Seanad Éireann - Volume 165 - 27 February, 2001
Electoral Amendment Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).
The following motion was moved on Wednesday, 21 February 2001:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“Seanad Éireann, believing that the proposals in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, providing for an increase of up to 50% in the amount that may be spent by candidates at a general election and which will allow the Fianna Fáil Party to spend almost £1m. extra, will seriously undermine the reforms introduced in the Electoral Act, 1997, encourage the wasteful expenditure of money at elections, and further undermine public confidence in the political system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill.”
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: As stated last week, this welcome legislation amends and updates the various challenges to be faced by our democratic system which has stood us in good stead for many years. However, changing social and other patterns have given us the opportunity, in the form of the Bill, to make it more convenient for people to exercise their democratic right to vote in local elections, general elections, presidential elections, by-elections or referenda.
Those involved in creating the 1937 Constitution should be saluted by all those who have benefited from their efforts in putting our democracy on a sound footing. It has been a great honour to serve as an Oireachtas Member and to represent both Fianna Fáil and the local authority members who placed their confidence in me. I was honoured to be appointed by the Taoiseach as the thirteenth Leader of the House.
Many Members have already mentioned the amendments to be considered. The proposed electronic voting and counting systems will be welcomed by many Members, particularly those who have participated in recounts. To stand before the electorate, seek appointment and be elected is an achievement in itself; however, to go through a recount two days in a row only to be beaten by two votes on one occasion and by 14 votes on another is blood sport at its best. To put it mildly, I would not wish it on my greatest  enemy. Electronic voting will eliminate all this. We will know the decision of the electorate within a matter of hours of the close of polling. If we require a recount through the electronic system, it can be done within two hours. I wholeheartedly welcome this section and I strongly recommend the Seanad approves it.
I also welcome the section dealing with expenditure for candidates in a Dáil election. Many Opposition speakers, particularly those from smaller parties, have commented on the funding available to larger parties. They may believe in what they are saying but the facts do not stand up. In the five by-elections since the general election, Fianna Fáil has spent £1.88 on every vote cast. That is in stark contrast to the Labour Party which has spent a massive £2.14 per vote in those by-elections. Labour may be making a political point but we in Government must be responsible: Labour and other smaller parties must be protected so that this does not happen in future. Common sense tells us that the ceiling was not high enough. When the Minister for the Environment and Local Government was in Opposition and this Bill was being debated, he said the ceilings were too low. His proposals are £20,000 for a candidate in a three seater constituency, £25,000 per candidate in a four seater and £30,000 per candidate in a five seater and those figures are more realistic.
Those of us in areas who must cover three provincial newspapers every week for four weeks of a campaign will know what advertisements in such newspapers cost. When polling is on a Thursday, the local provincial newspaper, whether it is the Tipperary Star, the Roscommon Herald or the Westmeath Examiner, will bring out a special edition on the Tuesday night. That means four publications to advertise in. There is no point in saying that because Fíanna Fáil has more candidates standing in Westmeath, it should not have to advertise during the week before the election. That is precisely the time that advertising is needed because we all know from polls that the “don't knows” make their minds up in the last four days.
Voters in various elections can tell you the person to whom they gave their number one since they started to vote. However, they do not know to whom they gave their number two, three or four. Those who make the strongest pitch will get the higher preference. With the exception of the late Jack Lynch's Government in 1977, Governments have been decided in every election on the last ten to 12 seats filled by candidates not reaching the quota. They were all decided on fourth, fifth and sixth preferences. We saw a former Tánaiste elected with sixth and seventh preferences and winning by less than two handfuls of votes.
Those who suggest keeping down the ceiling on the amounts of money to be spent at election  time are not living in the real world. The electorate deserves quality candidates and if they are kept secret from the electorate, it will be as we used to say in the world of entertainment “early to bed and early to rise because you know what if you don't advertise”. It is the very same in the political world.
As one who had headed the poll in the last six Seanad elections, I am speaking from experience. If someone has the quality and ability nobody should be allowed to keep it a secret. Candidates have a constitutional right to let people know their qualities and abilities and to let them have their very best representative.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: I could not help chuckling at what Senator Cassidy said. The reality is that there has been for some years a parade of shame by our politicians before various tribunals. People who have held high office have been brought before the tribunals to account for their carry-on in the dark parts of their lives and in the dark part of public life. What we are finding out is shameful, disgraceful and unacceptable. When George Bush Senior stood for election, he was famous for saying, “Read my lips – no more tax increases”. What the people are saying to this Government is, “Read our lips – no more money from big business; no more big spending at election time”. It is a message that is very clear.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: No more corporate people as trustees of Fine Gael. Is that right?
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: I did not interrupt the Senator. I purposely did not do so, even though some of his points were quite silly.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I am sorry.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: I repeat that there should be no more money from big business, no more wasteful expenditure at election time and no more of this carry-on, which has continued for far too long. We are only beginning to find out some of it now. I have three young children and I have been involved in politics, like other Members of this House, for many years. I work hard and honestly, like most people in politics. As a public representative, I am ashamed at what I am reading, at what has gone on and of the carry-on of some people who have held high office. This has included former Taoisigh and former Ministers and I would acknowledge that it has not been confined to one party. I am not here to score political points; I am here to say we want an end to it. It is far too serious—
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: I cannot take that.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: I have very good friends in Fíanna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. I respect and acknowledge their hard work but this Bill is unacceptable. It would allow Fianna Fáil to spend  an extra £1 million in the next general election. That is unacceptable for several reasons. Where will that money come from? Fine Gael's recently elected leader has decided that we will not take any more money from the corporate sector. I fully support that decision. There must be a complete separation of politics from business. Business people have an important, pivotal role to play in society but it should end at making representations to us or meeting us in committees. The day of the company name on the cheque must go.
I accept that most companies give or have given money with no strings attached, but in some companies that was obviously not the case. The fact that a former Minister for Foreign Affairs stashed money away in a company called Caviar, whether in the Channel Islands or wherever, was utterly disgraceful. If that money was obtained for the purposes of running an election campaign and for buying the drinks he said he bought, why did he have to hide it in a foreign account. What was strange and hot about that money? In my view it was not used for what it was allegedly given but for other purposes. I think the people—
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I would prefer if the Senator did not continue as he is becoming involved in matters which are the subject of investigation by tribunal.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: I accept that, excuse me for wandering from the point. I am totally against the increases proposed in the Bill. The issue of waste generated at election time should be looked at. A plethora of literature ends up in the car boots of the candidate and supporters. The nearer the election day the more rubbish there is. All politicians know that coming up to election day people are fed up of all the literature coming in their door. If we control election expenditure we will have less waste and the public will be happier.
Senator Cassidy made the point that if a person has an ability it should not be hidden under a bushel. I do not think any politician does that. The issues have changed from the days of the three local papers in his and my constituencies. Everyone has access to local radio and at election time it is easy for candidates to get the publicity they desire. There is no need for wasteful expenditure on newspaper advertisements. In my constituency at least one paper increased advertising rates during elections to get more money from politicians. The Bill proposes to change regulations which are acceptable and reasonable, and I do not agree with those changes.
We reject the Bill in its totality, although I acknowledge that there are some good points in it. I welcome the increased capacity for voters who will reach 18 years of age before the election date to register. I am concerned, however, that it  could be open to abuse. Busloads of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael supporters could literally come over the Border to an adjoining constituency and change their domicile. If people who have genuinely changed domicile are allowed to register between elections or during compilation of the electoral register, there could be abuse. I am not suggesting that there will be abuse but it could happen. A significant number of people could, either at a by-election or during a general election, in key constituencies, move from one part of the country to the other and meet the technical requirements of the Act. What control will there be?
One of the issues we raised with the chief electoral officer of India was that in India there is a variable within each constituency. An electoral register is produced annually. If the increase in the number of voters is greater than a certain percentage, that electoral area is closely examined. That method could be used here.
I welcome the provision in the Bill for electronic voting. In one sense, it will do away with all the backroom boys and that is a bad thing because many people love the long drawn-out election counts and the camaraderie and good atmosphere that goes with them.
I welcome the proposal to put photographs on ballot papers. Care should be taken to dissuade candidates from touching up the photographs. They should look like the people they are supposed to be. I am pleased with this proposal because there is a significant number of people in the community who cannot read. I have seen ballot papers marked upside down. Candidates' photographs and the image of the party logo would be very useful on the ballot paper.
The Minister proposes in section 33 that each candidate erect one poster on the approaches to the polling station. He does not say what size the poster should be. It would be very large indeed if it were to be the size of some politicians' egos. The Minister should prescribe some reasonable limit to the size of photographs. The poster will identify where the polling station is located and, therefore, it would be a good idea to have a poster of reasonable size.
I note the Minister's comments regarding election expenditure limits. I do not think there is a demand for the change proposed by the Minister. The public clearly do not want it. My political party has made a very honourable and important decision not to accept corporate funding.
