vis the dual mandate but if there is one thing guaranteed to keep me in my seat until I get a chance to [762] reply it is when my distinguished colleague, Senator O'Leary, issues an encyclical to the Labour Party rather than Fine Gael. A man from Mars listening to Senator O'Leary might imagine that you trotted off down to Switzers and picked up a dual mandate. You have to win a dual mandate: the people have to decide. In our case, in the case of the Labour Party in the results of the last European election, the people made it quite clear who they wanted in the European Parliament and they subsequently made it quite clear who they wanted in Dáil Eireann. They wanted, as Senator Ferris said, one and the same person and the one and the same person had then a dual mandate but got it from the people.

The situation with the then Senator Halligan and Senator Flor O'Mahony was that it was a Euro-constituency selection process, even more democratic again than the first time we used it when we actually nominated people. The question of a dual mandate affects us as a small party and, as a party that has been consistent in terms of looking at and acting in the national interest such as when a person like Deputy Eileen Desmond was asked to return from the European Parliament to accept a position in the Government that by no stretch of the imagination could be considered secure; they were a Government without an overall majority. That required sacrifice and it was subsequently seen that that Government had a very short life. In the subsequent general election Deputy Eileen Desmond got herself elected handsomely showing that people recognised the fact that she responded to a request from our party to return to take office in a Government which nobody could say were secure. As regards the dual mandate — Senator Ferris has said and I will repeat it — it is given by the electorate and I am happy, as I am sure Senator O'Leary is, to abide by the decision of the ordinary electorate of Ireland and whatever they do. They are the wisest people.

As the Minister of State has stated, the Bill could run out in 1989 if there is a uniform system agreed upon in Europe. I would like to see not just a uniform [763] system of replacements and so on. Sunday voting is something we have always been interested in; it is time that we looked at the days on which we vote. I have a great deal of sympathy with what Senator Lynch said vis-à-vis the voting for the disabled; it is one of the things we have failed to do. Successive Governments have failed to vindicate the rights of people who are invalided or confined to hospital and now of people who are four to five miles offshore in some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs the country asks its people to do, on oil rigs and gas rigs. Suddenly they are disfranchised There is no valid reason why these people should not have the facility to vote, whether is it in national, local or European elections.

The reservation I have when we are talking about the European Parliament and the system of election is that I truly believe that both Houses of the Oireachtas have failed to come to grips with this third parliamentary tier of 15 MEPs. An MEP is in a sort of isolation, away from the normal political process. He has an input into the party but little, if any, directly into Government. Because of the size of this country and because of the necessity to fight in a united way in Europe for Ireland, whether you are from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour, I would have thought that MEPs would have been accorded some sort of privy counsellor status as they have in Britain when they need to convey confidential information in the interests of Britain. The Cabinet could brief our MEPs on matters of vital national interest. Whereas in this case you do not have MEPs being briefed by Government; on the other side they may not get such an adequate briefing especially when——

Acting Chairman:  I am afraid the Senator is going outside the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I was just thinking you would probably be calling me to order, so I will sit down.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. F. O'Brien): Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The need to review our existing arrangements [764] in filling the casual vacancies arose because of the reservations expressed by the Credentials Committee. This problem has been particularly complex since a method had to be devised which would be compatible with our unique electoral system and at the same time it would be seen to be fully in keeping with the requirement that representatives to the Assembly should be elected by direct universal suffrage. I have already explained that both the by-election and the cooption systems were deemed unsuitable as a means of filling casual vacancies. We have had to look elsewhere for a solution. The system which we have come up with represents a reasonable solution in the circumstances which we are placed in. The system is scrupulously fair; it preserves proportional representation of the parties as established by the democratic vote of the people at the election. It is the simplest system to operate and it allows for a reasonable degree of flexibility.

There were a number of points raised. Senator O'Leary raised the question of replacement candidates particularly of the non-party candidate being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the party who choose to run one candidate only. The system originally devised was where a party might have run two; all they could have imposed upon them were two more; the party with the Independents who ran one could have imposed three, so there was an advantage. This was raised in the other House by a number of people and the Government looked at it and felt some change should be made. We believe what is there now would not infringe on the constitutional rights of the Independent; we are satisfied it is fair. Obviously any matter like this is arguable; one has to look at the overall situation. I am satisfied, and the Government are satisfied that the system we have now devised, where they can nominate three and the party can nominate five is a reasonable approach to the situation. I do not see any real problem arising out of that. If some people deem it is unconstitutional there is a recourse. I honestly think it is not. We can look at it between now and [765] Committee Stage but I believe it is a reasonably fair situation.

