European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2003: Report and Final Stages.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 9 are consequential and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, lines 15 and 16, after "CONSTITUENCIES" to insert ", TO AMEND THE INTERPRETATION ACT 1937".

Because of the limited time allowed for this debate, when dealing with this amendment I will address some issues which continue to concern Opposition parties. Fine Gael agrees in principle with the introduction of electronic voting but we have major concerns regarding the details of the system. Major questions remain to be answered regarding the system which is being introduced.

The Taoiseach misled the House, intentionally or not, this morning. Major concerns were expressed at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government on 18 December last. The expert witnesses who were invited to the joint committee posed 41 major questions about the electronic voting system, which have yet to be answered. I raised this matter in the Dáil two weeks ago and I was informed that because of the Christmas period and because officials were busy, questions could not be answered. That is not good enough. Where there is a fundamental change in how we elect representatives to this House all concerns and questions about the new system should be answered fully before the system is introduced. The 41 questions posed by key witnesses on that day remain to be answered.

I have a serious concern about the absence of a verifiable paper audit trail. During the debate on Committee Stage, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who has chosen to abandon the Bill, said it would be too costly to introduce a verifiable paper audit trail. The select committee discussed the Bill for a considerable time last Thursday and the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, was as helpful as he could be with regard to the detail of the system. On Thursday evening, however, I was taken aback when I heard the Minister, Deputy Cullen, one of the most arrogant Ministers I have ever encountered in 23 years in this House, speaking on RTE television. Although he had not bothered to attend the select committee to debate the Bill, he poured scorn and contempt on the Opposition parties for daring to question the technicalities of the Bill and of the system being introduced. How dare he? It is our duty to question the Government and we would be negligent in our role as legislators if we did not do so. For the Minister to spin the superficial aspects of the system without debating the Bill properly is regrettable. If we are serious about introducing a modern electoral system we should take the trouble to deal with all concerns about it.

An electoral commission would have been the appropriate body to introduce this measure and not a Minister who will be his party's director of elections in one of next June's elections. A conflict of interest arises in this case and the Minister should be here to defend the system he is introducing at a cost of more than €40 million to the taxpayer.

I also have serious concerns about the ownership and possession of the system's source code and I have not received satisfactory answers to my concerns. I would like to hear those answers today. I ask the Minister of State, in the short time we have, to give detailed responses to the 41 questions posed at the meeting of the joint committee and to my questions about the verifiable paper audit trail and the source code. On Thursday last we were told that tests of the software are proceeding and will be completed by the end of this month. Is it proposed to introduce a system which is still being tested?

I asked questions about the storage regulations.

Deputy, are you addressing the amendment?

This is the only opportunity I will have to address these issues. I am conscious that other Opposition spokespersons wish to speak but we have been given only 55 minutes to discuss the Bill on Report Stage. I have a right to make a general statement on the amendments. Otherwise, we will be silenced as the debate is to be guillotined. My only other opportunity to deal with these issues will arise if and when legislation or regulations are brought before the House.

I have concerns regarding the storage of the machines and the safeguards against manipulation or interference with the software while the machines are in storage. I note from a request under the Freedom of Information Act that storage in Waterford, for example, went up at the stroke of a pen from €25,000 per annum to €50,000. I would like to know on what basis these arrangements have been made, and what contractual arrangements, regulations and standards are in place to protect the integrity of the system while in storage.

The Minister must face up to the constitutionality of this issue. The Tánaiste confirmed in the House last week that in order to implement electronic voting, legislative change is required, the shape of which will be decided by way of secondary legislation. I will not bore this House with a long dissertation on the legalities, but since the Tánaiste indicated that electronic voting may be implemented by way of an order under section 48 of the 2001 Act, I contend that if this is challenged, it will be found to be unconstitutional. I ask the Minister to state clearly how he proposes to proceed on this matter.

