Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)

I thank the Labour Party for giving me ten minutes speaking time.

To a great extent this debate is the same debate we had last week on the Waterford by-election and the previous week on the Donegal South-West constituency by-election. It is an indication not only of the feeling on this side of the House among the Opposition parties that the Government has an obligation to allow the electorate in those constituencies the right to fill the existing vacancies but also of the desire on the part of voters in those constituencies to have the opportunity to cast their verdict in mid-term on an increasingly unpopular Government. One cannot but be reminded that the failure to have these by-elections is probably a result of fear in the Government parties.

The reasons I gave last week with regard to the contrast between the rapidity with which a Seanad by-election was called and the delay in moving the writs for the current Dáil vacancies bear repeating, as do the political reasons which have to do with this Government's fear of the electorate and its reluctance to put the picture emerging from the opinion polls to a real test. Most informed people believe the reason these by-elections have not been called is because the Government fears it will be decimated at the polls. It knows that Fianna Fáil and the Greens have little or no hope of winning any of the by-elections. As I said last week, the fear or knowledge that one is going to lose an election is hardly a valid excuse in a democracy for avoiding to call one.

It would be appropriate to take the power away from the sitting Government and to remove from it the means to delay calling by-elections as it is currently doing. A period of six months, as proposed in the Fine Gael Bill, would be more than sufficient time to elapse between the vacancy arising and the by-election being held and would ensure the electorate in the constituency where the vacancy exists is given the opportunity within a reasonable timeframe to allow an election to be organised to fill the seat.

Having praised Fine Gael for bringing this Bill forward, I must also, however, make some small criticism of it. The criticism has to do with the Dublin South constituency and the vacancy there since their high profile recruit, George Lee, decided, after a remarkably short time, that Fine Gael was not the answer either to his own or the country's needs and he departed somewhat unceremoniously.

I do not wish to rake over all the reasons why he may have made that decision but it could perhaps be said that Fine Gael in pressing the Government over its failure to move the writs for Waterford and Donegal while at the same time not moving the writ for Dublin South, might be regarded as somewhat hypocritical. This Bill refers to a six month period of grace before the proposed legislation would make it mandatory to call a by-election for a vacancy. George Lee only resigned in February so if this Bill was passed the by-election would not have to be called until before the end of July. However, Fine Gael has rightly called for a by-election to be held in Waterford to replace former Minister and Deputy, Martin Cullen and it is less than three months since he decided to call it a day for health reasons. Therefore, surely if Fine Gael is to be consistent it should also move the writ for Dublin South where, despite whatever problems it might be having in finding another candidate, it must be in pole position to retain that seat. It would also, of course, provide another opportunity to allow a section of the electorate the opportunity to cast their votes on the current Government, which I have little doubt would once again be damning.

It would also give Fine Gael plenty of time to persuade Eamon Dunphy or Bono or Giovanni Trappatoni or Brian O'Driscoll, or whoever, to become its newest celebrity acquisition, given that none of its representatives in the constituency seems to be particularly enthusiastic and one person who was tipped to run has resigned altogether from politics.


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