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Leah Farrell
Consultative Forum

Irish Electoral commission chief: Scale of disinformation around elections is 'enormous'

Art O’Leary, the CEO of the Electoral Commission of Ireland, was speaking during the final day of the Consultative Forum on International Security in Dublin.

THE HEAD OF Ireland’s electoral commission has warned that disinformation around elections is at an “enormous” scale.

Art O’Leary, the CEO of the Electoral Commission of Ireland, said that key to fighting the risk to elections was by his newly formed organisation engaging with State entities but also with academics and media organisations. 

O’Leary was speaking during the final day of the Consultative Forum on International Security in Dublin Castle in a panel discussion on hybrid threats and disinformation. 

“There is an understanding that in an electoral context this [disinformation] can be very difficult and very challenging and it is not something we can do by ourselves. 

“The scale of the problem is enormous but as time goes on we are becoming more solutions focused – I have sat in rooms like this for the last two years and listening to people articulating the problem absolutely perfectly,” he said. 

O’Leary explained that while the challenge to elections was significant, experts had developed solutions to deal with the threat. 

“Only now where people are coming along and saying how we deal with it with prebunking, media literacy – all of these tools have become available to be able to deal with it. 

“In the white hot heat of a general election campaign, where it is three weeks long, there is a lot of information flying around. Identifying misinformation and calling it out is a key part of what we will do. 

“We can’t do it by ourselves, it will be done with partners,” he added.

O’leary said that the solutions to the problem of disinformation would be found “away from our shores” – he said that election bodies in other countries were at an advanced stage in protecting their elections. 

He referenced the example of Australia where the electoral regulator has created a campaign to promote trusted sources of information and also created a misinformation and disinformation register. 

“Everytime they capture misinformation they put it on their website and you can go and look at a list of things people said.

“It comes back to calling out misinformation if and when you see it because in an election campaign, when there is a huge amounts of information floating about we have to be quick, we have to be versatile and decisive in a way that many Irish regulatory bodies may not have always been accused of (before),” he added.  

Speaking to reporters at the event Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport, said that the State were actively reviewing disinformation threats to the election process “on a regular basis”.

He said in his regular meetings with the National Cyber Security Centre that he asks if there is any evidence of “outside States trying to influence the Irish political democratic system”.

“The real example, the one to fear and watch, was the Cambridge Analytica one because it was very well evidenced as to the scale and natures of the operations. 

“Absolutely it is a key part of our security, that we need to have in place,” he said.

TANAISTE DUBLIN CASTLE 131 Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, speaking at the end of Day Four of the Consultative Forum on International Policy, in Dublin Castle today. Norma Burke Norma Burke


The panels at today’s event in Dublin covered a number of topics around the history of Irish neutrality and a debate on Ireland’s current neutral status. 

There was also an examination of the Defence Forces capability development. 

In that discussion Assistant Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Rossa Mulcahy, outlined the needs of the Irish Defence Forces to operate.

He spoke about the level of ambition that was set in the Commission on the Defence Forces – a document which looked at failings in the capabilities of the Irish military. 

Mulcahy said that any ambitions to increase capacity in the military must be matched by the appropriate funding.  

“The very fact that we are using language like ‘level of ambition’ is very positive. We hear it in the media, in Government and in defence circles as well. 

“What it does is provide a clear link that if we say we are going to have a level of ambition for Ireland and the Defence Forces. If it is level of ambition two then that enables certain policy decisions and then that must falls into the associated funding. 

“What we have had in the past were gaps in what was set out in the (Defence) white paper and the actual funding. The Commission on the Defence Forces called that out,” he said. 

He said the ambition and matching funding would see “force protection” for soldiers made a priority with better body armour and helmets as well as greater Armoured Personnel Carriers and firepower.

In terms of the navy he said that there will be a need to fund undersea capabilities to monitor critical infrastructure.

In the Air Corps he said there was a need for primary radar as well as new aircraft – he said the key was to be able to integrate the air capability with the ground units. 

Finally he said that they were also working on expanding the cyber security and defence capabilities.

Chairperson of the Forum Louise Richardson said that the criticism before the Forum begun has not proven to be correct. 

She had received criticism from a number of quarters, including President Michael D Higgins, who apologised for his comments. 

“It has been an extraordinary four days – I can think of no other country that has had a discussion around foreign and security policy.

“Most countries, these kind of decisions are made in small groups of senior officials whereas here we had a wide ranging airing of subjects that are critically important. 

“I would hope that those who came and attended the sessions felt reassured that this was an open process,” she added. 

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