Barry Cowen insists he was present when vote was cast

TDs from across political spectrum admit to voting for colleagues not in designated seats

Barry Cowen TD. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Barry Cowen TD. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has insisted he never asked a colleague to vote for him when he was not in the Dáil chamber after video footage showed an electronic vote being cast in his name, and then him entering the chamber some minutes later.

The Offaly TD suggested he could have left and entered the chamber after the vote on September 26th.

“As has been confirmed in the last few days , there is a known practice of members who are in the House asking colleagues to press the voting button if they are away from their seats in other parts of the chamber,” Mr Cowen said in a statement.

“There are at least four entrances to the Chamber that are used frequently by all members of the House.”

Fine Gael Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring has also refuted any suggestion he was not present in the chamber for a vote on a motion on housing in October last year.

Footage from the debate shows Mr Ring’s seat vacant immediately after the electronic vote. However, Mr Ring said he was always present for votes.

“If the vote was cast in my name I was there and that’s that,” he said, adding that it was often his practice when talking to a colleague at the back of the chamber to walk down to his front-row seat to press the button and then return to where he had been.

The Fine Gael Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has also denied being absent for a vote in January of this year which he is recorded as being present for.

In videos, he is not at his seat around the time of a vote on cycling and rural crime on January 17th.

“I was present and voted. In the shot, I’m out of camera but I am in the chamber. You can clearly see my Minister’s folder remains at my seat and it’s never out of my sight when I’m in the chamber,” Mr Murphy said tonight.

TDs from across the political spectrum have admitted to voting for colleagues who were present in the chamber but not in their designated seats.

Deputies including Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughten, Peter Burke and Fergus O’Dowd, Fianna Fail’s Anne Rabbitte and James Lawless, as well as Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, said they may have pressed a colleague’s voting button but only when they were actually in the chamber.

The controversy over Dáil voting deepened as Ministers also disclosed they voted for colleagues, although no further TDs have come forward to say they voted for absent representatives.

Fine Gael Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development Damien English has tonight categorically denied a vote was cast on his behalf when he was not present in the chamber.

Video footage of the debate on the Greyhound Racing Bill in May shows that Mr English was not in his designated seat when he voted on an amendment to the Bill.

However, Mr English told The Irish Times that he was in the chamber at the time and had asked a colleague to press the button on his behalf, a widespread practice among politicians.

“I have never in my life had a vote taken in my name when I have not been in the Dáil. Nor have I asked anyone to vote for me when I wasn’t in the chamber.

“I have not seen the video footage but I have in the past asked colleagues to vote for me when I have been in the chamber, as many others have done.

“I could have been at the back talking. I have on occasion been up the back talking to colleagues when we are waiting for the division.

“If the vote is in my name, you can take it I was in the Dáil for it,” he said.

It has been revealed that Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins voted six times for party colleague Timmy Dooley while he was absent from the chamber during the weekly block voting session last Thursday.

The two senior TDs stood down from the party’s frontbench at the request of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged voting irregularities by Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has written to the Ceann Comhairle over what he has described as the “illegal act” of a Fianna Fáil frontbencher voting for a colleague absent from the Dáil.

Mr Flanagan declined to apologise for having voted for other colleagues himself while in the chamber.

Minister for Communications, Climate and Environment Richard Bruton said TDs casting ballots for each other was “common practice”.

While saying a fellow TD has never voted for him when he wasn’t in the chamber, the Minister said: “If I was sitting in someone else’s chair...and someone was sitting ... you know, I’d just say press my button, I’m here. That has become common practice. But what has gone wrong here is that people not in the chamber at all voted.”

Also on Monday Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers said she mistakenly sat in her colleague and party deputy leader Dara Calleary’s seat last Thursday for one vote and moved to her own seat for the same vote as soon as she realised.

The party’s Brexit spokeswoman said she denied over the weekend ever having voted for anyone else, or asking anyone to vote for her, because she took that to mean that she “intentionally, knowingly, purposely” done so.

Ms Chambers said Mr Martin accepted her explanation of how she voted for a party colleague in the Dáil. She said she does not expect to be suspended from her front bench role - like party colleagues Mr Dooley and Mr Collins - because “what happened to me is very different.”.

“What happened with me was an honest genuine mistake,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Meanwhile, Mr Burke said he would have voted for a colleague, but “they’ve always been right beside me, or in my eyeline.”

Mr O’Dowd said he has never voted for anyone who was not present in the chamber, but said he “very rarely” would have voted for a TD inside the room.

“I have very rarely voted on a request for a TD inside the closed doors of the Dáil chamber, but in conversation with [an]other member and not immediately beside their own seat but who remained at all times inside Dáil chamber.”

Ms Naughten said she “never voted for anyone who was outside the chamber, ever. I have very occasionally voted for a colleague in the chamber who couldn’t get to their seat.”

Ms O’Reilly said she believed she had voted twice for a colleague who could not get to their seat because they may have been on the phone or talking to another politician away from their designated seat. She said she would “never, ever” cast a vote for someone who was not in the room.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin called for the use of individual swipe cards in future.

Former Green Party leader John Gormley, who was one of the whips who originally oversaw the full introduction of e-voting in the Dáil in 2002, said they did not factor in potential penalties for TDs who abuse the system “because we didn’t think people would be that foolish.” He said a new system whereby a thumbprint is used to vote should be considered.