People want honest and open politics. They want to see a move away from what is happening at the tribunals. Public life is besmirched by people who have abused a position of power. We must cease forever the relationship, in legal terms, between business and politics. That is what the people want. I ask the Minister to withdraw that section of the Bill and do what the Opposition parties want, keep the status quo.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
 Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome this Bill. I am pleased it is initiated in the Seanad. It is good to have some of these interesting Bills debated first in this House.
The purpose of the Bill is to upgrade the law in relation to elections. There have been many changes since this Bill was initiated. There have been demographic changes, changes in the administration of electoral registration and changes in relation to polling.
I am pleased the whole registration process will be improved and that we will have a separate body to deal with the process of administration and the compilation of electoral registers. I know of many people whose names were not listed on the register. It would be a worthwhile exercise to set up a body to initiate the registration of voters. There can be a detailed index of what is wanted on that register and it is up to each individual to decide what he or she wants to appear on that register. That is welcome for those who only want certain information to appear.
The supplementary register is always very woolly because the public at large never know when it applies for those who have left one address and moved to another and are then told that they have 21 days to register their names. That has never been properly processed and should be streamlined. The Minister has referred to it in his speech but it is an area that should be meticulously looked at so that the public will know they are registered and entitled to vote.
I welcome the concept of electronic voting which is to replace manual voting and counting, but following the recent experience in Florida one wonders if this is the way we should go forward. The American system seems to be going backward and the voters there were not at all happy with the electronic system or satisfied that it was giving an accurate result.
If we are to introduce electronic voting we should discover why that system failed in the United States, why procedures did not work there and what we can do to ensure there are no pitfalls here. Situations may arise where there are just one or two votes between candidates. I wonder if electronic voting will work in such an instance or will we again have to resort to manual counting?
I welcome the inclusion of photographs on the ballot paper. I am sure Members will find the best possible photographer so that we will appear photogenic on polling day, but I hope we are not supposed to put our date of birth beside each photograph as that might confuse voters.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: No airbrushing.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: This is an important move because people often do not put faces and names together. They might know the name of a Senator such as myself or Senator Coogan, but they would not know the face to go with that name. The idea  of putting a photograph on the ballot paper is very worthwhile.
I have no difficulty with the proposal to put party emblems on the ballot paper when it relates to a big political party, but a candidate conducting a campaign on an anti-democratic platform could create a problem in this area. That candidate might use an insensitive emblem and we should be careful. There are recognisable emblems for most normal parties but individuals might introduce something like the swastika sign which I would find offensive. I am sure the public at large would not like it and this area should be looked at again.
I welcome the fact that poll workers working outside their constituency, who could not vote in past elections, are to be included in the supplementary register and may vote wherever they are. That is a very important choice.
Another aspect is that of elderly people who may have previously been confronted at polling stations as to whether a companion should accompany them to the polling booth. I welcome the fact that a companion will now be allowed. Coupled with the inclusion of photographs and party emblems beside candidates' names, this will help people make up their minds as to how they will vote.
Postering is something I welcome but the size of the poster is an important issue. I would not welcome a large caravan sited 100 metres up the road carrying a colossal sign or advertising the candidate. We must be careful and selective about the type of posters we adopt. They should be tasteful.
I always had reservations about the decision to eliminate all activity outside polling booths. At its most extreme, it resulted in abuse. Candidates were abused, as were the voters when they came to vote. In that context I welcomed the decision but I believe we took it to an extreme. Now the polling station is like a morgue. There is no activity to indicate that there is an election and there is no motivation for the political party. There was nothing wrong with the previous system provided the activity was kept at a slight distance from the polling booth. It motivated people and gave an element of razzmatazz to electioneering. I hope the Minister will reconsider that matter. The candidates should be allowed to be present at the polling station, not half a mile up the road, but at the same time they should not obstruct voters coming to vote.
The controversial provisions in this Bill relate to electoral contributions. I am most offended to hear other parties accuse Fianna Fáil of having destroyed the system. They tell us Fianna Fáil are destroying democracy and that we have brought politics to its knees. That is most offensive. The best way forward on this issue is through a joint policy to be formulated following debate and negotiations by all parties as to whether contributions should come from private individuals or  should be provided by the Exchequer. It is that simple – either the taxpayer funds elections or politicians must raise the money to fund their campaigns. No single man or woman can raise thousands of pounds at elections. They are obliged to borrow the money from the bank. These people will generally have young families who will have to be educated, yet they must go into debt to put themselves forward for election, and they might not even be elected. How do we overcome this problem?
I accept there have been horrible experiences. The tribunals are showing up cases where individuals abused the system. It is the old story about the bad apple – when one bad apple is discovered, the entire box is tainted. That is what has happened in the profession of politics. Politics is a noble profession. I know people across all political parties who work from before 9 a.m. until after midnight each day. That is not recorded or acknowledged. Instead we are accused of abusing our profession because of how we behave with regard to electoral contributions.
I wish to nail that accusation as far as I am concerned. I come from a political background and all my life I have upheld integrity as the key to politics. I like to think that all Members of the Oireachtas behave in that manner – 95% of politicians do. It is suggested that electoral contributions be stopped. I have no difficulty with that. The choice is that either the Exchequer pays for elections or politicians seek private contributions for them. That choice must be debated but it is not being debated at present. In the meantime I must try to raise money to fund my election campaign. I see nothing wrong with that, there is no other way to do it. No private individual will give me £1,000 or even £500. PAYE earners do not have that kind of money. Money, therefore, must be raised through golf classics and other such events. I have no difficulty with that because it is transparent and once something is transparent we can deal with it.
Electoral funding is a bigger issue than simply knocking political parties. It demands a common policy which is arrived at where all parties sit around the table to discuss it. To use it to score political points is mean, low down and is an attempt at vote catching. However, I do not believe it will work. The public is well educated and able to make judgments. I work with young people and they know the difference between those who are taking backhanders and those who genuinely want to be in the profession. How are they to raise funding? Do they do it through the taxpayer, by organising fund-raising activities or by going to the bank for a loan? That is the debate, so please stop this political point-scoring in which we are the baddies and those who oppose corporate funding are the goodies. That day is gone, the public will not buy it any more. There is good in every political party.
 I am offended by this attitude. I hope the future of politics will not be about personality bashing but about policies and how we can improve this country further. I hope this Bill will bring forward a new way to conduct our business, to select candidates and get ourselves elected.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I wish to share my time with Senator Henry.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I will respond briefly to Senator Ormonde. I have a great deal of sympathy with her comments on funding for political parties. It is an unfortunate fact that the way political parties have been funded has tended to give the impression that corruption is exclusive to one party. I do not believe that. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of people in Fianna Fáil – I say this without pomposity – have been maligned by one or two things that have happened to a few members.
The real problem is not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party but business donations to political parties. There is no doubt, given the way businessmen think and behave, that if they give money, they want something back. I grew tired of reading in the annual reports of public companies – it has stopped in most cases, particularly in the case of the banks – that they had given X amount of money to political parties pro rata because of their commitment to democracy. I never heard such rubbish. The banks had no commitment to democracy, as we discovered later. The banks gave money to political parties pro rata because they thought the political parties in Government would be nice to them. There was always an implicit threat that they would take that money away. That applies equally to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Progressive Democrats and all other parties.
That is why donations were made and, to a large extent, they were probably effective. The large amounts donated by these companies had an effect. I cannot remember getting a contribution of more than £50 during a Seanad election campaign. However, I remember the person who gave me the £50 asking me to do something for them afterwards. It was nothing illegal but I remember it clicking somewhere in my mind that they had given me £50. I felt the pressure of that donation. That is the reality. I felt they had a greater entrée and, to some extent, a greater right, because they gave me £50, than those who did not. It was a passive, silent pressure.
What will we do about donations of that nature? This does not just apply to Fianna Fáil. It is no coincidence, as a particular correspondent points out regularly in one of his columns, that the Fine Gael debt disappeared when that party was in government. Why? That is because once one is in government one can go to a business and ask for a few bob because one has a debt.  Business will fork out in such situations because it expects the Government to deliver in return, not on a specific issue but on general issues. That is how business operates and how and why corporate donations operate. There is no point pretending otherwise and that is how Fine Gael paid its debt.
Fianna Fáil gets more money by way of corporate donations than Fine Gael because it is more often in government. If I was a businessman giving corporate donations I would give them to Fianna Fáil because it is more often in government and it is more likely to be in the next Government, one way or the other. That is how it works.
The solution to this problem is to do away with corporate donations. Senator Ormonde would happily live with such a situation. Fine Gael has taken a brave public stance on this issue and stated it will not accept donations above a certain amount.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: None whatsoever.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: That is a laudable position which is purist and makes others feel uncomfortable. It may mean that Fine Gael is short of money at the next election and may be foolish in tactical terms. However, no business will be able to call on it in government to introduce favourable legislation as it gave the party £50,000 or whatever. I applaud this stance. It is a magnificent gesture to which, hopefully, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats will respond so we can abolish corporate donations.
