Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004: Committee Stage.

NEW SECTIONS.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

1.—This Act (other thanPart 3) shall not come into operation until such time as the Commission established by Part 3 certifies that the other provisions of this Act are in accordance with the highest standards of transparency and accountability and fully safeguard the integrity and privacy of the voting process in a verifiable manner.”.

We are making a bad start to our proceedings. The Minister should have responded positively to Deputy Allen's request. If we cannot deal with the matter here, we can return to it on Report Stage in the House.

The Minister has established a commission to consider the issue of electronic voting, specifically its safety and security. The commission is required to report by 1 May. The Bill presumes that it will report positively — a substantial presumption. There is little point in having a commission to look at the safety and security of electronic voting and, before it has an opportunity to report or make its views known, running a Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas which may be enacted before the commission reports if the Minister wants the system in place by 11 June. The Bill assumes that the commission will roll over and do what the Minister wants. This puts the commission in an invidious position. It is being asked to report on a matter when the Government is putting a Bill through the Houses to give effect to it. It may recommend changes to the way in which the system will operate or that it should not proceed at all. It is nonsense to introduce legislation which simply presumes that the commission will rubberstamp the system. My amendment would mean that the Bill would not come into operation until the commission certifies that it is satisfied that what is contained in the Bill and the system of electronic voting for which it provides is safe, transparent and meets the highest standards of accountability.

I support the amendment which is very reasonable when one considers the context in which it is put. Like Deputy Gilmore, I am disappointed that we did not get off to a more honourable start. As the Irish Computer Society is a nominating body for the Seanad, its integrity and bona fides have been well established. However, the Minister chose not to have any regrets about what he said, which also casts a shadow over the Seanad.

The amendment would require the Minister to think long and hard about the order in which these matters are addressed. Given the haste with which the legislation is being dealt with and the commission's timetable, on Second Stage I wondered whether the legislation was being rushed through, regardless of the concerns of the commission and the Opposition. Perhaps the Minister could tell us if there is any point in us being here today, not to mention any point in the commission reporting. Recent news reports have highlighted the fact that Mr. James Mansfield put the cart before the horse with his proposal. In this case there is a parallel to be drawn. Without an amendment such as this, the Minister is essentially putting the legislation before the commission's potential rejection of electronic voting. While we do not know what it will recommend, about 90% of the submissions received are opposed to electronic voting, which indicates that the commission has cause for concern. If we are to establish that we are not wasting our time here, it is reasonable to ensure this amendment is agreed to, to allow the commission to make a decision, as it is expected and required to do.

I protest again at the smearing of people who have raised valid questions about the system the Minister proposes to introduce without all-party consultation. I again ask him to withdraw the allegations that have smeared credible and responsible people and to withdraw the statements he made in the House.

The activities of the commission which must report by 1 May have been pre-empted. This morning I heard an advertisement on radio placed by the Minister's PR group about the secrecy and transparency of the electronic system. For the Minister and his henchman, Q4, to be involved in a public advertising campaign undermining the activities of the commission is unacceptable. I ask him to immediately instruct Q4 to withdraw the advertisements which presume that the commission will give the system a clean bill of health on 1 May.

Q4 organised for journalists to be flown to Belgium to look at an election there. Who paid for this? Was this done with taxpayer's money? Is this being done to mould public opinion ahead of publication of the commission's report? It is unacceptable that this was done as it gives a slanted view of a system still under scrutiny here both by the Houses of the Oireachtas and the commission.

I wish to set out Fine Gael's key wishes before we accept the Minister's proposal. The extension of electronic voting to the local and European elections should be suspended until a statutory independent electoral commission is established and has addressed the legitimate concerns of political parties and the public on this issue. There must be widespread trust in the electoral system. It is clear that the current controversy has led to a situation whereby such public trust does not exist despite all of the high powered propaganda of the Department and its allies, which is funded by taxpayers.

My party has serious concerns about the lack of a verifiable paper audit trail as part of the electronic voting process in order to be able to confirm the accuracy of the counting system. We have serious concerns that the source code of the Nedap-Powervote system is still in private commercial hands. Given that the commission will report on 1 May, how will it be able to vet the 160 submissions made by different interests? These are substantial submissions by people with great credibility in the area of electronics and computers. I support the amendment.

The amendment will insert a new section, which is unnecessary. The commission's terms of reference in Schedule 5 clearly states that the commission's reports will comprise recommendations on the secrecy and accuracy of the system, including the application or non-application at the European and local elections on 11 June. They have a choice under the terms of reference.

I have indicated that if the commission does not recommend the application of the system in June, it will not be used at these elections. I will not sit here and impugn the integrity of the commission, which is independent. I have absolutely no knowledge of what it will do. It is entirely a matter for the commission. The Bill is required because the commission wished to be put on a statutory basis.

I will explain to the Minister why the amendment is necessary. The commission is being established as an independent commission, which I accept. I respect the integrity of the individuals who make up the commission. It is entitled under its terms of reference to make a recommendation on the secrecy and accuracy, including the application or non-application as the case may be, of the electronic voting and counting of the Nedap-Powervote system for the European and local elections on 11 June 2004. They are required to make the report prior to 1 May.

The commission may just make a recommendation. The Bill gives the Minister the power to designate the constituencies, one or all, or the electoral areas for the purposes of electronic voting. Notwithstanding the Minister's intention that if the commission reports that it should not proceed on 11 June it will not go ahead, what we are dealing with here is the text of the Bill. The Bill provides that the commission may make a recommendation but it also states that the power rests with the Minister to proceed with a certain course of action. The amendment seeks to make it absolutely clear that until the commission states it is satisfied with the system of electronic voting to be used, other than in regard to the establishment of the commission itself, the provisions of the Bill in this regard should not be brought into operation. All it is doing is giving legislative effect to the undertaking the Minister has given, which is that if the commission recommends it should not go ahead, it will not go ahead. This is required because we are making law. The amendment is not at variance with the undertaking the Minister has given, therefore, he should accept it.

In order to make this a meaningful exercise, many of us have spent hours drafting amendments while the Minister has his team of civil servants. I find the closed mind attitude frustrating.

There will be a review——

The Minister has said "No".

He said he will not apologise to the decent people he smeared and he will not answer the questions raised. Will he instruct Q4 and its associates to terminate their public relations exercise to undermine the role of the commission? There are radio advertisements stating the system is secure and transparent, even though the commission is examining this aspect. The Minister is using taxpayers' money to undermine the commission he set up. He is calling into question the credibility and honesty of the members of the commission. He set up the commission with very narrow terms of reference. He has fashioned the commission to provide the result he wants. The members can only work within the terms of reference. If we sit here for many days with a Minister who has a closed mind——

The Deputy's reference that the Minister has fashioned the commission to provide the result he wants is an insult to the members of the commission.

It is not, because they have been given narrow terms of reference within which they must work.

The Deputy is being selective. On the one hand, he is defending a group that he accused the Minister of belittling in the Chamber and, on the other, he has decided to belittle the commission.

I made it clear that I consider the people on the commission to be honest and decent people who must work within narrow terms of reference. The terms of reference are fashioned to provide a particular outcome. I am asking the Minister to cease undermining the credibility of the workings of the commission by the series of advertisements currently being run on radio utilising taxpayers' money. I ask the Minister to respond to this question.

I am disappointed by the Minister's short reply. I do not know why he said people are impugning the commission. This is about giving the commission the opportunity to do the job it has been asked to do, and to respect the outcome rather than pre-empt it. Contrary to impugning the commission, it is trying to speak up for the integrity of the commission.

It was the Fine Gael Party that called the judge a Fianna Fáil lackey, not me, the Labour Party or the Green Party. It was a member of the Fine Gael Party who said this, so we know where the party is coming from.

I know where Fine Gael is coming from.

The position is straightforward. I will not sit here and impugn the commission, which is independent. It is satisfied with the broad ranging terms of reference. It is happy to be in a position to have the application or non-application of the voting system included in the terms of reference, which gives it a very wide brief. It will determine in its own time, in its own way and through its own methodologies whether the system fits. It is entirely a matter for the commission. I have no idea what its members will say or do. It is absolutely independent in its function and is chaired by an eminent judge.

On campaigns of education and awareness, I am not involved in directing any of these campaigns.

The taxpayers are paying for them.

I get daily calls from many local representatives throughout the country who are anxious to have more knowledge made available to them. There are constant requests for ongoing information to the public. That is what the campaign of education and awareness is doing. It is not in conflict with anything. One must be prepared for every eventuality. The Bill and the terms of reference are satisfactory to the commission. The commission feels it is independent and can make any decision it likes. Its decisions are entirely a matter for itself. I did not set up the commission on my own. It was established by the Government following consultation in the House and outside and having heard the views of the Opposition. The commission does not report to the Minister or to the Government. It reports to the Members of the Oireachtas. One cannot be any more honest, fair, open or transparent in this regard.

Will the Minister answer my two questions? Will he instruct Q4 to withdraw this morning's advertisement which pre-empts the work of the commission? Will he also answer my question on the use of taxpayers' money to take people to Belgium?

The questions are not relevant to the amendments.

It is all part of a campaign.

The committee must have rules and procedures when we are dealing with legislation.

When can we get the answers?

The questions must be asked at the relevant time. We are dealing with amendments. If we confine ourselves to them, we will do a better job.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

1.—The functions of the Minister under this Act shall not be exercisable in relation to an election by a holder of the office of Minister who is also a director of elections in respect of that election.".

The Minister is the Fianna Fáil director of elections for the forthcoming local elections, as he is perfectly entitled to be. However, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has significant powers under the Electoral Acts. The Minister decides on the date and hours of polling and makes a wide range of regulations governing the conduct of elections. The Minister is sponsoring this legislation and will decide whether electronic voting will go ahead by making an order to give effect thereto. The Bill will give the Minister power to decide the constituencies and electoral areas in which electronic voting will be used, to decide to use it in some areas and not in others or to revert to manual voting in some areas. The Minister will decide what system of electronic voting will be used. He has already purchased the machinery and software and engaged a firm of public relations consultants, which has connections with Fianna Fáil, to promote the system. The Minister has a wide range of functions under the Electoral Acts. There could not be a bigger conflict of interests than that the Minister who has the power to decide whether electronic voting is used, what system is used, what machines are purchased, what software is used, what regulations govern it and in what electoral areas it will be used is director of elections for one of the political parties which will contest elections under the system.

This amendment proposes that the functions of the Minister under the Act shall not be exercisable in relation to an election by a holder of the office of Minister who is also a director of elections in respect of that election. There is ample precedent in all areas of legislation and public administration that office holders, whether elected or appointed, should not exercise public functions where a conflict of interest arises. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, has a conflict of interest for as long as he holds the position of director of elections for his political party.

This issue was raised previously. The Minister has chosen not to resolve this conflict in ways which were open to him. In view of that, provision must be made in the Bill to prohibit such a conflict of interest from arising in respect of Deputy Cullen or of Ministers who will apply the Act's provisions in future.

I fully support Deputy Gilmore's views. During the debate on Second Stage I mentioned these conflicts of interest which Deputy Gilmore has eloquently set out. Opposition parties were not consulted on this matter. This legislation is being railroaded through the Oireachtas. I have observed elections in Nicargua, El Salvador and other places. In most cases I was able confidently to say that the elections were held in accordance with the rules of democracy. If I am asked next June if our elections were fair I will not be able to say they were. I will not be able to say the system recorded the wishes of the voters. I cannot say the machines being used reflect the views of the voters who press the button.

The Minister's PR campaign is simplistic. It talks about the ease of use of the machine. It does not deal with what the machine does.

A former leader of Deputy Allen's party said this was as easy as one, two, three. That is the best description of the machines I have heard and I congratulate him on it.

It is easy to press buttons. I agree it is as easy as one, two, three. However, I hope it adds up to one, two, three when the vote comes out the other end. That is my worry.

We already know the answer to that.

The Minister thinks he knows the answer. I do not know it.

We have had pilot schemes in the general election and the referendum and no one has questioned the results.

I cannot trust the Minister. He has suppressed reports and returns from returning officers. He cannot be trusted. As Deputy Gilmore has said, the Minister has a conflict of interest.

The Minister is making a mockery of our democracy. The unilateral introduction of the system is happening without consultation. This measure is being railroaded through.

It is disingenuous for the Minister to say everything is fine because no one questioned it. The information obtained under freedom of information raises questions. It is not possible to question the results of the general election because the time allowed for queries has elapsed. Given that the electronic count at the general election was a pilot scheme, the Government should be more open to the concerns which have been raised.

This amendment asks the Minister to accept a basic principle. It is not only Opposition Members who have raised this issue. The newspapers have referred to the potential conflict of interest in the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who is director of elections for Fianna Fáil, is responsible for introducing the new voting system which does not have a voter-verified audit trail. Whether the issue of conflict of interest is raised by politicians or others, the Minister must examine the merits of the case being put. It is difficult for the Minister to speak about this as being a great deal of nonsense, suspicious or unfounded. The fact is that he is Minister and director of elections. I would be interested to hear his reaction if he were on the Opposition benches. I somehow doubt he would be so sanguine and quiet about it.

The amendment is not directly related to the Bill and clearly does not represent a clear understanding of the role of the Minister concerning the conduct of elections. Each of the electoral and referendum legislative codes provides that the conduct of an election or referendum is clearly the statutory responsibility of the relevant returning officer in accordance with the legislation covering the poll.

The Minister's role under the legislation is to make a polling day order setting out the polling day and hours of polls after which he or she has no role. In a European election, the period in which the election must be held is determined at European level and for local elections to a somewhat lesser extent by legislation. The only other instance where the Minister may on rare occasions have a role is to deal with wholly exceptional circumstances where difficulties arise such as a vacancy for returning officer, power cuts or other natural occurrences which would interrupt the poll and where a difficulty order may be required.

