Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Electoral Registration Commissioner Bill 2005: Second Stage.

 

7:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time with Deputies Costello and Burton. I welcome the opportunity to move Second Stage of this Labour Party Private Members' Bill, which aims to revamp the manner in which the electoral register is compiled and maintained and to take measures to stamp out electoral fraud. The purpose of the Electoral Registration Commissioner Bill 2005, is to establish the office of the electoral registration commissioner and to set out the duties of that office regarding the supervision of the performance by registration authorities of their obligations in the preparation and publication of electoral registers. In addition, the Bill provides for access by registration authorities to information held by third parties on persons resident within their registration areas and makes provision for the use of personal public service, PPS, numbers in connection with the registration of electors and with establishing the identity of persons applying for ballot papers at elections. I will return to the detailed provisions of the Bill.

This is probably one of the most important issues to be considered by the House before the next general election. It is a vitally important issue involving the integrity of our electoral system. The electoral register is in a shambles. Politicians of all parties make regular use of it and they know by experience it is incomplete and out of date. Virtually everyone in politics can recount experiences of canvassing in housing estates or blocks of flats where the names on the register bear little relationship to those living in these houses or apartments. I could give many examples from my constituency or from those of many of my colleagues. I will give just one example drawn to my attention by my colleague, Councillor Dominic Hannigan, who has reported entire estates of new homes with house after house having no registered voters. Rath Lodge in Ashbourne, reports Councillor Hannigan, has almost 200 homes but only a handful of registered voters. On a recent canvass in the area, he distributed scores or registration forms to residents who had never been offered them before.

Problems with the electoral register are not new. For as long I have been in politics the electoral register has been a problem, with errors and inaccuracies common. However, the scale of the errors and inaccuracies is new and unprecedented. Again this is acknowledged across all parties. Nobody knows how inaccurate is the register. Research carried out by political analyst, Mr. Odran Flynn, and published in The Sunday Tribune suggested the current register may be wrong by up to as many as 800,000 names. This includes people who have moved into an area but have never been included on the register, those who are dead, people who are entitled to vote but are not on the register, people who are double registered and those registered in constituencies in which they have no entitlement to a vote. Mr. Flynn considered a number of factors when coming to this figure. He points out that the most recently published electoral register has 3.129 million people on it. This is estimated to be 300,000 more than the number of Irish and British adult citizens in the State entitled to be on the register. However, 300,000 would assume every citizen in the State is on the register. This is rarely the case and the international norm would be to expect 80% to 85% of the electorate to be on the register. On this basis he estimates the register may be wrong by anything between 719,000 and 860,000.

Mr. Flynn may have overestimated the scale of the problem. However, even if Mr. Flynn is only half right, or even a quarter right, we still have a huge problem. If the estimate is only half right, then the electoral register is out by 400,000. If the estimate is only a quarter right, the register is out by 200,000, well more than the population of Cork city. Such a level of inaccuracy, gives rise to two principal areas of concern: it deprives a significant number of people of the democratic right to vote and provides potential for electoral fraud. The outcome of the next general election may be determined by the outcome in a handful of constituencies. It is unacceptable that the will of the people could be frustrated by those who are prepared to take advantage of the shambolic state of the register to perpetrate electoral fraud.

Those involved in politics know that no real and sustained effort is being made by local authorities, which are charged with maintaining the register, to keep the register accurate and current. It is not a core activity of local authorities, does not rate highly on their lists of priorities and they have not been given the finance or resources to adequately do the job. By way of example I refer to an e-mail I received earlier today, one of the many I received on this issue. It obviously struck a chord with people who have had difficulties registering themselves or who know about the inaccuracies in the register. My correspondent moved home a few months ago and dropped into the local county council office to have his address changed on the electoral register. He was told the relevant forms were not available but the county council took his name and address and said he would be contacted. Three months later no contact had been made so he sourced the form himself and sent it to the relevant office. By way of contrast he described the energy of the television licence inspectors who were onto him like a shot. He writes:

I have never held a TV licence in my own name before so I was not on their records. Two months after moving into my new abode I got a letter from An Post's TV licence services office stating that according to their computer database my address was not covered by a TV licence and urging me to buy one before I got a knock on the door.

The person rightly points out that when it comes to the collection of money the agencies of the State have no difficulty maintaining an accurate register of who lives where and of tracking them down with efficiency, but when it comes to establishing their entitlement to participate in our democratic system by voting a different standard and energy is applied.

It would have taken only a fraction of the almost €60 million wasted on an insecure, unreliable and unwanted electronic voting system, to provide the local authorities with the resources, facilities and modern technology to guarantee a register that is as accurate as possible. The process of updating the register has not kept pace with housing developments and with changes in the workforce and in work patterns. Since the last general election 300,000 new houses have been built. People are frequently out at work when local authority officials call to check voter registration. In addition, there has been a major increase in private renting, a sector with a high turnover of tenants. The growth of so-called "gated communities", flats and housing developments with no access to outsiders has created a new problem for those compiling the register.

I am not suggesting the Government has made a deliberate decision to allow the electoral register to fall into such disarray but it has failed in the duty to ensure that we have an accurate and reliable register. There may be some involved in Irish politics who are unscrupulous enough to take advantage of the electoral register to perpetrate electoral fraud. In every recent general election the destination of seats in some constituencies was determined by a handful of votes. We must not allow a situation to develop whereby the genuine wish of the electorate can be frustrated by electoral fraud using an inaccurate electoral register.

Virtually from the introduction of partition until recent years electoral fraud was a major problem in Northern Ireland, but the authorities there have taken effective steps to curb this immoral, illegal and anti-democratic practice. A key part of this strategy has involved a more robust approach to the compilation of the electoral register. For example, I understand that following a major review of the system for registering voters, the number of entries on the electoral register fell by almost 20% in some constituencies. In the Falls ward in Belfast the electoral register was found to be 25% oversubscribed. Northern Ireland now operates a form of "rolling electoral register", the integrity of which is constantly checked.

The situation in regard to the electoral register in this State has gradually been getting worse. Despite concern in all political parties the Government has taken no action to improve the reliability and accuracy of the register. Indeed, the Government refused to avail of the unique opportunity offered by this weekend's census to update the register on a national basis. The Labour Party had suggested to the Government, prior to the conduct of the census, that census enumerators could and should be asked to carry a second form for the purpose of updating the electoral register. My colleague Deputy Quinn told the House that this could be done in a way which would not infringe the confidentiality of the census. Enumerators could present a second voter registration form to households and have it completed and returned separately to local authorities.

