I welcome the Ministers proposal to introduce a 6 month time limit for holding by-elections.
During the lifetime of the previous Dáil we all witnessed a Government turning its back on democracy, a Government which permitted people to be without representation for almost 18 months. It was only when the Courts forced its hand that the Government acted. Such an approach by Government undermined the very principles upon which our democracy is based.
Yesterday Deputy Collins derided this legislation as a piecemeal approach. This Bill addresses real issues, it is about ensuring the continuance of democracy. It represents a far superior way of legislating than the a la carte approach to democracy taken by his party when in Government.
This measure was made necessary by those acts of ignoring the voices of the very people whom we are to represent. It is unfortunate that such a prescriptive step has to be taken but it will ensure that the people will not be without representation in their national parliament.
Following the publication of the preliminary census figures the establishment of the constituency review committee is to be welcomed. The census confirmed an unexpectedly large increase in population and as a consequence dramatic changes to Dáil constituencies are inevitable.
Political reform was an integral part of the general election campaign. Establishing this committee sets the parameters within which this reform will take place.
Legislation states that county boundaries and geographical features are factors to be taken into account when reviewing constituencies. However it is important too that the social and day-to-day realities are also taken into account.
There is a large degree of interdependence between urban centres and what are referred to as satellite towns, they share the same issues and share many facilities and services. It would be important too that these factors are also considered by the Commission. It would be important that boundaries are not arbitrarily drawn without any reference to the impact on local communities.
The proposed reduction in spending limits for Presidential candidates and the reduction in the amount to be reimbursed to candidates is another demonstration of the Government’s commitment to a reduction in spending across all aspects of public expenditure. It is important that the Government continue to look at all items of expenditure to see where possible savings can be made.
However, when it comes to elections we must exercise caution. Every member of this house knows the expense involved in running for elected office. At present candidates and parties are funded through their own funds and donations, be they from individuals, corporations or unions.
If we decide to ban donations, then the only option will be for people to rely upon their own resources unless the State adequately funds democracy. It is in no one’s interest that participation in elections is only available to those who have personal wealth to fund their own lavish campaigns.
Whatever model of funding we decide upon we must be conscious that if we are to ban donations the state will inevitably have to provide increased resources to fund elections.