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Dáil's legal adviser drafted in to quiz TDs over Votegate

Fianna Fáil is anxiously waiting for report on senior TDs after probe as fate of ministers hangs in balance

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Deputies Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley. Picture: Tom Burke

Deputies Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley. Picture: Tom Burke

Deputies Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley. Picture: Tom Burke

The Dáil's most senior legal adviser was drafted in to oversee meetings with the TDs caught up in the 'phantom voting' scandal.

Fianna Fáil is anxiously waiting a report by Clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan into last week's highly controversial voting session.

The Oireachtas chief parliamentary legal adviser Mellissa English has been sitting in on meetings with TDs due to the seriousness of the matter.

The probe was launched after the Irish Independent revealed senior TD Timmy Dooley's vote was recorded six times despite his absence from the chamber. Niall Collins later admitted he had pressed Mr Dooley's voting button.

Fianna Fáil colleagues don't believe the pair will be returned to the front bench. Party leader Micheál Martin is expected to consider removing the whip from the two TDs for a period if there is adverse findings in Mr Finnegan's report.

This would be seen as a serious blow for Mr Dooley and Mr Collins as they would have expected to be key members of the cabinet should Fianna Fáil win the next election.

Mayo TDs Lisa Chambers and Dara Calleary - Fianna Fáil's deputy leader - have also been quizzed by Mr Finnegan. It comes after Ms Chambers recorded a vote in Mr Calleary's Dáil seat while he wasn't present without correcting the record last Thursday.

The Votegate revelations have sparked a massive row between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Claims and counter claims have dragged in other TDs and ministers whose votes were recorded by colleagues while they were away from their Dáil seats.

At a private Fine Gael meeting last night Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the voting scandal was "very serious" and claimed Fianna Fáil was "muddying the waters" by making claims about ministers like Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty, who deny voting improperly.

Mr Martin meanwhile, will today begin to consider the fate of Mr Dooley and Mr Collins after he has received a copy of the report.

He asked them to step aside from the front bench pending the outcome of the investigation ordered by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Mr Finnegan is to deliver his report to an Oireachtas Committee this morning and Mr Dooley, Mr Collins, Ms Chambers and Mr Calleary will be given an opportunity to make statements to the Dáil later in the day if they wish.

The Dáil clerk has been meeting TDs in recent days to establish the circumstances surrounding the events of last Thursday's voting block. These include the deputies who acted as tellers for each of the votes held.

It is understood that in his interview with Mr Finnegan, Clare TD Mr Dooley has maintained his position as set out in his statement at the weekend.

Mr Dooley said Mr Collins voted for him "under the mistaken belief" he was "at the back of the chamber on the phone" when the vote was taken and the incident was the result of a "misunderstanding".

TDs who have been interviewed by Mr Finnegan have been asked to account for their actions last Thursday and asked to recall if they saw anything unusual.

Deputies are also being asked for their input on what would make the system of voting better.

"They are asking what you remember from the day, did anyone draw your attention to anything, were there any changes made to votes," one TD interviewed during the probe said.

Dáil time is to be set aside for statements on the 'vote gate' controversy and Mr Martin will speak on behalf of his party.

As Mr Finnegan finalised the probe, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continued to clash bitterly over the voting scandal.

On RTÉ Radio Fine Gael, TD Colm Brophy and Fianna Fáil's Thomas Byrne exchanged verbal blows over the airwaves.

Mr Brophy claimed the 'phantom votes' controversy reminded him of "vintage Fianna Fáil from the Haughey/Ahern-type era" and accused the rival party of making "Trump-style" allegations about Fine Gael ministers.

Mr Byrne claimed ministers "absolutely" had questions to answer about Dáil votes and also stated the rival party believed it had "a divine right to rule and nobody could possibly do anything wrong in Fine Gael".

Irish Independent