I intend to share time with Deputy Heydon, with five minutes each.
A little over a year ago, I was appointed Government Chief Whip. It is an honour and a privilege to hold this office with its varied responsibilities and duties that are central to the running of the Dáil, specifically with regard to Government business.
The irregularities in voting that occurred in this Chamber last Thursday have severely damaged the position of trust given to every Member. The quality of our decisions has been called into question, decisions which affect the lives of everyone in this country. These are decisions everyone may not agree with but which are taken by the majority of Members sent here as Deputies from their constituencies - their communities.
The facts are that some Deputies have voted more than once while others have voted for colleagues who were not even in the Chamber. This completely undermines the confidence that the public - the electorate - are entitled to have, and must have, in how our Parliament conducts one of its most important duties. The Constitution is clear. Members must be present and voting. This means present not simply in Leinster House but in the Dáil Chamber. It is a Chamber where the doors are locked in an act that is both symbolic and serious. It says nobody can enter and nobody can leave until our business, our duty, has been done.
Voting for colleagues who are in the Dáil Chamber is one thing, and I think we can agree that it has been commonplace. It happens for various reasons, including Deputies receiving important telephone calls or messages, raising important issues from their constituencies with relevant Ministers and discussing Dáil business, legislation or policy issues. As my colleague, Deputy Broughan, pointed out at the Committee on Procedure this week, the voting block on Thursday is one of the few occasions when all Members of the House are together. However, as the report notes, voting for a colleague with approval while he or she is in the Chamber is not best practice and it should not continue. Voting for colleagues who are absent from the Chamber is completely and utterly different. It is entirely wrong. It undermines the integrity of the votes. It abuses the privileged position that Deputies have in representing their constituents. It brings this House and the role of the public representative into disrepute. This is about trust in Deputies to do the right thing, trust in people to fulfil their mandate and do their jobs and trust in a voting system, which we introduced to allow us work more efficiently and quickly.
We all get used to the routine of the Chamber and are lulled into a sense of familiarity, but familiarity cannot breed contempt here. Here, we hold a deep century-old trust that we can never betray. These events have weakened that trust and we all must make every effort to regain and rebuild it.
Anyone can make a mistake. A Deputy can sit in the wrong seat, even though the voting panels are numbered. A Deputy can press the wrong button and vote in an unintended way. Mistakes like these can be rectified easily as long as they are reported immediately and before the result is read into the Official Report, and they often are.
The Deputies concerned have done a great disservice to their mandate, to their constituents and to their colleagues. There is no way of explaining this away. It was wrong, thoughtless, cavalier and arrogant. Voting more than once is wrong and reckless. Voting for other Deputies who are not in the Chamber is wrong and reckless. This behaviour has damaged the Dáil. It has damaged the confidence that voters should, and must, have in how our Parliament plays its pivotal role in our democracy.
No country can afford the luxury of ignoring, abusing or disrespecting democracy. It is too valuable, sacred and fragile to do so. In a real way, what happened last week does all three. It diminishes all of us to an extent but it greatly diminishes those Members responsible. Confidence has to be restored. The damage has to be repaired.
The recommendations in the report from the Committee on Procedure must not be treated as mere suggestions but as requirements to be implemented immediately. Today's report from the committee is a first step in repairing the damage. I wish to thank Peter Finnegan and his team for their speed in producing the report. While not compelled to do so, the four Deputies concerned can take their first step in repairing the damage by addressing the House this afternoon, and I look forward to that.