Dáil Éireann - Volume 423 - 07 October, 1992
Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Miss M. Wallace Miss M. Wallace
Miss M. Wallace: Before we adjourned I had been referring to special voters and welcoming the changes in the registration process for them. It was most unsatisfactory  that disabled voters were required to be certified annually to be sound of mind. In fact, many people who were on the special voters register had not realised they were required to produce a medical certificate annually and as a result missed exercising their franchise in recent elections. They assumed it was sufficient to register once. I am pleased that the Minister proposes this important change in the case of special voters. Indeed the removal of those former provisions will take us to the stage at which special voters will be recognised as normal participants in our electoral process.
I should like to refer to the nomination process. The objective of legislation in this area should be to ensure that all who wish to make a serious attempt to be elected public representatives are given that opportunity. Our electoral tradition has been to ensure that candidates are genuine in their intentions by the imposition of a deposit which is forfeited in the case of a candidate not receiving a level of support deemed to be indicative of their being serious candidates.
Under the provisions of the Bill before us it is proposed to increase the requisite deposit to £500 in order to restore the deterrent to frivolous candidates. We should closely examine this aspect in the future ascertaining how effective it will prove to be in practice. Probably only time will tell but I have examined some figures in respect of previous elections.
Examination of such evidence demonstrates that, thankfully, we have not experienced enormous problems in general elections with too many candidates or with their numbers tending to confuse the electorate. Even though the relative value of the requisite deposit has been reduced to 3 per cent of its original level, there has been remarkable consistency in the number of candidates standing in general elections. For example, in 1932 there were 1.8 candidates for every seat available whereas, at the last election, that figure was 2.2 candidates per seat; in the two elections held in 1982, the figure was also 2.2 candidates per seat. It must be remembered that there are  smaller constituencies which would affect the balance vis-à-vis the number of candidates per seat.
When one endeavours to ascertain what takes place in other European countries one finds that in most there is no deposit at all required. Instead there is a requirement for nomination to be signed by between 20 and 2,000 constituents. For example, in France, Greece and Holland deposits are required but are quite small. The deposit required to be paid in the United Kingdom probably is that which most closely resembles ours, not surprising since we inherited our system from a British statute. Five years ago the British took the same move proposed in this Bill, that of increasing the deposit and lowering the forfeiture threshold. In 1987 the British increased their electoral deposit from £150 to £1,000, reducing the forfeiture threshold from 12.5 per cent to 5 per cent of the total poll. However, a recent study demonstrates that the number of candidates standing in by-elections increased since they raised their deposit to £1,000. Provisional figures for their most recent general election showed a slight decrease only. That leads me to wonder whether, if we experienced a problem in this area, this would be the best method of dealing with it.
At some stage in the future we should break away from the British notion of requiring candidates to pay a deposit, instead linking such to the tangible rights of a candidate whenever he or she stands for election. When a candidate is officially declared to be standing in an election he or she has three rights. The first is that they receive a free copy of the electoral register of the constituency in which they are standing for election. In some constituencies that cost can amount to £70. They also receive the right to free postage worth approximately £20,000. Their third right is the one the Minister is proposing to abolish under the provisions of this Bill because it has not been exercised, that is, the right to a room in a primary school. Clearly it will be seen that the first two cost the State and they would be of concern if there were too many candidates. In regard to the free  postage which could amount to £20,00 per candidate, perhaps in the future we should consider a deposit of, say, £100 in the case of candidates who do not ava of that facility and a deposit of £500 for those who do.
I would be concerned that we might pitch the deposit too high. If we take the example of the major parties represented in this House and examine what happened at the last general election we discover that 47 candidates standing for the major parties lost their deposits. I might add that, in the last election, a candidate had to receive an average of 2,000 vote in order to secure his or her deposit. In the last election also one outgoing Deputy lost his deposit. In the 1989 election two outgoing Deputies lost their deposits. All these matters will have to be taken into consideration when we propose raising the level of the requisite deposit.
Another relevant case is that of Deputy Roger Garland who, in 1987, lost his deposit and in 1989 was elected to this House. We should be aware of such examples. In that respect it would not be fair to say that Deputy Garland was less serious in his intent to be elected in 1987 than he was when elected in 1989. He could not have been described as a firvolous candidate in the 1987 election. While welcoming the Minister's proposal in this Bill to reduce the number of vote required to secure a candidate's deposit I question whether that number should not be further reduced, perhaps to 10 per cent of the quota. As we raise the level of the deposit in monetary terms simultaneously it will be important to ensure that genuine candidates are not placed in the position of losing their deposits.
I compliment the Minister on the provisions of the section dealing with canvassing outside polling stations, a proposal which I predict will be enormously welcomed by the public at large who will be familiar with such practices. I believe that canvassing outside polling stations does not contribute to the electoral process and most people would have that view. It intimidates voters who would  rather be left in peace to exercise their franchise. This provision will be welcomed also by those people throughout Ireland in all parties who had the onerous task of standing outside the polling stations and campaigning on behalf of candidates and their political parties. In the past if one party manned the polling station other parties had to do likewise and the value of this had to be questioned. That provision of the Bill will be warmly welcomed by everyone.
There may, however, be a problem with the provision in the Bill relating to posters displayed outside polling stations. The Bill states that not only must new posters not be put up during polling, but posters on display before polling commences must be removed. I welcome the fact that people will not be allowed to put up new posters on polling day because this work provided them with an opportunity to canvass. However, I question the requirement that posters on display before polling commences must be removed. This would be more relevant to urban areas. There would be many hoardings and large advertisement boards within 50 metres of the polling stations displaying posters for many weeks before election day and I wonder if it is practicable to expect that these will be removed on the day before polling day. I know this is not an issue in rural areas. I represent many village areas in my constituency and there are no large advertising boards. In the urban areas it is not practical to expect that this requirement will be fully implemented because there are many large hoardings within 50 metres of the polling stations. The provision which prevents people from putting up posters within 50 metres of the polling stations on polling day is important and its inclusion in the Bill is very welcome. Canvassers, as distinct from political parties' posters, create problems for voters. Difficulties would arise in a small number of cases and this provision covers such difficulties.
Finally, I would like to make the point that one of the key contributions of the  Bill lies not in its innovation but in the bringing together into one Bill the bulk of electoral legislation. This point was made earlier by speakers from other parties. It is important that this is recognised and that the Minister is complimented for it because consolidation measures like this do much to improve the accessibility of the law to non-experts. People can look through this consolidated legislation and take note of the various provisions included in it.
I strongly support the Bill before us taking into account provision for the issues I raised. In regard to 18 year olds whose birthdays fall on 2 December, it would be 16 months before they could join the supplementary register and this is a matter we will have to consider in the future. The concept of the supplementary register is positive. It will bring on board the people who failed to get on to the register due to technical errors and I welcome it. We should try to include the 18 year olds and the second group I mentioned, the people who move house after 1 September; they should be able to go on to the supplementary register in their new constituency. The changes in the Bill are very welcome.
Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny)
Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille se, mar sílim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeidh ord i ngach toghchán, os rud é go bhfuil na Teachtaí Dála i mbun na hoibre sin. Déarfainn go gceapann gach éinne go mba chóir go mbeadh na rialacha go simplí agus go cruinn i gcomhair gach toghcháin agus go mbeadh seans ag na daoine a bhíonn ag obair go dian ar son gach iarrthóra sa toghchán leanstan ar aghaidh leis an obair gan stró bheith orthu. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil athrú tar éis teacht ar chuid de na rialacha seo — luaigh mé iad anseo cheana nuair a labhair mé. Is maith an rud go bhfuil an t-athrú sin tar éis teacht isteach.
I want to welcome the provision in the Bill that people cannot congregate outside polling stations. Many supporters of my party and other parties have done marvellous work over the years in giving their time and working outside the polling  stations on election day. Long ago this was important when people were not as familiar with candidates as they are today. Television, radio, local radio and newspapers have changed the concept of elections. The day is now past when people have to be told who candidates are and if they do not know the candidates this is a reflection on the way elections have been conducted by candidates and their canvassers. The electorate are now sophisticated enough to go out and vote and they know how they are going to vote in advance of reaching the polling stations. The election day is a long working day for canvassers. Many of them campaign for three weeks before the election. They deserve a day of rest, but because one party canvass all parties canvass. If people were to see only one party canvassing outside a polling station they might think their own party were not active. Now that it has been decided to clear everybody within 50 metres from the polling stations the pressure will be lifted from all parties and they will be pleased to avoid the onerous task of having canvassers outside polling stations. There is nothing as miserable as a wet polling day, when colleagues and members of other parties get soaked to the skin standing outside polling stations for 12 hours. This is not right, it should not be allowed to happen and I welcome this change in the Bill. Section 147 of the Bill prohibits one to loiter or congregate in the vicinity of the polling station and is an offence. If one is to loiter it suggests one is hanging around and to congregate suggests a group of people. If the chairman and secretary of the local branch of a political party were walking up and down outside a polling station, carrying no posters, they are not covered under the next section which states that displaying cards or influencing people to vote, is forbidden and is an offence. Are they in breach of section 147 (2) (c)? I would like the Minister to define what to “loiter” means. To take the normal meaning of “loiter”, suggests that a person who is walking up and down, 20 yards outside a polling station, talking to his companion, who may be a well known  personality in the area could be said to be influencing people who are going to vote, but he may not be commiting any offence. Section 147 also states that people who assemble within 50 metres of the polling station, display posters or try to unduly influence people going to vote, are guilty of an offence. In the Bill I could not find any definition of what offence this is, what would happen to a person who was guilty of such an offence who finds them guilty. Does the other party have to report that there are shenanigans at the polling station and call the Garda? There appears to be a threat there and I am not sure how regulations covering this are going to be implemented. Since all political parties and their supporters are extremely responsible they will not look for a thin edge of the wedge to get around this. The provision regarding the use of loudspeakers at polling stations could cause problems. Until now it has been very easy to recognise a polling station because people congregated outside. When the new rules are introduced it is possible that somebody driving along using a loudspeaker will arrive in the vicinity of a polling station without realising it. People using a loudspeaker in Carlow town will know all the polling stations in the immediate area but they might go to Tullow or Muinebeag or through a rural area where they might find it difficult to identify polling stations because there would be no activity outside. An individual might not know where the polling station was.
The use of loud speakers at examination time should be banned. Elections are often held in June when examinations are in session and students have enough to cope with, without competing with loud speakers. If an election coincides with the examination period, the Minister should bring in an order banning the use of loud speakers.
I welcome the changes in regard to the register. People who find that they are not included on the official register have no say for the next ten months. It is very important that there is to be a supplement but I have some points to make about it. It is not fair to ask people to check the  register when they have been voting for 50 or 60 years. They should be able to presume that they will not be removed from the register if they have been living in the same house. The onus is on those compiling the register to make sure of this. It has happened that a person who was conscientious enough to check that his name was on the draft register found that his name was omitted in the final print of the register. It is grossly unfair that anybody should be deprived of a vote in such a way.
I reiterate my suggestion that the county registrar should be allowed to give that person a vote on the date of the election, provided sufficient proof is available as to identity and so on. The parish priest or perhaps the Deputy could vouch for the fact that this person lived in a certain place. Most people will not discover that they are not on the register until they go to the polling station. In Carlow the late Bishop Lennon went to vote and discovered his name had been left off the register. There should be some provision in the Bill to give a person the right to vote, on the authority of the county registrar. If it can be done 12 days earlier it should be possible on the day of the election. It might cause problems in cities where people are not known but in rural constituencies people are known personally, very often known to the county registrar. Perhaps something can be done to amend the Bill in this regard.
It is unfair that we do not cater for people who, because of the nature of their work, will be away from the country on election day. Some people represent firms in England, going there on Monday and returning on Thursday. They should be able to give advance notice, confirmed by their firm, which would allow them to be catered for. Airline staff who travel abroad are in same position. They pay their taxes here, yet they are deprived of their vote. We do not cater for people like this, even when their rota is known in advance.
It is indefensible that presiding officers who are safeguarding the processes of democracy can be deprived of a vote if  they happen to cross the border from one constituency to another. There are so many constituencies in cities that this can happen very easily. In my area somebody across the bridge from Graiguecullen, which is in the Laois-Offaly constituency, can find himself presiding in Carlow-Kilkenny. Such a person should not be deprived of a vote in his own constituency. It should not be beyond the ingenuity of the Department to devise a system which would guarantee that presiding officers would be enabled to vote. They should not be deprived of that right because they happen to be a quarter of a mile on the wrong side of a river, a railway or a road. I would ask the Minister to see that they are catered for.
I welcome the changes for special voters. Last year I attended a meeting at which people were irate that they had to be declared sound of mind. They found it personally offensive and I am glad that requirement has been removed. The idea of a medical certificate to be produced every time such people apply for a vote has also been dropped. I compliment the Minister on these major steps.
There is a problem regarding free postage during election campaigns. Perhaps the political parties could devise a system whereby literature would go to households rather than individuals, thus avoiding wasteful duplication. People take offence when four or five envelopes containing the same literature arrive in their letter box. So much wastage gives bad example.
It has been suggested to me that photographs should be included on the ballot paper. I know one couple who did not vote in the last election because their daugher was illiterate and they would not humiliate her in the polling booth. They said I did nothing about it but I did raise the matter here. I do not know how expensive it would be to include black and white photographs of the candidates, but we must remember that we are obliged to cater for everyone entitled to vote. People who cannot read names can recognise photographs. I would ask the Minister to cost this proposal. We must cater for minorities. Those who cannot  read do not deserve public humiliation or embarassment. They are entitled to be able to recognise the candidates on a ballot paper and to mark it accordingly.
The question of posters at the polling stations has been dealt with. It is time to look seriously at the use of posters during election campaigns. Fine Gael blazed a trail under Deputy Garret FitzGerald by introducing “eight by four” posters. This has been copied by important political parties since, but perhaps the time has come to allow only such posters. At a time when people are interested in tidy towns, posters hanging upside down, sideways or blowing in the wind, do more to discourage people from voting than to get them out. Posters hanging on poles, sideways and upside down or half torn do not sell a message. The “eight by fours” would introduce some kind of order and it would look as if there was some kind of organisation behind a poster campaign. I would be quite happy to see my picture on an “eight by four” poster.
