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Work is finally to begin on an Electoral Commission for Ireland

It’s hoped an electoral commission will solve problems with the electoral register and address issues redrawing constituency lines.

Image: Niall Carson

MINISTER FOR HOUSING, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy has announced that work is to begin on setting up an Electoral Commission, with the aim of overseeing and regulating elections in Ireland.

This is years after the Commission on Electoral Voting recommended it (2006), and Enda Kenny’s government promised to introduce it. In January 2016, a Joint Oireachtas committee published a report into the setting up of an Electoral Commission. 

In the latter report, it argued that ”the purpose of electoral commissions is generally to guarantee that electoral administration is carried out in an independent manner – free from political interference”.

This also includes solving problems with the electoral register, set up referendum campaigns, address the re-drawing of constituency and local area boundaries, and more widespread issues like how to engage the electorate more and encourage them to vote. 

This responsibility is at present distributed among various government departments, statutory agencies and components of the Oireachtas.

“The Electoral Commission will be established on a statutory basis and will bring together several electoral functions in an independent, dedicated public body,” a statement issued by Murphy and Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan.

“I am delighted to be bringing forward the establishment of an Electoral Commission which will bring added coordination to our electoral functions,” Murphy said, “and will significantly contribute to the development of our electoral system and policies into the future.”

Phelan added that the “announcement is a major event in the evolution of Ireland’s electoral system.”

The Electoral Commission will also include a new research and advisory function, which will inform the Government and Oireachtas in their consideration of reform to electoral law.

In 2006, the Commission on Electoral Voting said that there was “an increased need, in the context of electronic voting, for the establishment of a single independent statutory electoral commission for Ireland.

“Recommended previously in other official reports, such an electoral commission would be in keeping with best international practice and would have responsibility for relevant aspects of electoral administration and oversight currently vested in the Department, the Commission and various other commissions, including the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Referendum Commission and the Constituency Commission”.

The responsibilities of an electoral commission should also include the development of standards for electronic voting, ensuring overall compliance with those standards and the observation of elections conducted by electronic means.

Work will commence on drafting the General Scheme of an Electoral Commission Bill.

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