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The Callely Controversies: From Fianna Fáil favourite to five months in prison

The former Fianna Fáil minister has been jailed for five months. But why has he proved such a controversial figure over the years?

FIANNA FAIL TD IVOR CALLELY PORTRAIT LANDSCAPE

IVOR CALLELY’S POLITICAL career was finished years ago but this morning’s sentencing to five months in prison brings to an end just one of the many controversial sagas that dogged his time in Irish public life.

The 56-year-old former Fianna Fáil TD and Senator was sentenced to five months in prison for making false expenses claims for a total €4,207.45 while serving in the Seanad.

Before retiring from the upper house in 2011, Callelly served as a councillor, a TD and a junior government minister but controversy was never far away.

As if to underline the extent to which the words ‘Callely’ and ‘controversy’ are indelibly linked, in the time between the expenses controversy first emerging in 2010 and his sentencing this morning, Callely had two run ins with the law over traffic offences.

These included a €60 fine and penalty points for driving while holding a mobile phone and a €150 fine for not displaying an NCT disk.

File Pics Former Fianna Fail junior minister Ivor Callely has pleaded guilty to making bogus mobile phone expense claims at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court this morning. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Fianna Fáil

Born and raised in Clontarf in north Dublin, he first became involved in politics in 1985 when he was elected to Dublin City Council. He unsuccessfully contested the general election in 1987 before was eventually elected in Dublin North-Central two years later.

That year Fianna Fáil took three of the four seats in the constituency which included taoiseach Charles Haughey. Callely’s dominant personality made him a rival to the Haughey regime and he would eventually eclipse Haughey’s successor, his son Seán, in the 1997 general election, topping the poll with the fifth highest vote in the country.

He was assistant chief whip of Fianna Fáil between 1993 and 1995 before becoming the party’s policy coordinator. But he waited 13 years to be promoted to the junior ministerial ranks.

In 2002, he was appointed a junior minister at the Department of Health with a special responsibility for older people. However, he was criticised by lobby groups at the time for his poor handling and understanding of the brief.

Nonetheless, in 2004, he was reshuffled to the Department of Transport where as junior minister his time was notable for a high turnover of staff with six in total either transferred or quitting.

During his time there he was also referred to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) for displaying an image of himself on Operation Freeflow billboards, but he escaped sanction.

TD'S at Port Tunnel Source: Photocall Ireland!

Controversies

In 2005, it emerged that he had offered to buy a new car for Niall Phelan, his former political assistant who wanted to quit, in an attempt to persuade him to stay. Phelan later described the offer of the car as “wholly inappropriate”.

A few days after that story broke in December 2005, RTÉ reported that in 1991 John Paul Construction, one of the largest construction firms in the country, carried out free decorating work on Callely’s home in Clontarf.

Callely was chairman of the Eastern Health Board at the time and in his explanation he told RTÉ that John Paul Senior had been carrying out work on the health board’s offices and offered to help him out when a firm of decorators had let him down at short notice.

He said he expected to be billed for the work but accepted that it had been done for free before denying any suggestion of impropriety. A day later Callely resigned.

The controversies would lead to Callely losing his Dáil seat in the 2007 general election and he was also unsuccessful in the Seanad elections that same year. He was subsequently appointed to the upper house as one of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s nominees.

But three years later it emerged that during his time in the Seanad Callelly had been claiming travel expenses from his holiday home in West Cork to Leinster House.

He maintained that Cork was his principle residence however the Seanad Members’ Interests Committee said that his principal residence should be Dublin as his family lived there and he worked in the city.

Ivor Callely expenses hearing. Pictured Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Mobile phones

He was suspended from the upper house for 20 days without pay and censured by the committee. But having rejected the findings he later challenged them in the High Court and won after the court ruled that the Seanad committee had acted outside the powers of the relevant act.

However, the Supreme Court subsequently ruled in the committee’s favour earlier this year and found that it was entitled to conclude that Callely has misrepresented his normal place of residence.

But by the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling, that controversy had already been superseded by another which had emerged in August 2010 when the Mail on Sunday reported that Callely submitted thousands of euro of expenses claims for mobile phone bills from a company that had gone bust over a decade ago.

He was suspended from Fianna Fáil while arguing that he had submitted the receipts in good faith for vouching purposes in the belief that they were correct. Callely stated had no reason to believe that the receipts were not in order.

In January 2011, Callely addressed the Seanad for the final time before retiring welcoming the recent High Court verdict on the travel expenses and quoting the bible, saying:

You shall know the truth – and the truth shall set you free.

A year later, Callely was arrested over the fraudulent mobile phone expenses claims, was held overnight by gardaí before denying any wrongdoing. His solicitor Noel O’Hanrahan said at the time that his client was “completely and totally innocent of any wrongdoing”.

But appearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court over two years later Callely pleaded guilty to making the expenses claims and this morning he was jailed for five months.

In her sentencing ruling Judge Mary Ellen Ring noted that custody was important because of the “breach of trust” by a public representative.

Read: Ivor Callely sentenced to five months in prison

More: Change to TDs’ expenses reduces chance of similar phone expenses exposé

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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