Second Garda inquiry into alleged ballot fraud in Sligo-Leitrim

Investigation revolves around postal votes cast in constituency at 2020 general election

Gardaí in Sligo have begun a second investigation in three years into alleged postal ballot fraud in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency.

The inquiry revolves around the number of postal votes cast in the constituency during the 2020 general election.

Of 60,000 votes cast, a little over 1,000 were postal votes, an increase of about 300 compared to the previous general poll in 2016.

In 2019, Fine Gael challenged the result of the local elections in Sligo and complained to gardaí about alleged electoral fraud.

Its challenge centred on the Ballymote-Tubbercurry electoral area where the postal vote had almost doubled since the previous local election. Gardaí in the constituency have been speaking to those whose names were on the register of postal voters to establish if they cast their votes.

Fine Gael alleged that up to 100 votes were “questionable”.

The investigation is looking into complaints that postal ballots were cast in the names of people who were unaware their names and votes were being used.

In 2019, 252 votes were cast on behalf of people who said they had a “physical illness or disability” in the Ballymote-Tubbercurry electoral area, compared to 131 in 2014.

At the time, Sligo County Council said there were 20 postal votes from the Sligo-Strandhill electoral area and 17 from Sligo-Drumcliffe.

One council seat was eventually decided on a single vote, while there was a margin of six votes in another.

Investigation ongoing

Fine Gael director of elections in Sligo Enda Candon said the party had conducted its own investigation in 2019 and passed its findings on to the Garda. The Garda investigation is still ongoing.

He said the investigation into the 2020 election was not initiated on foot of a complaint from Fine Gael, but seemed to be a follow-on from the original inquiry.

When contacted for comment, a Garda spokeswoman said: “The matter remains the subject of an ongoing Garda investigation. No further information is available at this time.”

Mr Candon said the investigation was now ongoing for two years. “We are concerned that the investigation is taking this length of time,” he said.

“I think probably the bigger picture is there are anomalies in the electoral system and there is potential for people to get votes they are not entitled to get,” he added.

“It shows the weakness in the electoral register such as people having two votes on it. Some of those are genuine, they might have moved house and the vote from their previous address has never been cancelled.

“There are a lot of inaccuracies in the register and this highlights that and there is reform needed in the process of how people are put on the register, and the potential for manipulation in the system if people want to do that.”

Anyone entitled to vote remotely must register to confirm they cannot vote in person because of illness or disability. The confirmation must be signed by an independent person in a position of authority.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times