Report of the Committee on Procedure on Dáil Divisions: Statements

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.

I thank the Clerk of the Dáil and his officials for the speedy manner in which they have acted to address what is a serious matter for this House and its Members. The report produced today and laid before the House confirms many of the facts of last Thursday, 17 October, namely, that two members of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench, Deputy Niall Collins and Deputy Lisa Chambers, voted for their colleagues, Deputy Dooley and Deputy Calleary, who were not present in the Chamber. The report also confirms that at no point did any of the four Deputies involved attempt to correct the record of these erroneous votes.

I have read the report and taken from it some of the key facts that are now confirmed. Over a period of 56 minutes, eight votes were taken in the Dáil. Deputy Dooley left the Chamber one minute after the first vote was called but nine minutes before the first vote took place. He never returned. In the block of eight votes that followed, Deputy Niall Collins sat in the voting chair of Deputy Cowen. Deputy Niall Collins voted for Deputy Dooley, who was not present in the Chamber, for the first six votes. He also voted for Deputy Cowen for the full eight votes. Deputy Cowen voted for Deputy Niall Collins for the full eight votes. Deputy Dooley approached Deputy Collins before he left the Chamber and they had a brief conversation in front of another colleague. During this conversation Deputy Dooley nodded to his voting seat. The party known for the nod-and-wink is now known better for the nod-and-point.

Deputy Dooley confirmed that he did not vote in any of the eight votes as he never returned to the Chamber. When asked why he did not return, he indicated that he had to return to his office to make a call. He stated that he should have gone back but that instead he left the complex. Asked whether he had left during the voting block, he said most likely it probably was. When asked whether he had contacted Deputy Niall Collins after leaving the complex, he stated that he had not. I am sure if Deputy Dooley and Deputy Niall Collins produced their telephone records to the Committee on Members' Interests, these comments could be confirmed. When questioned on why he did not continue to press Deputy Dooley's voting button for the last two votes, Deputy Niall Collins stated, “I don’t know, I can’t explain that.” When questioned again he said:

I can't give an explanation. It is an obvious question, but I can't give an explanation.

The report also confirms facts surrounding the other voting irregularity. Deputy Lisa Chambers voted for herself and Deputy Calleary, who was not present in the Chamber for the first vote. She then subsequently voted for herself only in the next seven votes. Deputy Calleary was not present for the first five votes but then returned before vote six. Deputy Lisa Chambers stated that she told Deputy Calleary of her mistake when he entered the Chamber. At no stage did Deputy Lisa Chambers or Deputy Calleary make any attempt to amend the record for the first vote by notifying the tellers of the error.

As you said earlier today, a Cheann Comhairle, the events of last Thursday were stark and unpalatable. Errors, which we all make, should be admitted to and learned from. There are many people outside this House who would find it difficult to believe many of the accounts included in the report. I believe the facts, as now confirmed in this report, leave several unanswered questions.

Deputy Micheál Martin stated at the weekend that he did not think the explanations of Deputy Dooley and Deputy Niall Collins were acceptable. What does he think now? Why did Deputy Niall Collins tell journalists that he did not know anything about voting for Deputy Dooley when queried about it just one day after he had deliberately voted for Deputy Dooley six times? After voting for Deputy Dooley in six votes, for more than 35 minutes, why did Deputy Niall Collins not vote for Deputy Dooley in the last two votes? What changed? What made Deputy Niall Collins think Deputy Dooley was back in the Chamber when he knew the Deputy had left, he did not see the Deputy come back in and could not see him anywhere in the Chamber? In the report, Deputy Dooley claims he told Deputy Niall Collins, "I'll see you at the vote but I have to take a call." Why did he tell Deputy Niall Collins this? Is Deputy Niall Collins accustomed to Deputy Dooley being absent for votes? Is Deputy Dooley concerned that Deputy Niall Collins may have voted for him on other occasions when he was not in the Chamber?

Has he ascertained whether he needs to correct the Dáil record of other votes? Is it credible that Deputy Willie O'Dea who was standing beside Deputies Collins and Dooley for that conversation did not hear any details of the words between the two men?

Deputy Lisa Chambers said that she mistakenly pressed the wrong button when she voted for Deputy Calleary and that it was very different from what Deputies Dooley and Collins did. Does she accept the version of events given by the two Deputies to the inquiry? When Deputy Lisa Chambers told Deputy Calleary that she had mistakenly voted for him, why did he not then try to correct the Dáil record himself? Does Deputy Micheál Martin think that Deputy Cowen has any questions to answer in relation to previous votes? Does he back the efforts of Fianna Fáil Deputies to make accusations against Fine Gael Ministers, which are utterly unproven? I hope the Deputies involved and their party leader will address this House and answer these questions here today to provide the clarity that is needed to restore the integrity of the voting process in a House that sets the law of the land.

I welcome the detailed and comprehensive report that has been given to the House by the Clerk of the Dáil. He has gone into considerable depth in exploring the cases referred to him and to setting the overall context of voting practices in this House. Taken together with the balanced and reflective article written by the former Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan in today's edition of The Irish Times, there is now more than enough information available for us to address this issue, if that is, in fact, the intention of the House.

At the outset it is important to say that serious issues of public concern have been raised and must legitimately be addressed. I want to acknowledge the work of those who brought this matter to public attention. If we put aside for one moment the behaviour, motivation and record of many here who clearly have no interest in dealing with this matter with any balance, there are three broad issues involved. These involve general practices here during voting, a specific incident involving a division here last week and what changes we need to make. I will fully address each of these but before I proceed, I must say that in this debate so far, the bulk of time has been utilised by parties making very direct, partisan comments.

Address the issue.

Fine Gael's claim to be outraged has been more than a bit undermined by the sound of laughter and backslapping coming from its corridors, together with daily briefings about immediately holding an election that it claims not to want until next May.

(Interruptions).

Deputies please. Listen now.

It is important to note that there was no evidence produced, in five days of trawling, that we are addressing any matter which has had any impact on deciding the outcome of a Dáil vote.

