ORDUITHE AN LAE. ORDERS OF THE DAY. - VOTE 20—EXPENSES UNDER THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT, THE ELECTORAL ACT, AND THE JURIES (AMENDMENT) ACT.
Wednesday, 6 July 1927
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £20,000 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1928, chun Costaisí fén Representation of the People Act, 1918, fén Acht Timpeal Toghachán, 1923, agus fé Acht na gCoistí Dháréag (Leasú), 1924.
That a sum not exceeding £20,000 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for Expenses under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, the Electoral Act, 1923, and the Juries (Amendment) Act, 1924.
The sum set down under sub-head (b) represents old claims, some of which have not yet been disposed of and some of which it may be difficult to dispose of because the records relating to them were burnt in the Custom House. The cost of registration may be divided into four parts—expenses of secretaries or clerks of county councils, or urban district councils, who  are responsible for compiling the lists; expenses of rate collectors, who collect the information locally; expenses of printing and other expenses, including expenses for clerical assistance. The franchise expense is equally divisible between the local authority and the State. The expense which relates to the jury register is a local expense. It is estimated that the work of the rate collectors in connection with the franchise involves twice as much trouble as the work in connection with the jurors, so that, so far as their remuneration is concerned, the State pays one-third of the total—that is, half of the franchise element. In regard to printing, the cost of which is met on the Stationery Office Vote, it is estimated that the jury column costs one-seventh of the whole and that is a local charge. The remaining six-sevenths of the printing cost is for franchise work. Half the cost is borne by the State and half by the local authority. As regards the other expenses, which include incidentals of all sorts, the amount is equally divided between the local authority and the State.
The expense of the register has decreased substantially. The first register, under the Electoral Act, 1923, contained 1,790,000 names. The cost of that register, excluding the cost of printing, was £52,635, while the last register contained 1,745,000 names— about 45,000 less—the cost being reduced from £52,000 odd to £42,000 odd.
Mr. WHITE: I desire to draw the Minister's attention to the preparation by the rate-collectors of the voters' lists. In various districts, this work is done in a very slovenly and indifferent manner. There are names on the voters' list which should not be there, and there are names omitted from the list which should be on it. I think in future more care should be insisted upon in the preparation of these lists. Some of the rate-collectors are wholly incompetent for the job. I would suggest that the Gárda Síochána should be requested to assist in the preparation and checking of these lists. They are not over-burdened with work in many of the rural districts of which I have knowledge, and a considerable number  of them are very capable men. I do not think it would be unreasonable to ask the Gárdaí to assist in connection with these voters' lists. Some of the rate-collectors employed in the preparation of these lists are, in my opinion, too dear at any price.
I desire also to draw the attention of the Minister to the appointment of incompetent men as presiding officers at the election, and also to the appointment as polling clerks of people who are not able to discharge that duty——
Mr. WHITE: Then I will confine myself to the preparation of the voters' lists. At the last election, certain names were not to be found on the register at all. I do not, of course, allege any reason for that as against the rate-collector. I believe the omission was due to carelessness on his part. There were other cases where all the occupants of the house were on the list, although some of them were only fifteen or sixteen years of age. Those are matters that in future should not be overlooked. The secretaries of the county councils, who are responsible for the publication of these lists, should be instructed in future to insist on the rate-collectors discharging their duties in a more careful and more businesslike manner. If possible, the Gárda Síochána in the various districts should be asked to assist in the preparation of the lists, so as to ensure their absolute accuracy.
Mr. HEWSON: I beg to support the suggestion of the Deputy who has just spoken. I know of some preposterous cases which occurred in connection with the compilation of the register. The blunders in these cases could easily have been avoided if the Gárdaí had been called in. I would suggest that this work might be linked up with that of the Census. The two jobs are closely related, and, if my suggestion were adopted, a young person would go automatically on the register as soon as he reached adult age, while unqualified  persons would have their names removed from the register.
Mr. GOREY: I should like to emphasise what has been urged by Deputy White. When the Act dealing with elections was going through the House, two or three years ago, a good many complaints were made about registration inaccuracies. Promises were made by the Government that these inaccuracies would be reduced to a minimum. The last register did not bear out that undertaking. Considerable fault was found with the register. Wrong names had been placed on the register, the names of other persons were omitted, while in some cases wrong addresses were given. In some districts, the register was almost perfect, but in other districts it was very imperfect. It depended on the particular official who was doing the work. As suggested by Deputy White, I believe the Gárda Síochána would be the proper people to undertake this work—not because they have not enough to do, but because they are the people best qualified for the work. The taking of the Census was referred to. That work was done by them. I am afraid that if the Census were taken as a basis and the voters' register checked in that way, there would be great disparity indeed. The Gárda Síochána would turn out a more accurate register than any rate collector could possibly do. They know the people in their district. If they were in charge of the work, young people who are not qualified would not be put on the register, and there would be fewer omissions of people who are qualified. I recommend the suggestion to the Minister.
Major MYLES: I can bear out Deputy White in the complaints he has made. I understand that these rate collectors are well paid for furnishing the necessary names and I would suggest that when complaints are proved a fine should be levied. In some cases, there is almost criminal negligence displayed in the preparation of the lists. In future where I find the lists are inaccurate, I propose to report the rate collectors to the Minister for Local  Government. If they are well paid, there is no reason why they should not be made to suffer, if the work is not done.
