Dáil Éireann - Volume 584 - 05 May, 2004

Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“1. —This Act (other than Part 3) shall not come into operation until such time as the Commission established by Part 3 certifies that the other provisions of this Act are in accordance with the highest standards of transparency and accountability and fully safeguard the integrity and privacy of the voting process in a verifiable manner.”.

—(Deputy Gilmore).

[1429]   Mr. McCormack: This amendment concerns section 5. It simply asks the Minster not to insert a clause which would give him the authority by regulation to introduce any type of voting system at any time. Deputy Gilmore and I want that provision deleted from the Bill because we should await the commission’s full report. No such power should be given to this or any Minister to introduce by regulation any type of system. The amendment seeks to have the matter governed by the commission which would be in place at all times and report on such matters.

  Acting Chairman: It is a matter of putting the question at this point. We have had the debate.

  Mr. McCormack: No, it is not. Every Deputy is entitled to come back in a second time to speak for a limited period on the matter at hand, so I am in order. Page 11 of the interim report states that although the commission was established on an ad hoc basis, the Government indicated its intention to put the commission on a statutory footing under the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004, as indicated to the Dáil on 23 March 2004, which accordingly contained provisions relating to the commission as well as on electronic voting generally. The report goes on to state that the Bill was under consideration by the Houses of the Oireachtas at the time of publication of the report.

[1430] Clearly the Government indicated its intention to put the commission on a statutory footing and if the Minister does not accept this amendment he is overriding that intention and proceeding with regulation whereby he can introduce a form of voting by order.

I do not wish to be contentious about the Minister’s failure to apologise to the Fine Gael spokespersons, Deputy Allen and me, for his disparaging remarks of 31 March, but I feel very insulted by it and I will mention it at every opportunity. He said here that Fine Gael had looked through the wrong end of the telescope, but as matters have transpired it was the Minister who looked through the wrong end of the telescope, given the commission’s report, how far off the mark he was and public opinion on this issue.

4 o’clock

I appeal to the Minister not to stick his head in the ground. He should accept this reasonable amendment, which would go a long way towards taking the tension out of the debate. It might also help to secure all-party support, which should be the case with the introduction of a completely different voting system. All-party support is essential for this measure but the Minister is not moving an inch towards giving us a chance to offer all-party support. I appeal to him to accept the amendment as a gesture of goodwill and a gesture towards securing all-party support for electronic voting.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 68.

    Allen, Bernard.

    Boyle, Dan.

    Broughan, Thomas P.

    Bruton, John.

    Bruton, Richard.

    Burton, Joan.

    Connaughton, Paul.

    Connolly, Paudge.

    Costello, Joe.

    Crawford, Seymour.

    Crowe, Seán.

    Cuffe, Ciarán.

    Deasy, John.

    Deenihan, Jimmy.

    Durkan, Bernard J.

    Ferris, Martin.

    Gilmore, Eamon.

    Gormley, John.

    Gregory, Tony.

    Hayes, Tom.

    Healy, Seamus.

    Higgins, Michael D.

    Hogan, Phil.

    Howlin, Brendan.

    Kehoe, Paul.

    Lynch, Kathleen.

    McCormack, Padraic.

    McGinley, Dinny.

    McGrath, Finian.

    McGrath, Paul.

    McHugh, Paddy.

    McManus, Liz.

    Mitchell, Olivia.

    Morgan, Arthur.

    Naughten, Denis.

    Neville, Dan.

    Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

    Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.

    O’Dowd, Fergus.

    O’Keeffe, Jim.

    O’Shea, Brian.

    O’Sullivan, Jan.

    Pattison, Seamus.

    Penrose, Willie.

    Quinn, Ruairí.

    Rabbitte, Pat.

    Ring, Michael.

    Ryan, Eamon.

    Ryan, Seán.

    Sargent, Trevor.

    Sherlock, Joe.

    Shortall, Róisín.

    Stagg, Emmet.

    Stanton, David.

    Timmins, Billy.

    Upton, Mary.

Níl

    Ahern, Dermot.

    Ahern, Michael.

    Ahern, Noel.

    Blaney, Niall.

    Brady, Johnny.

    Brady, Martin.

    [1431] Browne, John.

    Callanan, Joe.

    Carey, Pat.

    Carty, John.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Collins, Michael.

    Coughlan, Mary.

    Cowley, Jerry.

    Cregan, John.

    Cullen, Martin.

    Curran, John.

    Davern, Noel.

    de Valera, Síle.

    Dempsey, Noel.

    Dempsey, Tony.

    Devins, Jimmy.

    Ellis, John.

    Fahey, Frank.

    Finneran, Michael.

    Gallagher, Pat The Cope.

    Glennon, Jim.

    Grealish, Noel.

    Hanafin, Mary.

    Haughey, Seán.

    Hoctor, Máire.

    Jacob, Joe.

    Keaveney, Cecilia.

    Kelleher, Billy.

    Kelly, Peter.

    Killeen, Tony.

    Lenihan, Brian.

    Lenihan, Conor.

    McCreevy, Charlie.

    McDowell, Michael.

    McEllistrim, Thomas.

    McGuinness, John.

    Moloney, John.

    Moynihan, Donal.

    Moynihan, Michael.

    Mulcahy, Michael.

    Nolan, M. J.

    Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.

    O’Connor, Charlie.

    O’Donnell, Liz.

    O’Donoghue, John.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Flynn, Noel.

    O’Keeffe, Batt.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    Parlon, Tom.

    Power, Peter.

    Power, Seán.

    Roche, Dick.

    Ryan, Eoin.

    Sexton, Mae.

    Smith, Brendan.

    Smith, Michael.

    Wallace, Mary.

    Walsh, Joe.

    Wilkinson, Ollie.

    Woods, Michael.

    Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Durkan; Níl, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher.

[1432] Amendment declared lost.

  Mr. Gilmore: I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

1.—The functions of the Minister under this Act shall not be exercisable in relation to an election by a holder of the office of Minister who is also a director of elections in respect of that election.

I do not know the reason the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, who is responsible for the Bill, has not returned to the House for the debate. It is remarkable that he should absent himself from discussion of the amendment which concerns his conflict of interest. In an election and in respect of the functions of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in regard to the Electoral Acts, there could not be a greater conflict of interest than that the Minister who is effectively responsible for the rules and regulations governing elections would also be the director of elections for one of the political parties contesting the election. That is precisely the situation that pertains. The Minister who introduced this Bill, who is now absent from the House, is the Fianna Fáil director of elections. The introduction of electronic voting has been a shambles, to say the least, but it has been made worse by the fact that the Minister responsible for the introduction of electronic voting and the introduction of this legislation governing it is hopelessly compromised because he is a partisan participant in the election which was to be voted electronically.

Section 5 would allow the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, “if he or she is of the opinion that the public interest so requires”, to introduce any system of electronic voting in one or more or all constituencies and in one or more or all local electoral areas. Under this legislation the Minister also has the power to issue directions to returning officers regarding voting and vote counting.

The Minister has wide powers under this legislation. He can decide whether or not electronic voting is to be used and he can decide what type of electronic voting is to be used. The Minister can decide what kind of software is to be used in the counting of votes and what software is to be used in the voting machines. The Minister can decide whether that form of election is to be used in one constituency, more than one constituency or all constituencies and the same applies to electoral areas for local elections. The Minister can also give directions to returning officers as to how they conduct themselves.

The House is being asked to approve that the Minister who has this power can at one and the same time be the director of elections for one of the political parties. It is a measure of the thickness of the brass neck of this Government that it thinks it can put such a proposition through the House. Not only can it unilaterally decide, as it thought it could, to introduce [1433] electronic voting, but it can do so by giving the ministerial powers to the very person that the party has entrusted to run the election. A greater conflict of interest is not possible. The person who will decide the rules of the election is the same person who when wearing his political hat is responsible for maximising the number of votes cast on behalf of Fianna Fáil.

I do not wish to question the motivation but I am still waiting and wondering as to what was behind Fianna Fáil’s insistence on the introduction of and enthusiasm for electronic voting. My suspicions are not in any way eased by the content of the report of the commission. It states that some of the software was not available, that it had not been tested and that it was possible under this system for individual voters to be intimidated or to be corrupted in the exercising of their vote. How much more of an insider case can it be than to have the director of elections running the election system and deciding the rules under which it is to be governed and who is the person responsible for commissioning the machinery? That is some insider.

I did not invent the term “insider” in this context. The commission’s report stated how an insider could override this system. The report summary states: “It may be possible for an insider to overcome the randomness of the methods used for the storage of votes in the ballot module.” The director of elections is one and the same person as the Minister who is deciding on the system to be used and responsible for the contract. There could not be more of an insider than that. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in the context of the electoral voting, is hopelessly compromised. I am disappointed that he has not stayed in the Chamber for this section of the debate where he might at least be in a position to offer some personal explanation as to why he insisted on proceeding in such a hopelessly compromised position.

  Mr. Allen: Like Deputy Gilmore, I protest at the Minister leaving the Chamber just as the House was about to discuss his role and his conflict of interest as Fianna Fáil director of elections and his role as the Minister who introduced the system.

I wonder what the reason is for the Minister to be so determined to push through a system about which so many questions had been raised by credible people whom the Minister insulted and by Opposition spokespersons who were treated by the Minister as if they were imbeciles. The Minister used such undiplomatic and unparliamentary language in the House that he was forced to make a kind of an apology last night to the Irish Computer Society because he accused it of being an agent of anti-globalisation. He almost went so far as to state that its members were subverting democracy. In a two-sentence statement last night he made a half-hearted apology, which I believe [1434] was made because an official complaint had been made to the Ceann Comhairle by the society.

The society complained it had been referred to by the Minister in a defamatory manner in this House. I question the Minister’s motivation in instructing his Fianna Fáil Deputies and their lap dogs, the Progressive Democrats, into folding the Oireachtas hearing on 18 December. At this hearing, important questions were raised by experts, which failed to be answered by the experts from Holland who were the hired hands of the Department and the Minister. Those questions were not answered on that day nor the following month. The House waited until February to hear some but not all the answers to the questions asked under 41 headings. The Minister persisted in questioning the motivation of the Opposition.

In his concluding speech on Second Stage of the Bill, the Minister stated: “The Deputy does not have a bull’s notion.” The bull seems to have known more than the Minister because it appears now that the Minister did not have a bull’s notion about the system and the legislation he was introducing. He was not alone in this. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, approved the more than €52 million expenditure. It was not approved by anyone else and that is a story for another day. In the House on 17 February the Minister for Finance stated:

Much has been written and said about electronic voting and counting in the last few weeks by politicians, computer experts, media commentators and opinion columnists. Comments have ranged from the well-informed and well-intentioned to the actively mischievous and misleading. Ill-informed comment is not unusual in public debate on reforms in this country. Certain Members on the other side of the House have jealously guarded their position at the forefront in this regard. Hardly a week goes by without them announcing loudly that they have discovered another dark conspiracy against the people . . .

The Opposition parties know that this system has already been used without complaint 70 million times. The Opposition knows that the system has been independently verified and that it will continue to be run by the same people who have always run it. . . .

This will be the most accurate and, therefore, the most democratic system we have ever had. However, the Opposition parties are committed to an era of total opposition in that everything the Government does is to be opposed in a shrill and hysterical way.

I could go on. The only shrill and hysterical utterances we have heard in the House or in committee have been from the Minister who made all sorts of allegations, which I will not repeat as Deputy McCormack referred to some of them.

One lie I want to nail, however, is the allegation of opportunism on the part of the [1435] Opposition and the claim that we fully supported the use of electronic voting in elections in 2002 and did not utter a word or raise a question about the system to be used on a guinea pig basis in Meath, Dublin North and Dublin West. I will quote a letter sent to the Taoiseach by former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton on 8 April 2002, and never published before because it nails the lie that no questions were raised at the time. It states:

I am writing to express my concern about the introduction of electronic voting including Meath. I have a number of problems with this upon which you should reflect.

Firstly, and perhaps least importantly, a roadshow to promote this is being launched at public expense in the run-in to the General Election by one of the candidates in the Meath Constituency who happens also to be Minister for the Environment. I would have thought that it would have been more appropriate if the Minister were not to involve himself in activity which could easily be mis-construed as electioneering as distinct from public information.

Does that not sound familiar? The old dog has been up to its old tricks.

  Mr. Gilmore: He never learned.

  Mr. Allen: The old dog who was caught last week publishing information packs was at the forefront of public information and education in the run-in to the general election. The letter continues:

Furthermore, I am worried that electronic voting may deter older people or others unfamiliar with electronic technology from going out to vote. That is not to say, of course, that electronic voting is intrinsically any more difficult than voting on paper, but the very fact that it is unfamiliar and new, will deter people from doing so at all. Launching an information campaign, run by one of the candidates at this late stage is an insufficient way of addressing this real problem.

One of the strengths of our electoral system. has been its manifest, almost painful, transparency. Every paper is visible. Every count is gone through manually. Everything can be observed by Party workers. At the end, everyone has to be satisfied that things have been done fairly or there will be a demand for a recount.

Now all that was previously done in the open under the gaze of members of the public will be done in a few seconds inside a computer. This is not as transparent.

Ordinary members of the public are not in a position to query errors that there might be in the software. The whole process becomes hidden rather than open. There have been no serious objections to our existing system, so [1436] what is the necessity to change it? Some time may be saved at Counts, but that is a minor saving in comparison to what is being put at risk in terms of public confidence in the system.

Who has validated the software to be used? How well qualified are they? Who are the international authorities that are being used in this matter? How is it justified launching such a system on an experimental basis in some constituencies but not in others? Surely the uniformity of method across the country should be a characteristic of any fair voting system.

What is the meaning of suggesting that this is an “experiment”? What happens if the experiment fails? After all the general election in Meath this year is not a rehearsal. It is for real. So why have experiments? Why, if this is an experiment, is a parallel system of voting not being made available in voting, where people who want to opt to vote for paper can do so, in the same way as those with postal ballots?

To assist in ensuring that no vote is miscounted, why is the voter not being issued with a receipt for his or her vote by the machine, in the same way as people get receipts from ATM machines, to validate the transaction?

If there is to be an experiment surely it should be in all constituencies or none? Why were the public representatives in the constituencies affected not consulted?

My own view is that it would perhaps be best to have carried out this experimental technology during local authority elections, which could have taken place in all local authority election areas prior to the General Election taking place, and thereby resolved any problems regarding electronic voting, totally and completely.

How prophetic. All the core issues——

  Acting Chairman: I ask the Deputy to address the amendment.

  Mr. Allen: The then Minister and the current Minister failed to address all the issues raised in Deputy Bruton’s letter. I question the Minister’s motives. The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte, has repeatedly asked the reason for the hurry in introducing electronic voting, while Deputy Kenny has raised major issues about the transparency and security of the system. What was the rush? I believe the reason was that the Minister wanted to undermine confidence in the system in order that the core Fianna Fáil vote would come out while many elderly people who are regarded as highly critical of the performance of the Government and are affected by its decisions, would be put off. Perhaps that was one of the motives, although it is a guess.

Given his position as director of elections for his party, the Minister is an unfit and unsuitable person to try to introduce a major change in our democratic system. After what has happened and [1437] the political slap on the face he has received, he does not have the confidence of the public and this side of the House to continue to introduce the proposed system.

The Minister has attempted to undermine aspects of the report of the Commission on Electronic Voting. In selective media interviews he has tried to put out a half-truth about certain aspects of the system. By putting forward his anonymous female spokesperson to give briefings to the press, he has tried to put another slant on the fall-out from the report.

If there are major costs arising from the commission’s report or as a result of having to make new arrangements, the Minister must quantify them. I am told, for example, that Fingal County Council had budgeted €30,000 for electronic voting but that the final figure will be close to €250,000 or almost ten times the original estimate.

What are the implications of the report nationwide? At the weekend, for example, I met several people who had been appointed to take part in the election process on 11 June and had spent many hours in training, all of which has gone for naught. What is the cumulative cost of the Minister’s mismanagement of vital legislation? I regret he has decided to leave the Chamber because we are dealing directly with his role as director of elections for the Fianna Fáil Party.

  Mr. McCormack: If the Minister had a sense of decency or shame he would not remain on the Government benches, perhaps he has left the House to write his letter of resignation, nor would he take this Bill today because he would have resigned his position. When the Minister unashamedly hung on to his position as director of elections, he must have assured somebody that he would see electronic voting through. As director of elections he might have been in a better position to do that. I have gone beyond attributing motives to the Minister. I do not know what drives him. I have my own suspicions which are more serious than anything Deputy Allen suspected. I will keep them to myself for the moment, but I might articulate them in the Dáil at a later stage because this debate has developed into a complete farce.

It is not a farce on this side of the House because we are only fulfilling our democratic function as an Opposition in attempting to uncover what is going on. I am sorry that people are not taking this matter as seriously as they should. Every reasonable amendment or proposition put from the Opposition is simply ignored. When putting the previous amendment to a vote, the Minister did not even give the courtesy of a second reply to our last minute appeal to agree to the amendment. He just sat down and let the question be put. The gloves are off in this debate and I might yet indicate some of my beliefs with regard to the Minister’s motives and take the consequences.

[1438] The Minister was vexed with the commission’s report. That is obvious by his attitude in the Dáil where he treats serious questions with sneering replies. Not satisfied with the commission’s report the Minister now says he will overrule the commission irrespective of what it says now or in the future. With the last amendment, he has claimed the authority to introduce any style of voting he chooses by regulation at any time he chooses. We are now in a serious situation unless this Bill is defeated. While this amendment is important, it is of lesser significance than amendments already passed and further amendments that will be proposed. However, it is significant that the general public are listening to what the Minister is saying and to the debate and yet he is still director of elections for Fianna Fáil in the up coming election. It is hard to believe that the Minister is allowing the general public to see the cynicism displayed in this House by the Government parties in allowing the Minister to remain as director of elections. I suspect some of the Minister’s motives. There are so many suspicions attached now to the Minister that it is hard to know which ones are more important.

The Minister for Finance gave sanction to purchase these machines as he said there was nothing wrong with them. He has no more expertise on this than I do. He obviously did not listen to expertise outside the House nor of those who made submissions to the commission. All of this money was spent and accounted for long before the House debated the issue. It was spent before the signing of the contract was sanctioned on Committee Stage. We are helpless because we now realise that we can do nothing about the farce being carried on in this House in the name of politics. We can only indicate our reservations and grave concerns so that the general public can pick up some of it through the media and from the Official Report.

  Acting Chairman: The Deputy should address the amendment.

  Mr. McCormack: I have to take every opportunity to show that the Minister is hell bent on going ahead with this and remaining as director of elections. The Minister has energetically tried to disrupt everything we say, and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, who does not seem to be as emotionally involved. We are not now being interrupted and are getting an opportunity to voice our very serious reservations.

We are not here to waste an evening or to have the satisfaction of speaking in the Dáil. We are here to represent the serious reservations of the general public. There is nothing more important than how we conduct our elections in a democratic system. The public has to have 100% confidence in that. It cannot have that confidence if the Minister, who is intent on pushing this through and ignoring the commission, is still the [1439] director of elections for Fianna Fáil in one of the elections on 11 June. That is what people are examining.

On Second Stage I stated that the Constitution belongs to the people and we could not interfere with their constitutional right to vote in a manner in which they have confidence. This Dáil, by passing the Bill, is robbing that right from the people as they have lost confidence in the system and in the Minister. Even after the commission’s report the Minister in his arrogant manner continues to say that he will plough ahead with this irrespective of the commission’s views. I hope that when the Minister comes back to vote on this, he will have tendered his resignation as director of elections, if not as Minister.

  Acting Chairman: All Deputies should address the amendment.

  Mr. Sargent: I have every intention of doing so.

An bhféadfadh an t-Aire Stáit insint don Teach cá bhfuil an t-Aire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil faoi láthair? Cén fáth nach bhfuil sé anseo? Baineann an leasú seo go díreach leis an Aire féin.

  Mr. Gilmore: An bhfuil freagra na ceiste ag an Aire Stáit?

  Mr. Gallagher: Beidh freagra ar ball.

  Mr. McCormack: Tá sé ag caitheamh tabac, is dócha.

  Mr. Gilmore: Tá sé ag smaoineamh ar fhreagra.

  Mr. Gallagher: Níl mé ag iarraidh na rialacha a bhriseadh.

  Mr. Sargent: Is athrúé sin don Aire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil.

The rules are being breached in spirit which is one of integrity and of keeping a distance between the electoral system and the political system, which has an obvious bias. The Minister was breaching that rule.

The absence of the Minister adds to the phoney nature of the debate, especially when one considers the redundancy of the legislation before us, as identified in the commission’s report. It is all the more redundant if one considers the track record of Fianna Fáil in undermining confidence in politics; the manner in which the tribunals continually churn out further causes for cynicism among the public; and the attempt by Fianna Fáil to introduce, without any verifiable audit trail, without testing and with unseemly haste, a complete electronic voting system for the whole country, not on a pilot basis but to be used in every election although there may be four polls on the one day. These factors have further undermined confidence not only in politics but also in the electoral system.

[1440] In spite of the imperfections of the paper-based system — we are not saying it has none — at least it has the useful and critical advantage of being transparent in that people can lean across the railings, see what is happening and make up their own minds. The electorate can take ownership of the process.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I am reluctant to intervene but what amendment is the Deputy discussing?

  Mr. Sargent: Amendment No. 3. I am making this clear at every turn. I am making the point that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is adding to public cynicism by holding on to the position of director of elections. I will ensure I continue to tie my comments closely to the amendment.

