Seanad Éireann - Volume 158 - 31 March, 1999

Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage.

SECTION 1.

Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): Amendments Nos. 1 and 14 are related and will be taken together.

Government amendment No. 1:

In page 3, subsection (3), line 24, to delete “1974 to 1997” and substitute “1974 to 1998”.

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): This is a drafting amendment to substitute “1998” for “1997” in line 24. The citation “Local Elections Acts, 1974 [1372] to 1998” appears in the Local Government Act, 1998. The Opposition amendment is the same as the Government amendment. I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 1, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 5.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, line 14, after “repealed” to insert “except in so far as they related to the limiting of election expenditure”.

This amendment relates to the point I raised on Second Stage concerning the fact that this Bill is repealing a number of provisions in the 1997 Act. Under that Act the Minister has power to bring in regulations to do a number of things. He is replacing that power with powers in this primary legislation to cover some of those aspects, particularly the requirement to put limits on contributions to local election candidates. However, he is repealing, without replacing, the section which allows for limits to be put on local election expenditure.

I raised this point on Second Stage, when the Minister told me to wait for his next electoral Bill. It seems, from what he said on that occasion, that this is the precursor in respect of the limits which already exist for capping Dáil and European election spending. I do not think it is good, particularly in light of the investigations and revelations occurring daily in Dublin Castle, to move away from something which has already been enshrined in law and accepted as a good principle, namely, that there should be a limit on the amount of money candidates and parties can spend on elections. It is incomprehensible that we would regress from that position, which has only been in place since 1997. That lesson was learned by dint of hard experience.

I accept this is onerous on everybody. I am an election candidate, as I have been for the past decade. I agree it is a worry to have to compile and produce this information. However, I believe it is necessary to do so for our democracy. It denigrates local government to put limits on election expenditure at national and European level as a principle, but not at local level. I do not believe many candidates will spend a great deal of money on local elections but some will spend huge amounts. There are currently investigations of the alleged payment of large amounts of money to some council members and officials. We want to move away from the possibility of such accusations being levelled against local government members or officials. For that reason, I am proposing in this amendment that the Minister be allowed to retain the powers he has under the 1997 Act to cap local election expenditure.

[1373] There is also a very good practical reason for doing this since it will be impractical to distinguish between expenditure on European and local elections. There is a cap on European election expenditure, which no one is proposing to do away with at this stage. What will happen in June when literature is produced with local election candidates on one side and European election candidates on the other? What will happen when there is joint advertising? It will be impossible, in practice, to decide which element of that expenditure is to be attributed to the European election candidate and which element is to be attributed to the local election candidate. That conundrum will not help to minimise bureaucracy and headaches for candidates, agents and parties. Serious problems could result from the fact that one element of expenditure in the June elections will be capped and the other will not.

It is a good democratic principle, which should be accepted at all levels of government, that, not alone should there be disclosure of expenditure and a requirement to declare large contributions to candidates or parties, we should also say, as a matter of principle and law, that one cannot buy one's way to political office. I am proposing this amendment so that we, as people who participate in the system, will have the defence of saying there is a clear limit on expenditure, which we have either stayed within or broken.

Mr. D. Cregan: The disclosures from the tribunals are very serious. Senator Gallagher made his point very strongly. I agree there is a massive problem with people getting money. What Senator Gallagher has said is very constructive in many ways.

This Bill has been brought forward to improve the workings of local government, particularly local government elections. However, the sad part is that while many people will be standing for the first time, many people who have given their lives to local government are being asked to do things they never had to do before. This might deter people from standing for election in the future. People who have the interests of local government at heart might not come forward if they thought the procedure had become too stringent.

At the same time, there is a problem if spending on European elections is capped but a European election candidate can jointly advertise with a local election candidate. There is no reason we cannot have the same law for everyone. We want to be straight and to be seen to be ensuring that everyone gets the same opportunity.

Senator Gallagher is right, local government elections can be tougher than general or European elections. They are almost as tough as the Seanad election, for which one has to travel the country. A successful business person standing for local election can avail of many opportunities which other candidates cannot. For example, I could avail of opportunities for which other people could not afford to pay, and this is very [1374] unfair. The Minister made that point very strongly when I was in the Chair the last day.

Can we reach a compromise on this section and section 6 to create a situation where the 1997 Act could be tied in more with this Bill? Senator Gallagher made that point fairly strongly. I will speak again on section 6 about the opportunity some people and organisations have to spend money compared to others. It is a good idea to hold the local and European elections together because more people might vote. This would ensure a greater recognition of Europe which is our future. However, there is a danger that European candidates will use the local elections to spend more money.

Mr. Walsh: The argument for this amendment supports the disclosure of information which is covered in the Bill. Everyone contesting an election must disclose any contribution in excess of £500 and they must subsequently submit a list of the qualifying expenditure incurred during the election.

The only thing the Bill does not do is to limit the amount of money individuals can spend during a local election campaign. People do not spend excessive amounts of money on county council or urban council elections. This Bill will show what people spend on local elections. If corrective action is needed, it can be taken in the context of the norm across the country. It is unnecessary to have a limit.

The forms should be as simple as possible. There is a danger of becoming overly-bureaucratic or overly prescriptive in the manner in which we deal with elections. We must be careful not to intrude in the democratic process. I am satisfied with the way the Bill is drafted.

Mr. Dempsey: The effect of this amendment would be to retain section 72 on the limitation of expenditure at local elections. If section 72 was retained, I would have to make regulations which would require the approval of both Houses. If limits have to be introduced for local elections in the future, it would be preferable to do so through amending legislation.

I have tried to keep this legislation as simple as possible. There is no comparison between what happens at Dáil and European elections – where the candidates are paid full-time public representatives with secretarial allowances and backup in their constituency offices and, in the case of European candidates, considerable expertise available to them – and local urban council elections in Buncrana or elections to the town commissioners in Mullingar.

Since becoming Minister for the Environment and Local Government I have been conscious of the need to separate local government from central Government and to restore powers and responsibilities to local government so it has control of its affairs. Rather than including local government elections with Dáil, Seanad, presidential and European elections, I decided to [1375] introduce specific legislation. This is not an attempt to hide the source of people's money. My original intention was to deal with disclosure and expenditure in the local government reform Bill but because it will not be published until early in June, I decided to introduce this Bill to control the disclosure of expenditure in the local elections in 1999.

This legislation is simple. It retains the principle of disclosure of donations on which we are all agreed. There is no suggestion of anything else. Any donation over £500 must be declared under this Bill, as in the Electoral Act.

Local elections are not comparable with Dáil elections. There are 268 electoral areas which consist of 75 single areas with between nine and 12 members and populations ranging from 1,095 to 19,056. County councils and county boroughs are divided into 193 local electoral areas with between three and seven members and populations ranges from 3,992 to 63,173. The national average of population per elected member is 2,229. We would spend a long time on our calculators before arriving at an equal figure for expenditure limits for all candidates. At the end of that process, I could be in the Supreme Court trying to justify how someone in one electoral area had a cap of £4,000 or £5,000, while someone in a bigger electoral area but with a smaller population had a different limit.

Some people believe it is invidious – it has not been tested in the courts and I will not express a legal opinion on it – that someone in a three seat constituency should be limited to £14,000 expenditure, while someone in a five seat constituency is only limited to £20,000 expenditure. It would not be possible to have one limit that would be equal for all candidates. The alternative is to attempt to devise different limits for different sized electoral areas or authorities or for each local electoral area within a county. One could imagine the fun one would have if there were five, six or seven electoral areas within the county, as in my constituency, and a decision was made that the expenditure limits for Trim Urban District Council and Bray Urban District Council, whose population is many times greater, should be the same.

