Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Census of Population.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach his plans for the census of population due to be taken on 23 April 2006; if a final decision has been taken on the questions to be asked in the census form; the number of census enumerators that will be employed; the expected total cost of the census; if the Central Statistics Office has consulted with local authorities or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as to whether the census process could assist in the preparation of more accurate electoral registers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9331/06]
The Government decided in July 2003 that a census of population should take place in 2006 in accordance with the long established five year frequency for census taking. Census day will be Sunday, 23 April. The Central Statistics Office began a consultation process in November 2003 to consider topics to be included in the census. Notices were placed in the national press and on the CSO website inviting public submissions on the suggested content of the 2006 census questionnaire.
A broadly based consultative group was set up in December 2003 to assist the CSO in assessing the merits of the various submissions received. The group agreed the content of the test questionnaire which was used in a census pilot survey. The survey was carried out in April 2004 and covered approximately 8,000 households in selected areas throughout the country. The results of the census pilot survey were discussed with the consultative group, following which the Director General of the CSO submitted a list of proposed topics to Government for its approval. The Government decided on the final content of the census questionnaire in January 2005.
In addition to long-standing questions on demographic and social topics a number of new questions will be asked in the upcoming census. These include a more comprehensive approach to measuring different family types, a question on female fertility, a question on ethnicity or cultural background and a question on participation in voluntary activities. New questions introduced for the 2002 census on Internet access, disability and carers are also being retained. For the first time in this country the responses to the disability questions will be used as the basis for a post-census disability survey to be conducted by the CSO in September-October.
A temporary field force is being recruited to carry out the census field work. This includes six liaison officers, 40 regional supervisors and 400 field supervisors who are already in place, along with 4,400 enumerators who will be taken on later this month to deliver and collect census forms throughout the country. It is estimated that the total cost of the census will be of the order of €50 million.
I would like to stress the importance attached by the Government to the census. The results are crucial for planning at national, regional and local level. The CSO puts major emphasis on ensuring that the census count is comprehensive. A unique strength of the census is its ability to provide accurate information on minorities and small areas and districts. This is particularly important in the context of the rapidly changing demographic environment in Ireland at present.
One of the factors which underpins the public co-operation which CSO enjoys is the guarantee of confidentiality of the information collected. The information collected can be used only for statistical purposes and individual information cannot be made available to any outside body or agency. This guarantee is contained in the Statistics Act 1993. In particular it implies that identifiable data cannot be made available to local authorities to enable them to check the accuracy of their electoral register data for particular individuals or households. However, the census information published at electoral division level, including the population classified by age, should enable local authorities to assess the coverage of their registers at that level of geographic detail. I wish the CSO well as it embarks on a vital national project, namely census 2006.
Is the Minister aware of concern about serious inaccuracies in the electoral register? Recent work by the Sunday Tribune estimated between 719,000 and 860,000 inaccuracies, which in the context of our voting population is significant. Given that the Government accepts the inadequacy of the maintenance of the electoral register, does the Minister agree that the census provides a unique opportunity to refurbish the electoral register and make it more accurate?
I accept Deputy Rabbitte's remarks. There are serious issues to be addressed on the electoral register. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been dealing with that and has sent guidance to local authorities. There is talk of connecting it with the PPS number. This census is taken every five years while the electoral register is made every year. The census relates to statistics which are important for national, regional and local planning.
Because the enumerators will operate in a tight schedule and will be fully occupied and focused during the nine weeks of the census campaign, there is no scope for additional duties. The lot of the enumerator is more onerous than before because of a mobile population where making contact has become more difficult.
The census covers everybody in the country on census night at the place where they spend that night. The electoral register deals with a person's usual residence. If both jobs were to be carried out by the census enumerators there is a danger that the coverage and definition of the census might suffer. There must be a clear public perception that the census is not linked to any other operation. Making the connection between census delivery and collection and the register of electors would have a detrimental effect on the census and would jeopardise the success of the operation. It is a fundamental principle of statistics internationally that while the information derived from registers can be used to provide statistics, information collected for statistical purposes only cannot feed into maintaining registers.
While the Deputy has well-founded concerns about the accuracy of the register, the census of population is not the way to improve it. This is a question for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister has been addressing the issue and his Department assured me this morning that extra resources are being provided and more work is being done. Deputy Rabbitte's colleague, Deputy Gilmore, has raised this. The census is vital for future planning and I would be concerned if we diluted the work of the enumerators.
