Dáil Éireann - Volume 457 - 18 October, 1995

Electoral Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Killeen: Nuair a bhí mé ag caint ar an mBille Toghcháin aréir rinne mé dearmad ar chúpla pointe ginearálta a bhí i gceist agam a lua. Cuireadh meascán mearaí orm taréis an turais trí iarthar Chorcaí agus rinne mé dearmad orthu. Everyone who has spoken favours the establishment of a commission. However, there are other provisions that ought to have been considered in the context of this Bill. A number of Deputies referred to the necessity for improving the system of counting votes and ensuring more speedy results. This applies in particular to recounts. There is no reason not to consider using the available modern technology which is used successfully in other countries. Apparently our electoral system, with the transfer of votes, makes that relatively difficult but I am quite sure it could be incorporated in the system and it ought to be.

There has been a substantial number of complaints about the difficulties voters experience in locating the access point to the polling station. That applies in particular during winter elections when the lighting in the vicinity may not be particularly good and arises from the provisions of the 1992 Act which outlaw the erection of posters in the vicinity of the polling station. If this is to continue it is incumbent on us to ensure that people who take the trouble to go to vote should be able to find the polling station without an embarrassing search for it. The election count is of great interest to many people but access to it is generally limited.

Section 5 (d) states, “the breaching of county boundaries shall be avoided as far as practicable”, but there are occasions when it is impossible not to do [307] so. In that instance it would seem sensible to provide that local electoral wards or local election area boundaries would not be breached and if it was necessary to transfer a part of a county into a new constituency an entire local electoral area or an election ward would be transferred. I believe there is very good reason to extend the remit of the commission to examining local electoral areas. There have been changes in these areas on a number of occasions and sometimes this has resulted in the creation of local electoral areas that do not appear to have anything in common and are of such a configuration that it is difficult to give an explanation.

Last night I referred to section 37 which sets out the penalties for offences under the Bill. Section 37 (5) states:

It shall be a defence to a prosecution under subsection (2) (a) to show that a person did not know and could not reasonably have known that he or she incurred election expenses above the specified limit.

While I have no difficulty with the limits because there is no danger I could aspire to spend £12,000 on an election in a four seat constituency, this provision in a sense makes a mockery of the entire section and strengthens my view that it is only a sop to the people because it is feared that State payments to political parties might be unpopular and come under attack. I believe it is very poorly thought out and will lead to a huge amount of frustrating paperwork. Inevitably when there is litigation the defence will try to show that the candidate could not reasonably have known that this expenditure was being made on his behalf. This seems to imply that there could never be a successful prosecution. Subsection (6) provides:

Proceedings for an offence under this Part shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The DPP undoubtedly would be likely to judge that subsection (5) would [308] make it impossible to have anyone successfully prosecuted under this Bill.

Whereas there is a limit on the expenditure of candidates there does not appear to be any attempt to limit the influence of those who engage in anti-candidate activities. It may well be difficult to legislate for this but I submit it is no more difficult than legislating for the limit to be imposed on candidates. It could in certain circumstances have a much more serious effect on the outcome of an election. People may tend to think that this is unlikely to happen but there are lobby groups who may be deeply offended by a politician who takes a view opposite from theirs. During the 1991 local elections a letter was circulated in part of my constituency by a group who felt that my views on an issue did not accord with theirs and this had a substantial effect. There are specific constraints on the candidate who puts his name forward for election and the lobby groups who wish to influence the outcome should come under the ambit of the Bill.

Provision has been made for those who are unable to attend their polling station and this is very welcome. There are people who wish to exercise their franchise but genuinely would be unable to do so because of their occupation — third level students would be the largest number affected. They tend to live a distance from their home area and have relatively little interest in the electoral area in which they reside but would have a strong interest in their home area. Making provision for them is fraught with difficulties and is open to abuse. I very much welcome the proposed changes which will be successful if they are carefully monitored. It is only right that those who are genuinely interested in voting should be facilitated.

Mr. E. Walsh: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Electoral Bill, 1994 and wish to address all five headings of it, the establishment of the commission, the funding of political parties, [309] the provisions relating to disclosure of payments to political parties, the proposed limits on election expenditure by political parties and candidates, and the provision of voting arrangements for people who have difficulty in voting because of their employment.

I welcome the proposal to set up a commission because all politicians have to live with the possibility that their constituency will be dramatically altered as a result of population changes with the consequent danger of losing their seat. This is a significant factor given that nowadays most people involved in politics invest a substantial amount of their time in that profession. The existence of a commission would remove any public suspicion about the changing of constituencies, and politicians would be assured that any changes would be fair and above board.

There are dangers inherent in making changes to constituency boundaries which we must recognise. Politicians may have difficulty in committing themselves to representing particular areas when changes are pending and that may be detrimental to their political future. For example, in my constituency of Dublin South-West, there has been a debate as to whether Clondalkin should be part of that constituency, and the uncertainty has made it difficult to properly represent the people living there. That is not to say that the politicians in Dublin South-West short-change the electorate, but there is a perception among the people that they are not receiving the representation to which they are entitled.

I wish also to address the question of overlapping of constituency and local electoral boundaries which makes it difficult for the public to identify their public representatives. For example, the large Terenure electoral area crosses the two constituencies of Dublin South-West and Dublin South-Central. A candidate elected to the county council may have been elected to the Dáil from a different base, and people may be confused by the fact that they are represented on the county council by two [310] representatives from different Dáil constituencies. Such questions should be considered when drawing up constituency boundaries and, if possible, local electoral areas should be totally encompassed in Dáil constituencies. That would solve the difficulties I outlined.

My final point on the commission is that the names of places in district electoral divisions should be clearer because occasionally the public are unable to understand the terms used in creating the electoral divisions inside each constituency. Attention should be paid to that when providing for constituency reviews.

The second heading I would like to deal with is the provision of funding for political parties. This is a significant step forward as it will enable us to become more professional in the business of politics and not have to depend on charitable donations in order to continue with the very important job of upholding the democratic process and representing people nationally and locally.

The many members of political parties will understand the difficulties involved in fund-raising. In rural areas annual collections for political parties are taken up outside churches. In the city, where I am mostly involved, we have to knock on doors seeking donations to enable us continue our work in the democratic process. People find it difficult to understand why anybody involved in politics should have to do that because there is an assumption that politicians are in some way or another a part of Government and, therefore, have access to funding. However, the fact that we will be funded by the State and that the amounts will be clearly specified will give people more confidence in the political process and give a sense of professionalism to the business of upholding the democratic process and representing people at local and national level.

The third item I would like to address relates to the disclosure of donations. It is important that we make the public [311] aware of all details relating to financing. People have been reluctant to disclose donations because of the implication that there were strings attached to it, and that anyone making a donation was in danger of being accused of trying to influence issues in which a public representative was involved. The requirement to disclose donations will eliminate that difficulty.

I should like to mention briefly the proposal to limit the expenditure of parties and candidates at election time, another significant and important step forward. People are sick and tired of the useless but expensive glossy literature that is put in such large amounts through their letterboxes. It is no wonder they are cynical about political parties and their sources of funding. We must think about the waste involved when politicians are able to present their case through today's modern media. There is a difference between the city and rural areas which I should mention. In rural areas politicians have access to local radio and local newspapers. In Dublin city they do not have access to those two important vehicles for imparting information, and this should be taken into account.

My final point relates to the fact that for the first time we are recognising the efforts people make to cast their votes by including a provision to allow them do so in whatever way they can. That important step will enhance the democratic process and ensure that those who are eager to cast their vote are given the Opportunity to do so. I hope this will set a trend for those who live close to polling stations but do not bother to vote.

