Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 03 April, 1996

Consultation Paper on Representation of Emigrants in Seanad Éireann: Statements.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I am pleased that the Seanad has agreed to have this debate so soon after the publication of the consultation paper on Representation of Emigrants in Seanad Éireann. The reason for publishing the consultation paper was to focus public debate not just on the issues of principle involved but on the details of how a scheme of representation might work. In this way we aim to ensure that people know exactly what is involved before they are asked to vote on the issue at a referendum.

It is just over a year since the Minister addressed this House during a debate on Seanad representation for emigrants. Since then further consideration of the matter led to the view that, in the interest of clarity for the electorate, details of the proposals should be published and debated in advance instead of compressing any public debate into the relatively short period that usually elapses between the passing of a Constitution Amendment Bill and the subsequent referendum.

The paper states in the introduction that the Government will consider carefully any suggestions emerging in the course of the consultation process — notably in relation to the position of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland. It is particularly appropriate that the first formal consideration of the paper should be in the Upper House. As the House is aware, the debate on emigrant representation has been going on for several years and has been subject of [2074] debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The present proposals arise from a commitment in the policy agreement A Government of Renewal, which states that provision will be made to allow for the election of three Members of Seanad Éireann by Irish emigrants. Implementing this commitment requires the approval of the people to amending the Constitution.

The consultation paper includes the proposed amendment to Article 18 of the Constitution. It is straightforward and would enable provision to be made by law for the election of three Members of Seanad Éireann by Irish citizens resident outside the State who were formerly resident in the State. Under that arrangement the number of nominated Members of the Seanad would be reduced to eight so that the total number of Senators would not increase. The expression “emigrant” has not been included in the text of the proposed amendment because it could imply a degree of permanent absence and could have the unintended effect of excluding from the franchise a citizen working abroad for a number of years who intends to return to live in the State at some future time.

If the proposed amendment of the Constitution is approved by the people, it will be necessary to enact legislation on the various aspects of an electoral process to enable the three emigrant representatives to be elected. During the progress of such legislation through both Houses, Members would have an opportunity to debate the details of that legislation. However, it is important that the people should be aware of the details before they are asked to vote. Suggestions in relation to each of the issues involved are set out in the consultation paper.

Who should be eligible to vote for the three Senators? The paper proposes that an emigrant elector should be a citizen of Ireland, have reached the age of 18 years, have been resident in the State for a minimum period of ten years, and be now resident outside the State but not for a period exceeding 20 years. [2075] Such a person could apply for registration in accordance with the proposed legislation. However, a person would not be entitled to be registered as an emigrant elector if the person is for the time being registered as a Dáil elector pursuant to the Electoral Act, 1992, or an elector in a university constituency pursuant to the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act, 1937. The latter point will have particular interest for some Members of this House. Apart from this, Members may have views on the time periods. In particular, should the qualifying periods suggested for residence in the State and for residence outside the State be longer or shorter?

Under the proposed amendment, Irish citizens who have lived in the State for the requisite period and who move to live in Northern Ireland will be eligible to vote at Séanad elections. However, Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland who did not previously live in the State for the requisite period would not be eligible to vote. Senators will appreciate that this is one of the particularly difficult issues to be addressed in framing the necessary legislation.

Who should be eligible to stand for election? The proposal is that the qualifications which apply for Dáil membership would apply in the case of Senators representing emigrants. Thus, every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of 21 years and who is not placed under disability or incapacity by the Constitution or by law would be eligible to stand for election. Every candidate would have to be nominated, with his or her consent, in writing on a prescribed nomination paper, signed by not fewer than 50 persons each of whom must be registered as an emigrant elector for the constituency concerned. An emigrant elector would not be allowed join in the nomination of more than one candidate at an election.

In the event of the electorate being divided into constituencies, a person would not be allowed to be nominated as a candidate, or a replacement candidate, [2076] in respect of more than one constituency. It is proposed that the returning officer would arrange for the provision of nomination papers at Irish diplomatic and consular missions and at other appropriate places, and supply a nomination paper, free of charge, to every person applying.

Every nomination paper would have to be delivered to the returning officer not later than the latest time for receiving nominations, as fixed by the Minister for the Environment by order. The returning officer would rule on the validity of a nomination paper within 24 hours of its delivery to him or her. A candidate could withdraw by a notice in writing, signed by the candidate or by not fewer than half of the persons who signed the nomination paper. Such notice would have to be delivered to the returning officer not later than the latest time for receiving nominations.

Elections involving emigrants would be held on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote and by secret ballot. An aspect on which some organisations representing emigrants have expressed a concern is the question of whether there would be one or more constituencies. In the last analysis, this would depend on the number and location of emigrants who apply for inclusion in the register. When the composition of the register is known, a decision could be made on whether there should be separate constituencies and, if so, what constituencies. One possibility would be one for North America, one for the UK, and one for other countries, but the feasibility of this would depend entirely on the number involved at different locations. Initially, it is envisaged that the legislation would provide for a single constituency, with power to effect a division into two or three constituencies at a later stage; this would be done by the Minister for the Environment, by order made with the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Another question which arises is the filling of a vacancy in one of the three emigrant Senators' seats. Because of the [2077] logistics, it is not proposed that there should be a by-election to fill a vacancy in emigrant member representation. Instead, it is proposed to apply the system which operates for European Parliament elections. Under this system, casual vacancies among the representatives of emigrant electors in the Seanad would be filled by the replacement candidate of the representative concerned. Where the candidate did not nominate a replacement candidate, or if the replacement candidate, or candidates, so nominated were unable or unwilling to fill the vacancy, a fall-back position would be provided for, similar to that applying at European Parliament elections.

At an election of emigrants representatives, voting would be by post. Each elector would be required to produce to an authorised person the envelope addressed to the elector by the returning officer, the unmarked ballot paper and the form of declaration of identity. The elector would make and sign the declaration of identity which would be witnessed by the authorised person and stamped with the stamp of the authorised person's office. The elector would then mark the ballot paper, in secret, in the presence of the authorised person and send the ballot paper and declaration of identify to the returning officer by post.

For voting purposes, “authorised person” would be defined as an officer of an Irish diplomatic or consular mission authorised for this purpose by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, or a commissioner for oaths, notary public or other person before whom, in accordance with the law of the country in which the voting takes place, a formal declaration may be made. An emigrant elector who is in the State at the time of an election would be able to vote here; “authorised person” in such a case would include a commissioner for oaths or notary public in the State.

Whatever arrangements are made for emigrant representation, an important aspect will be the cost involved. Costs would arise in establishing and maintaining [2078] the register of electors, conducting the elections and in respect of the salaries and travel and subsistence expenses of the new Senators.

It is impossible to say at this stage what the overall level of expenditure will be as it will depend, to a large extent, on the number of emigrant citizens who register as electors and the country of residence of the representatives they elect. My Department has made very tentative estimates of the net extra cost of the scheme over the five year life of a Seanad and these range from £3.55 million to £10.3 million.

The £3.55 million figure assumes an electorate of 50,000 and is made up of annual registration costs of £550,000, election costs of £500,000 and Members' annual travel and subsistence expenses of £60,000. The £10.3 million figure assumes a very high total electorate of 500,000 and is made up of annual registration costs of £1 million, election costs of £5 million and Members' annual travel and subsistence expenses of £60,000. I would like to stress that these are only indicators of what costs might be on certain assumptions about the likely level of interest in emigrant voting. We will not know the size of the register, the spread of the electors and, therefore, the cost until the first register is compiled.

Every person in Ireland is touched, to some extent, by emigration and I hope therefore that the consultation paper will receive extensive consideration and debate. When the consultation process is complete, the proposals will be reviewed by the Government in the light of the views expressed, before the necessary Constitution Amendment Bill is finalised later this year and formally introduced in the Oireachtas. Publication of these comprehensive proposals for Seanad representation is a significant step forward. It should assist all concerned to focus on the specific issues involved, some of them complex and difficult, and to make a constructive input to the preparation of the necessary implementing legislation.

[2079] I look forward to hearing Senators' views on the subject.

