Tuesday, 3 April 2007
Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage
This Bill responds to a judgment of the Supreme Court on 13 November 2006 concerning the nomination of Dáil candidates who are not members of registered political parties. The outcome of the judgment is that there is currently no statutory mechanism to regulate the nomination of such candidates standing for election and this must be addressed before the general election.
For clarity and context, I will outline briefly the background to this matter before proceeding to deal with the detail of the court decision and its implications. The assentor provisions for nomination of candidates were enacted in 2002 to provide an alternative to election deposits where candidates are not members of registered political parties. This followed the High Court judgment in the Redmond case in 2001 which found the deposits system to be unconstitutional. The assentor provisions, as enacted, required the nomination papers of Dáil candidates to be assented to by 30 persons, excluding the candidate and any proposer, who were registered as Dáil electors in the constituency concerned. Each assentor had to sign the candidate's nomination paper, which was usually lodged at the main local authority offices.
In legal cases last year, there were several grounds of appeal to the Supreme Court and the State was successful on all but one point. In particular, the court upheld the main requirement for obtaining 30 assentors to help ensure the proper regulation of elections but it struck down the provision requiring personal attendance by all assentors in a single location in a constituency, on the basis that it can involve excessive demands on the time of assentors. The court found that the provision is disproportionate to the objective to be achieved, namely, the due authentication of nomination papers and declared section 46(4B) of the Electoral Act 1992 unconstitutional.
In light of the judgment, the statutory mechanism which regulated such candidates standing for election is no longer valid. However, regulating access to the electoral process is a common feature in most parliamentary democracies and is widely seen as necessary to discourage an overly large number from contesting an election. Indeed, this view is endorsed in the Supreme Court judgment, which supports fully the right of the Oireachtas to legislate in this area. It stated:
The Court is satisfied, and considers it self-evident that the State has a legitimate interest in regulating the conduct of elections by law, subject to the Constitution, in the interests of, inter alia, protecting and maintaining the integrity and efficacy of the electoral process for Dáil Éireann as well as ensuring that those elections are conducted free from abuse and in an orderly fashion consistent with democratic values acknowledged by the Constitution.
It further stated: "In the view of the Court the State has a legitimate interest, founded on rational considerations, in being concerned that the integrity of the electoral process is not tainted by frivolous candidates or a seriously excessive number of candidates on the ballot paper."
In Ireland, the purpose of any general election is to elect members to Dáil Éireann in accordance with the Constitution with a view to Government formation. It follows that elections must have some reasonable structure and coherence to help the voter see what the impact of their vote might be on the eventual composition of the Dáil and to exercise a meaningful choice towards that objective. Having an overly large number of candidates could impact on the democratic right of voters to play a meaningful part in the political process. As always, in considering these matters, there is a balance to be struck. In this case, the balance is between providing for a reasonable test of the bona fides of a prospective candidate and not setting that test so high as to unduly restrict people from seeking election.
Having considered the issues involved, we now propose to the House the measures provided for in this Bill. I will first deal with the form of the Bill. Members of the House are aware that electoral law is at times quite complex. Therefore, we have tried to simplify and make more understandable the provisions in this Bill by avoiding, as far as possible, inserting isolated textual amendments to the law which are not easy for anyone to follow. The Bill presents a continuous text dealing with nominations generally and incorporating within that text the specific new provisions arising from the court judgment. This will allow us all to place the new provisions in their proper legal context and will give us a single text that can be more easily understood and implemented. The consequence of this more user-friendly approach is that the Bill repeals and re-enacts without amendment most of the existing settled law relating to nominations generally. In my comments, I will focus on the new provisions being proposed to meet the terms of the Supreme Court judgment. At this stage in the electoral cycle, our attention should be primarily on those limited new provisions which we need to put in place before the upcoming general election.
