Last Tuesday, the chamber debated the Electoral Amendment Bill 2011. There are important proposals that being brought forward, such as a lower spending cap for Presidential elections, and a maximum delay of 6 months for by elections. I spoke in favour of the Bill.
I welcome the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011. It constitutes an important advance and as other speakers have noted, it forms a single element of a highly ambitious programme of reform the Government has set out to achieve and introduce. It is important that Members bear this point in mind.
One of the most important measures that has been agreed in the programme for Government is the establishment of a constitutional convention. I heard Deputies Pearse Doherty and Éamon Ó Cuív making a number of points earlier that I thought had great validity such as, for example, a suggestion about a list system. In addition to a number of suggestions from other speakers, such a change could only be dealt with or addressed through constitutional change, which is the reason it will be extremely important for the Government to turn its attention as quickly as possible, hopefully later this year, to establishing the constitutional convention once it has got through the more immediate proposals regarding constitutional change and the referendums that already are on the blocks. It is only when such a constitutional convention is established that it will be possible to consider all these issues in the round. It will be possible to consider matters more widely.
Electoral reform and the electoral system for the Dáil is one of the priority items in the programme for Government the constitutional convention is to address. It will provide the opportunity to deal with questions such as whether there should be a list system, the broader question of elections or perhaps the establishment of a permanent electoral commission. In itself, that measure would not require a constitutional change but broad questions on what electoral system it is best to have or how best to elect people to this Parliament can be addressed in the context of a constitutional convention. I hope such a convention is brought forward as early as possible in the autumn.
Nevertheless, simply because one states it is necessary to have a broader debate on such issues and on how to have constitutional change, this does not mean there are no measures that can be taken now. One should not allow the perfect be the enemy of the possible or the more immediately achievable measures such as those contained in this legislation. It contains three discrete items, each of which can and should be dealt with at this time and which should not be obliged to wait for the broader programme or agenda. The question of by-elections manifestly should be dealt with as quickly as possible and it is good the Minister has brought forward this measure so quickly. The Government may consider itself to be under a certain amount of pressure on foot of the High Court decision but notwithstanding that, it still is commendable that the Government has brought forward this proposal as quickly as it has.