Ivor Callely is no thief, say lawyers
Published 05/10/2010 | 16:40
Scandal-hit Senator Ivor Callely has been wrongly portrayed as a thief, his lawyers claimed today.
The High Court was told the former junior minister has suffered disastrous consequences since an inquiry into his controversial expenses and subsequent 20-day Seanad ban.
His lawyer said a parliamentary probe found Mr Callely committed an unethical act deserving punishment but nothing dishonest.
The senator, who walked out on Fianna Fail last month, is suing a seven-strong Seanad committee for loss of earnings after they barred him from taking his seat.
Michael O'Higgins, lawyer for the suspended senator, told the court the publicity around the inquiry was used as a plinth to launch one of the most vitriolic attacks ever seen on a politician.
Michael O'Higgins, senior counsel, said it was wrong of the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests to portray that Mr Callely had intentionally misrepresented his normal place of residence when lodging expense claims.
He maintained this was reported "as an example of a politician in effect stealing from the system" and followed with a huge clamour for Senator Callely to be brought to a criminal court and indicted for his dishonesty.
"It was used as a plinth to launch some of the most vitriolic attacks seen by a politician elected by the people and who was entitled to a measure of respect," said Mr O'Higgins.
Mr Callely, whose political base was Clontarf, north Dublin, claimed €80,000 for travel from his holiday home in Kilcrohane, west Cork, over three years.
He is challenging an inquiry by the Seanad committee which found he deliberately misrepresented his normal place of residence as being the holiday home, rather than his house in Dublin, and suspended him for 20 days.
Mr O'Higgins said his client - who was not in court - had not been allowed to appeal against the findings of the inquiry while it was covered by privilege and could be reported in the media.
"The consequences of that determination for my client is disastrous," he added.
However, Mr O'Higgins claimed the committee had since seemed to accept that Mr Callely complied with the rules for claiming expenses and made no findings that he had done anything dishonest or underhand.
Conleth Bradley, barrister for the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests, is due to give his opening address to Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill tomorrow.
He is expected to argue that the High Court does not have jurisdiction to interfere with the findings of an Oireachtas committee.
In June 2007 Mr Callely changed his principal address to his Cork holiday home, but claims he twice tried to change his expenses claim to reflect his travel arrangements when he started spending more time in Dublin the following year.
During his 90-minute opening, his barrister said the committee erred, applying the Department of Finance's own definition of "normal place of residence" which is described as 'a premises which, though not necessarily one's permanent and principal abode, is used for a period which is both of some length and for a purpose which is not ad hoc and goes beyond mere shelter in passage, such as a few nights in a hotel.'
Mr Callely resigned from Fianna Fail last month when he claimed he had been denied fair procedures in an internal investigation.
Elsewhere, the embattled former junior minister was ordered to explain why he filed four mobile phone invoices from a defunct company which ran to €2,900.
However, the Seanad committee rejected another formal complaint that he failed to declare an interest in several properties to Oireachtas authorities.
They ruled the politician did not have a stake in the buildings and accepted they were owned by members of his family.