In terms of substance, the Bill provides for two alternative mechanisms to regulate the nomination of Dáil candidates who are not in possession of a certificate of political affiliation. These are as follows: first, by way of assents requiring the completion of statutory declarations by 30 assentors in the constituency which may be witnessed by a commissioner for oaths, a peace commissioner, a notary public, a garda or a local authority official, or second, by way of the candidate, or someone on his or her behalf, lodging a deposit of €500 with the returning officer before the deadline for receiving nominations.
As regards the assents procedures, the proposed shift to statutory declarations will allow a much more flexible system than before under which each assentor had to travel to the local authority office to sign the candidate's nomination paper. It will no longer be necessary to turn up in person at the local authority office as assentor signatures will now be on documents attached to a nomination paper as opposed to being on the actual paper. This break in the physical link with the nomination paper allows for more flexibility in the time for assents to be obtained and the Bill avails of this opportunity.
The five categories of authorised persons who may witness the statutory declaration will also ensure a wide spread of locations with easy access for assentors. For example, under the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994, every practising solicitor, of whom there are more than 6,000 nationally, has all the statutory powers of a commissioner for oaths. The form of statutory declaration will be prescribed by the Minister and, as part of the checks and balances, relevant details of an assentor will have to be included on the declaration. An assentor will also be required to present prescribed photographic identification to the person who is witnessing the declaration.
Rather than obtaining 30 assents, a candidate may instead choose the alternative of lodging a deposit and, if he or she does not do so, their candidature will be deemed to have been withdrawn. The provisions are similar to the previous deposit system which operated until 2001. Notwithstanding the High Court decision in the Redmond case that year, the thinking on a return to a deposit system is informed by comments of the Supreme Court and advice from the Attorney General. To be clear on this point, I will quote directly from the Supreme Court judgment where it refers to the deposit of £300 that was required under the Electoral Act 1992:
In contemporary Ireland it is difficult to comprehend how a sum anywhere in the region of £300 or its equivalent in Euro (or more if inflation is allowed for in the meantime) [that is, since 1992] could be considered a disproportionate measure for such a legitimate purpose or to involve invidious discrimination, given the costs necessarily otherwise incurred by candidates and the possibility, at least in certain circumstances, of a refund of the deposit.
Therefore, in further response to the Supreme Court judgment, the Bill provides that the candidate, or someone on his or her behalf, has the option of lodging a deposit of €500 with the returning officer before the deadline for receiving nominations.
In summary, candidates standing for the Dáil who are not in possession of a certificate of political affiliation may now choose which option best suits their own circumstances — either assents or deposits — to support their nomination. This represents a significant improvement on the previous arrangements and fully meets the relevant constitutional requirements.
This is a short Bill containing three sections. Section 1 is the main provision, amending the Electoral Act 1992, as previously amended, by inserting sections 44 to 52, inclusive, in substitution for the existing sections. These sections cover the nomination of all candidates for election to the Dáil and most of the existing settled law in this area is being re-enacted without amendment. The amendments necessary to meet the terms of the Supreme Court decision are being incorporated, as appropriate, in the re-enacted sections to give a single text relating to nominations generally.
Section 44 restates the law regarding the giving of a public notice at a Dáil election by the returning officer. The public notice sets out the time and place for receiving nominations and related arrangements. A new section 44(b) requires details of the new assentor and deposit provisions to be included on the notice of election.
Section 46 contains the substantive provisions underpinning the two alternative mechanisms to regulate the nomination of Dáil candidates who are not in possession of a certificate of political affiliation. Section 46(5) is a new subsection which provides specifically that either the assents or deposits system must be complied with before the expiration of the time for receiving nominations. A consequential provision is included in the new section 46(2)(b) relating to inclusion of details of the new provisions on the notes to the nomination paper.