Mr. O'GORMAN: I support the suggestion of Deputy White, that the lists should be supervised and corrected by the Gárda Síochána. Undoubtedly, certain collectors neglect their duty. It is equally certain that other collectors with malice prépense cook the register. They put on all the occupants of certain houses and omit persons in other houses who are entitled to vote. It is only right that there should be some check on their operations. I could, if necessary, prove positively that such a thing has occurred, and it is evident from the speeches of other Deputies that it occurs all over the country.
Mr. J.J. BYRNE: With other Deputies, I think that more care should be taken in the preparation of the voters' lists. During the recent election several cases came under my notice where persons on the register had a business address and a private address, but when they came to vote they found that the register showed that they had elected to vote at their business address and also at their private address. I know of one instance where that occurred to a man who had been on the list for an unbroken period of at least 15 years. When he presented himself at the polling station where he had been voting for 15 years he was not allowed to exercise the franchise. He then presented himself at the other polling station for his private address, but was not allowed to vote there either. Some steps should be taken in cases of that sort by which the persons concerned would be able to exercise the franchise. We have all been appealing to the people during the recent election to come to the poll whether they voted for our particular Party or not, and if the marking of the register precludes those who are anxious to vote from exercising the franchise it is a very great hardship which should be removed at the earliest possible moment.
Mr. O'HANLON: I agree with the Deputies who have spoken as to the state of the register, but I cannot agree with the remedy proposed, that the Gárda Síochána should take up this duty. The obstacle to that is that rate collectors in many cases are getting a poundage rate far below what they should get for collecting the rates, and the added remuneration given them for preparing the voters and jurors' lists only gives them what you might call a decent salary for the work they do. If you take that duty away from them, it is more than likely that the cost of collecting the rates will materially increase, and possibly the rate collection will be in a far more unsatisfactory condition than it is at present. This discussion may have a very beneficial effect by having registration work done better in the future. I was going to suggest, in order to see who exactly is to blame, that the official copies of the register for the last General Election should be examined by some authority to see who were not on that should be on. There is nothing in these documents to violate the secrecy of the ballot-box or anything like that. By that means you could ascertain exactly what rate collector had been at fault and you could penalise him in some way. I think the suggestion about the Gárda Síochána is not feasible until we are able to pay the rate collectors a decent wage for the actual collection of the rates.
Mr. JOHNSON: There is an aspect of this which certainly applies to the County Dublin register, but whether it applies to other registers or not I cannot say. Numeroús errors of the kind came to my attention. I do not think that the responsibility for them lies with the compiler of the register, but that they occurred between the compilation and the printing. There were, for instance, cases like this: there would be three or four persons in a house belonging to one family with one of those new-fashioned double-barrelled names, let us say, Conroy-Murphy. The husband would appear as Conroy-Murphy, the wife as Murphy, and the daughter as Conroy. It should have been apparent to anybody  with intelligence that the three persons were members of the same family and had the same surname. When they went to the polling station and gave their correct name, I can imagine that they were turned away. I think a little care in the checking of the register would have been very well repaid with more accuracy.
Mr. BLYTHE: The complaints which Deputies have voiced with regard to the register have been fairly general. I think that there will always be a certain percentage of inaccuracies in the register. If we were to aim at having an absolutely perfect register, the expense of ensuring it would be considerable. I do think, however, that there was carelessness that should not have occurred. So far as the fault lay with the rate collector, we are not without a remedy. We can take steps, and in relation to previous registers steps were taken, to ensure that a rate collector who did his work badly, or very negligently, was not paid. I had a case cited to me of one rate collector who produced a very bad register and lost £50 as a result. Where a rate collector deliberately stuffed the register it would be possible to take even more drastic steps. When I was Minister for Local Government I think I dismissed two rate collectors by sealed order for stuffing the register. Of course such drastic steps could not be taken unless the register was very bad indeed, or much worse, perhaps, than the register is in any part of the country.
The police have been asked to look at the lists, and to raise questions with the revising officer in, I think, all parts  of the country. I know that in some places that was done. In order to get satisfactory work from the police it might be necessary to throw more direct responsibility on them, and to give them some formal responsibility in connection with it, rather than simply have a private instruction go from their superior officer to look over the lists and raise any questions they think fit. That is a matter that has been under consideration. At one time the question of giving the work now being done by the rate collectors to the police was considered, but at the time of the passage of the Electoral Act the police were newly out in the country and no change was decided on. I can only say that, in conjunction with the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Justice, I will have the matter discussed, and see what further steps can be taken to ensure that the register will be as nearly perfect as it is possible to make it without any great increase of expense.
Mr. GOREY: I would like to express my gratitude for what the Minister has said as to the duty of the police. Many of the inaccuracies in the register have never come to light. In my immediate polling booth I know that there were at least a half dozen inaccuracies and they were never reported. The same would apply to several other districts. The complaints do not find their way to headquarters in the county, or to the secretary of the county council. The most satisfactory way of dealing with the matter is to make it a duty of the police.
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