Justice Minister calls for full investigation into 'illegal act' of TDs voting for absent colleagues

Justice Minister calls for full investigation into 'illegal act' of TDs voting for absent colleagues

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has insisted a full investigation into the "illegal act" of TDs voting for colleagues while they are physically absent is needed - claiming some votes could be cast while TDs are out on "a skite".

Mr Flanagan confirmed he wrote to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl over the weekend seeking the investigation as he suggested a wider review of all TDs - and not just those caught up in the current furore - is needed.

On Saturday, it emerged Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins voted six times for party colleague Timmy Dooley while Mr Dooley was absent from the chamber during weekly votes on Thursday.

Both Mr Collins and Mr Dooley have since been suspended from the party frontbench by Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, pending an investigation by Mr Ó Fearghaíl into what happened.

This morning, it emerged that Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers had also voted on behalf of colleague Dara Calleary while Mr Calleary was in the chamber.

Mr Flanagan confirmed he has voted on behalf of some colleagues in this second circumstance as well, but said this is allowed for under Dáil rules if someone is physically in the chamber when it is locked for votes.

This means the issue affecting Ms Chambers and Mr Flanagan is different to that facing Mr Collins and Mr Dooley.

At a Halloween fireworks safety event in Dublin, Mr Flanagan said in light of the weekend revelations he has written to Mr Ó Fearghaíl seeking a full investigation into what happened.

"I would [like to see a tightening of Dáil regulations]," he said. "I'm very concerned about voting patterns which were revealed at the weekend, in particular reference to voting patterns of last week.

"I believe it's important therefore that there be an independent assessment under the auspices of the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil.

"He's the protector of members interests, the guardian of the rules and standing orders, and I believe it's important that investigation can get underway and that report be published at the earliest opportunity.

"I was in touch with the Ceann Comhairle at the weekend, he indicated to me in writing that he is having an investigation and that he will be prepared to publish that report at an early date."

Asked if an investigation into all TDs should take place, Mr Flanagan said "Well I haven't seen the terms of reference of the Ceann Comhairle's review, but he indicated to me he is going to conduct an investigation, I would be very happy to talk to him about that.

"As a former chief whip myself I believe it's important the practice and procedure of the house in terms of voting that only those votes are counted. That goes to the essence of the constitutional requirement of Dáil Éireann."

Asked if all TDs should clarify if they ever voted for a colleague, and what the circumstances of the situation involved, Mr Flanagan said: "that would take its course in the context of the Ceann Comhairle's examination".

Pushed on the issue, he said: "I'm sure they will do in due course having regard for the seriousness of the situation."

Mr Flanagan said there is no reason for him to apologise for voting for another TD who was physically in the Dáil chamber at the time, saying: "No, it's not a question of jumping around seats, there are occasions when people are sitting in the Taoiseach's seat.

"If it takes a moment or two to get across to their own seat, in circumstances like that the issue is ensuring that when the vote is called and taking place that everybody who is entitled to vote are sitting firmly in their own seats and not anywhere else."

Mr Flanagan said when asked if a wider review of all TDs may open a can of worms for his own party as much as Fianna Fáil that "that's a matter for themselves [his party colleagues]… I think the issue is the illegal nature and the unlawful act of proxy voting which is a really serious misdemeanour in our parliamentary system".

He added when asked if a number of laws may be affected: "Well we're in a minority government situation, we've had some tight votes, I've had a number of tight votes myself in the justice department, where an amendment may be carried by one vote or by the casting vote of a Ceann Comhairle.

"And it's absolutely essential therefore that there be an examination of voting practices to ensure any votes are done so by those in the chamber and not by anybody who may be off on a skite."

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