The detailed procedures for assents are set out in the new section 46(6). The relevant details of the assentors to be included on the statutory declaration are: the assentor's number and polling district letters on the register of Dáil electors in force at the time of assent; address on the register; contact details; the relevant Dáil constituency on the date of assent where he or she is registered; the name and address of the candidate; and the form of prescribed photographic identification produced and any number on it. An assentor must confirm on the statutory declaration that he or she has not consented to the nomination of any other candidate in the election concerned. Under the Statutory Declarations Act 1938, a person who knowingly makes a false or misleading statutory declaration is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding €2,539 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both. However, under the new section 52(1)(c), a candidate's nomination will not be invalid where a person assents to the nomination of more than one candidate. Statutory declaration forms will be available free of charge from registration authorities and returning officers.
An assent will be valid in respect of the constituency in which the assentor's address at the time of assent is located at election time. The assent may be made at any time but it may only be used at the next general or by-election in the relevant constituency and it expires when the current register ceases to be in force, notwithstanding that no such election may have been held by then. Responsibility will lie with the candidate or proposer to attach the 30 statutory declarations to the nomination paper and deliver all the documentation to the returning officer by the deadline for receipt of nominations. Where there are more than 30 statutory declarations attached to the nomination paper, the first 30 attached will be taken into account.
Under the new section 52(1)(b), a returning officer may rule as invalid a nomination paper from a candidate who has opted for the assenting alternative if he or she considers that the candidate has not complied with the relevant statutory requirements set out in the Bill.
Instead of obtaining 30 assents, a candidate may choose the alternative of lodging a deposit under the new section 47. A candidate, or someone on his or her behalf, may lodge a deposit of €500 with the returning officer before the deadline for receiving nominations. If a candidate chooses this option and fails to lodge the deposit with the returning officer by the relevant deadline, his or her candidature will be deemed to have been withdrawn. The amount of €500 is reasonable. It is significantly less than the £300, as updated by reference to inflation, in respect of which provision was made in legislation in 1992. Under the new section 48, deposits will be returned to successful candidates, those who receive votes in excess of a quarter of the quota and in certain other circumstances, such as withdrawal of candidature or death. Deposits will otherwise be forfeited.
Section 2 amends the Schedule to the Electoral Act 1997 to ensure that travelling and other expenses that may arise for a candidate or an assentor in meeting the assentor requirements and the amount of any deposit paid will not be regarded as election expenses. Section 3 is a standard provision relating to Short Title, collective citation and construction.
Our democracy is predicated on elections that are fair, orderly and inclusive and it falls to us as legislators to ensure the statutory framework governing the electoral system reflects these principles. Under the terms of this Bill, candidates who are not in possession of a certificate of political affiliation will now have a choice in the mechanism they use to support their nomination. This is a balanced and proportionate response to the terms of the Supreme Court judgment. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State. There is no question of not supporting the Bill which is 100% necessary. Without it, there can be no general election. Members on this side of the House are very much looking forward to the latter.
The Bill is very important to both candidates and the electorate. Fine Gael is very anxious to see it passed. Natural justice and democracy demand this. However, we must ask what action or inaction made this Bill necessary. What bungling and inefficiency has necessitated rushing it through the Oireachtas in the dying days of this Government's term of office?
We do not need to look too far for answers. Responsibility in this regard lies with the Government and the Minister of State. While not directly involved in the introduction of what became the Electoral Act 1992, which this Bill seeks to amend, the Minister of State will surely agree that the Government is directly responsible for drafting improper legislation in the first instance and that this now requires us to pass the Bill before us.
I would be obliged if the Minister of State could outline the exact consultation that took place prior to the drawing up of the Electoral Bill and if, for example, his Department was warned that certain provisions in it relating to non-party candidates were likely to prove unconstitutional. If the answer is in the affirmative, I am puzzled as to why the legislation was permitted to proceed in such questionable circumstances. Has anybody in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government thought about the waste of public funds and Oireachtas time that is caused by such an unprofessional approach to legislation?
I am not going to categorise the long list of money-wasting blunders and general fiascoes perpetrated by the Government during the past ten years because everyone is quite familiar with them. However, the electronic voting fiasco and the mess relating to the electoral register mess, which saw the names of thousands throughout the country and in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath being left off the register, cannot be ignored, especially in light of the nature of this debate.
