Thursday 21 November 2019

Fionnán Sheahan: 'Do-nothing Dáil created vote saga in a plague on all in House'

 

Barry Cowen. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Barry Cowen. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

Micheál Martin will have no problem securing an overall majority in the Dáil after the next general election.

It doesn't matter how many seats he wins, he can just get his Niall and Lisa to push the buttons for enough TDs in the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil's phantom votes was one of those touchstone topics that got the nation talking yesterday.

Politicians behaving badly tends to have that effect.

However, it's no laughing matter. Voting by TDs is set out in the Constitution.

Article 15.11.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann specifies: "All questions in each House shall, save as otherwise provided by this Constitution, be determined by a majority of the votes of the members present and voting other than the Chairman or presiding member."

Billy Kelleher. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Billy Kelleher. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

So it's not an option. TDs do have to be present in the Dáil.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan pointed out proxy voting was "unlawful".

More pertinently, he said there have been tight votes in the Dáil in the past, some won by just one vote adding: "This is all now subject to challenge - that any law that was passed on the basis of a fraudulent vote will be subject to challenge."

And yet there is a view within Leinster House that this is not an isolated incident.

Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke
Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke

"It's endemic with some TDs. They work it like a FÁS course," a TD said last night.

The Oireachtas has been brought into disrepute and the authorities, headed by the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, will have to clamp down on this activity.

The Constitution also allows the Dáil to set it own rules and govern itself.

Ó Fearghaíl is well-regarded as fair-minded by many in the House. He has already cleaned up a mess which TDs made, and then ran away from, with his apology to former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins for the way she was treated by the Public Accounts committee during an appearance before it in 2014.

The phantom voting affair is a reflection of the attitudes of the so-called 'do-nothing-Dáil' towards the operation of the parliament.

New Politics

The New Politics era of Confidence and Supply means we have a minority government propped up by the main opposition parties.

Without the acquiescence of both big parties and the Independents in the administration, legislation cannot be passed.

The Government can be defeated on symbolic votes, which have little impact. Many contentious issues are parked.

Publishing the Autumn Legislative Programme, the Government said the Dáil has enacted 34 bills this year. There are 32 bills on the priority list and 27 bills at various stages.

Veteran TDs say this is the least productive Dáil they have come across as ministers are simply avoiding legislation that will be shot down on the Floor.

The abortion law is the most striking exception but that had substantial support in both houses of the Oireachtas.

In Fianna Fáil, the situation engulfing the party's front bench hasn't improved.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar used his address to the Fine Gael Presidential Dinner earlier this month to laud his ministerial benches.

Pointing to the general election campaign, he emphasised the importance of his "team".

"If we had a Fianna Fáil-led Government now and they were involved in Brexit negotiations now who could they send who could match Simon Coveney or Helen McEntee?"

The answer to that question would be sending their opposite numbers: Niall Collins, who has stood down from the frontbench pending an investigation into his phantom voting, and Lisa Chambers, who is explaining how she mistakenly voted for a colleague.

It doesn't exude confidence.

The focus will remain firmly on the parties and personalities in the run in to the general election.

The voting saga was spreading last night, and drawing in Fine Gael.

A plague on everyone's houses.

Irish Independent

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