The removal of posters is covered by legislation. In fairness, political parties co-operate in taking down election posters as soon as the polls close.
I got a kick from section 35. It convinced me that there is still a sense of humour in the Department. The section deals succinctly with the difficulties for a person who is elected in two constituencies. Many of us have difficulty in getting elected in one constituency and only someone with a great sense of humour would introduce section 35.
Mr. Bell Mr. Bell
Mr. Bell: Senator Doherty got elected in three.
Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny)
Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): When it comes to a general election a person can be happy to be elected in one. I do not have any worries about section 35. Even if it was not passed, I would not cry about it. I welcome parts of the Bill and I hope the Minister will take note of my comments.
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: Listening to my colleague I was thinking about those who have difficulty  in being elected in more than one constituency. It is interesting that the Department thought of that as being sufficiently important to warrant inclusion of the Bill. It is not something that has affected most Members or even the members of local authorities.
I agree with my colleague that a great deal of littering has been caused by irresponsible postering. However, the political parties are not, by a long stretch of the imagination, the worst offenders. Political parties are meticulous in removing posters immediately after an election. Many other groups throughout the country do not bother. The groups I refer to have an interest in politics but are not necessarily political parties. A few posters from such groups can be seen throughout the city and they have been there for six months at this stage. One should acknowledge that political parties do a reasonably good job in this regard. We should acknowledge also that postering is one of the trappings of democracy. Democracy has its weaknesses but we should not go overboard in removing all the trappings that go with democracy provided damage is not done to property and great offence is not caused to people. Every system has its shortcomings. Centralised systems have their shortcomings and people living under those systems would love an opportunity to put up posters or to congregate around polling stations. Perhaps we have gone a bit overboard with our system. Crowds outside polling stations may be a source of intimidation to people going to vote but in rural areas some people get great enjoyment out of meeting neighbours at polling stations. It is regarded as a festive occasion. However, in some urban areas competition has become very intense and perhaps a certain amount of pressure has been put on people going to vote and this should not be the case.
The Bill refers to the register of electors. I am sure others will have noticed that since the compilation of the register was computerised, it has become a lot worse than when it was compiled in the old fashioned way. I do not know why that is so. There are numerous instances  of elderly people going to vote on polling day being told that they were no longer on the register. On investigation we find that the local authority, for some reason best known to themselves, do a random selection and write to a number of people telling them that the register is being checked and asking if they are hale and hearty and still living at the address. Elderly people might consider that this has been sent out by some school leaver who has just joined the local authority, that it is unimportant, and ignore it. The next thing they know is that they have been removed from the electoral register. In the last few elections that happened to a large number of people. I hope we do not have a repetition of that. Computerisation is welcome and it has achieved a great deal but we must ensure that we do not go backwards. If we become so efficient that we, for example, take out all the people whose names begin with A, B or, worse D, it could cause serious problems. I hope that problem has been resolved.
I welcome the decision in regard to voters who had been obliged to give an indication of soundness of mind. That question is an insult. Regardless of what other people might think of them, every person has a democratic right to express his or her view in the ballot box. As my colleague Deputy Browne said, the use of photographs might be a help in some cases, but a person should have the freedom to express his or her choice in the ballot box at any time. A little progress can be reported in this area.
Many facets of electioneering and politics generally associated with our political system down the years are now regarded as old-fashioned. Even some of the systems operating in this House are old-fashioned. However, many of these systems have been inherited from our forefathers who spent a great deal of time and effort in trying to devise a system that would enable us to enjoy all these peculiarities and we should not throw them aside lightly. Democracy needs to be given the expression it has been traditionally given. If we decide not to have  posters because people do no like them, not to have public address systems because people do not like the noise, that we will not have electioneering as we did previously because some people get offended or that we will not send a multiplicity of election leaflets to people's houses because of the waste, eventually it will not be worth our while to have a campaign at all. We could just put a notice in the paper telling people when an election is to be held and that they should go along to vote on the day. Some people might say that is the way it should be done but places where that has been done have tended to be places where there has not been a huge emphasis on democracy.
Generally I would support the Bill. It will certainly improve access to voting and the full pursuance of democracy.
Mr. Bell Mr. Bell
Mr. Bell: In general terms I welcome the Bill which improves the existing situation. Much of the legislation dates back to pre-1900 and it is time we updated it.
I understand this Bill deals basically with Dáil elections. Nevertheless I thought this would have been a good opportunity to bring an amendment before the House in relation to the European elections. Here I speak as one who had personal involvement in a particular situation I want to refer to. I am pleased to note that the chief returning officer is present in the House because I am sure she also will remember the circumstances, having been directly involved at that time.
Having polled some 86,000 votes in the Leinster constituency at the last European election I lost the seat by ten votes after three or four recounts of a kind — and I do not want to be in any way critical of anybody in putting it that way. However, I was disappointed because there were 14,000 spoiled votes in Leinster in that election, probably the highest proportion of spoiled votes ever recorded. The returning officer of the day made a decision which we subsequently disagreed with and which eventually found its way to the High Court. It could be, of course, that the returning officer  in Leinster was right and that those everywhere else were wrong. I would not, for one minute, make a judgment on that because even the High Court did not make a decision on it.
In his summary of that case the judge, if not directly, indirectly indicated that it was a matter for the Legislature to deal with the subject which found its way to the High Court. Everybody there and everyone in Leinster and elsewhere accepted that there was an anomoly in that the Act provided that interpretation of the way that ballot papers should be counted would be left to the returning officer. The method of interpretation was not clearly defined. This is a very serious matter because it means that each or any one of five returning officers can decide what is and what is not a spoiled vote.
For the record, let us remember that two elections — the European election and the Dáil election — were held on the one day; people voted one, two, three, four, in the Dáil election and then went across to the European election ballot paper and voted five, six, seven and eight. In Dublin, Munster and Connaught-Ulster the returning officers decided that the ballot paper marked five, six, seven in sequence following the voting on the Dáil paper was equivalent to voting one, two, three, four. However, in Leinster the returning officer decided otherwise. That is not a criticism of the returning officer because possibly she was right and the others were wrong. However, the Act still does not clear that up and there were 14,000 spoiled votes in that instance.
There was a recount, but the spoiled votes were not counted and were not taken into consideration. In the recount which was carried out by the Honourable Judge of the High Court himself the 14,000 spoiled votes were not included. In other words, there was not a total recount but a recount of a portion of the ballot papers. Subsequently, when the judge ordered that a further recount be taken and the chief returning officer who is one of our leading experts, if not the leading expert, in our system of elections did a very thorough job on that occasion. Nevertheless, there is a doubt in my mind  and in the minds of many as to the out come of that election, and I say that with no disrespect to any of my colleagues who are serving in the European Parliament Fourteen thousand spoiled votes is a lot of spoiled votes when one considers that in the end ten votes separated the last two candidates.
I appeal to the Minister to use this opportunity to amend the regulations which I am sure he is entitled to do under this heading, to correct that anomaly. I he does not do that, the same thing could occur at the next election.
