28 April 2006
57m e-voting system a ‘dead duck’
By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
THE Government was last night under pressure to scrap its €57 million flagship e-voting system after it was branded a “dead duck” by a powerful cross-party committee of TDs.
The withering verdict on the electronic voting system, introduced by then Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen, looks set to seal the fate of a project which has been mired in controversy and failure.
The highly influential Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which includes a number of Fianna Fáil TDs, warned that keeping the 7,504 machines in mothballs would add a further €700,000 a year to the public bill — pushing total costs up to €71m over the next 20 years.
“It is a dead duck and should now be scrapped,” the chairman of the Dáil’s spending watchdog, Michael Noonan, said.
The former Fine Gael leader stressed that Fianna Fáil members of the committee supported his stance on e-voting.
“We have come to the end of the road and need to accept that. There is no point continuing on with this pretence and pretending it is going to be used in the future. It’s only value is scrap value,” he said.
“We need to say it is not going to be used and future elections will be conducted using the traditional methods that have served this country well.
“It will cost taxpayers in excess of €700,000 a year to continue with this. It is time to admit it’s a dead duck.”
Issuing the PAC’s findings on the e-voting experiment, Mr Noonan said the committee could not directly call for the machines to be scrapped as that would be a comment on policy rather than financial practice, but this was the cross-party view of members.
Fianna Fáil TD and PAC member Sean Fleming said it was time to face reality and accept the machines would never be used.
“The consensus on the committee was that they will not be used at the next election and in the one after that they will be 10 years out of date.
“The Fianna Fáil members felt it was a practical issue and we shouldn’t keep spending money keeping them in storage,” he said.
The national roll-out of the polling machines was halted in 2004 following questions over security and reliability. Mr Noonan suggested as an alternative to being melted down for scrap, the machines may be in high demand as novelty fixtures in Irish theme pubs across the globe.
Storage of the thousands of redundant machines has also been a point of controversy.
The PAC found wide variations in the cost of storing the machines around the country. The storage bill for Carlow-Kilkenny was €28,000 a year, while it was only €298 in Louth. It was €8,500 in Tipperary and only €1,061 in Waterford.
© Irish Examiner, 2006, Thomas Crosbie Media, TCH