The role of the person appointed as director of elections for a political party has nothing to do with ministerial duties under the electoral or referendum Acts. The Deputy's point clearly sets out to impugn my integrity by stating I am somehow involved in this process. I am not involved. The amendment does not relate to the Act. Returning officers throughout the country are saddened by the comments that somehow they are open to political interference in elections. These are the same people who have satisfactorily conducted elections for decades. There is no change to the position of those who conduct elections. I am sure they will do so to the best of their ability and to the highest standards of integrity. They have no interaction with me. I am sure they will carry out their duties fairly, as has always been the case.

They do interact with the Minister.

No, they do not.

They write to the Minister and send him reports. The Minister said he has no interaction with the returning officers. There is clear evidence that there is interaction with the Minister and his Department. Returning officers reported to the Minister on discrepancies in elections in Dublin North and Dublin West. They are the only reports we know about. The Minister is misleading members on this side when he says there is no interaction between him and returning officers.

They do not interact with me in the conduct of elections.

What about the correspondence on lost votes or discrepancies? Is that not interaction in terms of the conduct of elections?

The returning officers have more than satisfactorily publicly answered that question.

The Minister has not. The Minister must have a view on the correspondence sent to him and his Department on the elections in Dublin North and Dublin West? What are the Minister's views on that?

It is clearly evident that I do not interfere in the process.

Let us get the issue of returning officers out of the way. This amendment has nothing to do with returning officers. I did not mention them when proposing it. I do not believe the Minister should line up the returning officers to take the fire directed at him. It is unfair to them and it misrepresents what we are seeking to do.

The amendment relates to a conflict of interest.

The point is that I do not have a role in the conduct of elections.

Let us look at the record in that regard. The decision — this applies not only to the Minister but to his predecessors — to use electronic voting at elections was taken by Government and a commitment given to use the Nedap-Powervote system even before primary legislation was published, much less debated in the House, or enacted.

Following enactment of the initial legislation, with which I disagreed, and the initial trials which took place in three constituencies during a general election and seven constituencies in a referendum, the Government, of which the Minister is a member, took a decision to proceed with electronic voting universally for the upcoming local and European elections and, presumably, all future elections without any consultation with Opposition parties and without agreement.

When the Opposition raised concerns about the issue, and when those concerns were supported by professionals whom the Minister denigrated in the House, he decided to proceed anyway. Not only did he decide to proceed but he decided to spend public money for which he had no authority. When that particular cat was belled, the Minister routed the expenditure through the central fund which is not subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and is not subject to questioning by the Committee of Public Accounts. The Minister engaged a public relations firm to promote the system, one of the principals of which is a former general secretary of the Fianna Fáil Party and the Minister's predecessor as director of elections for the party.

The Minister, as director of elections for the Fianna Fáil Party, has now brought before us legislation which asks the Oireachtas to give to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the power to decide when electronic voting will be used, in what constituencies it will be used and what system will be used. He also has a range of other powers which relate to the compilation of the electoral register, statistical information which may or may not be released, the power to make regulations which the Minister wants vested in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There is no democracy this side of the Panama Canal that would give a Minister who is also director of elections for his party that kind of power. I say directly to the Minister today that as a matter of principle powers on the conduction of elections should never be given to a Minister who is at the same time running the election campaign for any political party, in this case the major Government party. I say also with regret that the record of his conduct to date on electronic voting does not give me confidence that he would exercise in an independent, dispassionate, unbiased or uninfluenced manner his dual position of Minister and Fianna Fáil director of elections under the powers given to him by this Bill. It is a fundamental question of democracy. It is nonsense that the Oireachtas would give to a Minister, who is also director of elections for a particular party, the power to write rules regarding elections. I regret that the Minister's failure to address this matter has forced us to deal with it by way of amendment to the Bill.

The conflict of interest between the Minister's position as director of elections for Fianna Fáil and as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is so obvious he should have disabused that conflict of interest long before it became an issue of this House. This position is utterly unacceptable to my party. I do not know of any country, democracy or parliament that would agree to the giving of such powers to a person involved in such a conflict of interest. The conflict of interest in respect of elections could not be greater. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure there is no conflict of interest. As the Minister has not voluntarily decided to deal with the matter, it must be dealt with in this manner.

Deputy Gilmore has said it all. The Minister has not answered the questions I put to him earlier which makes me wonder what we are doing here. Questions were put to him but he has not responded to them.

I have never heard a Minister so coy about his Department's role, which is to organise the nuts and bolts of an election. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is the Department responsible. The Minister's role is cheek by jowl with the role of political parties contesting the elections. As has been stated in newspapers, the Minister is likely to become a centre of intense voter scrutiny in the coming weeks as he juggles these potentially conflicting roles.

The words "potentially conflicting" do not impugn the Minister's character but describe the position in which he finds himself. They would apply to any Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There is more than ample cause for suspicion in this case, but it is a matter of record and not a reference to any particular Minister in terms of this amendment.

It is inexplicable that the Minister is in this position, given that he is the director of elections for the largest political party. Whatever about a smaller party having to juggle different positions because of a lack of personnel, Fianna Fáil cannot claim that it had to select the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for the position because it did not have anybody else capable of being director of elections. That greatly stretches the limits of credibility.

The decision comes down to whether this amendment should be accepted or whether the Minister should remove himself from the potentially conflicting position in which he stands. This has been said by people outside the House who write for newspapers and have to stand over what they say. If the Minister feels he is being impugned, I suggest he takes legal advice.

I am disappointed at the insinuation coming from the Opposition that the Minister could or would influence the result of an election. The suggestion is ludicrous. The Minister would not compromise his position and the Government would not have asked him to do the job if there was any doubt whatsoever with regard to a conflict of interest. Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot see how a conflict of interest arises. I cannot see how the setting of rules for polling day and the closing and opening times of polls can influence an election. I object to the inference that he would try to influence the election to the benefit of his party.

I have answered the question already but will repeat for the benefit of the committee that I have travelled the length and breadth of the country over the past number of weeks — as I do constantly, irrespective of whether elections are in the offing. On no occasion during that time did any member of the public suggest I had a conflict of interest in regard to my roles as director of elections and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I think I have been in every constituency in the country in that time and nobody raised the matter. I wonder from where this is coming. The public is shrewd, knows the game-playing that is going on and that the suggestion is spurious and nonsensical. In most cases it is probably more shrewd than the politicians who start playing these kind of games.

At a personal level, I am deeply saddened by what Deputy Gilmore has suggested. It is not true. I do not put myself in the position of being involved in the electoral process nor would I. Legally, I cannot do that anyway, nor would I desire to. I agree with the Opposition Deputies that there would be a problem if there was any legislative basis which pointed to a potential conflict between me being director of elections and being involved in the operation of elections. The simple answer is that there is not.

A red herring has been going the rounds about a certain company getting a contract. I was not involved in any of the public procurement process and have no knowledge of what went on.

Ms Leech was involved, was she not?

She is appointed as a strategic adviser to the Department. The Q4 company did not win the contract. McConnells was the company that won the contract and it has appointed a number of different companies to assist it in specific areas. The company made those decisions, not me. Having won the contract it is a matter for the principal company, McConnells, to conduct the education awareness campaign in the manner it sees fit. I am sure it will do that.

We have reached a point where we must agree to disagree. As the Opposition knows, it has been a tradition that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is generally the director of elections of the party in office. This has not been an issue previously. The issue has been raised in the context of all the spurious allegations and suggestions made regarding this election. I am saddened by this. We see that 600 million people vote electronically in India, which is our major competitor for foreign direct investment in the IT sector. Quite frankly, they are laughing at us. This situation is interesting and I wonder who is the cause of it.

I do not understand what the Minister is saying. What has the development in India to do——

That does not come as a surprise; the Deputy does not listen to what I say.

I try to, but I do not understand it.

It is obvious. If the Deputy read what foreign newspapers said about this debate, he might have a better understanding of what I am saying. It was a front page story in the newspapers in Malaysia when I was there on behalf of the European Union. I spoke with Malaysian Ministers who cannot understand what is happening here. France is introducing the same Nedap-Powervote system and is very happy with it. It has been running in Holland for ten years and people are satisfied with it. I was with the Dutch Ministers last night, as chair of the OECD meeting, and it is not an issue for them. It is not an issue for most of the public here which is well used to using IT systems. We have done what most countries have not done. We have test marketed the system in a real way in using it in electoral circumstances——

What does the Minister mean by "in a real way"?

It was piloted in the previous general election and was piloted in extended constituencies in the referendum and was found to be satisfactory. If I did make one mistake in this process — often presumption can be a mistake — it was that when the elections were over, I took the view that there was general satisfaction all around. I did not hear any particular criticism apart from the manner in which the result was presented. I immediately stated publicly that we would examine that matter, in conjunction with all the political parties and candidates, because I was not happy with it either. I presumed that was the end of the matter. This debate has only arisen in the past six months, not two years ago. If I have a regret, it is that I should have ensured there was harmony among the political parties. I presumed, because nothing contradictory was being said, that everybody was happy. I have learned a lesson at political level — never presume. I should know that after 20 years in politics.

The Minister is flooding us with half truths. Many of us were not aware of the Zerflow report. The Minister suppressed the report and we were told there were no problems with the system. That issue was raised more than 12 months ago and the Minister continued to——

The Deputy does accept that Zerflow brought in a second report on foot of the first stating it was happy with the system.

Let me finish. I am trying to deal with some of the points raised by the Minister. He suppressed the Zerflow report and only published it when Opposition spokespersons and this committee requested its publication. The Minister has also spoken about the tests that were run. We are being flooded with generalities but can we have information on those tests? Have end-to-end tests been run and is all of the software in place? Let us have some specifics from the Minister and a full report on what testing has been done.

Will the Deputy explain to the committee what he means by end-to-end testing?

I have asked the question, surely the Minister understands it.

All I want to know is what does the Deputy mean by the term end-to-end?

Has a constituency count been taken, fed in from the start and run through the system to the end and has it concurred with the result of a manual count? Has the software been tested? Have all the trials and tests on the software been completed?

I am very pleased to confirm to the Deputy that probably the greatest end-to-end testing that has ever been done was conducted in the general election and the referendum in a fully public and most transparent manner when the public tested the system from start to finish and nobody questioned the results when they appeared. I do not think there could be a better public testing of a system.

The Minister is not answering the question.

I am reluctant even to allow him to reply because it is nothing to do with the amendment being discussed. There are over 100 amendments to be dealt with. We must try to run this a little more efficiently. There will be ample opportunity to raise whatever issues the Deputy wishes. The Deputy should ensure that issues raised are relevant to the amendment being discussed. I call Deputy Gilmore.

Chairman, the Minister raised them.

I call Deputy Gilmore.

The Minister stated he made a mistake and he did. The mistake he made was that he did not listen. The mistake I made was that I presumed he would listen.

That was a few years ago.

We flagged concerns about this. If the Minister checks the record of the House, he will find that the concerns about the Government decision to proceed with electronic voting everywhere was flagged at an early stage. I am heartbroken that the Minister is suffering such embarrassment on our account and the idea that the Minister has to board a Malaysian Airlines flight with a coat over his head because of the newspaper headlines in Malaysia about his failure to implement electronic voting and the less than modern Opposition with which he has to contend. If we had only known that at an earlier stage, we would have really tried to save his blushes.

If the Minister had spent even a fraction of the time talking to us that he has apparently spent talking to his European colleagues, he would not be in the hole in the first place. We are trying to get him out of the hole and he is digging it even deeper. He will dig it even deeper if he insists on leaving himself with the powers he is giving himself here. I will cite one example. Section 4(3) of the Bill states: "The Minister may, if he or she is of the opinion that the public interest so requires, by order designate...".

No Minister can at the same time be the arbiter of the public interest and the minder of the Fianna Fáil interest in an election, not even this Minister. He should not put himself in that position. If the Minister insists on putting himself in that position, then the Opposition will be forced to insist on at least attempting to prevent him holding those two positions simultaneously.

The Minister would neither be human nor a good director of elections for Fianna Fáil even if he did not put the Fianna Fáil interest at the top of his priorities in the context of an election. The Minister cannot be the person who has overall responsibility for the Fianna Fáil interest in an election and simultaneously be the arbiter of what is in the public interest when it comes to deciding what type of voting system will be used.

We have got off to a very bad start. We are now going to press ahead no matter what the commission decides, which is the effect of the Minister's rejection of the first amendment. We will now press ahead with the Minister who is responsible for the legislation and its implementation being the director of elections for the main Government party. This is surreal. I wonder what the Malaysian newspapers would make of this. I wonder if the Malaysians have any experience of the main Government party also wanting to decide what is in the public interest as far as elections are concerned.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 23 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

"1.—(1) No electronic voting system may be adopted for use in an election or referendum unless all parties in Dáil Éireann are in agreement on all aspects of the adoption and use of a particular system of electronic voting.

(2) Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall permit the trial, implementation or use of a system of electronic voting in any election or referendum save in accordance withsubsection (1).”.

Is it possible for one party Member to substitute for another?

As long as they are from Government parties, yes.

Does the same apply to the Opposition?

I do not think we have any difficulty with the Opposition. I presume the same applies. We have an Independent member of the committee. In the event of his absence, he can only be represented by another Independent.

The proposed new section provides that electronic voting cannot be used unless there is all-party agreement. This amendment and amendment No. 23 are designed to make all-party agreement on the issue a prerequisite to the introduction of any new system of voting. I do not want to go over the ground that has already been covered. There is no all-party agreement and there has been no attempt to consult with the Opposition parties on the matter. Worse than that, the Minister has ploughed on with the purchase of the equipment.