The undermining of confidence in the voting system is regarded by many as a process of putting what was a transparent system into a black box behind closed doors. This in itself would be very difficult for people to accept. However, one of the individuals controlling the system behind closed doors in terms of telling returning officers how they should conduct elections and what technology should be used is also the director of elections for Fianna Fáil. This does not inspire confidence in the view that we have an impartial, independent voting system.

If the Minister is serious about making progress and helping people understand the system, as he facetiously claims, he should do the decent thing, even without accepting this amendment, and help preserve the independence of the system from the cut and thrust of party politics. He should stand down as director of elections. This would make sense but the amendment before us asks the Minister in a very formal way to accede to what is not just a request by Deputies Gilmore, McCormack and Allen, me and others, but also a request by many individuals around the country who are concerned about the independence of the voting system. If the Minister were serious about making improvements to the system, he would ensure that everybody who is entitled to vote is registered and that the blind could vote without companions. This would be an improvement over the existing system. The current register has been rightly described as a disgrace by returning officers around the country.

Will the Minister of State take on board the spirit in which this amendment is being put? It is simply to try to preserve the integrity of the voting system we have or of any we introduce. I ask the Minister of State to accept the need to be truthful with the people. The Minister talks about saving the people money by introducing electronic voting, but the commission uses the word “may”. The evidence points to the contrary, as Deputy Allen said. The cost of overseeing electronic voting to Fingal County Council amounted to ten times the predicted cost, in addition to the €52 million bill already paid by [1441] the taxpayer. There are many hidden costs. An extra 6,000 people will be employed at polling stations. The Minister seems to believe these costs are paid for with fresh air by the local authorities. We will all end up paying these costs in one way or another.

Not only do we need integrity in this debate but we also need honesty. Integrity could be introduced very quickly if the Minister accepted this amendment and ensured a separation of the voting system from the political system.

  Mr. Gallagher: Amendment No. 3, tabled by Deputy Gilmore, is not directly related to the Bill and does not represent a clear understanding of the role of the Minister concerning the conduct of elections. Each of the electoral and referendum legislation codes clearly provides that the conduct of an election or a referendum is the statutory responsibility of the relevant returning officer, in accordance with the legislation covering the poll. After the Minister makes a polling day order setting out the day and hour of a poll, he or she has no role in the conduct of the election unless there is an emergency. The period in which a European election must be held is determined at European level and that for a local election is determined, to a lesser extent, by legislation.

The only time a Minister may on rare occasions have a role after the polling day order is made is when he or she may have to deal with wholly exceptional circumstances where difficulty arises, such as the existence of a vacancy for a returning officer, power cuts or other natural occurrences that would interrupt the poll and regarding which a difficulty order may be required. This is dealt with in section 164 of the Electoral Act 1992. The conduct of elections is entirely a matter for the returning officer and I do not recognise any conflict on interest regarding the Minister’s functions.

I did not check whether members of the Opposition, when serving as Minister for the Environment, were directors of elections for their own parties. I will not get involved in this.

  Mr. McCormack: The Minister of State has just said it.

  Mr. Gallagher: I did not. I am saying I did not check it, nor am I interested in doing so. If they were, I would not have felt at the time that there was any conflict of interest.

The conduct of elections is a matter for the relevant returning officer. I will not have a Second Stage debate on this issue because many of the questions raised were answered.

  Mr. Gilmore: Before I make my two-minute contribution, will the Minister of State tell us why the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not present for the debate on this amendment?

[1442]   Mr. Gallagher: I was in Derry today launching Pride of Place and have just returned. It was decided I would deputise for the Minister. We met briefly and I understand he may be addressing the chief fire officers this evening. Everybody appreciates the important role they play so it is important that he make that address. I can seek further clarification if necessary.

  Mr. McCormack: He had better be careful he is not burnt.

  Mr. Gilmore: That explanation is unacceptable. On the last occasion legislation dealing with the fire services came before the House, it was the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, who introduced it and conducted it through all Stages. If an address is to be made to the chief fire officers, it should be made by the Minister of State, who appears to have responsibility in the Department for those services, rather than the Minister.

The business we are dealing with was ordered by the Government. I would prefer to be talking about the needs of tenants and dealing with the Residential Tenancies Bill, which is long overdue in the House, or about other more pressing matters under the remit of this Department. However, the Government insisted that we spend today dealing with the Electoral (Amendment) Bill. It is not unreasonable, particularly given the controversy that has arisen about this legislation, to expect the Minister with direct responsibility for it and who has been in the eye of the storm on this issue to be present in the House for the debate. I did not have a problem——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s two minutes have concluded.

  Mr. Gilmore: I will return to this matter when I sum up. This is a discourteous way to treat the House. It is unacceptable, particularly when the House is dealing with an amendment that concerns a conflict of interest the Minister has between his role as director of elections for Fianna Fáil and his responsibilities as Minister under this legislation.

  Mr. Allen: On Second Stage of the Bill, I pointed to the conflict of interest for the Minister in his role as director of elections for Fianna Fáil and his ministerial role in pushing through this legislation against the wishes of the Opposition and many experts in computer technology. We spent much time on Committee Stage dealing with the provisions of the Bill. Unfortunately, however, the Minister was missing again and we had to deal with the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher. He is a level-headed, reasonable person but his hands were tied by the diktat from the senior Minister.

I recall spending hours one day on the Committee Stage debate and later hearing the Minister, Deputy Cullen, misrepresenting the [1443] situation on “Five Seven Live”. He misrepresented the Opposition’s position and attitudes. There we were, beavering away on Committee Stage of the Bill, only to hear the Minister ratting on us. Last week, the Minister was again afraid to get involved in a debate on RTE One and last night we saw him get a softer than soft interview on “Prime Time”. It was as if the Opposition did not exist. Now we are dealing with a section which relates directly to his behaviour and his conflict of interest and he simply walks out of the debate and sends in the Minister of State. I hope the Minister will not be on “Five Seven Live” or has not gone to Montrose to do another television interview.

I am anxious to know where he is. He has reneged on his duty as Minister to answer to the House for his abject negligence and incompetence in the misuse of massive amounts of taxpayers’ money to buy a system that is not safe. I would not trust the Minister to buy a dishwasher, let alone sophisticated equipment that is valued at more than €40 million, a bill that must be met by the taxpayer. There are unfathomed consequences of the commission report that have yet to be appreciated.

  Mr. McCormack: The Minister of State indicated that the Minister might have gone to address a fire officers’ function. I hope the Minister does not get his fingers more badly burnt there than they have been as a result of his handling of this issue.

The Minister was aware before lunch that this amendment was due to be debated next. However, according to the Minister of State, the Minister would not have been present for as long as he was if the Minister of State had not been delayed at another function. This is a Minister who is anxious to retain his position as Fianna Fáil director of elections yet he is not taking his duty seriously with regard to this legislation. Indeed, the Government thought this legislation would not have to be brought before the Dáil at all but the insistence of the Opposition parties and the public changed that.

It is said that the electronic voting system will cost €52 million. I have no doubt that, as time passes, the real cost of the system will be more than €100 million. There will be the cost of changing the system, extra personnel, storage and maintaining the machines. They cannot be stored in a shed like ballot boxes, they must be kept at a certain temperature and so forth. I am aware of one person who has bought a ballot box from a local authority for his own purposes. It is handy for annual general meetings and the like. Where will the expenditure on this system stop? I expect it will be more than €100 million before it finishes. However, the Minister still wishes to retain his position. I had hoped before the Minister of State spoke that the Minister had left to consider his position as director of elections. [1444] Unfortunately, however, my hopes were dashed by the Minister of State.

  Mr. Gallagher: I have nothing further to add on the amendment. There were many general questions but I do not wish to be argumentative or to go outside the scope of the amendment. However, the conduct of elections is not a matter for the Minister. I refer Deputies to section 31 of the Electoral Act 1992 which states: “It shall be the general duty of the returning officer for each constituency to do all such acts and things as may be necessary for effectually conducting a Dáil election in his constituency in accordance with this Act, to ascertain and declare the results of the election and to furnish to the Clerk of the Dáil a return of the persons elected for the constituency.”

There is no conflict of interest between the position of the Minister and his role as the party’s director of elections.

  Mr. McCormack: Except that it leads to a lack of confidence.

  Mr. Gilmore: The one comfort we can take from this debate on electronic voting is that democracy in this country is working. Thanks to the efforts of the Opposition parties, the concerned citizens who voiced their worries about the system of electronic voting to be introduced, the interest of those sections of the media which took the issue seriously, the independence of the commission and the integrity of its members, the Government was stopped in its plans to introduce this system of electronic voting.

5 o’clock

However, what if we had not succeeded? Under what system would the elections on 11 June take place? According to the commission’s report they would take place on a system for which some of the software has not yet been prepared and therefore could not be tested; for which the software was being constantly updated; for which the Department was still relying on earlier versions of the software for its tests; which had not been comprehensively tested; of which some individual components had not been tested; on which the tests that had been carried out were deemed to be insufficient; which had not been tested as a whole or certified as being suitable for use in an Irish electoral context; on which the commission was able to establish an error in the count software existed and it was possible that further testing would uncover further errors; whose software could be overwritten by somebody outside or by an insider; under which individual voters could be subject to intimidation or corruption in the casting of their votes; and under which the counting of votes could not be relied upon because the software was not deemed to be satisfactory or properly tested.

Who attempted to introduce this system? It was the director of elections of the principal party [1445] in an unpopular Government. Why do we think the Government attempted to foist this system on the people against the wishes of the Opposition parties and of concerned citizens? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that what was going on here was nothing short of a brazen attempt by the Government to steal and fiddle the elections. It would not be possible to have a greater conflict of interest than the Minister, who is responsible for introducing the system, for selecting the software and the supplier, for deciding the constituencies and electoral areas in which it would be used and for giving directions to returning officers, being the director of elections for the main Government party.

I did not object to the absence of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government from much of the Committee Stage of this Bill, as I understood he was abroad on Government business, which I accept. However, I do not accept the excuse we have been given today. I do not accept that the Minister responsible for handling the Bill which the Government considered so important it was [1446] ordered today ahead of other pressing legislation, should withdraw from the debate to address officers of a service for which the Minister of State, who is now taking the Bill in the House, has, I understand, delegated responsibility. I believe the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government withdrew from this debate because he could not face this House or answer to it on the conflict of interest he has as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and as director of elections for Fianna Fáil.

I now increasingly believe that conflict of interest, that dual role and those two hats the Minister is wearing — one day as director of elections for Fianna Fáil and the next day writing the orders for the election system — lie at the heart of why there was a brass-necked attempt by Fianna Fáil to interfere with the way in which people vote. It is shameful that the Minister is not present in the House to answer those charges. His handling of this matter has been shameful and it is time he was replaced as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 50; Níl, 65.

    Allen, Bernard.

    Boyle, Dan.

    Bruton, John.

    Bruton, Richard.

    Burton, Joan.

    Connaughton, Paul.

    Connolly, Paudge.

    Costello, Joe.

    Cowley, Jerry.

    Crawford, Seymour.

    Crowe, Seán.