Yes. This Bill is just the latest example of the Government's lamentable record on handling elections and all they entail. It is technical in nature and responds directly to a judgment handed down by the Supreme Court on 13 November 2006 in the cases of King, Cooney and Riordan v. the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Attorney General and others. King, Cooney and Riordan challenged the provisions of the Electoral Act 1992, as amended by the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002, which required the nomination papers of candidates to the Dáil who are not members of political parties to be assented to by way of signing their nomination papers by 30 persons.
In his judgment, Mr Justice John Murray noted that political party candidates are not obliged to obtain the statutory declarations of 30 assentors but must produce a certificate of political affiliation signed by a party officer. He said that measures had been introduced to protect the electoral system from abuse and to ensure that the holding of orderly and democratic elections was not undermined by the unfettered participation of frivolous candidates or an excessive number of candidates. However, that matter was not really at issue in this case.
The court was also satisfied that the Oireachtas has the power to regulate the criteria with which citizens must comply to be nominated. There was a question of whether the statutory regulation of the nomination of non-party candidates was constitutional. However, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to expect non-party candidates to arrange for the 30 people who support their wish to be on the ballot paper to travel to the relevant local authority offices and make declarations in person to authenticate nominations. The court ruled that this was disproportionate to the objective of authenticating nomination papers.
The Bill allows candidates the option to lodge a deposit of €500 or 30 signatures, which is reasonable and which will allow any person to put his or her name on the ballot paper if he or she has strong feelings about particular issues or about the Deputies who have represented them since the previous election. This is their democratic right. I support the right of non-party candidates to run for election and to do so without constraint.
Under the amended Bill, non-party candidates may choose the system which best suits their circumstances to support their nomination, either by way of assent or by lodging a deposit. This is an improvement on the previous arrangements but reassurances are needed from the Minister of State that the reintroduction of deposits is constitutionally firm.
The authentication process often involved people travelling distances up to 70 km. This was certainly excessive and one could even say that it was above and beyond the call of duty. However, when one considers the lengths, metaphorically speaking, to which people were obliged to go to get their names on the electoral register, I suppose it is not something that would give rise to amazement.
The detailed procedures relating to assents are set out in the new section 46(6) to be inserted into the 1992 Act. All relevant details must be contained in the statutory declaration. These include: the assentor's name; address on the register; electoral number and polling district letters on the register of Dail electors in force at the time of the assent; contact details; the relevant Dail constituency on the date of assent where he or she is registered; the form of photographic ID and number contained on it; and the candidate's name and address. The assentor must also produce photographic ID to the person witnessing the statutory declaration. The assentor must also confirm on the statutory declaration that he or she has not consented to the nomination of any other candidate in the election concerned. The requirement for photographic ID could prove difficult, especially as not all elderly people may possess it.
I am pleased that, in respect of the potentially serious consequence for a candidate of having his or her nomination declared invalid due to an assentor nominating more than one candidate, the Bill inserts a new section 52(1)(c) into the 1992 Act. The latter provides that where a person assents to the nomination of more than one candidate, that candidate's nomination will not thereby be invalidated. This will serve to protect innocent candidates from the misbehaviour or false or misstatement of an assentor. A candidate should not suffer disproportionately as a result of the misbehaviour of an assentor. The fraudulent assentor should be penalised for his or her false declarations. It is, however, important to note that the consequences of this are that a non-party candidate may unknowingly stand for election without having fully met the requirement of obtaining the statutory declarations of 30 assentors.
I welcome the use of statutory declarations that can be witnessed by a commissioner of oaths, a peace commissioner, a notary public a garda or a local authority official, with assentor signatures on documents attached to the nomination paper rather than on the nomination paper itself. This will allow for greater flexibility in the time during which assents may be obtained.
Although I am conscious the Bill is primarily concerned with making provision in respect of the forthcoming general election, it is debatable whether it makes sense to ignore the opportunity to amend legislation relating to European and local elections. There is a need to amend the legislation in respect of the electoral procedures for European and local elections, having regard to the flaw in the nomination process identified by the Supreme Court in the Cooney case.
The Taoiseach's commitment to Thursday, 17 May for a general election is unfair to students who wish to vote in their home constituencies and indicates the Government's mounting unease.
——is a response to the November 2006 judgment of the Supreme Court in King, Cooney and Riordan v. the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Attorney General and others. It is a measured response and, as Senator Bannon has noted, achieves a good balance between the rights of those who are not members of political parties and the need to prevent frivolous or excessive numbers of candidates.
In 2002, people who were not members of political parties had to bring 30 assentors to the election office. While that can present a good photograph opportunity, it is not always possible to arrange for that many people to be physically present when required. If the central requirement for nomination by 30 people cannot be met, provision is made for paying a deposit. We were all familiar with deposits until 2002, when the provision for 30 assentors was introduced.
The Supreme Court judgment made reference to the legitimate interest of the State in the conduct of elections. In this regard, fixing a date is less important than allowing sufficient time for people to vote. That is why the early opening and late closing of polling stations in the last election was welcome.
I am not sure whether much can be done about frivolous or excessive numbers of candidates. Great Britain has the Monster Raving Looney Party and other parties who give themselves strange names. Unfortunately, they make frivolous use of the electoral system and put no policies forward. In addition, those of us who have attended election counts have noticed that some people make frivolous comments on their ballot papers, which are thereby made useless.
The Supreme Court found that the £300 deposit provided for in the Electoral Act 1992 was not a disproportionate requirement and would not discriminate against a person who wished to run for office. It is reasonable to change the amount to €500. Prospective candidates have the choice of finding 30 assentors or paying a deposit. As the Minister of State noted, a quarter of a quota is needed to have the deposit refunded.
This legislation is a balanced response to the Supreme Court judgment. The Minister of State should not be held responsible for everything that happens in his Department because he has not been there since 2002. However, he has done very well during his time in office. I hope the Bill is passed promptly by the House.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and support the Bill. Although it has been a while coming, the State has challenged appeals on a regular basis over the years and was successful in all its points of appeal to the Supreme Court except the requirement that 30 assentors had to go to local authority offices to physically sign the nomination form.
Successive Governments have tried to deal with this issue but every Bill that passes through these Houses is subject to challenge in the courts. That is one of the democratic rights we cherish and challenges have been mounted on many occasions. Legislators have the duty to ensure the soundness and constitutionality of the legislation we pass. The Parliamentary Counsel goes to great efforts in framing legislation but we have the ultimate responsibility. Democracy is precious and democratic Parliaments throughout the world do everything they can to protect it.
The Bill is not excessive and it caters for people who wish to express their own opinions or put themselves before an electorate. We have all listened to the hurlers on the ditches, particularly at election time, but it is a great honour to run in an election, whether in a party or as an Independent.
Senator Kitt spoke about the elections in the UK. It fascinates me that 30 candidates of all hues and colours can compete in an election, including obviously frivolous candidates who are only involved in order to interfere with the democratic process. The more we protect democracy in this jurisdiction from that, the better. This legislation is balanced from that point of view. It provides people with the opportunity to either pay a small fee or obtain the signatures of 30 of their constituents or supporters on an affidavit witnessed by five categories of people, which is extremely generous, and a statutory declaration to this effect. This is normal procedure in the majority of cases.
When filling out a form for a passport one must make a declaration and it is only right if one puts oneself forward for election that one complies with existing legislation, regulations and requirements for all candidates and that those putting forward a candidate are reasonable people who can prove their identity. We saw in past elections that we had an issue with impersonation. We made huge strides towards tackling the issue and it is hoped the upcoming general election will prove it.
One sees from the detail of the Bill that it is reasonable. A charge of €500 for a person to put himself or herself forward is extremely reasonable when one considers in the 1920s the charge was £100, particularly when one takes into account inflation. Obtaining the signature of 30 people on a declaration and an affidavit to the effect they support a candidate is also reasonable. It means people do not have to travel to local authority offices and a nominator can put forward a candidate with the required forms and the supporting names can be attached. This will allow people express themselves in a democratic way and put themselves forward.
