He mentioned unanimity but how does one get that? The only way to do so is through consultation. If there had been some consultation on this issue initially, rather than the Government going ahead regardless, there might have been some hope of ironing out any problems.
It was the same today when the proposed new referendum on immigration was raised. There was supposed to be consultation on that issue but there was none, and that is the choice of the Government. There are other ways of doing this, and down through the years my party has shown that it will co-operate on Northern Ireland. This Bill is all about how a democracy is run, whether it is fair and, more importantly, seen to be fair and above board. The Bill is about the integrity of democracy.
I was delighted to hear Deputy Haughey say he had queries from younger people, as there is an idea abroad that the only reason we oppose this is because older people will not be able to manage the system. There are young people with an interest in politics who are worried about this as they know a little more about how these systems work than Deputy Haughey or me. That is why there is a certain amount of anxiety among people.
Deputy Haughey mentioned hysteria on this side of the House, admitting that at least we put up a good battle. I am glad to hear the Government recognising our role as Opposition, but I return to the original point. I believe in efforts to unite people rather than dividing them and we could have had a more constructive effort at the beginning of this process when problems could have been solved on an all-party basis.
As Deputy Haughey said, there are other important issues and one was discussed during Question Time a few minutes ago, namely, health. I would like the same amount of time in the House to be given to a debate on the traumatic state of the health service. We only need to look at my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan to see that. There are housing problems, traffic chaos and, last but by no means least, the widows and their €5.7 million. This system costs approximately €60 million and one can see the widows begging outside the gates of the House for their rights. I agree with Deputy Haughey that there are some very important issues on which the Government has failed totally, and we as the Opposition have possibly failed to put our message across or to put pressure on the Government.
Who will be in charge of the electronic voting software? Will the source code be published? I will return to those vital issues, but there are suggestions that the people who run the next election will be the same people who have always run elections. That is nowhere near the truth. An outside body will feed into the system and while the people running the polling booths will be the same, they will not have the same control or knowledge of the system as before.
We know who is in charge of public relations for this measure as it is a published fact. Although it is a relatively new company there is no doubt it has close links to the main Government party. That is a worry in itself. What is that company working for? Is it working for electronic voting or is it working to give the coalition a lift?
I am amused by some of the points made by the Minister. The fundamental purpose of electronic voting is to improve the efficiency, accuracy and user-friendly aspect of the election procedure. We have had all sorts of platitudes in the past about dealing with the disabled and nobody knows more about accessibility than the Ceann Comhairle. However, if one looks at any of the places where polling takes place one sees that people must go up steps or stairs or go through narrow entrances. There are difficulties with access, yet electronic voting is promoted as the answer to all problems.
Some of the structures in place for voting are a joke. Recently I attended a meeting in Castleblayney where we discussed this issue. The people of St. Mary's Terrace in Castleblayney have to pass two polling stations to get to St. Mary's Hospital where they cast their vote. The people on the grounds of St. Mary's Hospital, in Laurel Hill, have to go to the other end of town to cast their vote. Before starting to overturn systems we should align our towns and polling stations to enable people vote in the nearest station to their home and ensure that the station is accessible. I am commenting on the first page of the Minister's speech. I am not being critical. Those are the facts. We need to do the simple things right if we are to encourage more people to vote and especially to allow the disabled to get out.
Another major issue referred to by the Minister is the waste of votes. In the 2002 election there were 20,000 spoiled votes and over 24,000 spoiled votes at the 1999 local elections. At the European elections 46,500 people spoiled their vote. At least 95% of those invalid ballot papers were inadvertently spoiled. When one looks into the issue, the position is somewhat different. It was extraordinary that we had two Nice treaty referenda — the first of which attracted a low turnout. The Fine Gael Party was completely committed to it but it was obvious the Government was not so committed and it failed to go through. Given that the people did not like that treaty there were an enormous number of spoiled votes. These are the facts to which all can refer. On the occasion of the second referendum there was a greater effort to explain what it was all about. Although the vote was considerably increased there were fewer spoiled votes. In other words, the electorate used the voting system and did not refuse to go out to vote. It was a simple "Yes" or "No" vote.
