Tuesday 21 November 2017

Callely rejected offers to help lower expenses

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

UNDER-FIRE Ivor Callely twice turned down offers from officials to try to reduce the Dublin senator's travel and expenses claims while keeping Cork as his primary address.

Officials offered to lobby Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to allow the Dublin North-Central senator change to a lower expenses option without changing the address of his principal home on Oireachtas files.

Defying public anger, Mr Callely previously said he had done nothing wrong in claiming €80,000 worth of travel expenses from the Cork home -- which is 370km from his constituency.

Address and expenses details are usually only allowed to be changed once a year and Mr Callely has claimed he was not looking for more money by leaving Kilcrohane in Bantry, Co Cork, as his principal home on Seanad files.

But instead of asking the Oireachtas to contact Mr Lenihan, Mr Callely wrote in a letter that he had talked to the minister himself, but did not say if he had changed his expenses option. Mr Callely did not return calls last night.

The revelation came from Derek Dignam of corporate and member services at the Oireachtas, as he yesterday gave more details of Mr Callely's expenses claims to a committee of senators investigating the payments.

Although Mr Callely was in the Seanad yesterday, he did not attend the committee, to which he gave evidence before last week, and passed up the chance to cross-examine Mr Dignam.

Mr Dignam said his office wrote to Mr Callely on October 15 last year asking if he wanted it to lobby Mr Lenihan on his behalf.

Mr Callely wrote back on November 30 and referred to speaking to Mr Lenihan, but not to the Oireachtas offer.

A spokesman for Mr Lenihan last night said there was no record of a conversation with Mr Callely, and Mr Lenihan did not specifically remember the conversation, but added that it was highly likely the pair spoke.

The minister was in the process of changing the expenses system at the time and would have spoken to many TDs and senators, the spokesman said.

A separate, verbal offer to lobby was made to Mr Callely on December 15, but Mr Dignam said he did not know if the two offers were "fully reflected on".

"It was just to be of assistance to the member," Mr Dignam said.

Fine Gael senator Frances Fitzgerald asked if a change of rates would have made Mr Callely claim a daily rate rather than an overnight and mileage rate.

The Dublin daily attendance rate, without mileage, was about €61 at the time, while the overnight rate for people more than 15 miles away from Leinster House was €139, also not including mileage.


"Effectively, it would have meant that without changing address, he would move from the mileage and overnights system to the Dublin daily allowance," Mr Dignam said, before confirming that such a move would have meant lower expenses payments.

After being appointed by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to the Seanad after the loss of his Dail seat in 2007, Mr Callely told the Oireachtas his "principal residence" was Kilcrohane.

Despite this, he gave Clontarf in Dublin as his official address in Seanad correspondence and declared on his website that he was living in the capital.

He submitted no claims for seven months in 2007 and 2008, which would have amounted to about €23,000 if paid out. He also has uncashed allowance cheques amounting to €3,650 and €13,000 in 'parked' expenses.

Mr Dignam noticed the Cork address on the records in late 2008 and thought it could be something that could alert auditors. He did not think Mr Callely was a rural senator.

The committee is due to meet next Tuesday to see how to push the investigation further.

Irish Independent

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