European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019 – Minister Phelan's Second Stage Speech in the Dáil
Mr. John Paul Phelan, T.D.,
Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform
Second Stage of the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019
Wednesday, 6 February 2019 – Dáil Éireann
Check against Delivery
I move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
In commending the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019 to this House I am asking Dáil Éireann to continue the long established practice of implementing in full the recommendations of independent constituency reviews.
European Parliament Constituency Committee
As Deputies in this House are aware, a decision on the number of representatives to be elected to the European Parliament in each Member State for the 2019-2024 parliamentary term was made by the European Council on 28 June 2018.
That Council Decision establishing the composition of the European Parliament provides for 13 members to be elected in Ireland for the 2019-2024 parliamentary term, up from 11 seats in the current parliament. The Council Decision reduces and redistributes European Parliament seats following the decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The new composition will reduce the size of the European Parliament from 751 to 705 MEPs. Of the 73 seats vacated by the United Kingdom, 27 will be re-allocated to better reflect the principle of degressive proportionality. The 27 seats will be distributed to some 14 Member States, including Ireland, with no Member State losing a seat.
This change necessitated a review of European Parliament constituencies in Ireland with the result that a European Parliament Constituency Committee was established by order under section 5(1A) of the Electoral Act 1997 on 24 July 2018.
Terms of Reference
The Committee was required to report to the Ceann Comhairle no later than two months after its establishment (that is, by 24 September 2018) and was required to hold a public consultation process to inform its deliberations. The public consultation was held over the month of August 2018 and a total of 20 submissions were received by the Committee in advance of developing and finalising its report.
In arriving at its recommendations, the Committee was required to have regard to the follow terms of reference -
- the total number of representatives to be elected in the State to the European Parliament shall be such number as may be specified for the time being pursuant to the treaties governing the European Communities, i.e. 13 under the Council Decision of June 2018;
- reasonable equality of representation as between constituencies;
- each constituency returning 3, 4 or 5 members;
- the avoidance of any breach to county boundaries as far as practicable;
- each constituency being composed of contiguous areas;
- geographic considerations including significant physical features and the extent of and the density of population in each constituency; and
- subject to the above, continuity in relation to the arrangement of constituencies.
The Committee’s report was presented to the Ceann Comhairle on 24 September 2018 after which it was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The report was also circulated to Oireachtas members and MEPs on that date.
Report on European Parliament Constituencies
In summary, the Report on European Parliament Constituencies 2018 recommended that the State continue to be divided into three constituencies as follows –
- a 4-seat ‘Dublin’ constituency comprising the counties of: Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal and South Dublin; and the city of Dublin. In effect, the existing Dublin constituency gains one additional seat but otherwise remains unchanged;
- a 4-seat ‘Midlands-North-West’ constituency comprising the counties of: Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath; and the city of Galway. While the number of MEPs in the Midlands-North-West constituency does not change, its geographical territory is reduced by the transfer of Laois and Offaly into the South constituency; and
- a 5-seat ‘South’ constituency comprising the counties of: Carlow, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow; the cities and counties of Limerick and Waterford; and the city of Cork. In summary, this constituency gains an additional seat with its territory increasing to include Laois and Offaly in order to maintain reasonable equality of representation.
European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill
The Bill before the House today provides for the implementation of the recommendations in the Report on European Parliament Constituencies 2018 in full and without change. This approach is consistent with established practice since the first independent Constituency Commission reported in 1980.
It is a short Bill which provides for the election of 13 MEPs in Ireland across the three recommended constituencies for the 2019 to 2024 parliamentary term. In addition, the Bill provides for a number of technical amendments to our European Parliament Elections Act 1997 in order to implement certain requirements set out in the EU Council Decision of 13 July 2018.
This Council Decision, which aims to modernise the European Union’s electoral law (known as the “Act of 1976”) as well as to strengthen citizens’ participation in future European elections, was adopted in July of last year under the special legislative procedure following more than two years of negotiations between the European institutions.
The Council Decision inserts a number of provisions into the Act of 1976 (some mandatory and some voluntary) which are intended to take effect in advance of the holding of the elections to the European Parliament scheduled to take place in Member States between 23-26 May 2019.