With regard to the requirement for photographic identification, the majority of people have photographic identification of some type, whether they are senior citizens or students. It is only reasonable that a person should prove who he or she is and the Bill is not excessive or does not go over the top in that regard. It would have been easy to be over-restrictive. Whether it suits the incumbent Government or the Opposition is a matter which can be discussed.
It is like the issue surrounding the day the election will be held. It will make no difference.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I agree with what Senator Brady stated. We did not value our democracy nearly enough in the past and we can recognise the benefit of democracy. Almost every day since I entered this House for the first time I recognise the trust given to those of us who step into this and the other House.
I am not sure the Government recognises and respects the huge benefit of independent candidates and Members in both Houses and I have some words to state on their value. In this House alone it is clear to see the six independent Members, including Senator Maurice Hayes, play an active role. The same does not seem to happen in the Dáil, although it could; perhaps they are not provided the same opportunity. This is one of the reasons this House has the benefit of being far less confrontational.
The Minister of State may be pleasantly surprised to hear I will take advantage of this debate to offer a word of praise to the Government. I do this quite often. This may seem odd when discussing a Bill that need never have arisen but for the Government's ineptitude at trying to make it more difficult for independent candidates than for candidates of political parties to put themselves forward for Dáil elections.
The problem with the Supreme Court did not arise because of an honest mistake such as we seem to encounter with increasing frequency as Ministers rush around trying to introduce legislation. I am reminded of the little Dutch boy putting his finger in the dike to stop what was happening. We seem to have had a great deal of rushed legislation in recent times and nobody wants it, including the Leader. This problem arose because of a Government try-on. It tried barefacedly to make matters more difficult for independent candidates seeking election to the Dáil and once again the Supreme Court caught the Government in the act. This Bill is a defeat for the Government and more importantly it is a victory for democracy and I welcome it on this account.
Where are my words of praise? I might be tempted to offer marks for courage to any Minister who dares on the brink of an election to introduce an electoral amendment Bill which fails to address the real pressing electoral issues. Such a Minister knows full well he will run the gauntlet of Opposition Members, as the Minister of State did this evening, who will not only remind him of those omissions but also of the scandal of the electronic voting machines.
My words of praise are in another direction. I wish to salute the way the Bill was written. Two possible approaches exist to the drafting of any Bill. The first conventional way is to amend existing legislation in a piecemeal manner, section by section. It may be perfectly correct legally but, as I pointed out in the House and elsewhere on numerous occasions, it makes for law which is difficult for the ordinary citizen to access. It is immensely difficult when one must go back because it amends other legislation.
Ordinary people are used to reading something from start to finish in one continuous stream. We all find it enormously confusing when we are expected to refer every few seconds to a completely separate document — a previous Bill — to find out what the first document is about. If we were trying to devise a way of making our legislation as impenetrable as possible we could hardly do better than this. Such an approach encourages a view that the law is a matter to be perused only by a restricted sacred brotherhood of professionals who jealously guard their access and charge through the nose for sharing the benefits of it. It is the very opposite of what we should look for in the way a democracy writes its laws.
The second way is not more difficult or right but it is infinitely easier to understand from the layman's point of view. This approach is what I call "repeal and re-enactment". Instead of changing the odd word, sentence or section here or there the approach is to rewrite from scratch entire sections or parts of Bills or even entire Bills. The ideal, which is not difficult to do in practice, is to have all relevant law contained in one place as one continuous running narrative. Cross-referencing is reduced to the absolute minimum.
I have spoken on this theme for as long as I have been in the Seanad, which is almost 15 years. Although many eminent people expressed agreement with me, I have not noticed much change in the way Bills are written. A notable exception was the Arts Act 2003 which could have been written by amending the two earlier Arts Acts but went back to square one and a completely new Bill was written. Apart from that I am hard put to recall an example of what I will call the "common-sense way" to write a Bill.
