MICHEAL Martin has instructed Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins to stand down from Fianna Fail’s frontbench pending outcome of Ceann Comhairle’s investigations into a Dail voting controversy.
Mr Martin said he did not believe the behaviour was acceptable and he agreed with the Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail on the importance of the integrity of the voting process.
He said he had spoken to the two TDs this morning and asked them without prejudice to step down from the Fianna Fáil frontbench.
“No, I don’t think it’s acceptable. I think I agree with the Ceann Comhairle that the integrity of the voting situation in Dáil Éireann is of the utmost importance be protected and must be respected at all times.
“I spoke the both deputies this morning. And I asked them without prejudice and pending the outcome of the report that the Ceann comhairle has initiated into this, that they would step down from the Fianna Fail bench, and they both agreed to do that.
“And I think that I think underlines the seriousness with which I take this issue. I think it’s important that the Ceann Comhairle inquiry now gets underway.
“And they’re both assured me that they will cooperate fully with the Ceann Comhairle in relation to this.”
Mr Collins was in Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen’s assigned seat in the Dáil chamber when he was pressing Mr Dooley’s voting button.
Mr Cowen was asked about the seats being swapped when he was on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics today.
He replied: “When I came in Niall was in my seat and I just beside him and we voted away, as we always do.”
Mr Cowen was asked if he thought Mr Dooley was in the chamber.
He said: “I didn’t know whether he was or wasn’t. It wasn’t of my concern, to be quite honest, and it wasn’t as if the vote was hanging or weighing on one particular vote to win or lose.”
Mr Cowen also said the “integrity the voting system has be challenged” and “question marks arise out of what has occurred.”
He said the Ceann Comhairle has started a “fullsome” investigation “and whatever emanates from that will have to be accepted by all concerned.”
The investigation was launched after the Irish Independent revealed that Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley was recorded as voting on legislation six times despite not being in the Dail chamber.
Yesterday Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Ceann Comhairle must “act swiftly and decisively to protect the integrity of the parliamentary voting system”.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that she s confident that none of the TDs in her party have engaged in absentee voting.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Radio One This Week programme, Ms McDonald called for a full investigation into the incident.
“I’ve written to the Ceann Comhairle, I think he needs to do a full investigation now of the Dáil and the Seanad and we need to establish is it the case that people that are not in the Dail chamber have votes cast for them by others,” she said.
“If that’s the case, thats a huge breach.”
“In real jobs, in the real world, if somebody was to engage in falsification or fraudulent behaviour like that, they would be sacked,” she added.
She said that “getting your friend to vote for you” is not appropriate behaviour by a TD.
“I want to see first of all what’s going on here and I think in circumstances where you leave the chamber and you get your friend to vote for you on your behalf, I don’t think that’s appropriate behaviour by a TD,” she said.
The Sinn Féin leader criticised Fianna Fáil’s handling of the situation.
“This isn’t a very political matter for me, I think what has transpired is deeply worrying.
“But the fact that FF members seem to think that it was really no big deal and that they assert that this happens all the time is even more worrying for me,” she said.
“Those who understand how the Dáil works would understand that that takes about an hour in real time, the fact that that happened is shocking and that needs to be investigated,” added Deputy McDonald.
The minister’s comments came as Mr Collins admitted he voted on behalf of Mr Dooley last Thursday and claimed he did so without his colleague’s prior consent. Mr Collins said he registered the vote as he believed Mr Dooley was still in the chamber but had stepped away from his seat.
However, on Friday, when asked if he voted for his colleague, Mr Collins said he had “no idea”.
Yesterday when asked by the Irish Times if he was allowed to vote for another TD, Mr Collins said: “I don’t know the answer to that.”
The Fianna Fail foreign affairs spokesperson reportedly added: “It’s not commonplace, but often someone might be taking a phone call or somebody might be having a conversation at the other side of the chamber and you might say to somebody ‘press the button’, or they might be sitting in the wrong seat.”
Mr Collins did not respond to requests for comment and Fianna Fail also said it would not be commenting as an investigation into the matter had been launched.
Mr Dooley, Fianna Fail’s communications spokesperson, also did not respond when asked if it was his view that TDs often vote on behalf of colleagues.
A Fianna Fail source said TDs occasionally vote for each other if they are sitting in the wrong seat or are otherwise preoccupied in the Dail chamber.
Yesterday Mr Dooley issued as statement claiming his colleague voted for him “under the mistaken belief” that he was “at the back of the chamber on the phone” when the vote was taken.
“I have spoken to the Ceann Comhairle today, to explain what happened and apologise for the misunderstanding,” he said.
Video footage of the Dail chamber at around the time Mr Collins voted for his colleague shows he himself was taking a phone call while sitting in his own seat.
Mr Dooley’s vote was recorded in the first six of a series of eight votes on Thursday including votes on amendments to a Green Party motion on forestry and a Sinn Fein motion on the living wage.
The last vote was on a Fianna Fail Bill relating to the regulation of e-scooters. However, Mr Dooley was not recorded as having voted in relation to his own party’s Bill.
In a statement, Mr O Fearghail said the “integrity” of the voting system in the Dail was of the “utmost importance”.
“As Ceann Comhairle, I have a duty to ensure that the public can have total confidence in the Dail proceedings,” he said.
“Further to media reports on votes in the Dail last Thursday, October 17 , I have asked the clerk of the Dail to prepare a vote on the conduct of the vote for my urgent attention.”
Mr Flanagan said he had asked the electronics company that maintains the voting system to carry out an urgent examination of Mr Dooley’s voting station.
“Detailed statements should be taken from voting deputies nearby and the Fianna Fail whip and Fianna Fail TDs should co-operate fully with the investigation,” Mr Flanagan said.
“The Ceann Comhairle should make a formal opening statement to the house announcing the investigation at commencement of business on Tuesday.”
Fine Gael TD Noel Rock also called for a thorough investigation into what he called “the damaging practice of phantom votes”.
In a letter to the Ceann Comhairle, he said the matter should be referred to the Dail Committee on Members’ Interests for investigation.
Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said video footage showed there was “clear communication” between Mr Dooley and Mr Collins before the vote and called on the TDs to reveal what was said.
More to follow…