Friday 24 November 2017

Ivor pays the price for how he went up the political ladder

Callely's career seems to show that he never heeded the adage about being nice to people while you're on the way up, says Celia Larkin

THERE is something about Ivor. He burst on to the local political landscape in a flurry of activity. The Callely caravan visible everywhere. Big bold lettering announcing the arrival of "your local TD" in all his glory, gracing you with his presence and chomping on the bit to sort out all your problems. Come and meet Ivor. It would remind you of the fortune-teller's caravan of old.

There is no doubt that he was an extremely effective constituency worker. Ever present. Ever visible. Effervescent. The bright bubbly boy Callely.

From day one, Ivor seemed to court controversy. I remember hearing of trouble on the ground during the 1985 local elections. I recall stories of furious fighting with the Haugheys during the 1987 and 1989 general elections. But that, on its own, wouldn't put Ivor on the naughty step. When you run in a constituency where the senior politician prides himself on the number of first-preference votes he gets, you have to be pushy to survive, never mind succeed. You're always going to stand on a few toes. I'd seen and heard it all before. In Dublin Finglas, with Jim Tunney. In Dublin Central, first with George Colley and later with Bertie Ahern. That's politics.

By the general election of 1997 Ivor had manoeuvered himself into the position of senior politician in the Dublin North Central constituency, with the fifth highest vote in the country.

Now you didn't get into such a position in a Haughey -- or indeed, Ahern constituency -- without being aggressive, tough, cute and all the adjectives you can think of. Ivor may have paid less attention, however, to that one vital rule of politics and business: "Be nice to people on the way up the ladder, because you'll meet them on the way back down." Ivor's history shows him on every rung of the upward ladder, breaking that rule.

His first position of responsibility was as chairperson of the Eastern Health Board. There were ructions in 1999 when he called on the Government to throw out illegal immigrants. He later stated he "always supported integrating genuine asylum-seekers but a certain number were abusing the system".

In 2002, Callely was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, and in 2004 he became Minister of State at the Department of Transport.

In the run-up to Christmas 2004, as Junior Minister in the Department of Transport, he had responsibility for Operation Freeflow. He again caused controversy by using a photograph of himself in the advertisement outlining traffic and travel arrangements in Dublin in the pre-Christmas period. This led to a complaint being lodged with the Standards in Public Office Commission. The upshot was that the standards commission wrote to the Taoiseach requesting section 223 of the Code of Conduct for office-holders be reviewed in relation to the use of an office-holder's photograph in publicly funded advertising.

His penchant for displaying his photograph wasn't confined to the traffic advertisement. His American-style family photo Christmas cards issued to his constituents were notorious. Rumour has it that in some houses they became a collector's item.

There is a saying: "You get flash, you get a bash," and by December 2005 the bodies kicked as Ivor went up the ladder were beginning to rouse themselves. A report came to light showing that in the early Nineties a building contractor involved in public contracts painted Ivor's house for free. It was also reported that under his stewardship his department had an unusually high turnover of staff.

He made a serious attempt at whitewashing the paint job in a radio interview the morning of the 2005 Budget. It didn't work. He was forced to resign his position as junior minister a few hours later.

In 2007, Ivor went from poll-topper to losing his Dail seat.

He also failed to get elected to the Seanad but was later appointed to the upper house as a Taoiseach's nominee.

The loss of his Dail seat cost Ivor at least €30,000 a year. A sizeable amount, particularly when his property investments were rolling over, one after another, their prospects of providing a substantial income for him evaporating.

It was at that point, it seems, that he got the wizard wheeze of extra dosh through his travel expenses to the Seanad from his West Cork house. It worked. For a while.

In due course, however, the Oireachtas Select Committee on Members' Interests didn't buy the assertion that West Cork was his principal residence, and found him in breach of a section of the 2001 Standards in Public Office Act by misrepresenting his normal place of residence in order to claim allowances.

Now, as anyone in charge of expenses in any organisation will tell you, there are those who will claim for absolutely everything, down to their last cup of tea, and those who claim the bare minimum, if anything at all. The ones who claim for everything manage to push the expenses envelope in a way that -- until recently -- was shrugged at. Some of those who don't claim for everything are highly moral. Others are just too lazy to fill out the forms and pay attention to the receipts.

But there's a difference between claiming everything you're entitled to and thinking you're entitled to everything you claim.

I'm normally a softie when it comes to someone in the hot seat, but I just can't muster any sympathy for Ivor Callely over the last few weeks, and I've been struck by the fact the nobody seems to have any sympathy for him. For a former poll-topper, that's astonishing. The way he handled his committee appearances probably deprived the public of its normally sympathetic feelings for a human being under attack -- regardless of guilt or innocence.

Then, of course, came the more recent accusations that he submitted forged invoices as part of his expenses claims. Far more serious, those accusations, than any of his previous controversies.

Now let's be honest. Wasn't there something just a bit unseemly about Paul Gogarty (Green Party TD) parading about in front of the camera explaining how he went to his local garda station to lodge a formal complaint about the allegations? He has every right to lodge the complaint, but making sure the cameras delivered the event to the public via the Nine O'Clock news is, in my mind, bordering on the flash. And like I said "you get flash . . ."

Ivor Callely and Paul Gogarty have one thing in common. A tin ear for the political tune. Ivor seems never to have understood that, while Ireland looks the other way when someone pushes the expenses envelope, it takes a very different view of alleged fraudulent behaviour. And Paul doesn't understand that Ireland likes people of integrity. It doesn't like sanctimony. And it likes, least of all, people who parade their sanctimony on the telly.

Sunday Independent

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