Main provisions of the Bill
The Bill has seven sections.
Section 1 provides that the Principal Act referred to in the Bill is the European Parliament Elections Act 1997. It is that Act that is being amended.
Section 2 amends section 10 of our European Parliament Elections Act 1997 to extend the minimum period of time by which a “polling day order” must be made announcing the date for the holding of a poll for an election to the European Parliament.
This amendment is consequential to the amendment in section 4 of the Bill to extend the timeframe for the giving of the “notice of election” as set out in Rule 2 of the Second Schedule to the European Parliament Elections Act 1997.
A polling day order will now be made not less than 60 days in advance of polling day at elections to the European Parliament – up from the current 50 days.
Section 3 amends section 15 of the European Parliament Elections Act 1997 in order to provide that the counties, the cities and counties and the cities listed in the new Third Schedule to the Principal Act of the Bill will be those in existence on 1 September 2018 (that is when the Constituency Committee were preparing their report).
Section 4 provides for amendments to Rules 2, 5 and 50 of the Second Schedule to the European Parliament Elections Act 1997. The extension of the current timeframe for the giving of the “notice of election” as set in Rule 2 will ensure that the mandatory requirements under Council Decision of July 2018 in respect of the three week deadline for receipt of nominations as well as the six week deadline for the commencement of the exchange of information will be achieved.
A notice of election will now be issued by the returning officer at least 45 days (disregarding excluded days) before polling day – up from the current 35 days.
Separately, the amendments to Rules 5 and 50 will allow candidates standing for election to the European Parliament the option to include on their ballot papers the name of any European political party to which their national political party may be affiliated to.
This application of this provision will be entirely voluntary and whether the name of a European political party would be included on a ballot paper would be a matter for prospective candidates and their national political parties (if any) to decide.
Section 5 provides for the substitution of the Third Schedule of the Principal Act. The new Third Schedule sets out the name of each constituency, the counties and cities that each constituency will be comprised of, and the number of members that will be elected for each constituency in European elections held after 1 January 2019.
The major change from the current configuration is that an additional seat will be allocated to each of the Dublin and the South constituencies. In addition, the counties of Laois and Offaly will move from the Midlands-North-West constituency to the South constituency to provide for a better balance of representation.
In spite of these moves, there remains a considerable degree of continuity in the arrangement of the constituencies, with a three-constituency arrangement continuing to apply in the State.
In addition, the population per MEP in the three constituencies ranges from 336,840 to just 380,879, which is a very narrow range in terms of the variance of population per MEP. Thus there is a very fair balance of representation between the three constituencies.
Section 6 is a consequential amendment from the changes proposed in section 4 and amends section 25 of the Electoral Act 1992 to allow national political parties the option of including on the Register of Political Parties the name of any European political party to which they may be affiliated to.
Section 7 is a standard provision providing for the Bill’s short title, collective citation and its construction.
Impact of Brexit
The Bill has been drafted on the basis that the United Kingdom will withdraw from the European Union on 29 March 2019. However, as you can all appreciate, the timing in relation to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is currently less than clear in the light of recent decisions taken in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement.
In the event that the withdrawal does not take place as envisaged before the start of the 2019-2024 parliamentary term the provisions of Article 3(2) of the June 2018 Council Decision will come into effect.
In summary, this would mean that, in the case of Ireland, 13 members would be elected to the European Parliament, with 11 taking up office immediately while the remaining 2 would only take up office when the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union becomes legally effective.
Prudence would dictate that we make provision for a delayed withdrawal given the uncertainties that currently prevail. Accordingly and if necessary, I will bring forward amendments at Committee Stage of the Bill to provide for such a scenario and for any other such matters that may arise on foot of the Brexit process.
As I said in my introduction, this is a short Bill. It has the specific purpose of providing for new constituencies in which 13 MEPs will be elected to represent Ireland in the European Parliament for the 2019 to 2024 parliamentary term. It is now a matter for the Oireachtas to revise our European constituencies and I look forward to the debate on the Bill in this regard.
I commend this Bill to the House.