Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Jun 2001

Vol. 167 No. 3

Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Committee Stage (Resumed).

SECTION 11.

There are two lists of amendments. Amendments Nos. 1 to 102 are on the list circulated on 31 May and were debated on the previous occasion. A second list containing additional amendment Nos. 43a to 110 were circulated. There is also another sheet listing amendment No. 90a, which is a Government amendment correcting an omission by the printers. Amendments Nos. 14 to 19, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 20, line 7, to delete "Clerk of the Seanad" and substitute "Chairman of Dáil Éireann".

This section involves the Clerk of the Seanad in the registration of political parties. The purpose of the amendments is to delete the Clerk of the Seanad and insert the Chairman of Dáil Éireann so as to remove the clerk from an inappropriate role since, under the Constitution, the Seanad is a vocational, not a party-political, Chamber. The position is different to that of the Chairman of the Dáil. It is appropriate that the latter office be inserted into the section.

I support this amendment. The Clerk of the Seanad should not be involved in the registration of political parties. The Seanad is not intended to be a party-political Chamber, but is intended, despite what Senator Walsh said this morning—

There was little room for that on the Order of Business.

—on the Order of Business, when he had a go at the Opposition. The Seanad was established to represent vocational interests. The trade union movement, the labour movement, commerce, education, culture, universities and agriculture are represented here. The role of the Clerk of the Seanad does not include party politics. Therefore, a right of appeal puts the Seanad and the clerk in an invidious position. This initiative is not warranted by constitutional provision. It is questionable that this should be the forum for appeal. The Minister should think again about this matter. It is more appropriate that the appeal be made the Chairman of the Dáil.

These amendments propose to replace the Clerk of the Seanad with the Clerk of the Dáil as the person to whom an appeal should be made in connection with the registration of a political party or an amendment of the registration or a cancellation of an entry to the registry under the revised section 25 of the 1992 Electoral Act. An appeal would arise following the refusal of the registrar of political parties, who is the Clerk of the Dáil, to an application for registration or for an amendment of registration. I do not consider it appropriate that an appeal should be made to the person who made the decision in the first instance. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

A similar procedure operates for an appeal against a refusal of the Clerk of Seanad to an application for inclusion on the register of nominating bodies under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, where the appeal is made in that case to the Clerk of the Dáil. It is perfectly logical and reasonable to have a different person adjudicate on the appeal. It is quite illogical that one should seek to lodge an appeal to the person who has already given a decision. It is merely asking them to admit they were wrong in the first instance. That is a matter for a third party and the most appropriate person in the context of what is in question here would be the Clerk of the Seanad.

I thank the Minister for his response but I have to disagree. He made a comparison with the role of the Clerk of the Seanad in relation to inclusion in the nominating bodies. I contend that it is clearly the function of the Clerk of the Seanad to make decisions in regard to inclusion or otherwise in nominating bodies since that is the essential business of the Seanad.

The point I originally made, and which I would reiterate, is that the issue of the registration of political parties is an entirely different one and one which is not appropriate to be included as part of the brief of the Clerk of the Seanad for the reason we have stated, that is, that under the Constitution, this House not defined along the lines of political parties, despite what Members may think.

In relation to the principle that the Minister has enunciated, that is, that an appeal should not be made to the same person who made the original decision, that is something which could be worked out. That may be a point, but it could be dealt with in the context of the legislation. We should closely examine it. If the Minister is hung up on that point, it is something we could discuss in greater detail and probably come up with a solution, achieving at the same time what we on this side of the House seek in these very important amendments. I ask the Minister to consider again the points we have made, particularly in relation to the office of the Clerk of the Seanad as set out in the Constitution and, indeed, the role of the Seanad as set out in the Constitution. It was never supposed to be tied into the party-political system as the Lower House is, even if the effect has been slightly different in practice.

The Minister's reply is not adequate. He seems to be at a loss for a reason that it is the Clerk of the Seanad. I accept his point about an appeal being made to a person other than the person to whom the initial application is made. That is a reasonable and valid point. However, he has given us no reason good, bad or indifferent that it should be the Clerk of the Seanad.

We have given him good reasons that it should not be the Clerk of the Seanad. We have said there are constitutional problems in regard to it being the Clerk of the Seanad. There is absolutely no intention to question the expertise and credibility of the Clerk of the Seanad – that is not the point – but the role of the Seanad vis-à-vis the other House and its whole role in the Oireachtas. It seems the Minister has not been able to find another forum, person or body to whom the appeal could be made and has settled for what is quite clearly an inadequate person in terms of the professional and constitutional role they perform. It is not appropriate for the Minister to opt for the Clerk of Seanad because he cannot find the appropriate person, body or group of persons that would be a suitable appeal mechanism.

It is not necessary for me to say very much on this because Senator Costello has accepted the principle enunciated by the Minister that it would not be appropriate for the person who made the decision in the first instance to be the one who would adjudicate on the appeal. It makes a lot of sense, particularly given the parallel already mentioned by the Minister. The Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk of the Dáil are in very similar positions. It is not valid to make the distinction that this is not a political House and the other one is.

In regard to what Senator O'Meara said about an appeal, perhaps another format could be constructed rather than the one in the Bill – in other words, an appeal to somebody else. I would like to ask the Minister a question and perhaps his officials might help me. As I understand it, the Clerk of the Dáil is the registrar of political parties and an appeal is made to the Chairman of the Dáil. Will the Minister clarify that?

There is a mix-up here. All the Clerk of the Dáil does is receive the appeal in either case. Where somebody has been refused, they lodge their appeal with the Clerk of the Seanad. The decision is made by an appeals board, not by the individual. There may be a misunderstanding there. The appeals board consists of a High Court judge and the Chairmen of the Dáil and the Seanad.

The Minister might be inadvertently supporting our argument. If it is the case that the appeal is only being received by the Clerk of the Seanad, as he proposes, what is the problem with it being received by Chairman of the Dáil? The purpose of our amendments is to remove the Office of the Clerk of the Seanad from the process because, under the Constitution, we believe the office of the Clerk of the Seanad should not have a role in what is essentially a party-political issue. The constitutional position of the Clerk of the Seanad does not make it appropriate that the office should be used in this context. The point the Minister has made would validate our amendments.

If it is the case that the appeals are only being received by that office, what is the problem with the Chairman of the Dáil receiving the appeals if they will then be passed on to a board? The appeals board would hear the appeal, not the individual holding the office, whether the Clerk of the Seanad or the Chairman of the Dáil, as in this case.

There is a need for a third party. If the Clerk of the Dáil, acting as registrar, has made a decision, there should be a right of appeal to a third party and that would be the appeal board through a third party who, as is proposed in the Bill, would be the Clerk of the Seanad.

There have been three appeals in the last ten years and I do not see the necessity for the stance the Senators are taking on this. I ask them to withdraw their amendment.

It is not just that the Clerk of the Seanad receives the appeal, the Clerk is also responsible in regard to the deposit of £500 which is lodged with him or her. The deposit is forfeited by the Clerk of the Seanad if the appeal is not upheld. The Clerk of the Seanad has a variety of roles in relation to notifying or furnishing the register, Iris Oifigiúil and so on. There is quite an amount of involvement by the Clerk of the Seanad in the appeal mechanism.

Is there a good reason that the board should not deal with the entire process? If it is intended to be something of a conduit in terms of the application, to deal with the financial side and to act as some type of secretary to the appeal board, surely a member of the appeal board or the chairman of the Dáil can fulfil the same role. Considering the constitutional imperative in relation to the Seanad, why should it be involved in an area that does not concern it when it can be done properly without having the Clerk of the Seanad involved?

I do not want to repeat myself. I have stated the Government's case on this.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 15 to 19, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 20:
In page 23, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
"(3) Where an order of a court or a request by any person is made for the production by the Registrar of the Register or a copy thereof, the production of a copy of the Register accompanied by a certificate of the Registrar that such copy is a copy of the Register shall in any civil or criminal proceedings beprima facie evidence of the fact so certified and it shall not be necessary, unless the court on receipt of the certificate and copy of the Register so orders, for the Registrar to attend in person to attest to any matter relating to the Register or the certificate.”.

This amendment follows a request by the Registrar of Political Parties following a request to him to produce the register of political parties in court proceedings under the Litter Act for the non-removal of election posters. I am sure the Senators will agree that this can create substantial difficulties for the registrar who is the Clerk of the Dáil. He would be required to absent himself from the Dáil on sitting days for purposes such as the above example. He is required to be in attendance as long as that House sits. A similar amendment in relation to the production of election documents was included in the Electoral Act, 1997.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 11, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Subsection (4)(b)(i) outlines the composition of what constitutes a political party, that it has 300 recorded members or 100 recorded members and that 50% of them are registered. Subsection (4)(b)(ii) states that a party should have at least one member who is a Member of the Dáil or a representative of the European Parliament. What is a representative of the European Parliament? Is it a Member of the European Parliament? How will this operate? There is no reference to a Member of the Seanad. The Seanad is omitted from what is required for a valid application for registration as a political party. The Minister of State will recognise the constitutional element in this section of omitting the Seanad because of the vocational nature of the body. Why is a representative of the European Parliament rather than a Member of it referred to? What is a representative of the European Parliament other than a Member of it, or is there a distinction?

This is an alternative, it is not an additional requirement that a party has a Member in the Dáil or in the European Parliament. What is to prevent the four Fianna Fáil Independents who have shown their muscle from not only declaring themselves to be Fianna Fáil Independents but each declaring himself or herself to be a member of a party and registering it? That surely would entitle them to a Leader's allowance and extra funding under the current regime and under the new proposed regime declared by the Minister for Finance. Is it not the case that an Independent Member in the other House is entitled under this legislation to declare himself or herself to be a party and to become one, given that he or she is not required to have any members of such a party but only to be a Member of the Dáil or a Member of the European Parliament? Does that mean that someone who is a Member of the European Parliament is automatically entitled to a Leader's allowance and the benefits mentioned in terms of services that will be funded? How does this correspond to the Oireachtas? I would like the Minister of State to clarify that.

Instead of having a variety of Independents who are a one-man or one-woman show elected on an individual issue, will they be able to call themselves a political party and, effectively, operate in that fashion with greater funding than they would have otherwise? Are we to expect a plethora of Independents becoming political parties? There seems to be nothing further required other than possibly a constitution, a memorandum of association or other written rules, which are undefined, that have been adopted by the party. Anyone can put together a few written rules. Any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to get into Europe or into the Dáil can straightaway become a political party under this regime.

I understand the point made by Senator Costello. He referred on a number of occasions to the constitutional position regarding the individuality of the two Houses of the Oireachtas. For a party to register, it is required to have a Dáil representative, which gives it an electoral mandate from the public in terms of a general franchise whereas the Seanad has a selective electorate and it is not open to all electors to cast their vote on who is elected to it. That is an important distinction.

Senator Costello may have overlooked that there are other conditions that apply to becoming a political party. It would have to have not fewer than 300 recorded members and at least 50% of the recorded members must be registered on the register. There are other criteria.

This is an alternative.

No, it would have to have 300 recorded members and—

The word "or" is included.

Yes, so it is not an obligation to have 300 recorded members. That clarifies that point. There is an electoral base for people who are elected. If Independents come together to form a party, there is a system of registering parties. It was argued on Second Stage that the system should not be over-restrictive because our democracy needs participation—

In terms of Members.

—and to allow people to engage in the process on a level playing pitch. If that is the principle from which we are coming, we must allow the system to be structured in a way that enables it to operate and does not in any way obstruct it. We cannot argue democratically on the one hand that it should be accessible to people of a particular viewpoint to form their own party and on the other hand put hurdles in their way.

Having a registered party will have more meaning in future because of the proposals in regard to the funding of parties. Under the existing rules there are very few requirements for the establishment of party registration. It is intended to apply more definitive rules. During the debate on an earlier amendment, the Senator referred to the vocational aspect of the Seanad. In this case registration can require that the party has at least one member who at the time application for registration is made is a Member of the Dáil or the European Parliament. The Senator suggested that the Seanad should be included. It has not been included up to now because Members of the Seanad are not directly elected, which might have given it justification. The section is merely introducing these requirements to ensure there are more detailed criteria applying to the registration than has been the case up to now. It is not an issue on which I would go to the wire and I will consider the Senator's point before Report Stage.

I will not dwell too long on the issue because the Minister of State seems to be open to the proposal that, perhaps, Members of the Seanad could be included in this provision. While the administrative panel is not directly elected, they represent political parties across the way, therefore, to that degree, there is political representation in the Seanad. From that point of view it is appropriate that a Member should be included here.

When he was in this House I asked the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, how it is possible to legislate to ensure we do not have acronyms that are used as symbols for some extreme group. Even if the symbols are not exactly the same as those used by these extreme groups, they could very often have a similar one that would indicate it is a representation they have made. I am thinking in terms of the swastika with the red background. It is possible to get another similar design and give the impression that this is an extreme right-wing party. How does one omit that aspect?

It is a matter for the registrar to exercise his discretion. Guidelines are laid down whereby he shall not grant a request for registration in relation to an emblem if it is likely to be confused with an emblem which is already registered or if it is offensive or obscene. Paragraph (c) reads, "is of such a character that its publication would be likely to amount to the commission of an offence..". It is a matter for the judgment of the registrar.

What the Minister of State is quoting relates to a party that might be already registered in this country, that is, another party could not use acronyms or symbols that are similar to that particular party's.

Is the Senator's point that they may be offensive?

Yes, but how is it possible to legislate for something which is similar to something that might be offensive? How does one define offensive or confusing?

One would not agree to register an emblem which might be similar to one which was already registered.

In other words, it is subjective.

Yes, it is common sense.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 12 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 15.

Amendment No. 21 is consequential on amendments Nos. 22 and 23; therefore, amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 25, line 31, to delete "by" and substitute "by – (a)”.

These important amendments seek to delete the ban on prisoners and bankrupts from being Members of Dáil Éireann. While neither prisoners nor bankrupts might be totally desirable or savoury people, nevertheless, the freedom of the electorate to elect who they wish should not be simply reduced by these two categories.

The issue of bankrupts is a throwback to olden times when only the propertied classes were entitled to vote or could afford to be Members of Parliament. A salary was not attached to being a Member of Parliament at the time – that was introduced much later in the last century. Clearly, there was a limitation on the exercise of democracy but nowadays we are intent on extending and expanding democracy as widely as possible. If one happens to be a bankrupt, it simply means one has lost one's money. That is liable to happen to many people. People who currently engage in stocks and shares are likely to be millionaires one day and bankrupts the next.

The fact that one has no money should not be a deterrent to standing for election or voting in an election, though these were obstacles in the past. One had to be a holder of a certain amount of property before one could stand for election. One had to be a person of a certain standing in financial terms before one could be a candidate in an election or exercise one's role in this country. When parliament went back to Westminster in 1801 a lot of money was required; therefore, the whole area of bankruptcy became a major issue. It is time to delete the ban on these people standing for election to Dáil Éireann or, indeed, to Seanad Éireann.

Following a case taken last year by a prisoner, the High Court decided the Government had a case to answer in regard to the ban on prisoners voting. The judgment is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court by the Attorney General. To take the matter at its simplest level, if someone is in custody on remand, whether in a Garda station or in prison, they have not been found guilty of an offence. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason a remand prisoner should not be automatically entitled to vote. There may be a difficulty in providing facilities but that is a logistical problem. It should not be a point of principle or a ban on voting. Why should other prisoners, even those who have been convicted, be forbidden to vote? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is constantly saying the only right currently denied to prisoners is the right to liberty, that while they are confined in prison their time is spent preparing for release, rehabilitation is now the thrust of policy not retribution or punishment and the punishment is the loss of liberty. All other constitutional rights, including citizens' rights and human rights, should be granted. It seems quite logical that prisoners should be given the right to vote.

Rights is one issue but in terms of policy it is equally beneficial. If this provision were put in place candidates would acquaint themselves with the conditions under which prisons operate. They would inquire what regimes are in place, whether there is an education system, training system or rehabilitation system in place and how the system operates. It would happen in the normal way that constituency work happens where the conditions and the experiences of constituents are dealt with.

There is no system for the reintegration of released prisoners into the community. They cannot apply to the local authority for housing until such time as they have been released, nor will the probation service be allowed apply. The local authority tells the probation service not to bother telling a prisoner to apply for accommodation until they are released. On release they often find it very difficult to get accommodation because of the huge waiting list. They should have the opportunity of applying nine or 12 months prior to release when they know their release date. The same thing happens in relation to unemployment and the social services. These services do not kick in while somebody is of no fixed abode.

These are major questions that have to be addressed but the simple point is that now we should delete the two categories of people who cannot stand for election – bankrupts and prisoners.

These amendments seek to delete two of the disqualification criteria in paragraphs (j) and (k) of section 41 of the Electoral Act, 1992. Paragraph (j) provides that a person who is undergoing a sentence or imprisonment for any term exceeding six months shall not be eligible for election to or membership of the Dáil. The effect of the amendment, if accepted, would be to render persons who have been convicted of serious offences, perhaps murder or terrorist related offences, eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann. That is what the Senator suggests.

When a person receives a sentence of imprisonment he or she is deprived of his or her liberty. The person cannot engage in his normal occupation. His or her movements are strictly controlled and normal actions associated with freedom of expression, association and movement are suppressed or curtailed. That is what being in prison means. For example, the number of visits a prisoner may receive is strictly controlled and supervised. The letters he or she may receive or send are limited and censored.

In these circumstances a prisoner serving a sentence which would be longer than a six months would hardly be in a position to discharge his or her duties as a Member of the Dáil if he or she was eligible for membership. It would also be inappropriate to provide in legislation that the important constitutional position of membership of Dáil Éireann should be the one position which a prisoner would be entitled to hold while he was detained. I would have difficulty in accepting this amendment and I ask the Senator to withdraw it.

Paragraph (k) provides that an undischarged bankrupt shall not be eligible for election to or membership of the Dáil. It re-enacts an existing disqualification in relation to a bankrupt that has been a feature of Dáil electoral law since 1923. Disqualification on grounds of bankruptcy appears to be based on the view that a person who has been shown to be unable to conduct his or her own affairs in a satisfactory manner should not be entrusted with the conduct of the affairs of the country.

There is a provision in section 42 (3) of the 1992 Electoral Act for a period of grace of six months for a sitting Member of the Dáil who is adjudicated bankrupt to obtain a certificate of discharge under section 85 (7) of the Bankruptcy Act, 1988 before the disqualification takes effect. If a certificate of discharge is obtained within this six-month period the person does not cease to be a Member of the Dáil.

I am satisfied that the provision of section 41(k) taken in conjunction with section 42(3) strikes the correct balance in relation to the disqualification of bankrupts. I cannot accept the amendment and ask the Senator to withdraw it.

I am disappointed with the Minister on both counts and I am disappointed that Senator Walsh does not support me on the prisoner issue. Most of the founding members of the Fianna Fáil Party were elected to the first Dáil while they were in prison. That can still be done in Westminster elections. Bobby Sands was elected in 1981 to Westminster even though he was serving a life sentence of imprisonment.

Why does the Minister have to say that anybody who was in prison should not be entitled to be a candidate? There are many reasons why people are in prison and to put a blanket ban on all prisoners from standing for election is wrong. Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison on Robben Island. Surely he would have been entitled to a seat in parliament even if he was unable to take it.

There are people in Northern Ireland at the present time who last week were elected to represent Northern Ireland at Westminster. They stated before the election took place that they would not set foot in Westminster and some of them were re-elected who did not set foot in Westminster over the previous five years. It is not an essential requirement for election that one should actually sit in parliament. That is accepted in other jurisdictions. Our neighbouring jurisdiction of Westminster accepts it.

Margaret Thatcher decided to change the rules in Britain after the election of Bobby Sands. I do not see why we should go the same road. An important political statement was made by the election of someone in prison. Why should the Minister put a total ban on it?

The right to stand to represent one's constituency in parliament is a basic democratic right. It should not be taken away lightly and should be dealt with very carefully before it is abolished. The first legislation Nelson Mandela passed when he became President of South Africa was to extend the franchise to all prisoners, not just those with sentences of less than six months. His experience led to that. Most people are in prison because of social circumstances that have brought them into conflict with the law and with State structures. We do not have too many white-collar people in prison, despite the fact that we know that most serious crime, in financial terms, is white-collar crime. The Minister should look at this issue again.

In relation to bankrupts we are dealing with a tribunal at present where it is becoming clear that there was a certain miscarriage of justice in relation to a Member of Parliament since certain financial arrangements were made by the Taoiseach of the day because that person was likely to become a bankrupt. That should never have arisen. There is another Member of Parliament facing the threat of bankruptcy. Why should such a person be faced with expulsion from the Dáil or with being unable to stand for election?

This selective ban on people being entitled to stand for high office is wrong. It would be better if we simply deleted the two categories and let the people decide. The people have made decisions in the past that we might not agree with or that we have found strange, but it is up to them, rather than to us legislators, to decide what category of person can represent them.

Senator Costello has made adequate argument on behalf of prisoners. I would be more emphatic in regard to the discharge of bankruptcy. The 1932 Act was formed in a time when bankruptcy was seen as almost immoral and it seemed a person abused their position and became bankrupt deliberately to evade payment.

Today bankruptcy is seen in a different light as quite a number of people start little businesses, particularly in the high technology area. Such people are at the mercy of the winds of commerce that blow in another country. They may suddenly find themselves bankrupt by virtue of something done by someone else. A person may invest funds in an organisation only to see it collapse. He may as a result find himself unable to meet his repayments and therefore be declared bankrupt, despite having done nothing wrong.

If an individual has deliberately or through mismanagement or ineptitude found himself bankrupt and then stands for election, the public can be trusted to make a decision regarding the individual's ability to represent them. Although the circumstances leading to bankruptcy may be slightly or totally beyond one's control, this Bill proposes to preclude such a person from standing in an election. While the Electoral Act, 1992, allows six months for those who have been elected to discharge their financial burdens and despite the increase in Members' salaries, the law does not meet the needs of such an individual.

Senator Costello referred to a case in the history of Senator Walsh's party and the prospect that another member of the party might find themselves in a similar position. Such a person is not necessarily adequate to serve the needs of a county or constituency. I ask the Minister of State to re-examine that aspect of this legislation.

I thought my silence would have served as a satisfactory response to Senator Costello's argument.

The Senator is standing by his founding fathers.

History supports Senator Costello's amendment. He made a point about Bobby Sands and if I remember correctly a number of hunger strikers were elected in this jurisdiction, which is interesting. Although 20 years have passed, my recollection is that hunger strikers were elected to the Dáil in 1981.

That is correct.

An argument may be made for examining Senator Costello's amendment, but we should also be aware of the opposing argument. It is important that those who are elected are in a position to fulfil their functions and obligations because, if a Member is incarcerated, he cannot carry out his duties.

I have sympathy with the point made by Senator Costello regarding bankruptcy. I have often mentioned the notorious 1980s, but it does not follow that those who cannot manage their personal affairs are unable to look after national affairs. Given what happened the economy in the 1980s, when those who were looking after their own matters were unable to look after national matters, we should think carefully about this in the context of the evolution of our consideration of democracy. Perhaps the Minister of State will assess the merit of such an argument before Report Stage.

The Senator proposes to change the law as it stands in the Electoral Act, 1992, but I do not agree with such great changes. I am conscious of the recent High Court case involving a prisoner who sought the right to vote. I understand the prisoner is appealing the outcome of the case, so the matter will probably come before the Supreme Court. This issue may be looked at in that context, perhaps by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I do not know how much time there is before Report Stage of this Bill, but I am happy to have another look at this matter if there is time.

I am conscious of the historical issue raised by Senator Costello, with which I have personal sympathy. Candidates in the election referred to by Senator Walsh were imprisoned in another jurisdiction. I make no commitment other than to look at this issue before Report Stage.

I thought the Minister of State was moving in my direction until he said he is not making a commitment of any kind. Such a remark makes it difficult to accept the Minister of State's bona fides. I am concerned in case these serious matters will be ignored. We do not need the two bans put forward in this Bill and they can be avoided, which is why I propose their deletion. If the Minister of State does not offer a more substantial commitment to looking at this issue, I will propose putting my amendment to a vote.

I cannot support the amendment today.

Perhaps the Minister of State will elaborate on what he can do, or intends to do.

I said I will look at the proposal on Report Stage having considered it further. If the Government agrees, I will be happy to suggest an amendment on Report Stage.

Senator Costello can re-introduce his amendment on Report Stage.

It depends when Report Stage will be taken.

I think it will be taken next week.

If the Minister of State has to bring an amendment to Government, more than a week will be needed.

I think I will press the amendment.

I sympathise with the point Senator Costello is putting forward.

I want more than sympathy.

There is some empathy too.

That is the same thing.

By putting the amendment to a vote now, the proposal may be killed. It would be sensible to defer the amendment to Report Stage where there will be a more definitive ministerial response. I know the Senator can put the amend ment on Report Stage in any event, but to put it to a vote now would not be the best use of time, particularly considering that the Minister of State has given a commitment to look at it.

I find Senator Walsh's comments difficult to swallow as he has practically said that if something is put to a vote, the Government will take a hard stance and it will be eliminated. That is not how legislation is supposed to be dealt with.

That is not what I said.

A proposal has been made to take something archaic out of legislation and to replace it with something up to date and appropriate to modern times. I am afraid that today will be a repeat of yesterday, when a Minister of State without the right to make decisions was present. If that is the case, there will be an objection to every amendment and legislation will not move forward. Yesterday, a Minister of State was not allowed to make a decision on over 80 amendments and the day was wasted as a result. I would hate if a similar situation prevailed today.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I am advised procedurally that if the question is put, difficulties may be caused for the Minister when he brings forward amendments.