I want to place on record that this is not intended to be critical of anybody who participated in that election. However, this must be corrected and this will probably be the only opportunity to have it corrected unless the Minister brings in another amending Bill or amends the existing regulations. Perhaps he might deal with this when he is replying.
There are a number of other matters to which I want, briefly, to refer. I agree absolutely with the elimination of political activity of any sort outside the polling booths on polling day in local elections, Dáil elections, European elections or any other kind of election. I accept Deputy Durkan's point that there might be a bit of fun and games in a rural area but in some of the polling stations in urban areas and larger towns there might be 3,000 or 4,000 people voting in one polling station and this is where the difficulty arises. There is no problem in a small rural area where there are a couple of hundred voters. The difficulty arises in areas where there are several thousand voters, the majority of whom arrive during rush hour, at lunchtime or the last few hours. At times the position outside some of these polling stations is frightening and there is no doubt in my mind that it leads to people deciding they will not go out to vote. I have seen people turn back from polling stations, fights break out and abuse being hurled by the supporters of one party against the supporters of another. While this may be part of the game, there should no longer  be warring factions outside polling stations.
The suggestion that there should be no political activity within 50 metres of a polling station is a joke; whoever thought that one up must be a very funny person because the position is that most polling stations are located in schools and most school buildings are more than 50 metres from the road. Does this mean that there should be no activity within 50 metres of the front door or wall of the school, from a person's front garden or the shopping centre on the right or left of the road, or should we draw a circle and say that people cannot go within 50 metres of the building even though there may be nothing behind it? There is an avenue leading to most schools and all that will happen is that people will move their tables and literature from outside the school door or perimeter wall to the end of the street. Therefore this will not make any difference because the same activity will take place at the end of the road. I am speaking of constituencies I know well — such as Meath and Louth — and I say that this will not make any difference. In fact, it will probably lead to a worsening of the position.
For a start, we will need an army of policemen to supervise this activity. Who will ensure that there is no activity within 50 metres of these polling stations? Will somebody have to stand there all day or will there be patrol cars outside polling stations? There will be a riot if the police try to control this activity. We would be far better off doing nothing than to implement this daft proposal. I do not think the majority of the electorate and the activists of political parties would object if the Minister were to ban all activity — as they do in France — from 12 midnight the night before. At that stage people have made up their minds.
I agree there is no way one can influence people entering a polling station ten minutes before it is due to close as they already have made up their minds, unless, of course, they are told lies. Candidates have lost an election when their party faithful told voters outside the polling  station that “Joe has already been elected, do not vote for him but give Paddy your vote”. This has happened; it even happened to me. I see the Minister of State laughing and I am sure he experienced this in Cork. I have seen sitting candidates lose their seats because party activists told voters they had already been elected and did not need their votes and that they should give their vote to a colleague. That is another good reason to ban political activity outside polling stations.
We must also address the question of how we can control the use of loudspeakers outside polling stations. What should we do? Are we to cocoon a school because sound can only be measured in decibels? Are we to say that people cannot park a car carrying speakers outside the polling station but can do so down the road? There is no way this can be done. We will either have to ban their use or leave things as they stand. I appeal to the Minister of State to introduce a couple of realistic amendments on Committee Stage to deal with this matter.
During his contribution Deputy McCartan referred to fishermen. On the last occasion the entire fishing fleet at Clogher Head, which is in my constituency, was at sea all election day with the result that none of them was able to vote. They went to sea at 6 a.m. and did not return until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. the following morning. These people should be given a postal vote if they are registered fishermen and actively involved in the fishing industry. It should be easy for them to prove this to officials of the Department of Social Welfare. The same is true in the case of merchant seamen. Given that a member of the Navy who is a member of the Defence Forces has a postal vote, I do not see why merchant seamen should not also have one. A ship will not dock in order to facilitate a seaman to exercise his constitutional right.
Reference has been made to the register of electors. We are subjected to much abuse and criticism about this matter. No matter how often we check the register  some people will not be included. While I think it balances itself out in that a few supporters of the Labour Party, the Fine Gael Party and the Fianna Fáil Party as well as a few Independents will not be included, there is a need for greater scrutiny. The Minister of State's proposal that a supplementary list — it is described as a list of additions — should be printed would probably be better because the local authority would be in a position to tell those who had not been included, or whose names had been deleted, that their names have been included on this list.
Like the Labour Party and all sections of the community, I do not see why a person who has been living in London for a few months or a year should not have the right to determine who the Government of the day should be given that the majority of these people will return to live in this country when they will be affected by decisions taken in this House. They should have a democratic right to decide who the personnel of this House should be.
The voting system continues to be abused but, in general, supervision at local polling stations takes care of this. I should point out to the Minister of State who has stood in a greater number of elections than I, that if people are removed from polling stations we will lessen security given that the people who man polling stations know the majority of people who vote. Both the Minister of State and I as well as each Member of this House know there have been abuses, with people using the polling cards of people who had gone on holidays or who had died. If we ban activity within 50 metres — I appeal to the Minister of State to deal with that matter — there would be less supervision outside polling stations because there would be nobody there to see if people arrived to vote several times at different polling booths. As we are all aware, this has happened in the past. An old colleague of mine frequently used the phrase: “vote early and vote often”, and to this day that still happens. I would ask the Minister, if not in the legislation then in the regulations under the Bill, to make ID cards compulsory.  People must be advised in advance of going to the polling booth that they are obliged to carry ID cards, which should be carefully checked. People in charge of polling booths should, unless they are absolutely certain of the identity of each person, insist that ID cards are produced. The Minister should indicate in his reply what he proposed to do about the point I raised about an amendment to the Single European Act.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: By and large I welcome the Bill as it corrects many of the anomalies that have existed for years. Like Deputy Bell, I welcome the 50 metre provision. I assume that the aim is to provide a system of voting that is accessible in terms of geographical location to all voters. It is very important that in our democracy the system is seen to be fair.
A number of issues come to mind. I have noticed over the years that many polling booths are inaccessible to the disabled. I am not speaking about the people on the special polling register but about people, for example, in wheelchairs who wish to cast their vote. It is galling to see what happens at polling stations as these people try to gain access to cast their votes. Something should be done in this regard because these are very special people who have a great contribution to make. If they are able to work and pay their taxes they should be given every assistance in casting their votes. We should have respect for them. I have witnessed extremely angry people who could not gain admission to polling booths to vote. In some cases the presiding officer, whether or not he was within his rights, came to the door to allow these people to vote, and I see nothing wrong with that practice. I hope this matter is dealt with in the Bill.
I will now refer to an issue that many of my colleagues raised, that is illegal congregating, the wolf pack as I often call it. Whether one is canvassing as a new candidate or otherwise there is no need for such a practice. I agree with Deputy Bell in relation to the 50 metres provision, but I do not know how it will be  implemented. Perhaps canvassing should be banned altogether. Many polling stations are situated 50 metres from the main thoroughfare and there is nothing to stop people from standing on the other side of the road. I do not know what regulations will be issued but I welcome the principle behind this provision. Nobody has referred to the fact that it is difficult to get people to canvass at present. Our canvassers, the people we depend on, those who help us win a seat, will also welcome this provision. Much thought should be given to its implementation. Unless canvassing is banned altogether it will be difficult to implement it.
