Register of Electors: Ministerial Presentation.

Members will recall considering the Register of Electors together with the guidance for registration authorities documents with officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government shortly before Christmas. The Minister has since written to the joint committee seeking a further discussion on the subject.

The joint committee welcomes the opportunity to discuss the electoral register with the Minister. As he will be aware, we met with officials from the franchise section last December. We then wrote suggesting two changes to the compilation of the register, first that electors should be identified by their PPS numbers prior to placing their names on the register; and second, the period to amend the register, that is from publication of the draft register on 1 November to 25 November, the deadline for receipt of applications to amend the entry, is considered too short. The joint committee requested that the publication date of 1 November be brought forward. Following the Minister's presentation I propose a question and answer session. I will call on the party spokesperson, then priority will be given to members of the joint committee. I invite the Minister to address the committee.

Arising from the significant public interest and ongoing discussion on issues relating to the Register of Electors, I wrote to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government inviting the joint committee to discuss a range of issues with me. I am very grateful to the Chairman for arranging this meeting at very short notice and giving me the opportunity to come before the committee. I am aware the committee formally considered the register and examined the draft guidance documents earlier.

It is important that we, as practising politicians, discuss the issue in this forum. There should be a broad political consensus on the approach to electoral matters. Some of the issues raised in the process of editing and updating the register are inevitably going to give rise to query. It is very important, therefore, that we lay all the issues before the joint committee.

I hope we will get at least two things from our discussion: first, a broadly based political consensus for the changes I am introducing to improve the register; and second, I would welcome the views of members on a number of specific issues. Short, medium and long-term action must be taken to resolve the problems with the electoral register. There is no simple solution, no silver bullet. All the international literature that deals with this issue points to the difficulties of keeping the electoral register up to date. I have set out a package of short-term measures to assist local authorities in their work on the register. These include the use of census enumerators or other temporary personnel to support local authorities in preparing the next register. We had meetings with the representatives of local authorities on 2 and 8 May and the City and County Managers Association will meet tomorrow to finalise the detailed programme for this element; I am providing additional ring-fenced financial resources for local authorities. I have been asked how much, but it is very difficult to give a simple answer. In a typical non-election year the local authorities put aside between €5 million and €6 million to deal with the register. I believe the task I am setting them will require twice that amount and I will be providing top up finance for the local authorities. However, I will do so on the basis that the funds will be ring-fenced, cannot be used for any other purposes and that it will be a once-off allocation; I want to initiate a local authority electoral register campaign early in 2007 and 2008. I read the comments of joint committee members and I agree with the general thesis that we should have a continuing focus on this issue. I will return to the suggested date of 1 October later; to issue upgrade guidance documentation by the end of this month; and local authorities will make use of relevant databases to cross-check the register.

Councils have a number of databases in their own ownership, however, it may surprise members to learn that local authorities do not co-ordinate entries on the register with occupation of new houses. That is not rocket science and it should be done as the norm. Other databases can be used without any trouble, expense or trespassing on data protection issues. I want the local authorities to examine the possibility of using other databases to cross-check the register. We all use the services of the ESB, while one could not compile the voting register from the ESB register one could become aware, at least, of new houses in the area. I have already mentioned the new arrangements to delete deceased persons. We all know of cases where a family is traumatised by getting a voting card for somebody who is dead. That should not happen. I have made arrangements that EXCEL files will be available to the local authorities which will directly allow them to upgrade the register on line on a periodic basis. This arrangement has been in operation since 26 April 2006.

Later in the year I intend to conduct a very intensive campaign of information on the voting register. The format will be different from previous years. It will be necessary, in particular, if the enumerators are calling door to door and there is a great deal of editing to ensure that people are aware of the requirement to check the register to confirm their names are not deleted. I am considering the idea of better on-line facilities to help people to check the voting register. Most local authorities have dedicated websites with a click in button where one can check the Register of Electors. Some, but not all websites are user friendly. I want to have best practice in operation in all local authorities. By using the website of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I can effectively give universal access to all registers in the country.

I want to strengthen the controls at polling station at election times. New guidelines will issue before the next election, but I want to draw on the experience and views of this committee in this regard. If we want to protect the system against electoral fraud, we must take robust action to prevent it. That is done in other administrations but it is not done here. As a number of members have observed, it would be quite easy to pass from one constituency into another and claim another vote. We must examine that.

A group of local authority managers is working with senior officials from my Department to put in place the programme to improve the register. In view of the concerns which have been expressed about excess numbers on the register, the programme envisages that each household will be visited at least twice and provided with forms and information during the registration process. In the event that this process does not satisfactorily register the household, written notification will be given to a household, cautioning against the danger of being omitted from the register. As all politicians know, one can go to a house five or six times, without ever finding anybody at home. One cannot make an automatic assumption that nobody is there, but one can leave a notification that the members of the household are not registered and must contact X, Y or Z or fill in the form to register. We need to reach an agreement on how the modality will work in order to ensure that we do not exclude people who should be included. This reflects what is, I believe, a wide-scale acceptance of the need for a more rigorous approach to compiling the register and ensuring that electoral fraud is avoided.

The entire focus in Ireland has been to create a voting register that is inclusive in order to encourage people to register. In the not too distant past, we encouraged students to register in the area where they lived as well as where they attended university. I can understand that people have been very anxious to encourage young people, in particular, to register to vote. The approach at local government has been to include rather than to exclude people. That approach, however, has contributed in no small way to an excessive number being entered on the register because the emphasis has never been on editing it. Now the emphasis will be on including those who should be on it and ensuring those who should not be on it, will be taken off. That inevitably will give rise to potential problems of exclusions.

I very much welcome the views of the committee on these measures, specifically those related to the register as well as the issue of presenting identification at polling stations. I believe that what happens on polling day is what really counts. There are longer-term options that must be examined. The first is the use of PPS numbers, which obviously has a role, but I do not think the PPS registration system would provide us with the automatic access to a universally correct register. To attempt to use the PPS register at this stage to create the electoral register would certainly create more problems than it would solve. I believe strongly — this is implicit in the Chairman's question with regard to 1 October — that we should move strongly towards a continuous registration process instead of the current seasonal operation combined with a supplement for additional registration. That is what happens elsewhere. Our register, which comes into effect on a particular date in February, is compiled on a particular date in November and relates to where one resides on 1 September, is bound to erode unless the election is held the day after the register takes effect. If an election is held towards the end of a register, the maturing register will be out of date and will have tens if not hundreds of thousands of incorrect entries. Given that 81,000 new households are coming into existence every year, which probably means that 81,000 couples are moving off the register in one place and onto the register somewhere else, the current system is a virtual formula for problems. In addition, tens of thousands of students change their residence during the course of the year.

I read the committee debates in this regard. The committee debate on pushing the date forward to 1 October suggested to me that we need an even more radical step, namely, a continuous register. I welcome the views of the committee in this regard.