On 18 December when officials from the Department, representatives of Nedap-Powervote and those experts who had made submissions appeared before the committee, we had a long and detailed examination of the system. Major questions were raised, which were not answered on the day or for several months afterwards. However, on the afternoon of 18 December, the meeting was guillotined specifically to convenience the Minister to sign contracts within 48 hours for machines that were already in the country. The introduction of the system is based on the presumption that the Government parties will push this matter through by weight of numbers.

I also question the use of public funds in the absence of all-party agreement, a matter I have raised under Standing Order 31 in the Dáil on a number of occasions. Taxpayers' money has been used to fund activities without the approval of the Dáil. I refer to the provision of temporary funding for the Commission on Electronic Voting. I quote from a letter dated 16 March from the Department of Finance to the Committee on Public Accounts:

By agreement with the Committee of Public Accounts the use of the [contingency] Fund [which is meeting the ongoing expenses of the commission] is precluded when the Dáil is sitting or [and this is the relevant part] for new services of a controversial nature.

It is clear from the letter signed by a second secretary in the Department of Finance that the contingency fund cannot and should not be used where there is a new service of a controversial nature. There is no service more controversial than this and there is considerable disagreement between parties. In dealing with the amendment, I ask the Minister how he can justify the use of the contingency fund in light of the letter from the Department of Finance, of which the Minister and his officials must be aware.

In passing the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 and this Bill, when enacted, the Houses of the Oireachtas will approve the use of the electronic voting system. There is no constitutional recognition of political parties for the purpose of enacting or implementing legislation. Given that the political parties opposite have indicated in the House that they agree with the use of electronic voting and counting, the terms of this amendment are superfluous. While we may differ on the detail, I understand that we agree on the principle. A legal requirement to have the agreement of all parties in respect of all aspects of a certain issue would make it unlikely that change would ever happen. I cannot accept the amendment, therefore, and I suggest to the Deputy that he should withdraw it.

I will not withdraw the amendment. The Minister is acting in a most arrogant manner. It seems that the Opposition parties do not matter to him. The way in which our people vote is fundamental to the running of our democracy. It is quite incredible that the Minister has decided to push ahead without consulting the Opposition parties or entering into any discussions with them. The Minister is trying to put words in our mouths. Fine Gael favours the principle of electronic voting, but it does not favour the flawed system being introduced by the Minister or the methods he is using in his position as Fianna Fáil's director of elections. As the Minister responsible for this area, he is using taxpayers' money, without the authorisation of Dáil Éireann, to push through the new system. How can the Minister justify the use of the contingency fund, in view of the Department of Finance's letter of 16 March last to the clerk of the Committee of Public Accounts? In case the Minister did not hear me the first time, I will quote from the letter again: The use of the fund "is precluded when the Dáil is sitting or for new services of a controversial nature." I ask the Minister——

I would like to help the Deputy on that point. The decision to use the contingency fund was taken by the Department of Finance and not by me.

Will the Minister repeat that?

The Department of Finance decided to take the decision, not me.

Even if that is the case, the use of the contingency fund is wrong and irregular, in view of the fact that this is certainly a controversial issue. The establishment of a commission with restricted terms of reference is controversial and we are still discussing it today. Therefore, the use of contingency funds is irregular and contrary to the section dealing with public finance procedures and the use of the contingency fund.

It is in the nature of politics that political parties will disagree on some issues and the Government will use its majority to have its way by passing legislation that changes our laws. All members of the committee accept that such behaviour will occur in respect of the vast majority of policy issues. However, the procedure I have outlined should not apply to certain areas, such as constitutional changes. That is why the All-Party Committee on the Constitution is in place.

Agreement has not been reached at the all-party committee.

No, but there used to be a practice that efforts would be made to get general political agreement on proposed changes to the Constitution. It used to be the case that there was general political agreement.

I cannot remember any referendum where there was not——

There has been——

The majority of proposed constitutional amendments have been opposed.

What about the Good Friday Agreement?

What about the referendum on capital punishment?

The purpose of having an All-Party Committee on the Constitution is to try to get broad agreement. That has been the case in respect of the Good Friday Agreement and other issues relating to Northern Ireland. There is political consensus that there should be general political agreement on issues of that kind. The manner in which people vote should not be subject to the traditional divide between the Government and the Opposition. There should be broad agreement on the issue. There has always been broad agreement about the mechanics of the conduct of an election.

Many people have experienced what happens on polling day and during an election count. A certain amount of consultation between the parties took place before the rule about standing outside polling stations was changed. There was general agreement at the time that the practice should be discontinued. The mechanics of the conduct of an election — rules relating to the use of posters, count procedures, treatment of spoiled papers, etc. — has always been the subject of general political agreement. The new electronic voting system is changing the mechanics I have mentioned in a fundamental manner. It is changing what happens from the moment a voter walks into a polling station until the point at which the result of the election is announced. Everything in between used to be the subject of certain practices such as supervision.

General agreement used to exist among political parties about the conduct of elections. The mechanisms with which we are familiar are being put in a box and we will have to trust what comes out at the end of it. That is the theory, at least. Such a change should be, and could have been, the subject of political agreement, but that is not the case. When the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government discussed the matter before Christmas, I hoped that the issues would be teased out through that forum. I concede that I did not imagine that such consideration could be concluded in time for the local and European elections. For that reason, I proposed at a meeting of the committee that the 11 June elections should be used for an extended trial of the system so that the issues that arise could be examined more closely.

We could have reached agreement on the implementation of electronic voting, but we have not done so because the Government decided to proceed with it without taking on board the concerns expressed by the Opposition. The Government is now proceeding with the new system unilaterally, which is a dangerous departure from the manner in which elections used to be conducted. I think it will have an undermining effect on confidence in the voting process. Under the system being replaced by the Government, the eyes could see and the hands could touch. When people walked into polling stations to cast their votes, one could see them putting their ballot papers into the box. One could see the box being sealed in the morning and closed in the evening to be taken away to the count centre. If one turned up at the count centre in the morning, one could see the same box being re-opened and the papers being removed. One could check each of the papers individually as they were being taken out.

The Deputy's argument is pertinent to the question of whether electronic voting should be adopted at all.

No. My argument relates to how one can include in the electronic voting system the checks and forms of scrutiny that were in place under the manual system. Such procedures are not being put in place under the new system. We are being asked to trust that the software is doing what it is supposed to be doing. The exercise in which we are engaged arose from concerns expressed about whether the equipment and the software were reading what they were supposed to be reading and whether the whole thing was happening as it should happen. If we had given some time to this process, taken on board some expert opinion and advice and engaged in some give and take, we could have achieved a broad political consensus on the introduction of electronic voting. It is unfortunate that the manner in which the introduction of the new system has been handled by the Government has meant that we have been unable to reach such agreement.

I agree with Deputy Allen's amendment, which states that we should await all-party agreement. If this is to work, we must all be able to tell voters we have confidence in the system. It is not desirable that one half of the political spectrum is raising concerns and reflecting those raised by others. We must be able to express the level of confidence that we had in the old system. If somebody had asked if a person could enter a Garda station or wherever ballot boxes were stored to stuff them, we would all have said "No". We had confidence that the ballot box would turn up at the count centre containing the ballot papers cast by voters.

We are removing even the need to store ballot boxes. We will go straight from the polling stations to the count centre. We have removed a possible avenue of interference. This is about accuracy. We have removed every possibility that some 50,000 people who genuinely cast votes will not have them recorded or will see political parties haggle over them. Political parties will no longer fight over an individual vote cast by a person and whether a numeral is "1" or "7". There will be no issue about whether a returning officer stamped a paper properly. That is the purpose of the introduction of the new system.

The Minister is removing it out of sight.

We have removed it from a system.

Out of sight is not out of mind.

There is not a great deal of disagreement between Deputy Gilmore and I. The problem is that all the checks and balances the Deputy rightly highlights are in the system. There is an incredible myriad of checks and balances.

That is what we do not know.

If the Opposition took its time and read all the reports and tests, the matter would be clear.

"Take our time" is the operative phrase.

I was sceptical about some of the concerns which were being raised with me at an early stage of this process. I am not as sceptical now. The concerns being raised are extremely valid. We have a great deal of work to do to ensure that if we shift to electronic voting, we can assure voters that we have confidence in the system. If those of us who are practitioners do not have confidence in it, we cannot communicate confidence to the public. That is very dangerous in terms of confidence in the very essence of democracy, which is the way in which people vote. The Minister may tell me to do my bit for the country and act responsibly, but I cannot tell people I have confidence in a system if I do not.

I listened carefully to what the Deputy said. It confirms to me that all of this is about politics rather than electronic voting.

It is not about politics at all.

It is clearly a political football. While I am not a computer expert, I have no doubt that if I was made aware of a fundamentally questionable aspect of the system by any of the people to whom I have spoken, I would not be sitting here this afternoon. There are many people who are legitimately and completely opposed to electronic voting. It is a fair position to adopt. Some of these people have aligned themselves with a group in the USA whose exact title I cannot remember. That is fair and their right. Deputy Gilmore's analysis was very interesting. It was clear that he would much prefer the old system to any form of electronic voting. While that is a legitimate point of view and I accept that people may wish to adopt it, we must be clear that all political parties were originally supportive of an electronic voting system. That is clear, unless I have missed something. If people are now changing their minds, which is legitimate, they should say so.

Arguments about technicalities have been more than answered. A very public test of the system was, rightly, carried out. We decided, with the agreement of everybody, that the system should be piloted and its mettle tested. That was done very satisfactorily. The only question focused on presentation and the way in which the results came about. I said I would deal with that and I have done so. The system will revert to the old way of presenting the votes, which is best from everybody's point of view. Issues have been raised about paper trails which I do not accept. One would get oneself into the greatest, unholy mess if there was such a system. To be clear, no system has been invented successfully to accommodate this point. All such systems which were tested have been abandoned. The superior court of one country stated that such a system was a nonsense as it meant running two separate electoral systems and asking whether the paper or electronic ballot was more valid. It sunders the whole purpose of adopting electronic voting.

There are other forces outside which, for their own reasons, are totally opposed to electronic voting. They have done a very good job of trying to undermine confidence in it. I regret the political system is not in harmony on this issue. While I agree with Deputy Gilmore that it would be better if it were, it was not I who suddenly exploded this issue in the public domain in a manner which has given rise to a significant amount of spurious and unfounded argument. It started with the allegation that machines could be hacked into, which is impossible. The machines are stand-alone counting machines which are not connected to anything. We are talking about a system with over 70,000 lines of code which have been tested by recognised institutes of international renown. Their integrity has not been questioned by anybody. That integrity must stand up in an international landscape in which these institutes deal with issues, such as this one every day. The best people were employed by Ireland. We followed up on the test by going a great deal further. We placed the system in the public arena in the most open and transparent manner to get it to work. It is very sad.

The more I engage with the public, who are not concerned, the more confident I become. The public see the debate for what it is and having asked people up and down the length and across the breadth of the country, I have no doubt about that aspect. The more people see the machines, the more imbued with confidence they become. I spoke to a person who was completely opposed to the system until he used it. He completely changed his mind. He told me he did not realise it was so simple and provided confirmation visually of every vote he cast according to name, preference and political party. We could have a philosophical argument all day, but I am not in a position to accept the amendments, from which we seem to have strayed by a million miles. Although we have been here for an hour and a half, we are only on the third amendment. I am beginning to wonder how we will get through 100.

If the Minister responded to some of the questions posed to him, we might get somewhere. On moving my amendment, I asked a number of questions to which the Minister failed to respond. In previous contributions, I asked a number of questions which were not responded to either. I agree with the Minister that he is straying all over the place. He continues to attack decent, respectable people who have raised genuine questions. When I asked earlier if all the testing of the software had been completed, the Minister cleverly avoided answering the question. On moving my amendment, I asked about the use of public funding under the contingency fund.

I answered that point.

The Minister did not answer the question.

I interjected to say the decision was made by the Department of Finance.

Just because it was made by the Department of Finance does not make it right.

Then it is a matter for the Committee of Public Accounts.

The Minister is the man who is spending the money——

On behalf of the people of this country.

——irregularly This is typical of the Minister.

I am not spending it on my own behalf. The Deputy is suggesting that I am on some kind of solo run which is not the case.

The Minister had hundreds of machines imported before the committee addressed the issue.

The decision to proceed with electronic voting was taken a long time ago. The orders had been placed and payment was made towards the end of the process. The machines were already arriving and we were engaged with the companies in question long before——

I am asking a specific question, namely, how could the contingency fund be used when we——

With what amendment are we dealing?

Will the Minister answer the question?

It is not relevant to the amendment.

The Minister is complaining about us——

The Deputy should ask a specific question.

I am asking specific questions but not getting answers.

One of them has been answered.

It has not been answered.

I asked if the testing of the software was finished.

The question is not relevant.

It is very relevant.

The Deputy should ask the question and be done with it.

Will the Minister answer it?

Yes, it is finished.

Further testing is not needed?

The Deputy is asking me if all the testing has been completed. As far as I am concerned, it is completed. What the Commission on Electronic Voting does is its concern. I understand it is carrying out testing, which is fine.

I do not want to take a long time as I appreciate we are getting a little bogged down. This has not been helped, however, by the brick wall we are facing. Essentially, the Minister is arguing that if we sought agreement on all laws, we would never get anywhere. That is not the point of the amendment and this must be recognised.

The former Minister of State, Bobby Molloy, also stated that we should get all-party agreement on this matter. The Government should have taken that approach but its efforts to achieve agreement have been found wanting. Instead it has opted to tell the Opposition it is too late and having assumed the Opposition was happy with the proposal, it proceeded to spend approximately €50 million on the nod. A little communication is a basic courtesy, particularly when one plans to spend tens of millions on behalf of the people. That is the reason for the palpable anger in this room.

Without wishing to be argumentative, am I correct that the nub of the Deputy's argument is that he wants a different electronic voting system?

We want a proper electronic voting system.

He wants a different electronic system. The argument is, therefore, a question of subjective choice.

