Electoral Register: Discussion with Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

We will now discuss the report on the future of the electoral register in Ireland and related matters. I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, who has kindly accepted our invitation so promptly after the committee published its report. I welcome the Minister and his officials. The format of the meeting will involve opening remarks by the Minister followed by a question and answer session. I call on the Minister to speak.

I welcome this opportunity to meet the committee to discuss the issue of the electoral register. I welcome especially the work of the committee regarding the register and the outcome of that work in the form of the report. In the course of the committee's work, my Department was given and greatly appreciated the opportunity of meeting the committee to discuss some of the issues involved. The Department also provided written background information to support the committee's work.

The report addresses head on the challenge we face in securing a fully satisfactory electoral register to underpin our democratic process, a register which is both accurate in the information it contains and comprehensive in what it sets out to achieve. In addressing this challenge, the report contains many valuable and constructive ideas. The committee has more than achieved its objective, as stated in the preface to the report, of making a worthwhile contribution to Government policy. The committee would not expect at this stage a detailed response from me on all the important issues addressed in the report. However, there are a number of points I wish to make.

As Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, electoral reform is a key priority. The agreed programme for Government commits to the establishment of an independent electoral commission which will take responsibility for electoral administration and oversight, implement modern and efficient electoral practices, revise constituency boundaries, take over the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission relating to election spending, and examine the issue of financing the political system. The commission will also take charge of compiling a new national rolling electoral register, which is of particular relevance to today's proceedings.

The committee's report is important, not least because it identifies the wide range of different bodies currently involved in electoral administration in Ireland. In this regard, the committee's recommendations on the need for a single body to manage the registration process and for a national returning officer are consistent with the Government's approach. The recommendation concerning continuous registration also reflects the commitment we have made in the agreed programme for Government.

The current position on the establishment of an electoral commission is that we are now well advanced on an initial consultancy study to help set a roadmap towards a commission for Ireland. I understand discussions have already taken place between the experts from UCD and the political parties. The committee's report is an important input to that work and to the Government's future decisions in this area.

It is often the case with electoral matters that a balance must be struck between what can be at times competing considerations. For example, we all want to maximise voter registration and we want to ensure against fraud. The committee recommends both a facility for people to be able to register on-line and that evidence of identity and address should be strictly enforced at the initial stage of application for the register. Important work needs to be done to work out the ways these recommendations can be reconciled and implemented in practice.

The committee recommends change in legislation to use personal public service numbers in compiling and managing the register. To assist in progressing the work, it would be useful if the committee could clarify if it is the intention that people will not be permitted to register if they do not provide their PPS number to the registration authority.

At present, local authorities are responsible, as registration authorities, for the compilation and publication of the register. It is their duty to ensure, as far as possible and with the co-operation of the public, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register for their areas. In 2006, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government initiated a package of specific, additional measures to help local authorities in their work on compiling the register. These included: the use of census enumerators or other temporary personnel to support local authorities in preparing the register; additional ring-fenced financial resources for local authorities amounting to €6 million; an early start being made to the local authority register campaign; updated guidance for local authorities on managing the register generally and concerning the procedures to be followed in the register campaign; new arrangements to delete deceased persons from the register by availing of the death event publication service developed by Reach; an intensive national awareness campaign costing €1 million; and better on-line facilities to help people check the register through the www.checktheregister.ie website.

As a result of these measures, the campaign to compile the 2007-08 register was the most extensive ever. Some 1,500 fieldworkers were involved in making more than 1.25 million household visits in a nationwide door-to-door campaign. Some 555,000 names were removed from the previous register and 523,000 names were added. On the basis of the work undertaken, it is reasonable to conclude that local authorities achieved a significant improvement in the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register compared with previous years.

People, including politicians, may have differing views on the electoral register. Nevertheless, the improvements which were made in advance of last year's general election in my view were significant. This is not to say that all issues relating to the electoral register have been fully addressed, nor is it the case that unevenness in the production of the register between local authorities, or even within local authority areas, has been eliminated. For a variety of reasons including, for example, the logistics of and public responsiveness to the registration process, total elimination of these difficulties is unlikely to be the case. While good work has been done and good results have been secured, the register is an area that needs continuing policy attention and action. This is the reason we have committed to the reforms I detailed earlier.

For the 2009-10 register, I call on local authorities to maintain and build on the progress to date. Earlier in the year, my Department supplied local authorities with stocks of the relevant forms to be used in the compilation of the next register. The form has been redesigned to include specific information on the 2009 local and European elections. Local authorities also have been given, for the first time, a multilingual prompt card in 14 languages for use by field workers to explain the registration process to all the people they meet. Authorities have been advised to proceed with registration work as soon as possible. Later in the year, at draft register stage, my Department will run an advertising campaign to encourage people to check they are on the register.

It is clear there is need for much work on the register. In the short-term, local authorities must work within the existing system to produce, to the maximum extent possible, an accurate and comprehensive register. Beyond that we must work to bring into being as quickly as possible the wider reforms to which the Government is committed. I warmly welcome the committee's report in that context.

I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister. The Fine Gael Party supports the creation of a new body to take control of the national register of electors. We all witnessed the drive last year before the general election by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities to update and reform the register of electors for 2007. We are well aware this did not achieve its aims at that juncture. We were told the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spent €12 million on the exercise. It involved 1,500 field workers visiting 1.25 million homes throughout the country and still there was widespread confusion with the register of electors. The confusion was witnessed again at the recent referendum when people discovered their names were taken off the register, while it included incorrect entries.

In my area, I witnessed a person who has been a citizen of Ireland all his life, who had a "D" placed before the name being refused entitlement to vote. The entire family was refused their entitlement to vote. This is a very serious matter and a huge infringement of their rights and we do not want to see this happening in future. Every Member of the House has had people coming to them on the day and since pointing out serious errors in the register of electors. That should not have happened.

A new national rolling electoral register has been supported by Fine Gael for some time. Each year the local authority compiles the register. Between elections there is not the same emphasis on preparing an accurate register of electors.

Last year, following that intensive campaign, on which €12 million was spent, it was discovered there were only 62,000 fewer names on the register of electors. That caused widespread confusion and needs to be addressed urgently. We visited Belfast and met with the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland, Mr. Douglas Bain. The system there is in place for the past 30 years and has proved very successful. I was impressed by it and feel we should be moving in the same direction. I am pleased we have prepared this report and the Minister has somewhat accepted it. The creation of a new body to take control of the national register of electors has been Fine Gael policy for some time. It is evident from past experience that the ability of local authorities to maintain the local register of electors between elections and in the run up to election campaigns is questionable. The facts are in the public domain. On that basis we must adopt a new process to improve the system. A national register of electors maintained by a national body has proven very effective in other jurisdictions. It is the only way to proceed here.

There are a few issues about which we have to be careful, such as PPS numbers, and we cannot be flippant about them. We have a duty to protect citizens' rights and their personal data. The issue of data sharing is important and needs to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister will give an indication as to how to proceed and whether legislation will be required on the issue of data sharing. I agree with the Minister that we must do what we can to counteract fraud.

On the issue of postal voting, people are entitled to their holidays. The polling day will never suit everybody. Provisions have been made in the past which were cumbersome on people who were leaving the country on business on polling day as they had to present at the Garda station and sign a number of documents. That whole area will have to be simplified. Provision should be made for those going on holidays to vote at election time.

People should be registered at a young age in, say, secondary schools and universities, the year before they are entitled to vote. We should go down that road, similar to Northern Ireland, and encourage people to register early and take responsibility to some extent for their own registration. The idea of a national returning officer is good. It is important this service be decentralised with its headquarters outside the capital city.

A Member

It should be wholly centralised.

As if we do not have enough problems already.

We can have a number of regional offices throughout the country. Northern Ireland has eight regional offices with its head office being in Belfast. There will be many teething problems before we get it right. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on the use of PPS numbers and whether legislation is necessary to protect citizens' rights to privacy. We cannot have PPS numbers all over the place.

Can I establish one thing? This is an important question and one I asked in my address. Is it the view of the committee that the voter is legally obliged to give his or her PPS number and if they do not give it they are not entitled to vote?

Does the Minister mean entitled to register?

Perhaps I can clarify that. A certain level of reframing is required. At present we have a household based registration system. What we are proposing is that we move to an individual based registration system, the key to which will be the PPS number.

Yes. If, for privacy reasons, as outlined by Deputy Bannon, the person does not wish to give it, what is to happen?

That is an option. The report did not specify. There were varying views on the issue. The question is whether one moves to mandatory registration or not. It is the universal view of the committee that the PPS number is a requirement for accuracy. It must be made available to Revenue and the Department of Social and Family Affairs and it has been sought by local authorities. The committee's view is that the PPS number is one of the foundation stones of an accurate registration system.

