I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"(b) If convicted on indictment, such a person shall be liable to a fine not exceeding €15,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.”.
This is a crucial amendment. I only called one vote last night and it was on a matter connected to this amendment. Those who drafted this Bill have regarded the electronic voting system as no different from our traditional voting system. If somebody wanted to interrupt or damage the whole election under the traditional system, it would be rather difficult. The most one could do, perhaps, would be to steal or set fire to a ballot box or damage a particular polling station. In drawing up the legislation, it was assumed that, on summary conviction, there would be a rather modest fine or term of imprisonment imposed on an individual who impersonated a garda or damaged a particular polling station or electoral effort.
The draftsmen have not taken into account what was at stake in the vote we had last night. Under the new system, if somebody decides to influence the election throughout the country, it is possible to do so by interfering with the software. This has certainly not been taken into account in differentiating between the crimes of impersonation and interference. One should not enter a polling station and steal somebody else's vote. If one does, one is liable to a fine on summary conviction. However, the legislators have not taken into account what could happen in the case of what I would call an indictment conviction. Those who fall under this category decide months or years ahead of an election, either for political reasons or as a result of bribery, to interfere with the software. Their actions damage the election as a whole. We had a vote on this last night and the Government did not accept my point. This amendment stipulates that, if convicted on indictment, such a person shall be liable to a fine not exceeding €15,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both. This should not be applied to somebody who impersonates somebody else, but it should certainly apply to one who decides to change the outcome of an election either because he has been bribed or for other reasons.
I spent some time on this issue last night and will just touch on the points made. I was strengthening the conclusion that, in proposing this Bill, we have acted differently than we have in respect of three other Bills. One of those Bills is the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which states an individual who impersonates a garda is liable, on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both. On breaches of the new civil liability legislation, the Civil Liability and Courts Bill 2004 states: "A person guilty of an offence under this Part shall be liable, upon conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both." If one breaks the rules when applying for a position in the public service, one can be fined €10,000 or jailed for up to two years on indictment.
This Bill ignores all that. It only regards the likely culprit as somebody who impersonates somebody else. That person is liable to a slap on the wrist, nothing like the penalties included in the other Bills I mentioned. That is a slip up. This Bill does not take into account that it is possible to interfere with software in a computer, possibly months ahead of an election, thereby changing the election result. That is a serious offence. The penalty in this Bill is a fine on summary conviction, a modest measure although it is an appropriate penalty for conviction of impersonating somebody else. There is a difference and the Minister and the Parliamentary Counsel have not taken it into account in this legislation.
This is an important element. We must differentiate between summary conviction and conviction on indictment. We have not yet done so. Perhaps the Minister has an answer that I did not hear last night but which will put my mind at rest.