Seanad Éireann - Volume 131 - 13 February, 1992
Private Business. - Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Wallace, and to wish him well in his new capacity as Minister of State. I am delighted, of course; that on his first task of active duty he is with us in the Seanad. I now call on Senator Hederman, who is in possession.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: Before Senator Hederman begins, may I join with you, a Chathaoirleach, in extending a very warm welcome to Deputy Wallace on is appointment as Minister of State. It is rather unique that somebody appointed 15 minutes ago is here now in this House. I wish him every good luck.
Mr. Foley Mr. Foley
 Mr. Foley: I, too, would like be associated in congratulating the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, on his well deserved promotion to the post of Minister of State. I wish him every success.
Mr. Wright Mr. Wright
Mr. Wright: I would also like to put on record my sincere congratulations to the Minister and to wish him every good luck in his important position.
Mrs. Hederman Mrs. Hederman
Mrs. Hederman: I would like to join with the other Senators in congratulating Deputy Wallace on his appointment to the position of Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and to wish him well. In my other capacity as an Alderman in Dublin City Council we have very close relations with the Department of the Environment and I hope that in that context we will have a very fruitful and productive relationship with Deputy Wallace and the Minister.
I was speaking last week on this Bill and I do not propose to go back over anything I said on that occasion. At the time of the adjournment I was speaking on section 88 of the Bill, which is one of the sections I strongly oppose. I feel in a general way it is a most unsatisfactory and rather a sad situation. It is one of the occasions we need to have a House with independent-minded Senators, independent thinking Senators, and not a Seanad which is controlled by party whips and which controls the voting and the contributions of Senators.
This is a Bill which has very serious implications for our democracy. It would be a very fine thing if we had a Seanad as there was in the old days here where there were very independent minded Senators prepared to say genuinly what they felt about a Bill. What we are talking about here is the situation where we have party politicians in this House who are deciding how best to strengthen the party position, how best to protect the status quo of their parties. That is sad and it is my duty, as an Independent Senator, to put forward the views of the people in this country who do not feel that everybody has to belong to or to subscribe to a political party, and also to speak on  behalf of the many Independent councillors who were elected at the last local election, a very large increase, showing a trend of what the public feel about the parties domination, control, their pervasiveness in every aspect of life in every organisation in this country. On behalf of Independent MEPs, Independent TDs and especially Independent councillors, I would like to say with all the vigour I can summon, that I object to section 88 which provides that we are not even allowed the discretion which we had in the past.
We are Independent Senators here, we are Independent members of local authorities. There are Independent Members of the Dáil — Deputy Foxe and Deputy Tony Gregory and there are many others. These are known commonly as Independents. The public understand when they say they are Independents. That states very clearly what they are; they have no party affiliation. What is proposed in this Bill as I understand it, is that we will not even be allowed to continue with what we had, the great privilege of not having anything after our name; it could be left blank. The section provides for the name of the party, if any, or if appropriate the expression “non party”, and Part II of the Fourth Schedule does not provide for a space after the name, there are a number of parties names after some and “non-party” after another. I find this totally degrading for Independents who want to stand in elections.
The idea is now that party is the norm, that that is the starting line. It is a clear attempt to down-grade those people who wish to go forward as Independents, who do not wish to have anything after their names. They would like to have “Independent” after their name but that could not be tolerated because “Independent” not only describes a politician who does not commit himself to a party but it also might suggest to the electorate that there was on the ballot paper a candidate who was an Independent in his thinking or acted for himself. That, I believe, is the reason the Minister and  his Department do not wish — perhaps I should not blame the Department; I suspect it is the Minister and members of his party — that the word “Independent” should appear after the name of Independent candidates on the ballot paper. There is a suggestion that “non-party” is kind of eccentric; you have to be in a party.
I said last week and I will repeat it, to me it smacks of the vile expression which is commonly used, but people do it, I believe, unthinkingly, where they speak of non-Catholics, suggesting that a Catholic is the only one true, correct religion and everybody else is lumped together. It does not matter whether you are a Methodist, a Presbyterian, a Muslim or anything else, you are a non-Catholic. That is the thinking. I find that very offensive as I find the expression “non-party”.
On the Seanad ballot paper there is no affiliation put after anybody's name; I believe that would be the ideal on a Dáil ballot paper and particularly on a county council ballot paper. I believe, particularly for local elections, that people should be able to go forward representing their communities and the various groups with which they work. Particularly for a local election it is very unfortunate and degrading that they should have to give their party or be non-party.
I put this to the Minister, I know it is very unlikely and I would not wish to alarm him, but in the unlikely event that the Independents took control of the Dáil and brought in a Bill, and you the Minister, an up-standing member of the Fianna Fáil Party were obliged to put on the ballot paper “non-Independent”, how would that suit him? Would he like to be a “non-Independent”? Say the Fine Gael Party took control — and, here again, it is most unlikely that they would do it — but say they insisted that everybody should describe themselves as “non-Fine Gael”? I know it is fatuous, but that is what we are being asked to do. The Minister smiles because he does not think that is the reality but that is the reality of what he is asking somebody like me to do. I am being asked either to be just  negative or positively negative in the way I go before the electorate. I take the gravest exception to that. I would ask the Minister to look at that section again and I am begging him to allow us to be Independents, or, at the very least — and it is not much of a second best — the liberty to put nothing after our names. I now come to a section with which I have certain difficulties, that is, where you can only have your name once on the register. I appreciate that there has been difficulty in this area. We all know about the famous Pat O'Connor case which made headlines and we do not want a repetition of that. Nobody is more anxious than I am to ensure that people do not vote twice in an election. That is obviously something we all want to stamp out. However, I wonder if there is any way of getting around that. Students studying in Dublin, Waterford or Limerick, but whose permanent addresses are elsewhere, will be unable to vote if an election is called during term time simply because they cannot afford to travel home. I was speaking to somebody this morning who said the parties organise to bus them home. That is all right for the big parties, they can afford to do this but I think students are inclined to vote for Liberal, Green, Independent, or possibly left-wing. These are the people who are penalised. I wonder if that shaded the thinking when drafting this section.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: Students also vote Fianna Fáil.
Mrs. Hederman Mrs. Hederman
Mrs. Hederman: I am sure there are some students who vote Fianna Fáil, perhaps the junior students, freshmen, but when they become more enlightened, they vote something else. I think Senator Honan will agree that, generally speaking young people tend to be more left-wing — I am sure, Senator Honan, in her younger days, tended to be more left-wing.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: I always voted right.
Mrs. Hederman Mrs. Hederman
Mrs. Hederman: She always voted  Fianna Fáil, I never suspected anything else and I am sure no matter what happens she will always vote Fianna Fáil.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: I will.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Hederman, you should not encourage interruptions.
Mrs. Hederman Mrs. Hederman
Mrs. Hederman: I think Senator Honan is trying to goad me. What you should say is I should not allow myself to be goaded by Senator Honan. I shall try, in deference to your wishes. I think this is a difficult section and I will be interested to hear the views expressed on the next stage.
I am also not quite clear whose fault it is if a name appears twice on the register. I take it there is no fault pertaining to the electors because, quite clearly, electors could be left on the register in their home town, but if they go to Dublin and fill out the papers, they could get on the register there and might not know they were still on the other register. I would like to know who is responsible for this.
I also find extremely disturbing the section which increases the deposit from £100 to £500. I find the views of the former Minister for the Environment, Deputy O'Hanlon, in support of this increase laughable. Admittedly, when the deposit of £100 was set in 1923 that was a substantial amount but I do not think that in itself is a good enough reason to make it difficult for people to stand in elections.
Last week one of the Members on the Fianna Fáil benches said he thought that only party candidates should be allowed to stand. I am sure that is not something to which everybody over there would subscribe, but it is only a short step from that to saying that candidates from only one party should be allowed to stand, as it used to be in the USSR. I do not for one moment think that is the thinking behind this section, but I do think it is anti-democratic. Democracy should encourage people to be involved in politics. It should encourage people to take an active part in our democratic processes, and that leads to people standing  for election, whether it be to the local council, as an MEP or in the Dáil. This section is actively working against that.
The Minister said this increase to £500 was to deter frivolous candidates at an election. Who is to decide who is a frivolous candidate? I find there is an arrogance behind this section. Who is to decide, what civil servant? What Minister? Who is to decide other than the electorate? It is the right of the electorate to decide who is a frivolous candidate; I and who is not a frivolous candidate; I do not think it is up to anybody in the Department or anywhere else to set themselves up to decide who is a frivolous candidate.
Not so long ago many of the people who espoused some of the more way out environmental causes — for example, some of the Greens — were thought to be rather eccentric and frivolous, and I suggest that even 20 or 30 years ago if someone had stood on some of the environmental issues, like clearing up the smog or something like that, it would have been considered to be quite eccentric and frivolous. The fact is they were just a little ahead of their time.
I believe it is a good thing to have Independent candidates elected to our House of Parliament. The Minister said the people determine the composition of the Parliament which will represent them, and the Government will administer the affairs of the nation over a period of up to five years. He does not mention anything about the importance of the Opposition. What we need is to have far more independent minded people in the Opposition who are not under the yoke of a three line party whip and are able to speak out and speak their minds. If we try to bring in deterrents to prevent people from running rather than encouraging them, we will tend to have fewer of that type of person elected to our Parliament.
The Minister said that frivolous candidates can cause confusion to the electors. What arrogance there too? The electorate are so easily confused. It has always amazed me that parties seem to think that the electorate has to be talked down to, that they are gullible and so  easily confused. “Frivolous candidates can cause confusion to electors”. I find the whole thinking behind that preposterous. What it means is that frivolous candidates might muddy the water for the party candidates. Here again I say let the electorate decide.
We had a very interesting experience recently, which I think is worth mentioning. In the recent elections to Dublin City Council we had a candidate who stood for the Greens. She signed her nomination papers and went off to America. She never canvassed at one door; she never knocked on one door; she never sent out election literature, she never did anything, yet she was elected and is now a member of our City Council. Sive O'Neill is one of the best members of our City Council. It is not shattering to think that that could happen? Some members of political parties said to me that it was scandalous the voters were electing somebody they had never seen. The reality is that the voters are so utterly and totally disenchanted with the party politics which is served up to them on every occasion that they voted for somebody like Sive O'Neill. I am glad they voted for her, but I am certain she would have been considered a frivolous candidate under this Bill. She would have been marginalised, yet she is now representing the Green Party and is a fine member of our City Council. People from every party would agree with that. I heard people from every political party say what a splendid representative she is and what a good thing it is to have her there.
I do not think people should be deterred from standing for the Dáil by lack of money. What you are really saying is, if you are a poor crackpot you cannot stand but if you are a wealthy crackpot you can stand. I do not see that that is legitimate. If we had proper local government and proper structures to deal with these issues on which one-issue candidates tend to stand, they would not need to stand. We would not have the Cavan potholers trying to get into the Dáil if we had proper local structures where these people could express their  views. We would not have them, as the Minister's predecessor called it, swamping the ballot paper. These issues would be dealt with locally and the people who went forward to the national Parliament would have an interest in legislating and not solely involved in parish pump politics.
The Minister's party and other parties have staunchly refused to introduce any real local democracy. That is one of the great tragedies. As was suggested by Senator Murphy last week, a much fairer way to get over a problem — if you perceive a problem — with frivolous candidates is that they should be required to have 500 signatures. Immediately we have people asking, how could that be verified? Why not? In Switzerland if you want to have a referendum you have to get so many signatures. They have no difficulty verifying that the signatures are genuine. In this age of modern technology, it is a simple thing to ensure that these peoples' names are on the register. It is already an offence to sign somebody else's name and purport to be somebody other than who you are, and penalties could be introduced to cover such an eventuality. I do not think that is a problem. That would not deter anybody because a genuine candidate could get 500 signatures and would be allowed stand without being faced with this extra financial burden.
Every person — Senator Murphy said this and I fully support him — has the democratic right to stand for Parliament. I believe Senator Murphy would also agree that it is every person's democratic right to go forward for the Presidency. I sought a nomination for the Presidency and if I only had to get 500 signatures, it would have been easy. In fact, I got 20,000 signatures, because that was what the Progressive Democrats suggested might be a way of changing the system of going forward for the Presidency. This requires changing the Constitution. I got 20,000 signatures, but to go forward for the Presidency you must be nominated by 20 Members of the Oireachtas or four county councils. As we all know, the  Members of the Oireachtas, both this House and the Dáil, are party controlled as are, sadly, the local authorities, is quite a different situation from what it was when the Constitution was written. I ask the Minister to look again at this section and judge whether it is fair. Is it his wish and the wish of his Government to try to discourage people from standing for election?
The other section I think is very unfair is section 51: selection of Nomination Papers. This I believe has been brought in largely to deal with the members of my community group on Dublin Corporation, people like Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, Vincent Ballyfermot Jackson and others. Seán Dublin Bay Loftus is well known and has been known, for 20 or 30 years as Seán Dublin Bay Loftus; yet in the 1989 election he was not allowed to use that name on the ballot paper. He was only allowed to put Seán D. Loftus. People coming out from that polling booths were heard to say they had wanted to vote for Seán Dublin Bay but could not find his name on the ballot paper. He is even known colloquially as Dublin Bay Loftus. It appears we just want to emphasise the party affiliation and we want to stop anybody else saying who they represent.
