herald

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Cowen is latest senior FF TD to get dragged into 'phantom vote' storm

Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen
Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen

Fianna Fail public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen is the latest front bench TD to be dragged into the growing phantom voting storm.

His vote is recorded on a Brexit law and on two other pieces of legislation last month when he appears to be absent from the Dail chamber and other TDs sit in his seat.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has issued a warning that laws passed as a result of tight Dail votes could be open to legal challenges.

The Ceann Comhairle has ordered an investigation into irregular voting.

Mistaken

The probe was launched after it was revealed that Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley's vote was recorded six times during a Dail session last week despite his absence from the chamber.

Limerick TD Niall Collins, while initially saying he had "no idea" what happened, later admitted he voted on Mr Dooley's behalf while claiming he was of the mistaken belief his colleague was present during the Dail session.

Now Mr Cowen has become engulfed in the controversy.

Dail video footage of a vote on Brexit legislation from March shows Mr Cowen's vote being recorded while he is nowhere to be seen.

Mr Collins was sitting in Mr Cowen's seat during the vote in question while former TD Billy Kelleher, now an MEP, was in his.

Mr Kelleher's own vote is recorded in the row behind, despite him not sitting there.

Separately, Dail video from September 26 shows Mr Cowen's vote being recorded twice while he appears to be absent from the chamber.

Mr Dooley was in the Offaly TD's assigned seat during the sitting. Mr Cowen is seen walking into the chamber minutes after the two votes.

"I have never asked a coll- eague to vote for me when I was not in the chamber," Mr Cowen said last night.

His statement did not definitively say he was present in the chamber during the votes.

"As has been confirmed in the last few days, there is a known practice of members who are in the House asking colleagues to press the voting button if they are away from their seats in other parts of the chamber," he said.

Mr Cowen said he welcomed the investigation ordered by the Ceann Comhairle.

"I hope there are recommendations that will tighten voting practices so there will not be any future misunderstandings or discrepancies," he said.

Separately, Fine Gael junior minister Damien English insisted last night he did not get a phantom vote cast for him and has the diary to prove it.

His vote was cast on May 15 on the Greyhound Bill 2018, but the video of the vote shows he was not in his seat on the government benches.

Mr English said his ministerial diary shows he was in the Dail that day for the votes.

"I have never in my life asked anyone to vote for me if I wasn't there in the chamber," he said.

"If I voted, I was in the chamber. If I was stuck talking to someone, I would ask someone to push it for me."

Mr Flanagan said there have been tight votes in the Dail - some won by one vote.

"Any law passed on the basis of a fraudulent vote will be subject to challenge," he said.

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