The Labour Party has called for the introduction of an electoral commission amid the fallout from a controversy over voter registration ahead of the coming general election.
Leader Brendan Howlin said that “it is really worrying that because of the timing of this election, because of the date that Fine Gael picked, a lot of young people who should be on the next register which comes into effect on the 15th of February, will be disenfranchised”.
The issue stems from the date of the election. Due to it being held on February 8, those who registered within the past eight months may not be included on the new register, which is refreshed once a year.
In order to be able to vote, they must enrol themselves on the supplementary register. However, the cutoff point for doing so is in three days’ time, January 22.
Speaking at the Communications Workers Union in North Dublin alongside party colleague Alan Kelly, Mr Howlin said he had spoken to many people in his home constituency of Wexford yesterday who had “assumed” they were on the register and “would be getting their first vote, and they won’t”.
“To people who are not sure I want to say check the register,” he said.
Regarding the electoral commission, Mr Howlin said “we’re all sick and tired of after every election having loads of anomalies”. He called for “one central register” in order to take registration out of the hands of local authorities, “put together by an independent commission”, and said that people should have the ability to pre-register so that they are automatically qualified to vote when they turn 18.
“But it must be much more powerful than that,” he said, adding that any commission must have the ability to regulate elections, fix debates and participants, and to “control who is spending money on the election”.
“That has come into sharp focus in the last couple of years with external funding online in particular of campaigns across the world,” he said.
We need to not be naive to think that won’t impact in Ireland too.
Regarding a poll overnight from Behaviour & Attitudes/which, along with showing Fine Gael having slipped 12 points behind Fianna Fáil, also showed Labour down 2 points to 4%, Mr Howlin denied that it had affected his party’s election aspiration to double its TD numbers to 14.
“I’m afraid this is a poll that we have bounced up and down in. We were at 4% before the local elections and actually got a national figure of 6%,” he said.
In the most recent by elections our actual average vote was 14%.
“In real elections where we have candidates and campaigns and traditional votes, we do far better than that. I’m very confident that we will be in double digits,” he added.
“I think you have to be mindful of when this poll was taken, before the election, at the height of the debacle made of the Black and Tan issue,” Mr Howlin said with regard to Fine Gael’s precipitous slide in the poll.
Mr Kelly meanwhile said that the ongoing trolley crisis, and health in general, is “quite obviously the number one issue across the country, particularly in relation to acute services”.
“In Tipperary we suffer at both ends of the constituency, with South Tipperary General at one end and UHL at the other,” he said.
The real issue is this, Fine Gael have had enough time to have foresight to be able to deal with this. We have Sláintecare now to be implemented, and that’s three years old.
He said that the two mentioned hospitals should have seven-day services, not five-day, and that “diagnostics should be moved out into the community”.
“All of these issues can be dealt with, but the investment has to be put in. Despite a lot of talk, Fine Gael have had the portfolio a long time and it is not a portfolio that I believe they can move into the future.”