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Dáil Speech on Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2012 Thursday 24th January 2013

I wonder, however, if the Bill is premature. One of the key elements of the recently established Constitutional Convention is to look at the electoral system and possibly change the way we vote and elect our TDs. We are probably premature in looking at this issue. As a result, counties will be split all over the place. The Constitution stipulates that each constituency must have at least three and no more than five Deputies. This put constraints on what the Constituency Commission could do. As a result, we have a hotchpotch of constituency boundary changes made to soup up the population and meet a Government target of reducing the number of Deputies from 166 to 158.

Is this simply cosmetic? In other countries with similar populations to our own, such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland, Members of Parliament represent roughly the same number of constituents as we do. People compare Ireland to the United Kingdom, our neighbour across the water, where there is one Member of Parliament for every 100,000 people. We see what is happening in the United Kingdom at present, where they do not know whether they want to be in or out of Europe. Our people are properly represented, with one Deputy for every 30,000 people.

I would have preferred to delay the Bill until the Constitutional Convention had made its recommendations. We could then have kept the identity of each individual county, which is most important. We would not, then, have had the hotchpotch that is Roscommon. Over the years, Roscommon has been in Mayo, Galway, Leitrim and Longford. All those counties rejected Roscommon and threw it out again. Maybe Roscommon could be set out with an identity of its own, following the report of the Constitutional Convention.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: That is not the official Government line.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Almost 50% of the submissions to the Constituency Commission came from the Swords area. As a result, Swords has been realigned as a single entity. Deputy Connaughton spoke about towns in Galway East being split. If all those towns had made submissions to the Constituency Commission, would they have been split? I do not think they would.

We talk about Oireachtas reform. Our Friday sittings are very disappointing. They are a waste of time. If we are to be here on Fridays, let us be here for something meaningful. Let us listen to debates and actually vote on them.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Hear, hear.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: It is a totally cosmetic exercise. I hope to have a Bill of my own debated at a Friday sitting but I would like it to be voted on following a meaningful discussion on it. If we are to have Friday sessions, they should be meaningful.

When I canvassed during the general election campaign, people I met on their doorsteps said they wanted me to be elected so that I could represent them in Dáil Éireann. When I was elected, the same people came to me to get their street lights fixed or potholes filled. There is a contradiction between what the people want at election time and what they want afterwards.

Deputy Finian McGrath: It is the Charlie O’Connor syndrome.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Or the Finian McGrath syndrome.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Look what happened to poor Charlie.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Deputy Connaughton stole my thunder with regard to quotas. I am a sheep farmer and I know all about quotas which were held back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when a quota determined how much money a farmer got.

The other night, I watched a satirical television programme from the 1980s called “Yes, Minister”. The Minister, Jim Hacker, was trying to promote a woman within the civil service. There was a fight about quotas within the civil service. When he had secured the decision that the woman would be promoted, she decided she would not take the promotion but would go to work in the private sector. He said he had worked hard for her promotion, but her reason for refusing it was that she wanted to succeed on merit. My mother fought for many years to get into Dáil Éireann and she spent a short time here. She would not like to see women as token representatives in this arena. She would like to see women here purely on merit, standing here as equals with men and not as token gestures. I find it difficult to believe we should demean women by classifying them as a quota group. We should not demean women by placing them in a quota category.

While I welcome parts of the Bill, we should have waited until the constitutional convention to get a clear recommendation from it on the number of Deputies per constituency. We could have had Roscommon on its own with one or two Deputies instead of being cast aside. In Kildare, there are people in Monasterevin and the south of the county who have no affiliation with Laois whatsoever. If I talk to someone about football, Kildare and Laois are like Manchester United and Manchester City, we hate one another in that neck of the woods. It would be much better that we would be split in two and with the county clearly identified so people would know they were voting for a Kildare person. I know people who have moved to Laois and who have transferred their votes to Kildare so they can vote there.

I welcome parts of the Bill, although it does not go far enough. I hope the Minister takes on board some of my suggestions.