News Fionnan Sheahan

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: The spirit of Haughey and Ahern lives on in Callely

Published 26/08/2010 | 05:00

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IN SEEKING inspiration on how to buy time in his present difficulties, Ivor Callely didn't have to look too far. Callely has now questioned the judgment of the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests and the legitimacy of the Fianna Fail disciplinary inquiry examining his expenses claims.

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His language in attacking the bodies enquiring into his personal affairs is a tried and trusted formula in Fianna Fail.

The tactic comes straight out of the form books of the senator's former constituency colleague, Charlie Haughey, and Callely's guardian angel, Bertie Ahern, in their dealings with the respective tribunals.

Callely's appeals for adjournments are also reminiscent of the Fianna Fail leaders' efforts to delay events in Dublin Castle.

Indeed, Callely claimed that he wanted to know specifically why Fianna Fail was conducting an inquiry into his actions.

The party charged him with conduct unbecoming a member, following revelations over his expenses claims.

To give Callely the benefit of the doubt for a moment -- albeit mischievously -- it is often difficult to ascertain what exactly Fianna Fail finds to be 'conduct unbecoming'.

He was found by a Seanad committee to have misrepresented his normal place of residence as being his holiday home in west Cork, rather than his home in Dublin, for the purpose of claiming expenses. It suspended him for 20 days.

Yet this was not deemed by Fianna Fail to be 'conduct unbecoming', such as would merit a disciplinary hearing.

Callely was forced to resign as a junior minister in 2005 after it was revealed that he had his house painted for free by a prominent construction company in the early 1990s.

Nor was this deemed by Fianna Fail to be 'conduct unbecoming' and so worthy of a disciplinary hearing.

He received a donation to Fianna Fail from a company. It took him more than a year to pass it on to the party and he only did so after queries from the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Yet this was not deemed by Fianna Fail to be 'conduct unbecoming', worthy of a disciplinary hearing.

No wonder, therefore, that Callely now can't figure out why the party has suddenly become concerned with 'conduct unbecoming'.

Expressing deep regret and devastation at his resignation, Callely insisted that his standing down followed the refusal of the Fianna Fail committee to grant an adjournment or to outline the alleged conduct that was unbecoming of a member.

Callely said the committee's findings constituted a denial of the fair procedures that would allow him to vindicate his name and refute the allegations against him.

A statement from his solicitors said: "After Senator Callely's dedication to the Fianna Fail party in public life over a period of 25 years, he is devastated at the refusal to accord him fair procedures. This makes his resignation inevitable, because to have acted otherwise would have afforded legitimacy to an inquiry that denied him fair procedures."

The sideswipe at the inquiry and its legitimacy is a developing theme from Callely.

The senator has a threat still hanging of legal action over his suspension from the Seanad, in a move that raises the prospect of lengthy delays to all the probes into his activities.

Callely "strenuously rejected" the finding by the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests that he had misrepresented his normal place of residence for expenses claims.

He has also stated publicly that he wants the ruling "reviewed fairly in a non-partisan way" and would have to "consider the options available".

Callely's solicitors have written to the committee, expressing these sentiments.

The letter is being interpreted by sources close to the Seanad committee as Mr Callely weighing up the possibility of seeking a judicial review of its report.

The committee is conducting a further two investigations into the senator at the moment.

Callely has been writing to the Seanad committee via his solicitors and is also receiving ongoing legal advice from a barrister.

He has six months to take a judicial review against the committee. If he proceeds, it would put a halt to further investigations into his mobile phone expenses and property portfolio until the legal case has run its course.

So any legal action could bog down the inquiries for months, a source close to the committee told the Irish Independent.

"It's quite possible that if he goes down the process of judicial review, it could put it on hold for us to deal with issues," the source said.

Whether Callely was successful in contesting the first finding or not, the committee would be legally obliged to wait for the outcome of the case -- or risk facing further challenges.

OIREACHTAS committees have a long record of facing legal challenges into their proceedings, particularly in making judgments. A challenge by former judge Brian Curtin to an Oireachtas joint committee investigation went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Curtin had challenged the establishment of the select committee and an order that it made, directing him to produce his personal computer.

The committee was formed after Curtin had been cleared of possessing child pornography when a search warrant was found to be out of date.

The Supreme Court found that the Oireachtas could give a joint committee the power to report without making findings of fact, making recommendations or expressing opinions.

Although Curtin lost in both the High Court and Supreme Court, the work of the committee was held up for almost 18 months, pending the outcome of the case.

Coincidentally, the chairman of the then Curtin committee, Fianna Fail Senator Denis O'Donovan, is also a member of the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests.

Callely has until September 8 to respond to a complaint following revelations that he submitted an expenses claim to the Oireachtas Commission for almost €2,900 for four mobile phones and car kits in November 2007, using invoices from a defunct company.

The senator also has until September 21 to respond to a complaint over his failure to declare to Oireachtas authorities his interest in at least seven residential properties.

The September 8 deadline will be viewed with interest as it will become apparent how the embattled senator intends to proceed.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Haughey and Ahern still lives in Irish politics.

fsheahan@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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