Fine Gael headquarters secretly recorded the serial numbers printed on ballots provided to its TDs, Senators, and MEPs who were casting votes on the programme for Government, Gript can reveal.
While FG members were under the impression that the vote on the programme for Government would be decided by secret ballot, the party’s head office has taken steps to send out ballot papers to members in such a way that it allowed them to record the individual ballot paper provided to every voting member, allowing them to identify loyal and disloyal members as the votes are counted.
When the ballot papers were issued last week, it was noted by several TDs and party members that they were individually numbered. Gript has now been provided with an internal Fine Gael headquarters document, originating in the office of one of the party’s most senior officials, which records the ballot number given to every TD, Senator, and MEP.
In practice, this means that the votes cast by the parliamentary party are not in fact secret, and that how individual TDs and Senators vote will be known to the party leadership. The document is in the form of an excel spread sheet. Gript has confirmed that the numbers on it correspond to the ballots given to several individual TDs, and verified that the original author of the document is a member of Fine Gael’s administrative staff:
While at first glance the numbering of the ballots appears to be random, Gript has learned that ballots were assigned to the party’s 52 TDs, Senators and MEPs in alphabetical order based on the constituency they represent or, in the case of MEPS, the constituencies in which they reside.
The first constituency in alphabetical order is Carlow-Kilkenny, and so local TD John Paul Phelan was assigned ballot number 001. The parlimentarians in the second constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphries and Joe O’Reilly received ballots 002 and 003 respectively. And so on – right down to Simon Harris, TD for Wicklow, who was assigned ballot number 052.
This detail was confirmed by Minister Harris himself by tweet, earlier this week:
Voted YES today for the Programme for Government. We need to form a new, lasting Government to address the issues arising from the #Covid19 pandemic. This programme is ambitious & exciting. Lots of work ahead. Clear commitments on health, education, climate action & job creation pic.twitter.com/WHO8M8vfs2
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) June 20, 2020
Gript has confirmed an exact match to the document in the case of two other TDs. Several others – including Neale Richmond, Barry Ward, and Maria Walsh – tweeted their ballot papers earlier this week, and received ballots that were off by one number compared to the internal Fine Gael document, suggesting that the list was slightly revised in a later version before ballots were sent out.
According to the rules of Fine Gael, the proposed programme for Government must be put to the membership, in the form of an electoral college, and voted on by secret ballot. Four groups are entitled to cast votes – members of the parliamentary party, members of the party’s Executive Council, , councillors, and 10 delegates from each Dáil constituency, representing the ordinary membership. The votes of the four groups are tallied individually, and combined into a weighted electoral college, where the votes of the parliamentary party account for 50% of the overall total. In practice, this means that if TDs, Senators, and MEPs voted unanimously for coalition, only one further yes vote from any one of the other groups would be required for the deal to pass.
One Fine Gael TD, when briefed on the contents of the document, said he was not surprised:
“When TDs saw the numbers on the ballot papers, they knew exactly what was going on, and one Cabinet minister was absolutely hopping mad about it earlier in the week. But none of us thought HQ would go to such detailed lengths to track how people voted. I wouldn’t be shocked if there wasn’t a single No vote in the PP [ parliamentary party ]. Nobody wants their number coming up next to a No vote.”Several others refused to comment.
It is understood that the ballot papers provided to the other parts of the electoral college were also numbered, although Gript has been unable to confirm whether the names of individual members were recorded in headquarters along with their ballot number, as is the case in with TDs and Senators.
Interestingly, The Irish Independent appeared to have some awareness of this issue earlier this week, when its Ireland editor Fionnán Sheahan hinted in a tweet and in a newspaper column that Fine Gael HQ was monitoring how TDs voted. Gript understands that the Indo was in possession of further information related to this issue, but clearly chose not to pursue the matter any further.
The Irish Independent, along with all other broadsheet press and news outlets, has taken a broadly favourable editorial line towards the passage of the programme for Government.