No, it is not.

Following a wide-ranging public procurement process, which commenced long before I started to deal with the matter, and having taken all available expert advice from my officials, I have delivered on behalf of the State. The central tenet of opponents of the system over the past six months has been that they favour electronic voting but want a different system. That is the nub of the issue and the reason we could sit here all day. I am not stonewalling. If Deputies want to argue about the system, that is fine, but their argument is based on their preference for other systems. They want a paper trail despite the fact that there is no such paper trail elsewhere.

I was in possession, Chairman, and would like to finish the contribution I was making before the Minister's intervention. I and the other Deputies on this side are trying to be helpful, as the Minister would discover if he was to hear me out. While we accept as a fact of life that he has spent a large sum of money, we would like to discuss with him how we can limit the damage and retrospectively repair some of the confidence so severely damaged by the removal of the verified audit trail.

The Opposition should change its mind and support the system. It should stop the bull and apologise to the public. This was a political lobby——

I am not sure why we are here because the Minister has decided not to listen, whatever about accepting the amendment.

I have listened to the same argument for six months and this is the same old rhetoric.

The Minister should bear in mind that a freedom of information request showed that the irregularities were regarded as nothing more than par for the course in the old system and no major cause of concern. On the one hand, he argues that the new system is better than the current one and is intended to remove glitches, anomalies and difficulties, while on the other, he takes the defensive position that because it is no worse than the current system, it is probably fine.

I am still not able to explain to people how 1,294 votes went missing. Was it a human factor and why were 716 votes too many found in Dublin West? One could try to explain, pointing to all sorts of human factors, but are we learning lessons as we proceed? Apparently the non-tamper seals were resealable, which means tampering was possible. We did not learn from the pilot scheme, yet the Minister's attitude appears to be that there is no problem, the proposals will proceed as planned and people will have to put up with the system. The Fianna Fáil Party generally welcomes a low turnout, but it cannot be tolerated, nor should it be encouraged, in the interests of democracy.

During one of his many interventions, the Minister stated the issue was now a matter of technicalities, as if these were of minor importance. He is correct with regard to technicalities as the principle of e-voting has been accepted by all sides.

That is where the Opposition argument starts to go wrong. We do not have an e-voting system.

The difficulty, which the Minister has refused to accept, lies in the technicalities. For example, is it technically feasible to add the necessary equipment to the machines to produce a verifiable audit trail? That is the issue we should be discussing and the Minister should be trying to address the matter on that level.

As I have stated 20 times this morning, no such system is in operation anywhere in the world.

Systems are available everywhere one looks.

They have been abandoned everywhere they were tested. The Deputy will not listen to the facts. The superior court of one country stated that they are a nonsense.

In other words, we do not want to create a good system here and will accept a mediocre system in use elsewhere.

As we will discuss an amendment later which addresses the voter verifiable paper trail, I ask the Deputy to confine his remarks to the amendment.

The amendment warrants support given the attitude we are facing. I commend it and will address the other matter when it arises later.

The amendment basically calls for all-party agreement on this matter. Government arrogance is the reason we do not have all-party agreement. Following the previous general election, members of the Government generally, but the Fianna Fáil Party in particular, appear to have got it into their heads that they will be in power forever. They have adopted an attitude of contempt for the Opposition and the workings of Parliament which, I regret, the Minister has displayed again today.

That is not true of me at any rate. I have fought enough elections to know what it is like to lose.

This is not about politics. The Minister has enough issues in his portfolio, notably planning, on which I would prefer to have a political argument.

I agree with the Deputy.

I do not believe anybody on the Opposition side planned to have several debates on electronic voting during our Private Members' time. This is not the issue on which I want to do battle with the Minister. I would prefer to do battle on issues of substance and direct relevance to the daily lives of people. The reason we are here is that the Minister would not listen when we raised legitimate concerns about the electronic voting system last autumn. He has been proved wrong on a number of occasions.

We argued from the beginning that an independent body should oversee the matter. The Labour Party produced a document suggesting that the Standards in Public Office Commission, or some other independent body, should have a supervisory role in this matter. The Minister would not hear of that at the time but, eventually, he had to appoint an independent commission.

I was always open to that. I had no difficulty and no resistance to it.

We argued with the Minister. If the Minister had appointed the commission last autumn when it was first suggested, we might be much further advanced. We argued that new legislation was needed. Again, that was refuted. What did we know? Here we are now——

As the Deputy is aware, that is as a result of a Supreme Court case that has nothing to do with this issue.

Here we are now, debating it. We may yet be proved right that there is insufficient time between now and 11 June to have this done and tested. Some of the concerns we raised may also be proved to have been well-founded. Let me give an example. The Minister argued that these are stand-alone machines, that they are not networked and therefore they cannot be hacked into and so on. Not a day goes by that I do not receive e-mails and telephone calls from people about electronic voting. These people want to express their opinions and give me more information. If I was to read all the e-mails I would not have time for anything else.

One person who wanted to show me something arranged to come to my office. He arrived with two computers. He set up a simple voting programme on one of them and allowed me to cast my vote in the order of preference. He then went into another room with the other laptop and overrode my choice. He showed me how it could be done in these days of wireless technology. If something is programmed a particular way, in theory it can be altered. I admit that it is a rather far-fetched scenario. However, it proved the point that simply having a stand-alone machine does not mean it cannot be interfered with remotely by someone sitting in a car outside a polling station with the intention of overriding votes cast. Perhaps there is a solution to this problem. However, what would I tell a Labour Party sub-agent if he came to me in the course of the next general election——

The answer is very simple.

What is the answer?

I agree with Deputy Gilmore. We would not dare use a system like that and I would not put a system like that in place.

How do I know?

All the Deputy has to do is read the documentation. It is fair enough if the Deputy does not trust the German institute, which is probably the most credible international testing institute in the world. It is fair enough if he does not trust its analysis and reports on the confirmation of this system.

I might get to that.

I do not know of any other institute that would be more credible. It is correct that the people would expect that whoever is in Government would get the best independent advice available. It is preferable that such expert advice is sought outside the country because I have no doubt that if an accredited institute in this country had been given the task, the first matter raised by the Opposition would have been that such and such a professor was a member of a Fianna Fáil cumann in 1952,ergo he was given the job. That is the kind of thing I have to put up with.

He is probably retired by now.

This is all nonsense. I know Deputy Gilmore does not believe that I have a grand master plan and that I have told officials how we are going to screw this election. That is the stuff of fantasy land. I do not have the time to even contemplate it. We trust the people who have conducted elections in this country for decades to continue to conduct the elections in the very same way. That is a fact.

That is where the Minister is wrong.

I have no involvement in any of the issues regarding the machines.

The Minister is wrong in that respect. This is no longer about trusting the people who have always run our election system. First, the trust in those people has largely been based on the fact that everybody involved in the election operation could see what they were doing. One could look in over the railing and see the votes being put into the box.

How does the Deputy know the box being opened is the box that left the polling station? That is the question the Deputy posed to me. How does he know that, overnight, somebody did not decide to get a replica box? He does not know. We trust the people. I do not question their integrity and I do not think it should be questioned in this context either.

One trusts what one can see. In this case, one is removing the visible inspection of what is going on and locating it in a software system.

There is a difference. The Deputy does not want electronic voting. That goes to the core of the argument.

The Minister's problem is that he will not listen. I will return in a moment to change number one. Change number two is that he is also asking us to trust not just the people who have always run our elections, as the Minister put it, but he is now saying that we have to trust two private companies, those involved in designing the hardware and the software. At present the whole process is visible and transparent from the time the ballots are popped into the ballot box to the time they are counted and the result announced. That process is being transferred to two systems of software. In addition to trusting the people who open up the polling stations and those who carry the discs from the polling stations to the count centres, the Minister is asking us to trust the companies who design, programme and make the software. Perhaps that trust is well placed. I am not saying that we could not get to a point where that trust in those companies and the German institute which did the testing could be validated.

That is why we have the commission, to give that extra comfort.

That is all kosher. Last autumn we wanted a process whereby we could reach the point of saying we are happy with it, that we could accept that there would be no more looking in over the barrier but that we would know where are the checks. We want to replicate in an electronic fashion the kind of manual and visual controls we had under the old system. It is not a case of us saying we are not happy and want to go back to the old system. We want to have the kind of assurances that currently apply to the manual system replicated in the electronic system. It is a question of confidence. Time is the one thing we need, which is not possible in the attempt to rush this matter. Rather than rushing this, it is better that we get it right. Unfortunately, the Minister has chosen to rush the matter, which I think he was wrong to do.

The Minister said that is why we have a commission. However, he has given it such narrow terms of reference and a deadline for a report on 1 May. Does he honestly consider that the commission can assess the 160 submissions, some of which are very detailed, in the allocated time?

The Deputy knows well I will not comment on the commission. It is not for me to speculate on what it has the capacity to do.

The Minister is painting all of us who are against his proposal as cranks who do not want any type of electronic voting. What about Dr. Michael Purser, head of Baltimore Technologies, who has been a security consultant to some Departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs?

Unless they are relevant to the amendment under discussion, I do not want to drag up the names of people and ask them for approval or anything else.

He complained that the source code has not been made available and that it defines the principle of logic governing the operation of the system. It is important to note that he said it is almost impossible to make any meaningful comments about the secrecy and accuracy of the Nedap-Powervote system without access to its specifications. He is the fellow——

I will give the Deputy the information——

I am not finished. Dr. Michael Purser is the head of Baltimore Technologies but Q4, a PR company, could go on radio this morning and say it is transparent. Who should I trust? Dr. Michael Purser also pointed out that most computer-based equipment was susceptible to eavesdropping using the capture of high-frequency emissions, as pointed out by Deputy Gilmore earlier.

The proposed system, according to Dr. Purser, contains two glaring defects. First, there is no paper record, either for voter reassurance or as a back-up listing to check the accuracy of the computer system. I will quote the doctor because he is a Trinity——

Unfortunately, the poor man is misinformed. If he had only read the reports——

We are all misinformed except the Minister.

The Minister's other critics were anti-globalisation——

Why will the Deputy not accept that an independent Irish company was given the source code? It has written the reports on the source code and has gone to the commission. Neither I nor the Fianna Fáil Party has done so. Perhaps there might be some professional or commercial jealousies on the part of companies that did not get the source code, but it was given to an independent company.

What was the independent company?

I have to deal with the same old bloody nonsense, not listening to the facts, not looking at the report or taking on board——

Chairman, do I have to take this from this arrogant Minister, who is roaring at me when I am trying to contribute?

It is frustrating.

Order, please.

It may be frustrating because the Minister knows he is in a hole.

We have been sitting here for two hours and we are only on the third amendment.

We will sit for 22 hours if we must.

We will not delay for that long on this amendment. I ask the Deputy to conclude his discussion on amendment No. 3.

Along with smearing the other critics in the Dáil, the Minister is now trying to discredit Dr. Purser, founder of Baltimore Technologies.

Not at all. I am not speaking of him.

Is the Minister saying Dr. Purser is misinformed? I am entitled to quote Dr. Purser without the Minister roaring at me. He said: "The question as to whether the results are accurate presupposes that the procedures whereby the results are produced are defined unambiguously." He wants to know what rules the electronic system will follow in the distribution of surpluses in the proportional representation system. Furthermore, he stated: "It would be outrageous if we were expected to cast our vote into a system when nobody, except some programmer, knows how it works."

The Minister stated that an independent Irish company has been given details of the source code. Am I correct that it is the possession of the Dutch company?

I told the Deputy this six months ago. The reports are available and have been sent to the commission.

What about the details of the source code?

Of course they are given——

Are they publicly available?

They are not because they are commercially sensitive.

How can somebody comment on that report if he or she does not have the source code?

The report is available.

How could somebody else comment on that report knowledgeably?

How many more independent bodies do we want? Is it a question of saying we do not like one independent body but like another?

Is it a question of one preferring six independent bodies to two? Is this a chase? I just do not understand it and I am at a loss.

I am also at a loss because——

Having listened to the Deputy, I am even more convinced as to what is behind all this.

I believe the Minister does not understand it.

I am utterly exasperated and frustrated.

What is the independent company with the source code?

Nathean Technologies. We told the Deputy this six months ago. As far as I know, it was before the committee.

If somebody wanted to make a submission to the commission about the source codes, how would he or she do so without having them?

That is entirely a matter for the commission. I will not get involved in what the commission is or is not doing.

Can we see the report on the source codes?

No problem at all. I am glad to hear what Deputy Gilmore said — I do not have any problem with the argument he put forward because I believe it is well-founded — because it indicates he clearly does not want electronic voting. He likes the papers coming out of the boxes. His argument was based on visibility, namely, that papers can be seen in the old system but not in the electronic system. I am not sure what electronic voting system would operate in the same way as a ballot box.

What about Russia?

We are at the core of the argument. It is simply a question of being pro or anti electronic voting.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and maybe discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, subsection (2), line 18, to delete "2002" and substitute the following:

"1999, the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 to the extent specified in section 29(4) of that Act, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2002".

These amendments should not take as long as the previous ones. The purpose of amendment No. 4 is to correct an error in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001. When that Act was updating the reference to the Electoral Acts 1992 to 1999, it failed to take into account section 29(4) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. Accordingly, an ambiguity has arisen about which of the 2001 Acts is included in the reference to the Electoral Acts. Our amendment seeks to rewind to the point at which the error occurred and insert the correct references from that point forward.

The purpose of amendment No. 5 is to rectify an error which occurred in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001. That Act failed to take into account the updated reference contained in the Local Government Act 2001. Again, we are seeking to rewind to the point at which the error occurred and include all relevant Acts passed since that point in order to correct the error.

These amendments deal with technical points. I appreciate that the Labour Party will have received legal advice on this point. I am guided, however, by the chief parliamentary counsel in the Office of the Attorney General, who is the expert on drafting legislation. I am not in a position to accept these amendments and I ask the Deputies to withdraw them.

