Dan Boyle: War Of The Buttons


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

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19 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: War Of The Buttons

  1. Gabby

    “Most frustrating is the amount of political time and space being given to this issue…”
    The amount of political time given to this issue is simple – there is a general election on the horizon. Fine Gael got a lot of mud from the “Swing gate” compensation claim issue, so now Fianna Fail gets a lot of mud from the Button push issue. And in retaliation some Fine Gael deputies have been getting button push mud too. When the mud flies intensively we can guess that an election is coming down the line fast. Votes are won and lost on mud. Sometimes issues get a look in.

  2. Gremil

    So Dan is now admitting to fraud in his (and his party’s) Dail voting practices.

    If you don’t respect your responsibility to the people you work for why should we listen to anything you have to say?

    1. Dan Boyle

      What fraud pray tell? Buttons were pressed when Green TDs were sat in the Green Party seats. Buttons were never pressed on behalf of anyone who was not sat in the chamber.

      1. paul

        Gremil might be referring to the sentence; “With the Green group of TDs we would frequently push each other’s buttons.”

          1. paul

            I got that much. Better to be seated together than all spread out in designated seats all over the shop having to constantly juggle seats to talk to a colleague. The sooner it’s a thumb-print press or an ID card swipe and no designated seats the better really.

            This VoteGate thing, as much of a mud-slinging exercise as it is, is fraud and shows how much these TD’s think of their responsibilities.

          2. Nigel

            Voting for someone who isn’t there is genuinely scndalous. Voting for someone who is there just seems either lax or collegial, depending. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an ‘aye.’

  3. brughahaha

    Of all the things Im outraged about in Ireland this rates as Meh , 5 /10 fix it and move on ….more media hype to avoid the real issues like
    homelessness, privatisation of Health care , Lack of Services , Crap nature of services , Incompetence , Financial mismanagement bordering on fraud and corruption in the top ranks of the state …….. these things matter.

    Unfortunately the Irish electorate seem to to be very easily distracted by the MSM

    1. Gabby

      @brughahaha: Distraction from the pressing issues by MSM and political parties is certainly the name of the game. Homelessness and privatisation of health services are among the pressing public issues. Button pressing is a parliamentary issue too, but not as pressing for homeless people and low-income people requiring health services.

  4. Truth in the News

    The Greens never pressed a button or pulled a string or even got out of bed
    in 2008 when the Banks were bailed out in the middle of the night, then they
    come back from the dead 11 years later waffling…..its not climate change that
    needs to be highlighted, but downright hypocrisy.

  5. V

    Well Dan I think the whole think is a cod tbh

    Its a agreeable election issue for the Confidence and Supply sides to have a bitta’ve argy bargy on the doorsteps for the voters

    Both FF & FG are neck and neck in the latest @banda_ie poll (28 & 29 respectively)
    And with yerselves and Labour equally neck and neck on a return wave for that booster up into coalition (6 & 5 btw)
    So tis easy to see why all four of ye would swagger along with this
    and keep Housing, Healthcare, Transport, Climate, Rural Broadband, whatever you having yourself that’s 100 times more vital and important to the health and well-being of the Country
    Than singing along to a silly ditty that’s just giggles, gifs, and lads having the craic with some puns

    Give over
    If you really want to address an arcane procedure in the Dáil that you yourself partaked in – just as your colleagues still in there today do
    Lets see ye do something about removing the Prayer

    1. Gabby

      Let us pray that TDs will address their earnest minds to solving homelessness, the drugs war, the inadequate access to health services by low-income families…

      1. V

        Well in fairness Gabby
        Its doing none of that, nor is it keeping them honest
        So unless Sean Comhairle is also doing confession and offering them absolution ….

        In anycase
        Singling out one faith is anti-competitive anyway
        And a lost opportunity

        I suggest selling the rights to raise a few bob
        Maybe the Pastafarians can get a fundit going

        And make it an annual sponsorship
        The Year of the ……
        Todays prayer is ….

  6. John Moore

    Being present in a location to vote is archaic for TDs or anyone – should we be present in a bank to transfer money, be present in an office to receive a phone call, at home to receive a letter or be in a voting booth to vote?

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