I understood the consensus of the committee was that the PPS number serves the purpose. There can be two people of the same name in the household. People change address. Sometimes people move from flat to flat. Under the current arrangement, if somebody has a principled objection to voting and putting his or her name on the register, he or she does not have to register. For privacy reasons, some people do not want their name and address on any register. I know there is an edited register.

We refrained from calling for mandatory registration. We certainly did not go for mandatory registration.

And date of birth along with that in order to establish——

Yes, date of birth.

We are absolutely sure that information would not be printed on the voters register. Only those collecting the information would have that information. PPS numbers would never be printed on the register.

We understand that.

I welcome the Minister to the committee. I also welcome the statement he made, especially the last paragraph of it, in which he gave a resounding thumbs up to the work of this committee. We have set out with a common purpose to improve a system which has primarily failed over the years despite the best efforts of everybody.

My personal view on the compilation of the register is that we will have to go down the road of using PPS numbers. It is important to ensure that people who present to vote are legally entitled to do so and that they are who they say they are. We must pursue the route of individual registration because the household registration data is all over the place.

There is a problem in terms of residential registration, especially in urban areas, because of shifting populations, especially among young people. The people concerned will not like what I am going to say, but a change of address by a tenant should be communicated by estate agents, auctioneers and even local authorities concerned. I am sure it is, but in the event that it is not in any given case, it should be.

I have a difficulty with a person refusing to register. While some people might have logical or, in their view, legal reasons for refusing to do so, the name of everybody eligible to vote should be recorded on the electoral register. My personal view is that such registration should be obligatory. Everybody might not agree with me on that, but if we all agreed with each other, life would be mundane.

The proposed electoral commission is the only way to proceed. I was extremely impressed by what I heard about the electoral register during the visit to Northern Ireland, all the more so because it works, and if it works, it is worthwhile considering. I am delighted it is proposed that a independent electoral commission will be established which will take responsibility for revised constituencies and take over the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission relating to election spending. Currently, the administration of the system is spread out with various functions dealt with by different bodies. A rationalisation of the process is welcome.

The report speaks for itself. The Minister in his statement gave a resounding welcome to our report, for which I thank him.

I welcome the Minster and his positive response to the report produced by this committee.

I wish to outline a number of points for consideration by the Minister. The report comprises the points that were agreed in this committee. We desisted from making a series of recommendations. While some aspects need to be considered, there was uniform agreement across parties on the main body of the report.

We must consider the structure of the electoral register and the system under which it operates. The creation of a national commission ultimately will change the way in which the register of electors is maintained. The current system operates under 34 local authorities and we agreed that it does not work because there is no uniformity of approach.

The issue of the use of PPS numbers in compiling and maintaining the register is the most substantive one. It needs to be examined to some degree. The initial idea for compiling an electoral register was for it to correlate with the payment of rates. There was a requirement for citizens to be registered at that time. The belief may have developed in recent years that people have a choice of opting in or opting out of the register, although that may not be the case. The committee is not proposing that one must be compelled to vote. There is a difference between having the choice to go to one's polling station to vote and choosing not to vote. This is a fundamental issue.

A quantum leap in regard to the electoral register has been taken by the authorities in Northern Ireland. The chief commissioner for the register of electors in Northern Ireland operates from the viewpoint that it is his job, for the purposes of democracy, to maintain an accurate register. If somebody deliberately decides not to register, the commissioner's view is that that person is inhibiting him from doing his job, which is to maintain an accurate register. The responsibility is on the citizen to ensure that we live in a democracy that allows people to vote in a fair and equitable manner. We need to further explore that rationale when go down the road of considering the use of PPS numbers.

I welcome the direction indicated by the Minister when we discussed this issue in the Dáil a week or two ago. There needs to be a tidying of all the structures that deal with elections. If we can tidy up the structures, we would provide for flexibilities in the system that do not currently exist. For example, a person who will be abroad on holidays on polling day of a referendum should be able to register his or her vote while out of the country, as is provided under the system in Northern Ireland.

I received an e-mail during the week from an Irish person who is living abroad stating that the register was broadened in recent years to enable people who have living here for only three months, to register to participate in local elections. The person suggested that perhaps Irish citizens who are expatriates should be assisted to vote in referenda. They may not have an interest in day-to-day local issues concerning the provision of footpaths, filling of potholes and other such issues, but I am sure they would have a certain interest in how we vote in referenda, particularly given the events of last week. That is another provision that could be included in the system.

