Dáil voting rules to be tightened as ‘votegate’ controversy deepens
‘Very grave’ revelations ‘go to the heart of the credibility of our parliamentary process’
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said electronic votes ‘shall only be taken when all members are seated in their designated seat’
Voting rules in the Dáil are to be tightened pending the outcome of investigations into the “votegate” controversy, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has declared.
“Let no person be in any doubt that this is a very serious situation, which requires urgent action. I am absolutely committed to establish the facts and making any changes that are deemed necessary following the review,” he said.
Pending a report on the controversy surrounding Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley and, to a lesser extent, others, electronic votes “shall only be taken when all members are seated in their designated seat”, he said.
Each whip “will certify the members who voted in his or her party or group”, and this will be given to the tellers before the result is formally declared, the Ceann Comhairle went on.
He also told the House that a separate complaint had been made under the Ethics in Public Office Act. “This statutory process must take its course,” Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl’s comments came amid the growing controversy over the voting system after it emerged Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins voted for his colleague Timmy Dooley six times during the voting block last Thursday.
Amid calls from the Government side, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that the two TDs should make statements to the Dáil and answer questions during a debate on Thursday, the Ceann Comhairle reminded TDs that, under the Constitution, the only questions that could be put in the House are questions to member of Government.
“There is no structure where we can interrogate individual deputies,” he said.
Mr Varadkar later told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who raised the issue, that if a voter voted twice in an election, “that would be a crime.”
However, he said “there is a world of a difference in being present but not in your seat” and voting for someone who is absent.
Ms McDonald asked if it was an isolated incident or was there some implicit or explicit pattern at play among some TDs .
The Taoiseach said he could not speak for Fianna Fáil or any TD, but “we should allow those investigations to take place”.
He added that “people need to know that the system is robust and valid” and that “there will be a report”.
The Ceann Comhairle said: “These revelations are very grave and go to the heart of the credibility of our parliamentary process.
“The integrity of the voting system is of the utmost importance,” and the public must have trust in the system.
He had directed the clerk of the Dáil to prepare an urgent report to establish the facts of what transpired.
The electronic voting system is integral to to our parliamentary voting system and has been since 2001
“Work is well under way,” he said. The clerk had been requested to speak to a number of members, to tellers and to the party and group whips.
The Committee on Procedure would consider any recommendation that may be required on the electronic voting system, he added.
“The electronic voting system is integral to to our parliamentary voting system and has been since 2001.” He said “any recommendations will be given immediate attention”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin welcomed the Ceann Comhairle’s remarks and inquiry.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was an issue of the utmost importance.