FORMER MINISTER Michael Lowry has the poorest attendance record for Dáil votes of anyone outside the Cabinet, TheJournal.ie can reveal.
Analysis of the attendance records for TDs during Dáil votes, as listed on the Oireachtas website, reveals that only Taoiseach Enda Kenny – who is often abroad or elsewhere attending to government business – has attended fewer Dáil voting sessions so far in 2012.
Lowry has been present for a mere 17 voting sessions so far this year, out of a total of 79 discussions in which votes have been called – some of which may have included multiple votes held in quick succession. Other TDs have been present for over four times as many.
Outside of cabinet ministers, the TD with the next-worst attendance record for votes is People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, who has been present for 27 voting sessions.
His United Left Alliance colleague, socialist Joe Higgins, also ranks among the most infrequent voters, having voted at only 31 sessions out of 79.
Neither Lowry nor Boyd Barrett responded to invitations for comment when approached by TheJournal.ie – but last night Higgins offered a vigorous defence of his attendance record.
“The voting records of Dáil Deputies reflect only a miniscule fraction of the crucial political work necessitated to fulfil an election mandate to [...] actively oppose the disastrous Fine Gael-Labour policy of continuing with the bailout of bankers, bondholders, speculators and the European markets system”, he said.
The Dublin West TD explained that the referendum on the Fiscal Compact and the opposition to the Household Charge required him to travel nationwide helping to build nationwide campaigns.
“Many of these activities conflicted with the Dail voting timetable,” Higgins said, adding:
Against a background where this government has a massive majority and can only be defeated by such mass movements of active opposition, Joe Higgins believes that it was far more crucial to assist the building of this opposition on the ground where such a conflict existed.
A slew of other TDs are also listed as having relatively poor voting records – though among them are several Fianna Fáil front-bench TDs who are among the members most likely to be ‘paired’ with a minister.
Ministers who have to miss Dáil sittings in order to attend to ministerial duties are usually ‘paired’ with a member of the opposition who then agrees to abstain in any votes that the minister misses.
This is particularly important where the Dáil majority is small, and allows a minister to attend other events without the fear that the Government could lose a Dáil vote because of them. Ordinarily the ‘paired’ member is a front-bench spokesman of the largest opposition party.
This goes some way to explaining the relatively infrequent voting of Willie O’Dea (28), Niall Collins (31), and the trio of Micheál Martin, Seán Fleming and Barry Cowen (34). The absence of Fine Gael’s Aine Collins (30) and Labour’s Willie Penrose (31) can be attributed to illness.
Top and bottom
Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness has participated in 34 voting sessions, but as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee he is usually tied up in committee meetings on Thursdays.
The Munster pairing of Waterford independent John Halligan and the ULA’s Séamus Healy, from Tipperary South, are also among the more irregular attendees at 35 and 38 respectively.
Obligations as Irish delegates to the Council of Europe explains the absences of the Dublin Central independent Maureen O’Sullivan (36) and the Fine Gael duo of John Paul Phelan (38) and Joe O’Reilly (39).
At the other end of the scale, a series of Fine Gael backbenchers are the most regular voters. David Stanton has voted in 73 voting sessions, out of a possible 79, while Alan Farrell and Derek Keating have made it to 71. Brian Walsh and Paul Connaughton have attended 69 each, as has Labour’s Eric Byrne.
One appearance back, on 68, are Fianna Fáil whip Seán Ó Feargháil, Labour’s Kevin Humphreys, and the Fine Gael duo of Joe Carey and Noel Harrington. Another five government backbenchers have made it to 67 votes.
How the figures are calculated
The total number of voting sessions, at 79, does not strictly equal the total number of actual votes (or ‘divisions’) which have taken place – as often a number of votes can be held in quick succession, under the same item on the Dáil’s daily agenda.
For example, debates on the Dáil’s order of business – which sets the agenda for the rest of the day – regularly result in multiple divisions being called. Similarly, when opposition motions are being debated, TDs will usually vote on a government amendment immediately before they divide for a final vote.
The records listed above deem a TD to have ‘voted’ if they have cast a vote in at least one division whenever one is held – meaning any absenteeism for votes held immediately beforehand, or immediately afterward, is not considered. It is estimated that about 100 individual divisions have been held thus far in 2012.
Dáil procedures have no way of recording any abstentions, meaning any conscious abstention by a TD is treated simply as if the member was absent.