Wednesday 29 March 2017

I did no wrong, defiant senator tells committee

Senator Ivor Callely arriving for the Seanad hearing into his expense accounts yesterday. Photo: Martin Nolan
Senator Ivor Callely arriving for the Seanad hearing into his expense accounts yesterday. Photo: Martin Nolan

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

SENATOR Ivor Callely continued to defy public anger yesterday by insisting he had done "nothing wrong" in claiming €80,000 worth of travel expenses for a home 370km away from his constituency.

Callely told fellow senators he had not moved his permanent address from Clontarf in Dublin to remote west Cork because it was "financially advantageous".

During a public grilling lasting almost two-and-a-half hours at a special Seanad committee inquiry, Callely insisted that his home in Kilcrohane, west Cork, was his primary residence.

In often rambling replies, Mr Callely claimed his movements between Cork and Dublin had been partly a result of personal issues -- but he didn't want to discuss those in public.

"I think you will find looking at the facts, I've been very open, honest and I've taken every reasonable action to have the matter corrected," he said.

Criticism

Mr Callely faced open criticism from some of his fellow senators, who expressed their views that he was in "contravention" of regulations on expenses and had been looking for an expense system to suit himself.

But Mr Callely said he was living in his home in west Cork "60pc plus" of the time and if the committee came to the conclusion that he had over-claimed travel expenses, he would pay it back.

"Of course, I'd be happy to do so," he said.

The inquiry is the first of its kind in recent years to focus on the expense claims of an individual politician.

But it is certain to have little practical impact -- the maximum penalty that can be imposed for any rule-breaking is a four-week Seanad ban.

The committee heard yesterday that Mr Callely claimed travel expenses from his home in west Cork to the Seanad in 2007, 2008, 2009 and this year despite giving his home in Clontarf as his official address for Seanad correspondence, and declaring on his website that he was living in Dublin.

Mr Callely resigned the Fianna Fail party whip this month due to the controversy.

Mr Callely said the reason that people had seen him in Dublin so often while he was living in west Cork was because he did not "hide" when he was walking his dog, in the gym or doing grocery shopping.

"I make myself clearly visible when I'm around and again maybe most politicians do that in the constituency," he said.

Mr Callely confirmed he had paid the new second-home tax on his house in Dublin. He told the committee that the loss of his Dail seat in May 2007 had had a "devastating impact" on him and made him want to spend time away from the constituency.

"Many others might relate to the position I found myself in as there are many others who have lost their jobs, lost their life's ambition and suffered the consequences," he said.

But independent Senator Joe O'Toole asked Mr Callely how he could have claimed travel expenses from west Cork when he had a house and constituency office in Dublin, an official correspondence address in Dublin and was also registered to vote in the capital.

"Do you understand we find it hard to explain to ordinary people out there," he asked

Mr Callely said that one would understand "from a political perspective" why he wanted to create an image that he was still involved in Dublin North Central.

"I understood I have not breached the regulations. The claims I submitted are in line with my residency in west Cork," he said.

The committee's investigation was mounted on foot of two complaints from members of the public that Mr Callely was misrepresenting his place of residence of the purpose of claiming travel expenses.

Private

Mr Callely, who is married with three children, said there were "social, personal and domestic reasons" involved but said he did not feel he had to go into his private life.

"There are personal reasons why I have chosen to reside in west Cork and they are only matters for myself and those who are involved," he said.

Green Party Senator Dan Boyle highlighted the fact that Mr Callely had ticked the accommodation box on his expenses forms to ensure he claimed overnight expenses for staying in his house in Clontarf -- as well as mileage expenses from west Cork.

The committee is due to meet again next Wednesday to hear evidence from a senior Oireachtas official about the operation of the expenses system.

Irish Independent

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