The next issue relates to the use of the registration of any system established for identification of citizens. Several Members of the Oireachtas have referred to the question of a national identity card. I do not find that proposition attractive given that national identity cards have caused massive problems in other jurisdictions. However, it is an issue that has arisen. An honest contribution to the debate has been made, especially by members of the Labour Party, and my views on the issue are no better or worse than theirs. It is an issue that we should discuss calmly and in a constructive way.

On the integration of the register within the five-yearly census, I have made it clear that for a variety of reasons it is not possible ex post facto to mine into the census which has just been taken. Nor would it have been a good idea to depart radically this year from what had always been the census process. I will come back to this point if the committee wishes. In the longer term we could consider the question of how to integrate the creation of a register every five years to provide a baseline register.

The next item is the establishment of a single national authority to establish and maintain the register and perhaps to take on other electoral duties. I have suggested to several members of the committee that a case can be made for an electoral commission. My views on this would obviously have to be agreed by Government but we would also need cross-party agreement if we were to proceed in that way.

There is also a role for the Houses of the Oireachtas in this regard. Strangely, the Houses are not involved in the process of drawing up a register. What more appropriate authority should be involved in the oversight of the register than these Houses where democracy resides and which are the home to the Members elected by the people? The Houses are not involved, however, except peripherally with regard to registration for the Seanad. A role for the Oireachtas needs to be thought through in this regard, which is one of the healthy developments to have come from the debate.

There is also the question of more stringent oversight of local authority performance, either by my Department or a separate entity, although whether that entity is the Houses of the Oireachtas or an electoral commission needs to be discussed and teased out. As Members have noted at the committee, in the Dáil and Seanad and in other public discussions — I am grateful for their contributions — the standard of performance dramatically changes between local authorities. I have spoken to many local authority managers and franchise officers and believe there is a serious interest in making sure oversight is improved. The issue is resource hungry but we need to resolve it.

Another matter that must be considered is the use of the postal service for compiling the register. Members on different sides of both Houses have noted that the postal service and postmen know where everybody lives. That suggests a sensible, common sense, low-tech solution to a problem which will involve foot-slogging.

I have separately explored another issue. We know An Post has been doing much work in examining the question of introducing national postal codes. Therefore, it has a fix on every house in the country. We cannot use that information to create the register but it could be used to identify where households or groups of households are missing from the register. That is the kind of access to a database which would not trespass on people's privacy but which, with a little ingenuity and lateral thinking, could be used to create a good register.

There is also the question of having more powers for registration authorities to access databases containing information on individuals and to target registration action-taking accordingly. Deputy Gilmore stated that we should not be frightened by the fact that we have data protection. We should use it judiciously to improve the register because the register is central to the expression of democracy. We need to explore this question to ascertain the positives and negatives.

No doubt many other options can be availed of, perhaps in combination with the others to which I referred. However, I have outlined a substantial work list. If we get through that, we will have made a significant improvement to the register.

Important issues arise to which a careful and considered approach is necessary. It will not serve the public interest or the democratic process to propose fundamental change to the register without giving it significant thought and allowing for consultation in the process. The issue must be resolved on a cross-party basis, which is why I have set out a programme and asked to meet the committee.

A further issue has not been dealt with. Every member of this committee who has contributed at some stage during the debate indicated a concern about fraud on election day. I share that concern. There should not be political points-scoring on this issue. We should consider practical solutions to avoid fraud on election day. We can opt for high-tech or low-tech solutions but we can resolve this if political consensus exists.

To give an example, a number of members have had the experience of being poll observers in other countries. I was a poll observer with Deputy Michael D. Higgins during the election at the end of the civil war in Nicaragua. It avoided fraud by simply requiring everybody to put their finger into indelible ink which could not be washed off for four or five days. On an RTE programme this morning, I told Pat Kenny that people might object to that in this country. He made the interesting point that it would be a badge of pride that one had participated in democracy. It is a very low-tech solution and the stain would remain but a person could not vote a second time.

There is also a high-tech solution, if one does not like low-tech solutions. A system is available, which we have all seen in airports, where one puts one's finger on a scanner which reads one's fingerprint. If there is an issue that needs to shine, it can shine. If a person has voted once, his or her fingerprint could be recorded for the following 24 hours to make sure he or she does not vote anywhere else. Between the high-tech and low-tech extremes, there are ways of addressing the issue of electoral fraud which all members have raised.

If the Chairman wishes, I can go into more detail on issues such as EPS, but I am sure it will arise during questions.

I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister. I will approach this matter in a constructive way and will not make political points because it is much too serious for that. The local government system has failed to record the vote as it ought to be recorded. I am concerned that the Minister will throw good money after bad into a system that is clearly ineffective and has not worked.

I was interested in the Minister's comments on An Post. I agree with the point regarding postmen, who are on the ground every day and know exactly where people live. Is it worth asking An Post to provide a business proposal as to how it might compile a register? It is fair to suggest that local authorities where the population is predominantly rural are better at keeping the register than urban local authorities. Perhaps the Minister could ask An Post to examine the real problem areas, say, the city of Dublin, and to suggest a cost and provide its views.

Change to the Data Protection Act may be needed to exclude from it the provision of information to a statutory body such as the electoral commission to which the Minister referred in regard to those who are entitled to vote, and just keep their names and addresses. If that helps to get over the problem, it should be done. I know from my constituency work that the Department of Social and Family Affairs can trace all the Paddy and Johnny Murphys in the country. They have an efficient and up-to-date PPS system which knows exactly where everybody is. I am not convinced the Minister's proposals in regard to local authorities represent the best way to proceed.

I noticed during the last election that a John Murphy might be on the register but Mary, his wife, might not, even though they would both have voted for many years. There seems to be a computer glitch, a software problem, which incorrectly removes people in certain households.

People who register as voters outside an election period require the signature and stamp of a garda as confirmation of their identity. When a person visits my office the register is checked but a number have a problem with the requirement to visit the local Garda station to confirm their identity. It may not be as convenient as other places. I do not suggest that a politician do the job but perhaps they could go to a designated officer in the local authority. I appreciate what the Minister said about fraud but not everybody wants to go to the Garda, nor do we want to clog up Garda stations.

The provision allows for a person who cannot go to the Garda station to be certified by the local authority. The Deputy makes a good point, however.

It should be made very clear that a person can go to a designated officer in the franchise section of their local authority and ask for a form to register.

I agree that census enumerators should be used if possible. However, the Taoiseach said in a reply to a question in the Dáil that the process would begin in September. He did not see the process starting earlier, given the workload of the census enumerators. There is only a small window of opportunity and it is too late to start in September or October. We should concentrate on the short-term measures the Minister suggested to ensure we get it right this time.

It will be a rolling process. Some local authorities have indicated they have already begun the process.

The Taoiseach said that the process could not start until September if the census enumerators were required.

