The Irish Times view on Dáil voting: Irresponsible behaviour

The Ceann Comhairle has ordered an inquiry into electronic voting in the chamber

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has ordered an investigation into the circumstances in which Niall Collins voted six times on behalf of his front bench colleague Timmy Dooley (above) who was not in the Dáil chamber when the electronic votes were recorded last Thursday. Photograph: James Forde

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has ordered an investigation into the circumstances in which Niall Collins voted six times on behalf of his front bench colleague Timmy Dooley (above) who was not in the Dáil chamber when the electronic votes were recorded last Thursday. Photograph: James Forde

 

The irresponsible behaviour of senior members of the Fianna Fáil front bench who abused the voting system in the Dáil has created a severe embarrassment for their party leader, Micheál Martin. He has responded by suspending two of them while questions remain about the behaviour of another.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has ordered an investigation into the circumstances in which Niall Collins voted six times on behalf of his frontbench colleague Timmy Dooley who was not in the Dáil chamber when the electronic votes were recorded last Thursday.

Both men have been asked by their party leader to stand down pending the outcome of the Ceann Comhairle’s investigation. On the face of it there is no satisfactory explanation for what happened and some sort of official sanction by the Ceann Comhairle seems inevitable.

The episode highlights the need to tighten the arrangements for Dáil voting but, ultimately, any system depends on people behaving in an honest fashion

Just to compound Fianna Fáil’s embarrassment, it subsequently emerged that another frontbench member, Lisa Chambers, had pressed the voting button of party deputy leader and Mayo constituency colleague Dara Calleary who was not in the chamber either.

Chambers has insisted that her vote was inadvertent and her explanation has been accepted by Martin. She says that she thought she was sitting in her own seat when she pressed the button and mistakenly voted on Calleary’s behalf.

However, she then went to press the button on her own seat as well but did not bring the matter to the attention of the tellers. When she was asked in a radio interview on Sunday if she had ever voted for a colleague or had a colleague vote on her behalf, she replied: “No, I haven’t”.

The controversy could not have come at a worse time for Fianna Fáil. It overshadowed one of the high points in the party’s calendar on Sunday, the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown. More pertinently, it has put the party on the back foot amid continued speculation about a November general election.

There was a small crumb of comfort for Fianna Fáil with the admission by Fine Gael TDs, including Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Richard Bruton, that they may have pressed buttons for colleagues in the Dáil in the past. But they made a distinction between voting for fellow TDs who are in the chamber at the time and doing it for people who are not present.

Flanagan made the point that any law that passed on the basis of a fraudulent vote could be subject to challenge and described the event as “a really, really serious misdemeanour in our parliamentary system”.

The episode highlights the need to tighten the arrangements for Dáil voting but, ultimately, any system depends on people behaving in an honest fashion. Worse things have happened in the past but these latest events are unacceptable and guaranteed to damage public confidence in politics and politicians.

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