What if that happened in a general election?

I will deal with that later.

For God's sake-----

Please. We heard the Minister of State and Deputy Heydon without interruption.

We will hear all of the other speakers without interruption.

The heckling reinforces my point. I want to deal with this seriously-----

The Deputy is trying to muddy the waters.

I want to deal with this with balance and one of the very basic points is that people should be allowed to speak in here.

(Interruptions).

I want to make it abundantly clear that we need to treat each other with respect and that involves having the good manners to sit and listen to the explanations that are offered. We can adjudicate on what we hear afterwards.

Just to repeat the point, it is important to note that no evidence was produced, in five days of trawling, that we are addressing any matter which has had any impact on deciding the outcome of a Dáil vote. The main case involves a series of divisions where the average margin was more than 45 votes. The lowest margin involved was 31. The idea that there is any question over the result of those votes, as has been asserted, is manifestly nonsense. Of course, this does not diminish in any way what has happened. What happened was wrong but it is an important point to note in the context of the debate.

As has been extensively reported, as the Clerk of the Dáil pointed out in his report and as the former Clerk of the Dáil stated in his article, practices have developed here over the years whereby it is common for Members not to be in their place during a vote and for others to press their voting buttons for them. I have, as has the Taoiseach, much of the Cabinet and a large portion of the Dáil, acknowledged doing this. Clearly it is bad practice and as the Clerk of the Dáil recommends, it should stop. A Minister or Deputy spending 20 minutes on a phone during a division is only present in theory. He or she is clearly not listening when the issue is called or statements made on the vote. Many videos have been produced which show no interaction between Deputies apparently at the back of the Chamber and those voting for them. Equally, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, was not correct when he gravely informed the nation on Monday morning that he might have voted for a colleague, but only if he saw him or her running into the Chamber and in danger of missing the vote by a couple of seconds. At the core of what has happened here is the fact that we, unlike other parliaments, do not require Members to use a card or other device during voting and we have a common practice of Members speaking and voting from different seats. A significant number of cases have been pointed to in recent days where there is little or no visual or audible evidence of Deputies being in the Chamber when a vote was recorded from them. We have ended up with a highly partisan approach whereby we are being told that we should accept the word of some Deputies but not of others. It also appears that we have to bend all known laws of physics to accept that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, can be in a room for ten minutes without being noticed.

I have no difficulty accepting the explanations and good faith of Deputies but what I will not accept is an attempt to impose different standards on different people. In this context, I would like to acknowledge the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Phelan, had the good grace to withdraw the allegation against Deputy Lisa Chambers, which he so lightly made on Virgin Media on Tuesday night. As the Clerk of the Dáil's report correctly proposes and as the Ceann Comhairle has insisted, we should immediately end the practice of being able to vote for a colleague and should aim to completely overhaul our mechanism for voting. Any fair review of the situation in relation to the vote that Deputy Lisa Chambers mistakenly cast will acknowledge the similarities with that of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, when he voted for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, when she was not in the House. The core difference is that the Members present at that time informed Deputy Ross of his error and he was then in a position to correct it. I am fully satisfied with Deputy Lisa Chamber's good faith and the apology she has made.

A substantial amount of this report addresses a series of votes cast last week by Deputy Niall Collins in the place of Deputy Dooley. There is simply no question that those votes should not have been cast. While Deputy Dooley had been in the Chamber or was near the Chamber, he was not in it and those votes should not have been cast, irrespective of the fact that they did not affect the outcome of any division. When I was informed of this matter last week, unlike the practice in other parties here, I immediately took interim action and requested that full information be provided to the review established by the Ceann Comhairle. I am satisfied that co-operation was provided and the details of the incident are outlined in full in the Clerk of the Dáil's report.

The question now is what further should be done in relation to this matter. It is the position of Fine Gael, in full co-ordination with Sinn Féin, that a significant sanction should be adopted, whether or not it is in the rules or reflects past practice. The Fine Gael-Sinn Féin coalition which saw the latter end its policy of abstensionism to vote for Fine Gael in a Seanad by-election, is alive and well. It is noteworthy that one Fine Gael source helpfully briefed a newspaper that it would be seeking an extreme sanction and an extra inquiry. To put this in perspective, what Fine Gael is seeking would mean that Dáil Éireann would introduce a greater sanction in this case than has ever been applied to a Minister who seriously misled the Dáil or to a Deputy who libelled the good name of people not in this House - innocent members of the public. That happened in this House and Deputy McDonald would know all about it. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges found that Deputy McDonald "by failing to indicate her intention to withdraw the utterances by the date specified" had, in effect, failed to address them and, in light of this, her utterances were "in the nature of being defamatory". That was the finding of a committee of this House. It found prima facie evidence of an abuse of parliamentary privilege, yet the Deputy can get up in this House and start lecturing everybody else about adhering to best practice, constitutional rights and so on. She did not care much about the constitutional rights of those people outside of this House that she defamed. She should be careful about lecturing others in that regard.

There are also issues regarding the Ministers for Health and Justice and Equality. I remember the many pleas for leniency for the Minister for Justice and Equality. He eventually came in and apologised to the House but there was no sanction even though the House was seriously misled. We know all that happened after that. Likewise, the Minister for Health had to come in and apologise. What I find particularly striking is the aggressive shouts we have heard for severe action and I contrast that with many of the episodes that happened in recent years where we received public and private pleas to be lenient vis-à-vis the behaviour of certain Ministers. I am surprised at the comments of the Taoiseach because his main bone of contention at the time was that an apology should suffice for the Ministers for Justice and Equality, and Health.

The fact that both of them have been so relentlessly personal, partisan and aggressive this week reflects more on them than on those on whom they have focused. It is also striking that the Minister for Health has directly used this issue to avoid answering legitimate questions about emergencies in the vital services over which he presides. The report in today's papers that he is a chief advocate for an early election might explain his behaviour and confirms that he is more focused on getting out of his job than actually doing it.

