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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prison votes: Almost 200 inmates cast ballots

Prison votes: Almost 200 inmates cast ballots


The Irish Times - Thursday, February 24, 2011

ALMOST 200 prisoners around the State have cast their votes in the general election. All 4,500 prisoners have the right to vote, though just 191 registered for this election. They cast their votes by postal ballot last weekend for the constituencies of their home address.

At Wheatfield Prison in west Dublin, 64 of the 676 prisoners registered to vote. “Every one of them voted,” said assistant chief prison officer Kevin O’Neill.

A polling station was set up in one of the governor’s interview rooms and voters entered individually. Having voted in a polling booth, they signed a cover letter, also signed by the governor, before the ballot and letter were sealed in an envelope and placed in a ballot box. The votes were sent to returning officers on Monday.

“We have posters up all over the prison telling prisoners it’s their constitutional right to vote,” said Mr O’Neill. “There have been quite a few lively debates about politics. They watch the news and the political programmes, so they are very tuned in.

“I do think it’s important for prisoners to vote. It gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership back into their lives. When the first fella had cast his vote on Saturday, governor [Frances] Daly congratulated him and you could see the glow in him. You’d hope that would tip them a bit into a sense of their own responsibility to their communities.”

Among those who voted last weekend was Peter (28), from Cork, who is halfway through a six-year sentence. “It was good to vote. I voted before I was in here all right. My constituency is Cork South Central. My family would always have been out for Fianna Fáil so I gave Micheál Martin my number one.

“The issues for me would be social stuff, like how they’re cutting down on everything and the fact there’s nothing for teenagers to do in my area. Growing up, there was nothing for young fellas to do. And I suppose jobs.”

Anthony (29), from Ballymun, Dublin, is serving seven years.

“I’d never voted before this, never really took any interest. I voted because of the way the country is going. I’d be watching it on the news. I voted for the Labour Party. I think everyone should have the right to vote.”

Mr O’Neill said he expected more prisoners to register for the next vote – probably the local elections in 2014, if not in a referendum before then.

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