I changed my name by deed poll because I wanted to have community after my name. I think I am quite entitled to go before the people in a local election explaining what I am. I am a person who has been involved with community organisations, residents' associations and other community activities in the area, and I changed my name by deed poll and got away with it in the first election. Of course there had to be a clamp-down on that. We could not have people letting the electorate know that they were involved in the community. I changed my name back to Carmencita Hederman but Brendan Lynch, a colleague, did not change his name back and for 18 years his legal name has been Brendan Lynch Community. Every time an envelope comes out to him from Dublin Corporation, it is addressed to “Brendan Lynch Community.” Every time there is  a roll call in Dublin City Council he is called out, Brendan Lynch Community, but was he allowed to put Brendan Lynch Community on his ballot paper? He was not. This section prevented him. I find that most unfair but I know there is no point pleading because there will be no change. This Bill is structured to safeguard the status quo of the political parties.
The other question I would like to mention is that of opinion polls. Last week Senator Murphy gave an excellent expose on all the reasons against banning opinion polls and I am not going to cover the same ground; I could not do it as well as he did. The only situation I can think of where opinion polls would be a bad thing would be if some company were to deliberately carry out a fraudulent poll to mislead the people. That is most unlikely because if they were to do so they would be very quickly out of business. I cannot see that happening and I do not think there is any such suggestion in this Bill. The Minister made it quite clear that there is no suggestion that these public relations companies adopted anything except the highest standards. Here again there appears to be the same sort of general attitude on the part of the Minister and the Department. He speaks about stampeding; he does not want the electorate to be stampeded into any decisions coming up to an election. The public are well able to resist stampeding at elections. They are subjected to it for a full three weeks by candidates who make grandiose promises, one party making more extravagant promises than the other. I do not think the public are so gullible that they will be unduly influenced by the findings of political polls. In my view this section will be vigorously opposed because of the curtailment of the right of freedom of expression of opinion, the general freedom of information to which we are entitled. The Minister spoke about contributing to the hype at election time. I do not see anything wrong with a little bit of hype at election time. If it were otherwise it would be very dull, and if a little bit of hype encourages people to  take an interest in the issues and to come out and vote and take part in the democratic process, then it is a very good thing.
What I think is far more distressing is that there are no limits set out in this Bill on what candidates can spend on their election campaigns. That is a very serious matter. Without mentioning any names or any figures, I am sure there are people here who have seen in recent elections vast sums of money being spent. I think our campaigns are heading in the direction of the United States campaigns we should not allow that to continue. Again it is part of the system that unless you are well off you will not get elected and it will be a waste of time to put your name forward.
It is a sad fact that nearly 300,000 people, almost 10 per cent of the population, are unemployed. Are they not entitled to be represented in Parliament? Are they not entitled to have their views heard? How can they possibly compete if other candidates are entitled to spend vast sums of money? That is something which should have been looked at and I hope could be included at a later stage.
I also worry — and this was a point brought up by Senator Upton — if this section is so tight that it will prevent one asking anybody how they are going to vote at an election. I am sure we will hear from the Minister on that when the time comes.
I would also like to refer to section 57: candidates entitled to free postage. If a candidate is running for two elections, he or she will be allowed to put the election literature for the two elections into one envelope. I think this is grossly unfair. We have had local elections held at the same time as a European election, and candidates for the European election were also running for the local elections. As we all know, many Dáil candidates also run for local election. Envisage a situation where you have a local election and a general election on the same day, and you have a candidate going forward for the Dáil. His postage is paid to allow him to put his literature through the door, but he is also allowed to put in his literature for the local election. What is that  like for an unfortunate candidate who is only standing in the local election? Whether the candidate is a member of a party or an Independent makes no difference. What you are doing now is giving the candidate for the Dáil a most unfair advantage over the local candidate because you are giving him or her free postage for the local election as well as for the general election. I do not think that that was what was intended. That is grossly unfair and I ask that it be looked at.
I would ask that all candidates going forward in local elections should get free postage. I do not see why local elections should be denigrated and why it should be considered less important that the electorate should have the opportunity of reading the election literature of a local candidate. Sadly, the attitude in this country is that local elections are not regarded as important and, as a result the local candidates do not get free postage. I also do not think it is fair that a party candidate in a general election should be allowed to say: tell the electorate to vote for candidates X, Y and Z in the local elections because it is an unfair advantage.
I welcome section 147 which deals with the obstruction of electors outside polling stations. That is long overdue and I heartily welcome it. There are two or three things which have been left out and that is unfortunate. One is that people are still listed on polling cards in alphabetical order. It has been shown that it is an advantage if one's name is Ahern or Abbot which places one at the top of the list; I see no reason we cannot have a lottery. This Bill provides that if two candidates share the same name, a lottery will be held and whichever of the two comes out first will be named ahead of the other. I cannot see why the same thing cannot be done for the entire list of candidates.
I mentioned the funding of political parties. The Minister might consider stating in this Bill that bill posting is henceforth forbidden. Most candidates would accept that bill posting is out of  date when we have other methods of communication and the negative environmental consequences of bill posting outweigh any benefits. In my area in the last election most candidates adhered to an agreement not to post bills and none of us felt we lost out on it. From an environmental and tourism point of view this measure is desirable because as the Minister knows, some of these posters, in spite of legislation, remain up for six months; I have seen them myself.
Those are my general comments on the Bill. There are many sections of the Bill which I heartily welcome and I am delighted that electoral legislation is being tidied up. I hope consideration will be given to some of the points I raised.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and wish him well in his new appointment.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I am delighted that Minister Daly is with us in his new capacity and I wish him well; it could not happen to a nicer person.
I welcome the initiative of the Government in putting together this impressive legislation which is long overdue. The former Minister for the Environment pointed out in his opening speech on Second Stage that it encompassed the repeal of substantial legislation dating back to 1851. Contained in a page near the end of the Bill is the entire history of democratic progress in these islands under British and then native Government, the various Acts that have enabled a free people acting in a free environment to make a free choice. This is democracy in action and it is a history lesson in itself to look at the dates and content of legislation now coming under one Bill which is to be welcomed.
I listened to my distinguished colleague, Senator Hederman both today and in her contribution last week; and indeed I have heard many impressive contributions from her since her arrival in this House. I feel I should respond in the context of this Bill to her continuous railing against party politics from her  lofty position on the cross benches. I would like to ask the Senator if she is seriously suggesting——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to stay with the Bill.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I am staying with the Bill and I hope you will allow me to develop my point, notwithstanding advice from the Clerk. Is the Senator seriously suggesting that Independent Members like herself, given the opportunity to form a Government, would not coalesce around agreed policies? I remind her of the example of Dublin Corporation where the so-called rainbow coalition gave individuals an opportunity to express their views through a grouping.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to confine his remarks to the Bill before us.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: We would have great fun running the country that way.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I will abide by your ruling, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but I listened to Senator Hederman railing against party politics without any interruption whatsoever. I am trying to respond to her contribution in the context of this Bill which is about politics in action——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I would prefer if the Senator confined himself to discussing the Bill.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: If the Senator made a case against party politics, surely I am entitled to make a case for party politics in the context of the Bill; that is all I am attempting to do. I thought she would have devoted her considerable energies to addressing many of our social ills rather than constantly railing against party politics.
To touch on some of the points that came up in the Bill, I am delighted that the registration procedure is being tightened up and improved and that additions and deletions are being considered  instead of the annual draft register. That would be a great saving to county councils together with the suggestion in the Bill that the Exchequer bears three quarters of the cost.
I agree with Senator Hederman and other Members of this House who have called for equality regarding free postage at elections. We are already aware of the facility extended to candidates for election to the Dáil and, like Senator Hederman; and many others, I believe it should be extended to local elections. I am sorry if I keep referring to Senator Hederman, what the Senator said had also been stated by other Opposition Members but as she is the most recent speaker, my response to her remarks encompasses a general view. It was interesting that the Senator referred to the most recent local elections, to the juxtaposition of a European election with a local election and to the inherent inequality of free postage being denied to local authority members. I was coming at it from a different point of view.
As a Member of this House, like the Senator, we have an advantage at local elections. I will be the first to bare my soul and admit that in the last local elections while I did not dispense literature as such to my potential electorate, I had the facility of free postage and Oireachtas facilities which gave me an advantage over other councillors. I do not know what Senator Hederman did in Dublin but that is what I did. It came home to me forcefully that I was in a privileged position. Through the course of the debate on this Bill I am sure the Minister will receive many suggested amendments and I am equally certain the Government side will be putting forward amendments; she might consider extending free postage to local elections to allow a level playing field.
I am concerned also about the motives behind the increase in the deposit and the reference to frivolous candidates. Sometimes I feel politicians take themselves too seriously and the higher up the  ladder they go the more seriously they take themselves.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: Some of them.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I am wondering if perhaps there was not a bout of very serious discussion when this portion of the Bill was being drafted and that somebody on high tut-tutted at the prospect of an Irish version of Screaming Lord Sutch appearing on the Irish political scene at various by-elections and general elections. I would welcome such a development; it would add a touch of colour to a sometimes colourless exercise. I agree with Senator Hederman that the Irish electorate are a mature, intelligent body of people who ultimately make their decisions based on reasoned argument and who can readily identify the mavericks in our midst and who elect, I would like to think, intelligent capable people to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to local authorities. If the Government in the drafting of the Bill had come up with some other motive I might have welcomed it more enthusiastically but the one being used seems — to use their term — somewhat frivolous and I would welcome more colourful characters in Irish elections.
I note the criticism levelled at one councillor, in particular, or perhaps it was at an attitude adopted by the electorate in the last local elections of “a plague on both your houses”. In one case someone who had gone on holidays for the duration of the campaign was elected and in other cases people who had had no background or practical involvement in politics were elected to local authorities. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I would never insult the intelligence of the electorate irrespective of the outcome of their choice. I might not agree with it — in fact I might vehemently disagree with it — but I would defend their right to decide who they should or should not vote into office at local or national level.
I am unhappy with the provision in relation to the banning of canvassing, and  while I am not against the spirit of the legislation all of us will agree——
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: To ban canvassing?
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: Thank you Senator — regarding the banning of canvassing in the immediate vicinity of polling stations — all of us who have had the experience of standing outside polling stations in all types of weather in all kinds of elections will agree it is unfair to expect the electorate to run the gauntlet of enthusiastic — I use that word loosely — party workers attempting to gain a last minute advantage by pressing into the hands of astonished voters the latest piece of literature to come off the printing presses, expecting that in the few seconds between gate and polling station they will change their minds. They well may. I have heard the term “freedom of expression” mentioned here in another context and perhaps it may be seen by some civil libertarians as a denial of civil liberties not to be able to press the flesh and press into the hand of the unsuspecting voter, or should I now say the increasingly cynical voter, electoral literature as they go into the polling station.
That is not what I am most concerned about. Few of us would disagree with the spirit of the legislation but we must reflect on our own experience in judging its merit and practicability. I applied my mind to how this legislation would affect my own locality. The polling station in Drumshanbo is in the central school. The distance from the front gate of the school to the school entrance which would be the polling station entrance is a distance of some 30 yards. The people who group around the gate are there mainly to strike off the register each voter as they go through in order to have an idea at the end of the day of the poll strength. They also use the opportunity to identify their supporters before the other side can identify whom they think are their supporters so they can then instantly leap into cars and set off into the sunset to drag out the last poor voter who has been sitting there all day saying: “No, Johnny  is going to take me, I have a lift organised”. Senators from rural areas will agree that that is the main purpose of the exercise outside polling stations, it is not directed at pressing leaflets into voters' hands. I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will agree that handing out leaflets is not the primary purpose of standing outside a rural polling station.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I would not know.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: Nobody in Roscommon would know.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: That is a touchy subject and I will refrain from mentioning that county in my contribution to remain on the safe side and so that I cannot be accused of anything later. I am suggesting there should be a rethink in relation to this section of the legislation. If this 50 metres limit were to apply in Drumshanbo it would mean that the people doing the job I have outlined would have to move a further 20 yards down the road to comply with the 50 metres limit. That appears to be a petty and irrelevant extension. That is the reason for my reservation about this section and I wonder if there will be any flexibility. I will leave it at that because I know there is another side to the argument and that many people will feel that the Government are acting wisely and not before time in this matter. In the context of legal jargon and specifics, I wonder if this section might be open to a more liberal interpretation? Having gone through all this which sounds very impressive, I ask if it will be enforced at the end of the day?
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: One political party will enforce it on the other, you can be sure. There will be no need for the authorities to take it in hand.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: Opinion polls are part and parcel of modern communications and modern electioneering. In all developed economies, opinion polls, to a greater or lesser degree, are seen to  influence the outcome of elections. That may seem like a statement of fact. I remain to be convinced that opinion polls exercise a malign influence on the electorate even though the spirit of the legislation in this area suggests that the Irish electorate should be preserved from such intrusions on their intellectual activity in the week leading up to a general election.
Referring to my reference to civil liberties, I wonder if civil liberties groups would see this proposal as an intrusion on their freedom of expression, and consider that opinion polls which play such a central role, not only in politics but across the spectrum of social activity, are now almost a right? All of us will be aware of opinion polls on a variety of topics; they are an important marketing tool to persuade people to buy the latest whiter than white product rather than sticking with the old product. There are now age and social profiles. Individual social classes are targeted regularly by opinion pollsters to determine responses to the issues of the day. I would be interested to hear more argument and debate on this issue particularly from the Government side as to why they feel the necessity to restrict opinion poll results. I also wonder whether they consider excluding the so-called exit polls which are taken in America, increasingly in Britain and I have no doubt will shortly become part and parcel of electioneering here although they have not been widespread to date. Exit polling means a radio or television company or a marketing company placing employees outside a polling station to establish from voters, after they have voted, prior to the close of poll, how they voted. On the basis of the information gathered nationwide, an opinion poll is then published prior to the close of poll, indicating a particular result. I am curious to know whether the section on restricting opinion polls is all-embracing or whether it is specific to the type of opinion poll we are used to in newspapers, on radio and on television.