For the first time in many decades we have money so we should take a principled stand and fund all political parties and Independents from the public purse. We pay lip service to democracy. Business does likewise and says it gives money to democracy but it does so to get something in return. However, we do not test the public's taste for democracy. We ought to fund all parties and Independents from the public purse in a pro rata and fair manner. Under such a system Fianna Fáil would get more as it received more votes at the last election, Fine Gael would receive the second largest sum and so on. Such a system would be seen to be fair and generous as it is expensive to run political campaigns. There is a price to be paid for democracy but the people and the State should pay for it rather than allowing it to be corrupted by vested interests who will always look for something in return.
The dual mandate is a difficult issue, particularly for Senators. I feel something of a hypocrite on this issue as I practised it for some time as a councillor and a Senator. My instinct before that period was that the dual mandate was not a good idea. During the period I used it to the full as any politician seeking a Dáil seat would have done. Having decided not to stand for re-election  to the council I have moved back to my original view on this matter.
I hold this view because the current system encourages parish pump politics. I am not allowed to refer to the absence of Senators but there are four Members in the House. This is because legislation is far less important than working one's constituency office. To some extent Senators Henry, Norris and I, and the other University Senators, are unique in that we are judged more on our legislative work than on our constituency work. We do not have much constituency work because of the nature of our electorate.
However, the nature of the electorate for most Senators, particularly those with ambitions to become Members of the Dáil, means they must carry out the parish pump work and, as a result, their legislative work suffers. Senators compete on the same basis as almost all of them are councillors. They feel they have to be councillors to get elected to the Dáil. The laws of the land suffer as a consequence of this situation. Legislation is not an important part of Senators' work because those who wish to become Members of the Dáil have to do the council work which is more important. Members of the Dáil also have to carry out council work. The Dáil Chamber is almost empty today because Members' jobs as councillors are more important than their jobs as legislators.
I would welcome a provision in this Bill, or the next, whereby, not only was the dual mandate removed finally and forever, but the Minister also examined the possibility of creating single seat constituencies. One of the problems with people being councillors and Senators or Deputies is that they compete in multi-seat constituencies. In such constituencies, the enemy is within one's own party – the only person one has to beat is the person within one's party as a quota exists if one is in a major party. The result of this is that one must concentrate on constituency rather than legislative work. To properly perform constituency work one must not be caught in the Seanad or the Dáil. Many Members talk their way out of this House but do not talk their way back into it. If one is in the House too often one is doing the wrong kind of work to get re-elected. This is what is wrong with the electoral system. The Minister is obviously not going to tackle this problem in this Bill but he should do so in the next. This fundamental problem must be tackled so that legislation is once again the top priority and consituency work is relegated to where it belongs, at the bottom of the pile where it is handled by councillors.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister of State. This is a worthwhile Bill which updates current legislation. However, I am unhappy with some aspects of it. I share the concerns expressed about the increase in the amount of money which candi dates can spend. This is a remarkable increase which I regret. It would have been preferable if we had limited the increase to keep it in line with the consumer price index. Americans repeatedly warn against allowing the electoral system to be driven by finance. It is possible for corruption to arise when large amounts of money must be raised and the Minister should reconsider this proposal.
I welcome and prefer the proposal whereby candidates would receive money from the State if they receive a certain percentage of the poll. Has the Minister considered making election expenses allowable against tax if one receives a certain percentage of the vote? This would be a worthwhile system. It costs a considerable amount of money to run for one of the university seats as they involve a postal vote. As the Minister is aware, there is an electorate of 38,000 in my constituency. One would like to canvass them by sending them a letter at least once a year, but given that we get only 17,000 free envelopes, that is impossible. One must pay a lot of money for postage to write to people once a year. The facility to send a letter to all constituents once a year, which is not unreasonable, should be available. I ask the Minister to increase the allowance of Oireachtas envelopes to enable us to write once a year to constituents. That is not asking too much. One constituent wrote to me once and said he would prefer shorter letters more frequently. If he knew how difficult it was to send him a letter once a year, he might understand.
I do not understand why, given that people over 18 years of age can vote in an election, they must be over 21 years of age to go forward for election. If we have decided they are adults at 18, why do we not allow them to go forward for election at that age? It seems odd to single them out. It reminds me of when women had to be 30 to vote, compared to men who had to be 21. That issue should be considered.
The Bill should state that recent photographs are required before people put in their First Communion photographs on the ballot paper. Like Senator Leonard, I am concerned about emblems, although it sounds like a good idea and it may be simple. I realise the Minister is against the phrase, “the cult of the personality”. We do not want the person to stand on their own as it is important to have party affiliation. However, I am concerned about the inclusion of emblems.
The case for electronic voting has not been helped by the recent debacle in America. Does it matter whether we have the result the next day or a few hours later? We are a small country and this is not a difficult issue. I do not know if it makes us look any more important in the eyes of the world. The Minister said it looks like we are part of the electronic age. However, it is perfectly obvious we are part of the electronic age. I doubt if the tried and trusted system we have needs to be changed because it is more fashionable to have  electronic voting. I see no difference between waiting a day or a few hours.
I am concerned about the edited registers. I was surprised to hear that the register of electors is a public document and, as such, is not covered by the data protection legislation. We were always told in Trinity College that the Seanad electoral roll was not a public document and that it was covered by the data protection legislation. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell me in his reply if the university registers are different. It is always difficult to ask people to opt out rather than opt in for commercial purposes. I would prefer them to tick something to say they wanted to stay in for commercial purposes rather than to remember to tick it so they stay out. Will the State charge for these edited registers? They could be a great source of money. I would be glad if the Minister would clarify that.
As regards electronic voting, who will assess whether voters have difficulty reading and writing? There may be people who also have difficulty with the language. Perhaps the Minister will tell me who will assess that. The university seats are decided by a postal vote which takes a long time. As many of our constituents have access to e-mail, has anyone considered doing a pilot project to get the e-mail addresses of people on the university register? This electronic possibility is not considered in the Bill. If we are looking at electronic voting, perhaps we should also look at this area.
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: It is important to debate this Bill and I welcome the opportunity to do so. Many points have been made but I feel compelled to mention the register of electors. While many local authorities have responsibility for compiling the register, voters also have a responsibility to ensure they are on the register. How will we ensure that the register is properly compiled? We do not seem to have found a foolproof system which will ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote is on the register. People often tell us on polling day that they have been on the register for a number of years but now they do not have a vote and they want to know what we can do about it. The initiative taken by a former Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, which allows people to go on the supplementary register up to 14 days before an election, has not resolved everyone's difficulties. Everyone has a right to vote but the people who approach us on polling day do not mention their obligation to check the register. It is important for people to ensure they are entitled to vote.
I re-echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Ormonde about the proposal in the Bill to allow staff at polling stations to vote in the booth at which they are presiding or officiating. That is a welcome development.
As regards electronic voting, it is not for me to interfere with the electoral proceedings in other  countries, but the situation in the USA presidential election gives me cause for concern. I always understood that, whatever the electoral law, the object of the exercise was to ensure that the person who got the most votes, that is, legal votes, was entitled to be declared the winner. It appears that the electronic system is not an exact science. Much thought must be given to this measure. I welcome the fact that it will enhance the opportunities of people with literacy problems to vote for the candidates of their choice.
What is the reason for the huge drop in voting? If we listen to the people who berate us on an ongoing basis about why they are not on the electoral register, perhaps we should consider mandatory voting. It is well known by anyone who has taken part in an election that those who do not vote are the same people who knock on their doors the following morning. They are not choosy about the elected member or the party to which they belong. If compulsory voting does away with that practice, it must be welcomed.
A difficulty arises for people who are working far away from home. There is a measure in this regard but it could be further relaxed. People who are working a long distance from where they are registered to vote must go to great expense and difficulty in order to cast their ballot. Something should be done about that.
The move to ban election posters within 100 metres of polling stations is a case, as the old adage has it, of the cure being worse than the disease. It can safely be said that since that measure was introduced there has been a significant drop in voting percentages in almost every constituency. I would welcome a controlled return to the days when posters of the relevant candidates could be located within a reasonable distance of polling stations. While some of us may not like it, it does not alter the fact that the pageantry of people around the polling booth on election day lent a certain atmosphere and exhorted people to vote. I agree with Senator Ormonde that candidates abused their positions to some extent and that voters entering polling booths were hassled. That situation needed to be addressed but the measure went too far.
I thank Senator Ross for his balanced comments which are welcome. He spoke about the dual mandate. As someone who has been an elected local representative for almost 22 years and who now has a dual mandate, I favour ending the dual mandate. However, I respect the views of those who think it would not be in their electoral interest if the dual mandate was ended. The essence of democracy is that people can say what they feel. There are many Members of this House and the Lower House who are not, and have never been, members of a local authority. Reference was made to the enemy, but the real enemy in any election is the quota. If one does not get  elected, one can blame whoever one likes but the voters will say that he or she was not fit to make it. That is the way it is.
