YOU would know there’s a general election in the air, because TDs’ attendance for votes in the Dáil has dropped significantly in recent months.
On average, 43% of TDs have failed to show up for each division in the Dáil chamber, since they returned to Leinster House after the summer holidays, last September.
An analysis by the Irish Examiner of the voting record of all 166 outgoing TDs, over the lifetime of the current Dáil, shows that an increasing number of deputies is less likely to turn up for votes with every year that passes since they were elected in 2011.
The absentee rate from Dáil votes has risen consistently, from just 21.5%, in 2011, to 39.9%, in 2015.
Since they returned after the Christmas holidays, approximately half of all TDs have failed to cast a vote for each of the 23 divisions called in January, with the Dáil sometimes struggling to find a quorum of 20 deputies.
Over the six sitting days of the Dáil in January, nine TDs have failed to show up for any vote: independent TDs, Michael Lowry and Eamonn Maloney; Renua Ireland leader, Lucinda Creighton and her party colleague, Billy Timmins; Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea; Labour TDs, Eamon Gilmore and Willie Penrose, and Fine Gael TDs, James Bannon and Tony McLoughlin.
In contrast, seven TDs had a perfect attendance record over the same period, despite the impending election: the Government chief whip, Paul Kehoe, and Fine Gael deputies, Dinny McGinley, Jim Daly, Joe Carey and Derek Keating, and Labour TDs, Emmet Stagg and Robert Dowds.
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Even allowing for TDs having switched to election mode since the Christmas break, the attendance record of many has waned considerably since last summer, with 62 TDs failing to show up for more than half of all votes.
Since September, former Labour, and now independent, TD for Dublin South West, Eamonn Maloney, has missed 96% of votes, followed by former tánaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, who has missed 95% of votes.
Another independent TD, Michael Lowry, didn’t cast a vote in 93% of Dáil divisions over the same period.
Over the lifetime of the current Dáil, the controversial Tipperary TD has missed more votes than any other politician, with the exception of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose absence from the chamber is excused because of government business. Mr Lowry has recorded a non-attendance rate of almost three out of every four votes since 2011.
The three Renua TDs — Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan and Billy Timmins — have each been absent for over 80% of votes since last autumn.
Another of the country’s newest political parties, the Social Democrats, also has one of the poorest attendance rates. Its three TDs collectively missed 57.5% of all votes.
Of the four larger parties, Sinn Féin TDs are the most regular voters in the Dáil, being absent for just 22% of all votes over the lifetime of the current administration.
At 29%, Fine Gael’s absentee rate was marginally better than its coalition partner, Labour, whose TDs missed 31% of all votes. Fianna Fáil deputies failed to show up for 38% of votes, on average, with the figure rising to 49% last year.
TDs who served the full term of the 31st Dáil have been eligible to cast a vote on 959 occasions over the past five years.
Unlike in previous parliaments, no arrangement existed, in the outgoing Dáil, whereby opposition parties offered Government ministers and TDs a “pair” to facilitate anyone away on official State business, because of the size of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition majority.
Government backbenchers know they face little sanction from party whips if they skip a vote, because the Government’s majority is assured.
The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett only casts a vote in the event of a tie.
The best attendance rate in the past five years was recorded by Cork South Central TD, Jerry Buttimer, who missed less than 4% of all votes, narrowly ahead of his Fine Gael colleague from Galway, Seán Kyne, who missed just under 5% of votes.
Other TDs who were diligent for the vast majority of votes include Sinn Féin’s Sandra McLellan, Fine Gael TDs Joe Carey, Bernard Durkan, and Dan Neville, and Labour’s Seán Kenny.
Commenting on the figures, David Farrell, professor of politics at UCD, said they provided more evidence of the weakness of the Dáil and how it was treated as an irrelevancy by many politicians.
“It’s unfortunate, but unsurprising. So much of what is wrong with our political system is based on the lack of accountability of the Government,” said Prof Farrell.
He claimed the increasing absentee rate by most TDs showed their frustration at how the Dáil just “rubber-stamped” Government decisions.