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'Exceptional' contestant didn't need Dail votes to win

RTE last night said that Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae would have won reality series 'Celebrities Go Wild' even without the help of thousands of phone votes from Leinster House.

It followed the revelation that 3,636 tele-votes from a phone inside the Dail had contributed to his winning tally.

But speaking last night, an RTE spokeswoman said their records showed that the Kerryman had a commanding lead over his seven other rivals in the 2007 reality show and did not need the calls from Leinster House to win.

"RTÉ records show that Michael Healy-Rae maintained a consistently strong position throughout the week-long vote event, with more than twice the number of votes cast for the second place contestant on each occasion.

"The number of votes reported to have been cast from Leinster House would not have made a material difference to the outcome of the competition," she said.

The station said that people were "entitled to vote as many times as they choose", although they were cautioned that they would be charged for each call.

"Regular tallies are taken and if any large spikes in voting are detected from a particular number, that number is phoned in order to ascertain if (a) there is an individual at that number making the calls; b) if the person is aware that calls are being registered and c) if the registration of votes is intended."

The station said that it was unable to investigate if any of the other votes cast in the series had come from identifiable phones. As 'Celebrities Go Wild' aired in October, 2007, it no longer retained detailed call records.

Meanwhile, the series producer described Mr Healy-Rae as a "worthy winner" of the series.

Philip Kampff, whose company Vision Independent Pictures devised the programme and produced it, said the TD had impressed everybody during the week of filming.

"Michael Healy-Rae was an exceptional character who rose to every challenge. That was my experience of him and everyone else's on the show," Mr Kampff told the Irish Independent.

Cap-wearing politician Mr Healy-Rae beat off the challenge of former swimmer Michelle de Bruin, and TG4 weatherman Daithi O Se, to win the show with a series of outdoor activities held across Connemara, Leenane and Westport.

"I think what really struck us was that Michael had been in a bad car accident a few years before. But he didn't back down from doing anything. Not even, at one point, climbing Croagh Patrick," he said.

Irish Independent