I will respond to as many of the questions as I can. I will also read the blacks and identify the questions members have asked, with a view to writing to the joint committee in response. I may also ask the committee to hold a session specifically to explore the issues and to try to come up with ideas. There is a wealth of experience in this room and I intend to use it.

That is very helpful.

Like Deputy O'Dowd, I welcome the Minister and his officials. I ask him to resist the temptation to reflect on why we are tackling this issue at the eleventh hour, because it is water under the bridge and we must concentrate on how to correct it. I agree with much that the Minister said on the longer-term options, such as the use of PPS numbers, the integration of the register and the five-yearly census, and many of the bright ideas in circulation as to how to make the register accurate and protected against fraud. I am concerned that what the Minister proposes to do in the short term may actually make matters worse, so I will propose an alternative.

The Minister proposes to engage the census enumerators to visit housing estates as a supplementary team to local authority staff. They will make two calls, issuing voter register forms on each occasion, and will try to correct the register from the information they receive. However, the register is in such a bad state that short-term measures could make matters worse. I particularly have in mind problems associated with editing and I would like to hear the Minister's views on those.

If the enumerators encounter people who are not already registered or registered in the wrong place it is a straightforward matter. What, however, do they do about the deletion of people from the existing register? I know they can look at the register of deaths for assistance but where a house contains three or four sets of names, which names do they delete? Do they delete them all? Will the process of correcting the register unwittingly delete people who are perfectly entitled to vote?

We have an immediate problem which must be corrected before the general election. We need an accurate register but only have a short period in which to create it. I have published a Bill on behalf of the Labour Party proposing that, as a once-off measure, certain non-confidential information collected by the census enumerators on 23 April 2006 be transferred to local authorities for the purposes of the electoral register. The information in question would include the names, addresses and nationalities of everybody whose date of birth was before 15 February 1989, and who would thus be eligible to vote on 15 February 2007. I suggest the Minister pass enabling legislation to relax the confidentiality of the census. The information is already collected and the State now has a list of the names and addresses of everybody as of 23 April 2006 but we do not have the power to allow that to be used for the purposes of voter registration.

As a second layer of protection, the Minister should notify people and allow them an opportunity to opt out if, for example, they do not wish the fact that they resided at a particular address on 23 April to be held on a public record. A person might have been staying away from home on that night, perhaps with their family, and were therefore included in the latter's census on that date. A period of a month or six weeks should be given for a person to say he or she does not want details transferred.

The information should then be transferred to a completely new draft register, which will be accurate because it will be based on information collected by the census enumerators on 23 April. Using the draft as a basis, local authority staff should visit homes in their area to check the details and update as necessary, and to allow people the opportunity to notify changes of addresses or circumstances. We will then have an accurate register for the next election. Thereafter, all the Minister's suggestions such as the use of data collected by the ESB and others for other purposes could kick in. I made contact with the Data Protection Commissioner's office and my understanding is that data which are protected by the Data Protection Act cannot be used for any purpose other than that for which they were collected. Therefore, some primary legislation would be required to permit the use for the electoral register of data which were collected for a different purpose.

The key would be to start with an accurate list. This proposition is so simple that it beggars belief. Such a list has been collected and the information is already in the system. A list exists of the names and addresses of everyone in this State as of 23 April. The Minister must find a way to convert such information into an accurate register without infringing on issues of confidentiality and I have suggested how this might be done Moreover, people should be permitted to opt out if, for whatever reason, they do not want information which was collected on census night to be used on a public document.

I agree with the Minister that there is no silver bullet. However, he is using a blunderbuss in this regard. The measures he has proposed will not go far enough to correct the electoral register's significant problems. It must be remembered that the Minister has turned down applications for additional funding from one if not more counties. Moreover, he voted against a rather sensible Private Members' Bill tabled by the Labour Party and thus far he has failed to issue sufficient guidance to local authorities.

He appears to rule out legislation before the next general election. However, as Minister, his duty is to legislate. While his response has been that the issue must be examined, someone must be responsible for the register. If responsibility does not rest with the present Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, it lies with his predecessors, Deputies Cullen and Noel Dempsey. Nine years have passed and, as Deputy Gilmore pointed out, the issue has only begun to be considered at the eleventh hour, even though concerns have been raised for a significant length of time. By defending the present extremely imperfect system, the Minister is defending the indefensible. His vision of Ireland is back with the comely maidens. Ireland has moved on and Members must move on with it.

The Deputy could move on too.

I have. However, I suspect the Minster is stuck in the headlights and is unable to take strong actions. I will put forward three positive steps which the Minister could make. He should incorporate PPS numbers as part of an upgrade to the process. While no one has ever stated that it would constitute a silver bullet, it would be a sensible and useful bolt-on solution to the present system. One witnesses the introduction and passage of legislation overnight to provide tax incentives for private hospitals. However, although a year remains before the next election, if what I have heard is true, the Minister has stated he does not have time to legislate. Something curious is going on in that regard.

I never stated I had no time to legislate. That is not true.

First, the Minister should——

I will not allow anyone to put words in my mouth. I have never stated, either before this committee or on any previous occasion, that we do not have time to legislate.

I am glad——

If the Deputy wishes to make silly political points, that is fine. However, the other two Deputies have made extremely constructive contributions.

I have considered the Minister's proposals in the context of short-term actions and long-term options. While I do not see any sign of significant legislation in the short term, I look forward to the Minister's comments in that regard.

First, I suggest that he make use of PPS numbers. Second, the Minister should insist that people produce a form of identification at the polling booths. While I note he has not ruled it out, I suggest he must show leadership at this juncture rather than in six months' time. Third, the Minister should set up an independent electoral commission. He should provide the legislation, staffing, technology and independence that such a body should have in order that the public may have full confidence in the electoral process. I look forward to the Minister's thoughts on PPS numbers, the production of identification and on an independent electoral commission.

I will forgo an enormous opportunity to engage in some political mud slinging. I will do so because factually a significant exodus or movement of people has taken place, particularly from and within Dublin. Its impact on the ever-expanding commuter belt around the city has become a major issue and local authorities simply could not have kept up without major funding. Obviously, such major funding was not made available. However, as this is the present position, I will avoid the mud slinging and shouting that one might normally expect at such an opportunity.

I agree with the proposition that census enumerators should be employed to reach every doorstep, as they did recently. They should return and gather such information. There are also longer-term issues, to which I will return shortly. Post-primary schools have an enormous role to play in this regard, as a number of students reach the age of 18 while in school, and the universities will pick up the balance. Such institutions can be given responsibility for registering younger people.

While younger people are at one end of the spectrum, older people are at the other. Two sources of information are available, namely, the registration of deaths and, perhaps more proactively, undertakers. The latter group may have a role to play by communicating to local authorities names, addresses and other data they would ordinarily possess in respect of their work.

I also agree An Post could have a significant role by virtue of its database and the postal workers, who know everyone in a community, or at least know where to find them, or what their address might be. Hence, there is potential for a role for An Post.