From an equality and constitutional point of view, that is not currently feasible. We do not have information to hand on the matter as we have never tried to quantify expenditure. It would be a complete stab in the dark and I am not prepared to approach local elections in that way.

In deference to the content of the amendment, after the elections I propose to have completed donation and election expenses statements analysed in order that we would have some information on whether the imposition of expenditure limits would outweigh the bureaucracy involved for political party candidates. I do not see any current justification to impose limits.

A sort of “nanny State” attitude is implied in Senator Gallagher's comments. I do not believe [1376] the Irish electorate is stupid enough to believe that just because one person spends ten times more than someone else – particularly in a local election – he or she will get elected. In fact, on the basis of my own experience, I suspect that if an analysis were carried out, it would be much more likely that the person who goes over the top on local election expenditure would lose out at the end of the day. I do not accept that people can buy their way into political office, particularly at local elections. That implication is insulting to the electorate.

I do not foresee any great difficulty in regard to an overlap between expenditure on European and local elections. It will be quite simple, within the bureaucratic limits we create, to decipher what constitutes European and local election expenditure. The limits in place for the European elections are reasonable and candidates will not be put to the pin of their collars to stay within them. I do not intend to accept the amendment as it is unnecessary. We do not need to pursue the bureaucratic route which already exists in regard to Dáil and European elections.

Mr. Gallagher: In regard to the specific point I raised, I would like to know how expenditure will be apportioned. If a leaflet is produced in an electoral area listing local election candidates on one side and European candidates on the other, who will decide whether its production costs will come under local or European election expenditure? In my experience, local election candidates do not have huge amounts of money to spend on elections. Parties advertise nationally at election times. When Dáil, European or local elections are held on the same day, who will decide what fraction of national advertising will be apportioned to one campaign over another? That is a very practical question and the Minister did not answer it.

In regard to a “nanny State”, there is a good deal of nannying in evidence already with people being told that donations must be limited and expenditure disclosed. It is not a big step beyond that to state that expenditure must be limited. It would be a protection for everyone involved to know a limit exists, however high or low, and that they must stick to it. If we go to the bother of keeping account of expenditure in the first place, it would not be a great leap to keep it under control.

The Minister stated his intention to analyse the information contained in donation statements and election accounts. Even if he does that, why should he give away the power which currently exists to introduce a provision through secondary legislation, something which both the Minister and Senator Walsh reluctantly conceded might be necessary? Why repeal that altogether even if a practical difficulty exists in regard to introducing it before June? The same thing was said about Dáil elections but a reasonable stab was made at that and, in the light of experience, procedures were amended. Even if it is not possible to do it [1377] before June, the Minister could reserve power to review the matter in the light of donation statements and election accounts. That would make sense. For the Minister to wipe out that power or give it away does not make sense where, in practical terms, people or groups who wish to exceed limits on European election expenditure will be able to find very easy ways of burying and hiding that expenditure in unlimited local election campaigns.

Mr. Dempsey: I do not intend to answer specific questions on how this measure will operate. The Public Offices Commission is charged with that responsibility and is in the process of preparing guidelines on this matter which will be published shortly. I do not wish to be seen to be offering advice to the commission but if literature is produced with photographs of European candidates on one side and local election candidates on the other, one could simply divide the costs in half. I do not want to pre-empt the action of the Public Offices Commission. The division of costs will be a matter for the agents of the candidates concerned.

On the point the Senator made about giving away power, I went to great lengths to explain at the outset that encompassing this matter in primary legislation and changing it by way of primary legislation is a better way to proceed. I have no intention of introducing regulations under section 72, so there is no point leaving that section in the Electoral Act as it stands. We are dealing with the matter through separate legislation which can be amended.

The Senator referred to the possibility of approaching this matter in the same manner as we approach Dáil elections. I spent a good deal of time debating the Electoral Bill with the Senator's colleague when I was in Opposition. While we differed on some points, the debate was very constructive in most respects. I continually sought assurances that Deputies and prospective Deputies who fought in the election would know precisely what was required of them before the Bill came into effect. Assurances were received that these matters would be discussed on an all-party basis once the Bill was passed. Unfortunately the Bill was only just passed before the elections took place and a number of those elected to the Dáil could have ended up with criminal records as result of some of the things they did inadvertently because they did not know the interpretation that would be taken by the Public Offices Commission on various aspects. We had to amend the legislation. I do not want the same situation to arise with this Bill. I would rather have the surety of this legislation in place and at a later stage review it. For that reason I will not accept this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[1378] Section 5 agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 3 is out of order.

Amendment No. 3 not moved.

SECTION 6.

Government amendment No. 4:

In page 8, subsection (1), line 45, after “party,” to insert “election agent,”.

Mr. Dempsey: This is a straightforward drafting amendment. While perhaps, it is not directly relevant to the June local elections as election expenditure limits have not yet applied to a Dáil, European Parliament or a presidential election, with the exception of the three Dáil by-elections, it will be necessary in future. In the case of a Dáil general election, a European Parliament or presidential election, it is the election agent of the candidate who furnishes the election expenses statement. “Election agent” is defined in section 2 of the Electoral Act, 1997. I commend this amendment to the House.

Mr. D. Cregan: On a point of clarification, are we are saying that after these local elections the election agent for the candidate will have the responsibility of disclosing what is spent? Why is it that way around? Why are we looking at the election agent? At local, urban, town or council election level, election agents on behalf of candidates may not take on the responsibility. Are we putting a large onus on an individual because he is representing a particular candidate? The vast majority of candidates are party members. Could the section state “independent candidate”? I could be wrong; I am trying to clarify this. Could it state that if the candidate is not a party member the independent candidate's election agent must disclose? What is wrong with the party disclosing on behalf of the candidate? I would like this point clarified before we go further.

Mr. Dempsey: The simplest way to put this is that we are trying to make life a little easier and prevent a situation where there must be double disclosure. Where an election agent previously made a declaration in a general election and the same materials were used in subsequent European or Dáil elections, he should not have to make a double disclosure. It is to prevent that happening.

Mr. D. Cregan: I understand but on section 5 the Minister stated he did not want the same situation, he wanted local government to have its own authority and he wanted people to become more involved in local government. I could not agree more, it is long overdue. However now the [1379] Minister is saying the same should apply at local government level as at national level. We do not want the election agent or people who are prepared to go forward for town, urban, county or city council elections to have full responsibility. The responsibility has gone from the party and is back on the individual election agent at local government level. I agree with the Minister that there should be more openness but he is putting a big responsibility on people who are only becoming involved at local level.

I am not saying the provision should not be there but I would much prefer if both were there: the election agent of any person who stands as an independent should make the disclosure but the party should make the disclosure on behalf of councillors at local level. The Minister is placing a big responsibility on a person who wants to stand for election and who gets 700 votes, or 100 votes in, say, Passage West or Macroom Urban Council. It is unfair. I am not saying the provision should not be there but there could be the option for the election agent or the party. In the case of an independent it should be the election agent.

Mr. Walsh: I find myself having sympathy with Senator Cregan's point. I could envisage a situation where the election agent might not be given this responsibility by the local party branch. The party may feel the treasurer, secretary or someone else should control spending from the point of view of the efficient running of the election. Perhaps this should be considered so that there is flexibility and the party can take the responsibility and the officers within the party can then decide.

Mr. D. Cregan: The word “may” could be used.

Mr. Walsh: I am not sure that can be pinned down legally but if it can it would be a step in the right direction. People work in a voluntary capacity and make a very valuable contribution to the democratic process. I would hate if people found themselves in the dock as a consequence of inadvertent action. I know this has to be balanced against ensuring the thrust of the legislation is fully complied with; but if there is any way this point can be accommodated it would be very useful.