I will sum up because I am conscious of the time required by my colleagues in Opposition. This issue has been appallingly handled by a Minister who seems to think he can decide and implement measures without any consultation. He failed to attend the House on Committee Stage last week and did not come into the House today to defend the system he is introducing. Instead, he appears on television and radio and to my regret is allowed a free run to castigate the Opposition and disregard the questions we ask. At this late stage I ask the Government to delay the introduction of this system until an electoral commission is set up, all aspects of the system are examined by experts, the Opposition parties are fully consulted, and most importantly, the public is fully consulted.

I again ask the Minister to make available all details of the contract entered into with the company Q4. There was a disgraceful episode last week where the Fine Gael Party was eliminated from the mock electronic voting paper on the European election website, and the party was also disregarded on the publicity material. I want to know how the contract was awarded.

The electronic voting roadshow visited Waterford during the week. Councillors representing the Government parties were invited to it, but Fine Gael councillors were not invited. That is an indication of the thinking on the Government benches, with some of the Ministers who have become so arrogant and dismissive of the Opposition that they jackboot matters through the House. This is becoming a one-party State.

We will oppose the introduction of electronic voting until we get the answers we deserve, and due process and proper procedures are adopted.

I remind Deputies that the purpose of Report Stage is to only address specific amendments.

The issue in dispute in this Bill centres on the use of electronic voting in the forthcoming European and local elections. It is very regrettable that the Government has decided to guillotine the debate and presumably force through the Bill without adequately addressing the amendments, specifically the one I have tabled on behalf of the Labour Party asserting that the use of electronic voting should not proceed in every constituency at the forthcoming European and local elections.

The Government approach to the issue has been characterised by insufferable arrogance. Fianna Fáil now thinks it owns the country. It believes it will be in power for ever and that it can ride roughshod over the Opposition parties and the concerns expressed. The party whose members were also elected and which offered itself to the people as the watchdog of Fianna Fáil has become strangely silent on an issue which goes to the heart of how democracy is conducted in this country. We are talking of a Government intention to unilaterally change how people vote in every constituency, town, polling station and polling box in this country. That has not been agreed with the Opposition parties, despite the Government spin and what the Taoiseach said in this House this morning. What has been agreed is the principle of the introduction of electronic voting, and that trials of the system could take place in a number of named constituencies, initially at the general election and subsequently at the Nice referendum.

The Deputy should address the amendment before the House.

I ask for the Acting Chairman's latitude because Deputy Allen broadened the discussion. We are addressing his amendment. In fairness, we are entitled to address the remarks which Deputy Allen made in proposing his amendment, and it would be in order to do so.

Subsequent to the trials being held, concerns were raised mainly from within the IT sector, which identified a number of flaws in the system. It was shown that the absence of a paper trail would make it impossible to audit the system, and that from the moment the voter pressed the button, there was no certainty or guarantee that the electronic equipment was recording accurately the voting intention of the voter, nor was there any way of checking it. It is not surprising that nobody has come forward with a complaint arising from the trials because in the absence of a paper trail there is no way of checking whether a vote has been accurately recorded.

Evidence was given to the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government by IT experts of developments taking place elsewhere, particularly in the United States, which has a longer history of involvement with electronic voting and where paper records and trails are now being increasingly used. They are a requirement in the state of California as a backup to the electronic system to ensure it is verifiable. Committee members were told that the testing done on the system was done on a piecemeal basis and that there was no end-to-end test taking ballot papers marked manually and running them through the system to see the result. We were told, for example, that the standards used for the software development are relatively low from an IT industry point of view, and that the count programme is a basic Microsoft programme which is penetrable. We have also raised the requirement that that system should be overseen by an independent body during its introduction.

The Government has ignored all those concerns. We were not listened to. Consideration of this issue by the committee was short-circuited on 18 December when the members on the Government side effectively voted to terminate discussions.

The Deputy is not addressing amendments Nos. 1 and 9, which are concerned with amending the Interpretation Act 1937.