I welcome the notion of a rolling register of electors because for the foreseeable future, transient population status will be maintained. Therefore, one potentially excludes someone from voting in his or her new area of residence. Not all those affected are young people. As a mature person's new area of residence is also an issue, I welcome that proposal.

I have a slight concern regarding Deputy Gilmore's proposition on legislation. There could be public resentment at the use of such information, notwithstanding his proposal to allow people to opt out from the system. I am somewhat concerned that some people might resent having provided information on the basis of confidentiality, only for legislators to change that right subsequently.

I accept the Minister's point that there are short, medium and long-term issues to be dealt with. Clearly, the short-term issue is most important because an election will be held within the next year and I agree with Deputy O'Dowd's comment that its resolution must begin as quickly as possible. While responsibility should remain with local authorities, perhaps an overseeing electoral commission might be the way to deal with it. I look forward to the Minister's responses to the issues that have been raised and to continuing this debate. Hopefully, its culmination will be a positive system which will serve us well. Notwithstanding the mud slinging heretofore, all recognise the necessity for a good and solid registration system, in which voters get on to the register and are entitled to vote, and which allows other issues, such as personation etc., to be dealt with on polling day. Indelible ink is certainly an interesting proposition. I look forward to further debate on this issue.

That was very constructive.

I welcome the Minister's presentation to the committee. I will address an event which took place in my constituency involving a new housing estate. I wrote to residents of the new estate and discovered that sometimes four or five names would be registered to a house bought directly from the construction company through the auctioneer. Nobody would have previously resided in that house. I then checked matters and called around to the estate. It turned out that somebody was registering names in these houses knowing that the residents may or may not have been registered and that if they were, they would not be too worried about receiving junk mail. Something is certainly happening on the ground and large-scale registration of voters is taking place. This is particularly true of new estates in my constituency and areas with transient populations mostly living in apartment blocks or flat complexes with large concentrations of students. This practice has been evident in Cork North Central for some time because it comprises local authority housing, student accommodation and new housing estates.

If we are serious about upholding democracy and ensuring everyone has a fair crack of the whip, we should demand that some form of identification be presented at polling stations. Such identification need not be a passport or driver's licence. If a person goes to a polling station with the polling card and a pension or some other form of basic identification, it is solid proof that the person is who he or she claims to be. Evidence of identification does not need to be restricted to a passport or an official document. It could be a bill from Bord Gáis or the ESB. If a person brings such a bill to a polling station, along with his or her polling card, there is a good chance that he or she is who he or she claims to be. When one examines tallies in voting boxes and sees high discrepancies between a traditional voting pattern and the voting pattern in that particular poll, it is clear that something is amiss.

We need both ways.

I lost my seat by 14 votes in the 1992 general election. I am not speaking on my own behalf. If we want to ensure that the will of the people is implemented, we must ensure that people only vote once. I strongly favour requiring people to produce some form of identification, which is not restricted to official forms of identification, with their polling cards. Such evidence of identification could be a bill or credit card and would prove that the person with the polling card is who he or she claims to be. At the very least, it would make personation more difficult.

I have monitored elections abroad and believe that we should explore the option of using indelible ink. It would not be very difficult to implement such an arrangement between now and the next general election if there was cross-party support for it. This issue should be thrashed out in a non-political and non-partisan way.

Deputy Gilmore referred to sending enumerators and local authority officials out to compile the register. I favour a system whereby enumerators would collate information and bring it to the register. If they have concerns that names registered in a house were not those of real people or should not have been registered to that house, they should write twice to the people about whom they had concerns. If these people do not reply to enumerators, their names should be deleted from the register. We must be conscious of the fact that the names of hundreds of thousands of people are on the register which should not be there. If the people are deceased or if the names do not correspond to real people and local authorities do not receive a reply from them, they should be struck off the register after two counts. This arrangement would address names and addresses which are suspicious. A massive advertising campaign should be carried out between now and the general election. Members of this House also have a duty to highlight registering to vote on their information leaflets when they carry out leaflet drops.

I made a particular point to my own local authority in Cork some years ago but was responded to as though I had two heads. I cannot understand why it is that when a person is being transferred within a local authority housing system, his or her vote is not automatically transferred as well. Such an action would be simple and straightforward. If a person is awarded a house by a local authority and either moves out of rented accommodation or moves from one local authority house to another, his or her vote should be transferred automatically. Every member with large local authority housing areas in his or her constituency discovers that a very poor register record is mainly found in local authority housing areas, which is the fault of local authorities. Local authorities are the responsible agents but the housing offices do not liaise with the franchise departments.

We should also examine student enrolment. When a person enrols in a university or institute of technology, there should be a section on the enrolment form asking him or her when he or she wishes to register to vote in that particular area or another. If the student fills in the form, the form can be sent to the franchise department in the relevant local authority. Local authorities require assistance, particularly in areas with student populations. There are between 10,000 and 11,000 students in University College Cork, while Cork Institute of Technology caters for between 5,000 and 6,000 students. This is a considerable number of people who are moving on an annual basis. College enrolments should inform local authorities. I certainly support the use of indelible ink and a debate on its use.

If we take that round of comments, we can revisit other issues. I welcome the very positive response from Deputy O'Dowd. I would query the suggestion that the local government system has failed. I am not sure if this is correct.

The numbers are incorrect.

That assertion by Deputy O'Dowd is undoubtedly correct. However, that situation is a product of the process, particularly the point I made about the electoral register. On average, the electoral register will be out of date for six months of every year because of the way in which it is currently compiled. This was the point correctly touched on by Deputy Morgan. Ensuring the process is an ongoing one is the attraction of a rolling register. In the US, it is called the rolls and different approaches are taken.

I agree with the Deputy that the register in rural areas is more accurate. This is because the challenges are probably less dramatic in rural areas. Deputy Morgan made a very valid point that the real problem lies in the doughnut-shaped area around Dublin. Deputy Gilmore noted that the problem is also particularly acute in gated estates and apartment blocks. I am unsure about the point made about legislation but I will revisit it later.

Both Deputies O'Dowd and Gilmore mentioned the danger of deletions. This is a genuine danger. Regardless of which system is used, when one decides to edit the electoral register and take excessive numbers of people off it, one must set up some decision rule, regardless of whether it is the very sensible point made by Deputy Kelleher. Whichever decision rule is decided upon, people will be edited off the register. This is where a public information campaign is vital but even after such a campaign, there is real danger, which has been noted by several Deputies and which also causes me concern. If one sets out to edit out between 300,000 and 500,000 names, depending on which estimate one makes, deletions will take place.

I intervened when Deputy O'Dowd spoke about the signature of a garda. The idea behind the supplementary register was to provide this flexibility but we all accept that the supplementary register is the point at which the greatest degree of abuse is possible. In this regard, the check-off system is extremely important. In the longer term, this would provide a regard if and when it is possible to have buy-in to the PPS number system.