As the Minister said, these points were drawn to my attention by legal personnel. I will rely on what the Minister said. The egg will be on his face if this turns out to be important.

It is not my decision. I can only go by the advice of the chief parliamentary counsel.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, subsection (7), line 1, to delete "31” and substitute “33”.

This is a drafting amendment to insert a correct reference. The numbering of the sections changed during the drafting process.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 6, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following subsection:

"(9) Section 22 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 shall come into operation on the passing of this Act.".

Section 22 of the 2001 Act relates to the provision of the addresses of polling stations on polling cards. It is an enabling provision in that it specifies that the address of a polling station may be included on a polling card. It was introduced in 2001 on foot of a Labour Party amendment but the last time I checked it had not been brought into force. This amendment seeks to do so now.

Section 22 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 provides that the polling information cards should include, where appropriate, other information concerning the poll, including the address of the polling station. This provision arose from the acceptance of a Labour Party amendment during the debate on the 2001 Act. The inclusion of the address of the polling station would be useful, especially in cities and large urban areas. In other areas, the location of the local school is generally well known or can be easily ascertained. Returning officers have been advised to erect signs at polling stations to alert voters.

The Department, in conjunction with the local government computer services board and representatives of a number of registration authorities, is examining the redesign of the polling information card and the possibility of providing for additional details, including extended polling station address details and hours of polling. The printers currently used by registration authorities for this function are being examined, as is the idea of acquiring new printers. In the light of this, the section will be commenced as soon as is practicable. In the circumstances I cannot accept the amendment.

How long will it be before this is ready?

We hope to have it resolved in a few months but it will not be ready for the coming elections.

It is important, particularly in urban areas where DEDs do not always correspond with people's understanding and a number of people in an area vote in the school in the next parish.

It can cause consternation.

It should be clearly marked on the polling card. There are other ways to deal with it. The polling schemes should be changed at local level but those who operate them are reluctant to break up DEDs.

I do not disagree with the Deputy; it was his amendment that inserted the provision. I wish it had been in place previously but have been told it is being sorted out and should be complete within a couple of months.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 9 is an alternative to amendment No. 8 and they will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 6, lines 8 and 9, to delete subsection (9) and substitute the following:

"(9) Where it is proposed to make an order under this Act, a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

(10) The order shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each such House.".

Arising from the breadth of orders the Minister can make under the Bill, the amendment proposes that, in the interests of transparency, all orders should be laid before the House in draft form and would not take effect until both Houses approved.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 propose to alter the arrangements for the making of a commencement order. The procedure proposed in subsection (9) is the same as that generally used for commencement orders for many years in a wide variety of legislation and I see no need to change the procedure on this occasion.

My amendment is being discussed with amendment No. 8. Introducing this Bill on a day that the Minister "may appoint by order" is too vague for the purposes of electoral legislation. Amendment No. 9 would require the order to be in place one month before an election. It should be in place sufficiently in advance of the election to make it reasonable and practical. Is the Minister taking this into account when he mentions the normal arrangements?

In present circumstances we will have to wait and see when I can make the commencement order.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G. V.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 6, subsection (9), line 9, to delete "as soon as may be after" and substitute "one month before".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question put: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 4.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 1.05 pm. and resumed at 2.15 p.m.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 6, subsection (1), line 32, to delete "record" and substitute "store".

Once again, the amendment is endeavouring to bring some increased credibility to the system. A cartridge or a disc, as stated in the Bill, means a device that is used in a voting machine to record each vote. It would be preferable if it was possible to say it was to "store" the vote, given that we expect it to be in that cartridge and taken from there and thereby read elsewhere. I tabled this amendment to ask the Minister if he would take that on board.

The current wording is considered satisfactory. According to the Oxford dictionary, "record" means "to register, or represent in permanent form or put in legible shape". On that basis the amendment cannot be accepted and I request the Deputy to withdraw it.

The Oxford dictionary, of course, will not be voting. I expect the interests of constituents, as they will understand the word "record" does not give a sense of permanence, as mentioned by the Minister. That is the reason for the amendment. I take it the Minister is not mindful of that.

I would ask the parliamentary counsel to change it, if there was a benefit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 6, subsection (1), line 36, to delete ", biometric, photonic".

Again this is a matter of definition. By tabling this amendment I wanted the Minister to clarify wherein lies the need for biometric and photonic devices in this regard.

The reason we are doing it this way is that the definition of "electronic" is the same as is used in the Electronic Commerce Act 2000. That is why I did not want to have different definitions in separate Bills.

The Minister will forgive my ignorance but I do not know what all these terms mean. Will he give the committee an example of what type of biometric or photonic technology he anticipates being used?

It is really for the future, I suppose. Biometric refers to fingerprints and photonic is obviously what it says.

Is that measuring people's eyes?

That is possible.

May we go back? Biometric is what?

It is part of it. It refers to fingerprints, as I understand it.

Where would fingerprinting come into voting?

Perhaps it could be used as an identification of a vote, the same as is being proposed for passports, etc.

A voter will now have to give his or her fingerprints?

Let us not get carried away.

Are people going to vote to be fingerprinted?

All these things are being put into the Bill. What is "photonic"?

They are preparations for future developments that may or may not occur. The wording is there.

The Minister is putting them into a Bill and it is he who will decide the meaning of "in the public interest", according to section 5, so what do they mean?

I take it from what the academic journals say that this is to take into account both fingerprinting and measuring identification from the eye. However, that is not the Department's plan at the moment, so why have it in there?

It is just to have it as part of the legislation so it is there if these things are introduced in the future. That is all. They are being investigated currently as the Deputy will know, because he probably has seen the debate as regards passports and other similar matters as the technology is being perfected.

This is getting more interesting by the minute. We are now to have technology which will fingerprint people going to vote. There will be some kind of gadget that will look people in the eye. It is getting to the point where if the colour of a person's eyes is not liked he or she will not be let vote.

The reason this is being done is simply to be consistent with the previous Bill. It was all in the previous legislation. It would be normal, as the Deputy knows, to keep definitions consistent over different Bills in separate legislation. That is why it was done. I did not have a particular view on it or insight into it. This is drafting consistent with other definitions. That is all. There is no other reason. Does the Deputy want to take them out?

It is lazy drafting because the Minister is not making provision for anything that fits this definition at the moment. If he was to, I do not know whether it would require primary legislation or regulations. However, it would certainly need significant announcements concerning fundamental change and that would be the time to include——

For the Deputy's benefit, primary legislation would be required if there were to be any changes of the nature he or Deputy Gilmore have been suggesting. I am saying no more than this: the definition is the same as that in the other Bill. It would be unusual not to keep definitions consistent through different Bills. That is the only reason.

If electronic voting is defined as including fingerprinting, eye measurement, etc., what do the other things mean? Optical refers to eyes and there is also electromagnetic. The Minister could bring in anything.

I was simply keeping the legislation, as drafted, consistent with the earlier Bill. If the Deputies want to remove them I will have that done. I am not wedded to these ideas in particular. I think they are interesting and may form part of the future. If so, new legislation will be required. Deputy Gilmore, who has dealt with legislation himself, knows well the reason this is here is to keep matters consistent, not to have people asking the courts to decide on bad legislation where something is defined one way in one Bill and differently in another. We would get ourselves into further difficulties. That is all. There is no other reason.

To sum up, we have clarified that primary legislation would be required to introduce biometric and photonic technology in electronic voting. That would be the natural time to amend the definition to take that into account.

The Deputy is right. Its purpose is to try to define "electronic". That is how it is defined in the Electronic Commerce Act 2000. This is the definition the State has decided on and I am just keeping that, as is consistent in different legislation. Otherwise one would end up with different definitions of the same word in law, which would cause serious difficulties in the courts.

If we are to talk of electronic voting and the system has been set down and the machines bought, a considerable amount has been pre-determined. The least we can do is deal with what we are faced with. When it comes to primary legislation to amend it, we can change the definition accordingly. However, we do not need "biometric" and "photonic" in here at the moment.

Will there be fingerprinting?

I will come back to it on Report Stage. We are very clear it is there because it is already defined in law.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 6, subsection (1), line 39, after "are" to insert "recorded,".

Regarding definitions of electronic voting systems, this means a voting system in which the votes are automatically counted and the results automatically tabulated using electronically operated apparatus. That means we are putting great faith in the system, as the Minister is asking us to do. I ask that the word "recorded" be inserted there, so there is some semblance of accountability in that regard.

I have no difficulty with the amendment, which I am inclined to accept. However, I would like to consider it and come back to it on Report Stage. I will consult the parliamentary Counsel, but it seems fine.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 28 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"‘source code' means the data which defines the principles or logic governing the operation of a system of electronic voting;".

The amendment proposes that the term "source code" be defined. This amendment is connected with my amendment which proposes that the source code be published. The source code is the guiding principle on which the principle of electronic voting is based. It is unacceptable that people are asked to exercise their democratic franchise on machines whose workings are known to no one. The publication of the source code is fundamental to securing public trust in this or any other system of electronic voting. It is not acceptable to say this is a trade secret or confidential. The contract to buy the machines was paid for by public moneys. The public is expected to use these machines and therefore has a right to know the source codes. That is why I am proposing amendment No. 28. The source code is the logic governing the operation of the whole voting system. It is not disclosed and is owned by a private Dutch company, Nedap-Powervote, which regards the code as a trade secret. To expect us to use this system without knowing the code is like writing the election rules in Russian or Chinese and failing to provide a translation for the people of Ireland. It is like handing over the votes to unknown people in a locked room and allowing them to come out and declare the result. This morning the Minister said a report had been published giving full details of the source code.

I was referring to Nathean Technologies. I did not say it would publish the source code but that it would publish the report of its assessment of the source code.

Perhaps the Minister might tell us in his own words his interpretation of the report. Did the company in question see the source code?

This amendment is linked with amendment No. 28. It is unnecessary at present. The question of publication of the source code will be examined after the October presidential elections having regard to the security and secrecy of the ballot. In that regard, these amendments are premature, and I ask the Deputy to withdraw them. The making available of the source code is not a matter for the present commission. However, it can be considered in the legislation by changing the rules to which I referred. Nathean Technologies carried out its assessment of the source code and all the testing to ensure that it stands up, saying that it does.

What does Deputy Cullen mean by "it stands up"?

It means that it went through the sort of testing that such experts carry out. I am not a computer expert, but it meets the required standards.

The Minister is running blind and buying a pig in a poke. He is expecting the Irish people to use a system about whose workings he knows very little. Why is he saying we will have to wait until after the presidential elections to have details of the source code? This is a fundamental flaw in the system and it is time we had full information on the source code. It is handing over our democracy to faceless people in Holland.

The Deputy will be aware that none of the electronic voting systems publish the source code, with the exception of one state in Australia. I am not a computer expert and I do not think the Deputy claims to be one either. However, I would have thought that making the source code public could raise questions about the security of the system. I had thought it might be better were it not in the public domain. It is very interesting that nowhere in America is the source code published.

Is the Minister saying there has been an indication that doing so would put at risk the security of the system?

No. I am talking about source codes. I am not a computer expert, but why would one make the source codes publicly available when those codes protect the system? Why would one give them to a political party? Why would one put them into the public domain? However, we will consider the question. I do not have any view on this, but it strikes me as an ordinary person that, if there were something extremely important, such as a source code, one would not want to make it public. It strikes me as a contradiction.

I am advised that in other jurisdictions, details of the source code have been made available.

Not in America.

For example, in Australia.

I said one state in Australia.

So there is a precedent for it. Is there any evidence of the security of the system being breached?

As I said, I am not hung up on the issue. I can see that the——

Why were the terms of reference of the commission not extended to allow it to examine the source code?

It has every right to do what it wants. It is not precluded from doing that at all. It is a matter for the commission. No one is expressing any view. The commission is very satisfied that the terms of reference were so wide that it could do what it wanted.

Has it informed anyone in the Department about its——

I have no contact with the commission. I do not want to know anything about it. The commission is independent and I am not engaged in consultation at ministerial level with it.

Is there correspondence available in the Minister's Department which raises questions about the non-availability of the source code?

I have no idea, since I have read nothing. I am well away from all this.

The Minister may not have read it, but is it there?

Not that I am aware of.

I am asking whether there is documentation in the Minister's Department raising questions about the non-availability of the source code.

Not that I am aware of. Let me be absolutely clear. I am not getting involved or dealing with this issue.

I am asking about the Minister's own Department. Does documentation exist in his Department raising concerns about the lack of availability of the source code?

I do not know.

Perhaps the Minister might find out.

I can but if there are issues concerning the commission and the Department, I am not getting involved. I will not go between the commission——

Perhaps the Minister might check with his officials present today if such documentation exists.

What specific documentation?

Documentation regarding concerns about the source code.

Information is being sought. However, there is no document of the type the Deputy suggests criticising the source code.

I did not say "criticising" but "raising questions" regarding the source code.

No, not that I am aware of.

Does the commission have the source code?

That is a question for the commission.

May I put the scenario——

I ask the Deputy not to put me in a position. I cannot speak for the commission or what it is doing. We have facilitated the commission within the Department. Anything it wanted we have certainly given it. I can say that in an open and transparent way.

I am not asking the Minister to answer for the commission. Deputy Allen's amendment proposes that the source code should be made available. Sometime after the commission was established and it advertised for submissions, I was contacted by a person in the IT world who said he wished to make a submission to the commission and that in order for him to make an informed submission he would need to have access to the source code. Obviously, he did not have access to the source code because it is not being made available. He contacted the commission to establish if it would make the source code available to him. The commission could not make the source code available to him and he came to the conclusion that the commission itself did not have the source code. The reason he brought this to my attention was that if the commission did not have access to the source code, it was going to be very difficult for the commission to fulfil its mandate to comment knowledgeably on the safety and security of the system. He made the point that this is the ultimate privatisation. Effectively, what is being done is that the key to the conduct of our elections has been handed over to a private company which regards it as a piece of commercial property which is not publicly available. That raises an issue about the commission. Has the Minister any information as to when the commission is likely to make its first report, given that it has to report before 1 May, which is Saturday week? Has the Minister or his Department any information as to when it is likely to report?

