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Government signals climbdown on €54m e-voting machines

THE Government yesterday signalled it is preparing to finally scrap the e-voting machines -- five years after they were mothballed.

In the first sign of a complete climbdown on the €54m debacle, the special taskforce on cutting public spending will now examine the ongoing expenditure on the botched project.

The e-voting scandal is regarded as the worst example of wasted taxpayers' money during the boom days of the Celtic Tiger. The sign comes as the Government continues desperate attempts to rein in the public finances. The machines are currently in expensive airtight containers in several locations across the country.

Almost five years to the day since then Environment Minister Martin Cullen first launched the machines, his successor John Gormley gave a clear indication yesterday that he is willing to cut the Government's losses on the e-voting debacle as he said he was going to ask 'An Bord Snip Nua' to look at the ongoing expenditure.

Mr Gormley said the public had "no confidence" in the e-voting machines and confirmed they, once again, won't be used in forthcoming local and European elections this summer.

The e-voting machines were supposed to be rolled out nationwide in the 2004 local and European elections, after being used on a pilot basis in the 2002 general election.

The minister said he was referring the €54m project to the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, the cost-cutting body which has been dubbed An Bord Snip Nua.

"I recognise there is not at this stage public confidence in electronic voting and they will not be used in the forthcoming local and European elections," he said.

The 7,500 e-voting machines, bought at a cost of €51m, have cost a further €3m to store in an air hanger in Co Meath and various locations around the country while the Government deliberates on what to do with them. The annual cost of storing the e-voting machines peaked at €706,000 in 2006, with election returning officers renting individual locations around the country.

Remarkable

The Government then reduced this cost by moving 4,762 machines (around 60pc of the total) to a central storage facility located at Gormanston Army Camp in Meath. There is no space for any further machines there, so another 2,729 voting machines are stored locally by returning officers in 13 locations throughout the country.

The final 13 machines are stored in Mr Gormley's headquarters at the Customs House.

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Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan said it was remarkable that Mr Gormley was now relying on An Bord Snip to decide the fate of the e-voting machines. "This has been an absolute waste of money. There is no confidence in the system and Minister Gormley should have had the courage to make this decision long before now," he said.

The Department of Environment is expected to incur further costs when it begins the process of buying out leases of up to 25 years, which were arranged by local election returning officers. It has also admitted that in some cases, there were "close relationships" between the returning officers and those they awarded the contracts to.

In Monaghan, the returning officer signed a 25-year lease to store e-voting machines at an annual rent of €25,828 on premises owned by her nephew.

In Cork, the city's returning officer took out a 10-year lease to store the machines in a building he owned himself, while the Dublin city returning officer also took out an annual lease on a building owned by himself.


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