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Taxpayer foots bill for calls to Africa and Asia

Calls lasting up to an hour at a time have been made from Oireachtas phones to mobile phone numbers in Africa and Asia, the Irish Independent has learned.

The taxpayer has been footing the bill for the phone calls -- costing up to €107 each -- to destinations in Kenya, Mongolia, and India.

Figures show that an average of between €100 and €200 a month is spent on premium calls from Leinster House.

The revelations come as a Dail committee today considers changing the way Oireachtas telephone calls are logged so that officials can identify which TDs are making calls from Leinster House phones.

The changes were proposed in the wake of the controversy surrounding €2,600 of phone calls made from Leinster House to a premium-level phone line in 2007 supporting Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae in a celebrity television contest.

Oireachtas officials were unable to identify where the calls came from.

Michael Healy-Rae subsequently paid €2,600 to the Oireachtas, while denying he or his father Jackie made the calls, but the Dail Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) will still investigate.

It will examine six options. One of those is to keep a full record of telephone calls made by TDs, senators and Oireachtas staff.

However, while this would ensure full transparency, it would come up against stiff opposition from some TDs and senators.

Another proposal is to change the phone calls that can be made from Leinster House, such as banning premium level phone calls or restricting such calls or international calls, as well as calls to directory numbers like 11811. This costs the Oireachtas up to €16,000 a year.

Alternatively, the CPP could choose a voluntary code where TDs and staff would undertake not to use their phones for excessive personal use, or for premium rate services.

Irish Independent