Much has been said about funding political parties. Traditionally, all methods of funding have been employed, including poker and golf classics, three 15s, whist drives, raffles and mystery tours. Some people even printed their own money and when the spotlight was turned on them they made a bonfire of their troubles. Some people have gone through many stages of political metamorphoses, and God knows in what shape we will see them in future.
Many suggestions have been made about political funding and it would appear there is a race to the top of the moral high ground between the Labour Party and Fine Gael. It matters little to me who wins but there are many intelligent people out there. I agree with Senator Ormonde who said that the way forward is through consensus among all parties in this House.
As regards corporate funding, it is said that when people make a contribution they expect something in return. Many members of the public are not in favour of public funding of political parties. They feel they would be contributing to candidates of parties to which they do not subscribe politically and to whom they would not wish to subscribe financially. There is also a view that there should be no such thing as contributions from a trade union to any political party. Having been a member of a trade union for over 33 years, both here and in Britain, I have always believed in that principle. It should apply to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and all the other parties. Many members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have, like myself, been members of a national trade union for many years, yet they do not receive a contribution of any kind from the union.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: Why does the Senator's party not ban all corporate donations?
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: The lack of balance comes into it. We have come a long way since attaining independence but in some respects we still have a long way to go. Political maturity is not an exact science where all of us are concerned. I support the Bill.
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. As elected representatives I am sure that all of us have a keen interest in various aspects of the legislation, including how elections are run. At times we have made various suggestions in this regard. I am particularly glad that the Minister himself is dealing with the Bill in which there is much to be recommended. I have some queries, however, which I may raise in the form of amendments on Committee Stage, in conjunction with our spokesman, Senator Coogan.
The question of the added costs involved in funding elections has been raised, whether we  should take the route of corporate donations or personal subscriptions. People may approach a candidate at election time and contribute money to defray expenses. As we all know, election expenses come in all shapes and forms. I often say that the only real winners at election time are the printers because no matter what happens they usually get paid.
Elections are becoming more expensive as costs increase. Some expenditure is necessary but, looking back on a campaign, we may ask ourselves whether other expenditure was really necessary and if it achieved anything. In the heat of the campaign, however, when a candidate – in another party or one's own – prints a leaflet four days before polling day, one must decide whether to match him or her with another leaflet. I have been on a ticket with a minimum of two candidates and sometimes four, so competition is the reality of the PR system. If there are four or five seats on offer, one knows that the party will definitely get one, it could get two and might be in the hunt for three. It is a case of the survival of the fittest. There is no point in pretending that we are nice at election time, all canvassing for the ticket, and seeking No. 1 preferences for our colleagues instead of ourselves. That just does not happen. The Minister who is from the bear pit of Meath knows that well. Some aspects of election costs and spending targets could be reviewed. Following a recent election, which my party did not win, we did not know whether spending limits were good or bad. It could be argued if there were no limits sitting party members would be at an unfair advantage.
My party has set out its stall on corporate donations but the issue must be examined more closely. If an individual writes a cheque for £50 on his company's account or a cheque for the £100 draw which constituency organisations hold annually, I do not think it is a corporate donation. Should the individual write the cheque on his personal account? I consider a corporate donation to be a reasonably large figure and in the modern climate a few thousand pounds is not reasonably large. It does not go far in that it does not pay for a great deal.
My constituency organisation has held an annual golf classic for the past ten to 12 years. It costs £400 or £500 per team for which those involved play a round of golf, have a meal afterwards and win a few prizes. It provides me with an opportunity to give a few friends a day out by entering a number of teams. Some people write personal cheques while others write company cheques to take part. If someone who participated in the classic called me six months later to say the bins had not been collected in his area or there was another local problem, the fact that he subscribed £500 to the classic would not mean I would make the call to address that problem. I would not suddenly say that I would introduce  legislation in the House that would change the world. The same applies to the bulk of Members.
Corporate donations are available and some people have contributed greater sums than I have mentioned, but we must deal with this issue in the context of the real world and not get totally carried away. For example, one's local branch or cumann may meet twice monthly in a public house and one may hold one's constituency clinics and the odd function there. If the publican contributes £100 towards the party draw which is held annually, is that classed as a corporate donation? This issue can border on the ridiculous. A limit must be set and rules put in place.
The Public Offices Commission is in consultation with both the Minister's Department and the Attorney General's office in regard to election spending and defining when an election campaign begins. We are on an election footing and whether the election is held in May or June 2001, autumn 2001 or May or June 2002 we are into the last 12 or 15 months of this Parliament. When does an election campaign begin? If I order 50,000 lighters, matchboxes or pens with “Vote Cosgrave No. 1” on them tomorrow morning, will that be considered part of my election expenditure? The merchandise does not say when an individual should vote for me. I was shown a lighter used during the local election campaign which had “Vote No. 1 X on 11 June” but it did not state which year. This is an important point in terms of expenditure.
Sinn Féin is expected to make gains at the next election in Senator Costello's constituency, as well as in Dublin South-West and some other constituencies. The party has established a number of full-time offices in these constituencies. I could not afford to do so. Some people have left their jobs and are working full-time in a bid to win a seat. Will the Public Offices Commission examine aspects of this funding? Is all the funding involved geared towards the next election? The commission came up with a ludicrous figure whereby during an election campaign one can spend £8.73 per day. If Senator Coogan wants to buy a second round of salad sandwiches or an extra drink for his workers, he will exceed the that limit. There is a danger that we will lose the run of ourselves in this regard.
There has been a little ball bouncing between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party over a slight exceeding of expenditure during a recent by-election and it has been farcical. If both parties sat down, they would probably both admit exceeding the expenditure limit. I could not care less if the Labour Party exceeded the limit by £150. That is not what the legislation is about and I am sure the Labour Party could have cut back elsewhere if it was realistic. There is a danger that we will lose sight of the bigger picture. There is no doubt the pitch must be levelled but where we are going must also be outlined.
 There must be a realistic approach to corporate donations. The Minister's party must give a lead in this regard. I hope, equally, that there will be a response from my party and the Labour Party because it is important that this issue is not kicked around like a football.
Will photographs of candidates be used during the next Dáil, Seanad and local elections? Many of us can provide a reasonably up to date photograph but when it is reproduced on a ballot paper one person can look like Clark Gable while someone else can look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Will candidates be given an opportunity to approve their photographs for the ballot paper? During the hustle and bustle of an election campaign an election agent might say the photograph is not too bad. The Minister is quite photogenic while some of us are not so and this issue must be examined.
There was a trial of the new voting procedures during the Dublin South-Central by-election which the Minister mentioned in his contribution. Will he elaborate on whether it highlighted certain do's and don'ts or raised further queries? Many of us play the Lotto and from time to time one can make a mistake by marking seven numbers on a panel instead of six. One is back to square one and must start again. Will there be a briefing on the new voting procedures?
During the last local election I went to Blackrock College at 8.05 a.m. to vote and I met someone coming out who could not cast his vote because the centre was not ready to hold the ballot. This person could not get back to vote that night. Perhaps polling stations should be open earlier than 8 a.m. For people in some parts of Dublin who have to be at work at 9 a.m., it may not be possible to vote at 8 a.m. and still make it into work on time. That must be considered.
We are all aware of polling clerks who are getting on in years and some of them are speedier than others. If there is to be an electronic system, there must be more training. Some of the people who look for jobs as polling clerks could be recommended and would be very suitable – some may have worked in local authorities.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The House is enjoying your insight into the many elections you have been in and the quirks thrown up by them, but you have just one minute left.
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: Would it be possible to install machines on trial, such as in the post office? There will be confusion, particularly among the elderly. I have little knowledge of computers – my seven year old child can probably operate them better than I can.
I ask the Minister to respond positively to these practical suggestions. As one who has been slightly hassled by events on our side of the fence, I believe that political donations should be  addressed. People attend the golf tournament which I run – I am sure the Minister runs one also – and they attend charity and political functions. For £100 or £150, they do not expect the Minister or his colleagues to change the world. There is a price to be paid for democracy. The taxpayer may not thank you for providing an open cheque book.
Election expenses should be considered. I am not talking about an extra round of salad sandwiches for Senator Coogan, I am talking about posters and so on. I wonder if there will be conformity regarding posters near polling booths. Will they be a large version of those inside the booth or will they have to be a certain size? For example, could Senator Costello, who may be the only candidate from his party in the area, put up a massive blown-up photograph, while three candidates running against him from, say, Fine Gael – that probably will not happen in that constituency – would have to suffice with smaller photographs? Rather than candidate X arriving with a poster 20 foot by ten foot and another with one the size of a postage stamp, providing for a blown-up version of the photographs that appear in the booth would level the playing pitch. Perhaps the Minister will address that matter in his response.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: I welcome the Minister and the Bill. There have been calls in this House and in council chambers for local government reform, and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is the first man to grab the bull by the horns and do something about it. He is to be congratulated on the amount of work he has put into the Bill and the discussion and negotiation conducted with various council bodies and others.
