Dáil Éireann - Volume 401 - 10 July, 1990

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Postal Vote for Physically Disabled.

14. Miss Flaherty asked the Minister for the Environment whether he will extend a postal vote to people with a mobility difficulty as requested by the Union of Voluntary Organisations for the Handicapped; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn: Under existing law the following facilities are provided for voting by physicially disabled electors: a disabled person who is unable to go in person to vote at his polling station may apply for registration as a special voter and vote at home; a disabled person who has difficulty in gaining access to his own polling station may apply to have his vote transferred to another polling station in the same constituency; and a disabled person who requires assistance in marking his or her ballot paper may be assisted by a companion or by the presiding officer.

These arrangements provide a reasonable opportunity for voting by the different categories of physically disabled and an extension of postal voting is not proposed at present.

Mr. Shatter: Is the Minister aware that the Union of Voluntary Organisations for the Handicapped are very anxious that the postal vote be extended to people with mobility difficulties? Would the Minister not accept that it would be quite possible to put in place a scheme to provide for such a postal vote, with whatever attendant protections are required, to ensure that postal voting is not abused? [855] Would he not agree to give consideration to examining this issue?

Mr. Flynn: The last time this was considered here we were all agreed that the extended system of postal voting introduced in 1974 — and used again in 1985 at local elections — had not been a good exercise. Very grave disappointment was expressed on all sides of the House concerning the way that operated. It is not contemplated engaging in another test as far as that is concerned. I have noted what the Deputy says with regard to the special voting system. That matter has been considered and I will be saying something about it in the immediate future.

Mr. Gilmore: We were not agreed on the last occasion about the difficulties the Minister alleges he had with the extended voting system in 1974. Why is it that a small number of disabled persons cannot be allowed to have the postal vote while the same facility is on offer to 20 times as many university graduates who vote in Seanad elections? What is the difference between a disabled person who cannot now be extended the postal vote and the university graduate who can be extended the postal vote for Seanad elections?

Mr. Flynn: The experience in 1974 and 1985 when this experiment was tried was not good. There was a certain amount of abuse at the time. What happened during the 1985 local elections gave rise, in 1986, to the introduction of the unique system of special voting for physically disabled persons. I have had it carefully looked at. The experience of postal voting in the past has shown that it is open to serious abuse. That experience is shared by other countries that I checked with. For that reason it is not contemplated having postal voting put in place. There are some changes in the special voting system which I will be putting before the House in the not too distant future.

Mrs. Owen: Would the Minister not agree that the system of registration of [856] those who require the special vote, as he calls it, is extremely unwieldly and that one would have to anticipate, almost a year and a half in advance of a register being published, that one would be disabled when the time came? Would the Minister not consider simplifying the procedures so that people who find themselves becoming immobile or disabled in the period after a register is printed could also register at short notice?

Mr. Flynn: I am satisfied that the Deputy has a point there, and having recognised that, I have taken some steps. Matters have already been adjusted to cater for that very point.

Mr. Garland: Would the Minister agree that his failure to give a postal vote to the handicapped casts aspersions on their integrity when a postal vote is allowed to the Defence Forces? Why should the Defence Forces be considered any more people of integrity than the handicapped?

Mr. Flynn: There are about 4,000 people registered as special voters. I have always found, in talking to disabled people, that they do not wish to be singled out as different.

Mr. Shatter: Is the Minister aware of the fact that this singling out of disabled persons by the requirement that people call to their homes under the procedure that is laid down, is part of the reason for the objection to the current system? I would suggest that the Minister would again look at this matter. It is not a matter of great difficulty to identify persons who are disabled and immobile. In that context it is quite easy to put in place procedures to allow for a postal vote that would ensure that there would not be abuse. I would ask the Minister to have a further look at this matter and not assume that we should continue with a system that was put in place only some four years ago.

Mr. Flynn: I have listened to the Deputies. I must say the great advantage [857] of the special voting arrangements is that it provides the very same security and the same protection for the voter and his ballot paper as is provided in the polling station. Those who do not wish to avail of that can transfer their vote if they find difficulty in getting access to a particular station. Quite a lot has been done. In so far as postal voting is concerned, that has not been a happy experience, and we should at least learn from the experience we had on two previous occasions.

As far as Deputy Owen's point is concerned, it is well taken. I will be initiating some changes in that area.

Mr. Gilmore: I would suggest that it is the Minister who is singling out disabled persons. Since, so far, he has failed to explain why he considers disabled persons to be less honest in their use of the postal vote than university graduates or members of the Defence Forces, let me ask him if it is, therefore, his intention to discontinue the postal voting arrangements for university graduates in Seanad elections or members of the Defence Forces, and to introduce for those categories the same procedures as now apply to disabled persons?

Mr. Flynn: The postal vote at present is confined to members of the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and diplomats serving abroad. I cannot repeat it any more often, that the experience was not a good one when we had an extended postal voting system.

Mr. Quinn: There are reasons for that.

Mr. Flynn: Perhaps there are.

Mr. Gilmore: I think the Minister is casting a slur on the disabled.

Mr. Flynn: On the contrary, I am treating them as ordinary people and am making as many provisions as I can whereby they can arrange to vote like everybody else and do it in a proper way.