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This Senator's saga sums up why the Seanad should go

Ivor Callely's timing is as impeccable as ever. Just as the Seanad election count is drawing to a close, its most infamous ex-member has made the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. It's been confirmed that a file on Ivor's bizarre expenses claims is being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions -- which gives the public some hope that we might finally get to the truth once and for all.

If Seanad Eireann is finally abolished in a referendum over the next few months, then Callely will have more than played his part. The long-running saga of his personal finances made him a national laughing stock last year, as he tried to explain why a Clontarf man was claiming over €80,000 in travel expenses from a holiday home in West Cork. At one stage during a grilling from the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests, he summed it all up with the Confucius-like statement: "Yesterday's history and tomorrow's a mystery."

Ivor is an embarrassment to the Seanad in more ways than one. At the end of the committee's investigation, they ignored his complaints about fair procedures and suspended him without pay for 20 days. In fact, the senators had screwed up so badly that he was able to take them to court and win -- landing himself €17,000 compensation for loss of earnings.

Now the State's ethical watchdog has just let out an almighty bark. In 2007 Callely claimed almost €3,000 in expenses for the purchase of four mobile phones from a company that had actually ceased trading in 1994. There may be a good explanation for this, but Ivor has yet to provide it -- which is why the Standards in Public Office Commission has decided that the DPP should take a good look at the matter.

Whatever the outcome of Ivor's legal travails, this fiasco is yet another reminder of why so many people think the Seanad is a luxury we can no longer afford. The upper house has come to be seen as a political refuge for buffoons, windbags and ex-TDs who just need something to fill their days before they can have another crack at the Dail.

Enda Kenny has promised a referendum on scrapping it during the lifetime of this government -- and with both Fine Gael and Labour in favour of the idea, it must have a very good chance of being passed. In an ideal democracy, there should be room for a second house of parliament. As the antics of Ivor Callely brilliantly illustrated, however, the current Seanad isn't it.


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