I have indicated some sympathy for the arguments that have been made and the position that has been outlined. If the Senator agrees to withdraw the amendment, the proposal may be facilitated following further consideration. As the Chair has outlined, such a move would also be helpful from a procedural point of view. As Senators are aware, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is indisposed, but I am quite happy to take his place and to listen to Senators. My record shows I am prepared to take suitable action if I agree with arguments that are made. I would not like Senators, having gone to the trouble of studying the Bill, to feel that the amendments they have put down have been totally ignored. I am here to listen and to respond positively if I feel that arguments are better than those considered during the construction of the Bill.

I am indicating as much sympathy as I can for Senator Costello's position. I will be happy to revisit the issue on Report Stage.

In view of the Minister's assurance that he is not simply rubber stamping the legislation and that the absence of the senior Minister does not mean amendments will be rejected – our experience yesterday was very negative in that regard – and given that it might make it difficult for the Minister to come back with suitable amendments, I will not at this point press it. However, I expect to have the opportunity of reintroducing it on Report Stage if that does not happen. I hope this will not be guillotined, that there will be no attempt to railroad it through within a time schedule that does not allow us a chance to come back and address it properly. I accept the Minister's bona fides when he says he will look at it sympathetically.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We are only taking Committee Stage today. On Report Stage Members will have options from re-entering amendments to calling votes etc.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.
Section 15 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 25, before section 16, to insert the following new section:

16.–Section 42 of the Principal Act is hereby amended in subsection (2)–

(a)by the insertion after ‘registrar' of ‘or clerk' and (b) by the insertion in paragraph (b) after ‘the determination of the appeal' of ‘or any further appeal therefrom'.".

This follows on the amendment which deals with the ban on prisoners. If the ban is to remain, and I hope it does not, some technical improvements will be necessary because there is no register in the District Court. In addition, there is a two-tier appeal system from the Circuit Court. These factors should be recognised. In the event that we will be returning to this issue, I do not propose to deal with it in any detail. However, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say.

The proposed amendment is to section 42 of the Electoral Act, 1992. Section 42 indicates the time at which disqualifications referred to in section 41 take effect. In the case of a sitting Member of the Dáil subsection (2) of that section requires the registrar of the court by which a disqualifying prison sentence is imposed or confirmed to notify the Chairman of the Dáil on the expiry of the time allowed for appeal or on the determination of the appeal as may be appropriate.

The first part of the proposed amendment seeks to insert the words "or clerk" after the word "registrar". I am not aware of any deficiency in the present wording and I have not been advised of the need to amend it.

The second part of the amendment proposes that the reference to the determination of the appeal in this section as the final time for notification should include any further appeal therefrom, in effect extending that period. I do not see the need for this amendment and ask the Senator to withdraw it. What we are dealing with here is a case where a Member of the Dáil is found guilty of a serious offence. The offence would have to be of a serious nature as otherwise a prison sentence in excess of six months would not be imposed. In fairness to the individual concerned, who will have been duly elected as a Member of the Oireachtas, a period of grace is being allowed before disqualification takes effect in order to allow an appeal to be lodged and dealt with. It seems only fair to do this before the person's career in public life, and possibly his livelihood, are cut off.

While it is appropriate that he or she should be given every reasonable opportunity to clear him or herself, the interests of the Oireachtas and of his or her constituents must also be taken into account. It is doubtful that these interests could best be served by allowing the matter to drag on indefinitely. Allowing time for subsequent appeals would extend the time greatly, but as this relates to the other issue I have agreed to look at, I will examine the two together.

I accept the Minister's point. However, I reserve the right to reintroduce this, subject to the outcome of the other three amendments which I have proposed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 16 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 26, before section 21, to insert the following new section:

21.–Section 82(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the deletion of ", in the presence of a member of the Garda Síochána'.".

Amendment No. 25 seeks to amend section 82 of the principal Act. It relates specifically to the requirement that a member of the Garda Síochána must be present at voting by a special voter. That requirement should be deleted. In recent years we in this House, including the previous Administration, have initiated a process of reform specifically in relation to the rights of people with special needs, and particularly in relation to the anti-discrimination laws, to ensure that people with special needs are accorded full rights and are not discriminated against. Thinking in this area has changed. That is not to suggest that the thinking behind the original legislation was to discriminate against special voters. I do not see why it is necessary for a member of the Garda Síochána to be present when a special voter turns up at a polling station to cast his or her ballot.

The amendment proposes that a special presiding officer is not accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána when visiting nursing homes, hospitals or similar institutions to enable residents there to vote. There are two main reasons for the presence of a member of the Garda, first, to give security to the special presiding officer who is required to transport the ballot papers, votes and other polling materials and, second, to act as a witness in the case of an allegation being made against the special presiding officer. In order to allay any fears of fraud, the garda also signs the seal on the covering envelope which is given to the returning officer. It is important, in these circumstance, that a garda should be present.

It is important that someone be present. However, I do not see why it should be a member of the Garda Síochána. I appreciate the Minister's point in regard to fraud in particular, security and so on. However, that function could be carried out by another official or another appointed person. The fact that it is a member of the Garda creates a particular atmosphere which is unnecessary, particularly in the case of special voters.

The extension of this vote to special categories is fairly recent, but it has been in operation at a number of elections and referenda. There are about 2,887 special voters on the register of electors, and the Department has received no complaint about the presence of a garda. People are delighted to have the opportunity to vote even if they are in hospital or in a nursing home. In the past, a privilege that is valued by all citizens was denied them because of their sickness. Now they have the opportunity to participate in the democratic system at elections. It is important that we conduct our electoral business in an open, transparent and secure way.

It is also provided that gardaí are present in the vicinity of polling stations. That is traditional. With their powers of arrest they are the best people to have there so that if untoward action occurs they can take the appropriate measures to deal with it. There is an onus on the gardaí to accompany the presiding officer to these institutions. It is something the State owes to some citizens and at last it has been recognised. They now have the opportunity to vote and I would not like to take from that or weaken it in any way. There is full confidence in the present system and not one complaint has been received in the Department regarding the performance of duties in this area.

I agree with the Minister of State that the needs of special voters should be catered for. I do not believe that anybody would disagree with that and it is not the intention of this amendment. The Minister knows that. The presence of gardaí in and around polling stations is essential, especially in view of the relatively new requirements about canvassing outside or near polling stations, posters and so on. Those of us who are involved in political parties and who have stood for election are aware it has been necessary from time to time, especially in recent years, to use the services of gardaí to deal with some activities in and around polling stations. One is grateful for their presence.

However, the Minister of State knows that is not the purpose of the amendment. The amendment has a positive purpose. Will he consider the point that an official other than a garda could accompany the presiding officer to the location dealing with the needs of special voters? This has been a useful debate in terms of addressing this issue.

I strongly agree with Senator O'Meara's views. I am not aware this procedure operates in other jurisdictions where special voters – generally those who, in one form or other, are incapacitated – exercise their right to vote through a postal vote. At present there are 2,887 such voters on the list, which presumably is close to the number of gardaí required on the day. Given the extensions envisaged in the legislation, these numbers would have to increase considerably.

It would be worthwhile to consider how other jurisdictions deal with this. The Bill proposes to extend the ballot to people who will be serving in polling stations. They will be entitled to vote and they will not require a garda to be present. Does this mean different categories of special voters will be treated in different ways?

The woman who won the Supreme Court case on the right to vote in the 1980s was dismayed that there was a garda in her home when she voted. She interpreted it to mean that in some way she could not be trusted to vote in a non-fraudulent manner. I am not sure if the Minister of State has nothing other than anecdotal evidence that people are not satisfied that the presence of a garda is appropriate when they vote. People voting in polling stations do not have a garda looking over their shoulder, yet a garda must be present to examine and monitor the special voter. This is a cause of friction.

Is it necessary to have a garda present? Do other jurisdictions exercise this system? Why have we decided to proceed on this basis? What are the arguments in favour of it? How does the Department justify it?

We are being a little pedantic with the arguments here. All polling stations must have a presiding officer and polling clerk. Gardaí will also be allocated responsibilities by their superintendent for that day. We are dealing here with the enforcement of electoral legislation and it is compatible with the gardaí being involved. It has been accepted that more than one person would be required to attend on the special voter. Given that the protection of the ballot is involved it makes sense that the accompanying person be a garda. Gardaí are available throughout the country and their presence should not be construed as an aspersion on the voter.

I understand that when the vote is cast it is under the protection of the Garda until the count. A similar procedure applies to votes cast at polling stations. The gardaí accompany the ballot papers to the counting centre. This procedure follows these principles and there is no reason it should not continue.

In practical terms there might be one or two gardaí in each constituency over a period of a few days. It does not take long to undertake the task, nor does it take the number of gardaí implied by Senator Costello. Many special voters would be in the same building, such as nursing homes. In the circumstances the garda is the appropriate person to accompany the presiding officer. I would not like to see this unique extension withdrawn but there is a need to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate manner.

This has been a useful discussion and a number of important points have been made. In view of this I will withdraw the amendment but I may introduce a similar one on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 26, before section 21, to insert the following new section:

21.–Part XV (sections 85 and 86) of the Principal Act are repealed."

This relates to polling hours on the islands.

The amendment proposes to repeal special voting arrangements which apply to offshore islands. Electoral law provides that where a local returning officer is of the opinion that because of weather conditions or transport difficulties it would be impracticable to take the poll on the polling day appointed by the Minister, or if the poll was taken on the appointed day it would be impracticable to deliver the ballot boxes to the place for counting of the votes by 9 a.m. on the day after the poll, he or she may arrange instead to take the poll on one of the five days preceding the polling day appointed by the Minister. Where a local returning officer so decides to take the poll on a day other than the appointed day he or she is required to give public notice to the relevant polling district of the day on which it is proposed to take the poll.

While one can understand the argument that modern transport and telecommunications render advance voting unnecessary, I refer the Senator to the experience of the presidential election of 1997 when the count was delayed before the public and the national and international media because a ballot box from my constituency in the Aran Islands was delayed due to fog. Polls can be held at all times of the year. Because of the need for ballot papers to be received before a first count can be commenced I am not in favour of the amendment and I respectfully ask the Senator to withdraw it.

At the time of the 1997 presidential election I was in the polling station in Galway. There were not many there but we were very concerned. There was a very thick fog and the helicopter would not fly. The ballot boxes were ferried by boat. While there is radar on boats it is still difficult to negotiate a small local harbour. It was frustrating having to wait. The Galway returning officer had attempted to bring the voting day on the islands forward to coincide as far as possible with the day voting was taking place in the rest of the country. I have been often involved in island canvassing and it would be more proper and correct if one could be certain that everybody could vote on the same day. However, circumstances can arise despite the availability of helicopters and boats and modern electronic technology for navigation. Everybody gave out about the Galway count on that occasion and it delayed the national count.

As somebody who has received the support of many islanders during my years as a Member of the House, reluctantly I must reject the amendment and leave the matter to the common sense of the returning officer in the future to make whatever decision he or she considers correct. However, I would prefer the elections to take place on the same day everywhere if we could be certain that it would not interfere with the count. It may be possible to address the issue in the context of the introduction of electronic voting.

If the Minister intends to proceed with the proposals for electronic voting, this would be an appropriate amendment because only the backup software would need to be transported. There could be a computer link up and there would not be any problem with it in terms of the Minister's proposals later in the Bill.

Does that mean the Senator is withdrawing the amendment?

That will depend on how the Minister responds to our earlier amendments. We have other concerns about electronic voting and we will elaborate on those when we reach the relevant amendments. However, if the Minister wishes to pursue the matter, there is no reason the vote on the islands cannot be held simultaneously with the vote on the mainland. The problems he articulated need not arise in those circumstances. It is discriminatory that one section of the population votes at one time while another votes at a different time.

I appreciate a postal voting system must be used – there is no way around that. I acknowledge that is essential because post cannot be transmitted directly. Perhaps electronic voting might also solve some of the special voting problems. Where it is logistically possible to deal with a situation now, there is no reason that the voting of people on various offshore islands should not be synchronised with the voting on the mainland.

If the amendment is accepted, there will be no option. One must have an option until one is certain that it is working. In May 2001, returning officers received the following instructions:

It is not intended that the provisions of section 85 of the 1992 Act be used to have advance polling on islands as a matter of course. They should be used only where you are of the opinion that weather or transport difficulties warrant it. If an island has a history of being cut off due to weather conditions, you should have regard this in deciding whether to take the poll in advance on that island.

It is important that the returning officer has the option of making that decision closer to the date. If something happens in the meantime in terms of electronic voting, which overcomes the possibility of delays in making the returns for count purposes, it might be possible to consider removing the option. However, it would be foolish to remove it at this stage in the absence of certainty.

In most circumstances, I would bow to the Minister's great knowledge of the islands. His vote over the years indicates that he knows his way around the three islands with which we are familiar in Galway. However, Senator Costello's point is valid. In terms of technology and a new system of voting, it is possible and simple to construct a system where the votes on the island on a particular day are transmitted to a count over a radio telephone. They can be also confirmed by the returning officer on the island.

It is unusual to ask the officer to count votes, but he or she would not actually be counting. He or she would be only submitting the vote on disc. This can be done over a telephone and a coding system can be used to confirm it is the appropriate vote. The legislation can also include a provision where, if it emerges later that the vote was interfered with, modifications can be made to the result in the electoral area. It should be a simple matter given the technology now available.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 21 agreed to.
SECTION 22.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 27, line 21, after "poll" to insert ", including the address of the polling station".

The amendment would require the address of the polling station to be included on the polling card. It is a small but important matter. In recent years many new people have come to live in my town of Nenagh. There are five or six polling centres in the area, but the addresses are not on the polling cards. It might state a particular boys national school, girls national school or CBS, but I am astonished by the number of queries I receive from people about where exactly the polling station is located. This happens in a small town and one can foresee, particularly in light of the enormous expansion of the city of Dublin into the counties of Wicklow, Meath, Kildare and Louth, that there may be many new estates where people would not know their way around the local community in the context of where a school is located. They may have no reason to know where the school or the polling station is located.

Under the 1992 Act, posters around polling stations are no longer permitted. This means the easy identification of polling stations that existed in the past no longer applies. I am sure the Minister has also heard people say that they always knew where the polling station was located because of the posters around it. That aspect is partly addressed in the Bill and I am glad there is a recognition of the issue. However, it is still the case that some people would not know where polling stations are located. It is not good enough to state St. Mary's national school or St. John's secondary school on the polling card. It is a simple amendment that would require the address of the polling station to be included on the polling card. It is a common sense approach and I hope the Minister will accept it.

This is a sensible amendment. During the recent referenda, there was a new location for a polling station in a secondary school in my area. I knew where it was, but many people might not have known because the Christian Brothers school is located in a couple of places. Since many people might not have known precisely where it was, as much information as possible should have been given. It has been shown that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to exercise their franchise. It should be as consumer friendly as possible in terms of encouraging people to vote. The address of the polling station should be included as part of the information on polling cards.

I am glad Senator Walsh agrees with the amendment. He is an eminently reasonable man and I presume the Minister will listen to him on this point. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that people have as much information as possible. We wish to specify to the Minister something which we consider essential, the address of the polling station. Anything that might be an obstacle to people finding their way to the polling station and that might be the cause of them not casting their vote should be removed. An address will certainly facilitate people in finding the polling station. I would like to see further additional information, including a map showing the polling station location, made available to voters.

There has been a considerable shift in population in recent years. People have been moving from urban to rural areas and from one urban or rural area to another. New communities have been established in places like my own inner-city area. New apartment complexes have been built in the north inner-city and they house people who are new residents and would have no knowledge of the area. It is customary for these apartment buildings to have electronic security and the occupants do not mix very much in their geographical vicinity.

It is therefore very important that they are informed where their polling station is situated. I wonder how many of the thousands of people living in the large residential development around the Financial Services Centre know that their local polling station is in Sheriff Street. They may not know where that is. In the last election, only a very tiny percentage of people from the apartments voted. They did not know where to go and this also happened in other areas of inner-city development. Large numbers of people are new residents in an area and it would be helpful to have an address and a map printed on the polling card. These measures would certainly boost the turn-out at elections.

I agree completely with Senator Costello. On many occasions people have given up in their search for their designated polling station. This is a reasonable proposal. It would be appropriate in large cities to have signposts indicating the location of polling stations, rather like the signs erected by the Automobile Association to guide travellers to conferences and events.

I can give a practical example of the difficulties that were caused in the recent referendum. The polling station in Kilcullen is in St. Brigid's national school. There was a revision of the local authority area boundary before the last local elections with the result that people who had voted all their lives in Kilcullen suddenly found themselves voting in another polling station. Quite a few voters presented themselves in Kilcullen and their polling cards did not make it clear where they should go to vote. Many people would know the national school in Kilcullen, but they would not know that it was called St. Brigid's. People living in Kilcullen all their lives would not necessarily know the name of the school unless they had children attending the school. There needs to be clarity in the directions to voters.

One of the difficulties is that in a lot of the regulatory detail regarding elections, procedures which served us well in the past are no longer appropriate where there has been a large shift in population. Large numbers of new people are coming to live in established communities in the greater Dublin area. Every effort should be made to facilitate and encourage voting. People who present themselves at the wrong polling station are often not inclined to travel on to the correct polling station and the lack of clarity in the polling card information would act as a deterrent. This amendment would be one way to rectify the situation.

We are all aware of difficulties encountered by voters when looking for the correct polling station. I was interested to hear my colleague from Galway, Senator Coogan, say that people complained to him that they could not find the polling station. I presume they were Fine Gael supporters.

In my locality, there had been a polling station at Scoil Íde and on the same road there was Scoil Éanna and Coláiste Enda. On one occasion, Deputy Michael D. Higgins's election agent arrived at 8.30 a.m., half an hour before polling began, and put up his posters everywhere. He stood there for the next two hours wondering why there was nobody else around. He then discovered that the polling station had been moved from Scoil Íde to Scoil Éanna.

The Minister forgot to inform him of his error, I suppose.

I will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 22, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 23.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 27, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following new subsection:

"(2) Section 96(1) of the Principal Act is further amended by the insertion after ‘constituencies' of ‘, and subject to the requirement that the hours of polling shall in every case include the period from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.'.".

This amendment is designed to ensure consistency of polling hours, for example, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at all elections and other polls. Many people last week were unsure of the opening hours of polling stations. It is often publicised in the media but people can still be unsure. There should be a consistent approach to opening hours.

The amendment specifies a time from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. I am not sure that the proposal should necessarily be put into the legislation but consideration should be given to opening polling stations at an earlier hour, at 7 a.m. Many people in cities are working long hours and their only opportunity to vote is before going to work or on their return in the evening. An earlier opening hour will have to be considered because in many households both partners are working full time. There has been a change in social life and the facility to vote should reflect that. I am not suggesting that it be amended accordingly but the amendment could be put on hold and the Department could study the point made by it for future elections.

The amendment seeks to further amend section 96 of the Electoral Act, 1992, to the effect that polling shall include the period 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., that is, 14 hours. The present legal requirement is that polling shall be not less than 12 hours, between 8 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. The proposed official amendment being put forward in section 23 of the Bill will result in providing an option to open the poll at 7 a.m., which leaves the clause of not less than 12 hours unchanged.

Some of our polls are held in the winter and I am not sure if I fully agree with the amendment proposed. However, there has been a change in work patterns. Given that many wives and husbands go to work it is important to make an arrangement that accommodates and facilitates voters to vote. The proposal to open the polls at 7 a.m. in the summer months would be welcomed in many cases. Given that many start work at 8 a.m. they could vote on their way to work.

I would rather not accept the amendment in its present form as I want to leave open the option to the Minister to open the polls earlier than 8 a.m. if that is deemed appropriate at the time. His decision would probably be influenced by whether it was in winter weather or in spring-summer weather. Therefore, I am not disposed to accepting the amendment.

I can understand the Minister's argument. There are arguments on both sides as to whether there should be a fixed time. If it is in winter months there will be a difference. There is an advantage in having a fixed time in that people know it and they know precisely from election to election, whether it is a Dáil election, a local election, a referendum or a presidential election, that the polling station is open for that specific period. That is always a good thing. It facilitates people in getting there if they know precisely the time. From election to election nobody knows whether it starts at 7 a.m., 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. or whether it finishes at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. That is important. The morning time and late evening are probably the two crucial times for voting.

I sympathise with the Minister. I have no problem with the 7 a.m. start because employment practices and, indeed, some school practices have changed and, of course, traffic congestion in a city such as Dublin causes difficulties. At 8 a.m. people are rushing to work. If polling stations opened at 7 a.m. there would be some leeway for people to vote and then go to work. If we do not go along with the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. we should go along with the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. While the winter time is darker and colder, work practices are much the same and the various institutional activities continue much the same in the winter as in the summer.

The Minister should get away from that which is more like an agricultural way of thinking. That is not to say the Minister of State is agricultural but it comes from the time when Ireland was largely an agricultural society rather than an urban society when both the winter time and the summer time were important. It would desirable if the Minister of State was to try to get the maximum number of hours and also a fixed time while taking into consideration the views expressed by Senator Walsh regarding the requirement that those working at the polling station have the necessary breaks.

Senator Costello touched on the issue I was about to raise, that is, that industrial hours remain fixed. It is a truism. During the referendum on the Nice treaty and the constitutional amendments a person stood beside me and asked what time voting ended because they had to collect somebody. We had to refer to the presiding officer and ask what the hours of voting were because we were uncertain. If I am uncertain, the general public would be uncertain. Even though it is not in the amendment, it is a reasonable proposal to construct fixed hours so that people know the exact hours of voting. Given that we are encouraging people to vote and not trying to put barriers in the way of voting, this is an appropriate amendment that would be helpful.

If the amendment were accepted it would be statutory and the Minister would not have the option to open polling stations earlier than 8 a.m. Work patterns are changing. If one wants to get into town from outlying areas—

One must leave before 7 a.m.

If one does not leave before 7 a.m. from where I stay in the Maynooth side one will not be in before 9 a.m.

What about—

That is on the way too. There will be a new rail connection in there soon. We should not deny the Minister the option of opening earlier than 8 a.m. but it is important that in time there would be a fixed known time when the polling stations are open. I agree it is confusing because we have moved from 9 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. to 8 a.m. If 8 a.m. was inserted in the Bill it would be necessary to bring in another Bill if it was considered necessary to change it to 7.30 a.m. It does not have to be 7 a.m. or 7.30 a.m. but the Minister should have that option.

I will try to be helpful to the Minister.

Times are changing.

I do not think anybody would be contemplating a time earlier than 7 a.m. I do not think polling stations in other jurisdictions open earlier than that. We are prepared to alter our amendment to 7 a.m. with a view to getting a fixed time period from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. We have to make a decision. If it is left to the Minister, Ministers could change their minds from election to election depending on the election. That would not assist the position. I am not saying it should be on a pilot basis. The hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. would be a reasonable period and would suit all kinds of occupations in the morning and would facilitate people in the evening. It is difficult to see it going beyond 10 p.m. in any circumstances. We would be willing to change the time from 8 a.m. to 7 a.m. if the Minister was prepared to declare a fixed time.

It might be better to leave it flexible. We have to bear in mind that the period during which presiding officers and polling clerks have to attend would be an issue if polling started at 7 a.m. It would also be necessary to look at health and safety issues and employment legislation and the length of time people can work. I do not know if it impacts on particular positions of such a short duration but it may need to be teased out rather than copperfasten it in legislation.

I have stated my views.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 23 agreed to.
SECTION 24.
Question proposed: "That section 24 stand part of the Bill."

I have a difficulty with this section which I flagged on Second Stage and I thought an amendment would have been tabled. It is changed for the better but it contains a potential flaw. It is changed to the extent that rather than people having to call out their vote, they can take a companion with them. Anecdotal evidence, based on the recent election in Northern Ireland, suggests that what the companion records is validated by the presiding officer. We are talking about people who will not be in a position to validate their vote themselves if they have a companion with them. That is how I read the section, or is it section 26? The two sections were taken together in the explanatory memorandum.

I welcome this provision as it is something I argued for on earlier electoral Bills. There is evidence of substantial illiteracy here. I know it relates to filling in forms, but filling in a ballot paper would be equivalent. I remember arguing here about the need for photographs and party logos on ballot papers and being roundly condemned, not just by the Government side but also by people on the other side, who said this would lead to a beauty contest. Everything must be done to facilitate people who wish to vote and if it helps to have a picture on the ballot paper, then that should be done. In the era of modern communications, nearly everybody is familiar with what most of the candidates look like if not all of them. That would certainly apply to a presidential election and probably European elections as well.

I had the privilege of being one of the people observing the first Palestinian elections. That was a revelation. One very elderly lady came to the polling station I was in with her ten year old grandson. She gave him instructions and he filled in the ballot paper for her. I thought that was great; I did not see anything wrong with that at all. I take Senator Walsh's point that there is a potential for abuse in nearly every electoral process but if the procedures are conducted properly it is correct. It was a matter of humiliation for everybody to have to shout a vote. It was totally wrong that people had to stand before a presiding officer and call out their vote. It should never have been the case. I can understand why it happened, but it has now outlived its usefulness and it should be stopped.

The provision in the section allowing for the companion of somebody who cannot read or write to vote for them is an extension of the present process. However, how do we define it in terms of reading and writing? We have statistics from the OECD showing approximately 800,000 people who are functionally illiterate and innumerate. What constitutes somebody who is unable to read and write?