Deputy Gilmore voiced his concern about deletions. If we decide to cleanse the register and begin on a de novo basis, as proposed by the Deputy, we will inevitably face the issue of deletions. This is where the role of politicians, political parties and vigilance, particularly in the process following the compilation of this register, will be very important. I appreciate that Deputy Gilmore was not being partisan when he made this point; neither do I wish to be partisan.

While many of Deputy Gilmore's suggestions are honest, there are some practical difficulties. Regarding the ex post facto use of the census data, we would be effectively breaking the seal of confidentiality under which we have always gathered that information. I do not disagree with the hypothesis that the census and voting register should be married in future, but it is a fundamentally different step of which we should be careful.

The analysis is correct and we all agree that there is a problem, but we do not want to create greater problems, specifically in the way it was suggested to use the information. Even if it required an agreed upon one-line change in primary legislation, there would be the issue of breaking confidentiality. Deputy Morgan was right when he mentioned this matter. I will address the other practical issues in writing.

I have given serious consideration to everything but there would be significant resentment at breaking the seal of confidentiality detailed on each census form. The CSO has made it clear to me that it would oppose a provision to breach the confidentiality of the Statistics Act 1993. The director general wants to place on record his personal objection and total opposition to any proposition ex post facto to change that seal in law. While we are the lawmakers of the country, we must be aware of the implications.

There are other serious data issues. For example, the census has collected data on the basis of nationality, not citizenship. I should respond to Deputy Gilmore in writing on the compilation issues because he put a lot of time into this matter. I will circulate the correspondence to the committee. While there are practical problems and solutions, there is a seductive quality in the suggestion. While I support any suggestion that a one-line change to legislation could solve the problem, it would not be possible to make it.

Like Deputy Gilmore, I am concerned that any process of editing would have the effect of unforeseen deletions, which would weigh heavily. Therefore, we must retain a level of discretion in removals. When I get further material from the CCMA, I intend to consult the committee because I want a set of protocols that we all understand. Other practical issues relate to this matter.

I will address the PPS issue in a moment. I regret that Deputy Cuffe decided to make this political, as it is not the way forward. The Deputy has not given a great deal of consideration to the proposition that PPS numbers could solve the problem. There are approximately 5.9 million PPS numbers but they are not gathered in a way that could be married to the register. A PPS number is like a bar code in that one gets it when entering the PPS system but it does not necessarily vanish at the other end. Hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals are working in this country who have PPS numbers, including at least 125,000 legitimately registered Polish workers. Trying to tie this into the voting register in the short term would lead to practical problems. Indeed, it would not be possible.

However, I do not discount that it is a high-tech solution in the long term. As Deputies Kelleher and Gilmore have said, requiring people to produce their PPS numbers at a desk check in each local authority office when they enter the register could be done. However, there is no PPS bolt-on solution to the current inaccuracies in the register. I wish there were. If the PPS number were like a PIN number or bar code, which are specific, I would not have a problem with the suggestion, but PPS numbers are issued to a variety of addresses, not necessarily the address from which one would vote. The requirement——

They are unique.

Yes. I said that a PPS number is like a bar code, which makes it attractive in the long term after backing systems have been set up. The Deputy is correct. However, we have learned that if we want to make this system computer-driven, we should give it more consideration instead of thinking about it on the hoof. I am a techy but I can see the downside of trying this. I am not being dismissive. How can one validate a PPS number? For example, there is no legal way to link the PPS system into the voting register. Some legislative changes would be needed, as Deputy Gilmore said several times.

A long-term issue is the use of PPS numbers at polling stations, but this is a different debate. The practical problems would be significant. If one were to use a computer based verification system, a thumb on a scanner would be less problematic. There is room for a PPS number system to be applied to new entrants to the register.

Given the issues I have outlined, it would not be possible and would be foolish if we were to place all our confidence in our capacity to write computer programmes between now and November. Speaking as both a politician and someone upgrading the register, one cannot beat knocking on doors.

On whether we should insist on producing identification, there was a change in this matter during the last general election. There was an increase in the number of challenges and one was required to carry one of a number of documents, including a passport, driving licence, employee identity card containing a photograph, a student identity card issued by an educational institution and containing a photograph, a travel document containing a name and photograph, a bank or savings statement and a variety of others. We do not have a national identity card. I have a personal aversion to such systems, which might be my last residual piece of left-wing thinking.

Is the Minister sure? Is he for real?

In my teenage years. As seen in the UK, introducing a national identity system is not just costly. It is also phenomenally difficult due to a series of issues.

Should each voter produce identity papers on election day? There are problems in this regard. The current instruction to polling stations is that one voter in five is to be randomly challenged. If we were to use it as a purely bureaucratic way of stopping voters, the following situation could occur. Imagine a person in his or her 90s who has voted previously, is known by everyone sitting in the polling station but does not have identity papers. No one in this room would suggest that such a person should be challenged and told to go home for his or her identification paper.

I agree with the Deputy that there will be more challenges and specific documentation required, which is the core of his point. I will ask the political parties to assist in this matter because an old and good practice of politicians was to have personation agents. The problem with that system was that it became unfashionable to challenge voters. In my constituency, I remember asking some of my colleagues, and Deputy O'Dowd's colleagues, at a polling station why they did not challenge. They told me that they knew the people and did not want to make challenges. Polling officers and staff must get over this aversion and I intend to give a strong instruction to this effect. I will circulate an indication to the committee. If members believe it must be strengthened, they should let me know.

I have great attachment to the idea of an electoral commission. It is impossible to establish such a commission and expect it to take over these tasks between now and 1 November. However, I am not ruling out the idea of an electoral commission. It is one of the most positive points raised in this discussion.

I am pleased Deputy Morgan has decided not to be political. We should all leave partisan views on electoral fraud outside the door. In the 70s and 80s, shortly after Deputy Gilmore was involved in student politics and when I was a staff member, there was an effort to encourage students to vote. Deputy Michael Higgins was active in this regard in Galway. This resulted in some duplication, with people registered where they studied and where they had lived previously. Student bodies should encourage students to register but to do so only once, in the appropriate place. I do not want to be negative about the matter of student registration and I will give the matter some thought. Civic education in post-primary schools should address the responsibility to register to vote.

Generating an electronic file to remove the names of dead people from the register is a good idea. Local government computer services and the central register now have compatible computer systems. This has been the case since April. The possibility of using An Post should be explored. It has identified every household rather than the people in the house and for this reason it would not transgress data protection legislation.

If 156 households are paying ESB bills in a housing estate and only 134 houses are on the register, using this raw data without names does not trespass on data protection legislation. The data protection commissioner is, quite correctly, allergic to the inappropriate use of electronic data.

