Dáil Éireann - Volume 67 - 01 June, 1937

Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Coiste (d'ath-thógaint).

Mr. MacDermot: I move amendment No. 60:—

In Section 1, sub-section (1), line 2, and in sub-section (2), line 2, after the word “years” to insert in each [1322] case the words “who can read and write”.

The object of this amendment is to make literacy a condition of the right to vote. In these days of universal compulsory education, that does not seem unreasonable. I am sure it is within the knowledge of Deputies, moreover, that the existence of the illiterate vote is sometimes used as a method of intimidation, because men and women who are perfectly well able to read and write and vote in the ordinary way are sometimes intimidated into declaring themselves illiterate so that they shall vote openly and it shall be known which way they vote. Therefore, both on the ground of the general propriety of expecting literacy from a voter and on the ground of getting rid of the particular abuse to which I have referred, I suggest the advisability of accepting this amendment.

Mr. Norton: Deputy MacDermot has made a very brief and, I think, a very incomplete attempt to establish even a shadow of a case for the amendment. Deputy MacDermot wants to make sure that only persons who can read and write are entitled to vote. Nobody voluntarily declines to learn to read and nobody voluntarily declines to learn how to write. People who cannot read or write are the victims of a very imperfect system of education, and the main responsibility for the fact that persons do exist who cannot read or write is a community and a State responsibility; but apparently Deputy MacDermot wants not merely to see these people continuing under the affliction of being unable to read and write, but he wants to impose a further burden on them, namely, to disfranchise them completely. Imbeciles are at present prevented from voting in an election, and Deputy MacDermot would also prevent the man suffering from the disability of being unable to read and write from voting in an election. That unfortunate citizen would consequently be bracketed with that class in the community which is at present prevented from voting in an election. The corollary to this amendment is that anybody who is not entitled to vote and to have a voice in an election of the Government ought [1323] not to be liable for the taxes which the Government impose. Deputy MacDermot is prepared to say to these people: “You cannot vote; you must take the Government which somebody else selects for you”; but, at the same time, he is going to make that person responsible for the payment of taxation imposed by the Government in the selection of which that person had no voice.

If ever there was an amendment reeking with class bias this is it, although Deputy MacDermot frequently tells the House that he has no use whatever for class sentiment. Under this amendment the person who has no reasonable degree of literacy would be prohibited from voting. He might be a very good citizen; he might be a very conscientious citizen, and he might be a very industrious citizen. He might be a man with a family, and some members of that family might have done honour to the nation by the crafts or occupations which they pursued, but Deputy MacDermot would prevent the man from voting. Presumably, Deputy MacDermot would not disqualify from voting a person who is a most dishonourable citizen, a most unscrupulous person, who might frequently, in the course of a year or a lifetime, be before the courts and be convicted in a number of definite instances of misbehaviour. Under this amendment it would be possible for a released burglar or a ticket-of-leave man to vote, but it would not be possible for the honest man who can neither read nor write. That is the obvious situation which would arise from the passing of an amendment of this kind.

I suggest to Deputy MacDermot that, on thinking it over, he will agree that if there is to be any disqualification at all, it ought to be in respect of persons who are not good citizens. The man who can neither read nor write may be a very good citizen, but the Deputy would disqualify him from voting, while giving to the person who had been convicted of a very serious criminal offence the right to vote. I think this is a most undemocratic and reactionary amendment. It reeks with class bias, and instead of disqualifying [1324] such people from voting, we ought to set out on a campaign to ensure— while we may not be able to correct the present position whereby people of advanced years are not able to read or write—that it will be impossible in future for any person to declare himself as being unable to read or write, and that it will not be necessary to have a class amendment of this kind submitted in future.

Mr. MacDermot: It is extremly difficult to define good citizens. If one could confine the vote to good citizens there might be a strong case to be made for it, but I know of no way of defining good citizens. As regards criminals, convictions are sometimes wrong and the guilt of crimes varies tremendously in degree. Criminals are sometimes reformed and become good citizens, so that it is plainly impracticable to exclude, even if desirable, from voting, everybody who had been convicted of a crime. The question of literacy, however, stands on a very different footing. Deputy Norton calls it undemocratic to exclude illiterates, but I think that if he studies the subject he will find that some of the most reputedly democratic countries in the world exclude them. It is, in a sense, a corollary of universal and compulsory education to exclude illiteracy.

Deputy Norton speaks of our educational system as being very imperfect. Imperfect it may be, but not so imperfect that anybody with the most modest amount of industry cannot learn to read and write. Deputy Norton has painted a pathetic picture of the worthy and industrious man who has not learned to read or write, but such individuals must be few in the extreme. There may be a few very old people who have shown no lack of industry in failing to learn to read and write, but they must be very few, and I suggest that, in these days of compulsory and universal education, the person who does not make himself or herself literate is failing in his or her duty to the community. The class is a dying and diminishing class and, so far as my experience goes, the chief effect for a good many years of this illiterate vote at election times has been to [1325] cause an undue amount of intimidation to be applied. People who declare openly what side they are voting for are naturally more subject to intimidation than anybody else, and that very democratic system of the secret ballot is made absolutely futile so far as they are concerned. As I say, people who are not illiterate at all are sometimes induced to declare themselves illiterate under threat. It is for those reasons that I think this amendment has a good deal to be said for it.

Mr. Donnelly: I think Deputy MacDermot ought to withdraw this amendment. I have always found that illiterate voters in any constituency are always guided by one great principle. It is the principle which should guide most people, that is, the principle of common sense. It does not follow at all, as Deputy Norton has said, that because people may have super-education, they have got all the common sense in the world, and illiterate voters are not so easily intimidated at all as Deputy MacDermot might think. There is ample protection under the Ballot Act for every illiterate voter, and, when an illiterate voter declares how he is going to vote in the polling booth, the agents, the presiding officer and the poll clerk are sworn to secrecy. If they are honourable people they will not come out of that polling booth and say how a particular person voted. As a matter of fact, there is a penalty for it. I think Deputy MacDermot would be well advised to withdraw the amendment. It is hitting a section of the community which should be spared such a blow, and if Deputy MacDermot's experience is that illiterates have been intimidated, and if he had personal knowledge of that sort of thing, it was his obvious duty to look after it at the time. Apparently he did not, and he feels now that all these people should be disfranchised. They would be a very big percentage of the register in some places and a bigger percentage than we might like to take credit for. It is not a worthy amendment and, in all sincerity, I suggest that the Deputy should withdraw it.

General Mulcahy: If Deputy MacDermot [1326] is to be asked to withdraw his amendment, he ought to be asked to withdraw it for a good reason. Surely no one could be persuaded by the argument put forward by Deputy Donnelly. I think the amendment is incomplete because it does not say whether it refers to reading and writing English or Irish, or both.

The President: I am not disposed to accept this amendment, apart altogether from any criticism as to whether it does what it is intended to do. I take it that reading or writing in any language would be quite sufficient for Deputy MacDermot. I think the Deputy himself gave a good reason for not inserting it. It refers to what is a diminishing class, and the less we have in the Constitution in the way of disqualification, the better. There is also considerable substance in some of the points made by Deputy Norton. There are possibly a number of people at present who are unable to read or write, a condition which is not exactly their fault, and my view is that we should put into this Constitution only what is necessary, and that in regard to the fundamental questions which are at the basis of the whole system of government, we should leave them as open and as free as we can.

Mr. MacDermot: What the President has said has reminded me of a point touched upon by Deputy Norton when he spoke of the liability of the illiterate voter to taxation. That argument would apply equally to imbecile persons. They have to pay taxation— sometimes very heavy taxation. However, I do not intend to press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The President: Amendment No. 61 refers to disqualifications. There are certain difficulties in regard to the matter. We want to make sure that there will not be disqualification solely on the ground of sex. There is also the question of making the provision so watertight that, if there are disqualifications of any kind, they will not be made on that basis. As the question has been raised, we want to make the Article as watertight as we can. [1327] We want to provide that citizens, irrespective of sex, will have the franchise and will be entitled to election and, if there are disqualifications, that they will not be disqualifications solely on the ground of sex. I shall not move the amendment at this stage.

Amendment not moved.

Amendment No. 62 (Deputy Mrs. Redmond) not moved.

Mr. MacDermot: I move amendment No. 63:—

In section 1, to delete sub-section 3º and substitute two new sub-sections as follows:—

3º. Every head of a family shall have two votes and no more and every other voter one vote and no more at an election for Dáil Eireann.

4º. Voting shall be by secret ballot.

I do not know whether this amendment will be regarded as a “monstrously class amendment” or not. It follows, to my mind, as a corollary of Article 41 (1) of the Draft Constitution. The Article reads:—

1º. The State recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2º. The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

The amendment which I am proposing suggests the recognition of the position of the family, so eloquently described in that Article, by giving an extra vote to the head of the family. I put the amendment down quite roughly and I am aware that further definition would be needed if the principle were accepted. We should have to define just what we mean by “family” and just what we mean by “head of the family.” The broad question is whether the position of the family in our social life should be recognised by giving extra voting power to the person who carries the family responsibilities. It seems to me that it is [1328] reasonable we should do so and I should like to hear what the President had to say of the suggestion.

Mr. Norton: Deputy McDermot puts down an amendment roughly and would like to hear what other people have to say about it. That is his confession. He admits the amendment is very imperfect, yet he wants to put an imperfect amendment into the Constitution. Under this amendment, we should have to define “head of the family.” Notwithstanding that there is no definition, the Deputy suggests that this amendment should be inserted. He puts it down roughly and wants to hear what other people have to say about it. That is a nice way of amending a Constitution at which Deputy McDermot has been throwing so many bouquets.

Mr. MacDermot: There is a good deal in the Constitution which has to do with broad principles.

Mr. Norton: There is now going to be a competition between Deputy MacDermot and the President as to who will put the most ráiméis into the Constitution. So far, I think the President is leading by a substantial distance. If Deputy MacDermot continues to submit amendments of this kind, I warn the President that he had better look out, because he will be in danger of being beaten for first place by Deputy MacDermot.

