independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Dail TV call blitz took 31 hours

3,600 phone votes for Healy-Rae likely to have been one person using redial

PREMIUM-RATE calls made in support of Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae in a reality TV competition took almost 31 hours to make, new records reveal.

But the pattern of the calls from Leinster House at the taxpayers' expense indicated they were not made by a machine.

An analysis of the calls shows that all were under five seconds and more than 1,000 lasted only one second.

Generally, they were made in groups at roughly five-second intervals.

"For example, between 13.42hrs and 13.43hrs on October 22, 12 calls were made with between four and nine seconds between each call," a note from an Oireachtas official says.

"There are numerous other examples of this pattern of calls. This pattern of calling would occur if one person made repeated calls from one handset, using the redial key."

Mr Healy-Rae agreed to pay the Oireachtas the €2,639 cost of the 3,636 premium calls to the 'Celebrities Go Wild' show, which he won in 2007.

But he said that neither he nor his father, former TD Jackie Healy-Rae, were behind the making of the calls.

Telecoms experts had suggested the calls could have been synchronised by a machine as it would have been onerous on an individual to continually dial.

But the variety in length of the 3,636 calls and the length of time between each call led officials to conclude they were made by an individual or individuals.

Documents released to the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act show the calls were spread across 31 hours over four days in October 2007. On October 22, 243 calls over the space of five hours and 42 minutes were made, while on October 23, there were 735 calls over the space of six hours and 44 minutes.

On October 24, there were 1,825 calls over the space of 10 hours and 12 minutes, and on October 25, there were 833 calls over the space of seven hours and 38 minutes.

As the week progressed, the calls began earlier in the morning.

On Monday and Tuesday of the week in question, the ringing started after 11am, but this came back to 10.45am on Wednesday and to 9.30am on Thursday.

The calls stopped abruptly at 5.10 that evening.

An hour beforehand, the Oireachtas's IT department was contacted by Eircom to tell it that "an unusual spike of premium-rate activity had been noticed on the office's phone account".

The premium-rate number 1513 717 107 was the line used to register votes for Mr Healy-Rae during the 'Celebrities Go Wild' TV show.

The Oireachtas IT unit immediately arranged for the phone system to be programmed to prevent calls to premium-rate numbers, beginning with the digits concerned.

The shutdown happened at 5.10pm, bringing a halt to the calling.

No other calls were made to any other premium-rate number during the period.

Irish Independent

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