Mr. D. Cregan: The danger is that if the Minister allows a situation where the election agent is responsible for all disclosure, some people could do better financially than others because their election agent is a brighter person when it comes to money and could use it better. There is a danger that the Minister is creating an opportunity for some people to avail of this. That is why the party should be responsible. The election agent can be responsible in the case of independents. One person could take over from others if the election agent is responsible for the disclosure of money.

[1380] Mr. Gallagher: Senator Cregan has made a good practical point. Something which gives effective practice to his point but still comes within the terms of the legislation should be considered.

Mr. D. Cregan: All I am asking is that the Minister consider it.

Mr. Dempsey: I will return to this on Report Stage. However, the Senators may be misinterpreting this. Rather than imposing an extra obligation we are relieving people of an obligation if a declaration has already been made in another election. We can discuss this between Committee and Report Stages and go into it in greater detail. If it is necessary to consider it again I will do so.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 6, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. D. Cregan: Apart from the sections to which Senator Gallagher and others have suggested amendments, this is the most important section. I agree with the other sections. The Minister itemised those who do not have to disclose from where they are getting their money or where they are working, such as the self-employed, European candidates, members of local authorities and the Oireachtas, etc. Section 6 also states that the following shall not be deemed election expenses:

(vii)the publication in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication or the broadcast on radio or television of news, reports, articles, features, editorial or other comments. . . .

This is not allowed elsewhere. A person is entitled to publicise himself. For example, during the 1985 local election campaign a candidate put a half page advertisement in the local newspaper the day before polling.

Mr. Walsh: Was it expensive?

Mr. D. Cregan: He was a member of my political party.

Mr. Cassidy: Was he elected?

Mr. D. Cregan: Yes, and he did not need to place the advertisement but he got nervous during the last week of the campaign. All of us are aware of what happens, particularly during local elections. Everybody must fight for every vote and if there is an opportunity for any person with a few bob to spend it in order to win a seat, he will do so. The Minister said that many people read between the lines. When that candidate placed a half page advertisement in the Evening Echo on a Wednesday evening in Cork he could rest assured that when the next issue of the newspaper appeared on Thursday, people had voted. [1381] The advertisement was a big reminder to many people not to forget him. He did not have the money himself and we must ask from where it came. Thankfully, he was not in my ward, but the neighbouring one. However, I found it very unfair.

Section 6 consolidates what this individual wanted. It says one can use television, newspapers, magazines or otherwise. Some people are able to do this but others are not. They could work much harder but not have the opportunity to use the media. That is why I am worried about the local elections. How can this be stopped? The 1997 Act is relevant in many ways but I understand fully that the Minister wants to simplify procedures and I could not agree more with him. It is important that they are simplified, particularly for local government, because it the basis of our society. It is only right and proper that the Minister is seen to do that and I admire him for it.

Under this section individuals can and will use the media whereas others cannot when they stand for local elections. That is a danger and individuals should be accountable to their parties or election agents. If the candidate is a member of a political party, the party should account for it and ask him or her from where the money came. The section does not cover this and individuals will have the opportunity to do this, that and the other, yet in other sections, there is a tightening up of procedures, including election agents being accountable and a requirement to list the services rendered by individuals in the employ of a political party which are remunerated by the party's own resources.

A party could use a large of amount of money and one could not question it. Parties could have their own shows on local television channels. Such channels do not make a great deal of money and, therefore, will take money from political parties. Newspapers have made a great deal of money during election campaigns and we are trying to stop that at European and national level but it can also happen at local level.

How can a squeeze be put on that while at the same time simplifying procedures? Is the Minister prepared to consider an amendment which specifies an amount that can be spent during a campaign? No spending limit is defined in the section. Candidates could easily spend £10,000 and I have seen individuals spend between £2,000 and £5,000 on campaigns.

Mr. Dempsey: I agree with some of what the Senator said. Television and radio political coverage, including party political broadcasts, is covered under the Broadcasting Acts and there is a ban on political advertising other than party political broadcasts. Therefore, any local radio or television station that carries advertisements by individual candidates or parties for the local elections will be in breach of those Acts. A good example of this occurred recently when the Independent Radio and Television Commission, in its [1382] wisdom, decided that an advertisement for a Catholic newspaper was political and, therefore, it came under its remit. Similarly, an advertising campaign by a group with whose extreme views many of us do not agree attempted to run an advertisement about abortion on local radio and it was banned by the Independent Radio and Television Commission because it was political. The Senator can rest assured on that issue.

It is not as easy to deal with newspapers and preventing last minute advertisements, etc. One of the only ways to stop that is to restrict everybody to a set amount, it will not be spent, which is a point that would be made by Senator Gallagher. The other way is to insert a section in the Bill which would state that there should be no advertising during the last week of an election campaign. I do not know how Members or the newspaper industry feel about that or whether such an action could stand up constitutionally under the provisions of free speech.

However, the essential point made by the Senator is that people will want to know where the individual got the money to spend on large scale newspaper advertisements. It is a legitimate question and a matter of public interest. Under the Bill, a candidate or his or her agent must declare how much was spent in total on the election and how much of the money was from his or her resources. In addition, he or she must declare how much he or she got from other sources, such as his or her political party, donations, etc. In common with Dáil, Seanad, presidential and European elections, any donation which the candidate receives that exceeds £500, individual or aggregate, must also be declared. I differ with Senator Gallagher as I believe that having to make such a public declaration will in itself inhibit people given that questions will be asked if huge amounts of money are expended in local elections.

Section 6 is taken almost directly from the Electoral Act, 1997. Rather than trying to say what is permissible, this Bill and the 1997 Act set out the things to be excluded in calculating election expenses. The things excluded under section 6(3)(b) and subsections (5) and (6) are reasonable in the context of what we are talking about and include the deposit, purchasing the register, reasonable living expenses of a candidate or any person working for a candidate, minor expenses, payment, service or facility provided to a person out of public funds or moneys provided by an institution of the European Community, etc.

An article in a newspaper or a party political broadcast, as distinct from those mentioned by Senator Cregan, cannot be included. We have tried to outline what cannot be included in election expenses: everything else must be calculated for the purpose of expenses. We have enumerated to the best of our ability the items excluded rather than those which should be included. For this reason I think this section, modelled on the 1997 legislation, is reasonable. The issue of how [1383] one stops people from inserting advertisements in newspapers at the last minute requires further discussion and debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 7 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 13.

Question proposed: “That section 13 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. D. Cregan: This concerns the statement of donations and election expenses. In the case of donations over £500, the donor must be disclosed. While the word “simplify” is used, I can see situations, particularly in urban areas, where an organisation, such as a chamber of commerce, the Lions Club or community associations may promote a particular candidate. The Minister can imagine the effect of a chamber of commerce promoting a candidate. How can we ensure disclosure by organisations which are promoting a candidate through their own documentation, leaflets, magazines, promotions and silent campaign? Such promotion may not directly involve money. What right have we to question a chamber of commerce in Dublin or Cork which promotes a candidate or two in their magazines?

Mr. Dempsey: The point raised by the Senator is covered in section 6(7) which deals with expenditure by a third party. Under this subsection any person other than a national agent or designated person for a political party and a candidate or a person authorised by them, namely, somebody outside the political system, who proposes to incur election expenses in local elections is required to notify the local authority of his or her name, address and description before incurring such expenditure. The person must provide a statement of the nature, purpose and estimated amount of the proposed expenditure and indicate any connection with any party or candidate.

This provision is specifically designed to meet the worries raised by the Senator and the prospect, particularly in local elections, of a group coming together to prevent a candidate from being elected through taking out advertisements, etc. Such people must register with the local authority. Under section 13 such a person or body is required to furnish a statement to a local authority in relation to any election expenses incurred within 56 days of polling day. Therefore, they have the same obligation as candidates.

