Insatiable desire for self-advancement matched Callely's energy for work

Thu, Jan 26, 2012, 00:00

BACKGROUND:IVOR CALLELY was the type of Fianna Fáil politician that was attracted to the party when it had been too dominant and too powerful for too long. They were hard-working and ambitious but what distinguished them from other TDs was that they typically put their own interests over that of party or country.

Callely (53), politically, was a relatively minor figure (he was a junior minister for a short stint). Nonetheless, he managed to attain a high public profile on the back of high-octane controversies.

Indeed, his own ministerial career came to an end in late 2005 by dint of one such controversy. It was disclosed that he had had his home in Clontarf painted free in the early 1990s by tradesmen from a major construction company, John Paul.

His position was untenable, but taoiseach Bertie Ahern and party officials were unable to contact him to give him the news that he had been fired. That was on budget day. The next morning Callely popped up on Pat Kenny’s radio show to give a rambling defence of his actions. An incandescent finance minister Brian Cowen had to wait for this to end before giving his own post-budget interview to Kenny.

Callely was an anomalous figure in Fianna Fáil. His spivvish pin-striped appearance and his trappings of wealth including a showy Range Rover, a power boat and a west Cork holiday home sat uneasily with some colleagues.

His ideology was hard to divine.

He had a general pro-business outlook and took strong stands on diverse issues in the 1990s – backing taxi drivers in opposing deregulation and making indefensible statements about asylum seekers, some of whom he said had a culture of “bleeding of lambs in the back garden”.

A former insurance broker, he was an indefatigable constituency worker and had generally hostile relations with all his rivals in Dublin North Central, both from Fianna Fáil and other parties.

But the energy for work was matched with an insatiable desire for self-advancement.

In his first junior ministry, he accounted for twice as much of the photographic budget as the senior minister Micheál Martin. In transport, he included prominent images of himself on Operation Freeflow billboards. He had a poor record for retaining staff, with some leaving after claiming he was unreasonably demanding.

After 2005, his career was in decline and he lost his Dáil seat in 2007. Ahern then surprised many by making him one of his 11 nominations to the Upper House.

Then, in the summer of 2010, it emerged he had claimed over €80,000 in travel and subsistence expenses from his west Cork holiday home.

The controversy saw him forced to resign from Fianna Fáil. However, a decision by the members’ interest committee to suspend him from the Seanad was then overturned by the High Court.

One other major incident cropped up later that summer. It was disclosed that invoices he supplied, totalling €2,879, for four mobile phone kits in November 2007 bore the letterhead of a company that had ceased trading in 1994, 13 years beforehand.

Former directors of the company said they had no role in supplying the invoices.

That led to an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission which discontinued its inquiries but handed over its files to the DPP’s office, when he ceased to be a public representative.