Perhaps the Minister would refer to one point which has not been commented on today. In a number of constituencies local national schools are out of bounds for political meetings. The Department of Education have stipulated that schools cannot be used for political meetings. This issue does not arise every day of the week but I would like to know whether that is the case — perhaps I have taken the wrong interpretation from it. In small villages, for example, the local school may be the only place where a group of people can meet and I see no reason bona fide political parties should not be allowed use it, assuming that all political parties have equal access.
As regards the deposit, it is easier to get £500 today than it was to raise £100 50 years ago and I assume it is on that basis that this case is being made. I hope we will never digress from the practice whereby any man or woman may contest an election and there should be no impediments to the contesting of an election. If a person wishes to put his name forward for election he should not be prevented from doing so due to lack of funds.
The preservation of democracy is much more valuable than the provision of services such as health services and so on. Unlike some European countries our system is such that the taxpayer is not directly involved in the funding of election campaigns. Perhaps the Government  considered this matter but decided to ignore it. My view, which is obviously shared by politicians on the Continent, is that in election campaigns political parties should give a signal as to what they intend to do in the following five years. There should be Exchequer funding, tightly controlled, with checks and balances, in order to curb the excesses we hear about in relation to funding of political parties. Under the Danish system Exchequer funding is provided in proportion to the number of first preference votes a party receive. Such a system would be welcome here, but those funds should be used specifically for election campaigning and not to pay staff in party headquarters or for any other purpose. There should be controls on the proliferation of election canvassing material and posters. The practice of putting posters on telegraph poles has long outlived its usefulness. People do not pay any attention to it as we now have more powerful media in the form of television, radio and newspapers. It is important that democracy is kept alive and well but, at the same time, tighter controls would not cause an outcry. I do not know whether the checks and balances would work but we could give it a try.
How well are presiding officers and poll clerks briefed before they do their job, particularly for the first time? Is there a system to brief them because I have been told that some presiding officers did not know how to solve a problem when it arose. I hope the Minister will refer to this in his reply.
Many people have mentioned photographs on ballot papers. I do not see any reason for not having them, especially in the case of youthful Members. Many voters would like to see a photograph of the candidates, this applies particularly to illiterate people who do not want anyone to know that they cannot read or write.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse) Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse): The Deputy has one minute.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: I thought I would have finished my contribution by now. It  is a great idea to have a supplementary register because people who have been omitted from the register get very angry.
Mr. Tunney Mr. Tunney
Mr. Tunney: It is not my intention to delay the House but I wish to comment on this important legislation and to welcome it. It is time we applied ourselves to this situation and made provision for all the changes which render what was deemed appropriate in the past irrelevant or unnecessary at present. The situation which obtained where, traditionally, representatives of all parties congregated outside polling booths to operate — in some cases, not all — as an intimidatory measure in relation to people casting their votes should be changed. However, I agree with Deputy Bell that it will not be changed by the provisions of this Bill. The distance of 50 metres still leaves people almost within the precincts of the school. If it was 50 metres from the extreme point or points of the surrounding walls or palings there would be some justification for it but 50 metres from the polling station borders on the ridiculous.
Another provision, which does not indicate that people have visualised the practicalities of what happens when people cast their votes, especially during the last hour when they are flowing in, is the obligation on the presiding officer to ensure that the stamp is on the ballot papers before they are inserted in the box. The presiding officer would need eyes in the back of his head; he does not have the power of bilocation, he cannot distribute ballot papers and also ensure that the stamp is on them. He is also supposed to keep an eye on the voters placing the ballot papers in the ballot box. What is the reasoning behind this?
I know that everything which comes before us has been subjected to a certain amount of examination, adjudication and thought. However, I should like to know whether we are providing for a situation where bogus ballot papers might be inserted. Are we providing for a situation where the presiding officer might, inadvertently, not stamp the ballot paper? What happens if he discovers that the  stamp is not on the ballot paper? Does he issue a new one? In replying, I should like the Minister to elaborate on the need for the introduction of such a provision when we all know that other considerations need attention.
There is a difficulty in regard to the deposit as £500 represents much more to one person than another. This could lead to frivolous candidates going forward. For example, a person might have made his fortune and now feels that he should indulge in this caper; £500 would mean nothing to him. However, if you reduce it you automatically invite people to look at elections as a means for having a Lord Sutch in every constituency. He goes forward with extraordinary regularity in elections in the United Kingdom. I do not know what he hopes to achieve; it must be a form of mild entertainment for him because, obviously, he is not likely to succeed in being elected.
Our views must be conditioned, to some degree, by what our constituents tell us. Over the years I have regularly received complaints about the equity in the appointment of presiding officers although their quality is never questioned. A person holding an important position in a local authority or the headmaster of a school are often appointed presiding officers but they do not need the appropriate fee. With unwelcome regularity he or she appears to preside at every election while, in the same constituency, there would be many people equally endowed with intelligence and knowledge of the Electoral Acts and much more in need of the fee. Consideration should be given to this question. I know the first requirement is to have the best person possible for such an important position but I am sure there are many people available beyond the narrow range which has obtained to date. This would ensure fewer complaints from constituents.
The provisions relating to free post, posters and so on are not sufficient to provide for the dramatic change that has occurred in communications. Deputy John Browne mentioned one very important point. I do think that when  one offers some criticism or seeks an alternative one should have an alternative in mind. I must confess that I do not have any such alternative in mind, and neither did Deputy Browne. The idea that every person in a household of seven electors should be sent a copy of all of the publications issued does lead to criticism and gives the wrong impression that elections are unnecessarily expensive. I venture to suggest that before Committee Stage that position be considered with a view to reducing cost.
In relation to the register of electors, the first obligation is on the local authority. I do not know what happens in the constituencies but it is clear that errors are made, for whatever reason. It is hard to understand the reason behind the number of mistakes in the register because there are people appointed to visit each house in a locality, people who are obliged to check up on any changes that might have occurred since the previous register was taken. During the most recent presidential election I found myself embarrassed by the number of mistakes in the register. Politicians here will realise that invariably when mistakes occur at any level a degree of culpability is extended to us even though the mistakes may not be of our making. During the previous presidential election I was chastised and very much criticised by five young nurses who lived in the one house. They had all voted in the previous general election and there had been no change in the occupancy of the House. However, when those ladies went to vote they found that their names were not on the register. I accepted entirely the comments made to me by those young women. One could have said that a draft register was available for inspection and, as literate ladies, they should have checked it.
I do not consider that putting the obligation on electors should release us from the responsibility that exists in the first instance in respect of the compilation of the register. There is absolutely no reason that anybody who has not changed residence between elections should not find his or her name included on the  register. Culpability there lies with whomsoever was charged with the responsibility of checking the register. Perhaps the modus operandi now is such that one is paid according to the number of houses one visits — I do not know. I would suggest that if that were so local authorities should be advised that irrespective of the number of houses visited the first and real obligation on the person so charged is to make sure that everybody in a house entitled to vote is recorded on the register.
There is nothing else to which I wish to refer at the moment, especially when I am mindful that Deputy Pat Sheehan and Deputy McGrath are sitting in wait, anxious to enlighten me and the House as to their experiences and the ways in which the proposed legislation might be improved.