I am pleased Deputy Morgan agrees with me on the rolling register. I share his concerns about confidentiality. Deputy Kelleher referred to his personal experience of a housing estate. I ask him, and other Deputies who made such references in the course of a Dáil debate, to forward details to me. One case in Dublin, which received publicity in the Sunday Tribune, has been passed on to the sheriff for examination. It is also appropriate to pass this information to the local authority. If 20 people are registered to vote in a local authority house, the housing officer can inquire into the paying of rent. The finance official in me is coming out.

Deputies Gilmore and O'Dowd have referred to the need for a protocol for deletions and this also concerns me because it is the source of trouble with the register. Local authorities have had an allergy to deleting people from the register. This is how one finds three or four instances of the same name, as referred to by Deputy Gilmore. I will circulate a protocol to members so that they can form an opinion on it.

Local authorities should transfer votes, as suggested by Deputy O'Dowd. It is unforgivable that inhabitants of a new housing estate of 42 houses, occupied mostly by couples, which means 80 voters, are not registered. If they are registered elsewhere, this leads to 160 errors on the voting register. This is pure carelessness. When transfers occur, the situation is more bizarre. Those who transfer remain on the register in the area they left, along with a new occupant of the residence, and are on the register in the area they have moved to, along with the previous resident. This leads to an accumulation of errors.

Deputy Morgan referred to student enrolment, which led to duplication in the past. We must be careful that our enthusiasm to register students does not lead to further duplication. I will write to Deputy Gilmore about his concerns with the Bill.

The ink issue was raised by a number of members.

If the committee wishes to discuss combatting electoral fraud on election day, my officials and I will be delighted to appear before the committee. There is a variety of solutions, from low-tech to high-tech.

I agree that there are problems with the register. Most people who are registered consider themselves to be correctly registered. It is the administration of the information that causes the problem. We must be careful in removing people from the register. I welcome the idea of rolling registration. In the US it is possible to register on polling day. We should examine this possibility, which is used in the US to target young people.

In Florida they have some very creative uses of this.

We must examine the wholesale removal of people from the register. We should make it as easy as possible for people to vote.

Some contact must be made with management companies of apartment complexes. I have spoken to a number of census enumerators, who had extreme difficulties in gaining access to complexes and collecting census forms.

The Minister referred to personation agents and events on polling day. Traditionally, political parties provided volunteers to attend the polling stations and check off the register but this does not happen anymore. Now, people from outside the area who do not know the local residents are appointed. In Dublin, it is easy to register one's name to an address and obtain a bill to support this. If one presents a passport in that name, it is accepted without question. If extra resources are required they should be given on polling day to encourage people from the immediate area to act as personation agents. It is the only way to tackle the issues which arise.

I welcome the Minister. This is a valuable opportunity to discuss this important issue. I welcome the Minister's request that the committee discuss the issue further. We should make it a priority given the timescale involved.

We all agree the register is central to democracy. It is the list of voters which elects every Deputy and local councillor in the country. From our point of view, and being selfish, it could be an extremely valuable database for us. We could break down the register street by street, townland by townland and village by village and thereby have an accurate database. We cannot do so because it is completely inaccurate. One writes to more people who have passed on to their eternal reward than to people who are with us. That is another reason we should get it right. The Oireachtas has a role to play in ensuring it is put right.

I agree with those who state that local authorities have had no interest in keeping the register up to date. Field officers were put in place, and funding was provided to local authorities but they seem to have spent it in other ways. Deputy Kelleher's comments confirm my point that if they do not do it after the information is put into their hands, they will never bother to do it.

I strongly support the suggestion that we use the postal service. In many cases, postal workers would not even have to enter the house. From local knowledge of a local route, they know exactly who lives in every house in their patches. Even if they did have to go to a house, they do so anyway everyday, or every second or third day. It is a simple practical solution. However they should paid for doing the job. I do not agree with using county councils or census enumerators because the person with the best knowledge and best chance of meeting people is the postal worker. It would be an efficient exercise which could be done in a short period of time. It is the most valid point which has been made and the most practical way of doing business.

The issue of deletions was raised. Of course an appeals process would be in place. Deletions have occurred for many years. The point was made that this is going on for nine years. It is going on for 29 or 39 years because we have never had an accurate register of electors. It came down to the branches or cumainn of my political party, and those of Deputies O'Dowd and Gilmore, examining and correcting the register. They made additions and deletions. They did that from a political point of view. Perhaps a little mischief came into play from time to time from other parties. I excluded Deputies Morgan and Cuffe because their parties were not part of the system at the time. I am sure the same would apply.

We are fast learners.

It was done diligently for many years by political parties and we had a half-decent register of electors. We seem to be slightly apologetic about deletions. However, to be practical and honest about it, we should tackle this matter head on and do it. If people are deleted, they will have an opportunity by way of revision courts to appeal the decision. If they were wrongly removed they are put back on. I strongly support the point that we should utilise the public service we have in place through our postal workers.

The issue of fraud was mentioned. I take issue with the Minister's opinion. We missed an opportunity to implement national identification cards. I see no reason for anyone to be ashamed or afraid to carry one and produce it on being asked to do so. It is the only foolproof way of having decent identification in this country. Personating agents were used in the past and played an important role regarding fraud. They predominantly came from political parties. Unfortunately, they are no longer used. We must establish a replacement system.

Both short-term and long-term options are available. The most sensible short-term option to use is the postal service. Postal workers should be paid to carry out this work because they have the best local knowledge. The Minister should re-consider it.

Will all foreign nationals whose names are on the voter list have a vote at the next election? If not, or if only some of them will vote, will the Minister give a breakdown on those from different countries who will be allowed to vote?

I apologise for missing the early part of the Minister's presentation. The electoral register is a pivotal element in a democracy. The Minister is charged by the people of Ireland to maintain it in a proper manner. In his presentation, the Minister outlined short-term and long-term options and action. There was nothing new. I understood the short-term action was ongoing.

There is a huge number of errors, approximately 800,000, to date in the register of electors. We have a short time in which to sort out this fiasco. During the summer months, third-level students should be employed to update the register and travel door to door. It must be done in the evening because most people work and are not home during the day. They must go to the houses, find out who lives there and ensure the register is properly maintained. It would be far more productive to employ third-level students than census enumerators. Students would have a flair for it and an interest in it.

A link between PPS numbers and the register of electors should be put in place, provided confidentiality is guaranteed. A great deal of information can be tracked from a person's PPS number. I agree with the use of postal workers. They should also be involved. In bygone days, the local rate collector ensured that names were on the register. Since that position no longer exists, as people pay by visiting Revenue offices, we do not have the personnel on the ground to carry out this work. People should be put in place on a permanent basis to ensure the registers are maintained to an acceptable standard.

From time to time I met people who lived in an area for 30, 40 or 50 years and discovered on polling day that their names were taken off the register. No reason was given. A citizen should be informed as to who removed his or her name from the register. It should not be easy to remove a name.

Short-term action is required. I suggest that the Minister employs students during the summer months. Most local authorities have a student summer scheme in place. It could be enhanced and more people could be taken on. It should be considered in the short term. I understood the Minister's short-term action plan was on-going. However, if this is all that will happen, somebody must be taking his or her eye off the ball on the issue.

