THE government will have to buy out some of the storage leases entered into at local level for the now defunct electronic voting machines, environment minister John Gormley has admitted.
In a response to a Dáil question from Labour's local government spokesman Ciaran Lynch last Thursday, Gormley conceded that "in certain circumstances, termination of lease arrangements will give rise to buy-out costs and these will be dependent on the outcome of negotiations".
The Green leader announced last April that the government had abandoned e-voting in Ireland and put in place an inter-departmental task force to bring the project "to an orderly conclusion and to oversee disposal of the equipment and termination of storage arrangements".
However, it also emerged in Gormley's answer that this task force has only met three times, although the minister said it "aims to complete its work as soon as possible".
Over 60% of the machines were moved from 12 local storage locations to a central facility at Gormanstown army camp three years ago. The remaining machines are stored at 13 local premises. The total annual storage cost for the machines was €204,000 in 2008.
The plan is to remove all machines from their present locations when arrangements for their disposal are put in place and work on termination of local leases "is proceeding in this context", Gormley said. Consultants, hired by the Department of the Environment in 2008 to examine the individual local leases, recommended termination of leases in seven cases.
This has happened in three locations with Gormley stating last week that "work is ongoing on concluding the other four leases". While no additional payments were made in respect of the three terminations to date, it seems there will be a cost of exiting some of the other leases.
Likening the machines to PlayStation 1s because "nobody wants them" and "they can't be gotten rid of", Lynch this weekend criticised the fact that nine months after the government decision to abandon e-voting, many machines were "still in storage and the meter is still running".
Noting that some of the local storage leases were for in excess of two decades – despite the machines having a shelf life of 20 years – the Cork South-Central deputy said there was "now going to be a penalty" for the taxpayer to exit those leases. "The minister shouldn't be letting this drift. This needs immediate closure and the project brought to an end."