Tuesday 28 March 2017

Healy-Rae phone votes 'could have been made by machine'

Michael Healy-Rae reads a statement to the media at Leinster House in Dublin yesterday, while his son Jackie (left) listens
Michael Healy-Rae reads a statement to the media at Leinster House in Dublin yesterday, while his son Jackie (left) listens

Fiach Kelly and Majella O'Sullivan

ALMOST a third of the phone votes from Leinster House in support of Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae lasted only a second, and were made in rapid succession, it emerged last night.

With all 3,600 of the calls to the 'Celebrities Go Wild' hotline lasting less than five seconds, phone experts suggested last night that the calls -- if made from a single phone -- could have been synchronised by a machine.

But Leinster House authorities insisted they cannot say for sure if the calls came from one or from numerous phones.

Meanwhile, senator Ned O'Sullivan admitted making calls supporting Mr Healy-Rae but said it was "half a dozen or more".

"I'm pretty certain I was not alone in that," he told Radio Kerry.

The new details emerged after Mr Healy-Rae -- under huge political pressure -- paid the Oireachtas the €2,639 cost of the premium calls.

Controversy

Mr Healy-Rae said neither he nor his father Jackie racked up the expensive bill. Jackie was a sitting TD when the calls were made over three-and-a-half days in October 2007.

The Kerry South TD said he was giving the money to the Oireachtas because the controversy was "overriding all the important matters we should be concentrating on". He claimed numerous TDs and senators supported him in the charity show, but wouldn't name any.

"I'm not paying any money back; I didn't take it in the first place," Mr Healy-Rae said.

"Every person who made those phone calls, I'm paying for those phone calls now. I'm the only person in Ireland paying for other people's phone bills. The whole use of phones in the Houses of the Oireachtas should be looked into and should be checked."

Peter Kelly, director of SystemNet Communications, a Dublin phone company that has fitted out government departments, said the description of the phone calls by the Oireachtas "sounds like a machine".

"It does sound like a machine, especially if that's all coming from the same extension," he said. "Because for a human to be able to do that . . . it's just not possible."

But he also said it could have come from numerous phones.

The description of the calls is contained in a letter sent by Oireachtas officials to Jackie Healy-Rae on the incident in March 2008. The letter was sent at the request of Kieran Coughlan, the clerk of the Dail.

But Mr Healy-Rae said he never received the letter, which detailed the number of calls, as well as how much they cost.

The letter said: "Analysis of the calls received from Leinster House (from information provided by Eircom) shows that they were all of less than five seconds duration -- over a thousand lasted only one second -- and that they were generally made in groups at roughly five-second intervals in regular periods during the above days last October."

Former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue said he had "no recollection" of any issue involving Jackie Healy-Rae and premium rate calls even though he was head of the committee that wrote to the former TD.

"I was chairman of Procedure and Privileges and I was also chairman of the Oireachtas Commission and I've no recollection of it. But I mean why would I become involved in any kind of cover up of it?"

An Oireachtas spokesman denied suggestions there were as many as 20,000 more calls to the 'Celebrities Go Wild' numbers that week, and said the premium phone bill paid by the Oireachtas equalled 3,636 calls.

It is understood that Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett is determined the matter should be investigated further.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton again vowed to remove Michael Healy-Rae from the Citizens' Information Board if he does not resign.

When asked if he thought there could be a connection between that, and the timing of revelations about the calls made from the Dail, Mr Healy-Rae said you "wouldn't have to be Einstein to figure out something was going on".

Irish Independent

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