Mr. Daly: It will be a cause for disappointment that, after all the discussion that has taken place, we are still at a very early stage of consultation in relation to this issue. As the Minister mentioned, a discussion took place on this subject on a motion by Senator McDonagh just over a year ago. At that time the Minister gave an indication of the broad framework which he saw for providing representation for emigrants; it does not appear to have been advanced to any great extent in the last year. Some discussion has taken place about how the mechanics of this scheme will operate. The issue has now come back to this House; perhaps the all-party committee which was suggested here last year could look at this issue and maybe come up with recommendations on how emigrant representation could be provided.

When the initial decision to deal with representation in this manner was made emigrants felt it was inadequate. As an interim measure, however, it was an acceptable first step to providing Dáil representation. The emigrant body will be disappointed that, despite the Bill which was, I think, introduced by the late Gerry O'Sullivan in 1991, and the numerous discussions in both Houses over the last ten or 12 years, detailed conclusions, which would give emigrants the prospect of representation in the next election, still have not been reached. Even with the best will in the world, it is unlikely we will have a constitutional amendment in time for the next election.

Perhaps the Minister of State could give us a more definite timetable of how matters will progress because unless the Government is serious about it — it does not appear to be — nothing will be done before the general election next year. Unless we urgently seek a constitutional change and pass new legislation quickly through the Houses of the [2080] Oireachtas, it is unlikely that emigrants will be represented in the Seanad. Emigrants will be disappointed and will feel let down that their case for representation, which they made so eloquently over the past ten or 12, is not getting the response from these Houses which they had expected.

I do not wish to discuss the complications which may arise from these proposals — I am sure many of these will be teased out in further discussion of the legislation — but it appears we are taking a short cut by using three of the Taoiseach's 11 nominees without being clear about how they will be selected. It would be better if the Government set out clearly how it will establish a new panel for emigrants, on the same lines as the sub-panel used for university representation with an elected base, rather than accepting what is suggested here.

In view of the uncertainty about the procedure and how it will work in practice, a constitutional amendment is likely to be rejected. That would put the issue back for many years. It would be difficult to pass a constitutional amendment on the information in this document. I am not certain the people would vote for it. If the constitutional change proposed was rejected, the shape and form of representation would be put back by many years. The Government must make a decision urgently. There is uncertainty, for example, about how Northern Ireland will be approached. Senator Roche will address this matter later. It is difficult to see how the matter will be dealt with in legislation, given the way it is currently framed.

There is also indecision about constituencies. The Minister mentioned the prospect of three constituencies, North America, the UK and one other. The document mentions one and three constituencies. People should know whether there will be one or three constituencies. In the absence of a response about the size, composition or location of the electorate, it is difficult to plan for it. Would it be advisable for the Minister to establish a panel before she drafts the legislation, or is she legally [2081] entitled to do that? I am not sure it can be done. It would be useful to know the size and composition of the electorate when planning and shaping the constituencies and deciding on the representation. The Minister also mentioned the prospect that 50 people would be entitled to nominate a candidate. The panel could consist of 50 people if there are three constituencies. Can the Minister tell us the size of the electorate? It may be necessary to have a panel of 50 people to nominate a candidate, but the electorate may only be 100 or less.

The arrangements will not be adequate to deal with the possibility of having representation here after the next election. We do not have the type of detailed knowledge necessary to enable the House to pass legislation to establish the constituency panels. The document is vague in this regard, but perhaps that is the intention. We now have the opportunity to express our views on how this might be improved. The system being adopted will be cumbersome, impractical to operate and it will lead to confusion and perhaps rejection of the constitutional amendment. The Government must be more clear and decisive about how these matters will be dealt with if we want to push it through.

Seanad representation was seen by many of the emigrant organisations and bodies as a minimalist step or a sop to emigrants. I do not share that view. This proposal is worthwhile provided it is streamlined in a way which will make it effective and efficient. The Minister said this document is a consultation paper. I strongly favour a panel system for emigrants, with an electorate similar to that for the university panels, rather than using three of the Taoiseach's 11 nominees.

Paragraph 6 suggests that the Clerk of the Seanad would be involved in the preparation of the electoral list. I am not sure that is the type of activity in which the Clerk of the Seanad should be involved. Perhaps the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of [2082] the Environment could organise it. The Returning Officer for the Seanad elections has onerous responsibilities during the Seanad elections. Another burden would further complicate the situation. It would be more efficient and effective if the Government decided to have a separate panel for emigrants.

Perhaps the Minister of State could outline the views represented to her by the emigrant bodies. When the Minister spoke in the House last year he indicated that it was his intention to have discussions with the emigrant organisations to seek their views as to how this would work in practice. I am not sure to what extent that consultation took place. The Minister might say if there is any documentation indicating the views expressed to the Government by the emigrant bodies on this issue. Did comprehensive consultations take place and what bodies were in communication with the Department before this document was prepared? Looking through the consultation document it appears that there was not much consultation with the emigrant bodies. Perhaps the Minister might refer to notes of any discussions which took place and the points expressed to the Minister by the immigrant organisations.

Electors must be citizens and certain conditions are laid down. I presume a person who is born and lives here for ten years and emigrates would be entitled to be on the electoral list when they reach 18 years. It is not clear if those ten years can be made up of a combination of two years here, two years abroad and so on. The question of how long someone can live abroad before they are eliminated from the register is not too clear. Perhaps the Minister might elaborate on requirements to be an elector, the period of residence required here and abroad before a person is entitled to be on or be removed from the electoral list. While the document refers to those living abroad who are eligible to vote on the university panel, it has been glossed over. These people may be able to vote [2083] twice and perhaps the Minister will clarify how that might work.

Even after so much discussion and deliberation, it is disappointing that this document has been poorly researched. As far as I can see, it has been put together to keep the debate going. I am not sure if it is really intended to pass this legislation and to change the Constitution so we can look forward to representation from emigrants after the next election. I am not sure if the urgency required to meet that deadline exists in the Government document. While the Government is sending this document to a Select Committee for discussion, it has done little in terms of a decision which would indicate its seriousness about dealing with this matter.

Mr. Magner: The Senator's party should not have defeated it in 1992.

Mr. Hayes: I welcome the fact we, as Senators, have had the first opportunity to respond to the consultation paper issued by the Minister for the Environment. It is right that the Seanad should give the first impression on this document as much of contents relate directly to the electoral makeup and structure of this House. This is a consultative paper and, therefore, the views of Members are vitally important in terms of the Government producing a final position on this matter. I note this paper will shortly go before the Dáil Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs. It might be a good idea if the Minister returned to the House after that meeting. This issue requires the type of free flowing debate in which that committee will engage but in which we cannot be involved. The Minister could respond to points raised by Senator Daly and others by way of a discussion rather than statements.

The issue at the heart of this debate is simple — whether it is right or wrong for those who have emigrated to be given a voice in the parliamentary life of our State. A range of voting mechanisms [2084] can be put in place to give emigrants a vote, but Members must decide whether as a matter of principle those who have emigrated should be entitled to vote in some form of elections. Because of the problem which faces so many people in terms of finding work and the historical reasons which underlie the need for emigration for many young people, I believe emigrants have a right to vote and for their voice to be heard and represented in Parliament. I say this because the issue of deciding the exact form and type of elections is secondary to the issue of whether one believes it right or wrong that emigrants should be entitled to vote.

When the issue of votes for emigrants was first raised in the Dáil in March 1992 by the late Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, the then Minister for the Environment, Pádraig Flynn, opposed the extension of the franchise to emigrants for reasons of principle and for practical and administrative reasons. It is ironic that the then Minister is now one of our most eminent emigrants albeit in Brussels. How would Commissioner Flynn feel if he was unable to vote in elections because he is away from home?

Emigration does not mean exile. Unfortunately, much of the debate which has surrounded the issue of votes for emigrants has been ill-informed and reactionary. I admit many people oppose the principle of extending votes to emigrants, but those of us who believe emigrants have a right to be heard should explain in greater detail to those who oppose the principle why we are introducing this measure.