Senator Murphy referred to this type of polling and said it was potentially more dangerous in America with its different  time zones than in Ireland. I could not help but think of the time in 1976 when Jimmy Carter, the outgoing President of the United States was flying after voting in Georgia into another time zone in the United States to continue his canvass on the day of polling, to be told that he had in effect lost the election, despite the fact that polls had not closed across the United States. Because of the time difference sufficient numbers of people had voted, to enable the opinion polls to indicate that he was losing and it had, obviously, a devastating effect on his candidacy. Suggestions, subsequently, were that he lost the election as a result of this type of polling as much as on policy differences or for any other reasons.
Opinion polls are part and parcel of our democracy and I would be loathe to see any erosion of freedom or civil liberties in this context. I remain to be convinced of their malignity despite the antipathy of some politicians and political parties towards them and despite the evidence suggesting that Irish electors are increasingly influenced by opinion polls. Once we make the decision in this regard it is going to be very difficult to go back on it, despite the best intentions of those who would say, we will try it and if it does not work we will repeal it. As I am sure my colleagues on the opposite side of the House involved in legislation will testify, once legislation is placed on the Statute Book it is very difficult to remove it.
I think it was Senator Hederman who made the astonishing statement last week that participatory democracy was nonexistent in Ireland. I go part of the way with her, but only a short part because I have felt for a long time that we should be moving towards a more elective democracy. I am influenced to some degree by what is happening in the United States where practically every office holder, including sheriff and judges, goes forward for election, right up to the President himself. Interestingly enough in America, despite participatory  democracy, the President has tremendous executive powers and can and regularly chooses non-elected members of the public to form his administration. This is interesting in the light of the prevalence of participatory democracy in the United States. I would not oppose, for example, a Bill which would oblige members of the Judiciary to be elected by popular ballot. They are an important part of our democracy and one has only to look across the water at the quality of judicial decisions to ask whether it should not also be introduced in that country. That is one exmple and there are others I could give.
I disagree with those, such as Senator Hederman, who have decried the operation of democracy in this country while holding up Switzerland as an example of the ultimate in participatory democracy. The Swiss are called upon at regular intervals to decide on issues of national importance which they seem to enjoy, accept and are happy to continue doing.
The reality is that whereas the Swiss are given the opportunity to express their political opinions, on average the turnout in Swiss referenda is rarely higher than 40 per cent, except on matters of acute importance and they tend generally to average a 30 to 40 per cent turnout. In Ireland in similar referenda and in local and general elections, a national average below 50 per cent provokes cries from various sections of the media that democracy is in danger, that people have become cynical, non-participatory and are no longer interested in the political system. How does that compare with the Swiss example of 30 per cent turnouts or sometimes less? It does not always follow that regular appeals to the electorate will produce an active response.
This phenomenon — and it is a phenomenon when one considers how generations have fought for the right to vote — is increasingly evident in the emerging democracies of eastern Europe. In Poland in recent times the level of participation in local authority elections has been so dangerously low, that the Government are genuinely concerned. This has happened perhaps because people's expectations of what  democracy would do for them after decades of Communist rule, have not been realised, wherein lies a certain contradiction in terms. People who for generations were denied the right to express their views in a free ballot, once given that opportunity, have now not so much turned full circle, but are retrenching and not participating in the manner in which we in the west have been saying for years they would, given the opportunity. That is a good subject for a thesis and I have no doubt that somebody will pick up on it as the emerging democracies find their feet and develop their own system of government and society.
I support, in principle, the proposal to give voting rights to emigrants and I realise the inherent difficulties for a Government introducing this far-reaching legislation. I do not underestimate the serious difficulties that would face Irish politicians and Irish politics if votes for emigrants were introduced in a piecemeal fashion. One of our present Ministers indicated to me in the last few months that if there were votes for emigrants in his constituency, which is a five seater, there are so many potential voters in Massachusetts, in Boston, that, if they all voted, it would have a direct influence on the outcome of the fifth seat. That begs the question about “no representation without taxation.”
Should Irish people who are living abroad and who, apart from their cultural and family links, have cut all other links with Ireland, be permitted to have such an important input into general elections and the formation of governments in this country? That is the dilemma facing the Government. I said at the outset that, in principle, I am in favour of votes for emigrants. However, I have yet to be completely convinced of a method whereby emigrants can involve themselves in the political progress in this country, despite the impressive efforts of emigrant lobby groups in the UK and the United States which made representations to the Government here a few months ago. I would like to see the Government's proposals in this area.
 It is widely known that, under the Programme for Government agreed before Christmas, an analysis of the pros and cons of this issue was to be brought before Government and that those conclusions were to be published at Christmas. It is now February and that has not happened yet. I ask the Minister to expedite that report so that it could be used as a basis for discussion. Perhaps at the end of the day it would be found that it is not possible to give votes to emigrants. It is now, however, firmly on the agenda. It is an issue among the emigrant populations in England and America. I do not think it can be ignored any longer. I know from the Government's commitment to discuss it that they are not ignoring it but the uncertainty that has built up over the last couple of months, because of the lack of decision from the Government in this area, is not helpful. I am looking forward to the Government's proposals to see whether the matter can be addressed once and for all. I do not want to expand on my own theories on how this procedure should be adopted, if it is to be adopted, until I see the Government's proposals.
I agree with Senator Hederman and many others that bill posting at election time should be excluded by law. However, I appreciate that if any candidate protested that he or she were being denied freedom of expression under the law, it would prove difficult to introduce such a measure. I also acknowledge that, under the existing Litter Acts, there is an obligation on political parties and Independents to remove all political bill posting within a specified period following the election. As this Bill progresses through the House, the Government might look again at ways and means of tightening it up. I know from experience, particularly being involved in the local elections last summer, that the main political parties were quite happy to agree to an exclusion of bill posting. The difficulty was that there were many Independent candidates running and no agreement was forthcoming from them. Consequently, bill posting was carried out in  my county, although it was not as widespread as before. In several other counties agreement has been reached and bill posting is no longer a feature of elections. This is a welcome trend. If this cannot be done by legislation, perhaps this trend could be developed by agreement.
Part VI of the Bill refers to the duration and membership of the Dáil. I believe the duration of the Dáil should be fixed. It is fixed in Germany and, I think, in Italy. Despite the public perception that Italy is a banana republic in terms of constant changes of government, the reality is that while their governments may change — there have been 44 or 45 governments since the war — the actual term of the election has not changed. In fact they have not had any more general elections — and they may even have had fewer — than this country since the war, given the number of general elections we had during the eighties. In Germany they operate on a fixed basis, as they do in New Zealand and Australia. The lack of a fixed term leads to a certain amount of indecisiveness and in the latter period of a government's term of office, coming up to the general election, they are perceived as being a lame duck government.
The Government in Britain for the first time since the war are going to stay for their full term. The election is due in June and it is now February and the indications are that it will be April at the earliest before the election is held. When one looks through the eyes of the media from this island, at political activity across the water, it seems as if the election campaign has been going on since last autumn and that very little government business is being done. That is not the reality of course, but the perception is that the Government are spending more and more time defending their policies and attempting to initiate vote catching policies in advance of the election while the main opposition parties are attempting to woo the electorate by putting forward their views as a sort of government in waiting. I do not think that is good for democracy.
I know that has not happened here to  any great extent but why should we not have a Government, which, once elected, sets out its agenda, is accepted in the Houses of the Oireachtas and then proceeds to work that agenda in a specific period? The constitutional requirement at the moment is that a term of government shall not exceed five years. That is not the exact wording, but that is the reality. Yet I understand it is the prerogative of the Taoiseach of the day to decide when to call an election without consultation. The only constitutional hinderance is if the President believes there is no need for an election. However, that has not happened. Without labouring the point, I am curious to know whether the Government in drafting this legislation considered the possibility of introducing a fixed term for government.
Part XIX devotes itself almost exclusively to the method of counting the votes. I will not go into much details about that because it perplexes most of us, especially those of us involved in counts.
I should also like to extend my warm wishes and welcome to the new Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Wallace. It is always a pleasure to welcome to high office someone one has known for a long time as a person of great ability and integrity. I have absolutely no doubt that he will bring to this high office those qualities he has shown for for so many years.
Part XVIII deals with arrangements for the counting of votes, Section 113 (3) states:
The returning officer shall give the agents of the candidates all such reasonable facilities for overseeing the proceedings at the counting of the votes (including, in particular, facilities for satisfying themselves that the ballot papers have been correctly sorted) and all such information with respect thereto as he can give them consistent with the orderly conduct of the proceedings and the performance of his functions.
Before somebody else asks why I am referring to “he” all the time, may I say I am sure there could be, if there are not  already, female returning officers. That point is covered by the Interpretation Act.
Most of us are familiar with the layout of the counting centre where the counting of the ballot takes place within a confined space, cordoned off by counters outside which people stand. I do not know whether this is national policy or whether the legislation permits the individual returning officer to decide how to conduct this arrangement. The question arose in my own county last summer about access to the counting area itself by candidates to oversee the counting of disputed ballot papers. It arose at a time in the county when two candidates, of opposing parties, ended up with the same number of votes. The decision of the returning officer ultimately meant that one party gained at the expense of the other. This had an impact on the balance of power on Leitrim County Council.
The Act points out here that, where this situation arises, the returning officer returns to the original first count and whichever candidate has the lower first count is deemed to be excluded. What happened in this instance was that when a total recount was called for it transpired there was an error in the counting and two ballot papers emerged which changed the eventual outcome. We were well into the count and all of the disputed ballot papers had been checked and had been agreed on. The doubtful ones all had agreed on and, yet, when this situation developed where two candidates found themselves on the same number of votes and the recount was called for, two ballot papers appeared. I have absolutely no doubt the count was carried out in a proper and orderly manner and I want to make that point as clearly and as emphatically as I can; I am casting no aspersions on the returning officer or on his staff. What concerned me was that nobody was given access to view those two ballot papers. Nobody but the returning officer and his officials saw them. The only way in which anybody, including the candidates involved and especially the unsuccessful candidate,  could see those papers was by calling for a High Court injunction.
In reality, it would take a brave person to challenge the decision of a returning officer in the High Court. They would risk suffering the embarrassment, humiliation and maybe the anger of the other side if they lost out on the exercise. I do not think that is very practical. I believe that where a dispute of this nature arises and where the ultimate decision taken by the returning officer has been accepted but a doubt has remained because of the physical inaccessibility of the new ballot papers, the candidate or his agent should be permitted to see the ballot paper when the count has finished.
I do not see the difficulty in the matter. I cannot understand why one has to have a High Court action to satisfy oneself that the actions carried out by the returning officer were not only correct but seen to be correct. I have to say that a doubt still exists in the mind of the losing candidate in the case I mentioned, who never saw the ballot papers which had reappeared and who had to accept the word of the returning officer that they were in order. Of course the question arose, if they were in order on the fifth count why were they not in order on the first count? How did it happen? Did it happen through human error? Perhaps you look at a ballot paper that appears not to have been stamped, for example, when you are going through a number of them, and then when you go back methodically to check. You scrutinise the paper in great detail and you may find the faintest trace of an official mark and say, “We missed that first time around. It is now acceptable.” In this instance the papers were not seen by the candidate. The decision was taken by the returning officer.
Section 128 states:
The decision of the returning officer, whether expressed or implied by his acts, on any question which arises in relation to the exclusion of any candidate under section 122 or to any ballot paper or transfer of votes shall be final, subject only to reversal on a petition questioning the Dáil election.
 I presume the same applies to local government elections, although it is not specifically stated here and perhaps the Minister could clarify that point. It is an important point that, notwithstanding the integrity of the returning officer and his or her officials, there should not be the slightest doubt. There should be no legacy of questioning following the result of an election. It is unfair and impractical that, in order to eliminate any lingering doubt one has to go to the High Court to be able to see doubtful ballot papers.
In this context I started out by talking about access to the count. Am I to take it that on the basis of the legislation considerable discretion lies in the hands of the returning officer in relation to this matter, that there is no uniform policy? Is it really in the gift of the returning officer whether he or she allows access to particular areas of the count? I think there should be total unhindered access for candidates or their agents to all aspects of the count. I do not believe the count should be carried out behind people's backs. I do not think candidates should be at a distance of some five or six yards from people counting with their backs to the candidates or their agents. There should be seen to be an open and fair counting of the ballot and there should be unhindered access by candidates or their agents notwithstanding what is in this Bill. Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister would address that aspect of the section because I will certainly return to it.
Section 139 (1) reads:
A person shall be guilty of an offence if, between the date of the issue of a writ for the election of a member or members of the Dáil for a constituency and the date on which the return is made to the Clerk of the Dáil under section 39, he acts in a disorderly manner at a lawful public meeting held in connection with the election.
I am very intrigued by that. I suspect that in the repeal of the legislation going back to 1851, the spirit of the time has been  carried forward to 1992. I suggest that faction fighting is no longer relevant to Irish elections either at local or national level.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: Where has the Senator been?
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: In the same historical context, in my part of the country, they used to beat the heads off each other and I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach, who lives down the road from me, will testify to its having been equally wild in Roscommon. I raise this somewhat mischievously, but I wonder what it is supposed to mean. We have all encountered bantering and heckling of one sort or another at public meetings.
I am curious to know if this has been inserted to incorporate all the legislation going back to 1851. What does it mean in practice? I am not aware of any major abuses at party political meetings in recent times where the Garda had to be called. I am not suggesting that this section should be deleted but I am curious to know why it is still there. I suspect it appeared in legislation somewhere betwen 1851 and the nineteen hundreds.
