The preparation and updating of the register of electors generated much lively debate at last week's meeting of Longford County Council.
Barbara Heslin, Director of Services Economic & Community Development, stated, “As far as possible, we are looking to populate the electoral register with Eircodes. That is one of the biggest tasks we have at the moment.”
Councillors were also informed of recent and upcoming public information evenings which offers the public a chance to get themselves on the register.
Ms Heslin stated, “We are planning a similar public information session for Hazelwood, near Super Valu, on October 19 between 11-1.
“If you could encourage our citizens to partake and use the opportunity of the public information sessions to come in and help with accuracy of the register,” she added.
The accuracy of the register was bemoaned by sitting representatives, with councillor John Browne describing it as ‘out of touch with reality’.
He said, “The register is completely out of touch with reality.
“When I come into Longford county council to tell them that this person is no longer residing at a house, they won’t remove them. That is a major problem,” he said, before adding, “I think what the council need to do is go on a door-to-door to find out exactly who is residing in rental properties. If there are people they know are gone, then remove them.”
Members were then informed that names cannot be removed from the register unless the person in question makes the request themselves, which Cllr Browne described ‘nonsensical’.
His views were shared by his fellow councillors.
Cllr Colm Murray said, “Cllr Browne is 100% right. The registers are completely out of filter with reality.
“In my own local area in Kenagh, there are easily over 100 people that shouldn’t be on it, That’s where the problems lie.
“It needs to be addressed by the department and it needs to be addressed now. Maybe we need to put that in writing for the department.”
Cllr Mark Casey said the register is one of the ‘most inaccurate documents’ in circulation.
He fumed, “We have a policy here now for getting people onto the register. We should actually have a policy to get people off the register.
“If there are suspect people we should send a letter out to them and if they don’t get back to us to say they want to remain on it, they should be automatically knocked off.
“That is the way we should be approaching this because it is ridiculous and it is skewing our numbers.
“We want to really tidy up this thing. It is absolutely ridiculous,” he added.
Cllr Seamus Butler noted that this is a repeat issue within the council, calling it a 'greater act of fiction than Finnegan’s wake'.
He said, “It is not the first time I have spoken on this.
“The Longford municipal register of electors is a greater act of fiction that Finnegan’s wake. It is absolutely ludicrous.”
Continuing, he added, “It is fundamental to democracy that you have an accurate electorate register of people entitled to vote and when you don’t have that, it is open to abuse.”
Facing into a general election, Cllr Butler issued his worries for the system being manipulated and blasted the department for not seeking to rectify issues.
He stated,“ It is an absolute disgrace that the department and previous ministers haven’t moved on this because it is fundamental towards local and national politics.”
Cllr Joe Flaherty agreed it was a serious issue right across the country, but noted their hands are tied in terms of taking action.
He said, “It is an issue right across the country and not one we are going to resolve because it is a national level.
“There is only so much the local authority can do at the end of the day. It is up to the people if they want to be on the register.
“We can sweat it as much as we want, but the rules and regulations are there and we are limited in what we can do. It needs to be sorted out at national level.”
In response to Cllr Flaherty, Cllr Casey said: “It’s the council’s responsibility to have an accurate register. That is one of the key things in democracy.
“We need to clean up our register once and for all and make sure it is accurate and right.
“People have lost their seats before over inaccurate registers.”
Cllr Garry Murtagh questioned as to why information from the census could not be used.
“Why can’t we use that in some way to sort out the register.” he said.
Cllr Peggy Nolan warned that any discrepancies on the register could lead to fraud or people losing their seats.
“The Minister needs to be made aware of our concerns.” She said upon agreeing with John Browne’s door-to-door suggestion.
“We have to be able to clean up the register. We don’t need anymore excuses.”
Councillors were then informed that one of the major challenges facing LCC is the registrictions place upon them.
Ms Heslin remarked, “We cannot remove someone from the register. We must be notified in writing.”
In conclusion, Longford county council said they would be more than willing to write to the Minister to address the issue with the register, with councillors in agreement that this was the best course of action.