Cowen calls for second senator to account for travel expenses
FF moves to kick Callely out of party as inquiry begins
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is demanding an explanation from a second Fianna Fail senator who is claiming expenses from a house 125km from Dublin, despite having a long-term home in the capital.
The Irish Independent has learned Fianna Fail Senator Larry Butler gets paid €20,000 a year more in travel and accommodation expenses, because he says he has moved home to Co Carlow, than if he was living in Dublin.
The new revelation came as Fianna Fail moved last night to kick Senator Ivor Callely out of the party.
Mr Callely is formally under investigation for getting €81,000 expenses from his house in west Cork, rather than his home in Dublin.
The latest revelation about Mr Butler raises further questions about the operation of the expenses system for politicians and who is checking claims.
Mr Butler still has his house in Foxrock near the area which he represented on the council for 16 years.
The senator is still described by Fianna Fail as a "senator for Dun Laoghaire", his official address with the Oireachtas is in Foxrock in Dublin, and he was nominated to the Seanad from his upmarket Foxrock address.
Even the local party organisation says Mr Butler is part of the "Fianna Fail team in Dun Laoghaire".
Last night, a Fianna Fail spokesman said Mr Cowen had sought an explanation from Mr Butler.
"Fianna Fail became aware in recent days of speculation concerning this matter. The Taoiseach asked Fianna Fail general secretary Sean Dorgan to meet Senator Butler and to speak with him about the speculation. The general secretary met with Senator Butler and asked Senator Butler to confirm his position in writing. The party is awaiting a response from Senator Butler," the spokesman said.
Mr Dorgan was sent earlier this week to seek an explanation from Mr Callely, so Mr Cowen's move to send him again indicates the seriousness with which the Taoiseach is taking Mr Butler's case.
Under the new expenses system, Mr Butler is paid a travel and accommodation allowance of €32,966 per year because he is travelling from Graiguenamanagh in Co Carlow -- 125km from Leinster House. If he was living in Foxrock, Co Dublin, just 10km from the city centre, he would be paid just €12,000 a year in travel expenses.
He has been claiming travel and overnight expenses from Carlow since being elected to the Seanad in 2007. It is not clear how much he was paid in the period so far. The latest published expenses show Mr Butler being paid €3,101 a month in travel and overnight accommodation. By contrast, other senators living on the southside of Dublin receive just €1,354 a month -- less than half Mr Butler's payment.
Mr Butler said he has had a house in the Carlow town for years as he is originally from the area. He said he moved there permanently in early 2007, while he was still a councillor in Dublin on Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.
"Before I was elected to the Seanad, I had moved down to Graiguenamanagh. I come to Dublin from Graiguenamanagh during the week," he said.
And yet, Mr Butler, a former builder, was nominated to the Seanad in summer 2007 by the Electrical Industries Federation of Ireland from his address in "Foxrock, Dublin 18".
Mr Butler said he intended to sell his house in Foxrock, but "the market has been bad" and his daughter lives there.
"I stay a couple of nights a week there when I come up," he said.
Although Fianna Fail still lists him as a Dun Laoghaire representative, Mr Butler says he is not politically active in the constituency.
"Since I came into the Senate, I am not really involved in Dun Laoghaire," he said.
Mr Butler said his circumstances were different to Mr Callelly's case. "There's a difference in so far as I am living down there. I don't see anything wrong with where you are living provided you are attending [the Seanad].
"The party is aware of all that. The party is aware of where I'm living," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Callely's case will be heard by a Seanad committee in a fortnight. The former minister provided a written explanation to the chairman of the Seanad.
But Fianna Fail last night announced it proposes to remove the party whip from Mr Callely "without prejudice, and pending the completion of the work of the committee".