The Government has missed a great opportunity to correct the voter register using the census process. Every single household in the country is being called to by enumerators, who will repeatedly call back to those households until all the forms are returned. This could have been the means to secure an accurate register but the Government failed to act. There were reports over the weekend that the Government was considering sending census enumerators back into the field to update the register and that the Minister would bring proposals to Government today — I am interested to hear the Minister's response in that regard. That proposal would be a welcome development and would deal with the problem of the register for next year's election. However, it is not a permanent solution. There is a considerable gap between the taking of each census whereas the register needs to be updated annually.

The Bill which the Labour Party proposes to deal with the problem of the electoral register on a permanent basis contains a number of features. The purpose of the Bill is to establish, at national level, the independent office of electoral registration commissioner. It spells out the duties of the commissioner in supervising the performance by local authorities of their statutory duties in preparing the electoral register. Specifically, the functions of the commissioner will be to supervise generally, co-ordinate, monitor and report on the performance by local authorities of their duties relating to the registration of electors; to carry out registration duties on behalf of local authorities, with their agreement or where the local authorities are in default of their statutory obligations; to make recommendations to the Minister on amendments to the law on electoral registration to secure a more comprehensive and timely registration of electors while safeguarding the integrity of the poll; to promote public awareness and information campaigns in regard to electoral registration requirements; and to provide local authorities with advisory, technical support and other ancillary services in connection with registration duties.

The overall objectives of the commissioner are to ensure the comprehensive, accurate and timely registration of persons entitled to be registered as electors in an efficient and economical manner and to ensure that all necessary action is taken to prevent or detect the registration of those who are not entitled to be so registered and the registration of persons as electors in more than one registration area.

The expenses of the commissioner are to be met by way of a financial contribution to be paid each year to the commissioner by the local authorities. The commissioner is required to ensure that his or her costs of operations are kept to a minimum and are not excessive. In default of payment by a registration authority of any amount owed by it, the amount involved will be deducted from any sums payable to that authority by any Department and will instead be paid to the commissioner.

The commissioner will be entitled to issue advice and recommendations to local authorities to ensure the smooth and efficient registration of electors and to secure uniformity of procedure throughout the State. He or she will also be enabled to provide services, assistance and other support. If the commissioner believes a local authority has failed to perform its registration duties, or has performed those duties in an unsatisfactory manner, and the response of the authority to any advice or recommendations issued or services, assistance or support offered to it is inadequate, the commissioner will be entitled to give a direction to the authority to carry out any necessary ameliorative action within a specified period. It is the duty of a registration authority to comply with directions given to it by the commissioner. If it fails to comply with a direction, the commissioner can then carry out the necessary action himself or herself. The local authority will be responsible for the costs of any such action.

The Bill updates the provisions of the Electoral Act 1992 relating to the co-operation a local authority can expect from citizens in the electoral registration process and the information it can require, both from electors and third parties. To be satisfied as to the entitlement of a person to be registered as an elector, a local authority can require information sufficient to establish the public service identity of that person and his or her ordinary residence. "Public service identity" is defined by reference to the Social Welfare Acts and essentially consists of a person's PPS number, together with his or her name, including previous names, date and place of birth, sex, address and nationality.

A local authority will also be entitled to require certain listed bodies to give the authority information relating to the names, addresses, ages, nationalities and PPS numbers of persons resident within its area. The bodies listed include Departments, the OPW, local authorities, the Health Service Executive, statutory bodies and agencies, State-owned companies and financial institutions regulated by the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority; the Private Residential Tenancies Board and any landlord who is obliged to register with the board under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004; and prescribed utility undertakings that supply energy, communications or broadcasting services to the public.

It is stipulated that information given to a registration authority may be used in the performance of electoral registration duties and for no other purpose. A local authority may share the personal PPS number and public service identity of registered electors with the commissioner and with other registration authorities to prevent multiple registrations. The information may also be shared with presiding officers at polling stations at election time. However, local authorities may not publish a person's PPS number or public service identity in or in connection with a register of electors or share that information with any other public body or any other person. The Bill provides also that documents relating to PPS numbers may be specified by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as documents that a returning officer or presiding officer may request a person applying for a ballot paper to produce. That system would ensure the PPS number is used, first, for the purposes of registering the voter in the first place and, second, as a control of possible voter fraud at the polling stage.

In the longer term, the Labour Party believes we need to establish an independent electoral commission that will have full responsibility for all aspects of elections and referendums. However, the immediate priority that must be faced before the next general election is restoring regularity and accuracy to the electoral register. It is simply unthinkable that we could waltz into it with an electoral register that is up to 20% inaccurate, has great potential for electoral fraud, of which the Government has repeatedly been warned in this House and in the media, and about which it has taken no action.

We have heard on many occasions, in exchanges I have had directly with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government during questions on the subject, and in others that my party colleagues have had with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste on the Order of Business, a general sense of agreement from the Government side that there is a problem with the electoral register and that something will have to be done about it. However, we have seen no concrete steps taken by the Government to deal with the inaccuracy of it. We simply cannot have the next general election conducted with the register in its current shambolic state. I ask the Minister, when responding, to tell us what the Government will do about it, and if it intends to act. I appeal to him to accept the Labour Party Bill.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I compliment my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, on producing the Electoral Registration Commissioner Bill 2005, which is long overdue. I also compliment my colleague, Deputy Quinn, who has raised this issue on several occasions in the House and made practical proposals on how we might have found a short-term solution to the problem by employing census enumerators to distribute ballot forms at the same time as they were delivering census forms. By registering people at the same time, we would be able to achieve an accurate count of those living in houses, apartments and flats across the country. I hope the Minister, as reported, will follow up and re-employ the census enumerators for the next few months after they have completed the collection of census forms to do what Deputy Quinn suggested might have been done at the same time more cheaply.

I add for the Minister's interest that so far I have not received a census form, although I contacted the website and specifically asked for one before last Sunday. Perhaps census enumerators also require more supervision in certain areas.

The inaccuracy of the electoral register is so great as to undermine the whole concept of one person, one vote and damage democracy considerably. As Deputy Gilmore said, with an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 persons registered to vote but not entitled to do so because the register has not been overhauled since the foundation of the State, the scope for abuse by unscrupulous persons is considerable, as are the difficulties in ensuring we have an accurate ballot at elections. It is incredible things should have reached this stage, given the importance we attach to the principle of one person, one vote, which is the bedrock of Irish democracy and sovereignty.