    Cuffe, Ciarán.

    Deasy, John.

    Enright, Olwyn.

    Ferris, Martin.

    Gilmore, Eamon.

    Healy, Seamus.

    Higgins, Michael.

    Hogan, Phil.

    Howlin, Brendan.

    Kehoe, Paul.

    Lynch, Kathleen.

    McCormack, Padraic.

    McGinley, Dinny.

    McGrath, Finian.

    McGrath, Paul.

    McHugh, Paddy.

    McManus, Liz.

    Mitchell, Gay.

    Mitchell, Olivia.

    Morgan, Arthur.

    Murphy, Gerard.

    Naughten, Denis.

    Neville, Dan.

    Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

    O’Dowd, Fergus.

    O’Shea, Brian.

    O’Sullivan, Jan.

    Pattison, Seamus.

    Penrose, Willie.

    Quinn, Ruairí.

    Ring, Michael.

    Ryan, Eamon.

    Sargent, Trevor.

    Sherlock, Joe.

    Shortall, Róisín.

    Stagg, Emmet.

    Timmins, Billy.

    Upton, Mary.

    Wall, Jack.

Níl

    Ahern, Dermot.

    Ahern, Michael.

    Ahern, Noel.

    Andrews, Barry.

    Blaney, Niall.

    Brady, Johnny.

    Brady, Martin.

    Brennan, Seamus.

    Browne, John.

    Callanan, Joe.

    Carey, Pat.

    Carty, John.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Collins, Michael.

    Coughlan, Mary.

    Cregan, John.

    Curran, John.

    Davern, Noel.

    de Valera, Síle.

    Dempsey, Noel.

    Dempsey, Tony.

    Devins, Jimmy.

    Ellis, John.

    Fahey, Frank.

    Finneran, Michael.

    Fleming, Seán.

    Gallagher, Pat The Cope.

    Glennon, Jim.

    [1447] Grealish, Noel.

    Hanafin, Mary.

    Haughey, Seán.

    Hoctor, Máire.

    Jacob, Joe.

    Keaveney, Cecilia.

    Kelleher, Billy.

    Kelly, Peter.

    Killeen, Tony.

    Lenihan, Brian.

    McCreevy, Charlie.

    McEllistrim, Thomas.

    McGuinness, John.

    Moloney, John.

    Moynihan, Donal.

    Moynihan, Michael.

    Mulcahy, Michael.

    Nolan, M. J.

    Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.

    O’Connor, Charlie.

    O’Donnell, Liz.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Flynn, Noel.

    O’Keeffe, Batt.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    Parlon, Tom.

    Power, Peter.

    Power, Seán.

    Ryan, Eoin.

    Sexton, Mae.

    Smith, Brendan.

    Smith, Michael.

    Wallace, Mary.

    Walsh, Joe.

    Wilkinson, Ollie.

    Woods, Michael.

    Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher.

[1448] Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

  Mr. Gilmore: Will the Minister of State tell the House if there is any point continuing this debate? The Bill was introduced to provide for electronic voting on 11 June. That will not now happen. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has left the House and is not available to respond to the issues being raised. I do not believe the Minister of State will accept any of the amendments tabled.

I have no intention of spending the rest of the evening and tomorrow on an exercise to keep the House going for the Government. Either we are to have a serious debate on the Bill or we are not. We will clearly not have a serious debate in the absence of the Minister responsible for it. Before moving my amendment, I would like some answers on whether there is any point in this debate continuing.

  Mr. McCormack: I agree with the sentiments and frustration expressed by Deputy Gilmore in that we are unable to make a dent with the reasonable amendments tabled. I share his concern in terms of our going through the farce of calling votes and being beaten time and again by ten or 11 votes. Neither the Minister of State nor the Minister, who has now left the House, has made any attempt to concede anything.

But for the commission’s report, electronic voting would now be in place with all its flaws. The commission stated that as the software version proposed for use at the forthcoming elections has not yet been finalised it is impossible for anyone to certify its accuracy. It could not be more explicit. The issues concerning testing of the system make it impossible to determine its accuracy in the context of the commission’s report. Certain of the tests performed at the request of the commission identified an error in the count software which could lead to incorrect distribution of surpluses.

  An Ceann Comhairle: To what amendment is the Deputy speaking? I am not sure if Deputy Gilmore moved amendment No. 5.

  Mr. McCormack: I will conclude in a few moments.

  An Ceann Comhairle: It is necessary that Deputy Gilmore move amendment No. 5 before it can be discussed.

  Mr. Gilmore: Is there any point moving it, a Cheann Comhairle?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The House has decided on the matter of taking Report Stage now. The only matter that can be discussed at this point is amendment No. 5, if moved. If the Deputy does not wish to move it, we can move on to the next amendment.

  Mr. Gilmore: What is the point of moving an amendment to a Bill about which the Government is not serious?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the Member in possession.

  Mr. Gilmore: I will move the amendment for the purposes of debate.

  An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy moves the amendment, we will hear Deputy McCormack on it.

  Mr. Gilmore: I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“1.—(1)(a) The Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999, other than sections 1(4), 2 and 25, is repealed.

(b) References in—

[1449] (i) the Local Government Act 2001, and

(ii) the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001,

to enactments repealed by subsection(1) shall be construed as references to the provisions, if any, of regulations made under section 72 of the Electoral Act 1997 (as inserted by section 3) that relate to the same subject matter.

(2) The Electoral Act 1997 is amended by the substitution of the following section for section 72 (Donations and election expenses at local elections):

‘72.—(1) The Minister shall, not later than seven days after the passing of this Act, make regulations providing for the disclosure by members of a local authority and candidates at a local election of donations made to the members or candidates, as the case may be, and the limitation of the election expenses which may be incurred by or on behalf of candidates and political parties at local elections and shall make provisions corresponding to the provisions of Parts IV and V, subject however to any modifications in those provisions appearing to the Minister to be appropriate.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), regulations under this section shall make provision for the following matters—

(a) furnishing of statements in relation to donations, including anonymous donations,

(b) appointment of agents by political parties and candidates,

(c) making of contracts, incurring of election expenses and making of payments,

(d) limitation of election expenses,

(e) period for making claims relating to election expenses and for payment of such claims,

(f) disputed claims relating to election expenses,

(g) furnishing of statements in relation to election expenses,

(h) consideration by the Standards in Public Office Commission of statements in relation to donations and election expenses,

(i) excess expenditure,

(j) election expenses at a fresh election,

(k) inspection of documents, and

[1450] (l) provisions corresponding to sections 25 and 43 with such modifications as appear to the Minister to be appropriate.

(3) Regulations under this section shall apply to local authorities generally but may contain different provisions in relation to different classes of local authorities.

(4) (a) Provisions in regulations under this section relating to the specification of limits on election expenses shall correspond so far as is appropriate to the provisions relating to limits on election expenses for the time being applying to Dáil elections and, in making such regulations, the Minister shall have regard to any change in the consumer price index since the coming into force of the limits applying to Dáil elections at the date of the making of such regulations.

(b) For the purposes of this subsection, “change in the consumer price index” means the difference between the consumer price index number last published before the date of the making of the regulations under this section and the said number last published before the date of the coming into force of the limits on election expenses at Dáil elections applying at the date of the making of the said regulations, expressed as a percentage of the last-mentioned number.

(5) Where a provision of regulations under this section corresponds to a provision of section 25 or 43 it may provide for penalties not exceeding those provided for in the said section 25 or 43.

(6) Where regulations under this section are proposed to be made, a draft thereof shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House.

(7) In this section “political party” means a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties in accordance with section 25 of the Act of 1992 as a party organised to contest a local election (whether or not it is also organised to contest other elections).’.

(3) Section 75 of the Electoral Act 1997 (Local election petition), which was repealed by section 5 of the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999, stands revived.”.

  Mr. McCormack: The commission found serious faults. It established the possibility of interference with the voting machine, the ballot box and so on. Despite all those flaws, the [1451] Government would have introduced electronic voting in the forthcoming elections except for the commission. I think that is the point Deputy Gilmore is trying to make.

Influence in this House is almost dead. The only influence which this House had on the matter was the Opposition’s insistence on——

  An Ceann Comhairle: We are discussing amendment No. 5 which deals exclusively with donations by candidates at local elections. It does not deal with electronic voting. There is not the same flexibility on Report Stage as is available during earlier Stages. Members must confine their remarks to the specific amendment.

  Mr. McCormack: It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the issue of donations might have had a serious effect on what we are now discussing. I will say no more on that.

Deputy Gilmore contends that we are wasting our time here. We are wasting our time discussing the amendments because we are not receiving any satisfaction on them. We in Fine Gael have been inclined to adopt a different approach. I am prepared to give way to Deputy Gilmore if he wants to proceed with his amendment. I thought Deputy Gilmore had moved the amendment to allow us to debate the futility of what we are doing.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The House has already decided on the matter of Report Stage. We are taking Report Stage until 7 p.m. this evening. We are now debating amendment No. 5 which deals exclusively with donations. I appeal to Deputies to stay within the confines of what is appropriate on Report Stage.

  Mr. McCormack: We are trying to be of assistance to the House. If we come to the conclusion that we are only wasting our time, Members may be able to leave the House earlier.

  An Ceann Comhairle: There is other business ordered that will keep the House going until 7 p.m. It is not necessary for the Deputy to assist the House in the matter.

  Mr. Morgan: Deputy McCormack’s offer is more constructive than any offer from the other side.

  Mr. McCormack: I will conclude and allow Deputy Gilmore to speak on his amendment. However, I reserve the right to come in on the amendment. I thought we were pursuing the argument of the futility of this debate.

  An Ceann Comhairle: No, that discussion took place this morning.

  Mr. McCormack: I know. I regret that discussion is over because what we are doing is futile.

[1452]   An Ceann Comhairle: Does Deputy Gilmore wish to contribute to the amendment?

  Mr. Gilmore: Yes. I thank the Chair for his flexibility. This is a simple amendment. Spending limits have been set for general and European Parliament election campaigns, yet there are no spending limits for local elections. We should set spending limits for local elections. The amendment proposes a framework for the introduction of spending limits in that regard.

We all accept the limits for European and general election purposes. It makes no sense that there are no spending limits in place for local elections. Currently, a candidate standing for election to a town or county council can spend any amount he or she wishes on his or her election campaign. There is probably a stronger case to be made for spending limits in local elections because the potential to distort a local election by a high level of expenditure on the part of an individual candidate when most others are spending modest amounts is much greater than in a general election context where very often much of the campaign is fought on the airwaves and there is a much more national dimension to it.

Another reason to introduce spending limits at local elections is that, as we have seen from tribunals, a considerable amount of the corruption under investigation relates to what happened at local government level. For the reasons outlined, the Labour Party believes spending limits should be set for local elections. The amendment, which is a reworking of a Private Members’ Bill tabled some time ago, gives us the opportunity of having the provision enacted.

