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Saturday 20 September 2014

Rise and fall of outspoken politician who was thrown lifeline by Bertie

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

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Ivor Callely in his former constituency of Dublin North Central
Ivor Callely in his former constituency of Dublin North Central
Ivor Callely with his now-estranged wife Jennifer in happier times
Ivor Callely with his now-estranged wife Jennifer in happier times

A DECADE ago, Ivor Callely seemed to be on the right track to securing a cabinet seat. As junior transport minister, he had been given the task of getting the gridlocked capital moving again and was revelling in the nickname 'Ivor the Engine'.

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The then Fianna Fail TD was flash and brash, and would personally take calls from journalists to speak about transport initiatives such as Operation Freeflow.

He was known as the go-to politician in his constituency, Dublin North Central.

Character witnesses at his expenses trial testified about his in-depth knowledge of government grant schemes – and how useful he was to community bodies seeking access to funding.

Outside of politics, he and his hairdresser wife Jennifer, from whom he is now estranged, had amassed a significant property portfolio, with houses dotted across Dublin's northside.

But this confidence, a certain lack of political savvy, and a large dollop of greed would ultimately be his undoing, both in the political and business spheres.

Callely was not good at taking advice and had a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. While he was a junior minister, his office had an unusually high turnover of staff.

When it emerged in 2005 that one of the country's biggest building companies, John Paul Construction, paid for work which was carried out at his home in Clontarf, Callely was forced to resign his junior ministry.

Although his position was untenable, Callely only stood down following the intervention of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

But in 2007, Mr Ahern decided to throw him a political lifeline.

After Callely failed to get re-elected in Dublin North Central or to the Seanad, Mr Ahern included him in his nominees to the Upper House.

The same year, Callely made probably his most pivotal mistake. He got involved in a consortium with three businessmen, John O'Dolan, Denis Kenny and Daragh Sharkey, which borrowed almost €10m to purchase two houses on the Clontarf seafront which were to be developed into 44 apartments and three shops.

Callely put himself under significant financial pressure to get involved in the apartment plan. He and his wife remortgaged six properties they owned.

But the Clontarf deal went sour when planning problems were encountered and lender Investec moved against the consortium in a bid to get its money back.

To compound matters, John O'Dolan, the driving force behind the plan, took his own life.

It was around the time of the Clontarf deal that Callely began submitting questionable expenses claims. These included over €80,000 he claimed in travel allowances from his holiday home in west Cork.

A committee on members' interests later found he had misrepresented his normal place of residence for the purpose of claiming the allowances.

He was suspended from the Seanad for 20 days without pay.

Callely challenged his suspension in the High Court and won his case, but this was overturned by the Supreme Court.

For the final year of his term in the Seanad he was an independent senator, having resigned from Fianna Fail.

With little prospect of election, Callely decided not to run when the nation went to the polls in 2011.

His fortunes have only tumbled further since then.

He was arrested over bogus mobile phone claims in 2012, resulting in a five-month prison term being imposed yesterday.

An €11m judgment was secured against him by Investec in 2013 and remains hanging over him. Meanwhile, his expenses trial heard that his marriage had fallen apart.

As he was taken into custody yesterday, the once voluble politician cut a lonely figure. No one from his family was there to comfort him.

Irish Independent

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