No, I have not. To be honest, I hear more rumours on a daily basis, whether I am in the country or outside it. I am quite satisfied the commission is totally independent, confidential and secure in what it is doing. I have no knowledge of what it is doing. I cannot speculate on questions that are, rightly, for the commission. They are not for me to answer. I simply do not know. There is no point in my sitting here speculating or guessing as to what the commission has in its possession. It is entirely a matter for the commission.

The Minister said consideration would be given to making the source code available after the presidential election. If the source code is a commercial secret, how can it be made available after the presidential election if it cannot be made available beforehand? If it will not compromise security by making it available after the presidential election, why can it not be made available immediately?

The Minister needs to clarify the position. My understanding is that making available the source code does not render the system open to abuse. That appears to be the Minister's argument but he should clarify it.

I am only giving the layman's view.

It is very much a layman's view. It is certainly not the view that has come from people who have letters after their names saying they have studied computers for much longer than any of us. Perhaps it is necessary to consult a little wider to check the position. While our two amendments are quite different they should be accepted. Amendment No. 13 seeks to insert a definition of "source code". I cannot see the problem. The source code is a fundamental part of electronic voting. It is strange that there would not be a definition to clarify what is meant by "source codes".

The second matter is far more fundamental, it concerns the publication of the source code. Certainly, many have written to me, and probably to others as well, saying the source code is the key to understanding whether the system is trustworthy. That is coming from those who claim to know what they are talking about. The Minister needs to clarify what he means when he says it is a risk to give out the source code. According to other people that is not the case.

The first question concerned the fact that all the profiles would be completed after the presidential election; in other words, we would have used the system through general elections, referenda, local elections, European elections and a presidential election. When that is completed we have the option to buy the counting system, the source code. Then, obviously, a decision will be made. It will be an interesting decision between all the political parties whether to publish the source code and the advice in that regard. My view would be that one can only give the source code to properly accredited institutes, wherever they may be, because that is all one can depend upon and deal with. To give it to people who are not accredited to anything is seriously questionable. One of the difficulties in the debate is that many of those criticising or questioning this system have no knowledge of how an election is conducted. They have no knowledge or practical experience of what constitutes an election, neither have they had any involvement in an election. That is part of the problem. They are speaking from an academic point of view in too many ways. That is the position. We are where we are and we await what the commission has to say.

Has a price been agreed for the purchase of the source code after the presidential election?

It is in the tender documents.

How much is it?

I do not have the figure but I will get it for the Deputy.

How stands the amendment?

Do I understand correctly that the reason the source code is not available is that the Department has a contract with Nedap-Powervote for it? There is a contract with Nedap-Powervote that provides that the source code remains with Nedap-Powervote until after the presidential election and then the Department has the option of buying it back. Is that the position?

Seemingly, it has the option of licensing the software or purchasing it. I understand, and I can be corrected if I make a mistake, that in the case of the Dutch elections, which have been carried out in this way for ten years, the company that supplies the machinery does not have the source code nor does it want it, for obvious reasons. It is not an issue elsewhere.

It may not be, but it is an issue here because the Minister has sold out the control of our system to people in Holland. If after the local and European elections there is a legal challenge to the results by a candidate and if those who possess the source code are summoned to give details, what would be the position?

I will not speculate.

I am speculating because it could happen.

The Deputy can continue to speculate but I will not speculate. The Deputy can sit here and ruminate on it.

The difference between now——

It is a matter for the courts. I could not possibly interpret what the courts may do.

I am asking a simple question. Can the owners of the source code be subpoenaed to come before the courts here?

That is a matter for the courts.

Surely that question has occurred to somebody in the Department.

No. It is entirely a matter for the courts.

It is not a matter for the courts. It is a matter of law.

Yes, correct.

Has the Department received any advice from the Attorney General on its ability to subpoena the owners of the source code in the case of a legal challenge? Surely that is an obvious question that would occur to anybody making decisions in respect of our democratic system.

I will not speculate. As the Deputy knows, it is a matter for the courts.

Obviously it has not been addressed and it raises——

It is addressed. It is a matter for the courts. If somebody is subpoenaed by the courts, it is a matter for the courts. It is not a matter for me.

No. I am asking about current law. Can the laws of this country force a foreign national to appear before a civic court to answer questions about the legalities of the voting system? That is a simple question. We do not need the courts to answer it.

It is absolutely a matter for the courts.

It is a matter for the courts to decide whether to summon, but I am asking if the law can force an individual to come before the courts.

It is a matter for the courts.

The difference between now and next June is that in the case of manual voting all those involved in the voting procedures can be brought before the courts. The Minister is now telling me that he does not know whether everybody involved, including the owners of the source code, can be brought before the courts in a case where a challenge is made.

Deputy Allen's point is central to this argument. The position is that the source code for the entire system is located with a company which is located outside the jurisdiction of the State. If there is a challenge to an election on the operation of the system, could the court make an order for discovery for the source code against a company which is located outside the State?

My officials have reconfirmed the position for me. We could not speculate about what the courts may do.

We are making the law here. The law is not yet made. As of now the Minister cannot use electronic voting in the June elections because the legislation has not yet been passed. It is up to us to make the law. We are the legislators. The Minister has entered into a contract with a company — we will leave aside the question of whether he had the authority to do that, although in my opinion he did not — under which that company owns the source code and the only way we can get it is if we buy it back from the company after the presidential election. If electronic voting is used on 11 June and the outcome of the election is challenged in the courts, it is a relevant question to ask and get an answer to, and if we cannot get an answer we ought to make provision for the point about whether the court hearing that case could make an order for discovery for the source code. It appears from the answer we have received that it could not.

I never said that, Deputy. I want to be clear about that point.

How can an Irish court make an order for discovery for the source code against a company which is located outside this jurisdiction?

That is entirely a matter for the courts.

This is not acceptable.

Deputy Gilmore used the phrase "buy back" something. We never had a source code in the first place. We are not buying back something.

We had a very good election system.

I am delighted the Deputy said that because it confirms for me that we are talking about some who want to move to electronic voting and some who do not. That was the fundamental difference between us.

The Minister should stick to the issue.

That is the reason I am proceeding with this measure.

We know the Minister is determined to proceed but what we are trying to get from him is the legislation that covers the scenario, which is quite feasible, where somebody challenges an election result and the details of the source code need to be established.

They have been established by an Irish company.

The Minister is saying the Irish company will be the one with which the court has to be satisfied.

I am saying, and it is obvious if the Deputy thinks it through, that the court has a range of options open to it that can satisfy any——

It is those options that we are trying to establish

It is a matter for the courts to decide the options they may choose to use.

No, they need to have options.

It is not a matter for me to speculate on a hypothetical scenario which has not occurred. It is not a matter for me to speculate on what the courts may do.

It is. The law is there to put in place a number of ways of dealing with a number of scenarios.

I am satisfied that the laws are in place.

It is our job to speculate on hypothetical scenarios. We are speculating now on a scenario that the Irish courts at some point have to adjudicate on an election. The Minister is right that, ultimately, these are matters for the courts but if the court comes to the conclusion that it needs to have the source code to adjudicate on the issue before it and that it is part of the evidence that has to be considered by the court, how does an Irish court get the source code?

It could simply ask for it.

Have the courts the power to demand it? There is a difference between asking and demanding.

I know that. They know the answers before they ask the question.

They do not. The court will say that the legislators should have made provision for this point.

There is more than enough provision for it. In all likelihood the courts would appoint their own experts who would be given access to the source code. That is the likely scenario.

That is speculating on what the——

The Deputy has forced me to a point where he wants me to speculate, so I am speculating in the interests of continuing the debate.

I want the Minister to legislate.

Or indicate where legislation is already provided.

The Minister is bringing another party into the whole shambles. He is talking about the courts appointing their own experts.

I may be wrong but I do not know any judges who are IT experts so I presume one would have to get expert IT advice to adjudicate on the issue. That would be a reasonable position to adopt.

If we presume the courts would appoint their own experts, would the experts have the legal right to demand, not ask for, details of the source code under Irish law?

The Deputy appears to presume some sort of adversarial position on the part of the company. Why would the courts not simply ask for it? Why is the Deputy suggesting they would not be given it?

Is the Dutch company legally obliged to comply with a demand from the Irish courts?

That is a matter for the courts to determine.

No. It is a matter of law. Under current law, would the Dutch company be obliged to respond to a request or a demand from the Irish courts?

It is a matter for the courts. I have no doubt that it is not an issue.

There is no point in continuing to ask the question.

We have a position now where people will be voting on rules that they do not know and if they challenge them in the courts, the courts will be unable to make a decision because they will not have access to the experts who are located in Holland and who have details of the source code.

For the record, in case by not saying anything it is taken that I seem to be acquiescing with the Deputy's view, that is not the case. The usual spin we have——

In what way is it not the case?

——from Fine Gael further confuses the issue.

Is the amendment being pressed?

If anyone is confused, it is the Minister because he does not know about this.

No, I am clear on the issue.

The Minister is attempting to make law on a bed of ignorance.

I came to debate this Bill with the faint hope that some interesting new issues might——

I have asked the Minister an interesting question but he has not answered it.

This debate has boiled down to a simple argument, either one is for electronic voting or against it — lock, stock and barrel.

That is rubbish. That is the view of the Minister's simple mind.

Fair enough, I respect that argument.

Perhaps with amendment No. 13, we should not have expected much luck.How stands the amendment?

With regard to the Australian system where the source code was made public, the Minister expressed the opinion that the security of the system would be put at risk,

That was my personal, layman's opinion.

The Minister's personal——

We have already discussed this issue. We are being repetitive. The same question has been asked almost 20 times.

I will stay here until 5 a.m. if I must to get answers.

Am I to take it we will not adjourn at 5 p.m. and that we will keep going?

If we want to.

Great, I would appreciate that. We can continue this debate all night.

We need to get some answers. With regard to the Australian system where the details of the source code were published, was there any incident where the security of the system was breached?

I have no idea.

The Minister has no idea.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 18, 21, 22, 25, 46, 57 and 58 are related to amendment No. 14. Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 16, 18, 21, 22, 25, 46, 57 and 58 may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"‘voter verified paper record' has the meaning assigned to it insection 5,”.

This amendment inserts a definition of "voter verified paper record". The amendment is related to the proposed new section 5 which requires a voter verified paper record. Amendment No. 15 also relates to verifiability. I am proposing this amendment to ensure that the definition of voting machine includes the requirement that those machines can and do produce a paper copy of every vote cast. Amendment No. 18 is designed to ensure that the definition of voting machine requires that the machine will produce a paper record of every vote cast.

Amendment No. 21 proposes a new section dealing with voter verification and audit. With regard to amendment No. 22, the availability of voter verified paper records is fundamental to the integrity of any system of electronic voting. Their availability is crucial for auditing and verifying the reliability and accuracy of the electronic count. This new section proposes that the Commission on Electronic Voting would carry out random recounts of the voter verified paper records and would compare them to the count results delivered by the machine.

So far we have established that those voting under the proposed system will vote on a system where there is total ignorance of the ground rules because details of the source code will not be available. We have established, certainly to my satisfaction, that if an individual wishes to challenge the results of the election in the courts, it will be impossible to subpoena the possessor or owner of the source code who lives in another jurisdiction.

Now we are dealing with paper verifiability. The Minister says it is as simple as pushing buttons one, two and three but how can he convince me that by pushing those buttons the machine is reflecting my or any other voter's wishes? In the absence of a verifiable paper audit trail, there is no proof available that the machine is reflecting the wishes of the voter. The absence of a source code and a verifiable paper audit trail are the core problems in the system. Without the source code and a verifiable paper audit trail, the system is fatally flawed and anti-democratic. There is no way of checking that the machine is carrying out the wishes of the voter.

A number of my amendments are included in this large group. Some of them are almost stylistic in terms of increasing the clarification——

It is a long time since the Stylistics were on the go.

Absolutely. The Chairman is showing his age.

My grandmother was fond of them. The Deputy can proceed.

We can talk about the citizenship referendum if the Chairman goes any further.

It is important that we look at these amendments separately. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, for example, deal with definitions. They do not change what is in the Bill but make it more accountable and, perhaps, say what is meant to be said. According to the definition, a voting machine means an apparatus on which voters cast their votes, that records each vote and that furnishes a total number of the votes cast on the machine. My amendment provides that rather than just referring to the votes cast, which might appear to many people to mean just the first preferences and the overall result, the content and preferences of the vote be stated in the provision. It is obviously part of the information and it would be helpful if that was clarified in the provision. The Minister might consider accepting the amendment.

Similarly, according to the definition, a voting system means "a method of casting and counting votes that is designed to function, wholly or partly, by use of mechanical, electro-mechanical or electronic apparatus...". Amendment No. 17 proposes the insertion of the phrase, "which has been approved, tested and certified and" after the word "votes". The Minister has said it has been approved, tested and certified but it would be helpful if people were reassured of that in the definition. They need to be reassured that it is not just a piece of hardware with software which would require computer experts to understand in full but that it has been approved, tested and certified.

The two amendments are relatively minor and I hope they are not difficult to accept. The Minister said he does not wish to reveal the software code so he might have difficulty with amendment No. 25. Nonetheless, it is important that we take account of the lessons learned in the pilot scheme. There can be discrepancies and the amendment provides that should discrepancies occur, a manual audit count will be deemed the official result. That requires the Minister to accept the necessity for a paper audit trail. We live in hope on that issue.