  Mr. Sargent: On the basis that this amendment does not relate to the redundant debate on electronic voting, it merits closer discussion because it is relevant in advance of the forthcoming local elections. The spending on local election campaigns and the furnishing of statements and related matters regarding candidates’ election expenses are relevant. The Green Party supports Deputy Gilmore’s amendment and asks that the Minister accept it.

This measure is astonishing, although we are becoming used to jaw-dropping audacity and arrogance from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In the area of election expenses, the Minister, who is the most corporately sponsored politician in the country, has reason to be mindful of the justifiable or misplaced generosity from which he benefits. One way or the other, if there are election spending limits at European and general election level it is remiss of the Minister not to insist on spending limits at local election level.

The Minister dismissed this concern as if to say that money has no part in a local election campaign and that all depended on shoe leather. The wise teaching of this expert at getting elected was that money had nothing to do with it. We all [1453] know that posters and printing cost a great deal of money. If one adds the cost of renting an office and other expenses, the costs mount up. The amount of money spent in an election campaign will mount up, if one has it. In the campaign for the forthcoming local elections there have been major disputes between candidates as to the amount of money to be spent on the campaign. A candidate who has independent means, who comes from a wealthy family, for example, will be tempted to spend like no one’s business while a running mate must search for every cent and wonder where the next euro will come from. Surely it is the job of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure a level playing pitch with regard to election spending.

Like Deputy Gilmore, I served on Dublin County Council. On radio every evening we hear, like a serialised book at bedtime, the recall of the past activities of Dublin County Council at the current tribunals. It is shocking to hear evidence of what was suspected at the time and is now being revealed. The Minister appears to overlook the earning power of someone who wishes to use his or her power on a local authority corruptly. The rezoning of land from agricultural to residential presents enormous windfall profits to a landowner or developer. Even at this late stage, the Minister should try to restore some of the lost confidence in the political process which his party helped to whittle away through the corrupt practices of a number of its members. He should accept this amendment, which extends the common sense that applies at general and European election level to local elections and put in place a limit on spending and a requirement that local candidates furnish spending returns. Many candidates already furnish returns to the Public Offices Commission.

There is no limit on local election spending. That carries the message that corporate sponsorship of politics is fair game. This not only benefits those who are wealthy over those who do not have independent means but also skews the results of elections because the vast majority of successful candidates will have spent their way to winning votes. That is a corruption of the democratic process. Regardless of how honest the people involved are, they will have used their wealth to gain an advantage over their fellow citizens who do not have the same level of wealth. It is important that we level the playing pitch and this amendment is a good way of doing so.

  Mr. Allen: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has brought us back to the days of Taca. He is the greatest recipient of political donations of any politician. There is a conflict of interest between his role as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the donations he has received in recent years.

This section contains a major anomaly. There are limits on spending on campaigns for [1454] European and general elections but none for local elections. The Minister would out-Taca Taca. He has a vested interest in not placing limits on spending on local election campaigns. He has flagged the fact that he is anxious to increase the spending ceilings on general elections in the future. My party is opposed to that proposal. During the debate on Second Stage of the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2003 I stated clearly that I would welcome limits on donations for local elections. I pointed out that people can spend their way into local authority seats. I know of people with massive resources who systematically go through communities, inviting people to parties and dinners in the restaurant in Leinster House, and use the resources and facilities of the Oireachtas to win seats. Money counts in local elections, even more than in general elections.

This is an important amendment but the Minister is not in the House to debate it. I know of candidates in the forthcoming local elections whose personal resources are negligible and are dependent on the support of their parties. Some are fighting a David and Goliath battle. With their limited means and party resources they must face the well-oiled machines of other candidates. The Minister of State knows to whom I refer. Members of this House have sons and daughters running for local authority seats, financed by large donations and their own resources.

I support the amendment. Like Deputy Gilmore, I wonder why we are discussing these amendments line by line when the Minister has abandoned the debate and we do not know what he is doing. We will continue this debate tomorrow. However, I understand the debate is to be guillotined tomorrow and the Bill considered in the Seanad on Friday because certain provisions must be enacted by the middle of next week. This is a disgraceful way to deal with a Bill of this magnitude. The Minister has left the matter to his junior Minister. While the Minister of State is a nice man, the problem is not of his making.

We are told the Bill is to be guillotined tomorrow when we will be approximately a quarter of the way through the list of amendments. That is no way to run a democracy. The Minister has been inept and negligent, yet we are told we must meet a deadline of next week or the elections cannot take place. We are moving from chaos to chaos. The Minister should answer to the House and the sooner the better.

  Mr. Morgan: I support the amendment because the current situation is somewhat ridiculous in that there are spending limits on general elections but not on local government elections. A candidate with a war chest as large as that of George Bush, which is of the order of $200 million, could win a few seats in Fingal and perhaps in counties Mayo, Louth, Cork or Galway. On the other hand, given the Minister’s behaviour towards local government, the [1455] institutions will have so little power that it will probably not be attractive to spend very much to get elected.

This is a common sense, practical amendment. If the Minister were sincere, this measure would have been included in the Bill at the outset and not left for the Opposition to introduce. I expect that the amendment will be accepted and look forward to that.

  Mr. Ring: I agree with Deputies Allen and Gilmore that there is no need to rush this Bill through and that it should instead be withdrawn. Why is it to be pushed through the Dáil when electronic voting is over now and forever? The people do not want it and never did. As we are discussing spending controls for the local elections, was there any control of Government spending on electronic voting? Legislation should be introduced to stop such spending. I predict the cost will be more than €100 million by the time the process is finished. The Minister should hand the machines out to the schools. At least we would get something--——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should address his remarks to the amendment.

  Mr. Ring: I wish to make a helpful suggestion.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not in order.

  Mr. Ring: My point is in regard to spending. The Government is spending money on advertisements asking people to vote in the local elections. I suggest that the voting machines be given to the schools to teach young people about how democracy and dictatorship works in this country, which would be a good lesson for students.

  Mr. Allen: And how democracy does not work.

  Mr. Ring: That is the message I want to get across. The Minister should be in the House to debate the Bill, not giving out fire certificates after causing such a fire in the country. No Minister should disregard the House and walk away from it when a Bill is under discussion. There is no excuse. I would not mind if a Minister was in Europe on Government business but the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be in the House to deal with the Bill. It shows the measure of his respect for democracy and the House. The Minister dictated to me and gave me a great deal of lip on the dual mandate and electronic voting issues. At the same time, his returns showed the fortune he received from the people of the State.

Deputy Allen pointed out that many candidates will find it difficult to fight this election as they will not have the necessary resources. However, millionaires will be able to enter local councils and then take the next step into this House. They will not care what money [1456] they spend on local elections. This is already evident in terms of glossier election brochures with quality photographs and the increased use of newspaper advertisements. Some candidates have been advertising for the past five or six weeks because there are no restrictions. It is wrong that candidates can spend what they want for local elections while spending is restricted for general elections.

Such restrictions have never bothered me. I ran my by-election campaign in 1994 for less than 9,000 and topped the poll in Mayo in the previous two general elections, although I must question the amount of money spent on other campaigns and how it was spent. I never had that kind of money because I was never bailed out by builders or business people. Those who work and vote for me are working class and I have never received significant amounts of money from them. Such spending is wrong and this amendment should be accepted by the Government. There should be restrictions on how much can be spent on local elections and on what it can be spent. The Government should deal with this immediately.

Other speakers referred to candidates receiving donations. For the past 25 years, while we have heard about particular donations, the rumours were always denied. A Deputy in the House at present was threatened when he made it known at a council meeting that cheques were being offered to councillors. This must be stopped and the system made more open. It is reasonable that we would know what candidates receive, who they receive it from and what they spend.

I get upset when I think of the mishandling of electronic voting. The Minister should withdraw the Bill and withdraw himself as well. He would be forced to do so if the Taoiseach had any decency or commitment to the people. The Taoiseach last week lectured the people of Europe and told us we were wonderful Europeans. He should have sacked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government last Saturday morning for the mess he made of electronic voting and the waste of more than €100 million of taxpayers’ money, which will be final cost when the true facts are known.

The Minister should be in the House to answer queries and should not run away. Any Minister with a Bill before the House should be present to defend it. The Minister should not be absent on other business, which is appalling and an insult to the House. The Opposition should not stand for it unless the absence is because the Minister is on official Government business. While I am in the Dáil day after day, I often find that two or three Ministers have visited my constituency in my absence. It should not happen and is an insult to the House and to democracy.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call the Minister of State.

[1457]   Mr. McCormack: I did not contribute on the amendment.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I thought the Deputy had spoken.

  Mr. McCormack: No. While we had a discussion at the beginning on whether we would proceed with discussion of the amendment, I did not speak since the motion was moved.

  Mr. Gilmore: That is true. We had a discussion on whether to take the amendment.

  Mr. Ring: That is correct.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The contribution was ruled on by the Ceann Comhairle.

  Mr. McCormack: It could not be a contribution on the motion because it had not been moved at the time.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am not going to change the Ceann Comhairle’s ruling.

  Mr. McCormack: I will come in again at the second opportunity.

  Mr. Gallagher: With regard to Deputy Gilmore’s amendment in which he states expenditure limits should be introduced for local elections, the House will accept that it is too late to introduce such limits for next June’s poll, even if we wanted to. The introduction of expenditure limits was considered during the passage of the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999. It was decided not to introduce limits given the fundamental difference between local and other elections in terms of scale. For example, at the local elections in June 1999, there were 3,085 candidates compared with 42 candidates at the European elections held on the same day, and 463 candidates for the general election of 2002. In regard to constituencies, there are 268 local electoral areas compared with 42 Dáil and four European.

Experience has shown that local authority candidates do not spend significant amounts of money. The introduction of limits would create additional bureaucratic procedures which would not be justified in this instance. The regime was in operation during the 1999 local election campaign. This will apply, with minor amendments, during the 2004 polls. It is a local scheme appropriate to local elections. It is less costly, less bureaucratic and easier to operate than the scheme for general and European elections, yet it still embodies the important reporting and disclosure principles for donations and expenditure under the Electoral Act 1997. As has been pointed out, candidates must give an account of their spending and record donations of approximately €635. Donations of more than €127 must be lodged in a separate account. The amendments to which I referred relate to a limit [1458] on political donations. Candidates will be aware of the maximum limit on donations from any one source in any one year of €2,538. The amendment is not justified because it would create additional bureaucratic procedures.

It would be interesting to look at the facts following the 1999 local elections when council candidates submitted accounts to the local authorities. When analysed, it was found that, in the council elections, the average expenditure was €1,729 per candidate, in the corporations it was €2,981, in the borough corporations it was €635, in the urban district councils it was €635, and in the town commissioners it was €311 per candidate. The question arises whether the imposition of expenditure limits would outweigh the extra bureaucracy for candidates, political parties and local authorities. On the evidence of the 1999 returns, it would be difficult to justify a more costly bureaucratic and complex scheme given the levels of reported expenditure, the difficulties experienced by some local authority candidates in implementing the existing provisions and the current arrangements embodying the reporting and disclosure principles under the Electoral Act 1997.