This year we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. In some commemorations we will remember that Cumann na mBan came out to join the Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers because its members were committed to the concept of one person, one vote. They were suffragettes too, since it was part and parcel of the milieu of the time and inspired many people to become involved in the political movement. It is certainly of major concern to everyone in the country, and it should be of particular concern to us, who as politicians find we must face the people every few years. We expect each person to have one vote and no one to have more than one. We certainly do not expect anyone to have several or that the concept of voting early and often might still apply anywhere in the country.

At least a dozen constituencies in the next election will return a Dáil Deputy with a winning margin of a few hundred votes or less, which could turn the tide regarding what Government is formed. The country will be governed for five years or so on that basis, making it of considerable concern to us all. We are the only people with the power to do something about it. Deputy Gilmore proposes precisely that: a practical, rational system whereby we address the inflated register. That register is oversubscribed, probably in the vast majority of cases, for very valid reasons unconnected with any abuse. The dead have not been removed from the register because there is no mechanism to do so. Others may have moved on or have been registered twice, and the same applies. For all sorts of valid reasons, the register is growing all the time. Every time someone moves house, there is the danger that he or she will be registered again.

I can explain the situation in a constituency such as mine. Dublin Central is an inner-city constituency, and the North Circular Road is largely populated by tenants in private landlord accommodation. There is an average of nine tenants to each house on that street, and over the years vast numbers of them have come and gone. They have been added to the electoral register while they lived there, but their names have not been deleted upon leaving because there is no mechanism.

At election time vast quantities of voting cards are distributed to those houses, and virtually anyone can pick them up and vote. Since no one knows the identity of such a transient population, no one challenges personation at the polling station. The system is now no longer so effective. Various political parties had personation agents in the stations, but that is no longer so widespread, and people are not challenging voters to the same degree, since they do not know their neighbours any more owing to great changes in the nature of urban populations in particular.

There are of course numerous other means of abusing the voting system. In the absence of any supervisory and accountability mechanism, we have a real problem. Each local authority is charged with carrying out the work by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but no one checks to see what each local authority does.

With scarce resources, maintaining the electoral register is time-consuming and expensive, and local authorities have more pressing needs. In the short term, census enumerators should continue to be employed in May and June to retrace their footsteps and check the electoral register. In the longer term, it is essential to put the compilation of the electoral register on a proper footing. An electoral registration commissioner is the best way of ensuring the register is put on such a proper footing and kept there.

Gated communities are the bane of every politician, and virtually every new development now ends up being such. If one examines the register, one finds that only approximately 10% of people in such communities are registered to vote. That means they are outside the democratic process and we have vast increases in the populations of inner-city and suburban constituencies who are not part and parcel of the voting process. They cannot be contacted by politicians or even by census enumerators. This time, the latter group have found their job twice as hard as before.

This is all part of the social change taking place. Much of it is due to the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has been very ineffective in dealing with the crime problems which have beset urban communities especially in recent times. People feel fearful unless they live in gated communities. Thankfully, Dublin City Council has made a policy decision that no more of its social housing developments will be gated communities. It had begun to go down the same road. I hope other local authorities will follow suit. Is there a system where we could ensure private developments forward some type of case before they can become gated communities which block out the world, all social intercourse and effectively mean people live in fortresses, because it is very damaging to society?

The PPS number proposal for identification purposes is important. The present identification mechanisms are inadequate. The worst thing in the world is to have a system where a passport is regarded as the identification document because it is unreliable in the present circumstances. There must be closer supervision of the mechanism by which we deal with the matter. Supervision, co-ordination, monitoring and promotion of awareness are the keys to dealing with the problem. I hope the Minister will accept this legislation and deal with the matter in the short term.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, on bringing forward this Bill and Deputy Quinn who has spoken frequently on this important issue. As others said, people died for the right to vote, which we recently commemorated and which is fundamental to democracy. We must have two broad objectives. We must ensure nobody is deprived of their vote. That is a problem, especially in the new communities and building areas where it may be difficult, if not impossible, to register. The second objective must be to stop people who are willing to commit electoral fraud and personation to gain what potentially could be a hugely significant impact in terms of additional votes.

Some candidates and parties so believe in their right to win, regardless of the rules, that they can have a field day if they are willing to abuse the chaos of the current electoral register. Landlords in many locations can pick up voting cards — in some cases by the dozen — and pass them on to candidates and parties willing to chance their arm and commit electoral fraud. If the Garda does not have much success apprehending people for murder and serious crimes of violence against the person, what are the chances of it seriously prosecuting people who decide to take a minimal risk and get involved in electoral fraud?

The Minister should bear in mind what a team of ten people with hard necks and a willingness to personate could do. The polls are open for 13 hours on election day and most constituencies have been 20 and 50 polling stations. One would not need to be an armchair general to work out a schedule. A team of people could start at around 8.30 a.m., have tea and biscuits at lunchtime and continue to personate until the evening. They could perhaps go to the count centre the next day to look at the count results. They could carry out hundreds of voting personations. If they were in any way ingenious about it, were prepared to use the odd headscarf, wig or change of jacket and move around in a disciplined quasi-military way, God knows what they would be able to do in terms of votes in sensitive constituencies.

I was particularly struck by what a number of Deputies from the Minister's party said. After the previous general election, they told me how surprised they were to find a massive surge in voting by people they did not know from Adam late in the day at large polling stations in the Dublin area. Deputy Costello spoke about Dublin Central. The extraordinary surge in voting late in the day in certain polling stations in parts of Dublin Central was mentioned to me.

Let us be realistic about the challenge. Some challenges to democracy come in a particular format and involve direct undermining of, and making physical threats against, the State. However, making a threat by way of voter fraud could have as dramatic an impact on the future of Government and representation in this country. Although the Government has tut-tutted in recent times about this, I am not sure it has taken the issue seriously enough.

There are a number of issues in respect of Dublin West. There are thousands of new houses and many new communities, including people coming to live there from elsewhere in the country and from all over the world. There are groups of residents who are new to the area. Housing estates of 1,500 to 2,500 houses built over a three or four-year period are not untypical in Dublin West.

The political scéal and folktale was that in the wintertime, Fianna Fáil branches, in particular in constituencies such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, sat in the local pub, pored over the register and had a bit of an argument about whether somebody was really living at home or whether they had gone to college or were working in England and America. Removing a name from, or adding one to, the register was hard fought between political parties. It was one of the functions of rural branches of political parties, and it probably still is.

