| 3°C Dublin

Election officers paid €400,000 for storing machines

FOUR election officials used their own premises to store the controversial electronic voting machines, getting more than €400,000 from the State.

Returning officers were told to find a suitable facility to store the equipment after the government mothballed the €55m project in 2004 because of security concerns.

The Government decided earlier this week to sell or scrap them before the summer.

Last night, it emerged that two officials in Dublin and two in Cork bought premises to store the machines, and charged the State rent.

The four returning officers are are also the city and county sheriffs for Dublin and Cork. Sheriffs are enforce court orders, including judgments in debt cases.

A close relation of a fifth returning officer in Cavan/Monaghan was also given a lucrative 25-year contract to store the machines, despite them only having a 20-year lifespan.

The cost was part of a total storage bill of €3.4m incurred by the State to store 7,500 e-voting machines.

Returning officers are responsible for any equipment or facilities needed to run an election -- so the Department of the Environment did not rule on where the machines should be stored, or from whom properties could be rented.

The Irish Independent has learned that four returning officers stored the equipment in their own properties, and were paid a total of €414,084 between 2004 and 2007 before the machines were moved to a central storage facility at Gormanston Army Camp.

The total cost of storing the equipment between 2004 and 2010 was €3.4m.

Dublin City returning officer Brendan Walsh was paid €124,528 to store 777 of the machines between 2004 and 2007.

He bought a premises with his daughter, and rental evaluations from three independent firms were secured. An average rent was applied. Mr Walsh previously said he did not make any profit on the contract.

His colleague in Dublin County, John Fitzpatrick, stored the machines in a premises which include his offices. He was paid €95,760 over the same four-year period.

In Cork city, Martin Harvey and his wife bought a storage facility after visiting "every auctioneer dealing in commercial property in Cork city and environs".

"The only suitable storage premises were for sale," he told the department. Three valuations were sought and the lowest rental charged to the State. He was paid €106,676.

Cork County's returning officer Michael O'Driscoll also bought a property after auctioneers could not provide a suitable facility as all were "too big, too expensive". He received €87,120.

Martin Duffy, a nephew of retired returning officer in Cavan/Monaghan, Josephine Duffy, has been paid more than €120,000 to store 280 machines since 2004.

A letter from the department to the Dail Public Accounts Committee in 2005 stated: "The guidance issued by the department to returning officers in January 2003 on the arrangements for storage of the electronic equipment did not provide for a formal approval system."

More than 60pc (4,762) of the machines have been stored in Gormanston since 2007, and the remainder are at 13 other locations.

All leases will expire by September 2013, except one -- Martin Duffy's in Cavan/ Monaghan.

Irish Independent