An Ceann Comhairle: I apologise for interrupting the Deputy, but does he intend to share time?

Mr. E. Walsh: I apologise, Sir, I should have mentioned at the outset that I wish to share my time with Deputy Crowley?

[312] An Ceann Comhairle: Is it agreed that the Deputy in possession may share time with Deputy Crowley? Agreed.

Mr. E. Walsh: The Bill is a step towards ensuring that the democratic process is well served by our political system, and the public support that through the ballot box. It allows the process of representation to continue and ensures the public is well served at national and local level.

Mr. Crowley: I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to contribute and I also thank Deputy Walsh for sharing time with me. I welcome the Bill for a number of reasons. It is good for democracy and will ensure the public is aware that power and political donations are not abused. Many large companies, particularly in Great Britain, donate up to £250,000 to political parties. They do not do so for the good of their health, they expect something in return. This Bill, which caps contributions to political parties at £4,000, will prohibit such donations being made here. We must not allow the public to become cynical about politicians. If people hear rumours about a company contributing, say, £50,000 or £100,000 to a particular party, they will wonder why.

While I welcome the provision regarding the amount of money a candidate can spend in the run-up to an election, how will it be enforced? Must candidates take into account money spent on meals and drinks? If so, it will be impossible for candidates, their agents or the political parties with which they are involved to determine the amount of money spent. That provision is impractical.

Candidates standing for election incur a great deal of expense, probably more than when they are elected. If the deposit for standing in elections is too large, people will believe politics is a rich man's club and if it is too small many candidates with no hope of being elected will stand for election. More consideration should be given to this matter. During one of the last elections [313] a candidate stood in five or six constituencies. That is crazy and the Bill will not make it more difficult for people to do likewise in the future. The candidate in question was not elected.

We should devise a more efficient system for counting votes. The count continued for four or five days following the last general election and this is cruel for the candidates involved. In the United States, Great Britain and various other places the result of the count is available at approximately midnight on polling day, thus reducing the number of hours candidates and their supporters spend anxiously waiting for a result. It is not too late, consideration should be given to this matter in the Bill.

I do not know why voting in general, local authority, Presidential and European elections cannot be done on Sundays. That would alleviate many of the difficulties for truck drivers, fishermen and others who are away from home during the week and would add substantially to the number of people who cast their votes. It would be worthwhile to hold at least one election on a Sunday to determine if the number of voters increased. While a facility has been provided for people who work away from home they do not know where they will be from one week to the next and more consideration should be given to the question of Sunday voting.

Public funding of political parties is long overdue. It will eliminate the perception that something sleazy or peculiar is taking place. It is extremely difficult for members of parties to knock on doors asking for contributions year after year when the public are becoming more cynical about them. I hope the provision regarding public funding will restore people's respect for political parties and politicians in general.

Since the foundation of the State a number of Presidents, for various reasons, did not complete their terms of office. Will the Minister consider providing a facility whereby people could vote for a vice-president as well as for a president in Presidential elections. The public would welcome such a facility [314] and if the president elected did not serve his or her full time, a total of £1 million or more would be saved. I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister on introducing it.

Mr. Lawlor: The late Congressman Tip O'Neill, probably a good friend of the Chair's, in his famous statement claimed that all politics are local. It is understandable that when politicians speak about boundary commissions, revision of boundaries and so on, they reflect on their personal experiences. In your long and distinguished career, Sir, County Tipperary has been divided in many ways. The revision of boundaries dominates the thinking of most politicians when discussing this type of legislation. My first awareness of the meaning of such divisions was during the period of the 1973-77 Government when the late Minister for Local Government, Jim Tully, initiated a review of boundaries. He opted for small three seat constituencies, the reverse of the present strategy, but we opposed his decision because we felt it was the gerrymander of all times.

In the late 1960, my party, under the then Minister for Local Government, Mr. Kevin Boland, was accused of undertaking similar boundary reviews. The revision conducted under Mr. James Tully created a great furore. We were competing vigorously to return to power. We saw the three seat constituency strategy as being unhelpful to our ambitions and intentions and vigorously opposed what the Minister had proposed, so much so that we talked ourselves into what the incoming Government in 1977 had committed itself to in the heat of the debate in objection to the boundary review of the 1973-77 period. We set down a market that never again should the politicians with the responsibility for boundary revisions be left a free hand. We committed ourselves before the electorate to introduce a boundary review commission. The incoming Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, followed through and we are now casting that particular decision into a more [315] formal structure of legislation with this Bill before the House.

As time has proven, our concerns, objections to and negative comments about the review undertaken by the late Mr. Tully were completely unfounded. The Irish Times, on the morning of the count of the 1977 general election, had a headline that the Coalition was to be returned to power by the narrowest of margins, when we in effect had a 20 seat majority.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): And they lampooned the promised spending.

Mr. Lawlor: It pales in significance against Dr. FitzGerald's prolific spending when he got his opportunity, but that is not the issue.

The issue before us is that we collectively assumed it was not correct for a politician in a ministerial position to have the right to review boundary constituencies. We are dealing with the practical realities and looking back over the works of the boundary review commission.

I understand the complex task that such a commission has and how it wishes to strike a balance. Members of the commission rightly see elected Members of the Dáil as national legislators. They do not see it as a great infringement on the role of a national legislator if a local boundary is moved or there is a slight breach in a county boundary because of the constitutional requirements. They see the Members of Dáil Éireann being elected to do a legislative duty and they assume that local government representation covers these local areas. That is the theoretical aspect of the work a boundary review commission undertakes.

I come from a constituency that is unique in that, in the early 1970s, it was decided that the west side of Dublin would be the area to take the substantial population growth. As a result, three new satellite towns were proposed: Tallaght, Clondalkin/Lucan and Blanchardstown. They were in a unique [316] category within the overall strategic planning for population placement. The satellite town of Tallaght was projected in 1972 to have a population of 100,000 by 1991 and the other two satellite towns were to do likewise. With the oil crisis of the 1970s, emigration and other factors, the population growth did not meet the original target but went reasonably close.

Tallaght's population grew to in excess of 70,000 and is now probably creeping up to the originally intended 100,000. The two satellite towns of Clondalkin/Lucan and Blanchardstown happen to be in my constituency and, despite what I thought were logical, competent, and comprehensive submissions to the boundary commission on two occasions, it sought to ignore the logic of integrating these satellite towns in one Dáil constituency. Part of Clondalkin is in Dublin South-West and north Clondalkin is in Dublin West. A canal, an artificially created waterway, was used as a boundary. I understand that, when it comes to the mathematics of boundary reviews, the commission or its advisers and statisticians come up with various options as to how the balance can be achieved.

I also believe that the terms of reference which state that the large five seat constituencies should be in urban areas should be looked at. I do not understand the reasoning behind that decision, but it has been written into the terms of reference for the various boundary commissions. As a result, there has not been a competent conclusion, for understandable mathematical reasons. The commission has an unenviable task and it will not please everybody. Its task is to produce a revision reflecting the population movements. In Mayo, because of its falling population level, the boundary commission was left with no choice but to revert to a five seat constituency, reducing the number of Deputies by one. The boundary review commission is constrained by the constitutional requirements and that was the conclusion it [317] came to. The commission should probably be given more flexible terms of reference. If the terms of reference restrict the consideration of a logical argument, the commission cannot consider the strategic importance of a satellite town, the need for cohesion and the need for logical representation.

It is a practical fact of political life that the interrelationship between the national and local political systems is unique. In the UK and various other countries, the local and national political systems are not so closely inter-woven as is the case in Ireland. The single transferable vote, the multi-seat constituency, the regularity of change between colleagues within parties, local councillor colleagues standing on the same tickets with outgoing Dáil Deputies and the internal competition and rivalry mean there is a close, interrelated, competitive situation in Irish politics, which is unique.