If this debate were not guillotined, that stricture would be reasonable, but this is a guillotined debate. This is an important issue. It is about the way people vote and about fairness in our democracy. It is a subject that appears to have got very low priority lately because there now seems to be an attitude on the part of those on the opposite side of the House that whatever they say runs. Whatever the Government wants stands, to the point that it thinks it can change the way in which the citizens of this country cast their individual vote without the agreement of the Opposition parties. That is incredibly serious and it is bad for democracy. It will have an undermining effect on the confidence of the public in the way our elections are conducted, yet the Government, particularly the Minister concerned, has ploughed ahead irrespective of the concerns that have been raised. We may yet find that what they are doing will be struck down by the court. It was argued in the committee that the regulations to be made under section 48, which have not yet been laid before the House, may not stand a test in the courts.

Even worse, however, is that the Government has decided to proceed to spend over €40 million of taxpayers' money on this system without the authority of this House. I said in the committee, and I repeat here, that the Minister has proceeded to spend public money on an electronic voting system for which he has no authority from Dáil Éireann. That is illegal expenditure. The spending of money on the system without the authority of the House is illegal and the spending of taxpayers' money on an expensive public relations campaign for electronic voting, which has not yet been approved by this House because the orders have not been laid before the House, is illegal. Ultimately, there will have to be accountability to this House by the Minister who made the decision to proceed with that expenditure.

I heard the Minister for Health and Children discuss this issue on RTE's "Saturday View" programme.

He did not know much about it.

While I appreciate he has other more immediate matters to concern him than the detail of electronic voting, and that was reflected in his contribution, in fairness, he said that the introduction of electronic voting should be agreed with the Opposition parties. That is the essential point we want to make.

The Government has an opportunity now to decide not to proceed with electronic voting on 11 June. There is no compulsion. The election can proceed on the same basis as it has previously. There is no absolute reason electronic voting should be used on 11 June. The Government should allow a period of opportunity for the issues and concerns raised to be fully addressed, the legal difficulties to be examined and, if necessary, dealt with by way of primary legislation and the question of the spending of public money on this system to be examined. At the end of the process we would need to be in a position where there is general consensus across the political system that the electronic voting system should proceed. Without that consensus, the Government is unilaterally changing the way in which people vote without political agreement.

This is one of the most serious issues in terms of the conduct of our democracy to have emerged in recent years. It is symptomatic of the growing, insufferable and unstifling arrogance of the Government that it has decided to proceed with the introduction of the electronic voting system without listening to the Opposition, the concerns raised by technical experts and the voice of the public that is now to be heard every day this issue is discussed on radio or elsewhere.

There is still time for the Government to call halt on this proposal without losing face. As I said on a previous occasion, the Opposition is not trying to score a hit on the Government on this issue. We simply want the system of voting that is used in elections to be one in which we can all have confidence. That is not the case currently.

I remind Deputies this is not Second Stage. It is Report Stage and I ask Deputies to be brief. I do not make the rules, I simply enforce them.

I will be brief because representatives of other parties who have been involved want to speak. I was involved in the Committee Stage debate and every member of the environment committee wanted Dáil Éireann and all the parties to come out in support of electronic voting. The people would then have had confidence in it, but as the debate developed we did not get answers to the questions we posed, particularly on 18 December. That is what convinced me that there was something not right about this proposal.

On 18 December we had a very useful committee meeting, with experts from the IT sector and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government coming before it. Deputy Allen said 41 questions were posed. We believed, and the committee members agreed, that we would get answers to those questions before deciding whether to proceed with electronic voting. When we came back after lunch, however, it was proposed by the Government side that we would proceed with electronic voting and the vote on it was carried by a majority of eight to four, with the support of an Independent. That was on 18 December and I understand the contract was signed within two days of that date.

That was sharp practice and it led to the current public debate on the Joe Duffy radio show and other shows. Members of the public are not convinced that this system is above board. In other words, the voting public has lost confidence in the proposed system. That is regrettable because it is essential that the public has absolute confidence in our voting system. If it has not, our whole case for democracy will collapse.

