Michael Healy-Rae: I will pay €2,639 Dail calls bill
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae today offered to repay a bill of €2,639 run up in Dail Eireann on premium phone line votes for him in a reality TV show.
The Kerry South representative said he would make the payment to put a stop to the controversy over the calls, and to ensure the Oireachtas was not out of pocket.
Speaking on RTE’s News At One, he again insisted he did not make the calls, which he said were made from all over the Oireachtas, but confirmed he would make the payment.
The offer came after Taoiseach Enda Kenny said earlier that the money should be repaid. The matter would be funny if it were not so serious, Mr Kenny added echoing a call by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett that taxpayers should be reimbursed.
Mr Barrett said that the 3,636 calls to a premium phone line on the ‘Celebrities Go Wild’ show, represented an outrageous abuse of facilities.
An investigation is to be launched by a Dail committee into how a Dail phone was used over a few days in October 2007.
Both Michael Healy-Rae and his father, Jackie had argued that should not be responsible for refunding any of the money, insisting they were not involved in making the calls.
At the time of the television series, Michael was a Kerry county councillor competing among eight contestants tackling various physical challenges in Connemara.
Mr Barrett did not mention anyone by name in his hard-hitting statement, since the exact source of the calls cannot be traced.
It also emerged last night that Jackie Healy-Rae, who was himself an Independent TD at the time, was previously contacted about the calls by Oireachtas officials -- but refused to comment to the Leinster House authorities.
TDs and senators are entitled to free phone calls by law -- so no rules were broken in this case.
They can call local, national, mobile, premium rate and international numbers from their Leinster House offices.
Mr Barrett called the use of Dail telephones to make thousands of tele-votes "a misuse of the resources provided to members for their public duties".
"I condemn the use of a telephone in Leinster House for such purposes," Mr Barrett said. "The misuse of resources provided to members for their public duties for the aim of voting in a television competition is an outrageous abuse of facilities.
"I am calling for the money to be repaid in full immediately. I also will ensure that the details of this matter are addressed in full at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges."
Jackie Healy-Rae (80) insisted he knew nothing about the calls, vehemently denied he made them, and called the controversy "a big hullabaloo over nothing".
"I know nothing in the world about it and that's the honest truth," he said.
He claimed both he and his sons would have supported a number of people in their bid to become senators, so there would have been support for Michael from within Leinster House. "Apart from that I have no clue in the wild empty world," Mr Healy-Rae insisted. "It's a big hullabaloo over nothing. As Michael himself said, it's not that someone stole the money. It all went to charity."
Michael Healy Rae warned anyone who claimed his father or any member of his family were behind the calls to substantiate their accusations.
"By Jesus, he (Jackie) was not behind it and if anyone is brave enough to make accusations, let them go ahead, but they have to be prepared to substantiate them," he said.
A statement from the Oireachtas said that while TDs' calls are not logged, "it is the practice that our service providers will draw our attention to when there are significant departures from normal call patterns coming from the main Leinster House number".
"The 2007 case is the only time that a service provider reported a spike in calls of this nature," it said.
"Having been reported, the calls were blocked within an hour as it was clear that they were to a commercial voting line and clearly not related to any parliamentary activity." It was established that the number in question was a number to vote for Michael Healy Rae.
It also emerged last night that the Houses of the Oireachtas wrote to then-TD Jackie Healy Rae making him aware of the circumstances of the calls and seeking his comments.
"No response was received. As the calls could not be attributed to any particular person, there was no basis to pursue the matter further and no further action could be taken," said the statement. The Oireachtas added that calls made by members are not logged for reasons of privacy and confidentiality.
It insisted there was "no way of categorically stating whether a member is responsible for making or mandating particular calls or classes of calls".
RTE, which broadcast the television show, said it no longer had detailed records of the calls and could not "identify voting patterns for identifiable phone numbers".
"Records show that Michael Healy-Rae maintained a consistently strong position throughout the week-long vote event, with more than twice the number of votes cast for the second-placed contestant on each occasion," a statement from the broadcaster said.
"The number of votes reported to have been cast from Leinster House would not have made a material difference to the outcome of the competition." All money raised from the week-long show, which also featured the late Katy French, went to 'People in Need' -- and Michael Healy-Rae won the contest in a landslide.
People could vote as many times as they liked but large numbers of calls from one number would be checked out.