In an ordinary election it is easy enough to distinguish because we have the names of people, their political parties, their addresses and now we are going to have their photographs and the party emblem. It is clear enough in general or local elections. The wording presented on the ballot papers used in last week's referenda was quite confusing. Anybody who is functionally illiterate would not have been able to understand last week's referendum. They could be functionally illiterate and still understand an ordinary election ballot paper. Where do we draw the line?

If we extend the net to allow a companion to be brought in, we need to decide what protections there will be for a companion. The Minister stated how concerned he was that a special voter would have a garda present and now there will be a companion. To what extent will a companion influence a voting decision? It is a difficult area. I appreciate very much the thinking behind it and I sympathise with it, but the Minister should elaborate on how he will define a voter in this category. How will the companion assist and what monitoring will be carried out during the voting?

I am sure the Minister is very aware of the many abuses that took place in the west of his own constituency where people claimed to be illiterate. The purpose of this was to allow them to shout their vote so that the people who were listening would know the way they voted. Very often this was to verify that they had voted in the appropriate manner having been under some kind of threat. We all want to see this ended.

There will be no problem in a general election where there is a photograph of the candidate and a button to press. Senator Costello mentioned the Nice referendum. If a person was in any way impaired and did not have the right pair of glasses or a magnifying glass, then they would not have known which of the three ballot papers they had. If such a person wanted to vote "Yes" in one and "No" in the other two they had a problem. Can the Minister clarify how it will be operated in these circumstances?

Section 24 amends section 98 of the principal Act to enable a companion of a person who is unable to read or write to accompany the person. The substantive amendment in this regard is contained in section 26. Section 24 is a technical amendment and is consequential on the substantive amendment at section 26.

Any person going into a polling station at the moment can ask the presiding officer to assist them in carrying out voting for them and the presiding officer is obliged to do so. The facility to let a companion to do this is being extended to people who have a difficulty with reading and writing rather than going through a presiding officer, as they would have done in the past. Obviously incapacitated people were able to come in with a companion as well. This is a practice that has been operating successfully for many years. I am not aware that it has been abused. I have heard of some instances where the presiding officer did not carry out his duties properly and allowed a person to come in with more than one companion. I do not see any great difficulty in this. Senator Coogan referred to a practice in our constituency, but I think that is a dying practice now. People like to retain the confidentiality of the ballot as much as possible and carry out their own votes. There were some disputes over that in the past. That may be what brought it to his mind.

Solicitors had to be called.

Former Senator Ó Foighil took it up as an issue at one stage and sent somebody in as a personating agent to object to everybody who tried to shout his vote.

Rightly so as it turned out.

People could demand to vote by agreeing to swear but people were not prepared to go that far.

I am sure the Minister is aware that if they kept their thumb off the Bible it was not really swearing.

That must be a Fine Gael one.

No, it was not.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 25.
Question proposed: "That section 25 stand part of the Bill."

I agree fully with the provision here. However urban and county council elections may occur on the same day. Can that provision be extended to cover them as well so they can also go on the postal list? People from an urban area may be deprived of their vote because they are presiding in a rural area.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.SECTION 26.

Amendment No. 29 is consequential on amendment No. 30 and both may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 28, line 20, to delete "by" and substitute "by – (a)".

This is related to what was discussed earlier. The amendments relate to the requirement in the Bill that the personation agent be present when an incapacitated person marks his or her paper. We seek to delete that because we believe that it is unconstitutional to have a personation agent there when someone is marking a paper. This would be the first time that someone directly and deliberately monitors the marking of a ballot. The Minister stated that the garda is there in a general security capacity, not to preside over the marking of papers. It would be inappropriate for a personation agent to be present. Who does the Minister envisage would be the agent? What instructions will be given? What is the authority? In what circumstances will the monitoring take place? Where will the agent be while the paper is marked?

The two amendments propose that where an elector, who is unable to read or write, does not request that his or her ballot paper be marked by a companion but requests the presiding officer to mark his or her ballot paper, the process is not done in the presence of personating agents. While I accept we should facilitate a person with literacy problems, it would be unfair to the presiding officer not to have a witness in case of allegations that he or she did not vote in accordance with the elector's wishes. The purpose of the personation official is to prevent personation and, in this case, to witness electors' instructions and to ensure these instructions are carried out.

The garda is there for security purposes, would have no role in this and is not generally in the polling station. The garda has the right of access and can be present but, in some cases, as the Senator would know, the garda would cover a series of polling stations at the one time. The garda is not an official working in the polling booth itself.

This is a perfectly reasonable proposition and exists at the moment. Each political party has the right to nominate a personation agent to represent the candidate and the party. They have the right to be there, to observe what is going on, to ensure they are satisfied and that the law, as laid down, is being complied with and that people's rights are vindicated. If somebody has to seek the assistance of the presiding officer, it means he has to move away from the table. If it is a large hall, this could be carried out in a quiet part without having to empty the whole hall. If it is a small station, the room could be emptied.

The personation agents have always been there – that is nothing new. In this case, if the presiding officer had to move to another part of the hall, he would have to leave his table where the ballot papers and the official forms are. The clerk assisting him at the table could not go as a witness. There would have to be a witness. The other authorised persons in the polling booth are the personation agents and it is appropriate that they should observe what they are there do to and to ensure people's instructions are carried out.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 30 not moved.
Section 26 agreed to.
SECTION 27.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 28, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following new subsection:

"(2) Section 111 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection–

‘(5)Regulations pursuant to subsection (2)(b)(ii) shall not be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution has been passed by each such House approving the draft.'.”.

What we are asking here is that the regulations made under this section should not be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution has been passed by each House of the Oireachtas approving the draft. The Minister can require voters to produce identification under section 111 by regulation. However, the regulations should be submitted for approval to the Dáil, otherwise it would seem that access to the franchise could be restricted without any Dáil scrutiny of the matter. It would seem appropriate that should be subjected to the approval of the Dáil rather than simply leave it to the Minister.

This amendment proposes that the regulations specifying the identity documents be approved in draft by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The present regulations were made in 1992 and are subject to the standard provision of annulment if a resolution is passed by either House of the Oireachtas within 21 days on which that House has sat after the regulations are laid before it. No problem, as far as I am aware, has arisen in regard to the regulations. They have been made in the way I have outlined and the House has not availed of the oppportunity to annul or challenge them as it had the right to do within 21 days. It seems pointless to require that we follow the procedure laid down in the amendment that they be approved in draft by both Houses of the Oireachtas when they are made by the Minister. The Houses of the Oireachtas have the right to annul them if they so wish.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 27 agreed to.
SECTION 28.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 28, line 32, to delete "by" and substitute "by – (a) the deletion of subsection (1)(a) and (b) (as substituted by section 79(1)(c) of the Electoral Act, 1997) and the substitution of ‘(a) the counting of the votes shall commence as soon as practicable after the close of poll' and (b)'.”.

The purpose of the amendment is that the counting of votes should commence as soon as practicable after the close of the poll. That is reasonable. If electronic voting is introduced, the normal procedure where the counting of votes is deferred to 9 a.m. would no longer be necessary. This would facilitate the early counting of votes.

The amendment proposes that the counting of votes should commence as soon as practicable after the close of poll. That is very vague. What is as soon as practicable? One could argue that 9 a.m. the following morning was as soon as practicable.

That is a question I ask of every Minister who comes into the House with about 20 provisions stating "as soon as practicable".

Yes, but the Senator wishes to put those words into the statute.

Every Minister has told me that it is as clear as daylight.

In this case, I am asking the Senator what he means in his amendment. Because of the size of many constituencies all the ballot papers do not reach the count centre until near, or after, midnight. At that stage, the returning officer would have been on duty for perhaps 17 or 18 hours and it would not be practical to request him or her then to take charge of the count. Because of the importance of the count, it is necessary for the returning officer to be present. If the count started after the poll closed, it would mean counting through the night. This is not considered practicable, a point with which I think the Senator would agree having been through this process like the rest of us.

Where would it leave one the following day with our system of counting? If one looks at the BBC, one can see the result of the UK general election where it is a straight vote. They can start the count immediately after the close of polling stations. They have one count and they have a result. That is not the way our system works. If one starts the count at 12 a.m. with people who have been working all the previous day, one may still not have a result at 12 o'clock the following night. The count could go on for another day. What the Senator is suggesting is highly impracticable and I could not possibly consider it. I am surprised he even suggested it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 28 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister asked Senator Costello to be clear about what exactly he meant a moment ago. I ask him to be clear about section 28 which states that "the manner in which a ballot box, being a box containing not more than 50 ballot papers, shall be opened shall be such that, although the box is opened in the presence of the agents of the candidates, the preferences on the individual ballot papers cannot be read by those agents or other persons present at the count." How is it intended that they would not be seen? What is the manner in which the boxes will be opened to ensure that neither the agents nor the counters would know what way the votes were distributed?

There is a dilemma here because some polling stations in rural areas and on islands are small with a small numbers of votes. Once a tally is done on them and if they all vote in the same way, everybody will know that people on that island voted for X.

I am aware of that.

The secrecy of the ballot does not exist in that case. This arises when one has small boxes. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that an agent or other person present at a count cannot identify the preference of voters whose ballot papers are in a ballot box containing a small number of ballot papers. This is a serious problem for residents on a number of our islands and other places where there are small numbers of ballots in the box. It often happens because of a low turnout. It is proposed that a ballot box with 50 or less ballot papers be opened in the view of agents, but at a distance. At a distance means that one cannot identify the preferences. Postal votes are not identified.

It is a practical question in regard to the—

It would only have a minor effect on the tally. In fairness to those communities, they should not be treated in that way. Everybody else can exercise their franchise in the safe knowledge that it is a secret ballot.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister but what is the manner in which the boxes will be opened to ensure privacy?

One will know how many ballot papers are in the box from the document on the outside of it. If the number is one fewer than 50, we suggest that it should be opened but that the papers should not be unfolded to enable a tally to take place.

That is nearly impossible. It would be possible to measure the number of them when opening them if one turned them face down.

It would be done a distance away from the tally men. We agree that secrecy should be preserved as far as possible. I respect the right to secrecy.

That is the practical application of the matter.

It has been abused. I know of one island on which there were four residents. I could tell the Senator how those four residents voted for ten elections and finally I got the four of them to vote for them.

That was even before they voted.

That is not fair.

Mr. Costello: It is a subjective matter.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 29.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 28, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following new paragraphs:

"(a) in subsection (3), the deletion of ‘the papers contained in the sub-parcel last received' and the substitution therefor of ‘all of the papers received'.

(b) the deletion of subsection (7),”.

This amendment proposes to extend the PR system to that extra degree that it operates in the Seanad to the pure PR in the manner in which sub-parcels of votes are divided up. It is appropriate that we have a similar system in both Houses.

Paragraph (a) of this amendment refers to a transfer of a surplus where the candidate was deemed to be elected and has votes consisting of original votes and transferred votes. The amendment proposes that we move from the current position where only the votes in the last parcel of votes received are examined to a position where all the votes of the elected candidate are examined. This is not practicable at present due to the manual counting procedures and the length of counts.

I do not want a situation to arise where votes counted electronically in pilot projects are subject to different rules from those counted manually in the rest of the country. That would arise in the case of a pilot exercise on electronic voting. When electronic voting, to which the Labour Party is opposed, is used countrywide the subject matter of the amendment can be considered.

Paragraph (b) of the amendment proposes to delete the existing rule of determining which ballot papers from the sub-parcel of the available preference for a candidate are transferred to that candidate. It does not propose to substitute any other rule. This is nonsensical. There must be a common rule for deciding which ballot paper should transfer in a surplus distribution, otherwise each returning officer would have to apply his or her rules which would mean a complete lack of consistency countrywide in a significant part of the count process. We should not proceed with this amendment at this stage. This situation can be considered if we opt for electronic counting.

I will withdraw my amendment.

If the count is done electronically, it will be done in the purest form.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 29 agreed to.
Sections 30 and 31 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 30, before section 32, to insert the following new section:

32.–Section 125(3) of the Principal Act is amended by the deletion of paragraphs (c) and (d).”.

This amendment relates to the existing provision on counts and recounts. There is some confusion as to when a recount can be granted and on the entitlement to have one. The position is also somewhat contradictory. I am trying to clarify the position by ensuring that an entitlement to a recount should exist in all reasonable circumstances and to eliminate the ifs, buts and maybes in relation to a recount.

The amendment seeks to delete two matters which could arise in a recount. The first refers to the provision that the returning officer shall not be obliged to recount the same parcel of papers more than once unless errors are found in the first recount. The second refers to the discretion of a returning officer not to comply with a request by a candidate or his or her election agent for a recount which in the opinion of the returning officer is frivolous or vexatious.

The returning officer must be able to proceed after one count of a parcel of papers where no errors are found, otherwise the count could go on forever. The returning officer must have discretion not to comply with frivolous or vexatious demands. These would not arise very frequently but the power to refuse to comply with a wasteful recount request must be retained to ensure the count can be completed in a reasonable time. When electronic counting is introduced there will be no need for a recount. Senator Coogan knows of an occasion when I was refused my request for a recount.

How many recounts was that?

A further recount.

How many altogether?

The Senator got elected and beat my man by one vote.

God is on the side of the righteous.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 32 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 30, before section 33, to insert the following new section:

33.–Section 147(2)(c) of the Principal Act is repealed.”.

This amendment proposes to revert to the situation that existed previously by seeking to remove the ban on putting up posters in the vicinity of polling stations. I understand the reason the ban was introduced in the first place. It was due to concern about the inordinate degree of activity in the so-called curtilage of the polling station, but that related to the number of people who flooded the area and sought to persuade ordinary voters to vote for their candidates. Voters sometimes had to run a gauntlet of people trying to shake their hands or shouting at them to support their candidates. That was wrong and it is proper that can no longer happen.

Having regard to an earlier discussion, all efforts should be made to direct people to their polling stations, particularly in light of changes having occurred and people being unfamiliar with their location. It can be confusing when polling stations have similar names and such confusion was outlined in considerable detail and anecdotally this morning. There is nothing wrong with an area being festooned with posters as long as they are in line with reasonable dimensions as suggested in the next amendment tabled by Senator Coogan. The more posters there are the less individuality there will be. They will act as a signpost to the polling station. Nobody will be shouting at voters to vote for their candidates and nobody will pay too much attention to whose posters are up around the polling station. This display of such posters will not cause any interference but it will clearly indicate the location of the polling station. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider this matter.

The proposal in the Bill is not very helpful. It provides that each party or Independent candidate can display one poster. Some parties have more candidates than others, but each party can put up only one poster. In most elections four or five parties will have candidates and there would be 14 or 15 candidates. Each party can display one poster and nine or ten Independents can each display a poster. The number of posters of the Independents will outnumber all those of the major parties. That is hardly a fair system. This proposal would give equal status to each party – Fianna Fáil would be given the same status as would Labour, Fine Gael and any Independent or other candidate who throws his or her hat in the race. Rather than highlight the candidates, the purpose of this proposal is to allow more posters to be displayed which will take away from the individuality of the candidates. This amendment seeks to improve the position, to turn postering into ordinary signage to the polling station. That can be done better by our proposal than by the Minister of State's.

There is merit in what Senator Costello said. I recall that the Minister acknowledged this aspect on Second Stage. Senator Coogan made the point that if one can just put up one poster at a polling station, it may be on one street, while people are coming from different directions. This curtailment was too severe. The point made by Senator Costello is pertinent in that many posters tend to create an atmosphere surrounding elections, all of which is conducive to people exercising their franchise and voting, which we are anxious to encourage. Perhaps the Minister of State would consider ameliorating the effects of the one poster restriction.

Everyone agrees that the razzmatazz and schemozzle which went on outside polling stations was unseemly and should be banned and that it was correct to keep supporters back a certain distance to allow voters free access without being harassed from all sides on their way into polling stations. We want to encourage people to go to polling stations but some people were feeling intimidated and threatened by the activities outside these polling stations. They have come to a halt. Members of all parties have expressed appreciation that this activity no longer exists.

The result is very little action outside polling stations, there is no real election atmosphere and people feel elections are a dead event. It is difficult to find polling stations because they are not adequately signposted. Small posters put up outside the door by presiding officers are totally inadequate. The earlier debate indicated there have been a lot of complaints about the difficulty in identifying where exactly polling stations are located.

There is a proposal that each party, regardless of the number of candidates, should be allowed to put up just one poster. I take the Senator's point that if a party has three candidates it is only allowed one poster, whereas three Independent candidates could have three separate posters. This would not reflect the support or number of candidates being offered by different parties, which is not satisfactory. I will be happy to look again at this aspect and discuss with the Minister the size of the poster, whether there should be posters and, if so, to ensure a system which is fair to all parties large and small. Perhaps it would be a good idea to advertise more prominently at polling stations and keep the posters at the same distance they are at the moment. This might be the correct thing to do.

Perhaps the amendment could be postponed until Report Stage, even though we are anxious to have the Bill passed. I would like to discuss the issue further because I am sure other views will be expressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
SECTION 33.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 31, line 10, after "authenticated" to insert "such a poster shall not be a larger dimension than 3 metres by 2 metres".

I must modify slightly my views in this regard because of the points raised on the previous amendments. There is a relationship between the size of postering and the amount of money being expended by parties. It would be possible for a party with a large income, for example, to take the full side of a house if the Government amendment is accepted. One could have a 25 ft. or 40 ft. poster as against an individual, who has every right to publicise himself or herself, with one small poster. That individual's poster would be completely swamped by the bigger poster.

The spirit of the amendment seeks a different size of poster for each candidate, for example, each candidate could have a poster of three metres by two metres or two metres by one metre. However, I am not hung up on the size issue as long as there is a limit on the size of posters. There should be a level playing pitch and everyone should be treated equally if the Government proposal is accepted.

Will the Senator agree to withdraw his amendment and I will consider it for Report Stage?

What is the Minister of State's view on the proposal? The amendment is not exactly the same as Senator Costello's amendment. Does he feel the same in regard to my amendment?

In regard to posters outside polling stations, it is the same issue.

Will the Minister of State review the position in regard to proportionate postering for the number of candidates, that is, one candidate should have a certain sized poster and this should be multiplied by three for three candidates, which would allow for the level playing field for which I asked?

The proposal needs to be more specific if there are to be posters outside polling stations.

I will table an amendment on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 33 agreed to.
SECTION 34.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 31, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"(c) the insertion in Rule 5 of the following:

‘(7)A registration authority shall not prepare a draft register or a register from which the name of a person contained on the previous register has been omitted without giving notice to that person unless either the name of the person is omitted on the application of that person or by reason of the death of that person.'.".

This is an important amendment in that the name of a person contained on the previous register cannot be withdrawn unless the person is notified. Notice must be given that the name is to be removed. Many people find themselves removed from the register from election to election for no apparent reason. This seems to be the fault of the authority in not contacting the person rather than for a particular reason. If someone is not informed that their name has been removed from the register he or she has no way of knowing this is the case unless he or she is a very assiduous citizen who checks the register. The presumption is that if one is on the register for one election, one is on it for the following election.

At every election that takes place names seem to be removed from the register. It is very difficult to get an explanation for this. It is always too late when the matter is determined because the ballot papers and voting cards have gone out, the election is taking place and people find they have been disenfranchised. There must be some mechanism to let people know their names have been removed from the register of electors. If this is not done the situation will continue. This means the system could be open to abuse because there could be levels of personation. A person may not be aware their name is not on the register if it was on it previously and the danger is that some level of fraud could be committed in that respect.

We need to tighten up the system. The best way to do this is for the local authority to inform those people whose names are being removed from the register for whatever reason that this is happening. It is another matter if they fail to make contact but every effort should be made to inform people their names are being removed from the register.

I have come across instances where people were inadvertently taken off the register, which caused a lot of aggravation. Generally this was only discovered on the day of the election when these people went to cast their vote. Perhaps when the draft register is being prepared everyone who was on the previous register could be included but the names of the people whom it is intended to omit could be put in italics or brackets. If one is checking the register one will tend not to remember the names that are to be omitted, whereas if it is indicated that the names are to be omitted, people who check the register will be able to bring to bring to the attention of the registration authorities that it would be a mistake to do so.

The amendment seeks to make a statutory provision for notifying a person on the register when it is proposed to delete that person's name from the new register unless the person requests the registration authority to omit their name or the person has died. There is an existing provision in relation to this matter. The Minister has power under section 28 of the Electoral Act, 1992 to issue instructions to registration authorities in regard to the arrangements for the registration of electors to ensure uniformity and efficiency in the procedures to be followed by the various registration authorities.

In September 1997 the Minister issued an instruction to all registration authorities requiring that, where it is proposed not to include on the next year's draft register a person's name which is on the existing register, a notice should issue to the person concerned informing him or her that as the registration authorities normal inquiries failed to establish that he or she is still resident at the address he or she is currently registered at, it is proposed to omit his or her name from the next year's draft register unless he or she notifies the registration authority within ten days that he or she is still residing at the address.

The effect of the amendment proposed here would be to have a conflict between the requirement of section 13 of the Electoral Act, 1992, whereby a registration authority must register all persons who are entitled to be included in the register and a scenario where an otherwise eligible person could request not to be included in the register, with all the attendant consequences for voting and jury lists etc. There is a requirement that the authority must seek to register everybody who is entitled to a vote and this amendment would lead us in the opposite direction. The existing arrangement is satisfactory as long as people are notified. As I mentioned, the instruction issued by the Minister in that regard covers the situation adequately.

The existing arrangement is not working satisfactorily and at each election there are considerable numbers of people who are disenfranchised. If the 1992 Bill has similar powers which the Minister has sought to exercise, is there any problem in introducing powers in the Electoral Bill, 2000? I do not see the conflict.

What we seek here is that the name of a person contained on the previous register should not be omitted without giving notice to that person unless either the name of the person is omitted on the application of that person or by reason of the death of that person. The registration authority should not prepare a draft register and omit the name of a person without giving notice. I do not see the conflict with what is in the 1992 Act. If there is no conflict, is there a problem with introducing and updating it for this Act? It would bring home to the Minister the problems being experienced in every constituency in ensuring that people are on each consecutive register and that they are not dropped from it from time to time.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.

Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.

Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Coogan and Costello; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 32, to delete lines 32 and 33.

The purpose of this amendment is to retain the current system. It is more favourable than the one the Minister is proposing in that it would allow an extra day to apply for inclusion in the supplements of registers. The more we extend the rights of the electorate, the more we contribute to democracy. I see no good reason to reduce the amount of time allowed to apply for inclusion in the supplement.

The amendment seeks to delete a technical amendment to Part 1A, section 34 of the Bill concerning the receipt of applications for entry in the supplement to the register of electors. The proposed amendment to section 34 is to ensure consistency between the wording of section 15 and Rule 18 which are directly linked. Section 15 states that an application received on or after the 14th day, excluding Sundays and public holidays, before polling day is not eligible for inclusion the supplement, while the wording in Rule 18 provides that an application received on or before the 14th day, excluding Sundays and public holidays, before the polling day is eligible for inclusion in the supplement. The official amendment will remove the uncertainty as to the latest date for receipt of applications by registration authorities for inclusion in the supplement by making the wording of Rule 18 consistent with the wording in section 15.

The effect of the official amendment is that an application must be received not later than the 15th day, excluding Sundays and public holidays, before polling day in order to be eligible for inclusion in the supplement to be published for a particular poll. It does not effectively change the current position.

It changes it to the extent that it reduces the period of time. That is a small reduction. However, I still do not see why the Minister sees fit to reduce the length of time allowed to seek inclusion on the supplement of a register. While the Minister feels it is a technicality, nevertheless it is a technicality that works against the elector rather than against the system.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 34 agreed to.
SECTION 35.

We now come to Government amendment No. 39. Amendments Nos. 40 to 42, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 39 to 42, inclusive, will be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 39:
In page 32, lines 42 and 43, to delete "ballots" and substitute "votes".

This amendment replaces the word "ballots" with the word "votes" which is considered more correct.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 40:
In page 33, line 1, to delete "for the candidates" and substitute "on the machine at a poll at the election".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 41:
In page 33, line 3, to delete "processing" and substitute "counting".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 42:
In page 33, line 6, to delete "processing" and substitute "counting".
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 35, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

We oppose electronic voting on the grounds that Ireland is too small and that the system would be insecure because there would be no manual backup. We all saw what happened in the United States presidential election where the system was extremely flawed and it was impossible to determine who should be elected. There are large numbers of people there now who believe the wrong choice was made in light of the number of votes cast and in terms of the outcome of the election in Florida.

The question of how to address a failure in an electronic voting system, whether a power failure or a systems failure, has not been addressed. Ours is a small country with a well-defined and eminently workable system which is highly unlikely to be subject to operational flaws, whereas an electronic system is vulnerable to such flaws. In the largest democracy in the world, those flaws were many and the electronic voting system did not operate effectively. We are not talking about anecdotal information or about a small failure of the system. We are talking about a large-scale systems failure in relation to electronic voting. The Minister should think again before introducing it here because such a system is not suited to this country.

Perhaps the Minister would consider revisiting the question of electronic voting systems on Report Stage. The great benefit to elected representatives in our democratic system is that it is possible to trace the votes that were cast, parish by parish and box by box, and to determine in what order they were cast. In electronic voting all the discs or cartridges from, say, Castlepollard polling station, would be sent to Mullingar and fed into one "mother" machine and from then on nobody knows where the votes have been cast. This would be a great loss to the system. All political parties are very concerned about this and would like confirmation on Report Stage that duplicate cartridges or discs will be held in the areas where votes are cast and that they will be open to scrutiny for a year and a day as provided for in the Constitution.