When looking at the boundary commission's work, it is difficult to reflect these political considerations. This is why every elected Member goes into detail about his or her specific situation and how illogical they regard certain decisions of various boundary commissions. The terms of reference should not be as restrictive as in the past.

I want to refer briefly to what I assume is possible but does not yet seem to have been given effect to. That is the change brought about by legislation introduced by the then Minister for the Environment, and current European Commissioner, Padraig Flynn which changed various electoral procedures — including activities at polling stations and other matters — like legislation introduced by another former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith.

We have relaxed the rules for people who are justifiably entitled to vote but who were denied it. In the past, well known members of the public often complained that their names were not on the electoral register even though they had been voting for 20 years. They [318] were disenfranchised because of a mistake. I hope the Bill will introduce an understandable flexibility giving a returning officer, or whoever is formally responsible for the polling station, the discretion to grant the right to vote to a legitimate elector on production of a driving licence, passport or some other authenticated documentation.

The fact that it may be possible to produce almost instant election results by the computerised reading of ballot papers will provoke negative comment. It will probably phase out the mystique of the tallymen and their ability to forecast transfers of second and third preferences which determine the remaining seats in constituencies. The role of the tallyman has become a unique achievement in Irish political folklore. One hears of elections in France and Germany where polling stations close at 9 p.m. and the final result is known by 10.30 p.m. or shortly after. Such countries have sophisticated computerised count procedures and I am sure there is room for such improvement here.

The formalising and regularising of many such matters in this legislation is desirable. I welcome the Bill in principle. We have taken an irreversible step since the establishment of the boundary commission in the 1977-81 period of Government.

I have great reservations about the continual diminution of elected politicians' responsibilities and their delegation to various other supposedly independent experts because politicians, unlike the others, are accountable. I do not know of any other profession where you are automatically sacked every four years or so and then have to reapply for your job. If that is not on-line accountability I do not know what is.

We have decided that the elected politician should not have that function which instead will go to a team of experts known as a boundary review commission but I do not believe the work they have done has been any more spectacular than when it was in the hands of politicians. It just means that if it is done by the politicians it is open [319] to political criticism and a much more intense debate in the House. In practical terms one will not please everybody in undertaking this task. In comparing the work of politicians and the boundary review commission in this regard, the terms of reference should be relaxed to achieve an acceptable conclusion to the complex and difficult task facing any such commission.

I welcome the Bill which will regularise many deficiencies as well as being more flexible about the voting rights of those who, through no fault of their own, are away from their home areas on polling day. That sort of flexibility is most desirable.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Níl meas ag go leor daoine ar pholaiteoirí agus tá sin go huafásach i slí amháin. B'fhéidir gur orainn féin atá an locht agus ba chóir go ndéanfaimís gach iarracht anseo sa Dáil an obair a chur ar aghaidh i slí is go mbeadh meas ag na daoine orainn.

Nuair a bhíonn rí-rá sa Dáil bíonn spórt de shaghas éigin ag na páirtithe anseo agus ceapann gach taobh gur acu féin a bhí an bua. Ach ó thaobh na ndaoine de — na daoine a bhíonn ag féachaint ar an eachtra ar an teilifís nó ag éisteacht leis ar an raidió nó ag léamh faoi — ní dóigh liom go ndéanann sé maitheas ar bith dúinne nuair a fheiceann siad cad tá ar siúl. Uaireannta bímid féin ar strae ag ceapadh go bhfuil na daoine ag féachaint go géar orainn nó ag léamh fúinn nó ag déanamh staidéir ar cad tá ar siúl.

Ní bhíonn fhios ag na daoine uaireannta cad tá ar siúl anseo. Ceapann siad nach mbíonn ar siúl uaireannta ach pleidhcíocht nuair a bhíonn rí-rá anseo. Tá argóint nádúrtha go leor don Dáil ach má leanann sé ar aghaidh ró-fhada ní dhéanann sé maitheas dúinne.

Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh an daonlathas ag dul ar aghaidh go breá agus go ciallmhar. Tá go leor tíortha nach bhfuil an daonlathas iontu. Níl cead acu na Teachtaí Dála a thoghadh. Bhí bua iontach ag Saddam Hussein sa [320] reifrean in Iraq. Ní bheadh sé sin oiriúnach do aon tír eile ach amháin don tír ina bhfuil sé agus níl sé oiriúnach don tír sin ach oiread.

Tá iachall orainn go léir an obair a chur ar aghaidh go ciallmhar agus go macánta. Má chailleann mórán daoine eile pé meas atá acu orainn faoi láthair beimid go léir i dtrioblóid.

For that reason it is important to view that change in a sensible way. The constituency review commission must also be sensible in its approach. Previous speakers referred to the fact that when constituency revision was done politically it provoked outrage. No matter who carries out such a review it is not easy to do it without offending someone.

I have difficulty with the terms of reference given to the commission “to protect county boundaries as far as possible” because in the case of Carlow — the second smallest county with a population of just 40,000 — the commission deliberately decided to shift some of our number to another constituency. It decided it would not break county boundaries in Kilkenny, Waterford or Tipperary region, and when it came to Wicklow decided it would not break the Dublin county boundary even though 3,500 people out of the population of Dublin is a drop in the ocean.

Despite the terms of reference and the sacredness with which they held the county boundaries of Dublin, Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny intact, the commission decided to transfer 3,500 people from Carlow to Wicklow. I do not appreciate the fact that it moved almost 10 per cent of our county while preserving much bigger counties. In the case of Dublin, which has several constituencies and is broken into different sections, it decided it would not break the county boundary to help Wicklow. Dublin and Wicklow have almost unbroken stretches of population and housing.

It is important for the constituency review commission to be set up as an independent body with independent views, but I am not sure it is infallible [321] either. We can, of course, blame Ministers who, if they did something like this, would be suspected of doing it for political purposes. An example of what is wrong with constituency reviews is Roscommon where the River Shannon divides a European constituency.

This Bill contains much detail about the contributions Deputies and candidates receive. It gives the impression that we look forward to elections because the postman will bring envelopes full of money and people will ask us to accept £1,000 or £5,000 and we will not have to disclose it. That is a terrible impression of what happens during elections. Anyone who has been a candidate knows it is an expensive time. While some people may be lucky to receive cheques, most people are in debt after the elections. I am sure most people would not object to taking £490 from a willing donor. In tightening up this area, we are giving the impression that all Deputies receive money.

Politicians are under a great deal of pressure, particularly at election time when people tell them they will not get any of the 150 votes in an area unless they do what is requested of them. If a candidate has no independent means and relies on his Dáil salary, he will be under pressure to do something with which he might not agree. I am glad many people have something other than a Dáil salary to fall back on.

It will be a disaster if business people cannot get involved in politics because we need their experience in borrowing, interest rates and investments. We may have theories, but we have no practical experience. People may declare their interests so that the Opposition knows how well or how badly they are doing, but it will not encourage business people to get involved in politics.

There will be great difficulty assessing the value of contributions, although there is no trouble counting money. If a candidate receives £40,000 in donations, he should resign from politics and invest it or go to a warmer climate. The Bill includes a provision to assess the value of contributions. Are there different [322] categories of contribution? If someone is unemployed and wants to canvass, is he assessed as having contributed a certain amount? How will a person who takes holidays to canvass be assessed? There will be problems if people do not agree with such assessments.

