That Seanad Éireann,
—mindful of revelations that up to 800,000 individuals may be inaccurately recorded on the elector register;
—aware of the huge potential for disenfranchisement and voter fraud that this situation causes;
—bearing in mind the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure a modern electoral system;
—the automatic registration of all individuals who turn 18 years of age, by utilising the PPS registration system;
—the establishment of an independent electoral commission to oversee all aspects of the electoral system;
—the scrapping of e-voting due to a lack of public confidence, which the poor state of the electoral register has exacerbated;
—the immediate setting up of a student summer scheme under which third level students would be employed for the summer months to work as enumerators in an effort to bring the register up to date as speedily as possible;
—legislation that would make it obligatory to produce photo identification when casting a ballot; and
—the granting of responsibility for the location of polling stations to local authorities, so that polling stations are located closer to new communities thereby encouraging more citizens to vote at elections.
The state of the electoral register is a total disgrace. The bedrock of any parliamentary democracy is its voter registration system which should provide a clear and concise record of who is entitled to vote in an election. It is extraordinary that we have entrusted the running of our country to a Government which, in an age of computerisation, cannot even complete an accurate list of the names and addresses of a mere 4 million people.
The maintenance of the register is a task that should not be beyond the ability of even this Government. We have a small population of approximately 4 million people. London alone has a population of 6.5 million, which puts the size of the task in perspective. London is just one city, so the task in Ireland should be potentially very manageable.
The Minister is charged by the people of this country to maintain an updated and accurate register of electors but he has ignored and neglected this duty. He has taken his eye off the ball and should be given the red card. Political responsibility lies squarely on his shoulders; there are no scapegoats. As I recently did with regard to the nitrates debacle, I call for the Minister's resignation. If this lame duck Government has any vestige of governance left, the Minister's head should be on the block.
As the Minister seems to be unable or unwilling to accept his responsibilities in this matter, an independent electoral commission should be established to oversee all aspects of the electoral system, with the updating of the register the first task to be undertaken as a matter of urgency. It is sad to consider that a small percentage of the more than €50 million wasted by the Minister and his colleagues on the e-voting debacle would have financed a full overhaul and update of the electoral register.
In June last year, the Minister told the House that there were 300,000 more names on the electoral register than eligible voters, mainly due to the slowness in removing the names of deceased people, the increase in the number of second homes and people moving without advising the local authority. Given that nothing has been done since then, one can only imagine it is far worse now, with estimates suggesting as many as 800,000 inaccuracies in the register.
My colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, in 2004 called for an explanation from South Dublin County Council as to why many people were removed from the electoral register in the run up to the local and European elections. Since the close of poll Senator Hayes was contacted by a number of people in the Dublin South-West constituency who were unable to vote because someone had removed them from the register of electors. This is a sinister development where law abiding citizens simply trying to exercise their right to vote were denied the ability to do so because a mystery person deleted them from the register.
As the responsibility for compiling the register rests with the relevant local authority, questions must now be answered as to why and how this occurred. When someone is removed from the register there should be a clear paper trail from the individual to the local authority. We must demand that all local authorities explain to voters who were taken off the register exactly who was responsible and why their names were removed. Equally, the law should be reformed to permit only the voter to remove his or her name from the register.
It is clear that the compilation of the register is haphazard and patchy. Little effort is made to get an accurate picture of exactly who is entitled to vote in the months before an election. Another key problem with the register is the nature of many new apartment developments. It is simply not possible to gain entry to most apartment blocks. This is not necessarily a bad thing as, for example, it offers residents a great degree of security. In addition, they probably do not want a bunch of Government politicians turning up at their front door.