| 5.3°C Dublin

Andrew Lynch: If wrongdoing is proven, he must not profit

At Ivor Callely's famous holiday home in West Cork this week, the only sign of life has been a cockerel strutting up the gravelled driveway.

For the hapless Fianna Fail senator, the cock has crowed three times -- and he badly needs to wake up to the trouble he's in.

With three investigations now being launched into allegations he used forged invoices to claim almost €3,000 from the public purse, the pressure for him to resign from the Seanad may soon be unbearable.

Even as Ivor's former FF colleagues rush to distance themselves from him, however, it's beginning to dawn on them that yet another embarrassment may be on the way. If Callely decides to quit in advance of the next General Election, he will be entitled to a very nice golden handshake. With 21 years' membership of the Oireachtas under his belt, including three as a junior minister, his severance package could come to around €160,000 -- and given that he already stands accused of billing the taxpayer for phony expenses, the public reaction to funding his retirement is not exactly hard to imagine.

The grim reality is that even if Ivor were to wind up in a prison cell, he would still be legally entitled to every cent of his TD and ministerial pension. Ray Burke, the former FF Cabinet minister and friend of property developers, was judged to be corrupt by the Flood Tribunal and spent four months in jail for tax evasion. In 2008, he still received a pension package totalling €109,865 -- even worse, he has benefited from every public sector pay increase agreed since he left the Dail in 2002.

When the issue of pensions being paid to sitting TDs blew up last year, most recipients reluctantly admitted this was no longer acceptable. But nobody thought of addressing the even worse scandal which sees huge sums of public money handed out to ex-politicians who have already bent the law for financial gain. As we all know, the list of such offenders in this country is depressingly long -- which makes it all the more urgent for Brian Lenihan to clear this up in next December's budget.

Mr Callely must be considered innocent until proven guilty. Like every other citizen, he has the right to remain silent. As a public representative, however, he has a duty to respond when allegations of criminal behaviour are levelled against him -- a duty that so far he has completely failed to fulfil.

In the latest twist, it turns out he once told the Oireachtas ethics watchdog he had received a €1,500 donation from the son of a director at Business Communications Limited, the now-defunct company whose invoices were submitted to support Ivor's mobile phone expenses claim. The man in question says that he has no memory of any such donation. There may be an innocent explanation -- but at the very least, it's another mystery for Mr Callely to discuss.

Being kicked out of FF would hurt Ivor's pride but little more. Another grilling from a Seanad committee might be humiliating, but would also be a bit of a charade, since the maximum penalty they can impose is a 30-day suspension. What must really scare him is the news that the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has personally intervened, writing to the clerk of the Seanad and seeking clarification of "certain matters" -- a move that suggests the police are willing to take action now instead of waiting for the Oireachtas to resume in late September.

August is supposed to be the silly season for politics, but Ivor Callely's predicament has become deadly serious. It would be the grimmest of ironies if the most immediate consequence of his downfall was the taxpayer being presented with yet another enormous bill.