I am delighted at how the Minister of State chose to present the Bill before us today. Instead of amending previous legislation on a line by line basis he rewrote a large chunk of the relevant law at one go. This will make the legislation easier to understand for anybody who is not a trained lawyer and I applaud him for doing so. One wishes the effort was expended in a more worthy cause but that is another story.
I congratulate the Minister of State on the manner in which this is being done but I urge the Government to recognise the benefit of Independent Members of the Dáil, as it does with the Seanad. Much as I would like to see a reformed Seanad, which will happen, although not immediately, I hope the opportunity to have Independents in both Houses will continue.
I thank the Senators for their contribution to the debate. The comments, as usual, focused on the Bill and went across the electoral agenda. That is not unusual, I suppose. In the time available I wish to comment on some of the points raised.
Regulating access to the electoral process is a common feature in most parliamentary democracies and is widely seen as necessary to discourage an overly large number from contesting an election. The proposals in the Bill strike the right balance between providing for a reasonable test of the bona fides of a prospective candidate and not setting the test so high as to restrict people unduly from seeking election.
Candidates standing for Dáil election who are not in possession of a certificate of political affiliation will now be able to choose which option best suits their circumstances. This can be an assent requiring the completion of a statutory declaration by 30 assentors in the constituency, which may be witnessed by a commissioner of oaths, a peace commissioner, a notary, a garda or local authority official. A deposit of €500 can otherwise be lodged with the returning officer before the deadline for receiving nominations. This represents a significant improvement on the previous arrangement and I am satisfied it fully meets the relevant constitutional requirements.
In response to Senator Bannon and in commenting on the backhanded compliment given by Senator Quinn, the previous system was enacted in 2002 on the basis of the best legal advice available to the Government at the time. It is significant to remember that 15 Independents were elected to the current Dáil. Irrespective of how difficult it was, these people were able to come through the system.
It is always possible to challenge legislation, and this frequently happens in the electoral area. It is timely to remember that the State won on approximately seven issues in this case before the Supreme Court but lost on one item, which the Bill addresses.
Senator Bannon commented on European and local elections. Although the terms of the Supreme Court judgment relate to Dáil elections only, I fully agree it will be necessary to introduce similar arrangements for local and European elections. In considering the response to the Supreme Court decision, the feasibility of legislating for all three electoral codes in this one Bill was taken into account. It was concluded that the priority must be to ensure that proposals for amendments to the Dáil code are developed, considered, enacted and implemented in advance of the general election.
As Senators are aware, there is only limited time available to do this. The development of the new provisions in respect of the local and European electoral codes would have taken some additional time, which would have limited the opportunity for the Houses to consider the important issues involved.
The matter is not really as simple as it might appear. The necessary additional legislation will span a number of provisions across two electoral codes, requiring careful consideration and detailed drafting. It was therefore decided that the focus should be on preparing proposals to facilitate non-party candidates standing in the forthcoming general election and to maximise the time available to consider these.
When the new arrangements are enacted, the way will be open to begin work on developing revised procedures along similar lines for local and European Parliament elections, for implementation by way of a further electoral Bill. This will be done well before the next elections in June 2009.
On the question of the deposit amount, and to reiterate the statements of Senators on the Government side of the House, €500 is a reasonable sum. It is certainly significantly less than the £300 enacted in 1982 as updated by reference to inflation, and it has clear legal and judicial support based on the case law now available to us.
I remind the House that at the foundation of the State, the deposit amount was fixed at £100. Over the next 70 years this amount remained unaltered despite the great changes in money values. By the time law in this area was revised in 1992, the original £100 set down in 1923 was worth €3,800. The Oireachtas set the deposit at a tenth of this amount, £300 or €380. If the 1992 figure of €380 is updated to 2007, taking inflation into account, the figure is €570. Whichever way it is considered, €500 is not excessive.
I thank Senators for their contributions and look forward to further debate on these important issues on Committee Stage.