Scandal over Dáil voting deepens as more TDs become embroiled in controversy

Scandal over Dáil voting deepens as more TDs become embroiled in controversy

Minister of state Damien English and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen are the latest politicians to be dragged into the ‘phantom voting’ controversy.

Both have insisted they never asked anyone to vote for them when not present in the Dáil after video footage from recent weeks showed both absent on occasions when their vote button was pressed.

Their comments come after several ministers were among a host of politicians who admitted yesterday to pressing buttons on behalf of others or asking others to vote for them when in the chamber.

Other deputies have also said they may have pressed a colleague’s voting button but only when they were actually in the chamber.

Ceann comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl will convene a meeting of the business committee today to update it of his investigation before making a short statement to the Dáil before the start of Leaders’ Questions.

Electronic voting looks set to be suspended in the Dáil after widespread abuse of voting procedures in the chamber until a formal investigation is concluded.

It is understood that Mr Ó Fearghaíl’s investigation has concentrated solely on events of last Thursday but will be expanded if deemed required. Sources have said that part of the investigation is to focus on why the vote tellers during last Thursday’s eight votes did not tally the votes with the numbers of persons in the chamber.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr English confirmed that he was at the back of the chamber on Wednesday, May 15, when his button was pressed in seat C-03 in the Dáil chamber during a vote on the Greyhound Bill, but he was not in his seat.

Damien English
Damien English

The junior housing minister said he was at the back of the chamber and, as has often been the case, he “asked down for my button to be pressed”.

“My diary has me voting in the Dáil, so that means I was in the Dáil. I have never asked anyone to vote for me when I was not present,” he told this newspaper.

In a statement, Mr Cowen said similar for September 26, when two votes were cast in his assigned seat, A-15, but he was not sitting in that seat but was still in the chamber.

He told the Irish Examiner: “I have never asked a colleague to vote for me when I was not in the chamber.

As has been confirmed in the last few days, there is a known practice of members who are in the House asking colleagues to press the voting button if they are away from their seats in other parts of the chamber. There are at least four entrances to the chamber that are used frequently by all members of the house.

Barry Cowen
Barry Cowen

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has demanded a full investigation into TDs “illegally” voting for colleagues while they are physically outside the Dáil claiming some votes could be cast while politicians are out on “a skite”.

Mr Flanagan revealed that he wrote to the ceann comhairle 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.

“I’m very concerned about voting patterns which were revealed at the weekend, in reference to voting patterns of last week,” said Mr Flanagan, who also admitted that a wider review of all TDs may open a “can of worms” for his own party as much as Fianna Fáil.

However, he added: “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.”

Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokeswoman, Lisa Chambers, escaped sanction after her party leader, Micheál Martin, accepted her explanation that she made an honest mistake. A party spokesman said that Mr Martin was not going to remove her from the front bench as he did with Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins, the first TDs to be caught up in the scandal.

Ms Chambers said she did not inform the tellers after she mistakenly voted in her colleague Dara Calleary’s seat and denied ever doing that in a radio interview on Sunday.

- Additional reporting by digital desk

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