Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 14 July 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Electoral Commission in Ireland: Discussion (Resumed)
I thank the witnesses for attending, particularly Mr. Kenny and his colleagues from the Association of Irish Local Government. I thank Dr. Kennedy for the good news that sitting Deputies have a name recognition advantage. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it does not.
Ms Dixon mentioned there is an over-reliance on one identifier, namely, PPS numbers. Does she have any suggestions as to what other identifiers might be used?
Regarding the IALG presentation, I have a natural bias, as Mr. Kenny and his colleagues know, towards local government taking on as many responsibilities as possible. Do the IALG delegates have any suggestions for dealing with the address-based registration problems we are seeing? Young people, for example, often have two separate addresses, namely, their home address and the address at which they are studying or working. They might live with a boyfriend or girlfriend for a time before returning home to live. Some 300,000 households are in private rented accommodation, which is transient by nature, as opposed to local authority rented accommodation, which tends to be much more long-term. How do the delegates see these issues being dealt with? There is also a cross-boundary issue. In the case of Laois-Offaly, for instance, people might be registered at an address in both counties.
I am mindful of the local information to which local authorities have access and how useful that can be. However, as we have often noted in this committee, that information-gathering capacity has broken down to some extent in a context where we no longer have rate collectors and 700 town councillors are gone. That weakens the process of local intelligence gathering. In addition, political parties do not have the same on-the-ground membership they had 40 or 50 years ago, where there was somebody at every crossroads. How do we deal with the issue of multiple registrations? I accept that some of the benefits of local intelligence are still there as a result of the efforts of local authority staff and the 949 members of local authorities. However, capacity in this regard has been compromised.
Dr. Kavanagh referred to the staffing and management of the electoral commission. Who does he envisage heading the body up and how should that person be selected? The ad hocboundary commissions do not always deal us the hand we would like. In the case of Laois-Offaly, we have inherited a piece of south Kildare that has no relationship to Laois. Some people have asked whether there is bias there and how those decisions are made. Oireachtas Members from Laois-Offaly discovered the changes in the constituency when they found a map in their pigeon holes one day. I have no idea how the decisions in regard to my constituency were arrived at, because there is no accountability.
Who should be included in these commissions, including the boundary commission and the SIPO, and how should they be selected?