There is no case for this amendment. Deputy MacDermot, having read Article 41, proceeds to search for a way in which he can endow the family and put it in a specially privileged position in the nation. The only method he can discover of doing this is to give the head of the family—whoever that may be—a second vote every five years. That is the endowment which Deputy MacDermot would confer on the family. If we want to endow the family, we could do so in a thousand more effective and more praiseworthy ways than by merely giving the head of the family—so far, an indefinable person—the right to a second vote at elections held, on an average, every four or five years. We can endow the family with all the majesty and authority we desire by making sure [1329] that, as a family, it can live without being subjected to the misery and hardship that goes hand in hand with unemployment, by housing it properly and by seeing that the members of the family enjoy decent rates of wages and are thereby enabled to fulfil their natural function in life. If Deputy MacDermot had put down an amendment of that kind, I could understand it. But the only method which Deputy MacDermot can discover of endowing the family is to give the head of the family a second vote every five years. That is a puerile method of attempting to confer a benefit on the family.

After he had submitted his amendment, Deputy MacDermot must have realised that it was quite unworkable. You might have a case of a family consisting of an old, infirm mother and a number of sons. The mother is probably incurable and unable to perform any work—even her maternal duties in the home. Three or four sons may be contributing to the maintenance of the household. Deputy MacDermot would give that chronically infirm mother, who is unable to discharge her maternal duties in the household, two votes and the sons one vote each. There may be a good reason for doing that but I have not heard it. Deputy MacDermot has been at pains not to let the House into his secret as to the reason for conferring a double vote in circumstances like those, while giving only a single vote to other members of the family who probably pay the maximum amount of taxation. Why should they, vis-a-vis the mother, be confined to a single vote? I think this amendment which Deputy MacDermot has proposed is one that has not any parallel in any other country in the world.

Mr. MacDermot: Yes, it has.

Mr. Norton: In any other democratic country in the world?

Mr. MacDermot: That I do not know.

Mr. Norton: Deputy MacDermot wants us to put this extremely novel and unworkable proposal of his into the Constitution. If the Deputy were able to show that the present system is unsatisfactory, and that it did not [1330] confer upon citizens the right which citizens ought properly to have of expressing their viewpoint through the ballot box, one might understand the object of an amendment of this kind, but when you have examined the thing from every standpoint, and make allowances for all the idiosyncrasies that one can discover on the question as to how people should vote, I think that, inevitably, sensible men and woman are driven back to the conviction that the soundest method of arranging a system of voting is one vote for every adult citizen. Once you get away from the sheet anchorage which that principle gives, you are dragged into all kinds of highways and by-ways and driven to create precedents which are undesirable and anomalies which can never be explained away.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: If there is one argument which I regard with contempt, it is the argument which Deputy Norton has just used, namely, “Is this to be found in any other Constitution? Has any other country ever done it?”

Mr. Norton: The Deputy should have heard Deputy McGilligan the other day.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: May not this House sometimes think for itself? May it not sometimes, if there is a new idea, discuss that new idea upon its merits without reference as to whether it has or has not appeared in some other Constitution?

The President: Hear, hear.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: I am personally of the opinion that we always ought to regard everything upon its merits. If there is a sensible innovation, then by all means let us adopt it. But when I come to this particular amendment, of course I am in the same position as Deputy Norton and Deputy MacDermot himself: I have not got the remotest idea of what it means. Deputy MacDermot, gravely and seriously, has brought before the House an amendment which he tells us he does not understand himself. He told us, and told us correctly, that [1331] before you could make it intelligible you would first have to define what it meant by “ head” and that, secondly, you would have to define, a far more difficult thing, what is meant by “ family” I suppose he had at the back of his mind the old Latin phrase, very familiar in Roman law which has passed into currency in these countries, “paterfamilias.” If so, he knows that a woman can never be the head of a family, so that Deputy Norton need not be troubled as to whether it is an elderly lady or the adult son who is to get the double vote.

How is the unfortunate officer who has to fix the votes—in practice, I think, this work is done now by the county registrars—going to go into the details of every family and decide as to who is the head of that family. Suppose you have two families living under the one roof, a father and a mother and a married son. Are these two families or one family? It would be absolutely impossible for the county registrar to decide. This certainly, in my opinion, is not a thing which should be in the Constitution. I think the Constitution should have as little as possible in it. I agree entirely with Deputy Norton that a terrible waste of time would be involved in putting general propositions into a Constitution, general propositions which really, in effect, mean nothing. This certainly should not be in the Constitution at all. If I am not mistaken, the President has agreed to accept an amendment to substitute the words “proportional representation” for single transferable vote. If that is so, then it would be unconstitutional to have the single transferable vote exercised by means of proportional representation, because on occasion it is not the single transferable vote you would have but the double transferable vote. I say again that this is not a thing that should be in the Constitution. Since no man can put an intelligible meaning on the amendment it should not, in my opinion, be acted upon and should not appear in the Constitution.

Mr. MacDermot: Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney cannot afford to be quite as critical as he is about the inexactitude of others, because in his concluding [1332] remarks he overlooked the fact that in sub-section (3) of Section 1 of Article 16 it becomes unconstitutional to introduce any legislation whereby a voter may exercise more than one vote at an election for Dáil Eireann. The fact of that being there makes it, of course, impossible to deal with this subject of extra family vote otherwise than by putting it into the Constitution if you are going to have it at all. I make the confession about this amendment that it is not the fruit of my own brain. There are a good many people in this country who are eager to see some extra stability given to the State by this special family representation, and who, moreover, do sincerely believe in, and agree with, the declaratory Articles that I read in introducing the amendment about the importance of the family, the importance of extending its authority and the importance of emphasising the family outlook in political affairs as compared to an irresponsible individualistic outlook.

As I have said, I was asked to put this amendment down. I think the subject is worth discussing because this question of the importance of the family is something more solid, more influential and more active to-day than it has been during the past century. It is a subject that is to the fore in a great many other countries besides this. It arises very directly out of the various Encyclicals which this country and others desire to make, as much as possible, the foundation of their social policy. It is worth while, at any rate, considering whether nothing can be done to give the family extra authority in political affairs. If the principle were once adopted that it was desirable to give the family some extra influence and authority, then in spite of what Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney and Deputy Norton have said, I do think that we could devise some formula for doing it. We might require the head of the family to be not only nominally, but economically, responsible for it.

That would rule out the bed-ridden old widow who, Deputy Norton suggested, might be the head of the family and substitute somebody who was the main support of the household. At any rate, it is worth while bringing [1333] the subject forward for discussion with a view to finding out whether it has at all engaged the attention of the Government, as, I think, it should have engaged their attention; and, if they are so zealous to promote family feeling and family influence, as the terms of these Articles of the Constitution would indicate them to be, I think it might be worth while, if for that reason only, to bring this matter forward.

The President: I cannot accept this amendment either, Sir. It must be obvious to every member of the Dáil that a change like that could not be introduced here without causing a lot of controversy. If such an amendment were to be accepted now, it would mean that Parties would put that forward as, perhaps, a thankless programme; but that, thankless or not, there would be a great deal of controversy about it. Accordingly, from the point of view of not putting into the Constitution something that would permit of a great deal of controversy, I am against this amendment. I do not agree, however, with some of the arguments that have been used against it. I think that, if we were beginning here, and if it were generally accepted that each adult should not have a vote, a good deal of a case could be made for this amendment and there might be quite a number of people in the country who, probably, would accept it; but you can make up your mind that, even then, there would be a great deal of controversy about it, and I think that we have enough matters about which there is controversy without raising this matter. There is no doubt that, in its general principle, it would run in accord with the general principle or idea of the family being the principal unit group, but, as a matter of fact, I think that the number of families in the country which would take the opposite view might be very considerable.

I think that there is a good deal of unanimity amongst the families of the country on this matter of voting. On the ground of principle, a good case can be made for the amendment, but there does not seem to be any need for it at the moment, and certainly [1334] I think that we should not bring it in—at least, in connection with a measure of this kind. It is a matter that can be dealt with separately. Anybody can bring it in as a separate issue.

As regards the practicability of it, I am not convinced at all that it would not be practicable. On the contrary, I think that it might be practicable. I have no objection to the general terms of it. Undoubtedly, when amendments like this are put down —particularly by private Deputies—it is not expected that the final form of the amendment would be in precisely the same terms in which it is first stated. It is generally accepted as a principle that the idea would be that the parliamentary draftsmen, or some other skilled persons, would draft the amendment and bring it into line with the general scheme of the particular Bill concerned. Apart, however, from the general question of whether or not this would be practicable, there is the point that we should not have it here, in my opinion, because, undoubtedly, it would be a highly controversial matter.

Mr. MacDermot: I am not pressing the amendment, Sir.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: I move, on behalf of Deputy O'Neill, amendment No. 64, which reads as follows :—

At the end of Section 1, to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

Voting at an election for membership of the Dáil shall be compulsory, and any person who has the right to vote and who neglects to record his or her vote shall be punished by such fine as may be determined by law.

The effect of this amendment is that voting shall be compulsory. This is a matter that, to use the argument that Deputy Norton loves to use, has been tried in other countries, I believe, and I understand that it was found to be a success in other countries. It is a question for the House to consider, whether a person who can vote, and who is not prevented in any way from voting, should not be compelled by law [1335] to exercise his duties as a citizen, because, after all, it is one of the main duties of a citizen to carry out his functions as a citizen, and one of these functions is to vote, according to his conscience, as to whom he considers to be the best person to occupy the position of a representative of the nation.

Mr. Donnelly: I think that there must be some kind of competition in these 26 Counties as to which Deputy shall submit the most absurd amendment to this Constitution. Take the last two amendments — Deputy MacDermot's amendment and this. I must say that I would not stand for compulsory voting, and I do not believe that Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney, who has moved this amendment, believes in it himself. As far as I know, very few people in the country believe in it. After all, there is liberty for any voter to vote or to abstain from voting as he thinks fit, and I believe that there should be such liberties. I hold that it is a menace to the freedom of a citizen and to the citizen's liberty of action that he should be compelled to vote, and I do not believe that Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney himself would hold with it, although he has moved this amendment.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: I moved the amendment, but it is Deputy O'Neill's amendment.

Mr. Norton: I am afraid, Sir, that Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney is going on the principle that when the cat is away the mice can play, because he certainly is having an evening out this evening in connection with the amendment he moved, as compared with his attitude towards the last amendment, proposed by Deputy MacDermot, which Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney said was a particularly novel amendment and one which had no parallel in any other country. Sweeping all that away now, he says in effect: Why should we not consider it because of that fact?

However, I think that if Deputy McGilligan had been sitting beside him, he would have been rather embarrassed this evening, because Deputy McGilligan, the other evening, treated us to a number of incisive speeches [1336] urging that particular features of this Constitution should be rejected because they had no parallel in any other country.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: Because they were intrinsically bad.