All we wanted on Committee Stage, and all we want on Report Stage, is that there would be a simple print-out paper trail. If I buy two litres of milk and a bar of chocolate in a shop, I will get a printed receipt telling me what they cost. I can bring that receipt home to my wife and show her what I spent on two litres of milk and a bar of chocolate. If a voter went into the polling booth and got a print-out which he or she could fold and put into a ballot box, that voter would go home happy knowing that his or her vote can be verified, if necessary, in a close count after the election. That is the confidence the electorate is entitled to have in our voting system.

A total of €41 million has been spent on this contract, irrespective of whether it is challenged in the courts. I do not know the position on the contract. A good deal of the money has been spent already. The PR company, which is getting €5 million, is spending its money, some of it very foolishly, as Deputy Allen outlined earlier, in printing undeliverable leaflets which had to be withdrawn. That is a minor mistake, however, compared to the fact that this system is not verifiable.

This proposal did not come from the political parties. We are all on record as being in favour, in principle, of electronic voting provided everybody is satisfied with the system, but doubts about it were raised by people in the IT sector, professionals dealing with computers. I do not have expertise in this area, but they posed the question whether electronic voting can be programmed in advance. They say it could and it has not been proved otherwise. For example, for every one hundred votes cast, it would leave out a particular political party. That could be done. I do not say it will be done. It will not be done under the present Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or under the Government, but how do we know what will happen in five years' time?

What has happened in politics during the past five to ten years has left the public with the belief that politicians are held in the lowest esteem and will stoop to any level of corruption or otherwise. Therefore, the public has lost confidence in politicians to deliver on electronic voting without any doubts. Therefore, if there was a print-out — and that is a simple request — those doubts would be eliminated. Then all political parties could say they were happy and would sell it to the electorate.

At my branch meetings, at public meetings and on radio and newspapers I could express my confidence in the system because there would be a means of checking what is happening in the system. Currently, the electorate has no confidence in electronic voting and it does not matter what we say. We are wasting our time because nobody is listening except the Acting Chairman and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher. Nothing will be done about the problem.

The public debate that will take place between now and June, or the constitutional challenge, will ensure something is done. It would be better to confront the issue now and agree the amendments that the system not be imposed on every constituency in the June elections. There is a need to take this course of action. Perhaps, then the public will have more respect for politicians, especially those on the Government side. The absence of the Progressive Democrats, the other partner in Government, has been remarkable. That party has not entered into the debate on Committee Stage or on any other Stage. I do not understand why a party which was established as the watchdog for the public is failing to be a watchdog in this fundamental decision about how we vote and about democracy. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, who is a reasonable person, and to the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to bring back the message that public opinion will defeat implementation of electronic voting in the June elections.

It is not surprising that, as we are on the threshold of the introduction of a flawed electronic voting system, this important legislation, like a host of other Bills, is to be guillotined. I have the impression that the attitude of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government is that the people elect a Government and the Opposition may as well stay at home because the notion of representation or of Parliament trying to reach agreement or examine issues, particularly fundamental issues affecting every person in Parliament, such as democratic voting, is being ignored.

Sinn Féin fully supports the notion of electronic voting as outlined by other parties. The concern with the voting system is not just among the Opposition benches. People from the information technology sector have courageously stuck their necks out and said they do not have confidence in this system. They did not do so to ingratiate themselves with the Government or for the purpose of getting contracts. It is the contrary. Why do these independent people make these claims? Does the Government believe their submission is not worth listening to or does not warrant consideration? The system is definitely not the best available, a point that has been made repeatedly.

Why should we, on behalf of the people, select a system of electronic voting that is not the best available? Recently, we heard that, for as little as $50 per machine, or perhaps less than €40 per machine, a paper trail could be created. The subject of my amendment is to put a verifiable paper trail in place. If that were to happen, it would go a long way towards alleviating concerns on this side of the House.

Without dwelling on the notion of the source code not only not being available to the Opposition or for public inspection but apparently not even being available to the Government, how can the Government stand over such a botched operation? There are other elements of the Bill that need to be considered. The issue of constituency boundaries is causing great concern. Although an amendment has been tabled on this, it would be useful if Members had an opportunity to debate it further in terms of their representation.

