€54m voting machines scrapped for €9 each

Paul Melia and Luke Byrne

THE Government has sold the infamous €54m e-voting machines for scrap -- for €9.30 each.

A huge fleet of trucks will begin removing the 7,500 machines from 14 locations on Monday.

They will be taken to a Co Offaly recycling company, KMK Metals Recycling Ltd in Tullamore, where they will be stripped down and shredded.

Ironically, the owner of the firm, Kurt Kyck, cast his vote on one of the machines in the 2002 elections. He has now paid €70,000 for the lot.

Scrapping the machines brings to an end the embarrassing e-voting debacle which has cost the taxpayer more than €54m since it emerged the expensive equipment was faulty.

They could not be guaranteed to be safe from tampering. And they could not produce a printout so that votes/results could be double-checked.

But last night the man who first proposed using them washed his hands of the affair.

Former Fianna Fail minister Noel Dempsey suggested e-voting in 1999 but the machines were purchased by Martin Cullen three years later.

Mr Dempsey refused to comment, directing questions to his successor in the Department of the Environment.

"I'm a private citizen," he told the Irish Independent at his home in Trim, Co Meath.

"Ask Martin Cullen, he bought them," he added. And then he walked into his house.

Mr Cullen could not be reached for comment.

The machines had also been strongly supported by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who said Ireland would become a "laughing stock" unless we stopped using pencil and paper to record our votes. Mr Ahern also refused to comment when contacted by this newspaper.

Bought in 2002, the machines were supposed to be used in local, general and European elections, and in referendums. But an independent commission found two years later that the lack of a paper trail and security issues meant they could not be used. They have languished in storage ever since, costing up to €700,000 a year, before a decision was taken in 2007 to move 60pc to a secure storage site at Gormanston in Co Meath to save money. Annual storage costs have run to €140,000 a year since, but all payments will cease at the end of this year.

The total cost of the machines was €51m. Storage added another €3.2m to the bill.

In April 2009, a decision was taken to scrap the system because it would cost too much to upgrade them.

Last January, companies were invited to bid to purchase the machines with KMK Metals Recycling Ltd in Tullamore awarded the contract just 10 days ago. The company will pay the State €70,267 for the 7,500 machines and associated equipment -- 0.13pc of the amount they have cost the State.

Yesterday Environment Minister Phil Hogan said he was happy to bring the "ill-conceived" plan to an end.

"I am glad to bring this sorry episode to a conclusion on behalf of the taxpayer," he said. "From the outset, this project was ill-conceived and poorly planned by my predecessors and as a result it has cost the taxpayer some €55m.


"While this is a scandalous waste of public money, I am happy to say that we will not incur any further costs in the disposal of the machines. KMK Metals Recycling Ltd will pay €70,267 for all of the equipment.

"Removal from from the present storage locations and transportation to the recovery facility will commence in the coming week and will be completed by September. The storage costs of the machines were €140,000 per year for the past three years, and from next year we will not incur those costs any longer."

A massive operation to transport them to the company's plant in Offaly begins on Monday, and it has 70 days to remove all the equipment from 14 locations across the State.

Four will be kept by the Department of the Environment and stored in the Custom House.

The equipment is stored in Louth, Sligo, Mayo, Clare, Donegal, Monaghan, Roscommon, Leitrim, Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Longford and Kerry, with the bulk of the machines (60pc) at Gormanston in Co Meath. The first wave of machines will be taken from a storage depot in Wexford to Offaly, where they will be dismantled.

A condition of the contract is that two electronic chips in each machine, which hold information on how the equipment works, are destroyed.