However, what does one do in a constituency such as Dublin West with 2,500 houses in an estate? People are lucky enough to know the neighbour on either side of them. I do not know of the political party which has the intelligence to be able to sit in judgment on who is really living in the 2,500 houses in an estate. I see the Minister pointing opposite. That is quite scary.

There is also a phenomenon where in constituencies such as Dublin West, 15% to 25% of houses in some areas are rented. For the most part, the landlords stay on the register. Where should a landlord be registered? Is it where the landlord lives or the property which he or she may own but may have left to move down to Wicklow to be closer to the Minister, for example? Where are these people meant to be registered?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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With the Revenue Commissioners.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Exactly. We have a series of problems which present extraordinary difficulty.

As most of us know, there are genuinely distressed citizens in the community who seek to exercise their vote and who try to get on the register in the immediate run-up to the election. It is unbelievably difficult, and there are pink and blue forms. A person must use one type of form if they are in a certain category. County council officials do not even know how to categorise people. Could we have voter registration and information booths in supermarkets and big shopping centres in order for people to get information in a friendly, informative and authoritative way? Deputy Gilmore's idea that the PPS number be used as an integral part of identification and registration of people is a must with regard to cutting down the capacity for fraud.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and he will take five minutes.

I welcome this opportunity to debate in the House tonight the important issue of the electoral register. As the House is aware, entry on the register is key to giving reality to the individual's right and responsibility to participate in the democratic system.

There are a number of problems with the Labour Party Bill, although it has good intentions. We all recognise that the accuracy of the electoral register needs to be improved. This Bill, despite the good intentions behind it, will not achieve that. The Bill effectively proposes the creation of a new quango to take on the task of supervising how local authorities do their work in this area. It does not offer practical solutions to improving the register in the short term.

Section 6(1)(b) sets out the task of the commission, which is "to carry out on behalf of registration authorities such of their registration duties as the Commissioner agrees or decides." This happens without any stated basis, due process or consultation, and a local authority can lose its registration functions. In section 6(3), the commissioner has the power to do all that is necessary to perform his or her functions under the Bill. This would create an all-powerful quango. What about all the talk we hear of accountability through Ministers to the Dáil?

There is reference in sections 18 and 19 to the commissioner intervening in the day-to-day work of registration authorities and issuing directions to them. However, the reader is given no indication as to what the directions might cover and no test of reasonableness is required to be met. In this House the Opposition parties have complained, not unreasonably, about the creation of too many quangos, and that this has removed matters from Dáil scrutiny, yet this Bill intends to do just that.

Section 20, relating to PPS numbers, interests me. It should be considered in the context of the reality that information held within the social welfare system will not readily match with people on the register because of the lack of individual identifiers. A complete national canvas for numbers would be needed, with no guarantee that people will co-operate. Even if they did, it would be a massive task that could not be addressed between now and 1 November next.

Deputy Gilmore would not intend that it would be an offence to refuse to give your PPS number at the door or that people would not be allowed on the register if they did not co-operate. To say, as in section 20(1), that people shall comply with such a requirement begs many questions. What about the powers in section 20(1)(b) for local authorities to compile a huge database of personal information? Section 23 seems to introduce into Irish law the concept of compulsory electoral registration, something that I would have thought merits fuller debate and consideration.

I could go on but it is clear that these unplanned and poorly thought out proposals are unworkable. I say this without in any way intending to diminish the sincerity of Deputy Gilmore's concerns. I have no doubt that setting out on the diversions created by this Bill would result in chaos in the electoral registration process and damage to the democratic system. The problem with the Bill is that while Deputy Gilmore is correct about problems existing with the register, this legislation would not effect a change if enacted in the short term. It would not effect an improvement between now and November, when the new draft register is due to be published. It would not resolve anything by June 2007 and could well be open to legal challenge given the confusion that surrounds it. No responsible Government could support the Bill.

It is generally acknowledged that the task of compiling the register has become more difficult over the years. This is because of reasons suggested by Opposition Deputies, such as rapid population growth and physical development, increased personal mobility and growing numbers of gated apartment complexes. I share the aversion of the Deputies to those. Other reasons include greater access to third level education, increased rates of new household formation and other changes. There is also a general busyness in modern society. All these make compilation of the register more difficult, but they do not excuse the point being made by a number of Deputies that there has been a degree of indolence which is unforgivable in some local authority areas.

I acknowledge, as I did on previous occasions in this House and elsewhere, that the quality of the register is not satisfactory. In 2002 there was a difference between the number of people on the register who were eligible to vote at elections and the relevant census data for that year of up to 300,000. I previously pointed out that this does not take into account people who should have been on the register but were not. The actual number is higher, and we could dispute the figure, but it is nonetheless a figure in which none of us can take pleasure.

Problems with voting registers are not unique to Ireland. It might be useful to quote from a study of electoral system design published in 2005 by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The following is from paragraph 213:

Voter registration is the most complex and controversial, and often least successful, part of electoral administration. By its nature it involves collecting in a standardised format specific information from a vast number of voters, and then arranging and distributing these data in a form that can be used at election time — moreover, in such a way as to ensure that only eligible electors engage in the voting process and to guard against multiple voting, personation and the like.

Deputies should excuse me for the long sentence but I am not the author. It continues:

The political sensitivity of these matters and the laborious nature of the task itself mean that voter registration is often one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of the entire electoral process.

This shows clearly the difficult issues involved in electoral registration and the fact that concerns in this area are not unique to Ireland.

I wish to set out my own and the Government's approach to the electoral register. We are determined to see action taken to secure a significant improvement in the quality of the register with local authorities to make a concerted effort to improve the register for their areas. The core elements of this include the provision of updated and consolidated guidance so that all local authorities work to the same template. Amazingly, when we discussed this late last year and I researched the matter, it appears that the authorities did not all work to the same template. Another element of this action is the potential use of census enumerators, and others, to assist local authorities in preparing the next register, as part of an intensive registration campaign. I stated that it was not possible or practical to run the register and the census update together.

Other elements of the action include new arrangements to delete deceased persons from the register and the provision of additional financial resources for local authorities to support intensified action on the register. Funding, as mentioned by Deputy Gilmore, is not an excuse for local authority indolence. There is something perverse about the fact that the voting register is worse than it was when local authorities did not have resources. The last element of the action is an intensive information campaign.