I welcome the introduction of electronic voting. Such a system operates in Sligo County Council and councillors are very pleased with it. The system of voting that operated previously, with votes going on until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., vote transfers and recounts, was outdated. There was a certain amount of craic at the first count, checking out how candidates would fare and who would be elected. That will be a thing of the past, but we are in the 21st century and it is very important that we move forward. It is important that people will not be able to vote for someone else. The electronic system will cut out a lot of those shenanigans.
The introduction of photographs on the ballot paper has long been requested. I do not believe that the level of illiteracy is as high as we are led to believe. Teachers have done a reasonably good job. Nevertheless, I welcome the introduction of photographs on the ballot paper.
When I was a rate collector I took very seriously my job of compiling the register. On one occasion when election day came a servant of the late Deputy Eugene Gilbride was not on the register and it was very embarrassing for me. On  checking afterwards, it was the fault of the printers. A lot of the errors are made by the printers rather than in compiling the register. I have seen cases where the draft register was perfect, yet when the printed register was published there were names missing. Sometimes the person typing the register skips a name.
Postal voting should be extended. Many people who have booked their holidays cannot cancel when an election is called. They should be allowed vote by post. People who get sick and have to go to hospital should also be facilitated. If something happens beyond a person's control which means they cannot attend the polling station, they should be facilitated by postal voting. The system should be more flexible.
Elections are very costly. I have asked many people in Dublin and the country if they would be prepared to pay taxes towards elections and their answer was, “No bloody way”. Putting the cost on the Exchequer will not work. It is sad that in cases before the tribunals, the people who offered money are getting away scot-free. If there were no receivers there would be no thieves, and those people are also to blame.
We must have some form of corporate funding for elections. The various parties should enter discussions in respect of this matter and I would appeal to the Labour Party to become involved in that regard, because we are all involved in the same profession. There are other parties entering politics that will have their own ways of attracting funding and will be able to mount considerable opposition to the existing parties. The available evidence shows that these parties are better organised and funded. It is not merely a matter of stating that Fianna Fáil has access to too much money and that its activities should be curtailed, it is important that we sit down together and work out the fairest and most equitable way to finance elections.
I am sure members of the public will not be prepared to fund political parties' election campaigns. If we were to introduce a system where parties were paid a certain amount per vote received, the bigger parties would receive far more money than their smaller counterparts. That would not be fair. We should enter discussions on this matter.
I agree with Senator Cosgrave's assertion that people who donate £50, £100 or £200 to a political party do so with higher motives in mind. I know people who pay to play in golf classics because they love the game and who would not, perhaps, vote for the party organising the event. These people take part in such events because they enjoy the craic and camaraderie and because they want to play golf. It is not correct to state the people are seeking payback when they make a donation to a political party.
I have always contributed to chapel gate collections, regardless of which party they were being held by. In my area there are many good  members of Fine Gael who support the Fianna Fáil chapel gate collection and vice versa. It is not the case that people are seeking payback. They know they will not get it and are merely supporting the system.
The furore about the financing of elections can be brought to a conclusion by the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents coming together to negotiate a way forward. This is a complex and complicated matter and it must be debated fully.
A mistake was made when it was decided to prevent the display of posters in the immediate vicinity of polling stations. The number of people voting has decreased since this measure was implemented. In the past there was a great deal of razzmatazz at elections; people were eager to be involved in campaigns and public meetings were held at chapel gates. Now, however, elections take place on television and people no longer make rousing speeches at the chapel gates to encourage young people to become involved in the political process. It is important that the system should be revised.
I am not sure that the presence of campaign workers and party representatives outside polling stations caused many difficulties. Many of those who complained about being harassed at polling stations did not even vote at the most recent election; this was merely another issue about which they wished to complain. The advantage of having people at the polling stations was that everyone knew who had voted and they could contact people who had not voted and encourage them to do so before polling had concluded. Under the current system, no one knows who has voted. There are even those who do not know the location of their local polling station. In my opinion campaign workers from all parties should be allowed to stand within 20 or 50 yards of polling stations in order that they could see who is voting and, if necessary, contact those who have not voted to encourage them to do so.
There is a great deal of apathy among people in terms of their exercising their right to vote. That is a sad development and it appears that other countries are suffering the same problem. We may have to introduce a system where people could be compelled to vote. I monitored the elections in Mozambique where people sat outside polling stations for two days because it was the first occasion on which they had the opportunity to vote. We arrived at a polling station at 7 a.m. where a huge queue of people had formed, some of whom were obliged to wait until the following day to vote. People here do not value their right to vote but they should realise that it is very important.
It is sad that many individuals, particularly young people, do not vote in elections. Many of these people will arrive at the gates to Leinster House to protest and demand action from the Government. All we ask of them is that they give  us their vote on election day but they do not think it worth their while to do so. However, they are prepared to spend a great deal of time protesting and marching. It is important that we take action to encourage people to vote. Schools should play a greater role in terms of teaching young people the merits of our democracy and the importance of the right to vote.
It is difficult to say anything without rehashing what other Members have already said. However, I wish to make a final point about the dual mandate. I gave up my dual mandate before the last election and I am delighted I did so because when the Minister conferred additional powers on to the local authorities, it led to an increase in the workload. A great deal of work is now done at local authority level and I do not believe any person can be a member of a local authority or a health board and serve as a Deputy or Senator. In my opinion a single mandate is enough for anybody. If a person does their job well they will have no need to worry because they will not lose votes.
Members who do not have a dual mandate are able to attend meetings, hold clinics, etc., in their constituency and do not lose touch with the people. By and large, more people seek advice or help from Deputies or Senators than from county councillors because, rightly or wrongly, they believe we have greater powers. I give my 100% support to the Minister in his decision to abolish the dual mandate. I have spoken to other Members who gave up their dual mandate and they all stated that they could spend more time in the Seanad. If one has a single mandate, one does not have to finish work at Leinster House on a Thursday evening and rush headlong to one's constituency to attend a meeting. Senators who gave up the dual mandate can take a more relaxed approach and travel home on a Friday morning having finished their work here. The Minister should not back down on this issue. The dual mandate is a thing of the past and I give my full support to the Minister's attempts to abolish it.
I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister on the work he has done.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister but, unfortunately, I am not in a position to welcome the legislation. I wish to revisit a number of the points made by Senator Farrell. In general, the Senator makes some telling, practical points in his contributions. One of his points related to encouraging people to vote. The easiest way to encourage them to vote is by ensuring they have faith and confidence in politics and perceive it as a credible profession.
Senator Farrell also referred to the dual mandate. I would like to Minister to outline the current situation in that regard. This matter was raised on the Order of Business and a number of  Members were anxious to discover whether the local government legislation would come before the House during the current session. Perhaps the Minister might indicate if there is any truth in the reports that appeared in the Sunday newspapers regarding the Independents' opposition to the abolition of the dual mandate and claiming that the introduction of the legislation might be stymied.
The legislation contains many good elements. The Bill updates and upgrades and also introduces some improvements and innovations under the heading of “Miscellaneous” and the large number of issues will no doubt be dealt with on Committee Stage.
I welcome the introduction of photographs and emblems and I also like the idea of a supplement being available regarding the registration of voters, so that once a person reaches the age of 18 he or she can then vote. However, I would like to do this the other way around. Only a tiny percentage of people identify their citizenship right to vote with having their names on the register when they reach 18. Could we not devise a mechanism involving a database from the register of births, marriages and deaths? Then when a person reaches 18 he or she would automatically receive a letter from the Department of the Environment and Local Government offering a birthday greeting, informing them of their full citizenship rights, including the rights to vote, and including a form to be signed. Most people that age would still be in the homes from which their births were registered by their parents. Then, rather than putting the onus on the individual to register, we could have automatic registration through a database to get people on the register.
I welcome both early opening of the polling stations and having one poster on each approach road to the station. We have lost something since posters were banned from the curtilage of polling stations, though I do not mind the fact that one does not have a large crowd of people pressing the flesh and forcing those entering the polling station to run the gauntlet. It is time that was done away with.
The central issue for my party with this legislation is the Minister's raising of the amount of money which can be spent on each election candidate by approximately 50%. That benefits larger parties disproportionately, as those parties almost always have more than one candidate running in a constituency while smaller parties and Independents find it hard to get candidates in many constituencies. This provision disproportionately benefits larger parties. In the case of the Minister's party, there will be an increase in allowable expenditure from £2 million to £3 million and that extra £1 million is a substantial increase.
This sends out the wrong message at the wrong time. Virtually all the recent problems with corruption and scandals in politics relate to money. Money changed hands over planning applications  and big business has tended to make substantial donations to political parties. Though it has been said that no favours were expected, it is hard to see why large donations are made by companies when no return is given. We must clear the air and clean up our act as respected, professional parliamentarians. The only way we can do that is by taking money out of the equation as a major factor in an election. That will not be easy.