The Minister has accepted that the concerns about inaccuracies in the electoral register are well founded. Is it the Government's view that the figures on inaccuracy advanced by the Sunday Tribune are approximately correct? He has referred to the efforts by Deputy Gilmore, who introduced a Private Bill on this matter.
I cannot see what the problem is regarding the census being every five years and the fact that the electoral register is updated every year. There is not much point in updating it if it is inaccurate to anything like the extent being suggested. Will the Minister of State say more precisely what the problem is in transferring the information garnered in the census for purposes of compilation of an electoral register that obviously would have a high degree of accuracy? I do not know if it is even necessary to put an additional question. The questions on the census form are so comprehensive that it is possible to abstract this information anyway. Even if it is necessary to put an additional question or two on the census form, why could this not be done in the interests of having an electoral register on which we could rely?
I have outlined a number of reasons already for the difference in the work involved regarding the census and the electoral register. I should be concerned if we were to diminish the role of the people involved in conducting the census work. There is a legal issue as well to be considered. The Statistics Act 1993 deals with the whole issue of confidentiality in respect of the information provided. There are restrictions. I refer to one aspect of the legislation which provides that all information furnished by a person, undertaking or public authority under this Act shall be used only for statistical compilation and analysis purposes. There is a very different focus on the work being done by the census people. They are involved in statistics. It is really a one-way street and there are confidentiality issues. It is an independent body involved in planning.
The electoral register, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the local authority and there is an onus on the householder as well to deal with the questions. There are problems and the Deputy has mentioned the figures. There is a voting discrepancy, I believe, of the order of 300,000. I totally accept that there are major issues to be addressed, but the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is dealing with these matters specifically. It is a matter of resources.
My view is that in both situations the Internet should be used in both cases. The Internet will obviously be central to the work of the next census. That is being done in places such as Canada and New Zealand. Some local authorities make use of the Internet to allow people to check whether they are on the register. Many issues can be dealt with and there are ways for improving both operations. However, the work of the census is very focused and independent and is vitally important. I am concerned about jelling both processes.
Does the Chief Whip accept that the current situation where the CSO is seen to be quite separate from the issue of the electoral register needs to be addressed? The comparison with the foot and mouth disease when matters were not left to the local Teagasc offices to deal with is apposite. It was very much a matter for the Government to take a lead and lay down not just guidelines but requirements in terms of standards.
In terms of the proper working of democracy in Ireland, does he accept that the Government must take account of the fact that we have a serious problem with the electoral register, which the CSO needs to be involved in resolving? Is there a role for the CSO, for example, if we are to use PPS numbers, which I favour, in verifying the authenticity of people's existence and their entitlement to vote? Has the Chief Whip a view on the disparity between the population of about 4 million and the fact that we have between 5 million and 9 million PPS numbers? Some people who are dead still have PPS numbers. Married women in some cases use their husbands' PPS numbers while having PPS numbers of their own. Some citizens live outside the State and are precluded from voting on that basis, which is an issue that we might perhaps come back to. Before we think further about PPS numbers, however, we must resolve the disparities that exist in that area.
On that basis, does the Chief Whip agree that an independent franchise section is needed at central Government level — whether in the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government or the CSO — rather than simply leaving matters to local authorities, which have so many different standards in place that the type of system we have at the moment is not dependable? We have a central election section but not a central franchise section. Does the Chief Whip agree that we should have that if this matter is to be resolved?
I want to make one comment on the whole area of responsibility of my colleague, Deputy Roche, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are long-term changes in the system in view and proposals have been made which include linkages with the census. There is a reference to that. He also talks about the use of PPS numbers for electoral registration purposes, the use of postal codes and linkages with public utilities. From the viewpoint of the Department, the Minister in question will use everything at his or her disposal to make matters better.
To come back to my area of responsibility, which is the CSO, all types of new questions are coming in here, as I outlined in my reply. Many of these questions relate to disability, for example. A national survey of disability will be carried out in September as a result of the work being put into this census. Every person in the country on census night will be counted where they are, regardless of whether the venue is their own residence. Special attention will be paid to enumerating persons in communal establishments such as hostels and guest houses. There is also the matter of new ethnic communities living here to be considered. Disabilities and matters related to where people are working are among some of the new areas that we are pursuing.
