Two Fianna Fáil TDs at the centre of a voting controversy have been accused of carrying out a “premeditated assault” on the democratic process.
Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins have both stepped down from the Fianna Fáil front bench over the issue pending an inquiry by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Footage from proceedings in the Dáil chamber last Thursday shows Fianna Fáil Mr Dooley appearing to briefly speak with his colleague Mr Collins before motioning toward his voting button ahead of his absence during votes.
Even though he was not present, Mr Dooley’s vote was recorded on six occasions.
Reacting, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said: “It is extremely difficult to imagine an issue more grave in terms of the integrity of our democratic process. This appears to be a premeditated assault on that integrity.”
He said the people of Clare who elected Mr Dooley must now feel “short-changed” that their TD “contracted out” his responsibility to a “third party”.
Mr Creed said demoting both men was the “minimum” he would have expected from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin as one of the “great privileges” as an elected representative is to have the right to vote in the Dáil.
Health Minister Simon Harris also rowed into the debate claiming the excuses given by both TDs were in the “dog ate my homework territory” and called on them to make statements and answer questions when the Dáil returns on Tuesday.
Mr Martin said it is “not acceptable” that a TD would ask another politician to vote on their behalf.
But speaking at the Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Co Kildare, Mr Martin said Fine Gael also “should be careful” and referenced the controversy surrounding Maria Bailey’s personal injuries claim.
I think we’ve learned from Fine Gael’s internal inquiry into the Maria Bailey case how limited and how unsatisfactory an internal review can be by a political party.
"It can lack transparency and lack the necessary full candour that investigations like this require,” he said welcoming the fact that the Ceann Comhairle would carry out an independent examination of the matter.
While some votes are still done via a traditional ‘walk through’, most are now carried out electronically, meaning TDs can press a ‘Tá’ or ‘Níl’ button on their allocated seats.
Fine Gael’s parliamentary party chairman, Martin Heydon, last night called for Fianna Fáil to urgently clarify 14 listed questions which he said still remain.
He said there are questions around when Mr Dooley first realised his colleague had voted on his behalf and whether he asked other TDs to vote for him.