The Deputy should not forget that we also have tax exiles.

We could examine the inclusion of the provision I suggested. The vast majority of Irish people who live overseas are not tax exiles. The way things are going, an increasing number of people may be moving overseas, but they would not be tax exiles but work exiles, so to speak.

I welcome the Minister's response to the report. He said that the committee would not expect at this stage a detailed response from him. We certainly would not, but I ask him to indicate a timeframe within which he expects to respond to the committee's recommendations and when provisions in that respect will be rolled out.

I will not go into the details of the report. The Minister has the report and many of the details in it have been raised by fellow members of the committee.

I wish to return to the issue of timescales mentioned by Deputy Ciarán Lynch, particularly the timescale for the establishment of the electoral commission. The Minister said that "we are now well-advanced on an initial consultancy study to help set a roadmap towards a commission for Ireland". One could be uncharitable and paraphrase that to the effect that we have asked a few fellows to go away and come up with a few ideas about what to do next. I am sure that neither the Minister nor his officials would accept a consultancy study without it specifying firm timescales and outputs.

Will the Minister be kind enough to give us some details as to when it is expected this consultancy will report and what he expects it to come up with so that we can have a firm line about when we can expect to see the establishment of a commission?

I will not go over what the other members have covered. I too welcome the proposal to establish a commission. We should not lose sight of the good work done by people who compiled the register over many years. Those people did it on a part-time basis or in their spare time without probably being properly resourced. We did not have a handle on the compilation of the register in the past. I compliment the work done by those people in local authorities over many years. We should not forget them in this process.

I will give an example of how people want the system to be improved. During the recent referendum campaign I was asked why the polling cards cannot be issued in advance of the closing date for people's names being included on the supplementary register. If people do not receive their polling cards, they may contact the returning officers, but if the closing date for the supplementary register was a few days later, their names could be added to it. That would be worthwhile. That was worthwhile.

This is a worthwhile report but the local authorities who compiled the report in the past should be asked for their views and recommendations before we compile a final document.

If a person is removed from the register, there should be some form of traceability as to who organised——

They should be informed.

Yes, they should be informed under freedom of information. Under the new system there will be a paper trail with regard to registration and the removal of a person from the register. A person will be entitled to see that under the new system. Heretofore, nobody took responsibility for removing a person from the register. This is most important. In the incident I mentioned a person who had been an Irish citizen for more than 60 years discovered they had lost their nationality, as it were, with a "D" placed after their name. They were not allowed to vote in the recent referendum. This was a devastating blow not just to the person but to their family who had paid their taxes over the years. Under the new system there will be a paper trail. If it happened to me, I would seriously consider taking legal action.

I thank the Deputies who have contributed and asked questions. I agree with Deputy Bannon that those incidents are most regrettable and unfortunate. I am glad to hear that the electoral commission is also Fine Gael policy and that the committee supports the concept.

Many Deputies mentioned using the personal public service number. While I said in my initial contribution that I could not give detailed answers, I will try to give more detail on this question because it is perhaps more complex than Deputies might appreciate. I asked my Department's officials to consider some of these issues. The PPS number is primarily for use by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the PPS system is not immediately adaptable to use for electoral purposes. There are approximately 5 million PPS numbers in existence, in comparison with approximately 3 million people on the electoral register. The PPS system does not necessarily capture the current residence of voters or their citizenship for electoral purposes. There are still people in this country who do not have PPS numbers. A national electronic electoral register with an interface with the PPS system would have to be put in place if the PPS number was to act as a security check, and we are aware from experience of how long it can take to put an information technology project in place.

Primary legislation would also be required, especially if PPS numbers were to be used for anything other than simply cross-checking voter registration forms. The legislation would be required to do the following: permit PPS numbers to be used for electoral purposes; allow verification of personal information using PPS numbers; information sharing; deal with the obligation to inform the voter as to the uses to which personal information may be put; deal with cases where there are no PPS numbers; and deal with the protection of the data. If PPS numbers were used when people were registering, systems would have to be devised so that registration authorities could verify the data, possibly through establishing IT links with the Department of Social and Family Affairs database. Any such system would have to comply with data protection legislation and similar considerations. It is also likely it would lengthen the time involved to register, with voters having to source their PPS numbers to register. Careful consideration must be given to introducing any additional requirements that might deter voters in this regard.

The members might not wish to hear this but I am simply giving them the information.