I took early action regarding Deputies Niall Collins and Dooley, and those sanctions will remain in place. The Deputies will also make personal statements under Standing Order 46. While what happened last Thursday was unacceptable, we must put things in perspective. This is a very serious issue but there is also a terrible homelessness crisis going on. Children are out in food queues on our streets, as revealed on the "Claire Byrne Live" programme last Monday night. Over 800 jobs have been lost at two manufacturing facilities in the past 48 hours, and the health service is in crisis across the country-----

Thank you, Deputy-----

There has to be a sense of perspective here. We should agree to proceed with implementing the proposed reforms. Being present and voting should mean we are not on our phones or having a gossip down the back but that we are in our places and voting for ourselves.

The Deputy's time is up.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk and his staff for the rigorous and even-handed approach they have taken in bringing this report to the House so quickly, without reference to the fevered political games which have been played.

I call Deputy McDonald.

I will be sharing time with Deputy Cullinane.

Deputy Micheál Martin is clinging desperately to the old adage that attack is the best form of defence. One can only imagine the outrage that would emanate from him if Deputies from any other party had falsified votes. The Deputy clearly wishes to engage in the politics of distraction and muddying the waters.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dáil for this report and the work, which was done in a very short timeframe. Page 44 of the report sums up the situation devoid of bias, sentiment or excuses. Contrary to Deputy Micheál Martin's contention, there is one net issue, which is that last Thursday, Fianna Fáil's Deputies Lisa Chambers and Niall Collins voted on behalf of their absent colleagues, Deputies Dooley and Calleary. They also cast votes on their own behalf, meaning both Fianna Fáil Deputies voted twice. That is a very serious matter. They also voted for absent colleagues, which is gravely serious as well. Deputy Lisa Chambers knowingly did so once, while Deputy Niall Collins did so six times, under the assumption - or so he claims - that his colleague Deputy Dooley was at the back of the Dáil Chamber on the phone for almost an hour. Whatever one makes of the accounts offered up by Deputies Lisa Chambers and Niall Collins, and I do not make much of them, the facts established in the report show that both Fianna Fáil Deputies acted in defiance of Article 15 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which explicitly states that Members must be present in order to vote. They also breached every common norm and standard of democratic practice both in this Parliament and beyond by voting twice. Do we need to tell Fianna Fáil that it is not okay to vote twice?

Both Deputies claim they acted on their own initiative and that they were not requested or coerced to vote for other colleagues. This stretches political credibility, particularly in the case of Deputies Niall Collins and Dooley, as video footage strongly suggests an exchange relating to votes took place. These Deputies' actions have caused damage to the Dáil, not because people care which seats we sit in or are interested in political squabbles, but because they care deeply and passionately about the quality of their democracy. The actions of Fianna Fáil reflect the worst politics of low standards in high places and reflect themselves again to be cavalier, arrogant and entitled. They show an absolute disregard and disrespect for the Constitution, the Oireachtas and the institutions of governance but most importantly, for the electorate. We are all elected to represent people and we make very serious decisions in this House. This is not a game. We pass budgets and make decisions on public spending and make, amend, and change laws. Our people have every right to expect that they have elected grown ups who can behave in a grown-up fashion. The core of this debacle is not about how we vote or where we sit. This is not a procedural matter and it is not really about electronic voting per se either. At the core of this debacle is the behaviour of Fianna Fáil Deputies. Their behaviour smacks of contempt for both the institutions of government and the people. Some people who are following this debate might say "a plague on all their houses" or that we are all at it but Dáil Deputies are not all at it. Named and identified Fianna Fáil Deputies have been at it.

The bigger question is how long Fianna Fáil has been at this, and whether this is an established pattern of behaviour within the party. A Cheann Comhairle, your report offered up no sanctions to the Deputies in question, though we understand that was not your remit or your role. The worst outcome from all of this would be if there was even the perception of a whitewash. People might get a sense that there are different rules or standards for Dáil Deputies, or that Fianna Fáil Deputies can do what they want and get away with it. The Committee on Members' Interests, which I understand will meet next Wednesday, therefore has a serious and important job to do. It is not a partisan, party political job but a job which must ensure that confidence and credibility attach to this institution. The report names Fianna Fáil Deputies Niall Collins, Lisa Chambers, Dooley and Calleary, and other names have also been mentioned. The report kills speculation and has established the facts. Two of those Deputies breached the imperative of Article 15 of Bunreacht na hÉireann and there must be a consequence for them for that.

This is a very serious matter, which the Ceann Comhairle and the Oireachtas have taken very seriously. There is a report before us. Deputy Micheál Martin spoke of balance but this is not about balance; it is about right and wrong. Balance should be taken as a given. The Deputy knows, as do the Deputies involved, that it was wrong for members of their party to vote twice. For Deputy Micheál Martin to then come into this House and make a very partisan and defensive contribution was quite disgraceful. People listening in wanted to see Fianna Fáil put its hands up and say it was wrong.

Instead, we got an attack on Fine Gael and Sinn Féin and a very partisan speech in an attempt to muddy the waters, because that is what Fianna Fáil does.

I will read some extracts from the report. Deputy Dooley stated that he told Deputy Niall Collins "I'll see you at the vote but I have to make a call". When asked about what he meant by pointing at the seats, Deputy Dooley stated that he was indicating to Deputy Niall Collins that he would see him when they were voting. That is simply not credible to most people. When asked whether he requested Deputy Niall Collins to vote for him, Deputy Dooley said "No, I'm clear on that fact". We cannot say that is a fact and it is far from clear. The vast majority of people outside this House would accept that. Deputy Niall Collins stated that he pressed the button on the vacant seat, as he assumed Deputy Dooley was at the back of the Chamber on the phone. The Deputy cannot assume such things. Six votes were held over 48 minutes, during which he assumed Deputy Dooley was in the back. The reality of this says something else. We in Sinn Féin want to know whether there was a pattern or an arrangement between certain Fianna Fáil Deputies when it came to voting. Deputy Micheál Martin offered up the astonishing defence that these were not close votes. However, we do not know how many times this has happened. The Ceann Comhairle's report refers to an audit of future votes.