Mr. McGrath Mr. McGrath
Mr. McGrath: I offer my thanks to Deputy Tunney for restricting his contribution. I agree entirely with many of the points raised by Deputy Tunney and I think that he put them forward in a much better fashion than I could have.
The final point made by Deputy Tunney in relation to registers is the point with which I should like to begin. I certainly welcome the provision of a supplementary register which can be compiled within a relatively short period of any election. The provision of such a register will be a decided advantage and is a welcome measure. I sincerely hope that the provision of the register can be worked out in a way that will not leave the register open to manipulation or abuse. How many times in elections, whether they be general or local elections, do voters who have lived in the same house and who have voted in election after election arrive at a polling station to cast their vote only to find that their name is not on the register? Those people turn away dejected with us as politicians — and they will probably blame us for having let them down — and dejected with the system that allowed their name to be taken off the register. As was rightly pointed out by Deputy Tunney, the local authorities should take the responsibility  to ensure that every elector is on the register and particularly those who have not moved house. The publication of a short list of alterations at the appropriate period is a worthwhile change in the system and is one I welcome. How often at Christmas time do we have to chase around with copies of a draft register under our arms, sending them out to various parts of each county for checking and alteration? The thought of checking through a short list of alterations rather than a draft register is certainly attractive, particularly at the Christmas season.
The major change in the Bill concerns canvassing outside polling stations. I welcome the general thrust of the proposals made. That is not to say that I would cast aspersions on the many people who have for decades stood outside polling stations on election day. In fact, in rural areas one would often find that it is the same people who have stood outside the same polling station representing the same party election after election down through the years. Perhaps it will be a bit of a shock to those people to find that they can no longer put forward their political views outside polling stations, but it is my opinion that many of them will be glad that the system is to be changed. The Minister indicated in his speech this morning that there would be a restriction on canvassing within 50 metres of the entrance to the grounds of a polling station. That measure would probably get over the difficulty raised by Deputy Tunney. I should like to know how that provision will be implemented. I hope that it will work successfully.
In my first election in 1989 I had experience of something that was raised earlier on. That election was taking place during the time of the examinations for Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate. In many instances polling stations are part of a school and often a secondary school and a primary school will be situated on the same campus, as with Christian Brothers and convent schools. To have such a primary school used as a polling station when at the same time examinations are taking place in the secondary school has made life that little bit more  difficult for those sitting the examinations. Students will now be saved from having to run the gauntlet of canvassers during election time. At the time of elections the use of loudspeakers should also be restricted. I should like the Minister to have the power to say that when examinations are being sat in the locality of a polling station loudspeakers cannot be used.
I welcome the section that will take away the anomaly that exists at presidential elections. At the previous presidential election many presiding officers lost their vote. It is estimated that perhaps 10,000 people were disfranchised as a result of that inclusion in the 1937 Act. I am glad that is now being rectified. I look forward to the next presidential election when all those people can cast their vote in a proper, democratic way. Perhaps provision can be made for local elections whereby if you are presiding in a different area from where you live you may actually cast a vote or if you happen to be residing in a different constituency from where you live you may also cast your vote. I do not know how the Minister will go about that — I admit I am not setting him an easy task. It would be important to include those people who officiate on the day.
In relation to the deposit of £500 which is now required, I am opposed to that section. I realise that with inflation the figure set in 1923 would be much larger now; nonetheless, I think £100 is appropriate and I do not see any real reason it should be increased. After all many people may want to put their names forward as representing some particular persuasion or some particular group in their locality. Instead of increasing the deposit, would it not be easier and make more democratic sense to provide that anybody putting themselves forward for election would require a number of electors to nominate them, be it 20, 50 or whatever? Perhaps the Minister would examine that issue.
I should like to refer to something which is not mentioned specifically in the Bill, that is the location of polling booths. In rural areas many of the polling booths  are situated in small primary schools. By and large they are adequate to house voting on election day. In recent times I have noticed that some of the newer schools may not have outside lights so that at nighttime there can be great difficulty when people are trying to get in and out. Schools do not normally have outside lights because they are not normally used in times of darkness. It is important that people choosing voting areas be asked to ensure that the location has outside lighting for periods of darkness. There is a move afoot in recent years to lessen the number of polling booths, especially in rural Ireland. That is a step in the wrong direction. Of course we can all say: “people can have transport, it is easy for people to get to polling booths, there is no difficulty.” It is easy for the majority of people to get to polling booths. Either they will get a lift or the political parties will send a car for them or whatever. It is also important to note that people have their dignity and they may like to get to polling booths on their own. They have been going to a particular polling booth for the last number of years and casting their vote there. Why should they have to beg a lift from a neighbour or go three, four or five miles down the road? One of our boasts as a country is that we are a democracy. Surely the removal of the polling booth from a locality to a location a number of miles away is taking away that sense of democracy. The Minister should ask the local authorities and the registrars to ensure that the number of polling booths in existence at present is not lessened and, perhaps, in some areas they may be slightly changed.
A strange situation arose in two polling booths in my own locality. In 1983 there was a change in the location of polling booths. One small townland comprising 49 voters was changed from voting in a particular polling station, in which they had voted for decades, to voting in a different polling station. Those 49 voters have now to drive past the polling booth in which they used to cast their vote a further six miles to cast their vote in  another polling booth, all because of the way in which the district electoral divisions were established over a century ago. I am not sure how that can be rectified but perhaps the Minister can inform me later. Can those people be removed to vote in a polling booth outside their district electoral division. It makes more sense if people vote in the area or village with which they are associated and where they buy their groceries and so on. When replying perhaps the Minister would refer to that point.
I should like to refer briefly to the matter of post and literature which is distributed at election time. So far as I understand the legislation, if you want to send out literature at election time you must name a voter on the register to whom you wish to send your literature. That created a problem during the presidential election in my own area. During the presidential campaign we decided, instead of flooding each household with a number of items of literature for each voter, that we would send our literature to the family — the Bloggs family or whatever it was in each case. However, we found that the post office would not accept that literature on the basis that it was not properly constituted as going to a particular voter on the register. It would make sense to amend that regulation whereby election literature could be sent in that fashion to the family or perhaps there is some way in which it could be changed altogether and instead of having to put the names on the literature that the post office would deliver to each household. That would save the embarrassment of putting a name on it when the man had died or had moved away. It would also help in terms of efficiency by cutting down on waste and in getting this literature into houses in a much more streamlined fashion.
The question of photographs on ballot papers has been reasonably well covered. It may be a help to illiterate voters. I admire to a great extent any illiterate voter who goes down to the polling booth, walks up to a table and says to the presiding officer: “I wish to vote, illiterate”. The whole place has to be  cleared while that person votes. If I were in the same situation I do not think I would cast my vote. The addition of photographs on the ballot papers would alleviate that situation and would encourage more such people to come out and vote.
The final point I wish to raise relates to posters and postering. Many good points have been made in this regard and perhaps a great deal of money is wasted. In general the political parties have been excellent down through the years in removing their posters and literature which they put up during election time. Rarely are posters left up for any substantial period after election time. However, in my own locality I am very disappointed to find that following the Maastricht referendum many road signs have been totally disfigured by literature from a particular sector who were calling for a “no” vote. They pasted their posters on the backs of road signs. It is a shame that it was done in that fashion. I am aware the local authority have power to have them removed and that power should be invoked.