As a person who has a keen interest in modern technology, I would like to see such a system in operation before making any judgment on it. I have spoken to the Minister a number of times about the security and other aspects of electronic voting, and have tabled amendments. I would like to know what happens if, for example, there is a power surge or a power cut. We cannot expect very polling station to have an alternative form of power. Even if they had, it probably would not be compatible with the computer technology.

The question must be asked whether it is necessary to introduce electronic voting at this stage, and whether such systems are proven, given the history of events in the United States, a country well advanced in technology, where it was found to have failed. I am reluctant to agree to this section on the basis that it has not been proven to my satisfaction that the system proposed is secure and appropriate for this country.

Some of the interesting comments on this appear to be contradictory. On the one hand there is concern about the secrecy of the ballot, while on the other hand there is concern about securing data. While that does not impinge on the secrecy of the ballot, it is useful to the political parties and to others participating in the democratic process. Perhaps this aspect should be looked at.

As one of the leading information technology countries – Ireland is the largest exporter of computer software in the world – it behoves us to get our democratic system in line with modern technology. Therefore, I welcome the thrust of this section but it is important that its provisions be further considered to ensure that the benefits of the old system are not lost. The capacity of the new system to give earlier results is commensurate with our modern democracy.

I agree with Senator Walsh that a country trying to establish its high reputation for e-commerce and electronic business should be anxious to embrace the electronic era in the holding of elections. This section merely lays down the statutory provision to enable this to happen. The Government's proposals, announced by the Minister, are to decide on whether there should be a pilot run on the system envisaged and the form and extent of it. This would allow familiarity with the system over a period of time which would allow full confidence in its use.

I understand that in opposing the section the Labour Party is opposed to the introduction of vote recording and electronic vote counting. I am unsure why the party has expressed this view now by way of this amendment. I understand that on Second Stage, Senator O'Meara described the proposal as excellent while Senator Costello said there were merits and demerits with electronic voting, although he expressed himself to be unsure how it would work with our PR system. We will never find out if we delete this section.

The overall aim of the project is to provide an electronic solution which will replace the existing system of manual voting and vote counting. It will achieve the following objectives at an acceptable cost: it will be simple for the public to use; it will be easy for the electoral staff to use, including the ballot paper set-up; the maintenance of integrity in the electoral process for the electorate and the candidates would be sustained; the count software, which applies PR-STV count rules correctly, will improve the efficiency of electoral administration and achieve a reliable and robust technology suitable for Irish electoral conditions; there will be a minimum maintenance requirement pre-election, during the election and post-election; there will be earlier results after polling has concluded; and it supports a positive image of the country in the use of information technology.

Following extensive research by the Department into available technologies and an international tender competition, a Dutch-UK company, Nedap-Powervote, was chosen in December 2000 to deliver an electronic system, subject to successful testing and satisfactory contractual arrangements. The Nedap-Powervote solution will provide a full-face large screen machine which is successfully used in the Netherlands and in Cologne and Düsseldorf in Germany. Election preparation would be run on an industry standard PC system and the completion of the count would also be carried out on a standard PC and programming unit. The estimated cost is approximately £25 million.

Project implementation would be phased, beginning with extensive testing of voting machines, election management software and PR-STV count software. When testing establishes that the system operates satisfactorily the Government will consider the use of the equipment at an election or referendum. Does Senator Costello accept that if we were to agree to the amendment it would call a halt to all of this? Is that the intention of the Labour Party?

I do not think the Senator is right about the situation in the US.

It is a different system from the one proposed by the Minister of State, but that does not mean it is not an electronic as distinct from a manual system. How will the system operate? There will be an electronic screen in the polling booth which will invite the voter to press various buttons and select candidates in a given order. By contrast, the manual system will contain the emblems and photographs of candidates on the ballot paper from which the voter selects his preferences. It is a simple, straightforward procedure. Electronic voting will only confuse matters for many people.

I do not see the validity or value in proceeding with electronic voting. It will not save time but if it does there will not be a manual back-up. Electronic systems can fail. By contrast, the manual system can only break down if there is a failure in the security system and even with this aspect there are strong physical measures in place to prevent breakdown, involving the Garda Síochána, personation agents and the security of the ballot boxes. It only takes a power failure in electronic voting to cause a breakdown. Where is the back-up when that happens?

It will be necessary for electronic voting machines to be in placed in thousands of polling stations throughout the country. The system will have to be perfect to avoid a breakdown. This week a fire in a school in Dublin prevented the leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations from being held there. It almost caused a national crisis. I ask the Minister of State to consider what will happen when all elections must take place at the same time and a systems failure occurs.

Every Internet café in the country comes across systems failures, whether it be through the absence of the server, the closure of the line to the Internet, overload, power failure and so on. It is proposed to introduce something similar here without any back-up. That is irresponsible.

We have no evidence of the value of the proposed system. The somewhat comparable system in the US is seriously flawed. It resulted in the most confused of all elections in the so-called foremost democracy in the world. There is no need for such a system in this small country. It contains too many insecurities and the Minister of State should drop the idea.

I understood each party had been invited to a demonstration of how the electronic voting system operated. Did the Senator not avail of that offer? Is it the case that he has not seen the system in operation?

A large number of his colleagues in the House availed of the invitation to look at the system in operation.

Senators have not been informed of any invitation.

Some were informed.

We are extending an invitation now.

It is a belated invitation given that we are dealing with the legislation in the House. I was not invited to inspect any electronic system.

The invitation went to the parties. The Senator asked how the system will operate. It will be easier to use than bank ATMs with which many people are familiar. The ballot paper that will appear on an enlarged screen will be exactly the same as the paper to which people are used, except that it will also include party emblems and candidates' photographs. The ballot paper layout will be identical to the one with which people are familiar. The machine asks the elector to indicate one's first choice and one places one's finger on the spot where the number is placed. This indicates one's first preference. One continues through the paper, indicating preferences until it is decided to stop. One touches the space beside a candidate's name to indicate a preference choice.

The machine will be able to facilitate a person who makes a mistake and wants to change his or her vote. It will eliminate spoiled votes and the final act will be to press a vote button. This will be the same as putting a ballot paper into a ballot box. If one walks away without pressing the vote button, the presiding officer will deactivate the machine and reactivate it for the next voter. There will be no recounts unless ordered by the court.

The Senator referred to the election in Florida and suggested that the experience there should turn everybody against the introduction of electronic voting in Ireland. However, the punch card system used in the controversial counties in Florida is old technology. The system that will be tested in Ireland is not comparable. There will be no chads or poorly designed ballot papers. The ballot paper design is the same as used at present, except that it will include the candidates' photographs and political party emblems or logos.

Each machine operates separately so that if one breaks down, the whole country is not affected. The voting machine will not produce a paper receipt or a copy of a ballot paper for the voter. The voter will see display messages on the voting machine that his or her vote has been recorded. The operator of the control unit of the voting machine will see that the number of votes has increased by one when the machine is activated for the next person.

The count software will have an audit trail of all votes cast. It will produce a list with a line for each vote, showing the preferences. None of the votes will be traceable to a voter as the list will be produced after the votes are mixed by the system for the whole constituency.

If the High Court, during a petition hearing, orders a recount of votes, the system will print a ballot paper for each vote cast. This will have two numbers on it, the computer number for original count, which is allocated after the votes for the whole constituency are mixed, and a number of the count at which a vote transferred, if applicable. Consequently, it will be possible to count the votes manually. However, I stress that, like the current position, the order of the votes after they have been mixed before the first count will not be distributed. It will be possible to trace the movement of votes after they have been mixed. This will ensure that no vote can be traced back to a voter.

The amendment proposes that in the event of a failure of the electronic voting system, the presiding officer will issue paper ballots. This is not practicable. If a voting machine breaks down, the procedure will be to replace it from a stock of spare machines strategically located throughout the constituency. Where there are two or more machines in a polling station, there will be no problem waiting for a replacement. If there is only one machine in a polling station, there could be an interval of 15 or 20 minutes while the new machine is delivered.

The real life experience of the voting machine breaking down is extremely rare. The location of the spare machine will have to be considered by the returning officer. The votes on a voting machine which breaks down are safe and cannot be deleted from the cartridge in the machine.

We are not reinventing the wheel in this area. Most people are familiar with computers now in their business and private lives. The introduction of electronic voting is a forward thinking move and it is being done in a thorough and cautious manner. There will be full testing and an invitation will be given to the Members of the House to view the operation of the system when it is ready. The Government will decide when it will proceed and if there will be a pilot project in one or two constituencies. A decision on that has not yet been made and we are not rushing into it. However, it is the way forward.

Tallying was never provided for in statute. It occurs at counts in an unofficial way, but there will be no need for tallies with electronic voting. When the disks are all put into the machine, the result will be available within a short time. There is a facility for getting a print-out of the votes cast in each polling station. The machine would be capable of providing that, but that matter has yet to be decided.

When local authority councillors were asked to make a decision for or against incineration, most of them were invited to see a facility in action. However, as I told the Minister previously, I did not know there was any facility for Members of the House to see how this system would work. I asked the Minister about it at the time and he said he would make some arrangements. Unfortunately, that did not occur. I do not blame the Minister or anybody else for it. Perhaps the invitation went to individual parties and it did not filter down.

It went to the parties.

I am not blaming anybody. However, I did not see it working and I would like an opportunity to see it.

The Minister mentioned a machine breaking down, but our query relates to the entire system breaking down. There are shortages of electricity at times and the supply is limited. It is possible that an area or section of a building could close down at a particular time and would not be up and running again for hours. What will happen in such cases?

I have tabled an amendment that would ensure that no ballot papers would be issued if a machine or the total system broke down. In such an event, the presiding officer would call a halt for the day. If a backup system is in place, there would be no point having the first system. It would cost £25 million and, ultimately, the other system would be in place throughout. From that perspective, the Minister has not responded to the question of what would happen if there was a total closure in one section as distinct from one machine breaking down.

The machinery will be plugged into the local electricity system. However, if a machine breaks down because of a cut in the electricity supply, a battery with a 12 hour life will sustain the operation of the machine.

If I had been given that information prior to the debate, it would not have been necessary to raise the point.

The Senator should have accepted the invitation extended through his party. I understand the spokespersons on the environment for the Senator's party in the other House attended.

I am a member of that committee and I was not invited. I became a member approximately a year ago so it must have been before then.

The Minister answered the question of what will happen if there is a power breakdown. As part of the process of trying it out, it may be necessary to have a manual backup system in the event of a programme failure or malfunction. However, this is the right direction to take. As the Minister explained, the system must be simple to operate because not everybody is familiar with computer technology. As he outlined, it appears to be a relatively simple procedure to follow, but I wish to make a strong case for counting to be done on a box by box basis. The secrecy of the individual ballot is paramount and must be preserved. However, the current tallying system gives data and backup information to political parties.

Politicians need to become more professional in their approach. The competition that exists between parties and individuals is healthy for democracy and should be encouraged and facilitated. There should be as much break-down of available data as possible. We should not change to a system which will produce less information.

The information provided by the tally is valuable to the participating individuals and parties. It can identify where weaknesses exist and where more attention is required to issues which are identified as being of importance to voters in specific areas. I urge that the tally should be part and parcel of any new system.

Acting Chairman

I am anxious to put the question.

I am sure that you are, but this is an important matter and it is a major part of this Bill. We discussed electronic voting in relation to the other House. Officials from the Office of Public Works explained how it would work in the other House but the Seanad was not mentioned. The Minister is presenting us with a pig in a poke. None of us is against technology but there is no sense in introducing a system which may well be the latest in modern technology but which is cumbersome. We have a very straightforward system to do the job – the ballot paper.

The Minister has failed to show the advantages of his new system costing £25 million. Back-up machines and batteries will be required in every little polling station. The Minister has admitted that there may well be delays, that there could be systems failure and he has not given any indication of how that could be avoided.

I do not know how we landed a man on the moon.

We did not do that.

There have probably been some of our people on the moon the whole time.

We should stay in bed all day.

One does not need a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Larger countries such as Russia and the United States use these systems but we are dealing with a very small electorate. The cumbersome nature of what is being proposed, the amount of technological back-up required and the absence of a manual system to validate the new system should be considered by the Minister. We are not certain what the benefits of this system will be and how it will improve on the current system. It will create endless confusion and insecurity.

I am a believer in the ability of technology to cope with what is required. I generally support the Minister's proposal on electronic voting. Because of what happened in Florida recently, there is a huge lack of confidence in unfamiliar technology. The system used in the Florida election was about 30 or 40 years old.

The Government did a very poor job with the Nice referendum. The Minister is now assuring us that both Houses have been informed on how the system will operate. I certainly did not hear about it and I believe others in this House were also unaware. I am not sure about the other House. I do not wish to vote against the proposal but I emphasise that it is very important that the idea is explained and sold to the public much better than was the case with the Nice treaty, and better than it has been sold to the two Houses so far. One little flaw could damage the confidence and trust which people have in our electoral system.

I urge the Minister to think seriously about the need to sell this proposal and to create confidence and trust in the new system. That job has not even been started in this House.

It is important to emphasise that this is just a start. We are providing the enabling legislation. We are not proposing here that the system will be in use at the next general election. Tests will have to be carried out before any decision is made by the Government on its use in a future election. There will be a nine-month testing period and that will allow plenty of opportunities for Members – there might even be a change of Government in that period. All interested political parties will have a full opportunity to be briefed and to use the system. This Government will not proceed without unanimity and general agreement among the Members here.

There will be thorough testing and it will not be a punching system like that used in Florida. I have inspected two machines brought to the Department by different companies. The voting procedures are straightforward. I would draw an analogy with the learner driver theory test which we launched last week. The theory test is composed of about 750 questions. Applicants must earn a certificate by answering 40 questions before they can apply for a provisional licence. It is running very smoothly. Forty minutes is the time allowed to complete the test – some are finishing within ten and fifteen minutes. The pass rate is very high.

There is no examination involved in the voting system, it is just a matter of indicating preference. Candidates are chosen with the push of a button and that is all that is required of the voter. The package includes a range of back-up systems in case of break-down. The machines operate individually and the batteries are built into the machine so spare batteries are not required. In case of total machine break-down, spare machines will be available within 30 minutes. The returning officer will be issued with guidelines. These machines are very reliable.

I do not think anyone is very proud of the system we use for counting votes at present. Some politicians may enjoy being stuck in a count centre for up to three days as happened in Ballsbridge in the last general election. There was a long count in Longford in 1965, when I first entered the Dáil, and Paddy Lenihan took six days to be elected. Our system does not lend itself to the fast-moving world and it should be modernised. The new system will give a better, quicker result and the whole country is not tied up for three or four days.

We are anxious to achieve an international reputation in the information technology era. We are doing very well and there is huge investment in this system. Some of the machines are being manufactured here. It is a very simple system and is much easier to operate than an ATM machine. I do not foresee any great difficulties.

The Senator thought we were rushing into electioneering. This is just putting in the base. There is much work to be done and much consultation has to take place between the public representatives before any decision is made to proceed to use it in a major election.

What we are talking about is not the counting of votes but the actual electronic voting, the system of voting and how people will operate that system, whether it is a fail proof system, whether a computer failure would mean that a total re-vote would be necessary, if extravagant and cumbersome back-up gadgetry will be required and if there will have to be a spare part for everything to ensure the system works. If the system does not work and has to close down for 20 minutes, half an hour, an hour or two hours, will there be an extension of the voting period? Is an extension of the period provided for? Who will know that the voting time has been extended from 10 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m. in the event of failure of the system? These questions need to be answered.

There are also questions of verification and identification. What type of signature will somebody have in relation to the voting mechanism? How can it be verified that it belongs to the person in question? Will there be a fingerprinting signature form? What form of verification is proposed against personation? Has the Minister addressed that issue? There is a whole welter of issues that need to be addressed before going down this road. I note the next section, section 36, provides that, "notwithstanding—

Acting Chairman

Can we wait until we get to the section?

—the provisions contained in . . . the Principal Act, voting and vote counting at a Dáil election may be undertaken on equipment approved . . . by the Minister." It is on equipment approved by nobody other than the Minister. The Minister of State has told us there is a great deal of work to be done down the road but who is going to do it? The Minister is going to do it. We need hard and fast answers before we hand over to the Minister the full responsibility for selection of the equipment in relation to the voting and the counting of votes.

If this system is shown to be practical and possible that is fine but that has not yet been proven to me. Those who have contributed so far on this side of the House have not seen this equipment in action. Not out of interest in technology but in practicality I would like to see it in operation. I would like to hear about the Dutch experience and whether it has broken down. I would like to hear answers to the issues raised by Senator Costello. If it breaks down at 8.55 p.m., the polling station is closing at 9 p.m. and it takes 20 minutes to replace it, what happens to the people who have lost out during that time? None of those questions has been answered yet.

Perhaps that could be arranged before Report Stage.

Question put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.

Glynn, Camillus.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Quill, Máirín.Quinn, Feargal.Ross, Shane.Walsh, Jim.

Níl

Burke, Paddy.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.

Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Ridge, Thérèse.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Coogan and Costello.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 36.
Government amendment No. 43:
In page 33, subsection (1), line 13, after "undertaken on" to insert "voting system".

This is just a textual amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 43f2>a and 43f2>b are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 43f2>a:

In page 33, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following subsection:

"(2)No equipment may be approved for the purposes of subsection (1) unless a full technical description of the said equipment (including all source code relating thereto) has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution approving a draft of the order approving the said equipment has been passed by each such House.".

This amendment backs up what we already said about the whole process of electronic voting. In many ways the Minister is offering us a pig in a poke with decisions about equipment being left to him. He proposes that the voting and vote counting at a Dáil election may be undertaken on equipment approved for such purposes by the Minister. I note he only refers to Dáil elections, which is very appropriate to a Bill coming before the Seanad. We do not know what the system will be for Seanad elections.

The Senator should not tell the Minister to abolish the Seanad.

I am not suggesting that he abolish it but I would like him to outline his proposals on electronic voting for the Seanad. He is going to buy equipment for the Dáil but maybe somebody else is going to buy equipment for the Seanad. I can imagine the Minister setting off to the Netherlands with his cheque book and wondering what kind of equipment to buy. I consider it inappropriate that it should be put like this. If we are to explore the option of electronic voting, we need to have a system in place to ensure that we get the proper equipment. It is not satisfactory to simply hand it over to the Minister who, having got the enabling legislation through, can then do whatever he likes. That is like buying a pig in a poke.

We have no information about the equipment. The Minister of State said we should have seen it already. We have not even been told that there was equipment available to see, nor were we given any information on how the system will operate. Now, the Minister intends to go shopping somewhere on the Continent, produce the equipment and hope it will be flawless and that everything will work out perfectly. I do not agree that is the way to deal with the business. No doubt, the Minister of State will reply that every order under this section and subsection (3) shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as it is made. That is not really of any value. It is merely information that the Minister is in the process of doing what the provisions which we are discussing will allow him to do. My amendment proposes that no equipment shall be approved unless the full technical description of the said equipment, including all source code relating thereto, has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas. It is not enough to just lay the order before the Houses. Some appropriate body should be established to deal with this in a professional fashion.

My second amendment proposes that the principal Act shall apply to voting under this section, with necessary modifications. In this section the Minister is providing that only certain sections would apply. That is very unsatisfactory. We also need clarification as to which sections are to apply. Perhaps the Minister of State will elaborate.

I support Senator Costello's arguments. It is not appropriate that the Minister should make the decision about the actual system or the structure or where it should be. Perhaps, as suggested by Senator Costello, a more appropriate body might be the Committee on the Environment and Local Government or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, or a totally new committee established specifically for that purpose or in relation to new technology generally. The Minister is not necessarily the appropriate holder of the authority and responsibility in this matter.

This is extraordinary stuff. Having come from a position where we could not decide whether it would work, whether the battery might go flat or the electricity might go off, we are now going to adjudicate on the technical capacity of the system. It seems there is some divergence between those two positions which I find it very difficult to reconcile. I would have thought the expertise was available within the Department to advise the Minister and there is the accountability factor that the Minister makes the ultimate decision.

That is what we are afraid of.

I had the privilege of meeting the Indian electoral commissioner recently. Electronic voting has been introduced in that very large democracy and it works very well, although they do not have electricity. There seems to be no problem with that. Their electoral register is being put on electronic format and about one third of that country's 500,000 million people are already in that system. I do not understand what this debate is all about. I wonder how Senator Costello and his colleagues manage to get on a plane, drive a car, operate a dishwasher or turn on a television set. I just do not understand this debate.

I spoke on section 35 about the need to sell. I believe there is a need to sell. When I read this, I felt that a document could be put before the House for 21 days without even being noticed. On balance, however, somebody has to make a decision and I like the idea of somebody's head being on the block. I am inclined to go with the Minister's decision. The Minister making the decision will have to do a lot of selling to the public. If anything goes wrong, I do not want him to share that responsibility. I want his head to be on the block. Accordingly, I am inclined to go with the view that the Minister is the one to make the decision, but woe betide him if it does not work. If anything goes wrong, the Minister should not be able to turn to a committee and disclaim responsibility.

I do not really want to share that responsibility in this House either. Rather than involving the two Houses in committees on this matter, I prefer to have one person's head on the block and I like the idea of the Minister's head being there. On that basis, he is unlikely to make the error which he might otherwise make. On the other hand, he has a huge selling job to do and he would be well advised to consult widely, making sure that Members of both Houses have an opportunity to see the equipment before he makes a decision so that he has them on his side.

This amendment proposes a new subsection to section 36, to provide that the Minister would not be able to approve the use of voting system equipment under subsection (1) until a draft ministerial order was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. I wish to explain the proposed procedures in this matter.

Before the end of this month, my Department will finalise two documents, a functional specification for the voting machine to be used in this country and a requirements for voting machine for use in Ireland. Both of those documents will be public documents and will be sent to the Oireachtas Library. The specification for the software for election management system to be used in the voting machine will also be available. The voting machine will be tested by two internationally recognised institutes in Holland and Germany and their reports will be made public. These two institutes are being engaged because they are both familiar with the machine, having tested other versions of it in use in Holland and Germany.

The software used in the voting system equipment and for the PRSTV count rules will be reviewed by an independent software firm. It is only after receipt of such reports that the Minister will seek Government approval for the use of the new system at elections in Ireland. All reports will be available and will be lodged in the Oireachtas Library. I do not consider it necessary that a draft ministerial order should be brought before both Houses as the voting machine is not a new development. The machine chosen has been used successfully for many years in Holland and for a few years in Germany and it has a successful track record. The modifications, including the software, will be certified by two international test institutes. The PRSTV software will implement the existing counting rules and its architectural structure will be reviewed by an independent third party.

During the autumn, when testing of the machine and software will be conducted, the Minister will invite representatives of the political parties to be represented on the group carrying out such tests. I hope I have covered the points made by Senators. At this stage, we are simply putting enabling legislation in place. With regard to the hardware, all that is proposed is the purchase of six machines, on which the testing will be carried out. Everybody will have to be fully satisfied that the machines and the whole system are operating properly when they have been well and truly tested. The entire procedure will be open and seen to be open. I suggest that the Senator consider withdrawing the amendment. We have a long way to go before any decisions are made about putting the system in place or actually using it.

Is amendment No. 43f2>a being pressed?

Yes, indeed. The Minister of State has outlined information, which none of us was aware of, on his proposal to purchase six machines and the procedure he intends to use. None of that is in the Act and no future Minister is bound by it. The Bill says that the Minister may decide which type of equipment will be used. That is the complaint. If it is to be done properly, why can we not have a full technical description of the said equipment? Why is it just that a ministerial order is laid before the House? The Minister only tells us now how he intends to go about it, but these six machines are for one instance. If it is to be done countrywide, we will need 6,000 machines and backup machines. I am not satisfied that this is the way to proceed.

We give carte blanche under this section to the Minister, although all we have in the short term is a pilot scheme. Nevertheless, section 36(1) is blunt in giving him powers with no reference to detail, technical description or presentation to the Members.

He tells us that the equipment worked well in the Netherlands. Does the Netherlands have a PR system like ours? Were similar systems compared? There is none more complicated than our PR system. Can the Minister name another coun try which experimented successfully with our model? Have tests been done on different electoral systems? Recently we presumed how people would react to the Treaty of Nice. We assumed that it would be all right on the day, but that was not what happened. It will not be all right if we simply introduce a new electronic system throughout the country in the plethora of polling stations.

Senator Dardis said that an electronic system was introduced to India where there is no electricity. Delegations from the European Union and the United Nations go to that country and Pakistan attempting to prevent personation and fraud, which are the norm. It is not perceived that there is a safe system there. It is ludicrous to say that an electronic system operates in a country as diverse as India, which has no electricity in remote regions. He spoke of flat batteries. There are many flat batteries in India. It is not a proper model to cite. It pokes fun at the notion. Will the Minister not accept our amendment so that we can have an idea what is being proposed? We do not want him or his successor imposing a system.

Senator Dardis implied that if one did not agree with the new technology, one was primitive. As he is a keen fisherman, I would advise him that a good way to get fish is to throw dynamite or a grenade into the water. Then he will quickly have all the fish he wants.

But not for very long.

I doubt that the Senator would agree to that form of technology. Technology is not the be all and end all of everything. It can create as many problems as it solves. We are not averse to progress but to how it is being made.

I will say no more as it will only fuel the debate.

I have nothing more to add. I have stated that the process is open. The documentation will be in the public arena and Members of the Oireachtas will be invited to participate. The Government is not rushing into it.

That is not in the Bill.

There is testing to be done. We will take advice from other sources, as I outlined, to get a range of opinion on the quality and reliability of the system before making a major purchase or putting anything into operation.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.

Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Quill, Máirín.Quinn, Feargal.Ross, Shane.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Coogan and Costello; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.

