Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 837 No. 3

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] One aspect of the people being sovereign is the principle underpinning that concept. It should be the people who make the decision and that includes a decision on a person who has a chequered economic history. It is entirely up to the citizens to make a decision on who they believe would best represent them, as it should be. I do not often like, and for many years have not liked, the results that have been often thrown up the electorate but as a democrat I always felt I had to accept them even when it was pretty painful and I had not done well in an election.

I accept the provisions of this Bill but I would have liked it to cover another issue that should be dealt with in a timely fashion for this election and I will table an amendment to it when the opportunity presents in the next week. I have published a Bill on this subject recently. I was not expecting this legislation to arise. I am referring to the issue of how we present as Independents on the ballot paper. It is timely and important that this be addressed in advance of the local and European elections.

An Independent candidate may only describe himself or herself as "Non-Party" or leave the space blank. If one is non-party, that is perceived as a negative in that one is obviously without something but many of us do not see ourselves in that light, we see being Independent as a very positive thing.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Hear, hear.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy Essentially, that is how we feel we can genuinely represent what we are to the electorate. We go through great efforts to make sure photographs are on the ballot paper to cover issues such as literacy and we make sure that people describe themselves as they are commonly known. People have changed their name, with Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus being the most celebrated case. Essentially, there is no reason we should not be permitted to put on the ballot paper exactly what we are, and we are Independents. That needs to be addressed in advance of the local and European elections. I hope the Minister will accept such an amendment or advance a measure from the Department's side because, for many of us, it is not acceptable not to be properly represented on the ballot paper.

I also wish to deal with the wider issue of how we conduct our electoral politics. Reform in this area has been very much piecemeal and that trend, which is very evident, can be similar in other countries. We do not get radical change from the inside and we need to change the way in which we do things. We need a functioning electoral commission that is in place all of the time. We need different architecture in regard to matters of ethics, funding and the register of electors, to which Deputy Stanley referred. After every election we hear complaints about the mistakes on the register ranging from people who are on it who do not live at an address, people who are on it who have since died to people who have been taken on it for a long time whose names were taken off it in advance of the election. We need to get to grips with these issues and we need a truly independent electoral commission. That is vital if we are to have change. Regardless of whether parties are on this side of the House for one term or on the other side of it for another term, that does not seem to make any difference with regard to bringing about change. It has been described as a party cartel where things are divided up among the parties who contest the election and we find that Opposition parties, over the decades, will have been party to that. That issue will be dealt with in the context of this legislation but an early change in the way we do business in the form of an independent, functioning electoral commission, is something we must have because it would be good for our democracy and appreciated by the public in terms of the type of reform anticipated when this Government came to office.

Given the time factor, I hope the inclusion of the word "Independent" on the ballot paper, or making provision to allow people to describe themselves as such, will be included because if we are to introduce a measure to ensure people declare their candidacy for the European or local elections on time, I ask the Government to accept that the other issue, to which I referred, must be addressed also in a timely fashion.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. I welcome the debate as it provides all of us with an opportunity to constantly examine and reform our electoral system, both nationally and at local government level. I welcome the Bill as a disqualification should not apply for election to the National Parliament or European Parliament, as in the case of 18 other European Union states. I support this legislation but I want to use this debate to move forward the reform issue. I challenge the Minister, as we face into the local and European elections on 23 May, to explain the reason he is discriminating against Independent candidates, as Deputy Catherine Murphy stated and which she references in her prepared legislation. Many members of the public do not realise that the word "Independent" cannot be used on the ballot paper. We are excluded, and that is not acceptable. We must use the term "Non-Party" or we have the opportunity, as the late former Deputy Tony Gregory used to do, to leave the box blank. That is not acceptable. We are not allowed to use the term "Independent". The Minister of State should go back to the Cabinet and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and try to end that blatant exclusion of Independent candidates throughout the country. It is time for the Government to get off the fence and do that in the interests of democracy. I know they have all been very busy over the last few days talking to the Royals and developing the peace process, which I welcome.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan We have been over here.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I was referring to the Minister of State's colleagues in government. Let us move away from the monarchists for a while and get back to building a democratic, inclusive republic which respects all our citizens, including Independent candidates. That is a very important reform that should be put down.

Some of us have checked up on this issue on the legal side. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2007, in its amendment of section 46(8) of the principal Act, deals with the issue in terms of specifying the term "Non-Party", and the same is the case in respect of the Electoral Act of 1992. The Supreme Court found that the description of Independent as non-party was not misleading and there was nothing wrong with its use. On the basis, Acts have continued to us the term "Non-Party". However, while the term might not be misleading or particularly wrong in the eyes of the court, it does not mean that it is any more accurate than using the term "Independent". Therefore there is nothing in the Supreme Court decision that binds or forces a Government to use the term "Non-Party". It is instead a matter of choice for the Government, and that is the legal advice. In my view the best way to approach it is to pitch it as a tidying up exercise intended to create consistency and simplification. A Bill like Deputy Catherine Murphy's could be drafted to change the term "Non-Party" and also to use the word "Independent", and that is important. If we are serious about reform, democracy and inclusion, the Minister will have to wake up and respect Independent candidates throughout the country, such as Councillor Damien O'Farrell in Dublin Bay North, and other councillors in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny or Limerick.

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