Belfast Telegraph

TD recuses herself from ‘vote-gate’ probe

Hildegarde Naughton released a statement.

Leinster House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Leinster House in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

A government TD has recused herself from the investigation into voting irregularities in the Dail after admitting she voted for colleagues in the chamber.

Hildegarde Naughton, chair of the Members’ Interests Committee, released a statement on Wednesday saying that she would not be able to take part the investigation into the controversy, as she too had voted for colleagues, who were present in the Dail at the time, on “less than a handful of occasions”.

The issue emerged after it was revealed in media reporting that Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley’s vote was recorded on six occasions despite his absence from the chamber.

Last week, an inquiry report found that TD Niall Collins was of the belief that his party colleague Mr Dooley would return to the chamber when he voted on his behalf.

The chamber has since heard apologies from Fianna Fail representatives Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Barry Cowen and Timmy Dooley, while Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail said that the controversy had further eroded public confidence in parliament.

The report, which was fuelled by further revelations that votes had been cast by more Fianna Fail TDs who were not present in the chamber at the time of the ballot, also recommended that no disciplinary action should be taken against offending representatives, but a wider review of the voting system is needed.

I have never voted for someone who was not present in the chamber Hildegarde Naughton

In the time since, more TDs have admitted in taking part in the practice, however stating they only did so when their colleague was in the chamber.

“The Taoiseach, the Leader of the Opposition and many other members of Dail Eireann have voted for a colleague while asked to do so while that colleague was in the chamber,” Ms Naughton’s statement read.

“So have I, on less than a handful of occasions.

“I have never voted for someone who was not present in the chamber.”

Ms Naughton says legal advice she has received by the parliamentary legal adviser, indicates recusing herself from the investigation would be the preferable option in relation to balance, but will continue to remain as chair of the Committee on Members Interests.

“The legal advice now received indicates that anyone who voted for a fellow TD while they were both in the chamber would be advised to consider whether the process would be best served by them not adjudicating on these present complaints,” she said.

“The present investigation concerns voting for members who were outside the chamber and the two are in no way comparable.

“That is accepted across the political divide, notwithstanding those trying to muddy the waters.

“However, I have made the decision to recuse myself to ensure that no possible perception of bias exists and to ensure that the committee can investigate this matter without delay and free from challenge.

“Now is the time to do so – prior to the committee commencing its work.

“While the advice I received indicates that any challenge to my role would be unlikely to be successful, I am motivated by an abundance of caution.

“While the decision is not made lightly, it is one I am making to ensure the integrity of the process.

“It is vital that there is not even the slightest perception of bias in the proceedings of the Committee.”

The fallout since the revelations has caused much political debate and disharmony between the two main parties, within the Dail chamber, and in the media, at one point sparking rumours of a potential snap election.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who apologised in the Dail on behalf of his party members, went on to criticise “the behaviour, motivation and record of many who clearly have no interest in dealing with this matter with any balance.

“Fine Gael’s claim to be outraged has been more than a bit undermined by the sound of laughter and backslapping coming from their corridors together with daily briefings about immediately holding an election they claim not to want until next spring,” Mr Martin added.

PA

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