I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the sitting be suspended from 6 p.m. to 6.45 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 43b:

In page 33, lines 31 and 32, to delete subsection (6) and substitute the following:

"(6)The Principal Act shall apply to voting under this Part with any necessary modifications.".

The Minister did not make any reference to this amendment in his contribution. He may wish to comment as I do not think he realised the two amendments were being discussed together.

That is a matter for the Minister of State. If he has any comment to make, I will allow it.

It is a drafting amendment. The approach in the Bill has been approved by the parliamentary counsel. I ask the Senator to accept that is the correct way to do it. He may have been under some misunderstanding. The only sections that need modification are the ones that were mentioned. Forty other sections need amendment to comply with the system of electronic voting. We will come to them subsequently. It is difficult to understand what the amendment intends. We cannot just apply the situation under the existing Act because modifications will be made in subsequent amendments. I am advised by the parliamentary counsel that the way he proposes it be done is required and is the correct way to do it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 36, as amended, agreed to.
Section 37 agreed to.
SECTION 38.

Amendments Nos. 45 to 49, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 44 and they may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 44:
In page 34, paragraph (b), line 20, to delete “name” and to substitute “details”.

This section modifies 40 sections of the Electoral Act, 1992, for use when direct vote recording and electronic vote counting is used. The existing legislative provisions will be used, but as the House will understand some minor amendments are necessary. The procedure adopted in section 38 will avoid having to repeat the 40 sections. This practice is not new as it is found in other electoral law, that is, the Presidential Elections Act and the Referendum Act. These 24 amendments make minor textual changes to clarify text. The number of amendments arises from the fact that the Bill was drafted before the tender procedures were completed and a preferred system chosen. I will comment on the amendments, if Senators wish.

Amendment No. 44 substitutes the word "details" for the word "name" to allow some flexibility in designing the ballot paper to accommodate candidates' photographs and political party emblems. Amendments Nos. 45, 46, 48 and 49, inclusive, insert the word "voters" in four places to clarify that it is postal and special voters' ballot papers that are referred to. Amendment No. 47 is a drafting amendment to insert a comma.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 34, paragraph (i)(i), line 41, after “postal” to insert “voters”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 46:
In page 35, paragraph (i)(iii), line 1, after “postal” to insert “voters”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 47:
In page 35, paragraph (m), line 19, to delete “‘and” and substitute “‘, and”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 48:
In page 35, paragraph (n), line 23, after “postal” to insert “voters”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 35, paragraph (n), line 23, after “special” to insert “voters”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 50, 50a, 51, 52, 58, 61, 62 and 78b are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 50:
In page 35, lines 26 and 27, to delete paragraph (o) and substitute the following:
"(o) in section 72 of that Act, the substitution of ‘After the final delivery of post to the returning officer on polling day but before' for ‘At the hour fixed for';”

Amendments Nos. 50 to 52, inclusive, are drafting amendments to improve the text and relate mostly to procedures relating to postal voting. Amendment No. 50 refers to the time to commence the counting of postal votes, amendment No. 51 refers to returns to be completed by the returning officer and amendment No. 52 refers to the treatment of unusual postal voters' ballot papers.

Amendment No. 50a proposes to delete the amendment to section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1992, which provides for the procedure for dealing with postal voters' ballot boxes at the close of the poll. At present the postal voters' ballot boxes are opened before the time fixed for the counting of votes. Postal votes received by the last postal delivery on polling day are included in the count. When electronic vote counting is introduced the count will commence shortly after the close of the poll.

To enable the count to be conducted at that time it will be necessary to have the postal votes recorded in the voting machine cartridges before the count commences, as set out in section 43. This is clarified in amendment No. 50. Amend ment 50 refers to the time to commence counting of postal votes. These provisions are provided for in the principal Act. These amendments seek to accommodate voting electronically. They are adjustments to what has already been provided for.

On amendment No. 50a in regard to electronic voting, surely the close of poll would be simultaneous as between the postal vote and the ordinary vote. It seems to me that is not the case in the existing text or in the proposed amendment No. 50. This is contrary to one of the intentions of electronic voting, which is to allow for the postal vote box to be sealed at exactly the same time so that the close of poll for both would be simultaneous. That would be at least one of the benefits one would expect.

As the Senator will be aware, postal votes will still be valid ballot papers which will come in the post. They come in the last postal delivery on the day of the count. Once the last postal delivery has arrived to the returning office, the practice now is that he proceeds to open and check them and put them aside for the start of the count. When electronic voting is in operation, the last postal delivery of the ballot papers will be opened, checked and put into a cartridge for inclusion in the overall count.

Will the two take place simultaneously? Will the close of the poll for the postal vote be simultaneous with the close of poll—

The close of poll for the postal vote is the last postal delivery. That would have been 9 p.m. in rural areas.

Is it the case that if it has to go into the cartridge it has to be part and parcel of the overall vote?

It will go into a cartridge while observers are present. It will go into the mix with the other votes when the count proper starts.

My interpretation is that this will take place earlier than the close of poll and that there will be two different timescales. Part of the intention was that the close of poll would be simultaneous.

One cannot have a close of poll for postal ballot papers. They must be posted and arrive by the last delivery on a certain day. Once they have arrived and it is the last delivery, as of now they have proceeded to be opened and checked. Now they will have to be counted and put into cartridge form so that they are inserted into the machine when the count proper starts.

In an earlier amendment, the Senator sought that the count start as soon as practicable. This seemed to imply that it should start immediately after the close of poll. I explained that people work long hours because of the PR system. If electronic voting is introduced, the count will commence immediately following the close of poll and it will be all over in a short time.

Is it the intention that the postal voting ballot box will be sealed at the same time as the other ballot box, which is not allowed for in the amendment?

Postal votes received by the last postal delivery on polling day are included in the count. When electronic vote counting is introduced the count will commence shortly after the close of poll. To enable the count to be conducted at the time, it will be necessary to have the postal votes recorded in the voting machine cartridges before the count commences, as set out in section 43.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 50a not moved.
Government amendment No. 51:
In page 35, to delete lines 42 to 44 and substitute the following:
"of ballot papers placed in the ballot box and include such details and the details referred to in section 73(4) in the statement referred to in section 76(5)';".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 52:
In page 35, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following paragraph:
"(r) in section 76 of that Act, there were inserted ‘, the unused ballot papers' after ‘postal voters list', where these words first occur in subsection (1);”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 53:
In page 36, paragraph (r), lines 4 to 6, to delete subparagraph (iii) and substitute the following:
"(iii) for ‘reach the place for the counting of the votes at or before the hour of 9 a.m. on the day next after the polling day appointed by the Minister' in subsection (2)(c) there were substituted ‘be sent to the place for the counting of the votes forthwith'.”.

This amendment relates to the return of the voter cartridge from islands to ensure it will reach the count centre on time in order not to delay the commencement of the count. We discussed this earlier in a different context.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 54:
In page 36, paragraph (w) lines 37 and 38, to delete subparagraph (ii) and substitute the following:
"(ii) in subsection (6), for ‘numbers on the ballot papers' there were substituted ‘serial numbers of the voting machines';".

This amendment relates to keeping a record of the serial numbers of voting machines by the presiding officer.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 55, 57, 59, 60, 65 and 66 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 55:
In page 36, paragraph (x)(ii), line 43, to delete “authorising” and substitute “permitting”.

These are drafting amendments which substitute "permitting" for "authorising" to accord with general philosophy of the Electoral Act, 1992. In general, the returning officer authorises while a presiding officer permits activities to occur.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 56 and 58 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 56:
In page 37, paragraph (x)(iii), line 7, after “machine” to insert “for the elector”.

These are minor drafting amendments to improve the text by adding "for the elector" in amendment No. 56 and adding "and shall then" in amendment No. 58.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 57:
In page 37, paragraph (x)(iv) lines 9 and 10, to delete “‘authorising that person to vote'” and substitute “‘permitting that person to vote for the elector'”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 58:
In page 37, paragraph (x)(iv), line 11, to delete “and shall then”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 59:
In page 37, paragraph (y)(i)(I), line 17, to delete “‘an authorisation'” and substitute “‘a permission'”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 60:
In page 37, paragraph (f2>y)(ii)(II), lines 29 and 30, to delete "‘authorisations'" and substitute "‘such permissions'".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 61:
In page 37, paragraph (aa), line 39, to delete “‘cause” and substitute “‘open the postal voters ballot box or cause”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 62:
In page 38, paragraph (bb)(ii), line 4, to delete “‘cause” and substitute “‘open the postal voters ballot box or cause”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 63, 64 and 67 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 63:
In page 38, paragraph (cc)(v), line 17, to delete “‘cause” and substitute “‘open the postal voters ballot box or cause”.

These generally speaking are drafting amendments. Amendment No. 63 refers to treatment of election material if a poll is interrupted. Amendment No. 64 specifies that the cartridges and posters and special voter ballot papers will not be available for inspection unless by order of the court in the same manner as ballot papers. Amendment No. 67 is a drafting amendment to improve the text.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 64:
In page 38, paragraph (hh), lines 32 to 34, to delete subparagraph (i) and substitute the following:
"(i) in subsection (1) there were deleted all the words from ‘sealed packets' down to and including ‘polling stations,' and there were substituted ‘sealed packets the cartridges or discs from voting machines and the statements referred to insections 40(1), 42(2) and 43(5) and (6) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2000,';”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 65:
In page 38, paragraph (hh)(ii), to delete lines 40 to 43 and substitute the following:
"(i)the substitution for paragraph (f2>d) of subsection (2) of the following:
"(f2>d)the cartridge or discs referred to in subsection (1) of section 129 (as that subsection applies by virtue ofPart 3 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2000) and the documents referred to in paragraphs (f2>a) and (f2>b) of section 43(9) of that Act.'.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 66:
In page 39, paragraph (kk)(iv), line 13, to delete “authorised” and substitute “permitted”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 67:
In page 39, paragraph (mm), line 35, after “software” to insert “or other voting system equipment”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 38, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 39.
Government amendment No. 68:
In page 40, subsection (1), lines 18 and 19, to delete paragraph (f2>b), and substitute the following:
"(f2>b) the details of the ballot paper referred to in paragraph (f2>a) inserted in the relevant cartridge or disc for recording votes to be cast on each such voting machine and such cartridge or disc installed in such voting machine.".

Amendment No. 68 is a drafting amendment to improve text in section 39(1)(f2>b). It provides that after ballot paper is prepared ballot paper details will be inserted in the ballot cartridge before the cartridge is installed in the voting machine. The present text states that the cartridge be "installed in the voting machine".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 39, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 40.

Amendments Nos. 69, 70 and 71 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 69:
In page 40, subsection (1), line 29, to delete "as required by" and substitute "referred to in".

These amendments are drafting amendments that clarify the text of the section. The text "referred to in" is substituted for "as required by" to maintain the same phrase as used in section 42(2). The phrase "cast or" is inserted in two places to clarify that the voting machine does not include any votes which could be entered by polling staff or cast by electorate before polling commences.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 70:
In page 40, subsection (1), line 32, after "votes are" to insert "cast or".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 71:
In page 40, subsection (1), line 34, after "votes are" to insert "cast or".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 71a and 80a are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 71f2>a:

In page 40, lines 39 to 42, to delete subsection (2).

The Minister proposes in this section that an election would not be questioned on the grounds that subsection (1) with respect to the production by voting machine of a printed statement has been complied with. It is one thing to say that an election shall not be questioned but another to say that an election shall not be validated or that it shall be declared invalid. If we include in section 40 the requirement that a printed statement be produced by the machine showing the names of the candidate on the ballot paper, etc., then surely we can question this if it does not happen. If the system fails it should be questioned. The Minister is very quick to rule out the possibility of questioning a failure of the system. We have raised this possibility all afternoon. The Minister seems quite sure that there is no possibility of failure of the system. Here we make provision for the failure of the system. The Minister says clearly that should the system fail to produce a printed statement as required by section 40(1) then an election shall not be questioned. That is too broad a statement to make if the Minister wants to say that the election shall not be declared invalid because of this.

Surely we are entitled to challenge or question why. If this is endemic to the system then why is the provision there at all if it is not considered necessary or of importance? We propose that the Minister deletes that section and leaves the provision for the presiding officer to produce the printed statement on the machine. There are all sorts of grounds on which a requirement can be challenged or questioned but to rule out the questioning is irregular and far too heavy handed an approach.

These amendments seek to delete subsections stating that the election shall not be questioned on the grounds that the statements to be produced at the opening and closing of the poll could not be produced due to a malfunction of the printer in the machine. I did not say that there would never be a malfunction but it is unlikely. Printers can sometimes malfunction. If there is a malfunction of the voting machine printer the information that would be on the printed statement will be read from the machine display unit and entered on a blank form by the presiding officer. If a statutory instrument is required section 36(4) could be used. That section provides that the Minister may subject to section 31 of the Principal Act, whenever he or she thinks proper to do so, issue to all returning officers or any returning officer such instructions in relation to voting and vote counting under this Part as he or she shall consider necessary or expedient to ensure smooth and efficient voting and vote counting and to secure uniformity of procedures under this Part. That is one way it could be done. It permits the Minister to issue instructions in relation to voting and vote counting as he or she considers necessary or expedient to secure uniformity of procedures under Part 3 of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 40, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 41.

Amendments Nos. 72 and 73 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 72:
In page 40, subsection (1), line 43, to delete "sections 38, 64, 79," and substitute "sections 38 and 79 of the Principal Act and sections 64,".

Amendment No. 72 is a drafting amendment. Amendment No. 73 includes a new subsection (5) to provide that where an elector was permitted to use the voting machine and leaves the polling station without pressing the button he or she will not be permitted to apply to vote a second time. In such cases the polling station staff will draw electors' attention to the fact that vote button has not been pressed. The control operator will be aware as no bleep will be heard. There will also be a reminder on voting machines display units. Despite these reminders if the elector still does not press the vote button, polling staff will deactivate the voting machine and keep a record that the vote button was not pressed. Subsection (3) includes drafting amendments to include text that records preferences and then vote by pressing vote button.

Can the Minister clarify something in regard to that? If somebody fails to press the button the bleep must be heard. How will that work in a busy polling station? Perhaps the bleep will not be heard. Is that the best format to ensure that a person who fails to press the button can be informed of that? How exactly is the technology to inform the presiding officer that the person has not voted? If it is only a bell I do not think it is adequate.

When somebody goes in and presses their preferences and walks away without pressing the vote button the presiding officer should be aware of it. His task for the day is watching the operation of the machine. He will have the record of votes on display and he will see if a vote has not been recorded. The machine cannot be used again until the presiding officer has reactivated it.

Will the record of whether the person voted be on physical display?

Yes, the presiding officer will be able to see the record.

Will a sound be heard?

Yes, a sound will indicate if the person has voted.

Does that mean that people will queue up to use a single machine watched by the presiding officer in each polling station? Will there be a number of presiding officers in charge of a number of machines? Some polling stations are quite large and in a busy station there may be polling kiosks where many people vote at the same time. It seems there will now be a continuous queue. How will a presiding officer keep track of every voter unless he or she is responsible for one machine only? If there is one queue lining up for one machine there will be quite a backlog.

This is really a staffing arrangement. Extra poll clerks will be needed to assist the presiding officer in observing the machines. It is an administrative matter.

The Bill says that observation must be done by the presiding officer.

Yes, the presiding officer will be in charge.

There will be numerous presiding officers.

There will be one presiding officer at each polling station, assisted by poll clerks.

I hate to hark back to a point I have already made, but the operation of this system is not at all clear. There is considerable scope for mistakes as someone may come in and not use the machine. In such a case, could the next voter push the vote button and thereby vote twice? Can the presiding officer activate the machine? Section 41(4) of the Bill states that "the presiding officer shall deactivate the voting machine without approaching the voting machine". How can he deactivate it without approaching it unless he is close enough to observe what is happening? How will the presiding officer observe? Will he have a central monitoring position? Will two people be monitored at the same time? How can the system be managed effectively and without danger of abuse? Many extra observers will be needed in a busy polling station to inform the overall presiding officer of what is happening. I am not sure this section of the Bill makes sense.

The voting machine and the control panel will obviously be some distance from each other. It will be impossible to observe the actions of a voter pressing the ballot paper panel. If the vote button is not pressed and the machine therefore not deactivated, the poll clerk observing the control panel will read the vote and hear the machine indicate that the button has not been pressed. Nobody can vote using the machine until the presiding officer has reactivated it.

Will there be only one machine and one control panel in each polling station?

That will depend on the number of voters in the electoral area. It is intended that there be a polling booth for every 600 to 1,000 people. A voter will not be allowed to approach the machine until the previous person has recorded a vote. If a vote has not been recorded, the next person will not be allowed to proceed to the machine even though the previous person may have gone. The poll clerk observing will not allow the next voter to walk to the voting machine if the previous person has not cast a vote.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 73:
In page 41, lines 13 to 22, to delete subsections (3) and (4) and substitute the following:
"(3) A Dáil elector on receiving permission to vote shall (subject to the provisions of section 103 of the Principal Act as applied to this Part) go alone to one of the voting machines in the polling station and there shall secretly record his or her preferences on the ballot paper displayed on the voting machine and shall then cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on that machine. He or she shall vote without undue delay and shall leave the polling station as soon as he or she has voted.
(4) Where an elector fails to cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on the machine, the presiding officer shall de-activate the voting machine without approaching the voting machine.
(5) In a case to whichsubsection (4) applies, an elector shall not be entitled to re-apply to vote at the poll.”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 73f2>a:

In page 41, lines 13 to 22, to delete subsections (3) and (4) and substitute the following:

"(3) A Dáil elector on receiving permission to vote shall (subject to the provisions of section 103 of the Principal Act as applied to this Part) go alone to one of the voting machines in the polling station and there shall secretly record his or her preferences on the ballot paper displayed on the voting machine and shall then cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on that machine. He or she shall vote without undue delay and shall leave the polling station as soon as he or she has voted.

(4) Where an elector fails to cast his or her vote by pressing the vote button on the machine, the presiding officer shall de-activate the voting machine without approaching the voting machine.".

This amendment is almost identical to the Government amendment No. 73. It does not include subsection (5), however, which provides that if an elector leaves a polling station without pressing the vote button to confirm a choice, he or she will not be permitted to reapply to vote and the machine will be deactivated.

Perhaps the Minister of State will accept my amendment as it is similar to his previous one.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 41, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following new subsection:

"(6) In the event of failure of an electronic voting system the deciding officer shall issue ballot papers continuously until the close of the polling station.".

We discussed this idea in detail earlier. The Minister of State has admitted the possibility of the voting machines breaking down. In such a case, I propose that the presiding officer issues ballot papers so that people will receive their democratic right to vote. If the breakdown is caused by a power failure, ballot papers will be continuously issued and the voting machine will not be used, regardless of whether it looks like power will be restored.

We talked about this earlier. The Minster of State has reassured us regarding the sustainability and dependability of the new system. Murphy's law often applies in these circumstances, however. On Report Stage, perhaps the Minister of State will consider a regulation to allow a Minister to stipulate what happens in the event of a complete systems failure, although I think Senator Coogan's suggestion might not be right. It is obvious that the entire election should not be replayed, even in the constituency concerned, simply as a result of a systems failure in one polling station. We need to look at this issue and perhaps the Minister of State will find time to do so before Report Stage.

Senator Coogan's amendment is a good one as it is a catch-all provision in the event of the system falling apart, as Senator Walsh said. Many problems may arise as a result of the new system. What happens if balloting has to stop for 30 minutes while new equipment is received or a flat battery is recharged? Would those voting between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. lose 30 minutes? Certain voters may be disenfranchised if that were the case and they might simply go home if they had to wait while fresh equipment was procured or the computer system was restarted. The only way around these problems is to provide that there will be no break in polling.

This is a fine amendment because no matter how often the Minister of State reassures us that the system is virtually foolproof, we know it will fall apart from time to time. I am sure it will fail in areas none of us has considered. A simple mechanism like this should be introduced to ensure an election is not invalidated and that returns from polling stations are not open to query. This amendment would mean that there would be no break in the issue of ballot papers, although it would also mean that some votes would have to be dealt with manually rather than electronically. It will protect both the integrity of polling stations and the period of time given to people for voting. It will also ensure that people cannot challenge an election result on the basis that they were not offered the opportunity to vote.

I support Senator Coogan's common sense amendment which should be acted upon. We are all aware of the possibility of power failures and their consequences. The Minister's computer would have broken down on a number of occasions and he would have had to wait for somebody from the technology section to repair it. It would be most unsatisfactory if half an hour, one hour or two hours were to be lost out of 12 or 13 hours allocated for voting because many people may have only a short space of time in which to vote and may not be able to return to the polling station or wait until the machine has been fixed. Continuity right through the 13 hours is essential, even if it involves reverting to manual operations such as we currently have and which I believe to be the most commendable.

Given what happened in Florida during the American presidential election, it is vital to have a manual element. That should not be unacceptable to the Minister. It is common sense. As somebody who has had wide and extensive experience of elections since 1965, the Minister is aware of the difficulties that can arise and of the tactics used in polling stations in the 1960s. This is a very commendable and sensible amendment and one with which I am sure the Minister concurs.

I remember when, under existing arrangements, a polling booth did not open until 9.45 a.m. The existing system is not perfect. Difficulties can arise. There is a procedure under section 164 of the 1992 Act and under section 36(4) of this Bill whereby the Minister can authorise an extension of the opening hours if warranted. It has rarely happened.

The Minister would be too busy in Galway West and would not have time to make himself aware of what was happening in Cavan or Cork.

I checked that with the Department. The Minister must be available at elections to make such decisions at headquarters.

Is that likely during an election?

He would be available at the end of phone or fax machine or some other electronic device. We have already had this discussion. I have explained the position. Making ballot papers available would be going backwards. If we are to go forward and use these machines, we must make them work, and there are procedures in place to ensure they work. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.

Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.

Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Coogan and Taylor-Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 41, as amended, agreed to.

On a point of order, it is very difficult to hear the proceedings of the House. Is it possible to get more power in the microphone system?

SECTION 42.

Amendments Nos. 76 to 78, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 75 and all may be taken together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 75:
In page 41, subsection (2), line 41, to delete "discs" and substitute "disc".

Amendments Nos. 75 and 76 are small amendments to substitute the word "disc" for "discs" in subsections (2) and (3).

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 76:
In page 41, subsection (3), line 44, to delete "discs" and substitute "disc".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 77:
In page 41, subsection (3), line 46, after "returning officer" to insert "together with a polling station reconciliation account, in such form as may be directed by the Minister, made out by him or her".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 78:
In page 41, subsection (3)(b), lines 48 and 49, to delete “a ballot paper account in such form as may be directed by the Minister made out by him or her and”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 78a:

In page 42, lines 11 to 13, to delete subsection (4).

The amendment seeks the deletion of subsection (4) which requires the returning officer to make adequate arrangements for the safe custody of the packages delivered pursuant to section 42, that is, the cartridges and various documentation. A similar subsection is found in section 110 of the Electoral Act, 1992, on which section 42 is based.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 42, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 43.

The Members can hardly hear the Acting Chairman. Can his microphone be turned up so that we can hear what is going on in the Chamber?

Acting Chairman

I will do my best to move closer to the microphone and try to improve the acoustics.

It may not be the Acting Chairman's fault.

Acting Chairman

The Senator is an expert in the field and I bow to his greater wisdom.

Expert to expert.

Amendment No. 78b not moved.
Government amendment No. 79:
In page 42, subsection (1), line 25, to delete "section 75" and substitute "section 76".

Amendment No. 79 is a drafting amendment which replaces "section 75" with "section 76". Amendment No. 80 replaces subsections (5) and (6) with revised text to align the position where postal and special votes are entered on the voting machine with procedures for opening the voting machine, causing a statement to be produced showing that no votes were cast or recorded on the machine. It also provides that not fewer than two members of the polling staff be present at the recording of the preferences on postal and special voter ballot papers at the polling station on the voting machine.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 80:
In page 42, lines 33 to 48, to delete subsections (5) and (6) and substitute the following:
"(5) The returning officer shall reject any of the ballot papers that are invalid and before commencing the entry of ballot paper preferences, the returning officer shall operate the voting machine, which shall have a cartridge or disc installed in it in accordance withsection 39, in his or her charge to demonstrate to such persons as are present that no votes are cast or recorded on the voting machine. The returning officer shall cause a printed statement to be produced by the voting machine showing the names of the candidates on the ballot paper and that no votes are cast or recorded on the machine. The returning officer shall then in the presence of agents and not less than 2 members of his or her staff enter the preferences shown on the postal and special voters ballot papers on the ballot paper displayed on the voting machine. After the vote preferences have been entered on the said ballot paper from each postal or special voter ballot paper, the returning officer shall then press the vote button on the voting machine.
(6) On completion of the entry of the votes in the voting machine, the returning officer shall cause a printed statement to be produced by the machine showing the number of votes recorded and a list of candidates on the ballot paper.".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 80a not moved.
Section 43, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 44.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 81:
In page 43, subsection (2), line 31, to delete "enter" and substitute "insert".

This is a textual amendment that replaces "enter" with "insert". Amendment No. 82 replaces subsections (3) and (4) with improved text. Subsection (3) provides that the returning officer when reading the cartridges from different voting machines shall compare the number of votes recorded on the counting machine to the number on the statements produced by each machine at close of poll, signed by the presiding officer and witnessed. Agents will be entitled to be present and to get a copy of the statement produced at the end of this process.

Subsection (4) provides for the mixing of votes when all the cartridges are entered on the voting counting equipment and the allocation of a computer number to each vote before counting the votes in accordance with the count rules. The computer number is part of the count software which will enable the audit trail to be followed in the event of a recount ordered by the courts. The number cannot be traced to a voter as votes for a constituency in a voting machine will be stored randomly. When all the votes are entered in a reading unit, the votes will be mixed. It is part of the checking system.