In relation to the transfer of surpluses, this is an area that always fascinated me. I will not go into great detail because the intricacies of PR continue to elude many candidates and those who have an interest in politics. Even those who drafted it must get a little perplexed at times, especially when it comes to surpluses.
Section 121 (3) reads:
Where the votes credited to a candidate deemed to be elected whose surplus is to be transferred consist of original and transferred votes, or of transferred votes only, the returning officer shall examine the papers contained——
——and here is my point——
——in the sub-parcel last received by that candidate and shall arrange the transferable papers therein in further  sub-parcels according to the next available preferences recorded thereon.
I accept from the outset that the surplus distribution procedure is an imperfect system. I think those who devised proportional representation in this country accept that it is an imperfect and imprecise system. This section is a continuation of what the procedure has been up to now. It is nothing new. Where you have a constituency that encompasses two counties, as in Sligo-Leitrim it has a detrimental effect on a candidate who finds himself or herself, for example, the only candidate left in Leitrim with three or four candidates left in Sligo. In this example, where a surplus has been distributed, practically all the votes in the sub-parcel last received by the candidate that has been elected, will have come from the Sligo based candidates. The count up to then would have indicated that most of the voting would have been done by the Sligo portion of the electorate, which I believe is inimical to the best interests of the Leitrim based candidate who finds himself or herself without a surplus.
I am not just being theoretical about this. In 1982, my colleague in the other House, Deputy John Ellis, topped the pole in Sligo-Leitrim with 8,000 first preference votes on a quota of just over 9,000 and failed to be elected. On that occasion the outgoing TD, now Commissioner in Europe, Ray MacSharry, conceded defeat publicly because he believed, on the basis of the votes cast, that he was no longer viable. Those of us from Leitrim who had been following the progress of the count in great detail were aware that our man was going to find himself in considerable trouble simply because there were no other Leitrim candidates left. Because of this section where the sub-parcel last received by the candidate is the one that is distributed in surpluses, I believe that was one of the problems and perhaps contributed in some way to the Leitrim candidate losing his seat. I am not suggesting there should be a total revision of the proportional representation system, or of the count system, but I wonder if  there has been any thinking to improve what is an imprecise system. I can set out the problem but I have no solution.
I find this a fascinating piece of legislation, particularly for those of us who have studied the art of politics and are familiar with much of what is in this legislation. I think it is significant and timely legislation and one I am looking forward to furthering, with the Minister in the House.
Finally may I once again offer my very best wishes to the Minister Deputy Wallace. I hope the bonfires will be burning brightly in Cork North-Central tonight.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: I would like to offer my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Dan Wallace, on his promotion to ministerial office. I wish him many happy, fruitful and satisfying years particularly in the department of the Environment where, some years ago, I had the honour to serve as a junior Minister for just one short year. May I pay a tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Connolly, who was a most effective Minister and a friend of Wexford. The Minister will have high standards to live up to as far as our county is concerned. I would also like to pay tribute to my constituency colleague, Deputy Browne, who has been appointed junior Minister at the Department of Agriculture and Food. It is an interesting choice for an urban born and reared man from Enniscorthy town, but I certainly wish him well. As the Taoiseach indicated that people would be appointed on the basis of merit, regardless of one's views, I think on merit alone Deputy O'Rourke deserved a place in the Cabinet. I will say no more. It is not my business, but as we are paying tributes and recognising that people who have been newly appointed got their posts on merit, because the Taoiseach has said so, I am disappointed——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I would ask the Senator to stay with the Bill.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: She is an extremely able lady who lost her position in Cabinet. I am not being sexist in any way, I am  sticking strictly to the issue of appointing people on the basis of merit.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I had to remind the previous speaker also.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: I found this an extremely strange piece of legislation to read. I could not quite understand my own reaction as I read and re-read it because it is a comprehensive Bill. Much of it has to do with consolidation and drawing together from miscellaneous Acts the legislation in relation to Dáil elections. There are some interesting new provisions with most of which I have no major disagreement.
As it is electoral legislation and I take this as a stand-alone Bill, I note that every reference in the Bill to electors and to candidates refers to “him” or “he”. Given the battle to extend suffrage over the years and given the Minister's reference to it, this legislation should have had in is interpretation section — there are two sections on interpretation, one for Part I and one for Part II — the provision that “he” should also be taken to read “she” or “him” as “her”. I am not normally sensitive about these issues because I recognise the impracticality of inserting the words “he/she” in all our legislation. However in this Bill it rankled given the fact that women over the years had to battle so hard to get the vote.
The former Minister made a very interesting Second Stage contribution in this House on this Bill. There are various points I would like to raise, not in any particular order of importance. The Minister referred to postal voting and the voting procedure for diplomats and their spouses who are posted abroad. He referred to disabled electors and special voters. I have no difficulty with the points he made. I would make a special plea that the postal vote be extended to merchant seamen. There are other categories of people who feel disenfranchised and after every election representations are made to the Minister. Wexford is a maritime county and many seamen and their families live there. Nine out of ten times they  are at sea on polling day. They feel very sore that they are denied their right to vote. I urge the Minister to consider this group. It should be very easy to consider applications for postal votes from them. The time has come for this group to be catered for in terms of their voting rights.
The basis for all elections — we have six different types of elections — is the register of electors. If that is not right or as nearly right as is humanly possible there will always be problems at election time. The former Minister quite rightly gave some time to this in his address on Second Stage. He pointed out that everyone in the political world from time to time has complained about the standard of the register and redrafting of the register. Like others, I have complained on many occasions.
I welcome the changes particularly in regard to the timespan for producing the new register each year. I have difficulty with certain aspects of it even though the Minister is moving in the right direction. The date of 1 September is being taken as the new qualifying date but the Minister proposes to halve the time for correction of the draft register once it is published from the present six weeks, albeit six weeks including Christmas and the New Year, to just over three weeks. Anyone who is involved in trying to get organisations, individuals or groups of one kind or another to check the register will realise the practical difficulties of having that done in three weeks and two days. I am not sure it can be done. I am not sure it will be any more effective than the present six weeks which spans Christmas and the New Year when people are on holidays. I would like to know the Minister's views on this because there are practical difficulties in getting people to check the register. I accept there is advertising and good media coverage about it but unless it is election time, people are not conscious of the need to be on the register.
Would the Minister consider making registration compulsory? There are some of us who would like to make voting compulsory perhaps with the exception of medical certification or certification  that a person is out of the country. Registration should be compulsory once one reaches the age of 18 or will be 18 after 1 September of the qualifying year. There are many reasons why people refuse to register. Local authority tenants do not register children over 18 particularly if they are working or any other member of the family who might come to live with them if they are working because their rent will increase if there is more than one income or more than one social welfare payment coming into the house. There is an advantage in not registering and not being on the electoral register because of other implications. There are also implications from a tax point of view. People do not want to be found. They do not want to be at a particular address. I have known people who were put on the register by Revenue collectors and who subsequently requested deletion before the claims courts come up.
There is a problem in this area. For the right and wrong reasons people are not on the register. People do not want to be on the register even though they should be on it. We often talk glibly about the democratic deficit. There is one thing that irritates me more than anything else. I will differ with anyone in their political views, beliefs and policies. I will even go some of the way along the road with Senator Hederman in her defence of the Independent and her claim that they must not be considered as being in second place to a party candidate. I would take a constitutional political party any day myself before an Independent because I respect the Whip system and the responsibility that puts on the individual. I may differ from her but I respect her views and I will listen to her. When it comes to exercising the franchise, one thing that annoys me more than anything else is having 30 and 40 per cent polls returned after elections. In many instances, in constituencies 50, 60 or 70 per cent of the electorate are not bothered about voting. They do not care who represents them, in the Dáil, in Europe, county council or wherever. The importance of exercising the hard-won franchise — we cannot forget women  were a minority group in this regard not so very long ago — is not taught to our children in schools. It is one of the most important things they can do once they reach the age of 18. If one votes one has a licence to criticise me, Senator Honan or any other politician. If one does not exercise one's franchise — these are very often the people who are loudest in their criticism of the Government or local authorities — one has no licence to disabuse those of us who are trying to do our best in whatever limited way we can. I will be delighted to agree and disagree with those who take part fully in the democratic system and exercise their franchise.
On a lighter note, the first time I was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1982 there was a group of us, family, friends and canvassers etc. in a local hotel. A lady came over to me whom I knew extremely well on a personal basis. She congratulated me and said she was thrilled I had been elected, the usual pleasantries that many of us have been lucky enough to experience. She then invited me to have a drink. I thanked her for her good wishes and said I would prefer her to have voted for me. It took her six months to work out how I knew she had not voted for me. I knew she had not voted for me because she had not voted at all.
The electoral parties check the registers in the polling stations. This comprehensive system determines who votes, not how they vote. It is amazing how people get confused when I can tell them they did not vote for me. They wonder if there is something wrong with the secrecy of the ballot. Nothing is wrong, but political parties and Independents know who votes, not how they vote. I feel so strongly about the importance of exercising the hard won franchise that I think we should have an all party discussion on how we can ensure that we have a 90 per cent turn out on polling day, because that is what we should be looking at realistically, allowing for illness, absenteeism and other genuine excuses for not being able to get to the polls.
The Minister made provision for the publication of a supplement containing  the names of those who have been omitted from the register. I do not support my colleague Senator Naughten and one or two others who suggested that the procedure for publishing this supplement could be shortened even further. A supplement is likely to become important only when an election is called. One must have a very strict procedure for late entry to the register in any year to ensure proper verification of anyone applying to be included on the register. I do not think up to seven days before polling day, even with the electronic communications we have today, would be a practical consideration. Would that it were. I support the system of publishing the supplement to the register.
At election time particularly we become aware of names that have been left off the register even though they were on it for decades. I recall after a recent election raising this issue at a county council meeting. One couple had been living in a bank house for eight years and suddenly their names disappeared off the register although they had never left the house. They asked for an explanation and I requested one at a Wexford County Council meeting. Other than that, at the end of the day, it must be put down to human error, I cannot say I got a satisfactory explanation. We depend on individuals to compile the register.
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the new provision which will effectively mean that local authorities who are deemed not to have done their job properly will be liable for any inaccuracies in the register and penalties will be imposed. There is no doubt a case can be made where the local authorities have been lax, but where does one draw the line? Given their finanical position, the local authorities are not in a position to take on an adequate number of revenue collectors to thoroughly check the registers on a house to house basis each year. If they do not do it on a house to house basis, will they be deemed by the Minister to be in dereliction of their duty in relation to the register and will penalties be imposed on them?
 I would like the Minister to clearly put on the record in replying to Second Stage how this area will be handled. There are times I am so frustrated that I feel local authorities should have penalties imposed on them but there are other times when I have accepted an explanation from the county secretary or the county registrar, although I would still be annoyed, that different electors were omitted. Where will the line be drawn? Who will decide whether penalties should be imposed? What penalties will be imposed? If ten electors are omitted from the register in error, would that carry a penalty of £100 or £1,000. If several hundred people are omitted and the computer is blamed, what would be the penalty? Whose fault is it if the computer drops a name from the end of a page, as I was told on one occasion? The biggest difficulty of all is that we depend on door-to-door checking of the register by revenue collectors. Most mistakes are human error.
Many of us, particularly during election time, are subject to attacks of paranoia where we see all sorts of political reasons and shenanigans by the other parties behind names that suddenly disappear from the register but I suspect, on balance, as many Fine Gael supporters are dropped as Fianna Fáil supporters. The same applies to the other parties. When tensions are heightened and political views are polarised during election campaigns, we can all read more than there is into the mistakes, but at the end of the day, whose fault is it? When is the local authority responsible?
Section 20 allows the Minister to impose penalties on registration authorities for inaccuracies in the register. How inaccurate must it be before penalties are imposed? How big is the penalty? Who decides? They can also have penalties imposed on them if delays in preparation and publication are attributable to the registration authority. In defence of Wexford County Council, there has never been a delay, to my knowledge, in the preparation or publication of registers. They may be a few days late, but they are published in the  week they should be published. I am concerned about penalties on local authorities. If penalties are imposed they should be good stiff ones because the register is a most important instrument in our democratic system. However, I am not sure how one defines error or where the buck stops in this area.
I accept that registration on one register makes sense but I also accept that many young people, particularly those who attend third level colleges outside their own constituencies or as is the case, in counties like Wexford where we have no third level college, are unable to exercise their vote because they are not living in their home constituency during their student years. I was surprised by the Supreme Court judgment which prompted this section in the Bill but we must accept it for what it is, and, in the interest of fairness, an elector can only be registered once.
In order to ensure young people are not disenfranchised on polling day, I suggest that all students on the presentation of a student card should be allowed free travel home on the eve of polling and return on polling day, or travel home on polling day and return the next day. Over a three-day period commencing on the eve of polling day, any student who presents a student card with their photograph on it, should be allowed free travel home by bus or train to vote and back to their place of study. In the same way that candidates are allowed free post as part of our democratic system to encourage participation in it, students and those who are studying outside their home constituencies should be allowed free travel over that three-day period. Students can opt to be registered where they are studying during their student years if they wish but given that most are more likely to opt to be on the register in their home county — as they probably identify more readily with the candidates from their home constituency — the offer of free travel on presentation of a student card should seriously be considered.