Amendment No. 46 relates to the section dealing with the counting of postal and special voter ballot papers. This is one of those strange situations where the quaintness of the old system is mixed with the modernity of the new system. The paper votes will arrive and somebody will punch them into a machine and put them into electronic format. We should be able to seek a reconciliation between the paper ballots and the output of the electronic voting machine to ensure accuracy in the record.

I mentioned Russia earlier as an example of a country with a different system of electronic voting. I am not sure if the Minister managed to get to Russia, between visiting Malaysia and India, but I understand Russia has a paper system which is scanned electronically. I wonder why postal votes, if they come in paper form, cannot be scanned. Would that involve an additional system for which the Minister had not planned? If we are talking about electronic voting, it seems strange that postal voters are forced to depend on the old system entirely, which involves a human factor of inserting those votes into the electronic system which is out of sight. It seems as if an additional doubt is needlessly being put into the system. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether he has examined the possibility of scanning those votes.

I support my colleagues in making the case for the verifiable voter audit trail. One issue that arises is the need for the electronic voting system to be subject to audit. In order for this to happen, there must be a paper record. The Minister will argue that a paper record can be generated by the system and that one can generate a paper printout of each vote which is recorded in each individual voting machine. It is true that one can do so. The problem, however, is that the paper record generated in that way is only a record of the votes which are recorded — it simply prints out what the machine has read. The problem is that the voting system may not read or record the vote the voter is casting.

It shuts down automatically if that is the case.

No, it does not.

It does. There are three fail-safe systems that must match up.

It shuts down immediately.

No. If someone goes to cast a vote, and votes No. 1 Cullen, No. 2 Cregan and No. 3 Sargent——

At least the Deputy gave me No. 1.

I am like many of the people the Minister will meet in the course of the canvass.

They might not know what election it is though.

I am always amused when I hear about politicians breaking election promises. The people who break the most promises at election time are the voters.

The voter cannot be sure that the machine will record the votes cast in that way. Therefore, there is a need to have a system where the voter will be able see the paper record that is stored. What matters is in what the voter can have confidence. With a paper record, the voter will know that he or she can see a paper record of the electronic vote. That will be stored so that it can be checked if there is a doubt about the outcome of the election, or as part of some routine auditing of the system.

Drawing on experience, if one looks in particular at what is happening in the United States, the demand for a voter verifiable audit trail is the essential demand that is emerging as regards electronic voting.

Disability groups are opposing it.

I agree there are practical difficulties with the system. That is something that obviously will have to be addressed. As we know, in California they have agreed to do this from 2006.

They have no such machines. They will not be doing it.

As I understand it, there are two Bills before Congress, one sponsored by Congressman Holt who is proposing that all electronic voting systems in the United States should carry a voter verifiable audit trail. A similar Bill is supported in the Senate by Senator——

I presume the Deputy is talking about a voter verifiable audit paper trail.

Yes. A similar Bill is supported in the US Senate by Senator Rodham-Clinton. Much of the written material on electronic voting in the United States is arguing strongly for the voter verifiable paper audit trail. As we heard earlier, electronic systems being used generally in business and e-commerce all have paper records. It would be a foolish business that would entrust its accounts entirely to an electronic system without a paper backup, yet that is what the Minister is asking Irish voters to accept.

A printout of what the machine contains is the same principle as a paper backup. Electronic banking is now operated throughout practically the entire banking system.

All we will have is a record of the error, if there is one.

We have gone through this at some length. There is no such system in the world. That is a statement of fact. There have been a couple of trials which have proven to be very unsuccessful and have been abandoned. There is a proposal in California to bring in this system, but no such machine has been invented so we are not dealing even with a substantive alternative system that exists and about which we could have a serious debate. We have nowhere to point to where this works extremely well. There is much agitation in America from a particular group but, in fairness to it, it is clearly anti-electronic voting.

It is not.

Good luck to it on that basis. Having watched the American system for many years, I think the Irish electoral system is far superior. I am glad we have not chosen to go down the road towards the type of e-voting systems the Americans have chosen, which are fundamentally and fatally flawed. That is obvious. We have not taken that route. We have opted for an electronic, stand-alone counting machine which is very different from what is being proposed in America. Equally, we have an enormous comfort in that these machines have been used for over ten years. They are highly successful and no question marks have arisen over them in any other country.

The question arises as to whether all these so-called experts are right and everybody else is wrong in all the democratic countries that use this type of system. I do not believe they are all wrong. That is my judgment on it. I would put much more faith in democracy and people's use of it than I would in the so-called experts who are telling me every day of the week that we should be doing something else.

There is a fundamentally different argument in that some people want a paper audit trail. There are clear audits within the system, the most primary of which is that voters can see what they are doing. The system itself confirms to the voter what it is recording. That is one of the most secure systems in the world and is much better than any piece of paper. Voters can see it coming up in front of them. The machine must confirm what it has recorded the voter as doing. This system would be happily workable on one memory system, but there are three separate memory systems to be sure. Each of them must register the correct vote the voter has placed in the machine. If one of them does not and something goes wrong, the machine will say so to the voter. If it does not record it again the machine will shut down. Therefore, we have an audit trail for voters. There is no question about it. It is a very sophisticated one with an enormous amount of secure, fail-safe systems in it.

We do not have a paper printout, but I do not think that is exercising the electorate and the matter has not been raised with me. Where the machines have been used around the country, the matter has not been raised. It is an issue with some groups who have linked up with some of the American groups opposed to this development. That is fair enough and it is their right to do so.

It would be a different matter if the Opposition was presenting us with a very successful alternative system. We would then be able to have a debate on a matter of substance, but that is not the reality. Where paper audit trails have been used, they have been proven to be unsafe and have been abandoned. There are no such trails in existence at present but the Americans are proposing to introduce one although they do not, and are unlikely to, have the machines to facilitate it.

We could discuss this matter for the remainder of the day. It has been discussed for six months and my position has not changed. In my opinion it is a strong position. I am confident about the audit trail contained in the system. Voters will have access to it. They will see their vote and confirm that every preference has been recorded. I am not disposed to accepting this or any of the other amendments tabled. As already stated, we have discussed this matter for six months and I have nothing further to add at this stage.

On "Today with Pat Kenny" on 25 and 26 February, the Minister stated that the only dual test — paper and electronic — performed by the Department involved votes cast in the Buncrana UDC electoral area.

That was one example.

Were there others?

I was merely making a comment.

A total of 242,483 votes were cast and I understand that these were subsequently entered into a single voting machine and counted electronically to verify that the paper and electronic systems tallied. The Minister asserted that the system was tested in the most recent general election and in the second referendum on Nice. However, I understand that the latter two examples did not involve a dual test designed to verify that voters' intentions were accurately counted and recorded.

Given that what is being proposed will involve a fundamental change, I have a number of questions to put to the Minister. Do I understand that the audit trail is embedded in the proposed system and that, as the Minister asserted, it renders fully redundant any need for a verifiable paper audit trail? Will voters have a 100% cast iron guarantee that every vote will be inviolable, that is, they will be recorded and counted as intended by voters?

My understanding on that matter is clear. If it does not do so, the machine will shut down. It is as simple as that.

Deputy Gilmore said that will not be the case. Given that voting machines are run on software, on which the downloading of votes cast will be dependent, and assuming that it will be 100% perfect, is the Minister guaranteeing that the software is entirely without fault and that the votes cast cannot be tampered with? If so, what system is in place to guarantee that a verifiable audit can be made to prove that the votes are truly recorded and counted as intended and cannot be interfered with in any way? How can the Minister prove that the votes cast have been registered correctly?

The Minister also stated previously that the system's software will allow for the printing of a ballot paper for each vote cast. I understand from what he said that the proposed system is entirely infallible. He stated that, in effect, it will be possible to obtain a printout after the fact and that this proves that the votes stored are the votes actually cast. Is it not the case that the printout option to which he refers simply provides a printed record of the votes stored or is he asserting that the printout, categorically and without question, proves that the votes stored are those that were cast? That being so, and in view of the testing he stated has been carried out, is the Minister saying that he can give the electorate a 100% guarantee that all votes cast will be recorded and counted as intended without fail and without error?

I could ask many more questions but I do not wish to delay matters. However, in March 2001 the Australian electoral commission issued a report on electronic voting and the electronic counting of votes. It noted that the paper balloting system provides considerable transparency in the entire process from electors voting through to the counting of votes and distribution of preferences. It also noted that the disadvantage of any electronic voting system that does not include a verifiable paper audit trail is the perceived lack of transparency in the voting process.

The Minister is proposing to replace our existing paper-based system with one which relies on software as an intermediary and he has stated that he is doing so because the perfect system, including a verifiable paper audit trail, cannot be achieved. Is he stating, therefore, that he is putting in place a substandard system because of the lack of a system which would provide total transparency? Why not adhere to the current system until the technology is developed which will provide a system which is completely transparent? Why is the Minister in such a hurry to put the new system in place?

Many questions have been put forward by different experts to which no answers have been supplied. How can the Minister convince us that a voter's preference will be reflected in the voting machine's internal operations?

I have only one question. If a person goes to a polling station in the upcoming local elections, indicates his or her preferences on the machine's screen and presses the cast button, how will he or she know that the machine recorded his or her preferences as he or she input them?

The machine will confirm, record and store each individual preference as it is cast.

I know that the information will appear on the screen.

The machine will tell the voter what it is doing.

Is it not the case that the machine could be telling me one thing and doing another? Is that not possible?

Not with this system.

Is it not possible to have the software programmed to display one list of information and record another? How can we be assured that this will not happen?

It will all have been verified. It can be checked afterwards and it can be checked through the system.

How can it be checked afterwards? There will be no paper record.

If the Deputy is suggesting that we are organising a major international conspiracy with regard to the Irish elections and involving a cast of thousands——

A cast of thousands would not be needed.

——on that basis, some things might be possible. I appreciate what the Deputies are saying. I am pleased with one aspect of the debate because it is clear that it comes down to having a preference for either the old system or the electronic voting system.

Just like the Minster's system, that suggestion is rubbish.

The Deputy has confirmed it.

No. What the Minister is doing——

It helps the public enormously in terms of discerning the difference.

That is not what is being said. We are not saying that we should return to a paper system. We are saying that there is a system in place at present and that we want improvements and greater efficiency. However, we want that efficiency to be achieved in tandem with accountability and verifiability. One of the breakthroughs with computers is that information can be presented through the binary system and displayed in ordinary printed form in whatever language one wants.

However, the computer is doing something its own way that cannot be understood unless the information is rendered presentable. The machine must organise the information in the time it takes to process the message and print it. The only difficulty is that there is no way of checking other than to trust the machine to present the information in the way we want it presented.

All the machines are stand alone and every machine will cater for different candidates. The premise of the amendments is that an individual or group of individuals, national or international, will write a software programme to completely sunder the Irish elections and that departmental officials, returning officers and polling station clerks will be engaged in implementing a flawed system. There are so many checks and balances in the system that it more than establishes the required level of trust.

Deputy Gilmore is trying to get me to say that everything that has ever been invented has been perfect but that is not the case. If he could highlight the vested interest that will fundamentally undermine the Irish electoral system, I would like——

The question is simple. I am a voter and the Minister wants me to vote using an electronic voting machine. How can I be sure that the vote I cast, which appears on the screen, is recorded on the disc or cartridge?

Nothing appears on the screen until the vote is confirmed. There are various checks in the system. The machine is checking each sector within it to make sure one part of the machine is not doing something the other part cannot know about. That is the whole point of it. It is the most advanced voting machine in the world but that will not stop——

Charlie's chocolate factory used to work like that too.

I will introduce the Minister to Roald Dahl.

I was never a great fan.

If the Minister watches telly at Christmas, he will see the movie.

I have seen "Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory" a thousand times with my children. Charlie did not register with me.

This is the essential problem and this is where the paper record comes in. The individual voter must have confidence that when he or she casts his or her vote the machine has recorded it faithfully. The Minister has proposed the system. The reply to my question should not be the Minister asking us who we think will subvert the system. The Minister should provide with us with the information that assures us in this regard and it must be better than "trust the machine" or "I've got experts" or whatever.

If there was a printout, how does one know that the machine is doing what the print out states because Deputy Sargent stated a machine could provide a paper record and record something else? That does not make a difference.

It is verifiable.

No, the Deputy stated the machine can print a record and, according to his experts, record something else. What is the benefit of the machine printing a record? How could anybody be convinced that it is not doing something else?

There is a second checkable record.

I wish we had more than two checks in the system. There is a myriad of checks in the system. It is not a question of one check.

There is no check.

There is a myriad of checks.

If the Minister used an ATM to do his banking, would he accept a scenario whereby he would be totally dependent on the ATM's read out and he would not get a receipt or a monthly statement of his bank account?

I do not. I never get a receipt. What is the point? Receipts are a litter issue, with which I must deal.

Receipts are usually provided automatically.

What is the point if there is something in the account? I do not need a receipt to tell me.

The Minister is heckling. The ATM issues the receipt automatically unless one dictates otherwise.

Many people do not take receipts.

The Minister, in reply to Deputy Gilmore, asked what is the purpose——

It is good based on his argument, not mine.

I refer to the printout.

The Deputy stated that the print out can be——

May I finish?

That is what the Deputy said.

The intention is that the printout would be placed in a sealed box and, ideally, random checks would be conducted of the machine and paper records in a number of constituencies.

As was stated in another jurisdiction, there would be no point in changing to an electronic voting system if that were done.

Random checks would be carried out in a number of constituencies.

If, for example, I enter a polling booth and press the relevant buttons, my preferences will appear on the screen. At the end of the exercise, a paper record could be produced and placed in a ballot box. There would then be a paper record against which the electronic version could be checked. If, for example, a weird result occurred in an electoral area and people sought to check it, the result cannot be checked under the Minister's system but it could be checked if there was a paper record.