We need to look back at a lot more votes to see whether there was a pattern. We also need to know whether there was understanding among a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies to vote for each other when they were not in the Chamber. Deputy Dooley is not here so I cannot put the question to him.

Deputies

He is.

Deputy Dooley should come clean.

Deputy, when you address your question through the Chair.

Deputies Collins and Cowen should come clean and stop hiding behind nonsense. It is as plain as the nose of everybody's face what happened here, yet these Deputies are trying to take the Irish people for fools. This is very serious and people want the facts, but they have not got the facts from these Deputies. It is absolutely appalling that Deputies are voting for other Deputies when they are not in the Chamber. If a citizen voted in a local, European or general election twice, would Deputy Michael Martin offer as a defence that because the margin of victory was big it was not that important and that it somehow diminished the wrong that was done? Of course he would not. If this happened in any other party he would be, quite rightly, outraged and on his feet demanding that the Deputies concerned told the truth. He has a responsibility to make sure that his Deputies give us the facts. I do not believe they have given us the facts in this report and they should come clean to the people of the State. They have not done so yet.

I welcome the Report of the Committee on Procedure on the Review by the Clerk of Dáil Éireann of Electronic Voting in Dáil Éireann on Thursday 17 October 2019 laid before the House today. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and all of those involved for their speedy conclusions and presentation of those facts. The report clearly and methodically sets out clear facts. It tells us what happened and is there for every Member of the House and citizen to read and come to their own conclusions. Complaints have, I understand, been made under the Ethics in Public Office Act and it is now a matter for the Committee on Members' Interests to examine those complaints in accordance with the laws determined by these Houses. Since those deliberations might result in recommendations coming back here for us to vote on, we will be the final jury. Therefore, it would be better if we did not prejudice ourselves until we hear the results of the recommendations from the committee we have set up to do that work.

I want to echo the words of the Ceann Comhairle from earlier today. What has emerged over the past week has eroded confidence in Dáil Éireann. The so-called war of the buttons and public jousting which has gone on since has fed into a very unwelcome and unhelpful narrative regarding public confidence here. I do not underestimate the degree of public anger on this matter. Like everybody else, I have received emails from my constituents outlining how annoyed they are that such carry on could happen. The matter has also distracted from real issues of public concern such as the disturbing picture of a five year old homeless child eating his dinner off cardboard on Grafton Street, an image which captures the failure of the State to address the most serious homeless crisis we have ever faced. It detracted from the centrality that the solemn apology of the State on Tuesday for the CervicalCheck scandal should have had. All of these things were battling with this matter for airspace and public space.

The controversy began when Fianna Fáil Deputy Niall Collins cast six votes in a row for his colleague, Deputy Timmy Dooley, who had left the Chamber. That was wrong and unacceptable. Nobody in the House would, could or has tried to justify that. It is a most serious matter that goes to the heart of representative democracy and undermines the solemn duty of the mandate that each of us has when we come here. No explanation has been offered and it is up to those Deputies to explain fully their actions. I welcome Deputy Martin's statement that we will have such an explanation.

It has cast a cloud over our democratic prerogative. However, the controversy went on to expose a carelessness which has crept into our voting procedures, whereby votes were cast by proxy for Members who were present in the Chamber but not in their designated seats and did not press their assigned buttons, a practice that apparently has become accepted. It is not constitutional. This ought to be discussed as a serious matter. Instead, this week it was reduced to an intra-party slug fest. There is a danger that this debate will follow the same path.

Staff in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were apparently assigned to spend hours this week trawling through footage of the Dáil proceedings to see if they could find ammunition for a political attack. Charge was met with counter-charge. Fine Gael spotted the opportunity to wrong foot Fianna Fáil, just in case there might be an election around the corner. The Minister for Justice and Equality spoke earlier in the week of illegal acts. On "Morning Ireland" the Minister for Health quoted selectively from the Constitution, which I believe was a matter of political expediency.

He was not here.

The bottom line is that the Minister said, "Present". He did not say, "and voting". One does not only have to be present, one has to vote.

Grow up, Minister.

That is the truth, Simon. From the highest level, both parties went on the offensive, selectively picking issues to throw at one another. Let me be crystal clear for the Minister for Health. The Constitution does not say that one can parse and analyse the present and voting elements.

Can you vote when you are not here?

Minister for Health, please-----

He is provoking me.

Do not allow yourself to be provoked. I am sure you are capable of avoiding that.

The report presented to the House sets the record straight. The Minister may not have had a chance to read it. Paragraph 8 on page 26 states:

During the voting block, Members take the opportunity to speak to Ministers and other colleagues, and are therefore not always in their designated seats when the vote is taking place. As a result, the practice of Members voting on behalf of their colleagues who are present in the Dáil Chamber has developed significantly in recent years. There is a general acceptance among Members that this is not good practice and must be discontinued. Furthermore, it doesn’t align with the Constitutional requirement imposed by Article 15.11.1°

That is, voting by proxy for other Members is unconstitutional. The report confirms what we all know, namely, that we cannot allow proxy voting. A Member cannot vote for another Member, regardless of whether he or she is here. Article 15.11.1° states that the questions are decided by the votes of the Members present and voting. There are two requirements. A Deputy has to be present and actually vote in his or her designated seat.

Apart from anything else, the notion that it would be acceptable to vote by proxy would strike most people outside of the House as an absurd thought. We are sent here as a Teachta Dála, the people's representative, to vote in the name of the people we represent. The rules do not allow proxy voting, whether by persons inside or outside the Chamber. One practice is as irregular and unconstitutional as the other. There is no basis for getting hot under the collar over one and not the other. We need to put our house in order and not look at this from a partisan political perspective.

I support conclusion 4 of the report on the need for a wider review of the voting system. As I have said, my preference is for us to use the fobs or cards we all carry to access our offices and so on. Our terminals were designed for the cards and I hope it is technically possible to do that.