Under section 2 the term “person” is defined as including an individual, a body corporate and an unincorporated body of persons, including a subsidiary. Therefore, the worry expressed by the Senator is addressed in section 6(7) while under section 13 declarations must be made by such people in the same way in which those associated with political parties must make declarations.

[1384] Mr. D. Cregan: I must disagree. In theory what the Minister said is correct in terms of the provisions of sections 2, 6 and 13 as they provide that everybody must make disclosures. Section 13(1)(b) provides that “the national agent of a political party, a designated party or a person to whom section 6(7) applies shall include in the statement of election expenses furnished by him or her under subparagraph (i) or (ii) of paragraph (a) details or the election expenses incurred by him or her.” However, I am talking about an organisation promoting a candidate through its documentation and magazines, something which can be done very subtly. It is not like putting an advertisement in the papers and it is not necessary to account for such promotion. I am not saying such promotion should not take place – we have to put up with it in political life. However, why should everybody else be asked to make disclosures under the provisions of the Bill of donations over £500 while a Catholic organisation, a Protestant organisation or any other group can produce a very glossy magazine and promote a candidate without being asked to account for such promotion under the Bill? In the past I have seen candidates being promoted in the business sector by people interested in them. Sections 6, 7 or 13 do not provide for this scenario. Can an amendment be included to ensure that people involved in such promotion are seen to be accountable?

Mr. Walsh: Perhaps the value of an advertisement or promotion in a magazine or other publication as has been suggested by Senator Cregan could be included in the return of expenses. There would certainly be a political value to them.

There should be an onus on local authorities to remind people to make their statement of expenses within 56 days as required by the Bill. Many people involved in elections work in a voluntary capacity and they all put in a tremendous effort up to the day of the election and perhaps during the count the following day, but little is done after that. People could forget to submit their statements within the specified time, so there is nothing wrong with an onus being placed on local authorities to remind candidates of their obligations thus ensuring compliance. Many local authorities are notorious for not responding themselves to correspondence. If the strategic management initiative means anything, I hope it is that they will improve their communication with the public.

Mr. Dempsey: I agree with Senator Cregan. It is one of the difficulties with imposing election expenditure limits, as was done for general elections in the Electoral Act, that people will find ways around them if they want to. The Senator spoke of a chamber of commerce or a Catholic or Protestant organisation producing a glossy brochure which everyone knows in their heart and soul to be a promotion for a candidate or candi[1385] dates. To my knowledge, unless it specifically states that people should vote number one for the candidate, that publication is not election expenditure, they can get away with it. People in my party and, I presume, in others believe some local papers exist to promote certain candidates.

Mr. D. Cregan: The Minister did not do too badly.

Mr. Dempsey: I will not complain about my local paper. It is a danger that, once the criteria for election expenditure are implemented, people may be able to find ways around them and put others at a disadvantage.

The alternative is stating that no one other than political parties or the organisation supporting the candidate should have the power to publish material on their behalf. Deputy Howlin and I had many discussions on this when the Electoral Act was being debated, and his advice and mine was that there would be constitutional difficulties with preventing people from expressing their views and opinions. Material directly related to an election and to the aim of getting someone elected to a local authority is controlled by the Bill. The Senator is correct to say there are ways and means around this and I do not have the answer. This is the best we can do in this case.

Mr. D. Cregan: Who is the watchdog? Is it the local authority? Is the onus again being placed on local authorities to ensure this is properly run? Who should be the watchdog is another matter. It is unfair to ask local authority officials to ensure all measures in the Bill are implemented because they are already overworked. Is there a possibility of establishing independent watchdog authorities or committees for different types of elections to ensure conditions from relevant legislation are complied with and to take action if they are not? Why does responsibility always have to be placed on local authorities?

Mr. Dempsey: I want to devolve powers to local authorities. I want local government to be self-sufficient, decentralised and to be able to manage and control its affairs.

Mr. Cassidy: Hear hear.

Mr. Dempsey: That is the thrust of the legislation. The Senator is correct to say the onus is on local authorities, but later sections allow for the Public Offices Commission to have a role. The local authority will be obliged under the Bill to inform local authority members of their obligations, to accept declarations, to remind people if they have not made their declarations within 56 days that they must do so, and to suspend and expel members who do not do so within the specified period. Where a person makes a false declaration, outside agencies such as the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda would pursue the matter. The Public Offices Commission will have a role in certain areas.

[1386] A section in the local government reform Bill in preparation at present will deal with ethics and codes of conduct. It provides for an ethics officer at local authority level to deal with ethical matters and codes of conduct. This legislation will probably have to be amended to make it a specific function of his or her—

Mr. D. Cregan: Will it also be relevant to officials?

Mr. Dempsey: It will apply across the board. The major onus will be on local authorities. There are parts of the Bill under which outside agencies may take certain actions, but it will be centred mainly on local authorities.

Mr. O'Brien: I congratulate the Minister and welcome the power being returned to local authorities. The Minister was once a local authority member so he understands well such members' work. I welcome this power and congratulate the Minister on the Bill. It is important that local authority members will have to submit election expenses returns and I welcome the fact that it is a simpler process than that for general elections. It is important we acknowledge the work of the Minister in introducing the Bill before the local elections this year; it is better it comes before rather than after. I congratulate the Minister on the hard work he has put into the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 14 to 17, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 18.

Government amendment No. 5:

In page 17, subsection (3), lines 52 and 53, to delete “the local authority may initiate summary proceedings against the person concerned” and substitute “the local authority may either initiate summary proceedings against the person concerned or furnish a written report on the matter (together with any relevant document or other thing in its possession) to the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

Mr. Dempsey: In response to Senator Cregan's comments on section 13, I mentioned several times the Public Offices Commission has a responsibility; in fact, it has no such responsibility. If a complaint was made and upheld it would be a matter for the Garda Síochána.

This is a drafting amendment to provide for the taking of legal action by a local authority in the event that it considers, following receipt of a written report, that a national agent or a third party who encouraged national expenditure has contravened the provisions of the Act. In such cases the DPP's consent will be necessary for a prosecution of a national agent or a third party. The amendment provides for this. It was not included in the [1387] Bill. There is no other change in the amendment to the Bill's provisions in the case of a contravention by a designated person, candidate or third party. I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. D. Cregan: The amendment provides that “the local authority may either initiate summary proceedings against the person concerned or furnish a written report. . . ”. However, it may not do so. Is that correct?

Mr. Dempsey: Yes.

Mr. D. Cregan: If we want to return authority to local authorities we should ensure that, as far as possible, they should be seen to be handling the problem rather than delegating it to the DPP. It would want to be a serious case before a local authority should be seen not to handle it. In view of this, it is important and appropriate that the word “may” should be included in this way in the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 18, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 19.

Government amendment No. 6:

In page 19, subsection (2)(b), line 4, to delete “political parties” and substitute “national agents”.

Mr. Dempsey: The purpose of the amendment is to substitute the words “national agents” for “political parties”. Under section 13, the national agents, not the political parities, must submit the statements. This is a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 19, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. D. Cregan: This section allows for the inspection of relevant documents for which the national agent or the election agent is responsible. Can the provisions of this section be extended to cover organisations which are not directly involved in elections but are indirectly involved with candidates? They do not have to make disclosures. Can the section be amended to provide protection here? For example, would the local authority have the right to inspect an organisation if it considered that it represented or was seen to promote a specific candidate?

Mr. Dempsey: This is similar to the point raised by the Senator on section 13. If somebody promotes or intends to promote a candidate it should be registered with the local authority. At the end of the election campaign he or she must make the same declarations as the political parties, election [1388] agents or candidates. Where this is above board and somebody makes it clear he or she is acting on behalf of a person, declarations must be made within the 56 day period. However, there is nothing in the section to address those with hidden agendas and local authorities do not have the power to invade anybody's privacy to address this matter. There is no easy way to meet the Senator's very important concern.

