Louth County Council have refuted suggestions made at Monday’s monthly meeting that the electoral register is “a mess”, a comment shared by two councillors who called for a review of the register and how it is managed.
Director of Services Joe McGuinness, responding to comments from Fine Gael’s John McGahon and Sinn Féin’s Pearse McGeough who were critical of the register in it’s current form, said that the local authority’s “hands were tied” and that “great efforts were made” to provide an accurate supplement ahead of this month’s General Election.
The register of electors is officially updated every year on February 15th, a date fixed in law due to the Electoral Act 1992. This year, the arrived seven days after the election took place, meaning the electoral register used was the outdated version used on Friday May 24 2019 for last year’s local election elections.
That left Louth County Council with the task of opening a supplementary register, on which people could be added ahead of the polls opening.
Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheridan asked whether there were issues relating to duplicates or deceased persons, querying whether there was a mechanism where the HSE notified the local authority of deaths or they had to rely on public facing methods such as RIP.ie.
Cllr Sheridan also noted that in the Ardee Muncipal District area, 350 non-Irish persons were registered to vote, compared approximately 900 non-Irish nationals counted in the 2016 Census.
“Is there anything proactively being done at council level to get these people registered?” he asked. “Some workplaces have a high proportion of Euroean and non-European workers – is there any engagement with those workplaces to get people registered?”
Fine Gael councillor McGahon, who contested the General Election this month but was eliminated after the eighth count, spoke of his experience of the electoral register and said he believes, as Minister of State for Local Government John Paul Phelan does, that people should update their details online with their PPS number.
“I’ve become very acquainted with the electoral register in recent weeks. My god, it is a mess,” he said. “There’s people registered twice. That’s not our fault – our hands were tied behind our back. When invigilators go to doors, people are reluctant to give them information.
“It should be connected to a PPS number. You go online yourself, like you renew your passport. Until it is done on a national level, our hearts will continue to be broken.”
Cllr McGahon, adding to Cllr Sheridan’s comments about registering more non-Irish persons to vote, referenced a scheme run by Bernie Bradley in Monaghan County Council. “She ran workshops in the last six months where she met with non-Irish communities, showing them the register and how to vote and how it all works. It was a wonderful scheme.
“They had huge turnout in Monaghan because of that,” he continued. “I really think it is something we should look at so we can incorporate everyone who lives in this country and is part of our society into the voting process.”
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Pearse McGeough echoed his colleagues sentiments, saying; “The register is a bit of a mess. It is particularly bad in rural areas where there is a criss-crossing of townlands. I do feel it would be appropriate to do some kind of a review.”
Director of Services Joe McGuinness admitted the timing of the election did not make life easy for the council but not agree with the previous two speakers assertions that the register was a mess.
“The timing of the election did not help us as we would have had a more accurate register live on February 15. Our hands were tied. It is a fact of law that we had to take the previous register. We made great efforts to provide an accurate supplement,” he said.
“We ended up with 7,000 entries on the supplement. I don’t think the register is a mess. We have 97,000 people on the register. With a population of 130,000. I think that equates quite close to the reality [of the number of people over 18]. It becomes inaccurate the day it is published. People die, people move into the county.”
McGuinness said that the local authority rely on death events – the registering of a death – as a means to edit the register when necessary. But he added that sometimes there can be a three month lag associated with that practice. He also said some deaths are not registered using the proper channels.
The DoS also told the meeting that Louth County Council would continue to use social media to engage with people in relation to registering to vote.