We cannot blame local authority officials. I recently heard on Joe Duffy's afternoon show a statement that every local authority in the country is awash with money. This is not the case. A budget must be set aside for maintaining the register. Only in the year of an election do most local authorities budget a reasonable amount for maintaining the electoral register at Estimates time. A special allocation is needed for the maintenance of the register by local authorities.

I am not a member of this committee, so I will be brief. I welcome the Minister's comments, particularly in the context of the hard slog of going from door to door. The only way to avoid that is to use the postal services. In view of the timeframe available to us, we should not start to look for high-tech solutions.

In my experience, performance varies significantly among different local authorities but best practice should be applied throughout the country. A carrot and stick approach would also be useful. If local authorities do not do a good job of compiling their registers, they should not be given this responsibility in the future. Diligent local authorities should be given added budgetary allocations to ensure they remain up to date. The rolling register is a good idea in that regard.

We cannot be afraid of aggressive deletions, although a protocol is needed for this. The hundreds of thousands of registered people who have either died or moved away give rise to fundamental problems with the register. This country has faced many challenges in its past and, while I am encouraged by this debate, I would not like to think we do not have a quick solution to the problem of compiling a proper register of voters.

I thank members for their valuable and thought provoking contributions. Senator Brady cautioned us about deletions and, while it will be necessary for us to rigorously edit the register, we must also ensure that people are not wrongly removed from it. A deletion process will be required because it would be intolerable not to amend the register, given that it contains a minimum of 300,000 incorrect entries. However, as the process carries certain risks, we must ensure that due and appropriate warning is given by means of publicity, individual notifications and supplementary registers.

Deputy Gilmore correctly noted that this work was previously conducted by political parties. Party members used to hold special meetings to bring errors on the draft register to the attention of registration authorities. There was a certain degree of public opprobrium about allowing political parties to carry out this work but we can now see the consequences of excluding them. There was nobody else to do the work, yet those of us who made the effort were criticised.

I cannot avoid noting the problems which arose with past polls in the United States. We should not follow the US route of polling day rolls and provisional voting.

Apartment complexes are difficult but census enumerators would be useful in this respect because they have just completed the course and have had to work out their own systems.

Senator Brady noted that personation agents, who were volunteers, are no longer available. However, polling clerks and presiding officers at polling stations are paid by the taxpayer and must do their duty. Do members recall a challenge to even one person in five during polling for the local elections? I do not, despite visiting a great number of polling stations. I am going to insist that election officials check one out of every four voters.

Deputy Cregan favoured using postmen. However, enumerators were proposed because they have completed a specific process in terms of security clearances and, in so far as they can be given the same 400 houses, they would be making reprise visits. I am prepared to suggest that local authorities should consider postmen if persons other than enumerators are to be employed.

Some people favour national identity cards but I happen to oppose them for reasons of civil liberty. It is true that a person should not be afraid to carry a national identity card if he or she has not committed a crime. However, we are a long way from introducing identity cards but have only a short time to resolve the problems with the register.

Clearly, deletions will be subject to an appeals process but if political parties become actively involved in checking for deletions, we should be able to address such issues.

There will be no change to the law with regard to who may or may not vote. Foreign nationals will be able to vote in local authority elections, as is currently the case, but only Irish and UK citizens may legitimately vote in national elections.

I have already addressed a number of the issues raised by Senator Bannon. He claims local authorities are strapped for cash but they spend an average of €5 million to €6 million in non-election years on the register, which is not peanuts. It is unacceptable that there should be such a degree of error. The Senator also referred to students but, while I have nothing against students, I have more sympathy with the idea of using enumerators or postmen, whose specific knowledge would be advantageous.

I realise the Senator has a propensity to see me as being omnipotent and, therefore, omni-responsible.

We are told the buck stops with the Minister.

I could give the Senator a two-hour lecture on the theory of ministerial responsibility. Since 1924, the laws of this country have provided that Ministers are not responsible for areas in which a statutory assignment of functions has been made. The statutory assignment in this instance is given to local authorities and that is why authorities which fail to do an adequate job have a case to answer.

On a point of information, does the Minister not oversee the work of local authorities? Is he not the person with responsibility for ensuring they carry out their duties?

I will have to bring the Senator through a potted version of public administration because he could do with a crash course on the subject.

I will revert to the committee on the issues arising with regard to PPS numbers. While I do not rule out the use of PPS numbers, I would have followed that route if it had represented an obvious solution. Revenue collectors continue to hold responsibility for compiling the register in a number of local authorities.

As a former Minister, Deputy Michael Smith brings a vast amount of experience to this matter. There is no short solution. The hard slog, knocking on doors and compilation of the register is the right way to do it. I agree with Deputy Michael Smith on the variation from area to area and there is a question to be answered there. I am not interested in scapegoats but solutions. I also agree with Deputy Michael Smith's point on local authorities, which was previously made by Deputy Gilmore, that they can either improve their performance or lose this responsibility and be instructed to put somebody in place to do the job and pay for it. I am glad that Deputy Michael Smith, with all his experience, and many other Deputies, see the logic of a rolling register. While aggressive deletions are needed, we must ensure we do not excessively delete people who should be there.

A final supplementary point was made earlier and I did not address it. I think Deputy Gilmore asked how a person can be registered while his wife disappears from the register.

That was me.

I will tell the Deputy how that has happened. By the way, I have instructed that supplies of voting registration forms for the next draft go out this month rather than at the end of July. There have been some changes in voting registration in recent years and the strict application of the former registration process was that one had to write the names of everybody in the household on the form. People were deleted because of that. We need to examine——

No. I meant when the husband and wife own the house in a traditional area, one of them is suddenly gone and there is no reason for it——

There is no reason other than——

It is computer error. They are not up to scratch. Nobody checked the register. The local authorities failed.

Deputy O'Dowd is correct. That is an unforgivable failure.

I have three points. If one is checking one in four, one needs to ensure the acceptable documentation is rigidly applied across the board.

We are not changing the documentation.

My second point is that I referred to contacting not those delivering the post but An Post about how the job could be done and improved. If the Minister is not prepared to enter into a contract with An Post now, he should ask how it could be done better.

I misunderstood the Deputy and he has made that point before. I have spoken with representatives of An Post, which has a good data service, and have asked them to run a test in two or three estates.

The last point is important. Local authorities compile registers alphabetically using computers. When one goes to a rural area or townland, such as "Ballymagash", one does not know where anybody lives. The register used to be compiled in order of houses. In large housing estates the subsections are done alphabetically and it is impossible to find out where people live. This is particularly true of new housing estates, for example Termon Abbey.

One would need to be on first-name terms.

They should be compiled in the order one meets them in the estate. This is important.

The Deputy's point is important.

I know of an estate with over 500 houses and we cannot find anybody.

