THE Government is unable to break 25-year storage contracts for the country's abandoned e-voting machines, Environment Minister John Gormley said last night.
The revelation came as it emerged the storage cost for the machines was €180,000 last year -- with no sign yet of desperate efforts by the Government to off-load the idle machines being successful.
That means the taxpayer faces a future bill of more than €3.5m for storing the machines in various facilities.
The storage costs have been negotiated downwards by €24,000 over the past two years and Mr Gormley said the Government was still negotiating with the Dutch manufacturer about a possible refund for returned machines.
Consolidation of sites and revised lease agreements have helped reduce storage costs -- but there is little the Government can now do about long-term contracts entered into by the previous administration.
The previous government entered into 25-year storage contracts for the machines.
The State paid €52m in 2002 for 7,491 e-voting machines -- but, by 2008, the annual storage cost for the abandoned machines had soared to €204,000.
The machines were abandoned over concerns about the traceability and verification of electronic ballots cast.
It is estimated that storage costs, to date, are in excess of €3m.
In 2007, the Government was paying €27,000 a year for the storage of 288 e-voting machines in Co Monaghan alone.
Last night, Mr Gormley said the long-term storage contracts were in place but the Government was determined to try to get value for the taxpayer.
"The situation is that we have made a government decision in relation to the e-voting machines and they will no longer be used," he added.
Mr Gormley said he was acutely aware of the cost to the Exchequer.
"We are trying to obviously reduce the amount of money that the taxpayer is liable for," he said.
"There is action -- the action came in the form of a very firm government decision. Negotiations in relation to these matters are always protracted and always complex, but you can be assured that we will be doing the very best to protect the Irish taxpayer," he said.
Mr Gormley said the Government had not ruled out getting some form of refund for the machines. "Well, there is a (refund) possibility in a number of directions -- so we are exploring all of the options."