Explainer: How voting system is supposed to work – and what happens next?

So, how is the system supposed to work? We answer all your questions.

Why is there controversy about votes in the Dáil?

The Irish Independent revealed that Clare TD Timmy Dooley’s vote was recorded six times last Thursday despite his absence from the Dáil chamber at the time. His party colleague Niall Collins later claimed he was pressing Mr Dooley’s voting button in the mistaken belief his colleague was on the phone at the back of the chamber. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin ordered the pair to step down from the front bench pending the outcome of an investigation to be carried out by the Ceann Comhairle. It has spiralled since then with other TDs getting dragged into the ‘phantom voting’ scandal.

How is voting supposed to work?

There are two ways that votes are carried out – electronic voting and walk-through votes. Most of the routine votes on legislation take place on Thursday afternoons and the majority are carried out electronically. But fundamentally TDs must actually be present.

How do TDs know they need to get into the chamber?

Bells sound throughout Leinster House and its offices warning TDs a vote is about to take place. They have at least six minutes to get there before the doors are locked while the vote is taking place.

How does the electronic voting work?

First introduced 17 years ago, it cut down the need for TDs to march through the voting lobbies at the top of the stairs on every issue. TDs are assigned their own Dáil seat which has three buttons – green for Tá (Yes), red for Níl (No) and blue for Staon (Abstain). They have one minute to press the button and record their vote.

The votes pop up on a TV graphic showing the Dáil’s seating plan as they are taking place.

Do TDs have to be in their own assigned seats to record their vote?

In theory, yes. But as we’ve learned in recent days, colleagues sometimes press other TDs’ buttons when they are elsewhere in the chamber.

They could be chatting to another TD or even on the phone at the top of the stairs.

And that’s allowed to take place – that sounds mad?

For now it is allowed, yes. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he accepted it’s “not good practice”.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton said the rules will “undoubtedly” have to be tightened up. He said it will be for the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl to decide.

What action has the Ceann Comhairle taken?

Mr Ó Fearghaíl ordered an investigation into irregular votes in the Dáil in the wake of the controversy surrounding Mr Dooley and Mr Collins.

The Oireachtas could not offer details of this investigation last night other than to say a report is “to be prepared by the clerk of the Dáil as a matter of urgency”.

Are there any votes planned this week?

Yes, the routine weekly divisions are scheduled in for just after 1pm on Thursday.

Will they be conducted electronically, given the furore over ‘phantom votes’?

Yes, unless TDs demand walk-through votes under the Dáil’s rules which are known as standing orders.

What does this involve?

TDs must troop up the stairs and register their Tá or Níl votes with tellers stationed on opposite sides of the chamber. This is the method used for the Dáil to elect a Taoiseach or Ceann Comhairle. Sometimes walk-throughs are demanded where the vote results are tight. At least 20 members are required to support the holding of a walk-through vote. In the wake of ‘vote-gate’, TDs may well demand that this happens on Thursday.

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