I had tabled an amendment which sought to include the words, "pending the inclusion of the whole island" as one unit which, unfortunately, cannot happen because six of those counties are occupied by force of arms by the British establishment. Nevertheless, the main purpose of my amendment is to create a debate. I am concerned at the ever-decreasing number of seats in Dáil constituencies. That does not auger well for the best level of representation for minority groups to have their voice raised here. I am not concerned about it from a large party perspective, namely, that of either Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Sinn Féin. Smaller parties, such as the Greens, Labour and others, need to have that extended representational facility. Travellers' groups, women's groups and minority groups ought to have an opportunity to have their voice heard. I emphasise that I tabled the amendment for the purpose of creating a debate on that issue and I hope it will be taken in that spirit.

As I am anxious to move on to some of the other amendments and allow everyone to have their say, I ask the Government to consider deferring electronic voting until a later election because we are not ready for it in the State just yet.

We will not get through the amendments if Deputies persist in treating this as a Second Stage debate.

Unfortunately, in 20 minutes it would be impossible to do justice to any of the important amendments tabled. It is outrageous that we are subjected to a Whip today at 1.30 p.m. on this issue when so many valid points have been raised on the forthcoming European elections.

We had all day Friday.

That important amendments are not given time for adequate discussion is shameful. Unfortunately, that is becoming themodus operandi of the Government, even at the early stage of the spring session of the Dáil, and we are routinely subjected to guillotines on legislation. Members' contributions have been more general because we know it is impossible to get around to a debate on the substantive issue raised in the amendments. I echo many of the points made in regard to electronic voting, an issue I have raised over the past two years and potentially quite a sinister development. It is particularly sinister because it is not transparent to ordinary people as was the paper vote method.

This is being foisted upon us under the cover of Ireland becoming the most advanced country in the world in respect of electronics and technology. I remind the Government that an election by the people to a Parliament should not be reduced to an advertisement for technology. Who the people wish to elect to any particular position is a very important act or event in its own right. It should not have put upon it a function to advertise to the world, as the Minister puts it, that we have the last word in technology. While there are plenty of other opportunities for doing that, our voting system should not be subjected to that kind of function, in the process denying the people the type of transparency which is critical for elections to the Dáil, the European Parliament and local councils. Many in the computer field have pointed to the possibilities of pitfalls and distortions which can arise in regard to electronic voting. There is no good reason for the haste with which the Government is pressing ahead on this issue.

I am sorry that amendment No. 6 in my name will not be reached as it also merits debate. There will possibly be dual mandate for a period up to the next election in which Members of the Dáil may be members of the European Parliament. I have not subscribed to the double jobbing slur which was put out against Members of the Dáil who were also members of local authorities. As a socialist Deputy and a representative of working class communities, I have one mandate, to represent working class people and their communities in whatever forum or fora. However, if this situation arises following the European elections, there should be just one salary. There should be no question of those represented in both the Dáil and the European Parliament drawing two salaries, which would be a source of scandal and, quite rightly, resentment by ordinary working people struggling to survive. That point should be accepted by the Government, and the Minister of State should comment on it.

If I were elected to the European Parliament — I am standing in the Dublin constituency — I would continue to implement the policy of the socialist party which is to accept only the wage of an average worker. The rest of any salary or other remuneration, from whatever source, would be used to develop campaigns by working people for justice on a range of issues, to assist the socialist party where possible within the rules of political contributions and, in general, to advance the interests of ordinary people.

What would the Deputy do if there was a general election? Would he stay in the European Parliament or the Dáil?

My intention would be to stand in the constituency of Dublin West in the Dáil election.

So the Deputy does not plan to stay in the European Parliament.

There would be a possibility of three years' membership of the European Parliament before the next election. It would be my intention to exercise that mandate and to serve the working class communities of Dublin in that capacity. As the Deputy well knows, older legislation, which his party has used frequently in the past, provides for substitute Members of Parliament whose names would be on the ballot paper to represent the party in the case of a vacancy arising.