We should not need to look over our shoulders at what is happening in other jurisdictions. Most EU countries do not have election expenditure limits for local elections. The only EU countries that have such limits are Belgium, Portugal, Spain and the UK. It is too late to introduce this measure which would be outweighed by the extra bureaucracy.

  Mr. McCormack: This is my first real contribution on having no spending limits during local authority elections. The Minister of State said it is justified not to have such limits. It is justified that there should be. There is no reason this should not be the case. The amendment cannot be accepted now because of the timescale involved. It should not have been necessary to table the amendment. It should have been a standard provision in the Bill that there would be a spending limit for local elections.

I am the longest serving local representative in the House, and I will be a member of a local authority until the June elections. I have been a member of both the city council and county council at different times and at the same time. I am aware of the incentives offered and the pressures on councillors. If councillors wish to have a great deal of money to spend on local elections, they will get it. They would have to declare that money, which is a separate matter. There should certainly be a limit on spending by local election candidates. To carry this argument to its logical conclusion, a wealthy candidate standing for the local elections would not have to declare a contribution because he or she already has the money. He or she could go into a community council meeting with me or anyone else where people are asking the local authority to provide trees or shrubs in an estate, for [1459] example. This person may say nothing at the meeting. However, he or she could distribute leaflets the following day informing people the trees will be provided, even though he or she has bought them. If he or she attends another community council meeting where people have been agitating for a long time for a community hall — I am taking this argument to its extreme conclusion — this person could suggest contributing €30,000 towards the hall. There is no limit in this regard. This expenditure will assist that person in being elected in the local elections, which is a ridiculous situation.

The Minister of State should be careful in this regard. I was first elected to the local council in 1974. At the time I had no literature, just shoe leather. However, we are not in shoe leather now. I could not conduct an election nowadays without major funding to compete with other candidates. How can ordinary councillors compete with people who have unlimited resources? They will compete by having enticements put in their way. The business of a local council and the decisions local councillors must make are now so serious and have such far-reaching repercussions that there is no restriction on the amount of inducements that can be offered to them. I know the majority of councillors do not take inducements, but if one is dealing with material contraventions of planning laws and rezoning 12 acres of agricultural land for a particular purpose, one is increasing the value of the land for the owner who will sell it immediately. I had occasion to vote against one of these material contraventions on the principle that one cannot change the value of one man’s land from €120,000 to €3.5 million overnight unless one gives the same opportunity to everyone. It is a different matter if one is dealing with a city or county development plan.

6 o’clock

There is a great deal of pressure on councillors to compete with wealthy candidates who can afford to supply to local communities trees or anything else which he or she does not have to declare. All one must declare is the amount of subscriptions received which amount to more than €127. Wealthy candidates do not want subscriptions because they already have the money. This places severe pressure on candidates who do not have such resources. No matter what the Minister or the Minister of State says, it is essential to have spending limits on local election campaigns to eliminate the possibility of inducements, allow local candidates compete and measure what is happening during such campaigns.

Some people want to get elected to their local authority because it is a stepping stone to the Dáil. Others, who want to do so to serve their local community, are genuinely motivated people. Still more want to be elected to their local authority for the prestige it gives them, which is [1460] where the danger arises in not imposing spending limits on candidates in local authority elections.

It is essential that spending limits are imposed. It is far more important than imposing limits on me or anyone else standing in Oireachtas elections because it is at local level that decisions are made about planning — we have heard from the tribunals what happens with planning decisions. I ask the Minister of State to place spending limits on local election candidates in order that they all play on a level playing field. A man or woman living in a local authority house and in receipt of social welfare has every right to stand in local authority elections and compete with a millionaire who is also standing for election.

  Mr. Gilmore: The Minister of State has given two reasons for not accepting this amendment, namely, that there is not enough time to introduce spending limits before the local elections on 11 June and that it would be too bureaucratic to do so. In regard to the first reason, do I understand correctly that the Minister of State is stating that there is not enough time between now and 11 June to introduce spending limits for the election campaign but that there is enough time to introduce electronic voting, but for the fact that the commission has found against it, and that there is enough time to introduce a proposal for a referendum to change the Constitution? If there is enough time to change the Constitution, there is enough time to introduce spending limits.

In regard to the second argument, the paperwork has been done. Every candidate in the local elections will be required to have his or her political account, record donations in excess of the €100 limit, make a declaration about donations in excess of €630 and make a detailed return to his or her local authority on the entire amount expended. The candidates are doing the paperwork and there is no additional work involved in this proposal. It merely seeks to put a limit on the amount candidates may spend. The argument that the average town council candidate spends approximately €600 is one in favour of having spending limits.

  Mr. McCormack: It strengthens the case.

  Mr. Gilmore: For example, in a town council election the average spend per candidate is approximately €600 — given that the figures given by the Minister of State are from 1999 it is a little more now — and if a candidate spends ten times that amount, he or she has the potential to distort the election. I have seen examples of this. During a local election campaign, I knocked on a door and the constituent asked me if I could get the council to repair the side entrance door to her house. I explained to the woman that the council, to which I was seeking election did not do repairs to side entrance doors. However, I met the woman the day before the election and she told [1461] me the door had been fixed and identified the candidate who had arranged it. I found it hard to believe but she told me that she had told the candidate about the door and the following day a van and workmen came and fixed it. I telephoned the council and asked the person in charge of maintenance if he had sent a van to fix the door and he assured me he had done no such thing. I established that the candidate had arranged to get this work done privately. All one needs in a local election in which margins are tight and the number of votes is small is a candidate who will do things like this.

  Mr. Morgan: Nixers.

  Mr. Gilmore: It may not be election expenditure as we know it, but in fairness to everyone a limit needs to be put on spending. This can and should be done for 11 June. The arguments that there is not enough time and that it is too bureaucratic are purely the excuses of a Government which does not want to do it. Fianna Fáil never wanted spending limits. We saw that when the party tried to increase the allowable level of expenditure. At the first opportunity it will try to get rid of spending limits for European and general elections too. The party does not want spending limits introduced for the local elections because it does not want spending limits at all. Fianna Fáil has the capacity to raise huge amounts of money and spend it at will, which is exactly what it wants to do. However, this is not in the interests of fairness and democracy.

It was wondered aloud in the House earlier what is the purpose of this debate. We will not have electronic voting on 11 June, therefore, we might as well use our time in the House productively to introduce a provision which will ensure that the elections on 11 June are conducted on a fair basis, that there is a level playing pitch for all candidates and parties and that parties and individuals cannot spend excessively thereby distorting the conduct of the election.

  Mr. Boyle: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this amendment in particular because it is an issue about which I and my party have strong feelings. When we refer to restricting and placing limits on election expenditure at national or local level, we are referring only to the period after which an order has been moved to hold such elections. The experience of all Deputies in regard to the current set of elections is that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of euro has already been spent by many candidates across the country in ways which have distorted the democratic process. If ever a case were needed for putting in place a strict limit on election spending over the longer time period than the election process itself, it is made by the type of conduct we witness daily and weekly in the political processes in this country.

[1462] Large expenditure does not guarantee a seat. In the Cork City Council elections in 1999, a candidate in a north city ward spent the equivalent of €20,000 in an area a quarter the size of the five seat Dáil constituency. This would have translated into expenditure of €80,000 in a general election. However, the candidate was not elected. When that scale of expenditure happens officially in the four weeks of the campaign, the minds boggles as to what the actual expenditure was in the six month period, and even one year period, in advance of the election.

The argument should be broader than just imposing spending limits for local elections. All our election spending limits should be examined for the amount spent as well as the term in which the limits are applied. Serious consideration needs to be given to the fact that there are significant run-in periods to various sets of elections running between six and 12 months. Accounting facilities already in place might facilitate the imposition of such limitations in this set of elections and, like Deputy Gilmore, I do not accept the argument of the Minister of State that it cannot possibly be done on time. A ministerial order proposing the election could include the limits which would be allowed to be spent during that election period. I can see no administrative difficulty in allowing that to happen.

I have a difficulty with the reluctance of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to provide this measure which would give some meaning to the Bill. The Minister is not only compromised in his role as director of elections for Fianna Fáil, as the Member of this House who received the most in personal donations in the 2002 general election and received more than he was entitled to spend in the campaign, he is the person least well considered to be in charge of a Department which should critically examine equity and fairness in political life in respect of what, where and how moneys are spent.

When we talk about limits for local election expenditure without engaging in a wider debate, it is an exercise in moving deckchairs around. The public demands more propriety, openness and transparency in our political system. What is in place for all our elections is inadequate but what is needed for local elections is totally absent. We need a Government which is prepared to accept that democracy depends on all citizens not only having access to the electoral process but being able to put themselves forward as candidates for offices in the democratic process. Having behaviour and procedures which allow us to distort that process does not reflect well on politics in general. It certainly does not reflect well on those in Government who are unwilling to make the necessary changes.

  Mr. Eamon Ryan: The Minister should consider apologising to some Members on this side of the House. On Second Stage he took [1463] particular exception to certain comments on previous Stages and Deputy Gilmore may remember the Minister accusing me of telling serious untruths and misrepresenting the reality. I raised concerns about the use of secret code rather than open source code software and the Minister became incredibly agitated and said I did not know what I was talking about. It is remarkable to get such a response from a Minister when the independent commission report made exactly the same point. I was concerned that the code being used was not open source software. It might be a bit much to expect but I ask officially that the Minister might consider apologising.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are dealing with amendment No. 5.

  Mr. Gilmore: He ran away.

  Mr. McCormack: We asked earlier and he declined.

  Mr. Eamon Ryan: One way of apologising would be to accept some of these amendments. That would be a sign the Government is learning from this debacle and that we are ready to move on. I wanted to put it to the Minister to consider apologising and one way to do so would be to accept amendments like this.

  Mr. Gilmore: Before the Minister of State responds, is the Minister, Deputy Cullen, making a very long address to the chief fire officers? He has been gone since 4 p.m., although I presume he left the House at 2.30 p.m. as he did not return at 4 p.m. It is now 6.15 p.m. Can we anticipate that he will return or is there a very long question and answer session at this event?

  Mr. Gallagher: To clarify, the Minister was here for the vote at 4 p.m. and is on his way to Wexford to meet the chief fire officers there.

  Mr. McCormack: Will he be here tomorrow?

  Mr. Gallagher: Deputies have made a case for this amendment but I have referred to time constraints and it is too late to introduce such limits. All Deputies will be aware that, even if there were a will on my part to introduce expenditure limits, there would be a question of making those limits retrospective. All of us know from personal experience that expenditure kicks in on the day that the order is signed, but if expenditure is incurred prior to that, typically through preparing posters, then that must be included in the limits. That could cause difficulties.

Members made a good case for this but the imposition of expenditure limits would outweigh the extra bureaucracy for candidates. I also accept that the expenditure figures I gave were averages. Deputy Boyle outlined the situation in [1464] Cork city where €20,000 was spent in one case. I will take that into consideration as that level was never the intention.