Mr. D. Cregan: I do not want local government to suffer from these provisions. We are all involved in local government and we fight hard to retain our seats because we love our work. Given this, I do not want any situation to arise where a person, authority, association, company or otherwise could be seen not to be answerable when everybody else is. I know it is not easy to address this aspect but all candidates, including election agents, even those in urban wards, must make the appropriate declarations. Yet multinationals or other organisations which could be involved in promotion do not have to declare. Can anything be done to ensure they are also accountable? I do not have a solution, but the officials should be able to address the problem.

Mr. Dempsey: Section 18(5) allows a local authority to “make such inquiries as it considers appropriate and may require any person to furnish any information, document or thing in the possession. . . ”. That is the closest to meeting the Senator's request. It is the best that can be done. My officials would deem it to be a way of meeting his concerns. However, living as we do in the world of politics, the Senator and I know how difficult it will be to pin someone down under this.

Mr. D. Cregan: Section 18(5) states that a local authority “may make such inquiries as it considers appropriate. . . ”. There is great use made of the word “may” in this and the other House. Regrettably it leaves open the possibility that one may not do as provided. The word “may” should be substituted by the word “should” in this instance. The local authority would then have a duty to proceed which it does not have if the word “may” is used.

Mr. Dempsey: I will consider this before the Bill is presented to the Dáil to see if we can strengthen this provision. The wording is based on the Electoral Acts, indeed, we debated this issue when considering that legislation. It is very difficult to pin it down, but we will look at it again in view of the Senator's concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 20.

Government amendment No. 7:

In page 19, subsection (2), line 28, after “purpose” to insert, “, or a lesser period ending on [1389] the compliance by the member with the requirements of section 13,”.

Mr. Dempsey: This amendment provides that the suspension of an elected member will end once the donation expenditure statement and statutory declaration are furnished to a local authority. This was discussed on Second Stage. The 56 days for furnishing a donation and expenditure statement by an elected member expires on 6 August 1999. The seven days for suspension expire on 13 August 1999. Local authorities do not normally have a monthly meeting in August. I do not know of any of them which has a meeting but if there is an emergency meeting during that week ending 13 August and a member's vote is crucial, it would be difficult to argue, if the member concerned was suspended under section 22 but had furnished the statement within the seven day period and before the emergency meeting, that the suspension would end and he or she would be allowed to participate. We are just providing for an immediate lifting of the suspension so that nobody making their declaration within the seven day period would be unfairly dealt with. I commend this reasonable amendment to the House.

Mr. Walsh: I raised this matter on Second Stage and I have some difficulty with it. Obviously it has been considered and it was felt prudent not to make any changes to it. The seven day period following the 56 days is a little short. At the end of the day, the thrust of this amendment is to get compliance. I would have some misgivings with the seven day period, particularly given that August is probably the worst month for this to occur because members and staff of local authorities tend to be on holidays. I would prefer if that had been extended to 14 or 21 days.

In addition, I would like to have seen some onus on the local authority. I do not know whether the Minister can subsequently provide for this by way of regulations. I empathise with people who tend to be late complying with all sorts of deadlines because I would count myself among them. I tend to do things at the eleventh hour. Sometimes if you overstep the deadline, there would be no malice intended. I would hate to think that people would be caught as a consequence.

I do not know what, if anything, can be done because the Minister is not disposed to do anything about it, but I feel there should be an onus on the local authority, by regulation or some other way, to send a reminder. There should be ample time after that to allow for holidays, etc. I would predict that if it is not amended people will end up getting caught inadvertently and perhaps being disqualified on these grounds. I hate to think there will be such cases. We are trying to ensure compliance with standards to which we all subscribe but at the same time take account of those who, from the Minister's point of view, may [1390] not be as good as others and get caught for the wrong reasons.

Mr. D. Cregan: Like Senator Walsh, I want to make the point that we are not dealing with Deputies, Senators or MEPs who must be ruthless, whether they like it or not, but with people who have a commitment to local government. I would emphasise strongly that on the day they are elected the local authority should have some responsibility to inform the member that he or she must disclose before 56 days. The 56 days ties in with 11 June. Allowing another seven days would make it 63 days and one could still be in a dilemma. I understand what Senator Walsh is saying. A person who meant well could be on holidays or taking a break, and unfortunately, he or she could be caught.

We should provide in the Bill for compliance by a particular date, such as 7 September, although I do not know the day of the week on which that falls. That would cover a person for a week after August. If one could provide for a date rather than a number of days, such as 7 September, 4 September, the first Monday in September or the first Friday in September, it would cover everybody because they would be for the next meeting.

The most important point is that the member would be informed long before and a letter would be handed to him or her stating that it is imperative that he or she declare by such a date. A date rather than a number of days after the 56 day period is more appropriate because it ties in with 11 June. In July, the local authorities will hold their annual meetings and then the members will be gone. We all know that will happen. In August, the members will be delighted while defeated candidates will be sorry but, at the same time, it would be most unfair for this to occur, particularly to the newly elected members, from whom I hope I will be getting a vote.

Mr. Gallagher: I support the point made by Senator Walsh and Senator Cregan. The first point Senator Walsh made some time ago is a practical one, that there would be a requirement on the local authority to tell the member or defeated candidate that they must submit it by a certain date.

As somebody who inadvertently fell foul of the provisions regarding returns for the Dáil elections, I have every sympathy with Senator Walsh's point. I was campaigning for the Seanad and I happened to be in Senator Cregan's city for two or three days canvassing in the Cork area when I received a telephone call from home to say that something had arrived which should have been returned and was not. I had it posted down to me in Cork.

Mr. D. Cregan: In former Deputy O'Sullivan's house.

[1391] Mr. Gallagher: Yes, I completed it in his house. Despite being in his house, I still could not find a post office open late that evening to post it back. In fact, it remained completed in my briefcase while I went on to canvas in Kerry, which was the last county on my campaign trail. It was only when I got home from Kerry that I realised it was still there. I sent it in and the Public Offices Commission was happy to accept my explanation, but I certainly would not like to have been disqualified from here for a period for being a couple of days' late.

Senator Walsh made a good point. We are trying to get compliance here. The vast majority of people affected by this would wish to be compliant. We should give every consideration to any leeway which can be given to ensure compliance without necessarily going off on a legal witch hunt. I support Senator Walsh in that regard.

Mr. Dempsey: If you gave people 14 days, they would probably find some reason not to do it. If you gave them 100 days, the result would be the same. The only reason it is 56 days is that the Electoral Act also stipulates 56 days. Rather than cause confusion, particularly from Members of the Oireachtas who are getting used to the provision, they must make their declarations after every election after 56 days.

If Members feel very strongly about this, I am disposed to increase that period. I am not, however, disposed to giving anybody any longer than seven days after he or she is supposed to make the declaration because that would mean those who have made declarations would be held up because somebody else did not comply. The public notice must be placed in the newspapers. If it is not, everybody would be treated with odium and people would say that they could not even make their returns in the period allowed.

Unfortunately seven days will not make a huge difference to a person who is ill. Therefore, I do not favour such an argument. There are provisions in the Bill to cater for people who do not make a declaration for genuine reasons. There are reliefs in another section also.

The use of 56 days brings us to 6 August. There is a point to be made about people being away but if I was contesting a local election I would want to get the thing out of the way as quickly as possible. I would have it submitted in July.

We could increase it to 90 days, which would bring it to the first week in September.

Mr. D. Cregan: That is realistic. I hate saying it but the Minister can see the situation, particularly as it applies to new members.