I agree that gardaí should be allowed the option of voting on polling day as distinct from the postal voting option  they have at present. It gets perilously close to abuse of the secret ballot in some small areas where there is a small number of gardaí. In one case only two gardaí voted for me and ten voted for a Fianna Fáil candidate. Gardaí are as likely to be as creative in their promises as any other section of the electorate. If, for example, no garda had voted for me and 12 had voted for the Fianna Fáil candidate you could read a lot into it. Most gardaí are around town on polling day. Some are posted to polling stations away from where they exercise their own vote but they should be allowed the option of voting as the rest of us do.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: They had the balance right anyway.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
Mrs. Doyle: That was just an example. The Minister mooted the possibility of publishing lists of additions and deletions rather than the full draft register each year. That makes sense but we would need a rule that once in every three years or four years the full register must be published. It would cut costs and make sense. It would make it much easier to see who had been deleted and who had been added rather than ploughing through the entire register, particularly if we are only allowed three weeks in which to revise the register. It could be done if we only have such a list but not if the entire register has to be published. I accept the possibility of just publishing the lists of additions and deletions provided that every three or four years the full register is published or is available on request to all who wish to see it.
I welcome the fact that the Exchequer will meet three-quarters of the cost of preparing the register in future rather than the present one half of the cost. That is essential. I am not sure if it will be enough if local authorities are to be penalised for inaccuracies in the register. They will need as much financial help as possible to ensure an accurate compilation of the register. Perhaps the reference to the Exchequer “may” in future meet three-quarters of the cost could be changed to the Exchequer “shall” in  future meet three-quarters of the cost. It would give more comfort to local authorities who now face penalties for inaccuracies in the register.
I have no difficulty with the changes in the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1986 in relation to special voters. I support both points made there.
In relation to deposits for candidates in Dáil elections, I support the increase from £100 to £500. It might be more popular to say it should be left at £100 so that nobody could be prevented from running for the Dáil because of lack of finance. Given that one has only to reach one-quarter of the quota in order to have the full deposit returned, this balances the increase from £100 to £500. Any candidate who has a realistic chance of being elected or of reaching a quarter or more of the quota will not be precluded from running because the deposit is £500. If one has enough support to get one-quarter of the quota, one should have enough support from the community to help with funding if that is the limiting factor in the individual's case.
There could be abuse of the system. I read with interest the hypothetical case the Minister made in his Second Stage speech whereby a ballot paper could be flooded with candidates of one kind or another who only go on the ballot paper to dilute the effectiveness of the constitutional parties for whatever reason. It could be frivolous or otherwise, and I borrow the word “frivolous” from the Minister's speech, but given the importance of proper participation in the democratic system serious consideration must be given to serious candidates. We could have 35 names added to a ballot paper and they could be names picked from a local office down town by someone with a bone to pick with a particular individual in order to dilute the effectiveness of an individual candidate. They could be people with the same name which would be confusing. There could be any reason for it but as the Minister pointed out, it has not happened yet. The deposit has not been increased since 1923. A sum of £100 in 1923 today would represent a  deposit of £3,000. That would be totally inequitable because excellent candidates would be ruled out if the deposit were £3,000.
The free postage arrangement for election candidates is retained under this Bill. I have no difficulty with that. I never open any of the election post that comes into my house but that is because I have a particular interest in one direction. I suspect 90 per cent of it goes straight into the garbage bin unopened.
An Post insist on full addresses on all election literature that is mailed. I would like free post to cover a mail shot instead of individually addressed letter. It would save an enormous amount of time for political parties and for Independents who do not have the same back-up teams as political parties in that they would not have to scour through the registers and individually address every item of mail. At the moment, An Post will not accept letters addressed to the “Residents of 23 Lakelands, Bridgetown,” or the “Residents of 22 Wolfe Tone Park, Wexford.” It must be Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, 23 Lakelands, Bridgetown. That poses many problems and an inordinate amount of time wasting during election time. I appeal to the Minister to ask the Minister for the Environment to take up with An Post the possibility of mail shots or individual letters that have the address of the house only as distinct from the name of the person living in the house.
I do not share Senator Hederman's extreme annoyance that “non-party” will have to be inserted beside an individual's name and her interpretation that “non-party” is second class to a party nomination is not shared by me. I cannot understand her concern. On my reading of the Bill — I am subject to correction on this — one need not have anything beside one's name. The Bill says “as appropriate”. If it is not appropriate one does not put anything. One can put “Independent”. I await clarification of that point.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.
Mrs. Doyle Mrs. Doyle
 Mrs. Doyle: I gave my interpretation of the section which deals with the ballot paper. As far as I understand, there is no need to expressly state a party, or non-party, after the names of candidates on the ballot paper and I would like that point clarified by the Minister when he responds.
I would like to turn for a moment to the proposals in the Bill to limit canvassing outside polling stations. I have no difficulties with this proposal. I would query whether 50 metres from the curtilage of the polling station is far enough in some locations. I would like the section to read “at least 50 metres” and leave the discretion to county registrars or returning officers to decide, because in some cases electors could be 50 metres or more from the curtilage of the polling station and yet have to run the gauntlet, as it were. Many electors, particularly those of a more timid nature or the elderly, have been intimidated by the hassling they received on their way into polling booths. I have evidence of people who have not bothered to vote because they did not have the strength or energy “to run the gauntlet”, as has been said. I commend the Minister for introducing this section but would ask him to check whether 50 metres will cover what is intended in all cases. I do not think it will. The whole point is to prohibit active canvassing as electors approach polling booths on polling day and the discretion in regard to distance must be left with the returning officer. Fifty metres would probably be adequate for 70 or 80 per cent the polling booths; but there are many places, particularly in rural areas, where there is only one approach to the polling booth and even beyond 50 metres from the booth would allow active and aggressive canvassing to continue.
I would like to have clarified whether a candidate within 50 metres of the curtilage of the polling station could be considered to be canvassing. This is far from clear in the Bill. I support the view that candidates of all political opinions and none be allowed in and out of polling booths freely as heretofore and candidates  can be represented by their agents. I accept they cannot have advertising material on their persons as they go in and out. That is a reasonable restriction, but there should be no difficulty with candidates moving freely within 50 metres of all polling stations in their constituency. I would also like that clarified when the Minister is replying.
I welcome the removal of an anomaly that was evident during the presidential election. Electors employed by returning officers to work during polling hours outside their polling area will now be allowed to exercise their vote. This was an omission in presidential election law up to this. Indeed, Mrs. Donnelly and the many others in Wexford who made representations to me will be delighted to see that resolved. The Oireachtas resolved the problem in relation to Dáil and local elections some time ago, but it had been omitted from presidential election law. I am very pleased the matter has been resolved.
One point I forgot to mention when I was referring to the register — I would like it clarified by the Minister in his reply is: who is responsible if there is more than one entry of an elector's name on the register? Since the change in the Bill arising out of the Supreme Court judgment, which I support, it will now be illegal to be on the register twice; but who is responsible if an elector's name is on the register more than once? Will there be penalties and on whom will the penalties be imposed? If there are not penalties, and if there is no redress, there is very little incentive to obey the law. That area would need clarification also from the Minister.
The review of the Euro constituencies has to be welcomed. I have a feeling, however, there will not be major changes in this area. I may be very wrong, but, given the huge geographic sweep in the Euro constituencies, I imagine it would take quite a large change in population as per the last census to change boundaries.
Section 174, brings to mind the importance of our representation in Europe. As we discuss this Electoral Bill there are  discussions ongoing in Europe as to whether we should strengthen our representation in the European Parliament or not. Indeed, some of our colleagues in the European Community wish, both numerically and in terms of their powers, the European Parliament to be strengthened, and others do not. I support the view that we should strengthen our representation in the European Paliament, both numerically and in terms of the clout we give the Parliament vis-á-vis the Council and the Commission.
We all talk glibly of a democratic deficit in this country. It is becoming more obvious in regard to the European Community and the Single Market — now that there is a referendum coming up it will come home to us even more clearly — how out of touch and how far removed all of us, even those of us in this Parliament, are from the decision-making process in Europe at the moment. Decisions are being taken in Europe over which we have no control and over which the European Parliament have little democratic control as well. They are the decisions that are affecting all our lives and indeed our children's future and the future direction of this country. Maastricht underlined the importance of getting our act together in this area. If we want to be full and equal members of the European Community into the next century, and to be viewed as a country that can contribute as much as we can get from Europe — and I believe we can — I think we have got to take steps to remedy what I perceive as a growing democratic deficit in relation to how decisions are taken and how our views are represented there.
With the review of the Euro constituencies maybe we will have another opportunity to discuss this in more detail. We could also discuss it in more detail if the Foreign Affairs Committee that we have been promised is established, and if the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the EC is beefed up. But if we had a thorough EC committee at which our MEPs had not only a right of audience but a right of true participation,  where we could have a cross-fertilisation of views and decisions at meetings, I think we would all feel more a part of the decision-making process in Europe. That has to be addressed urgently or else we will become less relevant in this House and indeed in the Lower Chamber of these Houses of Parliament. If we feel a little bit out of touch and out of the decision-making process, how do the ordinary people on the street feel? They really have no comprehension as to how decisions which are affecting their entire lives and their family's lives are being made.
Section 167 deals with opinion polls. I have no doubt that opinion polls provide more than just snapshots of opinion close to polling day. What we should do about it, however, is more difficult. It is easy to define a problem; it is far harder to provide the correct solution. I was very interested in Senator John A. Murphy's contribution. I would refer the Minister specifically to that because the Minister was not in the House on the last occasion for it. Senator Murphy gave a very considered view. Even though I would not have such extreme anxieties about removing from the public the opportunity of an opinion poll seven days before an election, if there was a question of these proposals now in section 167 infringing the Constitution, then I think we need to look at them very carefully. I refer specifically to Article 40, section 6 (1.1) of the Constitution which deals with the right of information, freedom of the media and all the rest that comes from that. If there was a question of these proposals causing problems with our Constitution, now is the time to resolve the matter rather than having this entire Bill referred by the President to the Supreme Court for a constitutional review on it later on.
I know other countries ban opinion polls close to elections and have felt it necessary to do so because you can influence opinion, even exit polls. With the increasing sophistication in electronic communications generally, there is no  reason why exit polls, if taken comprehensively throughout all constituencies, could not provide the answer of an election by six o'clock on polling day. On the evening news, before the polls have closed, this country could be told whether there was a 20 per cent swing to Fine Gael or a 20 per cent swing for Fianna Fáil and thereby deduce the outcome of the election from it. With increasing sophistication in electronics generally we are going to be more and more likely to be in a position to influence electors and predict outcomes before close of polls, which does have an influence on electors. For example, those who might have decided not to vote at all— the biggest sinners in my book — could be induced to vote perhaps if they felt that the party to which they had obviously only a lukewarm allegiance, if they were not going to bother to vote, was either losing or in trouble. They could be influenced by a six o'clock news bulletin which could be based on exit polls, given the speed of electronic communication today. Therefore, I think all this area needs very careful consideration.
The Minister stated categorically that polls in the last week of the elections last June did affect the outcome in constituencies. I would like to get into that a little bit more deeply. I would like to know what evidence the Minister has for that. I am not doubting him, but those of us who feel that this area needs looking at, and perhaps needs action along the lines the Minister said, would need more concrete evidence — and obviously the Minister has it in his Department — as to how opinion polls in the last seven days have affected outcome in constituencies or indeed maybe throughout the entire country, who knows?
The question of allowing votes for our emigrants has been raised here. I can understand emotionally why there is a lot of attachment to the concept of allowing votes for our emigrants. I can go so far as to say that a reasonable case could be made for allowing votes for emigrants who have recently left our shores for whatever reason — and over the years  there have been historic as well as economic reasons why so many people have had to go elsewhere to earn their living. Those who have left in the last two to three years would have perhaps just finished their education in this country. They could have been working in this country and paying taxes here. Perhaps they have only gone abroad for a couple of years for experience and come back and benefit our country from that experience. After all, as an island nation, there will always be a lot of toing and froing from our shores.
The most difficult aspect, however, is to decide where one draws the line at even considering votes for emigrants, because if there was any question of allowing all emigrants, even first generation emigrants, to vote, I think there would be three times as many voting off our shore as on our shore, and I am being conservative with that figure. Therefore you could have Governments dictated to and changed by people who are no longer and have not been living for many years in our country. We all get a little bit more chauvinistic and romantic the further from the shores, and the longer you are away perhaps the greener the fields become. But you really have to live here and be in constant touch with the day-to-day difficulties as well as the day-to-day benefits of living in this country to make a true appreciation of who best represents your views in the country. I do not reject voting rights for our emigrants but I see enormous practical and logistical difficulties in allowing them, particularly for a general election of which we usually have only three to four weeks notice. I do not know how one would set up the structures throughout Europe and further afield, the United States, Australia and wherever else is envisaged, have a proper system of checking to ensure that they are bona fide electors, first of all, and have those votes returned in time to be included in the count.
Fine Gael have circulated their own Bill in this particular area, the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1991. We are advocating that three Seanad seats be directly elected by our  emigrants. Now this Bill in itself needs far more teasing out, and the system of ensuring that only bona fide electors abroad would vote has to be nailed down. It is another possible approach. From the point of view of practicality, the printing, distribution and collection of ballot papers in over 150 countries where Irish people now live, votes for the Seanad election might be a feasible option under our Irish political system, whereas, with often only three weeks' notice of a Dáil election, voting for the Dáil by emigrants from 150 countries is not a practical option under our present electoral system. The Seanad campaigns can last up to ten to 12 weeks, so that logistical difficulty could be overcome. It is an area to which, on an all-party basis, we all need to give far more thought. I know it is a popular issue at present and that it is an emotional issue in many counties that have been decimated by emigration and where many families whose sons and daughters are now abroad feel it would be one last link with their homeland, but we need to be practical and rational in our thinking and talking about this and, hopefully, have some solution to allow some, if albeit limited, representation when it comes to polling rights for our emigrants.