He has obviously been canvassing. It is interesting.

I am working hard and the people I meet are not voting for Fianna Fáil.

Then they will be off the register.

That is what I am worried about.

It is interesting that old ways are best. In Dublin they are compiled in accordance with Thom's Directory. As one enters from the left it tells one the sequence.

It is a serious issue for people who do not know the areas.

I agree with Deputy O'Dowd on the non-urbanised areas where there is just a townland. They are difficult and challenging for the register. As an ex-post office employee I have a bias in favour of the national post codes and that is why I examined what An Post is doing. It has invested resources in that area and it may be useful.

In my constituency there are 20 new houses in a row. Nobody knows the residents, they do not know their neighbours, and there is no way of finding out.

I agree with the Deputy. He will have the alphabetical names so, for example, all the Murphys will appear as if they are in one household.

Exactly, and one does not know where the split is.

I wish to return to the Minister's fears that using census information would breach the confidentiality of the census process. We have spent a lot of time discussing ways of gathering the information including use of different databases, postal workers, census enumerators, local authority staff and transfer of information within local authorities. The problem is that we have a short period of time in which to get the register right for the next election. It must be done by 1 November. Issues are being raised about the point at which one decides to delete somebody and the type of appeal available. We are going the long way around to do what was done in 23 April. It is nonsensical to send census enumerators back out to do what they have already done. There is a simple solution to compiling the register for the next election and we should not go the long way around. There is confidential information on the census forms and that should never be supplied or made public. However somebody's name is not confidential and their address is not exactly confidential, most people would not regard it as such. I understand that people might be sensitive about their age but most people who are over 18 would not have difficulty confessing that. I understand that there is an issue about doing it post factum. I already suggested a way of overcoming that to allow people to opt out and state that they do not want the information transferred. If one wanted belt and braces there is a second way. That is to write to the people. The cost would be approximately €1.5 million, about one quarter of the €6 million the Minister proposes to make available, which is welcome. It is possible to overcome this without going the long way around using postal workers, census enumerators, local authority staff, appeals and deletions to end up with information that will coincide 99.9% with the information collected in the census. Why go the long way around when one can go straight at it?

A variety of points arise. The issue of confidentiality is real and the seal is already there. While Deputy Gilmore's argument makes sense in this context, we must not breach that seal. The Deputy suggested we could overcome that by writing to people. We would not get close to 100% response on that. There would be difficulties.

They have the opportunity of opting out if they have a problem with it. If a person is on the run and does not want to reveal where he or she was on 23 April——

There could be reasons other than being on the run for people not to say where they were on the night of 23 April; however we will not go into that because I do not want to diminish the Deputy's point. There would still be much foot slogging to do. There is much wisdom in Deputy Michael Smith's point that the hard foot slog is the best and most appropriate way. I am attracted to the enumerators idea because they have been around the houses frequently in the recent past and know where the issues are. It does not raise any other objections. Although I am not sure it would be cheaper to do it Deputy Gilmore's way I will come back with a more detailed response. I did not want to have a kind of Second Stage debate on what will be introduced as in Private Members' time. However, as the Deputy has raised the point and put much thought into it, he is entitled to a detailed response. I will provide that in writing and circulate it to the other members. I am keen to get this process under way.

How would the Minister like the joint committee to proceed?

I will write to the committee and deal with the issues in more detail. Senator Brady and Deputy Morgan made the point that identification, including the option of putting a thumb in the inkwell, has not been debated at all. This point was also made in the Dáil by Deputy Gilmore. It needs to be resolved by election day. It must be made clear that if people engage in fraud, they will be caught, prosecuted and humiliated. We have spent a great deal of time considering a preliminary register of electors, which is important, but not enough thinking about how to deal with fraud. I would like members to discuss the issue, in committee and in their own party meetings. I am willing to examine any ideas that come forward in a positive way because this matter affects us all. I am grateful to the Chairman and members for giving me the opportunity to attend. I intend to be very open with members on this process. Wisdom does not reside exclusively in any quarter of the House. If we combine our forces, we will arrive at with a solution that will work.

The Minister intends to write to the joint committee on matters arising from today's discussion.

A more detailed response is required on the question of using the census to validate data. I will also provide more detail on updating the register. If any other specific issues arise, I will advise the committee accordingly. I ask members to reflect on our preliminary discussion on the subject of fraud because it is an important issue to which adequate time has not been devoted in either House.

The Minister overlooked one question. I suggested that a citizen be informed if his or her name is removed from the register. If a citizen lives in a town or parish for 30 or 40 years only to discover on polling day their name is removed, he or she should be informed as to who was responsible for removing it. That is a citizen's right.

I may have said this before the Senator arrived, but the process involves every household being visited twice. If there is a query or, as Deputy Gilmore suggested, if a household includes several different names, the household in question will be contacted in writing. If it does not respond, a further letter will be sent. At that stage, the household will be warned that it is proposed to delete all the names listed in respect of the house from the register. There are four separate attempts to communicate. If we are serious about this matter, we will be obliged to carry out a great deal of editing. The problem has not been in including people on the register but in removing them. The research postulates up to 800,000 errors, arising largely because of the failure to edit the register. That affects the calculations we have been making regarding voter turnout, which will be different if there is a high level of errors.

What if somebody has gone away for a year, for example, to the US to work? He or she will be visited twice but will not be in the house. He or she will also be written to twice but will not reply. What happens when he or she returns to vote on polling day?

That will inevitably arise in a minority of cases. The supplementary register process will still exist and will be activated within 15 days of polling.

The Minister will be obliged to deal with fraud at another time, but he will never succeed, regardless of the system he uses, in eliminating it if the register is not correct.

I will sound a note of caution with regard to An Post. Most local authorities issue polling cards, which An Post delivers. In my constituency, polling cards are commonly not delivered and many people feel they must have a polling card. They take no further action, not being as civic-minded as others, and believe they cannot vote. If the Minister is talking to An Post, he might raise that issue because it has an effect on voter turnout.

I have enough on my plate without going to An Post to talk about the failure to deliver post.

It has a huge effect on voter turnout, particularly among older people.

Perhaps we should address it in the publicity campaign. If a person does not have a card, but is on the register, he or she is still entitled to vote.

On some occasions, the cards do not issue to An Post.

I am not laying the blame on one or the other. The problem lies between the two organisations.

We will await the Minister's correspondence and revisit the compilation of the electoral register to see if we can come up with more concrete proposals. We will also deal with the issue of electoral fraud.

The process is starting this month. I am advised by some councils that they have already commenced operations, which is welcome. I want to get the process up and running, but it can be adjusted during the year. I am very flexible and prepared to commit the necessary resources. The expenditure of between €5 million and €6 million over a four-year period is a substantial commitment and we should obtain a register that is better than that which obtains at present. The difficulties are in the past and I am looking forward.

The joint committee went into private session at 6.05 p.m. and adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 June 2006.