We have already heard it.

Fine. The main issues to consider include the following: the collection of PPS numbers for the existing register which might require a national canvass — it is unlikely that the existing PPS database could populate the register with PPS numbers because of a lack of matching identifiers between the two; cross-checking issues; privacy; data protection; and a possible reluctance of people to give their PPS numbers. These issues will have to be considered by the electoral commission.

Deputy Lynch and Senator Hannigan asked about the timescale. I am proceeding with this as quickly as possible. I hope the electoral commission study consultancy, which is held by Professor Sinnott of UCD, will be completed by the end of August. No summer holiday is contemplated. We are moving swiftly. I understand that many of the Deputies have already spoken directly to Professor Sinnott and I hope that will continue. A number of people, the best people in the country, offered to do that work and Professor Sinnott won the tender.

The key elements of the study are: an overview of the present arrangements for electoral administration in Ireland; an examination of relevant models of electoral commissions in other countries taking account of relevant international research — the committee's study of what happened in Northern Ireland is very relevant; identification, assessment and ranking of options for an electoral commission, including scoping of structure, functions and relationships with other bodies involved in electoral policy and administration; and recommendations concerning approaches to the modernisation and consolidation of legislation in the context of the establishment of an electoral commission and the phasing in of its coming into operation. I hope the committee will agree that completing this study by August is a big task but I will insist they do it.

However, the legislation required to introduce the electoral commission is huge. This is unprecedented. It will be one of the major reforms regarding elections in this country. We must examine 20 legislative measures already in existence and bring them together. The Planning and Development Act and the Local Government Act were huge legislative measures. This legislation will be bigger, so it is a very complex task. I am trying to push it forward as quickly as possible. I doubt it will be ready before the local and European elections but it is my intention that it will be in place before we leave Government.

Not as quickly as the Senator would like.

The committee fully appreciates the mammoth task involved in establishing the electoral commission and drafting the legislation. When that body is established it will commence the process of compiling the new register. It will not come into existence on the day the legislation is passed. We understand and accept that years of work are involved.

With regard to the PPS numbers, we are aware of the points made by the Minister. We invited officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Data Protection Commissioner to meet the committee and those points were made to us. We understand the difficulties and that people who are not entitled to vote have PPS numbers. We are not saying every person with a PPS number should be on the electoral register but that everybody on the register should be documented in the State with a PPS number from either the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

The Minister referred to registration authorities. I hope he is referring to the current authorities because we believe that ultimately there should be one authority. We are pleased with the consultancy group. However, one of the biggest issues in politics is why 1 million people consistently do not bother to vote. That must be addressed. We want maximum voter turnout. We are not just seeking an efficient system, but also a higher level of participation.

I want to make one suggestion. In his opening comments, the Minister said that the electoral commission "will take responsibility for electoral administration and oversight" and will "revise constituency boundaries". In our discussion we had a slight reservation about the new commission being specifically involved in revising constituency boundaries. We refrained from that aspect because the commission will be intimately involved in the detailed operation of election procedures. Given the sensitivity of electoral boundaries, we felt that should not be a function of those who are involved in the day-to-day administration of electoral matters. We felt that was one of the few items that should continue to be independent of the people who are directly working in that area.

That is a fair point and the Chairman should make it forcefully in his submission with Dr. Sinnott and his team. It is something that struck me as well, although we do have complaints about the system. However, it is still independent, quite scrupulous and is working well. The boundaries data were published yesterday and it is a question of swings and roundabouts, with some people happy and others unhappy, but that is the nature of it.

We will come back to that point. We had it in draft form but we felt it was not specific to the detail of the voters' registration report. However, we did have an opinion on it.

I will call Deputy Ciarán Lynch before we conclude.

I will be brief because the Dáil is sitting now. In Northern Ireland, which is possibly the most accurate register in the world, the system costs £2.5 million to operate annually. It is 80% plus accurate. In fact, examination of registers shows that if one can hit the 80% figure, one is 100% accurate. We are not within the proverbial donkey's roar of that figure. The other factor is that we spent €6 million, as the Minister indicated, and we still ended up with a basket case in many areas. When one examines the CSO census figures against the electoral register, in Cork North-West, we had a turnout of 105%, and that was not the only constituency in the country where that happened.