As I said and the Leader alluded to earlier, the count should be carried out box by box. This would provide the data to which I referred. It would also act as a good check for parties in relation to the overall vote. Perhaps this aspect could be considered between now and Report Stage with a view to inserting a provision in that regard.

Regarding the duties of the returning and presiding officers, I presume the appointment of such officers will have to be examined. A certain element of computer literacy will be required if one is to act as a presiding officer. The new system will be completely different from the current procedures. What is the position regarding the existing and new scenarios? How does the Minister intend to deal with this aspect? If there is to be accuracy and if the electorate is to have confidence in how matters are managed in polling stations and polling booths in particular, the officers will need to be computer literate and have an understanding of how the system works.

As I said earlier, the operation of the system will be simpler than using electronic cash machines with which people are familiar. Presiding officers will have to receive special instruction because it is a new system. I understand those arrangements will be made in due course, although we are a long way from that point. I take the Senator's point on board. It will be part of the preparations made prior to the introduction of the electronic voting system in elections.

The intention of voters will not be available. The information will be put into a mother or master counting machine, but it will not be possible to trace the boxes from which votes were taken. As Leader of the House, I have been informed that all political parties are extremely concerned about this aspect. I flagged this matter earlier and I want an assurance that it will be considered for Report Stage. A cartridge or disc from each particular box should be retained to show the preference of voters so that parties can get this information.

The press can avail of the freedom of information legislation and these matters are the lifeblood of the profession we represent. We are entitled to the information. Members work hard and are dedicated. They sacrifice their family lives and it is of the utmost importance to them that they are rewarded in the ballot box for their endeavours. If they are not rewarded, they can decide whether to run again in the future.

The Leader alluded to an interesting concept of a mother-master voting machine.

Education.

In terms of the lack of detailed information, tallies are vital and of huge interest to political activists on the ground.

They are the lifeblood.

As politicians, there is an element of curiosity for us all in relation to performances in respective boxes throughout the constituencies. From a political party perspective, it would be a retrograde step if the introduction of the new system meant that type of information was not available. That information is useful for the party political process, particularly for activists who have worked on the ground. It can be a source of encouragement or perhaps in some cases discouragement. However, the respective mother-master machines to which the Leader referred should be able to provide details in relation to the specifics of each box and the performance of the parties in each area.

In the past, tally people operated in various count centres. As the boxes are opened in the morning, parties have been in a position to accurately predict the turnout in most constituencies in general and presidential elections and refer enda. If the new system gets rid of that, it would further diminish political interest and activity. This would not be helpful.

I accept the Minister's points regarding returning and presiding officers. However, does he agree, given his vast and extensive experience in a constituency that is both urban and rural, there must be a number of current presiding officers who would find it impossible to become computer literate and to do what would be required under the new system? The profile of some of the presiding officers would make one think that computer technology is the last thing they would want to get involved with. Yet they feel that they have the right to continue as presiding officers in particular polling stations. I ask the Minister how he is going to address that.

The Labour Party is opposed to all these sections. I will speak about amendment No. 82. Many good points have been made and I wish to make a point about subsection (3) of amendment No. 82. It states that the returning officer should compare the number of votes shown on the constituency vote counting machine in respect of each cartridge or disc with the result of all the voting machines and prepare a statement in relation to that. Will the Minister explain what the situation is if there is a discrepancy between the votes shown on the disc and the votes that had been registered? What happens when a discrepancy arises? It states that the agent of the candidate can be present.

If a voter comes in but does not exercise their vote and the presiding officer is responsible for activating or deactivating the machine but that does not take place, then there may very well be a discrepancy in votes between the numbers recorded on the disc and what would have been recorded on the constituency voting paper. This is electronic voting and there might be quite a distinction between those who are crossed off and those who actually registered.

We touched on some of these matters this morning and I mentioned the audit trail. The machine is capable of tracing all the votes right back, not indicating how people voted, but each vote is given a number. Under the existing system, the returning officer must reconcile the figures and that is often the cause of the long delays at counts. It will be easier to trace back through the electronic system because it can count more rapidly. This is part of that checking system. If discrepancies arise the returning officer must check back to see where it happened.

There is nothing in the existing electoral law which requires any statutory standing to a tally result. It is an unofficial activity which we all enjoyed most of the time. However, it was not always enjoyable if you were at the wrong end of the result. The machine is capable of producing the result from each box. It is a matter to be decided and we will return to that on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 82:
In page 43, lines 36 to 52, to delete subsections (3) and (4) and substitute the following:
"(3) The returning officer shall compare the number of votes shown on the constituency vote counting machine in respect of each cartridge or disc from a voting machine with the number of votes recorded on the statements prepared pursuant tosections 42 (2) and 43(6) in respect of each machine and shall prepare a statement showing the result of this comparison in respect of all the voting machines. The returning officer shall, on request, allow the agent of any candidate to be present at that procedure and shall on request provide a copy of the second-mentioned statement to the agent of any candidate.
(4) When the cartridges or discs are received from all the voting machines for the constituency and are dealt with in accordance with subsection (2), the returning officer shall cause the constituency vote counting machine to mix the votes recorded in all the cartridges or discs inserted on the said machine, to create a table of the mixed votes which shall be numbered in consecutive order, the number ‘1' being assigned to the vote placed highest in the table, the number ‘2' being assigned to the vote placed next highest in the table and so on, and to proceed to cause the said machine to count the votes in accordance with Part XIX of the Principal Act, as applied to this Part bysection 45.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 44, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 45.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 are related. Amendments Nos. 83 to 85, inclusive, to be taken together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 83:
In page 44, lines 3 to 5, to delete "Any reference in that Part XIX to a ballot paper shall be construed as a reference to the ballot paper installed on a voting machine." and substitute "Any reference in that Part XIX to a ballot paper or paper shall be construed as a reference to a vote cast on a voting machine or, in the case of a reference to a postal or special voters ballot papers, a vote entered in a voting machine.".

This amendment substitutes an improved sentence for the second sentence of subsection (1). It clarifies the position between a vote cast by an elector on a voting machine and the postal and special voters votes entered in the machine by the returning officer. The amendment clarifies the text of the subsection. Amendment No. 84 is an amendment of a textual nature and provides for the insertion, subject to subsection (6), in subsection (2). Amendment No. 85 is a technical amendment to replace "42(2)" by "44(3)".

I ask the Minister for clarification. Do I deduct from what he has said that the returning officer has to add the various postal and special votes and allocate them into their various boxes prior to the close of poll? In a sense they will not be treated as a separate operation. This is an interference with the vote as cast by the voter before the vote is counted. The vote is being moved from one point to another and this may not be the most commendable method. Special voters and postal votes were counted and that was the end of it. If they are then going to be allocated into say, the Salthill box and the Renmore box, there is in a sense an interference with the vote, it is handled twice as against the other vote of a regular voter. As I read it now I would not be very happy with that. I ask the Minister to forgive my absence earlier when this was discussed.

The position at the moment is that once the last postal delivery has arrived, the returning officer can proceed to open the votes and put them in the packet for the start of the count. In this case, once the last postal delivery has arrived, he proceeds to sort the postal ballot papers and then inserts them into the cartridge which is inserted into the machine which starts the count. It is practically the same operation.

That is not satisfactory. I ask the Minister to have that matter re-examined before Report Stage. I would not be happy with that manoeuvring.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 84:
In page 44, subsection (2), line 8, after "shall" to insert ", subject tosubsection (6)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 85:
In page 44, subsection (4), line 23, to delete "44(2)” and substitute “44(3)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 45, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 46.
Government amendment No. 86:
In page 44, line 33, after "75," to insert "76,".

This is a technical amendment to insert "76" in section 46.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 46, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 47.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 88 and 89 are related. Amendments Nos. 87 to 89, inclusive, to be taken together, by agreement.

Government amendment No. 87:
In page 45, to delete lines 7 and 8 and substitute the following:
"a capability of providing a table of the preferences recorded for each vote cast at the poll at the election, including the vote number referred to in section 44(4) and a separate record of each vote cast at the election, showing the preferences recorded on it, the vote number referred to in section 44(4) and, where applicable, the number of each count at which the vote was either transferred to the next available preference recorded on it or became a non-transferable vote not effective.".

This amendment extends the extent of the text of paragraph 1 to provide for count software to be capable of producing an audit statement of votes cast on the machine including the computer vote number entered by the computer at the mix of votes, details of preferences for each vote, and count number where a vote is transferred. This requirement would arise in the event of the High Court ordering a recount which would be carried out manually from ballot papers produced by the computer software for votes cast at the election. Amendment No. 88 is a textual amendment to substitute "Rule" for "section" in paragraph 4. Amendment No. 89 adds text to paragraph 5 concerning capability of count software to delete or add votes where ordered by the High Court at an election petition.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 88:
In page 45, line 22, to delete "section" and substitute "Rule".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 89:
In page 45, line 33, after "disregarded" to insert "or where the court decides that votes shall be added to, or removed from, the vote table referred to in section 44(4) the software shall be capable of so adding or removing votes so that there shall be a minimum disturbance to the mix carried out by the constituency vote counting machine prior to the original first count.".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 47, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 48.
Government amendment No. 90:
In page 46, subsection (3)(b), line 18, to delete “1999” and substitute “2000”.

This is a textual amendment to substitute "2000" for "1999".

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 48, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

This is the last of the sections dealing with electronic voting. Many of us have articulated our concerns about different aspects of the procedure in terms of the equipment and the fall back, the expertise, system failures, the postal vote where there will be much interference while it is moved from the manually marked ballot paper to be put on a cartridge, the level of expertise and professionalism that will be required by presiding officers, how the monitoring will take place and how every vote must be carefully watched to ensure the machinery is activated by the voter. The mind boggles at the amount of equipment that will be required in the thousands of polling stations with backup machines, electricity, fall-back battery systems.

I have no doubt there will be failures. We must ask whether this little country needs a cumbersome electronic system. While the technology is far more advanced than any manual operation, are we likely to find, given the plethora of polling stations and activities that have to be engaged in, that we will have a large number of failures?

We do not have anything like enough information before passing this legislation and handing over to the Minister full authority to get hold of the equipment and proceed with the provision of electronic voting. Even though he said that initially there would be a pilot scheme, the facilitating legislation is now in place. I have opposed the sections in Part 3 which deal with this issue not because I am opposed to electronic voting or advances in technology but because I am concerned that we are involved in a PR system which is highly technical and highly problematic in getting it right. There is no other country in the world that has our system of voting. We will import equipment that has been built up on a different electoral regime. We saw the greatest democracy in the world fall apart when there was a failure of the system in a tight vote in Florida last year.

I am surprised at the approach of the Labour Party to the introduction of electronic voting. I would have expected a more modern futuristic approach seeking greater efficiency and the use of the electronic devices available to us. Ireland is not the only country that has the PR system. That system operates in Tasmania and Malta. Our version operates in Tasmania.

Our version is separate for the Dáil and Seanad.

If any complicated system would benefit from the use of electronic information technology it would be the Irish PR system. We would get pure PR as distinct from clear PR, if such a distinction can be made, because we could eliminate the picking of bundles off the top at random which is part of the current system. I would hope that the Labour Party would not be too pessimistic about the potential of this system.

We are putting in place only enabling legislation. I have tried to indicate that a substantial amount of testing has to be carried out. All the political parties will be invited to participate in that testing. The general intention from the Government's point of view is that when practically everybody in the House is satisfied that the system is safe, operates efficiently and is worth using we will try it out only on a pilot basis. We are proceeding slowly as advised by Senator Coogan. There is no rush here.

We are aware of the importance of general elections and would not rush into anything that would throw up potential major disasters. All due care and consideration will be given. Expert third party advice has been brought in from outside, all of which will add to the sum of knowledge of the system. I do not think we should be afraid of it. In time we will wonder why we did not make the changeover much earlier. People will be able to go home to bed and know the result without having to wait around for a week or a fortnight as happened in the past.

Does the Minister envisage introducing this on a pilot basis to the Seanad elections or is the machinery capable of dealing with the Seanad?

There is no point in having two pilot schemes. The pilot scheme will probably be in a Dáil constituency. The Government has made no final decision on this issue but is proceeding carefully with its introduction. It will make decisions when we are absolutely satisfied that the system is safe and efficient.

On the question of a pilot scheme being conducted in a Dáil constituency, if a uniform system is not applied in the 43 constituencies it may seem unfair. To set up one constituency as the guinea pig in a real election would be most unsatisfactory and unacceptable.

There is every intention that it will be done fairly and openly. The same basic rules will apply whether counted manually or electronically.

That is unsatisfactory. One cannot be separated from 43 constituencies.

Question put and agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

Government amendment 90a, Government amendment 1 to 90a, amendments Nos. 91a, 91f2>b and 91e are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 90a:

In page 46, before section 49 and after Part 3, to insert the following new section:

"PART 4

PRINCIPAL AMENDMENTS OF ACT OF 1997 IN RELATION TO POLITICAL DONATIONS

49.–The Act of 1997 is amended–

(a)in section 3 by the substitution in subsection (1) for all the words from ‘section 21' down to and including ‘51 or 52' of ‘section 21, 22, 23, 23A, 23B, 24(1A), 24(4), 26(1), 30 31, 32, 46, 47, 48(1), 48A, 48B, 51 or 52',

(b)in section 22 by–

(i)the insertion of ‘or a third party' after ‘European Parliament' in each place where those words occur in paragraph (a) of subsection (2);

(ii)the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (a) of subsection (2)–

‘(aa)“account” means an account in an institution in the State for the purpose of crediting and debiting money received in respect of donations;

the European Parliament is declared by himself or herself or by others to be a candidate at the election concerned;

"institution" means–

(a)the holder of a licence under section 9 of the Central Bank Act, 1971,

(b)a building society incorporated or deemed to be incorporated under the Building Societies Act, 1989, or a body incorporated in a corresponding manner under the law of any other Member State of the European Communities,

(c)a trustee savings bank within the meaning of the Trustees Savings Bank Act, 1989,

(d)ACC Bank plc,

(e)An Post,

or

(f)a person authorised in accordance with the European Communities (Licensing and Supervision of Credit Institutions) Regulations, 1992 (S.I. No. 395 of 1992), to carry on business in the State.

"political group" means a group formed in accordance with the rules of procedure of the European Parliament;

"political purposes" means any of the following purposes, namely–

(i)(I)to promote or oppose directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament, or

(II)to present, directly or indirectly, the policies or a particular policy of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament or a third party, or

(III)to present, directly or indirectly, the comments of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament or a third party with regard to the policy or policies of another political party, political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, representative in the European Parliament, third party or candidate at an election or referendum or otherwise, or

(IV)to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a third party in connection with the conduct or management of any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to a policy or policies or functions of the Government or any public authority;

(ii)to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election or to solicit votes for or against a candidate or to present the policies or a particular policy of a candidate or the views of a candidate on any matter connected with the election or the comments of a candidate with regard to the policy or policies of a political party or a political group or of another candidate at the election or otherwise;

(iii)otherwise to influence the outcome of the election or a referendum or campaign referred to in paragraph (i)(IV) of this definition;

"responsible person", in relation to an accounting unit, means the treasurer or otherwise any person responsible for dealing with donations to the unit, or, in relation to a third party, the person or persons responsible for the organisation, management or financial affairs of the third party,

"third party" means any person, other than a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties under Part III of the Electoral Act, 1992, or a candidate at an election, who accepts, in a particular year, a donation the value of which exceeds £100.";

(c)in section 23–

(i)in subsection (1), by the insertion of ‘or third party' after ‘European election' and the insertion of ‘third party' after ‘party, member, representative'

and

(ii)in subsection (2) by the insertion of ‘or third party' after ‘European election' and the insertion of ‘third party' after ‘party, member, representative';

(d)the insertion of the following sections after section 23:

23A.–(1)Without prejudice to subsection (2), none of the following persons, namely–

(a)a member of either House of the Oireachtas,

(b)a representative in the European Parliament,

(c)a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European Election,

(d)a political party,

(e)a third party, or

(f)an accounting unit,

shall accept from a particular person in a particular year a donation the value of which exceeds–

(i)in case the first-mentioned person falls within paragraph (a), (b), or (c), £2,000, and

(ii)in case the first-mentioned person falls within paragraph (d), (e), or (f), £5,000.

(2)None of the persons referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (f) of subsection (1) shall accept a donation of whatever value given by–

(a)an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside the island of Ireland, or

(b)a body corporate or unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland, being an office from which the carrying on of one or more of its principal activities is directed.

(3)Where a person makes more than one donation–

(i)in the same year to the same member of either House of the Oireachtas, representative in the European Parliament, political party, third party or accounting unit, or

(ii)in relation to the same Dáil, Seanad or European election to the same candidate, or in relation to the same referendum or campaign;

all such donations shall, for the purposes of this section, be aggregated and treated as a single donation received by the person concerned and references in subsequent provisions of this section to a donation the acceptance of which is prohibited by subsection (1) shall be construed accordingly.

(4)The limits referred to in subsection (1) shall not apply to the provision by any person of a constituency office to an individual, or if more than one such office is provided to the individual, whichever one of those offices is nominated in writing by the individual for the purposes of this subsection.

(5) Where, notwithstanding subsection (1) or (2), a donation, the acceptance of which is prohibited by either subsection, is made to a person referred to therein, the donee shall, not later than 14 days after the receipt of the donation, either–

(a)return the donation, or in the case of a donation referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned to the donor and keep a written record of that return for the purposes of its being furnished to the Public Offices Commission, if required by it, or

(b)notify the Public Offices Commission of such receipt and remit the donation, or, in the case of a donation referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned or the value thereof, to the Commission.

(6)A person who fails to comply with subsection (5) shall be guilty of an offence.

23B–(1)A member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament, a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election, a political party, a third party or an accounting unit who or which receives, in any particular year, a monetary donation the value of which exceeds £100 shall open and maintain an account in an institution in the State and shall lodge that donation and any further monetary donations received by him or her or it to that account.

(2)A soon as maybe after the commencement of section 49 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2001, and from time to time thereafter as circumstances require, the appropriate officer of a political party referred to in section 71 shall, if the party is one to which subsection (1) applies, notify the Public Offices Commission of the name and address of each accounting unit of the political party and the name of the responsible person or persons of the accounting unit.

(3)A member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament or a political party shall ensure that a donation statement furnished by him or her or it under section 24 to the Public Offices Commission is accompanied by–

(a)a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which he or she or it has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the year preceding the year in which the said donation statement is furnished, and

(b)a certificate in a form directed by the Public Offices Commission signed by the member, representative or an officer of the political party, as the case may be, stating that all monetary donations received by the member, representative or political party during the preceding year were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for political purposes.

(4)An unsuccessful candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election shall ensure that a donation statement furnished by him or her under section 24 to the Public Offices Commission is accompanied by–

(a)a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which he or she has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the period beginning on the date of opening of the account and ending on polling day at the election, and

(b)a certificate, in a form directed by the Public Offices Commission, signed by him or her stating that all monetary donations received by him or her during the said period were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for political purposes.

(5)Not later than 31 March in every year, the responsible person of a third party or of an accounting unit shall furnish to the Public Offices Commission a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which the third party or accounting unit has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the preceding year together with a certificate, in the form directed by the Commission signed by him or her stating that all monetary donations received by the third party or accounting unit during the preceding year were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for political purposes.

(6) The certificate furnished pursuant to subsection (3), (4) or (5) shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration made by the person by whom the certificate is furnished that, to the best of the person's knowledge and belief, the certificate is correct in every material respect and that the person has taken all reasonable action in order to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the certificate.

(7) If a person to whom subsection (3) or (4), other than a political party, applies, dies before the expiration of the period for furnishing the donation statement referred to in those subsections to the Public Offices Commission the requirements of those subsections with respect to that statement being accompanied by the statement and certificate referred to therein shall not apply.

(8) The Public Offices Commission shall retain the statements, certificates and statutory declarations furnished to it pursuant to subsections (3), (4) and (5) and shall not disclose the contents of those statements, certificates or declarations unless ordered by a Court to do so or save when such disclosure is required in connection with an investigation held by the Commission.

(9) A member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament, an unsuccessful candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election, a political party or the responsible person of a third party or of an accounting unit, who or which fails to comply with subsection (1), (3), (4) or (5) shall be guilty of an offence.

23C–As soon as may be after the receipt by it of a donation the value of which exceeds £100 and before incurring any expenses for political purposes or, as the case may be, incurring, subsequent to that receipt, any further such expenses, a third party shall furnish to the Public Offices Commission in writing–

(a)the name and address of the third party and the name and address of the responsible person or each responsible person in relation to the third party,

(b)a statement of the nature, purpose and estimated amount of the donations to, and proposed expenses of, the third party in any year, and

(c)an indication of the third party's connection, if any, with any politi cal party or candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election or referendum or otherwise.”.

(e)in section 25 by–

(i)the insertion in subsection (1) of ‘or the responsible person of a third party or of an accounting unit' after ‘at the election';

(ii)the insertion in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of ‘or 23A' after ‘section 23';

(iii)the insertion in subsection (1)(b) after ‘thereof' of ‘or fails to return the donation or part of the donation exceeding the limit to the donor under section 23A';

(iv)the insertion in subsection (1)(c) of ‘furnish the statement of an institution, certificate or statutory declaration required under section 23B or' after ‘fails to';

(v)the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (d) of subsection (1):

‘(d)knowingly–

(i)furnishes a donation statement under this Part or makes a statutory declaration referred to in section 24 or

(ii)furnishes a statement of an institution or a certificate or makes a statutory declaration referred to in section 23B,

which is false or misleading in any material respect, or';

(vi)the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (d) of subsection (1)–

‘(e)fails to comply with section 23C.';

(vii)the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (c) of subsection (2)–

‘(c)where the conviction relates to–

(i)a failure to furnish a statement of an institution or certificate or make a statutory declaration referred to in section 23B, or

(ii)a failure to furnish a donation statement under section 24,

the person shall be guilty of a further offence on every day on which the failure continues after such conviction and for each such offence the person shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £100.',

(f)in section 46 by–

(i)the deletion in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of all the words from ‘“donation'” down to and including ‘namely–' and substituting ‘“donation” means any contribution given by any person to a candidate at a presidential election for the purpose of promoting the election of the candidate at that election or otherwise affecting the outcome of that election or to a third party for the purpose of promoting the election of a candidate at the presidential election or otherwise affecting the outcome of that election, and includes all or any of the following, namely–';

(ii)the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (a) of subsection (2)–

‘(aa)“account” means an account in an institution in the State for the purpose of crediting and debiting money received in respect of donations;

"candidate" means a person who, on or before the date of the making of the order appointing polling day at a presidential election is declared by himself or herself or by others to be a candidate at that election;

"institution" means–

(a)the holder of a licence under section 9 of the Central Bank Act, 1971,

(b)a building society incorporated or deemed to be incorporated under the Building Societies Act, 1989, or a body incorporated in a corresponding manner under the law of any other Member State of the European Communities,

(c)a trustee savings bank within the meaning of the Trustees Savings Bank Act, 1989,

(d)ACC Bank plc,

(e)An Post,

or

(f)a person authorised in accordance with the European Communities (Licensing and Supervision of Credit Institutions) Regulations, 1992 (S.I. No. 395 of 1992), to carry on business in the State;

references to promoting the election of a candidate at a presidential election or otherwise affecting the outcome of that election shall be construed as references to–

(i)promoting or opposing, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate or soliciting votes for or against a candidate,

(ii)presenting the policies or a particular policy of a candidate or the views of a candidate on any matter connected with the election or the comments of a candidate with regard to the policy or policies of a candidate at the election or otherwise;

(iii)otherwise influencing the outcome of the election;

"responsible person", in relation to a third party, means the person or persons responsible for the organisation, management or financial affairs of the third party;

"third party", in relation to a presidential election, means any person, other than a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties under Part III of the Electoral Act, 1992, or a candidate at a presidential election, who, in any particular year, accepts a donation the value of which exceeds £100.',

(g)in section 47 by–

(i)the insertion in subsection (1) of ‘or third party' after ‘presidential election',

(ii)the insertion in subsection (2) of

(I)‘or third party' after ‘presidential election' and after ‘candidate concerned' and

(II)‘or the certificate to be furnished under section 48B' after ‘section 48' where it first occurs;

(h)the insertion of the following sections after section 48:

48A.–(1)Without prejudice to subsection (2), none of the following persons, namely–

(a)a candidate,

(b)a presidential election agent, or

(c)a third party at a presidential election,

shall accept from a particular person in a particular year a donation the value of which exceeds–

(i)in case the first-mentioned person falls within paragraph (a) or (b), £2,000, or

(ii)in case the first-mentioned person falls within paragraph (c), £5,000.

(2) None of the persons referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1) shall accept a donation of whatever value given by–

(a)an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside the island of Ireland, or

(b)a body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland, being an office from which the carrying on of one or more of its principal activities is directed.

(3)Where a person makes more than one donation in relation to the same presidential election to the same candidate, presidential election agent or third party all such donations shall, for the purposes of this section, be aggregated and treated as a single donation received by the person concerned, and references in subsequent provisions of this section to a donation the acceptance of which is prohibited by subsection (1) shall be construed accordingly.