Improvements in the electoral register certainly are needed and the Minister is putting new resources into this. Based on the facts he has shared with me, the total general purposes grants from the Department to local authorities in 2006 are up by €57 million. He is clearly very much aware of these issues. However, I am really saying that there are two separate issues to be considered. On the questioning and the work of the CSO, I am satisfied that it is pursuing the right approach. There are major resources going into this.
Will the Minister of State not accept that some common sense is needed here? The people who are permanent full-time civil servants in the Central Statistics Office do not care about the electoral register. They are not facing an election in the next 18 months. All Members of this House and those who want to get into it will be facing an election. We know the electoral register is inaccurate. Nobody is disputing the figures that have been mentioned. What can we do about it practically?
I accept there are legal constraints regarding confidentiality. However, if we are going to spend €15 million to put a group of approximately 4,500 together — based on the Minister of State's first reply — to call to every house in the country, could they not take with them voter registration forms and hand these in at the same time to households? When they come back to collect the completed census forms they can take with them the other forms which the local authorities will have issued. At that point the enumerator can hand over the voter registration form to the relevant authority and it can be processed in the normal way.
I raised this matter last Friday with the Dublin City Manager. It is simply not possible now for many of the council's enumerators to get to many of the households because of the changing nature of work as well as matters pertaining to occupation and residency.
Local authorities, for whom the electoral register is not a top priority, do not have the money to carry out additional work. There is clear evidence of a deliberate stuffing of the register in some parts of Dublin. If the Minister of State wishes, I will refer him to Deputy Gay Mitchell who will quote chapter and verse for his benefit.
There is no point in coming back to the House in 18 months and stating the general election was unfair because of disputed numbers. As someone who once lost his seat by 37 votes, I know numbers are very tight. Some common sense is needed. Will the Minister of State raise the issue with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure some measure of co-ordination between local authorities is achieved? We should try to get good value for money out of the €50 million we will spend on this census.
I assure Deputy Quinn that I will raise the points made by him with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. If we can achieve a greater focus on improving the electoral register by means of this debate, it would be a good development. I accept there is a considerable need to improve the electoral register process. The legislation has been improved through a variety of recent Acts such as the Electoral Act 1992, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002 and the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2004. This legislation has made the process more secure but there are issues remaining which affect the democratic process. I am more than happy to raise the points made by Deputy Quinn with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to see if we can improve both processes.
Could the Minister of State tell me when a census will next be held in the Six Counties? Is one scheduled to run close to our own proposed for the coming month? I ask because it is important to marry the various statistical information which can be provided by the censuses in order to provide a national and island-wide view of the profile of the nation.
In respect of the electoral register, it is often stated bluntly or implied that the real issue is fraud. However, disenfranchisement is the real issue. If anyone can remember back to their most recent experience of canvassing, they will know how heartbreaking it is to encounter people whose names should appear on the electoral register but do not. This is a very serious matter, which must be addressed. It is not a matter of simply tidying up the register, which is required in any country.
In taking on board the points already expressed, it is critical that the Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government reflect the importance of ensuring the name of every entitled citizen is included on the electoral register and that every entitled citizen is able to exercise his or her right to vote. I agree with earlier speakers that this is an exercise which cannot be ignored. The census uptake is a golden opportunity to address the need to overcome the outstanding difficulties with the register throughout the jurisdiction.
I do not know when the next census in Northern Ireland will take place. Our next census will be held on Sunday, 23 April 2006. The following census will be held in 2011. Very good co-operation exists between Northern Ireland and this country in respect of the CSO, statistics and figures and this will continue, regardless of when the census is carried out in Northern Ireland.
It is planned to publish the principal demographic results within a year of the census and to release all publications from the 2006 census before the end of 2007, with the published tables being provided simultaneously on the CSO's website. A considerable amount of work is taking place, which does not simply happen before the night of the census and afterwards. I understand that three years' work is involved in this census. A follow-up census will take place in 2011. Co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland will take place. I will certainly convey Deputies' views to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of this debate.
I live in a constituency where there are far more people on the electoral register than are entitled to be. I understand this number will increase with the coming general election. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Quinn and believe something practical should be done along the lines he suggested.