There should be an early start to the register campaign for 2007 and 2008 with the issuing of the relevant form shortly from my Department. I will encourage local authorities to make maximum use of relevant databases available to them to cross-check accuracy and comprehensiveness. I will illustrate this with a reference. We are all aware of cases where new local authority estates have been opened and people do not appear on the register. That cannot be excused and local authorities should not try to do so. It has nothing to do with resources and is caused by indolence. It is inexcusable when local authorities put people on a housing list into an estate without transferring them from the old register to a new one. I will return to this.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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They do not have the resources.

8:00 pm

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Under long-standing electoral law in this country, the compilation and publication of the register is a matter for the relevant city or county council. It is the duty of local authorities in law to ensure, as far as possible, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register. This is not a slight function for the local authorities, but a central function. In carrying out this work, local authorities depend to a significant degree on the co-operation of the general public, who have the right to expect significant support and guidance from local authorities.

Electoral reform has addressed issues related to the register in recent years. Enhanced legislative provisions affecting the register, as sought by many Members of the House, have been introduced such as the creation of and increased access to the supplementary register, which should facilitate adding people to the register, and the computerisation and on-line access for individuals to the register, a matter to which I shall return. Other important areas addressed as part of the electoral reform agenda have included consolidation of electoral law in the 1990s, the introduction of controls on election spending and donations from 1994 onwards, which is not affected by this Bill, and advancing change to the voting system itself from the late 1990s.

The challenge today is to tackle the problems with the register in the ways best suited to the circumstances that exist today. The draft register for 2007-08, on which the next general election will be held, must be published on 1 November 2006, with the final version available shortly afterwards. This gives a very narrow window of opportunity for action by local authorities and makes it impracticable to implement radical alternative legislative arrangements in the time available, even if such were desirable. Results are more likely to be achieved by working within the current organisational framework based on the local authorities as the responsible bodies, and by facilitating the local authorities in doing their work and encouraging them to do their work better than heretofore. No matter how much they might protest otherwise, the Deputies opposite cannot escape that reality.

I have taken a range of actions in the past year to address issues of concern regarding the register. Local authorities were requested by circular from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in July 2005 to take all necessary steps to secure significant improvement in the quality of the register. This action was complemented by the Department's best practice guidance for local authorities to assist them in preparing the register. Amazingly the standard of operation between local authorities had considerable variation. The guidance was sent to local authorities, returning officers and the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government last November for comment prior to finalisation. In view of the importance of the matter, local authorities have been told to implement the guidance immediately. Any local authority not applying the guidance has no excuse but to get on with the job.

Among the specific features of the guidance are a full account of the complex law in this area, a more user friendly format, a timetable of the key activities and milestones in preparing the register along with the relevant legislative references, more detailed guidance on the format and structure of the register with samples of the different page formats, instruction on the definition of ordinary residence in particular for categories such as students, the Traveller community, emigrants, residents with holiday homes etc., which is aimed at avoiding under-registration or multiple registration — a point mentioned by Deputy Burton — emphasis on the prohibition on people being registered as electors at more than one address, with local authorities encouraged to cross-check and co-ordinate with other authorities to ensure electors are not registered more than once, detailed information on the categories of voters eligible to register as postal or special voters and the procedures to be followed in this regard, extensive guidance on operational and organisational matters in compiling information, periodic reviews of overall procedures are called for to ensure that high standards of accuracy and comprehensiveness are achieved, and details of a range of procedures for checking the draft register, including scrutiny by the Garda, cross-checking by field staff, checking omission of names on the previous register, public display of the register, the role of public representatives, and local and national awareness campaigns. As public representatives we all have a responsibility to interest ourselves in this issue. Deputy Burton is right in pointing out that the growing urbanisation makes it more difficult, which simply means we must try harder.

Emphasis on the application of information technology resources to facilitate voters to check on-line whether they are registered correctly, and to enable them to download registration and claim forms from the local authority's website, also forms part of the guidance that has been circulated. It is inexcusable that some local authorities do not have these systems fully operational. Each local authority is required to appoint a designated officer to take personal responsibility for the work involved in the register.

A second volume accompanies the guidance, which includes sample layouts for the register, copies of all the application and claim forms relating to the register and samples of advertising notices and posters used in previous draft register publicity campaigns. I have taken the trouble to outline all this detail, as it is clear from tonight's contributions that some local authorities take this very important democratic function seriously and some do not. It is inexcusable for such a difference to exist.

This guidance, in two extensive documents, is a real and practical contribution to improving the quality of the register. The Department is now finalising the guidance in light of the comments received in the consultation process. In the final version, I will specifically highlight the importance of local authorities crosschecking the register with other databases available to them. Local authorities have many databases, for example their housing database. It is inexcusable for a local authority not to even have its own local authority houses properly registered.

In a previous debate, I mentioned the problem of the registration of deaths. More than 30,000 deaths are recorded in Ireland each year. Under a further recent initiative, local authorities now have regular access to electronic files linked with the General Register Office, which contain information on deaths in their areas. This allows for the efficient and timely deletion of the names of deceased persons from the electoral register. This process replaces cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to secure information on deaths. We all know how difficult it is to co-ordinate death information. Real-time access to the electronic file should allow local authorities to deal with 30,000 registrations per year.

By giving local authorities access on a regular basis to this information in a usable way, this initiative makes a real contribution to improving the accuracy of the electoral register. It will also help to address the difficulties families have when material, sent innocently by political parties through the post, and ultimately a voting card are addressed to somebody who has passed away two or three years previously. The Department has advised local authorities to make full use of these data to ensure the names of deceased persons are deleted from the register in an efficient and timely manner. Deputies could be helpful in checking to see if appropriate changes are made to the register.

Local authorities utilise a number of different approaches in compiling the register, and I will be emphasising the need to ensure adequate staffing resources are devoted to the task. I am urgently considering the available options, including the possibility that local authorities could engage experienced census enumerators to complement their own local sources on the basis of temporary employment. For a range of practical reasons it was not possible to conduct both the census and the electoral register editing in the same way. They are separate and important functions, both of which require separate treatment.

On resources for the register work, in 2006 I have allocated general-purpose grants to local authorities totalling €875 million, an increase of €57 million, or 7%, over the 2005 allocation. I do not accept that lack of funding is an excuse for poor electoral work by local authorities. How can a local authority legitimately claim such an excuse when we know they are being funded at a higher rate than ever before? What logic supports the hypothesis that the more funds local authorities have the less accurate is the register? I am prepared to provide additional funding for local authorities during the year to ensure a comprehensive once-off check is effectively undertaken, which as Deputy Costello said in his contribution, has never previously been done. I will make sure local authorities use this funding in a genuinely additional way. I will not tolerate — as I discovered recently in the non-national roads allocation — managers skimming money from local contributions meaning that as money from central Government is increased the contribution from local government reduces: that will not happen. I will not allow them to reduce their overall funding by diluting their own contributions.