Mr. Dempsey: If Members feel strongly about it, I will amend that to 90 days on Report Stage. It is not necessary to include the reminder to the local authority in the Bill as we will issue a circular to instruct it to remind Members at its first meeting that they must do this. Declaration forms will also be sent. I am not sure what procedure is [1392] necessary but we will change 56 days to 90 days to meet the Senator's requirements.

Mr. D. Cregan: I thank the Minister for his logical considerations. A retirement scheme was introduced for older members, of which many are availing; it is right they should have received benefits. We are now asking people to stand for election at local government level so they should be given an initial break. I appreciate the Minister extending the period to 90 days.

Mr. Walsh: I join with Senator Cregan in complimenting the Minister on accepting that proposal and on ensuring the local authorities will be obliged to notify members. This will facilitate the smooth implementation of the Bill, which is what everyone wants.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 8:

In page 19, subsection (4), lines 40 and 41, to delete “bring summary proceedings against the unsuccessful candidate or elected member for” and substitute “summarily prosecute the unsuccessful candidate or elected member for the offence of”.

The section does not actually state it is an offence to give a false statement or that the proceedings are criminal proceedings. This amendment intends to rectify this lack of certainty.

Mr. Dempsey: I am assured the wording of the section meets the intention of the Senator's amendment. For reasons I think the Senator will accept fully, I would prefer to retain the Attorney General's wording. The intention is the same in both cases.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Government amendment No. 9:

In page 19, after line 48, to insert the following new subsections:

“(6)Where a member of a local authority becomes disqualified for membership of a local authority pursuant to subsection (2) or (5), that person shall, immediately on such occurrence cease to be such member and a vacancy shall exist accordingly in the membership of the local authority.

(7)A person who ceases to be a member of a local authority pursuant to this section shall on such cesser also cease to be a member of any body to which that person was elected, nominated or appointed by a local authority, or of which the person is a member by virtue of being a member of a local authority; but nothing in this subsection shall be construed so as to affect the validity of anything previously done by the person while he or she was a member of that body.”.[1393]

Mr. Dempsey: This amendment clarifies the position following the commencement of disqualification. It is expected that some members elected following the poll on 11 June will be appointed to vocational education committees, health boards, etc., and the first meeting will take place within 56 days of polling, or 90 days as it now is. It has been traditional in Local Government Acts, in order to remove any doubts, for the abovementioned subsection to be used whenever there is a disqualification. We are providing for this to make it clear the disqualification applies. We will change the period of 56 days.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 20, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Gallagher: As a general principle, there is no point introducing provisions unless we have sanctions. Perhaps the Minister will consider postponing, or otherwise providing a mechanism for, the review of these provisions in tandem with the ongoing review in these Houses of similar provisions. There is no appeals mechanism in this section; one is either in or out, one has either done it or not. It is fairly draconian. There seems to be no proportion between the scale of the offence and the sanction imposed on the person. Taking into account the extra time and notice being given, there is no excuse for anyone not to comply. However, if someone is slightly out of line and someone else is very much so, the same sanction is applied to both.

I know committees of both Houses are giving serious consideration, in the context of the Government proposal document, to how penalties should be imposed against Members of these Houses. I am not a Member of these committees but I substituted at one meeting where legal advisers suggested what might and should be done. Would it be better to bring provisions for local authorities in line with the provisions for these Houses? I would not like sanctions for members of local government, working in an unpaid capacity, to be more severe or more difficult to comply with than sanctions these Houses might recommend to the Government to include in legislation.

I am not opposed to the principle of the section, but, is there any mechanism we can include to provide for conformity between it and legislation these Houses might pass as regards Members? Members of local government should not be treated less favourably than Members of these Houses.

Mr. D. Cregan: Section 20 (5) states:

If a person is convicted by a court of an offence following proceedings initiated under subsection (4), in addition to any penalty imposed by the court, the person shall be disqualified for membership of any local authority and the disqualification shall apply and have [1394] effect for the remainder of the term in office of the members of the local authority concerned.

This provision applies to members of a local authority, not the Dáil or Seanad. On section 18 I said we must ensure that a local authority takes responsibility for its members. However, this section negates that. If a member of a local authority is convicted and disqualified, the local authority created that situation by going to the courts. This section is unfair and too strong. It needs to be looked at and every opportunity taken to ensure a person is not brought before the courts if a disclosure is made by someone else, who is not relevant to the person. The courts might find the person guilty but he or she might be innocent; an organisation which he or she represents or which promoted him or her might be guilty and would not be brought before the courts.

Mr. Walsh: I do not know whether the Minister is disposed to accept any proposals on this matter. However, the point being made has a degree of validity. While I welcome the extension of the period to 90 days I am concerned that members will be in contravention because of a technical reason or carelessness, although they may have nobody but themselves to blame. If someone who participates in the democratic process is brought before the courts for offences of a minor technical nature, that is not utilising the time of the courts properly. The only solution is that which the Minister has a difficulty accepting – a longer term of suspension. That will focus the mind of a person who is in contravention and will give him ample time to put his affairs in order. That is the only reshaping which might effectively or fairly adjust the issue and the concerns expressed.

Mr. Dempsey: I accept the thrust of what Members have said but I do not accept that it is beyond the capabilities of anyone who stands for election, successful or unsuccessful, in a period of 90 days to fill out a simple, straightforward application form. Most people who stand for local elections – and I say this in the kindest way – would buy and sell many people in this House and others.

While I accept that Senators are careful to look after the interests of councillors and would-be councillors they may be overstating their case. I accept the principle outlined by Senator Gallagher that if changes are made in the ethics and electoral Acts and declarations must be made by Members of this House, and if there are new penalties which may be more acceptable than those being proposed, I will revisit that matter in this legislation. I am sure this legislation will be reviewed in the next three or four years. I accept that it should be kept under review.

It has been our experience that six months after the introduction of the Electoral Act difficulties became evident and it had to be amended. This may also arise here.

It is important not to lose site of the fact that section 15 of the Act gives relief for non-com[1395] pliance. A person may go to court to get relief where there is an error, omission or misleading material in a statement furnished to the local authority. Relief can be granted by the courts on application being made to it by the relevant person. Recourse can be had to that remedy if the failure, error, omission, faults or misleading statement was due to the illness of a party to the proceedings or to the death, illness, absence or misconduct of any employee of the party to the proceedings. If something arises in that regard relief can be granted. It can also be granted where it is shown that non-compliance with the relevant provision was due to inadvertence – which is generous – or other reasonable cause. If a person can make a reasonable case to the courts then relief can be granted.

It would be wrong to put the onus on the local authority to go through this procedure and then not only to make it judge but also the appeal court. It also protects against a case where somebody may have a reason for not wanting a person in a local authority. That person may be a deciding officer and there would be relief from that. That would cause greater difficulty. Relief for non-compliance is in the legislation; it is an important section and meets the wishes of the Senators.

I had discussions with officials and others about penalties. If there are to be rules there must be sanctions. The other option on sanctions was that files would be prepared and sent to the DPP and that a prosecution should take place. If somebody wants to become a member of a local authority he must have a desire to be on it especially if he fights an election. In many cases, if the person does not comply, the suspension or expulsion from that local authority would be a much greater penalty. One has often heard the phrase “hit a person where it hurts most”. This is a reasonable provision whereby the person is punished for an offence without dragging the matter through the courts. It is a reasonable penalty and overcomes the difficulties about which Senators Cregan and Walsh spoke in dragging people through the courts. This is a better way to proceed.

Mr. Gallagher: I thank the Minister for his clarification but if, despite the extra time, a person does not meet the requirements and is deemed to be disqualified from holding his or her seat is the Minister saying that relief is available through the Circuit Court? Can the Circuit Court deem that person can be reinstated on the local authority?

Mr. Dempsey: The court can give such relief. I will not go through the full detail; it is in section 15. The court may also give relief conditional on a proper return being made.

