Wednesday 17 October 2018

Inmates to vote by post in next election

Senan Molony

PRISONERS will vote for the first time in the next general election. Inmates all over the country will be afforded postal ballots for the constituency where their votes are registered.

PRISONERS will vote for the first time in the next general election.

Inmates all over the country will be afforded postal ballots for the constituency where their votes are registered.

The undertaking, involving 3,200 prisoners at a range of facilities across the country, will be a huge logistical challenge to the Courts Service.

Bestowing the right to vote will also mean the right to receive election literature from candidates, who could even be granted entitlement to canvass the corridors of the penal institutions.

The Government is being forced to give prisoners a postal vote in order to comply with a European Court of Human Rights ruling.

The court gave judgment a year ago in favour of a British prisoner who claimed that his human rights were being breached through Britain's legal ban on prisoner voting. The Irish situation has been that prisoners are not legally denied the vote, but have had no opportunity of taking up this right. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2006, whose main purpose is to provide postal voting arrangements for prisoners, will be passed into law next month. It is due to be debated at committee stage in the first week of November, and includes a number of other technical amendments to electoral law.

The numbers of prisoners involved in postal votes is likely to have a negligible effect on party performances. However, this might have been different if, for instance, all of Mountjoy Prison's complement had been allocated to Dublin Central, the constituency of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, where Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald is likely to take a seat.

As there are only a couple of dozen votes involved per constituency, academics are likely to take more interest in matters such as prison "turnout" - whether the nature of being a captive audience encourages a largely working-class complement to vote or not.

Obligations

"The bill will bring certainty to Ireland's position in fully meeting our obligations under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms," a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said.

"There is no ban on prisoner voting here, but no voting facilities have been provided. Prisoners are on the register and can vote in theory, but not in practice. That will now change.

"Whether there will be a right for prisoners of other nationalities to vote in their domestic elections is another matter, but would principally depend on the prisoner's embassy facilitating such a request."

The scheme of postal voting in prisons will be largely modelled on existing provisions for students and other postal voters, "with necessary modifications to take account of prisoners' circumstances".

The spokesman said: "The aim is to have the Bill enacted by Christmas, to allow time for it to be fully implemented and have all the logistical arrangements put in place before the general election."

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