I seek the guidance of the Chair in regard to amendment Nos. 1 and 9, which are being taken together. Obviously, I want to have the opportunity to respond to a number of the issues and questions raised. If the Chair allows me latitude, I will first apologise on behalf of the Minister for his absence. He is on his way to Malaysia to represent Ireland and the European Union as President of the Council of Environment Ministers. I presume the House will accept that apology.

We thought his absence was due to another press conference.

Many issues were raised regarding cost. The purchase of machinery comes from a central fund and complies with public procurement requirements.

Why does it come from a central fund?

That is the tradition in regard to election expenses.

It is not.

In regard to-——

May I ask the Minister-——

The Minister has the floor. The Deputy has had his opportunity.

The Minister has given way.

The Minister has the floor. The Deputy must let the Minister speak.

I am entitled to interrupt the Minister if he is prepared to give way.

Is the Minister prepared to give way?

I think I can explain the issue. This is not a question of opinion but a matter of fact. I am advised that at all times election expenses, which in the past could have included equipment for polling stations such as ballot boxes and in this case includes the machines, come from a central fund.

It is a ruse to get around public accountability.

I am answering the question regarding where it comes from.

It is an accounting trick.

This would have been the same in Deputy Gilmore's time in Government. Election expenses come from a central fund.

The Government would have jackbooted that through.

I want to again refer to the public awareness campaign which is funded from election expenses and is provided for in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002, which states clearly that the Minister is empowered to take steps to advertise or otherwise give publicity to any voting system to be, or which has been, introduced in one or more constituencies, or to provide an educational scheme in respect of such a system. That is part of the advertising campaign, again, by public procurement.

There was a fixed cost and initially 18 companies expressed an interest. That figure was reduced to a shortlist of six, then to two and then to one, which was selected on the basis of the public procurement requirements. That company dealt last week with the issues raised by-——

Was the lowest quote accepted?

I am not trying to filibuster this.

I know that. I am trying to ask about the quote.

I am on my feet to respond to a debate which has gone on for about 40 minutes. There are important amendments to which I wish to refer, including those of Deputy Joe Higgins. The issues of the website and logo were resolved by the close of business on Thursday. I accept and appreciate that this was done inadvertently. There was no question of trying to favour Fianna Fáil. If anyone considered this, they would have seen that it was almost impossible to decipher which logo it was. I hope the matter has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction and, more importantly, at little or no cost. There may have been 1,000 or 1,500 of them, so there is no question of that amount of expenditure.

Deputy Gilmore gave the impression that the system was introduced to favour Fianna Fáil. I do not think a genius could have done this in such a way as to favour Fianna Fáil. It is a totally open system.

Why is it only Fianna Fáil councillors who are invited?

This is not Committee Stage. The Deputy can respond afterwards.

Will there be sufficient time?

That is a matter for the House. On the people who have been invited, every public representative in their respective counties or local authority areas should be invited to this educational awareness campaign. Not only should councillors be invited, there should be a general invitation to the public to attend any of the awareness campaigns throughout the country.

On the introduction of electronic voting, the fundamental purpose of the initiative is to improve the efficiency, speed and user-friendliness of elections and eliminate the great democratic wastage in the traditional voting system. There were more than 20,000 spoilt votes in the 2002 general election, not all of which were deliberately spoilt. I have no doubt that electronic voting will add greatly to the effectiveness and efficiency of the voting system.

On the safety issue, Deputy Gilmore gave his imprimatur to the trials in seven constituencies, including Dublin West, Dublin North and Meath, for the Nice treaty referendum, and the system worked extremely well.

We do not know that.

The system worked extremely well. As for the paper trail——

The Minister of State should address the appointments issue.

I will address amendments Nos. 1 and 9.

The Minister of State should address the 41 questions.

I am endeavouring to do that.

The Deputy will have a chance to speak afterwards.

I stated on Committee Stage last week that I consulted the Parliamentary Counsel on the need for this amendment. I was advised it is not necessary. Deputy Allen withdrew the amendment at the time.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 1 and 9 is to delete sections of the Bill. I propose that the same result be achieved by a textual amendment to the Interpretation Act 1937, as I explained on Committee Stage.

