Saturday 23 September 2017

Cowen orders Callely to give explanation of unusual claims

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FIANNA Fail Senator Ivor Callely's bad blood with Taoiseach Brian Cowen came back to haunt him yesterday as he was ordered to explain his unusual expenses claim.

The controversy over the former minister's expenses overshadowed the voluntary publication of claims by TDs and senators for the first time.

In the past two months, Oireachtas members were paid €1.46m in expenses, under a new system.

The figures show that Fine Gael TD for Cork South West PJ Sheahan, pictured right, received the largest amount of expenses -- because he lives the furthest distance from the Dail with a house over 350km away.

The remaining TDs at the top of the pile were all from far-flung constituencies in the south west and north west.

Meanwhile, since his appointment to the Seanad, Mr Callely has been claiming his expenses from a house in Cork despite having his political base in Dublin.

TDs and senators from outside Dublin get paid larger overnight and travel allowances. Mr Callely has claimed €81,015 in expenses since his appointment to the Seanad in 2007.

Tough

Mr Cowen adopted a tough stance with the Fianna Fail senator yesterday, ordering him to provide a written explanation of his arrangements.

Mr Callely is expected to make a personal statement in the Seanad either today or tomorrow to explain his position. The senator held talks with Government chief whip John Curran and the Seanad chairman last night.

The senator is also facing a possible probe from the Seanad ethics watchdog over his mileage and overnight expenses claims from an address in west Cork.

Mr Cowen has previous experience of Mr Callely's behaviour and is said to be extremely annoyed by the latest controversy engulfing the senator.

Mr Callely famously managed to steal the thunder from Mr Cowen's giveaway budget in December 2005 through his protracted and dramatic resignation. His standing down dominated media coverage around Mr Cowen's budget, including a celebrated incident when the then Finance Minister had to wait to be interviewed about a new childcare payment because Mr Callely was defending his position.

Mr Callely later apologised to Mr Cowen for the affair and said he regretted any embarrassment he may have caused. He said he was not in the right frame of mind due to stress.

After steering clear of the issue on Monday, saying it was a matter between the senator and the Houses of the Oireachtas, Mr Cowen moved on Mr Callely last night.

The Taoiseach asked Fianna Fail general secretary Sean Dorgan to contact Mr Callely to tell him to "furnish an explanation" to the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Pat Moylan.

Mr Moylan is a close associate of Mr Cowen's and a long-time political ally from Offaly. He also chairs the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for the Seanad, which is already poised to look at his expenses, and is a member of the body in charge of running Leinster House, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Instruction

Mr Dorgan and Fianna Fail's Seanad chief whip, Diarmuid Wilson, met with Mr Callely yesterday to give the instruction.

The Taoiseach's stance was far stronger than Mr Callely's Fianna Fail colleagues in the Seanad. Only Fianna Fail senator Marc MacSharry joined Fine Gael, the Labour Party and independent senators in calling for Mr Callely to clarify his position.

The controversy over Mr Callely escalated as TDs and senators saw details of their expenses published for the first time -- 11 years after claims became available under the Freedom of Information Act.

The move to publish the expenses follows the introduction of a new system that links attendance records to expenses a member can claim.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News