Dáil e-voting scandal: call for penalties for TDs who abuse system

Introduction of thumbprint verification suggested to safeguard integrity of system

Timmy Dooley, who with Niall Collins has stood down from the party’s frontbench pending the outcome of an investigation. Photograph: James Forde

Timmy Dooley, who with Niall Collins has stood down from the party’s frontbench pending the outcome of an investigation. Photograph: James Forde

 

Penalties should be introduced for TDs who abuse the electronic voting system in the Dáil and a new system of verifying votes should be introduced, a number of current and former politicians have said.

The comments come as a large number of TDs and Ministers admitted to voting for colleagues who were in the Dáil chamber but could not get to their seats.

Senior Fianna Fáil TDs Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins have stood down from the party’s frontbench at the request of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, pending the outcome of an investigation by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl into alleged voting irregularities.

The move came after revelations that Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins voted six times for party colleague Timmy Dooley while he was absent from the chamber during the weekly bloc voting session on Thursday.

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said the Ceann Comhairle was likely to clamp down on the regular practice of TDs pressing the voting button for party colleagues even though they were present. He acknowledged that voting for a colleague who is in the room is “probably not the most advisable practice”.

Mr Brophy said, however, that on the other hand it was “morally and ethically wrong to vote for someone who is not in the chamber” and penalties should be introduced because it is a “complete abuse of trust”.

Thumbprint verification

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 abused the system “because we didn’t think people would be that foolish”. He said a new system using thumbprint verification should be considered.

“Did we foresee the sort of scenario happening now? No, because we didn’t think people would be that foolish. Invariably you are going to be caught if you do that.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said an ID card could be used in future votes. “I take this whole thing very seriously. We are talking about the integrity of the voting system; it is very important. The whole system has been cheapened.” He said he had seen TDs voting for colleagues who were in the room and that he regarded that “as a different issue”.

“It would happen. I haven’t done it, but it sometimes happens when TD wants to have the ear of a minister.”

He said it would be a “good idea” to have a voting system that would be activated with a swipe card or some similar form of identification.

Unanswered questions

The Irish Times submitted a list of questions to the Oireachtas on the integrity of the Dáil electronic voting system. However, the Oireachtas has said it will not comment on the matter until the outcome of the investigation is known.

It is understood that the clerk may report to Mr Ó Fearghaíl within a week and that the matter will then be passed on to the Committee for Procedures and Privileges, the supreme forum for disciplinary matters in the Dáil.

Electronic voting was introduced in the Dáil in 2001. This is the first time an incident has emerged to raise questions about the integrity of the system. The Irish Times understands that no audit or comprehensive review has been conducted on the efficacy of the system during the past 17 years.

There is no specific reference to rule around electronic voting in the Constitution, in the Dáil Standing Orders, or in members’ booklets. The core requirement is that TDs are “present and voting”.