Dáil Éireann - Volume 328 - 07 April, 1981

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Voting Facilities for Remand Prisoners.

[1072] 13. Mr. Keating asked the Minister for Justice the position in regard to facilitating prisoners on remand to vote in elections; whether any arrangements have been made in order to ensure that such citizens are enabled to vote; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. G. Collins: No special provision has been made for such persons. It would not be practicable to arrange for remand prisoners to be escorted to their polling booths and any other arrangements to enable them to vote would involve a change in the Electoral Acts.

Mr. Keating: Does the Minister share the concern we all have that the maximum number of people eligible to vote should participate in the democratic process and if he does, does he consider that remand prisoners, people not yet convicted — even allowing the assumption that people who are convicted should be disfranchised with which we would not concur — should have this right? Would it be possible to have at least a register of postal voters which would include people who might wish to vote in the circumstances outlined in the question?

Mr. G. Collins: There is no law which prohibits prisoners form voting at the local polling booths. Roughly 10 per cent of the total prison population of say 1,200 are on remand. I am sure the Deputy appreciates that it would be impracticable and impossible to take all 120 remand prisoners to their polling booths——

Mr. Keating: Nobody is suggesting this.

Mr. G. Collins: This is the only way it could be done. It would involve providing escorts for prisoners all over the country. There was an All-Party Committee on Electoral Law in 1960 and 1961 and they recommended no extension of postal voting and said they saw no merit in a suggestion that prisoners should be allowed to vote by post or that special facilities for voting should be provided in prisons.

[1073] If remand prisoners were to be allowed to vote by post it is a matter the Deputy should take up with the Minister for the Environment who has responsibility to sponsor the necessary legislation in this area.

Mr. Keating: Apparently the Minister is satisfied that citizens in the circumstances outlined in the question are to be deprived of their right to vote since he does not propose to lift a finger to do anything about it.

Mr. G. Collins: There is a very great responsibility on each of us here to try to ensure that people are allowed to exercise their franchise.

Mr. Keating: But you are not going to do anything about it?

Mr. Horgan: In the case of the prisoners mentioned in the question, some of them may be in jail on remand because they have not been able to raise the bail. Because of that they are in prison even though they are presumed to be innocent. Thus people presumed to be innocent because of lack of access to funds or bailsmen are denied the right to vote. Is that not the factual situation?

Mr. G. Collins: If the Deputy wants to debate the bail issue he will have to put down a separate question.