Healy-Rae to pay phone money
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has said he is going to pay the money that was spent on calls from Leinster House to help him win a celebrity television contest.
A total of 3,636 premium-rate calls were made from Leinster House at a cost of more than €2,600 to vote for Mr Healy-Rae in RTÉ’s Celebrities Go Wild contest in 2007.
Mr Healy-Rae said today while he had no hand, act or part in the calls, and had initially opted against paying the money, he had changed his mind after it became clear the matter was distracting from the main issue facing the country, which was the economy.
“Every person who made those phone calls, I’m paying for every one of their phone calls now,” the Kerry South TD said.
“I’m the only person in Ireland that’s paying for other people’s phone bills.” He added: “I’m a good honest, hard working politician.
“I want to be allowed to continue with that job and I cannot if this is hanging out there, and if people are going to be saying, well will the money be paid or won’t the money be paid.
“I don’t owe the money, but there’s nobody else going to come along as far as I can see and say they’re going to pay it.”
Mr Healy-Rae denied he was trying to close down an investigation by offering to refund the money, but claimed an investigation should be extended to cover the usage of phones at Leinster House.
“I have no problem in the world with any investigation. Out of all the people in the country, the one person who couldn’t have done this is myself,” the Mr Healy-Rae said.
“If things are going to be investigated the whole use of phones in the Houses of the Oireachtas should be looked into and checked.
“Because again, other people did whatever they did and they should answer for it.”
Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the money spent on the calls should be paid back.
“It might be funny if it weren’t as serious as it is. This money should be paid back, full stop. It should never have happened,” Mr Kenny said this morning.
The controversy is to be scrutinised by two Dáil committees. Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett yesterday described it as “an outrageous abuse of facilities”. He promised to ensure the matter was addressed at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which he chairs.
The Oireachtas wrote to Mr Healy-Rae’s father, Jackie, when the calls came to light in 2007, but took no action when he failed to reply.
“As the calls could not be attributed to any particular person, there was no basis to pursue the matter further, and no further action could be taken,” a spokesman said.
Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said she would be raising the issue when the Dáil Committee on Members’ Interests meets today.
The calls to a premium rate number, which cost 60 cents plus VAT, were ultimately paid for by the taxpayer. The abuse came to light when the Oireachtas phone service provider, Eircom, noticed a surge in calls to the number.
Mr Healy-Rae’s father, Jackie, who was the then TD for Kerry South, has also denied any involvement.
Jackie Healy-Rae said: “If I was paid in gold and silver, I could not have made them, because I was constantly up and down to the Dáil chamber to vote with the government at the time.”
RTÉ, in a statement, said the calls made from Leinster House did not make a material difference to the outcome of the competition, as Mr Healy-Rae outpolled his nearest rival by two to one.
Additional reporting: PA