McConalogue and Cowen missed Dáil vote on Budget due to bell system bungle

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The Agriculture Minister and three other Government TDs were excluded from the Dáil for a vote on Budget night, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The system for alerting TDs to Dáil votes is based on bells, followed by a grace period for deputies to enter the chamber before the doors are locked.

In this single case, the division bells were accidentally rung too long, then access to the chamber immediately sealed.

Normally, TDs have up to four minutes from the ending of the bells to reach the chamber and many have learned to time their runs to perfection.

But the accidental, prolonged ringing last week caused Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and party colleague Barry Cowen, former agriculture minister, to be confronted by a locked door as they dashed for the right to vote.

Also excluded was Fine Gael TD, the former education minister Joe McHugh, along with FF backbencher Aindrias Moynihan.

Mr McConalogue told the Irish Independent: “I raised my concerns with the Ceann Comhairle as soon as possible. The bells were rung too long, it turned out, but I flagged my concerns.”

Once the doors have been closed, ushers cannot admit anyone – although the excluded TDs gestured through the glass in one door, to a shake of the head in response, sources said.

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The Government had a comfortable margin on the vote in any case, which was to put 50c on a pack of 20 cigarettes.

A Matt Carthy amendment for Sinn Féin was defeated by 87 votes to 47.

The Ceann Comhairle’s office confirmed the incident. No formal complaint was made, however, although an explanation has been offered by Oireachtas staff with an admission of human error.

The bells were rung continuously when they should have ceased – but the Ceann Comhairle had a countdown clock, which caused him to ring his bell when the time had expired.

On the ringing of the Ceann Comhairle’s bell, ushers are obliged to fasten the doors immediately, and this was done.

One of the TDs involved, Joe McHugh, admitted he was “very annoyed” at what happened, although it was missed by the media under the extreme pressure of Budget night.

“I was walking to the door as the bells were ringing – but they stopped and the door had been locked immediately,” Mr McHugh said.

“I went around to another door, where the other lads were, and they had also been locked out and were unhappy about it. I have never come across this situation before. You’re there to vote, and this is a democracy.

“We take the responsibility seriously. I reported the matter to our whip, Brendan Griffin.

“As it turned out, the vote was comfortable and our absence did not make a material difference, but that it is not the point. It was unacceptable.”

Sources indicated the matter had been investigated, culpability accepted and the matter itself is now regarded as closed. 

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