There is support in the community for votes for emigrants, as was seen in a poll taken last year by The Sunday Independent which found that 65 per cent supported the principle of extending votes to emigrants while 35 per cent opposed the measure. It was interesting that the largest percentage of people who supported the measure were living in rural areas and aged 50 years and above. It is obvious why so many in rural communities aged 50 and above support this principle. The emigration phenomenon is a [2085] real issue for townlands which have lost 80 per cent of their young people. Parents, now in their fifties, see emigration as the only way forward for their sons and daughters under 20 years. It is a phenomenon which permeates the Irish experience.

Many groups make up the emigration cohort. For many, emigration is the only way to get employment because of poor employment opportunities here or because they have failed to gain certain educational opportunities. Emigration to London or New York presents the only realistic way to obtain a job. These people are generally referred to as those in the involuntary emigration category. For large sections of my own age group — and this is becoming increasingly the case over the last ten years or so — emigration is a way of increasing people's skills. Emigration introduces people to more advanced training or simply provides many people from my age group with an opportunity to gain capital abroad before coming back to reside in Ireland. The view of emigration as depicted in the 1940s, when it was not feasible to exist without emigration, is substantially different from the view of emigration today. This is the case because of the reducing cost of air travel and a greater frequency of travel by emigrants back home to Ireland.

Much of the debate which has surrounded emigration has been coloured by a victim mentality which some have seen fit to advance. Emigration is an option for many people who choose it by their own free will, voluntarily deciding to leave Ireland for whatever reason to advance their situation in life. This will become even less so in the years ahead as the demographic balance in Ireland will reduce the rigidity of our labour market and therefore increase employment opportunities for school leavers and graduates.

Many people under the age of 25 leave this country because they can amass substantially more income than they can in Ireland. Those who oppose the principle of extending the right to vote for emigrants frequently argue that [2086] people who no longer live in this country should not have a say in the national affairs of this country. This argument is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to recognise that in calculating annual average net migration outflows there is an element of returning emigrants who have simply left the country for a short period of time and are now coming back to reside in Ireland.

It is frequently the case that people leave Ireland for a short period of time and then, because of their own situation or an improving economic climate in Ireland, decide to come back. Owing to the methods utilised in compiling total population data, specific figures for population inflows or outflows cannot be attributed and thus only net migration trends can be calculated. Notwithstanding this, it is now generally agreed that in recent years there has been a sizeable inflow of returning emigrants who have been resident outside of Ireland for between one and five years.

To say that any person who is resident abroad at any given point in time does not have a right to a voice in the parliamentary life of his or her own country despite the fact that he or she may be returning within five years is clearly wrong. They have as much right to a voice in our Parliament as any other citizen of this State. They more than anybody else, because of the fact that they will soon become the opinion leaders or the new entrepreneurs in our country, have a right to a voice and a vote. When one considers the relatively new makeup of these emigration figures and that this is a phenomenon which has only occurred in the past ten to 15 years, it enhances the case for the right of emigrants to vote and for their voice to be heard in the Oireachtas.

Another much cited reason for refusing to allow emigrants the right to vote is the view that emigrants pay no taxation and accordingly should be given no representation. Those who use this argument are by their own words excluding whole sections of the present Irish electorate who, because of their [2087] circumstances, do not pay direct taxation. If this argument was taken to its logical conclusion those in receipt of unemployment benefit and low income earners who do not pay taxation would also be excluded from general, local, presidential or European elections or indeed constitutional referenda. This argument fails to recognise that the vast majority of our emigrants continue to come back to Ireland and spend great amounts of their income in this jurisdiction. Taxation therefore is not an issue and is used as a red herring to oppose the right of emigrants to vote.

Having established the reasons why it is important to extend some form of franchise to the thousands of young people in particular who have a direct interest in this country, I would now like to turn to how we could devise a structure so their voice can be heard in the parliamentary life of this country. I have never believed in extending the right of Irish emigrants to vote in Dáil elections. My concern has always been to ensure that the voice of emigrants is heard in some shape or form in the Oireachtas. In my view, the essential reason why the Government has decided not to extend the franchise for emigrants to general elections is that the central function of the Dáil is to elect a Government and emigrants who determine Deputies to elect that Government can neither suffer nor profit from the performance of that Government.

The Seanad is the most appropriate place for the voice of Irish emigrants to be heard. The Seanad is a smaller House and, by definition, this means that Members representing a variety of interests can access debates more speedily than in the Dáil. The raison d'être behind the Seanad was that various sections of opinion in Ireland could be heard by way of a second Chamber which could seek to either amend or delay legislation from the Lower Chamber as it saw fit. It was also intended that the Seanad would inform the work and legislative initiatives of the Government which resides in the Dáil.

[2088] I take the opposite view from certain sections of the emigrant lobby who say that Seanad Éireann would not be an appropriate forum for giving the Irish abroad a voice in the Government. The Seanad is the place where the voice of the Irish emigrant lobby can best be heard because of its structure and its makeup.

Many questions arise in relation to this consultation paper. What would happen if a person who was elected as an emigrant Member of the Seanad exceeded the maximum period of absence from the State during the course of his or her term? Would he or she then have to resign? The use of the term “the maximum period of absence from the State” in the consultation paper would seem to determine the eligibility of emigrant voters. The Minister might be able to clarify this at some point in the future.

Section 6 of the paper deals with the registration of emigrant electors. Like others, I would be of the opinion that many in our emigrant population will for a variety of reasons simply fail to register. This has already been experienced in Ireland, where increasingly large sections of our urban population are either failing to register or failing to vote at all. Is the Minister considering proposing a base line number of registered electors for the emigrant seats in each of the proposed constituencies? Otherwise, a relatively small number of people could vote in prescribed constituencies, depending on the size of the register.

How will the information required by the register of electors to verify the bona fides of the emigrant in question be verified? Has the Minister any views about who would be in charge of verifying the information given, or will it simply be a matter for the register of electors or the returning officer? I agree with Senator Daly. He mentioned that the consultation paper cites the Clerk of the Seanad as the returning officer. The workload associated with the large number of panels in the Seanad which would be coming forward for election at that [2089] time is such that the Clerk of the Seanad will not have the time to deal with this larger emigrant constituency. Do we not have a precedent whereby in other panels, such as the NUI panel and the TCD panel, a different returning officer is in charge of organising the election? This might be considered because of the confines of time surrounding this election.

I have long held the view that Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland should be entitled to vote in our Presidential Election. The office of the President in our Constitution has a wider function than that of just the Dáil or the Seanad. He or she is a representative of the Irish nation at home or abroad. It would be offensive to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland to be regarded as emigrants. There is a case to be made for extending the franchise for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland. It would be a means of reinforcing the Irish dimension, which would be important in Northern Ireland and would include sections of opinion that hitherto have remained outside the Oireachtas, which comprises the President, the Dáil and the Seanad.

Mr. Lanigan: I am not sure how much support there is for this issue. I imagine there is very little support for it outside the House and, indeed, little enough in the House. Four members of my family are abroad and because they are graduates they can vote for the university panels. However, they cannot vote for me and that is a source of a certain amount of rancour.

Mr. Hayes: The Senator could always stand for election on the university panel.

Mr. Lanigan: I have visited many Irish communities abroad and the issue of voting has never arisen, formally or informally. Some people have travelled abroad with the specific purpose of meeting groups seeking a right to vote. Incidentally, they generally seek a right [2090] to representation in the Dáil, not the Seanad.

There would be difficulties with legislation to give representation in the Seanad. There would be even greater problems associated with representation in the Dáil. There is a means by which people from Northern Ireland, whether they are Irish citizens or not, can be represented in the Seanad. There have been Taoiseach's nominees to this House who have been from different communities in the North and they have done a good job.

The registration of emigrant electors will be difficult. The difficulties would be few in Great Britain, large cities in the US or other places where there is an Irish embassy or consulate. However, in other areas the compilation of a register would be a major problem. The proposal for electors is to include those who lived in this country for ten years before they emigrated and who have been abroad for less than 20 years. Therefore, generally speaking, one would target a group of people over 18 years and under 38 years of age.

During the first few years abroad emigrants may change address a number of times. They tend to move to look for jobs. Our emigrants tend to have a greater mobility now than ever before and people do not tend to stay in the same job for very long. Young graduates may emigrate and cut their teeth in a job and may then move jobs a number of times. Thankfully, there is a great demand for the services of our graduates which gives them a greater mobility.

