I realise that Brexit, the housing crisis and homelessness are far more pressing issues for people, but the disdain that many of our politicians show for the electorate is clear for all to see in the current controversy over TDs casting votes on behalf of fellow TDs in the Dáil chamber.
If I turned up at a voting booth with two polling cards I would be in big trouble, and rightly so. I don’t think it’s too much to ask TDs who are earning almost €100,000 a year to attend in the chamber when they are supposed to vote. It only takes a few seconds to cast a vote.
What really annoys people is when politicians try to cover up their mistakes when they are found to have acted wrongly…rather than owning up. I happened to hear Lisa Chambers on radio on Sunday when she denied point-blank that she had ever voted on behalf of anyone else. Then, when she was exposed on Sunday evening, she produced the greatest load of codswallop I have heard for some time.
Deputy Chambers indicated that she had misunderstood the question. She thought she was being asked did she “intentionally, knowingly, purposefully” vote for somebody else. “It was a long week and I was tired” came the next excuse. Who do these people think that they are codding? She was badly caught out and should have apologised. It’s as simple as that.
This controversy puts Micheál Martin in a bind because he accepted the explanation given by Chambers, while turfing Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins off the front bench. He obviously didn’t believe their explanations as to why they were voting for someone else. Double standards?
I have no doubt that as this controversy rumbles on, TDs of all parties and none will be accused of this carry-on. But what implications could it have for the legality of bills which it could now possibly be argued were passed by votes which were illegal? That’s the big question.
It would appear at the time of writing that Fianna Fáil have far more questions to answer than their rivals…which is another boost to Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael. Yet the Taoiseach must be very frustrated that the Brexit puzzle is still as complicated as it has ever been, as right now would be a very opportune time to go to the country for a General Election.
However, back to the issue at hand, and while Votegate may not seem that important to the majority of people, the fact is that the Constitution states that TDs must be present to cast their vote. It’s the law of the land.
There is a view held by many analysts that this Dáil has been the least productive in the history of the State and that it is paralysed by Brexit. We now have a situation where there are certain TDs who treat the electorate with such apathy that they do not even show up to press a button to vote on the issues that are discussed in a given week.
The Ceann Comhairle is conducting an investigation into this matter. I hope that his report is revealing and transparent and that the practice of people voting for colleagues is stopped.
What implications this controversy will have on politics in general is another matter. At the moment, three Fianna Fáil front bench TDs are either suspended or (in the case of Deputy Chambers) in the full glare of controversy. However, I have a feeling that Fine Gael might be dragged into this before the week is out. It’s another fine mess!