Advertising is a waste in most cases. Some years ago political parties thought that if a competing party had a full page advertisement in the newspaper, it needed a page and a half the following day. Common sense now seems to prevail. Advertisements in newspapers are only of interest to a party's activists; those who have no interest in politics will not read them. I do not know why newspapers increase their advertising charges during an election since political parties no longer think it is worth the price to advertise because the people to whom they want to talk will probably not read it.

Posters had desecrated the countryside for years. I pay tribute to all the political parties who take down their posters after an election. Posters, which may be lying around until 9 o'clock, are gone by 9.30 p.m. The new regulations mean that people go out of their way to ensure that posters are removed. In the past smaller parties paid someone to put up posters. There would be posters all over the place for a candidate who might get 200 votes. Posters or advertising campaigns do not play a role in the election of individual candidates. We must stand on our record and on whether the people believe we contribute to our democracy. It is no harm to put a limit on what people spend, although parties have more commonsense nowadays. At one time advertising gave the impression of strength, but now the quality of the advertising makes a difference.

There is no reference to holding elections at a certain time but serious consideration should be given to holding elections at weekends. Sunday was mentioned, but that may not suit some people because of their religious beliefs. The referendum is to be held on a Friday and that is a good idea because [323] people home for the weekend will be able to vote. Midweek elections do not suit so many people.

Certain speakers mentioned how long election counts take. It seems to take twice as long if one is a candidate waiting for transfers.

Mr. Deasy: The secret is to get elected on the first count.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): There is only one Deputy Deasy in this House, although we would all like to be in his position.

It is difficult to introduce the European system of voting. While we hope to modernise our proportional representation system, it is not as easy as it seems. It is amazing to watch European elections and to see the results coming in so quickly. Proportional representation by single transferable vote is not an easy system.

I compliment the tally people who know the results of elections well in advance. Some years ago my colleague, Deputy Nealon, beat the computers on television by forecasting the results, although he was not doing a tally at the time. People have a nose for these things and it fascinates me how accurate the tally can be. Tallymen leave aside political allegiances and tell the story as they see it. I have often looked at the figures after an election in my constituency and it is amazing how close the tally figures are to the final results. Although this is a skill, people must be careful. Whenever the possibility of transfers occurs political bias may enter but it is incredible what can be done on the first count.

I very much welcome the provisions of Part VII allowing people unable to attend polling stations to vote by post although in the past farcical circumstances arose when people, actively involved in politics, who regarded their franchise as a very serious matter, were unable to exercise it because of their working hours, hospital appointments or the like.

[324] Likewise, circumstances arose in towns bordering on neighbouring counties when some people acted as presiding officers in a different constituency and were unable to vote. Everybody interested in casting their vote should be afforded every facility to do so. We should ensure no barrier is placed in their way although many people though living within five yards of a polling station, are not interested in exercising their franchise.

There was a reference to some voters' names being omitted from the register, an earlier decision to introduce a voting list within some 14 days of election day is an enormous achievement, by which time most electors will know whether their names have been included. From the point of view of candidates the last two weeks of an election campaign afford them an opportunity of meeting their constituents and informing them whether their names are included on the voting list. It is very embarrassing when somebody whose name has been on the register for years finds it has been omitted. I made the case here before, reiterated by Deputy Lawlor, that some method should be devised by which the registrar should have power to allow an elector, who may have lived in the same area for anything up to 50 years, an opportunity to cast his or her vote. While recognising that the compilation of the late voting list may have eliminated that difficulty no doubt the names of some electors will continue to be omitted.

The onus to ensure the list is comprehensive and up-to-date is on those who compile it and ensure that what may have obtained over the preceding 30 or 40 years is not changed without good and adequate reasons. In my constituency I remember two important people coming to a polling station to discover their names omitted from the list, which is unfair to them, an embarrassment to everybody and gives a wrong impression. As so many people have no interest in exercising their franchise, we should endeavour to ensure that any [325] voter who does turn up is afforded his or her right when qualified to do so.

I particularly welcome the proposal in the Bill for public funding of political parties thus rendering them more independent in many aspects. This Bill is long overdue and will save many people having to attend meetings, sell raffle tickets and engage in other collections.

Mr. Doherty: While generally welcomed by all Members this Bill raises important questions about our overall electoral system and its attendant difficulties for all politicians. It is now well recognised that, to a large extent, our electoral system generates enormous pessures on individual politicians, creates confrontational type politics, necessitating an extraordinary expenditure of energy within a competitive arena that yields little and does not contribute anything to Members' primary legislative function. These must be reflected on within the context of this Bill.

In the past all sides of the House have been slow to protect the institution of politics. On many occasions, Members have abused, insulted and demeaned one another in the public eye, tending to get away with it, on the basis that it is politics and expected of them.

For some considerable time in excess of one million of our population have been in full-time education but we must acknowledge that the public does not respect us for what we have done to the institution of politics by exploiting a bad system. After all, politics should be, and I believe is, a noble profession. Generally I believe Members want to make a valuable contribution which many do in difficult personal circumstances. They are subjected to extraordinary pressures, costs, obligations and duties, engaging in a role that intrudes enormously on their time outside the House which means they may get little recognition for their efforts, an essential component of political life.

While the perception of politicians worldwide is poor, I hope it is somewhat [326] better here. Nonetheless, media concentration on politics within a society as confined as ours is very obvious. For example, on radio, at 8 a.m. beginning with the early morning news, we are introduced to the first political debate of the day, proceeding to light entertainment programmes in which politics can take a small, medium or large part, followed by the news at 1 o'clock, incorporating political debates of one kind or another. Again at 5 o'clock in the evening, politics often make the headlines and, on television later on, there is further political debate. Therefore, it is vital that there is a political institution in place which protects its members who give valuable service, make a real contribution, thus ensuring their profession is not diminished. I know of no other profession that would tolerate so many false, untrue and inaccurate perceptions being created in the public mind.

I met a second level female student recently who, among other things, was engaged in studying the representation of politics and politicians, people inclined to be perceived as wrongdoers, somewhat shady or dodgy types. It is indeed tragic that our second-level student population should be exposed to a curriculum that would misrepresent and create a general impression of politics that would diminish in the public eye politicians and the institution of politics.

While the Bill makes a valuable contribution, it raises a series of questions about issues which must be addressed if we are to protect this institution. At the commencement of the summer recess we hear media comments that politicians have gone on long holidays. A check list is presented on who has gone where and the next question asked is who has gone with them. The fact that committees of the Houses meet until the end of July and reconvene in early September or that political constituency work continues appears to be ignored. Our political system requires Deputies to continue to do political work not as [327] legislators but as public representatives in their constituencies.

We all recognise that we do not have any of the great powers often attributed to us. Ministers have significant and special constitutional powers, more particularly in the context of their Government or Cabinet function. As individuals, they are governed strictly by legislation and established practices. Dáil Deputies have a collective legislative role to play and while numbers are the basis on which legislation proceeds through the House, the power of backbenchers or members of Opposition parties is no more than the important one of highlighting issues and making the opposing case to impress upon the Minister the need to make changes.

Many people outside the House have important legislative functions and jobs. They are not compelled by ethics legislation to behave in a particular way or refrain from engaging in certain activities. On many occasions I made complaints in that regard. For example, local authority engineering staff should not engage in outside work which could conflict with their duties if they were dealing directly with the processing of planning applications. Others who have responsibility for enforcing legislation should be required to maintain an ethical distance from private enterprises in which they might have an interest in the performance of their work on behalf of the State or the public service. Those matters must be dealt with.

Professionals, such as solicitors, doctors, teachers and so on, on election to the House must end their involvement in their private employment to the detriment of their business due to the pressure of political work. We have seen repeatedly that after one, two or three years such Members are turfed out and in many instances do not have a successful business to which to return. The business may have failed or suffered some loss. In that regard, small businesses are at serious risk and the absence of the person in charge may have serious consequences. Allowances, [328] protections or fail safe mechanisms are not provided for such Members.