If you were to try to get the current addresses of our emigrants between the ages of 18 years and 38 years of age you might have only a 20 or 30 per cent success rate. One might have to set up groups in certain cities looking for people to register. The problem is that not only would people over 40 years of age be excluded in a sense, but you would confine the electorate to a particular group of activists. That might not be bad in itself but it would not get at our emigrants in the broad sense.

[2091] Emigrants would want to vote to change the society which forced them to emigrate. If their representatives were elected to the Seanad they could not change much in terms of the influence on the causes of emigration. People who emigrated for financial or job reasons might not want to get involved early on in the registration process. The ten year and 20 year limits cut out a large group of people who for their first few years abroad move around a lot and who might not have any great interest in politics here. One might then be cutting the electorate down further to those aged between 30 years and 40 years.

Two by-elections to the Dáil took place yesterday and only about 50 per cent of those registered to vote did so. People who would have been within two miles of a polling station did not vote. They do not have the registration problems emigrants might face — the political parties and the local authorities check the registers here so there is a double check — yet we still have turnouts of only 50 per cent. We have had referendums in the past on issues more important than votes for emigrants, yet the voting percentage has been low. If we foisted a constitutional revision by way of referendum on the people on the issue of votes for emigrants there might only be a laughable 10 or 20 per cent turnout. It would not be what those who seek votes for emigrants would want.

People in Ireland seek a means of stopping emigration through tackling poverty, unemployment, crime and drugs. A Government which put a referendum to the people on the issue of votes for emigrants before dealing with these other matters would get a kick where it hurts. There is merit in giving people who have had to emigrate a voice, but they can express themselves to elected representatives. They can meet Ministers who visit abroad or via various Irish associations who may invite guests from the Government, Opposition or local authority representatives and they can express themselves [2092] extremely vociferously at these meetings.

This measure should be better researched before we put it to the Irish people. Judging by the report there is no danger that a Bill will be moved by this Government and there is no hope of the next Government moving it. The public may eventually decide that emigrant voting is necessary but I believe it will never come. I cannot see the Irish people voting in favour of this measure.

It was said that people who are out of the country for a short time, between one and five years, lose their right to vote, so this would be a means of enfranchising them again. However, if a person is registered to vote in Carlow-Kilkenny and his job takes him out of the constituency on election day, he cannot vote. Like someone who has been out of the country for five years such a person is disenfranchised. If we want to facilitate these people, we should allow a person who is out of his constituency on election day to get a certificate to vote from a county registrar so that he can vote outside his area.

I am negative about this issue because I do not believe in it. It has not been properly researched and I do not think it can work. Even the financial arrangements are vague — the cost is estimated at between £3.55 million and £10.3 million, allowing for the cost of annual registration, expenses, etc., which may accrue to emigrant Members. The latter is estimated at £60,000 per year — they would have to travel by cattle boat from Australia if £20,000 per year would sustain them to travel back and forth every week.

Mr. Magner: Senator Magner has worked it all out.

Mr. Lanigan: Whoever thought up that figure has no idea of costs. As to voters from Northern Ireland, cross-community representatives can become Members under the present regime. If we want emigrant representation, the Taoiseach of the day could nominate a person for each of the three continents [2093] from his 11 nominees. My colleague, Senator Dan Kiely, will probably seek substantial votes for emigrants; I feel this consultation paper is as useful as a lighthouse in a bog.

Mr. Magner: I have a problem with the title of the discussion document — Representation of Emigrants in Seanad Éireann. To listen to Senator Lanigan one would think we were about to enfranchise an alien constituency; we are merely talking about extending the right to vote in this country to passport holding citizens of the Irish State who happen to be domiciled, permanently or semi-permanently, abroad. They are not only emigrants, they are citizens.

If I was to devise a banner for them I would use the title of the late Woody Guthrie's ballad, made famous by Ms Joan Baez: “This Land is Your Land”. It is their country. Why can we not afford them the same facilities we afford rich Arabs or south Americans? If they pay us £500,000, we will give them a passport and they can vote for whoever they like. I did not detect anything in Senator Lanigan's contribution to suggest he had a problem with that, but he seems to be reluctant to allow my two sons in Boston the right to vote. I find that hard to take.

We are talking about citizens of the State. If we want to reduce this to money, 20 per cent of all bank accounts in this country are held by Irish nonresidents. There has been a big in-flow of money earned by Irish people abroad. Senator Lanigan does not seem to be worried about Arab, Greek or South American money but Irish money seems to bother him.

Mr. D. Kiely: Hot money.

Mr. Magner: Senator Kiely would know all about that — I am not going to discuss it. Our tourism industry generates £1.8 billion, of which 60 per cent is from Irish-born people travelling to and from this country. I have no doubt that their financial contribution would supersede anything from the odd person [2094] who wishes to have a safer passport than he currently possesses.

My colleague the Minister of State. Deputy O'Shea, would agree that we are not reinventing the wheel here — we are extending the vote to a different category of Irish citizens. However, in a typically Irish fashion, we are not giving them what they asked for but something totally different. They did not ask for representation in the Seanad, they wanted to vote for the Dáil. In their wisdom, the last two Governments — all of whom are Members of Dáil Éireann — decided to respond to this by giving emigrants representation in the Seanad, which they expressly said they did not want. I understand the Government's standpoint and some of the arguments made against direct representation in the Dáil, with which I will deal shortly. I simply point out that this is not what the emigrant groups asked for; they said they did not want it and asked that it not be offered, but the Government did so anyway.

Mr. Andrew Doyle, the campaign coordinator of the Irish Emigrant Vote Campaign in New York, wrote to The Irish Times on 9 February 1995:

The Government's proposal to allow emigrants to vote for three members of the Seanad completely misses the point of the many emigrant vote campaigns around the world. The creation of an emigrant constituency in the Seanad would not give emigrants a real voice in Ireland, it would merely give them a modest forum to discuss emigrant issues.

That is a fair summation of what is on offer. The letter continues:

They would still be cut off from meaningful electoral participation. And this is completely contrary to what emigrants have been campaigning for — which is simply that the right to vote in Irish elections and referenda be restored to them.

The term “restored to” is an interesting choice of words.

[2095] We in the Irish Emigrant Vote Campaign will continue to work to that end.

It is, of course, to be welcomed that the Government is willing to address the issue of emigration in some way, and the creation of Seanad seats for emigrants may well be beneficial in that regard. But this form of representation bears no relation to what emigrants have been working for — which is an equal voice, an equal vote.

The principle on which emigrant vote groups have been campaigning is that all Irish-born citizens have the right to vote in Irish elections. We were able to use that right when we lived at home, but were stripped of it simply because we became resident abroad. This is wrong. All the countries of the EU, the US, South Africa, the new democracies of Eastern Europe and more make great efforts to encourage their emigrants to vote in their national elections.

I will not read the entire letter but in conclusion Mr. Doyle states:

Emigrants love their country and carry their goodwill for Ireland to every corner of the globe. This Government has the opportunity to respond to all that goodwill and forge a real connection with them. It should do so now before still another generation is lost to Ireland. It should extend them a real vote, rather than merely throwing them a Seanad sop in the hope that they will do as all good Irish emigrants are supposed to do, which is to go quietly, and say nothing.

We must not forget the revenue received by Ireland from substantial remittances and tourism, 60 per cent of which relates to emigrants. We use that industry to unashamedly promote all things Irish. Advertising campaigns throughout the world use images of emigrants to bring material benefits to this country. Plays and songs are written about them and portraits painted of [2096] them, but there is a great reluctance to include them. The message seems to be that it is acceptable to exploit emigrants but they must not be given a say. I object to the title of the information leaflet because it seems to suggest that a new type of citizen is being created or that we are enfranchising people who are alien. We are, in fact, extending the franchise to another category of citizens. The fundamental point is that they are citizens.

In 1990-1991, my late and much respected colleague, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan — who was my good friend for many years — travelled to London, Boston and elsewhere to speak to Irish emigrants, some of whom had resided there for a long time. He returned to Ireland convinced it was in the country's economic interest to include this constituency, the benefits from which would become more apparent as stronger links developed. Quite apart from other considerations, he believed we could forge links with Irish citizens abroad similar to those enjoyed by the Israelis.

