Wednesday 13 November 2019

Editorial: 'Using someone else's vote is a violation of democracy'

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For much of this young State's history, Fianna Fáil has been a political phenomenon. Many of the positive go-ahead social and economic developments happened on its government watch.

There was a time when it had a presence in virtually every half-parish in the land with a ubiquity comparable to the national school and the post office. But the party of Éamon de Valera also had its flaws and faults, like all big institutions.

Long and uninterrupted terms in power bred complacency and sometimes even led to a view that the party, government and even the State were somehow one and the same. Eventually, it lost its way and failed to adapt to a changing society.

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Still, under the courageous leadership of Micheál Martin since 2011, Fianna Fáil has enjoyed something of a revival. The party still has a loyal core of support and many still see a potential role for it.

Bearing all of these things in mind, it is hard to overstate the gravity of what has happened about Dáil votes in recent days, and it is further dismaying to reflect upon the poor response of some of its most prominent TDs to this grave situation.

In summary, the plain facts, as first revealed in this newspaper on Saturday, go like this:

Clare Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley was recorded as voting six times last Thursday at a time when he was not present in the Dáil chamber. It has further emerged that the electronic buttons were pushed by his colleague, Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins. The initial responses of both TDs to queries from our political correspondent were lamentably vague and evasive. It took the two TDs some time to admit the reality.

The matter is now being investigated by the Dáil chairman, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl. Pending the outcome of that investigation, deputies Dooley and Collins have stepped back from their roles as members of the front bench directly marking government ministers and publicly calling them to account.

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers admitted that she recorded a vote "in error" on behalf of Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary during last Thursday's bizarre Dáil session

The situation reflects very badly on the party. It poses big challenges for Mr Martin.

Establishing the right to vote took a very hard struggle and involved major sacrifices by courageous people in previous generations. Using somebody else's vote is a violation of democracy.

We are entitled to expect better respect for our democratic institutions from experienced politicians.

There is also a suggestion that the practice of politicians pushing buttons on behalf of others may be widespread. That vague allegation requires rigorous investigation.

If that practice is in any way prevalent, culprits must be named and face appropriate sanctions. It must also cease forthwith.

We all have a duty to previous generations who fought to establish democracy in Ireland. Our elected politicians have a sacred duty to respect the parliament to which they have been elected.

Irish Independent

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