Before I conclude, I want to make a general point. I have been privileged to represent the people of Wexford in this House since 1987. In every Dáil of which I have been a Member, every Member has taken votes in this House most seriously and most solemnly. I have seen Governments fall over votes on Private Members' business.

I was privileged to introduce one myself in 1989 when the then Taoiseach was coming back from Japan. He rushed into the House to see if the Private Members' Bill had been passed and he would have to call a general election. Deputies will remember that most Private Members' Bills caused the Visitors Gallery to be full because people regarded votes in this House as important. Governments regarded votes in this House as important. This unique Dáil regards votes in the House as votes taken by the local debating society. The Government is defeated three or four times a week but shrugs its shoulders as if an instruction of the House, the elected Parliament, is of no consequence and no meaning. Is it any wonder Members have less respect for the results of votes in the House when decisions solemnly made by the majority of Members are entirely and routinely ignored? We have a lot to put right in this Chamber. Certainly, we must get the basics right in making sure Members cast their votes properly, publicly and constitutionally. We also need to ensure votes in this House, the Chamber of elected Deputies of the people of Ireland, have meaning and are respected as such by all those concerned, particularly the Government.

What has been revealed in the past week or so is utterly scandalous. It demonstrates deeply-double standards in how ordinary people would be treated if they attempted to get someone else to vote for them and how Deputies feel they can act. It demonstrates contempt for democracy on the Fianna Fáil side of the House, but we also see it in other respects on the Government side of the House, for example, in the abuse of money messages. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dáil for the comprehensive and speedy report.

I will focus on some of the details. Perhaps Deputies Collins and Dooley might answer some of the questions I will pose when they make their personal statements. Bluntly, I do not buy the stories given by Deputy Collins and Deputy Dooley. To summarise, their story is that Deputy Dooley did not realise Deputy Collins was voting for him at any time until he was contacted the following day, while Deputy Collins' story is that he thought Deputy Dooley was at the back of the Chamber making a phone call and that he, therefore, voted for him. There is a real problem with that story from the evidence given to the review, in particular from Deputy Collins. It is related to the fact that there were eight votes on the day and that Deputy Collins only voted for Deputy Dooley in six of the eight votes. Deputy Collins maintains that during the entire time of the eight votes he thought that Deputy Dooley was at the back of the Chamber and felt they had an informal ongoing relationship, whereby because of the fact that Deputy Dooley was at the back of the Chamber meant that Deputy Collins would vote for him. However, he cannot explain why he voted in the first six votes but not in the last two. He was asked about this by Ms Mellissa English who says: "If you thought that Deputy Dooley was there and you didn't look around, why stop?" Deputy Collins said: "I can't give an explanation. It is an obvious question but I can't give an explanation." It seems something important happened between the sixth and seventh votes. Mr. Peter Finnegan asked: "At one stage you took a quick 10 second phone call in the chamber. Can you recall who it was?" Deputy Collins replied, "No". He did not offer to check his phone, as Deputy Dooley did when he was being interviewed about a separate matter. The fact that Deputy Collins voted six times, claimed that he thought that Deputy Dooley was still in Chamber, got a phone call and then stopped has significance. Deputy Collins needs to tell us if the phone call was from Deputy Dooley and if it was about him voting. He needs to provide an explanation as to why he did not vote in votes seven and eight.

Is it a coincidence that the five seats involved - A14, A15, A16, A17 and A18 - are on the front bench or it is related to the fact that the cameras only pick Members up on the first two benches? If someone on the third, fourth or fifth bench was to engage in this practice, it would not be picked up by the cameras, we would not have Votegate and none of us would be any the wiser. Are there Deputies in Fianna Fáil on these benches who have engaged in this practice and not been caught? Is it a widespread, off-camera practice and is it only those who happen to be on camera who are caught?

Many members of the public have asked what benefit was in it for Deputy Dooley. Why would you possibly get someone to vote for you? People often ask whether it is because the Deputy can get the 120-day travel and accommodation allowance. The answer is that would not be a rationale for doing it. The rationale would be to be seen to be voting on issues so one cannot be accused of having a low voting record and that if someone asks how a Deputy voted, he or she is able to say how he or she voted. The question about expenses and the 120 days begs another question. We all know that there is a system of fobbing in order to receive the full allowance that is not subject to any camera check and is even more open to abuse than the voting system. Is it the case that Deputies are getting others to fob in for them to get up to the figure of 120 days because if they are willing or able to get others to vote for them when they are not in the Chamber, why on earth would they not get somebody to fob in for them in order that they can clock in to receive their expenses?

I thank Deputy Paul Murphy for that forensic scrutiny of the report. There was news this morning that no sanctions were being imposed. There is a public perception that there is no come-back for any of the wrongdoing in this House. That is not the fault of the Ceann Comhairle, but he needs to make sure the record is clear that he does not have it within his power to impose sanctions and that it has moved to another level because people I have met and who have phoned me are shocked that there will be no sanctions. They are shocked that Deputies would vote for others not present in the Chamber and by the statements we have received so far from the Deputies involved, which stretch credulity. One of the reasons people are shocked by the lack of sanctions is ordinary people are constantly sanctioned for what is perceived or declared to be wrongdoing. Yesterday, during questions to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, we found out that over 50,000 jobseekers had been sanctioned financially under the JobPath programme. Under the Electoral Acts, somebody who breaches the law in misusing his or her vote can receive a fine of up to €2,500 and/or a term of imprisonment for two years. Therefore, people are shocked when they wake up to find that there will be no sanctions for this behaviour. We need accountability and sanctions for those Deputies who voted for others who were not in the Chamber. Otherwise we are holding this democracy in contempt and feeding the cynicism of so many about our democracy and what happens in this House.

