Sunday 15 December 2019

It'll take more than Einstein to crack the 'Ring of Kerry'

What: The Ring of Kerry

A lovely holiday spot, albeit a tad crowded at this time of year. Have you tasted the yummy pints in Dick Mack's in Dingle? They are indeed excellent, but the Ring of Kerry in the news this week isn't the famous peninsula, but rather a flat-capped denizen of it, Michael Healy-Rae.

Oh my God, he's, like, mega-famous. Isn't he the mighty chieftain who had dominion over successive governments and who obtained fabulous riches for his own subjects? No, that's his Da, the formidable Jackie. The septuagenarian Kerry South TD with the green plaid cap and exotic accent was key in supporting the government of Bertie Ahern and also the Reign of Error of his successor, Brain Cowen, and wrangled all sorts of secret deals for his constituency in return for his vote.

So Jackie's not back in the headlines, then? Nope, the retired TD is busy tending his bogs in Kilgarvan when he's not suggesting that TV crews "go to hell" as he did last Wednesday to the intrepid Paul Byrne of TV3.

Gracious. What's given Jackie the hump? He's not a happy bunny at all. The Healy-Rae dynasty was back in the news this week when it was revealed that thousands of premium rate calls -- 3,636 to be precise -- were made from Leinster House, helping then-Kerry councillor Michael win TV reality show Celebrities Go Wild.

What? Did every single person in our parliament vote for him? This is at the heart of the mystery. The blizzard of calls were made over three-and-a-half days in October 2007 with some of them lasting no more than a few seconds, but it's apparently impossible to tell which phones were used.

So Michael could've voted for himself? Absolutely not. He has a cast-iron alibi, as he was indeed 'in the wild' that week filming the TV show, foraging for food and the like. He was nowhere near hot and cold running water, let alone a phone line.

Maybe the bold Jackie had worn his finger to a stub pressing the redial button? Well, Michael is adamant that his dad had no finger, act or part in the whole murky business. "At that time my father was extremely busy, and he'd enough to be doing in doing his job not to be involved in this type of thing," he insisted on Wednesday.

Sure it was all a bit of harmless fun, wasn't it? Unfortunately the laughing stopped when it transpired that the episode of telephonic jiggery-pokery had landed the beleaguered taxpayer with a bill of E2,639.

That's outrageous. Who's going to stump up for that lark? It looked for a while that the taxpayer was getting stiffed with the bill, but then serious pressure was applied to the hapless head of the Kerry TD. Even Enda got in on the act, declaring: "It might be funny, if it wasn't as serious as it is. Celebrities do go wild. This money should be paid back, full stop."

So did Kerry capitulate? Indeed. By lunchtime on Thursday Michael was on the plinth of Leinster House announcing to a sizeable mob of interested journalists that he intended to cough up the €2,639, even though he hadn't run up the bill himself. "I'm the only person in Ireland who's paying for other people's phone bills," he explained.

Hang on -- doesn't the hard-pressed taxpayer of Ireland ultimately pay for the phone bills run up by our public representatives in Leinster House.

Precisely.

So is that the end to the matter? Well, Michael did introduce a grassy knoll into the equation with mutterings about how and why this story materialised at this time, and reckons that dark forces were working against him.

"You wouldn't have to be Einstein to figure out that there's a little bit of something going on," he hinted on the plinth.

Einstein? Yep. But in reality, figuring out just who's behind all this messing would be trickier than cracking e=mc2.

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