Mr. Norton: Now, to show that he can blow hot and cold, Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney says that they should be adopted because these features appear in other Constitutions.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: That was merely an argument ad hominem to catch the Deputy, because he loves that type of argument so much.

Mr. Norton: Well, I did not catch what the Deputy said. However, I imagine that if this were a real Party amendment, Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney would speak with his customary enthusiasm and heat in favour of it, but instead of that he adopted a most demure and meek attitude in moving the amendment. I imagine that he would be embarrassed if he were to be put in the position of actually having to vote for the amendment, and I think it might be worth while, perhaps, to compel him to vote for it so as to ensure that he would not again jump into the hazardous position in which he finds himself this evening. This matter of compulsory voting is a thing that has troubled many nations. As a matter of fact, there are two points of view on it in other countries. A good case can be made, in theory, for compulsory voting—the compelling of every citizen to exercise the duties that he owes to the State—and if the logical corollary of that is that the citizen should be compelled to vote at elections, we can only say that the proposal to make the citizen vote at elections has generated a good deal of heat in a number of countries; and while it may be worth while to require a citizen compulsorily to record his vote I think that we ought to consider this from the standpoint of our own people and their reactions to it to-day.

A very big principle is raised in this particular amendment. It must be remembered that, big as this principle is, out of a House of 153 Deputies, a little more than 20 are discussing this [1337] matter. It may be that a good case can be made for an amendment of this kind, but I rather think that, whatever that case is, it ought to be subject to an examination by some committee or some commission, so that we might have all the facts of the case collated with a view to the experience of the manner in which this arrangement works in other countries. Then, if we were satisfied that it was something that would commend itself to the overwhelming majority of our people, it is not necessary to put this provision into the Constitution, because it is the kind of matter which should be dealt with in an Electoral Act and although Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney is now presumably full of enthusiasm for compulsory voting, it is rather noteworthy that his own Party when in office, although they introduced a number of Electoral Acts, did not once think it was desirable to put a provision of this kind into them. It may be that they were wrong and that Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney is right but the fact remains that the Party for which Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney now speaks did not, apparently, favour this proposal when they were in office. Apparently they do not seem very enthusiastic about it this evening either, because there are only about four members of the Party present in the House to support Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney in this amendment. I think that whatever merits a proposal of this kind possesses should be examined by a committee or commission, so that we might, if we felt it desirable, introduce compulsory voting only after the matter had been thoroughly examined. I do not think it is proper to deal with the position by having an amendment of this kind inserted by a small House at the end of a four-year Parliament, and without giving the matter that careful consideration which I feel should be given to this question before it is inserted in the Constitution as a principle of voting in this country.

Mr. MacDermot: I think the most obvious answer to the amendment which Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney has moved is the principle which he laid [1338] down himself a few moments ago, that we should put as little in the Constitution as possible, because there is nothing at all in the Constitution to prevent a measure for compulsory voting being brought in in the ordinary way and passed. As we are discussing the subject of compulsory voting, I should like to say that I think that there is a stronger case to be made for it than has been made. The proposal does not seem at all so absurd as Deputy Donnelly suggests. In principle, I do not see why to compel a man to vote should be more tyrannical than to compel him to pay his taxes or——

Mr. Norton: Or to compel him to personate.

Mr. MacDermot: ——to compel him to serve in the Army as, of course, is done and has to be done in many countries. It does not seem to me inherently unreasonable that a man should be compelled to present himself at the polling station and to mark a ballot paper. The case is all the stronger where you have proportional representation, because a man has a list of names and he can mark them 1, 2, 3, 4 in the order of his choice. He may dislike them all or disapprove of them all, but he has the opportunity, at any rate, of expressing the measure of his disapproval, which is rather different from voting outright for one candidate as opposed to another candidate. In other words, a man can find out as much as possible about the personality of the various candidates and indicate the order in which he thinks they ought to be elected.

I should also like to leave him the freedom, if he goes to the polling station, of spoiling his paper. The main thing is to get him there, and it seems to me that one argument of a democratic kind that has not been mentioned is that it would surely immensely diminish the expense of elections if Parties and individuals had not got to pay for conveyances in order to get voters to the booth. If the voters had to go there, the unfortunate people standing for the Dáil would be relieved of very substantial expense. It might be that that would put on the Government the onus of providing transport [1339] where necessary in order to get all voters to the stations, and I see no great objection to that. I should be very glad indeed if the Government did have the duty placed upon them of providing whatever was necessary by way of transport to get voters to the poll, where these voters lived at such a distance from the polling stations that it would be unreasonable to expect them to go there on foot. I think it was worth while to introduce this amendment and to get the matter discussed, because it is not at all absurd, as has been suggested, that people should be expected to go to the polling stations and to vote. When a man has a vote, he should be expected to take sufficient interest in it to go to the polling station on election day. After all, nobody proposes that the penalty for his not doing so should be anything very severe. A fine is suggested. If a man is too lazy to go to the polling station, why should he not have to pay a fine for his indolence and lack of public spirit in staying at home?

Dr. Rowlette: I had not the good fortune of hearing Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney's argument in favour of the amendment, but I did have the advantage of hearing Deputy MacDermot's arguments, and I confess they somewhat surprised me. The point of his argument in favour of the amendment was that the real object should be to get voters to the poll. That does not seem to me to be a desirable object at all, because if a voter has no opinion worth recording, his vote may be of very little use. If he himself thinks his opinion is not sufficiently valuable to justify his recording it, then, a fortiori, he should not be compelled to vote. It does seem to me that any question of tyranny in this matter points in the other direction. I do not suggest that it is tyrannical to compel a voter who may hold certain opinions to record his vote, but it is tyrannical to make somebody who thinks that his opinion may not be worth recording, to record that opinion and thereby compel him to take part in shaping the Government of the country. Those who have a very low opinion of their own opinions are likely to be right in their [1340] assumption, and it does not seem to me proper that we should insist that these relatively worthless opinions ought to be recorded, and should be regarded as of equal weight with the votes of those who have given some consideration to the question they are going to decide in the polling booth. The essential question seems to be, in regard to any election, to get the opinion of those whose opinions are worth having. You may assume that every man has an opinion worth having, but if he does not join in that assumption himself, it does seem to me dangerous to insist on his recording an opinion which he thinks is not worth recording. The really important question is the value of the votes recorded, not the number of people who are forced to vote. It is a question of getting the opinion of people who vote voluntarily, without any element of compulsion, in other words, of getting the largest record possible of the opinions of people who themselves think that their opinions are worth recording. I had not the good fortune of hearing Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney's arguments on the amendment, but what I have heard from Deputy MacDermot increases my reluctance to support such an amendment.

Mr. MacDermot: I think that Deputy Dr. Rowlette is entirely wrong, psychologically, in supposing that the motives which keep people away from the poll is their low opinion of their opinions. I suggest that 90 per cent. of the people who stay away from the poll either at a national election or at a municipal election do so through sheer indolence.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: I think this matter has been fully discussed, and, with the leave of the House, I will withdraw the amendment.

The President: As will be seen from the remarks of those who have spoken, there are two schools of thought on this matter. It has been tried, and apparently with a certain amount of success, in certain countries, and, of course, there is a number of other countries like ourselves where the vote is on a voluntary basis. If you try to analyse the reasons which are put forward by the one school or the [1341] other I think that, in our case at any rate, the balance will be in favour of leaving it voluntary, as it stands. The reasons put forward by the advocates of the compulsory vote are very often based on such ideas as that the extreme Parties, the hot Parties, will always be able to get their people to vote; that what is called the moderate central group are not sufficiently interested to vote at all, and that somehow or other you must, by imposing penalties, compel that moderate section to come and express itself at the polls, the assumption being that if they do come they are sufficiently intelligent to exercise the vote properly. But, I think, there is a number of assumptions behind that which are not fully justified at all. Then you have on the other side those who hold by the voluntary system and say: “You can bring a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” You can undoubtedly force a voter to come to the poll, but if that voter is not interested enough to come without compulsion then he has probably not interested himself sufficiently to be able to exercise a wise choice, and to know what exactly are the merits of the issues on which he has to vote. The House has already heard both sides of the argument. My attitude towards the amendment, if pursued, is such that I should have to oppose it. I should like to make one further point. This could be done by independent law at any time if the need for it were apparent.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Costello: I move amendment No. 65:—

In Section 2, sub-section 50, line 1, to delete all words after the word “elected” to the end of the sub-section and substitute therefor the words “upon principles of proportional representation.”

This is really to allow a considerable amount of elasticity in connection with the adoption of any particular principle of proportional representation. Under the original Article 26 elections were held on principles of proportional representation. Under the proposal as it stands in sub-section [1342] 5 of Section 2 of this Article we pin our faith to one particular system of proportional representation, namely proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The provision in the original Article 26 allowed of complete elasticity in the selection of any particular system of proportional representation, provided only that it was proportional representation. The system that we have at the present time, which has been in operation here in this country for the last 15 years, may or may not be the best system. In addition to that, it may be that some mathematician will at some future time devise a better method of giving effect to election by means of the principle of proportional representation. I suggest that, as long as you maintain in the Constitution the principle that you will elect on proportional representation, that is adequate, and that it is a mistake to pin your faith to one particular system of proportional representation. The rules which are contained in the Electoral Act of 1923 were devised in this country. They are the product of Irish brains, which I am sure will appeal to the President. The point I make about that is that they had to be made here, but you will not find them in any book; you will not find them in any treatise on proportional representation or the single transferable vote. I do not know whether or not they are actually in accord with what would be the ordinary opinion as to principles of proportional representation. At all events they were devised here in this country, and they have worked extremely well, I admit, but I wish to emphasise the fact that at some time or another some mathematician may find out that there is some mistake in those rules, or, alternatively, may devise a much better system than exists at the moment. What my amendment aims at is to allow of such a system being adopted if circumstances should disclose that it would be wise to adopt such a system. I think we should allow a little elasticity, and not make the matter as rigid as it is proposed to make it in this particular clause.

