Credit: Gript

Ireland’s Electoral Commission will regulate political ads, says CEO

Ireland’s new Electoral Commission will be regulating political ads to ensure they don’t contain “misinformation”, the group’s CEO has said in a new interview with Newstalk.

The body was established by the Irish government in February of this year to fulfil a variety of roles, including reviewing constituency boundaries, registering political parties, and more.

However, it is also tasked with censoring alleged “misinformation” during election time.

Art O’Leary, who is chief executive of the body, discussed the matter this week during an interview on Newstalk’s “Let Me Explain” podcast with Seán Defoe.


“We do have a role in ensuring that the public have correct information,” O’Leary said.

“And our job will be, as we see it, to become a trusted source of information for individuals. So if people are hearing things that don’t sound right to them, or they don’t agree with, etcetera, they can absolutely feel free to come to us. And we’ll make ourselves available through the media, through social media online as well, to answer questions that people might have.”

He said that regulating misinformation was not a problem confined to Ireland, and that similar issues were being dealt with in other jurisdictions such as Australia.


“You know, this is something that every election management body in the world is looking at right now,” he said.

“And there are some great solutions internationally in relation to how this is managed. The Australian Electoral Electoral Commission right now is running a referendum on The Voice, which is a new voice in chamber in Parliament for indigenous peoples. And they have a disinformation register on their website, which basically says ‘Here’s a load of things that have been said about this and that are not true. Here is the actual case, etcetera.’

“So they go out of their way to highlight disinformation and misinformation as they see it, particularly around the electoral process, and they take the case for and against. So there are things like that that you can do.

“There are a number of ‘Stop and Consider’ campaigns as well so that if you hear something that really annoys you, makes you angry, or that you think not to be true, you should consider the source. You know?”


O’Leary went on to describe “pre-bunking” – the act of preemptively debunking a line of supposed misinformation by publishing a refutation before the disinformation itself is actually disseminated. In other words, priming the audience to be sceptical of the information before they hear it.

“There is a lot of people getting involved in advance “pre-bunking” of issues – that you may hear something in the future about such-and-such a thing, [and] this happens not to be true,” he said.

“And one of the Commission’s most important jobs is to become a trusted source of information, so that if people are genuinely concerned about an issue that they know where to go to get independent, impartial information.”


Asked about removing “misinformation” from social media, O’Leary said that cooperation from Big Tech companies was “essential.”

“Their cooperation is is essential here,” he said.

“You know, and I see this as a collaboration, because we do have a shared interest in ensuring the best and the correct information is on social media platforms. The legislation has some very strong powers for the chief executive, and this legislation hasn’t been commenced yet.

“But it was clearly the intention of the Oireachtas that in the event of information remaining on the social media platform, the chief executive would have powers to instruct social media companies to take down particular posts as well.”


Notably, under the Electoral Reform Act 2022, the Electoral Commission has the power to issue a “take-down notice”, a “correction notice,” a “labelling order,” and “access-blocking order,” and more. If platforms refuse to comply with these orders, the Commission can seek a High Court order forcing the company to submit by law.

“But I would very much see that as a last resort,” he said.

“I would much prefer to work with social media companies in cases where the information is egregiously wrong, or just simply factually incorrect. And if we can demonstrate that we have examined this and considered it, and presented the evidence to social media company, I’m hoping that should be sufficient in order to persuade them.”

He also said that misinformation could be highlighted even without employing the legislation in some instances.

“In the absence of the legislation, we can use our own powers, you know, use our own voice to highlight cases where we believe that misinformation and disinformation is circulating and is being taken seriously.

“Because…this definition has been developed over time now to include public harm. So if you can improve that somebody intended to manipulate public opinion and intended to cause public harm and perhaps affect the integrity of an electoral event, and then it becomes something which is very serious and which we have to take action on.”


O’Leary said that while political ads would have to show how they were funded and what audience they were targeted at, they would also be subject to misinformation rules.

“It is open to the Electoral Commission to consider whether the messaging here is disinformation or not, and just because you paid for it, doesn’t make it immune from any of the powers which might become available to the Electoral Commission as well,” he said, going on to add that the Commission was prioritising being fast in its decisions.

“One of the things that the Commission is going to have to be is flexible, and able and to react very quickly, because in the white hot heat of an election campaign which lasts three weeks, we don’t have the luxury of spending six months chin stroking, considering whether something is disinformation or not. We have to be fast. And there are sufficient safeguards built into the process…there is an appeal process to the Electoral Commission themselves. And then there’s also the possibility of judicial review.”


Gript previously revealed that a member of the Electoral Commission recently chaired a group urging the government to “counteract the spread” of “hate speech”, and was also part of a group whose explicit goal was to challenge “far-right organising.”

Last month Gript asked the Electoral Commission a series of questions at a press event, during which the group said it had “very extensive powers” to “require the correction or removal of information we believe to be incorrect” – all in an effort to “enhance democracy.” That clip can be viewed below.


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