I want to dwell for a few minutes on other aspects of what happens in this House that bring us into disrepute. The airwaves have been consumed by Votegate in a week when we have learned that the State's chief procurement officer has resigned from the development board of the national children's hospital, the overspend on which is about to escalate; the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to importing fracked gas against the stated wishes of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action; 10,000 people are homeless and that 100,000 people are in need of housing, many of whom are living in fear of eviction. Citizens are dying on the streets because of the housing crisis, while over 50 progressive Bills are being held up because of the lack of a money message. I draw attention to this because it concerns two parts of democracy. They concern how we use our vote and when we use it. We are blocked by the Government in progressing legislation that might address all of the disparate elements of our society. Some of the Bills are vitally important. One is the Green Party's Waste Reduction Bill. There is our own Bill to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the Solidarity-People Before Profit anti-eviction Bill, the Sinn Féin Bill dealing with micro-generation and the Social Democrats' Bill dealing with the prohibition of micro-plastics.

I could go on and on. More than 50 progressive Bills are being held captive by the Government because of spurious money messages. On 6 November, we will be putting a motion before this House to change Standing Orders to allow those Bills to progress. I hope all Members will do the democratic thing and support the motion.

If we really want to instill confidence in this process and if we really want to win back the support of the people, we need to state that there has to be transparency in this Chamber. We have to learn lessons and be open. We also have to learn that it is one Deputy, one vote, and nothing else. There was a time in Northern Ireland when there was a demand for one man, one vote. That was fiercely resisted by the British Government. We got past that period and we now need to show that we care about democracy. Many countries around the world are on fire because of the lack of democracy, including Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Peru and Catalonia, to mention just a few. It is at our peril that we do not adhere to the democratic principles fought for so hard by previous generations. We need to learn lessons from this, move on and be utterly and totally transparent to the people.

I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who is sharing her time with Deputy Connolly.

The committee met this morning at 9 a.m. to consider the report, but by 10.02 a.m. the report was on Twitter and we had responses and tweets from journalists. It was 11.35 a.m., however, before Members of the Dáil received a hard copy of that report. There is an issue regarding the order in which people receive reports we are going to debate. We have all seen Deputies engaged in conversation with another Deputy or Minister while the seconds are counting down to a vote. The Deputy engaged in the conversation will call down to another Deputy sitting near his or her seat to press the voting button. While that is not best practice, I had not seen anything sinister in it until recently. Recent events have shown, though, how the system has been abused. I refer to voting for someone not in the Chamber and doing that several times and then not correcting a vote when a mistake has been made. I do not want to believe that there was anything sinister in that, because I want to believe in the integrity of all of us who are elected to the Dáil.

There are too many examples of parliaments around the world that are corrupt, where physical violence has broken out, where there is blatant self-interest among the members and where there are connections with criminality. There is one parliament in Latin America where a significant number of members are up on charges in another jurisdiction for drugs trafficking. Our parliamentary democracy, however, has been effective because it is transparent and accountable. There is no doubt, though, that the events of the last few days have dealt a blow to that integrity. Once a few examples are discovered, it seems inevitable that there could be more. The question is whether the system has been seriously abused in the past, and we certainly hope not.

Another aspect I found disturbing was how, last Tuesday, the way the incident was almost allowed to develop into an Irish Watergate, such was the potential for sensationalism and opportunism before all of the facts were known. There were delays, business ran late and those in Gallery waiting on the apology had to sit through all of that. Once that space is opened, it is easy for an issue to assume dimensions not warranted at the stage. That is not taking from this issue being serious because we know the penalties for those impersonating others at elections. There is a procedure to deal with this, however, and that finally happened. An immediate referral to the proper authorities could have saved us much time and trouble on Tuesday.

We have a fairly robust voting system. The Ceann Comhairle has as role, the tellers have a role and we are all conscious that tellers are looking around when it does come time to sign the papers. The bottom line, however, is personal responsibility to be in one's own seat and to press one's own button. The report shows that has been done and acknowledges the procedure. The terms of reference in the report are to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the voting system in the Dáil is restored. I looked at the recommendations, the conclusions and the transcripts. There are many references to assumptions and I had to feel for the country Deputies, who seem to be getting the blame because they are in a rush on a Thursday. I do not see that happening here and I do not see that as being a reason or an excuse. The conclusion is for there to be more transparency and clarity on the protocols, but especially regarding the responsibilities and obligations of individual Members. That is what it comes down to and the rules that exist just state the obvious. It is up to us to abide by them.

One recommendation called for a wider review of the voting system. I do not see the need to change a system which was and is respected by the majority of the Members. There would be an extra expense involved in a card system, which could also be open to abuse, or a fingerprint system. That would be a terrible waste of finance, unless, perhaps, the Deputies involved in this issue would be picking up the bill. We know the length of time walk-through votes take. Even though they seem to be foolproof, that would take up a lot of time. The report sets out what the tellers have to do and the protocols involved. The tellers, however, should not have to be checking that people are in the right seats. We are all adults and that aspect is covered in the Constitution in respect of questions being determined by a majority of Members "present and voting". That is that and we have to abide by it.

Reading through the transcripts, it is the stuff of drama. I was reminded of the playwright, Colin Murphy, who once took a transcript from a meeting of Dublin City Council and created a very entertaining drama. It made for great entertainment but it certainly did not do the councillors involved any good. I can see something similar happening here to this kind of musical chairs that had been going on.

I want to reiterate what was stated by Deputy Pringle when he representing Independents 4 Change at the meeting with the Clerk The system is fine. We do not think there is a problem but Members involved in this situation should be dealt with. It is a reminder to us all that, as people have said, it is an honour and a privilege to be elected to this House. We just have to live up to that.