I am not in a position to accept the amendment for the reasons given. This measure could not be introduced this year and the benefits of its introduction would be outweighed by the extra bureaucracy which would be imposed on more than 3,000 local election candidates. I cannot accept the amendment.

  Mr. Gilmore: I am disappointed the Government is not accepting the amendment. The Government plans to guillotine the debate tomorrow and, in deference to other Members who have tabled amendments, I do not propose to take up the time of the House by calling a formal division.

Amendment put and declared lost.

  Mr. Gilmore: I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

1.—The Minister shall ensure that all publications or information communicated to the public concerning electronic voting, including roadshows, is available in the Irish language as well as in English.

This amendment was intended to oblige the Government to conduct the roadshows on electronic voting in Irish and English, as we were informed the roadshow was only going as far as Galway and Clifden and would not visit Connemara. Given that there will be no electronic voting on 11 June and presumably no roadshow, this issue does not arise.

However, Deputy Howlin informed us earlier that the advertisements are still rolling. In moving the amendment, may I ask the Minister of State what arrangements have been made to call a halt to the advertising campaign? We know the estimate for the cost of the advertising campaign was approximately €5 million. What will the advertising campaign cost now? Will there be any refund or reduction from the companies concerned given that it will not now be necessary to carry on with this? What is the position regarding the roadshow and advertising campaign? How much has been spent on it already and how much more will be spent on it? Are any savings likely to be made now, given the effort has been obair in aisce?

  Mr. Allen: Without being repetitive, I would like details of the contract between the Department and the companies which obtained the promotional contract, Q4 and McConnells. What was the involvement of the Minister’s political adviser in the interviewing process? Also, there seems to have been only one advertisement in a national newspaper about the entitlement of citizens to be put on the supplementary register before 24 May. What [1465] money will be left over from the €4.5 million contract?

Why was the Minister and his Department negligent in ordering a stop to the advertising campaign on television immediately the commission and the Government made its decision to terminate the introduction of electronic voting on 11 June? Surely the money should have been spent on a citizens’ information campaign. What moneys have been spent on an information campaign specifically targeted at, for example, college students to get them on the register? Why did the Department advertise the introduction of electronic voting long after the decision to terminate had been made?

  Mr. Sargent: Tá an Comhaontas Glas ag tacú le leasú Uimh. 6. Tá sé aisteach a éisteacht leis an Aire Stáit. Nuair a thug sé freagra ar an leasú deireannach, Uimh. 5, dúirt sé nach raibh go leor ama ann chun aon teorainn a chur leis an méid airgid a chaitear ar thoghcháin áitiúla, ach níl sé ag déanamh na hargóinte céanna ó thaobh an chórais leictreonaigh agus an Bhille ar fad de. Mura bhfuil córas vótála leictreonach le bheith in úsáid ar 11 Meitheamh, cén fáth nach féidir glacadh leis an leasú don chéad toghchán áitiúil eile? Beidh sé fiúntach ar a laghad má dhéantar é sin.

Ó thaobh leasú Uimh. 6 de, áfach, is ait an rud é gur gá a leithéid de leasú a chur os ár gcomhair, ach tá brón orm a rá go bhfuil gá leis. Tá mé den tuairim go mbeidh an tAire Stáit tuisceanach faoi de bharr go bhfuil cuid den Ghaeltacht ina dháilcheantar féin. Chomh maith leis sin, tá mé cinnte go mbeidh an tAire Stáit ar an eolas mar gheall ar an ghá, ní amháin le heolas a thabhairt as Gaeilge agus Béarla — cad é faoi na daoine atá dall? Is cinnte go bhfuil easpa áiseanna ann sa chóras atá againn faoi láthair, agus istigh sa chóras leictreonach, do dhaoine atá dall. Is teanga faoi leith é an teanga Braille, d’fhéadfaí a rá chomh maith, agus tá fiúntas sa chineál roadshow a bhí beartaithe. Bhíomar ag plé na ceiste mar chuid de cheisteanna chun an Aire Comhshaoil le déanaí chomh maith, agus bhí an tAire Stáit i láthair ag an am sin freisin. Luaigh mé ansin — agus tá méá lua aríst — gur cheart go mbeadh an roadshow sin, ní amháin ag plé le cúrsaí eolais ó thaobh choras vótála de ach le cúrsaí chlárú vótálaithe. Sa lá atá inniu ann, tá an teicneolaíocht ann; tá an t-eolas sa Roinn Leasa Shóisialaigh agus sa Roinn Airgeadais. Is dócha go bhféadfainn a rá go bhfuil an t-eolas ag an Rialtas sna hoibreacha PPS atá ann chun gach duine a chur ar an chlár vótála. Ar a laghad leis an roadshow a bhí ag dul timpeall na tíre, ní amháin go mbeadh sé fiúntach dá mbeadh an t-eolas as Gaeilge chomh maith le Béarla, d’fhéadfaimis a rá le gach duine go bhfuil sé nó sí cláraithe. Is cuma cé tusa nó cá bhfuil tú i do chonaí, má tá tú 18 mbliana d’aois, tá tú cláraithe. Dul chun cinn a bheadh ann sin, ach ní féidir é sin a rá faoi láthair. Tá neart daoine ann nach bhfuil eolas acu mar gheall air agus nach bhfuil [1466] cláraithe, a théann go dtí an t-ionad vótála, agus a fhaigheann amach go ró-dhéanach nach bhfuil siad cláraithe. Má tá aon dul chun cinn le déanamh — agus is cinnte go bhfuil gá leis sin — seo dul chun cinn fiúntach. Iarraim ar an Aire glacadh leis an leasú seo agus an chomhairle sin freisin.

  Mr. McCormack: Bhí an roadshow i gcathair na Gaillimhe agus in áiteanna eile sa Ghaillimh, ach níor tháinig an roadshow go dtí aon áit i nGaeltacht na Gaillimhe, nó aon Ghaeltacht eile. It was a serious omission and a snub to the people of Galway, which has the largest Gaeltacht in the country, that the roadshow never stopped in their areas. I understand that none of the literature is in the Irish language and that nobody in the company that got the contract to promote electronic voting is sufficiently competent in the Irish language to answer the questions posed concerning electronic voting. The Gaeltacht represents a large part of my constituency and those living there have been disenfranchised. The information is immaterial now as, thanks to the commission’s report, we are not proceeding with electronic voting in the June elections.

What were the terms of reference for the PR company, one of the directors of which is a former secretary of Fianna Fáil? The advertisements I saw on television had nothing to do with electronic voting or explaining the difficulties that might arise about the mechanics of the system, they merely showed people how to switch buttons and turn off electric lights. This €5 million was badly spent, perhaps not from the point of view of those who were getting the €5 million, but it was bad value. Tá leath an airgid imithe anois. Will the remainder of the agreed price have to be paid to this company? Why are there still advertisements explaining electronic voting given that, since the commission reported at 12 noon on Friday last, we will no longer have electronic voting? Why continue to pay the company to work for something that will not now be introduced?

  Mr. Kehoe: What is the position about the training days for staff who were to look after electronic voting? In my local town training was to take place last weekend. Given that the venue was not used, will it be compensated? Were local radio stations asked on Friday not to run the advertisements over the weekend? In Wexford, the local radio station, South East Radio, was still running the advertisement on electronic voting yesterday, when four or five days previously a decision was taken to scrap it. Given that electronic voting is not going ahead, will compensation be paid to companies?

  Mr. Gallagher: Maidir leis an leasú seo, bhí agus, ar ndóigh, tá an t-eolas maidir leis an fheachtas poiblíochta, mar a dúirt mé, ar fáil i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla. De réir mo bharúla, ní gá an leasú a thabhairt isteach ós rud é go bhfuil [1467] sé seo clúdaithe san Acht teanga a tugadh isteach sa bhliain 2003. Maidir leis an fheachtas poiblíochta bheith ag dul tríd an Ghaeltacht agus go háirithe ag dul ó chathair na Gaillimhe go dtí an Clochán, cuireadh in iúl domh an tseachtain seo caite nach raibh siad a dul a stopadh i gceantair éagsúla tríd an Ghaeltacht. Bhí mé ar tí fiosrú a dhéanamh maidir leis sin nuair a tháinig tuairisc an choimisiúin amach maidir le rúndacht, le cruinneas agus le tástáil an chórais vótála agus níor ghá dom dul ar aghaidh leis an bhfiosrú ansin. Sin ceist do lá eile.

Aontaím go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh na billeogaí agus an t-eolas go léir ar fáil i nGaeilge. Bhí, agus tá, an t-eolas ar fáil i nGaeilge. Bhí na rialacha a bhaineann leis an gcóras ar fáil i nGaeilge chomh maith. Taispeánann sé sin chomh dáiríre is a bhí an Rialtas maidir leis an nGaeilge.

Deputies referred to the advertisements which were still being broadcast on radio yesterday. I wish to clarify that an instruction was issued last Friday to stop the advertisements but apparently a small number were played yesterday in error. A further instruction has issued to ensure there will be no more inadvertent playing of the advertisements. Some advertisements may still be on the large billboards and instructions have been issued to either remove or cover them in view of the interim report of the commission on electronic voting on the secrecy, accuracy and testing of the chosen system and the Government’s decision not to proceed with electronic voting for the local and European elections.

On behalf of the Department I apologise for the broadcast of the advertisements. I will monitor developments. I would be surprised if further advertisements were broadcast or displayed. The overall cost is €5 million, which includes 21% VAT. A sum of €1 million of that was spent on campaigns to raise public awareness and encourage people to vote. The supplementary register can still be used whether the voting is done electronically or by the traditional method. Public awareness is essential.

The company was appointed following an advertisement to which a number of companies replied. A rigorous public procurement procedure was followed. There is no question of affiliations. It was done in a very scrupulous and upright manner. Unfortunately, I cannot give exact details to the House of the expenditure to date. There will be contractual commitments. I will request the information tomorrow morning. If it is possible to be given a detailed statement, it will be supplied to the Deputies at the first available opportunity.

It is a matter for each returning officer to deal with the cost of training and to make the arrangements. In my town of Dungloe, arrangements were cancelled as a result of the report. Any costs due to contractual commitments will be a matter [1468] for the returning officers. Even at this late stage, I hope the expenditure that has been approved can be minimised to ensure that as much savings as possible are made. Contractual commitments will require to be adhered to.

The amendment proposes that all information concerning electronic voting, including the roadshows, is available in the Irish language. The information contained in the publicity and awareness campaign was available in both Irish and English. The legal requirements of the Official Languages Act 2003 apply. I am therefore of the view that it is not necessary to have further legislative provisions. I understand when the roadshow was operating in the Gaeltacht, Irish-speaking personnel were available to explain an t-eolas go léir maidir leis an gcóras i nGaeilge.

