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Callely expenses row a matter for politicians not courts, appeal told

A SEANAD Committee was entitled to make adverse findings against former senator Ivor Callely over his expenses claims, the Supreme Court has been told.

This matter was "realpolitik" and clearly a political matter concerning the regulation of politicians, Conleth Bradley for the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests, argued.

He was opening the committee's appeal before a seven-judge Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, against a High Court decision upholding the former senator's challenge to the committee's findings on his expenses claims.

In making its findings, the committee had power to do so and had "a wide discretion" under the ethics in public office laws, Mr Bradley submitted.

Given the constitutional separation of powers of the courts and legislature, the committee was entitled to reach a decision as to what it considered would bring politics into disrepute and to pass a value judgement on what Mr Callely (54) – who was was in court for the appeal – had done, counsel said.

The committee is appealing Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill's High Court decision overturning its finding, when dealing with then Senator Callely's expenses claims, that he had misrepresented his place of residence as west Cork.

Opportunity

Mr Justice O'Neill had then ruled Mr Callely was in compliance with the applicable definition set out by the Department of Finance of "normal place of residence".

The judge also found a breach of fair procedures in that the former senator was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to defend himself on a charge of breach of political ethics.

The Committee's decision had censured Senator Callely by suspending him for 20 days with consequent loss of pay of nearly €17,000.

After the High Court ruling, the sides agreed on an order quashing the committee's findings and providing for Mr Callely to be paid for the 20 days he had been suspended.

Yesterday, Mr Bradley said an important issue in the appeal was whether or not the manner in which Mr Callely chose to make his expenses claim was referable to the ethics code under the relevant law.

There was no doubt Mr Callely complied with the Department of Finance definition of "normal place of residence" but that did not dispose of the issue, he argued.

The Committee had found he had misrepresented his normal place of residence and had given reasons for that in its findings, he argued.

The appeal continues today.

Irish Independent