Citizens also have obligations. The law places the obligation on the local authority to compile the register. However, it is also important that individual citizens play their full part in ensuring they are entered correctly on the electoral register. Registration requirements are not onerous. The establishment of a supplementary register gives those who need to register late in the day the opportunity to do so. A national awareness campaign and related local campaigns associated with preparation of the electoral register were undertaken last November in support of the process of registration and encouraging citizens to register. I intend to intensify those campaigns later this year because it is important that we take action in this regard before 1 November next.

The use of the Internet could be a tremendous facility for many people, especially younger people, in this regard. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has asked all local authorities to ensure that registration information, including current registration forms, is prominent on their websites. An on-line register search facility, which is easy to access and use, is available for people to check whether they are on the register. When I checked the local authority websites today to see whether the facility works, I found that it works on some websites but not on others. My officials have ensured that the relevant local authorities have been informed that their systems are down. If Deputies check the websites of their local authorities and find there are problems, I would be grateful to hear from them and to pursue such problems with individual authorities. I have mentioned some practical ways in which we can address this issue, such as making clear to local authorities what is expected of them, giving them detailed guidance, engaging in consultation on that guidance, using other databases, maximising the use of information technology, providing short-term staffing and funding and promoting awareness.

I would like to speak about an issue that was raised by Deputy Costello. The voting process is validated or otherwise on voting day. A number of Deputies have mentioned that the process of challenging voters when they present themselves is less common than it used to be. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002 contains more stringent requirements in respect of the use of the electoral register. The Department's guidelines now require at least 25% of voters to be challenged to produce identity documentation. Local authorities and electoral officials are responsible for ensuring that this is done. Polling staff and personating agents are not simply passengers who sit there all day on election day — they have jobs to do too. I have highlighted a set of practical and focused proposals which will help to overcome the difficulties we have in this regard in a timely manner, certainly before 1 November next.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, for sharing time with me. I welcome this debate. The Members on this side of the House take a different approach to Deputy Gilmore on this matter. I welcome the fact that he has allowed us to debate this issue.

As the Minister said, Deputy Gilmore and his colleagues proposed, on foot of a debate on Question Time in this House, that census enumerators should be allowed to check the electoral register. As the Minister of State with responsibility for the Central Statistics Office, I pursued that proposal. The Minister, Deputy Roche, has informed the House that it was simply not possible to take further steps in that regard. I am sure we all agree that census enumerators have a difficult job in concentrating on their valuable and focused work, which they have almost completed. Not only do they have to ensure that people sign their census forms, they also have to do the follow-up work. This is a separate issue that needs to be addressed. I will refer briefly to the role of the Central Statistics Office in this respect later in my speech.

I think we all agree that voting is the oxygen of democratic politics. There is substantial interest in this subject across party lines. I hope we can agree a way forward on foot of this debate. There are some short-term requirements in this regard. My colleague, Deputy Roche, has clearly outlined many of the obvious solutions that can be put in place. We need to find concrete and well thought out solutions to the decline in voter registration and participation, which is a matter that must be treated seriously. The Minister has mentioned some such solutions. A radical overhaul of the system is impractical in the relatively short time that remains in the lifetime of this Government. I accept that the issue of electoral registration will have to be dealt with comprehensively in the longer term. I do not doubt that this debate will inform us all in that regard. Nobody has a monopoly on solutions. Everybody has practical experience of this issue, which is closely related to the work we all do.

Some blatantly obvious short-term issues need to be addressed urgently. Local authorities should redouble their efforts. We should consider further practical and realistic proposals, within the existing legislative framework, to assist registration authorities in ensuring that the electoral register is as comprehensive and as accurate as possible. We all accept there are huge problems in that regard. As the Minister of State with responsibility for the Central Statistics Office, I have opened discussions with the CSO about the possibility of census enumerators helping to carry out the vital role of ensuring that the register is maintained and updated on a consistent and continual basis. The personnel in question are well placed to provide a service to the voter and potential voter in this regard. I do not ignore or undervalue the vital role played by the local authorities in this area. I do not intend to rule them out of the process entirely.

Local government has changed dramatically in recent years. It faces huge challenges in a range of areas, not least in maintaining and updating the register of electors. As the Minister of State responsible for e-Government, as part of any long-term overhaul of the system, future Governments might actively explore the idea of on-line voter registration which offers the possibility of a speedy and efficient electronic method of voter registration. Such a measure, like the proposals in the Private Members' Bill before us, would require significant input from all the stakeholders. Extensive testing and analysis of the various security and confidentiality protocols, not to mention the identity protocols which might be required if such a system proved desirable, would have to be undertaken. I welcome the Minister's reference to the need for on-line checking of the register. It is important that people should avail of that facility.

The task at hand is immediate and simple — to ensure by next year that the electoral registers for all constituencies are up to date and accurate and that everyone legally entitled to vote in the next general election can and will be able to do so. Conversely, individuals who are not entitled to have a vote should not be allowed to remain on or be added to the register. This House should agree on the need for a major drive by the local authorities over the next six months to ensure that a reliable and accurate electoral register is established.

While Deputy Gilmore has made some important proposals, they are matters, like on-line registration, which need to be considered over the longer term. Given that the House needs to address some real and immediate needs, I respectfully suggest that it should pursue the approach adopted by the Minister, Deputy Roche. If extra personnel are required on a short-term basis, and I do not doubt that they are, they should be taken on. It does not matter whether they come from the Central Statistics Office. I know the Minister has some other ideas on where they might come from. If people are available to perform this major logistical task, they should be asked to do it. There should not be any barriers to the organisation of a straightforward logistical operation that will enhance our democratic system. A major national awareness campaign will be required to ensure that the next register is properly compiled.