  Mr. Gilmore: Bhí an t-ádh le muintir na Gaeltachta nár tháinig an roadshow chucu ar chor ar bith. Ar aon nós, níor cuireadh amú iad mar gheall ar an gcóras nua vótála seo. Ach is suntasaí an scéal nach raibh sé eagraithe ag an Rialtas nó ag an gcomhlacht go mbeadh an road show ar fáil ins na Gaeltachtaí. Léiríonn sé an droch mheas atá ag an Rialtas ar mhuintir na Gaeltachta nach raibh seo eagraithe dóibh cheana féin.

With regard to expenditure on the advertising campaign, I am clear on what the Minister of State has said, that instructions have been issued to the company that no more advertisements are to be played and the billboards are to be taken down, and presumably the advertising campaign is to be stopped. What I would like to know is how much money has been spent to date. I presume there has been expenditure on literature. Will the Minister of State say how much has gone down the drain already on this advertising campaign? How much money is committed and will require to be honoured and how much is recoverable?

Deputy Kehoe referred to the arrangements that might be made with hotels or other venues for the roadshow. This House is entitled to this information because we are talking about public money. The Minister should inform the House of the position. Is it the case that these people will be paid in full anyway, even though the game is up and the campaign is cancelled? The House should be informed of the position. Will the Minister of State inform the House whether the Minister, Deputy Cullen, will return from Wexford for this debate tomorrow?

  Mr. Allen: I had planned to ask the same question. I am informed he will go to cathair na Gaillimhe tomorrow to open a sewage treatment plant. I know the Acting Chairman cannot confirm that.

  Mr. Morgan: With his voting machines.

[1469]   Mr. Allen: Perhaps it is the appropriate place for him, for all his utterances over recent months.

  Mr. Sargent: Something stinks anyway.

  Mr. Allen: The advertisements were run long after the commission and the Government had made the decision. This was not the only cock-up associated with this contract. It was launched in the Mansion House but we saw that the website was partisan. There was a problem with the leaflets. We were told that there was little cost involved because only a few hundred had been printed, but I do not believe that for a moment. Election leaflets are run to a maximum number at the cheapest price, and to do otherwise would be stupid. The Government was stupid anyway because the leaflets contained an error, and those leaflets were withdrawn. I would like to know the cost of the double cock-up at the start of the public relations campaign. Who will fund the error, the taxpayer or the PR company? Will the Minister give specific information on the money spent on the campaign and state what money remains in the kitty to do the real job of encouraging people to register and to turn out on election day?

  Mr. Kehoe: The Minister of State stated that responsibility for the costs of hotels for the roadshow was that of the returning officer in each county. Will the local authority in each county cover any costs incurred or will the bill be sent to the Department or a central fund for the electronic voting system?

  Mr. Morgan: I am disappointed that the message coming from the Minister of State is as negative as that from his senior colleague, although he manages to convey it in a much less arrogant manner. It is a pity, therefore, that he does not invite the Minister to Donegal for a few years because he could learn something in the county.

Was the company awarded the contract for promoting the electronic voting project instructed to exclude the Gaeltacht areas from the roadshow and, if not, did it take such a decision? I understand many of the Gaeltacht areas in the west and perhaps also further south were not visited by the roadshow. Was a specific policy devised or directive issued on this matter?

  Mr. Gallagher: Deputy Gilmore asked a question on expenditure to date, commitments which may have to be honoured and expenditure which may be recoverable. It is important to ascertain this information and, as I stated earlier, I will try to elicit it tomorrow if it is available. I will certainly be able to tell the Deputy the amount of money transferred by the Department, which may not necessarily be the same as what has been spent. I will try to secure the information and if it is made available to me, I will provide it to the Deputy.

[1470] With regard to the number of pamphlets withdrawn on my instruction following the launch in the Mansion House, it appears from the information available to me at the time that it was minimal. The pamphlets were run off specifically for the launch and I understand expenditure was minimal. I accept Deputy Allen’s point that larger orders ensure lower prices per pamphlet or per 100 or 1,000 pamphlets. I am satisfied that this is the position.

As Deputy Kehoe will be aware, the responsibility for costs arising from European elections, in this case for training, lies with the returning officer. All other expenditure is drawn down from the Central Fund, including expenditure for the referendum. The Deputy will be aware, however, that expenditure on local elections has always been the responsibility of local authorities.

Maidir leis an cheist a chuir an Teachta Morgan, tá mé cinnte nár tugadh treoir ar bith do chomhlacht ar bith gan dul isteach sa Ghaeltacht. Tá mé cinnte de sin. Nuair a d’ardaigh na Teachtaí Gilmore agus McCormack ceist maidir leis na ceantair Gaeltachta ó chathair na Gaillimhe go dtí An Clochán, dúirt mé go raibh mé ar tí fiosrú a dhéanamh maidir leis sin. Beidh mé ag cur ceiste maidir leis sin arís. Ar ndóigh, tá go leor ceantair Gaeltachta sa tír — i nDún na nGall, i Muigheo, i gCiarraí, i gCondae na Mí agus i gCondae Port Láirge. Chun freagra díreach a thabhairt ar cheist an Teachta Morgan, níor tugadh treoir ar bith.

Cé nach mbeidh an córas áúsáid i mbliana, tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in úsáid amach anseo. Má cuirfear feachtas poblaíochta ar bun maidir leis seo arís, bí cinnte, cibéáit a mbímse sa Teach, go mbeidh mé ag cur brú chun go ndéanfar cinnte de go dtabharfar tús áite don Ghaeilge.

  Mr. Gilmore: Níl ach ceist amháin agam don Aire Stáit, ceist nár fhreagair sé cheana féin. An mbeidh an tAire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil sa Teach amárach nó nach mbeidh?

  Mr. Gallagher: Bhí mé ag caint leis an Aire ar feadh leath bhomaite ar a ceathar a chlog nuair a d’iarr sé orm leanúint ar aghaidh leis an díospóireacht. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil socraithe aige dul go Gaillimh amárach chun rud éigin a dhéanamh ansin. Níl mé cinnte an mbeidh sé anseo amárach nó nach mbeidh. Níl a fhios agam. Muna mbeidh, beidh mise anseo.

  Mr. Gilmore: We will probably return to this issue on the Order of Business tomorrow. However, it is unacceptable that the Government has ordered that the Bill be taken in the House against the wishes of the Opposition and the Minister sponsoring it has absented himself. I have not been critical of the Minister’s absence on occasions when he had Government business to deal with and EU responsibilities to discharge, but it is not acceptable that this Bill and a mess [1471] of the Minister’s creation is being discussed in the House while the Minister is gadding around the country attending functions which could, I presume, be arranged for a non-sitting day or discharged by one of his ministerial colleagues.

I do not stand on ceremony as regards these matters and I am not picky about whether a Minister is present in the Chamber, but it is insulting to the House to create a mother and father of a mess, insist at short notice on the introduction in the House of legislation to facilitate electronic voting, make an unholy mess of it, waste public money on the issue, waste the time of the House and then disappear. As I stated, I will return to this issue tomorrow. The amendment proposes to require that the roadshow be conducted in Irish as well as English but since there will be no more roadshows——

  Mr. Allen: Apart from the Minister’s.

  Mr. Gilmore: ——it is no longer necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

  Mr. McCormack: Amendments Nos. 7 and 24 are related and may be taken together.

  Mr. Allen: I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

1.—(1) No electronic voting system may be adopted for use in an election or referendum unless all parties in Dáil Éireann are in agreement on all aspects of the adoption and use of a particular system of electronic voting.

(2) Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall permit the trial, implementation or use of a system of electronic voting in any election or referendum save in accordance with subsection (1).

This amendment proposes that electronic voting may not be used until there is all-party agreement. This amendment and amendment No. 24 are designed to make all-party agreement on the issue a prerequisite to the introduction of any new system of voting. I will not be repetitive but I thought any sensible Minister would have brought forward legislation to set up a statutory electoral commission. This would have incorporated all the activities and responsibilities of other commissions such as the boundaries commission and the standards in public office commission. That would be outside party political influence. There would be full consultation with all parties and with the public, yet nothing like that happened.

[1472] I read a letter into the record today from the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, to the current Taoiseach to nail the lie that the Opposition parties did not have concerns about the electronic voting system used in Meath, North Dublin and Dublin West — the Minister, Deputy Cullen, has repeated that lie over and over again. The evidence is there that in April 2002 the former Taoiseach wrote to the current Taoiseach pinpointing issues that have become core concerns on electronic voting. These issues include the need for a verifiable paper audit trail, the need to have details for the source code and the need for full consultation with the public. None of that has happened and the Minister finds himself in a mess, and is digging a deeper hole. He has adopted a dismissive attitude towards the Opposition and made insulting remarks on computer experts, for which he apologised in a roundabout way. It is similar to the attitude he has shown to the House here today. He is off on his own roadshow and will be missing again tomorrow for an important part of this Bill. I find this appallingly disrespectful behaviour to the House.

  Mr. Gilmore: I support this amendment. I express the view on behalf of the Labour Party that there should be cross-party agreement on the introduction of electronic voting if it is to become operable. I comment again on the behaviour of the Minister, Deputy Cullen, on this issue. He adopted an utterly dismissive attitude to the Opposition and an equally dismissive attitude to informed citizens who were trying to point out flaws they saw in the system. He has displayed the same attitude in terms of other criticisms levelled at him. He displayed this attitude to local communities who are concerned about some of his waste plans and towards those who are concerned about issues of heritage. He displayed that attitude to his Department when he would not accept its recommendation to appeal a number of planning applications on heritage grounds. One of these applications was for a development which affected Trim Castle and which was the subject of a television documentary.

Having been rebuffed by the commission last week, one would expect that he would show some degree of contrition, regret and respect for this House. His decision to absent himself from a debate that he insisted on having is nothing short of contemptible. I am disgusted with it, as are the Labour Party and the public whom I represent. It is not acceptable that a Minister can give two fingers to the House on an issue that he raised in the first place. It is my belief, increasingly strengthened since this debate began, that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, should either resign his office or be sacked. His handling of this affair, his misspending of public money, misuse of the House’s time and the contempt he has shown for the House make him unsuitable to continue to hold the office of Minister for the Environment, [1473] Heritage and Local Government. Wherever he is right now, he should write his letter of resignation.

  Mr. Boyle: I support the amendment and concur strongly with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Gilmore. We are in this predicament because the Minister has adopted a never deny, never explain attitude. Not only has he done so on this issue, but on every issue within his brief. The House had an opportunity to express its views in a motion of no confidence.

7 o’clock

There are many within his party and within the Government who should now share the sentiments expressed in the motion. A fundamental change such as the introduction of the proposed electronic voting system requires the agreement of all in the House. It is a distortion of democracy to believe that if one wins 50% of the seats in the Chamber, one gets to make 100% of the decisions. This is the type of fundamental decision in which we must all engage as elected representatives and as members of separate political parties. Until we have this type of engagement, I fear future legislation along these lines will be presented just as arrogantly as this Bill has been presented by Ministers such as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen. I support the amendment.

Debate adjourned.