There 38 people on hospital trolleys in Galway today and I have more time to talk about this than I had to talk about them. I had three minutes to speak about the people on trolleys on Tuesday. That puts this into perspective. I would have thought that the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party would have come into the House, apologised and sat down. Wrong was done, votes were taken in the absence of someone from the Chamber and that is against Article 15 of the Constitution. It should not have happened, end of story.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk for doing a good and practical report. I have some reservations regarding some of the recommendations conferring an onerous role on the tellers. We also saw the extent of gender inequality today, which was brought home to us in a most acute way when all of the tellers went up for the vote. Besides that, however, it is just not practical that all of the tellers will go up and check after each vote. I looked this report, thought that it was a good one and that we should get on with the real issues. Then I heard the content of the statements from both sides. The Ceann Comhairle appealed for respect, but I am afraid that I have difficulty giving respect to either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael on this issue, having listened to the content of the speeches. Fine Gael has used this issue as a Star Chamber to score points and Fianna Fáil has been disgraceful. The speech from Deputy Micheál Martin was simply disgraceful. I refer to coming in and referring to general practices, the specific incident last week and the changes. I did nothing wrong, my colleagues did nothing wrong and most of the Deputies in the Dáil have done nothing wrong. Most of the Fianna Fáil Members, indeed, have done nothing wrong and I am sure they have mixed emotions about what has happened. A small number of Deputies did something wrong. They voted when they should not have voted. That should be the end of the matter in the sense of standing up, apologising and taking whatever consequences the committee will decide upon next week.

Instead, we have a report that brings all sorts of things into this situation, including me as a so-called country Deputy. Some of my colleagues, who were interviewed by the Ceann Comhairle or Peter Finnegan said that Deputies were giddy, used their phones and do all sorts of things. None of that is relevant to this debate. A small number of Deputies did something wrong. They should come in, stand up, give an example - we all do things wrong - learn from it and move on. Instead of that, we now have a report. I imagine Miriam Lord and the "Callan's Kicks" show can take a holiday. They do not have to work from imagination from now on, they simply have to quote from this report. We have a Deputy who voted six times and does not know why he stopped. The obvious answer is that his finger got very tired after voting six times for himself and six times, presumably, for the person absent.

I have had many phone calls from journalists and I am tired of them. I am tired of the level of questioning. There is one issue. We should deal with that issue and move on with what we are here for. I see no reason to change the voting system. There is openness and accountability on that issue. It is all up there for everybody to see. I do not see why we need to change that. We are all grown-up people and the best thing we can do now is acknowledge what has happened. It is not okay for people to state they did not think it was a massive issue. When the record is wrong, the record is wrong. That is why we can leave our seats and state that we made a mistake. It is important that we have a record that is accurate.

That is all I have to say on the matter, except that I wish the leader of Fianna Fáil, and particularly the second Fine Gael speaker, would reflect on what they came in here to do today. It certainly was not to bring finality to this matter or to accept responsibility.

I understand Deputy Tóibín is taking some of the Rural Independent Group's time.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Mattie McGrath as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom.

I will not go over all the details of what happened. It is clear that two Fianna Fáil Deputies voted twice. It is clear that they voted for themselves and for other Deputies who were outside the Chamber. On what planet is that okay? A child in school would understand that it is wrong for anybody to vote twice. If there was a citizen in a polling station, this would be called plainly and simply voter fraud, and yet we are told that the Deputies whose professional job is to uphold the democratic structures of this State could not work out whether this was right or wrong. We heard the Fianna Fáil leader equivocate over the importance of this issue. It is also clear that when the Deputies were asked initially to come clean on this issue, their first instinct was to hide their wrongdoing and not to tell the truth.

Every year, we hear Deputies in this Chamber call laudably for Dáil reform. Everybody is always calling for Dáil reform but what Members do not realise is that most of the reforms that are necessary are in the gift of the political parties themselves. The standards and behaviour of the Dáil are in the gift of the leadership of the political parties, which are responsible for what their Deputies are involved in. Deputy Micheál Martin cannot, on the one hand, call for Dáil reform and then remain practically passive about what is happening in his own political party. He cannot call for accountability in other political parties and then simply give a gentle clip on the ear to his own Deputies for breaking constitutional law. It is incredible that we get into this fervour about investing tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of euro to change voting systems and introduce new technology in this Chamber when all we must do is the bleeding obvious and make sure that the Deputies are accountable for what they do in this Chamber.

Last night, I had a debate with Deputy Lawless of Fianna Fáil on "The Late Debate". I asked him whether it was right if a Deputy breaks constitutional law in multiple votes such as this that he or she should lose the whip, and he replied that was absolutely the right thing to do. He seems to have a different standard from the Fianna Fáil leader on this particular issue.

There is no doubt that this issue has evolved into farce. People are talking about what shoes or boots are visible on Ministers on the television.

There is no doubt as well that the people who are consumed with housing, health service waiting lists, hospital trolleys, transport crisis and the regional imbalance in the country will look at this farce here today and ask how is this helping their situation.

The new politics of the so-called confidence and supply agreement has radically devalued the House's voting system. On a regular basis, Deputies come in and vote for Private Members' Bills and majorities are attained, yet the Government completely ignores those democratic votes. The Government is basically challenging the democratic will of citizens. They are laughed at by the Government. Those Bills get to Third Stage and then disappear into a black hole where nothing happens.

Undoubtedly, votes in this Chamber have also been devalued by the fact that the Government loses them day in, day out. It would have been front page news at one time if a Government lost a vote and yet it loses them regularly, which is shocking. It is easy to diminish what is happening here but the individual votes we cast are the practical delivery of the democratic will of the people and we need to respect that.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the timely production of this report. People have spent a considerable period over the past few days working on it.

It is disappointing that we are giving valuable Dáil time to something like this. However, it is essential because we cannot underestimate the importance of this issue as it shows disregard for the parliamentary process. Unfortunately, it gives the public the impression that a disregard such as this is not the only thing that is disregarded.

Each day when you come into this House it is important to remind yourself of what a privilege it is to be here to represent the people who elected you. Indeed, we are not here as individuals. We are here to represent citizens. Voting for someone else is, therefore, voting not only as a individual but often for people in a different constituency. We must remind ourselves of that.

It is an issue of public trust. Unfortunately, with the mud-slinging that has happened in the past week, primarily between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the conclusion is they are all at it, but we are not all at it. The net point is that there is a number of subjects who are part of this report.

