Wednesday 13 November 2019

Editorial: 'Voting in Dáil an obligation for Tds, not an imposition'

'Any law passed with a ‘fraudulent vote’ could now be subject to challenge' Stock picture
'Any law passed with a ‘fraudulent vote’ could now be subject to challenge' Stock picture


Given the costly struggle for suffrage here, and the almost reverential respect for how it was secured, many have been shocked to see it shown such disrespect at what is supposed to be democracy's high altar. The 'phantom votes' furore is a distraction the Dáil could well do without.

With Brexit in the balance and an election in prospect, it seems pedantic to have to spell out to those trusted to represent voters that they are expected to discharge their duty by turning up in person.

In case there is any doubt - and there seems to be quite a lot of it - the election slogan "vote early, vote often" was never meant to be taken seriously.

Having acted with commendable authority by swiftly disciplining Fianna Fáil TDs Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins, party leader Micheál Martin found himself accused of double standards yesterday for allowing Lisa Chambers off the hook.

Ms Chambers's sin may have been more venial than mortal in that she was in the chamber at the time - unlike Mr Dooley - but in failing to correct the record at the earliest opportunity, she compromised herself.

Her highly jesuitical line of argument on RTÉ, in that she thought she was being asked a different question when she denied voting in someone else's name, dug her in all the deeper.

To say she sat in the wrong seat, as someone might do "in a theatre", further undermined her cause. Confusing the national parliament with a place one goes for escapism and entertainment is not a good look for members. But then again...

Constituents expect their representatives to act with integrity when voting. It is not just an expectation, it is a legal requirement.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has written to the Ceann Comhairle over what he has described as the "illegal act" of Mr Collins voting for his absent colleague half a dozen times. An investigation into alleged voting irregularities will now be carried out by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Mr Flanagan's description of it as "a really, really serious misdemeanour in our parliamentary system" doesn't quite convey its significance.

It is worth reflecting on the fact it could mean any law passed on the basis of a potentially "fraudulent vote" could now be subject to challenge.

Asked about the controversy, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated while he was unaware of people having votes cast from outside the chamber, he was aware TDs might "press the button" for one another within.

This is a curiously casual approach to what is a deeply serious matter. Voting is the most solemn duty undertaken by a TD and there can be no grey areas or ambiguity attached to it.

Decision-making in a representative democracy depends upon trusting the process. It is an individual obligation. And many hands to make light work - especially on a voting button - will not cut it. Those charged with minding the voter's interest need to show interest.

And turning up to do the job one is paid for ought not be an imposition.

Irish Independent

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