Will the Minister of State answer the specific questions put to him or are we wasting our time in here? Some 41 questions were put by expert witnesses, including questions about the verifiable paper audit trail, the source code and the regulations regarding storage. These questions have not been answered. Will the Minister of State, in the short time available, give a meaningful reply to these questions?

Even at this late stage, we could salvage something from the debate to satisfy public opinion were we to receive a reply to the questions posed. It is much more important than the amendment to get an answer to the following questions. Why can we not have a paper trail and a print-out? Why can the legitimate questions posed not be answered so that we can assure the public that we have confidence in the system? That might go some way towards alleviating the grave concerns about the system. Perhaps we could get answers to these questions rather than dealing with the amendments. It is very unsatisfactory in five minutes. I would almost sacrifice the amendments if we got satisfactory answers to the questions posed.

There are rules in place. The Minister of State can only address the content of the amendments.

I am aware it is not the fault of the Chair. I am just articulating what I believe would best advance confidence in the system. If the rules are in place, I must abide by them, but it makes a farce of Parliament and our responsibility here.

I want to address the issue of the money which has been spent on the system. No Minister may spend people's money unless it has been voted by the Dáil. The Dáil did not vote expenditure of €40 million, or anything of that kind, on the electronic voting system, nor did it vote expenditure on the public relations exercise now under way.

Expenditure for the electronic voting system never appeared before this House in an Estimate from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister, however, has found a ruse by putting the expenditure through the Central Fund to avoid it being scrutinised by the Comptroller and Auditor General and subject to question by the Committee of Public Accounts. He has done so by stating that expenditure on elections is normally routed through the Central Fund, which is true. I submit to the House that the provision whereby the normal expenses of returning officers are a charge on the Central Fund was never intended to be used for expenditure on a new system of voting. I repeat that the expenditure by the Minister on this system does not have the authority of the House; it is illegal. It is not legitimate expenditure and he should account for it before the House.

It is now becoming increasingly clear, for whatever reason, that Fianna Fáil is wedded to the electronic voting system. It is not the first time Fianna Fáil, when too long in office, wanted to change the way in which the people vote. What I find amazing is the silence of the Progressive Democrats on this question. That party was entrusted by the people in June 2002 with keeping an eye on Fianna Fáil. This is what it offered to the people and it was the mandate it was given. Not one of its members has yet said a word on this issue. They are standing by and allowing, without offering a whimper, a power-hungry and arrogant Fianna Fáil to change the way in which the people vote at elections. They are letting down the people who entrusted them in their role as watchdogs over the political system.

What we have is a Fianna Fáil Party that has become overly arrogant. It refuses to listen to the Opposition or the voice of the public, spends money illegally on this electronic voting system and, even at this late stage, is unprepared to change. If it does not withdraw its plans for changing the voting system next June, the day will surely come that the people will have to put manners on this arrogant Fianna Fáil Government.

I have tabled a five word amendment to section 48 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001. The five words include, "which provides a verifiable paper trail". The problem around this issue would be solved if the amendment were accepted. It is unfortunate that it is not.

We rushed to end the dual mandate in local government. In fairness to local authority members, it would be remiss of the House if the same did not apply to Members of this House who end up being members of the European Parliament. It should be a level playing field and I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment.

The House agreed that the amendments would be taken on Report Stage and there would not be a general debate.

I want to reply to Deputy Gilmore's suggestion that the House did not approve the funding. Funding for election expenses comes under the Central Fund Act. What we are doing now is no different from what was done in the past. Any change in the procedure would require legislation. Funding for the President, the courts and the national debt comes from this source. There is nothing devious about this. There is nothing about Fianna Fáil remaining in power. It is unworthy of Deputy Gilmore to suggest this.

What about the paper trail?

As it is now 1.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 73; Níl, 57.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Breen, James.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Connor, Charlie.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 1.40 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.