The anger that has been displayed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, particularly this week, is the kind of more normal engagement that one would have between a Government and the main Opposition party but there is nothing normal about this Dáil and the confidence and supply arrangement. There is a feeling that the votes are not as relevant and there is a marking of time. I would prefer to be debating housing and homelessness, the health crisis, the national broadband plan and, for example, the boil water notice, than talking about this issue and I would like the same anger to be expressed about those issues.

I agree with what has been said by Deputy Connolly regarding Deputy Micheál Martin's response. I am very disappointed with his contribution. It is wide of the mark. Looking at the footage of Deputy Dooley talking to Deputies O'Dea and Niall Collins, we are being taken for fools with the story. It does not stand up. It is not a question of brazening it out. If there is to be integrity in this process, they should fess up. That is what is needed.

On the Dáil record, the idea that a Deputy would know - it is in a different league - that he or she made an error and did not bring that error to the attention of the tellers when they were signing off on the votes is wrong because the Dáil record is wrong then and we have to be able to rely on the Dáil record.

The key issue is that we should not be in this position. There are some reasonable recommendations in this report. There are other things that must happen. There must be consideration of sanctions and that is for a different committee. It is very important to say that is not for this report but the issue has not disappeared. It is important that the public understands that.

The scariest votes I ever cast, and perhaps others had the same experience, were in local authorities because in those votes, I was often voting with a constituent sitting right behind me and I had to raise a hand - yes or no - on some issue of local importance. I was aware some of the people behind me who did not want me to cast my vote a certain way but it taught me a real lesson that every vote is important.

As my colleagues, Deputy Catherine Martin reminded me yesterday, I am sure every Deputy has the same sense that I had the first day I walked through these gates of the absolute honour, of course, but also real trepidation. The first time one walks into this Chamber there is a sense of absolute fear - what does one do, where does one sit and what happens next. We must keep that in our minds and in our every act every moment of the day for fear that hubris would allow us forget that we are only here because of the votes of the people in our constituencies.

It is remarkable that these events have occurred at the end of our Dáil 100 celebrations. Perhaps we have all been getting a little beyond ourselves in recent times. We have been looking across at Members of the UK Parliament and laughing at them because they would not even be able to vote for Christmas if they had the opportunity to do so, while we are here working together in a sensible way. Hubris may have crept in and allowed us lose the run of ourselves in the way we vote.

Every Member of this Chamber goes out and meets people while canvassing. We do not mind if someone gives out or has an argument with us; that is fine. We all agree, however, that the hardest door to which to come is the one at which someone says he or she does not think he or she will vote. I always answer by referring to the key issue, namely, sovereignty. The people are sovereign when they vote. It is the centre point of our republic that every person is equal and has that power. We have the power, not some other entity. I then have to explain that people exercise that power by voting for me and that I will exercise it when I sit in this Chamber and press the button to vote. That is central to our constitutional democratic republic and it is not a small matter. I agree with other speakers that being partisan, whether it is offence or defence, does not help but distracts from the core issue. It may also cast doubt on whether people realise this issue is important. That should stop.

The Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dáil have the widespread confidence of this House in the way they have addressed this issue and I am sure they will continue to do so. Difficult issues arise because we will have to put to our members of the committee the very serious issue of how the immediate issue is to be addressed. Deputy Paul Murphy said there would be difficult issues in that regard also. Do we ask Deputies for permission to access their phone records to be able to get clarity on what exactly happened? I do not know how we should decide because this is not a judicial body but a legislative body. I trust the Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk of the Dáil, our legal advisers and others will help the committee to carry out its work in a fair and timely manner.

I agree with Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan. We have to be careful not to take from some of the good things that have occurred in this Dáil. In my interview with the Clerk of the Dáil I told him that the way we voted on a Thursday had been a progressive development. It gives every Member a week, sometimes longer, to think about the way he or she will vote and perhaps work with other parties to persuade them at the last minute and consider every amendment.

I agree with Deputy Howlin that, in some ways, the arrangements do not reflect what happened in the old days when there was real certainty and that the Government has abused and misused the constitutional powers of the Executive in refusing to allow very good legislation to be passed by the House. The way we vote on a Thursday is the proper way. I say to Deputy Howlin that while we are not winning votes in the way the Government used to win them in the past, I take every vote as a declaration of where Members, parties and individuals stand. I refer to the votes we took on the motion on forestry that we debated in the House. In any future work with other parties, whether it be in local government or whatever form here, I will refer to that motion and remind them that they agreed with us when we said this was what we should do.

Votes and what each party does in every vote are not insignificant. They set out where we stand. The fundamental act of voting for someone else, voting twice or voting from the wrong place weakens the sense that when I vote, I am saying what I believe we should do. It is difficult when there are many amendments and so on, but it is not just about who pressed the right button and whatnot; it is also about what the vote means. In sitting in the wrong place and voting for someone else we undermine our own power. We undermine the faith the voter has put in us that if they vote for me, they are voting for me to take every single amendment to a Bill seriously, in the same way we do in a council when we have someone breathing down our neck because it concerns an issue of importance. Every issue is important, as is every vote. That is why what happened here in the past week was so sad.

I thank Deputy Eamon Ryan and all other Deputies for their contributions. I want to respond to two of the points that have been raised. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, rightly, raised the question of the release of the report. It was released to every Member at the same time having been laid before the House. If the media had it earlier, they had it because it was leaked to them by a member of the Committee on Procedure. Last week we published a report on harassment in the workplace. It was sent to Members at 5.20 p.m. and made the 9 p.m. news before the committee had met to consider it. I put it to the Deputies who were responsible for the leaks that they might examine their conscience and wonder about taking the high moral ground.

On the question of sanctions, I will repeat what I said this morning. The question of sanctions, if there are to be sanctions, is for this House and it alone to decide. Because a complaint has been made under the ethics Act, the matter must be considered first by the Committee on Members' Interests and due process must be followed. I am afraid that those who want to see some sanction taking place today will be disappointed because due process must be followed.

I say to ordinary people who are asking about this issue that we are all ordinary people, but we are ordinary people charged with extraordinary responsibilities which Members should take seriously.