The President: Ordinarily I would be inclined to take the line that has been suggested by Deputy [1343] Costello in regard to matters of this sort, that is to leave the road open; but I think where there is a question of the foundation of the whole system of parliamentary representation we have got to be a little bit careful. The Deputies on the opposite benches were very concerned to prevent the possibility of abuse by law of phrases like “disqualified by law.” You can abuse the whole system very easily if you work over the whole range of systems of proportional representation, and you can arrive at something which would be very far from being properly described as a system of proportional representation at all. The line I took was rather the opposite to that taken by Deputy Costello on this matter. I said it was very important that we should have the foundation generally accepted and pretty firm, a foundation that could not be changed unless by the express will of the people. This is not absolutely rigid. This Constitution can be changed by a vote of the people in any respect that may be found necessary. If Parliament is convinced that there is a better method, it will not be difficult to have an amendment on that line put forward at the time of an election, or previous to that if it would be too long to wait until the following election. If you have these referenda for changing the Constitution roughly at the time of elections, you will certainly save a good deal of expense.

The system we have we know; the people know it. On the whole it has worked out pretty well. I think that we have a good deal to be thankful for in this country: we have to be very grateful that we have had the system of proportional representation here. It gives a certain amount of stability, and on the system of the single transferable vote you have fair representation of Parties. I understood when I was in opposition that this whole principle of proportional representation was being threatened, and I was rather anxious here that we would ensure in the Constitution a reasonable basis for proportional representation. I put the limit at three, because if you have a three-member constituency, any group that represents over [1344] one-fourth of the constituency can get a member. If you have a five-member constituency, any group that has a strength of over one-sixth of the total vote ought to be able to get a member. I think that five is probably ideal. Three and five will probably be ideal, but you want to leave elasticity so as to be able to deal with the difficulties that you have in various constituencies with different numbers, different areas, and all that. Consequently what we are trying to do here in this is to set the lowest limit. I think everybody will admit that if you get below three you practically have no proportional representation in the ordinary sense at all.

No Party can go below three. Above three you could have three or four groups. On the other hand, I do not think when dealing with electoral law here we could get many Deputies to vote for a large number of Parties. The result could be a grouping of Parties manoeuvring in Parliament which does not make for good government and does not make for real progress. I am approaching it from the opposite angle to Deputy Costello. My view is that it is better, when dealing with fundamental law, with the right to vote and how the vote shall be exercised, to define, and to take away from Parties the temptation to manoeuvre with systems so as to get Party advantage. Consequently I must oppose the amendment.

Mr. Costello: I do not think the proposal embodied in the Article will in any way effect what the President desires.

The President: Not if worked properly, but it is open to abuse.

Mr. Costello: It is certainly open to abuse. Even as it stands, this Article if used by an unscrupulous Parliamentary group, could nullify proportional representation. The rules of the Electoral Act, for instance, could be amended by ordinary legislation. I have no objection to the second part of the Article: “whereby the number of members to be returned for any constituency should be less than three.” What I am pleading for is that there should be a certain amount of elasticity in connection with the type of [1345] proportional representation which may at any time be adopted, so that if a better system than the one we have can be devised we could be at liberty to adopt it. I rather fancy that this Article would prevent that if there was any better system subsequently thought of. As regards the abuses the President fears from the grouping of Parties, or from the intrigues that might go on, as a result of a large number of Parties being returned by proportional representation, I think that, to a certain extent, is inherent in any system of proportional representation. We have been fortunate or misfortunate, if you like, in this country in having two big political Parties with big issues dividing them. It may be—and the probability is—that in the course of time the issues that divide these Parties will be completely swept aside. Then we will have inevitably under the system of proportional representation we have, a large number of Parties returned to this House.

Under the system of the single transferable vote we are bound to have a large number of Parties returned. Besides the main Parties, we might have a Farmers' Party, a Labour Party, a Country Party, a Town Party, and an Independent Party. Whole groups of people might be returned under proportional representation. We always understood that the real defect under any system of proportional representation, and particularly the system of the single transferable vote, was that it led, in circumstances where there are no big economic issues before the country, to a large number of small Parties being returned, making for instability in government. That is inherent in the system of proportional representation and the single transferable vote. If I might say so with respect, the President is deluding himself about this single transferable vote going to prevent, at a future time of emergency, a large number of small Parties arising. That is almost inevitable. However, I have drawn attention to the matter.

Mr. Donnelly: As Deputy Costello has mentioned the matter, as the President knows, I was never in favour [1346] of proportional representation. I believe the single member constituency and a straight fight would obviate the position that Deputy Costello seems to visualise. If the big issues are swept aside and if proportional representation remains, it is quite possible, with the number of groups that will be manoeuvring and all the rest, the position will be chaotic in future when trying to get a Government. I always thought the single member constituency the best. I believe it is. I told the President so. Under proportional representation, I am afraid, you will always have difficulties. As Deputy Costello says, if the questions that separate the big Parties were out of the way, and if proportional representation remains, I do not know what kind of confused form of representation would remain, having regard to the different alignments and different viewpoints there will be. Proportional representation is what I would describe as a mathematical freak which was imposed in 1921 by Mr. Lloyd George, who took good care not to apply it to the British people. It was tried on this country in 1921 for the first time. I would rather see a straight fight and in that way eliminate the chaotic conditions that Deputy Costello seems to visualise. Instead of having three or five members, I would rather see the old single parliamentary constituency.

The President: If I created a false impression by referring to three, I should not have said so. Deputy Costello agreed that the smaller number is less likely to lead to a multiplicity of Parties. I was rather anticipating something than dealing with the amendment before the House. I mentioned a number of Parties. My attitude on this amendment is that it is better to have the foundation as firm as possible, with as little likelihood of variation as possible, unless there is a definite likelihood of putting it before the country. I am honestly afraid of the temptation there might be to political Parties to start manoeuvring with various systems of proportional representation for purely Party purposes.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[1347] Mr. MacDermot: I move amendment No. 66:—

In Section 2, sub-section 6º, line 2, to delete the word “three” and substitute the word “five.”

The object of this amendment is to increase the minimum number of seats in a constituency from three to five. The President has stated one of the reasons for it, namely, that proportional representation can scarcely have the result sought from proportional representation in a small constituency. That has been always the fundamental principle with all the advocates of proportional representation, that constituencies should be large. Otherwise, the emergence of minorities into representation becomes practically impossible. I have always felt that there was a good deal to be said for the single-member constituency system. Certainly I would enjoy—and I am sure I am not singular in that—having a constituency of my own, with no one else to share it, and having to fight for it each time on my own. That would be a pleasanter form of representation but we have not got that system for reasons which, perhaps deserved to predominate as they did. Proportional representation was adopted, and if we are to have the name of proportional representation we ought to have the reality. I contend that the reality is not there if you have as many small constituencies returning only three members as were created by the last Redistribution of Constituencies Bill two or three years ago. It is for that reason that I put down the amendment increasing the minimum from three to five.

The President: I gave some reasons already, by way of anticipation, for my objection to making the minimum five. I agree with Deputy MacDermot that, if you were looking to the results of proportional representation without having thought of anything else, probably a number like five would be the best. Five would seem to be the ideal number—I think seven is too high— but an odd number is better than an even number. Five would probably be the ideal, but then you have difficulties of various kinds. The higher the number is, the more you make for multiplicity [1348] of Parties. What we put here is a minimum. We are not saying that an Electoral Act should not provide for five-member constituencies but, on the whole, I think we ought not to set the minimum too high. As a matter of fact, there would be, of course, an immediate and direct difficulty, as the law as it stands would have to go and you would have to have a new Redistribution Bill. We have to have Redistribution Bills at certain periods on account of the movement of population, etc., but it is advisable to get this fundamental law as fixed as we can.

The fact that the existing redistribution has only just taken place would be a reason why we should not put anything in this Constitution which would run counter to that. The idea is that the minimum would be three. At present we have three-member, four-member, five-member, and seven-member constituencies—very few four-member ones I think, the reason being that, with an even number, we do not get as good a result as with an odd number. I think the majority of the constituencies at present are three-member, five-member and seven-member constituencies, but I do not know the Electoral Act very well.

Mr. MacDermot: I do not see any objection to even numbers and I have never been able to see any objection. After all, we have to look at the result in the country as a whole, and not in terms of being able to say that a constituency is pro-Fianna Fáil or that a constituency is pro-Fine Gael. There is no advantage in that.

The President: You want to get a decision, though.

Mr. MacDermot: You get a decision from the country as a whole, and not from a particular constituency.

The President: If you had a lot of even-number constituencies you might have a considerable divergence in the total vote and yet the representation would be equal.

Mr. MacDermot: It is really irrelevant to this particular amendment. I repeat that, in my experience, I have [1349] seen no evil results flowing from even numbers in constituencies. I withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Norton: I object to the Deputy withdrawing the amendment which he has moved. When the Deputy has a good case, and this is the best case he has had this evening, he ought to stand by it and not run away from it. Deputy MacDermot has quite correctly said that if the country commits itself to the principle of proportional representation, then we ought to try out proportional representation under circumstances that will enable us to get some of the substantial benefits from it. The President has acknowledged, in effect, that you do in fact get the maximum benefits from proportional representation the greater the number of vacancies to be filled.

In the present Electoral Act we acknowledge that it is desirable to have proportional representation, and we arrange constituencies in such a way that, for instance, in Tipperary it is possible for any group which represents one-eighth of the electorate there to secure representation for that particular constituency. But, when we come to Wicklow, we say: “You cannot get representation for Wicklow unless you are one-fourth.” Then we move to Laoighis-Offaly and say: “You cannot get representation there unless you are one-sixth.” We move then to Carlow-Kildare and say: “You cannot get representation there except you are one-fifth.”

I think a very good case can be made for a fixed number of Deputies in each constituency. Let the fixed number be such a minimum as will give us the maximum benefits from proportional representation, blending the desire to get the maximum benefits with the territory that it is possible for any group to cover effectively in an election campaign. When you come to ascertaining what are the benefits to be obtained from proportional representation, you find that these benefits are less visible in the case of three-member constituencies, because in three-member constituencies the opportunity for the exercise of the transferable vote [1350] is much less than it is where the constituency is a five-member or a seven-member constituency.

The extent to which you have proportional representation in a three-member constituency is extremely limited indeed. The maximum benefits of proportional representation are obtained from the larger constituencies. A case could be made against a seven-member constituency on the ground that, in the rural areas in particular, it is necessary to cover a very large area in order to extend over a territory or a constituency that would justify the return of seven Deputies. But that case cannot be made in connection with a five-member constituency. I think, therefore, that a good case could be made for Deputy MacDermot's amendment.

