TDs and Senators will have to use facial recognition software in order to claim their expenses under confidential proposals seen by the Sunday Independent.
n independent review of the system of recording attendance (SRA) for Oireachtas members – commissioned on foot of allegations that the ‘fobbing-in’ system was being abused – proposes installing new facial recognition software at Leinster House at a cost of €20,500, noting it is “most likely to give the highest level of public confidence”.
The review by former Northern Assembly clerk and chief executive Trevor Reaney was commissioned on foot of a number of controversies in late 2019 over TDs missing Dáil votes but being recorded as having fobbed-in at Leinster House in order to claim expenses.
TDs must record a minimum of 120 days’ attendance in order to claim their full travel and accommodation allowance, which ranges from €9,000 per year for most Dublin-based TDs to over €34,000 for deputies living furthest from the Dáil.
The review was discussed at a meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, a secretive committee that oversees the administration of parliament, last Monday. An Oireachtas briefing note on Mr Reaney’s report states that facial recognition is the preferred approach to improving and enhancing the system of recording attendance and would cost €20,500.
There would be “minor saving” from no longer using fobs and it would have “minimal impact on members”, the briefing states, adding that it is hoped it could be in place after the summer recess. A risk assessment notes that all electronic systems carry a risk of hacking and that discussions with the Oireachtas ICT unit will be held to ensure adequate security is in place.
However, the Commission did not agree on whether to adopt the proposal, with members asking to revert to their respective parliamentary parties for further consultation.
Mr Reaney’s review scrutinises other parliaments’ systems and finds that retrospective expense claims supported by receipts was the most commonly used system. The annual flat rate allowance used in the Oireachtas is only used in one other institution, the Northern Assembly.
He identifies a range of biometric options for recording attendance including finger or palm print; palm or finger veins; facial, iris or retina recognition; DNA; hand geometry; odour or scent recognition; and voice recognition.
The review notes that plans for an Integrated Corporate Services System will include a new system for registering Oireachtas members’ attendance, but will not be available for another two to three years. An interim solution could see facial scanners added to the current Vision Time fobbing-in system or this system could be observed by CCTV, with Mr Reaney’s review stating these have the “maximum potential to increase public confidence and are high on Covid-19 security”.
However, it notes that installing CCTV at fobbing-in points would require retrospective identity checks if an allegation of misuse of the recording system was made and that the current system in Leinster House only retains footage for 30 days.
It also notes that Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath had suggested to the independent review that use of contactless technologies should be considered in view of the ongoing pandemic.
The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser advised that Mr Reaney’s various proposals, including facial recognition technology, fell within the scope of current regulations, according to the review.