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Thursday 17 October 2019

Defiant Cullen stands by €60m e-vote debacle

Fionnan Sheahan and Fergus Black

THE minister responsible for the €60m e-voting debacle remained defiantly unapologetic last night for the most notorious example of the waste of taxpayers' money in the Celtic Tiger era.

Tourism Minister Martin Cullen defended the botched electronic voting system and bizarrely suggested a similar system might be used in the future.

Mr Cullen's remarks will fuel public anger at the lack of accountabilty over millions of euro being squandered. It will also reinforce the perception of a Government unable to admit any mismanagement of the public finances over the past decade.

It comes after two damning reports by the spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, which outlined a shocking litany of overspending across the public sector.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Taoiseach Brian Cowen have not sought the resignation of the FAS board, despite revelations of massive waste at the state training agency.

Instead, the FAS board will await the arrival of a new board once an unpublished piece of legislation is passed at some stage -- although there is no timeline available.

Mr Cullen's defiance comes just days after Environment Minister John Gormley announced plans to try to sell off the e-voting machines, with adverts to be placed in newspapers.

When asked by the Irish Independent if he felt he owed the taxpayers an apology, Mr Cullen said e-voting had been successful during trials.

He blamed the bar being "raised very high" -- a reference to the public concerns which prompted an investigation into the security of the system.

"E-voting, as you know, was trialled twice in the country and it was very successful. Issues arose afterwards where the bar was raised very high in the context of all of the issues surrounding it. But it's interesting, I think it was covered during the week. I saw an article which said the only way forward for Ireland is to use e-voting. It's a far more secure system than the system that we use at present and it remains for others for the future to see what happens with it," he said.

Adjusted

The plan to roll out e-voting came to a halt in 2004, when a report found the system needed to be adjusted to make it secure. But this was after almost €52m was spent on buying enough machines to cover the country and contracts worth €800,000 a year for storage were signed.

Mr Gormley pulled the plug on e-voting earlier this summer, taking the decision to end storage of the 7,000 machines.

He said it would have cost €28m to make the machines foolproof in terms of hardware and software, with it unlikely even then that there would be sufficient voter buy-in.

Meanwhile, Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue is set to reveal details of his travel expenses while he was a minister when the Dail resumes on Wednesday.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act claimed the foreign travel bill for Mr O'Donoghue and his wife amounted to more than €100,000 while he was Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister.

But his solicitors have written to at least one Sunday newspaper claiming information in articles relating to the expenses was "inaccurate, misleading, exaggerated and disingenuous" and that Mr O'Donoghue would be taking further steps.

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