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Sunday 18 March 2018

Cowen increases the pressure on Callely over expenses claim

Fiach Kelly and Aideen Sheehan

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night piled the pressure on Ivor Callely to resign from the Seanad as the embattled senator faces a public grilling on the alleged fake invoices scandal, possibly within days.

In his first public comments on the controversy, Mr Cowen said a statement from Mr Callely raised more questions than answers.

The senator said in his statement that he did not know how invoices from a company that went bust in 1994 were used to claim €3,000 worth of mobile phone expenses.

The Seanad Members' Interests Committee is to meet in private this afternoon to decide how to proceed with a complaint made about Mr Callely by Green Party TD Paul Gogarty.

It is widely expected that the committee -- which has already suspended Mr Callely over claiming €81,000 of travel expenses from his holiday home in west Cork -- will decide to fully investigate the latest controversy.

Sources said the process could then move quickly with Mr Callely possibly being called in before the end of the week to explain himself in public.

Mr Callely holed himself up in west Cork and made secret visits to Leinster House last week instead of addressing the controversy. His Saturday night statement was his first comment on the scandal.

It is understood the committee wants the issue dealt with as quickly as possible, and sees no problem with its inquiries running alongside a garda examination of another complaint lodged against Mr Callely by Mr Gogarty.

Mr Callely does not have to attend today's meeting but will be informed afterwards if the committee has decided the issue merits investigation.

The committee will also decide whether to pursue complaints from the public that two other Dublin senators, Larry Butler and Ann Ormonde, were allegedly claiming travel allowances for addresses not listed as their official residences.

And the net around Mr Callely is likely to tighten further today as five senior Fianna Fail figures meet to decide whether to initiate a separate investigation, which could eventually see him permanently expelled from the party.

Mr Cowen yesterday made his first public comment on the scandal, one week after the new details emerged, and five days after Mr Callely was suspended from Fianna Fail after ignoring calls from Mr Cowen's office.

The Taoiseach intensified the pressure on the Dublin North-Central politician and said his resignation from the Seanad was now a matter for Mr Callely himself.

"I presume what we are going to see in the coming weeks with the committees looking at this issue is a situation which he will have to be looking at in due course if it is warranted," he said at the Tullamore Show.

Mr Cowen said Mr Callely's weekend statement, which also said that he received and submitted the receipts in good faith and had no reason to believe they were not in order, "raises more questions than answers, frankly".


"He is not a member of the party as things stand. We have to have a full investigation into this and I am glad to see the Senate committee will also be moving quickly on this," he said.

"On a prima facie basis we have seen decisions taken by our own party last week to indicate we cannot in any way have a situation where the trust and confidence of the public have questions about the way politicians conduct their affairs."

Under the Constitution, Mr Callely cannot be forced to resign from the Seanad and Mr Cowen yesterday repeated that he didn't "have the means" to call for a resignation.

"But I have made my position clear as party leader," he added. "His membership has been suspended. There is an investigation which will be taking place in the coming weeks and there are questions obviously that need to be answered."

Five members of the Fianna Fail national executive, which has around 90 members, will meet today to decide how to investigate the issue. It is expected they will interview Mr Callely about the alleged fake invoices only, although it could be widened out to take in his west Cork travel expenses.

The committee hopes to finish its work by early September, when it will present its recommendation on what to do about Mr Callely to the national executive. The executive will then vote on whether to accept the committee's proposals.

Mr Callely is also expected to be frozen out in the coming weeks, with sources saying it is "highly unlikely" Mr Cowen will contact him.

"He (Mr Callely) had his chance last week," a source said. "And there is a process in place now, it has to take its course."

Irish Independent

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