Insurance row casts doubt on referendum polling stations
Plans for the same-sex marriage referendum have been thrown into chaos after a row over insurance cover erupted between some returning officers and school venues.
The Irish Independent has learned that several returning officers have experienced problems in confirming venues for referendum votes and counts, after some school authorities sought specific insurance guarantees.
One officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the problem erupted "out of the blue".
"We have the power to requisition venues for polls and counts under the election regulations," he said.
"The majority of the venues we use are the same from election to election, such as schools and sports centres.
"There was absolutely no indication of a problem given that a lot of the venues are exactly the same as for last year's Local Government polls and even for the 2011 General Election."
However, when venues were being confirmed several weeks ago for the May 22 referendum, a number of schools objected to their premises being requisitioned unless specific new insurance guarantees were provided.
The insurance concerns are believed to be linked to a polling station fall last year.
Guarantees are understood to have been sought by schools in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
"We were asked to ensure that the State Claims Agency (SCA) would indemnify the schools involved from any claims arising from the operation of their premises during the referendum polling and count," the returning officer added.
But while schools sought a blanket insurance indemnity for their premises, the returning officer said the SCA were only able to offer a qualified guarantee in respect of negligent acts.
Some schools have indicated that this is not sufficient and expressed a preference for their venues not to be used as a result.
The SCA said it is not aware of any insurance changes.
"The State has always provided an indemnity in respect of negligent acts that may occur as a result of the use of schools as polling stations," a spokesperson said.
"This indemnity is in respect of the activities of the returning officers and their staff.
"The schools' commercial insurance policy, as for any similar events, covered the schools' remaining legal liabilities. The SCA is not aware of any changes to these arrangements."