From top: Fianna Fail TDs Niall Collins and Lisa Chambers have became embroiled in ‘Votegate’; Dan Boyle
When I was first elected a TD electronic voting in the Dáil was on the cusp of being introduced. For the first few months of that Dáil the traditional method of walking through the lobbies was used
It didn’t matter what was being voted on. It could be on the Budget. It could be on challenging the Government’s order of business of the day. Regardless of the importance of the vote, and with repeated votes, often two hours of each sitting day were wasted through this arcane procedure.
I thought the electronic voting to be a huge advance, although the option of calling a walk through vote still exists in the standing orders of the Dáil.
It doesn’t take long for the novel to become commonplace. Seventeen years later many TDs seem to have become blasé about their voting procedures.
With any procedure mistakes can and do happen. Much of the mitigation that has been spoken of in recent days can be put in such a category.
Strange as it may seem seats in the Oireachtas are allocated for voting but not necessarily for sitting.
In an usually near empty Dáil chamber party spokespersons tends to speak from their party leaders seats. Whenever a vote was called seats would be filled as space allowed.
With the Green group of TDs we would frequently push each other’s buttons. (I’m thinking that last sentence can be read in a particular way…).
As a party whip I remember calling into the Debates Office to correct a vote that had been misrecorded. The wrong button was pushed. I can’t remember if the mistake was mine, or that of one of my colleagues.
It is probable that public feeling, where it exists, takes this into account. The unease that is being created is because of an impression that the act of voting, a key role of any elected representative, is being treated in a cavalier, practically contemptuous way.
What I don’t remember then, what I am sad to see has developed since, is this seemingly prevalent practice of voting for someone else while also casting your own vote.
It is difficult to envisage any situation where a TD in a chamber would be doing something more important than having to push a button to record their vote.
Maybe it’s a throwback to the time of the walk through vote? When these happened, especially for backbench government TDs, they represented one of the few occasions where rarified space was shared with ministerial colleagues.
Maybe it’s time for a further tecnhological change? Maybe we should be considering votes not being registered unless accompanied by fingerprint recognition?
It is sad to think that an honour system can no longer be relied on in our parliament. Even sadder to think that a techological fix might be needed to restore confidence.
Most frustrating is the amount of political time and space being given to this issue, an issue that undoubtedly is part of the circus element of public attention.
When deeper and more real concerns exist, nationally in the form of a lack of access to housing and to effective health care, globally in trying to deal with the climate emergency; #votegate is an irritating distraction.
The wrong buttons keep getting pressed.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle