All you need to know about Dáil electronic voting
Expenses are not contingent on being present for votes as an allowance is paid for attendance
Protocols for voting are set out in the handbook that each new TD receives when elected to the Dáil. File photograph: The Irish Times
What’s the story with Dáil electronic voting?
TDs vote by electronic means and press a Tá (for Yes) or Nil (for No) with the appropriate green or red button on the bench in front of them. There is also a blue button for Staon (Abstain).
Each member has a designated seat from which they vote and a large screen at the front of the chamber, which is also shown on TV monitors, displays each red green and blue vote as a dot.
The electronic system is used for the majority of votes but not when a government and ministers are being voted on. This requires TDs to walk through the voting lobbies.
A walk-through vote takes about 20 minutes while the first electronic vote of a sitting takes 12 minutes, allowing time for TDs to get to the chamber, with subsequent votes quicker.
Every Thursday at lunchtime there is a block voting session when TDs vote on private members’ motions and on legislation.
What happened on Thursday with Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley?
Eight votes were taken on Thursday: three on a Green Party motion about afforestation; four on a Sinn Féin motion about the living wage; and one on a Fianna Fáil motion about electric scooters. Mr Dooley was absent for all eight votes but was registered as having voted six times. The Oireachtas video shows him in the chamber just before the voting commenced, talking to an official and then to party colleague Niall Collins before leaving.
What did he say happened?
When asked about the issue by the Irish Independent on Friday, Mr Dooley replied “there must have been a mistake or something” and “I don’t know anything about it”. On Saturday he told The Irish Times that he “left the chamber to take a phone call. I was made aware yesterday that my vote was recorded . . . I understand from Niall Collins, that under the mistaken belief that I was at the back of the chamber on the phone, he pressed my voting button.”
Mr Dooley said he spoke to the Ceann Comhairle to explain and apologise.
What did Mr Collins say?
He confirmed he voted for Mr Dooley on six occasions last Thursday and that he did so without being asked.
“I thought he was up the back of the chamber, in the lobby, on the phone up there. But when I checked it with him he had actually exited the chamber.”
Mr Collins said he was not asked by Mr Dooley to vote for him.
Are TDs allowed to vote for each other?
TDs vote for each other if they have moved from their assigned seat to speak to another member and will ask a colleague to press the button on their bench. Sometimes TDs go to the back of the chamber to take a phone call and will ask someone in their row to press the button. The protocols for voting are set out in the handbook that each new TD receives when elected to the Dáil.
What happens now
The Ceann Comhairle has asked the clerk of the Dáil to prepare a report on the conduct of the votes. The final sanction will be determined on the outcome of the report by the Ceann Comhairle but Mr Dooley and Mr Collins have been asked by party leader Micheál Martin to step down from the Fianna Fáil front bench without prejudice.
Are expenses contingent on being present for votes?
No. TDs are required to sign in daily and do so electronically by pressing a fob against any of several devices on walls at various locations around Leinster House. A daily allowance is paid for attendance.
Do TDs often vote for each other when someone is absent from the House?
Mr Martin said that the practice is not commonplace. Public Accounts Committee chairman Seán Fleming, a Fianna Fáil TD, said he had “never seen it happen”. He said TDs from all parties can see on the screen how everyone is voting and who is absent.
What can be done to prevent it happening again?
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said that in the European Parliament MEPs have to insert an identity card before they can vote electronically at their assigned seat. This option was considered but dismissed for the Dáil on the grounds that TDs might lose their ID cards. It may be that in future TDs will have to remain in their assigned seat for the duration of the voting bloc and be permitted to press only their own button.