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Scandalous waste of taxpayers' cash

The revelation that the infamous e-voting machines, which cost the Irish taxpayer a total of almost €55m, have been sold as scrap for a mere €70,000 represents one of the most scandalous wastes of public money of the entire Celtic Tiger era.

From the start, the whole e-voting fiasco reeked of hubris. With the Irish economy booming as never before the then government decided in 2001 to introduce electronic voting. This was despite the fact that the electorate, and the vast majority of our elected representatives, were perfectly happy with the existing paper-based system, which had worked perfectly satisfactorily since independence.

However, ignoring the sensible advice of not fixing something that wasn't broken, the then Environment Minister Noel Dempsey and his Cabinet colleagues pressed on regardless. They were, it seems, motivated by a misplaced desire to appear "modern".

The e-voting machines were used in three constituencies for the 2002 general election -- with decidedly mixed results. Anyone who saw it will never forget the ordeal suffered by former Justice Minister Nora Owen. She was left waiting several hours for the e-voting machines to confirm what everyone in the Dublin North count centre already knew -- that she had lost her Dail seat in the electoral deluge that cost Fine Gael 20 TDs.

While Ms Owen endured her ordeal with considerable dignity and fortitude, the whole affair raised serious questions about the e-voting machines that would not go away.

However, it was the revelation in 2006 that a Dutch group had successfully hacked Nedap e-voting machines similar to those purchased by the Irish government that sounded the death knell for electronic voting.

In the 90 years since independence this country has experienced many keenly-contested elections. However, no matter how bitter the contest, once the ballot boxes had been sealed the integrity of the count was always beyond question.

If easily hacked e-voting machines had replaced the existing paper-based system this legacy of clean counts would have been needlessly squandered.

How long would it have been before defeated candidates began to contest the legitimacy of the result, with potentially disastrous implications for public confidence in our democratic system?

Thankfully, more by accident than design, we were spared such an outcome.

So will anyone take responsibility for this outrageous waste of taxpayers' money? When we contacted Mr Dempsey, whose current €120,000 annual pension is almost twice the price fetched by the e-voting machines, he told us that he was now a private citizen.

Taxpayers, whose money was squandered in such a cavalier fashion, can only regret that Mr Dempsey hadn't also been a private citizen way back in 2001 when this appalling decision was first made.

Irish Independent