This Bill must be considered in the context of what we want to achieve. It should not be introduced as a legislative formula to prevent corrupt practices as if they were an every day occurrence in the political system. We know that is not the case and that is a hallmark of the quality of those who are elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas and an acknowledgement of the quality of our electorate who elect them.

Some aspects of the Bill will create serious difficulties in the future. We must acknowledge that it is necessary and proper to introduce some controls, limits and require accountability for contributions made to political parties. Small political parties or individuals whose personal financial positions may prohibit them entering politics should not suffer as a result of changes that may be introduced. It is increasingly the case that unless one is well-heeled one will encounter great difficulty in getting elected and participating in this House on a full time basis, now a requirement for all Dáil Deputies.

There are no professional back-up services, research facilities and so on. Dáil Deputies' salaries are despicably low. Apart from the provision of a secretary and some technology in Members' offices, little or no allowances or facilities are provided. With the exception of a small allowance of approximately £2,000 per annum, Deputies must pay the costs of their telephone calls. That does not make a real contribution to the cost of providing a constituency service. Those who are aware of telecommunication costs in private businesses will recognise the cost that must be borne by Dáil Deputies to service their constituents. That will remain the position until we change our electoral system to one that will allow us be legislators in the real sense rather than play our other role, often described as that of a messenger boy.

The imposition of limits on contributions give rise to considerations about [329] the setting of limits and their effects. I do not believe that such limitations will create serious problems, but I am concerned about how such a system will be monitored. How can we ensure the necessary requirements are met to provide for accountability in law? Such a system will require the recruitment of a new inspectorate to deal with the resulting correspondence, invoices and necessary accounting processes. It will not be possible or realistic to administer such a system in a constituency in which there may be nine, ten or 14 candidates whose agents will be required to submit various receipts. We are exposing that system. Those who may not like a Deputy will be in a position to make accusations and, in the case of politicians, they do not always have to be proved. To point the finger is sufficient on occasions to create the wrong perception and we will run into this type of difficulty. Frivolous or false charges may be made against individual politicians.

It has been acknowledged that traditional fund raising takes up much of a politician's time and most funds are expended at election time. Usually these have come from the people who support the party by attending party run functions. We will now have to account for all of those functions and show the source of all funding if it exceeds certain limitations. This is ridiculous and it is impossible to comply with.

If Deputies engage in professional lobbying, which is a feature of politics in Europe and throughout the world, and become involved on a fee basis or as a business, will they have to make disclosures and account for what they are doing? As a business I presume they would make their returns to the Revenue Commissioners in the normal course of events. There can easily be conflicts here. Persons may engage in a function that may not necessarily be taken into account in this legislation. That should be examined on Committee Stage.

The independent commission has to be looked at in the context of what it [330] will achieve. As our spokesman, Deputy Noel Dempsey, pointed out, that the commission is not described as “independent”, as provided for in the Ethics in Public Office Act, is significant. To ensure that an improper meaning is not read into this, it should be described as “independent”. Also there should be a time limit on the introduction of legislation dealing with any report produced.

There must be a better way of ensuring that the integration of a county or a region is not destroyed by the redrawing of constituency boundaries. It is terrible that a Dáil Deputy who has worked diligently and made a real contribution can lose his or her seat at the stroke of a pen in the boundary commission but I do not know how it can be avoided. Health boards, tourism boards, regional IDA authorities and all the regionally based semi-State agencies should be recognised and constituencies within the regions should not be damaged.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we have done well in Longford-Roscommon in that both of us have been returned as Dáil Deputies. I avail of the opportunity to say there is little doubt but that you will be returned the next time, whatever about myself. I will have to rely on your surplus.

Mr. Crawford: I wish to share time with Deputy Séamus Pattison.

Acting Chairman (Mr. T. Foxe): I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

Mr. Crawford: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is important to recognise there have been problems within the electoral system as well as some financial problems for all concerned.

On the issues raised in the explanatory memorandum I take the point made by the previous speaker about the danger of a statutory commission changing a constituency which could mean that somebody would not be elected at the next election. That is much easier to accept if it is done by an independent commission rather than by the party in [331] power. The independent commission has much to offer and has proved to be a useful body. It is important that it is now being put on a statutory basis.

The previous speaker also referred to confrontation. There is no doubt the present system leads to confrontation within constituencies. It is unfortunate that people are returned in many cases, solely because of the amount of work they do and the number of public meetings they attend in their constituencies and that others lose their seats because they are unable to attend public functions in areas where they are expected to work. That leads to confrontation not between parties but within parties. I welcome the fact that our five seat constituency in Cavan-Monaghan has not been changed. The boundary is intact and we do not experience the problems about which others have spoken regarding council areas crossing the boundaries etc. To cover a vast area from the upper end of Cavan at Glangevlin to Inniskeen on the Dundalk side is an enormous task.

Mr. Kirk: We will take a slice of it at any time.

Mr. Crawford: That it has to be covered if one is to retain one's seat creates a major workload for any person. It means there is no question of Deputies putting time into studying the legislative programme, planning for the future and many other things we should do. However, the system is much better than that in the North or across the water in the UK where they operate a first past the post system. This means that the Liberal Party, which has a proud record at local government level, fails to get virtually any recognition in national government elections and this is unfair. While our system has some limitations and needs to be re-examined the other system is definitely worse.

I welcome that the referendum on divorce will be held on a Friday. It gives students and young people in jobs an opportunity to vote. In almost every [332] rural area bus loads of young people travel to Dublin every Monday morning and return home on Friday evenings. The possibility of polling booths remaining open for an extra hour should be examined. This would facilitate even more voters. I would not like elections to be held on a Sunday. That would be a retrograde step for all concerned.

I wish to refer to the issue of payments to political parties. The Bill is a major step forward in that regard for a number of reasons. Political party meetings will no longer be taken up with discussing the question of fundraising. They will now be free to discuss the real needs of the country and what they should be doing to address them. There will no longer be any need for church gate and other outdoor collections and we can rely on party functions to raise the money needed to run our constituencies.

Political parties should not be run by people donating money in bags; they should be run independently. In the past, people donating large sums of money demanded — and no doubt received — preferential treatment from politicians. That leads to undue pressure which is not for the benefit of politics in general. For election purposes, proper disclosure of funds will be required. I agree with previous speakers who said this may lead to some problems because of the possibility that money may not be easily traced, but it is a step forward which must be welcomed.

It is not appropriate that people must have a wealthy background or be in contact with prominent business people to remain in this House. The provision in regard to funds for electoral purposes and party structures is welcome.

The method by which Deputies are elected to this House is important for democracy. Deputies should be elected because of their ability and the work they can do on behalf of their constituencies, not because they have close friends in high places. The Bill goes a long way to rectify any such problem which existed in the past, although I am [333] not saying it did. In comparing the current salaries of Dáil Deputies to those of senior civil servants or others, it must be remembered that we are answerable to the public seven days a week, 365 days a year. That puts an enormous burden on politicians and particularly on their families. I support the suggestion that we must examine the possibility of providing research workers and general backup facilities to Deputies and Senators. If that does not happen, democracy will suffer in the long term.

I wish to comment on the change in the voting system for those who are required to be away from home at the time of an election, including people working in the transport area, fishermen, etc. In the past, I engaged in lobbying at EU level and was unable to vote in a number of elections, which annoyed me greatly. When can those people who may not know where they will be on polling day apply for a postal vote? That is an important question. We now have a provision whereby people not on the register three weeks before an election can have their names added to it, but I am not sure of the process involved in adding to the register the names of people wanting a postal vote. If it is to be backdated to 24 November, it will be of little use to many people.

