Electoral commission to be established by Government

Minister says it will not be ready in time for 2016 general election

Alan Kelly:  a more realistic time frame was that the commission would be  operational ahead of the next European and local elections, in 2019. Photograph: : Gareth Chaney Collins

Alan Kelly: a more realistic time frame was that the commission would be operational ahead of the next European and local elections, in 2019. Photograph: : Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Government has committed to establish an independent electoral commission during its term of office.

However, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said it will not be ready to function in time for the next general election, in 2016.

He said a more realistic time frame was that it would be fully operational ahead of the next European and local elections, in 2019.

Mr Kelly and Michael McCarthy, the Labour chair of the Oireachtas all-party environment committee, announced plans on Tuesday to establish the commission.

Mr Kelly has published a consultation paper setting out 11 issues to be addressed ahead of any legislation being drafted.

Consultation queries

The issues include the breadth of the functions of the commission, its personnel and its funding.

Among the questions posed are should it assume the responsibilities of the Constituency Commission, which sets the electoral boundaries for the local, European and general elections?

Another issue relates to including within its remit the work of the Referendum Commission, which has the responsibility for ensuring that impartial information is available during referendum campaigns.

Mr Kelly said Ireland was one of the few countries without an electoral commission, and that the organisation of elections in the State was done in a way that was fragmented.

He said that the publication of the consultation paper was a momentous occasion as it was a very serious set of reforms.

“It is an important day for politics. It is one of those fundamental things when it comes to democracy.

“I am personally very dedicated and passionate about putting this in place,” he said.

Committee work

Mr McCarthy’s committee will now begin a process of pre-legislative scrutiny, which will involve consultation, before reporting back to the Department of the Environment. Mr Kelly said he would then move quickly to publish the draft legislation.

The committee will also look at the role of returning officers and who takes responsibility for organising elections on the ground. It will also look at the electoral functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Separately, Mr Kelly also announced on Tuesday that High Court judge Kevin Cross has been appointed as chairman of the Referendum Commission for the same-sex marriage referendum and the referendum on lowering the age of presidential candidates.

Both referendums are scheduled to be held in May.

The other members of the commission are Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy; Ombudsman Peter Tyndall; Clerk Assistant of the Dáil Peter Finnegan; and Clerk of the Seanad Deirdre Lane.