Irish Government to dispose of controversial e-voting machines

6 Oct 2010

The Government of Ireland said today that it is to dispose of the controversial e-voting machines that have been gathering dust for years. Speaking during Leaders’ questions this morning, Taoiseach Brian Cowen conceded that the 7,000 machines will not be put to further use.

Cowen said in the Government’s defence that the legislation endorsing use of the machines – which were piloted in the 2002 general elections and the Nice referendum – was supported by all the political parties.

The electronic voting project has cost the Irish Exchequer €54.6m and some €3m was spent storing the machines over the past five years.

More money – estimated to be in the tens of thousands – was spent hiring consultants to advise on how to either dispose of the machines or find better ways of storing them.

The machines were bought by the Irish Government for €50m. However, despite the successful pilot, plans to use the machines on a national basis were abandoned in the face of controversy over transparency and privacy.

The machines were bought from Dutch firm Nedap. However, public concerns over transparency and security led to the scrapping of these machines in Germany and the Netherlands.

It is understood that the Department of the Environment has had 20 expressions of interest about salvaging the machines or putting them to further use.

Alternative uses of the machines

At least two Government departments have expressed an interest in using the machines:

·         The Department of Education thinks they may be useful for education programmes around civics and politics

·         The Department of Social Protection thinks they could be useful as information portals at social welfare offices.

However, consultants have recommended that the machines aren’t up to either purpose.

While they are valued at €30m, the machines are regarded as out-of-date and therefore of no further use. It is understood that the Department of Environment, which is responsible for the disposal of the machines, believes it is a realistic possibility that none of the €54.6m investment will ever be recovered.

Ironically, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said this morning that the Government nor any minister could condone a waste of public funds.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years