The Labour Party, Fine Gael and the Green Party have now decided that they will not take substantial donations in future and corporate donations will be out of the equation. Fianna Fáil has still not signed up to this measure, though we would love to see it do so. If it does not, are we to have a situation where only one party in the State will receive large donations while the others do not? That system cannot be seen as having any validity in a respectable democracy and it is democracy that must be put on the right road.
Another question relates to how parties and politicians are expected to raise funds themselves. It is surely not our function to collect money outside churches, though the numbers now going to church would make no party wealthy. It is not our function to have golf classics, race nights, auctions or raffles. The only reasonable solution is that the public, which has become cynical about politicians, will have to pay for cleaning up democracy. Taxpayers cannot have it both ways. They cannot expect politicians to be totally above board and uncompromised by corporate or other donations while expecting they will not have to pay for a clean political system. There is no alternative way to get a transparent political system. One has to get the money factor out of the political arena and the only way to do that is for the State to fund the electoral process. The public purse will have to contribute far more substantially than it does at present to maintaining democracy.
The Minister feels expenditure figures of £20,000, £25,000 or £30,000, depending on the number of seats in the constituency, is about right. Those figures represent increases from the old figures of £14,000, £17,000 and £20,000, respectively. However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act was passed in Britain on 16 February and it will halve the amount of money spent by each of the main political parties in last year's elections. Britain wants to clean up its act and it is doing so by substantially reducing the funding element in politics. The formula put together in Britain, and announced on 30 January, is that each party can spend £22,500 per constituency contested.
Mr. D. Kiely Mr. D. Kiely
Mr. D. Kiely Those are single seaters.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: Those constituencies are much larger than ours.
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Mr. Dempsey: There are single candidates.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
 Mr. Costello: I thought that was the level playing pitch, when each candidate gets £30,000 and three candidates get £90,000. That is not fair when one party has one candidate and it only gets £30,000 to spend. The situation is disproportionate as a large party spends more money than a smaller party.
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Mr. Dempsey: The Senator is surely not suggesting that if Fianna Fáil puts up three candidates in one constituency it should only get £30,000 between those three while the Labour Party's single candidate would get £30,000.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: The party is contesting the election. Fianna Fáil, and Fine Gael to a lesser extent, will have more candidates and a disproportionately larger spend because this is based on candidates alone. If it was a party amount that could be spent in each constituency, and tied down to that, then the playing pitch would be much more level. Perhaps the Minister might address that. That is what the British are doing to try to clean up their act.
I want to refer to the Minister's own position. The perception that I and my party have is that his position as joint treasurer of his party is in conflict with his position as Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is proposing a 50% increase in the amount of funding that will be available to candidates in the next election and a disproportionate increase in terms of his own party as a larger party. He is effectively, through this legislation, allowing £1 million extra in the kitty for Fíanna Fáil. Fíanna Fáil obviously needs to get the money but this can be obtained through corporate donations, it can be borrowed or people can go into debt. The larger party is in a much better position to get those donations particularly if it is in Government. I would like to hear his reply as to how the two can coincide. How can he, on the one hand, be the fundraiser, the treasurer for his party and, on the other hand, provide the means whereby the party can spend that extra £1 million?
There are merits and demerits to electronic voting and I am not sure how well it will work with our PR system. We will have to see how the equipment works and how the company that the Minister has commissioned does the business. What is missing in the legislation on electronic voting, or any other aspect of it, is how to prevent anybody abusing the voting system through double or treble voting, etc. Part of the brief that he gives to the consultants should be to devise a mechanism whereby each voter can vote only once.
I and other Members have concerns about personation. We never know the extent to which it operates. We all know the famous political expression, “Vote early and often”. A person, when voting, should have to provide their signature, to be verified on a computer screen. The  computer should be so programmed that if someone tried to sign a second time, the signature would be detected and the machine would reject it. That possibility should be examined.
I am disappointed with this part of the legislation, although there are many good elements in it. The Minister is providing a mechanism of getting the extra money available and thereby effectively buying votes. In the broader scenario, it will undermine democracy, particularly when our democracy is under such threat with people staying away from the polling stations. If word gets out that money remains the major factor, the cynicism will continue, the numbers will drop further and politicians and parliamentarians will be seen as corrupt people who abuse the system for their own ends.
Mr. J. Doyle Mr. J. Doyle
Mr. J. Doyle: This is an important Bill that streamlines and updates the electoral procedure. Senator Costello mentioned the low polls in recent elections. The main purpose of any electoral Bill that we introduce should be to encourage people to vote and make it easier for them to do so. It saddens me to see the decline in the number of voters, especially in urban areas. It is frightening that in the last local elections only 30% of the electorate turned out in my area, which is a middle class area in Dublin city. People do not have the interest. We should make it easier and more attractive.
I welcome the introduction of electronic voting. Our parliamentary party viewed a demonstration of this and it should work well. It will also be a fairer system. In the current system, if a candidate has a surplus, the ballots to be distributed are picked at random. Electronic voting should be fairer in that area.
I am glad to see that polling stations will open earlier, at 7 o'clock. There should be more polling stations to encourage people and make it easier to vote.
I welcome the edited register. People do take offence that the electoral register is used for commercial purposes. I am on the register as JP Doyle and when I get a letter marked “JP” I know someone has picked it off the electoral register because nobody else writes to me under that name. That will be avoided.
Much attention has been paid to the costs of elections and the amount candidates spend. We have got ourselves into trouble in recent years over the amount of money that we spend on elections, much of which is unnecessary. I have called at doors to be told that people are tired of getting literature from politicians and they do not want any more. I can remember when political parties only issued literature through the party. There was no personal literature issued by candidates. There might be one card by the party introducing the candidates and perhaps one more piece after wards. All this came from the parties. The two or three candidates subscribed to that.
That system held in my constituency because Dr. Fitzgerald believed that it was against the principle of multiple seat constituencies for candidates to do their own thing with their own personal literature. Unfortunately that line has now been broken and candidates spend a lot of money on personal literature. I do not see any advantage in that.
In 1991, a young lady stood for Dublin Corporation. She put her name on the ballot paper and then went to America. Not one piece of literature was issued in her name. Nobody knocked on any door on her behalf. She got elected. There is a message in that for us all.
If a party has the right policies, then people will vote for the candidate of that party and we do not need to spend the kind of money we spent in the past. Much of the trouble that politicians have got into recently has been due to that excessive expenditure which is unnecessary.
I disagree with the proposal to increase the expenditure for candidates. The measures which were produced before were sufficient. I know it is not possible, but I would like to see some restriction on the amount of money that candidates spend in local and general elections. It is better for parties, for politicians and for democracy.
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Gabhaim buíochas le gach Seanadóir a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht. I thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate. While there was some heat at various stages, a range of constructive comments and suggestions were made and I want to address some of those. There was also, predictably I suppose, the narrow focus adopted by some Members who chose to ignore the positive reforms that I propose and instead concentrated on the single issue of the expenditure limits. I exonerate both Senators opposite who made positive and considered contributions. I will address that particular issue in my reply because it is necessary and we are looking for an all-party approach to funding, corporate donations, election spending and so on. These issues should be discussed seriously in the House rather than in the streets as happened last week.
The most radical of the reforms is the provision of electronic voting and counting. Senators who addressed this issue made reference to Part 3 of the Bill which deals with this. Senator Quinn made a constructive contribution on the subject and I will address his and other Senators concern about electronic voting. The system will be easy to use. Nobody will find difficulty with it as it will be as simple as the lottery. Simplicity has been the guiding principle since work began on the project and I am satisfied that the system chosen will be simple to use for both voter and electoral staff. Electors  will register in the normal way at the polling station. Personation was mentioned by Senator Costello and it can only be countered by ensuring that polling station staff ask for and insist on identification. That may not be absolutely necessary in rural constituencies but is becoming increasingly necessary in city constituencies. Once a person has registered and been marked off the register in the normal way they will record their preferences by pressing designated spaces beside the candidates' details on the ballot paper displayed on the voting machine. They will then vote by pressing the “vote cast” button. All of the vote will be visible before they press the final button for the vote to be registered. If the person makes a mistake in the process prior to casting the vote they can obliterate it and go through the process again. There is that provision to correct or change a preference before the vote is cast. Once a vote is cast it is securely stored and protected in the event of a machine cut out or a power cut.
There will be an audit trail with this process. It will produce a list showing the preferences recorded for each vote cast. The system will be capable of printing out ballot papers to enable a manual count take place if necessary or if so ordered by the High Court. Each vote can be reproduced in printed form without revealing the identity of the voter. The votes cast will be stored randomly in the cartridges and mixed at the count centre to ensure that the vote of an individual cannot be identified. While a voter will not get a receipt the system will display a record showing the number of votes cast throughout the day. The voting machine proposed has been tested by reputable technical institutes in Holland and Germany. The machine has a sound track record in both countries. A comparison with recent experiences in Florida is not valid. There, 1960s punch card technology was used but I can assure the Senators that there will be no chads, either pregnant or hanging, as a result of this system.