Deputy Donnelly, of course, says that he does not believe in proportional representation at all. Of course, if you want a Parliament to steam-roll legislation through, there is no purpose at all in proportional representation. We should not, in fact, tolerate an Opposition at all. What we should do is to arrange things in such a way as to get a group into Parliament and take care to keep out everybody who interferes with them. In that way, of course, you will pass Bills more quickly. They will not be as good Bills as under the system of proportional representation and you will not have the Parliamentary checks that you have where you can secure, as a result of an election, a balancing of the elements that go to make up a nation. No nation is comprised of people of one particular outlook. People are dissimilar in outlook and in economic and political thought. The best Parliament, the Parliament that gives the greatest amount of stability and makes for the greatest measure of progress, is not a Parliament where there is an overwhelming majority in favour of the Government and an insignificant minority opposed to the Government, but a pretty well-balanced Parliament. Of course, if a Government is to function, clearly the Government will have to have a majority; but when it has a majority to enable it to function the next best thing is to have a well-balanced Parliament. That is the [1351] Parliament which produces the best legislation. I think Deputy MacDermot ought to make a stand for this amendment, because it is the best amendment he has submitted to-day. I encourage him, therefore, to muster all his enthusiasm for this amendment.

Mr. Costello: Proportional representation on paper is a perfect system, but when you come to practice you run up against all sorts of difficulties. If you are going to increase—as Deputy MacDermot apparently originally wanted and does not want now, and as Deputy Norton apparently wants all the time—constituencies to a very big size, in my view you are going in effect to nullify the principles of proportional representation because we all know that when you put Carlow and Kilkenny together or Carlow and Kildare together you will find the Kildare men will be voting for the Kildare candidates irrespective of anything else and you will find the Carlow men voting for Carlow candidates irrespective of the fact that they are one constituency.

It is all right in Kerry, where you have one county and they are all Kerrymen, and they will stand loyally by one another. Corkmen will do the same and stand loyally by Corkmen. When you find Leitrim and Sligo together you find the Leitrim man voting for Leitrim candidates, one, two and three, merely because they happen to be Leitrimmen, and Sligomen will do the same thing—they will vote one, two, and three for the Sligo candidates. So in practice, the fact of having a big constituency is nullifying proportional representation completely. But when you find, as in the Act in operation at the moment, that you want to get some sort of a constituency in which proportional representation may work, you are reduced to the position of putting bits of Carlow into Kildare or little bits of Carlow into Wicklow, and the thing approaches very near a nullity.

Mr. Donnelly: I do wish that the President would do what Lord Craigavon did and drop this proportional representation altogether. Then we would not be talking about this thing at all. Deputy Norton said if we had [1352] single constituencies we would have certain results. Any Government that comes to pass Bills has to have a majority, and if the Government has got the majority of the votes of the people they are entitled to put through what legislation they wish. No Government can act or get power without the votes of the people. If people are a minority they are a minority by the votes of the people. It is the privilege of minorities to suffer. That is what they are for, and it is for the majority to rule.

Mr. Costello: Is that what the Deputy says about the North?

Mr. Donnelly: We have to accept as a principle that the majority must rule.

Mr. Costello: Does the Deputy accept it?

Mr. Donnelly: I certainly do.

Mr. Norton: This is certainly great consolation to the Northern Nationalists.

Mr. Donnelly: I would like to see proportional representation abolished here. Proportional representation was fixed on this country for a definite purpose, first, last and all the time. It was the gilt that was put on the pill to make the people swallow Partition. It was a sop to the North to make them agree to Partition, and it was a similar sop to the South. The whole thing was a mathematical freak to get the North to agree to Partition.

Mr. Norton: This is wonderful consolation to the Northern Nationalists.

Mr. Donnelly: I was saying I wished the President would abolish proportional representation.

Mr. MacDermot: I have not changed my view about this matter, although Deputy Costello seems to think I have. My willingness to withdraw the amendment is because of the fact that we have in force at the moment an arrangement of constituencies which is inconsistent with the amendment. I do want to make “five” the minimum if I can do so. If Deputy Norton is eager to have this principle put to a test vote, I have no objection.

Mr. Norton: Deputy MacDermot is speaking now in reply to Deputy Donnelly's [1353] appeal to the President to have proportional representation abolished.

The President: Deputy Donnelly and I will talk this thing out in private. With regard to the figure “five,” I am willing to admit that if I were choosing a system, and that I could do it, I would choose “five” But look at what you would have. You would have to indicate areas where you would have “five” in every constituency. Everyone knows that if we were to have constituencies of five members we would have to break up geographical units. What we have to do is to work on the existing geographical units. But then there are changes going on in population and if one tries to get equality of representation over the country as a whole, it is not an easy problem to try to preserve those constituencies in anything like rigid five-seat constituencies. Even if you were to start with a new country and you were to carve it up into units of five-seat constituencies, you would find that in a short time the movement of population would work in such a way that the constituencies would have to be carved up again. The benefits of proportional representation are better when you have the most mathematical representation of the views of the population in the Parliament. I must distinguish between the two. I think we get, probably, in this country more than in any other country, better balanced results from the system we have. If you take the countries where proportional representation exists, you get better balanced results than you get in the other countries. I think we get the benefits of proportional representation in reasonably balanced legislation here better than in any other country that I have read about or know anything about. The future, however, may change that; but for the present that is the fact on which observers agree, that we probably get the best results here. We are not mathematically perfect in getting representation, even though the representation is very good. What we have not here is representation for a very small group divided throughout the [1354] country, with only a small number in each constituency. These cannot get representation in Parliament. That is a fact. The moment you try to meet that by enlarging constituencies, or by any other device, you are facing difficulties and dangers of a worse character. For that reason, I am anxious that we should not disturb the position we have got.

Mr. Norton: The real reason why we are arguing on this matter is that the President has already disturbed the position. The recently passed Constituency Act had for its object the carving up of constituencies so that the number of 3-member constituencies was enlarged. Let us take the North Dublin constituency. That was not a gigantic constituency from the territorial point of view. A twopenny tram would get one from one end of the constituency to the other. The Government introduced a Bill, and that Bill divided the constituency into two. There was not any outery from the people of Dublin for the division of that constituency. I happen to know the constituency well and I did not hear a single citizen getting excited or passionately enthusiastic about the carving up of that constituency. Again the County Dublin constituency has been carved up into a five-member constituency and a three-member constituency. Kerry was carved up and created a three-member constituency and a four-member constituency, though the county had survived over a long period as a single constituency. We find that the Cork constituencies have been carved up also, the whole idea apparently being to create as many three-member constituencies as possible. The results of the legislation passed proved that that particular objective was achieved. The Constituencies Act, or the Redistribution of Seats Act, left us with 15 three-member constituencies; eight four-member constituencies; eight five-member constituencies, and three seven-member constituencies. A much greater number of three-member constituencies existed when the Redistribution of Seats Act was passed than before it was introduced. Far from being asked to disturb the previous position, all the [1355] President was asked to do was to leave the previous position alone; in other words to get back to the position that he needlessly disturbed by the Redistribution of Seats Act. There has been more carving under this Redistribution of Seats Act than was necessary. Carlow, which was formerly combined with Kilkenny for electoral purposes, returned five members, but as a result of the surgical operation performed by the Redistribution of Seats Act, a portion of it is now thrown into Wexford, another portion into Wicklow, and another portion into Kildare. There are people in County Carlow who are still in doubt as to whether, for electoral purposes, they are in the portion combined with Kildare, with Wicklow, or with Wexford.

The President has made no case against this amendment. All that is necessary under the amendment is, first of all, to retrace the step the President's Party took when they passed the Redistribution of Seats Act, and retrace that step in such a way that they will create a position whereby five-member constituencies will be the minimum. That will ensure that you can exercise the principle of proportional representation to a greater extent, and get the maximum representation for the various elements of the community. Of course, Deputy Donnelly would not bother about these small elements. Minorities are made to [1356] suffer—that is the viewpoint of Deputy Donnelly. That will be heartening information in Stormont this evening, when Deputy Donnelly's speech is published in the Belfast papers. It will be great consolation in Stormont, and every nationalist who opens his mouth in the Six Counties will be told that in the view of Deputy Donnelly it is their business to suffer; that is their destiny and they ought to be glad to suffer. That was bad enough, but when we are told that the President is now slavishly carrying out the Lloyd Georgian electoral system, the position is worse. There is no other meaning to be attached to Deputy Donnelly's statement this evening than that this was a Lloyd George creation.

Mr. Donnelly: So it was.

Mr. Norton: And the President is now so enamoured of it that he is following the Lloyd Georgian electoral system. That is the most damaging certificate that Deputy Donnelly could attach to the President's previous good political character, and I think something should be done to repudiate it.

Mr. Donnelly: There is no one here knows better than Deputy Norton that were it not for proportional representation there would be only one Party in this House, and that is the Government Party.

Question put: “That the word proposed to be deleted stand.”

The Committee divided:—Tá, 50; Níl, 26.

Aiken, Frank.

Allen, Denis.

Bartley, Gerald.

Beegan, Patrick.

Boland, Gerald.

Bourke, Daniel.

Brady, Brian.

Brady, Seán.

Breathnach, Cormac.

Briscoe, Robert.

Browne, William Frazer.

Concannon, Helena.

Cooney, Eamonn.

Crowley, Timothy.

Derrig, Thomas.

De Valera, Eamon.

Doherty, Hugh.

Donnelly, Eamon.

Flynn, Stephen.

Fogarty, Andrew.

Gibbons, Seán.

[1357]Ryan, Martin.

Ryan, Robert.

Sheridan, Michael.

Smith, Patrick.

Goulding, John.

Harris, Thomas.

Hayes, Seán.

Kelly, James Patrick.

Kelly, Thomas.

Killilea, Mark.

Kilroy, Michael.

Little, Patrick John.

Lynch, James B.

MacEntee, Seán.

Moane, Edward.

Moore, Séamus.

Moylan, Seán.

O Brian, Donnchadh.

O Ceallaigh, Seán T.

O'Grady, Seán.

O'Reilly, Matthew.

Pearse, Margaret Mary.

Rice, Edward.

Ruttledge, Patrick Joseph.

Ryan, James.

[1358]Traynor, Oscar.

Victory, James.

Walsh, Richard.

Ward, Francis C.

Níl

Alton, Ernest Henry.

Bennett, George Cecil.

Bourke, Séamus.

Burke, Patrick.

Corish, Richard.

Cosgrave, William T.

Costello, John Aloysius.

