Parties will be banned from accepting financial donations via cryptocurrencies under new political integrity rules being drafted over fears of Russian interference in Irish elections.
stricter rules on all foreign donations are also being introduced, along with a requirement for parties to give full details of their property portfolios in a major overhaul of election laws.
The soon-to-be-created Election Commission will also have the power to issue takedown notices to social media companies and provide clarification on online misinformation.
Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien, who is responsible for electoral reform, has written to party leaders outlining a series of measures he is introducing which aim to counter foreign interference in Irish votes.
Mr O’Brien said he will propose amendments to the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 to protect against malicious interference online while revising political finance laws to prevent foreign interference in the way whose parties or individuals are supported financially.
“The appalling invasion of Ukraine and the insidious disinformation war highlight the fundamental threats facing all democracies,” he said.
He added that the Cabinet had agreed to the new measures aimed at protecting “our democratic system in view of the growing threat of cyber warfare targeting free countries”.
In January, O’Brien asked Attorney General Paul Gallagher to create a task force of legal experts and political scientists to examine the need for new election integrity laws.
He said the group was created due to “serious concerns” about the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe and the “well-documented escalation of cyberattacks against democratic states in recent years”.
He said the task force had come up with a “comprehensive set of recommendations to build a legal and digital bulwark against malicious interference in our elections.”
This includes giving the Electoral Commission the power to issue takedown notices and real-time alerts to potential election interference during campaigns. The commission will also have an “online advisory board” of technical experts who will advise on live cyber threats during election campaigns.
The commission will also be responsible for verifying the content issued during the campaigns and will publish clarifications on any content considered to be disinformation or misinformation. A new code of conduct and legal obligations for social media companies is also being developed.
Proposed political finance laws will see tougher rules on parties receiving foreign donations. All parties must provide consolidated accounts in accordance with international standards and best accounting practices.
Party leaders will also be asked to sign statements indicating that their parties are adhering to the new political finance laws.
Mr O’Brien said the legislative amendments will include measures aimed at “full transparency on the real estate portfolio of political parties”.
Government parties have long raised questions about the number of properties owned by Sinn Féin.
“I will engage with constructive and practical suggestions to advance these goals of strengthening the defense of our democracy in the face of autocratic aggression in Europe,” O’Brien said.
“Given the urgency of the challenges, I aim, with your cooperation, to pass this legislation and set up the new electoral commission before the summer recess.”
Once established, the Electoral Commission will assume the functions of the Referendum Commission, the Registry of Political Parties, the Constituency Commission and the Local Electoral Boundaries Commissions.
It will also issue guidelines and rules on online political advertising, including requirements for parties to clearly state how ads are funded and to whom they are directed.