I urge the House to agree that practical and necessary steps are needed if we are to deal with this matter. I welcome the fact that this issue has been raised. I have spoken about this matter because the Central Statistics Office, for which I am responsible, comes under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. I have been in touch with the CSO about the census, as requested by the Deputies opposite. That could not be done, unfortunately, but I genuinely feel that the staff of the CSO are ready, willing and able to assist in this regard. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities have ultimate responsibility in this regard. We should work together on this issue. I do not think the House should divide on a matter of this importance. I hope the Members opposite will agree that the Government has proposed some practical solutions in a serious manner as part of this important debate.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I would like to share time with Deputy McGinley, with the agreement of the House.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I do not know where to start after what I have heard. I welcome the final comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, who said there is not much difference between the intentions of the Government and the Opposition in respect of this matter. I was disappointed with the negative initial response of the Minister, Deputy Roche, to this Bill, although what is new about that?

He said no responsible Government could support this Bill. I am not sure whether the Minister is attributing that status to the current Government which cannot be put in that category. However, he clearly laid it on the line that if he thinks this is a responsible Government, it is not supporting the Bill. That was a negative response to a genuine attempt to solve this problem.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for bringing this excellent Bill forward. We fully support it on this side of the House and will not be negative about it in any way. Something like this legislation has to be introduced because the state of the electoral register is an absolute disgrace. It is time this issue was debated as the nation prepares to hand back its census forms. It was timely, too, that the Government at the weekend alerted the media that census enumerators may be charged with updating the register. It is typical of the Government to magically come up with a proposal that seeks to outflank the Opposition a few days before this Private Members' Bill was introduced in the House.

The last time my party, for example, was due to debate the nitrates Bill, on a Tuesday, the Government introduced its proposals on the preceding Friday. Its proposals on what to do about property management companies miraculously appeared a few days before we produced a reasoned Private Members' Bill on apartment complexes.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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We are ahead of the Opposition all the time.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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We are honoured and somewhat chuffed that the Government is watching the Opposition and taking heed of what it is bringing forward. It is good that it is waking up in that regard. It seems the Government is finally waking up to the serious problem we have with the electoral register, which is also welcome. Instead of being negative we very much welcome the Government's new found interest in all those matters.

In June last year the Minister told the House there were 300,000 more names on the electoral register than were eligible to vote, mainly due to slowness in revising the register. I believe that figure could have doubled since. This is due mainly to the slowness in removing the names of dead people, the increase in the number of second homes and persons moving about without advising local authorities. I know of nobody who advises the local authority when he or she moves around. This is especially true in large housing estates in urban areas where there are many rented properties and tenants move in and out on a regular basis. The register is completely and absolutely out of date, as many Deputies have said. Given that nothing has been done since, one can only imagine how much worse the position is now.

My party colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, in December 2004 called for an explanation from South Dublin County Council as to why many people were removed from the electoral register in the run-up to the local elections there. Since the close of the poll Senator Brian Hayes has been contacted by a number of people in Dublin South-West who were unable to vote because they had been removed from the register of electors. It is a sinister development where law abiding citizens who try to exercise their right to vote were denied because some mysterious person had deleted them from the register. As the responsibility for compiling the register rests with the relevant local authorities, questions must be asked as to why and how this occurred. It has occurred in many other areas as well. No matter what the Minister says about the volume of personnel and resources available, local authorities are stretched as regards doing their own work without this extra burden being put on them. I hope the Minister is genuine in his assertion that he is providing money. He should ring-fence some money for local authorities to deal with the electoral register.

Before someone is removed from the register there should be a clear paper trail from the individual to the local authority. At that time Senator Brian Hayes called on the Dublin local authority to explain to voters who were taken off the register exactly who was responsible and why they were removed before the local elections. Equally, the law should be reformed to allow only voters to remove their names from the register. After it is published in April, it could be standard practice to send out a small card to everybody indicating they are on the electoral register. People in households would know they were not on the register if they did not receive a card and there should be a possibility of having the matter corrected at once rather than waiting for 21 to 14 days from a general election. The supplementary register provision is very welcome, but it should be activated much earlier.

It is clear the compilation of the register is haphazard and patchy. Little effort is made to get an accurate picture of exactly who is entitled to vote in the months before an election. Another key problem is the nature of many new apartment developments. Everyone knows it is simply not possible to gain entry to most apartments, never mind who lives there. This is not necessarily a bad situation. It offers a great degree of security to residents, but it makes matters very difficult for someone trying to compile an accurate register. Something must be done to ensure those people are put on the register.

My colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, recently came across an apartment complex in his constituency where no one had voted in the last election as people had moved on and the register was out of date. It is difficult enough to get young people to vote. They are busy, work long hours and are part of a generation that feels separated from the political process, let down by it in many cases and sees no point in voting. There is a difficult task in getting those people to vote, quite apart from getting them to register. We should not make it harder to convince them to take part in the democratic process than it is already. There is no need for those massive inaccuracies. This is 2006, other countries have had widescale apartment living for generations and they can get their citizens onto the electoral register without a problem.

I should be interested to learn the level of registration among new workers here. EU citizens are entitled to vote in local and European elections, while non-EU citizens can vote in local elections, but only if they are registered. Figures from the North are not promising as there is no reason to believe they are any better than here. Only four out of ten people in the minority communities in the North are registered to vote, compared to more than nine out of ten in the general population. That figure compares unfavourably with England and Wales where an estimated 3% of minority ethnic communities are registered. Moreover, out of the minority groupings registered in the North, fewer than half bother to vote compared to the overall average turnout there of 64%. Among minorities in the North, almost a third said they did not know how to register and a quarter said they did not know they had to register. I urge the Minister to examine this area when he takes on the challenge of sorting out the register.

Every person has a PPS number. This is vital, as indicated by Deputy Gilmore and other Labour Party speakers. When someone reaches voting age they get a PPS number. The Department of Social and Family Affairs could automatically inform the relevant local authority. Such a system would effectively eliminate much of the confusion that currently reigns. The Minister said there were complications involved in this as well, but I cannot see how this could be so.

I echo the comments of my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, as regards voting rights for prisoners. Many people in prison have few skills. Some have little formal education. These people are deprived of their liberty and to deprive them of the right to vote as well is to dehumanise them. It also releases prisoners from their responsibilities. In times gone by it was difficult if not impossible to have prisoners on the electoral register and allow them to vote, but times have changed.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I believe that is a good idea, and legislation is coming forward in that regard.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister and appreciate such an initiative is being contemplated.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It is already recognised.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Checks and balances must be introduced if prisoners are given votes, and I am sure the Minister will do that.