Davin, William.

Dockrell, Henry Morgan.

Doyle, Peadar S.

Everett, James.

Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.

Hogan, Patrick (Clare).

Keyes, Michael.

Lynch, Finian.

MacDermot, Frank.

Mulcahy, Richard.

Norton, William.

O'Higgins, Thomas Francis.

O'Mahony, The.

O'Reilly, John Joseph.

O'Sullivan, John Marcus.

Pattison, James P.

Reidy, James.

Rice, Vincent.

Rowlette, Robert James.

Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Little and Smith; Níl: Deputies MacDermot and Corish.

Question declared carried.

Mr. MacDermot: I move amendment No. 67:

In Section 5, line 2, to delete the word “seven” and substitute the word “six.”

I do not know what the object was in providing a maximum of seven years for the continuance of a single Dáil rather than the existing period. I may be willing to withdraw my amendment when I have heard the President's views.

The President: I may be quite brief on this. If I were asked to choose, I would take the length of time set out in our present Act as about the best I could think of. I think five years is a reasonable time, and I think longer than that would be a mistake, but I feel—and remember that we are having a fairly rigid Constitution—that there might be some set of circumstances in which it might be justifiable to have a longer period. This period of seven years is simply designed to give a little more room than the five years at present fixed. As I say, if there was an Act being brought in, I would hold to the present period and would strongly oppose going beyond it. There might possibly be circumstances, however, in which it would be advisable to lengthen Parliament for some particular crisis or something of that sort, and this was designed to leave a little more space between what I think is the ideal period in the Act, five years, and the maximum which is in the Constitution. That is the only reason.

Professor O'Sullivan: Do I understand from the President that he contemplates a Parliament extending its own life? I think that is the only case he actually does contemplate in respect of a sudden crisis. Is that not rather objectionable?

The President: I have a very open mind on this. The point is that you might have a condition of war, for example, or some other very difficult situation, and it might not be possible to have an election. There might be general agreement in Parliament, and in the country generally, that it was advisable to extend the life of the Parliament. I think there was a case in England where they extended Parliament—I think it was during the War—for some years. Of course, they have not got the same situation as we would have with a rigid Constitution, but I was envisaging a situation that might arise in which it was necessary to extend the life of Parliament and yet, on account of the difficulty of changing the Constitution, it could not be done. My view is that, ordinarily, you will have a greater opportunity of meeting any crisis that might arise by leaving a gap of two years between the normal period in the Act and the maximum which is in the Constitution. As I say, I make no point on it. That is the only [1359] reason I had in mind and I would be one of those who would very strongly oppose the continuation of the life of a Parliament by itself beyond the period stated, and also if we were dealing with a new Act of Parliament, I would hold for five years. I think five years is a good mean. It works out on an average at about four years, so that the electorate are consulted on an average about every four years. Too frequent elections I do not think are advisable, both from the point of view of getting a programme put through and also from the point of view of the convenience of the public. Again, it is a question of whether there is a danger we ought to avoid in leaving the possibility of a Parliament, without sufficiently good reason, extending its own life.

Mr. MacDermot: After hearing and carefully considering what the President has said, I would certainly urge that there should not be more than one year extra allowed to a Parliament. This business of Parliament prolonging its own life is, in principle, as the President agrees, very objectionable. One can imagine an emergency in which it might be desirable, but such emergencies must be very few and far between. I doubt if such an emergency will arise in this country, and I think that such an emergency will be sufficiently taken care of if we substitute, as I propose in the amendment, six years for seven years as the outside limit of the life of Parliament.

The President: I am putting my own judgment against that of the Deputy in this, and nothing more. If I had to vote, I would vote for seven years on the ground that it would be a very awkward thing indeed if you had a situation in which you had Parliament terminating just in the middle of a period. You want a reasonable period. The point is: Will you ever have a situation in which there would be any likelihood in normal circumstances of an attempt to abuse this? There might be, but I think it is unlikely, and rather than put the country in the difficulty in [1360] which it would find itself in any crisis by having no possibility of extension of Parliament, I would rather err in the opposite direction. I will let the House decide, so to speak, but I would vote for the seven-year period.

Mr. MacDermot: My feeling is that it is a real danger that a Prime Minister and Government, greedy of power, might arrange a programme in such a way that they could put up a plausible case——

Mr. Norton: Cause a war in the fifth year.

Mr. MacDermot: It would not have to be a war.

Mr. Norton: An economic war.

Mr. MacDermot: We might be told that there was a programme of such importance and complications introduced that it would be madness to have an election after the five-year period, and the Government might deliberately thereby extend its own period of office and arrange its programme in order to extend its own life rather than to suit an emergency.

The President: I think that is very improbable.

Mr. MacDermot: To a man of the profound democratic instincts of the President, it may seem improbable, but everybody who becomes Prime Minister may not be so fully democratic. It seems to me to be a real danger, and, of course, there are plenty of instances in history of Parliaments abusing the power of lengthening their own lives. I think we should be very slow to give more than the minimum of elasticity in this matter.

Mr. Norton: I think the last point in Deputy MacDermot's remarks is the case that can be made for this amendment. If this Constitution goes through in the manner provided in this Article, it will be possible for any Government to continue in office for a period of seven years, once it holds a majority in the House. That is the temptation which this Article puts before the Government. The President said that, in normal circumstances, the people will be consulted every five years, but there may be circumstances [1361] in which a Government, knowing at the end of the five years that its stock is not too high in the country, having perhaps come out of recent political events none too well, and perhaps having been engaged in some kind of disreputable transactions that have lowered its stock, might proceed to discover all kinds of specious reasons why Parliament should be prolonged to seven years. Having made up their mind that it was desirable to avoid an election at the end of the normal five-year period, and being anxious to carry on for seven years, they look at the Constitution and ask: “What does that permit? It permits us to remain in office for seven years, so long as we command a majority. We have the majority and we propose to stay in office for seven years.”

The President says that normally there will be an election at the end of five years, but this is a Constitution which is not going to exist merely for the lifetime of the present Government. It is a permanent Constitution, and when you balance on one side the reasons given by the President for extending the period to seven years, and, on the other hand, the dangers inherent in this Constitution as drawn in this respect, I think that all the argument is in favour of not extending the period beyond six years. In that way, we can avoid the possibility of a Government, without any justification whatever, clinging on to office, although the electorate may be only craving for an opportunity of driving them from office. I think, on the balance, there is a better case to be made for six years than for seven years. I think the danger to which Deputy MacDermot referred, of a Government being anxious to cling on to office, although it has no majority in the country, is a very real danger in these days, and we ought to guard against it as far as possible.

The President: As against all that, I think the experience we have had up to the present ought to indicate very clearly that that is very unlikely to happen. The previous Government had a constitutional right to have it up to six years, and they could have then [1362] changed the Constitution, if they had wanted to, and fixed any period they wanted; but there is a public opinion that would have to be faced in a case like that, and no Government is going to run the risks they would have to run if they were to extend their own life under circumstances of that kind. In any Constitution you will get things that will be abused, and if there is one provision which is not likely to be abused it is this, and I am genuinely anxious that we should not, in having a more or less rigid Constitution, run up against the position in which it was desirable to extend the life of Parliament and in which it was impossible to do it. The previous Administration could have done so at one period if they had wanted to, and I think the reasons that operated in their case for not doing it would operate generally, that is, that there is a public opinion to be considered. I think we could argue for a long time and would not get any further.

Mr. Norton: Will the President say why, if six years suited up to the present, it is necessary now, without a single example from the President, to extend it to seven years?

The President: Because you had not a rigid Constitution up to the present. Up to the present, you had power to change the Constitution by simple legislation. That is going to pass away when this Constitution becomes stabilised after the three-year period referred to in it. After that period, you have a rigid Constitution, and I think it advisable that there should be a reasonable gap between the time normally accepted in an Act of Parliament as the time for the life of a single Parliament and the time rigidly fixed and beyond which you cannot go without constitutional amendment. You might have a very serious situation and I think there ought to be a period within which you could take whatever measures might be necessary to deal with the situation. I think that is ordinary wisdom and ordinary common-sense.

Mr. MacDermot: Could we get general agreement by accepting the six-year period?

[1363] The President: No. The more I have thought about it, the better am I satisfied that it is necessary to have that safety margin.

Question—“That the word proposed to be deleted stand”—put and declared carried.

Article 16, as amended, agreed to.

ARTICLE 17.

1.—1º. As soon as possible after the presentation to Dáil Eireann under Article 28 of this Constitution of the Estimates of receipts and the Estimates of expenditure of the State for any financial year, Dáil Eireann shall consider such Estimates.

2º. Save in so far as may be provided by specific enactment in each case, the legislation required to give effect to the Financial Resolutions of each year shall be enacted within that year.

. . . . . . .

Mr. Norton: I move amendment No. 68:—

In Section 1, sub-section 1º, line 1, to delete the words “As soon as possible” and insert the words “Within three months”.

As drawn, this Article provides that as soon as possible after the presentation to the Dáil of the Estimates of receipts and expenditure for a particular financial year, the Dáil shall consider such Estimates. That seems to me to be open to the possibility that we might have presented to us the Estimates in April of this year and might not have an opportunity of considering them until, perhaps, March of the following year, because it could all the time be pleaded under this Article that it was not possible —and “possible” might even be translated into “desirable”—to introduce a discussion on the Estimates in any shorter period. The object of this amendment is to ensure that at least three months after we get the Estimates the Dáil will have an opportunity of considering them, so that we may be able to deal with the Estimates, and the administrative work contained in them, within a reasonable period of time. It may [1364] be that it is intended in normal circumstances that the discussion will take place as soon as possible, but it seems to me to be possible under this Article that the discussion would not take place for a very considerable time after the Book of Estimates had been made available.

The President: What the Deputy wants in this is not quite clear. Does he mean that the beginning of the consideration of the Estimates should take place within three months, or that it should be completed within the three months? At present we in fact, begin before the end of the financial year a discussion of the Estimates for the next financial year. If it were to mean that the consideration of the Estimates should be completed, there is this danger, that a Government that wanted to get easily over some awkward Estimates might leave them until the last and then rush them on the plea that they had to be through within the three months.

From the point of view of parliamentary control, I think it is very much better to leave it open. There can be no excuse for rushing Estimates and not giving proper time to their consideration. I have asked the Minister for Finance to come here and deal directly with this in case any question of procedure arose. The matter has been discussed with the Department of Finance from the point of view of the conduct of financial business. The opinion of that Department is that what is laid down here embodies, in fact, the present system: that, as soon as possible, the Estimates are considered by Dáil Eireann.

