The prison rules neither expressly prohibit nor expressly provide for a prisoner to apply for a postal vote, receive a postal vote or to vote using a postal vote. The Deputy will appreciate that electoral legislation is a matter primarily for my colleague the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, I understand there is no specific provision in the Electoral Acts that allows a person in custody apply for a postal vote.
At present, members of the Garda Síochána, diplomats and members of the Permanent Defence Force serving overseas are allowed to vote by post. Persons who are disabled and living at home may apply for a postal vote. In addition, the Electoral Act 1997 provides that where the circumstances of the elector's occupation, service or employment are such as to render it likely that he or she will be unable to go in person on polling day to vote at the polling station, the elector can apply for a postal vote. Employment and service are deemed to include participation on a full-time basis on an educational course of study in an educational institution in the State.
The question of making arrangements for voting by persons in custody is to be reviewed in light of a recent case in the European Court of Human Rights and my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, will have an input into that review.
On elections to this body, the Constitution requires that constituencies should be based on representation by reference to the population of that constituency. The population of a constituency are the people ordinarily resident in that constituency. In the case of people serving a long term of imprisonment, the question is whether they are ordinarily resident at the place of the prison or where they would be if they had not been sentenced to jail. I do not believe it would be desirable in any circumstance for prisoners, whether remand prisoners or convicted prisoners, to vote as a block in a constituency simply by virtue of the fact that I as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided to locate a prison in that place.