Having listened to contributions from the other side of the House, it seems this issue involves money. The same rights should be conferred on Arabs and South Americans who invest money here for the purpose of gaining Irish passports. I do not disagree with this, I am simply pointing out the hypocrisy of selling a passport to one category of people and denying the right to vote to Irish citizens.

Gerry O'Sullivan moved a Private Members' Bill in the Dáil to deal with this issue which was subsequently defeated by 66 votes to 62 by the then Government. This places Senator Daly, who accused the present Government of dragging its feet, in a slightly ambiguous position because he was a member of the Government which voted down that Bill. The Senator can hardly complain about the delay when his party decided to halt the original legislation.

People seem frightened by the requests of emigrant groups. They are concerned that the balance of power [2097] will be affected by granting votes to emigrants. There is no evidence to show this occurs in countries who give emigrants the right to vote. The campaign for emigrants' votes is supported by very eminent Irish men and women living abroad. An open letter to the Irish Government by the editors of major Irish newspapers abroad was signed by Donal Mooney of the Irish Post, London; Damien Gaffney of the Irish World, London; Niall O'Dowd of the Irish Voice, New York; Tom Connolly of the Irish Echo, New York and Billy Cantwell of the Irish Echo, Sydney. There is a broad consensus among the leaders abroad that they want representation in Ireland. They quote examples from other EU countries where votes for emigrants are considered normal.

I have always liked the Dutch who are very uncomplicated, direct and do not mess around. They are not like Irish people and do not write ballads or hang Jack B. Yeats paintings of emigrant scenes on their walls. With regard to votes for emigrants, the Dutch——

Mr. Dardis: Rode to the Boyne.

Mr. Magner: The Senator has a long memory because he is a member of the Progressive Democrats and deals in history. In the Netherlands, all non-resident citizens can vote in elections and there is no time limit beyond which they lose this right. The Netherlands is not an ungovernable country but a very progressive EU nation. The Dutch do not panic.

Many of the fears expressed during this debate are unreal. I speak against myself in this regard because I am a Taoiseach's nominee, the numbers of whom will be reduced to eight——

Mr. Dardis: I believe the Senator will still make it.

Mr. Magner: The prospect of that reduction does not fill me with glee. As I stated earlier, the emigrants groups do not want representation in the Seanad. However, in a typically Irish way, we [2098] considered the issue and informed them they would be given representation in this House, not the Dáil.

Some of the questions on the problem of granting votes to emigrants were addressed by “The Case for Emigrant Voting Rights”. The first issue raised was:

Because of their large numbers, emigrants could, if given the vote, decide Ireland's political future and would have a disproportionate influence.

In reply it was pointed out:

This is not true. At present the electoral roll in Ireland is imbalanced due to emigration. A large number of people between the ages of 18 and 35 have lost their right to vote due to emigration; it is not to Ireland's advantage to have such a gap in the electorate.

The second issue raised related to emigrants abusing the system, the reply to which stated:

No other country which allows emigrant voting experiences abuses because there are clear preventative procedures and legislation in place. There is no evidence to indicate that Irish emigrants are less honest than citizens of other EU countries. New European democracies such as Poland, Ukraine and Eritrea ensured that their citizens abroad have the right to vote without any difficulty.

If other countries and their emigrants can manage their voting systems well, why can't Ireland?

Politics in Ireland is, after all, a national pastime. A further issue raised was that emigrants do not pay tax. In this regard, “The Case for Emigrant Voting Rights” states that this is the latest argument against emigrant voting:

It is based on a distortion of the American War of Independence maxim: “No taxation without representation” which now becomes “No representation without taxation”.

[2099] This would disenfranchise people claiming unemployment benefit and assistance and those who have retired from work because they do not pay tax.

This House has been asked to formulate and agree a system which gives Irish citizens abroad the same rights gladly given citizens of Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and some South American countries, who are provided with Irish passports when they invest money in the country. Emigrants are citizens of this country and hold Irish passports. I suggest that the House gives them the vote.

Mr. Dardis: I agree with Senator Magner for once.

Mr. Magner: I must be wrong, that is all I can say.

Mr. Dardis: Perhaps my agreement with him will make him review his position on this issue.

Emigrants should be able to participate in the parliamentary life of the country. The question is whether this proposal represents a way in which they can do that effectively; in my view it does not. While I welcome the consultation paper as a means of debating this issue, I do not support anything in it. It has all the characteristics of a very gifted academic with a limited grasp of reality on a particularly bad day. I wondered how Labour could go along with the proposals in the document and Senator Magner has allayed some of my worries in that respect.

I agree with him that money is not at the heart of the issue; the question of citizenship is. Are we to have a type of pavilion membership of the Irish nation held by people who by reason of circumstances forced upon them by the management of the nation have been compelled to seek a livelihood abroad? Having relieved the nation of the burden of having to maintain them at home they are disenfranchised. That is not at all equitable.

[2100] In other countries it is possible for people to participate in parliamentary life and have a vote although they live abroad. People who wish to do so should be able to register and cast a vote in the Dáil constituency in which they lived. If there were enough emigrant voters who wanted to elect an Irish citizen who lives in Hong Kong, I would permit that as well. The State is about to embark on a £10 million public relations exercise to assuage its conscience in this matter.

I do not object to emigrants having seats in the Seanad, but this proposal does not go far enough. We can give emigrants seats in the Seanad without a referendum and a constitutional amendment. The Taoiseach could pick three emigrants' representatives from his 11 nominees on the basis of consultation. History shows us that the selection of the 11 nominees in every other respect where emigrants were not involved has been successful. Many of the Taoiseach's nominees have been spectacularly successful. The late Senator Wilson was one. I am sure Senator McAughtry, although he was elected, will also have a valuable contribution to make to the House so I do not see why we need this complicated procedure. If the Taoiseach wants to take all three representatives from Australia or America let be that be done, but let it be done on the basis of consultation. Why do we have to institute his weird proposal to assuage our consciences? This is a move in the right direction but it is no more than that.

Senator Hayes was right when he said people should be able to participate in the parliamentary life of the country. That should be full participation. My attitude has always been that democracy should be as inclusive as possible. Nobody should be excluded from casting a vote and it should be easy to stand for election. If that brings out the Screaming Lord Sutches, the cranks and the weirdoes, let that be the case. They will be voted down just as are other people.

[2101] Behind this reluctance to give emigrants the vote is a fear that some people will lose their seats in the other House. That is why we say these people abroad are some sort of inferior beings who might affect the outcome of an election in the grand democratic system we have. If it is a grand democratic system and they wish to affect the outcome of an election they should be able to do so.

Allowing people to vote is not the major logistical problem it has been represented to be. If the American ambassador thought it important enough to go to Galway to speak to members of an American political party there to ensure their votes would influence an American presidential election, it is possible for somebody in America to visit Irish people to try to influence their votes.

I would start with the presidency. Whatever about giving emigrants representation in this or the other House, every Irish citizen living abroad should be able to cast his vote in a presidential election. Let us forget all this talk about the diaspora, about our emigrants and how important they are. It is all a load of codswallop if we do not give them the vote and it is not as administratively difficult as it is represented to be. If they want representation in the Seanad I do not object to that. It could be done by the Taoiseach nominating someone and it does not need a constitutional referendum, which is a waste of time and money.

When the Minister addressed us earlier this morning she talked about Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland and said they would be treated as two categories. Those who left the Republic and went to Northern Ireland should be treated in one way, and those who have had the great misfortune to have lived in Northern Ireland all their lives and who are Irish citizens should be treated in a different way. Now we have two classes of pavilion membership. First we had full citizenship and pavilion membership and now we have a sort of honorary membership which does not [2102] include voting rights at the general election. It is like being a member of the club, being allowed to attend a general meeting but without being allowed to cast a vote.

Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland and Irish citizens who went from the Republic to live in Northern Ireland should be treated similarly. One possible way of doing it is to have a Dáil constituency for Northern Ireland and allow Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland to elect several people to seats in the Oireachtas. We will see how the anti-partitionists would react to that proposal. I am sure that might set off a few flutters in the hearts of people wondering about the future of their seats.

