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Real scandal with a ring of the absurd

IT would be funny if it wasn't so funny. The temptation to laugh at the idea of a mass telephone campaign to promote TD Michael Healy-Rae in a reality TV programme should be resisted.

The nonsense in question was called 'Celebrities Go Wild', but it is taxpayers who should go wild at the revelation almost €3,000 was spent in calls from a Leinster House telephone in support of Mr Healy-Rae.

He subsequently won the title, if that is the correct term, in a public vote. Mr Healy-Rae has denied that he was responsible for the calls and doubted that his father, the even more celebrated Jackie, could have been involved. Surely this must be true? If there is any family that does not require more celebrity it is the Healy-Raes.

Even so, Senator Michael Mullins is right that this requires further investigation.

Some may remember the then vice president of the United States, Al Gore, getting into a lot of trouble for making just one private call from an official White House phone. The calls promoting Mr Healy-Rae numbered 3,636.

What controls are there over the use of public money for private and political purposes in Leinster House? There have been regular complaints about envelopes, lax rules on expenses, and even abuse of those lax rules. What other dubious practices lurk in the darker corners of the parliamentary buildings? To make such an extraordinary number of calls, the person or persons involved clearly had little fear of being caught and no sense that this was a gross misuse of a couple of thousand euro of other people's money.

It indicates a mindset which seems all too common in Irish politics -- that public resources are there for the benefit of those who have been elected to have charge of them. They do not exist for that purpose. There is no place for little Louis with the attitude: "I am the State."

It could therefore be very worthwhile to find out who was responsible, make them pay back the money, and punish them if they are an employee or adviser. Not so much for the issue itself but as another valuable way to show everyone, from chief executives to politicians, that things are going to be done differently in future.

Mr Healy-Rae himself could set an example. Innocent he may be, but having benefited so much from deplorable actions of an over-enthusiastic fan, or fans, he should consider renouncing the grand title bestowed on him.

Irish Independent