Pushing buttons in Dáil Éireann

 

Sir, – In his piece on the Dáil voting controversy, the former clerk of Dáil Éireann Kieran Coughlan says that “the practice has grown where members are recorded as voting and, though present, are not in their designated seats – in breach of Dáil standing orders” (Opinion & Analysis, October 24th).

In fact, the Dáil’s “Standing Orders Relative to Public Business”, which were last updated in January of this year, are entirely silent on the matter of designated seating and on the mechanics of electronic voting more generally.

While at first this may seem like an oversight on the part of those who drafted the standing orders, it is more likely that they presumed – not unreasonably – that professional politicians would not need to be specifically told that they shouldn’t vote twice.

How wrong they were.

The only formal written guidance which exists in relation to designated seating appears in an internal Leinster House document Handbook of General Information for Members of Dáil Éireann, which states that, “when the House divides, the item of business to be voted on and the names of the Tellers will be displayed on a large display board in the Chamber. Each Member has a designated seat.”

This may be the document to which Mr Coughlan is referring, however it doesn’t appear to have any particular legal status other than as an informal guide for TDs and their staff.

The fact remains however, as pointed out by Mr Coughlan and by Senator Michael McDowell (Opinion & Analysis, October 23rd), any gaps in the standing orders or any other informal guide are largely irrelevant, given the specific requirement of Article 15.11 of the Constitution that Dáil votes are to be decided by its members who are “present and voting”. Put simply, any TD seeking to vote on behalf of a colleague, even if they are in the chamber, is openly undermining the Constitutional role of the Dáil.

In view of this, the continuing attempts by TDs of all parties to defend this practice is nothing short of outrageous. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

A chara, – In the October 2002 Nice referendum I cast my vote using an electronic voting machine. Dublin Mid-West was one of seven constituencies used as a trial for electronic voting.

I entered the voting booth with my two-year-old daughter and a Yorkshire terrier.

As we left the voting station, I was congratulated on casting my first electronic vote.

I remarked that while three of us entered the voting booth only one of us had voted.

That was our last time to vote electronically. – Is mise,

DERMOT O’ROURKE,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – A simple solution to the recent infantile Dáil voting debacle would be that TDs be locked into the chamber as already happens but also then locked into their seats until all voting has been completed. – Yours, etc,

RONAN MURPHY,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – With the upcoming Christmas Dáil recess and the pantomime season fast approaching, perhaps some of our TDs might consider auditioning for the part of Buttons in Cinderella.

After all, “acting” in good faith and fairytales seem to go hand in hand in some quarters. – Yours, etc,

HUGH HANNON,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In pushing the buttons of phantom TDs in the empty seats beside them, the offending politicians have also managed to push mine. – Yours, etc,

EMER HUGHES,

Moate,

Co Westmeath.