Much of this is predicated on the basis that seats might be at risk because these terrible people who live abroad might have an undue influence on the outcome of an election. Senator Magner is right; there is no reason to believe they would behave much differently from the generality of the population living at home. Most of them are sensible, reasonable people. They may have an absolute contempt for Irish politics because they had to go into exile, but if that is the case it is more probable that they will not cast their votes at all than that they will cast them in a particular direction to influence the outcome. They should be given a vote in general elections.

There are models of electoral systems around the world. The first South African elections were impressive in this regard. We saw newspaper pictures of nuns going to vote in a polling station in Dublin for the South African election. If that was possible in an emerging democracy it is possible here. I was in Palestine monitoring the elections and there was a demand that the very large diaspora, greatly outnumbering the people at home, should have a vote. Palestine will develop its electoral system in the future. There is also a US model. Many Irish civil servants in Brussels are very interested in Irish politics and are very up to date with political developments in Ireland. Are we saying [2103] that Irish civil servants who live in Brussels and who work for the European Commission should not have a vote in Irish general elections? They have just as much an interest as anybody else in the developments of the country.

We could get into some of the detail of the recommendations made here. One reasonable recommendation if this went forward relates to the substitute candidate on the European election model, in other words, when somebody stands for election there would be a panel so that if the person elected resigned their seat or died, the first substitute would take their place. That is a reasonable suggestion, and it is one which could even operate within the present Seanad panels.

An obligation has been imposed upon the Clerk of the Seanad to be the registration officer and administer this proposal. This is totally unreasonable. Members of the House know that the Clerk's office is already over-stretched and I do not know how it would be able to deal with this proposal. More resources would have to be provided. I noticed that the Minister of State's speech made the point that the returning officer would rule on the validity of a nomination paper within 24 hours of its delivery to him or her. No doubt many faxes would be sent to Australia and America. That would be quite an achievement. It will be interesting to see how that proposal flies.

However, the issue should be that citizens are full citizens and there are not different categories of citizens; it is irrelevant where they live. They should be allowed vote in elections, and while I have not a particular objection to giving them three seats here, it is only a sop and does not go nearly far enough and there are administrative difficulties in terms of resources within the House to carry out the task which would be imposed by this proposal.

I come back to the point about participating in the parliamentary life of the country which was described earlier. In my view, the only way to do that effectively [2104] is to allow them participate to the same extent as any other citizen because they are citizens. Citizenship is the qualification. Let us have not pavilion members in this Irish citizenship which is of such value and importance to us.

Mr. Quinn: Modern technology now makes it possible for us to stay closer to Irish emigrants than ever before. We should make use of that technology to create a huge global family of the Irish diaspora, so that all our people everywhere can share in being Irish in a way which is meaningful to them in their everyday lives.

The suggestion that we should give votes in Seanad elections to emigrants is impractical, wrong in principle and, to use Senator Dardis's words, even weird; more importantly, it misses the point. It is impractical because of the virtual impossibility of defining what is an emigrant, and because of the enormous cost of organising a global vote to which a number of speakers referred here. Are we to include Irish people living in Liverpool but exclude Irish people living in Newry? We heard that discussion this morning and what the Minister had to say about it. Are we to include people who left Ireland five or ten years ago, but exclude those who left over 25 years ago? Even if we could get over the practical difficulties, we would still be wrong to implement it.

The best place to draw the line is by equating taxation and representation. The American revolution was founded on the principle “no taxation without representation”. The corollary is an equally sound guideline: “no representation without taxation”. It is worth noting that Americans living abroad today can vote in their elections but they also pay taxes when living abroad. That is a clearly defined and enforced provision. Irrespective of the part of the world in which they live, US citizens pay taxes to the United States Government.

Every person living in the Republic pays taxes to this State. Senator Magner asked about the unemployed and pensioners. If they do not pay income tax, [2105] they certainly pay value-added tax whereas emigrants do not pay tax. Residence therefore provides a clean, unambiguous basis for drawing the line between who votes and who does not. We should, in my opinion, continue to stick by that strong principle.

However, that does not mean we should turn our backs on the Irish diaspora. On the contrary, we should use the means now at our disposal to forge stronger links than ever before with Irish people around the world. Already we are beginning to see the effects of disseminating real-time Irish news globally through satellite radio and on the Internet. As a country, we are lagging far behind on this issue. Even the tiny country of Cyprus, for instance, has a full television service available on satellite for Cypriots abroad. Poland has three television services available on the Hotbird satellite. In contrast, we have only an embryo radio service with minimum patchy coverage available around the world.

Satellite technology now makes it possible for us to beam real-time television programmes to Irish people anywhere in the world. On the Internet, Carlow people anywhere in the world can, since last week, read key stories from each week's Nationalist and Leinster Times which is the first provincial paper to follow the lead of The Irish Times in establishing a presence on the World Wide Web. This is the way to draw closer to our diaspora.

If we took the millions now being talked about for representation for emigrants to this House and spent it instead on kick-starting a much enhanced Irish presence on satellite television and, in particular, on the Internet, we could bring this country and its emigrants much closer together in a way that would be meaningful and highly useful in both economic and political terms.

Senator Magner referred to the late Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan's efforts to try to establish votes for emigrants and his views on the economic benefits in keeping the link with our emigrants. This proposal is not the way to try to establish [2106] that link. This proposal will not work but, more importantly, it will not achieve that which it sets out to achieve, that is, to maintain the link with those Irish people who left because they had to or wanted to and who are so valuable to us not only in economic but in cultural terms. We must find another way; one way would be to use modern technology.

Mr. Manning: With the permission of the Chair, I will share my time with my colleague, Senator Ross.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Farrell): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Manning: All of us have a strong sense of the wider Irish nation and would like to be in a position to enable emigrants, who left the country fairly recently and wish to keep in touch, to have a say and maintain their sense of belonging to the nation. This is the generous thinking behind this proposal.

What is being proposed here is not unique to this country. Other countries allow citizens, who emigrate and are out of the country for many years, to vote in parliamentary elections. The French, for example, have a system which enables their emigrants to vote in parliamentary elections, not for the Upper House but for the Lower House. American citizens living abroad are enabled to vote in the most important of all US elections, that is, the presidential election. So there is nothing unusual or untoward in what is being proposed here. However, I feel the system proposed in this discussion document has a number of enormous practical drawbacks, if not impossibilities.

The question of whether the representation will be in the Dáil or Seanad must be addressed. Perhaps the Seanad was chosen to give some substance to the principle of no representation without taxation because this House does not have a constitutional right to levy taxes and our financial powers are virtually non-existent. Likewise, the House has no right to initiate constitutional [2107] legislation. There may well have been reasons why this House was chosen.

I would have no difficulty with having three, four or five representatives of Irish emigrants in this House. The right of emigrants to have representation in this House is as legitimate as that of university graduates to their six seats, members of local authorities — they may have higher rights because they are elected — or any other group.

However, the system proposed — and the figures bear it out — is enormously expensive and cumbersome. After a huge amount of effort and expense, only a small number of emigrants may vote anyway. The suggestion in this booklet that the Clerk of the Seanad should have the task of compiling the register and administering the election is not on. Those who know the amount of work which goes into the preparation and running of a Seanad election in that office can see that this proposal is a non-starter and there is no point in saying otherwise. Likewise, our embassies abroad are not prepared or equipped for having to act as registration centres for votes. We expect our embassies to be involved in a range of trade, political and cultural activities, but to use them as registration centres would impose an enormous burden on them.

There are also practical problems in setting up three constituencies of this type. If we have single seat constituencies, which is not proposed here, high density population areas will swamp the election. If it was opened up to representatives from Australia, Africa, North America or Britain, the cost of these practical arrangements, which are addressed and costed in this booklet, would not justify the results.

If we are serious about emigrant representation in this House, there are other ways of doing it. It is possible to leave three of the Taoiseach's nominee places open for emigrants. The Taoiseach, the Leader of the Opposition and the President could then nominate them from lists submitted by bona fide emigrant groups. There is equality between [2108] elected and nominated Members in this House. Once a person becomes a Member his or her credentials as to how they got here are never questioned in debate, their voting rights or their status outside.