All the paper records would be available.

They would not.

Under the proposed system, it will never be known if the machine got it wrong. It emerged last week that the number of people on the electoral register who were recorded as having presented to vote——

It was not the register.

What was it?

Random sampling was conducted and a few people went to tea. It had nothing to do with the electoral register.

The number of people who presented to vote was different from the number of votes recorded.

It was not. The system was being tried out and, with regard to tallying, there was a difference between the number of people who were issued tickets and the number who used the machine. It had nothing to do with the electoral register. It was abandoned during the day by the returning officer.

If the legislation provided for a verifiable audit trail, evidence would be available if a result was challenged legally and any discrepancies highlighted. Under the proposed system, people who take court cases would be wasting their time because the possessor of the source codes of the machines cannot be subpoenaed and, as a result, the——

I did not say that. That is a speculative point.

It has been concluded clearly.

It is absolutely clear there will be no difficulties gaining access to the system through the courts.

The debate on the substantive issue of the verifiable audit trail will continue. However, the Minister rejected all the amendments in this grouping, although he referred to amendment Nos. 16 and 17; I am not sure why he chose to refer to them. They clarify best practice and I hope the Minister understands that point. The idea is the voter sees a paper receipt, such as an ATM gives, under the perspex window and that falls into a box. That is the verifiability which the voter can take as reassurance that the box will be checked in a random way, as Deputy Allen says.

I am glad to say the voter has no such worries. We all know from going around the country — and I know as a practising politician — that voters have no such concerns. Research involving the general election, the referendum, the seven constituencies and the 440,000 Irish people who have used the system shows they have no concerns in that regard. The satisfaction rating is 87% to 90%.

That is a stupid statement.

We know this point has been raised by the Opposition and their so-called experts.

Why does the Minister continually refer to so-called experts? Why does he call them "so-called experts"?

None of them, to my knowledge——

Is the Minister casting aspersions——

I will answer the Deputy. None of them are accredited internationally.

This is outrageous. What about the people the Minister smeared in the Dáil?

We are not going over this again.

What does the Minister mean by "so-called experts"?

That is the second time the Deputy has asked that question.

The Opposition argument seems to be based on the lack of trust in the system. The Minister has referred this issue to the independent commission and if that commission says it has tested the system and is satisfied with the results, will we then have arrived at the level of trust in the system which is required? I am at a loss. I cannot understand this lack of trust. Is it because this is promoted by Fianna Fáil? The Minister has had expert after expert verify this and he has told us we cannot have a verifiable paper audit trail in tandem with electronic voting. The technology is not there to do so. We started from a position where all parties favoured electronic voting and we brought in the best system available as proven by accredited institutes experts from all over the world. The Minister said that if the commission says this system cannot be trusted we will not use it. However, if the commission says the system works, will we have arrived at the level of trust required by the Opposition? Will the Opposition accept it is not Fianna Fáil's or Deputy Cullen's system?

That amendment was voted down this morning. The first amendment proposed waiting.

The commission is sitting.

The Deputy cannot have it both ways. The first amendment we put down this morning proposed that we wait for the commission before proceeding.

The commission has asked——

The situation is simple. We are being asked to run with electronic voting on the basis of blind faith.

Will someone answer my question?

The Deputy voted down the amendment.

Deputy Cregan will not get an answer.

The Minister referred to so-called experts. The Irish Computer Society was founded in 1967 as a professional society whose principle aims were to develop information technology in Ireland, to advance, promote and represent the interests of IT professionals and to advance and promote computer literacy in the country. As for international recognition, the ICS is the Irish member of the Council of Europe Professional Information Society and maintains formal and informal links with the European Union. It is recognised as a non-governmental organisation with consultative status at the Council of Europe. It is also part of the International Federation for Information Processing and a nominating body for the Industrial and Commercial Panel for Seanad Éireann which is proof of its recognition by the State as representative of the IT profession. To bury the Minister's assertion about so-called experts, these people are accredited and have made submissions, but it seems everyone who raises an issue with the Minister and his Department is seen as talking rubbish. That is the arrogance with which we are dealing.

That is everyone who does not agree with him.

That is very unfair of colleagues opposite. There seems to be confusion about what I said in the Dáil about the ICS and the ICTE, which was the body I referred to. I am not sure we are talking about the same organisations.

I can remind the Minister of what he said in the Dáil

If I did, it was not the group referred to by the Deputy. It was the other group. If I said the wrong thing in the Dáil, so be it. I will change the record. I have no issue with that.

The secretary of state of California said in the interests of transparency and security, from 2006 voting machines must have a paper printout. If that is happening in the US why is it so difficult for us?

There is nothing there. Is it not very sad that Ireland leads the world and the Opposition wants us to go back and wait for clowns——

We are bringing in a substandard system.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 6.

  • Allen, Bernard,
  • Gilmore, Éamon,
  • McCormack, Pádraic,
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John,
  • Cullen, Martin,
  • Haughey, Seán,
  • O’Keeffe, Batt,
  • Power, Seán.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 8, after "vote," to insert "produces a paper copy of each vote cast".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard,
  • Gilmore, Eamon,
  • McCormack, Pádraic,
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John,
  • Cullen, Martin,
  • Haughey, Seán,
  • Mulcahy, Michael,
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 9, after "machine" to insert "and the content, or detailed preferences of each vote cast".

I will resubmit this on Report Stage because the Minister did not deal with it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 20 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 10, after "votes" to insert "which has been approved, tested and certified and".

The section refers to the voting system as a method of casting and counting votes designed to function in a particular way. The word "designed" does not give the necessary reassurance. The design of an object or system can be an aesthetic thing. It is important that we add the words "approved, tested and certified". I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. I am sure he would want to vouch for the fact that votes are approved, tested and certified.

The intention of the two amendments is covered by amendment No. 85 to section 31, which provides that equipment must be tested by an internationally accredited testing institute. Therefore, I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

It is regrettable that the Minister cannot accept this amendment for the sake of giving some assurance to people. I will withdraw the amendment but I will resubmit it on Report Stage. The purpose of the amendment is merely to reassure people.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 10, after "votes" to insert "and which produces a voter verified paper record,".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 51 are related and may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 13, after "votes" to insert "in a non-random way".

The random nature of the manual system of counting votes is perhaps one of its drawbacks. We are all agreed on that point. It is difficult, therefore, to understand why when adopting a system of electronic voting the Minister has sought to transfer a flaw of the manual system into the electronic system. One of the great advantages of an electronic system is that it would be capable of counting all votes in the manner in which they were cast. This amendment proposes that any voting system adopted must count votes in a non-random manner so as to most accurately reflect the true intention of voters.

I recently heard a throw-away phrase to the effect that the Minister did not wish to introduce too much change at once. I do not see the rationale in this regard.

I concur with Deputy Allen. I also heard that comment. To be honest, voters would embrace this change because it would be a more representative manner of distributing the votes. I ask that the Minister accept Deputy Allen's amendment thereby ensuring we are making a genuine improvement on the old system.

I support the amendment. To the best of my recollection, when it was decided to include the random function in the count for electronic voting, it was in the context that electronic voting would be used in some constituencies but not in all. The view at that time was that one could not provide one method of counting surpluses in some constituencies and another method in others. If, whenever we get to that point, electronic voting is used in all constituencies that argument will not apply. Deputies Allen and Sargent said that if we moved to electronic voting, we would at least have an end to the random element of counts and get a perfect result. I support the amendment and hope the Minister will accept it.

There is no disagreement on this issue. I agree we should go to the full system and remove randomisation from the process. As the Opposition knows, this would involve a fundamental change in the type of PR system we use and would require detailed primary legislation to carry it out. I look forward to returning after the June elections to this issue. However, the position at present is that this system does what it was intended to do. I have no doubt that if I changed the count rules as well as everything else, we would have a hefty dispute on the matter. I agree with the proposal. I would prefer to have the whole system but it is not legislatively possible to arrange that before June. I will be happy to take the amendment on board after the June elections. Hopefully, we will all have the same view then and will move to the full system. It involves a change to the PR system and there will be many views expressed on the matter. I subscribe to it.

This is another indication of the rushed introduction of this system. Deputy Rabbitte asked in the House why there is such a rush. What is the hurry and why did we not get it right and incorporate all the necessary changes at once? Our method makes a mockery of the system. The Minister has spoken about us being leaders in computerisation. If we are leaders we should lead. However, we are continuing to carry an inherent flaw in our system into the computerised system, all because of the Minister's rush with the legislation.

It cannot be described as an inherent flaw. It is a different and well recognised and tested type of PR system. I agree with the suggestion that we should move to a different type of PR system. However, it will require substantial primary legislation to deal with the issue. I have no doubt that when we decide to deal with the issue, hopefully by agreement, we will have substantial debate on it.

This is all the more reason to have a debate on all the issues involved in electronic voting.

Step by step is the way to do it. I have been accused of rushing it but I am moving at a nice pace — pilot phases, referenda, local elections, European elections.

There has been a rushed nature to the whole exercise. The Minister did not consult people but wants a debate. We could have a debate on all the issues if the Minister gave us time.

We will not debate this between us because I agree with the Deputy.

The Minister has given his reasons that it is not possible this time so we should not waste further time. Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 6.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • McCormack, Pádraic
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Power, Seán.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 16, to delete "for use in a voting system" and substitute "of a type approved and certified as being technically suitable for use in an Irish election".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 4 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.—(1) The voting system shall produce a voter-verified paper record suitable for a manual audit equivalent or superior to that of a paper ballot box system.

(2) (a) Each individual paper record shall be made available for inspection and verification by the elector at the time the vote is cast, and preserved at the polling station in the manner in which all other paper ballots are preserved at the polling station on polling day for later use in any manual audit.

(b) The voting system shall provide the elector with an opportunity to correct any error made by the system before the permanent record is preserved for use in any manual audit.

(c) The voter-verified paper record produced under this section shall be available as an official record and shall be the official record used for any recount conducted with respect to any election in which the system is used.

(3) (a) No voting system shall at any time contain or use undisclosed software. Any voting system containing or using software shall disclose the source code of that software to the Commission on Electronic Voting.

(b) No voting system shall contain any wireless communication device, or any other device capable of effecting communication or transmission of data or information of any kind.

(c) All software and hardware used in any electronic voting system shall be certified by agencies accredited by the Commission on Electronic Voting as meeting the requirements of paragraphs (a) and (b).”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

5.—(1) As soon as practicable after counting has completed, the Commission on Electronic Voting shall conduct manual mandatory random recount of the voter-verified records—

(a) in the case of a general election, presidential election, European Parliament election, or referendum, at least 10 per cent of the constituencies collectively,

(b) in the case of a local election, at least 25 local electoral areas, and shall immediately publish the results of those recounts.”.

Did I speak on this amendment when it was discussed with amendment No. 14?

I think the Deputy covered most of the points already, but he may use this opportunity to speak on the amendment.

The availability of voter-verified paper records is fundamental to the integrity of any system of electronic voting. Their availability is crucial for auditing and verifying the reliability and accuracy of the electronic count. This new section proposes that the Commission on Electronic Voting would carry out random recounts of the voter-verified paper records and would compare them to the count results delivered by the machine.

I am not in a position to accept this amendment.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Is it withdrawn?

If an amendment is pressed to a vote, can it be then raised on Report Stage?

It can be raised.

In that case I will press the amendment.

I should have given the Deputy a different answer.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declare lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 27, to delete "Notwithstanding" and substitute the following:

"Subject to the agreement of all parties in the Dáil and notwithstanding".

We have already discussed this issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 29, to delete "of" where it secondly occurs and substitute "to".

This is purely a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 7, subsection (1), line 32, after "2001." to insert the following:

"Any electronic voting system must make provision for a voter verified audit trail. Should discrepancies arise in the count, the result from the paper ballot/audit trail will be deemed the official result. Mandatory testing of a percentage of election results will take place on the day between electronic and manual/audit results by random selection. Should discrepancies occur, then the manual/audit count will be deemed the official result. Any electronic voting system must make public the software code at least one month prior to being used in an election.".

This amendment is fundamental.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 7, lines 39 to 48, to delete subsections (3) and (4).

I am moving this amendment on behalf of Deputy Gilmore.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 8, subsection (5), line 1, after "may" to insert "by order".

Before I explain my reasons for moving this amendment, it seems necessary to issue a reminder that we live in a democratic country. If, as this section proposes, Fianna Fáil's director of elections is to be empowered to give instructions to returning officers, any instructions made by him must be made by way of a ministerial order. This is necessary in the interests of regaining some semblance of trust in the system. I proposed earlier that a draft of the order must be laid before the House for its approval.

I do not consider it necessary that instructions be made by means of statutory order because any instructions issued will be public documents. I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G.V.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 3.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
Question declared carried.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 8, before section 6, to insert the following new section:

"6.— (1) Upon the passing of this Act, and at regular intervals thereafter, the Commission shall publish the source code of any system of electronic voting which it proposes for use or is available for use in any election or referendum to be held in that year.

(2) Where a source code published undersubsection (1) has been amended, changed or disregarded, notice of that fact shall be published and any amended, changed or new source code shall be published as soon as practicable, and in any event not later than seven days after it becomes available.”.

The source code is the guiding principle on which the system of electronic voting is based. It is unacceptable that people are being asked to exercise their democratic franchise on machines whose operating mechanism is unknown. Publication of the source code is fundamental to securing public trust in this or any other system of electronic voting. It is not acceptable to say the source code constitutes a trade secret or is confidential. As the contract to buy these machines was fulfilled by public moneys and the public is expected to use them, people have a right to know the source code. For that reason, I propose that the amendment be made.

I have already dealt with this at length. The position remains the same.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.

Níl

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G. V.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 3.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
Question declared carried.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The select committee adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 April 2004.