That brings me to the other issue we have to look at here today — the whole issue of a machine with four systems on it. Many hundreds of thousands of people will be first-time voters this year. They will have to face an EU vote, with a long list of candidates; a county council vote, with an even longer list of candidates; a town council vote, which will have quite a few candidates; and now a referendum is being rushed in to add confusion to the mire. This means there will be four votes on a computer system the first day it is being put in place. Those who are computer literate will make a joke of this and say it is not an issue. It will certainly be a major issue and will mean fewer people will go to vote than heretofore. The European election is not an election that switches people on dramatically, neither does a referendum. In view of the withdrawal of power in recent years from county councils and town councils there may not be that much interest. We should do nothing to block that interest.
There have been guarantees that there will be no problems and that the machines are infallible. It was stated that they are used in banks and so on. If one goes to an ATM machine, one can get a piece of paper if one wants it which is proof of the transaction. If as Members we want to claim our few euro from the airport parking space we have to insert our credit card or cash and press a button to receive a receipt that will allow us to reclaim. A new machine is being installed at the airport in the next few weeks which will give out tickets, without the necessity of going to the desk. We are putting in place the most sophisticated machine possible and yet we cannot have a paper trail. When a credit card is inserted into a machine, one's debt is registered at that moment. One is given a piece of paper to sign and another to take away. It is impossible to understand how the geniuses who put this system together cannot provide a paper trail.
The Foxes and the Coveneys have been mentioned. I have a little experience of this as the Ceann Comhairle is well aware. It certainly was not late in the evening when my count was finished, it was early the next day. Even at that, a recount was called so it was the middle of the next week before I knew where I stood. I have every reason to be positive towards electronic voting but I am pointing out my anxieties and those of my party.
Machines are not infallible. I am aware of a person whose computer collapsed in November 2002. All the experts were asked to ensure it was resurrected and the information reproduced. Fortunately, most of it was on disc and had to be refilled. That is an example of how computer systems break down.
On the occasion of a private briefing on broadband in the House the system did not work. Recently I was involved in a conference at which EU officials were present. We had been given a guarantee by the hotel management that everything was correct but it took 45 minutes to get a new system in place and to make it workable.
We need guarantees and a paper trail to ensure the system works. Even in his speech, the Minister refers to the difficulties in having a paper trail. He said:
The paper trail notion is premised on the uninterrupted and proper functioning of a printer throughout the 14 or 15 hours continuous period of polling. The risk of printer interruption, including that of poor or unreadable print quality, is a real one and certainly higher than that of malfunction of an electronic storage system.
If this printer cannot be brought up to a standard where the print is clear, there is a cause for concern. I am not a whiz kid on this issue but young people are worried about it and mail I have received points to that as well. The concerns do not relate to the machine but who controls it and the quality of the personnel who organise the system.
One only has to think of an example from the USA. I am not referring to a voting system but to AIB. That bank left one individual to look after some of its money and we all know of the significant amount which was siphoned out of the bank's system. Can the Minister guarantee that some whiz kid with political affiliations or a belief in destroying democracy could not act in a similarly malicious way to ensure the system did not operate correctly? It happened to AIB in the US and its shareholders are aware more than most that electronic systems can be used and abused. I ask the Minister to bear this in mind.
I realise, as Deputy Haughey said, that all Members the Government parties are persuaded this is the proper way to go. However, it would be best to consider the e-mails which Deputy Haughey and others have received from the young who will run this country in the future but who are worried about this change. The Minister does not have to listen to me or to the elderly but he should listen to some of the young people who have raised questions.
It is galling to see such money being spent on this measure at a time when an independent adviser appointed by the Minister for Health and Children stated clearly that there was a need to spend €14 million on Monaghan General Hospital in one year. Despite that, all that could be got from the Minister was €2.75 million. How can I advise my voters that money is not available for life and death issues when it is being spent on something for which there is no demand? The Minister should consider this.
The Minister referred to voter apathy. He stated: "By modernising and transforming elections in a visible way, we seek to create an opportunity to tackle voter apathy and improve the image of elections." However, this is not the way to achieve this. It should be carried out through consultation with all, starting in the schools with the encouragement of 18 year olds to vote for the first time and to better understand what democracy is all about.
The Minister also stated, "The electronic voting system is secure, reliable and can be trusted by the people." If this is so, why did the Taoiseach say in this House only weeks ago that there was no need for the Bill? That type of statement creates apathy not trust. I urge the Minister, at this late stage, to reconsider the situation and to at least build up trust between the main parties in this House. He could then put this before the people and tell them it is a foolproof scheme for modernisation, with a back-up system. I also want to modernise the system but to do so with faith, trust and belief.