If we accepted the principle it would be simple, at least in the early stages, to set up a system where the Taoiseach of the day — it could be part of the spoils of office — could nominate three emigrants coming from lists provided by bona fide and recognised emigrant groups or else divide the nominations between the Taoiseach, the Leader of the Opposition and the President. We could allow representatives of bona fide emigrant groups the right of audience in this House. This is possible under Standing Orders. Senator Hayes made a number of interesting suggestions as to how we might address this problem without following the proposals made in this booklet.

This booklet shows that the proposals put forward are not workable, are expensive and do not meet the needs of the case. If they were put into effect, they would bring the system into disrepute. There are other ways of doing it and we should examine them.

Mr. Ross: This debate is a complete waste of time. I cannot understand why we have been asked to debate a set of proposals that may contain more ludicrous suggestions than anything else I have seen in my 15 years in this House. We are not talking in this document about giving emigrants votes but seats. They are completely and utterly different issues. Giving emigrants the vote involves them voting in their home constituencies where they have a small effect on the result. However, this fairy-tale proposes giving them seats in the Oireachtas.

I never heard that suggestion being taken seriously until it appeared in the Programme for Government. I do not know how it got there. I also do not know how the Minister for the Environment approved this proposal and the printing of this consultation document. [2109] Did somebody slip something in his soup before he did this? The proposal is so barmy that we know it will never see the light of day. This debate is in a vacuum. We will never see these three Seanad seats set up in the way proposed here and everybody behind this document knows that. It has been put out to fool the emigrants and their families. A gesture of some sort may be made, but the provisions in this document will not come about and everybody knows it. It may carry the Government over a silly pledge it made when it was formed and get it through a certain time period, but these proposals will never see the light of day. It is so absurd that it is almost not worth discussing and so ill-thought out that it is almost not worth consideration. One wonders whether the purpose behind it was to invite ridicule so the issue would be left dead and buried for a long time.

The consultation paper estimates that the cost of one scenario will be £10 million, and for what — to give people who do not live in this country representation in this House. I am open to correction by the Minister, but my interpretation is that there is no requirement on them to have ever lived in this country to qualify for election. Although they must be Irish citizens, they can qualify for this through their grandparents. This document suggests that the electors must have lived in the country, but not their representatives. People who have never set foot in Ireland will be representing people who do not live in Ireland and will not hold votes, but seats in this House.

What would happen if three Taoiseach's nominees, representing emigrants in Australia, America, South America or Britain and who have never been in Ireland before, were sitting happily on these benches? Due to the current numbers in the Seanad, they could vote down, delay and propose legislation which affects people who live here in the most minute detail and on issues of which they are totally and understandably ignorant. Giving these [2110] people that sort of power will give them unprecedented leverage in this House.

The current balance of power in this House is subject to certain negotiations between the Government, the Opposition and the Independents. We would then have an Irish American, an Anglo-Irish person and an Irish Australian seeking certain legislation to be passed, proposed, amended, defeated or delayed for reasons which would be beyond the rest of us but which would have to be agreed to by the Government because of the numbers in this House.

They would hold us hostage when they knew nothing about this country. This is utterly and totally barmy, it is crazy. It is absurd and insulting that we should be debating something as facile and ridiculous as this. I beg the Minister not to give us the sort of bland explanation which we got from the Minister introducing this, which was simply a paraphrase of this paper. It was not a suggestion or an opinion.

Let us look at the possibility of keeping in Dublin a register of 500,000 people, some whom live in the South American jungle. How on earth will that be done? How will we know whether people have died in Sydney, San Francisco or New York on a daily basis? How is it proposed that the Clerk of the Seanad will do that? It is impossible to keep a register of that sort and the cost of doing so efficiently would involve not only having a register here but also having someone on the ground in Australia, America, the United Kingdom, in the South American jungle and wherever else these people are. That fact has not been mentioned and we just have a few bare proposals.

The administration of this particularly idiotic idea is not addressed in this document. That is because a gesture has been made in terms of votes for emigrants, which, in a moderate way, people do not quarrel with in the same terms as they are exercised in embassies for certain elections. However, I never heard anybody suggesting that we should give the balance of power in the [2111] Upper House to people who never lived in this country. It is berserk, and it cannot and will not be done. I hope a matter as serious as the Constitution will never be treated in such a flippant way by a Minister or Government in this House again.

Mr. Norris: I am glad that Senator Manning lived up to the obligation he clearly gave and relaxed the leash on my distinguished constituency colleague, Senator Ross. It is extremely refreshing to hear Senator Ross exhibit the independence of mind which some of us feared he might have forfeited by joining the august ranks of the Government parties. It was a splendid performance, although I did not agree with everything he said. There is merit in this proposal, although the Government parties are obviously embarrassed by it. It is obvious, by looking at the body language around the House, that there is a degree of unease about this matter.

Senator Ross is at fault if he thinks this proposal has not been seriously floated before because it has been, including by virtually all the university Senators, although Senator Ross may have distanced himself from them. A perusal of the record might reveal some interesting results at a time when we all felt that an element of the university constituency was interested in this matter.

Mr. Ross: I do not think the Senator understands the difference between votes for emigrants and seats for emigrants, but it is something I could explain to him at greater length if I had more time.

Mr. Norris: Over lunch, perhaps. In travelling abroad, particularly in Australia, I was made aware of the strong desire of our emigrants to be represented. Some years ago, during a debate on the reorganisation and restructuring of the Seanad, I proposed that emigrants should be catered for by having two seats in the Upper House, [2112] but they were not particularly charmed, flattered or pleased by this. Emigrants in Australia and New Zealand thought this was simply a sop and that it was not enough. Three seats are now proposed and I am pleased to see that they do not encroach upon the university constituencies. It is a moderate and balanced proposal, and a sign of serious interest that the Government should propose diluting the Taoiseach's power. There is an element of generosity in that instead of using it in a mean-minded, narrow-spirited way to take a smack at the university seats, which are, after all, the only really independent and democratic element in this House. By resisting that opportunity the Government has shown a degree of maturity and wisdom.

I understand some of the arguments against this proposal, but a number of them could be tidied up. In her speech the Minister indicated that there could be further discussion on the amount of time emigrant voters will have to have spent in Ireland. It seems ludicrous that while emigrants will have to be at least 18 to vote or run for election, they will have to have spent only ten years in Ireland. Such a person could have lived here from birth until they were ten years old, a period during which it is unlikely that their political conscience or views would have been formed, or that they would have had any wide appreciation of the economic or social problems confronting the country. If they emigrated at ten years of age they will, by the age of 18 — when living in New York, Sydney or Hong Kong — not only be eligible to vote but also to put themselves up for election here. That qualification is not sufficient and I would prefer to see some clearer and more consistent link with this country.

It is appropriate for us to look at this proposal to include representation for emigrants in the Upper House. I notice that my distinguished and valued colleague, Senator Quinn, instinctively went for a good example of the problems we have, which I used in an earlier debate. I am not suggesting plagiarism on his part, but two intelligent minds [2113] will sometimes come up with the same quotation when looking at the same problem. Going back to the American Revolution, we both examined the well known tag line “No taxation without representation” and inverted it to read “No representation without taxation”. I am not sure if Senator Quinn went a step further to examine the implications for this House.

I recommended seats in Seanad Éireann precisely because it would not be appropriate to elect people from outside this jurisdiction to a House which has control to any degree over the dispersal of Exchequer funds. The principal limitation on the powers of this House is that we are precluded from producing Exchequer Bills. We are not entrusted with dispersing State funds, except in the most roundabout way. That answers the hesitation of those who say that since our emigrants do not pay taxes here they should not be placed in a situation where they can spend taxpayers' money. This is one of the things the Seanad is not permitted to do, so that argument is quite effectively answered.

It is good to keep in touch with our diaspora. I laughed at this phrase because it became a kind of buzz word like androgyny, buxerology and a few other well known tag words, but there is something extremely practical in it. It is not just a sentimental action by President Robinson to keep a candle in the window, although some of my friends and colleagues have been extremely wicked in their comments about it recently. It is important that we maintain a link with our people abroad because so many more of our people live there than have managed to live on this island.

