Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 837 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] It was a derelict house. The Sinn Féin party complained about it, and rightly so. When Sinn Féin started to do well in the North there were allegations of electoral fraud. There is electoral fraud in every jurisdiction. Sinn Féin is the first party to support the reform of the electoral register because we do not have anything to fear from it. Some might say we have the most to gain from having an accurate electoral register. It is a fact that many working class people who might vote for Sinn Féin might not be on the register. I accept that the debacle of the electronic voting machines was not the Government’s fault. We have not been good at using technology for elections, but there must be some way to address the issue of the electoral register. When I was a councillor the prevailing view was that one was doing well to get 80% or 85% accuracy in a given street. It was very good to get 90% accuracy. I often said to local authority officials that a person had moved house or was not living at a certain address any more, or I would encourage someone who was not on the electoral register to fill out a form for it. We must address the situation. It would require significant resources for local authorities to address it using the current system.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has just left the Chamber. The Constitutional Convention was considering the possibility of giving votes to emigrants and people in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin supports both initiatives.

We must get a more accurate register. At the moment the register could seriously skew the outcome of any election. It is a serious problem and we must find a better way to approach the compilation of the register. There are opportunities in schools, particularly through civics classes, to encourage young people to get on the electoral register. All such initiatives should be used, but they are not enough. The approach is patchy and no matter how hard people try – officials, elected members of local authorities, or others – we still end up with an incomplete register.

I am aware of two elderly people who went to vote for me, or so they told me anyway.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Deputy Stanley should be careful. We all hear that.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley They had been living at the same address for the past 40 to 50 years. They went to vote as normal but were told they were not on the electoral register. They only discovered it on the day of the election. One can tell people as many times as one likes to check the electoral register in a Garda station, but some people are never in a Garda station. One would not check anything in the post office in Portlaoise because one would have to queue for half an hour or three quarters of an hour to get into it, and if one goes on pension day one could be longer.

We must make electoral registration easier. PPS numbers are used across Departments and could act as the key to the drawer, so to speak. There must be a way for people to get on the electoral register using their PPS number that does not show the number on the system. I believe showing the PPS number on the register of electors would give rise to data protection issues. There must be a way of getting a person onto the register by means of the PPS number and then producing the paper copy without showing the PPS number.

Sinn Féin would like to see a change in the qualifying age for voting purposes. The Government is moving to reduce the age to 17, which is to be welcomed. Sinn Féin would also like to see a change in the franchise for presidential elections to allow all Irish people North and South to vote. Uachtarán na hÉireann is across the water this week proudly representing all Irish citizens. While that is to be welcomed, it is unfortunate that people in the Six Counties cannot vote for a person of their choice to become Uachtarán na hÉireann. We urge that the matter be examined as well as the wider issue of Irish citizens abroad. As a former emigrant I am aware that Irish people living in England will be very proud to see the President there, with the Tricolour flying, and also to get the long-overdue acknowledgement of their contribution to English society and to England, Scotland and Wales, which they built after the war. We should allow Irish citizens abroad to vote. It cannot be beyond us to find a mechanism to allow them to vote in presidential elections. I hope the issues I raised will be addressed by a future constitutional convention. In the meantime, I am happy to support the Bill, which addresses and removes one of the existing flaws in the electoral system. A growing number of people, unfortunately, have been caught - in most cases through no fault of their own - and have been declared bankrupt. Such people will now be able to contest elections to this House.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy As has been noted by other Deputies this Bill responds to the case of Ms Jillian Godsil v. the Attorney General. Although the hearing is not expected until July, the Government is moving to address the issue. In his opening remarks the Minister set out why it would not be advisable to allow the case to proceed to the courts. It is clear there is not an arguable case given the comparisons with other European countries.

  Deputy Finian McGrath, the Member for Dublin Bay North, and I took a constitutional challenge in 2007. We did not want to do it but we felt we had to do it. Taking a constitutional challenge is not for the faint-hearted.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I nearly lost my house.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy We did it because the preliminary figures from the census of population were not used, and very often there was a long time lag between the redrawing of constituencies, often missing out on the next general election. Deputy Finian McGrath and I believed that because the issue was not being addressed, it was a type of gerrymandering. We would have preferred it to be addressed in the way the issue before us is being addressed, in advance of the election and the court case, based on an acceptance of the issue at stake.

Bankruptcy was an issue for the Victorians. It was people of property who contested elections, and to fail and leave debts to people of the same class was a major issue of shame. Society has changed considerably, and while in this country it is still very difficult for anyone going through bankruptcy, the term was recently reduced from 12 years to three years. The concept of bankruptcy is not considered as shameful or catastrophic a personal failure as it would have been in Victorian times. Large numbers of people will potentially end up being bankrupt. There is less sympathy for people with large amounts of money who have moved their centres of interest and become bankrupt in another jurisdiction. While the law at present disbars a bankrupt person from running for office or holding office, people who declare bankruptcy in the UK or other jurisdictions are not excluded. It is a particular group of people who are affected in this country and not the people who would predominantly have used bankruptcy as a vehicle to get back into the action.

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