Section 92 states:
(1) Where a poll is to be taken at a Dáil election in a constituency, the returning officer shall send to every elector whose name is on the register of Dáil electors... a “polling information card”...
One does not have to have the polling card to vote, but there is an obligation on the returning officer to send a polling information card to every elector at a Dáil election. My understanding is that there is no obligation for it to be done for every local authority election; it is a “may” rather than a “shall” I am subject to correction on that.
Last June a decision was taken by Wexford County Council not to send out polling information cards for the local elections. In many areas, particularly in  growing areas where people had only recently been added to the register, or downtown areas where there is a huge turnover in flatland generally, there was enormous confusion as to where people should vote, whether they had a vote when they did not get a polling card, etc.
For all elections the returning officer should be obliged to send every elector whose name is on the register a polling information card. I ask the Minister to check that. Perhaps this Bill could be amended to ensure that that is the case.
However, it cannot be obligatory because it was not done in Wexford for the local elections and we had a lot of complaints and a lot of feedback — people driving to two or three polling booths to find out where their vote was because they had not got the information on a card, others who did not bother to vote because they did not get a card and thought they had to have a card to vote, and all the rest that goes with the confusion that arose.
Senator Mooney referred to problems in relation to Dáil elections. I will deal first with bill posting. Bill posting should not be absolutely prohibited. The Litter Act should be strictly enforced in terms of the clean up afterwards. Particularly if we are going to be very strict about opinion polls and about canvassing in the vicinity of polling stations on election day, we cannot go too far in terms of restricting the whole hype — to use the Minister's word — of an election. I feel very strongly about literature left on poles and billboards around the country after the 21 days or whatever the time is that election teams have to remove them. Now, under section 140, the name and address of the printer and of the publisher must be on all posters and bills. My understanding of the Litter Act is that anyone whose name now appears on these posters is subject to a fine if the poster is left up 21 days — I think — after the election. Will the printer and the publisher, who will now be obliged under section 140 to have their names on the posters, also be liable for penalties if posters are left up throughout the country? That would be unreasonable as they  have no control over what happens their posters and bills once they leave the printing and publishing office. It is the responsibility of the election teams and the candidates to take control of what happens them. We should check section 140 against the relevant section in the Litter Act which, I believe, states that anyone named on the poster could be liable for penalty.
One aspect not dealt with in the Bill, which other Senators have referred to, is the question of capping funding for elections both for parties and individual candidates. This is an area which is becoming more anti-democratic all the time in that the wealthier the candidate's organisation — be it an Independent or political party — the greater chance they have of “buying” votes and thereby being elected and achieving success in the election. I dread to think that we are going down the road of the American system where, unless you are very wealthy or backed by enormously wealthy corportions or combines, you just are not a starter.
I ask the Minister to look at this urgently. There must be capping on the funding of organisations and individuals. There must be declaration and a very clear system through which this can be checked so that nobody who would be a good candidate would be precluded from contesting the election. We have that kind of case made against the raising of the deposit from £100 to £500. I accept that that increase is reasonable, given where we started in 1923 and where we are today; but I do not think the present drift towards unlimited funding of financial campaigns can be let go much further and I plead that that be resolved.
In view of the enormous economic and social problems we have, one of the greatest turn-offs to the electorate is what is perceived as a vulgar waste of money in electioneering and campaigning. It is increasing the cynicism of the ordinary man and women in the street towards the electoral system. We need them to be greater participants rather than greater cynics and feeling outside the system as they are inclined to do at the moment. I  urge that that matter be looked at soon and, if possible, be included in this Bill. There are so many little interesting pieces added to what is basically a consolidation Bill that another section could be put in to deal with that aspect. I will rest my case.
I would like to see registration on the electoral register compulsory for all over 18. I will not go so far today as to say what voting should be compulsory, but we should be thinking of ways to ensure a far greater turnout at each election. I would like to see our merchant seamen, even our fishermen, who are at sea for long periods allowed a postal vote. They are taxpayers and residents and there is great bitterness among this group that they are not included with those who have the postal vote. I would like free travel for all students who cannot live in their own constituencies while attending third level colleges. On presentation of the student card, which has their photograph on it, they should be allowed return travel home from their place of study for polling day. I would like to see mail shots and unspecific post allowed as part of the free post in that the address would be sufficient without the name of the resident in the particular house. I would like the Minister to take that up with An Post because there have been difficulties in this area. I would urgently like to see capping of election funding both for the organisations and the individual candidates.
I am ambivalent as to proposals on the opinion polls. I see the difficulties that have been caused. I understand that the market research people have no real problems in this area because only 0.3 per cent of their funding comes from the three weeks of polling at election time, so it is not much jam off the bread. Senator Murphy's pointer towards the possible constitutional difficulties under Article 40 needs clarification before we proceed any further. I would like to see compulsory polling information cards for all elections.
I have made my points on emigrants. The Seanad is a more likely place in  which our emigrants could be represented than the Dáil, for all sorts of difficulties and not least the logistical ones.
This is an interesting Bill. We will have no difficulty with the general thrust of it, but there are many specific questions which will need answering both at this Stage and on Committee Stage to ensure that there is all-party support.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: First, I warmly and sincerely congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace. I am delighted to see him in this House in his official capacity. I am also glad of the portfolio he got because at times there have been comments, criticisms and questions raised as to who has enough knowledge to be assigned to a Department. Nobody can say that Minister Wallace has not got the qualifications for the portfolio of local government and the Environment. I wish the Minister and his family well, and I mean that from my heart.
Reading the address of the former Minister for the Environment to this House on this legislation, I do not understand why this Bill has not come before both Houses of the Oireachtas long before now. The Bill contains 176 sections, four Schedules and refers to 41 Acts, from the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851 to the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1989. How any of us could study or understand all this and make a Second Stage speech baffles me. My colleagues who have spoken up to now have done well. Senator Doyle has been an example of how local government is such an extraordinarily educational forum for people to serve in higher office and are able to take this type of Bill on board.
The Bill affects all elections. The Minister said:
The existing law on the conduct of Dáil elections is contained in 14 different pieces of legislation, the earliest of which dates back to 1923. In addition, legislation relating to the questioning of a Dáil election is contained in a  number of British enactments, the earliest of which is dated 1852. These enactments were continued in operation for Dáil and Seanad elections and referenda by the Electoral Act, 1923. The sheer number of statutes relating to Dáil elections and the extensive amendment of the principal enactments have left the law in a very fragmented state. It is, in fact, in danger of becoming the preserve of the expert and the specialists.
Everybody who knows me is aware of my horror of experts and specialists, in whatever field they serve. I am a firm believer in staying with what I am best at. It is good that we have a system where we, the elected representatives can discuss and pass this important Bill.
The Minister continued:
I think it will be of benefit to all that basic law relating to the election of our national Parliament should be spelt out in a logical manner in a single comprehensive piece of legislation which is accessible and meaningful to participants, administrators, the legal profession, the media and the public generally. This Bill will bring that about.
Who am I to doubt any Minister. If this Bill achieves that, it is excellent legislation which I warmly welcome. I am well known for not welcoming Bills if I have reservations — Whip or no Whip. I take that as gospel.
We have gone through an extraordinary couple of weeks. I must put it on record that I think it is absolutely marvellous that we have elected a new Taoiseach, a new Government, a new second line and passed Deputy Ahern's first budget as Minister for Finance. We did it all without opinion polls, without Today Tonight, without experts asking different people's opinions. Maybe there is something for all to learn from that. We did such extraordinarly important work in a calmer fashion because of events. I say that with great caution because I worry deeply about any upset in staff or industrial strikes but because  the RTE dispute happened at this extraodinary time of change, we had the changing of a Government and a Taoiseach without a great deal of the hassle.
I believe that opinion polls sway people's thinking. I do not know what percentage, nor would I dare to guess, but there is no doubt that some polls have cost my party seats. This proves that people do take notice. The die-hards who are getting fewer and fewer each year, will vote right anyway. Opinion polls play a role in the Ireland of today. They do not influence some people but Senator Doyle gave an example of how they do have an effect on others. I strongly believe they sway voters.
Another point I want to make relates to the order in which candidates names are on the ballot paper. People have changed their names by deed poll simply to be placed higher on the ballot paper. It crossed my mind at one stage to do so because my maiden name is Barlow and I would have been nearer the top of the ballot paper but then I judged my friends would go far enough down the paper to find my name and I let it be. However, I accept that the place on the ballot paper has affected candidates.
I strongly support the increase in the deposit. I say it loudly and clearly and with care because there is no way increasing the deposit from £100 to £500 will stop any serious candidate who intends to stand. People have stood for election as a joke. I saw it happen in my own constituency. People should not stand unless they intend to get elected and they should have a chance of election. Some of my colleagues have said that £100 at the time it was introduced has the equivalent of £3,000 today. I welcome the increase in the deposit. Candidates who are serious about elections will get the £500 even if they have to get a loan. The deposit is returned in any event.
It would be wrong and sad if only wealthy people could make it to a House of the Oireachtas or indeed to local government. I have strong views on this. For those of us who serve and do not have big money behind us, it would be dreadful if we could not stand for the national  Parliament because we did not have the money. We are well aware of the cost of an election at this time but it is good that we serve in a democracy where wealth does not elect a person. We all need a certain amount of money to get ourselves elected and I say that in the context of the deposit. I am not saying that people with money should not be elected but I am saying that it is important that it is not the main criterion.
I am impressed with section 17 where we have the special vote for disabled persons who will no longer be required to be certified to be of sound mind. To be quite honest, I could never understand why that was there. It reads:
The registration authority shall enter in the special voters list the name of every elector who applies to be so entered and who satisfies the register authority that-he (a) [or she] is unable to go in person to vote at the polling place for his polling district by reason of physical illness or physical disability suffered by him [or her];
It also applies to section 100 which reads:
Where, not less than 7 days before polling day at a Dáil election, a Dáil elector, whose name is not on the postal voters list or on the special voters list, satisfies the returning officer that he is unable, by reason of physical illness or physical disability suffered by him, to vote at a polling station at which he would otherwise be entitled to vote, the returning officer may, if he is of the opinion that it would be more convenient for the elector because of his physical illness or physical disability to vote at another polling station situated in the same constituency, in writing authorise the elector to vote at such polling station as may be specified in the authorisation instead of the polling station at which the elector would otherwise be entitled to vote.
I welcome both of those sections because of my interest in the field of special and mentally handicapped and I do not want to let the Bill go through without commenting on that aspect.  We come to the matter of standing outside polling booths and canvassing within 50 metres of the polling stations. This certainly will be welcomed by the voters and the old ones at the game, and I put myself in that bracket. I am convinced, and I have manned polling stations for 40 years, that even now in Ireland today when a person leaves his or her home they have made up their mind who they are going to vote for and nobody, no pamphlets, paperwork or dragging people around polling booths will change their mind. In recent elections they are going past us faster than they used to years ago. Some years ago when you canvassed outside a polling station at least they were civil and they would say “yes” to the canvassers. If you live in a constituency in the country you know how nearly every household votes. You change nobody's No. 1 vote by annoying them outside the polling station.
No matter how serious and important this legislation is, there is a fun side to this Bill because it affects all common-sense politicians at local authority level. I have seen a great change at polling booths over the years. Years ago, the Fine Gael van pulled up with the lunch for the Fine Gael people who were manning the polling booths and dare they offer a cup of tea or a sandwich to a Fianna Fáil or Labour supporter. Then the Fianna Fáil van pulled up and you would nearly lose your membership of the cumann if you offered a Fine Gael fellow a cup of tea. The lovely thing about recent times is that all that has gone. I changed it at some of the booths I manned and we share the food, and that is the way it should be. I do not think annoying people outside the booth changes what goes on the ballot paper.
That brings me to the manning of polling booths during Seanad elections. This is a new caper. The awful thing about Seanad voting is that you have about three constituencies voting at the same time on the same day and you have to try to see if the people on your panel are changing their votes because that is  where changes take place at the last minute.
I am happy if the Bill provides for an accurate and up-to-date register, because there has been a lot of trouble outside polling booths reading registers and trying to find people on them. They come to the wrong booth and you send them to another booth and half an hour later they are back again telling you they are not on the other register.
The composition of the register is important when people go to the trouble of coming out to vote because like Senator Avril Doyle, I think it is an absolute disgrace that some of the people who cause us most trouble in our constituencies, who put the greatest pressure on us as TDs, Senators, county councillors and urban councillors, are the ones who we know, because we have them marked by our tallyman, do not vote. It is dreadful when you think of the high price we had to pay for our freedom and for a free vote. It shows such bad example to young people. It is one encouragement I have given young people when they talk to me. I beg them to vote. I told my own two children to vote even if they changed their minds about who to vote for. I know they never would change. I do not know how we will get home the importance of the vote to the extraordinarily high percentage of people who no longer come out to vote. Some years ago the register was compiled by dedicated party members; but there may not be as many around today to do that for us.
I come now to the Fourth Schedule. I would like to refer to Senator Hederman's worry about “non-party”. She wants this “Independent tag”. That is fine but I do not know what trouble she has with “non-party”. Since she is not a member of a party, what is wrong with “non-party”? When I comment on what one of my colleagues said in the House, I prefer if they are here. I will not say any more, although some people comment on what I have said when I am not here. Anyway I do not understand her worry about “Independent”. To me non-party is the same. I do not know how Independents think. What kind of a nation  would we have if we did not have the strong parties, such as the one of which I am lucky to be a member, and Senator Jackman's on the other side.