A previous speaker referred to the problems experienced by people with medical appointments. Some people are required to be in hospital at the time of an election but they may not get much notice of their admission. People who are required to attend meetings abroad often do not get much notice of them. Those people are often personally involved in electioneering and are committed to the democratic process. I ask the Minister to seriously examine this whole area before the Bill is finalised. I realise it will put pressure on the staff involved but it will be worthwhile. Where people can justify their absence from home at the time of an election, every effort should be made to facilitate them.

I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. It represents a major step forward [334] in the provision of funds and in regard to voting opportunities but I accept there will be problems in its implementation and in ensuring it works in a proper manner.

Mr. Pattison: I welcome the Bill. I have been a successful Dáil candidate in 11 general elections. I have fought by-elections, European elections and ten local elections. The only election remaining for me to contest is the presidential election.

This Bill is long overdue but my one criticism is that it does not go far enough. I welcome the setting up on a permanent basis of the constituency review committee. The establishment of this committee is the only way to tackle this problem. I realise its findings will always be subject to some criticism but it will invite submissions which will be seriously taken into account. That will continue to be the case. Some submissions may be more reasonable than others——

Mr. Gregory: That is unfair.

Mr. Pattison: ——but the commission is limited by the Constitution in what it can do.

When I first stood for election the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny included a large area of County Wexford, to be eligible as a five seater. That position obtained up to 1981 when we lost that portion of the County Wexford constituency because the population in Carlow-Kilkenny was sufficiently large for it to be retained as a five seater. However, the increasing population resulted in our losing part of the constituency on the last occasion which was regrettable. Despite the fact that we all knew we would have to lose some area, no submission was made to retain that part of County Carlow we subsequently lost. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if a submission had been made but we will never know.

Another nettle in our electoral system which we in this House will have to grasp concerns the issue of by-elections.

[335] We have dealt with the issue of by-elections in the context of elections to the European Parliament. Regardless of what party is in power, the Taoiseach, Ministers and Deputies from other constituencies migrate to the constituency in which the by-election is being held. The system for filling casual vacancies in multi-seat constituencies is not fair as it is essentially a straight voting system with a transferable vote and serious consideration must be given to devising a new system. By-elections invariably distort the level of support for parties and general elections, which are held on average every three of four years, should be a sufficient test of public opinion.

It would be very wrong if the Bill gave the impression that all one needed to be elected to this House was plenty of money. If I had to depend on money only I would never have been elected and could not have stayed here. Nonetheless, it is a major factor in helping political parties and ensuring that people in the democratic process do a proper job. Money is not the only prerequisite for election to Dáil Éireann or any other forum but it is important in ensuring that one has the necessary expertise to develop policies, criticise other policies, build up political programmes and keep them up-to-date. Times are changing and policies which were relevant some years ago may not be relevant today. This means that more expertise is required all the time.

I welcome the provision relating to disclosure as it will help to eliminate the false impressions created in the past and ensure that misleading information is not given out. In the 1961 and 1965 general elections it was legally binding on candidates to make a return of election expenses and for all election literature to contain the name of the election agent. I am not sure if Deputies will still be required to do this under the Bill. There has been a reference to issuing anonymous leaflets and newsletters and it should be illegal during an election campaign to issue a document which [336] does not contain the name of the person or agent who has issued it.

I welcome the new voting arrangements and the introduction of Friday voting which I hope will become a permanent feature of the electoral law. Political parties hold opinion polls prior to elections. I have never held one but I understand they are an expensive undertaking. Will they be included in election expenses? I welcome the Bill which is a major step forward in purifying the democratic system.

Mr. Gregory: I wish to share my time with Deputy Sargent.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gregory: I welcome the general spirit of the Bill but its detail leaves much to be desired. I am particularly concerned about the setting up of a central fund which will definitely favour the larger parties in the House. One could apply the term “cosy cartel” with a great deal more validity on this occasion than has been the case in recent times. The section dealing with the central fund is the direct product of a cosy cartel between the large parties in the House, namely Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. This is wrong and anti-democratic. As an Independent Deputy I am not here to speak for small parties but they have the same amount of research to carry out, the same amount of work to do, the same number of questions to put and the same number of Bills to respond to as large parties. If the central fund is being set up in the interests of democracy then there should be greater equity in how it is distributed between the various parties elected to this House.

The last thing I was elected to do was to represent the interests of parties. However, the logical extension of what I said is that Independent Deputies, who experience greater difficulty than anyone else in being elected — this can be seen from the number of us here — are treated with little more than contempt [337] in the Bill. This has dangerous implications. Section 15 (5) (a) states: “The Minister may, by regulations made with the consent of the Minister for Finance, provide for the payment in each year out of the Central Fund...in respect of the discharge of parliamentary functions to each non-party member of the Dáil who applies therefor”. The important word here is “may”; in other words, it will be at the discretion of the Minister as to whether an Independent Deputy, duly elected after great difficulty, may be funded from the central fund. When I was elected in 1982 all the major parties sought my support because I held the balance of power. This provision has very dangerous implications in that context. Consequently, the Minister should ensure that it is changed appropriately. I hope it will not be necessary for me to table an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure that.

The Bill states that allocations will be made from a central fund to allow Members discharge their parliamentary functions. In this context, a small party with one Member in this House should receive the same allocation as an Independent Member. I see no difference between the two. I am not happy with the proportion it is proposed to allocate to small parties. Consequently, I hope changes will be made on two fronts. I have to represent the interests of Independent Members in this regard.

I welcome the provision under which the electoral commission will be established on a statutory basis. The boundaries of my constituency have been altered dramatically, to such an extent that I find it difficult to understand how it could be described as Dublin Central. The arguments I made in submissions to previous electoral commissions were totally disregarded.

The electoral commission will comprise a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court, the Ombudsman, the secretary of the Department of the Environment and the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad. Of this grouping, the secretary of the Department of the Environment has access to critical resources, [338] information and back-up facilities. He or she is the one member who is aware of the effect changes in constituency boundaries can have on election results. I do not know whether the members of the electoral commission rubber stamp decisions when they come to agree the broad outlines of particular maps, but I hope they will consider this issue and ensure that no individual member will be able to exert undue influence. It is their duty and responsibility to ensure that this issue is resolved. It is a matter of grave concern that it is possible to determine the outcome of elections in different constituencies in favour of different parties and individuals. This matter has to be dealt with if the electoral commission is to have the support of all the Members of this House.

I am in favour of the proposal that elections should be held on Sundays. I do not know what the arguments against this are as it would give everyone an opportunity to cast their vote. There should be no electioneering, canvassing or issuing of leaflets and posters between Friday and Sunday. This is counterproductive as people are usually sick to death by the time election day arrives. While I welcome the fact that limits are to be imposed on election expenditure I would restrict all candidates to circulating one leaflet, poster and newspaper advertisement. If we fail to do this, the effectiveness of a campaign will be determined by the amount of money available to individual candidates and parties. This is anti-democratic.

Mr. Sargent: The principle behind this Bill is a noble one but, unfortunately, it is not carried through to its logical conclusion in order to prevent political favours being repaid by the exchange of funds. It is the perception of the public that where limits are not imposed and disclosure is not required there is an overwhelming temptation for vested interests to make donations to further a particular political point of view. This is unsatisfactory and undemocratic.

[339] There is a need to change specific provisions of the Bill. This could be done by way of simple amendments which I hope will be seriously considered. For example, in relation to donations by private companies, trade unions etc., the thresholds are very high. The figure of £4,000 for political parties should be reduced to no more than £1,000. Other members of my party argued in favour of a lower figure, but if we are to be reasonable the figure should be reduced. The figure of £500 for an individual should be reduced to no more than £100. This is not too much to ask.

