Equal measures of amusement and outrage have followed the “Buttongate” scandal that came out last week. An internal Dáil report revealed several cases of false votes, where TDs cast votes despite not being present in the Dáil at the time. After examining CCTV footage, it was found that Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley had had six votes cast for him while he was absent from the Dáil chamber, with fellow FF TD Niall Collins admitting to have pushed Dooley’s voting button in addition to his own while Dooley was absent.
Several have called the matter grave and an affront to democracy. Mr Dooley and Mr Collins have both been removed following the scandal, with sharp criticism from other Dáil members. “The integrity of the voting process is at the centre of our democracy,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil, “People need to know the system is robust and valid…It would be a crime if an ordinary citizen cast a vote on their own behalf and that of someone else. To vote on behalf of somebody else is impersonation and to vote twice is a crime.”
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl also spoke out against the matter, describing it as “stark and unpalatable”. “Let me say, the problems of last Thursday were not of a technical nature. The failure was political, and — as politicians and parliamentarians — there is an onus on us to deliver the solutions which are now required.”
Fellow TDs Lisa Chambers and Dara Calleary were also found to have voted wrongly on several past occasions. While the “Buttongate” issue has been taken seriously by many, others have been calling the matter petty and distracting from real issues. “After grudgingly putting up with each other as uncomfortable bedfellows for four years, the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael partnership is on the brink of collapse,” wrote the Examiner’s political correspondent Elaine Loughlin. “Both sides exploded this week and a tit-for-tat squabble ensued in the hope that political gains might be made.”
She pointed to the homelessness crisis and the spiraling costs of Dublin’s children’s hospital as more important matters to focus on. All the accused TDs have made formal apologies to the Dáil and the public. “It was wrong, and I fully accept that I should not have done so. I reiterate my deep regret and sincere apologies to you, a Cheann Comhairle, and all members of the House.” said Mr Collins, addressing the Dáil after the report came out. The Dáil was more packed than it had been in previous weeks, with only 17 TDs missing from their seats.