Fianna Fáil smarting from voting scandal so close to an election vote

We’ve learned in the past few days that all sides have engaged in button pushing for colleagues during Dáil votes, says Alison O’Connor.

Timmy Dooley’s Dáil voting antics have cast a shadow over Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s sterling reputation. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins
Timmy Dooley’s Dáil voting antics have cast a shadow over Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s sterling reputation. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

IF OUR domestic politics was consumed by buttons this week the biggest one that was pressed, and the one that caused the greatest pain, was the one labelled “hookey”.

Those who are responsible for this button try to keep it hidden at all times. They would go so far as to even deny its existence. But no one has really forgotten that it is there. 

That’s why Fianna Fáil have been so wounded and irate this week — it’s one thing to become entangled in a controversy over voting, but quite another to have the episode serve as an ill-timed reminder of suspicions about what this party gets up to when it is believed no one is looking.

Actually there is the interesting situation now where the party leader Micheál Martin has a sterling reputation, despite having been a member of the Fianna Fáil cabinet associated with the economic crash. 

But what #Votegate has brought to the surface, and what political enemies have been quick to seize on and magnify, is the sense that general Fianna Fáil hookiness lurks just beneath the surface. Given the correct circumstances it simply cannot help itself.

It’s hard to imagine green tea-drinking Micheál Martin engaging in shady behaviour but it’s all too plausible to imagine Timmy Dooley asking party colleague Niall Collins to knock in an entire series of electronic votes on his behalf, when he was not even present in the Dáil chamber. 

Then you look at the short video footage showing the exchange between the two men, prior to the casting of those votes, and it’s all too easy to imagine this was not the first time it had happened either.

The Clare man had the briefest of words with the Limerick man before he walked out the door onto the corridors of Leinster House.

Now most people, in all likelihood, will not be all that surprised by this behaviour from Fianna Fáil. In fact, depending on the mood, many have been known to show a slight admiration for some of the shifty FF moves of the past; a particularly Irish response where we admire those who manage not to get caught, and provide a particular understanding when they do. 

But then the “joke” goes too far, such as in the event of the economic collapse. Then we turn viciously on the party which we had previously kept re-electing.

Under the leadership and good judgement of Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil has actually made a remarkable recovery from all that nastiness to a point where it is seen as having a really good shot of possibly landing back in government shortly.

But the closeness of this voting scandal to a general election vote is exactly why it is smarting so bloody much right now. It is also why Fine Gael have sunk its teeth into it as an issue and are refusing to let go. We’ve learned in the past few days that all sides have engaged in button pushing for colleagues during Dáil votes. 

Fianna Fáil smarting from voting scandal so close to an election vote

This is disturbing to hear when regarding the integrity of the voting process. There is a significant difference between casting a vote on someone’s else’s behalf when they are present in the Dáil chamber and those not physically present.

Consider a situation where a deputy had been recorded voting a certain way in a controversial vote, who could subsequently say that actually some other TD had cast that vote and not them? A tightening up is definitely needed.

Both sides have been guilty of turning this into a bit of a schoolyard drama. It is almost comedic to imagine Fianna Fáilers, munching on pizza through the night, as they watched hours of Dáil voting footage trying to draw Fine Gael in to the mire along with them.

There were strong elements of this particular drama acting as a kind of proxy for a general election campaign. Fine Gael feel they have a definite edge of the oul’ enemy.

The episode does get to the heart of the tactics we are going to see from the government party in the general election campaign, against the party which has kept it in power since 2016. There will be no opportunity wasted to remind people of “what Fianna Fáil did to the country”.

You’ll have heard it already, the attacks intensifying over recent months. You’ll also have heard what is shaping up to be the standard Fianna Fáil response which, when you’ve heard it often enough, from enough different party members, you wonder was it learnt off at some sort of training session.

The most recent example I heard was on Radio 1’s Late Debate last week. 

Louth and East Meath TD Declan Breathnach explained the reason Fianna Fáil had been rising slowly in the polls was that the party had taken a responsible attitude to the major issues of the day; that it saw the need to form a government in 2016 “when others sat on their hands for 70 days”. 

Then there is the final section, made up of the nostra culpa, thrown in offensively ahead of the opposition trying to do it first. Note how it serves to admit error, draw others in to also making errors, and that it should be, as far as FF is concerned, all now consigned to the past.

“We have to accept we made mistakes, as many did in the past, and that is two governments ago, I might remind you,” said Deputy Breathnach.

A CERTAIN degree of piety has entered the Fianna Fáil tone in recent times with that well-rehearsed “mistakes” contribution, being joined by lines about the party’s enormous role in the confidence and supply arrangement and the security it provided to the country.

To be fair this is the way of political parties, most particularly when they are just about to face the electorate. We will be hearing a lot more of it between now and voting day.

It will be really interesting to watch how well Fine Gael manage not just to remind people of Fianna Fáil’s role in our economic meltdown, but how credible they manage to make their warnings that the party would do just the same if in Government again.

There is no doubt but Fianna Fáil will fight back. But this week’s button war did the party no favours.

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