Sunday 22 October 2017

TD Mulherin made a dozen late-night calls to Kenya

TD Michelle Mulherin
TD Michelle Mulherin
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

Embattled Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin made more than a dozen late-night phone calls to her male friend in Kenya, with less than half of the calls made and received during normal business hours, phone records reveal.

A log of 55 calls made from the Mayo politician's taxpayer-funded Leinster House phone to a mobile phone in the East African country between November 16, 2011, and October 24, 2013, cost the taxpayer at least €1,882.15.

However, Government officials estimate the figure to exceed €2,000 because the information provided did not include any calls made to the same number in 2014, nor any made between March and November 2011.

Many of the calls were made at a discounted rate due to an agreement between the Government and Eircom, which provided telephone service to the Dail after May, 2013. But the cost to taxpayers was more than 11 times the cost had Ms Mulherin made the calls using her own personal mobile or landline phone or office phone with an international calling card that offers discounted rates used by dialling a prefix phone number.

Ms Mulherin has since repaid the State €2,000 following a public outcry over the revelations. She also suggested the Dail introduce a Skype service, or monitors to warn them when calls are becoming too expensive.

TDs are entitled to use the Dail phones for free "to carry out their duties as public representatives," according to a Leinster House spokeswoman.

But noting that the calls are not monitored for "reasons of privacy and confidentiality, it is open to members to make refunds to the service in respect of personal usage," she added.

Twenty seven of the 55 calls made by Ms Mulherin to her Kenyan friend, Danson Kole, released under the FOI request were made during normal 9am to 5pm business hours.

Kenya is three hours ahead of Ireland so the bulk of calls made by Ms Mulherin in the late afternoon or evening in Dublin were received in the early to late evening in Kenya, including 23 calls that were made by her after 6pm.

Four calls were made from Leinster House after 9pm and received by Mr Kole well after midnight.

The latest call came in at 12:39am Kenya time on November 29, 2011 - lasting for 33 minutes - and was among four calls received late at night, lasting between 14 and 34 minutes.

Calls made prior to May, 2013, were supplied by BT, which charged €1.50 per minute for both peak and off-peak calls while Eircom charged €1.20 per minute for off-peak and €1.26 per minute for peak calls.

However, using a Tesco pre-paid international calling card, which can be used by any mobile or landline phone, both peak and off-peak calls to Kenya cost just 12c a minute, plus a 5c connection fee per call.

Instead of costing €1,882.15, the calls would have cost just €161.96 plus €2.75 in connection fees using the calling card. Using a calling card, the most expensive call - lasting just over 53 minutes - would have come in at €6.40 plus a 5c connection fee compared to €79.51 under the BT peak hour rate.

Sunday Independent

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