I have strong views about encouraging more people to vote. I would ask the Minister to take a look at free travel for students, even if it were only to encourage them to come home to vote on polling day. Maybe it would raise the low percentage of polling we have had in recent elections.
I welcome this very big Bill. I know it will take a while to go through this House and the Dáil and I am sure there will be amendments to it. I know the common-sense approach of the team in the Department of Local Government — I keep calling it “Local Government”; I never thought it should have been changed to “Environment”. However that was somebody else's decision. “Environment” means a different thing. We are dealing with local government here but it is under the Department of the Environment. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace well. I hope he serves for two good years and that I will see him again in a future Cabinet. I warmly and sincerely welcome the Bill.
Mrs. Jackman Mrs. Jackman
Mrs. Jackman: I welcome the new Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Wallace, who is known to me from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights. I feel we are going to be well steered and I wish him the best in his new portfolio.
I welcome this Bill which, as Senator Honan said, we had hoped to have before us last summer. It is interesting to look at the size of the Bill and at page ten where 41 Acts are referred to dating from 1851 to 1989. Obviously electoral legislation has been extremely piecemeal and it is necessary to tidy up the process. The mind boggles even at the name. Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851. It was a nice trot back in history to look at Victorian legislation, and something that a research student in politics would like to get their hands on to go through all the various demographic and other changes,  the Electoral Acts, Diplomatic Relations and Immunity Acts, Holidays and Employees Acts, and including the European Assembly elections. There is even a reference in this legislation to the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978. It represents a canvas of Irish life from 1851 right up to today.
The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate the law relating to the election of Members to the Dáil; we are all glad to see that it covers the registration of electors, the nomination process, the taking of polls, the counting of votes right through to offences and penalties for offences. It is good to have this fine thick Bill of 119 pages before us. It is difficult to get through it today given the length of contributions. The Minister, Deputy Wallace, must have patience because some contributions span more than two hours because of the length of the Bill, and I think Second Stage will be much longer than would have been anticipated.
It is good to have the entire electoral law contained in a single statute. I will look specifically at the comprehensive code in Part Two relating to the registration of electorates which is particularly welcome. I find the language, whether it is civil servants' language or what, irritating. As a teacher of English in the past I would be looking at the positive rather than the negative aspects but I query the use of the phrase “it compares not unfavourably”. This was used in the speech of the former Minister, Deputy O'Hanlon, the other day to refer to our registration in relation to other EC countries. Why do we use “not unfavourably”, which seems rather negative compared to “it compares favourably with”. That is a small point.
Senators Honan and Doyle referred to the local authorities whose job it is to compile the voter's register. This takes considerable time and focuses the minds of political parties so that two, three and sometimes four checks are performed on registers, which can only be good for democracy. As county councillors we appreciate the diligence, expertise, efficiency and the high degree of professionalism and perfection that local  authority officials devote to compilation of the drafts and to the publishing of the official register. In Limerick County Council the county secretary has always taken that role and takes a pride in comparing registers from one year to the next and seeing that errors become fewer.
Local government officials engaged in this work must be complimented because it is done in addition to their other tasks. Register compilation is something that practice and experience makes perfect.
I can understand why the draft register was published up to seven months before the publishing of the final register and I can understand why it is important to shorten that. I accept that the information on the register will be out of date by the time the final register is published but why is it necessary to take 1 September as the pivotal date? September is still holiday time and the fact that primary school children in many cases have returned to school by 31 August or earlier and post-primary schools reopen around that time does not preclude parents and members of the public from taking advantage of cheap trips abroad in early September. The emphasis on one's place of residence on that date will prove a problem because if a legal problem arises the courts will interpret that provision to mean where one was on 1 September. This may not be so because the Bill says “ordinarily resident” but it would be preferable, given that September is still holiday time that a revision court for legal interpretation might adopt the period of the first week of September as more appropriate than a specific day. Why should it be limited to one day? A week would be far more appropriate and it would present fewer problems if a period of a week rather than a specific day were adopted in the Bill.
The deliberations of the revision courts are now to be concluded by Christmas Eve with the publishing of the register on 1 February which still presents problems. The old system from 1 December to 15 January is described in the Minister's presentation as a holiday period but it still left time for revision courts sittings  to be completed by 28 February. Since the register was published on 1 April all of March remained intact for inspections whereas the new arrangements extend from 23 December to the publishing of the register by 1 February. On the 23 December one can presume that local authority personnel like everyone else are out celebrating, and given the likelihood of Christmas leave, they will not be back in action until 2 January. Taking 6 or 7 January as a legitimate date at which all local authority personnel will be back at work, one is cutting down the holiday period. I do not know if local authorities will have the resources or the time to implement the requirement of this section in January. Balancing the two and understanding the need to shorten the present time span, the revised suggestion, given the intense work required, is no improvement and should be reexamined.
I return to the negative image implied by the phrase “compares not unfavourably”. There is a reference in the Bill saying that it is the duty of the local authority to ensure that the register is compiled correctly. I find that the advertisments placed in both local and national newspapers by the Department of the Environment and by local authorities are again rather negative. It is phrased to convey that if one is not registered one cannot vote. This is a dreary message and might be replaced by a positive message. I would be happier if there was greater emphasis on the idea of self-registration. In Ireland the negative has always been paramount, stemming from a centralised education system, from our colonial legacy and from the dependency element emphasised by the Catholic Church which taught one what to avoid; the emphasis was always placed on the negative. We should throw that out once and for all and look to the importance of citizenship.
I do not have figures on the percentages of people who go to the polls in America. It is a multi-cultural, extraordinary country and would not provide a valid comparison with Ireland. Greater emphasis is evident in the USA on the  importance of the citizen. We are very casual about how we interpret and appreciate democracy. We understand freedom, but we seem to be more caught up with that idea than with the notion of democracy and citizenship. The onus on the voter to examine the register is commendable but perhaps the public relations firm or whoever sends out that message could place the emphasis on one's duty as a citizen to vote; it should involve not wagging the finger but should be an appeal to the importance of citizenship. People should be encouraged to take responsibility for their citizenship to check whether they are on the register and to do it out of pride in their citizenship.
The compiling of the register presents further difficulties such as the acquisition of information. People who live in urban areas frequently work outside the home during the day and the field officer may call many times to locate them. He may get garbled information from next door if he finds someone next door but in many cases it takes numerous trips by the field officer to homes to check the register. If the field officer, returns at night, given increasing concern about night-time callers, people may not admit her or him and there may be occasions when field officers cannot obtain the necessary information. I suppose that is where the political parties go into action since local councillors would be au fait with the habits of people in surburbia. One does not know whether rented houses are let to students or who owns them and this causes considerable difficulty which is becoming greater as suburbs expand.
On the subject of citizenship, I speak regularly in this House on the need for political studies to be included in school curricula. I am not referring to civics as teachers know that civics classes are hijacked for the higher maths extra or other subjects. It does not feature on the curricula except in the case of a teacher with a particular interest in ensuring that students are made aware of the importance of citizenship, of the structures of local democracy and of national and European assemblies. The points system  has interfered with this aspect of the curriculum.
American students can stand up and recite the US Constitution from beginning to end without even stopping for breath. Our students at primary and post-primary level are not tuned in to the importance of our Constitution. They know it exists but I question if they have ever seen it in booklet form. If we taught political studies in schools, students from first year onwards would be introduced to the structures of local government and would make visits to corporation and county council meetings. They may be extremely disillusioned by some of them but if they are prepared fully and if the agenda is gone through with them they will find it enlightening and will acquire an impression of how local democracy works and learn to appreciate their role as members of society. There is no point in waiting until people are 18 and 19 and then imploring them, as mothers and fathers do, to ensure that their name is on the register telling them they should be looking forward to their first vote.
Initiation into the political process takes place in politically orientated families but many students grow up in an atmosphere of political cynicism. Many of the students I used to teach were able to reel off the names of MPs in Westminster but could not tell me at 17 years the five TDs representing the Limerick-East constituency. Deputy O'Rourke was Minister for Education then and had quite a high media profile and they still thought that former Minister Gemma Hussey was Minister. We cannot presume they are tuned in at all to what is happening in Dáil Éireann. They are happier tuning in to what is happening abroad and we must realise that.
Giving students free travel as Senator Honan and Senator Doyle suggested is a good idea particularly when they are in university and would like to vote at home but I feel strongly that social and environmental studies should include political studies. We would then have a more patriotic electorate and would not be running around putting pressure on young people to vote and explaining the system  to them again and again. The only people who go after them are the politicians. That creates a vicious circle because politicians are known to have a vested interest. Young people never experience a non-partisan approach where a teacher will explain why they should vote in the context of a learning process. The Minister for the Environment might produce some type of brochure that could be circulated to schools so that young people might be enthused with the importance of democracy and of voting.
The Waterford Regional Technical College had a problem with dual registering and Castletroy where the University of Limerick is situated dropped 200 from a register of 3,250 last year which suggests that the 200 names were those of students registering in both places. Any student who wishes to vote will be totally au fait with the politics of their own constituency. I do not think there would have been any difference in the Limerick-East vote in relation to those 200 extra students because they would have wanted to travel to Waterford, Cork, Donegal, Dublin or wherever they were from; they would have been far happier identifying with their local candidates. It is important that they are now given the option of registering either in one place or another.
Transport is essential because as two previous speakers stated and as Senator Upton pointed out the other day the “political” bus which transports them to vote gives the impression that they are voting fodder and students resent this. It should be noted that when general elections are held in June courses may not be finished nor exams over and it may be difficult for students to get home to vote, as happened last year. Some who may have registered at home could find that they had an exam in Limerick on Thursday when they wanted to vote in Donegal the following day or whatever.
I was delighted that the Bill contains the option for gardaí to register as postal voters or as ordinary electors. This is to be welcomed. In one small town in Limerick in the past the ballot box had  to be opened in the presence of the only local garda and in the presence of the candidates. It must have been extremely embarrassing for him to have been identified as having voted for a particular political party. No element of confidentiality was afforded to members of the Garda. A garda's life is not an easy one and a garda who could be quoted as having voted for a certain political party in a small town might become a wanted person, depending on which party he voted for. That was in the past. I am glad that the opportunity is afforded to them now to register as postal voters or as ordinary citizens.
I am in two minds about the section which provides for the possibility of publishing a list of additions and deletions rather than a full draft register each year. I can understand why the Minister is introducing it on an experimental basis in selected areas and it would need to be done on a pilot scheme. In the case of Limerick County Council — it is better to deal with concrete examples — the register there contains 78,000 voters and the average number of additions and deletions over the last number of years would be approximately 3,000. It would be easier to publish a smaller list of 3,000 additions and deletions rather than a thick draft of 78,000 voters. Generally 200 or 300 draft registers are published and that involves not only the cost of printing and paper but also the time and resources of council staff, despite the aid of computers.
On the one hand it is far easier to check 3,000 names than to have to wade through 78,000 voters; it eliminates checking time and perhaps error. I still think, however, that one should have the opportunity of going in and checking the full draft register because ultimately one is dealing with additions and deletions and to look at the full document is preferable. The advantage of reducing cost has to be weighed against the accuracy of the register and here I would opt for the accuracy of the register. If this proposal is piloted I hope it will be piloted in an urban area because that is where the greatest difficulties lie.  I welcome the increase of Exchequer funding for the register from 50 per cent to 75 per cent. I am worried about penalties for inaccuracies; can one blame local authorities if there are inaccuracies? I blame the person. Many people when I asked them if they wished to be on the register replied, no. When I asked if they wished their daughters or sons to be on the register now that they are over 18 their reply was no, because that would mean they could be traced for tax, or they would not want the Revenue Commissioners after them. That is very sad and goes back to my earlier point about not appreciating the importance of voting. People will say “I do not want to be on the register because I am there as Mary Jackman, Newtown, Castletroy, to be checked out and written to perhaps with a lot of junk mail, political literature, etc.”.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney) Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney): Not an unacceptable scenario.
Mrs. Jackman Mrs. Jackman
Mrs. Jackman: Maybe I misinterpreted it. Can you blame the local authority field worker who may be given a wrong name because a man with six children feels he is going to be caught for tax? This is an extraordinary statement but it has been made to me by quite a number by people who do not wish to be put on the register. If the field officer asks an individual his name who does not wish to say he is Eoin Ryan and says he is Eoin Hand, the checking would be difficult where a wrong name is taken as bona fide at the time. There is a whole agenda behind an individual's notion that somehow he is a wanted person by being on the register.
How legal is it that people's names be included on that register? If it is legal, what penalties will be imposed on these misfortunate field workers who are being sold up the Swanee by people with a different agenda? I worry about that because I do not really feel that the field officers are ultimately responsible. If someone says he is Eoin Hand when he is really Eoin Ryan, one accepts it. This situation is particularly difficult in areas  of transient populations in suburban regions and particularly in the mid-west where foreign industry involves much toing and froing of people.
We come now to the welcome provisions for special voters which enables disabled voters to vote in their own homes where the presiding officer must be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. I do not like the words “that while the system is expensive and cumbersome to operate”. Limerick County Council tried out this system last year. For two days two presiding officers went out to institutions in the county — one in Newcastle West and the other, to the Cheshire Home, in Rathfredagh — where a group of disabled people wanted to vote. They worked through that satisfactorily and efficiently. This provision should not pose a problem and would not be expensive or cumbersome when people are congregated in two locations — I am talking specifically about Limerick County Council. They also planned a route — this is very important for the Department of the Environment — so that six, seven, eight or even more disabled voters could be visited in their homes. It is easy for presiding officers and the county secretary or whoever would have responsibility to plan an inexpensive route whereby voters could be taken in both directions on the day. This was done last year by Limerick County Council and it was so successful that far from complaining about inconvenience, the presiding officers and the council wished it to be extended.