On one occasion my party was offered £100 in respect of its activities on Dublin County Council. When I asked if any other member or party represented on the council had received the same amount all hell broke loose. There is no doubt, therefore, that legislation is required to ensure disclosure in which political parties are reluctant to engage, particularly the larger parties who caused a furore when I asked the simple question at Dublin County Council if anyone had received a cheque by way of donation or inducement. I hope the people who will enforce this legislation will not meet with the same violent response.

Some members of the larger parties have been animated in discussing this legislation. I can understand the reasons for this. As well as being entitled to a large sum under the Leader's allowance they will receive enormous amounts of money compared with what the smaller parties or Independents will receive. There is a pretence that it levels the playing pitch but it really increases the slope. It will be an uphill struggle for members of smaller parties to do the job they were elected to do which is the same as that of members of larger parties whether in Government or Opposition. The Government will receive extra funding by virtue of being in Government. That it not acceptable. It perpetuates inequality.

Many of my constituents cannot vote.

[340] It is not that they do not wish to vote but their work commitments are such that they must leave home in Balbriggan, Skerries or Rush early in the morning and do not return home until late in the evening when the polling stations are closed. There is a strong case to be made for Sunday polling although it may not suit everybody as so many people do shift work and work ungodly hours.

As regards election literature perhaps we should look at the Danish system. They designate a section of a town or locality as an electioneering playing field and everyone knows where to go if they wish to receive information on any aspect of the election or on any candidate.

As the sole Deputy for my party I am expected to attend meetings, table questions to Ministers and so on. I put up with a lot of stick for not being in two or three places at the same time. However, my job would be easier if it were recognised that, proportionately, I do more work than a member of a larger party.

There is a stipulation that an auditor must audit the account but there is nothing to say that because one party has one Deputy and another has 66 Deputies the auditor will charge one sixty-sixth of the fee charged to the larger party. That is inequitable. The 10 per cent funding for the Opposition attempts to address the inequality but if it is divided proportionately it will be inequitable.

Will the penalties for non-compliance be outlined? If there is a delay in making a disclosure the money will have been spent and a party will be in power. Will the Government be dismissed from office because it spent too much money on its election campaign? There is a limit on the amount to be spent on elections but it is difficult to understand why there is a limit of £10,000 on a by-election and £25,000 on a general election. One does not need to spend as much on a general election as on a by-election. I am sure Deputy Coveney thinks the limit is much too low as he spent £25,000 [341] in the Cork by-election. Some candidates who spent more than that were not elected.

Mr. Deasy: Jack Lynch spent about £1 billion.

Mr. Sargent: Patricia McKenna was successful in the European election and we spent £7,000 on that campaign. The Green Party thinks the limits should be reduced. We managed to undercut the limits proposed and it is possible for the other parties to do likewise.

The last significant contribution received by the Green Party was from the Waterboys rock group when it performed at two concerts in 1987. We used that money to fund an emergency environmental conference in the Synod Hall in Christ Church Place.

Dr. Upton: Tell us about the finances of Greenpeace?

Mr. Sargent: The Deputy knows as much about them as I do. The Bill needs to be significantly amended on Committee Stage. The Government must look at this proposal closely because it sounds as if politicians are giving themselves money out of the taxpayers' pockets. It must be stressed that what is needed is a minimum amount and it should be much smaller than what is proposed.

The funding should not be proportionate to the number of Deputies in a party — backbenchers also help to pay into the coffers which are full enough with contributions from big businesses — but in accordance with the amount of work parties, including small parties, are expected to do.

Mr. Deasy: God help Deputy Sargent's small mind if he thinks the coffers in Fine Gael are full. We spent the last number of years trying to clear a massive debt.

Mr. Sargent: The party spent the money.

[342] Mr. Deasy: It did but it could not afford to. The first part of the Minister's statement sounds like an apology for politicians and political parties. There is no need to apologise for giving Exchequer funding to political parties. I wish it were accompanied by measures such as the banning of church gate collections and other fund-raising tactics which cause such pain and so little gain.

It is not in order to have a system where political parties are open to influence by individuals, groups or businesses. They must be financed in such a way that everything is above board. There may be an inclination for big businesses to contribute to parties in the belief that if they need a favour in time to come they will be able to call the tune. That is a reprehensible and undesirable attitude but people believe that it exists. I have not seen that in my capacity as a Deputy, Minister or Senator but I know that people think they will receive favours if they contribute to a political party, particularly one that is in power. By and large it is a false perception. There may be some individuals or parties who succumbed to the temptation and took money — they would be in the minority — but I hope they never tried to repay it by granting a favour or giving special status to people. That would be absolutely illegal and criminal.

The Minister does not state how much money political parties will receive and on what basis it will be given. I imagine it will be based on the number of seats won. A point of view expressed a couple of years ago, when the legislation was first mooted, was that it would be on the basis of the number of votes each party receives. A figure mentioned previously was £1 per vote, which seems reasonable, but there is no mention of a specific amount in the Minister's speech. It behoves us to ensure that political parties are properly financed so that the begging bowl mentality does not prevail. That can be most unpleasant, undesirable and demeaning. I look forward to the proper financing [343] of political parties in terms of elections, advertising, campaigning and research, an area in which funding is very badly needed.

Some matters are not clearly spelt out in the Bill or in the Minister's speech. On benefits in kind, specific figures are referred to as regards the amount of donations received from an individual or a company. Benefits in kind could be very valuable to a political party or a candidate and it would be interesting to know if they can be quantified and identified. The contribution of a person who puts a fleet of cars and drivers at the disposal of a candidate on election day could be considerable but it is not clearly stated in the Minister's speech whether such a benefit in kind will be taken into account.

The Minister referred to the question of allowing people who, because of their occupation will not be able to vote on election day, to vote prior to polling day. The words “by reason of their occupation” are very important. Previously when a postal vote was allowed for people who could not poll on election day there were widespread abuses. For example, in the local elections of 1974 people who pretended they were going away on holidays or on business for a day or two were allowed a postal vote. One county councillor in a northern county was reckoned to have been elected on the basis of the postal vote which, in his case, amounted to about 500 votes. That is a vote that could be very easily manipulated in those circumstances. A postal vote allowed by reason of a person's occupation, which can be easily checked, is very desirable.

Mr. Allen: What about the graveyards?

Mr. Deasy: That trick was practised by a certain political party in the old days when the dead rose and voted. However, we will not be unkind to the dead or anybody else. All sorts of malpractices took place down the years but, [344] thankfully, they have been largely eliminated. The present restriction on people who may vote without going to the polling booth is very stringent — people who are certified as invalids by their doctors are practically the only people, apart from gardaí, diplomats and members of the armed forces, who may vote in this way. It is totally unsatisfactory that the tens of thousands of people who travel for a living and fishermen at sea who do not return until after polling booths have closed do not have the same democratic right as everybody else. That opportunity must be afforded to every citizen of the State.

I am unhappy about votes for emigrants, referred to in the Minister's speech. He said there are proposals to provide three seats for emigrants in the Seanad, but that is not sufficient. This area needs to be considered with great care and considerable compassion. Very few people have as much vested interest in the running of the country as people who have had to emigrate because of economic circumstances and three seats in the Seanad is not sufficient representation for them. Many countries in the western world make provision for people working abroad and they have much greater representation than we are advocating in the proposed legislation for our emigrants.