Senator O'Leary also raised the question of the verification of the ballot paper counts. I want to stress that the arrangements set out in the Bill are being provided on the advice of the returning officers. I have been assured by them that it would not be convenient if the verification were carried out at county or county borough level rather than at the Euro constituency; in other words, it is better in the way it is being done. The Senator's main point was that the ballot papers would be turned up: they will and agents of the respective candidates will be there; the agents can, if they look come up with some estimate of what is happening but it will be only an estimate; it will not be an official count. The official count will not take place until Sunday and will not be declared despite what the pundits might write or what the agents might say that their man is home because they did a tally.

I want to clear that situation up. That is the way it is going to operate, as it always operated. One can say at 1 o'clock in the day on polling day throughout the country there is a reasonable feedback coming in as to what is happening throughout the country. But no counts have been declared and the tallymen are sending up information to party headquarters and the results are often forecast at early stages like that, without any counts being declared. This I suppose is an extension except it is by way of days. It has been traditional here that the tally system has operated. I would be an advocate of it. People would want to know how their particular area did; somebody may remark how badly one may be doing but the final count will show how good or bad one does at the end of the day. The system that is there, on the best advice we have, is not infringing on the spirit of the European Assembly elections, and is quite in order.

Senator Hillery raised the question of standardisation and why we could not have the same system as the North and thus have a unified system on the island of Ireland. They operate the by-election system and they have a by-election. That [766] is the end of the story with them. We looked at that position and we felt it was not desirable and we are not adopting it or accepting it. We believe the system we have is a better system.

He also mentioned that on the same day as the European election there will be a referendum and asked when the Bill will be available. The appropriate Bill will be brought before the Oireachtas very shortly, and will give Members of both Houses time to deliberate on it. He also raised the question of cost and I presume he is talking about the extra cost of the referendum. It is very hard to give the precise cost of that but one can talk about an additional £500,000. It would cost around £1 million for the single election so we are talking about an additional £½ million for the referendum also.

Senator O'Leary — and other Senators — mentioned the dual mandate and particularly the problems that might arise in not being able to serve the two Houses, and he thought we should have included some provision in this Bill. We could not include it in this Bill because under Article 5 of the European Act of 27 September 1976, there is no conflict: it is compatible to be a member of the European Assembly and a member of a sovereign parliament. If we enshrined something in an Act here we would probably be in conflict because the European Act specifically states that they can serve both parliaments. We can argue the point whether it is a good idea or a bad idea but we could not incorporate it because it would not be in conformity with the spirit of the European Parliament.

The question of postal voting was raised by Senator Lynch. We are pursuing this and we hope to have some draft legislation proposals for the Joint Committee on Legislation to examine. This is something that all parties are interested in and if presented to the Joint Committee on Legislation it can be examined fully to see if there are any problems, pitfalls, or whatever. There is no general disagreement but there have been doubts about the whole situation. I want to assure the House that there is no question of stalling on it or a lack of concern for those who cannot vote, like the disabled. [767] There is no question of that. It is easy to use the disabled in that way to make a point but we have to look at it in the broadest sense if we are introducing any change. There will be an opportunity for the Joint Committee on Legislation to examine it fully and hopefully to come up with good, workmanlike proposals that will meet the genuine aspirations of the people who have raised these points. The question of voting on Sunday was also raised. That always comes up. We did consult particularly with the Churches, and a few of them indicated that they would rather not have polling on a Sunday. We have a tradition of always having votes on a Wednesday or Thursday and occasionally on a Tuesday. There was that apprehension by some of the Churches. Obviously, it is not something that is closed, we all know that these matters can be looked at at any time so we should not worry unduly about it. It will as time goes on be a matter that will come up again but at this time, after having consultation we feel we were right to respect the views of people. There is not much point in consulting and being sorry for doing so when we get the wrong decision and then go ahead and do what we want to do — that is not good enough.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  Do you agree this was the wrong decision?

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The decision we have taken was the right decision for the moment. It is something that can be looked at again. I believe that the Bill provides a satisfactory and suitable method of filling the casual vacancies because it was causing trouble and it was causing remarks across the House for whatever reason and the European people were not happy with it. I think what we have come up with now will be satisfactory and will meet with the criteria and hopefully it will be what we all desire. It is a good idea. Obviously, it is only when it is worked on the ground that you will see the effect of it but I am satisfied that it will be a success. I would like to thank all the Senators for their contributions. [768] They have been very helpful and it is good to get the opportunity to discuss this legislation. I thank them for the way they have expedited it. Hopefully we shall have Committee Stage next Wednesday. I would like again to thank all the Members for that.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 11 April 1984.


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