Senators Coogan and Quinn wondered about the software which would be used. I accept that we must be conscious of possible flaws in the software. While I have every confidence in the company supplying the software, it has been intended from the outset that it be independently audited by one or more bodies to test its robustness and capacity to do the job. Every possible test will be carried out by my Department, by the returning officers, by the local government services board and by independent third parties to ensure the integrity of the system. Several Senators referred to the demise of the tallymen with the introduction of electronic voting. I sympathise. The tallymen's skills will be lost within two or three elections. They have been central to elections for a long time but we should not forget that they have no statutory function. The electronic system will produce the results within hours of the close of poll and parties will be able to get information on a station by station basis.  Every party will have the same information. The results and data will be more accurate than the tallymen and more statistics and information will be available even down to all the preferences cast, if necessary.
Senator Doyle mentioned random selection. I myself benefited from random selection of ballot papers in 1989. Everybody expected my colleague in north Meath, Michael Lynch, would get the seat on the final count because his north Meath colleague, Deputy John Farrelly, was elected with a surplus. The random selection of the votes meant it was the votes of former Deputy Brian Fitzgerald that were counted and I won the seat as a result. Fortunately or unfortunately that random opportunity will be gone because the preferences right down the line will be recorded and weighted and the final decision will be made accordingly.
The present system has served us well but it has its imperfections. Votes can be unintentionally spoiled by voters themselves or because ballot papers have not been stamped. The new system will end such inadvertent spoiling. When thousands of pieces of paper are handled errors do occur in the counting process. If there is a large difference between candidates these errors are not so apparent but they do surface in recounts. No system is 100% perfect but I am confident that this electronic system will make it easier for the public to vote, will provide election results within a few hours of the close of poll, will improve the efficiency of electoral administration and will support a positive image for the country in the use of information technology.
Senator Cosgrave asked about the results of the Dublin South-Central experiment. That was in just one polling station, designed to test the system and see what the reaction was. It was not a scientific experiment but it was very positively received by everybody.
Senator Coogan referred to electoral lists. Up to 1936, a tripartite list was in use. From 1936 to 1942, draft registers were published. From 1942 to 1946, the old form was reverted to. In 1946, the draft register was brought back and has been in use since.
The joint committee on electoral law, 1960-61, recommended the re-introduction of the list arrangement, and the working party on the register of electors, 1983, was of the opinion that the three-part electoral list which enables the principal changes to be seen easily has considerable advantages. There will be three lists, one for the register proper, the second list for addition and a third for deletion. A composite list will be provided before an election or referendum.
Senators Coogan and Mooney sought clarification about the provision to allow electors who change address to apply for entry to the supplement. Before a person is entered on the supplement in these circumstances, the application will be first processed by the original registration  authority and the person's name will be deleted from the register. The application form will then be sent to the new registration authority for entry on the supplement to the register. A copy of the register used at the polling station will include deletions. The use of an electoral list will probably be more efficient in these cases as a composite list including the supplements could be produced before polling day.
Senator Coogan also inquired about the use of offensive emblems. Conditions for the registration of emblems are set out on page 16 of the Bill and provide that an emblem shall not be registered if it is obscene or offensive. The type of emblems, such as swastikas as mentioned by Senator Coogan, would not be entered on the ballot paper unless it had been registered.
Senator Walsh raised the question of privatisation of the preparation and maintenance of the electoral register. There have been many complaints about the compilation of the register. Many Members of this House who are also members of local authorities may prefer if local authorities were not criticised. However, this is one area of their activities of which I certainly would be critical. The complaints about the accuracy of the register after each local or general election are numerous. I do not think that this responsibility of local authorities is high on their priority lists.
It is worthwhile to provide in the Bill for a facility where a body other than a registration authority may be able to improve matters. That would need some consideration and it would be necessary to have statutory backing. A draft ministerial order would require the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas to institute such a body.
Speaking personally, an organisation like the ESB or Eircom might be able to compile a much more accurate register. Senators mentioned the anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon of people not wishing to have their names on the electoral register. This is a trend which I would not like to see continuing. Perhaps a body such as the ESB or Eircom would be able to ensure that the majority of people are included on the register. The Bill provides for enabling legislation, but I am not proposing that immediately.
Senator Walsh also referred to the possibility that a computer system should be able to examine all votes before a surplus is transferred. Until the system is extended throughout the country, the same rules must apply to constituencies where the system is used and to those where the existing manual system will still apply. When the system is extended to the whole country, consideration can be given to this matter.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the complexity of the Bill and the need to consolidate electoral legislation. I agree with the Senator. It is my intention to produce a non-statutory version so that all provisions will be in one document  and appropriate references to the relevant statutes will be contained therein.
Senators referred to section 48. This section will not provide powers to introduce substantial changes in other legislation. It provides for the application of the principles of subsection (3) in relation to electronic voting to the other electoral codes. I refer Senators to subsection (3) of section 48 on page 46. It is stated that any adaptation or modification provided by an order shall in every case be such as will result in the enactment concerned having effect subject to the same principles as the provisions of subsection (3) are subject to. Any adaptation or modification in so far as is practicable shall result in the enactment containing provisions corresponding in their terms to those of subsection (3) of the Bill. This provision will obviate the need for similar repetition in the other seven electoral codes. The contents of any such order will be similar to section 38. This is not a new development in electoral law. Similar provisions are found in the Electoral Act, 1992, the Presidential Election Act, 1993, and the Referendum Act, 1994.
Senator Cassidy referred to section 28 which provides that ballot boxes with less than 50 ballot papers be opened so that the preferences on the individual ballot papers cannot be read. This section proposes that the boxes be opened in the presence of agents of the candidates. I agree that this means in the view of the agents and other persons present at the count centre.
I wish to turn to the question of expenditure limits. I have listened to Labour Party Senators talking about the proposed increase in election expenditure limits and they speak as if the end of the world is imminent. The limits are the same for all candidates, whether they belong to political parties or are non-party candidates.
An advantage is conferred on non-party candidates. They will be able to spend all their money in their own constituency, whereas in the case of party candidates, the expenditure will be divided between party headquarters and local candidates. There is equality between all candidates as regards permitted expenditure by the candidate or a combination of the candidate and his or her own party.
The Labour Party is getting itself into trouble, which is the nicest way of putting it, by talking about Fianna Fáil automatically getting £1 million as a result of this. That is nonsense because the increase in the limits to more realistic levels does not give any party extra funds.
A Fianna Fáil candidate cannot spend any more than a Fine Gael, Labour or any other individual candidate. To say that Fianna Fáil can spend an extra £1 million is incorrect, it will be less than that. There is no guarantee that any party will get extra funding. A party can only spend a portion of the candidates' limits that the candidates agree within that party. The only reason the expenditure limit for Fianna Fáil can didates is higher than that for other political parties' candidates is that Fianna Fáil has more candidates, nearly a quarter of the total candidates. That is twice the number of Labour candidates and probably about a third more than Fine Gael. Fine Gael will also have higher expenditure as a result of this because they have more candidates. There is nothing to stop the Labour Party, or any other party, putting up more candidates if they want to. I agree with Senator Doyle in relation to this.
The level of expenditure by candidates is not necessarily reflected in votes received and the classic example is the 1992 election campaign. Fianna Fáil went on a splurge of newspaper advertising aimed at the Labour Party and their policies in the last week of that campaign, as Senator Costello will remember.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: Saatchi and Saatchi.
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Mr. Dempsey: I cannot remember who it was but Fianna Fáil spent a considerable sum of money and the result was that the Labour Party doubled their representation in Dáil Éireann. The idea that more money means better results is not correct. What counts in elections, and here I agree with Senators Costello, Doyle and others, is policies, candidates and the organisation that a party puts in on the ground.
The vast majority of the organisation that Fianna Fáil puts in on the ground operates on a voluntary basis, as does that of Fine Gael, Labour and others. Fianna Fáil has more bodies available to put on the ground, it is professional in the way it approaches elections. That is why it consistently receives the support it does, not because it has been able to spend huge amounts of money.
Senator Costello mentioned the current UK system where party spending for the next election is being halved. The Senator mentions the figure of £22,500 per constituency but that is simply what a central party organisation can spend per single seat constituency in the UK. The candidates can also spend money locally on top of that, or their own money. It is not the same system that we have.
I went through the Electoral Act, 1997, with Senator Costello's party colleague, Deputy Howlin, at the time that Act was being discussed, and we started out with similar blanket figures for party expenditure in each constituency. The more we investigated the matter however, the more we were driven toward the system we now have. Nonetheless, I will look again at this matter and I take the point that Senator Costello makes.