Our population is approximately 3.5 million people. An interesting statistic would be the number of people born in Ireland who are now living abroad. Is it 500,000 or closer to one million? Could those people justifiably demand 20 or 25 per cent of seats in this House? That is probably a little extravagant, but certainly three seats in the Seanad is not sufficient representation for a huge segment of the Irish race. Those people should be represented in Dáil Éireann and the number of seats should not be derisory — perhaps ten, 12 or as many as 20, but it should be significant.

The Seanad is a very exclusive forum, and to put emigrants on a par with the graduates of Trinity College is insulting. Trinity College graduates have the right to elect three members to Seanad [345] Éireann, as have graduates of the National University of Ireland, but at least the number of graduates of the NUI, which runs to tens of thousands, is representative of that number of seats. To compare the graduates of Trinity College with the hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants abroad is not fitting or proper. Those people should be represented on the floor of this House. People who have had to emigrate are as entitled, and in many cases much more entitled, to voice their opinions here because they had to leave the country through no fault of their own as there were no job opportunities. It is a vexed issue and many people would resent emigrants having significant representation but it is a valid point. There are few who do not have some family members living abroad who would love to come home and be involved in the affairs of this State. This will probably have a very good effect because they will feel they are represented and their voices heard in Dáil Éireann. This is a very worthy cause which is not getting due recognition.

We should make more sweeping changes in this Bill. The changes introduced following the 1992 Bill such as the ban on canvassing on the approaches to polling stations and on posters in the vicinity of the polling station were very desirable. It stopped the mayhem on election day especially before the closing of the polling booth. The provision that allowed a person to enter his name on the register 18 days prior to the election was very progressive. Prior to that if his name was not on the register on 15 April he would have to wait a full year to get on the register. This measure is another step in the right direction.

I might even go so far as to suggest that canvassing should be banned and we might imitate some of the European states where electioneering is done through the medium of television, radio and newspapers. I see Deputy Kirk smiling. He too would love it, and we would not have to suffer the joys of three weeks canvassing and being [346] abused and insulted — a primitive practice. Elections should be fought on issues which can be aired by the media. I would also be in favour of the list system. If we had a list system and votes for emigrants that would leave fewer candidates to be elected by foot slogging. There would not be a great deal of room for the ordinary Joe Soap, particularly if he was not well in with the party leader — there are Members who are not well in with the party leader.

Dr. Upton: We will not name anybody.

Mr. Deasy: I promise not to name you, Deputy Upton, if you do not name me.

In his reply, the Minister might allude to the Australian system where people are fined for not exercising the vote. Now that we have postal voting for those who are invalided or cannot attend by reason of occupation, the day has come when people should be fined for not exercising the franchise.

Will the non-party candidate who has failed to get elected get a contribution towards election expenses from the State coffers? It might be borne in mind that Independent candidates show great courage in putting their names forward, go to considerable expense and put in a great deal of effort but they may end up being beaten by a handful of votes and have nothing to show for it. They may feel aggrieved that the political party candidates who get fewer votes would benefit from this new provision.

There is no need to be apologetic for State funding of political parties. It is a very civilised thing to do and may eliminate the miserable fund raising activities that we have to engage in against our will and will lead to a healthier political system.

Mr. Kirk: I am sorry Deputy Deasy had not more time to elaborate on his radical views on the electoral system. This Bill affords Members the opportunity to focus on the functioning of the [347] political system. It proposes the establishment on a statutory basis of an independent constituency commission for Dáil and European elections. It deals with State funding for political parties and proposes to impose a limit on election expenditure by political parties and individual candidates. There are proposals to introduce new voting arrangements for voters who are unable because of their occupation to cast their votes in their local polling station. There are proposals for more expeditious methods of dealing with the count.

One of the more significant proposals is the establishment on a statutory basis of the Constituency Commission. The principle of an independent constituency commission review is long accepted and it is not realistic to expect that the recommendations of any commission will find favour with every individual Member, aspiring Members or political parties. It will not be possible to bring forward recommendations that will placate and please everybody in the political arena. One may ask why it is necessary to establish a constituency commission on a statutory basis. Are we effectively saying we are dissatisfied with the present arrangement and that the proposed arrangement will be more satisfactory? No matter what system we operate the most important thing will be to set down terms of reference because all subsequent decisions will be dictated by the terms of reference.

One or two Members referred to the protection of provincial and county boundaries. It is clearly a sensitive issue to take a slice of one county and make it an adjunct of another county to make up a deficiency in population in a constituency. In the past, portions of my constituency in County Louth, together with a portion of County Meath, were redefined to make up a deficiency in numbers in the core constituency of Monaghan. There was much dissatisfaction among the people living in the portions which were redefined, and a yearning to get back to their natural home. The same problems exist in other [348] constituencies which are similarly affected.

Contact with Oireachtas Members is determined by the geography of a constituency. I represent what could be classified as the most urbanised rural constituency in the country because approximately two-thirds of the electorate reside in Dundalk and Drogheda, not so speak of other significant towns such as Ardee. In many ways the constituency is a microcosm of the country, containing the whole spectrum of social and economic life in a relatively small geographic area.

Yesterday Deputy Sheehan outlined the hardships of representing a huge farflung constituency such as the one he represents in that beautiful part of County Cork. One could compare that with the population of the constituencies in the capital city where Dáil Deputies are virtually within walking distance of every elector. Will the new commission have regard to this, or will it merely deal with the population density within already existing bands? I do not envisage any significant change, but in the context of the debate on this Bill this is something that should be considered. There is huge movement of population towards the east coast, with a consequent impact on constituencies on the western seaboard and in the south. It begs the question whether the political system should take account of population movement.

Other Members have correctly stated that this country and the UK are the two remaining states in the European Union that have no State funding for political parties. The provision of such funding is a move in the right direction because it is becoming increasingly difficult for political parties to raise money to keep the general administration and operation of their parties functioning. There has been much adverse comment about the proposal to provide State funding for political parties, but the political party system is the core of our democratic system.

It is no secret that Fine Gael, and my [349] own party, Fianna Fáil, have been having problems with accumulating debt in recent years, due to increased expenditure on general administration, combined with the increased expenditure involved in fighting elections which have been called with great regularity in recent years. All parties have probably expended too much money on postering and advertising generally because it was the consensus that spending money on election campaigns would ensure success. Experience has taught us otherwise, and a new prudence has crept into the attitude of those in political parties who make decisions regarding expenditure.

Most, if not all, politicians would admit that the biggest single danger is the mood of cynicism among the public about politicians and the political system which does not make it easier for election candidates to operate. The mood of cynicism is a matter of degree, but if it were to grow, it would make it very difficult to campaign, not to mention raise money to keep the political parties going.

Most Members of the House would agree that there is a deficiency of research and backup facilities for Opposition parties and politicians. There is no such thing as a free lunch any more — good research facilities cost money. It may be possible to get people to operate voluntarily over a short time, but to have a research facility available on a continuous basis one must have resources. It must be to the betterment of the political system to have such backup available to the parties and politicians in Opposition. I have limited experience of meeting delegations and deputations including, for example, representatives of the IFA, the trade union movement and the employers' organisation, IBEC. Such organisations have considerable resources available to them. The economic units within those organisations are very significant and clearly do an excellent job. The representatives of such organisations coming to meet a Minister or Minister of State are often better informed than the [350] Minister about the issues they want to discuss. It is a sign that the political system is collapsing if the Minister of the day is bereft of such up-to-the-minute knowledge, but that has been the experience of many politicians meeting such groups.

The ending of dependency on private funding is a step in the right direction. The perception is that if there is an over-dependence by politicians on private funding, there must be an inherent payback. If funding from the public purse helps to eradicate that perception, we will have done a good day's work. Section 4 of the Bill deals with disclosure of donations. I support the maximum disclosure principle in the interests of transparency and openness.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.