Electoral law is subject to ongoing review to make necessary changes to maintain and develop a robust and modern legal framework as a principal element of the operation of our democratic system. In the past five years, five separate electoral Bills have been enacted. In 2009 alone, two were enacted. Looking over the past ten years, an average of one electoral Bill per year was enacted by the Oireachtas having been brought forward by me, as Minister, or by one of my predecessors.
More recently, in February 2010, I published a general scheme of legislation to provide for a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Within this context, necessary legislative provisions in respect of the holding of a mayoral election are currently being developed. These include amendments to the Electoral Acts.
My other plans for amendment of the Electoral Acts relate to the establishment of an electoral commission and to considerations on financing the political system.
The programme for Government, agreed in 2007, contains a commitment to the establishment of an independent electoral commission. The renewed programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, reaffirms this commitment and identifies a range of responsibilities which the commission will be mandated to fulfil.
An independent electoral commission will require new legislation for purposes of its establishment and to transfer to it a range of roles and responsibilities including those assigned to the Standards in Public Office Commission in electoral law, those of the Constituency Commission and those currently assigned to me, as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This will involve changes to more than 20 primary Acts and to the associated regulations.
Towards implementing the programme for Government commitments, and to assist in consideration of the issues involved, I commissioned a report by an expert group from University College Dublin. I published the report, entitled "A Preliminary Study on the Establishment of an Electoral Commission in Ireland", for consultation in February 2009. The UCD study recommends that an electoral commission be established through the enactment of an electoral commission Act. This Act would amend and consolidate the law in this area, bringing together in one Act the law relating to referendums and elections to local authorities, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the European Parliament, Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and the office of President of Ireland. This would be a major task and it is part of our considerations.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution is currently undertaking an examination of the system used for the election of members of Dáil Éireann, and in the course of this work has considered issues in respect of the administration and functioning of Ireland's electoral system generally. The outcome of the committee's deliberations should also inform work on the amendment of the Electoral Acts to deliver on the Government's electoral reform commitments.
In addition, the 2009 renewed programme for Government contains a commitment to restricting political donations to individual Irish citizens and residents and to setting up a new political fund to which donations from private bodies would be made. I am now giving consideration to approaches to the implementation of this commitment, which will also require amendments to the Electoral Acts.