Perhaps the Minister could send a notice to the local authorities, where that problem is prevalent, asking them to move on it and to get something done. If we allow this to happen on one occasion then it will happen again. The political parties have a good record in this regard. We should not allow somebody else to take away that good record. Neither should we be brought into disrepute as a result of a lack of consideration, as I would call it, by some other group. I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill and I look forward to amendments which may be introduced later.
Mr. G. O'Sullivan Mr. G. O'Sullivan
Mr. G. O'Sullivan: First, I should like to congratulate the Minister of State. Deputy Dan Wallace, for introducing this Bill. He and I started our political lives in the same ward and constituency. While he may have had more success than I, nevertheless there is a similarity in our work in politics. I congratulate him on bringing this Bill before the House.
I regard this as a tidying up measure.  For that reason, it is welcome; some areas of our electoral system need tidying up. Our electoral system has been broad and scrappy and it is worth discussing the Bill from that point of view. I ask the Minister to take on board the suggestion made this morning by my colleague, Deputy Kavanagh, that the House should go into Committee to debate the points made by speakers during the past few hours. Members have put forward very worthwhile suggestions which need to be teased out on Committee Stage, one of the most successful ways of getting to grips with the problems before us.
I should like to make one or two important points. The first relates to the funding of political parties. If there has been any abuse of the electoral system it was in relation to the funding aspect. Having contested a number of elections and studied how the system operates, I have to say that our electoral system is definitely not geared towards smaller parties or parties which do not have major funding. I wish to again refer to the vital information brought to light by the beef tribunal, that the major political parties have been given huge sums of money by various people. From this point of view alone, it was worth setting up the beef tribunal; it has shown where this funding went. This was certainly an eye opener for the Labour Party and other smaller parties. We always had our suspicions but the facts are now there for everyone to see. Funding has been channelled to political parties with the excuse that the democratic system must be upheld and this is the way to do it. I reject those observations made by people outside this House. The democratic system could be upheld in an easier and better way if political parties were properly funded and limitations placed on the amount of money that could be spent on any election or by any candidate. That is a very important point; there should be some limitation on the amount of money that can be spent. I am sure the Minister for State, Deputy Wallace, will agree with what I am saying. During previous elections people with funding displayed their wealth in a vulgar way in areas which  could not afford such funding. That was appalling. Has the Minister of State some observations on that point? I now know where that funding came from. I am glad people rejected that vulgar display of wealth by giving a resounding vote against those candidates. I am talking about people on whom the £500 deposit has no bearing; they could easily put up £10,000 and still have no problems. There should be some limitation on the amount of money spent on elections and the House should go into Committee to discuss that aspect.
My next point relates to students. Students are very politically conscious and it is very unfair and wrong to ask them to travel long distances, for example, from Galway to Dublin or Cork to Dublin, in order to vote. They should be included in the postal voting system. It is very important that they have a voice in elections at no expense to them. We have seen buses travelling to Kerry, Waterford and so on bringing students home to vote. There should be some system whereby students are included in the postal voting system like gardaí and special categories such as invalids. As my colleague said this morning, people who work at sea should also be included in the postal voting system. Many fishermen along the south-west coast may not return to shore for up to seven days. They should be given a postal vote. This point should also be discussed on Committee Stage.
We need to look seriously at the deposit of £500. Some people may say that the deposit is not very high but we should not be seen to exclude anyone from the political system. The point was made that a number of people should nominate a candidate. Maybe that is the way forward instead of putting up the money. The sum of £500 may not be a great deal of money by today's financial standards but it can be excessive for some people.
I should like to refer to what I regard as the most important part of the Bill. We had a glorious opportunity of giving a vote to Irish people living abroad but  this seems to have been ignored in the Bill. I am very sorry that this opportunity has been lost. Two years ago a Bill was introduced in the House which proposed giving our emigrants a vote. Since then every political party has subscribed to that proposal. There seems to be a consensus that emigrants should be entitled to vote. We may not agree on the length of time or the domiciliary conditions but nevertheless all political parties at their conferences and Ard Fheiseanna passed motions in favour of giving emigrants a vote. It is appalling that we are still debating and arguing this issue at this stage. We had a long debate on why emigrants should or should not be given a vote. In fairness to them, some Government members put forward reasons for giving emigrants a vote. However, it was said that because they were not taxpayers they could not be given a vote. The futility of that argument can be easily seen.
We told everyone to vote for the Maastricht Treaty and said we would get £6 billion by way of European funding. Our emigrants in Holland, Germany, France and Britain have all contributed to that £6 billion. The money paid in tax by our emigrants working on the Continent is channelled back into this country to build roads, bridges and low river crossings. They have made a contribution to the funding of this country and I would argue this point with anyone. Such emigrants are part of the taxpaying system; they have channelled plenty of money back into this country through, as it is called invisible means. Their money has helped to send their brothers and sisters to school and college. The argument that they should not be given a vote because they are not living here and paying tax is very weak.
I believe documents have been circulated to people which indicate that everyone is in favour of giving votes to emigrants. It may be only for a five, ten or 15 year period but at the end of the day no one is prepared to make a decision. The Minister for the Environment has indicated that he will be making a decision within the next three  or four weeks. This problem has existed for a long time and I must say that when the vote was taken on the 15 March I distinctly remember putting forward the case that emigrants should be a part of our electoral system. I felt that the argument was a solid one and that it would stand up. The Government voted it down and the following day the same Ministers jetted out to New York, Australia, Boston and San Francisco, met all the emigrants, took part in the parades and the church services and so on while at home they were saying “You are not good enough to have a vote, you are not Irish”. I believe that is appalling. It is hypocrisy. It is no wonder there is a very low perception of politicians in this country because when it came to the crunch the Government turned down the proposal. They were not willing to give votes to emigrants, for whatever reason. I think it was disgraceful that while abroad emigrants were told they were Irish and entitled to vote, at home they were not deemed good enough to be part of our electoral system. Ministers and Deputies were expressing those views, yet when it came to the crunch emigrants were not good enough to vote here. From that point of view a golden opportunity has been missed in this Bill. This problem could have been resolved by a referendum, if it was the case that the Constitution would have to be changed. Legal opinion states very clearly that that is not the case but had it been the case we could have utilised this Bill and the forthcoming referenda to make emigrants feel that they were part of this country, which they are entitled to do. I feel very strongly about this issue and I am anxious that it would be discussed in Committee.
