Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 and the Influence of Social Media: Discussion (Resumed)
I have a question for Ms Perreault. There seems to be a bit of confusion relating to enforcement of current electoral offences. There are 30 or so offences. If I put up a poster in the morning and somebody does not feel that the notice on it adheres adequately to the current legislation, is there a section in SIPO that can investigate, police or sanction that? Does it go through the Garda and then the Director of Public Prosecutions? What is the channel? There seems to be confusion. Have there been any cases where SIPO has imposed sanctions in recent years or is there a lacuna there, as some commentators suggest?
There are several electoral Acts in place. The commission oversees the Electoral Act 1997 which largely deals with political donations and expenditure at elections. Certain aspects of the electoral legislation would be outside of the commission's remit. It has no responsibility for the content of political advertising, but we do in relation to expenditure. If someone spends money on posters, for example, they are obliged to declare that in their election expenses statement at the end of an election and then they can seek reimbursement of costs if they achieve a certain amount of the vote. The commission would not have responsibility for the content of their adverting, its placement or similar matters.
On enforcement, for the offences which fall within the Act that is within the commission's remit, it has the authority to make any inquiries or direct the production of information or documents or anything in the possession of a person which might be relevant to the commission's work. It may make inquiries and may form a view as to whether a contravention of the legislation may have occurred. The commission does not have direct prosecutorial power. It can refer any offences to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. In practice, and at the request of the DPP, we have referred potential offences to An Garda Síochána for investigation, which in turn, may refer them to the DPP for eventual prosecution.