(4)Where, notwithstanding subsection (1) or (2), a donation, the acceptance of which is prohibited by either subsection, is made to a person, agent or third party referred to therein, the person, agent or third party, as the case may be, or, in the case of a donation to the first-mentioned person which is made after the appointment by him or her of a presidential election agent, the presidential election agent, shall, not later than 14 days after the receipt of the donation, either–

(a)return the donation, or, in the case of a donation, referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned, to the donor and keep a written record of that return for the purposes of its being furnished to the Public Offices Commission, if required by it, or

(b)notify the Public Offices Commission of such receipt and remit the donation, or, in the case of a donation referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned or the value thereof, to the Commission.

(5)If a donation is accepted by or on behalf of a candidate at a presidential election before the appointment by the candidate of a presidential election agent, the candidate shall furnish to the relevant agent details of such donations, together with the relevant documentation, and thereafter the presidential election agent shall be responsible for furnishing the relevant statement to the Public Offices Commission.

(6) A person who fails to comply with subsection (4) or (5) shall be guilty of an offence.

48B.–(1) Where a candidate at a presidential election, a presidential election agent or a third party receives a monetary donation the value of which exceeds £100, there shall be opened and maintained–

(a)in the case of such a receipt by the candidate before the appointment by him or her of a presidential election agent, by the candidate,

(b)in the case of such a receipt by the candidate after such an appointment is made, by that agent, and

(c)in any other case, by the presidential election agent or third party, as the case may be,

an account at an institution in the State and there shall be lodged to that account by the person who has opened it that donation and any further monetary donations received by him or her or it.

(2) A presidential election agent shall ensure that a donation statement furnished by him or her under section 48 to the Public Offices Commission is acompanied by–

(a)a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which he or she or the candidate for whom he or she is a presidential election agent has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the period beginning on the date of opening of the account and ending on polling day at the presidential election, and

(b)a certificate, in a form directed by the Public Offices Commission, signed by the presidential election agent, stating that all monetary donations received during the said period by him or her or the candidate for whom he or she is such an agent were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for promoting the election of the said candidate or otherwise affecting the outcome of the said election.

(3) A third party shall, not later than 56 days after polling day at a presidential election, furnish to the Public Offices Commission a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which the third party has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the period beginning on the date of opening of the account and ending on polling day at the presidential election, together with a certificate, in a form directed by the Commission, signed by the third party, stating that all monetary donations received during the said period by the third party were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for promoting the election of a candidate at the said election or otherwise affecting the outcome of the said election.

(4) The certificate furnished pursuant to subsection (2) or (3) shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration made by the person by whom the certificate is furnished that, to the best of the person's knowledge and belief, the certificate is correct in every material respect and that the person has taken all reasonable action in order to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the certificate.

(5) The Public Offices Commission shall retain the statements, certificates and statutory declarations furnished to it pursuant to subsections (2), (3) and (4) and shall not disclose the contents of those statements, certificates or declarations unless ordered by a Court to do so or save when such disclosure is required in connection with an investigation held by the Commission.

(6) A candidate, presidential election agent or third party who fails to comply with subsection (1), (2), (3) or (4) shall be guilty of an offence.

48C.–As soon as may be after the receipt by it of a donation the value of which exceeds £100 and before incurring any expenses for the purposes of promoting the election of a candidate at a presidential election or otherwise affecting the outcome of such an election or, as the case may be, incurring, sub sequent to that receipt, any further such expenses a third party shall furnish to the Public Offices Commission in writing–

(a)the name and address of the third party and the name and address of the responsible person or each responsible person in relation to the third party,

(b)a statement of the nature, purpose and estimated amount of the donations to, and proposed expenses of, the third party in any year, and

(c)an indication of the third party's connection, if any, with any political party or candidate at the election.”,

(i)in section 61 by–

(i)the insertion of ‘or a candidate or a third party' after ‘candidate' and after ‘said agent' in subsection (2);

(ii)the insertion of ‘or the statement of an institution, certificate or statutory declaration required by section 48B' after ‘section 48' in paragraphs (f) and (g);

(iii)the substitution of ‘respect, or' for ‘respect.' in paragraph (g);

(iv)the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph (g)–

‘(h)fails to notify the Public Offices Commission in accordance with section 47 or 48A of the receipt of a donation acceptance of which is prohibited by that section, or

(i)fails to remit to the Public Offices Commission in accordance with section 47 or 48A such a donation or the value thereof, or fails to return the donation or part of it exceeding the limit to the donor under section 48A,

(j)fails to notify the Public Offices Commission in accordance with section 48C.'

(v)the insertion of ‘or a statement of an institution, certificate or statutory declaration under section 48B' after ‘section 48' in subsection (5)(c).".

Government amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 90f2>a:

In subparagraph (b)(ii) of the new new Section 49, after the definition of "account" in the proposed insertion to Section 22 of the Act of 1997 to insert the following:

"‘accounting unit', in relation to a political party, means a branch, including the head quarters of a political party if it is a separate accounting unit or other subsidiary organisation of the party, which in any particular year, receives a donation the value of which exceeds £100.

‘candidate' means a person who on or before the date of movement of a writ in relation to a Dáil general election or bye-election or the date of the making of the order appointing polling day in relation to a Seanad election or an election to".

This new Part includes amendments to the Electoral Act, 1997, for the introduction of new limits on political donations, the opening of special political donation accounts, prohibition on the receipt of political donations from non-Irish citizens resident abroad and from corporate and incorporated bodies that do not have a place of business on the island of Ireland and other consequential amendments in paragraphs (f) to (j). The Part also includes similar amendments for presidential elections. Local elections are included in the amendments to section 57 of the Bill.

The amendments are set out in paragraphs (a) to (i). The first amendment in paragraph (a) to section 3 of the Electoral Act, 1997, is of a technical nature. It includes the new section, proposed in later amendments, on political donations and the limit for opening the special accounts in the provision of the 1997 Act, which provides for increasing the monetary values of limits in accordance with increases in the consumer price index. The new sections added are 23A, 23B, 48A and 48B.

In paragraph (b), this amendment provides for two amendments to section 22A of the Electoral Act, 1997, which is an interpretation section for Part 5 on the disclosure of donations. The first part of the amendment inserts ‘third party' in paragraph (a) of subsection (2), as third parties are included for the purpose of donation limits and opening of special donation accounts.

The second part of the amendment provides for the inclusion of the following new definitions in section 22: account, accounting unit, candidate, institution, political group, political purposes, responsible person and third party. These definitions are necessary for the new sections proposed. The definition of a candidate is new as there is no definition of a candidate in electoral law. There are various views of when a person becomes a candidate and it is generally regarded as being when the nomination paper is accepted by the returning officer. This would not be practicable once there are limits on donations. There must be a definitive starting date.

The definition of political purposes is also important to bring some certainty and parameters to the scope of the legislative measures. It is based on the definition of electoral expenses and includes campaigns conducted by third parties. The definition of third parties is also new and it relates to bringing campaign groups within the control on donation limits. It states that a third party is a person, other than a registered political party or a candidate at an election, who accepts a donation for a political purpose which exceeds £100 in a particular year. A person is already defined in the Act as including corporate and unincorporated bodies.

Paragraph (c) inserts a reference to a third party in section 23, which provides for the treatment of anonymous donations. The inclusion of third parties is necessary as a consequence of their inclusion in the donation limits and special accounts provisions.

Paragraph (d) provides for the inclusion of three sections. Section 23A provides that a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, an MEP, a candidate in the Dáil, Seanad or European elections, a political party, including a branch of a party, and a third party shall be prohibited from accepting a donation above a specified limit from the same source in a year. The specified limits are £5,000 for a political party, a branch of a political party or a third party and £2,000 for a public representative or a candidate at an election.

Subsection (3) provides for the aggregation of donations in the same year from the same source. Subsection (2) provides that a donation cannot be accepted from an individual who is not an Irish citizen and who resides outside the island of Ireland and from a corporate or unincorporated body which does not have an office On the island of Ireland, from which one or more of its principal activities is directed. Subsection (4) provides for the exclusion from the £2,000 limit of a constituency office provided for a public representative by any person. Subsection (5) provides that where a donation above the limit is received it must, within 14 days, be returned to the donor or to the Public Offices Commission or in the case of a monetary donation, that part of the donation over the limit must be returned. Subsection (6) provides that failure to comply with subsection (5) will be an offence.

The substance of the Minister's proposal is to continue the procedure of corporate donations to politicians. He is indicating a certain limit on donation amounts of £2,000 to a Member of the European Parliament or a Dáil or Seanad candidate and £5,000 to a political party, a third party or an accounting unit. These are very substantial sums of money that can be paid to politicians and to political parties. They do not in any way rectify the difficulty that has been experienced over recent years where political donations have brought politics into disrepute. We have been waiting nearly 12 months for these amendments and I had thought that when we finally got them, we would get something exceptional, but that is not the case. We still have the same system of political funding. Given everything that has been happening, it is unacceptable that we should not have made a greater effort to separate politics from corporate funding.

The second provision relating to an individual other than an Irish citizen who resides outside the island of Ireland is good in so far as it goes. It is appropriate for democracy here that we do not have persons who are not citizens of this country or corporate bodies based in other countries interfering with the way we run our democracy. My problem is that it seems very difficult to ensure that is the case. If an individual who is an Irish citizen in the United States, Australia or elsewhere wishes to make a contribution, that is reasonable as long as it is a small contribution on a personal basis. However, from that distance, how is it possible to ensure that person is a bona fide citizen of the country as opposed to a front for the channelling of funds to a political party? How will the Minister ensure that will not happen? If the sum of money were limited to a very small amount it would be easier to ensure that it could be supervised. However, as it stands it will be very difficult.

My main concern is that we still have the system of corporate donations whereby everything that happened in the past can happen again. This is not reform of the present discredited system. The public was looking to us to show leadership and provide absolute accountability of where our funding originated. The danger is that we might pass this legislation and when people see such large sums of money that will emanate from corporate bodies and individuals, they will look with a jaundiced view once more on the political arena. This section does not address the concerns that have been expressed over recent years, and even more revelations emerged today from the tribunals. I am extremely disappointed to have a capping of £5,000.

The Government amendments came in at virtually the same time as amendments from the Labour Party and Fine Gael. Normally, we would have an opportunity to adjust our amendments in response to Government amendments, or vice versa, but in this case that was not possible. On looking at the Government amendments and our own, I expected that they would be taken together and I would prefer to treat them in that way. I do not wish to engage in a Second Stage speech, but the Minister indicated during Second Stage that he intended to make some modifications and we asked him to tell us exactly what the Government had in mind in relation to contributions and donations. He said he was meeting with the other parties and that they were coming to an agreement with regard to donations, but no such agreement was ever reached. The position of my party has always been that we do not accept political donations from any company, trade union or other group with a commercial interest, and that still remains our position.

It would have been helpful if both sets of amendments had been taken together so that we could compare the relative proportions of contributions proposed. Our recommendations in that regard are substantially less than those of the Government. I spoke earlier about the size of posters. I am not sure that posters sway politics, but they must have some influence, otherwise we would not put them up. In the final analysis, the party with the largest donations, if it believes it can buy votes in that way, will try to raise money to spend on that process. We have to ensure that contributions do not influence our decisions. I believe the same view is held on the other side of the House, but there is an inclination to go for the larger amounts. We do not believe in that. The public will make its decision on the basis of the arguments presented on any given issue. The Nice treaty referendum might be a prime example for all of us in terms of putting out simple messages.

On the amendments, I ask the indulgence of the Chair to allow us to go back through them. I believe certain amendments should have been grouped together more appropriately.

Those amendments which have been grouped may be discussed together. The others can only be discussed as they arise. Amendment No. 90a, amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 90a and amendments Nos. 91a, 91b and 91e are grouped.

Perhaps I can ask for some leniency from the Chair. In relation to the specified amount for the purpose of this section, I proposed that in page 48, paragraph (e), between lines 37 and 38, the following should be substituted for subsection (4): “The specified amount for the purpose of this section shall be, as respects either a political party or any other person, £500.” I believe that anything over £500 requires an explanation as to where it came from. That is a reasonable amount of money. It is substantial in its own right without being excessive.

Amendment No. 91e proposes:

Following the coming into force of this Act, a donation shall only be made by an individual citizen of the State ordinarily resident in the State in an amount which does not or in amounts which do not in total in any one year exceed £1,000 to any political party or to any individual and where more than one donation is made in the same year–

(a) to a political party and to one or more persons who were members of that party when the donation was made, or

(b) to two or more persons who were members of the same party when the donation was made.

Without going into it more fully, I believe it is clear that we are trying to reduce excessive outside influence on voting patterns. Even the possibility that anybody could be influenced as a result of donations must be reduced if not eliminated. Our approach is that donations should only be from individuals. I recall that Senator Walsh and I discussed this matter and of course there are ways around every law. We are trying to ensure that there is accountability for the sums received and that there is no unreasonable pressure placed on any political person or party as a result of contributions of a substantial nature.

I also wish to go back to amendment No. 92a, about which I spoke to the Minister at the time. This would involve the substitution in section 32 of the sums which the Minister has included. The objective was to provide for index-linking to the 1997 amounts, which were £14,000, £17,000 and £20,000, in each relevant section. By reference to the consumer price index, the figure would come to £14,000 for expenditure purposes, which I believe is adequate for any party. It is a very sad reflection if votes are in proportion to expenditure, but I believe there is an association between donations and voting patterns and we must break that link. By reducing the Minister's proposed figures in line with 1997 levels, as I am suggesting, that should be adequate today. I believe the 1997 figures were agreed at the time by the Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Parties. I see no reason for the very substantial increases which the Minister is proposing. I believe index-linking to the consumer price index is the right approach.

The matters to which Senator Coogan has referred were debated fairly fully on Second Stage. The debate is really about whether politics should be 100% publicly funded or whether it should be a combination of some public funding and voluntary contributions. I prefer the latter option.

In the election in Britain last week, there were candidates representing all sorts of fringe groups, many of which probably had very little to do with the remit of politics. If 100% funding applied, people could be attracted to run for election purely to get the funding. I understand that, under the Public Office Commission rules, certain social expenditure is included as qualifying expenditure. This could induce many people to avail of such a system. In any event, it is only appropriate in a democracy that people would be allowed to contribute voluntarily towards the political system if they desire to do so.

I fully agree with Senator Coogan's comment that such contributions should not influence voting patterns and accordingly the amounts should be kept to a reasonable level. The Minister is to be complimented on introducing limits on voluntary contributions, both to individuals and to political parties. It is disingenuous to pretend that there is some material difference between contributions from corporate bodies and from private individuals who may well be the owners of those corporate bodies. I do not think there is any real distinction. It is a very dubious argument and I believe the public will see it as such. The limits for individuals are reasonable at £2,000. The pro vision that it must be held in special accounts by the individuals and that this will be subject to annual certification brings transparency, traceability and accountability into the system for the first time. That is certainly welcome. It also means that any such contributions will have to be spent on qualifying election expenditure. However, in my view – I am reminded here of the widow's mite – the £5,000 limitation for political parties is far too low. It may be a lot to one person but it would be small to many corporates making very large amounts of money. By limiting it to £5,000, there will be an imposition on the taxpayer to fund the system.

There is a fine balance between what should come from the taxpayer and the private sector. The analogy with what the tribunals are investigating is flawed because all of those payments were secret and not exposed to public scrutiny. The was no legislation then, but now all such contributions over the limits must be declared by the donor and the party and so be on the public record. Such transparency ensures that we have the standards to which we all aspire in public life, which have been there since the foundation of the State with a few exceptions. I welcome the provisions and my comments on the £5,000 limit are my only criticism given the costs of professionally running a political party.

Contributing to the funds of political parties is a legitimate practice. They perform an essential function in democracies and it is in society's interests that they should be resourced to carry out that function effectively. In some countries, contributing to political parties is encouraged by tax incentives. Some Senators suggested that. Contributors are motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest in their recognition that effective political parties are essential to a healthy democracy. This is true whether one is an individual putting a pound on a plate, a trade union sponsoring a candidate or an industrialist making a corporate donation.

Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party declare that they want a ban on corporate donations. Neither of their Private Member's Bills defines what is meant by a corporate donation. This fixation is difficult to understand as it is difficult to separate individual and company donations. Without asking any individual to certify that the donation is his or his personal funds, it is difficult to see how a ban could operate effectively. Even if an individual gave such a certificate, how would one prevent the amount of the donation being recouped later? How wide would the definition of corporate need to be? Would it include a business, whether incorporated or not, owned by an individual? To distinguish between individuals and bodies corporate is impractical. Many campaign bodies are incorporated. Would they be banned from receiving corporate donations for political activities? Such an approach would lead to constitutional court actions under restrictions of freedom of speech and assembly. A system of limits on amounts and disclosure will meet public concerns.

The disclosure requirement is to make for greater openness in the conduct of public affairs. In the past, political contributions were treated as confidential to protect the donors' right to privacy. Some donors, particularly those in business, had an understandable apprehension that if they were known to contribute to particular parties their business interests might suffer. Confidentiality in this area gave rise to suspicions that substantial contributions were used to influence decisions. The disclosure requirements preserve the right to privacy of persons and bodies making modest contributions to parties or candidates while ensuring that the public will be informed of substantial donations and their source.

The regulatory context in which we operate today is different. Present disclosure requirements would have highlighted or prevented some of the matters being investigated by tribunals. No one condones such activity and measures which improve the present regulatory regime must be considered. However, further measures must be reasonable, workable, without, where possible, increasing the returns that public representatives must make. The present disclosure requirements address the suspicion that persons with substantial resources may improperly influence official decisions. It does not matter if the suspicion had any basis. It must be dealt with. The most effective weapon for combating suspicion is openness. Suspicion has lessened since the disclosure provision of the 1997 Act, as evidenced by the lack of public comment when the details are published by the Public Offices Commission. The 1997 Act does not prohibit any donation, apart from anonymous ones exceeding £100, and does not set a ceiling. It removes the right to privacy in the case of donations exceeding the specified level. The reports from the Public Offices Commission indicate that the existing provisions are operating satisfactorily.

Regarding the proposed maximum limits, the Government considered the freedom of expression rights in the Constitution's Article 40 and Articles 10 and 14 of the European Charter of Human Rights. The core is whether it is constitutionally permissible to limit the acceptance of donations for political purposes and thereby prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association, pursuant to the Constitution's Article 40(6)1º (i), (ii) and (iii). Making a political donation can be regarded as an expression of the donor's right to express a political conviction or opinion or his freedom of association. The right to express freely one's convictions and opinions attaches expressly to citizens, subject to public order and morality. Measures limiting the exercise of a citizen's constitutional rights must be articulated and of such preponderance as to outweigh any constitutional imperative to vindicate a citizen's right to freedom of expression. The Government considers that the proposed limits would permit a citizen to exercise his or her constitutional rights while introducing reasonable regulation. The size of limits is a matter for debate but it does not accept that ban on the size of corporate donations. Fine Gael shared this view until they changed leader. Going along with the proposals of the Opposition parties would create additional fictitious problems as is borne out by Fine Gael's recent difficulties.

The key factor is disclosure. The present disclosure limits and procedures will continue. No problems arise from these. The Government proposals require parties, public representatives and candidates to open a special bank account for any donation over £100 in any year. This applies also to campaign groups which receive donations for political purposes. Statements of these accounts must be furnished annually to the Public Offices Commission, but they will not be available for inspection unless required by a High Court order or an investigation by the commission. The proposal exempts constituency offices or equivalent secretarial services by their party or private firms, which were a factor in some of the disclosures made, as is known from the commissioner's report. Members will continue to disclose these donations annually. The prohibition of foreign donations is included indirectly in Fine Gael's and the Labour Party's Private Member's Bills.

The Government considered the constitutional issues and those arising from the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 40(6)1º (i) of the Constitution is silent on whether it applies only to citizens resident within the State and so there is no geographic limitation on the exercise of the right. However, given that the active acceptance of the donation occurs within the State or on the island of Ireland, the manifestation and exercise of these rights of the non-resident citizens occurs within the State or on the island. If Article 40.6.1ºii is considered in conjunction with Article 2 in the context of the making of a donation from abroad, there is a very strong argument that Article 40.6.1ºii applies to such a donation regardless of whether the donor is resident abroad.

The Labour Party is opposed to these donations. Fine Gael is limiting the maximum annual political donation to £1,000 for an individual and party. The Government is in government and what it proposes will be the position—

Will we go home?

—if the House agrees to it. I understand from what the Senators have said that they will vote against it. It is important to recognise that there is a huge change here and the Government is changing the existing position where there was no legal provision in regard to limiting the amounts. The amounts must be considered as fairly reasonable. One has to consider that democracy has to work. If we are going to reduce, or put a limit on, the amounts that can be paid to parties and individuals, we have to ensure that the system works. An alternative proposal is being made to ensure parties are adequately funded in view of modern day expenses.

I do not see a great difference between the Fine Gael position and that of the Government other than this distinction it is making between corporate and individual donations. I have dealt with that and I do not think we can ever resolve it. We have consulted the legal profession extensively in that regard and the strong opinion is that one cannot distinguish between both. I do not see how Fine Gael's position stands up. It may be a suitable position to take in Opposition but if Fine Gael was in government, it would take a different view on this issue.

That is a disgrace. That is a terrible assumption to make. We have stood quite clearly in regard to this issue, whether in or out of Government. I do not know why the Minister said that if we were in Government we would take a different stance.

Acting Chairman

Senator Coogan, the Minister, without interruption.

I am entitled to express a political opinion. I commend these amendments to the House.

We have come to the kernel of the debate, or at least the part on which the public will focus. What has happened today is a sea change by the Government in regard to the issues. It has modified its stance and has reduced the amounts about which it was talking, except in contributions. That is a direct result of the change in our leadership to which the Minister referred. The new leader decided to go in a particular direction, he had every right to do so and he has the support of every party member in that regard. I cannot understand why the Minister brought it up because at the heart of the issue is the very thing he wants to stop. Our leader has seen the undue influence corporate donations can make on voting patterns in local government and general elections and he wants to see that end. He should have been praised for that and I am surprised the Minister did not do so – instead he tried to condemn and make a snide remark.

I do not know what lawyers the Minister consulted to distinguish between a corporate and personal donation. If a person gives a cheque and it comes out of a corporate account, that is a corporate donation and it can be traced back given the banking systems we have. It is not beyond the ken of man to find out from where a donation came, whether corporate or individual. We should accept the limitations we propose which are not moderate – they are reasonable amounts and are enough on which to run any campaign. The Government is confusing two things, money gets it elected and not a value system.

On a point of order, I think Senator Coogan is discussing amendment No. 92a which we have not yet reached.

Acting Chairman

We are on amendment No. 90f2>a.

I am responding to the remarks of the Minister and I am within my rights. If the Minister can say what he said, I can respond accordingly. The public has a vision of a relationship between corporate donations and substantial donations and decisions made by Members of the Dáil or Seanad and members of local government. We must try to break that relationship and my amendment can do that. The sums proposed are moderate. If a political party has a value system, ideals and proposals that are acceptable to the people, they will vote for it. It is not based on the amount of money one can expend or collect. That is not the way any Government should be run.

I do not want to prolong the discussion because we have stated our position. I am not prepared to accept this new amendment from the Minister. I am very surprised at Senator Walsh for saying that a £5,000 donation to a political party or a third party is too low and that the cap should be much higher. I do not agree with that. A sum of £5,000 is a lot of money and a corporate donation of £2,000 to an individual candidate is a lot of money. It may not be seen as a lot of money by Fianna Fáil but it is a lot of money for the Labour Party and I am sure most of the people who have stood for election would regard it as a sizeable amount. I do not want to address this much further because we want to proceed. Will the Minister reply to the other point I raised in terms of funding from outside this jurisdiction and how he is going to ensure that a citizen is a bona fide person and not a front through which money could be channelled into this country to fund a political party or otherwise?

In regard to Senator Costello taking me to task on the size of the donation, I remind him that declarations from many of his colleagues in the Labour Party have shown amounts in the order of £5,000, which is now prescribed for a party, as an individual contribution from the trade union movement. His party also omitted to declare a contribution from SIPTU of £27,000. In regard to the limits for political parties – I do not disagree with the limits for individuals, which are reasonable enough – the more that can be collected in that way the less will be the imposition on the taxpayer. If we have a transparent system, which is being talked about, everybody will be aware of the size of the contributions, from where they came and to which political party they have gone. That will introduce a healthier and a greater safeguard in the system than that which applied heretofore. By setting the limits so low for the parties, we are saying that the taxpayer will fund the political parties.

That is how it should be.

In time there will be a public reaction to that because democracy will necessitate that political parties are funded appropriately to enable them to transact their business in a way that serves the democratic process.

Amendment to amendment No. 90a agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Is amendment No. 90a, as amended, agreed to?

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.

Glynn, Camillus.Leonard, Ann.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Quill, Máirín.Quinn, Feargal.Walsh, Jim.

Níl

Burke, Paddy.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.

Keogh, Helen.Manning, Maurice.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Coogan and Costello.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 90b not moved.
SECTION 49.
Government amendment No. 90c90f2>c. In page 47, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
"(f2>c)in section 17 by–
(i)the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):
‘(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, the following payments shall be made out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof in each period of 12 months to each qualified party which applies therefor, namely–
(f2>a)an amount of £100,000, and
(f2>b)an amount which bears the same proportion to the amount referred to in paragraph (f2>a) of subsection (2) or, as appropriate, paragraph (f2>b)(i) of that subsection, as the proportion which the total number of first preference votes obtained by every candidate of the political party concerned at the preceding general election bears to the total number of first preference votes obtained by candidates of all qualified parties at that election.'
(ii)in subsection (2)–
(I)the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (f2>a):
‘(f2>a)The aggregate of the payments which may he made to qualified parties under subsection (1)(f2>b) shall not, subject to paragraph (f2>b), exceed three million pounds.', and
(II)the substitution in paragraph (f2>b)(i) of ‘which may be made under subsection (1)(f2>b)' for ‘which may be made under this section',
(iii)the deletion of subsection (3), and
(iv)the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (4):
‘(4A) Where, before the date for the making of a payment under this Part–
(f2>a)one or more political parties (which or each of which is referred to in this subsection as a "former party") is or are amalgamated with another political party (in this subsection referred to as the "enlarged party"), or
(f2>b) two or more political parties (each of which is also referred to in this subsection as a "former party") are merged into a political party established for the purpose of the merger (in this subsection referred to as the "new party"),
then, if the enlarged party or new party falls within paragraph (f2>a) of the definition of "qualified party" in section 16, the total number of first preference votes obtained by every candidate of each former party shall, for the purposes of paragraph (f2>b) of that definition and subsection (1)(f2>b) of section 17, be attributed to the enlarged party or the new party, as the case may be.',".