It has been suggested that the issue of expenditure limits would be better dealt with if a certain sum was allotted per constituency and maybe that would solve the problem. Much has been said about this issue, especially by the Labour Party. I recognise that they have a particular tie to this legislation, and feel sentimental about it because  it was legislation they put through the House in 1997. However, referring to that legislation as if it was immutable and could never be changed is over the top. The Labour Minister who set the 1997 amendments said that the limits were reasonable but I disagreed at that time. I know several people in Fine Gael who disagreed also but they were not going to do so publicly because their party was in Government. I said that the limits were not reasonable and we had a long and detailed debate on the matter. The then Minister said he would consider reasonable amendments if they were put in for Report Stage, and I duly put forward such amendments. However, he did not move in any way towards meeting what we regarded as reasonable at that time. The proposed limits have not been tested at a general election, but they have applied at the recent by-elections where candidates have had difficulty staying within the limits. Strangely, candidates who had such difficulites were not from Fianna Fáil.
I have no desire to see those elected to Dáil Éireann in the next general election spend the first two years of their elected life answering questions in the Public Offices Commission. All Members have had experiences with the Public Offices Commission which implements this legislation, and it is possible that the legislation is not as finely tuned or as specific as it should be. This can give rise to difficulty and Senator Costello's colleague, Deputy Upton, has had experience of this. My party could use such an issue politically to say that the Labour Party had breached spending limits. Fianna Fáil could kick the matter around as a political football even if a genuine mistake was made, or a different interpretation was taken by Labour and the Public Offices Commission, but that is not the intention.
Unless we have reasonable limits in the next general election, 75% of those who contest that election, successfully or not, will probably find that much of the next term in Dáil Éireann is taken up explaining their spending to the Public Offices Commission because of certain ambiguities in the legislation.
The question of when an election actually starts was the point at issue in Deputy Upton's case. The legal position on this is set out in the Election Act, 1997, as amended in 1998, and I recently responded to the Public Offices Commission about the Labour Party query concerning Deputy Upton. I expect that the commission will advise Members of the position in the near future. I do not wish to elaborate on the matter because the law is in place and it is for the commission to inform Members of the House of the situation and to issue guidelines.
I was not in the House for all the contributions from Labour Party Members on corporate funding but from what I have read and been told, many were of little help to political discourse. However, I compliment Senator Costello on the  case he put forward. I do not agree with that case but I commend him for the manner in which he put it. I wish to explain to him, as I have explained to some of his party colleagues, that the position of honorary treasurer of Fianna Fáil is not a fund raising position. I have no hand, act or part in corporate fund raising for the party and the position I hold is very much an honorary one.
Fianna Fáil has a long tradition of appointing fund raisers and they operate outside the normal structures of the party in that the money they collect, and from whom they collect it, is a matter for themselves and the donors. Other than attending party functions, as all Members do – and I am sure Senator Costello and his colleagues attended the golf classic the Labour Party held last year to raise funds – running such events, writing to cumann members about the national draw and national collection and organising a constituency fund raiser are the only fund raising tasks I carry out for the party. There is no conflict of interest.
If we were to adopt the view the Labour Party takes in alleging that I have a conflict of interest, Deputy Quinn would have serious questions to answer. As Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Minister for Finance, he introduced changes to the Leader's allowance during the last Government which managed, due to the way they were structured, to give the Labour Party approximately £22,000 per Deputy and the Fianna Fáil Party £8,000 per Deputy. We are now in Government and, in fairness to Deputy Quinn, 30% is taken from the Government side and given to the Opposition. Even allowing for that, however, if Fianna Fáil were in Opposition it would get approximately £12,000 while the Labour Party, if it were still in Government, would get about £15,000.
I will not make allegations about conflicts of interest or that Deputy Quinn, as Minister for Finance, acted in a manner which demonstrated a conflict of interest, tried to disadvantage Fianna Fáil or tried to give an advantage to the Labour Party but if I were to apply the same standards as Deputy Quinn applies in the Lower House, I would make such accusations. It ill behoves any Member of the Houses to cast aspersions on the character or integrity of another Member in the manner in which that has been done over the last two or three weeks. If a Member believes another Member has a conflict of interest or has done something illegal or wrong, they should put down a motion to discuss it and let the other person defend themselves rather than make snide remarks across the floor of the House on the Order of Business. That is not my style of politics. To make matters worse, the people who are doing this are the ones who point the finger to our side of the House and tell us they want to clean up politics, raise politics to a new level and get away from the hypocrisy and dishonesty of  which they accuse others. They should be a little more consistent.
Three political parties have made a decision in relation to corporate donations. If they are interested in raising standards and removing cynicism, they must spell out what banning corporate donations means. Does it mean that anybody who is associated with a company will not be allowed to make a donation to a political party? Does it mean ten directors of a company will not be able to get money in the course of the year from their company and pass on ten £1,000 donations to the political party of their choice? If an individual who is in business, such as a PR business, or a doctor, dentist or an auctioneer who is self-employed makes a donation, is it a corporate or individual donation? Such questions must be answered when we discuss corporate donations and banning them.
In fairness to Senator Costello, when he spoke about banning corporate donations he pointed out that it would not be easy. That is true. It certainly will not be easy if people intend to use it solely as a political football. It is a serious issue that should be discussed seriously. The Fine Gael Party produced a document some time ago. I did not agree with the limits it contained – they were too low – but I thought it was a reasonable document. However, the party raised the issue of corporate donations and the difficulty of making a distinction between corporate and individual donations. It has either overcome that difficulty or the matter has been brushed to one side. That difficulty remains however.
There are other issues. One was mentioned by Senator Costello. The taxpayers will have to pay for the system if there are no donations. Whether they want to or not is a question we will have to ask them. That issue must be addressed as well. The point about banning donations and ensuring nobody can get donations does not just apply to the political party at election time. It means one is banned from raising funds between elections. I do not disagree with Senator Costello that none of us should have to run bingos or golf classics to raise money for ourselves, but that is the reality. If one wishes to give a good constituency service, one must do it. When one talks about banning these donations – the Fine Gael document mentioned this – one is talking about funding elections for political parties, funding party headquarters and funding individual Members of both Houses to ensure they can get their message across to the electorate. That must be spelled out to the people and we must let them decide if they want to take that route.
I have mentioned the constitutional issues previously. They have been dismissed. The attitude is that if there are constitutional issues, there should be a referendum. The sections of the Constitution involved are those which deal with the right to free speech, the right to free association  and the right to protect one's personal integrity. I would not like to have to go to the electorate—
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: And the right to refuse.
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Mr. Dempsey: Exactly. I would not like to go to the electorate with amendments to those three constitutional rights. I doubt that there would be much support for them. However, perhaps there is something we can do in that regard.
The other side of this coin has not been discussed. Banning donations and imposing tight spending limits would have the effect of locking in the status quo. I could be politically motivated and say that this would suit the Labour Party. I have said it outside the House in the past. It is a legitimate point of view, certainly as legitimate as the Labour Party point of view on Fianna Fáil. Banning fund raising has the effect of locking people out of the system. No new parties could be established because they would be unable to raise funds unless they are lucky enough to have money already to fund a campaign and get the £5,000 refund. It would have the effect of locking in the status quo.
Some Members are familiar with the workings of the media and so on. Banning donations and imposing tight spending limits will greatly increase the power of the media and lobby groups. Politicians and political parties will be limited in the amount of money they can spend to get their message across to the electorate yet there will be no such limitations on the IFA, trade unions or groups opposing particular proposals. We will have to protect against such a scenario. This issue is not as simple as some people make out.
A limited number of high profile individuals have appeared before and will be dealt with by the tribunals. The vast majority of politicians have been honest, decent and straightforward and  have done the best they can for people. It is not right to talk about things which happened ten or 15 years ago before the Ethics in Public Office Act, the Electoral Acts and the era of openness, transparency and accountability. Changes need to be made. However, we should have a real debate about these changes rather than engaging in a phoney war or making a political football of this issue.
Senator Costello, the Labour Party and everyone else is right in stating that people have a very low opinion of public representatives, a view which politicians on all sides try to use against their opponents. This may have worked ten years ago when Deputy Spring did a particularly good job. However, at that time people generally believed that politics and politicians were mostly good and that there might be an occasional bad one. Unfortunately people now believe all politicians are bad and there is only the occasional good one. If one increases the levels of cynicism by trying to make out that one's opponents are bad and are involved in this or that people will say, “They're all the same, it doesn't matter”. There is no political advantage in trying to wrong foot political parties. If Members of this House, particularly Opposition Members, especially those in the Labour Party, are genuinely concerned about the future of politics, raising standards and restoring confidence in politics, we must sit down on an all-party basis and discuss how we are going to move forward. There is no political advantage for anyone in this issue.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your indulgence. This is an important issue which deserves to be debated and I look forward to doing so further on Committee Stage.
Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand.”
Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Costello and Burke.
 Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7 March 2001.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: At 10.30 tomorrow morning.
Seanad Éireann 165 Electoral Amendment Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).