I am a frequent visitor to the Middle East and have what I discreetly describe as “family connections” with Jerusalem. I admire the Jewish people enormously, the way they milk their diaspora, which is far smaller than ours, in the United States of America and the benefit they extract from a considerably smaller [2114] group of people in key positions in the USA. I would like to see this small country drawing strength, energy and support from those who have not had an opportunity to live in this country. About 40 million people in the United States claim Irish descent.

I was in America last month and celebrated St. Patrick's Day in Denver, Colorado. It was interesting to see the extent of the interest focused on Ireland. Some of it was highly amateur and inaccurate. I heard leprechauns talking for the first time and I can inform the House that they spoke with Mexican accents. I also found a piece of promotional material which stated that the game of hurling was invented in 1275 BC by the Fir Bolg. This is information with which I was not brought into contact at home and I was extremely glad to receive it. However, the material demonstrates a naive interest in Ireland and it could be focused to the benefit of the country.

I accept there could be mechanical difficulties with this proposal. Senator Ross was at his best in indicating his lack of belief in the possibility of maintaining a register of 500,000 people. It would be extremely invidious to impose this task on the Clerk of the Seanad. Regardless of her extraordinary capacities and talents, since the machinery to do so does not exist, it would not be fair. However, the University of Dublin maintains an accurate constituency record of over 30,000 graduates while NUI maintains an accurate record of over 100,000. Those two amateur offices deal with constituency records of over 130,000 graduates in an efficient and businesslike manner. If part-time officers in a university can do that, I do not see why the entire apparatus of the State should be assumed to be incapable of maintaining a register of 500,000.

Senator Ross referred to the fact that death occurs in San Francisco and Sydney. Of course it does, as it occurs in Dublin. The fact that one is an emigrant does not render one immune to mortality. Of course the register will be incomplete and inaccurate in certain [2115] respects. However, that has not inhibited the development of the constituency which Senator Ross represents. If his argument does not apply to his constituency, how can it possibly be held to apply to a similarly constituted constituency which is not dependent on the universities? It will require the maintenance of records. That in itself would be a good thing. If we had to keep an up to date register of people it would mean we would have to keep some degree of contact.

I travel abroad a great deal and keep in touch with our diplomatic staff, for whom I have the highest regard. We do not appreciate how well we are served by a small diplomatic staff scattered throughout the world. They do their best to keep tabs on the local Irish community and, by and large, they do a reasonably good job. How much easier would that be if there was a requirement on those who wish to participate in this electoral system to maintain contact with our diplomatic staff and to place themselves annually, biannually or every five years on a live register of electors. In that sense, it would also be a good thing.

Senator Ross also asked what would happen if, in an extreme case, three people who had never been to Ireland and who were elected to the Seanad by people who had hardly ever been in the country held the balance of power. Would the country collapse? The university Senators hold the balance of power in the Upper House at present and the State has not tottered to its knees. To assume that the situation outlined by Senator Ross could lead to circumstances in which the State would be in danger is to underestimate the responsible attitude of the Opposition. Three people could only hold the balance of power if they could convince the Opposition parties to support their views or if they supported something proposed by the Opposition. Again I think a chimera has been raised by Senator Ross. [2116] I support the principle of this proposal. It is useful and should be explored further. There are obviously ways in which it needs to be technically honed down but there is nothing in it that vitiates the principles of democracy. Although we have a small country we have shown ourselves to be capable of organising all types of international events. I am not an admirer of John Paul II but we organised his visit in a most remarkable and efficient way. We have organised a series of Eurovision Song Contests and I am one of those who proposes that we should bid for the Olympic Games at some time in the future. We have the capacity to organise highly technical and sophisticated events.

I was saddened to hear my colleague, Senator Ross, suggest that we are too stupid to organise efficiently a constituency of 500,000 people. I do not agree. We have the capacity, talent and political sophistication to ensure that this system, if it were to be utilised, would function efficiently.

Acting Chairman: Senator Belton and Senator Dan Kiely wish to share their time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Belton: It is extraordinary to hear a Senator praise another Senator after he has spoken and then proceed to contradict everything the first Senator said.

Mr. Norris: I am so fond of him; I like to see him bucking the party whip.

Mr. Belton: As a former emigrant and member of a county association in London for three years, I have an insight into emigration and the workings of Irish associations abroad. This matter was often discussed when I was in England and since then. It is easy to say that this proposal is not workable and the idea behind it is farcical. It is not and I welcome a discussion on this proposal. It is constructive to hear the opinions of others.

The electors on University Panels might not be nationals of this State. [2117] They can be from any country so long as they graduated from the relevant universities in this country. That point of interest was not mentioned by the previous two speakers. A non-national, so long as he or she is a graduate of an Irish university, can stand for election to the Seanad. It is interesting to look at the Seanad as it exists at present and how its electoral system works. It is extraordinary that Members of this House should start screaming about a proposal through which this House can represent nationals abroad, even though non-nationals already have a vote under the current electoral system.

We must be constructive when discussing this issue. Quick decisions are often dangerous but I do not understand why a Taoiseach cannot appoint three Senators to represent the emigrants in Britain, America and Australia. It is no harm to listen to all the options. I am sure Senator Dan Kiely, who has travelled with the emigrants, will express his views on this matter.

Mr. D. Kiely: I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue and I thank Senator Belton for sharing his time with me. This legislation is flawed. As an emigrant in the United States for 14 years and as someone who helped 30,000 or 40,000 illegal emigrants during the 1980s, I know there is a need for some type of representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I dealt with visa problems for emigrants in North America, but there does not seem to be any such difficulties for those travelling from the UK to Australia.

When emigrants looked for representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas, they did not mean in Seanad Éireann, where their powers are limited, but in Dáil Éireann where they could be elected in three constituencies. These people have rights and entitlements and they should be represented but rather than trying to establish an electorate of 500,000 people, which would put an untold burden on the State and on the staff of the Seanad, the Taoiseach of the day should nominate three people from [2118] Australia, the United States and the UK to represent our emigrants in the Seanad.

The system whereby the Taoiseach could nominate 11 Members was introduced to bring people with a wide range of experience to the House and Taoisigh have nominated non-political figures over the years such as Éamon de Buitléir, the late Gordon Wilson, T.K. Whitaker and Professor Dooge, who became a Minister.

Mr. Hayes: He was elected by the NUI.

Mr. D. Kiely: If the Taoiseach of the day wants to give power to the emigrants, he should nominate three people and appoint them as junior Ministers in the Lower House. Emigrants must be given representation, although there will be problems trying to establish a register.

Although I am concerned about personations, if people in the three constituencies organised a proper campaign, they would be able to elect one of their representatives to the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, if a person had to campaign in a constituency the size of North America where he had to travel 3,000 miles, he would need President Clinton's aeroplane for at least 12 months in advance and hundreds of people working for him, which would cost millions of pounds. The Minister should re-examine this proposal.

The consultation paper states that it would cost approximately £10 million to operate this system. Expenses would also be incurred trying to bring representatives here on a weekly basis. I am sure people in rural Ireland would welcome part of that £10 million to repair potholes and tourists would be delighted to see an improvement in our roads. This proposal would place an enormous strain on our national resources. Senator Magner asked what was wrong with emigrants voting in Dáil elections in Irish constituencies for which they emigrated. They should also [2119] be allowed to run for election if they wish.

There are many flaws in this document. If a person is permanently resident in the United States for five years, he or she can apply to become a citizen of that state. They could then hold an Irish and a United States passport and could vote in elections in either of two countries. However, they would need to state if they will support the country in which they have taken up residence or the country in which they were born. This could lead to complications.

I cannot understand why the Taoiseach could not appoint people like T.K. Whitaker and Éamon de Buitléir to represent the emigrants until legislation is in place to allow them to take their seats in the Lower House. Problems may need to be teased out in countries such as the United States and Australia. It would have to be decided if these people could register their vote in their local constituencies or if three new constituencies would be set up to give them three seats in the Lower House where they would have power and where they would be able to express the views of the emigrants abroad.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.