Sunday 16 June 2019

€55m voting machines now worth only €1m

Just 'scrap value' will be recouped as Gormley calls time on debacle

Ralph Riegel

THE Government could recoup as little as €1m from the €55m e-voting machine debacle.

Environment Minister John Gormley finally announced yesterday the botched electronic voting system is being scrapped. The machines -- which are being stored at an annual cost of €200,000 -- have now been described by one analyst as having little more than "scrap or collector value".

The NEDAP machines cost €51m to buy seven years ago, with close to €4m spent on storage. They boast technology which is assessed as 1980s-vintage and are unlikely to be sold for e-voting regimes in any other Western country after both Holland and Germany scrapped similar machines.

One option suggested by experts is that the machines be re-programmed for basic leisure functions such as simple computer games or electronic chess.

The revelation came as Minister Gormley insisted scrapping the controversial machines was the only correct decision for the taxpayer and democratic process.

Staggering

Minister Gormley said he could not justify spending the €28m required to retro-fit the machines with a special vote-tracking system so it could address the Electoral Commission issues which prevented their widespread introduction more than five years ago.

The Voter Verifiable Audit Trail (VVAT) technology could be applied to the e-voting machines at a cost of €28m -- a staggering 56 times what then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern claimed in 2006 -- but he warned that even if it worked, voter confidence in the machines could still not be guaranteed.

The e-voting project was started by then Environment Minister Noel Dempsey and expanded by his successor Martin Cullen.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore yesterday called for both Minister Cullen and former Minister Dempsey to be sacked for their roles in the debacle. "I think they should be fired from office," he said.

Neither Mr Dempsey nor Mr Cullen were available for comment.

The bulk of the e-voting machines are now stored in Gormanstown, Co Meath. Initially, it was costing almost €800,000 per annum to store them because of controversial individual deals agreed with warehousing contractors.

Minister Gormley told the Irish Independent he is now setting up a special consultative group to examine ways of disposing or selling-off the machines.

"We have looked at all the options -- and it was always clear that if we were to retro-fit these machines as was suggested that it would cost up to €28m. And certainly in the current economic situation that just wasn't viable," he said.

The minister said he was determined to recoup as much money as possible for the Exchequer -- and he acknowledged that the entire e-voting campaign had been a waste of taxpayer's money.

Re-sale

"We have to ensure now that we actually recoup as much money as we can," he said.

The Government is now in contact with the machine manufacturers, Nedap, about the possibility of their re-sale.

Mr Gormley said: "Of course, if you find at the end of the day that you cannot use machines you clearly have to class that as wastage of money. It was seen at the time of actually recouping money -- they said that they could save money over a 20-year period or so.

"But as we know there were problems with these machines -- not just here in Ireland but elsewhere so the only prudent way of dealing with this was to ensure that we did not continue to use these machines and that we did so in a way that was going to be cost-effective."

Mr Gormley rejected suggestions the e-voting machines could still be salvaged. He said: "Clearly the fact is that these machines could not be used. From that point of view it is wrong to proceed -- and it is right now to end the use of these machines and to do so in a way which minimises the cost to the taxpayer."

The minister said he was not going to criticise those responsible for landing the Exchequer with a €51m-plus bill for e-voting machines which couldn't be used.

"I am not in the business of reprimanding colleagues -- I am not the Taoiseach. It is up to the Taoiseach in relation to colleagues and the way that they have behaved," he said.

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