Friday 19 January 2018

Ivor Callely joins rogues gallery of political convicts

Ivor Callely
Ivor Callely
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE former Fianna Fail senator Ivor Callely will hear tomorrow whether he will do time for claiming fraudulent expenses or instead get community service.

He was left to stew over his fate for a week as Judge Mary Ellen Ring took time out to consider whether politicians should be punished more than ordinary people when they break the law.

Mr Callely had confessed to submitting bogus receipts to claim more than €4,000 in mobile phone expenses from Leinster House while serving as a senator. But at his sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last Monday, Judge Ring asked whether his former position in society was an aggravating factor.

"A politician is a person in position who in effect sets the legal parameters on which everyday people operate, and when they offend against the legal parameters they effectively say, 'Do as I say, not as I do'," she said, before adjourning the case for a week to study case law.

But previous judgments show that when politics and crime collide, the courts take a dim view of holders of high office breaking the rules.

The late Liam Lawlor was the first serving politician to go to jail arising from the long-running planning corruption tribunal that started in the late 1990s and lasted more than a decade. The Fianna Fail TD was central to a number of lines of inquiry, but the tribunal accused him of not helping as much as he could. The tribunal went to the High Court to seek orders compelling him to cooperate or face jail. Lawlor chose jail. Over a two-year period, he was jailed three times for contempt of court.

Judge Ring may note the words of Judge Thomas Smyth when he first sentenced Lawlor in January 2001.

Lawlor knew full well what he was doing, he said. That he did so as a citizen was a disgrace, but that he did so as a public representative was a scandal. "There are no untouchables," he warned before sentencing him to a week in Mountjoy with the remainder suspended. Mr Lawlor returned to jail on two more occasions, refusing calls by his fellow TDs that he resign his seat.

Ray Burke, the former Fianna Fail Minister for Justice, was also berated for breaching the public trust in his integrity as a politician. Burke was also found out under the scrutiny of the planning tribunal. In 2002 the tribunal found that he had received corrupt payments of around £250,000.

It was his failure to declare income of around €200,000 in his tax returns that landed him in jail. In January 2005, he was sentenced to six months in prison at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. The presiding Judge Desmond Hogan seemed to take the view that Burke's previous high office made his crimes even worse. As a member of the Dail, he took part in the legislative process that affects the lives of everybody in Ireland, he said. He had breached the public trust.

The other Oireachtas member to be jailed in recent years is Francie O'Brien, from Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, who bizarrely attempted to extort €100,000 from a veterinary inspector with the Department of Agriculture. O'Brien was a Fianna Fail senator from 1989 to 2011. By the end of his career, he had accumulated massive debts from property speculation.

When a veterinary inspector came to him for help, O'Brien demanded money in return. The inspector was in trouble with his bosses for losing waste material he should have disposed of.

O'Brien - claiming to be "only the messenger" - told him that more waste material had been found, but it could all be sorted out for €100,000.

At his trial last year, Judge John O'Hagan said he had betrayed the trust of the people by allowing himself to be used by blackmailers in this "abominable" crime and sentenced O'Brien to three years in jail.

Former councillors who broke the law have also been admonished by judges for not upholding standards of public office.

Ger Killally, a former Fianna Fail chairman of Offaly County Council, who was once Brian Cowen's running mate, got a three-year suspended sentence in 2012 for theft. He had massive debts and went bankrupt in 2009. Afterwards, he stole €18,000 worth of equipment from a premises he used to own in Westmeath, and forged documents to cover it up.

He spent two weeks in prison waiting for his trial to be heard, which he described as a "horrible experience". Judge Anthony Hunt noted his fall from political grace was "humiliating" but he also noted that because of his political background, he should have known the importance of upholding the integrity of the bankruptcy process. He gave him a three-year suspended sentence for theft and 240 hours community service on the forgery charge.

Two years ago, Frederick Forsey, a former Fine Gael councillor in Waterford, was sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes from a property developer.

He was shopped by his former wife, who reported him to the gardai. Forsey was convicted of receiving corrupt payments of €80,000 in exchange for lobbying his council colleagues to rezone agricultural land for residential and industrial use. There was no suggestion of wrongdoing by any of the other councillors.

At his sentencing, Judge Gerard Griffin quoted from the planning tribunal report. Corruption was a "deeply corrosive force" with victims "too numerous to identify individually". Forsey, he said, had "gravely breached the trust of the Dungarvan electorate".

Another former councillor, Gary O'Flynn, was convicted of theft while working as a financial adviser. The son of a former Fianna Fail TD, he served on Cork County Council from 2004 to 2008 when he resigned. He later worked as a financial adviser, in the course of which he was accused of stealing more than €1,000 from a builder in financial difficulty.

He had offered to restructure the builder's debts but ended up misappropriating some of the repayments. The court heard that O'Flynn suffered from a serious depressive disorder but Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said he was guilty of a huge breach of trust to the builder. O'Flynn was sentenced to three years in jail, with the final two suspended.

At Ivor Callely's sentencing hearing last week, his defence counsel said his client had suffered "serious personal, political and financial setbacks".

These included the break-up of his marriage and an €11m judgment against him from a failed property venture. He had suffered a significant fall from grace after 25 years in public life, and asked the judge to consider imposing community service rather than a prison sentence.

But judging by past political convicts, it appears that courts do not look kindly on breaches of public trust.

Callely's long record of public service could end up going against him when Judge Ring decides his fate tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News