Dail's top legal adviser drafted in for probe into 'phantom voting'
The Dail's most senior legal adviser was drafted in to oversee meetings with the TDs caught up in the so-called phantom-voting scandal.
Oireachtas chief parliamentary legal adviser Melissa English has been sitting in on the meetings due to the seriousness of the matter.
Now Fianna Fail is awaiting a report from Clerk of the Dail Peter Finnegan into last week's controversial voting session.
The probe was launched after it was revealed that senior TD Timmy Dooley's vote was recorded six times, despite his being absent from the chamber.
Niall Collins later admitted he had pressed Mr Dooley's voting button. Fianna Fail colleagues do not believe the pair will be returned to the front bench.
Leader Micheal Martin is expected to consider removing the whip from the two TDs for a period, if there are adverse findings in Mr Finnegan's report.
This would be seen as a serious blow for Mr Dooley and Mr Collins, as they would have expected to be key members of the Cabinet should Fianna Fail win the next election.
Mayo TDs Lisa Chambers and Dara Calleary - Fianna Fail's deputy leader - have also been quizzed by Mr Finnegan.
It comes after Ms Chambers recorded a vote in Mr Calleary's assigned seat in the Dail while he was not present without correct- ing the record last Thursday.
The 'Votegate' revelations have sparked a row between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Claims and counter-claims have dragged in other TDs and ministers whose votes were recorded by colleagues while they were away from their Dail seats.
At a private Fine Gael meeting last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the voting scandal is "very serious" and claimed Fianna Fail was "muddying the waters" by making claims about ministers including Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty, who deny voting improperly.
Mr Martin, meanwhile, will today begin to consider the fate of Mr Dooley and Mr Collins after he has received a copy of the report.
He asked them to step aside from the front bench pending the outcome of the investigation ordered by Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail.
Mr Finnegan is to deliver his report to an Oireachtas Committee this morning, and Mr Dooley, Mr Collins, Ms Chambers and Mr Calleary will have an opportunity to make statements to the Dail if they wish.
The Dail Clerk has been meeting TDs in recent days to establish the circumstances surrounding the events of last Thursday's voting.
It is understood that in his interview with Mr Finnegan, Clare TD Mr Dooley maintained his position as set out in his statement at the weekend.
He said Mr Collins voted for him "under the mistaken belief" he was "at the back of the chamber on the phone" when the vote was taken and the incident was the result of a "misunderstanding".
TDs interviewed by Mr Finn-egan have been asked to acc- ount for their actions last Thursday and to recall if they saw anything unusual.
They are also being asked how the system of voting could be improved.
Dail time will be set aside for statements on the 'Votegate' controversy, and Mr Martin will speak for his party.