Dáil Motion seeking approval for draft ‘Direct Election of Mayor Plebiscite Regulations 2019’- Opening Statement by Minister Phelan
I welcome the opportunity to address the House this afternoon about the draft ‘Direct Election of Mayor Plebiscite Regulations 2019’.
By way of background, Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2019 provides for the holding of plebiscites on the direct election of mayors in Cork city, Limerick city and county and Waterford city and county. Section 41 of that Act provides that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government may make regulations for the purposes of holding a plebiscite. It also provides that where regulations are proposed to be made, a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each such House.
The draft regulations were laid before both Houses on 1 April 2019.
It is intended that the plebiscites will take place on the same day as the European Parliament and local elections on Friday 24th May 2019.
The draft regulations before you today provide for procedural and administrative matters in relation to the conduct of the plebiscites. They set out the statutory arrangements for the taking of the plebiscites, the counting of votes and electoral offences.
The provisions relating to the conduct of the plebiscites set out in the draft regulations apply many of the provisions of the Local Elections Regulations 1995.
They provide that the local authority returning officer, who is responsible for the conduct of local elections would be appointed as the plebiscite returning officer, with responsibility for the conduct of the plebiscite.
They set out the form of the ballot paper including the question to be put at the plebiscites.
They also provide that the plebiscite returning officer is responsible for giving public notice of the holding of the plebiscite; the distribution of information for voters; the printing of ballot papers; and making arrangements for postal and special voting. Provision is also made for matters such as the secrecy of the ballot; the official mark on the ballot paper; the security of ballot boxes; the procedure for voting; arrangements to deal with spoilt ballot papers; and voting by those who are visually impaired.
The arrangements for the counting of votes at the plebiscites are also set out in the draft regulations. These include the time and date of the count; the appointment of a place for the count including practical arrangements such as the provision of furniture and equipment; and the arrangements for the safe custody of the ballot papers and documents relating to the plebiscites.
The draft regulations set out who can attend the counting of votes; who can handle ballot papers; and the arrangements for opening, extracting and counting ballot papers and ensuring that the number of ballot papers tally with the information on the ballot paper account, which accompanies each ballot box.
Provision is also made for mixing the ballot papers; identifying invalid ballot papers; arrangements for counting the votes and recounts if required.
On completion of the count, the draft regulations set out the procedures that must be followed by the plebiscite returning officer including the retention and disposal of documents and the preparation and signature of a plebiscite certificate. This certificate, which states the number of votes recorded in favour of and against the proposal, must be published in Iris Oifigiúil and a copy must also be sent to the Minister and the relevant local authority.
Electoral offences set out in the draft regulations apply many of the provisions regarding electoral offences contained in the Local Elections Regulations 1995. These include matters such as breach of secrecy; offences relating to ballot boxes, ballot papers and official marks; obstruction of the poll and interference with electors.
As mentioned at the outset, these draft regulations provide for the procedural and administrative arrangements for the conduct of the plebiscites. They simply mirror provisions that are already there for the conduct of polls so you will be very familiar with these arrangements.
I now look forward to hearing your views.