It would be remiss of me not to refer to the debacle of electronic voting, during the course of this debate. That episode has put the entire political electoral process in a very bad light. Taxpayers are paying exorbitant rates for the storage of useless electronic voting machines, thanks to the complete lack of direction from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. These machines were bought and never used, despite the trenchant opposition of Deputy Gilmore and myself over many days at the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government. The former Minister, Deputy Cullen, insisted on having his own way and got the Government majority on the committee at the time to agree to purchase those machines, despite the doubts and lack of clarity surrounding the issue. The revelation on foot of a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Paul McGrath showed the State is paying widely differing annual rates for still storing those useless machines. The costs range from nothing in County Sligo to an average of €1.65 per machine in County Louth and an incredible €271.22 per machine in County Waterford — the home county of the Minister who was responsible for buying those machines. The overall cost for the storage of voting machines in County Waterford is close to €50,000 a year. It is well for the warehouse owner who is getting that rent courtesy of the useless machines he is storing. Will the Minister, Deputy Roche, come clean and say when he will have a sale of those machines or will he make a clean breast of it and admit they are useless and that their purchase was a mistake and stop storing them? Will the Minister who was responsible for the purchase of the machines be surcharged for the loss that will be incurred when those machines are sold?

Another serious fault with the register is the short window of opportunity provided for examining the register. The Minister referred to this matter in his speech. When the register comes out at the end of November one will have only up to 28 December or some such date to check it. That is not a good time of the year as people have enough on their minds coming up to Christmas with all the rush and the hype involved without having to check the electoral register. I made a submission on this matter to the commission that was considering changes to the legislation, but it was ignored.

I am pleased to hear the Minister refer to this issue because if a proper window of opportunity were provided, such as when party branch meetings take place from January to March each year, as the Minister suggested, political parties and local and national representatives could play a part in ensuring the register was compiled fairly accurately. This could be done efficiently and effectively in rural areas where practically everybody knows everybody else, although that situation is now changing. There is very little opportunity of doing this in urban areas where one only knows one's next door neighbour or a few people down the street, except in very settled estates where one's children have grown up and one mixes with other people. It is practically impossible to know who is living in new estates and to compile the register in an effective and correct manner.

The Minister referred in his speech to the registration of deaths. Over 30,000 deaths are recorded in Ireland each year. When canvassing one often asks how many votes are in each house and the person who opens the door would say there is this person, that person and so on. A canvasser could read down the register and say there is John Roche, Michael Roche, Mary Roche and Patrick Roche, only to be told that the woman's husband, Patrick, died four years ago, although he is still on the register. That is embarrassing for both the woman in the house and the canvasser and it should not happen. The register of deaths could be used to ensure that at least deceased people are taken off the electoral register.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Deputy welcome the change?

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Has it been changed?

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I hope that is the case because when my political interest was first awakened by my father talking about what went on during elections in his time when impersonation agents were in polling stations I often heard him say that the Fianna Fáil slogan was "Vote early and vote often." I hope that is no longer the case. I am sure it is not. The party would not stoop to that now.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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It was called chain voting.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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My father used to call it the Fianna Fáil method.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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There was a fair amount of that in Donegal.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Deputy's five minutes have concluded.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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That is a pity because we were just getting going. My father heard Fianna Fáil telling its voters outside polling stations to vote early and vote often. That was the cry at that time. I will hand over to my more experienced colleague in that matter, Deputy McGinley.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Experienced in that regard.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Just because I am from Ulster I hope I am not being accused of anything else.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has a high opinion of Ulster.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá faoin Bhille seo sa chúpla nóiméad atá fágtha. Is Bille tráthúil é, agus tá an-ghá leis. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Teachta Gilmore as an mBille a thabhairt isteach ag an am seo, nuair atá muid ag dul isteach i dtoghchán an-tábhachtach i mbliana nó an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá a fhios againn go léir go mbímid ag caint air seo go minic, mar a dúirt an Teachta McCormack agus an Teachta Gilmore roimhe. Caithfear rud éigin a dhéanamh mar gheall ar chlár na vótóirí. Deir an tAire agus an Rialtas go bhfuil ar a laghad 300,000 duine ar chlár na vótóirí sa tír seo nár cheart dóibh a bheith air. Is íosuimhir é sin, agus b'fhéidir go bhfuil i bhfad níos mó acu. Maidir le mo chontae féin, Dún na nGall, tugadh figiúirí oifigiúla dúinn go bhfuil 20,000 people on the electoral register in County Donegal who have no right to be on it for one reason or other. It is intolerable and it is getting worse.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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That is due to the holiday homes.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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That is one of the reasons for these duplications. I had a brief discussion with a census enumerator recently who told me that out of 120 houses in one small area in my parish, 54 were holiday homes. I do not think a person who happens to have a holiday home is entitled to be on the electoral register. That is an issue that must be examined, especially in rural areas. It is in part due to the Celtic tiger that people have homes all over the place. If a person is living in Dublin, he or she is not entitled to vote in Donegal, Galway or anywhere else because he or she has a holiday home there. Likewise, if one is living in Northern Ireland one is not supposed to vote in Donegal because one has a holiday home there.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It is in the guidance sent to local authorities that one is not entitled to vote in an area where one owns a holiday home.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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I hope that message is sent to local authorities and that it is implemented.

My colleague, Deputy McCormack, referred to people who have passed away. We all have experience of going to houses where some member of the family has passed away. When a person dies I take it that the death is registered somewhere along the line and that there is a central register. Leaving aside the machines purchased by the Minister, Deputy Cullen, which I would not trust, there must be a computer somewhere in the country that would transfer the information that a person has passed away, that he or she should be deleted forthwith and that it should not be left up to anyone else to do it. Another reason for duplication occurs in Gaeltacht areas where a person's name is recorded both in Irish and English.

Reference has been made to the supplementary register. It was introduced for a good reason some years ago but I believe it could turn into a trojan horse. We must be careful about who is entitled to apply for a supplementary vote. A window of opportunity is presented between the publication of the draft register and the revised version, and strict regulations and conditions should apply to anyone who applies for a vote at that stage. We should go as far as introducing sworn affidavits. The local gardaí should have a role to play in this regard. When the supplementary register was introduced there were probably as many people on it in some counties as on the draft register. It provides an opportunity for unfair political advantage by unscrupulous persons.

From what I hear the Minister has refused to support the Bill. I do not know what he has proposed in its place but——

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It is in my speech.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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——reference has been made to the establishment of an electoral commissioner and that someone would be responsible. The difficulty is that nobody appears to be responsible.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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For anything.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister says he is responsible to the House, yet month after month and year after year the situation is becoming ever more critical.

Debate adjourned.