An inquiry into the 'votegate' controversy was plunged into turmoil yesterday after the Government TD chairing the probe had to recuse herself.
Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton stepped aside from the Dáil's members' interests committee examination of ethics complaints against four Fianna Fáil TDs after she admitted to voting in the past on behalf of colleagues who were elsewhere in the Dáil chamber.
The committee is examining complaints against Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins, Timmy Dooley, Barry Cowen and Lisa Chambers, over the 'phantom voting' controversy that was first revealed by the Irish Independent.
Ms Naughton recused herself after the private meeting received counsel from the Oireachtas parliamentary legal adviser that any TD who engaged in the practice of voting for colleagues who were not in their designated seats during Dáil votes in the past would not be able to participate in the inquiry.
Ms Naughton disclosed that in the past she had done this "on less than a handful of occasions". This practice has been common amongst deputies with both the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin admitting to it last week. Ms Naughton said she had never voted for a colleague who was not in the chamber.
It is understood Ms Naughton proposed to refer the complaints against the four TDs to the public office ethics watchdog Sipo for consideration in order to depoliticise the process. But this was rejected by the four other committee members who are Fianna Fáil's Eamon Scanlon, Labour's Willie Penrose, Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Independent Mattie McGrath.
Fine Gael is now likely to nominate another TD to replace Ms Naughton, but it is unclear who will chair the probe or how it will proceed.
"It was a disaster," said a TD of the meeting yesterday. The committee meets again next week.
The inquiry was launched after this newspaper revealed Mr Dooley's Dáil vote was recorded six times in his absence during a block voting session on October 17. Mr Collins admitted he had pressed his colleague's voting button having been of the mistaken belief that his fellow Fianna Fáil TD was in the chamber.
In the fallout from that controversy, Ms Chambers admitted she voted for both herself and her colleague, Fianna Fáil's deputy leader Dara Calleary, on the same day. She said it was a "genuine mistake".
Mr Cowen is also facing scrutiny after he was recorded as voting during a Dáil session on September 26 despite video evidence appearing to show he was not in the chamber. Mr Cowen said he has never asked a colleague to vote for him.
All four TDs apologised for their actions last week following an inquiry by the Dáil clerk which recommended that TDs sit in their designated seats for Dáil votes and be subject to extra oversight from party whips and tellers.