Question put and agreed to.

[1396] SECTION 21.

Government amendment No. 10:

In page 21, subsection (6), line 14, to delete “subsection (1), (2) or (3)” and substitute “this section”.

Mr. Dempsey: This is a straightforward drafting amendment to include a reference in subsection (6) to provide that a prosecution for an offence under subsection (4) cannot be instituted except by or with the consent of the DPP.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 21, as amended, agreed to.

Section 22 agreed to.

SECTION 23.

Government amendment No. 11:

In page 21, lines 37 and 38, to delete “furnishing of a copy of a statement pursuant to section 13 of that Act to members of the local authority” and substitute “publication of a notice by a local authority under section 19(2)”.

Mr. Dempsey: This amendment to section 23 provides for a public notice as a more suitable focus point for the public to become aware of the availability of statements of election expenses and to inspect the details contained in them. It is only after the inspection of the completed statements that a person would be in a position to consider whether they should initiate an election petition. I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 23, as amended, agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Government amendment No. 12:

In page 22, before section 24, but in Part V of the Bill, to insert the following new section:

“24.–Section 6 of the Local Government Act, 1994, is hereby amended by the deletion of subsections (1)(g) and (3).”.

Mr. Dempsey: This amendment will remove the disqualification of chairmen of Oireachtas committees to stand for election and become members of local authorities. The issue is clearly related to the question of dual membership of local government and the Oireachtas, the background to which dates from 1991 when the Ministers and Ministers of State were disqualified from local authority membership and who, on appointment, ceased to hold membership of a local authority. The Local Government Act, 1994, extended this disqualification of a range of other office holders including MEPs, judges, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, An Ceann Comhairle and [1397] chairmen of certain Oireachtas committees. The Government has decided to amend the 1994 Act to remove the disqualification concerning chairmen of Oireachtas committees pending the enactment of the further comprehensive legislation to which I will refer in a moment.

There are a number of reasons for this amendment. Section 6(3) of the 1994 Act exempts from disqualification the chairmen of some committees but not others. Four committees which existed in 1994 are exempted – the Joint Services Committee, the Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Dáil Committee of Selection and the Seanad Committee of Selection. Since that Act was framed, the number of Oireachtas committees has increased significantly and the responsibilities and titles of some committees have changed. That could call into question some of the exemptions mentioned in the 1994 Act.

Comprehensive new legislation to modernise and consolidate local government law and to underpin the programme of local government renewal is currently being drafted. It will deal with the dual mandate issue. Dual membership is an issue which needs to be dealt with in a comprehensive way in the context of that legislation and there should not be a differentiation between different Members and the chairpersons of different committees as in the 1994 Act.

The Government has, therefore, decided that the legislation being drafted will provide for the elimination of the dual mandate from a future date and that in the interim the statutory disqualification which applies to the chairpersons of some Oireachtas committees will be repealed. Under the 1994 Act that disqualification would apply for the purposes of the June elections and thereafter. The legislation being drafted will provide for the elimination of the dual mandate from, perhaps, the June elections in 2004 to allow everybody concerned adequate advance notice to consider their personal circumstances in the light of the new regime.

This move has been advocated by various commentators, supported by the general council of county councils and recommended in the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women as a means towards creating wider opportunities for democratic participation by women in local government. It has been endorsed in a report published last month by the Chambers of Commerce in Ireland. It will serve to reinforce and underline the distinctive status of local authority membership.

The Local Government Bill will provide ample opportunity for a debate on this and other issues in the major programme of local government renewal currently under way, with which Senators will be familiar. I move this amendment and commend it to the House.

Mr. Gallagher: The Minister announced his intention to introduce this amendment on Second [1398] Stage. I commend his officials for dressing it up as well as they did.

The Minister said that there are a number of reasons for introducing this amendment. I think there is only one reason and I mentioned it on Second Stage – it relates to a particular Deputy from south Kerry. The Minister referred to the idea of “adequate advance notice”. The 1994 Act is very clear in its provisions and five years advance notice did not afford people a clear picture of where they stood. Nothing introduced between now and the year 2004 will make that any better. It was clear who was eligible to stand and who was not. A number of chairpersons of Oireachtas committees were glad of their responsibilities as chairman as a reason for not putting themselves forward for local selection conventions. A number of chairpersons made decisions based on the 1994 Act in advance of what the Minister said on Second Stage in the House a couple of weeks ago.

It is clear that it is for one reason alone that this amendment is being introduced. I do not think it is a good reason. Chairpersons of principal Oireachtas committees are paid substantial salaries in recognition of the specific role they play in ensuring that legislation is dealt with in a thorough and expeditious fashion and that a wide range of topics of public concern which come before them are properly aired and relevant recommendations are made to Government. The 1994 Act made it clear that this exclusion was introduced in respect of the duties which chairpersons perform, as had previously been done in respect of Ministers and Ministers of State. I am aware of only one chairperson of a committee who is seeking a change. Obviously, he got what he wants. I do not think it is a good idea and I will not support the amendment.

Mr. D. Cregan: I am a realist, and politics is politics. It is sad that on one hand we talk about ensuring that local government is afforded proper authority and on the other we are introducing an amendment to allow a chairperson of a committee to stand for local government. I would not like to think this amendment is being made because that particular person felt he would like to continue to serve in local government.

We have argued for the last two hours about keeping this legislation as simple as possible. The chairmanship of an Oireachtas committee brings with it great responsibilities. I would not mind being the chairman of a committee nor would I mind being a member of a particular committee. However, I do not get that opportunity. The public are not aware that this person is the chairman of a committee or of how much that means to him. This is the first time that legislation has been changed to suit one person.

Many committees have been set up over the past couple of years and they have worked exceptionally well and have been to the betterment of Irish society generally. Let us take for example the public perception of Deputy Jim Mitchell as [1399] Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. Deputies and Senators have a deep sense of responsibility to their committees. It is sad that we are now changing regulations to suit one particular person. The Minister says he wants to ensure there is no dual mandate. I am not saying there should not be a dual mandate. I know public representatives who are totally committed at Oireachtas and local level. That is not to say we should not have different provisions for national and local level.

The Minister is trying to satisfy a particular person. That person could, under the proposed provisions of this Bill stand for the local elections and, if he wishes, for the European elections. If he decides to stand in both elections he will, as a result of this change, be able to spend any amount of money he likes and no questions will be asked. Is that right? What does that say to the rest of us? What impression is given of the Minister and his officials who have put so much work into this Bill and who are trying to ensure local government operates properly and that there is no conflict between national and local politics? The impression is being given that Oireachtas Members should not be chairpersons of local authorities or Lord Mayors anymore. I understand that will not change until 2004. It cannot have been changed if this particular person can be the chairman of a committee.

Many chairmen of Oireachtas committees worked in local government for many years. Mr. Toddy O'Sullivan lost his seat on Cork Corporation when he was appointed a Minister of State and chairman of a committee. These people have a responsibility for local areas. I am not saying Deputy Healy-Rae does not have a responsibility to Kerry. He has done exceptionally well and I wish him luck because politics are politics. However, this demeans the Bill. This person could stand for the European elections and could do what he liked with no accountability, whereas everyone else has to be accountable. He chairs a committee of this House, yet he can still be a member of the local authority and stand for the European elections. He can spend whatever money he likes. He has collected more money than the Taoiseach.

I do not wish to be personal about this but we are changing everything for just one person. I do not wish to be political about this either because what I say will not change anything. However, it is most unfortunate that the Minister has to do that.

Senators depend totally on local councillors and Oireachtas Members to retain their seats in this House, which is the House they want to be in. I like being a Member of this House and I would do everything possible to be re-elected to it. However, let us not make one deal for one person and another deal for the rest of us on both sides of the House. That is very sad. If there is to be a restructuring let it be for everybody and not just for one person.