The levels of reward and satisfaction enjoyed by the presiding officers were so high that they wanted to repeat the exercise and extend it still further the following year, or whenever we have an election. They found that the individual visited in his or her home felt that they were being treated extra specially for one day in the year. They dressed up for the occasion and were afforded greater status; many disabled people feel that able-bodied people sometimes do not look on them as real people. For some of them it might have been one of few visits received from outsiders, apart from  their carers. I was delighted when the presiding officers reported that this was the highlight of the election procedure last year. Joy and a sense of satisfaction were obtained by all involved. Despite expense and despite inconvenience, where there is a will there is a way and it was regarded as a plus.
We are glad to see the deletion of “sound mind”. A medical certificate should only be required once, except when moving from one constituency to another. That aspect of the Bill is welcome and will bring a lot of joy to house-bound people.
The increase in the deposit from £100 to £500 as the Minister said, will cut out the frivolous vexatious type of candidate. I agree with that but the figure would be £3,000 minimum if we were to keep in line with the value of money today. I do not think it would exclude Independent candidates because we know in this House particularly with Independent Senators, there is an Independent machine at work. There is even a single issue machine, where a candidate is running on a hospital issue or in respect of some issue such as potholes. I was in Cavan last weekend and nearly disappeared down what I would consider a split level crater. I now realise why there were candidates elected to Cavan County Council on that issue. Even in respect of candidates who may go forward on the unemployment issue, I think their supporters would be willing to provide the £500 deposit so that will not eliminate people who are disadvantaged financially. We are nearly all disadvantaged, financially, these days, but this provision will certainly eliminate the frivolous candidate.
Let us turn to the 50-metre saga. I enjoyed Senator Honan's description of polling stations which could be repeated all over rural Ireland, particularly in relation to the shenanigans at the polling stations. I would say to her that the level of cuisine is now such that people almost bring their own microwaves. It is not a question of sandwiches any more. Technology has caught up and unless you have  a caravan, a microwave and cordon bleu cooking you are not in the running. I am not a cordon bleu expert so my contributions to workers on the day have been very basic and often have been supplemented by the better cuisine of the other political parties. The sharing of the spoils at election day has obviously improved the goodwill between candidates. It is not like the faction fighting of the past.
In my own area there is hardly a vote cast before 6 p.m. because it is a suburban area where most people commute to work. However after 6 o'clock it is like the Dublin City Marathon with people trying to get to the polling station as quickly as they can. They are showered with literature, roared at, screamed at and that is not to be welcomed. There is not the old style camaraderie of the rural areas. In the country areas things are more civil. You can have a chat, it is a day out, but in suburban areas you get this massive surge of people in the evening at the polling station. I often wonder what would happen if a person was caught in this rush and unable to vote before the polling station closed at nine o'clock. Would they have a case to take about the obstruction of their passage to the polling booth to cast their vote? That problem will be addressed by the proposal in the Bill in respect of the 50-metre provision. In that connection the polling station in Castletroy is more than that distance from the gate.
The provision must be clarified. It should be a matter for the returning officer in each constituency to inform all candidates and their agents of the precise curtilage of each polling booth. That is essential because questions could be asked, such as is a gate, a door a wall, a ditch, the limit. There may be several entrances. This is going to cause confusion because people will draw lines, they will measure the 50-metres and still the matter will not be solved. Fifty-metres is only 150 feet. There may be problems in measuring the distance in the case of new schools where the old building may have been at the gate. This  whole matter will pose enormous difficulties. The returning officer should inform the candidates and the agents of the precise curtilage of each polling station.
There must be a balance between the rights of the candidates to express views and to canvass opinions of voters and the right of the individual voter to enter a polling booth unimpeded without having to run the gauntlet of the canvassers, without being embarrassed or intimidated. While I am conscious of the rights of the citizen I am also conscious of the importance of political parties being present on the day because if one political party is present with sticker and banners and loudspeakers and there is no sign of the other political party, that could have a significant influence on the candidate.
Section 167 relates to opinion polls and that measure is bound to be controversial. There must be a balance between freedom of speech and the constitutional democratic right to express an opinion and influence an opinion. The Bill refers to “a systematic enquiry conducted by means of questioning a sample of persons considered to be representative of the population of the State or any part there of for the purpose of ascertaining the likely opinions of the population of the State as a whole or part thereof on matters relating to any election”. It is really not the taking of such polls that should be banned, it is their publishing. That is not very clear. That whole area needs to be looked at again in great detail because it is very confusing.
If Gay Byrne comes back on the “Gay Byrne Hour” and decides to have a phone-in whether you prefer Taoiseach elect X or Taoiseach elect Y and then gives the findings, which he has done on many occasions, is that an opinion poll? The silent people, particularly housewives, who tune in to the “Gay Byrne Hour” are influenced by it. They will know the telephone-in for a particular candidate is 9 per cent, 10 per cent, 50 per cent or 60 per cent and that will influence them. I want to know whether  that is considered an opinion poll because it is influencing opinion.
Where there are local radio stations would their phone-ins constitute opinion polls? They do a tremendous amount of that type of telephone survey and they, too, have influence. This area has to be looked at in great detail and I am sure there will be amendments.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: It should be eliminated.
Mrs. Jackman Mrs. Jackman
Mrs. Jackman: It is difficult to eliminate because there is one section here that I would not like to see eliminated. Current affairs programme producers or personnel try ad hoc sampling by telephone. The Minister would have to be sensitive to the rights of these producers. I am not saying they are publishing the results but why should they not be entitled to test the mood of the electorate? Otherwise one is speaking from a subjective view. Everybody in this country has strong political allegiance one way or another. Do not let anybody say they are apolitical because when it comes to a discussion or a chat, they are political within the second sentence and you do not have to read between the lines. Producers or personnel who are compiling current affairs programmes need that information; they are not publishing it. I think the Minister must be very sensitive when dealing with this matter. The legislation does not lay down clear guidelines.
This is a new measure. In America they do not have opinion polls six weeks before an election. This may be because the electorate are overly influenced by television and would not have easy access to their politicians as there is here. I can understand they would have a different scenario.
I now come to the vox populi, the vox pop. If one walks down Grafton Street carrying a microphone and asks six people their opinion, say, on a political matter, is that an opinion poll? Will there be guidelines as to how a vox pop is to be conducted? Admittedly the views of this random sample of the electorate will be heard on the airwaves and they could be published in a newspaper, but is that  an opinion poll? This will need to be spelled out.
I can understand Senator Doyle and Senator Naughten pleading very passionately for votes for recent emigrants. People like Brendan the Navigator did their globetrotting before Christopher Columbus was even thought of. Considering our size, Ireland has the greatest number of emigrants and it would be a very difficult one to know where one would stop when it came to giving votes to emigrants. In the last few years our people have been emigrating but not from choice. They are leaving from necessity. You would feel for them. They see themselves as Irish. This, too, will have to be thrashed out and debated. Fine Gael said emigrants could be given the vote for Seanad elections. That might be a more realistic approach but we should not rule out giving them voting rights to Dáil elections.
I wish to refer again to students. Students should have free travel if we are serious about ensuring that they use their first vote. For many, this is the vote that will decide whether they will take responsibility for being citizens. If they get free travel for one day I do not think this facility will be abused. I do not think students would travel from Limerick to Donegal and back, or from Cork to Mayo and back in the same day unless they had a specific reason which would be in this case to vote. The matter should be looked at, and I think it would be welcomed.
There are many other points that could be teased out in greater detail and we will have the opportunity on Committee Stage.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I would like to formally welcome the Minister for Labour, Deputy Cowen to the House. It is a great honour for us that the Minister has found time to be with us this afternoon so soon after his appointment, which has been welcomed universally. May I offer you, not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all Senators our very best wishes in your new portfolio.
Professor Conroy Professor Conroy
 Professor Conroy: I, too, join in welcoming Minister Cowen to this very arduous and difficult post but one in which we all know he has the capacity, ability and determination to succeed. I welcome him and wish him well. This is a very detailed Bill, very much a tidying up exercise. It is extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive and reflects credit on those who have been involved in its preparation. An enormous amount of work and care must have gone into this Bill and we welcome the Government's initiative in introducing it.
We take democracy for granted. We take it for granted that we should have this form of Bill and the earlier Acts in front of us, yet, until a few short months ago, democracy was the exception rather than the rule in most of the world. For almost half of the population of the world, democracy still does not exist. In one sense we are very privileged to have democracy with all its many faults and defects. It is the fairest system, it is the way by which every individual ultimately can make the choice who he or she wishes to have in Parliament. That is something which we take for granted, but in other countries we saw the suffering and the injustices which resulted and when it was abrogated. Change becomes virtually impossible except in the most unpleasant revolutionary circumstances. Therefore, when we look at this Bill and go through it, let us also be very thankful for the existence of the democracy which requires the legislation.
Having said that, we in this country assume that proportional representation, particularly the form of proportional representation we are used to and which is embodied and detailed in this Bill, is the best electoral system, the single transferable vote in a multi-seat constituency. Perhaps it is time, with the evolution of the European Community, that one of the major aspects of that Community, the form of voting, should be looked at as well. There are a number of variants on this system. The only country in western Europe that does not have proportional representation in one form or another is Britain. Even there it seems very likely  that, after the coming general election, the system of voting will, at the very least, be reviewed. Some of us listened to Mr. Ashdown, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, who devoted almost his entire television broadcast last night to an appeal for a review of voting arrangements. This is understandable from his immediate point of view and that of his party in view to the high number of votes they get and the failure to reflect this in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, many people outside the Liberal Democrats are also looking at the system. Perhaps we should be looking at our system also. Is it right that we should have a series of different sized constituences? Should we have a list or slate of votes? Should we have single member constituencies with a transferable vote as we have in by-elections? These are questions we should examine. In this Bill we are simply taking the answers for granted and that is appropriate since it is a comprehensive tidying-up Bill rather than one in which we are looking at matters in a specifically innovative way as regards the overall form of election.
Let us look at some of these practical matters. One of them is the register of electors. To many of us the register of electors simply means a great deal of work and, at times, a great deal of frustration given the number of people who come to us at elections and find they are not on the list for one reason or another, the effort we make as we go around constituencies trying to get people on to the list, trying to remind them, trying to get it organised. It is an enormous task and one that is becoming much more difficult as Senator Honan has said. At one time the various cumainn and party political branches would spend a great deal of time going around checking the register. It is becoming more and more difficult with modern-day political organisations and attitudes to get people to do this enormously time-consuming and difficult task, when they have to call on thousands of houses and call back to many of them several times.
A proper register is the absolute basis for elections. If you do not have it, then  you are beginning to move away from the whole idea of democracy. Someone may be deprived of a vote simply because they did not fill in a form, because of a typographical error or, as is much more like to happen these days, because a computer error which can easily leave a whole sheet of electors out. The question arises of people appearing on a number of different registers. The very limited postal voting system means that many people are deprived of their democratic rights, people with occupations such as seamen or fishermen have to carry out their job and will not be there on the day we happen to call an election. There are many other examples of people who are deprived of their vote.
Should there be compulsory voting? One or two Senators in this House advocated it. I would have reservations about that. It is part of democracy for people to make up their own minds if they will or will not come out to vote. If they do not want to vote that should be their privilege. Having said that, it should be, as far as possible, feasible for them to vote and they should not be prevented by illness, incapacity, or their job. There are so many people, a very substantial electorate or potential electorate, who are, in practice, disinfranchised simply because they have had to leave their native country. We should be conscious of this and I disagree with Senator Doyle in that I do not think it is sufficient to suggest that, in some way, they should be represented in the Seanad. They are Irish citizens who are abroad, very often through no desire of their own. They should be entitled to a vote, and the logistical difficulties could be overcome in that matter.
In regard to the question of opinion polls, people are entitled to information. I would have some reservations about the banning of opinion polls but, if they can be shown to be affecting elections there is an argument against them similar to the old argument, which has gone down in history books long since now, against holding elections on different days. You could have a rolling effect. It used to be seen in the old elections, particularly in  the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century. Opinion polls may influence people excessively or may be manipulated to influence them, but I agree with Senator Jackman that it is not sufficient for the Bill to ban the organised opinion polls. They are the ones which should be left because they are factual statements, if straw polls, especially those on the mass media, are still to occur right up to the day of election. Those polls would probably have at least as much and maybe a lot more influence than the more scientific polls. This is something we need to consider and I am concerned at any suggestion that information be withheld. That is slightly repugnant despite the very understandable arguments.
In relation to deposits, we are increasing the actual cash amount but we are reducing the likelihood of losing a deposit. The level at which that happens now goes down to a quarter as opposed to a third of the quota. This is very proper because one of the disadvantages of democracy, where you have a deposit system, is that if a party in a given election does not do very well, it may be inhibited from putting up candidates. It has probably never occurred in this country but in our neighbouring country the Liberal Party was almost decimated financially when it happened to do extremely badly in one election. On the other hand we can be very glad that we do not seem to have the Screaming Lord Sutch candidates who have become a feature particularly of by-elections in the UK. We have enough colour as it is already.
Minister for Labour (Mr. Cowen) Brian Cowen
Minister for Labour (Mr. Cowen): We have plenty of raving loonies.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: When is it proposed to sit again?
Professor Conroy Professor Conroy
Professor Conroy: It is proposed to sit at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 February 1992.
Seanad Éireann 131 Private Business. Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991: Second Stage (Resumed).