The Programme for Government, agreed in 2007, contains a commitment to the establishment of an independent Electoral Commission which will take responsibility for electoral administration and oversight, implement modern and efficient electoral practices, revise constituency boundaries, take charge of compiling a new national rolling Electoral Register, take over the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission relating to election spending and examine the issue of financing the political system.
The renewed Programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, reaffirms this commitment and states that an independent Electoral Commission will incorporate the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission, with enhanced powers of inspection. The renewed Programme sets out the following responsibilities which the Commission will be mandated to fulfil: to decide the constituency boundaries; administer the voting registration process; run voter education programmes; advise on mechanisms to increase the participation of women in political life, including the use of additional criteria for public funding which encourages more women and lesser represented groups; and recommend revised guidelines on the declaration of donations for political purposes.
In addition, the renewed Programme states that, within 12 months, the Commission will also propose reforms to the electoral system, including:
make recommendations on the feasibility of extending the franchise for Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad;
examine and make recommendations for changes to the electoral system for Dáil elections, including the number of deputies and their means of elections;
outline new electoral systems for Seanad Éireann;
advise on the basis for European elections to reflect new realities of the role and influence of the European Parliament, including consideration of moving towards one national constituency and using a list system;
make recommendations on the possibility of extending the franchise for Local Elections to those aged 16 or over;
set minimum standards for the taking and publication of political polls within the state to ensure fairness and accuracy, and;
consider options for the timing of elections for Local Authorities, the Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament. This should include the possibility of ‘mid-term' elections and running some elections on a ‘staggered or ‘rolled' basis so that elections do not fall on the same day for every candidate or chamber.
Towards implementing the Government Programme commitments, and to assist in consideration of the issues involved, I commissioned a report by an expert group from University College Dublin. I published the report, entitled A Preliminary Study on the Establishment of an Electoral Commission in Ireland, for consultation in February 2009. The report is available on my Department's website, www.environ.ie and I will still welcome and consider any views and observations that are put forward by interested individuals and organisations.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution is currently undertaking an examination of the system used for the election of members of Dáil Éireann, and in the course of this work has considered issues in respect of the administration and functioning of Ireland's electoral system generally. The outcome of the Committee's deliberations will also inform the work to establish an Independent Electoral Commission, which I expect to progress this year.