Mr. Costello: I think the President is not quite accurate in saying that this Article 17 embodies the present system.

The President: The present practice.

Minister for Finance (Mr. MacEntee): There is only one limitation which has been removed, and which I think will be to the convenience of the House.

Mr. Costello: That may be, but I think it is just as well that Deputies should appreciate what is being done here. This Article corresponds very [1365] closely to Article 36 in the existing Constitution, except in one respect. It leaves out the rather vital words “After the commencement of each financial year.” Article 36 of the existing Constitution provided that Dáil Eireann should, as soon as possible after the commencement of each financial year, consider the Estimates of receipts and expenditure. Now, it was interpreted that that particular provision in Article 36 might prevent the Dáil from considering the Estimates in the month of March in each year, and, consequently, I assume, without having any other information except my own deductions, that the reason why the words “after the commencement of each financial year” were omitted in the clause we are now dealing with was in order to enable the Dáil to deal with the Estimates at any time they might be presented to the Dáil by the Minister for Finance. But this particular clause has, as I have said, to be considered in its relation to Article 28, Section 4, (3) of the Draft Constitution that we are considering. In that Article it is provided:

The Government shall prepare Estimates of the Receipts and Estimates of the Expenditure of the State for each financial year, and shall present them to Dáil Eireann for consideration.

That Article follows pretty closely the provision in Article 54 of the existing Constitution, omitting, possibly from Deputy Norton's point of view, the rather vital words, “before the close of the financial year”. The system on which we have been working for the past 15 years is that the Minister for Finance was constitutionally bound to present the Estimates to the Dáil before the close of the financial year, and that, as soon as possible after the beginning of the new financial year, the Dáil was to consider those Estimates.

The system that is intended to be introduced in the present Draft is that the Minister may introduce them in January or February or December. He may, in fact, introduce them at any time. There is no particular period in either the financial year or the calendar year within which the Estimates must [1366] be presented. Now, I think that is the reading of these two Articles of the Constitution taken together, and that it would have been much better if Article 28, Section 4 (3) had been up somewhere closer to Article 17.

I think the effect of the two Articles together is as I have stated. It may be that that is a good thing. I would like to hear the Minister on it. I think that there should be some period in the Constitution within which the Minister should be bound to give his Estimates of receipts and expenditure. We know, of course, that the present system, by means of which the Estimates are presented to the Dáil each year in the month of March, has the drawback that those Estimates are based on the rates of taxation existing at the time of the presentation of the Estimates, but it may be that when the Minister introduces his Budget in the following May he has either increased or decreased the rates of taxation. So that, under the present system, the Estimates are not a real indication of the position at all, or even of what is going to happen during the forthcoming year.

I think that is a matter that called for some reform. I think that the system of finance, as indicated in the existing Constitution, fell very short of being a proper basis on which to build a financial structure in this State. We have been operating in the last 15 years on a system of finance which, in my view, has no real legal authority whatever. We have had only three or four articles in the existing Constitution dealing with the system of public finance. We adopted in our finance system the law, practice and custom that obtained in the British parliamentary system when we took over here, under Article 73 of the Constitution, certain of the Acts of the British Parliament dealing with financial practice. But it was always a matter of very grave doubt, to some people at all events, whether some of those Acts were really brought over by Article 73 at all. I could keep the House going for the next one-and-a-half hours at the very least in pointing out to Deputies the inconsistencies in our existing financial structure. I think that it [1367] would be a very wise proceeding indeed if we adopted our own financial practice and embodied it in an Act of this House. I think it would interest Deputies if I were to produce some of the Public Charges and Audit Acts, and showed them the system by which certain issues out of the Exchequer are made at present. They would be rather surprised to hear that they are based on the King's Sign Manual. In this draft we are not doing anything to improve a matter that really requires improvement in the existing Constitution. The existing Constitution provides no real fundamental basis for our financial structure.

We had, at the basis of the British system, the principle that no moneys could be expended by a Minister or by any Department of State, or the Crown as it then was, without the authority of Parliament, but by doing a certain amount of violence to one or two Articles in the existing Constitution you could spell out, and our Supreme Court did spell out, the existence of that principle in our financial structure. In effect, we are relying on Article 73, not Article 17, Section 2, of this draft for that very fundamental principle. I think it may be spelled out with the assistance of the Supreme Court decision. With the exception of that principle, we have no real constitutional, or even legislative, basis for the system of public finance that exists here at the present moment. It is a matter that requires to be examined into, and it is a matter that, I think, would repay examination by the Department of Finance. If certain changes are about to be made under this Constitution, then, at least, consequential legislation ought to be brought in to put our whole financial system on a proper basis, a basis such as it has not been on for the past 15 years.

Mr. MacEntee: The statement just made, Sir, astonishes me. We have had, on the authority of a former Attorney-General, a statement to the effect that our present system of financial control is not on a proper statutory basis. That is an old issue which, I think, was settled to the satisfaction [1368] of Deputy Costello some time in 1929.

Mr. Costello: What was?

Mr. MacEntee: When a memorandum was furnished to him which, as far as I know, was not controverted, setting out the conditions governing the granting of money for public services and of the appropriation thereto.

Mr. Costello: The Minister has referred—contrary, Sir, I think, to the practice of the House—to a memorandum that was submitted to me in my official capacity, and I hold that, since the Minister referred to that, at least I am entitled to ask for the memorandum that I wrote in reply to it, wherein I called the attention of the Department of Finance to the existing defects in our financial structure.

Mr. MacEntee: I should be very glad to give the Deputy that memorandum if I could trace it, but my difficulty is that I have not been able to find any well-founded statement that there is not good statutory authority for our financial structure, with one exception.

Mr. Costello: I can give it to the Minister, if he wishes to have it. I wrote a long memorandum at the time.

Mr. MacEntee: I should be very glad if the Deputy would place it at my disposal.

Mr. Costello: I have not got it at the moment, but I am sure the Minister should be able to find it. However, Sir, since the statement was made that a memorandum was submitted to me which, apparently, satisfied me, I think that I am entitled to ask for the production of the memorandum that I submitted in reply. So far from my being satisfied at the time, I think I am entitled to say that I wrote a long memorandum directing the attention of the Government and of the Department to the inconsistencies in our financial structure, and that I am entitled to ask for its production.

Perhaps I should not say this, Sir, but it arose out of the question of the authority for raising a national loan and also out of the question of what was to be done with public moneys, if there happened to be a surplus at the end of the financial year.

[1369] Mr. MacEntee: I do not know, Sir, whether this is the proper place to raise this matter, but I should be very glad to meet the Deputy privately and let him see the information in my possession. I think that this matter was raised subsequent to the issue of the Second National Loan. It may help Deputy Costello if I tell him that his memorandum was dated the 24th May, 1929, while the date of the financial memorandum was the 17th September, 1929.

Mr. Costello: I do not know of that.

Mr. MacEntee: Well, of course, I know that the Deputy is somewhat at a disadvantage in regard to this, but I think it would not be in the public interest that the idea should go abroad that there is not a sound statutory basis for the financial procedure followed by this House. It should be remembered also, in that regard, that this House is the judge and the final determinant of its own procedure in such matters: that the control of the finances of the State rests in Dáil Eireann and not in any other authority, whether the Supreme Court or any other body. I think that we ought to be clear about that. I think that the public ought to know that we are responsible for the drafting of our own Acts and for the phraseology by which effect is to be given in our own Acts to our intentions as a legislature, particularly where the control of public moneys is concerned.

However, to get back to the narrow issue that is raised by this amendment. It is quite true, as Deputy Costello says, that certain words have been omitted. The words omitted are “as soon as possible after the commencement of each financial year”. Those words have been omitted from Article 17, Section 1, paragraph 1. They have been omitted by implication in that Article, but they have been omitted specifically in Article 28, Section 4, paragraph 3. The reason they have been omitted is, as the Deputy has indicated, in order to enable the consideration of the Estimates of expenditure on supply services to be undertaken as soon as possible after the volume of Estimates has been circulated to the House.

[1370] It has been the custom or practice to endeavour to place that volume of Estimates before the House as soon as possible after the Christmas Recess—in February, if possible, but in any event in sufficient time to enable the members of the Dáil to study the volume in detail before the Vote on Account and the Central Fund Bill are taken. Sometimes, owing to the demands upon Parliamentary time and the difficulties in preparing the volume of Estimates, that has not been possible; but it is the endeavour of the Department of Finance, so far as possible, to see that that is done, because there is one thing, certainly, that the Minister for Finance does not want to burke or avoid, and that is as reasonably early a detailed discussion of the Estimates as is possible. The reason for that is that, if that discussion is got out of the way at an early date, then the rest of the session, so far as the Minister for Finance is concerned, is going to be very much easier.

Now, Sir, I think that Deputy Costello was not quite correct in saying that Article 54, customarily, had been interpreted to include the volume of Supply Estimates. It is true that that volume is presented to the House early in February or March, but it is not presented in order to fulfil some obligation or condition imposed by Article 54. It is presented, as I have said, in order to enable Deputies to study the volume and to enable them, if they wish to do so, on the Vote on Account and the Central Fund Bill to take up some particular subject for discussion and to participate in that discussion with full information at their command. What, in fact, our predecessors held Article 54 to imply was what is generally known as the White Paper on receipts and expenditure—that is, the White Paper which is issued some time before the introduction of the Budget and which, if it is examined, will be found to be entitled “Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure.” It was understood by our predecessors to mean that, and their practice in that regard has been followed by us. In short, it has been taken that when Article 54 specifies [1371] Estimates of receipts and expenditure, it refers to what is generally known as the White Paper of receipts and expenditure. To give the House some indication of the difficulties which are created by including a quite arbitrary time-limit—a time-limit which has really no logical justification for it— in an Article of the Constitution in the way, for instance, in which it has been done in Article 54 of the existing Constitution and in the way in which Deputy Norton suggests that it ought to be done now in regard to Article 17, Section 1, sub-section 1º, we have only to remember that in our predecessor's time, as well as in our own, the observance of the obligation imposed by Article 54 to prepare these Estimates and to present them to the Dáil before the close of the previous financial year has been as honoured in the breach as in the observance and that, in fact, in a number of years, it was not possible to present this White Paper until after the financial year had opened.

