Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004: Order for Report Stage.

Is that agreed?

I object. I find it incomprehensible that the Minister is moving Report Stage of a Bill which provides for the introduction of electronic voting for the June elections when the Commission on Electronic Voting reported last week and gave a damning judgment on the Minister's judgment in all of this. I cannot understand how he has the neck to press ahead with Report Stage of the Bill when it totally lacks credibility. The Taoiseach was very selective when quoting from the Bill. He did not mention——

The Deputy should not go into details.

I will not go into details. He did not mention the contents of paragraph (iv) which said that the system could be entered into, interfered with——

That matter does not arise.

I am indicating that I object to taking Report Stage. The Minister has lost all credibility. He has had an arrogant attitude to the issues raised by Opposition spokespersons and the experts who attended the hearing at the request of the Minister and the committee on 18 December last. Following the hearing of 18 December, questions under the 41 headings raised by experts were not answered for more than a month by officials of the Department. It went from December to February before answers were given to some of the questions raised. I know what happened. The committee adjourned for lunch and the whip of the Department got an instruction to collapse the committee's hearing. That afternoon, by weight of numbers, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats rushed through a motion——

A brief comment as to why the Deputy opposes taking Report Stage.

I am about to finish. That afternoon the PDs and Fianna Fáil pushed through a motion accepting the proposal to introduce electronic voting for the elections in June. The following morning——

The Deputy is making a Second Stage contribution. I call Deputy Gilmore.

Some €51 million of taxpayers' money is gone down the drain.

There will be an opportunity to debate the issue.

Within 48 hours of the committee hearing collapsing as a result of representatives of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, contracts were signed with the Dutch company, incurring huge losses for the taxpayers.

That does not arise. I ask the Deputy to speak to the motion before the House. I call Deputy Gilmore.

I am accusing the Minister of negligence and arrogance, and I ask that he consider his position.

No taxpayers' money was wasted.

That is not true.

The Minister had a lot to say, and not only that, but he gave his friends in Fianna Fáil a €5 million contract and in recent weeks they have gone around the country attempting to undermine the commission.

The Deputy is making a Second Stage speech. We are talking about introducing Report Stage.

I object to the taking of Report Stage of this Bill and I ask the Minister to do the decent thing, resign and give some satisfaction to the taxpayers who have been taken for a ride on this matter.

Hear, hear.

A Cheann Comhairle, I have submitted to your office a motion seeking the recommittal of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004 to Committee Stage. Do I move the recommittal if it is agreed that Report Stage be taken?

That cannot be moved until we are on Report Stage. As soon as we are on Report Stage, we will take the Deputy's proposal.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I oppose the taking of Report Stage because the Minister presenting the Bill should no longer be the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Last autumn he refused to listen to the views of the Opposition parties and to technical experts who told him then much the same as the Commission on Electronic Voting told him at the end of last week. Had he listened then to what we had to say, we might have made a lot more progress on this issue and it would not have resulted in the taxpayer being charged €52 million for this political adventure. His failure to listen then was a display of arrogance. His spending of €52 million of taxpayers' money was reckless and proceeding with an electronic voting system which the commission has criticised in such stark terms was absolutely irresponsible.

I say to the Minister directly and without personal rancour that since last Friday he should have either resigned his office as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or he should have been sacked.

That does not arise.

I also oppose the taking of Report Stage because the context of the Bill has now entirely changed. The commission has reported and this item is on the Order Paper today because the Government was in such a hurry to get the electronic voting system in place for 11 June. It cannot now be used on 11 June and therefore the time of this House would be better spent debating Bills that are of importance to people such as Report Stage of the Residential Tenancies Bill, for which we have been waiting since last February and was shunted into a siding in order that the Minister could proceed with the electronic voting legislation.

In any event, the issues which now arise in regard to electronic voting cannot be addressed in the confines of a Report Stage debate. The issues reported on by the commission now need a proper Committee Stage-type debate. Therefore, the Labour Party opposes the taking of Report Stage.

It is somewhat surreal that the House is being asked to debate Report Stage of a Bill which no longer has any meaning. It certainly has no sense of urgency given that the purpose for which it was introduced on a very rushed basis through Second Stage, Committee Stage and the proposed Report Stage no longer exists. The report of the independent commission gives a reason that this Bill should be agreed in some element by this House eventually, but it is not required now, namely, that the commission desires to be placed on a statutory basis, about which no one in this House would argue.

During the course of this Bill, the Minister has displayed behaviour which indicates he is guilty of either gross arrogance or technological illiteracy. Given his stance on other issues — I cited the example of incineration — he is more guilty of the latter. It is only a matter of weeks since a vote of no confidence in the Minister was tabled in this House. He managed to get the support of those who sit figuratively and metaphorically behind him in the House. However, if that same vote were put today would the Minister have the same confidence of this House? On those grounds we should not proceed with this farce of a debate.

I too support Deputy Gilmore's proposal to recommit this legislation to Committee Stage. The system we have debated and attempted to amend in the past few weeks is not now in place. It is effectively off the agenda having been totally and absolutely discredited. During the course of the Committee Stage debate on this Bill the Minister undertook that if this system collapsed or failed he would take full responsibility for it. That is what has happened — the system has failed us and therefore I ask the Minister to accept his undertaking on Committee Stage to take full responsibility for it. The door is up above and I urge him to move in that direction.

I find myself between the usual rock and hard place because I have no doubt that if I came to the House this afternoon to announce that I was pulling the Bill there would be uproar from the Opposition for the reason that the Commission on Electronic Voting needs to be put on a statutory basis. The commission in its report urges this House to get on with the job of ensuring its position is secure by putting it on a statutory footing. That is the basis of this Bill.

Members opposite know that the Bill deals with issues in the forthcoming elections other than electronic voting.

The Minister saw no need for a Bill a month ago.

It deals with personation and the facilitation of a number of existing councillors who are council employees and are standing in the forthcoming elections. It is also important to point out that the provisions in the Bill on electronic voting provide a regulatory framework only. They can be enacted in the knowledge that the commission will continue to do its work in respect of the secrecy and accuracy of the system. That is why we need to proceed with the Bill and the commission has asked us to proceed immediately with the Bill to put it on a statutory footing. That is why the proposal to proceed is before the House.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 53.

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • 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.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.