Regarding political activity outside polling stations, we have now reached the stage where it is becoming an ordeal for people to come out to vote. Elderly people in particular will not bother to vote because they feel they will be hassled at the polling stations. The canvassing system that is allowed at present is a crazy system. It costs political parties a lot of money but it is also deterring people from going to the polls. I realise percentages  vary in different elections but when people, especially the elderly, have to face this type of activity at the polling stations it is time that we called a halt to it. Whether we introduce a complete moratorium, with no canvassing whatsoever on the day of the election, or whether we change to Sunday voting such as they do on the Continent, I feel we should examine all avenues because they are all important matters which will help to make polling day acceptable and encourage people to vote. At present there is a strong deterrent against voting because of the practices of canvassers over the years. Money can play a large part in this problem, because one can employ many people at the polling stations who can at times seem to intimidate people going in to vote. It is very important that people should be allowed to take their time and vote without being hassled on their way into the polling station. This is one of the main areas that should be addressed in the Bill. There will never be agreement on the 50 metre exclusion zone because people will encroach on it and move closer and closer to the polling stations. This may lead to the Garda being called, which would be a crazy situation. I believe we should forget about that and implement a complete moratorium — no canvassing whatever on polling day with the exception of people having to be transported to the polling station. At present people are being completely deterred from coming out to vote, particularly in bad weather, because they do not want to face the hassle at polling stations.
The other points I wish to make is that students should be entitled to the postal vote, the deposit should be considered and we should examine closely the activities outside polling stations to see if we can eliminate the problem completely. I know it is part of the razzmatazz of elections and we all can get caught up in that feeling, but it is time for change. We have come to the end of the road when money can be used to employ personnel and print handouts to be used at polling stations. People should be allowed to  make up their own minds and vote accordingly.
Concerning the emigrant vote, I ask the Minister to reconsider the position and perhaps come up with a solution that will be suitable to everyone.
Mr. M. Barrett Mr. M. Barrett
Mr. M. Barrett: I will make a brief contribution because I know Deputy Sheehan is anxious to speak and we are all anxious to hear him. I wish to address the problem of canvassing outside polling stations. This system was introduced many years ago at a time when many people were not well educated. In my experience in country areas a table would be set up outside the polling station by the various political parties and many people would seek advice from the relevant party canvassers. That is all changed. What is being done now is nothing short of intimidation and we have all had experience of this outside polling stations. It serves no useful purpose. Any purpose that it previously served has long since past. As Deputies will remember, years ago the hassle was caused by Opposition candidates whereas with the present system the trouble can be caused by candidates from the one party. In some cases there is almost open war with perhaps the Garda having to be called. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan when he says that canvassing should be banned completely. The Minister's proposal to have a 50 metre exclusion zone around the polling stations is a joke. We are a member of the European Community and I understand that canvassing is not allowed outside polling stations in other European countries. I worked and lived in England for a number of years and I know it was not permitted there. On election day people simply walked in and voted.
I believe canvassing outside churches should also be banned. No matter which church it may be people tend to be intimidated by candidates who, in addition to canvassing outside polling stations, travel throughout their constituency handing out literature. Sometimes when there are three candidates of the one party standing  for election constituents will have received the same literature three times. In addition to whatever party literature is distributed there will be personal literature. I contend people have become sick and tired of such election literature.
I am disappointed that the provisions of this Bill limit canvassing to within 50 metres of polling stations without there being any mention whatever of canvassing outside churches about which the clergy have become very annoyed. I think it was in the course of the 1987 general election the former Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey and his team were removed from church grounds in, I think, the Coolock area, the priests there having become so annoyed at the church being filled with election literature each Sunday. I ask the Minister to seriously re-examine that practice.
Nowadays most elections are fought in the media, national and local papers by party Leaders with papers in rural areas giving candidates much coverage.
I agree with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's comments about those people appointed to preside over polling stations, many of whom are professional people in full employment who take a day's leave to work in the polling stations. I suggest the Minister make legislative provision preferably for the deployment of unemployed people for that purpose. There are many skilled people nowadays who have lost their jobs who should be recruited for that purpose rather than the professionals I have just mentioned.
I note with pleasure the proposed change in the electoral register. As public representatives we have had experience of many constituents tell us on the doorstep or approach us to inform us that their names have not been included on the register. The new supplementary register will eliminate that difficulty.
I contend the postal vote should be extended to many people, such as commercial travellers and others who may have to travel at home or abroad in the course of their business and would not be in their locality on polling day. They should not be denied their franchise. In addition, people can become ill suddenly  and be unable to vote on polling day and some arrangements should be made to facilitate them.
I agree with everything Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan said about the practice of canvassing at polling stations, it should be banned outright. After all, we are a member of the European Community: let us do what they do.
Much can be said about the deposit required of candidates. The present large deposit can often deprive many people in political parties from coming forward for election. It has been proved in this House that one does not have to be a professional person to be a good public representative. Indeed, many Members may have left school on completion of primary level without having had an opportunity to follow second or third level education, many of whom will have carried out duties as public representatives just as well as their professional counterparts. Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan made a good point about the level of the deposit, that while there may be a need for its increase it should not be done to the extent that it would prohibit the ordinary working person from going forward for election.
I hope the Minister will have noted the points I have made.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: I welcome this Bill whose improved provisions have been long overdue. Nonetheless there remain quite a number of problems to be resolved.
In the course of the drawing up of the Treaty of Accession to the EC I cannot understand why provision was not made to give all EC nationals resident here, many of whom probably will be property owners, the right to vote in elections to Dáil Éireann. Their right to do so should have been considered long ago. It is my hope that the Minister's present proposals will rectify their position. We have tended to be lackadaisical here when it came to changing our electoral Acts over the years.
Like other Members I am somewhat amused at the 50 metre regulation supposed to obtain in regard to canvassing outside polling stations. I agree with  others who have contended that such canvassing outside polling stations should be abolished. I contend that nowadays every voter leaving his or her home for the polling station knows only too well for whom they will cast their vote. The present electorate are highly intelligent and are provided with full details about candidates on their television screens and newspapers. I am firmly of the view that, regardless of what canvassing may be undertaken outside polling stations, it does not change the mind of one in one hundred people who enter that polling station. I have witnessed gurriers from different parties — perhaps mine included — attempt to change voters' minds on entering polling stations. I have also witnessed active, perhaps overenthusiastic, party workers press leaflets into the hands and pockets of voters, mesmerising them to such an extent that those same people must often question why they came out to vote at all. I contend that if anything was geared to deter a voter from entering a polling station and casting his or her vote it would be that outlandish conduct which we public representatives here should not tolerate. We should make it known to everybody that it is the intention under the provisions of this Bill to allow every voter, irrespective of party, class or creed, the right to walk into a polling station in a dignified manner, receive, mark and deposit their ballot paper in the ballot box, departing from the precinct with the same dignity.
It is my opinion that the regulation prohibiting canvassing within 50 metres of polling stations is a farce. For example, who will insist that that 50 metre regulation be observed? Will it be the Garda? We must remember that in many rural areas a Garda may have to oversee three or four polling stations because they may not be sufficient in number to cover polling stations individually. I predict that in the last half hour on polling day those 50 metres might well be reduced to five or even one metre from the polling station. Indeed, I have witnessed activists inside polling stations, practically following voters to the presiding officer in an  endeavour to convince them to give them their number one vote. The Minister should delete that 50 metre regulation altogether and totally ban such canvassing outside polling stations.
The last referendum held here was a very normal one when voters entered polling stations without anybody apprehending them, when they were loud in praise of that conduct, voicing the hope that they would see that same conduct adhered to in the course of all other elections here, which I am sure would be the wish of all Members of this House.
Dáil Éireann 423 Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage (Resumed).