Election candidates who use racism, sexism or other hate speech should be automatically removed from the race, an Oireachtas committee heard on Tuesday.
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM), said a "beefed-up" electoral commission should be empowered to impose "strong sanctions" to prevent to use of hate speech for political gain.
The ITM, the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) and the National Youth Council (NYCI) were addressing the committee on housing and local government on increasing voter participation among under-represented groups. The committee is continuing pre-legislative scrutiny of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020.
It heard the vote-registration process was cumbersome and off-putting – particularly as it required a visit to a Garda station.
Mr Joyce said the electoral commission “should be holding” election candidates who use discriminatory rhetoric “to account”.
“[Sanctions] have to be very strong to hold people to account, in some cases even to remove people from the elections if the rhetoric is directed to any particular community.”
James Doorley, deputy director at the NYCI said there had to be a better way of getting on the electoral register than downloading and printing forms, to bring to a Garda station. He suggested the register be linked to peoples' PPS numbers, meaning they were automatically registered on turning 18.
“The electoral register is an area where the electoral commission is going to have to invest money… We in Ireland make it difficult to register...It should be automatic [that one is on the register on turning 18].”
There should be one national register, rather than 30 separate ones, for each local authority, he said.
“If you move three or four times you could end up on the register in three or four places…We need to invest time and resources in making sure we have a really accurate and up to date register and that work needs to be done urgently,” said Mr Doorley.
The committee also heard that stronger regulation of social media companies was needed to halt online abuse of women and minorities in public life,
Women in office
Catherine Lane, local, community and rural development officer with the NWCI, said women running for, or in, public office should not be expected to tolerate online abuse.
“We are very aware of the insidious nature of the online harassment and abuse that women in public and political life experience and we are aware of the impact that has. We are really concerned that this is going to further marginalise and add to the already existing barriers to women staying in or entering political life.
“We are supportive of stronger regulatory framework for the online companies.”
Gender quotas, stipulating that at least 30 per cent of a party’s candidates in a general election are women and 30 per cent men, should be extended to local elections, she said.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were the "main gate-keepers" to women's increased participation in councils.
“We are concerned the two big parties... would have failed to run the minimum 30 per cent in the previous local elections,” she said.
There seemed to be “particular barriers to women getting on the ticket especially in rural areas” said Ms Lane.
Extending the gender quota to local elections would force them to look beyond the traditional “male-dominated pools”, including chambers of commerce, and farming and sporting organisations.