Thursday 27 November 2014

Don't cry for Callely, he deserves his 
sentence even if it was a trifling fiddle

Colette Brown

Published 30/07/2014 | 02:30

Callely: ‘When he pocketed the cash, he was taking my money and yours’ Photo: Courtpix
Callely: ‘When he pocketed the cash, he was taking my money and yours’ Photo: Courtpix
Ivor Callely (front) outside court

Poor Ivor Callely. All he did was fiddle the State out of a trifling €4,200 and now he finds himself behind bars.

When you think of the gravy train politicians have long been accustomed to, not to mention the billions that we pumped into the banks, it is a risible amount.

Especially when he had the good grace to repay most of the money so no one is out of pocket. What harm was done?

I mean, he's not a violent man. And because arrogance and pomposity are not crimes, he had never offended before. So, what possible good does a custodial sentence serve?

All he'll do is while away the time in prison catching up on his summer reading, costing the State far in excess of the €4,200 that landed him in the clink.

Now, it's true that this was not a crime committed in a moment of madness. He forged invoices not once but six times and submitted them over a period of two years.

It's also worth pointing out that when Gardai questioned him in 2012, he denied any wrongdoing and said he didn't recognise the documents he had so assiduously filled out.

Perhaps he was embarrassed to admit his culpability when he realised he had filled out the invoices using companies that were no longer trading and a currency that was defunct.

In any event, in an effort to defray blame, he attempted to smear his former business partner, who had died tragically, intimating that he was responsible for the forgeries.

All of this may be reprehensible behaviour, but does it really warrant a five-month stint in a cell?

Yes, actually it does. Some of the sympathetic commentary, following the jailing of Callely, defies belief.

To listen to some bemoaning the sentence, one would think the incarceration of the former Fianna Fáil junior minister amounts to a serious miscarriage of justice.

In an era when we have come to expect the worst of politicians, the notion of one being sent to prison for a crime is apparently anathema.

We have become so inured to low standards in public life, that we no longer recognise high standards being applied.

The former Fianna Fáil junior minister is clearly no criminal mastermind but incompetence is hardly a defence.

In fact, the only defence he could proffer in court for his behaviour was, in the words of Judge Mary Ellen Ring, "an excuse of entitlement to the monies".

And, in an effort to get his mitts on the money, he was willing to go to extraordinary, and wholly illegal, lengths to doctor documents.

All for the sake of €4,200 when his combined Seanad salary and expenses for just two years around that time, 2007 and 2008, amounted to €185,614. Go to any court in the country and you will be hard pressed to find anyone on trial for deception who is paid anything remotely approaching that figure yet where are the lamentations for them?

Let's not forget that Callely's so-called "trifling" fraud is the equivalent of three-months pay for someone on the minimum wage.

€4,200 may be chump change for some, but it's a lot of money to many people out there - amounting to nearly 23 weeks of Dole payments.

Given his generous salary, Callely, patently, didn't need the money. He was greedy and his avarice got the better of him.

While he has latterly fallen into financial difficulty, there was no suggestion in court that at the time of the offences he was in dire straits.

He didn't need the money to make a mortgage repayment, put food on the table or keep the bailiff from the door - like some formerly law-abiding citizens who find themselves before the courts.

And, when he filed those invoices and pocketed the cash, he was taking my money and your money. Money the citizens of this State work hard to earn and pay in taxes.

In doing so, he seriously abused his position of trust and privilege as a public representative.

Those who think that Callely was treated harshly should remember that one of the main reasons sentences are imposed is as a deterrent.

Considering the cohort of people who can fiddle public finances in this way amounts to just 226 a strong message has now gone out to our political class.

It is a message that states their expense regime is extremely generous and that anyone caught massaging the figures, to claim amounts to which they are not entitled, will be dealt with harshly.

I, for one, am glad that Judge Ring sent that message. You should be too.

Irish Independent

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