While not wishing to repeat the Chairman's points, we have already examined the PPS issue extensively. It is amazing that there is cross-party agreement, even with the Green Party's member——

——when he is in attendance, that the PPS is the structure through which we can move forward. I am sure that if Northern Ireland can do this we certainly can also. It is something we can learn from them. Ultimately, however, we need a system that is accurate, encourages people to participate in the register and is easy to work out without being cumbersome. In Northern Ireland, they have a simple spreadsheet. All we need to do, since our voting structure is somewhat different, is to include an additional field that logs nationality. The Minister referred to the difficulty of having an excess of PPS numbers as opposed to Irish citizens, which could be sorted out in that field on the registration form.

They set up a single structure in Northern Ireland and one of the best aspects of the system is the single registration form for the whole system. Therefore, one does not have different registration systems between local authorities. There is one system, one database, one spreadsheet and one field for everything.

What was emphasised to us when we were in Northern Ireland and met Dr. Bain there was that all the political parties have confidence in the electoral commission. It was strongly emphasised to us that all the political parties have the utmost confidence in the new system. As regards the constituency boundary, I agree that the independent commission's function should be left as it is. In addition, we should not interfere with the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission. This is solely for compiling the register, reorganising it and training staff. Those are the issues that should be covered by the electoral commission. That is clear in our summary document.

I agree with the committee that the PPS number has a role to play, although I outlined some difficulties there. As regards voting methods for people going on holidays, we are erring on the side of caution so that we do not have any bogus voting. We have seen the difficulties of postal voting in Britain.

Their system is very expensive.

These are all questions that will have to be considered by the electoral commission. Likewise, in terms of participation, we know that there are systems abroad — Australia being one of them — where people have to vote. It is their obligation to do so. I do not think anyone here is advocating that. There are pluses and minuses, but it is not being advocated. The point is how does one increase participation. Over a period of time there has been a turning off of politics. Interestingly, the turnout in the recent referendum vote was reasonably good. In many ways, that could be seen as an anti-establishment vote, but at least people came out and voted. If one was looking for good things to say about it, that would be one such thing. I would like to see more people getting interested in politics but how does one achieve that? One could perhaps do it through the education system and in a number of other ways. It is a multifaceted approach. In my own constituency, there are areas which have the lowest turnout in the country while others have very high turnouts. It is a question of engaging with the electorate and that is our job as politicians.

Is the Minister's Department undertaking any research on voter participation? In most European countries voting takes place on Sundays. We should be moving in the direction of having all elections, including referenda, at the weekend — on Saturday and Sunday — which would facilitate a great number of people, particularly those who are travelling during the week. We should seriously examine that point as well as introducing additional measures to encourage people to vote. They are working on that in other countries. Voting is compulsory in Australia and people must turn up at the polling booth. We have not been helpful in this regard by holding general elections on a Thursday, rather than on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. We should hold elections at the weekend. Sunday may accommodate a great deal of people. We should examine the possibility of holding elections over a two-day period.

It would create a situation whereby more people would participate.

There is weekend voting in Germany and it seems to work quite well. Specific recommendations were made in the report on active citizenship as to how we could get higher voter participation. After the publication of the Green Paper, we gave some statistics to the Chairman concerning voter turnout. The active citizenship committee recommended an electoral commission, so it seems that all roads are pointing in that direction. I am quite sure that if the electoral commission was doing its homework, it might come to the same conclusion — that weekend voting is the way to go. There is a difficulty, however, because some people go away for the weekend. If one does not make provision for a postal vote, those who go away for the weekend will say they are being disenfranchised. If someone is out of the constituency, he or she cannot vote, unless he or she has some arrangement made to vote by post. There are also difficulties in that respect. Perhaps voting on a Friday offers the best compromise. That is just my personal view.

On that specific point, there was a by-election in Tipperary a few years ago. It was specifically held on a Saturday which resulted in a slight increase in turnout.

Was it in Tipperary North?

It was in Tipperary South, the one Deputy Bannon's colleague, Deputy Tom Hayes, won. The Constitution refers to "polling day".

One cannot spread an election over two days.

To hold it over two days, one would have to change it. That complication in the system would trip up the two-day option, even though some think it would be a good one.

We have concluded our discussion. We are pleased with the positive response from the Minister to our hard work. There are a few points to which we will return by way of correspondence. The Minister may wish to express further views to the committee.

We look forward to the work ahead and fully appreciate it is a long-term task. It is not a matter of legislation being brought before us in a few months and the issue being dealt with the following year. We understand it is a complex process. I hope we will take our time and get it right.

The joint committee adjourned at 10.45 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 June 2008.