This amendment of section 17 of the Electoral Act, 1997 provides for increased State funding of registered political parties which achieve a minimum level of support in a general election. First, the funding provided for in section 17 of the Electoral Act, 1997 will be increased from £1.28 million annually to £3 million annually and will be divided among the political parties who achieve over 2% of the first preference votes as at present. Each registered political party which achieves over 2% of the first preference votes will receive a basic amount of £100,000 annually. Second, the amendments will provide for merged political parties after a general election provided each of the parties qualifies for funding after the general election.

Some may ask why the extra funding. I have already outlined that a complex modern society demands increasing professionalism and a hugely expanded range of expertise is required from people who become involved in public life. It is appropriate that recognition should be given to the common expense of all organised parties, irrespective of size, to maintain and equip a headquarters and employ staff. There is a constant base cost no matter how many seats or votes are obtained. It is only fair that an agreed common amount of funding be given to all parties who achieve a certain percentage and, thereafter, the top up is based on the strength of the parties.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 91 and 93 are related and will be discussed together.

Government No. 91:

In page 48, paragraph (e)(i)(II), line 30, to delete “‘section 26'” and substitute “‘section 26.'”.

These are textual amendments to insert a full stop in paragraph (f2>e) and substitute "exceeding" for "excluding" in paragraph (f2>q).

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 91f2>a and 91f2>b not moved.

Amendments Nos. 91f2>c and 91f2>d are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 91f2>c:

In page 48, to delete line 38.

These amendments are linked. The first is a technical amendment and the second provides that where a person who is required to make a donation statement dies before it is furnished. It will not be necessary to furnish a donation statement for that person.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 91f2>d:
In page 49, between lines 6 and 7 to insert the following:
"and
(iii) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (7)–
‘(8)If a person to whom subsection (1)(f2>a) or (2) applies dies before the expiration of the period for furnishing a statement and under subsection (1)(f2>a) or (2), a donation statement in respect of that person shall not be required to be made to the Public Offices Commission.'".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 91f2>e not moved.

Amendments Nos. 92 and 92f2>a are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 50, lines 4 to 7, to delete paragraph (f2>k)

I do not intend to debate it now. I am opposed to the proposals there, £20,000, £25,000 and £30,000. It was alluded to before and rather than getting into discussion I will leave it to be addressed on Report Stage.

In error I discussed this earlier. The sums I have proposed in my amendment are sufficient and I also include that they would remain indexed to the consumer or price index which is sufficient for any individual in running a campaign. Anything over that is superfluous. I will press the issue later on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 92f2>a not moved.
Government amendment No. 93:
In page 5l, paragraph (f2>q)(ii), line 1, to delete "excluding" and substitute "exceeding".
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 94:

In page 51, line 32, after "by" to insert "the insertion in subsection (1) after ‘employment' of ‘or the elector's personal circumstances' and by".

This amendment seeks to extend postal voting provided in section 63 of the Electoral Act, 1997 for electors whose occupation, service or employment render it unlikely that they will be able to go to a polling station on a polling date to electors due to personal circumstances of an elector. This would effectively mean that postal voting would be available on demand. Thus registration authorities would not be able to decide what personal circumstances would or would not be allowed. Extending postal voting to all electors would require serious consideration. While there might be a case for extending it to electors going on holidays or into hospital the matter requires serious consideration having regard to maintaining the secrecy and integrity of the ballot.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 49, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 50.

Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 95:
In page 54, paragraph (f2>m), line 41, to delete "subsection" and substitute "paragraph".

These are textual amendments to substitute "paragraph" for "subsection" in two places in subparagraphs (f2>b) and (f2>c) of paragraph (f2>m).

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 96:
In page 54, paragraph (f2>m), line 44, to delete "subsection" and substitute "paragraph".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 50, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 51.
Government amendment No. 97:
In page 56, paragraph (f2>d), between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following:
"(iii) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):
‘(2A) A notice containing a copy of the ballot paper in large print shall be displayed by the presiding officer in the polling station.';
and".

This amendment inserts text which was omitted in the original print of the Bill concerning the display of a large notice of the ballot paper at a polling station at a presidential election.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 51, as amended, agreed to.
Section 52 agreed to.
SECTION 53.

Amendments Nos. 98 and 99 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 98:
In page 58, paragraph (f2>b), line 10, after "paragraph (aa)” to insert “of sub-article (2)”.

No. 98 is a textual amendment. It inserts the words "of sub-article (2)" in paragraph (b)(1) to clarify text. Amendment No. 99 is a textual amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 99:
In page 58, paragraph (f2>c), line 30, to delete "poll" and substitute "poll'".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 53, as amended, agreed to.
Section 54 agreed to.
SECTION 55.

Amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 102 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 100:
In page 63, to delete lines 7 to 14 and substitute the following:
"(f2>c) A governing body shall not be obliged to comply with paragraph (f2>a) of this subsection until the day which is 3 years after the commencement ofsection 55 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2000, but if it complies with that paragraph before that day, paragraph (f2>b) of this subsection and section 25 (inserted by section 166 of the Principal Act) of this Act shall apply accordingly.';”.

Mr. Molloy

This amendment substitutes a new paragraph (f2>c) which replaces paragraph (f2>a) for subsection (f2>a) and paragraph for subsection. Amendment No. 101 is a textual amendment to substitute "he" for "the". Amendment No. 102 will insert a new subsection into the new rule 15a to provide that a person whose details are included in the Seanad university edited register can ask for his or her details to be deleted from the edited register. This is the same as applies to the ordinary edited register of electorate.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 101:
In page 63, line 22, to delete "the" and substitute "he".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 102:
In page 64, paragraph (f2>f)(iv), between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(2) Where an elector whose details are included in an edited register requests the registration officer to delete the elector's details from the edited register, the registration officer shall note the request and notify any person who received a copy of the edited register of the request.".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 55, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 56.

On the principal list of amendments amendment No. 103 is incorrectly numbered 102. Its correct number is 103. Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 103:

In page 64, to delete from and including "and" in line 30 down to and including "1992," in line 33.

Briefly, what I propose is to delete the party name or the emblem from the Seanad voting papers, once more on the principle that the Seanad is a vocational body and that party emblems are inappropriate.

We discussed vocational bodies earlier. I accept the amendment, which may go down in history.

Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Costello: I move amendment No. 104:
In page 64, line 36, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
"(c) in section 52
(i)by the deletion of ‘five' in paragraph (a) and the substitution therefor of ‘8',
(ii)by the deletion of ‘eleven' in paragraph (b) and the substitution therefor of ‘9',
(iii)by the deletion of ‘eleven' in paragraph (c) and the substitution therefor of ‘9'.
(iv)by the deletion of ‘seven' in paragraph (e) and the substitution therefor of ‘8',”.
Although this amendment deserves discussion, I will not press it. It can be discussed on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 56, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 105:

In page 64, before section 57, to insert the following new section:

"57.–In lieu of the provisions set out in Part V of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947, casual vacancies in Seanad Éireann shall be filled by the nomination of such person or body as is specified for the purpose by the member in question at the time of his or her candidacy or as soon as may be thereafter, but where no such person stands so specified the provisions of the said Part V shall have effect.".

As this amendment requires a great deal of discussion, I will withdraw it in favour of a debate on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
SECTION 57.

As amendments Nos. 106 to 110, inclusive, are related they may be discussed together, by agreement.

Government amendment No. 106:
In page 64, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:
"(a) in section 2(1)–
(i) by the insertion in the definition of ‘donation' after ‘candidate at an election', where those words first occur, of ‘or a member of a local authority, political party or third party in connection with an election, plebiscite or campaign';
(ii) by the substitution of the following definition for the definition of ‘local authority concerned':
‘"local authority concerned" means the local authority to which a candidate seeks or sought election or in whose functional area a local political matter arises;'".

The amendments to the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act , 1999, apply the provisions of the earlier amendments concerning donation limits and opening of special accounts to local authority members and candidates at local elections. Amendment No. 106 revises the definitions of "donation" and "local authority concerned" as a consequence of new amendments regarding limits on donations with a third party involvement. Amendment No. 107 provides for consequential textual amendments to section 13 of the 1999 Act following earlier amendments.

Amendment No. 108 includes a new paragraph (f2>j) which provides a new consequential textual amendment to section 14 of the 1999 Act following earlier amendments. Paragraph (f2>h) provides for consequential textual amendments to section 18 of the 1999 Act following earlier amendments. Paragraph (i) provides for consequential amendments to section 19 of the 1999 Act following earlier amendments.

Amendment No. 109 includes a new paragraph (f2>j) providing for the inclusion of a new Part IVA into the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act, 1999, concerning the new limits on political donations as introduced in the Electoral Act, 1997. The first new section, 19A, provides definitions for use in part IVA which are generally the same as earlier amendments to the Electoral Act, 1997. The second new section, 19B, provides that a member of a local authority, a candidate at a local election, a political party including a branch of a party and third parties shall be prohibited from accepting a donation above a specified limit from the same source within a year. The specified limits are £5,000 for political parties, branches of political parties or third parties and £2,000 for an individual. Subsection (3) provides for an aggregation of donations in the same year from the same source.

Section 2 applies the prohibition of certain foreign donations to local authority members and candidates at local elections. Subsection (4) provides for the exclusion from the £2,000 limit of a constituency office provided for a public representative. Subsection (5) provides that where a donation above the limit is received it must be returned to the donor, or to the Public Offices Commission in the case of a monetary donation over the limit, within 14 days. Subsection (7) provides that failure to comply with subsection (4) will be an offence.

The third new section, 19C, gives the Minister the power to vary amounts in line with changes in the CPI. It is the same as section 3 of the Electoral Act, 1997, and is necessary due to the introduction of donation limits. The fourth new section, 19D, provides that a member of a local authority, candidates at a local election or a third party receiving a political donation in excess of £100 in a year must lodge the money in a bank account in the State. In the case of a candidate who is not an elected representative, the period will be between the date of becoming a candidate and polling day. A statement of the account will be required to be furnished each year, or after the election in the case of an unsuccessful candidate to a local authority. Statements will not be made public by the local authority except by court order or during an investigation. It will be an offence not to comply with the provisions of this section.

The fifth new section, 19E, makes a new requirement for members of a local authority to furnish annually to the authority a statement of donations if any donation of over £500 was received during the year. It is the same as section 24 of the Electoral Act, 1997, which applies to Members of the Oireachtas and MEPs. The sixth new section, 19F, provides for the surrender to a local authority of anonymous donations in excess of £100 received by an elected member, third party or candidate at a local election. It is the same as section 23 of the Electoral Act, 1997, which applies to Members of the Oireachtas and MEPs. The seventh new section, 19G, will require third parties who receive political donations of over £100 in a year to notify details of the third party to the Public Offices Commission.

This is the meat of this Bill as far as I am concerned. It is unfortunate we will not get the opportunity to analyse every aspect of these amendments. While there are aspects of the amendments with which I have no difficulty and I totally support, I cannot support other measures being introduced here. Donation limits are too high, for example. My earlier amendments were contrary to the Government proposals on limits before us. Rather than rehashing the arguments I made earlier and on Second Stage, it would be appropriate if I return to this section on Report Stage by tabling amendments.

Similarly, I oppose the elements of this section that relate to donations, particularly the provision that a similar type of donation would be applied to a local authority as to a Dáil election. The problem is compounded as far as I am concerned, but we can address these matters on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 107:
In page 65, lines 8 and 9, to delete paragraph (e) and substitute the following new paragraph:
"(f) in section 13 by–
(i)in subsection (1) by–
(I)the insertion of ‘or an elected member' after ‘a designated person' where those words occur in paragraphs (a)(ii) and (b),
(II)the substitution for ‘A candidate' where those words occur in paragraphs (a)(iii) and (c) (i) of ‘An unsuccessful candidate',
(III)the insertion of ‘shall be in the prescribed form and' after ‘The statement' in paragraph (c)(iii)–
(ii) the insertion in subsection (2) of ‘elected member, unsuccessful' after ‘designated person',
(iii)the insertion in subsection (3) of ‘elected member, unsuccessful' after ‘designated person,'."
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 108:
In page 65, lines 10 to 33, to delete paragraph (f) and substitute the following new paragraphs:
"(g) in section 14 by the insertion in subsections (1) and (2) of ‘or a donation statement and a statutory declaration furnished pursuant to section 19E' after ‘section 13(1)(a)',
(h) in section 18 by–
(i) the substitution of ‘section 13, 19D or 19E' for ‘section 13' in subsection (1),
(ii) the substitution of ‘section 13 or 19E' for ‘section 13' in subsection (3)(a) and subsection (7),
(iii) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (5),
‘(5A) Where the local authority requests additional or supplemental information in relation to a statement furnished under section 13 such information shall be provided by the person who furnished the statement and shall be in a form, directed by the local authority, accompanied, if the local authority so requests, by a statutory declaration made by the person to the effect that to the best of his or her knowledge and belief the information is correct in every material respect and that he or she has taken all reasonable action in order to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the information.';
(iv) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (8).
‘(9) A person shall act in accordance with guidelines or advice published or given to the person under this section unless, by so doing, the act concerned would constitute a contravention of another provision of this Act.'.
(i)in section 19 by the substitution of ‘section 13 or 19E' for ‘section 13' in subsections (1) and (2).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 109:
109.In page 65, after line 33, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(j)by the insertion of the following Part after Part IV–
‘PART IVA
Disclosure of Donations
19A.–For the purposes of this Part–
"account" means an account in an institution in the State for the purpose of crediting and debiting money received in respect of donations;
"candidate" means a person who on or before the date of the making of the order appointing polling day in relation to an election is declared by himself or herself or by others to be a candidate at the election concerned;
"institution" means–
(a)the holder of a licence under section 9 of the Central Bank Act, 1971,
(b)a building society incorporated or deemed to be incorporated under the Building Societies Act, 1989, or a body incorporated in a corresponding manner under the law of any other Member State of the European Communities,
(c)a trustee savings bank within the meaning of the Trustees Savings Bank Act, 1989,
(d)ACC Bank plc,
(e)An Post,
or
(f)a person authorised in accordance with the European Communities (Licensing and Supervision of Credit Institutions) Regulations, 1992 (S.I. No. 395 of 1992), to carry on business in the State;
"local political matter" means a matter relating to the policy or policies or functions of a local authority or other statutory body in which are vested functions in relation to local government;
"political purposes" means any of the following purposes, namely–
(i)(I)to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party or a member of a local authority, or
(II)to present, directly or indirectly, the policies or a particular policy of a political party, a member of a local authority or a third party, or
(III)to present, directly or indirectly, the comments of a political party, a member of a local authority or a third party with regard to the policy or policies of another political party, member of a local authority, third party or candidate at the election, or at a plebiscite or campaign or otherwise, or
(IV)to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a third party in connection with the conduct or management of any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to a plebiscite or local political matter;
(ii)to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate at the election or to solicit votes for or against a candidate or to present the policies or a particular policy of a candidate or the views of a candidate with regard to any matter connected with the election or the comments of a candidate with regard to the policy or policies of a political party or third party or of another candidate at the election or otherwise;
(iii)otherwise to influence the outcome of the election, or a plebiscite or campaign;
"plebiscite" means a poll to ascertain the views or consent of qualified electors, within the meaning of section 67(2) of the Local Government Act, 1994, in relation to a local political matter.
"responsible person", in relation to a third party, means a person who is responsible for the organisation, management or financial affairs of the third party;
"third party", in relation to a local election, plebiscite or campaign, means any person, other than a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties under Part III of the Act of 1992 or a candidate at an election, who accepts, in any particular year, a donation the value of which exceeds £100.
19B.–(1)(a)Without prejudice to subsection (2), a candidate at an election shall not accept in connection with the election from a particular person a donation the value of which exceeds £2,000.
(b)Without prejudice to subsection (2), none of the following persons, namely–
(i)a member of a local authority,
(ii)a political party,
or
(iii)a third party,
shall accept from a particular person in a particular year a donation the value of which exceeds–
(I)in case the first-mentioned person falls within subparagraph (i), £2,000,
(II)in case the first-mentioned person falls within subparagraph (ii) or (iii), £5,000.
(2)None of the persons referred to in subsection (1) shall accept a donation of whatever value given by–
(a)an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside the island of Ireland,
or
(b)a body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland, being an office from which the carrying on of one or more of its principal activities is directed.
(3) Where a person makes more than one donation in the same year to the same member of a local authority or, in relation to the same election, plebiscite or campaign, to the same candidate or political party or, in connection with the same election, plebiscite or campaign, to the same third party, all such donations shall, for the purposes of this section, be aggregated and treated as a single donation received by the person concerned and references in subsequent provisions of this section to a donation the acceptance of which is prohibited by subsection (1) shall be construed accordingly.
(4) The limits referred to in subsection (1) shall not apply to the provision by any person of a constituency office to an individual or, if more than one such office is provided to the individual, whichever one of those offices is nominated in writing by the individual for the purposes of this subsection.
(5) Where, notwithstanding subsection (1) or (2), a donation the acceptance of which is prohibited by either subsection, is made to a person referred to therein the donee shall, not later than 14 days after the receipt of the donation, either–
(a)return the donation, or, in the case of a donation referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned, to the donor and keep a written record of that return for the purposes of its being furnished to the local authority concerned, if required by it,
or
(b)notify the local authority concerned of such receipt and remit the donation, or, in the case of a donation referred to in subsection (1) which is a monetary donation, the part of it exceeding the limit concerned or the value thereof to the authority.
(6) A local authority shall dispose of all moneys, property or goods received by it under subsection (5) in such manner as it determines.
(7) A person who fails to comply with subsection (5) shall be guilty of an offence.
19C.–(1)The Minister may, by order, vary any monetary amount specified in section 19A, 19B, 19D, 19E or 19F having regard to any change in the consumer price index since the coming into operation of the provision for the time being in force specifying the amount in question, including an order under this section, and may, by order, amend or revoke any such order.
(2) For the purposes of this section, "change in the consumer price index" means the difference between the consumer price index number last published before the date of the order under this section and the said number last published before the date of the coming into force of the provision specifying the amount applying immediately before the making of the said order, including an order under this section, expressed as a percentage of the last-mentioned number.
(3) Every order made under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the order is laid before it, the order shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything done thereunder.
19D.–(1)A member of a local authority, a candidate at an election or a third party who receives, in any particular year, a monetary donation the value of which exceeds £100 shall open and maintain an account in an institution in the State and shall lodge that donation and any further monetary donations received by him or her to that account.
(2) A member of a local authority or an unsuccessful candidate at an election shall ensure that, in the case of a member, the donation statement furnished by him or her under section 19E to a local authority and, in the case of an unsuccessful candidate, the statement furnished by him or her under section 13, is accompanied by–
(a)a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which he or she has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account, in the case of a member of a local authority, during the year preceding the year in which the said donation statement is furnished or, in the case of an unsuccessful candidate, during the period beginning on the date of opening of the account and ending on polling day at the election,
and
(b)a certificate, in the form directed by the Minister, signed by the member or unsuccessful candidate, stating that all donations referred to in subsection (1) that were received by him or her during the said preceding year or said period, as the case may be, were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for political purposes.
(3) Not later than 31 March in every year, the responsible person of a third party shall furnish to the local authority concerned a statement provided by the institution referred to in subsection (1) with which the third party has opened the account referred to therein specifying the transactions that have taken place in relation to the account during the preceding year together with a certificate, in the form directed by the Minister, signed by him or her stating that all donations referred to in subsection (1) that were received by the third party during the preceding year were lodged to the said account and all amounts debited from that account were used for political purposes.
(4) The certificate to be furnished under subsection (2) or (3) shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration made by the person by whom the certificate is furnished that, to the best of the person's knowledge and belief, the statement is correct in every material respect and that the person has taken all reasonable action in order to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the certificate.
(5) If a person to whom subsection (2) applies dies before the expiration of the period for the furnishing of the donation statement or, as the case may be, the statement under section 13 referred to in that subsection to the local authority concerned the requirements of that subsection with respect to that statement being accompanied by the statement and certificate referred to therein shall not apply.
(6) A local authority shall retain the statements, certificates and statutory declarations furnished to it pursuant to subsections (2) or (3) and shall not disclose the contents of those statements, certificates or declarations unless ordered by a Court to do so or save when such disclosure is required in connection with an investigation held by the local authority.
(7) A member of a local authority, a candidate at an election, a third party or the responsible person of a third party, as the case may be, who fails to comply with subsection (1), (2), (3) or (4) shall be guilty of an offence.
19E.–(1) Not later than the 31st day of January in every year, each person who, in the preceding year, was a member of a local authority shall furnish to the local authority concerned a written statement, in the form directed by the Minister, in respect of the preceding year indicating whether during that year the member received a donation the value of which exceeded £500 and stating in respect of each such donation (if any)–
(i)the value of the donation, and
(ii)the name, description and postal address of the person by or on whose behalf the donation was made.
(2) A statement furnished pursuant to subsection (1) (which shall be known, and is referred to in this Act, as a "donation statement") shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration made by the person by whom the statement is furnished that, to the best of the person's knowledge and belief, the statement is correct in every material respect and that the person has taken all reasonable action in order to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the statement.
(3) It shall be the duty of every person who is required by this section to furnish a donation statement and make a declaration to make such enquiries and maintain such records as are necessary for the purpose of furnishing the said statement and making the declaration.
(4) If the person to whom subsection (1) applies dies before the expiration of the period for furnishing a statement under that subsection, such statement shall not be required to be made to the local authority concerned.
19F.–(1)A member of a local authority, a candidate at a local election or a third party at a local election or a plebiscite or in connection with a campaign or otherwise shall not, directly or through any intermediary, accept a donation the value of which exceeds £100 unless the name and address of the person by or on whose behalf the donation is made are known to the member, candidate or third party, as the case may be.
(2) Where, notwithstanding subsection (1), a donation, acceptance of which is prohibited by that subsection, is made to a member of a local authority, a candidate at a local election or a third party at a local election or a plebiscite or in connection with a campaign or otherwise, the member, candidate or party concerned shall, not later than 14 days after the receipt of such donation, notify the local authority concerned in writing of such receipt and remit the donation or the value thereof to the local authority.
(3) The said local authority shall cause a copy of each notification received under subsection (2) by it to be laid before the members of the local authority and shall dispose of all moneys, property or goods received under the said subsection in such manner as it determines.
19G.–As soon as may be after the receipt by it of a donation the value of which exceeds £100 and before incurring any expenses for political purposes or, as the case may be, incurring, subsequent to that receipt, any further such expenses, a third party shall furnish to the local authority concerned in writing–
(a)the name and address of the third party and the name and address of the responsible person or each responsible person in relation to the third party,
(b)a statement of the nature, purpose and estimated amount of the donations to, and proposed expenses of, the third party in any year, and
(c)an indication of the third party's connection, if any, with any political party or candidate at the election or with plebiscite or campaign.'”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 110:
In page 65, after line 33, to insert the following new paragraphs:
"(k) in section 20 by–
(i) the deletion of ‘donations and' after ‘statement of' and the substitution of ‘section 13(1)(a)(ii)' for ‘subsection 13(1)(a)(iii)' in subsection (2),
(ii) the substitution of ‘pursuant to section 13' for ‘of donations and election expenses' in subsection (4),
(l) in section 21 by–
(i)the insertion of the following subsections after subsection (4)–
‘(4A) A person to whom section 19D applies shall be guilty of an offence if he or she–
(a) fails to furnish the statement of an institution, certificate or statutory declaration required by subsection (2) or (3) of section 19D on or before the relevant specified date, or
(b) knowingly furnishes such a statement, certificate or declaration which is false or misleading in any material respect.
(4B) A person shall be guilty of an offence if he or she–
(a) fails to notify the local authority concerned in accordance with section 19B or 19F of the receipt of a donation acceptance of which is prohibited by that section,
(b) fails to remit to the local authority concerned or donor in accordance with section 19B or 19F such a donation or part of a donation or value thereof,
(c) fails to furnish the statement and make the statutory declaration required by section 19E on or before the relevant specified date, or
(d) knowingly furnishes a donation statement or makes a statutory declaration required by section 19E which is false or misleading in any material respect,
(e) fails to notify the local authority concerned in accordance with section 19G of his or her intention to accept a donation under this Part';
(ii) by the insertion of ‘or section 19B, 19D, 19E, 19F or 19G' after ‘this section' in subsection (5)(a);
(iii) the substitution of ‘3(c), (4A)(b) or (4B)(d)' for ‘or (3)(c)' in subparagraph (ii) of subsection (5)(a);
(iv) the insertion of ‘or a statement or certificate or statutory declaration under section 19D or 19E' after ‘section 13' in paragraph (b) of subsection (5).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 57, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 19 June 2001.

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit again at 12 noon on Tuesday, 19 June 2001.

Top