The census enumerators will go out on 23 April 2006. As the Minister of State said, they will have nine weeks in which to conduct their business. This means the figures will be in by the end of June. At that stage, the number crunching will presumably begin. After five years, there will undoubtedly be a disparity in population shift and growth, particularly in the greater Dublin area. This raises the question as to when the basic figures will be made available in the context of such matters as the shift and growth in population. Does this mean the Government will have the time and duty to establish a revision of electoral boundaries in the context of the coming general election?
The first results from the census will be published in July 2006. A total of 4,400 enumerators will deliver and collect the census forms. Each enumerator will be responsible for an enumeration area consisting of approximately 350 households. The enumerator will contact the households in the lead up to the day of the census on 23 April 2006, will mark the location of each house or apartment in his or her enumeration area on the map provided and drop off blank forms and an explanatory leaflet to each household with instructions to complete. I understand all Deputies are familiar with the process which will commence on Monday, 24 April 2006. Enumerators will collect completed census forms from households and heads of institutions. As one Deputy noted, the real work will then begin.
The first results will be published in July 2006 and will consist of population counts at electoral division and county level, based on enumerators' summaries. It will be possible to determine from these results the true extent of net inward migration between April 2002 and April 2006. The work will then begin. It is planned to publish the principal demographic results within a year of the census and to release all publications from the census before the end of 2007.
I have listened to this debate but am very confused about the matter. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said last week that he had made more resources available to local authorities to look after the electoral register. From experience in my area, I know that up to a few years ago, local authority officials looked after the towns and villages and the register was up to date. Why is this work not being carried out today? It is the only practical way to update the register.
That is a question for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I dealt with this issue earlier. I will revert to him on foot of this debate. The matter is not my responsibility.
The CSO has a role to play, which is why I am asking this question. In the forthcoming census, will notice be taken of the need for PPS numbers to accurately reflect the number of people so there is one effective PPS number for each living person? If the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is to make use of the information, it is pointless if the existing situation continues whereby PPS numbers are far more plentiful than the number of people entitled to vote. Should this not be a focus of the census if we are to improve the electoral register on the basis of the information collected?
The Deputy may have seen the census form which is on the website. While there is no reference to that aspect, there are issues in regard to the PPS number which have been referred to by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I assure the House that I will revert on these issues. However, there is no specific question in that regard on our website.
On a district electoral division basis. I did not think I would have to explain the abbreviation "DED" to anyone in this House, but there you are. If that is the case, the recommendation of my colleague, Deputy Quinn, is all the more feasible, practicable and capable of implementation and getting value for money. I urge the Minister of State to persuade his colleague to think about the matter and report back to the House.
If it is the case that the first figures are available as early as July 2006, and given the inevitable population shifts that have occurred, is it the Minister of State's view that there may be a constitutional imperative to set up a new boundaries commission in 2006?
As the Deputy is in a neighbouring constituency to me, this may have implications for both of us in the context of boundary divisions, as Dublin South and Dublin South-West are neighbouring constituencies. While I do not believe a new boundaries commission will be set up, I look forward to these results, the first round of figures for which will be published in July 2006. I assure Deputy Quinn that I will convey the points he made to my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Enumerators will work on average approximately 25 hours a week, mainly at evening time during the week and all day Saturday and Sunday, with a view to making contact with householders. They will earn on average approximately €2,200 for nine weeks part-time work. Even though they will not be paid by the hour, it is estimated that the average hourly payment will be €9.75. I am conscious that this is very important work. I repeat that I will convey the views of Deputies to my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who has responsibility for the electoral register.
Given that so many people who reside in cities and urban areas live in apartments and gated apartments, is the Minister of State satisfied that there are sufficient funds available as the enumerators may have to go back five, ten, 15 or 20 times to contact these people? Will he consider contacting An Post to assist in getting the names of people to access households which are impossible to find?
As public representatives, we all know how difficult it is to access many of the new apartment compounds with security gates and so on. There are real issues in this regard. As I said earlier, each enumerator will be responsible for an area consisting of 350 households. They will work mainly at evening time during the week and all day Saturday and Sunday. Their work programme will be designed to deal with these issues. Funding of almost €50 million is being provided to cover the work over a three-year period. Approximately €14.5 million will be spent on headquarters staff. The way it is structured and the resources provided will take account of modern Ireland and the type of households and apartment blocks that exist.