Friday 6 December 2019

FF TD Niall Collins set to be made the 'fall guy' for Votegate controversy

Voted six times: TD Niall Collins is still waiting to hear his fate over Votegate. Photo: Tom Burke
Voted six times: TD Niall Collins is still waiting to hear his fate over Votegate. Photo: Tom Burke
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

An inquiry into the Votegate controversy could make one Fianna Fáil TD "the fall guy" when its conclusions are finalised next month.

Two sources involved in the Dáil internal ethics probe confirmed Fianna Fáil frontbench TDs Lisa Chambers, Timmy Dooley and Barry Cowen are likely to escape sanction, with a complaint against Mr Cowen to be dismissed because of a lack of evidence.

However, one source involved in the investigation said that a fourth Fianna Fáil TD, Niall Collins, may be censured after he voted six times for his colleague Mr Dooley who was absent from the Dáil chamber during a weekly voting bloc in October.

Mr Collins has said he was unaware Mr Dooley was not in the chamber when the vote took place. Mr Dooley said he did not ask Mr Collins to vote for him.

The source said: "Dooley is going to be out the gap. Collins is going to be the fall guy because he voted six times."

The committee will finalise its conclusions in a fortnight's time and is debating whether Mr Collins could be censured.

Off the hook?: TDs Timmy Dooley and Barry Cowen. Photo: Tom Burke
Off the hook?: TDs Timmy Dooley and Barry Cowen. Photo: Tom Burke

A suspension was viewed as "very unlikely", but Mr Collins could be fined, the source said.

A second source said: "We haven't reached the conclusions. We're still in the course of our deliberations."

The committee, which is made up of five TDs and is being assisted by the Oireachtas of the parliamentary legal adviser, will meet again in a fortnight to finalise its conclusions and recommendations. Any action against TDs will have to be voted on in the Dáil.

The controversy has been investigated by the Dáil committee on members' interests on foot of complaints by Fine Gael TD Noel Rock after the Irish Independent revealed in October that Mr Dooley's vote had been recorded on six occasions by Mr Collins despite his colleague's absence from the chamber.

It then emerged that during the same voting bloc the party's Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers mistakenly sat in her constituency colleague and party deputy leader Dara Calleary's seat for one vote before moving to her own seat for the same vote.

She later apologised for her mistake.

Mr Cowen was also the subject of a complaint by Mr Rock for alleged voting irregularities in a separate voting bloc in September. However, this looks set to be dismissed by the committee.

A report by Dáil clerk Peter Finnegan in October found that Mr Collins was of the belief his party colleague, Mr Dooley, would return to the chamber when he voted on his behalf.

Mr Finnegan's report prompted apologies from all four Fianna Fáil TDs.

Irish Independent

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