As to the effect which the acceptance of the amendment would have on the consideration of the Estimates, I suggest first of all that it imposes, or that it would impose in certain circumstances, quite an arbitrary constitutional closure on discussion of the Estimates. It would be quite possible if you had that time limit there to defer taking up consideration of the Estimates until the period of three months had almost lapsed, and then a Government with a sufficiently large majority could say: “We must rush the Estimates through now, because we are compelled to do so under the Constitution within three months from the date on which they were presented.”

On the other hand, it has been argued by Deputy Norton that the amendment has been put down in order that the Estimates will be discussed. If he would consider exactly what the present financial procedure is, he would see that under it the Estimates are bound to be discussed and that they will be discussed with a great deal more freedom in the Dáil if there is no time limit, because the provision which is made in any financial year by the Appropriation Act or a Central [1372] Fund Act comes automatically to an end on the 31st of March of that financial year. On the other hand, there is no authority to spend money out of the Exchequer unless there is a specific enactment passed to grant that authority for Central Fund charges as well as for other charges. So far, therefore as the general run of the Supply Services is concerned, the authority given by the Dáil to appropriate money for the purpose of these Supply Services exhausts itself on the 31st March in the year in which that authority has been given, therefore the Government must come to the Dáil and ask for a further supply if it wishes to carry on. It has to come, then, with the usual Supply Resolution and Ways and Means Resolution, get a Vote on Account, and pass a Central Fund Bill. When the Dáil grants a Vote on Account it usually only grants provision for four months.

Mr. Norton: Is there any additional restriction in that respect?

Mr. MacEntee: No, beyond this: that an Appropriation Act has to be passed. At least, following the practice which we have taken over and for which there is statutory authority in the Adaptation of Enactments Act, the money which is voted by the Dáil must be finally voted by an Act of the Legislature, which is the Appropriation Act, and that, normally, must be passed before the close of that financial year.

The Government, therefore, is compelled to give the Dáil an opportunity to discuss the Estimates, not by anything which is in the Constitution, but by the fact, first of all, that the authority to appropriate money for certain services exhausts itself at the close of the financial year. You have then to go and get a Vote on Account. It is a Vote on Account. That is to say, it is merely an instalment of the money required to carry on for the coming financial year. As I have said, that, as a rule, is given for four months. Of course, nobody can deny that if the Dáil has such trust in a Government, it might give it for eight or nine months or for 12 months, but it would have to do that in the face of public opinion and in the face of criticism on the part [1373] of the Opposition. There would be an opportunity in the debate on the Vote on Account, and in the debate on the Central Fund Bill, to compel the Government to give sound reasons for not taking the Estimates and not giving the Dáil an opportunity to consider the Estimates in detail.

That raises another question, because it can be assumed that the Vote on Account itself implies and involves consideration of the Estimates. The Vote on Account is, at any rate, taken immediately at the close of the financial year, and normally makes provision for four months supply. Therefore, even under the existing procedure with the Vote on Account, the Estimates must be considered within four months after the opening of the financial year. I think if Deputy Norton will consider what I have said he will see that there is not any real service to be gained by asking for a time limit. It is better from the point of view of Parliamentary control over the purse to allow these Estimates to be taken and considered at the earliest possible moment, as we propose it should be done. Formerly we had the difficulty that consideration of the Estimates could not commence until after the 1st April of the year for which the Estimates were presented. Now, by removing that Constitutional barrier we can begin detailed consideration of the Estimates in advance of the financial year to which they are to apply. When we have that provision, there is no sound justification, in my view, for limiting the period in which these Estimates may be considered in detail to three months. It might often happen that more than three months would be required. There is other Parliamentary business as well as the Estimates to be dealt with. We think— and I think that was the experience of those who preceded us in office—that it would be much better if we had not any of these arbitrary time limits preventing us from considering the Estimates in detail at the convenience of the Dáil, and when there is no other business to be taken.

Mr. Norton: I am still not satisfied [1374] that the method and the phraseology used in this particular Article are satisfactory. For instance, the last line of Article 17 (1) says that the Dáil “shall consider such Estimates”. I should like to know from the President or the Minister for Finance whether it is expected that the Dáil shall pass such Estimates. Does consideration involve adoption of these Estimates? If it does, “consider” seems to me to be a very inadequate word to use, because the Dáil could commence consideration, and while it would be considering and Estimate, without having it passed, it would still be fulfilling the precise phraseology of this particular Article.

The President: It need not pass it, surely.

Mr. Norton: It must dispose of it.

The President: We have frequently postponed an Estimate.

Mr. Norton: Has the Dáil any function except that of considering it?

Mr. MacEntee: It has.

Mr. Norton: It seems to me, therefore, that the word “consider” is hardly adequate having regard to the fact that the Dáil has this other function.

Mr. MacEntee: What would the Deputy suggest should be put in instead of “consider”.

Mr. Norton: The Deputy will make his own statement. This is the Government's Constitution. The Minister for Finance made a lengthy statement in connection with the present position. He says that the present position is that the Estimates are circulated before the end of the financial year, that the authority given for the expenditure in that financial year ceases on the 31st March, and that consequently the Government cannot get money for expenditure during the financial year, unless it comes before the House and asks for a Vote on Account.

The Minister says that the Vote on Account is usually for a period of four months, and that consequently being short of money at the end of that period the Government have to come [1375] back to the House to ask for more money. But the Minister also acknowledged, in reply to an interrogatory by me, that there was no constitutional restriction compelling the Government to ask for a Vote on Account for a period of four months; that in fact the Government might ask for a Vote on Account for a period of ten months, and may not, therefore, find it necessary to come back to the Dáil until the end of ten months, when they might come back and say: “We want the other two months' money to carry on to the end of the financial year.” My whole object in this amendment is to ensure that the Dáil will have an opportunity of considering the Estimates in detail within a certain period after the Estimates are available for that consideration. I want to guard against the possibility that, having presented the Estimates to the Dáil, a Government may avoid detailed discussion of those Estimates until such time as there is only a very short period left available for that discussion if the Appropriation Bill is to be passed. That, and no more, is the simple objective of this amendment. I want to make sure that at least the Dáil will have an opportunity of considering the Estimates within a definite period, and that it will not be asked to consider the Estimates almost at the end of the financial year, when there will not be adequate time made available for that discussion.

Mr. MacEntee: If the Deputy wants that, I suggest that the way to do it is to withdraw the amendment, because the effect of his amendment may be quite contrary to what he intends. As a rule, it is very difficult for the Dáil to get through detailed consideration of the Estimates inside three months. In the seven years which commenced with 1931-2 the volume of Estimates was circulated to Deputies about mid-March of each year. In four of those years the last Estimate was considered about four months after the circulation of the volume.

Mr. Norton: To what years is the Minister referring?

Mr. MacEntee: To the seven years which commenced 1931-32. In one year, [1376] 1932-33, when there had been a general election, the last Estimate was considered eight months after the circulation of the volume. In one year it was considered slightly over three months after the circulation of the volume, and it was only in the current year that the last Estimate was taken within the three months' period which the Deputy suggests. Clearly, that is the normal position in regard to the Estimates. If the House were to accept an amendment of this sort it would mean that it would be compelled, willy-nilly, to conclude its consideration of the Estimates within three months. The enforcement of an automatic time limit of that sort certainly does not make for the full and detailed consideration of the Estimates. If that is what Deputy Norton wants, he ought to allow the Article to go in its present form, because the Article has been drafted in order to provide for that full and detailed consideration. The Article only obliges the Dáil to consider the Estimates. I think if the Deputy will consider—if I may use the word again—the normal exigencies of Parliamentary Government he will see that the Dáil cannot stop merely with the consideration of the Estimates; that, as a result of that consideration, it must come to some conclusion in regard to the Estimates. The Government wants money to carry on the public services. It will, at any rate, endeavour to get the Dáil to come to some conclusion in regard to the Estimates. In fact, on occasions when the Dáil has been dilatory about coming to such a conclusion, it has been necessary, by the use of special measures such as the closure, to compel the Dáil to come to a conclusion. When it does come to consider the Estimates it must either decide to give the money or not to give the money. The Government, which, as I say, wants the money for the purposes of the public services, will ask the Dáil finally to determine that question as to whether the money is to be voted or not.

This Article must be read with Article 11, which states that the money will not be provided except by law. Article 17 (1), Article 11 and Article 28 (2) (3) all hang together. They are all part of the one mosaic. There is no [1377] point I think in putting any artificial limitation here which would, in fact, destroy the fluidity which is aimed at, that is to give the Dáil a freer hand in the discussion of financial matters, and to enable the public business to be conducted with greater efficiency and convenience than heretofore.

Mr. Norton: My point in regard to this matter is that it does not give the Dáil a freer hand. My object in moving this amendment is to ensure that the Dáil will not be presented with a situation wherein it may not be given even the three months suggested in my amendment for consideration of the matter. It may be possible, under this Article as drawn, for the Dáil to be asked to consider the detailed Estimates of expenditure a month or two months before the close of the financial year. The Minister for Finance has not at all shown the House in what way that would be impossible under the Article as now drawn. I think that the danger of this Article as it is framed is that the Dáil may only be given an opportunity of considering the Estimates in detail two months before the close of the financial year. If the three months suggested in my amendment seems too short, well, it is at all events a month longer than the two months which the Dáil might only get under this Article in its present form. I do not want to tie the Constitution down to a fixed period of time. I should be quite satisfied if the Government would look at the matter again with a view to seeing what it is possible to do to prevent any undue tightness from the standpoint of time, to prevent any undue rigidity, but at the same time to ensure to the Dáil that it would in fact have adequate time in which to discuss the Estimates, and that those Estimates would be discussed as soon as possible after they had been made available.

The President: I should like to put this consideration to Deputy Norton. I think he will admit that traditions when they are well established, and procedure when it is well established, are sometimes better than any written [1378] Constitution. In our case where there has been any procedure which has worked out in practice I think everybody will admit that I have tried to observe it. There has been a practice here in regard to financial procedure. It has not been strictly in accordance with the Constitution—it has been admitted that at the time the previous Administration grew up it was not possible to do certain things—and what we are trying to do here is to enshrine in the Constitution what is the present practice. That is why the Department of Finance was brought into this. It is necessary to get advice before the beginning of the year and to consider the Book of Estimates, if possible, and also to make provision for a Vote on account.

I move to report progress. Progress reported, Committee to sit again not later than 7 o'clock.