A typical Fianna Fáil scandal: A simple nod from Timmy Dooley showed how easy 'Vote-gate' was to pull off

A typical Fianna Fáil scandal: A simple nod from Timmy Dooley showed how easy 'Vote-gate' was to pull off
Timmy Dooley

As it was put to me yesterday - the Maria Bailey fiasco was such a Fine Gael type of scandal, while the 'Vote-gate' row is a classic Fianna Fáil one.

For decades, Fine Gaelers were always seen as the class prefects, the best turned out and representatives of the elite in legal, business and government circles.

Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, was the party of the bold boys, the men who used to stand at the back of mass smoking, the cute hoors who played fast and loose when it came to rules and obligations.

That is why, the video footage of Fianna Fáil TDs Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins discussing the vote in the Dail last Thursday was so typical of Fianna Fáil of old. Collins voted six times for Dooley while he was absent from the chamber during the weekly divisions.

The quick request of Dooley as he exited the chamber, met by the casual half nod to the affirmative from Collins, encapsulated how too easy it was.

The reports have opened up a hornets' nest of how votes in the Dáil are carried out. The day began with Fianna Fail's Brexit spokeswoman, Lisa Chambers, having to explain why she voted incorrectly in her constituency colleague Dara Calleary's seat but didn't tell anyone about it, and incorrectly stated she had never done anything like that on national radio.

Then we have had a plethora of admissions from ministers and TDs alike that they too have pressed the vote button for other people from time to time. Communications Minister Richard Bruton said TDs casting ballots for each other was “common practice”.

While saying a fellow TD has never voted for him when he wasn’t in the chamber, the Minister said:

If I was sitting in someone else’s chair ... and someone was sitting ... you know, I’d just say press my button, I’m here. That has become common practice. But what has gone wrong here is that people not in the chamber at all voted.

His colleague, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan made a similar admission but said he had written to Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail over what he has described as the “illegal act” of one Fianna Fáil frontbencher voting for a colleague absent from the Dáil.

The controversy over the absent votes means any law passed on the basis of a “fraudulent vote” will now be subject to challenge, the Minister of Justice said.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan

While the two TDs have been temporarily stood down from the party’s frontbench at the behest of their leader Micheál Martin, all eyes now turn to the outcome of the investigation into alleged voting irregularities by the Ceann Comhairle.

While Martin has shown considerable bravery by insisting the two men step down, he had little option. He also must be pulling his hair out.

At a time when his party was gaining momentum and looking ahead with some anticipation to the by-elections in November and/or the General Election, this episode has killed such progress.

Fine Gael has sought to make hay and its strategy is clear – attack Fianna Fáil's competence on all fronts in a bid to shore up its own position. When Fianna Fáil is gifting Fine Gael such easy wins, that job becomes all the easier.

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