Don't Mind Me: Politicians are really pushing my buttons

Patricia Feehily

Reporter:

Patricia Feehily

Don't Mind Me: Politicians are really pushing my buttons

Buttongate: Surely there are more pressing issues the Dail should be sorting

I DON’T get it! Here we are, fancying ourselves as the unblemished custodians of democracy, paragons of political virtue in a tainted and sometimes bizarre world order.

Then we go and elect people we profess not to trust. It just doesn’t make sense. In nearly every MRBI ‘trustworthy’ survey, to which we regularly respond, politicians are ranked last. Journalists don’t fare much better, but that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

Actually, I don’t think either profession deserves the generic opprobrium accorded to it. At the end of the day, there’s good and bad in each of us, and politicians and journalists aren’t any worse as a group than the nurses, doctors, judges, scientists and meteorologists who are always voted the most upright and truthful.

Forgive me then if I feel somewhat bewildered at the nation’s reaction to the recent Dáil electronic voting shenanigans. For a people proclaiming such high values, we’ve proved a bit ambivalent on this one, I have to say. “A storm in a teacup,” was how someone described it to me. Others want the Dáil members who are more enthusiastically on the side of the righteous to get over themselves and ‘get on with solving more pressing issues’ like health and housing. And there was me thinking that it was all about ethics now and less about a personal faith in a higher order, which to be honest, I always found more comforting!

Anyway, how can we get on with anything if we don’t have a fool proof, legally based and incorruptible system of voting in the National Parliament? As far as I’m concerned, anything we “got on with” since electronic voting was introduced is now open to question. Did all those who voted for any piece of legislation really vote at all, or were they outside in the corridor taking a call or booking a holiday, when the issue was decided? And if they were, and if the button was pushed by a colleague, then where does the legislation stand now?

The really amazing thing is that we would ever have introduced an electronic voting system for TDs in the first place without including a code of ethics to ensure its integrity - seeing that we have such little faith in the users themselves. The best we can do now, short of scrapping the technology, is to put them in handcuffs and chain them to their seats whenever a vote is due in the Dáil. We could, of course, resort to the old fashioned, albeit time consuming, method of asking each deputy orally to announce his vote. They wouldn’t be long coming in from the shadows then.

The thing is we have to do something before we become the laughing stock of the world. The Irish don’t trust their politicians, they’ll say, but they give them free rein with the casting of their parliamentary votes. If we’re not careful, they’ll be advertising for proxy voters from the ranks of the public next, so that they can have an uninterrupted break from the rigours of Dáil business and we won’t even utter a gasp when an act is passed without a single TD pressing a button. The possibilities are endless!

The enquiry into the affair is on-going and no Deputy has been sanctioned so far. I doubt if they will and I hope they won’t. It looks as if half the Dail members indulged in ghost-voting at least once during their terms of office and why, those who weren’t so tactically inclined, didn’t notice what was going on is beyond me. It couldn’t possibly be a case of collective blind eye syndrome, could it? Yet, despite being a sucker for political scandal and at the same time, feeling a tad scandalised as well, I think the culprits should be let off with 100 lines each of “I must not vote twice” for putting such a dent in our smugness. And maybe the electorate should get another 100 lines of “I must have more trust in the people I elected to office”.

Nevertheless the affair won’t make me lose my trust in the political system. If anything it will increase my distrust of the ‘permanent government’, the civil service, which devised and installed an electronic voting system without a thought to how its integrity might be ensured and maintained.

For months now we’ve been glancing across the Irish Sea scoffing at the mother of parliaments tripping herself up in intrigue, downright idiocy and bizarre medieval rituals. But at least they kept to the rules and there was no ghost voting. As far as I’m concerned, the ‘ayes’ have it, and maybe that’s what we should have too.