[1400] Mr. Walsh: That is a pity because this was a very constructive and agreeable Committee Stage up until this point.

Mr. D. Cregan: I know it was.

Mr. Walsh: I would hate to see us derailed at this stage on this non issue. The Minister made a reasonable point that only a certain number of committee chairmen would be debarred from local elections while others were not. One cannot compare Ministers, Ministers of State and committee chairmen because the analogy does not stand up. The workload of many committees is not very onerous, which is reflected in the size of the small extra stipend they get.

I am a new Member of the House and I am a member of a committee. I do not see why chairmen should be debarred on the specific ground that they chair an Oireachtas committee. If that were the case, should I be debarred from running for local government because I am the chairman of the general council? I do not think so.

It is unfair to personalise this in terms of one individual, whom I understand has indicated he is not standing for the European elections. While he is a long standing member of local government, the committee he chairs recently adopted a report on local government reform which advocated the discontinuation of the dual mandate. That was the very strongly held view of the committee he chairs. That is the real issue.

I think Senator Gallagher said that only one chairman is interested in this, which is not true. Two others have told me how keen they are to run. They hold the very strong view – particularly one who has articulated his views on this issue – that unless the dual mandate is changed they, as members of the local authority, should have access to local government in the same way as every other member. I do not disagree with that view. I held the view for many years that the dual mandate, particularly in the case of Deputies—

Mr. Dempsey: The Senator would say that.

Mr. Walsh: —should be removed. That probably should also apply to Senators but the election system causes certain complications in that area. However, the dual mandate is just one of many issues that should be tackled in the forthcoming local government Bill.

Radical changes are needed in local government and I hope the Minister will bring forward a reforming Bill. He will have the support of councillors around the country if he makes the major changes which are needed to put local government on a proper footing so that it can play its full role in the future.

The question of whether Oireachtas committee chairmen can also be members of local authorities for another three years is a non issue. I know my colleagues are being mischievous in making an issue of it.

[1401] Mr. Gallagher: The mischief is not coming from this side of the House. The distinction that was made in 1994 was between committees with legislative duties and those with other duties. That was a proper distinction to make. The programme for Government of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Coalition, in which the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, served, clearly set out a programme of reform and upgrading of the Oireachtas committees in terms of the powers given in regard to legislation. The current Government has upgraded that further to widen their powers in other areas.

In my experience, committee chairpersons take their duties very seriously. A number of them have made particular contributions to the development of policy by holding hearings on topics of interest to the public or committee members and making recommendations to the Government, many of which were accepted. I never served as a committee chairman but I chaired a subcommittee, in an unpaid capacity, when I was a Deputy. My experience was that if committees made constructive proposals to Government not all were accepted but they were not ignored. It takes a great deal of time for a chairman to do that work.

All we are saying is that a person has to choose. It is a well paid position. Chairmen receive an extra £10,000 per year, which is proper payment for their duties. Chairing an important committee of these Houses, which has legislative and policy making functions, is liaising with the Government and trying to get matters taken on board; it is a separate job which is recognised in the salary. The exemption could be extended to Ministers of State – some of them are very busy but some have no delegated functions. The principle exists and has been accepted.

Since the rule was changed more than one committee chairperson is thinking of running. However, if any chairperson, other than the Deputy from south Kerry, had asked the Government to change the rule on their own account it would not have been done.

Mr. Dempsey: I will take the last point first which was raised by Senator Gallagher and others. I do not how many committee chairpersons the Senators spoke to over the past 12 or 18 months but most of them have spoken to me. A number of them protest in public that they would love to stand for local elections and that it is shocking what the Minister is doing to them, while saying privately to me that it was a wonderful idea and I should leave it as it is. However, a substantial number of the 15 legislative committee chairpersons were keen to stand for the local elections, to varying degrees, as well as the one who has been most prominently mentioned. This is not being done to facilitate just one chairperson.

It is my view that the dual mandate should be abolished. Notwithstanding all the reasons for having Members of the Oireachtas on local authorities, such as their experience, breadth of vision, [1402] knowledge of legislation and wider issues, it is not good for the local government system if it can only hold meetings on Mondays or Fridays and it cannot hold subcommittee meetings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays because its members are attending to Dáil business. It is unfortunate that when the dual mandate is abolished, a vacuum will be created at local government level by the absence of Deputies and Senators who have broad vision and more experience in the operation of government. However, from the point of view of local democracy, it is essential that we abolish it. By doing so, we will broaden the base of local democracy as an extra 115 public representatives, which is approximately the number of Members of the Dáil and Seanad who are currently on local authorities, will be elected.

The local government reform programme I am putting in place, which will be rolled out after the local government reform Bill is introduced, will require more attention from local authority members. I do not disagree with the points made about the workload of members and chairpersons of committees. However, when the local government reform system is in place, an Oireachtas Member will not be able to serve his or her people well in local government.

When I first started talking about the abolition of the dual mandate, it was not greeted with universal acclaim by members of my party or Opposition parties. I faced an uphill battle and I quickly came to the conclusion that I would not be able to abolish it from the local elections in June, as I had intended. All the opposition to or support for my proposal did not come from within my own party. If the price I have to pay for the abolition of the dual mandate is to wait five years, I will do so. It is worth making practical decisions to achieve its abolition in 2004.

As regards the fear that people will not be served well by chairpersons of Oireachtas committees, I am happy to allow the electorate to decide if they should be members of local authorities and that opportunity will arise in June. Giving people reasonable notice of and time to prepare for the abolition of the dual mandate from 2004 will serve local government better. I assure Senator Cregan we are not changing anything. I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment put and declared carried.

SECTION 24.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 13:

In page 22, subsection (2), line 42, after “disclosed” to insert “in the course of or”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the secrecy of the ballot applies to the disclosure of information to the researchers in the course of the research for which this Bill is providing and not just in their report. It may seem technical but it is important that the secrecy of the ballot is protected in every way possible. The question was [1403] raised about the possibility of matching ballot papers with counterfoils. We agree with the principle of research but we must do everything possible to ensure the secrecy of the ballot is preserved at every stage of the process and not just in the report of the researchers.

Mr. Dempsey: It is only a matter of semantics. The purpose of Senator Gallagher's amendment is already contained in the Bill, so I ask him to accept that and not to press his amendment. I assure him that the research will be carried out under controlled conditions to ensure the security and secrecy of the ballot papers. The identity of the voter will not be evident on any counted ballot paper or on anything else. The amendment was considered carefully and I am assured the wording in the Bill is sufficient.

Mr. Gallagher: I thank the Minister for clarifying the matter. As I assume the Minister's reply is based on advice from the Attorney General's Office, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 24 agreed to.

TITLE.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 14:

In page 3, line 10, to delete “LOCAL ELECTIONS ACTS, 1974 TO 1997,” and substitute “LOCAL ELECTIONS ACTS, 1974 TO 1998,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Gallagher: I move amendment No. 15:

In page 3, line 11, to delete “RESEARCH USING BALLOT PAPERS” and substitute “THE USE OF BALLOT PAPERS FOR RESEARCH”.

The amendment seeks to make the Title clearer. I tabled it following a suggestion by Senator O'Toole on Second Stage.

Mr. Dempsey: This is a drafting issue. I would agree with Senator Gallagher that the “use of ballot papers for research” is better than “research using ballot papers”. The advice I have is that the current phraseology is better legalese. However, as a former English teacher I am inclined to the opinion that the Senator's wording is better. I therefore accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.[1404]

Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Mr. Dardis: It is proposed to take Report Stage at 5 p.m. today.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Report Stage ordered for 5 p.m., 31 March 1999.

Sitting suspended at 4.35 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.